when life gives you (Meyer) lemons…

A few weeks ago when I was scoping out produce at my food co-op I spotted some beautiful Meyer lemons and just had to pick a few up.  I had never used them before but knew that they were supposed to be sweeter and less acidic than traditional lemons and plus they were so small and pretty that I simply could not resist.

I found a wonderful recipe for lemon pudding cake in one of my cookbooks and substituted three Meyer lemons in place of two traditional ones and it turned out beautifully.  I was not sure what to expect of pudding cake, but it truly is like it sounds.  The top part is a light-as-air and spongy cake and the bottom is a moist and delicious pudding.  It’s one of those desserts where you don’t feel like a stuffed fatty afterwards which I am always grateful for.  And better yet it is so simple to make.  When I see recipes where you have to separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and fluff the whites and then fold them into the batter I get nervous, not gonna lie, but if you have a stand mixer the whole process is a piece o’ cake.  If you don’t have a stand mixer you can still make it work but you’re going to have to stand with a handmixer fluffing those whites for a good three minutes.  Well worth it.

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Gourmet Today” by Ruth Reichl)

  • 3 Meyer lemons (2 large traditional lemons)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Rounded ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter gratin dish.

Finely grate 1 tablespoon zest from lemons, then squeeze 6 tablespoons juice.

Whisk together flour, salt, and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk together yolks, milk, zest, and juice in a small bowl and add to flour mixture, whisking until just combined.

Beat whites in another large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with whisk attachment if using a stand mixer) until they hold soft peaks.  Beat in remaining ¼ cup sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.  Whisk about one quarter of whites into batter to lighten it, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly (batter will be thin.)

Pour batter into gratin dish.  Put dish in a small roasting pan and put pan in oven.  Add enough boiling water to pan to reach halfway up sides of gratin dish.  Bake until cake is puffed and golden, 45 to 50 minutes.  Transfer to a rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

rhubarb crumb bars

I’m so glad it’s rhubarb season again.  Even though I had eaten rhubarb in various forms over the years last spring was the first time I ever prepared anything with it.  Rhubarb pie is awesome and rhubarb fool is not to shabby either.

This time I decided to try a rhubarb bar recipe and found one with a crumb topping from Martha.  Who doesn’t like a crumb topping?

This recipe has several dimensions.  The bottom layer is a sweet and moist cake, followed by the rhubarb layer, and then topped with the butter/flour/brown sugar crumb topping.  A major winner, and not complicated to assemble in the least.  Get to it!

Rhubarb Crumb Bars (from www.marthastewart.com)

For the Streusel

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Cake

  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.

Make streusel: Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt. Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make cake: In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour. In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with rhubarb and top with streusel.

Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan. Cut into 16 bars.

flourless chocolate cake

Ah, spring.  You have arrived!  Over the past week I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the overgrown bush outside my front door is in fact a lilac bush.  Nice!  I am going to trim it a bit this week so I can enjoy the lilac fragrance indoors.  (Don’t tell my landlord.)

In other spring news, I baked a flourless chocolate cake for you.

This recipe is so simple.  It can be made from scratch to finished product in 45 minutes.  And also its delicious.  And gluten-free!

If you are making this for a birthday, as I did, don’t expect it to be birthday cake-like.  We took to referring to it as the “brownie-cake.”  It is rather flat and is so rich that no frosting is required so does not resemble a typical cake but it will still knock the socks off of all who eat it.  I converted a few naysayers who were skeptical of gluten-free baking with this cake.  It’s magical.  Just like spring.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (recipe found at www.epicurious.com from Gourmet magazine, November 1997)

  • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

vegan gluten-free cupcakes are pretty good, it turns out

Gluten-free baking is a bit of a challenge, I’m not going to lie.  You have to buy a lot of different kinds of flours to blend together and then add a gum (like xantham or guar, not Wrigley’s) to take the place of traditional wheat flour.  And these other flours and gums are not cheap.  It makes sense, since wheat is subsidized in this country, but still.  You better believe I will use every last tablespoon of these flours even after Lent is over…  But I digress.

A few weeks ago when I knew I was giving up wheat I decided to order a few gluten-free baking cookbooks I had been eyeing on Amazon.  One of them was from a very well-respected gluten-free vegan bakery in NYC.  Vegan bakery?  Say what?  Seems kind of counter-intuitive, right?  Even though I never got around to visiting this bakery when I lived in New York (a wrong I intend to right on my next visit) I always heard great things so decided to test it out.

And you know what?  The results were pretty darn good.  I even had a few coworkers say they were the best cupcakes they ever had.

Even though the cookbook provided dairy-free frosting recipes I opted to thaw out some leftover strawberry mascarpone frosting from an earlier baking experiment that is decidedly not vegan but you can frost however you see fit.

