David Lebovitz’s Lemon Yogurt Cake

Making David Lebovitz’s Lemon Yogurt Cake was a no-brainer for me. I love lemon. The recipe looked very easy. So I made the cake.

This is the easiest, most low maintenance cake I have ever made. The batter is mixed by hand (no mixer required!), and you don’t need to worry about keeping things even and pretty with the glaze. You don’t even have to refrigerate it! It’s almost criminal how something so easy could be so delicious.

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While I am usually very strict about following recipes to a T when making them for the first time, I did make some minor changes to David’s original recipe. Because whole milk yogurt wasn’t available at Rizal Dairy Farms, I used low fat yogurt, with David’s express approval, of course. I also tweaked the glaze a little bit because I only had one cup of powdered sugar left. I didn’t reduce the lemon juice in proportion to the reduction in sugar, so my final glaze was 1 cup of powdered sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (versus the proportional 2). I also nixed the apricot-cherry compote because, I don’t even know where to find fresh apricots in Manila. Even if I did, I don’t want to spend more than the cost of the actual cake on apricots and cherries.

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If my miserliness was detrimental to my final product, I really couldn’t tell. Compote or not, low-fat yogurt and all, the cake was wonderful. The cake itself  was very moist and soft. The crumb was on the heavier side but without being too dense. David hit the sweet spot for the strength of the lemon flavor: enough to both please the citrus-mad (like myself) and not turn off (and possibly convert) those who are not a fan of it.

My tweaked glaze was a bright, more pronounced burst of lemon, and I loved it against the more subdued flavor of the cake. But even if you don’t like your citrus as strongly as I do (I do use one calamansi per siomai), do consider making the glaze as directed as the flavor will mellow out over one or two days as the glaze seeps into the cake.

The one downside to this cake (if you could actually call it a downside) is that you might be asked to make it more than once in a 7-day period, like I was. I made one on Monday, and had to make one again on Sunday, as the people who’ve gotten to try it (and some who’ve only heard of how good it was) kept asking about when I was making it again. And really, with something as easy and good as this, I really had no choice but to oblige.

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Chocolate caramel/Speculoos tartlets (a.k.a. little bites of heaven)

I’ve been wanting to make David Lebovitz’s chocolate caramel tartlets for I while now. I thought they would be a perfect way to use up the Trade Joe’s Fleur De Sel Caramels I hoarded bought during my trip. I thought long and hard about buying mini-muffin pans since I didn’t want to spend money on something I will rarely use. I’ve already spent too much money on my assortment of baking pans as it is. And when I finally decided to get them, they took forever to find.

It also took me forever to make these. I only found one 12-slot mini-muffin pan so it took me almost two hours to mold, freeze, bake and cool two and half batches of tartlets (I ended up with 31 tartlets instead of the 24 in the recipe). By the time I was finished, it was almost 2am and I was exhausted, so I left the filling for the next day.

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That took quite a while, too. Peeling a bunch of caramels wrapped in super thin plastic wrapping was slow-going, especially when you have to keep washing your hands after you unconsciously lick off the caramel sticking to your finger tips.

And as it turns out, I didn’t peel enough caramels. I made 33% more of the caramel filling since I ended up with more tart shells, but still came up short. While figuring out how much caramel it will take to fill up 5 empty tartlets, I had a genius idea:

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Two delicious, heavenly words: COOKIE BUTTER (I won’t even attempt to describe how it tastes. Just go and get some for yourself. NOW. YESTERDAY. Ugggh.).

The tartlets were then topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache. And the final flourish was a sprinkling of sea salt, in this case, Trader Joe’s Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (I love Trader Joe’s obvs).

And the end product was TO. DIE. FOR. But with chocolate, caramel and Cookie Butter (I daresay I might even like the Speculoos version better, shocker!), how can these tartlets be anything but delicious? Well, unless you screw something up, of course. But it would be hard to even do that, since the recipe is quite straightforward and easy.

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And can you imagine the possibilities? If you can’t get your hands on caramel or refuse to fork over the ridiculous PhP 550 stores charge for Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter locally (I’m one of those people, since it’s less than $5.00 at TJ’s), you can use dulce de leche, peanut butter, strawberry or raspberry jam or any other filling you love.

