Yummy birthday cake

A little while ago, I made a birthday cake for someone to have at their “Free Cake Day” party (not wanting to have a Birthday Party, or really celebrate their birthday in general – I know!  How odd.)

I’d recently acquired Rose Beranbaum’s newest cake book (Heavenly Cakes), and wanted to make something from that . I settled on Woody’s Lemon Luxury Layer Cake (page 43), because the lemon flavor seemed bright and cheery, and I hadn’t really done anything interesting with white chocolate in a while.  Plus, I wanted to try out my new transfer sheets.

The cake is a lemon butter cake, baked in two 9″ layers that are split and filled with homemade lemon curd (Rose’s fabulous recipe, that works like a charm and tastes amazingly zingy).

The white chocolate lemon buttercream was the real surprise in this recipe.  The technique Rose calls for is one that I’d never come across before – essentially, you make a white chocolate custard, cool it, beat in butter and then beat until stiff peaks form – and then leave it at room temperature for up to 2 hours until “slightly thickened and spongy”.  Then you beat until smooth, and beat in the lemon curd.

Why the fermentation period?  The buttercream was smooth and creamy and tasty – everything you want – but I can’t quite figure this one out.  It’s easier, overall, than doing either French or Italian buttercream, but you have to have those two hours of downtime.  Does anyone know what’s going on, here?

In any case, the cake and buttercream both came out delicious, I put it all together and decorated with white chocolate shards, and served with either raspberry or blackberry cabernet sorbet.  The not-birthday-boy and his friends/family were highly pleased; very little of this cake was left after the party!  Another hit, Rose.

Time for another Chocolate and Wine tasting night at the Hope Valley Bottle Shop! (Located in the Woodcroft shopping center, SW Durham)

This Monday, February 8th, 5:30-7:30pm.

Come try the Valentine’s Day lineup!

Read the Printed Word!

Mostly because whenever I try to cook from a recipe that’s on the laptop, I end up with flour in my keyboard.

Cinnamon Rolls, ready-to-eat

Cinnamon Rolls!

One of the things that happens around the holidays is that you have a lot of things to do and places to go, and not much time to get ready or do prep work.  One thing that I’ve found makes a great hostess gift for brunch, or to have on hand for guests, are these lovely and easy-to-make cinnamon rolls.

The thing that makes these easier than usual is the use of the dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day – if you already have a batch in your fridge, throwing together these rolls is easy-peasy.  If you don’t, why not?  You can make these, and then make a batch of dinner rolls, then have a loaf of bread, or make some pizza… it’s really flexible.

I used the basic boule recipe for this – it’s not a sweet dough, but it works just fine once you’ve added a bunch of brown sugar and pecans and butter 🙂

Cinnamon Rolls

1 lb prepared dough from Artisan Bread Dough (a yeasted, proofed dough)
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
2 TB cinnamon
1 cup toasted pecans

As part of the preparation of the bread dough, it will have had the first rise.  Take a one-pound chunk of dough, either just after the first rise or from the fridge, and punch down the dough and roll out into a rectangle approx 15″ x 10″.

In a small bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Spread approx half of this mixture onto the rectangle of dough, leaving a half-inch margin clear. Starting at the long edge, roll the dough (jelly roll style) into a cylinder, sealing the edge.

Meanwhile, put the other half of the butter mixture into a 9″ cake pan, and sprinkle the cup of pecans over it.

Slice the dough log into 2-inch rolls, placing them into the cake pan on top of the butter/pecan layer.  Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, moist place until puffy and near-doubled, about 20 minutes if the dough is fresh, and 45 minutes if from the refrigerator.

Bake in a 350F oven uncovered until tops are brown, approximately 35 minutes.  Immediately turn over onto a serving plate while the caramel is still hot, serve when you can stand the temperature.

You can also put together the rolls the day before, and stick into the fridge overnight – pull them out first thing in the morning and an hour later, they’ll be ready to bake.

Hey kids, it’s that time of year!   The Holiday Sale Page is up over at SugarPunk Desserts’ main site, and we’re ready and waiting for your orders!

