Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD: Berry Surprise Cake

Welcome to this week's installment of "Tuesdays with Dorie" -- the Berry Surprise Cake from pages 273-275 of "Baking: from My Home to Yours," chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen.

Despite some problems, this was dangerously delicious and quite impressive looking! For the recipe, please visit Mary Ann's blog.

As written, Dorie's recipe calls for you to bake a French sponge cake or genoise in an 8-by-3-inch round pan. Then you slice off the top, hollow out the inside, and sprinkle with syrup. Fill the inside with a cream cheese & whipped cream filling, layered with fresh berries. Put the top back on and frost with billows of whipped cream, then decorate with berries. Wow! Two of my favorite foods, berries and cream!

Since fresh berries are not in season here in Wisconsin, and I don't care for the expensive and mostly tasteless ones you can still buy in the store, I decided to go with frozen berries. I had a bag of frozen home-grown wild black raspberries, so I scooped out about 2 cups and made a fruit compote. At some point I realized that some blueberries had snuck into that bag too -- probably I dumped the leftovers from a bag of store-bought frozen ones in at some point and forgot about it. (Moral of story -- label your freezer bags! I'm getting better at that, I really am...)

At any rate, I added in a few tablespoons of raspberry jelly (all that was left at the bottom of the jar), about 1/4 cup of frozen red raspberry puree (also home-grown, from one of my neighbors), and some sugar. After the berries thawed, the mixture seemed a bit watery, so I drained off the liquid, thickened it with about 1/2 teaspoon of Sure-Jell no-sugar-needed pectin, and mixed it back into the berries. Voila! A lovely berry compote.

Next came the cake, and that was where the trouble began. I have never made a genoise before, though I've read about them in cookbooks and on blogs. I was really psyched to try one! The plan was to make a whole recipe of the batter, and divide it between two smaller 6-inch round springform pans. That way I'd have an extra cake to play around with. (By the way, if you want to know how big a pan you should use for half a recipe, multiply the original pan size by 0.707 -- the square root of one-half. If you want to bake a quarter of the recipe, multiply the pan size by 1/2 -- the square root of 1/4.)

For a genoise, you start by beating whole eggs and sugar together. I wondered if I should reduce the sugar, but was worried it would affect the cake badly. However, I consulted another recipe, Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Classic Genoise." (You can find a link to the recipe on this page - look for French Genoise.) Rose's recipe uses the same amount of eggs and about the same amount of flour/starch, but only 1/2 cup of sugar -- so I went with that. I took another idea from Rose's recipe and used clarified, lightly browned butter. Then I warmed up my eggs and beat the h*** out of them! The whole process must have taken about 15 minutes using my hand-held power mixer -- with a couple of trips back to the hot water bath to warm up the eggs again. They were lovely! I wish I'd taken a picture. Pale golden, densely foamy, almost at the "soft peak" stage. They didn't form a ribbon when I raised the one whisk beater -- more of a thick column of egg foam that slowly, slowly poured back into the bowl and formed a little mound before subsiding. I think I got that part right.

I took another hint from Rose and took out some of the egg foam to mix with the melted butter. Good thing I had the hot water bath still around, because the butter had solidified. (We're keeping the heat down, and I still hate to think of the utility bill...) Now it was time to sift the half the flour on top, add the butter, and then sift the other half on top, folding in as you go. Here's where I blew it. I kept spotting streaks and lumps of flour in the batter, and so I kept folding. I was concentrating so hard on those bits of flour -- and then suddenly I paid attention to the batter again and saw that it had deflated dramatically. Oh, %@!*!^%*!

"Well, we'll see what happens," I said, poured the batter into the two pans, and baked it. They rose a bit but were still pretty flat and sad, as you can see below.

So I changed my plans a bit. I trimmed off the rounded tops of the cakes, and also the thin crusts on the bottom. I made a whole recipe of syrup and brushed nearly all of it onto the two cake layers. The trimmings tasted pretty good! Dense, yes. A bit dry, but that's what the syrup is for. But there was a nice nutty/buttery taste from the browned butter. Hm, this might work.

Oh, here's the liqueur I used for the syrup. Good stuff!

