Orange Curd

I’ve had more than one friend turn up their nose at the word “curd.” Is it like curds and whey, they ask,  or like cheese curds? Oh no, I say – it is a delicious creation that’s kind of a cross between preserves and pudding. I’ve made lemon curd, lime curd, and blood orange curd in the past, sometimes using whole eggs and other times just egg yolks. I find that yolk-only curds tend to be tangier, while whole-egg curds have a lighter flavor and texture.

Fruit curds are a great way to use leftover egg yolks from meringues and macarons, and are actually a wonderful complement to such treats. This orange curd, made with Valencia oranges and just a hint of lemon juice, tastes a bit like an orange cream popsicle. I suspect it will get added to a cake for our Easter dessert tomorrow, but we’ll see.

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 teaspoons cornstarch
  • zest from 3 Valencia oranges
  • 3/4 cup Valencia orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 12 tablespoons butter

Preparation

Lightly beat egg yolks and pass them through a fine sieve to remove the albumin. Set aside in a medium bowl close to the stove for easy access; thoroughly wash your sieve and place it nearby for a second straining once the curd has cooked.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest until completely combined. Add butter and cook on medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

Working quickly, pour about half of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper. Pour egg mixture back into the pan and cook and stir for 2 minutes more.

Pour mixture through your sieve to remove the zest; press waxed paper (or plastic wrap) onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Once curd is completely cooled, place in an airtight container. According to various food safety websites and other food blogs, fruit curd made with egg yolks only (not whole eggs) should last in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

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Walnut Cake

Passover is upon us, and last night Mike and I had our annual interfaith seder. Three Catholics, three Protestants, and one Jew celebrated the story of the exodus along with a ton of food, including my traditional orange almond cake (this time made with Valencia oranges for the best result yet) and a new, delicious treat. I found this recipe for flourless walnut cake at Food 52, and it is life-changing.

The thing about Passover baking is: no flour. So what’s a baker to do? Ground nuts and eggs feature heavily in Passover cake recipes, and that was the case with this cake as well. It was my first experience whipping egg whites separately, then folding them into batter. Full disclosure: I had to start over with the whites because holy cow, it’s easy to over-whip egg whites. In any case, the end result was absolutely delicious, tasting almost like the nut filling in a nut roll pastry. The cake sinks in the middle as it cools, leaving a wonderful indentation for a pool of freshly whipped cream. I’ll absolutely make this cake again, for many occasions, and may try hazelnuts or pecans next time.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces ground walnuts
  • 9 ounces superfine sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream, for serving

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. (Not sure how to do that? Watch this.) In three parts, carefully and gently fold the whites into the batter.

Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, or with just a few small moist crumbs. Cool in pan about 10 minutes, then open the pan and peel back the paper, allowing the cake to cool completely. The cake will sink in the middle as it cools, and this is perfectly fine. Fill the indentation with fresh whipped cream, candied walnuts, or whatever you like. Store a plain cake at room temperature; if you’ve added whipped cream on top, keep it in the fridge.

Makes 8 servings.

Easter Chick Cookies

These cookies are really adorable…and I sincerely hope they make it to Maryland for Maureen and Margo’s Easter in one piece. Baked as two balls of dough baked side by side so they form one cookie, they’re at risk of separating, particularly in transit. To explain the potential carnage, I already alerted their mom to the potential that they might lose their cute little heads en route despite my careful packaging. Cross your fingers that I don’t scar my nieces for life, please.

Adapted from a recipe I found at The Gold Lining Girl, these treats feature cake mix as their base. While the original recipe called for lemon cake mix, I used Pillsbury Butter Yellow mix and added some vanilla and yellow food coloring to the batter along with the other ingredients. Full disclosure: I made them way too big, so next time I’ll scale back the portions. I’d also recommending making their beaks and feet a bit darker orange. You’ll have a lot of royal icing left over from the recipe below, so you can use it to decorate other Easter cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 box Pillsbury Butter Yellow cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Chocolate chips (for eyes)
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 cup plus 2 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cake mix, eggs, shortening, and vanilla until combined; add yellow food coloring to your desired shade.

To form each cookie, scoop balls of dough for the head and body, making sure the body is bigger than the head. Place the dough balls next to each other on the baking sheet so they’re just touching, leaving space between each cookie so they have room to spread a bit.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are set and tops are just barely golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press chocolate chips into the top ball for eyes; allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make royal icing for beaks and feet, place meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for about 7-10 minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and pipe beaks in triangles, then add feet. Allow the icing to set before storing; royal icing will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Before re-using, beat the icing with a paddle attachment to soften it.

Makes 12 cookies.

Frosted Lemon Almond Blondies

Recipe adaptation continues! These frosted lemon almond blondies use the base from my Scandinavian blondies, but omit the sliced almonds on top in favor of a delicious lemon almond buttercream.

