Raspberry Cream Cake {ModBak}

In last week’s Modern Baker Mondays post, I recounted my first successful attempt at making a classic génoise.

And I promised that if you came back this week, you’d see what became of this wonderful cake layer. Obviously, a cake this beautiful had to be destined for something equally stunning. So I used it to make this show-stopping raspberry cream cake.

This is a special cake for a special occasion. Who wouldn’t feel great about being presented with a cake like this for a birthday or anniversary? It’s just enough work to make it a cake worth saving for a special occasion; but not so much that you should be intimidated about making it. In fact, once you have your génoise prepared, most of the work is behind you.

This cake derives its raspberry flavor from three components: raspberry moistening syrup (which is just a simple syrup with a little framboise stirred into it), seedless raspberry jam, and raspberry buttercream.

This is a classic buttercream with a raspberry purée (seeded raspberries cooked down to a jelly-like consistency) and more framboise added to it. Once you’ve made the génoise, syrup, and buttercream, it’s just a matter of assembling the cake.

I began by cutting the génoise into three layers.

I inverted the top layer onto a tart pan bottom, then brushed it with the raspberry syrup.

I spread some raspberry jam on the layer.

Then I topped it with buttercream.

I repeated these steps with the second layer, then inverted what had originally been the bottom layer on top.

I finished the cake with buttercream, then pressed sliced almonds on the sides of the cake. Finally, I topped everything with some sugared black raspberries.

This cake was amazing! The génoise was light and airy, and the raspberry flavor permeated the entire cake yet was somehow delicate and almost understated. We enjoyed this cake for dessert the day it was made and over the next several days, as it held up really well.

This is definitely not a weeknight cake, but it’s not so complex that you should be afraid to try it. The “wow” factor definitely exceeds the amount of work it takes to make, making this a great cake for any special occasion.

Blackberry Jam Cake {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe is Blackberry Jam Cake, a cake that was popular in the 19th century but which is relatively unknown today. I’m not sure when or why this cake fell out of favor, but I applaud Nick Malgieri for bringing it back to the modern kitchen. This is a delicious and simple cake that, as Nick says, deserves to be better known again.

To make the batter, I began by creaming butter and sugar, then adding eggs. Next, I mixed flour, cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, and baking soda in a bowl. I then added the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, alternating between the wet and dry ingredients. Finally, I stirred in blackberry jam, raisins, and walnuts.

I scraped the mixture into a Bundt pan that had been buttered, sprinkled with bread crumbs, and sprayed with cooking spray.

I baked the cake for about an hour, until it was firm, well risen, and baked through.

We ate this cake plain, and it really didn’t need any accompaniment. If you wanted to dress it up, a few sugared blackberries would be really nice.

This cake was delicious — the blackberry jam infused the cake with a sweet, rich flavor without being overpowering. And the cocoa added depth and color to the cake. The spices lent a warmth to the cake that made it seem like it would be perfect for late fall or winter, although we enjoyed it in the heat of summer, too.

This is a wonderful cake that I will be sure to make again when the heat of this crazy summer breaks and the leaves start to turn. In fact, it might just make an appearance at Thanksgiving this year.

This recipe and post are part of the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Margaret was the official blogger for this recipe. Check out her blog to see how she liked it.

Blueberry Crumb Cake {ModBak}

Like most of the rest of the country, we have had an unseasonably warm spring and early summer here. One of the consequences of this has been that many of the local fruits and vegetables are coming on much earlier than normal.

So I was only a little surprised to find fresh local blueberries at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago. Blueberries don’t usually hit until about mid-July in our area, but here is was the second week of June and they were at the market already.

I try to avoid buying trucked in fruit whenever possible, so I was holding out until I could get local blueberries to make this recipe from the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I just never imagined it would happen this soon. This recipe is a combination of  a blueberry crumble and a cake. It has a thick cake layer on the bottom, topped with a mix of blueberries and crumb topping.

I began by making the crumb topping, which consisted of flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter. Because the butter was melted, it had more of a doughy consistency than a crumb topping made with room temperature butter.

I crumbled the topping onto the blueberries in a baking dish and set them aside while I made the cake. I found this step kind of odd, as I expected the recipe to say to put the blueberries on the batter, then add the crumb topping. It turns out my instincts were right on in this case, as I got an e-mail from Nick Malgieri after I made this recipe noting that this instruction was an error in the book. Either way, it worked out fine.

The cake batter was made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and buttermilk. After mixing it up, I spread it in the pan.

I topped the batter with the blueberries and crumb mixture.

