Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze

Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipeThis pumpkin bread almost didn’t happen.  It was destined to be an utter failure. I messed up big time when I was executing what is actually a very straight-forward recipe. I’m willing to wage a bet that you too have made the same mistake I made when stirring together the ingredients for this awesome bread.  I inadvertently omitted the baking soda.  Yikes!  Five minutes after placing the loaf pans into the oven, I took a peak to see how things were looking.  Something seemed off.  Call it baker’s intuition.  I quickly realized that the only leavening agent I had added to the batter was egg, and with years of baking experience under my belt, I knew that couldn’t be right.  In a panic, I rushed to my recipe and quickly scanned the list of ingredients.  And there it was, staring right back at me in black in white – 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda.
pumpkin-bread-w-brown-butter-maple-glaze-lr-8176Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipeWhat to do?  In a last ditch effort to salvage the ingredients and the time and effort that went into those two loaves of pumpkin bread, I did what every baker would do.  I pulled the pans from the oven, dumped the batter back into a mixing bowl, stirred in the baking soda, divided the batter between the pans once again, and popped them back into the oven.  Whew!  But did it work?  Surprisingly, yes it did!  As I sunk my teeth into a warm, lightly spiced and nutty slice of bread, I was glad I took the risk.  Of course, adding forgotten ingredients to a recipe once it has begun the baking process isn’t always going to work.  However, if you ever find yourself in that situation, be bold!  What do you have to lose?
Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze RecipePumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Maple Glaze Recipe



Inspired by:  Farmer John’s Favorite Pumpkin Bread


Grave Robber’s Cake and a Guest Post

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Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenMy incredibly talented daughter has grown to become quite a talented baker in her own right.  She continues to blow me away with her creativity and skills as an artist, baker, and all around amazing person.  I thought it was high time she share her talents here on the pages of  Sifting Focus.  Enjoy!

Jael WeinbergHalloween runs in my blood. The “holiday season” most people get excited for is between the third week of November and the first of January; mine centers around October 31st. One year when I was in elementary school, my dad decided to re-purpose our Sukkah (a small outdoor hut used in the Jewish celebration of Sukkot) into a tiny haunted house for the neighborhood kids. It was a 12’x12’ box that he transformed into a small, three section scare house. The victims walked in on the right side, had a ghost or two pop out at them, turned the corner and put their hands into bowls filled with Jell-O brains and peeled grape eyeballs, turned another corner and were chased out by an axe-wielding mad man (my father).

Over the course of the next ten years, this Jewish hut turned spooky attraction, grew into a 1,000 square foot depraved house of horrors in our back yard. The icky bowl of brains was replaced by an actor screaming bloody murder while getting their leg sawed off by a mad scientist. The hallway where ghosts went “Boo!” transformed into a corridor of corpses where only one was real. The gaggle of neighborhood kids looking for a fright became a line down the block of local teens and adults shaking in their boots!

While my dad was inventing ways to make children (and many adults) cry out in terror, my mom was busy hosting a giant party of friends and family celebrating All Hallows Eve. The kitchen counters were always filled with snacks, cornbread, hot dogs, and a 5-gallon pot of chili. The house was abuzz with couples in matching costumes, kids sorting their bags of Halloween loot, and the sounds of screaming visitors inside the haunted house.
grave-robbers-cake-lr-2I have always loved makeup and have been playing around with it since nearly before I could walk. When we started the haunted house, I helped my mom put on black lipstick and drip fake blood onto costumes. I eventually became head of the makeup department, applying silicone scars, creating fake gashes, painting faces, and generally covering everyone in as much blood as possible. In college, I took a special effects makeup course taught by a Hollywood movie professional who specialized in gore and horror – I was in heaven! I have since become a part-time makeup artist, doing it as a side job and hobby.

With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to combine my love of delicious treats with my flair for the macabre. What resulted was a cake my mom described as, “Almost too disgusting to eat.” Using inspiration from notorious serial killer Ed Gein, I created a yummy 3-layer cake covered in human flesh! (just kidding, it’s fondant). Check out the steps below to see how it was done!

I began by baking a yellow cake using a recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. However, you can use any cake recipe or flavor you desire – red velvet would be fun! I chose to bake three 8” rounds, but the decorating can be adapted to any shape or size of cake.

