Best Coffee Cake Muffins

These muffins have the ideal 50/50 ratio of streusel to cake that every proper coffee cake should have – and the muffin portion is so light, rather than eat the streusel and throw away the muffin– it begs you to eat the whole thing…and perhaps even go for another. No health–redeeming qualities – this is pure morning indulgence.

coffe cake muffins with streusel topping

“Good morning, Sunshine,” the dawn nudges me through my bedroom window. I roll to my left, away from the light, and burrow deeper under the duvet, hoping the patiently waiting kitties outside my bedroom door haven’t heard me stir. I’ve made this bed too much of a sanctuary to leave these sweet dreams and warm warren of covers so easily. I sleep in a freezing-cold room, a habit I learned from my mother. Each evening, I throw my window wide open to the night air, and if the eve isn’t cold enough, I supplement with A/C as well. Sixty-seven degrees – ideal sleeping conditions for coveting a deeper snuggle, but not a temperature that beckons throwing the covers off each morning. I wear nothing but a tank top and panties, ensuring the need for my well-insulated nest. I surround myself with no less than four pillows – two under my head, one that I drape myself over, like a lover, and a fourth on standby, in case one escapes to the floor during the night. My blanket is “microplush,” my duvet, goose down. I arrange myself beneath the warmth and weight of these friends, creating a womb for dreaming, and dread the morning that always seems to come too soon.

A steaming cup of coffee brought to me in bed, with just the right amount of milk – my favorite morning treat, but not a pleasure I’ve experienced lately. If I want coffee, it’s up to me to leave this nest and brew it. Caffeine alone will not tempt me from my lair, but coffee and one of these muffins does the trick.


Best Coffee Cake Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
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These muffins have the ideal 50/50 ratio of streusel to cake that every proper coffee cake should have – and the muffin portion is so light, rather than eat the streusel and throw away the muffin– it begs you to eat the whole thing.


Ingredients

    Crumb topping
  • ½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Batter
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large eggs
  • ⅔ cups full-fat plain yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Make crumb topping: Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss until clumps form. Set aside.
  2. Make Muffins: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin tins with papers or grease with butter. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until well combined. Add yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until blended. Add flour mixture in 2 additions, beating just until incorporated.
  3. Fill each muffin tin ¼ full of batter. Sprinkle ½ of crumb topping over. Cover topping with remaining batter, smoothing as evenly as possible. Cover with a thick layer of remaining topping. Do not overfill.
  4. Bake muffins until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 25 minutes. Cool and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth, the star of this Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.

A bowl of Pho Soup garnished with mint, cilantro and lime
…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
                                                         – Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

No riot of color or chilling air, October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.” Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of prickly dread and stopped time. “Earthquake weather,” we proclaim. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00 pm, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. LA quietly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.

Coincidentally, this soup popped up on my Facebook memories for today – I first made this recipe exactly seven years ago.


Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth in the Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
  • 1 ½ lbs. beef shank, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, smashed
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed and greens chopped and reserved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • Fresh red chili or serrano chili, stemmed and halved
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 oz. dried flat Asian rice noodles
  • Mint sprigs, roughly torn
  • Cilantro leaves, roughly torn
  • Lime wedges
  • salt and white pepper

Directions

  1. Brown meat in batches in a large soup pot with a bit of oil. Set meat aside. Saute onion, ginger, white parts of scallions, garlic cloves, and chili until onion begins to brown.
  2. Add water, soy sauce, star anise, and cinnamon. Return meat and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer meat to cutting board. Discard bones and membrane and shred meat into small pieces.
  4. Strain broth through a sieve lined with cheese cloth and skim fat. Add meat back into broth and season with salt and white pepper.
  5. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles according to package directions. Place noodles in individual bowls, add scallion greens, torn mint springs and torn cilantro leaves. Ladle hot soup over noodles and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complexity.

A bowl of Moroccan Berber Soup

Last Monday, she was surprised to discover a long weekend punctuating the end of her week. Her weekend plans were already set – big plans – plans to simmer soups and trim gangly backyard bushes; plans to kick her blogging back in gear and plans for uninterrupted hours of reading. Plans to nest and regroup, really. Once she realized the calendar was gifting her today as a bonus (Columbus Day, really?), her mind turned instead to great escapes, her grand plans easily slipping away – the simmering, the trimming, the blogging, the nesting. Her mind has been on a roller coaster of late and, even more than her kitchen, miles of asphalt between her and her problems pacify troubled thoughts. Her first idea was a hotel and mineral springs nestled in an oasis of desert palms about 90 minutes from home – tranquility and a lobotomy brought to you by three days of pruney soaks. Sadly, her budget and their rates did not align. Her next solution, further afield, was a rustic riverside cabin sheltered within a shaded grove of pines. Sold out. Disheartened, she resigned herself to stay home, with soup and bushes and blog and books, wishing to be somewhere else entirely.

Flashing back to 2009, I developed this Moroccan-inspired soup as part of my culinary school final. Unique spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric result in an exotically complex flavor that won over Chef as well as the other students.


Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complexity.


Ingredients

  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. whole canned San Marzano tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 7 oz. fideo pasta (found in Hispanic section of well-stocked markets) or capellini
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • Plain yogurt, for garish

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in a bit of oil until softened. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes with juice and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrot is soft.
  2. Add fideo pasta and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with plain yogurt and serve.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

I’ve been enjoying more than my fair share of ice cream these last few scorching days of summer – I’m up to a 3-scoop per week habit.  Some of the goodness I’ve recently been devouring inspired the flavors in this tart – chocolate, peanut butter, and salted caramel (oh my!).

A chocolate peanut butter salted caramel tart with a slice missing

“Are you a Pastry Chef?”

A simple question, and one I’ve been faced with before, yet the usual self-effacing, rambling answer once again tumbles from my lips…

“No, not really. I make my living as an event planner, although I am, technically, a classically trained, non-practicing chef…but not a pastry chef. Pastry is my passion, but I’ve never gone to Pastry School, although I’d like to eventually. Baking is a hobby.” Ramble, ramble, ramble.

Why is it so difficult for me to acknowledge my merit, embrace my abilities and just answer, “Yes. Yes I am.”

And here, my friend, is the proof.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch Tart
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A silky combination of dark chocolate, peanuts, and buttery salted caramel.


Ingredients

  • 10-oz package shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup salted butter caramel, plus more for garnish (I use David Lebovitz’s version)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cocoa, chopped
  • ⅓ cup (rounded) peanut butter (not natural peanut butter, which will separate)
  • ½ cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

Directions

  1. Make shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse shortbread cookies and salt into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Press crumbs along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.
  2. Make filling: In a medium saucepan, bring heavy whipping cream and salted butter caramel to simmer – don’t boil. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and then slowly whisk cream mixture into yolks, tempering to avoid curdling eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until temperature registers 170 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and then peanut butter until melted.
  3. Sprinkle cooled crust with roasted salted peanuts. Pour filling through a sieve over peanuts. Chill, uncovered, until set, at least 2 hours. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream, drizzled caramel and peanuts. Chill until ready to serve.

Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.