Then I made just half of the recipe for the filling, since I was using a smaller pan. Some folks had mentioned on the "Problems & Questions" forum that they thought the filling was a bit tart, so I doubled the sugar. Since my cake now wasn't going to have any sides to hold the filling in place, I also dissolved 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin in the last couple of tablespoons of syrup and added that. Oh, and I used Neufchatel instead of cream cheese -- it has a bit less fat.

Then I lined the sides of the original pan with some lightly greased wax paper and started layering in the components -- syruped cake, filling, some fruit compote (I had a bit left over), the rest of the filling, a top layer of syruped cake. The cake chilled for about an hour. Here's what it looked like after it came out of the pan.

Then I whipped up 2/3 of a cup of heavy cream with some vanilla-flavored powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin dissolved in 1 Tablespoon of water, and another 1 1/2 teaspoons of liqueur. The compote kind of bled into the whipped cream as I put it on the sides, but I decided to just pretend it was supposed to be that way. And it did look pretty! Then came the fun part -- I pulled out the cake decorating kit I'd recently purchased and used the decorating comb and a couple of decorating tips to "fancy up" the cake. This was my very first time with decorating, so it was a little rough -- but all the same, it was absolutely amazing how much fancier the cake looked!

And it tasted really great, too! OK, the cake was still a little dense, but everything else was fabulous! So my story has a happy ending. And by the time fresh berries are in season, I hope to have figured out how to make genoise. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

This week's project for "Tuesdays with Dorie" was Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins, chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake. For the recipe, check out Rebecca's blog, or better yet, buy "Baking: From My Home to Yours" by the delightful Dorie Greenspan!

This turned into a bit of a "use it up" project. We didn't have a jalapeño pepper on hand, and the only sweet red pepper was chopped and frozen (though I'm sure that would have been fine). No fresh cilantro, either. I suppose I could have taken a quick drive up to the Mexican market in Sauk Prairie, and maybe even watched some bald eagles as well, but I didn't really feel like traveling on this cold Wisconsin day.

So I rummaged around to see what needed using up. The partly-used package of frozen corn held about 1/2 cup. OK, use that up. Leave out the red peppers because I didn't want to load these down with too much stuff. (Now that I've made them, I think they'd be great with lots of add-ins!) Here's about half a cup of grated cheddar cheese. All right, add that in too. How about 2 tablespoons of freeze-dried chives from Penzeys? I've been meaning to use those chives more often -- let's do it!

Other than that, I stayed with the recipe -- using 1 1/2 teaspoons of very mild home-grown chili powder plus a teensy-tiny pinch of super-duper-hot home-grown chile piquin powder. I reduced the sugar to 2 tablespoons -- just right for our tastes -- and the melted butter to 4 tablespoons. (Next time I'd use 6 tablespoons instead.)

This was more like a dough than a batter, about the same consistency as drop biscuits. Here they are spooned into the muffin tin:

And here they are after exactly 20 minutes in the oven:

Let's have dinner! Home-made lentil soup, corn muffins and red wine. Great for a winter evening!

These were excellent -- crunchy on the outside, tender and tasty on the inside. The cheddar and chive flavors were really subtle. The chili and corn were just right. I can see playing around with these -- one idea is to use more cheddar, cut into small chunks so you get little melty cheese bites here and there, with scallions instead of chives. How about some fresh chopped garlic tops in early spring? Hey, would roasted garlic be good? And I can't wait until late summer to try different varieties of home-grown peppers! I'm thinking the very mild Delicias jalapeños with sweet red Apple peppers, or the mildly hot red Beaver Dam bell peppers all by themselves.

Which reminds me, it's time to check our seed collection and order seeds...see you all next week!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

TWD on Sunday: French Pear Tart

I got a late start on this week's "Tuesdays with Dorie" project, but no way was I going to skip this week's French Almond Tart! How could I pass up a chance to bake along with Dorie herself on the recipe she'd chosen?

Dorie says this is her husband's favorite dessert. It didn't quite reach that point on our "charts" -- a really good fruit pie or galette is still in the lead -- but I can certainly see why Mr. Greenspan loves it! A tender pastry crust, lovely crunchy/creamy almond filling, and sweet, subtle poached pears ornamentally sliced on top. Oo-la-la!

