Cake

Chamomile Lime Swan Cake with Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream by Molly Brodak

chamom14.JPG

My birthday cake has come early this year.

Oh man, this cake makes my heart explode! Confetti shreds of heart all over everything!

I was inspired by those 50's style swan planters you used to see everywhere, and thinking about a very pastel palette since I've got wedding brain right now. Flavorwise, I'm ready as hell for Spring right now, and I wanted to make a cake that tasted like Spring.

gah!

gah!

I'm an enormous fan of tea, as you might realize from this post, but chamomile has never been my favorite...for the central reason that it is not actually tea, but a herbal infusion. That being said, chamomile is such a wonderful flavor, light and fresh and floral without being perfume-y like rose. Lime adds a nice balance to the sweetness, and the honey Swiss meringue buttercream triangulates the Spring attitude of this cake.

I don't expect you'll make your chamomile-lime cake into a swan as I have done, but in case you're interested in how I made it happen I've shown a bit more behind-the-scenes type pics in this post than usual.

You'll start by making a very strong tea by letting six tea bags infuse in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. There's no danger of it turning bitter since, ahem, this is not actually tea. Be sure to use a brand that is composed of 100% chamomile flowers, or just buy them in bulk at your health food store.

This cake is a sturdy, somewhat coarse-crumbed cake but is made very moist by the sour cream and the tea soak that comes after baking. Its flavors are very subtle and light, and would be delicious plain or with a simple whipped cream topping instead of the admittedly elaborate Swiss meringue buttercream I used.

Speaking of that, let's start there. Let me first say, I don't really like Swiss meringue buttercream all that much. For some bakers, it is the only kind of buttercream they use. It's supposed to be more sophisticated and refined than regular old American buttercream (the kind with just butter and powered sugar) but to me this idea is sort of, I don't know, elitist and untrue. I've got this and this meringue-free buttercream to prove it. Logically, making meringue then cramming a pound of butter into it while it deflates just doesn't make sense to me in any case.

BUT still, I thought I'd give it a whirl. With the honey addition, this buttercream whips up a bit more stable and rich, plus the honey flavor is amazing.

Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 large egg whites

1 c. (213 g.) sugar

1 lb. (4 sticks) very soft unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

1/3 c. (60 g.) honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Wipe bowls and beaters with white vinegar. Combine egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 140 degrees F (warm, not hot).

Remove from heat and transfer to a large glass or metal bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip mixture until very stiff peaks are reached and the bowl feels neutral to the touch (no longer warm). Add chunks of softened butter in small amounts and whip until fully incorporated. If mixture becomes soupy/warm, refrigerate for a few minutes and whip again until it comes together.

Add salt, honey, and vanilla, whip until combined.

Oh, this cake is so good, so fragrant right out of the oven. You might be tempted to add more lime to this cake, because it doesn't seem like enough, but trust me, you don't want to lose the delicate chamomile flavor under the power of lime. The tea soak at the end of this recipe is crucial to keeping the balance of flavors in order.

For my cake, I carved the body of the swan from cake and added a wired gumpaste head/neck, all of which was covered in fondant. This is actually not the best cake for carving because of its open crumb, so if you're looking to make a swan cake like mine I would suggest this cake recipe instead, which is very fine-crumbed and ideal carving material.

 no template, I was JUST WINGING IT -.-

 no template, I was JUST WINGING IT -.-

I picked some peonies and roses from my box of leftover sugar flowers and made a bunch of dusty miller to match the pastel palette I had in mind. The wings were attached with sugar glue, and I let them firm up with some saran wrap stuffed behind them so they'd stick up a bit.

this is the fun part

this is the fun part

I loved making this cake, and I loved eating it just as much. Sometimes people ask me if I have a hard time cutting into these creations I spend hours and hours making. Not at all. It might actually be the best part. Cakes are ephemera, after all, just like all good things are.

 

Chamomile Lime Cake

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

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

1 1/2 c. (298 g.) sugar

1 c. strongly-brewed chamomile tea (6 teabags, steep for 10 minutes)

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 large egg yolks, room temperature

1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

1/3 c. sour cream

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

Zest and juice of one lime

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

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

Place sugar, salt, and 1/3 c. of tea (reserve the rest for later use) in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is mostly melted--do not allow to boil. Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl. Zest lime and squeeze juice into the sugar mixture. Add oil, vanilla, sour cream, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. 

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. By hand, mix in eggs, then yolks, one at a time until fully combined. 

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.

Prepare tea simple syrup soak by mixing the remaining strong tea with 1/3 c. of sugar in a microwavable container and microwave for about a minute or until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Level cakes by slicing off their crown and brush or drizzle with tea soak. Allow cakes to cool and rest, then fill, and frost.

Yuzu S'mores Cake by Molly Brodak

It's January, which means two things: it's citrus season (yay!) and it's Kookie House's birthday (yay!!!!!). This cake is here to celebrate both, and it is so so so good. I can't handle how delicious this cake is. To which the copious exclamation points above attest.

