Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lemon Poppy Seed with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting and Raspberry Puree

Hi! I'm back home for a couple days before I have to head out for another work trip (this month has been crazy, you guys! Can't wait for things to settle down a little in March). The night I got back, I was able to join some of our family and closest friends to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my baby sister. Kenzie is ten years younger than me, so the fact that she's getting married is a little surreal and is making me feel far older than I feel comfortable with. We're so excited for Kenzie and Stephen, and I'm particularly eager about their wedding cakes... because I'll be making them! Stayed tuned for all of that!

For Kenzie's wedding shower cake, I went with the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (slightly adapted from Technicolor Kitchen). This is my go-to wedding shower or baby shower cake. The ladies love it and there's never a single crumb leftover. You can make it with the raspberry puree or without. (You could also use raspberry jam or preserves if you want to save a little time.) The original recipe doesn't have raspberry in it, but I love raspberry and lemon together and think it works so well in this cake.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting and Raspberry Puree

Yield: one, 8" three-layer cake


For the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (recipe adapted from: Technicolor Kitchen)
3 cups cake flour
2 cups granulated sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, coarsely chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
5 egg whites

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe adapted from: Technicolor Kitchen)
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Raspberry Puree (recipe source: BS Recipes)
12 oz frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch


For the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray three 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter or spray the paper.
2. Combine the flour, 1 3/4 of the sugar, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed to blend the ingredients and break up any lumps, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the butter, lemon zest and 1 cup of the buttermilk to the flour mixture. Beat on low until completely mixed, then raise the speed to medium and beat for two minutes to lighten and aerate the batter.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and whisk to blend thoroughly. Add this mixture to the batter in 2-3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only enough to incorporate. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine were done at 24 minutes, so keep an eye on them around 20 minutes). Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes.
6. While the cakes are cooling, make the lemon syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the remaining sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
7. Turn the cake layers onto wire racks and gently poke holes on the top of each cake layer with a toothpick. Generously brush each cake layer with the lemon syrup. Let cool completely.

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat until very fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon extract extract and beat well.

For the Raspberry Puree
1. After raspberries are thawed, grab a fine wire strainer and use a spoon to press the raspberries so that the seedless pulp falls into a bowl below. Strain enough pulp to get between 1/2-3/4 cup of pulp. Add enough water to equal 3/4 cup if you don't get to that amount with the pulp alone.
2. In a small saucepan, combine raspberry juice/water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Cooke over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and thickens (it will continue to thicken as it cools). Remove from heat and set aside. 
3. Cool and place in the refrigerator for up to a week.


1. Divide each cake layer into two. Place one cake layer, bottom side down, on a cake plate and pipe a thin layer of frosting around the edge of the cake to create a barrier for the raspberry puree. Spread about two tablespoons raspberry puree evenly across the top.
2. Place the next cake layer on top of the raspberry puree. Gently spread about 1/3 cup of the lemon cream cheese frosting over it.
3. Repeat steps one and two for the remaining four layers. 
4. Place the final cake layer, top side down, on top. Give the cake a quick crumb coat and chill for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator or 10-15 minutes in the freezer before frosting the entire cake.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cake

My husband turned 33 the other day. (Shhh... don't tell him I told you that). When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, all he said was, "it's just got to be your best cake yet." Oh, ok. No pressure. Ha!

When planning the cake, I knew I wanted to use my dark chocolate cake layers because that's his absolute favorite cake base. He also loves my salted caramel frosting but I wanted to do something new, so I incorporated the salted caramel into a chocolate frosting, and used more caramel sauce as a drip on top of the cake. At that point, using Dulce de Leche as a filling was just an obvious addition, and the caramel corn, while I thought would just be a great decoration, turned out to be super delicious with the cake (like, I would dip it in the frosting and eat it like that on it's own). I love all the flavors together, especially the salty and sweet combination. 

I also decided to use pre-made Dulce de Leche for the filling to make life a little easier. I really like the Trader Joe's brand and was really happy with how well it spread and tasted. You can certainly make your own or use another brand.

