Sunday, March 27, 2011

RHC: Orange Glow Chiffon Layer Cake

Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer CakeChiffon cakes are usually baked in a tube pan like an angel food cake, to support the egg-foam cake as it bakes keeping the center from falling. To bake this one as a layer cake, Rose switched to unbleached all-purpose flour, then adds a rose nail to the center of the pan to help with the heat distribution there. Except I forgot about using the AP flour and just turned back to the recipe for the Bostini, and made it with all cake flour.

I was probably saved by having done a half-recipe, so my cake was only 6 inches across and seemed to hold up fine during baking. I did add the rose nail, too, in the center of the little pan. The center of the cake rose just above the level of the 6" x 3" pan I used (purchased for the upcoming Miette's Tomboy cake)--I have a 6" springform, but it's not as tall as the 3" high cake pan. What did happen was not any dipping of the cake during baking--it had a nice dome. There was some sinking during cooling which, because the cake cools upside down in its pan, showed up as a concave bottom to the cake. Maybe the AP flour would have helped after all.

I also should have waited to see if my cake would sink a little to drop the top of the cake below the pan before upending it for cooling. I did think about it, but decided the cake wasn't that high...but was wrong. So a little of the top crust stuck to my greased cake rack, and the top of my cake looked patchy. I might have just served it upside down but for the concave bottom.

Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer Cake Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer Cake Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer Cake Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer Cake Orange-Glow Chiffon Layer Cake

My other mistake with this cake was using the Seville orange marmalade that was already on hand to make orange marmalade whipped cream, when Rose specifies sweet orange marmalade. My cake testers (except for sister-in-law, who really likes less-sweet stuff) panned the cream, calling it "weird" or just saying they didn't like it. Personally I thought it was fine, but there was a different taste balance in there. I added a little sugar to the leftovers and found that improved things.

Overall, the cake was good. I enjoyed it, finding it nicely flavored and well balanced with the orange whipped cream, and I'd make this again as a light dessert to a party. My other tasters thought the cake was OK but not something they particularly enjoyed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

BBA #12 English Muffins

BBA English MuffinsI thought my English muffins were going so well: I kept adding more buttermilk until I'd used all but a tablespoon of the full amount. The dough passed the windowpane test, but upon reflection perhaps it wasn't "tacky but not sticky", but was too smooth. Maybe the fact that it was easy to handle was a bad sign. At any rate, when I pulled my big fat Englsh muffins apart after cooking on the griddle and finishing in the oven, I had a lovely bread texture. Not the full of holes, ready to catch butter, English muffin texture. The taste was fine, but without that texture you can't say you've achieved English muffins. On the other hand, the process was pretty fast and easy, so I'll try to make another attempt when I'm not baking a new bread every week as part of the BBA Challenge.

Some notes: my griddle cooked rather fast (perhaps that could also have kept the signature English muffin holes from developing, though the recipe doesn't talk about that as a problem), so I gave them a little more time in the oven to compensate. About 3-4 minutes on each side on the griddle got to the edge of brown/black. The oven didn't increase the browning level.

BBA English Muffins BBA English Muffins BBA English Muffins BBA English MuffinsBBA English Muffins

Tasting: Split and toasted the muffin did fine as a breakfast sandwich substrate, but I don't think I'll try one just toasted and buttered. There won't be enough holes for the butter to run into!

BBA English MuffinsThe crumb shot. Not what you want.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

RHC: No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake

No-Bake Whipped Cream CheesecakeIt's another free choice week for the Heavenly Cake Bake-along, and I'm getting down to a very short list of unbaked options. I went with the one remaining cheesecake, the perhaps deceptively named No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake with Cherry Coulis. If this brings to mind the "no-bake cheesecake" in a box, you're not in the right universe for either taste or effort. I think I last ate the Jello variety on a camping trip with my older brother about, oh, 30 years ago, when he assured me it would taste great because we were, you know, camping. (He was wrong.) And in terms of effort, the "no bake" part just means you don't have to turn on the oven: there are still 4 components and 4 pages of instructions before you end up with Rose's no-bake cheesecake. And don't get fooled by the phrase "whipped cream cheesecake"--there's no "whipped cream" in it, it's "whipped cream cheese". I was a little dubious about the use of a tub of whipped cream cheese, but the results were marvelous.

