Friday, November 27, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the choices for November's "Tuesdays with Dorie" was the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake, chosen for November 3 by Katya of Second Dinner. It's a fancy cake, with layers of cake made with chestnut spread, moistened with a brandy syrup, filled with caramel-milk chocolate ganache and chopped chestnuts, frosted with more ganache. And as if that's not enough, then you glaze it with a darker ganache and top it with gilded chestnuts. Yikes! You can find the recipe on Katya's blog or on Epicurious.

This is a half-recipe, made in a 6-inch square pan. Looks fabulous, doesn't it? I really liked how it tasted, too. It was a great Thanksgiving dessert.

I'm going to blather on at great length about this cake, so here's a quick summary:

1) This was the first time I cooked with chestnuts -- or ate them. I think they're kind of bland and boring now that I've tried them. But it was worth a try! (Oh, and I didn't gild them.)

2) Despite my opinion of chestnuts, I loved the cake!

3) Instead of Dorie's glaze, I used the Chocolate Lacquer Glaze from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes." Shiny!

One reason I wanted to make this cake was the sheer challenge of the recipe. Another was that it gave me an excuse to try chestnuts. I've never had them. After tasting both canned chestnuts and fresh, home-roasted chestnuts, I'm sorry to say that my opinion is "meh." They're not like other nuts -- more starchy, softer, less "nutty," with a mild, earthy taste that I don't dislike, but don't go crazy for either.

And as my husband pointed out, "They look weird. Like little brains." Oh, thanks for that image, love!

On one of my shopping trips to "the big city" (Madison, WI), I looked around for chestnuts. No fresh chestnuts at that time (they've arrived now, though). No sweetened chestnut spread (and I visited quite a few stores). I did find canned chestnuts at Whole Foods and sprang for a 10-ounce jar.

Having tasted them and found them bland, I decided to see if I could dress them up with a caramel glaze.

It looked like it was going to work, but a problem soon developed. Despite draining and drying the canned chestnuts, they still were so moist that the caramel wouldn't stick. And after a overnight stay in the refrigerator, the hard caramel glaze had turned into runny (but delicious) caramel syrup.

Since I couldn't find the chestnut spread, I made my own. Note to self: if I do this again, do NOT put the chestnuts into caramel syrup first. It made for a sticky mess that refused to turn into a paste, even after trips through my mini-food processor and blender. Eventually I had to push it through a sieve. It did taste lovely, though, after the addition of vanilla extract and enough water to make it spread-able. So far this is my favorite way to eat chestnuts. It's lovely on toast made from Jim's home-made bread!

Here's the cake - the chestnut spread gives it a nice color.

Sorry, no pictures of making the caramel-milk chocolate ganache filling. I'm not usually a fan of milk chocolate, but this ganache was luscious.

Here are the chopped chestnuts for the filling. They'd been soaking in the caramel syrup for a couple of weeks. I also mixed some of the caramel syrup with brandy and used that to syrup the cake.

Here's the cake after filling and frosting with the ganache. Then it went into the refrigerator overnight.

At this point I departed from Dorie's recipe and made the super-shiny Chocolate Lacquer Glaze from Rose Levy Beranbaum's new book, "Rose's Heavenly Cakes." It's easy to make, but alas, it thickened up quickly when I poured it on the cold cake. The recipe called for bringing it to 85 degrees before pouring, and I did, but for a really cold cake like this one, I think you need a higher temperature. Still, it looks pretty good. If you want to see what it should look like, check out this post by Rachel of the Heavenly Cake Bakers. Now, that's shiny!

Unfortunately, my whole chestnuts had been sitting in the refrigerator for two weeks, and I'd made the mistake of not storing them in the caramel syrup. They turned into a science experiment. Oops! By that time, fresh chestnuts were coming into the stores -- so I bought a few and roasted them in the microwave. Those are the ones on top of the cake. Sorry, fresh-roasted chestnuts still are "meh" as far as I am concerned. But it was fun to try it out!

