Extraordinary Cakes – Tortamisu

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I grew up eating Tiramisu.  It was just one of those things that was always there in the background.  We would have it for weeknight dessert, when you went to visit your grandparents, there it was, visit a favorite aunt or family friend and out came the Tiramisu with the coffee.  It was never one of my favorite things and it certainly wasn’t one of the long anticipated fancy desserts that you only got once or twice a year on holidays.  It was just like an old reliable friend always there waiting.  Then in the 1990’s when it seemed like everyone suddenly discovered it and you would have thought that they found some sort of miracle cure.  Suddenly it turned up everywhere and every restaurant in the country seemed to have their version of it on the menu.  It was then that I developed a true hatred for the stuff.  It just seemed that you couldn’t escape it no matter how hard you tried.  It still seems to turn up everywhere and to my mind at least it just isn’t worth all the fuss.

This cake is a nice variation on the Tiramisu theme.  It has all the flavors of a traditional Tiramisu without all the hubbub and certainly without the not so good parts which to me are the dreadful soggy ladyfingers.  I admit to an aversion for wet, soggy foods.  I don’t like a lot of condiments and things on my sandwiches.  Somehow I just don’t like picking up my sandwich only to find half of it stuck to the plate or taking a bite of it and finding I am eating baby food.  It just seems wrong to me.

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This cake does away with the soggy mess and uses instead a firm ricotta pound cake as its base.  This is the same pound cake that was used for the Ricotta Passion Fruit cake.  The recipe calls for grape seed oil which I know is supposed to be flavorless but when I made it the first time I felt that it had a slight undertaste from the grape seed oil that I didn’t particularly care for. No one else seemed to notice so I figured it was just me.  When I made the cake again with my friend Jill I once again noticed that undertaste although no one else seemed to,  This time I decided to make it with vegetable oil which the recipe says may be substituted.  I found that undertaste was good and so from now on vegetable oil it is.  I guess it really just boils down to my dislike of oil based cakes in general but this truly is a really marvelous cake base.

The rest of the cake is very simple as compared with many of the other cakes in the book.  It is composed of a mascarpone mousse filling and whipped cream.  Very easy.

The mouse is a standard cooled vanilla custard with the mascarpone cheese folded in.  And the whipped cream is just flavored with a bit of sugar.

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The cake is torted into three thin layers.  The first layer goes down and is drenched with espresso coffee as the soaking syrup.  Then a layer of mousse and a layer of whipped cream.  Traditionally shaved chocolate with go in next.   The recipe doesn’t call for it but I took artistic license and dusted the layer with cocoa powder just for effect.  The next layer repeats the same process and then the final layer goes on and is soaked with espresso.  The entire cake is then frosted with sweetened whipped cream, edged with chocolate sprinkles and then the cake is decorated as desired and dusted with cocoa powder.

There you have it, the Tortamisu.  All the great flavor of a traditional Tiramisu without the soggy mess and certainly a small effort with a very big payoff.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Banana Cream Torte

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I just don’t think that bananas are really given a fair shake when it comes to desserts.  Aside from the occasional pudding or cream pie they really don’t show up on the dessert table very often and that is really a shame because they really have a lot to offer in a dessert.  As a child banana cake with chocolate frosting was one of my favorite cakes and I still can’t resist a big piece of it,  Banana cream pie remains one of my all time favorites.

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This cake certainly delivers on the bananas in a dessert category.  The cake is totally gluten free as it uses a combination of almond, brown rice, potato and coconut flours and honey serves as a sweetener here.  I splurged and used a jar of wonderful mango honey that I got this past summer at the farmers market from the local bee keeper and have been saving for a special occasion.  I think this cake certainly lives up to the challenge.  The cake base is resplendent with bananas, pineapple and nuts.  It is a dense cake but is super moist and holds up well for torting,

The filling is a wonderful cream cheese frosting which is lightened with sweetened whipped cream and is cloud like in appearance and heaven on the palate.  The special treat here is the addition of a nut dacquoise layer which is loaded with pecans and almonds and adds just the right amount of texture to the extremely light filling.

