Category Archives: Christmas

strawberry custard cassata cake

Hello. Welcome to delicious town. Mayor: this cake.

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But before I take you to delicious town, let me first tell you about my day in crazy town. Today was one of those days, where, oh, I don’t know…I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean…at all. Not when I almost got hit by the big van in the grocery store parking lot. Not when I nearly burnt the house up in flames. Not even when I woke up at 7 AM on a day where I am clearly supposed to sleep-in. I was giddy, and that was that.

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We had a nice little pre-Mother’s Day dinner for my mom tonight, complete with flank steak, parsnip mashed potatoes (recipe tomorrow), grilled veggies, and grilled corn on the cob. I corrected my dad when he complimented this cake that I made. (THIS CAKE! We’ll talk about that in a second). He mentioned that it turned out really good, where (being the English major brat that I am), I said he meant really well. I was 80% joking, but my brother pointed out something along the lines of how fun English majors are to hang out with. Can’t say I blame the man. Minutes later, mom said she could eat boat-loads of the grilled corn we had made…which, of course, in response dad says: “Ship-loads, honey. It’s actually ship-load.”

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THEN. Nearing the end of the evening. I was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor (normal) strumming worship songs on the guitar, when I catch a glimpse of my brother making non-denominational worship signals (they’re a thing) out of the corner of my eye. I made the mistake of trying to continue, which turned into me laughing SO hard that I slammed my guitar on the floor and got my dog (who was laying at the other end of the hall) all rialed up. My lack of gracefulness is troubling, and I won’t even mention the puddles I made while whipping cream tonight.

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But this cake. WOW. It means business. The original recipe calls for about 12 hours of commitment. [Ummm…what?] But I’m me. So ‘me’ cut that down to four, which I will share with you how to do.

A cassata cake requires multiple steps…but believe me when I tell you that this is the greatest-tasting complexity that you will ever have. Just look at it. *drool*. And actually, it wasn’t even bad to make–coming from me (I have cake problems) that says a lot.

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You might wonder what kind of crazy person would spend more than two hours assembling and baking a cake. But what makes this cake so madly delicious is simple: 1) It is filled with homemade custard; 2) Each spongey layer is topped with strawberry juice and macerated strawberries; 3) The batter is prepared using a hint of lemon zest and whipped egg whites (mm, hello, fluffy town!); and 4) It is frosted with a homemade whipped cream (which was almost easier to make than a slice of toast).

Everything about this cake is a party. I’m telling you. If you don’t have a reason to make it, find one. Or bring it to my house. I live in Michigan (and in crazy town, obviously).

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Strawberry Custard Cassata Cake

Yields: 2 9-inch pans; Prep time: 1 hour; Total time: ~4 hours (best if prepared overnight)

CAKE LAYERS

2 1/4 cup cake flour

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. lemon zest, grated

1 tsp. vanilla

5 large egg yolks, room temp

8 large egg whites, room temp

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

CUSTARD 

6 large egg yolks (*FYI, this recipe requires a total of 11 eggs)

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups half and half

3 tbsp. cornstarch

STRAWBERRIES

2 pounds strawberries

2 tbsp. sugar

WHIPPED CREAM

3 cups very chilled heavy cream

1.5 tbsp. sugar

First, make the custard (you can do this the night before, or buy from a bakery). Whisk together all of the custard ingredients in a  saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Simmer until thick, 1-2 minutes (it’s quick). Store in fridge in a lidded bowl for at least 3 hours (up to 2 days).

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line the bottom of two 9-inch pans with parchment and spray with cooking spray.

Sift twice together flour, 1 1/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together yolks, water, oil, zest, and vanilla on low speed until smooth. Stir in flour mixture.

Clean the beaters and flour bowl, and mix egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Fold this into the rest of the batter, very gently. Try your best to not deflate the egg whites. Divide the batter into prepared pans (will be quite full) and bake 35 minutes, until cakes spring back when slightly touched.

Allow cakes to cool for 45 minutes. Slide knife around edges; carefully flip onto wax paper. Remove parchment slowly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate both cakes at least one hour (preferably 3–this will make slicing them in half easier). While cakes refrigerate, slice strawberries (about 1/4 inch thick) and sprinkle with sugar. Allow to sit for one hour or more. Strain the juice (will be using this to brush the cakes later).

After cakes have refrigerated about two hours, prepare the whipped cream by putting heavy cream and sugar into a cool bowl (I put mine in the fridge for a half hour, but that is not necessary). Whisk by hand or use a mixer on high, until stiff peaks form.

