Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Daring Bakers December Challenge

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

What is a French Yule Log you say? Good question!

It's a frozen dessert made of mousse and other stuff suspended in the mousse. This version is chocolate mouse, with a layer of crispy nutty stuff, a dense rich chocolate ganache layer, a dacquoise layer and a layer of creme brulee. (Although Robb pointed out, there's no brulee, it's just custard.)

Please email for the recipes- I have them in a (19 page!!!) word document ready to send.

I impressed myself with this one. I put it together without any fuss, aside from a little trouble with the broken custard layer, as you can see. Having the cool pan (see photo below) with moving sides also helped.

Speaking of the custard, if it sounds weird and a little gross to have a custard layer suspended in mousse, you are not alone. The flavors are quite compatible, a lovely eggy vanilla custard and a nice chocolate mousse. But I don't get why you'd want the texture contrast. Then, you freeze it?? Ugh, crystals of frozen custard in mousse- no thanks.

On the other hand, the dense ganache layer (dark stripe at the bottom) is terrific. The slightly chewy when frozen, nutty and sweet dacquoise next door to the ganache is pretty fine, too. The middle layer of lighter chocolate is a milk chocolate and hazelnut crispy layer. I took advantage of a short cut offered and instead of making the crispy lace crepes to mix in to the milk chocolate and praline paste, I used Special K. Yes, the cereal. I will be serving this tonight and I'm sure no one will say OMG, there's cereal in this! It totally works.

Thanks Daring Bakers for a terrific challenge. I enjoyed this one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Time is Here

Michael and I had our annual holiday party.  This year I served a pumpkin cake that got rave reviews.  It's a recipe that was given to me by my Aunt Bobbie -- my mom's sister.

Originally she served it as a three layer cake.  I served it as a bundt cake -- it cooks a bit longer, but it looks really pretty and for a buffet it works quite nicely. I usually leave the icing off and serve it sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Here is the recipe:

Aunt Bobbie’s Pumpkin Cake

2 C sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 C sugar
1 C cooking oil
2 tsp soda (dissolve in water)
4 large eggs
2 C pumpkin

1 stick butter (salted), room temperature
1 pkg 8oz philly cream cheese, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 box (1 lb) confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease (with Crisco) and flour pans or use Pam with Flour.

In a bowl, put flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and sugar. Mix well.

In another bowl, put cooking oil, soda (dissolved in water) and eggs. Beat well.

Add dry ingredients to the wet and beat in pumpkin. Mix until combined. Pour into greased and floured pans and bake at 350 degrees.

For three layer cake 30 minutes (check it at 25 min.)
For bundt cake 40 – 50 minutes (check at 35 min.)

For icing: Mix butter, cream cheese and vanilla until fully combined, then add sifted confectioner’s sugar in thirds.

Frost completely cooled cake.

After a long time....

Here is a sampling of what we've been up to since we last wrote:

We are still making our way through the Cake Bible -- we have made a lovely genoise and have it freezing to be completed (with pictures) sometime in 2009.  Somehow the holiday season took over and while we've been eating -- obviously, we're still here -- we've not been good at taking photos of said comestibles.

One thing I did try, and photograph, was a puff pastry filled with smoked, shaved ham and gruyere cheese.  This was quick to put together and a great mix of flaky crust, melty, gooey cheese and a smoky bit of ham. It was really impressive out of the oven.  We had it cut into 4 pieces.  Served with a salad it would be a nice light lunch or dinner.

I got it from Barefoot Contessa, here is the recipe from the website:

Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry
by Ina Garten
Prep Time: 25 min Cook Time: 25 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 6 servings

1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 pound black forest ham, sliced
1/2 pound Swiss Gruyere cheese, sliced
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board and carefully roll it out to 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush the center with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Place a layer first of ham and then cheese, also leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the border with the egg wash.

Place the second sheet of puff pastry on the floured board and roll it out to 10 by 12inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, lining up the edges. Cut the edges straight with a small, sharp knife and press together lightly. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve hot or warm.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers October Challenge is PIZZA!

Pizza dough from Peter Reinhart's Baker's Apprentice book was the recipe for this month. You can see a modified copy of the recipe at this month's host's site. The recipe requires making a little bit of dough, letting it sit overnight and then incorporating it into the dough you make the second day.

We were excited to make some pizza, as pizza was Kevin's summer grilling experiment. He's quite the conceptual cook. That is, he thinks up stuff and I do most of the execution. For the pizzas this summer, I was his prep cook and he worked the grill and did a terrific job. We used a recipe right from the King Arthur flour website, and we didn't notice a flavor difference between the KA recipe and the Reinhart recipe. In fact, the KA recipe was nicer to handle and didn't need to rest so much, held it's shape, etc.

For our DB pizzas we were to toss the dough as part of the challenge. That's a challenge indeed- how do you take a picture while tossing?? You get help, that's how. Kevin was willing to fling the dough in the air and wasn't so sure he could take a good picture, so he is pictured with the dough almost in the ceiling fan. What a tosser!

We made a traditional mushroom and black olive pizza, and a plain cheese with LOTS of cheese. They were both yummy.

