Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mini Devil's Food Cakes with Raspberries and White Chocolate

While I will never claim to be a fan of Valentine's Day, I am most certainly a fan of Valentine's Day desserts. I'd say the traditional "date night" dessert would have to be a chocolate lava cake of some sort, likely garnished with a sprig of mint, a single strawberry and sprinkle of powdered sugar. Although it's tasty, it's dated and should probably go to the dessert retirement home. (Nobody wants that sprig of mint, anyway.

It's time we think outside of the box….and into the cage. A white chocolate cage, that is! I've been wanting to do a post about chocolate cages for a while because they are actually pretty easy and the payoff is a unique and fancy-pants dessert. They're also great at masking what would otherwise be a couple un-exicting, un-frosted cake layers. This white chocolate cage is absolutely perfect for my annual Valentines dessert. Individual devil's food cakes are filled with whipped cream and raspberries, then hidden within a fun white chocolate pattern. So to my Valentine traditionalists out there….You'll be thrilled to see your beloved chocolate cake and berries still make an appearance this V-day. It just got a much needed makeover. 

Devil's Food Cakes  
Makes 2 4-inch layer cakes

Devil's Food Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/3 cup strong coffee, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan, line with parchment paper, then grease the paper.

In a large bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated, then mix in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk until the batter is completely mixed and smooth. Slowly mix in the coffee and beat until just incorporated.

Pour into the pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Raspberry Filling
2 (6-ounce) containers of raspberries, rinsed
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine 2 cups of raspberries and the sugar in a shallow saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the raspberries are broken down and thickened. Set aside to cool. 

Set the remaining raspberries aside to top the finished cakes. 

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Start on medium so the cream doesn’t splatter, then increase the speed to high once the mixture starts to thicken. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Assemble the Cakes
Use a 4-inch circle cookie cutter to cut 4 cake circles. Set the scraps aside to eat later! (or, while you make the raspberry filling:)

Place one cake circle on a small plate and top with a large spoonful of raspberry filling. Scoop a large spoonful of whipped cream on top. Place second chocolate cake circle on top, then repeat the raspberry and whipped cream. Assemble the second cake in the same way.

Arrange remaining raspberries in a circular pattern on top of the cakes, then place in the fridge while you make the white chocolate cage. 

White Chocolate Cage
1 1/2 cups white chocolate 
Parchment paper
Ziplock bag

Cut 2 strips or parchment paper that are 3" tall by 13" wide and set on a flat surface. 

Place the white chocolate chips in a heat safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stir, repeating until the chocolate is just about melted. Scoop the melted chocolate into a ziplock bag, then cut off the very tip of one of the corners.

Working quickly, pipe lines across the parchment paper. (You can do whatever design you like here, so get creative! Just remember that all the lines need to be connected in some way.) While the chocolate is still wet, carefully pick up the parchment strips and place on another flat surface. (This will give your chocolate cage clean edges.) 

Watch the chocolate so that it doesn't harden too much. You want it cooled enough that you can touch it without smudging it, but soft/flexible enough to bend. It only took a couple minutes for my chocolate to get to this point. 

Remove the cakes from the fridge and carefully wrap the parchment (chocolate side in) around the cakes. Let the white chocolate fully harden for another 5 minutes, then carefully peel away the parchment. Unless your kitchen is cool, it's best to keep the cakes in the fridge until serving. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sweet Envy on TODAY!

Photo: Devorah Backman
Last Tuesday, I got to have my hair done all fancy, and it lasted, like, the entire day. But that's not even the best part–I also got to pimp out my cookbook Sweet Envy on the TODAY show! (I don't get out much so the hair thing was really exciting.) And if the saying "the camera adds ten pounds" holds true, then my desserts must have looked really big because they got some major screen time. (In TODAY show time, that's like, three minutes.) The segment was all about Holiday desserts, so I was lucky enough to share the Mint Chocolate Trifle, Wayne Thiebaud Whoopie Pies and the Coconut Bliss Cake with the incredibly smart and gorgeous Tamron Hall. Here's a sneak peek of the segment, followed by some un-eventful "behind-the-scenes" pics. I wish I could tell you that I spent the whole day catching up with Al Roker and crew, but they run a pretty tight ship over there. So basically, I was in-and-out. Once I left the studio I treated myself to a gargantuan platter of bacon and eggs and waited for people to recognize me. Guess my celebrity status isn't official as no one seemed to give me any special treatment. But it's all good, my parents were proud of me. (Isn't that really why we all aim to go on the TODAY show?) 

Photo: Devorah Backman

The left is a close up of the whoopie pies, and the right image captures 
the exact moment I realized I wanted to eat every single one of them. 

Photo: Devorah Backman

Here's what the recipes look like in the book. 

