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.

Caramel Banana Cream Pie

Layers of buttery caramel gild the lily on my mom’s original recipe for Banana Cream Pie.

Banana Cream Pie with Caramel

My Book Club is currently reading “Life of Pi” for our August discussion. Every time I write or type it, it comes out as “Life of Pie.” I’m a baker, after all, not a mathematician. The only ratio I’m concerned about is the amount of fruit filling to flaky pastry crust. I’ve posted club announcements, emailed reminders and sent confirmations to my fellow bibliophiles – and each time it’s “Life of P-I-E.”

If one has pie on the brain, one might as well embrace it. A few of my coworkers have been asking for one of the Banana Cream variety. I decided to appease them – and gild the lily yet again by adding layers of buttery caramel.


Caramel Banana Cream Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
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Based on my mom’s Banana Cream Pie recipe, a pie of my childhood, I’ve updated the method slightly and added layers of buttery caramel.


Ingredients

  • 1 baked 9” pie shell, cooled (I use this one)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3-4 bananas, sliced just before using
  • 1 cup caramel sauce (I use David Lebovitz’s Butter Caramel Sauce)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk, ¼ cup of sugar and salt over medium heat. Blend cornstarch, flour and remaining sugar in a bowl. Add yolks to sugar mixture. Pour hot milk over eggs slowly to temper. Pour mixture back into saucepan. Bring to a simmer while continuously whisking. Cook over low to medium low heat until thickened. Add vanilla and push through a sieve (to catch any lumps) into a shallow pan. Cover with plastic wrap touching surface and cool to room temperature.
  2. Swirl a small amount of filling on the bottom of the cooled pie shell. Add a layer of sliced bananas. Drizzle bananas with half the caramel. Cover caramel with half the filling, another layer of bananas and the remaining caramel. Top with the rest of the filling.
  3. Beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff. Place in a piping bag and pipe rosettes over top of pie. Chill at least two hours before serving to allow flavors to meld and filling to fully set.

Lemon Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Gananche

It’s time for cake – help me celebrate my ten year blog-iversary today. Wow – ten years… Have I ever done anything (besides this blog) for ten years? For a girl who can’t stay dedicated to much of anything, I’m astonished to find TwoBitTart is still going. And growing – this month, I was bestowed with the most traffic ever.

But, when it comes down to it, it’s not about the click count. What makes me happiest is a reader recreating one of my recipes and posting photos (like this week) or receiving props from one of my writerly readers on my storytelling.

I started this blog in 2008 with a different name (Phorenications) and a different mission. Re-reading my very first post, I realize the content may have changed, but I haven’t, not really.  No matter how many years I do this or how much my cooking, writing and photography improves, I still feel like an amateur most days. I especially love this post from 5 years ago, wondering if I’d make it to today – without having enough time to actual bake or photograph anything for my 5 year anniversary.

This year, I had time to bake – and  a milestone anniversary like this one requires a celebratory cake like this Lemon Layer version with Chocolate Ganache Frosting. I’m going to eat a humongous slice – after ten years, I deserve it.


Lemon Layer Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

This cake is inspired by a life-changing Italian truffle. Who knew lemon and dark chocolate were made for each other?  I do now!

Ingredients

    Dark Chocolate Ganache Frosting
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • Lemon Cake
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Lemon Curd Filling
  • ½ cup lemon curd
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Make Ganache: In a medium bowl, microwave whipping cream with chocolate for 60-90 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature and whisk on high for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Make Cake: Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter two 8” round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment, butter parchment and dust with flour. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir together milk, lemon juice, and zest (mixture will curdle). In the bowl of an eletric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar gradually, beating until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Alternately add flour and milk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, mixing at low speed until just combined. Divide batter between pans, smooth tops evenly, and bake about 20 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove paper and cool completely.
  3. Make Lemon Curd Filling: In a medium bowl, stir together lemon curd and lemon zest. In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat whipping cream and confections sugar until it  holds stiff peaks. Fold in 1/3 of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten, then fold in remaining whipped cream.
  4. Assemble Cake: Put one cake layer on a cake plate and spread with lemon curd filling. Top with second layer, Spread top and sides with chocolate ganache.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Lemon Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting

 

Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Poached Salmon with Fennel Salad

“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.”
– Doug Aitken

This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?

In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.

Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?

Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.


Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.

Ingredients

    Fennel Salad
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Poached Salmon
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 2 sprigs dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
  • Caper Sauce
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
  3. Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
  4. To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
  5. Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.

Mini Fruit Tartlets

Fruit Tarts

I’m thrilled to talk about love today. Not my love, but other’s love – young love. To the surprise of both families and their friends, my best friend’s daughter eloped last month. I couldn’t be prouder for the happy couple; they did things in their own style, traditions that mean nothing to them be damned. Auntie Julie approves of any system-bucking in the name of Love! The parents of the newlyweds are hosting a “ring ceremony” in two weeks. I’m not exactly sure what a “ring ceremony” is, but I have an inkling it’s a sort of olive branch from the couple to their families for eschewing the expected. As a guest, I imagine it’s a kind of wedding-lite.

My friend asked me to make six dozen fruit tartlets for the occasion – the new bride’s favorite dessert. It’s an honor – I’m happy to be able to use my talents in such a special way. I’ve been around since the beginning – watching a little girl blossom into an independent woman who knows her own mind – and especially her own heart. I worked on the recipe this weekend (and last) and finally (after three crust versions, two pastry crème versions, and both white and dark chocolate) decided on this recipe.

Congratulations to the happy couple!


Mini Fruit Tartlets

This recipe makes a lot of tartlets – feel free to cut it in half if you don’t need quite so many. A layer of white chocolate between crust and pastry crème helps keep the crust crisp.

Ingredients

    Shortbread Pastry Shells
  • 5 ⅓ cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 5 sticks unsalted butter, melted (Yikes!)
  • Vanilla Pastry Crème
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolk
  • 6 Tablespoons corn starch
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • Fruit Tartlets
  • Assorted fruit, sliced and berries
  • 8 oz. white chocolate
  • Apricot jam

Directions

  1. Make pastry shells: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add melted butter and stir together until a soft dough forms. Separate dough into 4 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roll dough between two pieces of waxed paper, sprinkling with flour as needed to avoid sticking, to a thickness of 1/8th inch, cut with 3” round cutter and gently place in the bottom of muffin tins (the dough is soft). Chill for 10 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Cool and remove from tins.
  2. Make Pastry Crème: Heat milk, half the sugar and salt on stovetop. Blend cornstarch and remaining sugar in a bowl. Add eggs and yolks to sugar mixture. Pour hot milk over eggs slowly to temper. Pour mixture back into saucepan. Add butter and vanilla and bring to a simmer while continuously whisking. Cook over low to medium low heat until thickened. Scrape pastry crème into a shallow pan, cover with plastic wrap touching surface of pastry crème, and chill.
  3. Make Tartlets: Melt white chocolate by zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Spread a small bit of chocolate on the bottom of each tartlet shell. Scoop pastry crème into a pastry bag and pipe into tartlet shells. Decorate with fruit. Warm apricot jam in microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute. Sieve jam and brush over fruit. Chill until ready to serve.

Fruit Tarts