Somewhere en route to a tropical paradise for Sugar High Friday 33, things went awry. Re-live the journey with me.
Having been toying with an idea for coconut cupcakes with mango mascarpone frosting, I was more than enthused by Alpineberry's choice of a tropical baking theme this month. Hell, with a coconut and mango concoction in hand and the Paris Plage along the Seine, who needs the tropics?
The journey started out relatively smoothly. A minor technical glitch in the form of a missing mango was soon rectified and, with all systems go, I prepared for take-off. Despite mild turbulence caused by a silicone muffin mould and a lack of paper liners early on, the coconut cupcakes baked up moist and to the perfect height. With the flight path looking clear from here on out, I switched to autopilot.
While the cupcakes cooled, I dumped the mascarpone cheese, softened butter and icing sugar into a bowl and took them for a spin. I was on the home stretch now, and my mind had already jumped ahead to the decorating phase and the best way to showcase the soon-to-be pale orange hue of the creamy frosting. Cue the mango, rosy-cheeked and fragrant...and completely rotten.
Feeling a change in cabin pressure, I reminded myself to breathe normally. Grabbing a lemon from the counter and blueberry jam from the fridge, I put all faith in my impromptu baking prowess and prepared for an emergency landing. With a bump and a skid, I arrived at Bleeding Heart Cupcakes.
It looks like Paris Plage is as close to paradise as I'm going to get after all.
Bleeding Heart Cupcakes
3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 small eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
~ 6 tablespoons jam (I used blueberry)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare 6 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix until blended.
Add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the yogurt, and then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing briefly between each addition. Fold in the coconut.
Divide the batter evenly between the 6 paper liners. Bake until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan before moving to racks to cool completely.
Once cool, use a small paring knife to cut an inverted cone-shaped piece out of the top of each cupcake. Remove the cones from the cupcakes and slice off the pointed ends, leaving round lids. (Remember to keep the lids close to their matching cupcakes.) Fill each hole with about a tablespoon of jam and then place the lid on top.
Lemon Mascarpone Frosting:
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
lemon zest (to taste)
In a medium bowl, lightly beat together the mascarpone cheese and butter. Add 1 cup of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of icing sugar, and more if necessary, to reach the desired consistency.
I chilled the frosting for 15 minutes before piping it onto the cupcakes, using a Ziploc bag with the corner removed.
Yields 6 cupcakes.
Source:A variation on The Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Coconut Cupcakes.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Somewhere en route to a tropical paradise for Sugar High Friday 33, things went awry. Re-live the journey with me.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I seem to have developed a taste for bargain hunting when it comes to fruit, a trait no doubt inherited from the parentals. Nature, nurture, I had it coming from all directions. Half Scottish, you know. After spying and nabbing a good-size bag of Italian plums the other day, I hightailed it home with my loot, visions of Mom's Italian Plum Cake* already dancing in my head.
One problem: I've got the plums, but Mom's got the recipe. By 5:00 pm, I had convinced myself that my parents would be awake (even if they weren't, they'd never admit it) and more than eager to search the family recipe. After all, the baking can't stop just because some people are 9 hours behind in their day.
Hearing the recipe dictated out loud, it quickly became clear why I have such fond memories of this cake. Not one, not two, but three types of sugar! Before you report me to the sugar police, however, keep in mind that the tartness of the plum skins brings balance to the flavour and keeps the sugar high (mostly) in check.
As it bakes, the cake puffs and browns around the pockets of juicy plum flesh, creating a series of peaks and valleys. Sugar Peaks and Plum Valley -- sounds like the name of a suburban housing development, non? You laugh, but I grew up on Berry Street.
* Mom's not Italian, but the plums are.
Mom's Italian Plum Cake
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups Italian plums, quartered
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan.
In a medium bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat again until smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Measure out the milk separately.
Add the dry ingredients and the milk, alternately, to the egg mixture, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.
Spread batter in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Arrange the quartered plums on their sides on top of the batter. (Note: If the plums are especially juicy, place the sliced plums in a colander to drain a bit while you prepare the cake batter.)
