Monday, December 27, 2010

RHC: Cranberry Crown Cheesecake

Cranberry Crown CheesecakeI may be suffering from Heavenly Cake withdrawal--it's been two weeks since I baked from RHC. Last week's post was on a cake baked the first week in December, and this week's seasonal cheesecake seemed like a good contribution for my office holiday party potluck those two weeks ago. There was lots of other cooking and baking going on, just no Heavenly Cakes. I'm ready for those Chocolate Bull's-Eye Cakes! First, though, I'd better write up the cheesecake.

The first decision was whether to make the ladyfingers, or just use store-bought ones, or go with the no-crust option. After some pondering I decided to make them, partly because that way I could make a one-piece base for the cake and partly to reinforce my ladyfinger skills, newly gained when making the Lemon Canadian Crown.

Cranberry Crown CheesecakeCranberry Crown CheesecakeThe ladyfingers again came off smoothly, baked a couple of days before I needed to assemble the cheesecake. They did get sticky when stored in plastic wrap, and as I messed up a little and had to reposition the ring of ladyfingers around my springform pan because I forgot to grease it, I lost the pretty appearance of pristine ladyfingers. However, it didn't seem to matter--three people remarked that they thought the resulting cheesecake looked store-bought. Or maybe a few damaged patches are just to be expected, store-bought or no. :)

Cranberry Crown CheesecakeThe cheesecake itself was extremely simple to mix up. One mixing bowl, beating first cream cheese and sugar, then adding eggs, then lemon juice, vanilla, and salt, then the large amount of sour cream. That's it--the batter is ready. mini Cranberry Crown CheesecakeWhen it came to pouring the batter into the prepared pan, I had too much cheesecake for my height of ladyfingers. I could have left them untrimmed and perhaps been able to fit all the batter in, though the rounded bottom might have left some gaps. However, I made a mini-cheesecake with leftover ladyfingers in a large custard cup, which let the family get a couple of bites each for tasting since the full-sized version went to the office party.

Cranberry Crown CheesecakeI baked it in a springform pan slid into a silicon pan (purchased cheap at a discount store), so no worries about water leaks into the springform. I was a little worried that the cheesecake might not be done, as you bake it for a specified time then leave it in the oven for another hour before opening the oven and removing the cake. At that point I did check the temperature, and the cheesecake was still at the lower end of the 'it's done' range so I felt safe taking it to the office party. The last step was to make the cranberry topping--cranberries and sugar with some cornstarch for thickening, cooked long enough to get the cranberries to pop. The results were festively red, and a nicely balanced level of sweetness.

I presliced the cheesecake before taking it to the office party, but didn't try to extract a piece for a "slice of cake" shot. I thought perhaps there would be a few pieces left afterwards (the office potluck tends to be well-supplied with sweets), but when I went to help with the cleanup, there was only a pile of crumbs in the center of the platter. I didn't get any detailed comments, but "good cheesecake" got repeated a lot. From my tasting of the mini-version, I agree. With a lot of sour cream to the cream cheese amount, this is a light-textured cheesecake with a nice hint of lemon flavor, nicely set off by the cranberry topping. Good cheesecake!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

RHC: Tiramisù

TiramisùTiramisù is another "catch-up-with-Marie" recipe--she baked it in July 2009 before the bake-along started in October 2009. I'd never tackled tiramisù before--I've had it in restaurants several times, but it was never a huge personal favorite and I never was drawn to making it myself. Maybe that was because each time it seemed different: a mushed up trifle sort of thing, an almost firm, close to cheesecake thing, strongly coffee, barely coffee, this is a recipe that can come out a number of ways.

TiramisùI took advantage of my frozen half-recipe of homemade ladyfingers left over from the Lemon Canadian Crown, and decided to make a half recipe of tiramisù. The most complicated and time consuming part (and it was not very) was making a light custard flavored with marsala which involved beating egg yolks, sugar, and the marsala over simmering water and not ending up with scrambled marsala-flavored eggs. Maybe there was a little cooked egg yolk on the rim of the pan, but mostly I had a light fluffy egg mixture when the temperature hit the target of 165 degrees. Once the custard cooled down it was added to beaten marscapone, and then all folded in with whipped cream. I do have to stick in this shot of the pans I assembled as my "equipment mise en place" before getting started--this recipe does need a lot of dishes for all the components, and that's not counting what it took to make the ladyfingers. (Which I could have bought, after all.)

TiramisùThe luscious dairy layer is layered with the ladyfingers, which are dipped quickly in espresso syrup. Coffee-flavored ladyfingers on the bottom, then a layer of the marscapone mixture, then more ladyfingers, and the rest of the marscapone. Sprinkle on cocoa or grate on some bittersweet chocolate (that's what I did, or more like, what I had younger niece do), and then let the whole thing sit in the fridge for the flavors to meld.

