Friday, September 28, 2012

Whole Wheat Apple Spice Cake

With the onset of fall, this is the season for apples and spice.  It also feels like a good time to invite the wholesome goodness of whole wheat flour.  With a chill in the air and evenings soon scheduled to arrive a bit earlier, there's plenty of reason to warm up the kitchen with the scent of a spice cake baking in the oven.

Baking with whole wheat flour isn't what it used to be.  With access to better quality flour and more balanced ingredient ratios found in today's recipes, whole wheat pastries no longer suffer from being too heavy, too dense and too dry.  And that means the flavor is much improved as well.

Thankfully, apple cakes have many lives.  There are so many great versions and traditions to choose from.  Here the apples are baked in familiar upside down fashion with brown sugar.  Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and molasses lend character and complexity to the cake batter along with the flour.  This is one way to welcome the oncoming fall harvest.  If you're like me, there can never be too many apple cakes.

Bench notes:
- I used Fuji apples.
- The ground wheat germ in whole wheat flour contains oil that can become rancid over time.  Whole wheat flour will keep 1 - 3 months at room temperature.  For longer storage, place it in an airtight container or freezer bag in your refrigerator.  It will maintain good quality for about 6 months in the refrigerator and up to 12 months in the freezer.  If you store it in the freezer, bring it to room temperature before use.  The very cold temperature of frozen flour will discourage the baking properties of yeast or baking powder.
- I like King Arthur Traditional Whole Wheat Flour for its superb flavor and easy availability.  It's milled from the hard red spring wheat of the northern Great Plains and uses 100% of the wheat berry, which provides the full flavor and nutrients of the bran and the wheat germ.  I think it's the best of its kind.
- Now is a good time to take stock of your spice collection.  Check to see if you have everything you need for holiday baking and whether your spices are fresh.

Whole Wheat Apple Spice Cake
Serves 8 - 10

2 apples
1/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
pinch cinnamon

1 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice
pinch nutmeg
1/2 C canola oil
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 C molasses
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 t vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9" x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

Peel, core and cut apples into 1/2" slices.  Place in a bowl and toss with the brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.  Set aside.

Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together.

Whisk the oil, brown sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla together until thoroughly blended.  Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix until completely combined and there are no streaks of flour.

Arrange the apples in the prepared pan along with their juices.  Pour the cake batter evenly on top of the apples and gently tap the bottom of the pan on the work surface to release any air bubbles.

Bake 28 - 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake.  Place a platter on top and invert the cake.  Carefully remove the parchment and cool completely.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Buckwheat Shortcakes

Today is officially the last day of summer.  So what else could I do but whip up a fresh batch of shortcakes?  But not just any old shortcake for this occasion.  For something unusual and delectable, I baked these Buckwheat Shortcakes from Alice Medrich.  They're tender little cream scones that are wonderfully light and flavorful.

Shortcakes are incredibly easy to make and quick to bake.  This recipe has the perfect balance between all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, sugar and salt.  With a delicious light note of buckwheat flavor, they go well with acidic fresh fruits of the season.  And although the recipe calls for strawberries, I had some blueberry and plum compote waiting for companionship and I think this pairing is terrific.  And I bet fresh peaches or figs would also be really incredible.  So tuck this recipe away for the next time you have some of these fresh fruits on hand.  You'll be very pleased to have this unusually delicious shortcake in your repertoire.

Bench notes:
- Medrich recommends lining the baking pan with two layers of parchment to protect the bottom of the shortcakes from browning too much.  Or you can double stack two baking sheets.
- My shortcakes were done in 12 minutes so be sure to check on the early side.
- I buy small quantities of buckwheat flour at my local bulk market.  It has a higher fat content so it's likely to go rancid in large quantities.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before use.
- For a blueberry compote: Place 1 1/2 C fresh blueberries, 2 T - 2 1/2 T sugar (to taste), 1 1/2 T water and a pinch of cinnamon in a saucepan and simmer on low heat for 2 - 3 minutes.  Dissolve 3/4 t cornstarch + 3/4 t cold water and stir into the blueberries along with 3/4 t lemon juice.  Cook for another 2 - 3 minutes, stirring to keep from scorching.  Set aside to cool and thicken.  Toss in a couple of sliced plums for variation.
- For another delicious fall and winter shortcake, try Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears.

Buckwheat Shortcakes
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

1 C + 2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 C + 2 T buckwheat flour
1/4 C sugar
1 3/4 t baking powder
3/8 t salt
1 C heavy cream

2 - 2 1/2 pints fresh ripe strawberries
1 T - 2 T sugar, to taste
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1 T sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with two layers of parchment.

Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the cream.  Using a rubber spatula, push the dry ingredients into the well with a folding motion just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  The dough will look a bit shaggy.  Gather and press the dough into a cohesive ball and turn out onto a floured surface.  Pat dough into a 6" x 6" square that is 3/4" thick.  Using a sharp knife and a quick up and down motion, cut into 9 squares.  Place them 1" apart on prepared baking sheet.  Brush with cream or milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until golden brown, 12 - 15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

For assembly, hull and slice the strawberries and toss with 1 - 2 T sugar, to taste.  Whip the heavy cream with 1 T sugar until it forms very soft peaks.  Slice each shortcake in half and place bottom half on a plate.  Spoon a generous amount of berries and a dollop of whipped cream.  Cover with top half of the biscuit and serve.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Warm Double Chocolate Brownie Cakes

Whenever you bake recipes from Emily Luchetti, you can pretty much bet you're in for a full treat. Everything she does has the right balance of ingredients, clear instructions and straightforward preparation. She also clearly has a fondness for chocolate and today's dessert focuses on her easy recipe for dessert brownies.

This is a brownie on the cakey side of the spectrum. The batter is baked in a muffin tin so the edges end up chewy like a brownie while the interior has a soft open crumb. There's melted chocolate that gets folded into the batter. There's also some cocoa powder to steel each bite with extra deep chocolate flavor. And then there's more chopped chocolate added to the batter that melts into the cake. It's definitely a triple threat. Served alongside your favorite ice cream, this is a good dose of pleasure for chocolate aficionados.

Bench notes:
- The eggs and sugar are beaten to the ribbon stage, which takes about 5 - 6 minutes on a stand mixer. This process aerates the batter and ensures the sugar is dissolved to avoid graininess. When you think you've reached the ribbon stage, lift the beater about 6" and let the ribbons of batter fall to the surface. If they hold for a second, it's ready.
- My cakes were done in 18 minutes. To avoid over baking and having them come out too dry, check yours early to see how they're doing. A toothpick inserted should come out with moist crumbs.
- I used semisweet chocolate, natural undutched cocoa and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- The brownie cakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Warm Double Chocolate Brownie Cakes
Makes 8 cakes

5 oz butter
5 oz milk chocolate, chopped
3 T cake flour
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C cocoa powder
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
3/4 C sugar
1/2 t vanilla

vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 8 cups in a standard-sized muffin pan with butter and flour.

Melt butter in a saucepan and take off the heat. Add 1/5 (1 oz) of the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and salt.

Beat eggs with the sugar until pale and thick and the mixture ribbons when you lift the whisk, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract. Beat in the melted chocolate and butter and then add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl. Stir in remaining chopped chocolate.

Portion the cake batter into prepared muffin cups and bake for about 22 minutes or until cakes are risen and spring back when lightly touched. Cool cakes in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack. Serve warm with ice cream.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Yogurt Cake with Strawberries & Zabaglione

If you've ever had a slice of authentic Tiramisu, you know quite well the dreamy deliciousness of Italian zabaglione. It's a dessert cream made with sweet Marsala, sugar and egg yolks and it's sublime. Layered with a light cake that has been imbibed with the buzz of coffee or espresso, it transforms into a heavenly dessert. So heavenly in fact, it's been a widely beloved dessert in America for years.

Zabaglione, or sabayon as it's known in France, is made by gently whisking the ingredients over a water bath until it thickens into a foamy light custard. Once it's cooled, it's folded with whipped cream to add another layer of lusciousness. It's pretty easy to prepare, takes just a few minutes and is a perfect complement for the bright juicy acidity of fresh strawberries. And it's a surprisingly light dessert cream given the ingredients.

As we move rapidly toward the fall season, we are seeing less and less of all the fruit that makes pastry so beautiful in the spring and summer. But if you happen to have the company of some delicious strawberries to revere, consider this lofty pairing. Add a slice of Yogurt Cake and it's a perfect comfort to welcome the season ahead.

Bench notes:
- I like olive oil in this cake but canola can certainly be substituted.
- Letting cake cool for 10 minutes after removing from the oven and before depanning ensures that it's cool enough not to be too fragile but still warm enough to release from the pan with relative ease.
- Marsala is a wine produced in Marsala, Sicily. Use a sweet Marsala for desserts rather than dry Marsala, which is used in savory dishes such as Chicken Marsala.
- For lighter fare, skip the cake. The fruit and the zabaglione are a feast.

Yogurt Cake with Strawberries & Zabaglione
Serves 8

1 1/2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C olive oil
1 C sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1 large lemon
3/4 C plain yogurt
1/2 t vanilla

2 pints fresh strawberries

4 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C sweet Marsala
1/2 C heavy cream

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9" x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the olive oil, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, yogurt and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool cake for 10 minutes. Invert it and gently peel off the parchment. Revert it again and place right side up on a wire rack to cool completely.

When ready to serve, hull and slice the strawberries and set aside.

For the zabaglione, place the egg yolks, sugar and Marsala in a heatproof bowl and set over a water bath of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, and cook about 5 - 7 minutes until the mixture is thickened, expanded in volume, opaque and slightly foamy. Remove from heat and continue whisking for another minute to blend thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

Whip heavy cream to soft peak and fold into the cooled zabaglione. Place a slice of cake on a plate, distribute the sliced strawberries and garnish with a dollop of zabaglione. Serve immediately.