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Tiny Almond Lemon Cakes with Bourbon Vanilla Bean Glaze

23 May

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It would be no exaggeration at all to say that my quest to perfect these little cakes has been haunting me for weeks now. It started with an introduction, by way of the incomparable Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. Swanson made a batch of these little almond beauties, and I was hooked at first sight. The delicate almond crumb. The swipe of vanilla bean-flecked frosting. I was all in.

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But then, much to my horror, my dream of making my own batch of tiny little almond cakes was brought to an abrupt halt when I was faced with the heretofore unknown price of almond paste. Featured as the main ingredient in Swanson’s cakes, almond paste, I came to discover, sells at a market rate of about $1.50 per ounce. As the cake called for 14 ounces of almond paste (which, for those of you not interested in doing the math, would run me over $21), I, upon witnessing the price, slowly backed away from the paste and went home to cry sad little almond-cake-less tears.

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But I could not be stopped. Look, as a person who has taken the time to create a mini cherpumple just for kicks, there was no way I was going to miss out on this almond cake just because of my unwillingness to pay as much for 14 ounces of almond paste as I pay for enough Thai food to feed three people (I love you, cheap Thai takeout). So, I made my own almond paste, the added benefit of which was the fortuitous ability to control (read: reduce) the amount of sugar included in the paste. Smooth sailing was to be found ahead, right?

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No. My first attempt at the cake found me trying to bake the entire thing in a too-small fluted cake pan, a cute little number that is only 6 inches wide, but exceptionally deep, making for a cake that was beautifully browned along the edges, but unfortunately underdone in the very center. My next attempt included the use of the same pan, only with a slightly altered recipe that changed the egg ratio, the amount of cornstarch, and the baking time. The cake cooked all the way through this time, but about two minutes after I took it out of the oven it completely collapsed, folding in on itself like a deflated wading pool.

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More tinkering ensued, things were added and taken away, and then, finally, success was achieved. Baked in tiny little pans (thanks again, Corinna!), the cakes, unburdened by an excess of batter, turned out perfectly. The key? Knowing your pans. Though you may want to pour all of this cake’s batter into one smallish-yet-tallish pan, don’t do it. Almond paste behaves very differently than flour when it bakes, and this cake contains no leavening agent to aid in its rise. A taller pan will only bring you grief in the form of an underdone or collapsed cake. My experience has shown that an 8-inch pan works beautifully if baking a single cake, or, if you are in the mood for making several cakes at once, these cakes turn out wonderfully when baked in tiny little molds. The final product here is just spectacular, with the unmistakable flavor of almond essence mingling with the freshness of lemon zest and just the tiniest touch of bourbon in the vanilla bean glaze. The crumb is light, the hue is nothing short of gorgeous, and, at long last, everything about it is just right.

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Last Year: Garlic Naan and Indian Turkey Burgers with Green Chutney

Tiny Almond Lemon Cakes with Bourbon Vanilla Bean Glaze

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

10 ounces raw blanched almonds

4 ounces (about ¾ cup) confectioners’ sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon sea salt

scant ¼ cup cornstarch

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted then cooled

Bourbon Vanilla Bean Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons milk

seeds scraped from ½ a vanilla bean

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon bourbon (to taste)

optional: toasted almond slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly butter and flour an 8-inch pan, or several smaller pans.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulverize blanched almonds until pebbly. Add the confectioners’ sugar, and continue to process until mixture is very fine and just beginning to barely clump together. Process too much, and you’ve got almond butter (delicious, but not what you want here). Add the eggs and egg yolks, and process until smooth. Add the cornstarch, salt, and lemon zest, pulse a few times, then pour in the butter. Blend one more time, before transferring to the prepared pan (or pans).

Bake in the center of the oven until deeply golden and set in the center, when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. This will take what seems like an impossible amount of time. An 8-inch cake can take up to an hour, and the tiny little cakes seen above took almost 45 minutes. The color of the cakes will be deeply golden, and will appear just on the verge of being too dark.

Let the cake or cakes cool in their pan(s) for a bit (5 minutes for tiny cakes, 20 minutes for a larger cake), then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

To make glaze, combine all ingredients together in a small bowl, then whisk until smooth. When cakes have cooled completely, drizzle with glaze. If desired, sprinkle with toasted almond slices.

Makes about 3 cups of batter total, enough for one 8-inch cake, or six tiny cakes plus one super flat, tart-like 8-inch cake.

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

10 May

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One of the most enjoyable parts of my Go Mighty goal of making 50 cakes for 50 people is the constant experimentation I am allowed to engage in, all in the name of cake-making. If I see a cake that looks interesting, I now feel as though I have a perfectly legitimate excuse for making it, whereas before…all right, so still I would have made it before I started on my cake journey, but at least now I get to give the cakes to people instead of just sitting around in my kitchen with a fork, eating cake for breakfast. This is the part where I should probably say something about how people should not be eating cake for breakfast. Moving on.

