Strawberry-filled White Cake with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I have to start this post by saying on the morning I assembled this cake, I set a personal record for my morning commute. Normally if I am out the door by 20 minutes after the hour, I make it to work in a comfortable amount of time and I give myself a good buffer for any morning traffic I may hit. On this particular day, after I finally finished frosting and taking a shadowy picture (I have a bad habit of baking things and then never taking pictures), I left at 8:35. I was sure I would be late for my 9:00 patient. But the stars, and strawberries aligned, and I made it with 3 minutes to spare. A true miracle indeed.

I made this cake for one of the student aide’s last day of work. I decided to go with a slightly less-rich cake (I normally always gravitate to extreme chocolate) and went with a white cake with a strawberry filling and vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream icing.

I’ve made Swiss meringue buttercream before and I’ve loved the results. The icing is satiny, silky, and incredibly easy to frost, but it can sometimes be a little finicky to make.  The most important lesson I’ve learned with this type of icing is that it will come together. It can take awhile, but it eventually forms a lusciously fluffy icing. I’ve thrown out a few batches a time or too, only to realize it could have been saved. For some great troubleshooting tips, I have referred to Shawnda’s great “how to” post on this topic.

I’ve also discovered that Swiss meringue buttercream tastes best at room temperature. Because of the unholy amount of butter in this frosting, it hardens, well… like butter, when it’s chilled. If you want to refrigerate it, it’s best to let it sit out for about 30 minutes before serving.

Happy Friday, everyone. Don’t forget to wear green this weekend. :)

Classic White Cake with Strawberry filling and Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients

For the icing

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the strawberry filling

  • 2 ½ cups coarsely chopped hulled strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions

1. To make the filling, combine the strawberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Stir constantly and crush the strawberries with the spoon as you go. Bring to a boil for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

2. To make the frosting, whisk together the egg whites, sugar and salt in a microwave-safe bowl that is set over a pot of simmering water.  While stirring constantly, allow the mixture to reach 160° F so that the sugar has dissolved.

Transfer the egg white mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Lower the speed to medium and add in about 2 tablespoons of butter at a time, allowing each addition to incorporate into the icing before adding more. The icing may frosting runny or curdled at this point, but fear not! Continue to beat on medium-high speed until it gets back to a fluffy and smooth textures, about 3-5 minutes more. Carefully stir in the vanilla until just combined.

3. Assemble the cake: Take one 9 inch round cake and place the rounded side down on a plate. Pipe a ring of vanilla Swiss meringue frosting around the border of the cake, creating a barrier for the strawberry filling.

Spoon the strawberry filling on top of the cake and gently spread it out evenly.

Carefully place the other 9 inch round on top.

Spread a thin layer of the Swiss meringue frosting over the cake. Allow it to harden for 15 minutes in the fridge. This is your crumb layer. Remove the cake from the fridge and spread on the remaining frosting, creating a smooth and glossy finish. Garnish as desired. Enjoy!

Source: Cake- Baking Illustrated, Filling- Food.com, Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream- Annie’s Eats, originally from Martha Stewart

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

My Aunt Khaki first introduced me to the concept of a lettuce wrap a few years ago, even before Robert and I were married. She was visiting my family in Ohio and I think she viewed it as her personal mission to expose us rural Ohio folk to more than just down home cooking. I remember being intrigued with the idea of essentially a lettuce taco, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I really learned to love and crave Thai lettuce wraps.

The version I made was pretty basic. I found a recipe for sesame bean sprouts, coconut curry noodles, and I used a Thai chicken and peanut sauce recipe from the beloved Ellie Krieger.

These wraps are a great to eat by yourself or with a group of friends with a big platter in the middle of the table. It’s a great spring and summer meal.

Also, as a side note-  a lot of Thai recipes call for Fish sauce, but I have a really bad aversion to the stuff from a past experience (I’ll spare the lovely details). As a result, I don’t use it when I cook, so this recipe may upset the Thai purists. Maybe someday…

Thai Lettuce Wraps

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 6-8 butter leaves for the wraps

For the chicken

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 1garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts pounded slightly and cut into 1-inch strips

For the bean sprouts

  • 1½ cups bean sprouts
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

For the noodles

  • 12 oz fresh egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 pinch turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice

For the spicy peanut dipping sauce

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon red curry paste
  • 1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped

Directions

For the chicken

Whisk together the chicken stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, shallot, garlic, brown sugar, lime zest, and ginger. Add the chicken strips and marinate for 1 hour. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes.

Preheat a gas grill over a medium-high flame. While the grill is heating, thread chicken onto skewers. Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side, until meat is cooked through and has light grill marks. Remove from grill and allow to rest 10 minutes.

For the bean sprouts

Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan, Add the bean sprouts along with the other ingredients. Cook over a medium-high heat until the bean sprouts are tender Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

For the noodles

Place the noodles in hot water. Let the noodles cook until tender or according to the directions on the package. Drain and keep warm.

In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk on low heat and slowly stir in the curry paste. When it begins to simmer, add in the remaining ingredients. Continue to simmer for approximately 2 minutes. Stir in the noodles and place in a bowl.

For the spicy peanut sauce

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

For the wraps

Assemble all of the portions on a platter. Place the chicken, noodles, bean sprouts, and peanut sauce in a piece of lettuce. Fold like a taco and enjoy.

Source: Chicken and peanut sauce- Ellie Krieger; Noodles and bean sprouts- Chef Pablo’s Restaurant Recipes


Spring Green Quinoa Risotto

It may not technically be spring in Ohio yet, but the clocks have sprung forward and the sun is shining. Daffodils and tulips are starting to break through the earth, tons of birds have been visiting our bird feeder, and asparagus is starting to get positively scrumptious.

I first made Ina Garten’s Spring Green risotto last April and I was in love. With asparagus, leeks, and lemon, this dish has a wonderful freshness. Typically risotto is made with arborio rice, but I didn’t have it on hand this time around so I decided to substitute quinoa. Quinoa is a protein-packed grain and I happy to find that the result was surprisingly delicious.

Risotto takes a little bit of attention and time, as you have to gradually add in a little chicken broth at a time until it is all absorbed, but the end result is worth it. Plus, I always love the satisfaction of the care and love that goes into this type of dish.

Welcome back, spring! I’m glad to see your shining face again. It will probably be snowing tomorrow…

Spring Green Quinoa Risotto

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups chopped and rinsed leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • 4 to 5 cups simmering chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 1 pound thin asparagus
  • 10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted, or 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, preferably Italian
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Directions

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and and cook  until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Pour in the the white wine and simmer over low heat,  whisking until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and waiting for the broth to be absorbed before adding more. This will take about 30 minutes.

2. While that is cooking, cut the asparagus in 1 1/2-inch lengths and throw away the tough ends. Place in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until barely tender. Drain and submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process.

3. When the risotto has been cooking for about 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Keep cooking and adding the broth, stirring frequently, until the quinoa is cooked.

4. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice and mascarpone together. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the lemon mascarpone mixture and Parmesan cheese and chives. Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes,  and garnish with chives and additional Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Source: Ina Garten

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Once again, I am using another recipe from the beloved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I make the traditional artisan bread all the time and I also love the caramelized onion and herb rolls. This time I used a sweeter variation of the recipe. The dough is a buttermilk version and the filling is as simple as can be with raisins, sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon.

The recipe is easy to put together and this bread would be a great weekend or weekday breakfast item. It does, however, take a little more non-cooking/baking time than the original recipe as the dough has to rest after it’s assembled.   Also, the next time I make this I will bake it a little longer than the suggested time, since the middle of the loaf was just a tad underdone (the ends were perfect). Other than that, it was lovely.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Ingredients

For the bread

  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • Egg wash

Directions

1. Mix the yeast, salt, and sugar with teh water in buttermilk in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon.

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, about 2 hours. Refrigerate or use immediately.

4. Grease a 9x4x3 loaf pan and set aside. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins in a small bowl. Grab a cantaloupe-sized hunk of dough and sprinkle with flour. Shape into a ball.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough into a 8×16 inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.

6. Brush the surface of the dough with an egg wash. Dust the sugar mixture over the bread evenly.

7. Roll up the dough, jelly-roll style. Pinch the edges together and tuck the ends under.

8. Place the loaf seam down in the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes (or just 40 minutes if using non-refrigerated dough).

9. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

10. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

11. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Source: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Asparagus, Leek, and Swiss Quiche

I love Gruyere cheese, but I don’t like the price tag that comes with it. Sometimes, I will break down and buy it; but I most often just substitute sharp Swiss cheese in its place, which ends up working just fine since Gruyere is in the Swiss cheese family. Happy day.

I made this quiche for our Sunday brunch over the weekend. I was testing it out for a possible menu item for my friend, Chelsea’s, bridal shower in May. Asparagus is so delicious in the spring and I thought it would fit well into her brunch-themed shower.

The flavors were quite tasty, but the crust came out a little underbaked. I will definitely be making this dish again, but I may pre-bake the crust for a few minutes and then add the filling to ensure a perfectly crispy crust. Most importantly, the bride-to-be gave her seal of approval.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Asparagus, Leek, and Swiss Quiche

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 leek (white and light green parts only), halved and thinly sliced, rinsed well
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 bunch (1 pound) asparagus, tough ends removed, thinly sliced into 2 inch pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (4 ounces)

For the pie crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling dough
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons ice water, plus 2 more, if needed

Directions

1. Make the pie crust: whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Add in the butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture resembles the size of peas. With the mixer still on low, gradually add in the ice water until the dough just starts to come together.

2. Dump the dough onto a lightly-floured surface. Form it into a 3/4 inch disc ball of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. After the dough has chilled, place the disc on a lightly-floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 14 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Carefully drape over a 9 inch pie plate. Pat the dough down and crimp the edges. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

4. Make the filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pie crust from the oven. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add leek and asparagus; season with salt and pepper. Cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

5. Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg in a large bowl. Sprinkle with swiss cheese and top with asparagus mixture. Pour egg mixture on top of the cheese/vegetables.

6. Bake until center of quiche is just set, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the quich halfway through. Allow to set 15 minutes before serving.

Source: Martha Stewart

Buttermilk Biscuits

This past Sunday we had a small group over for a late brunch. The day before we hosted, I was looking for simple recipes to make so it would be a laid back affair and I found these buttermilk biscuits as I was leafing through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. I’ve never made biscuits from scratch and this recipe seemed like a great addition to the menu so I gave them a go.

I was able to make the dough and cut the biscuits out in under 15 minutes. It was so easy that I ended up making another batch and freezing half for another occasion.

The biscuits came out light and flaky (thank you butter) and I served them with jam and honey. I will definitely add this recipe to my repertoire for the future.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield: 1 dozen biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup low fat buttermilk

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the flour, powder, sugar, salt, and soda in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk the ingredients together until evenly combined.

2. Place the cubes of butter into the dry mixture and mix together and crumble with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed, about the size of oatmeal flakes.

3. Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and toss with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Pour the contents out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead 3-4 times until the dough comes together.

4. Roll the dough out into a 1/2 inch thick slab. Use a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter and cut out as close together as possible, re-kneading the dough as little as possible.

5. Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 14-18 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Allow to cool slightly and enjoy.

Source: Dorie Greenspan