valentine's day almond cake

well. you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you get possessed by an imaginary six-year-old while you’re decorating your annual valentine’s day cakes and they turn out looking like something that even a mask of seven vsco filters couldn't salvage. it's like valentine’s day of 2012 all over again. 

i’m cursed, i’m definitely cursed. not only do these look like [that] but they’re also kind of dry?! which is likely because i over whipped the egg whites, baked them for too long, and/or made miniature versions. and then after i baked these i went on to burn a loaf of challah in the oven. and then beyoncé didn't win album of the year. and then i lost my mandoline blades. someone please send help.

it all started when the dryness of these poor cakes set an ominous tone for the rest of the weekend. i baked them on saturday and they had such a hard time wiggling out of the muffin pans, so the outsides looked ugly because of it. i took one bite and they tasted like an icky sponge, not the moist almondy airy-yet-dense amazing perfect cake that i look forward to every year. i thought i could maybe save them with enough whipped cream, but still all of my inspiration was sucked out of me and all night that night i tossed and turned because i didn’t have a clear plan for how i would decorate them. i thought about making princess cakes, or mini versions of valentine’s cakes from past years, or committing to only using all-natural decorations (since i’ve been on a freeze dried berry kick, and because a whole box of quin candy arrived last week with the most delicious heart lollies and gumdrops), but i couldn’t decide and i tossed and turned until finally i was like,

molly, you’re being a stupid head for stressing out this much about cake decorations. it's supposed to be fun. 

so i just dove in on sunday morning with all of the pink things and heart things i had lying around, as well as the leftover frosting from saturday’s cookie decorating event at kittsona, and i had a lot of fun. and then when i took a step back to emerge for air, i was like, lol oh no these look like shit. oops? 

what do we learn from this:

-don’t make this cake miniature. it's clearly best when the soft innards are maximized. maybe some cakes that are slightly more prone to dryness are just not meant to be miniature. but if you must: use a jumbo muffin tin with parchment liners and be careful not to over bake them. i’m tempted to say add a little more sugar and less flour, too. but i’m too haunted by this experience to test it again, so for now i’m sticking with a regular 9" or 10" cake.

-don't over whip your egg whites.

-don't let this cake sit out uncovered for very long. if you need to bake it in advance, wrap it in plastic wrap as soon as it's cool and make sure it's air tight. freeze it if you need to bake it more than a day in advance. 

and how do we cure a case of dry cake:

-i’ve heard that brushing it with simple syrup helps, but this has always sounded too sticky to me.

-cover it with whipped cream or frosting. i did that and it did in fact help quite a bit. 

-rip it up and mix it into ice cream or a milk shake. i’m probably going to do this tonight. 

-make cake truffles. 

sigh. 

at least i had fun. 

for your reference, here are my valentine’s day cakes from past years. 2016's cake remains my favorite. 2016 / 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011 / 2010


valentine's day almond cake

serves 10-12

ingredients

cake:

1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
8 oz almond paste
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

whipped cream:

1 1/2 c whipping cream
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract 

assembly:

marzipan kneaded with red, pink, and purple food coloring
sprinkles of all sorts

clues

preheat the oven to 350ºf. grease and line the bottom of a 10” springform pan and set aside.

in a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peaks and then gradually beat in the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time. continue beating to stiff peaks and then set aside.

in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (i usually just scoop the whites out of the bowl and transfer them to a separate bowl and then reuse my stand mixer bowl for this step), combine the almond paste and egg yolks and beat on high for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. mix in the vanilla and almond extract. gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture and then fold in the flour mixture. pour the batter into the pan and then bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes.

cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and then remove to the rack to cool fully.

to make the whipped cream, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, and almond extract to stiff peaks.

spread the whipped cream on top of the cake and decorate as desired!


-yeh!

mahlab sugar cookies

welcome to my second of three valentine’s day posts. i really went all in this year because the excitement flowed like magma from my temporarily red-accented, almond-scented kitchen, and unlike last year, i didn’t have a book deadline to slow it down. so i’m letting loose because valentine’s day is the best, for these reasons:

-red foods, pink foods, almond foods, and chocolate foods are really good and have the potential to be really cute

-hearts are easy shapes to cut out 

-valentine’s day falls during a time when the streets are the slushiest and the days are the coldest and darkest

-heart shaped pizza!

i’m totes making heart shaped pizza tonight for friday pizza night.

i had three (3!) flights yesterday on my way home from aspen (more on that later!), and that’s when i planned to have these cookies posted but then i couldn’t stop reading the circle. have you read it? it’s so good. on all of my flights i hid under my blanket scarf and listened to nickel creek and busted through the second half of it, just in time to land in grand forks. lily recommended it to me, and she is now 2 for 2 with the a+ recs (where’d you go bernadette? was the last book i read, on her recommendation, and it was great. so lily, plz send over more recs). and you know what the best part about it is? ok, so whenever i get really into a book, i start imagining who would play the characters in a movie version, and then i usually end up googling to see if a movie will even be made of the book (i still google “night circus movie” every few months), and when i google searched for a circle movie, i found that the movie is coming out in april and it’s starring tom hanks and emma watson. that is truly the best possible scenario for this situation and i cannot contain my excitement. 

