Sunday, 12 November 2017

Poached Pear and Raspberry Pistachio Cake

There are only so many things that I am sure of —
- If you spend too long making browned butter too many times, there comes a point where you will actually get sick of the smell of browned butter. That aversion will linger.
- A warm croissant and a cup of coffee will make most, if not all, mornings better.
- Sometimes what we thought in absolutes turn out to be conditional. But then there's you, the unconditional that I did not know I was searching for all along.
- And this cake. This cake is something I am definitely sure of.

I have made many variations of this cake a dozen of times. I have used ricotta instead of sour cream (so good!), and I have used plain greek yogurt if that was what I had handy at the time. I've also doubled the recipe to make it a layered cake and substituted almond flour with freshly ground pistachios or hazelnuts. Which every variation I have chosen, I have loved. This version. This version though, is one of the top contenders. It has poached pears. Delicate and soft tea-poached pears nestled in a pistachio flour batter. There is a scattering of raspberries for a slight pop of tartness. The pears are poached in raspberry black tea to complement the jewel-toned berries that stud the cake. Any black tea would work, I just happened to have raspberry black tea in my pantry.

This cake comes together extremely easily. You can poach the pears and make the entire cake in the late afternoon and have it all ready before dinner even starts. If your pears are on the riper side, I suspect that you can even skip the poaching step if you do not mind losing the additional tea flavour steeped into the fruit. You could always add the tea leaves (grounded up) to the batter instead for a stronger tea flavour that way. You could also swap out the raspberries for cranberries and you would then have the most perfect Christmas dessert, though it might be a tad too early to be thinking about that. Then again, I am the one that started listening to the She & Him Christmas album and making gingerbread cookies last week. 

Poached Pear and Raspberry Pistachio Cake
Yields 9-inch cake

Tea-Poached Pears
3 medium pears, peeled
3 black tea bags (I used raspberry black tea)
600mL water
3/4 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and tea bags to a boil. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the pears upright in the simmering syrup and cook for about 30 minutes over low heat, turning the pears once halfway through.

Pears should be tender with a knife. Allow pears to cool before slicing and placing on top of cake batter.

Pistachio Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pistachio meal
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
30mL brewed black tea, cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup raspberries 
1/4 cup pistachios, shelled
1/4 cup apricot jelly, to glaze

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9-inch cake pan.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until mixture becomes light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time and mix until well-combined. Add vanilla

In a separate bowl, combine flour, pistachio meal, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together. 

In large measuring cup, combine the sour cream and black tea.

Add half the dry ingredients and half of the ingredients in them measuring cup to the butter-sugar mixture. Mix together lightly. Add the remainder of the ingredients and mix until just combined. 

Arrange pear slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with raspberries.

Bake cake for 40 - 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If the pears and berries are browning too quickly, place a sheet of foil on top while the cake continues to bake.

Once cake is ready, take the cake out of the oven. Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes before glazing. Sprinkle the top of the cake with pistachios. 

Happy baking!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Jasmine Cake with Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream

It is only the fourth day of November and I already feel like I am behind. It was a bit naive to me to think, to optimistically rationalize to myself, that November will be a slower month. I have always conceptualized that December is the month of tinsel-adorned busyness and November is simply the calm before both the metaphoric and physical snow-driven storm. I have been keeping busy all of October and all of November that have unfolded so far by making simple cakes, sometime you can make, decorate, and serve all within a Sunday afternoon. I would not say they lack ornateness but they just exude a different type of beauty. A blanket of pear slices or interwoven apple slices is what I have developed an affinity for. The love of making single layer cakes and nutty tortes has washed over me — not in the ever oscillating ebb and flow type of manner, but in a more permanent way that I do not see changing any time soon. I say that but I am sharing a recipe for a three layer cake today. I am leaving this three-layer jasmine cake for you now but you can expect to see more tortes in spring form pans studded with pears and apples in the next little while. 

