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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Sesame Ganache Macarons

These macarons were the result of my seeing that recipe for sesame chess pie and noting that 1) it would require me to buy sesame seeds and tahini, and 2) it would result in extra egg whites. I figured that I could take advantage of both these facts and make sesame-flavored macarons, which turned out pretty well! I used my standard macaron recipe and technique, sprinkling sesame seeds on top of the batter before baking, but the filling was where the sesame really came out.

The filling is more complicated than a plain ganache– it’s actually a caramel sauce blended with melted chocolate, and then emulsified with butter for a smooth, creamy texture. I got the recipe from Cloudy Kitchen and split it in two so I could try a white chocolate variation on the milk chocolate original, and both turned out quite well (even if it did make a ton of filling– I’ll have to find something else to do with all of the extra!). I would recommend these if you want something a little different and don’t mind multi-step processes!

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Striped Un-Party Cake!

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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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Orange-Chocolate Macarons

This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!

Look at those perfect feet!

I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).

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Tree Stump Cake and Meringue Mushrooms

For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.

For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.

I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.

I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!

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Chocolate Pumpkin Marble Cake with Pumpkin-Ginger Cream

It’s fall, which in baking terms means pumpkin and spices and all things warm and cozy! That being said, while I’m perfectly happy to bake standard pumpkin muffins at home, when it comes to parties I always have to try something more interesting. That’s why, for a recent potluck, I came up with this recipe, which combines pumpkin and ginger and all those other spicy fall flavors with chocolate– and it was a great combination!

That being said, while I increased the original cake recipe by 50% to make a taller cake (big crowd expected), in retrospect I think this was a mistake– the cake-to-frosting ratio was off. I’ve reduced the cake amounts back down for this post, so your cake will not turn out as tall as the one in the photo– this will be a good thing! I’m kind of tempted to try to make this into cupcakes next time so I can really pile on the frosting– you should try it!

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Peanut Butter-Chocolate Fault Line Cake

So, once I’d made my cake layers, my fudge frosting, and a peanut butter cream cheese frosting (no real recipe here, I just beat together 4 oz. each of butter and cream cheese, added about 3/4 cup of peanut butter and a splash of vanilla, and then added powdered sugar until the texture was right), it was finally time to assemble the cake.

First, I removed my frozen cake layers and set them on the counter to thaw. After about 45 minutes they were cold enough to be firm but thawed enough to be workable, so I used a long, serrated knife to level off the tops. I stacked them with peanut butter frosting and ran a thin crumb-coat over the whole thing before setting it in the refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes or so. At this point I will note that I made a mistake in using crunchy peanut butter (what I had on hand) for the frosting, because peanut chunks do not make for a smooth crumb coat. Oh well…

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Ganache Fudge Frosting

So, having found a new chocolate cake recipe, I decided to try a new chocolate frosting recipe! I’d previously decided on this one as my go-to, but I think it may have been beaten (heh, baking joke) by this new one!

This recipe, from Serious Eats, starts off with a basic cocoa buttercream, but then adds a healthy dose of bittersweet chocolate ganache to really amp up the chocolate flavor. The reviews were excellent, and boy, did it deliver! This is officially my new favorite chocolate frosting, and you’ll see how I use it in my next post!

Sure, it takes a little extra time to make and cool the ganache, but the results are amazing. Smooth, creamy, and a nicely deep, dark, chocolate-y flavor. It does whip up just a little bit loose at first, but some time in the fridge will fix that if you stir it periodically to keep the chilling even.

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Peanut Butter Blondies

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Yup, it’s another peanut butter-chocolate recipe. And another Smitten Kitchen recipe, to boot. But these peanut butter blondies are easy to make, extremely tasty, and just as good frozen as they are fresh, so I’m not going to worry too much about repetitiveness or derivativeness (is that even a word?).

This recipe makes a full 9×13″ pan of ganache-topped peanut butter blondies, studded with chocolate chips and with just enough peanut butter flavor to hit your tastebuds without being overwhelming. They’re rich but addictive.

The texture is great, too, though I will note that many of the reviewers of the original recipe found the baking time to be too long, resulting in dry blondies. I baked mine just until a toothpick emerged with tons of moist crumbs, and also found the edges too dry for my taste– this may have been due to the fact that I used a glass pan, which retains heat better than metal pans and which will basically keep the cooking process going even after the pan is removed from the oven. If you’re using a glass pan, I would recommend taking the blondies out of the oven after 30-35 minutes. If you’re using a metal pan, 35-40 should be fine.

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Espresso Brownie Bites

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In case you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of baking pans. All different shapes and sizes. I have round pans and square pans, three different sizes of bundt pans, loaf pans, madeleine pans, and sheet pans galore. And I have muffin pans in jumbo, standard, and mini. So you’d think I’d be all set when it comes to baking pans. And I was. Until I encountered this:

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It’s a micro-mini muffin pan, and I was instantly smitten. See how tiny the wells are? So cute!!!

But what to bake in it? I’m fairly sure that a dense batter will always be necessary, because overly fluffy cakes would have no substance and might be too airy to release cleanly. For my inaugural bake, I decided to go straight to the densest type of recipe– a brownie from my favorite chocolate author, Alice Medrich. To give it an extra jolt of flavor (got to go intense for such tiny bites!) I added instant espresso powder to the mix. And then some chocolate ganache. And then coffee beans on top, because why not?

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