There are a lot of s'mores cake recipes out there, but this one is unique--the intensely tangy yuzu juice takes the s'mores flavor combo out of sickly sweet territory and into transcendently delicious territory. This cake is unexpectedly addictive.

Yuzu is a grapefruity-lemon-like fruit from Japan and it's just starting to get popular in the States. Word on the street is you might see a lot of Yuzu in the near future since it was recently discovered it grows well in the Pacific Northwest and growers are starting to invest in it.

In the meantime, you can find some very good fresh bottled Yuzu juice from Japan. I found this bottle above at my local Asian mart. You can also buy it online of course, although it can get pricey that way. If you don't live near a cool Asian food mart and you don't feel like shelling out the bucks for an online order, you can easily swap in regular fresh lemon juice in this cake and it will be just as tasty.

This cake is rich and moist and serves to seal in the graham crackers which keeps them miraculously crispy even though they are baked into the cake. The ganache I use here is even easier to make than buttercream, so don't be intimated. Make the ganache first so it can set up a bit.

GANACHE

This is my basic ganache recipe I use for filling or frosting cakes. If you want a lighter, more buttercream-like texture, whip with whisk beaters for ONE minute (don't over-whip or it can separate). Feel free to double or triple this recipe for bigger batches--this makes just enough to fill this cake.

10.5 oz. chopped dark or semisweet chocolate (chips will work, but finely chopped chocolate is better)

5 fl. oz. heavy whipping cream

Place chopped chocolate into a heat-safe bowl. Microwave or heat cream on stovetop until just barely simmering around the edges. Pour slowly and evenly over chocolate. Twist bowl back and forth gently so the cream covers the chocolate completely. Allow to sit for 30 seconds, then begin stirring with spatula or whisk. Mix until completely smooth and no lumps remain. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before using. If it sets up solidly before using, microwave for a few seconds until it softens to peanut-butter like consistency. 

Now, a lot of "marshmallow" frosting recipes are really just meringue--egg whites, sugar, lots of tiny bubbles. And yeah, you can cover your cake with light and foamy meringue and toast it, and that's nice. But if you want something really marshmallowy, you need to get some gelatin involved. 

It seemed most logical here to use actual marshmallows in the recipe than deal with gelatin, since the marshmallows will offer up their gelatin to us AND their marshmallowy flavor. This marshmallow frosting is ridiculously delicious and its simple, I promise. I could eat gobs of it alone. You can just glob it on your cake or pipe it--either way it looks beautiful. And toasted?? Even better. I used my kitchen blowtorch which is one of those kitchen tools you don't use all of the time, but when you need it you really need it.

yasss

yasss

MARSHMALLOW FROSTING

3 large egg whites, cold

1/2 c. cold water

1 1/2 c. (325 g.) sugar

1 1/2 tsp. (12 g.) corn syrup

1 c. mini marshmallows

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Prepare piping bag if using. Mix all ingredients except marshmallows, vanilla and lemon juice in a large metal or glass bowl. Place over a pot of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water). Using electric beaters, beat steadily on medium high speed for about 7 minutes or until mixture holds stiff peaks. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients, beat until marshmallows are completely melted. Scoop immediately into prepared piping bag or swirl onto cake quickly, as this frosting will set up as it cools.

Now onto the main event. This is my new go-to winter cake. 

omg

omg

YUZU S'MORES CAKE

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

3 tsp. (10 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

3 large eggs

2 large egg whites

2 c. (400 g.) sugar

1/3 c. yuzu juice

1 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

1 c. sour cream

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, scraped

2/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

18 graham crackers (2 packages) broken into large pieces

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk flour and baking powder together thoroughly in a large bowl and set aside. Cover bottoms of greased and floured 8" or 9" pans with broken graham crackers. Beat eggs, egg whites, sugar, salt, vanilla and yuzu juice for one minute (use a timer) on medium high until mixture is thick. Continue to beat while adding in sour cream in spoonfuls, and beat until smooth for 30 seconds.

Add oil to the flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Add 1/3 of the liquid mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no lumps remain.

Divide batter among pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 35 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. Allow cakes to cool completely before filling with ganache and covering with marshmallow frosting. Toast with blowtorch.

Christmas Gingerbread Cake with White Chocolate Ermine Buttercream by Molly Brodak

It's been a tough year. I know I'm not alone in feeling this. Maybe that's why I decided this year to saturate myself in Christmas cheer--a holiday I usually feel pretty neutral about.

Last year at this time my Mom and I were in Iceland, and there was something so much more special about holiday decorations in Iceland, especially the power of lights in the otherwise gloomy long nights there, and especially the power of a Christmas tree.