Everything from truffles, to bon bons, to holiday breads and cookies – you name it, you can buy it.  I’ll ship anywhere, using USPS Priority mail.

Holiday orders placed by December 12th are guaranteed to be shipped by the 18th, which should give them plenty of time to arrive by Christmas.

Seasonal Truffle Flavors:

  • Gingerbread – Rich and creamy milk chocolate center, infused with ginger and other spices and enhanced with a splash of Canton ginger liqueur, then enrobed in dark Belgian chocolate.
  • Mulled Wine – Mulled/Spiced Spanish Grenache is used to flavor this sophisticated dark chocolate truffle.
  • Smoky Scotch – Single-Malt Highland Scotch Whisky and a touch of Lapsang Souchon tea create a rich, smoky flavor enhanced by bittersweet dark chocolate.
  • Chocolate-Dipped Apple Cider Caramel – local NC apple cider and Mountain View Dairy Cream are used to create a fantastic cream caramel that’s then enrobed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with pecans.

Available as a four-piece assortment (one of each) for $8, or a twelve-piece assortment (three pieces of each flavor), for $22.

It’s a new year, and time for a new book!  I’ve loved nearly everything we made from Sky High : Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, and I’m looking forward to baking from Southern Cakes : Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebratons.  Because you don’t always have an immediate outlet for a sky-high cake, you know?

Coffee Cake, though – I can peddle that anywhere.  It’s practically healthy.

This recipe, I altered.  Couldn’t find raisins anywhere, but did find dried cranberries from Trader Joe’s.  Also, have inexplicably run out of pecans; substituted walnuts.  All else the same.

I think, were I doing it again, I’d go ahead and make the crumble instead of layering the ingredients separately.  The butter dribbled around weirdly and ended up making odd shapes.  The taste is fine, but it looks funny.

The topping ends up nicely crunchy and caramelized, the cake moist and fluffy.  The rest disappeared rather quickly at work this morning, so I can’t report on how it holds up over a few days, but I hear it does well.

See? weird bobbles of cake.

See? weird bobbles of cake.

Cinnamon Pecan Cranberry Walnut Coffee Cake

Printable Version

For the Cake:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour [I used White Lily]
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs

For the Cinnamon Raisin Cranberry Walnut Filling:

  • 1½ cups light brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1½ cups raisins dried cranberries
  • 1½ cups coarsely chopped pecans walnuts
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13 by 9 inch pan.

To make the filling, combine the light brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Combine the raisins and pecans in another bowl and toss to mix them. Place the cinnamon mixture, nut mixture and melted butter by the baking pan to use later.

Yummy cinnamon, sugar, and flour

Yummy cinnamon, sugar, and flour

To make the cake batter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir the vanilla into the milk. In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar and beat with a mixer on high speed until pale yellow and evenly mixed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl to ensure a good mix. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then, until the mixture is smooth and light.

Use a large spoon or spatula to add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir only until the flour disappears. Add a third of the milk and mix in. Repeat twice more until all the flour and milk mixtures have been incorporated. Stir just enough to keep the batter smooth. [Actually, I mixed per Rose and beat it for a minute or so til it was light and fluffy.  The cake came out perfectly light and moist regardless]

Spread half the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter followed by half the melted butter. Scatter half the raisins and nuts over the top. Spread the remaining batter carefully over the filling, using a spatula to smooth the batter all the way to the edges of the pan. Top with the leftover cinnamon, butter and nut mixture, covering the cake evenly.

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes [I’d check sooner – mine was quite very well done at 45 minutes], until the cake is golden brown, fragrant and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving in squares right from the pan. The cake is delicious hot, warm or at room temperature.

Chocolate-covered Apple Cider Caramels

Chocolate-covered Apple Cider Caramels

Halloween Candy for Adults!

There will be a complimentary Wine and Chocolate tasting on Tuesday, October 27th, at the Hope Valley Bottle Shop (in the Woodcroft Shopping Center) from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

This month’s chocolate flavors available are:

Mulled Wine – A dark chocolate truffle made with mulled red wine – a sophisticated flavor to warm you on these cold fall nights.

