Rustic Apple Tart

rusticappletartMy mom Genny, an occasional subject on this blog, is coming from dinner this evening. She requested something simple – “just hamburgers, or whatever” – and instructed me not to go to any trouble. Well, I can’t have my mom over for Mother’s Day dinner without preparing some kind of dessert.

This rustic apple tart, originally found in my Better Homes & Gardens Baking book as a peach tart, was my first foray into free-form pastry baking and I think it turned out fairly well. The apples in the center look a bit dry to me, so I’m stocked with vanilla ice cream (both of the dairy and non-dairy variety, as Genny lives a low-dairy life) just in case. I actually suspect that I should have glazed the apples with apple or apricot jam after the tart baked to make them shiny. Eh, maybe next time.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • About 5 tablespoons cold water
  • Milk, for glazing
  • Sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 3 cups peeled, sliced apples (I used Granny Smith and McIntosh)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To make the crust, in a medium bowl, stir together flour and salt. Cut in shortening using a pastry blender or fork, then sprinkle in 1 tablespoon cold water at a time, tossing it in the dough to combine so it sticks together. You’ll still have some dry bits of flour in the bowl – that’s okay.

Place a large sheet of parchment on your countertop and pour the crust mixture onto it. Use the parchment to bring the dough together, pressing it into a rough rectangle. For an amazing look at how to do this, check out this video from King Arthur Baking. Set the dough aside in the fridge while you make your filling.

To make the filling, stir together sugar, flour, and apple pie spice. Add apples and toss to coat.

Remove crust from the fridge; place a second sheet of parchment on top of it and roll it out to about a 13-inch circle. I flipped my crust over at this point so my original piece of parchment could get discarded.

Place the crust on a rimmed baking sheet and add apples into the center, leaving about a 2-inch border around the sides. Fold the sides in to create the pleating; brush crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Around 30 minutes, cover the exposed filling with a circle of foil to prevent burning.

Cool on a wire rack; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day or in the fridge for 2 days. Makes 8 servings.

Vanilla Scones

vanillasconesThis past Christmas I got a lovely baker’s spice set from my cousin Barb and her family that included vanilla sugar. I’d first heard of vanilla sugar in the wonderful book Miriam’s Kitchen: A Memoir by Elizabeth Ehrlich, a writer who blended tales of her Jewish grandmothers, mother, and mother-in-law with her own foray into kosher living. One of Miriam’s recipes included vanilla sugar, which she bought in packets from her local grocery shop in the Bronx.

My vanilla sugar came in a bottle from Penzys, and together with some vanilla bean paste, made a delightfully tender scone. This makes a small batch, just eight wedges about 3 inches long, but it would be easy to double. If you don’t have vanilla bean paste, you can just substitute vanilla extract. I actually adapted a chocolate chip scone recipe I published 10 years ago for this, and though it turned out a bit dry, it has wonderful flavor. Nothing a bit of clotted cream or jam wouldn’t fix.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • 8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, and vanilla bean paste; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and vanilla sugar. Add butter to the flour mixture, and using your hands, rub in the butter until the mixture looks like cake crumbs. Add egg mixture and stir with a fork until the dough comes together – it will be slightly sticky.

With floured hands, gather dough into a ball. Turn onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten into a disc of about one-inch thickness. Cut into eight wedges and, using a small offset spatula, pull the wedges apart so they are not touching.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. You can also serve scones warm, but do let them cool down for just a few minutes so they’re safe to handle. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days.

Little French Loaf

frenchloafI’m not much of a bread baker, and as I work to build my skills, I have many challenges. One of those challenges is that a lot of bread recipes make one or two loaves, and Mike and I simply aren’t going to eat that much bread. Enter One Dish Kitchen, a collection of small-batch recipes perfect for two. I found this recipe for a small loaf of French bread there, and am very pleased with how it turned out.

Flavor-wise it was perfect, but texture-wise it was denser than I’d have liked. I’m not sure if I kneaded it too much or too little, didn’t give it enough time to rise, or some other mysterious bread-related factor that I’ve yet to learn…but I am determined to learn. Small loaves are perfect for practice, so I intend to make this one again many times until I’ve mastered it. And as a woman who spent literal years perfecting her buttercream, I’m up to the challenge.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 6 ounces warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees)
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, honey, and water. Sprinkle yeast over water and allow it to dissolve, then mix with your paddle attachment on medium speed until the dough comes together. You can either knead your dough using the dough hook on your mixer, or by hand – I kneaded by hand for the practice.

Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place back in your mixing bowl, cover the top with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until nearly doubled in size.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it 4-5 times to deflate it slightly. Cover it with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes. Shape the dough as desired – I went with a general oval loaf shape – place it on a baking sheet, and cover it with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise a second time for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a very sharp knife, make slashes in the top of your dough, then brush the whole loaf with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with remaining kosher salt; bake for 18-20 minutes.

