Posts tagged Cakes
Monday, December 14, 2009

guinness stout ginger cake

guinness stout ginger cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart. No, this stout ginger cake is bold, serious, intense, brooding. Yes, brooding. A cake can brood; this one does. Trust me. And if you’re the kind of person who only likes yellow cake (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love yellow cake myself) then this might give you pause. Because this is a cake for those who like their sweets scaled back. It balances bitter notes with the spices, and adds a doze of restrained (we like our sweets restrained), mature sweetness. It’s complex, yet comforting; dark, yet not heavy and, unlike its last year cousin which goes much better with tea, this Guinness ginger cake is the perfect candidate for your Christmas morning coffee, making it a perfect accompaniment to opening presents. Besides, if you make it the over Christmas eve, you’re in luck–the cake tastes better the day after you make it. And who doesn’t love a make-ahead cake?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

hazelnut chestnut cake

hazelnut chestnut cake

If you had to describe the hazelnut, what words would come to mind? Small? Plain? Uncommon? Well, Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at the famed Babbo, calls the hazelnut “enigmatic” and I can’t disagree with her. Aside from Nutella and Fererro Rocher chocolates, it’s not exactly a popular nut (giggle)* you find on the shelves of many grocery stores.

The hazelnut, otherwise known as the filbert, has never won a popularity contest – having never grown to be as popular as a peanut or an almond, who are the mainstream nut darlings. If you think of Kristin Stewart as the It-Girl of the moment – the peanut, is its nut equivalent. The hazelnut, on the other hand, is more like Zooey Deschanel, with a cult following but not the kind of a blockbuster hit that invokes teen hysteria. You don’t find hazelnuts in many stores and I’ve yet to see a commercial exalting its virtues (unlike the pistachio, the commercials of which are now on every channel).

hazelnut chestnut cake

Aside from not winning any popularity contests, the hazelnut is wildly adaptable and makes friends with virtually everything from baked goods to wintry salads (more on that soon). I like having a bag on hand for snacking and keep a stash at work, lest I become tempted by the sugary cereal shelf.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Because, I’ve always had a soft spot for the humble hazelnut, I’m a bit biased towards recipes that allow it to be the star of the show. And when I saw this recipe and realized that it was created by my all time chef crushes – Gina DePalma, I pretty much changed my morning plans to bake this cake. That’s right, I skipped my Saturday morning spin to bake (those of you who know me, realize this is huge!). And before I keep you in suspense any longer, and with apologies to my all time favorite spin instructor (hi, Kristin!), I can tell you now – it was well worth it. Gina DePalma has never let me down – the woman practically walks on water as far as I’m concerned.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Speaking of chef crushes (and I’ve got a few) mine are almost exclusively pastry chefs and women (though a few men are sprinkled in the mix like the creator of those celestial meatballs). I don’t know if that says I gravitate towards a certain kind of cooking, but chefs like Gina DePalma, Karen DeMasco, Claudia Fleming (whom I met last summer when she signed my book and was speechless, no doubt, making a lasting impression as the mute who likes to bake), Gabrielle Hamilton and Anne Burrell all create the kind of food I want to eat and make for others. There something warm, honest and approachable about their cooking. It’s the kind of meal you have at the end of your day, and even if your day was the kind that makes you just want to crawl into bed, that first bite instantly brings a smile to your face and wraps you in comfort. And while I can’t eloquently describe or put my finger on it, it is, for me cooking always meant creating that warmth, memories and comfort. Bringing people together, making them smile, taste, feel loved. This cake is an embodiment of the kind of cooking I love – unfussy, simple, comforting, yet festive and celebratory. It’s both everyday and special occasion. And its sweet, nutty smell is perfect for the holiday season as it fills your house with its welcoming, warm fragrance.

hazelnut chestnut cake

I like this cake for the holiday season because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with overly sweet desserts, and it’s nice to have an option of something more restrained for the palate. Though I’m always up for dessert, I tend to steer clear of overly sugary things. I find that with dessert, as with people, the ones who are overly sweet are off-putting. I like a little bit of sarcasm, some edge, a bit of a dark side, if you will. And I like dessert that challenges my palate – gives me a bit of sweet but not overwhelmingly so. A dessert that holds back a little. World, meet this cake – it’s got some edge, all right.

