Lemon Pepper Cookies by Molly Brodak

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Good thing its gratitude season, because I've been feeling positively awash in things to be thankful for lately (not the least of which is winning an NEA fellowship for prose (!!?!?!!)). I've also been thinking a lot about how lucky I am to do meaningful work as a teacher. I know not everyone looks forward to getting to work every morning like I do. 

On top of that, I get to live in Atlanta. I don't know what it is exactly, maybe just that romantic slant of light in the fall, maybe the sentimentalism of the first touch of those seasonal mean reds, but I've been deeply extra in love with my city lately. So I thought my Thanksgiving treats this year ought to pay homage to The A, my vibrant, beautifully diverse and thriving adopted hometown--and nothing could be more perfect than to represent Atlanta's signature lemon pepper wings with a lemon pepper cookie.

Oh, and to put Killer Mike, true Atlanta native, on that lemon pepper cookie. Boosh.

we got to see Run the Jewels at the Hawk's home opener a few weeks back and it was lit

we got to see Run the Jewels at the Hawk's home opener a few weeks back and it was lit

This cookie is made extra rich and buttery with cultured butter. You can get some great European cultured butters out there but one of the best stateside is Vermont Creamery's cultured butter, which is pretty easy to find at the grocery store. I love the slightly buttermilky tang and incredible richness of this butter. To adjust for the extra fat in this type of butter, a touch of cornstarch is added to the cookies, which also makes the crumb a bit finer and the texture silkier. I really love a cut-out cookie that is not too hard, not too soft, and keeps its sharp edges--this recipe hits all of those notes expertly.

Citric acid is key for a bit of bite to your lemon bakes, so it is definitely worth seeking out (you can often find it in the canning/preserving section at the grocery store). You'll never be able to achieve that true citrusy tang with lemon rind alone (discussed previously in this lemony treat and that lemony treat). Pepper balances out the bright lemon with an earthy bite and elevates this cookie to glory. If you're not up for royal icing decorations, might I suggest smearing some strawberry ice cream between two of these babies and freezing up some incomparably tasty ice cream sandwiches, or drizzling with white chocolate.

The cream cheese in this dough helps make that perfectly soft but rich texture and prevents the cookies from spreading too much. Unlike when you are creaming butter and sugar for cakes or other applications, you don't want to whip too much air into cookies meant for cut-out shapes. About half the time (4 minutes instead of 8 minutes for a full creaming) is sufficient, as any more can lead to distortion in your cookies as they bake up. Don't be afraid to use dusting flour to roll this dough out if it is sticky--it won't get tough, thanks to the cream cheese.  A full description of my rolling-out method can be found here. Honestly, one of my favorite ways of dealing with cut out cookies is to just slice up a sheet of frozen dough with a pizza wheel--less stress and no scraps.

I also made one with Chan Marshall/Cat Power, another Atlanta native I love dearly

I also made one with Chan Marshall/Cat Power, another Atlanta native I love dearly

 

This recipe makes, I don't know, a buttload of cookies, so feel free to halve it if you would prefer. But really, this is such fantastic cookie dough to freeze and have on hand for when you need a little something special so I recommend making the full amount. Do like I do and cut out a bunch of basic squares or rounds and store them in a Tupperware container in the freezer so they are ready to bake whenever the mood strikes.

 

freshly ground pepper is miles away from the pre-ground dust

freshly ground pepper is miles away from the pre-ground dust

LEMON PEPPER COOKIES

8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature

2 c. (4 sticks) cultured butter, softened to room temperature

zest of two lemons

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

450 g. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. citric acid

2 egg yolks, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

800 g. (about 6 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tsp. corn starch

1 tsp. baking powder

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and baking powder thoroughly in a bowl and set aside. Cream the butter, sugar, cream cheese, lemon zest, pepper, citric acid, and salt in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with your hand mixer for about 4-5 minutes. Be sure no lumps of cream cheese remain. Add the yolks and vanilla and mix for another minute. Add the flour mixture in two batches and mix until just barely incorporated. Remove dough ball from bowl and knead a few times in your hands to make sure the flour is fully incorporated. Divide into three discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill/rest dough in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Roll each disc onto a floured sheet of wax paper into a 1/4" rectangle that will fit your cookie sheets. Cover each dough sheet with plastic wrap and place on cookie sheet, then place cookie sheet into freezer. 

Chill for at least an hour, but can be left in the freezer for up to 3 months in sheets. When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Remove sheets from freezer, cut shapes directly from frozen dough sheets, and bake frozen shapes immediately on cold or room temperature cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. If shapes become soft as you work with them, be sure to refreeze before baking. Bake for 8-12 minutes. They will puff slightly but then shrink back down to their proper shapes. Cookies will not brown much due to the cream cheese, so barely golden edges and set centers are the best indicator of doneness.

Allow to cool completely, then frost if desired and gobble.