After all these lukewarm statements about chestnuts, you'll probably be surprised to hear that I really liked the cake. The flavors were all subtle and blended well together, and it was so elegant! I do wonder how it would turn out with I'd like it even better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Catalan Salt Pinch Cake

This week's cake for the Heavenly Cake Bakers was the Catalan Salt Pinch Cake. Despite the name, there's no salt at all in the recipe. But the "pinch" part is because the traditional way to eat it is to pinch off pieces with your hands.

How could I resist? I love eating with my hands -- to the despair of my parents and now my husband.

I did make a few changes to the recipe -- I used Trader Joe's almond meal, so I didn't have to grind up the almonds. I just spread the almond meal out on a baking sheet and toasted it in the oven until it smelled nice and "toasted almond-y" -- about 7 to 10 minutes. I used 6 tablespoons of Turbinado sugar, after grinding it in my food processor and sifting it to remove any larger crystals that were still left. For the rest of the sugar, I used regular white sugar, also ground fine in the food processor. And I added about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, because how could I make a cake called a "salt" cake without salt? (OK, OK, Rose says it's the name of a bakery and a village. But I still wanted the salt.)

This is a simple sponge cake using a mixture of ground almonds and flour, and a mixture of whole eggs and egg whites. You beat the egg whites to soft peak stage first, then add in a whole lot of sugar and beat again. I had a moment of panic at this point, because the egg whites became very liquid and runny. It was plain they were never going to get back to "soft peak" stage, let alone to "firm peak" stage. But wait! Rose doesn't say they should! You just have to beat until they are "very thick." OK, I can do that. They looked like marshmallow fluff sauce. Then stir in the almond meal and remaining sugar.

Now we beat in the whole eggs (and salt, in my case). Easy? Not easy if you only have a hand-held electric have to beat the eggs in very slowly, taking 20 to 25 minutes. Even with switching hands, I was getting tired of holding that mixer! The scene from "Like Water for Chocolate" came to mind, the one where she is beating the batter for her sister's wedding cake and weeping into the batter. My love life is in much better shape than hers, but I was feeling a bit like weeping too.

Really, what did people do before electric mixers? Maybe they only made egg foam cakes for very special occasions -- or if they had servants to beat the egg foam for them.

I think I must be developing some "cake intuition" -- after about 25 minutes of beating, I could see a change in the egg foam and it seemed "done." It was light and foamy, and had thickened enough to show the marks of the beaters.

OK, fold in the lemon zest and flour. Pinch out any lumps of flour. (Did I mention I love using my hands?) At this point I remembered (too late) that Shirley Corriher has some useful tips on folding flour into sponge cakes in her new book "Bakewise." One of them is to reserve some of the sugar and mix it with the flour. Oh well, maybe next time.

Into the pan and into the oven. After 20-some minutes, my "cake intuition" told me the cake was not quite done -- and so did the toothpick test. Bake a little longer, ah, now it looked and felt done. It had puffed up nicely and hadn't started to fall -- but it did fall in the center once it came out of the oven.

We had great fun pinching off pieces and eating them! Other than that, though, Jim was just lukewarm about this cake. He is just not a fan of sponge cakes. I liked it better -- I am a fan. I love the open, springy texture and airy lightness of sponge cakes. Still, I thought this one was a touch too sweet and had a faint "eggy" taste that I didn't like. The lemon flavor was barely there, the toasted almond flavor and the raw sugar flavor were present but not strong. I'd like this better with more flavor, at least when eaten by itself. I'm thinking a touch of almond extract, and maybe some orange zest and cinnamon. And I'd also like to test it with a fruit topping. Sponge cakes are so great at soaking up those fruit juices...

But truthfully, I'm not sure I'll make this exact recipe again. If I'm going to spend a long time beating an egg foam, I think I'd prefer an almond génoise -- because I get to add lovely browned butter! Can I still eat it with my hands? Please?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TWD: All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake

One of our options for "Tuesdays with Dorie" this month was the All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake, chosen by Britin of The Nitty Britty. It's a pumpkin-spice cake with add-ins of chopped apples, cranberries, and pecans. Perfect for the fall season!

