Apricot, Orange, and Almond Mini Cakes

July 10th, 2009

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Remember the chocolate salon I mentioned attending a couple of months ago? Not only was it a great place to meet chocolatiers both celebrated and up-and-coming, but also of course to meet fellow chocoholics.

One person I was extremely excited to meet was esteemed pastry chef and cookbook author Carole Bloom. The "Carole Bloom section" on my bookshelf has grown steadily over the years: The International Dictionary of Desserts, Pastries, and Confections is indispensable for deciphering the complexities of pastry terminology, while The Essential Baker is a fantastic resource for ingredient-specific baking inspirations.

Carole was a speaker at the salon; when she learned I was also speaking, she very sweetly contacted me and suggested we meet up beforehand. How exciting to get the opportunity to meet someone whose work I'd admired!

In person, Carole is warm and personable, generous with sharing stories and tips. It's easy to tell that she's experienced in baking and in explaining it to the curious beginner. I'd love to take a class from her sometime, or just watch her in action!

Carole mentioned her new book which was about to come out, Bite-Size Desserts: Creating Mini Sweet Treats, from Cupcakes and Cobblers to Custards and Cookies, and very kindly offered to send me a review copy. A few weeks after the salon, I found a shiny new copy of her book in my mailbox – thanks so much, Carole!

Bite-Size Desserts is an adorably named, very attractively produced book with some seriously scrumptious recipes. Any reader who goes through my site will quickly realize I have a predilection of miniature desserts; individual portions can be fun to put together, easier to photograph, and of course people love them! In her cookbook Carole has created mini versions of all the classics, from cakes to cobblers to custards, and shows how to plate and present them beautifully. From tiny cupcakes with rose-like swirls of chocolate frosting to espresso cups of mousse, it's a spread of dollhouse-sized delights. As a side note, all the measurements are in both volume and weight -  LOVE!

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I finally got the chance to try out one of the recipes in the book last week: Apricot-Orange Loaf Cakes. Made with brown sugar and vanilla, studded with Grand Marnier-soaked apricots, these little lovelies fall somewhere between pound cake and coffee cake – moist, fluffy, and rich. The recipe also calls for adding in chopped walnuts, but I decided for a lighter touch and sprinkled the top of the cakes with sliced almonds and some sugar. The gave the baked cakes a crackly, crunchy top that went very well with the velvety texture of the cake beneath. The combination of flavors is subtly sophisticated – while apricots make it summery, I could see substituting different ingredients for the changing seasons and the cake would retain its satisfying appeal.

The recipe calls for baking them in mini 4" x 2 1/4 " loaf pans. However, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to use some paper bakers I picked up in Japan last winter. Talk about tiny, Japan has been associating small with "kawaii" (cute) for ages and somehow, everything there does seem twice as adorable with their petite proportions.

These wax-lined bakers seem to be a common item in Japanese houseware stores – I wish them sold more of these items here, as they are perfect for gift-giving – you simply give your cake to the lucky recipient in the same pan it was baked in. They also come in a multitide of designs and colors, making a pretty presentation a snap. I really liked the scalloped edges on these papers. I found similar bake-and-serve papers on King Arthur Flour, for those not making a trip to Asia in the near future.

Back to the topic of tiny, these bakers were a scant – did my little loaf cakes ever look precious when they came out of the oven, but practically speaking, they really are single-serving size. No sharing here -and you probably won't want to, given how delicious the cake is! I baked some of the batter in the recommended pan size and it does a produce a more slice-friendly loaf – see last photo. It keeps very well and the flavors seem to deepen over time.

I'm now eager to try out some of the other recipes in Carole's book – it's fanned the flames of my miniature mania for sure! Thanks for writing such a lovely book, Carole!

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Apricot, Orange, and Almond Loaf Cakes

adapted from Carole Bloom's Bite-Size Desserts

makes 12 4"x 2 1/4" loaves

2/3 cup (4 ounces) dried apricots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

2 cups (9 ounces) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup (5 ounces) sugar plus extra for sprinkling

3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar

2 extra-large eggs, room temperature (I used large and it turned out fine)

1 extra-large egg yolk, room temperature (same as above)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon orange extract

zest of 1 orange

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray twelve mini loaf pans with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet.

Combine apricots and Grand Marnier in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let marinate for 15 minutes.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until well combined.

Combine eggs, egg yolk, extracts, and orange peel in a small bowl. Add to mixture and beat until well combined.

Add the flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined.

Add in the apricots and mix until combined.

Divide mixture among prepared pans, filling about 3/4 full. Sprinkle almonds and sugar over the tops.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool on wire racks before serving.

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