I am finding these multi-component cakes more of a struggle to tackle, probably in some combination of cake-of-the-week fatigue and a higher stress level from other stuff than usual. After the bake-along winds up (well, after Marie finishes, because I understand that the Heavenly Cakes baking group will continue) I'll need a long break from recipes that need more than a couple of components, especially if one of them involves beating sugar syrup into egg whites (see below).

No-Bake Whipped Cream CheesecakeI again did a half recipe this week, digging out my little 6" springform pan for the occasion. First up was the graham cracker crust: just crumbs, sugar, salt and butter, mixed and pressed on the bottom and sides of the pan. Then came a custard with gelatin, which means there's no breaks allowed in the rest of the filling preparation, because if you refrigerate the custard it will set up. Two egg yolks of the smaller size I always seem to get made for half the recipe amount (the full recipe needs 3 eggs, so I should have only needed 1-1/2 yolks here). I used vanilla bean paste instead of an actual bean. The custard came together as it should, and then cooled very quickly because of the small amount. It already had a skin when I stirred inthe vanilla, which might have been the start of my later problems.

The next step was beating the whipped cream cheese with the sour cream, then beating in the custard. It wasn't apparent when I had the mixer running, but giving the finished stuff a stir turned up lots of custard-lumps. I got out my small drum sieve and pressed all the cream cheese mixture though it, then gave it all another stir to, I hope, distribute the custard.

Then came my unfavorite part: an Italian meringue. I haven't counted how many of these we've done, but my technique is not improving very fast. I had only a little better success in keeping the sugar syrup off the beaters and sides of the bowl this time. I used a handheld mixer because of the small volume--the stand mixer didn't seem like a good option. However, in the end I had a fluffy meringue, just maybe a little less sweet than it was designed due to sugar syrup left stuck to the sides of the bowl.

After the meringue cooled some, it was folded into the custard mixture, poured into the chilled graham cracker crust, and popped into the fridge with a small plate over the top for protection without marring the top the way plastic wrap would. My batter fit just about perfectly in the 6" springform.

For the cherry coulis, I used part of a jar of Trader Joe's Morello cherries, it being the season for cherry blossoms, not fruit. I had to estimate the amount of cherries and juice as the recipe was written to macerate fresh cherries and use the juice that generated. I added a little more thickening at the end because the liquid seemed so thin. My final consistency was still quite runny, so I don't think I overshot that at all. Maybe we're fruit lovers compared to some mythical norm, but I thought the amount was pretty scanty and would up it by half again to get the amount I'd like to serve with each cheesecake piece.

No-Bake Whipped Cream CheesecakeTasting results: I only managed a small sampling in the family. Older niece, hyper from a big win at the high school regional robotics competition, hardly paused from telling her father about the event to eat part of a serving and pronounce it good. Sister-in-law had a bite and loved the extremely light texture. Younger niece, the anti-cheese person, did take a small taste of the cheesecake without the cherry coulis, said "I like it and I don't like it", declined any more, and ate a cherry. (That she liked...) Personally I loved it--it's extremely light textured, not too sweet, and nicely set off by the crust and the coulis. In fact I don't think the cheesecake would do well without the coulis or some other sweet accompaniment. It's probably too much effort unless I someday get the hang of making Italian meringue into an effortless process, but it certainly was good.

The remains of the cheesecake went to the office Monday, and got rave reviews. CW: I think you should be able to eat a whole bowl of this stuff and have it not count--it's so light! BT: This is lovely stuff. CL: It's incredibly light--not heavy and way rich like so many cheesecakes.

BBA #11 Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread

BBA Cranberry Walnut Celebration BreadThe Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge this week is very similar idea to my weekly whole-wheat challah with dried cherries: an enriched braided bread with dried fruit (cranberries), but with the addition of walnuts. Reinhart sees this as a great Thanksgiving bread, picking up the flavors of cranberry relish. It's not close to Thanksgiving, but it's still a nice bread.

BBA Cranberry Walnut Celebration BreadBaking notes: I made a half recipe, and with the smaller amount of dough I switched from an (even division) 6-strand braid to a 4-strand after a few tries, and then just braided fast and tried to tuck in the exposed fruit and nuts to keep them from burning during baking. This recipe has *lots* of cranberries to the amount of dough which made it very hard to work with. The pockets of fruit and nuts created thin areas of dough as I tried to get braidable lengths, and my strands would pull apart.

