Saturday, November 2, 2013

Caramel Layer Cake

     This is a simple cake that I should have made a long time ago.

     Caramel cake is a classic Southern dessert, and I think that, as a borderline Southerner, I have been deprived of the privilege of eating this cake up to this point.

     I made this cake for my mom's birthday last weekend.  We also had colorful candles and Oreo ice cream!

     (My mom isn't turning 5, by the way.)

      I've been looking for a good caramel cake recipe for a while. The recipe I used was from the Galley Gourmet, and the cake did not disappoint.  The cake is a simple vanilla cake with a tender crumb, and the icing is the phenomenal part. Sure, it's really sugary (caramel is, after all, cooked sugar), but don't let that stop you.  Enjoy the full glory of it.

     I made a 2-layer cake to save time, instead of the 3-layer cake the recipe suggested.  You can use whatever cake pans you have.  Making the caramel sauce is really easy, but be careful and take it off the heat when it is golden brown or else it'll burn really quickly.

Caramel Layer Cake

Serves 10-12
Recipe adapted from The Galley Gourmet


For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups self rising flour 
1 cup whole buttermilk, or 1tbs vinegar plus 1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Caramel Frosting
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup hot heavy cream
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 cups confectioners' sugar
For Finishing (optional)
Toasted pecans


Make the Cake. Preheat the oven to 350* F.  Butter and flour 2 or 3 9" cake pans, and line with parchment or wax paper. 

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Alternate adding 1/3 of the flour with adding 1/2 of the buttermilk, and then stir in the vanilla. Divide the batter between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove the cake and let it cool completely.

Make the Caramel Sauce. Place the water and corn syrup in a small bowl and whisk until the syrup is dissolved. Place the sugar in a medium saucepan, and add the water, stirring just until everything is moistened. Heat over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved (it will start bubbling) and increase the heat to medium-high.  If sugar crystals form on the side of the pan while you're cooking, brush them off with a wet pastry brush. Cook without stirring until the mixture is golden brown, no longer.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the cold butter, stirring until melted. Slowly stir in the heavy cream, then stir in the vanilla and salt.  

Let cool for at least one hour or refrigerate. Set 1/3 cup aside to pour on the cake after frosting it.

Make the Frosting.  Place all the caramel except 1/3 cup in a large bowl with the softened butter (make sure the caramel's cool or the butter will melt). Cream until smooth, and then gradually add the confectioners sugar, beating until fluffy.

Assemble. Spread the frosting between layers and top and sides of the cake layers.  Drizzle with the reserved caramel sauce.  Garnish with toasted pecans.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Whole Wheat Fig Bars

       I've always had a minor obsession with Fig Newtons.  

It's all about the fig filling.
 And the soft cookie exterior.
And the way the cookie just blankets the figs so perfectly and you can't imagine the pair ever being separated.

       Until I found out that my cross country buds liked fig bars, I didn't know anyone who liked Fig Newtons as much as I did.  Through them I discovered a whole wheat type of fig bar with all the "healthy" words on its packaging, which was great since Fig Newtons are pretty bad for you.

         So you may be wondering why I decided to make a different version I could easily buy a pack at a grocery store.  Well, for one thing, making things typically store bought is my idea of fun.  Another thing, my mom doesn't have a Costco membership to buy these whole wheat fig bars.  

        Also (says my inner health fanatic), processed foods are all somewhat unhealthy, and making your own food is better for you.

         I'm really happy with the way these turned out.  Just be aware that its one of those recipes that require chilling, rolling, cutting, and moving around thin pieces of dough, so it would be a good idea to turn your thermostat down (the Fig Newton factories have this advantage of having perfect climate control and machines to do the rolling and assembly). You also need patience.  Mine didn't look very good this time, but they tasted pleasant and I'm sure that next time they'll be a lot better.  

        First thing to do is make the whole wheat dough and refrigerate it for a couple of hours to firm up.  Then you start the filling, which will need to simmer for about 2 hours.  After the filling is cooled down, you roll out the dough, cut it into 3 strips, place some filling in the middle of each strip, fold the dough over the filling, cut the strips into squares, and bake the squares.  Then you get fig bars.  They turn out a little crunchy at first but get soft and chewy the next day. 


