Archive for the ‘Cakes’ Category

Lemon Curd Cake

[I could not find this recipe on Martha’s website to link to, although there are lots of recipes for lemon curd, sour cream cakes, and frosting so you could probably poke around there and figure something out.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

I love just about anything baked with lemon and this cake is certainly no exception. It’s wonderful.  It’s also very, very lemony. So if you don’t like tartness in general or lemon in particular, you may come to a very different conclusion.

Sour cream, lemon juice, lemon zest, other cake ingredients. What’s not to love.

The batter was very easy to make and lovely to work with. (This attachment is similar to my mixer paddle that has a flexible blade that will clean the sides of the bowl as you mix.)

And it baked up perfectly! I’m sorry I didn’t get a shot of the baked cakes.

Each of the two cakes is halved, yielding four layers.

Some of that mind-blowing lemon curd goes in between each layer. The curd is the only thing between each layer of cake.

The frosting is a lemon version of the MSBH’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  This frosting – the Swiss Meringue Buttercream – is an absolute dream to work with. Making it gets a little involved but you end up with the fluffiest, creamiest, smoothest, most wonderful frosting.  To make this lemon version, you just add some of the lemon curd and stir it all together.

A crumb layer of frosting is applied and the cake is chilled before the final frosting is applied.

The recipe does not talk about this but once all the frosting was applied, I used a clean offset spatula dipped in hot water to smooth the frosting, making it look a little more “finished.”  I think I learned about this from one of Martha’s baking videos, although I don’t remember exactly. You just lightly drag the wet spatula over the frosting.  Wipe it off before dipping it back in the water but leave it wet to drag across the frosting.

The recipe then instructs you to use the remaining lemon curd to decorate the cake. It says to use a parchment paper piping tool but I knew that would be far, far beyond my ability.  I opted for a plastic Ziploc bag. I think the parchment paper tool would have created better looking decorations, certainly. And I will use one before this project is over. But this cake was not the cake for that, you guys. This cake was not the cake.

The use of layered pieces of parchment paper to shield your cakestand while decorating is a tip I definitely remember getting from one of Martha’s videos and she also mentions it in the MSBH.  It’s so brilliant. You just slip the paper out when finished and voila, the cakestand is clean and tidy without having to transfer the cake from somewhere else.

The decor is amateurish but I still kind of like it.

Per the instructions, you make a double batch of lemon curd for this cake but I had nearly 2 cups leftover. I think you could get away with making just 50% more.  Not that I minded having extra…

Okay, so like I said this cake is amazing. The cake part is moist and delicious, the curd is beyond-a-doubt incredible, and the frosting will knock your socks off. It also looks lovely and held up well for several days.  It is quite lemon-y and I can see some people being overwhelmed by the tartness that comes through in every bite. But those people should just get over it and love this cake for all that it is. Another delightful summer dessert that will surely impress a cookout crowd or picnic companion.

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[I could not find this recipe on Martha’s website to link to.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

Okay, so. This is the beautiful layer cake that Martha is presenting in the cover photo of the MSBH.  The results of my first attempt are displayed above. From the top layer up, mine is lovely. The bottom three layers, however, leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know what went awry in the cake baking step of this recipe, but I clearly did something very wrong.

Also, it should be mentioned yet again, I am not so good at the cakes to begin with. In fact, when I finish the “Cakes” chapter of the MSBH, I think I will hold a poll here where people can vote on my “ugliest cake.” There will be some doozies, I guarantee it. This one here may very well be in the running.

You start out with a whole bunch of eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt which is whipped together until thick.

A mixture of flour and cornstarch is added and just mixed in. There is no leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. Then vegetable oil finishes the batter.

The flour gunked up at the bottom of my whisk and I didn’t notice this until after I had added the vegetable oil. I think this might have been what most adversely affected my cakes. I dug the gunk out and remixed it in as well as I could.

The batter goes into two round pans and then it’s baked.