Pyramid with pink accent

Chai – Smooth and creamy milk chocolate infused with Chai spices and covered in dark Belgian couverture.

Hand-Dipped Rounds

Ginger – Each truffle contains a dark chocolate ganache infused with ginger as well as a piece of candied ginger for a spicy/sweet treat.

Triangles with red dot

Apple-Cider Caramels – Cream caramel made with local apple cider, dipped in dark chocolate and accented with pecan pieces.

See you there!



It’s been a few months since I’ve managed to make the CSB cake, but I’m back on track!

This month’s cake presented some challenges.  The cake recipe itself came out very moist, almost wet – which made it a bit of a handful to work with while decorating.  The white chocolate mousse failed entirely the first time around (mostly because I misread and added all of the cream to the chocolate – hence the white chocolate ‘sauce’ you’ll see in a later pic), but I made  a milk chocolate mousse the second time around (being out of white chocolate) and it was still really soft – the extra chocolate liqueur should have helped it hold up more, but others reported soft mousse as well, so if I were making this again I’d use some other mousse recipe.  The frosting came out fine, although it took longer to set up for the final coat than I’d like, and it was un-pipeable.  I wanted to do something more interesting for decoration, but it really wasn’t going to happen with this frosting.

The taste was great, though – the cake was soft and flavorful, the frosting was dense and fudgy, and the mousse had soaked into the layers enough to make nice gooey mess.  Incredibly rich – I’ve had two parties now with this cake and still have some left over.  Help!

Slice of cake with some white chocolate 'sauce'

Slice of cake with some white chocolate ‘sauce’

Recipe: Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake
(from the Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes cookbook)
Makes a 9″ triple layer case – serves 16 to 20


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour [I used White Lily]
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [I used Ghirardelli]
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups hot, strongly brewed coffee
2 eggs
1 cup mayonnaise (use real mayonnaise and not a low fat or fat-free version or anything labeled “salad dressing”)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar

White Chocolate Mousse (recipe below)
Sour Cream Chocolate Icing (recipe below)

Finished layer


1. Heat oven to 350F. Butter bottom and sides of 3 (9-inch) cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment or wax paper and butter the paper.

2. For batter, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside the dry ingredients.

3. Put chopped chocolate in heat-proof bowl. Bring milk to a simmer. Pour the hot coffee and milk over the chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Let the mocha liquid cool slightly.

4. In a mixer bowl, beat together the eggs, mayonnaise, and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in sugar. Add dry ingredients and coffee liquid alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until smooth. Divide batter among pans.

5. Bake 25-28 minutes, or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 10-15 minutes. Unmold cakes. Peel off paper lining and cool completely, at least 1 hour. (The layers can be baked a day ahead, wrap well, and refrigerated)

To Assemble the Cake:

1. Place one cake layer flat-side up on cake stand. Cover top with half the white chocolate mousse, leaving 1/4 -inch margin around edge. Repeat with second layer.

2. Set third layer on top and pour half the sour cream chocolate over the filled cake. Spread all over the sides and top. Don’t worry if cake shows through. The first frosting is to seal in the crumbs which is whey professinal call it a “crumb coat”. Refrigerate cake uncovered for at least 30 minutes to allow the icing to set. Cover the rest of the icing and set aside at room temperature.

3. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing, which should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If the icing becomes too soft, chill briefly. If icing becomes too stiff, microwave on high 2 or 3 seconds to soften, and then stir to mix well. Use an offset palatte knife or the back of a spoon to swirl the frosting decoratively around the cake.

White Chocolate Mousse:

4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
1 tablespoon sugar

For mousse, melt white chocolate with 1/4 cup cream in a double boiler or in a small metal bowl set over a pan of very hot water. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

When it has cooled, beat the remaining 3/4 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. In another clean bowl, whip egg white with sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.

Fold the beaten egg white into white chocolate cream. Then fold in the whipped cream just until blended (do not overwhip or your icing will split).

