Entries from March 29th, 2008

Perfection, Once Again

March 29th, 2008 · 104 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes


It looks like I came back from New York just in time for Daring Bakers! I need to do a report on my favorite dessert spots in the Big Apple, but of course how could I not participate in this month’s baking extravaganza, especially when it involves Dorie and a cake dear to my heart!

I made this cake before for my blog birthday, and I’m more than pleased to have a reason to make it again. It is a wonderful recipe that turns out a gorgeous cake with snowy good looks, elegant crumb, and pert, clean flavor. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to get creative with the flavors as I’m sure many other Daring Bakers did; freshly home from my trip, I was just glad there was a jar of raspberry jam in the refrigerator and flour in the cupboard!


Never mind jet-lag woes: the cake is a snap to throw together even in a zombie-like post-trip trance. The cake is luxurious; moist and flavorful and yet firm enough to hold its form and cut cleanly. I was particularly enamoured with the pairing of lemon and raspberry flavors the first time I made it, so I was happy to repeat the combination – besides, the raspberry jam does look so pretty next to the pristine white of the cake. It also gives the cake a light freshness, even with four layers.

Dorie’s buttercream recipe is also a winner to me; fast, simple, and nearly foolproof. No need to muck about with cooking sugar or whipping egg whites, and I find its buttery smoothness complements the cake as well. If you’re looking for tips on frosting cakes, be sure to read my post on working with buttercream.

Thanks to Morven for reminding me of how much I adore this cake. And now, I should mention why I’m also so happy that a Dorie recipe got picked for this month – because I met up with Dorie in New York! Of course, I asked her if she knew about the Daring Bakers, and her immediate response was, "They’re doing that Perfect Party Cake, the one where the cake doesn’t rise!" Apparently she found that many people doing the recipe were using self-rising cake flour, which paradoxically led to collapsing cake layers that ended up flatter than intended. Note to all who attempt this recipe: DON"T use self-rising cake flour, and be sure you beat the butter and sugar together thoroughly, as well as the final combined batter, to properly aerate. I’ve never had a problem with having the cake layers rise – then again, when the cake is four layers, you don’t need to worry too much about your layers being too thin! No worries Dorie, I’m a lifelong fan of this cake!


Dorie is basically the most awesome person ever – sweet, funny, ready to take on any pastry (we ate our way through several plates at Payard), and with the best taste in accessories! AND a Daring Baker fan! She was so excited to know that so many people in the blogosphere were being inspired to bake – and here’s the proof!


My present to all you Daring Bakers out there from me and Dorie: Go Daring Bakers!

I’m looking forward to next month’s recipe!

Perfect Party Cake

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

makes 12 to 14 servings


9 oz cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 3/4 fl. oz. buttermilk

4 large egg whites

10 1/2 oz sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract


7 oz sugar

4 large egg whites

12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces

2 1/4 fl. oz. fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For finishing

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or butter two 9" x 2" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each cake pan with a buttered parchment circle.

For the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk the buttermilk and egg whites together in a separate bowl.

Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a stand mixer bowl and rub together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and smells like the lemon.

Add the butter to the mixer bowl and beat together with the sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and light.

Add in the vanilla extract.

Add in the flour and buttermilk mixtures in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixtures. Be sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.

When everything is added beat the batter for an additional 2 minutes.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 30 minutes in the oven or until the tops are set and springy, and a cake tester inserted into the centers come out clean.

Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for a few minutes, then flip and unmold the cakes (run a knife around the sides of the cakes if necessary). Peel the parchment off and flip the cakes back over right side up on the wire racks to finish cooling.

The fully cooled cake layers can be wrapped in plastic and kept overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

For the buttercream: Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.

Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.

When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth.

Add in the lemon juice and beat until combined. Add in the vanilla.

The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

To assemble the cake: Using a sharp serrated knife, slice each cake layer horizontally in half – see this post for tips on cutting cake layers.

Stir the raspberry preserves until it is loose and spreadable.

Place a layer on a cardboard cake round, cut side up. Spread about a third of the raspberry preserves on the cake layer.

Spread a layer of buttercream on top of the preserves. Top with a second cake layer. I found that if you have problems with this, you can spread the buttercream on a second cake layer and flip it over onto the preserve-covered layer – but you have to be very careful doing this or you’ll break your cake layer!

