Holiday Baking 2019 Recipes

And just like that, the 2019 holiday baking odyssey has come to an end.  As always, it was a hoot and even though in the 11th hour I swore I’d never do it again, I’m already dreaming about what to do for next year.

If you followed along with the 2019 Holiday Baking Analytics, you already know the stats.  I used nearly 80 pounds of sugar, 36 pounds of flour, 29 pounds of butter and 45 pounds of fruits, nuts and other add-ins.  I made nine types of cookies this year yielding 3,761 units.  We mailed 22 boxes and delivered another 30 or so in person.  Folks, my work here is done.

But, just in case you’d like to make your own, I’ve included links to each of the recipes below.

Cheers and happy holidays to all!

Sugar Stars

Rum Butter Nuts

Peanut Butter Balls

or as we call them in our house, Schweddy Balls

Triple Gingersnaps

Candied Orange Peel

Almond Butter Crunch

Confettidoodles

Brown Butter Coconut Caramel Crispies

Chocolate Crinkles

Our house looked like a tornado hit it for a day or two.

There was no theme, but I did have a lot of fun with colored duct tape (seriously–get some, it’s a good time).

And a new company for labels, Paper Culture.

I promised we stuffed as much as we could into each box.

Pre-purchasing labels from USPS is the way to go.

As an added bonus, each and every box (and most of the tissue paper) was checked for safety and construction by our quality control crew.

 

Ye Old Chocolate Crinkles

Traditional chocolate crinkle cookies were the second freshman cookie this year.  I wanted something simple and chocolatey to replace the World Peace cookies that have been in rotation for many years.  After searching through what seemed like hundreds of chocolate cookie recipes, the road lead me to this holiday favorite.

As I researched across recipes for the optimal chocolate crinkle, I learned that like rugelach, there really is only one recipe with slight variations.  Nearly all I saw use vegetable oil instead of butter and unsweetened cocoa instead of chocolate.

Again, never to leave well enough alone, my version has the subtle addition of espresso powder.  Because, as I’ve said before, why be normal.

Chocolate Crinkles

Ingredients

  • 1 C (90 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 C (325 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil (I like grapeseed)
  • 4 eggs at room temp
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 C (300 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TBS espresso powder (optional)
  • 1/2 C confectioners/powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, white sugar, and vegetable oil.
  2. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, espresso powder and salt; stir into the cocoa mixture.
  4. Cover dough, and chill for at least 4 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  6. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Roll dough into one inch balls.
  8. Coat each ball in confectioners’ sugar before placing onto prepared cookie sheets.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the cookie sheet for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Brown Butter Coconut Caramel Cripsies

Because leaving well enough alone is boring, I like to rotate a couple of the cookie selections each year for holiday baking.  This year, one of the new kids is a deeply browned butter, lacy coconut and caramel crispy concoction.

This should not come as a surprise considering my current obsession with caramelized rice crispies.  As you might recall, I employed them in various and delicious ways including a Cracker Jack inspired bar, an extra chocolate chip cookie and some meta rice cripsie (or is it Krispy…or Krispie) treats.

And then there is my absolute favorite cookie discovery of 2019: Browned Butter Coconut Cookies.

I know.  You know.  Where I’m going.

These take some time; the butter needs to brown and cool in advance and the caramel crispies need to be made separately.  BUT, if these flavors are your jam, it’s totally worth it.

Brown Butter Caramel Crispies

For the Caramelized Crispy Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 C crispy rice cereal (have had good results with both regular and brown rice versions)
  • 3 TBS water
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan add sugar.  Then add water and mix until sugar dissolves.  This is the last time you are going to want to touch the mixture until you take it off the heat the first time.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil (don’t stir) and allow to simmer until the syrup just starts to brown.
  4. Remove from heat and mix in cereal (I find a rubber spatula works the best). Gently mix cereal until ever last piece is covered in syrup.  By the time you there, everything will have dried and look like its dusted in snow (and now we know how they make Frosted Flakes).
  5. Return to heat over a medium burned and fold constantly.  The sugar will start to melt and caramelize.  Keep folding until you reach desired depth of caramelization.  I know the version I like is done when the sugar starts to smoke.
  6. Spread cereal on parchment lined baking sheet and allow to cool completely.
  7. From here you can store in an airtight container in big hunks.

