Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rain, Rain Cake







We've been experiencing an unusually wet spring this May.  The air is chilly, and the skies grey, with the steady drip of raindrops pattering on the ground.  I don't mind it at all.

I've even gotten to use my black and white polkadot umbrella with its pretty ruffled edge twice this week, which I love, although my husband refuses to walk underneath it.

It was the rain which inspired this little cake.











I rarely play with fondant anymore, having come to realize that I far prefer just buttercream, but this cake is covered in mostly buttercream with just a few fondant decorations.

They are easy to create, with a small teardrop cutter for the raindrops and two different sizes of circle cutters for the umbrella.  Just cut a circle of fondant measuring about 3 inches in diameter, then use a smaller circle cutter to cut the bottom edge of the umbrella.  Roll a little piece of fondant between your hands to make the handle, and adhere everything to the cake with small dabs of light corn syrup or piping gel.

I adore the umbrella, but the fluffy buttercream storm clouds might be my favorite part.









Sunday, May 17, 2015

May Day Maypole Cake






Although May is already half gone, this pretty cake is just as appropriate for spring and summer as it was for the first day of May.

I made it for a friend's baby shower several weeks ago, and although you can't see the inside of the cake, the sweet pink and white striped buttercream conceals a dark chocolate cake, her favorite.  Throughout her pregnancy, she has asked me for chocolate cake more times than I can count, so I was happy to surprise her with chocolate cake for her baby shower.  And a pregnant woman should not be denied chocolate cake, after all.








The cake topper is simple but stunning, a maypole made from a polkadot paper straw and tissue paper.  It's easy to make - just cut thin strips of tissue paper, gather them together and roll the ends up so that you can insert them into the straw.

You could use satin ribbon, too, but I loved the iridescence of the tissue paper with the sunlight streaming through, like the faint hint of a rainbow after a spring rain.






Friday, May 15, 2015

Rhubarb Jelly Doughnuts







These doughnuts were the very reason I made the rhubarb jam a few weeks ago.  And the jam was wonderful, on its own, or on buttered toast, but jelly doughnuts were what I had promised my husband.

Doughnut making is not something I indulge in all that often, but every few months or so, because they are my husband's favorite sweet thing to eat, I will knead a batch of yeast dough and fill a pot with oil for frying.












What makes these doughnuts a little unique is that although I cut them with a doughnut cutter with a hole in the center, I actually fried them with the holes inside instead of removing the holes first.  What this does is to create a pillowy soft center that can be partially and cleanly removed, leaving a little well in the center for filling.  It's just a different way of filling a doughnut, rather than cutting them without holes and piping the filling inside.

But before filling them with jam, I dipped them in a rhubarb glaze that dries into a sugary shell, encasing the soft doughnut inside.  When you bite into one, the glaze gives way to the pillowy doughnut, and the tart rhubarb jam does a little dance on your tongue so that one doughnut is not enough.  Not nearly enough.

While watching me edit the photos, my husband said that these doughnuts were the perfect combination of sweet and tart, just like the two of us.

I asked him, "Who is sweet and who is tart?"

He replied, "Well, that's pretty obvious."











Rhubarb Jelly Doughnuts
printable


Doughnuts.
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
Glaze.
  • 1/4 cup rhubarb jam
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Rhubarb Jam: click here for recipe.


Warm the milk and the butter to between 110-115 degrees F.  Pour into the bowl of your stand mixer.  Sprinkle with the yeast and let stand for 10 minutes, until foamy.  Add the egg, sugar, salt, nutmeg and 1 1/2 cups flour, mixing with the paddle attachment to combine.  Switch to the dough hook and gradually add the remainder of the flour, kneading for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, springing back slowly when pressed.  The dough may be loose and sticky, but don't add any more flour.

Dump the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.  On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick.  Use a doughnut cutter with a hole in the center to cut as many doughnuts as you can, about a dozen.  (Baker's Note: while you can re-roll and cut the scraps, I prefer not to, as the doughnuts yielded from pressed-together scraps tend to not be as light and fluffy.)

Do not remove the holes from the centers, but leave them in place, and set the doughnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet to rest and rise again while you heat the oil to 365 F.

While the oil is heating, make the glaze.  In a blender, puree the jam with the water until smooth, then pour into a saucepan and whisk in the granulated sugar and corn syrup.  Whisk over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, then whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.  Keep warm over low heat, whisking occasionally.

Fry the doughnuts in the hot oil for about a minute on each side, until golden brown.  Drain on a wire rack.  Use your fingers to pull out a little of the center, leaving the bottom of the hole in place to act as a well.  While the doughnuts are hot, dip them into the hot glaze, then place back on a wire rack to let the excess glaze drip off.  The glaze will set in about 10-15 minutes.  Spoon about a tablespoon of jam into the centers of each, and serve.

