mini lemon layer cake

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There are no excuses.  Miss Fats has been exceedingly lazy in the new year and apologizes for her absence (she doesn’t need to hear about all about your tearful two months away.)  But this winter has been rough, people.  Miss Fats won’t continue to bore you with tales of windchill or triple socks or ice cabin fever, but she will allow herself to hide behind the fridged fortress of double vortex that sucked a good deal of joy from the month of January.  Alright.  Cold complains and lazy excuses complete.

Miss Fats is back in action this lunar new year (real new years resolutions, people) with some tasty treats to push (aspirationally) into warmer times ahead and remind us all that a damn good meal can make about any slip on the frozen Chicago sidewalks a hell of a lot better.  So in honor of these bright blue skies between snowfalls in the Midwest, Miss Fats baked up a sunny lemon cake.  This mini layered cake provides enough tang to remind us you can still feel something beneath that thick wool sweater.

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Now “winter citrus” is certainly hot right now (exploding pinterest), Miss Fats would like to think this little cake takes your winter concerns a bit more seriously.  She’s so tired of the new years healthy resolution business.  Let’s get real people: all those heavy, welcoming, holiday treats bring joy and celebration for a reason.  They’re damn warm and inviting.  And guess what?  January is colder.  So throw the resolution garbage aside, stop torturing yourself and go for the gooey mac n cheese so your toes don’t fall off.  Continuous cold salad meal is doing nothing to encourage circulation.  In an effort to keep blood flowing to all appendages, Miss Fats tried to create a mini cake that both brightens and satisfies.  She’s down with the abundance of winter citrus (can’t get enough of those satsumas), but she doesn’t think they need to mean light and healthy desserts meant to refresh folks on a hot, sticky summer day.  As much as we’d all like to fantasize about the summer months, we have more practical concerns: like how to regain feeling in one’s face.

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This little lemon cake is a dense, decadent dessert that helps you keep that winter insolation on the below-freezing bright blue days of February.  It begins with layers of coconut lemon cake that is closer to a rich pound cake.  Then comes homemade lemon curd and a thick, creamy cream cheese center.  All of this is wrapped in a blanket of fluffy whip cream that disguises the dense lemon attack inside.  Now there are a number of steps to this recipe.  However Miss Fats encourages folks to take the necessary shortcuts: buy the lemon curd.  She totally understands.  Trader Joe’s makes a damn fine and affordable one that could easily make due here.  Don’t have cream cheese around?  Skip it or make it well in advance (it can easily hang out in the fridge for a few days).  The creamy, tangy, cheesy filling is delightful, however an extra dollop of whip cream can make due in a pinch.  Miss Fats went ahead and stabilized the whipped cream with gelatin, but if the cake is for immediate consumption there’s no need to take this step.  The most important thing here is that you’re indulging in the sweetness of dessert during the dead of winter. Get on it.

Mini Lemon Layer Cake
makes one six inch cake

cake:
adapted from Baker’s Royale Coconut Citrus Cake

1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
6 tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbs lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbs oil
1 cup flour
1/4 cup coconut milk

lemon curd
Miss Fats used David Lebovitz’s excellent curd recipe cut in half

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3 tbs butter

cream cheese filling

4 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

stabilized whipped cream

1 tbs cold water
1/2 tsp gelatin
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbs lemon zest (reserved from the curd)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1. Make the Curd.  Miss Fats simply halved the recipe followed David Lebovitz’s instructions to a T.  Worked out perfectly.  Make that curd and set aside until assembly. Reserve about a tbs of the zest for the whipped cream.  In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup sugar for the whipped cream and the zest, rubbing it together with your fingers to release the oils.  Let this hang out while you get to business with the cake.

