Posts Tagged ‘Cake’

A Nice Holiday Treat


A few weeks ago, I was asked to bake several desserts for a Holiday Bake Sale Fundraiser.  I’m really a sucker for this kind of stuff.  For one, it gives me a reason to bake.  Second, I don’t have to eat all or most of what I bake (which is always a good thing).  I love to bake for other people, and when it goes to a good cause, it’s even better.

I started with a batch of my Candy Cane Peppermint Brownies.  They are always a hit and are always the first to sell out.  They are a dessert I’ve been making at Christmas time for about 25 years and they’ve got a cult following of fans.  For me, I just can’t really eat them anymore.  They’re too sweet and just too over the top for me.  Next I made a batch of Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars by Julia at Dozen Flours that I posted about recently.  Those did well at the sale too.  The sale also had a Christmas Café running where shoppers could stop in for a bit to eat during their shopping – for the Café, I was asked to provide a dessert that would be easy to sell by the slice. 

I didn’t really have a Christmas cake recipe in my arsenal since Christmas for us usually revolves around cookies and candy.  Cake just usually disappears until after the holidays pass and I prepare a Almond Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting for my wife’s birthday at the end of December.  So, I did some surfing on the net and tapped into my fellow food blogger’s stash of recipes to find something that would work.  After checking a bunch of my favorite sites, I finally settled on an Apple Cranberry Holiday Cake I found on Joy the Baker’s blog (She also calls it the All-Purpose Holiday Cake).  This was something a little different from the usual fair found at this sale, so I decided to give it a try.

This is a relatively simple cake to throw together.  I think the majority of the work comes from dicing the apples and cutting the cranberries (If you’ve never cut cranberries before, it’s an interesting task to cut up a bunch of little round berries – try it sometime).  Since I don’t bake many cakes in my Bundt or tube pans, I’m always excited to try something new that will hopefully release from the pan in one piece.

The cake smelled great when baking, kind of like spiced cider being steeped on the stove.  The cake itself is wonderfully dense and moist, not too sweet.  I decided to top it with a cream cheese glaze for a little extra sugar kick and I’m glad I did, because it was just a perfect accompaniment to the cake itself. 

So, how did it do?  It sold out.  The most important thing about baking for a fundraiser is that the items you bake actually sell.  I’m happy to say that all of my items sold out by the end of the sale, making for a successful year and for a happy Oregon baker.

Now, before you ask, I’m currently not planning to post about my brownies because I’m so embarrassed about how easy they are to make, you almost can’t call it baking.  Besides, you simply don’t need that kind of temptation in your life, trust me.

Thanks again to Joy for posting this recipe.

If you would like to see a copy of the recipe, visit the original post on Joy’s site, or click here for a copy on my site.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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As you read this, you will undoubtedly note it was posted several days late.  I actually completed the cake a few weeks ago, but the preparations for and cleanup after the holiday kept me from the computer for the better part of 5 days straight.  So, I hope you’ll grant me a little leeway this month (and probably next month too!)  I am one of those people who hates to be late to anything, so in order to address this issue, I can assure you I have properly punished myself with a steel whisk.

I have to say that there weren’t many challenges that could have been presented this month that would make me set aside the time from holiday (Thanksgiving) preparations in order to make them.  Which is why when I found out what this month’s challenge was, I was torn – do I spend time getting the house in order after our remodel, or do I bake?  Of course, baking won out, how couldn’t it?  Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing and Vanilla Bean Caramels?  Are you serious? The only thing that may have gotten my attention more than this would have been some sort of triple chocolate cake with triple chocolate icing and triple chocolate pots de crème shooters on the side.

So, I set about to make this cake for a November family birthday party.  Not having spent much time making caramel, I was a bit concerned about my ability to gently coax a lovely golden amber caramel out of my pot of sugar water.  Past experiments with this mixture have not always gone very well, but as a Daring Baker, I was determined to complete this challenge.

It wasn’t as time consuming as some previous challenges have been, but it did present a few persnickety steps, particularly, the caramelization process, that did involve some time and intense focus on the stove top.  Everything went well, though, and other than ending up with a pan that needed a little extra scrubbing, all of my caramel turned out just fine.  I wanted a slightly larger cake, so I doubled the cake recipe and used (2) 9″ round cake pans – the final size was just right for the birthday cake.  I did run into one issue in that I could not find any Golden Syrup available locally (I’ve seen it before, I just couldn’t find it when I needed it) so I ended up making a golden syrup copycat recipe I found online.

