Maple Layer Cake with Maple-Vanilla Buttercream

This maple variation of the “All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake” from the famed Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum may quite possibly be the best cake I’ve ever made. My son chose it to celebrate his 16th birthday. 🙂 His favorite flavor profile usually incorporates vanilla and/or cream soda so this maple cake was a definitely a good choice.

I adapted the recipe to bake the cake in 8-inch cake pans. I also used fine sea salt and substituted vanilla extract for maple extract. It was very moist and rich. Fabulous.

I served this cake after an indulgent meal made to order for my birthday boy. He requested penne alla vodka, chicken parmesan, garlic bread, and Caesar salad. No one argued- all family favorites. 🙂

Yield: One 8-inch layer cake, about 12 to 14 servings

For the Cake: (all ingredients at room temperature)

  • 6 large egg yolks (3.5 fl oz/4 oz/112 g)
  • 1 liquid cup (8.5 oz/242 g) milk (I used 2% milk)
  • 2 1/4 tsp (9 g) pure vanilla extract (can substitute 3/4 tsp vanilla extract + 1 tsp maple extract)
  • 300 g (3 cups/10.5 oz) cake flour, sifted
  • 300 g (2 cups/10.5 oz) maple sugar, sifted (from Whole Foods)
  • 19.5 g (1 T + 1 tsp) baking powder
  • 5 g (3/4 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 12 T (6 oz/170 g) unsalted butter, softened

  1. Butter two 8-inch (2-in deep) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust bottom and sides with flour, tap out excess. Set aside. (The layers can alternatively be baked in 9-inch cake pans that are 1 1/2-in deep.)
  2. Position an oven rack in the center position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  3. In a medium bowl, lightly combine the yolks, 1/4 cup of the milk, and vanilla. (I used a 2 cup measuring cup.)
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low-speed for 30 seconds to blend.
  5. Add the butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low-speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides.
  6. Gradually add the egg-milk mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans. (I weigh them to distribute the batter evenly.) The pans should be about 1/2 full.
  8. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. (I baked mine for 27 minutes.) *The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.
  9. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes.
  10. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up. Let cool completely before frosting or storing.

Note: The unfrosted layers can be wrapped tightly and stored for 2 days at room temperature, 5 days refrigerated, and 2 months frozen. The frosted cake should be stored in the refrigerator.

For the Neoclassic Maple-Vanilla Buttercream: (all ingredients at room temperature)

Yield: 4 cups, enough to fill and frost two 8-inch layers

  • 6 large egg yolks (3.5 fl oz/4 oz/112 g)
  • 150 g (3/4 cup/5.25 oz) granulated sugar
  • 164 g (1/2 liquid cup/5.75 oz) pure maple syrup
  • 1 pound (4 sticks/2 cups/454 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoons
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or maple extract
  1. Grease a 1-cup heatproof measuring cup. Set aside.
  2. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. (I used a stainless steel bowl.) Using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks until light in color.
  3. Combine the sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a full rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles- see note.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the prepared glass measuring cup to stop the cooking.
  4. Using a hand mixer, beat the syrup into the egg yolks in a steady stream. Don’t allow the syrup to fall on the beaters. Use a rubber scraper to remove any syrup remaining in the measuring cup.
  5. Continue beating until the mixture is completely cool.
  6. Gradually beat in the butter. (I incorporated 1 stick at a time.)
  7. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  8. Use immediately, or store in an airtight bowl in the refrigerator. (If stored, bring to room temperature before using.)

Note: The syrup must come to a rolling boil or the finished buttercream will be too thin.

Apple Strudel

My Mother-in-Law makes this delicious strudel every Christmas Eve as part of the traditional Ukrainian 12-course feast. It is always a highlight of the meal for me. 🙂

I used tart apples (Granny Smith) but may use a combination of tart and other firm sweet-tart apples next time. I also used a mandoline to slice the apples. My Mother-in-Law has the magic touch… hers tastes better than mine, of course, but I did use her recipe! Yum.

