Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pear Cake with Salted Caramel Swiss-Meringue Buttercream

I feel like this cake deserves an apology, the pictures I am about to show you of this cake are not particularly inspiring. You see, I baked it for a friend’s birthday party in early December and I was running around like a mad-woman trying desperately to finish it off before I had to be at her house. I was losing light, I was out of time, and, well, I just snapped a few pictures and hoped for the best.

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See, it doesn’t look like much. But it is. It really, truly, and absolutely is. So for the sake of this particular cake I’m asking you to just look past its outside appearance. It’s what’s on the inside that counts anyways right?

The cake is a perfectly moist, dense-yet-still-fluffy, marzipan-almond-pear cake that I covered in a salted caramel Swiss-meringue buttercream. Let’s talk for a moment about how to make Swiss-meringue buttercream even more unbelievably delicious than it already is – add homemade caramel sauce, and then toss in a teaspoon or so of sea-salt.

I can see your eyes widening. I know, I know. Homemade caramel is scary. You have to boil water and sugar and remove it from the heat at exactly the right time or risk either burnt caramel (I’ve done it, it doesn’t taste good) or a caramel that is too mild in flavour and as a result simply tastes like sugar. Both are undesirable, and both are risks you have to be willing to take because let me assure you: homemade caramel is worth it.

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You just have to be ok with watching it as it does its thing. Stand over your stove and watch it. When it starts to go amber, keep watching, count to 60 then pull it off the stove, and carefully, in small increments to avoid a bubbling overflow of boiling sugar, stir in your heavy cream. You want it rich amber. Sure you can also use a candy thermometer, but I actually never have. Maybe I have just been lucky, but I’m confident that you’ll be lucky as well.

But let me talk about the cake for a minute because they caused me a lot of stress. You see, this recipe comes from a cupcake recipe that my personal hero Sweetapolita made a few months ago. I spent days drooling over her marzipan-pear cupcakes with caramel buttercream which she topped with the most beautiful gold-gilded marzipan pear toppers. I thought about making the cupcakes, but when my friend asked me to make her birthday cake (in actuality I sent her an email in reply to her invitation in which I pretty much begged her to let me do it) I though it might turn into a wonderful cake.

And it did.

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Fair warning however: this cake is finicky. I suspect it would have been less stress-inducing if I had made cupcakes. The dough is quite soft thanks to the brilliant addition of a lot of marzipan, and a lot of pureed pear. It makes for a delicious cake, but I have never been more nervous turning out cakes than the moment I flipped these out of the pans. Both layers nearly ripped as I transferred them onto the cooling rack, and I was only able to take them off and stack them because i used two oversized spatulas to support them from underneath.

I’m generally a pretty calm person, but when I’m moving delicate cake-layers I become a stress-ball. Seriously, I hyperventilate a little.

But in the end it was good. Actually, it was really, really good. I mean when you pair marzipan, pears, and caramel with a hefty amount of butter and sugar, how on earth could it possibly be wrong?

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So make this cake. It may not look like much, but it’s flavour more than makes up for its appearance.

For the Cake – yields 1 eight inch 2 layer cake:

Very lightly adapted from Sweetapolita

1 cup + 2 teaspoons unsalted butter at room temperature cut into chunks

240 grams of marzipan

2/3 cups granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 cup pureed pear (about 2 large pears)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter two eight inch cake pans. Add in some flour and coat the sides of the pan tapping out the excess. Then cut two parchment circles to fit the bottom of the pans and line the bottoms. I know it seems like a lot of work but it will allow your cakes to actually release from the pan, which is key.
2. In a medium bowl sift your dry ingredients together, whisk and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter, sugar, and marzipan until light and fluffy on medium speed – around three minutes. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
4. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl after each addition.
5. Add the dry ingredients, mix on low until incorporated and then beat on medium for about 3 minutes.
6. Using a spatula fold in the ground almonds and pear into the batter.
7. Divide between the two baking pans. If you want to get really obsessive you can weigh them to ensure they are even. It does ensure equally sized, evenly baked cake-layers!
8 Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake’s centre comes out clean. A warning that they will look rather soft and potentially a bit under-done, but so long as the toothpick is clean you will be fine.
9. Let cool in the pans for five minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the Frosting:
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt (start with a pinch an add more to taste)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1.5 cups of unsalted butter at room temperature.
4 large eggs whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Combine the water and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small pot over medium heat, and stir consistently as it comes to a boil. Once boiling, leave it except to occasionally brush down the sides with a silicon pastry brush. Cook until the caramel is a dark amber, swirling the pot occasionally. Remove from the heat and slowly add cream, whisking as you go, and taking a break if it starts to look like it will bubble over. Add salt to taste, and then set aside.
2. Beat the butter in a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until pale- and fluffy. This takes about 4 minutes on a medium setting. Remove from the mixer bowl, and clean the bowl thoroughly. I like to rub it down with some vinegar as if there is any trace of grease the meringue will not whip up properly.
3. Transfer your egg whites and remaining sugar into the mixer bowl. Set the bowl over gently simmering water and whisk until the eggs come to 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
4. With the whisk attachment on, whip the egg whites and sugar until glossy and stiff peaks form, this takes about 3-5 minutes on high speed.
5. When the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to touch, start adding in the butter one cup at a time whisking well after each addition. It may look like it has separated. If this happens, kick up the speed on your mixer and beat until it comes together – it will. I promise.
6. When all the butter has been added whisk in the cooled caramel.

