Lemon & Berry Stripe Cake

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The Reveal:

Another cake! This one was likely going to be a challenge, as the stripes were vertical instead of the usual horizontal layered look. Visually this cake was bright and cheerful, prompted by Ottolenghi and Goh’s desire for more colour in the book. I find this a bit surprising as I’ve baked with quite a bit of fruit over the past few months.

The recipe actually calls for blackcurrants, but we couldn’t find them so we went with the recommended alternative. I’m really happy to be practicing full cakes lately, as I usually opt for cupcakes. These full cakes are a bit more extravagant and classic, which I like!

The Bake:

We baked this cake on a Sunday afternoon, which worked out nicely. We ended up grabbing drinks with friends from Mexico, and we got to share the cake with them.

As the cake is baked as a sheet and rolled into a giant roulade, we had to pick up a new baking sheet from the dollar store. After zesting a lemon, I separated eight eggs and used the yolks in the batter base. Many of these Ottolenghi and Goh cakes seem to be very egg-heavy. This one had a stiff-peaked meringue folded into it as the only rising agent. There was no butter or milk.

Once the sheet cake was in the oven, I prepared the berry puree using my Magic Bullet, which was very annoying. I had to split the berries into 3 parts and cut the giant strawberries. I really need to invest in a proper food processor or blender. I’m glad that the recipe called for a sieve after simmering the puree. I have a strong (some would say bizarre) aversion to berry seeds.

The berry buttercream was very surprising. It called for whipped egg yolk, sugar syrup with vanilla bean, a bit of the purée, and a ridiculous amount of butter.

After meeting up with the friends from Mexico for drinks at Bandit Brewery (a local favourite with a great patio), it was construction time. While the cake was still warm, I carefully rolled the slab over a kitchen towel to “train” it. When it cooled, I unrolled the cake and cut 3 even strips, spread the icing, and made a giant roulade on my round tray. This was followed by more icing on top, fresh berries, and the purée.

The Taste:

The sponge-like lemon cake, rich and fluffy buttercream, and flavourful berry purée were a perfect medley of summery goodness. It’s really difficult to only eat one piece!

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Pineapple & Star Anise Chiffon Cake

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The Reveal:

Many apologies for failing my baking challenge recently. Summer has been incredibly busy. I did actually bake banana rum cakes from “Sweet” last week, and I used the shortcrust pastry with lemon zest for a very juicy strawberry rhubarb pie.

When I finally had the chance to select a random recipe again, I was excited to see these flavours. The tartlets I made a couple of months ago also had pineapple and star anise. This cake also gave me an excuse to invest in a bundt cake pan, which we found in a kitchen store in Chinatown. I say “we” because part of my busy-ness is due to the long-awaited summer stay of Al: my boyfriend.

The Bake:

My usual preparation for a cake starts with greasing the pan. I took my time doing this, only to discover that the instructions clearly state the importance of a sticky, ungreased pan. Of course!

We could only find ripe pineapple that was pre-cored, but it was still delicious and juicy. I ran most of the fruit through my magic bullet, while Al carefully sliced and prepared the pineapple ‘flowers’ for the finished piece of art. My magic bullet was also useful for grinding the star anise.

I’ve made a few meringues since beginning this challenge, and my mixmaster does a marvellous job at creating beautiful soft peaks. Useful as the egg whites were gently folded into the rest of the cake batter, before being placed in the oven.

The trick to getting the cake out of the ungreased pan is to immediately flip the cake upside down, until completely cool. This actually worked for us. We finished the cake with a lovely pineapple glaze, with a splash of leftover orange juice from a zested orange. The pineapple flowers were the finishing touch.

The Taste:

This cake smelled amazing, and the sheer size was impressive. The egg whites made the cake very light and sponge-like, while the pineapple and star anise were a delectable duo. The glaze added a zing to this fabulous dessert.

