Flourless Pecan Cake

Pecans are definitely my favorite nuts– they have this wonderfully caramel-y flavor that adds richness to any recipe they’re a part of. Almonds are more versatile, and walnuts are cheaper, but it’s always pecans for me. Which is why, when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a cake featuring a full pound of toasted pecans, I had to try it.

The recipe uses finely ground pecans instead of flour, with browned butter to amp up the caramel notes, and boy, is it delicious! It’s soft and moist, and intensely flavorful; the pecans add a somewhat rustic texture, but the complex flavor makes it sophisticated. I served mine with whipped cream and berries, but it would be amazing all by itself– I’ll eat mine with a nice cup of tea, but it would go equally well with a glass of dark beer, I think.

If you want to make this yourself, the two steps to watch out for are the browning of the butter– you need to be careful not to let it burn– and the whipping/folding of the egg whites to avoid deflation. The result is totally worth it.

Thanks again, Deb, for an amazing recipe!

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Pumpkin Brown Butter Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!

That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.

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Brown Butter Pound Cake with Peaches, Butterscotch Sauce and Whipped Sour Cream

Well, there’s a monster of a title for this dessert… but each component is so important that I just couldn’t leave any of them out!

Now that summer is drawing to a close I’ve been trying to take advantage of summer fruits as much as possible, so when I had occasion to make dessert for a crowd I decided to center it on fresh peaches, which looked great at the market and were just squeezably ripe (but sadly did not live up to their promise flavor-wise). Since one of my favorite uses of fresh fruit is to spoon it over an otherwise basic cake, I found a recipe that was only slightly fancied-up with brown butter, and pulled out my Gothic bundt pan to make it look extra pretty. For once, the cake unmolded perfectly (see tips below) and the brown butter added some nice depth of flavor. I could have stopped there, of course, but once I tasted the peaches I knew I’d need something more.

Enter this tasty butterscotch sauce, which I got from David Lebovitz. If you recall, I’ve had previous experience trying to improve mediocre peaches with butterscotch sauce, so I knew it would help. Add a softly whipped topping made from heavy cream and sour cream, and the extra sweetness and tanginess did a lot to make this dessert a success, despite the disappointing peaches.

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Blackberry Tea Cakes


I attended a tea party recently– the best kind of tea party, with tiered servers and tiny sandwiches and itty-bitty desserts of all kinds– so of course I had to bring something of my own to contribute. The more elaborate dishes were already taken care of, so I thought it would be nice to have a plateful of relatively simple tea cakes on the table.

I immediately thought of friands and financiers– two traditional French cakes made with almond meal that I’ve always wanted to try– but the guest list included some nut allergies, so those were out. Still, I figured that I could use brown butter (another traditional component of French cakes) for flavor and a high sugar content to get a touch of chewiness, and with a little searching found a recipe that I thought might work as a base.

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Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs


You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning, with a long day of doing nothing in front of you, and you feel like having an indulgent breakfast? It doesn’t happen very often for me (at least not the “doing nothing” part), but recently I found myself with just such a day, and decided to take advantage of it. But what to make? Pancakes weren’t special enough, I didn’t have any good bread to make french toast, and we didn’t have any good omelette fillings in the fridge. I scrolled through my list of bookmarked breakfast ideas when I came across a recipe for “breakfast puffs.”

Breakfast puffs (also referred to as “french breakfast puffs” or “doughnut muffins”) are basically nutmeg-scented muffins, dipped in melted butter and rolled in cinnamon-sugar while still warm. They supposedly taste just like warm doughnuts, but without the frying. Sounded perfect.

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Background noise and madeleines

Hi. I’m Tanya, and I’m addicted to projects. They’re usually small and cute, but occasionally get a bit out of hand, as my friends and family can testify. By way of background, past projects include The Great Hat Undertaking of 2009-2011, 31 Days of Halloween, various costumes and themed parties (adult and child), the development of a petit four/mooncake hybrid (still not perfect), and The Mean Doll (so named by my 3-year-old). I’ll be posting about those later, I promise! For my first post, however, I decided to start small, with madeleines. Yes, yes, everyone knows about Proust and madeleines, how they were supposedly this transcendent experience when dunked in just the right tea, but I mostly wanted to try making them because they were pretty.


