A Dessert Fit for a Long Weekend: Blueberry Poke ‘n Pour Cake


Do you know when your least productive time of the day is?

Mine is definitely mid-afternoon, especially when I’m at home (at the office it’s a bit easier to stay focused, thankfully). Saturdays and Sundays around 2 o’clock, if I’m not already embroiled in a big project, there’s no sense starting anything new, at least not until the sun goes down.

Fortunately I’m aware of this, and can combat it in little ways. It’s a great time to go run errands (something else that kills my productivity), catch up on my RSS feeds, or even do some cleaning. This Saturday, though, I decided to bake.

I’d seen the Cooking Panda video about a poke cake and it reminded me of the Poke ‘n Pour cakes I grew up with. It’s basically the same thing, though I still contend that the order of the video’s layers is just not using the ingredients to their full potential, so I made my own cake and decided to video it, too!

Direct link for the feed readers: Blueberry Poke ‘n Pour Cake

The cake base is a Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix, prepared according to the box instructions. I don’t go gaga over the cake on its own, but when doctored up (with pineapple juice for the luau upside down cakelets or as a base for a banana chocolate chip quick bread) it’s a convenient thing to have on hand, and I try to keep one in the pantry for these sorts of spur-of-the-moment bakes.

The blueberry layer is a simple cooked mix of frozen blueberry (maybe 2 cups?), 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, a couple tablespoons of cornstarch, and a sprinkle each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves–not enough to feel like a fall pie, but just enough to add interest. Set it on medium-low, stir it occasionally, and let it cook until the syrup is thickened.

I had a partial block of cream cheese in the freezer (they say not to freeze it, but for applications like this it’s totally fine), so I defrosted the 3 or so ounces in the microwave (take it out of the foil packaging, first!), then stirred in enough powdered sugar and vanilla to taste right. Just your basic cream cheese frosting.

The custard, though, that I’m pretty proud of and I want you to have the recipe in case you’ve ever had issue with cooked pudding not coming together (like what happened with my banana pudding for the luau). A simple vanilla pudding doesn’t usually include eggs, that more of a custard thing, but a custard doesn’t usually contain any sort of flour or starch–that’s the pudding side. Plus, the eggs that the custard uses have been separated, generally you only use the yolks. I didn’t have a ready use for egg whites coming up, I didn’t want to waste them, and I knew that if I cooked it right, the protein in the egg whites would lend stability to my custard. I also doubled the sugar and used a free hand with the vanilla (I always do, it’s hard to overdo adding vanilla).

Foolproof Vanilla Pudding

2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

  1. Scald the milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  2. While the milk is heating, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla in a metal mixing bowl.
  3. Adding a little at a time, whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Don’t rush it–if you heat up the eggs too quickly the whites will start to cook and you’ll need to strain your custard.
  4. Fill the now-empty pot with hot water to a depth of 1 inch and return to the stove. Bring it to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Place the heatproof bowl over the simmering water and cook the pudding, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Yeilds ~3 cups

The recipe was adapted from a couple of recipes found in The Kitchen Companion by Polly Clingerman.

It’s a simple recipe, the trick is in the technique. The double-boiler method is what keeps the egg whites from cooking too fast and ruining the texture (seriously, though, run it through a fine mesh sieve if you need to, all will not be lost). I remember a time when double boilers were a standard part of a pots and pan set, but I seldom see them anymore. Even in a pro kitchen, the metal bowl over a pot is what’s used more often than not. Just make sure that the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl when they’re nested together, and that the level of what’s in the bowl isn’t over where the bowl and the sides of the pot meet. (If that happens you just have to make sure to scraps the sides of the bowl more often as the touch-point of the two pieces will be hotter than anywhere else and the custard will cook quicker there.)

Describing it takes longer than actually doing it. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

While a poke-n-pour cake is best served at room temperature (cold cake can be a bit dense, even with this preparation), it’s still a good idea to chill it for a few hours to let everything set up nicely.


I was very pleased with how this cake turned out. Of course it wasn’t the Jell-o and Cool Whip-filled version of my youth, but a slightly more grown-up version. If I were to make the cake from scratch in the future, I think I’d use a basic sponge cake, letting the berry mixture serve the purpose of the sugar syrup that is usually brushed over a sponge cake before filling and layering. Like I said in my video, had I planned this out instead of just jumping in, I would have split the cake and added a layer of strawberries prepared the same way. You could also use cherries, peaches, even spiced apples could go nicely. Anything you can find in the pie filling aisle (but make it yourself, it’s so much better than canned).

