tiramisu

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I got confused when my coworker told me, while studiously avoiding eye contact, that the only thing they needed to figure out for another coworker’s rehearsal dinner was the dessert. I started trying to evaluate our previous history of eye contact. Was the lack of eye contact normal between us, or was that a hint? I was willing to help her out, but I was going to feel awfully silly if I jumped in to bake for thirty people I’d never met if it wasn’t necessary.

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Well, I did volunteer, of course, because it was an opportunity to make desserts without eating them all myself! The dinner had an Italian theme, with big pans of lasagna, loaves of garlic bread, and pots of Italian wedding soup, so tiramisu was a natural choice. It didn’t hurt that I’d made this recipe once, years ago, and had wanted a reason to make it again ever since.

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It’s the perfect balance of sweet and bitter and tinged with alcohol. The ladyfingers soak up just enough of the coffee and rum to turn soft and cakey, but not enough to get mushy. The creamy mascarpone layer is like a rich custard filling between layers of cake. The cocoa and grated chocolate (optional, but I added it) provide a welcome hint of chocolate, but it doesn’t dominate.

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I made a double batch for the party (and was lucky enough to have a friend come over to dip and arrange nearly a hundred ladyfingers in the pan) and kept a tiny taster serving for myself. It was a smart move, because there wasn’t one bit leftover from the rehearsal dinner. Savoring my tiramisu at home that night, I didn’t regret volunteering to bake this dessert one bit.

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One year ago: Lemon Ricotta Strawberry Muffins
Two years ago: Slaw Tartare
Three years ago: Chocolate Amaretti Torte
Four years ago: Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack

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Tiramisù (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Cook’s Illustrated’s notes: Brandy and even whiskey can stand in for the dark rum. Cook’s Illustrated prefers a tiramisù with a pronounced rum flavor; for a less potent rum flavor, halve the amount of rum added to the coffee mixture in step 1. Do not allow the mascarpone to warm to room temperature before using it; it has a tendency to break if allowed to do so. Be certain to use hard, not soft ladyfingers.

2½ cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds mascarpone cheese
¾ cup heavy cream (cold)
14 ounces ladyfingers (42 to 60, depending on size)
3½ tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
¼ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated (optional)

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until the espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape the bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the now-empty mixer bowl (there’s no need to clean the bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set the mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working with one at a time, drop half of the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture; the entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.

5. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers; use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and into the corners of the dish and smooth the surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

6. Repeat the dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and dust with the remaining 1½ tablespoons cocoa. Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.

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lemon pound cake

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Lemons have been added to the list of ingredients I like to buy in the Big City (which isn’t that big compared to a lot of other cities but is definitely big compared to the town I live in), along with coffee, chocolate, parmesan cheese, and cheap wine from Trader Joe’s. This is because organic lemons aren’t available in my town, and while I have nothing against lemon juice, my favorite part of the lemon by far is the zest. The problem is that lemons have a more limited shelf life than my other Big City buys and the fruit tends to get hard (or worse, soft) after a few weeks in the crisper drawer.

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Around this time is when I start going into lemon mania mode, and a lemon cake soaked with lemon syrup and drizzled with lemon glaze is a fine way to use up some of the lemon excess. In fact, I was so focused on my primary goals of using up lemons and having fun in the kitchen that I pushed another priority aside, that of making the best possible recipe. When combining loads of butter with loads of sugar, I knew it couldn’t end up too bad.

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And so, for no other reason than I think the stand mixer is more fun to use and easier to clean up, I used that instead of the food processor the original recipe calls for, but when the top of my cake came out a little flat, I started thinking that maybe I should have just followed directions. I took the cake to work without tasting it, saving myself a piece for the end of the workday. It was good I set some aside for myself, because this cake disappeared in less than half the time as some of the other treats I’ve brought in. Savoring my much-anticipated slice at the end of the day, I decided that mixer or food processor, it didn’t matter; this cake would be a success either way.

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One year ago: Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries and Pecans
Two years ago: Vodka Gimlet
Three years ago: Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Four years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

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Lemon Pound Cake (adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking via the now defunct Dinner and Dessert)

Makes one loaf

I made this with a stand mixer instead of a food process like the original recipe instructs for no reason other than I think the mixer is more fun to use and easier to clean up.