Off to the internet I went, recklessly purchasing a set of madeleine pans (I’d never even tried them at this point, remember) and trying to find the perfect recipe. I tried one that looked promising, but it was such a failure I won’t even post the link to the recipe. Suffice it to say that it had almost twice as much butter as recipes I found later (surprisingly, not a good thing), and fell flat in every sense of the word. Greasy, flat, boring– I threw them out, and went in search of more recipes.

Comparing several, which involved different techniques and varying levels of difficulty, I narrowed it down to two. Both recipes called for the same basic ingredients– butter, flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla– but Recipe #2 involved baking powder and some serious whipping of eggs to the “ribbon stage,” which would necessitate the use of a stand mixer, while Recipe #3 (from Julia Child) needed brown butter, but just called for a wooden spoon, with no extra leavening. The general consensus online was that Recipe #3 was more “authentic,” whatever that meant, but I was willing to give both a shot. Here’s how it went:

Recipe #2 turned out gorgeous. Just beautiful. Golden, fluffy, slightly crisp around the edges. When dusted in powdered sugar they could’ve been on a magazine cover. And they tasted good, with good vanilla flavor (using my homemade vanilla extract– another project). But the fluffiness lacked textural interest, and after sitting overnight in a ziploc bag they lost all of that slight crispness on the outside edges that made them at all interesting. Not ideal.

Recipe #3 turned out less than gorgeous, but it was probably my fault. Rather than go to the trouble of mixing some of the brown butter with flour and painting the insides of the molds, I took a shortcut and just sprayed the molds with baking spray. The result was unevenly browned madeleines, which were pasty in some spots and over-browned in others. However, the flavor was still good (especially with the browned butter), and the texture, even after days in a plastic bag, was almost perfect. The madeleines were dense, with an outer “crust” that provided a really nice contrast to the inside softness. Importantly, the crust didn’t soften over time.

Comparison of the three recipes:

madeleines compare

You can see how flat the initial recipe was– a consequence of too much butter. The middle one was much better, and the last was unevenly browned. None were perfect. Since I wanted to keep the crust but lighten up the crumb a bit, I decided to try #3 again, this time adding a mere 1/4 tsp. of baking powder, and actually doing the “paint the molds with butter” thing. Results?

madeleines 1

Perfect. These baked up perfectly golden, rising higher than the original recipe but still with a nice bite to them, and (best of all) required no special equipment to mix up. They slide right out of non-stick pans, so watch out when you go to unmold them– it would be a shame to lose one!

So, final recipe for perfect madeleines (adapted from From Julia Child’s Kitchen)

(makes 24)

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

4 ounces unsalted butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons for buttering the molds (total of 5 1/4 ounces)

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon (optional)

3 drops of lemon juice (optional)

1 tablespoon flour

Powdered sugar for dusting

Melt the butter in a saucepan and boil until it browns very lightly. Set aside 1 1/2 tablespoons of the browned butter and stir in the tablespoon of flour. Cool the remaining butter to room temperature, using a water bath or refrigerator.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and add three quarters of the beaten eggs, plus vanilla and lemon zest/juice if using.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth – if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

Beat the remaining bit of egg into the batter and stir in the cool butter. Cover the batter, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375. Paint the Madeleine molds with a light coating of the browned butter and flour mixture, wiping up any pools that form in the bottom.

Using a spoon or piping bag, drop a rounded tablespoonful of batter into each Madeleine mold.  Do not spread the batter to fill the mold.

Set pans on the middle rack and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until edges are golden brown. (if they won’t fit on one rack, put them in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and rotate halfway through) Unmold onto a cooling rack. When completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.