Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Life Lessons and the Pinkest Cake You've Ever Seen

60 quart Hobart mixer: $5000
16 pounds of powdered sugar and cocoa: $35
Adding the sugar while the mixer is on the highest speed: Priceless

(Picture is my boss Esti, who graciously agreed to allow me to post--and mock--her secret shame in a public forum. What a champ!)

We called this the "Paris Hilton cake" because every reference picture we received for the cake's design involved Paris Hilton in the background. In real life it was even more scorchingly pink.

Can you believe we made this bow ourselves? The whole process was a comedy of errors involving holding fistfuls of unraveling ribbon, florist wire, grocery store twisty ties, and the occasional dab of glucose. I don't even want to tell you about the shenanigans going on in the back of the cake to make the number sparklers stand like that. Let's just call it...cake magic.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Halloween Chocolate Cupcakes

Ahh, velcome to Tuesdays vith Dorie...Haunted Cupcake Edition. Mwahahaha!
As a holiday, Halloween doesn't inspire a lot of passion in me. I can never think of brilliant costume ideas, and let's face it, I chow down on candy year-round. However, I do love cake (and cupcake!) decorating, so when Clara at I Heart Food for Thought chose the chocolate-chocolate cupcakes for this week's TWD recipe, and gently nudged us all to decorate them for Halloween, I dove into the challenge with pastry bags a-blazin'.

I had a list of about two dozen cupcake designs I wanted to try, literally, and my original goal was to make each cupcake an entirely unique creation. But then I remembered that I had things to do this weekend, like work and errands and sleeping and eating, so I decided to whittle down my list to just a handful of Halloween-themed designs:
Clockwise from top left: hand bursting from cupcake, mummycakes, bloody eyeballs, pumpkins, ghosts, spiders and webs.

So first, the cupcakes. Lots of people complained that theirs turned out dry, so I was really skimpy on my flour measurements, and I added a little bit of plain yogurt to the batter. I also baked them much less than Dorie suggested: the minis were done in about 14 minutes, and the large cupcakes were done around 19 minutes. I doubled the batch and made 24 minis and 17 regular-sized cupcakes.

I thought that they were pretty decent by themselves. A nice, but not overwhelming, chocolate flavor, a moist crumb, nothing objectionable. They weren't quite chocolatey enough for me, and there were too many steps/bowls to feel like they were worth my while, so I can't say that they'll make it into my regular cupcake rotation, but I certainly didn't think they were bad.

Because they lacked the chocolatey oomph I crave, I filled them with a squirt of bittersweet chocolate ganache before decorating. I also omitted the chocolate glaze and instead made a big batch of buttercream to be used for decorating. And what sorts of decorations did I do?

PUMPKINS: Orange buttercream, piped in a large mound on top. I let them chill in the refrigerator for a bit to start setting the buttercream, then indented the top with a finger, rolled the tops in orange sugar, and dragged a toothpick down the sides to create creases. A small pretzel rod was the finishing touch.

SPIDERWEBS: I made a little chocolate buttercream, and topped some of the cupcakes with chocolate, then dipped the tops in some liquid ganache. Most of them just got spiderwebs in a contrasting color, but I made two spiders out of black fondant (and lots of frustration) to top several of the spiderwebs. Here's a tip if you're trying to get a true black frosting color: always start with a chocolate frosting. If you start with white, you'll just get dark grey, never black. Also, gel colors give better results than most liquid colors.

EYEBALLS: red buttercream veins, with M&Ms (plain and peanut) as the iris and a dab of frosting in the middle for the pupil. Larger candies like lifesavers probably would have worked better on the big cupcakes, but it was late and I was tired.

MUMMIES: I kind of love these little guys. They were really simple, too. A quick base coat of buttercream, topped by two mini M&Ms for eyes, then lots of strips of buttercream using a small rectangular (basketweave) tip--the smallest rose tip would probably work well too.

GHOSTS: I had a little bit of leftover homemade marshmallow fondant in my fridge, so I made a few ghosts. I piped a tall, thin cylinder of buttercream onto the cupcakes, then refrigerated them until the buttercream was well set. I rolled the fondant into thin circles and draped it over the buttercream tower. The eyes and mouth were bits of black fondant. These probably wouldn't hold up well all day in a warm room, but they were fine when they sat out for a few hours tonight.

