Bey To Bay: Toscakaka Cake

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It took me awhile to write this post. I don’t even know how to start describing my obsession with this incredibly delicious Swedish cake. It’s the type of cake that you want to bake over and over again, show off at gatherings, and eat at least two slices with a cup of coffee. It’s simply a wonderful recipe that you want to keep all to yourself and not share with anyone else.

But it would be selfish of me to find a cake recipe that brings so much joy and not share it on the blog (I didn’t develop the recipe after all!). I came across this Toscakaka cake several years ago here and I’ve been making it ever since. The contrast of the crunchy caramel almond layer with the thick buttery soft cake layer that instantly melts in your mouth is completely addictive. It’s a really big hit among my friends and family – so when my talented and coffee-obsessed best friend Jeremy came up with the idea to try a coffee and cake pairing post, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine our creativity.

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For the pairing, we wanted something light but lively to complement the buttery depth of the toscakaka. Jeremy’s work frequently takes him to the Hudson Valley, so he picked up a bag of Honduras Pacavita Reserve at The Pantry in Cold Spring, a small-batch shop that only recently started roasting but releases some of the best coffees around. Central American varietals are known for their balanced flavor profiles, and a light to medium roast unlocks all sorts of wild flavors that are also smooth and not overwhelming—just what we wanted.

Pourover is Jeremy’s method of choice for delicate coffees like this. His standard setup is a classic Chemex with a Stagg kettle by Fellow Products, brewing at 200 degrees. The paper filter smoothes out the edge and grittiness, bringing out all those subtle complexities of the coffee. The profile of the Pacavita couldn’t have blended more beautifully with the toscakaka. The herbal-lemon note sponged right into the cake’s moist body, layering on an entirely new effect, while the mild cocoa note married the crunchy almond topping seamlessly.

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Note: This is our first collaboration in our “Bey to Bay” series. More on that in our second post! Stay tuned 🙂

Recipe from Poires au Chocolat, paired with Organic Reserva Pacavita coffee from The Pantry

Cake:
70ml milk
1 tsp lemon juice

75g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp fine sea salt

Almond Topping:
150g flaked almonds
125g unsalted butter
125g packed light brown sugar
50ml whole milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional, could replace with vanilla extract)*

1. Preheat oven to 320°F (160°C). Grease a deep 9″ round cake tin with a removable bottom with melted butter and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Toast the almond flakes on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes until they’re a light golden brown, then set aside.
3. Melt the butter for the cake in a medium saucepan then pour into a bowl and leave to cool (keep the pan to use later). Stir the lemon juice into the milk and leave to sit (or use 75ml buttermilk).
4. Whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a stand mixer on high for 4 minutes (be careful not over-whip) until the mixture is light in color and thick (when you remove the whisk, the trail should stay visible for at least 5 seconds).
5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg bowl then gently fold in with a big metal spoon or large spatula. Drizzle half of the milk over the top and fold in. Repeat with the next 1/3 of flour, the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour. Finally drizzle half of the melted butter over the top, fold in, then repeat with the remaining butter. Be very gentle but thorough, scraping the bottom – it’s easy to get little pockets of flour but you need to conserve as much volume as you can. Carefully transfer to the tin by scraping it gently out from as little height as possible.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden. A toothpick should be able to be removed cleanly.
7. While it bakes, make the almond topping: Place the butter, sugar, milk, salt and espresso powder into the saucepan and stir as the butter melts. Keep heating for a few minutes – it should bubble and thicken slightly. Stir in the almonds and set aside. When the cake is ready, turn the oven up to 390°F (200°C), remove the cake to a rack and spoon the glaze over the top. Spread the almonds out into an even layer. Place back into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the glaze is darkened and bubbling. Cool for a five minutes then slide a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the sides and remove the cake to a rack.

It keeps well in an airtight container for two to three days.

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Chocolate Pear Cake

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The recipe of this post comes from Emiko Davie’s Florentine cookbook. It is a one of a kind book that beautifully captures the magic of Florence’s markets, trattorias and streets. Emiko’s writing weaves stories of the city’s history and culture with an authentic collection of meticulous regional Italian recipes that are beautifully captured through photography.

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The Torta di Pera e Cioccolato cake particularly caught my attention since I’ve tried combining both of these ingredients in a dessert before and I was not very impressed with the result. So I decided to give it another try – mainly because Emiko’s recipes are meticulous and so reliable!

This is not a flourless cake as it contains almond flour, and it’s not as decadent as the flourless chocolate tahini recipe I posted a few weeks ago, but it does have a melt in your mouth texture that makes it really hard to just eat one slice. Remember, the quality of chocolate matters significantly – the better the chocolate, the better the cake!