So, go, buy the mini-muffin pans so you can you make these little bite-sized wonders. I actually just bought my second one, a 24-slotted pan. Moment of weakness, you say? But I still have some Trader Joe’s caramels left over and six jars of Cookie Butter to work with, so I’d like to think of the pans as an investment. An investment that will pay delicious, mouth-watering dividends.

Note: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter is available locally via Blue Kitchen. Although I do think you’re better off having your relatives from the US buy it for you straight from TJ’s for less than $5.00 (there’s still time to ask those coming home for Christmas, go!!! Ask them to get you the caramels, too, while you’re at it!). Also, mini muffins pans are available in 12s and 24s at Cook’s Exchange, which should’ve been the first placed I looked.

It’s a chocolate cake battle!!

Chocolate cake.

It’s a no-brainer. Any avid baker should have his or her go-to chocolate cake recipe because… well, what would be the point of being able to bake if you can’t make chocolate cake?

And so, in my search for the best one, I turn to two people who have never failed me: Ina Garten and David Lebovitz.

First up is David’s Devil’s Food Cake, which I made for my brother’s birthday. A clarification is required, though. The photo below is of David’s cake, as I didn’t get the chance to take a picture of the cake I made. First I didn’t have good light (I usually bake at night), then I forgot to take a picture during the day, and by the time I remembered to take one, the cake was half gone and the cake platter was a mess. Hence, I’m borrowing David’s picture.

It looks like fudgy chocolate-y perfection, no? And while my cake looks nowhere as good as David’s (he is a pastry chef after all and I am… me), I daresay it’s as fudgy and chocolate-y asI expected it to be. The cake itself was moist and dark while the icing was thick, rich and fudgy. It’s a straightforward, no fuss chocolate cake, the type you want to eat with a tall glass of milk and whose icing you want to lick off the plate fork. In short, it’s perfect.

And I honestly didn’t think Ina’s famous Beatty’s Chocolate Cake could top David’s because I really didn’t know how else the Devil’s Food Cake could be improved on… “Well, how about with coffee?”, says Ina (of course she didn’t really say that). Ina’s recipe has a coffee in both the cake batter and in the frosting. When Ina made this on her show, she said (she actually did say it, this time) that the coffee makes the chocolate taste more… chocolate-y. And I suppose there’s something in that, because David’s recipe for chocolate cupcakes had coffee in the batter as well.

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I remembered to take a photo this time, albeit a hurried one with my iPhone

The thing is, you don’t even taste the coffee in the cake itself (or in David’s cupcakes), it still stays a decidedly chocolate cake, not a mocha one, even with the coffee in the batter. It’s a little more pronounced in the frosting. The coffee flavor is definitely noticeable, but not so much that you’d say that the icing was a coffee icing. Chocolate was still the dominant flavor in it.

The cake was a little moister than David’s, although I suspect that that may have to do with the fact that I stored the Devil’s Food in the fridge with only a foil tent over it, whereas Ina’s cake was fully covered in my brand new cake stand.

And so who wins this chocolate cake battle?

I asked my sister which cake she liked better and her answer went a little something like this: “The one with coffee… oh wait. Yeah. That one… Ah, no. The first one (David’s)…. ummm… (thinks about it some more)… yes. I think.” My mother was a bit undecided as well, before settling on Beatty’s.

For me, though, the winner is…

Not David. Not Ina, either.

We all win.

Because what we have here are two excellent, delicious, wonderful chocolate cake recipes. I’ve spent a lot of time and ate a lot of cake (ha!), contemplating which one I preferred and I still couldn’t come up with a winner. And really, why do I need to choose? On one hand, I have a classically perfect cake and on the other, an equally wonderful cake with a slight coffee kick. And, in my book, it would be wrong to pick one over the other.

David wins, Ina wins. My chocolate cake-loving family wins. Like I said, everybody wins.

The ugliest delicious things I have ever made

Not to worry, there will be no photos of my first attempt at David Lebovitz’s Black Bottom cupcakes, lest I cause someone to lose their lunch at one look at them. I will, however, make you privy to how my family reacted to them. My sister said they looked like age spots while my dear mother said that they looked like they were moldy already.

