Tahini Jumble Cake

This cake wasn’t so much a project as a thrown-together amalgamation of the leftovers from my sesame/tahini experiments over the past week. I had a bunch of sesame-caramel ganache from my sesame macarons, plus extra sesame seed brittle from the ice cream I made to go with my sesame chess pie, plus extra egg yolks from that same pie, plus a few extra macarons that I hadn’t gotten around to eating yet… what else could I do but make a cake? (I do have a history of doing this, you know)

I looked hard to find a yellow cake recipe that would use my three extra yolks and no more, and I did find one, but honestly I didn’t care for it– it was an oil-based cake rather than a butter-based cake, and while the oil made for a very moist crumb I just think that the recipe called for too much oil. The batter didn’t fully emulsify and I got small tunnels in the finished crumb, plus the cake was so rich that it seemed heavy. I won’t post the cake recipe here– I need to find a better one for when I have extra yolks– but I will post the fabulous tahini buttercream that I made to go with it, which turned out great. The tahini added a wonderful savoriness to the frosting that worked well with the salted caramel ganache and the sugary macarons.

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

I was inspired to make these cupcakes by an episode of Nadiya Bakes, starring one of the winners of the Great British Baking Show, Nadiya Hussain. I enjoyed watching her on the original show, but I’m actually more impressed by her current work! In any event, I didn’t use her actual recipe, but I did use it as a jumping-off point for my own version, which turned out reasonably well. Honestly, I thought they had room for improvement, but multiple people have told me they were great as-is, so I guess you’ll have to decide!

The concept is that you take a golden Oreo and put it in the bottom of a cupcake liner, topped with a single whole strawberry. Then you pour vanilla cake batter over it and bake the cupcakes that way. Topped with a strawberry buttercream flavored with freeze-dried strawberries, the fruity flavor really comes through! That being said, I found that the Oreo got very hard after being baked, which was not to my taste– I did overbake the cupcakes a bit, which may have contributed to the issue, but don’t be surprised if your Oreo toasts up and gets extremely crunchy!

I will note that this cake batter must be essentially foolproof, because despite my putting the ingredients together in completely the wrong order, messing up the amount of liquid, and over-baking the batter because I forgot to set a timer, it still turned out well! As for the frosting, it was fabulous and I will add it to my permanent recipe file– it’s that good!

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Rolled Honey Florentines

Originally this post was going to be about honey macarons filled with honey buttercream, but once I made them I realized that while the buttercream was incredible, the macaron recipe needed more tweaking, so stay tuned for that later. In the meantime, I had leftover honey buttercream (so good!) and had to figure out what to do with it– I knew I wanted something else with honey, and nuts of some kind– and it had to be crispy to give some good texture contrast. Florentines seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so away I went!

Florentines are basically made of caramel with some nuts and maybe a bit of flour folded in for better texture– you cook the butter and sugar together (in this case, adding honey), add the dry ingredients, then bake teeny-tiny spoonfuls of batter until they spread, bubble, and get all nice and lacy. The finished cookies, when warm, can be molded into shapes that crisp up as they cool. I used walnuts in my cookies, but you could use almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, or even nothing at all– the lacy cookies will still be delicious.

There are only two tough parts, and both have to do with timing: first, you need to watch the cookies in the oven like a hawk, because they can go from toasty gold brown to burned in seconds. And second, if you’re shaping the cookies you need to get them off the sheet at just the right moment and mold them for just long enough that they hold their shape– I’m pretty good, but at six cookies per baking sheet, two sheets at a time it’s tough to mold them all before they start to get too stiff. I’ve found that both of these problems can be addressed by staggering the batches– total bake time is 8-10 minutes per sheet, so you put in one sheet, wait five minutes, then put in the other. While you’re cooling and molding the cookies on the first sheet, the second sheet is still baking, and ought to come out just as you finish the first set.

The crispy rolled cookies are then piped full of a creamy honey filling, which I made by taking my caramelized honey buttercream from my macaron attempt, and whipping in some heavy cream to lighten it up a bit. The contrast between the crunchy outside and light and creamy inside is heavenly, and the flavor divine.