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Chocolate, Banana, & Pecan Cookies

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The Reveal:

“Chocolate”, “banana”, and “pecan” are some of my favourite words. Emergency chocolate is always at the top of my packing list when traveling, and it’s usually found in my purse or pocket. Chocolate is a hanger-management necessity in my life. I eat at least one banana per day (usually with peanut butter), and I associate pecans with holiday squares and butter tarts. This is one of the few recipes I had tried prior to my challenge, and a delicious result was anticipated.

I’m often on the quest for the perfect chewy cookie. There is a fantastic French patisserie hidden in Toronto’s Financial Distrinct called “Maman”, which was established in NYC. Their cookie is a monstrous mess of chocolate chunks, almonds, macadamia nuts, and butter. I’ve limited myself to one per week.

The Bake:

This recipe called for standard steps used to create a chewy chocolate chip cookie. You may be wondering how to bake the perfect cookie… Well, as a self-proclaimed expert, I know that it’s incredibly important to cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture becomes light and fluffy (the butter needs to be at room temperature – never melted!). The eggs are beaten in next, followed by vanilla extract and the mixed dry ingredients.

I added the same 70% cacao chocolate chips that were used for my recent flourless chocolate cake. I didn’t have to purchase a single new ingredient for this bake. It was also perfect timing, as I had a couple of ripe bananas ready to go. I loved the addition of cinnamon and pecans in this recipe. The spice goes surprisingly well with dark chocolate, and can be added to banana bread for an extra pop of flavour.

I always use my baking stone for cookies. The next time I use my stone, I need to remember to leave it in the oven during the preheat. Otherwise, baking always takes longer than expected. Once the cookies were finally done, I sprinkled them with a bit of icing sugar.

The Taste:

As an impatient person, it’s nice to bake something that tastes best warm and fresh out of the oven. This sounds absurd, but I think I should’ve left the cookies in the oven for a few minutes longer. They were almost too gooey in the centre. Otherwise, they were full of fudgy goodness. The chocolate, pecan, cinnamon, and banana created the perfect cookie combination, and it was impossible to eat only one.

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Roasted Strawberry & Lime Cheesecake

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The Reveal:

My page flip wasn’t perfect this week, so I had a couple of options. This was the winning cheesecake (found on page 221) because of the seasonal flavours. Ontario strawberries are delicious at the moment, and I crave citrus when it’s hot outside. I actually had a couple of margaritas on a patio yesterday. El Rey in Kensington Market is the best! The spongecake base seemed odd, as I’m accustomed to a graham crust. This method is inspired by Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. Their classic New York cheesecake was rated “Best Overall” by the Wall Street Journal. So, there you go.

The Bake:

I can’t believe I’ve gone this many years without a spring-form pan. I found a decent one at my grocery shop as I picked up my missing ingredients. It’s going to be life-changing. After zesting a couple of limes, I beat together most of the sponge ingredients before folding in the meringue. I liked how there was a bit of lime in both the base and the filling, for a bit of extra zing.

The filling called for an impressive 900 grams of cream cheese! While at the grocery store, I realized that most cream cheese products are actually “cream cheese spreads” that have unappealing additives. The same goes for sour cream. I went for the slightly more expensive options, with ingredients that made sense, such as “cream”. It took a while to get the filling to a lovely smooth texture, using both my mixer and hand beater. I poured the giant vat of creaminess onto the baked sponge and I was pleased at how I could see the vanilla bean specks through the cake.

As the cake was baking, I washed and tasted a few of the red strawberries, and sang along to Les Miserables. If you’re a fellow theatre nerd, you’ll appreciate that the only quality soundtrack is the 10th anniversary concert version. My boyfriend got to see the Spanish version of the show in Mexico City today. Once the cake was finished (it took about 10 minutes longer than called for, but my oven is a bit weak), I roasted the strawberries and set everything aside to cool.

