Easy Chocolate Ganache…

My husband has an incurable sweet tooth. The other day he informed me we had nothing sweet in the house to eat and I was not in the mood to whip up something from scratch. I looked in the pantry and found a box of Duncan Hines decadent chocolate cake mix and told him I would make that. Unfortunately I opened my mouth before carefully reading the outside of the box. Staring me right in the face in clear letters on the front of the box were the words “frosting not included”. Now what… Luckily I thought I might have the ingredients for making chocolate ganache (which I did) so I thought ok, now’s the time to tackle your fears and make it. I had not other choice.

I’m not quite sure why I was afraid to make ganache but I always thought it was difficult and tricky. To my surprise it was unbelievably easy. So I thought I would dedicate this blog to a very simple way of making ganache that turns out silky, luscious and ever so decadent looking, not to mention absolutely incredibly delicious.

So let’s talk making chocolate ganache…

Lesson Learned 1 – There are many ways to make ganache: I am going to share with you the simplest way. The ratio is easy to remember 1:1. Use as many ounces of heavy cream as semi-sweet chocolate. It couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the chocolate squares into very small pieces: I used a 4 ounce box of Bakers semi-sweet chocolate. With my chef’s knife I cut off pieces and chopped them into small bits. If you decide to go the chip route, I would use the mini semi-sweet chips. You need the hot cream to melt the chocolate and if the pieces are too big that won’t happen.

Chocolate Covered In Hot Heavy Cream

Lesson Learned 2 – You can warm your heavy cream in the microwave: In order to get the desired consistency of the ganache, the cream has to melt the chocolate. So you have to get the cream hot enough to do that but you don’t want to scald the cream. That won’t work either.

Many recipes that I looked at recommended warming the cream on the stove. You can certainly do that especially since it gives you slightly more control in determining when the cream is hot enough. And you can certainly do that with this recipe, although I didn’t. I heated my cream (4 ounces) in the microwave for 45 seconds. After that time I found it still wasn’t hot enough. I heated it for an additional 15 seconds and it was bubbling. I was worried that I’d scalded the cream but I think what happened was the cream had just started to bubble, so I was still ok. The next time I think I’ll just nuke it for 50 seconds straight and go from there.

If you use a larger 1:1 ratio you will need to nuke the cream for a longer period of time. With this you’ll simply have to keep checking it. With 4 ounces I recommend 50 seconds. For larger amounts I would start checking at 1 minute and go from there.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the chocolate and heavy cream sit for at least 3 minutes: Once you add the hot heavy cream you may be tempted to start whisking the mixture right away. Don’t. The cream has to melt the chocolate in order for you to get the desired consistency of the ganache. Be patient and let the cream do it’s work. I guarantee you it’s worth it.

This recipe makes enough to generously frost one bundt cake, one 9 x 13 sheet cake or one 9 inch round layer cake. So next time you need some frosting try this instead of buying the canned stuff. It looks impressive and it tastes divine!

Easy Chocolate Ganache...

  • Servings: 1 Bundt Cake
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate squares cut into small pieces

4 ounces heavy cream, heated

DIRECTIONS

Chop up the chocolate into very small pieces. Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for approximately 50 seconds. Test with your finger to make sure it is sufficiently hot to melt the chocolate. If not, microwave at additional 5 second intervals until cream is hot but not scalded.

Pour cream over chocolate pieces. Let the hot mixture sit for at least 3 minutes. Whisk mixture until cream is incorporated and the chocolate is dark and smooth. Drizzle the chocolate over the top of your bundt cake. Let ganache set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

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Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake…

What can I say about this one. It is simply over the top. Not only does it taste divine but it’s gorgeous. What more can you ask for from a cake? Now I’ll admit this cake takes a little more work than most but the result is breathtaking. This is possibly the most professional looking cake I’ve ever made. And we know looks are important but bottom line it has to taste good. Well let me tell you in the taste department I would consider this to be divine. I mean what’s not to love – chocolate, flavorful cream cheese, cherry pie filling, vanilla glaze – it just doesn’t get much better than that.

So let’s talk chocolate cherry cream cheese cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you make this cake: Really you should be organized when you make any cake but this one has so many components to it that your experience making it will be so much more delightful if you plan this out before you make it. Think about this one in stages.

  1. Get everything out in plenty of time that needs to be room temperature. In this recipe that means the eggs and sour cream. No need to worry about the butter because you melt that.
  2. Get the oven preheating. I believe it is better for your oven not only to be preheated but to be at the desired temperature for at least 5-10 minutes so that once you pop the cake pan in you can count on the oven truly being the correct temperature all throughout.
  3. Put together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, kosher salt and baking soda) and set them aside.
  4. Measure out all of the remaining ingredients. I use little bowls to organize what needs to be measured. That way when you come to a certain juncture in the process you are all ready to go. This includes opening up the can of cherry pie filling and measuring out the amount needed. As you do that, try to opt for more cherries than filling as some fillings tend to be more juice and less cherries.
  5. Count out, drain and rinse your maraschino cherries. For my pan I needed 16 cherries, so a small jar of cherries will work just fine.
  6. Assemble the chocolate mixture.
  7. Make the batter by combining the chocolate mixture with the dry ingredients. Now you’re ready to go.
  8. Wait to spray your bundt pan until the very end. For this recipe I recommend using a baking spray with flour. Coat the bundt pan liberally. You want it to be glistening all over before you begin assembling the cake.

Because there are so many components to this recipe I guarantee you will be a lot happier and have more fun making this cake if you organize yourself.

Lesson Learned 2 – Making the glaze: Making glaze for any type of cake or pastry couldn’t be easier. All it requires is some confectioners sugar, some liquid and perhaps some sort of additional flavoring. You can use water, milk, or heavy cream for your liquid and you can use a little extract, juice or zest to enhance the flavor of the glaze. More often than not I use milk as the liquid and in this particular recipe I used a little vanilla extract to enhance the flavor.

Keep in mind you need very little liquid to create a glaze. Normally it works out to about 1 cup of confectioners sugar to about a tablespoon or so of liquid and then, if using a liquid extract, only about 1/8 teaspoon of that. But don’t get bogged down in the measurements. If your glaze is too thick just add a little more liquid to thin it out. If it becomes too runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Glaze is very forgiving and can be made to the correct consistency with some easy minor adjustments.

One caveat – don’t use the additional flavoring to thin out a glaze. The flavor can become overpowering if you do that. And lastly, I don’t always have heavy cream around the house, but when I do I use it as my liquid. That is when you get the richest flavor. I just can’t convince myself to buy a pint of heavy cream for the needed tablespoon I will use in a glaze. But it’s all up to you.

This cake is so good and so worth the effort. Try it – I just know you will like it!

Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup water

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 Tbs. espresso powder

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, melted

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

16 maraschino cherries, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup cherry pie filling

CREAM CHEESE FILLING:

2 – 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbs. flour

1 egg, room temperature

GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 – 2 Tbs. water, milk or heavy cream

1/8 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cream cheese filling by beating together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add the flour and egg and beat until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

In a saucepan melt the 3/4 cup butter. Add the water and stir to blend. Add the cocoa and espresso powder and whisk until there are not lumps. Add the chips and stir until they are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Add the chocolate mixture to the dry mixture and whisk until combined. Blend in the sour cream. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.

Spray a 10-12 cup bundt pan thoroughly with baking spray with flour. Melt the 1 1/2 tsp of butter and pour it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the melted butter. Place two cherries on top of the brown sugar in each of the larger grooves of the bundt pan.

Fill the bundt pan with half the chocolate batter. Spoon in the cream cheese filling on top making sure not to have the filling touch the sides. Spoon the cherry pie filling on top of the cream cheese, making sure the filling does not touch the sides of the pan. (You may have some leftover cream cheese and cherry pie filling). Pour the remaining batter evenly on top making sure to cover the cream cheese and the cherry pie filling completely.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Put a plate over the bottom of the pan and flip the cake out of the pan onto the plate and let cool completely.

Mix together all of the ingredients for the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

Pour the melted butter evenly over the bottom

Put the brown sugar on top of the butter

Place the cherries in the larger grooves

Layer the ingredients

The cake right out of the oven

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Marble Pound Cake…

I love this recipe not only because it produces a moist, flavorful cake but also because it’s a ton of fun to make.  And the finished product looks as good as it tastes.

I like experimenting with different cakes and when I read about the process for this one I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve made swirl cakes before where you basically have one little cinnamon swirl going through the cake but this way of making a swirl cake is much more dramatic. You create the dramatic swirls by dividing the batter and making one half chocolate and keeping the other half as is. Then you spoon in the batter alternating the colors and use a knife or another similar object and swirl them together. It was great fun (I know I need to get a life…). And the result, as you can see from the many pictures in this blog is a more dramatic density of swirls. It is a fun cake to make and eat.

So let’s talk marble pound cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The easy way to grease and flour a bundt cake pan: If you’re like me you love the way a bundt cake looks but you dread greasing and flouring the pan. Well I’ve found a way to make that process somewhat easier. First there’s no getting around it you need to grease the pan and pay attention to getting the grease into the many crevices. I usually use shortening to do that. I think I actually use less grease with shortening than I do with butter.

Then comes the flouring part and that was always a challenge because you need to get the flour up as high as you can and with the wide opening of the pan you can get flour all over the place if you’re not careful. Well, no more. All you need do is take some good cling wrap (and I mean the stuff that really clings – we buy ours at Costco and it is restaurant quality grade). Cover the top of the pan as shown in the picture below.

Once you do this you can turn the pan completely upside down and shake it all around and spread the flour easily throughout the entire pan. See for yourself…

After that you simply turn the pan upside down on the counter and tap the sides of the pan with a wooden spoon all the way around. I would do that a couple of times. Then remove the cling wrap from the sides of the pan, lift the pan up and you’ll be left with all the excess flour all on the cling wrap as seen in the picture below…

Then all you need to do is fold up the edges of the cling wrap and toss it with the flour inside. Believe me, this little trick saves a lot of time and mess. You’ll love it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Add the eggs individually and beat each of them for a long time: There is no leavening in this recipe (baking powder, soda). Leavening is traditionally used to make a cake rise in the oven. The only leavening agent in this recipe is the eggs.

Think of an egg as basically having three qualities – fat, foam and fat & foam. The fat is the yolk which primarily serves as a binder. It helps to make batters smooth and moist. The foam is the whites. Beat them into submission on their own and you get light stiff peaks that can be used for airiness in a recipe or to make a meringue.

The particular recipe relies on the fat and the foam. When mixed with sugar (like in a cake or cookie batter), eggs help trap and hold air — not quite as well as whipped egg whites, but enough to give the finished product some lightness and lift. And that’s what you are needing in this recipe. That is why it is important to make sure each egg is blended thoroughly. Do not add all the eggs in at the same time. It never mixes as well as you think and could affect the cakes ability to rise.

Also don’t crack the eggs directly into the batter. Since you are using so many eggs you don’t want to get to the fifth or sixth one and then find out you have a bad one as it drops in. Your batter will be ruined. In order to prevent this, crack each egg into a small dish before you add it to the batter. That way you can make sure you’re not adding a bad egg. I’ve only had this happen to me a couple of times, and it’s not fun. Believe me you don’t want to put yourself into a position of having to toss out all of those ingredients and start all over because you had one bad egg.

Lesson Learned 3 – Alternating the batters in the pan: I think I had the most fun with this part of the process. Once you create the two batters you alternate them by large spoonfuls in the pan.

