Monday, April 16, 2018

Cocoa Banana Bread

Let me start out with a disclaimer. I don't write reviews of cookbooks (at least not yet anyway), I don't receive free cookbooks from publishers (but wouldn't that be nice), and my circle of friends doesn't include the food bloggers I admire (maybe someday). So when I make and write about a recipe I find in a cookbook, magazine, or on one form or another of social media, it's first because there was something about the recipe that spoke to me. However, even more important, is it has to be one I have a strong, unexplainable feeling about. Particularly the integrity of the recipe itself and the recipe creator (or adapter, whichever the case may be). Call it a recipe sixth sense. And yes, every now and then, I have been known to make something everyone is raving about. Who doesn't want to join a virtual gushing over, no formal invitation needed food party? Although I am a bit picky as to which party I want to go to. 

When I bought Alison Roman's cookbook "Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes" a short while back, I didn't tab every other page the first time I went through it. On the first go round, I found more than a handful of recipes I thought were worth the price of the book. But after going back to the book a second and third time, I wondered how it was I initially skipped over so many others. For whatever the reason, the book started to talk to me. I ultimately realized this would become one of those cookbooks getting a significant amount of use, or rather overuse, in the weeks and months ahead. I wondered, could this be one of those cookbooks that could put my cookbook purchases on pause for awhile or curb them for an indefinite period of time? With the exception of a new Ottolenghi cookbook coming out later this year, I really think it could be.

If one has already shared not one, but two banana recipes on the blog, why would there be a third? Third time the charm? Well maybe. But when I read the recipe for the Cocoa Banana Bread, described as being more cake like than bread like, I was more than intrigued. Finding a recipe having the combination of chocolate and banana flavors was more than enough to motivate me to make it. What I did not know before making this Cocoa Banana Bread was how rich without being to rich, dense, luscious, moist, and beyond delicious it would be. If there were ever a decadent Banana Bread, this would be it. Definitely dessert worthy, but for those of us chocolate and banana lovers, a case could be made for having it for breakfast. And, even if there wasn't, there is always the 'life is short' rationalization.

No matter how many banana bread recipes you have in your life, you definitely, absolutely must make room for this one.

I had to wait more than week for the bananas to ripen to that banana bread making ready point. More than once I have wished the grocery stores I frequent would sell overly ripe bananas, so I could make banana bread whenever the urge came over me. While all of the other ingredients in this Cocoa Banana Bread are readily accessible and probably already in your refrigerator or cupboard, this would be one of those plan at least a week ahead recipes. Unless, of course, you have a handy source banana bread ripe bananas.

If, like me, you generally buy demerara sugar and mascarpone cheese, nothing about this Cocoa Banana Bread ingredient list is unusual. If you don't regularly buy either of those things, this recipe might convince you they need to be your new staples. Other than recommending your mascarpone cheese should be room temperature, cutting the banana for the top of the bread while it is still in the skin, specifying a weight for the bananas to be used in the bread batter, and lining the pan with parchment paper, I didn't make any real substantive changes to the recipe. 

Mashing the bananas with a fork (or even a potato masher) will give you the coarse mashed banana consistency you are looking for. You want to see some of the banana chunks when you slice the baked cake. 

Honestly, when I saw the pan size recommended I didn't think it was right. But it was. So trust me when I tell you the pan size listed below isn't an error. Your pan will be almost full when all of the batter goes in, but there isn't a significant rise to this bread so it works. 

Of course I wanted my finished Cocoa Banana Bread to be as perfect and as beautiful as possible. Instead I had to settle for uniquely beautiful.

What I discovered too late was how to cut the banana lengthwise. Instead of cutting the banana while it was still in the skin, I had peeled it and then cut it. It took me two bananas to figure out it. Or one banana too late. So instead of two perfect intact halves gracing the top of the bread, I ended up with one perfect and one slightly imperfect one. It could have driven my perfection seeking Virgo self over the edge a few years ago, but nowadays if something can't be perfect, it needs to have character. And this Cocoa Banana Bread has character!

When I shared a photo of this Cocoa Banana Bread with some of my friends, a few thought it was topped with bacon! Slow roasted, bruleed banana halves might have some resemble to slices of bacon and I am certain someone, somewhere has combined the flavors of chocolate, banana, and bacon in a confection. But that would not be a flavor combination getting my attention. At least not at the moment.

