Sunday, May 20, 2018

Chocolate Dream Cake

When I was little, the things I wanted were sold as separate, never complete as is. I could get the Barbie, but still wanted the car and the Barbie house. It seems as if someone has caught on to this trend, because everything you buy has the option to buy additional things that make it more complete.

Crazy as it may be, the lady at the cosmetics counter swears that there are 3 purchases to make perfume complete. Buy the base (perfumed lotion), then the perfume itself and lastly, the sealer of perfumed dusting powder. We all thought that the perfume purchase was enough, but now we know better, right? Well, I still have yet to be convinced to buy all three.

Unlike separate entities, this cake has it all. The layers are much like brownies, very moist and with a deep chocolate flavor. Coating these decadent layers is a fluffy cream filling and a Marscapone buttercream frosting with the crunch of cookies. Lastly, it has ganache on top and running down the sides. That component is nothing but dark chocolate candy. Hmmm... brownie, cookie, candy- that about sums up this three layer dessert tower. Rest assured, you will not want any chocolate sauce or ice cream with your slice-just a fork!

This cake requires three 8 inch round cake pans and a dropper since the coconut oil is measured in drops. When planning, make sure you allow enough time to create the cake. Consider the baking time of approximately 50-55 minutes. Also, remember that there are 3 components covering the outside of the cake.

Chocolate Dream Cake
adapted from

Ingredients/ Cake
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cup hot coffee
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
3 cups sugar
4 oz chopped semisweet chocolate
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups Dutch processed cocoa powder

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup Marscapone cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 drops coconut oil
one 8.5 oz box of coconut dream cookies (crushed)

1 lb of powdered sugar
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla
15 drops of coconut oil
1/2 of an 8.5 oz box of coconut dream cookies (crushed for coating sides)

1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate (chopped)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare 3 eight inch cake pans by greasing the interior. Then line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the surface. The first component will be the cake.

Stir together the buttermilk, milk and vanilla extract and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then sift in the cocoa and whisk the mixture together. Lastly, stir in the sugar and form a well in the center of the mix.

Fill a small bowl with the eggs and whisk until foamy on the surface and set aside. In another bowl, add the chopped chocolate and spread evenly. Then pour the hot coffee into the bowl and let sit undisturbed for 2 minutes. Whisk coffee and chocolate together until smooth.

Fill the center of the well (formed in the dry ingredients) with the eggs, oil and melted chocolate. Then stir until smooth. Pour in the milk mixture and blend into the batter. Divide the mixture into thirds and fill each pan.

Place pans in oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then rotate and bake for an additional 25 minutes. At this time, use a tester to see if done. If not, let cakes cook for an additional 2 minutes and check again.

Let cakes cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes. Then run a butter knife around the edges and invert onto rack. Peel off parchment and let cool completely on rack.

The next component will be the filling. In the first bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Use a second bowl to beat the Marscapone cheese until smooth. Then fill a bowl of a stand mixer with the whipping cream. Whisk the cream until stiff peaks form. Add the Marscapone cheese, oil and vanilla extract. Blend ingredients together with mixer on medium speed, scraping down the sides at intervals. Once combined, beat in the powdered sugar. Lastly, fold in the cookie crumbs. Empty into a bowl with a lid, place lid on top and refrigerate until ready to use.

Using a small bowl, start creating your frosting by stirring the oil and vanilla together. Then fill the bowl of a stand mixer with butter and beat until light and shiny, scraping down sides as needed. Add the vanilla/oil blend and beat again until evenly distributed. Beat in the powdered sugar in 1/4 increments until the mixture is fluffy and smooth.

Place one cake layer on a plate, stand or cake board. Using a spatula, smooth a thin layer of buttercream frosting on the surface. Take the filling out of the refrigerator and divide in half. Place half of the filling onto the surface of the cake layer and smooth out evenly, covering the flat surface of the cake from edge to edge. Repeat the frosting/filling process after you stack the second layer on top. Then stack the last layer.

At this point, you will cover the cake in a thin coating of the frosting, which will be the crumb coat.

The create the ganache by filling a bowl with the chocolate and smoothing out to an even layer. Heat the cream to a simmer (either using a saucepan or microwave). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let rest for 2 minutes. Then stir until smooth and set aside.

Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream. Using clean hands, lightly press hand fulls of cookie crumbs on the sides of the cake, making sure all of it sticks and all sides are evenly coated.

