Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spice Cake with Blackberry Preserves and Cream Cheese Icing

My grandpa's birthday falls just a few days before Christmas.  And since I came back to North Dakota a few days prior to his birthday, I was able to make his birthday cake!

I had asked him what kind of cake he would like (or wouldn't like) and he gave me a few ideas of things he likes, but really told me it was up to me to make whatever I wanted.....  One of the ideas he gave me was for spice cake, so I started searching for spice cake recipes.

I found a recipe on that just seemed to click, even though it seemed an odd combination: Spice Cake with Blackberry Filling and Cream Cheese Icing.  See, my grandpa really likes spice cake, but he also really really likes blackberry and also likes cream cheese!  The recipe had good reviews, with nearly everyone saying they'd make it again.  So, I decided to give it a try!

I made a few modifications, however.....  With it being December in North Dakota, I couldn't find any fresh blackberries, and I knew frozen blackberries would be way too messy! So, I found a good (seedless) blackberry preserve and decided to use that between the layers instead.

Cream Cheese icing is one of my enemies, so I also decided to add toasted pecans to the sides of the iced cake.  After all, a mistake isn't a mistake if it can be hidden!  (Thank you, Chef Gronert for teaching me that!).  I just cannot seem to get cream cheese icing very smooth.... Guess I need more practice!

Grandpa pretending a candle from the table decor is his birthday candle.

Despite some issues icing the cake, most of which included me questioning and questioning why on EARTH I decided to use hateful cream cheese icing, I was pretty happy with the results of the appearance.

Thanks to my sister for photographing while I sliced the cake!

And my family was even more happy with the taste!  Although the combination of spice with blackberry and cream cheese does seem an unusual one (and a taste you can't really envision before you actually try it), it was delicious.  And I agree I would make it again!

mmmmm.... Cake with Kahlua 


For cake

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 cup sour cream

For filling

3 1/2-pint baskets blackberries

1/4 cup sugar

**Note, I just used 1.5 jars of the Dickinson Spreadable Fruit Seedless Blackberry
For frosting

1 1/2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

5 cups powdered sugar (about 1 1/4 pounds)

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2-pint basket blackberries

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Sift first 7 ingredients into small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg yolks. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in medium bowl until stiff but not dry; fold into batter in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until top is golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes. Cut around pan sides; release pan sides. Cool cake completely on rack.

Make filling:

Mix berries and sugar in bowl. Mash fruit coarsely with fork. Let stand 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. **Note: I used preserves in place of this.

Make frosting:

Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then sour cream and vanilla.

Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over. Spread half of filling (about 3/4 cup) over frosting, leaving 1/4-inch plain border at edge. Top with second cake layer and 1 cup frosting, then remaining filling. Top with third cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate until frosting sets, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely; keep chilled until 1 hour before serving.) Garnish cake with 1/2 pint berries.

Laura's Variation:
  • Simple Syrup: I used a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, with a splash of lemon juice, that was boiled and cooled to make a simple syrup. I soaked each layer with the syrup before adding the preserves, just to make sure there was enough moisture.
  • Pecan garnish: I toasted pecans in a low temp oven for around 10 minutes until they were fragrant. I then gently patted them on the sides of the cake after it was iced. I think next time, I may also add a sprinkle of nuts between the layers as well.
  • Blackberry preserves garnish: Instead of fresh blackberries, which I could not find, I piped little dots of blackberry preserves over the surface of the cake.
  • Chocolate writing: I melted some dark chocolate chips (I usually use Ghiradelli) and added a few drops of blackberry brandy to thicken the chocolate for piping. 
  • Assembly variation: I did crumb coat the cake and then do a second layer of icing, chilling between applications. I also added a reverse shell pattern around the top edge.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Daring Bakers December 09: Gingerbread House!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers' everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from the Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes. 