After that you swirl the batters together being careful not to touch the edges or the bottom of the pan. I used a skewer that I used to grill vegetables. It was long enough and thin enough to give me control and to create some great swirls. Judge for yourself…

You add another layer of alternating batters, swirl again and you’re ready to pop the cake into the oven.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use instant espresso powder to enhance the flavor of the chocolate: In any recipe that includes chocolate I’d recommend adding at least a quarter teaspoon of espresso powder. It brings out the chocolate flavor so much more. Try making a chocolate recipe without it and then make the same recipe with it. You’ll be amazed at how much it enhances the flavor of the chocolate.

What I really like about this cake is it looks as good as it tastes. And I found it fun to make. I loved making the swirls! So try this one and tell me what you think. I just know you’ll love it.

Marble Pound Cake...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 cups sugar

6 large eggs, room temperature

3 cups flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. espresso powder

1/3 cup hot water

powdered sugar for sprinkling on top

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside.

Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar for approximately 5 minutes. The mixture should be light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time and combine each thoroughly. Add the vanilla and combine.

Mix together the flour and the salt. Add the flour a few large spoonfuls to the batter at a time until combined.

Whisk together the cocoa, espresso powder and hot water. Take half of the cake batter and stir it into the cocoa mixture.

Drop dollops of batter into the bundt pan alternating the chocolate and vanilla batters. Swirl the batters together being careful not to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan. Repeat the same process. (You should get two layers of alternating batter).

Bake for 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 30 minutes before inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

 

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake…

I belong to a book club in our condo community and at the last meeting I came across this recipe. The hostess served this cake but I didn’t eat any of it. As I was leaving she asked if I would like to bring a piece to my husband. I said sure. Well my husband raved over it so much I had to get the recipe and make it myself. OMG this has to be one of the lightest, moistest and most delicious coffee cakes you’ll ever make. I actually think this recipe is foolproof as I didn’t even need to adjust it to high altitude.

I think the cake gets its moistness from the 2 cups of sour cream you add to the batter. Regardless it is one of the best coffee cakes I’ve ever made. So let’s talk sour cream coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – You need a specific cake pan for this recipe: When I got a copy of this recipe it called for it to be made in a 10 cup flute pan (angel food cake pan). I did not have that but I had a 10 cup bundt pan so I used that. It worked just fine. The only difference is if you want your cinnamon and nut mixture to be on the top of your cake use a flute pan. If you use a bundt pan it will be on the bottom of your cake – I’m not sure that really matters one way or the other. It still tastes great!

If you use a flute pan you only need to grease the sides and the bottom of the pan due to its flat surfaces. If you use a bundt pan I would recommend both greasing and flouring the pan. That way the cake will release easily from all of the crevices in a bundt pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – Be systematic in how you prepare this cake: I’ve found whether in cooking or baking your results are much better if you systematically approach the recipe and organize yourself. Here’s what I recommend (and this applies to almost all baking):

  • Take your eggs and butter out of the refrigerator at least a couple of hours before you begin making the cake to get them to room temperature
  • Make sure you dust your cake pan and your mixing bowl(s) with a cloth before your begin anything – they are not immune to attracting dust and you certainly don’t want dust on your cake or in your batter
  • Take the time to thoroughly grease and flour your pan – if using a bundt pan make sure to get the flour in all the crevices but also make sure you remove as much excess flour as possible – I normally do that by holding the pan over the garbage can and banging it all over with a wooden spoon to remove the excess
  • Preheat your oven first thing – it’s always better to have your oven sit at the desired temperature for a while versus putting the cake in just as it reaches the correct temperature
  • Put together the dry ingredients and either sift them together or combine them with a whisk
  • Put together the ingredients for the topping and set them aside
  • Don’t be afraid to take some time to combine the butter and sugar (4 – 5 minutes) – the fluffier that mixture the better your cake batter will be
  • Make sure you mix your eggs in one by one – they will not combine thoroughly if you put them all in at the same time; the same applies to your dry ingredients – don’t add them all at once but in stages – this will ensure everything is thoroughly combined

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake freezes beautifully: This recipe produces a large cake that really only stays fresh for a couple of days. If you’re not making it for a party or to bring to work I suggest you take what you don’t think you’ll eat in a couple of days and freeze it. I wrapped mine in 2-slice portions. Make sure you wrap the pieces tightly in plastic wrap and then put them in a freezer bag(s). Let as much air out of the freezer bag as you possibly can. By doing this you’ll have fresh moist cake for a month!

I’m not kidding when I say I think this cake is foolproof. It is one of the few recipes that I did not have to adjust for high altitude. My husband loves this cake and I know you will too!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups of sugar, divided

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups sour cream

3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl combine the walnuts, cinnamon and 3/4 cups sugar. Set aside.

Grease a 10 cup tube pan or grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda) and set aside.

Using a stand mixture, mix together the butter and 1 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat to combine.

Add the dry ingredients in portions and beat until well combined.

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture on top of the batter. Add the remaining batter on top. Sprinkle with the remaining nut mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes and then remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

 

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Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt 2…

This time of year with all of the Fall/Winter holidays approaching just screams to me cranberry and orange. As a matter of fact I love that flavor combination so much this is the second variety of cranberry orange coffee cake that I’ve posted on this site. To see the original post just click on “recipe”.

There are slight variations to the two of them and both are equally delicious. One you make in a spring form pan with the traditional leavening agents of baking powder and soda and that produces a taller, airier cake. This particular recipe does not use any type of leavening. Rather the eggs and sugars are beaten for an extensive period of time to create a mixture that doubles in size and provides the needed lift for the cake. This particular cake is denser and moister.

Both cakes are equally good, although my husband liked this particular recipe better. Whenever he monitors how much of a finished product I bring to work and how much I leave at home, I know the recipe is a hit. This time he made me bring much less of the cake to work than usual.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt. 2…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you bake: I found the experience of baking much more pleasurable if I do it in an organized fashion. By that I first get out any ingredients that need to be room temperature in plenty of time for them to reach that desired state. Then I read the entire recipe to see what I’m up against. I preheat the oven and prep any pans that require prep. After that I figure out how to organize the assembly process (as in this recipe I recommend making the crumb topping first as you will read below). Then I get all my ingredients out and ready. That usually means getting the dry ingredients together and combined and then moving on to the wet ingredients. After that, everything seems to fall into place.

What you are trying to avoid is stopping to find things and taking time to mix things while other mixtures sit and wait for a long period of time. Think about how making the recipe can flow and organize yourself to make the process go that way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of beating the eggs and sugar for a long time: As mentioned above this recipe does not use traditional leavening agents like baking powder or soda so you need something to provide the lift to the batter. That lift is produced by beating eggs and sugar into submission. By submission I mean you need to beat them for at least 5-7 minutes. That’s why I recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe so you’re not left with holding a hand mixer for that length of time.

I would also time the process and not leave it up to your memory. You will actually see the mixture double in size and become more thick when you beat it for that length of time. That’s what you’re looking for. Be careful. Don’t try to shortcut this part of the process. If you do you will be left with a somewhat flat coffee cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake may need to bake for much longer than the recipe suggests: I was originally thinking this would take between 45-50 minutes. It actually took me 65 minutes, but then again I live in high altitude where everything takes longer to make. The key with this cake, as with all cakes, is having a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. If you have some redness from the cranberries on your toothpick that’s ok. But it should be clean of everything else.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the crumb topping first: I found the entire process of making this cake went much more smoothly if you made the crumb topping first. Other than beating the eggs, this is the most labor intensive part of the recipe. If you make the topping first than everything else seems to go like clockwork.

As with making any type of crumb topping, use very cold butter and a pastry cutter to cut the butter into flour and sugar. The desired result is coarse crumbs as seen in the picture below.

The Desired Consistency Of The Crumb Topping

Lesson Learned 5 – The importance of room temperature eggs: In my baking recipes you will see that I always call for room temperature eggs. Why? The answer is simple. Room temperature eggs blend much more thoroughly into the batter. And that is the ideal. Quite often I hear the reason one doesn’t use room temperature eggs is they don’t have the time to get them to room temperature. Never fear, I have a quick and easy trick for you so you will always have room temperature eggs when you need them. Just click on “tips”.

Otherwise every other step of the process is what you normally expect when you make a cake. This cake, although delicious anytime, is a great recipe for the Holidays. And I guarantee you it won’t be around your kitchen for very long. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Pt. 2...

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

CRUMB TOPPING:

3/4 cup flour

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

6 Tbs. butter, unsalted and chilled

CAKE

3 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1- 12oz. pkg. of fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 large orange, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 portions

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Juice from 1 orange (approx. 4 Tbs)

1/4 of the orange zest already grated for the cake

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine all the topping ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture forms into coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugars for about 5-7 minutes until thick and doubled in size. Add the butter and vanilla and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the 3/4 portion of the orange zest.

Put the batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the crumb topping on top of the batter.

Bake 45 – 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over the cake.

 

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies…

Lately I seem to be on a “sweets” kick with my posted recipes and even though I do have some savory ones in the queue I moved this one to the top simply because it it just too good. Many of you know that I bake a variety of cookies at Christmas time so normally during the year I don’t venture a lot into cookie making. But I had to try this one and it was so good that my husband would not even let me give any away. I had to freeze them so he could eat them all.

When I make cookies over the holidays I have an unwritten rule that I try one new recipe every year and phase out one recipe. That way I always experiment and I keep the cookie making manageable. I am definitely adding this recipe to the 2017 list but will still have to find another recipe to be the “new” one since technically this one is no longer new. But I am really excited about the recipe.

The thing that I love the most about this cookie is how the tartness of the blueberries balances out the sweetness of the cookie. I also like how simple this recipe is to make, you can do it with a hand mixer and a wooden spoon. But there are some specific things you need to be aware of when you make them that will help you be successful so let’s get right into my lessons learned…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be gentle when mixing the blueberries into the dough: You don’t want the blueberries to break. If they do you will wind up with blue cookies. So be careful when folding them into the dough. Do that at the very end. I also suggest adding the blueberries in a couple of batches. The dough is pretty dense and if you pour the blueberries in all at once chances are you won’t get them incorporated into all of the dough and wind up with some cookies without blueberries. Fold them in carefully and in a couple of batches and you should be just fine.

The Cookie Dough

Lesson Learned 2 – These cookies really spread: Don’t roll the dough in too big of a ball as these cookies really spread. And make sure you have enough room between each one so they don’t bake on top of one another. I would roll them into about a 1 inch ball and put two inches between each ball on the baking sheet.

Give the cookies room to spread

Lesson Learned 3 – Remember blueberries stain: Blueberries are wonderful but they will stain and when they do it is virtually impossible to get rid of the stain. So here are a couple of tips to prevent any staining. First line your baking sheet with parchment paper. That helps in two ways. These cookies are very gooey and will stick to your baking sheet. Not a problem with parchment paper. Also when blueberries bake they pop and the parchment paper prevents them from staining your baking sheet.

Also be careful when you are cooling the cookies and the blueberries may still be “leaking”. I cooled mine on a wire rack and then transferred them to a paper plate. That way I didn’t have to worry about staining any dishes as well.

Lesson Learned 4 – These cookies take a long time to bake: On average these cookies take about 14 minutes to bake depending upon how big you make them. In my first batch I rolled the dough into somewhat larger balls and that batch took about 20 minutes to bake (keep in mind I also live in high altitude and everything takes longer to cook here). Once I got the size of the balls down pat it took anywhere from 14-16 minutes, which is a lot for a cookie. You know the cookie is done when you see it begin to lightly brown around the edges. The center of the cookie may still look pale, but that’s ok. Don’t over bake this cookie. If you do you the cookies will be way too crunchy.

