I only managed to squeeze in one cake layer today. I had to stir it by hand in a bowl because my KitchenAid stand mixer can’t handle a double cake recipe. It’s a little crispy on top from being in the oven so long to bake all the way through, but that part gets lopped up during the leveling stage – which is going to be a beast, no doubt.
The reason I could only squeeze one cake layer in today is because I had to stop by the Big Dumb Fun Show to spend some time with my favorite on-air personalities and answer some questions about the B-52 (Behemoth 52nd) cake! I’ll be sure to post links to the interview as soon as they become available. For now, enjoy the video of us pulling this layer out of the oven, and a few pics from the evening. I also added in a picture of the de-panned “Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice” layer. It truly is a monolith!
I was stuck for inspiration on cake this week, but I went back to that food holidays page that I mentioned in the pina colada pineapple upside down cake recipe and saw that yesterday was National Cheesecake Day and that today is National Raspberry Cake Day so I combined the two. When researching what I wanted to do for this cake, I realized that most “raspberry cheesecake recipes” are actually plain cheesecake topped with fresh raspberries or a raspberry coulis, which isn’t quite what I wanted since I’ve done a similar recipe with my Thin Mint cheesecake recipe. I really wanted to have a raspberry cheesecake for heaven’s sake. I also wanted to do something special with peaches, per my husband’s recommendation and suggestion that peaches and raspberries complement each other well, so I tossed fresh slices of peaches with the grains from a Madagascar vanilla bean pod to take it to the next level. When I was done getting the grains out of the vanilla bean pod, I tossed it into my jar with homemade vanilla extract – look how dark it’s getting! I’m sure it’s ready or almost ready to use by now.
Raspberry Cheesecake Recipe Ingredients
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup ground pecans
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup raspberry preserves
Raspberry Cheesecake Recipe Directions
Grind about 1 and 1/2 cups in a food processor to get fine graham cracker crumbs, and using a spice grinder do the same with the pecans. With a spatula or even your hands, mash together the graham cracker crumbs and softened butter until the butter is completely mixed in and you have a crumby mixture. Press your pecan graham cracker crust into the bottom of your cheesecake pan. Put your oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put a cake pan filled with water on the bottom rack. In your kitchen mixer, beat the cream cheese with the paddle attachment until it’s light and fluffy, and add the sugar gradually, beating until smooth. Mix in the milk, then add the eggs one at a time beating just until blended (don’t overbeat). Add the Greek yogurt, raspberry preserves and vanilla extract and beat until blended. Pour over your graham cracker pecan cheesecake crust. Bake for 1 hour, or until the middle is just a little jiggly and doesn’t seem quite set. Turn off the oven and let it set for about another half hour. Remove from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. Chill for 6 hours.
Wash and peel your fresh peach, which should be ripened to the point that it’s firm but allows you to squish a little bit with your fingers. Slice the peach thinly. (I need to learn some knife skills – I would love to have had much thinner slices!) Get the grains out of the vanilla bean pod. Here’s a tutorial on how to use vanilla beans. Toss the peach slices with the vanilla bean grains, then adorn the completely cooled cheesecake with the vanilla bean coated peach slices.
This almond cake recipe was the suggestion of my husband, Luke, and is made with minor modifications from this recipe at foodandwine.com. I used 2% milk instead of whole milk since it’s what I have on hand. I also added 1 teaspoon of almond extract. Instead of the lemon frosting they used, I instead opted to make a vanilla bean buttercream frosting.
A little bit about almond paste. Almond paste is made from ground almonds, or almond meal and sugar, along with oil, eggs and heavy cream. It’s often compared to marzipan, but marzipan has more sugar. Looks ridiculous and comes in a tube, but smells and tastes amazing. I got mine from Whole Foods.
Almond Cake Recipe Ingredients
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
7 ounces almond paste, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
Almond Cake Recipe Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 8″ or 9″ round cake pans (grease, parchment paper). In one bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In your kitchen mixer, beat the sugar and almond paste into fine crumbs. Add the softened butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add the room temperature eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each. Alternate stirring in the dry ingredients and milk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until your toothpick tester comes out clean. Cool completely in the pans. (If you’re making cupcakes, try 15 to 18 minutes.)
