Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

5 October 2017

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Autumn is here, majestically, and there are just a few more chances to eat plums before apples and pears, like cuckoos displacing another’s eggs, occupy our fruit baskets until spring.

In this season, plums signal cake — a streak of autumn riding on the rays of summer; the rhythmic reassurance of an oven heating after months of outdoor grilling and barely any cooking.

And to the point, I already have at least one October plum cake on these pages somewhere. It is a fine plum cake, but there can never be too many, and as a genuine ritual it bears validation.

Like many of my cakes, this one is easy. It is loosely based on a basic pound cake recipe, simply transmogrified by those plums, some lemon zest, and a scattering of buckwheat. An astonishing combination.

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Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

Juice and zest from one lemon
240g butter
200g light brown sugar plus one or two tablespoons for the plums
4 large eggs
100g flour
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds (or almond flour)
1 lb (450g) plums (one or a combination of greengages, Victoria plums, Italian plums, quetsches but not the plump watery supermarket varieties that have no taste)

Let the butter soften at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter generously an 25cm (9″) round cake form.

Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Wash, cut, and stone the plums. Toss the quarters with the lemon juice (not the zest!) and one or two tablespoons of sugar. Set aside.

Beat the softened butter and sugar thoroughly with a wooden spoon until creamy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well between each egg. Once all the eggs are incorporated, add the flours together with the baking powder, then the ground almonds and the lemon zest.

Gently add the plums to the batter and stir to combine. Scrape into the prepared cake tin, slide into the oven, and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes. The cake will be done when a knife/toothpick/skewer comes out clean (the juicier the plums, the longer it may take).

Let cool a little or completely before serving. As always, thick yogurt or clotted cream are fine companions.

 

Tahini chocolate chip cookies

30 June 2017

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I had never made chocolate chip cookies. I am not sure I had ever even eaten a chocolate chip cookie. I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly. I have never found chocolate chip cookies very exciting. But hint at the addition of tahini, and I suddenly find myself ensnared in a cookie baking extravaganza.

You are enraged by my disparagement. But listen. Tahini transports that rather pedestrian cookie to a different place, another time, other scents, new flavors. Suddenly, I am traveling, just with the whiffs from my oven, all in that first bite.

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I understand your skepticism, why take advice from a self-declared chocolate chip cookie non-believer? Because, whether you love chocolate chip cookies or not, these are special.

Even David Lebovitz says so: ‘[They] were some of the best chocolate chip cookies that have ever come out of my oven…’ — See?

Salted tahini chocolate chip from Danielle Oron via David Lebovitz
Note: Plan ahead, the dough should rest overnight before baking

230 g dark chocolate (1 3/4 cups once cut into chunks)
115 g (8 Tbsps) butter, softened at room temperature
120 g (1/2 cup) tahini
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
90 g (1/2 cup) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
150 g (1 cup plus 2 Tbsps) flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
Fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt to sprinkle on the cookies at the end (optional)

Chop the chocolate into rough chunks (about 1/2 or 1/4 inch).

Make sure the butter is very soft. In a bowl or stand mixer, beat together the butter, tahini, and sugars until light and fluffy (a good 3 to 5 minutes).

Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla extract and continue to stir until the egg is well incorporated (another few minutes).

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and sea salt.

Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/sugar, mixing lightly until just combined. Add the chocolate, mindful not to overmix. Cover the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or up to one week if it’s more convenient!).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

With a spoon or with your hands, form a small ball for each cookie. Place the balls on the baking sheet, at least 8 cm (3 cm) apart (the cookies will spread!).

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on their size. Best to watch them like a hawk and remove the cookies from the oven as soon as they turn golden on the outside but are still pale and soft in the middle (I overcooked my batch!). Immediately sprinkle with few flakes of salt, if using.

Let cool before eating. The cookies will keep for a few days at room temperature in a cookie jar.

 

Rhubarb almond cake

5 May 2017

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This is simply the best rhubarb cake, and possibly the best use of rhubarb in any form, in my opinion. (Hmm — on second thought, rhubarb ice cream is high in contention.)

The strands of rhubarb on top are striking, but this cake is much more than a pretty picture. It has excellent crunchiness on the outside; soft, near-cheesecake quality in the center; while the rhubarb’s tartness plays off a subtle sweetness. It is not exactly easy, but it’s certainly worth the — slight — effort.

Rhubarb almond cake recipe from Bon Appétit with just a few tweaks

225 g (1 cup) butter (plus a bit more for the pan)
175 g + 3 Tbsps (3/4 cup and a bit) sugar
450 g (1 lb) rhubarb stalks
150 g (1 1/4 cup) flour
100 g (3/4 cup) blanched almonds (or almond flour)
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
Zest from 1/2 lemon
2 large eggs
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain thick Greek-style yogurt

Bring the butter to room temperature *Note: The batter needs to be beaten for a good length of time, so it is best to use a food processor. However if, like me, you do it all by hand, make sure the butter is very soft before you start, it will make things much easier.*

Preheat oven to 150°C (350°F).

Butter a cake tin (9″ in diameter), sprinkle some sugar and tap out the excess.

Wash the stalks of rhubarb, slice them in half lengthwise (in four parts if the stalks are very thick). Reserve about 8 of the prettiest strands to decorate the cake. Chop the rest of the rhubarb into 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt until the almonds are finely ground. *Alternatively, if using almond flour, mix all those ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.*

In another bowl or electric mixer, beat together 225 g butter and 175 g sugar. And beat. And beat. If possible, beat for at least 4 minutes to get the lightest dough. Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating the first before adding the second. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter (or add the vanilla extract), as well as the lemon zest. Beat again vigorously for a good 3 to 4 minutes.

Slowly (without any more beating from this point) incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter, and finally the yogurt. Once everything is combined, add the chopped rhubarb. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape it into the buttered cake pan, smooth the batter as best possible, arrange the reserved strands of rhubarb on top, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Place the cake in the oven and bake for 70-80 minutes until the cake is set and a knife comes out clean. It will have browned nicely on top.

Let the cake cool completely before removing from the tin.

This cake gets better overnight and it keeps for a few days well wrapped at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Related recipes

Rhubarb ice cream  **  Rhubarb compote

Rhubarb raspberry crostata  **  Rhubarb rosemary jam

Rhubarb rosemary syrup

French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller ones, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also able to stand deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. While exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — we French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold
1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
4 large organic eggs
1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar
5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tin, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made many times suddenly doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above
1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot of oil or melted butter
2 pots sugar
3 pots flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot (100ml) melted butter
1 pot (100ml) olive oil
3 pots (300 ml) brown sugar
3 pots (300 ml) flour
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 2 lemons
Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Festive birthday cake (pictured above)
NOTE: I don’t use almond flour for this version because it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through

Use the above recipe without nuts — use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour)

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy!


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