Sarabeth Levine - Goddess of Bakedom
 
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CATEGORY: Cakes

 

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES

 

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I love these Strawberry Shortcakes and have been serving them in our restaurants for over 20 years. I learned to bake them from a wonderful baker and friend, the late Craig Ruttman, who was inspired by James Beard's recipe. We think of Craig whenever we make them at the bakery— his wonderful nature lives on in these exceptionally light and delicate cakes. Paired with vanilla scented strawberries and vanilla flavor, they are an easy summer dessert and great for brunch as well.


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THE BREADS OF SWEET MEXICO

 

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Bill and I are in Cancun, Mexico for our annual winter holiday. We have been coming to the Baccara for over 20 years. It is a vacation well needed and it is the only week during the year that I don't bake anything.  We have a tradition— an immediate trip to the supermarket. I grab a cart and literally run to the area where the fresh tortillas are being made for my usual warm stack. I always munch on them as we shop for local veggies, fruits, herbs and cheese. When we arrived at the counter the tortilla machine had been turned off— there were none left in the case in their traditional paper wrappers.! Upset and disappointed, i went to the fresh bakery department and bought several small breads instead. They looked promising but  turned out to be tasteless. What was I thinking? This country is the home of the tortilla, the panucho and the sopa—not bread.  

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A MORNING COFFEE INDULGENCE + CARAMEL APPLE CAKES

 

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The first  morning cup of coffee is always the best. The pillow-like foam is so easy to make—the Nespresso Milk Frother is the perfect tool. The secret to good foam is organic 2% milk. Now you know how I start everyday before I go to the bakery! And wait until you see the Caramel Apple Cakes that would be perfect with a coffee anytime of day...


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RESTAURANT PARTNERS, CUPCAKES, AND ME

 

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I have been fighting the cupcake fad for a long time and was desperately hoping it would go away. Then one of our restaurant partners began asking me to make them, I responded with, " Oh , Steve, cupcakes are silly, it's a temporary craze—please leave me alone, I have more important things to bake than cupcakes. The request continued to fall on my deaf ears and finally the begging ceased. Whew, I was glad that was over with— boy was I wrong!  A few weeks before the opening of our new Sarabeth's restaurant in Tribeca, the pleading began again—it was daily. This time it was our partner Stewart. "Sarabeth, you have to make us cupcakes! Must we beg you? If so, we are begging!" Needless to say, I reluctantly gave in to the nagging and began preparing for their debut. I knew that if I thought of them as mini- birthday cakes, half the the battle would be over, as I love making party cakes. I am ashamed to admit that I have become obsessed with the idea of the little cakes. With my new found mission, I immediately began to research and experiment. It had to be a great cupcake and the frosting had to be perfect. I tried several recipes before I stumbled upon Martha's cupcake cookbook in my library. There they were, buttermilk cupcakes, I whipped out my small mixer and I was off and running. The batter was lush and creamy and the little cakes turned out tender and light. The cake (or pastry) flour is the secret to creating a light, delicate crumb. They were everything I expected from a perfect cupcake. In fact, the Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes are so terrific that I have made only one change, I substituted the seeds from 1 vanilla bean for the vanilla extract, which the recipe called for. And of course, I use my own recipe for the Lemony-Vanilla Bean Frosting. Thank you Martha! Everyone is very happy. You will be too!


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STRAWBERRY JAM

 

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These luscious strawberries are the first of the season on the East End of Long Island, and if they are an indication of what's to come, we are in for a yummy crop. When I arrived at Billy Zaluski's farm stand, Billy was taking berries from the rear of his truck and placing them on the farm stand table. It was a good thing that I was having a lengthy chat with Holly, the manager of the stand, or I would have missed the berries. I bought enough for a big potful of jam and off I went feeling very happy with my purchase. They were so ripe and juicy that even my gentle handling of them didn't prevent the berries from coloring my finger tips. It's a good thing our cottage is only a short distance from the stand because I devoured an entire pint on the ride home.


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PETTICOAT TEA CAKES

 

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I recently found a clipping from an old newspaper, circa 1940, in my red antique recipe box. It suggested that when you add chocolate morsels, nuts or dried fruits to a cake batter, add them after you have blended in the eggs— they will stay evenly distributed throughout the cake. If added at the end of the mixing period, they will sink to the bottom during the baking process. I was very intrigued by the suggestion and decided to change my technique in this particular recipe—normally I would add the chunky goodies last. What a surprise. Thank you who ever you are, it truly works.

You can bake this recipe as a single cake in a 10-12 cup tube pan or in small decorative pans as individual servings. The brioche tins give these little cakes a wonderful buttery crustiness on the outside, and the interior crumb remains very tender—both textures in each buttery bite. (If you don't have brioche tins a muffin pan will work just as well.) I love the milk chocolate flavor, even though I usually prefer semisweet or bittersweet chocolate in my baking. The exceptional quality of Valrhona chocolate makes them extra special and it is definitely worth the additional cost. The added dimension of the tart apricots and the salt from the cashews is very tasty, not to mention the subtly of the English breakfast tea.  For a more distinct flavor of tea, try a black tea like Earl Grey, which has a unique and delicious taste from the bergamot orange. The oil in the skin of the orange is extracted from the orange and blended with the tea.


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WELCOME BACK MARBLE CAKE

 

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BELOVED MARBLE CAKE, every time I pass you sitting on our bakery counter I feel a pain in my heart that you were excluded from the final round up of the "Everyday Cakes" chapter of my baking book. It was not an easy decision. Oh, so tender, moist and chocolaty; scented with a hint of almond, and a touch of coffee. How I love your beautiful brown and golden swirls. This morning as I looked at you, it came to me quite naturally, why not include you in the blog? Let me hurry and prepare you in your beautiful pan for your debut and take a photo. Now, everyone will enjoy you.


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