2. Bake the Cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two six inch cake pans.  In small bowl (Miss Fats recommends a small measuring cup), combine the sour cream and baking soda. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs, yolk and sugar.  Mix until combined.  Add the melted butter and beat on high for 3-4 minutes.  Add vanilla, zest, baking powder, lemon juice and oil.  Mix until combined.  Add the coconut milk to the sour cream mixture and stir until combined. Using a spoon or rubber scraper, fold in the flour in two batches, alternating with the milk/sour cream mixture (ending with the milk).  Divide batter between the two pans and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clean.  Allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, remove and allow to fully cool on the counter.

3. Make the Filling.  In a small bowl, heat the cream cheese in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds or until slightly softened.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined.  Set aside until cake assembly.

4. Make the Whipped Cream (right before cake assembly.  do not do this ahead of time).  In a small bowl, add the water and sprinkle the gelatin over top.  Allow the gelatin to bloom while you begin whipping the cream.  In a large bowl (or stand mixer), combine the cream and zesty sugar, and beat until fully combined.  Add the vanilla and salt, beat on high until very soft peaks begin to form.  Zap your gelatin mixture in the microwave for about 10 seconds or until melted.  With your mixer on high, slowly stream in the gelatin to your whipped cream.  Continue to beat until still peaks form.

5. Assemble the cake.  Carefully even out the top half of the cake with a serrated knife, then cut each layer in half to form four even layers.  Place the first layer on a small plate or platter.  Spread half of the curd on top and top with a second layer of cake.  Spread the cream cheese layer next.  Top with the third layer of cake.  Finish with the remaining curd and cake.  Spread a thin layer of the whipped cream all around the cake to create the crumb layer.  Don’t worry: this will be super ugly and messy.  Put the cake in the fridge and allow this to set for about 30 minutes.  Clean up or something.  Finish off the cake with a thick layer of the remaining whipped cream.  (As you can see from the pictures, Miss Fats did not layer enough cream on the outside of her cake.  She hope you’ll make wiser decisions.)

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Slice into this little guy for full flavor bomb.  A baby bite of this cake packs a heck of a lot of lemony, tangy flavor that makes all that layering and labor worth it.  Since you worked so hard, you should probably also top it with a healthy dollop of extra cream if you have that lying around.  Call it a “snow blanket” if you will.

Best snowy, sunny day ever.

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stuffed carrot peanut butter muffins

Miss Fats has had a busy back to school month.  That means lots of events, meetings and trying to keep up with coursework, and of course, a ton of baking.  Sunday Sundaes is currently a poor reflection of her efforts since returning to Chicago (and so is, frankly, Miss Fats’ phone), but she’s literally been churning things out too fast to photograph.  Now that she’s fully settled back into the pace of the year, she’s sharing one of her favorite morning baked goods to usher in a whole slew of pastry posts she’s got in the works for you.

IMG_7565Miss Fats’ most regular baking gig includes the bi-monthly workshop she co-coordinates for graduate students, faculty and visiting guests.  This means churning out platters of scones, muffins, loaves and all that bready, breakfasty fun on Friday mornings.  This past week featured one of Miss Fats’ favorite people to bake for, I.  She’s a big fan of any friend who willingly takes seconds and thirds without asking.  I is always game to grab an extra cookie, slice of cake or giant bag of baking bits that Miss Fats shoves into his hands.  So she gave him full license to pick a breakfast item or flavor profile for his workshop.  His choice was the result of a little brainstorming ‘sesh that ended up circulating around the crazy delicious dessert team Miss Fats dined on at Blackbird last spring.  In pure pastry genius nonsense, Blackbird served her up a carrot cake with peanut ice cream that sent Miss Fats over the edge and she’s been dying to try out that flavor combo ever since.  I’s workshop was the perfect place to test out the peanutty waters.  Luckily adores carrot cake and anything peanut butter related, so the challenge was to transform an elegant, James Beard award winning pastry chef’s plate into a bready, handheld breakfast object.  Game on.

