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Toasted Coconut Cake

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Baking complex desserts is my version of a stress ball. When homework begins piling up and exams are around the corner, or I begin over-thinking things that happened at the veterinary clinic, I turn to a small list of desserts that I have found to be complicated, lengthy, or strange. I realize, however, that spending a few hours baking could be better spent actually cracking open a textbook… but you have to admit that studying is so much easier with a giant slice of cake. Especially when studying ecology and the math equations that go with it, yuck.

Baking causes me to zone out from the world, silencing the background chatter in my head of memorized chemistry reactions and growing to do lists. Instead I completely immerse myself in the prepping of ingredients, buttering of cake pans, and otherwise being in complete silence other than the humming of my laptop and my dog’s snoring. The complexity helps me continue thinking ahead so that I can prepare the best cake in the shortest amount of time, instead of letting my mind fret over exams.

I theory that concentrating on the complexity of the recipe allows me to relax a little towards the minor road bumps I face in school and in general daily life, and that the sweetness of cake counteracts any bitterness of studying, planning, or negative thoughts. Or maybe I’m just trying to avoid studying, so I find an excuse to work on a pastry for 3 hours.

But my test tasting subjects haven’t complained yet, so I’ll stick with the first theory.

 

I made this cake for my Aunt’s birthday and it was a hit. It received positive reviews, especially from my brother, who managed to eat three slices in one sitting.

This cake isn’t necessarily complex, it just takes a lot of time to complete and requires a good deal of preparation. Therefore, I’d suggest setting up all your ingredients before diving in, otherwise you’ll be in for quite a mess! But the work is worth it- this is probably one of my favorite coconut cakes of all time. It has an intense coconut flavor and the cake is so pillowy soft and moist. The custard is delicious, and really easy to make as long as you watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Don’t stop stirring it!

But my absolute favorite thing about this recipe is that is it incredibly exact. I had no leftover frosting or custard, barely any leftover toasted coconut, and there was enough cake batter for both pans to fill. So thank you, Bobby Flay, for not leaving me with a heaping amount of coconut buttercream that I’d have no idea what to do with!

Toasted Coconut Cake with Coconut Filling
From Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown”

Ingredients
Toasted Coconut:

  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut Simple Syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut Custard:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons coconut rum (Optional; recommended: Malibu)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Coconut Filling:

  • 3/4 cup coconut custard (recipe above; cold)
  • 3/4 cup very cold heavy cream

Coconut Buttercream:

  • 3 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut custard (recipe above; cold)
  • Pinch fine sea salt

Cake:

  • 2 tablespoons softened butter, for pans
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, slightly cold

Directions
For the toasted coconut:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Spread the coconut evenly onto a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden brown, stirring once, 8 to 10 minutes.

For the simple syrup:
Bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir in the coconut, remove from the heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan, bring to a boil and let cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

For the custard:
Combine the milks and vanilla bean and seeds in a medium nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Let cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

For the filling:
Combine the custard and cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form.

For the buttercream:
Beat the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut custard and salt and beat until combined and smooth.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 2 (9 by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With mixer running at low speed, add the butter, one piece at a time and continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape sides of bowl and mix for 20 seconds longer. Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pan and smooth the tops using a rubber spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in the pan on baking rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the side of the pan and invert cakes onto the baking rack, removing parchment paper, and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

To Assemble:
Using a long serrated knife, slice each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Reserve 1 of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Place another layer on a cardboard round cut side up and brush with some of the coconut simple syrup. Spoon 1/3 of the coconut filling onto the cake and using a small offset metal spatula, spread it into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat with 2 more layers. Brush the cut side of the reserved cake layer with the remaining syrup. Place the layer cut side down on top of the cake.

Frost the sides and top of the cake with the buttercream. Pat the coconut onto the sides of the cake and sprinkle the remaining coconut on the top of the cake.

Mexican Chocolate Cake

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I am so happy that taking pictures of food has become socially acceptable thanks to instagram and the like. I use to get some seriously strange looks from people when I’d whip out my camera to take pictures of my food before eating it. I don’t blame them though… I’ll be the first to admit that it is kind of strange. I’ll be sitting there, watching my food get cold as snap millions of pictures that basically look the same after a while (there, I admit it). But I can’t help it, and I don’t really mind, because I find food to be artistic and quite frankly, pretty. Like someone who loves shopping and gets a new shirt or a gamer who buys a new video game system, food, eating out, and cooking makes me happiest. It’s a hobby that I also get to eat- win win!

