Monday, December 31, 2007

Caramel Cake

As a result of the restaurant being closed for New Year's, I've had the opportunity to catch up on my food magazines. I just recently received the January issue of Gourmet, it's a nice issue, this month they featured Southern food. Which I find to be comfort food, specially in winter, so after reading the magazine from cover to cover I set out to make the caramel cake. The caramel cake I usually make is a two layer cake filled and frosted with caramel. Quite a production to make and one that cannot be made on a very humid or rainy day because the caramel will never set.  When I saw the very simple cake they featured I could not wait to try it. The cake is very light and the caramel has just the right amount of sweetness.

The cake is light and the caramel is just drizzled on top. I followed the recipe almost exactly, this is the link to Epicurious in case you have a recipe box at the site and want to save it. It is definetely a keeper, the only change I made was I continued to drizzle the caramel that runs off the cake as it hardened a bit. I also made holes in the cake with a fork so the caramel would soak in. The cake itself is nice,  I will use it again even without the caramel; it baked evenly and has a nice grain.

A little note on measuring flour: The recipe instructs to sift the flour before measuring, make sure you do this. I measured the flour out of the box and sifted it into a bowl, then placed a piece of parchment paper on the counter and measured it into the sifter again, I added the baking powder, soda, and salt and sifted over the paper. Then I make a sort of cone with the parchment and dump the flour into the mixing bowl. The reason I tell you this is because I was surprised at how much flour (about 1/2 cup) was left over after I measured the second time. I would not have expected the difference between 2 sifts and 1 to be that large. The extra flour would have kept the cake from being as light, so be sure to not skip that step.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:

Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. ( I continued to spoon the glaze than ran off the sides over the cake). Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes

note: Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and French Vinaigrette

It seems like every year after Christmas, I am ready for winter to be over and Spring to begin. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works and even though it's not exactly freezing outside, it is chilly and damp enough enough to remind me it is still December and we at least have 3 more months of this. This is also the time of year I get more than a little restless and come down with a massive case of wanderlust- the root of this is that I really wish I was at the beach right now. So of course I am craving the foods I eat at the beach- my corn and tomato salad, but neither of the main ingredients is at it's prime right now so I will have to wait not only for the salad, but for the beach as well.

Last night I was looking through all the magazines I haven't had a chance to go through for the last month. My favorite is Australian, Donna Hay, which really isn't helping matters at all since it is Summer in Australia and the magazine reflects it. So, this morning I compromised and decided to make a lentil salad which I drizzled with a French Vinaigrette. After all the rich holiday foods I have been eating and making, this is a nice fresh change. This Lentil salad is also very versatile, I have made chicken to go with it as it is good cold, hot and at room temperature. The vinaigrette is also really tasty on it's own, but the vinegar and oil separate very quickly so I found the best method to make it is by mixing it in a little jar. I saved a pretty little recycled jelly jar for this purpose, I put all the ingredients in, put the lid on and shake away which keeps me from endlessly whisking. I store it in the jar, and just shake it up when I need more. The vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

I love lentils, my favorite are French Puy Lentils, they cook very quickly and have a very earthy flavor. I find that when making salads that is the best variety, although for soup I like green lentils as they are a little creamier when cooked. You may use either variety, the French ones will cook in about 25 minutes while green lentils will cook in about 45 minutes. Check them often while they simmer to make sure they do not overcook.

Lentil Salad
8 oz French Puy Lentils
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Bay leaves
1 sprig fresh Thyme
1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs- parsley, thyme, oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
4 oz crumbled goat cheese

French Vinaigrette
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine olive oil, lentils, celery, bell pepper, shallots, garlic, bay leaves, and sprig of thyme, season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add enough chicken stock to cover lentils by a couple of inches, the amount will depend on the size of your pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25-45 minutes depending on the type of lentils used, (see above). When lentils are tender, remove from heat, drain, discard bay leaves and thyme and set aside to cool.

3. Make vinaigrette by either shaking ingredients in a covered jar or by whisking together in a bowl.

4. In a serving bowl combine lentils, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with 1/2 cup vinaigrette and taste for salt and pepper. Add goat cheese and garnish with extra herbs, serve cold or at room temperature. If you are making the salad a day ahead add the herbs right before serving.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alfajores / Caramel Cookies

Alfajores are my favorite childhood cookies, they are a very crumbly shortbread like cookie filled with caramel, preferably Cajeta (Argentinian milk caramel) then rolled in powdered sugar. I had not had much luck when making alfajores, they just never seemed to turn out right. Recently a friend gave me her recipe, but they they didn't come out like hers, which are very good. I think the problem was in the measurements, the cornstarch was in grams while others ingredients were in cups, sort of the type of recipe you need the original baker to make with you the first time and since I am many countries away from from her I had to figure it out for myself. Once I knew what the problem was, (they had too much cornstarch) I was easily able to fix it. So I made batch number two and I think they are just delightful- if I do say so myself!