The Taste:

I couldn’t help but cut a small slice before the cake was completely cool. With the smell of lime and the drizzle of strawberry juice, it was too tempting. The cake held together nicely when cut, and it wasn’t overly rich. The light quality was a nice surprise as sometimes cheesecakes can be overwhelming. The filling was fluffy and creamy, with just the right amount of lime. I actually prefer the sponge base over other options. This was a proper almost-summer treat!

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Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake with Coffee, Walnuts, & Rose Water

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The Reveal:

I’m finding the recipe introductions in this book extremely encouraging. It’s a great way to start a new bake, especially one with unfamiliar flavours and techniques. It turns out that this was going to be a roulade that was transformed into a layered cake. It’s alright if your plans are occasionally derailed mid-bake. This is how new creations are discovered!

The combination of rose water and coffee is unusual, but they are actually enjoyed together in the form of Turkish delight and coffee. Ever since reading The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, I’ve wanted to try Turkish delight. Before this cake, I had never eaten anything with rose before. I was worried that the floral taste might be overpowering. I generally associate floral scents with soap or perfume, not cakes.

The Bake:

I started by roasting and candying the walnuts, then I carefully separated the eggs. My method is pretty simple here. I crack the shell on the side, then while holding the egg upright and over a bowl, I remove the top shell half and let most of the white fall into the bowl. The yolk stays in the bottom half, and I usually pass the yolk between the shell halves a few times over the bowl. Those of us who are a bit obsessive can easily get rid of the chalazae this way (the chalazae is the white stringy bit… did you know that this connects the yolk to the white? Fun fact!).

Seeing that the recipe called for quite a bit of chopped dark chocolate, I walked to my local chocolate shop and purchase the high quality baking chips with 70% cocoa. This isn’t something that I would suggest doing every day. I accidentally picked up chocolate-covered almonds, too. I’m not sure how this happened… I may have also visited this shop the day before for ice cream.

As the chocolate was melting over boiling water, I added instant coffee and was momentarily worried that the coffee pieces weren’t going to dissolve properly. They did after some vigorous stirring. Once the yolk, sugar, and chocolate were combined, I whipped the egg whites until stiff peaks formed, and the meringue was gently folded into the mixture. Baking a cake with absolutely no flour seemed like an odd concept, but the batter looked right to me. I only had 2 round cake pans, so I opted for a 2-layer cake instead of 3.

While the cake layers were in the oven, I made the cream with rose water that I found in the beauty section of a health food store. I can also use this as a perfume for special occasions! I tasted the cream to check the rose flavour, and added a bit more cream so that the rose was subtle.

The Taste:

I loved the look of this cake when it was finished, and it cut very easily into slices. The flourless cake tasted like a decadent brownie, and the subtle rose was perfectly distinct. The candied walnuts provided a balance to the sweet, fluffy cream and chocolate-y richness. This cake disappears quickly, particularly when eaten while watching Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban host the Tony Awards.

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Lemon & Semolina Syrup Cakes

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The Reveal:

A lemon cake was perfect – not only for the season (it finally feels like summer is around the corner!), but I was hoping for a simple recipe this week. It’s an especially busy time at work, and my mom was here for a fun visit to celebrate my aunt’s birthday. I could easily fit this cake into a Sunday afternoon.

Yotam introduces this on page 111 as something reminiscent of his childhood in Jerusalem, where there are many different types of syrup cakes. I was to expect a “smack of citrus” from this version. I had a conversation with a friend recently, who mentioned that he didn’t understand why people travel for food. WHAT? I didn’t say anything at the time, but I am absolutely one of those people. In my opinion, it’s all part of experiencing a new place, and discovering new flavours and ingredients. Yotam’s remark caused me to dream up future food adventures.

The Bake:

Before baking, I turned on a Motown essentials playlist inspired by the musical I recently saw with my mom, sister, and aunt. It turns out that the legendary hits of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and The Jackson 5 are excellent baking songs.

After creaming together the butter, lemon zest, and sugar, I tossed in the almond flour and beat the mixture until smooth. This dry ingredient was added before the eggs, which I thought was strange. Earlier in the day, I went to my handy Italian market to pick up some quality semolina flour. I’m lucky to have this nearby, because it doesn’t seem that many grocery stores carry this ingredient. Now I’m tempted to try handmade pasta!

