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.
My mom has had a recipe in her recipe box for a chocolate sheet cake for as long as I can remember. She kindly texted me a copy of it a few weeks ago when I really, really wanted to make a sheet cake. I thought it was a Texas sheet cake. It’s not, although it’s similar. Although I thought I wanted to make a Texas sheet cake, I trusted that I’d had and enjoyed this cake before, so I went ahead with it.
It’s been a while since I’ve tried a recipe that wasn’t published online or in a cookbook, so I was a little nervous. However, the cake was delicious. It’s basically a frosted brownie. I inadvertently halved the oil in the cake, but it still came out very moist and stayed moist for a week. The cake itself was tender and chocolatey; it’s a definite keeper. Our least favorite part was the icing, which came out sugary – crystalline and fragile. The cake definitely needs a light icing, and although this one provided just the right amount of coverage and kept the cake from drying out, I’ll try a ganache next time for a better texture.
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.
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.
My intermittent weekend baking continues. While Alex took weekend nap duty with the baby, I whipped up a quick and easy chocolate chip coffee cake (adapted heavily from Taste of Home) for him for Father’s Day. If you just have one coffee cake recipe in your rotation, this should be it.
My friend Kate came from St. Louis to visit us in New Jersey! She was the first of our friends to visit (aside from when she and Jen drove out here with me). Alex and I were very excited to have her as a house guest. We three and baby had a great time visiting the boardwalk in Ocean City (which I think I prefer over Atlantic City’s) as well as relaxing at home.
Kate didn’t just visit us – she visited on her birthday! I don’t yet have much of an opportunity to cook and bake (although hopefully that will change soonish), but I had to make her something. Kate is vegan, so of course the Vegan Clementine Cupcake recipe from King Arthur Flour jumped out at me when I saw it this month.
The cupcakes were incredibly easy to make. The recipe calls for peeled, finely chopped clementines or tangerines, but I think any flavorful seedless orange would work. I took a hint from the reviews, and used mandarins from Trader Joe’s and left the thin skins on them. Rather than chop them by hand, I whirred them in my bullet blender for a few seconds until it was slightly chunky pulp. These cupcakes are vegan, but they don’t take any fancy ingredients other than fresh citrus. Vegan or not, they’re the best orange cake I’ve ever tasted.
During my first year of recipes, I made a St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake and promised myself that I would make another one some time. The baking time given in the recipe I made several years ago was far too long, so the cake turned out tasty but far less gooey than it should have been.
This year I decided to finally make it again. I wanted to make one for my friend Jen for her birthday. As a bonus, I could count it for bread for Bread Week 34 since it took yeast.
Here I will tell you the story of how I was disappointed with a very big, delicious cheesecake.
It resulted from cold, unsoftened cream cheese.
I didn’t believe it would make such a big difference, but it did. There is no substitute for thoroughly softening your cream cheese when you make cheesecake. This, more than anything else than I can imagine, is what might make me turn away from a cheesecake. The crack that might form on top if you beat too much air into it or cool the cheesecake too quickly is disappointing, but manageable – you can just cut the cheesecake along those lines, or top the cheesecake with fruit. The cheesecake isn’t so pretty, but it’s still tasty. However, those lumps of cream cheese that aren’t dissolved smoothly into the batter will coalesce in your cheesecake, resulting in more of a curd-like texture. Which is fine if you’re like my husband and love the flavors of cheesecake and honey and bourbon, and focus on that alone. It makes it more difficult for people like me, who will reject food based on texture alone.
I lamented the lack of smooth, creamy cheesecake which I desired, but I managed. It was truly a mess of my own making with a good recipe.
The Honey Bourbon Cheesecake recipe came from A Splash of Bourbon, which I bought while Alex and I toured the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I’ve enjoyed the book, even if I haven’t made too much from it yet. We liked this recipe – the flavor of of the cheesecake was great. It also happened to be the first cheesecake I’ve made that didn’t develop a crack along the top. That’s definitely a point toward soothing my pride.
My friend Kate was willing to sacrifice a birthday dinner so she could watch a co-ed softball game that her friends play on. That’s friendship. To show how special she is, I thought I would surprise Kate with cake!
Kate is also vegan, which makes baking a little, but not a lot, trickier. I also had to make something gluten-free if I wanted to make sure everything tasted okay, as any good baker will do. (How do you discover you forgot the sugar unless you taste the batter?) So I went to a website she shared with me, and found this recipe for gluten-free and vegan Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes.
Valentine’s Day was a Friday this year, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going out to dinner with hordes of other people. I had no inspiration for dinner (we ended up buying steak and appetizers at Trader Joe’s), but I had decided earlier that I absolutely had to make this Almond Macaroon Torte with Chocolate Frosting. I love baking and I love sweets, but decorative desserts usually aren’t my thing. I don’t like having to focus on presentation. But for this dessert, I made an exception.
I’ve tried making almond macaroons once or twice, and they haven’t turned out perfectly. I simply don’t whip egg whites often enough to have them turn out well every time. But this time, everything turned out just fine.
I got the urge to take cupcakes to a potluck recently. With frosting. And heart sprinkles for Valentine’s Day.
Luckily, I recently bought a gluten-free baking book, Gluten-Free Baking Classics. It had great reviews on Goodreads (where I check out ratings on any book before I purchase), so I looked forward to using it. I enjoy reading cookbooks from cover to cover – in fact, I do that on my phone while I ride the train each morning – but I skipped forward to see what cupcake recipes the book had. It had several cake recipes, but only one recipe for cupcakes. I didn’t mind, because it was exactly the recipe that I wanted – basic yellow cake that I could top with chocolate frosting.