In a small bowl, prepare the crumble topping. Using your fingers, rub the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together until it forms a paste or crumb. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the plums.
Bake for 35 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
Prepare the glaze by beating the icing sugar, cream and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake.
Serve warm with ice cream or gobble slices directly from the pan once cooled.
Source: Mom's recipe file.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
These days, I find myself in the business of waiting.
Waiting for the woman in front of me at the boulangerie to choose her tarte.
Waiting for the pizza dough to rise.
Waiting for a phone call.
Waiting for the rain to stop.
Waiting for the sky to clear.
Waiting for the sun to come out.
Waiting for summer to stick around awhile.
By its nature, waiting gives you plenty of time to ponder plan prepare for whatever it is you're expecting hoping wishing.*
The latest brainchild of my idle time is a refreshing lemon iced tea with cooling mint notes, conceived on a rainy Monday in July with sunny weather in mind.
Lemon Mint Iced Tea just might be the silver lining in this cloudy summer.
Lemon Mint Syrup
juice of half a lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup mint leaves, whole
Before cutting and juicing your lemon, use a vegetable peeler to remove several inch-long strips of peel.
Juice half of the lemon into a measuring cup. Add water to the lemon juice until you have one cup of liquid.
In a small sauce pan, combine the lemon juice, water, sugar and lemon rind. Over medium-high heat, dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir occasionally, especially at the beginning.
Once the mixture boils, remove from heat. Add the mint leaves, which have been washed and drained, and cover for 30 minutes.
Strain the mixture and discard the lemon rind and mint leaves. Cool and store the syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To enjoy a glass of iced tea, mix 2-3 tablespoons of the syrup (to taste) with 1 cup of your favourite black tea, steeped strongly and cooled. Serve over ice with lemon or mint garnish.
Notes: Experiment with different herbs (e.g., rosemary, basil or thyme) and/or flavoured teas to find your perfect summer blend.
* During all of this waiting, I've been spending perhaps too much time with Mr. Salman Rushdie, whose curious aversion to commas I find amusing.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
When I was who knows how old (but less than 11), my mother's father (Papa) showed me a card trick.
The gist of the trick is as follows. The magician deals out 10 pairs of cards, face up. An audience member mentally selects 1 pair of cards and then gathers the cards in any order she wishes, while keeping the pairs together. The magician re-deals the cards in 4 rows of 5 and asks the audience member to indicate which row(s) contains her cards. Seconds later, like magic, the magician holds up the chosen cards much to the astonishment of the audience member.
After watching him perform the trick repeatedly and becoming increasingly frustrated, I demanded to know the secret. Papa relented, but on the condition that I'd never tell a soul. Even my closest friends. Even if they begged. (It seems my maternal grandparents loved a good secret.)
So I watched and learned and practiced and showed the trick at every opportunity, keeping the mystery all the while. If you ask nicely, I might bring out the deck and give it a go again for old time's sake.
I'm rolling around to the point any minute now.
Yeast was the magic trick I never quite mastered. How do you pull a pan of fluffy golden cinnamon rolls from a packet of beige granules? I knew there was some liquid, a dash of something sweet, a bit of heat and lots of waiting along the way, but my big reveal at the end was always hit and miss. I never hinged a brunch menu on anything yeast-based for fear that our guests would end up at the greasy spoon down the road an hour later, stomachs grumbling.
Now instead of triggering my fight or flight instinct, the scent of yeast harbingers the sweet taste of cinnamon rolls to come. What changed? I happened upon a great recipe with an easy peasy technique that guarantees a warm spot in your house for that crucial first rise of the dough. This trick is sure to elicit oohs and aahs from your audience members/guests and I'm not afraid to share the secret.
Rock and roll, like magic.