The cakes baked up beautifully, or so I thought. When I removed them from the oven they were puffy and golden and delightful, although they did smell a little eggy and looked too bubbly.

The cakes quickly deflated like souffles and what remained were weird spongey fungus-looking things.  Hideous!

My morale was even more deflated than the cakes were. I really do feel a bit defeated when things don’t turn out. I hate to waste the ingredients and the time. I especially dislike how much it rattles my confidence to take on the more difficult cake recipes waiting for me later in this project.

These cakes were certainly salvageable, but I wish they had turned out better.

After the cakes cooled, I prepared my berries by washing them and made my whipped cream. The MSBH says you can add the insides of a vanilla bean to the whipped cream if you desire and you should! You should desire to do this! It makes the whipped cream so much better. (I left some of the strawberries with their hulls to use on the top of the cake to make it prettier.)

Okay so now it’s just a matter of assembling the layer cake.  Each round is sliced in half horizontally and one layer is placed on the cake stand.

It’s spread with a quarter of the whipped cream and topped with the berries.

Here’s something I learned: err on the side of using more of the berries rather than less. Really crowd them on there and get them all the way to edge, along with the whipped cream. I didn’t do this on my first layer and it doesn’t look very good. I did do this with subsequent layers and they look much better.

Even though it looks like I used more than enough berries and got my whipped cream close enough to the edge in the photos above and below, I really didn’t.

The next few layers are done in the same manner – whipped cream and berries and cake, whipped cream and berries and cake. Pretty simple.

And then of course the final layer of fruit at the top should look the best.  I found that halving the strawberries and putting several of them down first and then adding different berries a few at a time helped layer them in way that wasn’t too purposeful, but still looked nice. This step took a lot more care and attention than I would have guessed!

Okay, so let us revisit what the final cake looked like. I’d rather not, but let’s.

Pretty wonky. Also very tall and a little unruly. When it came time to slice it, I was just like, “This is not going to end well.”

Honestly, even the perfectly symmetrical version on the cover of the MSBH had to have been a beast to portion into slices. I also found it telling that there is no sliced photo of this cake in the book.

And, lo and behold, slicing made an even bigger mess of an already sloppy cake.

In hindsight, I should have used my angel food cake knife to slice it rather than a regular thin chef’s knife.  I really do think that would have helped avoid the cake smooshing down on itself.

One thing I definitely concluded after slicing and then eating some of this cake is that if you’re planning on serving it at a cookout or picnic (which I was until I realized what a nightmare it would have been) it should just be constructed as a trifle. Just cube or tear the cake into pieces and layer with the berries and whipped cream.

Granted, if this is baked and assembled well, it would be darn impressive. But a trifle would taste exactly the same and be so much easier to contain, transport, and serve – not to mention a lot faster. So that’s something to keep in mind.

The taste is quite good, but how can you go wrong with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped cream in the summer??? The cake texture and flavor is lovely, even my ill-fated results. It’s velvety and vanilla-y and ideally complements the whipped cream and fruit. Indeed, the major flavor comes from the berries in every bite. Perfect for summer and utterly delicious.

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Pecan Apricot Torte

[You can find the recipe for this torte on Martha’s site right here. It’s not an exact version of the one in the MSBH, but it is very close. The MSBH recipe has more extensive instructions about mixing the torte ingredients. Here’s why I do not include recipes with my posts.]

This is another recipe for a rustic baked dessert. It was pretty easy, although the ingredient mixing requires folding and adding dry to wet gradually, so do be prepared to put forth some effort and take your time. It’s not a recipe for anyone in a hurry. I also found it to be frustratingly messy.

Once the dough is mixed, the baking, cooking of the filling, and assembly are quite easy and you end up with a unique and interesting torte that, I imagine, most of your friends and loved ones will have never tried before.

Toasted, ground pecans make up a good portion of the dry ingredients. I thought this was fantastic.

Eggs yolks are beat with sugar and then whipped egg whites are folded in to comprise the wet ingredients.