The amount of water I used was right in the middle of Reinhart's given range, though I kept it a little extra sticky to help hydrate the dried fruit.

For my half-sized loaf, I baked it 15 minutes, rotated the pan, and gave it 15 minutes more. The internal temperature was right on the money at that point.

BBA Cranberry Walnut Celebration BreadNice crumb, pretty bread, and good flavor. It's a winner all 'round.

Monday, March 14, 2011

RHC: Devil's Food Cake with Midnight Ganache

Devil's Food Cake with Midnight GanacheI learned from my experiences with last week's cake-of the week: I read the recipe carefully and in advance this time! I made the cognac cherries (sans the extra corn syrup) the night before. I made the ganache at about 9 in the morning--tackling caramel sauce while still working on the morning coffee is a challenge, as is not just spooning up the caramel sauce instead of making ganache with it. Devil's Food Cake with Midnight GanacheThen in the afternoon I baked the cakes, let them cool, then was ready to put it all together except...the ganache was still very soft. It had been 7 hours sitting at room temperature but was still gloopy, to use a technical term. I gave it a few sessions in the fridge which helped some, but it was still really too soft when I decided I had to frost the cake.

Devil's Food Cake with Midnight GanacheThat perhaps explains why this was the most uncooperative cake I'd ever seen for frosting. The layers were fairly level, I decided not to put the cognac cherries in the middle because it looked like a recipe for instability and serving difficulties to me, and still the top layer wanted to slide to the side. Three times I just shoved the frosted layer back into place, and once I took a long spatula and lifted it, frosting and all, to a new position. When all the repeated passes on frosting was starting to lift sections of cake, I quit. All the efforts didn't matter, and the result was a rather bulgy cake with vague swirls--all I could do without tearing up the cake.

Devil's Food Cake with Midnight GanacheBut that's OK, it tasted good. The cognac cherries, served on the side, really added a punch. Younger niece felt the cherries should have been in the cake to relieve the chocolate intensity. Everyone else just said "really good". Once again I thought the cake was too dry for my tastes, but the pile of intensely dark-chocolate ganache was well able to provide the lacking moistness of the cake.

BBA #10: Cornbread

BBA: CornbreadI'd run across this recipe before I bought a copy of BBA. As one raised on Southern cornbread made without any sweetening at all I was appalled at the amount of sugar in the recipe, tried leaving it out, and was not pleased with the results. After some mental debate I made the recipe as written this time.

Notes: I made a half recipe, and used my well-seasoned 8-wedge cornbread pan (inherited) and my 6" skillet (purchased myself years ago), both cast iron and never washed in a dishwasher (what *were* you thinking, Chris!?), only rarely washed at all in fact. The half-recipe was just about right for those together, though the 6" round bread could have been a little thicker. The cornbread took just about 30 minutes to bake--a 10" skillet with no dividers would have added a considerable amount of time.

I did use polenta, not my standard coarse cornmeal. I cut back a little on the corn kernels (also not generally a feature of Southern cornbread). Super-thick sliced bacon gave some extra bite.

Results: nice browning on the bread, but not really a good crust despite a long pre-heat for the pan. I took the wedges out of the pan immediately, that being the way I was taught (so the bread doesn't steam in the pan and soften the crust), and when that didn't result in very crusty cornbread I followed the recipe for the 6" round and left it in the pan for 10 minutes. Nope, also not very crisp. Neither was soggy, but they lacked the good crunch I expect in cornbread.

BBA: CornbreadTaste: not as bad as I'd thought. :) Certainly it's sweeter than I prefer, but perhaps because I ate it with a spicy sun-dried tomato soup (ButterYum's variation) that might have swamped my sweet tastebuds, it wasn't too bad. The bacon is a nice touch (what doesn't bacon improve?). I prefer a bread without the corn kernels, though it's not a strong negative--I could see deciding to use them for specific meals, just not as my standard.

In summary: I've made it, I've eaten some, and I'm moving on. I'll go back to Southern cornbread, maybe with bacon, next time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

RHC: Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise

Moist Chocolate Raspberry GénoiseAh, a génoise that actually got some height for me! Maybe it was the chocolate, maybe I'm finally learning some of the tricks for these egg-foam leavened cakes, who knows. Maybe it was making a half-recipe and using 6" pans, when half of a 9" pan is 6.4". génoise were nice and tall this week.

My biggest problems with this cake were ones of timing. Yes, yes, I should read the entire recipe carefully in advance. I should probably force myself to take notes for these multi-component cakes, too. For example, I thought I could make the raspberry sauce one evening early in the week, but failed to notice that the frozen raspberries should defrost slowly at room temperature for several hours. (I put the sealed bag in the fridge overnight after hitting this obstacle, which speeded up the draining the next day.) I'm used to the ganache needing several hours to reach the correct frosting consistency (after one makes the raspberry sauce that goes into it), so I did get that one timed correctly. The cocoa syrup should be applied warm, so that can't be made too far in advance of composing the cake. And finally are those cake crumbs which can be used to decorate the cake, something I thought I'd do while the ganache was still soft enough to hold them. But the cake crust is removed just before composing the cake, and then need to air-dry for several hours before the scraps can be processed into crumbs.

But you know, it eventually all came together, and the result was a very nice cake. The cocoa syrup brushed on the torted cake layers plus the interspersed ganache kept things moist, as the cake name promised. The hint of raspberry flavor in the ganache was present but not strong--I might have gotten better flavor if I'd added the Chambord, but the liqueur flavorings haven't been well-received around here. Fresh raspberry garnish and the extra raspberry sauce gave most of the non-chocolate flavor--the raspberry in the ganache was very subtle, only noticeable on the first few bites.

Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise

Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise

Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise

Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise

Tasting results: This is probably the best-received génoise yet, with the possible exception of the one slathered in passion fruit curd--I'd have to ask younger niece for a head-to-head comparison, as chocolate automatically creates bonus points. No one complained of it being dry, the chocolate flavor was intense (though the raspberry could have been a little stronger). However, it's still a génoise, and despite all these months of baking from Rose's Heavenly Cakes with many many variations on génoise, we're still fundamentally a butter cake family. Which means next week's devil's food cake should really hit the sweet spot.

BBA #9: Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Pecan Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Pecan BreadI have to admit to having few problems with this bread. The dough was lovely (maybe a tad dry, contrary to others' experiences) with the exact amounts of flour and liquid, and I worked a couple more tablespoons of liquid in only because I'd over-measured a bit and had this milky water sitting right there. I did fail to drain my raisins well enough and so things got a little sticky as I hand-kneaded them in, but I can't blame that on Reinhart. A little blotting with a paper towel and I think I could have kneaded without added flour.

[Forgive the lousy photo quality on most shots--one dial on this camera is fatally easy to shift without noticing, and I don't pay enough attention to the results until I've downloaded to the computer. Things were very over-exposed this week until the last couple of pics of both bread and cake.]

I added cinnamon in all the suggested places--the base amount in the dough, the full amount of cinnamon-sugar for the swirl, and the coating glued on the hot loaf with a little butter. I'd skip the top coating next time--it added some extra flavor, sure, but made the loaf messy to handle and slice. There's plenty of cinnamon in the dough + swirl.

The dough rose beautifully, as did the loaves. I might let the loafs go a little longer on a repeat....or not, as the crumb was good and I'd hate to have a loaf collapse on me.

Cinnamon Raisin Pecan Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Pecan Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Pecan Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Pecan Bread

On slicing, the "open swirl" problem emerged--I don't mind a little separation of the layers, but a big opening is not what I'm looking for. I thought I was rolling tightly, but perhaps not. And perhaps the amount of cinnamon-sugar affects this, too, and I had a pretty heavy layer.

I took the second loaf to my hairdresser, as I'd described it as she was doing my perm and gotten an enthusiastic response. That was a good decision, as I suspect the nephew will be the only one next door to try it: older niece is on a school trip (robotics competition), younger niece hates raisins, and my brother and sister-in-law are avoiding carbs they unless the temptation is very strong. Come to think of it, my brother may never have learned to enjoy raisins. I could have made younger niece happy by subbing dried cherries, but with the weekly whole-wheat dried-cherry challah I just wanted something different. And *I* love cinnamon raisin bread!