For the cake:
¾ cup (3 ounces) cake flour
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (7.9 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
4 large eggs, at room temperature

For the syrup:
2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2½ tablespoons sugar

For the glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the sides and bottom of a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper. Sift both flours, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the sugar and zest together until fragrant. Add the butter and salt; beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. With the mixer running, add the eggs one a time. Once the eggs are in, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2-3 minutes. Reduce the mixture speed to low, add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the sour cream mixture. Continue alternating additions of dry and wet ingredients, ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl and mix for another 20-30 seconds, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.

4. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5. Inver the cake onto a cooling rack set over a rimmed pan. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the top and sides of the loaf. Brush the top and sides of the loaves with the lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again. Let the cake cool completely, at least 30 minutes. (The soaked but unglazed loaf will keep, wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap and frozen, for up to 6 weeks.)

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of the loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes, before serving. (The glazed loaves will keep for up to 3 days, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at room temperature.)

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guinness chocolate cupcakes with irish cream buttercream

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Despite my penchant for baking, I’ve only very rarely baked by request. So when a coworker asked me to help plan for another coworker’s bridal shower, mentioning while studiously avoiding eye contact that one thing they needed someone to do was prepare dessert, I jumped at the excuse to bake, but then I got nervous.

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It’s one thing to bring extra crumbly rice krispy treats to set out in the office kitchen, where nearly anything sweet is appreciated during a long work day, but the standards are significantly higher for someone’s bridal shower. Complicating matters was the timing, because the party was scheduled for after work on a Thursday, so I would need to do everything during weekday evenings. (I know you can freeze cupcakes, but I haven’t tried it myself and wasn’t ready to experiment.)

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Neither the bride nor the host had any suggestions, so I decided that cocktail-inspired cupcakes would be fun for a bridal shower. I wanted a chocolate option and a fruit option and settled on Guinness cupcakes with whiskey ganache and Bailey’s buttercream (based on the controversially titled Irish Car Bomb drink, in which a shot of whiskey and Bailey’s is added to Guinness, and the whole mess has to be chugged before it curdles) and margarita cupcakes – lime cupcakes brushed with tequila and triple sec and topped with tequila lime swiss meringue buttercream.

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A couple days in advance, I mixed up the Bailey’s buttercream and attempted the whiskey ganache. Unfortunately, I learned that if the cream is too hot when you mix it with the finely chopped chocolate to make ganache, the mixture will curdle. I went home at lunch the next day to try to save my curdled ganache, but it remained curdled. (It’s in my freezer now. Does anyone have any suggestions on what I can do with broken ganache? Some sort of cake with chocolate and cream maybe?) Wednesday evening, I still needed to bake both batches of cupcakes, make the swiss meringue buttercream, remake the ganache, brush the margarita cupcakes with alcohol, fill the chocolate cupcakes, and frost both. Thursday I would go home at lunch and apply garnishes.

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One problem I consistently have with cupcakes is the wrappers pulling away from the cake, and I’ve finally figured out that this is a result of moisture building up, probably in large part from the frosting, while the cupcakes are stored tightly overnight. I only loosely covered these overnight, because loose wrappers would not do for the party, and only a few wrappers separated just slightly.

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Surprisingly, everything went off without a hitch, and I wasn’t even up all night on Wednesday. Even the hardest part of preparing cupcakes, getting them to your destination without mussing them, went smoothly. My first attempt at baking for an event was a definite success that gave me more confidence to do it again – which is good, because I had agreed to make dessert for the rehearsal dinner just a week later.

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One year ago: Baked Reuben Dip
Two years ago: Masa Pancakes with Chipotle Salsa and Poached Eggs
Three years ago: Spinach Bread
Four years ago: Almost No-Knead Bread

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Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 24

For the cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅓ cup sour cream

For the filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

For the frosting:
4 cups (16 ounces) confections sugar
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 to 8 tablespoons Irish cream (or milk or heavy cream)

1. Make the cupcakes: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin wells with liners. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 1 cup stout and 16 tablespoons of butter to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder; whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and ¾ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined.

3. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners, filling them about ⅔ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, rotating the pan once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, 18-22 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

4. Make the filling: Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until just simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if using) and stir until combined.

5. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped, about an hour. Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes about ⅔ to the bottom. Fill the holes with the ganache, using either a piping bag or a spoon.

6. Make the frosting: With a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), whip the butter very light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, then the Irish cream. Frost the cupcakes with the Bailey’s buttercream; serve.

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strawberry buttermilk cake

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I woke up yesterday wanting cake. Not wanting to eat cake, so much, although that part is nice, but wanting to watch butter and sugar swirl in the mixer bowl and gradually turn into a smooth batter. This despite plans to make Danish dough, two Danish fillings, fajitas, grapefruit cookies (which didn’t happen because I’d gotten my mixer fix with the cake), and a batch of Tartine country bread dough to freeze (which didn’t happen because I ran out of flour). No one said anything about being practical.

