Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

An all-day cake, because we need this:

Gluten-free Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Let’s be honest, we can all do with a little pick-me-up. This lemony olive oil and polenta cake will help. Whether you call it breakfast, snack, or dessert, it’s a guaranteed sweet break that you deserve to take any time of the day. This cake is also gluten-free, thanks to the almond meal and polenta, which give it a nutty and toothsome texture. Drenched in lemon syrup, each bite is a burst of citrusy sunshine.

The only tricky issue with this cake is that it tastes even better the day after baking, once it’s had time to sit and soak with the syrup and develop in flavor. So, the only challenge you may face is waiting, or at least saving some of it for later. To store, wrap it tightly in plastic and let stand at room temperature overnight (perhaps out of sight). Of course, if you can’t wait, that’s entirely understandable. No judging, friends.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (8 or 9-inch) cake

Cake:
1 1/2 cups almond meal (flour)
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon almond extract

Syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 or 9-inch spring-form pan and line with parchment.
2. Combine the almond meal, polenta, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl and whisk to blend.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine without over-mixing.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, 45 to 50 minutes. If the cake begins to brown on top before finished baking, loosely cover with foil.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with the syrup and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and brush the cake on the sides with the syrup. Cool completely.
7. Serve as-is or with a dusting of powder sugar and/or candied lemon peel. To store, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to one month.

Flourless Double Chocolate Cake

The quintessential little black dress of cakes:

Gluten-free Double Chocolate Cake

A flourless chocolate cake is the “must-have” dessert in your recipe repertoire. Minimal, simple and universally pleasing, it’s a classic for all occasions. And, short of intravenous therapy, it’s one of the most intense forms of chocolate consumption you will experience. A tiny sliver of this luscious, gluten-free cake goes a long way (or maybe not, depending on your will-power).

Since the cake is flourless, it demands a very short list of ingredients, which means that the spotlight is rightly on the chocolate. Don’t skimp in this department. Choose the best quality dark (70-72%) chocolate you can lay your hands on, because it makes all the difference, and you will be rewarded with a stunning cake. Like the go-to black dress, you can keep it simple or accessorize it with extra bling. Serve it “naked” with a dusting of powder sugar, or, for more sparkle, you can wrap it in a shiny sheen of chocolate glaze. Either way, feel free to serve the cake with gently sweetened whipped cream, which adds a cooling ethereal contrast to the inky chocolate wedge. And if fresh strawberries are available, for goodness sake, don’t hold back.

Glazed Flourless Chocolate Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake; serves 8 to 10

Cake:
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
12 ounces high-quality dark chocolate (70-72%), chopped
1 cup / 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup

Whipped cream and fresh strawberries, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch diameter spring-form pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
2. Combine the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth and remove from the heat.
3. Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a large clean bowl and then stir in the melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the machine running, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until medium-firm peaks form. Stir in 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate to blend, and then gently fold in the remaining whites, in 2 additions, without over-mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
5. Bake until the top of the cake is slightly puffed and cracked and a knife inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. (If desired, the cake can be served unglazed at this point. Dust with powder sugar before serving.)
6. To make the glaze, place the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Keep warm.
7. Remove the side of the cake pan, invert the cake onto a plate, and discard the parchment. Pour the glaze over the center of the cake. Spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake, using an off-set spatula to smooth the glaze. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 10 minutes.
8. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Good Morning Scones

These currant scones are guaranteed to get you out of bed in the morning:
:
Currant Scones with Lemon

If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. This pertains to great recipes, baking techniques, and, more specifically, these scones. I discovered this recipe years ago, published by Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen, and it’s a keeper. Since then, I have made these scones countless times with only the tiniest of tweaks. And, like any tradition worth repeating, these dense, moist, and crumbly scones have become a part of our breakfast rotation.

The technique is specific: the ingredients should be as cold as possible. And, while the method has steps that dance around this requirement, the good news is that the scones can be formed and cut, and then frozen in advance of baking. Simply pop them into zip-lock bags, and freeze for up to 1 month. The morning of serving, remove the scones from the freezer and bake them frozen, adding an additional 5 minutes or so for baking to compensate for their chilliness.

The original recipe calls for blueberries, which are a lovely springtime addition. I am partial to currants, so often add them instead, along with a generous sprinkle of lemon zest.

Currant Scones

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) frozen butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup dried currants
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and stir to blend.
3. Whisk the milk and sour cream in a separate bowl and refrigerate while you grate the butter.
4. Coarsely grate the frozen butter and place in a bowl. Freeze for 5 minutes and then add the butter to the flour mixture. Quickly mix with the tips of your fingers to combine. Pour in the milk and stir until just combined.
5. Transfer the mixture to a floured work surface and knead several times until the dough holds together in a ragged ball. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch square, adding a little flour as needed. Fold the dough 3 ways into a rectangle, like a business letter, using a metal spatula to lift the dough from the surface as necessary. Fold the short ends of the dough into the center, overlapping, so you have an approximate 4-inch square. Freeze the dough for 5 minutes.
6. Roll the dough out again on a floured surface into a 12-inch square. Sprinkle the currants over the dough, lightly pressing them in to adhere. Roll the dough up into a tight log, then press into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 4 equal sections and then cut each section on the diagonal to form 8 triangles.
7. If freezing, place the triangles in one layer in a large zip-lock bag, press the air out, and freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, remove from the freezer and proceed with the next step.
8. Transfer the triangles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the tops and bottoms are golden, about 20 minutes (or 25 to 27 minutes if frozen).

Cranberry Orange Trifle for the Holidays

A Festive (and Do-Ahead) Dessert for the Holiday Table:

Do-Ahead Cranberry Trifle Dessert

This billowy cranberry trifle will carry you through the holiday season. It’s a great do-ahead dessert with impressive results: orange-infused pound cake blanketed with layers of cranberry compote, whipped mascarpone cream, and candied walnuts. Each bite is light and airy with the pop of sweet-tart cranberries, and the satisfying crunch of cinnamon-dusted nuts, so be sure to get a little bit of everything in every spoonful.

Don’t let the length of this recipe deter you. It’s composed of several separate short recipes for each component that can (and should) be prepared well in advance of assembling. And the entire trifle can also be assembled in advance of serving, which leaves you plenty of time to wrestle with that turkey.

Cranberry-Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

Assembly Time: 20 minutes
Makes one large trifle, serves 8 to 10; or 8 individual trifles

1 loaf Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake (recipe follows)
Cranberry Compote (recipe follows)
Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)
Orange Mascarpone Cream (recipe follows)
Finely grated orange zest, for garnish

1. Cut the pound cake into 3/4-inch cubes. Set aside a few whole cranberries from the compote for garnish.
2. Pour a thin layer of cranberry compote into the bottom of the trifle dish or individual serving glasses. Arrange a snug layer of pound cake over the compote. Top with a layer of cream. Sprinkle a few of the nuts over the cream.
3. Repeat the layering process, finishing with a layer of cream and nuts. Garnish with the reserved cranberries and finely grated orange zest.
4. Serve or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.
Optional: Lightly brush each layer of pound cake with Cointreau or Gran Marnier for an adult version of this dessert.

Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Makes 1 loaf

Cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Syrup: 
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla.
4. Add half of the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour, mixing to combine after each addition.
5. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes clean, about 55 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, and then remove from the heat.
Remove the cake from the oven and transfer to a rack. Pierce the top of the cake all over with a skewer and brush with some of the syrup. Cool 10 minutes and then invert the cake onto a rack. Brush the sides of the cake with the remaining syrup and cool the cake completely.
Note: The pound cake may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until use.

Cranberry Compote
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the cranberries pop and release their juices, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Note: The compote may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use.

Candied Walnuts
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread the walnuts on a separate baking tray and bake 10 minutes.
2. Heat the sugar over medium heat in a small saucepan. As soon as it begins to dissolve, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar liquefies and is amber in color.
3. Immediately add the walnuts, salt, and cinnamon and stir to coat. Remove from the heat and spread the walnuts on the parchment-lined baking tray. Cool completely, and then break into coarse pieces.
Note: The nuts may be prepared up to 1 week in advance. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Mascarpone Cream:
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 3 cups

8 ounces mascarpone cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup sifted powder sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Add the mascarpone to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire attachment and mix on medium-low speed to soften.
2. With the machine running, slowly add the whipped cream and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.
3. Add the sugar, liqueur (if using), the orange zest, and vanilla, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Note: The cream may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance of assembling the trifle. Cover and refrigerate.

Apple and Oat Muffins

Add a little apple to your morning muffin:

Healthy Apple Oat Muffines

I don’t bake muffins often, but when I do, I try to make them healthy. This way they are on hand for an easy breakfast or a snack. My issue with muffins, is that they often resemble mini-cakes, packed with sugar and fat. To some extent, this can’t be avoided if you wish to eat a muffin that doesn’t resemble a hockey puck or bird food. But I adjust, reducing some of the sugar and fat and adding healthy grains or cereals, fruit and nuts to the batter. I also add grated fruit, which is a key ingredient for natural sweetness and moisture.

Grated apple is the star of this muffin recipe, which also includes raisins, chopped nuts, and oats for extra fiber. As muffins go, they are reasonably healthy, while sufficiently naughty to indulge a craving for something moist and sweet. You can tweak this recipe if you like – just make sure to follow the ratios. In place of apple, try adding grated carrot, zucchini, or pear; and bran can be substituted for the oats. There’s no need to peel the fruit. The nutrients in the skin add a little extra healthy boost – I’ll take my small victories where I can.

Apple Oat Muffins

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Makes 12 (2 1/2-inch) muffins

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 medium sweet and crisp apple, such as Honey Crisp, grated, about 1 cup
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 12-muffin tin (or line with paper liners).
2. Mix the sugar and oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the molasses and vanilla, and then mix in the buttermilk.
3. Whisk the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Add to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, without over-mixing. Stir in the raisins, apple and walnuts, if using.
4. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin or paper liners, filling them. Transfer to the oven and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove and cool the muffins completely on a rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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.