Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TWD: Non-Rum Non-Drenched Vanilla-Cherry Cakes

This week's TWD recipe was for "Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes," described as a pound cake soaked with vanilla-rum syrup. Now that's all well and good, but I'm not a drinker, so I had to find something to replace the rum in the recipe. We've had a lot of amazing cherries around the kitchen lately, and I thought a cherry-vanilla variation might be good, so I cooked down some cherries and pureed them with simple syrup and vanilla to create a cherry soaking syrup.

Everything was going according to plan, until it was time to soak the mini cakes with cherry syrup, and they went from being adorable bundts to looking like extras from Braveheart:

You guys, cherry syrup is red. Just sayin'.

So I had to reach into my usual bag of tricks and gussy them up with some glaze and fresh Rainier cherries.
Honestly, I thought the fresh cherries were the best part of this recipe. No, wait. The fact that my mini bundts CAME OUT OF THEIR PANS WITHOUT CARNAGE was the best part of this recipe. Thank you, Pampered Chef ceramic pans! You have saved my sanity.

The cake itself was pretty meh. I'll take the blame on this one, because I put on my Dr. Frankenstein hat and made some changes, like using vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean, and omitting the rum, and--worst of all--using evaporated milk instead of heavy cream. Your honor, I'll plead guilty with an It Was Late and I Was Too Tired To Go To The Store defense.

The crumb was a little coarse for my liking--not fine and tender like I associate with most poundcakes. And despite their shameless red coats, my little cakes didn't have much cherry flavor. But they sure looked like knockouts, and that's 75% of the battle right there.

What'd you guys think? Did anyone else make a teetotaler version?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TWD: Dressy Chocolate Loafcake

This week's TWD recipe, Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake, got me all excited. It's pretty much the fanciest-sounding dessert I've made all month. How fancy did it sound?

  • I put on my finest petticoat and my leather kid gloves just to read the recipe.
  • I gave myself a crink in the neck practicing holding my snooty nose high in the air as I ate its Royal Dressiness.
  • I scrubbed my apartment and got the carpets steam-cleaned so the cake would have a pristine home
  • I pictured the finished product sauntering out of the kitchen looking a little something like this:

But, before any of that could happen, I had a not-so-sexy situation during the baking process, that looked a little something like this:

I'm so much of a pastry genius that I sometimes skip steps, either on purpose or because I'm too awesome to bother reading all the directions. In this case, I skimmed past the part where we were supposed to sift the dry ingredients, including the flour and the cocoa powder. I just merrily added them all to the batter unsifted. This might not always be a problem, but my cocoa powder is not powder so much as globules, so the resulting cake batter had big pockets of unincorporated cocoa. NOT DRESSY IN THE LEAST.

What to do? I definitely didn't want to toss the batter and start again--a waste of ingredients! And I didn't want to bake it as-is, because, ew. So I settled for vigorously smooshing the batter through a strainer and stirring it all really well before baking. Never done that one before! It seemed to get rid of the cocoa clumps, but it took about five million times longer than just straining the dry ingredients on their own, so I can't say I really recommend this method.

The cake itself is a chocolate sour cream cake, layered with raspberry jam and finished with chocolate sour cream frosting, one of my very favorites. It really should be finished with fresh raspberries on top, but the Raspberry Fairy hadn't left me any of those in the fridge, so I had a make-it-work moment and used strawberries instead.

I loved the combination of chocolate cake, raspberry jam, and chocolate sour cream frosting. The sweet, tart, chocolately flavors were heavenly together. I didn't love that my cake was a little dry--maybe it was the smooshing and straining, maybe it spent a few extra minutes in the oven. Whatever it was, it made me avoid the edges and just eat the moist innards near the jam. Which is kind of a shame, but if it hadn't had this deficiency I would have eaten a lot more of this cake, which would have been a shame in a different way.

What did you guys think? Dressy Chocolate Loafcake & I are both curious.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Perfect Mint Chip Ice Cream

So I know I always claim to not appreciate ice cream much, but all of those weak protestations went out the window last weekend when I was confronted with this:

Homemade Mint Chip Ice Cream. Oh yes.

And this wasn't mint from a bottle, mind you, this was huge handfuls of fresh mint, infused into the milk and cream mixture for a full hour.
I swear, my kitchen smelled like a spring garden when this was done infusing. The taste of fresh mint is so unlike mint extract, I wonder how I was conned into using the bottled stuff for so long.

So after the custard was made, chilled, and churned in the ice cream maker, the fun REALLY began. One of my favorite things about this recipe was the fun, creative method of forming the chocolate "chips." In past mint chip attempts, I've simply used chopped chocolate, which always leaves me gnawing on ice-cold chocolate boulders and praying for the integrity of my molars. This recipe was entirely different.

Step 1: melt chocolate and place it into a Ziploc with a tiny hole cut in the corner. Squiggle some melted chocolate into the ice cream storage container.
Smooth a thin layer of mint ice cream on top of the melted chocolate.

Drizzle more melted chocolate on top of the ice cream. Don't be stingy, you want to use up all the chocolate!

The chocolate will start to freeze and harden right away, so immediately take a spoon and stir around the top, breaking up the strands and forming little chocolate shards that get embedded into the ice cream.

Lather, rinse, repeat several times, until you've used up all of the ice cream and all of the melted chocolate. Aside from being really fun to do, this method produces perfect little strands of chocolate throughout the ice cream that are never too chunky or hard.

After another quick chill in the freezer, this ice cream was perfect. Rich, smooth, full-flavored, redolent of cooling mint, and the earth, and rich bittersweet chocolate.

