Thursday, February 25, 2010

TWD: Honey-Wheat Cookies

This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie was Honey-Wheat Cookies, chosen by Michelle of Flourchild. You can find the recipe on her blog or on page 81 of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours."

These remind me that the word "cookie" comes from a Dutch word for "little cakes." They are soft, puffy, and very cake-like when they come out of oven. After a day or two, they are still soft but more chewy, and the honey flavor comes to the fore. At first bite they are home-style, unassuming cookies -- very nice, but nothing to scream and moan about. Watch out, though, because they sneak up on you. Next thing you know you are coming back for another one...and then another...

Here are my unbaked cookies, about to be frozen and then stored in freezer bags. It's a great way to have cookies on hand when you want them! You can bake them right out of the freezer.

I didn't make any changes to this recipe at all -- unusual for me. Since we usually have only raw wheat germ (stored in the refrigerator so it doesn't get rancid), I toasted the wheat germ lightly in a pan before using it. That was a good idea and next time I might toast it even a bit more. Also I might reduce the sugar slightly and experiment with different flavors of honey.

I do like cookies with more "crunch," though, which led to the following idea for an adaptation -- honey-almond. Substitute the wheat germ in the dough with toasted almond meal or finely ground almonds. Roll the cookies in chopped toasted almonds, or for a deluxe version, chopped honey-glazed Marcona almonds. Maybe flavor with a combination of orange and lemon zest, or some Fiori di Sicilia flavoring. What do you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Double Chocolate Valentine mini cakes

Here's the latest cake for the Heavenly Cake Bakers group. It's the Double Chocolate Valentine cake, as published in Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Rose's Heavenly Cakes." In fact, it's the cake on the back cover of the book. It made a previous appearance as the Double Chocolate Sweetheart cake in "Rose's Celebrations," where it was on the front cover. And it's appeared in a video that is posted on Rose's site.

This recipe is based on the All-American Chocolate Torte from Rose's "The Cake Bible." After baking, the cake is then soaked in chocolate ganache. Ooh, yes! All you have to do is say "ganache" and I start salivating. Funny, a few years ago I didn't even know what it was. (Just a fancy French word for melted chocolate mixed with heavy cream. It's the stuff inside of chocolate truffles. 'Nuff said.)

I decide to make a half recipe of both the cake and ganache. (Portion control.) And to skip the fresh raspberries on top. Growing our own raspberries has spoiled us for out-of-season fruit.

I made mini cakes in my Nordic Ware heart pan. As you can see, I overfilled them a bit. I had just enough batter left over for one cupcake. Next time I should portion out two or three cupcakes first, and then use the rest of the batter for the heart pan. Oh well, live and learn.

Time to poke holes in the cakes. Wait a minute -- where are all the bamboo skewers? Oh, that's right, they're in the "gardening supplies" box (sticks for plant labels, if you're wondering). OK, I'll use the stem of my cooking thermometer instead. That made nice big holes -- next time I won't even look for the skewers.

There's a downside to having the mini cakes extend above the top of the pan -- the ganache ran all over the place when I brushed it on. What's more, I used up almost all of the ganache just for one side of the cakes -- even after scraping off and re-using the part that ended up on the pan. So, I just whipped up another half-recipe of the ganache and used it on the other side. What could be wrong with more ganache?

Since I didn't have the 60-62% bittersweet called for in the ganache, I made a substitution. Here's how to do that. Calculate (ounces of chocolate in recipe) * (percentage of chocolate in recipe) / (percentage of chocolate you're using). For a half-recipe, that was 1.5 ounces * 60% / 70 % = about 1.3 ounces. Then you make up the remaining 0.2 ounce with sugar. (Dissolve the sugar in the cream.) It worked fine.

Getting the cakes out of the pan was tricky. The ganache made them stick. I think I need a blow dryer (not that either of us would ever use it on our hair.) Several of them fell apart. Some could be patched back together -- ganache also makes a good cake glue -- but some were beyond repair. Oh well, consider it the cook's bonus. And the cook's husband's bonus too.

Despite the difficulties, these were wonderful. The cake was very light, fluffy, and tender. It might have been a little dry without the ganache -- but with it, ooh la la! Chocolate heaven!

