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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Trying out for The Great American Baking Show

Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!

I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!

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Coconut Ice Cream with Roasted Pineapple

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On our not-so-recent Hawaiian vacation (I still miss the islands!) my daughter spied an ice cream shop selling Pineapple-Coconut ice cream and was instantly drooling at the thought. We bought some, and it was decadently creamy and coconut-y, but there was next to no pineapple, which made it somewhat disappointing given that “pineapple” was the first word in the name. I vowed then and there to make my own version, though as you’ll see below I didn’t technically keep that vow…

The coconut ice cream was simple– while I’ve made custard-based ice creams before, for this recipe I decided to go with an eggless base to ensure that the eggy richness of custard didn’t overpower the coconut flavor. It totally worked– the finished ice cream was creamy and coconut-y, and (unlike many homemade ice creams) scooped smoothly and easily right out of the freezer. I toasted half of the coconut to add an extra dimension of flavor and some texture, and really liked the result. All in all, an excellent ice cream.

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Black Bean Brownies

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I admit to being skeptical about “healthy” desserts using alternative ingredients– they never taste quite right, and you end up eating more of them anyway because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the “healthy” moniker. So it took me a while before trying this brownie recipe, which uses black beans as a base and which is also gluten-free. But since I was trying to avoid flour this month (my usual diet is way too starchy) I thought this might be a tasty dessert option.

Reviews of similar recipes have been mixed– some people rave over them, others claim that the texture is off-putting and the bean flavor is too obvious. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. These brownies are nice and chocolate-y, with no hint of bean flavor, even as an aftertaste. However, the texture is definitely not that of a regular brownie– they’re not chewy at all, nor are they gooey enough to be considered fudge-y. They’re soft, but not cakey– they’re kind of like a dry soufflĂ©, in that they melt away easily in the mouth. And they’re not dense but I wouldn’t call them light either. In short, the texture is difficult to define, but not unpleasant.

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Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding

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During a recent visit to the King Arthur Flour bakery in Vermont I purchased a loaf of challah, fully intending to pull pieces off of it for the next several hours and devour most of the loaf that way. Isn’t that the best way to eat fresh bread? Sadly, I ended up getting distracted and by the time I got back to my loaf it was partly stale and didn’t lend itself well to nibbling on.

However, stale bread is still good for plenty of things– not least of which is bread pudding. Not just any bread pudding– chocolate bread pudding. DARK chocolate bread pudding, which makes it that much more decadent. I pulled this recipe from King Arthur Flour’s own website and have been eating the results for breakfast for the past week. Superb.

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 6 1/2 cups bread cubes from a 1-lb loaf of challah or brioche
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped or in chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 3 cups milk or half & half
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a lightly buttered 9×13″ pan, combine bread cubes with 1 cup of the chopped chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan, combine remaining chocolate with sugar, cocoa, and 1 1/2 cups of the milk or half and half. Cook over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

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3. Remove from heat and add remaining dairy. Then whisk in eggs, salt, and vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and let it soak in for about 30 minutes.

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5. In the meantime, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

6. When the custard has soaked in, bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Honey-Cardamom Pear Tartlets

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Recently, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring to a Lunar New Year party. More specifically, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring that was not red bean cream puffs, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making the craquelin topping and I still needed something bite-sized and tasty. I was going through my old recipes when I came across my post about honey-cornflake crunchies and it occurred to me that they might make a neat base for a different kind of dessert combining honey with some other flavor components.

I decided to flavor my filling with cardamom, since it’s often paired with honey. I’d originally planned to make a simple stabilized whipped cream filling, but concluded that it would be too light in comparison to the crunchy base and opted instead to give it a richer mouthfeel by combining two concepts– stabilized whipped cream and cooked-flour frosting. Both involve beating a thickened pudding-like mixture into the dairy– it’s just that the frosting uses butter instead of liquid cream. My experimental recipe worked beautifully, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Of course, once I’d settled on cream-filled tartlets, I felt that they needed something more, for texture, and flavor. After a false start (persimmons apparently just went out of season, boo!) I settled on pears and pistachios, both classic pairings with cardamom.

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Egg Yolk Sponge Cake with Lemon Filling

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After making a double batch of white cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Galaxy birthday cake, I had eight egg yolks left over, plus a bunch of zested lemons, a block of cream cheese, and most of a can of sweetened condensed milk left from other party treats. Always loath to waste things, I decided to use the leftovers to make a dessert the following weekend. Fortuitously, the ingredients all worked out reasonably well.

The tough part was the egg yolks– ordinarily I’d consider a creme brulĂ©e, but I wanted something more portable and shareable, so I managed to find a sponge cake recipe that calls for all yolks rather than all whites. I was skeptical, but it came out okay. A little dry, I thought, though I don’t believe it was overbaked– I think a little oil or butter would’ve helped it retain more moisture. However, it had a nice flavor, a lovely golden color due to all the yolks, and it split easily after cooling to make two layers.

To use up the lemons, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, it was easy to find a recipe for lemon icebox pie using those ingredients. I figured that if I made the filling and let it thicken most of the way before spreading it between my cake layers, it would work out. Oddly enough, it stayed pretty loose– more like regular pudding than like a firmer pie filling– but it tasted good. Not very lemony (likely due to the lack of lemon zest) but good. More like a cheesecake with a hint of lemon.

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