Monday, August 30, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel GanacheHey, I'm not traveling this week for a change. Last week I was in Ohio, but came home Thursday night and was able to bake on Friday, my preferred cake-of-the-week baking slot. This week looked like a winner just from the title, and indeed it was. The cake itself is a chocolate butter cake made with cocoa, and a little oil to supplement the butter for, Rose says, a finer, moister crumb. Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel GanacheIt makes a single layer in a 9x2" pan, and that cake is then split in two to get the layers. The 2" depth was way more than my cake needed, though--an old-style 1-1/2" would have been fine, for my cake was, um, not very tall. I'm looking forward to seeing how the other HCB cakes turned out to see if mine was atypical.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel GanacheHowever, flat or no, the cake itself wasn't important. It was indeed fine-crumbed and seemed moist and not overly dense, so maybe I was in the normal range for this cake. The caramel ganache, though, that's what's important, as it makes the cake. You caramelize sugar to 'deep amber' color--mine was a little deeper than I'd normally have risked thanks to a moment's inattention, and that was all to the good. Pour in heated cream and let it bubble up, stir until smooth, then stir in some butter. Now, pour that hot caramel over chopped unsweetened chocolate to make a ganache. I used Scharffen Berger chocolate, which is wonderful stuff. Pulse in a little vanilla, then let the whole thing cool until it's a spreadable frosting. I did resort to a little time in the fridge to firm it up, thanks as usual to my warm kitchen. Composing the cake just took splitting the cake then spreading with the ganache.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel GanacheResults: a winner all round. The cake was, well, there, but no one much noticed because the ganache stole the show. The caramel and unsweetened chocolate combination was just right, dark and sweet and caramel-ly. I forsee lots of use of this ganache for other cakes in the future. Younger niece forbade me to take the rest of the cake to the office, which I'm going to ignore--though I did save a second round for the kids before I wrapped up the rest. Older niece said "really good", and everyone else, including me, mostly just said "Yum".

Monday, August 23, 2010

RHC: Marionberry Shortcake

Blackberry ShortcakeOr not Marionberry, but Blackberry Shortcake. I've never seen marionberries in a store, fresh or frozen, though admittedly I never was looking for them specifically until this week. Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, and the large farmer's market had no marionberries. Perhaps the line "available in supermarket frozen food sections across the country throughout the year" doesn't apply to Atlanta. Or maybe all the marionberries have been snapped up by other shoppers before I got there.

Failing to find frozen (or fresh) marionberries led me to my mistake-of-the-week: I forgot the explanation in the recipe introduction that only marionberries retain their texture after freezing, so only fresh berries should be used as a substitute. I bought frozen blackberries, and that was not a great choice. I should have checked out the fresh berries and gotten whatever was nice and flavorful.

The "shortcake" is actually a génoise baked in individual maryann pans. My maryann pan is a vintage affair taken from my parents' house years ago, and I do like having a chance to use it. The cakelets have a little depression on top to hold the berries for a shortcake--nice enough, but I really prefer a biscuit-style shortcake like the Buttermilk-Almond Biscuits from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. I'm more looking forward to the RHC recipe that fills that little depression with chocolate.

Here's how the Marionberry/Blackberry Shortcake comes together: the génoise cakelets, made with browned butter, are baked and cooled. The frozen berries are tossed with sugar and defrosted to get a syrup. The cakelets are brushed with the syrup, then the berries are piled on top. The whole affair is topped with lightly sweetened and whipped crème fraîche.

Tasting results: Sister-in-law gave it a pass as too much sugar. Younger niece and the nephew tasted the crème fraîche separately and opted for the cake and berries without it, then found the results too sweet. Niece also really disliked the way the frozen blackberries had broken down in the sugaring and defrosting steps, and thought the results were like jam. My brother and I and older niece all had the version with crème fraîche, and found it not too sweet at all--the crème fraîche gave just the right tang to offset the sweet berries and cake. I'd certainly have preferred to have more texture in the berries, but now that I've realized my mistake, I can make the recipe with fresh seasonal berries. Or maybe those elusive marionberries will show up in the freezer case sometime.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

RHC: Plum Round Ingots

Plum Round IngotsDid you think all the traveling had scrambled my brain, and I forgot what the cake-of-the-week was for the Heavenly Cakes bakealong? No, no, my post on the Marionberry Shortcake will come along tomorrow. However, travel = stress for me, and cooking = stress relief. I got back from Albuquerque Friday and leave for Ohio on Tuesday--it was a two-cake weekend, in other words.