Lesson Learned 5 – Let the cookies somewhat cool on the baking sheet: These cookies will be very loose when you take them out of the oven. If you immediately try to put them on a cooling rack the cookies will break apart. Give them about 4-5 minutes to cool on the baking sheet before you put them on the cooling rack. The cookies will need to set a little before you can move them. Don’t worry about doing this. Since your baking sheet will be lined with parchment paper the cookies won’t stick and will transfer easily to the cooling rack once they’ve had a chance to set.

I can’t say enough about how delicious these cookies are. I know if you make them they will become a household staple. You’ve got to try these cookies. And as always, please let me know how they turned out for you. Enjoy!

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup blueberries

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

juice of one small lemon

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars. Beat thoroughly until very creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla.

With a wooden spoon add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the oats and stir to combine. Last fold in the blueberries in a couple of batches being careful not to break the blueberries.

Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving approximately two inches between each ball.

Bake for 14 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown (the center of the cookie may still look light and that is ok). Remove the cookies from the oven and let them set on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to finish the cooling process.

Combine the ingredients for the glaze. You may find you need a little more powdered sugar depending on how thick you want the glaze. If the glaze is too thick add a little more lemon juice until you get the desired consistency. Drizzle the glaze over completely cooled cookies and let the glaze harden. Store cookies in an air tight container or freeze them.

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake…

One of the great things I love about the holidays is all the recipes you can make with cranberries. And when you pair them with orange juice, zest or both, well you have what I call a killer combo! But thanks to the frozen food isle, cranberries are not just for Christmas anymore. You can make great cranberry recipes all year long. And this is definitely one of them.

This recipe is a little time consuming as you basically have three separate components to prepare in order to assemble the coffee cake. But believe me, it’s worth it. Normally I give most of my baking to neighbors or co-workers, but this time my husband ate the bulk of it. He absolutely loved it, and so will you.

So let’s talk cranberry orange coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Prepare all three components first and then assemble the cake: I found this the easiest way to make this coffee cake and once all three components, the cake, the filling and the topping are made, assembling the cake is a breeze. I made the cake part first, then the topping and finished by making the cream cheese filling. I chose that order because both the cake and the topping take a little bit more time to assemble but the cream cheese filling can be made in a snap.

The cake mixture

The topping mixture

The cream cheese filling

Lesson Learned 2 – Cube the butter first and put it back into the refrigerator: The topping needs really cold butter to create the crumble and even if you start out cubing it when it’s cold it will start to warm up. I found that if you cube the butter and then put it back into the refrigerator until you need it you will have nice cold butter when it comes time to make the topping.

Lesson Learned 3 – Be patient when making the topping mixture: This is a traditional crumble topping mixture that requires you to cut cold butter into flour and sugar. I have a pastry cutter and I’m always struggling, at least initially, with the butter sticking to the pastry cutter. I find myself constantly scraping the butter off of the cutter. But don’t worry, as the butter starts to become more incorporated with the flour you will not have to do that anymore. It just takes a little time, so be patient and scrape the butter when necessary.

Lesson Learned 4 – All ovens are not created equal: I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating. For me living in a high altitude environment I find things always take longer to bake. That might not be the case for you. So normally I post sea-level cooking times, but keep in mind that this is just a gauge. Start looking at your cake at 70 – 75 minutes. The important thing is to make sure the cream cheese filling has set. If it is too jiggly the cake is not done. If you touch the center and it feels firm but slightly jiggly, you are good to go. (Do you love how technical this is?!)

Right Out Of The Oven

I think you will find this coffee cake is more than worth the work involved. And don’t let me scare you away from this, the work really isn’t that much or that complicated. Try it and let me know what you think…

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

Coffee Cake:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 egg, room temperature

1 Tbs. orange zest

3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

Topping:

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cubed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together the flour sugar baking powder and soda. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the egg, orange zest, orange juice, melted butter and vanilla until blended. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in the cranberries and set aside.

For the topping mix the flour and sugar in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives cut the butter into this mixture until the mixture looks crumbly. Set aside.

For the cream cheese layer, beat the cream cheese and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on a low speed until just blended.

Transfer the coffee cake mixture into a greased or sprayed 9 inch springform pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the top and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the toping mixture all over the top.

Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 70-75 minutes (in high altitude it can take up to 15 minutes more) or until the top is golden brown and the cream cheese mixture set.

Cool in the springform pan for 15 minutes before removing the coffee cake. Refrigerate any leftovers.

The Moistest Banana Cake You’ll Ever Make …

There’s nothing like a cake that is so moist it melts in your mouth. But baking a cake from scratch and getting it that moist can be a challenge, especially living in high altitude like I do. Well, fear no more. I stumbled upon a baking method that produced one of the moistest cakes I’ve ever made.

Now I have a couple of different recipes for banana bread on this site, but this one hands down is the most moist and flavorful. The difference between this recipe and the others is how you bake the cake. In this recipe you preheat the oven to 350 and once you put the cake in the oven you turn the temperature down to 300 for the remainder of the baking process. I never tried a process like this before and the result was my husband saying this was the moistest cake I ever made.

So let’s talk about the moistest banana cake you’ll ever make…

ripe bananasLesson Learned 1: Make sure your bananas are really ripe: and by really ripe I mean the peels are really dark, dark brown as in the picture to the right. You don’t want a lot of yellow on your banana skins and you definitely don’t want any green. Most of the time the bananas you buy in the store are under ripe, mainly green and yellow. Those bananas have not reached their full peak of flavor. The skins need to look pretty dark. As the banana ripens it releases more sugar and becomes more flavorful. And as they ripen the skins turn darker. If you want the best tasting cake you need to use bananas with dark skins.

Now if you want to make this cake today but only have yellow and green bananas, there’s a way to ripen them on the spot. Just click on this link for my banana bread recipe and you’ll find a neat little trick that gives you ripe bananas anytime you want them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Beat the butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until velvety: The picture below shows the correct consistency for this standard blend of ingredients for many recipes. The more velvety these ingredients, the better the rest of the ingredients will combine with it. Most people err on doing this process way too fast. I say beat the living daylights out if it. You’ll be pleased with the end result if you do.

Creamed butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla

Lesson Learned 3 – With this recipe baking time will vary: The recipe that I based this on stated that it took 60 minutes for the cake to bake. It took my cake an hour and a half. Now I know a lot of that had to do with me living in high altitude, but this is definitely a cake you will need to keep your eye on. Not only is the atmosphere a factor in the cooking time, but also all ovens vary and your oven may take a shorter amount of time to bake this cake than mine. I started checking mine at 55 minutes and could tell right away it needed a much longer cooking time. In the end, the most sure fire way to determine if it is done is to insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. The picture below shows what the cake looks like when it is done.

completely cooked cake

Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe makes more than enough frosting: Next time I make it I’m planning on cutting the frosting amount to 75% of what I will list here. With what I list I was able to put a thick amount of frosting on the cake (as seen below) and I still had some left over. Some people don’t like a lot of frost on their cake, and you certainly don’t want to minimize the flavor of the cake by overpowering it with frosting. You need to make the frosting based on how you like a cake frosted. So use your judgement on this one.

frosted cake

I was really pleased with how this cake turned out. I shared some with my co-workers and also with my neighbors and the consensus was this recipe is a winner. So try it and let me know what you think. You betcha can make this!

The Moistest Banana Cake You'll Ever Make...

  • Servings: 20-24 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3-4 bananas)

2 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 cups flour

1/2 Tbs. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

FROSTING:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour or use cooking spray and prepare a 9 x 13 pan.

Take 1 1/2 Tbs. of lemon juice and combine with the milk. Set aside.

Mash the bananas and mix with 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk for a minute to combine. Set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in one egg at a time. Beat in the vanilla, until the entire mixture is smooth and velvety. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk mixture beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix but make sure everything is fully incorporated. Gently fold in the bananas. Pour mixture into the prepared 9 x 13 pan.

Put in oven and reduce the temperature to 300. Bake at least 55 minutes. (Do not open the oven for any reason during the first 55 minutes). At that point check the cake for doneness. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, it is done. If not, continue baking. The baking process could take as much as 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting place all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl and beat until creamy.

Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake…

There’s a lot going on in my life right now so over the next few months I may not be able to meet my weekly goal of publishing a new recipe. I will try to publish as often as I can but rest assured I will get back to my weekly postings asap. I do have some time to post today and so I chose a recipe that my husband went bonkers over. When your husband turns to you and says, “Hon, this cake is really, REALLY good” you know you hit the jackpot!

I never tried making a coffee cake before so I was a little leery. But judging by the results I will certainly be making one again soon. There were a few tricks in getting this right and I’ll share them in my lessons learned. So let’s talk apple cinnamon coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The hardest part of the recipe is spreading the batter in the pan: The first layer of batter you spread over the bottom of a springform pan lined with parchment paper. It was an interesting trick trying to keep the parchment paper in place while spreading the batter. What I wound up doing was dolloping the batter in various spots over the parchment paper and spreading it with my right hand while holding the parchment paper down near one of the edges of the pan with my left index finger. After a while I got the hang of it but just be warned it may be an interesting journey starting out.

Then the next hardest part is spreading the second layer of batter over the apples and crumble. My advice is to make sure you dollop batter all around the pan versus putting all the batter in the center and then trying to spread it out. Remember on the second layer you will get part of the crumble mixed in with the batter. Don’t worry about that. You can’t avoid it.

Lesson Learned 2 – A little bit of batter goes a long way: This recipe does not have a lot of batter. When you spread the batter on the bottom it creates a very thin layer. But the combination of the batter, apples and crumble creates a substantive cake. Just be forewarned that the layer of batter on the bottom will be thin so don’t worry about that.

Slice the apples in small chunksLesson Learned 2 – Cut your apples into small pieces: You want to make sure that the apples cook and so you need to slice them in small pieces. I normally do this part of the recipe first. Then in order to prevent the apples from oxidizing while I get everything else ready, I squeeze just a little bit of fresh lemon juice over them and make sure all the apples are lightly coated with the juice. By doing this the apples will retain their color until you are ready to add them into the cake.

Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paperLesson Learned 4: Make sure you prepare the pan so the cake can be easily removed once it has cooled: You need to do a couple of things to prepare the springform pan. First you need to grease the sides and the bottom. Second you need to cover the bottom with parchment paper. I start out by opening the latch on the pan and removing the bottom. I normally take a piece of parchment paper, put it over the bottom part and trace the outline of it onto the paper. Then I just cut out the what I outlined. I do that first before greasing the pan. Then I reassemble the pan, grease the bottom and sides and then put the parchment paper in place to cover the bottom.

Lesson Learned 5 – The layering of the cake is a process: Let me show you that process in the pictures below…

The first layer with the batter and diced apples

The first layer with the batter and diced apples

The first layer completed with batter, apples and crumble

The first layer completed with batter, apples and crumble

The second layer of batter on top of the crumble

The second layer of batter on top of the crumble

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

The finished coffee cake

The finished coffee cake

Assembling this may be a little tricky but I guarantee you the end result is worth it. Try it and tell me what you think…

APPLE CINNAMON COFFEE CAKE

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS

Crumble:

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 small granny smith apples, peeled and diced small

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup sliced almonds for the very top (not added to the crumble mixture)

The Batter:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 extra large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

The Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1-2 Tbs. heavy cream (use the smaller amount for a thicker glaze)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. Peel and dice the apples. Pour the lemon juice over the diced apples and stir until all the pieces of apple are coated. Set aside.

For the crumble, whisk together all of the dry ingredients except the sliced almonds. Add the melted butter and vanilla and stir until combined. Set aside.

For the batter, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat the mixture until well combined. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.