The cake is baked and torted into three thin layers.  It is then doused with vanilla syrup and a thick layer of cream cheese filling is added.  This layer is topped with sliced bananas and then the dacquoise layer is added and topped with more cream cheese filling.  The second cake layer is added followed by more syrup, filling and bananas before the final cake layer is applied, drenched in syrup and the top is covered with more frosting.  When ready to finish the cake, it is entirely frosted with the cream cheese frosting and the sides are covered with sliced almonds.  Then the cake is decorated as desired and it is ready for service.

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An extraordinary cake indeed.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Strawberry Poppyseed Cake

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To me this is nothing short of total dessert heaven.  All of my favorite dessert ingredients (butter, vanilla, lemon, strawberries, whipped cream and poppy seeds) all rolled into one gorgeous cake.  It is truly a sight to behold and heaven on the palate.  Who could ask for anything more in a dessert?  It is a combination of a few basic components, rich butter cake, a luscious pastry cream and strawberries all held together with billowy clouds of lightly sweetened whipped cream.  A minor miracle on a plate.

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The cake base is a small miracle in itself.  Rich and buttery and lightly perfumed with the sweet tang of lemon juice and zest and topped off with the slight crunchiness of poppy seeds.  It has a moist texture and a nice light crumb but is still firm enough to thinly slice into layers and hold its shape.   I wouldn’t think twice about baking this cake in a square or sheet pan, giving it a dusting of confectioners sugar and just snacking on it morning, noon and night.  It is that good.

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The smooth vanilla pastry cream starts out as a regular vanilla custard with eggs, mild and cream and heavily perfumed with vanilla beans.  The secret here is addition of lightly whipped cream to make it ethereal and a little gelatin to help it hold its shape.  It is truly delicious and would make a wonderful filling for cream puffs or éclairs or simply served on its own as a pudding with maybe an almond tuille on the side.  Scrumptious.

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The cake is leveled and the crumbs toasted to be used as decoration.  The cake is then sliced into three thin layers.  The first layer goes down and is drenched in a lemon simple syrup.  Then a thick layer of the vanilla pastry cream and a healthy layer of sliced strawberries and then topped off with a thick layer of sweetened whipped cream.  The second layer goes on and the process is repeated.  The top layer is added, drenched in syrup and then pastry cream.  The entire cake is them robed in a thick layer of more sweetened whipped cream.  The sides are decorated with the toasted cake crumbs and then the top is decorated with more whipped cream and accented with lemon slices and strawberries.   Total and complete heaven,

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Extraordinary Cakes – Beau Soleil

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The Beau Soleil (Beautiful Sun) is certainly beautiful and it truly delivers on its name.  It is truly a beautiful taste of sunshine.  I was hell-bent on making this cake for one reason and one reason only…Peaches.  There is just nothing as delicious as a fresh ripe summer peach and this cake is loaded with that heavenly peach flavor.

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The cake is composed of a Hazelnut Jaconde base with an orange soaking syrup.  On top of that is a Mascarpone cheese mousse, Peach curd, Hazelnut Praline and whipped cream.  Now I ask you, does it get any better than that.  No it certainly doesn’t and I don’t think anything can touch this cake as far as taste goes.  It is just indescribably delicious and well worth every minute you put into making it.  While all of this may sound daunting and is a bit time-consuming there is nothing about the cake that is at all difficult.

The Jaconde base is a firm and rather dense cake but surprisingly light.  It is a dream to work with as far as torting the layers go.  It slices like a dream and holds its shape extremely well.  It has a mild nutty flavor by way of almond flour and hazelnuts but isn’t at all heavy.  The orange soaking syrup is a perfect complement to the nuts.

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The mascarpone mousse is sinful, silky, sensuous, ethereal, dreamy and just plain good.  It is so smooth and silky it practically disappears on your tongue and if you didn’t want to bother making the cake this mousse is good enough to stand up as a dessert on its own.

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The peach curd is more of a chunky peach conserve.  Part of the peaches are cooked in butter and brown sugar to caramelize them.  Then the rest of the peaches are cooked with granulated sugar until they are just tender and then the caramelized peaches are stirred in.  The aroma in the kitchen was more than I could bear.  Total heaven this.  This curd would be great on morning toast or English muffins.  It would also be great stirred into homemade vanilla ice cream with a handful of hazelnuts or simply poured over store bought ice cream.

