Peach Crisp Pie

I have two options here. Option 1: I could throw up a picture of the gooey, hearty peach pie I just made and nonchalantly describe the process. I could pretend that making the flaky crust was a cinch, my kitchen stayed miraculously spotless throughout the effortless endeavor, and oh, by the way, my apron matches the bow in my carefully coiffed hair. Or option 2: I could tell the truth.

I’m an honest woman. The truth is, today was a disaster. A disaster that did end in the aforementioned gooey, hearty peach pie (thank God), but a disaster nonetheless. First of all, I was not planning on making a pie, but pie pockets.

It all started when Heidi over at Heidi Bakes posted these scrumptious looking Apple Hand Pies. Those little pie pockets caused all the trouble! They were so beautiful! And so PERSONAL — if I were talking to my 6th graders, who are practicing analogies, I’d say that cupcakes are to cakes what pie pockets are to pies. I had to make them! All of a sudden, I went a liiiittle bit insane (no really, ask Mike about my late night pie pocket instant messages) about the possibilities.

Here’s just a BRIEF list of all the possible pie pockets that ran through my head:

  • broccoli, cheese, and ham pie pockets
  • raspberry pie pockets
  • apple cranberry pie pockets
  • cherry pie pockets
  • strawberry cherry pie pockets
  • banana, oat, and nut pie pockets with gooey brown sugar, butter, streusel
  • blueberry pie pockets
  • NUTELLA pie pockets
  • pizza pie pockets
  • tomato, mozzarella, and basil pesto pie pockets
  • barbecue and apple pie pockets
  • peach and blueberry pie pockets
  • peach cobbler pockets
  • Philly cheesesteak pie pockets
  • beef burgundy pie pockets
  • coconut cream pie pockets

So what’s the problem? All of that sounds great (in fact, I’m getting excited all over again, which is pretty incredible considering the day I’ve had). Well, the problem is my chronic do-too-muchitis. I can’t just make some cookies; I have to make three types of cookies, decorate them according to each recipient’s favorite color, and tie them up in individualized bows. I can’t just bake a cake; I have to turn it into cupcakes, add three different types of filling, and oh yeah, try one batch with cake flour as an experiment. Get the idea? Alas, my do-too-muchitis struck again. No hyperbole this time around: I couldn’t pick ONE flavor of pie pockets to bake today. I had to pick FOUR flavors (two savory, two sweet) of pie pockets to bake, knowing full well that I’d never made a pie crust before in my life (Oh, I didn’t mention that part yet? That’s right. Never.)

I had done my homework. I’ve been reading about crusts for weeks. For months. I bought my myriad ingredients and dedicated last night to my mise-en-place. Look how pretty!


Pie Pocket Mise-en-Place

And I made my crust. Pretty simple, I thought, though perhaps a bit crumbly. Oh well. Into some plastic wrap and then into the refrigerator it went. This morning, I woke up early to do a quick assembly of each pie pocket before baking — easy as pie, right? — only to find that a bit crumbly was actually falling apart crumbly. Those that didn’t crumble to pieces before baking certainly did so after.


The picture no respectable food blogger would show: failpies!

All of you professional pie crusters know what I did wrong: I was stingy with my water. But since Julie Powell’s meltdowns in the movie Julie & Julia hit a little too close to home for me, I’ve been trying to take my mother’s advice. She told me once before a major baking project, “You just have to have a sense of humor about things that go wrong.” I also took Beth Moore’s advice and yielded to the right passion — delighting in the Lord instead of giving way to anger. In short, I channeled every known resource for avoiding a kitchen meltdown, and changed gears.

I would conquer the pie crust! And I would not waste one of my most exciting pie pocket fillings: peaches covered in gooey brown sugar and oats. So I dusted myself off (quite literally) and made another batch of pie dough. Shoving my do-too-muchitis aside, I made ONE LOVELY PIE, and boy, was that enough! I was still fighting my sullen mood until I took the first magical bite, and suddenly, all the baking was worth it. The crust? Perfect, tender, flaky, buttery. The filling? An indulgent cinnamon-and-spice herald of the coming fall. When topped with a mound of homemade whipped cream, I feel comfortable saying this is the best pie I’ve ever eaten. So after a long day of dough crises, recipe detours, and outrageous piles of dirty dishes, I’m proud to have ended up with a Peach Crisp Pie.