Waiting for them to chill and set was the worst part. Not all of them made it to that stage. By the way, once chilled, a quick 10 seconds in the microwave warms up the cakes and does wonders for the flavor.

I'm not sure this is the ideal recipe to use for mini-cakes that have to be unmolded. The cake recipe is so tender that it tends to fall apart easily. Probably better to use paper cupcake liners and leave the cakes in them, like Vicki did. But aren't the little hearts just adorable?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

TWD: Rick Katz's Brownies for Julia

For the February 3rd "Tuesdays with Dorie," the recipe was "Rick Katz's Brownies for Julia," chosen by Tanya of Chocolatechic.

Fudgey, gooey brownies -- who can resist? After reading the comments on the Problems and Questions, I decided to bake these in a 9x13 pan rather than a 9x9 pan. I'm glad I did. Even in the larger pan, they took about 30 minutes to bake, and were quite fudgey.

Also thanks to Nancy who reminded us all about the "divot test" from King Arthur Flour's Web site. Definitely the best way to test brownies for done-ness!

I lined my pan with a "sling" of non-stick aluminum foil, which made it a snap to take them out.

The picture above is of the very last ones. Many of them went into a bake sale at work. The ones left at home disappeared fast!

It's interesting to compare this recipe to Nick Malgieri's "Supernatural Brownies," which are also favorites of mine. Both recipes use the same amount of eggs, flour, butter, and sugar, although Dorie uses all white sugar and Nick uses a mixture of white and brown (nice idea). The amounts of salt and vanilla are slightly different. For chocolate, Dorie uses 4 oz. unsweetened and 2 oz. bittersweet, while Nick uses 8 oz. bittersweet. How to compare? Well, let's assume we're using 60% bittersweet -- then Dorie's chocolate is pretty much equivalent to 5.2 oz. unsweetened plus 0.8 oz. sugar, while Nick's is 4.8 oz. unsweetened plus 3.2 oz. sugar. On the other hand, if we went for a 70% bittersweet chocolate, Dorie's is 5.4 oz. unsweetened plus 0.6 oz. sugar, and Nick's is 5.6 oz. unsweetened plus 2.4 oz. sugar. Either way, Nick's recipe is sweeter. The chocolate amounts are close -- the exact comparison would depend on the chocolate you use.

So, what did we think of Dorie's brownies? They were not too sweet, quite chocolate-y and almost too gooey. My notes for next time say to decrease the butter by 2-4 tablespoons and increase the flour by 2 tablespoons. I may try using a bit of brown sugar. I'm not sure the whole business of whipping up the eggs and sugar really makes a difference. It would be interesting to make two half-batches and compare. Definitely, for a whole batch, bake in the larger 9x13 pan!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Heavenly Cake Bakers: True Orange Genoise (tangelo version)

Ta-da! Here's a True Tangelo Genoise, the Heavenly Cake Bakers' assignment for February 8, 2010. Well, we were supposed to make a True Orange Genoise with Seville oranges, but I couldn't find any. So I went with some lovely organic Minneola tangelos instead.

This is a half-size recipe (6 inches). Since I'm terrible at decorating cakes to look smooth and regular, I was happy that this one called for random drizzles. Random I can do. Looks good, doesn't it?

Here's a glimpse of the inside (sorry about the smears of chocolate on the cake). Two layers of French sponge cake (genoise) with a thick layer of tangy tangelo curd inside. It was Rose's books that convinced me to try citrus curds, and I've been hooked ever since. You can find the recipe on her blog. I started with 12 tablespoons of tangelo juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and reduced it down to 6 1/2 tablespoons, somewhat like the directions for juice oranges at the bottom of the recipe. I used tangelo zest and the amount of sugar she specifies for juice oranges. And I made a whole recipe, even though my small cake would only use half of it. Leftover curd is never a problem -- it's great on toast, and it freezes well too.

The genoise layers look nice, don't they? Well...that's the part I was able to save. I've only made genoise twice and it's been a failure both times. Sigh. Here's the whole sad story.