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Cupcake “Sliders”

sliders

This past Father’s Day my daughter decided that she wanted to make something fun for dessert for her dad– and since she’s recently been obsessed with “food impostors,” we thought it would great to make cupcakes that looked like cheeseburgers– mini cheeseburger sliders, of course, since full-sized ones would be a bit too much for even my husband’s sweet tooth to handle!

We decided to keep things simple and use box mixes as our base ingredients– a box of french vanilla cake mix, and a box of fudge brownie mix (though to avoid having a gigantic plateful of cupcakes we only used half of the cake mix).

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Striped Un-Party Cake!

unparty-cake

This cake (I call it my Un-Party Cake because I didn’t have a specific occasion to make it for) is the result of a bunch of different situations– first (of course), we’re stuck inside due to coronavirus, so grocery shopping isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Second, the other day I was making egg salad and realized that we were out of mayonnaise, so I made some from scratch (fun!). However, that left me with a bunch of extra mayo on hand that I had no immediate use for, and to keep it from going bad I decided to use it to make a cake. It had to be chocolate, because I’d used a touch of mustard in making the mayonnaise to help it emulsify, and I was worried that the flavor might come through in a vanilla cake.

Third, I had plenty of random stuff available to garnish this cake– half a can of chocolate frosting left in the refrigerator that I could use as the base for a larger batch, some seedless raspberry jam I wanted to use up (because I prefer the flavor of the seeded kind), and the dregs of various packages of cookies and candy that had been pushed to the back of our pantry over time. So we got to work.

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Pink Peppercorn Cake with Raspberries and Rose Buttercream

So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!

After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.

I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!

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Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

stout-banner

Every now and then I like to bring in treats to work– sometimes it’s because I have extra ingredients, sometimes it’s a holiday, or sometimes I just feel like baking something I don’t want to finish eating myself. This was basically all three– I made these for St. Patrick’s Day but didn’t get around to blogging about them until now. They’re miniature chocolate cupcakes, made with chocolate stout beer in the batter, and more in the frosting. I admit that I couldn’t taste the beer in the finished cake, but the frosting made up for it by providing just enough deep, slightly bitter flavor.

Usually I make cupcakes full-sized, but for workplace treats I tend to go mini– that way people don’t feel guilty eating one (or more!) Also, they’re so darned cute…

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Swiss Non-Meringue Buttercream

smbc-raspberry

My favorite vanilla frosting is definitely a cooked flour frosting (recipe here), because it’s light and creamy without any of the tooth-aching sweetness of standard American buttercream, and without the mouth-coating butteriness of Swiss meringue buttercream. For a second choice, though, between American and Swiss I would prefer Swiss meringue if not for one thing– the sheer amount of extra work involved in making the meringue. First you separate all your eggs, being careful not to let a single speck of yolk contaminate the whites. Then you dissolve the sugar in them, whisking the whole time over a double-boiler to avoid cooking them. Then you have to beat them into a stiff meringue, which takes forever even with a stand mixer. If you’ve let even the tiniest bit of fat into your egg whites, they don’t whip up. So much trouble! And the strangest thing is, once you’ve done all that work to create a fluffy, stable, fat-free meringue… you beat a whole bunch of butter into it, immediately deflating it. It makes no sense!

But then I did a little digging online and read– wonder of wonders!– that you don’t have to go through all of that. That the beating of the egg whites is completely unnecessary, and that you can skip that step (and the attendant non-contamination stress) entirely, and still come out with a perfectly good frosting. I had to try it.

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Ispahan = Perfection

ispahan macaron

Okay, so having tried Pierre Herme’s Ispahan in panna cotta and granita, I’m ready to bite the bullet and try reproducing the exact dessert I had in Paris. Here’s a photo I took of the original for comparison:

ispahan macaron original

To recap, it’s two macaron shells filled with rose-flavored cream, lychees, and fresh raspberries. Because of the chilling and resting time you’ll need to start these at least a day before you plan on serving them.

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