Swedish Visiting Cake

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This is a simple yet delicious cake that tastes like almond paste without actually using any.  I recommend baking it in a cast-iron skillet, because it gives the cake deliciously crispy edges.  If you don’t have a 9″ skillet, you can use a 10″ skillet and check the cake after  15-20 minutes.

 

Swedish Visiting Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yield: 8 servings

  • 3/4-1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)

 

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.  Butter a 9″ seasoned cast-iron skillet, round cake pan, or even a pie tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, add the lemon zest to the sugar.  Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar, until the sugar is moist and fragrant.  The mixture will resemble damp sand.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking to combine.
  4. Add the salt and extracts and whisk to combine.
  5. Stir in the flour using a rubber spatula.
  6. Fold in the melted butter.
  7. Pour batter into your prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula.
  8. Sprinkle almonds over the top of the batter.  If you’re using a cake or pie pan, place pan on a baking sheet.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside.  The inside will remain moist and even a little damp.
  10. Remove skillet from oven and let cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it.  Serve the cake, warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.
  11. The cake keeps well.  Wrap it well and store at room temperature for 5 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

 

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Classic Challah

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Challah is always delicious, whether it’s fresh from the oven or toasted the next day.  You can dress up the braid with sesame or poppy seeds if you wish.

Original recipe

 

Classic Challah
From King Arthur Flour

Yield: One 16″ loaf

For the dough:

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) lukewarm water
  • 6 tablespoons (2 5/8 oz) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (3 oz) honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups (17 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast OR active dry yeast

For the glaze:

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

For topping:

  • Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

 

  1. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh your flour.  Otherwise, measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.  (The recipe will work much better if you weigh it.)
  2. If using active dry yeast, combine it with water and let sit for about 5 minutes.
  3. Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them, by hand, mixer, or bread machine, until you have a soft, smooth dough.
  4. Allow the dough to rise in a plastic wrap-covered bowl for about 2 hours, or until it’s puffy; it won’t necessarily double in bulk.
  5. Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.
  6. Make a four-strand braid:
    •Divide the dough into four pieces, and shape each piece into a rough 6″ log. Cover the logs with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.
    •Roll each log into a 15″ rope. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
    •Continue rolling the ropes until they’re about 20″ long; they’ll shrink back to about 18″ as they sit.
    •Lay the strands parallel to one another, and pinch the ends on your left together.
    •Take the rope nearest you, and move it up over the next two adjoining ropes.
    •Next, move the rope back under the rope next to it. Fan the ends of the ropes out again.
    •Repeat the process, but start with the rope farthest away from you. Bring it down and across the next two adjoining ropes, and then back under the rope nearest it.
    •Continue in this fashion, alternating which side you begin with until you’ve braided the whole loaf.
    •Pinch the loose ends together, and tuck them underneath the loaf.  (It’s okay if you get confused and have to re-braid the loaf a few times.  It will work out eventually.)
  7. Gently pick up the braided loaf, and place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  At this point, you can tent it with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator (keep it covered). Let it warm and rise at room temperature for 60 minutes before baking as directed.
  8. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it’s very puffy, 90 minutes to 2 hours at cool room temperature. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  9. To make the glaze, whisk together the egg and water. Brush the glaze over the risen loaf.  If desired, sprinkle the loaf heavily with sesame OR poppy seeds.
  10. Place the baking sheet atop another baking sheet; this will insulate the bread’s bottom crust, and keep it from browning too much. Put the challah in the lower third of the oven, and bake it for 20 minutes. If it’s a deep golden brown, tent it loosely with aluminum foil. If it’s not as brown as you like, check it again at 30 minutes.
  11. Once you’ve tented the challah, bake it for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf looks and feels set and its interior registers at least 190°F.
  12. Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool.
  13. Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage. While challah does tend to dry out after a day or so, it’s always good toasted, or made into grilled sandwiches or French toast.

Devil’s Food Cake

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This recipe makes a deep, rich chocolate cake that is perfect for special occasions or even just those days when you feel like treating yourself.