I shared this cake with about 10 other people and had mixed reviews.  The frosting was the issue.  I found it almost too sweet (if there is such a thing) and for my taste, the browned butter was out of place (as it was for several other tasters too).  I’ll stick with browned butter and mizithra cheese served over hot pasta. The caramels, however were a big hit and disappeared quickly.  Will I make this again?  The cake, absolutely yes, the frosting, perhaps a second go without the browned butter would be more to my liking as well as a thinner layer – this stuff is wicked potent!  The cake itself is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and perhaps, if I’d toned it down a bit on the frosting, it would have been perfect.  As you can see by my choice of caramels for the opening photo, that I was impressed by them.  I only wished I’d topped them with some flake salt. The caramels are a definite make again recipe.

A big thanks again to Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex of the Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food for the great challenge and for hosting this month.  Natalie at Gluten A-Go-Go provided information for the Alternative Daring Bakers. This month’s Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting is courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (Eggbeater), as published on Bay Area Bites.  The Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels are from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

You can find a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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Making the Praline

Making the Praline

This month marks my first Daring Bakers Challenge.  I’ve been watching this group for the past year or so and debating with myself as to whether or not I wanted to join.  With a better than full time job, a wife and a 18-month old little girl at home, it’s not easy to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen.  That being said, after watching last month’s challenge, the Danish Braid, I just couldn’t hold back any longer.  They are baking up some great stuff and I just had to join in.  So, I sent my email and got on board, so, here I am.

This month’s challenge – and yes, it was a challenge, was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream selected by this month’s host – Chris over at Mele Cotte.  This recipe challenged me on several levels.  First, it was going to take some time.  I definitely had to plan out my baking schedule and do this in pieces. 

Cutting the Layers

Cutting the Layers

Second, I had to do some things I’ve never done before – whipped cream from scratch, whipping up meringue, making true Swiss Buttercream, melting sugar – all of which I have not done before.  Finally, here, like many other places in the country, it’s been a bit warm lately, and the thought of keeping the buttercream intact in the heat and humidity was a bit of a concern.

Finding the ingredients was not a problem.  Filberts (hazelnuts) are grown here in Oregon, so they can be purchased, in bulk for about $6.00/lb.  Add up the rest of the ingredients and the time it takes to make this recipe and it turns out to be a spendy little treat.

The Completed Layers

The Completed Layers

I enjoyed the fact that I was learning some new procedures.  I’ve watched countless times as meringue and whipped cream were whipped up on the Food Network, but I’ve never had the guts to try it until now.  You know what?  It wasn’t all that difficult.  Both came together very well.  I did add a small touch of cream of tartar to my egg whites as that is supposed to help give them volume and stability.  The hazelnuts weren’t too much trouble as I’ve worked with them before.  I had more trouble skinning the little buggers than I’ve had in the past, I’m not sure why, but I was left with some skins on the nuts.  Not a problem, I left them there with no ill effects.

The cake itself came together nicely, though there were a few hiccups.  I didn’t have any of the listed spirits available, so I used a Vanilla Flavored Rum we had picked up on a cruise to the Caribbean.  I forgot to spread the apricot glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven, so I did that later, after I had cut and filled the layers.  Cutting the layers wasn’t too difficult.  I have a Wilton tool for cutting cake layers, but I wanted to try it freehand and, if I do say so myself, the layers actually turned out nicely.  I did have some trouble cutting the sides of the cake.  I should have refrigerated the cake again for awhile after assembling the layers because the cake started to kind of crumble on me as I tried to make the cut.  The finished edges weren’t quite what I had hoped for, but once the ganache was poured on, it didn’t look too bad. 

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

Finally, I had a little trouble piping the buttercream on top of the cake.  I was trying to go around the outside edge of the top of the cake with a kind of scalloped pattern, but the buttercream was slightly separating and was breaking on me – kind of falling apart rather than staying in one nice unbroken line.  Oh well, I’m not much of a decorator anyway – that’s why my stuff has to taste so good – my creations may not be much to look at, but they usually taste great.  So, I made the best of it and I’m actually pretty pleased at my giant Ding-Dong of a cake (at least that’s how it looked with just the ganache on it).

