Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cinnamon Streusel Easter Cake

I now interrupt this succession of posts about cupcakes to write about a cake that's kind of special to me, the cinnamon streusel Easter cake you see in the photo above.

When I was a teenager, my family lived in Russia for several years.  Around Easter-time (according to the Russian Orthodox calendar), any store around that sold food would be selling traditional Easter cakes called kulich.  They taste like something between a bread and a cake; a little bit sweet because they generally have raisins or other dried fruit in them, but not overly so.  My sister tells me she remembers the first time we bought one, at a kiosk we passed one Sunday on our way home from church (Christian, but not Orthodox).  The cakes are baked in tall cylindrical pans (resembling a coffee can), so as the top rounds as it bakes the shape is reminiscent of the round domes on top of many Russian Orthodox churches.  The blog Bluestocking has some great descriptions and photos of the cakes and the process of making one.

I don't think I'd thought about these cakes for years, but last Easter I had lots of memories of them - seeing them in stores in the neighborhood I lived in as a teenager, eating toasted, buttered slices for breakfast - and so I baked a cake that reminded me of them.  The one here is a much sweeter cake than the ones I ate in Russia as a kid, but it's round and a little bit tall like the traditional ones, and has the sweetness of spices and raisins in it, just like the ones I remember.  While I wasn't successful in doing it with this cake, the traditional cakes have the letters "XB" stamped on the side or top of the cake.  It stands for "Christ is Risen" (in Russian: xристос воскрес), in English the equivalent of writing "CR" on the cake.  I tried to make the letters with raisins and the frosting, but alas, the glaze wasn't quite thick enough to make the raisins stick (next year!).  Anyhow, here's the recipe, adapted from Ina Garten's Sour Cream Coffee Cake:      

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Ingredients for the streusel:
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
Ingredients for the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. heavy cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan. 
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, for 4-5 minutes until light.  
  3. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. 
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed. 
  5. For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the raisins, if desired. 
  6. Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 of the streusel. See the first small photo on the right for how it looks when it comes out of the oven. 
  7. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until top of cake is golden brown.  Place foil on top of cake to cover it, then bake an additional 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Note: I adapted this recipe from a recipe for a cake in a tube pan, so it takes quite a lot longer to bake than the original recipe - which I know is kind of a pain.  I'm going to try to work this part out next time around.  You could try cooking at a slightly higher temperature and just keep checking on the cake to monitor it.
  8. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes, or until the cake is cool to the touch.  Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate.  With the springform pan, I just remove the side of the pan and keep the cake in the base when I put it on a prettier serving plate. 
  9. Whisk the confectioners' sugar, maple syrup together, and cream together, adding a few drops of extra syrup or cream if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.  The second small photo on the right shows how the cake looks when the glaze has cooled.  
I've still got one more cupcake variation to post about; that'll be on here soon, too. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lemon Buttercake/Vanilla Buttercream & Chocolate/Whipped Ganache

More on cupcakes!  There are basically two types of cupcakes here:

Chocolate cupcake with whipped chocolate ganache

These are the same chocolate cupcakes I posted about earlier, using a recipe from Martha Stewart's site.  The whipped chocolate ganache makes these really, really rich for the real chocolate lovers out there ...

I used a ganache recipe from Savory Sweet Life, which has great instructions and photos so you can make sure you're doing it right as you make it.  I cooled the ganache in my refrigerator when I went to work on the buttercream frosting and finished baking the cupcakes, and then I whipped it up with a hand mixer.  Then I put the whipped ganache into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a tip, just as I did with the buttercream, and layered the cupcakes with it.

After you whip the ganache, it's important to get it on the cupcakes fairly quickly.  It begins to harden after 15 minutes or so, and just becomes difficult to handle (I learned this through experience with these cupcakes, and needed to warm up the whipped ganache and then whip it briefly again to even out the texture ... not ideal).  

In my next post, I'm going to write a bit about filling the cupcakes.  For these chocolate ones I filled some of them with the same whipped chocolate ganache that they're frosted with here, so they were super-duper chocolate-y.  But the ganache itself is quite rich and I think it's plenty just to use it as a frosting, depending on your taste, of course.  Anyhow, I'll get back to this in the next post, though, because filling these things can make them pretty awesome. 

Lemon butter cake with vanilla buttercream frosting 

For the yellow cupcakes, I used a recipe for butter cake that I actually wasn't a huge fan of in the end, so I'm not going to post it here.  If I were to do these again, I would find a yellow cake recipe (not butter cake) and use that instead ... in a pinch, I might even just use a yellow cake mix ... but, sshhhhhhh.

What I would still do, which I did for the cupcakes pictured here and in the photo in the last post, is add a Tbsp of fresh lemon juice and a Tbsp of minced lemon zest to the batter.  This is an amount that gives the cake a subtle lemon-y taste without being overpowering.

I didn't fill these cupcakes like I did the chocolate ones you'll see/read about in my next post, partly because of time and party because I couldn't quite decide what to fill them with.  Some options: Add lemon zest to the buttercream and fill it with that, lemon mousse, vanilla pudding.  Another option that just occurred to me is to make some type of berry mousse or whipped cream ... with just a subtle berry flavor so that it's complementary with the lemon in the cake.  The research and development team will keep working on this one :).

I used the same vanilla buttercream recipe I used for the chocolate-blackberry cupcakes ... and as you can see in the photo, I also used blackberries in the center (I also placed raspberries in the center of some of them).  Then I used a lemon zester to create the threads of lemon you see on top.  Just remember to put the berry and the lemon zest on top of the cupcake pretty quickly after frosting it; you need to press those into the frosting slightly and you want to be sure that the frosting is still soft enough that that's easy to do. 

One more posting on cupcakes to come ...

(Photo: Dan Nystedt)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cupcakes in Black and White

Stay tuned for a posting to come about these cupcakes: whipped chocolate ganache, vanilla buttercream, lemon butter cake, raspberries, blackberries, lemon zest ... coming up soon!


(Photo: Dan Nystedt)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chocolate/Blackberry Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

I've been getting crazy about cupcakes recently.  I know they've become something of a fad in the last few years, but to be honest, I haven't really understood how there are entire stores devoted to selling these compact sweets.  What's the big deal? 

However, my friend Christina's recent birthday seems to have tipped off a new baking obsession - even rivaling my fixation on pie! - focused on these very cakes.  I made my first batch for her birthday in March, and the photos you see here are the second batch I made the following week.

I used Martha Stewart's recipe for chocolate cupcakes, which produces a very moist, rich cake without too much trouble.   

I didn't realize that craft stores carry loads of baking supplies, but they do.  And that's where I found these cupcake papers and the cake decorating tools I used for the frosting.  (Thanks, Mom!)

The vanilla buttercream icing is adapted from a recipe I found on the Food Network site.  The one adaptation I made is that I used unsalted butter, and mixed 1/4 tsp. salt to the sugar before I blended it with the butter.  It produced an icing that was delicious as well as easy to use for decorating.

After the cupcakes were cooled, I put the icing in a disposable pastry bag fitted with a tip and used that to apply the icing.  Then I put a fresh blackberry in the center in each cake, and voila.

I've made a few different types of cupcakes since then, which I'll be posting soon.

One last note: you can't really see it in this close-up photo, but the mauve color in the background is actually a pew at my church!  Incidentally, I brought these cupcakes in celebration of one of the pastors being ordained recently, and we loaded these onto a plate found in the church kitchen and photographed them on the church pew. 

(Photo: Dan Nystedt)