Tag Archives: baking

Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

12 Mar

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You learn a lot about people by looking at their bookshelves. My dad has a wall dedicated to jazz books, complete with a bronze sculpture of Miles Davis and miniature figurines of an orchestra. Another section of his library contains autobiographies of former U.S. presidents and books about economics and behavioral psychology. You could say that he’s a pretty eclectic guy. My mom collects coffee table books about fashion, art, and flowers, along with fiction novels by iconic French writers. She arranges them pristinely, each book a gorgeous jewel awaiting to be examined.

You can probably guess what my bookshelf looks like. My love for baking, photography, and writing has inspired an extensive cookbook collection. The cookbooks that I’ve acquired from my travels bring back vivid memories of brisk afternoons spent strolling through San Francisco, or the best scrambled eggs I ever ate while in Sydney. Whenever I read cookbooks from my favorite bloggers, I marvel at how the internet has allowed amateur cooks to become award-winning authors and photographers.

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I am always on the lookout for cookbooks from local bakeries and restaurants. Valerie Confections, a quaint bakery located in Echo Park, offers meticulous, French-inspired pastries and confections. Sweet by Valerie Gordon contains a wide array of gorgeous recipes, ranging from fancy celebration desserts to breakfast pastries and everyday cakes.

This pound cake is wonderful in its simplicity. Fresh tangerine zest offsets the sour cream’s richness and provides a bright, slightly tangy flavor. To finish, the cake’s golden brown crust is covered with a shiny tangerine glaze. Served alongside a cup of tea, this cake becomes a delightful breakfast or afternoon snack.

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Recipe slightly adapted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon

Because I prefer my baked goods less sweet, I eliminated one cup of sugar and chose not to soak the cake in syrup after baking. The cake was sufficiently moist and subtly sweet. 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tblsp grated tangerine zest (from about 8 tangerines)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice (from about 6 tangerines)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325° F. Grease a non-stick tube pan with butter or baking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix the sour cream, tangerine zest, and vanilla together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

3. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the dry ingredients, one cup at a time, mixing until just barely combined. Some streaks of flour are ok. Add the sour cream mixture and mix until smooth. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake for 45 minutes, then rotate the cake and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the cake is cracked and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack for 45 minutes, then invert it an allow to cool completely. To make the glaze, whisk the tangerine juice and confectioners’ sugar together in a bowl. Adjust amount of powdered sugar based on desired thickness of glaze. Pour over the cooled cake and allow to set completely.

My Favorite Banana Bread

25 Feb

When I first began baking, I insisted that everything I made was absolutely delicious. I fiercely defended my rock-hard pound cakes, puddle-shaped sugar cookies, and acridly-sweet brownies. Over time, I learned that one must accept failure in order to develop outstanding recipes. Few baked goods come out perfect after the first try, and even then, an experienced baker will elevate them from great to excellent. My tireless pursuit of the perfect banana bread taught me this invaluable lesson.

When it comes to classic American treats, everyone has different preferences. Through sampling countless banana breads, from bakeries and my own kitchen, I formulated an ideal version in my mind. A moist, fragrant loaf with a tender crumb and cake-like consistency, this recipe achieved my goal.

This bread appeals to banana purists. Beating the butter and brown sugar creates a light, fluffy texture and a nice lift to the crust. This technique yields an end product closer to a tea cake than a spongy, dense quick bread. Even though it’s wonderful plain, sliced thick and smeared with a dab of butter, I can’t wait to spice it up with chocolate chunks, nuts, and coconut flakes. Because even my perfect recipe offers infinite opportunities for improvement.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine via Sweetie’s Home

Adding a handful of walnuts provides a pleasant crunch and toasty flavor.

  • 8 tblsp (1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups of mashed, ripe bananas (about 4 large bananas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter. Using a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the honey and beat for another minute, or until thoroughly combined. Reduce the mixer to medium speed, and add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and banana and mix until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just barely combined. A few streaks of flour are OK.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and allow it to cool completely.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Coconut and Dates

24 Jan

If you search “perfect oatmeal cookie” on Google, you will find millions of unique renditions on the classic recipe. Perfect means something different to everyone. Your personality, tastes, and interests influence your idea of a perfect date, concert, or meal, for example.

Generally, I find that cookie connoisseurs are divided into two groups: thin and crispy versus soft, thick, and chewy. These oatmeal sandwich cookies fall right in the middle–subtly crunchy and golden on the outside with a soft, almost fluffy center. The brown sugar lends a deep butterscotch flavor, spiced up with the addition of coconut flakes and chopped dates. When sandwiched together with a tangy mascarpone filling, these oatmeal cookies become a grown-up version of a favorite childhood snack.

