Saturday, December 29, 2012

Black Walnut Cookies

I had purchased two packages of black walnuts in preparation for my father-in-law's birthday last August (to make ice cream), and used less than one package. Christmas seemed like a good time to dip into the nut reserve and prepare another gift for him. I looked for cookies using black walnuts and found two recipes that I thougth would make a good holiday gift: one is a drop cookie that sounds good but is probably just a bit more rustic, and the slice-and-bake version that I decided to make was just what I had in mind both for a tasty treat and an attractive accompaniment to a cookie platter. I'm really pleased with my selection, as was Will. These guys are pretty with their flecks of nuts and golden brown color, and are a perfect Christmas cookie with a crispy snap and buttery texture. I said to Will "they would be great if it weren't for that black-walnut taste" because I do find the metallic-y bitterness of American walnuts to be off-putting. But I found it significantly tempered in these cookies as compared to in the ice cream, and didn't seem to have any trouble consuming a fair stack. And since Will and his dad especially enjoy black walnuts, these really were an excellent recipe. They were great on my cookie platter.

Black Walnut Cookiesfrom Taste of Home
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups chopped black walnuts

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in walnuts.
Shape dough into two 15-inch rolls. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. (After chilling, dough can be frozen, and sliced/baked without defrosting.)
Unwrap dough; cut into 1/4-in. slices. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Bake at 300° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks. Yield: 10 dozen

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Buche de Noel

Ever since I received The Cake Bible for my 30th birthday, I have wanted to make a Buche de Noel ("yule log"). I had seen the cakes every holiday season in bakeries, including in our neighborhood Danish bakery (though a buche is a traditional French cake), but it wasn't until the recipe was before me that I became rather fascinated with it. I haven't made any type of cake roll, which should be a fairly straightforward experience albeit for the final decorating to transform the roll into a felled woodland tree.

What finally brought me around to the cake this year was my inital plan to make a chestnut and chocolate cake from chestnut genoise and chocolate ganache. That recipe required chestnut flour. The first online retailed for all-things-chestnut is actually in Washington state, but shipping costs still add up, and the products, while "local" don't seem to be available in stores. The only place I could find chestnut flour without having to pay and wait for shipping was the Italian specialty market which imported the flour from Italy!

With that recipe in mind, but needing some adjustments, I decided to swap the cake and filling flavors and make a chocolate genoise with a chesnut filling. Fresh and canned chesnuts, while still a bit more expensive than other more common ingredients, are pretty readily available in December. Trader Joe's had vacuum-packed chesnuts and canned chesnuts are at the grocery store. Chocolate genoise with chesnut creme are the two primary components to a yule log, so rather than stacking them atop each other in rounds for a more traditional cake, I just needed to spiral them up with each other and decorate like a forest.
My only other experience with preparing chestnuts had been when a few years back when I roasted a goose and made chestnut stuffing as an accompaniment. Because I had started with fresh chestnuts, and recalled the arduous process of cutting through their tough outer shells and painstakingly picking away their inner skins, this year when I saw a package of peeled, vacuum-sealed chesnuts at Trader Joe's, I bought it without even knowing how I would use them. Once I landed on this dessert recipe, I went back for more but alas they had already sold out. They did have fresh chestnuts though, and like a mama who wants another baby but held off due to the pain of labor, I thought to myself, "c'mon, how bad can it be?"

Don't be scared away from this process, or by the ultra-glamourous final cake! It is not difficult and it is completely worth the effort!

I was worried that cutting through the shell would be the hardest part, followed by concern that some would burn before they popped open. In fact, they all opened beautifully, but they must have been old or travel-weary because they came swiftly out of their shells but held firm and enmeshed with their skins. I ended up wasting almost half the batch because I had to cut off the skin rather than peel it away. And chestnuts are shaped like little brains, all twisted on themselves and convoluted around the skins so you can't just shave off the outer layer, you have to dig and gouge to remove the bitter exterior. SUCH A PAIN. So, 2 1/2 hours later, I am documenting how unfortunate a process I find peeling chestnuts to be, so as to remind myself to not attempt it again. I've given it two chances, and now feel safe in justifying to myself the expense of whatever variety I can find that are already past this stage in their processing.