I decided to make two half-size (6-inch) genoise so I could use freeze the other layer and use it later. After consulting Rose's information plus Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise," (which has 8 pages of information on making genoise) I carefully weighed out my eggs (yolks and whites separately, since many eggs seem to have puny little yolks these days). I whisked and heated them with the sugar (Shirley says to heat them to 86-90 F, and no hotter than 110 F.). Then I beat them with my hand-held power mixer -- Shirley says the optimum beating temperature is 75-80 F. Mine got cool after a while, so I re-warmed them briefly over the pan of hot water as needed. She says you should not beat too long on high speed or the foam will fall when cooked, so I beat for 2 minutes on high and then 10 minutes on medium as she recommended. The egg foam looked lovely, smooth, thick and glossy. Then I folded in my cake flour / cornstarch mixture. It went in nicely and the eggs did not deflate. Everything was looking great!

Then I took some of the egg mixture and mixed it in with the melted browned butter / vanilla mixture. (Rose says to remove this egg mixture before folding in the flour, but Shirley says to do it after. I guess it must work either way.) I think this is where the problem began -- I didn't mix the butter in completely. So when I folded this butter mixture back into the egg/flour mixture, the whole thing deflated badly, even though I used my very best folding technique that had worked so well with the flour.

Well, onwards...I divided the batter up between the two prepared 6-inch pans. As I smoothed the top, a lot of large bubbles formed and popped. But, the batter did fill the pans about half-way. Into the oven to see what happened...

They certainly did not turn out 2 inches high. More like 1 1/4 inches. But the worst surprise was when I turned them over and took off the parchment liners. At the bottom, there was a heavy, dense layer that almost reminded me of the rind on a cheese.

See it in that picture above? Yuck! I tried a tiny bite of the "rind," and it was tough and awful. So, I just cut it all off. My theory is that the butter came out of emulsion, dropped to the bottom of the cake, and formed a thick gooey layer that then baked hard.

At this point I was left with two somewhat denser genoise layers about 1 inch tall. OK, let's just make the cake with those! I figured I had about 3/4 of the genoise left, so I made up 3/4 of the syrup recipe (sugar, tangelo juice, Grand Marnier) and used it to soak the cake. I layered with the tangelo curd, made up all of the ganache glaze recipe (because extra ganache is never bad, especially when it has Grand Marnier in it too), and went ahead with the recipe. The decorations are home-made candied tangelo peel.

By the way, I didn't have the 60% percent chocolate called for in the ganache, so for 4 ounces of 60-62% chocolate, I substituted 3.5 ounces of 70% plus 0.5 ounces of sugar.

Despite the genoise disaster, this was very tasty. As someone else said, this is a "grown-up" cake, with the bitter/sour notes of the chocolate and orange. And it's very elegant. It was a lot of work, though. All those different components, and then putting them together, and waiting for it to mature...

I'm still determined to master genoise! I think I may try Shirley's recipe -- it is very similar to Rose's except that Shirley adds extra egg yolks. Egg yolks contain natural emulsifiers -- maybe that would help the butter to mix in better. Just you wait, genoise, I'll get you yet!

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes

Hello, folks, may I present an Individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cake? It was the Heavenly Cake Bakers assignment for February 1, 2010.

Pineapple ring, cherry, caramel, all on top of a tender yellow cake. The cake recipe is actually a variation of Rose's Favorite Yellow Cake recipe, although it uses muscovado sugar, yogurt, and whole eggs.

I had hoped to use fresh pineapple for this cake, but all the cute little Costa Rican pineapples in the co-op looked seriously under-ripe. My husband spent 4 years in Hawaii as a child and would never dream of letting me buy such dismal pineapples! So, we turned to canned. For cherries, I pulled out a few frozen sweet cherries, sprinkled them lightly with sugar, and let them thaw. And since I wasn't sure where to get real muscovado sugar, I went for turbinado instead, ground up in my food processor so it wasn't so coarse.

Making the caramel to put in the pans wasn't hard, but judging when it was done WAS hard. The sugar syrup is so dark already, it's hard to judge when it changes color. Good thing I have a thermometer. The canned pineapple rings obligingly fit just exactly right inside of my new jumbo muffin tins. Since some other folks had said their caramel was very thick and stuck to the pans, I added about a half-tablespoon of pineapple juice to the caramel after it reached 300 degrees, to thin it out. It seemed to work -- no sticking. Just watch out for all the steaming and bubbling!

I didn't bother glazing them with jam, just brushed some of the pineapple caramel sauce on top. Once again, it was hard to judge the done-ness of the caramel, and I think I undercooked it just a bit. It didn't taste very, well, caramel-y. The pineapple juice gave it a nice flavor, though.

These were very tasty, but they were not good keepers. The next day, the caramel sauce sank into the pineapple, and the cake got kind of soggy. They're a bit more work than a single large pineapple upside down cake, but not that much -- they'd be great for a dinner party.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake

Still catching up -- here's the "Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake" for the Heavenly Cake Bakers group. We normally don't post the recipes for this group, but you can find this one on the National Public Radio Web site. However, the NPR recipe doesn't give the weights for the ingredients (one of my favorite part of Rose's recipes) and it doesn't give the recipe for the frosting. For those, you'll have to consult pages 158-162 of Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Rose's Heavenly Cakes."


This is a very light angel food cake made with Wondra flour (or you can use cake flour) and finely grated unsweetened chocolate. Then you slather it with whipped cream mixed with grated bittersweet chocolate. Then you are supposed to "pelt" it with mini chocolate chips or little chocolate morsels. As I didn't have any of those, I topped it with shaved bittersweet chocolate instead.

The whipped cream frosting is supposed to have almonds in it, but I left those out. I also stabilized it using 1/2 teaspoon of gelatin per cup of cream. And I must have really slathered it on, because I ending up needing to make 1 1/2 times the recipe.

I'm not a big fan of angel food cakes. Too sweet, too bland. But I loved this one. The chocolate adds flavor and cuts the sweetness. Most of the other folks who tasted it agreed. (Jim said it was just so-so -- but then he is even less of an angel food cake fan than I am.)

This isn't the first time I have baked this cake. I made it back in June of 2009, even before Rose's book came out. I didn't know that this particular cake would be in the book, but Rose had reveals there would be some sort of angel cake using Wondra flour. So I decided to use Wondra flour in her "Freckled Angel" cake from her book "Rose's Celebrations." Lo and behold -- this cake got a new frosting and a new name in the new book!

I did have the same problem both times I made this cake -- the top never rose really high, and it never cracked. Also, the cake pulled away from the sides of the pan a lot. At least it did not fall out of the pan when I turned it upside down to cool!

The other problem was that both times, after I removed the cake from the pan, it was really, really moist. In fact, the second cake was positively WET in the area that had been at the bottom of the pan while baking. I had to let it sit out for hours so the moisture could evaporate. The cake crumb itself was not "mushy" or underdone, though. It seemed "set" and springy. It was more as if excess water had oozed out of the cake as the crumb set, and been trapped. Very strange. But once the cake had dried out on the counter, it was fine.

Here are my pictures of that first baking:

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Torta de las Tres Leches

Yet another catch-up post, this one for the Heavenly Cake Bakers group. The assignment for January 18, 2010 was the "Torta de las Tres Leches" from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Rose's Heavenly Cakes."

I'm sorry folks, there are no pictures for this post. My cake wasn't as nicely decorated as some of the others, but I wish I'd gotten a close-up -- the cake crumb was lovely and light and spongy, just like it was supposed to be. Sponge cake success! Yes!

Rose's version starts with sponge cake made with whole eggs. I'm getting pretty good at whipping up whole eggs with sugar, even with my hand-held mixer. It took longer (about 10 minutes) but eventually they reached the right stage -- very pale, very thick, looking much like soft whipped cream or softly beaten egg whites. I managed to fold in the flour without deflating them too much.

I made a half-recipe in a 6-inch round springform pan that is about 2 3/4 inches tall. There was a lot of batter, so I put a tall collar of parchment paper around the pan. As it turned out, I didn't need that -- the cake rose just to the top of the pan, but not over. It was slightly domed in the center, as Rose said it was supposed to be.

