Orange Poppy Seed Sour Cream Cake

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This is exactly the kind of one layer cake that is simple enough to make on a Monday night and pack in your lunch bag, yet refined enough to bring to someone on their birthday. The cake itself is pulled straight from the Cake Bible, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipes never disappoint. The batter is rich with butter and thick with sour cream, while the flavourful additions of orange zest and poppy seed make it a bright and refreshing winter treat. A quick icing sugar frosting tempered with sour cream makes a superb topping, but a classic glaze or even a dollop of whipping cream would also make delectable accompaniments.

 Orange Poppy Seed Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum, “Sour Cream Butter Cake”, The Cake Bible

Ingredients:

2 cups sifted cake and pastry flour (200g)
1 cup granulated white sugar (200g)
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup full fat sour cream (5.5 oz)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Method: 

A few hours before you are ready to bake, remove the sour cream and the eggs from the fridge and allow them to warm to room temperature. Just before you begin, pull the butter from the fridge, cut it into small pieces, and let it sit at room temperature until it has softened and become pliable.

As the butter begins to soften, preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter a 9 inch spring form pan with a removable bottom. Cut a 9 inch circle of parchment paper, then place it in the bottom of the pan and butter the top of the parchment as well.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and 1/4 of the sour cream.

To the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients, add the softened butter and the remaining sour cream. Stir on the lowest setting until the ingredients are moistened, approximately 30-60 seconds. When there are no streaks of flour remaining, increase the speed to medium (speed 3-4 on a Kitchen Aid mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to create sufficient structure and incorporate air. Be careful not to over beat the batter – this will result in a tough cake with a tight crumb. Stop and scrape the bowl well. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.  Scrape the bowl at each addition to ensure that all the ingredients are properly combined. Add the orange zest and poppy seeds, and stir on the lowest setting just until the ingredients are well combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly with the back of a spoon. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 32-36 minutes or until the middle of the cake springs back when gently touched, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake should only begin to pull away from the sides of the pan upon removal from the oven. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool and after ten minutes, remove the outside ring. Let the cake cool completely to room temperature before inverting, carefully removing the bottom of the pan and peeling away the remaining parchment paper.

Store the cake at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Quick n’ Creamy Orange Frosting

Note: This recipe will make about twice as much icing as needed for this cake, the remaining half may be refrigerated for up to one week. If you would like to reduce the recipe by half, you can make it using a hand beater and a small bowl, but the final product may not be as smooth.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (4oz)
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature
Pinch of salt
4 cups sifted icing sugar (500g)
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 large orange)

Method:

Beat together the softened butter, sour cream, salt and vanilla extract on medium-high speed for several minutes until well blended. The mixture will smooth out further with the addition of sugar.

Add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating for 30-60 seconds on medium-high speed after each addition. When all the sugar has been added, beat the frosting for 1-2 minutes more until it is very smooth and slightly fluffy. The more patience you have incorporating the sugar gradually and beating it well, the smoother your icing will be. Lastly, mix in the orange zest on low speed until it is evenly distributed.

Use the frosting immediately or refrigerate it for up to one week. Bring to room temperature and stir or beat briefly before using from the fridge.

Cranberry Curd Tartlets

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This fall I was lucky enough to come across a mass haul of fresh, local, and organic cranberries. These bright, tangy berries freeze remarkably well, and not unlike lemons they are capable of producing a punchy curd that can be used in a variety of desserts. When paired with orange juice, a handful of brown sugar, some good vanilla extract and placed in a nutty shortbread shell, cranberries are happy to shine on center stage.

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Cranberry Curd Recipe

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Curd
Ingredients:

14.5 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (from about 3 oranges)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed (2.5 oz)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks plus 1 whole egg

Method:

Combine the cranberries, water, and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Cover the pan and set it over medium heat. Cook the cranberries for 35-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until they pop and release liquid. Use the stirring tool to burst open any stubborn cranberries. Remove the pan from the heat just before the liquid begins to thicken. Use a fine mesh strainer to separate the juice and the pulp from the solids, making sure to scrape the bottom of the strainer to include all the pulp. You should have 1 3/4 cups of juice with very fine pulp. Discard the remaining seeds and solids.

In a clean pot, cook the cranberry juice with the sugars, salt, and butter until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts, approximately seven minutes.

Whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg until the mixture lightens slightly. Vigorously whisk in the warm cranberry liquid one tablespoon at a time. Return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium-low heat while whisking constantly. Cook the curd until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and registers 160° F on a candy thermometer. Strain the curd into a glass bowl and cover securely with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let cool completely to room temperature. The curd can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored well covered in the fridge. Loosen the refrigerated curd by stirring it with a spatula before assembling the tarts.

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Spiced Pecan Tart Shell Recipe

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough, in Baking: From My Home To Yours
Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (188g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (4.5oz)
1 large egg yolk
35g toasted pecans

Method:

Lightly grease 8 to 10 small individual tart shells with removable bottoms.

Combine the flour, icing sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Place the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor along with the toasted pecans. Pulse until the pecans are fairly finely ground with some visible bits remaining.