I'm not sure what city we were in when we found this tree, but I remember the moment walking up to this city square and seeing it glowing, and I am pretty sure I cried. I'm certain I hugged mom. To me, it's not the tree itself, not the details of its decoration or the lights, but the feeling it represents, the effort to will kindness, warmth, and generosity into a world that is dark and cold. A reminder to be your best self, even in the hardest times.

I wanted to end this year on that note, so my christmas cake takes the shape of a warm, cheery, nostalgic Christmas tree. I decorated it with cookie ornaments, sets of which are currently on sale at Young Blood Boutique here in Atlanta.

I use an edible FoodWriter marker to draw on the cookies after using a food coloring "watercolor" wash

I use an edible FoodWriter marker to draw on the cookies after using a food coloring "watercolor" wash

Improving upon classic gingerbread cake meant adding some lightness to it and some extra fat to counteract its typical dryness. I tried to switch to cake flour for a more refined texture but the cake flour just could not handle the muscle of the molasses, and ended up gummy and collapsed. So the texture of this cake is somewhat coarse but fitting for the nostalgic, old-fashioned vibe I wanted. Thinking back to my cream cake lesson, I turned to sour cream to both lighten the texture and add some fat for moisture. Still, gingerbread is going to be a heavy cake no matter what due to the molasses, but this is by far the lightest and moistest gingerbread cake I have ever had.

did I buy this brand of molasses because it looks like a tiny liquor bottle? Yes. That is accurate.

did I buy this brand of molasses because it looks like a tiny liquor bottle? Yes. That is accurate.

incredibly moist!

incredibly moist!

Flavorwise, something had to be done to balance the overwhelming flavor of molasses. It's just so powerful. The little scoop of ground ginger most recipes call for just will not do. I swapped out that weak mess for some real, freshly grated ginger, along with a pinch of pepper and a shot of rum. Finally some flavor comrades who can step to molasses. 

This buttercream is exactly the same as the ermine I came up with a few cakes back, but now with white chocolate for an even creamier flavor. It's one of my favorite buttercreams, and has a sturdy, almost-pudding-like consistency that I knew would hold up under the heavy gingerbread.

ERMINE BUTTERCREAM

4 Tbsp flour

1/4 c milk

3/4 c heavy cream

1/2 c granulated sugar

1 c (6 oz) white chocolate, chopped

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 c unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 c powdered sugar, or to taste

Combine milk and cream. Place flour and 1/3 c. of the milk/cream mixture in a small saucepan. Whisk constantly over low heat until mixture thickens. Add remaining liquid and sugar, boil over low heat for about 2 minutes until mixture is thick as paste and bubbling. Add white chocolate and stir until melted. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until cool. Whip butter, salt, vanilla, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cool pudding in small batches and whip until smooth and combined.  

I doubled the recipe for the cake and carved my stacked cakes into a smooth Christmas tree with a rice krispy treat top, then frosted it and wrapped it in pink fondant. Cookies were applied with melted chocolate so they'd be nice and secure while I transported the cake to the party.

I baked off some tiny meringue cookies that were also glued on with melted chocolate and painted with edible gold and pastel watercolors. Tiny royal icing dots for lights and a few ribbons and bows tied it altogether (groan).

I brought this to my friend's amazing holiday party and it made me so happy to cut it up. Every piece ended up with its own assortment of cookies and it made such a delightful dessert plate. Sometimes people ask me how I can stand to cut up my creations, but I tell you it is my favorite part--dividing up this little cake of happiness I've made for everyone who wants it.

GINGERBREAD CAKE

2 c (250 g) all-purpose flour

1 tsp (6 g) baking soda

2 tsp (5 g) cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

3/4 c (180 ml) molasses

3/4 c (180 ml) whole milk

2 tbsp dark rum

1/2 c (107 g) white sugar

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

1 egg

2 yolks

1/2 c (112 g) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine milk and rum in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring pitcher and heat for about one minute, until very hot but not boiling. Add molasses and stir, set aside.

Whisk flour with baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream soft butter with sugar, salt, and grated ginger until fluffy, about three minutes. Add egg and yolks, then sour cream, and beat for another three minutes. Pour half of the molasses mixture in gradually, continuing to beat, then half of the flour mixture. Finish beating mixture with remaining liquid then flour mixture.

Divide batter into prepared pans and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of your pans. Cakes are done when center is set and springs back when pressed. Cool cakes, level, split, and fill. 

 

a cut up cake is my favorite cake

a cut up cake is my favorite cake

Cream Cake with Browned Buttercream by Molly Brodak

Imagine if whipped cream had a baby with white cake.

Well she did, and her child is named is cream cake, and cream cake just became the boss of this here treatland.

This is a whole new kind of white cake. It's not not angel food cake, not buttermilk cake, it's cream cake. Rich, moist, tender, flavorful white cake that tastes like cream pudding. You see, my standard cake mix requires a lot of yolks for moistness and stability, but since egg yolks are not allowed in a real white cake, I had to come up with a substitute.

