Onion, Feta, & Fig Tarts

Onion, Feta, & Fig Tarts

I cannot say that this recipe is a traditional southern one, like most of my posts are. But maybe you will find it so delicious that it will be incorporated into your traditions or celebrations.

The idea behind this recipe is simple: using farm fresh, seasonal, sustainable, and local ingredients.  A tenant which can be said to be southern. Edna Lewis and so many other inspriational southern cooks just like here based their kitchens around this idea.

Truly, there is no better food that what is local to your area and what is in season.

It is finally fig season. It lasts a very short time, but if you are lucky enough (like I was) to source fresh figs you buy them all up. Unlike my husband, I was not lucky enough to grow up with a giant fig tree close by which produced an abundant amount of the unique fruit. My mom preferred her peach tree.

As for the feta, it is locally sourced from Bootleg Farm. Savannah’s beloved goat farm which produces fresh goat cheese. Read more about them Here.

A quick carmalization on some onions and I had a winning recipe. Buttery puff pastry sits at the base for these ultra savory and slightly sweet seasonal tarts.

You can eat these savory puff pastry tarts on their own or pair them with dinner. I will post later detailing what I did with these little beauties.

Onion, Feta, & Fig Tarts

A close up of the baked tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 Box of Frozen Puff Pastry
  • 1 Pound of Fresh Figs
  • 1 Large Onion, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • 4 Ounces of Fresh Feta

Instructions

  1. Thaw the puff pastry for approximatley 30 minutes.
  2. While the puff pastry thaws, carmalize the onion.
  3. In a medium pan over medium-high heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. Once the oil is heated, put the sliced onion into the pan then add salt and pepper.
  5. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until caramlized. Set aside once cooked.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Unfold the thawed puff pastry, and slice into 12 rectangles.
  8. Fold the edges of the puff pastry over then pinch the ends together. This will create a slight well in the center.
  9. Place the prepared pastry on two baking sheets.
  10. Fill each well with crumbled feta, then carmalized onions, and finding with a topping with two slices of fresh fig.
  11. Bake for approximatley 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/07/14/onion-feta-fig-tarts/

An overhead photo of the warm tarts

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Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.

Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.

Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.

For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:

If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.

A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.

Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.

This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).

Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.

If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!

The finished loaf turned out from the pan

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

The baked bread cooling in the pan

Ingredients

  • For the Dough:
  • ⅔ Cup of Warm Whole Milk, no higher than 110°F
  • 1 Tablespoon of Sugar
  • 1 0.25 Ounce Package Dry Yeast
  • 3¼ Cups of Flour, divided
  • ¼ Cup of Butter, melted
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon of Salt
  • For the coating:
  • 1 Cup of Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of Cinnamon
  • For the Bananas Foster:
  • 4 Very Ripe Bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 4 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Cup of Firmly Packed Light Brown Sugar
  • ½ Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature
  • 3 Tablespoons of Bourbon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced

Instructions

  1. Start by making the dough.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the milk then sprinkle over the yeast and sugar. Let sit for at least 10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.
  3. With the dough hook attached, turn the speed to low. Pour in 1 cup of flour, mixing until combine. Next the melted butter, and finish 1 cup of flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs, then finish with the remaining flour and salt.
  5. Once dough is fully combined turn the speed to medium and kneed for 3-5 minutes. A soft dough should form and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, coat with spray, and allow to rise, covered, in a draft free place for one hour or until double in size.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the topping sugar and cinnamon. Mix until combined then set aside for later.
  8. Prepare your bananas fosters. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add brown sugar and butter. Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes until mixture is an amber color.
  9. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, salt, and bananas. Stir to fully coat bananas. Set aside and allow to cool.
  10. Prepare a bundt pan by coating it in cooking spray.
  11. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Once dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently shape dough into a ball.
  13. Pinch off one inch pieces, roll them into a ball, then dunk them into the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  14. Start assembling by placing a small amount of bananas fosters mix into the bottom of the pan.
  15. Create a layer of dough balls in the bottom of the pan, then coat in your bananas fosters. Continuing layering dough and sauce until the pan is full.
  16. Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
  17. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning it out.
  18. Eat!
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My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

HAVE YOU ever had famous cake pops? I have and I am never going back.

Unfortunately for me, I did not discover the professional (and television worthy) cake pops of Sweet Whimsy Shop until this year. I assure you, I have eaten my weight in cake balls to make up for lost time.

As a licensed cottage bakery, Sweet Whimsy Shop has been providing the Savannah area with unique and artful cake pops for some time and eventually made a star studded appearance on The Late Late Show. Impressively, Sweet Whimsy’s TV debut happened only three short years after opening shop doors.

Owner and master creator Becca Aronowitz quit her full time job as a middle school teacher in 2012 to begin her journey as a bakery owner. Her background in art has served her well.

