Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Devil's Food Cake with Angel Frosting

Cake is both my vice and my nemesis.

I love a good cake like nobody’s business and yet my attempts at cake making have been fraught with peril. For proof that I’m not just being dramatic (although I have a tendency to do so), I refer you to exhibits a) nervous breakdown, b) crumb=sawdust, and c) icing megaFAIL.

But you know what they say…

Practice makes perfect.

So when I first looked over the list of recipes for Baked Sunday Mornings, I knew that I’d be making the Devil’s Food Cake.

And I’m happy to report that the cake was not nearly the catastrophe it could have been.

Devil's Food Cake with Angel Icing
recipe from Baked Explorations

I guess I had better admit that there was one close call. I was practically in tears when I pulled the pans from the oven and saw that the layers didn't rise. I just knew that the cake was going to be as hard and dense as a brick. But surprisingly, it wasn’t. In fact, the crumb was light and moist. Almost delicate, even. My only complaint was the icing. It didn’t really have much flavor other than being cloyingly sweet. If I were to make it again, I think I’d double the vanilla and maybe even add a pinch of salt to brighten it up. But more likely I’d just go with a chocolate ganache.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Homemade Samoas (Caramel deLites)

Did you know you can make Girl Scout cookies at home? You probably already knew this. It seems like everyone on earth (besides me) knew this.

A quick internet search will turn up a plethora of blog posts on homemade Girl Scout cookies. Crystal brought this one to my attention. And look at Lisa’s homemade Thin Mints - so pretty! Also, check out Baking Powders’ take on them.

Somehow I missed out on this phenomenon. Heretofore, I just waited around to get my fix during those few special weeks of the year when little green clad girls peddle their goods.

Until now.

In true fashion, I’m always the last one to the party. But at least I finally made it, right?

Homemade Samoas (aka Caramel deLites)

You’ll find that these cookie bars aren’t nearly as sweet as their Girl Scout cookie namesake and as such aren’t a faithful re-creation of the original. That being said, I really like the more nuanced flavor of these bars- you can actually taste the buttery shortbread and the toasted coconut instead of just a chocolate and caramel sugar rush. I like to think of these cookie bars as a grown up, more sophisticated homage to the original.

Shortbread *adapted from the Lemon Lust Bar recipe in Flour by Joanne Chang
½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 T granulated sugar
1 T confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
½ t vanilla extract
½ c unbleached all-purpose flour
½ c cake flour
¼ t baking powder
¼ t kosher salt

½ c granulated sugar
½ c water
½ c heavy cream

½ c toasted coconut chips
½ c bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted for drizzling

1. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, cut to fit and overlapping the sides of the pan. To make the shortbread, in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (approx. 5 min). Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are mixed in. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Continue mixing until that the dough has an even consistency.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl, form into a disk approximately 1 inch thick, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes until chilled. It should be firm but still somewhat pliable before working with it (note the dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month).
4. Pre-heat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit with the rack positioned in the center.
5. While the dough is chilling, make the caramel sauce. In a medium sauce pan, add the sugar and water and cook over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and allow the mixture to cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes to a deep golden brown color. (Watch the sugar closely as it will burn quickly.) As soon as the sugar has caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and immediately but very carefully and slowly add the heavy cream. Take care when adding the cream as the mixture will froth and may splatter. You may want to place a strainer over the pan and pour the cream through the strainer to minimize splattering. Stir in the cream until the caramel has a smooth consistency. Set aside to cool slightly.
6. On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll the chilled dough out to approximately the size of the parchment lined baking pan. Then roll it over the pin to transfer to the pan. Use your fingers to press the dough into the corners of the pan. It should be approximately the same thickness all around.
7. Bake the shortbread until the edges have turned light brown, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a rack to cool slightly.
8. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and use an offset spatula to smooth. Sprinkle on the toasted coconut flakes. Before drizzling on the chocolate, lift up the overhanging pieces of the parchment paper to loosen the shortbread from the pan and then transfer to a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper. Cut into 12 bars and place the bars on wax paper.
9. Here’s a quick, cheater’s version of tempering chocolate. This method won’t fully temper chocolate but it does make it easier to work with and allows it to set up: melt 2/3 of the total amount of bittersweet chocolate in the microwave at 30 second intervals until fully melted and then add the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate and allow to sit until the added chocolate melts. Then stir the chocolate until smooth. Spoon the chocolate into a small plastic bag and cut off the tip of one corner. Using the plastic bag as a makeshift piping bag, drizzle the chocolate over the bars and set aside to allow the chocolate to set up. The bars can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chaussons aux Pommes (Apple Turnovers)

