Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baked Apple Ice Cream & Honey Granola

I have a shameful amount of apples withering away in my produce crisper. It's really their own fault that they're not getting eaten--the crisper is not fulfilling its stated purpose, and it's hard to get excited about eating mealy, soft apples when there are so many delicious summer berries and melons to be eating instead. But since I cannot, in all good conscience, throw out any passably good food, I have to find something to do with all these mediocre apples. Applesauce is the natural thought, and I will indeed make some applesauce soon...but in the meantime, can I interest you in some ice cream?

I clipped an LA Times recipe for Baked Apple Ice Cream some months ago, but haven't gotten around to make it until this week. The recipe requires a little advanced planning (in the form of baked apples, natch) but isn't custard-based, so it's a good choice for anyone worried about undercooked eggs in some custard recipes. I topped it with my favorite Honey Granola recipe for an added crunch and flavor boost.

Truthfully, I didn't love the ice cream. The baked apple flavor was great, but the ice cream base wasn't interesting at all. It wasn't creamy enough, and didn't have a defined flavor of its own, despite the fact that I added extra cinnamon and ginger not called for in the recipe. So I would definitely make the baked apple portion again, but would probably add it to the honey-vanilla ice cream recipe that I loooove. THAT would be a match made in heaven.

Baked Apple Ice Cream
3 apples, peeled and cored
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut each apple into eight lengthwise wedges and then cut each wedge in half crosswise. Put the apples in a baking dish just big enough to hold them in a single layer. Add the cinnamon stick, sprinkle over the brown sugar and dot with the butter. Bake until the apples are golden brown and soft, about 50 minutes. From time to time, spoon the melted butter and cooking juices over the apples and give them a gentle stir. When the apples are done, set them aside to cool.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the milk, half-and-half, cream, sour cream, ground cinnamon and sugar and whisk until smooth and well combined. Pour through a fine strainer into the ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

3. When the ice cream is firm and almost done, add the apples to the ice cream freezer, discarding the cinnamon stick but spooning in all of the cooking juices. Continue freezing until the ice cream is firm. Spoon into a chilled container, cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. Leave at room temperature for about 5 minutes to soften slightly before serving.
[Recipe Source]

Honey Granola
Adapted from The Healthy Kitchen by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley
2 tbps canola oil
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)--can substitute sesame seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats--I used mixed whole grains
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 tbsp orange zest
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir everything together until thoroughly coated. Turn out onto a greased baking sheet with a rim, and spread out the ingredients in a thin layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring everything around about every 5 minutes until all the oats are evenly browned. Let sit out until completely cool. Store in an airtight container or zip-loc bag in the freezer.

Thanks to Bookmarked Recipes for giving me the little push I needed to start thumbing through my "Recipes to Make" file...


Good Eats: Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia

Tonight's dinner: parmesan-crusted tilapia, herb couscous, balsamic-roasted veggies, and green salad. I know this doesn't fall into the category of cake (or even death), but it was delicious and worthy of a close-up all its own. The super-easy fish recipe and a few more pics can be found after the jump.

Balsamic-roasted veggies, Trader Joe's finest! These are seriously amazing. My only complaint is that the mix includes mushrooms, but fortunately I have a fungus appreciator in the house so they don't go to waste.
The fish recipe is one of Jamie Oliver's. It's fast and simple and really, really good. I used tilapia, but any mild white fish should work. Take several thinly-sliced fish fillets, and heat a large saucepan till it's very hot. Season about 1/4 cup of flour with salt and pepper, whisk an egg in a bowl, and finely grate about 2 ounces of fresh parm. (I used my Pampered Chef microplane, which is fantastic. The resulting parm flakes were so soft, they melted in the mouth. It was like eating parmesan clouds! Ahem, anyhow.) Put a little oil in the hot skillet. Dredge the fillets in flour, dip them in the egg, and press the cheese into both sides. Cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. The cheese forms a savory crust on the outside of the tender fish, making this a great recipe for people who don't love fish's taste or texture--the parmesan is definitely the overriding texture and flavor in this dish.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Daring Bakers: Hazelnut Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Ooooh the Daring Bakers challenge this month was right up my alley! I love all things cake (with extra frosting, please) and hazelnut-chocolate is one of my favorite flavor combinations. So I was really excited to see that our challenge was to make a hazelnut layer cake with praline buttercream.