Egg whites provide structure for white cake but they are very, very drying. Any typical white sponge cake--angel food or otherwise--come uncannily close in texture to an actual kitchen sponge, and seem to require some other niceties to make them tolerable--whipped cream, fruit, compote, sauce, I don't know. 

So I moved towards dairy. Cream in particular--sour cream and my personal darling, heavy whipping cream. This cake really tastes like fresh cream. The texture is heavenly-soft, moist but not compact, and melts into satisfying creaminess.

It deserved a pretty presentation in an ikebana-inspired arrangement.

gold inside, gold outside

gold inside, gold outside

I tested dozens upon dozens of versions of this recipe--something close to 35. I mean, look at my tortured recipe notes.

I'll spare you every detail of every iteration, but one interesting highlight of the versioning is that I had to give up on making meringue. Whipping the whites into meringue frenzy and folding them in gently at the end, which is standard practice in white cakes, was holding my texture back from all it could achieve. It was always, well, spongey and somewhat dry with the whites whipped.

So I kept the whites un-merginued, and whipped them up just a little with vinegar for stability, then crammed as much dairy into this cake as I could

dairy laannnd

dairy laannnd

I just kept pushing it--more cream, more sour cream, until I found the sweet spot between dry and collapsed. This sweet spot made a cake moist beyond moist, no syrup soak or other niceties needed, but still light open-crumbed. The batter is rather acidic and leavened with a generous and meticulously adjusted amount of baking powder. (Side note--if it's been a while since you bought fresh baking powder, treat yourself to a new batch since this cake relies almost completely on chemical leaveners to rise since no creaming is involved.) It bakes up pretty evenly with no great dome because keeping the batter "low" kept it moist.  

Although the batter is quick and simple to whip up since creaming is removed from the process, you're going to experience some weirdness with this recipe, and this weirdness includes beating oil into flour to made a dough in order to create some structure. Also, for the frosting--steel yourself--some weird butter stuff. 

The story with this buttercream starts with trying to improve ABC--otherwise known as American Buttercream to bakers. That buttercream you've probably made: just butter and powdered sugar, a little milk or something. It's the simplest buttercream but has a bad reputation for being homely and too sweet, a little chalky or gritty thanks to the powdered sugar, and unspecial. I wanted to make it special, so I brought in my dearest secret baking star: browned butter.

Because of the quantity of butter here, you will end up clarifying some of it as you wait for it to brown. Don't worry. Your cooled brown butter will look like an insane weird mess at first, with nutso layers of solid butter, browned butter bits, and sweetened clarified butter underneath. Try to not be upset. See how it all whips up nicely? Trust me, the memory of the upsetting gloppy oddness with be all forgotten when you taste this fluffy buttercream.

So what does browned butter buttercream taste like?

"What is the flavor of this?" my boo asked me while tasting this out of the bowl. "I can't figure out why this is good, it's just so good. It's like, the flavor of tastiness. I can't stop eating it." Yes love, the flavor of tastiness, this is browned butter. You just have to try it to see. The melted butter also affords us an opportunity to add some melted sugar to the mix so that we can reduce the powdered sugar in this ABC to help solve some of its...homeliness. (You still want some powdered sugar for the starch and opacity, but taste it before adding because you can adjust the sweetness to your liking.)

BROWNED BUTTERCREAM

1 c. sugar

1/3 c. water

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter to brown

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter to cream, room temperature

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, scraped

1/4 to 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Combine water and sugar in a heat-safe bowl or measuring cup and microwave until sugar is dissolved into a smooth, thick sugar syrup. Melt 1 c. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until browned, stirring with a heat-proof spatula to prevent burnt spots. Butter is perfectly browned when it smells nutty and is dark brown--remove from heat quickly as it can burn fast. Slowly pour in sugar syrup and mix until combined (be careful, it will bubble and steam). Transfer mixture to heat-proof bowl and refrigerate for about an hour or until butter is just barely solidified. If it becomes too cold and hard, allow to return to room temperature before using in the next stage. Whip remaining butter until light and fluffy, then add the browned butter mixture in stages. Add powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla, and beat until pale and fluffy, for at least 5 minutes. 

 

Now, I decided to attempt an ikebana-inspired design by transforming the cake into a hammered metal bowl full of some sugar flowers I had in storage. Any opportunity to show of one great gobsmacker peony is one I will take.

creamcake5.JPG

This recipe makes a hearty amount of batter, perfectly suited to three 8" or 9" cake pans. I don't recommend using smaller/deeper pans for this cake as the batter can fail to rise and you will end up with dense, gummy layers. If you don't have three pans or you don't want to bake off all of this batter, remember cake batter is something you an easily freeze for several months if stored in an air-tight container.

