gardening for cake: zucchini-carrot bundt cake

sometimes, you have to resort to bribery.  to attract volunteers to the demonstration garden, we tell perspective volunteers that there will be cake to snack on.  we also tell them that there are plants and produce to share but the cake seems to get their attention quicker.  but baking a cake every week means that i have to find a recipe and secure the ingredients.  every now and then, someone comes out to the garden with a dietary issue that can make it especially challenging.  we recently had a few volunteers who followed a vegan diet and that makes baking cakes a real challenge.

believe it or not, butter adds moisture and flavor to cakes as well as texture from the fat.  eggs strengthen the structure and help add volume by holding the air that is mixed in during the baking process.  milk and buttermilk add flavor as well as moisture-try substituting water sometime, you will taste the difference.  let’s not forget, a true vegan diet also means no honey since the harvesting process kills bees and honey adds moisture, helps retain moisture with its hygroscopic nature and honestly, it tastes really good in a cake!  when you have to eliminate these items, it can make baking a good cake difficult, even for a pro.

with the garden in full swing now, there are so many possibilities.  berries, figs, peaches, carrots, summer squash and let’s not forget an abundance of herbs to choose from.  in my own garden, i had a few zucchini and some carrots to harvest and they both work well in cakes.  since this is a vegan recipe, i had to make a few changes to the original recipe.  the current darling of the diet world is coconut.  this recipe utilizes both coconut oil and an unsweetened coconut milk beverage rather than the traditional kind in the can.  to find these ingredients, check the natural food section of the grocery store.  the oil is sold in jars and is semi solid at room temperature.  the coconut milk beverage is packed in quart sized cartons and is sold alongside soy and rice milk.  substituting the eggs is tricky.  to get a nice texture with a small crumb, i find that ener-g egg replacer works the best and this can also be found in the same section of the store.

and for those of you that are not interested in baking a vegan cake, this recipe can be quickly converted.  substitute and equal amount of butter for the coconut oil, buttermilk for the coconut beverage and 3 large eggs rather than the equivalent amount of egg replacer.

vegan zucchini-carrot bundt cake
makes 1 bundt cake serving 10-12
1 medium to large carrot
1 zucchini
1/3 cup pecan pieces
4 1/2 teaspoons ener-g egg replacer (or 3 large eggs)
2/3 cup coconut oil (or 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft)
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (or 1 cup buttermilk)
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.  grate enough carrot and zucchini to measure 2 cups.  place the pecans on a baking tray and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.  let them cool before using.  whisk the egg replacer into 3 tablespoons warm water and allow it to sit while you begin mixing the batter.
cream the coconut oil with the brown sugar and the salt.  the oil will liquefy as it mixes so it is not necessary to mix for more than a couple minutes.  add the egg replacer and mix well, scrape the bowl too.  sift the flour, baking powder and spice blend over the batter.  fold it in a few times.  sprinkle the coconut beverage over the top of the batter and fold together.  sprinkle the zucchini and carrots over the top and fold together completely.  scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

maple pecan cake with a cinnamon ribbon

sometimes, things go according to plan.  sometimes, they do not.  this cake landed somewhere in the middle of maybe.  what i wanted and what i got were close, but… either way, it was a really nice cake with a few surprises.

first surprise was peeking into the oven at the half way mark and realizing that the crumb topping had sunk below the surface of the cake.  that was a little worrisome.  crumb topping needs to be on top to get that typical crunchy texture of a good struesel.  when it sinks down into the cake, it can be gummy and oily.  this recipe yielded a moist ribbon which was not at all gummy.  the second surprise was that a small amount of the crumb topping actually remained around the edges on the top of the cake giving it a nice crunch.