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I started poking around the internet for recipes, and chose this one because it uses buttermilk, which I have right now, and it wasn’t loaded with butter, which is always nice when you’re planning to eat cake for breakfast. I did not have any fresh berries, but I always keep strawberries in the freezer for our weekday smoothies. And it didn’t require an hour in the oven; key on a government holiday that included sleeping in.

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The cake was everything I’d been craving. The most important part of the craving was my favorite mixing method of beating butter and sugar until fluffy, whipping in an egg and vanilla, and alternating the additions of buttermilk and dry ingredients. But cake for breakfast doesn’t hurt either.

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One year ago: Eggplant Rollatini
Two years ago: Pasta with Baked Ricotta and Sweet Tomato Sauce
Three years ago: Vegetarian Chili
Four years ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts

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Berry Buttermilk Cake (rewritten but not changed from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6

Two things: The original recipe calls for fresh raspberries, which are probably a better choice than the (frozen) strawberries I used. Strawberries are juicier than other berries, so my cake was a little wetter than is probably ideal. I also thought it was too sweet, which could be because strawberries aren’t as tart as raspberries, but still, next time I’ll only use ½ cup of sugar.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) plus 1½ tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup (5 ounces) fresh raspberries (or other berries)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer), beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest (if using) on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, beating until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the buttermilk. Continue alternating the dry ingredients and buttermilk, ending with the dry ingredients.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Scatter the berries evenly over the top, then sprinkle with the remaining 1½ tablespoons sugar. Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack; cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool another 10-15 minutes before serving.

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hidden berry cream cheese torte

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I don’t think of myself as much of a shopper. The majority of the clothes I’ve bought over the last year have been thrifted, I rarely buy books or CDs since we moved to a town without a big bookstore, I have no interest in cars beyond dependability and gas mileage, and the only decorations in my office at the place I’ve worked for a year and a half are a bird-shaped mirror that makes me smile every time I see it and three posters on local geology that a coworker was trying to get rid of.

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But ingredients are becoming a weakness. I blame living in a small isolated town; because there are so many foods I can’t buy here, when I do have access to a fun new ingredient, I snatch it up. This is why I have a container of truffle salt I’ve only used once and several types of ground and whole mustard seeds which I never got around to using in homemade mustard recipes. It’s probably a good thing Dave rushed me out of the Middle Eastern market we went to for lunch in Albuquerque, so I only had time to buy a container of za’atar and a jar of boysenberry preserves.

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I haven’t used the za’atar yet, but the jam was perfect in this light, creamy cheesecake. I added a little more than the recipe called for, and I wished I had used even more. This is one impulse buy I don’t regret one bit.

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One year ago: Cardamom Crumb Cake
Two years ago: Cafe Volcano Cookies
Three years ago: Buttery Jam Cookies

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Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

8 servings

I used 8 ounces of cream cheese, since that’s the normal size of the packages. I also left out the spices.

Crust:
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Filling:
⅓ cup thick berry or cherry jam
9 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces (1 cup) cottage cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Getting ready: Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust the inside with flour, and tap out the excess. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

To make the crust: Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse just to blend. Toss in the pieces of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the egg yolks and vanilla together with a fork, and, still pulsing the machine, add them and continue to pulse until the dough comes together in clumps and curds—restrain yourself, and don’t allow the dough to form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. If you want to roll the dough, gather it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes before rolling. (I like to roll this, and all sweet crusts, between sheets of plastic wrap.) Or simply press the dough into the pan. The dough should come about 1½ inches up the sides of the springform. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fit a piece of buttered aluminum foil against the crust, covering it completely. Fill the crust lightly with rice, dried beans or pie weights and slide the pan into the oven. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and weights and bake for another 5 minutes or so—you don’t want the crust to get too brown. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

To make the filling: Stir the jam and spread it over the bottom of the crust—it’s okay to do this while the crust is still warm.

Put the cream cheese and cottage cheese into the food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, for 2 minutes, until you’ve got a smooth, satiny mix. Add the sugar, salt and spices and process for another 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the eggs and process, scraping the bowl as needed for a final minute. Pour the filling over the jam.

Bake the cake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the filling is uniformly puffed and no longer jiggly. Gently transfer the springform pan to a cooling rack and allow the torte to cool to room temperature, during which time the filling will collapse into a thin, elegant layer.

