I’m all about that cake, ‘bout that cake, ‘bout that cake…..
My family came for a little day visit, and naturally it fell into evening. I love to have snacks around for the grabbing – the grandkids LOVE that! With this in mind, I shopped for the berries they adore. I bought pre-peeled/pre-sliced oranges from Whole Foods. I know, I know. I preach “do it yourself”, but they just looked so darn good. Sammy made the fruit platter and painstakingly laid out those slices, next to the pre-prepped watermelon (don’t judge…..) and a variety of berries that spelled out the word, “LOVE”. It was a gorgeous presentation. I packed up the extras, knowing I would have to use up that fruit or watch it wilt faster than a linen blouse on a hot July day!
Anyway….while at Whole Foods (and this is the entire reason I try to stay away from there), I saw the cutest individual cakes. One was in the shape of a decorated Easter egg. One was a blue bunny, and the third a yellow chick. Too cute. I bought all three for the grandkids. What I didn’t know was that Mallory, the oldest, had already prepared and decorated a bunny cake worthy of a five-star French Patisserie!
So, when the family visited, we skipped the Whole Foods cakes. But it didn’t stop there. I gave the cakes away…to a young mom with small kids. I didn’t want them to go to waste, and they found a good home. That night, after dinner, hubby came into the kitchen and asked where the cakes were. I told him what I did, and you’d think I shot an arrow into his heart. Who knew he had designs on a bunny cake! Guilt took over and right then and there, I decided to make him his very own grown-up cake.
I’m feeling springy these days, so lemon cake it was. But I upped my standard with the addition of the berries and oranges leftover from the grandkids’ fruit platter. I think my Grandmothers, who never let anything go to waste, would have been proud. I know my hubby is happy again! Because it’s all about those cakes, ‘bout those cakes…
With Sweetened Berries and Cream Cheese
Serves a crowd
30 minute cuisine plus baking
For berry filling:
1 pint mixed berries
1 orange, peeled and chopped
½ cup granulated sugar
For cream cheese filling:
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For cake batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 ⅓ cups milk
½ cup butter, melted, 1 stick
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 1 tablespoon
Juice of 1 medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons
For lemon glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 1 tablespoon
Juice of 1 medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray and dust with flour.
Place the berries in a deep pot with ½ cup granulated sugar and about ½ cup of water. Cook over low heat until the berries break down and look like a syrupy sauce, about 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to break down any stubborn berries. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Mix the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla on a small bowl with a wooden spoon until fluffy and smooth. Set this aside while you prepare the batter.
Whisk together the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice in another bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined
Pour half of the batter into the prepared Bundt cake pan. Dollop half of the berry sauce over the batter. Do the same with half of the cream cheese. Use a knife to gently swirl the fillings into the batter. Spoon the remaining batter into the pan. Dollop the remaining filling over the top and gently swirl again.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. After the cake is cooled, gently run a knife around the edges and center of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a rack and cool completely.
Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a medium bowl to create a smooth glaze. Place parchment or waxed paper under the rack with the cake. Drizzle the glaze over the cake.
We have a dinner club with a couple of my gal pals. The hostess picks the theme, and the rest of us decide whether to bring dessert or an appetizer. Most recently, my friend chose a Lebanese theme and dessert fell to me – someone who considers herself a mashed potatoes kind of girl. However, I can and do make a mean dessert, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on one that’ll knock your sweet tooth loose.
The arrival of an early summer in certain parts of the country is what got me started. Where I am, it’s hot! I pictured sitting on my front porch, fanning myself with an old magazine. The ice melts in my glass as the lemonade (a cool pitcher of lemonade, by the way, goes perfect with baklava) quenches my thirst. I reach for that little sumthin’ sweet and here it is: a sticky, buttery, rich bite of nuttiness. It may have its origins in the Lebanese kitchen, but this baklava has a lot of Southern soul too.
I wanted this dessert to reflect my own American roots, but stay true to its Middle Eastern origin.
I researched and found that Lebanese kitchens often offered their version of baklava as the sweet meal ending dish. In Lebanon, baklava is made of phyllo dough sheets filled with nuts (pistachios, walnut, cashews, pine nuts, almonds) and steeped in “Atir” (ka-tr) syrup made of orange blossom honey or rose water and sugar. It is cut in triangular, rectangular, diamond, or in square shapes. The city of Tripoli in Lebanon is famous for its baklava products.
Finding a recipe for traditional Lebanese baklava was tough. Once I did, I realized that I had to blend the traditional with a bit of Southern soul. The phyllo dough stayed. But…I added pecans to the nut mix and replaced honey with Sorghum syrup. You’ll see from the cooking instructions below, that it’s pretty darn good and a lot easier to prepare than you might think.
Yields about 2 dozen pieces
30 Minute Prep; 40 Minute Baking; at least 2 Hours to Cool
½ pound frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 cups walnuts
2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, melted 2 sticks
½ cup butter, 1 stick
2 cups sorghum syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Thaw the phyllo dough in the fridge overnight or by leaving the package (rolled up) on the counter top for about 2 hours. Do not unroll it until you are ready to rock and roll!
Place the nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to form coarse crumb size pieces. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg, and pulse one to two times more.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt two sticks of butter. Use a pastry brush to butter the bottom and sides of an 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking pan.
Dampen a clean dish towel. Roll out the phyllo dough on your work surface and cover with the damp towel. (Phyllo dough is a bit tricky. If you leave it out, it can dry up and become very difficult to work with. Keeping a damp towel on top of the sheets will prevent this.)
Brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter. Use the sheet below it to help you lift both sheets into the pan, butter side down. Repeat this process so that you have a total of 6 phyllo sheets in the bottom of the pan. Now, cover the remaining phyllo sheets with your damp towel.
Cover the phyllo sheets in the pan with a layer of chopped nuts. Remove the towel from the unused sheets, and brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter. Again, use the sheet below it to lift two sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts, butter side down. Do this again, so that you have four sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts. Cover the remaining phyllo dough with your damp towel.
Keep layering buttered phyllo sheets and nuts until all the nuts are gone; you should have 4 sheets of phyllo left. Brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter, and use the sheet below it to lift the two sheets into the pan, butter side down. Repeat with the final two sheets, but this last time leave the buttered side up.
Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the baklava into pieces. Start in one corner and cut to the opposite corner. Repeat the process to create an “X”. Continue to cut diagonally, creating 2-inch diamond shape pieces. Bake until the baklava is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Make the syrup by placing 1 stick of butter, sorghum syrup, granulated sugar, vanilla and ½ cup water into a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook until the butter melts and the sauce begins to boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 5 minutes. The syrup will turn a caramel color and thicken slightly. Keep the sauce warm until the pastry comes out of the oven.
Remove the baking pan from the oven. Pour half of the syrup over the entire pan of baklava. Wait a minute or two while the pastry sucks up the syrup. Pour the rest of the syrup over the pastry. Let the baklava cool in the pan, uncovered for several hours. Slice the pieces again, using the same cuts you made earlier. Carefully remove the pieces to a serving platter. Try not to lick your fingers until after all the slices have been removed!