Doesn't it look delicious? Well, it was! You can find the recipe here or here or here.

The recipe says you can add a maple-flavored frosting, but that seemed like overkill. A light dusting of powdered sugar was just right.

I saved a couple of slices for my husband -- and took the rest into work in my "new" antique cake carrier. (An early birthday present from aforesaid sweet husband -- purchased on eBay.) Shiny!

We'd all had a rough week at work and this hit the spot!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake -- well, almost

The Heavenly Cake Bakers' project for this week is Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake -- a lemon-flavored yellow butter cake (with white chocolate in the batter), layered with lemon curd, and frosted with a white chocolate-vanilla-lemon buttercream.

Mine is actually a Lemon "Whisper of Luxury" White Cake. Let me explain.

The full recipe calls for 13 egg yolks, 4 whole eggs, 17.8 ounces of butter and 16.6 ounces of white chocolate. Whew! Even with Green & Black's white chocolate on sale at the co-op, the monetary and calorific cost of the cake was scaring me. And then there was the thought of all those left-over egg whites. Do you know how many containers of egg whites are already in my freezer? (Good, then you can tell me, because I've lost track...too many, is all.)

But my taste buds wanted this cake. I love lemon! OK, I'll make a half recipe of the cake and bake it in 6-inch round pans instead of 9-inch round pans. And I'll make 3/4 of the recipe for the frosting, because I'll probably need more than half. (At some point I'd like to make a post explaining the math for this. But maybe not now.)

And, to help with the egg white problem, I'll make it a white cake instead of a yellow cake. Hey, if you turn to page 48 of Rose's earlier book, "The Cake Bible," you'll find the basis for this cake recipe -- the Golden Luxury Cake. It's virtually identical to this recipe - except the Lemon Luxury has very slightly less baking powder, adds a teaspoon of lemon zest, and is baked in deeper pans. And if you flip ahead a page in the Cake Bible, you'll find the White Velvet Whisper Cake. Guess what? It's identical to the Golden Luxury Cake, except it uses 4 1/2 egg whites instead of 6 egg yolks. Aha! A way to use some of those extra egg whites from the lemon curd!

After some time with a pencil and calculator, the first step was the lemon curd -- 3/4 of the recipe. Some of it goes into the frosting and the rest is used for filling and decorating. You might think measuring 3/4 of 7 egg yolks would be hard, but I just used my scale. Weighing is the way to go!

The last time I made lemon curd, it turned out a bit runny, so I cooked this a bit longer. See how it mounds up? Actually, my test for done-ness is to run the spatula across the pan, scraping all the way to the bottom. You should be able to see the bottom of the pan briefly before the curd oozes slowly back, and the marks of the spatula should fade away quite slowly. I've tried going by temperature, but mine never seems to get as hot as it is supposed to.

I love how Rose has you mix the softened butter in with the eggs. Yes, it's a bit more of a pain to wait for it to soften, but the curd just does not lump. You hardly have to strain it - although I did, just in case.

OK, put the curd into the fridge to cool and gather up and measure ingredients for the cake and frosting. Leave in a corner of the kitchen counter overnight. See? I just have to bring out the egg whites and milk from the fridge -- and later, the eggs for the frosting.

All went well with mixing the cake batter until I began to pour the batter into the pans. "Gee, this seems awfully thin," I thought, and then it struck me. The white chocolate! I forgot to add it! There it was, resting on the counter behind me as it cooled. Drat. I should have put it on the same counter. So I scraped the batter back into the mixing bowl, and mixed in the white chocolate. Ah, now it was nice and thick.

No way was I washing out the pans, drying them, cutting new rounds of waxed paper -- nope, I just wiped away the small amount of remaining batter with a damp paper towel and put on some more "pan goop." (Shortening, oil, flour. Thanks to Alton Brown, there is always some of this in my freezer.)

