Let Them Eat Brioche

This recipe may seem a little ill-timed, since tonight marks the end of the Carnival season and tomorrow is the beginning of Lent.  If you’re making any sort of Lenten resolutions, you probably won’t be baking this any time in the next forty days.  However, it was too good not to share, so I thought I’d go ahead and put it out there for you debaucherous souls who might want to give it a go.

Given that today is Mardi Gras, I wanted to treat the family to some traditional gumbo and a Gateau des Roi.  I didn’t grow up eating King Cake, or really observing Mardi Gras at all.  As such, I have no reference for what makes a good King Cake.  As an adult, I’ve seen a number of different (shortcut) variations, including cinnamon roll-based cakes and crescent roll based cakes.  While I knew that these recipes that used processed and pre-packaged ingredients were probably not the most traditional versions, they did give me a basic idea of what a King Cake entails – rich buttery dough, stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with a sugary glaze

With some digging, I discovered that traditional King Cake consists of rich brioche bread, filled with cinnamon, almond paste or cream cheese and glazed with simple icing sugar glaze.  They are often sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sanding sugar to reflect the colors of Mardi Gras.  I figured if I could find a good brioche recipe, the rest would be a piece of cake (ha-ha).

For the brioche recipe, I turned to a trusted and reliable source: Michael Ruhlman.  The tagline on Ruhlman’s website is “translating the Chef’s craft for every kitchen,” and he does a skillful job doing just that.  His recipes are well tested, and you can be assured that you will find success if you follow his instructions.  I knew that any brioche recipe I found on his site would be delightful.  When I saw that it called for five whole eggs and twelve ounces of butter (that’s three whole sticks), I figured it could not disappoint.

Since I followed his recipe almost to the letter, I’ll suggest that you click on over to his site if you want to make it.  I did substitute freshly ground hard white wheat flour for the bread flour that he suggests and I used honey granules in place of the sugar.  I also shortened the second rise, choosing to let the dough rise in a warm oven for one hour instead of in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the brioche into a King Cake, I made a cream cheese filling, combining eight ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of honey granules, one large egg, three tablespoons of flour and the zest of one lemon.  I beat this all together until it was smooth.  After the dough had risen the first time (and doubled in volume – this took approximately three hours at room temperature), I punched it down and rolled it out into a long, thin rectangle.  I spread the filling evenly onto the rectangle and folded the dough over onto itself, pinching the edges to seal the filling inside.  I then formed it into a ring and placed it in a greased tube pan.  I covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm oven (preheated to 150F, then turned off) for about an hour.

To bake it off, I preheated the oven to 350F, baked the cake for 20 minutes uncovered, then 25 minutes tented with parchment paper (to keep it from getting too brown).  Once it was fully baked, I removed it from the oven, turned it out onto a cooling rack and allowed it to cool completely.

For the glaze, I combined 2 cups of powdered sugar with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring to combine.  I added a 1/2 a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, then glazed the cake once it had cooled completely.

Even if you don’t make a king cake, I highly recommend this brioche recipe – it practically melts in your mouth it’s so buttery.  I can imagine using it for breakfast in french toast, or making a decadent croque-monsieur (or even more decadent croque-madame) with it.  In this instance, stuffed (albeit unevenly) with slightly sweet cream cheese and smothered with creamy vanilla glaze, it was the perfect way to top off our family Fat Tuesday celebration.

Now, what to do with the leftovers tomorrow?

On the Road: Carrot Cake Cookies

I’m getting ready to head down to St. Simons Island for three days of southern cuisine and hospitality.  I’ll be sharing my adventures here, on my facebook page and on twitter so stay tuned.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of Georgia’s best growers and producers and learning all about Georgia olives(who knew?!), honey, peaches, pecans, shrimp, spirits and more.

Before I get on the road, I wanted to share these cookies with you all.  I made them first for a bake sale fund raiser last weekend, and then again yesterday with the residual carrots I had left from making my youngest son’s 2nd birthday cake.  I’m planning to take some on the road today for sustenance (because who couldn’t use a little cream cheese frosting to keep them going?).

If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love these cookies – they’re kind of a cross between my favorite oatmeal cookie, carrot cake and a whoopie pie.  What’s not to love?  I was inspired by this recipe from Martha Stewart, but I adapted it to suit my taste, adding some baking soda and powder for leavening, and grating in some fresh ginger instead of dried (fresh is always better in my opinion, especially in recipes where the added moisture won’t affect the outcome).

Carrot Cake Cookies
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 12 minutes
yields: 20 sandwich cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Whisk together your oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  3. Cream together the butter and sugars
  4. Add the egg and mix to incorporate
  5. Add the ginger and the carrots
  6. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients
  7. Fold in the raisins
  8. Drop teaspoon-full sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets, 1 inch apart
  9. Flatten with your hand
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven
  11. Allow to cool on a rack
  12. Spread 1/2 a teaspoon of cream cheese frosting on one cookie and place a second cookie on top to make a sandwich
  13. Enjoy!

A Marriage Cake

Eight years ago, I married my best friend.

What I remember most about that day, the thing that sticks most resiliently in my mind, is how adamantly I wanted to be married.  I was done with the pomp and circumstance of the wedding before the wedding had even begun.  And it wasn’t like we had a big wedding – it was very intimate, a day shared with our closest friends and family.  A rainy, October day on a beach in St. Augustine with a very casual reception afterward.  But as I stood in the bridal suite, having my corset laced and my picture taken, all I could think about was getting on with the marriage part of the deal.  The wedding was nice, but I wasn’t nearly as excited about that as I was about spending the rest of my life married to my best friend.  Maybe I’m weird.

And marriage hasn’t disappointed.  I mean, sure we’ve had our ups and downs.  It’s not perfect, but I never expected it to be.  I knew it would be work – in a Tim Gunn, “make it work” kind of way.  There are good days and there are bad days, but they are our days.  Our days to take on together, as a team.  The successes and the failures, the happy and the sad – we meet them all head on, a united front.

This year, our anniversary fell on a rainy, gray Tuesday.  He had to work, and I was home with our youngest all day.  We’d been out to a restaurant the Saturday prior – a kind of pre-Anniversary celebration since we had overnight child-care in the form of my husband’s parents (yay for in-town grandparents!).  But I wanted to do something, however small, to celebrate the actual day.

I had commented as we drove back from dinner on Saturday, discussing where we should stop in for dessert, that I wished we could find an 8-year-old wedding cake top tier.  Not that I think there should be a bakery that specializes in moldy old cake – that’s just gross.  But there is something nostalgic and fun in sitting down together to share that top tier of your wedding cake on your first anniversary.  In subsequent years, you just don’t have anything quite that special.

As I stood in the kitchen yesterday, laughing quietly to myself at the thought of a bakery with lighted glass display shelves lined with stale, moldy cake (the mind does tend to wonder), it came to me.  I’d bake a marriage cake.  A small, intimate 6-inch cake.  Nothing elaborate, just a simple everyday cake to celebrate our every day, all day, lifelong marriage.

To get the ratios for a single, six-inch layer, I turned to Dessert for Two, a blog dedicated to reducing dessert recipes to a quantity fit for two people to consume in one sitting.  I went with the cake recipe for her Better Than Sex Cake, subbing whole-wheat flour and honey granules for their more refined counterparts.  I didn’t have any pineapple, and my husband doesn’t care for shredded coconut, so I improvised on the topping.

I glazed the tiny cake with a mixture of buttermilk (1/2 cup), sucanat (1/4 cup) and rum (teaspoon) that I cooked together until the sucanat dissolved.  I then stirred in a tablespoon of cold butter to thicken and enrich the glaze.   Once the cake had cooled, I poked holes in the top and drizzled the glaze over top.

I frosted it with a cream-cheese based frosting: 4 oz. cream cheese, 2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 tablespoons honey granules, 1 tablespoon agave nectar, 1 teaspoon rum.

In a lot of ways, this was the perfect cake to eat on an 8th wedding anniversary.  It’s not terribly refined, it’s a little rough around the edges, and it’s got a little bit of a sour edge to it from the buttermilk and the cream cheese.  There is a bit of sweetness, though, and the sweetness has some depth to it, from the darker sucanat in the glaze and the honey granules in the frosting.  And there’s just a hint of something fun and flirty peeking through from the addition of the rum.

Despite its unrefined appearance, I served it up on some of our fine china.  And we shared it, just as we did that top tier seven years ago.

I think I’ll make this a tradition – baking a single tier for us to share on our anniversary.  I’m sure the cake will change, just as our marriage will change (for the better, I hope), but I love the idea of taking the time to share something sweet together and to reflect on the reasons we fell in love in the first place.

Marriage Cake
adapted from Dessert for Two’s Better than Sex Cake

  • 1/4 cup solid coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup honey granules
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon rum
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sucanat
  • 1 teaspoon rum
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cold

Frosting

  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey granules
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon rum
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and grease and flour a six-inch round cake pan
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, using a handheld mixer, cream together the coconut oil, butter and honey granules until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the rum and mix to combine.
  4. Add the egg and beat to incorporate
  5. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt
  6. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, until just incorporated
  7. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean
  8. For the glaze, combine the buttermilk, sucanat and rum and cook over low heat until sucanat dissolves
  9. Off the heat, add the cold butter and whisk to incorporate – it should make the glaze a little thicker and shiny
  10. Once cake is done, allow to cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn it out and allow it to cool all the way before glazing
  11. Once cooled, poke holes in the cake and pour the glaze over top.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes
  12. For the frosting, combine the cream cheese, softened butter and honey granules.  Beat on high until light and fluffy and honey granules are dissolved.  Add the agave and the rum.
  13. Frost the cake.
  14. Enjoy!

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake with Strawberry Jam

It’s easy these days to become bogged down in the day to day – worried about school schedules and job applications and how we’re going to ever afford to go on vacation again.  Sometimes it’s nice to throw myself into a project, shift my focus to something else for a change.  As I set out the ingredients for this cake yesterday, listening to the whine of the grain mill as it ground the flour, I was completely immersed in creating this celebratory gateau.  Nothing else mattered for a few hours, except making the perfect birthday cake.

You see, yesterday was my husband’s 37th birthday.

I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, and he told me yellow cake with white frosting.  It’s his favorite.  In fact, I shouldn’t have even had to ask, but I always feel compelled to do so.  Like maybe one year, he’ll choose something different.  But no, yellow cake with white frosting it was.  I chose to shake things up a bit by adding some strawberry jam to the mix, but ultimately it was still a yellow cake.  With white frosting.

There’s something sort of magical about taking raw ingredients and creating something beautiful and delicious.  Whole grains get ground into flour, then combined with leveners, fat, sugar, eggs and liquid, and suddenly you have cake.  It’s really an amazing process.  And then you take it a step further and layer it with homemade strawberry jam and thick and creamy cream cheese frosting, and you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands.

This cake comes together fairly quickly and easily, with little effort.  It does require you to separate your eggs, and whip the whites to soft peaks with cream of tartar, but for the most part, it doesn’t require much in the way of baking prowess.  It helps to have a stand mixer, but you could do it with a hand mixer and a couple of bowls.  I used freshly ground soft white wheat flour, so I imagine you could do this with a conventional white whole wheat, or even all-purpose and achieve the same results.

You’ll end up with a moist, rustic cake that soaks up all of the wonderful strawberry flavor from the jam and stands up nicely to the weight of the cream cheese frosting.  The tang from the yogurt and sour cream provide a nice balance for what could be an overly sweet cake, with all of the sugar in the frosting and the jam.  I imagine if you wanted something even more simple, you could leave the frosting off all together, and just give it a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Or, you could use fresh seasonal fruit in place of the jam (ooh, wouldn’t figs be lovely here?) and keep the frosting for some sweetness.  The possibilities are really limitless here.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 20 minutes
yields: 2 8-inch layers

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 Tablespoons butter
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used 4 oz. of yogurt and 4 oz. of sour cream)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup good quality strawberry jam
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 4 oz. softened butter
  • seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla seeds until creamy
  4. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy
  5. Beat in the egg yolks
  6. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the yogurt or sour cream in two parts, beating until smooth.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks.
  8. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites, taking care to deflate them as little as possible.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
  10. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly
  11. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely
  12. Once cooled, carefully cut each of the layers in half, creating a total of four layers
  13. to make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, softened butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on high to combine.
  14. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar until completely combined.
  15. To construct the cake, place one layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate.  Spread half the jam evenly across the layer.
  16. Add a second layer of cake, and spread frosting evenly across layer.
  17. Add a third layer, and add remaining strawberry jam, spreading evenly.
  18. Add the final layer, and frost with remaining cream cheese frosting.
  19. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.
  20. Enjoy!

Mother

Mother.  Mutti. Maman. Mum. Mom. Mama. Madre. Mommy. Mutter.

A female parent.

A woman in authority.

The source or origin.

Something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind.

To give birth to.

To give rise to.

To care for or protect.

What does the word “mother” mean to you?

In my mind, the word mother connotes strength, creation, tenacity, versatility, nurturing, warmth, intelligence, patience, and, most of all, LOVE.


My own mother embodies all of these words and more.  She has been my biggest champion and my staunchest supporter through the years.  Even now, she continues to do all that she can to make sure that I’m okay – that I’m healthy and happy.  And she cares for my children as though they’re her own.

Throughout this last month or so, I’ve been torn in a million different directions.  Between my professional life and my home life, I’ve struggled to find a balance that works for me.  I’ve found myself spread too thin and coming close to missing deadlines for very important things (like a Mother’s Day celebration at my son’s school).  At every turn, I’ve been fortunate that my own mother has been there to help me through.  She jumps in and helps where she can, and she offers perspective when I really need it.

Continue reading “Mother”

Best. Carrot. Cake. Ever.

Carrot cake.  I adore thee.  In all your moist, carroty deliciousness, you bring me comfort.

Okay, I realize that’s weird.  But it might also be a little bit true.  Of all the cakes in all the world, carrot cake might just be my favorite.  And I’m not one to claim favorites all that easily and lightly.  Don’t try to get me to name a favorite movie or t.v. show, or even a favorite song or book.  Ask me to choose a favorite meal?  Forget it.

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Carrot cake, though?  There’s a soft spot in my heart for you.

Not just any carrot cake, though.  No sirree.  I don’t like a lot of spices, I’m not a huge fan of nuts, and it has to contain fresh carrots – not baby food puree.

I’ve been working on developing some cake recipes lately using freshly ground flour.  In particular, I’ve been trying to make a nice light white cake, which can be difficult to achieve when using whole-wheat flour and unrefined sweeteners like honey granules and sucanat.  The other day I came pretty close in the cake department, using freshly ground soft white wheat flour that had been sifted through a fine mesh sieve.  By removing the coarser bits of bran and germ, the resulting flour was much finer and lighter, yielding a light (in both color and consistency) cake.  I hated to let all that nutritive bran and germ go to waste, though, so I chose to use it in this carrot cake. You could just as easily use regular whole-wheat flour in this recipe, though.

Continue reading “Best. Carrot. Cake. Ever.”