the biggest surprise was in flavor.  to flavor this cake, i chose a grade b maple syrup because they are supposed to have more flavor than a grade a.  honestly, i didn’t get a clear maple flavor at all, and i do not think anybody else did.  perhaps the use of maple sugar would be better or a little pure maple flavoring or some combination of the three but that question will have to be answered on another day.  in the mean time, if you are wanting a piece of cake to have with your afternoon cup, this is an easy cake to make and despite the results, a tasty way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

maple pecan cake 
serves about 8
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grade b maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
crumb topping/ribbon recipe follows
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a small bundt pan, approximately 8 cup capacity.   toast the pecans by spreading them in a thin layer in a baking dish until they are fragrant, about 5 minutes.  set the nuts aside to cool.  place the flour, cinnamon and baking soda into a mesh strainer or a sifter and sift together onto a piece of paper.  cream the butter with the brown sugar, vanilla and salt until it is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the syrup slowly while the machine mixes.  scrape the bowl well.  add the egg and mix in.  add the flour in batches and alternate it with the buttermilk, folding gently until combined.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the top of the batter and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.
crumb topping
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
place all of the ingredients into a bowl and rub together with your finger tips to make a crumbly struesel topping.  

pina colada cake

this is the story of two cakes.  one a beautiful cake and the other, a shipwreck.  or train wreck, take your pick.  either name will work.

as i have mentioned before, i work in a demonstration garden with my fellow master gardeners.  it is my responsibility as the project chair to round up the volunteers and maintain the garden.  to do this, i have resorted to bribery; it works out so much better than whining and begging…since i go out to the garden every sunday morning, i have made it a habit to take a freshly baked cake with me.  sounds easy but it is a challenge to come up with a different cake each week.

the result is that every week, i create a new recipe.  sometimes, it is as simple as substituting an ingredient or two in an already successful recipe.  other weeks, it can be complicated as i attempt a new formula all together.  most of the time, the cake works out and i am able to make minor adjustments to use the next time i bake the cake.  other times, not so much.  this last time, really, really not so good.  and by not so good, i mean the cake was self destructing from the moment i took it out of the oven.

 don’t you love the ski slope effect?  trust me, it went completely down hill from here…

as i stood there looking at my sad cake, i watched in horror as more and more of the sides of the cake just fell off and littered the tray.  so sad, so embarrassing.  how would i fix this?  there wasn’t any time to bake another cake, i would just have to bring it out to the garden and hope for the best.  the best laugh that is.  shirley quickly dubbed it a total shipwreck.  and honestly, it was-no harm, no foul, just lots of giggles.  she and lynn were astonished that i could have baked this.  so as you see, even a pastry chef is capable of a shipwreck every now and then.  the mistake here, i tried to temper the acid level of fresh pineapple by adding a little baking soda to the recipe.  guess what, the cake did not need any tempering.

so this week, when i set out to bake a cake for my gardening friends, i had a new challenge; no eggs.  we have a couple of new volunteers that both follow a mostly vegan diet and the eggs needed to go.  luckily, they were both okay with a small amount of butter but definitely not the eggs.  and luckier still, i happened to have a package of ener-g egg replacer in the pantry and a supply of coconut milk and coconut oil.  i also had the determination of a baker scorned; i simply was not going to be pushed around by a cake.  no, i was going to win this thing, we were going to eat pina colada cake and it was going to be a good cake.  no ifs, ands or buts.  just a really good cake!

recipe notes:  to get a nice pineapple flavor, use fresh, ripe pineapple.  peel, core and cut enough of it into 1″ cubes to make 2 cups.  place the pineapple in a food processor and pulse to produce tidbits.  do not let the machine run for more than 5 or 10 seconds at a time or you will quickly make puree.  put the pineapple tidbits into a mesh strainer and press out as much of the juice as you can.  reserve the juice for the syrup that is poured over the warm cake.  2 cups of chunks should yield 1 cup of tidbits and 1/2 cup of juice which is what you will need for the cake.

for the liquid in the recipe, i have used coconut milk.  to get the best texture without it being gummy or overly moist, use a light coconut milk or an unsweetened coconut milk beverage.  these will add moisture without excess fat that can make the cake greasy and heavy.

