Tag Archives: baking

Tres Leches Cake

I made Tres Leches Cake several years ago, and liked it more than I expected. When I decided to have a small Cinco de Mayo party this year, I wanted to try the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (Or maybe I had a Cinco de Mayo party this year because I wanted to try the recipe. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

Tres Leches Cake, literally a three milk cake, is a cake soaked in a mixture of three kinds of dairy, generally sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. In this recipe, the cake is a (butterless) sponge cake, but simplified so it’s made entirely in a (single) stand mixer bowl. Very lightly sweetened whipped cream takes the place of frosting.

I liked this recipe more than Alton Brown’s recipe, which I made before. This cake was very delicious. It was milky and sweet, without being tooth-achingly sweet since it’s slightly sweetened whipped cream for frosting. The texture of the cake held up even after several days. Since the recipe says to reserve extra milk for serving, very little liquid leaked from the cake when I cut it. I didn’t find the extra milk necessary since the cake stayed very moist.

Technical details: This is usually where I say “the recipe was simple.” And it wasn’t hard – for a sponge cake. Like many people, I find standard sponge cake recipes, where you whip egg whites to soft peaks and stiff peaks, and fold in other ingredients without deflating said perfect egg whites, to be a little tricky and nerve-wracking. This recipe is nice because I could whip the egg whites (consulting the internet for pictures of “soft peaks” and “stiff peaks,” because I still need visual reminders), and use the stand mixer to add all remaining ingredients except flour. Since I could use the stand mixer for everything else, I didn’t worry (much) about deflating the cake when I folded in the dry ingredients. [Admission: I used the stand mixer on low for my first two additions of flour, contrary to the instructions; this didn’t ruin the cake.] With soaking the cake, I only worried that the milk would overflow the pan since my cake rose higher than the edge of the pan on one side thanks to my not-level oven. After I topped the cake with whipped cream (which also rose above the pan), I inverted a second pan over it as a cover.

The only change I might try next time would be to use half-and-half instead of heavy cream in the three-milk mixture – save a handful of calories.  Continue reading Tres Leches Cake

Fudgy Butterscotch Bars

These are butterscotch blondies with a layer of fudge in the middle. That’s really all the description you really need to be convinced to make these.

These bars are rich, but very delicious.  The fudge keeps them moist, even after a few days, and I expect that they’d freeze well. The recipe was simple. Layering blondie and fudge layers isn’t something I usually like doing, but it was easy, and honestly, still took less time than dropping cookie dough and baking sheets of cookies would. These bars bake in a 15×10 inch pan, so the recipe makes a lot – great for sharing. The entire pan yields 48, and you certainly don’t want them bigger than that.

I rediscovered this recipe as I’ve been going through my archives from when I started this blog, and I wish I’d revisited it sooner. The recipe actually comes from the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks I bought, off of a bargain shelf at a mall bookstore while I was in high school. It’s also one of the cookbooks that survived the cookbook purge I made when I moved from St. Louis to New Jersey, probably because it’s the source of my Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe. Definitely worth the five dollars I spent on it; I’m glad I kept it.

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Lemon Bars

It’s spring, and one of the most cheerful and spring-like things I could think of to take to a recent party was the Lemon Bars recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made them before, but years ago, and I didn’t have the recipe actually written here on the website. It’s time to fix that, particularly since they’re so delicious and so easy to make.

These lemon bars are incredibly bright and citrusy. They’re nicely tart, definitely sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The base layer is a simple shortbread that comes together very easily with an electric or stand mixer, and the extra-thick layer of lemon curd is easily whisked together. The most time consuming part of making these bars may be juicing the lemons! These bars are great for a potluck or party, because one batch yields a full 9×13 inch pan that will feed a lot of people, especially if cut into 64 two-bite bars (a perfect serving size that lets you get seconds or thirds!). Mine were a little softer than they probably should have been, as I baked them on the shorter end of the time, but the filling still stayed in place except when jostled.

One trick to these: use a metal baking pan that’s lined with parchment paper along the bottom and sides. This keeps the bars from sticking horrendously to your baking pan and allows you to pull them from the pan for easy cutting. Skip it and you’ll be sorry.

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Happy Early Pi Day!

Happy early Pi Day! I thought about waiting until tomorrow, Pi Day (3.14), to talk about pie, but honestly, which is better? Making a pie on Pi Day, or making the pie the day before so you can eat it on Pi Day? I’d rather you also have the option of making a pie in advance.

I wanted to give you a new pie recipe for Pi Day, but whenever I thought about pie over the last few weeks, all I could think about was this Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie that was my first baking project after Amelia was born. So I made it again yesterday (using a frozen pie crust and forgetting to toast my oats), and all the goodness I remembered it being – a chewy oatmeal cookie-like layer over a layer of chocolate. I adore chocolate and oats together, and I don’t combine the two nearly so often as I should.

I have two other favorite pies on this site. First is Key Lime Pie. It is about the easiest pie you could ever possibly make. If you use a store-bought crust and use bottled juice (which I have almost always done), you can make the pie in less than 30 minutes. (Unfortunately, you still have to wait for the pie to chill.) I have two recipes on here, and both are rather good, but I’d probably make this one again.

My other favorite is Coconut Cream Pie. It’s a stirred vanilla custard you make on the stove, with lots of coconut added to it. Sometimes I really crave it, and I have no trouble eating almost the whole pie over a few days, even without Alex’s help. Sometimes I consider finding a different recipe for it, but I’m still really satisfied with this one.

Even if you’re not mathematically inclined, please take tomorrow as an excuse to eat some pie, like I do!

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

Since I posted last, the weather took an unseasonable turn. We had a weekend in the 70s! Most of another week was in the 60s. I took Amelia on walks and to parks several days to let her burn off some of her endless 2-year-old energy. It takes her a while to run out of steam, and I began to fear we’d sunburn in February.

Having had a taste of beautiful weather and sunshine, I have spring fever. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry if we have cold weather again, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’d like to share this bright Grapefruit Yogurt Cake with you. I first made it in 2011 and have made it several times since, although not since I moved to New Jersey.  Although it’s been a while since I made it, I love this recipe. The cake has a subtle citrus flavor that people can’t quite place, but usually assume is lemon. There are so many lemon recipes out there, that it’s nice to do something a little different. This cake is sweet but not too sweet, so it’s perfect for breakfast or a snack.

The cake is simple to assemble. It takes oil but not butter, and yogurt helps keep it tender. Grapefruit zest lightly flavors the batter, but grapefruit juice poured onto the hot cake shortly after it comes from the oven helps keep it moist and gives it extra grapefruit flavor. A simple glaze of grapefruit juice and powdered sugar pretties it up (particularly if your edges brown excessively like mine tend to do). I find it gives the cake an extra bit of flavor, but feel free to omit it.

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Perfect Blueberry Muffins

The last time I made my usual blueberry muffin recipe, I wasn’t as happy with it as I remembered. Those muffins overflowed and flattened out, more of a mushroom shape than a nice, mountainous muffin shape. It was about then that Alton Brown published an updated version, which I tried – and wasn’t thrilled with because they were way too big, among other reasons. (His assertion that everyone loves a muffin top is inaccurate.) So I was pretty excited when Smitten Kitchen updated her blueberry muffin recipe. It made fewer muffins (9, a good number for a family of 2 1/2 people), looked easy to make, and took ingredients I had as long as I still had blueberries on hand.

I was impressed when I tried the recipe. The muffins assembled easily and quickly, and they turned out perfectly, as promised. They were fluffy and moist, even after a couple of days, and had lots of blueberries strewn throughout them. (Alex actually would like a little more muffin, and a little less blueberry.) I liked the hint of lemon in the muffin. The muffins rose and domed nicely – no batter overflowing onto the muffin pan and flattening out. I think this has become my new go-to muffin recipe.

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Continue reading Perfect Blueberry Muffins

Confetti Cookies

Now that my last few posts have been about real food, I’m back to talking about what I really love – cookies. When Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a few months about Confetti Cookies, I wanted to try them – and then became busy and promptly forgot about the recipe, until I rediscovered it during on a weekend when I went on a spree of browsing dessert recipes while waiting for Alex to bring home donuts for breakfast.

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I couldn’t make the cookies immediately, unfortunately, because I didn’t have cream cheese, which the recipe called for. Luckily I remembered to pick it up during my weekly shopping trip. From there, it was a very simple process of stationing my toddler on the kitchen counter, where she could play with Keurig cups while I assembled cookie dough and steal sprinkles that fell off of cookies that I put on baking sheets. (She was very good, and only smooshed one cookie with a container after I flattened it with a glass. But who can blame her for trying to help with the cookies!)

