Posts Tagged Rose Levy Beranbaum

Last-Minute Easter Desserts

Easter Pound Cake

Orange pound cake, my last-minute Easter dessert.

I hadn’t given a lot of though to Easter this year, besides Wonk the Plank’s Easter basket. Maybe I was too busy making matzoh, but Easter kind of slipped my mind.

But I’m going to an Easter dinner this Sunday, and I realized yesterday that I had no idea what to bring for dessert. I wanted to make something quick and simple, but that would still wow my hosts. So I scoured through my favorite recipes, and came up with this quick Easter dessert guide:

Gateau Breton
Ya’ll loved the Gateau Breton. I don’t think I’ve gotten as many commenters swearing that they were going to make one of my recipes before. This large, round, cake-like shortbread is soft, sweet, and deeply buttery. For Easter, I’d add a couple teaspoons of lemon zest to the dough and serve the cake/cookie with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Shortbread Fingers
These cookies are amazing – rich, soft, deeply chocolaty, with a hint of cinammon that makes them absolutely to-die-for. While they may not be specially Easter-ish, these are so good that you really won’t care.

Orange Pound Cake
And finally, my own-last minute Easter dessert – my take on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s perfect pound cake. Faithful followers of this blog will remember that Rose’s pound cake made an appearance in the February Pound Cake Project — and, at the end of the month, her buttery pound cake was my favorite recipe. I changed a couple of things: added some orange flavoring to the dough and added an orange glaze. This cake could be dressed up with raspberries and whipped cream to make it suitably fancy for Easter. Or it could be served as a sweet addition to your Easter brunch.

Orange Pound Cake Recipe


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Mediterranean Matzoh

Matzoh 2

Matzoh, just in time for Passover.

I had never eaten matzoh before I made it last weekend. In fact, I probably still haven’t eaten what my Jewish friends consider “real” matzoh, since my free-form flatbreads looked very different from the perfectly square packaged crackers that line the shelves of my supermarket’s Passover display.

But as Passover begins at sundown Wednesday, I thought it was a propitious time to try to make my own matzoh. I was also not in the mood to try any of the Easter-themed recipes that were popping up on food blogs, and which were overly-cute and finicky. I didn’t much feel like making tiny rabbits out of marzipan or baking individual cakes in the shapes of Easter eggs.

Matzoh, in contrast, was simple and savory — with a rich religious and cultural heritage that didn’t involve me piping dozens of carrots in multi-colored frosting. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Matzoh 3

I loved the deep brown color of the matzoh.

This recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Bread Bible, but the recipe is originally from Noel Comess, founder of Tom Cat bakery in Queens, New York. The recipe takes liberties with the original recipe for Matzoh, which is traditionally made from plain flour and water. Beranbaum adds olive oil for crispness, and salt, wheat flour, and rosemary for flavor. According to Jewish law, the dough must be baked eighteen minutes after the dough is mixed, otherwise it is considered “leavened” and unsuitable for Passover. But Beranbaum’s dough rests for a full 30 minutes before shaping.

But while this matzoh is not strictly kosher for Passover, it is a recipe well worth adding to your year-round baking arsenal. The flavors are earthy and satisfying, with the rosemary and salt adding a savory punch to the simple dough. The matzoh make a loud and satisfying crackling sound when you tear off a piece, which adds to their appeal. These matzoh would be perfect alongside any meal, no matter what the occasion.

Maybe I’ll even make some for Easter dinner.

Matzoh 1

Matzoh, closeup.

Recipe for Mediterranean Matzoh

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February Pound Cake Project, Take Two: Perfect All-Butter Pound Cake

Beranbaum Pound Cake

It looks simple, but this all-butter pound cake was divine.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, the pound cake originated in England before traveling to France and, eventually, to America, where it became the basis for the American butter cake. The pound cake takes its name from the recipe, which originally called for a pound of eggs, a pound of flour, a pound of butter, and a pound of sugar.

Master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum used the pound cake as a starting point for developing her other cake recipes in The Cake Bible. When she created her pound cake recipe, she started with the traditional recipe and tweaked it to make the perfect, tender, buttery pound cake. Her pound cake recipe includes milk (for moisture), extra butter (for a tender crumb and excellent flavor), and baking powder (also for a tender crumb).

After making the Shirley O’Corriher pound cake, with fifteen ingredients and complicated multiple steps, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe was a breeze. And I actually liked this pound cake more – I loved the deep, rich, buttery flavor of the cake, which O’Corriher’s recipe lacked. While this cake wasn’t quite as “melt-in-your” mouth as O’Corriher’s texture-wise, it was also much less sweet, which was much more to my taste.

So far, this looks like it may become my go-to recipe for pound cake, although who knows what the rest of the Pound Cake Project has in store.