Once the cake rounds were completely cooled, I assembled them with a layer of vanilla buttercream and a layer of red raspberry jam between each. I thought adding some oozing red jam in the center of the cake would add an extra ick-factor.  After assembling the layers, I covered the cake in a crumb coat of frosting to create a base for the fondant.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenThe ingredients and tools needed to achieve this finished cake result are shown below.Grave Robber's Cake for Halloween

I began by coloring the white fondant using a combination of peach, green, and copper food coloring. When coloring fondant, it is best to begin slowly, adding only a small drop at a time and kneading thoroughly. You can always add more color but you can’t take it back!

I then rolled out the fondant into a large round sheet approximately 1 foot in diameter and 1/16th of an inch thick. Your fondant size may vary depending on the size and shape of your cake. If you want to see a detailed video on how to cover a cake with fondant, click here.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenOnce my cake was covered, I began using the blunted edge of a butter knife to carve depressions into the fondant to make it look like separate skin pieces were attached together. Be very careful with this step because if you press too hard, you may slice through the fondant. Luckily, this is a cake made to look like cut apart skin, so a few extra nicks shouldn’t be a disaster.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenNext was the fun part – the painting! I used a variety of different food colors to paint the fondant. If you are using high quality gel food colors (which is recommended) you will only need a drop of each color to paint the entire cake. By mixing the various colors together and adding water, I was able to turn the food coloring into what was essentially a palette of watercolors. I proceeded to work some special effects magic and painted the cake to look like it was made of various pieces of decaying/bruised/rotting flesh.

One of the most important notes on how to achieve this effect is to remember that skin is not simply one tone. Take a look at the palm of your hand and notice how many different colors are there! Blues, greens, yellow, and purple are all present in everyone’s skin, regardless of how dark or light your skin may be. I created some bruises on the fondant using a combination of all these colors. If you would like to see how to create a realistic bruising effect, check out this video. In the video, she uses special effects makeup paint, but the same exact effect can be achieved using your food coloring watercolors.Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenOnce the fondant was painted to my liking, I added black food coloring into the crevices created by the butter knife to imply added depth. To create edible blood, I used clear piping gel and colored it with red and burgundy food coloring. I then painted the gel into the crevices, making sure they looked nice and oozing!Grave Robber's Cake for HalloweenFor the finishing touch, I pushed large staples (yes, real staples) into the cake to make it look like the flesh was actually stapled together. *I felt comfortable using real staples because I was going to be the one serving the cake and was confident I would be able to remove them all. If you have small children or are bringing the cake to a party, I would suggest making “stitches” out of fondant and painting them black instead.

The final product was a disturbing baked good that is not for the faint of heart. Enjoy exploring your dark and creepy side this Halloween!
Grave Robber's Cake for Halloween

Pecan Pie Bundt Cake

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Pecan Pie Bundt CakeI acquired a love of Pecan Pie at a very young age.  I’m sure my first encounter must have been a slice following one of my family’s Thanksgiving meals.  My grandmother was a fierce pie baker and is likely the person responsible for my first encounter.  Over the years, I’ve eaten Pecan Pie in every possible form, be it a tart, tassie, cookie, or bar,  every form except cake.  When I happened upon this recipe in the Fall issue of Bake, I pondered whether a cake could ever truly mimic the flavors we equate with pecan pie.  I’ll be honest, I was skeptical.  The only way to know for sure was to give the recipe a try.  Well, let me just say, the folks over at Bake From Scratch knocked it out of the park with this one.  I seriously don’t know if I will ever bake a pecan pie again, it was that delicious, and easy.  No crust required!
Pecan Pie Bundt Cake RecipePecan Pie Bundt Cake Recipe