IT CAME FROM INSIDE THE CUPCAKE: This was just for fun! I had a package of gummy body parts (ah, Halloween) so I did some bloody fingers emerging from a mini cupcake. Sadly, I only had four fingers so this is a Simpsons-style hand. I considered, but ultimately rejected, using the gummy bloody brain and the gummy moldy tongues. Ew.

All the cupcakes came with me to a party tonight and everyone seemed to enjoy them, so I will consider this recipe a success. And I had a blast doing the decorating, so thank you to Clara for a great choice!
Cupcakes as far as the eye can see...Happy Halloween, everyone!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chocolate-Chile Souffles with Cardamom Creme Anglaise

When I read on Anita's blog that this month's Sugar High Friday theme is Spices, I immediately knew I wanted to make a cardamom dessert. Cardamom is an underutilized spice in my kitchen--I love the flavor, but I rarely make desserts that can showcase its unique, exotic flavor. I considering pairing it with fruit like pears or plums, but in the end I returned to my one true love: chocolate. But not just plain chocolate, of course.

I made deep, dark chocolate souffles with a hint of spice from cayenne pepper, and served them with silky smooth, vanilla-specked cardamom creme anglaise.
The former teacher's pet in me wants to point out that that's two spices, and four major flavors, going on in one small souffle cup. But don't worry--everybody plays nicely together. The chile isn't overwhelming, just a mild burn in the back of the throat that appears as the bittersweet chocolate melts from the tongue. The heat is cooled by the fragrant vanilla and cardamom creme anglaise, which is just sweet enough to balance the dark chocolate, but not too cloying.

A note on cardamom: If you've only ever baked with cardamom powder, I encourage you to track down some green cardamom pods and experiment with the real thing. (And if you've never baked with cardamom at all, what are you waiting for?! Go! Shoo! It's like if cinnamon, vanilla, and chinese five spice powder had a baby! You won't regret it.) The flavor that comes from steeping the cream with the crushed pods is unlike anything you can get from a dry powder. It pairs wonderfully well with chocolate, fruit, nuts, and vanilla.

But back to the dessert. I know what you're thinking: souffles and creme anglaise. Sounds fancypants, so it's probably one of those dishes that takes a million years and ends up being underwhelming, right? Absolutely not! I think souffles have gotten a bad rap as being "difficult," when they're really not much different from making a mousse or chiffon cake. This particular souffle is made from a cooked chocolate base that can be prepared a day or two ahead of time, so when you're ready for dessert, you simply whip your whites, fold them in, and pop these babies in the oven.

Of course, the souffles do start to deflate soon after they leave the toasty oven (and I could spend plenty of time whining about how hard it is to photograph them in the magic 2-minute window before they're sad shells of their former puffy glory...) but that's part of their beauty. Few things can compare with a souffle warm from the oven, with a crackling top that is pierced to expose a moist, mousse-like interior, the whole thing drenched with a pool of warm spiced creme anglaise.

Ready to begin your own souffle experiments? Recipes and more pics after the jump! And if you're craving spiced desserts now, the Sugar High Friday deadline isn't until next Monday, so you have the whole weekend to go crazy with the spice cupboard.

Chocolate-Chile Souffles
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4-1/2 tsp (to taste) cayenne powder
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
5 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Place chocolate and butter in medium bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup sugar, flour, cayenne powder, and cocoa powder in small bowl. Bring milk and vanilla to boil in heavy small saucepan. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into sugar mixture to blend. Return mixture to same saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until thick paste forms, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Scrape mixture into bowl with chocolate and butter; stir until chocolate is melted (mixture may look curdled). Add egg yolks and whisk until mixture looks shiny and creamy. (Soufflé base can be prepared 1 day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface and refrigerate. Bring soufflé base to room temperature before continuing.)

Butter eight 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups; dust with sugar. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. With mixer running, gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar, then salt; beat just until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of whites into soufflé base until well combined. Gently fold in remaining egg whites just to blend (some white streaks may remain). Divide batter among prepared dishes. Place dishes on rimmed baking sheet. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake soufflés until puffed above rim of dish, tops are flat, and edges are set, about 12 minutes. Serve immediately with Cardamom Crème Anglaise.
Recipe Source

Cardamom Creme Anglaise
Yield: 2 cups

2 tablespoons whole green cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks

Place cardamom pods with seeds in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until pods brown, about 5 minutes. Add milk, cream, and 1/4 cup sugar. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan; add bean. Bring mixture to boil. Whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture. Return mixture to same saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes (do not boil). Cover and chill until cold, about 3 hours. Strain into medium pitcher. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Recipe Source


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pumpkin Muffins

It is a strange fact of life that I love the flavor of pumpkin, but am conflicted about actual pumpkin foods. Pumpkin bread? Yes please! Pumpkin pie? Blech! Pumpkin cookies? Yum. Pumpkin ravioli? Noooo. Fortunately, pumpkin muffins fall firmly into the "EAT ME" category, so I was excited about this week's recipe. (I was also excited about using these adorable plates I found at the 99-cent store. Admire, please!)