Photo: @AliciaYbarbo
So that was my Tuesday. I am so eternally grateful for the opportunity! (Along with the chance to spend the day sans kid in NYC.) And as we are now in the midst of the holiday season, I urge you to try one of these recipes. They're not only really tasty, they're great for entertaining! I hate to choose favorites, but the mint chocolate trifle is ridiculous. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pumpkin Apple Fritters

Anyone else have that moment (typically towards the end of fall) when you look in your pantry and see about a dozen cans of pumpkin puree staring back at you? Well, that happened to me today. I usually buy a bunch of cans in late August assuming I will use them all, but this fall I may have overdone it. I'm still fully stocked, despite making pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin tacos (ok, maybe not pumpkin tacos), pumpkin pie, pumpkin risotto….you get the idea. Even when I cook these things, I rarely use all the pumpkin in the can. So then I go to place the extra pumpkin in the fridge and…Agh! I forgot about that entire drawer full of apples. Yes, those apples that you got apple picking because you just knew they would go so fast! Well, they haven't. So "how do you like 'dem apples?" 

Don't get me wrong, I love apples and pumpkins–all things fall, really! But, if you also find yourself with leftovers, this pumpkin apple fritter recipe is the answer. Apple fritters are a favorite of mine and I make them quite often for a quick and insanely delicious dessert. They're warm, crispy and dusted with powdered essentially they're perfection. The pumpkin just seemed like a natural addition to the fritter fest. But there's another secret ingredient that takes these fritters to the next level of awesome, and it's pumpkin beer. (Yet another thing I stock up on in early fall, but I have no problem finishing those.) So, make these fritters today and consider it a "winter-cleaning" of sorts. Because no matter how much you deny it…winter is coming.

Keep the extra beer close. You'll have time for a few sips as the fritters fry.

Pumpkin Apple Fritters
makes about 2 dozen 

vegetable oil for frying  (about 4 cups)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup pumpkin puree 
1/2 cup pumpkin beer (or milk if you're not into booze)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large apple, peeled cored and diced
confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

1. Place the vegetable oil in a saucepan and set over medium heat. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside. 

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamom in a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, beer, egg and vanilla. Stir until combined, then add to the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the apples, making sure not to over mix the batter. 

3. Test the oil by dropping a tiny pea-sized amount of batter into the pan. If the batter floats and sizzles, it's ready. If it browns too quickly, turn down the heat as your oil is too hot. If it doesn't sizzle and float, the oil isn't hot enough. (If using a thermometer, the oil should be at about 350 degrees.)

4. Use a spring loaded cookie scoop (or teaspoons) to gently drop rounded spoonfuls of batter into the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden brown in color. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the fritters from the oil and place on the paper towels. 

5. Dust with the powdered sugar and enjoy! These are best eaten immediately while they're still crunchy and warm. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's Here! It's Here!

My book Sweet Envy: Deceptively Easy Desserts, Designed to Steal the Show is finally hitting the shelves today! Sorry about all the exclamation points, I'm just really excited. If you recall, I told you about my book a little ways back, and now you can actually walk into a bookstore and purchase it. Or, you know, get it Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Either way, I've been waiting for this day for some time and it's really lovely to feel the actual book, smell the freshly-inked pages and–most importantly–bake from it. Here are a few of my favorite spreads from the book. 

If you want to see the whole shebang, you'll have to get a copy. Sweet Envy is fun, approachable and makes a great gift.

"But you don't have to take my word for it!"
Actually, just take my word for it….I hope you love this book as much as I do. I really think you'll love it. The most amazing thing you can do would be to give it a positive review on Amazon. Thank you and happy baking!!


Monday, September 7, 2015

Peach & Thyme Biscuits

Although school is back in session and wearing white might be faux pas, the weather is telling me that summer isn't going anywhere. Here in Maryland, the past several days have been in the 90's. If it weren't for that low-hanging sun, I'd swear we were stuck in July. I also seem to be in a mild state of denial, wondering where all those "dog days of summer" went. But labor day is now behind us and that only means one thing…BOGO at Payless. Right, that... and also that sadly, summer really has come to an end.  

This year I refuse to go out without one last summer fling with peaches–And this biscuit recipe is just that. These biscuits are the perfect way to end things with the most delightful summer fruit. (Sorry watermelon, I still got love for you.) But seriously, these biscuits are good. Like, really good. They're flaky, sweet, crumbly and packed with flavor from the ripe peaches and savory thyme. Did I mention this recipe is about as simple as they come? It's my simple foolproof biscuit recipe, fancied up with diced peaches. The thyme is subtle, yet adds so much to the overall taste. An early-rise for school might be difficult, but if you know these biscuits will greet you in the A.M., setting the alarm won't be necessary. Bakers beware…This recipe only makes about 7 biscuits, so you might need to make several batches. And remember, the better quality the butter is, the better your biscuits will be.

