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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Cakes

Guinness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lime-Vanilla Frosting

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 Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert

In honor of Irish heritage (mine and a lot of other Americans who also have Irish ancestors), I wanted to make something special for those who celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Unfortunately, the Irish are not known for their desserts. However, Guinness Stout is in every Irish pub and is the beverage of choice on March 17th.

Buche de Noel

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Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens.  I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal. 

Molten Chocolate Cakes

Current Chocolate Molten Lava Cake

 

Guittard-chocolateIMG_0281-300x225These cakes are my latest downfall.  I discovered that you don’t have to use them right away to enjoy the smooth

exterior and melted center of these chocolaty mini-cakes. Make the recipe, bake it off and use however many of the little cakes you want.  Wrap the rest and refrigerate or freeze.  When you’re ready for a rich chocolate hit, pop the room-temperature cakelet into the microwave for about 10 seconds.  The center will be soft and oozy and ready to give you the rush you’ve been hoping for. These  cakelets are really rich. If you want three-bite desserts, make eight or ten instead of six.

Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze

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 This is an adaptation from a recipe off of one of my favorite blogs, Food 52 – Terrific for an autumn day like today when a storm is rolling in. It’s especially good with homemade applesauce, but this isn’t a requirement. Given most people don’t bake these days, I’m finding people are overjoyed to have fresh, homemade desserts and fancy is not necessary. In fact, recipes that bring up childhood memories seem to be the most appreciated.

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked pumpkin cake or pie — or latte, I might add? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

Apple Fritters

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It’s apple season again. Makes me think of returning to school with the ubiquitous apple in my lunch box. How about you?
 
While the supermarkets carry the standards like Red Delicious, you can usually find the tastier heritage varieties filling the farmers markets and countryside fruit stands. Yesterday when I drove the back roads of Watsonville to visit a friend, there were rows of trees loaded with Yellow Delicious, Newtown Pippins, Jonagolds and other heritage varieties. I picked up some Jonagolds and Yellow Delicious at my local farmers market; the old fashioned apples are worth seeking out.
 

Apple and Blueberry Cake

IMG_4429_FotorThis quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.)  It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.

Cherry Clafoutis

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Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that originated in Limousin. The name comes from clafotis, which means “to fill up,” in Occitan, an old French language with regional dialects throughout parts of Southern France. Traditionally the dessert was made with dark cherries, pits included, with a custard batter similar to pancake batter or a thin flan. Leaving the pits in the cherries creates a stronger cherry flavor, but can cause tooth damage to the unwitting diner. The same recipe using different fruits and vegetables are technically flognardes. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s as easy to make as a fruit-filled, baked pancake that you can serve anytime, whether for a special breakfast or as dessert.

Given that cherry season is so fleeting, take advantage of the beautiful cherries coming from the Pacific Northwest or, use apples, berries, rhubarb or plums. In fact, now that Limousin is known for their specialty apples, they are the more commonly used fruit.

Vanilla-Scented Madeleines

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Madeleines are the quintessential French tea cake, with a mouth-pleasing crisp exterior, and a dense cake-like interior. If you enjoy serving beautiful desserts, it’s worth investing in Madeleine molds, as the molds give them their distinctive hump in the middle and pleasing texture. When you’ve dusted them with powdered sugar, they’re gorgeous and sophisticated.

Here are a couple of “Madeleine secrets.” 

Cherry Vanilla Cake with Kirschwasser

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This delicious summer cake is a hybrid cross between a classic French clafouti and a coffeecake.  It has a very moist, dense crumb due to the high butter and eggs and low flour ratio.  It is a perfect afternoon dessert to serve with tea as well as a brunch or dinner dessert, especially as it can be made a day ahead of time. 

Chocolate Mousse Cake

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The uniqueness of this cake is that it is both cake and mousse in one.  Dense and killer-rich, it delivers an intense chocolate flavor that isn’t diluted with flour.  I often cover this cake with a simple chocolate glaze made from the same chocolate as the cake and enough butter to give it some gloss.  A slender piece served with a raspberry liqueur or espresso provides an elegant end to a memorable meal.

The World’s Best Blondies

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Move over brownies. The World’s Best Blondies are gaining popularity one bite at a time! A meringue-like top, chewy bottom and really delicious!

You can use chocolate in blondies if chocolate isn’t an issue.  I like chopping chocolate from a large bar and include all the little pieces as they melt into the dough, though chips work fine as well. You can substitute butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, even chopped Heath bars. Or, keep it simple and just use chopped nuts.  If you are adding chips, however, you may or may not want a whole cup of toasted nuts — it’s your call.

Flo Braker’s Flourless Chocolate Torte

Flo Braker flourless chocolate torte

This rich, creamy, dense flourless chocolate cake serves as a perfect dish for Passover Seder. A little goes a long way, so it can easily feed a crowd, but it also keeps well for left overs. A delightful dessert for those on a gluten free diet, this cake is versatile and delicious. Don’t expect leftovers unless you are four or less enjoying this cake. It’s exceptionally good!

Butterscotch Cake

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This decadent rich cake can be served throughout the year but is perfect for welcoming Spring. You can enjoy it with or without the frosting or chocolate honeycomb, or you can serve it plain with a dusting of powdered sugar. As strawberries become available, enjoy it with a big of caramel topping or whipped cream and sliced berries. Any way you serve it, it will be enjoyed!

Best Damn Lemon Cake

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Recently I’ve been revisiting some of the recipes posted on The Vanilla Company site to enhance them with photos.  I admit, I keep choosing desserts that I love and that go well with fresh berries. After all, it’s the season! That said, who doesn’t like a lemony-fresh, dense,  slice of cake that has been partially covered with strawberries or raspberries soaked in raspberry wine?

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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Although I’m not vegan, I have dear friends who are. I’m also always looking for recipes that can accommodate family and friends with food allergies or food intolerance issues. When I read on food 52 about Joanne Chang’s cupcakes, I saw a winner. Joanne, who owns Flour Bakery in Boston, has created a recipe that is moist, deeply flavorful, and fully satisfies the craving for chocolate and the desire for a rich, moist cake or cupcake — vegan or otherwise!

Let Them Eat Cake Pudding!

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It’s the end of the holiday season.  You’re cleaning out the refrigerator and discover a big chunk of stale pound cake wrapped in foil. Or, there’s the nut cake you were gifted; you’ve meant to serve it before now but it’s gotten too dry. No need to waste what you’ve already got as stale cake just begs for new life!

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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