Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A breakthrough.

Bundt cakes were among the very first things I attempted when I was still testing the waters with baking. My cousin, seven years my senior, had joined a sorority when she started at UCLA -- one that had reputation for always offering good food at their events and, appropriately enough, had their own sorority cookbook, economically bound with those black plastic spirals. This was their arsenal, the recipes that would make beer-guzzling men weak in the knees. Some time into her first year, my sister tried the leftovers of one of the Kahlua cakes from an event and could not stop gushing about how much she loved that cake. Turns out, at its heart was a box of yellow cake mix, but with a few bells and whistles (i.e. the addition of vanilla pudding mix, a generous cup of Kahlua, etc.), it became a pretty special and crowd-pleasing bundt cake (as can be expected with a sufficiently boozy pastries). You'd get a kick just from sniffing the finished product. This recipe made the rounds to my own events countless times while I was in high school, and eventually, we outgrew that cake and started making cakes without boxed mixes!

No one really turns down a bundt cake, but this style of cake just doesn't excite me like it used to. They're almost always universally appealing, which isn't at all a bad thing to be, but it has been starting to feel like if I've made one bundt cake, then I've made them all. It was with this attitude that I baked this week's Tuesdays With Dorie choice of Nutty, Chocolaty, Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake by Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort, and expected to have a perfectly decent bite for dessert. I was completely, and pleasantly, surprised.

Rugelach are among my favorite baked goods in the world (and one of my favorite Dorie recipes) and this cake, predictably buttery like a pound cake, also has a tang from sour cream, creating this base with a taste that is completely reminiscent to rugelach dough. I left out the orange zest and raisins because I knew the other people helping me eat the cake would object, but the cinnamon, chocolate, and walnut ribbon throughout the batter re-created all the flavors I love about rugelach. (The addition of orange zest and raisins would still conjure up the same sentiment, I'm sure.) Warmed up in the toaster oven, the crust of the cake becomes a crisp, wafer like shell, and irresistible. Sour cream bundt cakes may not ever be en vogue again, and they rarely disappoint, but, everyone, I have found my new favorite bundt cake/coffee cake, and I know it as Rugelach Cake.


Monday, January 17, 2011

An honest muffin.

Growing up in a household of four children, shopping trips to Costco were a given and an occasion to which my siblings and I always anticipated with excitement. My dad wouldn't always let us tag along, for fear we'd load the cart up with cookies, candy, and pastries galore, I'm sure, but the opportunities arose every once in awhile, and usually with only one kid at a time. We stocked up on such quality products as Kirkland Signature toilet paper, Nature's Valley granola bars, pallets of Yoplait yogurt, gallons of Minute Maid orange juice, and, of course, mens' briefs. Sometimes a tray of croissants would show up on the kitchen table when we came home from school (Costco croissants -- my, how far we've come...), but other times, it would be an assortment of mini-muffins. You know the ones -- chocolate chip, double chocolate, bran, blueberry, and my favorite, lemon poppy seed, packaged in fives with clear cellophane. They were perfect for throwing in our sack lunches, and we did. I can only hope I didn't devour them all myself, or in one sitting, though I wouldn't put it past my fifth grade self (kids must burn a lot of calories in P.E., right??)

I can't recall having been as big a fan of lemon poppy seed than when they came five to a pack. Given today's normal varieties of muffins, I feel a magnetic pull towards sour cream coffee cake muffins or the spiced options and lemon poppy seed is often shafted. This week, however, our Tuesdays With Dorie assignment was for my beloved mini variety, only in full size form and with the optional additional of jam that I took full advantage of, as chosen by Betsy of A Cup Of Sweetness.

Despite my early fondness for the lightly scented lemon muffin with poppy seeds suspended throughout, this was my first attempt at baking them. The two-bowl wonder of a recipe really could not be any more simple. I threw the dry ingredients together, then the wet, combined, and off into the oven they went in less than ten minutes. Half of them got the star treatment with a belly of raspberry jam, but that additional dimension wasn't all that necessary. It's an honest muffin. Straight-forward. Despite the raspberry jam and lemon glaze, you know that at its heart, it's just a lemony muffin with the perfect proportion of poppy seeds. And I love Bonne Maman raspberry jam, but I don't need to search for it in every bite -- the cake is just so good alone. With or without the bells and whistles, if I were to wake up to it every morning, life couldn't possibly be so bad.