Oh, and to soothe my wounds a bit, I used the pie dough trimmings to make one last attempt at a pie pocket and was finally successful! Now that I’ve learned my dough lesson, count on seeing a pie pocket post in the future. Until then, I hope you’ll sit back, watch the leaves change, and eat some pie.

Peach Crisp Pie


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking (crust adapted from Crisco; help from here)
Yields: One 9-inch, two crust pie


Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
5-6 peaches, peeled and quartered
1/2-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup oats
pinch salt

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)


Directions:
Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

For filling, mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll one disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Trim the excess flush with the edge of the pie plate. Fill the pastry covered plate with filling. Roll the other disk out to about 1 inch larger than your pie plate. Situate it over the filling, tucking the edges of the top dough behind the edge of the bottom dough and crimping the edges. Use excess dough to add dough cutouts to top of pie if desired (I made some fall leaves).

In a small bowl, beat cream and egg yolk together for egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the top pie crust (can sprinkle lightly with sugar if you desire). Cut vents in the top crust. Shield crimped edges of pie with foil. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes before turning the heat down to 350 degrees F and baking 30-35 minutes longer. For the last 15 minutes, remove foil shielding. Allow pie to cool completely. Serve with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.





Plum and Cream Mini Tortes

I was reading over the William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say,” again this weekend after a sweet reader made my Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes and thoughtfully sent me a picture. Those blueberry gems were the first entry on Willow Bird Baking, and I still remember the ice cold blueberries; the cool, dense crumb; the frigid frosting . . . all that cool deliciousness is what led me to paste Williams’ poem into the entry. What was really lovely about reading the poem again is the word that jumped out at me this time around.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

PLUMS. Ice cold plums. Purple orbs bursting with juice, beaded with water, basking in my colander. Bulging indigo skins covering deep orange-red flesh, plucked up to the cutting board and sliced with a splush. Plush, perfect, plump plums perforated between my . . . teeth. If only there were a p-word for teeth! But you get the idea, alliterated or not. I began fantasizing about performing great culinary feats with those delicious spheres.

A friend told me about an Original Plum Torte recipe she has fond childhood memories of. The recipe sounded delicious: cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over roasted plums inside a spongy cake. The recipe also sounded gorgeous: I love the look of naked plum halves baked until they bubble with fruity sugar. It’s a lovely presentation. I was sold.

To add to the charm, I decided to turn the torte into rustic mini-tortes in parchment paper liners, topped with a dollop of Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting and a dusting of cinnamon. I wanted to hand each person their own rich, juicy little plum, surrounded by cake and wrapped like a present in crisp paper.

The Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is just something I whipped up today. I wanted a creamy component to slather on like clotted cream on a scone. I decided to use ricotta because I love the texture and flavor, especially with fruit, and I wanted to give the mini tortes a rustic Italian feel. I was sorry more of the ricotta flavor didn’t come through — it’s just so mild, and perhaps I shouldn’t have added vanilla — but the cheese did add a rich facet to the flavor and mellow the sugar. This ensured that the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness for this hearty dessert.

I say all this like it was a given that these were going to be amazing. But really, I was nervous. I bought big plums; what if the torte didn’t rise around them enough? What if they simply fell apart when unwrapped (some were a little messy)? What if Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is disgusting? My lovely friend Katie can attest to my uncertainty — today at an amazing Beth Moore simulcast, we caught up after not seeing each other in over a year! While chatting about our lives (by the way, Katie bakes, so expect some joint baking endeavors! Yay!), I mentioned these mini tortes only to immediately disclaim: they could be kitchen failures, I hadn’t tried them yet, they looked wonky, and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, my fears have now been allayed. Every beautiful, splushy Plum and Cream Mini Torte I bit into (I won’t bother telling you how many I ate . . . ahem) resulted in mmmms and ahhhhs. Sometimes it’s hard to read between the lines on a food blog and decide if a given dish was really fantastic or just good. In the interest of clearing up confusion: these are fantastic, and perhaps one of my favorite desserts of all time. And since the recipe is so simple (so glad my friend shared it), you should definitely give them a try. Hope you love them!

