Blueberry Boy Bait

August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a funny story behind this cake, one that has nothing to do with me making it for a dinner party at an Italian friend’s flat in Prague. We sat around the table eating caprese and pasta and drinking wines he selected from the downstairs cellar, listening to him play American classics on the guitar, and then had this cake before heading out. But really, this cake is from the days at Princeton, sitting around the common room when we were supposed to be doing work, flipping through pages and pages of and stalking Smitten Kitchen.

One girl on my team had a particularly unhealthy obsession with blueberries (or healthy as we liked to say because blueberries are a good recovery food) and I had a truly unhealthy obsession with blueberry muffins, so this cake was the perfect match. I can’t remember the day one of us stumbled upon it on Smitten Kitchen but it has been a must-make since then, particularly due to its catchy name “Blueberry Boy Bait.” You could have two possible questions at this point and they would be a.) How is a bait different than a cake? And b.) Does it really rope in boys as the name implies?

Apparently in a 1954 Pillburg Bake-Off, a 15-year-old girl won second place in the junior division with this cake. She said that the cake was named due to its effect on boys. Now, I have no idea whether that is true or not, needless to say I didn’t try it out, but the story in itself makes the cake that much more exciting. I mean, I couldn’t imagine myself at 15 having the savvy to win boys over with cake. But I guess some people are more advanced than others….

I guess try it out sometime on a boy of your choosing. Hey, if a 15-year-old girl can do it, I think you might be successful. Though, beware, there is a ton of butter in this cake. As in, it tastes like butter. You can decide for yourself whether or not that is a good thing, but I will say that the tartness of the blueberries helps balance it out.

SHF: Salted Browned Butter Shortbread

August 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Right as I was enjoying wearing boots and sweatshirts, an ungodly heat wave hit San Francisco. On a Monday afternoon, people flocked to the parks to picnic and schools kids complained about having to go to school right as the San Francisco summer finally got started. A run along Ocean Beach saw large clumps of people playing in the waves and cars overfilling the lots along the Great Highway. At midnight, I climbed to the top of Bernal Hill and walked out along Pier 1 with some old friends — all without long pants or a scarf, which is my standard get-up in this city.

This morning I stumbled out of bed, still in pajama boxers and my hair sticking every which way, and out the front door to take pictures in the gentle morning sun. In a couple of hours, the hot, dry sun will be beating down and I’ll have started a run along the tide line, hopefully barefoot, if I can find someone to shuttle my shoes around the city. Or maybe I’ll wait to run until the evening and cross the peak of Diamond Heights as the fog rolls in, when you can barely see three feet in front of you. As you climb to the peak, the air seems to thin and the wind comes from all directions, its cold blasts spurring you down the hill on the other side. Today, the day is temperamental, summer one moment and the perfect misty setting for a horror film the next.

But as I settle in to write, it is still morning and I am back in the house. I’ve poured myself a tall glass of iced tea with a kick of mint and made open-faced sandwiches with juicy heirloom tomatoes that were just waiting to be sliced. Ah, summer.

These browned butter cookies pair just as well with iced tea as they do with a cup of hot tea. And with the weather changing every day, I keep a roll of cookie dough in the fridge, so that I am ready to bake off a couple when the winds change. Nutty and sandy, with a touch of sea salt on top, these cookies bring to mind summer days collecting sand dollars, with your toes in the wet sand and the harsh coastal wind in your face.

I made these shortbread cookies for this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by Elissa at 17 and Baking. Elissa picked browned butter or beurre noisette as the theme of the month, you can see all the details on her blog. Sugar High Fridays were started by Jennifer at The Domestic Goddess. This is the first time that I am partaking in the group challenge.

Salted Browned Butter Shortbread
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook via Bake List and Kitchen Meditation

1/2 cup unsalted butter, browned and cooled to room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 generous pinch kosher salt
Fleur de sel for topping

Cream the butters and sugar together. Then add the vanilla, and slowly add the flour and kosher salt. Shape the dough into a log and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut slices of the log approximately 1/4 inch thick and put cookies onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the edges are browned. After removing from the oven sprinkle each of the cookies with a touch of fleur de sel.

A day in the park to remember: Lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake

June 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

There are few things that feel more comfortable than afternoon picnics in your hometown, especially when surrounded by old friends. In fact, picnics are possibility one of my favorite activities and I don’t know why we don’t have them more often. A couple weeks ago, a friend and I snatched up a reunion brunch and decided to skip out on the popular brunch restaurants in San Francisco and hold our own little picnic in Dolores Park. It has been quite awhile since then, as it was the day before I left for New York City, but it was the perfect ending to an extended stay at home. We ate our homemade bagels, muffins, salad and fruit, and this wonderful lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake on the grass before going to Philz Coffee, which makes every cup of coffee individually, for a full cream, no sugar Mocha Tesora.

