Thursday, August 28, 2008

TWD: Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte

Once again, in my world TWD turns out to be a Thursday with Dorie. I did actually have it finished on Tuesday, but we didn't get around to eating it until today. And it was good!

Thank you, Amy of Food, Family and Fun, for choosing this elegant and decadent confection! For the recipe, check out her blog or better yet, buy The Book and look on pages 288-289.

First of all, this gave me an excuse to buy two darling mini heart-shaped flan rings I'd been coveting. Now, what sort of ice cream to use? I settled on Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, one of our all-time favorites. For extra kick I mixed in some of the cherry-brandy syrup from our home-made maraschino cherries.

This was the first year our dwarf sour cherry tree gave us a decent crop of cherries. Most of them went into a pie, but a few ended up as maraschino cherries. I love the look and idea of these preserved cherries, but the commercial versions fill me with horror. They taste mostly of sugar and chemicals. Yuck! So I soaked a handful of sour cherries in brine for a day, drained, and poured over a syrup of cherry juice concentrate, sugar, brandy and a touch of almond extract. Up above you see two of the results. They are smaller and paler than the commercial kind, but they taste of real cherries. And brandy. And sugar -- but not enough. Note to self -- next year, use a heavier, sweeter syrup. They need it.

On to the chocolate "ganache." This certainly isn't a traditional ganache. It has chocolate, of course (I went with Valrhona 71% Amer Noir), but no cream at all. Lots of butter and eggs, and some sugar. As a number of other folks have pointed out, it's really more like a fudge or a French Silk pie filling. And it has raw eggs.

Well, I'm not too much alarmed by using raw eggs as long I as am the one in charge of the process. I am careful when using them. But this sounded like a fun challenge. Could I find a way to heat the eggs enough to be "officially" safe without ruining the recipe?

I went over to the Egg Board's site and found some useful information at these links: and
So the options are bringing the eggs to 140 degrees F for at least 3 1/2 minutes, or bringing them to 160 which is supposed to work "instantly." Trouble is, whole eggs cook and set up somewhere between 144-158 degrees. The second link above tells you how much sugar and/or liquid you have to add to the eggs in order to be able to bring them up to 160 without setting. But Dorie's recipe doesn't have that much sugar. Does butter "count" as a liquid for keeping the eggs from setting? What about chocolate? Wait, chocolate really doesn't like to be heated too hot, at least when it is all by itself. And I don't want to waste good chocolate...let's just experiment with the butter, sugar and eggs.

My first experiment was to use just 1/4 of the ganache recipe. I mixed eggs and sugar together, melted the butter without the chocolate, stirred it into the eggs, and set the mixture in a metal bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. I whisked with one hand and measured the temperature with the other. The mixture started to set up around 150 degrees. No way was it going to make it to 160.

Next try, I brought the mixture up to about 145 and turned the heat under the water way, way down. Then I started a timer going and kept stirring. My goal was to keep the temperature above 140 (or maybe a little more, just in case my thermometer was a little off or some parts of the mixture were a little cooler) for at least 4 minutes. (Again, I added that extra half-minute just for a safety margin.) I actually had to turn the burner up just a tad but that worked fine.

I stirred the finely chopped chocolate into the hot mixture and set it in a pan of cold water to cool it down. It also got a dose of the cherry-brandy-syrup.

The rest was just a matter of layering, freezing, waiting...assembling this dessert is kind of tedious. After taking all the trouble to heat the eggs, no way was I going to leave the ganache out on the counter during the whole procedure, so I tucked it into the fridge. Good thing, because I ran out of time that evening. The second layer didn't go on until the next morning. I set the small bowl of ganache in a pan of warm water, stirred occasionally until spreadable, and finished off my heart tortes.

Then we got so busy that we didn't have time to properly appreciate it until today. It was GOOD. And a very appropriate way to celebrate our twenty-first "unniversary." (That's the anniversary of when we first became a couple. We lived together but were not married for most those years, so we always called it our "unniversary." Now that we're married we have an "anniversary" too, but that's in October.)

One heart was enough for both of us (romantic, isn't it?) and so the other one has gone into the freezer for later.

(We just got one of these handy devices -- a Reynolds Handi-Vac. It's an inexpensive way to do vacuum sealing and we love it!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Granola Grabbers

Oh dear, I'm late yet again for Tuesdays with Dorie. I'm sorry, folks -- work has been busy with everyone ordering back-to-school merchandise (and then checking on when it is going to arrive). I'm glad I finally found time to make this week's recipe, Granola Grabbers, chosen by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. They were tasty!

These called for lots of yummy ingredients, most of which I already had in the pantry. Granola, though, was not one of them. I had a good time looking at all the bins at our favorite market, the Willy Street Co-op, and settled on some nice Six Grain granola from local Nature's Bakery. When it came time to bake, though, I found I hadn't gotten quite enough. Thinking fast, I topped it off with about 1/3 of a cup of Grape-Nuts cereal. Instead of peanuts, I used salted cashews -- Jim loves them so we always have some around. They're big so I chopped them coarsely. Oops, we only had unsweetened coconut, but since we don't like things all that sweet, I just went with that. The raisins were nice and plump, but the coconut was so dry I had to sprinkle in quite a bit of water and let it sit. I added just a little cinnamon and ginger to the flour for a hint of spice, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder for a bit of lift.

You've probably seen lots of posts about the recent New York times recipe for chocolate cookies. One of their "secrets" is to let the dough sit in the refrigerator before baking. Well, I was busy and ending up doing that with this dough. I meant to let it sit for one day, but it ended up sitting for two. I wish I had a chance to compare my cookies with some "fresh-mixed" ones to see if it made any difference. Certainly they were still good! I had to let the dough warm up a bit as it was rock solid. After that I had no trouble scooping it out -- oh boy, a chance to use my purple portion scooper! I got it a while ago and have only used it once or twice.

