Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers March Challenge

Creamsicle cake?
ummm mmm!

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was based on a basic white cake and a Swiss meringue buttercream. We were allowed to treat that as our blank slate and take it from there. One suggestion given in the recipe was to flavor it with lemon zest and juice and fill with raspberry and decorate with coconut. That sounds like a great combination, and probably one that we will try sometime. But we figured that when given the chance to follow our own path, we ought to scoop up the opportunity.

There was MUCH discussion about possible flavors. Kevin has actually become quite good at imagining flavor combinations and was really into thinking of some. I suppose I could attribute that to his years with me, seeing the wonderful and creative process I use in coming up with menus for parties and the nearly constant recipe alterations that I make. But, truth be told, he's picked it up while watching Top Chef. I am not a big fan of the reality or competition shows. But I am happy for the side effect of a husband who can join with me in wondering how to make things taste, and what combinations would be good, etc.

We floated the idea of a pear and Chinese 5 spice profile by Robb. He liked it and together we talked about just how to do it. I made a single layer of the cake just to try it out and see if we'd go in that direction. I added 5 spice and almond extract to the basic recipe (below). I also made an adjustment to the fat- I used half cocoa butter and half butter. I was hoping for a richer quality without adding more sweet or changing too much of the recipe (we're supposed to follow the rules after all!). The cake was ok. But you know, it was like spice cake. Duh! I think that this pear 5 spice combo is firmly planted in my mind and I will be experimenting in the future. I want to get it elevated above spice cake that seems like it ought to come in a square pan with tub o' frosting. I think you all know how I feel about that. On to what we actually did...

Back at the drawing board we thought about citrus and orange sounded good. What goes with orange? I suggested orange with toasted hazelnut and a dark chocolate, but Robb talked me out of that, and said that whenever he has to use more than 2 colors on someone's hair, he's trying to fix up a mess and it might be the same with combining flavors. We opted to go with a straightforward pairing of orange and vanilla. Who doesn't love a creamsicle? I dare say it's universally likeable.

We omitted any lemon called for and instead used orange. The filling was orange curd mixed with buttercream- RLB's orange curd recipe with a vanilla bean steeped in the juice. Very interesting and pretty to have tiny black flecks in a sea of orange. To the Swiss meringue buttercream we added some Grand Marnier and orange extract. The addition to the cake layer was orange zest and vanilla extract with a small amount of butter replaced with cocoa butter (3:1). A little drizzle of the pourable orange vanilla curd (it's thin since naval oranges have much less acidity or whatever it is than lemons that helps to set it) on top for the round version and it was done. We served it at an Easter gathering at Robb (& Michael's) house.

The evening before- the day of cake baking- K and I had friends in town from Texas and we served the rectangular version. I used a couple of loaf pans, filled and frosted the same as the round but added some toasted almond slices instead of the orange vanilla curd and voila! I love the shape and will definitely be making rectangular and square cakes in the future.

Happy baking! Janet

The recipe that all us Daring Bakers started with is the perfect party cake, published by Dorie Greenspan.

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cooking Class: Part 3

Week three in our wonderfully exciting class was really terrific. We can hardly believe that there is only one more class, and we are sad at the idea of having this experience come to a close.

Robb discovered that he likes coconut after all! Naturally, the coconut used by Chef Steenman is top notch. We used a wonderful puree of coconut and a grated coconut. This is not the flaked sticky sweet stuff you are used to. It is a smaller piece and is not sticky or coated with sugar. It gives a coconut flavor that you cannot achieve with the sugared angel flake. The coconut was added to (our favorite!!) Italian meringue and whipped cream to make a delicious, brilliant white mousse.

We made a vanilla sponge cake- pretty standard, although there is always something to learn from Chef Steenman. For example there is no vanilla in this vanilla cake. In fact, we noticed that there has been no vanilla extract in anything thus far. For pastry cream, creme anglais, etc. he does use beans, that is, he uses the most fantastically terrific vanilla beans from Tahiti. He gave us each one to take home. I had never seen a vanilla bean so moist, fat, soft and dizzyingly fragrant. As we've said before, his ingredients are tip top.

