Friday, November 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Caramel Cake, or, Waiter! There's A Cake in My Sugar!

After several months of playing on the savory side of the street, the November Daring Baker's challenge embraced sugar in a big, big way. We made Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna at Eggbeater.

As far as cakes go, this one had several steps but wasn't outrageously difficult, time-consuming or expensive. The first step was to make a caramel syrup, which I accidentally crystallized the first time (quite embarrassing considering my candy-writing job.) After adding a little corn syrup the second attempt was a breeze, and I ended up with a beautifully dark amber caramel, with the consistency of a thick maple syrup.
The cake recipe called for some of this syrup, although I didn't really get much of a caramel taste in the end product. The batter was also very temperamental--it turned out fine, but the whole time I was making it, I felt like it was on the verge of breaking. I added an extra 1/4 cup of cake flour at the end, because it seemed so close to broken. It baked up beautifully (although it didn't gain much height), so maybe my fears were unfounded, but it did seem precariously on the edge for a while.

The cake recipe called for it to be topped with "Caramelized Butter Frosting," which I think is a bit of a misnomer, since it tasted much more like "Browned Butter Frosting." Although it did have some of the caramel sauce in it, this basic frosting recipe tasted like the browned butter base, and lots of sugar. So much sugar. This frosting had a good flavor, but it was painfully sweet. And I like sweet things! But because I had already decided to layer my caramel cake, I knew I couldn't stand to have the cake filled with this sweet, sweet frosting--it would just be overkill.

So instead, I used more of the caramel syrup to make a caramel-chocolate ganache. Although I used lots of milk chocolate and only a little bittersweet, the ganache still had a gorgeous deep, dark taste--I think the caramel gave it a lot of depth it wouldn't have otherwise. So I was able to cut the sweetness significantly by filling the layers with some whipped caramel-chocolate ganache, and adding a ring of ganache to the outside of the cake. This way, the frosting was still present on the outside of the cake, but didn't overwhelm it with sweetness or browned butter flavor.
Because the cake didn't rise too much, I got three thin layers out of it, instead of the 4 I was planning. This was fine, though, because the cake was quite substantial in the end! The caramel cake had a great texture; it was really moist but not dense or heavy. I thinned out the remaining caramel syrup with water and brushed each layer with the caramel soaking syrup before assembling the cake, to add flavor and moistness. This also meant that, between the cake, frosting, ganache, and syrup, I used up all of the caramel, which is good because I hate having small bits left over after baking. You can see where the caramel syrup soaked into the cake layers in this picture:
In addition to the frosting and ganache on top, I decided to decorate the cake with some sugar work. My original plan was to make sugar corkscrews and spun sugar, but because I decided to finish this cake on the one rainy day Los Angeles has every year, the moisture in the air completely screwed up my plans, and I had to settle for some sugar discs. I ended up really liking the look, but was a little disappointed to not be able to complete my original vision. I also dislike that the decorations don't contribute to the final taste of the cake (although my husband ate his with his slice and loved them, go figure).

Would I make this cake again? Probably not, unless specifically requested to. It was actually pretty tasty in the end, with the caramel soaking syrup and the caramel-chocolate ganache, but I feel like a similar--or better--result could be achieved with a different recipe that wasn't so finnicky and temperamental. But, as always, it was great to experiment and try something new, and we definitely scarfed the cake down once it was done.

This recipe comes from Shuna Fish Lydon at Eggbeater, as published on Bay Area Bites. Our hosts were Dolores, Alex, Jenny, and Natalie.

Caramel Cake

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Sauce

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.

Caramel-Chocolate Ganache

1/2 cup caramel sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
9 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, softened

Whisk together the cream and caramel sauce in a medium saucepan and add the cinnamon stick. Heat over low heat to infuse the cinnamon, bring to a simmer. Once simmering remove the cinnamon stick and pour the hot cream/caramel mixture over the chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit and soften for 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Add the softened butter and whisk until incorporated. Press cling wrap over the surface and leave at room temperature until ready to use. Can be whipped for a lighter texture, or heated briefly to pour.

Sugar for Sugar Work

5 oz granulated sugar
5 oz water
1/4 tsp lemon juice

Combine all in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, insert a candy thermometer. Stir until sugar dissolves and brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Cook without stirring until it reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat. (Sugar will continue cooking and probably get to the 310-315 degree range.) Allow to cool slightly until it is the proper temperature for spinning or corkscrews. If it gets too cool, reheat briefly.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Orange Rolls and The Bestest Salad Ever

Allow me to introduce you to orange rolls, my family's traditional Thanksgiving roll. We had them every Thanksgiving, but I don't recall ever having them at any other time of the year, so now I strongly associate them with Turkey day. Orange rolls and salad are the only Thanksgiving foods I actually enjoy (literally), so it's always a pleasure to make them and connect with my family traditions, and then to eat them in between reluctant bites of stuffing and mashed potatoes.

They're a yeasted roll, and in general they're not any more difficult than most breads or rolls...except when it comes to shaping them into knots. My very own hubby, a willing dishes-doer, salad-assembler, general sous-chef, and, might I add, brilliant PhD candidate, was bested by the orange rolls today.

"Steady, lad, keep 'er steady..."

"Nooooooooo! I've lost another one!"

Any guesses as to which one he helped with? Bless his heart, he didn't even mind when I re-did his rolls and sent him back to tackle the dishes. THAT'S the sign of a good hubby. By the way, this is what the knotted dough should look like:

And this is my orange roll army, all dressed up and ready to go.

I also made a truly amazing salad for Thanksgiving. I usually make a fennel-pomegranate salad, but this year I wanted to shake it up a little. So I grilled the fennel and added grilled persimmons and chopped hazelnuts. The dressing had orange juice, hazelnut oil, and a bit of garlic and mustard in addition to the usual vinegar and oil, and it was fabulous. It emulsified beautifully into a thick, flavorful sauce that I would have happily eaten plain.

I know Thanksgiving is over, but there's no rule that says you can't enjoy orange rolls and scrumptious salad the rest of the year! Read on for the recipes.

Orange Rolls (makes 3 dozen)
Ingredients for rolls:

1.5 cup milk, scalded
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup [1 square] butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp yeast
grated rind of 1 orange
2 eggs, lightly beaten
5-6 cups AP flour
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

Ingredients for glaze:

2 tbsp butter, softened
About 1 lb powdered sugar
A few tbsp orange juice concentrate
light corn syrup (optional)


Place butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl, pour hot milk on top and stir. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm (about 105 degrees). Add the yeast and let it dissolve and bubble, about 10 minutes. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients, adjusting flour as necessary. Turn out onto floured cutting board and knead into a ball. (At this point, my dough is always sticky, but I find that if I add enough flour to smooth it out, they're too dry at the end. So a sticky dough is fine). Place in a large greased bowl and let rise until doubled, about 2 hrs with regular yeast.

To form rolls: Punch down risen dough. Flour hands well, pinch off a large walnut-sized piece of dough, roll into a "snake" about 6 inches long, and tie into a knot. (Rolls can also be made into regular balls, knots are just traditional in my family.) Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and let rise until doubled, about 45 min-1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 9-10 minutes.

Mix all the glaze ingredients together with an electric mixer, adjusting the sugar and orange juice to preference: the glaze should be thin enough to spoon but not as thin as water. Drizzle completely over the rolls while they are still warm.

Persimmon, Fennel and Pomegranate Salad with Hazelnut Dressing

For the salad:

Spinach or baby greens
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 large bulb fennel (stalk can be discarded)
2 large, firm Fuyu persimmons
1/4 cup roasted, skinned hazelnuts
Goat cheese (optional--I didn't have any and wished I did!)

For the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp hazelnut oil
2-3 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
2-3 tbsp concentrated orange juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic
salt and pepper
Squirt of honey (optional)


Preheat a grill. Core the pomegranates. Slice the fennel bulb and the pomegranates into rounds 1/4" thick. (If anyone can tell me the best way to slice fennel, please speak up!) Toss them with olive oil and sprinkle the fennel with salt and pepper. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, until they are soft and have grill marks. Remove from the grill and cut into manageable-sized pieces. Toss with greens, pomegranate seeds, and nuts.

To make the dressing, blend all ingredients using a mixer or immersion mixer, until emulsified. Adjust vinegar, juice, and honey to taste. Toss with salad immediately before serving.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies were a holiday tradition around my house, so imagine my surprise when, in my adulthood, I encountered those unfortunate souls who had never had a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie. (Some even went so far as to gag at the thought of pumpkin and chocolate combined, and to them I say: fools!) I may be a pumpkin pie hater, but I am a devoted pumpkin chocolate chip cookie lover, and will vociferously defend this flavor combination.

The pumpkin puree in these cookies makes them quite moist and cakey, so these will obviously not bite your banana if you're a fan of thin, crispy cookies. This was a new recipe I tried, courtesy of Bakerella. The cookies by themselves weren't bad, but they weren't extraordinary--the texture was nice, and of course the toasted pecans and chocolate chips were great additions, but the pumpkin flavor wasn't very strong. [Sidenote: do all of you know the neat cookie shortcut where you can make these cookies with a spice cake mix, a small can of pumpkin puree, and chocolate chips? Just mix 'em all together and you have instant cookie dough!]

However. I decided to frost the cookies, which I have, unbelievably, never done before. I know! I have always sent my pumpkin cookies out into the world, naked and shivering. But no longer, because seriously? Frosted pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are AMAZING. Like, a million times better than the naked version. And while we're talking about frosting, allow me to diagram proper frosting ratios:

Trust me, you will want to slather the frosting on these cookies nice and thick, because the frosting is fabulous. It's a light cream cheese-based frosting, flavored with maple and cinnamon. But it also has a lot of butter (and a little marshmallow cream, that's the secret ingredient!) so it's a buttercream-cream cheese hybrid that's light and fluffy, with just the right balance between tangy cream cheese and buttercream sweetness. Between the cakey cookies and the frosting, each cookie was like a mini slice of heaven pumpkin cake.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks! I hope you all have wonderful days full of good food and good people. If you want to invite pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to your T-day celebration, follow me for the recipe...

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice [I just dumped in a bunch of spices]
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add both sugars and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined.

Add flour/spice mixture to sugar mixture in three additions. Alternate with pumpkin in two additions, ending with flour mixture. Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate chips.
Drop on cookie tray lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12

Maple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened to room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup marshmallow cream or fluff
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract, or to taste
1 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1.5 tbsp cream

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and marshmallow fluff together in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Mix until very light and creamy. Scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla, maple extract, and cinnamon, and beat until combined.
On low speed, beat in half of the powdered sugar. Scrape the bowl and beat in the remaining sugar, added the cream (or more as needed) until the frosting is nice and fluffy. Add more maple extract or cinnamon to taste, if desired.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Monday, November 24, 2008

TWD: Of Pumpkins and Pies

My experience with the Twofer Pie this week can most accurately be summed up with this image:
[For best results while viewing, imagine hearing that wah-waaaaah horn sound effect, or Nelson from The Simpsons laughing, "HA-ha!"]

Yes, sportsfans, this week was not a success. I'll take some of the blame: I made several mini pies instead of one large pie, and consequently I didn't follow the baking times in the book. Now obviously, I thought the pies were cooked when I took them out of the oven. They were puffed, they were cracked on top, they passed the clean-knife test. But I am here to tell you that these were not, in fact, cooked pies.

I am also here to tell you that underbaked Twofer Pie is not tasty. I can hear you arguing with me--"But surely raw pumpkin batter and gooey unbaked corn syrup make a delectable dessert!" Friends, it is not so.

You may well be asking yourself, "Self, how did Elizabeth get the Twofer Pie out of the infernally tiny mini tins, if it was so sticky and underbaked?" Good question! I used a little elbow grease, a lot of perseverance, and had some help from my friends the kitchen shears.

THIS is why you should always bake in disposable cookware!

So yes, that's one more demerit on my chart. But truthfully, I don't like pumpkin or pecan pie by themselves (I know, I'm like the Grinch Who Hates Thanksgiving) so I didn't have high hopes for liking this pie, and the outcome wasn't a big loss.

However, to redeem myself and make it up to you, I come bearing another pie, a successful, fully-baked pie, no less. And not just any pie: Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie.

This is a new recipe I tried this year to break the monotony of the same old pumpkin pie recipe. Butterscotch chips are added to the base, and although the flavor is not overwhelming, it gives the pie a deep, rich butterscotch undertone that goes nicely with the pumpkin flavor.

Although it didn't make me a pumpkin pie convert, it was a huge step up from traditional pumpkin pie, and I will definitely keep this in holiday rotation. Because of my dislike of pumpkin pie, I would probably make this as shallow tarts next time, and top it with some spiced whipped cream.

Check out the recipe after the jump...

Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie

Pie dough for 1 crust
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 can (15oz) solid-pack pumpkin puree
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground nutmeg
whipped cream, optional

Heat oven to 410. Line pie plate with bottom crust and refrigerate until ready to fill. [Note: the original recipe doesn't specify, but I always partially bake my crusts when making pumpkin pie, so they don't turn out soggy. I also think they're nice when made with a tart dough instead of pie dough.]

In a small saucepan, combine butterscotch chips and heavy cream. Heat over medium
heat about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until smooth. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin puree, egg and egg yolk, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt,
ginger and nutmeg. Whisk in butterscotch mixture until incorporated. Spoon into
crust and spread smooth.

Bake at 410 for 25 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake an
additional 35 minutes, until the pie puffs slightly. Cover edge
of pie with foil if browning too quickly. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack.
Serve with whipped cream alongside, if desired.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'll Have a Blue(berry) Christmas Pie, Without You...

Recently the food blogosphere has been swarming with wacky pies created for a monthly event called You Want Pies With That? Each month has a different theme, and the challenge is to create an original pie that somehow plays on that theme. I hardly ever make pies for myself, since I'm more of a cake girl, but it seems like a fun idea, and since it is Pie Season, I've decided to join. This month's theme is Holiday Songs, so I took my inspiration from the Elvis classic "Blue Christmas" and made a Blue(berry) Christmas Pie.

I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue just thinking about you...
And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That's when those blue memories start calling
You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white
But I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas.

Obviously, with "Blue Christmas" as my inspiration, this pie had to be seriously blue. I decided to make a miniature pie (because there's person to eat it!) with alternating layers of cream cheese ice cream and blueberry ice cream (feeling the cold freeze of loneliness!) and topped by a mound of fresh blue, blue, blue blueberries.
I began with a graham cracker crust, made with cinnamon graham crackers. (I think gingersnaps would also be awesome with this pie.) I then made two batches of ice cream--one from cream cheese with just a hint of lemon, and one from fresh blueberries. I mixed a bit of the two together to form a light blue (well, purplish) colored cream so that I had three ice cream bases total. A short while later (ha!), after all three were churned, I got to work layering my ice creams in the prebaked shell. I had a vision of perfectly even, uniform layers, but that didn't quite work out. The effect was still striking, though, and oh-so-blue.
The melting ice cream makes it look like the pie is crying! Poor blue pie.

Since this pie took awhile to put together, I had high expectations, and it did not disappoint. The ice creams turned out beautifully creamy but not too heavy, the lightly spiced crust added a nice crunch while not being too thick, and the juicy blueberries on top added great flavor and cut the richness of the ice cream. Obviously this pie might not fit into some Christmas celebrations, but here in LA it's still beastly hot, so it seemed perfectly seasonal.

This is also my entry to this month's Sugar High Friday event. This month it's being hosted by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, and the theme is All That Glitters. Looking at that mound of glistening berries atop the pie, I couldn't think of a more appropriate entry. The recipe is right after the jump...

Blueberry Ice Cream Pie
Yield: 1 deep-dish 7" tart, with a little ice cream left over

18 graham crackers
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Place the graham crackers in a food processor with the sugar and process until fine crumbs. Pour into a large bowl and pour the melted butter on top, mixing with your hands until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand and holds its shape when you grip it between your palms. Spray a tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray, and press the crust into the pan in a medium-thick layer. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 8 minutes, allow to cool completely. Can be made ahead of time.

Blueberry Ice Cream
1.5 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk
1-1/8 cups heavy cream

In a saucepan bring blueberries, sugar, and salt to a boil over moderate heat, mashing berries and stirring with a fork. Simmer mixture, stirring frequently, 5 minutes and cool slightly. In a blender purée mixture with milk just until smooth and stir in cream. Pour purée through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids with back of a spoon. Chill mixture, covered, at least 2 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day. Freeze mixture in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. Ice cream may be made 1 week ahead.

Cream Cheese Ice Cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Blend cream cheese, milk, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, then stir in cream. Freeze cream cheese mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours. Let ice cream soften 5 minutes before serving.

Pie Assembly
You want all of your ice cream to be about the same consistency: soft enough to spread, but firm enough that it won't liquefy and run into all the other layers. I found it easiest to work with ice cream that was freshly made and then stuck in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes. If it seemed too hard, I worked it with my hands for a few seconds to get it soft enough. Basically just spoon a small amount of cream cheese ice cream in the bottom of the prebaked shell and spread it in an even layer with a small offset spatula. If it seems firm enough, you can continue layering on top right away, or freeze it for 10-15 minutes and then repeat the layering until you have reached the top of the shell. I had about 1 cup of ice cream left over, your results may vary with the size of your shell. Freeze until completely solid, at least 3 hours.

Top the pie with 2 pints fresh blueberries. If you desire, you can glaze them with an apricot glaze or add fresh or candied lemon zest on top.


Monday, November 17, 2008

TWD: If You're Gonna Be My Rice Pudding, It Don't Matter If You're Black or White

My excitement over this week's TWD recipe could be summed up by the sound of crickets chirping. I actually like rice pudding, know, when I feel like indulging in dessert, I don't know that rice should be involved. Gobs of frosting and pounds of chocolate? Yes. A grain typically served as a side dish to stir-fry? I wasn't really feeling it.

But of course, this is the part where I admit how silly my reluctance was, and how much I liked the rice pudding. Because seriously, this pudding hit all the right spots. The sugar spot, the warm creamy spot, the gooey comfort dessert spot...yep, knocked 'em all out. So add this to my ever-growing "TWD Recipes I Doubted But Shouldn't Have" list.

Can you believe I'd never made rice pudding before? I'm just not a big rice eater--I don't hate it, but I don't crave it either. My mom used to make rice pudding with leftover rice when I was growing up--she'd make a simple custard, mix it with the cooked rice and bake the whole thing like a casserole. Since this was the only rice pudding I knew, I wasn't sure what to expect from this recipe, which called for parboiled arborio rice to be simmered with lots of whole milk and a bit of sugar and vanilla. [As many people discovered this week, the stated simmer time of 30 minutes is way too short. Mine cooked for almost 50 and was perfect.]

The rice pudding turned out to be ultra-rich and creamy, and the rice was deliciously soft while retaining a little bit of its texture. The basic recipe produced a vanilla pudding, but Dorie provided a chocolate variation. I decided to do half and half, so I made a whole batch of vanilla, then added some bittersweet chocolate to half of the pudding.

Ready to be shocked? I actually liked the vanilla variation better! I KNOW! I didn't quite believe it either. But the chocolate pudding was so rich, it overpowered the rice and made me feel like I was eating a disturbingly chunky chocolate pudding. I might try it again using less chocolate, but I'm more likely to stick with the vanilla version, and maybe add a little lemon zest. The whipped cream was a nice addition for the photos, but I don't think the pudding needed any accompaniment in the taste department.

I had a great time making the striped chocolate cigarettes for the photos, too. I used a method similar to the one in this video, and just used regular white and dark chocolate--didn't even bother tempering it, although that's probably advisable. I also didn't have a marble slab, so I used the bottom of a well-chilled metal baking sheet and it worked like a charm. Since I have a bunch of extra striped cigars now, I guess I'll just have to make another batch of black and white rice pudding. It's sad, but what are you going to do?


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Luscious Lemon Cream Tartelettes

Okay, all right, I do have a citrus obsession. I didn't even realize it until I started this blog, and found that every other dessert I posted was lemon this and orange-chocolate that. But can you blame me? There is something so divine about the pairing of tart citrus flavors in desserts; the citrus brings balance to dishes that might otherwise be too sweet and one-dimensional.

A few months ago I picked up Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson, to add to my already-groaning cookbook shelf. I had a hard time deciding what to make first, and the book's format didn't help. All of the recipes sounded mouth-watering, but many of them aren't pictured. How is my stomach supposed to tell me what to do if it can't fixate on an image?! Hmph. I finally bit the bullet and settled on a variation of their Lemon Cream Tart.

The good: the tart dough recipe was fantastic. It came together easily and behaved very well--rolled out nicely and didn't shrink or otherwise misbehave while baking at all. Once baked it had a nice crispness and a good buttery flavor.

The bad: the lemon cream was too rich for me. It's basically a lemon curd emulsification with gobs of butter, to produce a very creamy, opaque filling. I wanted more of a lemon "bite" to my tart, so I divided the curd and only added butter to half of it. I layered the cream and the curd in the tart, so that it still had some of the rich cream, but also retained the lemon flavor I wanted. Compromise: not just for losers anymore.

My final change to the recipe was adding a meringue topping. The original recipe calls for the tarts to be topped with sweetened whipped cream. Since I don't hate my heart that much, I opted for a lighter meringue that had the added bonus of reuniting me with my long-lost love, the blowtorch. Yesssss! After making a quick Swiss meringue, I piped it onto the tartelettes and gave it a quick once-over with the ole torch, just enough to get the edges of the meringue a toasty brown color.

The tarts were finished with a sprinkling of chopped candied violet, which was done mostly for visual effect, but which added a nice crunch and light floral flavor as a bonus.

Do I have you craving lemon tarts now? The (loooong) recipe is after the cut.

Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Sweet Tart Dough
Yield: 12 4-inch tart shells
9 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3.5 cups AP flour

Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream until very light and smooth. Mix in one egg until smooth. Stop and scrape the bowl, then mix in the other egg. Scrape the bowl again. Add all of the flour at once, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Shape the dough into two discs and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight.

To line the tart shells, roll the dough out on a well-floured work surface until it is 1/8" thick. Work quickly so that it does not become too soft. Transfer the rolled dough to the shell, and press it gently into place--do not stretch the dough or it will spring back once baked. Place the shells in the refrigerator or freezer to chill until ready to bake.

To bake the shells, preheat the oven to 350 (the original recipe calls for 325). The recipe does not call for the shells to be blind-baked, but I am always suspicious of that method, so I blind-baked it with pie beans for about 10 minutes until the sides were light golden. I then removed the beans/parchment and continued baking for about another 10 minutes, until the shells were golden. I brushed the shells with beaten egg and baked them a few minutes more, to give them a thin coating to seal them and prevent them from getting soggy. The shells should be dark golden brown when finished.

Lemon Cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cool* (or 2 sticks; see note below)

Bring 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan to a simmer on the stove. In a double boiler (or bowl that fits snugly over the saucepan), whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt. Place over the simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, until thickened and 180 degrees (10-12 minutes). Remove the bowl and let cool to 140, stirring from time to time to release the heat.

Cut the butter into small 1-inch pieces. When the curd is the right temperature, remove half of it from the bowl and set aside. Place an immersion blender in the bowl with the remaining half of the curd and turn it on. With the blender running, add the butter on chunk at a time, making sure each addition is incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow, opaque, and quite thick.

*The original recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter to be incorporated. I found this to be quite heavy and not lemony enough, so I used the method above and had a dual-layer tart: the opaque bottom layer with the butter, and the tarter, translucent top layer of pure lemon curd. If you want, you can use 2 sticks of butter in the full amount of lemon curd to produce a silky, rich lemon cream.

Assembling the Tarts
Divide the lemon cream among the baked tart shells and spread it into an even layer. It should come a little more than halfway up each shell. Spoon the reserved lemon curd on top of the cream in each shell and spread into a thin layer, covering the cream completely. Refrigerate to set the cream and curd while you prepare the meringue.

Meringue for Pies and Tarts
This is my basic recipe; it will probably make more than you need but I find it's hard to work in smaller quantities.
4 egg whites, room temperature
8 oz granulated sugar

Bring 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan to a simmer on the stove. In a very clean mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and granulated sugar. Place the mixing bowl over the simmering water and heat the egg white mixture, whisking constantly, until it is hot to the touch. Place the mixing bowl on the stand mixer and beat with a whisk attachment until it is white, very glossy, and hold stiff peaks. Use immediately.

Finish the Tarts
Spoon or pipe the freshly made meringue onto the top of the tarts. Use a kitchen torch (or a butane torch, mwahaha) to lightly and evenly brown the meringue. Top the tarts with crystallized flowers, or fresh or candied fruit. These tarts will keep for up to a day, but they taste best if eaten immediately.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Kugelhopf

Kugelhopf: German for "Frustratinghopf"

Oh, my friends. I realize that most of you do not know me in real life. I like to think that I present the best image of myself on this blog, and that you all think of me as a lovely, happy-go-lucky, cheerful person. My friends, this is a lie.

The truth is that I am a nitpicky perfectionist with an ego problem. I hate to admit that I don't know things, that I can't do things, or that anything I do does not turn out perfect on my first, charmed try. This week's TWD recipe for "kugelhopf" (IF that's its real name) hit me where it hurt.

Behold, the result of my epic struggle to remove the kugelhopf from the sorry oversized bundt pan I used instead of the specialty kugelhopf pan:

And this is how the whole kugelhopf baking process made me feel:
However, here is something else about me you don't know: I am a devoted Arrested Development fan. Instead of focusing on the negative, I am going to make like Gob and use illuuuuuuusions to make my kugelhopf seem super awesome.

Now isn't this just the tastiest kugelhopf you've ever seen? And such lovely foliage!
Really, though, this cake-bread Frankenstein had problems, beginning (I thought) with the recipe. At almost every stage I found myself wondering if I'd made a mistake, because her descriptions didn't match my product. The "shaggy" dough? Mine was completely dry. And how about the part where the dough climbed the bread hook? Yeah, mine was chillaxing in the bottom of the bowl, looking like a thick cake batter. And on and on. My biggest dilemma was after the cake was baked. Should I wait a few minutes to unmold it? Do it while it's piping hot? Who knows? Better cross your fingers and hope for the best! (For the results of this brilliant baking strategy, see above.)
But the real problem in this recipe was the flavor, or lack thereof. Dorie, of course, calls for...wait for it...raisins, but of course that didn't fly with me. I recently got these awesome raspberry-flavored dried cherries, so I subbed those and added the zest of a whole lemon. Sadly, these two elements were the only flavor I got from the cake. The taste and texture was that of a mediocre sweet roll. I did enjoy the butter and sugar soaked crust, but that alone wasn't enough to save this recipe for me. I have much better sweet roll recipes that don't take six hours of my time and plunge me into existential baking despair.
So, obviously, this was not my favorite. Maybe it's just my unrefined American taste buds, but I prefer my cakes to be moist, sweet, and flavorful. You can keep your subtle, refined European tea cakes! Bring on the layers of buttercream. Next!