French Almond Paste Cake

I'm not sure if this is true for everybody, but my cake cravings tend to increase dramatically during the winter.

It's like all I want are warm mugs filled with tea and a slice of something sweet and simple. I'm not talking about elaborate layer cakes with fillings and swoops of frosting (though those are lovely, too). I mean simple cakes. Plain cakes with just a one lovely single layer and perhaps a simple garnish--some toasted nuts, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of sugar.

I like them dense and buttery, but not too sweet. The sort of thing that you could enjoy with tea or coffee in the middle of the afternoon, but then still go on with your day successfully. (Versus trapped in a sleepy sugar coma.)

It's what I had in mind when I made this beautiful French Almond Paste Cake. It's adapated from a recipe by David Lebovitz, although I played around with the amounts a bit. I doubled the almond paste, using two full tubes of the stuff, and cut down on the sugar.

For my version, I actually used coconut palm sugar, which is one of my favorite things ever. It's unrefined and nutty and not too sweet, and the thing that gives this cake this old fashioned shade of honey-brown.

Note that if you use regular sugar (which you absolutely can!), your cake will come out much lighter in shade. Both are delicious and recommended--it's really just up to what you prefer (or happen to have on hand).

This is one of those cakes that tastes better the next day, so I recommend making it at night and saving it for the next afternoon or morning, if you're impatient like I am.

It's just the thing for these dreary winter afternoons.

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French Almond Paste Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Almond Cake

Ingredients
1 cup coconut palm sugar OR granulated white sugar (if you like a sweeter cake, increase this to 1 1/4 cups)
14oz almond paste, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour, divided in half
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup sliced almonds, for garnish
2 tablespoons raw sugar, for garnish

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine sugar, almond paste, salt, and half the flour. Process until ingredients are combined and the texture of breadcrumbs or clumpy sand. Add the butter and process 2-3 minutes until creamy, then add the six eggs and both extracts, and puree for another 2-3 minutes until completely smooth (the batter will be loose). Add the remaining flour and baking powder, and pulse a few times, just until evenly combined.

Pour into the prepared baking pan, and cover with sliced almonds and raw sugar.  Bake 45 - 60 minutes, or until the cake has set in the center and risen, darkened to a golden brown, and developed a few cracks on top. You should be able to press gently on the cake and have it pop back up. Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the edges and remove the sides.

Let cool completely before transferring to a serving plate.

How to Make Labneh

Because I'm Puerto Rican, people often assume that Latin food is my favorite. It's definitely very high up there, and I do tend to cook with those kinds of flavors and ingredients often, but the truth is that given the choice, I'm more likely to pick Middle Eastern dishes and flavors.

I love garlicky yogurt sauces, beautifully seasoned lamb, tangy cheeses, and crispy fritters. I go wild for desserts flavored with rose and orange blossom or drenched with honey syrup. I think Turkish delight is as delightful as the name promises, and am obsessed with chewy Lebanese ice cream. I garnish my savory dishes with sweet dried fruits and toasted nuts. My pantry is filled with jars of sumac, za'atar, aleppo pepper, pomegranate molasses, and harissa.

One of my favorite snacky treats is labneh--a yogurt "cheese" made from thick, strained yogurt that's been seasoned with a bit of lemon and salt.

It's simple to prepare--simply whisk together the three ingredients, and then let it drain overnight in a cloth-lined sieve. 12-24 hours later, and the yogurt has thickened into something luscious and spreadable.

(FYI that you'd typically use cheesecloth for this, but I couldn't find mine, so I went with a piece of leftover lace from my sewing box. Honestly, any sort of loosely woven cloth would work!)

You can enjoy it right then, but upon recommendation from one of my favorite chefs, Chef Philippe Massoud of Ilili Restaurant here in NY, I then whisked it until light and shiny. As a savory dip, top it with very good oil and a generous sprinkle of za'atar later, and it's absolutely perfect. A wonderful alternative to hummus or guacamole or any other dip. I also love it sweetened with honey or rose-flavored syrup and slivered almonds.