hazelnut chestnut cake

This cake calls for hazelnut paste, which isn’t the easiest thing to procure, as I learned. But since I decided to make this cake on a whim at 8 o’clock in the morning, I wasn’t as well prepared ingredients-wise. Though I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t locate hazelnut paste anywhere in the vicinity of my house and had to settle for chestnut paste, I have to admit the results were anything but disappointing.

hazelnut chestnut cake

A perfect finish to a meal on a cold fall day, some friends and I had this over glasses of tawny port, but it’s the kind of dessert that goes well beautifully with a fresh pot of coffee or espresso. A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream not only makes for a festive presentation, but also lets the flavors sing even more. And though I didn’t think that chestnut and hazelnut would go well together – necessity (or desperation) is the mother of invention – because they do. With dessert like this, the hazelnut could very well be propelled from obscurity into the spotlight. Which would make it the It-Nut?

hazelnut chestnut cake

*Since I have a maturity level of a 5th grader I giggled every time I wrote the word “nut” and hope you do as well reading it. Because, this and also this, never get old.

I chose this dessert for the Bon Appetit 2009 blog envy bake-off because I love its simplicity, yet uncompromising taste and complexity of flavors. If you want to raise the ante, you can double the recipe and make a marron butter cream (please let me know if you wish for me to post the recipe for it). Otherwise, it’s a wonderfully comforting and clean holiday dessert that resists going into the extremely sugary zone. In the meantime, go over there and vote for your favorite dessert – I hope it’s mine, but there are lots of amazing entries!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won’t see in the notes something like “If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment is designed for home-sized batches, not bakery-sized ones”. Pretty obvious, right? And yet it wasn’t to me, until a few days ago. But now I know – when scaling things in multiples, you might want to do a few batches, to save your sanity and your equipment. In any case, this is a cautionary tale, just for you.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frostingpumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

As a total aside, I often wonder how various people cook under pressure. Like when you realize that what you’re doing might not work out, or that you missed a crucial step in the process (not that it’s ever happened to me; goodness, no!) and are trying to add this step later, and you get all focused and tense, or maybe you just remain completely cool as a cucumber, or maybe you hum? Me, I become sullen, focused, quiet. I want to be left alone; I don’t want to converse. I just want to get through the bump in the road and get beyond it. I tend to scrunch up my nose and purse my lips and squint a lot. Did you envision that lovely visage? Yes, that’s me, trying to focus. Stunning, I know.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So, back to scaling and home kitchens and fun with all that. If you’re ever asked to do a larger-scale baking job, you should consider a thing or two. Like, the fact that you have a kitchen for home use. Or the concept of batches. Or the fact that perhaps even though you have a “Professional” strength mixer, your 5 quart bowl is anything but a professional size. Because you know, if you were um, say, a bakery, you’d be making dozens of cupcakes, not a mere dozen. And perhaps, you, dear readers, would have the foresight to consider all that, but lately, I’ve been in a whirl of work and travel I think my brain is full. I ought to sit down and think for a minute, but I don’t have that minute. Sigh.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

The other thing you want to make sure you’re good at, if you’re scaling a project like this, is multiplication and fractions. Now, fractions – I got this. In fact, I’m all over fractions, being that I work in finance. But if fractions ain’t your bag, get some help from a math-inclined friend, because when you are looking at 5/8 of a teaspoon measure of something and have to multiply it by three, that’s when you wish you really did pay attention in your math class.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So how did I get to baking four dozen cupcakes in one sitting? Well, last weekend my friends Bill and Josey tied the knot, and I think my friends and I set some kind of a record for non-stop dancing at a wedding because that is pretty much all we did. And a few weeks prior to the wedding itself, Josey and Bill sheepishly asked me if I would make cupcakes for their rehearsal dinner. In response, I enthusiastically started to jump up and down. They took that as a yes.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Because fall is full of amazing flavors and smells, I wanted to make cupcakes that would celebrate the season. And when I think of fall, I first think of pumpkin. I can’t go a block without seeing them displayed in stores, at farmers’ markets, on steps of brownstones (albeit the decorative pumpkins aren’t the ones you eat). I decided that I wanted to do a spiced pumpkin cupcake with a cream cheese frosting sweetened with some maple syrup, and thought (what naivete!) that I was being original and genius at creating something new. But when I excitedly wrote a friend about my new baking project, she responded, sounding a bit been-there-done-that “Oh like the cake David Leite made and Smitten refashioned into cupcakes?”