 

CREAM CAKE

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

3 1/4 tsp. (12 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

5 large egg whites

2 c. (400 g.) sugar

1  tsp. white vinegar

1 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

1 1/5 c. heavy whipping cream

3/4 c. (155 g.) sour cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, scraped

2/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk flours and baking powder together thoroughly in a large bowl and set aside. Beat egg whites, sugar, salt and vinegar for one minute (use a timer) on medium high until mixture is thick. Continue to beat while adding in cream gradually. Add sour cream in spoonfuls, then vanilla, and beat until smooth for 30 seconds.

Add oil to the flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Add 1/3 of the cream mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no lumps remain.

Divide batter among three greased and floured 8" or 9" pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 20-30 minutes until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then level, fill, and frost.

ooh wee!

ooh wee!

Apple Pie Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce by Molly Brodak

That's right, I said Apple Pie Cake. It's a cake filled with apple pie filling. 

It's not that grody pie-baked-inside-cake monstrosity trotted out this time of year as a testament to America's top rank in Stuffership. This is a lovely, custardy cake with a layer of apples baked in the exact way I bake them for pie. It's the best of both worlds, and the caramel sauce is just the...caramel sauce on the cake.

Obviously you should serve this warm.

This is, so far, the easiest cake recipe I have posted this year. And you don't even need to plug in your mixer--all you'll need is a whisk!

Apple-wise, you can of course sub in your favorite pie apples, but trust me that a combo of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith makes the best pie filling on the planet--the Grannies provide the flavor and the Goldens offer the perfect baked apple texture (firm yet yielding). You can also use all Grannies if you like a tarter apple flavor but the filling won't be as tender.

Besides a tube pan with removable bottom to ensure the cake and apples are cooked thoroughly, the key piece of equipment here is a mandoline, which will make quick work of your apples and ensure the slices are all uniform. I'm a huge fan of my Benriner, which is has been an absolute all-star in my kitchen for years and can be had for under $30. 

Be sure to use one of these slicing safety gloves (that's what I do) or the little plastic finger guard that comes with the mandolin, because those thick slices of apple move off the blade faster than you might expect, and it's an utterly unnecessary tragedy to sacrifice your fingerprints to a cake.

Now, this caramel sauce is something you're just going to want to have on hand at all times, you know, like you might have mustard or soy sauce or whatever things you consider essential to a refrigerator. It is so, so easy to make and it's so, so good. 

Side note: don't ever listen to a recipe for caramel that asks for brown sugar. You'll end up with molasses goop, not caramel. The only way to make caramel is to caramelize sugar then add some butter/cream to it. Same goes for sweetened condensed milk...I will never understand the reasoning behind "caramel" recipes that ask for it. I just feel like it just doesn't get any sweeter than sugar, so the addition of sweetened condensed milk is just overkill.

real recognize real

real recognize real

Watch the caramel vigilantly--the difference between perfectly caramelized sugar and burnt sugar is just a few seconds. It's ok to err on the side of lighter caramel if you're afraid of burning it, but the more you push your caramel to the edge of burning, the better flavor you'll have. The addition of a squidge of lemon juice in caramel? That's what the french lady did at the candy shop where I used to work, and I feel it's safe to assume whatever french ladies do to their caramel is deeply correct. 

 

APPLE PIE CAKE WITH SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices (2 Granny Smith & 2 Golden Delicious)

2 Tbsp (25 g) packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 c (130 g) all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp (5 g) aluminum-free baking powder

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 large yolk, room temperature

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp white vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 c (260 g) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

12 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for the salted caramel sauce:

1 c (200 g) sugar

1/2 c heavy cream

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut up

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel, core, and quarter apples, then slice on mandolin into 1/4" slices. Toss slices with brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg, and set aside.

Whisk flour and baking powder together thoroughly and set aside.

Grease and flour tube pan with removable bottom, or use baking spray. Whisk eggs, yolk, milk, vinegar, and salt until pale and slightly frothy. Add sugar and vanilla, and whisk. Add half of the flour mixture and whisk until smooth, then half the melted butter, then the remaining half of the flour and then the melted butter, whisking thoroughly between additions. 

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the pan. Place all of the apple slices horizontally onto the bottom layer of batter, stacking tightly and evenly around the pan. Top the apples with the remaining batter, smooth top. Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and the cake center springs back when pressed.

Prepare the caramel sauce while the cake is baking. Melt the sugar in a medium saucepan, swirling occasionally to prevent burning. As soon as the sugar is melted, watch for the caramel to turn a rich, dark amber color and begin to smoke slightly. Add butter cubes immediately and mix. Once the butter is fully incorporated, drizzle in the cream slowly and mix. Allow the caramel to bubble and rise for about one minute. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and salt, and transfer to a heatproof bowl. Cover tightly once cooled and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

And then, you know what to do.

Vanilla Rye Cake with Ermine Buttercream by Molly Brodak

This is a special cake.

I know, I know, I always say that about my cakes. But I really mean it this time. You have never tasted a cake quite like this before.