Doughnuts are best eaten the same day they are made.

Yields 1 dozen

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, May 11, 2015

Oatmeal with Berry Rhubarb Compote and the Last Snow of Spring




After a week of rain turned suddenly to snow Saturday night, the already chilly air became icy.  The snow accumulated quickly, piling on top of pillows of lush green grass in our backyard, which we hadn't been able to mow lately due to all the rain.

Soon, the branches of our trees and lilac bushes, whose leaves made perfect beds for the snow to cling to, began to bend under the weight of the snow, so heavy with moisture.  My husband put on his warm things and trudged outside, three times that night, to knock snow and ice off the branches in an effort to save them from breaking.  In the still night, muted by falling snow, we could hear the unmistakable cracking of breaking limbs throughout the neighborhood.

The next morning, we awoke to a full foot of snow and the saddest trees I've ever seen, with huge branches broken off, lying forlornly on the ground.  Our own were spared this depressing fate, thanks to my husband's efforts the night before.

We bundled up and shook the tree branches we could reach free of lingering ice, then gently uncovered our herbs and flowers, hoping they had survived the crushing blanket of snow.  We shoveled wet, melting piles of snow away from the house, and waited for the sun to do the rest of the work.

Exhausted and cold, we made coffee, and Jamie requested oatmeal for breakfast.  Usually, I make oatmeal with brown sugar or maple syrup and plenty of plump raisins, but I thought of all the berries and rhubarb in our freezer and decided to cook a quick fruit compote to spoon on top of our oatmeal.

Simply simmered strawberries, blueberries and rhubarb, with cinnamon and a little sugar to cut the tartness of the rhubarb, became a beautiful compote.  With a splash of cream on top, it was the perfect warming breakfast for what I hope was the last snow of spring.  And everything tastes better when served on a pretty vintage tablecloth.









Oatmeal with Berry Rhubarb Compote
printable
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 10 strawberries, halved
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups whole milk
  • 2-4 tablespoons raw honey or other sweetener (adjust amount to your own taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • extra milk or cream for serving
In a stockpot, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, water, sugar and half the cinnamon.  Simmer over medium low heat, just until the fruit becomes juicy and the rhubarb softens.  Strain to remove the excess liquid.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and cook until the oats have thickened, about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.

Spoon the oatmeal into bowls and top with the fruit compote.  Finish with a splash of milk and/or cream.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Raspberry Shaved Chocolate Cheesecake with Blueberries and Lavender





It's Mother's Day, and I wanted to make a beautiful dessert that I knew my mom would love, even though she doesn't live close enough to get to enjoy it.

For as long as I can remember, I was my mother's daughter.  Never a daddy's girl, but always wanting to be close to my mom's side, watching her sew, helping her mix cake batters and sampling cookie dough, sitting at her vanity putting on makeup and counting how many lipsticks were in her collection, playing dress up with her heels and jewelry.  I was a girly girl, through and through, and still am.

After the tumultuous teenage years that I think most mothers and daughters go through, I missed her terribly when I went away to college, and called her almost every day, wishing I were home instead of living in the dorms, almost 2,000 miles away.

Between my junior and senior year of college, I traveled to China for a summer English teaching program, and tasted my first sip of adulthood.  The world suddenly opened up for me, and there was really no going back after that.  After graduation, I moved to China for three years, traveling home for a couple of months each summer, but always eager to return to China, my students, my friends, and my independence.

I'm sure that, from a parents' perspective, watching that transition from childish dependence to a phone call once every few months is both painful and exhilarating.  It was for me as well.








But this cheesecake.  It's just so pretty and pink, and my mom loves pink.

The creamy raspberry cheesecake filling is flecked with shaved dark chocolate and plump raspberries, complementing the salted chocolate cookie crust.

Tart raspberry jam spills over the edges and is topped with a heaping pile of blueberries.  A scattering of sea salt and lavender rounds out the flavors and adds a little texture and elegance.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.







Raspberry Shaved Chocolate Cheesecake with Blueberries and Lavender
printable

Crust.
  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Cheesecake.
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries
Topping.
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries
  • Lavender
  • Sea salt
Crust.
Preheat the oven to 325.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

Cheesecake.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk with a fork to combine.  let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  Add the cream cheese, raspberry jam and gelatin mixture and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps, about 2-3 minutes.  Fold in the chopped chocolate and raspberries.

