Sunday, May 23, 2010

Little Things

Hey May, you aren't looking so good these days. You are cold, and rainy, and windy. I've tried to rebel by wearing bare legs and floral skirts, but as soon as I step outside my house I am consumed by your frigid air and instantly regret my choice of outfit. You've got me sleeping with my winter quilt, battling a nasty cold, and curling up on the sofa, instead of outside on the patio. But May, if it weren't for your borderline-rude weather, I might not have ever had the chance to make these scones. And eat them hot out of the oven. Curled up on the couch.
So for that, I thank you wholeheartedly.

I find scones to be tricky little things. As with most products, there is so much variation and so many different kinds that I hardly know what is what. My goal with scones has always been to make them as healthy as possible. I always sub all-purpose with whole wheat, and half-and-half milk with skim. Well, I hope to save you some time by saying that using this gung-ho healthy method can be dangerous. More often than necessary, I have ended up with a tray full of flat, dense, brick-like scones that are dry and completely uninviting. This is really disappointing for all parts involved. You feel like a failure, an unsuspecting subject almost chokes to death upon first bite, and the remaining scones are neglected for all eternity.
Anyway, I stumbled upon a scone recipe a few weeks ago that sounded promising. The recipe was for whole wheat scones done right: healthy and light and puffy, with gorgeous golden tops. I took a risk and made them for my mom on Mother's Day. I am happy to report that we did NOT have a disappointing situation on our hands. Not disappointing in the slightest. They were hearty, light, and just sweet enough to be appropriate for an exceptionally early morning.

It's still raining outside, and the weatherman isn't calling for much else this week. How about a mug of tea, a warm scone, and a good book to keep you company until the sunshine shows up?

Orange and Chocolate Whole Wheat Scones
Slightly adapted from, Orangette

The original recipe was for Whole Wheat Apricot Scones, but lately I've had a slight fixation with the chocolate-orange combo. One of the lovely things about these scones is the fact that they are hugely versatile. Let your imagination run wild- make them with any kind of fruit your heart desires!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
Grated zest of one orange
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup good quality dark chocolate chunks (such as Callebaut)
½ cup milk (I used skim), plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture, squeezing and pinching with your fingertips until there are no butter lumps bigger than a large pea. Add the sugar and chocolate chunks, and whisk to incorporate.
Pour the milk into a small bowl, and add the egg. Beat with a fork to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the four mixture, and stir (with the fork; it works fine) just to combine. The dough will look shaggy and rough, and there may be some unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Don't worry about that. Using your hands, gently press and shape the dough, so that it holds together in a messy clump. Turn the dough and any excess flour out onto a board or countertop, and press and gather and knead it until it just comes together. Ideally, do not knead more than 12 times. As soon as the dough holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1 ½ inches thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges.
Put the wedges on the prepared baking sheet. Pour a splash of milk into a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat to glaze. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm- with butter, if that's your style.

Note: If you plan to eat them within a day or two, store the scones in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, seal them in a heavy plastic bag or container, and freeze them. Before serving, bring them to room temperature. Either way, reheat them briefly in a 300°F oven. They are best served warm.

Yield: 8 small scones

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Much Needed

I'm just going to cut straight to the chase. You need to make this cake, immediately. Got it?
I'm not going to ramble on about how tuckered out I felt after my exams, or how I can hardly believe we're half way through the month of May. I know, for goodness sake, that time is flying by. I can hardly keep track of what day it is. I am desperately clinging to these daydream-like spring days, trying to slow them down, trying to hold on to them before they disappear forever.

Spring afternoons are oh-s0-wonderful: warm and new and full of life. For whatever reason, these lush spring days can cause me to feel a bit restless, which is why last week for no good reason, I set to work baking a miraculous multi-tiered, 9-inch cake. Did I mention there were only 3 of us at home? Did I also mention that not only did I make an absolutely massive cake, I made a dozen cupcakes as well? Upon first inspecting the fragrant, freshly iced cakes I stared at my masterpieces and questioned my sanity. There was no way it was all going to be eaten. No way at all.
Apparently though, for a truly good piece of cake, people will do crazy things.
24 hours later, every last crumb had been consumed.

