Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge

Ta Da!!!

This month's challenge was very satisfying. It is being called an Opera cake (click for pictures of a Google image search) but we had to make it in light colors- no coffee or chocolate. The recipe provided is insanely long- if anyone really wants it- shoot me an email.

The basics of the cake are joconde cake layers with buttercream, mousse and a glaze. The joconde is a sponge type cake made with ground nuts. Robb and I ruminated over flavor possibilities, and bizarrely agreed immediately on pineapple and coconut. As we kept chewing on the idea, we came around to creating what we hoped would be a Thai curry cake. Yes, you read that correctly: Thai curry and cake.

We used peanuts and almonds in the cake layer. Our buttercream was flavored with lime, ideally we would have liked to use lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves- at least that's what we had in mind. Lime juice and zest is a good approximation just to try it out. We can work on perfecting it in the future. The cake layers were brushed with a chile pepper syrup. The top layer was a coconut mousse and it was glazed with a pineapple glaze.

We liked the peanuts, the coconut mousse, the pineapple glaze and the texture and beauty of the cake. The flavors, all together, were really good. We were especially pleased because this was the first cake that we truly experimented with. We were totally winging it making the mousse. We initially tried one with grated coconut and hated it. We ended up using canned coconut milk, with Italian meringue and whipped cream. Who would have thought that Italian meringue would be something we have so readily available in our toolbox of tricks. What a very long way we have come!

We would have liked more chile pepper heat. We wussed out a little bit in soaking the cake layers. Next time, and there may be a next time for this one- we really like it- we will add more chile flavor.

After sitting out last month, this was a very fun challenge.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Well they all can't be winners!

Fudgy Genoise Jeffrey (pg 136) with the Perfect Whipped Cream, Mocha variation, (pg 253)

When last we met, we were extolling the virtues of this section of genoise cakes. This genoise went a bit haywire.

For this cake, you whip the egg yolks, add the melted chocolate, add the whipped egg whites and bake. Straightforward enough, but here's where it veered off course:

* The yolk/chocolate mixture was so thick, almost gloppy, that we worried that we may have over beaten the egg yolks. A bit of heat thinned it out enough for us to add the egg whites. But it always seemed a bit stiff.
* The "crisp, meringue-like crust" fell off when we turned the cakes out onto the cooling racks.
* The edges were a bit over done -- almost burnt.
* The middle part was a bit doughy/gooey.
* The texture wasn't fudgy in any way, it was actually a bit dry.

We thought it we could have over cooked it -- it wouldn't be the first time, but the almost un-done interior made us think that wasn't the case. Yes, it was dry and undercooked! Bizarre.

Sometimes we assume operator error, and figure that we'll give it a try again some time. But too much was wrong with this particular cake. There just weren't any redeeming qualities.

And, most sadly to me, somehow, I cracked the cake plate that J & K & John got me for my birthday.

The one thing that did go well was the perfect whipped cream. It was amazing. The inclusion of the tablespoon of cocoa and the teaspoon of instant espresso was wonderful. Both of us expected it to be gritty and granular, but it was smooth and a beautiful tan color. And, let me tell you, it tasted divine. We highly recommend the mocha whipped cream.

One of the things that we've learned together is that sometimes fixing a mistake is what baking is all about. In this case, we removed the crust (top, bottom and sides), cut the cake horizontally and created the rustic napoleon type cake you see here.

We had such high hopes for this cake. Perhaps it was those expectations that made this cake seem not so good? No, this one just didn't work.

Sometimes, I feel like Paula Abdul, I have to find something nice to say about what we baked. Often, the journey is more important than the finished product. This is one of those times where we got to hang out while the cakes baked and chat, eat lunch and enjoy the sun.

(But, I can say that the whipped cream was a thing of beauty.)

Bake through

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Temper, Temper

With forks still in our mouths, both of us said, "This is a great cake!"
Strawberry Maria (pg 184)
The Strawberry Maria has 1 recipe Genoise au Chocolat (pg 129), 1 recipe syrup flavored with Grand Marnier (pg 129), 1 recipe Strawberry Cloud Cream (pg 264), 1 Chocolate Lattice Band (pg 388) and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

J was so happy with the photo of this showcase cake, that her enthusiasm made the entire baking time fun. And, if we hadn't taken the class at La Tulipe, we'd never have had the confidence to do the lattice work with chocolate, which turned out so beautifully.

Tempering chocolate isn't nearly as frightening as I originally thought. We learned in the class about the 4 kinds of crystals in the chocolate structure and that the melting point of each of them is slightly different. Tempering involves melting teh chocoalte, cooling it so that a crystal in that chocolate (the one you want) begins to form, then heating it again so that the other kinds of crystals (the ones you don't want) don't form.

It sounds complicated, and it helps to have had a trained professional, in a professional kitchen show you how. I am beginning to see how working with chocolate could be a whole life's work. There is much to know about chocolate and how to be creative and do more daring things. But the basics- melt, cool, melt keeping it a little cooler but still workable- are not tough!! It see ms like some kind of mystical process, but
we said if those teenagers who work at Godiva in the mall can do it, so can we. We've had professional instruction after all.

We dipped the strawberries into chocolate, drizzled stripes on them and J suggested we melt some white chocolate to drizzle over them. What a hit. The texture of both dark and white stripes looked really cool.

The genoise came together quite nicely. Actually this whole section of genoise has come together nicely. The syrup, well, who doesn't like sugar syrup? And, can anything be bad if it has Grand Marnier?
Strawberry Cloud cream is a fancy way of saying strawberry flavored whipped cream. We did the same thing to strawberries that we did to raspberries -- take frozen ones, thaw them, capture the juice, bowl i t down, puree the fruit, blend. Add a cup or so to the whipped cream. Really simple now, but in the midst of doing this, we forgot to measure the pureed bit and ended up with what looked like the beginning of a very soft serve ice cream. So, we remade it. Urgh, the basics of measuring still bites us in the butt sometimes. It turned out quite nice.

Another cake that sounded good, looked good, and tasted good. One year ago, we would have been freaked out and probably not tried the lattice band. But, this really was easy to put together. We are so happy with this one, we will each make it again.

Now that I've at least faced my fear of chocolate, I hope to overcome my fear of piping. Who knows.


Monday, May 5, 2008

White Lily Cake

This is a lovely photo of the White Lily Cake (pg 202)

It consists of 1 recipe White Genoise (pg 127), 1/2 cup Cointreau (we used Grand Marnier, since we had it), 1/2 recipe Orange Fruit Mousseline (pg 245), 1 recipe of Rolled Fondant with orange flower water (page 306), & 1 recipe of Royal Icing.
Really, since we've done this so many times, we're no longer intimidated by the recipes. Well, I still say a quick, silent prayer whenever we have to do any piping work. But, it's a lot like doing hair color: Break it down into its component steps. And, since we know we can make a genoise, a mousseline and a fondant, we can surely put it together. And, I think that we did a fine job of it.
Even the piping turned out nice. They are supposed to look like lilies, and they do!
This was made e asy for a host of reasons. We had made the white genoise a few weeks ago. Frozen, it'll keep 2 months. We just defrosted it and followed the directions. J had the idea to make the cake layers at our last baking session. And, I thank her.

As for the Cointreau, we decided an orange flavored liquor could be substituted with another one, right? So we used the Grand Marnier that we had on hand.
We decided that making Orange Curd was a big waste of time. While we loved the color and the flavor, the runny texture and effort of making it is too big a drawback. We just substituted lemon curd, and added it to the mousseline.

Do you remember the mousseline? Neither could I. It is the one with a syrup of water and sugar, that gets drizzled into egg whites beaten with sugar. You beat this until it's cool, which has never happened in the prescribed time of 2 minutes. Then, you add butter, lots of butter, and beat until smooth. If you want to add liqueur or a flavor variation, you do so now. Yum!
I really don't care for fondant. It never tastes as good as you want it to and I usually pull it off. While I'm slowly lobbing blobs of butter into the kitchen aid full of egg whites, J made the fondant. We only had dark corn syrup. So, you'll notice that there is a lovely light beige tone to the fondant. We liked it quite a bit. The slight color difference made the piping really stand out and look more beautiful. The flavor of the fondant was enha nced with orange flower water. There was a nice fragrance wafting from the cake; a flowery orange aroma followed by the orange flavor of the cake. In tasting our slice, we actually ate the fondant!!
Periodically J and I would stop what we were doing and wander over to the other's station to check on the progress. The fondant starts out a crumbly mess. With some kneading, the gelatin, water, glucose(that's where the corn syrup is substituted), glycerin, solid white shortening and powdered sugar all come together at first, it looks a bit like a very dry biscuit dough. You'll notice how smooth J got it. The cracks seem to happen to us because we are too slow applying it to the cake.
It's come to the point that we've developed almost a short hand and have to constantly check to make sure we've not skipped or doubled up on steps. We each know what the other is going to do and rarely are we wrong about it.

I have to thank J for doing all the pre prep stuff. Sometimes, I feel like a FoodTV chef who's production assistants have done everything so all I have to do is smile for the camera and pour the pre-measured amounts into the stunningly clean Kitchen Aid.

This cake was lovely. We were both so excited, not just by how it looks or just by how good it tasted. For the first time, in a long time, we liked the cake we made! Then, on the first sunny day we've had baking in a long, long while, there we were, all done, sitting outside in the sun, sipping soda and tea and just chattin'

Welcome to Spring.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Looking Back

After I realized that we'd been doing Bake Through for a year, I found myself re-reading the previous posts.  Back in April 2007, we had said that we'd like to try the Chocolate Cherry Almond Pound cake (pg 32) in its more traditional Apricot Version.  Well, here it is.

I have to say that I wasn't a big fan of this cake, then or now. And, while I'm glad that I made it using apricot preserves and a lemon sugar glaze, I'll not make this again. The texture once again was too dry and crumbly. It had a host of good things in it: hazlenuts, almond paste, chocolate, yet, it seemed almost too bland to me.

When I mentioned to J that I had remade it, she said, "Isn't that the one that looked like meatloaf?"  As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. Look at this picture: 

Sometimes, it's good to go back and see how far you've come.  Honestly, a year ago, this would have seemed to daunting of a task to attempt.  And now, I did it on a Sunday afternoon, just because I had a bit of time.

Bake Through