Almond Raisin Cinnamon Rolls
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1/4 scant teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (or to taste)
3/4 cup brown sugar (or to taste)
lots 'o cinnamon (or to taste)
2/3 cup mixture of chopped almonds and raisins (optional)
To prepare the dough, combine the milk, oil and sugar in a large sauce pan. Scald the mixture by bringing it almost to the boiling point over medium heat (small bubbles will begin to appear around the edges). Turn off the burner, leave the pot where it is, and wait patiently for 30-45 minutes.
Once the mixture has cooled from finger-burning to very warm, sprinkle the yeast on the surface. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes or until the yeast activates and begins to foam. Now stir in 2 cups of flour with a wooden spoon. Cover the mixture with a lid and let rise for 1 hour. Your pot is still on that burner from way back when.
One hour later, remove the lid and take a sniff and a peek at your new dough. Gently stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour along with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
At this point, you can either continue on and make the cinnamon rolls or punch down the dough and store it in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 days. Keep your eye on the dough and make sure it doesn't spill out of its container!
To make the cinnamon rolls, begin by lightly greasing a square baking pan.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough quite thinly into a large rectangle. Spread the butter evenly over the rectangle, leaving a small border around the outside. Cover the butter with brown sugar and pat lightly. Sprinkle with cinnamon until you're satisfied, and then sprinkle even more. Spread chopped almonds and raisins evenly over the cinnamon.
For short wide cinnamon rolls, begin at a short end of the rectangle and roll tightly; for tall narrow cinnamon rolls, begin at a long end of the rectangle. Be sure to carefully seal the filling inside the log by pinching the dough together all along the seam.
Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the log into the desired number of cinnamon rolls. Place each roll, swirl-side up, in the greased pan, leaving a bit of space between them.
Cover the cinnamon rolls with a damp cloth or greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes.
Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven until lightly browned (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.
Yields 9-16 rolls, depending how you slice it.
Note: Instead of making a full batch of Cinnamon Rolls, I used half of the dough to make Monkey Bread. Simply dip golf-sized balls of the dough into melted butter, roll them in a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar, and then stack them randomly in a greased muffin tin or baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes and then bake.
Source: Adapted from a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls posted at Confessions of a Pioneer Woman on 26 December 2006. Her frosting recipe sounds delicious too!
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
(To the tune of "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly")
There was a nutty girl who traipsed across town.
For a mortar and pestle, she searched all around.
I don't know why
she just didn't buy
She bought the mortar and pestle to grind the olives,
she ground the olives to make the tapenade,
she made the tapenade to coat the pâte feuilletée,
she coated the pâte feuilletée to season the tomatoes and chèvre,
she seasoned the tomatoes and chèvre to follow the recipe,
she followed the recipe to crack the spine on her new cookbook.
But I don't know why
she just didn't buy
(Well she'd like to believe the homemade back olive and fig tapenade had a hand in making this savoury tart so tasty.)
Call me obsessed, but I can't get that Pineapple Downside-Up Cake out of my head. That good, people. So it should come as no surprise, then, that it was the Tarte Tatin à la Tomate that caught my eye and called my name as I flipped through the newest addition to my bookshelf.
Both recipes share a toasted top (bottom)...
...some lovely caramelization, and a moment of truth.
This rich tart bursts with flavour, whether enjoyed hot with a side of mixed greens for dinner or cool in your lunch the next day.
Source: Miss Clotilde Dusoulier's recently published Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook, inspired by her blog of the same name. I'm cooking/baking from the UK edition of the book, which provides metric measurements; there is also a US version for those who favour the cups and spoons approach.
Friday, July 13, 2007
In my books, pineapple is tops. But before you pop the lid on that can of sad, faded rings masquerading as pineapple, consider shelling out a bit more for the intensely sweet tang and brilliant golden flesh of the real thing.
How do you know if you've picked a winner? Some people go on looks alone, seeking out the darkest orange exterior they can find. That is, like, so shallow. I prefer letting my nose lead me to a ripe specimen. That pineapple can be as orange as a sunset, but if it's not smelling nectar sweet, then it isn't coming home with me.
