Monday, July 26, 2010

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby Grands

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby GrandsIt's a fancy title, but what we have this week is a chocolate cupcake. It's kept moist (yeah!) by the technique used elsewhere in Rose's Heavenly Cakes (and in the Pie and Pastry Bible) of punching holes in the just-baked cake and brushing with ganache, and then the elegance to suit the name comes from an application of the lacquer glaze, also used other places. The other intended elegance is from the use of those foil "baking cups"--really just a foil version of the standard paper cupcake cup, but which can be used without a muffin pan because of the stiffness of the foil. These come packaged with white paper cups as spacers, but for this recipe Rose directs us to bake the cupcake in the white paper cup, treating it as a liner. I'm not sure that's in the product design, but the idea is to get this perfectly smooth lacquer glaze top spread to the edges of the paper liner, then put the finished cupcake back in the pristine foil cup for presentation.

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby GrandsI'm pretty pressed for time these days and so was glad to discover a half-cup of lacquer glaze in my freezer left over from the Chocolate Apricot Ginger Roll with Lacquer Glaze, mixed up with the packages of frozen egg whites I'll need for the next cake. That put this cake almost in the low-effort class....almost.

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby GrandsThe cake was easy, the same batter as the Ice Cream Cake/German Chocolate Cake. The ganache is a milk chocolate version--younger niece pumped for a dark chocolate substitution, but then I accused her of really just wanting a cupcake paper half-filled with ganache (dark). She didn't dispute this....but I went with milk chocolate. My problems started when I was brushing the cupcakes, still in the paper liners in the foil cups in the muffin pan (got all that?), with the ganache. Maybe it was my distraction level, as I was discussing the completed installation of my new thermostat with the A/C technician as I brushed. Or maybe it's just me: I'm not good with careful work like this. Results: ganache on cupcakes, yes, though it never filled the holes I'd punched in the cake. Also ganache on muffin pan, pooled under the foil cups, and in between the paper liners and the foil. No pristine foil liners here.

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby GrandsThe cupcakes then cooled, and I had the task of extracting the ganache-covered foil from the muffin pan (not too bad) and then the cupcake in its paper liner from the foil cup (messy). Oh, by this time the ganache was supposed to be set enough to not show a light fingerprint--nope. Stayed nice and sticky for me. The foil suffered in this extraction process, sometimes spreading outward as I tried to dislodge the cupcake so the foil would never match the paper liner again. (Well, someone with all that patience and dexterity that I don't have could probably re-pleat it and make it work. Not me.) I did then rinse off the foil cups so at least they were clean, for the ones that weren't too distorted to serve as a server for the finished cupcakes.

RHC: Designer Chocolate Baby GrandsThe final stage was to spread the lacquer glaze over the cupcakes. Rose gives the temperature needed for re-heated glaze to be spreadable, but mine needed to be even warmer than that to spread, and was still thick enough that it never cascaded down the sides--it was more like spreading frosting than the glaze consistency. However, that meant it covered up all the pock-marks from the ganache holes and it was still pretty and shiny, so I decided it was fine.

After all that, how did it taste? It's a nice chocolate cupcake. Light texture, good chocolate flavor, and moist from the ganache. Next time, though, I'll use regular cupcake liners, spread my ganache freely, and forget the lacquer glaze. A little dark chocolate ganache on top would probably be a good substitute, though not deserving of the "designer baby grands" title.

Monday, July 19, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud Cake

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeWe are still in the land of butter cakes this week, though back in the full-size cake chapter (last week and next being baby cakes). This week is a one-layer chocolate cake made with banana and sour cream in the batter, then frosted with ganache and studded with chocolate chips.

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeI had a lovely ripe banana ready (actually 2--the other has been frozen for future use), and peeling it in its extremely softened state might have been the hardest part of this cake. Bloom the cocoa in boiling water and let it cool. Mix the wet stuff (banana, sour cream, cocoa mixture, vanilla, and the eggs), mix the dry ingredients. Add softened butter and some of the wet stuff to the dry stuff, mix carefully so you don't cover yourself and your counter in flour, then beat until smooth. The rest of the west stuff goes in two additions, and the batter is done and ready for the oven.