Run a blunt knife between the crust and the sides of the pan, then open and remove the sides of the springform. If the sides of the crust extend above the filling and you don’t like this look, very gently saw off the excess crust using a serrated knife. Chill the torte slightly or thoroughly before serving and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

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earl grey madeleines

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Coffee makes me feel like bees are buzzing in my head, so I save it for the weekends. At work, I stick to tea, and I’ve developed a little ritual with my electric kettle, collection of looseleaf teas, and steeper that drips from below when I set it onto my mug. I’m picky about my teas too; I don’t like any teas with weird fruity flavors, and I prefer my black tea with some bitter bite to it.

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I like Earl Gray tea, but it can’t be too orangey. I once bought one that tasted like a creamsicle, and I threw the whole tin away. Rishi makes my favorite black tea, but their Earl Grey is too strong for me. For months, I’ve been mixing Rishi Earl Grey tea leaves with another black tea I have that isn’t as bitter as I like. My morning mug of tea is an art.

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Overly strong tea leaves are perfect for putting into dessert though, where they have to battle to be noticed past the sugar and butter. The batter for these madeleines smelled and tasted noticeably of Earl Grey, but the flavor was muted once baked. They smelled more tea-y than they tasted. Clearly, the perfect way to really taste your Earl Grey with your Earl Grey madeleines is to have a mug of tea alongside your tea cake.

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Nicole chose these madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. Watch them carefully if you make them! I baked mine for 9 minutes, and it was definitely too long.

One year ago: Maple Tuiles
Two years ago: All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

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apple pie cake

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Those accursed diamonds. Dorie Greenspan tells a cute story about how her grandmother used to make a similar recipe to this one and cut it into diamonds. Notably however, Dorie did not suggest the diamond shape. She recommends squares.

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But I thought the diamonds sounded so elegant and pretty. I considered and then disregarded how fragile the sharp diamond corners would be. I also considered and disregarded the impracticality of cutting a rectangular pan of pie-cake into diamonds. I powered on.

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The result was more crumbs than diamonds. I usually consider the fallen crumbs to be a little treat to snack on, but when half of a large pan of pie-cake crumbles as you cut it, that can be dangerous. Once the crumbs started getting really out of control, I shoved them all in a bowl before I could even consider eating them.

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Bu not even one coworker mentioned the broken diamonds when they came by to tell me that these might be the best thing I’ve ever brought to share. It didn’t even get mentioned when one coworker announced over the intercom how amazing they were. (I blushed.) I’m actually a little bit glad that I cut them into impractical diamonds, because now I have a bowl full of apple pie-cake crumbs stashed in my freezer.

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One year ago: Almost-Fudge Gateau
Two years ago: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies
Three years ago: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

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Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie-Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

As usual with Dorie’s recipes, I bumped up the salt – ¾ teaspoon in the dough and a pinch in the apples. And I completely forgot the raisins.

For The Dough
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3¼ – 3½ cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
¼ cup sugar
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice – the dough will probably curdle, but don’t worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3¼ cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra ¼ cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice – even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that’s fine – and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it’s a little more malleable, you’ve got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan – because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven’s heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about ¼ inch thick – you don’t want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that’s fine; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenly across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you’ve got a ¼ to ½ inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don’t have that much overhang, just press what you’ve got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You’ll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

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brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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far breton

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This doesn’t seem to be a very popular opinion, but I love custards. Far Breton isn’t the most custardy custard I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly on the eggy side of the cake spectrum. I was looking forward to a light, lightly sweetened and beautifully browned cake.

far breton 5

I wasn’t so sure about the dried fruit, but I thought using small fruits like a mix of raisins, cherries, and cranberries would meld better with the batter than large prunes, and softening them in brandy couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately my math skills failed me and I messed up the proportions of the batter, using one-third of the total amount of egg and milk, and one-half of the full recipe worth of sugar, flour, and butter.

far breton 1

Dave and I both enjoyed the cake, even with the mixed up ratios of ingredients in the batter. I still think the dried fruit were out of place, probably because I like cake/custard so much more than I like dried fruit. I think, for my tastes, pure custard would be just right.

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Nicole chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. Like I mentioned above, I made a handful of involuntary changes that I don’t recommend (even if the final result was quite good)!

My post on the honey nut scones, also chosen for TWD this week, will be up tomorrow.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Blondies
Two years ago: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte
Three years ago: Rugelach

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.

pisa

But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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