Tag Archives: holiday baking

Sweet Potato Cake

This is the best cake I have ever made.

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Seriously.

I know I say it every post, but seriously, this cake is a bit of a miracle. I mean there’s a lot going on.

The cake is sweet-potato, with a generous amount of cinnamon and ground ginger, and finely chopped crystallized ginger.

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The filling is toasted marshmallow. Yes. Toasted marshmallow. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further.

The frosting? Brown-sugar-cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The amazing thing is that swapping brown sugar in for the white sugar usually used in SMB makes a massive difference in the flavour. It adds a certain sense of warmth, and the addition of cinnamon just takes it to the next level.

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To finish it all off, there are the candied pecans. Sprinkled over the top of the cake, they add a crunch and nuttiness that just finishes the whole thing off.

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As I said, there’s a lot going on in this cake and the miracle is that all the different elements don’t just work together, they literally sing.

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Yes, I went there. I referred to food as singing. But it’s appropriate. Think of the flavours as different harmonies, and when they come together it’s pretty amazing.

Ok, I took it too far. I’ll stop with the bad analogies.

Now.

So I served four desserts at Thanksgiving, and this is the one that was finished off first. This cake earned me more compliments than anything else I made. The cake itself is light, moist, sweet, lightly-spiced, and unique. The toasted marshmallow filling is reminiscent of campfires, and the mildness compliments the cake’s complexity. And the frosting… Well it’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Lightly, floaty, not too sweet, with a depth and complexity that comes from the use of brown-sugar and the addition of cinnamon which ties it to the rest of the cake. The pecans just take the entire thing over the top, from outstanding to life changing.

As I said, this was the best cake I’ve ever made.

This cake takes a while. I baked it on Tuesday and froze it wrapped tightly in two layers of plastic wrap. I made the frosting on Wednesday, and made the filling and completed the assembly on Thursday (Thanksgiving day) morning.

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And yes, you have to split the cake layers. Yes, it’s terrifying, but as you can tell from the picture above I didn’t do a perfect job and I still pulled off an awesome cake. So don’t stress it too much. Frosting can cover up all kinds of mistakes.

But it was worth it. Absolutely, 100% worth it.

Once again, I made no changes to Sweetapolita’s outstanding recipe, so the next time you need a show-stopping cake to make, make this one.

There will be miraculous music, I promise.

I lied when I said I was done with bad analogies. I’m sorry. Ok, that’s a lie too.

Just make the cake, it’s a really, really good idea.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake

Most people, me included, feel pretty passionate about cheesecake.

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I mean it’s the kind of dessert that is delicious when made right, profoundly disappointing when make incorrectly, and unfortunately easy to make wrong

I mean we’ve all heard the horror stories of the overly-dense lumpy cheesecake that stuck to the roof of your mouth for hours afterwards right?

And then there is the dreaded ‘crack.’ You know what I’m talking about – when you pull your cheesecake out of the oven only to discover that the top has fractured and created an ugly and noticeable scar on the top of your painstakingly crafted dessert.

But when it’s done right, when the top doesn’t crack, and the cream-cheese is properly softened and whipped into oblivion to ensure absolutely no lumps get through?

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That’s when the magic really happens.

This pumpkin cheesecake was a part of my thanksgiving ‘quartet’ and while I couldn’t possibly chose a favourite out of the four I made, I can tell you that this is by far the best cheesecake ever.  

Yes it requires you to bake it in a water-bath. And yes, it’s worth it. You know why? Using a water-bath = no cracking (caveat: if you over-bake the cake it will crack no matter what so do pull it out when the centre is still jiggly. It will set as it cools. I promise.).

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But back to the cake: it was light, creamy, delicious, delicately spiced, and elegant. The whipped cream topping served to tie together the crumbly ginger-pecan shortbread crust, and the slightly tangy-sweet filling. An egg-heavy batter that included a 1/2 cup of whipped cream kept the whole thing rich, creamy, smooth, and surprisingly light.

I do mean light in texture. Not in calories. Forget any misguided notion you ever had that cheesecake is a health food.

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So if you’re afraid of cheesecake making, make this one. I promise as long as you follow the directions, and use the dreaded water-bath, it WILL turn out delicious.