The cake part turned out gorgeous--the recipe called for LOTS of ground hazelnuts, and then a touch of lemon zest, which I thought was a really nice addition--the citrus flavor cut some of the richness of the nuts and was subtle but present. The texture was perfect, and it stayed moist for days in the fridge. I will definitely be making this cake again!

The buttercream was a whole different story. The recipe called for homemade praline (caramelized sugar and nuts, ground into a paste) in a Swiss meringue buttercream. Perhaps I was a bit cocky, but I eschewed the Swiss meringue for my tried-and-true Italian meringue buttercream recipe, and instead of making homemade praline I used some I had in a can from Love n' Bake. (It was
fabulous, by the way. Such a great flavor!) However, my carefree off-recipe experiments, combined with stupendous heat in my kitchen, yielded a very, very soft buttercream that barely held up. It was practically melting, it was so pathetic. So the assembly of this cake was frustrating, to say the least, because my cake wouldn't hold its shape and none of my piping lasted more than a minute or two.

However, the final product still turned out pretty fantastic. The hazelnut cake is filled with a mix of praline buttercream and whipped cream. I made cocoa whipped cream to boost the chocolate flavor, and used very dark chocolate in the ganache glaze. The result was a nutty cake, oozing with soft fillings, bursting with toasted nut and dark chocolate flavor. I topped it all off with some chopped toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate triangles. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but my husband and I
ate the whole thing. In three days! We are powerless in the face of desserts. And also, we are pigs.
You can find the whole recipe after the jump.

Here's the original recipe, slightly abridged. In addition to my buttercream variations and cocoa additions, I also omitted the apricot glaze (seemed weird for a nut-chocolate cake) and added an outside layer of buttercream to help my chocolate glaze set up.

Filbert (Hazelnut) Gateau

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.
Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Deconstructed Blackberry Pie

My tolerance of summer is a Faustian bargain of sorts. I agree to suffer the indignities of high temperatures for months on end, and in return I get to gorge on all manner of delicious summer produce--especially watermelon and berries. While berries are technically available year-round, the sour pebbles they sell for $5/pint in the winter months aren't good for much of anything. No, I have to wait until summer to really enjoy my berries. And now that summer is here, I am determined to stuff as many berries in my gullet as possible before the ominous approach of autumn.

Berries are still expensive, though, so I usually scour the local Fresh & Easy shelves to see what they have for half-off. (On the "sell-by" date they discount their produce 50%, and I usually make out like a bandit if I get to the good stuff in time.) Fresh & Easy hasn't been delivering much this week, but I DID come across some amazing berries for an even better price at the local 99 Cent store. Since the pints were only $1 each (amazing deal!) I got...eight of them. For food writing and research purposes, of course.

I wanted to make something that really highlighted their flavor, so I thought of all the usual suspects--cobbler? Too plain. Pie? Too common. Trifle? Possibly...but I was craving ice cream. So I came up with my own dessert hybrid...

Deconstructed Blackberry Pie
Featuring warm Blackberry-Orange Sauce, Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream and Orange Shortbread

This is probably one of the best things I've made this year. It just fit the season and our cravings so perfectly. The warm blackberry-orange sauce is tart but with a natural berry sweetness. The honey-vanilla ice cream has a rich, caramelized flavor on top of the aromatic vanilla. And the orange shortbread has a crisp bite but crumbles into rich, buttery pieces that unite the whole dish.

All of the recipes and more pictures can be found after the jump.

If you wanted a cheater's version of this dish, you could make the sauce and buy ice cream and shortbread cookies. But if you've the time, I really recommend making all the components. It makes a huge difference.

Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream

In a medium pan, heat the milk and vanilla bean to simmering. Do not boil. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, honey, and salt until light colored and frothy. While whisking constantly, slowly combine the hot milk with the egg mixture. Transfer the mixture back to the sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius) when tested with a candy thermometer, or becomes thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat.

