Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Buttermilk Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

A month or so ago I noticed a very interesting trend in blogging: the buttermilk cake. What is buttermilk cake, I had to ask? If The Vanilla Bean Blog and Nothing But Delicious were creating these gorgeous white cakes with original frostings, surely I must join in on the fun!

The perfect opportunity came last week when my friends Tracey and Tracy, who are married to each other (they kept their last names to avoid confusion) and having a baby girl in November, came for an overnight visit. Perhaps it's that I love them so. Perhaps it's that they're having a girl. Perhaps it's that I'm just tickled pink that Tracy and I have been friends for 40 years (holy shit cow!), but I just had to make a pink cake. And because we don't do artificial coloring in our house, I had to make it pink naturally. So...butter, sugar and raspberries!

Buttermilk cake, it turns out, is a delicious vanilla cake that is the most versatile cake I've ever made. Using buttermilk gives the body a nice, silky crumb and the flavor a tiny, almost imperceptible kick. (Not dissimilar to a lighter pound cake.) It would go perfectly well with caramel frosting, All-American Chocolate, or strawberries and cream. As I've mentioned, in this case we went pink with raspberries and it was divine. Adding a thin layer of lemon curd and another thin layer of seedless raspberry jam to the filling and we had the perfect, very sweet, feminine cake. While this one is perfect for a tea party or afternoon celebration, it's really great anytime and so, so pretty. Try it!

xox,

A.



Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Nothing But Delicious 
1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 t vanilla (or vanilla bean paste or the seeds from one vanilla bean)
1 C buttermilk (I used lowfat with great results)

Oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans and set them aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 

In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy.Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat quickly. 

Alternating in 3 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then buttermilk and mix fully and so on.

Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing (as best you can) and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully before frosting. 

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
1 C frozen raspberries, thawed
1 C unsalted butter, at room temp
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 t sea or kosher salt

Strain the raspberries so that no pulp nor seeds remain. 

Beat the butter on medium high until it's light and pillowy. Add the sugar in 2 batches, mixing thoroughly. Add the salt and mix quickly. With the mixer on, slowly drizzle the raspberry juice/seedless pulp and mix thoroughly. The coloration will vary depending upon how much raspberry you use and how deep the flavor of the berries.

To finish: using about 3T store bought or homemade lemon curd and 3T seedless raspberry jam, spread very thin layers of each onto the bottom layer of your cake and cover with buttercream. The fillings will blend a bit unless you freeze the cake between layers of filling, but I think a little blending never hurt anyone. Repeat this process on your second layer and then top with the third layer of cake. Frost fully and serve.
If your guests were anything like mine, this is what plates will look like within about 5 minutes. Hehe. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Apricot Almond Granola Bars

Now that we're all back to school, it seems like a good time to admit that my family doesn't so much eat as snack. Breakfast may consist of a little yogurt followed an hour later by some fruit. Mid-morning, there may be some crackers and cheese or half an apple slathered with a tablespoon of almond butter. The rest of the day is much the same until dinner, when we actually eat a meal. Perhaps we sit to eat dinner because that lovely meal (last night was hot dogs and baked beans. Oh, the glamour!) is followed by my favorite meal of the day: dessert! Yes, I consider dessert a meal. It's my hard-earned right after a day slaving away for these people and dog! Not that I'm justifying...

Okay, back to breakfast. My favorite morning snack is a cup of steaming hot English Breakfast tea with a bit of vanilla soymilk and a granola bar. I find that Lulu and Jeremy will pretty much eat what I'm eating (thank goodness!!!), so, I've been searching out the best granola bar recipes. Most of them are predictably sugary or fatty, but leave it to Smitten Kitchen to find an alternative. Now, I know I've been referencing this blog a lot lately, so, I promise this is my last recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cook book, for now anyway! I altered it quite a bit, so if you're a purist, you may want to buy her book.

I do plan to make this one over and over, because I like it that much but also to attempt to perfect it. While the recipe is delicious, the bars crumble easily and are a bit dry, which explains why so many others use more butter! Never fear, though, these are lovely with tea or popped into a lunch box and I will find the right balance of sweet, healthy, toasty and packable. In the meantime, make these and tell me in the comments if your family loves them as much as mine did.

xox,

A.

Apricot Almond Granola Bars
Makes 10 bars

1 C dried apricots, chopped
1-1/4 C oats
3 T flax seed meal
1/3 C wheat germ
1/2 C sliced toasted almonds
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 C almond or other nut butter
1/4 C olive oil
1/4 C honey
1/4 t almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8"x8" pan with parchment (one long piece hanging over the sides is perfect).