Peachy-Thyme Biscuits 
Makes 7-8 Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) very cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup peeled and diced ripe peaches (about 2 large peaches)
1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick liner. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until small crumbs form. Slowly pour in all but about a tablespoon of the heavy cream and mix until the dough just comes together. Stir in the peaches and thyme.

2. Turn dough onto a floured work surface and pat into a disk about 1 1/2-inches thick. Use a 3-inch round circle cutter or a drinking glass to cut out biscuits and place them directly on the lined baking sheet. 

3. Use a pastry brush to brush the remaining heavy cream on the tops of the biscuits. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until biscuits are puffed and golden. 

Carefully collect the scraps to make the biscuits. The less you work the dough, the better.

Top the biscuits with extra heavy cream to achieve that golden color. Then sprinkle with extra thyme leaves.

This is what happened as I tried to shoot photos of the final product. Little hands can't resist. (Neither can the blurry dog in the background). 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ocean Mosaic Cake

This mosaic cake is inspired by the colorful blues found in the ocean. It's delicious, fun to make and it celebrates all things summer! I originally conceptualized it as a cupcake, decorated with blue frosting and topped with Swedish Fish. But I wanted something more exciting and creating a mosaic cake was the perfect excuse for me to break out a bunch of white chocolate candy melts I've been wanting to use.

Making mosaics out of white chocolate couldn't be easier, and it's actually quite fun. (Not as fun as eating an entire box of Swedish Fish while decorating this cake, 'cus I did that, too. But's a good time. And, it's something you can do with your kids!) Although candy melts aren't top-quality white chocolate, they are really forgiving (meaning they're easy to melt and work with). Plus, they come pre-colored (a great shortcut!) I used three 12 oz. bags in this recipe and had a ton of "mosaic tiles" left over. But I think it's nice to have at least three colors on the cake, so if you're left with extra tiles, just bag them up and save them for another project. Or, you could always tint plain white chocolate with gel food coloring to your liking. 

The white chocolate tiles I made were roughly cut to about 1/2" long, making for a more "abstract" pattern. If you cut your tiles smaller, you can achieve a more intricate pattern. I added the Swedish Fish for a pop of color and to bring the "Ocean" theme to life. All looks aside, the real star of the show here is the buttermilk vanilla cake. It's deliciously buttery, topped with a cream cheese buttercream that has just the right amount of sweetness and tang. It's tinted blue to go with the ocean theme, but you could always just leave it white. This cake is perfect for a birthday party at the pool, beach or any summertime gathering. After this past winter, I promised to celebrate every gorgeous summer day. And while I might not make this cake everyday, it reminds me why I love the ocean so much. 

To create parchment circles, fold a large piece of parchment paper in half, then again. Place the the pan on top and trace a circle. Cut and you'll have 4 parchment circles that fit the pans perfectly. (You'll only need 3 for this recipe.)

Buttermilk Vanilla Cake
Makes one 8-inch layer cake


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk


1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, grease and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

3. Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla.

4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk until the batter is completely mixed and smooth.

5. Divide the batter evenly among cake pans and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Cool completely.

White Chocolate Mosaic Tiles
Candy Melts in Assorted Blues and White (12 oz. bags, found at any craft store)
Parchment paper
Baking Sheet 
Offset Spatula

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Melt the candy melts according to the instructions on the bag. (Or in a heat safe bowl in the microwave in 20 second increments until fully melted.)

2. Use an offset spatula to spread chocolate in an even layer (about 1/8" thick) across the parchment paper. Set aside to cool. 

3. Once chocolate is hardened, use a sharp knife to cut 1/4" squares and place in bowls. It's OK if a few of the pieces aren't perfectly square! It adds character to the mosaic pattern.

Cream Cheese Buttercream 
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Blue gel food coloring 
Mosaic Tiles (see recipe)
1 package Swedish Fish
Graham cracker crumbs (optional)


1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese until well combined. Make sure the cream cheese and butter are both at room temperature, otherwise they won’t mix properly and you’ll have streaks of cream cheese.

2. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until frosting is creamy and smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. If the frosting is too thick, mix in a teaspoon or two of milk.

3. Add a few drops of blue food coloring and mix until you have the desired shade.

4. Create a crumb coat by using an offset spatula to spread a thin, even layer of frosting all over the cake. Chill the cake in the fridge for a few minutes before you apply the final frosting layer.

5. Apply the final coat of frosting, then carefully press on the mosaic tiles and Swedish fish. Spread graham cracker crumbs around the edge of the cake to mimic "sand."