Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.

Rhubarb Berry Fruit Crisp

What Grows Together Goes Together – in a Fruit Crisp

Rhubarb Berry Fruit Crisp Gluten Free

There’s no better way to enjoy ripe fruit than in a good old-fashioned crisp. In the summer, stone fruit and berries reign supreme, while in the fall, apples and pears take over. This crisp is inspired by late spring’s fresh rhubarb and boysenberries. I spied the berries at our local farmers market this weekend. Boysenberries peak in a relatively short window from late spring to early summer here in California. They resemble a floppy cone-shaped blackberry, and taste like a tart cross between a blackberry and raspberry. Next to the berries was a wicker basket filled with dainty upright new rhubarb stalks awash in green and pink. The colorful message was clear: Come and get us.

The topping for this dessert is gluten-free. It’s crisp, nutty, and sweet, faintly spiced with cinnamon. Whether you are gluten-free or not, it’s delicious. If you don’t have access to boysenberries, feel free to substitute blackberries or raspberries.

Rhubarb Boysenberry Crisp

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: about 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves 6

Topping:
3/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup rolled oats (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled

Filling:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 cups boysenberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine all of the topping ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop the walnuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Place the rhubarb and half of the boysenberries in a bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over and gently mix to combine. Whisk the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl. Pour over the fruit, add the zest, and gently stir to coat. Spread the fruit in an 8 x 8-inch (or similar size) baking dish, or, alternatively, divide the fruit between individual gratin dishes. Arrange the remaining boysenberries over the top of the fruit, and then evenly spread the topping over the fruit.

3. Bake in the oven until the topping is golden brown, the rhubarb is soft, and the juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes. If the topping browns before the filling is fully cooked, then loosely cover with foil to prevent burning. Remove and cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Orange Spiced Pound Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Add a Little Spice to Your … Pound Cake?

Orange and Coriander Infused Pound Cake Recipe

Who doesn’t like a buttery rich pound cake? Simple and pleasingly plain – it’s comfort food for adults and kids alike. While always a winner as-is, a pound cake’s simplicity is also an inviting canvas, amenable to garnishes (whipped cream anyone?) and fruity additions, such as citrus and berries. A brush of syrup on the just-baked cake, takes it to yet another level, infusing each crumbly bite with the tang of flavor (lemon? orange?) and saturating the entire loaf with a luscious stickiness.

With all of these choices for inspiration, I went all out and piled on the extras in this fragrant pound cake recipe, with orange zest and ground coriander infusing the batter, and a pile of syrupy strawberries and fluffy cream adorning the plate. The coriander might sound unusual, but it’s a dark horse worth considering when it comes to desserts. Often associated with savory food and Asian cuisines, ground coriander is mildly floral and nutty, and brings a subtle perfume and flavor to sweets. It’s also exceptionally compatible with citrus, such as orange.

For this recipe, I relied on a favorite tried-and-true pound cake method by Rose Levy Beranbaum, in which she uses lemon syrup to brush her cake. For this recipe, I used an orange and coriander syrup to moisten the cake and coat fresh strawberries, which are spooned over the cake before serving.

Coriander Spiced Pound Cake with Strawberries

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes one 8 by 4-inch loaf – approximately 8 servings

Syrup:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped

Pound Cake:
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Garnishes:
1 pound strawberries, hulled, halved (or quartered if large)
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated orange zest

Prepare the syrup:
Combine the sugar, water, and ground coriander seeds in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool completely before straining. Once cool, strain the syrup into a bowl and set aside 2 tablespoons syrup for the strawberries.

Prepare the pound cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 by 4-inch loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Butter the paper and lightly dust the pan with flour.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, zest, and vanilla in a small bowl.
3. Briefly mix the flour, sugar, coriander, baking powder, and salt in a bowl of an electric mixer to blend. Add the butter and half of the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute to aerate. Add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating 20 seconds after each addition.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a bamboo skewere inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
5. Transfer to a rack, pierce the top of the cake with the skewer, and brush the top of the cake with some of the syrup. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn the cake out onto the rack. Pierce the sides and bottom of the cake with the skewer and brush with more of the syrup. Cool completely. (The flavors will develop as the cake cools.)
5. Before serving prepare the garnishes. Toss the strawberries and the 2 tablespoons syrup in a bowl. Beat the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
6. To serve, cut the pound cake into 3/4-inch slices. Spoon some of the strawberries over the cake. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with orange zest.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

My coconut conversion:

Chocolate Dipped Macaroons - Gluten Free!

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends, who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we went to the movies. Every Halloween, when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut,” appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption like a cool breeze in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best juicy-soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces some of the cloyness, and add a whiff of almond extract. Oh, and I always give them a generous dunk in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 24

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
7 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark (70%) chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the milk, coconut, vanilla, and almond extract in a large bowl and stir to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the coconut.
4. Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake on the two center shelves in the oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to ensure even baking. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are cooking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Blood Orange Crostate with Salted Caramel Sauce

When Imperfect Desserts are Perfect:

Blood Orange Crostata with Caramel Sauce

When it comes to baking, I like my desserts messy – which is to say that I like desserts that are free-form, imprecise, and often referred to as “rustic.” Thank goodness for the generations of country kitchens which devised homey, family-style, and more-ish desserts. Often involving fruit and usually containing folksy and forgiving words such as crumble, slump, crisp, and fool, these desserts revel in imprecision, delightfully embracing dribbles, lopsidedness, and even mistakes (tarte tatin, we are looking at you). Sure, some technique is involved, but the overriding rule is a relaxed un-fussiness with a big helping of simplicity. Bring on the mess.