The end result was the craziest muffin Miss Fats has ever created: carrot cake stuffed with a cream cheese filling and topped with a peanut streusel and peanut butter drizzle.  But it totally worked.  You got every necessary flavor profile: the sweet spice of the moist carrot cake, the gooey tang of the cream cheese filling, and the salty crumble crunch of the peanut topping.  She might have a new all time favorite muffin.  This muffin boasts the perfect harmony of texture and fall flavors to take your ‘buds to a harmony party (whatever that is).  Though there’s a lot of steps with these suckers, she suspects they could easily be transformed into a lazy loaf or cake as well.  Not to mention, they’re totally worth the muffin work, because who doesn’t love a hand-held object that packs this much flavor and contrast.

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They’re not so pretty, but they’re damn tasty.

Stuffed Carrot and Peanut Butter Muffins:
adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s carrot cake
makes 24 muffins

filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

muffins:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated carrots

topping:
2 tbs natural peanut butter
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs flour
large pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (unsalted, or be sure to adjust salt if yours are salted)

glaze:
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt (depending on your peanut butter)
water (if needed)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cupcake pans.  Make the filling: heat the cream cheese in a bowl in the microwave for approximately 1 minute.  Stir in sugar and vanilla and set aside.

2. Prepare the streusel: Melt the peanut butter and butter in the microwave.  Using a fork, mix in the flour, brown sugar and salt, until combined and you have a slightly-moist, crumbly mixture.  Add the chopped peanuts.

3.  Make the muffins: In a large bowl, combine the oil, eggs, and sugar.  Mix until will combined.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in the carrots.

4. Assemble the muffins: Distribute approximately 2 tbs of the batter into each cup (filling about half way).  Then follow with about 2 tsps of the cream cheese scooped into the center of your cups.  Top them off with another 2 tbs of muffin batter (Miss Fats actually recommends filling these nearly to the top.  She was disatisfied with how flat her 3/4 filled muffins turned out).  Finally, sprinkle the topping on your filled muffins. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5. Make the glaze: while the muffins are baking, heat the peanut butter in a small bowl.  Whisk in the powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla.  If the mixture is proving too thick to drizzle, add a little water (this will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter).

6.  After your muffins have cooled for approximately 10 minutes, drizzle the glaze over top.

Six steps to salt-sweet bliss.  The beauty of this recipe is that all its components are tasty little devils on their own.  To cut back on work, Miss Fats recommends skipping the glaze or filling (though she’s pretty sure you’ll regret it!);  though do not skip that crumble, people: crumble is crack.  These guys will store just fine at room temperature in an air tight container for a couple of days.  Though she doesn’t understand why they’d need to: she dares you to just eat one.  No wait, Miss Fats takes that back: don’t even bother.  Just fill your mouth with the crunch-salt-sweet-creamy-tang that is the perfect morning muffin.

fungal fear: the tale of two yeast breads

IMG_2712Miss Fats apologizes for that title: she knows how it sounds.  But seriously: she’s got a fear of baking with yeast.  This is not some deep-seeded, repressed childhood problem: it’s completely irrational.  Yeast baking tends to take hours and hours of waiting and work, and can often go terribly wrong.  There’s nothing worse than spending all that time to create a disappointing product.  So it’s essentially been years since Miss Fats has tried baking with yeast, but about a week ago, she had the urge for a new project and one of those little packets ended up in her grocery basket.

She is always pinning recipes for cinnamon rolls and various breads that look insanely delicious, but Miss Fats has never bitten the bullet and just freakin’ tried to make them.  However, she stumbled upon this simple olive oil-based morning bun that seemed manageable: not to mention she had all the ingredients.

IMG_2718Recipe in hand, Miss Fats set aside a whole day to tackle these buns.  She began by trying to wake the yeast up with a little warm water and sugar: did not go well.  She followed the instructions: letting them sit in their warm little bath but she was not convinced they were alive.  Obviously Miss Fats obsessively googled what properly proofed yeast looked like while all this was going on: it did NOT look the same.  However she decided to press on with her pathetic looking bowl of spit-foam and just make the dough.  Naturally, her brain turned off and she accidentally ended up using a 1/3 cup measuring cup instead of the 1/2 cup she assumed she’d grabbed.  This created some problems as she was integrating the flour into the dough, which was looking real sticky… Unfortunately she didn’t realize her mistake until more than halfway through the process.  She half-heartedly added more flour and threw the dough in a bowl to rise, totally convinced it was going to be a brick.