Plum and Cream Mini Tortes


Recipe By:

The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (plum torte, adapted by me)
-Me (frosting)

Yields: About 12-15

Mini Torte Ingredients:
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
6-8 halves small, pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:
1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners or parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Resist the urge to overfill — the batter will rise! Gently press a plum, skin side down, into each well. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake part comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. (If not adding frosting, serve as follows: let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.)

4. Make the frosting: mix all ingredients together until fluffy. Pipe or dollop frosting onto the center of each plum mini torte.

Notes: Try to buy small plums and cut them about 1/4 inch away from the center or a little more. You want small rounds to fit in the center of your mini-tortes without making the cake spread too much. If the cake spreads too much, it won’t snuggle around the plum as it rises and may fall apart when you peel off the paper.


Making my parchment paper liners and readying my mini tortes for the oven.



Baking and fresh out of the oven.


Dobos Torte

Mike’s a history buff in addition to being a math superhero. Every now and then he’ll be looking at photos of something like a spoon from Pompeii or a statue from Greece and geeking out over how neat it is. It’s thrilling to think of people centuries and millennia ago actually using the objects and living in the homes we now have as artifacts of their existence. Last summer he finally went on a trip to some of the places he’s always loved to read about: Rome, Greece, and Turkey. Looking through his pictures when he returned, it was so sweet to see him living one of his dreams.

 

I understand Mike’s excitement about the cultures of the past, and sometimes I feel it too, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I usually have to sort of ponder artifacts and give my imagination a shove to really appreciate how neat they are. With this past Daring Bakers challenge, however, I finally got a taste of how Mike must feel. After reading through the recipe and researching the challenge, I realized that I was about to bake a piece of history: the Dobos Torte.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Reading about the Dobos Torte gave me goosebumps. The torte is the namesake of József C. Dobos, its Hungarian creator. It was created with the intent of making a cake with a longer shelf life, and was debuted in 1885 at the National General Exhibition of Budapest. What really excited me was learning that Franz Joseph I and his wife, the Empress Elisabeth (also called Sisi), were among the first to taste the dessert! For those of you who don’t teach your 6th graders about the Russian Revolution like I do, I’ll fill you in. Franz Joseph I was the uncle of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated by Serbian terrorists in 1914. This act effectively started World War I and contributed to the Russian Revolution. I won’t give you a full history lesson, but isn’t that amazing? This torte has such a rich history, and here I am baking it in my own kitchen!

Dobos kept the recipe for his torte a secret until his retirement in 1906, and since then, the popular dessert has been made around the world. The torte is comprised of multiple layers (anywhere from 6-12 is typical) of thin sponge cake, a thick American buttercream, and a slightly lemony caramel coating on the top layer. The recipe was quite intimidating at first, but I enjoyed the process and felt nudged out of my cupcake comfort zone, as all Daring Bakers should!

I chose to make my torte the classic size and shape, but did change a few things. I brushed each sponge layer with a simple syrup when assembling the torte to ensure that they’d stay moist. I also used macadamia nuts to prop up my caramel wedges instead of hazelnuts, but that wasn’t an artistic decision — I couldn’t find any whole hazelnuts at my grocery store.

If I could change a few things about the recipe, I’d add flavoring to my simple syrup and apply more of it to the sponge layers. I found my layers a bit dry (good thing they were smooshed between so much buttercream). I’d also nix the lemon from the caramel — it tasted a little odd — and use cream instead. Finally, I can attest that creating the perfect caramel texture is the hardest part of this cake. I took my sugar mixture off of the stove too soon and ended up with a sticky caramel that made my sponge cake layer a bit soggy. Using a candy thermometer might be a better idea than relying on your instincts (especially if you tend to be jumpy/hasty/caffeinated about your baking). For caramel, you’ll want the temperature of your sugar mixture between 320 to 350 degrees based on this handy chart.

One thing I’m glad I didn’t change was the frosting. I used unsweetened Belgian chocolate, and the result spread like a dream and tasted rich and indulgent. I can’t wait to make this chocolate buttercream again and slather it on — you guessed it — some cupcakes!