Once the above task is complete, check on the chocolate ganache for consistency. It should not be like water, but is should be pour-able. This mixture will get thicker as it stands. After the consistency is achieved, our the ganache over the cake. Start by pouring along the outer edges then towards the center. If too much drips off, just keep spooning it back on top of the cake.

Tips and Notes:
1. The cake is very moist and fluffy. This means it is very fragile, so be careful when stacking your layers together. If it cracks, push the pieces together, the moisture will hold them together along with the frositing and filling.

2. I used an offset spatula to crumb coat cake. Dipping the spatula in water while you frost helps smooth the frosting without tearing the cake.

3. The frosting will set up with time, so do not delay in pressing the crumbs on the sides. If they do not stick, use a wet spatula on the surface of the frosting to make it sticky for the cookie crumbs.

4. Refrigerate cake to store if not serving right away.

5. The filling did stay fluffy for awhile. You may consider adding whipped cream stabilizer to the filling if you know the cake will be sitting at room temperature for hours.

                                       **LAST YEAR: Sour Cream Donuts**

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Banana Nut Cream Pops

When making frozen items you always have to consider the temperature gauge. On dipped ice cream pops, the outside coating and the inside ice cream vary in how much time is required in the refrigerator. In addition, a photo shoot will always influence the temperature, so you must act quickly or the items may melt in the process.

To avoid melting, I took the picture of these pops laying in the freezer. However, the open door on the freezer did cause some melting, but only after I was done with my photo shoot.

Aside from the picture taking, tasting these creamy cold confections was the real reward for my efforts. Roasting the fruit prior to blending with the cream really heightened the banana flavor. The roasting idea/method was adapted from the book Paletas.

There are some other elements that I included and developed that really enhanced the cream pops. Just like frozen dipped bananas, I tossed in some toasted walnuts and dipped the cream pops into chocolate to finalize before freezing. One taste and you will be really happy that each of these are for one individual. The idea of sharing one is out of the question!

As I was doing the dipping, I thought that this process would be a nice spin on the typical ice cream social. It would be fun freezing up these ice cream pops and having some friends over for dipping in their favorite coating (ie butterscotch, white chocolate are a few more varieties). The coating is the recipe for magic shell. It is easy to make and can sit at room temperature.

Even if you are not into the ice cream social event, these pops are a perfect way to escape from a hot afternoon. This recipe makes about 7 or 8 cream pops with leftover magic shell.

Banana Nut Cream Pops
by flourtrader

Ingredients/Ice Cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs banana liqueur
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbs granulated sugar
3 ripe bananas
1 tsp lemon juice

Ingredients/Magic Shell
1/3 cup coconut oil
5-6 oz of chocolate (or other flavored morsels or chips)

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap each of the bananas (leave skins on)tightly in foil and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Place pan in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. As they cool, fill a large bowl with both sugars and whisk together.

Scoop the roasted banana out of their skins and place in the bowl with the sugar. Mash and blend until the sugar has dissolved. Empty the mixture into a blender and add all the additional ingredients, except the walnuts. Blend mixture together until smooth. Empty into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturers directions until the ice cream reaches a soft serve consistency. Fold in the toasted walnuts.

Cut one corner off of a freezer bag and fill with the ice cream. Pipe into the molds, stopping occasionally to press out air bubbles with a butter knife. Fill each mold 1/4 inch below top edge. Place top on mold and insert stick. Put mold on rack and place in freezer. Let freeze overnight.

The next day, create the magic shell by placing chocolate (or morsels) and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir. Repeat process until all the chocolate is melted and blended with the oil.  Let cool and then empty into a tall plastic cup.

Remove the ice cream bar from the mold (per manufacturer's instructions) and dip into cooled magic shell. Pull out of liquid and let the chocolate drip off of the top of the cream pop. Place in freezer for about 3 minutes and dip again. Repeat this process for additional cream pops. Wrap in plastic and store in freezer.

Tips and Notes:
1. I roasted the bananas without placing them on a baking sheet and liquid oozed out and dripped onto the bottom of the oven. Using a baking sheet may increase the roast time, but you will avoid the mess on the oven.

2. To make sure that the chocolate coating stays unmarked when freezing, take a thin cardboard box (like a cereal box) and cut small slits in the side or bottom. Push the ice cream stick in the slot to prop it up.