For the cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 C (2 sticks or 225 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 TBS water
  • 1/2 C plus 2 TBS (125 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C (145 grams) packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 C plus 3 tablespoons (175 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Slightly heaped 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 C (180 grams) dried, unsweetened coconut chips
  • 1/2 batch caramelized crispy rice (so feel free to eat the other half)

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do.  Once it is a deeply fragrant, almost nut-brown color, remove from heat and pour butter and all browned bits at the bottom into a measuring cup. Adding 2 tablespoons water should bring the butter amount back up to 1 cup.
  2. Chill browned butter in the fridge until it solidifies, about 1 to 2 hours.
  3. Scrape chilled browned butter and any bits into a large mixing bowl. Add both sugars and beat the mixture together until fluffy.
  4. Add egg and beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed, then vanilla.
  5. Meanwhile, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. Pour half of flour mixture into butter mixture and mix until combined, then add remaining flour and mix again, scraping down bowl if needed. Add coconut chips in two parts as well.
  6. Fold-in caramelized rice crispies.
  7. Scoop dough into 1 inch balls, flatten each slightly and arrange all onto a baking sheet (separating layers with parchment paper).  Refrigerate for an hour up to over night.
  8. When you are ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
  9. Arrange a few with a lot of room for spreading on the baking sheets.  Bake cookies until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes (rotate halfway through cooking).  Repeat to bake all cookies.
  10. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 1 to 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cookies keep for up to one week at room temperature. Extra dough can be stored in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for a month or more.

The Artist Formerly Known as Lung Bread

A couple of years ago, TD and I happened across this cool looking exotic bread in Whole Foods.  As I remember it (which doesn’t mean it’s true), we asked the baker what it was. She replied that she didn’t know what it was called, she just bakes it.

Intrigued (by the bread, not the baker’s lack of mysterious bread nomenclature), we bought a loaf.  Lobe-shaped and cut allowing for lots of golden salted crust, TD thought it looked like a lung.  So we called it lung bread.

For years.

Until it showed up as the technical challenge on Season 4, Episode 6 of the Great British Baking Show.  Turns out lung bread is actually called Fougasse.

Lung, leaf, potato, pohtahto.

Fougasse is sort of Provence’s version of focaccia.  Slightly flat, with spring and a satisfyingly chewy texture, this lovely loaf is addicting.

Once I knew what it was, I set about trying to make it.  And, if you follow me on Instagram (@TMHostess), you’ve seen my attempts over the last year or so.

My first attempt was Paul Hollywood’s recipe from the Great British Baking Show.  While the result was visually stunning, the texture was all wrong: short crumb, no chew.

On my second attempt I went more the direction of pizza dough.  Again, looked great, wrong texture.

Like Goldilocks (half head of highlights included), I was determined.  And so when I discovered another recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Baking publication, I chopped up some fresh rosemary and got to work.

The key to good chew, explains the recipe’s author, Andrew Janjigian, is a properly hydrated dough, added flavor from a little whole wheat flour and an overnight fermentation.   Before it rests all night, the bread  goes through a quadruple proof of gentle folds over the course of a couple of hours (according to Janjigian, this method allows the gluten to develop slowly helping to create a light, airy and irregular crumb).

So, was the third time a charm? Oh God yes! This recipe is everything TD and I knew and loved about lung bread: salty, flavorful but mild with that hallmark chew.

Fougasse is not technically difficult, but, it does take some time.  If you have an afternoon (and an evening before to throw together the dough), this is a very enjoyable way to spend it.  As Paul Hollywood advised in the technical challenge, “be patient and remember the shaping.”