And yes, it takes a little bit of time, but it is well worth the effort. A quick note that when I made this I put the cake together on one day, let it sit in the fridge overnight and added the topping the next day, then kept it in the fridge until about an hour before serving it.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (lightly adapted from Sprinkle Bakes)

Ginger-Pecan Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pecans (1.2 oz.)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup cold butter
1 tablespoon cold water

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9-inch springform pan. Properly buttering the edges will ensure you get a proper pan release, so don’t skimp. Wrap the pan in heavy duty aluminum foil, do this or you’ll have water seep into the pan and ruin your crust.
2. Throw flour, brown sugar, salt, pecans, and ginger into a food processor and process until pecans form crumbs.
3. Add in cold butter and process until crumbs form.
4. Add the water and process in short bursts until the dough starts to come together.
5. Press into the bottom of the spring-form and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Pumpkin Filling:
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 lbs (20 oz, or 2 1/2 eight oz. bricks) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp cornstarch
4 large eggs

1. Turn down heat on the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a small bowl whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger ,and salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is creamy (depending on how warm your cream cheese is this will take 2-4 minutes, the goal is to beat out any and all of those pesky lumps).

4. Add the sugars gradually and beat until combined.

5. Add the pumpkin mixture and beat until batter is uniform.

6. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition until incorporated into the rest of the batter.

7. Using a rubber spatula pour the cheesecake filling into the cooled spring-form over the crust. Place the pan into a large baking dish filled with water so it comes about 1-inch up the sides of the springform. Bake for 70-80 minutes or until the sides are set and the centre of the cake still jiggles. Cool completely, it will set as it cools.

Whipped Cream Topping:

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup of sugar

1. Whip the cream in the bowl of a standing mixer until it thickens.

2. Add the sugar in gradually, beating the sugar and cream until stiff-peaks form.

3. Spread over the top of the cake and pipe the extra whipped cream into decorative swirls.

Keep cake in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Gingerbread Pear Cranberry Crisp (and Thanksgiving)

Last week was the biggest week of my year. You see, for the last six years I have lived in Vancouver, BC, where Thanksgiving takes place in early October and is not quite as big a deal as it is in the USA. I mean it’s still fun but it’s a three day weekend not a four day weekend, and because it is in early October it doesn’t quite signal the start of the holiday season the way US Thanksgiving does.

This year, I felt like I had a marathon-long list of things to be thankful for, but first and foremost, I was/am beyond thankful for the opportunity to once again live in my favourite city in the world, surrounded by the majority of my favourite people.

So to show my gratitude and appreciation, I did what I do best: I baked.

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I mean, I’m pretty sure I don’t know how to say thank you other than via baked goods.

For the record, the back four desserts were by me. I promise to tell you more about them this week.

Today I want to tell you about the dessert that was the most un-assuming. Second from the left – Gingerbread Pear-Cranberry Crisp.

I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen about a month ago, and immediately bookmarked it, thinking ‘I’ve got to make that for Thanksgiving.’ My family has a history of crisps on Thanksgiving, and since I had offered to be in charge of the desserts (really I announced I was doing them and I think everyone was too afraid of my butter and sugar crazed self to argue) I figured I had to include crisp as a hat-tip to tradition since I don’t really make pie…

I love pears, and I love cranberries, so I suspected the mix of tart and sweet flavours combined with the spiciness of the gingersnaps would be outstanding.

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Well friends, I was right.

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Not only was it delightful to look at, with the bright red cranberries giving this dessert a particularly festive flair. It was delicious. I was nervous that the topping, which is basically crushed cookies, some flour, spices, and butter, would be too crumbly, or powdery, but it clumped perfectly and retained its crispness until this particular dessert was finished off for breakfast on Friday morning.

The acidity from the cranberries and the lemon juice paired flawlessly with the mildness from the pears and gingerbread flavour just tied it all together.

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So if you’re looking for an easy and delicious dessert to grace your holiday table (I suspect this would certainly be Christmas appropriate) then I suggest you do yourself a favour and make this crisp.

Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crisp
Very Lightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Crumble
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
16 store-bought gingersnap cookies (I used the triple-ginger snaps from Trader Joes and it worked perfectly)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup/1stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus some extra to butter the pan

Filling
2 pounds (about 4 to 5) large ripe pears peeled, halved, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice – about 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon worth of zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (14 grams) cornstarch

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly butter a 2 quart oven-proof baking dish

2. Combine flour, both the sugars, gingersnap crumbs, ginger, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until mixture clumps.

3. To the baking dish add the pear, cranberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir to coat in lemon juice. In a separate small bowl whisk sugar and cornstartch, then add to fruit, mixing to ensure all fruit is coated.

