Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD - no Chocolate Tarts this week

Sorry, my "Tuesdays with Dorie" friends -- I didn't make the Chocolate Tarts for this week. That Lemon Charlotte (see my last post) ending up taking up all my baking time! Too bad, because I love, love, love chocolate cream pie and was looking forward to trying Dorie's version. You can bet I'll manage to bake it eventually!

In the meantime, please check out what the other TWD bakers did with this recipe!

UPDATE! Jim didn't realize I was supposed to make chocolate cream tarts for TWD this week. Now that he's read this post, the cat is out of the bag. Suddenly I'm hearing all sorts of plaintive comments about my "strange sense of priorities" in putting sometime lemon ahead of something chocolate... So, I have a feeling the chocolate tarts have suddenly been bumped up to high-priority baking. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Baking With Rose: The Charlotte Challenge - Lemon Charlotte

Some folks over on the forums of Real Baking With Rose decided to issue a Charlotte Challenge. The challenge was to bake one of the charlotte recipes from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible." (If you'd like to see the other results, please visit this link. Sorry, no recipes are posted -- you'll have to consult the book.)

I was thinking of making the Ethereal Pear Charlotte, but then -- it turned out organic lemons were on sale at our local food co-op. So, I decided to make an Ethereal Lemon Charlotte instead. Although it turned out more of a "moderately fluffy" half-sized lemon charlotte, it was still good!

The components are: Almond Biscuit Roulade (p. 142-144) and Pierre Hermé's Lemon Cream (from Dorie Greenspan) for the shell, Lemon Cream Illusion (p. 266) for the filling (with Super-Stabilized Whipped Cream, p. 256, added because I messed up the meringue component), Lemon Curd (p. 340-342) for the top, with whipped cream for decoration.

The original Ethereal Pear Charlotte recipe (p. 175-177) calls for a shell made from Biscuit Roulade (a French sponge cake), stuck together with raspberry jam. I went with Almond Biscuit Roulade (p. 142-144), and since this was going in a 6-inch round pan rather than a 9-inch round pan, I just baked one sheet. That was enough with a little left over.

I'm quite pleased with how the roulade turned out -- I've only made it once before. That time it was Chocolate Roulade, and I overbaked it so it was kind of dry and rubbery. Also, I might not have beaten the egg/egg yolk/sugar mixture enough that first time. (This is amazing to watch. I kept beating it with my hand-held power mixer, switching the mixer from hand to hand as I got tired. It just kept getting lighter and lighter, fluffier and fluffier... Eventually it reached a stage where the beater marks were persisting and it formed a very thick, slow ribbon when I raised the beaters. "Patience, Grasshopper," is the key to this process.)

This time, the Biscuit was just right -- moist, fluffy, and springy. I still thought it was rubbery compared to, say, butter cake -- but I suspect that's how it is supposed to be. After all, it is mostly beaten eggs. Sort of a souffle-cake. I found myself gobbling up the trimmings -- always a good sign!

I was thinking of lemon curd for the "glue," but didn't feel like making an extra batch of lemon curd. What's more, there was some luscious lemon cream stashed in the freezer. (Fabulous stuff! Invented by French chef Pierre Hermé. Do try it some time. Here's a link to the recipe, and here are some hints.) So, the lemon cream became the "glue."

Making the charlotte shell is a bit of crafts project -- cutting out 2.5 inch wide strips of Biscuit, layering with the lemon cream, wrapping and freezing...then, next day, cutting the layered strips and fitting them into the spring-form pan. Then, trim and insert the bottom layer, coat it all with a bit more lemon cream (just because!) and refrigerate. Phew!

Now for the filling: I was hesitating between lemon curd lightened with whipped cream, or lemon curd lightened with Italian meringue. The idea of being able to use up the egg whites left over from the curd won out. OK, the plan was: make one recipe of Rose's Lemon Curd (p. 340-342) using only 1/4 cup sugar. Divide it in half and add more sugar (2 Tablespoons) to one batch. Use the less-sweet batch to make a half-recipe of Rose's Lemon Cream Illusion (p. 266), use that for the filling, and then spread the sweeter curd in a thin, smooth layer over the top.

Making the curd went well. I took the time to zest and juice all 10 of my on-sale lemons. The extra juice is now frozen into cubes and stored in the freezer. I mixed the zest with an equal weight of sugar and twice the weight of vodka, and put it into a jar in the fridge. In a few weeks, I will strain out the zest, store it in the freezer (it can still be used for flavoring, just use more), plus I'll have some home-made limoncello!

A couple of changes I made: I whizzed the lemon zest in my mini-food-processor with a little of the sugar so it was really finely ground, and stirred it in after the curd was cooked and strained. I also stirred in about 1 teaspoon of home-made limoncello (my last batch). My last few attempts at lemon curd have been good, but a little runny. This time I just kept cooking and stirring, cooking and stirring, until it got very thick indeed. It still wasn't up to Rose's recommended temperature of 196 degrees -- I've never had the nerve to take it that far. I think it was up to about 185 degrees. Divide, add more sugar to one batch, chill overnight. Phew!

OK, now for the half-recipe of Light Italian Meringue (p. 298-299). I was very diligent about measuring and weighing, getting everything ready, and letting the egg whites come to room temperature. Warm sugar syrup, beat egg whites, boil syrup to 248-250 degrees, immediately plunge my small syrup-pan into some water to stop the cooking -- all good. Slowly beat hot syrup into egg whites -- not so good. You see, I have a hand-held mixer and a round-bottomed copper bowl. The bowl spins around and moves on the counter top. I slowly poured the syrup onto the egg whites at the edges of the bowl, but wasn't able to move the whisk beater to the edge to incorporate it quickly enough. As soon as I realized this, I stopped the mixer, put down the syrup and held the bowl so I could incorporate the syrup. (This is one of those moments when you wish you were once of those multi-armed Hindu goddesses.) But some of the syrup ended up stuck to the sides of the bowl. Not to mention that the syrup remaining in my syrup-pan thickened and had to be reheated. What a pain. Well, the meringue did look very white and smooth, and I continued whipping it until cool -- it looked a bit like marshmallow fluff. But as soon as I started beating in the lemon curd, the meringue deflated drastically. Drat!

I tried letting the mixture cool enough that the gelatin started to set, and whipping again, but it didn't want to whip up. It tasted wonderful, but there wasn't enough volume to fill my Charlotte shell, not by a long shot. So, I whipped up 1/2 cup of heavy cream (stabilized with about 1/4 teaspoon of gelatin, see Rose's Super-Stabilized Whipped Cream, p. 256) and folded that in. Problem solved.

One of these days I am going to master Italian meringue, darn it all! Next time, I will rig up some sort of arrangement to hold the round copper bowl steady as I pour in the syrup (I'm thinking of a flatter bowl, lined with a terry towel).

After chilling the filling for about 2 hours, I pulled out the refrigerated lemon curd reserved for the topping. It was too thick to spread, but some careful microwaving and stirring thinned it down a bit. (You want it thick but pourable.) Then, back into the fridge for the final chill. The charlotte looked a bit naked, and the filling didn't come all the way up to the top -- so on went some whipped cream. I didn't bother trying to do a really neat piping job, but even a sloppy job makes it look much nicer!

Yum! As you can see, we got impatient to eat dessert and didn't let it chill long enough to set the lemon curd. I kind of like the lemon waterfall effect...

This is a lovely and tasty dessert, but it's very time-consuming, what with preparing and assembling all the different components. I'm not likely to do it again for "everyday" but I definitely would consider a full-size version for a special occasion! And this time was a great learning experience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Bread Pudding

Welcome to another chocolate-y week with "Tuesdays with Dorie!" This weeks recipe is "Four-Star Chocolate Bread Pudding" chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. Thank you, Lauren! Bread pudding is a new experience for me.

I wasn't sure if we'd like this dessert, so I made just a quarter of the recipe and baked it in a small casserole dish. How do you measure 3/4 of an egg? I used my scale. 1 large egg (out of the shell) should weight 50 grams, so 3/4 of that is 37.5 grams. I weighed the single egg yolk, too, because I've been hearing that egg yolks are getting smaller. No kidding! Granted, it came from a medium rather than large egg, but my wimpy yolk measured just 13 grams instead of the 18.6 grams that Rose Levy Beranbaum specifies for a large egg yolk. I decided to make up the difference with some of the extra whole egg. It seemed to work OK.

I couldn't get all of the chocolate to melt into the custard. There were tiny specks of chocolate in my custard even after I put it back over the heat and whisked like crazy. I have no idea why that happened. Eventually I just gave up and poured it over the bread. If I try this again, I'm going to melt the chocolate before mixing it into the custard mixture.

Speaking of the bread, I made my own! There isn't much of a selection of white bread at our food co-op, and Jim would give me all sorts of trouble if I brought home a loaf of supermarket white bread (gasp! the horror!) After browsing through some recipes, I decided against a brioche or challah. They sounded like a lot of work and contained a whole lot of eggs. I settled on a sandwich loaf recipe that had milk, one egg, 2 tablespoons of butter, and two tablespoons of sugar in one loaf. And to make it a bit healthier, one-third of the flour was white whole wheat flour. Jim still said it was "way too white-bread," and I thought it was a bit too sweet, but it worked just great for the pudding!

At first I thought I was going to have too much custard, and planned to baked the extra in a small custard cup. But the bread puffed up like crazy after soaking and I ended up needing all of the custard just to cover it. Oh yes, I put in some dried cherries, and sprinkled some Amaretti crumbs over the top just before baking.

Here it is afer baking and cooling. It took about 35-40 minutes to bake, even though I was only making a quarter of the recipe.

Here's what the inside looks like. The chocolate didn't soak all the way into the bread. And the cherries all sank to the bottom even though I had quite deliberately put them in the middle of the two layers of bread cubes. Not really the most elegant of desserts -- but then, it's not supposed to be.

The verdict? It tasted fine, but I doubt I'll make it again. To quote Jim again, "I can think of lots of better ways to use chocolate." (Like last week's cake, for example.) Still, it was fun to try -- I've never made bread pudding before. I might do another one someday, but probably not with chocolate. In fact, I'm thinking maybe a savory one would be good -- with some shaved ham, onions, cheese, and some sort of vegetable -- sort of a quiche without the crust.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Amaretti Torte

For this week's "Tuesdays with Dorie," Holly of Phe/MOM/enon chose the Chocolate Amaretti Torte. Great choice, Holly!

This recipe calls for Amaretti, which are Italian macaroon cookies made with almonds, egg whites, and sugar. (My husband keeps confusing them with Amaretto, the Italian almond liqueur. No, sweetie, not quite the same thing.) I'm sure I could have found them somewhere in Madison, but in the interest of using up extra egg whites, I made my own instead. Of course, that raises the question of how many to use. Many thanks to Amanda, who had already contacted Dorie Greenspan with the same question, and to Marthe who posted the answer on the "P&Q" (Problems and Questions). (You need 2.75 ounces, which turned out to be exactly 8 of my cookies.)

I used whole blanched almonds and a mixture of 77% Chocolove and 54% Callebaut chocolates for the cake, adding a pinch of salt. It was a little hard to be sure when the cake was done -- the knife kept coming out "goopy" rather than the "streaky" that Dorie says it should be. After several rounds of "just one more minute," I took it out, because with chocolate cakes it's always better to err on the side of underbaked. It turned out just right! Look at the lovely moist crumb in the picture above!

For the ganache glaze, I used a 3.5 ounce bar of Valrhona Noir Amer (71%) eked out with some more Callebaut 54%. It took two "pourings" to cover the cake. I scraped up the drippings from the first pour and put them through a small coarse sieve to remove any crumbs. Doesn't the surface look lovely and mirror-like? (There were a few small bubbles, but I popped them with the tip of a toothpick while the glaze was still runny.)

The bottom line? It was delicious!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Using up egg whites: Amaretti made with almond paste

Three out of four of this month's Tuesdays with Dorie recipes leave you with left-over egg whites. Argh! I already have three one-cup containers of frozen egg whites in storage! It's time to start using up the egg whites.

For my first try, I decided to make some home-made Amaretti cookies. As they were going to be part of the Chocolate Amaretti Torte for Tuesdays with Dorie, I wanted to make them dry and crunchy, so I put them back into the warm oven to dry out after baking them. This worked very well. They ended up like dry, crunchy rocks with just a faint trace of "chew" at the center. My husband was disappointed -- he wanted to eat some of them! Next time I will save some for eating and only dry out part of the batch.

There are a lot of Amaretti recipes out there on the Web. I based my version on these three, but reduced the sugar a lot.
From Joy of Baking: http://www.joyofbaking.com/AmarettiCookies.html
From MyRecipes: http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=1545760
From Solo Foods: http://solofoods.com/Almond_Macaroons.aspx

Recipe and directions:

1 8-ounce can (227 gm) almond paste (I used Solo brand)
1/2 cup (100 gm) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large egg whites (60 gm)
more granulated sugar for sprinkling

Place almond paste into food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse to break up the paste until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add sugar and salt and pulse until it looks like fine crumbs. With processor running, add egg whites in 4 additions. The mixture may form a ball at first, but once you've added all the egg whites, it should become softer. Process another minute or two. It should be a smooth, soft paste.

Scrape into a pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch round tip (or smaller for minis) or with a coupler. Put some plastic wrap over the open tip of the bag, fold down the top of the bag, and refrigerate for 2 hours or so to let the sugar finish dissolving.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone sheets. Preheat oven to 325 F. Pipe into small balls about 1 inch across. (I ended up with 27 of them. Your results may vary.) Moisten your fingers with cool water and gently flatten the pointed tops. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.

Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until cracked and dry on the tops, golden brown around edges, and beginning to be golden on top. Let cool for about 10 minutes, still on pans. Keep oven door closed but turn off heat.

If you want to save some soft, chewy cookies for eating, remove as many as you want and place on racks. Place the remainder back in oven and prop oven door slightly open. Let sit for about 30 minutes or more in warm oven to finish drying out.

Peel them off the silicone sheet. If you used parchment and they don't want to come off, dampen back of parchment slightly and wait a minute or two.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TWD: Banana Cream Pie

This week's recipe for "Tuesdays with Dorie" was a Banana Cream Pie, chosen by Amy of Sing For Your Supper. You can find the recipe on her blog.

As you can see, mine were more like pie- or tart-lets. I made half a recipe of Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough and pressed it into some standard-size muffin tins. I ended up with enough for three cups plus a little left over (it got baked and eaten as a cookie-delicious!)

But after they were frozen and baked, the dough puffed up a lot. Hardly any room for the filling! Live and learn. Notes for next time: try dividing the tart dough into 4 pieces (for a half-recipe), rolling each one out, trimming to size and then placing in muffin tins. Also, try a trick I just read about in Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise" -- sandwich the dough between two pans and bake it upside down until firm -- then turn right-side up, remove the top pan and finish baking.

Oh well, onwards...I made one-third of the recipe for the pastry cream filling. One change--I used potato starch instead of cornstarch, just because I like it for pie fillings and was curious to see how it worked for pastry cream. The cream thickened up really fast! But a lot of other folks said that, too, so I don't think it was the potato starch. I turned down the heat and whisked it for a bit longer (with difficulty), as I was worried about cooking the eggs enough to kill bacteria. Turns out this was a good thing, although not for that reason. In "Bakewise," it says that you need to heat a starch-thickened custard to 180 F to deactivate an enzyme in the egg yolks. Otherwise your custard (or pastry cream) will thin out and get soupy after standing.

The pastry cream seemed so thick that I whisked in a little cream. It was stored in the fridge for a couple of days. It did seem a bit thin when I took it out. Once again, live and learn.

With those thick tart shells, there was only room for about three slices of banana and a few spoonfuls of pastry cream. Lots of room for the whipped cream on top, though!

The verdict? Well, the ratio of crust to filling was way off, of course. I ended up spooning on more filling on the side. The crust was wonderfully crisp, tender, and buttery. The brown-sugar-and-cinnamon pastry cream was the best part of the whole thing -- I wanted to take a bath in it! Luscious! The touch of tartness from the sour cream in the whipped cream rounded the tastes off nicely.

My husband, on the other hand, said it was "boring" and wanted to know when we were going to have something chocolate. Guess what, honey, you're in luck for the next three weeks at least!

Leftovers -- whipped cream and pastry cream with banana.

1) I really, really loved the pastry cream. I'd like to use it for a Tropical Cream Pie or Trifle involving bananas, pineapple, coconut and rum....mmmmm.
2) I'm going to have to give the library's copy of "Bakewise" back soon, so my very own copy will soon be on its way -- along with "Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3." Yes, I have eclectic tastes.