There really didn't seem to be much batter. It only came about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pan. Hmm. I don't understand. I really didn't lose that much batter with the mistake -- I was very thorough about scraping it back out of the pans. Oh well, into the oven.

They rose nicely. But it was interesting how differently the two cakes baked. The one with the red silicone strip baked considerably faster, despite having a little more batter in the pan. It domed more, and the edges got brown. The one with the Wilton fabric strip took 5 minutes longer to bake. It was more even and did not get brown at the edges. And even though I baked it longer, it came out dense and underbaked. (It's the bottom layer in the finished cake.)

Layer 1: Silicone cake strip

Layer 2: Fabric cake strip

My comparison was not quite fair -- I overlapped the Wilton strip on itself, so most of the cake had two layers of cake strip. I don't think this was a good idea -- it gave too much insulation. And of course there is always the possibility that my oven heats differently on one side.

Both cakes shrank and fell a lot after a few minutes out of the oven. And they were hard to get out of the pans -- but I blame that on my mistake. Some batter had gotten under the wax paper liners and they stuck. In fact, the fabric-strip cake cracked in half. Oh well, the frosting will cover it all up.

So, on to the frosting. First, melt white chocolate and butter together. Thank goodness for Kristina's post about this, or I would have panicked! By the time the white chocolate bits were melted, the mixture had separated into a grainy mess with melted butter floating on top. (It was about 110 F or so.)

It looked even worse just after stirring in the eggs, but as it heated up again, it smoothed out beautifully. For this, you really need to go by the thermometer reading to know when it is done -- there was no dramatic change in texture.

OK, into the fridge with an occasional stirring until it gets down to room temperature. Lovely! Now, beat up some softened butter and gradually beat in the white chocolate custard. Then let sit for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

At this point my husband started saying, "So, is it cake yet?" with increasing impatience. He likes simpler desserts that don't keep him waiting as long!

So, while we're waiting for the frosting, let's put together some of the cake layers. The recipe calls for splitting each layer and filling with lemon curd. Splitting my poor little flat cakes looked like it was going to be a royal pain -- and result in even more cracked cake. (I really should have remembered that white chocolate...Sigh.) OK, go to Plan B -- let's leave it at two layers and just put a really thick layer of lemon curd in between. Hey, I like that idea! And my lemon curd is nice and thick, not runny at all. See? (If you look closely, you can see the crack in the layer, too.) Wrap it up and put into the fridge for a while...

The frosting got to rest for about an hour and 15 minutes ("When will it be cake?") before I beat in a bit of the lemon curd. A taste test revealed only a faint taste of lemon. Now, I like my lemon desserts to be lemony. They may not have to shout "LEMON!!" (although I don't mind if they do), but they at least have to state "Lemon!" with a bit of emphasis. So I pulled out the jar of Penzey's lemon extract and the jar of frozen lemon zest/sugar/vodka and started doctoring it up. It took several additions before I was happy with the taste. It was still only saying "lemon," but at least the white chocolate had receeded to the background. That's where I prefer it. I'm not a fan of white chocolate, although it can be nice as a subtle whisper.

The cake got a crumb coat and a brief rest in the refrigerator, then the final coat of frosting. At this point the cake is supposed to chill again, but the cries of "Cake now!" were getting louder, not to mention that it was getting late. If I didn't finish up this cake now, we'd have to wait until tomorrow. "Unacceptable!" was the unanimous decision on that idea.

But, I am a food blogger, after all. Since I didn't have time to make the frosting all smooth and lovely, I settled for some rustic vertical spatula swipes up the sides. And we had to have some swirls of lemon curd on top! That was problematical because the buttercream was room temperature and quite soft and the curd was cold and quite firm. But eventually (fairly quickly, actually) I managed a sort of giant daisy/sunflower effect with a nice blob of lemon curd in the center.

It's cake! And very good cake too.