TiramisùThe tiramisù was the second dessert option at one of sister-in-law's Hanukkah parties, and it was a big hit. Nancy W. (who considers herself something of a tiramisù connoisseur due to frequent tasting of restaurant versions) really liked this one, especially the noticeable coffee flavors and the good balance of ladyfingers to marscapone. Older niece really liked it, Sam W. and Claire W. did as well, and sister-in-law demanded that I get rid of any leftovers before she got home on Monday so as to not have the temptation around. The dissenter was younger niece, who thought the ladyfingers were too soggy with the espresso syrup. She likes the coffee flavor, but disliked the texture. That's certainly one of the tricky parts of putting this dessert together, as a couple of seconds too long and you can have ladyfinger mush in your pan of syrup. Even if things don't go too far as you soak, there's still a measure of personal preference in how the tiraamisù components are put together, so perhaps you can't expect to please everyone with a single version.

Monday, December 13, 2010

RHC: Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes

Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Pound CakesCake-of-the-week is back in the baby cakes chapter of Rose's Heavenly Cakes, with a mini pound cake baked in financier molds. I confess I don't remember the Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes we baked back in July or the classic financiers from September well enough to "compare and contrast" with my taste buds--it's nice to have the blog entries to help.

Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Pound CakesFinancier-Style Vanilla Bean Pound CakesThis is not a true pound cake, as it uses egg whites only. While I miss the richness the egg yolks bring, I did get to pull a baggie of whites from the freezer--things have been heavy on the yolk side lately, I guess. I used my new vanilla bean paste for the first time, substituting for both the actual bean and the vanilla extract. (I didn't miss the task of trying to slice a somewhat shriveled vanilla bean in half, then scraping at the itty bitty seeds.) The batter mixes up very quickly, and as the recipe warned it did indeed look a little curdled when done. I did
measured out the ounce of batter into each financier mold squeezing from a zip-top plastic bag, trying to reduce my usual amount of slop over the top of the pan....but alas, it didn't help much. I ended up with 12 cakelets instead of the 10 promised by the recipe, nicely filling one financier mold.

My cakelets baked unevenly as this pan seems to do--one side of each cakelet rises higher than the other, sometimes enough to curl over slightly. Perhaps I need to rotate the pan halfway through to see if this might be due to uneven oven heating. The cakelets only browned slightly by the time they were done.

Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Pound CakesTasting results were somewhat mixed, but this cakelet didn't wow anyone. My brother and I found it unremarkable, and I'll add that I prefer a tighter crumb on pound cake, (as almost always) would like it a little moister. Maybe the egg-white-only batter gave the larger crumb to this recipe. Older niece, noting that vanilla isn't among her favorite flavors but she does prefer vanilla bean to plain vanilla, found that this didn't say "vanilla bean" to her. Younger niece concurred. Older niece also found it a little dry and needing the accompanying glass of milk she got, and felt raspberries and whipped cream would greatly improved it. (I think everyone in the family agrees that raspberries and whipped cream enhance almost anything. Oh, and fudge sauce....) Nephew gave the most comments, saying it was moist and flavorful, but a little 'hard'--perhaps the cakelet, two days after baking, didn't hold well. Overall, this one was not a big hit. Based on my blog entries, I think the classic financier is the keeper of these three similar cakelets.

Monday, December 6, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake and Black Chocolate Party Cake

Chocolate Velvet Fudge CakeBlack Chocolate Party CakeIt's Hanukkah this weekend, and my sister-in-law enjoys having a party or two during the holiday. This year it was 2 parties, one Saturday and one Sunday, and I took the opportunity to do a direct comparison of two unfrosted chocolate butter cakes that are presented back-to-back in Rose's Heavenly Cakes. The Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake is the official cake-of-the-week, and the Black Chocolate Party Cake is one Marie baked before the bake-along got started. These cakes are similar is a lot of ways: both chocolate (duh!), both on the quick and easy list, both butter cakes, both use whole eggs, and both made with cocoa. The Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake can be considered the base "chocolate butter cake", and the Black Chocolate Party Cake adds the variations: ground walnuts added to the batter, sour cream instead of water, turbinado sugar instead of superfine, and AP flour instead of cake. The last fillip for the Black Chocolate Party Cake is to brush it with a cocoa syrup while it is still hot.

