Queen of Sheba Cake

Oh Julia, you do know best. You changed the world of home cooking forever and we are so grateful for it. No one will be able to impact the professional and domestic inspired way of cooking like she did. When I first purchased her very famous book I could barely contain my excitement every recipe is pure gold. We try to cook out of it as often as possible all the recipes we have made taste perfect. This cake was no exception. It was dense and moist, and the rum flavor just made it sing. The frosting, oh my goodness, the frosting. I could have ate a bowl of it, and for someone who does not like chocolate frosting at all this was a big deal. This frosting tastes like chocolate silk. My one word of advice for this cake is do not, by any means skimp on the quality of the chocolate you use. You will taste the difference and for utter and complete decadence use a high quality 55-65% cocoa chocolate bars or buttons.

Since I had not made this cake before I wanted to make a small sample to test it. To see what I may have to change in regards to temperature, technique, and flavor. Why would I question Julia Child? Well it was because I have never made an almost flour-less cake like this before so I was a little concerned, completely unwarranted as it turned out perfect of course. When the trial cake came out of the oven Frank would not stop eating and said “I want to smear this all over my face, it’s so good.” In the movie Julie and Julia they make this cake seem very decadent as Julie’s husband smears it all over his face moaning “it is so good”. We used to laugh at it and think how odd, and what a waste of cake. Now we completely agree with the reaction in the movie it is spot on. This is now his favorite chocolate cake, and it was hard for him to admit that after the Chocolate Ginger Cake.

The recipe was taken directly from the book. I didn’t make any variations or changes, so the recipe will not be posted. I highly recommend you pick up Mastering the Art of French Cooking: by Juila Child. This is a book that should be in every cook’s kitchen, even if you think you cannot cook. The way the recipes are written makes it so that just about anyone with any amount of skill in the kitchen can succeed at making french food and just might learn a few things in the process. Now that I say that I think that maybe I should send my sister-in-law a copy…

Bon appétit!

Orange Blossom Cheesecake with Pomegranate & Blackberry Compote

I got inspired to make this when I saw it while browsing on a food app on my iPhone.  I have been looking for reasons to use my orange blossom water. I know that I could have just used some orange juice or zest and got an orange flavor, but I love the light floral notes in orange blossom water. It is easily found at any Middle Eastern market store, and it lasts forever if refrigerated. Pomegranate fruit is just fun and messy as can be, but it’s worth the work for that crunchy tart flavor. Blackberries remind me of my childhood home.  We had wild blackberry bushes all over the property that we used to just stop and eat when we got hungry while playing outside. With three of some of my favorite ingredients in this one dessert, I could not wait to make it.

You can take a typical cheesecake to a new level by adding in the orange blossom water. The flavor is amazing and subtle.  You can even substitute the orange blossom water for lemon juice and you could have a great basic cheesecake recipe.  The compote is tart and flavorful.  The leftovers are fantastic as a syrup over waffles or pancakes.  Maybe even ice cream?  The possibilities are up to you.

Seeding a pomegranate is not as troublesome as you might think. It is as simple as filling a bowl with cold water, cutting your fruit into quarters, and working it in the water prevents the juice from squirting everywhere, also easily sorts out the seeds from the skin.  The seeds sink to the bottom of your water bowl, and the skin floats.  Here is a great video on how to seed a pomegranate the way I am trying to describe.   Much easier than you might think, over all it produces a flavor that the bottle juice cannot match.

There are a few tips I have picked up to help prevent large cracks in your cheesecakes.  Watch the temperature of the cake is a big one, but to me not as big as greasing the sides of the spring-form pan before you add in the filling.  Also can always add a bit of cornstarch to the recipe to help stabilize the egg proteins.  I like to use all three methods with this specific cheesecake recipe, which is my favorite to go to.

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Mini Fruit Tarts with Berries

I have always wanted to make these, I am very very excited to share and more so happy with my results.  The crème pâtissière is thick and sweet, alone I would say it’s almost too rich.  However with the sour and tart fruit it is a perfect balance.  The flakey pastry crust adds the texture it needs for the most amazing balance.  I would have to say for personal preference, the blueberries and raspberries had the best balance, but the strawberries made it decadent.  I would not omit them by any means.  These would make a beautiful addition to any summer gathering.   The crème pâtissière can be made days in advance, as well as the pastry crust.    Then assemble the day they are needed.

I don’t own mini tart pans so I used a cupcake tin, it actually worked out quite well, just cut 4″ rounds out of the pastry dough and fitted into the tin pan.  Filled with a tiny piece of parchment paper and pie weightes made cute little tarts.    So, don’t think you -must- have a tart pan it may make for a prettier presentation of course, but I was please with the results of the cupcake tin.   The crème pâtissière is from the amazing Julia Childs, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The crust is my sweet crust adaptation from Williams Sonoma.