I’ve been laughed at by waiters, yelled at by the French when taking pictures of pastries in Paris (that still haunts me), and if I had a dollar for every time a family member told me to “quit taking pictures and eat already”, I might be able to afford my own KitchenAid mixer. However, now thanks to social media and peoples obsession for letting others know what they’re doing every waking moment of their lives, I can happily say that I haven’t been laughed at, stared down, or yelled at by anyone lately. My parents still roll their eyes at me though. It’s almost acceptable.

I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now, with no avail, as to why this cake is considered “Mexican”. Perhaps it could be because cinnamon is added, but cinnamon is not native to Mexico. I’m assuming that cinnamon is common in Mexican cooking, but then again my “Mexican” food experience is limited to an enchilada, Taco Bell, and a churro I ate in my 10th grade high school Spanish class.

 
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So, feeling a little brave, I decided to add cayenne pepper to my cake batter to add a little heat. Cayenne pepper isn’t Mexican either (shh, don’t tell anyone), but it added a amazingly tasty, yet very subtle kick to the sweetness of the chocolate cake. It won’t have anyone running to the tap, but it will have your test tasters curiously intrigued on what’s making this “seemingly ordinary chocolate cake” a bit different.

The cake was incredibly moist and easy to make, as was the glaze. I always love adding nuts to a cake because the extra crunch adds a wonderful difference to the otherwise one dimensional softness. That, and the pecans just make it look way fancier.

So be brave! And add a little heat to your cake.

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Mexican Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Ruf Love

INGREDIENTS

Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup water
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C buttermilk (or put 1 tsp lemon juice in 1 cup container then fill remainder with milk)
2 Tbls vanilla extract
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ to 1 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your personal tastes)
¼ tsp sea salt

Glaze
1 C pecans (optional)
½ C unsalted butter
¼ C whole milk
½ C cocoa powder
2 C sifted powdered sugar
1 Tbls vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ tube pan or 10-12 C Bundt pan with non-stick spray or use Baker’s Joy. For cupcakes, line standard-size muffin pans with muffin wrappers and spray with non-stick spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the cocoa and whisk until smooth. Add the water and whisk until smooth. Be careful not to boil the mixture. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
  3. Add the sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla to the warm cocoa mixture. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt. Whisk until dry ingredients are completely incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter into the pan. If using muffin pans, fill each cup 2/3 full.
  6. Bake for 40-45 min; the cake is done when it has pulled away slightly form the sides of the pan and feels firm to the touch. For cupcakes, check for doneness after about 20 min.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 20 min. cupcakes need only a total of 10 min cooling time.
  8. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the 350 degree oven for 7-9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. Chop the pecans.
  9. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Add the milk, cocoas, and powdered sugar and whisk until glossy. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, salt, and pecans.
  10. Loosen the cake with a knife or spatula and overturn it onto a seving plate. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake, covering it thoroughly. For cupcakes, remove them from the pan, and peel off the paper liners. Invert each cupcake onto a small serving plate and cover with glaze.

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Cardamom Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

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Years ago my father and I sat down at an Indian restaurant in London. I was not new to Indian cuisine, as I had basically grew up on samosas, learned to obsess over naan bread and swoon over the smokey smells of toasting spices. I ordered what I always ordered- chicken tikka and piles of pillowy naan. My dinner came on a sizzling platter, chicken a fiery redish orange on a bed of onions and peppers, but my 9 year old self had a problem- there was no ketchup. I had a bit of an addiction as a kid to ketchup (perhaps still do…), putting it nearly on everything, and even receiving ketchup as birthday gifts.

Minor problem: there was no ketchup on the table.

I, a nine year old ketchup addict, begin to worry. My father asks the waiter if they have any ketchup, in which the waiter seems puzzled. My father repeats the question, this time replacing the word ‘ketchup’ with ‘tomato sauce’. This seems to spark some sort of understanding, in which the waiter tells another employee to get a bottle of ketchup.