In between baking and shooting all the aforementioned fruit tortes, I have managed to play around with jasmine tea in cakes. I have always loved using loose leaf teas and tea powders in baking. Earl grey and matcha have made several appearances on the blog and many more in my kitchen. Apparently when you steep too much earl grey tea leaves in cream to make a crème pâtissière, it turns the crème into the most off-putting colour. It tastes wonderful but filling a tart shell with it is a whole different story. Perhaps I can tuck it inside choux or between two cake layers. Jasmine tea is one of those favourite flavours that took a while to make an appearance on the blog. I have tried incorporating it into cakes but its flavour always seemed to get quickly washed away by the butter, sugar, and vanilla of the cake. After making quite a few cake rounds and infusing jasmine tea in every way, I have decided the sometimes two is indeed better than one. This jasmine tea cake uses a very strong jasmine steeped milk and finely pulverized jasmine tea leaves in the dry ingredients. The jasmine tea flavour is very delicate but is definitely present. You can make a jasmine tea simple syrup to brush on the cake layers if you desire something even stronger. The honey swiss meringue weaves it all together seamlessly and makes you realize that this buttercream is exactly what the cake has been looking for all along.

Jasmine Cake with Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Yields 6-inch three layer cake

Jasmine Cake 
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
250 ml milk
3 ½ tablespoons jasmine tea (divided into 2 ½ tablespoon and 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium sauce pan over low heat, combine milk and 2 1/2 tablespoons of loose leaf jasmine tea. Bring milk to a light simmer and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Remove sauce pan from heat and continue to let jasmine steep in milk until mixture returns back to room temperature. 

Once milk has cooled, strain milk with a fine-meshed sieve to remove any loose tea leaves. You will have roughly 200 - 225mL of milk remaining.

Preheat oven to 350F and grease three cake pans. 

In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar together. Gradually add in the eggs, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whisk to combine flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon jasmine tea (pulverized), and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture and mix on slow to combine. Gradually pour in the milk and add in the remainder of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Divide the mixture evenly among the four prepared cake pans and bake for 30 - 35 minutes. Check for doneness a few minutes before the 30 minute mark by using a toothpick - if the toothpick comes out clean, you're good to go. You can also test for doneness by gently pressing your finger on the cake - it should spring back up. 

Let cakes cool for 10 minutes before removing from cake pan to cool on a cooking rack.

Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoon honey

Place egg whites and sugar into a stainless steel or glass bowl, and place the bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water. Continuously whisk the egg whites and sugar together until sugar has melted.

Remove bowl from heat and beat mixture on high until the egg white and sugar mixture is white and fluffy. 

Once the mixture has cooled a bit, very slowly add small 1cm cubes of softened butter. Continue whisking until buttercream is light and fluffy.

Continue whisking buttercream while slowly adding tablespoons of honey.

Happy baking!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Hazelnut Pumpkin Black Tea Loaf

I did it. I used my super seasonal loaf pan this year! When I was purchasing this pumpkin loaf pan I told myself I can only buy it if I promise (myself?) that I will make at least one pumpkin loaf a year. I love seasonal decorative pans. I also own a lemon loaf pan from the same line that I have used…twice. I have owned the lemon loaf pan for two years so I have kept that promise to myself and am doing well in that front. I would get a lot more use out of them if I could get over the mental hurdle of using a seasonal loaf pan out of season. Is it socially acceptable to make a banana bread or blueberry loaf cake in a cake mold with decorative pumpkins. If you saw on this blog that a “blueberry earl grey tea cake” or “strawberry chamomile loaf cake” was presented in the shape of a pumpkin loaf, would you click for the recipe or would you exit my blog and question the credibility of anything I present on here. 

I’ll give you some time to reflect on those questions while I talk about this hazelnut pumpkin loaf cake. It is a super *moist* pumpkin cake with chopped hazelnuts (toasted, of course) that is lightly brushed with a black tea syrup. When I say lightly brushed, I mean lightly brushed. Do not go to town. We are not looking to turn the cake into a baklava consistency. We do not want it dripping black tea syrup when you lift a slice up. Just a nice light brush that adds tea flavour without overpowering the pumpkin and spices is what we are trying to achieve here. I love making simple tea syrups and brushing them on cakes for an extra flavour dimension. Earl grey tea syrup for a berry cake? Yup. Perhaps a chamomile syrup for citrus loaf. Adding a chai tea syrup to any autumnal loaf would be a dream as well.

Hazelnut Pumpkin Black Tea Loaf
Yields one 9 x 13 loaf

Hazelnut Pumpkin Loaf Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (398mL) can of pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf cake pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt.

In separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla, and pumpkin until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. 

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth it out using an offset spatula.

Transfer to the oven to bake for 55 - 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow loaf to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack. 

Black Tea Syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar

In a small saucepan, combine Pure Leaf Unsweetened Black Tea and sugar.

Over medium heat, stir the mixture until sugar has melted.

Continue boiling over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Transfer syrup into a heat-safe container and let it cool to room temperature.

