Showing posts with label cakes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cakes. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "A Piece of the World" by Christina Baker Kline, Served with Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake

Today's TLC Book Tour stop looks behind a classic twentieth century American painting for the story of its intriguing subject. I'm reviewing A Piece of the World, a novel by Christina Baker Kline and accompanying my review is a recipe for Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake, inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.

“Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden.”

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

Hardcover: 320 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (February 21, 2017)

My Review:  

This book caught me by surprise with how absorbing it was and just how much I liked it. I have read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline's previous books with the big exception of her most well-known, The Orphan Train (don't ask me why--I have a copy that never seems to quite make it to the top of my TBR pile), so I expected to find a well-told story, but it was so much more. I remember first learning about the painter Andrew Wyeth in an art history class and was intrigued by his realist style and his moody and evocative paintings--arguably the most famous being Christina's World--so I had an interest in slipping into the story behind the artwork. As a child, Baker Kline was given a woodblock print by her father that was inspired by the painting and in A Piece of the World, she imagines what the life of the model was like.  

"Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth, 
reprinted from an article by Hannah Kim, Inside/ and The Museum of Modern Art
The book is set in Maine from the early 1900s through the late 1940s and tells both of the life of Christina Olson, the subject behind the painting--as well as her relationship with Andrew Wyeth, who spent several years visiting the Olson farm and painting the scenery, Christina and her brother, and forming a relationship and a friendship with them. The story is told from Christina's point of view and goes back and forth in time from her childhood and the illness (thought to be Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease) that left her with deteriorating bones and joints to her adult life and the visits from Wyeth. Christina's world is small and for the most part contained in the family home and farm and she is bitter and not always easy to like--although it is easy to understand why when you consider how some of her choices were made for her by her parents and of course her health. She is a strong and independent character and the way that the author tells her stories--the bright moments, the sadness, and all of the small details is beautiful and engaging and had me wanting the best for her. The Maine setting, details about Wyeth's painting and Christina's family history (connected to the Salem witch Trials) are interesting and Baker Kline's words bring it to life in vivid detail. I thought it might be a slow, too-languorous read but I found it hard to put down and I was sorry when I finished this remarkable tale. Highly recommended. 


Author Notes: Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is food aplenty in A Piece of the World--mostly homey food that fits the time periods in the story. There are clambakes, eggs from the family chickens, a picnic lunch of egg sandwich on thick-sliced bread, a cucumber, and two pieces of fried apple cake, bread, porridge, dry oatcakes, chicken pie, pot roast, fish stew and chowder, potatoes-boiled and mashed, peas or carrots, casserole or stews, tea and fresh-squeezed lemonade, split pea soup with ham and chicken soup, Swedish bread called svartbröd, with salmon and sour cream and a fried potato cake called raggamunk, and lingonberries, a meatloaf sandwich, sliced thin on bread with butter, sandwiches of butter and molasses on thick sourdough bread, cottage cheese, bread, cheese and hard boiled eggs, butterscotch candies, drop biscuits, canned and pickled vegetables, jam and preserves, suckling pig roasted in a pit in the yard, stewed apples and dried-blueberry cake, chicken stew with squash dumplings, a New Year's drink called a Whaler's Toddy of rum, molasses and cloves in a mug with boiling water, blended with a cinnamon stick, oranges from Florida, chipped beef and noodles, sliced turkey and ham, pickled beans and beets, gingerbread cookies, strawberry, blueberry and wild rhubarb pies, fried chicken, and appetizers of red radishes, deviled eggs and green olives with pimento.

For my book-inspired book, I knew it had to be a version (at least of of sorts) of the fried apple cake that Christina is 'famous' for as it is mentioned several times throughout the book. 