Black Chocolate Party CakeI made the Black Chocolate Party Cake first. My only problems were related to using a new-to-me tube pan, a carousel pan that I think I bought because it was bundled with another one on eBay. The pan design is problematic for most baking, probably, because it produces a fairly thin edge of cake at the outer rim, guaranteed to over-bake--mine was noticeably too dark, though I didn't get any burnt taste. Then there were the issues produced by the cake-flipping called for in this recipe--the cake is turned out hot onto a plastic-wrap-lined plate so you can coat it with the cocoa syrup and not fling syrup dribbles all over your presentation plate. (Nonetheless I managed to fling syrup dribbles over myself and my counter. Maybe I should have covered more things with plastic wrap...) Once the cake is cool, the concept is that you turn the cake over onto a working plate, peel off the plastic wrap, then turn it again right-side-up onto the presentation cake plate. Alas, the carousel cake has a fairly narrow crown and a broad base. Flipping it onto the narrow crown, even for a minute or so, gave me a somewhat shorter, more compressed cake than I started with. I should have turned it back into the cake pan for support, and taken the risk of having some of the cocoa-coated cake stick to the pan.

Chocolate Velvet Fudge CakeAfter that, the Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake was a snap. Like several other Heavenly Cake Bakers whose blogs I've already read, I used the dramatic Heritage Bundt pan. I had intended to make the large marzipan candle (candle, Hanukkah, you get it) for an accent, but alas ran out of time before the party started. OK, I used that time productively, as I made Monica's Asparagus Tart with Prosciutto as an appetizer--it got rave reviews, too, though I rather rushed next door with it after the guests had already arrived. I do think a fat marzipan candle would look great in the center of the Heritage Bundt cake pattern.

Both chocolate cakes were well received. The folks next door, who got to taste both, preferred the cake with walnuts, as it was a little moister. Or perhaps it was the coffee cream (borrowed from the recipe for Sybil's Pecan Torte) that added just the extra it needed. I served the velvet Fudge Cake without accompaniment, see above re: running out of time. As is my nearly constant refrain, both cakes were just a touch drier than we prefer, so my brother's comment about needing Coffee Cream to go with cake #2 was not just a plea for more whipped cream.

Chocolate Velvet Fudge CakeBlack Chocolate Party CakeThe remainder of the two cakes went in to the office today, giving my usual cake-of-the-week testers a chance to compare and contrast. There really weren't any negative comments on the pair, and when I asked people to pick between the two I got one vote for the Velvet Fudge, two for the Party Cake, and one who refused to choose. (That was about all the Party Cake that was left, as it was served at the larger Hanukkah party. Everyone else just got Velvet Fudge Cake.) I'd vote for the Chocolate Party Cake, myself--I think it's a little moister, and the cocoa syrup maybe puts the chocolate taste more front and center. The syrup did not, on my cake at least, give glistening coating like the picture in the book. I suspect some food stylist brushed the cold cake with extra syrup for dramatic effect. <g>

Monday, November 29, 2010

RHC: Ladyfingers and Lemon Canadian Crown

Lemon Canadian CrownI was traveling over Thanksgiving, which made my cake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers switch from a centerpiece dessert for the big meal to a half-size version stuck in at the tail end of the weekend. That's a pity, because this is a lovely party (or holiday) dessert. Even better, it can be completely made ahead of time and frozen for up to 3 weeks. I'm making notes for some future occasion--this cake will be made again. Another advantage is that the cake can be made in stages, and I used that to squeeze it in after returning from my Thanksgiving trip. (The Folks Next Door and I went to older brother's house in North Carolina. We carried up the cranberry-orange relish and the squash-cheese casserole and I helped with some cooking and made the turkey chowder while there, but it was nice to not be a principal cook for the big meal for a change.)

LadyfingersBefore I left, I tackled the ladyfingers. These can probably be bought somewhere in Atlanta, though I've never noticed them in the stores. (I suspect that's because I've never looked.) I found them surprisingly easy to make. I did start by watching Rose's video on YouTube as a warm-up for piping ladyfingers, and that was very helpful in figuring out the cookbook instructions on drawing guidelines for the piping. My finished ladyfingers were a little undersized as I didn't have a pastry tube quite as large as the 3/4" specified (and I didn't squeeze my pastry bag as much as Rose did in the video), but that is all to the good as I planned to use them for two half-sized cakes: this week's Lemon Canadian Crown, and Tiramisù. I didn't even have as much trouble as I expected with the piping, and by the time my ladyfingers were baked, they looked, well, not like store-bought, but pretty darn good. Once baked and cooled, I wrapped the ladyfingers and my 6" disk (for the cake base) up in heavy-duty plastic wrap and popped them all into the freezer.

Lemon Canadian CrownI constructed the half-size Lemon Canadian Crown in a 6" springform pan, which is a little less than half the capacity of the 9" pan called for. The smaller diameter made it somewhat hard to fit in even my smaller ladyfingers, but with a little pressing against the side of the pan the ladyfingers eventually formed a lining. Next was to wedge in the trimmed ladyfinger disk for the base, and that helped hold the sides up once in place. The lined pan then got stuck in the freezer while I made the filling.

