Monday, March 22, 2010

RHC: Peanut Butter and Praline Ingots

Peanut Butter & Praline IngotsEasy cake this week for the Heavenly Cakes Bake-Along, right? So why did my eye get caught by that little note in the introduction that said this recipe would be good with praline paste instead of peanut butter? Actually, I saw that mention, googled "praline paste" to see exactly what it is (only being familiar with praline candy), looked briefly at options for obtaining a can of the stuff, and decided it wasn't worth the effort. Reversed that decision when I saw a can at Cake Art....but reversed again when I saw the price of the can was $14! I don't know why that chain of events propelled me into making my own, but it did.

Making praline pasteCrystallized!Making praline pasteHomemade praline paste should've been a snap: I was using a recipe for half hazelnuts and half almonds, both of which I bought (cheap!), already blanched, at the farmer's market. I mixed sugar and water, heated it until the sugar started to melt, added the toasted nuts and stirred, then left it alone to form a light caramel. Except...I looked over, and I had a pot of nuts and sugar crystals. My sugar solution had crystallized--it's the first time this has happened to me. I tried to rescue my mixture and actually did finish out the recipe, but alas, the result still had some sugar crystals, and instead of a faint grittiness (which Rose warns of in homemade praline paste), mine had a not-so-faint crunch. I'm keeping it, as I feel sure that some sugar crunches in a paste that tastes this good will be fine in the right recipe.

Peanut Butter & Praline IngotsAfter the crystallization disaster, I surveyed my stock of nuts and decided I could try again. This time I played it safe and added a couple of tablespoons of corn syrup to my sugar mixture, staving off possible crystallization with some invert sugar. I also waited to stir the nuts in until the end, as they were nicely toasted already. Success! Candy-coated hazelnuts and almonds, which I reduced to a smooth paste in the food processor. (Scratching the bowl up as I did so, but it's a small price to pay.) Yes, there's a faint grit to the paste, but in Praline Ingots I don't think anyone would be able to tell.

Peanut Butter & Praline IngotsPeanut Butter & Praline IngotsThat was the big adventure, and the mixing of the Ingots was indeed easy. Buerre noisette was mastered earlier (OK, that's a little overstated: 'successfully made before', all right?). Almonds ground with a little powdered sugar, egg whites beaten and the almond mixture beaten in, then the butter drizzled s l o w l y into the batter. I then split my batter in two and stirred peanut butter into half, and praline paste into the other half. They baked up beautifully, though many of mine rose unevenly and had a "high side".

Tasting results: very popular cake. The peanut butter version is very in-your-face peanutty, compare to subtle flavor in the praline version. If tasting both, the praline had to be first or your taste buds only got the peanut butter. I'm wondering if a 100% hazelnut praline would be more distinctive....but no, I'm not going to make another batch. And the praline ones are very nice indeed just as they are.

Edit after reading fellow HCB blogs: count me as another one who missed the instructions to chill the batter for an hour before baking. I didn't see the small heads-up of the "Plan Ahead" note at all--that one I'll consider completely my fault. However, the bit in the recipe directions was just plain confusing, and like at least one other blogger I read it as "chill the extra batter if you can't bake it all at once." I'm flagging the other financier recipes, as I see they are worded almost exactly the same...except the Plum Round Ingots. There the instructions to chill the batter are straightforward.

Also as someone else has mentioned recently, I miss the "understanding" footnotes of other of Rose's cookbooks. In this case, I'd love to know why the batter should chill for an hour. What difference would it have made in the financiers? No, I'm not likely to do my own experiments, but I am curious.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pi Day Pie

Chocolate-Caramel Pecan TartSunday was Pi Day, at least in the U.S. where we write the date as month-day, thus 3/14. Or 3.14. (Google did a nice doodle for the occasion.) My niece urged the baking of a pie for Pi Day, and we settled on a recipe I clipped from Chocolatier magazine for Chocolate-Caramel Pecan Tart. I mean Pie.

Chocolate-Caramel Pecan TartGround-pecan crust, filled with a caramel-bittersweet chocolate ganache. Nephew added the π (pi, if your browser doesn't show the Greek letter) on top. The original recipe called for hazelnuts, but the pecan version is *quite* tasty, I must say.

Monday, March 15, 2010

RHC: Sicilian Pistachio Cake

Sicilian Pistachio CakeThe cake of the week for the Heavenly Cake bake-along is Sicilian Pistachio Cake, a single layer butter cake with ground pistachios in the cake, frosted with Golden Buttercream flavored with pistachio (optionally) and blanched slivered pistachios on the sides and top. The theme is green...St. Patrick's Day approaches.