Yeaaaaaaaaah….

While I do think my mom was a bit harsh on my cupcakes, I do concede that they were not the most appetizing-looking things I’ve ever made. Ok, fine, they were ugly. I didn’t push in the cream cheese mixture into the bottom of the cupcake enough, as I assumed that it would sink on its own. I was wrong and the cream cheese mixture that I left on the top of the cupcakes stayed there instead of forming a deep cream cheese pocket in the middle of the chocolate batter. The end result was not unlike Smitten Kitchen‘s first attempt at it.

While I was disappointed at how they turned out aesthetically, the real test should and always be the way something tastes, right? And since this recipe had chocolate, cream cheese AND was by David Lebovitz, I need not have worried.

Silly, shallow me. Who cares if they looked like living organisms have started to grow on them (or that they are growing on a living organism, for that matter) if they are delicious? The chocolate base was moist and chocolate-y and provided the perfect contrast to the creamy and slightly tangy cream cheese filling. And the solid chocolate bits in the filling just added that additional layer of texture, and was a great surprise in the mouth against the moist, mushiness of the cupcake.

I got them tasting perfect, but I was determined to get them looking perfect. Not just because I’m stubborn like that, but also because if I do serve these to people outside my family, I wouldn’t like them to think that I’m serving them mold-infested food.

The commenters on the Smitten Kitchen post suggested chilling the cream cheese mixture in the fridge first so that it’s less runny when you spoon it into the chocolate batter. Deb also suggested using a piping bag, but I was too lazy to get mine out. I made the cream cheese mixture first and stuck it in the fridge while I was making the rest of the cupcake. It probably needed a little more time than that, since it was nowhere near the melon-baller-friendly consistency they commenters referred to. But I already had the oven going and didn’t want my batter to sit around in the heat so I went ahead anyway. I tried to keep the mixture as compact, vertical and in the middle as possible using my measuring spoon (1tbsp) and a butter knife and  this was how my second batched turned out:

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I got them perfect looking from the top but I was also concerned about how they looked inside, since I think that black and white cross-section is part of the charm of these little babies. It’s a little sad how happy I was when I sliced into one saw this:

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Wheeeeeeeeeee! So pretty, no? No one would compare these to those things you see in anti-aging cream commercials now! And apart from just being prettier, I do think that having the cream cheese sink into the center and not just pool on the top makes for a better cupcake. You don’t have two distinct layers of flavors. Instead, you get bites that are more chocolate than cream cheese or vice versa, or all cream cheese or all chocolate.

Don’t worry, though, if you do try these out, and they don’t turn out looking like the photo the first time (duh, even Deb from Smitten Kitchen messed hers up the first time, so we’re in good company) or EVER, even. The important thing is that they are delicious and make you go “Mmmmmmmm…” after just one bite. As hackneyed as it sounds, don’t judge the book by it cover. Or, in this case, don’t judge the cupcake by its moldy-looking top layer.

The verdict: David Lebovitz’s chocolate chip cookie recipes and the end of my search

I know I mentioned that I was on a search for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, and my lack of updates on how the search was going does not mean I have let up. The near-disaster that was the Cook’s Illustrated recipe didn’t deter me from my search. If anything, it made me even more determined to find my go-to recipe.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of looking for a  David Lebovitz recipe earlier, he did write a book on chocolate and a desserts cookbook after all. Surely, the blogger/pastry chef has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies somewhere.

Well it turns out he has three. And of course I had to try them all.