This Cocoa Banana Bread has a kind of pound cake texture to it, although the crumb is a bit finer and the chocolate flavor is a bit more intense. But unlike a pound cake, there is an incredible crunchy, sugary, deeply flavored roasted banana top to this banana bread.

As I shared earlier, I really didn't make any substantive changes to this recipe. It was already pretty amazing. However, had I thought about it giving it a slight twist, I should have poured some Pecan Flavored Whiskey over the top of the bread as soon as it came out of the oven. But I didn't. And I can't even take credit for this idea. Because this absolutely brilliant idea came from one of the friends I had recently gone to a wine and spirits tasting with. A friend who also happens to someone who is a self-admitted non-cook and non-baker. But no one ever said one had to cook and/or bake to appreciate great desserts or great food. One just needs to possess good taste. With or without any Pecan Flavored Whiskey, and definitely without any bacon, make this Cocoa Banana Bread for all your friends having really good taste as it will send them to a place of euphoria they will not ever forget. 

Cocoa Banana Bread (Barely a change to Alison Roman's recipe for Cocoa Banana Bread as shared in her cookbook "Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes")

1/2 cup Demerara sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups (195g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar 
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone, room temperature (Note: Could also use full-fat sour cream or full-fat yogurt)
5 extremely ripe bananas, divided (4 coarsely mashed and 1 sliced lengthwise) - See Notes

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). Line a 9"x4" (or 8.5"x4.5") baking pan with parchment paper. Spray with non-stick spray and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the demerara sugar on the bottom and sides of the pan. Shake out any excess sugar. Set prepared pan aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 4-5 minutes).
4. Add the egg and beat until it returns to the previous light and fluffy texture (approximately 3-4 minutes). Note: Initially the mixture will look slightly curdled, but it's texture will change after beating.
5. With mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients. Beat just to blend.
6. Add in mascarpone cheese and beat just until blended. Batter will be very thick.
7. Add in mashed bananas, beat until blended in (approximately 1-2 minutes).
8. Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top.
9. Place the two banana halves, cut side facing up, on top of batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup demerara sugar.
10. Bake until the bread is baked through in the center (approximately 90-100 minutes). Note: My baking time was closer to 100 minutes.
11. Transfer baking pan to cooling rack. Allow bread to cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.

Notes: (1) The four bananas used in the bread weighed approximately 1 pound 6 ounces (with their skins on). Recommend for medium sized ripe bananas for the bread batter and one smaller ripe banana for slicing on the top. (2) When cutting the one banana lengthwise, you will have more success keeping the slices whole if you cut it with the skin on. Carefully peel away the skin, trying not to break the halves (like I did). (3) For a subtle boozy flavor to the Cocoa Banana Bread, poke some holes in the top of the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. Pour 1-2 Tablespoons of Pecan Flavored Whiskey over the top and allow it soak in.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies

We all have those days or weeks in our lives when life tests our physical endurance, emotional stability, ability to handle stress, and/or the belief in the power of prayer. Last week life tested all of those for me. With my husband undergoing aortic aneurysm surgery, one having a fair amount of risk to it, it took all of my energy and resilience, along with the incredible amount of love and support from family and friends, to help me to stay as grounded as possible through it all. And I wasn't even the one experiencing all of the hope, angst, and pain that comes with being the patient. At times like these, the fear of the unknown can take my mind to places I instinctively know are ones I don't want to spend any amount of time in. Mostly due to the fear of being swallowed up in them without either having the strength or a life line bringing me back to a place where I can breathe somewhat normally again. Trying to keep my thoughts positive took an inordinate amount of energy because rational and irrational worrisome ones continued trying to creep into my head. Particularly while waiting during the lengthy surgery. Sometimes these worries got in and lingered there for awhile. Draining me emotionally and physically. In spite of having prided myself on having a fairly high degree of resiliency over the years, this was a context it had yet to be vetted against.

As a caregiver you can't really lose sight of the emotions and levels of discomfort the patient is experiencing. Although there are moments when you are so consumed with your own anxieties it becomes hard to be compassionate 24/7. Even after your worst fears aren't realized (thank goodness for talented surgeons, skilled nurses, and medical science advancement), the ability to be remain steadfastly empathic fluctuates. At least it did for me. Fortunately these moments have been short lived. When you spend a significant amount of time in a hospital you become hyper aware of the everyone around you. Of the many observations made during the past week was how consistently attentive, kind, and yes, compassionate the medical professional staff in the hospital were. To the point where I was in awe of their ability to remain calm in the most chaotic of moments. Whether these are qualities they need to possess or not, doesn't matter. They are admirable. 

