Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Good Charlotte, An Angel

Well, as usual, it all begins with the next recipe in the Cake Bible. This time, it started on page 120 the Genoise Classique. Boy that sounded pretty. The most complicated thing about this recipe was learning how to pronounce "beurre noisette" (according to dictionary.com: bur nwah-zet" . I can't get the midwestern out of my voice for the first word.

From the Genoise Classique, we move on to CB pg 179 and the Chocolate Chip Charlotte. This is photographed in the book, which I find is a great help. Sorta like a puzzle box having the picture on it so I know what I'm supposed to be making. Unlike a puzzle, I rarely get it exactly right in baking. But looking at the picture at the top, you have to say it looks mighty fine.
We also have to make one of our favorite frostings: Ganache (pg 279). This is so easy. Chop the chocolate and add it to warmed cream. Stir. Damn, it's easy and it's good!

We make a syrup, it's a part of the original Genoise recipe. Then, the fun whipped cream with nuts, chopped chocolate (in our case, mini morsels) and a touch of gelatin.

Nothing in any of these recipes was difficult, and all of the instructions up to the 6th step of the Charlotte were easy to follow.

At step 6, Houston we had a problem. Ok, it wasn't nearly as bad as being trapped in space until you possibly burn upon rentry. But there was a moment when I thought, "How the Hell does this actually work?"

After J cut the edges to form a point to keep the top from being a wad of cake dough, I was "supposed" to lay them in the bowl with the chocolate facing out and the points all meeting at the bottom of the bowl. I have to say that I'm more of a bull in the China shop sort. I barrelled on through, hoping that at some point, it would all make sense.
The trouble is I can't barrel through and chat and when J said, "It's gotten quiet in here, it's starting to be work." I realized she was right and all that was missing was my tongue sticking out as I tried to write. Growing up I always thought of myself as Charlie Brown. It seemed to me that everyone was so mean to him, especially when he tried to do something good and bring home that sad under loved Christmas tree. Then, when Linus gets up and recites the real meaning of Christmas... I need a hanky.

The Chocolate Charlotte was not, however, hanky inducing. It came together with a bit of
barreling through and a pause, and a bit of a redo, but it turned out quite nice. About half way through (ok, about an hour into our 3.5 hour baking session), we thought we'd not finish the charlotte until next week. So, we made the Chocolate Lover's Angel Food Cake (pg 160). J had made it before and thought it would be a quick one to whip up and that way we'd have something to show for our day's work.

Well, here it is....
Somehow, we spent the next hour and a half (while the Angel Food cake cooled and the ganache cooled on the genoise) looking at blogs. Thanks everyone for your comments on the Lemon Meringue Pie entry. This Daring Bakers thing could get awfully addictive. We looked at pictures from J's Mom and her homemade Twinkies, made from an actual Twinkie baking kit, complete with a plastic Twinkie the Kid!

We got to look at J's dad's wonderful baguettes. Ok, that sounds a bit dirty, (you can stop giggling now). There is something about seeing someone create a thing of beauty, whether it be a Twinkie, a baguette, or variations on a theme like the lemon meringue pies to inspire you. John's photos inspired us so much that when we get back together in two weeks, we are going to make those baguettes. They are from the latest Fine Cooking issue, to which we all three subscribe. The link takes you to a picture and a video of how to shape the loaves, although the recipe is available only through a subscription. An additional subscription even for those of us who pay dearly for a hard copy subscription every year. No, we didn't have our complaint fall on deaf ears at Taunton Publishing or anything, really. Don't get us started.

I am away next week on baking day, heading to North Carolina for to meet with folks at a salon outside of Charlotte. I can hardly wait, I've never been to Charlotte. (Seemed fitting to bring up since we made a Charlotte and I'm going to Charlotte.)

See you soon.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Daring Bakers January 2008 Challenge

Lemon Meringue Pie!!!
This is a lemon meringue tartlet, but you get the idea.

This month the Daring Bakers have all made the LMP, recipe from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver, recipe below. Robb and I diligently followed every instruction, including the bizarre step of boiling water and then letting is "rest" for 5 minutes. Really, if someone can explain that, please enlighten us. If it's to achieve a certain temperature, you'd think that would be the instruction. Maybe it's for using water straight from the river and we need to make sure all the critters are killed? We enjoyed wondering about this.