Perfect Pound Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


3 Tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
13 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened


Preheat your oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 inch by 4 by 2.5 inch loaf pan, or any six cup loaf or fluted tube pan.

Lightly whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl.

Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended. Add the butter and half the egg mixture, and mix until dry ingredients are moistened. On medium speed, beat for one minute. This will aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down sides.

Add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds between each addition. Scrape down sides.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth surface with a spatula. Bake for 55-65 minutes (35-45 minutes if baking in a fluted tube pan), until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minuets before inverting onto a greased wire rack. If using a loaf pan, flip the cake over so the top is up.

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The January Popover Experiment, Take One

Popovers - Beranbaum

Popovers, take one.

One of the problems with being an amateur baker who, unfortunately, must work to make a living, is that it’s incredibly easy to fall into baking ruts. As much as I want to try new recipes, I never know if they’re going to work, and I hate wasting my precious time and energy on a failed project. This fear drives me back to the tried-and true crowd-pleasing recipes that I know will come out perfect every time, which is why I’ve made more batches of America’s Test Kitchen Molasses Spice cookies than I can count.

But in 2009, I want to stretch my baking chops. So I decided to do an experiment. Every month I want to choose a new baked good to focus on—pie, pound cake, devil’s food cake, etc.—and try a bunch of different recipes for that item. Hopefully, this project will hone my baking skills, force me to bake things I’d never bake on my own, and, of course, have something to chronicle for my domestically obsessed readership. Plus I now have several excellent cookbooks on hand, and this is a perfect excuse to try them out.

After a little culinary soul-searching, I decided that January was going to be popovers month. Why? Well, for one thing, they’re fast and easy to make. I can serve them with dinner for two nights in a row without inciting protest from WonkthePlank, who loves them. When done right, they taste delicious, with a salty, buttery and crisp brown crust, and soft, springy middle. And there’s a certain magic in a good popover—the liquid batter looks like it’s too soupy to bake into anything at all, but the mystical force of the oven transforms it into towering brown puffs of dough. That kind of magic is why I love baking.

My first popover attempt was based on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from the The Bread Bible, which is hands-down my all-time favorite cookbook. In the book, Beranbaum explains that popovers are a type of batter bread, meaning that the dough contains a double amount of water than a basic bread dough recipe. Basic popover recipes call for mixture of flour, eggs, and milk, but Beranbaum adds melted butter, salt and sugar as well. Despite their towering height, popovers do not use yeast or any other leavener. Instead, when placed in a hot oven, the milk in the batter creates steam, creating that magnificent rise.

Beanbaum’s recipe also calls for Wondra flour, which is a low-protein, highly-processed, granular flour that dissolves instantly in liquid. General Mills calls it “quick mixing” flour that can be used for gravy or sauces, but many bakers have found that it works well in certain breads and cakes. Wondra flour is perfect for popovers because the flour absorbs the liquid instantly, so the batter can be baked immediately. Many traditional popover recipes call for the batter to sit for several hours before baking, during which the flour becomes fully hydrated.

In my admittedly small amount of research on popovers, I’ve found that there’s variation in the way that popovers are baked. Some recipes call for popover batter to be poured into a buttered muffin or popover tin and then placed in a hot oven. However, the Beranbaum recipe calls for the buttered tins to be heated for a couple of minutes in a hot oven before the batter is added. This is the traditional way that Yorkshire puddings are made—although, in that case, they are cooked in beef drippings, rather than hot butter.

The recipe below is an adaptation of Beranbaum’s Bread Bible recipe, which I made last Friday night. While the popovers did, indeed, rise to stupendous heights, I think they almost rose too much. One of my favorite parts of a popover is the spongy, soft middle that clings to the crisp, brown crust. When I made these, there was an abundance of brown crust and not enough spongy middle. Still, if you like a crusty, buttery popover, then this recipe is for you.

The Popover Recipe

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Election Day Obama Cupcakes

Obama Cupcake - Single

Cupcakes we can believe in.

In DC, election day is kind of like the World Series, the Olympics,and Christmas morning, all rolled into one. Every one in DC has been talking about the 2008 election since, well, the 2004 election was over.

So, in honor of my chosen candidate (Barack Obama), I created my very own Obama Cupcakes. I decided that traditional flavors suited this candidate best who, really, is running on as down-home a platform as there ever was (lower taxes for the middle class, better education, sensible foreign policy, reaching accross the aisle).

Obama Cupcakes

These cupcakes are for change!

And what’s more traditional than the classic pairing of vanilla and chocolate? I used Rose Levy-Beranbaum’s Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake recipe (so appropriate!), which yielded 18 chocolate cupcakes. For the frosting, I used this vanilla frosting recipe from the Magnolia Bakery in NYC. I actually thought that the cake came out a little on the dry side, and the frosting was slightly grainy—it didn’t have that silken smooth texture that I’m constantly seeking in a frosting. My quest for the perfect frosting continues.