We also made one of the stars of the summer grilled pizza line up, a "southwestern" pizza. It has some marinated and grilled chicken, a corn relish (from Trader Joe's), and a mild cheese blend (mozzarella, jack), and it's topped with a squeeze of lime, sour cream and cilantro. The corn relish really makes it- the stuff is awesome right from the jar.

The pizza that Kevin has been dying to make, it's the one that actually got him interested in trying out pizzas in the first place... drumroll jambalaya pizza! We finally gave it a try. I made some jambalaya from a really good recipe from a cool place in New Orleans. Kevin put a little cheese on the dough, topped it with jambalaya and baked it. I assembled the one pictured below with a little sauce, jambalaya, then topped with cheese. He was pleased with the outcome. I was a little put off by having rice on pizza, but maybe I'm just being narrowminded. This is one pizza that we haven't seen the last of, I am sure.

Another fun challenge- thank you Daring Bakers!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Birthday... another Cake? No, it's Time for Pie!

Yes, another birthday!!
This one was September 23, and the celebration lasted for what seemed like weeks. The deception certainly did! There were a couple of small celebrations to throw Stefan off the scent of the surprise party for his 40th. It was a lot of fun helping Greer put it together. We were prepared for an army of people, and about 3/4 of an army was in attendance. They still have a couple of spare pies in their freezer- lucky ducks.

Stefan and I, it turns out, have a similar dessert preference. Neither of us is really into sweets too much. If given the choice between something with some bite like a dark gingerbread or a tart lemon bar and a fluffy sweet frosted cake, we'd both choose the former.

So, what do you do for a man who isn't going to have a birthday cake at his birthday party?? You make pies, naturally! He likes berries, so there was a lattice topped mixed berry pie.

And I made what some have referred to as the best apple pie ever. It's the Silver Palate sour cream apple pie recipe, so I can't take all the credit. It is darn good. In fact, click the link and buy the book. It is a terrific cook book, many of my "go to" recipes are directly from those pages- pate brisee, quiche, ceviche, carrot ginger soup, lobster with tarragon sauce, gravlax, and I could go on and on. The 25th anniversary edition added color photos and kept many of the cool illustrations from the original 1982 publication.

To go with the pies, we enjoyed some ice creams. The berry pie was especially delicious with a cinnamon basil ice cream. And a burnt sugar ice cream, which could have gone by the name of creme brulee ice cream just fine, paired very nicely with the apple.

Well, I think birthday season is over. Or, at least my tardy reporting of recent birthday baking is finally complete.


Pie Crust for the berry pie From Fine Cooking issue #65 in July 2004
Rose Levy Beranbaum, author - Yes, she's The Cake Bible author - so you know her recipe is meticulously described, and in this case highly recommended also. The crust was super. If you can get a chance to read the article from that 2004 issue, it is well worth it. She describes the reason for every ingredient and step she takes.

6 oz. cold butter
6-1/2 oz. (1-1/2 cups) bleached all-purpose flour
3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) cake flour
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4-1/2 oz. (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs.) cold cream cheese
3 Tbs. heavy cream
1 Tbs. cider vinegar

Cut the butter into 3/4-inch cubes. Wrap them in plastic and freeze until hard, at least 30 minutes. Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt, and baking powder in a metal bowl and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Put the cold flour mixture in a food processor and process for a few seconds to combine.

Cut the cold cream cheese into three or four pieces and add it to the flour mixture. Process for 20 seconds (the mixture should resemble fine meal). Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter pieces is larger than a pea, about five 3-second pulses. (Toss with a fork to see it better.)

Add the cream and vinegar and pulse in short bursts until the dough starts to come together (which will take a minute or two); the dough will still look crumbly but if you press it between your fingers, it should become smooth. Turn it out onto a clean work surface. Gather and press the dough together to form a unified mass.

Cut the dough in half and put each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Loosely cover the dough with the plastic. Using the wrap as an aid (to avoid warming the dough with your bare hands), shape one half of the dough into a flat disk and the other into a flat rectangle. Wrap each tightly in the plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Remove the disk of dough from the fridge (keep the rectangle refrigerated); if it’s very firm, let it sit at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 15 minutes.

Set the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap sprinkled lightly with flour. Roll it out to a 13-inch round that’s 1/8 inch thick, occasionally loosening and reapplying the plastic wrap.

Remove one piece of plastic and flip the dough into a standard metal 9-inch pie pan (it should be 1-1/4 inches deep and hold 4 cups of liquid). Fit the dough into the pan and carefully peel off the plastic. Trim the dough so there’s a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the overhang underneath itself to create an edge that extends about 1/4 inch beyond the rim of the pie pan. Cover the dough-lined pie plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the rectangle of dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature until it’s pliable enough to roll, 10 to 15 minutes. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11x14-inch or larger rectangle (if it becomes an oval, that’s fine); it should be no more than 1/8 inch thick.

Cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips lengthwise down the rectangle, using a ruler to measure and mark 3/4-inch intervals and to cut a straight edge. If you want a crimped edge on the strips, use a fluted pastry wheel

Stir the fruit filling a few times and scrape it into the pie shell. Arrange five strips of dough evenly over the filling, starting with a long strip for the center. Gently fold back every other strip (the second and the fourth) to a little past the center. Choose another long strip of dough, hold it perpendicular to the other strips, and set it across the center of the pie.