There were lots of posts on the DB private site (see recent explanation of what the DB group is all about) about difficulty with the crust, trouble with filling, and frustration with meringue as the month went along. Many DBers reported smooth sailing, too. Robb and I wanted to make extra sure that we followed every step, figuring that deviations could cause chaos for our LMP.

Since making the crust in the food processor makes it really easy to add way too much water, we were careful to measure precisely, and we had very cold (frozen) butter, and most importantly we checked the crumbly mixture as we went along. We found that it would hold together before all the water was added. This was also before it pulled from the side of the bowl as suggested in the instruction. For the folks who ended up with shrunken or tough or wet crusts, I wonder if it was due to being overworked or over watered using the food processor method.

The filling, aside from the step about letting the boiled water rest, was the usual cornstarch variety. Robb was the designated stirrer and wondered if the reports of runny filling might have stemmed from getting the filling hot, but not letting it boil. Cornstarch won't do it's job of thickening without coming to a boil. He stirred and stirred and produced a smooth and thick filling with a lovely pale yellow color and sweet lemony flavor. We also made our friend Kathy's recipe of yummy lemon filling so we could compare the two- remember we are binge bakers/cooks after all. Her recipe is the condensed milk version and is a very velvety and creamy filling.

The meringue is the standard meringue pie recipe of egg whites whipped with sugar and then baked so that inevitably the meringue weeps. We did make this version, but we also made our favorite Italian brown sugar meringue. Mix 1 1/2 c C&H brown sugar and 1/2 c water- cook to 246 degrees F. Beat 6 egg whites and 3/4 t cream of tartar until they have just started to increase in volume and drizzle in the sugar syrup. Beat until cool. This is Brigid Callinan's recipe as it was published in Fine Cooking magazine issue #38, and is also available at Fine Cooking on-line for free. The brand of brown sugar does matter- see the very interesting sidebar that accompanies the recipe for a discussion. Back in September, you may remember we wrote about our friend who brought us some of the treasured C&H brand brown sugar all the way back from Oregon so we could experiment with lemon meringue pies. Thanks again Jessica! We enjoyed it just as much this time. It's wonderful stuff. It tastes great, and you don't have to bake it which gets it dried out and weepy! You just have to make sure to get the sugar syrup up to the right temperature. I got impatient one time and didn't get it hot enough and it didn't turn out as voluminous and didn't hold up as well. Lesson learned.

With our two fillings and two meringues, some raspberry sauce, green food coloring, and various shapes of pastry, we had a great time. In addition to the challenge tartlet, we made a couple of slices- just triangles of pastry with a little fold at one end for the crust. We liked those a lot, we felt very clever. With the challenge completed, we went to town and had a lot of fun. It was a lot like decorating easter eggs, each item was slightly different. Click on any of the pics. for a larger view.

the ensemble

challenge tart & "slice"

brown sugar meringue lattice "slice", napoleon with raspberry sauce

lemon raspberry sunrise with brown sugar meringue
brown sugar meringue island in a sea of lemon
lemon island in a sea of foamy white meringue

Wanda’s Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver, 2002

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:

¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces

2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour

¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar

¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt

cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:

2 cups (475 mL) water

1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar

½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch

5 egg yolks, beaten

¼ cup (60 mL) butter

¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:

5 egg whites, room temperature

½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar

¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt

½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract

¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Daring Bakers

Ok, finally a slightly long-winded explanation.

A while back Robb and I saw that someone we didn't know had posted a comment on the blog. (BTW, to all our "known" readers- post comments!!! Let us know you are reading, liking?, not liking, etc.) Julius at Occasional Baker left us a message and we were so surprised and curious. At first, it felt like a stranger had peeked into our underwear drawers or something. But, then we realized how cool it was that some guy in Vancouver, BC was checking us out. I don't think either of us had considered that someone outside the several dozen friends and family we told about this project would ever be reading our blog. For those of you (Alexis!) who know how private I can be, you can imagine the consideration that now goes into every sentence I type! I'm not saying it makes it better, just that I think about how public it is.