You know how you always turn into whatever you once laughed at and sneered about? I’m sure you do. It’s a universal law- the scoffer will one day become the scoffee. Happens to everyone. (At least that’s what I tell myself.)

So. I once made fun of people who wash out food containers and plastic bags for re-use later.

Sadly, no more.  I’ve joined their ranks.

Somehow in the last few years I’ve developed hoader-ish qualities. I prefer to think of this proclivity to re-use as a higher form of recycling and less as an obsessive, compulsive disorder. Quite frankly, it’s probably a little of both.

I’d be ashamed to tell you how many plastic food containers I have stashed in a kitchen drawer. It’s unseemly, really.  When the overflow blocks the drawer from closing, Eric gets exasperated and dumps the entire drawer contents into the recycle bin. And then I start all over again.

(My apologies in advance. If you’re ever at my home and I offer to pack up some leftovers for you and pull out a gently used plastic bag, please don’t be offended. Also, I haven’t yet started re-using cling wrap but I’m sure that’s right around the corner.)

The thing is, I need all those containers and re-purposed plastic bags. How else would I fill our freezer with the food odds and ends that I can’t bear to throw out?

I’ve lost count of the number of rotisserie chicken carcasses I’ve stored away in the freezer for stock making. I know I’ve filled at least one extra-extra large plastic bag (from the grocery store bulk section- whenever I buy rolled oats I always justify taking an extra large bag since I know I’ll re-use it). I’ve got another bag for the chicken scraps I salvaged from those carcasses that will be perfect for enchiladas at some later date.

It gets a bit more random from there so I won't go into all the other half forgotten food articles collected in my freezer. 

But. In between all the flotsam and jetsom are a few real gems. Just last week I pulled out a frozen baguette half that made perfect crostini to accompany a salad.

And if I hadn’t stashed away the leftover puff pastry dough from those pain au chocolat I made last year, I wouldn’t have these lovely chausson aux pommes. 

(It’s just too bad that I forgot about the container of frozen apple pie filling leftovers I had saved for the very purpose of making chaussons. C'est la vie.)

Chaussons Aux Pommes (Apple Turnovers)
adapted from the recipe I was taught at Le Cordon Bleu

O.K. This is a little scary but I attempted to convert the metric measurements in the original apple compote recipe I was taught at Le Cordon Bleu into American. (Why are we the only country that has yet to adopt the metric system?) So anywho, please forgive me but the ingredient amounts below may be off a smidge due to the conversion. I rounded up- or down - as needed. If you’re the anal type, get out a scale and use the metric measurements given to measure out the ingredients. When serving these at a Super Bowl get together, such as I did, refer to them by their more familiar name as apple turnovers.

see recipe for puff pastry (or purchase frozen puff pastry)

Apple Compote
2-3 medium apples (I used some pretty little Fujis from North Texas)
2 T (50 g) butter
heaping ¼ c (50 g) brown sugar
¼ t of ground cinnamon
½ t vanilla
3 T (50 ml) water

1 egg, beaten (to use as egg wash)
simple sugar syrup (1:1 ratio sugar to water)

1. (This recipe assumes that the puff pastry has been made ahead or purchased and is thawed and ready for use.) To make the compote, peel, core and dice the apples into uniformly sized chunks (approximately ¼ inch cubes).
2. In a small pan on medium heat, melt the butter and then add brown sugar, spices, and apples. Cook until the mixture reaches a boil. As it cooks, only add just as much water as is needed (depending on how juicy the apples were) to maintain a slightly liquid consistency. Once the apple mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat but leave the mixture on the hot burner to dry it out a bit and then spread the compote out on a baking sheet to allow it to completely cool before filling the pastry.
3. Preheat the oven to 375º Fahrenheit. Removed the thawed but well chilled puff pastry dough from the refrigerator and lay it out on a lightly floured surface. Using an approximately 3 inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough and transfer the rounds to a baking sheet. When finished cutting dough rounds, place the baking sheet filled with the dough rounds in the refrigerator and re-chill.
4. When you’re ready to assemble the turnovers, take the dough circles from the refrigerator one at a time and, using a floured rolling pin, roll the circles out into slightly larger ovals. Be sure to leave a thicker lip on one side of the oval. Place about 2 tablespoons of compote on the side of the oval with the thicker lip and brush the lip with a little egg wash. Fold over the other side of the dough oval to seal. Your turnovers should look like half circles.  Use a sharp paring knife to cut a simple (or elaborate, if you wish) pattern on the top side of the turnover. (I went with slashes on the diagonal because that’s about as involved as my carving skills allow.)  Brush both sides of the turnover with egg wash and return to the refrigerated sheet pan so that they remain chilled until you’re ready to bake.
5. Continue to repeat this process with the rest of the dough and compote. Prepare parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets and place the chilled turnovers on the sheets. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack of the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the turnovers are golden and crisp. If you find that they aren’t as golden as you’d like, place under a broiler for 1-2 minutes. Be sure to watch them constantly as they can go from golden to burnt quickly.
6. When the turnovers are baked, remove to a rack to cool. While cooling, make a simple syrup using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water heated in a small pan to just under a boil and the sugar is fully dissolved. Once fully cooled, brush turnovers with the simple syrup and serve while hot. Store leftovers in an airtight container. The turnovers can be reheated in a warm oven. 
The left over scraps of puff pastry dough make marvelous cinnamon twists. Gather up all scraps and work them with your hands to form a cohesive ball of dough. Roll the ball out into a rectangle shape and cut thin strips. Brush the strips lightly with egg wash and dredge in a 1:1 cinnamon sugar mix. Lay the strips on a prepared baking sheet and holding one side of a strip as an anchor, use your other hand to twist the strip. Bake at 375º Fahrenheit for 5-8 minutes until done. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Almond Rochers for ATXSwappers, Round #2

For the second ATXSwappers meetup I made homemade dog biscuits, sourdough French bread from Tartine Bread's recipe, and rochers (see recipe below).

There were almost twice as many participants for the second meetup- apparently word got around after the first swap. The amount and quality of the swap offerings was truly amazing. We have some crazy talented cooks here in Austin. If you’re interested in checking out the swappage action, Jo Ann posted a great video.

When swapping time rolled around, it was tough to choose from all the gorgeous offerings and I missed out on quite a few items I would have liked. I did go home with a beautiful bouquet of herbs from Susan, homemade oreos and pop tarts from Andrea, Kathryn’s whole wheat beer bread mix, Kristina’s meyer lemon and blood orange sorbets, JW’s peanut butter semifreddo and poundcake, Gemma and Michael’s millionaire’s shortbread and marshmallows, and some awesome benne wafers and biscotti.

Kathryn's Milk Chocolate Chai Truffles

Austin is now in a full-on swapping frenzy as evidenced by the fact that the third swap filled up the first day the invite went out. I’m sitting out the February swap in order to allow others to participate in the fun but I’ll be back soon enough. In the meantime, I’m enjoying all the delicious goodies I brought home.

I wasn't able to snag a bottle of Limoncello but I got to sample it and it was divine!

Susan's majoram infused vodka above and her mini fougasse below

adapted from Tartine

I’ve made rochers previously but didn’t include the recipe in the old post so here it is. I decided to make the crunchier, drier version of rochers this time. Rochers can be baked at a higher oven temp so that just the outer layer of the meringue is crispy - when you bite into one, the center of the meringue is cooked but still on the gooey side. I tend to prefer the dryer version but I was a little sad these rochers were missing the pretty cracking and coloring that occurs when the rochers are baked at a higher temp. For my next batch, I think I’ll tinker and increase the oven temperature somewhat but still see if I can bake the rochers long enough to dry out the meringue.

