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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.

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Lemon Coconut Cake

30 Jan

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I opened a kitchen cabinet last week and was met with the most aromatic blast of coconut imaginable. It was like I had stuffed my entire face into a bag of freshly shaved coconut. Being me, the first place my mind went upon being bombarded with the scent of coconut was not to Hawaii, but to cake. What can I say? I like what I like (which is not to say that I do not like Hawaii—because I do, very much—but more to say that, when it comes to what I can make happen ASAP to satisfy my needs, making a cake lands far, far ahead in the realm of plausibility than making a spontaneous trip to Hawaii).

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Because, as we know, I like making cakes, I tend to have a lot of documentation of many, many cakes. After a while, however, though the cakes I make are mostly new affairs that I test out in the name of promised deliciousness, I have noticed that many of the cakes I make tend to look fairly indistinguishable from one another. Observe:

This ginger cardamom cake:

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looks a lot like this rum cake:

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which looks pretty much identical to our current lemon coconut cake:

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Oh, don’t get me wrong. The cakes may look the same, but their tastes are anything but the same. That ginger cardamom cake is a blast of spiciness and subtle cardamom, while the rum cake is boozy enough to make you feel a little flushed after eating it. But how boring is it to show you all pictures of what appear to be the same golden cake, time after time again? It’s super boring, I admit. The good thing is, this cake may look like just a plain old bundt cake, but, like the cakes that came before it, there is nothing plain about it.

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With coconut milk taking the place of regular milk, an added hit of shredded coconut, and a double burst of both lemon zest and fresh lemon juice, this cake is totally worth sharing with you. In fact, it would be a crime not to let you know about it. That initial inspiration provided by the coconut shines through like a tropical dream, and the punch of lemon, plumped up just a tad by the addition of a light lemon glaze, makes for a perfect pairing. Though not a traditional pound cake in the sense that the ratios of flour, butter, eggs and sugar do not line up equally, the crumb of this cake is very much in the realm of a pound cake, with a dense, moist crumb, and the unmistakable flavor undertone of rich butter. It may look like a plain, innocent bundt cake, but don’t be fooled. This cake had got kick, and it wants to be heard. I mean tasted. You know.

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Last Year: Apple Cinnamon Crumb Bread (this may be called a bread, but, come on, it’s a cake in a bread tin) and Grilled Lemongrass Chicken

Lemon Coconut Cake

2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup coconut milk

Lemon Glaze:

1/3 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

drop of pure vanilla extract

pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously grease and flour a 10 or 12-cup bundt pan.

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

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy. Grandually add in sugar and continue to beat on medium high speed until mixture is fluffy and light. Reduce mixer speed to medium, and add in eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl in between each egg. Beat in vanilla. Beat in lemon zest, shredded coconut, and lemon juice, and mix until just combined.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl, then add in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by ½ of the coconut milk. Mix until barely combined, then add in ½ of remaining flour mixture, barely mixing to combine, then rest of coconut milk. Add in remaining flour, beating until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl one last time, and gently fold the batter two or three times, just to incorporate any unmixed bits of flour.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan, then bake in center of oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the cake emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to continue cooling.

While cake is cooling, prepare glaze. In a small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients and whisk to combine thoroughly. Whisk for 2 to 3 minutes, until powdered sugar has lost some of its graininess.

While the cake is still warm, gently brush on glaze, covering as much of the surface of the cake as possible.

Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

17 Sep

How many pancake recipes does one person really need to have? If I were to nail things down to their very basic elements, maybe my answer would be that a person only needs one single pancake recipe, that recipe being this one, which never fails to produce the most perfect pancakes every single time. Then again, if you’re in the mood for a slightly more health-conscious pancake, a pancake fortified with multiple grains, no refined sugar, and no saturated fat, perhaps you’d prefer to only have on hand a recipe like this one, a multi-grain blueberry pancake that never fails to please. Would that be all? Does anyone really need anything else in the way of pancakes?

Having just made these unbelievably wonderful lemon pancakes, my answer would definitely have to be a resounding yes. Dear lord, yes. Intensely lemony, perfectly light, and punched up with the brightest blueberry sauce you can imagine, these pancakes are giving my previous standbys a run for their money.

Of course, these pancakes satisfy a different element of pancake worthiness. Whereas the pancakes I usually favor are a simple affair that are comprised of standard pantry and refrigerator staples, these pancakes are a slightly fancier endeavor. Loads of lemon zest, a good dose of yogurt, and fluffy egg whites make these pancakes a special treat, something with the taste characteristics of a lemony muffin, but with a heavenly lightness. Their front and center lemon flavor just begs to be paired with a fresh dose of berries, so I complied by topping everything off with a dead-simple berry sauce that brings out all the right notes of what just might be my new Saturday morning breakfast treat. These are pancakes, stepped up, and you definitely don’t want to miss out.

Last Year: Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits

Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce Recipe

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup milk

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted then cooled slightly

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, separated

1 large egg white

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, melted butter,  vanilla, and 1 egg yolk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and gently whisk together until just barely combined.

Now would be a good time to start heating a cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet over low heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 egg whites together until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, mixing until just combined.

In a skillet that has been preheated over low heat (if you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, you should not have to oil it prior to cooking the pancakes, but if your skillet tends to allow food to stick, very lightly oil the skillet with a tiny bit of vegetable oil), drop batter ¼-cup at a time, onto the skillet. Cook pancakes on one side until they have risen a bit and appear somewhat dry at the edges, with numerous deflating bubbles on the surface (this can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes for the first batch of pancakes). Flip pancakes over and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove cooked pancakes to individual plates to be covered with berry sauce and eaten immediately, or place pancakes on a wire rack set on a baking sheet, then keep pancakes warm in a 200-degree oven until you are ready to serve them. In any case, eat the pancakes as soon as possible, for maximum deliciousness.

Blueberry Sauce

3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen are both fine

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the fruit just softens, roughly five minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until about half of the mixture is blended into a liquid and the other half remains slightly chunky.  If you are not a fan of textured sauce, feel free to puree the sauce until it is completely smooth, or until your desired texture has been reached. I wanted a super textured sauce, so I hardly pureed this batch at all.

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