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey and almond extract. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir until well incorporated.

Spread the batter into your pan and bake for 20 minutes or until they're nicely browned. It's kind of good to overbake these.

Let them cool and remove them from the pan in one big block. Put the block into the freezer for 15 minutes and then cut in half and then across 5 times, making 10 bars.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Red Velvet Cake

Classic Red Velvet Cake
Seven years ago this month I met the sweetest little 8 year-old cheerleader you ever did see. Michaela was a darling, shy, soft-spoken child who loved to cuddle up next to me, her then-auntie-to-be. This little darling turns 15 years old today. (Sigh.) She's now a fierce competitor on the volleyball court (indoor and beach!) who, at over 5'7", towers over most of us in the family and really never asks for so much as a hug anymore now that she's practically a grown up (I say in my best Eloise voice).

No matter how tall she is, she's still our family's little darling and when we all gathered last Sunday to celebrate her, naturally I made her favorite: Red Velvet Cake. The cake recipe is from Julie Richardson's trusty and gorgeous Vintage Cakes Cookbook but the frosting is a family recipe that I've shared on the blog before. The cake was a wee bit dense, but I blame myself for that. If you actually follow the steps rather than pouring all the wet ingredients into the bowl at once as I did, you will ensure yourself a lighter crumb. Let me just say, though, that the cake was truly yummy. Normally, I don't love that coating you get on your tongue that makes a velvet cake, but this one was mild and the cocoa flavor was bolder than I'm used to. I mean, anything chocolate pleases me!

My sweet little strong and confident Michaela seemed to like the cake a lot. The girl is a teenager, so, she wasn't effusive. But, she ate it all, as did everyone else so I'll take that as a good sign. The true test, though, is whether I liked it and not only did I, but I would absolutely, hands-down make this one again - maybe even following the directions next time!

Happy Birthday, lovely Michaela. You are a light to our whole family and I love you so. 

xox,

Auntie A.

red velvet cake for Michaelas birthday

Red Velvet Cake
Serves 12

2-1/2 C sifted cake flour
1/2 C lightly packed unsweetened cocoa (Ms. Richardson would insist upon the Dutch processed variety)
2 t baking powder
1 t fine sea salt
3/4 C oil
2 t vanilla
1 T red food coloring (I used a concentrated gel for maximum color)
3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 large egg yolks, at room temp
1 C buttermilk, at room temp

One and one half recipes Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe here

First, prep 3 9" cake pans by buttering and cocoa-ing them. So, spread a little butter around, getting it into the grooves of the pan and then sprinkle about 1 t cocoa and tap the pan until it's coated. And then add a parchment paper pan liner (or cut parchment into a 9" circle and drop it in).

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a small bowl, sift together:
flour
cocoa
baking powder
salt
then whisk until well mixed.

In another small bowl, combine:
oil
vanilla
food coloring

Beat the butter & sugar together until they're light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides several times to make sure it all gets incorporated well.

Slowly drizzle the oil mixture into the butter & sugar, running your mixer at low speed until blended, and then beat on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs, then the yolks, one at a time, incorporating fully after each.

turn your mixer on low and alternate adding the cocoa mixture with the buttermilk in 3 separate additions each. So, add a little cocoa and fully mix. Add a little buttermilk and mix. Repeat and repeat. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter into the prepped pans and bake in the center of your calibrated oven for 18-25 minutes. If you're using only 2 pans, it will take more like 25-30 minutes, so, keep an eye on them.

Cool these cakes at least 30 minutes before removing them from their pans. I waited 2 hours, but I had that kind of time. If you don't, put them into the freezer for 15 minutes or so and use extra care removing them from their pans.

Make your frosting. 

Place one layer onto your cake plate and spread about 1/2 C frosting. Repeat with the next layer and then add the top layer. I highly recommend frosting with a crumb layer and placing the cake into the fridge about 30 minutes to firm up before frosting with the rest of the frosting and making it pretty.
Red Velvet Cake Slice Baking a Love Story
Let it set about 30 more minutes (or while you eat dinner), place your candles, sing Happy Birthday and EAT.
Top View Red Velvet Baking a Love Story
Don't expect leftovers. ;)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ooey, Gooey Mac & Cheese

Fall is definitely on the horizon. Although I'm squeezing out the last breaths of summer, and although the weather in San Diego will get hotter before it gets cooler, I've started craving cinnamon and apples, casseroles and roasted cauliflower. It can't be helped. Autumn is the best season of the year, especially for cuisine.

