Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cakes, etc.

A few weeks before my shoulder surgery, I made a few cakes.  They were my last cake orders of the summer, and now it will be September before I can bake and decorate another cake.  One week down, five weeks to go.  It's a long time away, and I'm feeling quite impatient.  What's strange is that, summer only just arrived, and by the time I'm out of my sling, we'll be drifting towards fall once again.

One cake was a beautifully simple chocolate espresso cake with cappuccino buttercream, very similar to one of the cakes I made for our wedding last fall.  This one was for a couple's 25th wedding anniversary, celebrated at home with their four children.

For a twist, I filled the dark chocolate cake layers with creamy vanilla bean custard and topped the cake off with simple decorations of ganache truffles coated in salted pecans.  I wish I could have tasted it.

And the other, a teeny tiny blueberry cake, also filled with the same vanilla bean custard, frosted with salted vanilla buttercream and dusted with pecans.  Minimalistic, but lovely, and the taste - I was told - was phenomenal.  This one, I really would have loved to try a bite or two.  I adore blueberries, and eat them with thick Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of cinnamon for dessert almost every night.  I can only imagine how moist the blueberry-studded cake layers were, soaked in all that custard.

My husband has been asking me what I will make when I am once again allowed back in the kitchen with full use of my right arm, and I just can't decide.  I have long meant to test and develop a perfect white cake from scratch recipe for my blog.  And not that white cake is boring, because I don't think that at all, but the thought of buttery pecan praline cake with salted buttercream and caramel drip is so tempting.  Or a cookies and cream cake - a childhood favorite, and what my brother always requested on his birthday.  Or something pretty and pink with chocolate and raspberries.

But then there are all the jams I haven't made, lemon marmalade, for example, and the hazelnut espresso ice cream I've been wanting to churn.  I've been meaning to make a rhubarb clafoutis from the rhubarb plant growing wildly in our backyard, and a blueberry tart with orange custard on a buttery shortbread crust.  Or perhaps dainty mini lemon cakes with pink buttercream and ganache polkadots.

It will be a week of sweet treats, for sure, when I am allowed back into my kitchen.  I plan on flinging about flour and sugar with abandon.  But until then, let's just dream of cake.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Peach Pie

On my birthday, we drove to the mountains for a picnic.  It's a spot we found a few years ago, in a lush green woods next to a stream, with a quiet, almost lost feeling.  The moss-covered ground was damp, and we spread out a blanket.

Jamie presented cheese, olives, strawberries and little cups of wine, and we ate quickly, shivering under the light drizzle.  But then the rain started to pour in earnest, so amid claps of thunder and under the darkening clouds, we gathered up our things and ran back to the car.

It wasn't quite the picnic he had planned, but any moment with the person you most love spending time with is a wonderful moment.

Back home, it was still raining, and so, since my birthday cake hadn't worked out, we made pie.  I taught my husband all about crust and what makes it flaky.  It was his first time rolling out pie dough, and he did so well.  Doesn't he look handsome holding his pie?

It's been four days since my shoulder surgery, and as typing this with only my left hand is a tedious feat, I'll cut this short.  But I'll be back soon.

Peach Pie

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg, yolk and white separated
  • 4 tablespoons cold, full-fat buttermilk
  • 8 peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt.  Add the butter and cut in with a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of peas.  Add the egg yolk and buttermilk, toss with a fork to moisten, then bring together with your hands into a ball.  Divide into two balls, flatten slightly into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest and chill for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the peaches with the brown sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Reserve the 1 tablespoon flour to sprinkle over the bottom of the crust.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Fit into a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon flour (to keep the crust from getting soggy), then pour the peaches into the crust.

Roll out the second ball of dough for the top crust, and press the edges together.  Cut a few slits in the top to vent the steam.  If you like, use any leftover scraps of dough to make decorative cutouts.

Whisk the egg white with a tablespoon of water, then lightly brush the top crust with the egg wash.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.

Bake the pie, uncovered, for 20 minutes at 425.  The crust should be nicely browned already, so cover with a piece of foil to prevent over-browning.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the juices bubble up.

Cool the pie completely, preferably overnight, before serving.

Yields 8 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Banana Split Birthday Cake with Dancing Ballerinas

Not everything works out the way we hope it will.  Today's case in point - this cake.

For months, I had been planning to make this "banana split cake" for my 37th birthday.  With layers of banana cake filled with jam, frosted with caramel cream cheese buttercream and covered in dark chocolate ganache, I was certain it would be amazing.

It's fun and adorable and certainly looks tasty, but honestly, I was really disappointed with how it turned out.  I am my own worst critic, I know, but the banana cake was too dense - even for me, and I love dense cake - the jam filling turned runny, which ruined the cream cheese buttercream by making it too soft so that it didn't hold its shape with the nice straight frosted sides I started out with.

Someday soon, I will remake it.  The cake recipe needs a little tweaking before I share it, but when I do, I'm sure the wait will be worth it.

As it turns out, this failed cake is my last cake of the summer, sadly.  Last fall, I tore the anterior labrum in my right shoulder, and the pain has worsened over time, to the point that I need surgery.  So, tomorrow morning, I go in for surgery, and I'll be wearing a sling for 6 weeks with very limited mobility in my right arm.  That means no baking, no cake decorating, no photography, no working on the house...  Basically none of the projects that I so love to do.