Lemon Canadian CrownThe filling is a lemon curd made with whipping cream instead of butter. My curd took much longer than specified to thicken--about 40 minutes, not 15. The temperature stayed low even when the curd started to thicken, and I finally went with the consistency test even though temp was only 170. Strained into a large glass bowl, the curd cooled quickly, and then I folded in softly whipped cream. This mixture went into the ladyfinger shell and back into the freezer. Not all the filling would fit in the prepared pan, so I grabbed 3" soufflé molds, cut more ladyfingers in half to make an outer ring to line the sides, and filled them with the leftover lemon. In the little soufflés there was much more ladyfinger to the amount of lemon, and I ended up with 4 mini desserts.

The last step once the lemon is completely frozen is to make a meringue, spread it to cover the frozen filling, then run the cake briefly under the broiler to brown the meringue. Once that was done it was back to freezer to let the frozen parts recover from the heat blast.

Lemon Canadian CrownTasting results: My brother thought the ratio of ladyfingers to filling was skewed too far toward ladyfingers, but we both thought that was a problem of the half-size version, and a 9" cake would be fine. Older niece devoured one of the soufflé dish versions and departed for her homework without comment. Younger niece ate the meringue first because she didn't like it much, then finished the rest with appreciative notes. Nephew thought the ladyfingers were too dry (it was his first encounter with plain ladyfingers, not buried in tiramisù) and left the base uneaten. Personally this is right down my alley, nicely lemony, not too sweet--a lovely dessert.

Monday, November 22, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Génoise with Whipped Peanut Butter Ganache

Chocolate Génoise/PB GanacheThis should be an easy cake, at least now that I'm fairly comfortable with génoise. However, things just didn't go my way with this week's cake-of-the-week. The génoise was not too bad, the main flaw being that as usual, my batter didn't have the full expected volume. I think I've got a two-fold problem. First is that I need to continue to work on my folding technique so I don't lose the lovely volume from the beaten eggs. Second is speed--I think I'm folding too long (see #1), then also being too compulsive about scraping all the batter into the pan and otherwise dallying while getting the cake into the oven. I need to work on that TV chef style where utensils and pans with lots of the ingredients covering them are tossed willy-nilly into the sink, while the chef moves on in the recipe.

All that aside, I did get the chocolate génoise baked, and prepared the syrup with Chambord. (Unlike several Heavenly Cake Bakers, I had a dusty bottle in my liquor cabinet from some long-ago baking endeavor so didn't have to break the bank to get a new bottle.) Then it was on to the peanut butter whipped ganache. This should also have been simple--ganache has no terrors for me, and this recipe is just ganache with some peanut butter added, then whipped. Well, it was the whipping part that did for me. I carefully checked the temperature, but nonetheless when I started to whisk the mixture it seemed impossible to get soft peaks. I continued whisking and ended up with a grainy ganache. Rose says such a ganache can be rescued by re-melting it then beating it again, and indeed when I remelted it and got it to the right temperature it looked just like it had when I started. Unfortunately, it also once again never produced anything like soft peaks and quickly turned grainy. I gave up and frosted my syruped génoise with it anyway. It did have a nice light texture, so all that was affected (as far as I could tell) was the appearance.

Chocolate Génoise/PB GanacheTasting results: not many opinions from the home front this week. Personally I thought it was good, with a nice light texture and well-balanced flavors. Peanut butter can be very "in your face", but this one is nicely balanced with the chocolate. However, it's still a génoise, and I strongly prefer butter cakes, especially the dense pound-cake styles. As far as the folks next door--sister-in-law and older niece dislike peanut butter and declined to taste (SIL did try a nibble, and found the PB to be at a very objectionable level). Younger niece tasted and declined any more. Nephew, a PB fan, presumably ate the piece I sent over to him but I didn't get a report. My brother didn't ask for any (and I forgot to offer it)--actually, I'm not sure how he feels about PB.

Office opinions: a big hit. My supervisor called it the best cake-of-the-week he'd had. (He does have a limited sample size, as his office isn't on my regular Cake Distribution Route. <g>) P, who hadn't had a cake-of-the-week before, loved it (he started out asking if it was a mix, and the concept of frosting not from a can seemed rather foreign to him), as did B and V. C, like me, prefers the butter cakes and gave it an "OK". Still, I think we'll call it a success.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clay's Multi-Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread from KAF

Clay's Multi-Grain Sourdough Sandwich BreadDespite the high reaching almost 70 today, my brain has moved to "winter" mode and my cooking urges reflect it. I'm making soups, comfort food casseroles, and baking bread--more than the weekly challah, that is.

Today's bread is from a recent King Arthur Flour blog post (or just see the recipe), which also inspired me to go revive my rather evil looking sourdough starter. After feeding it yesterday I left it out overnight, and today it was very bubbly and ready to go. Don't know if it was the freshly revved up starter or other substitutions I made, but this bread didn't much resemble the description in the KAF writeup.

