Good Morning, Sunshine! Have Some Coffee Cake

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Today marks the first day of spring, but here in the arctic tundra (also known as Chicago) we are waking up to temperatures in the low teens with wind chills hovering around zero. Whether you are anxiously waiting for your destination vacation or hunkering down at home for a stay-cation, I’ve created a warm citrusy coffeecake to distract you from the misery. Think of it as a little ray of sunshine on your plate.

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Orange Almond Coffee Cake

makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice, divided
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/4 cups almond meal
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour or gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum only if using gluten-free flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet.*
  2. Cut one orange into thin rounds. Peel the other orange with a vegetable peeler into long strips from top to bottom, avoiding the pith. Cut peeled strips into long, 1/8th-inch wide strips with a knife.
  3. Make a syrup by heating 3/4 cup of the sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup of the orange juice in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil, add orange rounds, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add orange zest strips and continue to simmer until syrup has reduced by half and strips have softened, about 15 minutes more.
  4. While syrup is simmering, place sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes or until light golden, stirring once halfway through toasting.
  5. Remove orange rounds and strips from syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Carefully pour 1/2 cup of the syrup into a pyrex measuring cup. Discard any extra (or save for a cocktail).
  6. Add the 1/2 cup of syrup back to the sauce pan with the heat on medium-low and add two tablespoons butter, stirring until melted. Stir in the almond extract and the Grand Marnier or Cointreau and remove pan from heat.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, almond meal, regular or gluten-free all purpose flour, xanthan gum (if using gluten-free flour), baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.
  8. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and the cooled syrup mixture until combined.
  9. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.
  10. Add one cooked orange round (you can discard the extra rounds or save for another use) to the center of your prepared skillet or cake pan and scatter the zest strips and toasted almonds over the the bottom of the pan. Spoon cake batter (it will be thick) into pan and spread into an even layer.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. If cake begins to brown early (this happened at about 25 minutes for me) loosely cover with aluminum foil.
  12. While cake is baking, make a thin glaze by whisking the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice with 1 cup powdered sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.
  13. Let cake cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove cake from pan (it will still be warm) by placing a wire rack over top of cake and flipping over. Set rack on a baking sheet.
  14. Poke holes in cake all over with a toothpick. Spoon glaze over warm cake, rubbing in gently with back of spoon, until top is covered and glaze has drizzled down the sides.

*Baking in cast iron creates a wonderful, crunchy cake exterior while allowing the inside to stay incredibly moist and tender. I didn’t try this in a traditional cake pan, but if I did, I would butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan and follow all of the steps as written, running a knife around the edge of cake before inverting it onto a cooling rack.

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recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Breakfast Bite: Chocolate Chip Scones

chocolate chip scones

Chocolate Chip Scones

makes 10-12 scones

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose or gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum only if using gluten-free flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream (plus 1 tablespoon extra for brushing tops)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, xanthan gum (if using gf flour), sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add butter pieces to the bowl and using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (there will be bits of different sized butter).
  3. Stir in cold cream just until combined.
  4. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Pour mixture onto a sheet of waxed paper that has been lightly dusted with flour, knead into a ball with hands lightly dusted in flour, and pat into a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick disk (I did 1/2 inch because I like mine on the thinner side).  Quickly knead scraps into a ball, pat into disk and cut into more scones, repeating until dough is gone.
  6. Using a 2 1/2 to 3 inch biscuit cutter or drinking glass lightly dusted in flour, cut out scones and place two inches apart on a baking sheet lined in parchment paper.
  7. Brush tops with the heavy cream using a pastry brush or your finger tips, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired.
  8. Bake until golden brown,  15-20 minutes.
  9. Cool scones on a wire rack.
  10. Serve warm!

recipe adapted from Art of Gluten-Free Baking

all photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Table for Four

lamb chops with dried cherries and port

This weekend, we enjoyed a casual dinner at home with two of our dearest friends.  Feeling in need of a cozy late winter meal, I made succulent pan seared lamb chops with dried cherries and port (recipe here), oven roasted Brussels sprouts over toasted pecan and pearl onion studded wild rice, and a lemon tart with fresh whipped cream.  While I do love to go out, nothing beats spending a leisurely evening by the fire with good friends and a great bottle of red.

