Assam Cake with Blood Orange Italian Meringue Buttercream by Molly Brodak

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It's been a while since I have reminded you of how much I love tea, I realize. 

Assam tea in particular has such a rich, malty taste that I knew it would be delicious in a cake, especially paired with a bright, floral-ish citrus like blood orange. The flavor combination is delicate and interesting, one of my new favorites.

The design for this cake was inspired by one of my favorite local Atlanta artist, Charlotte Smith. I fell in love with her work when I purchased one of her tea cups (pictured above) from Young Blood Boutique and filled it with tea and held it in my hands. Her cups are transcendent vessels for tea lovers, just the perfect size and comfortable shape for cradling. I love her elegant minimal aesthetic, rendered here in these tiers with admiration.

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Italian meringue buttercream is probably, as we've been over before, the most annoying of all the buttercreams to make because it requires extra steps, precise temperature monitoring, and a long wait for cooling. But man, it is really worth it once in a while. If you've never made one before, set aside an hour or so and treat yourself to this incomparably silky treat.

Now, one of the important things in making IMB is allowing the meringue to cool to 80 degrees F before adding the butter. BUT! If you are impatient and mess it up, as I have done many times, you will end up with a horrific cottage-cheese like mess that seems irredeemable, but it's not. Just keep letting it cool and whip, and it will come together into its true silky smooth form. I used fresh blood orange juice in place of the water used for the sugar syrup here, giving the buttercream a mellow citrus flavor and a light pink color. You could definitely use any other citrus here if you preferred, just be sure to strain the juice well to remove the solids. Blood oranges are less acidic and more floral than regular oranges and yes, add more sweetness to the buttercream but I didn't adjust the sugar since I find that often IMB can use a bit more sweetness.

I don't recommend trying to make this buttercream without a stand mixer.  You may actually die from trying to hold a hand mixer for a freaking hour. Plus trying to pour in the syrup with the other hand...just, no.

Read the instructions a few times in advance and be prepared to act fast when your sugar syrup reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees)--higher temps will result in stiff syrup that doesn't incorporate properly. I love my ChefAlarm thermometer from Thermoworks. You can set an alarm to beep at a certain temp so you don't have to stand there watching it.

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BLOOD ORANGE ITALIAN MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM

5 large egg whites, cold

1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed

6 oz and 2 oz granulated sugar, separated

1/4 c. fresh blood orange juice, strained

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

pinch cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Place egg whites in a stand mixer bowl with cream of tartar. Whip with whisk attachment on medium speed, no higher, to soft peaks. Add 2 oz of sugar and salt gradually, beat to stiff peaks then turn off mixer.

Heat juice and 6 oz of sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly, then raise the heat to medium and clip in thermometer. Bring to a low boil until temperature reaches 240 degrees F. As soon as thermometer hits 240, remove from heat, turn mixer on low, and slowly pour a syrup in a thin stream between the mixer bowl and the whisk; do not scrape bowl or whisk if unincorporated syrup remains. Beat on medium until meringue is fully incorporated. Place mixer bowl in the freezer or fridge to cool for about 15 minutes, or until mixture lowers to 90 degrees.

Return mixer bowl to stand and mix on low until temperature reaches 80 degrees F. Add soft butter, one piece at a time, waiting until each cube is fully incorporated before adding more. This process can take up to 25 minutes. Once all the butter is added, beat until mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla extract or other extracts as desired.

If mixture breaks and looks curdled, allow to cool further then keep mixing until mixture comes together

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I had been making a Chai cake recently using a homemade Chai extract, and that was pretty good, but the flavor didn't have quite enough depth. Following the time-tested rule of putting flavor as close to fat as possible for maximum power, I decided to steep the tea in my heavy cream and boy oh boy did that work. The cream carries incredible flavor to the finished cake and the tea payoff is incredible. I thinned the cream a bit with water just to make it looser and easier for the tea to absorb. 

I doubled this recipe so was using a full half cup of tea in this cream, which seemed like a hilariously large amount of tea to use for anything, and with the intensity of the results, I almost felt like it was too much! But the day after baking, the cake had mellowed a bit in flavor and it seemed exactly right.

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Spring is now melting away into summer, aka berry season. But it might not be until late summer when I'll be posting again, undoubtedly with some transformation of the season's treasures into some little art project, as I'll be in Europe soon to do some writing for a few months. Find me on Instagram to track my progress on my next adventure!

ASSAM 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

1/4 c. loose Assam tea

1 1/4 c. heavy whipping cream

1/4 c. water

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.

Bring cream and water to a simmer over low heat in a small saucepan. Add the tea leaves and turn off the heat, allowing the tea to steep for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain leaves from cream and allow the cream to cool in the fridge for another 15-20 minutes.

Beat egg whites, sugar, salt and vinegar for one minute (use a timer) on medium high until mixture is thick. Add sour cream to heavy cream and beat until smooth. Add cream mixture gradually to sugar mixture, 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 15-25 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.

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Banana Cake with Hot Fudge Buttercream by Molly Brodak

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This cake hurts my feelings. I am upset that I have created this cake. 

This cake just shut the whole game down. Switch off the internet. Unplug the blog. It's all over now.

 the night sky, but cake

the night sky, but cake

You know me by now, which means you know there is going to be some slightly (or not slightly) annoying/time consuming procedure that makes this chocolate frosting and this banana cake the best thing in the world and you're not wrong, genius reader. You're not wrong. 

But, my darling reader, you will be richly rewarded for your labor. Yes it takes an entire day to make this frosting, but look at how much hot fudge this recipe makes. LOOK.

 THIS much hot fudge

THIS much hot fudge

You won't need all of it for the buttercream, so you can just jar the rest and keep it in the fridge, or give it to your friends if you hate personally enjoying hot fudge.

You have not had this hot fudge buttercream before, because I made it up. You have never had chocolate buttercream like this before. It tastes distinctly different from chocolate buttercream made with just cocoa powder or melted chocolate or both--it has a slight caramelized flavor to it from the hot chocolate (which cooks for upwards of 45 minutes). Its texture is richer than rich, smooth as silk and downright fatty. It's got this body to it, the kind of body you dream about: thick.

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So first we're going to make this vat of hot fudge. Then you're going to let it cool completely (preferably overnight) and then we'll add it to some whipped butter to make the buttercream. 

Now, look at my hot fudge recipe. Guess who is the star of the show? AGAIN?? That's right brilliant reader, my favorite baby, heavy cream. Heavy cream. As with caramel, any recipe for hot fudge that relies on evaporated milk is thumbs down into the center of the earth. It is just pure, rich cream that gives our hot fudge the fatty body it needs, no artificial thickeners or overly sweet cans of goo required.

Towards the end of the cooking process, the chocolate actually starts to separate, with visible chunks and an oily sheen in the mixture, and you will think it's all gone wrong. But this separation is exactly what we're going for, so don't worry. Once you whip in the butter the emulsion all comes together and you get that perfectly smooth, fatty mouthfeel only old-fashioned hot fudge sauce can provide. If you have an immersion blender, bust it out, as it is the ideal instrument for achieving the silkiest texture here.

It will go from upsetting liquids chocolate soup to a thicker glop then to oily mess then to PERFECTION.

This buttercream is not too sweet, so if you want it sweeter, feel free to add powdered sugar to your butter as you whip it up. Just a small amount, like a quarter cup, will add sweetness without adding grit.

HOT FUDGE SAUCE

3 c. heavy cream

1 3/4 c. (383 g.) granulated sugar

2 TBSP. corn syrup

4 oz. (115 g.) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

6 TBSP. unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the buttercream you'll also need 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature and 1/4 c. powdered sugar (optional)

Stir together the cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium high and bring to boil. Add the chopped chocolate and salt, stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer--you should have burbling in the center of the pot but not on the edges. Stir occasionally and let simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until you see an oily sheen in the mixture and small solids separating out.

Turn off the heat and add the butter and vanilla, whisking vigorously or using your immersion blender. Let cool uncovered on the counter for at least thirty minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge to cool completely. Allow fudge to cool for at least four hours or overnight. Obviously, heat up your hot fudge sauce in the microwave (just a few seconds will do, be sure to stir well) before serving over ice cream or cake or just eating straight off the spoon.

TO make the buttercream, simply whip up your room temperature butter until light and fluffy, then add about half (two cups) of the cold hot fudge sauce. Add powdered sugar to taste if you like it sweeter.

 my fatty glossy baby

my fatty glossy baby

 

Huh, I realize I took few photos of my banana cake, the actual...cake in this situation. Well, you can see where my priorities lie with this post and it is squarely with the hot fudge sauce. But I guess you do need some kind of cake to help chauffeur this buttercream to your mouth (or DO YOU??) so here's the banana cake part.

You'll need three very ripe bananas, not just spotty but very, upsettingly ripe. They should seem downright rotten. Allllll of the starch in these naners should be converted to sugar and their flavor should be super intense at this point. If you use only slightly overripe bananas you will end up with a drier, starchier cake with less flavor. 

 a good amount of rot

a good amount of rot

A little bit of brown sugar is a nice pairing with banana flavor, as is the tenderness that acidic heavy cream and vinegar brings. You could definitely use buttermilk here if you wanted to, but actually I was looking to avoid that unique buttermilk flavor in this cake to allow the banana to shine, but feel free to make the swap. This cake is quite sweet in my opinion, so it goes well with a rich, not-too-sweet frosting like this chocolate one, but a slightly tangy one is great too, like this cream cheese frosting.

I'm all for layering natural flavors with their extract versions, so if you have some banana extract there is nothing wrong with adding a small amount here to really deepen the banana flavor, but this cake is sufficiently banana-y enough without it.

 I covered the whole thing in dark chocolate ganache and used edible paint for the details

I covered the whole thing in dark chocolate ganache and used edible paint for the details

BANANA CAKE

2 c. (415 g.) granulated sugar

1/4 c. (45 g.) packed light or dark brown sugar

3 large, very ripe bananas

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. banana extract

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

3 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 c. canola oil

2 2/3 c. (313 g.) cake flour (I use White Lily)

3/4 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with the baking powder and baking soda and set aside. Add sugars, salt, and extracts to bananas in a large bowl and whip with a hand mixer until well incorporated and bananas are smooth. Add eggs and beat for two minutes until lightened. Add cream and vinegar and beat for one minute (this can be substituted for buttermilk if you prefer). Add oil and beat until incorporated. Finally, mix in 1/3 of the flour mixture on low until incorporated, then the rest of the flour; mix on low until batter is smooth.

Divide among three 8" or 9" pans, or spread into one 9x13" pan, and bake until center is just set, about 25-35 minutes. Cool completely, then frost.

 

It's a very light, tender and super moist cake, although very delicate and not easy to carve. I think the perfect thing to do with this guy is just throw it all in a 9x13 pan and frost when cool (some people call this "snack cake" but all cake is snack cake to me). It being January and our lives full of nighttime lately, I felt inspired to make a layer cake inspired by the night sky. I made a black dark chocolate ganache and some chocolate stars along with a big chocolate moon (which fell off the cake mid-shoot (you can see the crack in it where I repaired it in the candle photo). The night sky is wild and can't be held down, it reminded me.

For an extra sparkly nighttime, warm up your reserved hot fudge and serve it with the cake.

 oh henlo darkness my ol fraind

oh henlo darkness my ol fraind

Yogurt Carrot Cake by Molly Brodak

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Welp, here we are. I was going to say something in this post about how excited I am to be on the Great American Baking Show, but, well. There's no point saying anything about it now, but that I feel sad about the whole thing. I think the situation speaks for itself and I just have to carry on with my life. So I carry me forward, forward into cake, as always.

And thank goodness it's carrot cake this time; there's something so homey and comforting about carrot cake--moist and fragrant, nicely balanced warming spices, such an excellent choice for a winter treat. Of course I had to rework the dusty old recipe into something super infallible--that's where the yogurt comes in.

 face goes here

face goes here

Carrot cake is best when it's super rich and moist, and since it's going to have a lot of denseness already in it due to the carrots and nuts, there's no point in trying to make it light and fluffy--best to edge even further to the rich side of things, so yogurt is a perfect pairing here not only for the moisture it brings but the slight tanginess that compliments the earthy, mellow sweetness of carrots. I used my favorite Greek yogurt which I have on hand almost all the time, Fage, which is super rich and creamy and brings the perfect acidity to this cake to make it tender. A little bit of honey and a lot of brown sugar instead of white also help to keep the cake super moist.