In fact, my photo shoot with the finished cake kept getting interrupted as I stole away to snack on this beaut. And I can tell you, that does not usually happen--usually I am sick of the cake I'm working on by the time I'm done with it. But this one I could not stop tasting.

The taste of rye balances so well with the intense vanilla flavor in the recipe for a really captivating and homey--yet elegant dessert.

You have to make this cake.

gah

gah

Yes you're going to need to get yourself some rye flour. I tested this recipe with both dark and light rye flour, and found the flavor difference negligible. The texture difference, on the other hand, was dramatic--the dark rye flour had an unpleasant whole-grain chunkiness that I could not abide in my cake.

The good news is that light rye flour is easier to find anyway--I picked up mine at my local farmer's market (just called "whole rye flour"). Rye, turns out, is a lovely flour for cakes with its low gluten and more of the complex sugars called pentosans, which allow the cake to absorb more liquid (hence the extra dairy and oil in this cake)--making it super moist. These sugars also break apart easily when disturbed so your crumb will be very fine and short, and you will notice how little resistance the cake gives you when you cut it.

What to do with your extra rye flour? I've heard, although I have not tried it, that rye flour works well as dry shampoo. Worth a shot?

I've learned a lot about rye since I started working on this recipe. The main illusion of which I was disabused during this process was related to flavor. What I thought was "rye bread flavor" didn't come from rye flour at all, but from caraway seeds. 

Caraway seeds are tough little bastards. MINUTES of whizzing around my mini food processor could not reduce these buggers to dust. I resorted to my mortar and pestle, which worked pretty well, although they resisted me as much as they could. Or, you know, just buy ground caraway seeds.

Oh I haven't even gotten to the ermine yet. Richer and creamier in mouthfeel than Swiss Meringue Buttercream but just as silky, and even easier. It's not too different from the custard buttercream a few posts back, but rather than a custard we have more of a pudding--no eggs. Ermine has a long history in American sweetcraft--it was the original frosting used for red velvet cakes. If you have a handle on making roux, you'll have no trouble with this. Just whisk, whisk, whisk, as you add the cream/milk so you won't have lumps.

roux goo

roux goo

It has a rich, fully body so it is perfect under fondant and pipes beautifully. It also tastes WONDERFUL. Seriously. If you've never had ermine, you owe it to yourself to try it. You might never go back.

it frosts up so smooth! 

it frosts up so smooth! 

Ermine Buttercream

4 Tbsp. flour

1/4 c. milk

3/4 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 c. powdered sugar, or to taste

Combine milk and cream. Place flour and 1/3 c. of the milk/cream mixture in a small saucepan. Whisk constantly over low heat until mixture thickens. Add remaining liquid and sugar, boil over low heat for about 2 minutes until mixture is thick as paste and bubbling. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until cool. Whip butter, salt, vanilla, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cool pudding in small batches and whip until smooth and combined.  

If you don't like frosting because it's too sweet, or because you just don't like a mouthful of butter, try this buttercream--it is a revelation.

I highly recommend trimming this cake since the rye flour makes an especially tough/dark "rind"

I highly recommend trimming this cake since the rye flour makes an especially tough/dark "rind"

I finished this cake with hand painted fondant design that was inspired by this transitional time between summer and fall. A few touches of gold, a little fondant ribbon, and my heart is all aswole.

 

 

Vanilla Rye Cake

3/4 c. (88 g.) cake flour (White Lily)

1 c. (105 g.) light rye flour

1 3/4 tsp. (6 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

4 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 1/2 c. (310 g.) sugar

1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds, ground finely

1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, scraped

3 yolks

2 eggs

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk flours and baking powder together thoroughly and set aside. Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks and set aside in the refrigerator. Whip butter, caraway seeds, and sugar until light and fluffy, then add oil, vanilla extract or vanilla beans, and salt and whip until combined. Add yolks, then eggs, one at a time, and beat until uniform and fluffy. Add buttermilk and mix until incorporated. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until combined, then add the rest and mix until just combined. Fold in whipped cream.

Divide batter among two or three greased and floured 8" or 9" pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 30-40 minutes until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool completely in the pan, then split, fill, and frost.

Hazelnut Apricot Kokeshi Doll Cake by Molly Brodak

Hazelnuts are the diamonds of the nut world. My beloved pecans come in at a close second for baking purposes, but no other nut can touch the level of flavor that hazelnuts provide. They hold their own against the powerful flavor of chocolate, as any nutella lover knows, and have the brightest, sweetest, almost fruitiest flavor of any nut. 

This hazelnut cake, y'all, I have to admit--it's absolutely my favorite cake at the moment. It's secret? Three words for you: double-toasted hazelnut butter.

smells like angels

smells like angels

I was experimenting with hazelnuts for days before making this cake. I tried toasting them at different temps--high and fast, then low and slow--but the difference was minimal. I tried grinding them finer then coarser and adding the differently-sized chunks to the cake batter--the flavor was basically the same. I tried pan-frying them in butter, dry roasting, brining, candying--everything I could think of. But only one move gave me the intense flavor I was looking for, and it was so simple. 