Yield: One Strudel, about 8 servings

  • 2 1/2 to 3 tart and firm apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • lemon zest from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ground cinnamon, to taste
  • 2-3 T fine bread crumbs, plus more for sprinkling
  • 8 sheets of thawed phyllo dough
  • 1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • strawberry preserves

To Make the Filling:

  1. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. (I used a mandoline to slice the apples 1/8-inch thick.)
  2. Mix the sliced apples with the sugar, raisins, lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon, and 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

To Make the Strudel:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Unroll the phyllo dough and cover with a damp towel and plastic wrap.
  3. Remove on sheet of phyllo dough and place on a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Brush the entire surface with melted butter, sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs, sprinkle with brown sugar, and dot with strawberry preserves (use very little preserves).
  5. Repeat this process for the next 7 layers of phyllo dough.
  6. After the dough is prepared, place the filling evenly on top of the dough, starting at the shorter end and leaving 1-2 inches uncovered at the opposite end.
  7. Lift the edge of the parchment paper closest to the filling to help roll the dough and form the strudel.
  8. Place the roll, seam side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with remaining melted butter.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Vanilla Bean Spritz Cookies

Classic butter cookies are my husband’s absolute favorite, so I had to try this vanilla bean version. He loved them! They are dangerously easy to make too.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used the ground cinnamon option, varied the shapes, and topped the cookies with festive colored sugars prior to baking.

Because the cookies are quite fragile, the original recipe suggests making them into sandwich cookies, filled with chocolate, Nutella, or thick jam, to increase their stability for shipping. We ate them as is!

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), preferably cultured, softened
  • 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup/55 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or use 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, OR 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 2 1/4 cups/290 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • decorative sugar, for sprinkling, optional
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the egg, vanilla and the zest, spices or almond extract (if using), and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour and salt until just incorporated.
  5. Load dough into a cookie press. Following the directions that came with your cookie press (models can vary), push the dough onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch between cookies.
  6. Sprinkle cookies with decorative sugar.
  7. Bake until firm to touch and golden brown at edges, about 8 to 9 minutes, or longer (up to 17 minutes) depending upon the size of your cookie press.
  8. Transfer cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Our festive 2020 “Gingerbread Mansion” (photo above). 🙂

Belgian Spice Cookies (Speculoos)

I am mildly obsessed with Biscoff cookies. They are my absolute favorite store-bought cookies (Trader Joe’s Maple Leaf Cookies are a close second…) When my friend shared this version from America’s Test Kitchen, I knew that I had to include them in my Christmas cookie assortment this year. I doubled the recipe. 😉

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen via wskg.org.  I rolled out the dough and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. I also froze the cut dough prior to baking to help it maintain its cut shape. I weighed the flour and sugar and used freshly ground spices.

These cookies have the ultimate crispy texture. My husband thought that they had more cardamom than the store-bought version, possibly because I used freshly ground cardamom, but I thought that they were perfect. 🙂 Yum!

Yield: 32 cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) turbinado sugar (see note)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 1 large egg
  1. Separately, grind cloves and cardamom in a spice grinder.
  2. Whisk flour, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in bowl.
  3. Using pencil and ruler, draw 10 by 12-inch rectangle in center of each of 2 large sheets of parchment paper, crisscrossing lines at corners. (Use crisscrosses to help line up top and bottom sheets as dough is rolled.)
  4. Process sugar in food processor for 30 seconds (some grains will be smaller than granulated sugar; others will be larger).
  5. Add butter and process until uniform mass forms and no large pieces of butter are visible, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  6. Add egg and process until smooth and paste-like, about 10 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  7. Add flour mixture and process until no dry flour remains but mixture remains crumbly, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  8. Transfer dough to bowl and knead gently with spatula until uniform and smooth, about 10 seconds.
  9. Place 1 piece of parchment on counter with pencil side facing down (you should be able to see rectangle through paper).
  10. Place dough in center of marked rectangle and press into 6 by 9-inch rectangle. Place second sheet of parchment over dough, with pencil side facing up, so dough is in center of marked rectangle. Using pencil marks as guide, use rolling pin and bench scraper to shape dough into 10 by 12-inch rectangle of even thickness, about 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. (If the dough spreads beyond the rectangle, trim it and use the scraps to fill in the corners; then, replace the parchment and continue to roll.)
  11. Transfer dough with parchment to rimmed baking sheet.
  12. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1 1/2 hours (or freeze for 30 minutes). (Rolled dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days.)(I refrigerated it overnight.)
  13. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lowermiddle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees, preferably on convection.
  14. Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment. Transfer chilled dough to counter. Gently peel off top layer of parchment from dough.
  15. Using fluted pastry wheel (or sharp knife or pizza cutter) and ruler, trim off rounded edges of dough that extend over marked edges of 10 by 12-inch rectangle.
  16. Cut dough lengthwise into 8 equal strips about 1¼ inches wide. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 equal pieces about 3 inches long.
  17. Freeze cut dough until firm, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  18. Transfer cookies to prepared sheets, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart.
  19. Bake until cookies are lightly and evenly browned, 30 to 32 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.
  20. Let cookies cool completely on sheets, about 20 minutes. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Note: If you can’t find Sugar in the Raw, use 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 ounces) of packed light brown sugar and skip the sugar grinding step.