No post next week (I’ll be hundreds deep in schweddy balls about this time next Thursday), so Happy Thanksgiving to all!  I’ll see you on the holiday side.

Fougasse

modified slightly from Cooks Illustrated All-Time Best Baking

makes two loaves

Ingredients

  • 1/4 C (1 1/2 ounces) whole-wheat flour
  • 3 C (15 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 C (12 ounces) water
  • cornmeal or semolina flour
  • 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBS fresh rosemary or other desired herbs
  • 2 tsp course sea salt

Directions

  1. Sift whole wheat flour through fine-mesh strainer into bowl of stand mixer.  Add bread flour and yeast to mixer.  Fit stand mixer with dough hook and knead on low speed until cohesive dough forms and no incorporated flour remains (5 minutes).  Add salt and knead (using hook) for 2 more minutes.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temp for 30 minutes.
  3. Holding the edge of the dough with your fingertips, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding the edge of the dough toward the center (see pic above).  Turn bowl 45 degrees, fold again.  Turn bowl and fold 6 more times (2 rotations).
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
  5. Repeat folding and rising every 30 minutes 3 more times.  After fourth set of folds, cover bowl tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least 16 hours and up to 48.
  6. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter.  Stretch gently into an 8 inch round and divide it in half.  Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, gently stretch and fold over 3 side of the dough to create a triangle with 5 inch sides.
  7. Transfer to a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet, seam side down and repeat with remaining piece of dough.  Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap lightly coated with vegetable oil spray and let rest at room temp until Doug is relaxed and no longer cool to the touch (30-60 minutes).
  8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put one baking sheet into pre-heating oven.
  9. Transfer 1 piece of dough to lightly floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, gently roll into a triangular shape with an 8-inch base and 10-inch sides, about 1/2 inch thick.  Transfer to a baking-sheet sized piece of parchment liberally dusted with cornmeal or semolina (the sheet can be on the counter or if you have enough, an extra baking sheet).
  10. Using a pizza cutter, make a 6-inch long cut down the center of the triangle leaving about 1 1/2 inches of dough on either end.  Make three 2-3 inch diagonal cuts, leaving a 1-inch boarder on each end of the cuts to create a leaf pattern.
  11. Gently stretch dough toward sides of pan to widen cuts and emphasize the leaf shape (you can add cuts to the edges if you’d like–see photos above).  The overall size of the loaf should measure about 10 X 12 inches.
  12. Cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with oil spray and let rest at room temp until nearly double in size, 30-45 minutes.  Twenty minutes after shaping first loaf, repeat with second half of dough.
  13. Brush the top and sides of the first loaf with 2 TBS olive oil.  Sprinkle loaf with rosemary and salt.
  14. Pull hot baking sheet from oven.  Using the edges of the parchment, carefully lift parchment and shaped dough onto hot baking sheet.
  15. Bake until golden brown, 18-22 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.
  16. Transfer to a wire rack and put hot pan back into the oven to heat for the second loaf.
  17. Allow bread to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  18. Repeat with second loaf.

While the bread will stay fresh for a couple of days, it is my humble opinion that it tastes absolutely the best just cooled from the oven.

Take me home, country loaf

Sorry.

As I’ve mentioned before, a few years ago I took a baking course through the New School of Cooking in Culver City.  It was a great course for all levels and the instructor was fantastic (it doesn’t appear she teaches through New School any longer).

With the exception of the laminated doughs, I’d already made nearly everything on the syllabus prior to taking the class.  What I was after were a boost in my technical skills.  For instance, I understood that using butter or oil in baking created different outcomes–I just didn’t know why.  I also didn’t know that in addition to Italian and Swiss, there are also German and American buttercreams.  How great is it to live in a world with so many kinds of intercontinental buttercream?

One of the best recipes (in my opinion) from this course is a simple country loaf.  For this recipe, patience far outweighs technique in creating a chewy, airy crumb.