3. Make sure that the shell has cooled to room temperature or the cream pop will melt when dipping.
                            **LAST YEAR:Marbled Chocolate Raspberry Cookies**

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Homemade Pop Tarts

New ideas come from the internet and new recipes do as well. I realize that once a fantastic thing pops up in the way of recipes, several posts from various bloggers of the same item will follow. I usually wait until the popularity subsides. After all, no one is interested in reviewing several posts at one time representing the same thing.

I have been holding back on making Joanne Chang's pop tarts for some time. After making them, I can really understand why this recipe is such a favorite on the net. The filling can be made or jam can be purchased, but the real winning component is the pate brisee or pastry crust. Based on the buttery and flaky result, I have decided that this recipe is my "go to" when it comes to making any pastry or pies.

You can make a homemade filling or buy one that is pre-made, such as jam or canned pie filling. The picture above is with an apple filling. The recipe below contains only the homemade crust instructions. The purchased jam or pie filling has instructions on how to use the component for the tarts. The recipe makes 8 pop tarts or one 9 inch double crust pie. The dough has to chill for at least 4 hours before forming, so take this into consideration when planning.

Homemade Pop Tarts
adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

Ingredients/Pate Brisee
3 tbs milk
2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (cubed into 12 pieces)
1 lightly beaten egg

1 cup of purchased filling of choice (jam, pie filling...)

2-3 tbs water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar

Start by making the dough. Fill the bowl of a food processor with the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse the ingredients about 10 times to evenly distribute. Drop in chunks of butter and pulse again, minimizing the butter into pea sized chunks. Do not pulse until smooth.

Fill a small bowl with the 2 egg yolks and milk. Whisk together. Pour mixture into the butter/flour blend. Pulse a few times, making sure the liquid is mixed into the dough. Gather the dough together into a mound and place on parchment paper on a flat surface.

At this time, you will turn the butter chunks in the dough into streaks. Slide your palm down the sides of the mound, smearing the butter into the dough. Fold the dough and form another mound. Follow the same process, smearing the butter into streaks. Once it is cohesive and streaked with butter, form dough into a flat disc (about 1 inch thick) and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours or a maximum of 4 days.

After the chilling time is complete, remove the dough and divide in half. Place one half on lightly floured parchment paper. Cover and return the other half to the refrigerator until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Roll dough into a 14x11 inch rectangle. Cut rectangle into 8 pieces, measuring about 3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a sheet of waxed paper on a flat surface. Put a cooling rack over the wax paper.Transfer 4 pieces of the dough to the baking sheet, spacing evenly. Brush the surface of the 4 pieces with the beaten egg.

Place about 2 tablespoons of jam or filling onto the center of each of the 4 pieces. Spread filling out evenly, but leave about a 1/2 inch border. Place the remaining 4 cut pieces of dough on top of the the others that have the filling on top. Using your fingers, press down on all the edges of the dough to seal the 2 pieces together.

Put baking sheet in oven and bake until pastries are golden brown. This should take about 40-45 minutes, but check at the 35 minute interval to insure that they do not get too brown. Remove baking sheet, place on rack and let pastries cool for about 30 minutes. Then transfer to rack to cool completely. Repeat the same process of preparing and forming pastries with the additional dough in the refrigerator.

Prepare the glaze by sifting the confectioner's sugar into a bowl. Then whisk in vanilla extract and 1 tsp of water. Add water until desired consistency is met for drizzling or glazing. Brush the surface of the cooled pop tarts with the glaze and let set for 15 minutes to allow the glaze to dry.

Tips and Notes:
1. Make sure the filling you are using is fairly thick, so it will not run when put on pastry dough.

2. The dough is very flaky, so it is important that the roll-out thickness of the dough is consistent.

3. Be very careful when transferring tarts to rack, they are fragile until completely cooled.

4. If the dough starts to stick when forming and rolling, place back in the refrigerator to cool and dust surface and rolling pin with more flour.

5. Depending on the filling, the glaze can be flavored with a complimentary extract (other than vanilla) such as lemon, cinnamon...etc.