Sicilian Pistachio CakeBy far the most difficult part of this cake was dealing with the pistachios. I bought shelled raw nuts, but had to blanch them myself, then sliver those designated for exterior decoration. (OK, I could've just chopped them. Next time I will, or will just pay the money and order the fancy imported nuts.) Once blanched, the skins do not always slip off easily, so the task stretches out depending on how anal-retentive one is on skin removal. My A-R level declined rapidly as the evening wore on. Then the nuts must dry out from the blanching. I missed the note about just letting them sit at room temperature and toasted them in a low oven, getting some light browning, and thus my finished cake didn't have quite as clean a green color as it would've. On the other hand, I might still be waiting for the nuts to dry out had I tried the other way...

The pistachio blanching and slivering having stretched into the wee hours, I tackled the actual cake the next day. Everything went smoothly with the cake and buttercream. I learned my lesson from earlier attempts at 'real' buttercream, and pulled out the hand-help mixer to avoid the splattering of sugar syrup onto the sides of the mixing bowl from whence it would get into the frosting and form little lumps. I did have golden syrup to use instead of white corn syrup, and that added to the golden color of the finished frosting. I'd also run down some pistachio flavoring--not the 'essence' Rose calls for, but a teeny bottle of LorAnn 'flavoring' intended for candy-making. I was uncertain of the strength and only added 2 drops to the frosting. After tasting the result, 3 or 4 would not have been too much.

Sicilian Pistachio CakeTasting results: This cake didn't wow anyone for taste despite its very pretty appearance, but everyone liked it. Several people thought it a little dry--I personally thought it right on the edge, but still OK. Perhaps the overnight wait before we cut the cake was a bad idea and this one should be eaten immediately. Or perhaps the ground nuts that give the light, delicate texture also give a somewhat dry mouth-feel. The other comment is that the pistachio flavor is very subtle in both cake and frosting, and we'd all have preferred a little stronger taste. A few drops of that pistachio flavoring in the cake batter wouldn't have been amiss, at least with my batch of pistachio nuts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Passion Fruit Cream Sherbert

Passion fruit cream sherbertAs mentioned in my Chocolate Ginger Cake Roll post, younger niece came over to talk ice cream last Friday. She'd had a school project where each student made ice cream by mixing the ingredients and shaking them in a container with ice cubes, and this had set off an urge to make ice cream at home. So: a call to Aunt Nancy, and a discussion of recipes and flavor possibilities.

We tossed around several ideas, then niece asked if I still had passion fruit puree in the freezer. (She knew I'd bought 2 packages when shopping for the White Gold Passion Genoise.) Yes, indeed, it was still there. I mentioned ButterYum's Lemon Curd ice cream (curd and cream mixed and frozen), and tossed out the possibility of passion fruit curd ice cream. That sounds very promising, but niece wanted quicker gratification than she'd get if we had to make curd. So, we pulled out a recipe of my mother's for Orange Cream Sherbert (a favorite from my childhood on), defrosted the passion fruit puree, and just substituted it for the orange juice in the recipe.

Oh, that was inspired. It's a really lovely blend of flavors--tangier than the orange version, intense but not too, and easy. I'll try the passion fruit curd ice cream sometime, too, but this one is a lot easier if you don't have curd already made.

Passion fruitPassion fruitI'd bought a single passion fruit at the farmer's market ($2.69 for one golf-ball size fruit!), and we spooned some pulp over each dish of ice cream after we'd tasted the ice cream solo. Very nice...the seeds in the pulp give a nice crunch.

Passion Fruit Cream Sherbert

(Makes about 3 cups--fits the capacity of The Folks Next Door's ice cream canister--thus the odd amounts. My ice cream canister holds a pint, and the amounts are a little more even for that.)

1/2 cup + 2 T. sugar
3/4 cup passion fruit puree (not concentrate)
1 cup milk (whole is nice, but it will work with skim)
1/2 cup whipping cream
a pinch of salt

Mix passion fruit puree and sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add milk and cream gradually, then add salt. Freeze and serve.

Monday, March 8, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Apricot Ginger Roll with Lacquer Glaze

Chocolate Ginger RollI do like apricots with chocolate, but I like ginger with chocolate more. When I ran across the jar of Trader Joe's Ginger Spread (basically a ginger jam) in my fridge last week, it just called out to me to be used in this week's cake. Chocolate Ginger RollChocolate & apricot will have to come along later. Let me also say that I had already decided to skip the levkar and buy preserves, as life is just a little too hectic right now. I needed the shortcut.

So, that decision made, and also having resolved to make the cake at least 24 hours in advance of serving it so that I could skip the syrup, the 5 component recipe was down to 3: cake, ganache, and the lacquer glaze. Only the glaze was unfamiliar territory. Chocolate Ginger Roll The cake-baking went smoothly, except for that little incident with the plastic wrapper from the top of the vanilla. I pried it up with the end of my scissors, and it snapped off. I found one piece on the counter, and didn't notice that other piece until I spread the cake batter in the half sheet pan and a little coil stuck up. Good thing it was a week for an inch-high pan!