Three things make this bread really good.  The first is an overnight fermentation of the sponge.  You can do it in an hour (and this is how we did it in class).  However, through my own trial and error I’ve learned that allowing the sponge to develop in a warm kitchen and then throwing it in the fridge for a sleep really develops the flavor.

The second is waiting until the last couple of minutes of kneading to add the salt. Salt and yeast are sort of like Tom and Jerry so you want the yeast nice and developed and protected by lots of flour before you add the salt into the mix.  I now use this method any time I’m making yeasted dough.  Wait to add the salt.

The third is the pan of steaming water.  As I learned in the baking course, many professional baking ovens have a steam function that helps put the “crust” into crusty bread.  A pan of steaming water helps do the same.

If you have any interest in playing with yeast, this is a great fist step.

Country Loaf

New School of Cooking

Ingredients

for the sponge

  • 1 TBS active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 4 ounces (1 C) bread flour

for the dough

  • 20 oz (5 C) bread flour
  • 1 1/3 C warm water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • cornmeal for sprinkling

Directions

for the sponge

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and stir in bread flour.  Cover and let rest for 1 hour, but, best case scenario, refrigerate over night.  Return to room temp before using.

for the bread

  1. In a bowl, combine the sponge, flour, water and honey.  Knead for eight minutes or so.  Add salt during the last three minutes. Return to bowl if you’ve kneaded by hand.  Cover bowl and allow to double in size (about 1 hour).
  2. Sprinkle a liberal layer of corn meal onto a baking sheet.
  3. Lightly flour hands and work surface, dough will be sticky.  Turn out dough and knead lightly.  Rough form it into a ball and place on top of the cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Flour the top of the loaf and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small pan filled with steaming water on the bottom of the oven.  Place baking tray on lowest rack.  Back 35-40 minutes until the crust is very dark brown and the internal temp is 210 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, flip the bread, and thump the bottom.  If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
  5. Cool to room temp before slicing.

Amish Friendship Bread (Cinnamon Bread)

I’m not very good at predicting what people will eat (because it’s there) versus what people will love.

So, when I made this non-yeasted take on the Amish friendship bread, I wasn’t prepared for the number of recipe requests.

Cinnamony and satisfyingly rich, this quick bread evokes crisp fall mornings.  It is also so simple that I’d be willing to be money that you have all of the ingredients already on-hand.

I happened to have some cinnamon chips on hand and threw in a scant cup.

But you really don’t need them.

One of the very best parts of this bread is the sweet, crunchy crust that forms around the entire loaf–so, it’s best served the day it’s made.  However (and I tested this because I am a dedicated researcher), it’s still pretty stellar the next day.

Amish Cinnamon Bread

Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Baking

Ingredients

Cinnamon Sugar 

  • 1/2 C (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil (grape seed)

Bread

  • 3 3/4 C (18 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3 C (21 ounces) sugar
  • 1 TBS ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 C milk
  • 1 1/3 C vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces cinnamon chips (optional)

Directions

  1. For the cinnamon sugar: combine sugar and cinnamon in bowl.  Brush two 8 1/2X 4 1/2 inch loaf pans evenly with oil.  Add 2 TBS cinnamon sugar mixture to each prepared pan and shake and tilt pans until bottoms and sides are evenly coated.  Set aside remaining 1/4 C cinnamon sugar mixture.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
  5. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture until. just combined.  Gently fold-in cinnamon chips if using.
  6. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans.  Sprinkle remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture on tops of each loaf.
  7. Bake until paring knife inserted in centers of loaves comes out clean (65-75 minutes).
  8. Let bread cool in pans on wire rack for 1 hour.  Run paring knife around edges of pans to thoroughly loosen loaves.  Tilt pan and gently remove bread.  Serve warm or at room temp.

I Was Drinking When I Made These

These are quite possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever made.

I’m not even going to make you try to guess the odd ingredient (mostly because it looks so weird in the pictures that I don’t want your mind going creative places).

