Today marked the start of the farmer’s market season in Oak Park. I’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks. I even popped out of bet a little earlier—with excitement. And the weather was just perfect for a walk. My graduate school husband got a couple homemade donuts—while I got some asparagus, rhubarb, and black raspberry jam. Perfect Saturday morning.
We love asparagus minus it’s after effects, if you know what I mean. It is super easy to cook. Very versatile. With a quick 10 minute cook time. You’re gonna love this recipe, if you can even call it that.
Bunch of fresh asparagus spears (support your local farmers!)
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprinkle of sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Wash and dry asparagus. Break off hard woody ends.
3. Place on baking sheet covered with foil for easy clean up.
4. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.
5. Bake for 10 minutes. Enjoy.
TIPS • This recipe is so basic, it’s easy to dress up. Try adding lemon or orange zest, lemon juice, orange slices, garlic slices, balsamic vinegar, or parmesan cheese.
• If you overcook your asparagus, they will no longer be spear-like, but limp and soggy and a little less nutritious.
PS—Do you notice anything different around here? The ole blog was in need of an update. I’m trying to do it myself with the little web knowledge that I have—scary! If only it was as easy as cooking asparagus.
Finally, it’s that season again. I think. We had a horribly long winter in Chicago. And spring has been anything but spring. Depending on the day, it’s felt more like winter, summer, and fall. We were supposed to go camping this weekend, but the cold rainy weather kept us away. Saturday night, when I should have been roasting marshmallows, I tried to will the weather warmer by making burgers on the indoor grill. According to the 5-day forecast, it’s working! Read more
We celebrated my husband’s birthday last weekend. We’re now closer to 30 than 20. Kind of weird. In normal fashion, I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. Without hesitation, he said Lemon Raspberry Cake.
I was so excited he knew what he wanted, I made the cake without hesitation hoping he wouldn’t change his mind. As I was putting the final touches on the cake, I realized something. The cake was pink. Pale pink. I had just made my husband a pale pink birthday cake. I never considered that raspberry icing would produce a pink cake. Happy birthday little girl husband!
Luckily, he ate it in all it’s pale pink glory. I guess I could have done raspberry on the inside and lemon on the outside. The scarecrow said it best—If I only had a brain.
Speaking of lemon, this graced the inside of the cake.
Between all four layers.
Mini Lemon Raspberry Cake Yellow Butter Cake + Lemon Curd + Raspberry Italian Meringue Buttercream
Yellow Butter Cake
I halved the Yellow Butter Cake recipe from a couple posts back. Bake in a square pan. Follow recipe as directed. Check cake at 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Cut cake into fourths to achieve mini square cake as pictured.
Lemon Curd recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; yields 2 cups
1 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
4 large eggs
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
1. Squeeze lemon juice making sure to strain out seeds. Measure sugar and cornstarch into a heavy bottomed saucepan. (I use my Le Creuset for this.) Crack eggs and yolks into a separate bowl and set aside.
2. Whisk lemon juice into sugar mixture, followed by the eggs and yolks.
3. Whisk in cold butter one tablespoon at a time.
4. Set saucepan over medium heat and bring to simmer, whisking continuously.
5. When you begin to see lava bubbles—large, slowly forming bubbles that burp steam—reduce the heat to the lowest setting and whisk briskly for 1 minute to pasteurize the lemon curd. (Lava bubbles usually appear 10 minutes in.)
6. Pour directly into bowl, and cover with plastic wrap pressed to surface to keep a skin from forming.
7. Immediately refrigerate for at least 3 hours before using. Note: I halved the recipe for the mini cake.
Raspberry Italian Meringue Buttercream
I halved the Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe from a couple posts back and added raspberries. Make recipe as directed. If you are making a full recipe, you’ll need 1/2 c. raspberries. If you are making a half recipe, you’ll need 1/4 c. raspberries. Puree raspberries in food processor. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the puree into a bowl to remove seeds. Add puree to buttercream and whip until combined.
Ice the Cake For a quick tutorial, click here. Serve cake at room temperature.
Can I let you in on a little secret? I wanted to show you a slice of the cake, but I wasn’t serving the cake until later that evening. So, I cut the cake. Took some pics. And put the cake back together. The Italian Meringue Buttercream is very forgiving like that.
I make one brownie recipe. It’s from the Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. It’s so good, I haven’t felt the need to try any other recipes out there. These brownies make an appearance in the annual Christmas in a Bowl. They are fudge-y as opposed to cake-y. They are dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate. They are salty as opposed to sweet. Ha! Just kidding. However, they do have a hint of kosher salt that makes them taste all the more sweeter. (Did you know that adding salt not only compliments but brings out the sweetness? It’s my favorite ingredient in baking.)
Go ahead. Give it a try. It may end your brownie search. Did I mention, they are super easy to make? One bowl? Quick clean-up. Are you convinced now?
c. (8 oz.) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
tsp. pure vanilla extract
tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper by using 2 sheets of parchment paper, setting them perpendicular to one another in the pan. Set aside.
Add butter and chocolate in a double boiler set over a saucepan with simmering water. The water shouldn't touch the base of the double boiler. Whisk frequently until chocolate and butter are melted, about 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat, and whisk in sugar until combined and cooled. Then whisk in eggs one at a time until incorporated. Whisk in vanilla. Gently fold in flour and salt with a spatula until just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, and smooth top with the spatula. Bake until center is firm, about 40 to 45 minutes. These will be fudgey!
Using parchment, lift brownies out of pan and onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. Once cooled, store covered in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
• Let the brownies cool for well over an hour—I'd recommend 3 hours. They are really hard to cut right out of the oven because they are so gooey. Be patient. You will be rewarded.
• You may have to rinse your knife clean midway through cutting. This will make cutting the other half easier. The yummy brownie goo on the knife can make cutting difficult.
• Looking for more chocolate? Add 1/4 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips into batter. Don't melt.
• Use the best you can find or afford.
• Wondering why they are so gooey? There is no leavener in this recipe, i.e. baking powder or baking soda. That's the difference between a cake-y brownie and a fudge-y brownie.
I had planned on doing an easter post today. But my idea flopped. Many tireless hours went into, and it flopped. Yes, I do want some cheese with this wine. I wasn’t going to tell you what I was making incase I decided to give it another try. But, I’m not. I’m no good at these things. And by “things” I mean cake balls. I’ve tried a couple times, and they’re just not my forte. I have these conflicting thoughts of “Don’t give up!” and “Just stick with what you’re good at.” Well, I’ve decided to stick with what I’m good at, leaving the cake balls to Bakerella. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for a good challenge. And, I don’t mind if I fail from time to time. But I’ve learned I’m much better at baking than I am at decorating (case in point—cake ball fail). I’m much better at perfecting the classics (scones, cakes, cookies, macarons) than coming up with something new. I’m much better at sticking to my purist ways, than bending the rules and using the not so pure stuff. My take-away from all of this is—stick with what you’re good at, and get really good at it.
Shawoof (wiping sweat off brow). That was cathartic.
Now on to the good stuff. Red Velvet Cake! Remember the Sailboat Cupcakes from the last post? I told you I’d be back with the recipe. As promised, here it is. But first, I have to do another plug for my favorite baker—Warren Brown from Cake Love. His recipes make the best cakes ever (no lie). He is a purist as well. He believes in baking cakes from scratch. None of that artificial stuff. However, he does make a Red Velvet Cake because of it’overwhelming request at his bakery. It’s the only thing he uses food coloring in. You can leave the food coloring out and call it Brown Velvet. Or you can use the India Tree products (this is what I use), which are made from vegetables pigments.
2 1/4 c. Cake Flour (I used unbleached AP Flour)
2 tbsp. Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 c. Buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
1 1/2 c. Superfine Sugar (You can pop regular sugar in a food processor to achieve this)
2 large eggs
1 oz. Red Food Dye (Opt out and make it Brown Velvet)
1. Preheat oven to 335° and place the rack in the middle position. Line 2 cupcake pans. (Read the last post for a cupcake liner tip.)
2. Measure the dry ingredients and wet ingredients into 2 separate bowls. Whisk each to combine.
3. Measure the the butter and sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together on low speed for about 5 minutes.
4. Add eggs one at a time into the well creamed butter. Beat in the dye.
5. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients about a quarter at a time. (This should only take a minute.) Scrape sides. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute.
6. Pour the batter into the liners and bake the cupcakes for 20 to 24 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
7. Cool the cupcakes for 5 minutes before inverting them on to a flat surface. Allow them to come to room temperature before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting recipe by yours truly
2 sticks of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
16 oz. Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Dash of Sea Salt
3-4 c. Powdered Sugar
1. Cream together butter and cream cheese.
2. Add vanilla extract and salt. Mix.
3. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix well between each addition. After 3 cups, taste to see if additional powdered sugar is necessary.
4. Ice your cupcakes. Looking for tips? Check out the last post.
Remember the Ahoy! It’s a boy! invites I shared with you a couple weeks ago? I told you I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper. Well, I wasn’t lying. It’s time for more sharing and free downloads!
This post includes DIY instructions for the sailboat cupcake toppers. Another post on the recipe for red velvet cupcakes and cream cheese frosting is to come. So sit down, get out a pen an paper (or just bookmark this page), and let’s get decorating!
Here’s what you’ll need:
• Plaid Cupcake Liners (I ordered mine from Bake it Pretty. Sweet LuLu is another great resource for cute baking supplies.)
• White Cupcake Liners (Always double up your liners so you can actually see the pretty liner. If you use one liner, when the cupcake bakes, the color of the cupcake will bleed into the liner thus losing its pretty pattern. Sad.)
• Wooden Skewers (Think kabobs.)
• Wire Cutters
• FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern
• Textured, cardstock weight paper
• Exacto Knife
• Cutting Board
• Colored Duck Tape (or colored masking tape)
Here’s how to achieve the look (pictures below): 1. Make and bake your cupcakes, using a recipe of your choice. Remember to use 2 liners. Place the white liner inside the plaid liner. Allow cupcakes to fully cool before icing and decorating.