for the vegans, use all coconut oil(2/3 cup) and ener-g egg replacer(4 1/2 teaspoons mix to 6 tablespoons of warm water).  for the not so vegan, you can do as i did and use half unsalted butter(6 tablespoons) and half coconut oil(1/3 cup) with the egg replacer.  and for those of you throwing caution to the wind, you can also just use 3 large eggs, and all butter but you will have to use  coconut milk to be able to call it pina colada!

if you have never used ener-g egg replacer, it is easy!  follow the instructions on the box and use as you would real eggs.  place the powder in a mixing bowl, whisk in warm water and let it sit while you start mixing the recipe.

pina colada bundt cake
1 bundt cake serving about 12
*before starting-read the notes above!!!
1 cup fresh pineapple tidbits*
ener-g egg replacer equivalent to 3 eggs*
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened*
1/3 cup coconut oil*
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup coconut milk*
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup light brown sugar
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt cake pan.  place butter, coconut oil, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor.  pulse to combine.  with the motor running, pour in the egg replacer and process until smooth.  pour the mixture into a mixing bowl with the pineapple tidbits.  stir to combine and distribute the tidbits evenly.  sift the flour and the baking powder over the batter and fold it in a few times.  sprinkle the coconut milk over the top of the batter and fold together until no streaks of flour or butter remain.  scrape the batter out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.  smooth out the top and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour.  while the cake bakes, make the syrup by combining the juice and the brown sugar in a small sauce pan.  bring the mixture to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes.  set it aside while the cake bakes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool.  prick the surface of the cake with a fork and spoon the glaze over the top of the cake.  allow it to cool completely before slicing.

orange-date walnut loaf

sometimes, you just have to do something different.  generally, when i go out to the garden, i take a cake with me.  nine out of ten cakes are some configuration of a bundt; they are baked in one of the many fluted/tube pans on my kitchen shelf.  not this time.  this cake was baked in a large loaf pan.

over the years, i have baked date-nut bread many times.  it is a favorite of my husband and me for that matter.  when i realized that i had a large tub of dates in the fridge, hidden there by my husband so that he could snack on them secretly, i knew i had to make a loaf of bread.

orange date-walnut loaf 
1 (9x5x3) loaf
(a little shameless self promotion, can’t help it…)
1 cup walnut pieces
6 ounces unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup good quality wildflower honey
1 orange-zested
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup sour cream
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan and set it aside.  place the walnuts into a baking dish and toast them until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, honey, orange zest and salt until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs, one at a time and continue to beat until once again light and fluffy-another 2 minutes or so.  scrape the bowl well.
sift the flour and baking soda over the batter in the bowl.  fold it in by hand a few times.  add the walnuts, dates and sour cream and fold the batter until it is evenly mixed.  scrape the batter into the loaf pan.  bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  immediately turn the loaf out onto a rack and allow it to cool completely, if you can.  serve slices with soft butter if you like.

currant-rosemary bread

the rosemary put on quite a show in the herb garden.  not only was it about 4 feet tall, it was covered in blooms.  the honeybees were working those flowers like crazy too.  not one person walked through without noticing the shrub, yes shrub-it is that big now.  hard to believe that just two years ago, it was in a tiny little plastic pot from the nursery.  we only placed it in the bed to fill a hole.  if only i had this much luck with everything i plant!
with the bumper crop of rosemary, i decided to make a yeast bread rather than a cake to take to the garden.  then, while skimming through some of my cookbooks, i found an interesting recipe in a book that has been living on my shelf but has seen very little use.  i cannot remember when i bought this copy of beth hensperger’s “bread for all seasons” but the recipe for rosemary raisin bread was the perfect compromise; a yeast raised coffee cake that is both bread and cake.  brilliant, just brilliant i say!  best part, very little kneading!!!  best part, the bread toasts nicely so don’t worry about it getting stale, just slice it and toast it.
since i prefer currants, i used them in place of the raisins and i gave them a good soak first.  it is important that you plump up the currants in some hot water or they will dry out the bread.  first, measure the currants while they are small and dry.  place them in a pan and cover them with water.  bring the water to a boil over medium heat.  immediately turn off the heat, remove the pan from the burner and allow the currants to sit in the water until they cool.  drain off any excess liquid before using the currants.  while the recipe calls for 1-2 teaspoons of dried rosemary, i used fresh leaves from the garden.  since the flavor of dried herbs are usually a little stronger, i would generally say to use half but for this recipe, i think using more of the fresh is a good thing.  the fact that it is softer than dry rosemary is also a plus since there aren’t any twig like pieces to pick out.  
currant rosemary bread
1 large bundt or tube cake serving 16
2 cups currants
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees
5 1/4 to 5 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped a bit
2/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 eggs