First let me document the substitutions: I used more whole wheat flour than called for (3 oz. instead of 2), reducing the AP flour. I don't have the "KA Whole-Grain Bread Improver" but added some vital wheat gluten instead--I see on further research that the bread improver is a mix of vital wheat gluten and soy flour, mostly. And I don't have the KA Harvest Grains Blend, so I mixed some poppy, flax, and sunflower seeds into a little Bob's Red Mill 5-Grain Cereal blend, which is an oat/wheat based hot cereal. Seemed close enough.

Clay's Multi-Grain Sourdough Sandwich BreadWhat was different? Well, I needed a good bit less AP flour than the minimum in the recipe, and then added more water during the knead as the dough didn't look nearly as wet as the blog pictures. OK, it's winter, and we're dealing with a sourdough starter with variable water amounts, so I give that a pass. But then it says "Cover the dough, and allow it to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours; it'll become puffy, though it may not double in bulk." Mine was tripled in a little over an hour when I first checked on it. On the second rise I let it get about 1-1/2" above the pan (and again it was much faster than the recipe), and it was over-risen and sank some on baking. Last thing was the texture, but here we're definitely in the subjective realm. They said "chewy texture of an artisan loaf", I'd say it's got a little more structure than a sandwich bread. Or maybe I just don't eat anything but artisan breads these days, if you don't count the whole-wheat challah.

Despite all that, it's a nice loaf of bread. Very light on the "multi-grain" bit, so I'd probably up the whole-wheat flour even more if I make it again, especially as it's clear the loaf has plenty of spring to handle it. The character could be varied quite a lot by using different seeds and grains for the Harvest Grains Blend.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RHC: She Loves Me Cake--sort of

She Loves Me CakeIt's a free choice week for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along, and my list of "cakes Marie has baked and I haven't" is getting pretty short. Well, I think it's at eight cakes, so maybe not quite that short. Anyway, at the top was the She Loves Me Cake, which was the second cake Marie tackled. A little negotiation with younger niece to incorporate chocolate in the presentation, and we had a plan.

The result didn't look much like "She Loves Me" cake, though. First off, my flat decorative NordicWare baking pan is the snowflake design instead of the daisy--more appropriate for this time of the year, really, even though Atlanta may not see snow until February (or not at all some winters). Rose gives options of splitting the cake and filling it with lemon curd and blueberries (the Lemon Daisy Cake) or with whipped cream and berries (Berry Shortcake). I wanted to use the berry shortcake option (though I prefer a slightly sweet biscuit for a real strawberry shortcake). With this need for chocolate this week, raspberries seemed like a good choice for the berries. And that chocolate requirement....the hot fudge sauce from the ice cream cake was really yummy, and pretty easy. That'd do. Maybe my She Loves Me Cake is "Chocolate snowflake raspberry shortcake with hot fudge sauce".

She Loves Me CakeThis cake is on the quick and easy list, and my only slight reservation about that rating is that it's an egg-yolk only cake. That doesn't make the preparation harder, but I find the excess egg whites to be an annoyance despite all the Heavenly Cakes that have needed them. Egg separating aside, the cake mixes up very quickly using Rose's butter cake technique of adding the butter and some liquid to the dry ingredients, then adding the egg mixed with other liquid ingredients. I spread the batter in my snowflake pan, and it was into the oven. Despite my setting my timer for 5 minutes under the baking time, the cake had started to pull away from the sides of the pan when I checked it. My sister-in-law felt the cake was again a little dry (I didn't notice myself, but that might have been the presentation), and perhaps that touch of over-baking did it.

I cooled the cake and made the fudge sauce, then asked younger niece to come over and experiment with some decorations to highlight the snowflake design. As we were adding chocolate, I melted a little 62% chocolate and handed her a small paintbrush, and she put a chocolate coating over a few of the snowflakes.

She Loves Me CakeThat was it, except for the assembly. I cut cake squares, split them in half, and put raspberries on the bottom piece. A healthy (ha!) glob of whipped cream covered the raspberries, then the other piece of cake went on top. Finally I drizzled warm fudge sauce over the top.

She Loves Me CakeTasting results: Sister-in-law noted a little cake dryness, as above, but had found a little whipped cream easily dealt with the problem. My brother said the cake made a nice platform for the other components. :) The kids chimed in with 'really good', and I failed to get the picture of younger niece licking the last of the fudge sauce off her plate.