I was super excited when I found out what the December challenge was going to be! I had thought about making a gingerbread house, but had decided that it was just too expensive and too much work to do for just myself.  With the challenge, though, I finally had a good excuse to make one!  Ironically, I ended up running out of time to make my house before I came back to ND, so I build my house there instead.

ready to cut

I hadn't build a gingerbread house since middle school, and even then, we used graham crackers over old milk cartons.  A link was provided to a Bob Vila website for gingerbread house building.  What a fantastic site!  I grew up watching Bob Vila's "This Old House" and "Bob Vila's Home Again" so seeing instructions for gingerbread "construction," complete with gingerbread "plans." I used the side gable plans for my house.

freshly baked gingerbread

I decided early on in my planning phase to limit the use of candy in my design. I wanted to practice my piping skills further and it was more cost effective to use less candy.  But I ended up using no candy, just the gingerbread, the icing and then cardamom for the path in the front of the house.

side view

All the piping took much longer than I had anticipated (and also many more batches of royal icing.... ).

back view

I used gelatin sheets for my windows.  And I cut a hole in my cardboard base in order to add battery-operated tea light candles inside the house once it was finished.

The front of the house

I spent many many hours on this house and I am so pleased with the results! I'm definitely making more gingerbread houses in the future!

More pictures will be up on my flickr in the coming days.  I plan to photograph in daylight as well, but I wanted the post to be up on the 27th :)

Okay, on to recipes..... I used Y's recipe for the gingerbread, mostly because I had all the ingredients.  I did use less water than the original recipe called for.  I also used a different royal icing recipe because the one listed for the challenge contained vinegar, which I did not have on hand.....

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas 
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
Royal Icing: {note, I did not use this recipe}
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Joy of Baking Royal Icing Recipe: {I used this recipe instead} 

2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups (330 gm) confectioner's sugar {note, I added more to make a stiffer icing for piping details}

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transfered to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Macarons.

I've been a bit discouraged about the topic of Macarons, especially after my multiple failures (can be seen here).   My love and curiosity about eating and creating flavor combinations for Macarons has stayed strong, only I had lost my confidence in the execution.

A friend gave me the most lovely book i ♥ macarons by Hisako Ogita for Christmas (it can be found here) and so I was inspired to give Macarons a try again.  Let me just say, I love the book!  It has just the sort of style and photography that I'd hoped to have when if I write a cookbook someday.  The photography, especially, is just gorgeous and shows every process step-by-step.

So, with a new macaron recipe, egg whites aged three days, and the aid of the more dry North Dakota air, I set about making macarons again.

And they were a success!! (mostly)

The feet developed beautifully.  I still ended up with a bit of a "hershey's kiss" on top and they are slightly more brown than I would have liked, but nevertheless much more of a success than my October attempts.

I created a candy cane cream cheese filling, using left over cream cheese icing from my Grandpa's birthday cake (post about that coming later) and some pulverized candy canes.  Some of the macarons were plain candy cane cream cheese filled, some were a combo of the cream cheese and melted dark chocolate, and some were just melted dark chocolate.  Beautiful and delicious!

I used gel food coloring, mixed with a little water to "paint" the tops of some of the macarons with Christmas imagery.  I actually coded the filings by what was painted on them (haha) because I'm just like that :)  The macarons without painting along with the ones painted with candy canes were just plain candy cane cream cheese filling. The wreath painted macarons were a combo of the candy cane cream cheese and melted dark chocolate. The trees were just melted dark chocolate.

My dad informed me after photographing these that if I'd only done one of the candy canes upside down, I could have had "joy" written out in the decoration. Oh well, next year.

Well, now that I've achieved (near) Macaron success, the next test will be if I can make these in South Carolina too.....  Stay tuned for more macaron adventures in the coming year :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Memory: Christmas Bread

Gross! Terrible! Blech! Awful!

Those words are all ones I've used to describe my family's traditional "Christmas Bread."  As mentioned in my last post, I've got Scandinavian heritage.  Well, I've also got quite a bit of German in me as well....

To the best of my knowledge, the christmas bread started with my German Great-Grandma, Irene....  Both my grandma and mom have grown up with it as well.  It is a staple at every Christmas Eve dinner.  Think white bread, spiced with cardamom, and filled with vile candied fruit.  Somewhat of a "fruit cake meets white bread" combo.  Gross.  Really, who meant for cherries to be green after all?

I've tried, really I have.  I keep wanting to like Christmas bread (it seems to be the "cool" thing to do), but alas, it stays terrible each time I try it.  Nearly everyone in my family, except myself and my Dad (who didn't grow up on the stuff) like it....

Well, this year, I decided to try something different.  I wanted to make my own version of christmas bread, only one that would taste better (at least to me).  Granted, the recipe needs tweeking, but in my humble opinion, it was better than the traditional  bread.