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Recipe from Florentine by Emiko Davies

50g granulated sugar
500ml water
2 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths lengthways
150g dark chocolate
90g unsalted butter at room temperature, cubed
90g caster (superfine) sugar
90g almond meal
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon cocoa powder for dusting cake pan
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Combine the granulated sugar with the water in a saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the pear slices and poach for 10-15 minutes, or until tender but not too soft (a knife should easily penetrate the flesh without any resistance). Drain and let the pear cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 9″ round springform cake tin and dust with the cocoa powder.
3. Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie. When melted, remove from the heat, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Add the caster sugar and almond meal, stirring to combine. When the mixture is cool, add the 3 egg yolks.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks, then gently fold them into the chocolate batter. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cake pan. Arrange the pear pieces on the top of the batter, pushing them slightly in. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely before unmolding from the pan and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Flourless Almond Ricotta Lemon Cake

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When I wrote this post yesterday afternoon I was listening to some classical Arabic songs by Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez (my best friend Wihane can back me up on this because she called me and noticed the background music). I remember my childhood days when I used to beg my mom to turn off “that boring music” but I take that back. As a Lebanese expat, I sometimes feel out of place in NYC and the American culture in general so I guess that’s what drove me listen to music that is familiar and that is grounded in middle eastern culture. I decided to forget all preconceptions I had about classic Arabic music and just focus on the rhythms and meaningful lyrics. Abdel Halim Hafez’s songs in particular are incredibly rich and they go on for up to an hour! Can you believe that? It’s also quite interesting how different melodies are repeated throughout the same song, rendering distinctive characters each time yet tying the whole song together. Is that an expat thing, reminiscing on old Arabic music and the good old days?

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Anyway! Back to this lovely Almond Ricotta Lemon cake: it is undoubtedly my favorite recipe this winter season. In fact, I love it so much that I lost count of how many times I baked it within the last two months! It’s THAT good. You guys, my grandma even wrote it down in her recipe book and bought a kitchen scale just to make this cake, which is A FIRST for sure. That makes me feel proud of myself.

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It’s a mixture of whipped butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, almond meal, ricotta cheese, and of course lots and lots of lemon zest. The first time I did this I thought the cake will turn out very dense because it is flourless – but to my surprise it is the lightest, moistest cake I ever tasted. It also has a beautiful, irresistible ground almond texture that melts in your mouth bite after bite.

Ingredients:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3 tablespoons lemon zest (Around 2 medium to large lemons)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
225g almond meal
320g high quality fresh ricotta cheese

Optional:
Flaked almonds for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting

Direction:
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C  (325°F). Line the base of a 9″ (23 cm) round cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes until pale and creamy.
3. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat until fully combined.
4. Add the almond meal and beat to combine, then do the same with the ricotta cheese.
5. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, decorate the cake with almond flakes (optional).
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin.
8. Dust with icing sugar before serving. Store in the fridge.

Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti

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Traditional biscotti never appealed to me. I always found them to be plain, way too crunchy, and sometimes tasteless. It wasn’t until recently that I completely changed my mind when I had an anise biscotti at a local neighborhood bakery. Their version of the cookie is crunchy from the outside yet chewy from the inside with a perfect balance of sugar and liquorice flavor. It was biscotti love.

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I sort of became obsessed with these anise flavored cookies, and was dreaming about them everytime I grab a cup of almond milk latte from that bakery. Then it hit me – I should be able to bake delicious biscottis from scratch that are not dry and rock hard! So I looked up a few recipes, played around with the ingredients, varied the baking time, and basically ended up with these incredible double chocolate almond biscotti:

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Not bad, huh?

Here’s the thing about biscotti that you must know before attempting to try this. The dough is baked twice to ensure a crispy yet chewy texture: once in a long log form and then in sliced form. Also, most original recipes only call for eggs as an adhesive ingredient, but recipes using butter (such as this one) yield softer and delicate cookies due to the added fat. So it all comes down to your preference!

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I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and I seriously did NOT expect them to be THAT delicious! That’s the best part of baking 🙂

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Makes about 14 biscotti

Ingredients:
57 g (¼ cup) butter, room temperature
150 g (¾ cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
190 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
45 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
115 g (4 ounces- about 1 cup) slivered or chopped raw almonds
80 g (¼ cup) bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F° (180 C°).
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
4. Mix in the vanilla extract.
5. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt over the mixing bowl. Mix with a spatula until it’s all incorporated– do not overmix. The dough will be slightly sticky.
6. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.
7. Shape the dough into a log 12-inches (30 cm) long by 3-inches (7 cm) on a parchment lined baking sheet.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough cracks on top and begins to brown.
9. Take out of the oven and cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
10. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into ½-inch slices (1 cm). Place the slices cut side down onto the baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes on each side for a soft texture. For a crunchier texture, bake for 8-10 minutes.

Homemade Croissants

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I’ve always been very curious about baking and the art of pastry. That’s mainly why I started this blog– to pursue my passion, take risks, experiment with different recipes, and write about the most successful ones. It’s not just about sharing recipes, but also building a portfolio and documenting my progress over time.

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Homemade croissants have been on my to do list for a very long time and I finally had some free time– and by free time I mean a whole weekend!– to prepare them. I was kind of nervous and worried that they won’t be successful on my first trial because I don’t have a professional pastry background or anyone to guide me through the whole process. But after reading several blog posts and watching a few videos about making croissant, I felt like I was ready to give it a shot. I fell across Top with Cinnamon’s homemade croissant recipe, and I after seeing her gorgeous pictures and step by step gifs, I had to try it out.

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The process of making the layered yeast-leavened dough is time consuming. It basically involves layering the dough with ALOT of butter through a “rolling and folding” technique. If done right, the croissants will have crispy flaky exterior and a tender layered interior when baked. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing and eating the result of your hard work! 😀

Note: I posted my detailed hourly schedule for preparing croissants at the bottom of the page!

Preparing the dough

Ingredients: Adapted from Top with Cinnamon
1 cup (250 ml) cold milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) boiling water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
3 ¾ cup (500 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 oz/ 250 g) butter, frozen, then left at room temp. for 20-30 minutes

Directions:
1. Have all your ingredients measured and ready.
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2. Pour the milk and boiling water into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and sugar, leave for 5 minutes until frothy.

3. Add in the flour and salt to the milk, incorporate it with your hands into a shaggy ball.

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5. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with cling film, and leave in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.

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6. When your dough has been in the fridge for 30 minutes, take your frozen butter (which has been left at room temperature for 20 min), and grate onto a piece of cling film

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7. Disperse the butter, and flatten into a 8″ x 5″ (20 x 13 cm) rectangle. Fold up in the cling film and pat together well (make sure it’s nicely compacted).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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8. Once the butter has been chilling for 25 minutes, tip the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a 16″ x 10″ (40 x 25 cm) rectangle.

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9. Unwrap the chilled butter block and place into the center of the dough. Fold the dough into thirds over the butter. Seal all the edges by pinching the dough together.

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10. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, use the rolling pin to make regular indentations in the dough. Roll into a 16″ x 10″ (40 x 25 cm) rectangle. (I used toothpicks as a reference for the measurements).

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11. Fold into thirds like a business letter. Wrap the dough in cling film, and refrigerate for 1 hour.  (steps 10+11 make “one turn” of the dough).

10. Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap and complete 1 turn (repeat steps 10+ 11, roll out dough then fold again). Re-wrap in the cling film, refrigerate for 1 hour.

11. Fold two more times, so you have done a total of 4 turns.

12. Cut the dough into quarters. Wrap the quarters tightly in cling film and refrigerate for 8-12 hours, or freeze for up to 3 months (if you freeze it, let the dough defrost in the fridge overnight before shaping).

Shaping the dough

1. Remove one quarter of dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 16″ x 6″ rectangle.

2. Cut into thirds, forming 3 smaller rectangles. Cut each of these rectangles in half diagonally forming 6 triangles.

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3. Take one triangle of dough (putting the others in the fridge to prevent the butter from melting).

4. Pull on the corners of the shortest edge, to even up the base of the triangle. Then gently stretch the dough a little

5. Cut a small slit in the base of the triangle, stretch it, then roll the dough up.

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You can add different fillings to the croissants, like chopped chocolate, zaa’tar, or almond paste.

7. Place it, tip side down, onto a lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the rest of the triangles, placing them 2″ (5 cm) apart.

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8. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise in a cool place for around 2-3 hours ( if you’re making these the night before, you can actually shape them and leave them to rise in the fridge overnight instead).

You can also freeze the shaped croissants on the baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag and leave in the freezer for up to 3 months, then defrost in the fridge overnight and proceed as below.

Baking the croissants:

1. Once ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F (220°C).
2. Brush the croissants with a beaten egg using a pastry brush and put into the oven.
3. Immediately lower the temperature to 400°F (200°C), and bake for 10 minutes.
4. Reduce the temperature to 350°F (180°C) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until well browned and puffy.
5. Let cool on a wire rack.