Spread preserves and buttercream on the second cake layer as you did with the first. Top with a third cake layer.

Spread preserves and buttercream on the third cake layer as you did with the second. Top with the last cake layer, cut side down.

Use the rest of the buttercream to frost the sides and top of the cake.

Pr ess the coconut over the sides and top of the cake.

The cake is best served a couple of hours after it is assembled to let the flavors develop. You can refrigerate it for up to 2 days, but be sure it is well covered or the cake will dry out. You should also let the cake come to room temperature before you serve it as it does not taste as good cold.


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Spiced Chocolate Mousses

March 25th, 2008 · 32 Comments · Chocolate, Recipes


Hello from New York City! It’s been a whirlwind the last two weeks – sorry about all the e-mails and comments I haven’t responded to! I’ll be back in San Francisco by the end of the week and I promise to redress the situation immediately! I can’t wait to share news of how the book is going, as well as my experiences in the dessert paradise that is NYC – pastrygirl may have finally hit her sugar limit! It’s been one sweet adventure after another here!

Meanwhile, I have a short post I started writing before I left and that I finally have a few spare moments to finish off, to tide you over until I return. This is twist on a traditional chocolate mousse from Donna Hay magazine, and encapsulates how I feel about desserts in New York: everything is taken just a little further, given a little unexpected fillip or turned wholly upside down – one moment you’re eating the best date cake you’ve ever tasted, the next you’re confronting white chocolate, potato crumbles, and beer ice cream on your plate. It’s been Alice in Wonderland crossed with Cinderella with a dose of Sex and the City thrown in for good measure.


Back to the mousses, I’ve always been a proponent of mousse as ideal medium for playing with flavors – a winning strategy of creative tastes in comfort food trappings.  The chocolate mousses here are spiced with cinnamon, star anise, and brown sugar, layered to produce a subtle, mysterious flavor hinting but not wholly revealing its origins. The cinnamon and brown sugar ground it in familiarity, while the star anise adds the perfect je ne sais quoi. I can think of many other spices or flavorings to experiment with in this recipe, although I would suggest keeping it to additions that will incorporate smoothly into the egg whites. If you use the star anise, be sure it’s ground finely – you don’t want chunks of anise to ruin the velvety smoothness of the mousse!

The mousse is also dreamily light and smooth, not heavy at all, due to the whipped cream and egg whites, so it is perfect spring dessert. Garnished with some sparkling sugar-encrusted fruit, this is a simple creation to make on a moment’s whim, so you don’t miss a second of the brand-new spring sunshine.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week I’m looking forward to coming home and baking in my own kitchen again!


Spiced Chocolate Mousses

from Donna Hay Magazine

makes about (8) 2 1/2- oz ramekins

4 large eggs, separated

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground star anise

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

7 oz (200 g) chopped dark chocolate

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

4 1/4 oz raspberries

1 beaten egg white

white sanding or sparkling sugar for decoration

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites to soft peaks.

Add sugar, star anise, and cinnamon to the egg whites and whisk to stiff peaks.

Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat.

Add 1/4 cup of the cream and the egg yolks and whisk to combine.

In a clean mixer bowl, whisk the remaining cream to soft peaks.

Add in the melted chocolate mixture and fold gently with a rubber spatula to combine.

Add in the egg white mixture and fold gently to combine, trying not to deflate the mixture.

Scoop into eight 1/2 cup glasses and refrigerate at least 2 -3 hours till set.

Brush raspberries with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Arrange on mousses before serving.

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Sweet Sushi and Other Surprises

March 13th, 2008 · 54 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Cookbooks, Recipes


I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Falkner and her cookbook a few times already, I’ve even got to meet her last year, but it’s not until now that I finally got to try out the recipes in Demolition Desserts. Verdict? Baking with Falkner is like being told you can play with your food, literally any way you like. The results are surprising, imaginative, and – not least of all – delicious.