* Do not use cookie molds or an embossed rolling pin for the speculoos; they will not hold decorations.*

Christmas Cookies 2020

Happy Holidays!

Although this holiday season has been very different, I was still happy to be able to share our Christmas cookies with family and friends. The assortment included our usual favorites, listed below. I added a Christmas version of our special linzer cookies, a vanilla bean version of my husband’s favorite- spritz cookies, and a new speculoos cookie.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021!

Cookies Clockwise from Top:

Caramel Apple Dapple Cake

I love a quick cake. I have made this one on a couple of occasions! It is a wonderful seasonal treat. Apparently, it is named a “dapple” cake because the apple chunks create a rippled effect on the surface of the cake where the glaze can settle. The coffee in the batter balances the sweetness and gives it a beautiful brown color.

This recipe is from Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland by Shauna Sever. I weighed the ingredients and used heavy cream in the glaze. We ate it for dessert but it could also be served as a coffee cake. Super moist and yummy.

Yield: One 9×13 cake, about 12 to 15 servings

For the Cake:

  • nonstick cooking for pan
  • 320 g (2 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose, spooned and leveled
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 113 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 170 g (3/4 cup) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (4 T, 57 g) canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) lukewarm brewed coffee
  • 4 cups peeled, cored, and chopped Honeycrisp apples (cut into 1/2-inch/1.25 cm pieces)(I used 2 very large apples)

For the Glaze:

  • 170 g (3/4 cup) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 T (57 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To Make the Cake:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees (180 C), preferably on convection.
  2. Spray a 9×13-inch light-colored metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. (I use binder clips to hold the parchment overhang in place to prevent it from falling onto the surface of the cake.)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy.
  5. Add the granulated and brown sugars and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly stream in the oil until well blended.
  7. One at a time, beat in the eggs.
  8. On low-speed, spoon in half of the flour mixture.
  9. Slowly pour in the coffee.
  10. Stir in the remaining flour until the batter is smooth.
  11. Fold in the apples by hand.
  12. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth evenly.
  13. Bake until the cake is deeply golden all over, begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. (I baked mine for 40 minutes but may check it even earlier next time.)
  14. Let cool slightly in the pan set on a wire rack.

To Make the Glaze:

  1. In a 1 to 1 1/2-quart (1 to 1.4 L) saucepan over high heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, milk, and salt.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring often, and boil until you can see it has thickened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes depending on your pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. (I forgot to do this every time- by accident, of course :/ )
  4. Let the glaze cool just until it stops bubbling.
  5. Pour the hot glaze over the still-warm cake. Working quickly, use a spatula to spread the glaze so thinly and evenly that it covers the entire the surface of the cake.
  6. Let the cake cool completely, uncovered, on the rack.

Note: Leftover cake can be stored loosely covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Pecan pie bars are a favorite Thanksgiving dessert in our house. I chose this pumpkin pie version to serve along with a tried and true brown-butter and vanilla bean apple pie for our intimate Thanksgiving feast. (Yes, we had leftover dessert for at least a week!)

This recipe was adapted from a “staff favorite” Food and Wine recipe, contributed by Sarah Jordan. I appreciated the press-in crust and we all absolutely loved the consistency of the bars. Pie bars have the bonus of easier portion control too- which is crucial on Thanksgiving. 😉 Great.

Yield: Makes on 9×13-inch pie

For the Press-In-Crust:

  • 2 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter with the sugars at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  2. With the mixer at low speed, beat in the sifted flour-and-salt mixture.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°, preferably on convection.
  4. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on the 2 long sides. (I used a pyrex pan.)
  5. Transfer the dough to the pan and press it over the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the side all around. (You can cover the dough with plastic wrap and press with the bottom of a measuring cup.) Be sure the corners are not too thick.
  6. Refrigerate until firm.
  7. Bake the crust for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden brown; halfway through baking, use the back of a spoon to smooth the sides and corners of the crust.
  8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the crust cool before filling.

For the Filling:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom, optional (I omitted it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
  • One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • Baked Press-In Crust (above)
  • crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°, preferably on convection.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the sugars with the spices and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs.
  4. Whisk in the sugar mixture, then whisk in the pumpkin puree and the evaporated milk until smooth.
  5. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 10 minutes.
  6. Lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for about 25 minutes longer, until the filling is fully set.
  7. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely.
  8. Cut into bars and serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche, as desired.

Note: Bars should be stored in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (I prepared them a day prior to serving.)

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