Monday, December 28, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: English Gingerbread Cake

Hello folks, I'm finally getting around to posting about the Heavenly Cake Bakers' choice for last week -- English Gingerbread Cake.

For this group, we don't post the recipes, but you can find it in "Rose's Heavenly Cakes."

The recipe calls for Lyle's Golden Syrup or light corn syrup. Lots of it (1 1/4 cups). I had both in the cupboard, but even after scraping out both containers, I wasn't quite up to the full measure. So I added about 3 tablespoons of molasses, and used white sugar instead of brown sugar. I also had a feeling that this cake would not be gingery enough for me (only 1 teaspoon of ground ginger), so I added about 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger and 1.5 ounces (1/3 cup) minced candied ginger.

The cake batter seemed very bubbly when I put it into the pan. It rose a lot, then fell in the middle. I think it was overleavened. I'm quite sure I measured the leavening correctly -- and I didn't mix them up either -- so I wonder if perhaps the culprit was the extra molasses. It might have added extra acidity and caused more of a reaction with the baking soda. Just a thought.

Because of the fallen center, I decided to turn the cake upside down for serving. Here it is, brushed with the lemon syrup.

And the verdict? Wonderful texture, except in the very center -- light yet moist. Great flavor, but even with the extra ginger, it wasn't quite gingery enough. The lemon syrup added a wonderful note.

Next time? Oh yes, there will be a next time. I think I will use a few tablespoons of molasses again -- I liked the flavor. But I will reduce the baking soda a bit. And definitely add more ginger -- about 1 1/2 teaspoons dried, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh, and 2 ounces candied. No subtle gingerbread in this house!

This was wonderful just plain. But I've been wanting to try a cream-cheese sauce ever since I read this passage in Robin McKinley's "Sunshine" --

"I'd made my special cream-cheese sauce to go with the triple-ginger gingerbread. I'd long felt that gingerbread, while excellent in itself, was still essentially an excuse to eat the sauce, so I'd always made twice as much per portion as the original recipe called for. Then it turned out that some of our customers were even more crazed than I was, so I started making three times as much, and we served it in little sauceboats. You got purists occasionally that didn't want any sauce, but the slack was taken up somehow."

Doesn't that sound good? Anybody have a good recipe for cream-cheese sauce?

About the book "Sunshine" -- if you like vampire stories with scary, sexy vampires, lots of dark humor and irony, and a heroine who seems to be called to deal with the vampires but really just wants to get on with her everyday life (being a baker) -- then you'll like this book. And if you like to bake, you'll covet her recipes. I keep wondering -- what are Lemon Lust, Butter Bombs, Bitter Chocolate Death, or Hell's Angelfood?

Oh hey, Robin McKinley has a recipe section on her blog -- I'll have to go over and take a look!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Heavenly Cake Baker: Classic Carrot Cake (late)

Hello, Heavenly Cake Bakers! At last I am getting around to telling you about my experience with making the Classic Carrot Cake from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes."

Sorry, no pictures. I mislaid my camera for a few days, See, we were having our old (late 1920's) windows rehabbed. Just the inside windows -- the storm windows stayed in place, thank goodness! But it still involved a lot of moving things around, which is how the camera came to be buried under/behind other stuff for a while. (It has since reappeared, but not in time to take pictures of the cake.)

I made the full recipe for the cake and baked it in a 9x13 inch cake pan. That worked well. The cake domed slightly in the middle, so I was glad I did not reduce the leavening.

This recipe is exactly what it says, "classic." Not too heavy, not too light, rich but not oily, very well-balanced in flavor and texture. It met with universal approval. The only thing I'd change next time is to remember to reduce the cinnamon when using the very, very spicy Vietnamese cinnamon. I like spicy cinnamon, but this was just a bit too much.

And ah, the Dreamy, Creamy White Chocolate (and cream cheese) Frosting! I'd made the original white chocolate and cream cheese frosting from "The Cake Bible" once before, and felt it was just too "white-chocolate" tasting. As I've said before and no doubt will say again, I don't like the taste of white chocolate. So, this time I decided to do a sort of "half-and-half" version. Rose does give a "no white chocolate" variation at the bottom of the recipe (p. 124). I combined the recipes -- for the full amount of cream cheese, butter, and sour cream, I used 2.0 ounces of confectioners' sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla, and 4.5 ounces of Green and Black white chocolate.