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While I was making this cake I kept thinking that these components could easily be assembled as a Peach Trifle for a summer buffet table or afternoon tea.

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To assemble, the cake base is torted into three layers, the first layer goes into the mold and is drenched with the orange soaking syrup, next comes a layer of the mascarpone mousse and then a layer of peach curd.  Onto the curd a mild honey is drizzled and then a layer of sweetened whipped cream.  Next the ground hazelnut praline is scattered and then the second cake layer is added and the process continued until the final layer is added.  This layer is brushed with the soaking syrup and a final layer of mousse is added to the top.  The entire cake is then covered with sweetened whipped cream.  The sides are covered with more ground hazelnut praline and the top is covered in thinly sliced peaches to resemble the sun.  The peaches need to be ripe but firm freestone peaches.  I found that slicing the peaches on a mandoline worked very well for getting them thin and evenly sliced.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Passion Fruit Ricotta Cake

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Extraordinary Cakes is divided into sections by season.  The first few cakes that I did were from the Spring section but since we are full on into summer now I decided to skip ahead to the Summer section.  The first cake that caught my eye was this Passion Fruit Ricotta cake.  I am sure the first thing that struck me was that it had a pound cake base.  Faithful readers will know of my total devotion to pound cake.  I just can’t get enough of it.  Add to that ricotta cheese and my Italian heritage kicks in and I am totally hooked.  Naturally I just couldn’t resist this one and couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen to make it.

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The cake base is a very simple although not at all a traditional pound cake.  It uses ricotta cheese and no butter at all but replaces the butter with unflavored oil.  This gave me a bit of cause for alarm on my first read through of the recipe.  If you have been following me for awhile then you are all familiar with the story of my aunt’s Mazola oil cake (which of course is nothing but a chiffon cake and not at all a favorite of mine) and was the cake that we had at every family get together.  I so detested this cake as a child that I flatly refused to eat it and to this day I cringe when a piece of chiffon cake is set before me.  I needn’t have worried here, the cake is marvelous.  It bakes to a beautiful golden brown and even though I used magic strips it still domed in the center.  This is not a problem as you need to slice off the top one quarter inch and toast the cake crumbs to decorate the side of the cake.  The cake has a rather dense texture but also has a rather holed appearance.  When sliced there are many small holes which you would not expect in a dense textured pound cake.  All the better for soaking up the wonderful passion fruit syrup and the cake does remain firm but moist and is heavenly to work with.  It is very easy to slice the three layers needed and they remain beautifully intact while the cake is assembled.

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The soaking syrup is the standard sugar and water variety to which is added passion fruit puree.  The syrup is a bit heavier than the usual soaking syrup but this denser cake takes it up very easily and man oh man is it ever delicious.

The filling is made from a combination of whipped cream and passion fruit curt.  This passion fruit curd is similar to lemon curd with the exception of fewer eggs and the addition of gelatin sheets.  It firms up as well as traditional lemon curd but remains very smooth which makes folding it into the whipped cream a breeze.

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To assemble, the cake base is sliced into three 1/4 inch layers and the domed top is sliced off, crumbled and toasted for later use.  The first layer goes into the mold, brushed with the soaking syrup.  The passion fruit curd is folded into sweetened whipped cream and about 1 cup of the passion fruit whipped cream is spread on top.  Next comes a layer of sliced bananas and sliced kiwi.  The second cake layer is added and the process is repeated except this time a layer of sliced strawberries is added on top of the passion fruit whipped cream.  The final layer goes on and is drenched with the soaking syrup.  The cake is wrapped in plastic wrap and goes into the freezer for its overnight rest.

When ready to finish the cake, it is removed from the mold and a thin layer of passion fruit whipped cream is spread over the top and sides.  The sides are then coated with the toasted cake crumbs and the top is piped with concentric circles of the remaining whipped cream and then decorated as desired.  All in all it makes a beautiful summer presentation.

Unfortunately, I made this cake for Norman to take to one of his work functions so I didn’t get to taste it but I did ask him to get some reactions from the people at the event and write me up description of what they said.  Norman tends to get a bit flowery with his prose but here is what he had to say.