The rolling of the cake also went smoothly, assisted by the use of a silicone baking mat--I'm really glad to skip the flipping of a large, flat, hot cake onto a towel, and instead slide liner and cake out of the pan and roll them up together.

Chocolate Ginger RollChocolate Ginger RollI made the ganache (mmmm....Scharffen Berger) before the cake to give it time to cool, so once the cake was cool I was ready to make the roll. I stirred up the ginger spread to loosen it up, but probably could have added a tablespoon of water or liqueur, as it was a little stiff and I snagged my cake in a couple of places. The ganache went over it easily, and then I rolled it all together and wrapped it in plastic wrap to store overnight.

The next evening I made the lacquer glaze. I almost forgot to spread the last bits of ganache over the cake roll as a crumb coat--I didn't have three tablespoons left after weighing out 257 grams for the filling, so my crumb coat only extended about half-way down the sides of my cake. Chocolate Ginger RollThanks to juggling the preparation of the entree for dinner and baking a challah at the same time as the glazing operation, the glaze was a little too cool and didn't flow as smoothly as I'd hoped. I had to help it along to cover the underside curves of the cake, and that poor decision to go back and pour a little more on top to try to cover one end more thoroughly just created a little blob and a seam. Still and all, the glazed cake was quite pretty. Not a mirror surface, but shiny. Had presentation been critical, I'd have gotten out my hair dryer and tried Rose's trick for reviving glaze that had been refrigerated.

[Younger niece wandered in at the crisis point of the glazing, having called to ask if she could come over to talk about ice cream. (There'll be a post later on the results of that conversation.) As soon as she stepped in the kitchen I commanded her to grab a thermometer and check the temperature of the challah, pull it out of the oven, then put in the pans of lemon chicken that were ready to go in. As she handled all that, I was checking the temperature of the glaze and pouring it over the cake. Niece took payment for her efforts with a taste of the glaze, which she declared tasted like Jello pudding. I must say I have to agree--is it the cocoa? However, once the entire cake is together, the Jello pudding resemblance was not noticeable.]

Chocolate Ginger RollTasting comments: younger niece liked it and mentioned the contrast of textures of cake and ganache. Older niece liked it. Nephew found the ginger too strong, calling it bitter. I liked the chocolate and ginger combo, but thought it just didn't all come together well with the cake. I was eating first a ribbon of ganache, then cake, and back to ganache, not "chocolate ginger cake roll".

At the office, a couple of people also found the ginger a little too in your face, but A- came looking for me to say that was the best cake he'd had, ever. However, most reactions were on the lines of "good, not great".

So, a fancy cake in presentation, but not a rave for flavor. If I were doing it again I'd go for the apricot filling or perhaps a less assertive ginger spread, but as the overall effect was so-so I suspect this one won't get made a second time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

RHC: Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream Cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream CakeMmmmm....lemon. Crunchy poppy seeds. Butter cake with sour cream. Lovely. And a chance to use my new Heritage Bundt pan, bought after Raymond enticed us all with pictures of his Whipped Cream Cake made in one.

I failed to remember the camera until the cake was in the oven, so no process pictures this week. I think I'll use that as an excuse to go very lightly on the baking write-up, too, and as this is an easy cake I don't have a lot to say about it anyway. Perhaps the most notable step was the grating of a large pile of lemon zest, which gives a good indication of how easy it is. While the cake was baking, I made the lemon syrup in the microwave as directed, and then brushed the cake with it while hot from the oven. Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream Cake The smell of the lemony cake hit one of those sensory memories for me--there's a crisp little cookie I make with lemon and wheat germ, and the cake smelled just like it. The memory was made a little more poignant because I was also working on paperwork for my father's estate that evening, and that little wheat-germ cookie was one of his favorites.

Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream CakeTaste results: only the kids next door had cake this week, as my sister-in-law is on a rigid diet plan for the next few months and my brother worked late that evening and missed the cake cutting. Older niece gave a silent thumbs up. Younger niece liked the texture, specifically the poppy seed crunch, and also the lemon flavor. Nephew liked the taste and that it wasn't too sweet. Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream CakeI really liked flavor and texture, though again (a common refrain from me) I think I'd have preferred the cake itself to be just a little richer. I guess that would affect the great crumb, though.

Co-workers who got a piece all liked it, commenting especially on the great lemon flavor, the syrup-infused zones that added a just the right touch of extra flavor and sweetness, and again, the lovely crunch of the poppy seeds. A winner all round.