I did make an effort to judge the cake separately from the berries, cream, and chocolate, and really liked it. It has a lovely even crumb, a nice vanilla flavor, and a good yellow color from the (5+) egg yolks. I'd eat it plain, or jazzed up any number of ways--the lemon curd idea will be one of them, I'm sure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

RHC: Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake

Swedish Pear and Almond Cream CakeI'm back baking in real-time, after posting on baking I'd done in advance of three weeks of travel. There was the annual trip to exhibit at the ag. show, one day at home, my 9-day vacation at Disney World, one day at home, and a trip to Reston, Va. and Washington, D.C. for meetings. I'm glad to be home this week! The post will be short, though, because I'm still trying to recover my brain, lost somewhere in all that travel.

Cake of the week is the Swedish Pear and Almond Cake, a sour cream cake with a band of almond cream (almond paste, sugar, and egg) and a layer of pear slices. Theoretically, the layers of almond cream and pears, applied to the top of the cake batter, sink during the baking to end up at the bottom--which becomes the top as you turn the cake out. In actuality, my pear layers stopped about half-way through the cake, though the almond cream did end up on top.

Swedish Pear and Almond Cream CakeOverall it's a very easy cake, except for cleaning up after using the food processor for the almond cream and the stand mixer for the cake batter. It rose beautifully and turned out easily, and the design of the Bavaria bundt pan I chose showed up nicely. Tasting results were good too--I found it a moist cake with good flavor, almost a pound cake texture (which I love), though I could wish that mine hadn't ended up with essentially 3 zones: the plain cake, the pear layer, and the two bites of almond-y goodness. It didn't integrate well, though each bit was tasty on its own.

Other tasters' comments mostly stuck to "good cake", with the exception of one friend who was wanting a different cake. When I told her this was a pear and almond cake, she was expecting more the style of the apple upside-down cake or the plum and blueberry torte--half cake, half fruit. That is not this cake. :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

RHC: The Bostini

The BostiniI have a feeling that the Bostini, for many of us, is the most delectible picture in the book. This "re-imagined Boston cream pie" caught my eye time and again as I flipped through for some other cake-of-the-week, and I'd pause to look at the chocolate dripping down the sides of that cappuccino cup, maybe read a little bit of the recipe to see what the pieces were, then would flip on to another page. But now it's time for the Bostini itself.

As is my usual approach I did a half recipe, and for this individually composed dessert, I wanted half-sized servings--all the adults in the family are watching our weight, and while the active teenagers don't need to, they also are fine with smaller dessert sizes. Half-size seemed about right.

What to serve this in? Part of the reason the photograph of the Bostini is so attractive, I think, is the chocolate sauce flowing down the sides of the cappuccino cup used for serving. However, my practical side said that would be incredibly messy to eat--the cupcake would be pushed down into the pastry cream with the first few bites, sending (more) chocolate sauce and pastry cream cascading over the sides of the cup. Rose notes that if you have the right diameter of cup the cupcake will act as a stopper to keep the cream from running out of the cup, but I didn't have much choice of container diameters. Besides, I was going to have a half-sized portion, so coffee cups were out. After a scan of my cabinets, I decided on some slender 6 oz. white wine glasses (I had 4 of those) and custard cups for the rest. The custard cups weren't a good idea, as it turns out, for exactly the problem I'd thought of with the cappuccino cup. The wine glasses, on the other hand, were just right.

The first step was to bake the orange glow chiffon cupcakes, and for my half-size servings I couldn't use the specified cupcake pan. I went with a mini muffin pan. However, mini cupcakes are a lot less than half of a "regular" cupcake, so I ended up with 24 or so mini chiffon cakes. I was shooting for 8 half-sized servings, so decided that I'd use 2 mini chiffon cakes per.

The BostiniOnce the cakes were baked, it was on to the pastry cream. Rose describes it as a cross between a pastry cream and a crème anglaise--less cornstarch, richer, and much less sweet than a usual pastry cream. I created quite a mess of my island counter top by spilling part of the egg mixture over it while doing the juggling act to mix a little hot cream into the eggs, then mixing all the eggs into the cream, and not ending up with scrambled eggs. (No scrambled eggs, indeed, but lots of items on the countertop collected a coating of egg along the way.) However, the amount of egg lost to the spill must not have been enough to be a problem, as my pastry cream thickened nicely. After straining the custard, I poured it into the 4 wine glasses and 4 custard cups, and tried to put plastic wrap on the surface of each one. That's when the narrow wine glasses became a problem--it was very hard to maneuver a little piece of plastic wrap into the glass and onto the surface of the custard.

The last component is the chocolate butter glaze, basically equal weights of dark chocolate and butter. I used a ganache instead of the chocolate butter sauce. I'm sure the butter sauce would be wonderful, but I love ganache, too, and did you know that heavy cream has half the calories of butter, tablespoon for tablespoon? <g> I did use the same amount of cream in my ganache as butter called for in the chocolate butter sauce.

To compose the Bostinis, I put two of the mini orange chiffon cupcakes into each container with the pastry cream, and pushed it down a little. Then the warm chocolate sauce was poured on top--but not dripping down the sides, as my wine glasses had enough room to contain it.