Now, maybe I was just suffering from a lack of pumpkin in my life when I made these, but I thought they were fantastic. Is this true? Were they really delectable specimens of pumpkin muffintude, or was I just starved for pumpkin? Because I really thought they were awesome. They had crunchy tops and moist, fluffy interiors, with a perfect balance of sweet pumpkin and spices.

I sprayed the muffin cups with cooking spray, then coated them with cinnamon sugar, and before baking the muffins, dusted the tops with the same cinnamon-sugar. I love the caramelized sugar shell that results from this method.

Probably the only thing I didn't like about this recipe was the raisins. WHAT is her DEAL with putting RAISINS in every RECIPE?! Sorry to shout. Everything about those chewy little withered grape corpses gets me upset. However, it was an easy fix: I just tossed a handful of mini chocolate chips in instead, and presto! Delicious pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins that are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the meals in between.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Take Your Blog to Work Day

I've been a little quiet lately because work has been hectic. This past weekend we had a 100-person wedding (tiered cake, groom's cake cupcakes, and mini cookie wedding favors) and a 300-person dessert catering event, in addition to our usual daily orders. And have I mentioned that we are currently a two-woman operation? Fortunately, we are more like two superwomen, so everything turned out well. But to apologize for the lack of posts, I have some pictures from work to tempt your taste buds.

The catering event was for a clothing company, hosted at an upscale department store. We did three mini desserts: chocolate-raspberry verrines, chocolate cupcake cones, and strawberry shortcakes. The verrines were layers of cream cheese mousse, chocolate mousse, and raspberry jam, served in a glass the size of a shot glass, and topped with a bit of champagne-pop rocks chocolate. (Yes, really. And yes, it's as gross as it sounds, and no, it was not our choice.)

Plated and ready to be passed:Sure, they look adorable, until you realize that to serve 300 people, you have to make approximately a bajillion verinnes composed of a kablillion fiddly little layers, each layer carefully applied so that it's even and smooth, and each application requiring an extensive chilling period before the next layer could be added. I think I am done with verrines for a long, long time.
The cupcake cones were probably the most popular item. Miniature ice cream cones were filled with chocolate cake and topped with buttercream and sprinkles to resemble ice cream cones. They were a perfect two-bite dessert, and really appealed to both adults and children.
We had special trays constructed for passing, since they wouldn't balance on regular trays. The best part is, they can double as ping-pong paddles after the event!
This server graciously agreed to model for me to show the scale of the cones. He pretended reluctance, but he's probably an aspiring actor so I suspect he was secretly pleased. Also, notice the clothing racks in the back? That's because we were set up in, like, the alterations room of the store. You may be asking, is an alterations room equipped for catering? NO, no it is not. But who needs counters and running water and space when catering? Not us!Strawberry shortcakes. Kind of awkward to pass, but it's what the client wanted. Homey desserts are big, and who can argue with fresh strawberries and cream?

This was the wedding cake. My boss actually made it, and while I would love to take credit for it, and under most circumstances I would, she might be reading this, so...hi boss! You do good work! *innocent whistling* This was taken before fresh flowers and other finishing touches were added.
Each layer was a different flavor. The bottom was vanilla sponge with vanilla buttercream and four types of fresh berries. The middle was chocolate cake with oreos, and the top was chocolate cake with caramel sauce and chopped Twix bars. It kind of makes me want to get married again, just for the cake!
These are the wedding favors. Each guest got a package of two miniature black and white cookies. I am beginning to suspect black and white cookies might be the next red velvet cupcakes. Mark my words: in a year we'll be surrounded by black and white cookie specialty shops, and all the cupcakeries will be out of business.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Lenox (non)Almond Biscotti

Let me start by saying: I really liked the recipe this week! Huzzah!