All three recipes have the same ingredients: butter, white and brown sugars, vanilla, flour, baking soda, eggs and of course chocolate chips (nuts are optional). The differences just came in the proportions, the condition of the butter (cold versus room temperature) and the treatment of the dough. And here’s my completely amateur attempt at differentiating one from the other:

  • Basic CCC recipe: Now, David himself doesn’t really call this his “basic” recipe, I only called it that because this was the most straightforward of all the three recipes, since nothing “special” was really needed. Among the three recipes, this has the lowest brown to white sugar ratio at 1:1, while the other two have more brown sugar. Also, this recipe requires butter to be cold, whereas most recipes require it to be room temperature.
  • Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie : Obviously, the big difference in this one was the salted butter. All the recipes I’ve perused online call for unsalted butter and this recipe was the only one that specifically required the salted kind. David also requires you to tap the tops of the cookies with a spatula after they have been baking for ten minutes and putting them back in the oven for 2-5 more minutes.
  • The Slice and Bake CCC: I might as well call this the “Patience Test CCC recipe”. This is because after making the dough, you need to form it into logs, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate it for a WHOLE DAY. And this did not sit well with me. Within a couple of hours of putting the logs in the fridge, I was already asking “Maybe two hours is enough?”

I’m actually not sure which cookie recipe these cookies are from. Sorry. Hehe.

And my favorite among the three is (drumroll please…)

The Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie!

I guess it has to do with my love for all things sweet-salty, to me this is the best-tasting of all three recipes. I think the salted butter just adds that extra dimension of flavor. The other two recipes seem bland in comparison. Texturally, as well, I think this recipe is the best. It’s crispy on the surface but moist and chewy in the middle. Maybe it has to do with the extra step of tapping the cookies? The slice and bake recipe is similar in texture, but why go through the effort of roulade-ing the dough and waiting 24 HOURS for it to chill when I can get similar results without having to wait?

The salted butter recipe is the best among David Lebovitz’s, but is it the best one among all I’ve tried? You might remember that I was head-over-heels in love with the flavor of the brown butter from Cooks Illustrated recipe. And I still am, and I think the wonderful caramel-ly flavor of those cookies just eeks past the salted butter cookies. BUT. You might also remember that that recipe almost gave me a nervous breakdown, since I couldn’t get the consistency of the dough right. So, until I pluck up the courage (I know, I know that these are cookies we’re talking about here) to tackle the brown butter again, then David’s recipe will be my go-to cookies for now.

I do think about coming up with my own recipe, though, using a combination of salted butter and brown butter. I’d use a smaller amount of the latter to prevent runniness issues. Again, I’ll have to gather the courage for that, since it seems quite presumptuous to think that I could come up with a better recipe than David Lebovitz AND Cooks Illustrated.

But, a girl can dream.

(and yes, I do realize it’s a little sad that my dreams involves cookies)

The Paris PASTRY App!!!!!!!!!!

An app. For finding the best pastries in Paris. An app. For finding the BEST. PASTRIES. IN PARIS.

BEST. PARIS. PASTRIES. APP… Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Yes. I have been rendered incoherent by an iPhone app. But in case you haven’t noticed from my blog, I love pastries and all types of sugary confections. I also love Paris. And, separate from my love of the city and of the food group, I also love, love Parisian pastries. So it really is no surprise that news of David Lebovitz’s Paris Pastry App has reduced me to a mumbling, giddy fool.

First of all, it is an app to find the best pastries in Paris. I know I keep repeating it, but isn’t the idea of it just so brilliant yet so simple? Isn’t that something every visitor to Paris needs? A directory of 300 (!!!!!) of the best chocolate, pastry and ice cream shops in the city and, arguably, the world, all carefully chosen and tested (oh, wouldn’t we want to have THAT job) by David Lebovitz. Yes, the same man who I am indebted to for my discovery of La Maison Du Chocolat’s Rigoletto chocolate, the pastry chef/writer whose blog always leaves me drooling a little bit and pining for a trip to the French capital and its unrivaled food.

And only a pastry fiend like David can come up with an app as well thought of as this. I have a feeling that he has experienced the pain and disappointment of going all the way across the River Seine for a tarte citron (or a cannelle or a millefeuille) only to find the shop closed. He obviously doesn’t want anyone to have to go through that, ever, so the app conveniently includes verified operating hours for each shop.

The app also organizes the shops per arrondisement, all the better for anyone to lay out their pastry plan of attack.

To me, though, the best, most well-thought of feature of this app are the maps. The OFFLINE maps, i.e. you don’t need an internet connection to access the maps, as they are all stored within the app. As David put it, the money would be better spent on croissants & chocolates, than on astronomical 3G roaming fees on your iPhone. I couldn’t agree more.