Remove loaf from oven and allow it to cool on your baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then place it on a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before serving. Makes about 8 slices, depending on how generously you cut each slice. Store in a large zip-top bag at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Easter Blossom Cake

orangecake1It’s Easter Sunday, but it’s 35 degrees in Pittsburgh this morning. Spring is an unpredictable season here in western Pennsylvania – it could be 75 and beautiful or 28 and snowing, all in the span of a few days. Mother Nature will do what she likes, and we all have to just go with it.

I like to think Mother Nature would enjoy this cake, not only for its buttercream blossoms but also its flavors. The cake itself is orange, with vanilla buttercream and a mixed berry filling. I didn’t feel like making my filling from scratch, so I heated up about 1/2 cup mixed berry preserves, then combined about 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch with a few teaspoons of water to make a slurry. I stirred the slurry into the preserves and simmered it for about 8-10 minutes to thicken it, then cooled it in the fridge before using it.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 Cara Cara orange
  • 6 tablespoons milk

For the frosting, filling, and decoration

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Bonne Maman mixed berry preserves, thickened*
  • Pink, yellow, fuchsia, and green gel food coloring

*To use preserves as a cake filling, place 1/2 cup preserves in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine about 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 teaspoons water to make a slurry, then stir into the preserves. Simmer until thickened – the mixture will reduce as it cooks. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment circle, and lightly grease the parchment.

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 eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

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

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla extract and beat on medium speed for another 1-2 minutes. You want a spreadable consistency, but not so soft that your flower petals won’t hold their shape.

Place bottom layer of cake on your cake stand or plate and pipe a border just inside the edge of your cake; fill with thickened preserves. Top with the other cake and frost top and sides, covering with an even layer of frosting. Reserve a small portion of white frosting for flower details and another small portion for leaves; tint the remainder of your frosting to your desired shades and pipe flowers to create your design; I used roses, rosebuds, and five-petal flowers, then chilled them until they set before placing them on the cake. I then used two different sizes of closed-star tips to fill in the gaps with the other blooms and added leaves.

Store cake in an airtight container in the fridge; bring to room temperature before serving. Makes about 4-6 servings, depending on your slice size.

Here’s an overhead view of the cake, for a complete view of the flowers:

orangecake2

Pumpkin Pupcakes

pumpkinpupcakeOur dog Tucker turned two this week. He’s a very sweet boy who loves going for walks (especially hiking at the park), playing with various squeaky toys, and snuggling up to us for quiet time. Tucker  came to us from a rescue in Ohio and he didn’t have the easiest start in life, but he’s settled in with us very well. Despite having tons of energy, he can chill out like a pro. He’s napping as I write this.

These pupcakes – dog-safe cupcakes – were incredibly easy to make. I found the recipe at A Saucy Kitchen, then adapted it to use pumpkin instead of apple, and my batch made three adorable pupcakes. I chose to use baking powder, which is listed in the original recipe as optional, and I’m glad I did. These baked beautifully and have a lovely texture, kind of spongy and light. Tucker loved them.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter*
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

*Don’t use peanut butter with artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which can be toxic and even deadly for dogs. I used Jif creamy peanut butter, because Tucker and I are Jif loyalists.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with three paper liners.

In a small bowl, stir together pumpkin puree, peanut butter, egg, and baking powder until smooth. Spoon into muffin tin, dividing batter evenly.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove pupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 3.

Lamb Cupcakes

lambcupcakeWhile searching for spring cupcake ideas, I came across these adorable lambs on Eats Amazing, a food blog out of England with incredibly creative treat ideas. The original recipe called for a chocolate/coconut combination, using shredded coconut to make the fleece, but I decided to just go with frosting. They’re probably the most adorable cupcakes I’ve ever made.

My frosting is a basic vanilla almond buttercream, but you could experiment with other flavors if you like to complement the chocolate – using chocolate frosting would make adorable brown sheep, so I might do that next time. You could also just frost these cupcakes by hand and make little swirls with your spatula for a wooly look instead of piping, but I really like how these turned out with the star tip.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; my batch made 15.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla and almond extracts, and vegetable oil into the separate wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Using a 1/4 cup dry measuring cup, fill cupcake wells with batter – you want them to be about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from the pan immediately, cooling completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine.

Fit a large piping bag with a large open star tip; I used the Wilton 6B. Pipe frosting on the top of each cupcake to make fleece. Place one chocolate wafer, flat side up, on each cupcake. Using a smaller piping bag fitted with a plain tip (or just snipped to allow for a small amount of frosting to come out), pipe dots on each wafer to hold the candy eyes, then add candy eyes. Cut remaining chocolate wafers into quarters and place two quarters on each cupcake for the lamb ears.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 16.

Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

peanut-chocolatecookiesI’ve often wondered who first combined chocolate and peanut butter, and why. Was it an accident, like in that Reese’s commercial from the 80s where someone holding a chocolate bar collided with someone holding an open peanut butter jar? Probably not, but think of all the treats that have come about as a result.