You did read correctly that we made our own bagels for the picnic. But more on that later. The black horse of the spread was the lemon bread, which really stole the limelight. It is a yeasted loaf, made by stacking layers of sweet dough with lemon zest, butter and sugar. It billowed up in the oven, creating really pretty layers of sweet bread with a bright, sunny yellow punch. One bite of this and you will never look at ordinary cinnamon coffeecake again.

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake
Flo Braker, Baking for All Occasions, Chronicle Books, 2008

For the sweet yeast dough
About 2 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces) whole milk
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the lemon paste filling

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

For the tangy cream cheese icing
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Make the sweet yeast dough
Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F [49 to 54°C]), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) of the remaining flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.

Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F [21°C]) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. While the dough is rising, make the filling.

Make the lemon paste filling
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests. Set the sandy-wet mixture nearby (the sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create the consistency).

Make the coffee cake

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Or, lightly coat the pan with nonstick spray.

Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle it with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.

Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (While there is plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips widthwise in the pan, fitting the strips lengthwise is tight. But that’s fine because the spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F [21°C]) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.

Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make the tangy cream cheese icing

In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

To remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the coffee cake, invert the cake onto the rack, and carefully lift off the pan. Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack.

Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it. (Cover and refrigerate the leftover icing for another use. It will keep for up to 2 days.)

Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature. To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don’t attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.

L’imagination au pouvoir: Almond Cake

April 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spring is finally here, albeit through the random bursts of rain showers and thunders. Yesterday we were standing at the door of Rosana’s, ready to leave, after picking up last minute necessities for lawnparties, when the clouds burst. I realize I don’t have a very standard definition of last minute, lawnparties are after all over a week away. But per usual, the dress was bought a couple weeks ago, the obnoxious sun hat scored last week (finally!). Fake eyelashes were picked up on a whim for formals right around the time everyone else started thinking about maybe finding a dress. And that’s just how I work. I’m a big believer in themes and an even bigger fan of in your face, impression-making, big-impact themes. So while it may just be formals, for me it’s about the entire outfit.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how excited I am to no longer be wearing drab colors. I didn’t realize outfits could be coordinated to the season until I came out here. I’m excited for yellow, flowery prints, my new summer boots (yes, ask and I’ll show you they exist) and the ten-thousand pairs of sunglasses that have been chilling in my desk for months. And then, I’m excited of this cake because what says spring more than a light, French almond cake dusted with powdered sugar and served with berry compote?

I made this for my French class as part of a presentation on the development of French cuisine through the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a favorite of David Lebovitz, who is my favorite. I once made his lemon curd to go alongside a lemon cake and ended up eating it by the spoonful straight from the pan on the stove. Please go check out David’s site for the full story behind the recipe.

Almond Cake

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup almond paste (not marzipan)
10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (this is a LOT of butter, over half a pound. It lends a lot of moisture to the cake but I may try cutting it down to 8 ounces next time to decrease the prominent buttery taste of the cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (next time I think I’ll try using some almond flour in place)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position the rack to the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up (the sugar crystals helps break the paste into pieces-so don’t add the butter yet!)

3. Now add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, or a measuring cup with a spout, stir together the eggs with a fork then dribble it into the batter as you beat. Add the vanilla.

4. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just incorporated.

5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The baking time may take a but longer due to the variation in different brands of almond paste.

Cool the cake on a rack before serving. This cake is extremely moist and will keep well for up to a week if well-wrapped.

Twelve little girls in two straight lines: Almond Madeleines

April 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

A madeleine is a simple pleasure, one savored with a cup of tea on a quiet afternoon, perhaps as the rain drips off the windowpane. It is a simple comfort, one that continually reminds you of home even as the treat may never have been a part of your first home. It is delicately sweet, distracting variations of flavor — overpowering orange and chocolate in replace of the quiet butter, which appears without its inherent bitterness — often serving only to unnecessarily detract from its appeal. For me there is nothing more comforting than a pair of madeleine pans on the kitchen racks. It isn’t often that I get to put them to use, so this weekend I went all out and used all the pans, the traditional-sized ones and the mini ones.

I made a slight variation on the traditional madeleine, from Technicolor Kitchen. I liked the subtle almond flavor (almond extract isn’t something I often come by at college) but think I will decrease the salt a bit next time as the cookies had a bit of a salty aftertaste. My madeleines often come out quite a bit more buttery than the Starbucks variety, which are a guilty pleasure of mine. Next time I might experiment with decreasing the butter by a smidgen but that next time is far and far away, as my madeleine pans are now thousands of miles away.

Almond madeleines

2 large eggs
1/3 cup superfine or baker’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted twice after measuring (I only sifted once, and directly into the mixing bowl)
3 tablespoons finely ground almonds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter and flour your madeleine pan.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine eggs, sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until pale, thick and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts.
On low speed, mix in the sifted flour and almond meal until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the melted butter until blended.

Fill each mold almost completely full. Bake the madeleines until the tops spring back when lightly touched, 10 to 12 minutes.
Cool in pan for 2 minutes. Remove madeleines from pan and allow them cool completely on cooling rack.

I made 12 full-size madeleines and 12 minis (which are about half-bite sized).

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