Oh yes, I said carrots and toasted nuts--no raisins. I really debated on this, because I'm not against raisins per se, but I ultimately decided they just don't belong here. (One reason is that horrible moment when the raisins interact with the cream cheese frosting! My brain barfed just thinking about that.) They are a distraction. Save 'em for your crappy oatmeal raisin cookies.

 You could use walnuts here but why would you do that to yourself

You could use walnuts here but why would you do that to yourself

So look, let's just let this be about carrots. Carrots are sweet and interestingly delicate and sufficient as cake inclusions, which is why I'm fully against sweeter show-stealers in carrot cake like pineapple and raisins and figs or whatever. Of course you can add these things to this recipe and it will be just fine, I mean, you don't have to listen to me. I'll just be here, silently judging your choices. Raw coconut gets the side eye. Chocolate chips get Beyond The Valley of the Side Eye.

I tried roasting carrots in various ways and adding them to the cake batter but these experiments resulted in a unpleasant Mush Packets instead of bits of flavor. The raw carrot gets a bit baked in the oven, just enough to release some flavor, so that's all the cooking it needs, I found.

I also tried two sizes of grated carrots--the regular (large) grated carrots and the finer grated carrots. As is almost always the rule in baking, the more time-consuming and annoying-to-make option is always the tastier option. The finer carrot shavings didn't sink to the bottom of the layers and gave the cakes a nicer, finer crumb with no disturbing long carrot strings to contend with. 

 use the smaller grating holes and get ready to grate your life away

use the smaller grating holes and get ready to grate your life away

There's really nothing special about this cream cheese frosting recipe other than it is the BEST. I've tried all kinds of proportions of cream cheese to butter and have found the best is equal proportions. I've even tried making a Swiss meringue cream cheese butter cream but it was a disgusting nightmare I'd prefer to not talk about.

It's important to whip the butter and cream cheese together for a while to ensure there are no lumps of cream cheese, and I find the little lemon zest is really essential here too. Cream cheese buttercream is notoriously disobedient when it comes to holding a shape so it's best to just go rustic here with your icing technique if covering the whole cake in it.

CREAM CHEESE BUTTERCREAM

2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 c. (2 8 oz packages) full-fat cream cheese, softened

zest of half of a lemon

4 c. (440 g.) powdered sugar, or to taste

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

Whip butter, cream cheese, and lemon zest on high speed with a hand mixer or stand mixer until smooth and well-combined, add powdered sugar gradually then the salt and vanilla extract. 

I opted to double this recipe and cover my cake in white chocolate ganache then use a barrel-wrap technique to cover it in fondant. I also wanted to use this stencil from Evil Cake Genius I've been saving for the holiday season.

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It's so lovely! I stenciled on royal icing then dabbed on some gold luster accents hither and thither. I know the sugar roses and gardenias on top are not exactly seasonal but I thought they added a lightness to the look of the cake and worked with the organic, natural pattern of the stencil.

Serve this bb at your next gathering and you'll quickly uncover any Raisin Enthusiasts among the ranks bewailing your grape-less carrot cake--calmly explain to them you have a ball pit full of the wrinkled goobs out back and then lock the door behind them.

YOGURT CARROT CAKE

2 1/2 c. (320 g.) all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

A pinch freshly ground pepper

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 c. canola or vegetable oil

1 tsp. sea or kosher salt

1 c. (175 g.) packed dark brown sugar 

1/4 c. (50 g.) granulated sugar

1/4 c. (105 g.) honey

1 c. (260 g.) full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. finely grated carrots (about 4 large)

1 c. toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two eight or nine inch round pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. 

Mix together all the dry ingredients--flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices--with a whisk until combined and set aside. Mix together carrots and pecans in a separate bowl.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the eggs, oil, salt and sugars on high speed for about four minutes until lightened, making sure no lumps of brown sugar remain. Add honey, yogurt, vanilla extract and beat two additional minutes until smooth. Mix in the dry mixture on low in two batches until just combined, then fold in the carrots and nuts. Divide among pans and bake for 25-35 minutes or until centers are set. Cool, fill, and frost. 

 no wrinkled goobs here

no wrinkled goobs here

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!