"She wants to know my famous fried apple cake recipe and I explain it step by step: how you peel and thinly slice the apples, fry the slices over a low flame in a heavy black skillet, adding a stream of molasses until the apples are soft in the middle and crispy on the edges, then turn the skillet over onto a platter. (I don't tell her that I can no longer turn the skillet on my own and have to ask one of my brothers to do it.)" 
-A Piece of the World 
From the description, Christina's cake sounds more like a scalloped sort of apple dish that ends up in a cake-like form as there is no mention of anything beyond thinly-sliced peeled apples and molasses. I looked online for fried apple cake but couldn't find anything that sounded like that. What did pop up were a few stack and skillet cakes--most of them started on the stove and then finished in the oven--but a couple I found were cooked entirely on the store in a skillet and that's what I decided to make. I am sure it isn't the cake that the author intended but it intrigued me. Since I was craving cake, I don't love the flavor of molasses, and I wanted to see how well it would turn out--I decided to give it a try.

I picked this Apple Skillet Cake recipe from Christy Jordan at and I made just a few small changes. I also reduced the amount to fit into my small frying pan--not needing a big cake sitting about. My changes and the amounts I used for the smaller pan are below--you can follow the above link to the site for the original recipe and steps.

Fried Apple Stove-Top Skillet Cake
Adapted slightly from

Apple Topping:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
3 apples of choice, peeled and thinly sliced (I used 2 Honeycrisp + 1 Granny Smith)

1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch salt
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup apple juice or water
1 egg

To make apple topping: Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and stir in cinnamon and sugar. When mixture liquefies, layer in apple slices. Cover skillet and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes--until apple slices have softened. 

Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl until well mixed. In a separate bowl combine melted butter, evaporated milk, apple juice (or water) and the egg and mix until the egg is well-beaten. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and mix just until just moistened and combined. 

Reduce heat on apples to low. Carefully spoon batter over the apple slices in the skillet as evenly as possible. Cover pan and cook on low for 20 minutes, until cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Remove cake from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Carefully turn over onto a serving plate and serve warm. Enjoy! 

Notes/Results: I was really happy with how this cake turned out--perfectly moist and full of sweet cinnamon and apple flavor. I wasn't sure if it would have the texture of a more pudding-like steamed cake or an oven-baked cake and was happy it was the latter. Mine puffed up quite a bit--you can see in the collage photo above and you can see that it has a nice moist crumb to it. Things would have been perfect if I had not lost confidence in turning it over onto the small plate I wanted to use. I thought it would be easier to transfer it to a dinner plate and then carefully move it to a serving plate and that ended up being my undoing as because as careful as I was, using two large spatulas/pancake flippers, my cake broke and I lost the side. I had no problem eating the edge that came off and the rest sliced up just fine. Next time, I'll flip directly onto the plate I plan to serve it on. ;-) And there will be a next time. I am a fan of anything apple and this cake was delicious. I will definitely make it again.  

I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post

Note: A review copy of the "A Piece of the World" was provided to me by the publisher Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe--Served with Johnnycakes with Maple Syrup

"And then I see the map, still on the bedside stand. I sit on the edge of the bed and unfold it carefully. Jeremiah has made a heart at Flat Creek and a star at Herkimer. But in the Nebraska Territory he has written, I shall always be near to you."  

It's those words scrawled by her husband on the map he left when he went to fight with the Union army, a feeling of never quite belonging in her family and community, and her deep love for her husband, that moves Rosetta Wakefield to join the army herself, disguised as a man. "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe is an amazing and moving story based on real life events and Kahakai Kitchen is today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for this intriguing Civil War drama.   

Publisher's Blurb:

In I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU, McCabe introduces us to newlywed Rosetta Wakefield. More accustomed to working as her father’s farmhand and happiest doing what others might call “man’s work,” Rosetta struggles with how to be a good wife to her childhood beau and new husband, Jeremiah. When Jeremiah leaves home to join the Union army, Rosetta finds the only way she can honor Jeremiah is to be with her husband—no matter what..

Cutting off her hair and donning men’s clothing, Rosetta enlists in the army as Private Ross Stone so that she might stand beside her husband. Joining, however, is the easy part, and now Rosetta must not only live and train with her male counterparts as they prepare for imminent battle, but she must also deal with Jeremiah, who is struggling with his “fighting” wife’s presence, not to mention the constant threat of discovery..