I hope you have a great Memorial Day and enjoy the time with whomever you’re spending it with. It’ll just be Todd, Duncan, and I today, but I’m certainly not complaining. This dessert will go great with the hot dogs, corn on the cob, and macaroni salad we’ll be cooking today.

Daring Bakers: Hazelnut Banana Nougat


The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.


My house smells so amazing right now!

You’re just going to have to take my word on that, though, since they have yet to invent smell-er-net or whatever. But seriously, it’s like toasted marshmallows (the good kind) without the bonfire smoke thanks to the various sugary components of this month’s confectionery challenge.

It’s been my experience, making candy in the south, that our biggest challenge is humidity and there’s something like a handful of clear, bright days where everything will work if you hold your mouth right. The rest of the year? Well, I remember making these sugar-dipped pear slices back at the Plantation as a garnish for Pear Clafoutis during the first few weeks there. It was, of course, summer in south Georgia and humid as all get out, and I had to store the slices in a plastic container with some powdered dehumidifying agent to try and keep them from going limp before the next dinner service.

I’ve made divinity at Christmas that I had to store in the freezer because it was the only way it would stay semi-solid. Pralines have crystallized in front of our very eyes. And more of the same. So it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that I put together the ingredients for the chocolate nougat, hoping I wouldn’t end up with a weepy, goopy mess.

I needn’t have worried. At least about it not setting.


Thanks to a random cold snap last night, we had pretty much perfect candy-making weather. And as I watched the sweet meringue whip around my stand mixer, letting it mix the 3-5 minutes to cool off a bit before adding the chocolate and other mix-ins, something strange happened. One moment it was silky smooth and belching steam like a locomotive, the next it developed that whipped look of the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar, and then–in the blink of an eye–turned to something much more choppy. Adding the chocolate didn’t smooth it out (maybe it would have, had I melted it, but that’s hindsight talking). Since the nuts and dried fruit originally called for in the recipe were either High-FODMAP or not Todd’s favorite, I used toasted hazelnuts and banana chips–sort of like Chunky Monkey meets 3 Musketeers.


Unfortunately, it stayed pretty crumbly. I managed to get a few decent-sized pieces for a picture but instead of neat little bricks they’re more like field stones, so the majority got put into an airtight jar. Despite its rugged appearance, it melts nice and smooth on the tongue, so it’s not crystallized or anything like that. I tried adding a little water to a bit of it, but that just melted it, so we’ll leave it crumbly.


Besides, this way it makes an amazing ice cream topping!

Tuesday Reviews-Day: Vegan Desserts in Jars

Tuesday Revews-Day


Expanding my skill-set in the kitchen is always my goal. Just like I learn something with every knitting or sewing pattern I follow, each recipe offers up a golden-brown opportunity to learn how different ingredients interact, how they taste in combination, and how–in some cases–they work in the place of another. When I started Low-FODMAP cooking and baking I got a crash course in all the hoops we have to jump though to bake without wheat, and these days I feel pretty confident about what I serve my friends and family, knowing there’s a better than good change they won’t know it’s lacking wheat (or whatever else) by taste or texture. But I also knew my substitution skills were lacking in one key arena: vegan baking.

So, when I was given the opportunity the try out Kris Holechek Peters’ Vegan Desserts in Jars, I figured it was just the kick in the pants I needed to clear the vegan baking hurdle.

Thanks to the plethora of alternative ingredients out there, it’s possible to find vegan dairy substitutes (margarines, milks, even cream cheese) in many large grocery stores. Sweeteners (other than honey, of course) are usually considered safe but I was recently made aware that part of the refining process uses cow bone char, so check the brands or packages before cooking for  your vegan guests. Eggs, though, they can be a bit trickier to substitute for, depending on which properties are key to the dessert. Thankfully Peters includes a great chart in the book listing the different egg replacers (from applesauce, to tofu, to flax seed) and the best time to use each.


The first recipe we tried was the Lemon Pudding Cakes (p.34) that started with a lemony cake in the bottom of the jar, topped withe a zest and sugar layer and then a lemon juice and water layer. While baking a curious alchemy occurred that placed the liquid components below the cake, the idea being that it would bake into a pudding beneath. In our case it was less pudding and more of a lemon sauce that formed, but it still made for a tasty sauce when combined with the cake.