in other news, when i wasn't reading the circle this week, i was likely watching this is a dance video. i’ve watched it so many times and i think you might enjoy it.

today i am going to do emails, play some drum pad, lift weights while listening to the new unorthodox episode, and make a batch of these here cookies for a cookie decorating book signing tomorrow at our cutest town boutique, kittsona!! so to all of my grand forks homies, come over tomorrow between noon and 2pm, hang out, decorate some cookies, and maybe get a book for your valentine???

these cookies are soft and chewy! they are a fairly standard soft sugar cookie, but have the additions of almond flour and almond extract, and ground mahlab. which clearly i can’t shut up about. but here. try it for a new frontier of almond flavored baked goods. and if you're fresh out of mahlab, you can still make these and end up with a super great soft almondy sugar cookie.

i've decorated these with crushed freeze dried berries and crushed meringues (leftover from my cookie cereal). crushed freeze dried berries are like a dainty alternative to sprinkles and you can maybe feel slightly healthier about eating a cookie since there's fruit on it? lol.


mahlab sugar cookies

makes 30 cookies

ingredients

for the cookies:

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 c almond flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

2 tsp mahlab, finely ground in a spice grinder

1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 large egg

 

for the frosting:

1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 c powdered sugar

1 tb whole milk

1/4 tsp almond extract

pinch of salt

 

freeze dried berries, for decorating

clues

preheat the oven to 350ºf. line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt, and mahlab.

using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. add the vanilla, the almond extract, and the egg. beat to combine.

add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat to combine.

(at this point, you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 2-3 days, or you can roll it out and bake immediately.)

turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. roll it out so it's about 1/4" thick. using a 3" circle cookie cutter, stamp out cookies and place them on the lined baking sheets, 1" apart. re-roll scraps as needed.

bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until edges just barely begin to brown. or not even. if you look at your cookies and you can tell that they're *thinking* about browning on the bottom in the next few seconds, take em out because then they'll be nice and soft once they cool. let them cool for about 10 minutes on the pans and then remove them to a wire rack. 

while the cookies cool, make the frosting. beat together the butter and sugar, and then add the milk, almond extract, and salt. 

cover the cookies with frosting and decorate with freeze dried berries. enjoy!


-yeh!

hazelnut sugar cookie cereal

i come from a family of toast people, hole in the middle people, and leftover pizza for breakfast people. breakfast growing up was always a hot meal, save for the few bites of cold pizza that you'd eat while you waited for the rest of the slice to heat up in the microwave. the hot breakfast rule obviously extended to weekend bagels, too: if they weren't still warm from the bagel store, they got promptly toasted and served alongside whatever coffee cake or buckle that mum baked before the sun came up.

i think that for the few times when we had cereal in the house, it was probably a result of stoopie or me feeling like we *should* have it, on account of we were kids and the cookie crisp commercials during zoog disney were super catchy, and we, too, wanted to have part of that *complete breakfast*, and duh we needed the prizes that came in the box. i can remember really foaming at the mouth for peanut butter cap'n crunch, before mum got her peanut allergy, but other than that i'm pretty sure that boxes of cereal were bought on a whim, cracked into once or twice, and then left to get a little stale while we got down with scrambled eggs.

occasionally i'd have cereal in the afternoons at my friend gracie's house, which was exciting because cereal in the afternoon feels a little naughty, and her kitchen was like a cereal buffet at all times. but i always felt obligated to drink the room temperature milk at the bottom of the bowl because she did and, errrm, 😝.

since then i've used cereal in various recipes (puppy chow, rice krispies treats), but, goodness, the last time i had a bowl of cereal was probably like 20 years ago.

about a year and a half ago however, a really sweet reader emailed with the idea to make homemade cereal. "I love a bowl of homemade granola as much as the next girl but I'm thinking good old Kellogg's style breakfast cereal," she said. i loved that idea so much! partly because i'd never seen it done and partly because it'd mean i'd get to make millions of miniature baked things, and you know how i feel about miniature baked things. so for a year and a half i sat on this thought, and then around the holidays when dominique ansel had his super adorable christmas morning cereal for sale, i decided it was time to make a valentine's day cereal.

this recipe is essentially cookies. lots and lots of little crispy hazelnut cookies, hanging out with mini almond meringues that kind of turn the milk pink, and some chocolate chips and coconut. and i threw in some dried fruit for chewiness and hazelnuts to have it be something that remotely resembled a nutritious start to the day. of course, take whatever liberties you'd like with this, because you're basically making a sweet trail mix. change up the nuts, fruits, cookie shapes, and add any more goodies you'd like. the cookies take forrrever to stamp out (i used a 3/4" heart cookie cutter from michael's, but i think i need one of these cookie cutter sheets), and the meringues took kinda a while to pipe. but throw on the la la land soundtrack, hang out with your roomba daughter, and it's all very meditative and therapeutic. i recommend eating this in small quantities since it's best when it's crispy, not soggy...errr but i guess that's part of the charm in cereal? i don't know. but make a big batch, put it in cute jars, and give it as valentine's/galentine's gifts to all of your friends. and if you're a real overachiever, gift it with a bottle of homemade nut milk or fresh milk from bessy your cute pet cow.