I baked the cake for about 40 minutes, until the batter was set and the crumb well-colored.

The blueberries melted into a jam-like consistency and were delicious with the crumb topping. I thought the cake layer was a bit too thick for the amount of topping. I think if you doubled the amount of blueberries, it would be perfect.

Abby liked this recipe a lot (she has a thing for blueberries), and she wrote the official post for the Challenge. You can check it out here.

Sicilian Fig Bars {ModBak} — Move Over, Newtons!

When I saw this recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, I knew I wanted to make them. I love figs, and I’m especially crazy about Fig Newtons. So I signed up for the official Modern Baker Challenge post and added figs to the grocery list. I have been trying to bake the recipes in this section in order, but once I had figs in the cupboard, I couldn’t wait to make these.

The ingredients list is short: figs, water, apricot preserves, dark rum, cinnamon, and cloves. And other than the figs, I had everything else on hand. After snipping the figs into a saucepan, I added the remaining ingredients, brought it to a boil, and simmered everything for 10 minutes or so, until the figs were soft.  I puréed the fig mixture in the food processor, then set it aside while I prepared the dough.

 

The dough for the fig bars is the same dough used to make biscotti regina. I made a double batch of the biscotti dough, half of which I used for the regina, and the other half to make these fig bars.

Beginning with 1/3 of the dough, I rolled it into a 12-inch rope.

I flattened the rope into a rectangle about 4 inches wide.

Then I spread 1/3 of the fig mixture on the dough,…

… folded the top half over the center,…

… and folded up the bottom half. I pressed the dough to seal it, then flipped it seam side down and put it on a cookie sheet.

I made three dough cylinders, which I put on an unrimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the dough was firm and golden. As I removed the pan from the oven, I inadvertently tipped it ever so slightly. Unfortunately, given the flat, rimless cookie sheet and the slickness of the parchment paper, that was enough to send 2 of the 3 cookie bars sliding off the tray and onto the bottom of the oven. Note to self: next time, use a jellyroll pan.

I let the remaining bar cool, then cut it into cookies. They weren’t pretty, but they were delicious. Both the dough and filling reminded me of my beloved Fig Newtons, especially in texture. But the filling was much more flavorful. The apricot preserves added a little citrusy sweetness, while the rum, cinnamon, and cloves gave it a spicy depth.

My fig bars could never pass for Fig Newtons. But I would pass up Newtons for these fig bars any day.

Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar {FFwD}

This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie was, for me, a long time coming. Month after month, it appeared on the poll; and month after month, it got voted down. Finally, this month came around and, as fate would have it, there was no poll. Laurie (or fearless moderator) asked for suggestions for August recipes, and I jumped in with this one right away. My persistence finally paid off, and this week we are — finally — featuring cold cured salmon in a jar!

Even though it sounds kind of exotic, this is really a simple recipe. After curing salmon and boiling potatoes, you pack them in jars with herbs, spices, aromatics, and oil.

I began by tossing a few thick chunks of center cut salmon in salt and sugar, then packing them in a zipper seal bag and chilling them in the refrigerator for about 18 hours.

The next day I boiled some new potatoes in salted water until they were knife tender, then drained and sliced them. I rinsed the brine from the salmon and patted the pieces dry with paper towel.

I packed the salmon and potatoes in separate jars, layering them with coriander seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, carrots, onion and, in the case of the potatoes, a little salt.

I filled both jars with olive oil, then topped the potatoes with a splash of vinegar.

I refrigerated the jars overnight, then served the salmon, potatoes, and vegetables for lunch the next day.

This was a delicious and surprisingly light lunch. The salmon and potatoes both picked up a lot of flavor from the herbs and spices without becoming overly oily. As the only one in my family to eat salmon, I enjoyed several lunches from this recipe.

I was really looking forward to trying this recipe, and it didn’t disappoint. Now I just need to find some adventurous friends to share it with!

Refrigerator Bread-and-butter Pickles {Recipe}

Behold the pickle jar!!

This jar has been through numerous incarnations in my kitchen. It was the vessel for my failed attempt at homemade sauerkraut and my way-too-successful forray into the world of Kombucha. But now it has finally found its true calling. It is the pickle jar.

Whenever I make homemade refrigerator pickles — something that is happening with increasing frequency around here lately — they begin their pickled lives in “the jar”. After a few days, when we’ve eaten a good portion of them, I’ll move the pickles into increasingly smaller containers until, alas!, they are gone, and it’s time to get out the pickle jar again.