And what did I learn this time?
1) Lemon curd is sublime. Totally worth those left-over egg whites. Well, I already knew that, but I was reminded again.
2) Don't forget the white chocolate!
3) Don't mix types of cake strips. Who knew?
4) Eggs really are great emulsifiers.
5) A fancy cake project does better when spread out over several days. (I'm sure my husband will be happy to remind me of this. Or to say "is it done yet?" if I forget.)
6) Even a less-than-perfect cake can be delicious!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TWD: Cran-Apple Crisps

This week I'm actually posting the TWD recipe of this week, Cran-Apple Crisps, chosen by Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef. You can find the recipe on her blog.

Mine are actually cranberry and pear crisps, because the pears really, really needed to be used up NOW. And I did half the batch with coconut in the topping, as Dorie calls for, and half with chopped almonds. (I wasn't sure if we'd like the coconut.)

I made half the recipe, in four creme brulee pans, and used about 2 1/2 pears (after getting rid of the bad spots). Pears are less tart than apples, so I added a bit of lemon juice and cut the sugar down to about 3 1/2 tablespoons (for the half recipe). And I don't like flour as a thickener for pies and crisps, it takes too long to thicken and has too much of a flour-y taste, so I substituted potato starch -- about 1 1/2 teaspoons for a half-recipe with pears. Oh, and I threw in a few more frozen cranberries - about 2 Tablespoons more. The filling was great! I wish there had been a bit more, though. Something to remember for next time, and there will be a next time!

And the topping? It had whole wheat flour, but you really couldn't tell it was there. The version with coconut was a little sweet for my taste, but good. The version with almonds was also good. I think I'll do both next time! But I'll cut the sugar down a little -- unless I use unsweetened coconut.

This is the first use for these creme brulee pans. They'll be seeing more use for these crisps, I think! Who knows, maybe someday I'll even use them for creme brulee...

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Baby Chocolate Oblivions

This week's project for the Heavenly Cake Bakers was the Baby Chocolate Oblivions from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes." These are a flourless chocolate mousse, baked as mini-cakes in a water bath. Wow! Chocolate delight! So smooth, creamy and luscious!

Rose originally published this recipe in "The Cake Bible," pages 84-87, as a single large cake. I took a look at that recipe and found many tempting (and amusingly named) variations -- Chocolate Torture (with a layer of fudge sauce), Chocolate Dependence (with liquor or liqueur), Chocolate Indulgence (with praline paste), Chocolate Flame (with raspberry puree).

So mine are Baby Chocolate Dependences, actually. I made 1/6 of the recipe -- just two servings -- and added a bit of raspberry liqueur (1 teaspoon for my reduced recipe). Unfortunately, while this liqueur tastes great alone, it isn't strongly flavored enough to stand up to all that chocolate. I could barely tell it was there in the cakes. The liqueur flavored whipped cream worked out, though. And my black raspberry puree (from our own berries) added the perfect note.

As I don't have silicone muffin pans or cups and didn't get around to buying any, I went with ceramic ramekins, well buttered. I covered them with a tent of aluminum foil for the second part of the baking. They puffed up quite a bit, like little souffles, and then fell back down again as they cooled. My husband did a most capable job of unmolding them -- running a small spatula around the edge, then dipping each ramekin in hot water and inverting onto the serving plates. There was about a teaspoon's worth of chocolate mousse cake left in the pans, which we scraped out and spread evenly on the top of the cakelets. Hey, the whipped cream hid most of the top anyway!

These are wonderful! My only quarrel with this recipe is that Rose says (in The Cake Bible) that it doesn't freeze well -- the texture changes. I would love to make a bunch of these and freeze the extras. Perfect for a special dessert when we both are hit by a chocolate craving.

I'll have to take a look at some of the other chocolate mousse cake recipes out there. Maybe the addition of a small amount of starch (cornstarch, potato starch) would help stabilize the texture when frozen?