Labneh can also be used in other ways--try spreading it into a sandwich or on warm toast, dollop it over braised meat or soup, and you can even bake with it or serve it alongside a simple cake or other sweet treat.

It's beautifully versatile, and easy to prepare. If you're anything like me, I suspect that once you make it for the first time, you'll be tempted to do it again and again!

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Homemade Labneh

Ingredients
2 cups full-fat plain Greek yogurt (do not use low or non-fat!)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I like mine salty, so I actually use a bit more than this--adjust according to your taste)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Olive oil and za'atar or honey, for serving (optional)

Directions
Place a sieve over a deep bowl, and line with cheesecloth or other loosely-woven cloth so that it overhangs on the sides.

In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt, and lemon juice.  Scrape into the prepared sieve, and cover the yogurt with the overlapping fabric. Place in refrigerator and let drain for 12-24 hours (the longer, the thicker. I usually like about 16 hours.)

Once drained, flip the labneh out into another bowl (discard the liquid (whey) or use for marinating meat!) and whisk it by hand for a couple minutes until light and and shiny. This makes it exceptionally creamy and luscious. You can technically skip this step, but it's really worth the extra effort...I promise!

Garnish it as desired and serve.
Ingredient Note: You can definitely use regular plain yogurt instead of Greek, but just keep in mind that this kind has more liquid in it, so it'll take longer to reach the thick creamy consistency + you'll also end up with a bit less of the final product than if you start with Greek yogurt, which has already been strained.


Nigella's Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake

In an interview a few days ago, the reporter asked me if I think of my blog as being more savory or sweet. Because of the name, people always assume it's a dessert blog, but it is not! It's everything. It's savory and sweet and parties and occasionally I'll even give you tips for how to store your jewelry. That whole Always Order Dessert thing is my life philosophy, but it's not the rule.

So I said that technically the blog is actually more savory than sweet. But lately? Lately there has been a whole lotta baking going on around these parts.

Because I'm cold.

I'm SO COLD, you guys. SO cold. I can't deal with winter. It's mean, and it hurts my soul more and more each year. I dream about spending my winters in Miami like old people do, except that I noticed that even in Miami the high today is only about 55 degrees, which isn't even very good.

So I just keep baking, because baking means I can crank up the oven and warm things up a bit. I'm also making lots of soups and braises and things like meatballs in steamy tomato sauce. I can't even handle salad. I've just been pureeing everything. (Arugula soup is a thing and it is good.)

This rich Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake is also a thing and it is also very good (better than arugula soup, if you can imagine). It is the darker, sexier, richer brother to my other favorite Nigella Lawson cake--the clementine almond cake. The recipes are similar, though this one is made with small-ish navel oranges instead of clementines, and (obviously) adds chocolate.

If you're a fan of chocolate + orange together, this is definitely the cake for you.

It comes together easily--you basically just boil the navel oranges for an hour, then puree them (yes, whole--skin and all!) with the rest of the ingredients. Into the pan and the oven, and it's not long before the cake is ready to be served.

I seriously love recipes that can be made almost entirely in a blender or food processor--there's practically no mess, and the whole thing takes minutes. Technology is awesome.

(Well...after the boiling oranges part, but that's a pretty hands-free process in itself.)

Rich and moist, it's a fantastic treat that's just at home ceremoniously placed on the table after an elegant dinner party as it is enjoyed with a mug of afternoon coffee curled up on the couch.

You just can't go wrong with this baby.

Note that a springform pan is important for this recipe. It will make your life MUCH easier. If you don't have one, get one! (This is the one I have.)

There are dozens of springform recipes on this site, so I'll make sure you get lots of use out of it. Promise!


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Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake
Adapted from Feast: Food to Celebrate Life by Nigella Lawson

Ingredients
2 small navel oranges
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups almond flour (ground almond meal)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Directions
Place the oranges in a large pot and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the oranges are soft. Remove from water, chop into quarters and place in a food processor or blender.

(Note that navel oranges don’t have seeds; if you use a different kind, you’ll first have to remove the seeds. Everything else—skin, pith, pulp, etc. will go into the recipe.)

Add the eggs, vanilla, sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and salt to the food processor or blender, and puree until very smooth (about 1-2 minutes). Add the baking powder and baking soda, and puree again for 20 seconds or until evenly distributed.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cake is set and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and remove the sides. Let cake cool completely before transferring to a serving dish.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

The Best Paleo Blueberry Muffins

My friend Mónica and her husband were visiting NYC last weekend, so we planned to have them over for a relaxed brunch at home before they left town. Since her husband can't eat gluten, I decided to use the opportunity to play around with some gluten-free and paleo brunch recipes so that he could enjoy them along with everyone else.

The results of that experimentation were these perfect little paleo blueberry muffins made with almond flour, coconut palm sugar, eggs, and a bit of tapioca starch. The starch is the secret key ingredient that gives these muffins their perfect texture. Unlike other almond flour baked goods that can come out a bit damp and spongy, these are absolutely perfect because the starch absorbs the excess liquid plus adds a tiny bit of chew that mimics what you'd find in a regular non gluten-free muffin.

If you've never tried combining almond flour with starch, you should give it a chance; it really makes a world of difference!

I love cinnamon with my blueberries, so a teaspoon of that gave these muffins a special added touch.

For a bit of crunch on top, I added a tiny sprinkle of raw sugar crystals to the tops of each muffin (similar to the kind you'd find on Dunkin' Donuts blueberry muffins, which were always my fave growing up). Note that this garnish is not strictly paleo, so you can skip it or substitute it with some toasted almond slices or slivers on top.

So about that brunch? Unfortunately, it actually ended up never happening! Turns out there was a scheduling mix-up and my friends had to leave town earlier than anticipated so we had to cancel.

I was worried at first that I'd be stuck with a bunch of muffins I had to eat myself, but it turns out that Eugene--who NEVER likes my gluten-free baked goods--was a fan! The muffins kept well at room temperature for about 3 days, which was just long enough for us to enjoy them all.

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Loved this recipe? Here are three other gluten-free recipes you might like:


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Paleo Blueberry Muffins
I’ve included substitution ideas if you’re not strictly paleo. If you’re baking for someone with gluten issues, please be sure to check the label on all ingredients to make sure they’re gluten-free.

Yields 1 Dozen

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon tapioca starch (substitute corn starch for non-paleo)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup milk (almond, coconut, or whole)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or melted butter (preferably grass-fed)
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar (substitute white granulated sugar for non-paleo)
2 teaspoons gluten-free vanilla extract
1 tablespoon raw sugar for topping (optional)
2 cups blueberries

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, tapioca or corn starch, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil, sugar, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined evenly. Fold in the blueberries, then divide between the 12 muffin cups.

Sprinkle with raw sugar (if using), and bake approximately 20 minutes, or until risen, golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let muffins cool on a wire rack before serving.

$500 Anthropologie Gift Card Giveaway!

$500 Anthropologie Instagram Giveaway

I teamed up with some of my favorite and most inspiring female bloggers and entrepreneurs this year for a group Instagram giveaway that's all about supporting and encouraging each other. I strongly believe that there are few things more powerful than women promoting and supporting each other, so we're trying to put a few of those good vibes out there to help make a little magic happen.

Each one of the ladies in the group has done amazing things by following their passions, and I want all of their stories to inspire you to go after whatever it is you secretly dream about and desire.

To take part, meet each lady, and be entered to win this fantastic $500 gift card to Anthropologie (on of our collective favorite stores!), hop on over to my Instagram page for all the rules and details. The contest ends at 3PM EST on Tuesday, February 17, so don't delay!

For a bonus prize (a super cute designer apron from SALT HOUSE), you'll also be able to tag a girlfriend or woman who inspires you and tell us why or how she does it. I've been loving reading the sweet messages, and would love for you to add yours to the mix.


Good luck!!