The first thing to do with the raw chestnuts is make them into a puree. The recipe said either canned or fresh would work, and gave separate instructions for each. It also cautioned against using canned puree which would be too moist and perhaps also too sweet, though I am interested in trying that as well - maybe after cooking it down a bit to thicken. In any case, Rose says to cook fresh roasted chestnuts in milk until "easily pierced with a fork." Since the vacuum-packed chesnuts were not that tender, I cooked them together with the roasted ones.

Once they are cooked, drain them and puree in the food processor. It was hard to know what consistency to make the puree. The recipe said to add the cooking milk if the mixture was too dry, but what was too dry? After extensive processing, the mixture still seemed pretty "dry" and crumbly, so I ended up using at least a 1/2 cup of the simmering milk - maybe more - and went for a texture about like peanut butter (though not as sticky!)

All of this I did on Saturday, for Christmas on a Tuesday.

On Sunday, Will helped me make marzipan mushrooms to decorate the finished cake. His were larger and more elaborate than mine, which I technically considered "better," but in the end it was nice to have two different "varieties" in our woodland forest. We watched a video online for how to sculpt them, but that was unnecessary as it is pretty straightforward: roll a small piece of marzipan (purchased from Larson's Bakery!) into a ball, use your little finger to hollow out a depression for the stem, spread the crown into whatever shape you desire, use the back of a knife to impress gills into the underside of the top, roll another little piece of maripan into a cylinder for the stem, and press into the top of the mushroom, then dust/smudge cocoa powder.

Monday afternoon, I baked the genoise. It is not actually a genoise, as it has no flour; it's basically just eggs and chocolate! The recipe says that its texture is perfect for rolling, as it is crack-resistent. Since I have not made a jelly roll before, I don't have a basis for comparison, but I did find this pretty easy to work with (discounting my anxiety level of course!) The instructions also call for covering the baked roll with a damp dish towel immediately after removing from the oven, and until it is completely cool. I left it that way untouched until Tuesday morning with no apparent ill effects or deterioration of quality.

Tuesday, Christmas morning, I made the chesnut filling. It was as simple as whipping creme and stirring in my already-prepared sweetened chestnut puree. I used two cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of puree, which made at least double what I needed to generously fill the roll. I ended up using it to frost as well, which had not been my original plan, and still had over a cup leftover. But it was a tremendously delicious ratio of light airy cream, sweetness, and roasted nuttiness. 

Finally came assembly. This whole process (minus the fresh chestnuts) was actually pretty smooth. I thought a lot about my decorations, which was time consuming, and I was very worried about how the rolling of the cake layer and the stacking of the trimmed log would go, but it all went quite well. Once the cake was rolled, I wrapped the parchment firmly around it, and refrigerated for another hour. My intention had been to frost it with dark ganache, and decided to crumb coat with the chestnut cream. Because of the texture of the chestnuts in the cream, it made what I thought was a lovely, woody-barky look and didn't want to cover it up with ganache which just would have ended up looking lumpy.

I had made chocolate bark that I was going to apply on the ganache, but with my "birch" tree, the bark served its role better when we tore it into thin pieces.  Some washed greenery and pinecones from our yard, along with our marzipan mushrooms and a dusting of powdered sugar snow completed our buche de noel.

I was SO pleased with how it looked! It came out much more lovely than I was hoping; even prettier than some of Martha's (and much more than Rose's). But, more importantly, it was so So SO delicious. It was the perfect ending for a Christmas dinner, because it was unfathomably light, and yet super-chocolately. The chestnuts impart the most wonderful earthy, wintery flavor but it is sweet and nutty and rum-y especially next to the chocolate. I cut thin slices, just about 1" thick, and most people had two servings, but it was completely satisfying, and there was enough for four of us to have leftovers the next day; I am happy to report that this cake tasted exactly as good on day 2... it did not get soggy or dry. The "cloud roll" is aptly named, because it does taste ethereal.

I am looking forward to making another buche de noel next year, now that I have some confidence about the process. And while these recipe components absolutely deserve to be repeated, I am curious to try different flavors next time - either a chesnut cake with chocolate frosting, or other combinations. If you have any comments about buches that you've made or eaten in the past, I'd love for you to post them, or let me know if you have questions or fears about making your own, because this should not be a daunting recipe and the results are truly spectacular.