The employee walks out the front door, only to be seen 10 minutes later with a grocery bag and one lone bottle of ketchup. Such dedication to customer service.

Thousands of memories surround my trips to England. When I was much younger my brother and I went around and collected eggs from the hens, but unlike my brother I was much too afraid to go into their little coups in fear that they’d peck me to death. My father would bustle us around the city, catching cabs, the tube, and trains. We’d walk everywhere, to the point where I remember quite clearly the walk to the train into London from my grandmother’s apartment- the open air store with fruit and vegetables piled high in baskets, the blue and green overpass that housed pigeons that cooed and watched you from above. There was a sharp right turn, a barber shop, and a steep incline to reach the trains. I went from hunting the markets for beanie babies to searching out the latest fashion trends as I got older. Too many times have I nearly seen my dad get hit by a car because of his thrill seeking need to j-walk. The more I went to England the more I loved being a tourist, taking pictures of Big Ben, secretly hoping every visit that my Dad would walk us past the horse fountain by Piccadilly Circus, going to Hamleys, eating at pubs. For my 16th birthday I accompanied my Dad in visiting my grandmother and went to Paris for the weekend, where I had the most amazing dinner in a tiny restaurant dimly lit. As we packed our car and left for the airport, my grandmother poked her head out from behind her window curtain and waved to us as we drove off. I snapped a picture. That was the last time I was in Europe.

My grandmother wasn’t your ordinary, cookie-cutter grandmother. She wasn’t much of a hugger, and kept to herself often, trusting few. The cliche that your grandmother’s cooking is always the best didn’t apply here, I remember dreading eating at my grandmother’s apartment, as we often had cold cuts of ham and cucumbers, perhaps potatoes, for dinner. Sometimes she would accidentally call my brother and I the names of our cousins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my grandmother had a harder time with our american accents than she let on.

However, like me, my grandmother shared a love for chocolate. She would always bring up the weather in conversations with me, but seemed to catch onto my passion for animals and would tell me about the dogs she had seen, or the cats that played in the courtyard. She cared deeply and selflessly about our well being and always tried to make us feel at home.

A few weeks into school my father came to visit me, as I had been having a hard time adjusting back into college. We were eating ice cream at an old fashioned parlor when my mother called, and I excitedly answered the phone. However my mother’s voice was solemn, as she told me my grandmother had passed away and instructed me to put my father on the phone. Shock poured through me, followed by overwhelming guilt- I hadn’t talked to my grandmother in over a year. I let college become one of my many excuses of why I was too busy to call, and I will always regret this.

Wherever we end up when we pass, I like to think that she’s watching us, even seeing America for the first time. I hope my grandmother knows that I truly cherished every moment I was blessed to spend with her. Most of all, I hope she forgives me.

I made this carrot cake for my father’s birthday, a few days before he had to leave for my grandmother’s funeral. Instead of putting ginger in the cake, I decided to use cardamom, an aromatic Middle Eastern spice commonly found in Indian cuisine. A little goes a long way- the cardamom makes this cake truly special, it acts as the secret ingredient that will keep people guessing, and grabbing for another slice. This recipe has seriously converted me into a carrot cake lover. It was moist, had great texture, and the maple frosting really rounded it off. Hands down this recipe has earned a spot into my box of to-make-again recipes.

Cardamom Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from RasaMalaysia

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 cup granulated/castor sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
8-ounces plain applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups/650 grams grated peeled carrots (from about 5-6 large carrots)
1 cups pecans (or any nut/optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C/

For cupcakes: Line 24 cupcake molds (2 12-standard muffin tins) with liners, or butter and flour them.
For layered cakes: Butter two 9-inch-diameter or three 8-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment, butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom in medium bowl to blend. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk sugars, applesauce and oil until well blended. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Add in the flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in the vanilla and carrots. Add in the pecans (or other nut) and raisins, if using them.

For cupcakes: Divide batter among cupcake molds, filling 3/4 of each. Bake cupcakes 14 to 18 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let cool in pans for about 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before icing them.