Getting Ready to Decorate

Getting Ready to Decorate

We had a small gathering the day I finished the cake for an out of town visitor.  I served the cake to our guests who proceeded to wipe the whole thing out in one sitting.  One person thought I had bought the cake at a bakery – I’ll take that as a compliment.  They all enjoyed the somewhat complex mix of flavors in this cake.  It’s definitely what I would call more refined in terms of flavors.  You need to savor this cake slowly to appreciate the subtle qualities of taste and texture, rather than wolf it down with a big glass of milk.  No, for the amount of time and effort that goes in to making it, you’re darn well going to sit there and appreciate it! Tell me what a good job I did.  Tell me you love me. 

I guess it’s time to settle down and prepare for the next challenge.  Thanks again Chris for selecting a challenging recipe and to Lis and Ivonne for keeping the Daring Bakers rolling along.  See you all next month. I’ve posted a copy of the full recipe here.



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The following post is a reprint of a post I made on my old site last year – it was my most popular post, so I’m reprinting it here for your enjoyment.

One of the fun parts about baking for me is exploring my family roots through food. Like many Americans, I have a bit of a ‘Heinz 57’ heritage – a little bit of everything. I’ve done some family history research and have found some interesting things – I have relatives that came over on the Mayflower (fully documented, I am a member of the Mayflower Society), which came over from England. I have family that emigrated from Denmark and Germany. My two strongest ties, however are to Ireland (I still carry that family name) and Sweden (I still have family with whom I am in contact there). Since my grandmother and aunts were born in Sweden, I grew up exposed to many of the wonderful foods of that country – in fact, I plan to use them in several blog posts to come (although I can guarantee that Herring Pudding will never grace this blog site – yech!!). That being said, I have no expressions of the Irish side of the family – most of my ancestors died very young and lived under very tough and poor conditions once they came to the US, so they didn’t take much time to record information to pass down the line. So, my list of Irish family recipes is fairly short – zero. I’m very interested in knowing more about what my family may have been eating some 100 years ago when they emigrated – as well as what the Irish people in general like to eat.

I’ve found a number of recipes online that claim Irish heritage or at least popularity, but it can be difficult sometimes to sort out the truth from the other stuff out there in cyberspace. Maybe some of my visitors can recommend some good sites for Irish recipes and history?

In the meantime, as I take a short vacation on the Oregon Coast, I begin looking ahead to the change in seasons to my favorite time of year – Fall. I love the weather, cool, foggy, crisp, clean. When I sense those changes coming, I can’t help but begin thinking of fall cooking – comfort foods – and for me, my favorite Fall ingredient has to be apples. Of course, we can get apples here year-round, but fall is the time when the best of the harvest come in and everyone’s thoughts start to turn to baking with apples.

So, looking at my pile of fresh Granny Smiths, and considering how I might explore some of that Irish heritage, I came across a recipe on Joyofbaking.com for an Apple Scone Cake. Now, if the description of this recipe as posted on Joy of Baking is correct, the Apple Scone Cake is one of the most popular desserts made by home bakers in Ireland (can anyone confirm that??). It certainly sounded like an interesting recipe to try – and, for all I could tell, seemed as if it could be a real ‘Irish’ dessert. Why not give it a try? The concept is interesting – it’s not really a ‘cake’ as I would think of it – it’s really more of a cross between a cake and a pie. Imagine apple pie, but instead of the traditionally flaky pie crust, a more ‘cakey’ scone crust instead. Since I’m not yet experienced in the fine art of pie crust, but have successfully made scones, this seemed like a great gateway recipe to my first ever ‘pie’

Overall the results were very good. Having made this, I would probably make the following changes the next time around: a bit more sugar/cinnamon in the apples – I used more apples than the recipe called for, but didn’t add more sugar to account for that change. Second, I would bake it just a bit longer – I like my apples a bit softer, but this was still pretty good. Third, I might add just a few small pats of butter (not margarine) in with the apples. Lastly, I might add just a touch more sugar to the scone base. With all of that being said, you can click here for a copy of the original recipe with no modifications so you can start at the same point as me. This is a hearty and tasty dessert – perfect for a cool fall (or warm summer) evening – I will definitely be making this again.  Click here for a copy of the recipe I’ve posted on my site.

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I love coffee cake.  I don’t have a particular favorite, but if I have the choice and there is a crumb topped coffee cake, that will be my choice.  I’ve always wondered how hard it might be to bake a good crumbcake style coffee cake.  Recently, I caught an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they covered their New York Style Crumb Cake.  It looked too good to pass up, I had to try it.