 

Devil’s Food Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yield: 12 servings

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar OR 3/4 cup white sugar+dollop molasses
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk OR milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips (optional)
  • Chocolate frosting

 

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper.  Put the pans on a baking sheet.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  This is particularly important if your cocoa powder has clumped.
  3. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  4. Add the sugar and continue to beat for another 3 minutes.
  5. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition.
  6. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled.
  7. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate.
  8. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk OR milk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the (butter)milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting.
  9. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably.
  10. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, and stir in the chopped chocolate, if using.
  11. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.
  12. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don’t worry if the tops have a few small cracks.
  13. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
  14. Prepare the chocolate frosting while the cake cools.
  15. When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. (Or leave them as is, if you’re not picky.)
  16. Fill and frost the cake.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

White Mantou (Chinese Steamed Buns)

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Mantou are unfilled Chinese steamed buns.  White mantou are made with granulated sugar; there are also brown sugar mantou.  In texture, they range from soft and fluffy to chewy and springy.  These fall in the middle of the spectrum.  You can eat them plain or dip them in honey.

 

White Mantou (Chinese Steamed Buns)
From Teacher Meng’s Chinese-Style Foods Made with Flour (Meng Laoshi de Zhongshi Mianshi)

Yield: 8 buns

  • 260 g cold water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons (5 g) instant yeast (active dry yeast probably also works)
  • 500 g all-purpose flour
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 5 g flavorless oil (such as canola)

 

  1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together water and yeast. It’s okay if the yeast doesn’t dissolve entirely.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and oil. Stir together with a rubber spatula.
  3. Pour in yeast mixture and stir with rubber spatula until all the liquid disappears. It will resemble a shaggy mess.
  4. With hands, knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together into a ball.
  5. Move dough to a work surface (which you do not need to flour) and continue to knead until the surface is soft and smooth. The dough should not stick to your hands or the work surface.
  6. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  7. Roll the dough into a 28” x 6” rectangle. Roll out as many air bubbles as possible, or the mantou will look wrinkly.  If necessary, use a pin to pop the bubbles on the surface.
  8. Fold the rectangle in thirds, like a letter. It will be roughly 9” x 6” when you’re done.
  9. Roll it out again into a 18” x 10” rectangle, pressing all the folds together as you roll so they stick well. (The original long side will still be the long side when you’re done.)
  10. Brush off any excess flour from the dough surface, and then brush evenly with a thin layer of water, which will help the dough stick well when you roll it up.
  11. Use the rolling pin to thin out one of the long edges of the rectangle. This will make it easier to start rolling it up.
  12. Starting from the edge you just thinned out, roll up the rectangle into a cylinder as tightly as possible. You want to avoid having the spirals separate as the dough rises.
  13. Gently roll the cylinder back and forth a few times, moving your hands from the center out to the ends, in order to even out the diameter. It will be about 20” long.
  14. With a serrated bread knife (a sharp chef’s knife works too), cut the cylinder into 8 equal pieces.
  15. Place each on a small piece of wax paper, with the seam facing down.
  16. Arrange them in the steamers, cover with the lid, and let rise at room temperature for 20 minutes. They will increase slightly in size.
  17. Put cold water in the bottom pot and stack the steamers on top. If using metal steamers, wrap the lid with a kitchen towel so condensation doesn’t drip on the buns.
  18. Turn the heat to high and bring water to a boil.
  19. Once water is boiling, turn heat to medium-high and steam for 15 minutes.
  20. Remove pot-and-steamer arrangement from stove, crack lid open, and let sit for 3-5 minutes before removing lid entirely.
  21. To store: Cool mantou completely. Place in Ziploc bag and freeze.  To reheat, defrost mantou on the counter, then steam in a rice cooker or steamer for several minutes.  Alternatively, you can wrap the mantou in a damp paper towel and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Chocolate Chip Orange Brioche Pretzels

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Smitten Kitchen’s chocolate chip brioche pretzels are soft and tender and perfect for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack.

 

Chocolate Chip Orange Brioche Pretzels
From Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 8 4-inch pretzels

For the dough:

  • 1/3 cup warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup well-chopped chocolate OR miniature chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange zest

For the topping:

  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • Coarse or pearl sugar, for finishing (optional)

 

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine milk, sugar, and yeast and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Add flour and salt.  Stir together with a wooden spoon.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs and mix until the dough comes together in a shaggy pile.
  4. Knead for 10 minutes on medium speed, pushing together the dough with the spoon as necessary.
  5. Add butter, a third at a time, mixing well between each addition.
  6. Knead dough on low speed until it’s silky and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add chocolate and orange zest and continue mixing until it’s spread evenly throughout the dough.
  8. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours, until almost doubled.  If you’d like, you can rest the dough in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before proceeding. Just make sure to bring it back to room temperature and let it rise before moving on.
  9. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a nonstick baking mat and heat oven to 350ºF.

  10. Gently deflate dough and divide it into 8 equal pieces (it’s easiest to use a kitchen scale for this step).

  11. Working with one piece at a time, roll each ball into an 18-inch long rope about ½-inch thick.  This dough is very buttery and you likely won’t need a floured surface.  However, if you notice your dough sticking to your work area, simply dust it with a little flour.

  12. Draw the ends of the rope together to make a circle.  Grab each side of the rope about 2 inches from the ends and twist the ends together – a full twist, so that the right side of the rope ends up back on the right side – to close the circle. Fold the twist down into the circle, pressing the loose ends of the rope on each side of the center (five and seven o’clock) of the rope.

  13. Repeat with the remaining dough.

  14. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water and salt.  Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheets and brush with glaze.

  15. Let them rest for about 15 minutes. They’ll rise slightly during this time.

  16. To finish, brush the pretzels once more with the glaze.

  17. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired and bake for about 12 minutes, until puffed and lightly bronzed.

  18. Cool slightly on a cooling rack before serving.

Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes

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A family friend took a class on baking Chinese desserts and afterwards taught me how to make pineapple cakes.  These are as delicious as the ones you can buy in Taiwan – and even better, you can eat them fresh from the oven!

Baking notes:

  • You will need 20 (2″ x 2″) square molds, or molds of a similar size
  • You can find the pineapple paste in specialized Chinese grocery stores

 

Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes
Chinese cooking class

Yield: 20 pineapple cakes

For crust:

  • 5 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons instant milk powder
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (if you triple the recipe, put in entire egg)
  • 2 cups cake flour OR 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour+1/4 cup corn starch

For filling:

  • 5 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 14 oz pineapple paste

 

  1. Sift together instant milk powder and powdered sugar.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together 5.5 oz butter, instant milk powder, powdered sugar, and yolk on low speed.
  3. Add cake flour and knead by hand until it forms an evenly mixed ball of dough. It might be a little crumbly.
  4. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread 20 2″ x 2″ square molds evenly across a large baking sheet.  You can line the sheet with aluminum foil for ease of cleaning.
  6. Using hands, mix together 0.5 oz butter and pineapple. Stir until evenly mixed, then divide into 20 equal pieces, gently pressing them together into solid little mounds.  It’s easiest to divide them by weight in units of grams.
  7. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into 20 equal pieces. It is easiest to divide them by weight in units of grams.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent dough from drying out.
  8. Roll a piece of dough into a ball, and flatten it to a rough circle 3 inches in diameter between your palms.
  9. Place a piece of pineapple filling in the center of the dough circle and gently pinch the edges of the dough together, removing excess dough. Save it to patch up any tears in the pineapple cake.
  10. Roll into a smooth ball between your palms.
  11. Place each ball into a mold and press down gently with the palm of your hand until the pineapple cake fills the corners of the mold. They will not expand much while baking.
  12. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  13. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and flip over molds using two metal spatulas.
  14. Bake 10 more minutes with the tray rotated from its previous orientation, until pineapple cakes are light golden brown on top.
  15. Cool pineapple cakes on baking sheet until molds are cool enough to touch.
  16. Gently remove pineapple cakes from molds. Finish cooling on baking sheet or on wire rack.

Swedish Pancakes

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Swedish pancakes are more crepe-like than American pancakes.  If you can find lingonberry jam to accompany them, you should definitely try it!

Original recipe

 

Swedish Pancakes
Adapted from All Recipes

Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

 

  1. In a large bowl, beat eggs with wire whisk.
  2. Add flour and a little milk, and whisk into a smooth paste.
  3. Add the rest of the milk, sugar, salt, melted butter, and vanilla (if using).  The batter will be very thin.
  4. Preheat a non-stick skillet to medium heat.  Grease the bottom.
  5. Pour a thin layer of batter about the thickness of a quarter on skillet, and swirl until it spreads to the edges.
  6. Cook until top surface appears dry.  Wait until the edges pull away from the skillet and brown a little.  This will take longer than you might expect.
  7. Cut into 2 or 4 sections and flip with a spatula.
  8. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Roll each pancake up and keep in a 170ºF oven until ready to serve.
  10. Repeat with rest of the batter, whisking it before you pour each time.
  11. Serve with jam, butter, maple syrup, or whatever topping you prefer.