July 26, 2010

Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream

For three days all I did was think about cake. And buttercream. Oh, and chocolate ganache. All because of that cookbook of mine. The one that inspired (read: forced) me to make that banana layer cake

This one was a little more complicated though. I had never made chocolate ganache, and the word 'ganache' just made me nervous. Me, a ganache maker? Really?

And then there was the orange curd for the french buttercream. Buttercream with uncooked egg whites and all. So I really had to think about this one.

I stuck with the ganache and kept the orange curd, but switched the egg whites to non-egg buttercream. The rumor is that buttercream made with whipped egg whites and butter won't do well in 100 degree weather. I felt justified, since this cake was going to a backyard BBQ on a hot Saturday afternoon. 

I baked the devil's food cake layers on Thursday, prepared the orange curd for the frosting and filled the cake with chocolate orange ganache on Friday, and finally whipped up the buttercream on Saturday. 

Devil's Food Cake (original recipe here)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two (I used three) 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. (You can line bottoms with parchment paper and grease again. I didn't and it turned out just fine.)
2. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Whisk wet ingredients together and pour into dry ingredients. Stir just to blend. Divide batter between prepared pans. (About 3 cups each if using two pans, 2 cups each if three pans.)
3. Bake until tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for two pans, 20 minutes for three pans. If cakes form domes, place a kitchen towel atop hot cakes and press gently with your palm to level. Cool completely in pans on cooling racks.

Chocolate Orange Ganache (original recipe here)

1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped (do not exceed 61% cocoa)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 Tbsp orange-flavored liquor OR 1 Tbsp fresh orange juice plus 1/4 tsp orange extract

1. Place chocolate, butter, zest and liquor in a lbowl. Set a side.
2. In a small sauce pan, bring cream to a boil. Pour cream over chocolate mixture and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk until chocolate is melted. Chill ganache until just cool, for about 40 minutes.
3. Beat ganache with electric mixer just until light and fluffy before using. (Do not overbeat or it will become grainy)

Orange Curd

5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

In a small heavy saucepan whisk together yolks, sugar, orange juice, butter and salt. Cook mixture over moderately low heat, whisking, until it just reaches boiling point 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let boil! Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and whisk in lemon juice. Cool curd, its surface covered with wax paper or plastic wrap, at least for 4 hours and up to 2 days


1 cup shortening
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 fl oz heavy cream (that's 12 tablespoons, or 3/4 cup)

2 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
Prepared orange curd

1. Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until well blended.
2. Add salt and cream, blend on low speed until moistened. Then beat at high speed until frosting is fluffy, again for about 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Add orange curd and zest and beat until well incorporated.

NOTE: If you frost the cake as I did you'll only need half of the buttercream. I just split the buttercream recipe in half and added only half of the orange cream. Or you could just make two cakes. Cake for everyone!


Place one cake layer on plate, top with ganache. Follow with another layer and top again with ganache. Place third layer on top and frost top and sides with thin layer of buttercream (crumb coating). Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then frost with buttercream and smooth surface. Chill again. Pipe decorative borders with leftover frosting. Chill cake for at least 6 hours, then let cake stand in cool room temperature 2 to 4 hours before serving.


The cake was good, maybe a little dry since it was two days old. I will use the recipe again though.

The ganache was a bit dark for me and ended up being quite hard in the cake. Next time I'll make a milk chocolate ganache with orange and add a bit more cream. But if you're a dark chocolate lover, go for it! And it was so easy to make. 

The frosting was smooth and creamy, and I'm planning to use it as my basic buttercream from now on. I love the curd and am interested in trying to mix it with just whipped cream to fill a cake with.

I got to serve this fancy cake of mine from styrofoam plates. Awesome! 

p.s. Here's a link to a site that lists substitutes for alcohol in cooking and baking. It'll sure come handy in my kitchen! 

July 21, 2010

Banana Bread by Martha Stewart

Here is another cookbook recipe, this time taken from the Martha Stewart Cookbook I bought years ago from a yardsale.