I wish this was my recipe, believe me. But I actually got it from David Lebovitz, whose recipes have yet to let me down. You can find it on his blog. Bon appetit, my overheated, ice cream loving friends!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Baklava Fingers & Spiced Orange Sorbet

Until recently, I've never given honey too much thought. My father worked as a beekeeper when he was younger, which meant that he was full of entertaining stories about bee shenanigans--including a dark time when a hive "went rogue" and made their own queen--and our pantry was always full of his honey.

Jeopardy trivia break: did you know that honey is the one food that never spoils? It can literally last for hundreds of years. It might crystallize, but it will liquefy again once warmed.

Anyhow, I grew up eating that honey, and then graduated to buying my own in little bear-shaped bottles. It was nice, it was sweet, it wasn't too memorable. And then I tried this:

I got some of this Wild Raspberry Honey from Bee Raw as a giveaway on Blake Makes (which, if you aren't familiar with the website, often has great giveaways.) It would be a slight exaggeration to say that this honey changed my life, but it certainly changed the way I think about honey. It. Is. Amazing. I could eat it by itself, with a spoon. It's really mild, and fruity, with some mellow tart notes not unlike a raspberry! Incredible.

So after making yogurt-honey parfaits and honey sandwiches, I decided to put it to good use by showcasing it in a few dessert recipes. Of course, my first thought was baklava.

I've never made baklava before but I often order it when we have Greek food. It's not to everyone's taste but I love the combination of crispy phyllo dough and toasted nuts soaked in a honey syrup. Of course, the problem is that it's easy to do wrong, and there's nothing appealing about an overly sweet, soggy mess of gooey dough.

Instead of the traditional large pan cut into squares, I made Baklava Fingers based on this recipe from Baking Obsession. The fingers are maybe more time intensive to make, but they're less messy to serve and eat, and I also think they look nicer when served with...drumroll please...

Spiced Orange and Honey Sorbet. (recipe from Epicurious.) This was such a delightful surprise! I chose it because I thought it would fit in with the honey and Middle Eastern theme, but we loved it in and of itself. It was incredibly light and refreshing, and all of the spices made it more interesting and playful than a straight fruit sorbet. It's a perfect summer recipe.

Another benefit of the orange sorbet is that it helped cut the sweetness of the honeyed baklava, and the baklava added some much-needed texture to the sorbet. Of course, now that the dessert is gone and my honey jar is almost empty I feel a bit adrift. I've tasted the good stuff and I don't want to go back to the bear! Maybe my dad will send me some of his "vintage" honey from the garage...


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

TWD: Tender Shortcakes

This week's TWD recipe, tender shortcakes, could not have come at a better time. Look at these beauties I picked up over the weekend:
We drove up to Yosemite recently, and one of the only benefits of the long drive through rural central California is passing fruit stands with beautiful, inexpensive fruit. We got masses of golden cherries, blueberries, peaches, avocados...purrrrr. So I was excited to make a dessert that got to showcase these gorgeous fruits.
And showcase them it did! Shortcakes are so simple, but when done right, so sublime. Crunchy golden edges, lighty, flaky, buttery interior, with a cloud of lightly sweetened whipped cream and juicy berries...can you ask for anything more on a warm summer's day?
I couldn't stop picking at it as I was photographing, and as soon as the camera was down I attacked one of the plates. These were fast, easy, fantastic, and are surely going to be a staple this summer.
What more can I say? Perfection.

For the recipe, and for general hilarity and awesome bloggitude, check out Cathy at the Tortefeasor.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Oh Dandy It's Candy

Can I take a moment before I begin to just say I am SO glad that it is finally June. I feel like May came and ran me over like a Mack truck. Don't get me wrong, it was full of good things, but I was left exhausted and feeling (and possibly looking) like roadkill.

This past month, in addition to my brother's wedding and the wedding cake I made for him, my husband (FINALLY) finished his PhD program and got all gradumacated:

And then we had a series of houseguests, and then I took a whirlwind trip to Chicago for that grand sugar extravaganza, the Sweet & Snacks Expo. The Expo is the biggest candy trade show in the country, and it's absolutely overwhelming. All the big players come and set up enormous booths, and of course there's hundreds of smaller companies as well. Here's a quick photo tour of the Expo.

There were enormous inflatable and fluffy mascots of all descriptions.

There were lots of new "brand extensions" of familiar products. Look for new versions of Snickers, Twix, Milky Way, and 3 Musketeers this summer and fall, as well as these Reese's minis, adorable dime-shaped cups that come ALREADY UNWRAPPED. Can you believe it took them until 2010 to think of this? Glory hallelujah.
There were also more unusual products, like these fruit jelly-stuffed marshmallows...
...and these popping candies to sprinkle on ice cream, yogurt, and even vegetables......and chocolate truffles shaped and served like martini olives...

...and my favorite unique product, Le Whif inhalable chocolate. The canister is filled with chocolate powder that you inhale, so that you get the taste of chocolate without any of the calories.
I couldn't resist taking a hit every now and then. But really, I can stop any time that I want to.After two days at the Expo, I ended up with about 30 lbs of candy. Fortunately I've been through this drill before, so I packed a duffel into my regular suitcase to cart it all home in. It was dreadfully inconvenient to carry around O'Hare, but I tried to remind myself that I needed to burn all the extra calories I could, to make up for my all-candy diet of the past few days.
Over the weekend I finally had a chance to sort it all, organize it, and photograph most of it. It went into 4 piles: gum and mints, to keep and review, to keep and eat but not review, and to give away. The review pile is the big one in the middle.

So all of this is an extremely long-winded way of saying: I didn't make this week's TWD recipe! I feel like if I were to add one more sweet substance to my house, it would spontaneously combust in a cloud of sugar. BUT I am excited to see everyone else's finished product, and I actually have a fun baklava and sorbet recipe I'll be posting later this week.

If you are interested in learning more about the Expo, I have some additional write-ups on the candy blog.