In brilliant detail, inspired by the letters of the real Rosetta Wakeman, McCabe offers a riveting look at the day-to-day lives of these secret women fighters as they defied conventions and made their personal contributions to history. Both a tender love story and a hard look at war, I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU offers a unique exploration of marriage, societal expectations, and the role of women in the Civil War through the lens of a beautifully written novel.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books (September 2, 2014)

My Review: 

What a wonderful and engrossing book--one of my favorites for the year for sure. Civil War era historical fiction is not a category I normally gravitate to but I was intrigued by the story and I am glad I gave it a try. I had no idea that at least 200 women were documented as having fought in the Civil War, dressed and acting as male soldiers. I Shall Be Near To You is based on these women--one in particular, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, a New York woman who fought for the Union Army as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman. (Read more about Wakeman here). The courage and fortitude of these women was fascinating to me.

I Shall Be Near To You is beautifully written and told through Rosetta's point of view. With this strong first person narrative, Rosetta really comes alive--her spirit, her stubbornness, her determination and grit. Seen through her eyes, the horrors of the war and especially the battlefield are chillingly portrayed. Although it is a love story (and what a love Jeremiah and Rosetta have for each other), the book doesn't bog itself down in the romance and reads more as an adventure story. I love it when a book makes me shiver, makes me smile, makes me cry, warms my heart, has me biting my nails, and sweeps me away to a different time and place--and this one did it all.

I was sad to have this book end--I wanted more time with Rosetta and after learning about these courageous women, I would love to know more about their lives after the war. (Hint, hint Erin Lindsay McCabe...) Lovers of adventure and strong female characters, and readers of historical and military fiction, women's fiction, and Civil War era stories will love this one. In fact, even if that doesn't describe you, do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway--I bet you will love it too. 

Author Notes: Erin Lindsay McCabe studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.

My dish inspired by the book was a bit of a challenge as food inspiration isn't always easy to come by in books where most of the action takes place in army camps or on the battlefield. In my review copy of the book was a sweet little note card from the author, who thanked me for being on the tour and hoped that I "wouldn't hold the terrible food in the book (hard tack & sow belly)" against her. I certainly don't! ;-) She offered up a ginger cake recipe that inspired Rosetta and Jeremiah's wedding cake in the story, as well as a hard tack recipe (no thank you) but I just wasn't feeling the urge to bake. There were mentions of other foods--mostly simple fare. Had I access to good fresh trout, I would have fried some up to represent a time when Rosetta and Jeremiah were young and he stood up for her against a bully and got the fish she caught back. An uncomfortable dinner for the newlyweds with Jeremiah's family included a 'feast' of lamb chops, potatoes, biscuits and canned peaches, while potatoes, eggs and various 'supper soups' were common meals. 

I finally decided to go with a simple Civil War era staple--Johnnycakes--kind of a cornmeal based flat bread/pancake/biscuit from a recipe on a Civil War site that stated "Johnnycakes were popular particularly in the Northeast but eaten across the United States since the 1600's. The recipe is very simple and fun to make.

On her second morning with the army, Rosetta, as Private Ross, cooks with rations of cornmeal and sow belly and her cornmeal biscuits sounded similar to the Johnnycake description. "I buck up and with the few things I've got I figure on making biscuits. I ain't got milk or butter, but water and sowbelly grease might do and anybody who sees fit to complain don't have to eat none."  

Unlike Rosetta, I did have milk and butter (no sowbelly grease needed), and maple syrup to douse the corn cakes in. Had Rosetta stayed at home with Jeremiah's family, she would have been "tending the sugarhouse" (women's work) instead of tapping the maple trees and collecting the syrup (men's work.) I served the Johnnycakes with coffee--also part of the soldiers' rations. 

Adapted from Civil War Recipes
(Makes about 10 small cakes)

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
syrup, molasses, or preserves for topping

Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Combine the cornmeal, salt, boiled water, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well. Melt the  butter in a skillet or a cast iron griddle over medium heat. Pour batter into the skillet,  pancake style to cook. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until edges are lacy and lightly browned using a spatula to turn. Serve hot with molasses, maple syrup and butter.

Notes/Results: I am no Johnnycake expert (as you can clearly see from the pictures) and they probably won't be a go-to dish at my house, but these were better than I expected. Not too heavy, slightly chewy from the cornmeal, crispy on the edges. Of course with enough maple syrup, anything tastes good. It took me a bit to get smoothly into Johnnycake production after my first couple of misses (lower heat and smaller cakes are the way to go), but once you get going, they are quickly made and best eaten piping hot. With good strong coffee and lots of maple syrup, overall it wasn't a bad breakfast.