The recipe in the Cake Bible calls for mixing the frosting in a bowl -- I love the new Heavenly Cakes method of mixing in a food processor! And the result really is "Dreamy and Creamy" as Rose calls it -- even with only half the white chocolate. The word that kept coming to my mind was "suave." We're talking suave like Cary Grant in an old movie, people! Wow!

By the way, whatever happened to suave leading men? Nowadays it's only villains who are suave (in a creepy or deceptive sort of way). Well, maybe James Bond is still suave -- I haven't seen any of the recent movies so I don't know for sure. I miss it. Let's bring back suave!

Back to the cake -- this version kept the white chocolate taste enough in the background that I liked it. And let's face it, there is nothing like cocoa butter for that fabulous mouth feel -- the way it melts just at body temperature -- o0h...

Some of this went to work, some got eaten at home, and the window rehabbing guy also got some. (I think he enjoyed this job.)

If you live in the Madison, Wisconsin, area and have old windows that you want to repair rather than replace, I highly recommend you look up Larry of Sashman Service in the business pages. Tell him Barbara and Jim in Mazomanie sent you. He'll do a great job and he's a nice guy, too. No, he's not super cheap, but nobody who does a really good job is super cheap. It's still a lot less expensive than having new inner windows put in -- and much more authentic, too.

And if you're looking for a really, really good classic carrot cake, you need look no farther than this recipe. Take a look at this book, folks, you won't regret it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

TWD Follow-Up: Sablé Science Experiments

This week's TWD recipe inspired me to try some variations.

Since I studied science in college, and have a number of scientists and engineers in my ancestry, I decided to do some science experiments with these sablés. What would happen if I varied just one ingredient? Such as the type of flour, or sugar, or egg?

First experiment: type of flour. What happens if you use flour with a different protein content? I made one half-batch with unbleached all-purpose flour and one with unbleached pastry flour, measuring the flour by weight. Both were lemon-flavored and shaped into logs.

The ones with the yellow dot on top were the pastry flour ones. (The dot was made with egg, water and food coloring beaten together).

Results: unfortunately I underbaked the all-purpose flour batch a bit. This made comparing the two more difficult. Drat. Next time, I must remember to bake some of each batch at once. Because of the underbaking, the all-purpose flour ones were a bit doughy in the center. But by tasting just around the edges, I could make a pretty good comparison. The pastry flour ones were just a tiny bit more tender, the all-purpose flour ones were just a tad more chewy. But the difference was very slight and both were good. I also noticed that the pastry flour ones spread a bit more. This might be because lower-protein flour absorbs a bit less water, making the dough slightly more moist.

Second experiment: type of egg. I made two half-batches, one using an egg yolk (19 grams), one using one-half a whole egg (25 grams). Both were lime-flavored and used my standard "pastry and tender cookie" mixture of half all-purpose flour and half pastry flour. (I used the zest of one small lime for each half-batch.)

Results: The ones with the green dot were the whole-egg batch. There was a definite visual difference here -- the whole-egg ones were a stickier dough, spread more, and had a more open texture. The little rectangles were actually the same size and shape before baking. Part of this difference might have been because of the extra 6 grams of liquid egg; some was probably due to the difference in fat and emulsifier content. (Egg yolks have more fat and more natural emulsifiers.) Taste tests showed the whole-egg cookies were more crisp and light, while the egg-yolk ones were more smooth, rich and suave, but still "sandy". The taste difference was small but the texture difference was quite noticeable.

Third experiment: type of sugar. I made one half-batch with the mixture of granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar that Dorie recommends, and another using an equal weight of all superfine sugar. These were unflavored. Both batches were made with blended all-purpose/pastry flour, and with 20 grams of whole egg.

Results: Well, I forgot to label the rolls! I guess I was running out of energy at that point. So I don't know if the green cookies or the red cookies have the original sugar mixture. Sigh. Reducing the whole egg to 20 grams did solve the problem of the really sticky dough, but both batches still spread more and had a more crisp, open texture than the egg yolk ones. But the good news was, I couldn't tell any difference between the red and green ones. The textures were the same.

Overall Conclusions:

1) Unbleached all-purpose flour vs. unbleached pastry-flour -- the difference is barely noticeable.