The idea of being so incapacitated is getting depressing, because I hate the feeling of helplessness.  I won't be able to fix my own hair, or hook my bra without help, or tie my shoes...  Depending on my husband to help me with all of these things will take patience on both our parts.

I should be able to type, though, hopefully without too much difficulty, so I'll take the opportunity to catch up on some blog posts.  I have been baking and setting up photo shoots every weekend, but have fallen behind on writing up blog posts.  And I so want you to see all my new recipes.  I may even put up a "curly girl home" series to show you some of the things we've changed in our house since moving in December.  There have been so many projects and I'm so proud of all our hard work.

A few nights ago, I met my girlfriends for dinner, and they gave me my first birthday present.  Inside a glass bottle was a handful of glitter and a piece of paper - absolutely impossible to pull out without destroying the paper.  My husband was hoping to smash the bottle, but I persevered and managed to pull out the paper, wrinkled and torn as you see.  And it was a gift certificate to my favorite clothing store, ModCloth.  I bought this pretty summer dress, and I'm so excited for it to arrive.

I may be 37, but birthdays are special occasions, so I topped my cake off with cute little ballerinas from Shop Sweet Lulu.  Because, after all, you're never to old for dancing ballerinas on your birthday cake.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  This means that I may make a small commission if you make a purchase using those links.  This in no way affects my opinion of those products and services.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Blackberry Crumb Pie with Brown Butter Blueberry Bourbon Ice Cream

There's a cute sign hanging in our kitchen that says "Fresh Baked Pies Served Daily" .  Every so often, after we finish dinner, my husband will look at me and ask, "What kind of pie are we having tonight?"  And if I tell him we don't have any pie, he says, in all seriousness, "That's not what the sign says."

But I have been baking lots of fruit pies lately, because when berries and stone fruits are this fresh and juicy, it seems a shame not to take advantage of their abundance.  And my husband loves pie, probably more than any other dessert, except for maybe doughnuts.

The blackberries burst while baking, their juices thickening into a jam-like filling that was really beautiful.  I added a little freshly grated lemon zest and cinnamon to enhance their flavor, and just enough sugar that the pie wasn't too sweet.

I love trying different crusts and designs on top, but the simplicity of a crumble topping tends to be my favorite.

Fruit pies are wonderful on their own, but everything is better with a scoop of ice cream.  I started this ice cream recipe with browned butter, and if you've never smelled the nutty aroma of browned butter, you're missing out.  Then I cooked blueberries in the butter, just until juicy.  An egg-based custard came next, with fragrant vanilla bean seeds speckled throughout.  And a splash of bourbon.

The moment the ice cream is finished churning, and it's so soft and creamy straight from the ice cream maker, is when I want to sample spoonful after spoonful.

Blackberry Crumb Pie

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds fresh, or frozen and thawed, blackberries
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until the butter is the size of peas.  Add the ice water, toss with a fork to moisten, then use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball; it should just barely hold together.  Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Use the same bowl for the streusel.  Place all the streusel ingredients in the bowl, and combine with the pastry cutter until moist and crumbly.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, combine the blackberries with the sugar, corn starch, lemon zest, cinnamon and vanilla.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pie dough to 1/4 inch thick, and fit into a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the bottom with about a tablespoon of flour, then pour in the blackberries.

Bake for 20 minutes at 435.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375.  Sprinkle the streusel topping over the berries and bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes, until the filling bubbles.

Cool completely before serving.

Yields 8 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Brown Butter Blueberry Bourbon Ice Cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Continue to cook the butter, swirling around every so often, until nutty brown solids form on the bottom of the pan and the butter smells very fragrant.  Stir in the blueberries and cook for several more minutes, just until the blueberries release their juices.  Transfer to a strainer set over a bowl.

In the same saucepan, whisk together the cream, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and salt.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, just until the cream starts to bubble around the edges.

Meanwhile, break up the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk in the brown sugar.  Slowly stream about a cup of the hot cream into the eggs, whisking the eggs constantly to temper them.  Scrape the eggs back into the saucepan.  Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about 5-8 minutes, until the custard is thick enough to coat a spoon.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the bourbon.

Pour the custard into a blender.  Add half the blueberries, along with the buttery liquid, and blend until smooth.  Stir in the remaining whole blueberries.  Cover with plastic and chill until very cold, preferably overnight.

Churn the ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions on your ice cream maker, then transfer to a container and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 2 quarts

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sparkling Coconut Lemon Cupcakes

I don't know where summer is disappearing to.  It's been so busy that somehow, I haven't posted on here in two weeks, which must be the longest I've gone without writing a post since I started writing this blog four years ago.  I've missed the writing, but at the same time, I feel I have little to say lately.  After the long days at work, my energy is sapped and I hardly have time to edit a few photos, let alone write about them.

I've been baking, though.  Working too much at my day job, baking by night and on weekends, when I can squeeze it in between all the house renovations, and arranging photo shoots in the midst of the mess.  A beautiful mess.

The house looks so different from when we moved in at Christmas, and eventually I'll share some photos on here of the before and after.  It's truly become our home.

One evening, I impulsively baked mini cupcakes to take to work the next day.  Each cupcake just a mouthful of light and fluffy coconut cake, I topped them with swirls of tart lemon buttercream dipped in sparkling yellow sugar.  They tasted like little pillows of sunshine.

To make these cupcakes, try the recipes for this coconut cake and this lemon buttercream.