I'd purchased a bag of white whole wheat flour a little while ago when our co-op was having a sale on Bob's Red Mill flours. This seemed like a good time to try it. I made the crust with 40% white whole wheat flour and 60% unbleached pastry flour. I reduced the sugar to 40 grams (about 1/3 of a cup of confectioner's sugar) because the crust seemed a little too sweet last time I made it. Excellent! It was very tender and tasty, and you could barely tell it had it whole wheat in it. (Both of us like whole wheat, actually, but I wanted to test out the white whole wheat flour for those times when I'm baking for folks who are not whole wheat enthusiasts.)

I made the almond cream as written -- well, almost. I had an extra tablespoon or so of finely ground almonds, so I just tossed them in rather than waste them. Oh, and I reduced the sugar to 9 tablespoons because we like things less sweet. This stuff was yummy! I had to restrain myself to keep from eating it up before it made it into the tart.

For the poached pears, the only change I made was to add a few strips of lemon peel to the poaching liquid, then strain it out after the pears were done. I didn't poach the pears long enough, though. When I cut them up for the tart, after a few days sitting in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator, I noticed a brown layer around the core of each one. (You can really see it in the pear at 10:30 o'clock on the picture below.) The cores themselves were very firm and almost uncooked. A taste test revealed the pears still tasted fine, though, so I went ahead and used them. Next time I will poach them longer. I may even cut them in half and core them before poaching. Also, next time I'll buy some extra pears in case some of them turn out to have hidden bad spots (as one of mine did). There will be no problem finding a use for extra pears!

My pears were rather small and had short stubby tops. I wasn't sure they'd fill up a 9-inch tart pan, so I used an 8-by- 1 1/2 inch round cake pan instead. That left me with some extra tart dough, which got turned into dough cookies. (By the way, someone or other on the TWD blog list introduced me to the idea of calling dough cookies "dodos" -- I love it! Thank you, whoever you are.) Because of the higher sides of this pan, I used pie weights when prebaking the tart shell. I was afraid the sides would soften and slither down the sides without the weights to hold them in place. It only took about 20 minutes to prebake. I brushed the bottom and sides with a bit of egg white mixed with water and popped it back in the oven for about 15 seconds -- this helps to seal the crust and keep it from getting soggy.

In went the whole recipe of almond cream and on went the sliced pears. I put an aluminum ring over the tart dough around the edges to keep it from burning. My tart only took about 45 minutes to bake, and it was very brown indeed on the top and around the edges. However, the almond cream in the middle and bottom seemed only barely done. Probably this was because of using such a dark colored pan -- plus maybe a little because of using a smaller, deeper pan. I should have reduced the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Oh well, another thing to try for next time.

This was delicious! I'd love to try it with a more intensely flavored fruit, like plums. It would be a great dessert to serve to guests because it can be made mostly in advance and looks harder to make than it really is!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A very late TWD: Arborio Rice Pudding

Our "Tuesday with Dorie" assignment for the week of November 18, 2008, was the Arborio Rice Pudding from "Baking: From My Home to Yours," by Dorie Greenspan. Thanks to Isabelle of Les gourmandises d’Isa for choosing this recipe!

I actually made the recipe on time -- but it's taken me this long to post about it. (Sorry about that!)

I loved this recipe, but my husband tried a little and then left the rest to me. I guess I will have to figure out some other dessert to make along with this in the future, so we can both be happy!

Rice pudding was not one of those things I grew up with, unlike some of you. I only started eating it when I began to visit Indian restaurants and discovered how much I loved Indian-style "milk sweets." That includes the Indian rice pudding called "kheer" or "khir," often flavored with rosewater, cardamom, and pistachio. So that's what I made! I guess this is an "Indian-Italian" or "fusion" recipe since it uses Italian-style Arborio rice.

You know, I think the real "star" of rice pudding is the milk, not the rice or flavorings. So I used the very best milk I could find -- lovely fresh, lightly pasteurized, un-homogenized whole milk from a local "micro-dairy," Blue Marble Family Farm. The flavor is wonderful to start with, and it just got more rich and creamy as I cooked it down.