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Browned Butter Pecan Cake with Orange Caramel Buttercream by Molly Brodak

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Under autumn's avalanche of spiced sepia-tone-pumpkin-chunky-knit-apple-picking razzmatazz is a favorite cool-weather memory of mine that doesn't quite fit the script. It's a color memory: looking up at the bright blue sky through feathery sun-yellow leaves. I think there was a stand of maple trees that turned vivid yellow for a short while in the fall near where I used to live in Michigan. But recently I found this gingko leaf veiner in my drawer of gumpaste flower stuff so I dreamed up this cake based around the butterfly-like yellow gingko leaves. Someday I'll start some tutorials on how I make my sugar leaves and flowers...

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This cake is a monument to my favorite comfort flavors. The earthy browned butter and toasty pecans ground the bright/tart flavors of orange caramel--the whole thing works together like a gorgeous flavor machine designed for palate-slaying bliss. Or something.

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Anyway here's the deal, there are a lot of fiddly little steps to this one but I am straight up and down telling you they are worth it and don't be intimidated. And don't burn your damn nuts. Watch those guys. They are expensive!

This cake is covered in vivid sky-blue white chocolate ganache (just add food coloring to your heavy cream, then make the ganache as normal) with some palette knifed-on clouds made with white chocolate ganache. Of course you can just cover the whole thing in delicious orange caramel buttercream instead.

Smearing on clouds is super fun

Smearing on clouds is super fun

I got the idea for this buttercream from my pal Hector when I tried one of his macarons that was filled with a similar orange caramel buttercream. My first attempts at orange caramel weren't satisfyingly orangey enough because they relied just on orange juice so I messed with the composition to up the flavor. So let's start with the caramel. If you stop here and just make the caramel I will 100% forgive you, because this stuff is absolute gold and you don't even need a cake to pour it on--just dip apples in it, drizzle it on ice cream, or just eat it with a dang spoon as I myself did as soon as it was cool.

This will make twice as much as you need for the buttercream, so the rest would be great to use as a drip/drizzle over the finished cake.

Caramel is all about timing. You want to let your sugar get a bit dark so your caramel will have a slight bittersweetness to it, but you don't want to burn it. I say err on the side, though, of dark instead of light. Too light and there is no flavor at all, just sweetness. Remember, you're adding cream to this caramel so it will end up lighter than it looks in the pan.

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ORANGE CARAMEL SAUCE

One large orange, juiced and zested

1/3 c. water

1 1/2 c. (305 g.) sugar

2 TBSP. (25 g.) corn syrup

2 TBSP. unsalted butter

About 3/4 c. heavy cream

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

Strain orange juice into a cup measure, and fill the rest with cream to make a full cup (usually you get about 1/4 cup of juice from a large orange). Add this, along with the orange zest, to a small saucepan and allow to gently simmer on low heat while you make your caramel. In a larger saucepan, pour the water in and then add the sugar and corn syrup to the center of the pan, avoiding the sides. Stir gently so the mixture is even, and allow to boil over medium high heat. Make sure you have a large metal fine mesh sifter/strainer ready. As the sugar caramelizes, swirl or stir it so the browning is even, and pull it from the heat as soon as the mixture is a deep mahogany color. Strain the orange cream mixture into the caramel--be careful, it will steam and bubble up. Mix thorough and return to low heat. Add butter and mix until melted. Stir in salt and transfer to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool at room temperature.

To make the orange caramel buttercream, simply whip up 2 cups (4 sticks) of softened unsalted butter with about a cup (to taste) of powdered sugar and add about half of this caramel. I whipped some in and then folded the rest in so there would be lovely delicious streaks of caramel running through the buttercream. 

Next, this cake! I made, oh I don't know, at least 15 different iterations of this cake until I landed on a texture/flavor I liked. Mostly I was messing with eggs and egg yolks and flour proportions. You see, whole eggs add structure but the whites tend to dry cakes out, while yolks add velvet moistness but too many can lead to a dense, heavy cake. On top of that, you have your pecans, which are going to weigh your rise down, so all of this had to be maddeningly calibrated just so with a jillion test cakes. You're welcome.

If you've never browned butter before, first of all who are you, and second of all don't worry it's super easy. You just cook the butter until it is browned--but watch it carefully....like caramel, nothing happens for a long time and then suddenly everything browns very quickly. I've noticed the bubbling sound of the butter dies down as it starts to brown (the water is all evaporated at that point so less bubbling sounds?) so that's a good cue you are getting close. Sometimes the foam on top makes it hard to see what's going on with the bottom of the pan, so feel free to stir as it starts to brown so you don't let it burn. 

bae

bae

This is such an incredibly flavorful cake. Browned butter just adds and extra nutty oomph to the toasty pecans and the texture is dense and rich. It's really great just on its own, without frosting, if you're into that kind of thing. Now, I like just a drop of natural butter flavor added to this cake for a true butter pecan flavor, but it is optional (this one is great). If you layer your extracts with subtlety the flavor can be wonderful (not artificial tasting). This makes enough for two 8" pans but you can double this easily for a lovely tall cake, which I recommend. 

BROWNED BUTTER PECAN CAKE

10 TBSP. salted butter

300 g. sugar

1 tsp. fine kosher or sea salt

1/2 c. heavy cream

3 large egg yolks, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. natural butter extract

150 g. cake flour (I use White Lily)

50 g. all-purpose flour (I use Gold Medal AP)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 c. toasted pecans, chopped finely (or use pecan chips)

Prepare pans by greasing and flouring sides and lining bottoms with parchment. Toast pecans and set aside to cool. Sift flours and baking powder into a small bowl. I know sifting is annoying but you really have to do it for this recipe--do not just stir with a whisk. Add sugar and salt to a large bowl, set aside. In a large saucepan, add the butter and cook over medium heat until butter browns. Remove from heat and pour over sugar and salt, scraping the saucepan to get all the delicious browned butter solids. Use a hand mixer to whip for about one minute, then add cream and mix until fully incorporated. Place this mixture in the freezer for about 10 minutes or until room temperature/cool (do not allow to freeze).

Remove from freezer and continue to whip the butter and sugar mixture until thick, light and fluffy, for about 4 minutes. Add yolks, one at a time, then the eggs and the extracts, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. This should take about 10 minutes total. Add flour in two batches, mixing on the lowest speed until just incorporated. Fold in pecans. Divide evenly among pans and bake for about 18--22 minutes or until center springs back when touched. Trim cakes, then fill and frost.

Cherry Coconut Cake by Molly Brodak

You know that dusty old snowball coconut cake in the bakery case, the one covered in (cringe) raw shredded coconut? Basically just white cake with a teaspoon or so of coconut extract added?  I always tried ordering that guy, and was always disappointed. 

I love coconut. I love it so much, I wanted to rescue coconut cake from this snowball let down. 

                                  nah

                                  nah

Somewhere around here I have a list of things I will never feed people, things like raw shortening in "butter"cream and raw, stringy, flavorless, untoasted coconut is on that list. If you don't have this beautiful green fondant and beautiful fresh flower arrangement by Caroline Worth-Bruno like I have for my coconut cake, go ahead and snowball your coconut cake but for the love of god, toast your damn coconut first.

Like I said, I was lucky enough to get to sit back and document Caroline Worth-Bruno's amazing flower arranging talent take over my cake. Every step of the process produced a moment of beauty, and by the end she said "I wish you were always there to watch me arrange" because I kept gasping in delight and/or applauding every time she added a new element. 

transfixing magic

transfixing magic

 When it comes to fresh flowers on cakes, there are many methods for creating a food safe barrier between these inedible (and often pesticide-laden) beauties, including flower picks, melted chocolate, saran wrap, etc, but I thought I'd try out this FDA approved food safe method that seemed ideal to me: soy wax.

The stems were dipped in wax and left to harden for a while, and it worked quite well, with the wax remaining in place on the stem and not transferring into the cake (be sure to poke a hole first though).

After the pastel moment of spring and weddings, we both craved a bit of intensity and color, and were not disappointed with the end result.

This cake is super moist thanks to both coconut milk and coconut cream, and the fresh cherries add and unexpected summery element that freshens up this classic cake. You can of course omit the cherries, or use another fruit if you'd like (fresh peach slices would be super good!).

these two guys are not the same--one is full of added sugar

these two guys are not the same--one is full of added sugar

Cover it in this coconut buttercream and top with toasted coconut, or cover it in chocolate ganache. 

COCONUT BUTTERCREAM

7.5 oz coconut cream (1/2 of a 15 oz can, reserved from the cake recipe)

2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 c. (220 g.) powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. coconut extract

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

Combine all ingredients and whip until light and fluffy, at least 6 minutes.

Now, when it comes to pitting cherries, there is one tool that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It's like a giant cherry stapler, and it is easy to clean, simple, and does the least amount of damage to your cherry with maximum efficiency. Step away from the damn paperclips and straws and paring knives and whatever foolish pitting nonsense you've tried before and buy yourself a new best pitter friend.

Now onto the recipe! Let me know what you think about this one!

CHERRY COCONUT CAKE

3 c. (350 g.) cake flour (I use White Lily)

3 tsp. (10 g.) baking powder

3 tsp. unsalted butter, softened

1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

1 tsp. sea or kosher salt

2 c. (400 g.) sugar

4 large egg whites, room temperature

1/2 c. coconut milk

1/2 c. coconut cream

1 tsp. coconut extract

4 c. pitted fresh sweet cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three eight or nine inch round pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. Add pitted cherries to the bottom of the pans, and try to keep the cherries away from the edges of the pan if possible (the cherries can stick to the edges and prevent the cake from rising properly).

