Chocolate Cake with Plum Basil Jam and Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Chocolate Cake with Plum Basil Jam and Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

   I’ve written many chocolate cake recipes, most of which have made it here on the blog. Every time, one comes out better than the last one. I’m often tempted to go through and change all the previous chocolate cake recipes- especially my very first post(a chocolate cake), but what would be the point in doing that. Honestly, if I knew all that I know now I would’ve never posted that first cake recipe. I was just learning about ratios and recipe writing, so of course, the cake was far from being perfect. I failed so many times on it, but that last try seemed good enough to post. I made it again sometime later and let’s just say it’ll probably go down in history as the dryest chocolate cake ever made. Embarrassing as those first blog posts are, I’m leaving it up as a reminder of where I was when I started this blog, but also a reminder to myself to never again post a recipe I’m not 100% satisfied with. Good things take time, even if weeks go by without a single blog post. I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way. I was trying to post a new recipe three times a week when I first began my blog. Some can do this, others cannot; I’m definitely the latter.  Not only was I wasting money, I was also wasting all my creative energy. 

  There’s nothing more delicious than a slice of chocolate cake that looks like it’s made entirely of fudge and tastes even better. You know what I’m talking about? Dense, rich, and ultra chocolatey. I’ve yet to accomplish this, but it’s my ultimate goal in baking to make a four-layered cake just like that. It may weigh about ten pounds afterward, but I’m sure it will taste amazing. This chocolate cake is nothing like that of course, but it’s a bit on the heavier side, with a moist, tight crumb and rich chocolatey flavor. Oh, and the plum basil jam! So good with this cake. I went a little overboard with the jam on the first bottom layer(as you can see in some of the photos), so don’t do as I did- you want some of that liquid goodness to soak into the cake, but not too much. Now, onto that chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. It’s my first time using it and I was surprised at how easy it was to make. I will admit, I thought it was a fail at first because I added too soft of butter, so the buttercream just ran off the spatula- not good. But, this problem is easily fixed, so if you happen to have this same problem, pop the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes and then whip the mixture until it’s velvety smooth.


Chocolate Cake with Basil Plum Jam and Swiss Meringue Buttercream

   ingredients for the cake:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour { 240 grams }

2 cups raw cane sugar { 380 grams } 

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cups cocoa powder { 60 grams }

3/4 cups boiling water { 6 oz }

1 cup buttermilk, room temp.  { 8 oz }

3/4 cups unsalted butter, melted { 6 oz }

2 large eggs, room temp.

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    for the swiss meringue buttercream

4-ounces egg whites (3-4 large eggs)

8-ounces raw cane sugar (1 cup)

12-ounces butter, room temp. (1 1/4 cup)

10-ounces fine dark chocolate, melted (80% cocoa)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

   for the plum basil jam:

1 pound red plums (or pluot plums)

1 1/4 cups raw cane sugar

3 medium-sized basil leaves

   Method:

   for the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 177°C. Grease and line with parchment paper two, 6-inch cake pans.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the boiling water and cocoa powder until combined. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl, then whisk in the sugar, baking powder/soda, and salt- set aside. In another bowl, melt the butter, then stir in the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla until they’re mixed in well. Combine the liquid ingredients to the dry, including the cocoa. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and there are no more flour streaks. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for 35-43 minutes. Check for doneness at 35 minutes. It’s ready when the cake springs back quickly after lightly touching it, or when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.

  for the jam:

  1. Pit the plums and cut into small chunks. Add to a saucepan with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture breaks down and most of the liquids have come out of the fruit. Add the basil leaves and remaining sugar and boil on medium-low heat, stirring and mashing the fruit occasionally for 10 minutes.  It will be done when some of the jam is placed on a cool surface and becomes thick as it cools. Drain most the liquid from the jam, leaving just a few tablespoons. Pour the fruit into a rimmed pan and remove the basil. Cool the jam completely before using.

   for the swiss meringue buttercream:

  1. Chop the chocolate and heat in the microwave safe bowl until smooth and melted, set aside to cool.
  2. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Place a heatproof bowl over the top(do not let it touch the water!); add the egg whites and sugar and whisk to combine. Place a candy thermometer in the mixture and heat, stirring often, until it reads 160°F / 70°C and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer with whisks attached. Beat on medium-high speed for 8-10 minutes until the bowl is cool to touch and the meringue is thick and glossy. Turn the mixer on low and begin to add the cubed butter, one cube at a time, making sure each cube is incorporated before adding the next. This will take a few minutes. The end result should be a thick, velvety smooth buttercream. If your buttercream didn’t whip well and is a bit runny, place the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes until somewhat firm(but not hard). Return to the mixer and beat on low until smooth and thick. Add the vanilla and cooled melted chocolate. Beat on low until combined.

 assemble the cake:

  1. Once the cakes have cooled completely, cut each one into two, even layers, giving you a total of four layers (two bottoms, two tops).  Always start a layer cake with the bottom part of the cake on the bottom, the two tops in the center, and end with the other bottom part of the cake facing up. This ensures your cake is standing upright and the top will be flat and easier to frost.
  2. Spread a bit of frosting in the center of your cake plate/cake stand. Add your bottom layer on top of this spot so it stays in place.  Spread a very thin layer of frosting on the first layer, then pipe a small wall around the edge of the cake (so the jam doesn’t ooze out if it wants to). Spread about 1/3 cup of the jam in the center, then add the second layer. This layer will have only frosting and no jam, so spread about 2/3 cups of frosting on. Place the third layer on top, and repeat step 1: spread a thin layer of frosting, pipe a wall, then slather 1/3 cup of jam in the center. Place the fourth and final layer, flat side facing up, and spread 2/3 cups of frosting on top. Use the remaining frosting on the sides of the cake. Cut and serve.

Summer Blackberry Bourbon Pie

Summer Blackberry Bourbon Pie

  Pie tends to be a neglected dish on my site. I’m not sure why this is, but I think one of the reasons is because I’m a perfectionist and assembling the top crust of a pie to look decent can be difficult. There are many ways to style a pie; so many creative people out there coming up with all sorts of elaborate designs. But every time, I fall for a simple lattice pie. I like the rustic look it gives a berry pie, as well as it’s moderateness on difficulty.

  I have to remind myself I’m not at all about extremely elaborate recipes, but I’m not about taking the easiest route, either. It can be strenuous staying on this road in the internet world, where the theme most favored seem to be, “what crazy, extravagant, and excessively sweet thing can I come up with quickly in order to go viral?”.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing other people being creative with food, I myself am creative with it; but on my own blog, I try to keep the things I bake simple, delicious, and seasonal so people can recreate it without too much difficulty. So, what do I do? I walk outside and find a thicket full of plump blackberries, pick as many until my hands are stained purple, and soak them in bourbon. The next step is to spend quite some time working the flour, butter, and water together with a spatula. It’s a trick I discovered from Serious Eats a few days ago for a flakier pie crust, so I used the method with the pie crust I made for my cherry hand pies. It turned out so flaky and delicious.  Nothing says summer like a pie filled with tart, freshly foraged blackberries(spiked with bourbon at that)- along with a great scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tip for a scrumptious tasting pie crust: use a good quality butter (preferably unsalted); so good you could eat it alone! It may cost a few more dollars, but it’s worth it.


Summer Blackberry Bourbon Pie

   ingredients:

240 grams unbleached all-purpose flour { 2 cups }

2 tablespoons raw cane sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8-ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

7 tablespoons water, ice-cold

   filling:

1.5 pounds fresh blackberries

1/4 cup bourbon

1 tablespoon raw cane sugar

1 cup raw cane sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

   Method:

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar until combined. Add to a food processor along with the cold, cubed butter. Pulse 27-28 times until most the butter is coated with flour and the mixture resembles small pebbles(it’s okay if there are larger pieces as well). Pour the mixture back into a bowl and sprinkle with the ice-cold water. Use a spatula to work the dough together until it forms a ball. This may take a few minutes. It will be dry and crumbly at first, but once the flour absorbs the water it will begin to come together. Divide the dough into equal halves (using a scale is the best way) and press into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, combine the blackberries, bourbon, and sprinkle with the one tablespoon of sugar. Give a slight stir and cover the bowl. Soak the blackberries for 30 minutes. 
  3. Once the dough has chilled, turn one-half out onto a floured surface (leave the other half in the refrigerator) and roll into a large circle that will fit into a 9-inch pie tin and still overlap along the sides slightly. Gently roll the dough onto the rolling pin and transfer to the pie tin. Using your fingers, carefully press the dough to fit the tin. Place the tin in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling:
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 tsp of cornstarch until combined, set aside. Drain the juices from the blackberries, add the sugar mixture, and gently toss until all the berries are coated. Remove the pie shell from the fridge, pour the berries inside, and gently spread them around with a spoon. Place the pie back in the fridge while you roll out the remaining half of dough to cover the top. Cover the pie with your preferred style(I prefer to lattice, but you don’t have to do it that way) and crimp or flute the edges to seal them together.  If you aren’t doing a latticed pie, cut slit vents for steam release. Place the finished pie back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F and make sure the first rack is placed in the middle position in the oven. Place a large baking sheet on the lowest rack to catch any juice that might fall.
  5. Once the pie has chilled, brush the top with egg wash(1 egg + 1 tsp milk, beaten), and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350°F and bake for 45 minutes until the pie filling is bubbly and the crust golden brown. Cool completely before serving, about 1-2 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream on the side.

 

Cherry and Thyme Hand Pies with Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream

Cherry and Thyme Hand Pies with Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream

  It’s officially cherry season in the state of Virginia. My first thought at the beginning of any fruit season is to bake a pie with the fruit I’ve obtained from the farms in my area. And that’s precisely what I did when I discovered my usual grocery store of choice was selling fresh, local sweet cherries from one of my favorite orchards. Such a find can be a rarity in my small town, there’s a slim selection of local vegetables in the summer if any; in the fall there might be apples. But, when it comes to common fruits such as strawberries, peaches, or blueberries, you can only find them at the farmers market once a week. Many times I’ll drive up to an hour to pick fruit from the local u-pick farms in my area, as I love going out and about to visit beautiful places.

  Each pie is filled with a delicious cherry jam, subtly flavored with fresh thyme. Accompanying these hand pies is a creamy, no-churn vanilla bourbon ice cream. There are many no-churn ice creams out there that commonly call for heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk- a canned milk with the water removed and a copious amount of sugar added to make a sweet, sticky dairy product. The condensed milk is usually folded into the whipped cream and the flavoring(s) of your choice is added. Once frozen, the result is a rich and creamy ice cream. To avoid so much sugar, I simply made my own sweetened condensed milk that doesn’t use any canned dairy product, but instead raw cashews and maple syrup. Just blend until smooth and creamy and fold into the fresh, whipped cream along with a good quality bourbon and vanilla.

CHERRY AND THYME HAND PIES WITH BOURBON VANILLA ICE CREAM


   bourbon vanilla ice cream

1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight then drained

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons good quality bourbon

1 1/3 cups heavy cream

  cherry + thyme jam

1-pounds sweet cherries, pitted and stems removed

2 fresh thyme sprigs

1 1/2 cups raw sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

  pie dough

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon raw sugar

12 tablespoons salted butter, cold

5-6 tablespoons water, ice-cold

   method

  1. In a high-powered blender, add the maple syrup, vanilla, bourbon and the cashews; blend until smooth and creamy. This may take a few minutes depending on your blender. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks, then gently fold in the cashew mixture with a spatula until combined. Place the mixture in an air-tight container and freeze for 2 hours until firm, or overnight.
  2. In a saucepan, add the cherries and lemon juice and mash them slightly, then add the thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then add the sugar. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often until the cherries are very soft and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the thyme. Cool the jam completely before using. 
  3. In a bowl, lightly whisk the flour, salt, and sugar together. Pour into a food processor and add the cold butter, cut into cubes. Pulse until small, pea-sized pieces form(it’s okay if there are larger chunks, too). Pour back into the bowl and add three tablespoons of ice cold water to one side of the bowl; then gently work the flour into the water with a fork. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, when needed. You should be able to gently work it into a ball. Split the dough into four, golf ball sized pieces and gently press them into disks. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or until ready to use.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. 
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough disks, one at a time, until they’re about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Move them onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the freezer for about 2 minutes to quickly become firm again. Add the jam to the center of each disk, leaving an inch of space from the edge. Fold one side of the dough over the jam and crimp the two sides together until sealed. Gently press a fork around the sealed edges. Brush the tops with egg wash (1 egg, beaten) and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown. Cool until just warm, then serve with the ice cream.

Strawberry Vanilla Coconut Ice Cream Cake

Strawberry Vanilla Coconut Ice Cream Cake

  If I could define the month of May with only a word, “fresh” is the one that continually comes to my mind. Fresh new scenery brought to life after spending the months of March and April waking up. There’s a breeze blowing about today, carrying with it all the clean, floral scents May brings, specifically one fragrant tree native to my area is Robinia pseudoacacia- from which I could sniff the flowers all day! There’s so much to love about this month it would be endless babbling on about it.

 I tend to get excited about the month of May because that’s when things begin to ‘start’, so to speak. much of April is waiting for things to sprout up from the ground. Now that it’s May, strawberry season has finally begun and I was able to visit one of my favorite local orchards to do some picking. The orchard has one acre dedicated to strawberry picking in the springtime. The patch is situated at the foot of a mountain, and looking behind you there’s another lovely view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would have posted a few photographs from my visit, but the sun was extremely bright and the heat intense, so they didn’t turn out so well. 

  During my visit to the strawberry patch, I picked four pounds of strawberries, all of which were used to make this delicious strawberry vanilla coconut ice cream cake. I’ve been aching to try my hand at strawberry ice cream, and to my dismay, I happened to pick one of the more difficult ice creams to make. It’s a creamy custard based ice cream, but it still has a bit of an iciness to it since I used fresh strawberries. The bottom made of crushed chocolate chip cookies molded together with a small amount of melted butter. Before cutting this cake, it is best to let it sit a few minutes to soften, then cut with a hot knife. The more difficult place to cut through is the cookie layer.

STRAWBERRY  VANILLA  COCONUT  ICE CREAM CAKE


 ice – cream

1/2 cup organic (canned) coconut milk

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup raw sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla 

4 fresh egg yolks

2 cups heavy cream

1 pound fresh strawberries, chopped

1/2 cup raw sugar

 cookie – crust

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/4 cup raw sugar

3/4 cups coconut oil

2 large eggs

4- ounces dark chocolate, chopped

4 tablespoons butter, melted

  method:

  for the cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the coconut oil, sugar, and vanilla and beat with an electric hand mixer/standing mixer until light in color. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Add the flour and mix until just combined, then stir in the chopped chocolate with a wooden spoon or spatula. Scoop out onto prepared pan, spacing each scoop about 2 inches apart. Bake for 11 minutes until the edges of the cookies are slightly golden. Cool the cookies on the pan for three minutes, then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. While the cookies are cooling, prepare a 7-inch by 3-inch cake pan by cutting out a round piece of parchment paper and placing it the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
  5. Once the cookies have cooled completely, mash them/pulse in a blender until they’re crumbs. Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter and add 3 1/2 cups of the cookie crumbs. Stir with a wooden spoon until they’re all coated with the butter, it should be moist enough for them to mold together, if not, add a little bit more of melted butter. Place the crumbs into the prepared cake pan and press with your fingers until firmly in place. cover and place the pan in the refrigerator until ready to use.

  for the ice cream:

  Before you begin with the ice cream base, chop the strawberries into pieces, then place in a strainer over a bowl. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and stir. Cover and place the strawberries in the refrigerator to drain most their juices. Use the strawberries when ready.

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the coconut milk, whole milk, and vanilla. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl halfway with cold water and ice, then place another bowl on top of the ice water(make sure you don’t get water inside the second bowl). Add the heavy cream to the second bowl, then place a fine-mesh sieve over the cream. 

2. Once the milk begins to simmer, turn off the heat. Begin whisking the egg yolks lightly, then pour a little of the hot milk into the yolks. Now, add the yolks into the saucepan with the remaining milk and return to medium-low heat. Continue to whisk the custard and all around the bottom of the pan(so it doesn’t burn) until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and immediately pour the custard into the sieve over the cream. Whisk the cream and egg mixture (making sure not to get the cold water inside) until it’s cool to the touch. Cover a chill in the refrigerator for thirty minutes or overnight. Once chilled, churn according to your ice cream machine instructions.

3. Once churned, gently stir in the chilled strawberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan with the cookies. Cover tightly and freeze until firm.

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies with Blackberry Coconut Mascarpone Cheese filling

  I know it’s only August, and yes, I’m totally not ready to accept that fall begins next month, but I really wanted ginger cookies.  Who’s to say they’re just for fall or winter?  So I made some.. and in them went three ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped into fine chunks, of course; then sandwiched together with a purple Italian cream cheese filling.  Sounds amazing right?  Believe me, it is.  Earlier this year I made something similar with Meyer lemons and they were utterly delicious.  I haven’t really done much with blackberries so far, so I thought I’d make the cookies again, upgraded, and this time with a different filling.   I really love the combination of blackberry and coconut, add it to mascarpone cheese and it’s something close to heaven!

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  I always get excited when I pull these cookies out of the oven.  The crackled tops are almost always on point.  To me, how a cookie top looks matters immensely, especially photographically.  If a cookie does not have my desired look, I will continue to tweak the recipe and bake a thousand of said cookies till I get there.  There was much trial and error in perfecting this recipe when I first came up with it.  Now I can happily use the recipe with one hundred percent confidence that it will turn out just as I envisioned, and not just for me, but for other’s as well.

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  On a completely random note, I’ve been jumping back and forth with photography style these past few weeks.  I’m deeply inclined to dark, sharp, and shadowy tones; but I also love bright and clean, especially when it comes to food.  So, I’m still working on finding “my style”.  I’m hoping someday it will fall between the two I admire most and be somewhat unique in its own way.  Until then, I shall keep on playing with light and technique.  I fail miserably a lot of times, but that’s okay; it is a never ending journey trying to improve oneself.

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Blackberry Coconut Mascarpone Cheese Filling

8-ounce plain mascarpone cheese, room temp.

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup large blackberries

1/2 cup shredded coconut.

pinch of salt

METHOD

Be sure to bring all the ingredients to room temperature before using, mascarpone is prone to curdle easily. 

In a small saucepan, mash the 1/4 of large blackberries and place on the stovetop over low heat.  Simmer the berries till more of the juices are released, about 3 minutes.  Pour the berries into a sieve and press out the juices, take out 2 tablespoons and set aside so it can come to room temperature.  Set aside 2 tablespoons of the pulp as well, and bring it to room temperature before using.  

Once all the ingredients have come to room temperature, place the cheese in a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer(on high speed)till creamy.  Slowly add the blackberry juice, pulp, pinch of salt, and powdered sugar.  Beat till incorporated.  Stir in the shredded coconut.  Place in the refrigerator till ready to use. 

 

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies

makes about 22 cookies / 11 sandwich cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cups unsalted butter, room temp.

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1 large egg, room temp.

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

With an electric standing mixer with whisk(s) attached, beat the butter and sugar till creamy and light, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the molasses and beat till combined, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the eggs and beat till completely incorporated.  Scrape down the bowl again and add 1/3 of the flour and half of the chopped chocolate, beat till just incorporated.  Scrape, then add the other 2/3 of flour and beat till there’s no dry flour left to be seen.  Pour 1/3 cup of sugar onto a plate and set aside.  Take out pieces of the dough and roll it into a 1-inch ball, do not roll the balls till their surface is smooth, I roughly roll it into a ball.  Roll the ball around in the sugar that was set aside, just coat it lightly.  Place on prepared baking sheet till there is no more room, place them about 2 inches apart from each other.  Bake in preheated oven for 13 minutes.  Once done, remove from oven and let them rest on the pan for five minutes, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely. 

Once all the cookies have cooled completely and come to room temperature add the cream filling by using a pastry bag with a large round tip attached.  Take one cookie and pipe on about 1 1/2 tablespoons of cream.  Sandwich together with another cookie.  Enjoy!  I recommend refrigerating the cookies when not being eaten. 

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