Notes: When cutting the cookies out, do it as closely as possible and use as little flour as you can without the dough sticking to the table. You can only re-roll the dough out 1 time before it becomes too dry from the extra flour. The butter must be very soft so the dough will hold together- I cannot stress this enough- microwave it for 15 seconds if you have to- just make sure it's soft! You may substitute the Cognac for Grand Marnier or dark Rum. Bake the cookies until they are just starting to color, they are supposed to be very pale. (they also burn very fast- watch them carefully). Also, the cookies are a little delicate so be careful not to break them when spreading the caramel.

You can purchase Cajeta at most specialty food stores, I Know Sur la Table has it. You may also make your own caramel, but please be very careful if you do this:
(I tell you this from experience as my husband has had a can explode) In a medium pot place an unopened can of condensed milk (not the pull-lid type), cover with water at least 5 inches over the top of the can. Cook over medium heat for 2 hours. NEVER let the water boil down and evaporate- that's when the can explodes, add more water if necessary. Let the caramel cool for at least an hour, then open and spread on the cookies. The caramel will keep in the can unopened for about one moth before it starts to crystallize.


1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 lb. butter at room temperature (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac

Cajeta or home-made caramel (see above)
powdered sugar for sprinkling cookies after they bake

1. In large mixer bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated. Add cognac and mix well.

2. Add flour, cornstarch and baking powder and mix until the dough comes together.

3. Roll out dough over a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut shapes out and place on greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. Cookies should be barely brown on the bottom, tops will be pale. Set on cooling rack to cool. Fill with cajeta and cover in powdered sugar. This recipe can be easily doubled.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Buche de Noel / Yule Log

A little late...but, better than never I suppose. I did not think I would have time to make the Daring Baker's Challenge for December, Buche Noel, but at the last minute I ended up making it on Christmas day morning. We did all the Santa stuff and gift opening really early, as Jack woke at 5:15 AM- (yes, you read that correctly). I had made the meringue mushrooms on Sunday so the cake and icing were quick. I read many of the posts by the other bakers regarding the Swiss Merngue curdling, I think it all depends on the speed of the mixer. I find it does look curdled for a bit- but then you beat it until it cannot be beat anymore and it pulls together again into a smooth satiny cream.

The cake was delicious, I filled it with a white chocolate pastry cream which I made a little loose on purpose so the cake would stay very moist and I added 8 oz melted dark chocolate to the icing at the end. Since I was also serving it to children and I was afraid they would not care for the coffee flavor which is what the recipe called for. Other than that, I followed the Daring Baker's recipe exactly. I also sprinkled the mushrooms with cocoa and powdered sugar- they came out really cute, but I forgot to take a photo of it- maybe next time.

Plain Genoise
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.


4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Brandy
8 oz. melted and slightly cooled dark chocolate

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add liquor and beat into the buttercream, add melted chocolate and mix well.

Meringue Mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Palmiers, also known as Elephant Ears are my favorite cookie to accompany my cafe au lait. I only drink coffee when it's cold out, as I don't like hot beverages when it's hot and this morning finally--it turned cold. Yesterday it was 82 degrees and I was wearing flip flops, today I was totally bundled up! So I woke this morning and decided to make palmiers to have with my coffee. Making palmiers is quite a simple task, that is- if you use pre-made puff pastry. (yes, I cheat).

A few notes: watch them carefully, they burn quickly. When turning them mid-way through baking, make sure you wear an oven mitten...the sugar is hot hot. I now have a pretty big bo-bo as a result of not wearing the oven mitten and using a towel instead. Lastly, transfer the Palmiers to a rack right after baking, so they don't continue to brown and stick to the pan.


1 package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

Set oven to 450 degrees

Allow puff pastry to sefrost for 30 minutes or until pliable.

1. On a clean surface sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar. Place one sheet of puff pastry over sugar and sprinkle with another 1/2 sugar and 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon and spread over top. With a rolling pin roll into a 10 x 14 inch rectangle, pressing sugar into pastry as evenly as possible.

2. Place the rectangle of dough in front of you horizontally. Visually mark the center of the dough and roll each side as tightly as possible to meet in the center. (it's difficult for me to explain so please refer to the photo of the cookies). You should end up with a long roll.