Olives.  And chocolate.  Yes, you read that right.

Does it help if I explain these are meant to be barely sweet and enjoyed with a nice glass of red (and maybe a sharp cheddar)?

I will say that I actually had to drink a couple of glasses of wine before I worked up the courage to bake these babies off.

And you know what?  They were delightful.  You don’t get olive so much as you get salt.  Which is nice with cocoa.  If you are looking for something a little unusual to add to a cheese board or maybe a unique addition to the traditional host gift of a bottle of wine, give these a try.

Chocolate Olive Cookies

from Dorie’s Cookies, Dorie Greenspan 

makes about 60 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 C (170g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C (32g) cornstarch
  • 1/4 C (21g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 stick (8 TBS, 4 ounces, 113g) unsalted butter, at room temp and cut into chunks)
  • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 C (67g) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 C (50g) chopped, pitter oil-cured black olives (I used Kalmata because we have a giant Costco jar on hand at all times)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch and cocoa powder.
  2. Working with a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or hand mixer), beat the butter and olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes).
  3. Add the yolk and beat for 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Turn off mixer, add dry ingredients and pulse to start blending.  Mix on low until ingredients are incorporated and you have moist curds.  Pull the bowl off the mixer and fold-in olives.
  5. Turn the dough out, kneed briefly to bring dough together.  Divide it in half.  Roll each half into a slender log 8-81/2 inches long.  Wrap the logs in plastic and refrigerate over night (or freeze).
  6. When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 325 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  7. One log at a time, cut cold dough into 1/4 inch discs and place them on baking sheets, about an inch apart.
  8. Bake for 15-17 minutes rotating halfway through (done cookies will be firm to the touch).  Remove from oven and allow to cool on sheets for at least 3 minutes.  Carefully transfer to racks to cool completely.

French (Danger) Apple Cake

While TD and I have worked hard to tame Via Corona’s front and side yards, most of the remaining lot has been left to itself.  We aren’t negligent.  The geography of our neighborhood can best be described as canyony (technical term), so many homeowners in the area opt to allow their steeply sloping lots to grow wild.  With the exception of about a four-foot lip right at the house’s edge, our backyard is one giant slip and slide.

The picture above is from the actual real estate listing–before we got our hands on her.

It wasn’t until we closed escrow that we discovered some previous owner had long ago planted a couple of apple trees right off the deck.

In each of the three falls we’ve lived in Via Corona, the trees (more like bushes because of the slope) have born tons of apples.  The first couple of years we left the apples alone because I was afraid of what the construction run-off might have done to the fruit (I have no basis for this fear).

This year however, I got brave.  After several weeks of peering over the side of the deck, I picked my way down the slope and had my own little basic girl fall experience.

In less than 10 minutes, I picked about as many pounds of apples.  We have no idea what kind they are–though they resemble Granny Smith in taste and consistency.

Because of the slope and potential for wild animal encounters (we’re pretty sure the raccoons, skunks and opossums are running an Air BNB under the deck), we’re calling them danger apples.

What do you do with 10 pounds of apples?  I started with this fruit-dense custardy apple cake.

The recipe uses the very clever technique of briefly microwaving the cut apples and then allowing them to cool before folding them into the batter.  This helps move things along cooking wise and helps to keep the cheesecake-like interior..  

We took giant wedges of these with us to see Gary Clark Jr. at the Hollywood Bowl.  And now, I’m back to working up my courage to go in for another 10-20 pounds.