My most recent batch was bread-and-butter pickles, which are what a pickle should be, in my opinion. I might play with the recipe a bit with future batches — mainly trying different vinegars — but they are pretty close to perfect the way they are. Give them a try and see if you agree.

Refrigerator Bread-and-butter Pickles

Ingredients

  •  Pickling cucumbers to fill a gallon jar
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, halved, and sliced
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed

Directions

  1. Wash cucumbers. Cut off and discard ends. Cut  pickles into desired size and shape. For these pickles, I prefer 1/4-inch slices.
  2. Layer cucumbers and onions in gallon jar. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough to fill it all the way.
  3. Combine sugar, salt, and vinegars in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar and salt dissolve and mixture clarifies somewhat.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in spices.
  5. Pour hot liquid over cucumbers and onions to cover. Push cucumbers down into liquid as much as possible
  6. Cover and refrigerate.

The pickles will be ready to eat in about 24 hours (although we always start into them sooner than that) and will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely. In our house they’re always gone within a few weeks, and the last ones are as good as the first.

As I said, I might tinker with the recipe by trying different vinegars. For the next batch, I think I’m going to substitute rice wine vinegar for some or all of the apple cider vinegar. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Raspberry Almond Tartlets {ModBak}

Talk about saving the best for last. This is the final recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, and what a way to finish! I would have to put this recipe in the top 3 for this section, right up there with the Pumpkin Pecan and Bourbon-scented Pecan Tarts.

I put this one off until the end, not just because it’s near the end of the section (I tend to make the recipes roughly in order), but also because tartlets always seem a bit fussy to me. I tend to favor full-size tarts and pies, as their miniature counterparts tend to be tedious to assemble. I needn’t have worried with this recipe, however, as it came together really quickly.

Having made the crust the day before to use for lemon lime tartlets, all I had to do was roll it out, cut it, and fit it into the mini muffin pans.

I had planned to make a half recipe of the lemon lime and raspberry almond tartlets, so I divided a single batch of sweet tart dough and set aside half for each recipe. There was a small chunk of dough leftover when I made the lemon lime tartlets, and I had stuck that in the fridge after I made the crusts for those the day before. As I rolled out the dough for the raspberry tartlets, I realized there was enough dough to make more than just 12 tartlets. To my surprise, between the leftovers from the day before and the raspberry tartlet dough, I was able to make 24 tartlet shells.

While the dough chilled in the fridge, I put together the filling, which consisted of almond paste, sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter, and flour, all whirred together in the food processor. Then I gathered my ingredients to assemble the tartlets.

I began by putting a dab of seedless raspberry preserves in each shell, then topping that with either one large raspberry or two small blackberries.

Then I spooned in the filling to cover the berries. Nick says to spread the filling evenly with an offset spatula, but mine seemed to even itself out nicely. I sprinkled the top of each tartlet with sliced almonds, and they were ready to bake.

I baked the tartlets at 350°F for 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the filling was puffy and set.

Allowing the tartlets to cool was no easy task, but I left them alone for about 25 minutes, until the pan was cool enough to handle, then I removed each tartlet to a rack to finish cooling. Well, all except for those destined for the dessert plate.

In case you’re wondering, that wasn’t all for me. My wife and I split the tartlets on the plate. But I did sneak another one every time I walked past the table. And I found lots of excuses to pass through the dining room.

I really enjoyed these tartlets. The almond paste gave the filling a wonderfully rich and warm flavor, while the berries provided a juicy, tart contrast. I liked the blackberry ones the best, although I wouldn’t say no to either of them. Which is why I eventually had to wrap them and put them away.

So that’s it for the sweet tarts and pies. On to Puff Pastries. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Marbled Chocolate Brioche Loaf {ModBak}

The second recipe in the third section of The Modern Baker is another brioche loaf. The basic recipe is similar to Quick Brioche, with the addition of rum and lemon zest. After making the brioche dough, it is divided into three pieces, and one of the pieces is then enriched with bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon.

I patted one of the plain pieces of dough into a five-inch square and set it aside. I did the same with the chocolate dough, then stacked it on top of the plain dough. Finally, I patted out the last piece of plain dough and added it to the stack.

After pressing the dough together, I cut it into three pieces.

Then I cut each strip into about 10 pieces, which I put into a bowl and tossed together.

I added a teaspoon of water, squished the dough into a ball, then pressed it into a loaf pan.

I allowed the dough to rise for two hours. Even though it hadn’t crested the top of the pan, it was ready to bake.

I baked the bread in a 350° oven for 40 minutes. The loaf smelled so good baking, with the chocolate, rum, and butter begging to be tasted.