Mix flour and baking soda together with a whisk until combined.

Place softened butter, oil, sugar and salt in a large bowl and mix on medium until combined (it will look like wet sand). Add egg whites and beat for three minutes. Add coconut milk, cream, and extract and beat until combined, then mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Divide among pans and bake for 25-35 minutes or until centers are set. Cool, fill, and frost. Top with toasted coconut if desired.

we had way too much fun  

we had way too much fun

 

Peach Brioche Danishes by Molly Brodak

Remember last year when the squirrels ate every single peach off of my peach tree? Well. Not this year. No sir. This year I wrapped my entire little peach tree in chicken wire. But these peaches were worth months of enduring this insane eyesore.

ugh lol

ugh lol

I ended up with maybe 16 or so peaches, not a lot, but I knew if I nipped off most of the peach buds the ones I would get would be bigger and better. And man, biting into one of these the instant it was picked was absolute heaven. Ripened for as long as possible on the branch and sun-warmed, the peach was smooth as heaven and so sweet, It was like I'd never really had a peach before.

I deliberated for a day or so before I could come up with a recipe for which I'd be willing to spend these precious peaches. Something time consuming and annoying: only the best will do for my babies.

Brioche! Brioche danishes! 

ooh ok!

ooh ok!

Don't get me wrong, I love the shatter of a flaky laminated-dough danish as much as anyone, but they are really dessert to me; a brioche danish is something I can actually eat for breakfast. The tender buttery dough is not too sweet, and like the best pie crust, is really the perfect foil for ripe summer fruit.

This recipe makes a substantial amount of brioche dough that you can bake in any way you'd like. I threw some of this dough into a brioche tin and had a few nice buns for dinner. I don't recommend halving this recipe, as a smaller amount of dough will not mix as well in your stand mixer.

On that point, please be aware you really do need a stand mixer for this operation. This dough is so soft it is basically a batter most of the time, so it just cannot be kneaded by hand. And I use an all-purpose flour because it makes an even more tender dough than bread flour, and since this is really a sweet treat and not sandwich bread, robust gluten formation is not that important to me in this recipe.

The small touch of cream cheese filling helps add some moisture to the pastry, and helps keep the peaches in place as the brioche puffs in the oven. I would recommend making these smaller than I made mine, shape them into maybe 2" rounds rather than the big ol' boys I made here. You can glaze them with a simple powdered sugar & milk icing drizzle or eat as is, both are lovely. Best reheated just for a couple of seconds in the microwave after the first day.

I messed with a few different brioche recipes to come up with my own version that I believe is perfect for danishes. It's a very tender brioche, not heavy nor dense. These look like heavy sinkers (where I come from we call any substantial carby, sugary pastry/pancake a 'sinker' for how it feels like a rock in your stomach and puts you to sleep) but they are surprisingly airy and feathery. 

So yes, this recipe takes forever and has a million steps. The best baking schedule here is to start the recipe in the afternoon or early evening, allowing for enough time for the first bulk fermentation, then allow to proof overnight, then you need a good 2.5 hours in the morning to shape and proof, then your pastries will be ready by late morning/early afternoon. Perfect for a brunch situation! You don't have to proof overnight, but you also don't have to eat amazing brioche, so look if you're going to go through this whole process why not allow yourself the most flavor development possible. It's a great weekend project to get lost in. And I promise you, all of your patience will pay off.

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PEACH BRIOCHE DANISH

makes about 20 danishes

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. warm water

3 1/2 tsp. (15 g) active dry yeast

4 c. (510 g) all-purpose flour

2 tsp. (14 g) fine sea salt

1/3 c. (75 g) sugar

5 eggs, room temperature

1 c. unsalted butter, soft, cut into chunks

Peeled and sliced fresh peaches

for the cream cheese filling:

1/2 pkg (4 oz) cream cheese, softened

1 egg

1/4 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

pinch salt

for the egg wash:

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 c. heavy cream

Mix heavy cream with warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add yeast and mix with a whisk until yeast is dissolved. Mix in sugar and 1/2 c. of flour to make a slurry. Dump all of the rest of the flour on top of the slurry, do NOT mix together. Add salt on the top of the flour. Let the bowl sit, undisturbed, for about 30 minutes or until the flour shows cracks across the top. 

Using the dough hook, mix flour together with slurry, then add eggs and beat on low for 3-5 minutes until incorporated. Add softened butter in three stages, waiting for each addition to fully incorporate before adding more. Mix on medium low for 20 to 25 minutes, checking the dough towards the end to see if the dough is stretchy and smooth (don't worry about the windowpane test). The dough may cling to the hook and slap against the bowl--it is done if so. 

Spray a bowl and some cling wrap with cooking spray and transfer to bowl, turning to oil the dough ball. Cover with the plastic wrap and leave in a draft-free spot for two hours or until doubled.

Punch down by folding in each 'corner' of the dough ball then flip over so the gathered seam is down. Replace plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

8-12 hours later, remove dough and cut into equal 1 to 2 oz. portions, roll into logs then twist into bun shapes. Place buns on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Place in draft-free spot for two hours or until doubled.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix egg with heavy cream for egg wash and brush over danishes. Prepare cream cheese filling by mixing together softened cream cheese, egg, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Press an indentation in your danishes and fill with mixture. Add slices of peeled peaches, as many as will fit, or other fruit if you prefer.

Bake for 25-45 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm if at all possible. Ice when cool if desired and store in an air-tight container.

Grilled Grapefruit & Brown Sugar Cake by Molly Brodak

Do you have a cake hater in your life? Maybe you are a cake hater, although it seems unlikely if you are reading my blog that you are a cake hater. Anyway, here's what you do: invite your cake hater over for a dinner party soon and make this cake for dessert.

I actually get where cake haters are coming from. So much cake is...so bad. It's just too sweet, isn't it, just a mouthful of dull sugar and nothing more, with no appealing additions other than even-sweeter frosting (ugh) or maybe some fruit (great, more sugar). I remember going to weddings as a kiddo and thinking that wedding cake was the worst cake of them all, being the whitest, dullest, sweetest mess I'd ever tasted, thinking it must be shitty on purpose for some reason. I wasn't completely wrong to surmise that all of the adults sucking down beer and wine with their cake maybe were onto something.

So this is the most anti-wedding cake you could have, short of it becoming chocolate. It's super tangy, with almost a hint of interesting bitterness, like burnt sugar has. The brown sugar balances the bright citrus flavor so perfectly; I think it is one of the tastiest cakes I've ever made. It's moist and rich thanks to the fats from the oil and sour cream, but super fresh and tangy due to the 3-way grapefruit additions, the best of which is the smoky, caramelized, slightly bitter grilled grapefruit bits that stud the cake like tiny jewels. 

Speaking of weddings, my first order of business after getting married last week has been finding ways of getting just a touch more use out of my wedding dress, hence the tulle background--that's her.

And look at those pretty tasting forks my friend Caroline gave me! Eeep!

Little pink spray roses are my favorite roses, and pastel blue is my favorite blue, so I made a kind of second wedding cake for myself with this one. I just happened to have this sugar paste rose wreath left over from a previous project and it turned out to fit so well on this cake.

hiiii

hiiii

Now, onto baking. The first thing you need to do here is prepare your grapefruit. You are going to use all of one large grapefruit for this recipe, extracting as much grapefruity flavor as possible from one fruit. Of course, first we zest it, making sure, as always, to not zest too deeply, as the white pith under the skin is very bitter. For baking, zest citrus is light, short strokes so you end up with small pieces and not long creepy strings of zest.

Then, we're going to remove the fruit from half of the grapefruit (the other half will be juiced). This method is the best way of getting lovely citrus fruit segments for salads. I remember learning how to do this in a knife skills class I took years ago and besides learning how to break down a chicken, it was my favorite knife skill I learned there.

Just cut the top and bottom off to make a stable surface, then slice away the skin and rind, following the curve of the fruit, and trying your best to remove all the pith but as little fruit as possible. Then, just cut out the wedges with your paring knife. Grill for about two minutes on each side, just until they are browned but not burnt. They will break apart as you move them, which is fine. Remove bits from the pan and toss with a teaspoon of brown sugar and allow to cool. It won't seem like very much fruit but don't worry, it's the perfect amount.

And yes, you need a full teaspoon of salt, since as you know salt is the guy, not sugar, who counteracts excess bitterness best. Science! This recipe makes a small cake, just two 8" layers, so it can be easily doubled if you want a bigger cake. Which you do.

GRILLED GRAPEFRUIT & BROWN SUGAR CAKE

1 3/4 c. (201 g.) cake flour (White Lily)

1 3/4 tsp. (8 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

1  c. (226 g.) brown sugar & 1 tsp, divided

1/2 c. (113 g.) white sugar

1/3 c. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil

1/3 c. sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

Zest of one grapefruit

Grilled grapefruit segments from 1/2 of a grapefruit (see below)

Whisk flour and baking powder together thoroughly in a small bowl and set aside.  

Zest grapefruit into a large bowl. Cut grapefruit in half lengthwise (from top to bottom) and juice one half for 1/3 cup of grapefruit juice (if it doesn't make a full 1/3 cup, add water to complete it). Cut off rind from the other half as shown above and remove fruit segments with paring knife. Grill segments in a cast iron grill pan lightly brushed with butter for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned. Remove from pan and toss in 1 tsp. of brown sugar and set in fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8" pans and line bottoms with parchment.

Place sugar, salt, and grapefruit juice in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is mostly melted--do not allow to boil. Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl with zest. Add oil, vanilla, sour cream, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. If mixture is still hot, allow to cool for a few minutes before moving to the next step.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no flour lumps remain. Mix in eggs on low speed, one at a time, until fully combined. Fold in grapefruit bits with a spatula.

Divide batter between pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or so until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto cooling rack. Level cakes by slicing off their crown. Allow cakes to cool and rest, then fill, and frost.

so perfect!  

so perfect!

 

Mandarin Matcha Cookies by Molly Brodak

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One of my favorite books when I was little was the Runaway Bunny. It's a little sad and creepy now when I look at it again, as the best children's books always are, and it reminds me so much of my mom. I used this book as inspiration for these Mother's Day cookies on sale now here in Atlanta at Youngblood Boutique.

I also am a huge fan of Japanese ceramics, and I think the poppy seeds in this cookie remind me of the subtle textures and imperfection of some Japanese tea cups and plates, the wabi sabi kind, a little imperfect to remind us of our own imperfect, impermanent existence.

The farmer's market had some lovely mandarins on sale last week, and I thought their flavor would brighten up this matcha cookie I'd been working on for a while. I originally had a matcha ginger flavor, but I much prefer this mandarin version. It's sweeter and friendlier.

I tested this recipe with a regular/low quality green tea powder and a really nice, expensive one from the Asian grocery, and there was a big difference in taste. The low quality matcha made the cookies, well, green, but not very flavorful. The expensive stuff had a beautiful bright, almost neon green color and really tasted like the real deal, so take that info and do what you will with it.

Here's how I do my rolling out--it's a method that causes minimal stress/sticking and less distortion of your cut shapes. Overall the plan here is to just keep the dough on wax or parchment paper (wax is better since it wrinkles less in the freezer) and keep it cold. Not rolling out directly on your work surface also reduces the amount of flour you'll need to roll out, since it is ok that the dough sticks to the paper underneath.

1. Mix dough as described below, shape immediately into three discs and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to an hour, until cold and firm but not rock hard.

2. Place wax or parchment paper cut to the size of your cookie sheet on your working surface. Sprinkle with flour. Place perfection strips on paper, then position dough between them. Using flour as needed, roll out dough to desired thickness (I always use 1/4 inch--the thickest strips) and pick up paper with dough and place on cookie sheet, cover in plastic wrap, then immediately place in freezer. Stack all flattened dough sheets like this. Freeze until solid, at least 2 hours.

3. Remove one dough sheet at a time from the freezer and cut shapes from frozen dough and bake immediately or store in freezer-safe container. Re-roll scraps just once.

To keep the paper from sliding as you roll your dough, let the paper hang over the edge of your work table and push your tummy solidly up against it to keep it in place as you roll out. It will seem silly at first but it totally works. 

Keeping your dough constantly cold will ensure your cookies don't spread much. These cookies will spread a tiny bit in the oven, which is not a huge deal if you are just eating these, but if you are a maniac like me and want a great trick to fixing spread edges that are a little too wabi sabi for your needs, just use a microplaner on the edges for more even, straight lines.

Admission: of all the cookie doughs I've made, this one is my favorite to eat raw. I know I know, you're not supposed to, but I do it all the time. It is so yummy.

piping party

piping party

I'm not a terribly patient piper, since I am much better with a paint brush than a piping bag, but I really wanted the look  of piping on these cookies with the beautiful textured background. I cannot stop looking at the cute little bunnies on these cookies. A few small swipes of edible color dust defined their shapes really well.

MANDARIN MATCHA COOKIES

makes 15-30 cookies, depending on cutter size 

2 c. unsalted butter, soft but cool 

2 c. (425 g.) granulated sugar

3 mandarin oranges, zested, and one juiced

1 egg, room temperature

1 yolk, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 tsp. matcha green tea powder

1 tsp. sea or kosher salt

5 c. (635 g.) all-purpose flour

3 tsp. poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a hand mixer, beat softened butter, sugar, salt, orange zest until just combined and smooth, about 2 minutes (stop before mixture begins to fluff up). Add eggs, vanilla extract, poppy seeds and matcha and mix for another minute. Add flour and beat just until dough comes together; do not over mix. 

Prepare dough as described above and bake cut out shapes for 9-14 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie shape. Cookies are done when edges just barely begin to brown and center is set (do not allow to brown too much). Be sure to bake the same size cookies together, and allow at least 2 inches space around each cookie. Once cooled, frost with royal icing if desired and store in an air-tight container.

happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, mine especially

happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, mine especially

Vegan Chocolate Cake by Molly Brodak

Happy Birthday to me! 

I visited my mom and sister recently back home in Michigan and mom made for me my favorite birthday cake she used to make when I was little: wacky cake.