This review and the dish inspired by the book are being linked up at Novel Food--an event celebrating food inspired by the written word and hosted by my friend and fellow Cook the Books co-host Simona of Briciole. The deadline for this round of Novel Food ends Monday, October 6th. 

Note: A review copy of "I Shall Be Near To You" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own. 
You can see the stops for the rest of the TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.  


Saturday, April 27, 2013

"In This House We Have Chocolate Cake for Breakfast"--"Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake" for Food 'n Flix April: Practical Magic

"In this house we have chocolate cake for breakfast. We never bother with silly things like bedtimes or brushing our teeth," so says Aunt Francis Owens as she and her sister, Jet welcome their young orphan nieces Sally and Gillian into their home. Practical Magic, starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, and Dianne Wiest, is this month's Food 'n Flix pick, hosted by Glennis at Can't Believe We Ate... 

Practical Magic, the film adaptation of the novel by Alic Hoffman is the story of the Owens family, witches under a "love curse," from their ancestor Maria. When an Owens woman falls in love with a man, he is cursed with an untimely death. Sally and Gillian, now grown and suffering the effects of the curse in different ways, must work together to fight it and find love and happiness. I read the book and saw the movie several years ago. I wouldn't say it is a top favorite, but I love all the actresses, along with Aidan Quinn and Goran Višnjić, a couple of the token men in the film, so it was fun to watch it again. Although not what I would call a firm "foodie film," there is a fair amount of food and drink inspiration sprinkled throughout the movie.

I am not going to lie, you have probably already suspected that I procrastinated to the very last possible minute to re-watch this film and make a dish inspired by it. In fact, I forgot to order the movie on Netflix and did a last minute search for it on cable last night, lucky to find it running at 4:30 AM. (Thank you Encore Love Channel!) I DVR'd it and sat down this morning to watch, thinking I could find my inspiration, head to the store and knock something out. A few minutes into the film, the chocolate cake for breakfast line came up and I was sold.

Now, I certainly didn't need a big chocolate cake and I remembered the recipe for Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake from the Joy the Baker Cookbook, I reviewed a while back. I put the movie on pause, took 15 minutes to whip up a melty little plate of heaven and ate my breakfast of champions while watching the movie. How's that for true inspiration!?!

Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake
Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook
(Serves 1)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used the vegan mini chips I had on hand) 
1 large egg
4 tsp granulated sugar
pinchof salt
1 tsp all-purpose flour

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Place a cookie sheet in the oven as the oven heats. Generously butter and flour a one-cup ramekin and set aside. 

Melt chocolate and butter together. (You can use a double boiler or I just used the microwave).  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and whisk together until well combined. Add the salt and flour and stir until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared ramekin and place in oven on top of cookie sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes. The less time in the oven, the more gooey the cake will be. (I did mine about 11 minutes and it was plenty gooey, but watch carefully.) 

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Using potholders, carefully invert cake onto a plate and dig in. Cake will be gooey and melty and slightly underdone. Eat immediately. (Like you could wait!) ;-)

Notes/Results: I am a little bit sorry I decided to try this recipe. A delicious chocolate cake should not be this quick and easy to make! ;-) This is gooey and hits the spot and at least there is built-in portion control. Using the microwave for melting and mixing things in a couple of glass measuring cups, this was in the oven in about 5 minutes, ready to eat in less than 20 minutes--perfect for when you need chocolate relief fast. I dusted my cake with powdered sugar and served it with a couple mini-scoops of chocolate chip ice cream. I certainly am not advocating chocolate cake for breakfast every day, but it this case, it was a nice Saturday morning treat! I will make this cake again. (Probably too much!