I wanted to, no I needed to, show my appreciation to everyone involved in my husband's care and recovery with more than saying thank you. Making food has always been one of the ways I show gratefulness to others. Only this week I couldn't even muster enough energy to make a batch of cookies. I tried to remind myself baking is cathartic. But even that truth wasn't compelling enough to get me in the kitchen. So instead I brought in candy from one of my favorite stores, doughnuts, baby bundtlets, muffins, and cookies. Everything was store bought. Nothing was homemade (by me). When you get immense pleasure from baking for others, bringing something made by someone else doesn't seem to carry the same weight of appreciation. At least it doesn't for the giving me. The weight of the world temporarily lifted from my shoulders when we both able to return home. My energy level began returning in calm, steady waves. For the couple of hours spent baking a new cookie recipe, I could suspend thinking about the temporary new normal and simply lose myself (and my stress). It was one of the reprieves my mind and body so desperately needed. 

In the last couple of weeks, I noticed the uncanny, almost simultaneous sharing of two brownie crinkle cookies on Instagram. Visually these two cookies almost looked identical to one another although there were variations in both the ingredients used and techniques applied. Judging the reactions these cookies were receiving, it appeared they were destined to be the second best cookie of the year. Several months ago the Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread, an incredibly delicious version of the chocolate chip cookie, had almost everyone across the globe declaring them to be the best cookie ever. Because I find cookies made with chocolate slightly irresistible, I too wanted to jump on this brownie crinkle cookie bandwagon. From my perspective, it seemed there was a cookie throw down in the making, but no one seemed to want to pit these two cookies against one another, including me. In spite of the fact both recipes had some similarities to my favorite Maida Haetter Chocolate Whoppers I still felt compelled to make them. Or at least one of them. Although, instead of choosing one recipe over the other, I decided to do a mash-up between the two of them with a little Maida Haetter thrown in for good measure. 

If you haven't noticed, but there has been a bit of a 'pounding of the cookie sheet during baking' phenomenon going on right now. Intentionally deflated cookies, particularly chocolate chip cookies, are now trending. Which might explain in party why this technique is now being applied to other kinds of cookies. Like these Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies. Rather than being the 'first one out of the gate' to use the deflated cookie technique, I would be one of many fast followers out there.

So let's talk about these absolutely super delicious, slightly addictive cookies. In addition to dark chocolate (having a cocoa content ranging from 62-70%), these Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies also have Dutch-processed cocoa as one of the ingredients. Instant espresso ramps up the intensity of the chocolate flavor in these cookies while also giving them an ever so slight hint of the taste of coffee. In my world it would be sacrilegious to leave out vanilla in any cookie involving chocolate. Even if only a half teaspoon of it is added in. There are two kinds of salt in these cookies: kosher and flaky sea salt. One is mixed into the batter, while the other is sprinkled on top. 

Normally I buy blocks or bars of chocolate, but for this cookie I decided to use chocolate chips. Especially since the chocolate was going to first be melted with the butter and then mixed into the batter. Whether you choose blocks, bars, or chips, use a dark chocolate, one having 62%-70% cocoa. Begin making these cookies by melting the butter and chocolate as the mixture needs to cool slightly before being added to the batter.

While the melted chocolate/butter is cooling, place the the eggs and both sugars in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat until the mixture has doubled in volume, has thick consistency, and appears to be a light caramel color (my beating time was 5 minutes). Mix in the chocolate/butter mixture and vanilla until incorporated, followed by mixing in the dry ingredients. Do not over beat the batter or it will begin to dry out while appearing to be wet, ultimately affecting the sheen of your baked cookies. 

Using an ice cream scoop helps to create uniformed sized, almost perfectly round cookies. I used one slightly larger than one inch in diameter. The sprinkling sea salt on most chocolate cookies definitely gives them a certain wow factor. And this cookie is no exception. Don't overcrowd the baking sheet as these cookies will spread to a little more than three inches in diameter. Would recommend baking only 8 to 10 cookies at a time.

Until most cookies that require no babysitting or fussing with until they are done, these Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies are a bit on the high maintenance side. If anything gives high maintenance a good name, these cookies do. Overall baking time is 11-12 minutes, however, at the 5, 7, and 9 minute marks, the baking pan is removed from the oven, tapped on the counter to help with the deflating process. Trust me when I say this one of those times when being a fussyterian pays off. 

The baked cookies rest on the baking sheet for five minutes before being transferred to a cooling rack.

I would tell you to wait until the cookies are cooled to try one, but having tasted one still warm I can't. If there was one reward you should give yourself for making these Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies for your family and/or friends, it would be to eat one of them while they are still warm. It will be one of your OMG moments of the day. 

These are definitely a cross between a brownie and a cookie. In other words, they are the best of two worlds. A tad rich, intensely chocolately and slightly fudgy, these are kinds of cookies you would really like to hoard for yourself. But you will experience a different kind of euphoria when you share them with your family and/or friends. These Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies are definitely ones I will be making again (and again and again). Yes, they are keepers. Not just because they are insanely delicious, but because they will always remind me of two things: (1) how much I value the people in my life who get me and still love me and (2) how much I get from baking. Especially when life tests my endurance, resilience, and strength all at once.

If it ever gets warm here, these Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies would make great Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Vanilla or Mocha Chip Ice Cream would be my first choices. Although I wouldn't rule out Coconut, Chocolate Chip Mint, or Espresso ice cream as options. 
Sea Salted Espresso Brownie Crinkle Cookies (inspired by multiple sources)
Makes approximately 22-24 cookies

7 ounces (200g) dark chocolate (at least 62% but no more than 70% cocoa) chips or a bar chopped
9 Tablespoons (125g)  unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup (150g) granulated or caster sugar
1/2 cup (100g) light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons instant espresso
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F) or 180 degrees C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl. Set bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Allow the butter and chocolate to fully melt. Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and instant espresso in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs and both sugars for 5 minutes.
5. Pour in chocolate mixture and vanilla, beat for approximately 1 minute or until incorporated.
6. Add the dry ingredients and mix only until just combined.
7. Using a 1" in diameter ice cream scoop, scoop out cookie dough and place on prepared cookie sheet. Allow at least 2 inches of space between each ball of dough (should be able to fit 8 to 10 cookies per sheet). Sprinkle the tops of each cookie with some flaky sea salt.
8. Bake cookies one cookie sheet at a time. The total baking time for the cookies will range from 11 to 12 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and tap the tray against a counter to slightly deflate the cookies. Return to the oven and bake for another 2 minutes, remove cookie sheet again, tapping against a counter to further deflate. Again return the cookie sheet to the oven for another 2 minutes. Remove and tap against a counter to deflate. Return back to the oven and continue to bake for additional 2-3 minutes. Cookies will be just firm around the edges and set in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
9. Serve cookies warm or allow to come to room temperature.
10. Store cookies in a sealed container. Cookies are best eaten before 3 days has lapsed. But more than likely they will not last that long.

Notes: (1) I used Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips, 63% cocoa, for these cookies. (2) I used only 1 teaspoon of the instant espresso and the coffee flavor was only mildly detectable. Would increase to 2 teaspoons the next time I make them. (3) If using chocolate chips, the weight/grams convert to a little more than 1 1/8 cups. (4) The inspiration for my version of these brownie cookies came from recipes shared by food bloggers Butter and Brioche and The Boy Who Bakes

Monday, April 2, 2018

Triple Lemon Layer Cake

When we bought our house a little more than eleven years ago we did a significant amount of work to it. My long galley kitchen had gorgeous cabinetry but everything else was a bit out-dated. Beyond removing the wallpaper, repainting and doing some electrical work, we replaced the almond appliances with stainless ones, switched out the electric stove top and oven for a gas Wolf range, and had granite installed to replace the corian. At the time we were looking at granite samples, I thought marble might be a better choice. Not just aesthetically, but for its' timelessness quality. However, the granite contractor, who also happened to be a marble installer, talked me out of it. As much as I love the color and design of the granite we ultimately selected, it's a surface someone someday might consider out-dated. To this day I still don't know why I listened to the granite guy. In retrospect, the only plausible reasons were there were too many other renovation decisions to be made, I was getting tired of sleeping on an air mattress while being surrounded by a constant state of renovation dust, and my professional life at the time was beyond time consuming. In other words, the granite/marble contractor caught me at a weak moment. I haven't even dared to think about replacing the eleven year old granite counter tops as there are still some other house projects needing to be done. Maybe if I win the lottery, I might be able to convince a certain someone this would be a good idea. 