Whole Wheat Fig Bars

makes around 30 fig bars


For the dough:
7oz whole wheat flour
1oz oat flour (rolled oats blended until powdery)
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
4oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-1/2 oz sugar
1oz brown rice syrup (or honey/corn syrup)
1 tsp orange zest
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tbs canola oil
1 oz fresh orange juice

For the filling:
1 heaping cup (a bit less that 6oz) dried figs, chopped (I used Calimyrna dried figs)
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp orange zest


  1. Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, oat flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, brown rice syrup, and orange zest.  Beat in the vanilla, eggs, oil, and orange juice until well blended.  Slowly stir in the dry ingredients until well combined.  The dough will be soft.  Wrap in plastic wrap, pat into a disk, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  2. Make the fig filling: Place the dried figs, water, juice, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so that it is at a simmer.  Let simmer, stirring occasionally for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until it has a thick, jam-like consistency.  Leave at room temperature, refrigerate, or cool in an ice bath until it cools down.  Place the jam in a blender with the orange zest and blend until smooth.
  3. Assemble: Preheat the oven to 350*F. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough into a rectangle that is roughly 12x14".  Cut into 3 rectangles that are 4" wide. Spread a line of fig filling through the center of each strip of dough.  For each strip, fold one side of the dough over the filling, then fold the other side over that, enclosing the filling.  Roll the logs seam side down and place each onto a parchment lined baking sheet (I find it easier to move if you cut each log in half first). If you can, chill the dough.  Cut each piece into 30 smaller pieces and space them apart on the baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are golden.  Let cool on wire racks.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Funfetti Cookie Dough Macarons

     Life is crazy as a sophomore.  I can't even spell "sophomore" without spell check helping me.  Since when was there an "o" in there? Since when was I in tenth grade? Someone transport me back to freshman year, please. 
      I'm stressed out sometimes.  Looking at pictures of sprinkles and macarons makes me happier, though. 

   I know my photography isn't that great, but that was nice.  Too bad the macarons are all gone now.  

   Here's how you can make them.

Make a basic vanilla macaron batter. 
Pipe it on parchment lined baking sheets and sprinkle sprinkles on top. Let rest, then bake.
Make cookie dough. Subtract eggs. Add sprinkles and chocolate shavings (optional).
Fill macaron shells, then roll around in sprinkles. 
P.S. Here's something else I made with sprinkles. I'll try to post the recipe soon.
Everything's okay when you have macarons.

Funfetti Cookie Dough Macarons

makes 20
adapted from Love and Olive Oil

For the Shells:

85 grams almond flour or finely ground almonds
150 grams powdered sugar
90 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), room temperature
55 grams superfine sugar (or granulated sugar processed in a blender)

For Cookie Dough Filling:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 to 2 tablespoon heavy cream (or as needed)
grated chocolate and sprinkles (optional)

Sprinkles, for rolling

  1. Sift together almond flour and powdered sugar.
  2. Place egg whites in a large bowl. Mix on medium speed until frothy, then slowly add superfine sugar, a little bit at a time with the mixer on medium speed, scraping down the side of the bowl periodically. When all the sugar has been added, increase speed to medium high and whip until meringue is firm and glossy and forms medium-stiff peaks.
  3. Pour half of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and stir, folding and scraping a few times until no dry flour remains. Add the remaining flour and mix, folding and spreading the batter against the sides of the bowl just until the meringue and flour are incorporated and the batter falls off the spatula in thick ribbons.
  4. Transfer the batter to a large piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe small circles onto a parchment or silicone-mat-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1-inch of space between them.
  5. Rap the baking sheet firmly on the counter, then smack the bottom of the baking sheet multiple times with your hand to remove any remaining air bubbles. If any pointy 'tips' still remain, you can gently press them down with a lightly moistened fingertip. Sprinkle with sprinkles, and set aside until the tops are dry.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they do not brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack, then gently remove from baking sheets.
  7. To prepare filling, beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Mix in flour, salt, vanilla, and almond extract on low speed until incorporated. Add cream and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes, adding more cream if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Stir in grated chocolate. Transfer mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Gently pipe about a teaspoon of filling onto underside of half of the cooled cookies, then top with remaining cookies. Roll edges of macarons in sprinkles.
  8. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Apple Pie Bars

     It's still summer, but I'm already craving the fall flavors.  The cinnamon, nutmeg, and of course, the fresh, crisp, perfect apples. 

      Sadly, apple season isn't quite here yet.  I know because my mom hasn't brought home any boxes from the farmer's market, and I haven't been eating my wonderful "apple a day." And my mom isn't making her "famous" apple pie every weekend to get rid of all the apples that we haven't managed to eat.  

      Still, my sister made me make these for her and her boyfriend a while ago, because apple pies just can't be limited to apple season.  

