Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Remember a few months ago when I was drowning in lemons? I wish I would have had this recipe on hand back then. Not that having too many lemons is a bad problem to have, but finding a variety ways to use the juice and zest of 60+ huge lemons can be difficult. I made lemonade, lemon curd, lemon cake, lemon everything without even putting a dent in my stash before the hubs and I were completely lemoned out (if such a thing is possible). Long story short, I still have a substantial amount of lemon juice and zest in my freezer and only a few days in which to use it before we move to Chicago. This cake is particularly good for using up a lot of lemon in one shot, thanks to the surprising amount of juice needed for the batter and the soaking syrup; even better, though, is that it tastes so good, you'll want to double the recipe and give some away as a gift. Make it a day in advance so the soaking syrup has time to thoroughly moisten the cake, and so the initially strong lemon flavor can mellow into a pleasant balance of tang and sweetness. I'd also like to try skipping the final glaze and serving the cake with this instead, but this cake is perfect as is.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

* 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
* 3 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
* 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

* 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
* 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: 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.

Disclaimer: I have no pictures, because... well... I really didn't like this particular dessert. Somewhere among the pudding-like chocolate buttercream, the strangely textured cake layers, and the strong lemon flavor in the caramel, it just lost all appeal to my eye and my palate. I wish I could elaborate more, but at the moment, the moving guys are here packing up everything, and the car movers are supposed to be here soon. Forgive my brevity, but I've got a busy day ahead.

Dobos Torte


* 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.
* 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 layers

* 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 (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
* pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

* 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
* 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

* 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)

Finishing touches

* a 7” cardboard round
* 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
* ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:
(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.)

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.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:
(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!

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.

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.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Big Change + Lemon Buttermilk Raspberry Muffcakes

People, this summer has been crazy. A few months ago, with only a week's notice, the hubs and I packed up our lives and moved across the country; this week, we do it again. Our destination? Chicago. It's going to be easier this time, though, because we haven't unpacked anything and have been living in limbo for the past 4 months, and the fact that we love the Chicago area helps make another quick move more palatable (though I'm totally ignoring the fact that Chicago is known for its brutally cold winters and I've never lived anywhere north of Northern Virginia. I lack that particular cold weather gene, so I'll probably be perpetually miserable for like 10 months out of the year, but I can adapt. Maybe. If you're ever in the Chicago area and you want to find me, just look for the woman wearing ski gear while everyone else is still in shorts. That'll be me). I'm not complaining, though. Chicago is a foodie's paradise with no shortage of fantastic restaurants, markets, and specialty shops to keep the hubs and me occupied. That said, forgive me if my posts are sparse over the next couple of weeks. I'll be a bit busy :).

I made these delicious little muffins a couple of days ago, and they were a hit. They're more cake than muffin (leading my husband to dub his "the muffcake"), so unless you routinely eat cookies and ice cream for breakfast, don't think of these as a breakfast item. They're sweet, with a slightly tart bite from the buttermilk and a hint of lemon that perfectly compliments the single raspberry atop each muffin. They're simple, satisfying, and all-around perfect.

Lemon Raspberry Buttermilk Muffcakes

(from Bon Appetit)
Makes 12-18 muffins (I got 17 out of this recipe)

1 1/8 cups sugar, divided
4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
One fresh raspberry per muffin

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin cups with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray. Mash 1/8 cup sugar and lemon peel together in small bowl until lemon peel releases oils and moistens sugar. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat remaining 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in egg, then buttermilk, then vanilla and lemon sugar. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter among muffin cups (I filled mine about 1/2 to 2/3). Place one raspberry on each muffin and bake until tester comes clean, about 20 minutes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cardamom Plum Compote

Mmm... wild red plums. We came across several baskets of these at our local farmers' market over the weekend. It almost seems like a crime to eat these precious little gems in any form other than the way nature intended- fresh and unadulterated; however, we found ourselves driving home from the market with more plums than we could possibly eat before they spoiled. What can I say? I have no self control.

Instead of letting my bounty go to waste, I threw together a quick compote, because really, there's never any good reason to throw away fruit. They're incredibly easy to throw together, they're a great way to use up excess fruit, and they're about the most versatile thing you'll ever make. They're fun to experiment with, and it's hard to go wrong: strawberries and red wine, peaches and ginger, or just raspberry with a hit of lemon. Berries and stone fruits work wonderfully, and you can it on anything from vanilla ice cream to lemon cake. I generally use 10 parts fruit to 1 part sugar, though that will vary based upon the sweetness of your fruit. I like to keep mine on the tart side since I usually use them to compliment a sweeter dessert. At any rate, I love keeping compotes on hand, because nothing takes dessert to the next level like a spoonful of this stuff.

Cardamom Plum Compote

This makes a small amount of compote, enough for 4-6 people.

Eight to ten small wild red plums, cut into smallish chunks
Sugar, to taste
One generous pinch of cardamom
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Heat fruit and sugar in a small saucepan until the fruit gives off liquid. Add cardamom, simmer 5-10 minutes until enough liquid has evaporated and compote has thickened. Stir in vanilla, adjust sugar (if needed), and simmer another minute. Let cool.