If I didn't have this food blog, I wouldn't constantly wonder what a cake, cookies, or ingredients would look like photographed on marble surface. Convinced by a certain someone a decent sized piece of marble or porcelain would not only cost hundreds of dollars and be almost too heavy for me to pick up, I gave up trying to find one a couple of years ago. But late last week I decided to see if those assumptions still held true or if I was intentionally being misguided. I went online and found there was a marble/granite supply company less than five miles from where I live. It didn't matter this was a supplier who sold primarily to the trade. I was on a mission. Besides, what could be the worst thing to happen if I went there? They could tell me 'sorry, we can't help you'. Well, in the grand scheme of worse case scenarios, this wasn't enough to deter me. So off I went. And guess what? The worst thing didn't happen. After being shown some smaller leftover pieces of marble (too heavy to lift) and porcelain (lifted with relative ease), they cut a piece of porcelain to the size I wanted and even carried it out to my car! Turns out it was one of those the stars were aligned kind of days on so many levels.

So I now I have another surface on which to photograph food. Yippee! Learning curve, here I come! And hey, lucky you! You get to go on this journey of seeing how long it takes for me to capture the photos I have been seeing in my head for years! Let's hope some of the visual changes coming to the blog in the weeks and months ahead make us both happy and hungry!

As much as I love the flavor of lemon in desserts, I had never made a lemon cake before. Crazy, right? So while I am going to tell you this is the best lemon cake I have ever made, in full disclosure I have to tell you it's the ONLY one I ever made. However, if comparing the texture and crumb of this cake with the many other kinds of cakes I have made before, this one may rank up there as being one of the best cakes I have ever made. Being a Virgo with strong perfectionist tendencies I am more likely to render a bit of (self) criticism than to render effusive praise. Which means I don't throw the word 'best' around very often. 

There are three components to this Triple Lemon Layer Cake. The cake, the lemon curd, and the lemon buttercream icing. All of them are relatively easy to make. As with any new recipe, there are always lessons to be learned along the way. The biggest lesson was 'make the lemon curd hours, if not the night before making the cake' as it needs times to chill and further thicken. But if you too have someone in your house that could sit and eat an entire jar of lemon curd in one sitting, hide it the refrigerator, put a skull and crossbones on the jar, or come up with a threat they might take seriously. 

Instead of all-purpose flour, this cake is made with cake flour. And the lemon flavoring in the cake comes from lemon zest, not lemon juice. A total of 1 3/4 cups (350g) of granulated sugar is used in the cake. However, 1/4 of the sugar is combined with the lemon zest to create a lemon sugar. Ultimately all of the sugar is mixed into the cake batter, but it's done in two different additions.

After creaming the unsalted butter, the lemon sugar is beaten in until lightly fluffy. Then the remaining 1 1/2 cups (300g) are added. Again this mixture is beaten until it's light and fluffy. As with most cakes, dry and wet ingredients are alternately added in. This Triple Lemon Layer Cake is no exception. Beginning with the milk, the wet and dry ingredients (sifted cake flour, baking powder, and salt) are added in three additions. At this point you will have a thick, lush, creamy batter.

Whipped egg whites, carefully folded into the cake batter in four additions, help to give this cake an incredible lightness and texture. Instead of dividing the cake batter between two 8" cake pans (and cutting each layer in half), I divided the cake batter evenly between three 8" cake pans. Eliminating the need to attempt to evenly cut any of the layers in half.

In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the cake will bake in 25-28 minutes. After the baked cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes, remove from the pans and carefully place on a cooling rack. It's important to let the cake layers cool completely or risk having your icing and/or lemon curd melt and/or weep. 

The amount of lemon curd the recipe below makes more than you need for the cake and the buttercream icing. So there is plenty to give to the lemon curd lover you guilted into refraining from indulging themselves in the lemony pot of gold calling their name.  

Instead of spreading the lemon curd directly on each cake layer, spread a thin layer of the lemon buttercream icing. It will make all the difference in the world to your finished cake. 