Thanks to Glennis for picking this fun film and helping me eat cake for breakfast! The deadline for this month's Food 'n Flix entries is tomorrow, Sunday, April 28th, and Glennis will be rounding up the entries on her blog shortly after. If you missed this round and love food and movies, join us next month for the French film, Delicatessen, hosted by The Law Student's Cookbook. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Book Tour Stops Here: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson with Little Warm Lavender Almond Cakes

We had some unusual weather for Hawaii several days last week. Heavy rains, multiple thunderstorms with lightening, hail... even a tornado not that far from where I live. It was perfect weather to tuck into a Gothic mystery novel like The Lantern, by Deborah Lawrenson. The Lantern is set in Provence, at Les Genévries, a old and crumbling three-story stone farmhouse hedged in rosemary and cypresses leading to fields of aromatic lavender. Les Genévries is the new home of Eve and Dom, who met in Switzerland and after a whirlwind courtship, are settling in to isolated country life and slowly renovating the house. Les Genévries was once the home of Bénédicte Lincel and her family and The Lantern weaves back and forth between Eve's present day story and Bénédicte's story going back to her childhood days.

The first summer in the house is full of hope and promise for Eve and Dom, but as the season starts to wane, Eve starts to feel a presence, like she is being watched. Dom is acting mysteriously too. Eve knows he was married before, but he refuses to discuss it and her need to find out more about his former wife Rachel, puts a strain on their relationship. When news of a series of local girls gone missing in the surrounding area moves closer to home, Eve begins to wonder what else Dom might be hiding from her and what happened to Rachel.

If I had to pick one word to describe The Lantern, it would be lush. It is a book for the senses. Author Lawrenson writes so descriptively that you feel the winds that sweep through the countryside, you see the crumbling stone and cracking plaster of the old house, you get a small shiver of awareness at a sudden sound or shadow, and you can smell the pungent floral scent of the lavender mixed in with the rosemary, mint, thyme and other herbs growing about Les Genévries. The Lantern is billed as being inspired by the Gothic classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which I read many, many years ago and there are definite plot similarities, although the story has it's own twists and turns. The interwoven stories of Eve and Bénédicte reveal the story in small snippets, and I think overall it works well, but I did find Bénédicte's character and her tale more compelling. I didn't feel the romance, passion and connection between Dom and Eve as strongly, maybe because more emphasis is given to descriptions of the atmosphere of Les Genévries, than to developing these characters and their relationship. This is a curl-up-in-a-comfy-chair-on-a-stormy-night kind of story, and a lovely escape to the south of France. If you enjoy Provence, beautifully descriptive writing, Gothic tales and ghost stories, and/or have a sense of mystery, you will like this book.

Author Notes: Deborah Lawrenson grew up in Kuwait, China, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Singapore. She studied English at Cambridge University and has worked as a journalist for various publications in England, including the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, and Woman’s Journal magazine. She lives in Kent, England, and she and her family spend as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in Provence, France, the setting for The Lantern.

Note: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours but I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

For a dish inspired by the novel, although there were plenty of wonderful sounding dishes, meals and ingredients throughout the book it was obvious from the cover alone that it had to be something involving lavender. Plus, lavender plays heavily in Bénédicte's story. I had a few recipes tagged to make, even a savory fish dish, but I decided to crack open The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking With Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld (a cookbook that I would also describe as lush and beautiful) and I was immediately drawn to the Warm Lavender Almond Cakes.

Jerry Traunfeld says, "These cakes are miraculous. You whiz everything up in a food processor, pop the batter into the refrigerator overnight, and then scoop into ramekins or muffin tins to bake. You'll be amazed. The warm slightly chewy cakes have a light crisp crust and a dense, moist interior suffused with the deep flavors of nuts, lavender, and honey, almost like a cross between a cake and a macaroon. Serve them in summer with lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream and fresh berries, or end a winter meal with the same cream and a fruit compote. Or simply cut them in quarters and serve them with coffee, tea, or a glass of sherry in any season."

Warm Lavender Almond Cakes
Recipe by The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld
(Makes 6-10 small cakes--depending on size of pan)

1 cup raw sliced almonds
4 teaspoons lavender buds (fresh or dried)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup egg whites (about 6 large)
1/4 cup honey
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
2 tablespoons softened butter, for prepping the molds

Note: Begin preparation at least 1 day before serving.
Put the almonds and lavender buds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the powdered sugar and continue to process for 30 seconds. Add the flour and salt and process briefly. Pour in the egg whites and honey and process until combined. Add the melted butter and process for an additional 15 seconds. Scrape the batter into a plastic storage container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or as much as a week.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 350°F.

