Thyme Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Salt

Chocolate Thyme Cake by V.K.Rees

I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with three interns over the past month. One of them, Demetria, has created a ridiculously decedant and delicious chocolate cake with thyme and blackberry salt.

This photo would not have been possible without the hand lettering talent of Victoria Bellavia, the painstaking chocolate chip styling of Caroline Newton, and the retouching assistance of intern Joey Diaz.

Take it away Demetria!

Chocolate Thyme, Chocolate Time
Thyme Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Sea Salt – – a cake by Demetria at Engrained Baking

When Vanessa asked if I would be willing to make a cake for her blog, my first thought was: umm, yes – create a delicious cake recipe and then help take beautiful photos of it – dream job!  So, I took out my favorite vegan chocolate cake recipe and began dreaming up what flavor combinations would fit just right together – one of my favorite ways to use my time.  I love combining chocolate with herbs, and honestly, being a mountain girl at heart, I really love adding herbs, teas, weird spices or even tree bark to pretty much everything.  So, I thought of the combination: chocolate, thyme, and blackberry, with a bit of sea salt and something clicked – that’s it.  A delicious combination of woodland thyme and blackberry with rich dark chocolate, and then, I mean, salty and sweet is always, good always,  right?  There are various ways to add an herb’s flavoring into a cake, but I opted to soak each layer in a bit of thyme simple syrup.  It gives just the sweet, subtle hint of thyme at the end of each decadent chocolate bite.  Then it’s all finished off with that perfect sweet, salty combination with homemade blackberry sea salt.

Thyme Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Sauce

This photo shoot was so much fun too.  It’s one of the first times that my messiness in the kitchen has ever worked to my advantage.  Vanessa took my strewn about bowls, ladles, and kitchen tools and turned it into art.  It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to work with her and watch the process as it happens everyday.  Thanks again Vanessa! xoxo

Vegan Chocolate Cake:

3 ¾ cups spelt flour   ( 380 grams )
1 ½ cup granulated sugar   ( 285 grams )
⅔ cup cocoa powder   ( 75 grams )
2 cups apple juice  ( 455 grams )
1 cup canola oil  (210 grams  )
1 tsp b. powder
1 ½ tsp.  b. soda
1 pinch salt

Vegan Chocolate Ganache:
2 ¾ cups vegan chocolate chips         500 grams chocolate chips
2 cups soy milk            500 grams soy milk

Thyme Simple Syrup:

1 large bunch of thyme (about 3 ounces)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Blackberry salt:
5-8 blackberries
⅓ cup sea salt

For the Cake:

I.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Grease three 8” pans and line the base with parchment paper.

II.  Except for the salt, sift together all of the dry ingredients into a medium sized bowl.  Mix together.

III.  Combine the oil, juice, and salt and whisk until the mixture is thoroughly emulsified.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

  IV.  Pour batter into the prepared cake tins until each tin is half full.  Bake for 30 -35 minutes, or until a cake tester  inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  The cake should also spring back when lightly pressed.  Place tins on wire rack and let cool.

For the Chocolate Ganache:

 First pour your chocolate chips in a medium sized bowl.   Heat the soy milk over medium low heat and stir continuously.  The milk is considered done with small bubbles have formed around the pan, but the milk has not started boiling.  Pour the milk into the bowl of chocolate chips and let sit for 1 minute, allowing the chocolate chips to melt.  Then take a whisk and whisk until the ganache is smooth and fully incorporated. Leave out to cool and set or place in freezer to speed up the process, if it does not have enough time to set it will end up acting more as a glaze.

For the Thyme Simple Syrup:

Combine sugar, water and thyme in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then let simmer for 15 -20 minutes to steep the thyme.

For the Blackberry Salt:

    Place the blackberries in a bowl and mash them with a fork, spreading the juice from the blackberries around the bowl. Take the blackberry mush out of the bowl, leaving only the juice.  Pour the salt into the bowl and stir around until the salt is completely coated.

To assemble:

  Place the 1st layer of cake on an 8” cardboard circle, and then on top of a cake stand.  Trim the top off with a serrated knife so that you have a flat layer.  Take a brush and  dip it in your thyme simple syrup.  Lightly dab the thyme simple syrup on the top of the layer until you’ve covered it.  This will moisten your cake as well as getting in that delicious thyme flavor.  Allow it to soak into the cake and then spread your vegan chocolate ganache over the layer.  Gently press your second layer over the first and repeat this process until you’ve placed your 3rd layer and soaked it with your thyme simple syrup.  Ice the cake with the remaining chocolate ganache.

  If you’d like the chocolate chip detailing , pour some mini chocolate chips into a bowl.  Pick up your cake from the cardboard, making sure that the cardboard is not bigger than the cake.  Then scoop up the chocolate chips and cup them in your hand, lightly pressing them to the side of the cake, rotating the cake as you coat each area.
Then you can sprinkle your blackberry salt on top of the cake and decorate however you’d like!