These cookies were a huge hit in Mike’s office last week, with one colleague remarking that they were her favorite thing I’ve ever baked. High praise, indeed! They are quite tasty, though I would recommend doubling the chocolate coating. The original recipe, from King Arthur Baking, didn’t make enough to coat all of my cookies, or get close to the half-moon style I’d hoped to achieve.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (you can also use smooth)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips

For the chocolate coating

  • 1 cup semisweet  chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking soda. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until combined. Stir in the flour and peanut butter chips, mixing slowly until the dough comes together.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Lightly spray your hand with cooking spray and press each cookie to flatten it slightly. Bake for 8-10 minutes; you want them to be soft, still puffy-looking in the center, but set at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely before coating.

To make chocolate coating, melt butter and chocolate chips over low heat, stirring until completely smooth. Stir in corn syrup.

Dip each cookie into the chocolate coating and place on parchment-lined cooling racks to set. Allow chocolate to set completely before serving; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 3 dozen.

Spring Flower Cupcakes

springflowercupcakesI had big cupcake decorating plans today. And then, facing down my batch, I just couldn’t do it. No flower nail, no multiple shades, no practicing blossoms with my flower tip. I took the easy road instead, using both my Wilton M1 and 4B tips to create something that might, very vaguely, look like flowers. Truth be told, the cupcake pictured here is the best-looking one of the bunch. The others, well…not so much.

Granted, I’m a much tougher judge of my own baking then others are, but I fear that taking these in to work might cause me to lose some of my baking cred, at least in the decoration department. There are yellow rose-like cupcakes too, along with moderately mum-type ones that have way too many leaves and probably look like a four-year-old piped them. Still, if it’s taste that counts, these do have great flavor…so I’ve got that going for me.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Yellow, pink, and green gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; my batch made 15.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Using a 1/4 cup dry measuring cup, fill cupcake wells with batter – you want them to be about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove cupcakes from the pan immediately, cooling completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine.

Reserve a small portion of frosting for your leaves; tint the rest to your desired shade. I used yellow for about half the cupcakes, then mixed in some pale pink to create a light peach color for the rest. Fit a piping bag with your desired tip and pipe your desired shapes. Tint remaining frosting green and pipe on leaves using a small piping bag and leaf tip. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Marble Cake

marblecake (2)My dog licked this cake. Before you get out the torches and pitchforks and come after me shouting that chocolate isn’t safe for dogs, I assure you that I’m well aware, and no canines were harmed during the licking of this cake. It was unglazed at the time, meaning Tucker’s delinquent tongue connected with the vanilla exterior only. And yes, I cut the piece that he licked and tossed it in the trash, lest anyone end up like Lucy Van Pelt in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, proclaiming that her lips touched dog lips.

Anyway…marble cake is such a classic, but until yesterday I’d never made one from scratch before. I do remember the marble Duncan Hines cakes of my childhood, when on a very rare occasion (because neither she nor my dad ate chocolate) my mom would make them for my brother and me. This cake was easy to make, though I think I overbaked it just slightly – it was wonderful yesterday, but a bit on the dry side today. Next time, I’ll pull it just a few minutes earlier.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt tin. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, stir together milk and sour cream and set aside. In another medium bowl, stir together cocoa powder and oil and set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract until the mixture is fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, accompanied by 1 spoonful of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Once all eggs are added, alternatively add flour mixture and milk/sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour, until batter is smooth.

Remove 2 cups of vanilla batter and stir into the cocoa/oil mixture to combine completely. Spoon vanilla mixture into your Bundt tin and make a trough through the batter, then add your chocolate batter. Swirl with a knife or small spatula to marble, being careful not to over-mix so you don’t totally blend the two together. Alternatively, you could add vanilla and chocolate batter in layers (vanilla, chocolate, vanilla) and swirl them together, or dollop them in and swirl them – however you achieve your marble is fine with me.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the tin on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then flip onto a wire rack and cool completely before glazing.

To make glaze, stir together powdered sugar and cocoa powder, then add vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. Add additional milk to reach a drizzling consistency, then pour over the cake, allowing the glaze to drip down the sides.

Lemon Bundt Cake

lemonbundtcakeEarlier this week Mike needed lemon juice for something, so I zested the lemon and saved it for baking. I don’t like to waste ingredients, so I whipped up this lemon bundt cake, an easy recipe that yields a lovely treat. You’ll notice below that the recipe uses the zest from two lemons, but the juice from just one. You can always reserve lemon juice and use it for cooking or baking by storing it in the fridge for 2-3 days.

This recipe is adapted from my poppy seed cake, and next time I think I’ll toss in some poppy seeds for a classic lemon poppy combination. One thing I love about baking is that when you find a reliable recipe, you can adapt it however you like by adding different flavors. I plan to adapt this recipe many times in the future.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Zest from 2 medium lemons

For the icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • Juice of 1 medium lemon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt tin.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vegetable oil, extracts, and lemon zest. Stir in flour in three batches, mixing to combine completely.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in tin for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add lemon juice about 1 teaspoon at a time to reach a thicker pourable consistency. Pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides. Allow icing to set before serving.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days; this cake stays moist much longer than I expected. Makes about 12 servings, depending on how generous you are with your portions.