Caramel Koala Cracker Cake

I grew up in rural Illinois, jumping on the trampoline in my backyard to see above the cornfields, a good mile down to our neighbor’s house.  What’s beyond the horizon was always more appealing than where I was.  This hunger for leaping to the next thing has led me around the world to live in Tokyo, Chicago, Paris, Kyoto, and finally, New York.

I finally feel like I’m at the heart of where I’ve been striving to be for so long.  I’ve survived the University of Chicago and pastry school (somehow), hustled my way through food service jobs, and have found my place, at last, marrying digital media with my love for restaurants and branding.  I’m settling down in my new Prospect Heights neighborhood, finally in an apartment that I could picture staying in for more than a year.

It’s a good feeling, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think what’s next?  Is this really where I’m supposed to be?

I made this sweet caramel layer cake a few weeks ago to celebrate a special birthday.  It’s a birthday cake that I would have loved as a kid.  It’s a birthday cake that makes me feel like a kid in the best way.  It’s a birthday cake that I’m going to make for my kid someday.  Focusing on this cake, I am content.

This two layer caramel cake is covered in a thick caramel, spread in lieu of frosting.  Each substantial layer is actually a full 6 inch cake!

By frosting the outside of the cake with a thin layer of caramel, you can adhere a Pocky fence border.  Carefully attach, and tie securely with a bow once complete.  After creating the cute fence, you can pile the top of the cake high with your favorite snacks.  I chose to use Koala Crackers, sweet potato wagashi, and Japanese Kitkats.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Caramel Koala Cracker Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup salted caramel sauce

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans and set aside
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks individually until smooth.  Add in the vanilla and caramel sauce and mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
  4. Gradually add in half of the dry ingredients.  Slowly stream in the milk and mix until combined.  Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mix until the last streaks of flour disappear.  Mix on medium for no more than about 30 seconds.
  5. Evenly distribute the batter between the two pans.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the pan.  Once the cakes have cooled, cut off the rounded tops of the cake, so that the cakes lay flatly on top of each other.

For the Icing

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 cans evaporated milk (12 ounces each)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Add butter, evaporated milk, and sugar to saucepan over medium heat until everything has melted together and is well incorporated.
  2. Leave over low heat stirring periodically for about 30 minutes (watch the entire time to make sure it does not burn until thickened.  The caramel should turn a golden brown color.)
  3. Make sure the caramel clings to the spoon – this is the perfect thickness.  Watch the pot closely, adjusting heat temperature to avoid burning.
  4. Remove from heat and add in vanilla extract.
  5. Cool for about 15 minutes to allow the caramel to thicken further before icing the cake.

Assembly:

After frosting the outside of the cake, adhere Pocky sticks to the edge while the caramel is still wet and pliable.  Tie with a bow.  Pile the cake high with your favorite sweet snacks!  My selection was procured in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Koala Crackers never fail to put a smile on my face!

 

Naughty and Nice Strawberry Cupcakes

National Strawberry Day is coming up on February 27th… are you prepared?  There’s nothing I love more than an obscure national food holiday, and strawberries are one of my favorite fruits to work with.

This week I teamed up with Sara Mellas of The Sword in the Scone, a baker/blogger California girl who is a master of all-things-vegan.  In honor of the upcoming holiday, we decided to make the “naughty” and “nice” version of a strawberry cupcake!  I made the naughty original version, with pastry standbys like loads of butter and good ol’ white flour.  Sara made a guilt-free vegan version for the more conscientious among you.  You can’t go wrong with either recipe… now you have no excuse not to celebrate with us!

I love strawberries.  LOVE.  There used to be a strawberry field on my little farm in rural Illinois, and they were always harvested during June, my birthday month.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Much later, while living in Japan, I was fascinated by what seemed to be a strawberry greenhouse craze.  On national television, cutie pie J-pop boy bands like Arashi were documented picking strawberries together in luxuriant indoor greenhouses.  To get a better mental image of what I’m talking about, check out this beautiful strawberry farm.  I want that life!  I feel connected to strawberries; they certainly hold a special place in my heart, and stomach.

I made strawberry cupcakes filled with rich lemon cream and topped with a healthy (aka large) portion of strawberry buttercream.  The two tangy-sweet flavors mix to create a bright combination that wakes up your mouth.  Little strawberry butterfly cut-outs are really easy to make and can spruce up any cupcake!