Generously butter 10 (4 or 6 oz.) ovenproof ramekins or custard cups and place them on a baking sheet, or use a standard muffin tin. Divide the batter evenly among the cups. Bake until the cakes are evenly puffed and the tops crack and turn a deep walnut brown color, 30-40 min., depending on the molds and the temperature of the batter. Cool slightly and tip the cups out of their molds. Serve them while still warm, whole or cut into quarters.

Notes/Results: These are lovely little cakes. I always wonder if the lavender will be too strong in a recipes (I have had some lavender-infused dishes that were like eating potpourri--not a good thing), but in these cakes it comes across in a subtle way at first, getting a little stronger but not overpowering, towards the end. I used larger ramekins for these (about 6 oz.) and filled them 3/4 full, so I got six cakes from the batter. Instead of whipped cream, I used this whipped cashew cream, using up the leftover thick cashew cream from Sunday's soup, and garnished with some fresh organic blueberries. (I adapted the linked Tal Ronnen cashew whipped cream recipe slightly, by using honey as the sweetener and adding almond extract to enhance the flavors in the little cakes.) These cakes are like a French financier--chewy on the outside and soft with a nice crumb within. I will make these again.

Giveaway Update: In case you were stopping by to see who won the Joy the Baker Cookbook giveaway, I will be drawing the name and posting the announcement sometime tomorrow (Friday). Thanks for your patience! ;-)

I am sending my review of The Lantern and these pretty little cakes over to Novel Food, a literary-inspired cooking event hosted by my friend Simona at briciole. Simona will be rounding up an array of fabulous books and the food inspired by them after the deadline of March 18th, so be sure to check it out.

What are you reading and cooking?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vegan Chocolate-Avocado Cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Buttercream for the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cookoff

Chocolate cupcakes may seem redundant when we have already made brownies with chocolate buttercream and chamomile cupcakes for the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cookoff. Still, when I got to choose a recipe to make for Blogger's Choice Week of the challenge, this is the recipe I kept going back to. I have been wanting to finally try baking up a vegan chocolate and avocado pairing so Joy's Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Vegan Chocolate Buttercream seemed like the perfect opportunity.

These cupcakes turned out incredibly moist and delicious. Sadly, the frosting wasn't quite a win for me. It kept separating and seemed somewhat greasy and a bit grainy. I used the Earth Butter sticks and followed the recipe, then I tried adding more powdered sugar, refrigerating it and re-mixing, freezing it, etc. but it wasn't quite as buttery and fluffy as I would have liked and it doesn't look that pretty. Of course it also had to compete with my memories of Joy's incredible chocolate buttercream with Ovaltine in it that topped the brownies on week one, and I don't think it could have done that even if it had turned out perfectly. All in all, these cupcakes were still excellent and no one would guess they are vegan--always a plus.

Joy the Baker says, "This is the part of our baking journey that will make you raise your eyebrows at me. Yes, this fine chocolate cake has avocado in it. Avocados are so rich and creamy that I like to consider them the vegetable equivalent of butter. This vegan cake recipe uses both oil and avocado to create a moist, tender, and sturdy crumb. Combine the cake with vegan chocolate frosting, and you've got quite a treat. You won't have to tell a soul that there's avocado in the cake, unless of course, you want to brag. You can double this cake and frosting recipe to make one 2-layer 8-or9-inch cake."

Vegan Chocolate-Avocado Cupcakes w/ Vegan Chocolate Buttercream
The Joy the Baker Cookbook
(Makes 12-14 Cupcakes)

Cupcake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup mashed ripe avocado (about half an avocado)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
(I added 2 tsps espresso powder)

Cupcake Directions
Place rack in the upper third of the oven, and preheat oven to 350 F. Line a cupcake pan with foil or paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk sugar, oil, avocado, water, vinegar, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the avocado mixture and fold with a spatula until well combined. The batter will be so loose that you can pour it into a measuring cup to dispense into the cupcake molds. Fill each cupcake liner until it’s about two-thirds full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Let cakes cool for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Frosting Ingredients
3/4 cup Earth Balance butter (or any vegan butter in sticks), at room temperature
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 Tbsp soy milk

Frosting Directions
Place butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and pliable. Stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl, and add the cocoa and sugar. Turn mixer on low to slowly incorporate. Add the vanilla and soy milk. Increase the mixer speed to medium or medium high and beat until frosting is soft and fluffy.

