Monday

The perfect vanilla cake

For me at least :)
I love vanilla, and this cake is so soft and fluffy, it makes my tummy tickle. Pair it with an amazing cream cheese frosting, and it can't get any better! Oh wait! It does get better! It is pink, and lavender... a wonderful delicate yumminess. Perfection.


I wanted to bake a  gradient colored cake for a long time, and I am so happy I finally did. Can't wait to try a rainbow one too!
The original recipe for this cake was with butter cream frosting, but I don't really like butter cream. Why would you use butter mixed with sugar for frosting? Yes, it looks good and is easy to use and frost with it, but I really don't like the texture or taste of it. It is just greasy. And I tried them all, simple butter cream, meringue butter cream, but none works for me. 

Cream cheese frosting has a lovely texture, is super creamy but not greasy, it has a tang to it, that I love, that really compliments the rich vanilla cake. It goes beautiful with chocolate too. You can as well color it anyway you want using food coloring.
You can also use a custard base cream for this cake. 
And I am planning to make one covered in fondant as well. So many thinks to try and do!
The white frosting works very well with a layered and colorful cake like this, because it just makes it a wonderful surprise when you cut a simple white cake and discover such a pretty inside. 

Ingredients:

For the cake
5 ounces egg whites ( 5 large egg whites or 150 grams ) I just put 2/3 cup
3/4 cup whole milk ( 180 ml )
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract ( 15 ml )
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour ( 10 ounces or 285 grams )
1 3/4 cups sugar ( 12 ounces or 350 grams )
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
12 tablespoons butter ( 6 ounces or 170 grams ) cut in cubes
pink and lavender food colorings
Cake recipe adapted from Sweetapolita

Cream cheese frosting
16 oz cream cheese ( 450 grams) I use Philadelphia regular 
1 cup heavy whipping cream ( 8 ounces or 240 ml ) 
2 cups confectioners sugar ( 200 grams ) You can put 3 cups if you want it sweeter 
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

When you bake any cake it is very important to accurately measure the ingredients and for all the ingredients to have room temperature.

Method:

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F ( 180 C ).
Butter and line with parchment paper 2, or 4 if you have, 8 inch cake pans. I have 2, so I baked the cake in 2 rounds.
Mix in a bowl the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk and the vanilla. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electrical mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the dry ingredients : flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. 
Add the butter and remaining milk ( 1/2 cup ) and mix on low speed until combined, then on medium ( 4 ) for 1-2 minutes.
Add the egg white mixture, in 3 separate batches, beating for 20 seconds after every batch, scraping the sides of the bowl. Your batter should look smooth like this. If it curdles means you had too much liquid in the batter. I don't know if it will work adding just  a little more flour, like 1-2 tablespoons, because it never happened to me, but you can give it a try if you have a curdled batter.

Divide the batter equally in 4 separate bowls. You can do that using a kitchen scale. I don't have one yet, so I just divided it using a large ice cream scoop like this one, that you can use to divide batter for cupcakes too. It is important to have equal amounts of batter to make sure your layers will be equal in thickness when baked. 

Put one drop of pink food coloring in the first bowl, one pink plus one purple in the second, 2 purple drops in the third, and 3 drops of purple in the fourth. Mix well each, with different spoons/forks/spatulas.
You can do this using whatever colors and combination you want. This is a fun cake to make!

Bake the 4 different colored batches of batter. I put two pans at once in the oven, on the same rack, int he middle. Bake for 16 minutes. Baking time depends on your oven as well, so make sure to check them around minute 14, and see if  when you insert a toothpick in center comes out clean. It can be 15, 16 or 17 minutes. Is important not to over bake, and this is easy because the layers are quite thin, so keep a watchful eye on them.
After baking the first two layers, let them cool, then delicately take them out of the pans. The layers are thin and very delicate. The colder they are the easiest will be to take them out. Parchment paper helps you a lot in this step. so it is important to use it.
Put them on a wire rack to cool completely. 
Wash, dry, butter and line with parchment the pans again quickly, and bake the other two layers.
Let them cool too, and here you have 4 beautiful different colored cake layers.

Prepare the frosting:
Whip the heavy whipping cream using and electric mixer, using the wire whip attachment, until it gets stiff whipped cream. Put it aside in a bowl.
In the same bowl of the electrical mixer beat the cream cheese using the paddle attachment, on medium speed, until fluffy. Add the confectioners sugar gradually, and the vanilla, and beat on medium ( 4 on my KitchenAid ) for 7-10 minutes, until light and fluffy. Fold in the whipped cream and mix well. 


I love cream cheese frosting, but I wanted it to be a little more light and airy, so I thought of combining it with whipped cream, and this is now my favorite cake frosting! It will work great on cupcakes as well, I can't wait to try!
Place the darkest lavender colored layer ( the one with 3 drops of coloring ) on the cake stand, or serving platter you will use for the cake. Using the same ice cream scoop place two dollops of the frosting in the middle of the layer, and spread evenly using a spatula.
Place the layer with two purple coloring drops on, spread with another 2 dollops of frosting, then the one with pink and purple coloring, spread with frosting, and finally the last pink layer on top. 

Frost the whole cake with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting, to crumble coat it. This will ensure that no cake crumbs will get into your final layer of frosting, and have a perfect result. Place in fridge for 30 minutes to set. You can then finish frosting it with the remaining cream.

Hope you will enjoy making this cake as much as I did. It is like playing in kindergarten! And there are so many variations you can try, just let your imagination go wild. I am planning on making a double batch of this batter, in order to make more layers to this cake! A six or seven layer cake would be so cool! 

Thanks for reading!
A

Friday

Turkey

The turkey turned out delicious. 




All I did is to take it out of the brine, pat dry with paper towels, let stand for 1 hour at room temperature, rub it with softened butter inside-out, sprinkle with some fresh ground pepper and cover it with a cheese cloth soaked in butter melted with rosemary in a sauce pan. 





Place the turkey on a grill on top of a roasting pan filled with dry white wine and some water and roast at 400 degrees F for one hour. Baste it every 30 minutes with some left over melted butter. After one hour, take out the cheese cloth and roast for one and a half hours at 350 degrees F. Our turkey was 10 pounds, so if your turkey is larger, you need to keep it longer in the oven, 3 1/2- 4 hours for a 20 pounds bird. Also ours was not stuffed, as we don't like stuffing, but if you do stuff it you also need to add extra time in the oven. The turkey is ready when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh, reaches 170 degrees F. You need to be careful not to dry it too. 


We served it with roasted vegetables: carrots, green beans and tomatoes, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them in the oven with the turkey, for the last 45 minutes of the roasting time. 


Also made mashed potatoes: cut the potatoes in cubes, boil them in salty water, drain the water, add cold butter ( 1 tablespoon per large potato you boiled ) and mash together. Taste for salt, and if you want more you can add. Then heat 1/8 cup of milk per potato, and pour it over the mashed potatoes, mixing well, and you will have the most fluffy and delicious mashed potatoes. It is important not to use a blender/mixer for mashing them, because they will have the texture of glue! In order to have a fluffy consistency you need to mash them by hand with a potato masher, or even a fork will work for smaller quantities. 


The gravy I made by just placing the roasting pan containing the drippings from the turkey on medium heat on the stove, and let it simmer, adding 1 tablespoon of flour, to make it thicker, stirring constantly, until you reach the desired consistency. Strain and that's it!


Some green salad on the side, some pickles, and we had a very yummy Thanksgiving dinner. Followed by cake of course :) I will have a post about the cake soon.




Hope you all had a great time on Thanksgiving! And did you go shopping on Black Friday?
Thank you for reading,
A



Thursday

Preparing for our first Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!


So excited to prepare our first turkey, for our first Thanksgiving, in our new home... happy! I just made the brine. It is kind of an experiment really. Looked for inspiration on marthastewart.com , but ended up adding a bunch of random things in it. So curious, can't wait to see how it will taste. Getting hungry just thinking about that turkey now!


We went earlier and bought a small 10 pounds turkey. Brining is supposed to ensure your roast will be very moist and flavorful and means actually soaking the whole turkey in a solution of salt and water. Adding aromatics to it will only make the meat more flavorful. I read that you must brine it for an hour per pound of meat, so ours would be ready in 10 hours, but it would be just fine to keep it even longer. Some recommend 24 hours. Some keep it for 2-3 days even. Ours will stay around 12 hours, that should be enough I think.

This is how I made it:
Put in a pan 4 cups of water, 1 cup salt, 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns, 1 tablespoon mustard seeds, 2 thyme stems, 4 bay leafs, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and bring to a simmer. Let aside to cool. 

Line a large pot/container, ( larger than your turkey ) with a large brining or oven roasting bag. Place the room temperature turkey in, and pour over the mixture. Add a bottle of dry white wine, 1 large finely chopped onion, 4 crushed garlic cloves , 1 sliced orange, and 1 sliced lemon, 1 sliced carrot and some parsnip. 

Complete with cold water until the whole turkey is covered. Make sure everything is well mixed and the turkey submerged in brine, filling the inside as well. Close tightly the bag, taking the air out as much as possible and secure with twine. Place in fridge overnight. 



The next day take the turkey out, discard the brine. Pat dry the turkey and place on a roasting pan, breast side up. 
I still didn't decide what to do next... will see tomorrow, it is 2 am so I am off to sleep :) and I have to roast this bird tomorrow, and bake a cake!

Tuesday

Zacusca

The word zacusca / zakuska is of Slavic origin, and simply means "appetizer" or "snack", and the root of the word indicates "tasty", "to bite" or "to snack". And believe me, this is way beyond tasty, is one of my favorites,  I can eat a whole jar by myself, that's how delicious this is.









Zacusca is a vegetable spread or relish, very popular in the Balkans, eaten typically on bread. Traditionally a family will prepare a large quantity of it after the fall harvest, and preserve it in sterilized jars to enjoy over the winter. 
It can be made of red peppers, eggplants, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and even beans, but my personal favorite is my Mom's recipe, made only with red Kapia peppers. Only this particular peppers give the distinctive taste I love so much, that takes me back to wonderful childhood memories.

Once you manage to find the peppers, you passed the hard part of the recipe. It was quite an adventure for me. I was lucky and found some (just 4 pounds) at our local Whole Foods, after a nice employee there offered to look for them in the back, only by my description, as apparently nobody around here ever heard of Kapia peppers. And they didn't even have a pricing on them. But in the end it all worked out. 

Ingredients for 6 half pint jars:
4 pounds Kapia peppers ( sweet red peppers, not spicy ones )
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 bay leafs

You will also need a larger jam pot and 6 half pint wide mouth Mason jars with lids, or any other preserve jars.

Wash thoroughly and roast the peppers by arranging them on a baking sheet and place it in the oven at 500 degrees F (or use the broiler).  Keep a watchful eye on them. When dark spots begin to appear on the peppers, remove the baking sheet from the oven. The peppers will be very hot. Using tongs, carefully turn each pepper over and return the sheet to the oven. When they are roasted on all sides take them out and cover with aluminium foil or plastic wrap, in order to make them sweat, as it will make peeling the skins much easier. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle (probably about 15 minutes) hold by the stem down on a flat surface and gently peel the skin off of each. The skin should slide off fairly easily. 

With the backside of the knife, slit open the side of each pepper and spread them out (ribbed side up). Using the dull side of your knife, scrape off any of the ribs or membrane that remains in the pepper, and the stems. Let them drain in a colander. Place the peppers in a food processor and chop, to small pieces, but not a paste.

In a pot ( I like to use a copper jam pot ) over medium heat mix 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons mustard, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 6 bay leafs, and bring to a boil. Add the chopped peppers, and stirring continuous with a wooden spoon for it not to stick, let it boil for 7 minutes. Turn the stove off. 

Now you will fill the jars.
For a more detailed canning guide you can go here.

I just wash all the jars and lids in the dishwasher, right before I start making the spread, so that they will be done drying at the same time I am done cooking, leaving the jars in the closed dishwasher, to keep them hot until I am ready to fill them. 
After filling the jars with the hot zacusca, making sure there are no air bubbles left, by pressing the spread with a non metal spatula on the walls of the jars, and cleaning the rims, put the lids on, twisting just until "fingertip tight".

Place the jars in a deep roasting pan filled with boiling water in the oven, at 450 degrees F, for 30-40 minutes. Let them cool a little before taking out of the water, and then let them cool completely on a wire rack or towel on the counter. Do not re-tighten the lids, because you will interfere with the sealing process. 

You can keep the jars for few months, in a dry, dark and cool place. I like to use small half pint jars just because I want to open a fresh one every time we want to eat some. After opening the jar you can only keep it for few days in the fridge, and there is just two of us. But if you have a larger family feel free to use bigger jars, and just multiply the recipe, to make more delicious zacusca. This will go fast, so you will want to have made more. I wish I did. Our 6 jars vanished in a week :)

Sunday

Death by chocolate

This is one of my all time favorite cakes. I guess the name says it all : 
Death by chocolate. 
It is the most decadent, rich, dense, moist and chocolaty cakes I ever had.



Death by chocolate


Ingredients:


8 oz (225 g) dark semisweet good quality chocolate (40-50% cocoa)  
2/3 cup (140 g) butter
1 cup (210 g) sugar
4 eggs
4 heaped tablespoons cake flour
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract. I use this in everything. I am not sure what I love more, chocolate or vanilla. I think I am a vanilla girl though :)
4 tablespoons sour cream



Frosting:
2/3 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
9 oz (260 g) semisweet good quality chocolate (40-50% cocoa)


Directions:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 Celsius )
Line the bottoms of two circular 8 inch spring form cake pans, or one 10 inch pan, with nonstick baking paper.


Break the chocolate in small pieces ( or you can just use chocolate chips instead and so you won't need to brake it ), and melt it with the butter in a sauce pan placed over another pan of boiling water. If you want you may add 3 tablespoons of rum The sauce pan should not be touching the water in the second pan. 
In a bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the eggs with sugar on medium ( I put it on 4 on my KitchenAid for about 3-4 minutes ), then mix in flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and vanilla extract. Mix just until incorporated on medium speed. Slowly fold in the melted butter and chocolate and the sour cream. 


Divide the batter equally in the two pans. You can do this accurately by measuring them on a kitchen scale, for even baking and layers.
Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes (if using 1 cake tin 40-50 minutes). Do not open the oven door before 20 minutes pass. Be careful not to over bake the cake, as it will not be as moist. It is fine if it is just a little under baked, rather than over baked.
Let the cake pans cool on a wire rack, loosen edges with a knife, then gently remove from pans and let cool completely. If you have non stick pans use a plastic knife to do this, as a metal one will scratch the pan ruining it. 


If you used just one pan, when completely cooled place the cake in the fridge for an hour or two, or in the freezer if you want to do this faster. This step will make it easier to cut in half horizontally, in order to have two layers. You can do this with a thin, long and sharp bread knife, or use a cake leveler like this one from Wilton, which makes it very easy. This tool is great especially when you want to cut more thin layers of cake.


Prepare the frosting by heating the whipping cream in a sauce pan, put in the chocolate, let it melt for few minutes, then stir well until smooth, and voil├á, you have ganache! Ganache is amazing on anything, you can use it in so many ways, from frosting, filling to decorating, for dipping strawberries in, pouring it warm over ice-cream, or just eat it as it is :) . You can whip it as well, in a mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment, and you will get this wonderful fluffy ganache instead of the dense creamy one.  
Let the ganache cool until it thickens a little, 10-15 minutes, not more, as it will set and be hard to spread.


Use one third of the frosting between the two layers, using the rest to frost it. Put the cake into the fridge for one hour or more to harden the frosting.


This cake should be served at room temperature, but it is just as good when cold, depends on your personal preference. 


This post is dedicated to my sweet and talented baby sister Ayla, who loves this cake and always asks me to bake it for her. Miss her so much! She is all the way in Milan, Italy, studying to become an amazing fashion designer. Can't wait to go to her first fashion show, and see her label on amazing clothes. 


Thanks for reading, and I hope you will try and like this amazing chocolate cake. Let me know!











Thursday

Peach tart on a lovely autumn day




Amazing autumn colors on our street reminded me today  of a tart I made a while ago, and wanted to share it with you. This is a very simple recipe, it will take you no time to make it, as well as to eat it. The crust is so good it will just melt in your mouth. Oh, I really need to bake another one soon now!


Ingredients


Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup very cold butter ( 1 stick, 115 grams )
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Filling:
4-5 peaches ( apricots are also amazing for this recipe )
3-6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Directions:
Simply combine all the ingredients for the crust in a food processor, in a  mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or any other way you want to, although it is not recommended by hand as the heat will melt the butter, and we need to keep the butter as cold as possible.


When the dough has formed a ball, pat it with floured hands on the bottom and sides of a tart pan with removable bottom, or any other tart/pie/au gratin dish you have. You can use a 8-9-10 inch dish depending on how big pie or thick crust you want. I used a 8 inch one here. I prefer smaller pans just because everything is cuter when smaller, and also I cook usually just for two  ;)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or 190 C


Place the pan in the fridge/freezer for the dough to chill, about 10-15 minutes will do. Bake the chilled dough for 10-12 minutes until the crust is set, not fully baked/browned. Let it cool on a wire rack.


Reduce oven to 350 degrees F


Meanwhile prepare the filling : slice thick wedges of peach/apricots, and mix them with the sugar and pure vanilla extract.






Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on the baked and cooled tart crust. Arrange the peach slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, overfilling it as the peaches will shrink during cooking. Sprinkle some more sugar on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes. If the crust gets too dark, cover it with aluminium foil tent.


I love to serve it warm with vanilla ice-cream on top. Enjoy!










Wednesday

Cake made of cheese ?!



Back where we come from, cheesecake is not a very usual desert, and people are not always open on trying a cake made out of cheese. But my love for cheesecake ( or any cake for that matter ) is endless and while my boyfriend had to be tricked by a friend, who I would like to thank for this, to try it, I didn't have any problems falling in love with this awesome treat. Can you believe we ate almost all of it ? 

I decided to try baking my own for the first time, and I was amazed how simple this recipe is to make and how delicious the result turned out. This is why I decided to share it with you. You have to try this! Trust me.


Here is the recipe 

Chocolate covered New York style cheesecake 

Ingredients

Crust:
12-15 graham crackers ( 3/5 inch )
1/4 cup sugar
4-5 tablespoons unsalted, melted butter, plus some at room temperature for the pan
pinch of salt

Filling:
4 bars ( 2 pounds / 1 kg ) of cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/3 cup milk at room temperature
pinch of salt
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, or the seeds of a vanilla stick ( you can save the pod for another use, to flavor some syrup for example )
1/4 cup flour

Chocolate ganache:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6-8 oz good quality chocolate chips 

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or 190 C

Make the crust by pulsing the graham crackers in a food processor until fine crumbs, then add the melted butter, sugar and salt and pulse to combine.






Press the mix on the bottom and about 1 inch on the sides of a buttered spring form pan. You can use a normal cake pan as well, but it will be harder to take it out after baking. I used a 8 inch pan but i think 9 would work better. You can use the bottom of a measuring cup or glass to even out the mix in the pan.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until set, then let it cool on a wire rack. 


Reduce oven to 325 degrees F or 160 C 

Put a kettle of water to boil.

Make the filling :

Put the cream cheese bars in the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat it on medium ( I put it on 6 on my KitchenAid ) for about 10 minutes until fluffy, scrapping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy.





Add salt, milk and combine.


  
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each just until combined, not more, scraping down the bowl after each addition. 




Beat in sour cream, vanilla extract, then the flour .




Wrap the bottom of the pan in foil so that the crust does not get wet while baking. Pour in filling, and put the pan in a roasting pan, pouring in it the boiling water to come halfway up side of the pan. Place in oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. 
Turn off the oven and it  is important to let the cheesecake cool completely without taking it out of the oven, for several hours (4-7) to avoid the top from cracking. When cool, run a knife around the edges (use a plastic one if you have nonstick pans, not to scratch them), remove from pan, let cool completely, then put it on a serving platter.


Make the ganache :
Put the heavy whipping cream in a sauce pan and bring almost to a boil. Drop in the chocolate chips and let them melt for 5 minutes without mixing. Make sure you use very good quality chocolate. After they melt mix well everything to obtain a creamy chocolate ganache. This is divine! Pour over the cheesecake.





Chill , then enjoy !
Let me know if you tried this recipe and how it turned out. You can also substitute the chocolate ganache with fresh fruit, like strawberry or raspberries, cherries , or why not, have them all! Strawberries and chocolate work so well together :) 




Thanks for reading !