“I’ve always loved creating, in any form, and I think I identify more as an artist or maker, than a baker specifically. I began taking after school art classes as a 7 year old. I have degrees in art education, and I was an art teacher for several years,” she explains.

The result is a bakery that focuses on ensuring each resulting product is a work of art. As far as cake pop art goes, she’s Andy Warhol.

Aronowitz takes the time to hand sculpt each and every cake popsicle before decorating them by hand. The attentive attention to detail is what sets her art on a stick aside from all other cake pop makers around the lowcountry. Each finished contoured, compact cake is worthy of the Louvre.

To create the luscious lollipops, Aronowitz mixes the perfect ratio of tender, moist cake with homemade frosting.

“I’ve always been committed to using scratch-baked cake & frosting for my cake pops. Many cake pop makers use boxed mixes and canned frosting, but I believe my creations should taste as good as they look, and if you’re going to make something as labor-intensive as a cake pop, shouldn’t it be worth consuming?” Aronowitz elaborates.

Using the correct amount of cake and frosting is extremely important. Too little frosting and the cake pop will be dry, crumbly, and difficult to shape; too much frosting and the resulting goodies will be overly sweet and taste only of icing.

Sweet Whimsy Shop has it down to a science. Every single lolli has a tender, slightly moist center that reveals itself upon chomping down on the crunchy outer shell of the treat. The cake itself melts in your mouth, allowing the flavoring of the pop to flood your palate.

After the cake and frosting is mixed, Aronowitz portions out each ball of cake. Then the cake ball is individually hand sculpted before being dipped into a chocolate shell.

I ask Aronowitz how she comes up with each inspired design, and she tells me, “Most of my ideas and designs are created in response to client requests. Sometimes a client will present a photo of a cake pop design she’d like reproduced. If that’s the case, and it’s not one of my designs, I try to customize it to avoid copying and I credit the original creator whenever they can be identified. Sometimes the client has a theme or general vision, and I try to create a cake pop collection that will coordinate with the theme, or realize the vision.”

For my set of cake pops, I asked that she make anything she felt like making. Aronowitz designed and delivered the cutest set of avocado, llama, taco, and cactus cake pops. The avocados are the newest addition to Sweet Whimsey’s portfolio.

Past designs have included anything from a thanksgiving turkey to taxi cab. I even found cake designed to look like a margarita glass on her website.
Inside each of my personal pops were the shop’s signature flavors, Yummy Vanilla Cake and Decadent Chocolate. Aronowitz told me that the vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavors. The chocolate was my personal favorite.

Customers have the choice for a mix-in of sprinkles or candy into their design. Kiddie Party Mix is a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles layered in and the Chocolate Rainbow Explosion features chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.

Reese’s peanut butter cups fill the Vanilla Reese’s and the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter includes chocolate with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips. My next order will definitely test out one of the Reese’s inspired creations.

I ask Aronowitz if Sweet Whimsy offers any other special flavors. “I also offer seasonal flavors, like Green Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day. During September, October, and November, I offer Pumpkin Spice. It’s made with real pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s so good! Cozy Gingerbread was introduced this winter, after a test-taste vote during one of my pop-ups in November. I can also do custom flavors, like the Blonde Velvet I made for a friend’s wedding. It’s a red velvet recipe but made without the dye; I like it better that way!”

Sweet Whimsy Shop is constantly designing and creating, like any true committed artist. The success of the cottage shop has pushed Aronowitz to expand to other mediums.

“Cake pops are still the majority of what I make, but I am slowly expanding to include other small, very cute treats. The focus will always be on edible art that is whimsical, created with precision, and great-tasting. I have figured out how to do that very well with cake pops, but the vision extends further,” she says.
To be expected, just as much detail and finesse into all of her new treats and flavors.

If you take a peek at her instagram, @sweetwhimseyshop, you will find chocolate covered Oreos (with decorations of course), rice crispy pops, and many other brilliantly designed and decorated confections.

Original article is here.

White Chocolate Mousse Tart + Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Sauce

White Chocolate Mousse Tart + Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Sauce

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope your day is filled with joy and love–even if that means cuddling your dog a little extra.

I did not plan on posting for Valentine’s Day. That all changed when I watched the latest episode of Kids Baking Championship. I watch almost any baking show available.

On the last episode, the challenge was to create a tart with crazy ingredient. Pink peppercorns were one of the ingredients given to use. So, laying in bed, watching these kids kill it in the kitchen I thought, “I can do that!”

Strawberry, chocolate, and a little spice from peppercorns just seemed like the perfect Valentines combination. So the stars aligned, and this recipe would be the perfect one to post on Valentine’s.

Also, I knew my husband would love it. Two birds, one stone.