Lemon Curd Cupcakes + Chocolate Frosting

I'm not sure why the combination of lemon + chocolate doesn't get as much attention as some other chocolate marriages. It's one that I fell in love with a few years ago when reading a novel called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Not that you asked, but I hated that book with a passion, and I don't recommend it (and am not even going to link to it), but was ultimately thankful to have read it because it got me in the kitchen playing around with chocolate-frosted lemon cake recipes, and that was a very good thing indeed.

It's a surprising mix, that bright tartness of lemon with the deep, sensual bitterness of chocolate. It's two sharp, bold flavors crashing together in a beautifully challenging way. I get that it may not be for everyone, but it definitely is for me.

It's what I had in mind when I made these Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Frosting. I wanted to do something for Valentine's Day, but I was tired of the usual flavors. Chocolate, red velvet, strawberries...all classics, yes, but honestly?

They bore me.

So if you're looking for something a little bit different or more exciting--for the holiday or any other day--give this combination a try.

The cake gets it's flavor and color from lemon curd baked right into the batter. I made my own, but you can easily buy it. It's what I would have done had I not been in a bit of a curd-making binge last week.

It's not swirled or dolloped in, instead it's just stirred right into the batter, making it extra moist and rich. When choosing a lemon curd, go for an opaque buttery one.

Check the ingredients on the label and make sure it's just things like like eggs, butter, lemon juice, and sugar. Skip the ones with cornstarch or weird additives. You want something that tastes tart, not eggy.


For our frosting, we're doing a basic whipped ganache. It's just heavy cream, dark chocolate, and a bit of salt, heated until glossy, then cooled and whipped into fluffy bittersweet submission.

This isn't your usual buttercream, kids.

I added a few heart sprinkles and used red liners because I'm not totally contrarian. Skip them if you are.

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Loved this recipe? Here are three other lemon recipes you might like:

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Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Frosting
Yields 12 cupcakes

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup lemon curd (homemade or store-bought—use a creamy version made with only lemon, butter, eggs, and sugar—no cornstarch)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the frosting
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with paper liners.

Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon curd and zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Gently stir into batter, just until completely incorporated. Divide batter into cupcake pans and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove from pan and let cool completely on a rack.

Make the frosting: combine cream, chocolate chips, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring continuously until smooth and silk. Remove from heat and let cool completely to room temperature. Transfer to an electric mixer, and whip until light and fluffy and doubled in volume (about 2-3 minutes).

Frost cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.




Vegan Double Chocolate Banana Bread

I'll be honest: vegan baking is usually not my everyday go-to. I love baking with butter. I love baking with eggs. I love baking with milk (or cream!). I use them liberally and think there is nothing wrong with that.

But...

I can also really appreciate the value of some great vegan baked goods like this Vegan Double Chocolate Banana Bread.

I bake and serve them to the vegan yoga groups I cook for up in Vermont. And I love having the recipes in my back pocket when cooking for vegan friends or those with egg allergies or dairy allergies.

Because at the end of the day, I just want everyone to be able to enjoy delicious things.

I also really love vegan recipes on those days when I'm totally out of eggs or milk or butter, and need alternatives that will let me stick to the stuff in my pantry.

(Especially during the winter when I will do EVERYTHING in my power to not have to leave the house.)

This recipe is perfect for those days when you have ripe bananas, but no eggs.

Mashed bananas can often be used successfully as an egg-replacer, and they work especially well in quick breads like this one.

It's just one of those super forgiving recipes that will let you mix up, bake, and serve a sweet treat without much fuss and making use of stuff you already have on hand.

This extra-chocolatey vegan banana bread gets a double-dose of goodness from cocoa and dark chocolate chips. Note that if you want this to be truly vegan, you should make sure the chips have no dairy added (some brands do; some brands don't).

This produces a rich and moist cake that's not too sweet and perfect for breakfast or brunch or a late-afternoon snack.

(And hey...if you want to toast it up and spread it with a bit of butter or cream cheese...I'd be totally OK with that, too.)

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Loved this recipe? Here are three other vegan recipes you might like:


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Vegan Double Chocolate Banana Bread
Makes 1 9x5” loaf

Ingredients
3 medium overripe bananas, mashed until smooth
1/3 cup oil (use vegetable, peanut or a light olive oil. coconut oil works, too, but keep in mind that it will add slight coconut flavor to the bread.)
3/4 cup brown sugar OR coconut palm sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup non-dairy milk (coconut, almond, cashew, etc.)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips*

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5” nonstick loaf pan with baking spray or vegetable oil, and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together bananas, oil, sugar, vanilla, and milk until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips, then pour into prepared pan.

Bake about 45 to 55 minutes, or until cake has risen and is slightly cracked, and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen and remove from pan. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

*note that not all chocolate chips are vegan, so be sure to check out the ingredients

Easy Homemade Passion Fruit Curd

I woke up the other morning with an intense craving for passion fruit. It started in the night, actually, dancing around my head as I slept, the scent lingering in the air as daylight crept in.

There are a few flavors that I can never resist. Bitter almond. Black cherry. Basil. Passion fruit. Because I order them again and again, there are now dozens of memories wrapped up in each bite, and the minute the thought of them pops up, there is little I can do about it until I'm able to taste it again.

To satisfy the craving this time, I decided I was going to make passion fruit curd. Silky, buttery, and tart, curd is one of my favorite indulgences. I heap large spoonfuls of it over yogurt and top it with coconut flakes for dessert at night. I spoon it over crushed cookies for an easy mug dessert. Or I spread it thin between layers of plain cake, finding it better than any kind of frosting could ever be.

Though it seems like the sort of thing that would be complicated, making curd is actually no more difficult than making a batch of stovetop pudding or any other kind of custard. A few ingredients into a pan then a few minutes of whisking, and that's basically it.

There are versions that use whole eggs and some that use only yolks. I prefer the latter because I think it produces the smoothest, richest curds (plus it leaves you with a gorgeous batch of egg whites to use for recipes like this easy angel food cake or coconut macaroons!).

My most important requirement for any kind of curd is that it not taste "eggy." Nothing turns me off from a citrus or other fruit curd than taking a bite and tasting a strong hint of egg. Ugh. Terrible.

This homemade passion fruit curd is beautifully tart and silky without any trace of egg flavor. If you've run away from curds before because of this issue, I urge you to give this one a try. I think you'll be a convert!

This make a lovely large batch of curd that will keep in your fridge for at least a week, and likely more. You can eat it on its own by the spoonful, spread it between cake layers, sandwich it between cookies or macarons, drizzle it over angel food or pound cake or ice cream, swirl it into greek yogurt or oatmeal, or even bake it into loaf cakes and quick breads.

It's also fantastic for trifle or parfait style desserts, and can be eaten alongside fresh berries. If you make it, I'd love to hear what your favorite way of eating it is!


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Loved this recipe? Here are three other passion fruit recipes you might like:

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Homemade Passion Fruit Curd Recipe
Yields about 2 1/2 cups of curd

Ingredients
1 cup frozen and thawed passion fruit puree (such as Goya)
9 large egg yolks (preferably pastured eggs)
1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar
1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature & cut into 1" pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions
Whisk together passion fruit puree, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium sized heavy-bottom saucepan. Place over medium high heat and cook, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens (about 8 minutes). To test the thickness, dip a spoon in the mixture and run your finger through it. If it coats the spoon and leaves a line when you run your finger, it’s ready.

Turn off heat (but leave on burner) and whisk in the salt and the butter, one piece at a time until melted and completely incorporated into the curd.  Remove from stove and pour through a fine metal sieve into a bowl (discard any solids that get caught in the sieve). 
Press a piece of plastic wrap against surface of the curd to prevent skin as it cools, and chill in refrigerator at least one hour or until completely cold. Transfer to a glass jar or container with air-tight lid, and store in refrigerator. (Will keep at least 1 week.)

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