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeRHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeI took the cake out at the minimum time as I've continued to find the cakes dry for my taste. However, the goo on my wire tester made me put it back for 3 minutes or so, and then the cake was starting to pull away from the pan. My layer was also a little flatter than I'd hoped, though by the time it was covered in ganache it looked OK.

The frosting is ganache with a tablespoon of liqueur. The vanilla cognac from last week's cake was at hand, so that's what went in mine. It added another interesting note to the cake--otherwise, I think this would have been a pretty basic chocolate cake with a hint of banana.

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeRHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeLast step is to stud the frosted cake with chocolate chips, a step Rose warns might take 45 minutes. Younger niece and I covered the top of our cake in about 10 minutes. Want the secret? Ghirardelli 60% chips (which Cooks Illustrated prefers to Guittard....and I can't find the Guittard) are significantly larger, and thus are easier to handle and it takes fewer of them. We also weren't really particular about exact placement of chips. :) We then opted for first one row, then 2 more of peanut-butter chips on the sides--placing those took longer than covering the top.

RHC: Chocolate Banana Stud CakeTaste results: We all like the cake, though no one was in love with it. The banana flavor is subtle but there, though it didn't add as much moistness as I'd hoped. If I do repeat this one I think I'll underbake it and take my chances on a gooey, fallen middle--this cake seems like it should be really moist, and it's just not. Lovely smooth texture, moist enough to hold together, but still what I consider on the dry side. That's compensated for by the ganache, so maybe it's by design.

The chocolate chip "studs" are cute but make the cake difficult to cut and to eat, something I think would be true even with smaller diameter chips. On a repeat, I'll probably leave those off.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spaghetti Squash with Baked Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Baked Tomato SauceA recent The Wednesday Chef post on a baked tomato sauce caught my eye as looking both easy and fresh. I decided to try it with spaghetti squash instead of pasta--I can use all the calorie-reducing options I can find, as I do keep on baking those Heavenly-Cakes-of-the-week and finding great stuff in The Perfect Scoop. The baked tomato sauce turned out great and was a hit with both nieces and all the adults. (Nephew is at summer camp, but I'll predict this will not fall into his range of acceptable foods.) Younger niece had it on spaghetti squash as did all the adults, and older niece had it with pasta.

It's a meal that would work as vegetarian, but also lends itself to additions of a little meat for extra zing. We had grilled chicken tonight, or a little andouille sausage or some other sausage would also be nice sprinkled on top.

I doubled the recipe and that was a good thing, as the five of us at 3/4 of it. The larger amount somewhat thwarted my attempt to roast squash and sauce together, though, due to oven space. A half-squash and a single round of the tomato sauce would be perfect. Start baking the squash, prep the tomatoes and put them in after 15 minutes, and it should all come out at the same time.

I cut back on the amount of olive oil from the original, and didn't miss it. I zapped my squash in the microwave briefly just to make it easier to cut in half--if you're stronger than I am, just cut it, seed it, and throw it in the oven. Or if your oven space won't allow cooking the squash and tomato sauce together, the squash can be microwaved until done--most recipes say halve and seed it, cover the cut sides with plastic wrap, and microwave until tender.

Spaghetti Squash with Baked Tomato Sauce

Serves 6 or so, depending on appetites

Adapted from The Wednesday Chef's take on Nancy Harmon Jenkins' Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce

1 large spaghetti squash (4-5 pounds)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing the sauce
2 pounds ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
2/3 cup panko, or plain dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or run through a press
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Punch 2 or 3 holes in the spaghetti squash. Microwave it whole for about 3 minutes, cut it in half, and remove the seeds. Rub the cut sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place the squash, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven. (The squash needs about 30-35 minutes to bake--if the timing of your tomato sauce runs shorter or longer, just take the squash out when it is tender.)

3. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and an 8-by-8 baking dish with the oil. (A half-sheet pan might be about right to hold all of them.) Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

4. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, and garlic and toss with a fork to mix well. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each cut side is well covered with the crumb mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, about 20 minutes.

5. When the tomatoes are done, add the basil and stir vigorously to mix everything into a sauce. Drizzle some additional olive oil over the top and mix well. I used perhaps another 2 tablespoons of oil.