I added the remaining dry ingredients followed by the fresh juice of 1 lemon. There was a bit more juice than what the recipe called for, but I love lemon (who doesn’t?) and didn’t want any to go to waste. I scooped the mixture into large parchment cups in a muffin tin, and topped the batter with thin slices of lemon. It’s a bit difficult to cut even slices, and I highly recommend a sharp knife.

Once the cakes were in the oven, I squeezed yet another lemon, and put the sugar and juice over the stove to make the syrup. I don’t think it’s possible to fit any more lemon into these cakes. They would surely explode or something.

Immediately after removing the baked cakes from the oven, I drizzled a heaping spoonful of the syrup over each one. They smelled very lemon-y and delicious.

The Taste:

I tried biting into the cake with the lemon slice, but I should’ve known better. The burst of citrus was welcome, but the pulp and rind were not. I’ve always had an aversion to certain textures. Once the slice was removed, I could properly enjoy the lovely yellow cake. The syrup added mouthwatering zing to the soft, spongy cake. I need to make these again for my lemon-loving friends. Yum!

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Cinnamon Pavlova, Praline Cream & Fresh Figs

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The Reveal:

I knew this was coming… the bake is on the front cover of “Sweet”, after all! Once again, something that I’ve never tried to make myself – a pavlova. I’ve eaten pavlova in the past for my sister Anna’s birthday, who enjoys anything that resembles meringue. As a kid, my family would often eat little meringue nests with fresh local strawberries and ice cream in the summer.

In the recipe description, this is called a “stunning dessert for a special occasion”, that should be made when feeding people you adore, and when you have sufficient time. Taking a glance at the steps, I discovered that the meringue base would take 3 hours to bake, and another two hours to set. That is a lot of time! Knowing that my sister would love this one, I invited her over for a full evening of baking, drinking, and a bit of singing and dancing (to many Disney classics). I proudly know the lyrics to almost anything Disney, and my favourite shows are The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. These movies basically defined my childhood.

The Bake:

With the Tarzan soundtrack blaring, I roasted the pistachios (choosing the cover photo nut instead of the almond alternative), and brought a bit of water to a boil. The only other time I had made meringue was for a lemon meringue pie years ago. I combined the sugar and egg whites and then placed the bowl over the boiling water, beating the mixture until the sugar dissolved. The recipe called for a bit of brown sugar for a rich chewiness. After this, I moved the mixture to my mixer and was excited to use my beater fixture. The meringue became glossy and thick quickly, and after adding the cinnamon, I transferred the cloud of deliciousness onto my greased stone. I use my stone for everything that calls for a flat pan.

As we started the waiting game, I cleaned up a bit, sang Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” as a riveting duet with Anna, and made the pistachio praline. I went on a hunt earlier in the day for mascarpone cheese in my neighbourhood, which luckily has an Italian market with a dangerous selection of quality ingredients and fresh pasta. As I was checking on the meringue, I caught my sister taking a taste of the whipped praline cream from the bowl. She liked it, so that was promising.

The meringue had a golden shine to it after a couple of hours, and we were becoming a bit impatient. Instead of properly letting it set, I took it out of the oven too quickly and it sadly cracked down the middle. I swear it was beautiful before this happened. We poured melted dark chocolate over the meringue, followed by a generous layer of the cream, sliced fig (I could only find the dry variety), more pistachio, and a drizzle of honey.

The Taste:

Before we could taste our creation, we set up the pavlova so that Anna could film me cutting the first slice. Success! It turns out that even with the rushed process, this pavlova worked out. The chewy cinnamon meringue cloud, praline cream, hint of chocolate, and toppings were perfectly delectable together, and reminded Anna of Christmas. I also appreciate recipes that are naturally gluten-free, for friends and family with restrictions. I’ll definitely have to make this over the holidays!

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