There are lots of opportunities for creative alterations with this torte. You can bake all the batter in sheet pans and cut it into as many rectangular layers as you’d like, or even use a cookie cutter to create some adventurously shaped layers. You could also use different nuts to decorate the cake (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews), different flavors of syrup on the sponge cake, and different flavors of buttercream to frost. One particularly daring baker brushed each sponge layer with a hazelnut liqueur and used Ferrero Rocher to prop up her caramel wedges! You know I love Ferrero Rocher, so I’m a fan of that idea!

I hope you’ll take the plunge and try making a Dobos Torte on your own. The recipe is a mile long, yes, but that’s partially because of the clear, thorough instructions. Angela has thoughtfully created a printable version of this recipe to make the process a bit easier! It was such a lovely achievement when all the work was finished, and I relished each bite thinking of the legacy I was eating!



Dobos Torte



Recipe by: Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, by Rick Rodgers
Yield: about 11-12 pieces of torte

Equipment
2 baking sheets
9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
a sieve
a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
a small saucepan
a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
metal offset spatula
sharp knife
a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round (or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin)
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted (I used macadamia nuts)
½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts
piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times
Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge Cake Ingredients
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour
pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used Belgian chocolate)
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel Topping Ingredients
1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Directions for the sponge layers:
NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1. Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)
3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.) Note: I leveled each sponge layer after baking per a great suggestion from other Daring Bakers. I did this by covering the layer with an oiled, cocoa powder dusted sheet of parchment paper and then pressing another sheet pan down on the layer to even it out.
4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)


I love when I have two cookin’ buddies! Mike and Byrd cheer me on from the couch.

  
Drawing my circles, spreading my batter, and baking my layers. What sort of recipe requires artwork?

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:
NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine’s note: If you’re in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you’ll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!


Frosting and decorating the torte.

Directions for the caramel topping:
1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela’s note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos:
1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.


Don’t forget to visit other Daring Bakers and see the imaginative combinations and configurations of the Dobos Torte they created!

Lemon Blueberry Cake

I’m clinging tenaciously to summer’s hem right now, about to topple off into fall. I do have a quiet excitement growing about the upcoming season — crisp air, pumpkins, spice cakes, pies, stews and chilis — but I’m just not ready yet. I need a few more months of summer dresses, fruity cupcakes, and flip flops (although, let’s be honest, I will continue wearing those well into winter).

Along with the end of summer, I’m facing the beginning of another school year teaching middle school English. Our teacher workdays start this coming week. Don’t get me wrong: my school is an absolute Utopia, and I’m excited to spend time with my students in our little classroom together. They’re experts at creating special moments: sometimes insightful, sweet, hilarious, and even absurd. I’ll listen them complain about (and sometimes start to care about) Shakespeare and Hemingway. We’ll laugh over Sei Shonagon’s scandalous Pillow Book. We’ll fold over a thousand paper cranes after reading Sadako’s story. I know it’ll be fun (I just have to convince them of that).

But right now, though the first day of school is still a week away, I’m overwhelmed. Mike and I have been squabbling while trying to make my chaotic mess of a classroom into a decent learning space. I have to make a thousand copies. I have to create a seating chart. I have to plan the first week of school. It’s no wonder that this week, rather than any particular food, I craved simplicity. When I saw the recipe for this Lemon Blueberry Cake, I knew it fit the bill. It’s an ode to summer with plump blueberries and tart lemon, and a simple recipe at that: mix, bake, glaze, eat!

The cake is buttery and moist, and the flavors are a great combination — I adore blueberries and lemons together, as you may already know. While it wasn’t the absolute best cake I’ve ever had, it was a nice dessert for the end to a crazy week. How satisfying, to crack the tart glaze with my fork and shovel a bite of dense, sweet cake into my mouth — and after only having baked for an hour or so! So while I’m not utterly astounded, I am pleased.

This cake would be perfect at a brunch, tea, or garden party, what with its fresh flavors. I’m not going to pretend I have brunches, teas, or garden parties, though; Mike and I will almost certainly devour it while watching Star Trek or something similar. I give you permission to do something more sophisticated with your lemon blueberry cake.

Lemon Blueberry Cake



Recipe by: Joy of Baking and Silent Auror (adapted by me)
Yields: about 8-10 pieces of cake

Ingredients:
1 cup (226 grams) butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 large lemon
2 cups (280 grams) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1-1.5 cup blueberries

Icing:
1 cup (115 grams) confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9″ springform pan or a 8″ round cake pan. Note: I used a 9″ round cake pan, because I’m a rebel.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then add to the batter along with the lemon juice. Mix only until incorporated, adding the blueberries at the very end.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Note: If you notice the cake is done on top but not in the middle, shield it with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time. This happened around 35 minutes for me. Place on a wire rack to cool, then gently remove the cake from the pan. Wait until the cake is completely cool before icing.

For the icing, combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar with the 2 tablespoons lemon juice. (You want the icing to be thicker than a glaze but still thin enough that it will just run over the sides of the cake. If not the right consistency add more lemon juice or powdered sugar, accordingly.) Frost the top of the cake, allowing the icing to drip down the sides. Place blueberries over the top as you like.

Note: This cake is another of the many baked goods that tastes better after being refrigerated in an airtight container (such as a cake dome) overnight. The lemon and blueberry get a chance to mingle and chill.


In the oven, and then fresh out of the oven. My cake got a little darker than I wanted on top; keep an eye on it!


Enjoy!

As a side note, I’m “on the spot” this week at The Daring Kitchen — go and take a look!

Red Velvet and Oreo Kisses

Need a kiss? Everyone does sometimes, and these past few weeks, it was Mike. He’s been studying intensely for the math GRE this summer. He’s interested in stellar grad schools, so he needs to hit the ball (or the sphere, perhaps? or the open ball? or the unit circle? okay, enough with the bad math jokes) out of the park on this exam. I have complete faith in his ability to do so, but he needs some encouragement now and then. What’s better for encouragement than a little kiss? Well, maybe a BIG kiss!

I think I’ve mentioned before that Bakerella is one of my heroes. I love cuteness, and she’s the Queen of Cute. When I saw her Oreo Kisses, I knew they couldn’t wait until Valentine’s Day. They were the perfect surprise to lift Mike’s spirits.

In addition to Oreo, I decided to make some red velvet kisses. While the Oreo version is a no-bake combo of crushed cookies and cream cheese, the red velvet version is essentially a cake ball (or a cake cone in this case). You bake a cake, rip it up (heartbreaking, I know), add frosting, and form the mixture into balls (or cones, or hearts, or zebras) and dip into your candy coating (incidentally, if you try out the zebra shape, please do send a photo). Any flavor combination of cake and frosting will do. And don’t let the idea of baking a cake deter you; while I bake mine from scratch, cake mixes and canned frosting work just fine!


Oreo Kisses



Red Velvet Kisses

Dipping these kisses (or any cake ball) is always the most (ahem) interesting part of the process. I use Candiquik as my chocolate coating of choice, but you can use any chocolate bark or dipping chocolate. I don’t recommend baker’s chocolate or chocolate chips, however, as they don’t form the same hard shell. You should be able to find Candiquik at Lowes Food, SuperTarget, or (I recently discovered) Bloom.

Regarding the act of dipping itself, you’re going to have to get a little creative. Bakerella’s instructions (below) say to use a spoon to dip your kisses and then drain the excess chocolate against the side of the bowl. This hasn’t ever worked for me, though; I’ve used everything from forks to toothpicks to bamboo skewers to dip cake balls. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve had visions of standing on the counter lowering a cake ball into chocolate with dental floss (thankfully, I haven’t resorted to this just yet). For dipping these kisses, I used a two-tined grill fork to support the kiss while I spooned chocolate over it. I then let the excess drain off for a long while before sliding the kiss onto wax paper. When it was dry, I went back and re-dipped the bottom. You can try this technique, but the most important message to take home is this: experiment with your kitchen supplies. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that, so try any utensil that looks promising and keep your sense of humor!

One thing I love about these sweet kisses (apart from, oh, everything about them) is the messages you can attach. I used a word processing program (font: light blue, 14 point, Helvetica Neue Bold) to create the little strips of paper that sail out of each kiss. Get creative: you can label various kiss flavors; send encouragement, congratulations, and thank yous; or even say happy birthday. My wonderful Dad’s birthday is this coming Monday — the perfect occasion for a special message! Whether with Oreo kisses, cake kisses, or plain old hugs and kisses, tell someone you love them today!