6. Run a fork across the spaghetti squash flesh to separate it into strands. Serve topped with the tomato sauce.

Monday, July 12, 2010

RHC: Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes

RHC: Mini Vanilla Bean Pound CakesThis week's cake is from the "Baby Cakes" chapter, encompassing cupcakes and other single-serving or smaller-than-full-size cakelets. The Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes are designed for gift-giving, with the photograph showing the cakes in disposable paper pans. However, I have quite a variety of loaf pans, and found my "half-size" loaf pans were right for the main cakes (the recipe makes 2), plus a smaller size that would handle the remaining batter that otherwise would become two cupcakes.

RHC: Mini Vanilla Bean Pound CakesThe only difficult part of this cake should have been scraping the vamilla seeds into the sugar, especially as my vanilla beans are a little past their prime and are shriveled. I managed, though, and proceeded through the recipe, mixing the seeds and sugar in my mini-processor, stirring the dry ingredients, adding butter and part of the egg mixture, then the rest of the eggs in two parts. Simple! But when I used the scale to put the major part of the batter into the two larger loaf pans....there was none left for my little loaf pan. I pondered this briefly, decided that perhaps there had been a typo in the weight of the batter, pondered on the fact that the level of batter in the two pans looked just about right, and put the two larger loaf pans in the oven.

RHC: Mini Vanilla Bean Pound CakesAt the point in the baking time when you can reach in and make a slice in the tops of the loaves to get an attractive crack, the loaves looked terrible. Completely flat-topped. Barely off-white, not starting to brown at all. When I tried to make a cut with my (slightly dull, admittedly) single-edged razor blade, the texture was almost rubbery. No miraculous transformation occurred in the last of the cooking time, and I ended up with two barely brown loaves, only slightly domed or browned, and with a dry surface. Bricks. Whatever.

It took somewhat longer for me to decide what went wrong: I must have weighed out way too little sugar, probably 50 grams, not 150. As I was clearly baking with my brain turned off, the small volume of sugar didn't trigger any alarm bells at all, and so I got bricks. Once I had a probably cause, though, it was a quick decision to try again the next night, with brain engaged this time. (It helped that it is an easy cake, and a half-size recipe that didn't take many ingredients.) Result: enough batter for two half-loaf pans and a mini pan. Pretty brown cakes with nicely domed tops. All it took was the right amount of sugar.

RHC: Mini Vanilla Bean Pound CakesThe finishing touch for the pound cakes was a brushing of a vanilla-cognac flavored syrup, then wrapping the cakes up for a day to let the flavors meld. I actually did this for both the low-sugar and the correct cakes, but a single taste was enough to have me pitch the low-sugar cakes in the trash.

Tasting the good cakes was much more pleasurable. It's a nicely flavored pound cake, buttery, and with a good texture. I don't think the cognac syrup added much for me, but I'm a lover of the basic pound cake taste and feel it should need no adornment. The vanilla flavor alone is plenty in this one.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RHC: Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

RHC: Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee CakeI think I spent the entire Fourth of July weekend cooking and baking...which suits me, as it's a great way for me to de-stress. Pity I didn't get any of my other tasks done...

In my pondering on what cake to bake for my birthday the Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake was right at the top of the list, only losing out at the end because it was a coffee cake. But it stuck in my head, and I ended up baking it Sunday morning. With its long baking and cooling time, that meant I had some for breakfast Monday morning.

The cake is a sour cream-butter cake, mixed in the style used in RHC of adding the butter and most of the sour cream to the dry ingredients (instead of creaming butter and sugar together first), then adding the wet ingredients in stages, beating well in between. Two-thirds of the batter goes in the pan, then on goes some walnut/brown sugar/cinnamon mixture reserved from the crumb topping, then a layer of thinly sliced apples, and the rest of the batter. The cake is then partially baked before the crumb topping goes on, to keep the topping from sinking in or browning too much. And that's it--this cake is not on the easy list, but probably could be.

RHC: Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee CakeI really like the results. This cake definitely has no dryness problem, with the layer of apples in the middle. The cake itself has a very nice flavor, and the crunch from the topping finishes it off perfectly. I'd probably add more nuts next time I make it, being of the school that believes "just a few more nuts" are always a good thing, but it's still great just as the recipe is written.

Monday, July 5, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Ice Cream Cake with Chocolate Snowball Hot Fudge Sauce

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeI baked the Chocolate Ice Cream Cake back in February as a birthday offering for a co-worker, one of those who almost always lands a taste of cake-o'-the-week on Mondays when I remove the extra calories from my house after the weekend baking. C. asked me to bring her the recipe for the English Gingerbread Cake so she could make it herself, and I brought in the cookbook. Somewhere in the oooh-ing and aaah-ing over the lovely cake pictures, C. lit on the ice-cream cake recipe, and I offered to make it for her birthday celebration the next week. C. and her officemate B. frequently decorate their office for holidays major and minor and for each other's birthday, and birthdays almost always are an occasion to bring in cake.

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeRose's Chocolate Ice Cream Cake uses the cake from the German Chocolate Cake. The instructions call for making a half recipe for an ice cream sandwich, which has thinner cake pieces of equal thickness surrounding the ice cream, or a 3/4 recipe for the ice cream cake where a thicker slice of cake goes on top of the ice cream and a thinner base under it. All that seemed very complicated--yeah, I know, I'm the one always making half recipes--so I made a full recipe and split it between 9" and 6" pans. That allowed for a smaller cake for family tasting and the full sized one for the birthday cake at the office. The German Chocolate Cake recipe yields a thin batter, which baked nicely in conventional cake pans.

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeTo construct the ice cream cake, you want a springform pan (for easy unmolding) a little smaller than the cake so it compresses a little, keeping the ice cream from creeping up or down the edge of the pan. I have graduated springforms down to 6", but as I baked the smaller cake in a 6" pan, I needed something a little smaller than my smallest springform for the ice cream cake. My solution was to pad my 6" springform with some craft foam to decrease the diameter, then line it with parchment paper (not being sure of the chemical characteristics of craft foam when in contact with food).

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeI cut both cakes into two layers, squished a layer into each of the two springform pans, added a layer of C.'s choice of vanilla bean ice cream to the big one and cappuccino mocha chip frozen yogurt to the smaller (no, I did not tackle homemade ice cream for this), and put on the top cake layers. Both cakes then got wrapped tightly and placed in the freezer to firm up.

Then it was on to the hot fudge sauce. Permit me a small rant: "Chocolate Snowball Hot Fudge Sauce". Ya think perhaps some of these titles got a little out of hand? Why both Chocolate and Fudge? Why "snowball"? Maybe the name came from the recipe's source, Letty Flatt...but it still bugs me. I just called it hot fudge sauce. However, whatever you call it, do make the sauce--the sauce makes the cake.

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeChocolate Ice Cream CakeI took the large cake to office in a cooler, with the fudge sauce, warm, in an insulated gravy boat. It was a couple of weeks before I quit being stopped in the hall by either people who had a piece and wanted to rave about it (again), or those who missed out and started the conversation with "So, I hear you brought in a wonderful cake...make sure I hear about it next time."

Chocolate Ice Cream CakeI cut the smaller cake for the family a day or two later, then put the remainder back in freezer. It kept very nicely, and the fudge sauce kept equally well in the fridge. I succumbed to the last piece over a month after it was made, and it still tasted great.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Aztec Hot Chocolate Ice Cream and Mocha Sherbert

Aztec Hot Chocolate Ice Cream and Mocha SherbertOne of the joys of my local library system is their good collection of cookbooks. Given the large number of cookbooks I own and don't cook from, I'm now making it a habit to check the library before I place that impulse order after reading someone's blog write-up of a new or a classic title. Right now I've got David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop checked out, and the Fourth of July weekend seemed the 'perfect' time for trying some new ice cream recipes.