Still craving tart citrus, I had to try the Lemon Meringue Pie (p. 47) which also uses the Flaky Pastry Crust (p.43) as well as the Meringue Topping (p.116)–the latter striking my curiosity most of all! As far as the pie goes, it was a case of too much crust for the filling–if I were to make it again I’d halve the crust and double the filling. The topping, though, talk about a challenge! First you have to cook the flax seed and let it sit, then strain it (it took 2 sieves and quite a bit of elbow grease to get the majority of the albumen-like goo separated from the seeds), and then finally whip it to within an inch of its life–do not try this without a stand mixer. The recipe directs you to serve immediately, but I found the pies that sat overnight in the fridge to taste even better, so don’t fear the leftovers.


Moving away from the zester, the next recipe we gave a go was the Chocolate Vanilla Puddin’ Cups (p.14). Let me state for the record that it’s nigh on impossible to screw up chocolate pudding, vegan or not. Chocolate’s natural properties make it excellent at getting puddings and mousses to gel, so I wasn’t worried about that half of this recipe. The vanilla, on the other hand, is a lot more dependent on each ingredient–one alone cannot carry it. The vegan vanilla pudding does not hold a candle to its egg-enriched counterparts, but it was tasty enough and paired well with the chocolate in it’s layered cups. If you were to make this recipe, I’d suggest you use a non-dairy milk that is fairly mild, as stronger ones can overshadow the delicate vanilla flavor.


Finally, we went back to the Cakelettes chapter for the Cream-Filled Carrot Cakes (p. 24)–rich, dense carrot cake accented with Cream Cheese Filling (p.111). Aside from making this wheat-free, the other substitution I made was to use mashed banana instead of applesauce (since apples are a High-FODMAP food). The banana did get a little pushy, flavor-wise, but the cake was still quite moist and the filling made it the best of the recipes we tried, so far.

Vegan baking may seem like a case of simple substitutions, but it takes that familiarity with ingredients to know what will please the palate. If you’ve wanted to eliminate some of the animal products from your diet or are simply entertaining the vegans in your life and want to be more inclusive in your cooking, Vegan Desserts in Jars  presents simple, straight-forward recipes to do just that. And the fact that they’re all made in canning jars–not only cute, but great for sending home with guests or delivering to coworkers’ desks–is just icing on the vegan cake!

Vegan Desserts in Jars is published by Ulysses Press. I was provided a copy for the purpose of review; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Daring Bakers: Schichttorte or “Tree Cake”


Another month, another challenge courtesy of the Daring Bakers!

The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij“. She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).

Chocolate-Almond Schichttorte

Chocolate-Almond Schichttorte

The cake itself is a sponge cake and the technique in play is the multiple, thin layers baked one on top of the other, creating striations in the finished cake as each layer is allowed to brown. The sample recipe we were given used crumbled marzipan, but since we don’t really do a lot of nuts in our home, I substituted light brown sugar with a bit of almond extract for that line, and (of course) used my usual Low-FODMAP baking blend for the little bit of flour called for in the recipe (again, being a sponge-cake, most of the structure is coming from the whipped egg whites, not the gluten in wheat flour).

Before folding in the egg yolk mixture, it helps to temper them with a small amount of the whipped whites. This way you only have to "sacrifice" some of the loft, not all of it.

Before folding in the egg yolk mixture, it helps to temper them with a small amount of the whipped whites. This way you only have to “sacrifice” some of the loft, not all of it.

The procedure called for spreading 1/10th to 1/12th of the batter per layer so I tried to figure out what exactly that would be, measurement-wise. Since I had right around 8 cups of egg whites after beating to stiff peaks, and the butter and yolk mixture came to approximately 2 cups, I figured with the inevitable loss of air folding them together would bring, I’d still end up around the 8-cup mark, so 2/3 cup per layer should get me to the 10-12 layer mark, right?

Neatening up the edges makes for a better presentation overall (not to mention easy snacking of the trimmings; for quality control, of course!)

Neatening up the edges makes for a better presentation overall (not to mention easy snacking of the trimmings; for quality control, of course!)

Not so much. I ended up with 6 layers (and I could stand to practice keeping them even) and instead of the 4 minutes each layer was expected to take to bake at 450 degrees F, they took 8 minutes each. At first I thought maybe they’d start cooking quicker once the first few layers were in place–after all, that insulated surface should speed things  up, right? By the end of the third layer, though, I realized we were just going to stick out the 8-minute shifts so adjusted my timer accordingly.

I was happy to find a use for my unset Champagne Jelly--it worked very well with the combination of almond and chocolate.

I was happy to find a use for my unset Champagne Jelly–it worked very well with the combination of almond and chocolate.