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“This beautiful cake can be a warm weather treat full of a variety of textures and tastes.   The dewy, velvety almost creamy cake formed a wonderful base when contrasted by the texture of the outer ring of toasted cake crumbs.  The sweet mélange of bananas, kiwis and strawberries were complemented by the aromatic passion fruit purée.”

I think he has been watching too much Nigella Lawson but I appreciate his kind words about this cake.  Makes me even sorrier I didn’t get to taste it but there is always next time, as I am sure there will be a next time.

Extraordinary Cakes – Marco Polo

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I have been looking forward to this cake since I first got the book.  I have been so intrigued by this tea.  The cake gets its name from a special blend of tea called Marco Polo made by the French tea company Mariage Freres.  It is used as a flavoring in the cake base as well as the soaking syrup and the streusel coating.  Karen didn’t sell it at her store and I couldn’t find a source for it locally.  Karen recommends that if you can’t get it to use any strong berry flavored tea but I was so caught up in the idea of this tea that I decided I had to have the real thing.  I found a mail order source here in California and I ordered 3 ounces of loose tea just for this cake.  Well, as I am sure you have all guessed it wasn’t cheap.  It ended up costing around $15.00 for the three ounces and for the three days it took to get here I could not stop thinking about this tea.  When it arrived I have to admit I was even more intrigued.  I could actually smell the tea through the cardboard shipping container, when I opened the box the aroma was intense and intoxicating.  Not only berry (which berry I couldn’t even begin to identify) but also vanilla and something else which I still haven’t been able to figure out.  It was truly mesmerizing.  I set to work grinding the tea and gathering ingredients.  Halfway through making the cake batter I couldn’t take it any more and had to brew myself a cup of this tea.  It is truly an amazing cup of tea.  It certainly is full of berry and vanilla flavor but there is something about it that I just find indescribable.  Straight to the top of my favorite tea list it went.  I finished up the cake, put it in the oven and went directly to my computer to order the large size of the tea, and I have had at least one cup a day since then.

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Suddenly the entire house was filled with this incredible aroma which of course was the baking cake.  This time the center of attention was vanilla with the berries acting as a background.  How ever you describe it the smell was intense and heavenly.  With the cake out of the oven and cooling I noticed that this cake is much denser than the other cakes I have made from this book and it is also not as tall.  As I have mentioned in other posts, the cakes in this book are very large and even the plain cake bases rise right to the top of the 3 inch pans.  This one was only about and inch and a half tall.  The recipe states that the cake base is sliced into three – 1/4 inch layers so I figured I was okay and that was how it was supposed to be.  All was fine.

Compared to some of the cakes I have made from this book and those yet to come, this is a fairly simple cake to assemble.  The soaking syrup is really just a plain sugar and water syrup with the Marco Polo tea infused in it.  A note here, this syrup was so good I used some of the leftovers to flavor my morning coffee.  YUM

The vanilla bean mousse is a simple custard base, loaded with intense vanilla bean seeds and rich with eggs and milk and then lightened with whipped cream.

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The assembly is straight forward.  Divide the cake layers.  Place one layer in the mold and brush with the soaking syrup, top with the vanilla mousse, then fresh blackberries, then a layer of sweetened whipped cream.  Add the second layer and repeat the process, then the top layer, syrup and the final coating of vanilla mousse and into the freezer for its overnight rest.

Next the blackberry mirror is made and poured in the top.  This is really just a combination of fresh blackberries, sugar, water, corn syrup and blackberry jam which is cooked and stained and poured on top of the cake.  It then rests in the freezer for an hour.  The cake is then put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to thaw.

The streusel coating is made from butter, more of the Marco Polo tea, powdered sugar, almond flour and all-purpose flour.  It is baked and cooled and then crumbled and pressed onto the sides of the cake.

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I couldn’t wait to dig into this cake.  It is truly delicious but really hard to describe.  Based on the smells coming out of my kitchen throughout the baking process I was anticipating a rather intense flavor but what I met with was something very balanced and mild.  No one flavor stood out at all.  The vanilla mousse heightened the vanilla in the tea.  The fresh blackberries and blackberry mirror intensified the blackberry flavor in the tea but the overall effect was simply one of balance.  The cake was flavorful but not intensely rich and no one flavor came to the fore front but instead an overall all impression of the underlying flavors.  All in all it was worth waiting for and a small slice of heaven.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Ivoirie Royale

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I was immediately drawn to this cake on my first look through the book.  I am sure that it was because of the pound cake base.  My readers will already know of my fondness for pound cake.  Monica and I both decided that this was the cake for our second round of the bake through for Extraordinary Cakes.  I also thought it was a good choice as we have several new bakers who have decided to join us in our quest and this cake only has a few components and seemed an easy way to ease into the process.