I took the scandinavian danish dough, spiced with cardamom, that I learned to make this past semester and left out the lamination process.

I added better candied fruit, which I brought back from Whole Foods (although I'd like to make my own next year, or at least my own candied citrus), along with some Marzipan, just because I like marzipan and it worked so well in the brioche I learned to make in class.

I spread the fruit and marzipan over the dough, then rolled it up and allowed it to rise more, before portioning it into cute little paper cups and baking it.

Now, there are a couple changes I would make in the future, which is why I probably won't give the recipe at this time....  Even though the candied fruit I bought is much better than the regular kind one finds in the grocery store, I prefer the taste of the cardamom-rich bread without too much candied fruit.  I might add a bit more fruit next time, and for sure more marzipan (mmmm).

I also had some yeast issues. My original recipe, the one made in school, called for "fresh yeast" but I knew there was no way I'd ever find fresh yeast around here.  So, I switched to dry active but I'm not entirely sure if my conversions from fresh to dry active were accurate. I think I need a bit more yeast next time.  The bread ended up extremely dense and really lends itself better to toasting than simply eating on its own.

Even though my family members (the ones who really really like the old version of Christmas bread) thought this version was very different from the "normal" kind, I like it!  And this way, I'm able to feel like I'm kind of participating in our family tradition of eating christmas bread, only now I'm not just choking it down.  No joke, I really use to have to force it down when my grandma would make sandwiches on it after Christmas!

I wish everyone a wonderful christmas!  I plan to post more about some of my family christmas traditions in the coming days as well. Currently, my Christmas is being spent a great deal quieter than usual because my hometown is experiencing a larger than normal snowfall, coupled with "near blizzard" conditions. So we're snowed in for the time being! We've even had to postpone our traditional extended family get together with my Dad's side due to the poor weather....   Oh well, more time for baking!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Memory: Krumkake

I've had all these Christmas-themed post ideas swirling through my head for the past month.  But then I've had some personal issues come up, so unfortunately I've been away.  I'm back with my family in good old North Dakota for the holiday season and am getting back into baking again.

The area I grew up in is full of people of Scandinavian descent.  I myself am largely made up of Scandinavian blood (with about 8 other different nationalities as well) and many of my childhood friends share similar lineage.  Every year since I was quite young, my friend Kelli and I have made a special scandinavian dessert called Krumkake at Christmas time.

For those not familiar with krumkake, it is a thin butter cookie that is cooked on a patterned double-sided griddle-iron, similar to a waffle iron, only much less deep.  The batter is cooked to a light golden brown, removed from the heat and then immediately rolled around a wooden cone-shaped tool.  They cool slightly on the cone and then are ready to be eaten!  They can be filled or dipped in chocolate, but we always just have them plain.

There really are not words to express the wonderful smell of krumkake as it cooks.  It also makes funny entirely unique squishy squeaky sounds as it cooks.   It is one of those desserts that define Christmas for me!

Tillie Olberg's Krumkake, circa 1925, as used by Kelli and Laura 

1 cup butter, melted
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1-2 tsp Almond Extract
2 cups flour (approximately)

1.  Pre-heat the krumkake griddle
2. Melt the butter and let it cool slightly (so that it will not cook the eggs).
3. Beat the eggs with the slightly cooled butter, the sugar and the extract. Slowly add the flour
4. Drop teaspoons of batter onto the krumkake griddle. Cook until light golden in color. Remove from the griddle and immediately roll around a cone or wooden roller.

Note about the flour:
The batter consistency should resemble something like a thin pancake batter, so add flour accordingly. More or less may be required depending on humidity.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Key Lime & Coconut Cake: Practice Makes Perfect.... sort of....

I am nearly through with my finals!  Hurray!  Last Monday, as previously written, was my practical final in Intro to Cakes.  Earlier in the semester, we had to submit a cake, filling, and icing recipe with the intentions to make it for our practical.

I've been practicing and practicing and tweaking and tweaking my Key Lime and Coconut cake..... in all, I've tested the filling 4 times, the cake 3 times, and the whole assembly twice.....  {and I am so sick of key lime right about now!!}

For our exam, we had to make one 10" cake, but I've only got two 8" pans at home..... so my practice cakes were always smaller (but taller) and then included some cupcakes with the leftover batter. I left the cupcakes in the community area of my apartment complex, so I hope they were well enjoyed!