Almost all of the lemon buttercream icing recipes I had looked at called for using freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest or a combination of both to give the icing its' lemon flavor. However, this icing gets it's mild lemony flavor from the lemon curd. Each part of the Triple Lemon Layer Cake has its' own deliciousness factor. But the Lemon Buttercream Frosting is in a flavor league of its' own. 

In addition to letting the lemon curd have a longer cooling time, I would have made a bit more icing. The recipe below will give you enough icing for thin layers on each of the layers, a thin naked look on the side of the cake and for all of the pastry bag created swirls on top. Next time I make this cake, I will definitely make more of the lemon buttercream icing.

The Triple Lemon Layer Cake is and was beautiful before the addition of the fresh blackberries and lemon curd droplets. As with most cakes, there are a multitude of finishing options. Including but not limited to, fresh berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries), edible flowers, candied lemon slices, etc. So whether you choose an unadorned or adorned look for this cake, you can't go wrong.

As a chocolate lover, I don't think I understood why so many were lemon cake fans. Then I tasted this Triple Lemon Layer Cake. Almost instantly I felt as if I joined the club I didn't even know I should have belonged to, let alone existed. Every element of this cake is swoonworthy. If like me, you haven't ever made or undervalued a lemon cake, make this one. For the lemon cake lovers in your family or circle of friends, make them this cake for their birthday. Or make it for them for no reason. But just make it. Because it really will be the BEST lemon cake you will ever taste!

Triple Lemon Layer Cake (Cake only recipe is a slightly altered version of cake portion of Fine Cooking's Triple Lemon Layer Cake recipe)

Lemon Curd
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from approximately 4 medium sized lemons)
Zest from four lemons
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter), room temperature soft
pinch of sea salt

2 1/3 cups (303g) cake flour
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar, divided
2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
5 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lemon Buttercream Icing
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound confectionary sugar, sifted
4 Tablespoons lemon curd
4 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Lemon Curd
1. In a heavy bottom medium sized saucepan, beat eggs and sugar together.
2. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, butter, and sea salt. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
3. On medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil (stir constantly).
4. Remove from heat, transfer to a heat proof bowl or jars. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top to prevent a crust from forming. Allow to cool before chilling in the refrigerator. (Note: Mixture will need to be well chilled before proceeding. Can make lemon curd early in the morning or the day before. Recommend giving the lemon curd at least four hours of chilling time before using.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare three 8" cake pans with butter and parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
3. Put 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the lemon zest in a small food processor. Pulse until well combined to create lemon sugar.
4. In a large bowl, beat the butter and lemon sugar with a hand held mixer until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).
5. Add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar and beat until smooth (approximately 2 minutes).
6. In a separate bowl or in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed just until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to high, and beat until the white form stiff but not dry peaks. 
7. Add a quarter of the whipped egg whites into the batter. Gently fold in with a spatula. Continue to fold in whites, one quarter at a time until incorporated. Be careful not to over fold or completely deflate the egg whites.
8. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake for 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes.
9. Run a knife along the inside edge of the cake pan, and carefully invert cakes onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

Lemon Buttercream Icing
1. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter until light and fluffy (approximately 3-4 minutes).
2. Add in half of the sifted confectionary sugar. Beat until partially incorporated. Add in remaining confectionary sugar and beat until fully incorporated.
3. Add in lemon curd and whipping cream. Beat until light and fluffy. Approximately 4-5 minutes. Note: If icing is too thick, add in additional whipping cream, one tablespoon at a time.

Cake Assembly
1. Place one of the cake layers (top baked side down) on a cake platter or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of the lemon buttercream icing over the cake. Spread a generous 1/3 cup of the lemon curd over the icing spreading to at least 1/2" from the edge. 
2. Add second cake layer (top baked side down) and repeat icing and lemon curd spreading.
3. Add final cake layer (top baked side down). Spread a thin layer of icing over the top and along the sides of the cake (for a naked cake finished look).
4. Put remaining lemon buttercream icing into a pastry tube, fitted with the tip of your choice and pipe on top of the cake.
5. Serve and enjoy. But if not serving immediately, store the cake lightly covered in the refrigerator. Remove at least 1 hour before serving.

