Posts Tagged With: birthday

Plum Tart with Greek Yogurt


Fall is in full swing and in this swanky apartment we’re eating…PLUMS !

I know, I know…plums ?  Aren’t you supposed to be making pumpkin-themed everything ?

Yes yes, plums !  Pumpkin is so passé* – everyone is devouring pumpkin goods.  Time to give those plums a little lovin’ !  Perhaps this post of positively pleasant “P” sounds presents a perfect place for plum pizzazz !

In any case, it is true that plum season extends into early fall – October – and I am, for the first time, taking advantage of this fact.  I used to dislike plums.  Well, perhaps dislike isn’t the proper term.  Ignore may be a better one.  Plums were, in a word, strange. Why ?  Because they morph into prunes, that’s why.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat either fruit.  It was strange, therefore, when I walked into Trader Joe’s, saw a “basket” of plums looking for a home, felt spontaneous and snatched them up and POW a memory popped in my head:  for my birthday, while in France forever ago, my host dad, Pierre, made me a birthday dessert. Considering my host family and I were not particularly chummy, I was very touched by the gesture.  A beautiful, rustic plum tart sat in front of me, paired with a book about Dijon.  I can’t believe I’d buried that memory so deep, and it took a basket of unassuming plums to trigger it.

So then I had it.  The IDEA.  I would make a plum tart for my birthday…hence, here is my birthday “cake” thrown together with little time to spare before a 20s’-themed bash !  As you can tell, from the top picture, it was devoured in record time.  It’s a quick fix (if you buy your crust, and I did…I know, tsk tsk) that is pleasantly tart and lightly spiced.  This recipe uses a Greek yogurt “custard” topping, but I think, were I to remake it (and there are still a few dusty plums kicking around my cuisine…) I would skip the cream and make the tarte tout simplement avec des prunes.

I used the recipe from Mary Anna Esposita, the woman who taught me more about tomatoes via her great cooking show “Ciao Italia” than I think I needed to know as an 8 year-old.

Here’s the original recipe; the one noted below is with my adjustments.
Ingredients :
7 plums, cut into slices
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Sprinkle ginger
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup greek yogurt (plain)
3 tbsp additional sugar
Preheat the oven to 400F.  If you are making your own crust – you are fabulous and better than me this go around.  Prepare the crust and place it in a greased tart pan (or pie dish, or quiche pan – whatever you have will probably do).  I’d give the crust a little toast before placing the plums, but it is not required and the tart will not combust or fail to cook in time if you don’t.
Slice the plums into fairly thin sections – I made mine into little segments (like a fan, kind of) in order to make the tart look nice.  You are welcome to cut the plums in a less careful manner and throw them in the pan.  Taste will not be affected.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  Right ?  Right.
Arrange the plums in concentric circles (if desired) in the bottom of the pie pan.  I started in the “middle” and worked my way out.
In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and the spices, stirring well to combine.
Dust the plums with the sugar mixture – don’t be afraid to really bury them !  As the plums cook and release water, it will mix with the sugar combination to make this wonderful caramel-like substance at the bottom of the tart.  It’s delicious with ice cream.  Yummmmmm.  Top with the juice of the lemon – I just gave that citrus fruit a good squeeze directly overtop the plum and sugar combination.
Place this in the oven until the plums are soft – about 10 minutes – then remove from the oven.  You are WELCOME to just eat this as your tart and not continue.  It looks so good, I have half a mind to try it like this with my remaining plums….
In another bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp of sugar, egg yolks, and yogurt.  Pour this mixture over the tart, being sure to work from the inside out and try to evenly distribute the custard.  Place the tart back into the oven and cook for about 10 more minutes or until the custard has set- you should be able to touch the top and pull a little of the custard out on your finger.  It’s sort of in a semi-solid state.
Let the tart cool a little before serving to your hungry party guests !
Bon appétit ! 🙂
*I hold nothing against pumpkin goods…in fact, I’ve been cooking them a lot.  I just wanted to be DIFFERENT.
Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Boston Cream Pie

A slice of life

Birthday cakes can be tricksy at times.  You are trying to make something that both appeals to the person in question AND to the other guests AND to yourself (in this case).  You don’t know if folks are wild about frosting, or prefer cake.  What about ice cream ?  Should candles grace the top ?  Far too many questions.  I’m already overwhelmed.