Oreo Kisses


Recipe By: Bakerella (kisses decoration/assembly)
Yields: About 11 2-inch high kisses

Oreo Kisses Ingredients:
1 package oreo cookies (divided; use cookie including the cream center)
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (softened)
chocolate bark (chocolate candy coating)

Directions

1. Finely crush all but seven cookies in a food processor or place them in a ziploc bag and crush into a fine consistency. Note: As for the extra 7 cookies, just eat them. Or, if you have extra dipping chocolate, make some chocolate covered oreos.
2. Stir in softened cream cheese. Use the back of a large spoon to help mash the two together.
3. Roll the mixture into 1-2″ balls and place on wax paper covered cookie sheet.
4. Then, begin to form the shape of a kiss. Flattening the bottom and forming a point at the top. Note: mine ended up about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide.
5. It helps to put the uncoated balls in the freezer for a few minutes to keep the mixture from starting to fall apart when you drop into the melted chocolate. Note: I refrigerated mine overnight and then froze for a couple of minutes before dipping.
6. Melt chocolate as directed on package and then dip “kisses” one at a time into chocolate, tap off extra and slide them off spoon onto wax paper covered cookie sheet to dry. Note: Dipping is often the most difficult part. These are Bakerella’s instructions, but find what works for you. Let your kitchen be your playground. Look through your utensils for useful tools, and be creative. I used a grill fork to hold my kisses while spooning chocolate over them, and then redipped the bottoms separately.

To decorate:
1. Handwrite your messages or create them on the computer. Cut out the strips (about 1/4″ tall and however wide you need).
2. Cut up some square sheets of aluminum foil (about 6″ square)
3. Place dry kiss in center and start wrapping the foil around the base. Insert message near top and secure it by pressing the foil together at top. Note: It really helps to use cheap foil here! The thinner and more malleable the better. Crush it a little first to make it more flexible.
4. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Red Velvet Kisses


Recipe By:

Bakerella (kisses decoration/assembly)
-Mom (red velvet cake)
Paula Deen (cream cheese frosting)

Yields: About 28 2-inch high kisses

Red Velvet Cake Ingredients:
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 ounces red food coloring
chocolate bark (chocolate candy coating; for kisses)

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream Crisco, sugar, and eggs. Make a paste of the cocoa and coloring and add to the Crisco mixture. Add salt and vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Mix vinegar and soda right before using and add to mixture by folding in. Pour batter into a 9 x 13 in. pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes (check periodically, and if the edges are getting too done, you might want to shield them with foil while the middle continues to bake). Cool completely.

Make the frosting: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Make the kisses:
1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with about 2 cups cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
3. Roll mixture into 1-2″ size balls and lay on cookie sheet.
4. Then, begin to form the shape of a kiss. Flattening the bottom and forming a point at the top. Note: mine ended up about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide.
5. It helps to put the uncoated balls in the freezer for a few minutes to keep the mixture from starting to fall apart when you drop into the melted chocolate. Note: I refrigerated mine overnight and then froze for a couple of minutes before dipping.
6. Melt chocolate as directed on package and then dip “kisses” one at a time into chocolate, tap off extra and slide them off spoon onto wax paper covered cookie sheet to dry. Note: Dipping is often the most difficult part. These are Bakerella’s instructions, but find what works for you. Let your kitchen be your playground. Look through your utensils for useful tools, and be creative. I used a grill fork to hold my kisses while spooning chocolate over them, and then redipped the bottoms separately.

To decorate:
1. Handwrite your messages or create them on the computer. Cut out the strips (about 1/4″ tall and however wide you need).
2. Cut up some square sheets of aluminum foil (about 6″ square)
3. Place dry kiss in center and start wrapping the foil around the base. Insert message near top and secure it by pressing the foil together at top. Note: It really helps to use cheap foil here! The thinner and more malleable the better. Crush it a little first to make it more flexible.
4. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Process Photos:


You may need to shield the sides of the red velvet cake if they’re done before the middle. I halved my cake recipe since I was making two kinds of kisses; if you do this, half the frosting too.


Shaped into cones and then dipping.


Cutting messages into strips.




Did I mention that they were giant?



XOXO


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