pistachio cake with rose buttercream

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Rose is a quirky flavor. Too much and it tastes like a bar of soap, but the right amount tastes light, floral, and summery. A coffee place in downtown Portland serves rose Italian sodas, and every time I’m remotely close I detour, buy one and greedily slurp it down. Rinse and repeat.

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Today, I mixed this rosy flavor with the earthy green of pistachios, which dresses down a floral flavor with a nice nutty cake. It’s a simple cake, with no frills. The best buttercream to make is an Italian meringue buttercream – where you make an Italian meringue with sugar syrup and whipped egg whites, and slowly beat in softened butter until you get a fluffy buttercream that is both stable to sit out and also delicious. Bonus – it’s going to impress everybody, but it’s not all that hard to do. I’m into these kind of combinations – pistachio and rose, easy and impressive. All good, all good.

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Plus – you get to decorate with real flowers – which is not only easy, but looks wildly professional. It’s like a garden on a cake! Perfect for garden parties and also for sitting with friends under shady trees eating with plastic forks. It’s a summer cake in all the ways a cake could be summery.

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pistachio cake with rose italian buttercream
recipe adapted from food52

½ cup toasted pistachios
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
¾ cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 13×9 inch baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with nonstick spray.
In a food processor, grind the nuts to a fine powder (but don’t make nut butter).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs and the egg yolk, only one at a time. Beat each until combined and scrape down the bowl after each addition (trust me on this one). Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixer, mix on low to combine. Scrape down the bowl, and add 1/3 of the milk and mix to combine. Repeat until all the flour and milk are used up, and fold in the pistachios.
Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake until cake springs back lightly when touched, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool for a bit in the pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack until completely cool. Using a small plate as a guide, cut out rounds. I used an around 4 inch plate and got three layers, but you can do whatever you’d like here.

rose italian buttercream

2 large or 3 small egg whites
1 cup sugar
Seeds from ½ a vanilla bean
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 tablespoons water
2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened and cubed
½ teaspoon rosewater

Place the egg whites, a sprinkle of sugar from the 1 cup, vanilla seeds and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. and whisk well to combine.
Place the remaining sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir around with your finger until the sugar is all saturated and sandy. Wipe down any crystals off the side with a wet paper towel. Place the pan over medium heat and when the sugar is melted and bubbling, brush down the sides again with a wet paper towel.
Once the sugar syrup is at a boil, turn the stand mixer onto medium speed. Cook the sugar until it reaches 250F.
Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and stream the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Increase speed to high and whip the meringue for 6-8 minutes until cool to the touch – so the butter won’t melt when you add it.
Add the butter a tablespoon at a time, gradually.  When all the butter has been added, and the buttercream is all combined, it should be smooth and fluffy. Don’t freak out if it looks curdled at some point in the process – just keep the mixer on high, walk away, and come back a couple minutes later and it should have come together!
Add the rosewater, whip until combined. Frost the cake and decorate with crushed pistachios and fresh flowers. Eat and impress.

smart science: salt edition

Welcome to the newest weekly installment: smart science. Using my biology, chemistry and environmental science background, we’re going to break down food science topics that are important to know – in language that is easy to understand. I have a couple ideas on back burners, but let me know if there is anything you’d like to know about.

Today, we talk about salt.