Sara made vegan strawberry cupcakes filled with strawberry compote and topped with fluffy coconut-milk whipped cream.  I think that I could eat a bowl full of that strawberry compote on its own with a spoon if you left me unsupervised… just look at the seductive way it drapes over her cupcakes!

Scroll past the pictures for both recipes!  Be sure to let me know what food holiday you’re excited to celebrate next by commenting on this post.

Naughty: Strawberry cupcake with lemon cream filling
Nice: Vegan strawberries and cream cupcakes

Naughty: Strawberry Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Filling

Makes 1 dozen, Recipe by Hadley Hauser

Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line cupcake cups with cupcake liners.
  2. Place 8 large strawberries into a blender, and blend until smooth.  The result should be around 1/2 cup.  For smoother cupcakes, strain out the seeds.  I chose to leave them in for more texture.  Set the puree aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, white sugar, vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and strawberry puree until well combined.  Stir in the flour, baking powder, and red food coloring to reach a desired shade of pink.  Pipe the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling each about 2/3 full.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until the cupcakes have risen and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting.

Lemon Cream (I used Tartine Bakery’s recipe, below)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • large eggs
  • large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • cup unsalted butter

Instructions:

  1. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer.
  2. Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of a saucepan over, not touching, the water. (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the sugar will cook the yolks and turn them granular.) Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180° F on a thermometer. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. If you don’t have or trust your thermometer, don’t worry. It should thicken to the point that your whisk leaves a trail through the curd.
  3. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140° F, stirring from time to time to release the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, cut butter into 1-tablespoon (15-ml) pieces. When the cream is ready, leave it in the bowl if using an immersion blender, or pour it into a countertop blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick.
  5. You can use the cream immediately, or pour it into a storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To use after refrigeration, if necessary, gently heat in a stainless steel bowl set over simmering water until it has softened, whisking constantly.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (4 cups) of powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • About 1/4 cup pureed strawberries

Instructions:

  1. Whip butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar
  3. Pour in the pureed strawberries

Assembly:

Core each cupcake after letting them cool.  You can use a pointed spoon, but it’s easier and prevents tearing if you use a commercial cupcake corer.  Fill each cupcake with around a tablespoon of lemon cream.  Make sure that excess lemon cream doesn’t get on the outer rim of the cupcake, or the buttercream will be more likely to slide off when you’re piping it.  Pipe or spread strawberry buttercream onto the cupcake.  Garnish with strawberry chocolate curls, and fresh cut strawberries.  I also experimented with white chocolate sauce on a few of the cupcakes; go wild!

Nice: Vegan Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen, Recipe by Sara Mellas

Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups (160g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. (8g) cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the canola oil, sugar and extracts. Pour in the almond milk and vinegar, and allow to sit for 1 minute. Whisk the mixture until combined.
  4. Begin to add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking constantly until a smooth batter forms. Do not overmix.
  5. Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full with batter. Bake the cupcakes for 17-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Strawberry Compote

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (350g) strawberries, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. (37g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. (5g) cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. While the cupcakes bake, make the compote. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the strawberries and sugar. Stir until the strawberries begin to release some of their juices and the mixture comes to a low simmer. Turn the heat to low.
  2. Use a spoon to remove about 2-3 teaspoons of the strawberry liquid from the pan and transfer to a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch to form a slurry. Pour the slurry over the strawberries.
  3. Stir the mixture constantly until in thickens slightly. As soon as it begins to bubble, remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled before filling the cupcakes.

Whipped Cream Topping

Ingredients:

  • 2 (13.5oz) cans coconut milk, cream removed and water discarded*
  • 3 Tbs. (37g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. Once the cupcakes and compote have cooled completely, make the whipped topping.
  2. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl. Beat on medium heat until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

Assembly:

Using a paring knife, carefully cut a hole out of the center of each cupcake to make space for the strawberry compote. The space should be about 3/4” in diameter and 3/4” deep; you want it large enough to hold the filling but not so large the cupcake falls apart.  Fill each cupcake with about a tablespoon of strawberry compote.  Using a spoon, knife, or pastry bag with tip, top with a generous amount of whipped cream topping. Spoon a bit of the remaining strawberry compote over each cupcake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.