French (Danger) Apple Cake

Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Baking

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 8 wages and sliced 1/8 inch thick crosswise
  • 1 TBS Calvados (I used Tuaca because that’s what I had)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 C plus 2 TBS (5 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 C (7 ounces) plus 1 TBS granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 C grapeseed oil
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat over to 325 degrees.
  2. Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable spray.  Place prepared pan on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.
  3. Place cut apples in pie plate, cover and microwave until apples are pliable and slightly translucent (about 3 minutes).
  4. Toss apples with brandy and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.
  5. Whisk 1 C flour, 1 C granulated sugar and salt together in a bowl.
  6. Whisk oil, milk, egg and vanilla into a second bowl until smooth.  Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  7. Transfer 1 C batter to separate bowl and set aside.
  8. Add egg yolks to remaining batter and whisk to combine.  Gently fold-in apples with a spatula. Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Using an off-set spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges, gently pressing apples to create an even compact layer and smooth surface.
  9. Whisk remaining 2 TBS flour into reserved batter.  Pour over batter in pan, spread batter evenly over cake. Sprinkle remaining 1 TBS of sugar evenly over cake.
  10. Bake until center of cake is set, a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and the top is golden brown (about 1 hour, 15 minutes).  Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Run thin knife around pan to loosen cake, then let cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.  Remove sides of pan.  Dust cake lightly with confectioner’s sugar and cut into wedges.  Serve

Almond and Cardamom Loaf

While I’m generally a “you had me at almond” kind of girl, it was an unusual (at least to me) technique that drew me to this recipe.  Actually, two interesting techniques.

The first are the caramelized almonds that line the bottom of the pan (or in this iteration, pans).  As written, this cake is served upside-down with the topping on top.  However, since we’re making loaves, the sweet, crunchy almond topping becomes a sort of secret, surprise base.

The second component that drew me in was the emulsification of almond paste, sugar and butter.

In a food processor no less.  The almond paste and sugar are processed into a delicious sand and then the butter is added, one little cube at a time.  As a note on the almond paste.  The recipe asks for 1 cup, or 9 1/2 ounces of almond paste.   Rooting around on Amazon, I kept finding 8 ounces packages.  I took a chance with the smaller amount (I wasn’t going to open a second expensive package for 1 1/2 ounces of paste if I could help it) and the almond flavor came through perfectly.

My slight twist adds the zest of a large orange because my taste buds kept telling me to.  Add it or don’t–whatever your tongue tells you to do.

This cake is delicious and exotic by flavor.  However, its the texture that really makes it special: delicate and crunchy at the edges but satisfyingly dense and moist in the middle.  It was definitely worth cleaning all those food processor pieces in the aftermath.

With the sweet crunchy almonds and gently spiced and almond crumb, the flavors are reminiscent of a bear claw or almond croissant.

Only this can be kept in the freezer and brought out on demand.

Almond and Cardamom Tea Cake

As written, the cake is made into a 9X2 round pan.  I used two 9X5 inch loaf pans with good success.

Ingredients

for the almond topping (or bottom if making loaves)

  • 4 TBS butter (2 ounces)
  • 3 TBS sugar
  • 1 scant C sliced almonds (3 ounces)
  • Pinch of kosher salt of flaky sea salt

for the cake(s)

  • 1 C (5 1/4 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • chopped zest from 1 large orange
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs at room temp
  • 1 C (9 1/2 ounces) almond paste [as a note–the almond paste I found came in 8 ounces packages–so I went with 8 ounces and the almond taste was still nice and strong].
  • 1 C (7 ounces) sugar
  • 16 TBS (8 ounces or 2 stick) butter at room temp

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set rack in upper-third of the oven.  Butter and flour the pans then line with parchment.
  2. Make the almond topping (bottoming).  In a small saucepan set over medium heat, cook the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves completely and the butter bubbles and froths.  Remove from  heat and stir in the sliced almonds and salt.  Pour half into each of the pans and use a spatula to distribute evenly across the bottom of the pan.
  3. For the cake, sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a piece of parchment paper to evenly combine and remove any lumps. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together the vanilla, cardamom, eggs and zest.  Set aside.
  5. Place the almond paste in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to break it up.  Add 1 C of sugar and process for 90 seconds, or until the mixture is as fine as sand.
  6. Add the butter and continue processing until the mixture is very light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is being combined evenly.
  7. With the machine on, slowly begin adding the egg mixture, spoonful by spoonful as if making a mayonnaise (you are making an emulsion).  Let each addition of egg be absorbed and the mixture regains its smooth, silky look before adding more egg.  When all the eggs have been added, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula then continue to mix until well combined.  Scrape the batter into a large bowl.
  8. Pick up the parchment paper and use it to sprinkle the flour atop the batter in three batches.  Gently fold-in the flour in between additions until just incorporated.  Do not over mix!
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 55-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will just pull away from the sides of the pans.  Let the cakes cool on a wire rack.  Run a knife along the sides of the pans, then warm the bottom of the pan directly over the stove top for a few seconds to encourage it to release. and set on a cake plate until ready to serve.

