Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut 40th Birthday Cake

"Chocolate and hazelnut" was the response I received from a friend after offering to bake her a special 40th birthday cake. I had recommended she peek through the "Cakes" page of this site and see if she developed any particular requests and she lighted upon the 9-layer chocolate-hazelnut cake I made for Will's birthday last year.

Being as I never like to repeat my cakes exactly, I took it as an opportunity to modify the satsuma cake from a few weeks ago with hazelnuts instead of almonds, and reduce some of the nuts in place of a bit of flour. Although both cakes were very good, I strongly preferred this version with flour... it had a finer texture - not so grainy, and less dense.

The orange-hazelnut layers were sandwiched between chocolate genoise soaked in Frangelico syrup. I used the recipe from The Cake Bible and actually had to make it twice because it overbaked the first time. The second time I watched the time very closely, especially as I was baking in three 8-inch rounds instead of one springform pan. Genoise is intended for the top and bottom "crusts" to be cut off. It can be hard to do that, and then cut into layers evenly, even with a cake slicer. At the same time, baking shallower layers can cause each layer to not bake as evenly, and to be so thin as to leave little behind after trimming. Genoise must be soaked in syrup in order to have any moistness, texture, and really - flavor and sweetness. Although I didn't have a taste of the final assembled cake, I liked the idea of the moist but textural nut cake layered against a moist yet airy genoise. The Frangelico syrup can be replaced by any flavor of your choice, but is an appropriate selection to pair with the nuts in the orange cake.

The remaining recipes also came from The Cake Bible, with whipped ganache between the layers (using about 60% chocolate) and bittersweet ganache (using about 75% chocolate) for the glaze. It's very challenging for me to get a smooth ganache finish down the sides of the cake, though the top gets quite glossy and seamless. If I'd had enough chocolate to make extra whipped ganache, I would frost the sides evenly with that, and then allow the ganache to drizzle over it and drip down the sides without worrying about trying to get a full coverage from the glaze.

I pressed chopped hazelnuts part-way up the sides of the cake around the bottom circumference border, and topped with whole toasted hazelnuts and chocolate shavings.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Pies

I always make two pies for Thanksgiving, even though my family is so small and some of us are such tiny eaters that even one pie would likely still leave us with leftovers. One reason was because while I believe pumpkin pie to be an essential component of any Thanksgiving holiday, I am not especially fond of it, and so always wanted a dessert that I could enjoy as much as the rest of the meal. After years of making pumpkin pies for the rest of the family, incorporating various iterations such as caramel drizzles andwalnut streusels and gingersnap crumb crusts, I have finally developed an appreciation for plain old pumpkin pie, and my recipe of choice is from The Joy of Cooking cookbook.

An all-butter crust (as opposed to one mostly of shortening) will shrink. Because I par-baked this one,
I ended up with more of a tart than a pie, but it tasted just as good (or better - butter crusts are
far-superior in flavor, though they may lack some of the flakiness you might be used to
in the shortening crusts). The crust could only hold half of the recipe for the filling though,
so I froze the other half of custard and have another pie coming my way in a few weeks.
But I still wouldn't feel right about celebrating the bounty of the season without contributing a second pie to the feast. This year, I selected a has-it-all meal-in-itself 'Harvest Pie' by Leslie Mackie (owner and founder of Macrina Bakery). Not only is it filled with apples, pears, and cranberries, the crust is made of almonds and sesame seeds for a buttery richness that makes an excellent cookie when baked alone.
The crust was probably my favorite part. It is crunchy and flavorful enough to stand alone as a shortbread type of cookie, and held the decorative crimping in the pie rim throughout baking. But it is also tender enough that it made an excellent pie crust as well. I will definitely make it again.
The pie filling is a wonderful representation of the best this season has to offer. I found it a little too sweet though, and far too juicy. The streusel topping was also delicious, but I had cut back on the sugar and butter, and even still used only half the recipe. The recipe below incorporates all of my preferences from the original as printed in Mackie's cookbook, Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook.

Sesame-Almond Cookie Crust
makes enough for two 9-inch crusts
1 cup whole almonds (+ 2 tablespoons for streusel)
3/4 cup sesame seeds (+2 tablespoons for streusel)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces total) unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread almonds and sesame seeds on separate baking sheets and toast about 10 minutes (almonds will take about 12). Remove from oven and cool.