Dollop half the batter around the bottom of the springform pan and spread to evenly distribute. Distribute the apple chunks evenly over the batter and sprinkle about 1 cup of the crumble on top of the apples. Spread the remaining half of the batter over the top of the crumble (it will be easier if you dollop the batter around the pan before spreading). Spread the remaining crumble over the batter. Distribute the sliced almonds evenly over the crumble.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake before unlocking the springform pan.

Let the cake cool completely before adding the glaze. To make the glaze combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Drizzle the glaze all over the cake. Slice and enjoy!

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake…

Sometimes when you’re grumpy the only thing that will bring you out of it is chocolate. Such was the case with me this week. For some reason I’ve had a major grump on lately and so finally I decided to do something about it – hence this recipe.

I’m a big fan of chocolate cake but I’m not a big fan of overly sweet chocolate cake. I find the cake mixes you buy in the grocery stores are borderline sickeningly sweet so I prefer to make homemade. This cake is full of chocolate flavor and not overly sweet. The flavor and texture remind me of a flourless chocolate cake. This cake is so good that once my husband and I took a bite of it we both agreed I needed to bring it to work otherwise we knew we would devour the whole thing in short measure all by ourselves. Better to let my co-workers devour it. And devour it they did.

So let’s talk chocolate sour cream cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – I found a neat trick for flouring a bundt pan: I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled with flouring a bundt pan once I’ve greased it. And especially with bundt pans, you need to make sure that the grease and flour hug every curve of the pan otherwise you’ll never get your cake out. I used to put flour in the pan and then stand over the garbage can and rotate it while tapping the sides. I knew I had to get the flour all the way to the top of the pan and I didn’t want to get flour all over the floor.

Then I read somewhere  an easier way to flour a bundt pan. Once you grease the pan and add some flour to it, cover the pan with plastic wrap. Then you can tap away to your heart’s content, get all of the sides floured and not worry about making a big mess. It was so much easier flouring the pan this way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The chocolate mixture will be thin and runny: This recipe calls for cooking the butter, cocoa powder and salt with some water. This combination makes a very runny mixture as evidenced in the picture below. Don’t worry about that. I found that providing the chocolate component to the recipe this way resulted in a somewhat thinner batter but an extremely moist cake. People were gushing as to how moist this cake is.

IMG_0165

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake does not rise a lot so use a smaller bundt pan if you want a taller cake: I used a 12 cup bundt pan and the cake was a nice size but not as tall as some bundt cakes I’ve made in the past. The only leavening you use in this recipe is 1 teaspoon of baking soda so the cake does not rise very high. The cake was still super moist and I preferred this portion size, but if you’re a fan of a taller bundt cake you can use a 10 cup pan to achieve that effect.

IMG_0284

Lesson Learned 4 – The frosting in this recipe is to die for: I approached the frosting differently and was genuinely pleased in both the flavor and consistency. The frosting in not overly sweet and has a nice thick texture to it. This frosting does not contain any confectioners sugar. It is a combination of chocolate, corn syrup (I used an organic light corn syrup with organic vanilla flavor), heavy cream and a touch of sugar. It was fabulous!

IMG_0210

I think this will become my go-to chocolate cake recipe. My husband loved it and my co-workers devoured it. I hope it becomes your go-to chocolate cake recipe as well!

CHOCOLATE SOUR CREAM CAKE…

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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CAKE INGREDIENTS Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, plus butter to grease the pan

1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup water

2 cups flour, plus some for the pan

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

FROSTING INGREDIENTS

2 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 Tbs. corn syrup (I used organic light corn syrup with organic vanilla flavor)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 Tbs. sugar

1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels, for decoration (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 or 12 cup bundt cake pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water and melt over medium heat. Continuously stir the mixture until everything is melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and baking soda. Add half the melted butter mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until blended. Add the remaining butter mixture and stir until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until each is completely blended. Add the sour cream and vanilla and whisk until combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes (my cake was done at 42 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then invert the pan to remove the cake. Let the cake cool completely before frosting.

Put the chopped chocolates and the corn syrup in a bowl and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan and, over medium heat, stir until the cream is hot and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Pour the frosting over the cake. Decorate the cake with the chocolate morsels.

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

Holiday Raspberry Walnut Bars…

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. The holidays have been crazy and I haven’t had my usual time to experiment in the kitchen. But to keep in the tradition of trying to post at least once a week, I am going to share a cookie recipe from back in the day.

This is a reprint of a blog I did a couple of years ago. It is such a great holiday recipe that I wanted to give it some prime time, especially now that I have more readers and subscribers. I guarantee you, you cannot go wrong with this recipe. It will be a hit in your holiday cookie baking arsenal!

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars

There’s a lot of reasons for this recipe being so popular. First, and probably foremost, it looks so darn delicious. Second, and not known by those requesting the recipe, it is sinfully easy to make. And third, the recipe turns out perfect first time, every time. I can’t take credit for the recipe, it was one I found a few years ago, I simply can’t remember where I found it. So up front I apologize to whomever I am not giving credit to for the actual recipe.

Lesson Learned 1: The hardest thing about this recipe is preparing the pan. The recipe calls for lining a 8 inch square pan with parchment paper allowing some overhang on both sides. Trying to keep parchment paper from popping back out of the pan when you allow for overhang can be tricky. I found the easiest way to make the parchment paper behave is to take two heavy cans of anything and weigh down the paper in the pan while making the dough. That way when it’s time to spread the dough out on the bottom the paper has been somewhat trained and doesn’t jump around as much.

Lesson Learned 2: It is important to follow the directions of using the parchment paper, having the overhang and spraying the parchment paper with cooking spray. I can’t image what you would wind up with if you didn’t. But if you take the time to do it, it comes out of the pan easily and absolutely nothing sticks to the parchment paper.

Lesson Learned 3: This recipe gives you plenty of dough so don’t worry about using it to fill up the bottom. It says to use two thirds of the dough for the crust and one third to dot the top. I found that gave me way too much dough for the top. You need a lot less dough to dot the top then you think, so don’t be afraid to use more than two thirds of the dough for the crust.

Lesson Learned 4: Avoid the temptation to use too much raspberry jam. A nice even thin coat is all you need. Stick to the amount called for in the recipe.

Lesson Learned 5: Depending on how many bars you want to give out, you may have to make this recipe a couple of times. You can make the bars big or small, but the most you’ll probably get out of this recipe is 24 small bars.

I guarantee these bars will be a hit with your family and friends. You simply must try them!

Raspberry Walnut Bars…

  • Servings: 24 Small Bars
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Non stick baking spray

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup raspberry jam

1 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on both sides. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. (I do this right before I am ready to put the dough into the pan).

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. (This does take a little time, most people do not do this thoroughly enough so make sure to take the time to make the mixture fluffy). Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Do not over mix. Transfer two thirds of the dough into the prepared pan and press down evenly. Spread the jam on top. Crumble the remaining dough and dot it over the jam. Sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Bake until golden 35-45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan. (this is very important).

Holding both sides of the parchment paper, lift out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board and cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

I have to admit I made this a few weeks ago, but it’s a pretty busy time of year and I made several recipes in one week so that I could keep up my goal of doing weekly posts on this blog. This is a great cake on a variety of levels. First, it’s a heck of lot easier to make than it looks, second it takes no time to put this together (most of the work involves pealing and slicing the pears) and third you wind up with a cake that looks professionally made.

So let’s talk maple pear walnut skillet cake…

PearsLesson Learned 1 – The right amount of pears to use is not an exact science: This recipe is made in a ten inch cast iron skillet. When I made it I used pears from my neighbor’s tree which were smaller than ones you buy in the store. I think I used about 6-8 pears for the decorative top. If using larger pears, I think you could get away with using no more than three. I would err on the side of too much rather than too little. If you have four pears on hand and you only need three you have one to enjoy later. And remember, if the pears look like they’re starting to oxidize and turn brown before you put them in the pan, just sprinkle a little lemon juice over them and that will help keep them looking good.

Lesson Learned 2 – Even with a seasoned cast iron pot a few pears might stick to the pot when it comes time to invert it: No worries here. Even though a couple of my pears stuck, they easily peeled off the bottom of the pan and I could place them back in the spots they’d vacated on the cake. Judging by the pictures you’d never know that happened. I just felt compelled to let you know that even the best of cooks have to make these types of adjustments from time to time. As Julia Child used to say, “Whose to know…”

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet CakeLesson Learned 3 – Always remember, cast iron retains heat for quite some time: When you go to invert the cake, the cast iron skillet will still be very hot! Remember to use oven mitts when you do this part of the process. You will not be able to handle the skillet without some type of protection from the heat at that point.

This cake couldn’t be easier, especially for how dramatic it looks. You layer the pears on the bottom of the pan, spoon the cake mixture over the pears and carefully spread it out to the sides of the pan making sure not to disturb the pears in the process. Then you bake it, flip it, (do any final fixes if you need to) and you’re done. Take a walk on the wild side and try this one. Even though it may look intimidating, it really is easy and oh so delicious!

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Pear Topping:

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup good maple syrup

Pears (3-4 large, 6-8 small)

1/2 – 3/4 cup walnut pieces (this will be your preference)

Cake:

1 1/4 cup flour, plus 1 Tbs. for high altitude

1 1/2-2 tsps. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup good maple syrup

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

DIRECTIONS:

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a seasoned ten inch cast iron skillet, melt the 4 Tbs. of butter. Spread the butter out to cover the skillet making sure to include the sides of the skillet. Add the brown sugar and maple syrup and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and arrange the pears on top of the butter-sugar-syrup mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts and set aside.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In another bowl mix together the yogurt and vanilla. Set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add maple syrup and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt mixture, alternating between the two and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Carefully drop the batter by large spoonfuls all over the pears. Spread batter out to the edges of the pan being careful not to disturb the pears.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Cool the cake for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack.

Run a knife along the edges of the skillet. Carefully invert the cake on to a plate. (Be careful, the cast iron skillet will still be very hot). If any pears stick to the bottom of the pan, peel them off and place them back on top of the cake.

The Pears And Walnuts At The Bottom Of The Skillet

Pears And Walnuts Arranged At The Bottom Of The Skillet

Drop The Batter In Large Balls On Top Of The Pear Mixture

Batter Dropped In Large Clumps Over The Pear Mixture

Spread The Mixture Over The Pears

Batter Spread Over The Pear Mixture

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

Maple Pear Walnut Skillet Cake

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake…

Just about everyone has their favorite chocolate cake recipe. I like to experiment with various recipes, give them a spin of my own, and this time I think I really hit the jackpot. If you want an easy to make, moist – and I do mean moist – dark, luscious and oh so chocolatey cake, this is the recipe for you. And it’s perfect for your holiday table!

I can’t take credit for the frosting. I stole it from Ina Garten and want to make sure she gets full credit for it. I wanted a buttercream frosting, but I can see this cake being equally delicious with a chocolate ganache.

So let’s talk about the ultimate chocolate cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The batter will be thin: I am used to a somewhat thicker batter and so I was surprised that this batter was thin, almost runny. Don’t let that worry you. Just bake it until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven...

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven…

Lesson Learned 2 – Using coffee to enhance the flavor of chocolate: I found out that just a little bit of coffee added to a chocolate recipe really enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Whether it be brewed coffee, espresso powder or instant coffee granules, using coffee as an ingredient kicks up the chocolatey flavor in baking. This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of brewed coffee. Just make sure that coffee is either just slightly warm or room temperature. If you add hot coffee to the batter you’ll scramble the egg and you don’t want to do that.

Lesson Learned 3 – Baking with cocoa powder: I don’t know about you but my cocoa powder always seems to have big lumps in it making it difficult to get a smooth batter once it is incorporated This time I sifted the cocoa powder before adding it in and that did the trick. It was a lot easier to get a smooth batter.

Good quality chocolateLesson Learned 4 – Thoughts on buttercream frosting: As I mentioned earlier, I used Ina Garten’s recipe for the frosting. Ina always says the better the ingredients you use, the better the flavor. It’s so true. If you use this particular frosting recipe, make sure you use good quality semi-sweet chocolate. I used Ghirardelli chocolate in the frosting. The frosting was divine.

Also, keep in mind that the main ingredient in buttercream frosting is butter. When you make it, the frosting will be soft and smooth. If you choose to refrigerate the frosted cake, the frosting will get harder, just like butter does when it’s put back into the refrigerator. And since there is so much butter in the frosting you’re going to want to refrigerate anything that doesn’t get eaten immediately. So, if you’re planning on serving cake that has been stored in the refrigerator, you can take it out and let the frosting soften up a little. Or you can serve the frosting cold. The frosting is so good it’s delicious either way.

The Frosting...

The Frosting…

 This recipe would make great cupcakes as well. You’ll never make a more moist or chocolatey cake. Try this recipe and see what you think. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake…

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cake:

1 extra large egg, room temperature

1 cup sugar

6 ounces vanilla greek yogurt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup brewed coffee, warm or room temperature – not hot

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup + 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 Tbs. instant coffee granules (I used hazelnut granules)

2 tsp. hot water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x 9 baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl combine egg, sugar, yogurt and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and combined. Sift the cocoa powder and add it in along with the brewed coffee. Whisk until smooth and free from lumps.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine with the wet ingredients and whisk together until fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cake cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a microwave safe bowl, heat the chocolate on high power in 30 minute intervals, stirring until the chocolate is melted. (The chocolate will probably come out of the microwave with a few softened pieces still intact, but stirring will get them to melt. You want to be careful not to overheat the chocolate, so make sure you try to make the stirring complete the process.) Set aside to cool a little.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat for an additional minute. (Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.) Add the confectioners sugar and slowly beat until combined. In a small bowl dissolve the instant coffee granules in the hot water. Slowly beat the coffee and chocolate into the butter mixture.

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Cinnamon Roll Cake…

I like to dabble with baking, trying new and interesting ways of creating sweet delectable treats. And let me tell you, where that’s concerned this recipe takes the cake (pun intended)! Every bite of this cake tastes exactly like a cinnamon roll. It is unbelievably good. I took some of this to work and one of my co-workers said it was an absolutely wicked treat. You must try this one.

So let’s talk about making this cake..

Lesson Learned 1 – The ingredients for the cake are a bit untraditional: Most cake recipes use a combination of baking soda and baking powder, usually a teaspoonful or less of each, as leavening agents for the batter. This particular cake recipe uses 4 teaspoons of baking powder and no baking soda. It seems like a lot of baking powder, but what that amount actually does is create a yeasty bread-like quality for the cake. You can see in the picture below the bubbles created by using the large amount of baking powder. It was interesting to see its affect on the batter. And when you think about it, cinnamon rolls tend to have a texture that’s more like bread than cake, so using the larger amount of baking powder to create that consistency makes sense.

Bubbles In The Batter

Another somewhat non traditional aspect to making the batter is adding the melted butter. Once you’ve combined all the ingredients together, you slowly add the melted butter into the batter. It is important to add it slowly so that the butter fully incorporates. I poured a little in at a time, mixed it in, and repeated that process until all the melted butter was fully incorporated into the batter. It gave the batter the luxurious consistency you see below.

The Cake Batter

Before adding the melted butter the cake batter will look a little lumpy. As you slowly add the melted butter the lumps will disappear.

Lesson Learned 2 – The cinnamon topping will be thick in consistency: A lot of cinnamon cake recipes have more of a streusel-like mixture that you incorporate into cake batter. The topping for this cake is thicker and more frosting-like as you can see from the picture below.

The Cinnamon Topping

When preparing this mixture it’s very important the butter be as soft as possible without melting it. I put the butter in the microwave and kept nuking it in 10 second increments until it was slightly runny along the edges. You can see from the picture below how soft the butter was before I mixed it with the other topping ingredients.

The Topping Ingredients

Lesson Learned 3 – How to combine the cinnamon and cake batter: Many recipes similar to this require sprinkling the topping on the batter and using a knife to swirl it down into the cake. You don’t need to do that with this recipe. All you need to do is dollop the cinnamon mixture on top and use a knife and spread it around. The cinnamon will permeate the batter while it bakes. Try to spread the mixture as close to the edges as possible. That way the end pieces will have some cinnamon in them as well.
Swirled Cinnamon Mixture

Dollop The Cinnamon On Top Of The Batter

Lesson Learned 4 – Add the glaze when the cake is still warm: Most of the time you wait for a cake to cool before you add glaze. With this recipe you add the glaze while the cake is still slightly warm. That way it seeps into the cake as well as stays on top. I prefer to make thicker glazes for this type of recipe so I combine heavy cream and milk with the vanilla and powdered sugar to get a rich, thick glaze.

Thick Rich Glaze

I hope you decide to try this recipe. It is sinfully delicious and keeps well in an air tight container. I got two thumbs up on this on this one from my co-workers and my husband!

Cinnamon Roll Cake…

  • Servings: 20-24 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:
CAKE BATTER:

Cinnamon Roll Cake

3 cups flour (plus 2 Tbs. high altitude)

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sugar (7/8 cup high altitude)

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tsp. vanilla extract

2 extra large eggs

1/2 cup butter, melted.

CINNAMON TOPPING MIXTURE:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 Tbs. flour

2 heaping Tbs. cinnamon

1 cup very soft butter

GLAZE:

2 cups powdered sugar

5 Tbs. heavy cream

2-3 Tbs. Milk

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all of the ingredients for the cinnamon topping and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the cake batter ingredients except the melted butter. After everything is combined, slowly add the melted butter in small amounts making sure it is thoroughly combined before adding more. Continue with this process until all of the melted butter is incorporated into the batter.

Spray a 9 x 13 dish with cooking spray. Add the batter to the dish and smooth until evenly distributed. Dollop portions of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter. Using a smooth edged knife, swirl the cinnamon mixture all over the top of the batter getting the mixture as close to the edges of the pan as possible.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Mix together all of the glaze ingredients. While the cake is still slightly warm, pour the glaze all over the top of the cake. The cake keeps best when stored in an airtight container.

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven

The Cake Right Out Of The Oven

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake…

I’ve just been loving how plentiful the strawberries are this year. And the quality of them has been outstanding. I love to bake with strawberries, but they can be tricky. Strawberries, like blueberries, have what I call the exploding factor. They explode moisture during the baking process. So, if you use too many of them or if they overly ripe you cake will fall it on itself. After a few disasters I’ve learned out to outsmart the pesky fruit and now I bake with them quite frequently.

The flavor of strawberries in a cake like this is more subtle. A co-worker even asked me what kind of fruit was in this cake. Baking them this way gives them a slight tartness that compliments the sweetness of the cake batter – a great combination. So, let’s talk about fresh strawberry yogurt cake…

StrawberriesLesson Learned 1 – Ripe strawberries are not the best for baking: Because of the exploding factor I alluded to above, ripe strawberries are not the best to bake with simply because they hold more water. In baking it’s really best to use strawberries that are only somewhat ripe. That way they release less moisture, your cake will not fall in on itself and you’ll still get that great strawberry flavor. But if your strawberries are ripe, simply use less of them. Cut them in small pieces and discard any piece that may be overly soft. When I made this recipe my strawberries were pretty ripe so I only used about 8 ounces in the cake. If you have less ripe strawberries you can use as much as 12 ounces.

And don’t use frozen strawberries with this recipe. If you do, you can be sure your cake will be a gooey mess.

IMG_6028Lesson Learned 2 – Make sure your cake is completely cool before icing it: I don’t know about you but I’m always in a hurry to put the icing on the cake. I rationalize that if it’s only slightly warm it will be ok. Wrong – o! Even if the cake is slightly warm, the icing will melt into the cake. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want your icing visible be patient and wait until the cake has cooled. The cake will taste great and you will be awarded visually as well!

I took this cake to work and the slices were gone in less than one half hour. This is a very moist and flavorful cake. Try it and let me know what you think.

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake...

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 1/4 cup flour, (add 1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (you’ll need 2 lemons for this recipe)

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

3 large eggs, room temperature

8 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt

8 – 12 oz. fresh strawberries, sliced small (use lesser amount if strawberries are ripe)

Vegetable shortening and flour to prepare the Bundt pan

ICING:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest (I used the zest of one small lemon)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan. Set aside. Zest and juice the lemons. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Using a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until each is thoroughly incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest and beat for another minute.

Add the dry ingredients and yogurt to the mixture, starting out and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. (Scrape the sides of the bowl and under the beater blade to make sure everything has been combined).

Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour into the prepared ban. Reduce the heat in the oven to 325 and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the Bundt pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and zest. Drizzle over the cooled cake.

Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake

 Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake

Lemon Crumb Cake…

Sometimes you just want something quick and easy. This is that kind of recipe. I don’t know about you but there are days when I just don’t want to drag out all the paraphernalia in order to make something that looks and tastes good. This particular recipe requires no stand mixer, food processor, or blender. Just a bowl for the dry and wet ingredients and a small pan to melt butter.

Let’s talk Lemon Crumb Cake…

Perfect Crumble ConsistencyLesson Learned 1 – The crumb topping: Only three ingredients make the topping – flour sugar and melted butter. I found the best result for making the topping is to add 1 additional tablespoon of flour to the 1/3 cup called for in the recipe. That way you get a nice crumble without the mixture being too moist. The crumb topping is easy to do. Just melt the butter and combine it with the flour and sugar. If the mixture looks too dry, add a tiny bit more melted butter. Make sure nothing is dry in the crumble. The picture here shows the perfect consistency.

Add Wet Ingredients To Dry IngredientsLesson Learned 2 – Mixing wet and dry ingredients: The rule of thumb when making a batter you mix by hand is to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Take a wooden spoon or a spoon/spatula and mix until just combined. Make sure to check at the bottom center of the bowl – that’s were unincorporated ingredients tend to hang out. Once everything is combined, STOP. Over mixing will create a tough cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – Watch the time on this cake carefully: Ok, I’ll admit it – I had to make this cake twice to get it right. This cake, depending on your oven and what part of the country you live in, can bake from 50 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes. And let me tell you, it can go from moist to dry rather quickly. So keep an eye on it. I use a professional grade loaf pan and so my cake baked in 50 minutes. The time you need will depend on your oven and the bakeware you use. Keep an eye on it starting at 50 minutes.

Right Out Of The Oven

Lemon Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Topping

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. Flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tbs. melted unsalted butter

Cake

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 5 oz. can evaporated milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. lemon zest

2 large eggs

Glaze (optional)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of an 8 x 4 loaf pan (if using a nonstick pan you only need to prepare the bottom of the pan). In a small bowl mix together topping ingredients making sure all the flour is coated with the melted butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, oil and lemon zest. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the crumb mixture. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check the cake at 50 minutes. You do not want to over bake this cake.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes in the loaf pan. Remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. The glaze is optional. The cake is delicious with or without the glaze.

Lemon Crumb Cake

 Lemon Crumb Cake

Cheesecake With Strawberry Sauce…

I promise I haven’t gone all cheese-cakey on you but every once in a while I find a recipe that I post that is not my own, nor have I adapted that is absolutely fabulous. This is one of them. It is is so good and so easy that I just had to share and give credit where credit is due.

I’ve mentioned before that over the years I’ve become a Food Network junkie. I have to admit I was more enamored with the programming several years ago, but there are still some shows that I like to watch. Trisha Yearwood’s show is one of them. I’ve tried several of her recipes and enjoyed them, but this one is just over the top.