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This chocolate frosting was the topper for a chocolate and vanilla marble cake (much like this cake, but with plain milk subbed in for coconut milk) that I made a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to drizzle something over the top of the cake, but whipping up a simple glaze just didn’t seem to fit the feel of the cake. Because the cake is so light, I thought a glaze might end up making the cake a bit spongy, or, on the other end of the spectrum, when it sat a while it might form a bit of a crust, which would definitely be at odds with the delicate crumb of the cake. Does this sound like too many concerns to have for a cake? Because when I typed that just now, it seemed like I was maybe overthinking things a bit too much. It’s a cake, after all. It will taste good, glaze or no glaze.

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But! Why not make the cake taste great? And there it is, my friends. The very thing that makes me do things like audition chocolate frostings until I find one that is fit to be paired with one of my favorite cakes. This frosting, so intensely chocolaty, is more akin to a sauce than a standard finish for a cake. Lightly spooned over the top of any cake, it drapes beautifully down the sides and sets up like a dream. I imagine that this frosting/sauce would taste incredible over some vanilla bean ice cream, but, in a turn of events that shocks no one more than me, I haven’t yet tried that particular combination. Can I trust one of you to get on that and then report back to me on the results? If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to make some of this frosting/sauce. Not that you need an excuse (said the lady who is about to step away from the computer and make more cake).

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Last Year: Two of my all-time favorite recipes on this site– Rice Noodle Salad (Bún) with Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs and Coconut Lime Frozen Yogurt and Chewy Ginger Cookie Sandwiches (the best ice cream sandwich I have ever eaten in my whole life)

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

½ cup milk (I used 1%)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a small or medium saucepan set over low heat, stir together the sugar and cocoa powder. Slowly drizzle in the milk, stirring as you do so, taking as much time to add the milk as you please so that the mixture does not clump together. Increase heat to medium, then stir the mixture constantly until it just comes to a boil. Reduce heat just a tad, then continue to stir mixture for another 2 minutes while it just barely simmers, producing just a bubble or two at the surface every few seconds.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, then stir in the vanilla. Allow the mixture to cool for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the chopped chocolate and stir until completely smooth. Allow the frosting to cool completely before frosting a cake. If you are planning on drizzling some of this over some ice cream or profiteroles, it need not be completely cooled (in fact, slightly warm might be a preferable temperature in those instances).

Makes about 1 cup of frosting or sauce, enough to frost 1 bundt cake or lightly spread over the top and middle of 1 double-layer 8-inch cake (but don’t plan on using it to frost the sides—this is strictly a drizzling or draping type of frosting).

Coconut Cake with Orange Cream Frosting

18 Apr

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It is with very little fanfare that I present this delicious cake to you without any accompanying photos, sans the one you see above. You see, I did not initially plan on sharing this cake with you all. This was a cake made for a birthday, and I went about creating it with simply the desires of the birthday person in mind, and not the requirements of a certain food-based website in mind. I baked it like I used to bake everything: without a camera at the ready.

And yet, please believe me when I tell you that this cake, this burst of coconut delight and citrusy cream, is one of the best cakes I have ever made. The yogurt and extra egg whites in the cake make for an especially light crumb, and the surrounding cloak of orange zest infused whipped cream provides the perfect amount of decadence without any element of heaviness. It’s what I always tend to think of as a grown up cake, meaning, the type of cake that a child would reject in a second (and, in this case, most did), but an adult would welcome with open arms (and open mouth). No matter, of course. Whatever the kids don’t eat, that just leaves more for the rest of us.

Last Year: Honey Cream, Strawberry, and Chocolate Pizza and Vegetable Pakoras

Coconut Cake with Orange Cream Frosting

Coconut Cake

2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Orange Cream Frosting

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

finely grated zest of 1 large orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms of the pans with rounds of parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 60 seconds. Slowly add the sugar, and beat together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, add the egg, then the egg whites, beating about 15 seconds in between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if things resist mixing together. Beat in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then beat in the yogurt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the coconut milk. Add in the last of the flour mixture, then mix until just combined. Beat in the coconut until just incorporated, about 10 seconds. You don’t want to overmix the cake batter, so use a gentle hand with all the incorporating of the ingredients.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 22 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.The cakes will be done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of a cake emerges somewhat clean, with just a crumb or two attached.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a wire rack to continue cooling completely.

To make the frosting, in a stand mixer, or using an electric mixer, beat the cream on high speed until it just begins to thicken. Drizzle in the powdered sugar, then vanilla, and continue to beat until the cream forms soft peaks. Add in the orange zest, and beat in until just combined. You can beat the cream until it forms firm peaks, as I did here, if you will need the cake to sit for a bit before eating it. However, if you will be eating the cake right away, and the cream will not be in danger of weeping, I’d go for light and soft peaks in the whipped cream.

When the cakes have cooled completely, frost with orange cream frosting as you would any other two-layer cake.

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