While I was home, my dad celebrated his birthday (he’s probably 21* now, quite the young’un).  He notoriously doesn’t like to eat white sugar.  Or chocolate.  Or sweets in general when attempting to be healthy.  However, I (being his daughter) know his weakness :  Boston Cream Pie.  When my sister and I were younger, he would sneak one out of Roche Bros. supermarkets as a treat or a fun dessert – which is how I came to know what Boston Cream Pie even was, for it is somewhat of an obscure dessert, with origins both in New York (for the original “pudding cake”) and in Boston (from the Parker House, which copied the NYC cake but topped it with chocolate glaze).  A nice, light, vanilla sponge cake filled with rich vanilla cream and slathered with fine chocolate ganache, this is a surprising birthday gateau – no ice cream necessary and yes, the candles will stay on and no – there is NOT very much butter involved.  It is surprisingly simple to make (once you get over the fact that yes, you need a billion eggs) but will take time and patience, for each component has to be done at a separate time.  If you have a snow day to spent inside, give this “pie” a whirl !

Pastry Cream :

1/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/8 cup flour
3 tbsp cornstarch (scant – err on the side of LESS)
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

I like to make the cream EITHER before I make the cake OR while the cake is cooking – it just depends on your preference, for the cream will need to chill for awhile.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the egg yolks and the white sugar.  Whisk together until nicely ribboned.  Ribboning is when the sugar and the eggs are combined so that the whisk, when lifted out of the pan, causes the mixture to run in a nice, thin ribbon of light yellow goodness back into the bowl.

Mmm. Yolky.

Mix mix mix

Finished product !

Add the flour and the cornstarch and mix again until smooth and pasty.  It should seem very thick and remain a light yellow. The flour and the cornstarch will act as thickening agents for the cream.  When they are heated, they release amylose, a starch molecule, that expands when exposed to water.  The eggs are also thickeners – as they cook, their protein structure changes to become less fluid and more solid.

Flour power

Extremely viscous.

Set aside for the moment.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk until it is barely boiling.  You will see steam rising from the milk and small bubbles forming on the sides of the pan.  THIS NEXT STEP IS IMPORTANT SO PAY ATTENTION :  We are going to do a little pouring and it might get messy but “if you’re alone in the kitchen, who’s to see ?” (Thank you Julia Child/Meryl Streep).  Here is the game plan : because the eggs are not hot, but the milk IS hot, we don’t want to just dump the eggs into the milk as they will cook/curdle/the cream will not be creamy.  It will be lumpy.  No one wants tapioca-like cream when tapioca is not an ingredient.  So, we have to temper the egg yolks – give them a chance to get used to the heat before throwing them into the fire..rather like when you don’t want to get into the cold ocean right away and you slowly tiptoe your way in.

Pour half of the hot milk into the egg mixture being sure to WHISK FRANTICALLY.  Then, pour the eggy concoction into the OTHER half of the milk, do not stop whisking, and place THAT back on the heat.  Whisk whisk whisk until you think your wrist is going to cry.  The mixture should instantly start to thicken. Add vanilla.  When it looks like custard, remove from heat and transfer to a clean bowl.  Place this bowl IMMEDIATELY into the fridge or into an ice bath to stop the cooking.  I never use the ice bath – I just chill mine – and all is usually well.

I've a frisky whisk...

You should be able to sample without drippage.

Let chill until cold and ready to use as filling !

Sponge cake :

5 large eggs
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp butter
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (for egg whites)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two 9” round pans with parchment paper (or grease well with butter).  Sponge cakes can be a little tricky, so using parchment paper takes some of the anxiety out of the removal process.  Separate three of the five eggs and allow them to come to room temperature before using.

In another bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  I love nutmeg and I think it tastes really nice sprinkled into the cake batter, so I add a few shakes of that to the flour mixture.

Place the milk and the butter in a saucepan over low heat and remove one the butter has melted.

Butter me up ;)


In a mixer (or by hand in a large bowl), beat 6 tablespoons of sugar with the yolks and the two eggs until they lighten significantly in color.  Just as we did with the pastry cream, make sure they from a thin ribbon when lifted from the beater.  Add the vanilla and mix well.

L'eggo !


Frothy (like my name)

In another bowl, beat the three egg whites (with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar) until they resemble soft peaks.  If you are doing this by hand, it can be very tiring – soft peaks should allow the whisk to lift up, make a poof, and then that poof will stay stationary.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the warm milk mixture until just combined. Be careful not to overmix as the batter has yet to be folded.

Blending the flour.

HERE COMES THE BEST PART !  Fold the egg whites into the batter very gently.  In a sponge cake, the egg whites are the rising agent – there is no baking powder that causes the cake to expand.  Instead, it is the air trapped in between the newly-arranged proteins of the egg white that give the cake is sponginess/spring.  That said, if you mix too much, it will fall and taste rubbery.  Not enough ?  You’ll have blips of egg white (that don’t taste like anything) interspersed throughout.  It’s a delicate balance but aim for a swirled effect and the cake should turn out fine.

IMG_8621 IMG_8622

Pour into prepared pans and bake until golden brown and springy to the touch – about 20 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven.