The lamb could not have been simpler to prepare, and the dried cherry port wine sauce was divine.  If lamb is not your favorite, the sauce would be wonderful with pan seared duck breasts or pork tenderloin.

I’ll post the lemon tart recipe later this week.  It was my first entirely successful gluten-free crust (meaning it rolled out beautifully, held together like a dream, and had the taste and texture of a traditional crust) so I must share it with you.

Afternoon Snack

olate Chocolate Chip Muffins

These Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins are great little afternoon nibbles.  Extra chocolately but not too sweet, they are best served warm with a bit of raspberry jam and a glass of cold milk.  Click here for the recipe, but please make these changes: (1) increase the milk to 1 cup (2) increase oil to 2 tablespoons (3) use mini chocolate chips rather than standard size to prevent sinking in batter and reserve some for sprinkling on top  (4) my muffins baked in 18 minutes rather than the suggested 25 minutes, so check for doneness early.

To make gluten free, substitute gluten free all purpose flour for the traditional all purpose flour and whisk 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum into the dry ingredients.

photo via the aesthete and the dilettante

What to Bring: Mini Carrot Cakes

Memorial Day is almost here, so I’ve been working on what I will bake and take to a barbecue this weekend.  My mother makes the best carrot cake on the planet.  A cake so mouthwateringly perfect that you cannot resist cutting a thin slice and popping it into your mouth sans plate each time you pass through her kitchen because, frankly, grabbing a plate and fork means it will take that much longer for it to reach your mouth.  The crumbs fall, the frosting oozes down your fingers, but you don’t care because you are blissed out on cake.

But back to my point.  What was my point?  Oh yes, this weekend’s barbecue.  The spice of the cinnamon and the divine creaminess of the frosting seem to be the perfect accompaniment to the bold flavors of barbecue fare, so I experimented this week and adjusted the recipe for miniature sized cakes.

What makes this carrot cake so fabulous is threefold:

1) The secret ingredient of baby carrots.  Not the kind you snack on out of the bag, but baby food carrots.  That’s right.  It makes the cake incredibly moist and allows you to skip the step of cooking and food processing fresh carrots.

2) The cream cheese frosting.  Most cream cheese frostings include butter, but this one sings with just powdered sugar, cream cheese, and vanilla.

3) There are no bells and whistles.  No coconut, pineapple, ginger, or other fanciness – it is the simplest of comfort foods.

Mom’s Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 14 oz baby food carrots
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a tube pan or mini cake pans (this recipe makes enough batter for 12 mini cakes) by lightly oiling and dusting with flour or using baking spray with flour incorporated.
  3. Sift dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  4. Beat sugar and oil together in a large bowl.
  5. Add eggs one at a time to oil/sugar mixture, then add your dry ingredients, nuts, and carrots. Mix until combined completely.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes to one hour if in tube pan, OR for 25 minutes if using mini cake pans.  My mini cake pans hold approximately 2/3 cup of batter (see below).  Check the size of your mini pans ahead of time with water to see how much liquid they hold and adjust your time accordingly.
  7. Let cool for 15 minutes in pan on a wire rack, then remove cake from pan by placing wire rack on top and flipping over.  Let cool entirely before frosting (frosting recipe below).

Simple Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 ounces ROOM TEMPERATURE cream cheese
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 t vanilla extract

Beat together until incorporated.  Frost cake/s with an offset spatula or pastry bag.  If you want to pipe and don’t have a bag, fill a ziploc bag with frosting, snip a small piece of the corner off, and there you have it.

From the photo below you can clearly see I am not a piping expert, but please note that I am using two hands.  You must grip the top of the bag and hold it closed with one hand while guiding the tip with the other hand, or frosting will ooze out of the top, making a huge mess.  Trust me.  I am speaking from experience.

This is the first time my mother’s recipe has left the confines of our family kitchens so I hope you enjoy!

*One note – I replaced the all purpose flour with a gluten-free all purpose flour for the first time this week and it turned out beautifully.

All photos via the aesthete and the dilettante