Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby Shower Cake

I made this cake for a baby shower, where I had completely convinced myself that the mama was having a girl, hence the pink frosting and decorations. After I took the above photo, I texted the hostess to confirm and she reminded me that actually the baby will be a boy! As the frosting is tinted with blackberry, it really was more purple than pink, and the multi-colored sprinkles helped the cake be simply festive instead of gender-conforming.

Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake
Note, this is 1 ½ times the published recipe, which fills for 2 10” pans and serves 20.
3.375 cups cake flour
1.5 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1.875 cups whole milk or buttermilk
6 large egg whites
2.25 cups sugar
3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
¾ teaspoon pure lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350. Butter/parchment pans.
Sift together flour, powder, salt. Separately, whisk together milk and eggs. Put sugar and zest in mixer; blend with fingers. Add butter, beat 3 full minutes on medium. Beat in extract.

Add one third flour then half milk and repeat, beat well until all ingredients are incorporated.
Bake for 30-33 minutes.

The white cake always tastes a bit dry to me, but no one else ever agrees with me. And with enough fruit filling and silky buttercream, even my criticisms become unnoticable. The cake is worth it because of how sturdy yet light it is, and what great slices it makes.

I was really pleased with the blackberry curd, made from berries picked from my in-laws' backyard. Blackberries are too seedy for me to get much enjoyment from eating them fresh, so I cooked them down with a bit of sugar and balsamic vineagar which I then pureed and strained into a thin sauce. It served as a perfect substitute in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Lemon Curd.
Blackberry Curd
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup + 2 T sugar
3 ounces blackberry-balsamic puree
4 T unsalted butter
pinch of salt
Beat yolks and sugar until blended. Stir in remaining ingredients and heat over medium-low, whisking continuously, until mixture reaches 160 degrees. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle. It is messier and more wasteful, but faster and easier to go ahead and cook the mixture quickly, then just strain out any cooked bits of egg. It will thicken as it cools. Chill completely.
Note: both the puree/sauce and the curd keep very well in the fridge and in the freezer.

This buttercream is the best all-purpose recipe I've found, and it is gaining quite a position of prominence on this blog. To assemble the cake, I spread plain curd on one layer, and mixed part of the curd with some of the frosting, leaving the rest of the frosting plain. The tinted frosting atop the glaze of curd makes a delicious filling. Use the remaining tinted frosting to decorate.

Amazingly Simple Buttercream
from Laura Temple
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 large egg whites 4 cubes of unsalted butter (1 pound) softened to room temperature
3/4 teaspoon real vanilla


Put egg whites and sugar in top of double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat and move to a stand mixer bowl. Whip on medium high until they are room temperature. (Wrap ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables around the base of the bowl to speed cooling).

Once the whites/sugar mixture is at room temperature, keep mixing, and add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. It might looked curdled part-way through, but just keep going and it will come together. Add the vanilla and mix just enough to incorporate it fully. Stir in any optional food coloring. This makes a great stark-white buttercream on its own.

Use immediately, or keep at room temperature and re-beat for a minute before using. If you want to freeze the leftovers, make sure to bring it completely to room temperature before you re-beat or it will curdle.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mocha Almond Dacquoise

I am on the email distribution list for Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen, and near the end of the year, their newsletter included this recipe for a special NYE dessert.  I highly recommend watching the video they've posted, because that is what makes it look so easy. Even though I had other preparation to do for dinner, I was inspired try it. It is a great recipe for make ahead, and not only does it require a minimum of a few hours to rest in the fridge, and gets better after 24 hours, it also retains flavor and texture for over three days.

I started making each component on Sunday morning and was planning to assemble it Sunday evening so it could rest overnight. Sunday afternoon, as my dacquoise was cooling and my buttercream was chilling, one of my guests emailed and asked to bring dessert. Buttercream and ganache keep just fine, and meringue should be okay sealed in an airtight container as long as it isn't exposed to moisture. So I didn't end up assembling the full cake until Wednesday evening, and we were still eating it like it was fresh-made on Saturday night.

Though Cooks Illustrated names this cake "Dacquoise," the word actually refers only to the layers. Dacquoise is meringue made with the addition of ground nuts. Both The Joy of Cooking and The Cake Bible has a different ratio of ingredients, and I will try another recipe next time; though I really enjoy very sweet desserts, I find that most people do not, and I think this is bordering on "too sweet."

As you can see from my photos, I didn't bother to spend a lot of time decorating it because it was just for Will and me, and not for company... though I rarely make a dessert as a "test run," in this case it was kind of fun to have it just eat and I will definitely make it again for a special occasion. 

The recipes below are for my future reference. The link above has very easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions if you are making it for the first time, but the versions below scale back the sweetness. Also, in my version, I used all almonds instead of part hazelnuts.

from The Joy of Cooking
3/4 cup toasted almonds, finely ground
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 + 1/2 cup superfine sugar
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 200. Outline 13" x 10 1/2" rectangle on sheet of parchment, and lay outline-side down on cookie sheet.
Pulse nuts, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in food processor until finely ground.
Beat whites until frothy, add cream of tartar, and beat at medium until soft peaks form. Slowly add remaining 1/2 sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.
Carefully fold in nut mixture and spread immediately on parchment in desired shape.
Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, then turn off oven and leave with oven door closed for another 1 1/2 -2 hours.