Add the butter to the food processor and pulse just until the largest chunks of butter are the size of small peas. Lightly whisk the egg yolk with a fork. Add the yolk in three batches, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg is added, pulse in long ten-second pulses until the dough begins to clump and curd. Dump the crumbly dough out onto a clean work surface and knead sparingly to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Place a small handful of dough crumbs in the bottom of a tart shell. Press the crumbs gently but firmly along the edges of the shell. Place another tiny handful of crumbs in the shell, then press them down evenly and seal the edges to form the bottom crust.

Place the tart shells on a tray and refrigerate them for ten minutes. Prick the bottom of each tart with a pointed toothpick approximately 8 – 10 times to dock the shells. Place the tarts in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Bake the tart shells for 12 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 5-6 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the bottoms are completely dry. Let cool completely on a wire rack. The shells can be made up to 1 day in advance. Store the shells in their individual pans in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble.

To Assemble

Carefully spoon or pour the curd into the prepared tart shells. Slide the tarts to one side of the tray so that they remain stationary then cover the tops with a sheet of plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour to set the curd. At this point, the tarts can remain in the fridge overnight and be served the next day.

Just before serving, prepare the whipped cream topping.

Chantilly Cream Recipe

1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar or granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine all three ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Carefully remove the tarts from their individual moulds. Top the curd with a generous scoop of whipped cream and serve immediately.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

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Apples rank high among the many ingredients that I have no excuse for purchasing anywhere but locally, and lucky for me sometimes I don’t even have to do that. This versatile fruit is much like rhubarb and zucchini around here, in the sense that during one week of the year everyone suddenly encounters an overabundance of crop. If that sounds like a complaint than I apologize, because what I really want to do is bust out the bobbing barrels and throw an apple harvest party. Before you laugh, remember that we have entire festivals dedicated to both maple syrup and pumpkins.

Certainly worth celebrating is the fact that Ontario is home to some of the best baking apples in the world, including the much coveted and super crispy Northern Spy. The key characteristic one is looking for when choosing apples for pies and other desserts, is a flesh that holds its shape well after baking. Some apples will rapidly disintegrate when heat is applied, which is especially problematic if you like to partially cook the fruit or prepare the filling beforehand. A quick internet search will turn up which varieties grown in your area are the best for baking, and which are best left for making applesauce. In this particular pie I used a 3lb bag of local McIntosh, but when options are available consider using a combination of apples and playing with different flavours.

For the crust, use your favourite recipe for all-butter pie pastry or try this one from Four and Twenty Blackbirds via Food52. Their formula and method is genius, and certainly deserves a place in a serious pie maker’s repertoire.

Apple-Cranberry Pie
Adapted from Four and Twenty Black Birds via Food52
And Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients:

2 discs prepared pie pastry*

3 lb (whole) tart baking apples
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 ground all-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 oz fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

*For complex designs or heavy lattice patterns, part of an additional disc of pastry may be required.

Method:

Prepare the pastry as directed. Roll one disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle, and fit it into a 9 inch pie plate. Return the shell to the fridge to chill while you make the filling. Roll out the second disc of pastry as thinly as possible without stretching or tearing the dough. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or scalpel, cut the pastry into long strips for a lattice. Alternatively, use cookie cutters to stamp out pieces for a unique design. Refrigerate the prepared pieces of top pastry.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, salt, and tapioca starch. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges. In a Dutch oven or a large non-stick pan, gently toss the apple slices with the sugar mixture until they are evenly coated. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the apples begin to tenderize. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Let the filling cool to room temperature.

To prepare the cranberries, combine with the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the orange juice in a medium saucepan. If using frozen cranberries, cover the pot and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the berries have thawed. For fresh cranberries, cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until some of the berries begin to break down and the natural pectin has thickened the liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool completely to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the cooled apple and cranberry mixtures. Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell, leaving only enough room to fold over and crimp the pastry (if you have some filling leftover that is fine). Arrange the top pastry over the fruit, seal the edges if necessary, and crimp as desired.

Bake in the preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is a rich golden brown. Rotate the pie halfway through baking to ensure even colouring, and use a pie shield to prevent the edges from overbrowning if necessary.

Let cool completely before serving.

Short ‘n Sweet: Buttery Poppyseed & Citrus Cookies

One of the perks of being a baker is that gift giving becomes a whole lot less agonizing when almost everyone you know would be happy with a fresh batch of homemade cookies.

Having spent the last month reading and testing in the hopes of discovering some of the best adventurous cookie recipes, I was disappointed when I realized that I still hadn’t found the perfect basic slice-and-bake shortbread. I quickly narrowed my search down to two recipes (via Smitten Kitchen and Southern Living), chose orange zest and poppyseeds as my flavourings, and sliced up some cookies to sample.

While the difference was barely perceivable, my tasters settled on the more traditional recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Because this shortbread was slightly less sweet, the individual flavours of the butter, orange zest, and poppyseeds came through the strongest.

With this recipe in my arsenal, I can easily put together a personalized cookie package that is as unique as the person I bake it for. And now that the shortbreads are sorted, maybe it’s time to start thinking about making a cake… ‘Tis the season after all.