Unfold the two folded strips so they lie flat on top of the perpendicular strip. Now fold back the strips that weren't folded back last time (the first, third, and fifth ones).

Lay a second perpendicular strip of dough about 3/4 inch away from the last one. Unfold the three folded strips. Fold back the original two strips, set a third perpendicular strip of dough 3/4 inch from the last one, and unfold the two strips.

Repeat on the other side with the two remaining strips: fold back alternating strips, lay a strip of dough on top, and unfold. Remember to alternate the strips that are folded back to create a woven effect. Trim the strips to a 1/2-inch overhang. Moisten the underside of each one with water and tuck it under the bottom crust, pressing to make it adhere. Crimp or flute the edges, if you like.

Lightly cover the assembled pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. After 30 minutes of chilling, set an oven rack on the lowest rung and put a foil-lined baking stone or baking sheet on it. Heat the oven to 425°F.

When the pie has chilled for 1 hour, brush the lattice with the milk and sprinkle on the sugar.

Set the pie directly on the baking stone or sheet. Bake until the juices are bubbling all over (the bubbles should be thick and slow near the pan edges), 40 to 55 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, cover the rim with foil or a pie shield. If the lattice starts to darken too much in the last 10 minutes of baking, cover it loosely with a piece of foil that has a vent hole poked in the center.

Let the pie cool on a rack until the juices have thickened, 4 hours.

FILLING: I don't have a recipe exactly. I used frozen berries- mostly blackberry with some blueberry, strawberry, raspberry. I thawed them and collected the juice. I added sugar and cornstarch and salt to the juice and cooked it until it was a little thick, and it finished thickening in the oven.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another Birthday... another Cake!

It is long past time to tell you about this birthday cake. Remember Robb's birthday? Way back in August? Well, on the SAME day, dear Greer enjoyed her birthday, too! Yeah, they share the same birthday. Even weirder is that they have the exact same couch. That might be where the similarities end, but no, there's at least one more thing they have in common... a birthday cake made by me this year!

Greer's husband Stefan (who also had a birthday recently... more to come on that) snuck around and planned a surprise party for a week after the big day. He requested a lemon coconut cake for her. I even knew that she likes tropical flavors, but instead of listening to him, I spent a bunch of time imagining all kinds of other flavors and really spinning my wheels. Finally, (duh) I landed on a lemon cake and a coconut custard filling with a vanilla buttercream with shredded coconut on the sides. I am very glad I listened, she loved it. A lot.

Here she is blowing out candles. Her helper may look familiar- that's Lila who had her own pretty pink birthday cake last December. Here she is helping Robb enjoy his birthday cake, too.

Boy, it was a darn fine cake. The lemon cake recipe is one I found in a cake decorating book. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so spectacular given the source, but WOW it was fantastic. If you'd like the recipe, just shoot me an email.

I had some fun with fondant and made pretty little daisies. They didn't dry before the humidity took hold. They were still pretty, even if flat like starfish by the time Greer got to see her cake. We also enjoyed some smokey pineapple jalapeno sorbet, and a cool creamy mango ice cream. It was a lot of fun to make all these goodies, and super fun to surprise Greer!

Here is the last hunk before it was all greedily eaten up, even Stefan had 2nds. That's saying something when a guy who claims not to give a darn about sweets goes back for more!

Happy birthday Greer!

- Janet

Friday, October 10, 2008

Double Daring Bakers

Red Velvet Cake!!

And, it's not disgusting. Ok, many of you weren't expecting it to be vile... but, I was. The whole idea of eating that much food dye is just foul. The one other time I made a red velvet cake (cup cakes), I spit out the bite I tried to taste. I couldn't get past the knowledge that there was so much "fake" in the food, and it's all I could taste.

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! This one was good, and there really wasn't that much dye. At least, not so much that it tasted like chemical.

The DBers were free to choose their own recipe for this challenge, and as we are following in their footsteps, we (the double DBers who are completing all the past challenge recipes) did the same.

Robb found many recipes on the magical interweb, and the one we chose came from Epicurious.
We didn't add the berries called for, and we did add some coconut and pecans to the middle and top of the cake, but all else was as written. It was a tasty cake. The texture was very nice and moist, with a suggestion of chocolate. With only 1 tablespoon of red food color, it wasn't as neon red as some, and frankly, we liked that very much.


Monday, September 29, 2008

September Daring Bakers Challenge

Oh my! Has it been a whole month without a post!! Well folks, time flies.
There are so many photos of things to share, let's at least get started with the DB challenge and get the blogging ball rolling again. We'll try not to post our triumphs all in one day again and then leave the virtual world for weeks. Although it's hard to complain too much when actual life takes over!

Robb and I loved this challenge. We made Lavash crackers -delicious! If you've never thought of doing it, give it a try. It was easy and so tasty. And I suppose it's a bonus, at least thankfully not a detractor!, they're vegan.

After the dough rises you roll it out- thin thin thin thin thin as you can. Then we sprinkled it with smoked paprika, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, cumin, szechuan peppercorn, and salt. Next time we will add salt over the whole surface and not just leave it in a separate stripe, the bits where there was salt and a spice were the best.

We got to make a vegan dip or spread as well. With the last tomatoes from the garden and some jalapeno peppers, a super delicious and spicy tomato jam was created. My oh my, it was delicious. We had another yummy dip, although not vegan, made of yogurt and lemon and lots of parsley and olive oil. The two together were complimentary. The heat of the tomato jam was cooled by the citrusy herbal dip.

Robb and I have both said we'll be doing these again so prepare to be dazzled the next time there's a shin dig at one of our places. Ha!


Lavash Crackers (with a gluten free option):

Makes one sheet pan:

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).
For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.
For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Secret Baking, part II

There was a moment that I realized blueberries were all around me.  I don't know if it was the four cooking magazines I get or if I was struck by something on the food network or if America's Test Kitchen ran a program.  But, there I was drawn to the blueberries, standing in the Stop 'n' Shop staring at them wondering what can I do with them.  You see, they aren't my favorite fruit, but Michael really, really likes them.  So, being a good partner, I wanted to surprise him with a fresh dessert with one of his favorite ingredients.  

What the hell was I going to do with them?  I thought muffins, too obvious.  I thought, ice cream, too easy.  I thought I've always wanted to make a clafouti.  So, I spent the rest of the day online searching for a recipe that used blueberries instead of the usual cherries.  I went every where.  Finally,  I realized I should just look at my cook books.  I have Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et. al. on my shelf. (Remembering the reason I wanted to start the blog thing was because I met Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame and got to speak with her, I was inspired to follow.)

Duh,  when you are looking for something French, consult with Julia first.  It was right there on page 657.  Her recipe follows.  

My version turned out a bit eggy and not as flan/custardy as I'd hoped. And all my berries floated to the top.  Luckily, I can try it again.  A really simple recipe to use any fruit. Sadly, after all that research and planning, my honey got very ill and couldn't even try a bite.

Clafouti – Julie Child

1 1/4 cup Milk
1/3 cup Sugar
3 Eggs
1 T Vanilla extract
1/8 tsp Salt
1/2 C flour
3 cups Blueberries (or fruit you have)


Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a blender, mix milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour.

Pour a 1/4 inch layer into a lightly greased baking dish and bake for a few minutes until lightly set.

Remove from oven and sprinkle berries over batter then pour in remaining batter.

Bake for 45-60 minutes until puffy and golden brown.

Can use other fruit instead of blueberries. If using a sharper fruit, sprinkle an extra 1/3 cup sugar over the fruit.

Bake Through

Secret Baking, part I

J isn't the only one who's been baking alone -- doesn't that sound sorta dirty? 

The sad part of summer has been our long summer hiatus.  So, we've each taking to baking in secret.  I think this means we have a problem -- if you find AP flour hidden in our toilet tanks, it'll be confirmed. This siren song luring me back to baking had to be heeded. 

After re-re-baking the pretzels from the Double Daring Bakers challenge -- what can I say, it's a yeast bread that I feel confident doing! -- and forgetting to actually take a photo.  I decided that I'd photo all the baking I did.

The first contender is the Cheesecake with Minted Blackberries.  This was the best crust I've ever eaten with a cheesecake.  The almonds add a light, buttery taste -- ok, the butter helps with that too.  The cheesecake is creamy and dense and not overly cream-cheesy.  A real winner.  The only change I'd make is to let the blackberries macerate a bit longer.  They were a bit too firm and didn't have the amount of "drizzle" I'd've liked.  But, this was really worth it.  

This is the cover recipe from Gourmet Magazine August 2008

Cheesecake with Minted Blackberries
Serves 8 to 10 (dessert)
Active time: 30 min start to finish: 6 hr (includes cooling and chilling)
Recipe by Dan Barber

For crust
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped

For filling
3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs

Equipment: a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment
Accompaniments: minted blackberries, corn ice cream

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350ºf with rack in middle. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides, then lightly butter foil.
Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add flour and almonds, mixing until combined and dough begins to clump together.
Press onto bottom of baking pan with floured fingers.

Bake just until a shade darker and edges begin to pull away from pan, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool crust completely in pan.

Make filling and bake:
Reduce oven temperature to 325ºf.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, and flour with cleaned beaters at medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add half-and-half, then eggs 1 at a time, mixing until incorporated. Pour filling into crust.

Bake in a hot water bath until set 1 1/2 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 40 to 45 minutes. (center will set as it cools.) Transfer pan to a rack and cool completely, about 2 hours. Chill, uncovered, at least 2 hours.

Using foil overhang, lift cheesecake from pan and peel off foil before cutting into small rectangles.

Cooks’ note: cheesecake can be chilled (loosely covered once cold) up to 3 days.

Minted blackberries
Makes about 3 cups
Active time:10 min start to finish:40 min

3 cups blackberries (3/4 lb)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Stir together all ingredients in a bowl or airtight container and let macerate at room temperature 30 minutes.

Cooks’ note: blackberries can be chilled (after macerating) up to 2 hours.