       Apple pie has always been my favorite.  If you can believe, I used to not like pie, but then apple pie finally changed my mind.  As I said, my mom makes apple pie frequently.  Her pie consists of apples that have been sitting in the fridge for a while, cut thick, and a store-bought crust which she always has difficulty rolling out.  It's not like those fancy double-lattice, two-different-kinds-of-apples pies, but it's delicious in it's own way.   Inspired, I made these simple but ever-so-delicious apple pie bars.

     In short, buttery shortbread crust+ gooey apple pie filling + crumbly oat topping = pass me a shovel, please.  The great thing about this formula (you know, besides the crumb topping and shortbread and apple parts) is that you can substitute any kind of fruit pie filling in place of the apples.  

     How are you preparing for fall?

Apple Pie Bars

makes one 9x13" pan (around) 18 squares


For the shortbread crust:
1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

For the apple pie filling:
1 cup water
1 Tbsp apple juice, apple cider, or lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups apples (I used Granny Smith), cored, peeled, and chopped

For the crumb topping:
3/4 cup walnuts
3 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled


  1. Make the shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350*F.  Cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar. Blend in the flour and baking powder. Pat into a 9x13" glass dish.  Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are light golden brown. Let cool.
  2. Make the apple pie filling: While the crust is baking, combine water, juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it boils. Cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and apples.  Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Make the crumb topping: Toast the walnuts at 350*F for 2-8 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant.  In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.  Blend in the butter with your fingertips, until the mixture is coarse and has clumps the size of peas.  Chop the walnuts and stir into the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Assemble and bake: Preheat oven to 375*F. Pour and smooth the apple pie filling over the shortbread.  Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly on top.  Bake for about half an hour, until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.  Let cool to room temperature and then cut into squares. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mini Banana Dulce de Leche Cupcakes

          In a way, mini cupcakes have a higher standard than regular cupcakes.  Those two bites have to have the perfect texture and flavor so that you aren't left with a feeling of disappointment. It's like what I learned in statistics class: the smaller the data sample, the more representative everything has to be or you'll get the wrong impression.  

         These cupcakes are fluffy ans moist, with a strong banana flavor because of the mashed bananas.  They are fluffier than banana muffins, and they are truly banana flavored.  There isn't any cinnamon or nutmeg to distract.  I made dulce de leche Swiss meringue buttercream with some left over dulce de leche I had from these cookies.  The caramel flavor added more intensity to the cupcake, I think.  I topped them off with candied walnuts, which added crunch and tied all the flavors together.  The walnuts are coated in caramelized sugar and so they add more of that caramel flavor.  

         They were some fine specimens of cupcake.  
First, cream together the butter and sugar. 
Beat in eggs and stir in 2 ripe mashed bananas (I pureed the bananas in a blender). Stir in baking soda that has been dissolved in hot milk.
Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
Portion out the batter, filling the liners 3/4 of the way. 
Bake and they will get puffy. Then let cool. 
Make a Swiss meringue buttercream, following the normal procedure: heat egg whites and sugar over simmering water, beat until firm, cream in butter, and mix in flavorings (dulce de leche).

     Then just frost the cupcakes, top with candied walnuts, and enjoy! The cupcakes will keep at room temperature for a few days.  

Banana Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream

makes 3 dozen mini cupcakes, or 18 standard cupcakes


for the cupcake:
125g (4oz + 1 tbsp) unsalted butter
175g (6oz) sugar
2 eggs
2 large mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp Baking soda
2 Tbsp boiling milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
225g (8oz) flour

for the buttercream:
2-1/2 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, diced and softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4-1/2 cup of dulce de leche, room temperature 

candied walnuts, follow directions here 


  1. Preheat oven to 325*F.  Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. Cream butter & sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix in mashed bananas.
  3. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot milk and stir into the banana mixture.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and fold into the wet ingredients until incorporated.
  5. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full with batter.  Bake in over for 10-12 minutes if you're making mini cupcakes, or 18-25 minutes if you're making standard cupcakes.  They should be light golden brown and a toothpick should come out clean.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack.
  6. To make the buttercream, combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl placed over simmering water. Bring the mixture to 150 degrees F while whisking constantly.
  7. Transfer mixture to stand mixer bowl, fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until mixture cools and doubles in volume and forms firm peaks when the whisk is pulled up out of the meringue.
  8. Add butter in one piece at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. Add salt and vanilla and mix to combine. Add dulce de leche and mix to combine.
  9. Frost the cupcakes and top with candied walnuts.  Keep at room temperature.