My baking of the Plum Round Ingots, baked by Marie in July 2009, just fell into place. I had extra plums in the fridge after the search for greengage plums (I found green ones if not greengage, so these purple plums weren't needed for the Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte). This week's recipe needed browned butter, and it's easy to make enough for 2 recipes or more. I toasted the almonds after the shortcakes came out of the oven. And I had egg whites in the freezer from some other cake recipe that only needed yolks. To top it off, the batter is mixed up in the food processor--this almost qualifies for the easy list.

The Plum Ingots are financiers, buttery little cakes with ground almonds in the batter. For this version, toasted sliced almonds, powdered sugar, cake flour, and a little salt are thrown in the food processor and zapped until the almonds are ground. In go some egg whites to be pulsed into the mix, then the hot browned butter is slowly added while pulsing some more. Add in a little vanilla, then the batter is ready to rest in the fridge overnight.

After the resting period, the batter is portioned out into tartlet pans. The recipe calls for 3-7/8" pans, but I only have 3 of that size, not the 6 needed. I do have 6 slightly smaller pans, so I made one 3-7/8" cake and 6 smaller ones. Then came the artistic part, handled almost completely by my younger niece. I sliced plums into thin slices, and she arranged the slices in the batter in a rose-petal pattern. The cakelets bake and the batter puffs around the plum slices, making a very pretty effect.

Taste testing: all very positive from everyone but older niece, who saved hers for later. The almond flavor nicely complements the plums, and the texture of the cake is lovely with the little bit of chew from the ground almonds. No complaints about "too sweet" or "too dry", either! We might make this one again in even smaller tartlet pans, getting them down to 2-bite size or so. They'd make a very pretty dessert for a summer party.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Feather Bed

Chocolate Feather BedCake of the week for the Heavenly Cake Bake-along is the Chocolate Feather Bed, made of thin flourless chocolate cake layers with whipped ganache, or in my case, the suggested alternative of stabilized whipped cream. I was short on baking time again this weekend, again because of an upcoming business trip, this time to Albuquerque, NM.

I again did a half-size version (I think I've done half sizes for nearly half the cakes--must count up some time), which is very nice for this cake. The thin layers are baked in a half sheet pan, and for those of us with a single, regular sized oven, that would mean two rounds of baking to make the full cake. Granted, the thin layer bakes quickly, but I was glad to only have to do one round of melting chocolate, beating egg yolks with sugar until fluffy, mixing in the chocolate, then making a meringue in a separate bowl to be folded in.

The stabilized whipped cream actually gave me more problems, though less than dealing with the tricky temperature requirements of the ganache, I think. The stabilization is done with gelatin, so the first step is heating part of the cream with powdered sugar and the gelatin. That mixture is then cooled to room temperature. The rest of the cream is whipped to soft peaks, then the gelatin mixture is dribbled in and the mixture taken to stiff peaks. Well, my gelatin mixture set up past the 'dribble-able' stage very quickly, and I had to re-warm it to melt the gelatin again. Then the whole mixture also set up very quickly once the gelatin was added. At first I thought I had lumps of gelatin, or maybe butter, in my mixture, but no. It was just very stiff, and less fluffy. As I started composing the cake, I quickly found out that I had a good bit less yield than the expected 2 cups and I had to cut back on the amount spread on each layer. The texture was noticeably different than plain whipped cream--both my brother and sister-in-law asked about it, unprompted.

One more thing on the whipped cream: here's another place where I miss the "why" parts from other of Rose's cookbooks. Why bring the cream/sugar/gelatin to a boil? Is it to melt the gelatin? Some other reaction? That would have helped me decide when to take it off the heat, instead of waiting for a clear boil and perhaps overdoing it. I should have pulled out one of those other books...looks like all that's needed is to melt the gelatin.

