Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers: Dobos Torte

I posted a few days ago about the baking slump I'm in. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: dieting is bad for baking mojo. So much of the fun of baking is sucked out of the experience when you can't fully enjoy the finished product! Or, in the case of these mini Dobos Tortes, when you enjoy too much of the finished product and then feel massive pangs of guilt. (What? Chocolate buttercream isn't one of the healthy foodgroups? Surely you jest.)

So yes, it was with a heavy heart and a hungry stomach that I made these chocolate and hazelnut layer cakes. I wanted to save a little work so I made a half batch, but my first attempt fatally stuck to the parchment (don't believe anyone who tells you not to grease and flour your parchment! THAT WAY DISASTER LIES) so I ended up making it twice, equaling a full batch in the end.

My mini cake layers were brushed with a hazelnut-infused simple syrup, to add some moisture and a nice subtle nutty taste. For the chocolate buttercream I used unsweetened chocolate, to give it a deeper flavor, which was intensified by the chocolate ganache glaze. I omitted the traditional caramel-glazed cake slices on top, opting instead for a hazelnut praline that was formed into shapes and also crushed. The crushed praline added a really nice--and necessary--crunch to the cake without being too overwhelmingly hard to chew.

My original plan was to go big--12 layers! 20!--but they turned out a bit thicker than planned, and I opted to scale the layers to the size of the 3" cakes. So I ended up with 6 layers of cake, which still looked lovely and impressive when cut. All in all, tasty little cakes with a delicious flavor profile. Perhaps in another life, at another time, with another diet program, we shall meet again...and next time, I'm coming with a fork.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.


Sponge cake layers

* 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
* 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
* 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
* pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

* 4 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
* 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
* 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

* 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
* 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
* 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

* a 7” cardboard round
* 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
* ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)
4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.


Monday, August 24, 2009

TWD: Lime Cream Meringue Tarts

For some reason, motivating myself to make these lime meringue tarts was like pulling teeth this week. No, scratch that. Making these tarts was like visiting your tiresome Great Aunt Gladys for the holidays. You don't want to do it, but you feel a great sense of obligation, and you imagine the pangs of guilt that will result if you don't do it. You tell yourself it won't be that bad, and you might even enjoy it. And then you spend the whole visit wanting to poke your eyes out just to give yourself an excuse to leave early. I know, strong words for such cute little tarts:

After many hours of procrastination, I finally convinced myself to make the Great Aunt Gladys tarts, but I was just not excited about this recipe. Partly it's that I don't like cream pies or meringue in general. Partly it's that I'm taking a sugar vacation for a few weeks so I'm trying to limit my exposure to sweets. Partly it's that I was feeling oh so lazy and the whole thermometer/whisking/food processor/extended chilling time seemed bothersome.

In the end, I halved the recipe and it made enough for two deep-dish mini tarts. They were adorable, and the lime cream filling was nice and refreshingly zesty (I omitted most of the butter and it was still plenty creamy and rich.) The crust was decidedly iffy because I used a bag of mystery crumbs in the cupboard (I was at least 80% certain they were graham crumbs before I used them, but the taste of the final tart shell reduces that certainty to about 63%), but that's my own fault. It's not a bad recipe, and it certainly didn't make me want to poke my eyeballs out. I can see making these for someone who loves lemon citrus meringue pies, but for my tastes, I should have listened to myself and skipped out this week. Score another one for the Aunt Gladyses of the world.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TWD: Applesauce Spice Bars

Say hello to entry #276 in the "Not Much To Look At But Darn Tasty" category of desserts: Dorie's Applesauce Spice Bars.

I wasn't head-over-heels about making this recipe, since it seems very autumn-ish and it's still only August. More fresh berry desserts, please! However, the day after I made this, we had a beautiful overcast morning in my fair city, with cooler temperatures and a cloudy sky until after 12. Do you think this means I can now control the weather through my baking? *evil raised eyebrow*

And once again, my skepticism was misplaced, because these "bars" were great! (Don't let the name fool you, though--I thought they were much closer to an apple cake than any sort of bar. But still, apple cake! Yum!) I halved the recipe but kept the full amount of spices and frosting, so it had a great flavor and a generous topping. And OF COURSE I omitted the raisins. [See ya in hell, shriveled grapes corpses!] All in all, a great pick by Karen, and a great way to start what I hope will be a long, long fall season. Now off to summon a rainstorm with pumpkin bread...


Monday, August 10, 2009

TWD: Brownie Buttons

I loved everything about these wee cute-as-a-you-know-what brownie buttons.
Adorable size? Check.
Easy to make? Yes.
Good crunchy-crust-to-fudgy interior ration? Uh-huh.
Twee name? Absolutely.
Great taste? Certainly!After a morning of airplane travel and hours spent at the Sprint store and grocery store, it was a relief to be able to come home, make these, photograph them, and still have daylight left in which to put up my feet! Super fast, super tasty, super cute.

Instead of orange zest I used a little orange oil (but I think mint would also be fab) and the tops were dipped in a bowl of swirled white and dark chocolate.

Some folks have complained about the yield and baking time both being inaccurate. I would say that's about right--I got 12, not 16, little buttons, and the bake time was closer to 13 minutes. With the shortened time and the increased amount of batter per cup, these were the perfect afternoon pick-me-up: indulgent, but not so guilt-inducing that I couldn't enjoy a few more after dinner!


Monday, August 03, 2009

TWD: Yes, We Have Banana Bundt Cake

Fans of Arrested Development may be familiar with this little guy here:

Allow me to introduce Mr. Bananagrabber, who is, in the words of the Arrested Development wiki, "an anthropomorphic banana who rides a Segway and steals and eats other bananas. When he speaks, his S's whistle." [You may well be asking yourself the same thing Michael Bluth asked: "Why would a banana grab another banana? I mean, those are the kind of questions I don't want to answer."]

Well, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe spawned an imitator right in my very home:

Mr. Banana Cake Grabber.

He doesn't ride a Segway, and he doesn't lisp, but he does have the amazing ability to make a whole banana bundt cake morph from this...

To this....

To this.

My very own husband went bananas over this banana cake, and ate a full quarter of it for breakfast yesterday. (It's a fruit serving, right?) I myself thought it was good but not exceptional--it was your standard yummy banana bread/cake texture and flavor. I'm guilty of always peeling off the outside and leaving the sad innards lying around, neglected, but that's more a sign of my poor manners than any deficiency on the part of this cake. All told, this was an easy cake to whip up and a real winner with you-know-who.

[And don't worry--we're keeping the animation rights to Mr. Banana Cake Grabber.]