Wacky cake is apparently a recipe created in the 40s when home bakers were rationing on account of World War II. It requires no eggs, no butter, and no milk. It's "wacky" because the recipe traditionally calls for you to make three wells in the dry mix--one for vanilla extract, one for oil, and the last for vinegar. Then you cover the whole thing with water, stir with a fork, and bake. 

Now, to be honest there's no real science behind this method, it seems to me just a clever way to make a recipe memorable. It really makes no difference to the outcome of the cake if you make the three little wells or not, as wacky-cake pros like my mom know.

Essentially, this is a great vegan cake, and with this inspiration in mind, I created a recipe for a very similar chocolate vegan cake. It's extremely soft, with a loose, wiggly crumb and incredible lightness. I like this even better than non-vegan chocolate cake, plus it brings back memories of home.

yes I am eating it with my hands

yes I am eating it with my hands

Now, the fact that wacky cake is usually baked as a sheet cake tells you something. This cake is SO tender that it is hard to work with...it's a terrible candidate for carving, and is so delicate it is hard to slice and tort, or even move the layers around unless you are very deft with cake-moving. I recommend baking this cake, too, in a 8x8 pan or as cupcakes. It doesn't have much structure because of the low protein content in this recipe. This recipe can easily be doubled for a 9x13 or similar larger pan.

painting with buttercream!

painting with buttercream!

Of course, thinking about what can be done with a sheet cake without having to carve it or slice it, I thought about a painting. I created this Spring-inspired "oil" painting using vegan margarine-based buttercream and created a fondant frame for it out of a mold I made from a fantastic old framed mirror in my bedroom. 

I painted the frame with edible gold coloring and dusted it with cocoa powder to antique it slightly. 

most of the frame was held up with rolled foil (you can see it in this pic) since I didn't want to waste a ton of fondant

most of the frame was held up with rolled foil (you can see it in this pic) since I didn't want to waste a ton of fondant

I altered the basic wacky cake recipe to boost flavor and add richness. I promise the addition of coffee will not impart any coffee flavor to the cake, just deepen the chocolate taste (trust me, I'm not a big coffee fan so I wouldn't do this if the coffee flavor was detectable). Starbucks (and lots of other retailers) now make fantastic microground instant coffee that is miles away from those horrible crystals your parents used to drink--these are perfect for this recipe. Any cocoa powder will do--my favorite grocery store cocoa powder is Hershey's Special Dark, but feel free to use your fancy high quality cocoa powder if you have it. Dutch-process cocoa is better in this recipe than natural cocoa because it will make a richer, darker cake and the acidity of natural cocoa is not needed since we have plenty of other acidic ingredients here, but natural (such as regular Hershey's cocoa powder) will substitute ok.

Bonus: all you need for this recipe is a whisk!

Vegan Chocolate Cake

1 c. unsweetened soy or nut milk of your choice

1 packet microground instant coffee or espresso (to make one cup)

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 c. (160 g.) sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 c. vegetable or canola oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. (133 g.) all-purpose flour

1/3 c. (34 g.) cocoa powder, preferably Dutched

3/4 tsp. (4 g.) baking soda

1/2 tsp. (2 g.) baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease and flour 8x8 baking pan or line cupcake pan with liners. Heat nondairy milk until warm in microwave; stir in coffee powder until dissolved. Add vinegar and set aside. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl until thoroughly mixed. In a larger bowl, combine milk mixture with sugar, oil, vanilla, and salt, and whisk until lightly frothy. Add dry mixture in two batches, and whisk. Mixture can have small lumps. Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 18-22 minutes or until center is set. Allow to cool completely before icing with your favorite frosting.

art saved my life. thanks for another year!

art saved my life. thanks for another year!

A Better Bundt by Molly Brodak

Poundcake is the shortbread of the cake world. But despite its apparent simplicity, it's not necessarily easy to master. Both are best plain, without any bits or babs mucking things up because, all in all, both are really just an excuse to eat butter.

Bundt cake is poundcake, btw, just baked in a bundt pan. True poundcake is made into loafs, but that is the only difference. I use the terms interchangeably.

While I am bestowing the priceless gift of my secretest bundt cake recipe upon you, I'm also offering up some of the amazing photos of a bundt cake shoot I participated in with local Atlanta brilliants: Haley Sheffield, photography; Kristine Cholakian Cooke, stylist; and Caroline Worth-Bruno, floral designer and heavenly gem.

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

Survey the world of pound/bundt cake recipes online and you will find the classic quatre quarts recipe--basically just butter, sugar, eggs, and flour--and you will also find recipes that resemble regular cake recipes. I say "regular" because they include a chemical leavener like baking powder or baking soda. And that is a huge mistake.

Have you ever had a bundt cake stick to the pan, break apart when you try to remove it, or have a pitted, unsmooth crust? If so, blame your baking soda.