Chocolate Cloud Roll
from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (78 grams)
6 large eggs, separated (112 grams yolks, 180 grams whites)
113 grams bittersweet chocolate, melted - I used lindt 70% dark
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa for dusting

Prepare a 17x12" jelly roll pan with parchment. Grease and flour. Preheat oven to 350.
Beat together 1/4 cup sugar and yolks until fluffy. Add chocolated.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until foamy, add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold whites into chocolate mixture until incorporated, careful not to deflate the batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 16 minutes. As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, dust evenly with cocoa, and cover with a clean, wet dish towel. Aloow to cool completely.

To roll, use parchment as handles to pull cake from pan onto hard flat surface. Spread with filling then use parchment to roll up the long edge.

Chestnut Mousse Cream
from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
makes 5 cups, which is more than enough to fill and frost a jelly roll

1 cup unsweetened chestnut puree (it is possible to make your own, but I think that is by far the hardest part of the recipe - though it can also be completed well in advance. I suggest looking for canned puree, or at least use canned or vacuum-sealed chestnuts.)
2/3 cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into measuring cup
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 cups heavy cream

Process puree with sugar and rum.
Beat cream until soft peaks form. Add puree (I spooned it into about 7 chunks) and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Spread on cake and roll into spiral. Chill until firm.

To assemble Buche de Noel
The finished roll should be the long-edge of the cake pan, about 17". Slide roll on a diagonal into two pieces, about 12" and 5". Slice 5" piece in two, again on a diagonal to make the "branches." Because the cake is so soft and light, the branches should affix to the main trunk fairly securely using just the cream filling or some chocolate ganache frosting. Decorate as desired using chocolate bark, holly, cedar or pine springs, pine cones, marzipan or meringue mushrooms and other forest critters, a santa, bows, candies, and for sure some powdered sugar snow!

Keep refrigerated until about an hour before serving. We found this to keep very well for over 24 hours.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

About my blog

Sometimes a number is big and sometimes a number is small, even when it is the same number. For example, 10 kittens that need homes is a lot, but 10 cents you find on the sidewalk is not. $10,000 as an annual salary in the US is a little, but 10,000 hits on a my first-ever totally amateur blog is a lot. Well, it's a lot to me. I'm kind of excited about it, and kinda proud (though I'm still not sure exactly how many of those pageviews are my own... I constantly specify "do not track my page views" but the host never gives any affirmative confirmation that this request has been understood.) Of course, I've been watching it tick upwards from 9,700 to 9,800 to 9,900 over the past couple of weeks and trying to figure out what I could do to celebrate. I didn't really decide on anything specifically, so I am just creating what I happened to be doing on this day that 10K was reached into my celebratory post.

My time in the kitchen today was devoted to preparing for a small holiday party I'm having tomorrow. Of course there was baking lots of cookies, but I also decided to make a couple of dishes that not only have I made in the past, but which I served together. That is pretty rare for me, because I love trying new recipes, and even with my favorites, I try to combine them into fresh new menus. Maybe I'm just tired from the push of the end of the quarter and the stress of the holiday rush on Will's business, but more likely it's just that the reasons I served this soup and salad together before are great reasons to do so again.

First of all, soup is great for a party because you can make a lot all at once, and have it ready in advance so it just bubbles away on the stove while you visit with your guests. Even when your friends are as radiant and sparkling as mine are, soup adds a much-needed warmth to the damp, dark days of Seattle winter. I settled on this particular pairing for this occasion because of their festive, colorful ingredients.  

But what I'm more pleased about than these recipes, is the fact that pulling them from my archives is precisely the experience I wanted and was planning for when I started this blog. While I am super-thrilled to have many viewers of my site (shall I reiterate, it's 10,000 page views as of today, so there must be more people reading than just my beloved 11 "followers!"), this blog is really for me. It helps me chronicle my tests and trials so I can keep track of recipes that worked - and didn't. It gives me a place to store recipes I like - but want to improve. It reminds me what cakes I've made with which frostings and which fillings and how long in my oven it takes to get the cookies just the right color. 