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Salt is a chemical compound, consisting of an equal number of sodium and chlorine ions that bond together. It’s a natural mineral, and humans have loved it for just about as long as it’s been around – in the olden days, it was a totally hot commodity. But lonely, little salt has a lot more to offer to food than simply providing a salty flavor or decorative touch (I’m looking at you, flaky sea salt). Salt is good for food, and good for us – in the right quantities.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Salt plays an actual, physiological role in the human body! We carry sodium naturally in our fluids, and it provides stability and allows cells to function as they should. We HAVE to ingest some sodium every single day in order to replace the sodium we lose through sweat and bathroom breaks. Additionally, lots of table salt in the US contains added iodine – an essential compound for human function. Without iodine, you can have some pretty serious thyroid issues. But – salt does not naturally contain iodine – we add it in since it was an easily accessible and widespread way to get iodine to the general population.
    When doctors hook you up to an IV, they’re actually using saline solution – not pure water. The saline (read: salty) solution allows your cells to feel at home in the incoming liquid – if it was pure water, your cells would explode – which is wildly counterproductive to your stay in the hospital.
    Long story short: you cannot and should not eat a no-sodium diet – it would cause a myriad of health issues. Your awesome body needs some salt to function, despite what you might hear in the news. But – too much salt is just as bad as too little. We’re practicing moderation here.
  2. Salt helps us keep our food fresh. Salt-curing was a practice used before refrigeration in order to preserve food – and we still do it to certain foods for enhanced taste. Essentially, when you put that level of salt on something, it draws out the water in the product. Itty-bitty microbes need water to thrive, so removing the water removes their source of liquid, and they will die. Score one for humans wanting to live past 25.
  3. Salt is important for bread – got your attention now, carboholics? As we already know, salt loves water and greedily gobbles it up. In bread, this means that the salt is competing with the yeast for water. The salt has a stronger pull, and in doing so, slows down and regulates the fermentation. Since yeast needs water to ferment – a smaller supply creates a longer fermentation, which lets us make bread with only very simple ingredients. It also allows us to knead dough less (jackpot!), since the longer fermentation creates a better web of gluten, which traps gases and makes a fluffy loaf without serious hands-on time.
    Also, salt allows the crust to get a nice color. As we already talked about, salt in dough slows down the fermentation – but it also tells the yeast present to slow their roll with sugar consumption! This lets more sugar hang around for the final bake, where it caramelizes and turns yummy shades of brown.
    Salt also provides essential flavor to bread. I spent a semester in Tuscany, where traditionally bread is made without salt, and boy can I tell you – it makes a difference both in taste and in color. All that said – your bread should still have taste without salt, just not the full bready taste we’ve come to know here at home.

There you go – a primer on salt. There’s a zillion more things salt does in baking, cooking, and the human body – and if you’re interested, here’s a couple links:

read up! and happy salting!

 

cappuccino tea cakes

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I spent the last five months in Tuscany, hopping from museum to museum admiring priceless art and running up and down the country, but mostly I spent the whole time on food. Eating food, learning about food, eating more food… you get the gist. Somewhere along the way I fell head over heels in love with roman cacio e pepe, with tuscan wild-boar, and with sicilian cannoli. From the head to the boot of Italy I ate… and I ate and I ate and I ate. Wherever I wandered though, there was a sweet cup of foamy, milky coffee waiting for me to drink it. I’m not even the biggest coffee person, but I could slurp these down while imagining my next meal any day.

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In Italy, a cappuccino is an entire breakfast. Maybe add a pastry, possibly some Nutella, but once you add milk to coffee the Italians are pretty sure it’s a whole meal. Given the quality and ridiculous cheap pricing of those cappuccinos, I can’t find a fault with their logic.

But.

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We don’t like our cappuccinos to be as cheap here in the United States. They’ll run you around $4.00 instead of the adorable $1.20, and they’re often lacking in quality. Not only has my family taken to making them at home, but I’ve taken to shoving the milky, fresh, and bright coffee flavors into anything I can.

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This time, I made something that not only tastes like cappuccino, but it pairs with a cappuccino – or a warm cup of milky coffee, dealers choice. They’ve got a tender crumb, a sweet vanilla and espresso flavor, and they’re practically begging you to invite your friends over for coffee and cake.

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These cakes are just looking out for you and your well-being. Providing you with coffee intake on all levels, perfect for Monday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Go ahead. Give them a try.

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cappuccino tea cakes
makes 10 mini-bundts, adapted from gbakes

2 sticks unsalted butter, a bit cooler than room temp.
1½ cup granulated sugar
3 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vanilla powder (or sub a vanilla bean, or more vanilla extract)
5 eggs
2 tsp Kahula, or other coffee liqueur
2 cups cake flour
3 Tbs finely ground espresso coffee
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks

how-to
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a mini bundt pan – making sure to get all the nooks and crannies.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, and add the granulated sugar. Cream together, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy (this can take a bit). While this is creaming, sift together the cake flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and espresso into a medium bowl.

