Saturday, June 13, 2009

Curd-Filled Lemon Cupcakes

While in London on a business trip a couple of weekends ago, I had a lemon cupcake with my afternoon tea and was thrilled to discover a surprise. Not only was this a delicious lemony cupcake with lemony buttercream, but it also had a lemon curd filling. It went beautifully with my extra-super-bergamot-flavored Earl Grey, and I promised myself I'd attempt to recreate them when I got back to my kitchen. So I did.

One of my friends, who has had many, many of my baked goods over the past few years, said these are the best cupcakes I've ever made. I think he's right, though I may top these with my birthday cupcakes next week....aren't you excited?

Make the lemon curd first, so you'll have it handy when you're ready to put some of it into the cake and into the icing. Instead of carving plugs out of the cupcakes and filling them, you can use a pastry bag to squeeze the curd into them. I think carving's more fun. You MUST use fresh squeezed-it-yourself lemon juice, the bottled concentrate stuff is horrible and will make horrible cupcakes.

Curd-Filled Lemon Cupcakes

For the Curd:
grated zest of two lemons
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
pinch of salt

Bring about 1" of water to not-quite-simmering in a sauce pot. In a metal bowl, mix the lemon zest, sugar, and butter, blending with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix in the lemon juice and salt, then place the bowl over the [almost] simmering water with the heat on low. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the curd has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon, about ten minutes, then remove from heat.
Set aside 1/3 cup of curd to go in the icing, and 1/2 cup to go into the cake batter. The rest is for filling.

For the Cupcakes:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup buttermilk*
1/2 cup lemon curd
2 eggs at room temperature

*or, 3/4 cup milk with a tbsp of lemon juice in it, let it sit and curdle for 5 minutes or so before use.

Preheat oven to 350º.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugar, beating until fluffy, then add lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Mix in 1/3 of the flour, then half of the milk, then another 1/3 of flour, then the sour cream, then the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour. Pour into paper-lined muffin tins, each one should be around 2/3 full.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges, and let cool completely before filling and icing them.

For the Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup lemon curd
1 tsp lemon juice
2 to 4 tbsp milk
1 to 1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the butter in a small bowl with a hand mixer. Add the lemon curd, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat until combined. Add 1 cup of confectioners' sugar, mixing to combine, and add milk and/or confectioners' sugar until it is the texture you like.

When the cupcakes are cool and the icing and curd are ready, cut a circle out of the center of hte top of the cupcakes (think half a wine cork) and remove the cake. Drop about 1 tbsp of lemon curd into the cupcakes and replace the cake-plug. Cover with icing to hide the seam, and place shaved lemon peel on top for garnish.

I recommend freezing a few of these, because you will want them again very soon after the first round, and not want to go to the trouble again so soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Steak & Potatoes

You'll be surprised how easy this is to make. It's about 10 minutes of prep time, really, unless you're a slow potato-chopper. The potatoes recipe kinda came to me as I walked to the grocery store, all I could think was potatoes and goat cheese. It just so happened that I had some whipping cream I needed to use up and the thyme (among other things) I planted in the early spring was finally ready to be plucked and used, and there is nothing like fresh home-grown thyme picked off the plant moments before going into the pan. I can't wait for the basil and rosemary to be big enough to use! There's some spinach that's only a few days away from meeting its fate under some balsamic vinegar...

Sherry Steak

3 steaks of your preference
1/3 cup sherry
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tsp mustard powder
black pepper

Let the steaks come to room temperature. Rub both sides with salt and black pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk the sherry, mustard, and garlic. Put the steaks into the bowl and be sure they're coated with the marinade. Let sit for an hour while you cook the potatoes.
Heat your skillet or iron grill for several minutes before spraying with a little cooking spray or sprinkling a little olive oil on it. If it sizzles, add the steaks all at once, flip after 3 minutes, and remove from heat. Serve immediately.
If desired, mix the remaining marinade with some butter or worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer briefly before pouring over the steaks.

Goat Cheese Potatoes with Thyme
3 large-ish potatoes, washed and slightly peeled
4 oz goat cheese (with herbs already in it is nice but not necessary)
3/4 to 1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 to 2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 375º. In a sauce pot, mix the goat cheese and heavy cream over low heat, stirring to combine. As soon as the goat cheese is dissolved in the cream, remove from heat and add the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Slice the potatoes around 1/4 to 1/8" thick. Spread a tablespoon or two of the goat cheese mixture in the bottom of a round baking dish and cover with a layer of potatoes. Repeat until the dish is full, finishing with a slightly more generous layer of cheese on top. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour, removing the foil toward the end for some light browning.

Serve with toasted challah if you've got it.

Monday, June 8, 2009


When I first moved to New York, I lived in a Victorian house with 5 roommates, most of whom were Jewish girls, one of whom was kind enough to call her grandma and get the family recipe for challah for me. I have tested a handful of other challah recipes in the years since then, but none of them do it for me. One of the best parts of this recipe is that it makes two gigantic loaves without much effort, and they're really soft and tasty. The other best part is that it's great for French toast or bread pudding when it's stale, which is a total bonus.


3 packages (6 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs + 1 egg for the wash
7 1/2 to 8 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
oil for greasing the bowl

Stir together the yeast, water, and sugar in a very large bowl and set aside to react. After five minutes or so, when it's nice and foamy, add the salt, butter, and eggs and stir to combine. Add the flour one cup at a time. Once all the flour is incorporated, continue to knead for about ten minutes, outside of the bowl. Seriously. Kneading it for a long time is a good thing. This is what makes it soft.

Coat the inside of that giant bowl with oil and place the dough in it, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Remove the plastic wrap and punch the dough down and knead it briefly, then divide in half. Divide the two pieces into four, two slightly larger and two slightly smaller. Divide each of these pieces into 3 and knead/roll into thick ropes about 15" long. Take 3 small ropes and pinch them together at one end. Braid the dough, pinch the other end, and turn both ends under. Repeat with all of the dough until you have 2 large braids and 2 small braids. Set the small ones atop the large ones and place each loaf on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. At the halfway-risen point, start preheating the oven to 400º.

Beat an egg and brush the loaves with it before putting in the oven. Bake at 400º for ten minutes then turn down to 350º and bake another 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (Or Giant Cookie)

These are so fast and easy, and the batch is surprisingly large. When I'm pressed for time and want something sweet, I always make these or brownies. We're talking 15 minutes prep time, 20 minutes baking, and you've got 4 dozen cookie bars. I don't recommend making them unless you've got people coming over to help eat them, but I do recommend serving them warm with ice cream.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 to 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375º and grease a large cookie sheet (jelly roll pan).
In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and spread into the cookie sheet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool at least 5 minutes before cutting, but the longer you wait the prettier they are.