Adapted from Bake From Scratch, Fall, 2016

Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Frosting

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Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed CakeAs many of you have already headed full-force into Pumpkin Season, some of us (Moi), have one foot still firmly planted in the last few days of summer.  Technically, summer doesn’t end until next Wednesday.  And, given that the temps (I’m currently in KY) are well into the 80’s, frankly, it feels more like summer than Fall.  So, for anyone with me on eeking out the last few days of summer, and for any of you who may still be harvesting the end of your zucchini crop, I have a cake for you!  Honestly, this is a year-round cake.  Zucchini is available pretty much all year long, and is a very accessible vegetable.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeIf you love Lemon Poppy Seed cake just as much as Carrot Cake, or visa versa, you are going to love this cake.  It is a perfect hybrid of two classics.   Grated zucchini steps in for the carrot that a traditional carrot cake relies on for moisture.  However, the  ample amount of grated lemon zest and nutty poppy seeds in the recipe are indicators that this recipe leans a little more toward a lemon poppy seed cake than carrot.  This cake takes two classics, spins them together, cuts them by half, and voilà, a bright, tangy, and moist single-layer cake is born.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeWhat I like most about this cake, besides the bright lemony flavor it exudes, is that the recipe makes a single layer cake.  I like the informality and casualness of single layer cakes.  One can only eat so much cake ;-), even when it is a really delicious cake.  So, unless you are serving a large group, this recipe is perfectly sized at 8 to 10 servings.
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeZucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake RecipeZucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake Recipe(Just had to share with all of you something my daughter just said to me.  While reading my post, she suddenly stopped and said, ‘wait, that cake had zucchini in it???’  I had to laugh.  She had eaten several slices and never had a clue.  So for any zucchini-adversed eaters out there, you won’t even know it’s in there.)
Zucchini, Lemon & Poppyseed Cake Recipe





Wellesley Fudge Cake Re-Visited

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Wellesley Fudge Cake RecipeI have been so absent here on the blog, and my apologies to all.  Life has been crazy busy, and with so many good things happening.  One very exciting piece of news will have to wait for an upcoming post (no, I wasn’t offered a cookbook deal) but for now I will share the most exciting thing happening at the moment.

I have been flying to Kentucky and New York a lot lately –  Kentucky (which has to do with my soon to be shared exciting news), and New York to visit my Girl.  The most exciting of those trips was to attend J’s graduation from Grad School.  She did it!  She’s completed what she set out to do in the Big Apple, receiving her masters in Art Therapy a few weeks ago.  If you have followed along here at Sifting Focus from the beginning, you will remember that I began this blog as a way to fill the empty-nest blues I was suffering when she left for college nearly seven years ago.  I had them BAD!  On the other side of that journey now, I am happy to report that I survived, as did she, and as I type these words, I sit among stacks of boxes in her NYC apartment awaiting the movers to return their contents to our home in LA.  My heart is jumping for joy!  My Girl is coming home!!
Wellesley Fudge Cake II recipeSo, on now to the real reason for this post.  Over two years ago I posted a recipe for Wellesley Fudge Cake.  That recipe has stirred up as much controversy on my blog as the original cake did at Wellesley College way back when.  (Read the original post and you will understand what I am am referring to.)  Since originally posting this recipe, there have been a considerable amount of  comments made by readers who attempted baking this cake.  Many of the comments have been positive, even glowing at times.  Unfortunately, I have received too many comments from readers who have struggled, enough so that I decided to re-test the recipe.  I followed my directions exactly as originally posted, except I used round cake pans, since so many readers asked if the cake would work in round pans.  As you can see from the photos of my cake, it turned out beautifully once again.  So, what was happening that it wasn’t working well for a number of others?  Although some found fault with the cake part of the recipe, most of the failures had to do with the frosting.  Since I believe this is a cake worth making (especially that fudgy frosting), I will share some hints to success for anyone who wants to give this cake a go.

To ensure that the cake layers release from the pans, in addition to greasing and flouring the pans, line each with a square or round of parchment paper.

To achieve the deep dark brown color and rich chocolate flavor intended for this cake, use a high quality brand of cocoa, such as Valrhona or Callebaut.  Using a store bought brand is fine, you just won’t achieve the same deep dark brown color of cake as the one in my photos.

Biggest hint!  You cannot rush this frosting!!

Thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, sift together the confectioners sugar and cocoa.

When initially heating the butter, brown sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup half and half over medium-low heat, stir slowly and very frequently.  Stirring constantly is fine also.

Once the butter and brown sugar mixture has thickened, and before transferring it to a large bowl, slightly cool a couple drops of the mixture and rub it between two fingers.  If it feels gritty at all, continue to cook the mixture and test again until no grittiness remains.

When adding the confectioners sugar and cocoa to the other ingredients, add it in small amounts and stir it in thoroughly before adding more.

And one more thing!  This cake truly benefits with a day’s rest before serving.  The decadent frosting begins to seep into the cake layers, adding just the right amount of moisture and additional chocolate flavor.
Wellesley Fudge Cake Recipe