Lightly brush black tea syrup over cooled loaf before serving.

Thank you Pure Leaf for supporting Constellation Inspiration! 
Happy baking!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hibiscus Apple Tahini Frangipane Tart (and a Trip to Willow View Farms)

Frangipane. No matter where you put it — inside a double baked almond croissant, nestled inside a shortcrust pastry tart, or tucked inside a galette, my heart will always belong to frangipane. The moment I saw this Food52 recipe for an apple galette with tahini frangipane, I knew I had to make it. I love traditional almond frangipane and I also love tahini so the marriage between the two sounded more than perfect. Instead of making a galette, I transformed the components of the galette into a tart. A classic pâte sablée crust filled a layer of tahini frangipane and topped with thinly sliced apples. The tart is finished with a hibiscus honey glaze, which adds the most beautiful colour to the apples.

Making an apple tart also seemed like the right thing to do after visiting my friend Kelsey, which you may know as The Farmer's Daughter, on her farm earlier this apple harvest season. I have been to her farm once before but that was for a blog shoot more so than an apple picking experience. Kelsey lives in Abbotsford, which is an hour drive away from where I live. I do not go to Abbotsford often but every time I am there, I make a promise to myself I would go back soon because they have the cutest bakeries and coffeeshops. I started my day exploring downtown Abbotsford and picking up some pastries from Duft & Co. Bakehouse. Their Honey Bee Danish could have easily been one of my favourite pastries I have had in a long time. (Oh, and a pro-tip is that they make doughtnuts every Saturday!) After picking up some pastries I was off to Oldhand, a coffee shop that is always lovely every time I visit. With a perfect Americano in hand, I lingered for a bit longer inside Oldhand before heading to Willow View Farms to see Kelsey and to have many, many apple slushies.

Kelsey's farm was bustling — with people and apples. And goats. But I will save my ode to these goats for another time. I had an apple slushie (which I swear was a gateway slushie because I had many more after that first one), picked some Elstar apples (Kels said those are the best for baking), and bought some Honeycrisps from the farm store so I would have a snack for the drive back. I also got a large bag of kettle corn but let's not talk about that because I inhaled the entire bag quicker than you can say 'kettle corn' five times. I did not get to pick apples with Kelsey because she was working. Spoiler alert: she does not just pose in pretty dresses in the orchard all day. Kels actually works on the farm (and sometimes will send me photos of her digging up potatoes in the rain) and makes caramel apples for the blog when she has spare time. Though I am not sure if she has free time in the midst of apple season. Perhaps next time I go back, she will make a little cameo in the photos.

Enjoy these little snippets from my afternoon at Willow View Farms and a tart that is the perfect fall dessert.

Hibiscus Apple Tahini Frangipane Tart
Yields 9-inch tart

Pâte Sablée
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Beat the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy.

Beat in the egg yolk and mix until fully combined.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in the salt and flour just until the dough comes together and there is no more visible flour. Careful not to overmix. Remove dough from the bowl and press the dough into the tart pan, making sure it is evenly distributed. Using a fork, prick the bottom of the tart shell to prevent the bottom from puffing up when baking.

Wrap the pan loosely in plastic and chill 30 minutes.

Bake the tart shell at 350F or until the crust is a light golden brown (approximately 13 minutes). Remove carefully from oven and let rest on a wire rack.

Tahini Frangipane
From Food52
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
1 egg
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the tahini on high speed for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Gradually add the sugar and beat to combine. 

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk again—all of the sugar should be dissolved (and no longer visible). 

Add the butter, piece by piece, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until fully incorporated. [Note: I found that adding 2 additional tablespoons of butter was helpful, especially if the brand of tahini you have on hand is on the drier side]

Add the egg and salt and beat until well combined.

With an offset spatula, evenly spread out the tahini frangipane in the tart crust.

Apple Layer
4 - 5 medium sized apples (I used Elstar)

Quarter and core the apples, then thinly slice the apple quarters. Fan them out on top of tahini layer before baking.

Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the crust is a deep golden-brown. If the apples are browning too quickly, place a piece of aluminum foil loosely on top.

Hibiscus Glaze
1 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch salt

Place hibiscus in small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer until the hibiscus has imparted a deep pink colour. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Return the liquid back to the pot, then add the honey, lemon juice, sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Bring to a simmer and reduce, stirring very frequently with a rubber spatula, until thick and syrupy.

Happy baking and apple picking!