Immediately spread the cheesecake over the cooled crust and smooth out the top.  Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Assembly.
To serve, carefully remove the sides of the pan.  Toss the remaining 1/2 cup raspberry jam with the blueberries until they are coated with jam; pile on top of the cheesecake, letting the jam drip over the sides.  Sprinkle with lavender and sea salt.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rhubarb Jam






Last fall, I shared so many jam recipes from our wedding favors, but there are as many more possibilities for jam as there are variations of fruit, so I give you another.  And although I have already posted a recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam, and another for plum rhubarb preserves, both in the wedding jam post, this one is just rhubarb.  With less sugar than I usually add and nothing but lemon to enhance the tart fruit, this rhubarb jam tastes so clean and fresh, just like spring.









When it's rainy like it has been, I crave simple comforts like tea and toast.  We sampled the jam on sourdough bread spread with lightly salted grass-fed butter, and I would have been happy just eating bread and butter and jam for lunch and dinner that day, too.  But, seeing as how this is real life and not Bread and Jam for Frances, I must be a grown up and eat protein and vegetables, too.  If only I could live on bread, butter and jam, though.

The beauty of this jam is that it set the inspiration for two more recipes, a rhubarb blueberry crumb tart, and rhubarb jelly doughnuts with a pink rhubarb glaze.  But for those, you'll have to wait for another post.







Rhubarb Jam
printable

  • 1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, chopped
  • juice and zest of 1 small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons classic pectin
  • 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
In a stockpot, simmer the rhubarb with the lemon juice and zest over medium low heat until the rhubarb softens.  Mash the fruit with the back of wooden spoon, leaving it as chunky as you like.  Stir in the pectin and raise the heat to high.  Stir constantly while bringing to a boil, then dump in the sugar all at once, return to a vigorous boil and boil hard for 1 minute while continuing to stir (wear an oven mitt to protect your hand and arm from boiling splatters).

Remove from the heat and pour into jars.  Refrigerate to chill, then use within about a month.

Yields 3 half-pint jars

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Mango Custard and Almond Crumble






I had a strange dream a few weeks ago, that I accidentally backed my car into the garage of a mafia group, and to make me pay for the damage, they kidnapped me and forced me to bake treats for them.  I don't remember much else about the dream, but I will say, being forced to prepare desserts really isn't much of a punishment for me.  One of my coworkers, after hearing the dream, declared that he might kidnap me so that I would have to make him one of my cheesecakes.

There are worse things, wouldn't you say?








You may have noticed that I love stripes and polka dots, and when I can incorporate them into dessert, even better.

I started with a layer of salted graham cracker crust, followed by creamy mango custard.  To finish, a rich vanilla bean cheesecake, my favorite no-bake version that's so silky and luscious.  The specks of vanilla bean throughout the cheesecake hint invitingly of the pure vanilla flavor, and dots of mango custard on top are a playful touch.

For a little texture, I also made an almond crumble, that melts and hardens into more of a brittle when it's baked.  It's salty, sweet and crunchy, the perfect topping for the creamy cheesecake and custard.









The mango flavor adds a slightly exotic touch, but if mango isn't your thing, I was thinking that the custard would also be fantastic with bananas instead, for a cheesecake that's a more elevated version of a childhood favorite, banana pudding.

And everything is better with crumble on top.










Vanilla Bean Mango Cheesecake

Mango Custard.
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and chopped (bananas would also be an excellent substitution of you don't like mango - about 2 medium, ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
Cheesecake.
  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
Almond Crumble.
  • 1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold

Custard.
In a blender, puree the milk, mango and cornstarch until smooth.  Pour into a saucepan.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks to break them up.  When the milk mixture begins to bubble around the edges, slowly stream about a cup of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking them constantly to temper them.  Scrape the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan.

Whisking constantly, bring the custard to a boil over medium heat, then cook for 1-2 minutes until thickened.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until smooth.  Pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap right against the surface of the custard and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Crust.
Preheat the oven to 325.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press against the bottom of an 9-inch springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant; set aside to cool completely.

Filling.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk with a fork to combine.  Let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla bean seeds at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  Add the cream cheese and gelatin mixture and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps, about 2-3 minutes.

Spread the chilled mango custard over the crust, reserving 1/2 cup of the custard.  Immediately spread the cheesecake over the custard and smooth out the top.  Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the reserved 1/2 cup custard.  Pipe dots of custard on top of the cheesecake.  Cover loosely with plastic so as not to disturb the top, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Crumble.
In a bowl, combine the almonds, flour, sugar and salt.  Use your fingers to rub the butter into the mixture until moist and crumbly.  Freeze for 20 minutes.

Spread the crumble into a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375 for about 5-7 minutes, just until golden brown, watching it carefully so it doesn't burn.  Let cool for a few minutes to harden, then crumble into pieces.

To serve, remove the sides of the pan and top each slice with the crumble.

Yields 10-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen