Fairy Bites

One of the best parts of being a godmother/aunt is getting to spoil the daylights out of the kids in your life. Such spoiling can be accomplished through regular provision of baked goods.

Now before you freak out and say that I shouldn’t be plying children with sweets and teaching them to make poor nutritional choices, please remember that these are really active kids with balanced diets, whose treats are monitored by their parents (and whose parents also benefit from such treats). These fun fairy bites, which are just shortbread cookies rolled in colorful nonpareils, made their way to Mo and Margo in Maryland last week along with two adorable little wolf pup toys I found in Niagara Falls. I adapted the recipe from one I found at The Cards We Drew, using princess cake and cookie flavor instead of vanilla extract. They were a big hit, right along with the wolf pups.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Multicolored nonpareil sprinkles

Preparation

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add princess cake and cookie flavor and beat well, then add flour about 1/2 cup at a time, beating to combine.

Chill dough until just easy to handle; the original recipe called for 1 hour of chill time, but I found that this made the dough much harder than necessary.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place sprinkles in a small bowl.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls, then roll balls in sprinkles, coating completely.

Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen.

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Lemon Tart

Some of the best treats are the simplest treats. This lemon tart, with a shortbread-like crust and tangy filling, is a simple but elegant dessert far easier to make than you might imagine. Dust it with powdered sugar, add a few berries and some whipped cream, or just eat it plain – I promise, you won’t be disappointed. I have big plans for a raspberry or strawberry sauce to accompany this tart the next time I make it.

Adapted from The Best Lemon Tart Ever on Allrecipes, this tart remind me of a hybrid between lemon meringue pie and lemon bars. My version is very tangy, so you’ll want to serve it in small slices. I added more lemon zest than the original recipe called for, and also highly recommend blind baking your crust – I realized about halfway through baking that the crust had puffed up so much it really needed some weight to keep it from just ending up as a tart-shaped cookie, so I blind baked for the last 15 minutes or so of the total time.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 3/4 cups flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 medium lemons)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preparation

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Add flour and mix to combine completely, then press crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Allow the crust to rise slightly above the edge of the pan because it will shrink slightly during baking. Chill for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the crust with foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights; bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is light golden brown at the edges.

While crust is baking, make filling; whisk sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, flour, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Pour filling into a large glass measuring cup; keep cool while crust finishes baking.

When crust is ready, remove it from the oven and remove foil/parchment and pie weights. Place a sheet of parchment paper on your oven rack (or on the rack below) and return the crust to the oven, then slowly pour the filling into the crust. Carefully place a crust guard around the edge to prevent over-browning. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until center is set; my center was set at about 25 minutes.

Remove tart from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack to room temperature; remove edge from tart pan and store tart, covered, in the refrigerator. Dust with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream and berries if you like.

Jelly Roll

Does the thought of flipping a delicate, just-baked cake onto a tea towel and rolling the cake in the tea towel terrify you? I’ve been there, man. How can it possibly work, right? Somehow, through baking magic (or chemistry, if you want to get technical) the cake remains intact, and you end up with a lovely spiral of cake to fill with your heart’s desire.

I used to think I couldn’t bake any type of roll cake, but one autumn I conquered this fear and made a pumpkin roll. I didn’t realize back then that you really should roll up your cake in as tight a spiral as you can possibly manage, because although they’re delicate, roll-type cakes are also quite flexible when prepared and baked correctly. This jelly roll is a classic confection based on a recipe I found at King Arthur Flour, featuring a vanilla foam cake (read: more eggs, less fat) and strawberry preserves, dusted with some powdered sugar. I do wish I’d rolled my spiral just a bit tighter once I filled it, and I already have a handful of ideas for future treats Stay tuned!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces strawberry preserves*
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

*You need a thicker fruit filling than jelly for a jelly roll, as it turns out. Jam and preserves are both good ideas, as are fillings like lemon curd, pastry cream, etc. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and lightly dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add vanilla just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springs back when you touch it. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away – I needed to use an offset spatula to prevent some of the cake from sticking to the parchment. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To fill, unroll the cake and spread with preserves; roll back up and place seam-side down on your cake plate, then dust with powdered sugar. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes about 9 servings.

Victoria Sponge

What better way to celebrate the royal wedding than with a traditional English dessert? I’ve wanted to bake a Victoria sponge for a while now, and yesterday’s Harry-and-Meghan-extravaganza presented the perfect opportunity.

