unwrapping the layers

butterscotch roll-up cake

I’m back! Did you miss me, my sad, lonely, long-neglected, barely-clinging-to-life blog? Because I’ve missed you dearly. The thing is, not only have I not posted anything for (gulp) more than a year, but I’ve hardly baked anything over that period. A coffee cake here, a batch of cookies there, yes but I really haven’t been baking with anywhere near the kind of regularity that I would like. But it’s a new year, and I really, truly, sincerely want to bake – and post – more often. So I’m going to give it an honest try, friends. In that spirit, let’s hit the freakin’ road.

reviving the cookbooks and making the cakes

Fluffery

Because I’ve been baking almost never, my cookbook shelf has felt very lonely. But a few days ago, I dusted the old books off and started poring through them. Did I want to start with something simple, like a coffee cake? Or maybe a batch of cookies? Or some kind of pudding or custard, in the spirit of winter? No on all counts, I decided; I chose instead to do something a little more ambitious. I received Julie Richardson’s lovely Vintage Cakes for Christmas this year, and, while flipping through it, my eyes landed on the recipe for this Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake. Essentially, the roll-up is a chiffon cake (typically used for jelly rolls and the like) that is cut into pieces and wrapped into a spiral, with the pieces held together with butterscotch frosting. It looked lovely, and unusual, and delicious. And ambitious. All of those things added up to a sell for me. I got started right away.

The first step is to make the butterscotch sauce that gets mixed with cream to make the filling and, eventually, dribbled on slices of cake. Incidentally, did you know that butterscotch sauce contains both butter AND scotch (i.e., whiskey)? Because I didn’t, and it was a revelation (and yet someone thought it would be a great idea to admit me to law school; it’s a funny world). At any rate, it’s delicious. First, you get out a saucepan and cook butter and brown sugar until they gets taffy-ish and smell heavenly. Then, mix in some cream and boil at medium-high heat until the color darkens and the sauce starts to smell ever so slightly like burnt sugar. Then, you remove the sauce from the heat, wait for it to cool a few minutes, and mix in a bit of scotch, vanilla, and salt. Then the sauce goes into the refrigerator to cool completely while you make the cake and the frosting.

The cake is pretty straightforward: sift together the dry ingredients except a bit of the sugar. Then, you’re supposed to mix egg yolks, oil, water, and vanilla together. Here, though, I ran into a little bit of an oops: the recipe calls for six egg whites and four egg yolks. But I, being rusty at this whole “following baking directions” thing, accidentally used six egg yolks. Yes, that is 50% more egg yolk than the recipe calls for. But I have to say, the cake was, I think, the better for it. The crumb was a bit more moist than a typical chiffon; still light, but almost a bit pudding-like in its consistency. So, if you’re not afraid of egg yolks, I would suggest using all six, like I did. Or maybe five? I don’t know; give it a try, and tell me your thoughts and feelings.

Anyway, after mixing the yolks, you mix the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture, whip six egg whites and some sugar to stiff, shiny peaks, then fold the yolk mixture and whites together. Then you distribute the batter onto a jelly roll pan. After the cakes are done, while they’re cooling, you make the frosting by mixing most of the butterscotch sauce with some heavy cream. Then comes the really fun part: first, you cut the cake into slices with a serrated knife. You spread about half of the frosting over the slices, then start piecing them together like a little puzzle. Then you frost the outsides, and voilà! A beautiful cake to impress your friends, intimidate your enemies, and attract new lovers (or, you know, just to eat).

After the cake chilled in the refrigerator for a bit to firm up, Kenan and I took it over to Chris and Jodi’s house for an evening of watching Treme (which I love, unreservedly and unabashedly) and eating cake. And the cake was, if I do say so myself, loverly: light, almost ethereal, and sweet but not toothache-inducing. It definitely felt good to be back in the game.

butterscotch cream roll-up cake

spread

RECIPE: roll your own cake, this way…

ingredientsbutterscotchprepflourpoursurfaceslicecrackiceninja beano!roll
spiced oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies.

spiced oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies.

I couldn’t stay away. I know, right? Two posts, in less than two weeks. I’d better pace myself. It’s just that our good friends Chris and Jodi were having a little soiree to say goodbye to the summer and give Chris a nice send-off before he joins me in the black hole of law school. So, you know, I had to make some sweets to mark the occasion.

My first thought was to do some type of cookie, either of the drop or bar variety, but what kind? I pored through my baking cookbooks, hoping that something would pop out at me, but nothing did. Fig and pecan hermit bar cookies? Peanut butter chocolate chip drop cookies? Oatmeal cookies? They all sounded delectable, but I couldn’t decide. I asked Kenan what he thought, and he suggested that I go with some spiced oatmeal cookies from chocolate bar. That sounded nice, but as usual, I ignored the feeling that I should just trust Kenan, so I wrote Jodi giving her some options and asking for a second opinion. Unsurprisingly, she and Chris both liked the chocolate bar option best, so I went with those guys.

I realized, after deciding to go with these oatmeal suckers, that they were not dissimilar to some other cookies I’d made, long ago. But after giving the ingredient list a once-over, I determined that they were different (and delicious-looking!) enough to warrant a go-ahead. That being decided, I got down to bidness.

oatmeal niceties

scoopies

On the day of the party, I wrangled my ingredients together and stood, once again, in the kitchen, ready to do baking battle. I did my mise en place and then got to it. I sifted the dry ingredients together; I creamed butter and sugars dark brown and granulated until smooth, then added the eggs and vanilla. I mixed in the dry ingredients, then the oats and chocolate, and stuck the whole lot in the refrigerator to chill out.

But here’s the thing: the recipe says to chill the dough for six hours. Six! I was not expecting that. You see, I’m not the best at reading the recipe all the way through before I get started (read: I never do it because it’s deeply boring and I’m very impatient). As such, I didn’t leave myself enough time to do all that chilling. So what I did was stick the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes, to get things nice and cool really fast. Then I moved it to the refrigerator so the dough didn’t get completely frozen and hard to deal with. At any rate, once the dough was sufficiently cool and firm, I heated my oven to 350 degrees. I got some baking sheets out and dropped the dough onto the sheets in little balls. I stuck the baking sheets in the refrigerator to offset the timing mishap, and then, once the oven was hot enough, I stuck the sheets in the oven.

The cookies came out perfectly, if I do say so myself, even despite my failure to follow the directions exactly. They were just slightly crispy on the outside, golden brown on the bottom, and gooey with chocolate on the inside. And they were a huge hit at the party. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word that people liked them, because we forgot to get any shots of people actually eating the cookies. But I’m sure you can imagine: a bunch of folks in a Brooklyn apartment, talking, laughing, and eating cookies (and other things, too, of course, but none as exciting as cookies). It’s a good image, no?

spiced oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies.

cookiecookiecookie

find out more about cookies, this way

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almond and jam dinosaur sandwich cookies.

almond and jam dinosaur sandwich cookies.

I know, it’s been shameful, this long, inexcusable silence. You see, this law school thing is just as time- and life-consuming as everyone says it is (it’s also, incidentally, awesome, but that’s another story altogether). And, in the midst of going to class and reading books and writing exams and trying not to freak out all the time and doing my summer job, I managed to let this blog thing go by the wayside for… well… far too long. I hope you can somehow find it in your hearts to forgive me.

getting the baking back together

tastebuds thankfully did not stop working during baking hiatus

On a recent rainy Sunday morning, as I was moping around the house worrying about nothing in particular and wondering what to do with myself, I remembered that, once upon a time, I quite enjoyed baking. “Hm,” I thought to myself. “What if I made some delicious treats?” Not wanting to let this sudden and unexpected surge of baking motivation go to waste, I ran the whopping four steps from my living room couch to the kitchen and started poring through a few cookbooks in search of something pleasing. After getting over my fear that I had completely forgotten how to bake and would end up making something disastrous, I settled on some lovely looking almond and jam sandwich cookies from Elinor Klivans’ delightful Big Fat Cookies.

I perused the list of ingredients, which was quite short and straightforward: flour, salt, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, toasted blanched almonds, and jam. Because it had been so dreadfully long since I’d baked anything, I had to suit up in my rain jacket and (gasp) leave the house, braving the seemingly unstoppable rain, in order to get a few ingredients. I settled for the jam filling on some lovely strawberry-raspberry preserves from Sarabeth’s Kitchen. And, because there was nary a blanched almond in all of Greenpoint, I got some regular ol’ raw almonds instead of the blanched ones. I returned home with my provisions, hoping that my inability to procure blanched almonds wouldn’t end up making the sky fall.

getting down to brass tacks

mammoth cookie is mammoth

Once I had returned from my watery, slippery journey, I got started. Like a good baker, I measured out all my ingredients ahead of time and laid them out in front of me. I sifted the flour and salt together, beat the butter and sugar in my stand mixer, then folded in the vanilla and almond extracts, ground almonds, and the flour. I managed not to forget anything or spill the dough on the ground. Then I wrapped the dough up in plastic and let it firm up for a little while.

After the dough had cooled sufficiently, it was time for rolling and cookie shaping. Now, here’s the thing about this cookie dough: it’s totally delicious, but very, very delicate, and I had a heck of a time getting it to obey my rolling wishes. I had to re-roll and patch the dough with a slurry a few times in order to get it to hold together correctly. If you anticipate having trouble with the rolling out process, I would suggest placing the dough between two sheets of waxed paper and rolling it out that way; it cuts back on the whole dough-sticking-to-the-rolling-pin-and-making-your-life-miserable factor. If you think that’s still not going to be enough, you might consider adding a tablespoon or two of water to the dough at at the final stage, in order to ensure a more sturdy dough.

After I’d gotten the feisty, fickle dough to hold together, I went through our cupboards to look for cookie cutters, only to realize that we don’t have any normal, simple, run-of-the-mill cookie cutters. Instead, we have extra-cool-super-duper cookie cutters, in the shape of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. I know; awesome. But it turns out that my delicate, contrary cookie dough could not hold up to the awesome complexity of my dino-cutters, and most of the cookies we shaped ended up with noses and tails missing due to difficulties with the extraction process. Those prehistoric animals lead a hard existence, I’m afraid. Also, because we didn’t have the dino-cutters in different sizes, we had to cut shapes out of them by hand, in order to provide picture windows for the jammy centers. Eventually, though, everything worked out, and we popped the adorable, war-wounded dinosaur shapes in the oven.

When the cookies came out, they smelled and looked delicious: ever so slightly golden brown and flaky all the way through. I lifted them carefully out of the pan and laid them out on the counter for their final adventure: surviving the jam filling. I spread a little bit of the jam onto each non-cut-out dino and then carefully placed the matching cut-out dino on top. The result was adorable and delectable: a buttery, almondy sandwich cookie with lovely preserves in the middle. I sighed with relief that I had managed to make it through my return to baking relatively unscathed.

toasted almond and strawberry-raspberry jam sandwich cookies.

circle of jam-filled joy

get back to baking with delicious sammich cookies, over this way

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raspberry rhubarb pie.

raspberry rhubarb pie.

Oh, rhubarb. You ubiquitous late spring presence, you vegetable of desserts. I can never resist you when I see you at the farmer’s market, all brightly colored and stalky and tempting. I’ve done rhubarb pie before on this ‘blog, but I was thinking it might be delicious to do something slightly different than the standard combination of strawberry and rhubarb. Don’t get me wrong; I adore strawberry rhubarb pie, but decided to mix raspberries with my rhubarb instead, just to mix things up a bit. I know, it’s crazy, but everything turned out all right in the end, I promise. Won’t you come along for the ride?

crusty times

raspberry blackberry rhubarb pie filling

We had plans that weekend to go to Tanveer and Kelly’s place for a dinner party, so I did the crust in the morning. I started in on my go-to flaky pie crust recipe (adapted from Tartine), with some of the delicious pastured cultured butter I’ve been so enamored with lately (furnished to us by the wonderful folks over at Organic Valley). I pulsed the butter with some flour, added water and salt, and bam! Into the fridge with the whole lot. After the crust had cooled and firmed up sufficiently, it was time to do the filling. I chopped up the rhubarb, mixed them with the raspberries, and then added some sugar, cinnamon, egg, honey and lemon juice (to bring out the flavor of the fruit).

Then it was rolling time, which always makes me a little fretful; I’ve never quite developed the technique (or strength) to roll out the dough quickly and efficiently enough to stop the fat from warming up and starting to melt by the time it’s in shape to go in the tin. But I did my best, coaxing the dough into shape with the rolling pin and scooping it, gently, from work surface to pie tin. I let the bottom crust cool in the refrigerator for a few minutes while I reheated the oven. When the crust was ready to go, I dumped the filling in and rolled out the dough for the top crust, again getting myself a little anxious over the rolling and transferring. I ended up accidentally poking a hole in the top of the crust and having to patch things together with a slurry, but it ended up being okay, if not entirely aesthetically perfect.

And then baking time finally came to pass. After coating the top crust with an egg wash, I slid the pan into the oven and waited while the smell of gooey, baking fruit filled our tiny apartment. And eventually, magically, the conglomeration of dough and fruit became a pie. It turned out marvelously, golden brown and fragrant and shiny and crusty. When it had cooled off a bit, we wrapped it up for travelling and headed to the party.

roof time, pie time.

raspberry rhubarb pie

In case you’re wondering, it’s actually quite difficult to transport a pie-laden tin on foot from one end of Greenpoint to the other. Kenan and I had to switch off pie-holding duty several times during our travels, but eventually we made it to our destination, sweaty and ready for food and good company. And after we’d had some lovely dinner and waited for dessert time to happen, we bit into the pie. And oh, my goodness, gosh wow. Flaky crust on the outside, sweet and tangy and refreshing on the inside, gooey and sticky but not too rich. I was, needless to say, quite happy with my efforts. And folks at the party seemed to like it, too; it disappeared in fairly short order. And then we sat around on the roof some more, digesting and letting the air finally cool off around us, which was really quite a lovely fashion in which to finish off a summer day.

