Citrus Cake

This weekend’s theme seems to be “tastes delicious, but the texture needs work.” Yesterday afternoon I whipped up a foam/sponge cake, similar to what you’d use for a jelly roll but without the actual rolling. It’s too chewy, and I’m not really sure why. Did I over-mix it? Under-bake it? It’s not nearly as light and airy as my spice roll was at Thanksgiving, so I’m going to have to get back into the kitchen and see where things went wrong. I actually suspect I under-baked it and didn’t give the cake enough time to rise.

In any case, this creation is one that, had the texture turned out well, I think would have made the judges of the Great British Baking Show proud. My blood orange curd features in both the filling and the frosting, so flavor-wise this is a wonderful combination of citrus and vanilla.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 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
  • zest from 1 blood orange

For the frosting & filling

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons blood orange curd, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment.

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 and zest 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 parchment-lined pan and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springs back when you touch it. Remove from the oven and flip onto a cooling rack, then gently peel the parchment away. Allow to cool completely before filling and frosting.

While the cake cools, make the frosting: in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese until completely smooth. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon curd, beating until smooth; add remaining powdered sugar and curd, then beat until totally smooth.

Place frosting in a piping bag and remaining 1/2 cup curd in another piping bag; set aside.

Trim edges of the cake to create three equal rectangles (you can save the scraps and have them as a snack with some curd later). Place bottom layer on a platter and pipe a border of frosting around the edge, then fill the inside with curd. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer. Pipe remaining frosting on the top.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes about 8 servings.

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Blood Orange Curd

I went completely overboard in the supermarket citrus section yesterday and came home with mandarins, lemons, limes, and blood oranges. I’ve wanted to bake with blood oranges for a while now, and since yesterday afternoon I’ve made blood orange curd, citrus cake, and blood orange muffins. I still have at least half the bag left, so blood orange poppy seed drizzle cake is coming next.

This curd is an absolutely delicious creation, featuring some lemon juice and zest to balance the sweetness that comes from the oranges. Curd-making really does require a good amount of intuition, and I suspect I pulled this off the heat just a moment too early; while it tastes fantastic, it was a bit thinner than I wanted it to be, so next time I’ll give it at least another minute.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 4 teaspoons blood orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) blood orange juice (about 2 1/2 oranges)
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 2 1/2 small lemons)
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 6 eggs

Preparation

Place a medium bowl and sieve next to your stove. Place eggs in a medium bowl and beat, then set that bowl next to your stove for easy access.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, zests, juices, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble; the mixture will start to look cloudy, then foamy, just before you start to see bubbles form from the very bottom edge of your pan.

Remove from heat and slowly pour into eggs, whisking the eggs constantly as you pour. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook for at least 2 minutes more, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens; it may start to look curdled a bit, but just keep stirring to smooth it out (and of course be careful that you haven’t taken it so far as to scramble your eggs or split your mixture).

Pour through the sieve and use a spatula to force the mixture through to strain out the zest. Press waxed paper directly onto the surface of the curd and cool completely before using. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Makes about 3 cups.

Maple Oat Whole Wheat Bread

Bread baking requires a different set of skills and instincts than I currently possess. Need a cookie? I’m your gal. But bring things like yeast, kneading, and resting into the mix and I feel a bit like I’m back in kindergarten.

Anyone trying to call herself a baker really needs to know how to make a decent loaf of bread, and so I’ve entered a new era of experimentation: yeast breads. Fortunately the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion offers a host of tips and tricks for novices like me, and I’m reading as much as I can; this recipe is their Vermont whole wheat oatmeal maple-honey bread, which I made with maple sugar and regular whole wheat flour, as opposed to white whole wheat as the recipe stated. These loaves smelled amazing while they baked, but I wasn’t as happy with how they turned out texture-wise. Perhaps it was the regular whole wheat flour? Mike loved them, so I guess that doesn’t matter.

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup traditional rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

In your mixing bowl, combine water, oats, maple sugar, honey, butter, maple extract, and salt. Let cool to lukewarm.

Add the yeast and flours, stirring with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer and mix for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth.

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1 hour; I set my bowl of dough on a towel-wrapped heating pad, set on its lowest setting.

Gently deflate your dough and divide it in half, then shape each half into a loaf. Place loaves in two lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans.

Cover loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow loaves to rise until they’ve risen about 1 inch above the rim of the pan – about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaves for 35-40 minutes; check them around 25 minutes and place a tent of foil over their tops if they’re browning already to avoid burning. Remove from oven when they’re golden brown; you can also use a thermometer to test internal temperature, which should be 190 degrees.

Remove from loaf pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store well-wrapped at room temperature for several days, or freeze for future use.

Makes two loaves.

Earl Grey Macarons

I’ve truly lost my mind down the macaron rabbit hole. This is batch number three in less than one week, but I simply cannot help myself. And again, I’ve got store-bought egg whites (not recommended for macarons, but I’m using them anyway) to use up before they expire.