Once a bit cool, it was time to glaze the cake. The sample recipe called for apricot preserves, heated, sieved, and mixed with a bit of orange liqueur, but I had a better idea. In part because apricots are High-FODMAP and in part because I had 12 mini-jars of Champagne jelly sitting around that never fully set (making them Champagne sauce, instead), I popped open on of those jars and skipped the heating, sieving, and mixing and just brushed it straight on. (But just to be safe I dunked one of the trimmed sides into the sauce to make sure the two components would mesh well–they definitely did!)

Once the glaze was on, so was the waiting--good thing I'd planned for overnight for the coating to set!

Once the glaze was on, so was the waiting–good thing I’d planned for overnight for the coating to set!

The final step was to mix up a chocolate coating from melted bittersweet chocolate chips and a bit of coconut oil and pour/spread it on. And then it got to sit for a night, as the recipe assured us that it was better if given a day to rest.

The moment of truth: would the layers look right and how would it all taste?!

The moment of truth: would the layers look right and how would it all taste?

Before our gaming group arrived, I divided the small cake into 12 thin bars and set them out prettily. When it’s cut, it looks a lot like the 12-layer cakes you see at bake sales (at least here in the south) but without frosting between each this layer. The strata give it the appearance of wood grain, which is where the idea of “tree cake” comes from–the original Baumkuchen were cooked in successive layers on a spit, creating concentric rings. I don’t have one to try it on, but I wonder if a counter-top rotisserie grill would do the trick in that instance?!

The process was a little tedious by the end–being tied to the oven for over an hour got a little old after the first few layers, but I did read through a couple magazines that had been piling up, so it wasn’t a total loss of time. Some of the participants made their schichttortes using the broiler to quick-cook mini-layers in cupcake pans–I think I’d have to employ a piping bag to make that slightly more manageable, as well as adding a filling layer somewhere in the middle. Still, it was fun to try (which is the whole point) and certainly didn’t go to waste on our guests.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was the richness of the cooked cake–sponge cakes can be very dry and this one definitely doesn’t fit the bill. It was very moist, my almond extract & brown sugar substitution seemed to do the trick, and the bottom layer cooked into a sturdy crust but didn’t burn (thankfully). And even though the cake was small to start with, a twelfth was more than enough for a serving.

Daring Bakers: Canadian Whoopie Pies


The December Daring Bakers’ Challenge had us all cheering – the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose… What else is there to say but “Whoopie!”


This month’s challenge was perfect for answering the question of what to make for holiday desserts. For some reason I never got onto the whoopie pie bandwangon so I was glad to give these a try and see what my family thought. Since we were encouraged to play around with the flavor combination of cake and filling, I took my inspiration from a Secret Santa gift I received right as the challenge for the month was announced.

My Santa was from Canada, and she sent me (among other things) a can of Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino mix. As I was reading the sample recipe for chocolate whoopie pies I saw espresso powder as an ingredient and thought, hey, why not use the cappuccino mix instead? I also used the mix for half of the cocoa called for (only half as I didn’t want to overpower the pies for the non-coffee fans at dinner) and the end result was a nice mocha toffee coffee flavor that even Todd enjoyed.

For the filling I went with the usual marshmallow-cream filling, but I didn’t really want to use the standard vegetable shortening it called for, so I subbed coconut oil figuring it had the same texture with a much more pleasant flavor, too. On top of that, I added a generous pour of maple syrup to make it maple-marshmallow filling, in honor of the Canadian theme of the whoopie pies. Even if I never make whoopie pies again, the maple-marshmallow filling may be making future appearances in our home–it was just that tasty.

They made for very rich desserts, so some opted to split a pie among them so they could also sample some of the other desserts, too. Knowing that, I almost wish I’d made the mini-pies. Either mini or full-sized, I can see my little brother requesting these again!

Gluten-Free Toffee Coffee Whoopie Pies with Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling
Adapted from : King Arthur Flour
Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies


For the Whoopie Pies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
3/4 tsp xanthum gum
1 cup milk


1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, cappuccino mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.

3) Add the cocoa and remaining cappuccino mix, stirring to combine.

4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.

5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they’ll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.

6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they’re set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

For the Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
1-1/3 cups Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or more, to taste)


1) (To make the filling:) Beat together the shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and marshmallow until well combined.

2) Add the maple syrup, and beat until smooth. If the filling is too thin, add confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency is reached.


Pipe or spread a generous helping of filling onto the flat side of one pie and top with another.