I ground the lightly toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until a butter/paste formed, then spread that hazelnut butter onto a bit of foil and popped it in the toaster oven to toast again. The toasted hazelnut butter was otherworldly. Hazelnut butter is great on its own, but still had that dull raw nut flavor I dislike so much. This stuff was exactly what I was looking for--sweet, toasty, insanely flavorful--like someone had turned the hazelnut dial up to 11.

I added it to the cake batter, then paired the resulting hazelnut cake with an easy apricot compote. And honestly, I think you can just stop right there. The buttercream and ganache and fondant were necessary here to build the cake I wanted to make, but flavor-wise the hazelnut and apricot were perfect together. Although a very old-fashioned staple of Continental patisserie, apricots really have an almost tropical flavor, with more acid than the other stone fruits and the kind of brightness that works so perfectly with heavy, dark flavors. 

With a hearty amount of double-toasted hazelnut butter, I knew this cake would have plenty of structure going for it, so I wasn't going to need the butter portion of my usual butter-oil ratio that keeps my cakes both stable and moist. But I really wanted a toasty, buttery flavor here--clarified butter was the obvious solution.

Ridding our butter of those pesky milk solids and the water leaves us with pure butterfat, which will function as the perfect oil in our cake and add a buttery, toasty flavor.

Of course you can buy clarified butter, or ghee, to cut down your prep time, but homemade is better here since you can keep your butter cooking until the solids are cooked very dark, almost burnt, and the clarified butter will have that fantastically nutty browned-butter flavor to add even more depth to this cake. I highly recommend making a large batch of clarified butter and saving the remainder in the fridge for other purposes since it is such a flavorful and versatile cooking oil.

Since I was in middle school I have loved kokeshi, traditional wooden dolls carved from a single block of wood found primarily in Northern Japan with a legacy that dates back to the Edo period.  I love their simplicity and tranquility. Other than carving the head and a little handpainting on the fondant, I knew this shape would be a pretty simple but interesting design for even a beginner to pull off.

I think it would make a fantastic birthday cake for a girl. Next time I'm going to try an even more minimal approach, keeping it all wood-grain toned with just a few accents of paint as the older style kokeshi are made.

the head was supported by a cardboard round cut to shape, and a bubble-tea straw through the body kept the head in place

the head was supported by a cardboard round cut to shape, and a bubble-tea straw through the body kept the head in place

head awaiting fondant

head awaiting fondant

I used a 5" Fat Daddio's half-sphere pan and a stack of 6" rounds for the body, and buttercreamed and ganached it all together and handpainted a pine needle motif on her kimono. 

awaiting paint. Her hair was shined up with a coat of confectioner's glaze.

awaiting paint. Her hair was shined up with a coat of confectioner's glaze.

such a sweet face! literally!

such a sweet face! literally!

Hazelnut Apricot Cake

makes two 8" layers

4 ripe fresh apricots, peeled and diced finely

1 Tbsp. sugar

7.1 oz. cake flour (I use White Lily)

8 g. (about 2 tsp) aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 c. heavy cream

10.5 oz. (about 1.5 c.) granulated sugar

1/3 c. water

1/2 c. (4 oz) clarified butter

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 yolks, room temp

2 eggs, room temp

1 c. toasted and peeled hazelnuts (try to remove all of the skins, as the skins will add bitterness to your hazelnut butter)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pans by greasing and flouring them. With a hand mixer, mix the flour and baking powder thoroughly in a small bowl until no lumps remain. Rinse beaters and use to whip cream in a cold bowl to firm peaks. Place whipped cream in the fridge. 

Prepare apricot compote by placing finely-chopped apricots into a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes or until rendered down to half volume and mixture is thick and gelled. Allow to cool in the fridge.

Place hazelnuts in a food processor and grind until a paste forms (1 cup of hazelnuts will reduce down to about 1/2 cup of hazelnut butter). Continue grinding until mostly smooth. Spread hazelnut butter onto a piece of foil, and place into toaster oven (or under the broiler in a regular oven, but a toaster oven works really well for this purpose). Toast until golden brown, stirring and flipping the chunks of hazelnut butter around to evenly toast and prevent burning. Set aside to cool.

In a saucepan, heat sugar and water over medium heat until most of the sugar is dissolved. Stir frequently or use your hand mixer to speed up the process (be careful that the cord is kept away from the burner). Do not allow mix to boil. Once the sugar is mostly dissolved, pour into a large bowl and add clarified butter, salt, and vanilla, mixing until smooth.  Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mix into the wet ingredients and mix well on low, then gradually add the rest but do not overbeat. Set mixer aside and grab a spatula and whisk. At this point, the mixture should be warm but not too hot to touch--If your sugar mixture is still very hot, allow it to cool--you don't want to cook your eggs.