These definitely need more tea flavor, so I think next time I’ll add two full bags – or possibly even three – of the tea. I chose to leave these macarons natural, without any color tint, so you can really see the flecks of tea. Lemon goes very well with Earl Grey, so it’s a great fit for the macaron shells; you could also use a lemon buttercream if you wanted more sweetness, but I like the sharpness of the curd against the mellow flavor of the shell.

Ingredients

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 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 1/2 bags Earl Gray tea
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Lemon curd, for filling

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

Preparation

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

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar, almond flour, and tea 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 vanilla extract and 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.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, 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 spread lemon curd on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving.

Orange Cream Macarons

No one told me baking macarons would be so addictive. Now that I’ve cracked the formula, I’m obsessed with the notion of making more. Flavors swirl in my mind: raspberry, key lime, blueberry lemon, chocolate orange, salted caramel…the list stretches out to infinity. Plus – and this may sound shocking, but it’s true – I bought a carton of egg whites to experiment with last weekend and I really need to use them before they go bad.

Strictly speaking, store-bought whites aren’t recommended for macarons, because they don’t whip up as fluffily (look at that, I made a new word!) as regular egg whites do. But when you’re practicing a new recipe and don’t have time to make pastry cream or fruit curd with your leftover yolks, you sometimes resort to such things. Anyway, last night I arrived home from work with a great flavor in mind: orange cream. I used fiori di sicilia, one of my favorite flavorings, in both the shells and filling. Fiori di sicilia is a great combination of vanilla and citrus, and a little goes a long way. I’m happy to report that these were a big hit in Mike’s office today.

Ingredients

For the shells

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 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)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • Orange gel food coloring

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 3 teaspoons milk
  • Orange gel food coloring

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

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 fiori di sicilia, vanilla extract, and a small amount of your desired food coloring; I used just two drops of orange. 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.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, 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.

While the shells cool, prepare the filling. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium-high speed for 5-7 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and extracts, then whip to combine, slowly adding 1 teaspoon of milk at a time; you want a consistency that will be easy to pipe.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and pipe filling on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving. You’ll have some filling left over, so you can save it for something else (or just spread it on graham crackers, which is what I usually do with leftover frostings/fillings).

 

Vanilla Macarons with Lemon Curd

Apparently, the third time really is the charm. This was my third attempt at macarons, and they finally turned out the way I had hoped, with feet and crunch tops and all.

I’ve spent literal months thinking about macarons. Readers of this blog will know that’s not hyperbole; after all, I spent years perfecting honey cake and honing my go-to buttercream. Macaron attempt 1 yielded batter that was far too stiff; the cookies tasted great, but looked nothing like the elegant cookies you see in bakery windows.  Attempt 2 got closer, but the macarons were underbaked, though they had great flavor. Attempt 3, after watching this incredibly helpful video from Tasty, yielded the best results.

Note: I measured most of the ingredients for this recipe by weight, rather than volume, which I highly recommend. The recipe below is a hybrid of a few I found online, including Tasty via Buzzfeed and Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Ingredients

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 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)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Gel food coloring, if desired
  • Lemon curd, for filling

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

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 vanilla extract and a small amount of your desired food coloring; I used red for a light pink color. 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.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, 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 spread lemon curd on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving. Full disclosure, though: Mike and I both at a macaron as soon as they were cool and they were quite tasty.

Makes about 36 macarons.

 

Christmas Sugar Cut-Outs

Per usual, I went a bit overboard with Christmas baking. Gingerbread and shortbread for colleagues, pear tart and spice cake for Christmas day dessert, and these sugar cut-outs and some Russian tea cakes for my trip to Deep Creek to see my cousin Barb and her family this past weekend. I’ve eaten an inordinate amount of sugar in the past few weeks, even for me.

These Christmas sugar cut-outs may be a bit over the top, but seriously, how can you resist a cookie that looks like this? I also made some trees and stars, but the houses pictured here were my best creations. I used a gingerbread house cookie cutter and decorated them to look like little village houses, complete with snow-covered rooftops and evergreens.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla

For the frosting

  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • Red, green, yellow, and black food coloring (gel coloring is best)

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I made stars, trees, and houses. Place same-shape cookies on each baking sheet to ensure even baking. For example, make all the stars on one sheet and all the houses on another so you don’t burn the stars while the houses are still baking.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, in a mixing bowl, combine shortening, vanilla extract, water, and 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix on low speed, then increase to medium-high and beat for 10 minutes, until smooth. Add remaining powdered sugar and additional teaspoon of vanilla extract, beating until smooth.

Reserve a portion of untinted frosting for snow, windows, and doors of houses. Divide remaining frosting into small portions for your other colors; I used yellow for my stars, green, yellow, and red for my trees (which featured stars and garland), and red, white, green, and black for my houses. Fill piping bags and decorate as you like; I used a star tip to make the snow and evergreens on my houses above and plain tips to pipe the windows, doors, and window/door outlines.

Allow frosting to set before storing cookies between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers at room temperature. Makes about 2 dozen, depending on cutter sizes.