You might be interested in my comments in the post for the cauliflower salad. But I FOR SURE am interested! I remembered really enjoying these two recipes, but by coming back to my post about them, I can easily see what I want to do to make them better for this time. 

Here are what few little changes I made the second time around.

Red Lentil Soup
I left out the potato that I added unnecessarily in the first iteration. I remembered the lemon, and also remembered some garnishes of greek yogurt and fresh parsley.

Cauliflower Salad
I skipped the glaze entirely. Half the curry dressing was the right amount for my one large head of cauliflower (and half a large leek).
I followed my suggestion to make the florets much smaller, and the bell peppers larger. And I swapped around a couple of ingredients based both on what I have in the pantry and what is seasonal.
Red and green bell pepper, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries. And lots and lots of cilantro.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa's Whiskers and Speculaas Snowflakes

Both of these recipes are new to me this year, and I came across them just toward the end of November and knew I wanted to try them for the holidays. Turns out they make a delightful cookie platter pairing, because they have such contrasting colors and flavors.

Both the author and the reviewers of the Santa's Whiskers cookies are quick to make disclaimers about "don't be turned off by the candied cherries" etc. I glazed right over this warning because I love fruitcake at the holidays and have no negative associations with candied fruit. I am less of a fan of coconut, generally steering away from it while not explicitly avoiding it. But I can assure you whatever your position on any of these ingredients, these cookies are the perfect crisp of Christmas and everyone will love them. They are adoreable, and unmatched in the festive cheer of red and green stained glass they bring to any cookie platter.

Santa's Whiskers
adapted from Sara Bonisteel on epicurious

3/4 cup (2 ounces) flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 ounces red candied cherries, coarsely chopped
3 ounces green candied cherries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour in 3 batches, followed by the red and green cherries and the pecans, and stir until just combined, about 2 minutes.

Spread coconut down the middle of two 12" long pieces of waxed paper. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a 10-inch-long log, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Transfer each log to a sheet of wax paper and roll to coat them completely with coconut. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or up to a week. You can also freeze the logs and defrost before slicing.

Preheat oven to 375.

Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and arrange on greased or lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. Bake until light golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
Note: my cherries were in a sticky glaze that dyed my first batch pink. Rinse or blot the fruit to remove as much of any extra glaze as possible if your fruit is not dry to begin with.

These make really sweet goodie bags for gifts.

When Will and I had the opportunity to travel extensively in Western Europe last year, one of the many things in which we delighted was tasting the pastries and baked goods of each region. Our point of entry and departure was Amsterdam, and the Dutch are famous for their speculoos (also speculaas), a crispy almond and spice cookie. I love this type of cookie on any day, but I think it had a special appeal for me because it was our "first" treat when we launched our European adventure. While we couldn't get good speculoos cookies once we left The Netherlands, we continued to enjoy speculoos gelato across Belgium, France, and Italy.

Ginger and spice cookies are often part of my holiday year-round baking repetoire, but speculoos are a rolled cookie which makes them a bit more delicate and more evenly crunchy. They are also incredibly festive since you can cut them out with all your adorable cookie cutters.

I followed this recipe exactly as it appears from Nancy Leson, with one important change: I used pecans instead of almonds, because that is what I had. Pecans aren't really used in European recipes, but they perfectly complement the spiced flavor of these cookies,  and the texture of the cookies is still as crispy and delightful as what I remember from almond versions.

Wilma Eppinga's Speculaas Koekjes(Dutch spice cookies)Makes about 6 dozen1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons whole milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
¾ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sliced almonds

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and milk; stir until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, then add the butter, blending until mixture is like cornmeal.
Add the sugar mixture and almonds to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Using your hands, shape the dough into a ball, slice it in two and flatten into disks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least an hour, though the flavors meld better if left overnight).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness and use a (floured) 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter to make shapes. Place on greased cookie sheet (or use parchment or a silicone mat). Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes until browned. Cool on rack to crisp.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

White Chocolate Peppermint Cake

The good news/bad news about having a blog is that once people know about it, they might look at it, and once they look at it, they might see something they like, and once they see something they like, they might want it for themselves, and once they want something for themselves, they might hope that you will make it for them instead of trying out the recipes that you've spent hours retyping so that they might not ask you to make it for them.

That's not what happened in this instance. Because the other thing that happens when you have a blog, which includes all of the most beautiful and elaborate and delicious cakes you've ever made, then when you offer to bring a cake to a party, you feel like you really must create the most fabulous contribution. And so it was for this white-chocolate peppermint cake.

One of my classmates wanted to have a party to celebrate her birthday, which just happened to fall right at the end of our first quarter, making it an excellent time for ALL of us to celebrate. I offered to bring a cake, but since it was her birthday, it was important that she get to choose what kind. For mid-December, I would lean toward a spice cake with ginger and pears, or apples, or even pumpkin and cranberries with a lucious cream cheese frosting. The hostess loves everything pumpkin, but cream cheese was a non-starter. She came back a few days later with "how about something with white chocolate?" which worked great for me since my all-time most perfect of cake layers is a white-chocolate white cake.  Once we had a white-colored, no-cream cheese palette to start with, the obvious next step was peppermint.

Crushed candy canes were just right to add some festive holiday spirit and counter the smooth sweetness of white chocolate with a fresh zing of minty zest. I first thought that I would make a peppermint-flavored buttercream to frost the cake, and sprinkle crushed candies between the layers. Another option for the filling was this recipe which I still think sounds good, but I haven't made it yet. I made the buttercream first, using a new whole-egg recipe which predictably turned out creamy butter-colored instead of white. I also replaced half of the water in the recipe with peppermint schnapps trying to give it a nice minty flavor, but it was completely undetectable. So I converted that to the filling with a bit of red food coloring and crushed peppermints.

Crushed candy canes and red food coloring make for a festive filling between cake layers.

To get a white frosting for the exterior of the cake, I used an egg-white buttercream. This is still not stark white like a meringue frosting, but it is lovely. I lightly flavored the frosting with vanilla to balance the peppermint, and not be too sweet against the cake. Finally, I topped the cake with just a thin glaze of white chocolate to make a perfectly smooth finish and create decorative, icicle-like drippings down the side.

The dollops on top were just supposed to be decorative. But my
subconscious must have been at work, because they look just like
pumpkins, which are the birthday girl's favorite food!

I love accessorizing with ribbons, whether it's my hair, a package, or a cake. My grandmother bought a huge assortment of florist ribbons at the rummage sale at her retirement home, and I've been saving the red-and-white-stripped spool for just a special occasion as this. It saved me a lot of time piping, and creates a professionally-finished border around the base of the cake. Because of the crushed candies in the peppermint frosting, it doesn't make finely-detailed piping, but it worked well as mounds around the perimeter, topped with mint chips. A couple mini candy canes tied with another decorative ribbon worked as a centerpiece for the cake and gives away the secret of what flavors are inside.

The glaze was just a bit thinner than what I'd had in mind, so next time I will use a lower ratio of cream, though it really just depends on your tastes. I was hoping the glaze would set-up a bit more firmly, to create more of a texture contrast. As it was, it was so easy to work with, because it spread super-smoothly, and the drips down the side were fairly even. However, after when we went to cut the cake (about 4 hours later), the candy canes had started to melt on top, which wouldn't have happened with a more firm glaze.

Because this is a 10-inch cake, it serves a lot; we got 22 slices from this one. I recommend cutting it like a wedding cake - into squares rather than wedges. It should be served at room temperature, or the buttercream will be too firm and taste like butter instead of like frosting. The cake is also much more tender when it is not too cold. I made the cake the night before and assembled the day of, though previously I've made this cake and it freezes well for up to six months. All the frostings can also be made in advance, and refrigerated for a week or frozen.

White Chocolate Cakefrom The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
This recipe makes two 9-inch layers. I use 1 1/2 recipes (can be mixed concurrently) to fill two 10-inch pans.