A quick note about the frosting - you'll add one cup of hot caramel sauce to the chocolate and stir until nice and smooth. At that point, let it cool a bit before adding the butter, a little at a time. Once all the butter is added, your mixture will likely still be pretty thin. Go ahead and stick it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to cool down and set. 

After it's chilled, continue to beat the frosting for another five minutes or so, or until it lightens and takes on a spreadable consistency like the picture below.

When you're done frosting the cake with the chocolate caramel frosting, make sure to chill the cake for 15-20 minutes before doing the caramel drip. I've created a short video tutorial to show you just how easy it is to create this look. All you'll need is a piping bag or strong plastic zip lock bag.  

Caramel Drip Technique

The cake was a huge hit. I hope it is for you too!

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cake

Yield: one 8-inch, 6-layer cake


For the Chocolate Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder (or similar premium brand)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the Dulce de Leche
I used 3 bottles of Trader Joe's pre-made Dulce de Leche. You can use any brand you'd like or make your own.

For the Chocolate Caramel Frosting
16 ounces dark chocolate
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)

For the Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
10 tablespoons water
6 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoon vanilla
3 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
3 teaspoon salt

Caramel corn


For the Chocolate Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8” round cake pans (butter or spray, line bottom with parchment paper, butter or spray paper and dust with flour).
2. In a bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients. Set aside.
3. Combine eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla in a measuring cup and lightly beat with a fork.
4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for two minutes. Batter will be thin. Scrape sides and mix for another 30 seconds. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans (I like to use a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is evenly distributed).
5. Bake for 25-27 minutes (you may need more time depending on your oven), until toothpick comes out almost clean. Cool on wire racks for 10-15 minutes, then gently invert onto racks until cooled completely.
6. When cakes are completely cooled, I like to wrap each cake layer individually with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator or freezer until I’m ready to frost. The cake will be easier to work with if it’s cooled a bit. If I’m making the cake a day or two before I actually need to frost it, I put it in the freezer to ensure freshness. If I’m frosting same-day, I’ll just put it in the refrigerator to chill until needed.

For the Chocolate Caramel Frosting
1. Put the chocolate into a mixing bowl and pour the warm caramel sauce over the chocolate. Stir until the mixture is smooth and starts to cool down.
2. After it cools down a bit, add the butter, little by little, beating until everything is smooth and well blended.
3. The frosting is done when the texture is soft and silky. If you added the butter while the mixture was still warm, just place the bowl in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to set. Continue beating for another 5-7 minutes until it reaches a thicker, more spreadable consistency as seen in the picture above. 

For the Caramel Sauce
1. Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in a small saucepan.
2. Bring the water and sugar mixture to boil over medium heat, but DO NOT STIR. (Stirring encourages crystallization). Let the mixture cook until it caramelizes into a golden brown color. It happens quickly, so keep an eye on it.
3. Remove the caramelized sugar syrup from the heat and slowly mix in the cream. Pour in just a tiny bit at a time, especially at the beginning, and mix to combine. You can start adding more and more as you go along.
4. Mix in salt, lemon juice or vinegar and vanilla. Stir to combine.

NOTE: You'll use one cup of hot caramel sauce for the frosting and will need to reserve 1/2 cup for the drizzle. Make sure the caramel sauce for the drizzle is at room temperature before piping on the cake.

1. After the cake layers are chilled, carefully divide each layer into two thin layers, for a total of six layers. Place the first cake layer on your cake plate and spread about 1/3 cup Dulce de Leche on top. Repeat for the remaining layers, placing the last layer, bottom-side up.
2. Coat the cake in a thin layer of the chocolate caramel frosting to lock in the crumbs. Chill for 15 minutes.
3. When the crumb coat is set, continue to frost the cake as you'd like with the chocolate caramel frosting. Chill again for 15-20 minutes.
4. Using the remaining 1/2 caramel sauce, pour it into a piping bag with a small round tip or use a strong plastic bag and make a small cut in the corner. Pipe the caramel sauce on the cake using the technique from the video tutorial above. 
5. Add the caramel corn and drizzle more caramel sauce on top.
6. Cover and chill the cake in the refrigerator over night or freeze for a few days before serving. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sugar Cookies

Why is it so hard to find a good sugar cookie recipe? Seriously, I have tried nearly a dozen recipes that all say "the perfect sugar cookie recipe," "sugar cookies that hold their shape," "the only sugar cookie recipe you need"... none of which have lived up to such bold statements. I've even tried shortbread recipes that are supposed to hold their shape, but then they get crumbly and fall apart much easier. Ugh! It's been an ordeal, to say the least.