We also made a mango mousseline. What's the difference between mousseline and mousse you ask? Good question. A mousse seems to be lighter in texture, although not the fluffed up stuff you may have had. Chef Steenman's mousse is light and smooth in texture, like a good gelato. In this case it was made with Italian meringue, whipped cream and fruit puree. The mousseline was firmer and more dense, made with pastry cream and knock your socks off mango puree, and the tasty Plugra butter.

The cake was assembled in a terrine mold, like what you'd use for pate, or well, terrine. The sponge was cut to fit- yes Robb got to measure with a metric ruler and math! The mango mousseline was piped- yes more piping- onto a long skinny rectangle of sponge cake, topped with another rectangle of cake and chilled until it was firm. It was a sort of ice cream sandwich, but not with ice cream and much longer. Cake lined the mold, coconut mousse was spooned in, the sandwich of mango mousseline was nestled in, topped with more mousse, and topped (bottomed really) with the last layer of cake. Once unmolded, we covered it with Italian meringue and had fun using a torch to get it brown. The most delicious coconut tuile cookies decorated the sides.

Normally one would not combine the textures of mousse and mousseline in one dessert this way. The mousseline is much firmer than the mousse and that makes them incompatible. But Chef wanted to show us how to do as much as possible.

I know that some of you are thinking, yeah coconut and mango, what ever. Tropical flavors are so so, and you're thinking about syrupy sweet pineappley polynesian stuff, or the hurt your teeth with so much sugar creamed coconut that you put in a pina colada. Well, that's not what you get with Chef Steenman. Each of the components of this were tasty individually, not favorites for me, but darn good. None of the flavors were too sweet. Instead they were concentrated fruit flavors. The mousse tasted like actual coconut not like Coco Lopez. The mousseline tasted like buttery melt in your mouth mango. And then put together- Pow! Zoom! Bam! (picture batman fight scenes). The combination of flavors with the crunch and toast of the coconut cookie totally blew me away. It was amazing, and a lot of fun to put together.

Visit La Tulipe if you can. It's expensive, there's really no way to suggest otherwise. But, you won't be simply purchasing a dessert, pastry or chocolate, you'll be supporting an artist and you get to take home a work of art.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Cooking Class: Part 2

The second class was so intense in some ways that I found myself with a bit of a furrowed brow and a touch of the headache.
We made the Chile Pepper Raspberry Chocolate Cake. And, damn if it isn't the prettiest thing I've ever seen, well, honestly, it's the prettiest thing I think I've made.
Each of the people in the class (all 4 of us) got to take one home. It's a chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry gelatin middle, that is spiced with a chile pepper simple syrup. And, it's covered in chocolate glaze. The glaze gets poured through a fine mesh sieve which slows down the flow and removes any tiny air bubble that might blemish the smooth sheen. Then snappy tempered chocolate decorations and gold leaf are the finishing touches.

Up until recently, I focused on learning the big things -- what type of cake, what type of filling, which frosting/icing should I use. Really, it's the smaller, detail orientated things that make a more amazing cake.

With the glaze, the sieve works wonders, but so does the even pressure of a spatula. You coax the glaze over the edges, you make the top even and the edges covered. It's such a simple thing you don't think it can be that important, but really, it is. It's what makes the finished cake look, well, finished.

Chef Steenman showed us how to make all the components. First we made the chocolate sponge layer, which is piped onto the cocoa powdered silpat. Have I told you how much I'm not a fan of piping? It seems so fraught with despair. And up till last Wednesday, it was. I practically swoon when watching Chef pipe perfect circles. He shows us what is possible and that is surprisingly encouraging. Really, it's about doing it over and over and over and making mistakes and corrections.
We then made simple syrup and infused it with chili peppers. To this syrup we added raspberry puree and gelatin. We made a deliciously silky chocolate mousse that had a consistency similar to gelato. It was not the fluffy air filled mousse that you might expect. It was rich and egg-y and chocolately. Then we got to assemble the whole lot. Anything you build upside down has to be good, right? In a cake ring- which it turns out is an equipment must in the pattisserie- we first added mousse. Then the raspberry layer which was sandwiched between chocolate disks was added, more mousee, another chocolate disk, more mouuse. The last thing in the mold is a layer of flourless chocolate sponge. Really I think it's just there to give you something to lift the cake off the cake plate. But, it's a light and airy cake like layer that contrasts nicely with the satiny smooth mousse in color and texture.
While the cakes chilled, we learned all about chocolate. Cocao Barry is the brand of chocolate Chef Steenman prefers. He says Vahlronha is the best, but not enough better to justify the 3x greater price. He spares no expense on ingredients: plugra butter, organic milk, vanilla beans from Tahiti, fruit purees from France that are totally unbeleivable. Chef worked in a chocolate factory in France and has pictures of the process of making chocolate from cocoa pod to chocolate bar. He told us about processing differences in Belgium and Switzerland. Fascinating. Then we got into the tempering process and the 4 types of crystaline structrues in solid chocolate and the temparatures at which they melt. He tempered some chocolate to show us how. In concept the process seems reasonable: melt, cool, melt. We'll see the next time we have some chocolate project on our own how simple it really is.

Chef proposed that what makes a quality chocolate isn't just the % of cocoa and cocoa butter, but that the texture is what he's looking for. In the process of grinding the chocolate into paste, there is a step called conching. Near as we can tell it's grinding while the temperature is controlled. The longer you do it, the smoother the chocolate. As Americans we tend to think that if 60% cocoa is good, then 72% must be better. Not so. His dark chocolate is 64% and has the most luscious full flavored taste.

After he finished tempering we learned how to make decorations. He colored some cocoa butter red and splattered it onto acetate strips. Once it was hard we spread a layer of the tempered dark chocolate onto the strips and when they just firm enough, but not too firm, cut shapes on the strips and then set them to cool. Once cool, we peeled the acetate sheets off and were left with amazingly shiny peices of chocoalte with red polka dots. Chef says it should be shiny enough to comb your hair in the reflection!!
Fantastic!! We each took a cake home with such pride. If you are in Mt. Kisco, he is selling these as individual cakes for now. They are just being introduced. The chocolate disks made clean slicing somewhat difficult as you can see.
The individuals are completely amazing- instead of glaze they are chilled and sprayed with liquid chocolate. The chocolate hardens in little tiny sand grain sized dots. They also don't have the disks of chocolate in the interior (at least for now).

I wonder if we will ever be able to replicate the artistry of all this chocoalte work.
Much like Janet's sentiment in her post about bread baking, I also don't like to make mistakes. I do what I can to keep mistakes to a minimum. I remember in my Math Methods Course. One of the teaching assistants said, "Are you stuck? Good, this is where you begin to learn."
It's true. You can't know what your limitations are until you reach them. And, you can't grow past them to you know where they are. Piping is one of my limitations. But, I'm working my way through it.


Nothing says lovin’ like fresh from the oven….

Here goes...I'm the one of the two of us who doesn't know what he's doing -- at least from a studied point of view....

My grandmother used to peel apples in one long string and my other grandmother used to lament her husband's inability to clean fish scales out of the sink once he'd processed the days catch.

So, I come from a family that cooks, but I know nothing from a book. Or, from class -- except the one J and I are taking now. So, I take baby steps.  Try things that might work, or might not.

My previous experience with creating cakes from a box worked, so why shouldn't this one?

I started with a boxed cake -- plain white. I added a package of chocolate chips, one cup of pumpkin pecan butter.

One of my friends gave me this. It rocks. A bit of pumpkin, a bit of pecan and a lot of sugar. How can you possibly go wrong?

I baked these as cupcakes. Even used the cool foil cupcake liners.

I used a cream cheese frosting (of course, from a tub) to create a cinnamon frosting. I added a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Honestly, I may have used a bit more cinnamon. The frosting was a bit strongly flavored and I needed the cinnnamon to get a bit of the taste. They frosted quite nicely. See the following picture.

The texture of the tops was quite nice, but we'd expect that from a boxed cake. What I didn't expect was how hard and tough the bottoms of the cupcakes were.  They seemed dry and not at all the moist deliciousness that was the cupcake tops.  Odd that you could have two completely different textures in one cupcake.  Even odder -- if that is even a word -- is the ones in a foil liner were moist all the way through.  I assume that I over cooked them.  But, surprisingly, I didn't burn them.
Don't they just look beautiful? That's them up at the top of the blog.