Strain custard into a large bowl. Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean into the custard. (Vanilla bean pod may be used again.) Stir the heavy cream into the custard. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

When cold, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
[Recipe source]

Warm Blackberry-Orange Sauce

4 1/2-pint baskets fresh blackberries (about 5 1/2 cups)
1 cup orange juice, reduced to 1/2 cup
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine 4 cups blackberries, orange juice, sugar, orange peel, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer until berries are soft and begin to release juices, about 8 minutes. Transfer 2 cups berry mixture to processor; puree until almost smooth. Return mixture to same saucepan. Stir in remaining blackberries.
[Recipe source]

Orange Shortbread

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons (packed) grated orange peel
1 teaspoon orange extract or reduced orange juice
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons whipping cream

Beat the butter, sugar, orange peel, and orange extract in the large bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Beat in yolk, then cream. Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl, and all them all at once to the mixer bowl until the dough comes together in moist clumps.

At this point you can make drop cookies by dropping small spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you want cut cookies, wrap the dough in cling wrap and chill until firm enough to roll, at least 4 hours or overnight. (The dough remains somewhat soft.) Roll out using flour sparingly, and cut into desired shapes. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sprinkle the tops with sugar, and bake at 350 for 13-16 minutes, until edges are lightly browned and bottoms are golden.
[Recipe source]

This recipe is my entry to this month's Sugar High Friday event, which is a celebration of all things berry!


Monday, July 21, 2008

Pearl Wedding Cakes

I recently did cakes and cupcakes for a wedding. The bride had a very simple, classic style. She mentioned that her fiance had given her a pearl necklace that meant a lot, and that her bridesmaids would be wearing pearls to carry out the theme. With that in mind, I decided to incorporate pearls into the cake design.
There were a total of four cakes: chocolate/chocolate, chocolate/vanilla, vanilla/vanilla, and red velvet/cream cheese. The wedding had a natural/earthy color scheme, and the bridesmaids wore "dirty" green and blue dresses, so the cakes were made to match their colors.
The cakes were actually just intended for the bridal party (and the smaller cake was their one year anniversary cake). The guests got mini cupcakes in flavors and colors to match the cakes, with a matching pearl on top.

The pearls were all handmade. THAT was a project. A large amount of fondant was colored ivory, then hundreds of pearls were rolled by hand (in 3 different sizes: large for the base of the cakes, medium for the cupcake toppers, and small to decorate the sides and tops of the cakes) and then rolled in pearl luster dust to give them an authentic look.
I heard that the red velvet cake actually stole the show.
I admit, it's pretty striking and unexpected to cut into a blue cake and find bright red inside!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Last weekend I made a large Red Velvet cake for a friend's milestone birthday.
It all started with a small cake and a tiny amount of cream cheese frosting....
In the corner you can see my favorite trick, a spray bottle filled with simple syrup. I spray down each layer before I add the frosting, so that the cake stays moist even when refrigerated. Genius!
I was going to take pictures of each step, but I had some camera issues and was under a time crunch, so the unfrosted cake is now magically layered, filled, and frosted. I took this picture to show that all cakes begin life as homely, coarsely frosted beasts.
However, they don't stay that way for long, thanks to my leeetle friends. A metal spatula and boiling water is the ultimate cake-smoothing combination.
After writing on the cake and doing the background vines, it was time to add the flowers. I'd made the flowers the night before while watching TV (highly recommended when performing any tedious task. TV makes everything more interesting) and kept them in the refrigerator. The buttercream hardens nicely, and usually I can just pull the flowers off the backing and stick them on the cake. However, it was SO warm in my apartment they kept breaking prematurely, so I had to keep sticking the sheet in the freezer every few minutes. I added the flowers 3 and 4 at a time, then back into the freezer it went. This final step took much longer than it should have.

The cake, she is finished. ..
...and ready for her close-up.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tastes like Patriotism

Happy Fourth of July! At the bakery we celebrated freedom with Red, White, and Blue Velvet cake.