hazelnut sugar cookie cereal

makes about 18 servings

ingredients

1 batch mini sugar cookie hearts, recipe below

1 batch mini meringues, recipe below

1 c chocolate chips

1 c toasted coconut flakes

1 c toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

1 c dried cherries or cranberries

milk, for serving

clues

gently combine all of the ingredients. (I ended up only using about 2/3 of the meringues because i liked that cookie:meringue ratio. the remaining meringues were kept aside for noshing and cake decorating!)

serve in a bowl with milk!

keep in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. cereal should keep for a couple of weeks.


mini sugar cookie hearts

ingredients

1/2 c toasted hazelnuts

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 c unsalted butter, softened

3/4 c sugar

3/4 tsp vanilla

1 large egg

clues

preheat the oven to 350ºf. line two baking sheets with parchment.

in a food processor, grind the toasted hazelnuts until they are finely ground. add the flour and salt and pulse to combine.

using an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until it is pale and fluffy. add the vanilla and egg and beat well to combine. with the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, beating until combined.

turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out until it's 1/4" thick, use a cookie cutter to cut out tiny hearts. place the hearts on the baking sheets (they can be pretty close together), and bake until they're lightly browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes.

once all of the cookies are baked, reduce the oven to 250ºf and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes to really crisp them up. let cool on the pans.


ingredients

120 grams (or about 1/2 c + 3 tb) sugar

2 large eggs whites

1/4 tsp almond extract

a tiny drop of red food coloring

clues

preheat oven to 400ºf. distribute the sugar in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are starting to brown. while sugar is baking, crack your egg whites into a stand mixer. 

once the sugar has been in the oven for a few minutes, begin beating the egg whites in a stand mixer on high until they're foamy. reduce the mixer and gradually sprinkle in the warm sugar. once all of it has been added, add the almond extract and the food coloring. beat on high for a few minutes, until the meringue is stiff, glossy, and cold.

reduce the oven to 225ºf.

prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment. fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/8" or 1/4" round tip with your egg white mixture. Pipe tiny dollops onto the parchment and bake for about 20 minutes, until the mini meringues are no longer shiny and they're crispy all the way through. let cool on the pans.


-yeh!

almond butter cake with chocolate frosting

i realize that tahini is my go-to alternative to peanut butter when mum or any other peanut-allergic human is around, but the last time that mum and i baked together and needed to quick whip up a cake, we used almond butter in the motr party trick cake because she always keeps almond butter around when eggboy visits since his other name is nutbutterboy. it was so good and easy that we made it again the next day. it tasted kind of earthy. 

i made it again for my contribution to the annual round robin holiday gift exchange with the extended eggfamily. (that’s the cake you see here.) i had so many random cookies and meringues lying around after a week of playing in the kitchen that i just stuck them all on. it’s half covered with leftover chrismukkah cookies, half valentine’s day cookies that i was in the middle of testing, i know, it's a bit of a mess, but i'm calling it a january cake since it’s smack in the middle of the holidays and valentine’s day. i am so excited for valentine’s day.

i also added a bit of ground mahlab because its nuttiness enhances almond flavor really nicely. if you're in a pinch and don't have any, you can omit it, but i highly recommend seeking some out if you have access to a specialty spice store or middle eastern grocery. it's expensive but you just need a little tiny bit.


almond butter cake with chocolate frosting

makes one, 4-layer 6-inch cake

ingredients

1 3/4 c sugar

2 1/4 c flour

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tb ground mahlab (optional)

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp almond extract

1 c buttermilk

1/2 c flavorless oil

3/4 c water

1 c almond butter

for the frosting:

1 c unsalted butter

3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

2 c powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

a pinch of kosher salt

clues

preheat the oven to 350ºf. grease four 6-inch, round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

in a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mahlab, if using. in a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, vanilla, buttermilk, oil, water, and almond butter. add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. pour into the pans.

bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. begin checking for doneness at 28 minutes.

cool in the pans for 10 minutes. remove to a rack to cool completely.

for the frosting:

beat together the butter with an electric mixer until creamy. beat in the cocoa powder, and then the powdered sugar. add vanilla and salt. taste and make adjustments as desired. 

assemble:

add frosting between the layers and stack the cake. frost all over with chocolate frosting. decorate with cookies, meringues, sprinkles, or whatever goodies you have in the kitchen! enjoy!


-yeh!

p.s. i’ve announced some more events! some are molly on the range-related, some are music-related! canada, louisville, berlin, tucson, sarasota, here i come! click here for more info.