However Miss Fats could not deal with a total bread failure.  So she decided to give it another try. She realized the morning bun recipe was in fact a focaccia bread base, so worst-comes-to-worst: she’d have buns and a loaf of bread.  Blaming her yeast (not her brain), she went out and purchased a new packet.  Again, the proofed yeast didn’t come out as planned and that bowl of rising dough was looking real flat.  Low point.  Using the correct measuring instrument, she followed the recipe again and hesitantly threw the dough into a bowl, placing it in the warmest part of her apartment.  Luckily this batch began to rise along with Miss Fats’ spirits.  (She just pretended first batch dough didn’t exist.)

IMG_2743Miss Fats decided to alter the original recipe with some of the delightful preserves currently taking up space in her fridge.  She opted to fill these buns with butter, lemon curd and cherry preserves.  After rolling out her dough (with some effort: that shit is sticky), she spread melted butter all over it (because why not).  Next came the lemon curd and cherry, each spread over half of the rolled-out dough.  Doing her best to not make a mess, Miss Fats rolled up this gooey, jam-y mess and pinched the ends real tight.  She then cut that log up into twelve rolls, placing them into a 8×8 pan to rise again.  As you can see, this made a huge mess: oops.  Too much jam. Oh well.

IMG_2751She let the rolls sit out to rise again (so much waiting!), and finally checked on that forgotten bowl of rising dough.  To her surprise (literally 3 hours later), it had actually doubled in size.  Having no real idea what to do, she stretched the dough out onto an oiled baking sheet and pressed little holes with her fingertips to create focaccia’s dimpled look.

IMG_2723more waiting.

About an hour later, Miss Fats finally stuck the buns in the oven, fairly sure that they’d bubble over with jam and create a huge sticky mess of burnt sugar at the bottom of her oven.  These are the risks you take: she likes to live dangerously.

IMG_2774But they didn’t!  Somehow they turned out puffed, golden brown and oozing with fruity delight.  Clearly they looked at little naked, so Miss Fats decided to throw together a cream cheese glaze.  In a little bowl, she mixed about 4 oz of softened cream cheese, milk, lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth.  Then obviously she slathered those hot buns in this tangy, sweet sauce.

IMG_2777Yep. Take it in.

IMG_2791While they were still warm, Miss Fats dug into one of those sticky sweet buns which were surprisingly tender and chewy on the inside and crispy on the top.  The cherry preserves weren’t too sweet and went well with the cream cheese topping: think reconstructed danish.  She will say that these could have used more butter.  The subtle olive oil flavor of the dough was nice, but the excess of butter fat might always win on the baked good front.  Overall Miss Fats was incredibly pleased: she could not believe these little dudes actually came to life.

IMG_2761And back to the bread.  Feeling much more positive, Miss Fats finished off the focaccia loaf with a hearty dusting of kosher salt, some z’taar, and threw it in the oven to bake.  She was riding that hot bun high pretty hard, so even if this bread turned out as hard as a rock, she would have been elated with herself.

IMG_2764However it didn’t!  Instead Miss Fats got a fluffy, crunchy loaf of focacia bread!

Now how the hell to eat all this bready goodness? Called for a cheese plate.  Luckily Miss Fats’ a friend happy to oblige.  And Miss Fats and the breads lived happily ever after… then end.

Now Miss Fats probably won’t go baking bread every week, or even attempt a sticky bun for months, but she’s officially demystified the scary world of living yeast friends.  And bread week was awesome (she nom’d on that loaf for days), and just may have spurred a new special hobby to break out on those days when Miss Fats is stuck inside her lame apartment writing for hours on end.  Everyone deserves a fungus break after all.