4. Cover in the crisp topping. It will feel like a lot, but just use it all. Trust me on this one. Bake for 45 minutes until the topping is just a bit brown, and you can see juices bubbling through the topping and around the edges.

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Maple Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Those of you who know me, know I have a cupcake obsession. When I was a kid my mother used to take me to a small local bakery about once a week, and tell me to order whatever I wanted. I always ordered the same thing: a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, and every year for my birthday we’d buy 20-some odd of those same vanilla cupcakes to bring into school. The bakery has sadly since closed, but my love for cupcakes remains.

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I mean come on, they’re adorable, delicious, and unbelievably satisfying.

Plus unlike cakes which require levelling, torting, masking, and frosting, cupcakes just have to cool, be popped out of the cupcake tins, and frosted. Additionally, they’re much less stressful to transport than cakes. When I have a cake in the car you’ll see me folding towels to use as levellers, and then I drive ten miles below the speed-limit with one hand holding onto the cake-box until I am safely at my destination.

Cupcakes on the other hand can be popped into a box, and simply set into the back seat with very little fanfare. One or two may end up slightly ruined, but the great thing is most recipes make at least a dozen, and an ugly cupcake gives you an excuse to eat it. I mean seriously, no one wants that deformed one, and more importantly you have to make sure they still taste good after transportation. Quality control people. Quality control.

I mean, I love making cake. Love it. But sometimes I just want a cupcake.

I first made these cupcakes last June. They were completely inappropriate given that it was nearly 80 degrees out, perfectly sunny, and summer. Today is more appropriate, given that we’re into the second week of November and it’s definitely not pushing 80 outside. Plus, the time has officially ‘fallen back,’ Starbucks has switched to holiday cups, and I could order an eggnog latte, if I liked eggnog. It’s officially the holiday season, so let the holiday baking begin.

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These maple cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting come out of one of my favourite cookbooks: Baked Explorations.

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These particular cupcakes are pretty much perfect. They are dense, with a hint of maple, and covered in the most incredible cream-cheese frosting I’ve ever had. I love it so much I use it every time I make cream-cheese frosting no matter what I’m planning to use it for.

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Unlike most cream-cheese frostings which are overly sweetened due to an overload of powdered sugar added in to stiffen them up, this frosting uses a bit more butter and cream cheese which lets the flavour shine through. I’ll be honest – it doesn’t hold a piped-shape very well, but it does so enough to use a plain round-tip, or to get decently-smooth edges onto the side of a cake. But the flavour is undeniable, and well worth putting out a slightly messier dessert.

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Just trust me and make the damn cupcakes.

Here’s what you need (lightly adapted from Baked – Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented)

1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1.5 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2Tbsp of butter – softened and cut into chunks.

2 cups pure maple syrup – and for the sake of maple syrup lovers everywhere, use the real stuff, it’s pricy but worth it.

3 egg yolks

1 egg

1.5 cups whole milk

For the Frosting:

3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks

12 ounces cream cheese softened – I let mine sit out on the counter while I make and bake and cool the cupcakes

4 cups powdered sugar – sifted, this keeps out the lumps so don’t skip it.

2 tablespoons maple syrup.


Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 muffin trays with cupcake liners.

2. Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter until it starts to ribbon a bit. Turn the mixer onto low and stream in the maple syrup before increasing the speed and beating for about 3 minutes until the mixture is close to uniform. It will look a bit curdled as the butter will not want to blend with the maple syrup. That’s ok so long as you’ve managed to get the mixture fairly uniform.

4. Lightly beat the egg yolks and eggs and then pour into the batter in three separate additions. Beat until just incorporated after each additions.

5. Scrape the bowl, and with the mixer on low speed add half the flour, then all the milk, and the rest of the flour. Mix until just uniform, as soon as the last of that flour disappears, turn off your mixer.

6. Using a 1/4 cup measure, fill each of the muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes (my oven took 22 minutes), rotating the pans 180 degrees, and switching racks if baking both pans at the same time, after 15 minutes. Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the muffin pan for 15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool all the way before frosting.

To make the frosting:

1. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until it is completely smooth. Add the softened cream cheese and beat until they are combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

2. Add the maple syrup, then lower the speed on the mixer and add the powdered sugar, once it starts to incorporate beat on medium speed until the frosting comes together.

Frost cupcakes using either a pallet knife, or a large round tip. As I mentioned above, the frosting is too soft to hold a star shape.

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