                              **LAST YEAR:Brazilian Ombre Cake**

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

As a food blogger, the definition of comfort food is very clear. For a certain food to be referred to as a comfort it has to meet several requirements. First (and most obvious) is that it has to have an amazing taste. However, sometimes the aroma of baking or cooking a particular food has a special power all its own. The food usually conjures up pleasant places, thoughts or memories. For example, a person might recall having a terrible day at school when they were a child, but got home only to find mom with some homemade cookies. Those cookies eased the situation back then and continue to retain that power, irregardless of the day or age of that same person. Sometimes just the aroma of the food baking or cooking.

So when you find yourself in the kitchen creating-never underestimate the power that food can have on your guests, family or friends.

Today I bring you the most favorite comfort food of all-chocolate chip cookies. Sure, these cookies are wonderful just with chocolate chips, but they get an extra boost of chewiness from coconut. This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from The Institute of Culinary Education 

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or 10 oz chopped chocolate
1 cup of sweetened coconut 
1 cup butter (room temp)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar

Prepare 2 cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with butter and both kinds of sugar. Cream together by beating on medium high speed for 4 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg and the vanilla. Set aside. For the third bowl, sift together the baking soda and flour. Then whisk in the salt.

Pour the egg/vanilla mixture into the butter/sugar blend and beat for about 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold the sifted ingredients into the batter. Once the dough is formed, add the chocolate chips and coconut. Use a wooden spoon to distribute the add ins throughout the dough.

Using a scoop or spoon, place tablespoon sized mounds of dough on the prepared baking sheets. The mounds should be about 2 inches apart. Place in oven and bake until cookies are golden on the edges and bottom. This should take about 8-10 minutes and the center will still be soft.

Remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for one minute, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Tips and Notes:

1. The coconut only imparts texture to these cookies. If you want these cookies to have a coconut flavor, add about 1 tsp of coconut extract.

2. I tried these cookies with milk and semi sweet chocolate and both types turned out tasty. However, my preference will always be semi-sweet.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Italian Tomato Loaf

The one particular vegetable that equates to Italian cuisine is the tomato. My favorite kind of tomato is one called beefsteak. The beefsteak tomato is well known for its meaty texture and wonderful flavor.

I recall one dining experience in which I ordered Margherita pizza. Authentic and very much Italian, the pizza only had 4 components: crisp crust, tomato sauce, tomato slices and mozzarella. I have seen a lot of recipes for this type of pizza, but never with whole slices of tomatoes. All this typing makes me want another piece! It was quite a long time ago in a restaurant out of town, but I am ready to go back.

Between my love of bread and my thoughts about tomatoes, I found a base a recipe for tomato bread from My Recipe Cards and tweaked it by adding and eliminating elements until I created a recipe that produces a very Italian flavored tomato loaf.

This tomato bread has the same density of sourdough bread and includes Italian seasoning, mozzarella cheese and two types of flour. Due to the chewy texture and flavor, the bread has many tasty uses. A few slices for a sandwich or an accompaniment for a pasta dish, are just to list a few. This recipe makes a smaller loaf, about 7-8 inches in diameter.

Italian Tomato Loaf
by Flourtrader

3/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/3 cup grated mozzarella
1 tsp sugar
1 pkg yeast
1/4 cup snipped herbs (optional rosemary, basil, thyme in small pieces)
2 tbs butter
1 cup canned tomatoes (drained with 1/2 juice reserved)
3-4 cups flour
1 egg white (whisked)
topping (Italian seasoning or snipped herbs)

Fill a food processor with the tomatoes and the reserved juice. Pulse until tomatoes are blended, but not pureed, the mixture should still have some chunks of tomato.

Transfer to a saucepan and place a candy thermometer inside. Turn the heat up to medium and let the liquid warm up to 105 to 115 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in the yeast and the sugar. Let the mixture sit until the surface is foamy.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat in the herbs (if using), Italian seasoning, butter and cheese. Once blended, fold flour into batter, 1 cup at a time. After the 2nd cup, let dough rest for 10 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and place on a flat, floured surface. Knead in the additional cup and then check for consistency. It should be a very stiff dough. If not, knead in more flour until the correct consistency is reached.

Place dough in a greased bowl and cover lightly. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. After an hour, check the dough by making a half inch indentation in the center. If the indention remains, the rising time is complete. If not, let it rise for additional time as needed.

After the first rise time, punch down dough. Shape into a round loaf and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cut a few slits in the top and then let rise again. As it rises, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Check the dough after 1 hour of rise time by lightly pressing on top. The rising time is complete if the imprint remains.