I cooled the loaf on its side to keep it from deflating.

I sliced into the loaf and liked what I saw. It had a nice even crumb and the marbling looked like the picture in the book.

This was a really delicious bread. The chocolate gave it a wonderful flavor without being cloying sweet. It was good plain, toasted, and with a little marmalade. And after a few days, it made great chocolate bread pudding.

Irish Soda Bread Muffins {ModBak}

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the Quick Breads section of The Modern Baker is that the breads really are quick. For example, in the 15 minutes it took to bake the ginger scones, I mixed up the butterscotch scones and had them ready to go into the oven as soon as the ginger scones came out.

So even though I usually save my baking for the weekends, the other night after work I decided to throw together Irish soda bread muffins. I got back from walking the dog at 7:30 was relaxing in my chair by 7:50, having mixed up the muffins and cleaned the kitchen. Yes, kids, when Nick Malgieri says “quick”, he means it!

This simple recipe consists of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, caraway seeds, unsalted butter, sugar, egg, buttermilk (I substituted buttermilk powder and half-and-half), and currants. After assembling the ingredients, I lined the muffin tin with paper liners and preheated the oven to 350° F.

Next, I mixed the dry ingredients (other than the sugar) in a bowl, then whisked the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. I mixed in the egg, then half the cream, half the flour mxture, then the rest of the cream. I tossed the currants with a little flour, added them to the batter, then folded in the rest of the flour.

I found that an ice cream scoop was the perfect size to fill the muffin tins. I baked the muffins for 30 minutes, then cooled them in the pan.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was another wonderful recipe. The muffins were delicious — slightly sweet and very flavorful. I especially enjoyed them with a little butter and fig preserves.

Salt All Your Offerings (Except Tuscan Bread)

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. ~ Leviticus 2:13 (NIV)

“What makes Tuscan bread unique in the bread lexicon is that it is salt free….” So begins Peter Reinhart’s description of the 38th recipe in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. If ever there was a way to get me excited about trying a new bread, well, this wasn’t it. 

As we have learned throughout the Challenge, the four basic components of bread are flour, water, yeast (wild or commercial), and salt. You can adjust the quantities of these components, or add other ingredients. But you don’t leave out any of the four basic ingredients. So I was fairly suspicious of this bread from the beginning. I mean, wouldn’t salt-free bread be as bland as, well, salt-free food? Ah, well, it was next on the list, so I would press on.

Other than not using any salt, this bread is unique in that it calls for a flour paste, which is made by mixing flour and boiling water. This mixture is allowed to sit out overnight (or up to 2 days). The mixture does not ferment, as there is no yeast added to it, but the boiling water causes the starches in the flour to gelatinize, which (theoretically) adds flavor to the finished bread.

In addition to the flour paste, the dough consists of flour, yeast, oil, and water, all of which is combined and kneaded by hand or mixed in a stand mixer.

The dough had a really nice feel to it, about the texture of French bread dough. After mixing, the dough is placed in an oiled bowl and allowed to ferment for about 2 hours.

Another function of salt in bread, besides the obvious one of taste, is that it tempers the action of the yeast. So it didn’t surprise me that this dough, sans salt, rose really fast. In fact, I had to knead it down about halfway through the fermentation stage to keep it from rising too much.

After the dough had fermented, I shaped it into two boules, which I covered with plastic wrap and set aside to proof.

Again, the dough rose like crazy, and within about 60 minutes, the loaves were ready to bake.

In another departure from prior BBA recipes, instead of adding a cup of water to a steam pan when the loaves are loaded into the oven, the oven is preheated to 500 degrees with 2 cups of water already in the steam pan. The loaves are baked for 20-30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.

The bread looked great and smelled fantastic. And when I cut into a loaf, it had a nice, tight crumb.

But, the big question was, how would it taste? Could a salt-free bread really stand up to the other amazing breads that have come out of the BBA Challenge? Would the flour paste make such a huge flavor difference that, as PR suggests, I might decide to incorporate it into other bread recipes?

In a word — meh.

The bread was every bit as bland as I feared it would be. It tasted, quite frankly, like a loaf of bread from which the salt had been omitted. I tried it plain, with salted butter, with butter and a sprinkling of sea salt, with marmalade, jam, and jelly — all to no avail. This bread was for the birds, both figuratively and literally. (On the plus side, the birds didn’t seem to mind the lack of salt.)

Oh, well, it was worth a shot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I guess at the end of the day, I have to agree with the poet George Herbert, who said, “Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.” I’m sure he never considered eating salt-free bread.

I’m pretty sure I won’t consider it agian, either.

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