Too Pretty To Eat: 3 Amazing Dessert Recipes From D.C.’s Best Bakers

Whether you want to impress someone special or just treat your friends/coworkers/neighbors to something delicious, there's no secret weapon as powerful as an insanely good dessert that looks like you went to pastry school. We're talking eye candy, here — literally. To hook you up, we convinced some of the city's best bakers — from professional pastry gurus to part-time domestic goddesses — to share their recipes for some of the most gorgeous treats we've ever seen. Baking for a health-conscious date? A dozen deserving colleagues? Your fashion-loving besties? Yep — one (if not all) of these recipes will definitely make it into your after-dinner arsenal.
stellaCake Photo: Courtesy of Apollinas
Fashion-forward baker and blogger Apollina Spoto whipped up this citrus cake with lemon curd filling, inspired by Stella McCartney's spring '11 collection, and we're in awe. Light and perfect for spring, this confection is covered with slices of fresh citrus fruits, which is handy for those of us who aren't exactly artistes with the frosting.

Stella Cake
For the citrus cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pans
Grated zest of two oranges
Grated zest of two lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk

For the lemon curd filling:
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For the fresh orange-lemon frosting:
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
16 ounces confectioners’ sugar (about 3 3/4 cups), sifted
Pinch of salt

For the decoration:
Blood oranges or small grapefruits, regular oranges, lemons, and limes, cut in slices and halved. (On the edges, you can drape the whole slices of fruit.)
Fresh mint

For the cake:
Heat oven to 350°F. Butter two 10" round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter again, and dust with flour. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar on medium-high until fluffy, about two to three minutes. Mix in grated orange and lemon zest. Beat in vanilla, then add eggs one at a time. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three parts and the milk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined — don’t over-mix. Divide batter between cake pans, leveling the top of each. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes for a 10" pan. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.


For the lemon curd:
You can find lemon curd at most grocery stores and specialty markets, or you can make your own. In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Add the butter. Set the bowl over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of mayonnaise, about 15 minutes (but it might take longer — keep whisking!) Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper directly on the surface of the lemon curd and refrigerate until completely cool, at least two hours and up to two days.

For the frosting:
Beat the butter and lemon zest on high until light and fluffy, about three to five minutes. Add the orange juice. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add sugar, then salt, and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Transfer one of the cooled cakes to a plate and spread with the lemon curd. Top with the remaining cake and refrigerate for 30 minutes to set. Then frost the cake and decorate with the fresh mint and sliced fruit.
Photographed by Cindy Thornley/Cinderella Studios
Carrie Metz of Sucrê Dolce Bakehouse creates snapshot-worthy cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and more out of her Waldorf, MD-based bakery. If you get excited for pumpkin-flavored coffee drinks when it's cold out, these cupcakes are a can't-miss indulgence.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons brewed espresso

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
4 large eggs

For the buttercream:

8 ounces Plugra European Style Butter, at room temperature
16 ounces confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

For the garnish:

Cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon sugar, and a dash of pumpkin pie spice)
Caramel sauce
Chocolate-covered espresso beans

For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir together and set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, blend together the espresso, pumpkin puree, sugar, light brown sugar, oil, applesauce, and eggs until mixed thoroughly. Turn the mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix just until blended. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then turn the mixer back to medium speed and beat for 30 seconds more, or until there are no lumps in the batter. Fill the cupcake liners about three-quarters full (about 2 tablespoons per liner). Bake until the cupcakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.


For the sweet-cream buttercream frosting:
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Turn mixer speed to low, add the confectioners' sugar, then the vanilla extract and whipping cream on top of the sugar. Once the mixture starts to incorporate, turn the mixer back to high speed and whip for 7 minutes, until light and fluffy. Using a spatula or piping bag fitted with your favorite pastry tip, swirl the buttercream onto the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and drizzle with your favorite caramel sauce. For the final touch, top with a chocolate-covered espresso bean.

Photo: Courtesy of Kari Nye
Baker Kari Nye of Tanglewood Baked Goods and Tarts By Tarts shared a recipe for a simple apple tart that she adapted from super-chef Alice Waters. The result? A light, buttery delight that's less creamy-and-dreamy and more down-to-earth delicious.

Simple Apple Tart
For the all-butter pastry dough (enough for one tart):
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
1/2 cup ice water, divided
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Start by cubing your butter into half-inch pieces. Put these in the freezer to chill while you ready the rest of your ingredients. Measure a half-cup of water, add some ice cubes, and set aside. In a large shallow bowl, add the flour, sugar, and salt; blend with a fork. Add the cold cubes of butter to the mixture, and using a pastry blender or your hands, quickly cut or rub the butter into the flour until the butter pieces range in size from peas to coarse oatmeal. Drizzle a quarter-cup of the cold water over your mixture and use a rubber spatula to quickly cut the water into the dough, folding it together as you work. The dough will likely be too dry to stick together, so add more water one tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to form. Knead the dough together a few times until it sticks into a mound, then wrap it in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a disk, about four inches in diameter, and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

For the apple filling and glaze
2 pounds of tart, firm apples, any variety. They should be peeled, cored, and cut into quarter-inch slices (save the peels and cores)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for glaze

Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll your chilled dough into a 14-inch circle. Gently place into a 9-inch tart pan. (You can also make a free-form galette by placing the dough round on the back of a cookie sheet lined with parchment.) Tightly overlap apples all the way to edges if using a pan, or with a two-inch border of dough if making a galette. The size of your apple slices will determine placement. (If you can't make concentric circles, try two rows across the middle and fill in the sides with slices cut in half.) Fold edges of dough over apples and pleat at intervals.
Brush melted butter over apples and dough, and sprinkle dough with two tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle remaining three tablespoons of sugar over the apples themselves. Bake in center of oven until apples are soft with dark edges and the crust has turned deep golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Rotate every 15 minutes to prevent burning. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Put your apple cores, peels, and the remaining half-cup of sugar in a pot, add just enough water to cover, and simmer over medium or medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Strain syrup. When tart is done, remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes, then brush the tart with apple glaze and serve. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.

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