raspberry-blackberry rhubarb pie!

raspberry rhubarb pie

get a recipe and eat pie in the sunshine, after the jump

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lemon-poppy seed cake with raspberry-cherry glaze

lemon-poppy seed cake with raspberry-cherry glaze

I know, seriously, it’s been way too long. I would like to be able to say that I’ve had some pressing thing that forced me to leave this blog by the wayside for so long, like a forgotten favorite toy, but I don’t. I mean, I’ve been busy, sorta, but not busy enough to warrant such an extended absence. I am sorry, blog. You will not be forgotten again.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming: delicious treats.

When I was about 12 years old, I had what might have been deemed an unhealthy obsession with the mini lemon-poppy seed bundt cakes at one of our local bakeries. I would eat them whenever I could, relishing especially the crispy, buttery bottom sides of the little things. They were moist and delicate and wonderful, but I think the thing I was most enamored with was the shape: the treats had the form of full-sized bundt cakes, molding and all, but were about the size of a standard muffin. I forgot about my erstwhile gustatory preoccupation at some point while I was growing up and getting old and boring and less willing to eat cake for breakfast. But thankfully, a little while ago I happened upon a recipe for lemon cake in Maida Heatter‘s Book of Great Desserts. For some reason, although the recipe made no mention of poppy seeds, I was reminded of my childhood obsession, and thought it would be fun to tweak Maida’s probably already stellar recipe and perhaps approximate the glory of the mini bundt cakes of my youth. The 12-year-old in me squealed with joy and anticipation.

lemon poppy strategizing

bundt pan

I ended up making this cake several times, for several different reasons. The first time I tried it out, I wasn’t even planning to put it in this here ‘blog; my brother, a devoted and opinionated foodie, was coming over for an impromptu dinner party and I wanted to have something sweet to impress him. So, using the recipe as a base, I got started. I added an extra egg yolk to the recipe, for more richness and creaminess. I also used a bit of brown sugar, to increase the sassiness (yes) of the sugar and add a bit of caramely goodness.

And then, of course, there were the poppy seeds. Because this dessert adventure had been a last-minute decision, I had to work with what I had in my kitchen. I pulled a little bag of poppy seeds out of my cupboard, eyed them hopefully, and poured them into a measuring cup. They came out to somewhat less than a half a cup. I had no idea what would be the ideal amount of poppy seeds, so I shrugged and threw them into the batter. Another change came with the lemon content: the recipe calls for lemon zest, which is all well and good, but I only had lemon juice, so I just squeezed a tablespoon into the batter and called it a day.

Once I had mixed everything together, I poured it into my bundt pan and plopped it in the oven. It came out wonderfully: a really crispy, dark-brown crust with a nice springy lightness to the crumb. I was quite excited.

But I still felt that the cake needed something: Maida’s book suggests a nice light lemon glaze, but I had a whole bunch of jam in the fridge, so I opted to make a bright, fruity, tangy jam glaze instead. I threw some preserves in a saucepan with a tiny bit of extra sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, heated everything up and cooked it down until it was nice and syrupy, and poured the glaze over the cake slices just before serving. Délicieux!

lemon poppy adventuretime

battertime

The cake turned out so well, in fact, that I decided to make it again, to perfect the proportions in the recipe and also so Kenan could get some pictures in. And it turned out even better. I make the cake with a small amount of wheat flour, changed the ratio of brown to white sugar, and added some more poppy seeds. I also used different jams for the glaze, throwing together a combination of whatever jam remains we had in the fridge. It turned out even better this time, a nicely-coordinated series of tastes and textures. I was happy enough with the results that I was able to muster up the courage to bring it to Champion to give our favorite baristas a taste. And they liked it! Like, enough to ask me if I wanted to sell the cake the following weekend.

I was overjoyed at the prospect of selling my baked treats at one of my favorite eateries in all of Brooklyn, and nervous that I was going to mess something up and disappoint everyone. I also kinda felt like I was deceiving someone, somehow. I mean, how else to explain that I could just give a piece of cake to a lady in a coffee shop and have her suddenly want to buy a whole cake from me and sell it in her store? But I pulled it together, in the end: on a Friday night, I made the cake again, keeping the same proportions as before. I made the glaze and stuck it in a travel container, and the folks at Champion put the glaze in individual serving cups so customers could slather it in themselves. And people seemed to like it, I think.

And that’s my whole story. Neat, huh?

lemon-poppy seed cake with raspberry-cherry glaze.

counter top champion

recipes to cure your woes, just round the corner

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