Vanilla Cupcakes (from “Babycakes” cookbook by Erin McKenna)

  • 2 cups garbanzo-fava bean flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • ½ cup arrowroot (I substituted tapioca flour and it worked just fine)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/3 cups agave nectar
  • ¾ cup homemade applesauce or store-bough unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, potato starch, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt.  Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, vanilla, and lemon zest to the dry ingredients and combine.  Stir in the hot water and mix until the batter is smooth.

Pour 1/3 cup batter into each prepared cup, almost filling it.  Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the tins 180 degrees after 15 minutes.  The finished cupcakes will be golden brown and will bounce back when pressure is applied gently to the center.

Let the cupcakes stand in the tins for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.  Using a frosting knife, gently spread 1 tablespoon vanilla frosting over each cupcake.  Store the cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting (NOT vegan, clearly)

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ strawberries, cleaned and pureed in food processor or blender

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat butter and mascarpone cheese until smooth.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy.  Stir in pureed strawberries with a spatula.

a Fat Tuesday cake for you

I’m going to start with the bad news: unfortunately I did not bring home a prize at this year’s bake-off.  I was bummed but have consoled myself with these two thoughts: 1) a second trophy would just be plain ostentatious on top of my fridge, and 2) this cake recipe was not meant to be consumed in one-square-inch portions.

You see, at this bake-off we were asked to cut our desserts into one-square-inch pieces so that many people would be able to sample them and then vote for their favorite.  Problem is, this cake is best enjoyed as one big sloppy piece.  It’s a triple layer cake and you gotta get all three layers and the frosting in a single bite to capture all of its wonderment.  You live, you learn.

I  will admit that this recipe is not for every home baker.  If you are looking for a simple cake to make for a loved one’s birthday, this ain’t it.  This is the cake you make when you’ve got a few hours to spare and really want to impress people with something a little out of the ordinary.

My mom has a rule that any recipe she tries has to be two pages or less– if it’s more than two pages she says it’s too complicated.  Well Mom, this is a three-pager.  Sorry.

It starts out with a white chocolate/malt/milk powder crunch.  Then there’s the malt fudge sauce.  And the malt chocolate cake.

The one fussy thing about this recipe that I don’t love is that you have to whip up egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold the egg whites into the batter.  It takes an extra seven minutes to do and then you have to figure out what to do with the egg yolks you don’t need, (I froze mine to save for ice cream-making at a later date) but I will admit it makes for a nice light, fluffy cake.

Once you’ve made the malt crunch, the malt fudge, and the malt cake you start to layer them up…

…and up…

…and up.

Then you whip up some cocoa mascarpone frosting and frost the heck out of those layers.  I mean, who says this cake is not a winner?  In my book it is.

Chocolate Malt Crunch Cake

Malt Crunch (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • ¾ cup milk powder
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • ¾ cup malt powder

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine ½ cup of the milk powder (reserve ¼ cup for later), flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.  Toss with your hands to mix.  Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat- lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl.  Add the reserved ¼ cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour half of the melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed.  Then add the malt powder and toss with the milk crumbs until all of the crumbs are a light brown.

Pour the remaining melted white chocolate over the crumbs and continue tossing until all of the clusters are enrobed.  Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to cool and then toss again and break up large clusters.  The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.

Malt Fudge Sauce (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • 2 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup malt powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate, malt powder, molasses, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir intermittently while bringing to boil over high heat.  The moment it boils, pour it into the bowl holding the chocolate.  Let sit for 1 full minute.

Slowly begin to whisk the mixture.  Then continue, increasing the vigor of your whisking every 30 seconds, until the mixture is glossy and silky-smooth.  The sauce can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks; do not freeze.

Chocolate Malt Cake (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup malted milk powder
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups ice cold water
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.  Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together into a large bowl.  Whisk in the malted milk powder.  Set aside

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low.  Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form.  Do not over-beat.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake for 40 minutes to 45 minutes, rotating the pans twice during the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely.  Remove the parchment.

 

Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting

  • 1      (8-ounce) package mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1      stick butter, softened
  • 2      cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ¾      cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3.5      oz. milk chocolate bar, chopped and melted

Blend mascarpone cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl with beater or stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined. Add cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar and blend on low.  Add melted milk chocolate and blend until smooth.

Assemble Cake:

Place one cake round on plate.  Re-heat the Malt Fudge Sauce if necessary by microwaving at 30-second intervals in the microwave until at spreadable consistency.  Spread approximately half of the Malt Fudge Sauce over the cake and smooth with a spatula.  Sprinkle about ½ cup of the Malt Crunch over the fudge.  Place second cake round on top and repeat with Malt Fudge Sauce layer and Malt Crunch.  Place third cake round on top.  Frost top and sides of cake with Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting.