Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Coconut Butter Thins

I will be the first to admit that these Coconut Butter Thins aren't going to win first place in any beauty pageants.
However, I think they have a good shot at winning Miss Congeniality (the award, not the Sandra Bullock movie). I made these after reading a lot of feedback from my fellow TWD'ers, which was a unanimous group tonguebath over how great these cookies were. I made the dough, and tasted it. Fine, not outstanding. Just to be sure, I had several more spoonfuls of dough over the course of the two hours it was chilling, and each time found it to be pretty average. But then...I baked the cookies.

Do not be deceived! These are tasty in a super-sneaky way. Like, I had one, and thought, that was pretty good, and went about my business. Two minutes later I found myself at the table, mindlessly cramming more of these cookies into my gaping maw, with no memory of how I got there. A cookie-induced coma, if you will, that happened on a regular basis until I wised up and put them all in a tupperware container, out of temptation's way.

The puzzling thing is that this is really not the kind of cookie I usually go for. I'm a chocolatey, gooey-chewy kind of girl, and these are the exact opposite. Very light, crispy, and buttery, with a subtle chew and sweetness from shredded coconut, a crunch from salted macadamias, and just a hint of lime and cardamom. No flavor is strong enough to really assert itself, but they work together beautifully. Many people mentioned that their turned out "lacy," while mine retained their square shape fairly well. You can see from the picture of the back of the cookie, though, that it does have a fairly delicate texture on the inside.

I don't think these cookies will ever be my go-to comfort cookies, but I can see them working beautifully as a tea cookie or an after-dinner cookie with coffee or hot chocolate. I also think they would be amazing as an accompaniment to a fruity sorbet like coconut, lime, or mango. With summer coming up, cookies and sorbet are sure to be on my dessert short list, so I expect these will make regular appearances throughout the season.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out my Easter candy giveaway, and enter before midnight on Wednesday!


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Easter Candy Giveaway!

Update: we have our winners for the giveaway! The random number generator picked comments from Danielle and Matzoh Fairy. Congratulations, you guys! Your candy will be in the mail soon!

So one of the (many) perks of my job as the candy guide at About.com is that people send me candy for promotional consideration and review. All the time. It's a hard life, coming home to find a big box of gourmet chocolates or licorice on the stoop. Sigh. Usually I have no problem polishing it off myself--it's my job, after all! And if I can't finish it, my husband bravely steps in to help.

However, this most recent box has bested us. I just got a huuuuge box of assorted Easter candy, and we're up to our eyeballs in sweets at our house already. We just can't eat it all! This is where you come in. There is some good stuff here--chocolate from Lindt, Toblerone, Mars, and Hershey, and sugar candy like Peeps, jelly beans, Hot Tamales, and licorice. Also some really random candy I've never seen before!

Want to win a box of Easter candy? Today's your lucky day! Leave a comment to this blog entry before midnight on Wednesday, April 1st, Pacific time, and tell me what your favorite Easter candy is. I'll use the random number generator to pick two winners--yes, two, because there really is a lot of candy. I'll try and split it up so that the two winners get equal parts chocolate and sugary stuff. And, many apologies, but I'm going to limit it to folks in the US, for shipping reasons. Good luck!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Apple Crumb Cake

Riddle me this: how is it that I can be completely unimpressed with a dessert and still eat half of it, standing up at the kitchen counter? THAT is a mystery for the ages.[Another mystery for the ages is why it is so difficult to photograph powdered sugar without it becoming an electric-white eyesore. Please enlighten me immediately.]

So yeah, this was another 'meh' entry for me, but I can't write it off entirely. I think with a few tweaks, I could grow to love it.

A few problems were of my own creation. I didn't have walnuts for the crumb topping so I used almonds, which I didn't like at all--way too strong. And instead of blueberries, I used sauteed apples that were caramelized with some butter and brown sugar. I thought apple cake seemed way more salivation-worthy than blueberry cake, but I was apparently mistaken. The apples were plentiful, but didn't add enough flavor, or moisture. The cake just wasn't exciting and it was a bit dry...
...which brings me to my next point. The 8x8 pyrex pan I baked this in (the recommended pan, no less) was insane. These were some mondo, honkin slices of cake. And the pyrex caused the edges and bottom to get really, really brown before the center was done. Next time I'd do it in a 9x9 pan (not pyrex!) to make a cake that doesn't resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and that doesn't get extra tasty crispy around the edges.
But with all that being said, I compulsively nibbled the moist center in between taking these photos, so I obviously can't complain too much. In fact, I could go for some apple crumb cake right now...


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wedding Cake Fever

People. People. I have been so busy. Apparently mid-March brings not only spring fever, but wedding fever as well. Here's a glimpse at what I've been up to lately:

This was a cake we did at work. The bride was allergic to corn syrup, so instead of fondant and gumpaste we used chocolate plastic to cover the cake, and royal icing for some of the embellishments.

Most of this cake was actually styrofoam. The top tier was real, and a small chunk of the bottom tier was real (so the bride & groom could cut it for the photos.) The rest was fake. We did do two sheet cakes for them as well, to feed the guests. It was a chiffon cake with vanilla pastry cream and vanilla-poached pears.

The H's were cut out of chocolate plastic and painted gold with luster dust.

This is a wedding cake I did at home. The bride and groom met through their cats, so they wanted to incorporate their cats into the cake.

The paw prints actually go all the way around and climb down the back of the cake.

Each paw and claw, individually cut and molded from fondant, with love.

This is how the finished cake looked. The florist added the flowers at the location. The cake itself was a lemon cake with lemon cream and fresh strawberries.

I also did the favors for this wedding. Each guest got two truffles (milk and semi-sweet chocolate) decorated with the heart and the couple's monogrammed initials.

Stay tuned, because this week we're working on a Smart Car cake that promises to be awesome. Hopefully I will be back on the regular blog-posting train soon. Life is still crazy busy, so I can't guarantee anything. In the words of Homer Simpson, "I can't promise that I will, and I can't promise that I'll try. But I promise that I'll try to try."


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: In Which I Invent A New Word

[Editor's Note: I've been feeling like a TWD slacker recently. Life has been so hectic, I've had to skip a week here or there, and I haven't been able to visit and comment on everyone else's blogs like I've wanted to. Apologies and air kisses all around! With vows to do better, it is onward and upward.]

I'm back in the game this week with Lemon Cup Custard...except, it's not your usual custard. Prior to making it, I read a bunch of grumbles on the TWD blog about this dessert. The consensus seemed to be that it was way too eggy, and multiple people mentioned that it was more like a flan in taste and texture. So, rather than make a disappointing custard, I decided to flan-ify it.

That's right, I made Lemon Cup Flan-Custard, or as I like to call it:

Lemon Cup Flustard!
To make a proper Flustard! (yes, the exclamation mark is mandatory) first begin with a mediocre custard recipe. Add lots of extra lemon zest and lemon emulsion (or extract) to boost the flavor and mask the egginess. Make a dark caramel and coat the inside of your ramekins with it.

Follow baking directions, while wondering what purpose the paper towel in the water bath serves. (Anyone know? Bueller?) Cover your pan with foil while it bakes, but don't take into account the fact that this might make your Flustard! bake faster. Check it after 35 minutes to find a very well-baked Flustard!, with nary a jiggling belly in sight. Assure yourself that more baking time equals more deliciousness. Since it is late at night, and nothing but glorious natural lighting will do for your precious photographs, refrigerate the Flustards! until the next day.

Unmold the Flustards! on your serving dish of choice. Take comfort in the fact that they look flan-ish, if nothing else. Although you're dying to take a bite to see how they taste, control those ants in your pants until you get a few photographs. At last, tell yourself you need a photograph of the inside "for the blog," so take a big bite of that Flustard! for professional purposes only.


Yes, a bit too eggy. And not very flavorful otherwise. And the texture is too rubbery, although that may have had something to do with the, uh, generous baking time provided.

Give your husband, the human garbage disposal, the remainder of the Flustard! to gauge his reaction. Observe his unimpressed look. Sigh. Comfort yourself with the fact that even though the dessert was lacking, you have added a valuable word to the English baking lexicon. Sleep the sound sleep of the victorious.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lemon and Raspberry Bird Cake

My friend KT is having a baby, and I volunteered to make the cake for the baby shower. We decided on a bird theme, and since she likes "anything but chocolate cake," I chose a lemon cake with layers of lemon and raspberry curd. The cake is covered in fondant, with a gumpaste bird and flowers, and chocolate plastic nest and branches. I got the design idea from this cake by Sugar Syndicate, who have some beautiful, beautiful cakes in their portfolio. About 15 minutes before I had to leave my house to deliver it to the shower location, the cake actually looked like this, with a smaller red bird:
Once it was all put together, I couldn't stop obsessing over how the bird was too small, proportionally, to the nest and the egg. I really didn't have much time, but as soon as I noticed, I couldn't stop staring at it and it started to really bother me. It's like when someone tells you not to think about pink elephants, and you immediately have pink elephants on the brain.

Anyhow, I tried to trim the nest down, but I didn't want to mess with it too much since I liked the overlapping twigs look. Instead, I decided to make another bird, cutting the design freehand with my trusty razor blade. Since the gumpaste couldn't harden in such a short period of time, I glued it onto a thin sheet of chocolate plastic and cut the plastic to fit, to give it more body. In retrospect I think all of this drama was unnecessary, as it looked okay the first time, and the second bird looks sloppier, but I'll blame sleep deprivation and too much sugar on my poor decisions and OCD tendencies!
I also had a small panic attack while I was hurriedly taking pictures before I had to drop the cake off. I went to turn the cake to the side and shoved the doily up into the "congratulations" banner, smearing the frosting and slightly tearing the banner. ETD: 5 minutes! Eek! Of course I'd already rinsed out the piping bag and tossed the colored buttercream, but fortunately I had some more white buttercream, so I quickly mixed another batch of the blue and (mostly successfully) covered the mistake. Lesson learned: don't sacrifice the cake for the sake of a few pictures!
The sad part of this story is that I wasn't able to be at the baby shower, since I had to work. But my friends were nice enough to grab some pictures of the cut cake for me, and I was pleased to see that it all held up and was nicely layered on the inside.

Over the weekend, I decided to make a trifle using the leftover lemon and raspberry curds. I had never actually tasted all the cake components together, since I couldn't be at the shower, so I was curious to see how it all worked together. (Not like I could have made any changes if it was nasty. But at least I would know not to make such a gross cake for the next baby shower...assuming I got invited to any more.)
I made a white chocolate-buttermilk cake from Sherry Yard, and threw strips of cake in a bowl layered with lemon and raspberry curds, and topped it with a little whipped cream. The result was pretty awesome! (Whew.) It was actually fairly tart, which I liked, and I think (hope?) that the sweeter buttercream and fondant on the shower cake balanced out the tartness for anyone who prefers a sweeter cake.

In addition to letting me taste the fruits of my labors, the trifle was awesome because it introduced me to a great new cake recipe. Yes, the white chocolate-buttermilk cake is fabulous. I didn't actually taste either white chocolate or buttermilk in the finished product, so I guess they must balance each other out. It's probably one of the best white cake recipes I've ever tried. It stays moist, and has a nice, tender crumb and a great flavor. It's a little fiddly but it's worth it to find a white cake that doesn't taste like cardboard. The recipe is under the cut!

White Chocolate-Buttermilk Cake
From Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard

2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon slat
3 ounces white chocolate
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Spray a 12 x 17" half sheet pan with pan spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Melt the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl at 50% power for about 2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Be careful — white chocolate burns easily. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beaters and beat for 3 minutes more, until the mixture is light and creamy. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the whipped butter into the melted white chocolate until blended. Scrape this mixture back into the butter and beat on low speed until well blended. Add the egg yolks in 2 additions, scraping the bowl and beaters after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, alternating wet and dry ingredients, add the buttermilk and flour mixture in 4 additions, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl.

In a large, clean bowl, and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat at medium speed. Beat until the egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Fold half the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold in the rest.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans from front to back half way through, until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Daring Bakers: Fashionably Late Valentino Cake

Yes, it's March, and I'm just now posting the February Daring Bakers challenge. I could make excuses about my busy schedule, but I prefer to blame the tardiness on the month of February itself. Only 28 days! Two days less than every other month! HOW can I be expected to keep on top of everything in such a short month?

And the really ridiculous part is that I finished this challenge on February 2nd, the earliest I've ever completed one. I've been waiting a whole month to post about it, and then I can't get my stuff together at the last minute.

Ah well, this Valentino cake is definitely worth the wait. The cake itself is a simple flourless chocolate cake, with an additional requirement that we make our own ice cream to go along with it. My valentine loves all things caramel, so I decided to make David Lebovitz's salted butter caramel ice cream, and some caramel sauce, to accompany it.

The cake was lovely, as most flourless chocolate cakes are. I can't say that it was the most amazing flourless chocolate cake ever, but it had all the hallmarks of a good one: a dense, moist, fudgy interior, and a deep, true chocolate taste unfiltered by other ingredients or flavors.

The real showstopper, though, was the ice cream. The ice cream base consisted of a caramel, cooked to a very dark amber, so the cream was intensely flavored, with a good dose of salt to balance it out. The recipe also called for a salted caramel praline that was made and ground fine, then added to the ice cream at the end. Once it was freshly churned, the bits of crunchy, sweet and salty caramel burst in the mouth in between ice cream bites. As it sat longer, they started to dissolve and leave gooey caramel patches in the ice cream. Both sensations were amazing. This was, without question, the best homemade ice cream I've ever made, and probably in the Top 5 ice creams I've ever eaten. So. Good. Make it immediately.

The whole dessert was kind of a heart attack on a plate, but in the best way possible. It was incredibly rich, and try as I might, I couldn't finish my serving in one go. (And I did try mightily.) I loved how the warm, fudgy cake melted the soft caramel ice cream and the whole thing dissolved into a puddle of the caramel sauce. It was definitely a dessert worth of the month of love.

Official Boilerplate: The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Recipe under the cut!

Valentino Flourless Chocolate Cake
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream from David Lebovitz

One generous quart (liter)

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it's just about to burn. It won't take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don't even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they're intended to do.