Combine cooled almonds and seeds with 1 cup flour in food processor and pulse to a fine grind. Add to stand mixer with remaining flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and lemon and blend. Using paddle attachment, add butter and mix on low until coarse and crumbly, about 3 minutes.
Whisk together eggs and vanilla and mix into dough just until combined. Divide dough into two pieces, pat into a flat circle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days (or freeze up to two months).

Once chilled, roll out one circle of dough into 12-inch round, lay into pie plate and crimp edge as desired. Freeze for 30 minutes, then fill with foil and pie weights, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes until golden.

Remove beans and foil and set crust aside to cool.

Note: This is a great video for how to make decorative crusts. I especially love the "wheat" border, because it seems so complicated until you watch how easy it is to make.

Harvest Pie Filling
2 Granny Smith apples
2 bartlett pears
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup cornstarch

Peel and core apples and pears, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Combine in large bowl with 1 cup sugar, cranberries, and lemon juice. Toss well and place into colander. Allow to juices to drain at room temperature for one hour.

In bowl, combine cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, and spices, then toss with drained fruit. Pack tightly into cooled crust and top with streusel topping. 

Sesame-Almond Streusel Topping
2 tablespoons toasted whole almonds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons white sugar

Coarsely chop almonds and cut together with butter, seeds, flour, oats, and sugar using pastry blender or your fingers.

Bake assembled pie at 350 degrees for 90 minutes and cool at least one hour before serving. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Satsuma Cake

I bought a carton of satsuma mandarins last week, which is way more than Will and I can eat on our own if for no other reason than we get tired of peeling pith off segments. So when I found this recipe using whole satsumas (ie: not delicately sectioned segments), I was VERY intrigued. The original recipe is attributed to Nigella Lawson, but multiple bloggers have posts about it. I probably wouldn't have tried it based on the Food Network alone, so although that is the original source, I hope you'll visit these links to others whose postings inspired me to give it a try.
I, too, used a 9" pan, and checked it at 30 minutes, but it wasn't done until about 45 minutes. Even at that point however, the outside edge was a bit dark.
I believed her when she said "leave this cake as is, no icing, no dusting of powdered sugar."

My assessment is that this cake is very good and quite easy. And although it's high-fat, it at least offers some nutrition. It's different from what you might be used to and what you  might expect. And it can handle some various "interpretations." Ultimately, this version was not one I will repeat, though I certainly enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed it in a second round when I replaced half of the ground nuts for all-purpose flour and used hazelnuts in place of almonds. It could also perhaps be enhanced with a bit of spice such as ginger or cinnamon. And an attractive sprinkle of powdered sugar or dollop of sweetened whipped cream isn't going to upset the unique balance that is this cake. 

Update January, 2016: So, I did repeat this cake, because I came to it through completely different means when looking for something to do with meyer lemons. I got sent to this recipe  which struck a chord in my memory... turns out it's exactly the same as Nigella's recipe, so I don't know who came up with it first. But I decided to try it again with the meyer lemons. I used 6. I ground the almonds in my food processor which in the end I think is a little too coarse for my preference and I would have preferred commercially ground almonds or - as I say in my notes above - partial substitution with flour. In any case, the lemon flavor is excellent, and the batter filled an 8" pan and a 6" pan both, which I baked for 40 minutes at 375.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pomegranate Chicken

Yeah, so this sauce is definitely not the most attractive looking color or texture. But the flavor is fantastic, and the consistency - thickened with ground walnuts - is unique and delightful. I served this
pomegranate chicken with rice topped with extra sauce, and these spice-glazed carrots.

Pomegranate Chicken adapted from Joan Nathan’s The New American Cooking as found on 3-4
1 cup chopped
2 T olive oil
8 oz walnuts
4 skinless chicken thighs (it is fine to leave in the bone)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teapsoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 T pomegranate molasses
pinch of saffron
2 cups water

Saute onion in olive oil in a medium pot until light golden brown.
Pulse, not puree, walnuts in a food processor, using a steel blade. The walnuts should have some crunch.
Add the chicken, walnuts, salt, lemon juice, sugar, ketchup, pomegranate juice, saffron and water to the onion. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pot loosely. Cook for an hour at a slow and constant simmer, stirring occasionally.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cardamom Cheesecake with Coconut-Cashew Crust and Tamarind Marble

Cheesecakes are great party cakes. They must be made ahead of time. They serve a lot of people. And they are almost infinitely variable to incorporate virtually any theme. So when I offered to bring dessert to a friend's annual Diwali Party (the Hindu festival of lights), I already knew it would be some kind of cheesecake. The hard part would be matching the standard I had set the previous year with the Mango-Coconut Cheesecake.

