Cakes, Cupcakes, and Doughnuts

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cake 1

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cake

It’s spring, the weather is gorgeous, and strawberries have started to make an appearance at the farmer’s market … what more can you ask for?

The first week that strawberries are really good might be the happiest that I am all year. In season strawberries can’t even compare to the pale, bitter berries that are available the rest of the year. Just follow your nose – if they’re ready, you’ll be able to smell them even before you see where they are in the store or at the market. Their scent is so intoxicating that it makes me giddy, and I buy them by the basket full. I just can’t help myself!

Once I’ve eaten way more than my fill, I make this cake. I’ve been making it for a few years now, an it’s absolutely delightful. It’s light and fluffy and had the perfect strawberry milkshake-like flavor. Go ahead and add plenty of colorful sprinkles – a cake this good is worthy of a celebration.

Bitter Chocolate & Blood Orange Cake 2

Bitter Chocolate & Blood Orange Cake

I took a break from reality last week. I took a week off work, bought myself a pass for unlimited yoga, read three books, played around in the kitchen…it was wonderful.

One of the first things I made was this bitter chocolate and blood orange cake. The idea for it had popped into my head while I had been dreaming about birthday cakes the week before, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

baked apple cider donut

Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts

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Fall is officially here, which means one thing – it’s time for apple cider doughnuts! These doughnuts are one of my absolute favorite fall traditions. They’re light and airy and bursting with the warm flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg and the sweetness of perfectly ripe apples. At my favorite orchard, it’s not uncommon for the wait for freshly fried doughnuts to be over half an hour long. Luckily, they’re easy (and healthier!) to make at home – and you don’t need any special equipment. (Although if you read to the end, you’ll find a nice giveaway waiting for you.)

I keep seeing recipes for baked doughnuts that require a special “doughnut pan.”  Sure, a pan makes a pretty, even, and smooth finished product – but it also takes up valuable space in the kitchen! No thanks. My freeform doughnuts might not be as pretty as the ones baked in a pan, but they taste the same. Just make sure to flour your work surface liberally; the dough is very soft and had a tendency to stick.

Orange, Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Pound Cake 3

Orange, Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Pound Cake

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In these last days of winter, it can be hard to find inspiration for new recipes – I’m tired of starchy winter vegetables, and it seems like there’s nothing in season. It’s times like these when I like to turn to citrus. Navel oranges are at the peak of their season and offer a refreshingly bright note amid winter’s heavier flavors.

This rich pound cake was inspired by one of my favorite breakfasts – Greek God’s Vanilla, Cinnamon, and Orange yogurt. I love the way the spicy, musky notes of the cinnamon and vanilla balance out the tangy citrus, and thought they would be a good way to jazz up my standard pound cake recipe. I really loved the way this came out — the sugars from the fresh orange juice caramelized and created a delicate “crust” around the cake, which is dense and tender.

This cake is perfect straight out of the pan but for an extra-special treat, try lightly toasting it under the broiler or in a hot pan.

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Kitchen Tip: Ever wonder how bakeries get their loaf cakes to crack in a perfectly straight line across the top, rather than in a haphazard mess? Simply use the edge of a knife to draw a line of melted butter across the top of the cake before you put it in the oven — like magic, the crack will form right where the line was drawn. When tasting for doneness, do not insert your tester into the crack — since no crust forms here, the cake will be moister and may lead you to think that the cake isn’t ready. Instead, insert your test about an inch to one side or the other.

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Click to continue reading and get the recipe for Orange, Vanilla Bean & Cinnamon Pound Cake –>

Daring Bakers: Kahlua Tiramisu

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When it’s done right, I love tiramisu. But when it’s not done right, it can be pretty disappointing – too sweet and too sloppy. So it goes without saying that I had mixed feeling when I saw that the February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month.

Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession. As part of the challenge, Aparna and Deeba also required that we make our own mascarpone and lady fingers. It seemed like a lot of work for such an iffy outcome, and since I’ve been so exhausted lately I seriously considered not participating in the challenge. But some of my friends on twitter were encouraging, promising that despite the length of the recipe and the time involved, the dish wasn’t complicated to make and that it was some of the best tiramisu they’ve ever had.

I’m glad I took their advice – this was hands down one of my favorite daring bakers challenges to date. The tiramisu was surprisingly easy to make and it tasted fabulous! Not too sweet (though I did cut down on the sugar slightly) with the perfect balance of cream to cake. It also freezes really well, which is great because keeping it readily accessible in the fridge would be way too dangerous! Keeping it in the freezer allows me to thaw just the amount that I want – and makes it difficult to go back for a second slice! I would definitely make this recipe again – it would be the perfect ending to a dinner party.

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The one downside of this recipe is that is does take some advance planning if you’re making it completely from scratch. The cheese itself takes a day to make. Then you’ll want to make sure that the creams have time to chill before you assemble the cake (a half hour in the freezer was enough for mine). Once assembled, you’ll want to let the tiramisu rest for at lest a day to allow the flavors to meld together. I promise you though – it’s worth the wait!

This recipe is different from a lot of other tiramisu recipes in that it uses a zabaglione (an egg custard) and pastry cream in the filling. He flavors his with marsala wine, but I didn’t have any of that, so I used kahlua. I really liked the extra coffee flavor that this gave the final dish. You can use whatever you want though – and it doesn’t need to be alcohol. Extra coffee would be great, as would a fruit puree if you want something less traditional.

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This is a long one, so the recipes are after the jump.