Chocolate Babka

DOUGH

FILLING

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa, Triple Cocoa Blend, or the cocoa powder of your choice, Dutch-process or natural
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips, mini chips preferred
  • 1 cup diced pecans or walnuts, toasted if desired

GLAZE

  • 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt until well-combined

TOPPING

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of water), mixing until everything is moistened. Add additional water if necessary to enable the dough to come together. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Then mix/knead it until it’s soft and smooth.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl. The dough is going to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s quite puffy.
  3. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in half. Set the pieces aside, covered, while you make the filling.
  4. To make the filling: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and espresso. Stir in the melted butter. The mixture will look grainy and slick; that’s OK.
  5. Shape each half of the dough into a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle. If the dough “fights back,” let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten, then stretch it some more. Don’t be fussy about this; 19″ or 20″ is as good as 18″.
  6. Smear each piece of the dough with half the filling, coming to within an inch of the edges.
  7. Scatter half the nuts, and half the chopped chocolate/chips over each piece. If using standard-size chips, process them in a food processor first, to create smaller bits of chocolate and a less chunky filling.
  8. Starting with a short end, roll each piece gently into a log, sealing the seam and ends. Working with one log at a time, use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut the log in half lengthwise (not crosswise) to make two pieces of dough about 10″ long each; cut carefully, to prevent too much filling from spilling out. With the exposed filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath. Repeat with the other log. Place each log into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
  9. Brush each loaf with the egg glaze. Mix together the topping ingredients until crumbly, and sprinkle half the topping over each loaf.
  10. Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise until they’re very puffy and have crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 300°F.
  11. Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes (for a total of 50 to 60 minutes); the loaves should be a deep-golden brown.
  12. To ensure the loaves are baked through, insert a digital thermometer into the center of one loaf. It should register at least 190°F.
  13. Remove the loaves from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife. Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes, then turn them out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.
  14. Slice the babka and serve it at room temperature; or rewarm individual slices briefly in a toaster, if desired. Store any leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.
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Tuiles aux Amandes (French Almond Tuiles)

During a recent Christmas cookie-baking party, my French friend made this delicious recipe for Tuiles aux Amandes (or Almond Tuiles). It was my first time trying these cookies, and they were great – very delicate and quick to make. I also have a soft spot for anything almond flavored, so we started off on the right track. 🙂

The cookies are meant to have a curved shape made by letting them dry on a rounded object like a rolling pin. The French word “tuiles” means “tiles” and the curved shape of the biscuit is meant to evoke the curved terracotta roof tiles along the Mediterranean. They are often used by chefs as garnish for custards or ice creams.

Ingredients:

2 large egg whites
100g caster sugar
50g plain flour
Few drops of vanilla and almond extracts
35g butter, melted
50g flaked almonds

Directions:

Melt the butter and let it cool.

Beat the egg whites with sugar until mixture forms soft peaks.

Fold in the flour, vanilla/almond extracts, and melted butter.

Drop Rounded teaspoons of the mixture evenly spaced onto a lined tray. Spread mixture into thin discs with a small knife.

Sprinkle with flaked almonds.

Bake near centre of the oven for 4-5 minutes or until golden with brown tinge at edges.

Remove cooked tuiles quickly using a metal spatula. Curve each biscuit over a rolling pin or other curved object. Leave to dry for a few minutes so it adopts a curved shape.

Remove and place on a drying rack to fully cool.

Store in airtight tin to keep crisp.

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Pecan Puffs

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It’s Christmas and one of my favorite parts of this time of year is the near constant presence of Christmas cookies at the office, parties and home (and the [almost] guilt-free manner in which I consume them!) I typically spend Christmas at home in Colorado, where my mom has a few staple cookie recipes that we make for the family each year. These usually include: classic Spritz cookies, Scandinavian Krumkake (for which she has a special iron cooking pan), Santa’s thumbprint cookies (so cute and a childhood favorite), sugar cookies decorated with Christmas-y colored icing, and the cookies of which I’m writing about in this blog post – Pecan Puffs. Pecan Puffs are my absolute favorite, and therefore I decided to make them myself in London this year. They crumble and melt in your mouth at the same time, while the delicate powdered sugar makes them look like mini snow balls to throw at someone.

I made my batch of Pecan Puffs at a friend’s place in London – we also made a really nice French cookie called Tuiles aux Amandes. I’ve put that recipe up here.

Pecan Puffs

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
2 T sugar
1 cup pecans
1 cup flour
Confectioners sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300F (150 C).
Creme butter until soft.
Add 2 T sugar to the butter and blend until creamy.
Measure, then grind in a nut grinder, 1 cup pecans.
Sift before measuring – 1 cup flour.
Stir the flour and pecans into the butter mixture.
Roll the dough into small bite-sized balls.
Bake on a greased baking sheet for 30 minutes at 300F (150C).
Roll while hot in confectioners sugar.
Place back in oven for a minute to glaze.
Cool.
Makes 40 – 1 1/2 inch balls.

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The spread of cookies we made in London – Pecan Puffs, Tuiles aux Amandes, and Banana Oat Chocolate Chip.

Strawberry Cake with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

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This strawberry cake with lemon buttercream frosting was absolutely delicious. It was also very fun to decorate! I used fresh strawberries on the top as well as strawberry sugar shavings.

Ingredients:

For the Cake Batter

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup diced strawberries
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 tsp strawberry extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

For the Icing

  • 4 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 T milk (more as needed)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Cake

Preheat oven to 350F (176C).  Grease bottom of round pans and line with parchment paper.

In large bowl cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add sour cream and blend until batter is light and airy.

Slowly add flour and milk, alternating between the two. Add baking powder, salt, strawberry and vanilla extracts. Fold in diced strawberries.  Don’t over mix.

Pour batter into the round pan, about 2 1/4 cup batter in each pan. Bake 15 minutes or until toothpick into center comes out clean.

Allow to fully cool before layering and frosting process.

**Tip – place a dab of frosting on the bottom of the cake tray before the icing process begins so the cake doesn’t move around. Put in refrigerator for 15 minutes after icing the layer cake to let set. 

Icing

Beat butter until creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar until well blended. Add other ingredients. Add more powdered sugar or milk if too thin or thick.

 

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Savoury Broccoli Cakes

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These are delicious – fun to make and fun to eat! The broccoli looks like little trees inside the muffin! And I like to tell myself that they are healthy – a bit of your daily vegetable intake 🙂

Ingredients

12 trimmed broccoli florets (each one should fit into a muffin cup with room to spare)
275g (1 cup and 2.5 tbsp) butter, softened
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
300g (1 1/4 cup) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
60g (full 1/4 cup) strong cheddar cheese, grated

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the broccoli florets for 3 minutes. Rinse well in cold water to stop the cooking, then dry each floret well with paper towels and set aside.

Beat the butter until soft and creamy, then add the sugar and continue beating until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix together the flour, baking powder, turmeric, cayenne and salt, and beat this into the wet ingredients as well. Finally, fold in the grated cheese with a spatula.

Place one heaping tablespoonful of batter in the bottom of each muffin case, then tap the tin against the counter to spread batter out. Stand a single floret in each muffin case, and top with the remaining batter, dividing it evenly between the cases. Spread the batter over the top of each floret roughly, but don’t worry about it looking perfect.

Bake the cakes for approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown and hard to the touch. While baking, some butter will bubble up around each cake — you can mop this up with paper towels if you like, but don’t worry too much about it. Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Red Velvet Birthday Cake

I decided for my birthday this year that I would make a layer cake. I’ve never made a full-on cake before, and I presented the idea to myself as a 30th birthday challenge! Plus, red velvet is one of my favorite types of cake and I was happy to have an excess of it to eat on the day that I entered into a new decade of life.

I’m quite well-versed in the art of cupcake-making, but making a whole cake is a bit of a different thing. The hardest part is making sure that the layers stay straight and that the cake doesn’t collapse on itself. According to the vast research I conducted before initiating this endeavor, one way to ensure a unified finished product is to make sure that all the layers are COMPLETELY cooled before stacking them. So I actually made the three layers in the evening, left them to cool overnight, and then layered and frosted the cake the following day. It worked pretty well, and the cake stayed in one piece! I just wrapped the individual  layers in Saran Wrap to make sure they didn’t dry out.

The other challenge I had with this specific cake was the coloring – I didn’t buy enough of the red food coloring (I blame this on confusion in converting American ‘ounces’ to European ‘milliliters’), and the cake came out of the oven looking almost brown! I think this was also due to the ratio of cocoa powder to red food coloring. So next time, I’ll be sure to use the fully recommended amount of red.

Regardless of the slight color mishap, the cake tasted absolutely amazing (the shockingly large amount of butter and sugar used no doubt being contributing factors…) and I will certainly be making it again! Decorating was no less fun – I used an array of heart-shaped marshmallows and silver sugar circles, but one could also use chopped pecans or top with red raspberries.

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Ingredients:

For the Cake Batter:

  • 2 sticks butter (226 grams), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 ounces red food coloring
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Butter, for pan

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese (453 grams), softened
  • 2 sticks butter (226 grams), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Directions:

For the Cake Batter:

Preheat oven to 350 F (276 C). In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make a paste out of the red food coloring, cocoa and salt. Mix paste by hand into the creamed butter.

In a measuring cup, stir eggs with buttermilk and add to batter. Mix in vinegar and vanilla, and then add flour and baking soda. Mix until combined but do not over mix.

Butter a sheet pan. Lay parchment on top. Butter the parchment. Pour 1/3 batter into pan and smooth the top to even the batter out, using an offset spatula. Bake cake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan.

Let all three layers of the cake cool completely before stacking and icing.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

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Mixing the cocoa, salt and red food coloring paste.

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Adding the creamed butter and sugar,buttermilk and eventually flour.

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Layering the cake.

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Finished product – decorated with marshmallow hearts and silver sugar circles.

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The birthday Red Velvet cake!

Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Loaf

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I am a huge fan of all things lemon, especially in the spring time. Lemon is such a bright and fresh flavour, and it works great as a baking accessory in loafs and muffins. I got this recipe for Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Loaf from my mom in Colorado, who in turn found it on a really great blog – sweetpeaskitchen.com. It is simple to make and delicious – tangy from lemon zest and sweet from a lemon glaze over the top. It is perfect to serve for breakfast or dessert!

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Lemon Blueberry Yogurt Loaf

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).  Grease bottom and sides of 9×5 loaf pan, dust with flour, tap out excess flour.
Sift together:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl whisk together:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from approx 2 large lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Fold in blueberries.

  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed, dry with paper towel
  • Toss berries with 1 tablespoon flour before folding them into batter. (This helps prevent them from bleeding into the batter.)

Pour batter into pan and bake 50-55 min.

Cool in pan for 10 min, then remove from pan, put on plate or something to catch syrup drippings.

Use a toothpick to poke holes in the top and sides.  Brush the top and sides with lemon syrup.  Let the syrup soak into the bread, then brush again.

Lemon syrup:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • Heat on stove until sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook 3 more min.

When completely cooled top the loaf with lemon glaze, let drip down sides.

Lemon Glaze:

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
  • Mix

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