Cheesecake With Graham Cracker CrustI happened to be watching her show recently right after I made my Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars. On the show she was making a cheesecake. It has been years since I made a cheesecake and for some reason I had it in my mind that it was labor intensive and hard to make. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. After I watched her show I decided try it again.

All I can say is that it was surprisingly easy and turned out perfectly the very first time. How often can you say that about the recipe? And if you look at my pictures and the pictures on the Food Network site, the cake looks exactly the same. Perfection!

I’ll write out the recipe for you here, but will also include a link to it on the Food Network site because I need to give credit where credit is due. But I did have a couple of good lessons learned while making this, and these I will share. Enjoy this one.

Line the outside of the pan with foilLesson Learned 1 – The importance of the water bath: What do I mean by a water bath? In order to avoid having cracks in the top of your cheesecake you need to bake it in a water bath. Once you prepare a springform pan, create a bed of foil around the bottom of the pan as shown in the picture to the right. After you’ve filled the spring form pan with the cheesecake mixture, place it either in a lipped jelly roll pan or any lipped pan that is bigger than the spring form pan. Carefully add about a half inch of water to the lipped pan and cook the cheese cake in that water bath. The foil will prevent any water from getting into the cheesecake and the water will prevent any cracks from occurring on the top of the cake.

The top of the cheesecake with no cracksI used a lipped jelly roll pan that I filled with water half way up the side and found that about three quarters of the way through the baking process process the water had entirely evaporated. I added a little more making sure the pan had water for the entire baking time. It worked beautifully.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who was bemoaning the fact that she could never make a cheese cake that wasn’t all cracked on the top. She’d never heard of a water bath. When I showed her pictures of my cake and told her this was the first time I made one in years she was sold. I promise the water bath does the trick, and my pictures prove it!

Strawberry Sauce Ingredients

Strawberry Sauce Ingredients

Lesson Learned 2 – Definitely make the strawberry sauce: The cheesecake on its own is divine but I think it needs a little extra added something. The strawberry sauce in this recipe is a perfect accompaniment to the cheese cake. I especially like using lime zest in the sauce. I felt it really brought out the flavor of the strawberries. Of course this is not the only thing you can use to add to the cake, but this sauce took very little effort and was divine, that’s why I like it.

I just used my mini food processor and mixed all the ingredients together. You don’t need to strain the sauce as you would if you were using raspberries. The sauce is best served cold so make sure you refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

Keep the cheesecake in a cooling oven for an hour

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the cheesecake in the oven for an hour after it’s done baking: Once the cheesecake is done baking, turn off the heat and leave it in the oven for an hour with the oven door partially open. This helps to finish it off and is necessary for the cheesecake to set. So don’t be over anxious and take your beautiful cheesecake out of the oven right away.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not have to change a thing in this recipe nor did I have to adapt it to high altitude (and what a joy that was!). So here is the recipe and I’ve also provided a link to it on the Food Network site below. Enjoy!

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs (about 9 sheets)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup non-salted butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling

32 oz. (four 8 oz. packages) room temperature cream cheese

2 cups sour cream (you can use light sour cream)

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch

2 tsp. vanilla

Strawberry Sauce

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, halved

1/4 cup sugar

1 small lime, zested

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make a parchment paper cutout for the bottom of a 10 inch round springform pan. Take foil and wrap it entirely around the base and slightly up the sides of the pan. Spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray. Put the parchment paper in the pan and spray it as well. Set aside. (I did this at the very end and prepared the crust and filling and then put it all together at once).

In a food processor, combine the the graham crackers and sugar. Pulse and then process until thoroughly combined and the crackers have a consistency of fine crumbs. Pour in a bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the room temperature cream cheese and sour cream for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat each time until thoroughly combined. (Make sure you check the bottom of the bowl occasionally to scrape up anything that may have collected down at the bottom to make sure it is all combined). Add the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Melt the butter. Add the melted butter to the graham cracker crumbs and mix until the crumbs take on the consistency of wet sand. Press the graham cracker mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Set the foil wrapped pan into a large lipped pan and carefully pour about 1/2 inch warm water into the large pan to create the water bath. Place in the oven and bake for one hour. Turn off the oven, open the door and let the cheesecake stand in the opened oven for one hour. Remove from the oven and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. (I refrigerated mine overnight).

For the sauce, put the strawberries, sugar and lime zest into a small food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Here is the link to the recipe on the Food Network site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/joes-say-cheese-cheesecake-with-fresh-strawberry-sauce.html

The Graham Cracker Crust

The Graham Cracker Crust

Pour In The Filling

Pour In The Filling

The Cheesecake

The Cheesecake

The Inside of the Cheesecake

The Inside Of The Cheesecake

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Cheesecake With Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars…

If you want a truly delicious and decadent sweet treat, this one’s for you. I haven’t made anything like a cheesecake for a long time, and I didn’t want to do the full blown thing, so I decided to make cheesecake bars and and am I ever glad I did. Plain and simple, this recipe is divine! There are few recipes I have on this blog that I think outshine the rest. For example, my recipe for Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza, or my Best Ever Meatballs, or my Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies… (actually there are many more, but I don’t want to bore you with a long list). But this one goes straight to the top!

Not only is this insanely delicious, it is gorgeous to look at and simple to make. You can’t beat that. And so, without further adieu, here are a few lessons learned and the recipe.

IMG_5396Lesson Learned 1: Tips about the raspberry swirl: It couldn’t be easier to make the swirl. Just pop the raspberries and sugar in a food processor and voila, you have it. Be aware that you don’t need a lot for the top of the cheesecake. Less is more in creating a beautiful design. You can easily get away with only a 1/3 cup raspberries to create the design on top. I used 1/2 cup so I would have some extra to drizzle on the plate when I served the cheesecake.

IMG_5418Since you only need a small amount, don’t use a blender for this. If you have a mini blender or food processor, use that. Also you will want to strain the raspberry sauce.  There are tons of seeds that you will not want to have in your cheese cake. Use a spatula and press the juice through the strainer. It is a little bit of work but you get an incredibly smooth glistening sauce that you can use not only for the top of the bars but for serving as well.

Once you’ve made the cheesecake filling, all you have to do is dot the top with a little of the raspberry sauce as shown in the picture below. Take a sharp knife and gently swirl the sauce into the cheesecake mixture. It’s that simple. You can easily create a gorgeous design with no effort at all.

IMG_5421

IMG_5429

Lesson Learned 2 – Line your pan with parchment paper: I am not a big fan of using cooking spray on my good pans. I find it leaves a residue that bakes on the pan and after a while can ruin the finish. I prefer greasing and flouring pans or using parchment paper. This time I chose parchment paper. I lined the bottom and left some hanging over the side. Doing that gave me handles to pull out the cheesecake once it set. (I had to use a knife on the sides that did not have parchment paper to loosen them slightly before I lifted the cheesecake out of the pan).

IMG_5380Lesson Learned 3 – Graham Cracker Crusts: They couldn’t be easier to make. The consistency of the crust should look like wet sand as seen in the picture. Spread it evenly on the bottom of the pan and press it down flat. Also, after it is baked, make sure it’s cooled completely before pouring the cheesecake mixture on top of it.

Lesson Learned 4 – The cream cheese must be at room temperature and beat it longer than you think: You will get a lumpy cheesecake if the cream cheese is not room temperature when you beat it. And beat it for a long time. I beat the cream cheese for at least five minutes. And after that as I added each individual ingredient I beat it some more. That’s the only way you’ll get a smooth consistency to the batter.

That’s it! The hardest part of making this is the clean up. I used both my small and large food processors as well as my stand mixer so that wound up being most of the work. But was the work ever worth it. I still can’t get over how good this one is. My husband says this recipe is insanely good. Enjoy!

Raspberry Lemon Cheesecake Bars…

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Easy
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IMG_5449INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

9 graham cracker sheets (1 – 1 1/4 cups)

4 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. sugar

The Filling:

2 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 small lemons, juiced and zested

Raspberry Swirl

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

1 Tbs. sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, using enough paper so it can hang over the sides. (You can also use baking spray). Set aside.

Put graham crackers into a food processor. Process until you have fine crumbs. Add the sugar to the cracker crumbs. Melt the butter and add it to the mixture, stirring until the mixture resembles coarse wet sand. Take the crumbs and spread them out evenly across the bottom of the pan. Press firmly. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Place the raspberries and sugar into a small processor and beat until smooth. Put mixture into a strainer and strain until the raspberry seeds are removed from the juice. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth, at least 5 minutes. Add in the sugar and beat until combined. Add in one egg at a time and beat until completely incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest and continue to beat until completely incorporated.

Pour the cheesecake filling on top of the cooled graham cracker crust. Using a spatula, make sure it is spread evenly over the crust. (You might even want to take the pan and, raising it up slightly, drop it back down on a hard surface to ensure the batter is evenly distributed). Spoon the raspberry mixture in dots over the top of the cheesecake mixture. Use a sharp knife to make swirls all over the top of the batter.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely and refrigerate for at least three hours or over night. Cut into squares and serve.

IMG_5437

The Desired Texture Of The Cheesecake…

IMG_5462

Apple Cream Cheese Cake…

I know it’s not apple season but I had the desire to bake something with apples in it and decided to make this cake. It has a combination of some warm spices, namely nutmeg and allspice, and a heavenly cream cheese filling that compliments the flavor of the cake. And if that isn’t enough for you, once the cake is cooled you drizzle on a thick and luscious praline frosting. That’s more than enough to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth!

Cake ingredients...

Cake ingredients…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure the eggs are room temperature: This recipe produces a very thick batter that is mixed by hand. You can use a mixer for the cream cheese filling but I highly recommend mixing the batter by hand. That way you are less likely to over mix and wind up with a tough cake. Room temperature eggs incorporate themselves more completely into a batter and you’ll want to ensure that when mixing by hand. Also for ease of mixing, the eggs should also be slightly beaten before putting them into the batter.

Lesson Learned 2 – After you chop the apples sprinkle a little lemon juice on them to avoid browning: I am amazed how many recipes I come across that require chopped apples and don’t address what can happen to an apple once it’s peeled and cut. When an apple is cut open, an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase is released from the cells of the apple and reacts with the oxygen in the air causing the fruit to brown. Lemon juice helps keep apples from browning because it’s full of ascorbic acid and it has a low pH level. Ascorbic acid works because oxygen will react with it before it will react with the polyphenol oxidase. I know this may sound like chemistry class but it helps to explain why you need to used a little lemon juice to keep the chopped apples looking fresh until you add them into the batter. If you chop the apples right before adding them to the batter you may not need lemon juice, but I would err on the side of caution.

I used two gala apples in this recipe. That produced 3 cups of chopped apples. It takes some time to peel, core and chop the apples. Even if you plan on adding them immediately, the first pieces you chopped may still start to turn brown. The browning process can happen rather quickly. Better to sprinkle a little lemon juice over the apples so you don’t have to worry. Besides lemon juice, lime juice or cranberry juice can also generally be used to stop browning. But be aware of the flavors you might be adding into your cake. For this recipe lemon juice is the best flavor choice.

Also be aware that sprinkling lemon juice on apples will not eliminate the browning process completely. Once the lemon juice has evaporated, the apples will begin to brown as the oxygen will then begin to work on the enzymes the apple produces once it is cut. Adding a little lemon juice is designed to be a short term but very effective fix. (I used about half the juice from half a small lemon on the chopped apples).

cakecollage

Lesson Learned 3 – Do not make the frosting until the cake is completely cooled: I have to admit this is very delicious frosting. It’s really more of a thick glaze. The downside is the frosting sets very quickly. So, don’t make the frosting until you are ready to immediately drizzle it over the cooled cake. That way the frosting won’t set and too quickly you’ll get the results you see in the picture below.