Yeah, it was that good.
It was Saturday. My parents were out of town for the weekend, and takeout had lost its appeal. My sister and I promptly decided that the only logical thing to do with the day was to bake the biggest cake possible. So we set to work, grating, stirring, measuring, spilling and tasting our way through the first ever carrot cake we have ever attempted to make. We never really considered the fact that carrot cake, generally speaking, is kind of average and slightly less than mind-blowing, but anything at this point would have been better than frozen pizza. We had no expectations, but you know what, it was a truly lovely way to spend an afternoon.
A few hours later, the house was filled with an intoxicating cinnamon-y sweetness that made our mouths water. We called my brother downstairs and gathered around the table for the ceremonious cutting of the cake. Than we got down to business, shoveling the cake into our mouths. My brother, a total chocoholic, proclaimed our carrot cake to be one of the best cakes he had ever eaten in his life. My sister and I high-fived and contemplated going into business. Phone calls were made, people arrived, and all together we indulged on a perfect May afternoon in a cake that may have been sent straight from heaven.
Not only was the cake a hit with my siblings and friends, but also with my toughest critic. Possibly the biggest validation came from my boyfriend, Kyran. Over the years, Kyran has been a good sport, trying each and every one of my concoctions. In between nibbles he faithfully gives me a thumbs up (or sometimes thumbs sideways) or a wink, or, if I'm lucky a blissful "MMM.." He remains the only person to give me completely honest reviews, and for that I am thankful. Kyran is an expert on the tasting of baking. You see, his mom is also an avid baker. If my baking episodes were battles on Iron Chef or Food Network Challenge, she'd be my biggest competition. Generally speaking, Kyran is not as blown away by my kitchen attempts as he is with his mom's. I don't blame him, really. She's a fantastic baker, to say the least. She's fantastic in a kind of everything-she-touches-turns-to-gold kind of way. And yes, she's a bit of a tough act to follow.

I think though, I may have put up a pretty good battle with this cake. He had seconds, and then he called later that night and asked for thirds. He happily, willingly, asked for more, which is a very, very good sign. I got a thumbs up, and an "MMMM" and I could have sworn there was a wink in there too.

After the whirlwind that was April, this cake was much needed.
The coconut cream cheese icing was billowy, silky-smooth, and tangy, with just a hint of coconut. The cake was moist, perfectly spiced, and comforting. It embodied everything I ever wished carrot cake to be: perfect texture, perfect flavor, and an even cake to icing ratio.
If you're being faced with a lazy May day, I suggest you get on this right away.
It will, someway, somehow, get eaten.

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2003

Sweet goodness. This cake was absolutely DELICIOUS. As per usual, we made a few adjustments to the original recipe... maybe a few more then usual. Bare with us...
1. We used 1 1/3 cup of all purpose flour, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour.
2. We omitted the crystallized ginger all together. My sister is not a fan. I've got to say, the ginger was not missed. Also, we used walnuts instead of macadamia nuts, just because it's what we had.
3. For the frosting we used 3/4 cup of unsweetened coconut milk, instead of sweetened cream of coconut. Because of this, we added about 1/3 cup more of powdered sugar, but add yours to taste. We prefer our icing not to be so cloyingly sweet.
4. The original recipe makes one three-tiered cake, however one of our cake pans went missing. Instead, we made one 2-tiered 9-inch cake and a dozen cupcakes! If you want to do this as well, simply line a standard cupcake tin with cupcake wrappers and divide the last third of the cake batter among them (you should get about 12). They bake for about 12-15 minutes!


2 1/3 cups sifted all purpose flour (sifted, then measured)
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
3 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated peeled carrots
2 8-ounce cans crushed pineapple in its own juice, well drained


3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (scant) coconut extract

14 who dry-roasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

For Cake:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Combine 1/3 cup flour and next 3 ingredients in processor. Process until nuts are finely chopped. Whisk remaining 2 cups flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Beat in flour-spice mixture. Stir in coconut-macadamia mixture, then carrots and crushed pineapple.

Divide batter among pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 1 hour. Run knife around edge of pans to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, then cream of coconut and both extracts. Chill until firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over top of cake. Top with second cake layer, flat side up. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer, rounded side up, pressing slightly to adhere. Spread thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill cake and remaining frosting 30 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange whole nuts and ginger around top edge of cake. Chill 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)