Add eggs, one at a time, on medium speed to creamed butter and sugar mixture, ensuring it is fully incorporated and scraping down the bowl at the end of each addition. Add the vanilla extract and powder.

Add the flour, and then fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Fill the cavities about half full, and bang the pan on your counter a few times to get out any pesky air bubbles. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until cake springs back when poked. Let cool for a couple minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

grapefruit and homemade grenadine cocktail

IMG_6482I’ve liked grenadine, even when it is toxically red, made from mostly corn syrup, and only used to add some punchy color to drinks. You didn’t even have to try hard to convince me on it – I was all in.

Until I met the OG grenadine. It’s like normal grenadine – but actually good. I know – I know, hard to believe. Plus, it’s easy as pie. Pomegranate juice, heated with sugar and stirred until slightly thick, plus a squeeze of a lemon. Too easy to do anything else ever again.

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I promise, you will be converted. Side note: your friends will be mighty impressed. You’re the ruler of cocktail land, as far as they’re concerned.

Add freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a generous hit of vodka and we’re seriously in summer business! Dangerously drinkable.

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grapefruit and grenadine cocktail:
2 ounces vodka (be classy with the choice here, but realistically, you won’t taste it that much)
Juice from ½ a grapefruit
1 Tbs grenadine (recipe follows)

Fill glass with ice. Pour vodka over ice, and top with grapefruit juice. Pour the grenadine over a spoon to funnel it right to the bottom. Or, drizzle all over. Dealer’s choice.

homemade grenadine
recipe adapted from joy the baker

1 cup pomegranate juice (make sure to get the unsweetened kind!)
¼ cup granulated sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Combine pomegranate juice and sugar in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until it gets a little bit thick, which probably takes around ten minutes. Take your mixture off the heat, add lemon juice, and cool. Keep in the refrigerator.

breakfast challah

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I feel like bacon tends to be more of a buzzword than a flavor these days. We make bacon doughnuts, bacon lollipops and even bacon flavored ritz crackers. While I’m the first one to take a deep appreciative sniff of bacon, I feel like it’s too much, almost.

Then breakfast challah walks in. And boy, does it make an entrance.

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A sweet, eggy loaf laced with bacon and loaded with maple syrup flavor. It’s sweet, salty, maplely fun. Growing up mostly in Vermont, I stand firm in my need for real, thick, maple syrup. Grade A Amber is my favorite, but I don’t really care as long as it actually comes from a tree. You might find that the maple flavor is somewhat hard to coax out in glaze, so I kick it up a notch with some vanilla extract. While I’ve never actually tried maple extract, it seems like that could help boost as well – so do as you wish, seems like you couldn’t possibly go too wrong.

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Feel free to inhale this bread, ten minutes out of the oven, with some salted butter. Or, if your stomach is allowing some semblance of patience, fry up an egg and slap it on a toasted slice of this bread. My dad suggesting french toasting it…. and on that note, I’m off to make more.

breakfast challah
challah recipe adapted from molly on the range
makes two loaves

for the bread:
41/2 teaspoons (about two envelopes) of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
6 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup flavorless oil (i used sunflower)
1/4 cup brown sugar

maple-bacon mixture: for one loaf. if you’d like two breakfast loaves, double this and the glaze. 
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt
8 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp
3 Tbs maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt

for the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbs maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs half and half (or cream, or milk, or anything. you know the drill).

how to:

In a medium sized bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir it together, and let it sit for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to foam.

While it’s foaming, mix the flour, salt and remaining white sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and put the dough hook on. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and brown sugar.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, and immediately add the egg mixture. Knead with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and somewhat sticky. If it is really sticky, add a bit of flour, but try not to add to much, since it will make the dough tough.

