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

Fresh Berry Coffee Cake

 Living on the Central California Coast I almost feel guilty because of  the magnificent produce we have year ’round. This is especially true when the artichokes,  asparagus and fresh garlic start appearing in the markets in late March — the harbingers of spring. The strawberries aren’t quite ready but they’ll follow soon; by May the farmer’s markets are

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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 Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? 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.

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Best Ever Vegan Chocolate Cake

Recently I made “A Perfectly Delicious Chocolate Cake” as a birthday gift for a friend. One of the recipients of a slice of cake was completely taken by it and wanted to make it for his partner’s birthday. The problem was it needed to be vegan. I suggested that I would experiment to create a foolproof recipe for a really good vegan cake. He agreed.

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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 serve eight, but it also keeps well for left overs. A delightful dessert for those on a gluten free diet, this cake is versatile and delicious. However, don’t expect leftovers unless you are four or less enjoying this cake. It’s exceptionally good! Another thing I love about this cake is how the honey makes the glaze glisten. A wonderful way to celebrate the ancient land of milk and honey!

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Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

These moist, nutty, carrot cake cupcakes are a family favorite, both for birthdays or for an everyday treat. This recipe makes 1 1/2 dozen cupcakes, for easy individual servings, but can also be made into a 2 layer cake. Made with coconut sugar, if you choose to eat them as muffins, without the cream cheese frosting, they make a tasty, low-glycemic addition to brunch.

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Almond Rum Cake

This delicate Rum Almond Cake was conceived as a coffee cake  but it deserves to be elevated to a much higher status if for no other reason than it’s too boozy for a 10:00 am coffee break! As you can see from the photo, it was the ideal New Year’s Eve cake — moist, flavorful and rich enough that a small slice was sufficient.

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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. 

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Vanilla Butter Cake with Chocolate Dulce de Leche

This luxurious cake from Susie Norris’s most recent book, A Baker’s Passport, is all about the Americas — in this case Mexico — as both chocolate and vanilla are native to tropical Mexico, Central and South America. The cake is filled with vanilla flavor and then soaked with the caramel notes of sweet milk (Dulce de Leche) along with a bit of  chocolate. If you are having a dinner party or event focused on Mexican food, the Vanilla Butter Cake with Chocolate Dulce de Leche would be culturally appropriate as well as a very popular dessert!

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European Plum Cake

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This delicate, delicious, absolutely-must-make cake recipe comes from Maria Reiz Springer. Now living in Maryland, Maria is from Austria and has an infinite number of amazing European dessert recipes, and usually a wonderful story that goes with the recipe. Maria has a home cooking school and is truly a master baker. The plum cake can be made with other stone fruits as well, but if you are lucky enough to have French plums, they are both the traditional plum used as well as divine in this cake.

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Jam Cakes

Jam Cakes are a quick, cheerful, dessert with ingredients that you’re bound to have, unless you  haven’t been to the store in weeks. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins.  Perfect when you can’t stop thinking of something sweet but you don’t want an entire cake. That said, the recipe is a snap to double. 

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee

Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

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Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake

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 Courtesy of Janet Sawyer, Little Pod, UK

Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake may sound off-putting but, in fact, the beets provide moisture, sweetness and some heft to the cake but the cake doesn’t taste at all like beets. Chocolate wins the honors here, so you want to use good quality chocolate when making this rich cake. It’s truly a delicious recipe that Janet served for the first anniversary party for Little Pod, our “sister” vanilla company, which was held at the Chelsea Physic Gardens in London.

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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.
 

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A Vanilla Chiffon Cake to Celebrate Spring

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Spring weather is so fickle. Balmy and beautiful one day, windy and wild the next. But here on the California Coast, the organic strawberries are being picked on our local farms and are oh, so welcome, and begging to be included in dessert.

When I think spring and summer cakes, I think angel food, sponge or chiffon. Light, airy, the perfect foil for berries and other summer fruits. I decided on chiffon.

My friend and colleague Shirley Corriher, has this to say about chiffon cakes in her book, BakeWise :

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

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