On another note, do you know what is really wonderful about Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman? She makes me feel like I may just cook a recipe as well as she's done. I'm pretty sure that rarely happens, but I'm making my way through her cook book nonetheless. (Highly recommend the Balsamic and Beer-Braised Short Ribs and the Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach. The whole book is worth purchasing, but those are my current faves.) She tackled this New York Times macaroni and cheese recipe with all the talent, humor and wit we've come to expect from her. And, it was good.

Okay, I'll be honest. My husband and daughter thought it was great, but it was far too rich for me. Coming from the woman who can down spoonsful of ganache plus apple pie, ice cream and lemon bars in one sitting, this is saying a lot. I know, what did I expect, right? I don't know. In any case, I would certainly make it again and serve it as a side, not a main, dish. In the words of Serge from Beverly Hills Cop, "Iss good. You should try."

Mac & Cheese a la Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 10-12 side dish-sized servings
1 T butter
1 C cottage cheese
2 C whole milk
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 t sea or kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

Preheat oven to 375°. Using the 1T butter, grease a 9-inch round casserole or baking dish.

In a blender, purée cottage cheese, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. (If you need to add some of the milk for ease of mixing, do so, but reserve at least one cup for mixing in the next step.)

Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for topping.

In a large bowl, combine remaining the grated cheese, milk, and the cottage cheese mixture with the uncooked pasta.

Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish, stir gently, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

Bake uncovered another 30 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool and serve. 



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Baked French Toast

Genetics are an amazing thing. A few weeks ago I reconnected with my beautiful cousin Erin and although it had been 15 years since we'd seen each other, it was as though no time had passed at all. We took our collective kids to Farrell's and the 2 of us danced the birthday songs together and generally made mayhem while aforementioned kids looked away in embarrassment.

The amazing thing is how alike we are. This woman was raised in California's Central Valley while I grew up in Los Angeles. She is a middle child, I'm the oldest. She married and started her family before she was 30: I couldn't get that together until I was almost 40. And yet, we talk similarly - not just the tones, but the words we use. We're built similarly with tallish, athletic frames. And then, there were less obvious connections like that we see things the same way and have like values. We're extroverts who married good, solid men who support and ground us. Maybe it's generational (we're 4 months apart), but our similarities seem to run deeper than that. Some things are genetic, after all.

In any case, Erin and her family were coming to San Diego, so, naturally, I had to bake for them. As they were coming the day they planned to make the 6 hour drive home, I wanted to make sure they were fortified, not just fed. Knowing I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could, not cooking or prepping while they sat waiting, I sought out a recipe for something I could prepare beforehand and enjoy with them. Enter Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, and her gorgeous recipe for toasty, cinnamony, pudding-y baked french toast. With some applewood smoked bacon, fresh raspberries and whipped cream, this was hearty, delicious and a sweet treat for our little family reunion.
Before we get into the recipe, let me just say that this one will be making return appearances in our lives, especially around the holidays. I can smell this Christmas morning, or any morning when guests are here and I want a low-maintenance, truly delicious breakfast. (In truth, we ate it as dessert with vanilla ice cream, too. I mean, it is essentially bread pudding!) Next time, I plan to add some blueberries or peaches into the mixture before baking to add my own spin. Or, maybe a cup of pureed pumpkin. Oh, the versions are endless!

If you make this one, let me know how you personalized it. As always, enjoy!

xox,

A.

Baked French Toast
Yield 8-10 servings

For the Pudding:
1-20oz. loaf brioche
8 whole eggs
2 C whole milk
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 T vanilla

For the Topping:
1/2 C flour
1/2 C brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 C cold butter, cut into chunks

Whipped cream and fresh berries, for serving

For the Pudding: Grease a 9x13" baking pan with butter and set aside. Cube the bread and drop into the pan.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the milk, cream, sugars and vanilla. Pour over the bread. Cover the pan tightly and put into the fridge overnight.

For the topping: Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is pebbly. Store in the fridge until use.

Preheat the oven to 350 and place the pudding on the counter. Sprinkle the topping over and place into the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes and spoon out portions, topping with berries and cream.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Oh, la la! A Showstopping Dark Chocolate Tarte


Why does everything sound fancier in French? Eh bien, que faire? C'est vrai et c'est ca.