 Recipe barely adapted from The New York Times

This recipe yields fairly large cookies. If you prefer more manageable, bite-sized sandwiches, I suggest scooping rounded teaspoons of dough.

  • 3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tblsp honey
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tblsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
  • 5 tblsp granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tblsp mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbslp confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Yields about 36 cookies; 18 sandwiches.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread coconut flakes on a non-stick skillet. Over medium heat, toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light. Gradually add the brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl when necessary. Beat in vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until just combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.

4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 2 tsp cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. For smaller cookies, reduce the size of the balls.

5. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.

Meyer Lemon-Blackberry Loaf Cake

17 Jan

Whenever I bake something new, my mom and I conduct a tasting session around our kitchen table. We assess the texture, complexity of flavor, and uniqueness of an item, savoring each bite in between sips of coffee. While I have undoubtedly inherited her sweet tooth, my mom has also taught me to appreciate quality and attention-to-detail. Unlike a main meal, eating a baked good is a special experience that someone enjoys for a few minutes out of his or her day. Pastries are not meant to be wolfed down for sustenance, but should provide simple pleasure and sweet satisfaction. This philosophy has shaped my baking style and recipe selection.

I chose to make this cake because I thought it would pair well with an afternoon coffee or tea, providing just the right amount of sweetness and tender, moist crumb. Plump, tart blackberries spot the cake’s golden interior, like little jewels that burst inside your mouth. With its beautiful appearance and fresh, unfussy flavors, this loaf epitomizes what a great baked good should be in my book.

Recipe courtesy of Foodess

Because I used fresh, juicy blackberries, I increased the original baking time by 10 minutes. If you opt for a dried fruit or one with less moisture, adjust the baking time accordingly. 

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 /4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from two lemons)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup fresh blackberries, broken up into small pieces

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Yields 12 generous slices.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

3. Reduce mixer speed and alternatively beat in ⅓ of flour mixture, followed by ½ of sour cream mixture, and repeat, ending with the last ⅓ of the flour mixture. Be sure to pause the mixer occasionally to scrape down sides of the bowl. Using your hands, gently break up the blackberries into small pieces. Use a spatula to gently fold them into the batter.

4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-80 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

5. To make the glaze, whisk together lemon juice and powdered sugar until there are no lumps. Adjust the amount of powdered sugar based on desired thickness. Drizzle over cooled cake.

Lemon-Rosemary Scones with Golden Raisins

8 Jan

When I joined my high school student newspaper staff, I learned about the concept of evergreen articles. In journalism, the term “evergreen” describes stories that remain relevant over long periods. I think this same concept can be applied to baking. No matter what ingredients are popular at the moment, people will always be on the lookout for certain basic recipes.

Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry muffins are classics that every home baker should have in his or her arsenal. Cream scones also belong in this category of essential baked goods–buttery morsels with slightly crunchy tops and fluffy, tender interiors. Despite this pastry’s seeming simplicity, all the renditions I tried came up short from the light-as-air scone of my dreams. So I turned to Baking Illustrated, a source known for extensive testing and detailed instructions, and finally found what I was searching for.

These cream scones provide an ideal base for all sorts of add-ins. The rosemary’s herbaceous flavor offsets the pastry’s richness and contrasts well with the tangy lemon zest and plump, sweet golden raisins. To achieve flaky, buttery layers, it is key to handle the dough minimally and efficiently. Use a food processor to prevent the dough from overheating, and cut the scones with a sharp knife to ensure maximum lift. And there you have it! An endlessly adaptable cream scone recipe that will never go out of style.

Look at those flaky layers

Basic cream scone recipe courtesy of Baking Illustrated

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury
  • 1 tblsp baking powder
  • 2 tblsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 tblsp cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (or other dried fruit of choice)
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1 tblsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 tblsp finely diced fresh rosemary

Yields 8 scones.

1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 425° F. Mix the lemon zest and rosemary into the cream, and allow it to steep in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Place this mixture into the workbowl of a food processor equipped with a metal blade. Scatter the chunks of butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Cover and process with 10 one-second pulses, or until the dough resembles coarse pebbles.

3. Remove the blade and transfer the mixture back into the separate bowl. Gently stir in the cream with a fork or rubber spatula until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Transfer the dough and loose flour bits to a clean work surface and knead the dough until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds.

4. Gently press the dough into an 8-inch round cake pan, release the round, and cut it into 8 wedges using a very sharp chef’s knife or bench scraper. Place the wedges 1/2 an inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until the scone tops are lightly brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.