Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake

 A Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake dotted with orange slices
He loosely grips the steering wheel with one hand, the other nestles along my left thigh. The dappled sunlight warms our scalps, unimpeded by a convertible roof tucked away in the trunk. My hair is kept restrained by a scarf. I catch his eye and grin, content and ready for another adventure…

The Southern California weather’s been ideal, bright sunny days with cool breezes, and I long for the return of road trips with my guy, shelved during this self-isolation and COVID shaming. Reminding myself that the best part of the adventure is often the journey, I suggest a road trip where the final destination becomes secondary, where we needn’t leave the safety of our convertible. The first weekend, we head northeast to two mountain destinations offering up patches of slushy snow and the fresh, cool air we so desperately crave. Our picnic by the lake, his doing, is a bonus. We’re hooked. The next weekend, it’s two hours south to Julian, a town known for its freshly baked apple pies. Not only do we pick up a still-warm apple crumble pie, we also pull off at a dusty roadside fruit stand for blood oranges, avocados, and honey. Next weekend, it’s our longest adventure yet, up the coast to an enclave famous for aebleskivers and Danish kitsch.

This cake is a celebration of our roadside stop last weekend where we stocked up on local honey and blood oranges. These farm-fresh ingredients made their way into this refreshing citrusy dessert that looks quite the showstopper when the cake is inverted onto the serving platter.


Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake

  • Servings: 8-10 servings
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A refreshing citrus cake that looks quite a showstopper when turned out is sure to be a favorite of anyone who appreciates a bit of marmalade.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice (either blood orange or regular)
  • 1 to 2 unpeeled blood oranges (depending on size), very thinly sliced crosswise (discard ends). I used a mandolin.
  • ¾ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon grated orange peel (either blood orange or regular)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • Lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. In a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, stir honey and orange juice until boiling. Cook without stirring until mixture is foamy, slightly thickened, and reaches 230°, 2 to 4 minutes. Place in freezer until cooled, about 10 minutes. Slightly overlap orange slices in concentric circles over syrup.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange peel.
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir half the flour mixture into butter mixture just until incorporated. Stir in milk, then remaining flour mixture. Do not over mix.  Carefully spoon batter over orange slices in pan and spread evenly.
  4. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Lay a flat plate over pan and carefully invert cake onto plate. Lift pan off, being careful with hot syrup. Allow to cool completely and cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. This cake is best eaten the same day it is made.

I’d love to claim this recipe as one of my own, but it actually comes from Sunset Magazine. My only alteration was substituting blood oranges for standard oranges.

Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

Rows of Apple Spice Muffins

“How often do you blog?” he asks.

“I try to post twice a week,” she unthinkingly replies, “Every Monday and Wednesday.”

Her answer was honest…albeit, incorrect. She USED to post twice a week, yet she hasn’t done so in a year. In December, Mardi Gras for most dessert bloggers, her fingers didn’t type a word. In 2019, her unique views didn’t surpass the previous year’s count, a first.

It’s not only about the statistics.

She compares her dull flat-lays to the avante-garde images in her head – a bowl of soup precariously teetering on a see-saw (quirky and unexpected), a slowly melting chocolate truffle on a tongue (sexy, gothic and moody) – and is chagrinned. Her intros are stilted and forced – telling, rather than showing. Her words only seem to flow when in the midst of upheaval – not a sustainable situation. Unsatisfied with her results, she wonders if she’s stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit her anymore.

But who is she without her blog, her constant companion for the past 11 years? She considers her options and decides, before killing it off completely, to seek CPR – her first remedy – a writing course to revive words that have flat lined.


Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Moist cupcakes with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and 5-spice garnished with walnuts and rich cream cheese frosting, if desired.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 ” pieces
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Cream cheese frosting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar, egg, oil, ginger and water. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Pour batter into tins, sprinkle with chopped walnuts (if using) and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with cream cheese frosting.

Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

A gingerbread cupcake drizzled with salted caramel

I’m a list keeper. I keep shopping lists, lists of books to read, lists of desserts I want to make, lists of writing topics, and my never-ending to-do list. Of all my lists, my favorite is one I’ve entitled “Things I Love” and it captures some of the things, from the silly to the sublime, that put a smile on my face. If you want to know what makes me happy, you can read my list here.

Looking back, I can’t recall why (or even when) I started this list. Remembering how crazed my work world used to be, I was likely attempting to bring a little contentment into my life. By reminding myself what truly brought me happiness, I could remember to appreciate these simple delights.

Christmas light displays didn’t make the list, but they’re a much-loved part of my holiday season. When I was little, my siblings and I would squeal from the station wagon’s back seat, “Pretty lights! Pretty lights!” whenever we’d drive by a festively lit house. As adults, we road trip to other neighborhoods – and other cities (Portland!?) in search of flamboyantly adorned holiday houses. If Jesus, Santa, Snoopy, AND a giant snow globe all make it into one tableau, our holiday is complete!

I’m thinking about Christmas light displays today because I’ve had a request to bake a few treats for a neighborhood holiday light stroll next month – a request I happily accepted. These sticky, spicy gingerbread cupcakes are my first contibution, adapted from Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread. My coworker, John, took a bite and said, “This is dangerous.” He then took a second bite and said, “This is really dangerous.” By his third bite, the cupcake was gone. Others agreed.


Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
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Dangerously sticky, spicy, not-too-sweet cupcakes topped with lashings of cream cheese frosting, salted caramel and candied walnuts.


Ingredients

    Gingerbread
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality salted caramel, plus more for drizzling (It’s worth making your own!)
  • 24 candied walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin tins. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, and then cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  3. Fill muffin tins ¾ full and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  4. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salted caramel. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy. If frosting is too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before piping.
  5. Frost cupcakes, drizzle with additional salted caramel, and garnish with a candied walnut.

Modern Black Forest Cake

A black forest cake with mirror glaze

It’s Friday and I tuck away my standard, never-ending to-do list and write out a new one for this weekend. It contains a mere three bullets:

  • Write
  • Bake
  • Hike

Simple. It’s all I want to do the next few days. It’s all I need to ensure my happiness. I’m eschewing friends, happy hours, brunches, laundry, and home repairs to focus on these three things. Of course, life can never be whittled down to three bullets. There’s six pieces of writing on my list, four for Tuesday’s creative writing class and two for the blog. There’s three separate recipes I want to test – the one below, the most ambitious, as well as gingerbread cupcakes and banana chocolate muffins. The hiking? I’m shooting for four miles each day.

It’s 9 p.m. on Sunday and I can’t legitimately cross any of these items above off my list – not completely. I finished half the writing and most of the recipes. The Modern Black Forest Cake is completed, tested, updated, and photographed. The gingerbread cupcakes are partially finished – a swirl of cream cheese frosting and drizzle of salted caramel and they’ll be ready for their close up. The banana muffins will need to wait for another day. The hiking? I hiked today – a little over four miles, but found myself trapped at home on Saturday waiting for an answer from an indecisive executive. Working on a weekend – sometimes I must. I didn’t hear back until 4 p.m. – too late to take to the trails.

Even though projects are left undone, I feel…satisfied. I completely turned, if only for 48 hours, towards endeavors significant to me. That accomplishment, by itself, delivers my contentment.

This cake, which has been banging around in my head for a while, is a modern reimagining of that 1970’s classic – and it’s striking enough to make an appearance on the holiday table, should you feel inspired. This was my first attempt at a mirror glaze and I’m pleased with the result.


Modern Black Forest Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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The darkest, richest Black Forest Cake you’ll ever find.