2. Meanwhile, cut wooden skewers about 5″ long using wire cutters or some other cutting utensil. Keep the side with the pointed end. Don’t worry if the wood begins to fray where you made the cut. We will cover that up shortly.
3. Print out the FauxMartha Cupcake Sail Pattern on textured cardstock. Cut out each sail. Using the longest side of the triangle (not the angle), cut an “x” at the top and bottom on a cutting board. Insert pointed end of wooden skewer into the top “x” on the printed side. Continue to insert the skewer through the second “x”.
4. Cut thin 1/2″ strips of duck tape. Place tape on the top of skewer where you made your original cut. Evenly fold over. Make 2 diagonal cuts to achieve a flag. Push sail up to give it that curved wind blown look.
5. Ice your cupcakes with the frosting of your choice. I use the Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro to ice my cupcakes. In order to get the thick swirls, I don’t use a tip. Place pointed end of the sail into cupcake and you’ve got yourself a cute sailboat cupcake!
If your visual, like me, these should help:
If you missed them, click here for the matching baby shower invites. Now that you have everything you need to get started, happy baby shower planning!
I’m headed out of town to help throw a baby shower for a good friend from home. But before I leave, I want to share these “Ahoy! It’s a boy!” invites with you. And by share, I mean free download. Keep reading…
Chevron, plaid, craft paper. Oh my!
Tiny, cute flags. Yes please!
Whoever said a slight shade of pink is not welcome at a baby boy’s shower?
Free fonts are a budget’s dream.
Since you kept reading, it’s time for the good stuff! Here’s how to create this same look yourself:
1. Order A-7 Craft Paper envelopes from Envelope.com.
2. Download the 5×7 invite! (The PDF is designed with 2-invites up on a page; front/back.)
3. Download the free font, Museo Slab, to help complete the look. You’ll also need a nice italic font to accompany it that can be found on your computer. (I used Century Schoolbook Italic).
4. Use an editing program to fill in your specific information.
5. Print the invites on a thick, textured white paper. (I used a Neenah paper—Sundance Felt.)
6. Finally, mail those cute suckers out, and plan the party!
Stay tuned for a post on the food portion of the shower. I may or may not be making cupcakes with a cute DIY topper.
Oh nuts! I’ve been keeping a secret from you. A good kind of secret. Not the bad kind. Who am I kidding? I’m no good at keeping secrets. I’ve already spilled the beans. Can you guess what it is?
Drum roll please…Oh! Nuts. That’s my secret! Or should I say, my secret weapon. I’ve been dying to try a couple new recipes that call for almond flour, and they were nice enough to send me some. I’ve made my own almond flour before, but let me tell you, it’s tedious. Blanch almonds. Peel off skins (this takes forever!). Blend up finely. Who knew you could buy almond flour? This stuff is a time life saver! And it makes some darn good tarts.
Mini Almond Tarts with a Strawberry on Top yields 12 3-inch brioche molds
Almond Tart Dough recipe from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 large egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond flour
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until well combined. Add egg and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
2. In a medium bowl, combine both flours. With the mixer on low speed, add flours all at once; mix until well combined.
3. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
4. Once dough is ready, preheat oven to 350°.
5. Place dough on a floured work surface, sprinkle dough with flour, and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. (You may have to wait until dough comes closer to room temp in order to roll out.) Cut out 12 circles using a 3 1/4-inch round cutter, re-rolling dough if necessary. Place each circle in a mini 3″ brioche mold, gently pressing down on the bottom and sides. Place filled molds on a baking sheet; transfer to a freezer for 20 minutes.
6. Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake tart shells until just golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer tart shells, in their molds, to a wire rack to cool completely.
Almond Pastry Cream recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen 2 c. half and half
1/2 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
1 tsp. almond extract
1.Bring half and half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar until smooth. Once half and half begins to simmer, slowly whisk one cup of the simmering half and half into the egg yolk mixture to temper, stirring constantly. Once combined, slowly whisk mixture back into the simmering sauce pan. Turn heat down to medium, and whisk constantly for about 30 seconds. Lava like bubbles will begin to burst on surface.
3. Remove pan from heat, and stir in chilled butter and almond extract. Transfer to bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
4. After pastry cream is chilled, pipe or scoop into prepared almond tarts.
5. Prepare strawberries by chopping off end with stem. Set strawberry up on flat side, and make thin slices almost cutting to bottom. Squeeze strawberry in center to fan out and set in pastry cream.
6. Cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled.
TIPS • Tart dough and pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance.
• Tart shells can be cooked one day in advance. Cover and leave at room temperature.
• Assemble tarts day of serving, no earlier.
Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with almonds right now? Last post—almond sugar cookies. Next post—it’s a secret (I guess I’m full of secrets these days, good ones though). But I can tell you, almond flour will be present.
Is the interior of your Dutch Oven stained brown? Do you have burn spots on your stainless steel pots? Use Bar Keepers Friend, water, and elbow grease to remove. In general, try cooking with fats (oil and butter) at lower heats. If you're needing to char something, opt for a cast iron.