6 ounces white chocolate (I use lindt)
1/2 cup egg whites (4-5 eggs)
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all pupose flour
1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Grease pans, line with parchment paper, and grease and flour. Preheat oven to 350.
Melt chocolate, then allow to cool.
Combine egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla.
In large bowl of stand mixer, combine dry ingredients. Add butter and remaining milk. Mix on low until moistened, then beat 2 minutes on medium high to aerate.
Gradually add egg mixture in three batches, beating 20 seconds between addition.
Add melted chocolate and beat to incorporate.
Divide evenly between pans, smoothing tops of batter. Bake 25-35 minutes (my 10-inch pans took 33 minutes) until tester comes out clean. The cake will shrink a bit after it comes out of the oven (or if it is being overcooked! If it has already pulled away it might be a little too brown which means it could be just a tad dry, but the flavor will still be excellent.) Allow to cool in pans 15 minutes, then invert to rack and cool completely before assembling.

Peppermint Filling
from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition by Ethan Becker
I looked through a LOT of recipes for peppermint frostings, and most are the powdered sugar type of icing which is awfully sweet and pretty pasty. One white chocolate version I'd be willing to try is linked above. Below is the recipe I used for this cake, which everyone seemed to enjoy immensely.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water (I replaced with 2 T water and 2 T peppermint schnapps, but I don't think it really added any peppermint to the flavor)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 tablespoon peppermint schnapps
4 candy canes, crushed to bits and dust (The general method is to unwrap and place in a heavy-duty plastic bag, then sandwich in a dishtowel and whack with a rolling pin. I still find this makes a mess as the bag gets holes and the candy gets sticky everywhere. I prefer to grind pieces of candy in a coffee grinder.)
1 drop red food coloring

Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered until 238 degrees. Meanwhile, fill a wide, deep skillet with boiling water, and keep at a simmer. Crack eggs into a medium bowl, beat with a hand mixer until thick and pale yellow. Pour the hot syrup into the egg mixture, beating constantly. Set bowl into the skillet of simmering water and continue beating the egg/syrup mixture until it reaches 160 degrees.
Remove from heat and beat until room temperature (this takes forever, so it's best set the bowl in an ice bath while beating to speed up the process).
Add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing constantly. At times, the mixture might look curdled, but just keep beating. Once all the butter is incorporated, mix in schnapps, crushed candy, and food coloring.

This will make enough to fill and frost a 9-inch cake, or to fill and decorate a 10-inch cake with some left over. It can be made in advance, and freezes well, though you may need to rebeat it after it has thawed to regain consistency.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting (White)
from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition by Ethan Becker
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 sticks unsalted butter

Using a hand mixer, whisk together eggs, sugar, water, and cream of tartar in large bowl. Set the bowl in a skillet filled with simmering water at least to equal the level of the egg mixture in the bowl. Beat on low speed until the mixture reaches 140 degrees, then continue beating on high speed until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.
Remove from heat and beat until room temperature (this takes forever, so it's best set the bowl in an ice bath while beating to speed up the process).
Add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing constantly. At times, the mixture might look curdled, but just keep beating. Once all the butter is incorporated, add vanilla.

It can be made in advance, and freezes well, though you may need to rebeat it after it has thawed to regain consistency.

White Chocolate Glaze
I used a ratio of 3 ounces white chocolate to 1 cup heavy cream. It was a bit thin, so next time I will use just 1/2 cup cream. Either way, this will make MUCH more than you need to glaze a cake, but it can be frozen or will last in the fridge for 3 weeks and is delicious on fruit.

3 ounces white chocolate (I used ghiradelli chips)
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

Heat cream just to a simmer. Add chips (or finely chopped white chocolate bars) and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes to soften, then whisk until incorporated. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

To Assemble Cake
Place one cake layer on the bottom of a two-piece tart pan or on a cardboard round. Spead with peppermint filling. Top with second cake layer. Use buttercream to crumb-coat (make a very thin layer of frosting which traps the crumbs - it's okay if they show through as long as the frosting glues them to the surface of the cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Frost over the crumb coat with buttercream. Refridgerate for 15 minutes. To make a really smooth finish, dip an offset spatula in hot water, wipe dry, and glide slowly over the surface. The heat of the metal will smooth the frosting. Repeat until desired finish is achieved. Any bumps will show under the glaze, so you want the top as smooth as possible. (This is a very good video showing another technique to get a super-smooth finish.) Refrigerate until firm.
Set a wire rack on a large piece of wax paper or on a cookie sheet (this is to catch drips). Pour cooled glaze in a stead stream into a pool directly in the center of the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread it toward the edge of the cake. (Here's another good video of this step, starting at about 20:00.) Chill cake.
Decorate with ribbons, candy canes, crushed candy, sprinkles, pipped frosting, or whatever you desire. And enjoy! Because this cake won't just be beautiful to look at it, it will be amazing to eat!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pear and Chocolate Cake