1 c ( 4 ounces) sliced almonds, toasted
2 egg whites
2/3 t vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 c confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. Preheat the oven to 200º Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Use a rolling pin to coarsely breakup the toasted almonds into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside.
2. Add vanilla, salt, and the egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip the egg whites until frothy and then slowly add the confectioner sugar. Continue to whip until stiff, glossy peaks form. By hand, using a spatula, fold in the almond pieces. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a No. 6 or No. 7 plain round pastry tip. On the prepared baking sheet, pipe out mounds shaped similar to a Hershey’s Kiss about 1 1/4 inches at the base, with a peak about 2 inches high. Leave approximately 1/2-inch space between each cookie. Have a toothpick or some such handy as larger pieces of the broken almonds pieces may stick in the pastry tip and need to be dislodged. (You can also skip the pastry bag and drop spoonfuls of the meringue onto the pan.)
3. Place the rochers in the oven with a wooden spoon inserted in the oven door opening so that it remains slightly ajar. Bake rochers until the meringue has completely dried, about 50-60 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cheddar + Dill Gougères

In addition to the gluten free cake I brought to the second meet up of ATXSwappers, I thought I’d also bring something for the flour eaters. So I whipped (actually, more like beat) up a batch of gougères.

I never cease to be amazed how something as simple as flour can be combined with a liquid to make so many myriad and delicious creations. These gougères are a perfect example of how flour and a few other humble ingredients chemically react to make something wondrous. Funny, I never knew those mystifying reactions I had to execute in Chem Lab during college would be good practice for my future baking efforts. If they had only taught Introduction to Chemistry thorough pastry and bread making, I feel sure my grade would have been much better.

Cheddar + Dill Gougères
adapted from Tartine

You can make gougères with any combination of cheese and herbs. You can also skip the herbs and just stick with cheese. Go wild! It’s hard to mess up gougères. I happen to particularly like a cheddar/dill combo. Also, I planted dill this fall and it’s now growing out of control so I was happy to put it to good use. I’ve made the gruyère/thyme version featured in the Tartine cookbook and they’re tasty as well. Gougères can be made as smaller, puff-like balls that are perfect for popping in your mouth and eating in one bite. For the swap, though, I wanted a larger, more substantially sized gougère. I’d say these were approximately biscuit sized. I baked them just before leaving for the swap from choux dough made a day ahead and piped out onto a baking sheet and then frozen overnight. My batch took forever and a day to bake completely (over an hour) and I’m sure this was due to the frozen dough. Don’t think I’ll try the freezer trick again.

Note: gougères really aren’t a good option for making ahead and transporting, to tell you the truth. They’re best strait from the oven. While they can be re-warmed, they don’t exactly retain the same wonderfully light airiness as when freshly baked. Of course, I never follow my own advice but you really should. Save this recipe to make when you’re having company and want to offer them a delicious starter or appetizer- they’re simple to make but the result (and taste) is pretty impressive.

Choux Pastry
1 1/4 c nonfat milk or water (or use 5 ounces whole milk + 5 ounces water)
10 T unsalted butter
1 t salt
1 c all purpose flour
5 large eggs
3/4 c cheddar cheese, grated
2 T fresh dill, minced

1 large egg
pinch salt
grated cheddar for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
2. To make the choux, add milk and/or water, butter, and salt to a large saucepan and allow the butter to melt over medium heat. When melted, continue to heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the flour all at once and stir. Keep stirring continuously for approximately 3 minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the pan.
3. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. When all eggs have been added, the mixture should be thick and smooth.
4. Using a rubber spatula, add grated cheddar and chopped dill to the dough by hand.
5. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with large plain tip (no. 8 or 10). Pipe two to three inch mounds onto the prepared baking sheet leaving approximately 1 inch between each mound.
6. For the topping, make an egg wash by whisking one egg with pinch of salt. Lightly brush the egg wash over each mound and sprinkle each with extra cheese.
7. Bake the gougères for 35-45 minutes until they have puffed up and are browned. Remove from the oven when done and place on a rack to cool just slightly before serving. Shortly after removing from the oven, be sure to poke a small hole in the side of each gougère to allow steam to escape. This will prevent them from collapsing (if making smaller gougères, this step isn’t necessary). Gougères are best served immediately but they can be re-warmed in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gluten Free Tangerine Cake with Chocolate Ganache

This cake is my first attempt at (intentionally) making a gluten-free dessert. I’m so thankful I don’t have any dietary restrictions but I’m becoming increasingly aware that others aren’t so lucky. Everyone deserves to be able to eat a delicious dessert, though, right?

I decided to make this cake for the second meet up of the ATXSwappers since, in addition to our swap items, we all bring a snack to share with the group. That way we have something to nosh on as we peruse the swap goods and strategize on what to trade and with whom. Since many of the swappers are gluten intolerant, I thought I’d bring a treat that all could enjoy.

The swap was a great success and I think the cake went over well, so all in all, a good night!
Tangerine Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson

I initially saw this Nigella Lawson recipe on SmittenKitchen’s site. Shortly after I saw the recipe and saved it, I read Like Mother, Like Daughter’s post on orange cake. That cake looked so delicious with a chocolate ganache coating, I just had to pinch the idea. Thanks Ur Mom Cooks! Isn’t everything better with chocolate? Nigella’s recipe called for using clementines. I subbed tangerines because I still had a few of the gorgeous, juicy specimens from Carrizo Springs that I used in the Tangerine Tart I made a few weeks back. Note- this cake is super moist. In fact, I was worried I hadn’t baked it long enough when I first cut into it but I knew that couldn’t be the case since it was in the oven an hour. The moist consistency was a little off-putting to me at first. I got over it by the second slice, though. By the third slice, I decided I quite liked it!

Tangerine Cake
4 to 5 tangerines (approximately 1 pound)
6 eggs
1 c plus 2 T sugar
2 1/3 c ground almonds
1 heaping t baking powder

Chocolate ganache
1 c heavy cream
1-2 T tangerine juice
9 ounces of chopped dark chocolate

1. Put the tangerines in a pot with cold water to cover, bring to the boil, and cook for 2 hours. Monitor the water level and add additional water as needed. Drain and, when cool, cut each tangerine in half and remove the seeds. Finely chop the skins, pith, and fruit in a food processor or by hand.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper as well. If you’re starting with whole nuts, grind the almonds in a food processor and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a wooden spoon to mix and then add the sugar, ground almonds, and baking powder. Mix well and then add the chopped tangerines and mix again to incorporate.
4. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 1 hour or until an inserted skewer comes out clean (start checking it at 40 minutes and keep a close eye on it). Cover the pan with foil if the top of the cake starts to brown too much. Remove from the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a rack. When fully cool, remove the cake from the pan.
5. While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate ganache. Pour the cream and 1-2 tablespoons of tangerine juice into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the chopped chocolate in a small, heat proof bowl. As soon as the cream reaches a simmer, pour it over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes to melt the chocolate. Then stir the cream and chocolate to combine until it reaches a smooth consistency.
6. Once the cake has cooled and you’ve removed it from the pan, set the cake back on the cooling rack placed over a sheet pan (to catch the over flow) to coat with the chocolate gananche. I left the bottom of the springform pan on because I was transporting my cake. If not, go ahead and remove the pan bottom. The ganache may need to sit for 30 minutes or so to set up to a thicker consistency but be sure it is still liquid when coating the cake so that it pours easily. Pour the ganache over the cake and set aside for 1-2 hours to allow the ganache to set up completely. Do not place the cake in the refrigerator to set the ganache or it will sweat when you serve it and won’t be as attractive. I purposefully didn’t cover the entire cake in ganache to allow the pretty orange color of the cake to peak through.

Nigella’s note: An equal weight of oranges and lemons can be used but increase the sugar to 1 1/4 cups. You can also add a glaze made of confectioners' sugar mixed to a paste with the juice of whatever citrus you’re using and a little water, if needed. She also said she this cake is even better a day after it's made so this is a great one if you need to make something ahead of time for an event.