Monday, August 30, 2010

Bake Off

My husband is not a big baker, but every once in a while his sweet tooth gets the best of him. The other night he asked me to make something for dessert. It was perfect timing because I was planning on making a cake from a recipe I'd found in Gourmet for Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. I'd been wanting to make it for over a year; somehow it didn't happen last summer, and then when Gourmet ceased the magazine publication last fall, I waited to make the recipes I'd saved, as they would be the last. It's a strange reaction, similar to saving a brand new shirt that you love for the perfect occassion rather than just wearing it and enjoying your purchase.

In any case, I had some apricots that needed to be used, so I thought I would swap those for the raspberries and fianlly bake my pretty cake. When I told him it was his lucky day and he was getting an apricot tea cake of sorts, he was not impressed. "But I wanted chocolate," he said. I swear, men are far more addicted to chocolate than women. At least the men in my life crave it regularly. I could live without it; at least so long as I had fruity cakey desserts.

"Then you should make your own dessert," I told him, expecting him to whine until I gave in and made chocolate chip cookies. But he surprised me, as he occassionally does (I came home late from work a few weeks ago to find that he had made chocolate souffle!) and said he would make brownies.

It probably seems strange that two people that make up the entire household would go to all the trouble of baking two separate desserts to satisfy two different cravings. I'm all for compromise, but in a sense it was nice that we each got what we wanted, and also got to enjoy the other's company while making our desserts. It got a touch competitive, with us each claiming ours would be the best, but it was all in good fun.

Both desserts turned out well. My apricot cake was marvelous: moist and tender with a slightly crunchy sugar coating, and the musky scent of apricots. His brownies, with a Peanut Butter swirl and walnuts, were dense, fudgy and rich, perfect with a tall glass of cold milk.

I'm sure it'll come as no surprise that it was a tie. To be fair, the judges aren't usually the ones competing, but the bottom line is that these are two recipes worth sharing with you. Make one when you want fruit and the other to fulfill a chocolate craving. Or do as we did and indulge in having your very own dessert.

Apricot Cake

This is a lovely little cake, perfect for a snack, breakfast, or dessert. Since it was all mine I made sure to try it for all occassions (purely for blog research, I assure you). This was adapted from Gourmet where it initially called for raspberries, so I will not be offended if you use something else entirely, or even skip the fruit if it is the dead of winter when you get around to this.

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken
1 cup sliced apricots (about 2-3 small fruits)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in the middle. Butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Add the egg and beat well.

At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Begin and end with flour. Mix just until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Arrange the apricots in a pinwheel if you're so inclined, or simply place them evenly spaced across the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is Golden Brown Delicious. Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Nutty Brownies

If you're a brownie lover, this really delivers. It's the perfect balance between fudgy and cakey, with a rich chocolate flavor and lots of nuttiness, too. If you don't care for nuts I suppose you could skip the Peanut Butter and the walnuts, but they are half the fun of this recipe.

6 ounces 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate
11 Tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into slices
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons creamy Peanut Butter (we used an all natural variety)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack positioned in center. Line a 9 inch square pan with parchment paper, then spray the foil with nonstick vegetable oil spray.

Combine chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl. In 30 second increments, heat the chocolate, stirring well between each time. Once the butter is melted stir thoroughly to help melt the chocolate. It will be finished when the chocolate is smooth and shiny (how long it will take depends on your microwave; if you're nervous or if it seems to be cooking too fast, just do 15 second increments).

Whisk sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla in a bowl to combine. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Stirn in flour mixture and stir just until combined, then stir in the walnuts. Pour batter in prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Drop four tablespoons of peanut butter evenly spaced in quadrants of the pan, then swirl them in with a butter knife, using the same motion as you would to fold egg whites. It does not have to be perfect; you'll get a nice surprise bite of peanut butter every once in a while.

Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. It may seem a bit underdone, but it will continue to cook and set once out of the oven. Cool completely on a rack.

Remove the brownies by lifting up on the parchment paper. Slice and serve, ideally with a cold glass of milk (or a scoop of vanilla ice cream).


  1. the brownies are great! i will try to make the cake next