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A few google searches later, I realized that my ideas were hardly original. And not only did Deb go ahead and make cupcakes, she piped the most beautiful roses on them as well. I’ve never piped any flower onto any cake or cupcake, so I watched the “how to” videos on YouTube ad infinitum. Please note: watching how to pipe roses and making them are two very different things. Which would explain for why my roses look out of shape and so, um, deconstructionist looking. I found that the cream cheese frosting was soft and was difficult to pipe, and my hand wasn’t used to making rose petals. If anyone can think of any tips as to perfect the matter (other than “practice, practice, practice”) I am all ears. But I do fear that I may just have to beg a bakery to take me under their wing for a week where all I do is play with frosting.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A word or two about batches. They are (or seem to me) key in home baking where you are working with smaller bowls and containers. If you were to take this particular recipes, I recommend the following: take the ingredients below, multiply them by 3 and then divide by 2 to get your 2 batches. That way you measure everything out exactly, and not eyeball it (like, ahem, some people here) which then necessitates a few Hail-Marys in hopes that your eyeballing was good enough not to wreck a batch of cupcakes. You can also weigh your ingredients and do batches that way, as Lisa brilliantly suggested to me last night.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Also, for cookware, I seriously recommend having 2 muffin trays. I think 2 is not an unreasonable number to have and you will certainly need it at one point or another, so stock up accordingly. The ones I like you can buy either here or here. I generally shy away from dark colored non-stick bake ware and find this non-descript light metal work best.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

In the end, this is all non-tricky stuff. The cake batter isn’t finicky. The frosting comes together like a dream. It’s sort of an easy process, but if you do wind up making four dozen cupcakes, be sure to give yourself a day to do it. Piping flowers takes time and is much trickier than it looks. But if you know what you’re going in for, you are prepared, you remain calm and you emerge triumphant, with boxes of cupcakes whisked away to a rehearsal dinner or whatever event you’re making them for. Your forehead will remain uncreased; your nose – unscrunched; and instead of pursing your lips, you might even be smiling to yourself as you lick the frosting off your fingers.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing – chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn’t sounds like something I want to eat.

While we’re talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery’s my thing) and I don’t disagree with her – medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation – which is really what cooking is all about.

yeah, this ain't no joke herefrothy
then bubblythen sorta sudsy and you gotta see those solids

Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter – nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language – brown butter.

brown butter - swoon

I think it’s impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn’t been completely seduced by it. I say “seduced” and not “won over” because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion.

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it’s my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn’t the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I’m a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical “we like bourbon here” by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke.

brown butter pound cake

So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven’t ever tried brown butter, then you’re in for quite a treat, and if you have – then I’m surprised you’re still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me – being ruined never felt so good.

brown butter pound cake

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Friday, September 18, 2009

nectarine golden cake

nectrarine cake

Given the choice, I would pick a simple, everyday cake without frosting, over the fancy, tiered, frosted creation. I know that sounds practically sacrilegious – to prefer cake without frosting. But I just do. Most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong – a well-made frosting is a thing of beauty. But I really have to be in the mood for it. Whereas a regular every-day cake is something I could have, well, every day. It requires no fancy occasion, no long waiting between crumb-layer of frosting and its second one. You simply mix, bake, cool and eat. This four step process appeals to me because it gets me that much faster to cake consumption – which is the goal here. Such cakes are a salve to my busy days, a slice of comfort on my plate.

nectrarine cake

This is a great, every-day cake. The kind you can make on a whim, when you have an unexpected guest, or when you are absolutely keen on having home-made dessert, but are feeling slightly lazy in the baking department. Except, the cake is sort of more impressive than the sum of its parts (my favorite trick!) as it’s got this fancy fruit thing going on – dressed up with generous chunks of nectarines, or, depending on your preference and farmers market offerings – peaches. Of course, you could get all Rosh Hashana crazy creative, and put some apples in it instead. Which makes me think – this could be really good drizzled with honey. Right?

And here’s what happens. These glorious chunks are too heavy for the batter when you place the slices on top of it, and so while the cake is baking, the slices sink deeper and deeper into the batter. Sounds sexy, right? The fruit just can’t help itself, the pull is far too much.

nectrarine cakenectrarine cake

When you take your cake out, it’s like a vanishing act, you wonder, what could have possibly happened to that fruit you so carefully arranged? But you patiently let the cake cool before you serve yourself a generous slice (that’s before your guests arrive, because let’s face it, you cannot possibly be patient around a cake like this). It’s at precisely this point that you discover that this amazing fruit went into hiding – and you see its beautiful slices inside. It really is a stunner of a piece, you will note to yourself.

nectrarine cake

Of course, what kind of a person would I be if I didn’t do a quick confessional here. The first version of this cake was a fail. An EPIC FAIL. Despite being picture-perfect and smelling oh-so-seductively, it tasted like a box of baking soda. Imagine licking some baking soda off a spoon – disgusting, right? Well, it was.

nectrarine cake

How did this come to pass? How did such a lovely, easy, moist cake come to be inedible? Well, simple – instead of baking powder, I had put in baking soda (truly a d’oh moment in Sassy Radish kitchen) – and a generous amount as such. I should have caught on while measuring out my ingredients – who uses two whole teaspoons of baking soda on one little cake? Quite mad at myself for being so unattentive, I made this cake the very next day, this time being careful to use the proper ingredients – and the results were truly noteworthy. The cake proved to be everything I imagined it would be. It was the reason I eschewed frosting in favor of something like this.

nectrarine cake

And you see, if you read the directions carefully and put baking powder instead of a baking soda, your first bite, that moist, light, laced with vanilla and almond will not taste even remotely like toothpaste and you will not even think of this thing called frosting. Not even for a moment. You might think of me and of baking soda – and hopefully it’ll make you smile.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

raspberry buttermilk cake

raspberry buttermilk cake

As much as I enjoy making extravagant three-tiered cakes, despite the fact that they’ve given me some of the most stressful moments of my life, you can’t just up and make a layer cake at the drop of a hat. There’s frosting involved and a crumb coat and the whole general waiting time. With layer cakes, you must plan in advance and particularly if your schedule is as busy as mine is, you’ll have to carefully plan ahead when you will bake the cake, when you will make the frosting, and so on, so that you can run errands in between and not sit in your apartment waiting for the next step. I learned that with my first layer cake – call it a lesson learned.

raspberry buttermilk cakeraspberry buttermilk cake
raspberry buttermilk cakeraspberry buttermilk cake

So even though I don’t have an option of always having cake on hand (this is for my own good as much as being busy at work) I’m also one of those people who enjoys to have something homebaked at the drop of a hat especially when friends drop by unexpectedly. Or on occasions when you’re making a book club dinner during weeknight for a group of young ladies with discriminating palates.

raspberry buttermilk cake

So when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, naturally. And if life prohibits you from spending your mornings and afternoons fussing over a layer cake complete with piped frosting, there are some simple quick cakes that are well within your reach and can be made in under an hour using a maximum of two bowls. Edna Lewis referred to these cakes as “busy-day cakes”, and while the name suggests just messily throwing ingredients together, there is nothing harried about these cakes at all. In fact, for me, they evoke a kind of Southern tranquility and calm. The kind where you sit in a rocking chair sipping lemonade and eating cake. Easy to make yes, but you’d never think these were sort of thrown together. They’re lovely and delicate and kind of decadent in their own way.

raspberry buttermilk cake

I made this cake for the book club ladies and this is another one that will have to be made again and again. For picnics, and hostess gifts, for potluck suppers, for random last-moment get-togethers. And have I told you how much I love baking with buttermilk? It makes cakes lighter and more delicate. And since I am a fan of adding some tart to my sweet, berries make a great addition. Here I used raspberries, but blueberries or strawberries would have been equally lovely.

raspberry buttermilk cake

Lastly, one of the most winning traits of such cakes, for me personally, is that they’re not overly sweet, and can be eaten either as dessert or as coffee cake the next morning. Their simplicity is the kind of honest, low-maintenance appeal that I love about busy night meals, when you still take the time to cook a proper supper, but manage to strike a balance between homemade and practical. As all of us with office jobs know, cooking on a weeknight can appear to be an insurmountable challenge. And the lovely thing is that – it doesn’t have to be. Here’s proof!

raspberry buttermilk cake

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