3. Slice into crosswise 1/2 inch pieces and carefully transfer to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, placing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes or until lightly browned, then turn palmiers over and bake about 3-4 minutes longer. Watch them carefully after you turn them. The Palmiers should be golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pirate Birthday Cake

Today we celebrated Jack's 6th birthday, this is his cake- a pirate cake. If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know that life is pretty insane this month. But, birthdays cannot be postponed or rescheduled so a birthday party in December it is. The cake came from Zoe's Bakery in Covington and this is no ordinary bakery. They are very talented and obviously love what they do so I trust that whatever they make will always make me happy. I have never been disappointed with the results and I can tell you, I am not all that easy to please when it comes to cakes. My theory is if I don't have time to make something wonderful I better put it in the hands of someone who can. Someone who will make something so outrageously cool, that it won't matter at all that I didn't make it. I tend to not do anything half-way, it's just not in my nature. I also knew that with the week past, there was no way I could make something I would be happy with. My plan worked, jack loved it, the cake was marvelous! Anyhow, I just wanted to share- I was really impressed and best of all it tasted as good as it looked. The party was really cute- all his little friends, treasure maps and chests, balloons, ice cream, and lots of goodies...all the makings for a very happy 6 year old!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Currant Scones and Lemon Curd

Did you think I forgot about the blog? I did not, far from it, but life gets in the way- actually not life...just work! But, do not misunderstand me, I feel ever so blessed and lucky to have the business I do, it's just at this time of the year I would rather be at home listening to Christmas carols and baking cookies! Sunday I have earmarked to do just that. In the meantime here is my scone and lemon curd recipe. I've been making it for quite a long's from my tea room days and on Monday I had a catering which involved afternoon tea. The tea was lovely, made me miss serving tea for about 3 seconds- then I remembered why I stopped and got right on over it. The scones freeze very well, I actually make them to freeze, then pull them out as needed.

The lemon curd I made with the last of my Meyer lemons and it's very yummy. I was sort of sad I used the last of my home grown lemons, but I know where to get more. Turns out my dad thought that the citrus would spoil if the temperature got below freezing, (they don't- it has to be in the teens to spoil the fruit), so he cut all his lemons- and he had tons of them, juiced them and froze the juice. This is not something I would actually do, I like to look at the lemons just as much as consuming them, but it does sound like I need to raid his freezer- SOON!


4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling tops
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups dried currants
4 eggs, plus 1 extra for egg wash
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

makes 2 dz. large scones

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. In a large heavy mixing bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk. Add butter and mix with a pastry blender until crumbly and coarse. Mix in the currants.

2. in a small mixing bowl mix eggs and cream with a whisk. Add to flour mixture and stir until it just comes not overmix. Place dough on a floured surface and knead a few times.
Roll out to 3/4" thickness and cut out shapes.

3. Place scones on a greased cookie sheet. Lightly beat additional egg and brush tops of scones. Generously sprinkle sugar over scones and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks, if freezing place in plastic bags when completely cool.


1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)

1. Combine all ingridients except for the butter in a non-reactive (stainless steel) heavy saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. for about 8- 10 minnutes or until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, whisk in butter. Transfer into a clean bowl and lay a piece of plastic wrap over top- this will avoid a skin from forming. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

p.s. This lemon curd can be used a filling for lemon tarts with meringue topping or fruit tarts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

Yes, I know the posts are getting a little further apart lately, but things are hectic- to say the least! I have actually been baking and cooking a lot lately, but as much as I would like to, there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything documented and photographed. I am catering a few parties this weekend which means I have a lot of assorted bite size desserts to make between now and Friday. This morning I made Mexican wedding Cake Cookies, they are almost like a shortbread, buttery and flavored with toasted pecans, cinnamon and vanilla; they are sometimes called pecan balls or Russian tea cakes.

I use a special powdered sugar called Snow White sugar for sprinkling the cookies after they bake, I get it in 25 pound bags for the restaurant, but you can get it in a one pound bag from King Arthur Flour. What's great about this sugar is it doesn't really melt so the cookies stay Snow White-- just as the name says. I used to make them with regular powdered sugar, so if that's all you have that will work as well, just sift some fresh sugar over cookies before serving if you are making them ahead. I also mix a few sprinkles of cinnamon with the powdered sugar. To make the balls, I first flatten out the dough a bit with my hands and cut it into equal portions with a knife, this makes them all even and uniform which for OCD girl (me), it's very important they all look the same. Watch the cookies carefully while in the oven, the bottoms should be just golden brown while the tops will be fairly pale.


1 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Extra powdered sugar or snow white sugar and cinnamon for coating.

1. In a large bowl beat butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Add flour, mix until just combined, then add toasted pecans. Place dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until cold.

Pre-heat oven to 350F

3. Make 1 1/2" balls, place on greased cookie sheet 1/2" apart and bake about 15 minutes or until bottoms are lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies slightly.

4. In a medium bowl mix 3 cups powdered sugar or snow white sugar and sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Roll cookies until covered with sugar then set aside to cool completely. If making the cookies ahead of time, I sprinkle with additional powdered sugar before serving.

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