Despite all my practicing, I'm not going to lie, I was still pretty nervous for the actual exam!  So many people all doing projects at the same time.... Baking with different equipment than usual..... The worry that something catastrophic would happen!  Murphys Law does like to follow me!  So, I decided to try to cheat murphy by bringing some of my own equipment to class (my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer, my scale, my turntable) and some extra ingredients (just in case!)  I camped out, with my plethora of stuff and bundle of nerves, in a corner of the classroom and went to work!

Chef talking about some of the finished cakes. 

And, amazingly everything went well!  The coconut cake baked as usual.  The curd was a little less firm than usual, but not terribly. The Chantilly cream wasn't over worked (as it was a tish in my last practice version).  I didn't make a mess of my Toasted Coconut Garnish.  Best of all, Chef had good things to say about it.  Honestly, I believe it's the best work I've done all semester!  I guess practicing does pay off.

 Chef had to cut into everyone's cake to taste them and so the cakes couldn't be sold, as our cakes usually are.  So we were allowed to take them home.  I certainly didn't want any coming home with me because I still had the whole practice cake in my fridge.  I offered to give my classmates slices to take home because I also didn't want to just throw away my beautiful creation.

Then, disaster struck.....  It was one of those slow motion moments, as I was cutting pieces, I watched my cake slide off the turn table and land *SPLAT* on the floor.  Guess my cake had decided to become a Key Lime & Coconut UPSIDE DOWN cake instead.

Honestly, all I could do was laugh!  I've been afraid of dropping a cake all semester!  And here it was the final, right after grading, and my fear happened.  All I could do was laugh!  Honestly, I really did not care at all. Had it happened before grading, I'd have gotten a zero on the final and my emotions would have been much different.  I was just thankful.


makes 1 ten-inch cake (cut into 4 layers) or 2 eight-inch cakes (assembled into 4 layers) plus 9 or so cupcakes

227 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
460 g cake flour, sifted, plus more for the pans
14 g baking powder
2 g salt
238 g canned unsweetened coconut milk
48 g milk
386 g granulated sugar (divided into 374 g & 12 g)
6 g pure vanilla extract
12 g coconut extract
267 g egg whites at room temperature (approximately 8 large)

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Prepare cake ring and place on parchment lined sheet pan

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and set aside. Stir the milks together and set aside. Put the butter and 374 g of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment;  cream on medium speed until pale and fluffy, abut 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and coconut extracts.

3.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 4 batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. set aside.

4.  Switch to a whisk attachment; beat the egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. With the mixer on medium high speed, gradually add the remaining 12 g of sugar. Beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff and glossy, about 30 seconds.

5.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Scale into prepared cake ring, or cake pans lined with parchment. Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Tap the pan on a work surface to release any air bubbles.

6.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the cakes are golden and firm to the touch (some where around 40 minutes). Let cool before unmolding.

200 g granulated sugar
200 g water
50 g shredded sweetened coconut (angel flake variety)
coconut extract to taste, if desired

1. Combine sugar, water and coconut in a sauce pan.
2. Bring to a boil
3. Cool over an ice bath and strain out coconut pieces, if desired.

158 g egg yolks
253 g granulated sugar
153 g key lime juice (such as Nellie & Joe’s brand)
50 g lime juice
52 g heavy cream
131 g unsalted butter, chilled & cut into small pieces

1. In a heavy saucepan whisk together yolks, sugar, lime juice, cream, and butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture just reaches a boil (do not let boil).
2.  Strain curd through a fine sieve into a bowl.
3.  Cool curd its surface covered with plastic wrap, and chill at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

906 g heavy cream
85 g confectioner’s sugar
Coconut extract to taste.

1.Whip heavy cream with sugar to a medium peak.
2. Add coconut extract.
3.  Continue whipping to a most stiff consistency (may do final whipping by hand)

90 g Let’s Do®...Organic®  Unsweetened Organic Coconut Flakes
100 g shredded sweetened coconut (angel flake variety)

1. Preheat oven to 300° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil
2. Toss coconut varieties on sheet pan
3. Toast approximately 18 minutes, stirring often
4. Cool
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