I expected the supermarket shelves to be scarce on cleaners, sanitizers and other disinfectants during the pandemic. But who thought the baking aisle would be void of basic baking essentials such as flour and sugar? Even cakes mixes are in high demand. The online sources I use to buy baking products had many items on back order. Red Star Yeast posted on its Facebook page, “We are aware that Red Star Yeast products are currently difficult to find through online sources and in stores everywhere around the country. We are thrilled that so many people are turning to baking their own bread during this challenging time. We are producing yeast as fast as possible, however the new demand is simply unprecedented. No one could have predicted that yeast would disappear off the shelves so quickly.”
So, why are people baking more than ever, maybe even more than during the traditional end-of-year baking frenzy?
An article on CNN.com by Kristen Rogers quotes Michael Kocet, a licensed mental health counselor and professor and department chairman of the Counselor Education Department at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology: “Baking provides a sense of accomplishment, especially in this period of angst and unknown. Baking can give us something concrete to create, control and enjoy when we have the finished product. That can help reduce the anxiety stemming from the unfamiliarity of dealing with a pandemic.” He continues, in the article with, “Specific parts of the baking process also teach lessons applicable to our daily lives and can lead to a state of mindfulness. Kneading, waiting for it to rise, scoring and standing by while it bakes give us time to reflect — and those steps all require patience and precision that can help someone feel centered and focused.You may have to prepare the dough and wait to let it rise overnight. There’s a period of waiting that I think is very symbolic of the waiting we’re collectively doing.”
I find that baking is just something that is so comforting and therapeutic. In normal times, the days were so busy and the amount of time spent at home was not like it has been in recent months. Baking takes time and patience, and, being at home with nothing to run out and do, the experience is more enjoyable.
Of course, my baking book collection has expanded, too. The beautiful cover of “Blooms and Baking: Add Aromatic Floral Flavors and Cakes, Cookies, Candies and More,” by Amy Ho (2020, Page Street Publishing, $21.99) caught my attention. I must admit, a few of the recipes are more intricate, especially the cakes with exquisite decorations. However, Ho shows that florals aren’t just for garnishing, they add incredible depth to desserts. I enjoyed learning how to make candied rose petals, elderflower syrup, crushed violets and whole blossoms to bring out the best flavor for cakes, cookies and candies. Those who want to enhance their cake decorating skills will find helpful the tutorials on how to decorate desserts, adding simple botanical elements that reflect the flavor. For example, when making lilac cupcakes, Ho shows easy techniques to recreate lilac flowers in buttercream. I found how to prepare floral syrups such as elderflower, lilac, jasmine, chamomile, rose and lavender enlightening and cost-saving. Her flavor combinations are so exciting: chamomile cake with peach and mascarpone buttercream, decadent chocolate with lavender caramel are used to create two-bite cookies; fruit tartlets showcase delicate jasmine blooms, green tea and strawberries.
These recipes below are on the docket to make in the next couple of weeks. For the recipe for Dark and White Chocolate — Lavender Cookies, visit https://bit.ly/371YYMb.
The headnote says, “Orange blossom water is water distilled from the flowers of orange trees. It is highly fragrant and imparts a flavor reminiscent of orange groves and wildflowers. I love the combination of chocolate and orange blossom. It is a play on the traditional festive combination of chocolate and orange, and the flavor of chocolate is deep enough to hold its own against the floral notes of the orange blossom water.”
Make the chocolate Bundt cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10- to 12-cup Bundt cake pan with oil. Set the cake pan aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, oil and vanilla and whisk until the ingredients are fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles from the batter.
Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting the pan to release the cake onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Make the orange blossom ganache. In a small pot over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Place the white chocolate in a small bowl and pour the cream over the white chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for 1 minute. Add the salt. Whisk the mixture until the white chocolate has fully melted. Add the orange blossom water and whisk to combine. Set the ganache aside to cool. The cooled ganache should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (if it is too warm, it will be runny and the cake will absorb it).
When the cake and ganache have both cooled, transfer the cake to a plate and drizzle the ganache over the peaks of the cake, letting the ganache run down the sides. Yields 1 (10- to 12-cup) Bundt cake.
Make the graham tart crust. In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter and granulated sugar with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9- to 10-inch nonstick tart pan with a removable bottom. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or your hand to press down on the graham mixture to form a tight and compact crust. Cover the crust loosely with plastic wrap and chill the crust in the freezer as you make the filling.
Make the no-bake cheesecake filling. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk the heavy cream on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until it becomes fluffy and forms medium-stiff peaks. Transfer the whipped cream into a large bowl.
Secure the paddle attachment to the stand mixer and beat the cream cheese on high speed for about 2 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, orange blossom water, vanilla, and salt and beat on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Transfer the whipped cream to the mixer bowl and gently fold it into the cream cheese mixture with a rubber spatula.
Remove the chilled crust from the freezer. Fill the tart with the cheesecake filling and smooth it out with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula. Cover the tart loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to serve the tart, make the topping. In a medium bowl, toss the plums with the honey. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the plums to the top of the tart without transferring any of their liquid. Makes 1 (9- to 10-inch) tart.
The headnote says, “Lemon and ricotta is a beautiful spring combination, and even more so when it is paired with elderflowers. Fresh elderflowers can be hard to come by, but elderflower syrups and cordials can be easily found in specialty grocery stores or baking supply stores. Tender lemon-ricotta cupcakes that are made with a mixture of all- purpose and almond flour are topped with a bright lemon-elderflower buttercream and fresh berries, making the perfect spring indulgence.”
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes, stirring at each minute interval. Add the flowers, lemon slices and juice, then simmer syrup for 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and pour syrup through a filter or fine-mesh sieve into a sealable glass jar to remove the flowers. Let cool and then put into refrigerator.
Syrup can be refrigerated for up to a month. If you need to store longer, it can be frozen in an airtight container for up to a year. Syrup will not freeze solid due to the high sugar content.
Make the lemon-ricotta cupcakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the lemon zest and granulated sugar and use your fingers to rub them together for about 30 seconds, until the sugar is fragrant. Set this mixture aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and lemon sugar until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, making sure each previous egg has been fully incorporated before adding the next. Mix until the ingredients are well combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt.
In large measuring cup, combine the ricotta cheese, lemon juice and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
Add half of the flour mixture and half of the ricotta mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. With the mixer on low speed, mix the ingredients until most of the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and ricotta mixture and mix until the ingredients are just combined. With a standard ice cream scoop, add the batter to the cupcake liners until they are two-thirds full.
Bake the cupcakes for 20 to 23 minutes, until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the lemon-elderflower buttercream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer’s speed to low and add the powdered sugar, lemon juice, elderflower syrup, lemon zest and salt. Increase the speed to high and beat the mixture for 3 minutes, until the buttercream is light and fluffy. Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip.
Pipe a swirl of buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a strawberry and fresh sprigs of elderflowers. Yields 12 to 14 cupcakes.