I know, you’re thinking, buttercream on a blondie? But seriously, it works. These treats have an almost cake-like texture, rather than the more cookie-like blondie. Next time, I’ll toast some sliced almonds – or perhaps toss them with some water and sugar to caramelize them a bit –  and add them on top of the frosting. Lemon and almond are two of my favorite flavors on their own, but when you combine them in these treats, they are absolutely dynamite.

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 medium lemon
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the frosting

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 teaspoons milk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 square baking pan.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs until light colored and thick. Add sugar and salt, continuing to beat until shiny and pale yellow.

Add extracts, zest, melted butter, and 1/2 cup of the flour, folding in gently. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup of flour.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and are a very light golden color. Remove from oven and cool in pan before frosting.

To make frosting, place butter in a mixer and beat for 2 minutes, until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this will take several minutes, and you’ll want to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. Add extracts and milk, beating for 2-3 minutes until smooth and spreadable. Frost bars, then cut into squares. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 16.

Preparation

Butter Pecan Biscotti

I seem to be into adapting recipes this week, which is one of the many joys of baking. Once you have a good base, you can tweak the flavors to come up with a range of tasty options. Swap out spices or extracts, toss in some toasted pecans, almonds, or flavored chips, and you’ll have a totally new treat to share.

This butter pecan biscotti uses the base from my fall spice biscotti, omitting the spice and adding toasted chopped pecans and butterscotch chips instead. It’s a wonderful recipe, yielding a crunchy-yet-soft-inside treat, which is just how I like my biscotti. This was a big hit in Mike’s office, where his coworkers proclaimed it delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon butterscotch extract*
  • 2/3 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup butterscotch chips

*If you don’t have butterscotch extract, don’t worry. You can omit it, or swap it for vanilla extract. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl between each. Add butterscotch extract and beat to combine. Add flour in two batches and mix to completely combine, then stir in pecans and butterscotch chips.

Dust your counter top with flour and turn dough out; it will be very sticky. Sprinkle with flour and knead gently to bring dough together; you can add a few more tablespoons of flour without having to worry that your dough will be too tough. Roll into a log about 16 inches long, then divide the log in half. Carefully place each log on your baking sheets (I use my bench knife to help with this); flatten to about 1 inch thickness. Note: the logs will spread a good deal when you bake them, so make sure you place them in the middle of your baking sheets.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges are completely set and the middles are firm; I baked mine on two different racks in the oven, which I don’t necessarily recommend but did this time in order to save some time. If you do this, you’ll want to swap your baking sheets about halfway through baking to prevent the bottom of the bottom-baking log from burning.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully move the logs to a cutting board and slice them into 1-inch slices. Carefully place slices back on the parchment-lined baking sheets (they will be almost cake-like at this point, so handle them gently). Bake on one side for an additional 7-9 minutes, then flip and bake on the other side for 7-9 minutes. Again, if you’re baking both sheets at once like I did, you’ll want to swap the top and bottom sheets to prevent the bottom-baking ones from over-browning.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet(s) for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container; makes 16 slices.

Sour Cream Quick Bread – Lemon Poppy Seed Version

Every baker needs a few good quick bread recipes, and this is one of mine. Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe, this bread provides a great base for a number of flavor combinations, and today’s combination is lemon and poppy seed.

This bread is on its way to my friend Carrie, because now and then we all just need someone to send us baked goods, right? We’re both Eastern European, so poppy seeds are kind of the seeds of our people. Lemon poppy is a great flavor combination, of course; you could enhance this bread with a lemon drizzle icing, or just serve it with some lemon curd, whatever you like. I’m betting it will be delicious with Earl Grey tea, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 lemons, zest and juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan or spray with baking spray.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Combine lemon zest and juice, sour cream, egg, and vegetable oil in a medium bowl, mixing well.

Add sour cream mixture to flour mixture all at once, stirring to combine until no dry streaks remain. Your batter may look a bit dry, but that’s okay – don’t be tempted to add more liquid. Stir in poppy seeds.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, then cover with a foil tent and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes about 8 servings.

Lemon Raspberry Macarons

Now that I’ve become a macaron-obsessed baker, I bake several batches of them at a time. It’s practical, actually, because you’ve got your food processor out already and you may as well get a few batches done at once.

It’s also practical for me because I’ve used store-bought egg whites, rather than fresh egg whites, for most of my batches. While store-bought egg whites aren’t recommended for macarons because they may not produce a meringue that’s as fluffy, I’ve found great success with them in terms of macaron texture. Store-bought egg whites last about 10 days in the fridge, so that’s another reason to bake more than one batch of macarons at a time – you can use up all your whites without any waste. These lemon raspberry macarons – one of my favorite flavor combinations of all time – turned out very well.

Ingredients

For the shells

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (from 3-4 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Yellow gel food coloring

For the filling

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add lemon extract and a few drops of your desired food coloring. Whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

To bake the macaron shells, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and pipe or spread filling on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving.