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(Guest Blogger) The Baketrix: Tres Leches Cake

Pauline, today’s lovely guest columnist, is teasing me with this amazing-sounding cake. Pauline, please FedEx this to Chicago. Better yet, come visit and make this for me.

The Baketrix:
My friend and new mommy Sarah Cifarelli (as of Dec 2010) made this amazing Tres Leches Cake for a potluck dinner with the Gurls.  It was so delicious.  Now, I truly enjoy desserts, but usually tres leches cakes are so dense and sickening sweet, I can only eat a small piece. Well, Sarah’s recipe is rich in flavor yet light in texture. Instead of weighing me or my plate down, I was truly uplifted by it.  I had a huge, and I mean HUGE, slice!!!!

Tres Leches Cake Recipe
serves 12 or less depending on how big you make the servings!!!

1/2 c. butter (1 stick) melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
5 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
5 c. fresh fruit, optional, such as oranges or berries, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly butter a 9×12-inch baking dish. (Note: if using a metal pan, keep an eye out on the cake as it will be done in less time.)

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egs and 3/4 c. sugar on high until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat to combine. With a rubber spatula, fold in melted buttah until incorporated. Transfer batter to dish and back until top is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milks. Poke warm cake ALL over with a wooden skewer or toothpick, then pour milk mixture over the top and let it cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. The cool part is watching the milks get absorbed into the cake – like  magic!

Whip cream and 1/4 c sugar to medium peak, add to the cake and add fruits and eat up!!!!

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The Baketrix: Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

In honor of the birthdays of Matt (today) and my sister (last week)–two of my favorite people–I am posting the Baketrix’s scrumptious chocolate cupcake recipe. Matt was meh-ing around this morning about turning older and blah blah blah, and I just wanted to make it known that I, for one, am extremely grateful that the world begat both Matt and Tricia. I say, the occasions of their birth must be feted with chocolate!

The Baketrix:

Good things come in small packages…Cupcakes!!!!

The cupcake craze is still growing in popularity and more and more shops have popped up in Los Angeles–although it cannot compare with New York City.  On a visit there, it seemed that there were cupcakes being sold on every corner. I think NYC should change from being referred to as the “big apple” to the “big cupcake!”  But here in Los Angeles, one must seek out the cupcake, which often means getting into one’s car and driving.

I am fortunate that I live in Hollywood where there are at least six locations for cupcakes or other baked goodies within a three-mile radius. However, I am picky about my cupcakes–any baked goodie must be “worth the calories,” and some of the locations do not cut the mustard!  My litmus test for any bakery is the red velvet cupcake–if a shop has a moist, tasty, and cream cheese–frosted one, it is worth going back to. None of this cream cheese with flour frosting that gives it a weird consistency! What’s up with that?

Unfortunately, my countless attempts to re-create the red velvet cupcake have been disappointing.  I have given up on baking my own and will gladly hop in my car or my bike (but that makes transporting the cupcakes back a challenge) to Toast restaurant on Third Street, which has a good one.  If I am really craving red velvet, by far my favorite is at Violet’s Cupcakes, which I discovered while working in Pasadena.  Their cupcakes are total homestyle, hand-frosted (not put in a pastry bag with a decorating tip). The cupcakes are approachable, not fussy or pretentious.

But I stray…in place of baking my own red velvet cake, I default to chocolate cake.  My partner Tom Clancey (not the writer/game developer but http://tomclancey.com/) baked an amazing cake one year for my birthday and it has become the “go-to” recipe.  The cake is light and rich and well, decadent.  And topped off with a cream cheese frosting, oooooohhhhh, so good!


Black Pearl Layer Cake
from Bon Appetit, January 2005

Note:  this is an amazing cake with exotic flavors, the filling is ganache with wasabi…for the cupcakes, I use only the cake recipe part.  For the full recipe, please go to epicurious.com

This is for three layers of cake so it will make a LOT of cupcakes.

2 c. boiling water
1 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour (do not substitute with whole wheat flour)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. sugar (I use baking sugar)
1 c. (2 sticks) buttah, unsalted at room temp
4 large eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line or butter/flour cupcake pan.

Whisk 2 cups boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in large bowl (I combine all in a large sieve to add directly to the wet mixture to avoid dirtying another bowl–but I end up making a huge mess all over the counter, so you may want to use the separate bowl for dry ingredients!).

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light a fluffy, approx. 1 minute.  Add eggs one a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Add flour mixture in four additions alternately with cocoa mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do NOT skip this part, very critical to the outcome of the cake.

Pour into the pan, put in the oven and bake…cool completely before frosting!

While baking, prepare the cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 8 oz. boxes cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted buttah, room temp
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla then beat in powdered sugar until smooth and creamy.  Sample as you go!  and be sure to lick the electric mixer beaters…

Spread on a GENEROUS amount of the frosting goodness once the cupcakes are cool. No one likes a thin layer of icing!  Don’t be stingy!  Top off with sprinkles to bring a splash of joy into everyone’s life.

These cupcakes were made for my colleague Laura’s birthday…she was out in the field that day and well, we celebrated in her absence! This recipe makes a lot of cupcakes… I made only 24 to fill my cupcake carrying container and the rest made a 9” round cake which I frosted and ate!!!

The Baketrix: Cornbread with Fennel Seeds, Cranberries, and Raisins

Halloween has passed and that means it’s officially time to start talking turkey. Mmmmmmmmmm turkey. The Baketrix here presents you with an idea for a lovely turkey side dish–a tangy, savory twist on traditional cornbread.

Also, I hope you have voted or will vote today!

The Baketrix:

Oh Corn, sweet corn…
I have a love/hate relationship with corn–or, rather, the manufacturers of corn by-products. As a testament to a shocking article in National Geographic that found that Americans have more corn genes in their blood stream than those living in Mexico where corn is the main staple, I am drawn to corn. Especially when I’m sick, I need me some comfort food, and all I want is a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup and a huge hunk of cornbread. I used to be fan of Marie Callendar’s cornbread for it’s cake-like texture, smothered in their famous honey butter. However, I have evolved in my cornbread repertoire and have found this amazing recipe for a sweet and full-flavored cornbread.

I found it one turkey holiday celebration when I was assigned with the gigantic task of supplying the cornbread. Now, this was a huge responsibility, and if I didn’t get it right, well–it meant the ruining of a time-honored tradition of cornbread and turkey (growing up the cornbread was replaced by Japanese short grain rice = yummy). I decided to cover my bases and baked a savory and sweet bread. Here’s the recipe I found and is now a favorite.

In addition to the ingredients, I often refer to this book my sister Sandy gave me when I first moved out of our parent’s house, the first move out of many as I was the total “boomerang kid!” “Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? Surviving away from home” is my “go-to” book for information on substitutions, cooking tips and basic kitchen and home living skills! The book is welled loved and dog-eared and splattered with who knows what – thanks Sandy for the best house warming gift ever!

Corn Bread with Fennel Seeds, Dried Cranberries, and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Gourmet November 2001–I made slight changes in the mixing, so for unaltered recipe look for it online.

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (substitute white whole wheat for healthier choice)
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal (not coarse)
1/3 c. sugar (substitute evaporated cane sugar for healthier choice)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk (for the lactose intolerant, substitute with almond milk and add vinegar – for every 1/2 c. of buttermilk, use 1 1/2 tsp. distilled white vinegar)
1/2 c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds, coarsely crushed with mortar and pestle or pulsed in an electric coffee/spice grinder (I ran out and tried substituting with caraway seeds, which gave it a more savory and less sweet flavor)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a square baking pan with butter and lightly coat with flour or cornmeal.

Whisk together butter, eggs and buttermilk in large bowl. Using a strainer, sift and stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mix to the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Stir in raisins, cranberries and fennel seeds.

Pour into pan, bake until top is pale golden and tester comes out clean–I find 25-30 minutes to be the right amount in my oven. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then invert to cool completely…I usually can’t wait and just take a piping hot piece at that point! Someone’s got to test it to make sure it’s edible and can be shared with friends, right?!

Cornbread and some of my Mom’s homemade turkey vegetable soup – I added some lentils for extra oomph!

The Baketrix: Pucker-Up Lemony Cookies

Pauline the Baketrix is back! I love, love, love, love, love lemony desserts. I wish I could teleport Pauline from LA to Chicago to make me these puppies!!

The Baketrix:

Pucker-Up Lemony Cookies
adapted from my friend Sarah Cifarelli’s mother-in-law’s recipe, “Sam’s Glazed Lavish Lemon Cookies” which I think came from Carole Walter Cookies

Something about its sunny disposition just makes me smile from ear to ear. I love how its skin, when zested, adds amazing flavor to dishes and how its juice makes my mouth pucker–it can be such a tart! I am speaking of the beloved lemon, of course. So beloved in fact that the City of Goleta, outside of Santa Barbara, is celebrating its 19th Annual Lemon Festival.

I especially lemon curd, but when I don’t feel like using so many egg yolks nor have the time to make it, I can satisfy my lemon craving by baking these quick and easy lemon cookies. This recipe was given to me by Sarah Cifarelli’s mother-in-law who made these for Sarah and Gabriel’s engagement party. I couldn’t get enough of these babies and I hung out by the cookie tray and kept gobbling them up. They are lemony with that sweet and tart combo that just makes me go gaga!

Here’s the recipe, slightly adapted to get them quicker into my tummy: I cut out the refrigeration time for the first batch to go into the oven. What can I say, I’m impatient and I don’t mind a flat cookie! For these cookies, I do not substitute “healthier choice” anything–these need the all-purpose flour, refined sugar, and powdered sugar…and of course, the buttah!

The batter stuck to the mixer is all going into my tummy – I love dough!

Sam’s Glazed Lavish Lemon Cookies

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. strained cake flour (I ran out of cake flour and used all-purpose and it was still delicious)
1 tsp .cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
2 tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest (I added even more!!!)
1 1/2 c. sugar (I used baker’s sugar for this recipe)
4 large egg yolks (I scramble up the egg whites for breakfast the next day with tomatoes and cheese = cancels out all the calories from the cookies I ate, maybe?!)
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice (again, I squeezed way more juice)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Here’s where I simplify the recipe in the mixing! If you want the full instructions, google the recipe as I have streamlined it here:

Mix butter with lemon zest til creamy and light in color with electric mixer – about 2 minutes. Blend in the egg yolks while mixing til incorporated and fluffy. Pour in lemon juice and vanilla and mix, mix, mix

Shift dry ingredients directly into the wet ingredients by pouring all the dry stuff into your handy-dandy large strainer and lightly tapping the strainer so the contents filter into the bowl below. This method saves on cleanup of a bowl and, heck, it’s using less water to clean it! Mix all until well incorporated.

This is a super soft dough so the actual recipe calls for refrigeration…chill the dough covered with plastic wrap for an hour (or not, up to you). Take it out and form it into a disk and then cut into 8 wedge shape pieces, bake for 18-20 minutes.

Now, here’s where I really cheat…I can’t wait an hour! I immediately spoon out my first batch onto the cookie sheet and pop in the oven for about 18-20 minutes (check to make sure it doesn’t burn). I then refrigerate the rest as directed (or most times not!). My method forms super flat cookies, think Murakami, while the one hour refrigeration will produce nice thick cookies!

Lemon cookies with another of my favorite mugs by artist Kristen K. Swanson

But we are not done yet. We need the glaze:

2 c. strained confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp. hot fresh lemon juice or lime (I use more for more tartness, I am such a tart!)
1 tbsp. light corn syrup (I am usually against corn syrup but for this glaze it adds the glue to keep it together and not slide off the cookie face)
pinch of salt

Mix together until smooth and drizzle onto the still warm cookies!

Take a bite and enjoy, pucker up baby, pucker up!

Detail of cookies…notice the mint = “no green is obscene” mentality is from my days waitressing at TGIFs in DC.

The Baketrix: Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Once upon a time I worked in a magical office in which all my coworkers liked to cook, bake, knit, and go to happy hour. And we all got along. This was the City of LA‘s public art program, and, despite the mountains of paperwork we had to sift through daily, I loved working there, and still dearly love the people I worked with.

One thing I miss the most is Pauline’s baked goods. She’s a sassy lady with a passion for butter cream and a knack for mastering anything whatsoever that may involve butter. I’ve dubbed her “the Baketrix,” and she’s agreed to get our heart-rate pumping with an occasional baking column.

Even though I look super dorky here, I am posting this because Pauline is cute!

The Baketrix:
Today I found myself at home playing “hookey” from work to enjoy a wonderful rainy and gray day in Southern California. But let me say in my defense, I did have a “Tom to the airport run” in the middle of the day, which would have messed up my workday, really!

So to assuage my guilt from this “extra day off,” I promised myself to be productive…so with NPR in the background and talk about the upcoming elections, I got busy with making my favorite chocolate chunk cookies. Perfect for rainy day comfort cookies. There’s something so tranquil about being home while it’s gloomy out, the oven radiating warmth and the smell of butter, sugar, and chocolate bathes you in a sweet, sweet perfume! Breath deep, hold, exhale, and do again.

There is nothing better than “buttah” is my mantra when it comes to baking. Now I will consciously make healthier choices and swap ingredients out, but I will not, not ever, sacrifice the taste and richness of butter. Butter is sacrosanct! As I do looooove to bake, I am conscious about using what I call “healthier choices” and I swap out all-purpose flour for Whole Wheat Flour, granulated sugar for Turbinado or evaporated cane sugar, and I’ll often add flax seeds for added moisture–plus it’s good for you.

I’m a Trader Joe’s shopper for sure!

“Healthier Choice” Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, 2004

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (I use whole wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter/room temp (I cheat at times and defrost in the microwave = I never said I was a purist when baking!)
1 c. granulated sugar (I use only 1/2 c. and turbinado or evaporated cane)
3/4 c. brown sugar, lightly packed (no skimping on this as I love the flavor the brown sugar gives the cookies)
2 large eggs at room temp
1 tsp. vanilla (use the good stuff, not the imitation)
2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks (I like to use Trader Joe’s Belguim 72% dark chocolate pound plus bar – use 5 of the 8 rows to chop up for super chunky goodness)
nuts, optional
1/4 c. flax seed meal, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cream the butter and the sugars together on medium speed until light in texture and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla extract, blend or mix until incorporated. I like to use a wooden spoon to do all this.

Dry Ingredients: I use a large meshed strainer to shift directly onto the creamed mixture OR you can pre-sift all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and salt) in a separate bowl and set aside…but why, when you can use just one bowl and it saves you time during clean up!

Mix the dry ingredients and the creamed ingredients together – it will be a tough going to mix so I take off my rings, roll up my sleeves and dive my hands into the batter and squish everything together til it forms a delicious dough. But wait, we are not done, add the chocolate chunks and your optional ingredients and mix again til it’s all incorporated. Now you’re ready to drop the dough onto the cookie sheet by using two serving spoons, space them out about 2 inches.

Bake for about 14 minutes, halfway through turn the sheet. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely…yeah right, who can wait, I grab them while they are hot and let the chocolate ooze in my mouth = so yummy!

I usually bake only one cookie sheet or 9 cookies. The rest of the dough gets divided into logs, wrapped in plastic wrap and goes in the freezer for emergency cookie needs which is often here at my place. Also great to be able to bake up chocolate cookies when friends come over – who doesn’t like a home baked cookie? I believe I’ve had one frozen log for about a month in the freezer and it baked up just fine!

Frozen cookie dough

For extra enjoyment, try making a super thick cup of hot cocoa (add way more cocoa than directed to get it thick) and add some cayenne to it for a nice kick. oh, that’s comfort right there

comfort cookies, hot spicy cocoa in one of my favorite cups by Kristen K. Swanson from etsy – she does lovely ceramics, find her at http://www.etsy.com/shop/kristenkswanson