Talking of other recipes, I used Scharffenberger 62% chocolate for this (one of the brands Rose recommends) and was most amused by the recipe that came inside the box -- Chocolate Orbit Cake, adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz. Guess what, it's a flourless chocolate mousse cake baked in a water bath! The main differences are that it has a lot more sugar and is baked at a lower temperature for a longer time.

Next time, I'm going to try the Chocolate Flame option with a puree of our home-grown black raspberries. And if Santa Claus is good enough to bring some of those lovely fruit essences from La Cuisine, I'll add a drop of raspberry essence. Heavenly!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

TWD on Sunday: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

This month, we're allowed to bake out of order for "Tuesdays with Dorie." So I chose the Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies, chosen by Pamela of Cookies with Boys for November 17. You will be able to find the recipe over on her blog soon.

Other than using part whole wheat flour, I followed the recipe. Love the addition of ground black pepper! The dough was very sticky. Instead of making 24 cookies, I divided the dough into smaller pieces and made 36 cookies. Good thing I did, as they wouldn't have fit into my cookie jar otherwise! And even though they were smaller, I could only fit 9 per baking sheet. They spread a whole lot.

Here's my first attempt, with 12 per sheet.

Next try, 9 per sheet. Better.

I'm still looking for my ultimate ginger cookie recipe. It should be thicker than this recipe, less sweet, and more gingery. Crunchy on the edges and chewy on the inside.

Until then, these were mighty good!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Pumpkin Cupcakes

This week the Heavenly Cake Bakers made the Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange Buttercream for Halloween. I didn't have (and didn't want to buy) the special pumpkin-shaped Bundt pan, so I did cupcakes instead.

Sorry, not very many pictures this week. I was in a bit of rush. Above you see the last cupcake, photographed on my desk at work. The cupcakes went into the office for our ongoing bake sale and soon disappeared.

For me, this recipe yielded 22 regular-sized cupcakes. I could have filled the liners a bit less full and gotten a full 2 dozen, but I think they look better at this size.

My cupcakes were made with 1/3 whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 bleached all-purpose flour, and 1/3 bleached cake flour (by weight). Other than that, I followed the recipe. The cupcakes took roughly 20 minutes to bake at 350 degrees -- sorry, didn't time them exactly.

I was very, very happy with this cake recipe! The cupcakes had a wonderful texture and flavor, very balanced between sweet, nutty, spicy, pumpkin-y, with just a bit of crunch from the nuts. It really didn't need frosting. I don't ever need to try another pumpkin cake recipe again! (Although I will be -- the Holiday Bundt Cake for Tuesdays with Dorie is coming up soon.)

In fact, I think this cake would be great as a plain Bundt cake with just an ornamental dusting of confectioner's sugar, or as a couple of plain loaf cakes. For a more casual, heartier cake I'd increase the nuts to 3/4 cup and add some raisins or dried cranberries.

The Burnt Orange Silk Meringue Buttercream frosting is quite time-consuming to make. I spread the process out over several days -- made the caramel creme anglaise on one day, refrigerated it, then finished the frosting another day and frosted the cupcakes on yet another day. I had great plans to pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes, but ran out of time and settled for a few quick swipes with a spatula.

I made double the recipe of frosting, though, so the leftovers are in the freezer waiting for another batch of cupcakes. I'm thinking orange-flavored white velvet cupcakes, to use up some of the many containers of extra egg whites...

Oh, I did make one change to the recipe. The Mousseline Buttercream I used on last week's cake got very soft sitting out on the bake sale table at the office. I consulted some of the buttercream recipes in Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise" and saw that she used 3 parts butter to 1 part vegetable shortening (by weight, not by volume). So I tried doing that, using 12 ounces of butter and 4 ounces of Spectrum Organic shortening. It was still soft, but did hold up a bit better. And it still tasted good!

Oh, I also added about 1/4 cup extra sugar to my double batch of frosting, because I know my co-workers are used to very sweet frosting. It still was no-where near as sweet as the horrible stuff on grocery-store cakes. Personally I preferred it before the extra sugar and before the orange food coloring, and would do that if baking just for the two of us.