plump the currants by covering them with water in a sauce pan and bringing them to a boil.  immediately turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool, 20 minutes or so.  strain them well before using.  in a small bowl, combine the yeast with the pinch of sugar and the warm water.  stir to dissolve and then let it sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.  spray a large bundt or tube pan with grease, or brush it with some oil, set it aside.

in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine 1 cup of the flour, dry milk, sugar, rosemary, salt, olive oil and the eggs.  beat this mixture until smooth.  add the yeast mixture and 1 1/2 cups more of the flour.  beat for 1 minute and then let it sit for 20-30 minutes.  add the currants, and the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms that clears the sides of the bowl.  if necessary, mix by had at this point.  the dough is capable of absorbing a lot of flour so add it cautiously-it should not stick to the bowl much and will no longer have a “wet” appearance.

turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 3 minutes.  if needed, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking.  form the dough into a cylinder that will fill the tube pan evenly.  you can place it in the pan and squeeze it and shape it to fit the pan evenly.  brush it with a little oil, cover with plastic and allow it to rise at room temp until double, about 2 hours.  about 20 minutes ahead of baking, preheat the oven to 350.

bake the cake until it has filled the pan, is evenly browned and firm to the touch.  this will take about 45 minutes to an hour, a cake tester can be used to check the interior.  when done, turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.  serve with softened butter and jam if you like.  the leftovers make amazing toast too so none should go to waste!

cinnamon swirl coffeecake

as always, when i head out to the demonstration garden, i go with a cake in hand to share with my fellow volunteers.  a simple vanilla cake with a ribbon of cinnamon sugar, nuts and chocolate chips is a pretty typical choice.

to make it look pretty, first choose an interesting pan.  i have many tube pans in my collection and some are plain while others like the one i used, have patterns.

cinnamon swirl coffeecake
1 (12 cup) cake serving 12 to 16
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar (or 1/3 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the cake pan and set aside.  place the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla into the bowl of a food processor.  pulse to combine.  add the eggs, one at a time and pulse to combine.  scrape the mixture into a large mixing bowl.  place the flour and the baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter in the bowl.  fold the batter a few times, add the buttermilk and mix until no streaks remain.  carefully spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan.  sprinkle half of the cinnamon sugar over the batter and then top it off with half of the chocolate chips and nuts.  carefully top this with half of the remaining batter and carefully spread it into an even layer.  sprinkle the remaining cinnamon sugar, chocolate chips and nuts over the batter and then top it off with the remaining cake batter.  spread the top of the batter so that it is even and touches the sides and middle core of the pan.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert it onto a rack to cool completely.  when the cake is cool, sift a little powdered sugar over the top.  cut with a serrated knife.  leftovers, if there are any, will freeze nicely.  just wrap slices well and freeze for a month or two.  to defrost, let the slices sit out at room temperature with the plastic still on them.