My initial reading of the cake base recipe had me a bit concerned.  This is a sour cream pound cake and I was surprised to find that it didn’t use any butter but instead used grapeseed oil.  My initial though was of my favorite aunts dreaded Mazola oil chiffon cake. (You have heard me talk about this cake and my hatred of it before).   Well, I was pleased to discover that the grapeseed oil didn’t make the cake heavy and didn’t add any unpleasant taste (grapeseed oil is tasteless) but added a moistness not always found in most pound cakes.  The cake retained the traditional firm texture but remained moist and tender even through the freezing process.

The other components of the cake are vanilla soaking syrup, white chocolate sour cream mousse, sweetened whipped cream and of course a myriad of spring fruits.  Surprising none of these elements compete with each other.  The syrup offers just a slight whisper of vanilla.  The mousse which is really just a white chocolate ganache to which sour cream is added gives a slight hit of sweet white chocolate with the nice sour cream tang but never gives the cloying white chocolate sweetness.  All of this is tempered by a generous amount of sweetened whipped bream which acts as a perfect base to enhance the fruits which include strawberries, raspberries, black berries and blueberries.  The total effect is one of total bliss.  Each element can bet tasted and noted but all combine in perfect harmony and even the cake base shines through as the perfect support for all that is added to it.  Definitely a true work of art this cake.

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The white chocolate curls are the only added decoration and although they look difficult they really aren’t.  Making them is just a matter of timing and patience.  I have found that it just takes the patience to wait for the chocolate to reach the perfect temperature for shaving the curls.  Once it is reached you have to work quickly as the window is very small.  I generally get about 3 curls and then I have to warm the chocolate and start the waiting period again.  It doesn’t require much actual effort and you are certainly rewarded for you patience.

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Extraordinary Cakes – Lemon Praline Cake

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I was talking to my friend Monica from the Gutsy Cooks Club about favorite chefs and cookbooks.  Since we were both members of the Heavenly Bakers, naturally our conversation came around to desserts and especially cakes.  Monica mentioned to me that she had gotten the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne and was anxious to try some of the cakes.  She asked me if I knew about Karen and I think I surprised her when I said that Karen was a local pastry chef here in San Diego and that I went to her shop very often.  She asked me if I wanted to join her in baking some of these incredible cakes.  Well, I am a huge fan of Monica’s cooking style and her kitchen wizardry so naturally I jumped at the chance to join her.  We each read through the book and comprised a list of cakes we wanted to try.  When we compared notes we laughed to see that we had both chosen almost the identical list.  This Lemon Praline cake appealed to us both right off the bat and we decided it would be the first cake we attempted.

On the first read through these recipes seem really complicated. They are assembled cakes from many components and Karen certainly doesn’t skim in this area.  This cake has 6 separate components.  Once you get over the shock of the task and reread the recipe you see that it is very manageable.  Many of the components can be made the day ahead and held.  The one difference that Karen does is that she assembles the cake in a cake ring or mold and then freezes the assembled cake overnight before the final decoration.  This is something that neither Monica or myself had ever done and after comparing notes with Monica I think we both agreed that it was a technique with would both adopt in our cake baking.  It certainly makes the final decoration and serving much easier.

I started by making the genoise, which is a pretty straight forward standard genoise.  It went together in a snap and before I knew it the baked cake was cooling on my counter.  The next day I tackled the French Meringue which is used as a crunchy center layer.  It all came together in about 20 minutes and has to bake for at least an hour.  While it was in the oven I made the lemon syrup, the lemon curd and the lemon buttercream and by the time the meringue was baked and cooled I was ready to assemble the cake.