I went online and got a copy of the recipe available on their site (though they are a paid subscription site, they make recipes from their current television season available for free).  The recipe looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I didn’t have any cake flour, so I checked some of my cookbooks and found that I could substitute 7/8 cup of all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch for each cup of cake flour.  I followed their directions carefully and everything looked good going into the oven.

I pulled the cake about 5 minutes shy of the recommended cooking time as the crumb topping was lightly browned and the cake appeared to be done.  It looked and smelled wonderful.  When I went to cut a piece though, I found that the crumb topping had become quite hard and crunchy.  Now, as far as I know, this isn’t the way it should be.  All of the crumb cakes I’ve had before had a nice soft crumb topping that almost melts in your mouth.  Not here, though.  I wasn’t sure what went wrong.  I’ve posted requests for help on the ATK website, but haven’t received any suggestions for this problem yet.  One other reader noted the same problem.

What do you think?  I’m open to any suggestions out there as to what I may have done to cause the topping to become so hard and crunchy.  The next time I try this recipe, I’ll probably try covering the cake with foil for a portion of the cooking time to see if that helps with the topping problem.

As for the cake, it was dense and tasted very good (along with the topping).  I’m looking forward to trying this again – after all, what’s morning coffee without something tasty to go along with it.

You can click here for a copy of the recipe as seen on America’s Test Kitchen.

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Chocolate Disaster Cake


Okay, I don’t like to admit my mistakes, especially when they’re foolish ones.  But sometimes our mistakes are too good to keep to ourselves.  We were on vacation 2 weeks ago and I did a good amount of baking at that time (yes, baking was a planned part of my vacation, I don’t get that kind of time at home).  I wanted to start the week with a simple dessert, but something that would be appreciated by a chocoholic.

Enter the Flourless Chocolate Cake.  I’ve made these before.  Several years ago, I made this in mini bundt pans for a ladies tea my wife was hosting.  I served them with a light dusting of powdered sugar and a small raspberry sitting in the little indentation on the top of the mini cake.  They were a huge hit.  Very chocolatey, dense and somewhat creamy.  Well, I had come across a similar recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website via their Baker’s Banter blog (you can read their entry on this recipe here).   Theirs was similar, but also added a very tasty chocolate ganache as a topping – whoa, that sounded really good!

I didn’t have any cake pans available at the vacation rental house, but I did have some loaf pans, so I thought I’d give it a try and just extend the baking time.  So, I lined the loaf pan like the recipe said, leaving some extra parchment hanging over the edges to help lift the cake out at the end.  I started baking the suggested time for a cake pan, and, of course, it wasn’t done.  I started adding time in 5 minute increments.  I checked a second time and a third, still not done.  That’s where everything went south.  Something else missing in this vacation rental home was a second oven mitt.  I usually like to use both hands when putting things in or taking them out of the oven, just so I keep the batter level and avoid spashes, etc.  This time, with only one oven mitt, and therefore, only one hand on the pan, I lost it.  I had sprayed the pan with nonstick baking spray and had gotten some on the lip of the pan.  Let me tell you, that stuff is slick – literally.  My thumb slipped and the pan fell out of my hand – upside down, onto the open oven door.  Quickly, I lifted the pan off the door in the hopes that maybe I could save it – no luck.  The parchment did a fantastic job and released the entire cake from the pan, cleanly. 

The interior of the cake wasn’t done yet, so the gooey batter spread out amidst the baked portions.  Everything began to bake onto the ungreased, unprotected oven door.  I stood there, amazed, wondering what to do.  My wife heard the comotion and quickly assisted by scooping up everything that wasn’t baked onto the door back into the pan.  That was that.  Some serious cleaning ensued (baking soda and water worked very well to remove that nasty mess from the door) and I was left with a pan of partialy baked cake.  My wife encouraged me to make the best of a bad situation, and that’s when the muse struck – Chocolate Disaster Cake would be born.

I had already prepared the ganache and didn’t want it to go to waste, so I scooped out some generous spoonfuls of the batter – some baked, some not and topped it with the ganache.  You know what?  It not only tasted fantastic (kind of like a molten lava cake), but actually didn’t look too bad – you can see for yourself.

The moral of the story?  1.  Always use 2 hands and 2. Make the best of even your worst disasters.  I haven’t yet tried to reproduce this in the loaf pan to see if that would have worked, but considering the outcome here, I may have a hard time letting the next one bake all the way before I start hacking into it.  Ahh, sweet defeat.

You can find the recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake by King Arthur Flour here.

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