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Panforte de Siena

Panforte di Siena (Italian Christmas cake)

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On December 10, 2012 0 Comments

A few hundred years ago in Italy and other European countries, imported and exotic spices were linked to nobility – they were expensive!

Going back to the Middle Ages, panforte (it literally translates to “strong bread”) is  a rich fruit and nut cake. It is a specialty of the Tuscan city of Siena. Made with “strong” spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and black pepper, panforte is traditionally made at Christmastime.

However, you don’t have to go to Siena to enjoy panforte because I’m sharing my favorite version of this delicacy with you. Happy Holidays to all my Friends!

Active prep time: 25 to 30 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes: one 9-inch cake

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter (to lightly grease a 9-inch round springform cake pan)
Parchment paper, trimmed to a 9-inch round to fit in bottom of cake pan
2/3 cup dried figs, minced
2/3 cup dates, pitted and minced
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup candied fruit (a mix of lemon and orange rinds and citron)
-or-
1 cup mixed white raisins and dried cranberries
3/4 cup unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped (preferably skinned and roasted)
3/4 cup unsalted hazelnuts (roasted first, then skinned), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Vin Santo or Sweet Vermouth
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.

2. Butter the bottom of a springform cake pan and cover it with the parchment round. Set cake pan aside.

3. Place the figs and dates in a 1 to 2-quart saucepot. Add enough water to barely cover the dried fruit. Add the honey, brown sugar and the spices.

4. Cook the fruit-spice mixture on low heat for 4 to 5 minutes. NOTE: TO PREVENT BURNING OR SCORCHING OF THE FRUIT MIXTURE, DO NOT OVERCOOK. IF IT BEGINS TO “SMELL” BURNT, YOU MUST DISCARD IT AND START ALL OVER AGAIN.

5. When the fruit mixture has cooked and reduced for 5 minutes, transfer it to a medium bowl. the fruit mixture should be sticky.

6. Stir the candied fruit and nuts into the hot fruit-spice mixture, mixing well. Stir in the flour and Vin Santo or Vermouth and mix until the mass is sticky.

7. Carefully spoon the panforte mixture into the springform pan. Place the pan on a rack set in center of oven and bake for 30 minutes.

8. After 30 minutes, check to see if the panforte is too soft (undercooked) or if it is firm. If it is too soft, bake the panforte for an additional 5 minutes.

9. Remove the panforte from oven and place it on a counter to cool. When the panforte has cooled but is still a little warm, remove it from pan by releasing the sides. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter and peel off the parchment paper.

10. Cool the panforte completely. When cool, generously sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar and serve the panforte in tiny wedges.

Note: Panforte can be stored, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to two weeks.

Text and Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Desserts, Creams & Sauces On May 31, 2011 2 Comments

Seasonal, fresh strawberries combined with tart rhubarb make an exquisite and beautiful topping for this cheesecake. Because I love sweet and sour flavors so much, strawberry rhubarb desserts are my favorite. Entice everyone when you set this bright cheesecake on your sweet table.

Active prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 55 minutes
Inactive prep time: 5 hours or overnight refrigeration

For the Crust:
1½ cups finely ground Maria cookies*
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. In a 2 or 3-quart mixing bowl and using a fork or pastry cutter, combine the ground cookies with cinnamon and melted butter until uniform.

3. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch spring form pan: spread the crumb mixture evenly, pushing it up with fingers along sides of pan to rise ¾-inch high.

4. Gently pat and flatten the crumb mixture at bottom and at sides of pan; set aside.

For the Cheesecake:
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a 5-quart mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with the sugar and one egg until mixture is smooth.

2. Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time; stir in the vanilla extract.

3. Pour cheesecake batter over crumb mixture in pan.

4. Set pan on a rack placed in center of oven and bake 50 to 55 minutes or until cheesecake is light golden brown and begins to crack at sides.

5. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake to set for 30 minutes.

6. After 30 minutes, transfer cheesecake to counter, cover with foil and let cool 2 hours (do not remove cheesecake from spring form pan).

7. Refrigerate the cheesecake 5 more hours or overnight (it’s best to make cheesecake one day ahead).

For the Strawberry Rhubarb Filling:
2 cups diced fresh strawberries
1¼ cups diced fresh rhubarb (about 2 medium stalks)
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup cold water and 1 teaspoon cornstarch (mixed together in a cup)

1. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb and sugar in a 2 or 3-quart saucepot.

2. Bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

3. Set heat on low and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

4. Stir in the cornstarch mixture; cook and stir 1 more minute until thickened.

5. Transfer the filling to a glass or porcelain bowl, cover and cool on a counter. After cooling, refrigerate about 1 hour or overnight.

To serve: Remove sides of spring form pan from cheesecake. Set the cake with pan bottom on a large platter, spoon the strawberry filling over its top and serve individual slices.

*Note: Maria cookies are round, sweet biscuits. Each biscuit has perforations or holes and the name “Maria” engraved on its top surface.

Text & Photograph © 2011 Nancy DeLucia Real

Irish Whiskey Cake with Avocado Cream Frosting

Irish Whiskey Cake with Avocado Cream Frosting

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On March 12, 2011 0 Comments

When I first imagined making this scrumptious cake, I thought it should be round. But then I thought, “Naaah, decorated cupcakes are more fun.” I also bought a clover leaf cake pan and delved right into the festive spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.

My version of this springtime cake contains no butter – the “cream” in the frosting comes from fresh avocado with an added tangy surprise. The result is a rich and delicious Irish Whiskey Cake. You and your guests can reach for that second or third piece guilt free – enjoy!

For the Cake:
2 ¾ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
5 large eggs
½ cup whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 325F˚. Grease and flour either a 9-inch round cake pan or a clover leaf cake pan; set aside. If making cupcakes, line the muffin pans with baking cups and set aside.

2. In a 1-quart bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

3. In either a stand mixer fitted with a bowl or a conventional mixing bowl (using a hand mixer), beat together the sugar, oil, eggs, whiskey, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth.

4. On low speed, stir in the dry ingredients and mix until batter is smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Pour the batter into desired cake pan or into the muffin cups.

6. Place cake pan on a rack positioned in center of oven and bake 30 to 35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Alternatively, place muffin pans on top and bottom oven racks and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until knife inserted in center of one cupcake comes out clean.

8. Transfer cake pan or muffin pans to counter and set aside to cool.

9. When cake is completely cooled, unmold it and transfer to a serving platter; set aside.

For the Avocado Cream Frosting:
2/3 cup freshly mashed avocado
5½ to 6½ cups powdered sugar
2 to 2½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
One clover-leaf shaped cake pan, one 10-inch springform pan or two 12-cup muffin pans
One 4.25-ounce Decorating Green Icing Tube fitted with a straight tip (optional)

1. In a 1-quart mixing bowl, whisk together the mashed avocado (with all lumps broken down) and 5½ cups of the powdered sugar.

2. Mix in the lemon juice and whisk until smooth. If frosting appears to thin, add a little more sugar and whisk until consistency is smooth and creamy but firm enough to hold its shape on top of cake or cupcakes.

3. With a spatula or flat, round-tipped knife, frost the cake or cupcakes.

4. Using the tube fitted with a tip, make decorations over frosting.

The cake or cupcakes can be served the same day or made a day ahead, covered in a foil tent and refrigerated.

To foil tent a cake, place 6 to 8 toothpicks halfway into cake and spaced out throughout cake surface. Create a tent with aluminum foil sheets that are large enough to cover cake and secure around platter edges.

*Note – A 10 or 11-inch square cake pan can be used as well.

Text and Photographs ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real

Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Pumpkin "Cheese" Cake

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On November 13, 2010 20 Comments

During the week before Thanksgiving I usually make pumpkin bread. This year, I reinvented this Autumn coffee go-with. I made a traditional pumpkin cake with an added cream cheese filling. Some of the white flour has been substituted with whole wheat flour. And, although I eliminated the oil, this dessert is still moist and scrumptious. Serve this “no fuss” cake for Thanksgiving – and don’t forget the coffee!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 40 to 50 minutes
Makes: One 10-inch cake

FOR THE CREAM CHEESE CAKE FILLING:
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

1. In a 2-cup mixing bowl and with a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar and egg.

2. Set aside until ready to assemble into the raw cake batter.

FOR THE CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
One 15-ounce can pumpkin
1 cup nonfat, plain yogurt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces) Dulce de Leche*

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour an 10-inch round spring form pan and set aside.

2. In a 4-cup mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and allspice; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a 2-cup mixing bowl, using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar and egg; set aside.

4. In a 3 or 4-quart mixing bowl, mix together the pumpkin, yogurt, eggs, sugar and vanilla on low speed.

5. Gradually add the combined dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and beat at low speed until the batter is uniform, about 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Pour half of the pumpkin batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a spatula; set aside.

7. Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly over batter in pan followed by remaining half of pumpkin batter. Make sure the top pumpkin batter layer covers the cream cheese mixture evenly.

8. Place springform pan with batter on a rack positioned in center of oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes.

9. After 40 minutes, check doneness of cake by inserting a pointed knife in its center. If knife has sticky batter around it, bake cake for an additional 5 minutes. Check doneness once more. Knife inserted should come out clean. If not, bake another 5 minutes.

10. Cool cake completely in spring form pan on counter.

11. If making a day ahead, cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate. Remove cake from refrigerator 2 hours before serving.

FOR THE CAKE GARNISH:
5-Minute Sweetened Whipped Cream (found in our recipes, under Desserts, Creams & Sauces)

1. When cake is completly cook and at serving time, remove sides of spring form pan and set cake on a platter (do not remove cake from pan bottom). 

2. Serve individual pieces of cake on your guests’ plates, topped with a drizzle of dulce de leche and the whipped cream.

*Dulce de leche is a caramel sauce from Argentina and can be found in Latin American supermarkets. It is usually packaged and sold in a 15-ounce glass or plastic jar.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real

Halloween Tombs & Cupcakes

Halloween Tombs & Cupcakes

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Holidays On October 6, 2010 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I was shopping at an arts and crafts store and noticed candy molds for skeletons and cakes. Making Halloween desserts with such fun decorations is a great art project for kids and adults. You’ll have a blast assembling the tombs and decorating the cupcakes. During this graveyard project, you won’t be able to resist tasting the candies and cakes. However, be sure to leave a few for your guests!

Prep time: 45 minutes (for the green skeleton candies & cupcakes)
Bake time: 25 minutes
Frosting time: 15 minutes
Makes: 8 tombs & 8 cupcakes

MAKE THE SKELETON CANDIES:
One 14-ounce bag Wilton® White Candy Melts
4 drops green food color
Pastry bag fitted with a star tip
Skeleton design candy molds

1. Melt the candies in a double boiler or in a microwave (follow microwave directions on package).

2. Using a wooden spoon, immediately stir the green food color into melted candy.

3. Set container with melted candy on a counter to cool 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Carefully spoon the melted candy into the bottom of a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.

5. Squeeze the pastry bag to overfill each skeleton mold – the top of each mold should look like it has a cloud of melted candy over it. Using a long metal spatula, scrape off the extra candy.

6. Set the mold in freezer, about 8 to 10 minutes or until candies have hardened.

7. Unmold candies onto a flat surface and set aside. Repeat filling the mold, freezing and unmolding the hardened candies until there are enough candy parts to form 8 complete skeletons.

8. If making ahead, set the skeleton candies in layers with paper towels in between each candy layer – inside a sealable plastic container. Make sure the candies do not touch. Freeze candies until ready to use.

FOR THE TOMBS & CUPCAKES:
5 mini loaf pans (5 X 3 X 1-7/8), greased and floured
8 Halloween baking cups, set in a muffin baking pan
One box Devil’s Food cake mix (1 lb. 2.25 oz.)
One Wilton® Orange Decorating Icing tube (4.25 oz.)
Decorating Plastic Tips to attach to icing tube
Halloween candies or decorations

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Prepare cake mix per package directions.

2. Pour a scant 2/3 cup cake batter into each loaf pan and divide remaining batter evenly among 8 baking cups set in a muffin pan.

3. Set the loaf pans on bottom oven rack. Set the muffin pan on top oven rack.

4. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until knife inserted in center of loaves and cupcakes comes out clean. If knife is coated with batter, bake an additional 5 minutes.

5. Transfer the loaf pans and muffin pan with cupcakes to a counter to cool completely. Unmold the loaves.

6. If making a day ahead, set loaves and cupcakes on a flat plate. Cover them with aluminum foil wrap and set aside on counter overnight.

PREPARE THE FROSTING & GARNISH:

1. With loaves right side up, horizontally slice off the rounded tops.

2. Set two of the sliced-off tops in a bowl and crumble – this will be used as edible earth around the loaves or tombs.

3. Arrange candies in each of the 8 tombs to form a complete skeleton and set aside.

4. Frost the cupcakes with the orange icing tube (fitted with a decorator tip).

5. Arrange tombs and cupcakes on a large platter with crumbled “earth” around them. Add Halloween candies as part of the decoration.

Happy Halloween!

Note: White Candy Melts, candy molds, pastry bags, premade orange frosting tubes, decorator tip attachments and Halloween baking cups can be found at party supply and/or arts and crafts stores.

Text and Photographs ©2010 Nancy DeLucia Real