Almond Cherry Cake

[Almond Cherry Cake]Searching for a suitable dessert to make for Easter Dinner at my mom’s house is a delicious challenge. While most of us enjoy a chocolate whatever-you-bake special dinners are a chance do something different. I had some cherries in the freezer that I wanted to do something with. An hour lost to the Internet provided several options. In the end I opted for this lovely creation on the right.

Notes under the cut

Brown Sugar Cookies

Browned butter and dark brown sugar combined equals something delightful. These cookies are pretty sweet yet I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself reaching for a second one.

We came across the original recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. While we enjoy reading the magazine, and watching the TV programs by the same producers, I think they tend to overwrite their recipes. I’ve tried to simplify the instructions while giving you advance notice that some ingredients are used in different steps.

Brown Sugar Cookies
Servings: ~30 cookies
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 14 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 2 cups plus Tbsp. all-purpose flour (~300g)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking pans with parchment.
  2. Place 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a the bowl of a stand mixer and set it aside. Heat the remaining butter in a stainless-steel skillet over medium heat until melted. Continue to cook until the butter is dark golden brown and you smell a nutty aroma. You’ll want to swirl the melted butter after it melts to ensure even browning. Add the browned butter to mixer bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  3. While the butter cools mix the granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate, until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, soda, powder and salt). Finally combine the egg, extra yolk and vanilla in a small bowl and beat until blended. All 3 bowls can be set aside.
  4. When the butter is cooled add the remaining dark brown sugar and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg mixture. Beat again until combined and scrape once more. Finally add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. This is a dense dough so you might want to give your mixer a break if it sounds like it is straining.
  5. Use a disher to scoop out 12 balls of dough. Roll each between your hands and then toss with the reserved sugar. Place 12 coated dough balls on one of the baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the pan, and finish baking for 6 additional minutes.
  6. While the first pan of cookies bakes you can scoop up, form and coat the remaining dough. I usually usually end up with about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Notes:
I use a #40 disher to get ~30 cookies. You can tell the disher size by the number stamped into the sweep inside the bowl of the disher. In theory the stamped number indicates the number of scoops necessary to fill a 32 oz. container. Dishers are widely used in food services to control portion size.

Very Chocolate Cake

Our friend G celebrated his birthday this past weekend and IMHO birthdays require cake. He requested a cake of the red velvet variety. After a bit of research I came up with the following recipe. When finished I frosted it with cream cheese frosting for a delicious result.

Sadly, despite a whole bottle of gel paste food coloring, this cake did not turn out red. It was, however, a very delicious chocolate cake and I’m pretty sure part of deep chocolate color came from all the red dye. So I updated the name of the recipe and kept the food coloring.

Very Chocolate Cake
Servings: 12+
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes plus cooling time

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 oz. red food color
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • baking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13″x9″ with baking spray and then use a sheet of parchment paper to create a sling inside the pan.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
  3. Place the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high until fluffy. While butter beats beat the eggs and food coloring together. Add the egg mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until combined.
  4. Combine the buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla. Add a third of flour mixture to the butter/sugar followed by half the buttermilk mixture. Beat on low until just combined then repeat with another third of the flour and the remaining buttermilk. Beat again until just combined and add the remaining flour. Scrap the beater and give the batter a final stir by hand.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and distribute evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan 180° half way through cooking. Cake is done when a toothpick inserts in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting. Cool for 2 hours before frosting.

Notes:
I used gel food coloring paste in place of liquid food coloring. With a white or yellow cake batter the coloring paste produces a very vibrant hue. Red velvet being a chocolate based cake came out more murky red-brown.

I took inspiration from a couple of recipes I found online, which you can view here, here, and here.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cake

We celebrated a birthday at a recent Saturday night gathering and, for me, birthdays need cake. The birthday boy’s mom mentioned chocolate chip pancakes as something the 8 year old was asking for so I set out to make a cake that might, in some small way, match the flavor of the griddle cooked treats.

I leveraged this recipe from Jen’s Favorite Cookies and then ended up improvising after I realized I had doubled the butter.

The birthday boy liked the cake well enough that I hastily scribbled down some notes in the hopes of being able to produce something similar in the future.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cake
Servings: 12
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour plus time for the cake to cool (for 2 round pans)

Ingredients:

  • 405 grams (3 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (that’s 2 sticks), softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 12 oz. dark chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Greased the bottom and sides of 2 9″ cake pans. If you have parchment you can also place a parchment round in the bottom of the pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, salt, soda, powder, and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the vanilla and whisk until the eggs and vanilla are well combined.
  4. Add butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Start out on low until the sugar is mushed into the butter then increase the speed to medium-high for 3 minutes until the butter has lightened in color.
  5. Add the egg/vanilla mixture to the creamed butter/sugar and mix well.
  6. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the mix followed by a third of the buttermilk. Mix on medium-low until combined then add the next third of both flour and buttermilk. Mix again and add the last of the flour and buttermilk.
  7. Remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape the paddle and set aside. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, add the chocolate chips and mix to combine.
  8. Split the batter between the prepared pans (a scale help). Use your spatula to spread the batter evenly across each pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans half way through cooking.
  9. Before removing the pan make sure it is cooked through by either checking the temp. (it should be 210°F in the center) or, if you lack an instant read thermometer, the toothpick method (a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean).
  10. Move cake pans to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife between the pan and the cake, remove each cake from it’s pan and return the cake to the rack until completely cool.
  11. Frost with your choice of frosting, icing or whipped topping. I made a chocolate version of my regular buttercream frosting.

Notes:
I finally had a chance to make this in a 13″x9″ pan. Bake time was between 65-70 minutes. My plan is to skip frosting, serve it in the pan and dust it with a couple of tablespoons powdered sugar after it cools.

Bull (Anise Sweet Bread)

This recipe is based on one my great-grandmother made regularly and which my siblings adore. While it seems to be a sort of Portuguese sweet bread has always been called bull in my family. It is a slightly sweet, anise flavored bread. It is assembled and kneaded the night before, left to rise overnight and then formed into small round loaves.


Servings: 5 8″ round loaves
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 12 hours

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups flour plus a bit more for kneading
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed
  • 2 pkgs. yeast (about 4 1/2 tsp.)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 3/4 cups milk

Directions:

  1. Add the butter to the milk in a saucepan. Place over low heat until the butter melts. Do not let the milk boil. Allow the mixture to drop below 100°F before continuing.)
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, anise seeds and yeast in a large bowl; set aside.
  3. Scramble the eggs. Continue mixing the eggs and slowly add a ladle of lukewarm butter/milk mixture. Repeat two more times to temper the eggs. Add the eggs to the remaining butter/milk mixture; stir to combine.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a sturdy spoon until just combined into a dough. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Knead the dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place overnight.
  6. Divide into 5 equal portions. Round each portion into loves and place in a greased 8″ cake pan.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. When bread has completed doubled in size bake for 40 minutes, rotating pans half way through cooking.
  8. Remove from pans and allow to cool fully before cutting (if you can resist temptation).

Notes:
This bread also makes phenomenal toast.

Soft M&M Cookies

I made these for a pot-luck event I attended recently. I had a partial bag of M&Ms that I wanted to use up (so I wouldn’t keep eating them by the handful). I decided I wanted a soft cookie rather than a crisp one. There are multiple ways of doing that, though I’ve had varying degrees of success with them. More brown sugar than white seems to work best for me. The rest in the fridge helps as well.

These stayed fairly soft for the first couple of days after I made them. After that they started to get a bit stale. 5 seconds in the microwave did a far job in reviving them.

Soft M&M Cookies
Servings: 3 dozen
Prep time: 10 minutes plus minimum 2 hour rest
Total time: 3 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups M&Ms

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, cornstarch, soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  2. Combine the egg and vanilla in a small bowl; scramble until combined. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand-mixer, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium high until well-creamed and butter has lightened in color. Add the egg/vanilla mixture. Beat until combined with the creamed butter and sugar.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add the M&M and fold in until well distributed.
  5. Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Using a #40 disher to scoop out cookie balls. Fill the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can actually keep them in the fridge for a day or more in this state. See the notes at the end for longer storage options.
  6. When the dough has rested for at least 2 hours preheat your oven to 350°F. Line another baking sheet with parchment and place 12 cookie dough balls on the sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The cookies are done when the edges have just set. The tops will appear slightly underdone.
  7. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking rack for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Repeat baking process until all your cookies are baked.
  8. Cookies should be cooled completely before storing in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Notes:
Unbaked cookie dough balls can be stored in an air-tight container, in the fridge, for up to 5 days. Bake them up all at once or enjoy freshly baked, warm cookies, for a week.

This recipe borrows heavily from one by Averie Cooks.

Applesauce Spice Cake

This recipe comes from an tattered paperback copy of the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook I received ~20 years ago when I moved out on my own. The recipe language is rather sparse and yet I turn to this book time and again for some very delicious things. This cake is certainly among them.

Applesauce Spice Cake
Servings: 15
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (I used Ceylon Cinnamon from Penzeys)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cups currants
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries

Directions:

  1. Place rack in the medium position of your oven. Preheat to 350°F. Spray a 13″x9″ baking pan with non-stick spray and line with a sheet of parchment paper to form a sling along the long sides.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine sugar, shortening and applesauce in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for 30 seconds until it forms a paste. Add the water and eggs; beat on low for another 30 seconds to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients, beat on low until just combined and then raise speed to medium high for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the dried fruit and beat on medium for ~30 seconds until well combined.
  6. Scrap the batter into the prepared pan and distribute evenly. A couple of short drops of the filled pan onto the counter will help even out the batter and remove any air pockets that may exist (at least that’s what my mother told me).
  7. Bake for 60 minutes, rotating the pan for halfway through baking. Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. It should come out clean with no damp batter sticking to it.
  8. Allow cake to cool, in the pan, for 15 minutes, on a cooling rack. Slide a knife along the non-parchment sides of the pan to loosen the cake and then remove the cake using the sling. Carefully remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake and allow to cool completely.
  9. Dust with powdered sugar, drizzle with glaze or frost with something flavorful and tasty. Or just eat it as is ’cause it’s pretty darn tasty by itself.

Notes:
You could use 1 type of dried fruit, such as 1 cup of currants or dried cranberries rather than a mix.

The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. I left those out since this was for a potluck event and you never know who will have an allergy.