I always think of house arrest when someone mentions Martha and, to be fair, it's time to change that.

I browsed through her cookbook the other morning while O. was playing with things found in our computer desk drawers. Cords, a keyboard, videocam tapes, CD's... it all kept him occupied while I spent a good hour and a half dreaming of food.

Since I still had some leftover overripe bananas I decided to give her banana recipe a try. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon though, since that's how I fly. And no nuts. Because I love my husband.

Banana Bread by Martha Stewart

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
(1 tsp cinnamon)
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or four small loaf pans.
2. With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beating well.
3. Sift the dry ingredients together and combine with the butter mixture. Blend well. Add the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Stir well. Stir in the nuts and pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

I added the bananas to the butter mixture before adding dry ingredients. I feel it stirs easier that way. My bread was definitely done at 55 minutes, probably even earlier. Also, I covered the bread loosely with foil right after taking it out of the oven. It made it nice and moist right away.

Have you seen Martha's farm? If you haven't, go and see it here.
I have found my dream home!

p.s. This cookbook inspired me to start planning a Fall party, taking place in our backyard when the air is crisp and the apples are ready to be picked. We'll see in a couple of months where my idea goes...

July 20, 2010

Cookie Fun!

Here are some pictures of the sugar cookies I made with my new cutter set.

I was afraid they would lose their shape while baking, but to my delight the turned out fabulous.

Here are the fall themed cookies.

I also made some more summery ones since D. didn't want to think about fall yet.

Simple and cute!

And if you want more colorful ones...

I found a tutorial for Shortbread Buttons the other night and decided to try it out with sugar cookie dough.

Not quite as neat-looking as with shortbread dough but still fun and girly.

p.s. I didn't end up decorating the chili pepper cookies. They were sacrificed for common good and eaten by a hungry mob while still warm.

July 18, 2010

Fresh Banana Layer Cake

Friday afternoon, while O. was napping, I poured out some of the iced herbal tea I had made earlier this week, grabbed a cookbook and headed over to sit in the shade of our apricot tree to enjoy the hot afternoon.   I happened on this recipe and knowing there were ten somewhat overripe bananas in my kitchen I knew it was time to bake cake.

I was a little apprehensive first since I hadn't used a recipe straight from a cookbook for a long time. I mostly rely on online recipe sites and always read the reviews for modifications. I felt a little nervous but at the same time thoroughly enjoyed making the recipe while reading the cookbook instead of staring at one of my messy 3x5 notecards. 

I should do that more often. It was fun!

After some moments of frustrations with the frosting (it was over 100 degrees outside and my kitchen was getting there), I finally got the cake assembled. I couldn't wait for it to settle so I cut a slice right away. It was great, though really sweet. I may cut down the amount of sugar next time. Today, after letting it cool in the fridge overnight the sweetness hasn't been overwhelming anymore. I've tried it multiple times. Just to check.

I had some for breakfast. And for lunch. Oh, and dinner too. 

In fact, I am feeling a little hungry right now. 

Fresh Banana Layer Cake by Gourmet (with slight modifications)

For Cake Layers

2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs

For Frosting and Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted (may need more for frosting that holds up)

2 to 3 large, ripe but firm bananas

Make the cake layers:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour cake pans (I used three 9x2 round cake pans, while the recipe calls for 8x2 round pans. Mine worked just fine), knocking out excess flour.
2. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Whisk together mashed bananas, yogurt, and vanilla in a small bowl.
3. Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Reduce speed to low and add flour and banana mixtures alternately in batches,beginning and ending with flour. Mix only until combined; do NOT over mix. (I used a spatula to fold in the last little bit.)
4. Divide batter evenly among pans and smooth tops. Bake until layers are springy to the touch and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool layers in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks to cool completely

Make the forsting/filling:
Beat together cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt. Beat in sugar a little at a time, then beat until smooth.