Bake Through

Daring Bakers August 2008 Challenge


I love choux paste. It is just so fun to make.

About 20 years ago I made it for the first time. I had talked my way into a job at a bakery and was given some responsibilities I was not completely qualified for. It was a small operation with the manager/chef and me, plus some counter girls. There I was in my first week working alone one afternoon trying to make eclairs. I had seen it done, once, in culinary school by someone across the kitchen. I had a vague memory of how the dough comes together, but I wasn't sure if what I remembered was the student assigned to the task that day fouling it up or if that was the way it was supposed to go. When you are adding the eggs, it looks like it has totally gone to hell, then you keep mixing and it turns into beautiful dough. I'm glad I kept the mixer running while I tried to figure out what to do.

Not that I am some withered and dried up old lady, but youth does have its advantages, doesn't it? I didn't know enough to see how foolish I was to talk my way into this position. Somehow I muddled through for a couple of months and left to start the next year of school.

For this challenge I used a coconut cream filling in the eclair. It turned out like an eggy mounds bar which was a little weird.

Also, since I made these first thing in the morning, I filled one with some scrambled eggs with chives. Delicious!

For the recipe, and to see what some other folks did this month, please see some of the other Daring Bakers sites.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Double Daring Bakers: Chocolate Intensity Cake

Intense? yes
Cake? not really

This flourless chocolate recipe is the least cake like flourless chocolate cake I have ever tried. Usually in these flourless recipes, ground nuts are substituted. Not in this case. It was an intensely chocolate, not overly sweet, eggy custard enhanced with some strong coffee. I sampled it when it was warm from the oven and it was very eggy indeed. I actually liked it, so I knew it wasn't going to please those with a real chocolate sweet tooth. When chilled, the flavor was still intense, a little less eggy, and it had a really dense smooth pudding texture. The coffee I used was an orange scented espresso (undrinkable btw- thanks nespresso!), and you could just get a hint of it, which was nice in this application. I cut out individual circles with a 3 inch round cutter and spread a little raspberry puree and drizzled some ganache on top. The raspberry added sweetness and a tart contrast to the dense pudding.


Chocolate Intensity from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book Makes one 9-inch cake

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 62% cocoa), finely chopped
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brewed coffee
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a parchment round and butter the parchment. (If you're using a pan with a removable bottom like a springform, make sure to wrap the pan with 2 or 3 layers of foil.)

Place chopped chocolate in a large bowl.
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir butter, sugar and coffee until the butter is melted and mixture is boiling. Pour the hot mixture over your chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs vigorously until blended. Whisk in the vanilla and salt. Slowly add about 3/4 cup hot chocolate mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly. (Tempering the eggs with a little bit of the hot chocolate mixture will prevent "scrambled eggs" when combining the two mixtures.) Add the egg mixture to the hot chocolate mixture and whisk to combine well.

Strain the batter through a sieve (to catch any cooked egg bits) and then pour batter into prepared pan. Set cake pan in a large roasting pan and fill the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the center is shiny and set but still a bit jiggly. Transfer cake pan to a cooling rack and cool for 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a cardboard round on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. Remove pan and carefully remove the parchment paper. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours before glazing with chocolate glaze.

Bittersweet Ganache
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth. Gently stir in the vanilla. Transfer glaze to a small bowl and cover the surface of the glaze with plastic wrap and let cool for 5 minutes at room temperature before using.

To glaze the cake:
Place the chilled cake, still on the cake round, on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Slowly pour the hot glaze onto the center of the cake. Smooth the glaze over the top and sides, letting the excess drip onto the baking sheet.

Scrape the extra glaze from the baking sheet and put it in a small ziploc bag. Seal the bag and cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners. Gently squeeze the bag over the top of the cake to drizzle the glaze in a decorative pattern. Refrigerate the cake at least one hour before serving.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guess who had a big birthday??

Robb, that's who!! He turned 40 and had a pretty terrific surprise party put together by his partner, Michael.
Who knew there was
a decent place to go here in Peekskill?? Henry's on Hudson had been reported to be a real s&#t hole. It's a motel restaurant so expectations were low to boot. But it was shockingly good! The food and beer selection was good, the service was excellent, and no one could complain about gorgeous views of the Hudson river at sunset.
My contribution to this monumental event was, naturally, a birthday cake. What to make for Robb... It has to be special, that's a given. I don't want for him to "know" all the elements. Uh, but I can't remember what he doesn't fancy. I'm sure that he's not fond of coconut, but what else... I don't want it to be too predictable...not just chocolate... Ok here goes!

It's a variation on a Baumtorte. This is not a widely known cake (at least here in the U.S.). It's not one that you are likely to see done commercially, either. The labor is a killer, although I bet it wouldn't be that hard to mechanize production. It's a cake that gets baked, broiled really, in thin layers one at a time, so that the end result is a short cake with tons of layers that looks like a cross section of a tree trunk. The almond paste batter gets spread into a very thin layer and broiled until its set, every other layer gets brushed with apricot and dusted with ground pistachios.
In honor of Robb's 40 years, I thought it appropriate to make it with 40 layers. I counted the cake batter layers. A second layer had 29, figuring that's the age many of us wish to stay in perpetuity.

The normal Baumtorte would be cov
ered in Apricot and glazed with chocolate. It's tapered sides then covered with ground pistachio. To create a little more drama with this tiered version, I made an Apricot Silk Meringue Buttercream- our favorite from the cake bible (p. 239) with creme Anglaise, Italian meringue, butter, and apricot puree ( p. 335).

My piping skills are im
proving, and even though I thought it would be smashing to have some chocolate scroll work piped on the pale orange frosting, I decided not to ruin the cake! Instead, I recycled something we had done before. Robb and I liked it so well on the Strawberry Maria (CB p. 184), that along with the buttercream replay I didn't think he'd mind seeing it.

I experimented with some candy making molds, too. The little cordial cups came out pretty well and I liked the marbled look of the white and dark chocolate. I filled them with the frosting, although some apricot puree topped with frosting would have been better. Live and learn, right?

Robb's gifts there are an Easy Bake oven- yes they still make them- and some extra cake mix and tools to go whit it. My Dad always said it made a perfectly edible cake, hopefully we'll see sometime soon.

Lots of great folks were at his party, including Robb's friend Rob who was kind enough to share some of the photos he
took at the event. Thanks Rob!

To be fair, I'll add a picture that Rob shot of me at the party too. I'm no spring chicken either, my 40th is only 1 month away!

Happy birthday!

P.S. If you're dying for the recipe to the cake, just send me an email. Or google for it, I found little to no variation in recipes for it.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Double Daring Bakers Croissants!!

Wowee!! These are the real deal.

After the success with the laminated danish dough of June's challenge, I felt able to tackle croissants. I will confess that I felt bolstered by my experience with making them in culinary school as well. Yes, that was a zillion years ago, in another life time, in a professional kitchen, with a professional pastry chef guiding the process... but that did give me confidence.
After you make the dough, roll out a rectangle.

Then fold in into thirds, chill. Repeat 4 times. This is the part that produces the wonderful layers. You want to keep the butter solid, so that when it melts in the oven the water in the butter produces steam and lifts the layers of dough into wonderfully flaky sheets.

Here you can see my flaw. I did not roll out the dough thinly enough. While proofing, the croissants expanded and the shape changed fairly severely. There was too much vertical expansion relative to the width of the pastry. This did NOT affect the deliciousness in any way.

I hope that I can give you confidence to give these a try. It is not difficult, really. True, there are a bunch of steps and it takes time to complete. However, the hands on time is so incredibly minimal it is hardly any work at all. And, even if the shape doesn't turn out the way you intend, the flavor and texture is completely divine. These rival my memory of breakfasts in France on a high school trip, and are certainly the best I've ever had in the U.S.

These are absolutely fantastic and I am looking forward to making them again. Please come and visit us so I have an excuse to make them for breakfast!


I have left Veronica's notes in the recipe. I found some of them to be helpful- esp. regarding dividing the dough in half.


¾ cup non-fat milk (6 oz/150 ml)

1 tbsp active dry yeast (15ml)

1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (6 ¼ oz/175g)


1 tbsp + 1 tsp active dry yeast (20ml)

1 ¾ cup whole milk (14 oz/425 ml)

6 cups all purpose flour (28 oz/800g)

1/3 cup sugar (2 ½ oz/70g)

1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt (20 ml)

1 tbsp unsalted butter (15ml)

Roll-in butter:

2 ¾ cup unsalted butter (22 oz/625g)

Egg wash:

4 large egg yolks 2 oz/60 ml

¼ cup heavy cream

pinch salt

To Make the Preferment:

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. (Veronica’s Note: Being paranoid, I made two preferments. One ended up like a batter, and the other was like dough. I decided to use the one that looked like dough because the other one got stuck to the bowl.)

To Make the Dough:

First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated. (Veronica’s Note: I don’t know what I did, but my milk never incorporated into the dough. I might have over- kneaded the preferment, as it became a smooth elastic mass; maybe that’s why the milk couldn’t be absorbed. Or maybe when they said slowly add the milk they really meant S-L-O-W-L-Y.)

Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next. (Veronica’s Note: Easier said than done. My mixer was heaving and hawing but it got through the 3 minutes without stalling. Uh-oh, some of the butter got stuck to the ingredient bowl…wonder if that will be a problem.)

Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough, which will result in a tough croissant that also turns stale more quickly. Remember, too, you will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing you do to achieve that goal, the better. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1-½ hours. (Veronica’s Note. Oh boy, I know the instructions said smooth and elastic and that was what I had. But the other girls said their dough was not smooth. Another case of over-kneading? Crap!)

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours. (Veronica’s Note: Make sure that there will be room for the dough to rise. The other ladies put theirs in Ziploc; I had mine in polyvinyl wrap, and it was busting out of its seams after 6 hours.)

To Make the Roll-in butter:

About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough, put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not resolidify. (Veronica’s Note: Now I did not read the malleable part at first and was very frustrated getting my mixer to whip the butter that was straight out of the refrigerator. I had to pound the butter a little with my rolling pin- that worked phenomenally. It is very important that there be no lumps left in the butter, or it is going to push through the dough as you laminate. I took Ivonne’s suggestion and split my dough in half.)

Laminating the dough:

Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal in the plaque. (Veronica’s Note: Because I have only half a dough, I rolled it out to 14x6. It was a lot more manageable, especially for short people like me!)

Second turn:

Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1 ½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or “turn”. (Veronica’s Note: Crap! I think I did over- knead the dough! This dang thing is hard to roll out! )

Third turn:

Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using. (Veronica’s Note:. Again taking Ivonne’s lead, I did an extra 4th turn to fully laminate the butter.)

Making the croissant:

When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base. (Veronica’s Note:. Crap, crap, crap! I COULD NOT roll out this dough! It is fighting me every inch of the way and I feel like I’m getting carpal tunnel just doing this. I’m really tired now. Guess we will just have humongous croissants after all. Or as Brilynn so aptly put it , croissants on steroids!)

Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges. (Veronica’s Note: At this point, my hands and arms are dead; I just cut the dough by eyeballing the required triangle. It did not turn out too bad until I was going to bake it. I have croissants of all sizes. “Great Veronica, did it not occur to you that they will cook unevenly?” my inner voice said. Well too late. I am just going to run with this. )

As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced, on the prepared half-sheet pan. When all the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F. A bit cooler or warmer is all right, as long as the temperature is not warm enough to melt the layers of butter in the dough, which would yield greasy pastries. Cooler is preferable and will increase the rising time and with it the flavor development. For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.

During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly “firm” and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.(Veronica’s Note: Just follow this baking instructions. They are relatively goof-proof unless you are me.)

About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.

Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through. (Veronica’s Note: I forgot to do the “pick-up” test and some of my croissants, especially the heavier ones, were really weighty. Also, there was a pool of butter that developed in the pan. Ivonne and Peabody both acknowledge that this is expected. I think mine was a bit excessive, though. How about some fried croissants?!)

Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daring Bakers July 2008 Challenge

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream From Great Cakes by Carole Walter (We also love, love, love her Pies and Tarts book- see favorite links)

Another terrific challenge with lots of recipes within one challenge: cake, buttercream, meringue, praline paste, caramel, syrup, whipped cream...

We got to make a Swiss meringue buttercream which we love almost as much as the Italian meringue buttercream in terms of texture, and we may like it even more due to the ease of making it. It is made even more delicious in this recipe with the addition of praline paste. Yum! We added some Frangelico just to make sure it was super nutty- and it was!

The filling is buttercream and whipped cream. The cake itself is made with ground toasted hazelnuts and is super, super good. I will be thinking of opportunities to make just the layer of cake in the future. It is delightful in texture and the toasty hazelnut flavor is dynamite. Maybe the plain cake layer with some creme fraiche and raspberries, or juicy peaches? Mmmm.

We added a layer of buttercream as a crumb coat even though the recipe called for apricot glaze to seal the whole thing up. #1: I didn't have any apricot jam (oops!), and #2 I really liked the buttercream and wanted more! The stripe between the top cake layer and the chocolate isn't that gorgeous, but if you didn't know it wasn't supposed to be that way, it's probably not noticeable.

The chocolate glaze was very pretty. We may finally have learned to stop poking at it and let gravity do its job- we were rewarded with a satiny smooth top. Our piping needs improvement, as always! I like the frilly ruffle that the leaf tip produces, but a bit of praline paste got clogged in the tip. I had only a #69 or #70, not a #114 which may have been large enough to stay unclogged. But, piping skills are a work in progress for us, getting better each time.

This cake was really delicious. K says it may be the best we've made, and another taster swooned as she said this will be my wedding cake! It was really that good. There are a lot of individual components to the cake as you can see in the recipe below. I made the cake layer and froze it until I had the time to put it all together. I also had some hard caramel from a previous recipe- anyone remember the caramel cage decoration? I felt rewarded for being a "saver" when I realized I didn't have to make any more caramel. If you're going to make this one, you might do some of the steps ahead of time so it's not quite so time consuming.


Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream From Great Cakes by Carole Walter

1 Filbert Gateau
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Gateau

Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using or in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture.

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Watermelon Lemonade

I saw this recipe in the July 2008 Everyday Food and found my self wondering what the brown sugar added to the recipe. How would that taste? So I decided to make it for the Fourth of July Parade Party that M & I have. Well, we were going to have. It seems that they change the parade route every other year and this year, it didn't go by our house. There is always next year. Luckily, it goes by J & K's house the opposite year! 

This pink lemonade was lightly watermelony and slightly tangy from the lemon. The brown sugar added an interesting depth and fullness of flavor. M said, "There are so many tastes going on. And they all work." I had to agree.

My only change I'd make for this recipe is to cut back on the sugar. I think that I'd use a 1/4 cup to muddle and add a simple syrup if it was needed. Adding syrup at the end gives you a better way to make adjustments depending on your fruit's sweetness.

I learned that when you don't have light brown sugar, you can substitute 1/2 white sugar and 1/2 dark brown sugar.  Just something I thought I'd pass on.

Watermelon Lemonade
Everyday Food - July 2008

2 lemons, quartered
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 medium seedless watermelon (about 9 pounds), rind removed, flesh cut into chunks
1 cup vodka (optional)

Squeeze lemons into a large pitcher; add squeezed lemon quarters. Add mint and sugar; mash with a wooden spoon until mint is bruised and sugar is dissolved.

In a blender, puree watermelon in batches until smooth; pour through a fine-mesh sieve into pitcher (you should have about 8 cups of juice). Stir to combine. (Refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days.) Add vodka, if using; serve over ice.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Double Daring Bakers Biscotti

Another "making up for lost time" recipe. A bunch of us Daring Bakers are doing the monthly recipes that occurred before we joined the group. We are on the second recipe: Chocolate Toffee Biscotti (and a cinnamon biscotti variation). The formulas were originally from a Dorie Greenspan book and have been modified (or not?). I find that there are many versions of recipes floating around in cyberspace regarding the past challenges. It's like a game of telephone- you pass the info from one to another and changes get made.

In any case, these are not my favorite biscotti. They are quite flavorful, though a bit sweet, and they don't store very well. Some of you are saying, what do you mean store? #1 They get eaten, and possibly #2 Aren't they hard to begin with? Well, yes they do get eaten, but not as rapidly in my house as some baked goods. I like to have them for an occasional treat with a cup of coffee. I know, I know, that's a shocking level of never before witnessed restraint on my part. More importantly to me, therefore, is the stale quality after just one day. These recipes, are in my opinion, more a dried out cookie posing as biscotti, than what I think of as biscotti. I could be completely out to lunch, so don't take my comments personally if you really love these cookies.

I much prefer a biscotti by Maida Heatter, in her Best Desserts Book Ever, published in 1990. The difference is the butter. Hers have none. They are a crisp biscotti, not a stale sweet cookie. I know for sure that I am in the minority on this. People like sweet, especially with coffee. In my opinion, if you need to add sugar and whipped cream and caramel and chocolate and vanilla syrup to your coffee, and choke it down with a frosted sugary treat, you don't actually like coffee. Don't get me started... hmmm, too late?

I am going to include both recipes so you can make your own decision, should you decide to make them. The biscotti cioccolato from Maida have a definite spice and incredible intensity. They are crisp and wonderful. If you are making some biscotti that will be stored, I highly recommend these. If you are interested in making sweet cookies with chocolate chips, nuts and toffee pieces to eat right away, the Daring Bakers' recipe is really good. It's quite flavorful, and straightforward to make.

Maybe in another installment I'll share my thoughts on the orange nut cinnamon biscotti. For now, here are the chocolate recipes.

Enjoy them both!

Chocolate Toffee Biscotti

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 TBS. instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 TBS.) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. chopped almonds, blanched or unblanched
1 c toffee peices
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 3/4 c. store-bought mini chocolate chips
Sugar for dusting

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes; the mixture may be crumbly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don't worry if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until a dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate, then turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead in any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into 12 inch long logs. Flatten both logs with the palm of your hand so that they are 1/2 to 1 inch high, about 2 inches across and sort of rectangular, then carefully lift the logs onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle each log with a little sugar.

Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are just slightly firm. The logs will spread and crack - and that's just fine. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, put it on a cooling rack and cool the logs for about 20 minutes. (Leave the oven on.)

Working with one log at a time, using a long serrated knife, cut each log into slices between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick. Stand the slices up on the baking sheet - you'll have an army of biscotti - and bake the cookies again, this time for just 10 minutes.

Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool. Makes about 40 cookies.

Biscotti Cioccolato from Maida Heatter's Best Desserts Book Ever

7 oz. whole unblanched almonds, skins on
3 eggs
½ c light brown sugar
1 t vanilla
½ t almond extract or bitter almond extract
2 c sifted unbleached flour
1 ½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 ¼ t white pepper
1 ¼ t ginger
1/3 c Dutch-process cocoa
2 T instant espresso powder (Medaglia D’oro)
½ c sugar
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, grated *

Toast the almonds at 375º for about 13 minutes. Cool. Turn oven down to 300º. Mix eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, ginger, cocoa, espresso and sugar. Put chocolate in food processor and add about ½ c of dry ingredients and process until the chocolate is fine and powdery. Add this chocolate mixture and eggs to dry ingredients in large mixer bowl. Mix, and add the nuts.

Form into loaves about 10“ long, 3“ wide, and ½ to ¾ “ high and bake on foil lined cookie sheets at 300º for about 50 minutes. Work on a floured surface and brush off any excess flour before baking. Reverse sheets top to bottom half way through.

Slice loaves into cookies about 2/3 to ¾” wide, can be as long as 8” if sharp enough angle. Good to start with serrated and finish with sharp straight edge. Bake again at 275º for 35 to 45 minutes.

* I like to use cocoa powder for the grated chocolate. Substitute 1T +1 ¾ t cocoa, 1 T + ½ t sugar, 1 ½ t unsalted butter for every ounce of semisweet chocolate.

Also, I like to cut the nuts instead of leaving them whole- much easier to slice the cookies.

And, leaving the sliced cookies in the oven over night works great. Turn oven off and there is enough heat left to crisp them without browning the sliced edges.