For baking, I went with a 350 degrees convection bake setting for good air circulation around the cookie sheets. Despite Dorie's warning, I used double-layer air-insulated baking sheets. They worked just fine, actually. Mine are the newer design with little "dimples" all over the bottom to let a little more heat come through the bottom. They do a good job of browning without burning. My dough was still cold when it went into the oven, and it hardly spread at all. I'm glad I flattened the cookies down.

I let the cookies cool on the sheets -- a hint I read somewhere, I think it was Cook's Illustrated, for the best chewy cookies.

These were good cookies, a bit on the sweet side but not too sweet, crunchy and chewy, full of tasty nuggets. They also held up well to the humid weather--the granola kept its crunch even as the cookies got moist and chewy. Neither Jim nor I are absolutely crazy about this style of cookie, but that didn't stop us from eating quite a few of them! The rest went into work where they were devoured with great enthusiasm!

Monday, August 4, 2008

More Flowers in our Garden

Ornamental Thistle with Bumblebee

"Little Rainbow" daylily

"Little Rainbow" daylilies

Double "wild" daylily (H. fulva)

Yellow daylily, variety unknown

Yellow and orange daylily, variety unknown

Pink daylily, variety unknown

Bungalow Banana Bread

My husband was very skeptical about the Black-and-White Banana Loaf for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie project. "Banana and chocolate? Ugh!" was the gist of his remarks. So I agreed to make another loaf as well, of our favorite banana bread.

It is a slightly adapted version of the Hana-Banana Nut Loaf from Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads." A wonderful book, by the way! I highly recommend it. You can take a look at the original recipe here.

I love this recipe because it has so much banana, and not too much butter or sugar.

Bungalow Banana Bread
by Bungalow Barbara, slightly adapted from Hana-Banana Loaf in Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads."
Makes one loaf.

1 c. all-purpose flour (5.0 oz. / 142 g)
1/2 c. whole wheat flour (2.7 oz / 76 g)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
optional: 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or a pinch of ground nutmeg
6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature (3 oz / 85 g)
1/3 c. light brown sugar (2.55 oz / 72 g) or granulated sugar (2.33 oz / 66 g)
2 eggs, room temperature (3.53 oz / 100 g)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. mashed bananas (about 13.2 oz / 375 g; about 3 to 4 bananas)
note: if you are a little short on mashed bananas, make up the difference with sour cream, yogurt, or milk.
1 c. coarsely broken or chopped walnuts (4 oz. / 113 g)

Grease an 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan. Line pan with buttered wax paper or parchment paper.

Set rack to middle of oven. Preheat to 350 degrees F.

In bowl, stir together white flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and optional cinnamon or nutmeg.

In another bowl, cream butter & sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla, then banana puree.

Stir dry mixture into egg mixture in two additions, mixing gently just until incorporated. Stir in nuts gently, just until incorporated. When adding flour & nuts, stir only to blend ingredients thoroughly and moisten the flour. Don’t overmix or bread will be tough.

Pour and spoon into prepared pan. Level with spatula. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until dark brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on in pan on wire rack for 15-20 minutes. Remove from pan & cool before cutting.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Black and White Banana Loaf

Our project for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie was the Black and White Banana loaf, on page 232 of "the book." Thank you to Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen for choosing this recipe!

My husband expressed a great deal of skepticism about the idea of a banana cake with chocolate flavoring. In fact, he didn't want me to make it at all. Fortunately I have lots of overripe bananas in the freezer, so I promised to make him a loaf of our favorite banana bread as well. (I'll post a picture & the recipe as my next post.)

I followed Dorie's recipe exactly, except for substituting ground mace for the nutmeg. Because I generally buy medium eggs, I measured the eggs by weight to make sure I had the right amount -- 4 large eggs weigh 200 grams. I used 2/3 cup of mashed bananas.

I beat the butter and sugar together for what seemed like forever with my little hand-held power mixer. Cake experts all agree that beating lots of air into the mixture at this stage is crucial, so I didn't want to underbeat. The butter was getting a bit too soft in the warm kitchen, so I put an ice pack under the bowl for a little while. That worked. The mixture never curdled as I beat in the eggs, it just kept getting more fluffy and beautiful, which was very exciting!

After finishing the dark and light batters, I dropped them by alternating spoonfuls into my baking pan, then did a few quick zig-zags to marble them. The pan was almost full--I was worried it would overflow! Into the oven it went. (The oven was at about 335--a compromise temperature between the 325 temperature for Dorie's recipe, and the 350 for mine.)

The cake rose to the very top of the pan, but didn't overflow. I didn't need to tent the top until an hour into baking. After about 1 hour and 15 minutes I took it out. It was looking mighty brown and the cake tester (a long thin knife) came out clean.

I did wait a little while for the cake to cool, but couldn't bear to wait too long. The flavor of mace was much too strong while the cake was still warm. By the next day, the flavors had melded and become milder, but I still thought the mace was too prominent. I'd use half as much next time. The banana flavor was there but subdued. I couldn't taste the rum at all. I could taste the chocolate, though!

While I wasn't enthralled by the balance of flavors, I loved the texture and look of the cake. It was like a pound cake, dense but not too heavy, and very moist because of the banana. The zig-zagging with the knife had almost no effect, but that was okay because the alternating spoonfuls of batter made a lovely marbled effect. My first marbled cake!

While this recipe wasn't exactly to my taste, it was still good, and I was very happy to have the experience of making it with nothing going wrong! My husband even ate some and didn't make a face. He still likes my standard recipe better, though.