mr. kenmore’s last stand; fresh fig upside down cake

my husband robbed the bees of some honey.  we have had bees in our front yard for 3 years now and this is the first time that we were able to harvest honey.  my mother never kept much in the house when i was growing up so most of my experiences with honey were the stuff from the supermarket-you know, the little bear shaped squeeze bottles.  ask a bee keeper about that stuff and they will scoff at the idea of using it.  first of all, it most likely isn’t pure honey-quite possibly it is flavored syrup mixed with honey. another concern is that the honey is processed to remove the pollen and bee parts-yes, bees can die during the harvest.  lastly, most of mass marketed honey is made from blends from all over the world and much of the flavor is lost in the process.  
several years ago, while writing my second cookbook, i had a honey epiphany.  i had the chance to taste pure wild flower honey that was produced by bees being kept by a group of menonite farmers.  knowing that these folks didn’t use many of the practices of the big commercial producers, it was an eye opening experience.  i didn’t know honey could taste that good; better than good, more like uh-may-zing!!!  that was it, no more little bears for me, just local wild flower honey from a reputable bee keeper.  
about that time, my husband and i became master gardeners and he caught the bee buzz.  we took classes, we studied, we asked questions and then we dove in feet first…honestly, the girls(what we call the bees) do the work, we just barge in on them every now and then to make sure all is well.  

 after borrowing an extractor-a hand cranked centrifuge, my husband got to work.  it didn’t go smoothly and the comb was destroyed in the process, but he learned all about the process and will do it again soon.  his efforts yielded nearly 2 quarts of honey.

 i love the way it glows when the sunlight shines through it.  knowing that i needed to make a cake for my trip to the garden, i chose to make an upside down cake just so i could include some of that honey.

 in my favorite cast iron skillet, i melted butter, sugar, brown sugar and honey.

 it is allowed to melt and then boiled a bit to thicken.  

 since this would be the last cake i could bake in my old faithful oven, mr. kenmore, i decided to go all out.  not only did i use honey from our bees, i picked figs from our tree.  for mr. kenmore’s last stand, he would bake a fig upside down cake.  the figs are cut in half and laid cut side down in the syrup.

 after baking, the cake is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it is turned out onto a serving dish.

fresh fig upside down cake
1 (10″) skillet cake that serves 8-10
adapted from my own book!
fresh figs-amount needed will depend on size, the ones from our tree are small and it took about two dozen to decorate the top and have the amount needed for the cake batter-1/3 cup, cut into chunks.  
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar as in the photo above-i ran out of light…)
1/4 cup pure wildflower honey
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch drips and preheat the oven to 350.  place a cast iron skillet over low heat and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and honey.  stir to combine and when it is melted, raise the heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil.  allow it to boil, stirring continuously, until it thickens a little-about 2 minutes.  remove from the heat.
place the halved figs, cut side down, in the syrup in a random pattern that covers as much as the top as possible.  make sure there aren’t many large spaces between the figs or there will be large gaps in the design when the cake is unmolded.
to mix the cake batter, cream the remaining butter with the granulated sugar, vanilla and salt.  when it is light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time and be sure to scrape the bowl well.  sift the cake flour and baking powder over the batter, sprinkle the buttermilk on top and fold a few times.  add the chopped figs and fold completely.  dollop the batter over the prepared pan gently so that you do not disturb the pattern.  carefully smooth out the batter and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  allow the cake to stand for 5-10 minutes and carefully turn it out onto a serving dish.  
note that if you do not have a cast iron skillet, you can use any oven proof dish or pan, including standard cake pans, to make this cake.  just be sure to use one that is at least 9″ in diameter and no larger than 10″.  my cast iron skillet is 8″ in diameter on the bottom and flairs out to 10″ at the top.  if you use anything other than cast iron, be sure to keep a close eye on the cake, thinner and lighter metal pans, as well as glass and ceramic,  may bake faster.
and now, everybody join me in a moment of silence to mark poor mr. kenmore’s passing.  may he rest in pieces…

cinnamon swirl coffee cake; a comedy of errors

just about every sunday morning, i head out to the demonstration and research garden to work with my fellow master gardeners.  it may sound like a bad way to spend a sunday morning but it is actually a lot of fun when a group of us get together for the purpose of tending the many beds.  yes it is social, but we also have the opportunity to learn about all things “garden.”