Brush the surface with the egg white and sprinkle with fresh herbs or dry Italian seasoning. Bake until the surface is toasty and tapping the loaf emits a hollow sound, approximately 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on rack to completely cool.
                              **LAST YEAR:Blackberry Ginger Kouign Amann**

Friday, April 6, 2018

Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart

Father time has a way of running things when it comes to spices and ingredients. Some things hold up against time and others deteriorate quickly. I read somewhere that poppy seeds are bad when we buy them here in the US. This means that we have no idea of what a fresh seed tastes like.

Today, I realized that my espresso powder became a victim. That big plastic jar with the screw on lid was no match to the Texas weather. Instead of a powdery substance like cocoa, I opened to find a brick. Even though it said store in a cool dry place, I thought that my damp clay round that I used to keep brown sugar from getting hard would do the trick. Now I have a clay piece stuck to the espresso brick as an indication that humidity is the enemy.

This recipe requires a touch of espresso powder, so I just scraped off enough of the brick to get what I needed. I will have to look into storing and packaging the next time I purchase. Considering how much I used versus how much was wasted- I was not at all pleased.

Diverting my attention, I moved forward with the task of creating a chocolate tart. At the end of the project, one bite of the rich chocolate filling and crispy crust of this decadent dessert made me forget all about the espresso issue. Pairing the the vanilla whipped cream topping with the rich dark chocolate filling that was laced with a hint of coffee flavor truly was nothing short of being a deliciously genius idea.

Ah, the powers of chocolate-not only a tasty indulgence, but a bit magical in the way it makes a person feel. I do recommend that we all experience the magic of chocolate every once in a while and this particular tart is a great choice. This recipe makes one 9 1/2 inch or 3 five inch tarts.

Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart
adapted from Sur La Table

2 1/2 tbs Dutch cocoa
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
4 oz or 1 stick unsalted butter (room temp)
1 egg yolk

16 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 tbs espresso powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup heavy cream

1 tbs sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs cream stabilizer ( optional)
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tbs cocoa nibs (optional garnish)

For the crust, start by filling the bowl of a stand mixer with sugar and butter. Cream mixture together by beating on medium high speed for a total of 3 minutes, stopping at one minute intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg until blended.

Using another bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa. Then fold it into the sugar mixture until no dry streaks remain. Shape dough into a flat disk and place in tart pan. Press and form the dough into the sides and on the bottom-covering all areas evenly. Then take a long sharp knife and cut off the excess dough from the top edge of the tart. Once completed, place in refrigerator 1 hour or chill in the freezer for 30 minutes. During this time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take chilled tart out. Using the tines of a fork, make small holes in the bottom of the dough. Then cover the surface of the dough with parchment paper and place pie weights on top. Place tart in the oven and let bake for 15 minutes. Take tart out of oven and remove weights and parchment paper. Return tart to the oven and let bake for an additional 15-17 minutes. Remove and place on rack to completely cool.

The filling starts with placing the chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl, preferably a pasta bowl. Smooth the chocolate pieces evenly in the bottom of the bowl. Take a small saucepan and whisk the cream, salt and espresso powder together. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and whisk as it cooks. Once the mixture has come to a boil, remove saucepan from heat and pour over chopped chocolate pieces. Let the mixture rest and then stir until all the chocolate is melted. Pour the filling into the tart shell. Let cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator and let chill for a minimum of one hour and up to 8 hours or overnight in order for filling to set.

After the tart filling is set, prepare the whipped cream topping by beating together all the topping ingredients, with the exception of the cocoa nibs. Beat until soft peaks form or the cream holds its shape. Top tart with whipped cream as desired and then sprinkle on the cocoa nibs, if using.
                                 **LAST YEAR:Walnut Mini Loaves**

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Triple Lemon Cupcakes

Here in Texas, the weather is sort of "on the fence"- not really spring and not really winter. It is mostly days ranging from 80 and 50 degrees. Also, the wind factor is high-indicating that the ceiling fans on the porch were really unnecessary.

Frankly, I am looking for spring days with no variance. I am hoping that the bluebonnets will sprout here and the butterflies will come out. Another thing that marks spring is that my consumption of lemonade increases. Come to think of it, I am ready to see a few of the kids' lemonade stands set up around the area.

Today's post is not a recipe for lemonade, but instead a special citrus cupcake. With the moist lemon infused cake, luscious lemon cream/curd and sweet tangy lemon syrup, I consider this cupcake the next best thing to a refreshing lemonade. If you do not have a special dessert item for the picnic table - this recipe may just become a springtime tradition.