[I tried this with milk chocolate and it was still too mushy; after refrigerating for an hour, I was able to get some of it into the middle of the cake using the big gaps made by the sunken cake bits to hold it in.  Still, it was tasty.]

Egg white awaiting folding into ganache

Egg white awaiting folding into ganache

Sour Cream Chocolate Icing:

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup half-and-half, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Melt chocolate with butter and corn syrup in a double boiler over barely simmering water or in a heavy pan over very low heat. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth.

Whisk in half-and-half and sour cream. Use while soft.

Chocolate Basil Tartelet

Chocolate Basil Tartelet

We went to the Farmer’s Market yesterday, our first time to the one in Durham.  We’ve lived in Durham for over two years now and never had been – either we go to the one we’re used to in Carrboro (huge and wonderful), or (much more likely) we don’t wake up on Saturday until far too late to bother going at all.

But, we’re still mildly recovering from being five hours ahead of ourselves in Scotland, so we were up bright and early on Saturday, and decided to give it a whirl.

It was much smaller than the one in Carrboro, but also much closer to us, with a good mix of vendors.  We got some mixed greens for stir-frying, a pint each of muscadines and scuppernongs, a loaf of whole-wheat artisinal bread, and a bunch of fresh basil.

Normally, I’d have a huge forest of basil growing out in the herb garden, but this year I didn’t end up planting anything, so all we have are rosemary and sage.  So limiting!  So I couldn’t resist a bunch of delicious-smelling basil.

But, what to do with it?  (Oh, the horror, what a conundrum)  We were planning to go to a Beatles-themed rock band get-together, and I wanted to take something sweet, so I pulled out Desserts From an Herb Garden and found this recipe.  It was delicious!  and a big hit – the hosts had made strawberry sauce for other purposes, which went lovely with these little tarts.

Chocolate Basil Truffle Rounds

from Desserts From an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett


6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons minced basil leaves
3/4 lb (12 oz)  bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 eggs, separated
2 Tablespoons sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350F; butter or grease eight 4-inch removable-bottom tartlet tins (I used disposable tart cups); set tins on baking sheet.

2. Melt butter with basil leaves in the top of a double boiler set over (not touching) barely simmering water.  Add chocolate; stir often until chocolate is melted.  Set aside top pan to cool slightly; mixture will be very thick.

Also, I probably heated more than I should have b/c I kept seeing ‘lumps’, which were actually basil leaf chunks.  oops.

3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks; add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks until bubbly; whisk into chocolate mixture.  Fold in about 1/4 cup beaten whites to lighten the chocolate mixture, then gently but thoroughly fold in remaining whites.

4. Divide batter among tins.  Bake 15 minutes, until tops have just set (mixture will still be soft in the middle).  Let cool on a wire rack (the puffed tops will fall), then chill, covered, until ready to serve.

I slightly overbaked, hence my non-fallen tops and sort of crumbly texture to finished product.  I’d definitely check after  10 minutes.

5.  To serve, remove tin sides.  With a thin-bladed metal spatula, lift rounds from the bases and transfer to dessert plates.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a dollop of whipped cream or a small pool of custard sauce (or fruit sauce!); garnish with basil sprigs.

There’s a new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Chapel Hill, so of course we had to try it out!

I became a vegetarian in 1988, in SE Michigan.  As you can imagine, options at that time were extremely limited – more than once I was reduced to having the kitchen serve me a baked potato because there was literally nothing else on the menu I could eat.  My family also just didn’t get it – my Great-Aunt Jenny never did understand why I wouldn’t eat her Jello salad.  When I married, several members of my new family (devout meat eaters) would delight in exclaiming over their delicious steaks, dripping with blood, etc.  But at least they never put bacon in the greens.

Time passed, and as more people became vegetarians, more options became available.  I remember the first time that I ate at Seva, the vegetarian restaurant in Ann Arbor – heaven!  And Chowpatti, in Arlington Heights – I was so stunned by an entire 20+ page menu of vegetarian options that I think it took an hour for me to decide what to order.  (When you’re used to the rubric “find the three things you can eat and pick the one that doesn’t have peppers in it”, you get a bit of decision-paralysis when there are more options.)