Before I start telling you about this particular recipe, one that I deem pretty close to perfect, let me tell you what makes a the ideal sugar cookie in my mind because we all have different expectations when it comes to cookies, especially sugar cookies. First and foremost, it needs to taste good (flavor always trumps presentation for me). I like a sugar cookie that isn't overly sweet because once you add a buttercream frosting or royal icing, the sweetness is going to be overwhelming (you know, like the store-bought bakery frosted sugar cookies. Those cookies basically encompass everything I don't want in a sugar cookie). For me, I want a cookie that has a slight buttery taste and a little bit of texture. Nothing too crunchy, but also nothing too fluffy and airy. And, of course, I want a cookie that will hold it's shape when baking.

So, after many, many sugar cookie tests, I've decided this is my favorite recipe so far. It uses more butter than some of the other recipes I tested (never a bad thing), but once you add all the flour, the dough comes together nicely without being dry and then rolls out beautifully. the original recipe says you can use almond extract or lemon extract. That was a no-brainer for me. I don't like almond extract in my sugar cookies, so I went with lemon extract and LOVE it. Like, love, love, love it. It's just a hint of lemon but it makes the cookie for me. I also like that these cookies are tender with the slightest crunch when you bite into them.

A lot of sugar cookie recipes, including this one, instruct you to refrigerate the dough for a while before baking. I've always thought this step was to chill the butter so the cookie doesn't spread too much. However, while it does do that, the main reason for chilling the dough is actually to give the gluten a chance to rest and the flour time to hydrate completely. If you skip this step, the texture of the cookie is likely going to change somewhat. 

I also like that this recipe tells you to break up the dough in three parts and then roll out each portion in between parchment paper before refrigerating it. This makes life so much easier, I promise. Trying to roll out cold sugar cookie dough can be a real struggle!

I also noticed a difference with how the cookies baked based on the thickness of each cookie. The cookies that I didn't roll out enough, did spread a little. Whereas, the cookies that I rolled more evenly and not over a quarter of an inch thick, held their shape much better. 

Also, after you cut out cookies from one portion of your dough, re-roll that dough and refrigerate it again. Once you start re-rolling the scraps and cutting again, the dough gets softer and I noticed those cookies would lose a little bit of their shape. 

Sugar Cookies (adapted from "Good and Easy Rolled Sugar Cookies" from Simply Sensational Cookies by Nancy Baggett)

Yield: this will depend on how big your cookie cutters are and how thick/thin you roll your dough. I got about three dozen using medium and small-sized heart cutters.

1 1/2 cups good quality unsalted butter (like Kerrygold), at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract (or almond)
4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Decorate with my Whipped Vanilla Buttercream or your favorite royal icing.

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, baking powder and salt together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. 
2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon extract and beat again until incorporated.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add about two cups of the flour, mixing until just barely combined. Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until combined. If the dough seems too soft and sticky (which probably means your butter was too soft), you can add a little more flour until it's a better rolling consistency.
4. Divide the dough into three equal portions and roll out each portion in between two pieces of parchment paper to just shy of 1/4" thickness. Stack the three pieces (paper included) onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.
5. When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
6. Remove one sheet of the dough from the fridge at a time and cut out your shapes. Transfer the cut pieces to your prepared baking sheet. 
7. Bake for about 8-11 minutes, until just barely colored around the edges (mine were perfect at 9 minutes, but keep an eye on the cookies by 8 minutes because if you roll your dough thin, they'll be done on the earlier end and leaving them in too long will result in a crunchy cookie).
8. Allow to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing the cookies from the pan and allowing them to cool completely.