The tart itself is nothing crazy–simple dark chocolate pate sucree (crust) sits on the bottom with a swirled airy white chocolate mousse to full it. The crazy comes in with the sauce for the top, cooked down fresh strawberries with pulverized pink peppercorns.

Pink peppercorns work perfectly with fruit because they are much more floral than normal black peppercorns. They also have less of a peppery bite.

Finished tart ready to be served

This is not a beginners recipe so as always I want to give you a few tips to help:

  • Creating a light mousse only takes a few ingredients and proper technique. You use both meringue and whipped cream. To create a perfect meringue use room temperature egg whites and ensure there is not even a fleck of egg yolk in the whites.
  • Folding is how your incorporate meringue and whipped cream into the chocolate. Folding is not like whisking or stirring. To fold you gently cut down the middle of your mixture with a spatula, then fold over one half of the mixture over the second half. Repeat until everything is blended.
  • Always chill your tart shell before rolling it out, fit the shell to the tart pan once cooled, and also chill again before baking it once it is fit into the tart pan. This will prevent shrinkage.
  • Always poke holes with a fork in the bottom of the tart dough to prevent it from puffing during baking.

White Chocolate Mousse Tart + Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Sauce

A slice of tart with sauce on top and a bite taken out

Ingredients

  • For the Crust:
  • 1/3 Stick of Cold Butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 1/3 Cups of All Purpose Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons of Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 Cup of Powdered Sugar
  • 1/8 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 Large Egg
  • For the Mousse:
  • 6 Ounces of Good White Chocolate
  • 1 1/4 Cups of Whipping Cream
  • 2 Large Egg Whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8 Teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
  • For the Sauce:
  • 1lb of Fresh Strawberries
  • Juice from 1/2 Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of Pink Peppercorns
  • 1/4 Cup of Sugar

Instructions

  1. First create the tart dough.
  2. In a food processor combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Pulse until the ingredients are combined.
  3. Next add in the cold butter. Pulse the mixture together for approximatley 15 seconds or until the mixture resembles chunky sand. You want the butter to be in shape of various sized pebbles.
  4. Add the egg into the food processor and mix until combined.
  5. Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and form it into a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and allow it rest in the fridge for one hour.
  6. While the dough chills, create your mousse.
  7. In a double boiler over medium heat, combine 1/4 cup of the whipping cream with the white chocolate.
  8. Stir continually until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Once smooth, set aside to allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  9. Next make your merigue by combining the egg whites and cream of tarter in a stand mixer. Beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff peaks form.
  10. Place the meringue in a seperate bowl, and then clean the mixing bowl.
  11. Make the whipped cream by combining the remaining heavy whipping cream and the vanilla extract in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until stiff whipped cream forms.
  12. In a large bowl, fold 1/2 of your meringue into the white chocolate until it is fully incorporated. Fold the remaining 1/2 of meringue into the mixture.
  13. Next fold 1/2 of your whipped cream into the merigue and white chocolate mixture until it is well combined. After fully combined, fold in the remaining 1/2.
  14. Cover and allow the white chocolate mousse to rest in the fridge while you finish the tart crust.
  15. After the tart dough has chilled for one hour, place your dough on a well floured surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll out your tart dough into a sphere that is two inches larger than the tart pan you plan to use.
  16. Place the tart dough into the pan and pressing it in. You want to form the dough to the pan completely then trim off the ends. Poke the bottom of the tart pan with a fork.
  17. Place the tart pan in the fridge to allow the dough to cool while you preheat your oven. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  18. Once the oven is heated, line the dough with parchment paper then fill it with pie weights.
  19. Bake for 20 minutes.
  20. Allow the crust to cool completely before filling it.
  21. While the crust cools, create your strawberry sauce.
  22. Rinse, hull, and slice your strawberries into large chunks.
  23. Place the strawberries into a small saucepan along with the sugar and lemon juice.
  24. Heat the mixture over medium heat until it reaches a boil.
  25. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the strawberries to cook for 20 minutes.
  26. While the strawberries cook, grind or pulverize the pink peppercorns into a course powder.
  27. After 20 minutes is up, remove the strawberry sauce from the heat and stir in the pink pepper. Set the mixture aside to cool.
  28. Finish the tart by smoothing the white chocolate mousse into the chilled tart shell. Then, allow it to set up in the fridge for at least one hour.
  29. Slice and serve the tart with the stawberry sauce.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/02/14/white-chocolate-mousse-tart-pink-peppercorn-strawberry-sauce/

A close up of the tart

Chai Milk Cake

Chai Milk Cake

Being able to bake a cake is the cornerstone of becoming a good baker–especially an at-home baker. But if you are anything like me (I have been baking since my teenage years), you may feel as though you have baked every type of cake there is. After enough time you start pulling away from baking the same old cakes, and bake new and exiting things. At least until a new and exciting cake idea comes along.

A few weeks ago I read about the idea of a milk cake and was thrilled – I found a cake I have never made before.