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The genoise is leveled and sliced into two layers.  One layer goes into the cake ring, followed by the syrup, then a layer of  buttercream and a layer of lemon curd.  Next the meringue goes on followed by another layer of buttercream and another layer of lemon curd.  Finally the second cake layer in placed on top and drenched with the remaining lemon syrup.  The entire assembly is wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen over night.  As I told Monica, to me the hardest part of the entire process was finding the room in my overcrowded freezer to keep the cake overnight.  Karens instructions are clear and concise and her timing notes are spot on.

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The following morning I made the final component which is hazelnut-almond praline.  This was just caramelized sugar to which toasted nuts are added and then the mixture is spread onto a baking sheet to harden.  Karen specifies to make this just before you need it.  Once hardened the praline is broken into pieces and ground in the food processor into a fine powder.

The assembled cake is then frosted completely with the remaining lemon buttercream and then coated with the praline powder.  The final decor is a bouquet of fresh flowers and rose petal covered ribbon.  I didn’t really like the picture that is in the book and decided to take artistic license here.  I should have followed the book.  I ended up going crazy with the flowers and ended up covering the whole top of the cake.  My other half told me it looked like a cheap centerpiece and I certainly have to agree that it was not the most attractive thing I have ever turned out in the kitchen.  No matter, the decorations came off as soon as I got some photographs and the cake is so good that it hardly matters what it looks like.  I think next time I will just frost it and pipe some borders and then use the praline in shards as decoration.  Maybe I will just skip the decoration entirely and move straight to the eating part.

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All in all it was a great first cake from a really great cake book.  Can’t wait for the next installment of the Monica and Raymond Cake Club.

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Cupids Strawberry Cake

I can see why Flo calls this her signature yellow cake.  I found it a snap to make and it certainly delivers on it’s promise.  It is rich and buttery without being cloying and it is moist but has a firm texture and crumb similar to a poundcake which I find especially appealing.  It lends itself easily to a variety of fillings and frostings.  It can be eaten plain or with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or it can be dressed up or down as you see fit.  The combination of the strawberries and the lemon buttercream was especially appealing to my family.

Even though I had been warned that the frosting could be a bit sweet I decided to try it as is before I made any changes to the recipe.  While I didn’t find it to be too sweet for my taste, I did find it to be a bit soft and slightly hard to work with.  My first attempt at frosting the cake found it sliding down the sides.  I put it in the refrigerator for a bit to firm up before proceeding and had no problems with it after that.  I served the cake for a collectors club meeting I hosted and it was extremely well received.  I will definitely be making this one again and the yellow cake will certainly be added to my baking repertoire.

ABC Bakers: Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake

I have always enjoyed working with yeast doughs.  There is something very satisfying about taking yeast and water and flour and ending up with a light, risen and almost earthy finished product.  Unfortunately, many people are put off by making yeasted baked goods.  Not so much because they feel they are difficult but because of the proofing and rising times, it sometimes seems as if there just isn’t enough time during a busy day to make a yeasted baked good.  This recipe is proof positive that a fine quality yeasted baked good is quite doable in a relatively short period of time.  That alone is enough to make you want to bake this but one taste and you will want to make it every week.  It is almost like a cinnamon roll on steroids. Not only is it of grand size but the flavors are big and bold and gutsy.  You can certainly play with your own spice combinations not only in the filling but in the dough itself.

I did take Hanna’s advice and double the quantity of spices in the dough and I can see where neglecting to do so would make for a more subtly flavored dough.  I am glad that I doubled mine.  I doubled the amount of cinnamon filling as well and I still didn’t feel like it was enough. The next time I make this I will triple it.  I also think that I would like to play around with the addition of walnuts or pecans to this recipe.  Another thought was to add a simple powdered sugar glaze on top of the butterscotch.  I may just be going for overkill here but I just can’t seem to stop myself from wanting to add more and more to this already delicious coffee cake.  I did make one other change.  I thought that I had a full bottle of dark corn syrup in the pantry and when it came time to make the butterscotch glaze it turned out that I didn’t so I substituted molasses for the dark corn syrup.  While it wasn’t a true butterscotch, it was certainly a rich and bold almost spicy glaze and I don’t think my coffee cake suffered from it in the slightest.  All in all, this is a great cake to have on hand at all times.

The risen dough
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The rolled dough ready to rise