Ingredients

    Brandied Cherries (make the night before)
  • 1 ½ cups Morello cherries in light syrup, cut in half (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup Kirsch
  • Chocolate Ganache Frosting
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Kirsch
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • 8 oz. container mascarpone cheese
  • ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kirsch
  • Mirror Glaze (optional)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 envelope gelatin (¼ ounce)

Directions

  1. Make brandied cherries: Combine cherries, sugar and kirsch in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves, cover and let set overnight.
  2. Make the chocolate ganache frosting: Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup. Heat heavy whipping cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate, let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Add Kirsch. Cool to room temperature. Before using, beat for 2-3 minutes to lighten and whip to spreading consistency.
  3. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line three 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  4. 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.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20 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.
  6. 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 kirsch.
  7. To assemble, place the first cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half the mascarpone filling and cover with brandied cherries. Cover with second cake layer, remaining mascarpone filling and cherries. Finish with top cake layer. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the chocolate ganache and smooth well. Refrigerate.
  8. Make mirror glaze (if using): Place 1 tablespoon cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let soften 5 minutes. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, sugar, heavy whipping cream and cocoa powder. Simmer for about 20 minutes until mixture slightly thickens. Remove chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in gelatin until thoroughly combined. Set over an ice bath and whisk until the glaze thickens and reaches about 80 degrees. Pour over cake and smooth with an offset spatula quickly. Decorate.

A modern take on a clasic black forest cake

Rich German Chocolate Cake

A German Chocolate Cake

“Her Velcro heart unwittingly snags those, frayed and tattered, who happen to brush past.”

I wrote that almost two years ago, believing it was happenstance – this bad luck of mine that snares the ragged and unraveled hearts of the world, my misfortune of drawing unhealthy relationships to me. I’ve come to realize it’s a talent, a finely honed skill. There’s no chance involved. I possess a preternatural ability to home in on the damaged. Like a parlor trick, I’ll enter a room with 1000 men and I’m drawn to the solitary marred soul like a magnet. Shit, I don’t even require a room…let me peruse an array of dating site photos and, like an eyewitness, I’m pulled towards the one incapable of connection – “Officer, that’s your man right there!” It would be a neat talent, if it weren’t my heart on the line.

Which leads me to another quote…this one is not from me, but she could easily be speaking to me.

“You’re not a woman of convention or you wouldn’t be here, but you like to pretend you are so people don’t notice you. But you sometimes like that as well, and can dress to draw the eye. But then you think the men who look at you are fools, or worse, to be taken in by such an obvious outward show. So, instead you’re drawn to dark, complicated, impossible men, assuring your own unhappiness and isolation because, after all, you’re happiest alone.”

“…dark, complicated, impossible men” – check, check, double-check.

By this time, you must be wondering, “Damn Julie, how in the hell are you going to tie this into a recipe?” Well, since we’re talking about hearts today, nothing speaks of affection like chocolate and, since today’s theme focuses on the heart’s darker edges, this post calls for a dark, bittersweet version of a typically conventional confection. Enjoy!


Rich German Chocolate Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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The darkest, richest German Chocolate Cake you’ll ever find.


Ingredients

    Filling
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups pecans, toasted and finely chopped
  • 2 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • Chocolate Frosting
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar

Directions

  1. Make the Coconut-Pecan Filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and yolks. In a large bowl, combine the butter salt, toasted pecans and toasted coconut.
  2. Heat the cream mixture, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken and reaches 170 degrees F. Immediately pour over the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until butter melts. Cool to room temperature (mixture will thicken).
  3. Make the Chocolate Frosting: Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup. Heat heavy whipping cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate, let stand one minute and then stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature. Beat for 2-3 minutes to lighten and whip to spreading consistency.
  4. Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line three 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  5. 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.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20 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.
  7. To assemble, place the first layer on a cake plate. Spread with one-third of the pecan-coconut mixture. Continue layering the cake finishing with a layer of the pecan-coconut mixture on top. Frost the sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and pipe a decorative border around the pecan-coconut mixture on top.

German Chocolate & Me