The concept is simple. Much like a tres leches cake, you bake a dense cake then soak it in flavored milk. The result is half custard, half super moist cake. The milk mixture for the soak is similar to that of a tres leches, but you take the time to flavor the cream by heating it up and steeping it.

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Like many of my recipes, you can steep the milk with anything. Any tea, honey, cinnamon, vanilla–the list is endless.

Within the last year I have started to like chai tea. The spicy flavors of chai tea steeped in the milk soak would be the perfect balance to a sweet and sticky cake. I carried the flavor of the chai tea into the topping for the cake.

Again, this cake would pair well with many toppings, whipped cream, caramel, and most fruits. I chose to make a fig, apricot, golden raisin compote to keep with the theme of warm winter flavors.

After testing the recipe out, I served it at a quaint little dinner party last weekend. I normally find fault in my own baked goods but could not find much fault in this cake. The cake did not last through the weekend.

Chai Milk Cake

Milk being poured over the finished cake

Ingredients

  • For the Compote:
  • 2 Cups of Water
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Honey
  • 1 Chai Tea Bag
  • 1/2 Cup of Dried Apricots, quartered
  • 1/2 Cup of Dried Figs, quartered
  • 1/2 Cup of Golden Raisins
  • 1/2 Vanilla Bean
  • 2 Tablespoons of Whiskey
  • For the Cake:
  • 2 Sticks of Butter, softened
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 of a Vanilla Bean
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Cup of Whole Milk
  • For the Soak:
  • 1 - 12 Ounce Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 - 15 Ounce Can of Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 5 Chai Tea Bags

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, honey, and 1 chai tea bag. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Next stir in the raisins, figs, apricots, whiskey, and the scrapings from the inside of the vanilla bean.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture for 5 minutes before removing the tea bag.
  4. Cook the mixture for an additional 10 minutes, or until the liquid turns to a light syrup.
  5. Set the mixture aside to cool before serving.
  6. For the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan and set aside for later.
  7. In your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This takes about 5 minutes.
  8. Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined and the mixture is fluffy.
  9. Combine all of your dry ingredients, then slowly sift in one-half of the dry mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until combined.
  10. Next add in the milk, vanilla extract, and the scraped inside of the vanilla pod. Mix until combined.
  11. Finally, add the remaining one-half of the dry mixture, mixing until fully combined.
  12. Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  13. Once your cake is baked, remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  14. While the cake cools, prepare your chai milk soak mixture.
  15. In a small saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for your milk soak.
  16. Over medium heat, bring the mixture close to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Allow the tea to steep uncovered for 10 minutes.
  17. After they have steeped, remove the tea bags from milk mixture.
  18. Turn out your cake onto its serving tray. Gently pour your milk mixture onto the cake.
  19. The soak will not fully absorb initially, so spoon any extra soak back onto the cake before serving.
  20. Serve the cake with the compote. The cake will last one day.
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Finsihed soaked cake topped with compote

 

Lemon & Cream Cheese Babka

Lemon & Cream Cheese Babka

I will be the first to admit that I am not a professional baker. I have baked for many, many years, but am in no way at the level of professional. I have just as many bad days in the kitchen as good ones.

This is especially true when it comes to yeast. Yeast is my kryptonite.
Anytime I go into the kitchen with plans to bake yeast risen bread, I am fully prepared to have the bake come out wrong. The silver lining is that you can always learn by messing up.

This past weekend may have been my worst weekend in the kitchen to date. I decided to challenge myself by attempting a Babka. A Babka is a traditional Jewish sweet yeast risen bread that is swirled with chocolate or cinnamon. The bread dough itself is basically a brioche dough. Technically speaking, it is medium of the difficulty of yeast breads.

Three days and four attempts is what it took to get this recipe right. I threw out two doughs and one finished loaf before the fourth and final loaf came out soft and pillow-like. So you do not make the same mistakes, I wanted to share what I learned from my experience. What else is a blog good for?

As for the filling, (per usual) I did not want to take the traditional route. My husband’s grandmother gave me a some homegrown lemons. Her lemon tree yielded for the first time this winter. Lemon is the perfect pick-me-up during the cold months when we lack sun and fresh ingredients. I juiced and zested them, combined them with softened cream cheese, then rolled the mixture up into the dough. My poor husband had to go to the store to get me more cream cheese after I threw out my third attempt.

The finished loaf is delightfully sweet, with a hint of tang. I think a glob of raspberry jelly would adorn a slice of fresh baked lemon cream cheese babka perfectly.

Several slices of lemon cream cheese babka sitting on a wood tray

What I learned throwing out three batches of babka dough:

Batch one and two:

  • Always check your yeast. Yeast will last in the fridge, but of course not forever. Instead of wasting your time making an entire batch of dough to only realize that it will not rise, take the first 5 minutes and make sure the yeast you are using is alive. It is simple, always bloom your yeast in warm water or milk (depending on the recipe). If it sits for 5-10 minutes and it is not bubbly…your yeast is bad. If it is bubbly…it is living!
  • Make sure your ingredients are not cold. If you know you are baking with yeast, set out your eggs, flour (if you store it in the fridge), etc in advance to ensure it is they are room temperature. Cold items will slow down the growth of your yeast. Just like a warm environment will speed up the yeast’s growth.

Batch three:

  • Kneed your dough for longer that you think. Let me explain: Written recipes have various times for kneading dough with a stand mixer. Truly you can only tell when a dough is ready by touch or sight. Just because a recipe says knead for 5 minutes, does not mean that dough will be ready to rise after 5 minutes of kneading. It is easiest to tell when a dough is ready by kneading it by hand. If that is not you (me either), then you must look at your dough to see if it has been kneaded enough. If the recipe says the dough should “pull away from the bowl and form a soft smooth dough”, then make sure it does just that. Otherwise your finished bread will be more like cake than bread.
  • It often takes longer than the recipe says to let your dough double during a rise. Each home and each region is different. For example, I live in the deep south where it is humid. So during the summer it may take less time for my dough to rise. Right now it is dead of winter, and it took a bit longer for my dough to rise to double. My house was very cold. The moral of the story–watch your dough and only move on to the next step when the dough has actually doubled. Do not simply let it sit for the time designated in the recipe.
  • This is babka specific. Some methods call for slicing your rolled up dough down the middle then twisting it. Next, you stuff it into your bread pan to allow it to rise. The finished loaf has exposed filling on the top. The slicing method works great for certain fillings, but not all fillings. Cinnamon sugar or chocolate are ideal, cream cheese is not ideal to cook exposed to the heat of your oven. For my version I used a different method, I did not slice the dough. I rolled it up then twisted it together before placing it in the loaf pan. This way the filling stayed inside of the bread without being directly exposed to the heat of the oven. Consider the method of babka rolling you want to use based upon the type of filling you stick in your babka. Literally you can stuff anything inside a babka, sweet or savory.Upclose picture of the inside of the lemon swirrled babka

Lemon & Cream Cheese Babka

Sliced loaf of babka being presented by the baker on a wood serving board

Ingredients

  • For the dough:
  • 3 Cups of All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup of Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Warm Milk, between 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of Yeast
  • Zest from 1 Lemon
  • 1 Stick of Butter, softened
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of Salt
  • For the filling:
  • 1 Eight Ounce Block of Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 Cup of Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl bloom your yeast: Pour in warm milk then sprinkle your yeast over the top. Do not stir. Allow the yeast to bloom for approximately 5 minutes, or until small bubbles form.
  2. While you yeast blooms, prepare your stand mixer. In the mixing bowl, with a dough hook attached, combine your flour and sugar.
  3. After you yeast has bloomed, pour it into the flour mixture. Turn you stand mixer on low and allow it to begin mixing.
  4. Next add in your eggs and vanilla. Mix until it all comes together. If the mixtures looks too dry and crumbly add in more milk.
  5. Turn you mixer up to medium and add in your butter one tablespoon at a time. Let each piece of butter fully incorporate before adding the next. When you are ready to add in the last piece of butter, pour in your salt as well.
  6. Knead the dough on medium speed for approximately 10 minutes, or until a smooth elastic dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl forms.
  7. Place the finished dough in a bowl that is coated in cooking spray, then spray cooking spray over the top of the dough. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  8. Allow the dough to rise, in a draft free place, for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
  9. While you dough rises, create your filling.
  10. In a small bowl, zest and juice your lemon.
  11. Next, whisk in the remaining ingredients to the lemon filling until the mixture is smooth and fully combined. Set aside, covered, until ready to use.
  12. Once the dough has doubled, gently turn it out onto a heavily floured surface.
  13. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to create a 16x12 inch rectangle.
  14. Spread your lemon cream cheese filling onto the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch space around the outside of the dough.
  15. Starting at the short side, roll up your dough like you would a jelly roll. Press the ends into the roll to seal.
  16. Fold your roll in half, then twist the halves around itself at least four times.
  17. Place the loaf into a greased bread pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise to double. At least 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.
  18. Once doubled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fairenhiet.
  19. Bake the bread for 30 minutes on the middle rack. After 30 minutes, bake it for an additional 30 minutes covered in aluminum foil to avoid over browning.
  20. A thermometer in the middle should read 190 degrees. If after an hour of baking the middle is not done, cook the loaf for an additional 10 minutes.
  21. Let bread cool before slicing.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2019/01/25/lemon-cream-cheese-babka/

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A cake tasting with The Topiary Cake Design

A cake tasting with The Topiary Cake Design

While attending a specialty-coursed dinner at Cotton and Rye a few short weeks ago, I found myself sitting at a table with several foodie strangers.