Let me explain. Baking soda (and baking powder is just baking soda with some added neutralizers to slow baking soda's frantic and immediate bubbling) causes the air pockets in your batter to expand. Once the bubbly structure is created, the batter network cures, trapping the air and creating the soft, tender texture of cake. As the batter expands, it falls all over itself in your pan chaotically, pressing itself into the sides of your pan, forcing its mass up like a slow-mo volcano.

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke, flowers by Caroline Worth-Bruno

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke, flowers by Caroline Worth-Bruno

Pound cake batter, on the other hand, is a lazy batter. These cakes take much longer to bake than regular cakes because this batter is just sort of gently sitting there, lazily basking in your oven...

Without a chemical leavener, pound cake expands just a little only due to the steam escaping from the finer air bubbles in your batter. The batter that is touching your pan forms an even, smooth crust because it's not expanding very energetically against the pan. If you have the right recipe, your bundt should never break upon removal from the pan, but fall out smoothly with an even, golden crust. 

Unless you are using a pan from the dark ages, you shouldn't need any grease or flour in your pan either. In fact, those things can just cause an interference. Any normal nonstick bundt pan should be fine on its own. You should also not need to pry any instrument into your pan to get your bundt baby out. A few taps, a few gentle shakes, and it should plop out easily when inverted.

That being said, I do spray my older pans with a light flash from Baker's Joy, just for the extra assurance. I have made bundts with and without it, and it really makes no discernable difference except in my very old aluminum antique pans.

Bundt is done when the top cracks and the dough inside the crack looks just barely set.

Now, being "plain" as it is, a bit of acid in poundcake is always a good idea. That's why lemon or citrus poundcake is always the most popular variety, but blueberry and strawberry are also great. I love lemon poundcake with strawberry icing (just puree some fresh or frozen strawberries, strain, and add the juice to the icing recipe below), and I really really love orange poundcake. 

If you want really good, tangy lemon icing, you're going to need a pinch of citric acid, which can be found in the canning section of your grocery store. Lemon juice alone will only take you so far. Make it as thick or as thin as you like, but don't sub water for the heavy cream or milk--that bit of dairy really helps give the icing substance.

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

And if you really really want to gild the lily, you can brush your warm poundcake with simple syrup and it will be even more ridiculously moist, edging up to a pudding-like texture, if that's your kind of thing. Either way, this cake is better the next day, once the crust softens.

I tested the basic triad of poundcake recipes--all butter, butter and cream cheese, and butter and sour cream, and a combo of both. As expected, the sour cream and cream cheese (which has been my go-to poundcake recipe for years) was the best. The acid of the sour cream works a little like buttermilk, keeping the dough tender, and the moisture of the cream cheese keeps the cake tender enough to not really need a sugar syrup soak.

The texture of this cake should be velvety and dense.

Take your time creaming this batter, since there are no chemical leaveners, this mechanical whipping process is the only source of bubbles/rise for your cake--don't hurry through it.

This recipe makes an ample amount of batter, about 7 cups, enough for two 8" loafs or one large bundt pan. It can be halved if using a smaller pan. Because the pan size doesn't matter as much with pound cake in terms of how the batter will perform, you can put as much or as little of this batter in your pans and it should all come out basically the same, just be sure to adjust your time down for smaller amounts of batter or smaller pans.

For chocolate poundcake, just add 1/2 c. of good quality cocoa powder. photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

For chocolate poundcake, just add 1/2 c. of good quality cocoa powder. photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke

PERFECT POUNDCAKE

1 1/2c. (3 sticks) very soft room-temperature unsalted butter

8 oz. very soft cream cheese

3 c. (600 g.) sugar

6 large eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. sea or kosher salt

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

3 c. (375 g.) all-purpose flour 

1/2 c. (114 g.) sour cream (not reduced fat)

1 lemon, orange, or two limes, zested and juiced

For the icing:

1 c. powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. heavy cream or whole milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract or other flavor

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1/8 tsp. citric acid

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray large bundt pan or two loaf pans with Baker's Joy if desired. 

Mix butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer until completely combined and no chunks of cream cheese remain. Add sugar, salt, and finely grated rind of citrus fruit(s) and cream on medium high speed for about 4 minutes, until mixture is fully combined and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly on high speed and scraping bottom. Once the last egg is added, whip for an additional 4 minutes until batter is pale and fluffy, scraping sides and bottom consistently.

Add 1/2 of the flour and mix on low until just combined. Add sour cream and extracts and juice and mix again on low until just combined. Add the remaining flour and mix until just combined.

Scoop batter into pan(s) and bake for about 60 minutes, or until tops are split. Allow to cool in pan for five minutes, remove, then level bottoms if desired, and allow to cool completely before icing. 

To make the icing, add the liquids to the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Pour over cakes and allow to set before slicing. Store cakes under a glass dome or an overturned bowl.

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke, flowers by Caroline Worth-Bruno

photo by Haley Sheffield, styling by Kristine Cholakian Cooke, flowers by Caroline Worth-Bruno