French Pastry Cream
Creme Patissiere

  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Paste or 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes

Over medium heat in a small sauce pan bring the 2 cups of milk and vanilla to a boil (If using a vanilla bean, cut in half and scrape the beans out stir in the milk and add the whole bean pod in the milk as well). Place a 3 quart or larger sauce pan on the stove ready for use.

Place the egg yolks in a stand mixer, and with a wire whip gradually beat in the sugar. Continue beating for a 3-5 minutes until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and it should form thick ribbons.

Beat in the flour until well combined.  Slowly on low speed, trickle in the milk in a thin slow stream.  Do not add the vanilla pod set aside for a moment. After the milk is added turn onto medium high speed and mix for 1 minute.

Pour the mixture into the 3 quart pan you previously had set on the stove, re-add the vanilla pod.   Turn to medium-high heat.   Slowly and  continuously whip with a wire whip, reaching all over bottom and sides of pan, until mixture thickens.   The mixture will get lumpy as it begins to thicken.  Keep whisking it and it will work the lumps out.   After a while you will notice the mixture start to decrease in volume down to a thick custard.  At this point turn it down to medium-low and keep mixing to work out any lumps.

Continue stirring for several minutes, anywhere from  5-10 minutes to cook the flour and thicken the cream. Be very careful about scorching cream in bottom of pan; be sure your pan is heavy, be sure to keep stirring, and do not use high heat, particularly after cream has reduced in volume and started to thicken.  It will be ready when the mixture is thick and heavy, but not so thick it resembles a roux.

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.  Pour into a bowl, using a spatula to clean off sides of the pan to get all of the custard. Cover the bowl with cling film pressing it down lightly touching on top of the custard.  This will prevent it from creating a film from forming when refrigerated.   Will keep refrigerated for one week or frozen up to a month.

Sweet Pastry Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 3 Tbs. very cold water

To make the dough by hand, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture is a small crumb, and slightly resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the water and mix with a fork just until the dough pulls together.   Transfer the dough to a work surface, shape into a ball and flatten into a disk.  Lightly flour the work surface, then flatten the disk with gentle taps of the rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll to the needed size.  Fit into pan(s), prick dough with fork and fit a piece parchment over the top of the dough enough to cover up over the sides.  Fill with pie weights (alternatively and cheeper, you can use dried beans as pie weights).  Refrigerate the dough until firm 15-20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 425°F.  Bake until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.  When cool enough to handle, remove the weights and parchment.  Fill as desired.
To make dough in a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt in the processor and pulse until combined.  Slowly add the butter and pulse until it forms a small crumb like coarse cornmeal.  Add the water and pulse until the dough starts to come together.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball, and flatten into a disk. Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll to the needed size.   Fit into pan(s), prick dough with fork and fit a square of parchment over the top of the dough enough to cover up over the sides.  Fill with pie weights (alternatively and cheeper, you can use dried beans as pie weights).  Refrigerate the dough until firm 15-20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 425°F.  Bake until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.  When cool enough to handle, remove the weights and parchment.  Fill as desired.

Adapted: Pastry Cream:  Julia Childs MtAoFC, Pastry Crust: Williams Sonoma

Vanilla Cupcakes

New oven has it’s trial and errors.  However not as much as the Souffle cups I bought just days before my previous oven went kaput.  They are just what I wanted, something to give the cupcakes a different look, and offer more cake to enjoy.  Also, at under $5 for 250 it was just economically smart!   You need to clip the rim with a pair of scissors just before frosting so getting to the cupcake is easier, originally this was my husbands biggest complaint then I figured out to cut the edge.  Also, I found it easier to spray lightly with baking spray before adding in the batter.  Filling just over 1/2  not quite 2/3 full gave a nice round puffy top that you would get with typical cupcake liners.

Final trial, was some sites say you can bake on a cookie sheet, this was the main appeal to me in getting these cooking more at once, FALSE!   I tried almost 3 batches before almost giving up.  They were pouring over the edge, the center would be raw.  I threw away so many I was just a pouty mess!   I woke up this morning sitting down with a cup of coffee about to watch some movies when I had what I call a ‘House’ moment.  I was putting the blanket over my legs and I got it!   The cups on the cookie sheet were being exposed to direct heat from all directions, the outsides exposed to the heat with out anything to slow down the heat from hitting the cupcakes, which was causing the outsides to cook and rise too fast vs the centers which would remain almost raw.   I felt so dumb once i realized it.   So I got up and made another batch.  Just this time putting the cups in the cupcake tin like other cupcake liners.  Which then resulted in exactly what I was looking for!   With the other issues from these souffle cups figured out, I feel like great about these and happy I made the choice to switch to these cups!