I started by brainstorming a list of exotic and tropical ingredients, leaving nothing on the table as far as how it might participate as a dessert. From there, I chose some that seemed most non-traditional and researched how I might use them. Ultimately, what I came up with was a cardamom cheesecake with tamarind swirl and coconut-cashew crust. Tamarind has a sour-citrus flavor with a burnt caramel undertone. It's quite strong, and if you don't know what to expect, it could taste a bit "off" but I found it provided a unique and complimentary tartness to the sweet crust and creamy filling of this dessert.

For crust:
about 6 ounces coconut "shortbread" cookies, enough to make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs
1 cup whole roasted cashews, or about 3/4 cup smaller cashew pieces (I used salted, which will make the crust noticeably salty, but in a way I like, similar to salted caramel)
1/4 cup butter, melted
a couple of drops of coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse the cookies and nuts together in the food processor until finely ground crumbs. Add the extract to the melted butter and pour over the crumbs, pulse a couple of times to combine evenly. Press firmly into the bottom and partly up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Bake 12-15 minutes just until golden brown. Reduce oven to 325.

For Filling:
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or puree

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer to avoid incorporating too much air from a whisk. If your sugar is lumpy, you might want to press it through a sieve to break up the lumps. Make sure the cheese is soft to get the smoothest possible texture, if there are any lumps when you add the eggs, the lumps will not mix in. This isn't a deal-breaker, but the best cheesecakes are perfectly smooth.

Add the eggs one at a time mixing well to incorporate. Remove about 2/3 cup of batter to a small bowl, and mix cardamom and allspice into remaining batter. Add the tamarind to the small amount of batter and mix well.

Pour the white batter into the prebaked crust. Using a spoon, drop about 6 dollops of the dark batter on top. The pattern doesn't really matter, but make sure the dollops aren't touching on order to get the best marble design. Drag a knife across about 1/2-inch deep to "swirl" the colors. I drag lines about 1 inch apart, and then again at a 90 degree angle.

Bake at 325 for about 75 minutes, until center is still wobbly but set. I did not bake this in a water bath, because I wanted a crisper crust, and the top cracked. If you bake in a water bath (place the cake pan in a larger pan and fill slightly more than half-full with water) the top with not crack but your crust will be a little softer.

The version with the "glaze" and garnishes that covered over the attractive marbled design.

Notes: I tried to make a tamarind glaze to drizzle over the cake, but it didn't work. I used a bottle of Jarritos tamarind soda, reduced to a about 1/4 cup, and stirred in 3 tablespoons of butter. It didn't get syrupy even though the ingredients say it is made with real sugar. I used it anyway on one cake, with additional cashews and coconut flakes for garnish, but then realized it just covered the marble design, so you don't really need any garnishes.

I have always baked my cheesecakes in a water-bath, and rarely experience cracking. This time, I wanted a crunchier crust, and I was baking two cheesecakes at the same time (so there wasn't room in my oven for a water bath!) You can see that the top did crack. It's not unattractive, but I will probably go back to the water-bath method. To do so, wrap the outside of your springform pan in a double layer of foil while it is empty. When you are ready to put it in the oven, place it in a larger baking or roasting pan, then fill the larger pan with water until it reaches half-way up the side of the cake pan. The water helps regulate the temperature during baking so that the cake is unlikely to crack.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spaghetti with Mushroom-Mussel Sauce

This pasta recipe was to use up our leftovers from the Mussels with Tomato-Ouzo Sauce. It was so good, I'd love to make it again. But it really does need to be made with leftovers, because the sauce comes from the broth the mussels make while they cook.

Cook pasta according to package directions. I used whole wheat spaghetti. Drain the mussels from the leftover broth. Remove the mussels from their shells and set aside. Stir a bit of flour into the broth (while it is still cold.) I used about 2 teaspoons - use 1 tablespoon flour for 1 cup of liquid. 

In a small saucepan, heat 1/4 - 1/3 cup cream to simmer. Stir in broth-flour mixture and simmer until thickened. If desired, thin with a bit of chicken broth or pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, slice about 6 mushrooms. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a wok-type pan and add mushrooms and mussels. Stir frequently over medium heat until mushrooms release their juices and mussels are heated through. Add drained pasta, and sauce, and stir to coat evenly.