2) Egg yolks vs. whole eggs -- the difference is noticeable. Just egg yolks give a cookie that spreads less with a more firm, even, but still "sandy" texture. The egg whites in the whole egg make for a crisper, more open-textured dough that spreads more. These things are always a matter of taste, and I liked them both. I have a feeling the egg yolk ones are more authentic, but personally I liked the crisp texture of the whole-egg ones. Just be sure to use the same amount of egg by weight or volume - about 38-40 grams for a whole recipe.

3) I couldn't tell the difference between the mixed-sugar batch and the superfine sugar batch. So, take your pick. It's easy to make your own superfine sugar by grinding regular sugar in a food processor. It would be interesting to compare a batch with all granulated sugar and all confectioners' sugar -- I'm sure that would make a difference.

And hey, what about comparing different regular butter to cultured butter to high-fat Euro-style butter? These cookies are so simple that they really reveal the differences in ingredients.

Other thoughts -- I would like these a just bit less sweet. I'm going to reduce the total amount of sugar down to about half the weight of the butter -- say, 100-110 grams for a whole batch. That's just a matter of my personal preference. I've made shortbread this way and the sweetness level was just right for my taste.

Also, the lemon and lime flavors were pretty subtle. I might increase the amount of zest next time -- I like my citrus cookies zingy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD: Sablés

This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is for the French shortbread-style cookies known as Sablés, chosen by -- me! (For the recipe, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)

When I joined TWD in June of 2008, I wasn't really concerned about when I would get to choose a recipe. I figured I'd just try these blogging and bake-along activities for a while and see if I liked them. And the rest is history...

Thank you to our founder Laurie and all the TWD bakers for such a great time! I hope you enjoyed these cookies and look forward to seeing all your variations. I made three batches -- plain sablés rolled in colored sugar, lemon sablés, and lime sablés shaped as rectangles. (I used whole beaten egg rather than egg yolk to brush the outsides of the sugared ones. I have too many left-over egg whites already!)

Why do some of them have yellow or green dots on top, you may ask? Good question! Come back Tuesday evening for my post on the results of the Sablé Scientific Experiments. (Sorry, it took until Wednesday but the results are up now.)

Meanwhile, here are three hints for shaping cookie dough logs. This first one is from one of Nick Malgieri's cookbooks -- put the dough on wax paper, wrap the paper around and leave a "tail" (see picture), and use something thin and firm to push/pull the roll into shape. (I used a thin plastic cutting mat.) Push your mat (or whatever) into the fold of the wax paper and gently pull the bottom layer of wax paper towards you. Don't be too vigorous or you'll tear the wax paper (parchment is stronger, but more expensive).

Tightening the roll

Second, here's a nice way to make sure your logs don't flatten out when you chill them -- cut open the cardboard tube from the center of a paper towel roll, and use it to hold the wrapped dough until it is firm.

And when you slice the rolls, rotate them a bit after every one or two cuts. It keeps them from flattening too much on one side.

Edited to add: thanks to the folks who noticed that these last two hints are also in Dorie's book, on page 137.

For the rectangular lime sablés, I used Dorie's trick from the Pecan Shortbreads on page 127, and put the dough into two small plastic bags to chill. I ended up with two rectangles, each about 6 inches by 6 1/2 inches. Then I used a ruler and a long knife to cut them into smaller rectangles.

Sablé shaping tools

How do they taste? Well, they've only been out of the oven an hour or so. They're good now, but I know from previous experience that Dorie is right -- they are much better the next day. It's so hard to wait...


from "Baking: From My Home to Yours," pages 131-133
by Dorie Greenspan
(Note: weights added by Bungalow Barbara)

Sablés, rich, tender shortbread cookies, are as popular in France as chocolate chip cookies are in America. And for several good reasons: the pure flavor of butter, the cookie's key player; a paradoxical but paradisical texture -- the cookie is both crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth tender; and it has an anytime rightness that makes it as perfect with a tall glass of milk, a bowl of ice cream or a basket of berries as it is on a petits fours tray in France's grandest restaurants. I learned to make sablés in Paris working with some of the city's best pâtissiers, and this master recipe is based on what they taught me -- the Playing Around variations are my American riffs on their standard.

The dough for sablés is shaped into logs and then sprinkled with sugar before it is sliced and baked. During the year, I coat the logs with sparkly white decorating sugar. When the holidays come around, I double the recipe and go mad with color, sprinkling some of the logs with brilliant red sugar, some with green and some with a rainbow mix. Trimmed in color and packed in festive tins, these make terrific Christmas cookies.

If you're new to sablés, take a look at the pointers (below) before you set to work.