TMH: I double wrapped and freezer bagged these and then froze them for a week and they defrosted really well.

The Good Chocolate Cake (just pretend you don’t see the mediocre icing)

This is a really, really, really good chocolate cake recipe.

I am generally of the belief that cake exists to keep people like me from embarrassing ourselves by eating frosting straight out of the bowl (or tub).  You know, the “cake is fine and all but it’s no frosting” camp.

This cake is the exception.  I’d eat it plain, alone, on its own.  And not think twice about frosting.

The second of three weeks of baking recipes from Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this layer cake is deep, immensely chocolatey and just sweet enough.

Of course it is.  Ms. Nosrat describes it her holy grail of cake: moist yet flavorful.

The secret ingredient?  Oil is used as the fat.  I actually learned about this when I took a baking course a few years ago.  The liquid viscosity of oil allows it to surround the protein molecules, keeping water out and preventing the formation of gluten.  The result is a tender rather than chewy crumb.

As if we needed any more proof that a gentle huge can lead to love and tenderness.

The type of oil matters.  The recipe calls for a neutral tasting oil.  This means olive and peanut are out (though chocolate and peanut…hmmm).  I like grape seed oil though a fresh vegetable oil could also be used.

This recipe does have a singular flaw: it only makes two layers.  This is perfectly acceptable, but three would be better.  Luckily this can be overcome: make the recipe twice.  You’ll get a three layer cake and then have another super secret layer to squirrel away for your own purposes.

I think that’s called having your cake and eating it too.

A note on the frosting; it did not come from Samin Nosrat.  It was an Italian buttercream recipe I thought I’d made several times and liked.  Even with the addition of fresh cherries, it was flavorless, clammy and quite honestly an offense to the cake.  You are far better off with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Or, as Ms. Nosrat suggests, a fluffy blanket of fresh whipped cream.

Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake

from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking  by Samin Nosrat

makes two 8-inch cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C (2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 C (10 1/2 ounces) caster sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  •  1 3/4 C (9 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C neutral tasting oil (TMH note: I prefer grape seed for baking)
  • 1 1/2 C freshly brewed strong coffee (okay, water is offered as an option in this recipe…but you don’t really want to do that)
  • 2 large eggs at room temp, lightly whisked

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and line with parchment two 8-inch cake pans.  Grease parchment, sprinkle generously with cocoa (or flour), tap out excess and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour and baking soda.  Sift into a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl (wipe out the one you just used to save some dishes), stir together the vanilla and oil.  Brew the coffee.  Then brew yourself a cup.  Add coffee to the oil and vanilla mixture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients (flour mixture) and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated.  Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth.  The batter will be thin (like you’ll think you’ve done something wrong…but you haven’t).
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Drop each pan onto the counter from a couple of inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles (this is a supremely satisfying step).
  6. Bake bowl cakes in the upper-third of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pan.
  7. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before turning them out.  Don’t forget to peel off the parchment paper.  Ice, frost as desired (or eat as is).
  8. These cakes will keep in the freezer (double wrap in plastic and then in freezer bags) for up to three months.

Some ideas for topping the cakes that are better than what’s in the pictures:

White Chocolate Buttercream

Marshmallow Frosting

Best Ganache Ever