I admit that I’d gotten somewhat spoiled while I lived in Chicago – so many options!  And always delicious.  In some ways, moving down South was moving back in time.  While the Triangle area is better than the rural areas, one is still likely to encounter the ‘oh, all I can have is a salad’ problem if you don’t choose your outings carefully.

So, although I’d heard mixed reviews of the place, I was excited to support a new all-vegetarian eatery and eagerly went.  A group of us (9 total) arranged to meet there  before going to a party on Saturday.  Not all were vegetarians, but most were.

I’d checked out the menu online, and was a little hesitant about my options, given my (really annoying) dietary restrictions (no soy, no dairy) – but even without those restrictions, the menu is a little.. abbreviated?  They don’t have any appetizers, as such – they have a selection of ‘tapas’ that range from $2.50 to $4.00.  My comrades across the table ordered the Spinach Pie ($3), expecting something perhaps spanikopita-like – what they received was this:

Spinach Pie

Spinach Pie

This is a small plate, with basically three finger-sized items (they were tiny).  My friends described it as basically ‘creamed spinach wrapped in phyllo’.

While we’d been waiting for our entire party to show up, our waiter had offered us bread (vegan rolls), which we were delighted to have – I have to admit that it was a little off-putting to have him walk around the table with the basket of rolls and tongs and ask each of us individually if we wanted one, and then leave with the bread – meaning that if anyone wanted seconds, they had to ask and have him bring the basket back out.  It prevents food waste, I imagine (and is more cost-effective), so I can understand it from that perspective, but from a dining perspective it felt stingy, something that the spinach appetizer accentuated with its smallness.

My entree and my seatmate’s, on the other hand, were just what you’d expect in terms of American restaurant serving sizes (that is, more than one person can comfortably eat).

I’d gone with the Thai-style Seitan Skewers w/coconut rice and snow peas ($12.10):

Thai Style Seitan Skewers

Thai Style Seitan Skewers

I was pleased with the dish – the seitan was tasty and substantial, the peanut sauce and coconut rice were good.  It was pretty pricy, in my estimation (having made seitan at home myself, I’m aware of how dirt cheap it is to make), but tasty.

My seatmate had the Tempeh Hot Wings, with a side of salad ($8.50):

Tempeh Hot Wings with Salad

Tempeh Hot Wings with Salad

She was pleased with the taste, but the quantity was just crazy – I’m not sure who can eat five huge chunks (at least 1.5″x5″) of tempeh at one sitting plus a salad, but she ended up sharing it all around the table.  I tried a bite (don’t tell!), and found it tasty – the sauce was hot, but not lingeringly hot (I am a total spice wimp); people who wanted something really spicy were disappointed, but most of us thought they were tasty.

The folks across the table from me had gotten the pizza of the day special – which was supposed to basically be Southwestern – a spicy black bean paste, avocado, veggies, cheese and sour cream on a vegan pizza crust ($9.25):



Truly, the most bizarre dish of the evening, and a total miss.  The beans were unappetizingly gray from being baked, and there was a mere drizzle of sour cream on top of what was mostly a salad of romaine lettuce with a few slices of avocado.  The crust was a complete miss – it was hard and crunchy, like wheat bread – not like pizza crust at all.

Dessert offerings are really limited – you can have a blackberry sorbet, or a fruit cup (hmm, perhaps I should be talking to them about desserts…).

My overall impression was that they were still working a lot of things out.  The pricing just seemed almost arbitrary – I’m surprised that a dish with 9 chunks of seitan was several dollars more than one with a huge amount of tempeh (generally more expensive to procure).  The portions are all over the place (either way too much food, or not nearly enough).

I’m happy that there is someone willing to open a vegetarian restaurant in the area, but I have to say that I’m not likely to eat there often, not when I can go down the road to the Weaver Street market and eat much more inexpensively for comparable quality (and controlling my own portion sizes).  Disappointing.