I made one of the first recipes that caught my eye when flipping through the book – it perfectly exemplifies the creativity and playfulness that infuses Falkner’s desserts. What looks like oddly like a set of sushi rolls you’d find in a Japanese restaurant is actually a modern, deconstructed take on tiramisu. A chocolate roulade is wrapped around a sweet marsala mascarpone filling and sliced into neat litle rolls that are arranged next to a mocha-rum dipping sauce. Where are the chopsticks? Made of a sesame-flecked vanilla biscotti, natch. Falkner even suggested grated pear "ribbons" to imitate the pile of ginger that accompanies most sushi – I didn’t do that part but her cleverness and attention to detail is amazing. And the name of the dessert – Tiramisushi – almost makes you wonder why someone else didn’t come up with it before.

Making this felt like a cross between baking and art project – all the familiar elements were rendered new and exciting due to their unconventional uses – I’d never sliced biscotti into slender little stems or thought about adapting a traditional roulade form to a squatter sushi shape. It was all very intriguing and eye-opening, especially making the cake rolls. Having rolled up sponge cakes for jelly rolls and bûche de Noël before, I thought would be the easiest parts, but it turned out to be one of the tricker tasks. The problem I had was that Falkner has you bake the cake in a quarter sheet pan, or a brownie pan, which is smaller than a jelly roll pan and results in a thicker cake. I believe she did this so that the thicker cake would more closely resemble the solid layer of rice in a sushi roll – you don’t want to cake to roll around itself several times like for a jelly roll, but only once to just enclose the filling.

It’s harder to roll a thick piece of cake up than a thin one, especially if the cake is overbaked and drying out and cracking as you attempt to wrest it into a perfectly round form. So, it’s important not to overbake this cake and keep it moist and soft to ensure it rolls up nicely. I also found that spreading the filling on the cake after letting it cool for a few minutes and then rolling it up also helped things. As you can see, I managed to get a few fairly shapely rolls out of this!


With all the pieces in place, this dessert is not just visually appealing but gustatorily satisfying as well. The chocolate cake is light but intensely chocolatey, marrying well with the creamy, sweet mascarpone filling; it’s almost like a luxe version of one of those Hostess snack cakes. The slight bitterness of the espresso and rum laced chocolate sauce adds another layer of flavor to the combination as well as a providing an extra indulgent touch, and the biscotti chopsticks are the perfect crisp topper. All the parts of a classic tiramisu are in here, just in a jazzy new form. It’s also very easy to play around with all the flavors of the different components, making this a very versatile and lovely dessert – one that’s sure to inspire comments and smiles whenever you bring it to the table.

I heartily recommend Falkner’s book – it’s full of imagination-sparking creations like this, and it’s wonderful fun to read as well. You may be inspired to come out with some sweet surprises of your own.

I’m getting ready to make a trip to the east coast for business related to my own book, so I’ll be busy packing this weekend. I do have a post all ready for next though, so do stop on by – and I can’t wait to share tidbits from my trip when I return!



adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts

Cocoa Roulade Sponge Cake
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) flour
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (1 oz) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup ( 3 1/2 oz) sugar
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons (1 oz ) butter, melted butter
1 Tablespoon water
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Marsala Mascarpone Filling
1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese
1 Tablespoon confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 Tablespoon Marsala wine

Mocha-Rum Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon corn syrup
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
3 Tablespoons hot brewed espresso
2 Tablespoons (1 oz) butter
2 Tablespoons rum
pinch of salt

To make the cocoa roulade, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9"x13" baking pan well and line bottom with parchment paper.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.

Whisk eggs and sugar together in a metal bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water on the stove and heat for a few minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick and warm to the touch.

Pour egg mixture into bowl of a stand mixer, add the salt, and whisk with the whip attachment on high speed for a few minutes until the mixture has cooled and tripled in volume.

Remove bowl from mixture and fold in flour mixture with a rubber spatula, trying not to deflate the batter.

Combine melted butter and water and add to the batter, folding in to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread out evenly with an offset spatula.

Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. The center of the cake should bounce back when pressed with a fingertip.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes on wire rack before unmolding onto a piece of parchment paper dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Peel off the piece of parchment on the bottom of the cake.

Cut the cake lengthwise down the middle so you have two long skinny rectangles. Slide rectangles apart. Now, if your piece of parchment is really big, you can cut it in half so each cake rectangle is on its own piece of parchment that you will use to roll it up. If your parchment is small, prepare new sheets of parchment dusted with confectioner’s sugar and place a cake rectangle on each one.

Here Falkner has you roll the cake up from the long side, using the parchment paper as a guide to help roll and keep it in place. Then you let the cakes sit overnight rolled-up before unrolling them, spreading with filling, and rolling them up again. I found that when I tried this the cake seemed to dry out and crack and not roll up very well. The easier method for me was to spread the filling onto the cake and then roll it up, and then store in the refrigerator. Make sure the cake is not still piping hot from the oven or it will melt the filling, but the sooner you fill it, the easier the cake is to roll. You can make the filling ahead of time so it’s ready to go when the cake is out of the oven.

To make the filling, combine all the ingredients together in a bowl until evenly blended. Do not overmix.

Spread half the filling down the center of each cake rectangle. Using the parchment paper as a guide, roll up the cake from the long side into a cylinder. Store the parchment-wrapped rolls in the refrigerator
for at least an hour to chill and set. Be sure to set them against something so they don’t unroll.

I haven’t included the recipe for the biscotti chopsticks because it would make this entry too long, but you can simply use your favorite biscotti recipe. Form the dough into more of a rectangle than a long log. When you take the biscotti dough out of the oven the first time, let cool for about 10 minutes, and then cut into chopstick-size sticks instead of the regular biscotti shape.  Return to the oven and bake again for the indicated time until they are firm and golden.

To make the dipping sauce, combine the cream, corn syrup, and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Heat on stove over medium heat until mixture starts to simmer.

Place the chocolate in a metal bowl and pour hot espresso over it. Pour the hot cream mixture over it and stir until chocolate is melted and everything is combined.

Add in the butter, rum, and salt, and stir until butter is melted.

When you are ready to serve the dessert, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and cut into rounds about 2 inches long. Arrange on a plate with the dipping sauce and biscotti chopsticks.

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A Visit from Some Well-Traveled Eggs

March 6th, 2008 · 27 Comments · Personal


Ok, so the title sounds a little dodgy, but no, I am not baking these days with stale old eggs! I am instead a lucky participant of the Traveling Egg Meme!

The beyond adorable half-dozen you see above was created by the talented Hannah of Bittersweet for Helene of Tartelette as a gift. Helene, being the generous soul she is, decided instead of keeping the eggs at home she would send them out on a worldwide journey! So these eggs have been making their way around to various bloggers, little eggy ambassadors of happiness.

The eggs arrived on my doorstep along with a host of other gifts from the wonderful Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice – thanks so much for everything! I was really thrilled to host these guys at my place, especially as I’d just used up a bunch of my own eggs (just kidding, Hannah and Helene!)


As it was, I was able to offer them some nice luxurious accommodations to sleep in!


They also had a wonderful time in the playground I made for them…well, most of them anyway! Oops…


Ooh, do you recognize these little pastries? Yes, it’s the Pierre Hermé miniatures that Carol and Helene have been talking about! I actually got my own full set a while back, but because my apartment is so small, I don’t have anywhere to safely display the miniatures without fear of knocking them off a shelf accidentally and breaking them! So most of them are still sitting in their plastic bags until I can think of a storage solution. I did break out one set to offer the eggs though, and they seemed to enjoy them a lot!


Speaking of miniatures, here are the eggs making friends with some other miniatures I have, the cute little cactus pups from Tokidoki. Tokidoki is an adorable Japanese-inspired brand that also vies for the contents of my wallet with their purses, clothing, and toys. I am particularly fond of these puppies dressed up in cactus suits – bizarre, offbeat, but very cute!


And, of course, the eggs helped me out in the kitchen! Here they are taste testing some of the cookies I made for decorating when reviewing Cookie Craft.


We had a wonderful time together and I really didn’t want to part with them, but I knew I couldn’t deny the meme and the eggs’ wanderlust. They have been sent off back into the world, and I hope the next person who receives them will have as much fun with them as I did! Thanks Hannah, Helene, and Ivonne!

My blog has been a little light on recipes lately, I know, but I’m going to rectify that soon – look for another post early next week! Meanwhile, I’m happy to announce that my latest column has appeared in the Baking 911 March newsletter. If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get my recipe for Lemon Lavender cupcakes – my welcome to spring and Easter!



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