Victoria sponge, also called a Victoria sandwich or Victorian cake, was named for long-reigning British monarch Queen Victoria. This simple cake is an absolutely delicious treat; two layers of cake filled with raspberry jam and whipped cream. The cakes themselves are very easy to make, requiring only butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, and baking powder; no extracts of any kind. You might wonder if they’ll turn out bland, but trust me, they don’t. The tart raspberry jam and sweet whipped cream go a long way to complement the cakes, which are a bit like pound cake. This recipe is adapted from Mary Berry’s Victoria sandwich from BBC Food; I measured all of my ingredients by weight for the cakes, rather than volume, to ensure that my ratios were correct.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 8 ounces superfine sugar*
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

*To make superfine sugar, place regular granulated sugar in a food processor and pulse to a fine consistency, like sand. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then line each with a circle of parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined; add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes, then check to see if cakes are done; they will be golden brown on top, have pulled away from the sides of the pan, and will spring back when pressed lightly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes; run a butter knife around the edge of each cake and turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Once cakes are cool, place one layer on a cake plate (handling very gently using a large spatula – my cake cracked easily when I started to move it). Top with raspberry jam.

To prepare whipped cream, place cream and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed for a few minutes, until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over-whip your cream, or you’ll end up with butter!

Drop whipped cream in dollops over the jam and gently spread to cover the whole surface. Top with remaining layer of cake; dust the top with powdered sugar if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Most recipes note that Victoria sponge is best eaten within about 12 hours after it’s made.

Princess Cupcakes

Princesses have come a long way in popular culture. As a kid, I had the classics: Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and the coolest princess ever, Princess Leia. Since my 1980s childhood, we’ve seen many strong female role models emerge in children’s stories. Today’s princesses aren’t lying around waiting for some rich guy to kiss them; they’re going off to battle, undoing spells from witches to save their families, and discovering that what makes them different is actually what makes them awesome. Even Princess Leia became a general, not that I’m surprised.

Princess cake and cookie flavor is a vanilla-citrus-flavored baking emulsion (read: flavoring that is water-based, so it won’t bake out) that you can find at cake stores and specialty baking suppliers like King Arthur Flour. This is the first time I’ve used it, and I’m very pleased with the results. I decided to go the traditional princess route and tinted my frosting pink, then added some pearl sprinkles as well.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3 tablespoons milk

For the frosting

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Red food coloring
  • Pearl sprinkles, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with 6 paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add egg and princess cake and cookie flavor and beat until combined.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into each cupcake well.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting: beat butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Once all the sugar is incorporated, beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, then add flavor and 2 teaspoons milk; if frosting is too thick, add remaining milk. Add a few drops of red food coloring to tint frosting pink.

Fit a large pastry bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Top with pearl sprinkles.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 6.

Tweed Cakes

What happens when you crush up toffee and stir it into shortbread dough? These amazing tweed cakes, a creation from King Arthur Flour. I sent these along to my dear friend Carrie in State College, Pa. last week, and hope she and her family enjoyed them.

To crush up my toffee bits, it put them in a zip-top bag, wrapped the bag in a towel, and pounded them with the flat side of my meat tenderizer. A rolling pin would also work, or you could use a food processor if you really wanted to. When you press your dough into your pans, you’ll understand why these are called tweed cakes; they definitely resemble tweed fabric. You’ll notice in the recipe below that I measured my flour and toffee bits by weight, as I always do with King Arthur Flour recipes. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can just measure by volume using regular measuring cups.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 7 5/8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) crushed toffee bits

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat in flour and toffee bits.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 32.

Confetti Cupcakes

I work with a great group of smart, hilarious women, and there’s a lot to celebrate on our team right now. Cyndy just had a birthday; Melissa is expecting her second baby; Megan got engaged last weekend, and it’s also her birthday later this month. Naturally, this calls for cupcakes.

You’ve probably had funfetti before – at least, I sincerely hope you have. These confetti cupcakes are a scratch-made alternative to Pillsbury’s brilliant sprinkles-in-the-cake idea, made with a fluffy vanilla buttercream and topped with more sprinkles, because is there really such a thing as too many? This recipe is adapted from one I found at Brown Eyed Baker; I cut the recipe down a bit to make a slightly smaller batch of just 18 cupcakes. You could easily double this recipe for a larger crowd.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • rainbow sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe made 18 cupcakes.

Combine milk and vanilla; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on low speed for about 1 minute, then slowly add butter, a few cubes at a time, beating on low until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low and scraping the sides of the bowl after each. Keep beating on low while slowly adding milk/vanilla mixture, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until batter is smooth. Stir in sprinkles.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop batter into cupcake wells, filling about two-thirds full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pans and cool on a wire rack completely.

To make the frosting, using the whisk attachment on your mixer, whip butter for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add powdered sugar one-half cup at a time, beating well between each addition to fully incorporate the sugar into the butter. Once all powdered sugar is added, whip for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed, then add vanilla extract and whip for another 1-2 minutes.

Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 18.