After cooling and removing the crust, the cake is then soaked with the "three milks" mixture. For this recipe, we had to simmer a mixture of skim milk and whole milk until it was reduced to half its volume. That was a pain. It almost boiled over once, but I caught it in time. Fiddling with the heat, stirring (not all the time, I just couldn't stand doing that) -- I don't think I'll bother with that again. I ended up with a lot of "skin" on top of the milk, and it had to be strained before using. Next time? Canned evaporated milk all the way, baby!

OK, in go sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. I added Mexican vanilla extract, too, because some folks had said theirs seemed a bit bland without it. It was a good idea -- I loved the flavor.

After soaking the cake for a day in the fridge, I mixed up some caramel whipped cream to spoon over each slice. (For the whipped cream, I melted a couple of home-made honey caramels in some heavy cream, chilled it, then whipped it .) Yum! Or at least I thought so. I love, love, love Indian-style "milk sweets" (kheer, gulab jamun) so I loved this dessert as well. Jim said it was good, but he didn't love it. Ah well, difference is the spice of life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

TWD: Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes

My last catch-up post with Tuesdays with Dorie -- I've been baking along more or less on time, but haven't gotten around to posting until now. For the week of February 2, 2009, Kristin of I'm Right About Everything chose the "Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes" from pages 188-189 of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours."

Aren't they cute? I made 12 of them, but between Jim & myself, we scarfed up 4 of them before I could even get around to putting on the glaze. Yes, they were good.

The batter is made with milk chocolate -- not my favorite of chocolates, so I tried to go for the darker varieties. I used 3.5 oz of Green & Black's (34% cocoa mass), 3.0 oz of Scharffen Berger (41%), and for the last 0.5 oz I threw in some semisweet Callebaut (53%). That ends up being about 38% cocoa mass.

How could I resist using my new Bundt Cupcake pan? It has 12 cups and each one holds about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of liquid for a total capacity of about 3 to 4 cups. The batter filled the pan almost to the top, and rose a bit above the pan when done -- but that was OK.

I need to work on my streusel-filling techniques, though. I put way too much batter in before putting in the cocoa-sugar-walnut streusel, and after that, spreading the rest of the batter on top of the streusel was hard. Plus, there were a lot of "gaps" on the outside of the mini-cakes. Next time I use this pan, I'll put a little bit of batter in the pan and spread it around with a small spatula or the back of a spoon, squishing it up against the sides to eliminate any gaps. Then I'll finish filling the pan.

Still, a good thick drizzle of glaze covered the flaws well. Since many folks had reported having trouble with the glaze recipe as given, I went with a plain ganache glaze instead -- 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and 2 ounces of cream.

While we both agreed we wouldn't mind a bit more chocolate flavor in the cakes, they were still delightful. Making 12 tiny cakes might sound like good portion control -- but we found we couldn't eat just one! Two apiece was just right.

TWD: Cocoa-Nana Bread

OK, more catch-up for Tuesdays with Dorie. Our recipe for January 26, 2010 was "Cocoa-Nana Bread," chosen by Steph of Obsessed with Baking.

As a number of folks pointed out in the "P&Q" (Problems and Questions) for this recipe, this is really a loaf cake, made with cocoa powder and mashed bananas. Ah, a chance to use up some of the really-ripe bananas stored in my freezer! (And by the way, I like chocolate and bananas together. Think of banana splits!)

This is one of the recipes where I wish Dorie's publisher had agreed to include weights of ingredients in her book. For fluffy ingredients, like flour or cocoa powder, one cup can end up weighing quite differently depending on how you measure it -- sifted, gently spooned, or scoop-and-sweep. Dorie says in the back of her book that she measures cocoa by scoop-and-sweep -- that gave me 3.5 ounces of cocoa. (I used half Dutch-processed and half natural). I also replaced 1/3 of the flour with white whole wheat flour. I reduced the white sugar from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup, because many (not all) of Dorie's recipes are just a bit too sweet for my taste. And my two bananas gave me just a bit more than 1 cup of banana puree.

The cocoa flavor comes out stronger than the banana in this loaf cake. It seems just a bit on the dry side, despite all the bananas. Did I use too much cocoa? or overbake?

I think it's good, but my husband thinks it's fabulous! In fact he said "You have to slice and freeze some of this, or I will make a pig of myself." We have a winner, folks!