Trying these out with the new oven I went with my absolute basic cupcake, Vanilla.   I am not a huge fan of these cupcakes because I am just not that big of a vanilla person.  Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing, but if they were something more along the lines of my now famous ‘Irish Car-bomb Cupcakes” I would be inhaling them as I write this post!  The cake is light, fluffy, sweet, and has great vanilla flavor.   I paired it with a basic vanilla Swiss Meringue  Butter-cream.

Honestly, I was not, actually still kinda am not, a huge fan of cake.  I realized it was because of the frosting.  I didn’t like cake frosting.  They either taste of butter, or sugar, or have that sandy gritty taste, or all three!  I tried this after making a basic butter-cream and realizing it was exactly what I didn’t like about frosting.   I will never go back.  This is light, and sweet, and smooth, and melts in your mouth amazing.    When I was little my uncle Jaime was very adamant about his birthday cakes, they had to have whipped frosting.   I remember a few times going with my aunt Lucy to pick up the cakes and they were good.  I mean I recall once we drove to Bellingham, WA which was around a 30 min drive north just to pick up his cake.   If I was to try and recreate that frosting of happiness this would be it.  I cannot say enough how wonderful this frosting makes the cake.  Ok, enough of me rambling!  You absolutely must try these, great go to recipes for cupcakes.

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla paste
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup  buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.  Set pan aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest, if using.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan 5 minutes.  Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Swiss Meringue Butter-cream

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 5large egg whites
  • 2 cups (4 sticks or 1 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Caster Sugar or Powdered Sugar (to sweeten if desired)

Place egg whites in the heat-proof bowl, add pinch of salt and whisk to break up the whites, add in sugar and whisk till combined. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.

Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.

Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Don’t worry if the butter-cream appears curdled after all the butter has been added; it will become smooth again with continued beating. Add vanilla, and beat just until combined. Taste, add extra sugar 1 TBSP at a time until desired sweetness is achieved.  I end up adding 1 tbsp of caster sugar.

Switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets, about 5 minutes. If using butter-cream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment. Or transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature, and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Adapted: Cupcakes/Joy of Baking | Martha Stewart/Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Mascarpone Creamcheese Frosting

Now, I have been reading about these and people at work have been requesting them, but I have never had one.  Hard to make a cupcake when you’re not even sure what it is supposed to taste like.  That said, I noticed at Starbucks they had Red Velvet Cupcakes.  I decided to try one to see what the fuss is about.  Quite honestly, I didn’t think it was that special.   I have however for the past month been researching different recipes.  It’s funny how, well not funny haha.. but funny still how for one simple recipe there is hundreds of versions for one thing as simple as a cupcake.

I decided to take a leap and try the one at Epicurious.   They tell you to add a lot of food coloring, and put the ingredients together in an odd way.. so I kinda changed it based off how other similar recipes are done and I know they turned out amazing.   I know the soda, acid, and dutch cocoa turns it a red color, so I dropped how much to coloring to add, and increased the cocoa requirements, and dropping the vinegar, and it has that suble cocoa taste and a nice rich red color with out being an obnoxious Christmas red color.

The frosting didn’t turn out as planned, maybe my kitchen was just too hot… It wasn’t sweet enough, and was really quite thin.  I made some alterations, and it worked! Like I said the only one I’ve had was at Starbucks, and honestly I was not that impressed, but this is probably the best cupcake I’ve had ever!  If I was to have a wedding cake this would be it!  It’s rich, not overly sweet, so soft, velvety, light cake with a frosting that is almost good enough on it’s own.  It is in a simple word that doesn’t quite suit it… amazing.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • 1 tbsp red food coloring
  • 4 tbsp dutched processed cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs + 1 Egg yolk
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar

Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, clear
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone (Italian cream cheese, available at most grocery stores)
Edit: Photo update 6/4/11 (I remade these with a swiss buttercream cream cheese frosting, they were fantastic! the recipe is a basic swiss buttercream substituted 1/2 the butter for cream cheese)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your cupcake tins by adding the baking papers.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat the batter for about 4 minutes.  While that is mixing, in a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Stir the vanilla  vinegar, and sour cream into the buttermilk (this can be done in a large measuring cup). Add the flour mixture in 3 increments alternately with the buttermilk in 2 increments, starting and ending with the flour. Beat on medium speed just until the ingredients are combined.

Fill the muffin cups three-fourths full with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, just until the cupcakes feel firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over-bake, or the cupcakes will dry out. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then unmold onto a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

To make the icing: In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone on very low speed until just combined. (Be careful; once you’ve added the mascarpone, excessive beating can make the frosting curdle.) Stir in the vanilla.

Adapted: Epicurious