While meringue is baking, make buttercream,

Coffee Buttercream3/4 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons amaretto (I used Frangelico because that is what I had; it is hazelnut liquer)
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
16 (2 sticks) tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. In separate bowl, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Remove milk from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly whisk a couple tablespoons of milk into yolk mixture. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan.
Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

Stir together liqueur and espresso powder. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pastry cream in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add amaretto mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes longer, scraping down bowl thoroughly halfway through mixing.

When dacquoise is completely cool, peel off parchment, and trim edges flat using a bread/serrated knife. Measure and score 3" wide rectangles (by 10" long) and gently score through sheet of meringue with long sweeping cuts. These sheets are delicate so proceed carefully and with very light pressure.

6ounces bittersweet chocolate (Lindt 70% or 85%), chopped fine
3/4cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons corn syrup
Heat cream to simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate and let rest one minute. Stir until smooth and stir in corn syrup. Set aside to cool, stirring periodically, until spreadable consistency.

Spread a thin layer of ganache on the flat side of each of 3 dacquoise layers. Place in single layer in fridge 15 minutes until firm. Spreak top of 4th layer with buttercream, and use as base of cake on platter.

Place chilled, ganache coated layer atop buttercream layer, chocolate-side down. Frost top of layer with buttercream, and repeat with remaining layers.  Frost entirely with buttercream, and chill until set.

Spread ganache over buttercream. Garnish with slivered or chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or chocolate curls and piped buttercream if desired. Refridgerate at least 3 hours before serving. Slice with a wet (! - yes, it works perfectly!) knife into 12 slices. Keeps well for 3-4 days.

The recipes I've shown above are for a reduced amount of sugar that I think will better highlight the flavor and amazing textures of this dessert. But it would be amazing with any number of combinations of filling and frosting flavors, so I plan to make this again and get creative with the layers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Black-Eyed Pea Cakes Bring Good Luck

Black Eyed peas are a traditional Southern dish to eat on New Year's Day, as they are supposed to bring good luck. I have sought out recipes for the occasion in the past, but wasn't going to bother this year as I was busy with more important cake baking. However, this recipe popped up in my feed and it looked so simple and I already had most of the ingredients that I decided I had to try it.

I highly recommend that you look at Rashmi's page because she has great photos and instructions. I used slightly less than one cup of beans but the same amount of other spices, plus extra parsley along with the cilantro. I made mine into patties instead of balls, and the recipe yeilded seven 2-3" patties. The flavor and texture were both excellent. I am certain that the secret to these guys staying together while frying was that the beans were not pre-cooked, just soaked. Whenever I have tried to fry bean patties before, it is has been with cooked (or canned! which I know doesn't work) beans, and they just fall apart. I'm so glad to see that the trick is in soaking the beans and then just pureeing them without cooking.

For dipping, I made a quick sauce of plain greek yogurt, a bit of curry powder, and a couple dashes of hot sauce.

May these bring us lots of good luck and great fortune!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pear Flake Cake for New Year's Day

I made this cake for a New Year's Day afternoon gathering of friends with little kids. The snowflake shape of the cake was both fun and seasonal. Because of the attractive shape, it doesn't need frosting so it's easier, less chance of 2 year olds smearing buttercream on the furniture, and light enough for an afternoon treat without necessarily feeling like dessert. 
I used the applesauce cake recipe that I've made previously, but substituted homemade pear sauce that I'd made with bartlett pears. I baked the full recipe in my snowflake shaped pan, which was a little risky for a couple of reasons: it is often difficult to get cakes out of the shaped pans in one piece! And because this recipe was intended to be baked in two round pans, baking all the batter together might result in the inside not cooking through or the outside getting dry. That is a bit what happened, as one friend who ate from the middle told me it was a little underdone, though she claimed that was a positive "feature."

I drizzled it with white chocolate glaze and sprinkled with some Swedish pearl sugar. I like the flavor of the cake a lot, though if I try to bake it in this pan again, I will only fill it half-full so that it can bake through completely without getting overdone.

Pear Sauce
makes 2 cups
2 large, ripe Bartlett pears (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 allspice berries
1/2 chunk fresh ginger
Peel, core and chop fruit into 1/2 pieces or smaller. Mix with remaining ingredients in heavy saucepan, cover, and simmer until fruit is very soft, 20-25 minutes. Remove spices and puree fruit with an immersion blender until very smooth. Continue to heat uncovered at a simmer, stirring regularly to prevent burning, until consistency is thick.

Pear Sauce Cake
adapted from Warren Brown
5 ounces unsalted butter, softened
15 ounces sugar
3 eggs
12 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pearsauce (see recipe above)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, preferably with removable bottoms (or line pans with parchment).

Combine butter and sugar in stand mixer and beat until well creamed. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Mix together milk, vanilla, and apple butter in one small bowl, and dry ingredients separately in another bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately in 3 additions. Divide evenly between prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until tops are golden and start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert to racks and cool completely.

White Chocolate Glaze
3 ounces white chocolate
1/2 cup cream

Heat cream to simmer. Chop chocolate. Pour cream over chocolate and allow to rest one minute, then stir until smooth. Cool slightly, then use as a drizzle, or chill and spread over cake. Keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks or in the freezer. Delicious eaten cold with a spoon!