Notes: (1) Can finish the iced cake with fresh berries (e.g., blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries), edible flowers, or candied lemon slices or not. The choice is yours! (2) If you would like the sides of your cake finished with a thicker layer of the lemon buttercream icing, increase the amount of icing made. Would recommend increasing the recipe by a quarter to a third to achieve that finish. (3) The recipe for the lemon curd makes more than you will need for the cake and the icing. Store in sealed jar in the refrigerator. It will last for a couple of weeks. It is great served on cheese platter, spread on ginger cookies or graham crackers, on a Dutch Baby, or simply eaten with a spoon.

Whidbey Island, Washington (June 2017)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Blueberry Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce and Toasted Almonds

Earlier this week my twenty something year old niece called to say she had booked a flight and would be home for the Easter weekend! Hearing this news was like winning the lottery without having bought a ticket! Now only if her brother would surprise us all and fly home for the weekend too! Between their college schedules and living their new post-collegiate lives in two different states, it's been a long time since we have been all together for Easter. And an even longer time since we celebrated the holiday with a holiday feast and egg hunts. As exciting as this news was, I learned something else this week. Something that made my heart equally happy. When you unexpectedly learn the holiday memories created and experienced over the years continue to be remembered (without any prompting), your heart swells with joy. My heart swelling happiness came when my niece said she was expecting to see a lamb butter and chocolate covered poundcake eggs on the table along with an Easter Egg hunt having only pink and purple eggs. You see, when my niece and nephew were growing up, the Easter egg hunts were always ones where plastic eggs in every color were filled with coins and/or candy and hidden in the yard or in the house if the weather wasn't cooperating. There was one year when my then three year old niece walked right past the blue, orange, green, and yellow eggs nesting in plain view, putting only the pink and purple ones into her basket. That year I had to ask her five year old brother if he would give up his pink and purple eggs to his sister. I was simultaneously surprised but yet not surprised at all that he did. It would be one of the many times over the course of their lives thus far where they have unselfishly did something for the other. I think if you randomly ask some parents (or their aunts and uncles) what makes them proudest of their children, the answers for most of them might not only include a listing of their athletic, academic, or professional accomplishments. I am guessing most of their answers would also stories of the times their child(ren) demonstrated a character trait or value in unexpected moments. Grades on a report card, records set on the athletic field, or titles or awards earned in the workplace matter only for short periods of time in one's life. Possessing the character traits of kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, unselfishness, honesty, fairness, integrity, and empathy matter throughout the course of one's life. As those are the things really defining who we are along with being a reflection of the many things we learned or observed growing up. 

Speaking of memories, meals are another way we create them. Dutch Babies make for incredibly memorable meals. Since the inception of this blog, I have shared five recipes for both sweet and savory Dutch Babies. This one will make it an even half-dozen. Clearly I have a thing for Dutch Babies. On the savory side there has been only one posting: the Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby with Tomato Jam. All of the other dutch baby recipes have been on the sweet side: The Caramel Apple Dutch Baby ala Mode; the Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Fresh Berries; the simple, unadorned Dutch Baby, At Last; and, even a Blueberry Dutch Baby. But this Blueberry Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce and Toasted Almonds is its' own unique version of one of my most favorite breakfast/brunch dishes. If you are looking to make new memories this Easter, make this Dutch Baby.

Unlike all of the other Dutch Babies served with fruit, this one has blueberries both infused into the batter along with being topped with them. The topping in this case comes in the form of a simple, easy to make homemade blueberry jam. If you love blueberries, this Dutch Baby has your name on it. 

I was a bit heavy handed with the blueberries when I made this Dutch Baby. I used almost 1 1/2 cups. Which may have been a half cup too much. So the recipe below recommends using only one cup of fresh blueberries. If you want to go full throttle with 1 1/2 cups, wait until after you make it with only one cup. You can always sprinkle a half-cup of fresh blueberries on top of the baked Dutch Baby.

The easiest way to make the batter for the Dutch Baby is to put all of the ingredients, except the blueberries of course, in a blender. Give a whirl for 45-60 seconds and it's done. After making a number of Dutch Babies over the years, I have learned two things. The first is let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes before pouring it into the pan. The second,  more valuable lesson, is to make the make the batter the night before. Giving it a whirl in the blender just before pouring into the hot pan. The resting time seems enhance the 'puffiness' of the baked Dutch Baby.