Living in France, I rarely have the luxury of picking my own fruits and veggies and am often forced to rely on the goodwill of the market vendors. But I picked a good one (vendor, I mean) on Tuesday morning, when I emerged from the nearby Belleville market 1 euro poorer but 2 pineapples richer. (The sign read "Ananas - 1 euro", but a moment's hesitation earned me the second at no extra charge!)
I've long held the belief that pineapple is best enjoyed fresh and unadorned, but the prospect of two pineapples already in their prime was too daunting even for me. Excuse the pun, but the time was ripe for a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.
Pineapple Downside-Up Cake, as I prefer to call it, involves baking pineapple slices into a sweet caramel syrup under a moist vanilla cake. But that pineapple plays second fiddle to no one, least of all a vanilla cake. Ever the showman, he reclaims the limelight in full caramelized glory when the slightly cooled cake is inverted onto a serving platter.
This cake is making me seriously reconsider my bias against baking with fresh pineapple. If you only ever bake one recipe from this blog, make it this one.
Pineapple Downside-Up Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup pineapple juice (I used 1/4 cup fresh pineapple juice and 1/4 cup orange juice)
2 cups white sugar (I used 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup cassonade)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
Peel, core and slice your pineapple into 1/2-inch-ish rings, semi-circles or chunks, as you wish. Put the sliced pineapple in a colander, set over a bowl, to gather the pineapple juice. If the pineapple is particularly juicy, you may want to place a small, clean weight of some sort on top of fruit to encourage more of the juice to drain away.
Next, prepare the caramel. Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil until the syrup becomes amber in colour (about 10 minutes). Add the butter and swirl the pan or stir to incorporate. Remove from heat and pour the hot caramel into a non-stick (or greased) 10-inch round or square pan. Arrange pineapple slices to the best of your artistic ability in the caramel. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix.
Add half of the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Add the pineapple/orange juice and, again, mix just until combined. Add the last half of the flour mixture and -- you guessed it -- mix just until combined.
Spoon the batter carefully over the caramel and pineapples and spread evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
Here comes the moment of truth. Firmly place a plate, topside down, on top of the cake. Say a quick prayer and flip, so that the plate is on the bottom and the pan is upside down on top. Carefully remove the pan and return any pineapple that may be stuck to the bottom to its rightful place on top of the cake. (Note: If when you remove your baked cake from the oven, it appears to be floating atop a glistening pool of disturbingly liquid caramel, do not be alarmed but prepare accordingly. I covered the cake pan with an oversize piece of aluminum foil and folded the flaps down against the 4 sides of the pan. Then I inverted the pan and placed it on a large cutting board. This way, all of the caramel ran off the cake and pooled in the foil trenches around the sides. From there, it's up to you. I grabbed a spoon.)
Serve warm or at room temperature, but store in the fridge.
Notes: Be sure to boil the syrup for a full 10 minutes (or until amber in colour) and to sufficiently drain your pineapple in order to avoid the aluminum foil debacle I described above. You'll know you were successful if the caramel begins to firm up around the pineapple slices while you're preparing the cake batter. If you find the caramel is still runny, I recommend forging ahead anyways, as I did, and dealing with the drippy (but tasty!) consequences later. Although I would have preferred to bake a thicker cake to better offset the sweetness of the caramelized pineapple, I couldn't justify making an even bigger cake for just the two of us.
Sources: The recipe was adapted from recipes posted on Smitten Kitchen and Simply Recipes.
Labels: Cakes and cupcakes
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I have a birthday book -- a sort of calendar, with dates but no days of the week or years -- to help me remember birthdays. When a new friend's birth date comes up in conversation or I open my email to find a much-anticipated birth announcement, I make a note in my little book. Then, usually sometime at the beginning of each month, I take a peek to see who’s turning what when and start thinking about cards, presents, parties and cakes(!).
From time to time, however, my system fails me (I fail my own system) when the book forgets to tell me about a birthday (when I forget to write down a birthday). The blank page for July 10 certainly didn’t do me any favours when it came to remembering a very important 1st birthday.