But despite their flaws, these cupcakes were still enjoyed by all. So happy election day everyone! Now go vote!

Obama Cupcakes - Plate

A plateful of Obama-supporting cupcakes. Don't these make you want to go vote?

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A Brush With Curdled Milk Disaster

My Lavender Lemon Honey Birthday Cake is well on its way to being completed, and I couldn’t be more satisfied.

In an uncharacteristic move for me, I decided to plan ahead and make the cake layers in advance. So I am quite pleased to say that they are currently sitting in my freezer on a makeshift system of wobbly cooling racks that have been stacked on top of each other.

I decided to make the cake layers the weekend before my birthday because making The Beehive Cake, which I started two days before it was served, was way too stressful. I was so consumed by making sure that each of the cake’s elements came together, I almost fell into that hostess trap where you’re too worried about how the food will turn out to be any fun to talk to.

However, while I’ve been good about starting this cake in advance, I’ve still manged to have several bone-headed moments during its creation. In a much more characteristic move for the space-cadet that I am, the cake had a brush with disaster in its very infancy — all because I never paid attention in chemistry class and completely forgot that lemon juice curdles milk.

You see, I decided to modify a Cake Bible recipe and add some lemon flavoring to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s White Velvet Butter Cake recipe (which I doubled). The White Velvet Butter Cake is a slightly different recipe than the Downy Yellow Butter Cake, which I used to create The Beehive Cake. Instead of using whole eggs, the recipe uses only egg whites. The resulting cake has an exceptionally tender crumb and is a pale, creamy color. It perfectly fulfills my desire to make the Blanche DuBois of cakes — the ultra feminine, ultra girly type of cake best served at a bridal shower, baby shower, or other feminine event.

As I explained in the Banana Bread entry, The Cake Bible uses a two-stage method for mixing cake batter, by first mixing together the dry ingredients, butter, and a little liquid (stage one), and then beating in more liquid in small additions (stage two). The White Velvet Butter Cake uses a combination of egg whites, milk and vanilla in stage two, that is added to the stage one mixture.

And it’s here that I got a little tripped up and almost ruined the cake.

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The Secret Life of Bee(hive Cake)s

My birthday is coming up next week. For most people birthdays bring up lots of questions: what do you want to receive? Should you do a night out on the town, or a dinner at home? Did you really think this is what your life would be like by this age? My god, I’m how many years old now?

But for me, the great question is: how do I top The Beehive Cake?

Beehive Cakes

Yes, The Beehive Cake: my last great cake creation, as captured by the cellphone camera of CupcakeMonsterLee.

This cake, which I made a month ago for my boyfriend Dave’s birthday (shout out: he blogs about investing and business-y type things at wonktheplank), was my grandest creation yet. It was conceived in a fit of madness and daring, and was inspired by a Martha Stewart cover that Dave and I glimpsed in the grocery store, and that probably drove up sales of Williams Sonoma’s beehive-shaped cake pan by, oh, three hundred percent or so (really, who’s going to actually go out and purchase a specialty cake pan that she will use once every five years, if not to emulate The Martha?).

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The Great Hybrid Banana Bread Experiment

I always think it’s funny on Top Chef when, during the inevitable challenge that involves making some kind of dessert, the chefs discuss the difference between a chef and a baker. The conversation always seems to follow the same formula: the chef is an artistic improviser who works in the moment, adding a dash of this and a dash of that before perfecting a dish. Whereas a baker is a scientist, one who loves exact measurements, who desires precision above all else because, unlike in cooking, when you miss a vital ingredient in baking (say, baking powder in a cake batter) then your cake is kaput. The chefs always make bakers sound like boring, fussy squares, who just aren’t as fun as the spontaneous, artistic and impulsive chefs.

I guess this makes me an odd duck then, because I am incredibly imprecise, love to experiment with recipes and throw in bits of this and that that weren’t called for, and yet I really, really love baking. Ever since my mother showed me how to make Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (probably in utero) one of my favorite childhood activities was playing Princesses with my sister, baking up a batch of cookies, and pretending to distribute them among the poor in our kingdom (the poor being my sister and I. And maybe our little brother, if he wasn’t being irritating and chasing us with one of his many swords).

Granted, many of my baking “experiments” haven’t always turned out so well. There was the time I tried to make cookies by using proportions of ingredients that seemed similar to other cookie recipes, and came up with dry and brittle hockey pucks. There was the time I made an apple cake with margarine instead of butter (we were out), and ended up with a greasy and dense mass that even my perpetually hungry boyfriend wouldn’t eat. And don’t even get me started on the loaves of rock-hard bread I’ve produced – loaves that, in a pinch and with the right amount of brute force, could have served as deadly weapons.

However, I had a completely successful baking experiment with banana bread the other day, and I thought I needed to share it, since they are incredibly rare.

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