For more recipes look over here: at Engrained!

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Happy Halloween

Last week I got to spend a glorious day taking Halloween themed photos with two of my favorite ladies, prop stylist Kelly Shea and food stylist Lauren LaPenna.

Usually Halloween food photos cause me to lose my appetite. I don’t like imagining ketchup is blood, fries are fingers, or meatballs are eyeballs. Gross. So, if gory food isn’t your jam, here are some Halloween photos that are tame in the creepy department and won’t make you nauseous. Hopefully.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna

Halloween by Vanessa Rees

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea

Halloween by Vanessa Rees, Food Styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop Styling by Kelly Shea

 

 

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Salad Ninja

I spent the first half of September taking pictures for Terry Romero’s upcoming cookbook, Salad Ninja. These salads are seriously delicious. Here are a few of my favorite images from the shoot.

The book will be released in Spring, 2014. So keep an eye out.

xo

by V.K.Rees

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Coconut Lemon Cake with Blueberries

Coconut Yogurt Lemon Cake by V.K.Rees and Rachel Rees, Illustration by Victoria BellaviaI recently teamed up with letter artist extraordinaire Victoria Bellavia to create these little gems. Something about putting words on an image makes it feel like a little object rather than a digital photo. I have to say that I absolutely love how these came out and now I selfishly want Victoria to work with me on every blog post. You should totally go check out her work, it’s magical.

As always my talented sister Rachel is the genius behind this recipe. I love it. It tastes like summer. This is what she has to say about it…

“Ask our Dad what he wants for any meal at any time, and he will give the same answer, “something light, healthy, and delicious.” This response, as vague as it is predictable, always gets an eye roll or two from our Mom or us kids.

This year we traveled to D.C. to celebrate Father’s Day. Our brother lives there and hosted a delicious a lunch. I took the assignment of making a dessert–aka a “light, healthy, and delicious” dessert. Adapted from a Molly Wizenberg’s French Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon, this dairy free version fits the bill, and like the original it’s simple to make.”

The recipe is below. A huge thanks to Rachel and Victoria for all their hard work!

Coconut Yogurt Lemon Cake by V.K.Rees and Rachel Rees, Illustration by Victoria Bellavia

Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1/2 cup coconut yogurt
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup silken tofu, blended
1/2 cup canola oil

Garnish:
Powdered Sugar, sifted

Lemon Syrup:
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Blueberry Topping:
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and drained
Pinch salt
Sugar to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 8-inch bundt pan with cooking spray. Dust the inside of the pan with flour. Over the sink, knock the flour around until the inside of the pan has a thin coat of flour. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a bowl. Mix to combine (a fork works well) and set aside.

Using a blender or food processor, blend tofu until smooth (no chunks, please). In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, blended tofu, and oil until the batter is smooth. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture. I like to do this in two batches. It might be a little oily at first, but it will come together. The batter will be thick-almost like a muffin batter. Transfer the batter into your prepared pan, taking care to see that the mixture is evenly distributed throughout, and place in the preheated oven to bake. When a thin metal tester placed into the center of a cake comes out clean, the cake is done (about 25 30 minutes and has a golden color).

While the cake bakes, prepare the lemon syrup and berry topping. To prepare the lemon syrup, simply combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. A fork works well. The berries are also simple to prepare. Remove any leftover tofu from the food processor, thoroughly rinse and dry. Add ½ cup of the blueberries with a pinch of salt and sugar. Blitz the blueberries in a food processor until a puree is formed. In a medium sized bowl, combine the puree with remaining whole berries, fold until well integrated.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for about 5-10 minutes. Then remove the cake from its pan by inverting it onto a plate.

While the cake is still warm, slowly spoon the syrup onto the cake. Some of the syrup will be absorbed by the cake and some will not and thats OK. You can serve this cake at room temperature or warm. Your preference. Using a sifter, dust the cake with powdered sugar. To serve, top the sliced cake with generous dollop of the blueberry mixture.

As with Molly Wizenberg’s version, this cake can be enjoyed solo (sans syrup or topping). You can also use whatever berries you have on hand; raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, even cherries (without the pits, of course) would all be delightful. Enjoy!

Till next time! xx

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Portland to Seattle to Vancouver to Montreal

I just got home from a 2 week vacation. My friends and I traveled from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver and to Montreal. It was an incredibly fun trip. We ate amazing food, road in Vancouver’s adorable water taxis, explored the impressive bar scene on Portland’s Mississippi st, stumbled upon Montreal’s pride week celebrations, ate at as many food trucks as possible, visited the best breweries, saw Seattle’s gumwall & public market, hiked Vancouver’s suspension bridge and biked its seawall, got ourselves some Voodoo donuts, ate at the best diner ever, and explored the charming streets of Montreal. I also got to see blogger extraordinaiers Kimberly, Ashley, Christelle, and Aimee along the way. Nice seeing you ladies!

As a photographer I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t take out my DSLR once on this entire trip. Ya know what? I don’t regret it at all. I loved using my iPhone and sharing the photos on Instagram. I got so many amazing recommendations from IG followers. It’s my new favorite way to plan a trip. It was a very interactive way to travel.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the trip. And here they are on my Instagram account.

I have to send a HUGE thanks to Melissa, Jeff, and Roy for being patient with me while I took endless amounts of iPhone photos throughout the day. You guys rule.

Till next time! xo

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Brooklyn Gin & Rooftop Parties

This is a lifestyle shoot that is inspired by Brooklyn Gin. Have you ever had Brooklyn Gin? No? Go get it. Right now. It’s the best gin I’ve ever had. To me, Brooklyn Gin means rooftop parties in the summer, making food with friends, and Brooklyn apartments that are so hot you have to sit on the kitchen floor because it’s the coolest place you can find.

Below you will find a recipe for Summer Kebabs with Basil Lemon Pesto developed by my super talented sister, Rachel. You will also see a recipe for Honeydew Cucumber Poptails (alcoholic, gin-based popsicles). These poptails are fun because they look like Fla-vor-ice. Remember Fla-vor-ice? Well, this is a grownup version that will get ya tipsy.

A HUGE thanks to my models and crew on this shoot. You guys were amazing. An even bigger thanks to my friend Rebecca (and her neighbors) for letting us shoot in her picturesque apartment. You rule, Rebecca.

Credits

Produced by Jane Qualey
Prop styling by Kelly Shea
Models: Lillian Rodriguez, Janet Kim, & Dominique Stroman
Production assistance by Yossy Arefi and Mirella Cheeseman
Fashion styling by Caroline Newton
Hair Styling by Andrita Renee
Makeup by Christie Lee

You can see behind the scene pics of the shoot on Instagram.

I am going on a road trip from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, BC for the rest of the month. I won’t be blogging until September but you can follow my adventures on Instagram and Twitter. =) Any sightseeing suggestions are welcome!

Till next time! xx

Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.ReesRooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.ReesRooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
V.K.Rees Rooftop Party

Summer Kebab with Basil Lemon Pesto

  • 6 medium figs, halved
  • 10 – 12 large crimini mushrooms, halved
  • 1 pound of firm tofu, evenly cubed
  • 2 medium squash, cut into half moon wedges
  • 10-12 cherry tomatoes
  • Basil Lemon Pesto, recipe follows

Bamboo kebab skewers – soaking the skewars in water before hand helps them not burn during the cooking process.

Wash veggies. Put the cut veggies and tofu on the skewers. Place the loaded skewers on cookie sheet–liberally season with Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

The grill is best, but you can also use the broiler.

To grill: Place loaded skewers over medium-high heat. Grill on all sides until slightly browned. It can be helpful to oil the griddle first, prevents sticking.

To broil: Place loaded skewers on a cooking rack in a high-walled pan or cookie sheet. Place on the middle rack in the oven on high broil. The kebabs will give off water as they cook. Cook on both sides for 10 minutes or so, until lightly browned.

To serve, brush the pesto on the kebabs. Add Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately – with a cold gin & tonic.

Basil Lemon Pesto

  • 2 tablespoons pinenuts
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 cups of fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Put the basil in a big plastic bag, sealed–air removed. Place on the countertop, and gently pound the bag until the leaves are bruised this helps to release the flavor.A food processor works best for the pesto–and is as easy as pie. Add all the ingredients into the food processor and pulse until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

V.K.Rees Rooftop Party
Rooftop Party by V.K.ReesRooftop Party by V.K.ReesBrooklyn Gin rooftop party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees
Rooftop party by V.K.Rees

You will need to purchase some 1″ tubing to make the poptails.

Honeydew Cucumber Poptail

  • 1/2 cup Brooklyn Gin
  • 1.5 cup fresh honeydew juice
  • 1 cup fresh cucumber juice
  • 1 handful of bluberries

1. Mix everything together except the blueberries.
2. Cut a 15″ strip of the tubing and tie a knot on one end of it.
3. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into the tubing until it is halfway full.
4. Put 5 fresh blueberries in the tubing.
5. Fill the remainder of the tube with the liquid, leaving about 2″ at the top. Tie a knot at the top of it.
6. Stick in the freezer.
7. Repeat until the liquid is gone.

Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees

V.K.Rees Rooftop Party

Rooftop Party by V.K.Rees

 

 

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