Using a technique shared by another blogger, the cast iron pan was placed in a pre-heated 450 degree (F) oven for 20-30 minutes. When the butter hits this really hot pan, it will sizzle, slightly brown and melt almost instantly. The lightly browned butter adds yet another flavor dimension to this dutch baby. Immediately after the butter melts, pour in the batter and and quickly get the pan back into the oven.

Baking time for this Dutch Baby is 20-25 minutes. Wait until you get close to the 20 minute mark before opening up the oven to check on it. You know it's done when the sides have puffed up and are golden in color. Additionally, the center of the Dutch Baby will have risen slightly and firmed up a bit. The weight of the blueberries will cause this Dutch Baby not to rise as high as those where the fruit is added after the baking process. Not to worry, it will still be a sight to behold when you bring it to the table.

A light dusting of confectionary sugar is all this Blueberry Dutch Baby needs. 

Finish with several dollops of the Homemade Blueberry Sauce and some lightly toasted sliced almonds and your Dutch Baby is ready to serve.

Don't forget to bring the extra blueberry sauce to the table when serving the Dutch Baby. To take it a bit over the top, you could finish the Dutch Baby with some lightly sweetened creme fraiche. But trust me when I tell you it is so blueberry-icious good it doesn't even need it.

There are several differences between this Blueberry Dutch Baby and the other one posted to the blog. Not only does is there a tad bit more sugar in the batter, but the addition of the cinnamon sends this one to a new level of delectableness. 

Forgive me if I am being a bit redundant, but everyone should own at least one cast iron pan. Why? Well because they make the absolutely best Dutch Babies. And a breakfast, birthday celebration, or holiday brunch doesn't get any better than when it includes a Dutch Baby. Especially this impressive, easy to make Blueberry Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce and Toasted Almonds. Bring it to any table, stand back, and enjoy the proverbial drop the mic moment.

Happy Easter everyone! May your baskets be overflowing with eggs in all of your favorite colors!

Blueberry Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce and Toasted Almonds
Serves 2 starving people, 4 hungry people, or 6 able to show restraint people

Blueberry Dutch Baby
3/4 cup (100g) all-purpose flour
3 large eggs 
3/4 cup (6 ounces) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup fresh blueberries
4  Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
Confectionary sugar
2-3 Tablespoons sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Optional: Lightly sweetened creme fraiche.

Blueberry Sauce

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup caster or granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Blueberry Sauce
1. In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, water, sugar, and lemon juice.
2. Bring mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for several minutes.
3. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened (approximately 10-15 minutes).
4. Transfer to a serving dish.

Dutch Baby
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F). Place a 10-11 inch cast iron pan in the oven for 20-30 minutes. 
2. In a blender, whip the milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt, flour, and cinnamon for approximately 45-60 seconds. Allow mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes before adding the blueberries. Note: If not using immediately, cover and store in the refrigerator. Add the blueberries right before ready to add the batter to the pan.
3. Carefully remove pan from oven and add butter. As soon as butter has melted immediately pour the batter into the hot pan. Quickly return the pan to the oven and bake until the sides are puffed up and golden brown (approximately 20-25 minutes).
4. Remove the Blueberry Dutch Baby from the oven and place pan on a wire rack. Lightly dust with confectionary sugar. Spread a couple of tablespoons of the homemade blueberry sauce on the bottom of the Dutch Baby. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. (See notes below for an alternative presentation.)
5. Serve immediately. Don't forget to bring the remaining blueberry sauce to the table. 

Notes: (1) Batter can be made the night before but without the addition of the blueberries. Briefly pulse in the blender before pouring into the hot pan. (2) Use a 10 inch to 11 inch cast iron pan for this recipe. (3) Cover and refrigerate any leftover blueberry sauce. It's great on pancakes, waffles, and even ice cream. (4) For an over the top Blueberry Dutch Baby serve with lightly sweetened, lightly whipped creme fraiche. After lightly dusting with confectionary sugar, drop dollops of the creme fraiche on the just out of the oven Blueberry Dutch Baby before dropping dollops of the blueberry sauce. Finish with a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds. (5) To make the lightly sweetened creme fraiche, whip together 8 ounces of creme fraiche, 2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 3 Tablespoons of confectionary sugar. Beat until the mixture hold soft peaks. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve if make in advance.

Sunrise in South Carolina