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.

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Ingredient Spotlight: Winter Squash

Homemade Butternut Squash Pie Filling

Winter is an interesting time of year for a baker trying her darndest to use as much fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients as possible. Luckily I am surrounded by farms for miles and can trade friends for many goods, like maple syrup, eggs, or some of the best apples in the world, but in the snowy depths of winter the only pears I’ll find were grown on the other side of the globe.

Solution? Squash! With their thick, hard shells winter squash can keep for months in cool storage and are as delicious in savory dishes as they are in sweet. Choose squashes that are heavy for their size with skin that is smooth and dull, and make sure to check that the stem is intact and dry as well.

First up: Ontario Butternut Squash