The BostiniThis one is another unanimous hit, even from younger niece with her anti-cream/dairy attitude. (Which, you may recall, does not extend to whipped cream, so I suspected pastry cream would be OK.) She did ask if she could just have a wine glass full of the ganache, but being refused that, she ate a Bostini with no problem. There was some difficulty in eating them even from those who got the wine glasses--the chiffon cupcake was a little hard to cut into bites with a spoon. Perhaps I should have let them soak in the pastry cream for a while before serving, but in the end, one way or another, no one had leftovers in their cup.

Monday, October 25, 2010

RHC: Heavenly Vanilla Bean Cherubs

Heavenly Vanilla Bean CherubsOr, the vanilla bean angel-food cake option made in mini angel food cake pans.

The Angel Food Cake recipe is the most "build your own" style in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I think. Because of the varying sizes of angel food cake pans, Rose provided a guideline of 1 egg white per cup of pan capacity, gave the ingredients in proportion for that amount, and left it to the reader to scale up to their pan. At least, that's on the main recipe: on the chocolate tweed version we did back in January she gave the amounts for a 16 cup pan, and also gave a "baby cake" version of that one called Chocolate Cherubs.

I'm not fond of angel food cake. All sugar, no fat--I prefer my indulgences weighted toward butter/egg yolks. Sugar, not so much. Baby cakes seemed like the way to go for this week's "Angel Food Cake any way you want", and I used the vanilla bean option because I'd done the grated-chocolate route once. Math seemed like too much trouble, so I went with the proportions for the Chocolate Cherubs, without the grated chocolate and with vanilla bean seeds and lemon juice added for the Heavenly Vanilla Bean version. I had 4 smaller (1-1/4 cup) mini tube pans for the baking, and grabbed a silicon madeleine pad to use for the extra batter.

Enough egg whites emerged from the freezer for the recipe, saved from previous cakes. I used my mini chopper to mix the vanilla beans into the sugar, then added the Wondra flour--the amount was way too little to dirty up my large food processor. Everything else was as the recipe directed: egg whites with cream of tartar and the lemon juice, beaten with sugar to a stiff meringue, fold in the flour mixture, and pour into ungreased pans.

Heavenly Vanilla Bean CherubsResults: 4 pure white angel food cakes (as all the browned bits stuck to the pan when I turned the cakelets out), and a handful of two-bite cakes from the madeleine pan. I did induce my brother and the nephew into trying a piece--my brother and I both felt "sure, it's fine, but not a style of cake we like". Nephew tried it but I got a report that he didn't care for it, older niece gave it a pass, younger niece was on a school trip but came by later to say she'd heard it was not good. Just translate that as "not to our tastes"--for an angel food cake lover, I suspect this is a lovely version. I did appreciate the little lemon tang in there, but it couldn't transform this into something other than an angel food cake.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad (from Disney World!)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

RHC: Many-Splendored Quick Bread

Many-Splendored Quick BreadCake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along is a nice change of pace to a quick bread, not a cake. This one is a combination banana/zucchini/carrot bread with nuts, not too sweet. Very suitable for a breakfast bread, to my tastes.

When the bread assembly started, I had been making something else (some unsuccessful chocolate chunk scones, for the curious) and had a partial bag of mini dark-chocolate chunks from Whole Foods out on the counter. It seemed like dark chocolate would be another nice addition to the bread--banana and chocolate generally combine nicely. I added about 1/3 cup of chocolate chunks along with the toasted pecans that I substituted for the walnuts. There's no cacao percentage on the bag that I can find, but it's quite a dark chocolate.

The batter uses a combination of brown sugar and white, a moderate amount of banana (less than one large one), a little zucchini, and a little carrot. I weighed all of these as I went, and appreciated having the weights given in the recipe. I always dislike those recipes that just say "1 banana" or "1 zucchini" or even "1 medium banana"...sizes vary so. The mix of zucchini and carrot makes the loaf very colorful when it's cut.

Many-Splendored Quick BreadMany-Splendored Quick BreadMany-Splendored Quick BreadMany-Splendored Quick Bread

I baked the bread in a Pyrex loaf pan, reducing the oven temperature down to 325 as usual for glass. The loaf took more than 10 minutes longer than the 35-45 minutes stated in the recipe before it reached the right temperature. Maybe this was the glass pan and temperature difference, maybe there was also some effect from another 1/3 cup of stuff (chocolate!) in the batter.