Using a long, serrated knife, carefully slice each cake in half to create 4 layers. Put the first layer on your serving plate. Brush with generous amounts of strawberry juice, spread with custard, and place a single layer of strawberries on top of the custard–I placed the thicker slices of strawberry toward the outer edge and the thinner toward the middle, to avoid the ‘humped’ cake effect. I also put the custard in a piping bag and piped thick circles around the cake for easy spreading, taking off the access with a spreading knife.

Put the next cake layer on, pressing gently, and repeat previous steps. I picked up the top halves by hand, but used the wax paper that the other cake halves were on and used that to help me flip it onto the cake. The cakes should be pretty resilient, but try to be careful as possible not to break them (believe me, it’s happened more times than I can count). When you put on the final layer, make sure the nice side is facing up and brush off any crumbs with your fingers.

Apply a generous amount of whipped cream to the top of the cake and, using a spreader, work it across the top and over the sides. The more you put on, the better. You can always scrape it off as you go, but the more you have on the less likely it will be for crumbs to show through. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (original recipe says 8), for cake to absorb the juices. Enjoy this!

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Filed under Birthdays, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Father's Day, Fourth of July, Mother's Day, Summer Dishes

vanillekipferl

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Oh February. How near you are now. Christmas this year seemed to vanish at a faster speed than usual.  I had been anticipating my German boy’s arrival for nearly 12 months, and I couldn’t believe how quickly our two weeks together disappeared. I had every hour of our time together planned out better than a royal wedding–except for the 25 minutes my family spent singing Feliz Navidad at dinner while using the table scape as a drum set. That was strictly improv. (And on the off-chance that our nut-house inspires you [well why wouldn’t it?], a pair of colliding chestnuts makes a pretty efficient metronome.)

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I guess it shouldn’t surprise me how it all flew by, though, considering I had been planning his visit since September. Weeks of anticipation and over just like that. Leaving nothing behind but a tin of homemade cookies and, I’ll admit, a spritz of Joop on Mr. Teddy Bear. sigh. [we’re cheesy I know. it’s a sickness really.]

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But these cookies. These two-bite, melt-in-your-mouth, just-enough-sugar, perfectly-shaped-for-dunking cookies. If it weren’t for these little pick-me-ups, post-departure life would not have been the same. I wouldn’t have had anything to grief-eat as I cried my way home from the airport. I practically used them as a pacifier. Nor, would I have had anything keeping my rum-spiked hot chocolate company later that evening.

But okay. It sounds a lot worse than it was.

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Vanillekipferl – (Almond Crescent Cookies)

(Yield: 3 dozen)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup white sugar

3/4 cup ground almonds or hazelnuts (I prefer almonds)

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup vanilla sugar for rolling – I purchased some at Williams-Sonoma

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter with pastry blender, then knead into a dough.

Shape dough into logs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a half hour.

Preheat often to 325 degrees F. Cut off 1/2 inch pieces  on each log. Shape each piece into a crescent and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake approximately 8-10 minutes. Cool 1 minute and carefully roll, while warm, in vanilla sugar.

These cookies can also be dipped in chocolate and left to cool, or rolled in powdered sugar. Very traditional to Austria and Germany. And delicious!

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Filed under Christmas, Cookies, Desserts, Holiday Dishes

strawberry-cheese blintzes

Shh, quiet.

Now listen closely.

Do you hear that?

What you hear is the sound of thousands of blintz-angels, bursting through Heaven’s gates singing holy moly, holy moly, holy moly.

Or at least that’s what it sounds like. I’m not really sure. I don’t speak Blintzese. But holy cow, these are good. And if I weren’t susceptible to cankles or busting buttons, I’d make them every.single.day of my bowl-of-oatmeal-for-breakfast life.

Cheese Blintzes

(Yields 7-8 – Recipe courtesy of my wonderful cousin She-She, who is even sweeter than these awesome blintzes!)

Crepes

2/3 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

3 eggs

1.5 cups milk

1.5 tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 tbsp. butter for skillet

Whisk together flour, salt, and eggs until smooth. Add melted butter. Beat in milk. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours.

Heat butter in a 7 inch skillet. Pour in 1/2 cup of batter over low heat. Flip once. Separate crepes with wax paper. Refrigerate.

Filling

8 oz. cottage cheese, creamed

3 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Topping

1 quart strawberries, thinly sliced

1 tbs. sugar

Homemade whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well. Fill each crepe and roll. Put on serving plate and heat until warm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat strawberries with sugar over medium-low heat for about 7 minutes. To serve, top warmed crepes with strawberries and whipped cream, and dust with powder sugar. Enjoy!

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Filed under Birthdays, Breakfasts, Christmas, Father's Day