One vanilla bean pod should be equivalent in flavor to 2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract, I guess (though I don’t agree taste-wise, so next time I’ll use two vanilla beans). I really like the vanilla flavor straight from the vanilla bean pods. (Need a little help working with vanilla beans? Here’s my tutorial on how to use vanilla beans. And don’t throw those vanilla bean pods away! I also have a tutorial about how to make your own vanilla extract.) Beat the softened butter until creamy, add the powdered sugar a bit at a time and whip up until blended. Add the heavy cream and the vanilla beans. If you need a more spreadable texture for your vanilla bean buttercream frosting, add more heavy whipping cream a tablespoon at a time until you get your desired consistency.
I love Penzey’s Spices and spending too much money there to stock my cabinets with herbs, spices, extracts, seasonings and what-have-you. But last time I was there I spent $20 on 8 ounces of high quality vanilla extract. I know how to make vanilla extract at home, so why do I continue to pay so much for vanilla extract when I can make my own?
I used vanilla bean grains to make this “Perfect Pound Cake” from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. Mine wasn’t quite perfect (a little overbaked) but you get the idea. It would be a shame to throw away these potent little vanilla bean pods that you can use to make vanilla sugar or vanilla extract with. So if you’re asking, “How do you make your own vanilla extract at home?” I’ve got the step-by-step instructions and photos here for you!
Once you’ve already used your vanilla beans for a cake recipe (tutorial on how to use vanilla beans), place the vanilla beans in a glass mason jar or other bottle with a tight-fitting lid.
Cover completely with 1 cup of vodka per 3 vanilla beans.
Store for two or more months in a dark, cool place – away from the stove and oven which emit lots of heat.
Occasionally give the bottle a good shake.
Congratulations – you’ve made your own homemade vanilla extract. As my husband likes to say, “Too easy.” You can top this off with vodka once in a while, just make sure to shake it up. I only used two vanilla beans in my last recipe, but I plan to use another two tonight, so I’ll add those into the jar to keep that homemade vanilla extract process going. This jar of vanilla extract can last you for years! I bet it would make good Christmas gifts, too…
Vanilla beans can be a little intimidating to use, but don’t be afraid of them! They really are incredibly simple to use, and add such an incredible flavor to your desserts. Below is a step-by-step tutorial on how to use vanilla beans, as well as some tips on when to use vanilla beans or the vanilla extract instead.
Instructions on How to use Vanilla Beans
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle with a sharp knife. Don’t cut all the way through the vanilla bean, just the top to open it up.
Using the edge of the knife, begin at one end and drag down to the other end, scraping the vanilla grains out of the bean.
You can add these vanilla bean grains directly to what you’re cooking or mixing.
It’s that easy! And don’t throw that vanilla bean away. You can bury a dried vanilla pod in your sugar, and stir it around from time to time, to infuse the vanilla flavor into your sugar and make your own vanilla sugar. You can also make your own vanilla extract.
Vanilla (Bean and Extract) Usage Tips
Baking and cooking exposes your foods to heat for a long period of time, which can weaken the vanilla bean flavor. So in your actual cake batters, the vanilla extract would be a better choice since vanilla beans can be expensive. The alcohol may burn off some with the vanilla extract, but you’ll still get the necessary flavor.
Don’t add vanilla extract to already hot liquids so the alcohol component and vanilla flavor doesn’t evaporate.
You can use the vanilla beans in sauces and syrups that aren’t cooked too much and it should retain the vanilla bean flavor. If you’re using a vanilla bean to infuse a syrup, sauce or cream for frosting, you typically want to steep it in the liquid for about 10 minutes.
Store your vanilla beans in a cool, dark space in an airtight container. It’s ideal to put it in a cabinet with all your other spices, not near your oven (which emits a lot of heat from the stove and oven). Vanilla beans can be stored 1 to 2 years if handled properly. Some people recommend exposing the moist vanilla beans to air every few weeks and then returning it to the airtight jar to avoid mold. I personally haven’t done this.
Edit: I recently shot a quick tutorial video on how to use vanilla bean pods and posted it on my YouTube channel. I was shaky because I had to rush out and do a radio interview immediately afterward, and then I had to yell at my beagle for trying to steal butter off of the counter right in the middle. Sorry about that. 🙂 I’ll shoot another soon when I have more time and I promise it won’t be as awkward!