Other features of the app include gorgeous pictures of the the pastries and breads by David (if you need more inducement to go visit Poilâne or Patrick Roger), a French-English glossary of pastries, the capability to store and share your favorite pages from the app and David’s top 25 shops to help you get started.

It must be said, though, that the app isn’t cheap. In a world of free or $0.99 apps, I know a lot of people will balk at its $4.99 price. But do consider that getting a similar guidebook will cost at least the same, likely more, and that that guidebook will probably be outdated in a year or two. On the other hand, this app will be updated with all the newest information periodically. Also, this has the added convenience of, you know, being inside your phone, versus a guide book that you have to lug around separately (besides, don’t you need the space in your handbag for your chocolate/pastry purchases?).

So in my opinion, the $4.99 would be more than worth it. My only complaint about this app is that it wasn’t available yet when I went to Paris in July. But maybe that’s a good thing, since if this was around by then, I probably would’ve gone home hundreds of Euros poorer and 10 pounds heavier.

App screenshots used with David’s permission.

An attempted tribute to La Maison Du Chocolat’s Rigoletto

What’s a trip to Paris without sampling a truckload of few sweets? And while macarons and croissants are high on everyone’s lists (including mine) of things to eat while in the City of Light, one would be remiss not to try some chocolates from any of the world famous chocolatiers in Paris.

And so, dutiful tourist that I am, I was happy to oblige and try some chocolate. But where to start? In a city of world class pastry chefs and chocolatiers, how do I choose what to try, which chocolatier to buy from? There’s Jean-Paul Hévin, Fouquet, Patrick Roger and more names that I can’t pronounce, all of them with a cult following, all of them world-class. I’d love to try them all, but not only would that cost me my life’s savings and health, it would also take me forever. Well, that’s where David Lebovitz, a blogger, chef and cookbook author living in Paris, came in. I came across a post of his entitled “10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris” (how can you ignore a title like that?), and that list included La Maison du Chocolat’s Rigoletto Noir.

A chocolate filled with a caramel mousse? SOLD!

So when I came across the La Maison Du Chocolat store on Rue Francois 1er, I made a beeline for it, even if I just wolfed down some Ladurée macarons less than half an hour prior (more on that soon). My purchases? Rigoletto in both milk and dark chocolate and, because I couldn’t resist, more macarons.

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I got the chocolate (2 kinds), coffee-chocolate and the caramel-chocolate. Both chocolate macarons were delicious, but I would choose Ladurée’s dark chocolate over them any day. The coffee-chocolate was good, too, but I prefer my coffee full-on, so I’ll pass on this next time.

But the caramel-chocolate. Oh, the caramel-chocolate. How do I even begin to describe it? It’s a salted caramel, with just the tiniest hint of chocolate ganache mixed in. It was bitter, salty, caramel-sweet and chocolate-sweet at the same time. I know the term “perfect balance” tends to be overused when describing contrasting flavors, but it really does accurately describe the filling of this macaron. Oh, Rigoletto macaron (its official name), we shall meet again. Soon. Like, tomorrow.

But the Rigoletto macaron was just a side-show (a wonderful, mouthwatering, beautiful… ok, I’ll stop now) to the main event, which was the Rigoletto chocolate. And so here we are, and please excuse my workman-like hands:

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The verdict?

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afgkljrbnvjkbnpytonaldasldbgfperuigbdfnbvahsdbvuiybaiuhwiufbalq!!!

There are no words, really. But as this is a blog post, I will try and verbalize how amazing these chocolates are… Remember what I said about the caramel macaron? Well, you can multiply that by… 74. I know I used numbers there rather than words, but I’m in finance and when words fail me, I let the numbers do the talking. But I’ll give it another go… The contrast of flavors, the silkiness of the caramel mousse, the perfect counterpoint of the salt or the bitter chocolate against all the sweetness, the creaminess of the chocolate… every single aspect of these one-inch wonders deserve a high praise, some sort of tribute to them.

But since my mastery of the English language is letting me down completely, I will pay tribute to La Maison du Chocolat’s Rigoletto (macarons AND chocolate) in the next best way I know how… by high-tailing it back to the store tomorrow to buy more.