2 sticks (1 cup / 8 ounces / 227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar (3.5 oz. / 100 gm.)
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted (1.0 oz. / 28 gm.)
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks (7 teaspoons / 35 ml. / 1.3 oz. / 37 gm.), at room temperature, plus 1 large egg yolk, for brushing the logs
2 cups all-purpose flour (9.6 oz. / 272 gm.)
Decorating (coarse) sugar

Makes about 50 cookies

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 of the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogeneous.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek -- if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. (If most of the flour is incorporated but you've still got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.) The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball -- and it shouldn't. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough. Pinch it, and it will feel a little like Play-Doh.

This is how you want your dough to look. (This is a half-batch.)

Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long: it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log. Wrap the logs well and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Whisk the remaining egg yolk until it is smooth, and brush some of the yolk all over the sides of the dough -- this is the glue -- then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar.

Trim the ends of the roll if they're ragged, and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies. (You can make these as thick as 1/2 inch or as thin as -- but no thinner than -- 1/4 inch.) Place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake one sheet at a time for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that's fine. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.
(Note from Barbara: mine only took about 14-15 minutes to bake. I did slice them fairly thin.)

Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheets are cool before you bake the second batch.

SERVING: Serve these with anything from lemonade to espresso.

STORING: The cookies will keep in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days. If you do not sprinkle the sablés with sugar, they can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months. Because the sugar will melt in the freezer, the decorated cookies are not suitable for freezing.

Playing Around

LEMON SABLÉS: Working in a small bowl, using your fingers, rub the grated zest of 1 to 1 1/2 lemons (depending on your taste) into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and very aromatic, then add this and the confectioners' sugar to the beaten butter. (Sablés can also be made with orange or lime zest; vary the amount of zest as you please.)

PECAN SABLÉS: Reduce the amount of flour to 1 1/2 cups, and add 1/2 cup very finely ground pecans to the mixture after you have added the sugars. (In place of pecans, you can use ground almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts.) If you'd like, instead of sprinkling the dough logs with sugar, sprinkle them with very finely chopped pecans or a mixture of pecans and sugar.

SPICE SABLÉS: Whisk 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg into the flour.

PARMESAN SABLÉS: For savory sablés that are ideal with aperitifs, omit both the granulated and confectioners' sugar and add 3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) very finely grated Parmesan to the beaten butter. These are fine plain, but the logs can also be brushed with beaten egg yolk and sprinkled with finely chopped almonds. If you love salt, press a few grains of fleur de sel gently into the top of each sablé before slipping the baking sheet into the oven.

Tips for Shortbreads and Sablés, from p. 124 of "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

What you call the fabulously buttery, slightly gritty, tender, sandy-textured cookies that are so right with tea or coffee may depend on where you live. In France, the cookies are known as sablés, galettes or palets; in Scotland, they're shortbread; and here, at home, they are shortbread, sand tarts or simply butter cookies.

At their most elemental and traditional, shortbreads and their kin are made of butter, sugar -- either granulated or confectioners', or a combination of the two -- and flour. And, although some recipes have an egg or two, or maybe just yolks, it's not the eggs that define the cookies, it's the other ingredients and, most important, how you handle them.

Here's all you need to know to get perfectly crumbly shortbread or sablés every time.

  • Use fresh butter that is soft, but not at all greasy -- if your butter is sitting in an oily puddle, it's gone too soft and your sablés won't have their characteristic sandiness.

  • Don't beat the butter (or the butter, sugar and eggs) so enthusiastically that the mixture is light and fluffy. You don't want to beat air into this dough, because it would cause the cookies to puff as they bake in the oven and sink as they cool on the counter.

  • Be soft and gentle when you blend in the flour. This is the make-or-break step in the process. With the word "sandy" singing in your head, add the flour all at once and mix it only until it disappears into the dough. To guard against overmixing, you can mix in the last of the flour by hand.

  • Shape the dough as the recipe directs and then make sure to give it a good, long chill; it will improve the flavor of the cookies and help them keep their shape under the oven's heat. Try to refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, but know that longer is better.

  • Cool the cookies completely before you serve them. As seductive as the smell of warm butter, sugar and flour is, the cookies taste better when they reach room temperature.

You can also find the recipe at this link on the NPR web site (scroll down a bit). And for tips on cookie-baking in general, see this link. Edited to add: thanks for the folks who spotted the recipe at this link as well -- and see the article, too!