did i mention the cake?  it is hard to get volunteers to crawl out of bed early on a sunday morning so i have taken to bribing them with homemade cake.  every saturday evening, i bake a cake to take out there on sunday morning.  on the rare occasion that my husband can join me due to his insane work schedule, i let him choose the flavor; he chose chocolate chips this time.

one of my favorite types of coffee cake is a classic crumb cake.  tons of cinnamon scented streusel on top of a dense vanilla cake dusted with a barrel of powdered sugar.  mmmmmmm…add some chocolate chips and a cinnamon nut swirl and you just hit that one over the fence!  when i want a coffee cake like that, i reach for my worn out copy of the cake bible by rose levy beranbaum and i turn to her sour cream coffee cake recipe.

so, here i was in my kitchen on a saturday evening preparing to bake the coffee cake for my trip to the garden sunday morning.  how hard could that be?  oven set to 350 for preheating.  the food processor came out to make the crumb topping.  then i began to measure the ingredients for the topping and the ribbon since they are prepared first.  light brown sugar(bag of dark is open, i grab that instead), sugar, pecans, cinnamon, cake flour,  CAKE FLOUR!!!  uh oh, no cake flour; out came the all purpose and the corn starch to make a quick substitute.

next up, the butter for the topping and the cake, egg yolks, wait; let’s make that 2 whole eggs rather than 4 yolks-i don’t want left over whites.  back to it; sour cream-hmmm, it shouldn’t be neon pink now should it?  no problem, i’ve got buttermilk.  moving right along, vanilla, cake flour(or should i say pretend cake flour), sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and let’s not forget those chocolate chips!!!

needless to say, it pays to stock the larder and to check it for the ingredients before you get started.  but despite the missing ingredients, the cake came out fantastic and for a change, the squirrels did not get a single crumb!!!

sour cream comedy cake with chocolate chips
1 (8) cup tube pan, serves 8-10
adapted from rose levy beranbaum’s sour cream coffee cake recipe in the cake bible, 1988, william morrow and company.  
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup pecan pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup cake flour (or 1/3 cup all purpose flour and 1 tablespoon cornstarch)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
place the sugars, pecans and cinnamon into the bowl of the food processor and pulse to coarsely chop the pecans.  measure out 3/4 cup and set it aside.  add the flour and butter and pulse it to form small pea sized lumps of topping.  set this aside and prepare the cake batter.
cake batter
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cake flour (or 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and slightly softened
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8 cup tube pan and set aside.  whisk the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk and the vanilla.  in the mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda and the salt and mix to combine.  add the butter and the remaining 6 tablespoons of buttermilk.  on low speed, mix until the ingredients come together.  turn the speed to medium and allow it to cream for several minutes until it is light and almost fluffy.  add the egg mixture in several additions, scrape the bowl after each addition and mix until combined.  add half of the chocolate chips and stir them in by hand.  pour about 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly.   sprinkle the chocolate chips and the cinnamon/nut mixture evenly over the batter.  carefully drop the remaining batter over the topping in small dollops and then spread them out to form a thin layer.  sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top of the cake and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes.  carefully turn the cake out and then invert it onto a rack to cool.  serve as is or with a dusting of powdered sugar.  
and if you are interested in that garden i mentioned, see it here

lemon pistachio breakfast cake

every sunday morning, i head out to the demonstration garden to work with my fellow gardeners for a few hours.  it is usually peaceful out there and we always have a good time together.  how can you go wrong if someone always comes out to the garden with a freshly baked cake?  unless you are that someone who is searching through cupboards trying to figure out what to bake…did i mention that the “someone” in question is me?