To Assemble:
1. Carefully transfer one of the cake layers onto a turntable. Plop about 3/4 of a cup of frosting on-top and smooth around until fairly even.
2. Carefully place the second layer on top of the first one. Frost the entire thing in a thin layer. This is your crumb coat. Then place into the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Pull back out and cover in a thicker layer, using a bench scraper to even out the sides.
Devour. No seriously. DEVOUR.
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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

When I was a kid my mom and I used to bake cookies together, and I used to beg her for permission to steal cookie dough, lick the beaters, the bowl… etc. I’m pretty sure it’s a small miracle I didn’t get salmonella.

But let’s get one thing straight: raw cookie dough is, in my opinion, better than the finished product. I mean I love cookies. Especially fresh out of the oven warm, gooey, and delicious chocolate chip cookies, but there’s something about raw cookie dough that is just plain unbeatable.

Something else I love? Cupcakes. I mean they’re just so flipping cute, the options are endless, and they’re already perfectly portioned! What’s not to adore?

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So when I found this recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cupcakes last year, it quickly became a favourite. And when I helped plan a friend’s surprise 30th birthday party last month I knew exactly what kind of cupcakes I was making.

These really taste like cookie dough. The cakes are vanilla and brown sugar, with a hefty dose of chocolate chips.

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The stuffing is a faux-cookie dough, made with sweetened condensed milk which gives it a cookie-dough like texture and a taste that is truly spot-on. So much so that more than once I’ve debated just making this filling so I could eat excessive amounts of ‘cookie-dough’ without worrying about getting sick.

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And the frosting on these. Oh. My. God. The frosting is out of this world. The recipe calls for brown sugar and flour in addition to the traditional components of an American buttercream – butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. The result is a thick yet fluffy frosting that really, really tastes like cookie-dough down to the final details including that slight grittiness created by the flour. This is the kind of frosting where people fight over who gets to lick the bowl and beaters, trust me. For the record – I will fight you for them, and I will win.

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So if you want a show-stopping cupcake that people will talk about for weeks, make these. There are a lot of steps, but they are 100% worth it.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes (makes 24 cupcakes)

*A few notes – I’d recommend making the filling first, or even the day before as it needs to hang out in the fridge for a little while before you can do anything else. Also, I like to use an apple corer to take out the centres of my cupcakes, but a pairing knife will work. As to what you’re supposed to do with the cupcake centres? Eat them.

For the Filling:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

7 oz. sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

2. Add flour, the sweetened condensed milk and the vanilla. Beat until combined.

3. Fold in the chocolate chips, transfer into a separate bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let set in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the Cupcakes:

3 sticks unsalted butter, and cut into several chunks, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk (I use whole milk as you always should when baking. Seriously, just do it)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners.

2. Measure the flour into a medium-sized bowl and remove two tablespoons. Place the removed flour in a bowl with the chocolate chips and toss to coat – this will keep your chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes. To the bowl containing only flour add the baking powder, baking soda, an salt.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

5. Turn the mixer down to low and alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. You should do three additions of the dry ingredients and two of the milk. Beat until incorporated, and add the vanilla.

6. Fold in the chocolate chips and then portion evenly into baking cups, filling about 3/4 full (I like to measure out a scant 1/4 cup per liner, it ensures fairly even cupcakes).

7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. After about five minutes transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting:

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted. Please take the time to sift your powdered sugar it makes the difference between lumpy frosting and delicious smooth frosting.

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons milk

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Beat butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until creamy.

2. Add powdered sugar and beat until incorporated.

3. Add flour and salt and beat until combined. Then beat in milk and vanilla. If you want to thin or thick out the frosting a bit either at more milk or more powdered sugar accordingly, but mine was good with the prescribed amounts.

To Assemble:

Remove the centres of each cupcake. As mentioned above, I like to do this with an apple corer, but a pairing knife works as well. Stuff with a heaping tablespoon of the filling. I generally just roll small balls of it with my hands and press it into the centre of the cupcake. Frost using whatever decorative tip you prefer. I used a plain round one, but anything will work as the frosting is quite thick and should hold a shape nicely.

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