holiday baking

For the past few years, I have always been in charge of bringing the cake(s) to our family christmas parties. Whatever it is, be it classic vanilla, double chocolate, strawberry shortcake, or raspberry lemon, the cake always seems to be a hit. Dessert is (usually) my favourite part of any meal, and I am always glad to bake these cakes to share with family and friends. This year, I made two 4-layer cakes: a tropical carrot cake with coconut cream cheese frosting, and a chocolate cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream.

Chocolate Cake and tree inspiration from Chocolate & Carrots (this cake is actually vegan, but obviously not so with the buttercream – I have made it with a vegan icing before for a friend’s birthday with great results)

makes a single 7-inch layer (I tripled this recipe for this 3-layer cake)

190 g all-purpose flour
190 g granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup neutral vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 7-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt). Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl (oil, vanilla, water) and add the wet mixture to the dry mixture in 3 parts, mixing to combine with each addition.

Bake in the centre of oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, softened but cool
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix egg whites and sugar in a clean bowl of an electric mixer, and simmer over a bot of water, whisking constantly until the sugar dissolves and the egg whites are hot.

Transfer bowl to mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until the mixture is thick and glossy (a meringue), and the bowl is cooled to room temperature. This could take up to 10 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed, adding in cubes of butter. Mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. If it starts to curdle, just keep mixing and it will all come together. Add vanilla and mix well. You can add a variety of extracts and colourings, or dried berries, to make different kinds of swiss meringue buttercream.


Topped with toasted coconut flakes

The carrot cake was my favourite of the two, it was very moist even though I made it in the morning and had it sitting out all day. The coconut addition to the regular cream cheese frosting was delicious too. This is definitely a very “cakey” carrot recipe, and not at all “bready” like some tend to be. This was my first time making it, but it definitely won’t be the last!

Tropical Carrot Cake and Coconut Cream Cheese Icing from Sweetapolita

1 cup (250 mL) chopped canned pineapple

4 cups (1 L) grated carrot
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
2 tsp (10 mL) cinnamon
1 tsp (5 mL) nutmeg
1 cup (250 mL) butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups ( 300 mL) golden brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk

Icing (This made about a cup more than I needed)

2 pkgs (250 g each) regular cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (250 mL) butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (50 mL) sour cream or natural yogurt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
2½ cups (625 mL) sifted icing sugar
1 cup (250 mL) sweetened flaked coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray or oil two 9-inch (1.5-L) round cake pans.

2. Finely chop drained pineapple, place in a sieve and press with a spoon to remove as much juice as possible. Grate carrots using a food processor. Measure out 4 cups (1 L) and set aside. Place flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle with baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir until blended.

3. Place butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar, then beat on medium for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, then vanilla. Beating on low speed, add about a third of flour mixture and beat just until mixed, followed by half the milk. Repeat additions, ending with flour. Batter will be very thick. Gradually mix in pineapple and carrots.

4. Divide between pans. Spread to pan sides. To remove air pockets, bang pans on counter 5 to 6 times. Bake until centres seem set when lightly tapped, from 40 to 45 minutes. Place on a baking rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and cool completely on racks. It’s best to bake cakes a day ahead of icing and leave at room temperature overnight.

5. Cut cream cheese into chunks. Place butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in cream cheese, piece by piece. Beating too much will cause thinning. Add about a third of the icing sugar and beat on low until just mixed in. Scrape sides of bowl and beaters occasionally. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating just until smooth. If too thick or thin, work in a little sour cream or sugar. Remove about a quarter of the icing to be used on top cake layer and set aside. Stir coconut into the remaining icing.

6. Slice cakes horizontally in half. Place top of 1 cake, dome-side down, on a platter. Spread with a third of the coconut icing leaving a narrow border of cake around edge. Lay the bottom of that cake, cut-side down, on top. Spread with half the remaining coconut icing, leaving a narrow cake border. Top with the bottom half of the second cake, cut-side down. Spread with the remaining coconut icing, leaving a cake border. Top with the final layer, cut-side down. Spread with plain icing right to the edges. Garnish with toasted, fresh coconut. Best to refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

Ovenloven notes:

I used two 8-inch pans and had great results, I imagine this could also work in a loaf pan or possibly even as cupcakes, although I haven’t tried either.

I made the cakes a day before, let them cool completely, and kept on the counter overnight wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap. I sliced the layers and made the icing the next morning and everything worked out beautifully.

P.S. I also made some raspberry macarons :)


sweet and savoury crepes

Crepes are always fun to make and eat. Sweet or savoury, filled with nutella and strawberries, ham and cheese, or whatever else you may feel like having. I got my crepe pan from Walmart, and I’ve seen them in other department stores as well.  They’re relatively cheap and make crepe-making a whole lot easier.


Yield: 8 to 12 crepes, depending on size

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or melted butter

Mix all the ingredients in a blender, or by hand with a whisk. If mixing by hand, measure out the flour in a bowl, combine all the wet ingredients in a measuring cup with a spout, and gradually pour into the bowl with flour. Melt some butter on the crepe pan on medium heat. Ladle in the batter, tilt the pan to spread it a little, then use a spatula to spread the batter into a large thin circle . Cook for a minute, check for doneness, and flip.  Roll or fold in your filling(s) of choice and enjoy.

braided lemon bread

Recipe from  Smitten Kitchen

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour

Sponge (above)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 teaspoon water for brushing bread
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

Lemon cream cheese filling
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons (5/8 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (2 ounces) homemade (recipe below) or prepared lemon curd

Make sponge: In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make dough in a stand mixer: Combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add flour and mix with the paddle attachment until the dough is a rough, shaggy mass. Switch to the dough hook and knead on until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 minutes. ??Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled.

Make dough by hand: Whisk together sour cream, butter, egg, sugar and vanilla in a large, wide bowl. Stir in sponge. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon as best as you can; you may need to get your hands in there to form it into a shaggy ball. Turn ball of dough and any incorporated scraps onto a counter and knead until a smooth, soft dough forms, about 5 to 10 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled.

Make the filling (while dough rises): Combine all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Reserve the filling and lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.

Prepare bread: Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper, please; I did not and it led to all sorts of trouble. With the side of your hand, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling. (Like so.) Spread the lemon curd over the cream cheese filling.

To form the mock braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of you dough (the parts without filling). Make sure you have an equal amount of 1-inch strips down the right and left sides. Be careful not to cut your parchment paper; if you have a bench scraper, this is a great time to use it. Remove the four corner segments. (Like so.) To “braid”, begin by folding top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling. Lift the top dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips (like so) until you are out. You can tuck the last couple that hand off decoratively under the end of the braid.

Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.

Bake bread: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and your apartment smells like a doughnut factory. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Lemon Curd

Makes a little shy of 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and egg in a 1-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.