IMG_5250

Lesson Learned 4 – For more flavor, you can toast the pecans before adding them to the batter and on top of the cake: Just place them in a non stick pan on the stove and heat them. Remember, nuts can burn quickly so as soon as you smell them take them off of the heat.

My husband almost single handedly ate this entire cake. He loved this one. Try it and let me know what you think…

Apple Cream Cheese Cake…

  • Servings: 12=14
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:IMG_5284

Cream Cheese Filling

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

2 Tbs. flour

1 tsp. vanilla

Cake

1 cup finely chopped pecans, plus some for garnish

3 cups flour, plus 2-3 Tbs. to dust the pan

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. allspice

3 large eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten

3/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups finely chopped apples (gala or granny smith)

1 tsp shortening to grease the pan

1/2 lemon squeezed for its juice to put on the chopped apple pieces

Praline Frosting

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 Tbs. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan. Set aside. Peel core and chop the apples into small pieces. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apples as you put them in a bowl. Stir to redistribute the lemon juice every time you add more chopped apples to the bowl. Set aside.

Using a non stick pan, heat the pecans on the stove until they become fragrant. Take off the heat and set aside.

To make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, butter and sugar until well combined. Add the egg, flour and vanilla and beat until just combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and allspice. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Stir just until combined (the batter will be thick). Fold in the pecans and apples.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared bundt pan, evenly distributing the batter around the pan. Top with the cream cheese filling, leaving an inch border around the edge of the pan. Top with the remaining batter.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, invert the cake onto the wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Combine the brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan. Over medium heat bring the mixture to a boil whisking continuously. Boil for 1 minute (keep whisking). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Whisk the powdered sugar in a little at a time until the frosting is smooth. Immediately drizzle over cooled cake. Garnish with pecans.

IMG_5284

IMG_5317

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake…

I needed something quick and easy that would use the blueberries I recently purchased. How about a coffee cake? I looked through various recipes in search of what I could adapt and found one that used ingredients I already had in the house. As with most baking recipes, I had to adapt the ingredients for high altitude (and I will include that in the recipe) but I also decided to add a cinnamon streusel topping to the coffee cake, and I can tell you that was the best accompaniment to the recipe. This coffee cake takes no time to put together and judging by how it was devoured when I took it to work, it’s a great way to have something homemade, sweet and delicious without a lot of fuss.

Here are my lessons learned when making this:

The correct consistency of the batter...

The correct consistency of the batter…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t be afraid to trust your gut: As I mentioned earlier, I adapted this from a recipe I found in a Taste Of Home magazine. I new I would have to adapt the recipe for high altitude, but I also think there may have been a misprint in the recipe as it did not, in my estimation, include enough milk. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of milk. When I added that, along with the butter and egg mixture, the batter was still very dry and even slightly powdery. I knew that wasn’t right. So I began adding more milk and testing the consistency of the batter. I suggest at sea level you start with 3/4 cup of milk and check the consistency of the batter. You can always add a little more but you can’t take it away.

Because I added 4 additional tablespoons of flour (2 for each cup, a standard high altitude adjustment) I knew I might have to add a little more milk. As it was I had to double the amount of milk (I used 1 cup) and that shouldn’t be the case. So I am writing the recipe with the suggestion of using 3/4 – 1 cup of milk. As you can see the cake turned out beautifully, but would not have if I didn’t make the adjustment and trust my gut. So don’t be afraid to adjust the milk if you think the batter doesn’t look right.

IMG_5071

The butter, sugar and egg mixture…

Lesson Learned 2 – The egg, milk and butter mixture will look lumpy, and that’s ok: I am including a picture of what the egg, milk and butter mixture looks like before you add it to the dry ingredients. It looks lumpy and that’s the butter. Don’t let that bother you. It is supposed to look that way. If you don’t want to drag out your hand mixer, you can actually combine all of these ingredients at one time by hand using a whisk, which is what I did. Just make sure the butter is at room temperature before you combine all of them. It won’t work if the butter is not soft. If you choose to use a hand mixer, beat the butter and egg together first and then add the milk. Either process will work.

The consistency of the streusel

The consistency of the streusel…

Lesson Learned 3 – Making a streusel: I’ve always struggled with making a streusel. Most recipes say to either use a pastry cutter and cut the cold butter into the flour, or use two knives and do the same thing. I’ve never mastered it with knives and it seemed that every time I used the pastry cutter the butter would just stick to the blades. What I learned this time is, with patience, (what a concept) the pastry cutter actually works. The first few times I had to scrape the butter off the blades, but after a short while the butter became more incorporated into the flour and soon I was cutting the butter into the flour and got the desired pea-sized consistency necessary for a good streusel. So be patient. It actually works.

If you want something sweet that is quick and easy to make this is the recipe for you. Enjoy!

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS: 

2 cups flour (plus 4 Tbs. for high altitude)

3/4 cup sugar (2/3 cup for high altitude)

2 Tbs. baking powder (1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 extra large or jumbo egg, room temperature

3/4 – 1 cup milk (start with smaller amount and add more if needed)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

2/3 cup fresh blueberries (if using frozen add to batter frozen)

2/3 cup pecans, chopped

Vegetable shortening to grease the pan

1/2 tsp. flour for dusting the blueberries (if using fresh blueberries)

CINNAMON STREUSEL TOPPING:

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

1/3 cup flour

1/4 cup cold butter, cubed.

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan with shortening. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Slowly add small portions of additional milk to the batter if the the consistency of the batter appears too dry.

Dust the fresh blueberries with a small amount of flour and stir until the berries are slightly coated. Fold the blueberries and pecans into the batter. Spread batter into the prepared pan.

For the streusel, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon into a bowl. Cube the cold butter and cut it into the flour/sugar mixture until the mixture reaches a pea-sized consistency. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter.

Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least one half hour. Cut and serve.

Coming out of the oven...

Coming out of the oven…

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake...

Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake…

Servings suggestion: With a dollop of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon sugar...

Servings suggestion: With a dollop of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon sugar…

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

Ok, I promise I won’t inundate you with bundt cake recipes, but since I’ve not had a bundt cake pan for years and just recently bought one I simply had to have one more go at it right away. This time I tried to make a chocolate cake, not only to test the pan again but to also foray into the world of making chocolate ganache. I learned some really interesting things along the way making this recipe and I want to share them with you.

Bundt pan dusted with cocoa powder...

Bundt pan dusted with cocoa powder…

Lesson Learned 1: Dusting the bundt pan with cocoa powder instead of flour: As I mentioned in a previous post, it is imperative to take the time to grease and flour a bundt cake pan in order for the cake to come out cleanly and beautifully. You cannot skimp on this step. When I grease a bundt pan I use unsalted vegetable shortening but this time instead of dusting it with flour I dusted the pan with cocoa powder. To be honest, I’m not sure I would do it again for a couple of reasons.  First, I found it very difficult to remove the excess cocoa powder from the pan much more so than removing excess flour. It seemed like not matter how hard I tapped the pan or slightly dropped it on my butcher block the cocoa powder would not dislodge to the degree I wanted. It definitely left a heavier coating in the pan. That’s not necessarily bad, but remember cocoa powder on its own has a bitter taste and that dusting will somewhat remain on the outside of the baked cake. If you dust the pan with cocoa powder you should frost the cake. That way none of the taste of raw cocoa powder will come through. If you decide to finish off your cake by sprinkling the top with powdered sugar then dust the bundt pan with flour.

Baked cake from pan dusted with cocoa powder...

Baked cake from pan dusted with cocoa powder…

Second, I’m not sure I liked the look of the cake when I removed it from a pan dusted with cocoa powder. As you can see from the picture, the cake had, at least it seemed to me, an odd sort of matted look. I’m thinking that if I dusted the pan with flour, the cake would have looked more chocolatey brown versus looking like it had been sprayed with a light dulling lacquer. Also when I touched the cake, a darkish film would come off on my finger – I’m thinking that was a result of the combination of shortening and cocoa powder. I was not too fond of that. But, don’t get me wrong, none of this affected the tasted of the cake. The frosted cake was delicious and you could not taste the cocoa powder in anyway. I just thought I would try something a little more out of the ordinary, and though I was not 100% delighted with dusting the pan with cocoa powder, I still think this was one of the best chocolate bundt cakes I ever made!

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe makes a lot of batter: This recipe is designed for a 15 cup bundt pan so be prepared for that. If you don’t have that large of a pan (mine is a 12 cup pan) then you will need to think of other ways to use the remaining batter. Because this recipe uses 5 eggs it rises a lot, so don’t fill your pan more than three quarters full or the batter will drip over the sides. You can do a couple of things with the rest of the batter. You can make cupcakes or you can make a small loaf cake. I chose to make a small loaf cake putting the remaining batter in a 5 x 3 x 1 mini loaf pan. I just sprayed that pan with baking spray and baked it with the bundt cake. The cake took 70 minutes to bake (remember I am at high altitude so it takes longer sometimes – at sea level you can probably bake it for 60-65 minutes) and the loaf pan took 45 minutes.

IMG_4871Lesson Learned 3 – Making chocolate ganache: This was my first attempt ever at making chocolate ganache and I have to admit I should have researched it a little more before I made it. I found a process in one recipe and used it. And although the ganache turned out ok, it was not as silky as I would have wanted it. Then someone suggested I check out YouTube and I found a process I thought was better. I made my ganache over a double boiler, melting the chocolate and butter together and then adding heavy cream that has almost come to a boil and then combining the ingredients. The result is what you see in the pictures.

The Ganache...

The Ganache…

Next time I make ganache I will use the process I learned on YouTube. It is very simple. Just put your chocolate in a bowl and heat heavy cream until it’s just about ready to boil. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and let the chocolate and cream sit for two minutes. Do not touch it. After 2 minutes stir to combine. Then add about a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Stir and then frost. I think the texture will be smoother and silkier making the ganache that way.  I think my ganache was a little too thick but considering it was the first time I ever made it I think I did ok. It tasted wonderful, I just wanted it to be more glaze-like and smooth. And if you have any ideas on how to make the perfect ganache, I am all ears!

Lesson Learned 4 – Never quit trying: I almost didn’t post this recipe because I was not pleased with the way the ganache turned out. And then I thought, wait a minute, isn’t this blog not only about recipe successes but also things I learned along the way while making recipes? From my experience, the only way you learn is by trying. I don’t know of any cook or baker who has not had failures in the kitchen. And although the ganache wasn’t exactly a failure, it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. But hopefully what I am sharing when I post recipes will help minimize any slips ups you have when trying them and get you to success a lot quicker. To me, that is the purpose of this blog – to help those, like me, who never had anyone to mentor them and had to learn many things in the kitchen the hard way. And I have a feeling there are a lot of people like us out there, but just afraid to admit it.

Since I made two bundt cakes within the timeframe of one week I had a lot of cake around the house. So I brought most of this cake to work yesterday. Within a couple of hours it was gone. Only a few chocolate crumbs remained on the plate in the break room. So no matter if your ganache is beautiful or not, in the end the only thing that really matters is the taste. And I’ll clue you in on a little secret – this cake tastes divine!

Here is the recipe as well as the adjustments I had to make for high altitude. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

  • Servings: 12-16
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Cake:

1 cup cocoa powder, (more if you dust the pan with it – otherwise use 1 Tbs. of flour)

1 Tbs. unsalted vegetable shortening for greasing the cake pan

7 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped finely

1 cup boiling water

2 1/4 cups flour (plus 4 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (2 1/8 cups for high altitude)

5 eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten

1 Tbs. prepared coffee, room temperature

4 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup high altitude)

1/8 cup flour for coating the chocolate chips

Ganache:

6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

1 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

A pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour the bundt pan. Set aside.