The cake is a lie.

Chocolate glaze :

6 ounces (or so) of nice dark chocolate, chopped (I use chips)
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 tbsp butter
Optional :  A little amaretto or frangelico adds a nice touch.

Place the cream and the butter in a pan over low heat.  Once it begins to simmer, pour the chocolate in and let stand for 2 minutes (off the heat) before whisking smooth.  Add the liquor if desired.

Butter and milk, again. Brown gold.


Assembly :

First, take one layer of the cake and dust the top with confectioner’s sugar – this will make it less sticky and easier to handle when placing it on the cake stand (or plate).


Remove the cream from the fridge and spread over the cake layer – don’t be afraid to load it up. Some might ooze out the sides, but that can be tidied up later.  The cream is my favorite part, so I’m not really fussed if it’s a smidge messy.

Oh creamy goodness.  Come to mama.

Place the final cake layer on top of the cream and slowly spread the warm chocolate ganache over the layer.  Do one thin layer, wait until it cools a little, then add another layer to avoid too much dripping.  That said, I think part of a Boston Cream Pie is a few rivulets of chocolate down the sides…but it’s up to you.

IMG_8653 IMG_8664


Bon appétit !

Happy Birthday !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Filling and Spiced Chocolate Buttercream

Yes, you read the title right.

Vegan chocolate cake.  Vegan buttercream.  Vegan dessert.

I think I am probably the most omnivorous person around – I really love all types of food.  Meat, milk, fish, vegetables, sugar (obviously)…the list goes on.  Baking with limitations, therefore, is not my forte.  However, one of my closest friends is vegan, choosing to eliminate all sorts of ingredients commonly found in sweet delights from her diet (which totally amazes me.  I could never do it, so PROPS TO YOU, Miss Bailey !).  When her birthday rolled around, I was DETERMINED to concoct a vegan-friendly dessert…for what is a birthday without cake ??  Though it was definitely an adventure for me (the ingredients list is more exotic than normal…did you know vegan butter exists ?!  Super cool !), the end result was pretty tasty – I would definitely make the cake again.  While I’ll admit that it feels strange to make a cake without eggs, the texture is exactly the same as any chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten and I bet a blind taste test would fool you.

In order to make the cake a little interesting, I chose to fill the center layer with blackberry jam and add spices to the frosting – there is nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves added to the frosting to bring in a little texture and round out the cocoa flavors.

Give it a try – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  🙂

For the cake :

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
A few shakes of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line them with parchment paper.  Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soy milk, vinegar, sugar, oil, and vanilla. I know, it looks a little odd – vinegar and olive oil usually connote salad dressing – but I promise it works out in the end !

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until well combined.

Spoon or scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 55 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when you smell the cake and a fork comes out clean.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen before inverting the cake onto a wire rack (or if you are a lowly college student, on a plate dusted with confectioners’ sugar) to cool.

For the filling :

Blackberry jam – I used about 1/3 of a jar….but this part is entirely subjective – use as much or as little as you please.  Also, I think that raspberry jams would be DELICIOUS in place of blackberry.

For the frosting :

1/2 stick vegan butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup cocoa powder (more or less depending on your love of bitterness)
1/4 cup soy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves

In a large bowl, whisk the vegan butter until it’s creamy.  Add the cocoa powder first, blending slowly until well incorporated (start slow simply to avoid cocoa powder explosions…that fine dust tends to make me sneeze when it clouds the air).  Add the vanilla and the powdered sugar, adding the soy milk when necessary to assure a good texture. Add the spices last.

Make sure to taste along the way to make sure everything is to your liking – I gave my ratios of spices BUT THEY ARE APPROXIMATE as I tend to make it up as I go, adding a dash of this and a dash of that until I find the taste I prefer.  It’s good to be spontaneous.  🙂

Assembly :

First, center one layer of the cake on a plate that has been dusted with powdered sugar.  This will be useful when the time come to cut the cake, as each slice will be easy to remove.

Using a flat metal spatula, (or a knife…again…I lack proper tools) spread a very thin layer of the frosting on the cake.  As we are going to add jam, this thin coating of frosting will keep the cake from going soggy on the inside.

Once evenly distributed, add the jam, spreading with the back of a spoon.  I love jam, so I was rather liberal with the amount I put on the inside…it is your call.

Prepare the second cake layer by spreading another thin layer of frosting on the side that will touch the jam.  Once ready, flip this layer onto the jam layer. It’s a process but it isn’t that difficult – if you miss, just pick the cake up and put it back on.  No harm done !

Cover the rest of the cake with the frosting.  Dust the top with a combination of the spices used in the frosting – it looks classy and tastes good, too.

We obviously decorated ours with candles….

Happy Birthday, Bailey & Ambika and bon appétit !



Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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