Spread onto cupcakes with a butter knife and decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Frosted cupcakes can last in fridge for up to 4 days.

Notes/Results: I think I said it all above--the very moist and delicious cakes get a thumbs up and will definitely get made again. The avocado disappears completely when you bake them and I love how it replaces most of the oil and egg with healthy fats. I did add some espresso powder to the cupcakes--just for a little depth of flavor, and I topped them with chocolate-covered coffee beans. I'll probably try the frosting again--maybe it was just a bad frosting karma day. And, I promise that I will be making one more recipe from the book for my final review next week that isn't a cake or brownie. ;-)

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*This post is part of the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off sponsored by Hyperion and hosted at girlichef*

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mini Chamomile Cakes with Honey Frosting for the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cookoff

The most difficult thing about baking these delicate Mini Chamomile Cakes with Honey Frosting, one of the Week 2 recipe choices for the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cookoff, is that much like last weeks brownies, they are not on my Engine 2 Challenge. (Vegan, no oil for 28 days--just four days left to go!) I did savor one mini cake in the name of both science and of honest cookbook reviewing, and they are lovely. The rest of the batch went into a container to give away ASAP tomorrow to some cupcake-loving friends.

Joy says, "What's not included in the directions to this recipe is this stellar "pro" tip. Wash your face with fancy-smelling soap and put on a fancy smelling face mask. Prepare cupcakes according to the directions. Bake cupcakes. Put on lip gloss. Feel utterly pretty. These tender little lady-cakes were inspired by The hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and are delicate and beautifully scented. Serve to lady friends with tea."

Mini Chamomile Cakes with Honey Frosting
From Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson
(Makes 12 Mini Cakes or Cupcakes)

For the cakes:
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp dried chamomile (from tea bags)
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp honey
6 Tbsp heavy cream
pinch of salt

Cakes: Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Line a cupcake pan with paper or foil liners and set aside. You can also grease and flour the cupcake pans and not use any liners.

Cream together butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chamomile leaves. The mixture will be slightly coarse and sandy when mixed for several minutes. Whisk together milk, egg, and vanilla. Pour half of the milk mixture into the flour mixture with the mixer on medium-low speed. Beat until just incorporated. Pour in the remaining milk mixture, and turn mixer up to medium. Beat for 1 minute, until well blended.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake cups. There isn't a lot of batter, so you'll only fill the liners up about halfway. You'll also need a spatula to scrape the bowl for remaining batter. This recipe doesn't waste a drop of cake batter.

Bake cupcakes for 17 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and allow cakes to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Frosting: Whisk together sifted powdered sugar, honey, cream, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Use a butter knife to generously spread the frosting atop the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with just a bit of chamomile leaves and arrange on a pretty plate. Cakes will last, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Notes/Results: These are such delicious cupcakes--tender and moist with the herbal and grassy chamomile flavor highlighted by the sweet creamy honey frosting. I happen to enjoy a cup of chamomile tea now and then and I like how these cupcakes capture that flavor without being overpowering or cloying. My frosting was perhaps a bit soft, but very good. I feel a little bad about the cupcake liners--these seem to call for a more delicate floral pattern or a plain white liner but alas--it was either these colorful ones, foil baking cups, or holiday patterned liners in my stash. Someone needs to stock up. ;-)

It was hard to only eat one of these little cakes, but I really enjoyed it with a cup of tea. The recipe is quick and easy and makes me want to experiment with some of the other teas in my collection. I will make these again. Joy the Baker is 2 for 2 the the recipes so far--both were fabulous. I am still trying to decide what to make for "blogger's choice" next week--everything in the book sounds delicious.

*This post is part of the Joy the Baker Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off sponsored by Hyperion and hosted at girlichef*

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Happy Aloha Friday!