The recipe was pretty easy to make. It’s a standard sugar cookie recipe enhanced by cream cheese. I remember seeing this original recipe in King Arthur Flour, but I had to pass it by since I don’t keep cream cheese in the house. The cream cheese is supposed to up the complexity in the cookie, keeping them from being merely sweet; I also think it helps keep them fresh. Deb made these cookies in the food processor. I tried this for a different Smitten Kitchen recipe I tried once, and it worked splendidly! So I used a food processor instead of my stand mixer. This worked well as I didn’t have to bring my butter or cream cheese to room temperature, and the process was also a few minutes faster.

I cut back on the sugar by accident, but Alex and I agreed that we didn’t miss it; the sprinkles are plenty sweet. This recipe should yield 48 cookies, but I only got 33. They baked perfectly, though. The cookies were wonderfully soft and tender, and were still fresh after being stored in an air-tight container for a few days. I think this will be my go-to sugar cookie recipe.

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Whole Wheat Molasses Bread

My toddler has been eating almond butter on toast for 2-3 meals a day for the last week, so when my dog pulled the last few pieces of bread from the counter and ate them while we were out, I took this opportunity to get back into bread-baking, gently.

Gently, I say, because I opted for super-easy. I didn’t particularly feel like baking bread. I wanted (and we needed) bread for toast, but making yeast bread, even a simple recipe, didn’t fit into our schedule. Since I planned to feed this to Amelia (and myself) multiple times a day, the bread needed to be healthy (whole wheat).

This whole wheat molasses bread (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything) was exactly what I wanted. It’s a soda bread with a little extra. You simply mix a handful of ingredients, plop the batter into a loaf pan, and bake it. No kneading, no waiting for dough to rise.  The bread has a dense crumb, more like a banana bread than a traditional loaf of sandwich bread. I could easily cut it thinly with a bread knife, and the slices were perfect for toast with peanut butter or almond butter. This bread is sweet from the molasses, but the molasses flavor wasn’t overwhelming. This was a great, faster alternative to making sandwich bread, but it has more moisture than sandwich bread, so eat it within a few days of baking.

wheatmolassesbread2 Continue reading Whole Wheat Molasses Bread

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

When I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake on the Smitten Kitchen website, I knew that it would be what I made Alex for his birthday. And I did, a little late, in 2014. It turned out beautifully, perfectly, but I never got around to blogging about it. So this year again, I baked for his birthday.

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This is a fantastic cheesecake. The chocolate cookie crust was delicious, as was the peanut butter cheesecake, as was the chocolate fudge layer hidden beneath the cheesecake layer. Chocolate ganache covers the entire thing (and hides any cracks or flaws you might have, though mine surprisingly didn’t crack).  The peanut butter cheesecake was smooth and creamy; it paired perfectly with all the chocolate. Overall this was a dense and rich cheesecake. I needed to cut slices very thin – about as thin as I could with a cheesecake – in order to be able to finish a slice. The only downside was that the crust was a little dense and hard in the corners where the sides met the bottom; that was the case two years ago as well, and I wish I knew how to fix that.

Given the separate layers, I find this an impressive dessert to make. No layer was particularly difficult to make. It took a little time and planning, but I didn’t have trouble making it with my toddler watching me (though it helped that she snacked on chocolate animal crackers in the meantime). I had it done in a morning, aside from the ganache on top.

If you love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this is definitely a dessert for you.

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Belgian Brownie Cakelets

Anyone who’s read this blog knows I love chocolate. Let me introduce you to one of the purest and most delicious chocolate things I’ve made.

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Over the weekend, I finally made time to make the Belgian Brownie Cakelets from Smitten Kitchen. This weekend was dreary, bringing colder weather as well as snow for the first evening of spring. I didn’t have much in my house that I wanted to cook, though it was a good weekend to cook. This recipe really brightened the whole weekend.

The ingredient list is simple but decadent. Lots of chocolate, butter, and eggs; some sugar; a little salt and flour. It’s rich, but worth every calorie. The recipe itself was easy to assemble as well. Just melt together butter and chocolate; whisk in everything else; let rest; scoop into a muffin tin, then bake. It’s not a flourless cake, but it’s pretty darned close, and is better than most of those cakes that you find. You could substitute in some cocoa powder if you needed to make it gluten-free.

These were amazingly good, just as dense and rich and chocolatey as you might imagine. The cakes were soft and moist; when we microwaved them for 15-20 seconds, they became even richer and more decadent. They’re perfect for entertaining, since they’re individual desserts. Just garnish with a dab of whipped cream and a raspberry or mint leaf. It’s also perfectly fine to split a batch with your husband, for no reason at all except you can.

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