Combine the cocoa powder and chocolate. Add the boiling water and whisk until blended and smooth. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy (at least one minute). Add the brown sugar and beat until blended. Increase the mixer speed and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time and beat until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and coffee and beat until combined.

Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the flour and sour cream in three additions beginning and ending with the flour. Pour in the chocolate, cocoa mixture and beat until the there is no light color in the batter. Combine the flour and chocolate chips and, by hand, fold the chocolate chips into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan being careful not to fill it more than 3/4 full. Bake for 60-70 minutes (70 minutes high altitude) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 – 20 minutes (I cooled mine for 20 minutes). Invert the pan onto the wire rack and lift off the pan.

Let the cake cool for at least 1 hour before frosting.

FROSTING:

Put the chocolate chips into a heat resistant bowl. Heat the heavy cream until almost boiling. Pour the heavy cream over the chips and let that mixture stand without touching it for two minutes. After two minutes stir the mixture until the chocolate and cream are combined and smooth. Add the butter and salt and stir to combine. Immediately pour over the cooled cake.

The cake batter...

The cake batter…

The cake right out of the oven...

The cake right out of the oven…

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake...

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake…

Cherry Vanilla Yogurt Bundt Cake…

I haven’t made a bundt cake in a long, long time. Every time I think of a bundt cake, I remember the scene from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the Millers bring a bundt cake to the Portocalus family dinner and Toula’s mother Maria doesn’t have a clue what “bundt” means. That was some pretty funny stuff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPvO53JHnmY

IMG_4659What I like about bundt cake molds are their artistry. They give a professional look to any recipe with very little effort. In recent years they’ve gotten fancy with bundt molds, from rose designs to vertical swirls, to picture cut outs that can define the top of the cake. I personally prefer the traditional bundt mold as its designed to allow glaze to fall down the sides of the cake in beautiful uniformity. With the newer molds if you glaze them you basically cover up the design. So all you can put on them and still see the design is powdered sugar. Dusting a cake with powdered sugar is fine, but I like to have a couple of options for decorating rather than being held to just one. 

This recipe is adapted from one I found on Pinterest. I had to adapt it to high altitude (and I’ll include both sea level and high altitude instructions). I also used frozen cherries instead of fresh (as cherries are not in season yet) and will explain what I discovered about doing that in my lessons learned. I have to admit I was surprised at how beautiful the cake turned out. I haven’t made a bundt cake in a long time. But I will definitely be making more in the future. Try this one, I think you will really enjoy it!

IMG_4577Lesson Learned 1 – What to think about when using frozen fruit: I’ve used frozen fruit before in recipes and normally if they’re smaller in size, like blueberries, I add them frozen. That way you don’t have to mix them with flour to ensure they will evenly distribute throughout the batter. But this particular recipe originally called for fresh cherries pitted and diced. Cherries are not in season now so all I had to work with were frozen ones. If you use frozen cherries, dice thaw and drain them first. Otherwise you will have huge pieces in the cake. Make sure you drain them well as they give off a lot of moisture. I would do this about an hour or so before making the cake to ensure you are getting out as much moisture as possible before putting them into the batter. Dice them while they are frozen and let them drain after that. It worked great as you can see by the pictures.

Lesson Learned 2 – Adapting for high altitude: This may not apply to many of you, but living in an area over 5,000 feet I’ve learned a few tricks, out of necessity, to make sure baked goods turn out as intended. In high altitude the air pressure is lower. The lower pressure causes baked goods to rise more easily and liquids to evaporate more quickly. If adjustments are not made to recipes, cakes can turn out dry or fall in on themselves due to the cell walls of the cake stretching (due to the lower pressure) until they burst. I can tell you from experience, I’ve had many, many disasters related to baking in high altitude.

In high altitude, flour acts as a strengthener in cakes. So I normally use only high altitude flour and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of additional flour per cup. In this recipe I only had to use 2 additional tablespoons of flour total. Sugars and fats act as tenderizers and need to be slightly reduced in recipes. Normally I reduce sugar by 1 – 2 tablespoons per cup, which I did in this case. And I always use extra large to jumbo sized eggs as they add strength to the batter. Sounds complicated I know, but once you’re faced with doing it on a regular basis you get use to it and to the point where you can eyeball a good batter consistency.  This particular cake turned out beautifully by adding 2 additional tablespoons of flour and reducing the sugar by 2 tablespoons per cup.

IMG_4601Lesson Learned 3 – The importance of greasing and flouring the bundt pan: Take the time needed to thoroughly grease and flour the bundt pan. This is a little more time consuming than it might look as there are more nooks and crannies than you may think. But take the time, make sure every area is well coated with grease (I used unsalted vegetable shortening), wipe away the excess and flour the bottom, walls and inside flute completely (as seen in the picture). Once I finished I took the pan and held it about an inch over my butcher block and dropped it. I repeated this process a couple of times. By doing this I was able to dislodge and discard any large amounts of flour remaining resulting in a nice even coating of shortening and flour. The cake dislodged beautifully (and easily) as you can see. This is a very important step so don’t skimp on this process.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using heavy cream in a glaze: Many glaze recipes are made with milk, water or juice. I like to add some heavy cream to the glaze. I find it gives the glaze a richer consistency. With this glaze I used 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of milk. That may sound like a lot, but the heavy cream does not dilute the sugar in the same way as milk. I needed to add a little more milk the get the consistency I desired. Start out by using only 1 tablespoon of milk and check the consistency of the glaze before you add more.

I was so pleased with how this cake turned out. It not only tasted good but looked like it had been made by a professional baker. So if you want a great cake and want to impress your friends as well, this is definitely the one to make!

IMG_4695

Cherry Vanilla Yogurt Bundt Cake…

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups of flour, divided (add 2 additional Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups sugar (reduce by 2 Tbs. per cup for high altitude)

3 extra large to jumbo eggs, room temperature

1 Tbs. vanilla

8 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt

8 ounces frozen cherries, diced, thawed and drained

ALMOND TOPPING:

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tsp. sugar

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbs. heavy cream

1 Tbs. milk (may need more depending on consistency)


DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-12 cup bundt cake pan. Set aside.

Sift together 2 1/2 cup flour, baking soda and salt. Using a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and incorporate completely. Beat in the vanilla.

Alternate adding the flour and yogurt to the butter mixture, starting and ending with adding flour. Do not over mix. Take cherries and toss with 1/4 cup flour. Gently fold the cherries into the cake batter until evenly distributed.

In another small bowl, stir together the almonds, sugar and melted butter. Scatter this mixture evenly on the bottom of the bundt pan. Pour the cake batter over the almond mixture dispersing it evenly in the pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool completely.

Mix together the glaze ingredients until smooth and drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.

The Consistency Of The Batter With The Frozen Cherries Incorporated...

The Consistency Of The Batter With The Frozen Cherries Incorporated…

Put The Almond Mixture Evenly In The Bottom Of The Pan...

Put The Almond Mixture Evenly In The Bottom Of The Pan…

Distribute The Batter Evenly In The Cake Pan...

Distribute The Batter Evenly In The Cake Pan…

Cool Completely Before Glazing...

Cool Completely Before Glazing…

design

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

I am loving the fact that I’m at the point where I’m not afraid to experiment with recipes or afraid to make changes in them if something just doesn’t look right. And that is the story of this recipe.

I had some strawberries that were in my refrigerator for a while and I wanted to use them before they went bad. So I started researching recipes and found one for strawberry crumb bars. I basically had all of the ingredients so I decided to try the recipe.

The original recipe called for 4 cups of chopped strawberries. After chopping up what I had I found I only had 3 cups. My initial thought was to go to the store to get more strawberries. Then I remembered I had a container of raspberries in the refrigerator as well. So I thought, maybe I’ll just chop those up and combine the two berries.

Image

Now this may sound silly, but this was a big leap for me. In the past I’ve not been one to stray from recipes or tweak them in any way. But I thought, what the heck. I cooked with raspberries before. What harm could it do to combine the two. And so I did.

The original recipe also called for only one beaten egg when making the crust/crumble. When I added one beaten egg, the dry mixture still resembled dry dusty flour. I knew the consistency of crust/crumbles should be dough-like and should somewhat hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. No such luck with only using one egg. So I added another beaten egg and the consistency still wasn’t right. I added a third and finally got the correct consistency. Doing this was huge for me. In the past I would just have gone along with the recipe and wound up with a baking disaster. This time I followed my gut and my baking knowledge and wound up with a great result. So here are my lessons learned on this fabulous recipe:

Lesson Learned 1 – Trust Your Gut: As I mentioned earlier I would always follow recipes to the letter and never deviate even if something did not look right. Now I have to put in a big caveat here. Baking is very different from cooking. Your chances of making a mistake when playing around with the ingredients when baking are much higher but in this case, especially with the crust/crumble, I knew that if the dough did not somewhat stick together when I squeezed it, it would not produce the desired results. But I was also careful. I only added in one beaten egg at a time and with the third egg I put it in a little at a time just to make sure that I wasn’t adding too much. My advice on this recipe is to use two extra large to jumbo sized eggs or three regular sized eggs. Don’t dump them in all together. Put them in one at a time and check the consistency of the dough before you add more. Once the dough somewhat sticks together when you squeeze it, you’re done.

Lesson Learned 2 – This Recipe Can Be Made With Various Berry Combinations: In my case it was strawberries and raspberries but you can make this with raspberries and blueberries or strawberries and blueberries or blackberries and strawberries or whatever combination of berries you have on hand that can be baked. Just make sure you have four cups of berries because you’ll need that amount to adequately cover the top of the cake. Also make sure to try to cut the berries into equal sized pieces. And use caution when combining them with the sugar and cornstarch. Use a folding technique rather than a stirring technique so you don’t overly bruise or rip apart the berries.

IMG_4480Lesson Learned 3 – The Importance of Using Cold Butter: In order to get a flaky crumb crust/crumble the butter needs to be very cold when mixing it with the dry ingredients. Many recipes will tell you to use a pastry cutter or two knives and cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is a pea-shaped size. I never seem to have any luck with that process so what I did was put the dry ingredients in a food processor add the cold butter pieces and pulse all of it together to get the consistency you see in the picture to the right. Two things to keep in mind – 1: Cut the butter the very first thing and put it back into the refrigerator while you prepare the berries and dry ingredients. That way the butter will be as cold as it can possibly be when you cut it into the dry ingredients. 2: If using a food processor to incorporate the butter, hold a towel over the opening so that as you pulse you don’t get a cloud of flour coming out the top of your food processor.

Other than these few lessons learned this recipe couldn’t be easier to make and the end result is one truly delicious crumb cake. Enjoy!

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 cup sugar for the dough

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cup cold butter cut into pieces

2-3 beaten eggs (extra large or jumbo size start with 2)

4 cups berries cut in evenly sized pieces (I used 3 cups strawberries & 1 cup raspberries)

1/3 cup sugar for berries

4 tsp. corn starch

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease  9 x 13 pan and set aside. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Hold a towel over the opening of the processor and pulse to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Remove the mixture from the food processor and put into a large bowl. Add a beaten egg one at a time and stir it into the mixture. (If the consistency is correct after adding two eggs, don’t add a third). The dough is of the right consistency if it sticks together when you take a handful and squeeze it.

Take half of the dough and put it in the bottom of the prepared pan and pat it down. Carefully fold together the berries, sugar and cornstarch. Spread berries on top of the dough. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the berries.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Let cake cool before slicing.

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces...

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces…

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan...

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan…

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough...

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough…

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries...

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries…