These are the perfect marriage between a peanut butter cookie and a chocolate chip cookie. Both are classics in their own right, and this recipe somehow manages to combine the tastes and textures that makes each one great. Good peanut flavour, slightly chewy like a good chocolate chip cookie, and full of chocolate chips. Seriously, these are the best peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tried.
One of my co-workers recently had a birthday and a cake was requested, so I obliged with a vanilla cake filled with pears and frosted with chocolate buttercream. It went over really well at work (someone actually said, “This is the best cake I’ve ever had!” 🙂 ) so I have a feeling I’ll be making more. This will continue the trend of me having made more cakes in the past six months than I have in the past six years, but that is totally fine with me ;).
This vanilla cake (aka yellow cake, because it contains egg yolks) is super easy to make and comes out fluffy, moist, and delicious. It’s my favorite plain cake recipe because it doesn’t require any fancy ingredients and it could easily be jazzed-up-up with lemon or orange zest or something. I baked it at a slightly lower temperature than the recipe stated and wrapped the pan in strips of damp towel to insulate it against getting a big domed top, and the cake came out perfectly baked and perfectly level. I wanted to fill it with something fruity, and over Thanksgiving my mum gave me a big bag of gorgeous pears from her pear trees, so I sautéed some in butter and brown sugar and spread it between the cake layers. I also wanted to try proper Swiss meringue buttercream frosting after the cream cheese frosting fiasco, and it came out awesome! Fluffy, buttery, and not too sweet. I can’t wait for an excuse to make it again in another flavour. Plus it was really fun to decorate with :).
Pear-Filled Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Because of all the butter in the frosting, this cake should be stored in the fridge, but let it come to room temperature before serving – the texture of the filling will be much better, and cake tastes best when it’s not cold anyway!
Yellow Vanilla Cake
Modified slightly from A Passion for Baking by Mary Goldman.
Can be baked as a sheet cake in a 9″x13″ pan, as a circular layer cake in two 9″ round pans, or as 24 cupcakes. The original recipe says to bake at 350˚F, but I had success with 325˚F.
Preheat oven to 325˚F. Spray/grease your pan(s) and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a mixer bowl, cream together:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Mix until light and fluffy, then add:
3 eggs (one at a time, mixing after each)
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed while slowly pouring in:
1 1/2 cups warm milk
Blend until the batter is smooth. Pour into prepared cake pan(s) and spread the batter evenly. Wrap the pans in a strip of wet towel to insulate the edges of the cake from cooking faster than the middle and creating a domed top. Bake at 325˚F for 35-45 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top, slightly springy when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with no crumbs (check after 35 minutes). Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment paper, and cool completely. Split, fill, and frost as desired (it’s easier if the cake has been chilled before splitting it).
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt:
3 tbsp butter
3 cups finely diced pears
Sauté until softened. Add:
3 tbsp brown sugar
a dash each of nutmeg and salt
Cook until the pears are very soft and the juice is syrupy. Stir in:
a squeeze of lemon juice
Remove from the heat and let cool before filling the cake. The butter in the filling will solidify if kept in the fridge, so serve the filled cake at room temperature (it’s fine to store it in the fridge though).
Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Makes about 5 cups of frosting, enough to frost the outside of a 9″x13″ cake, to frost and fill a 9″ round 2-layer cake, or to frost 24 cupcakes. Best made in a stand mixer because it requires a lot of beating!
Cut 1 pound (2 cups) of butter into cubes and leave at room temperature to soften slightly. Pour a splash of vinegar or lemon juice in a mixer bowl and wipe out with a paper towel to remove any traces of oil. Also wipe down the whisk attachment with vinegar/lemon juice. This ensures that there is no oily residue that will prevent the egg whites from whipping up.
In the perfectly clean mixer bowl (not attached to the mixer), combine:
5 egg whites
1 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
Make a bain marie/double boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a small pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is no touching the water). With the whisk attachment, stir the egg white-sugar mixture until it comes to 140˚F, or use your (clean) fingers to feel that the sugar is totally dissolved in the egg whites and the mixture is hot. Note that you are stirring to keep the mixture from turning into scrambled egg whites, not to incorporate air. Attach the mixer bowl and whisk to the mixer and beat the egg whites at medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Continue stirring on low speed until the egg whites are COMPLETELY cool – the side of the bowl should be cool to the touch.When the egg whites are cool, it’s time to add the butter. Switch the whisk for the paddle attachment, and mixing on low speed, add in the cubes of butter, one at a time, allowing the butter to incorporate before adding the next cube. The egg white meringue will fall and go through various stages of looking weird and curdled as you add the butter – this is all okay. When all the butter is added, the mixture will probably look quite clumpy, curdled, and thick. Keep stirring on low and after a few minutes it will emulsify and smooth out into a thick, creamy, fluffy frosting.Add:
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips, melted and cooled
To Assemble the Cake:
Split the cooled cake in half horizontally and place the bottom layer on a cake board, protected by 4 strips of waxed paper. Pipe a wall of frosting around the edge of the layer, and spread the cake with the pear filling. Place the second layer on top, and coat the cake with a thin “crumb coat” of frosting. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, until the frosting is set, then frost with a thicker layer. Decorate as desired – this frosting is great for piping.
The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!
Did I mention that right now, Nate and I have sworn off refined sugar six days a week? Oh man, this challenge came at the wrong time! But it was also so, so right…
The premise of this month’s challenge was to have all us Daring Bakers learn to temper chocolate, and then use it in our candy creations. To temper chocolate, you heat it, cool it, and heat it again to specific temperatures in order to create small, uniform crystals of cocoa butter in the chocolate so that it stays nice and shiny when it hardens and has a good snap when it breaks. It also gives a thin, even coating to things like dipped candies. Untempered chocolate will have a mottled, dusty look when it hardens, and will crumble rather than snap cleanly when broken. For chocolate making, couverture chocolate is the gold standard – this is chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter that, when tempered properly, results in a shinier, snappier, mellower finished chocolate. Lisa and Mandy provided chocolate tempering instructions plus a ton of chocolate and non-chocolate candy recipes, and to be eligible for the Chocoley contest, we had to make two kinds of candy: one chocolate, and one of our choice (chocolate or otherwise).
I’m back from California, and after I recover from the travel part (which was horrendously awful) and get a chance to go through all the photos I took of food, I’ll have some posts about the awesome restaurants I visited in California… but in the meantime, you can hear all about my birthday cake 🙂
I turned 28 a few weeks ago, and it required a cake. Since baking is pretty much my favorite pass-time, I was more than happy to bake it myself – it meant I got exactly what I wanted and I also got to have the fun of doing it. I came across this recipe for Dobos Torte on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb had made it for her own recent birthday, and I immediately promised I’d make it for myself. So I did 😉…
You may suspect that I am employing hyperbole in the title of this post. My friends, you are incorrect! This actually IS the best banana bread in the entire world. Ever. This recipe comes to me via my friend Lynette’s mum, Elaine, and it has attained legendary fame by all who have tried it as being absolutely fan-freakin’-tastically delicious. This banana bread comes out light and fluffy, sweet and moist, and is likely to disappear in a shorter amount of time than it took you to bake it. The first time I tasted it, Elaine had made a double batch, and it was absolute torture smelling it as it baked. Lynette and I then devoured an entire loaf, hot and steaming from the oven.
I have made this recipe a billion times, and I’ve played around it it a bit, so that my typical banana bread comes out slightly different from Elaine’s original recipe. I add an extra banana and some vanilla, and to convince myself that it’s a little bit good for me, I usually substitute in some whole wheat flour. Then I also usually add a bunch of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, which effectively cancels out any health benefits the whole wheat flour might add… But whatever. It tastes divine….
These are inspired by a blog post I came across on the lululemon website with several recipes for “energy balls”, but somehow that just doesn’t sound appetizing… so I’m calling my version “power truffles”. These are very tasty, packed with peanut butter, nuts, and seeds, and will be a great post-workout snack, which is what I made them for… but they would be equally good as just an afternoon snack 😉
To boost the energy content a little more, the rolled oats could be replaced with quinoa or amaranth flakes, both of which are high in protein. The cocoa powder makes these a little bit chocolatey, and due to the peanut butter and honey in them, they taste slightly like peanut butter and honey on toast, which I quite enjoy. To change things up, they would also be good with almond or cashew butter and perhaps agave syrup, which I haven’t experimented with yet. Oooh, I can imagine a version with almond butter, cocoa powder, and dried cranberries instead of raisins… or dried cherries maybe? Yum!
I made these in about 15 minutes total – no baking required. The most time-consuming part was rolling them, and even that was pretty darn easy.
I made some fantastic “Healthy Cookies” from 101 Cookbooks, a food blog that features whole, healthy foods, delicious recipes, and an emphasis on alternative sweeteners rather than refined sugar. This cookie recipe calls for coconut oil, which might send up red flags for some people because it is a saturated fat, but it is from a plant-source rather than an animal-source, and therefore acts differently in the body (ie, not as harmful). My take on it is this: in tropical cultures that eat a traditional diet high in saturated fats from plants, such as coconut oil, there is a very low incidence of “Western diseases” (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc). Mother Nature knows her stuff, and coconut oil is a naturally-occurring saturated fat – that is, not tampered with to make a liquid fat stay solid at room temperature (like margarine) – and therefore I’m inclined to think that it’s not going to do me any harm in moderation, kind of the same stance I have on butter. But if you’re worried, you can substitute olive oil for the coconut oil – just make sure it is mild or neutral-flavoured.
I also used sugar-free chocolate chips (sweetened with maltitol, which interestingly has almost the same chemical properties as refined sugar, but doesn’t mess with blood sugar levels as much AND as a bonus doesn’t promote tooth decay!) and added some ground flax seeds to the dough. The bananas can easily be substituted for applesauce or any other fruit puree (you don’t actually taste the banana, it just lends sweetness), and the chocolate chips for dried fruit (if, for example, you wanted to make breakfast cookies, Lynette!). These are super delicious and not too sweet, with kind of a macaroon-like texture. I think I ate about four in a row when they first came out of the oven, which kind of negates the “healthy” part, but oh well!
(adapted slightly from the original recipe at 101 Cookbooks)
3 large, ripe bananas (the ones you would use for banana bread), well mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid (or alternately, neutral-flavoured olive oil)
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal (aka ground almonds)
1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded & unsweetened
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Mix together bananas, vanilla, and oil, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls (you may need to squish the dough together a bit, as it is fairly loose) onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes (as long as possible without burning the bottoms). These are quite crumbly when warm! Let cool and store in an airtight container.