Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TWD: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte

This week's project for the Tuesdays with Dorie group was a Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte, chosen by April of Short + Rose. Check out her blog for the recipe, or see another version on Epicurious.

I love chocolate, cherries, and mascarpone, so I was really looking forward to this recipe. But frugality suggested a half-recipe. Some of the folks in the Problems and Questions forum said a 6-inch springform was a little small for a half-recipe, so I went for a 7-inch springform instead. That was perfect.

Here's my favorite brand of dried tart cherries, from Door County, Wisconsin (famous for cherries). And here's a link to their Web site -- they do mail order, folks!

I made half the recipe for the brownie portion, but 2/3 of the recipe for the mascarpone mousse topping, because I had an 8-ounce container of mascarpone and didn't want to have 2 ounces left over. And topped it with home-made cherry jelly, piped in spokes and then swirled around in circles. All seemed well. Doesn't that torte up above look wonderful? It's been chilled overnight.

Here's what happened when I unmolded it, though.

It's a mousse landslide! Looks like a steep hillside after a heavy rain...

I think perhaps it was because I had frozen and thawed the mascarpone. At least, that's my current theory.

But it tasted good anyway. Although we thought the brownie base was a bit too dense and hard when chilled. It would be better at room temperature or even warm, perhaps topped with a scoop of cherry vanilla ice cream.

And the mousse was a little bland. I'd have liked some cherries in there, too. And some unflavored gelatin to thicken it up! I have another 8-ounce container of mascarpone in the freezer. Maybe it will end up in a slightly different Black Forest Torte some day...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Almond Shamah Chiffon Squares

Welcome to this week's installment of the Heavenly Cake Bakers! This week's project is the Almond Shamah Chiffon Cake from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. What's a "Shamah," you ask? It's the last name of one of Rose's friends, assistants and advisors, David Shamah. He challenged her to develop an almond chiffon cake recipe that could be baked in a flat pan rather than a tube pan.

I made mine into cake squares so they would be easier to sell at our office bake sale. (We're having an ongoing pre-Christmas bake sale to benefit a local charity.) So, I used two 8x8 inch square pans rather than two 9-inch round pans. And I used up the last of a batch of Orange Mousseline Buttercream (also one of Rose's recipes, but from her earlier book The Cake Bible) rather than using the whipped cream frosting. I'd had the frosting in the freezer for longer than I like to admit, and it was high time to use it up.

Here are the finished cakes:

By the way, I'm developing a theory of "simple cake decorating," which is that almost any pattern, repeated, will make your cake look nice. Even if the pattern isn't really all that regular. Sort of like what Elizabeth Zimmermann said about knitting, that a mistake repeated becomes a pattern.

And here's a picture of the crumb -- isn't it nice and light? I am beginning to think that I really prefer sponge cakes. I love that light, springy texture.

I followed the recipe closely. One change -- as I had some almond flour in the freezer, I decided to try toasting the almond flour rather than toasting and grinding up almonds. I just spread the flour in a skillet over medium heat, then turned the heat down and whisked frequently once the flour heated up. It was hard to tell by color when it was done -- it does turn a bit darker, but your nose is the very best guide. I stopped when it smelled nice and toasty, but not burnt. And I measured it by weight not volume.

Speaking of measuring by weight, this recipe calls for 8 egg yolks. Here are my egg yolks:

Notice there are 9 of them? I cracked open an extra egg just in case. And guess what? These weren't enough! I had to use another egg yolk (10 in all) to get up to the proper weight of egg yolks in the recipe! These were the proper size eggs (large), too. Egg yolks really ARE getting smaller these days.

Here's one of my two 8-inch square cakes just out of the oven. They smelled lovely. After cooling, I wrapped and refrigerated them for a couple of days until I was ready to assemble the cake.

Here is one of the cakes after trimming the top and bottom and edges, and syruping. My "cake board" is just a piece of an old cardboard box, covered with aluminum foil.

Lots of cake crumbs! I toasted them a bit, ground them up in the food processor, and put them into the freezer. There's a Nick Malgieri chocolate torte recipe that calls for cake crumbs...I think I have enough now.

On to the frosting. I had about 3 to 3 1/2 cups of frozen orange-flavored buttercream. Above is what it looked like when thawed, but still cold. Looks ghastly and curdled, right?

But, just put the bowl into a pan of warm water to bring it up to the right temperature, and beat it again, and Voila! It's buttercream again. Yes, this is really the same stuff, just a few minutes later.

So, what's the final review? I loved the texture of this cake -- airy, light, springy, yet tender. The almond flavor was subtle, maybe a bit too subtle to stand up to the orange buttercream (which I'd punched up with Grand Marnier and extra orange zest). I suspect the whipped-cream-and-jam frosting would have been better. Still, no complaints! And I think this is my first chiffon cake ever. It was fun!

And the pan was empty when I brought it home from work. Success!

TWD Late: Sweet Potato Biscuits

Well, folks, I did make the Tuesdays with Dorie selection for October 20th, but I made it a bit late and am posting it even later. Erin of Prudence Pennywise choose Sweet Potato Biscuits from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours." (Love Erin's blog, especially the music! Check out this link for the recipe, or this one from NPR (you'll have to scroll down a bit).

Aren't they pretty? I hate having to re-roll the scraps, so I usually cut my biscuits into squares or triangles. That leaves only a few trimmings from around the edges to make up those last, few, sad and ugly biscuits.

This was not one of the sad biscuits. What a lovely color! Great spread with butter. Neither of us is that crazy about sweet potatoes, but these were delicious! We both agreed we'd like them even better as breakfast scones, with some raisins and nuts inside and a sprinkle of natural sugar crystals on top.

I baked my sweet potatoes (while Jim was baking a casserole dish full of his wonderful jambalaya), then mashed them. The recipe calls for 3/4 to 1 cup of puree, but I only had 1/2 cup and it was really dry. So I added in 1/2 cup of buttermilk and went ahead with the recipe. This was not enough liquid. I ended up with a really dry, crumbly dough:

Here's a hint that applies to both pie pastry and biscuit dough -- regard the amount of liquid in the recipe as merely a guideline. Even if you weigh out all the ingredients with great precision, you'll never need exactly the same amount of liquid twice. Go by the consistency of the dough instead. For pie pastry, it should be soft and hold together, but not be too moist or too sticky. For biscuits, on the other hand, the moister the dough, the lighter and fluffier the biscuits. Or so all the biscuit experts say, and my experience bears them out.

So, I added a few more tablespoons of milk to the dough until it was moist and sticky, then patted it out on a floured counter to a rough rectangle and cut it into triangles. Onto the baking sheet and into the very hot oven (another key feature for light, fluffy biscuits) and in a short time they were done.

These were better after cooling down just a bit. Biscuits really are best fresh, but they re-heat pretty well when wrapped in aluminum foil and put into an oven or toaster oven. The microwave tends to toughen them a bit.

So, try some sweet potato biscuits -- you might find you like them!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Apple Upside-Down Cake

Hello folks, welcome to the Heavenly Cake Bakers a day late. This week's cake was the Apple Upside-Down Cake. It's the very first cake in Rose Levy Beranbaum's new book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes.

The recipe calls for a pound of apple slices -- two large apples. Rose's apples must be REALLY large because it took a lot more than that for me. Of course, I did have to cut away quite a few bad spots. I don't think I'll buy that particular brand of organic apples again (Honeycrisps). I had to throw in a pear for good measure.

Next step, toss the apple slices with brown sugar and lemon juice, then drain. Add juices to melted butter and more brown sugar (I used ground-up Turbinado sugar) and simmer. Rose said to simmer for 3 minutes, but it took longer for me. And I wish I'd cooked it a little longer for a darker color. Pour caramel into bottom of pan, layer on apples (I got two layers).

Next comes the cake batter. We don't publish the recipes for this group, but this one is basically a 3/4 recipe of "Rose's Favorite Yellow Cake" from her blog. I make two changes -- I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for 1/3 of the cake flour, and I used 1 1/2 whole eggs instead of 3 egg yolks. Also, I beat the batter longer, because I have a hand-held power mixer, not a stand mixer.

The batter was very thick, which is typical of Rose's recipes. I spread it around on top of the apples as best I could. But, it looks like I left some bubbles of air, most likely down where the apples & batter came together. After about 10 minutes in the oven, the cake had developed many huge air bubbles on top, some of which were starting to turn brown! I popped them with a toothpick and kept baking...

The cake was very brown on top after 35 minutes, a thin knife came out clean, and it was even starting to pull away from the sides. So I took it out and inverted it on a plate. Oh ****! It was obviously gooey and underbaked near the apple layer. Thinking fast, I put it (still on the plate) back in the oven for 10 more minutes. (Fortunately the plate was oven-proof.) Hey, that worked!

The caramel top was not as brown as I'd like (and I did use the baking stone), but the cake was still very tasty despite all the problems. Rose's yellow cake is extremely tender and fine-grained, and has a wonderful taste. To my taste it is a bit crumbly in texture, though. I am realizing that I have a preference for cakes with a more springy and slightly more firm texture. Can't wait for next week's chiffon cake!

For this cake? I'd definitely make it again, but next time I'll try moving the rack even closer to the bottom of the oven, turning the oven down a bit (I think it runs hotter when I am baking towards the bottom then when I bake in the middle), and running a knife or thin spatula through the batter to try and get rid of large bubbles. Plus, I'd like a touch of spice -- a bit of lemon zest in the batter, and a dusting of cinnamon, mace, allspice or nutmeg on the apples.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD: Allspice Crumb Muffins

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie features Allspice Crumb Muffins, chosen by Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table.

One word -- YUM!

I made these almost as written. I added some chopped walnuts to the streusel (they were left over and needed to be used up, and we both love nuts in streusel). I replaced one-third of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and added the optional lemon zest. And I had leftover streusel. (Guess I'll have to make more muffins!)

Kayte, thanks for a great choice!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Barcelona Brownie Bites

Yippee! My first post for the new Heavenly Cake Bakers group! (For more information about the group, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)

This week's project was the Barcelona Brownie Bars from pages 367-370 of the brand-new book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. In this group, we won't be publishing the recipes, but this week you're in luck -- Rose posted the recipe on her blog.

So, we make a lovely brownie batter of melted chocolate and butter, sugar, cocoa, eggs, vanilla, cream cheese, flour, salt, and pecans. It can be mixed all by hand, which is what I did. Delicious! I licked the bowl...

The recipe calls for a very cute mini-cake or financier mold. Since I don't have one and my budget isn't up for buying one at the moment, I used my mini-muffin pan instead. The batter filled up my 24-hole pan completely, all the way to the top of each hole, and I was worried it would overflow after baking, but it didn't.

To grease the pan, I used some "cocoa pan goop" -- a mixture of solid vegetable shortening, oil, cocoa, and flour. Excellent when making brownies and chocolate cakes.

After the brownies bake (it only took about 10-12 minutes for these little guys), you "gild the lily" by poking holes in them and pouring in ganache. Gosh, a few years ago I had no idea what ganache was! It's just a fancy word for chocolate and cream, melted together. Simple but divine!

I took Rose's hint and made the ganache ahead of time. It was too solid, so into the microwave it went for about 10 seconds. Then it was a bit too runny. Sigh. The picture in the book shows these lovely, rounded "plugs" of ganache. Mine were more like a dribbly mess. So I just let the brownies cool a bit and frosted the tops with the ganache. Next time I may just forget about the "plugs" and do the frosting. And I may make more. I think that should be one of my mottos -- "Always make extra ganache."

This is an excellent brownie recipe! They are nicely in between the extremes of cakey and fudgey, with a bit of both. The cocoa and chocolate together give lots of flavor, the cream cheese gives richness and moistness, the pecans add crunch, and the ganache glaze is creamy and lush. Jim and I both loved them, and our only complaint (if you can call it that) is that it is impossible to eat just one!

The Heavenly Cake Bakers are a new group formed to bake our way through the new book "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Our hostess is Marie of Heavenly Cake Place.