Posts tagged ‘ganache’

August 24, 2011

Pumpercake’s Cherry Chocolate Comeback

I’m ashamed of how long its been since I’ve shared a recipe with you.  There’s no excuse for my blatant neglect of the site, however, I assure you that the recent absence of posts doesn’t mean that there’s been any less baking going on in the Pumpercake kitchen.  Quite the opposite, actually.  The past couple weeks have been spent in preparation of and taking much joy in sharing a series of fun and delicious summertime treats to be enjoyed by friends and family during various visits and vacations.  In the weeks leading up to my jam-packed vacation week, I was able to plan and put together many delightful desserts, and even squeezed in a couple food-photo sessions (special thanks goes out to my favorite food photographer for these especially beautiful shots).What I wasn’t quite able to find time for, however, was the actual article-writing/recipe-posting/desperate-attempts-at-witty-storytelling.

Now, as I attempt to  find myself with a surplus of notes on pre-perfected recipes and hundreds of unedited dessert photos floating about my computer in a devastatingly unorganized manner, just waiting to be sorted and presented to you.  The recipe I chose to share today is one from the lovely vacation I went on with my favorite Virginia family (including my favorite Virginia baby) to Wrightsville Beach.

My cherry-almond chocolate ganache tart is inspired by my favorite kind of protein bar of the same flavor combination.  This version is gluten-free and to enjoyed by all.  As if that weren’t enough, the entire dessert can be made as a no-bake… perfect for a hot summer night when you can’t bare to turn on the oven.  Variations in the type of chocolate, fruit, and nuts used can be made according to your preferences, but I love this combination of silky bitter and semisweet chocolate freckled with juicy dark cherries and fragrant toasted almonds.  The simplicity of the ingredients and assembly seems to only enhance the rustic beauty of the final product.

Cherry-Dimpled Chocolate Ganache Tart

Inspired by: LUNA’s “Chocolate Cherry Almond Bar”

Adapted from Hot Polka Dot‘s Chocolate Hazelnut Cherry Tart

1 cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cherry extract

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

¼ cup salted almonds

Chocolate Tart Crust
(recipe below)

1 cup dark cherries, pitted

– -recipe yield:
12 x 8½-inch rectangle tart

Pour cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk in the extracts and corn syrup.  Place saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a rapid simmer.  While cream mixture is heating, roughly chop semisweet and bittersweet chocolate and place in a large bowl.  Pour simmering cream over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit, untouched, for about 2 minutes.  Then, whisk the mixture in the center of the bowl to melt the chocolate and form a smooth ganache.  Set aside for about 4-5 minutes to slightly cool and thicken.

Place whole almonds in a dry non-stick skillet over low heat while the ganache thickens.  Toss the almonds to toast them evenly and remove them from heat as soon as they are fragrant (which should only take a few minutes).  Transfer nuts to a cutting boar, and, once cooled, give them a rough chop to desired size.  Pour the lukewarm, thickened ganache into a completely cooled tart shell and smooth evenly with an angled spatula.  Scatter pitted cherries into the tart, pressing them slightly into the ganache, and sprinkle on the toasted, chopped almonds evenly over top of the cherry-dimpled tart.  Allow to set up at room temperature for about 3-4 hours, or 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Gluten Free Chocolate Tart Crust

Adapted from  Dinners & DreamsCorn Flake Pie Crust

 6 cups gluten-free corn flakes

¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 egg, lightly beaten (omit for no-bake)

½ teaspoon salt

-recipe yield: one 12×8½-inch tart shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a large tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside.  Pulse together in a food processor the corn flakes and cocoa powder until completely crushed and combined.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the butter, sugar and chocolate chips and place over medium heat until melted and homogeneous.  Pour the chocolate-butter mixture over the corn flake mixture along with the lightly beaten egg and the salt, and stir until the crumbly mixture has fully combined.  Press crust firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan, and place into preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, or until crisped and slightly puffed.  Allow to cool completely in pan on a wire rack before filling with ganache.

July 21, 2011

Chocolate Souffle For A Happy Birthday

Here at Pumpercake, every day last week was celebrated with a Harry Potter-inspired post and recipe.  Amidst all the Harry-hype, it seems that I somehow managed to omit Evan’s birthday dessert from the recipe lineup.  Although I was able to pull together a couple fabulous desserts for the occasion, I didn’t get the chance to whip up a post with the recipe!

Evan, the talented photographer behind the lovely photos of Pumpercake, has been quite the study-bug lately (as mentioned previously) and had requested a low-key, quiet birthday at home.  He suggested that we order some Asian take-out and rent a movie.  I decided to step it up a notch and spent the day placing orders at numerous Chinese, Thai, and Japanese restaurants, selecting his favorite specific dishes from each, and gave a different specified time for every take-out order to be delivered.  With each knock on the door throughout the evening, Evan was presented with an array of his favorite foods until the apartment had transformed into a sort of Asian-buffet.  Needless to say, I knew there would be little room for dessert, so I came up with one mini-dessert, and, to be enjoyed the following day, a more indulgent treat.

Evan is an avid fruit-lover, and his favorite combination is that of white chocolate and raspberries.  As his mini-dessert, I strung together a simple array berries and ran the skewered fruit through some rich white chocolate.  And instead of an extravagant Birthday cake, I went with individual white chocolate souffle cakes, filled with a dark chocolate and raspberry molten surprise.  The cakes turned out amazing.  The light, fluffy texture of a souffle paired with the richness of the warm white and dark chocolates, and the smooth bite and tang of the raspberry made for an incredible merriment of Evan’s favorite flavors.

A very happy (late) Birthday goes out to our wonderful “food-tographer!”  I hope you enjoyed your day (and your desserts!) as much as I enjoy and appreciate all you do for me and for Pumpercake!

White Chocolate Raspberry
Molten Soufflé Cakes

Inspired by: White Chocolate & Raspberries (Evan’s favorite!)

Adapted fromWhite Chocolate Soufflé Cakes with Raspberry-Chocolate Sauce,” Fine Cooking

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

small pinch of table salt

¾ cup whole milk

3 large eggs, separated & room temperature

6 ounces white chocolate, chopped

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

2¼ tablespoons superfine granulated sugar

6 balls raspberry-chocolate ganache (recipe below)

–recipe yield: 6 six-ounce servings

Prepare 6 six-ounce ovenproof ramekins by buttering them and lightly coating them with granulated or superfine sugar, tapping out the excess.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir together flour, salt and about half of the milk to form a paste.  Whisk in the remaining milk and set saucepan over medium heat.  Whisking frequently, heat mixture for 2-3 minutes, or until it forms a thick cream sauce.  As mixture heats, crack egg yolks only into a large bowl, breaking them apart slightly with a fork.  Add a small amount of the cream sauce to the yolks while continuously whisking.  When the yolks have been brought up to temperature, pour them into the saucepan and continue to heat while constantly whisking.  Mixture should soon resemble a pastry cream, and should then be transferred to a large bowl.  Whisk white chocolate into the hot pastry cream mixture until melted and smooth, and then stir in the vanilla.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat egg whites until slightly foamy.  Add in cream of tartar and continue to whip until the whites just barely reach soft peaks.  Gradually beat in the superfine sugar and whip the meringue into medium-soft peaks.  Gently fold the meringue gradually into the tepid pastry cream until the mixture is combined.  Spoon the lightened mixture into each prepared ramekin until each is just about 1/3 full.  Place one chilled ball of raspberry-chocolate ganache into each ramekin on top of the first layer of the souffle mixture.  Spoon the remaining souffle mixture on top of and around each ball of ganache until the ganache has been completely covered and each ramekin is completely full.  Use the dull side of a butter knife to scrape the very top of each ramekin, leveling off the mixture.

Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until the tops of the souffle cakes are golden and they’ve risen and are beautifully puffed, about 16-18 minutes.  They should quiver slightly when tapped and be warm and soft in the centers.  Let cool slightly before serving, but note that the longer they sit, the more they’ll deflate.  Dust with powdered sugar to serve.  Assembled and unbaked souffle cakes can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Raspberry-Chocolate Molten Ganache Filling

½ cup fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Place a small metal pan in freezer.  Pour raspberries in a food processor and pulse until pureed.  Push through a fine mesh sieve, discarding seeds.  Prepare a double boiler with a small glass bowl, and combine in the bowl the butter, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of raspberry puree (remaining puree can be discarded or used as garnish).  Heat until dissolved and hot, remove from heat, and stir in chocolate until melted and combined.  Pour mixture into the chilled pan and freeze for 20 minutes.  Use a small scoop to scrape the mixture into 6 balls.  Refrigerate ganache balls until ready to bake dessert.

July 15, 2011

Merlin’s Beard! The Day Is Here!

Today marks the premier of long-awaited movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Part 2, a film very much worth waiting for and an event worth celebrating!  As we wrap up our Potter Week festivities, I must admit that it’s a bittersweet day here at Pumpercake.    As the battle has ended and  the loose ends have been tied, there will be no more books, movies, or exciting plot twists in our favorite wizarding world.  While the incredible final movie was everything I hoped it would be, I’m sad to see this saga come to an end.  And, I must admit, I’m also a little sad to see the Pumpercake Potter Week  come to an end.  Many of the recipes of this past week have been some of my favorite to think up and create, and the introductions to each of the posts have been, by far, my favorite to write.

Today’s recipe is inspired by “butterbeer,” every Witch’s and Wizard’s beverage of choice.   I created a dramatic and delicious “Butterbeer Layer Cake,” complete with three layers of fluffy, moist cake and multiple frostings and fillings, all flavored in themes of rich and salty butter, sweet and fragrant butterscotch and even a splash of liqueur.  To accompany the extravagant cake, cute little cake-pops take the form of the “golden snitch,” the tiny, fluttering ball from Harry’s favorite wizarding sport, Quidditch.  It wasn’t until after I made up the treats that I recalled Mrs. Weasley creating a magical snitch-themed birthday cake for Harry’s 17th in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’d like to give a heartfelt “thank you” to those loyal Pumpercake readers and Harry-loving fans who’ve followed along all week.  This week’s new subscribers and viewing numbers have taken a gigantic jump up from Pumper’s average stats, making me the happiest girl in the world, as I truly feel that my hard work this week was well worth it.  I hope you enjoyed being a part of Potter Week half as much as I enjoyed organizing it.

Butterbeer Layer Cake
& Golden Snitch Cake Pops

Inspired by: Butterbeer

“I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch,” Scrimgeour said to Harry. “Why is that?”

Hermione laughed derisively.

“Oh, it can’t be a reference to the fact Harry’s a great Seeker, that’s way too obvious,” she said. “There must be a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the icing!”

-Rufus Scrimgeor of the “Ministry of Magic” questions Harry, Ron and Hermione in order to uncover the secret mission left to them by Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Butterbeer Cake

One batch of this recipe creates the base for the layer cake and also for the cake-pop filling.

1¾ cup cake flour

1½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup buttermilk

¾ cup cream soda

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup light brown sugar

4 eggs plus 1 white, room temperature

2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons butter extract

–recipe yield: 1 three-layer cake (trimmed to 7½ inches in diameter), and about 18-22 cake pops.

Butter and flour three 9-inch pans and preheat oven to degrees.  In a medium bowl, sift to combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl stir together the buttermilk and cream soda, and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed to soften.  Beat in both sugars and cream together until sugars have dissolved completely and mixture is fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, additional egg white, and vanilla and butter extracts, beating well after each addition.

Slowly add the dry ingredients in 3 equal parts into the creamed mixture, alternating each addition with half of the liquid ingredients (buttermilk and cream soda).  Divide batter between the three prepared pans (about 2 cups of batter in each pan), and tap the bottom of the pans against counter-top to help release air bubbles.  Place pans into oven for 20-22 minutes, or until cake is springy and edges are light golden.  Allow cakes to cool in pans on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing and placing directly on rack to cool completely.

Butterbeer Butterscotch-Chocolate Ganache Topping
& Butterscotch-Chocolate Whipped Ganache Filling

2 cups heavy whipping cream, plus 2-3 tablespoons

3 tablespoons butterscotch schnapps

3 cups butterscotch chips

1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat the 2 cups of whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  Once cream has been brought to a simmer, turn off heat, and stir in butterscotch schnapps.  Dump butterscotch chips and chocolate chips into a large bowl, and add in the hot liquid, pouring it directly over the chips.  Whisk to melt the chips completely.  Pour about 1/3 of the smooth ganache into a separate bowl, and let sit at room temperature.  This is the ganache topping.

For the whipped ganache, cover the bowl containing the other 2/3 ganache with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to set up (at least 4 hours).  When ready to use, remove the hardened ganache from the refrigerator, let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, and whip until fluffy, adding 2-3 extra tablespoons heavy cream if needed.

Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting


1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

¼ cup vegetable shortening

½ cup butterscotch chips, melted & cooled

1½ teaspoons butter extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons butterscotch custard powder*

3½-4 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a small cup or dish, sprinkle gelatin powder over 1 tablespoon very cool water.  Set aside to allow gelatin to fully dissolve in water, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, cream together butter, cheese and shortening until soft and combined.  Add in melted butterscotch, butter and vanilla extracts, salt, and custard powder and mix on a high speed until combined.  Gradually beat in about half of the confectioner’s sugar until dissolved, then pour in the milk and lemon juice, mixing well until homogeneous.  Gradually add in the remaining confection’s sugar.  Heat the dissolved gelatin until just melted, and beat it and the heavy cream into the mixture until fluffy and homogeneous.

*butterscotch flavored instant pudding will work here, too.

Layer Cake Assembly

Using a 7½-inch round pan or a cardboard cutout as a guide, trim down the 3 cake layers, placing the excess cake edges into a separate bowl to be used later for cake pops.  Using a serrated knife, slice away the very top dome-shaped portion of each trimmed cake layer, leaving a flat and level surface on each cake.  Cake layers can be thinned and leveled to any desired thickness.   The leftover cake pieces should, again, be added to the bowl of excess pieces.

Place one trimmed, leveled cake layer onto serving dish or cake plate.  Spoon a few large scoops of the whipped ganache filling into a pastry or zip-top bag fitted with a medium round tip, and pipe a circle of the filling onto the cake layer following the perimeter of the round cake.  Spoon some more whipped filling into the center of the cake and spread the filling with an angled spatula into an even layer reaching the piped circle of filling.  Spread extra whipped ganache, if needed, to ensure that the center portion of ganache is level with the piped circle edges.  Gently place second cake layer directly onto the whipped ganache layer, lining it up evenly with the bottom layer.  Repeat the piping and spreading techniques with the whipped filling atop the second cake layer, and cover the layer of filling with the final, top layer of cake, lining it up accordingly.

Spoon onto the stacked cake, a few large, heaping scoops of buttercream frosting.  Using an angled spatula, spread the buttercream into an even layer on the top surface, as well as the sides of the stacked and filled cake.  Add any additional buttercream needed to completely cover the assembled cake, smoothing it cleanly and evenly.  Gently re-whisk the ganache topping once or twice, warming it slightly in the microwave if needed, until it has reached a thick, pour-able consistency.  Slowly pour some of the ganache topping onto the center of the frosted cake, allowing the ganache to just barely reach the edges of the cake.  Using an angled spatula, carefully push the poured ganache over the edges of the perimeter of the cake, allowing the topping to spill over onto the sides of the cake.  More smooth ganache topping can be added to the top of the cake, if necessary.

If desired, a quarter cup each of buttercream and ganache (filling or chilled topping) can be re-whipped and transferred into a pastry bag to be piped decoratively around the bottom perimeter of the assembled, frosted cake.  Cake can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator.

Golden Snitch Cake Pops

Adapted from Amy Bites

Reserved cake pieces (see above)

Leftover frostings/fillings (see above)

1 cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup butterscotch chips

1 pound gum paste mix

optional: edible opalescent powder (gold)

Use your hands or a butter knife to gently slice through and break down the reserved cake pieces into crumbles.  Combine leftover buttercream frosting with a few tablespoons ganache (filling or chilled topping), and gradually add the mixture, one or two scoops at a time, to the bowl of cake pieces.  Continuously mix the cake crumbles with the frosting mixture, adding frosting as necessary, until the consistency is pliable enough for moist, sticky cake balls to be formed.  Form heaping tablespoons of the sticky mixture into round balls and place onto a parchment-lined sheet.  Stab each cake ball with a lollipop stick.  Chill the tray of cake balls in the refrigerator to allow them to set and securely fasten to the sticks.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the white chocolate and butterscotch chips, and melt until smooth.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before dunking in the chilled cake balls, one at a time, to be completely coated.  Placed coated cake balls back onto lined tray and allow the outer-coating to slightly set, but not completely harden.  Use a paring knife to create two small, vertical slits into two sides of each cake ball, and allow coating to finish hardening.  Prepare gum-paste as directed on package instructions and roll out to about ¼-inch in thickness.  Draw a narrow wing shape on a piece of heavy card-stock or cardboard and cut it out to be used as a template to eventually create the wings of the “snitch.”  Use a sharp paring knife and the template to cut out gum paste wings.  Store the wings in an airtight container until ready to push into the slits of each cake ball.  If desired, use a small, soft paint brush to dust each “snitch” with edible opalescent gold powder.

April 20, 2011

Thank Heaven (continued)

I knew that there was going to be a decent amount of children at the luncheon of Talia’s Christening and even though I find the pink champagne cupcakes to be super yummy, they do have a pretty prominent champagne taste… maybe not the most appealing flavor for those under the age of 6.  I decided it would be a good idea to do something a little more kid-friendly, but equally as dressed up and delicious.

In keeping with the cherry blossom theme of the week, and in my excitement and longing to use the delectable Michigan black cherry preserves I’d been so overjoyed to find, I decided on a rich, chocolate cupcake wrapped around a black cherry buttercream… a semi-spin on a chocolate covered cherry.  I hoped that this classic combination of flavors could be appreciated by party attendees of any age, but in order to further entice the younger crowd just a touch, I completed the cakes with colored sprinkles and chocolate candies atop the whipped white chocolate ganache.

The festive chocolate cakes were a huge hit at the luncheon, maybe even more so than the pink champagne cakes!  I especially loved the overall texture and chocolate flavor of the slightly-sweet cakes…  this just may be my new go-to chocolate cake recipe.  And the subtle hint of cherry in the girly-pink buttercream filling was the perfect choice to honor the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the arrival of spring, and to celebrate the beautiful little girl who brought us all together that afternoon.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Black Cherry Filling & Whipped White Chocolate Ganache

Inspired by: Chocolate Covered Cherries

Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from Magnolia Bakery’s “Chocolate Cupcakes,”  The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

–recipe yield: about 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tines with cupcake papers.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl filled with the unsweetened chocolate.  Melt the chocolate over the double boiler and remove from heat.  Stir in the instant coffee granules and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars, beating until fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.   Slowly drizzle in a small amount of the cooled chocolate, as to bring the mixture up to temperature without cooking and scrambling any of the egg.  Continue to then add in the remaining chocolate, mixing until well-incorporated.

Slowly and in three equal batches, add the dry ingredients into the chocolate-butter mixture, alternating with two equal additions of the buttermilk and vanilla.  With each addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over-beat.  When the batter is smooth and homogeneous, carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake-tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before removing them from the tins and transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Black Cherry Cream Cheese Buttercream Filling

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

3-4 tablespoons Michigan black cherry preserves

about 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups powdered sugar

3/4  tablespoon heavy cream

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy and soft (about 3 minutes).  Add in the preserves and continue to beat until well-incorporated. While mixing on a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and continuing to add in the sugar until desired consistency and flavor is achieved.  Drizzle in the heavy cream and increase the mixer speed to medium-high.  Beat buttercream for another minute or so, or until fluffy. Transfer buttercream filling into a pastry or zip-lock bags to prepare to fill cupcakes.

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache

This is a basic whipped ganache recipe that compliments the chocolate cakes very well.  Preparation should begin the day before serving.

24 ounces white chocolate chips

1  1/4 cups heavy cream

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Combine and melt together the white chocolate and 1 cup of the cream in the large bowl.  Once fully melted and smooth, remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool.  Once the mixture has cooled, cover the bowl and transfer to the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Just before ready to frost cupcakes, remove the slightly hardened ganache from the fridge and allow to sit out and come to room temperature.  Then, beat the softened mixture on medium-high speed, adding about 1/4 cup heavy cream to moisten the mixture, if necessary.  Continue to whip the gananche until desired fluffy or stiffened texture is achieved.  Remember to be careful not to over-whip the mixture, as over-whipping heavy cream can create butter.

When ready to frost cupcakes, transfer ganache into  a pastry or zip-lock bag.

Optional Ingredients for Decorating:

M&M’s, candy coated chocolate covered almonds, jelly beans, colored candies, colored sprinkles, jimmies, etc.


Using a round apple corer or a small paring knife, hollow out the centers of each cupcake.  Snip off the tip or a corner of the pastry or zip lock bag filled with the cherry-cream cheese buttercream and prepare to fill the cakes.  To do this, insert the tip of the bag into the hollowed cake and squeeze a small amount of the filling into the cake, just until it plumps and the filling barely reaches the top of the cake.  Continue to fill each cake, and when all cakes have been filled, replace the very tops of the inside “guts” that have been taken out of the cakes.  I prefer to tear off the bottom half of the “guts” before plugging each of the cupcake holes with only the top piece.

To frost the cakes, I used pastry bags with a round tip and also one with a large star tip to pipe different swirls on the cakes.  I used the M&M’s, almonds, jelly beans and other chocolate candies to create flower patterns, butterflies and dragonflies on the cakes, as well as some more simple decorations with a dusting of jimmies or sprinkles.  Get creative!

April 18, 2011

Red Velvet, Fit For A “Wing”

One of the best things about growing up in Michigan, for me, was being brought up as a passionate fan of the Detroit sports teams.  Similar to the economy in Detroit, it seems that lately the Pistons and the Lions have seen better days.  And don’t even get me started on the tragedy that was the dismissal of the 3-time WNBA championship winning team, the Detroit Shock, now the “Tulsa Shock.”  But, there is one sports organization that we can always count on for consistently impressive wins, guaranteed trips to the playoffs year after year, and more Stanley Cups than you can count on two hands, the Detroit Red Wings.

The start of the NHL Playoffs has brought about mixed emotions for me.  Excitement, of course.  A little nervousness at times.  But most of all, a longing to be near the excitement in Detroit and the team that I love.  A small group of us hockey fans from Michigan get together to watch Red Wings’ games from time to time here in DC, and it seemed only appropriate that we be together to watch the Wings tear Phoenix apart in Game 1 last Wednesday night and celebrate what is sure to be a great playoff season for our team.  I wanted to bring something that was somewhat Red Wing-themed for my friends to munch on while we watched the game, but couldn’t decide which direction I wanted to take.  While considering a few options, another friend of mine came to me in search of a good red velvet cake recipe.  Red velvet! While I was without a ‘go-to’ recipe of the red velvet persuasion, I jumped on the opportunity to do a little recipe testing.  And red velvet cake seemed like a very appropriate treat to serve to those fans of the best team in the whole wide world.

Although I’ve made a few red velvet cakes in my day, I was having a hard time recalling any really great red velvet recipes that I’d tried.  And as I didn’t want to pass along a mediocre recipe to my good friend, I decided to try three different cake recipes (baked into cupcakes) paired with three different frostings and have everyone vote on their favorite of each.  In the red velvet playoffs, the frostings included a traditional cream cheese buttercream, a non-traditional, white chocolate-cream cheese ganache and my favorite marshmallow frosting.  I chose three very different cake recipes that called for three different types of vinegar, amounts of cocoa, amounts of sugar, and different food color mixing/pasting techniques.  The tested recipes were the Magnolia Bakery’s recipe, an adapted version of Martha Stewart’s recipe and, as a wild card, Bobby Flay’s red velvet recipe.  For those of you who don’t tune into the Food Network and don’t know who Bobby is or why his recipe is a wild card, I’ll explain.  Bobby Flay, although a world renowned chef, specializes in Southwest flavors and cooks most famously with different varieties of spicy peppers.  He is, in no way, famous for his pastry skills.  A while back, however, he challenged a New York City pastry chef and baker of an award-winning red velvet cake to a “Red Velvet Throwdown,” during which, a panel of judges deemed Bobby Flay’s red velvet cake the winner.  I was curious as to how his simple recipe beat out that of the famous “Cake Man Raven,” and decided to try it out for myself.  And, to my surprise, Bobby’s Throwdown-winning cake was also winner of my little red velvet recipe battle, overwhelmingly receiving the most votes by far!  I will include two frosting recipes, as votes for the best were split between the buttercream and the ganache, with my yummy marshmallow frosting receiving only one vote… mine.  I think the hockey fans must have just been reluctant to vote for anything resembling “icing.”  (Sorry, I had to.)

The delicious, luxurious texture and flavor of Bobby’s cake is outstanding.  Red velvet, indeed.  And, while the other two recipes had me sifting cake flour, splitting vanilla beans and concocting red-coloring pastes to be mixed into intricate batters, Bobby’s recipe was refreshingly straightforward and simple.  I think you’ll be surprised as to how easy it is.  Almost as easy as sweeping the Coyotes in Round 1 will be for the Red Wings.

The Ultimate Red Velvet Cake

Inspired by: Red Velvet Cake & the Detroit Red Wings

Adapted, just barely, from Bobby Flay’s “Red Velvet Cake,” Throwdown With Bobby Flay

3 ¾ cups all purpose flour

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 ¼ cups granulated sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons red food coloring

1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

recipe yield: 1 three-layer 9-inch cake, or 36 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with papers or prepare three 9-inch cake pans by lining them with parchment paper and buttering and flouring the bottom and sides of each pan.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamed, about three minutes.  Add in the oil and continue to cream for another couple minutes until the sugar has dissolved into the mixture.   Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and the food coloring and continue to beat until the mixture is homogeneous and the color is evenly incorporated.

Slowly add in 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, mix well, and then add half of the buttermilk, again, mixing well afterward.  Continue to add the other two batches of the flour mixture alternating with the remaining buttermilk, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.  In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and the red wine vinegar, and add the mixture to the batter.  Mix well until the vinegar mixture has been incorporated and the batter is smooth.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers or divide it evenly between the three prepared pans.  Bake cupcakes for about 18-20 minutes or until the cakes are just set and are slightly springy to the touch.  Bake 9-inch round cakes for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Cool cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pans and allowing to cool completely.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Ganache

This rich, smooth, slightly whipped ganache is absolutely delicious and was actually slightly favored over the buttercream during the taste tests.  As a ganache, its’ thinner texture is probably better suited for covering cupcakes than for spreading in between layers of a full 9-inch cake.

12 ounces white chocolate chips

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate chips.  As the chocolate is melting, in a seperate,  small, heavy-bottomed saucepan place the softened cream cheese (broken up with a wooden spoon) and the ¼ cup heavy cream.  Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and, constantly whisking, allow the cream cheese to break apart and melt into the heavy cream, being careful to keep it moving and not allow the milk or cheese to curdle.

Once the cream is smooth and hot, add a small amount into the melted chocolate and stir.  If the chocolate beings to seize, the cream is not hot enough.  Return the cream back to the hot stove top, turn the burner on low and don’t panic!  Use an electric mixer to try and smooth out the seized chocolate mixture.  Once the chocolate is as smooth as you can get it and the temperature of the cream mixture is brought up, slowly add small amounts of cream to the chocolate and continue to beat until it has all been added and is beaten into a homogeneous mixture.  Allow the smooth mixture to cool slightly before covering it and refrigerating it overnight.

Once the chocolate-cream cheese mixture has chilled, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out and soften at room temperature.  Once it has become manageable, start to whip the mixture  until desired consistency is achieved,  adding extra heavy cream if necessary.  Slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined.  Depending on the consistency the ganache is whipped to, it can either be piped, spread, or poured onto the cakes or cupcakes, or, the top of the cupcakes can be dunked directly into the bowl of ganache.

Cream Cheese Buttercream

The stiffer texture of this frosting makes it an ideal choice for spreading in between layers of 9-inch layer cakes, or for piping decorative patterns using a pastry bag and tip.

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature                2 tablespoons heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature                                1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ¼ -4 cups confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy and soft (about 3 minutes).  While mixing on a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and continuing to add in the sugar until desired consistency and flavor is achieved.  Drizzle in the heavy cream and vanilla extract and increase the mixer speed to medium-high.  Beat buttercream for another minute or so, or until fluffy.

Transfer to a pastry or plastic zip-lock bag to pipe onto cakes, or, use an angled spatula to spread on cupcakes or on and in between layers of 9-inch cakes.

April 16, 2011

Hometown/New-Town Cherry Celebration

My parents came to DC  for a little visit last week, along with their adorable Japanese exchange student, Yuko, who I fell in love with.  Yuko is staying with my parents in Michigan for a year while she studies English at a nearby University.  When I heard that she’d be accompanying them on their visit, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be able to share with her some of the great beauty and history of America that’s showcased here in DC.  And what better time for a girl from Japan to visit DC than during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the two-week long celebration of the blossoming of the cherry trees galore, a gift given by the Mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC years ago to honor the friendship between the United States and Japan? 

I wanted to bake something special in honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival, and while I was deeply inspired by the exquisite beauty of the cherry trees and their pretty pink blossoms, neither my parents nor Evan care much for cherries.  Now, if we were talking Michigan black cherries, it would be a whole different story.  Found only in Michigan, these dark black cherries are pleasantly sweet-tart and seem to be enjoyed by cherry-lovers and non-cherry-lovers alike.  The only way I knew I could get away with using cherries in a dessert is if I could get my hands on some of these home-grown favorites, which would be nearly impossible seeing as though it is 9+ hour drive from DC to Michigan, where the cherries probably aren’t even in season yet.  I had just about given up on the idea of a cherry dessert for my family, when I randomly stumbled upon a jar of Michigan Black Cherry preserves while shopping one day.  I was overjoyed at the endless possibilities this little jar had to offer, and even more overjoyed when I brought it home, opened it up, tasted, and confirmed that the contents were, in fact, the real deal.

In desserts, cherries are commonly paired with almond flavors.  I chose to challenge myself by making an almond genoise, my first ever attempt at a traditional genoise.  A genoise is a slightly sweet Italian sponge-like cake and is a staple in French pastry.  It uses zero chemical leavening,  only air whipped into the batter to give the cake volume.  It can also be piped into ladyfingers or molded into madelines.  As these cakes can be a little temperamental, I tried two different recipes, just barely altering either (as this was my first attempt), and chose the recipe that yielded the most favorable result.  That is the recipe I will share below.  In between the cake layers, I incorporated a layer of the delicious preserves and a layer of vanilla pastry cream, and topped the whole thing off with a whipped white chocolate and black cherry ganache (as I wouldn’t dare serve my mom any sort of dessert that didn’t include at least some chocolate) the same color as the rosy-pink blooms that grace the District.  The finished product turned out to be a yummy tribute to the city I now call home, paired with the comforting flavors from where I grew up.

Michigan Black Cherry-Blossom Festival Layer Cake

Inspired by: Michigan Black Cherries (and the DC Cherry Blossoms)

Almond Genoise

Barely adapted from Chef De Cuisine’s “Almond Genoise”

-note: this recipe can and should be cut in half and prepared in two batches, as it’s  much easier to incorporate air in the batter when there is less of it.

2/3 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

8 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, separated

6 large egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper, and then buttering and flouring the bottoms and the sides.

Sift together in a medium bowl the cake flour and almond flour.  Set aside.  In a separate, medium bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to form soft peaks.  Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar while beating.  Set aside.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Rigorously whisk together egg yolks, whole eggs and sugar in the large bowl over the simmering water.  Beat the mixture continuously until triple in volume, around 8-10 minutes.  Then, turn off the burner and remove bowl from heat.  Fold the egg whites into the egg-sugar mixture.  Slowly and in small batches, sift in the flours fold until incorporated, and then fold in the butter.

Distribute half the batter into one pan, and evenly divide the second half of the batter into each of the other two pans.  You should have one pan with half of the batter in it, and two pans, each with a quarter of the batter in them.  Place them into the preheated oven.  Use only the oven light when checking the cakes, as opening and closing the ovens will reduce the heat and keep the cakes from rising to their full, fluffy volume.  Remove the two pans with the least batter after about 15-20 minutes (or until lightly brown and springy to the touch), and remove the pan with the most batter about 5 or so minutes after.  Really keep an eye on these cakes while they bake so that they don’t overcook and dry out, as a genoise’ tends to be a somewhat dry cake anyway.  Keep the cakes in the pans on wire racks to cool until ready to assemble.

Whipped White Chocolate and Black Cherry Ganache

24 ounces white chocolate chips

1 1/4 cup heavy cream, divided

1/4-1/2 cup Michigan black cherry preserves, or any substitute

-optional: 3-4 drops of red food coloring*

-a mug of very hot water (for decorating)**

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl containing the white chocolate and 1 cup of the heavy cream.  Use a rubber spatula to keep the mixture moving as the chocolate melts.  When bowl is removed from heat and chocolate has melted, allow it to sit at room temperature to cool for a few minutes.  Then, cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

After chocolate ganache has been chilled overnight, remove the bowl from the fridge.  Ganache should be slightly hardened.  Use a wooden spoon or even a knife to break it up a little in the bowl.  Add a couple tablespoons of the heavy cream and the desired amount of cherry preserves to the hardened ganache.  Using an electric mixer, whip the mixture until the chocolate ganache has broken apart by aid of the added liquid and the mixture is homogenous.  If needed or desired, add the remaining two tablespoons of the heavy cream, as well as any more preserves and the red food coloring.  Whip the mixture until soft peaks form, or until desired consistency is achieved.  Do not over-whip the mixtures, as the heavy cream can eventually turn into butter if whipped for too long.

Other Ingredients for Fillings:

1 cup of pastry cream

¾ cup Michigan Black Cherry preserves, or any substitute


First, I like to trim the three cake layers.  I use a cardboard circle or the top of a round Tupperware lid, place it in the center on the top of each cake, and use it as a guide to trim the edges off of the cake with a serrated knife.

Smear a dollop of pastry cream onto the middle of platter or cake plate to secure the cake to the center of the dish.  Place one of the two thinner cake layers upside-down onto the platter, making sure its centered.  Spoon the cherry preserves onto the cake and use an angled spatula to gently spread the preserves into an even layer that reaches all edges of the cake, without cascading down the sides of it.

Next, gently place the thickest layer of cake on top of the layer of preserves, lining it up with the bottom layer as best you can.  Pipe the pastry cream in a circle as close to the outer edge of the cake layer as possible, without allowing it to fall the the sides of the cake.  Spoon the rest of the pastry cream onto the center of the cake, using a spatula to spread the cream into an even layer across the  entire cake.  Place the remaining, thinner cake layer gently atop the pastry cream.

Slide a few strips of parchment paper under the cake, in between the bottom layer of cake  and the cake plate.  This will help to catch any drips without dirtying the plate.  Gently spoon some of the whipped cherry-chocolate ganache onto the assembled cake.  Use a spatula to spread an even layer of the ganache across the cake, covering both the tops and sides.  Smooth out the ganache, pull away and discard the strips of parchment paper from beneath the cake, and serve.

*The whipped ganache is beautiful without the food coloring and can easily be omitted.  In keeping with the theme of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the added color helped me achieve a pink that closely matched the blooms.

**A tip for getting the ganache super smooth after covering the cake:  Dip your metal, angled spatula into a mug of very hot water before spreading every few strokes.  The chocolate in the ganache will soften and smooth out into a pretty, shiny surface.