For layered cakes: Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 30 minutes each for 8-inch cakes or about 40 minutes each for 9-inch cakes; or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for about 15 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment; cool cakes completely before icing.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Yields about 2 cups, sufficient for any of the combination of this cake recipe

Ingredients:

2 (8-ounce/226-gram) packages cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 stick/4 ounces/113 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups/230 grams confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Method:

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat all the ingredients on medium speed until fluffy. Chill the frosting for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it has set up enough to spread smoothly and hold its shape.

For cupcakes: Place the maple cream cheese frosting into a piping bag fitted with your tip of choice and pipe onto cooled cupcakes accordingly.

For layered cakes: To assemble a layered cake, with an offset spatula, frost the top of one cake and place the other cake on top. Repeat for a three-layered cake. Frost the sides and top with a thin layer of frosting, chill the cake for about 30-45 minutes. Frost the cake completely to cover. Chill cake for at least 30 minutes or till frosting is set. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

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I’ve lived in the same house for 19 years. I can close my eyes and picture every exact detail of my house, from the pale red brick and maroon shutters, to the giant rock surrounded by several tall trees, the tiny rosebush against our garage, the exact spot on the hardwood floor in the family room where if you step on it just right, it will creak. My house is so much more than a home to me, it’s the place I yearn for when I’ve had a bad day or I’m on vacation for too long, the comforting feeling I get when I’m laying on the couch with my dog in the basement, or sitting on the deck in the summer, as the house shades us from the sun and the cool breeze rustles the leaves softly above us. The house I’ve spent my entire life in is such a huge part of me.

So it’s been really killing me lately that at the end of the month, I will no longer be able to use the word “home” and my house in Michigan, in the same sentence.

To be honest, I’m terrified of forgetting all the memories that have been built around this home. It’s almost as if with the house leaving, my past is disappearing, too. I don’t want to forget the first day we brought home my dog and she jumped over the pen we had her in so she could join us for dinner, or how my parents would carry me up the stairs because my casts were too heavy for a young child to lug up 12 sets of stairs. Summers running through the sprinklers and playing spud with my neighbors- my amazing neighbors. Actually, my entire neighborhood is brilliant, it’s like we’re one big family. When the power and water went out for several days, instead of hiding in the basement or hoarding their generator’s power, we all got together and cooked the food in our refrigerators, having a mini neighborhood party and hanging out. It was great… minus the heat.

I may be trading my large, open backyard for a small fenced in one, green grass and canopies of trees for droughts and palms, but I’m happy. Even though it’s weird not being able to drive down the road and see my friends anytime I want or eat Buddy’s pizza, my summer in Texas has been amazing. My aunt and uncle live down the road and always welcome me over to swim or play with their adorable dogs, my Dad let’s me cook whatever my heart desires and often takes me out to lunch to little hole-in-the-wall restaurants we find, much to my Mother’s scolding. I was just interviewed today for an internship at a magnificent veterinary office, that works with small, large, and exotic animals. Knock on wood and crossing my fingers, but I really hope I get it.

Even though it will strange to not be able to take my dog on long walks through the neighborhood, then lay on the soft green grass in my front yard with her afterwards, and I may forever continue to open the wrong drawers to finally find my offset spatula, I think I’ll survive. Sure I’ll miss that house with all my heart, but I just have to remind myself- a home isn’t really where you reside and live and mow the lawn, it’s with the people (and furry family members) you love and care about, no matter where that is.

I knew that I wanted to make one last thing in my kitchen before I left for Texas permanently. My entire family was visiting for my brother’s graduation party, and I flew up to Michigan to see them all one last time, at least for a while. My brother’s school colors were red and white, so naturally red velvet cupcakes came straight to mind.

I’ll be honest, the cake is nothing special. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing super memorable about them. The frosting however is amazing. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for a while. Not too sugary, not too sweet, extremely smooth and creamy. It’s perfect for cupcakes, cakes, even eating it straight out of the bowl!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Ingredients:

Cupcake Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (not all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. gel food coloring (I used the whole tube)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:

1 lb (2 blocks) cream cheese (not softened)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Method:

To Make Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add cocoa powder, then beat in the red food coloring gel, allow to mix well. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. (Yes, it will fizz!) Add vinegar mixture to the cake batter and stir well to combine. Fill cupcake cups with cake batter until they are about 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check early and don’t overbake!

Cool the cupcakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To Make Frosting:

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or any standard beaters if you’re like me and have an older mixer) beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

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