lemon blackberry petit fours

DSC01830

Spring is coming, even if I have to drag it here by its teeth. For a dinner party tonight, I had to make a dessert that would be easy to eat, without the fuss of slicing and plating and other tasks that delay consumption. I landed on petit fours – they’re basically tiny, bite-sized layer cakes, and they are fun to decorate and easy to eat. In keeping with the impending season, I chose lemon curd and blackberry preserves as the fillings, to give these little nuggets a kick of citrus-y, fruity freshness.

p.s. The colors in that picture are not enhanced. They really are that obnoxiously neon.

ingredientsI’m not entirely sure why I bothered to take an “ingredients picture” if I was only going to include half of the ingredients in it, but it happened, and I think we should all try to move on. The diet Pepsi has nothing to do with the recipe, but it fueled me through the whole messy process, so it deserves a cameo in this post. And I forgot to remove it before I took the picture. Frazzled.

lemond curd 1

These are total cheater’s petit fours, as I used frozen Sara Lee butter pound cake rather than making my own cake. Judge not, this lets you skip one giant step in this multi-step process. Also – and I was surprised at this – the cake itself is actually delicious! Plus, if you start working with it right out of the freezer, it will be much easier to slice up. Of course, if you insist on being a baking rockstar and making your own cake, you can just freeze it yourself before working on it. I’m not trying to tell you how to life your life.

DSC01805While the cake is still frozen, slice off the edges and even it up so that you are left with a nice, smooth, symmetrical block. Save the scraps! They make a yummy little snack to munch on while you are baking. Or afterwards, with some coffee or some ice cream or whatever you want!

DSC01808The term “petit four” means “small oven” in French. Originally, petit fours were baked in coal-fired brick ovens as they cooled, to take advantage of the residual heat. They can be sweet or savory. I’m not entirely sure what the distinction between petit fours and canapés is, as both seem to refer to small appetizers that must be consumed en masse in order to feel anywhere near satiated. And then there are amuse-bouches, (translation: mouth amusers). I think generally “canapé” is used to refer to a savory appetizer, and amuse-bouches fall into this category as well. The term “petit four”, conversely, is usually applied to tiny little desserts. Somebody please straighten me out if I have this all wrong. Regardless of what these are called, we clearly have the French to thank for them (and for the resultant confusion regarding terminology).

DSC01816 DSC01814Before making these, I recommend laying out newspapers or wax paper all over your work surface – the icing will drip everywhere, and this will cut down the clean-up process substantially. The frosting is basically royal icing, so keep that in mind when selecting your fillings – something with a little tang or tartness will help balance out the sweetness of the coating.

I used coconut extract in the frosting, but almond extract, or even mint extract (depending on the fillings) would work well too!

DSC01826Recipe for Lemon Blackberry Petit Fours 

  • 1/2 cup lemon curd (recipe at My Baking Addiction)
  • 1/2 cup blackberry preserves (any other fruit preserves will work as well)
  • 2 frozen Sara Lee butter pound cakes

Prepare the lemon curd and let it cool (you can speed this up by putting the bowl of lemon curd in an ice bath).

Remove the pound cakes from the freezer and trim all edges and sides (including the top) until they are two smooth blocks. Slice each block into 3 layers (like you would to make a layer cake).

On top of two of the layers, spread a layer of lemon curd (amount of lemon curd is up to you, but don’t use too much or the petit fours won’t hold together as well). On another two cake layers, spread the blackberry preserves.

Stack each cake so that their is a layer with blackberry preserves, topped with a layer with lemon curd, topped with the final layer. You may need to trim the sides again to make sure they are perfectly even.

Slice each cake into squares – mine were about 1″ squares, but you can do whatever size you like.

Put all the squares back in the freezer until you are ready to frost them (this will keep them from falling apart while frosting).

Frosting:

  • 4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. coconut extract
  • food coloring (if desired)

Set up a double-boiler, or a heatproof bowl balanced over a saucepan of simmering water. Put all the ingredients in the bowl, and stir to combine. Bring the frosting up to a lukewarm temperature, so that it is “liquid-y” enough to easily coat the cakes.

Set up a cooling rack with newspaper/wax paper underneath to catch all the drippings from the frosting.

Remove the cake squares from the freezer and dip each one into the frosting, then set on the cooling rack. The icing will take 5-10 minutes to solidify. Once the icing is solid, you can remove the cakes from the cooling rack and place them on a serving platter. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Enjoy!

molten chocolate cake

close upThe last time I did this (all the way back in July), I had just moved to New York City and I was consuming alarming amounts of pastries. Fast forward 5 months, and I’m doing much the same thing. But now at least I’m baking them first.

Given the responsibility for Thanksgiving dessert, my mind started wandering into the realm of pumpkins and apples and spices and pies. But in the name of appeasing a picky cousin, I turned away from these happy autumn treats and steered towards an even happier star ingredient: chocolate.

ingredientsIt took all of 30 seconds for me to settle on these dangerous little cakes – I’ve made the recipe several times before and it has never failed to make people continue reaching for more bites even when there is simply no more real estate available in their stomachs.

I’m happy to say that this time was no different, and even after a delicious dinner (during which unspeakable amounts of mashed potatoes were consumed), no one could turn down at least a few bites of dessert.

chocolate butter meltingThis dessert starts by melting chocolate and butter together. Don’t worry if you don’t own a double-boiler, any heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan filled with boiling water will work. The basic idea is that the chocolate/butter shouldn’t come into direct contact with the heat source.

combiningI’m slowly trying to get into the habit of baking and taking pictures again, but time is becoming an increasingly rare and precious commodity in my life. I begin to fear I’m turning into an adult.

ramekinsIn the name of staving off adulthood, dinner tonight will be Diet Coke and jellybeans.

Molten Chocolate Cakes recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare 8 individual ramekins by buttering the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water). Once the mixture is completely melted and smooth, set aside to cool.

Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla stir until blended.

Combine the chocolate mixture and the egg yolk mixture in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, incorporate egg whites into the chocolate mixture GENTLY – do not overmix or this will deflate the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the outside of the cakes are done but the insides/middle remain a little wobbly. If you want less “lava” in the middle, bake the cakes a few minutes longer.

Remove from oven and let rest for a minute or two. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or just by themselves.

Makes 8 individual ramekins.

chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting

Happy Halloween! Here in Italy, Halloween is not really celebrated at all, which is very sad for those of us who view Halloween as an excuse to consume a horrific amount of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the name of “celebrating a holiday.” To make matters worse, my extensive searches all over this city have yielded exactly zero peanut butter cups, so I can’t even sit in my room and eat them by myself while watching Halloweeny movies (read: Harry Potter movies).

There is really only one solution to a problem like this. Step 1: get together with American friends here in Rome. Step 2: Order pizza, eat popcorn, watch movies, and have your own Halloween, Italian indifference be damned. Step 3: find something to replace the peanut butter cups.

Enter chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. It’s not quite the same as the Reese’s cups from home, but since I definitely consumed all the ones I brought back with me within about 72 hours, it was the best I could do.

The chocolate cake part of these cupcakes was amazing. Since there were no cupcake liners to be found here, I had to bake the cupcakes in little tin foil cups, but then remove them before frosting them. Because the cake was so moist, this resulted in a little bit of stickiness when handling the cakes, but again, cupcake liners would solve that problem. The cake itself was chocolatey without being overly sweet, and was even *marginally* healthier than the Contessa intended, because I substituted Greek yogurt for the buttermilk.

The frosting recipe is one that I’ve used a couple of times before, and so far I haven’t had any complaints. It starts like a cream cheese frosting, with peanut butter being the final addition. Because peanut butter can get so dense and rich (and delicious!), I think the cream cheese is the perfect way to introduce a little lightness and tang into the flavor, while still letting it stay plenty peanutbuttery.

This time (as the pictures show), the frosting didn’t come out perfectly smooth and creamy when I piped it, probably due to the fact that I had to mix it by hand, and I was doing so while simultaneously watching the Friends halloween party episode. Despite appearances, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the texture, so it all worked out! Overall, the cupcakes were a success, and I succeeded in eating too many of them. The Halloween tradition lives on.

Chocolate Cake recipe (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease cupcake pan/prepare cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla.

While mixing (or while using an electric mixer), slowly add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Once combined, slowly add the coffee and stir to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan/liners. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: because this cake is very moist even when fully cooked, the toothpick may have some crumbs on it, but as long as there is no uncooked batter on it, the cake should be done). Cool cupcakes completely (I cooled them overnight, but this is not necessary) before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 10 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (preferably a commercial brand, so that the oil doesn’t separate out)
  • 1 – 1.5 cups powdered sugar (according to taste)

Combine cream cheese and butter and mix until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add peanut butter and continue to mix until combined. Spread/pipe onto fully-cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

pecan torte with maple whipped cream

This torte may be one of my new favorite desserts. I like pecans as much as the next person, but prior to tasting this, I thought that this torte was only for the folks who have a serious love thing going on with those funnily-named nuts. This recipe was requested by one such person, and I’m so glad because, although this torte consists of very few ingredients, it is delightful and light and really needs no accompaniment.

It puffs up gloriously in the oven, just like a souffle, and then sinks back down once it begins to cool, immediately alleviating my concerns that I had accidentally made a giant 5-inch tall cake. Just like with a souffle, preparing the batter takes a little bit of patience, at least for me. “Folding” in egg whites is a very stressful task when coupled with my impatience, and I have to work very hard to resist the urge to just mix everything together in order to speed the process along. Resist the urge – it will be worth it.

Now for the whipped cream. I’m sure everyone has heard of/played word association games, like where someone says a word and then you say the word that immediately comes to mind in response. Well, I didn’t want to just make plain sweetened whipped cream, so I stared at the bag of pecans for a few seconds and immediately thought of maple syrup. I can’t help but associate pecans and maple, it is one of the best combinations in my opinion. So the whipped cream had to be sweetened slightly with maple syrup, instead of regular sugar. Major improvement.

Serve this for dessert, as a snack with coffee, or even as part of breakfast/brunch!

I also submitted this to Bake with Bizzy!

Pecan Torte Recipe (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper.

Combine the pecans, flour and salt in a food processor until finely ground; set aside.

Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/3 cup of sugar until pale and thick, about 2-3 minutes. Using a silicone spatula, fold in the pecan mixture and set aside.

Be sure to completely wash and dry the bowl and mixer attachments, and use the mixer to beat the egg whites until foamy. Add roughly 1/3 of the remaining sugar, and continue to beat egg whites until opaque. Then add approximately 1/3 more of the sugar. Continue beating until egg whites begin to form soft peaks, add remaining sugar, and beat until soft peaks are fully formed. Fold the egg whites gently into the egg yolk-pecan mixture. Folding in the egg whites too soon will deflate the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until cake is lightly browned and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of the pan to loosen the edges, and carefully transfer cake from pan to serving platter. Serve plain or with whipped cream.

Maple Whipped Cream Recipe

  • 1 half-pint Heavy Cream
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup

The cream will whip better if you chill the bowl and beaters in the fridge before preparing the cream, so that everything is as cold as possible.

Using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the maple syrup and continue whipping until cream reaches desired consistency. Either serve immediately or chill until serving.

baked chocolate donuts

I have a confession. I’m not a huge donut fan. I don’t mean that I do not like huge donuts, although I suppose I don’t.  But also, I do not like normal-sized donuts. I think its because, when I was younger, during our road trips, we would stop at Krispy Kreme a lot, back when it was a rare treat and a novelty, before they began to appear at every mall in the form of some fundraiser or the other. I get carsick really quickly, so I began to associate donuts with feeling nauseous (through no fault of their own) and hence the donut-aversion.

I don’t, however, have any aversions to cake. Nor do I have the ability to resist really cute cake pans. Especially pans that cost less than $10 and, thanks to my student Amazon Prime membership, promise to be at my door in two days. As if that weren’t wonderful enough, these super cute donut shaped pans also come in a mini size!

Traditionally, donuts are fried, so I’m not sure that I can really call these donuts, but I think that if you, unlike me, found yourself craving a donut, these would do the trick. I know that there are recipes out there designed specifically for baked donuts, to give them a more true donut-like texture, but for these I just used chocolate cake batter. I’ve now used the word “donut” so much that it has lost all meaning.

I made these for my little sister’s birthday party this past weekend, and although they didn’t receive overwhelming verbal enthusiasm (because that is desperately uncool when you are a teenage girl), they were gone pretty quickly, so I can only assume they were acceptable to the discerning palettes of my sister and her friends.

I topped these donuts with a simple homemade chocolate ganache, and a few sprinkles to brighten things up, but because the donuts themselves are really cake, anything that you would top a cake with is fair game as far as decorating these goes. For the base, just use your favorite chocolate cake recipe, or, better yet, brownie recipe. Next time I make these, I’m definitely going to try using a brownie base, for a denser, fudgier donut.

For the base, use your favorite chocolate cake/brownie recipe!

The baking time for the larger donuts was around 5-6 minutes, and for the smaller donuts the baking time was around 3 minutes.

Ganache recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a double boiler and stir until completely smooth and melted. Remove from heat and top each donut with desired amount of ganache. Add any desired sprinkles or decorations.

chocolate raspberry cake and too many birthdays

There are too many people I like who were born in June. My spatula has grown weary, and the oven is threatening to revolt. No. More. Birthdays.

These pictures are decidedly sub-par, even for my less-than-stellar photography skills. Some days you just can’t make things look good. But when those things are covered in chocolate ganache and filled with raspberries and soooo shiny, you eventually have to put down the camera and pick up a fork. My limited sense of coordination makes it impossible to do both at once.

This cake is for a Nice Boy. He likes chocolate and raspberries, so he wasn’t too surprised to be presented with a chocolate cake filled with raspberries and topped with more chocolate (and more raspberries).

I confess to using box cake mix for this cake. I’m not sorry – I think box cake mixes are great, especially if you doctor them up a bit. For this cake, instead of adding water, I added milk (buttermilk is also a popular substitution). I also grated a couple ounces of semi-sweet baking chocolate into the batter, to make it extra chocolate-y. Due to poor planning and estimation, one of those cake layers is regular chocolate cake, and one is German chocolate cake. Calm down, it was fine. For the filling, I warmed chopped fresh raspberries in a saucepan with a little bit of this amazing jam I found in my fridge:

I filled the cake with the raspberries, and topped it with homemade ganache, stuck more raspberries on top, scowled at the mess in the kitchen, and that was that.

For the cake, use whatever chocolate cake recipe you can find, or use a box!

Raspberry Filling Recipe 

  • 1 box fresh raspberries
  • 2 Tbsp. Baco Noir jelly

Chop the raspberries into small pieces, then add to a saucepan along with jelly. Heat over a low flame for 2-3 minutes until jelly is melted and mixture is slightly warm. Remove from heat and spread over bottom layer of cake.

Add top layer of cake. Prepare ganache.

Ganache Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Melt chocolate chips and heavy cream together in a double boiler until chocolate is thoroughly melted. Pour mixture over cake and spread to ensure that entire cake is covered. Top with fresh raspberries if desired.

pecan bourbon fig cake

Today was the birthday of a very dear family friend. Who just happens to love figs. Last year for his birthday, I made Fig and Walnut Biscotti, but I think I’ve been clear on my opinions of non-sliceable birthday desserts. This year it had to be a cake. The search was on. I came across this cake recipe, and called off the hunt. This morning, my mom and I set to work getting it ready.

I myself am not too crazy for figs in and of themselves, but when you puree them and put them in a cake batter (or biscotti dough!) they are pretty excellent. The cake was rich and moist and perfect, and the figs deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that. The pecans are in there for crunch and you can pretty much dictate the pecan presence in this cake by modulating the size of the chopped pecan pieces. We left pretty sizable chunks of pecan, but chop them according to personal preference and all will be well.

Truthfully, this cake is just as delicious without the glaze, and we debated whether or not to even make it. We thought the cake might be too sweet already, but despite the figs and sugar, the cake isn’t overly saccharine. The glaze is sweet, of course, but the bourbon in the glaze really stands out and I think it adds some extra flavor. Plus, its so quick and easy to make.

Pecan Bourbon Fig Cake (adapted from Epicurious.com)

  • 1 lb. Turkish figs, dried
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 bourbon (I used Wild Turkey, but you can use anything)
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

Simmer the figs in the water in a heavy saucepan, covered, for about 25 minutes or until water is mostly absorbed. Puree in food processor with bourbon and vanilla extract. Cool to warm. 

Preheat oven to 350°F, and grease bundt pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Beat together brown sugar, eggs, and oil with electric mixer until thick and creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in fig-bourbon mixture. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in pecans.

Pour batter into pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 60-75 minutes.

Glaze (adapted from Epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. bourbon
  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Pour glaze over cooled cake.