Blood Orange Crosatas

Which brings me to these *slightly* disheveled crostatas (actually, I believe that’s crostate in the plural). Citrus is abundant right now, and with that comes the ruby blood orange. Sweet and tart, murky and winey, the blood orange is more nuanced than its navel counterpart, and its brilliant hue is a sight to behold when presented in desserts. I bought a bag of these oranges this past weekend, and made this recipe. It takes inspiration from a recipe I found years ago on The Kitchn, to which I’ve added my own tweaks – including a sour cream crust and a luscious salted caramel sauce for drizzling.

Blood Orange Crostate with Salted Caramel Sauce

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time
Makes 8 (4-inch) crostate

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut in cubes
1/2 cup sour cream

For the filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 navel oranges, skin and pith cut away, sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick
3 blood oranges, skin and pith cut away, seeded and sliced crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick, each slice cut into 3 to 4 sections
1 egg beaten
8 teaspoons demarra sugar, for sprinkling

1. Make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse to achieve a crumbly consistency. Add the sour cream and pulse a few times until the dough just begins to stick together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
3. Whisk the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl to lighten and combine.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion in a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Place a tablespoon of mascarpone in the center of the dough, spreading it slightly, while keeping about 1 inch clear around the border of the dough. Place a navel orange slice in the center. Top with 3 to 4 blood orange sections. Fold the exposed edges of the dough in around the oranges, shaping and pinching to create a rim of crust (the centers will still be exposed). Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment and repeat this process with the remaining dough.
5. Brush the pastry dough with the egg and sprinkle each crostata with about 1 teaspoon demarra sugar. Transfer to the oven and bake until the crusts are firm to the touch and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe below).

Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 cup sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons European-style unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon fleur de sel sea salt flakes, such Maldon

1. Pour the sugar into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar melts, whisking occasionally and swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. The sugar may clump, but that’s ok – keep stirring until it melts. When the sugar is the color of dark amber, carefully whisk in the butter (it will foam).
2. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the cream (it will foam again) and whisk until smooth. Add the salt. Cool for about 10 minutes and then pour into a glass jar and cool to room temperature. The sauce may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Holiday Prep: Orange Olive Oil Cake with Almonds and Cardamom

An easy holiday cake perfect for any time of day:

Orange Cardamom Tea Cake

This light and moist cake will carry you through the holidays, and, for that matter, any day. Redolent with orange and cardamom and slightly spiked with Gran Marnier, it’s delicious for brunch or afternoon tea and spiffy enough for dessert. Almond flour adds a slight nuttiness and wholesome crumb to the cake. And do not skimp on the orange zest, as it adds an important zing of citrus and fragrance. The sea salt is optional in the glaze, but if you lean that way, go for it. The flavors of the cake will develop while it cools and the glaze will ensure long lasting moistness, which makes this cake an entertainer’s best friend. Store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days, but it will likely be eaten long before that.

Orange Olive Oil Cake with Almonds and Cardamom

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour plus cooling time
Serves 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon (packed) finely grated orange zest, from an untreated orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
Pinch of sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan, line with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color. Add the olive oil, orange juice, zest, vanilla and almond extracts and stir to blend.
3. Combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients, stirring to blend without over-mixing. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, about 45 minutes.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Combine the sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan. Simmer until the sugar dissolves and the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Gran Marnier, if using, and sea salt and simmer briefly, about 1 minute, stirring frequently.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with the glaze and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and then brush the cake on the sides with the glaze. Cool completely.
7. Serve dusted with confectioners sugar and/or with whipped cream. If desired, add a tablespoon of the (thoroughly cooled) glaze to the cream while whipping.

Black-and-Blueberry Clafoutis

Got berries? Make a clafoutis:

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

If you have more fresh summer berries than you know what to do with (this is a good problem) then here’s a great way to add them to a dessert. Clafoutis (clah-FOO-tee) is a French flan-like dessert. It’s light and elegant with a baked custardy batter streaked and studded with fruit. It’s also a perfect lazy-cook recipe that is whipped up with little effort and a simple list of ingredients. You can get creative with how you present clafoutis. Bake it family-style in a tart or shallow gratin dish, or for dinner-party fun, divide it between individual ramekins. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vessel you use, so simply bake the clafoutis until the top is tinged golden and the custard is set. This can take up to 45 minutes for a tart or 25 minutes for ramekins. Feel free to mix and match your berries. This recipe uses a combination of blueberries and blackberries. Raspberries and cherries are also delicious.

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Makes six (6-ounce) or one (10-inch) clafoutis

Unsalted softened butter for greasing the pans
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh blueberries
6 ounces fresh blackberries
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups half and half
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter six (6-ounce) shallow ramekins (or one (10-inch) ceramic tart pan). Sprinkle the ramekins with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and tap out any excess. Place the ramekins on a baking tray. Arrange the berries in one layer in the ramekins.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the half and half, flour, lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt until just combined.

3. Pour the mixture over fruit. Transfer the clafoutis to the oven and bake until the top is tinged golden brown and the custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes for the ramekins (or 40 to 45 minutes for the tart pan). Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

4. Before serving, sprinkle the clafoutis with powdered sugar and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.