In any language, everyone needs a go-to, trusted, not-too-much-work-but-exceedingly-fabulous recipe in her repertoire. Because you never know when you might decide at the last minute to invite guests over and they may be people you love, or at least that you'd like to impress. Really, anyone you're inviting into your home deserves to be loved and impressed, non?

This tart from Lori Longbotham's Luscious Chocolate Desserts is one I've made several times, always with delectable results. The first time I made it was for new friends in Richmond (I'm talking to you, Vogeleers and, then, the next day, Goldins!). Then, I made it for a party last holiday season (Kaspers!). When one of Jeremy's best friends from high school and his new wife (go, Durans!) invited us over to their house for dinner for the first time as a married couple, I brought the tarte. And, last weekend, when we had Jeremy's favorite work friend and his gorgeous family (you know who you are, Duncan family) over for dinner, well, you know the rest.

I know I tell you lots of recipes are easy, but this one truly is simple and turns out when you follow the directions. It may be wise to weigh the chocolate to make sure you have the correct amount, but I always fudge a little extra in and it comes out well. The greatest thing about this show-stopper is how unfair the ratio of unbelievably delicious it is against the amount of work it takes, and how very well that works to your advantage.

This recipe comfortably serves 12, is truly rich and needs no other accompaniment than freshly whipped cream. In fact, even when the whipped cream melts in the 85 degree weather, it adds a nice contrast to the dark chocolate. If you're reading my little blog and haven't made anything yet, please make this. Consider it a bonding experience between you and me. I'm sharing my secret weapon recipe with you. Je vous adore. Fo' real!

xox, 

A.
 

Lori Longbotham's Perfectly Simple Dark Chocolate Tart(e)
Serves 12

Crust
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 C toasted walnuts, cooled
3/4 C flour
1/4 C best quality cocoa powder (I used Dagoba this time, but love Valrhona equally well)
1/4 t salt
1/2 C cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350.

Process the sugar and walnuts in a food processor or blender until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and process just until blended. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture starts to come together. 

Press the dough into the bottom of a 10" tarte pan and prick all over with a fork. 

Bake 15-18 minutes until the crust begins to pull away from the edges of the pan. Let cool while you make the filling. 

Filling
14 oz. 60% chocolate, chopped
6 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 C sugar
1 t best quality vanilla extract

Cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Remove the bowl from heat and whisk in the sugar and eggs until blended. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour the filling into the warm crust.

Bake 12 minutes or until the filling is set around the edges, but still a bit jiggly in the center. The top of the tart may look blistered. That means you've done it right. 

Remove the tarte from the pan and place on a plate. Dust with cocoa and serve with freshly whipped cream. 
Not the best shot, but you get the idea!
 




Friday, August 1, 2014

A Job, a Birthday and a Bowl of Cherries

Summer Cherries. My favorite!
“Life, a good life, a great life is about "Why not?" May we never forget it.”
Danielle Steel, Happy Birthday 

Wow. It's Friday at 5:00pm and we have not spoken all week. I miss you!

No recipe this week as I've been doing a lot of prepping and interviewing for Marketing Director positions. Cross your fingers for me! Next week, though, we'll have all kinds of treats so stay tuned.

In other news, I will turn forty four this weekend. Yes, I did just spell that out because, HOLY MOLY! I'm FORTY FOUR. Yowza. Let's see, where did I think I'd be at 44? When I was a teenager, I thought I'd be running a film studio a la Sherry Lansing. In my twenties, I thought I'd be a rockstar yogini like Seane Corn. In my 30s, all I wanted was to become a mother, which, thank you God, I did.

Now that I'm almost halfway through my 40s, naturally and perhaps predictably, all I want to be is ME. Plain old, sugar-loving, Type A, party-throwing, big sister, wife, mommy, daughter, ME. I want to be true to myself. To be vulnerable enough to tell someone when they've hurt me (you know, if I know them). To be strong enough to say no when the request really is too much to take on. To be kind enough to forgive those who trespass against me, especially myself. I want to be a stellar wife to Jeremy and to stay grateful that I get to be Lulu's mom. I want to mend fences and build new ones. But, mostly, I just want to be solid enough in who I am that rather than worry about saying the right thing or doing the right thing become able to say and do something.

My friends reading this will giggle because so much of my life I've seemed confident, even boisterous, but those few of you know that deep beneath that good posture is a little girl who's not so sure of herself. This year, I want to let myself be.

That's all for this week. Please feel free to blame my birthday for any overdoing it this weekend. Enjoy. It's summer! And my 44th birthday (faint).

Much love and many thanks for being on this journey with me.

xox,

A.