I had bought a bunch of d'anjou pears that all ripened at the same time, and weren't incredibly delicious to eat, so I wanted to find a good recipe to bake them into both to use them up and to enhance them.

This recipe from Al di La via Sitten Kitchen fit the bill.  This was an easy cake, not too fussy cake that tasted quite glamourous even though it has more of a country look. Pears and good chocolate give it an unexpected, distinguished flair. What is really neat about it is that it turns out almost looking like a cinnamon swirl, even though the pear and chocolate are simply scattered across the top as the last step before baking. 

Pear and Chocolate Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 pears, peeled, in a small dice - I used d'anjou

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks - I used 1 3.5 ounce bar of Lindt 60% broken into pieces.
*1 teaspoon vanilla or brandy

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9- or 10-inch springform pan and dust with just enough flour to coat, tapping out extra.

Sift 1 cup flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer.

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter, by melting it in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook it until the solids separate out and sink to the bottom and brown. It will start to smell nutty, but be careful to watch it because it can burn. (I like to strain it through a very fine sieve which will get most of any burnt pieces but the flavor will still be toasty.)

Add sugar to eggs and whip to combine. Then alternately add flour mixture and butter in 3 and two additions, whisking just until combined. Fold with a spatula to incorporate if needed, careful not to overmix. Pour into prepared pan.

Sprinkle with diced pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes until tester comes out clean.

*This cake was very good, and we ate it plain though whipped cream would be an excellent accompaniment. Though as yet untested, next time I make it, I think I will add a bit of brandy or vanilla to the egg mixture. It could just be that my pears weren't incredibly flavorful, but even still I think just a small bit of flavoring would really add some enjoyable layers of complexity.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Borscht

I've posted about borscht in the past, and I don't have much different to say about it now than I did back then, except that we still both love it, and it is the perfect thing for blustery winter days. And the enjoyment of it is drawn out over multiple days if you make the stock one day, roast the beets another and make the soup the next day, and then chill and reheat the soup the next day to finally consume.

I used a different recipe this time, inspired by this fill-up-your-second-freezer-in-case-of-armageddon-sized version.

I wish I had weighed my ingredients, but nothing is more frustrating than having no idea what a "medium-sized carrot" is. So my apologies. But, use whatever proportions you wish and it will still be delicious.

Another version of Borscht
about 1 pound cubed beef (I used "for stew")
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 onion, quartered
8 cloves
8 allspice berries
12 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
5 medium beets, wrapped individually in foil

1 onion, diced
2 large carrots, shredded
1 russet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and shredded
3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1/2 small head of red cabbage, shredded (about 5 cups)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons butter
1 quart beef broth
2 teaspoons dill seeds, ground

Brown beef in large stock pot. Drain fat and add vegetables and spices. Add water to cover (about 8 cups). Bring to boil, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook about 90 minutes. Meanwhile, roast beets in 400 degree oven about 40 minutes, or until fork can penetrate.

Strain liquid from stock, reserve beef chunks and discard remaining. Stock and roasted beets can be refrigerated for a couple of days.

Cooked beets should slip relatively easily out of their tougher outer skin, then shred in food processor. using grater blade. To make soup,  melt butter in large saute pan. Cook onions a couple minutes until coated with butter, then stir in carrots and cabbage. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and shredded beets. Stir in tomato paste. Chop beef chunks into tiny pieces, or shred or dice as desired.

Add sauteed vegetables and beef to beef stock, and add dill and prepared beef broth as needed to desired consistency (I used a quart). Season with salt if needed. Simmer until heated through. Best if refrigerated overnight.

Garnish with sour cream (I use Greek yogurt) and chopped parsley, and serve with fresh bread.