I served this with a side of Romanesco broccoli in browned butter with crispy shallots. If you've never had it before, to me it is indistinguishable from cauliflower in taste, but it is such a gorgeous piece of art in nature. It is math and fractals and geometry. It is little christmas trees bound into a bouquet.

Romanesco Broccoli with Crispy Shallots
serves 4 as a side
1 head romanesco broccoli
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
half a shallot, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a small saucepan to about 220 degrees. Fry the shallot in the oil (make sure there is enough oil to fully cover all the shallots) until they are crispy and golden, about 6-8 minutes. Drain the shallots on paper towels and discard the remaining oil.

Meanwhile, divide the romanesco into florets. I also chopped the stem and the leaves around the stem. Steam all the pieces together, about 6 minutes.

In a 10" pan, melt the butter over low and cook until the solids separate and start to brown but not burn. Toss romanesco in browned butter and increase heat to medium high, stirring frequently until vegetables start to char slightly, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and sprinkle with crispy shallots to serve.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple Spice Cake

I am starting to feel a bit more like how I imagine an artist thinks... how do I make something new, that hasn't been done before, but that is still good - still respecting what is established and tried-'n-true while creating something special and unique? There are recipes I want to try, but for a special occasion, like a loved-one's birthday, I want to make something that is remarkable that demonstrates an extra amount of thought and preparation. I continue my quest for the perfect brownie and perfect sugar cookie, but even if I found the exact recipe, it wouldn't be what I would make for a celebration.

This struggle came to particular light as I was planning a cake for my mom's birthday. The almost-Halloween timing always pushes me heavily toward pumpkin. I love the moist, spiced cakes that pumpkin provides the base for - pumpkin-buttermilk bundt cake with maple glaze, pumpkin layer cake with apicot filling, pumpkin sheet cake with browned butter icing and carmelized walnuts, or pumpkin-orange loaf cake with pecan swirl and bourbon glaze.

So many delicious choices, but so cliched for a late-October birthday. I turned to another part of the autumn harvest: apples, but tried to glamourize them with an international flair. I made an apple-spice cake recipe in two 9-inch round pans, filled the layers with garam masala custard, and frosted with a sweet caramel. The result was moist, rich with fall spices and the exoticism of India, while delighfully reminescent of a sticky, gooey  caramel apple from the childhood Halloween carnival.

Cake Layers
Two 8" or 9" round pans, lightly greased and floured.
Preheat oven to 350.

1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetend applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and shredded

Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate small bowl, whisk together applesauce, oil, and eggs. Stir in shredded apple, then add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until incorporated. Divide evenly between prepared pans, smoothing tops.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until tester comes out clean. Cool on racks.

Note: as always, if you can buy whole spices and grind them yourself, the flavors will be much deeper and more complex. You will appreciate the difference.
Garam Masala Custard
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Stir cream and cornstarch in medium bowl until cornstarch dissolves. Add eggs and whisk to blend.
In small heavy saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar, stir until sugar dissolves then bring to a boil. Mix in garam masala and maple, then gradually whisk butter into cream mixture. Return to saucepan and whisk continuously over medium-high heat until custard begins to thicken, and mixture reaches 160 degrees. Strain custard into clean bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface, and chill until set.

Caramel Frosting
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream 
3 tablespoons butter (unsalted) + 3 tablespoons (optional)
1 teaspoon
Combine in a medium, heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium high and cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 238-240 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove from heat and float 3 tablespoons butter on top. Allow to cool to 110 degrees (about 45 minutes). Beat icing with electric mixer until cool, thick, and creamy. Use right away because it will start to set (if you want to make it ahead, warm slightly and rebeat to spreading consistency.)
To assemble the cake, fill layers with the custard and frost with the caramel frosting. I coated my cake with one layer of this glaze, and then beat in an additional 3 tablespoons of butter and frosted with a second layer of the thicker icing. The custard could be used to pipe a message/script decoration. Other attractive garnishes would be whole star anise pods ringing the border, with cinnamon sticks tied in a bundle with a pretty ribbon in the center.

The version of the cake pictured is actually frosted with brown sugar buttercream,
which is great to work with and also complements the cake well.