Add the yolks next, one at a time, mixing in by hand with whisk, then the eggs. Mix in the hazelnut butter for just a few seconds with your mixer. Then gently fold whip cream into the mixture with a spatula until completely combined. Pour into prepared pans and tap them hard several times on the counter to release large air bubbles. Bake anywhere from 20--40 minutes depending on your pan sizes and depth. Cakes are done when their centers spring back, they no longer jiggle when moved, and the edges just begin to pull away from the sides. I don't recommend poking anything into your cakes to test doneness--just a quick press with your finger in the center will tell you all you need to know. Cool, level, and split cakes if desired. Spread cooled cakes with apricot compote and frost if desired with buttercream, ganache, or both.

Peach Buttermilk Cake by Molly Brodak

This terrible thing happened to my tree, which is where our story starts. My spindly but well-loved peach tree.

I planted this peach tree in our front yard myself. I nurtured it, fed it, checked on its growth and progress obsessively. I documented its budding, flowering, and fruiting. I selectively pruned away 60% of the green peaches to make sure the remaining fruit would be large and flavorful. I monitored their progress for months. 

Phone photos evidence my mania.

Then, I found one underdeveloped little peach on the lawn, half-gnawed. I was enraged. Little nibbly bites meant squirrels.

I festooned the tree with yards and yards of bird netting and secured it. Just for good measure, I sprayed all of the now-protected peaches with hot pepper spray which is supposed to burn the devil out of any little sneaky rodent mouths.

I checked on my peaches almost every day

I checked on my peaches almost every day

The peaches kept disappearing. One morning, I found only three remained. More netting, more spray, and yes--I resorted to watching from the porch. 

Soon the netting stakes were uprooted and every last peach was gone. Every. Single. Peach. Eaten by squirrels.

I admit it--I cried. I had been delightfully counting my proverbial chickens before they proverbially hatched, planning all the wonderful things I would make with those peaches. I started to plan my defenses for next year, which, I assure you, will be no mere cosmetic application of nets and staking. I'm going to build a goddamn fortress around this tree. And I will have homegrown Georgia peaches--next year.

Fortunately for me, LOTS of good people in Georgia grow fantastic peaches mere miles from my doorstep, so acquiring local peaches was no epic task.

Thank you Pearson Farm

Thank you Pearson Farm

This is one of the things I would have made with my peaches. Turns out, peaches from just down the road are just as tasty in this buttermilk cake.

Although many cake recipes use a touch of buttermilk as a tenderizer, this cake has a wonderfully pronounced buttermilk flavor because it simply has more. It tastes so buttermilky it reminds me of biscuits! So it pairs well with the sweet and fragrant flavor of fresh peaches. Often I will cook down a fruit I plan to incorporate into a cake batter (like strawberries, for example) to remove some of the water from the fruit and intensify its flavor, but I knew cooking these peaches would have destroyed their fresh taste and was also unnecessary, since they are already very intensely flavorful. 

There is a lot of liquid in this cake, so a 50/50 mix of cake flour (I always use White Lily) and all-purpose flour will help keep the cake's structure intact. I recommend cooking this cake fully and allowing it to cool completely in the pan, as it is a delicate cake and can't take rough or rushed handling. A small amount of cornstarch in the batter helps to keep inclusions (like peach chunks) from sinking to the bottom of the pan while the cakes rise. Still, some will fall to the bottom--if you chop your peaches finely there is less of a chance they will all settle downward.

I frosted this cake with my version of 7-minute, or cooked flour, buttercream (post on this soon) and outfitted her in dusty blue fondant and an ombre swath of pink gumpaste spray roses. It's funny...I'm not a huge fan of roses, but somehow when they are made very small I suddenly love them. I guess it is a cuteness thing. The wafer paper leaves add light and transparency to the arrangement, although I'm still woking on a good system for getting the wires to stick to the leaves--it's much more annoying than gumpaste leaves!

Peach Buttermilk Cake

6 oz. all-purpose flour

6 oz. cake flour (White Lily)

1 Tbsp. corn starch

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

12 Tbsp. butter, softened

12 oz. sugar

1/3 c. vegetable oil

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

4 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

2 c. finely diced fresh peaches (about 3)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix or whisk dry ingredients thoroughly and set aside. Whip butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add oil, vanilla extract, and salt and whip until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until uniform and fluffy. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until combined, then add the rest and mix until just combined. Mix in buttermilk until smooth. Fold in peaches.

Divide batter among two or three greased and floured 8" or 9" pans and gently smooth tops--do not tap pans to remove air bubbles. Bake for 30-40 minutes until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed--undercooking will result in a gummy texture. Allow to cool completely in the pan, then split, fill, and frost.

I dare you to come get this one, squirrel jerks

I dare you to come get this one, squirrel jerks