It was one year ago today, after a Canada Day weekend in Quebec City, that I wrote La Fête des fraises: Mass Production Made Good and The Casual Baker was born. Since then, there’s been a road trip down the Pacific coast of North America, a month-long hiatus in South America, a move across the Atlantic from Ottawa to Paris, and nearly 70 blog posts to document my baking (and eating) adventures along the way.
To toast my first year as a blogger, I baked up a couple of Ginger Peach Shortcakes, a tip of the hat to the Strawberry Shortcake that began it all. In my version, spiced pop biscuits are sliced open and filled with fresh peaches and gingered whipped cream. A refreshing dessert fit for a summer BBQ or birthday, as the case may be.
Before I pass along the recipe, I’d like to thank my loyal readers -- I know there’s at least a few of you out there -- who keep coming back to my virtual kitchen to see what’s baking. I enjoy writing The Casual Baker and it’s icing on the cake that someone enjoys reading it too!
Ginger Peach Shortcakes
Spiced Pop Biscuits:
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
dash nutmeg (optional)
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped finely
¼ cup butter, frozen
6 tablespoons Sprite or 7-UP (not diet/lite)
4 peaches, sliced into wedges
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Gingered Whipped Cream:
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or to taste)
About 2 hours before serving the dessert, slice the peaches. Toss them lightly with the lemon juice and brown sugar and let sit at room temperature until you are ready to plate the shortcakes.
To prepare the spiced pop biscuits, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and crystallized ginger in a medium bowl.
Remove the butter from the freezer and use a coarse cheese grater to grate the butter into the flour mixture. Stir lightly to coat the butter in the flour mixture without making a paste. (Keeping the butter extremely colds ensures flaky biscuits. Alternatively, you can use butter from the refrigerator and a pastry blender to create a mixture that resembles coarse oatmeal.)
Add the pop and, using a fork, stir just until the dough comes together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly a few times until you have a cohesive ball. Roll out the dough to a ¾-inch thickness and let sit for several minutes. Use a drinking glass dipped in flour to cut out 4 biscuits.
Place biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
To prepare the gingered whipped cream, whip the cream in a small bowl with an electric mixer. Just before you reach your desired consistency, add the brown sugar and ginger. Beat to combine.
To plate the desserts, slice open a slightly warm biscuit (either from the oven or re-heated). On the bottom half, spread a dollop of whipped cream. Top with peaches and a small amount of juice, followed by a second dollop of whipped cream. Add the top half of the biscuit and one last flourish of whipped cream. Why not, it’s your birthday.
Notes: Simply remove the cinnamon, nutmeg and crystallized ginger for an equally enjoyable, un-spiced version of the pop biscuit.
Source: The Casual Baker.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Back in the golden days of clear blue skies when we first set up shop in the 11ème, R. and I would frequently take advantage of the good weather with a post-dinner promenade. A chance to stretch the legs, settle the tummy, and explore the nooks and crannies of the new 'hood.
It was on one such excursion that we came across a display sufficiently intriguing to draw me across the street for closer inspection. A window filled with platter after platter of artfully stacked pastries in pale rosewater pinks, pistachio greens, almond beiges. Pretty to look at, but better to taste I decided.
Unphased by our inability to choose the dainty Algerian pastries by name, the friendly woman behind the counter simply followed the trajectory of our pointing fingers. There may have been an attempt to educate us on the finer points of the shop’s pâtisserie orientale but, to be honest, I was more concerned with choosing between the walnut and pistachio versions of something-er-other and wondering if that stack of honey-drenched baklava could possibly be for sampling. (It was. And I did.)
If you’ve ever stumbled upon a great out-of-the-way restaurant or discovered the best ____ in an unlikely place, you know well that dual feeling of excitement and smug pride that comes with the find. That was me with La Bague de Kenza. Located on an otherwise unassuming side street, I was convinced we’d discovered a hidden gem. Google quickly proved me wrong with, among other things, this New York Times article.
Alas, it may not be hidden, but it’s still a gem.
La Bague de Kenza
106 rue Saint-Mur