The recipe is adapted from several component recipes: the cake-rock, the syrup-Saveur Magazine, the filling-So Good Recipes. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Triple Lemon Cupcakes

Ingredients/Lemon Cream
6 oz sugar
2 large eggs
3 oz lemon juice
3 oz butter (room temp and cubed)
zest of 2 lemons

3/4 tsp lemon oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup of vegetable shortening
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest from 1 large or 2 small lemons
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cup regular flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt

3 tbs sugar
4 tbs lemon juice

Ingredients/Italian Buttercream
5 egg whites
1 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups unsalted butter (room temp and cubed)
1 tbs vanilla extract

The first component is the lemon cream. Fill a saucepan with all ingredients, with the exception of the butter. Whisk together and place over medium heat. Stir constantly as it cooks and comes to a boil. This process should change the liquid into a thick shiny substance. At this point, remove the saucepan from the heat. Add a few butter chunks and then whisk until melted. Repeat this process until all the butter has been melted and mixed into the lemon batter.

Transfer to a sieve placed over a heat proof bowl and strain out all the zest, using the back of a spoon to push the mixture through. Place the bowl in an ice bath for 20 minutes and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the top cavity edges of 2 muffin tins, each with 12 cavities. Line the cavities with cupcake papers and set aside.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the vegetable oil, lemon oil and shortening. Beat with paddle blade until it becomes smooth. Then add the sugar and vanilla extract. Blend with the mixer on medium high speed for about 3 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the mixture is fluffy, add an egg and combine. Repeat the process, blending in each remaining egg, one at a time. Then mix in the lemon zest.

Take out another bowl and sift together both types of flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Fold 1/3 of this mixture into the lemon batter. Then stir in half of the buttermilk. Repeat the process, using half of the remaining dry ingredients and the rest of the buttermilk. Lastly, fold in the last bit of the sifted ingredients until no dry streaks remain.

Using a scoop, fill each of the muffin cavities with the batter. Each cavity should be 3/4 of the way full. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes, then rotate pans and bake for an additional 7-12 minutes. Cupcakes are done when tester comes out clean and edges are golden. Remove from oven and place pan on rack and let cool for 2 minutes. Then transfer cupcakes to rack and let cool completely.

To prepare buttercream, fill a saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and water. Whisk together and place over medium high heat and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Let mixture cook until it registers a temperature of 245 degrees Fahrenheit, then remove from heat.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the egg whites and beat until it reaches a soft peak consistency. Then add the 1/4 cup of sugar and beat for 30 seconds. At this point, continue beating on medium speed and stream in the sugar/water mixture. Then turn the speed to high and beat for 8 minutes or until the bottom outside of bowl is room temperature. Turn the speed back to medium and drop in the butter cubes, one at a time, letting each meld with the batter before adding the next cube. Once all the cubes are beaten in to the batter, blend in the extract. At first, the mixture will look a bit like cottage cheese. Continue to beat and it will eventually come together into a thick airy frosting.

For the syrup, whisk the sugar and the lemon juice together in a small saucepan. Place saucepan over medium high heat and let come to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

To assemble the cupcakes, begin by brushing the syrup onto the surface of the cakes. Continue to brush on until no more syrup remains. Let it soak into the cake for about 30 minutes. Then use a paring knife to core out a dime sized hole in the middle of the cupcakes. Remove the filling from the refrigerator and prepare a piping bag with a plain tip. Fill the cupcakes with the lemon cream until the cream comes to the surface. Refrigerate the remaining filling.

Frost the cupcakes as desired and then pipe the top center with a puddle of lemon cream. Refrigerate cupcakes if you need to store and then let set at room temperature 10 minutes before serving.

Tips and Notes:
1. The Italian buttercream can be flavored with any extract of your choice.
2. For another variation, fruit jam can be used in place of the lemon cream.
3. The flavors of the syrup and frosting develop fully after 1 day.
4. You can use 2 tsp of lemon extract in place of the lemon oil.
5. When brushing on syrup, be careful to make sure that it does not drip down the sides of the cupcake papers.
6. Be prepared to run your mixer quite a long time, this is the typical process for Italian buttercream.

                                              **LAST YEAR:Spicy Date Filled Cookies**