As the night progressed and the alcohol flowed, those strangers quickly turned into acquaintances through our shared love of food and baking. We bantered back and forth, over food and about food, and the conversation quickly changed to baking as I learned more about my neighbor, Calley Sholder, the owner and baker of The Topiary Cake Design.

It was brought to my attention that the seating arrangement was intentional. Cotton and Rye’s Chef Zach Shultz and his girlfriend Caroline Bradley think highly of Sholder’s baking skills and arranged the meeting.

As an at-home baker of many years, I was quick to take the opportunity to write about a fellow baker since I know just how difficult it is to be successful in the oven.

Chef Shultz and Bradley were correct, The Topiary creates utterly delectable yet beautifully layered cakes — two qualities that are so often not found together when purchasing a cake for a special occasion.

It is extremely difficult to maintain the moistness of a layered cake without compromising its design, because the more moist the cake, the less sturdy the finish will be.

Sholder began her cake journey after moving down to Savannah from Rhode Island. She struggled for several months to find a job with any local bakeries, so Sholder did the brave thing and started her own.

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It was divine intervention that made Sholder take her first step, and as she put it “I finally got a catering job, but it made me realize that I wanted to focus strictly on specialty cakes. In 2018, the Topiary Cake Design was born.”

My favorite flavor of The Topiary was The Corn Field Cake. A cake that is completely original and nothing like a cake that I have tasted before. I enjoy seeing and tasting unique flavor combinations that bakers come up with, partially because it inspires my own baking.

The flavor combination and recipe is Sholder’s own creation. She proudly told me the story behind the cake: “In high school, I had my own cupcake business. My sister and I were experimenting with unique flavors. Because we were living in the south in Mobile Alabama, we thought why not do a cornbread inspired cake?,” she recalls.

“We wanted to make sure that the cake was not as coarse and dense. It still had to have that lightness that all cakes have…I would honestly say this is my specialty.”

A cornmeal and flour mixture is used to create the delicate cake that taste like a distant cousin to sweet Southern cornbread. In between each layer you will find tart raspberry compote and a hot (as in spicy) honey buttercream. The hot honey is created by cooking red peppers into the honey.

Although Sholder described the cake as rustic, while I was eating a slice, I have to disagree. The overall finish and flavor of the cake is a culinary dream, completely balanced without being oversweet. I would describe the cake as sophisticated yet southern.

Another fruity favorite is the Blackberry Chip, a super moist blackberry cake created with fresh seeded blackberries, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Each layer of vibrant violet cake is filled with silky smooth vanilla Italian buttercream.

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Sholder explained the origin of her unique layered treat: “My blackberry chip is a play on Black Raspberry Chip from Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a kid, I would always get their ice cream and that flavor was by far my favorite. I decided to use blackberries instead of black raspberry to put a slight twist on it.” Adding a slight twist to things seems to be The Topiary’s calling card.

All of the frosting slathered onto every cake is created using the same method. Sholderd told me, “I make Italian style buttercream which means you cook sugar and water on the stove to make syrup, then whip it into egg whites. Once it is cooled you add your butter. Even though this technique takes the longest amount of time, it is better than any other frosting you will taste…It is not overly sweet but so silky smooth!”

The Cookie Dough Cake is one that I am certain will appeal to everyone alike. Sholder browns butter before adding it to the cake batter, creating a brown butter cake. This takes a typical vanilla cake base to the next level by adding an extra note of taste, which is reminiscent of the deep butterscotch flavor found in the base of a chocolate chip cookie.

Sholder doesn’t stop there — she adds even more cookie flavor with a hearty layer of eggless cookie dough jammed in between each cake round. The final addition is her classic vanilla Italian buttercream.

The most modern flavor was The Creme Brûlée Cake. Soft white cake is seasoned with a wisp of fresh vanilla bean. The use of vanilla bean creates a more floral experience of vanilla flavor than just using extract alone.

Sticky homemade caramel is painted onto each cake before it is filled with airy vanilla bean buttercream. The moistness of this cake is created with the use of lots of sour cream and butter.

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Finally, the last cake slice I ate was The Chocolate Lover, my all time favorite traditional cake flavor. Like all of the cakes I tasted, this one was as moist as the last. Light layers of deeply flavored chocolate cake are layered with rich chocolate buttercream.

Although this cake is a take on a classic flavor, the overall finish was far from a classic chocolate celebration cake; this was moist and had the correct balance of chocolate.

The Topiary is not just limited to cakes, they also offer cake pops and plan on expanding to more desserts in the future. Sholder even mentioned the desire to expand into ice cream creation.

Original article can be found here.

Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

Just as fast as they went last year, the holidays are upon us again. Although my waistline hates it, my heart gets excited to bake and cook as much as humanly possible over then next few months.

Which means this week, I have been testing recipes so I can bring the perfect dessert to our Thanksgiving feast. When coming up with recipes I like to take classics and add a slight twist, so a macadamia nut pie, instead of pecan, was on my list to try out. I will post the recipe soon.

This past weekend we had some friends over for a laid back night (but also so I could test out my pie recipe on them). Filet, truffle mashed potatoes, rosemary focaccia, and a few stout beers later, we were almost – almost – too full to eat pie. We still ate it though. And I am happy to report that the pie only needs one or two tweaks.

The next morning, waking up full and happy, I realized I had a bit of my stout beer left over. I do not like to waste food, so it was the perfect opportunity to throw a second dessert contestant into the mix. For some reason I could not get the idea of a stout bundt cake out of my head, so I began baking.

An upclose picture of the salted caramle glaze

I used a Dutch process cocoa powder, which is darker than the normal stuff, because I had it leftover from a previous recipe that I tested. Also, the use of cake flour would be perfect to lighten the dense texture of a chocolate bundt cake.

The only issue was deciding on what to top the cake with. Flavor contenders included espresso, caramel, and more chocolate. My husband does not love chocolate cake, so I landed on caramel to ensure that he would like this cake. The last touch, a little salt in the caramel to cut through the very decedent flavors.

This recipe turned out better than I could have imagined, and I didn’t have to change a single thing in the recipe. This may be one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever baked, and I will definitely proudly take it to our festivities on Thursday.

Confession: As soon as the cake was cooled and I snapped a few pictures, I ate a slice for lunch. That is the reason there are so few pictures in this post.

…I ate a second slice after dinner that night.

A slice of chocolate cake with salted caramel on top

Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

A fininished chocolate cake sits next to an empty bowl of caramel glaze

Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks of Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Cup of Good Stout Beer
  • 3/4 Cup of Dutch Process Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups of Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 3/4 Cup of Sour Cream
  • For the Salted Caramel Glaze
  • 5 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1/2 Cup of Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup of Heavy Cream
  • 2 Tablespoons of Stout Beer
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 Cup of Powdered Sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Prepare your bundt cake pan by greasing it then coating it in cocoa powder. Be sure to shake out any excess cocoa powder. Set the pan aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt your butter.
  4. Once the butter is melted, remove your butter from the heat and whisky in your stout beer, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Set the mixture aside to cool.
  5. In another bowl, sift together your sugar, flour, salt, and baking soda.
  6. Starting with your dry mixture, whisk in 1/3 of the mixture into your cooled butter mixture. Whisk until fully combined.
  7. Next whisk in one egg, followed by the next 1/3 of your dry mixture. Mixing until combined. Whisk in your sour cream, then the last portion of your dry mixture, and finally your last egg. Mix until well combined.
  8. Pour your batter into your prepared cake pan.
  9. Bake the cake on middle rack for approximately 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  10. Let the cake cool on the counter for at least one hour before glazing.
  11. While cake cools, prepare your glaze.
  12. In a small sauce pan, combine your brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt.
  13. Cook mixture over medium heat until it reaches a boil.
  14. Once at a boil cook the mixture for an additional 3 minutes, stirring constantly. You want to make sure all of the brown sugar cooks into the butter, so you do not have a grainy caramel.
  15. Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
  16. Once cooled, sift in your powdered sugar then whisk in your stout beer. You want the mixture to be thick yet pourable. You can add more powdered sugar if needed.
  17. Once the cake is completely cooled and removed from the pan, pour your glaze over the top of the cake.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2018/11/19/chocolate-stout-bundt-cake/

Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

After reading the title, you may be asking yourself–what the heck is burnt cinnamon? When I first heard of it, I thought the same thing. Of course I was curious to know what it tasted like, so baking time ensued after a short deliberation on how to use it.

I will say this–making burnt cinnamon is one of the easiest things ever. You literally take a cinnamon stick, place it on a sheet pan, and torch it with a brulee torch. Voila! You have burnt cinnamon.

Charring the outside changes the flavor of the cinnamon. It mellows it out and adds roasted chocolatey notes. It only changes the flavor slightly, so you can use it in any recipe that calls for cinnamon.

I am hooked. I will probably forever char my cinnamon before adding it to a recipe.

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After it is charred you can grate it yourself, or steep in it milk to transfer the flavor. For this recipe I did both.

Since the air is so crisp and cool out, completely unlike the low country, I wanted to use a few falls flavors. Do not get me wrong, I love pumpkin but I wanted to stay clear of it as a fall flavor. Maple seemed ideal, and would be easy to impart into any recipe as the sweetener.

I created these tiny cakes by baking them in a maple leaf cake mold. You can bake the batter in any miniature cake mold or bake the entire cake in a bunt cake pan. I recommend a bunt cake pan, if you go big, because the batter results in a denser cake.