Put a cake layer on a platter and spread top with a thin coating of frosting. Cut enough bananas into 1/4-inch-thick diagonal slices to cover cake and arrange in one layer, overlapping slightly. Top with a second cake layer, spread with another thin coating of frosting and top with layer of banana slices in same manner. Top with remaining cake layer and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

1. As noted, the original recipe called for 8-inch pans. I only had 9-inch pans and they worked just fine. The batter layer in the pans seems quite thin, but turned out just the right thickness for me once baked. Also, watch carefully so they won't overbake. They may take less time to bake than indicated in the recipe.
2. The forsting was quite runny while I was assembling the cake so I put it in the fridge for a moment to thicken. You could also add more powdered sugar to thicken it up. This would make it sweeter though. 
3. I never have plain yogurt or buttermilk in my fridge, so I usually just make my own buttermilk: 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar plus milk to make 1 cup, let sit for 5 minutes and you are set! 
(For this recipe I just poured out 1/4 cup of milk and added a splash of vinegar. I didn't bother measuring, and it still turned out just fine)

July 17, 2010

A Nice Surprise...

The other day D came home for lunch and handed this to me.

Oh, this made me smile!

D's coworker, to whom I send baked goods on a regular basis and who ordered all those apple sugar cookies, got this set for me. For no specific reason. She saw this at a Pampered Chef Party and thought of me. How sweet is that?

And look what's inside:

My smile just kept getting bigger and bigger. I'm sure I giggled a little. I love this kind of stuff!

The cutters measure 1 1/2 inches each. Tiny little things but so cute, don't you think? I immediately started thinking about the most adorable sugar cookie favors, but wait...

...there's so much you can do with these! I can't wait for our apples to be picked so I can use these cutters to decorate apple pies with.

My favorite one right now would be the chili pepper. I'm thinking Pepper Jack cheese cut to this shape. FUN!

And these ones I'll use for decorated sugar cookies. Put them in cellophane bags, add some ribbon and a cute tag, and share with friends! I am planning to try them out tomorrow and share my creations with you afterwards. I am ready for Fall!

Thank you, Miriam. This made my day!

July 15, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here's another cake mix favorite, and my husband's favorite cookie. Delicious, fragrant and oh so easy!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 box Spice Cake Mix
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a spoon until well mixed.
3. Drop spoonfuls of batter on cookie sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes, until set. Let cookies cool on pans for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

July 7, 2010

Funnel Cake

Note: After eating this humongous thing depicted in the above photograph, I had no desire to make it myself. Thus, no recipe follows. 

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations and hanging out at the Freedom Days in Provo I realized something:
I have never had a funnel cake.

Thus I headed over towards the food stands, passing on the navajo tacos and BBQ dinners, and bought myself a plate full of deep fried batter, topped with cinnamon-sugar and caramel.

I knew there was a reason why I ran eight miles that morning.

The concept of funnel cake is not new to me. In Finland during May Day celebrations people eat Tippaleipä, which is basically the same thing as funnel cake but somewhat smaller. I recall having one only once in my life.

This may have been the only time I will ever have a funnel cake, either. I ate the entire thing, and even though it was quite good, I think I've had enough of fried batter for a long, long time.
I owe that to my behind.  

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

You wanna hear a secret?

I have a whole stash of boxed cake and brownie mixes hiding in my cupboard.

Sure, I prefer a cake made from scratch, but these boxed miracles are quite useful when used for things other than simple layered cakes.

They are my shortcuts to homemade oreos, bundt cakes, and these lemon cheesecake bars.

Some days everyone could use a little shortcut, right?

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

1 pkg of boxed Lemon cake mix
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 egg

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon peel, grated
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Blend cake mix, butter and egg together with a fork and until a dough forms. Press on the bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2  pan. Set aside.
3. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Mix in powdered sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice. Reserve 1/2 cup of mixture and put it in the fridge. To the rest of the cream cheese mix, beat in eggs. Spread this over the cake in the pan.
4. Bake until set, for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely.
5. Spread reserved cream cheese mixture over cooled bars. Refrigerated until firm and chilled.