The MSBH does a really good job of explaining the process of incorporating the egg yolks with the egg whites. The instructions are procedural, clear, and concise. My one tip – when you get to where you’re combining wet with dry, use the biggest bowl you own! It makes the folding so much easier.

Once the ingredients are mixed, they go into a prepared springform pan to bake.

My torte fell while baking, but it wasn’t too catastrophic even though that crater is massive!

The baked torte releases from the pan beautifully and despite the crater in the middle of mine, I still had a lot of height to work with.

While the torte cooled, I cooked the filling which is simply a combination of dried apricots (one of my favorite foods ever) with apricot preserves. You will need to rehydrate the apricots first by simply cooking in some boiling water.

The torte is halved (I also trimmed the top to make it level where it had fallen).

The filling is simply spooned on top of the bottom half; the MSBH instructs you to allow it to spill over the sides. Then the other half is placed on top (bottom-side up). The final touch is to dust with powdered sugar.

Once the torte is in the oven, everything else was really easy.

I honestly did not enjoy this dessert, however. I love apricots and I love pecans, but this was just too dry and the torte and the filling didn’t really seem to want to go together – neither in taste or texture. I think it is very pretty and I really wanted to like it, but alas, I did not. Nobody did, honestly, and we ended up tossing more than half of it out after four or five days.

Even ice cream didn’t help much.

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Angel Food Cake

[I could not find the MSBH recipe online but this one is almost identical and will probably give you the same results I got here.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

I am not a fan of angel food cake, never have been. It always seemed like a delicious piece of white wedding cake got inflated with too much air.  I like my cake dense.

I was wondering if Martha’s recipe would turn me into a fan. I’ve never had homemade angel food cake (that I can recall) and so many of the MSBH’s recipes have made me a believer in items that store-bought versions had long convinced me I didn’t like.  Graham Crackers, I’m looking at you.

So I took this all on very earnestly.

You start with some very fine sugar and flour and sift them together several times.

Some more sugar is beat into a bunch of egg whites, along with cream of tartar and salt and vanilla to make the meringue base for the cake.

In a big bowl this resulting egg white mixture is gradually folded in with the sifted sugar/flour mixture to finalize the cake batter.  This takes some time and technique – the flour mixture is sifted atop the egg mixture in six portions, folding in between each one.

There are a lot of handy videos out there about how to fold together these ingredients.

Once the batter is done it is poured into an ungreased angel food cake pan.

It doesn’t take long to bake. I hated the smell of it – like tons of overcooked eggs.

The cake cools inverted and because my pan lacks little feet, I had to balance it on a bottle. This stressed me out and I kept going to the kitchen to make sure it didn’t fall down and break apart.

It worked out just fine, though, so in the end I had a perfect cohesive angel food cake.

It was not the easiest thing to depan. Using a knife to run around the edge is a must but I also found I had to “toss” it up and down with sharp jerking movements, quickly pulling down as soon as I felt the weight of the cake lift on the upswing. Does that make sense? I was trying to get it to release from the bottom of the pan, as I had no way of running the knife there.  This worked, but you can see below just how much the cake wants to stick to the pan.

Okay, so was I converted to angel food cake? No. This version is much lighter and softer and airier than the store-bought versions I’ve had, which is probably preferable, but the flavor is much same: stickily sweet with nothing but sugar to taste. I don’t like desserts like this so of course, I didn’t like it.

I think if you are a fan of angel food cake, however, you will really dig this. It’s pretty classically angel food and certainly there’s nothing wrong with it if you like that sort of thing.

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Happy Christmas, everyone!  What better time for me to get back to posting here than with this phenomenal recipe for fruitcake.  Throw all your preconceived notions of disgusting, candied fruit-filled loaf nonsense out the window, because these are actually really, really good.

You start at least a day before by preparing the fruit.  You use a lot of raisins, golden raisins, and currants…

…along with dried apricots, dried tart cherries, and dried cranberries.

To this you add honey and Cognac.