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Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1 Stick of Butter, softened
  • 1/2 Cup of Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1/2 Cup of Maple Syrup
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1/2 Cup of Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Flour
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 Cup of Powdered Sugar

Instructions

  1. Burn the outside of your cinnamon stick with a torch. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once cooled grate 1/2 teaspoon from the cinnamon stick and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine your milk and cinnamon stick. Bring to a low simmer then cover and let steep for approximately 15 minutes. Set milk aside to let cool before using.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare your cake pan by coating it in butter then flour. Be sure to shake out the excess flour.
  5. In your stand mixer, cream together your butter and brown sugar. Beat on medium for approximately five minutes or until light and fluffy.
  6. While the butter mixes, prepare your dry mix. In a bowl mix together your flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and grated burnt cinnamon. Set aside.
  7. In another bowl, whisk together your eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, vanilla, and maple syrup. Set aside.
  8. With the stand mixer on low, mix in 1/3 of your dry mixture. Next, mix in 1/3 of your wet mixture. Continue alternating between wet and dry, ending on the addition of the final 1/3 of your we mixture. Do not over mix.
  9. Pour your batter into the desired pan and level off. If using mini cake pans, only fill each one until 2/3 full.
  10. Bake your mini cakes for 20 minutes. For a full cake, it should take approximately 45 mintues to bake. To check doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake and if it comes out clean the cake is baked.
  11. Remove the cake(s)from oven and allow to cool completely before glazing.
  12. To create the glaze, combine powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon milk. Whisk together until smooth, add more milk as needed if glaze is too thick. You want the glaze to resemble a thin paste.
  13. Glaze the outside of a large cake by pouring the glaze over the cake. For the small cakes, you can dunk the tops into the glaze.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2018/10/24/maple-burnt-cinnamon-cakes/

Cherry Upside-Down Layer Cake

Cherry Upside-Down Layer Cake

This year was a big year for me—I turned the big 3-0. I know, by no means is thirty old, but it has taken some time for me to get used to the idea. That is the reason why this post is so late. My birthday was several months ago.

Almost every year for my birthday, I make myself a cake. My opinion is who better to do the job than yourself? Personally, I do not like super sweet, sugary cakes. I can count the number of cakes that I have truly enjoyed on one hand. So, the challenge this year was to make a balanced, grown-up cake; something truly representative of my new age.

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One trick to cutting down on the sweetness of a cake is to replace traditional icing with whipped cream. The use of tart fresh cherries would also help to counter balance the sugary cake layers. The overall result was perfect, a light, sophisticated, and beautiful (in taste and look) cake.

This recipe forgoes traditional livening ingredients, baking soda/powder, and replaces them with folded in egg whites. Which means you will need to be a bit more careful with your bake.

I used three eight inch cake pans for my version, which created pretty thin layers. If you like thicker layers, I recommend switching the eight inch pans for three six inch pans.

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Cherry Upside-Down Layer Cake

Cherry Upside-Down Layer Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks of Butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 Cups plus 1 Tablespoon of Granulated Sugar
  • 6 Eggs, divided into yolks and whites
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Almond Flour
  • 1 Cup of Cake Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 Cup of Fresh or Frozen Cherries, pitted and sliced into halves
  • 2 Cups of Heavy Whipping Cream

Instructions

  1. Prepare your cake pans by buttering and flouring them, then placing a round of parchment paper on the bottom of each pan.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. In your stand mixer, whip together your butter and 1 cup of granulated sugar. Beat on medium speed for approximately 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  4. While your butter whips, in a small bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of sugar, both flours, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix until combined, then set aside.
  5. In another small bowl, whip together 6 egg yolks, the juice of one lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  6. With the stand mixer on low, add in 1/3 of your wet mixture, followed by 1/3 of your dry mixture. Continue alternating and adding until everything is combined.
  7. In a separate stand mixer bowl, beat together your egg whites and 1 tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form.
  8. Working in thirds, gently fold the whipped egg whites into your cake batter. Set aside.
  9. In a small bowl, mix together your cherries, the juice of one lemon, and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Pour the cherries onto the bottom of one cake pan, then spread into one even layer.
  10. Divide and spread the cake batter evenly among your three cake pans.
  11. Place the pans in the oven and bake for approximately 30- 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  12. Once baked, remove cakes from oven and allow to cool, on a wire rack, for at least one hour before layering your cake.
  13. While the cake cools, prepare your whipped cream.
  14. In your stand mixer, combine the heavy whipping cream, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Beat on medium speed until the mixture forms firm whipped cream.
  15. Build the layer cake by layering each level with whipped cream. The last layer should end with cherries on top.
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https://epicuropedia.com/2018/10/12/cherry-upside-down-layer-cake/

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