Really, my enjoyment of this week’s recipe comes as such a relief. I was starting to get a complex, because I feel like every week I’m a Bad Attitude Bear. It’s all, “I wanted to like this recipe, buuuut…whine whine whine.” And while most people would agree that no one likes every recipe every time, I really thought I was the exception to this rule. I love sweets! I never knew I was so finicky until I started picking apart every single TWD recipe! Shut up, me!

So, yes, score one for biscotti. Actually, score two. This biscotti deserves double credit because I was so NOT excited about making it and was expecting to dislike it. In my face! First off, we’re not coffee drinkers, so I don’t have much use for dunkable cookies. As a rule I like my cookies underbaked and very soft and chewy…and biscotti, being double-baked and ultra-crispy, is the polar opposite of my Platonic cookie ideal.

Orange-Chocolate Chip with Cinnamon Sugar Biscotti
Secondly, my first pastry job involved making boatloads of biscotti in huge Hobart mixers. If you have never lifted a Hobart overflowing with biscotti dough, let me tell you, it is heavy. Annoyingly, painfully, throw-your-back-out heavy. I was so sick of making biscotti by the time I left that job, I vowed I would never make it again unless forced to under penalty of death (or employment contract). But as they say, time heals all wounds, and my rabid hatred of biscotti has cooled down to a mild indifference.
Double Coconut Biscotti
I approached this week’s challenge with an attitude of “meh” but ended up really liking the final product! I made a half-batch, and from that I split the dough in half to produce two different flavors: a double-coconut biscotti and an orange biscotti with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon-sugar. I’m quite glad I halved it, because as it was, I ended up with quite a lot of biscotti for two people. Both varieties were good, but I think I preferred the orange-chocolate-cinnamon one, just because it was more interesting to eat on its own. (Both paired marvelously with hot chocolate, I am happy to report!)

I wasn’t much impressed with the taste of the unbaked dough, and was also puzzled by how sticky it was--I almost thought there was a mistake in the recipe, because it was so wet. But Dorie did not lead us astray, the dough turned out perfectly. (And I was glad to have followed her instructions to form the dough into very narrow logs, because these puppies spread.)
They start out svelte...
...but soon lose their girlish figures
The final product was delightful--so light and crunchy. At first the cornmeal seemed like a crazy ingredient, but after tasting the ultra-crisp cookies, I have to admit that it’s crazy brilliant.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Caramel-Peanut Brownie Cake

Members of the jury, I ask you: can Dorie's Caramel-Peanut Brownie Cake more accurately be described as Diabetes on a Plate Cake?

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Seriously, y'all. I love me some sugar as much as the next person, but this cake was intense. It was, in the terminology of my barely-remembered high school chemistry class, a super-saturated sugar solution.

For the uninitiated, this was a rich brownie cake covered in a thick coating of homemade caramel sauce and salted peanuts. (Add a little nougat in there and it'd be a Snickers cake.) The picture in the book looked so amazing I was expecting to love this cake, but it was a little bit much for me. I didn't serve it with whipped cream or ice cream as suggested, because I was already dying over the calorie count, but in retrospect I think there needed to be some richness to cut all the sugar. I also thought the chocolate cake was lost under all of the caramel and peanuts and the taste just didn't come through. Each bite was about 60% caramel flavor, 25% peanut flavor, and 15% chocolate cake flavor.

I halved the recipe and made a 6" cake, since there are only two of us in the house and we're notoriously bad at sharing our sweets. (The ONLY time I wish we had typical corporate jobs is when we're trying to give away desserts--we are seriously lacking in coworkers to share them with.) Even with the smaller cake size, we each had a piece and then the cake languished on the counter for a few days. It wasn't bad, but it didn't really compel us to attack it with spoons in a feeding frenzy, either. I think the peanuts were my biggest deterrent--if they're not in peanut butter, I just don't want them in my dessert.

All that being said, I'm not tossing this recipe to the curb. I'd make it again, but with the following changes:

  • Bake the cake a little bit less so it's fudgier
  • Go lighter on the caramel on top
  • Use hazelnuts or pecans instead of peanuts--we're just not peanut people
  • Serve it with a tart ice cream--I think a creme fraiche ice cream would be fantastic with this cake

I do think it has potential to knock my socks off so I'll bookmark it again and give it another chance to prove itself.
Give it to me straight: are we crazy? Do peanuts really belong on top of a cake? Was it too sweet, or am I a big wimp?