We checked out Julius' blog and found much nicer pictures and design than ours and have been inspired to improve what we're doing. He continues to comment occasionally and we remember to check out his site periodically to see what he has going on, and this is where I discovered the Daring Baker's logo a few months ago and began to investigate. Not being totally connected with this whole food bloggers world, I found it confusing to figure out what the group is. It seems a bit like a secret society even though the organizer I contacted was adamant that it's not, despite the members only blog, and recipe secrecy that is required...

The group was started by a couple of people who decided to make the same recipe individually and then write about it on their blogs. They started with pretzels and moved to biscotti. As their readers learned about these "challenges" they joined in too, and the group grew. You can see how fun this would be, right? Everyone is using the same recipe. Then, due to interpretation, technique, skill, equipment, ingredients, you name it, there are different results. These differences aren't systematic or necessarily that large, but the experimenter in me is definitely drawn to this type of project.

Eventually the group was named and a blog was was created for members where questions and advice gets posted about the month's recipe and other baking things. For those of you (Mom) new to the world of the "interweb", that's what they call an on-line community. There is a lot of encouragement and advice offered. As with many on-line groups, many people just read what everyone else is writing and never post anything themselves, these folks are known as lurkers. Some of you are lurking right now on this blog.

What you, as nonmembers (that is until you join) get to see is the Daring Bakers blogroll, (also under our favorite links) which is a list of each member's first name and a link to his or her website, and there is a little bit of info on the history of the group and how to join. That's really all there is for an outsider to see, hence my puzzlement during my search for info on the group and what they make, and how it works, etc. I thought all I was finding was some kind of index and that surely there must be more. There is more, but that's the secretive part of this non-secret group.

Each month, all the members- there are hundreds now- make the same recipe and then post pictures and write about it on the same day/days of the month. Last month, the recipe was the yule log, and we all posted about it on either Dec 22 or Dec 23. In order to see all the different yule logs that the hundreds of members made, you would use the Daring Bakers blogroll and click on each person's link and look for the post about the yule log. Some of the members have their blogs organized so that it is easy to find the DB posts, others don't. I also discovered that not everyone actually participates every month. Some members are very seasoned bakers- see Helene at Tartlette for example. She has obviously been at it for a while, and we love her work. Others like Julius are very talented and creative and are beautifully sharing their experience of learning how to do new things - see his expert discussion of meringue this month. Members definitely have a very wide range of ability and styles. There were several panicked posts regarding curdled or otherwise failing butter cream for last month's yule log, and there were tons of replies and helpful advice. The mix of experience, questions and support is really cool. It is the DARING bakers after all, and we expect to be pushed beyond our experience and ability and have some failures and need advice, and hopefully learn how to do lots of new things.

I haven't been to all the members sites, I wonder if I ever will get to them all? There were 93 new members in the month that I joined alone, and it just keeps going. This month's post will hit the news stands on January 28th. It's a secret until then...

How's that for suspense?

Good Food, Good Friends, Good Gosh, Let's Eat

"That was the best that we've eaten from this book." M said to me after he'd done all the dishes following our crepe gathering. (That's right, he did all the dishes. I do so love him.) There were a bunch of people over at my place to sample crepes on Monday January 21, Martin Luther King Jr. day since most of us had it off or were going to work later in the day.

11 people gathered around our dining room table. There is something in my genetic code that stresses that I should cook for lots of people. I think that J feels the same way. Why else would we cook 5 recipes of crepes all in one fell swoop? (Shakespeare either created that phrase or made it popular in Macbeth, 1605, who knew? The people at www.phrases.org.uk did.)

The crepe section of RLB's Cake Bible -- actually there isn't really a section, but they are all placed in the same chapter -- starts on page 110 and proceeds through page 118, there are Chantilly Crepes. The Crepes Suzette, Lemon Crepes Suzette, Lemon Creme Illusion Crepes all start with one recipe of the Chantilly Crepes. The Chocolate Velour Crepes with Orange-Apricot Sauce are unto themselves as they are a chocolate batter, well, duh.

Rule #1 Measure twice, cut once. Important in carpentry and equally important in baking. Originally we were going to quadruple the recipe for Chantilly Crepes. Luckily we checked to see if the blender would hold that much. It doesn't. So we only doubled it. Again, as in the past, doubling is so much easier than halving a recipe.

It never occurred to me to use corn starch for anything other than sitting in the cupboard taking up space, waiting to be used in gravies, the occasional Chinese style sauce or lemon meringue pie. Who knew it could be so useful.

The Chantillly Crepe is one of my favorite types of batter. Put all ingredients into a blender, blend and you're done.

I've never made crepes before. I'd always thought I wasn't too good with pancakes, but given Carb Fest '08, and this crepe extravaganza, I realized that I'm pretty good at crepes. Each and every one of the Chantilly Crepes ended up being perfect. I didn't have to throw out the first one, it was great. (A bit too much butter in the pan, but hey, it looked good and really after all the butter cream we've consumed, what's a touch more butter really going to do?) Light and lacy, I did have to fight my desire to create pancake style or Swedish pancake style crepes. While some may have been too thick, they were all firmly in the crepe family.
Pan shot - a thing of beauty.....

This is the staging area, just before the
pan sauces appear and all Hell breaks loose.
You try flambeing in public. That is legal isn't it?

The Crepes Suzette were light and airy, and the sauces, both the traditional orange, and the lemon (both pictured below) were exceptional. As K said, "I can see why these are so popular".

(Orange) Crepes Suzette

(Lemon) Crepes Suzette

The Lemon Creme Illusion were the most amazing things. You create the crepes and fill them with the Lemon Creme Illusion (RLB pg 266). It's a Light Italian Meringue and lemon curd. It is a creme that is a bit loose. More like a sauce in its own right. Once filled, the crepes are placed in an oven and baked until they are lightly golden, puffy and way delicious. A light sprinkling of powdered sugar was all that was necessary.

Lemon Illusion Crepes

Sadly, none of the Chocolate photos came out. And, by the time we realized this, all of them were gone. The Choclate Velour Crepes with Orange -Apricot Sauce were changed a bit in the making of them. We realized, about half way through the creation of the crepes that neither of us had picked up the apricot preserves. You can almost hear my shrill, panicky tones, "Quick what are we going to do? The people will be arriving soon. Can we send K out to get some? Have someone bring it with them?" Janet, ever the calm one in the kitchen said, "Hey, I brought some of the Raspberry sauce that RLB has had us make for previous recipes." (It is by far our favorite sauce we've made in this whole experiment -- so much so, that we've made it three times.) So, we substituted the raspberries for the Apricot, because both J and I like raspberry and chocolate together, and because that's what we had!

The chocolate crepes were a bit trickier to cook than their Chantilly counterparts. But again, these crepes are a dream to make. You can see then filled and folded just before saucing, above. The fuss was really in the timing. This time, J and I decided that we'd start earlier so our hungry guests don't have to wait too long to get to the table. At carb fest, we were off by a lot. With the crepe party, we were only off by 1/2 an hour. Each time we'll get closer to the exact timing. And, that is really my major kitchen flaw, timing. Either the food is ready way too early and cold or it's not ready in time and people are chewing off their own arms in hunger. This time, luckily no arms were chewed during the making of this meal.

After it was all served, Santiago (our infant brunch guest) had eaten an entire crepe, and The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz was being finsihed, J turned to me and said, "You know, I really did like the chocolate crepes best."
Now that is noteworthy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Porcine Delight!!

The magical animal provides so many delicious options.

For Christmas, my dear friend Dan sent me some fresh pork belly (and a rack of spare ribs-to be discussed another time). Some of you are saying, "What do you mean he sent you pork belly for Christmas?!" "Is that a good gift?" "How weird!"

It's not as strange as the Christmas about 15 years ago when my Dad sent 5 lbs. of slab (uncut) bacon and a toothbrush. He had run across some mention of a great kind of bacon and knew I had access to a meat slicer at my restaurant job. Yes, it was a large amount of bacon, but it was very good. Now, the toothbrush is another story. It was actually art, not just a toothbrush, but I did use it as my toothbrush. After opening that box of goodies I feel prepared for anything that comes my way.