Many-Splendored Quick BreadTaste results: a very nice quick bread. It sliced nicely, was not too sweet, and had a great texture. The nuts give a nice crunch, and the chocolate was definitely a good idea--it gave a nice taste accent and helps even more with the "not too sweet" part of the bread. I'll make it again, and will keep the chocolate in there.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

RHC: The cakes so far

Marie asked that we send in our votes on the best cakes so far in the Heavenly Cakes bake-along, and allowed us to vote for up to 5. I decided to skim through all my blog posts to do this--it's been a year since we got started, and that's a lot of cakes to remember. Then I took the list next door to my brother's house and solicited opinions over there. Everyone made some level of attempt to look at the list and figure out which were standouts for them--though I perhaps should have hidden my votes to avoid prejudicing the jury. I used their votes to help weed my favorites down to 5 to send to Marie, and they did influence me to up the rating for the Plum Round Ingots.

There were a few arbitrary calls on cakes, or places where I might not have been totally consistent--usually where some aspect of the cake was a negative but I liked something else very well. In other words, this is a subjective rating based on inconsistent criteria. <g> I used a 5-point rating myself, and the folks next door just marked their "really good" cakes with a plus. Mine were double-plus for the standout cakes, plus for the good ones (you could also call this "will make again if the right occasion comes along"), a neutral for ones that just didn't stand out at all or had various negatives that pulled them down from a plus, single negative, and a double negative. One more note on the consistency issue: I'm resisting the urge to second-guess myself, which is another sign of how hard this is to do. (Don't one of the cheesecakes rate a double-plus, maybe the coconut one? Or the coffeecake, that one was really good...)

It was interesting that a few cakes that I remember negatively don't have that opinion reflected in my write-ups. I guess memory always morphs over time, and it also might be that I did a writeup after the initial tasting but my opinion shifted on a second taste. I don't think there were any cakes that went the other way: that is, where I was remembering them as wonderful but the blog entry was meh.

I'm a couple of weeks ahead on the baking list due to upcoming work and vacation travel, so there's a few in here that haven't been blogged.

Double plus:

Golden Lemon Almond CakeWhite Gold Passion GénoiseIMG_2464_1IMG_2721Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down TortePlum Round IngotsChocolate Layer Cake with Caramel GanacheMany-Splendored Quick Bread

Golden Lemon Almond Cake (family favorite)
White Gold Passion Génoise (family favorite--probably #1)
Apple Upside-Down Cake
Pumpkin Cake (but not the buttercream)
Plum and Blueberry Upside Down Torte (family favorite)
Plum Round Ingots (family favorite)
Chocolate Layer Cake w/ Caramel Ganache (for the ganache...the cake was OK <g>) (family favorite)
Many-Splendored Quick Bread

Single plus:

Financiers au Chocolat
Ginger Cheesecake with Gingerbread Crust
Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake
German Chocolate Cake
Barcelona Brownie Bars
Almond Shamah Chiffon
Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake
Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake
Fruitcake Wreath
Classic Carrot Cake
Individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes
Lemon Poppyseed Sour Cream Cake
Peanut Butter Ingots
Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream
Banana Refrigerator Cake
Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pie
Gateau Breton
Baby Lemon Cheesecakes
Coconut Cheesecake w/ Coconut Cookie Crust
Chocolate Ice Cream Cake
Lemon Meringue Cake
Chocolate Feather Bed
Gold Ingots
The Bostini


Deep Chocolate Rosebuds
Marble Velvet Cake
Hungarian Jancsi Torta
Baby Chocolate Oblivions
Whipped Cream Cake (I need to try this one again, as I had problems with it. I should like this cake...)
Chocolate Streusel Coffeecake
Torta des las Tres Leches
Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake
True Orange Génoise
Double Chocolate Valentine
Sicilian Pistachio Cake
Coffee Chiffonlets with Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream
Saint-Honore Trifle
Bernachon Palet d'Or Gateau
Chocolate Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate-Egg White Frosting (Golden Neoclassic for Marie)
Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes
Chocolate Banana Stud Cake
Designer Chocolate Baby Grands
Marionberry Shortcake
Apple Caramel Charlotte
Chocolate Tomato Cake w/ Mystery Ganache (the opposite of the chocolate cake with caramel ganache--I really disliked the ganache, and thought this was the best RHC chocolate cake I've made so far)
Caramelized Pineapple Pudding Cakes/Classic Brioche
Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava Cakes
Angel Food Cake
Yellow Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate-Egg White Buttercream


Rose Red Velvet Cake
Catalán Salt Pinch Cake
English Gingerbread Cake
Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze
Le Succès
Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake
Génoise Rose
Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream Frosting

Double minus:

Holiday Pinecone Cake (One where memory is much more negative than my blog writeup. The blog says we liked the cake roll once we'd all thrown away the chocolate fondant. I don't now recall anything positive about it. You should factor in that I'm primarily interested in great tastes, and while a fancy presentation will attract me just like many other people (see the pumpkin cake, up in double-plus land) if the taste isn't up to the effort of the presentation I'm down on it.)