This big bowl of dried fruit, honey, and booze gets stirred together, covered with plastic wrap, and kept at room temperature for at least 24 hours to macerate (I left mine for a little over two days – the recipe says you can leave it for two weeks!).

The cake ingredients themselves are pretty simple, with a few notable twists.  For one, you use bread flour rather than all-purpose.  Martha doesn’t mention why but I imagine it’s because you need the extra gluten to hold all the fruit and nuts together.  The flour is sifted with spices – pretty heavy amounts of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

And a whole tablespoon of salt!

Chopped walnuts go in too.

The wet ingredients are butter, sugar, and eggs and go together in the mixer and are folded in with the dry ingredients.  This is all super easy – in fact, this is one of the easiest recipes I’ve done so far from the MSBH.

I used the biggest bowl I own to do all this because I knew I’d have to fold in the giant bowl of fruit.  I didn’t do the math but just from eye-balling it, I’d say the ratio of fruit to dough is about 2-to-1.

It was a cinch to fold together, but would have been messy without a giant bowl.

The dough is split between two 8″ round cake pans (mine might have been 9″) that have been buttered and floured. (These are my favorite baking pans and I also love using these round pan liners.)

They go into a relatively low-temperature oven for about two hours.  After 30 minutes they smelled heavenly – it smelled just like Christmas baking was happening.

Once baked, they cool off and I used this time to make some candied orange slices to decorate the top.  The photo in the MSBH has all these different lovely dried fruits on top; I couldn’t find anything like that but wanted to do something for a garnish.

I boiled each slice in a simple sugar mixture on the stovetop and then tried to form it into pleasing shapes.  The toothpicks helped a lot!

Once the cakes were cooled, I cooked an apricot jam glaze.  I couldn’t find any apricot jam at any stores here in my town, so I used preserves instead.  Probably not ideal, but good enough.  The glaze is simply jam cooked with a little water and then strained.

This is brushed on top of the cakes.  They soak up a lot of the glaze.

Then I arranged the orange slices on top and added some walnut halves.  I wish I had had some whole fresh cranberries to add as well, but alas I did not.

And then I put glaze on the topping too.

And that’s it!  It took some time, and you do have to plan ahead in order to macerate the dried fruit, but overall it goes pretty quickly.  More quick bread than cake, actually.

It tastes a lot like a quick bread too, although unlike any I’ve ever tasted.  The fruit is the star here and it packs a punch.  Dried fruit has an intense sweetness as it is; after steeping in brandy and honey for two days and then baked, the sweetness is exponentially powerful.  The actual “cake” is really good and quite noticeable.  Major clove flavor and a nice contrast to the sticky chewiness of the fruit.  There is absolutely no strong boozy flavor, which I was worried about, but you can get a hint of the brandy after you swallow each bite.  It’s nice.

It is better the next day – much easier to slice and handle than on the first day when it’s super crumbly.

I know there’s an old cliche about fruitcakes making horrible gifts but I would love to get a fruitcake like this.  Granted, I could only eat about two bites for a serving because it’s just so intense, but those two bites are always awesome.  Maybe I’d enjoy getting a quarter of a fruitcake like this.

And it makes a great bread for toasting (although I wouldn’t put it in a slot toaster – use a toaster oven where it can lay flat) with some goat cheese.  I imagine it would freeze beautifully as well.

Happy holidays and happy baking, everyone!  Thank you for sticking with me through my hiatus.  Did you bake anything from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for the holidays?  If so, tell me about it in the comments.

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[You can find the recipe to this cake right here.]

Okay you guys, it has been HOT.  Way too hot.  As in, way too hot to bake.  I cannot stand the heat and therefore, I have been out of the kitchen.  I made this cake a couple weeks ago and have not made a thing since.  So bear with me these next couple of months, as posting will be light.  But for now, Apricot Cherry Upside-Down Cake.