We've all seen it. Fresh pork side or belly is the cut that is smoked and made into bacon. Not many of us know how wonderful it is in its unsmoked or uncured form. It is absolutely fantastic and amazing, if you aren't squeemish about fat. The first time (and the only time until now) I had it was 5 years ago at a very memorable dinner at Herbsaint in New Orleans. It was snowy white and mostly fat- so very flavorful although some at the table weren't too keen to eat a forkful and managed to dissect the thin layer of meat out of it. The package that Dan sent looked very much like what I was expecting- he did call first to see if I was interested in having this food project, so I knew it was coming. It came from The Flying Pig Farm in Shushan NY. They raise heritage breeds of hogs, meat supposedly unlike the more common breeds we get at the regular grocery and butcher shops. I say supposedly, because I haven't actually had the meat, at least not a cut like a chop, roast, etc. that I am more familiar with.

So, how the heck do you cook a big slab of tasty fat? You braise it. That was a little bit of a surprise for me. I was initially concerned with ending up with a thin strip of meat in a pool of rendered fat. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that some fat would render and the connective tissue would soften, just like cooking a shank or other cut suitable for braising. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and it was wonderful.

Rough recipe:
Salt and pepper the belly.
Brown it.
In the same pan brown some mire poix and garlic.
Deglaze with cider/beer/stock.
Season the liquid- I used fennel seeds, thyme, tomatoes, and smoked crushed red pepper.
Add belly back to the pan, liquid should almost top it.
2 hours at 350 should result in a crisp top and tender meat.
To make a tasty sauce, strain and defat the pan liquid and reduce it. I served it with cheesy grits and a mix of black eyed peas, collard greens, and okra in a green pepper sauce, and corn bread.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kevin's Birthday

The fantastic Mr. Fisher enjoyed his birthday on January 5th. I surprised him with one of his favorite cakes on Friday the 4th. His favorites, now that all of you are wondering, are Red Velvet, Carrot, and German Chocolate. I think he favors the frosting more than the actual cake in all of those, but then who doesn't love cream cheese frosting and the gooey sticky sweet nutty yumminess of the coconut pecan frosting?

I confess that I wasn't planning to make a cake for K, but I was talking to my Mother that Friday afternoon and she said so plainly that he ought to have a birthday cake, that I followed her instruction. I would not describe my mother as particularly opinionated, certainly not bossy or pushy (I know, then where did I get it?). When she puts her foot down, you sit up and take notice. For example, a few months ago we made the cheesecake from the CB and didn't like it. My mother commented to us, and I am quoting her "a cheesecake must have at least 2 1/2 pounds of cream cheese, and sour cream belongs on top, not in it." She would know, having made hundreds of cheesecakes in her time. Really, hundreds. I won't be fooling around with cheesecake recipes that do not meet her criteria. You notice such a strong pronouncement from a woman who is usually pretty laid back. So, when she said in her matter of fact voice that I should make K a birthday cake, I listened.

I ran through the list of K's favorites and took inventory to see what was possible. No cream cheese in the house so I turned to the chocolate. Coconut? Check. Pecans? Check. Sweet Chocolate? No, but why not bittersweet? I made the substitution figuring that this is one cake where less sweetness would probably not be noticed and hoped that the bittersweet wouldn't overpower.

That was a slightly risky move since the intended recipient of this cake likes sweet, but it turned out just fine. He thought the chocolate flavor of the cake was just right and liked the soft and light texture of the cake. The frosting was delicious, plenty!!! sweet and so easy: evaporated milk, egg yolks, coconut, nuts. There's hardly an excuse to use the canned stuff with all the unpronounceable ingredients, it's that easy. (I have been reading one of Michael Pollen's latest books and the ingredients in the food we eat are a little bit more on my mind than normal. Not sure how far I will go in terms of being "green", but I will be able to avoid canned frosting if nothing else.)

Kevin had a happy birthday, and a relaxing birthday weekend. What more can you ask for?


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

We live in a Topsy Turvy World

I'm just glad that it's not called the topsy turvy pineapple upside down cake. If that were the case, I'd have to come up with a new set of lyrics for "I Am a Model of a Modern Major General" and honestly, I'm really not up to that task.

And, just to get it stuck in your head...here's the first verse:

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

and a picture of Henry Litton playing that wonderful part in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

We made the Pineapple Upside Down Cake (CB pg 92). Every so often we think a recipe is going to turn out the way we want it to, that we are going to like it and it'll just be beautiful. This was one of those times. 

(Did you see that opening photo? J got a new camera and now we're all about the lighting and the cropping and the making the pictures sing with beauty.)

Once you get the butter and brown sugar moistened in the pan, you place the rings of pineapple on the bottom and put cherries in the wholes and fill in around them with pecans. Then you mix the yolks and sour cream, mix up the dry ingredients and add butter, remaining sour cream and aerate for 1 1/2 minutes. We decided against doing that as in previous cakes, we suspect this had lead to holes. We mixed it until it formed strings of dough that connected the paddle to the bowl- only 20 or 30 seconds. It looked really pretty in the bowl. Why would this differ from RLB's instruction? Maybe we beat at too high a speed? Maybe we can't tell time? Who knows. The important thing is that we are not stubbornly following the recipe and have learned from our experience. When the batter looks "pretty" as we call it, stop beating. Good enough!

Then you pour it into the pan and bake 40 - 50 minutes. It was really that simple. Our cake was done at about 45 minutes. The top was a nice golden brown and it was firm, but springy.
This cake had a moist, loose crumb, and was springy and hole free, when we cut into it. We couldn't wait. And Rose did say it could be served warm or at room temperature.
My one change would be to cook the brown sugar/butter mixture a bit as the top didn't caramelize quite as much as I'd have liked it to. One of us suspects that is due to the addition of pecans which hog valuable surface space on the cast iron skillet. J was very reluctant to include the pecans, she might have even used the word blasphemy at one point. I thought they were very good. This was one cake we didn't want to share. But given my New Year's resolution, we decided to give a slice or two to Dave and Natalia, who reported enjoying it.

We also made Swedish Pancakes (CB pg 108). Somehow in Carb Fest '08, we missed one pancake recipe. These were light and lovely, a cross between a crepe and a pancake with more egg. The hint of lemon zest in the batter added just the right amount of perk. RLB suggests the traditional Swedish lingonberry sauce as an accompaniment, or a dusting of powdered sugar. We used boysenberry jam, whipped cream and raspberries, and they were a stupendous light bite.

The directions for mixing are only one sentence! So, they are simple to make and an elegant approach to breakfast. They were a perfect transition from Pancakes and Waffles to Crepes. We will have Crepe Fest '08 in a couple weeks, so look out!

This next week, we will be on hiatus. My work takes me to Pittsburgh for training. We will return to baking and all it's glory on the 21st. J may dazzle you in the meantime with the German Chocolate Cake that K enjoyed on his birthday, or more dog biscuits - she and her mother have been testing some new recipes for our 4 legged friends, or who knows what.

My main goal for doing this blog was to spend time with Janet. Together, we make each other laugh and think. My secondary goal was to become comfortable with baking. Happily, both of those goals have come true.

Today J and I were talking about what we'd like to do once we finish the Cake Bible. A few things became clear: 1. We will continue, but obviously we won't be rebaking the Cake Bible, 2. We will try things we've not tried, paella, bread baking (I've not once made a good loaf of yeast bread).

This means more field trips, more variety in our recipe choices and we'll probably throw in some food history as we learn it and through all that come to a better understanding of this wonderful thing called cooking.

Don't be surprised if you show up and it's no longer just about cakes.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Day Carb-Fest 2008

I know that there is a way to make sense of why J and I continue to do a blue
million recipes at the same time. Our birthday cake for our 3 year old friend Lila had three layers, a filling, a frosting and dacquoise. Our Brioche day had three recipes and required 2 days. Our last baking installment, I should just call it a Baking Event is lay spread in front of you. Quite like the Whore of Babylon, in all her carbohydrate laden glory. (Ok, not the best simile as it meant as an allegory of Rome and it's brutality. Gotta love Wikipedia.)

There is scuttlebutt about that carbs are bad for you. And, they may be if you set down to a table that looks like ours. Here is what we made: Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes (pg 100) & Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes (pg 102). So is that enough for you?

Oh, you say, I can eat more carbs than that. We also made Buttermilk Waffles (pg 103) & Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles (pg 105). Still not enough carbs you say.

Well, we also made the Best Buckwheat Blini La Tulipe (pg 106). Ha ha, you have fallen. You are no match for our mighty table laden with carbs.

J and I tend to binge bake I've noticed. So, alas, has my waist. New Year's resolution is to hit the gym twice a week. I've put on 10 pounds since we started this blog. Ok, that's not really true. Sadly I put on 10 lbs, but it was just since November 1.

Once we got our rhythm, we were able to bang them out quite efficiently. Initially, the pancake recipes didn't really work the way that we were used to. There was a lot of cracking and softness to them that we didn't expect. This was rectified by turning up the heat and cutting back on the blueberries. I am the culprit who over stuffed the pancakes with blueberries. But really 6 berries as Rose prescribes?! It just isn't right.

This little falter, caused us to mistime the serving of our fellow guests. This iritated us quite a bit, and it left M a bit hungry, but at 12:30 we all sat down for our brunch. Sadly, the food was to begin at 11:00 ish. Even I can't accept an hour and a half as "ISH". But once the food was served and the champagne was poured, I don't think a soul really minded.
The Buttermilk Pancakes were good and worth a try. Light and airy, if not exactly fluffy as some prefer, they still had the strength to stand up to the maple syrup I love maple syrup. MMMMM....

The both types of waffles were a bit limp (a problem with many waffles) when we finished them in the waffle iron. J had a great idea -- as is usual -- let's toast them she said. The toasting helped the Buttermilk waffles so much that our guests raved about them. The Raised Waffles weren't as well received, although the toasting did help them.

Often I ask J if we'd have liked this recipe better if we weren't trying to compare it to our other recipes on the table. We've never come up with a simple answer for that. On some things, yes, they pale only in comparison. In other things, they just weren't our cup of tea -- can anyone say chestnut cake? (I find it especially difficult to assess an item if I already have - get ready for me to sound really full of myself- a perfected recipe. For waffles, I worked for several years to find and create exactly what I want. It's not like it happened overnight, to be sure! I tried many recipes and experimented and added and subtracted and adjusted and can now reliably make a waffle I really like. It's crisp on the outside, fluffy and tasty on the inside. And, for pancakes, you just can't beat the recipe on the bag of Aunt Jemima's self-rising flour. That I wasn't dazzled by the CB recipes doesn't surprise me, but I didn't expect to be disappointed. I really was unimpressed by the pancakes- too thin, rubbery texture, no buttermilk tang, no crumb for butter to melt into. Do they suffer by comparison? Absolutely. But, that might be because they're not so terrific. -J.)

Here is what happens when you've sat at a table full of friends and had a bit too much champagne and there are only a few bits and pieces left on plates....

You find yourself about ready to eat a Jimmy Dean sausage pattie, topped with sour cream, chopped green onions and a perfectly crisp blini. And really, it doesn't get any better than that. Well, the smoked salmon on the blini with sour cream might be a match. The blini, we all agreed were quite tasty, and cooked without difficulty. While we don't exactly run in the circles where caviar is served as the norm, we could adopt these blini as our standard, if we had need of such a thing.

For this, our first blog entry for 2008, you may have noticed, there have been some changes made. J and I have realized that this exercise has challenged us to become better bloggers. Just looking around the web, we found ourselves wanting to step up to the proverbial plate.
You may have noticed the new Daring Bakers logo on our website. We've joined this group of intrepid gourmands as they rise to monthly challenges. (J will have more on that in an upcoming blog entry). Try checking out some of the websites of other Daring Bakers. Some have posted comments on our Daring Baker's Challenge entry for December 23. Take a moment to look at some of their blogs.
Daring Bakers and other bloggers have become an inspiration to us as we are striving to learn more about this medium.

Everything's Bake in 2008

Bake through