I started from Dorie's recipe and used natural cane sugar (Demerera sugar) instead of white sugar, to give it a taste a bit like the Indian sugar "jaggery." I added two cardamom pods to the pudding while it cooked, then fished them out at the end. (It took more than an hour to cook the pudding down until it seemed thick enough. Next time I'll simmer it a bit more vigorously to start with.) After I took the pudding off the heat, I stirred in a tablespoon of rose flower water (next time I might use just two teaspoons) and some ground cardamom.

After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, I sprinkled on some chopped pistachios. Ah, lovely! Delicious, delicate, creamy...well, that's what I thought. Jim just said it was "bland." Oh well, I still love him even if he doesn't like rice pudding...

Thoughts for next time -- I'd like to try not rinsing or parboiling the rice, to see how the extra starch affects the texture of the pudding. And how about some orange blossom water instead of rosewater?

Click here for the recipe as posted on Isa's site, but note: the cooking time should be changed -- Dorie herself posted to the "Problems and Questions" for this recipe that there was a mistake in the book, and the proper cooking time was 55 minutes.

Postcript: I found a couple of authentic recipes for Indian-style rice pudding in books I currently have out from the library.

The "Chawal Kee Kheer" in Suvir Saran's "Indian Home Cooking" seems remarkably luxurious for home cooking -- it includes a gallon of half-and-half and 2 cups of heavy cream. The total cooking time is 4 1/2 hours minimum, maybe more. Partway through, basmati rice, golden raisins, and almonds are browned in ghee (clarified butter) with cardamom, then added. The sugar goes in at the end, just before cooling. It's served with a drizzle of saffron-infused cream. Wow! Fit for kings and queens!

On the other hand, the recipe for "Phirni" or Light Rice Pudding in Madhur Jaffrey's "Climbing the Mango Trees" is very simple indeed. She says that for the dish of her childhood, Basmati rice was washed, drained, and spread out to dry in the sun, then ground coarsely -- but you can use rice flour instead. Milk, sugar, and crushed cardamom are brought to a boil, mixed with a paste of ground rice and milk, and simmered for about 15 minutes. After cooking, it's sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Ms. Jaffrey says her mother always cooled the pudding in "shallow individual bowls, shakoras, made of rough terra-cotta. We could taste the earth in the pudding."

I suspect rice pudding is a very ancient dish. Rice has been a domestic crop for many thousands of years, and it was gathered wild before that. Imagine ancient rice-growing people living in a region where they also milk domestic animals (cows, goats, sheep, water buffalo) -- the notion of cooking rice, milk, and flavorings together seems pretty obvious. Isn't it fun to become part of history by cooking a dish with ancient roots?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

TWD catch-up #3: Buttery Jam Cookies

For the third and final installment in our "Tuesdays with Dorie" cookie streak -- here are the Buttery Jam Cookies, chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl as our recipe for December 16th. Now, I've heard of cookies with jam fillings, like Linzer cookies, thumbprints, and even rugelach...but cookies with jam mixed right into the batter? Interesting....

My Christmas cookie assortment already included cookies with apricot jam (rugelach) and cookies with ginger (lemon-ginger biscotti), but the apricot jam / ginger combination Dorie suggests sounded so delicious I just had to make it anyway. I increased the jam to about 5 Tablespoons, and reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup. To boost the apricot flavor, I added 2 ounces of chopped moist dried apricots.

After refrigerating overnight, I formed the cookies with a small portion scoop, rolled them in granulated sugar, and flattened them out with my hand. They spread only a small amount when baking, and ended up very soft and puffy. These cookies are great when still warm!

After they cooled down, I didn't think I liked them as much. The flavor was kind of subtle. But then I discovered I was going back for another one...and another... Watch out for these cookies, they sneak up on you! They are soft, almost like a rich scone, and great for nibbling. A few seconds in the microwave will warm them up nicely.

I ended up making another batch! The second time, I added even more jam (6 tablespoons) and chopped dried apricots (3 ounces), reduced the sugar to 1/3 cup, and increased the ground ginger to 3/4 teaspoon. Yum! Just about perfect! Maybe some some coarsely chopped almonds on top would be nice for next time...

These cookies need a strong-flavored, fairly tart jam. I would love to try orange or lime or ginger marmalade--perhaps with some candied peel or ginger added in. I have a feeling that these cookies are going to become a favorite at our house! They're easy, tasty and just a little different.

For the recipe, see this link.

TWD catch-up #2: Grandma's Sugar Cookies

Continuing with the cookie theme for "Tuesdays with Dorie," the recipe for December 9th was Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies, chosen by Ulrike of Küchenlatein.

Now, I must confess that plain sugar cookies have always seemed a little boring to me, so I took Dorie at her word when she said we could play around with these! I added the zest of 1 1/2 small navel oranges and 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract, plus 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom. I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup and the vanilla extract to 1/2 teaspoon.

For shaping, I rolled the dough up into two logs, each about 7 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and froze them for later baking. At baking time, I sliced them 1/4 inch thick, brushed the top lightly with beaten egg mixed with some home-made orange-peel-flavored brandy, and sprinkled with Swedish pearl sugar.

Very tasty! These are more of a crisp sugar cookie. I think I may prefer a softer sugar cookie. But these were a great addition to my holiday gift packages for family and friends. So pretty!

For the recipe, visit this link.

TWD catch-up #1: Linzer Sablés

Thank you, Laurie of Quirky Cupcake and founder of "Tuesdays with Dorie," for allowing us a lot of leeway with baking and posting our recipes during this month! I work in retail and this time of year is always busy. So, here come three posts about the recipes for December 2, 9, and 16. All cookies! Great idea -- I get to try new recipes from Dorie's book and have cookies to send to my family, too!

Let's start with the recipe for December 2nd, Linzer Sablés, as chosen by Dennis aka noskos of Living the Life. I love Linzer cookies and Linzer tarts. But I decided not to make the "jam sandwich" style of cookie. I thought I would be sending these off to my family, and I was afraid they'd get soggy. So, I went for chocolate-coated sablés in the style of Dorie's recipe on Serious Eats. I liked them so much I didn't send any away! But I'm sorry, I got busy and disorganized and did not take any pictures of the finished project. Here's what they looked like as I was cutting them out.

Since I had some skinned, toasted hazelnuts stashed in the freezer from a past project, I used 1/2 cup of those and 1 cup of raw, unblanched almonds to make the dough. After pulsing in the food processor I ended up with rather more than 1 1/2 cups of ground nuts. Apparently nuts fluff up when ground. Note to self -- 1 1/2 cups of ground almonds/hazelnuts weighs about 180 grams -- weigh them next time. I tossed in just a little ground allspice and ground nutmeg because what could be bad about a touch more spice? And I substituted 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar for part of the white sugar. After mixing up a couple of other cookie doughs too, they all got wrapped up and put into the fridge to roll out later.

Here's where I got a little crazy. I rolled the dough out roughly into two rectangles, then cut and pieced them back together to make two huge, thin diamonds. After some chilling, I cut them out with my wavy pastry cutter into pretty diamond shapes. Jim came into the kitchen while I was carefully marking, measuring and cutting, shook his head, and said, "Don't you think you're getting a bit compulsive there, dear?" Well, yes...but I was enjoying it! Into the freezer they went for a few days, until I had time to bake them up.

I baked some of them too long, until they were brown all over. They don't taste nearly as good that way. You want them to just barely be turning brown at the edges. When properly baked, they were nicely crisp, but I didn't think there was enough spice flavor. And they were a little too firm and crisp for my taste, and not quite "crumbly" enough. I was looking for more of a balance between the two textures. Picky, picky, though...they were still very good!

I had been planning to dip them in plain chocolate, but the kitchen Fates intervened in the form of a bad batch of toffee. Actually it wasn't that the toffee itself was bad -- but the coating of chocolate and chopped nuts detached from the toffee and fell off, leaving me with naked toffee and lots of small pieces of chocolate with nuts. Plainly the Fates intended that this chocolate/nut mix should go on the Linzer cookies instead. So, I melted it in the microwave with just a touch of vegetable shortening and hazelnut oil, and mixed in a generous amount of cinnamon. (It's amazing how much cinnamon you have to add to chocolate before you can even begin to taste it. Chocolate is a very dominant flavor!)

The chocolate/nut-sandwiched Linzers were much better! (But then, what wouldn't be better with chocolate?)

I'm not sure I'd make this recipe again -- it was good, but not superb. Still, I had fun making them -- and eating them!

For the recipe, visit this link, or this one.