this week, lemon sounded like a good choice to me.  it has been so hot and lemon sounded light and refreshing; a good choice for a crowd.  that is providing a crowd shows up.  since it was a holiday weekend, i ended up gardening by myself with a cake for company.  luckily, for me anyway, i wasn’t in a sweet tooth mood and was easily able to limit myself to a small slice.

this is a moist cake that is quickly mixed up in one bowl and baked in a medium sized (about 8 cups) bundt pan.  rather than make a glaze as the recipe called for, i opted for a more finger friendly dusting of powdered sugar-we don’t have the time for plates and forks in the garden.

lemon-pistachio breakfast cake

adapted from a recipe by lou seibert pappas.  the original recipe, lemon-glazed buttermilk bundt cake can be found in the 2006 book, coffeecakes, simple, sweet and savory published by chronicle books.

serves 10-12
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
3/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup chopped pistachios (i used unsalted, dry roasted pistachios from trader joe’s)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
powdered sugar for dusting the cake

preheat the oven to 350.  grease an 8 cup bundt pan and set aside.  in a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, zest, canola oil, chopped pistachios and salt and whisk until smooth.  sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda over the top of the egg mixture.  stir it a couple times with a rubber spatula, add the buttermilk and continue to mix until smooth.  scrape it into the greased pan and spread it out evenly.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert it onto a rack to cool completely.  to serve, dust the top with a small amount of powdered sugar and cut into slices with a serrated knife.

that can’t be a quesadilla…

 one of my coworkers is from el salvador.  every now and then, she will arrive in the cafe with a bag of sweets from her favorite bakery, la espiga.  even though it is a mexican bakery, they often have traditional little el salvadorian cakes called quesadilla.  yes, quesadilla and no, it doesn’t have tortillas in it.  these cakes are popular all over el salvador and are made with cheese-usually a freshly crumbled farmers cheese, but frequently parmesan cheese.  they are wonderfully rich with a slightly cheesy aroma.  and much to my surprise, even better if they sit for a day.

on a recent visit to a new mexican bakery near my house, i spied a tray of quesadillas in the showcase and added it to my tray.  all of the mexican bakeries are self serve; you pick up a tray and a pair of tongs and make your selections from the cabinets and racks and then give it to the cashier.

not bad for less than $5 dollars.  from the left:  bolillo(i bought 2 but the other is missing…), concha, quesadilla, butter cookie(that tasted a little like coconut to me) and a cheese turnover.

 the quesadilla from la conchita panaderia y pasteleria.  they had a little bit of a sandy texture from what i am guessing is rice flour.  the cake is sweet and even though it contains parmesan cheese, i could not detect it in the flavor.

now that i am not obsessing/stressing over pies, i decided that it might be fun to try and make some of these at home.  a quick surf and off i was baking my own quesadillas.  after about 5 or 6 batches, i finally settled on a recipe that isn’t too buttery but is plenty moist with a noticeable cheese aroma.

 i can have cake?  twitch likes cake…
no cake for twitch!!!

 the fine, moist crumb and slightly cheesy flavor makes these good with a cup of dark roast coffee.  a few notes;  i tested these with rice flour, equal parts of all purpose and rice flour as well as masa harina(buy the plain stuff not the tortilla/tamale mix).  every recipe i read called for either all purpose or rice flour or a combination but either will work.  one recipe i read called for cake flour but i did not try that.  i used buttermilk but it could be sour cream, mexican crema or just milk.  and if you do not want to use parmesan, try a mexican crumbling cheese, just be sure to break it into small pieces.

el salvadorian quesadillias
yields 6 muffins
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup rice flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
sesame seeds
preheat the oven to 325.  grease and flour a 6 cup muffin tin.  melt the butter and set aside to cool.  in a mixing bowl, whisk the rice flour, sugar, cheese and baking powder to combine them.  pour in the butter and the buttermilk and stir to make a paste.  whisk in the egg and combine completely.  divide the batter between the cups in the tin.  sprinkle some sesame seeds on the top and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.  allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out to cool completely.