I recently participated in a discussion among other food bloggers about the food at casual dining chain restaurants. Places like The Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, or Applebees. The food is decent, but doesn't always quite live up to your expectations.
The discussion turned into a question: "Have you ever eaten at a chain restaurant and thought, 'I could make this better at home'?" Which led to a link-up called Food Unchained. Participants were asked to take a chain restaurant dish and improve it. I thought for a while about what I would chose. One particular restaurant I heard hyped quite often was The Cheesecake Factory. My first visit was somewhat of a let-down. After a three-hour wait to be seated, we had a "just ok" meal, and while the desserts were delicious, they were no better than I make at home.
One particular dessert I felt I could improve upon was the Lemoncello Cream Torte. Layers of vanilla cake, lemon-flavored cream, lemon-soaked lady fingers, topped with whipped cream. Despite the light lemon flavor, the cake feels rather heavy. The lemon flavor was nice, but I felt it would benefit from the addition of a complementary flavor. And finally, have you seen The Cheesecake Factory's portions? They are enormous! This dessert needed to come back down to human proportions.
I started with the Joy of Baking White Butter Cake recipe (for the sake of convenience, a boxed white cake mix is also fine), and baked the batter as cupcakes. I filled each cupcake with sweetened, thickened blackberry puree, and topped each one off with a lemon-flavored whipped cream/cream cheese-hybrid icing. These cupcakes are light in flavor and in texture. The sweet-tart blackberry puree is a perfect complement to the sweet-tart icing. And at less than half the size of a slice of Lemoncello Cream Torte, you won't regret eating every bite.
Don't forget to visit Crazy Foodie Stunts to see what other bloggers created for Food Unchained.
For the cake:
- 2 cold large eggs, separated
- 1 ¾ cups sifted cake flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup milk
- ⅛ tsp cream of tartar
For the filling:
- 12 ounces blackberries
- 2 tbsp sugar (depending on the berries' tartness)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp cold water
For the icing:
- 1 (8 ounce) package mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp lemon extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin tins with paper baking cups.
- Separate the eggs, whites in one bowl and yolks in another, while still cold. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a medium mixing bowl.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in ¾ of the sugar and beat until lightened. Add the yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl, add the vanilla and beat to combine.
- Turn the mixer speed to low, and add one third of the flour mixture and stir just until incorporated, then half the milk (stir until incorporated), then repeat with another third of the flour, then the remaining half of the milk, and the last third of the flour.
- In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat to soft peaks. Gradually add in the last quarter of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Stir a large spoonful of the beaten whites into the cake batter then gently fold in the rest.
- Divide the batter into the cupcake papers, and bake for 18 to 23 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
- For the filling: Puree the fresh raspberries, and press the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Discard the remaining seeds and pulp. Place the puree in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and the cold water. Add to the puree, and whisk constantly until the puree comes to a boil. Cook at a boil for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and let cool completely.
- For the icing: In a medium mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone, sugar and salt. Add the extracts and the zest and beat another few seconds. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Stir a large spoonful of whipped cream into cheese mixture, then gently fold in the rest.
- Using an apple corer, remove a circle of cake from the center of each cupcake. Spoon blackberry filling into a piping bag fitted with a small-to-medium open tip, and pipe filling into the center of each cupcake.
- Place icing in another pastry bag, fitted with a large open tip, and pipe a circle of icing on top of each cupcake. If you have some left over, and a second, smaller "tier" of icing.