This cake is supposed to be baked in an 8″ circular cake pan with 3″ sides.  All my circular pans have standard 2″ sides and I didn’t want to special-order a cake pan for this one recipe.  So instead, I used an angel food cake pan that has super high sides, ensuring the cake would not overflow.  Downside, of course, is that it creates a hole in the middle of the cake.  Everything else I did was according to the recipe.

You line the bottom with parchment paper.  I cut out a circle the size of the cake pan and then cut four slits half-way from the inside-out to allow the paper to fit over the center tube of the pan.  I then buttered the pan and paper and evenly pressed a sugar/butter mixture to the bottom.  This will create a sugary coating for the fruit.

Apricots are washed, halved, and pitted.  Same story for the cherries, but you pit them before you halve them.

The fruit is then arranged on the bottom of the cake pan.

A light cake batter is made with cornmeal, of all things, and it’s really wonderful.

Crumbled almond paste also goes in the cake batter.  Lots of unique flavors and textures going on here!

I feel like this blog already has enough shots of cake ingredients in the mixer – I’ll skip that part of the process and get to the final steps.  The batter is poured on top of the fruit and smoothed before going in the oven to bake.

The oven does the rest.  The cake baked up to a really fragrant (almonds), dense, moist, golden finish.  The fruit let off a lot of moisture, but this was almost entirely absorbed by the cake without it getting soggy.

I wasn’t 100% impressed with the look of the final cake – using the called-for circular cake pan instead of an angel food cake pan would have improved the look a lot (see the photo in the link I posted above).  I also wish the fruit would have kept its shape more but there’s no real way around that, I suppose, unless you use fruit that is much less ripe.  It just looks weird and messy to me.

But as for the important part – how it tasted – well, it was pretty much freaking phenomenal.  A great summer dessert – for as dense as the cake is, it is not super sweet and has a light, summery flavor.  The cornmeal adds a great chewiness and the almond paste helps set off the super-concentrated sweetness of the baked apricots and cherries.

Let it cool to the point where it’s still warm enough to just melt ice cream and then slice it up, top it with some vanilla, and dig in.  It’s a lot like bread pudding – so moist and delicious!

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[The recipe for the cupcakes and the frosting can be found right here.]

How’s this for a lovely little summer cupcake?!  I really loved these – but they take some serious effort and a relatively lofty amount of time.  If you want a memorable cupcake for a summer picnic or barbeque, however, these would certainly fit the bill.  Be prepared to have everyone ask you how you got the cake so soft and light, though.  (I just said “magic.”)

It’s not magic, though!  The cupcakes are made with only cake flour – no all-purpose flour at all – and this is what gives them their soft, velvety tender crumb.  They truly do end up with the most amazing texture – unlike any cupcake I’ve had before.

The cake batter is made with whipped egg whites (among other things) so it’s definitely not a simple “throw everything in the mixer and then you’re done” batter.  It takes some time and effort and various bowls and techniques.  Once it’s done, however, it bakes up easily.

The Strawberry Buttercream is a simple variation on the basic Swiss Meringue Buttercream that is used elsewhere in the book.  To make it strawberry-flavored, strawberry jam that has been pureed in a food processor is folded in to the plain buttercream.


I had a lot of trouble getting the jam and the frosting to come together into one fluffy cohesive frosting, so I returned the bowl to the mixer with a whisk attachment and whipped it on high speed for just a little while.  This worked!

Then it is just a matter of frosting the individual cupcakes and topping with a strawberry.

I found that cutting a little bit off a side of the strawberry made it looked better as it sat on top of the cupcake.

The frosting is so good – all of the MSBH’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream frostings have been fabulous so far.  It’s light and fluffy and smooth and very subtle.  Not too sweet.  The strawberry flavor is amazing and you could easily change this up to be the flavor of any jam you can find – that’s all that that is used to flavor the frosting, afterall.

These are literally the lightest, tenderest cupcakes I’ve ever tasted.  Both the frosting and the cake are light as air, just the softest, most pillow-y cupcakes EVER!

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