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All of these steps might seem daunting at first, that’s why I wrote down my personal schedule for making homemade croissant. This will help in not missing any step! Bon Appétit!

Time Schedule:

• Day 1
8:00 AM
Place butter in the freezer.

8:00 AM
8:10 AM
Measure ingredients.

8:10 AM
Combine cold milk, boiling water, yeast, and sugar together.

8:15 AM → 8:20 AM
Mix in the flour and salt, then mix to form a ball. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, and refrigerate for an hour.

8:30 AM
Take out the butter from the freezer.

8:50 AM → 8:55 AM
Grate the butter, shape into a rectangle, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

9:30 AM → 9:35 AM
Roll out the dough on a floured surface, add the block of butter, complete turn 1, and refrigerate.

10:30 AM
Turn 2.

11:30 AM
Turn 3.

12:30 PM
Turn 4 – Cut the dough into quarters and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate the dough for at least 8-12 hours. You can continue baking at 9 PM, or wait until the next day to complete the rest of the steps.

• Day 2
8:00 AM 8:20 AM
Roll out a quarter of a dough, cut into triangles, and shape into croissants.

8:20 AM 10:20 AM
Leave the croissants to rise.

10:00 AM
Preheat the oven to 450°F (22o°C).

10:20 AM 10:25 AM
Brush croissants with beaten egg

10:25 AM
Bake in the oven, following the instructions above.

10:50 AM
Croissants are done!

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Chewy Almond Cookies

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2013 is almost coming to an end.

It’s been a year full of ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments, and I’ve learned so many life, love, and work lessons that helped me grow as a person. Not only did I start this blog in 2013, but I also had the amazing opportunity to travel to New York to pursue my passion in graphic design and get lost in a big city full of opportunities and inspirations. I’m simply amazed at how much I enjoy the work that I do today (my full time job, freelance work, and baking blog!) and how many awesome people I get to meet everyday. I’m so grateful for having incredible parents, family, and friends who have been encouraging me and supporting all of my decisions. I’m also grateful for the people who have been following Brownie Box; the past few months have been slow but I’m working hard and putting a lot of effort into every single post.

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We’re still in the stretch of the holidays and some of you might be relieved that Christmas is over because of the copious amount of FOOD we ate for 3 days straight, but I’m not done baking. In fact, I’m still using the “Christmas/New Year” excuse to constantly replenish the supply of cookies and chocolate.

Today’s post is about these incredibly chewy almond cookies. I still can’t believe that I recently discovered this recipe. It’s so GOOD it’s making me sad that I just started baking these; they’re perfect with coffee, tea, or even dipped in chocolate ganache! I seriously can’t stop munching on them all day.

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The recipe calls for almond paste: a combination of almond meal and sugar in equal quantities mixed with a little bit egg white to hold the ingredients together. You can buy almond paste at the grocery store or make your own (see below!) because it’s tastier and more economical. Now there’s a difference between marzipan and almond paste: the former is sweeter and commonly used for decoration purposes – like fondant. Almond paste contains double the amount of almonds, which is perfect for baked goods because of its intense flavor.

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Almond Paste

Almond Paste

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I guarantee that everyone will love these cookies because they are so light and versatile! What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe?

Ingredients:
Almond Paste:
150 grams (1¼ cup) halved blanched almonds
150 grams (¾ cup) powdered sugar
1 egg white
Note: This recipe yields 8½ oz. (250 gr.) of almond paste. The cookies recipe calls for 3½ oz. (100 gr.), so you can freeze the rest or double the cookie recipe!

1. Place almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process the almonds until they are very finely ground, stopping periodically to scrape the sides of the bowl.
2. Add the sugar and egg white, process until smooth.
3. Knead the dough on a working surface until firm and smooth (you can also use a dough hook).

Cookies: Yields ~ 36 cookies
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup (100 grams) sugar
1 stick (113 grams, ½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3½ oz. (100 grams) almond paste
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1. Beat together the egg and sugar using a stand or hand mixer.
2. Add the softened butter, almond paste, and vanilla. Continue mixing until homogeneous.
3. Add the sifted flour and salt to the egg mixture. Then mix by hand or using a wooden spoon until combined.
4. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 320ºF or 160ºC.
5. Transfer dough to a large parchment paper that fits a 19″x13″ inch baking sheet (48×32 cm). Press down the dough with a rolling pin and move it from the center out to form a flat dough of ¼” inch or 0.5 cm in thickness.
6. Cut out the dough using a cookie cutter. (Note: you can also shape the dough into small balls and flatten them with the palm of your hand).
7. Bake for 12 minutes (the cookies will stay white and soft), take out the baking sheet of the oven, and let cool completely until they harden.