Turn the dough out into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about two hours.

In a small bowl, place 5 chopped strips of bacon and toss with the maple syrup. Chop the other 3 strips and set aside in a small bowl, for topping.

Once the dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto a slightly floured surface, and divide in two. Keep one half covered while you work with the other. Divide the half into three pieces, and pat/roll each piece into a twelve inch log, and pat out about three inches wide. Divide the mapled bacon between the logs, and roll them up like a jelly roll and pinch to close. Pinch the ends together, and braid down, pinching the ends as well.

Place on a baking sheet with parchment, cover with a dishtowel, and let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, and an internal temperature of 190°F. Check for completion at about 28 minutes.

Let them cool, eat while warm with butter, fried eggs, and more bacon, or glaze when room-temperature with the maple glaze. To make the glaze, combine the cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and powdered sugar and stir until smooth. Add more maple, cream, or powdered sugar as desired. Top with reserved chopped bacon.

 

lemon loaf cake with basil glaze

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This lemon cake is zingy and filled right to the brim with lemon flavor. Lemon zest is worked into the sugar right at the base, and then the warm cake is poked full of holes and covered in a bright lemon syrup.

In other words, it’s not for the faint of lemon-heart.

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But, with all the lemon flavor, we can work in friends, like the humble vanilla bean and the bright basil. And I know, I know, basil doesn’t belong anywhere near a pound cake like this one – but give it a try, because we all should try something new once in a while. Right?

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Plus, this cake makes two loaves, so feel free to give one to your mother so she can see how together your life is. This cake hides all those corners of adult-hood that no one is ready for yet, plus it feels appropriate for breakfast.

I love a cake that feels like a good choice for breakfast. Cutting the corners of adulthood, one step at a time.

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I liked serving this cake with fresh strawberries – the combination of the strawberries and basil is killer, plus, if you serve this to your friends you will definitely look fancy. I don’t know about you but I need all the help I can get when it comes to fancy.

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lemon loaf cake with basil glaze
lemon cake adapted from joy the baker

for the cake:
2½ cup all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2⅓ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, or two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
⅔ cup heavy cream
zest of 2 lemons, as fine as you can get it
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for the syrup:
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup water
juice of two lemons

for the glaze:
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (or more, to taste, if you’d like a more lemony flavor)

how-to:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8½ by 4½ inch loaf pans, and cut out a piece of parchment that overhangs both of the long sides. This will help you pop out the cake with ease.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, ensuring that it is totally incorporated.

In a large bowl, put the sugar and the lemon zest. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar takes on a lemony color and smell. You’ll know when it’s ready. Add the vanilla bean and rub to incorporate (if you’re using the vanilla extract, don’t add it now).Add the eggs into the sugar mixture and whisk to combine. Add the vanilla extract, if using. Whisk in the cream.

Fold in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, using a rubber spatula. Fold in the melted butter until uniform.

Split the batter between the two pans, and smooth the top with a spatula. Place pans on two baking sheets stacked together (or an insulated baking sheet), and bake for 55-60 minutes, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat, until the sugar has melted and the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and place in a bowl to cool.

Once the cakes have finished baking, place them on a rack to cool for 5 minutes before turning them out. Poke the cake with a thin object (like a small sharp knife, a skewer, or anything you have on hand) and make lots of little small holes. Slowly brush the syrup over the two cakes, making sure to give it plenty of time to sink in. Let cool to room temperature while you make the glaze.

To make the glaze, place the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, until steaming, hot, and with a ring of small bubbles around the edge. Be careful to not let it boil. Add the basil to the cream, and allow to sit for 7 minutes. Strain, and place the cream in a bowl. Add the powdered sugar in batches, stirring with a whisk or a fork to combine. Add the lemon juice. Adjust with a bit more cream, lemon juice, or powdered sugar to make the glaze thicker or thinner to your preference.

Once the cake has cooled, drizzle with the glaze, reserving any extra glaze for serving. Either top or serve the cake with fresh strawberries, and enjoy!