I didn't feel like making a custard and I had some whole milk to use up, so I went looking for recipes with those criteria. I decided on two recipes involving chocolate (must be on a chocolate kick right now, with this and the Marble Velvet Cake). The first decision was Mocha Sherbet (someone's put the recipe up here), a 5-ingredient combination: coffee or espresso (I used a highly rated instant espresso), sugar, cocoa powder (Green & Black's for me), a pinch of salt, and whole milk. My other choice was the Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream (recipe), which has a slighly longer ingredient list with both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, sugar, heavy cream and whole milk, then a suite of flavorings: vanilla, salt, cinnamon, chipotle chile powder, and brandy. I did half recipes of each.

The recipes used a similar technique. The sugar and cocoa powder are whisked with a liquid (coffee or heavy cream), then brought to a boil and taken off the heat. The rest of the ingredients go in, then the mixture is chilled before it goes in an ice cream freezer. The Aztec mix gets a quick zap in a blender to get completely smooth, probably because of the melted chocolate.

Everyone tried a small scoop of each. The star is the Aztec Hot Chocolate Ice Cream--a lovely bite from the chipotle chile powder, great texture, wonderful chocolate and cinnamon taste. The Mocha Sherbet got overwhelmed by the complexity of its competitor, but I think it will be really nice when served on its own do its character can be appreciated, not to mention its lighter profile, without the heavy cream that's in the Aztec ice cream. Both recipes are keepers--thumbs up from everyone for both, with added thanks from nephew who heads off to a month of summer camp tomorrow, and who appreciated the surprise treat.

One additional thought is that the Aztec ice cream would be wonderful in the Chocolate Ice Cream Cake from Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Next special occasion, I'll have to try that combination.

Friday, July 2, 2010

RHC: Marble Velvet Cake

RHC: Marble Velvet CakeCake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers is not the Marble Velvet Cake, but the Chocolate Ice Cream Cake...which I made back in February and never blogged. I'll post about it on Monday. Rather than taking a week off, I wanted the de-stressing activity of baking and turned to my list of cakes Marie baked before the bake-along started. I was also in search of something to call my birthday cake (I generally bake my own), and the cake I baked *on* my birthday was the Rose GĂ©noise, which is not a style of cake I favor. I debated the Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake but decided it wasn't a 'birthday cake', then looked hard at the Black Chocolate Party Cake or the German Chocolate Cake but wasn't in the mood for complete chocolate and we just did a cake with coconut anyway. The Marble Velvet Cake fit my mood: not a coffeecake, a modicum of chocolate, and it's a butter cake, not a sponge.

The batter mixed up without too much difficulty. I did need 7 egg yolks instead of 6 to reach the specified weight--I'm more than supplied with extra whites for the Lemon Meringue Cake coming up in a few weeks. With sour cream for the dairy and the egg yolks only, I was expecting a very moist cake.

RHC: Marble Velvet CakeAs with most marble cakes, a part of the vanilla batter is removed and mixed with chocolate, Then the vanilla and chocolate batters are layered in a bundt pan (I used the lovely Heritage pan Raymond introduced us to) and lightly swirled to get the marbled effect. After the cake cooled, it got a finishing ganache glaze. I liked the idea of the glaze to get an extra chocolate hit--the chocolate in a marble cake can be very subtle.

RHC: Marble Velvet CakeRHC: Marble Velvet CakeMy cake rose almost too much, nearly closing the center hole of the bundt pan and dribbling a little batter out to burn on the oven floor. Beyond that it baked up beautifully, taking right at 50 minutes before my cake tester came out clean. The Heritage pan was not such a good choice for a cake to be glazed, though--the glaze caught on the wide ridges and either stopped, or ran down the ridges to the plate. I did a lot of nudging of piles of ganache to get them to cascade on over the bare lower half of the cake.

RHC: Marble Velvet CakeTaste results: it's the familiar refrain repeated by all my panel (basically, the folks next door this time): lovely texture, nice flavor, but dry. I served it with the suggested whipped cream which helped, but there's no getting around the fact that the cake is on the dry side. I'm hoping that the cake will seem a little moister tomorrow after it sits overnight.

I was very careful with my baking time to eliminate overbaking as a cause for this common complaint among many of the Heavenly Cake Bakers, so I think it just comes down to another one of those differences in style, akin to the sponge/butter cake divide. Almost every butter cake I've made from RHC seems to be too dry for my tastes.