As my timing worked out, I refrigerated the cake overnight before composing the cake. I also popped it into the freezer for a few minutes before I started, warned by the recipe of the fragility of the cake. All that must have helped, as I really didn't have problems trimming the cake into 4 rectangles, then spreading each with a thin layer of the stabilized whipped cream before stacking the next layer on top.

The last step was to make chocolate curls for the top, a process that covered my hands in 62% Scharffen Berger chocolate (oh, horror!) but gave a very nice finish to the cake.

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Chocolate Feather BedTasting comments: Everyone liked this one--that's two unanimous hits in a row. Sister-in-law went straight to "can this be a Passover cake, as it's flourless?", and loved the light texture and good chocolate flavor. Older niece, who always answers the question "would you like some cake of the week?" with "is it chocolate?", said "It's good". I asked "Chocolate equals good?", and got back "Pretty much." Younger niece wanted the ganache version (more chocolate...), but still liked it with the whipped cream. She thought the chocolate curls were a distraction from the light texture and would have left them off, though. Nephew liked it, but joined his sister's dislike of the chocolate curls. My brother and I both felt it was good, but not a knock-out. I couldn't help making a comparison to the classic "zebra pie", made of Famous Chocolate Wafers spread with sweetened whipped cream. A cut above, certainly, but the thin layers of chocolate and whipped cream brought back memories of zebra pie in my grandmother's kitchen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

RHC: Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte

Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down TorteCake of the Week was from the "easy list" in the back of Rose's Heavenly Cakes, and I was very grateful for it. Baking time is a little short right now--I was in San Diego last week, and I leave for Albuquerque next Sunday. (I'm also about 6 weeks behind on my fellow Heavenly Cake Bakers' blog posts, though I hope to catch up with everyone's doings before too long. Maybe in September...)

This Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte is indeed easy, with the most difficult part of the baking being a caramel. The most difficult non-baking part would be finding the recommended greengage plums, which I failed to turn up in any of the places I go for more exotic or upscale produce in Atlanta. I even looked while in San Diego, in case southern California ran to such things when Atlanta did not, but no. Red plums, black, green, purple, but no greengage. I ended up with a green plum variety and a red plum, and used the green ones. I suspect my palate couldn't tell the difference once baked up with the cake anyway.

The cake process is in three stages: make a caramel and pour it in the cake pan. Arrange the plums on top, then spread lots of blueberries over the plums. Then make a quick butter cake batter in the food processor (dry stuff first, blend in butter, then add eggs and vanilla and zap until mixed) and dollop that over the fruit, smooth it out, and bake.

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The cake is turned out to give the "upside down" fruit topping, and Rose recommends baking it a day ahead to let it moisten evenly. Hard though it was when the smell of the warm fruit was wafting through the kitchen, that's what I did, so I baked on Saturday and we cut the cake on Sunday evening.

Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down TorteTaste results: a hit all round. I made a little whipped cream to serve with it, but even without I think this would be a favorite. Sister-in-law inadvertently ate one bite of cake alone and found it dry, but my brother felt the cake was just what was wanted to go with its fruit topping, or for a stand-alone shortcake treatment, perhaps. The kids all requested that I save another piece for them instead of taking it all to the office. I did take the remains to the office, and it got more praises there. I'll definitely make this one again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

RHC: Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue CakeWe'll see if I can manage a coherent writeup of this week's cake--I baked the cake Thursday, composed it on Friday, and flew from Atlanta to San Diego on Saturday. Between the time zone change (3 hours), the temperature shift (20 degrees (F) or more), and a full day of sightseeing, details on the cake may have been lost. Oh, well, the extra days in San Diego before my meeting starts on Tuesday are worth it--such a lovely city, many many things to see, and wonderful weather.

This week's cake is Rose's interpretation of lemon meringue pie, as a cake. I wasn't expecting this one to suit many people in my family--it's not chocolate, has a pile of meringue (traditionally very sweet)--the only positive for most of them is the lemon. On the other hand, lemon is a real favorite, behind chocolate.

Lemon Meringue CakeStill and all, I opted to do a half recipe, so I brought out the 6" cake pans. Again considering family tastes I cut the (half) meringue recipe by a third to get a good layer of meringue but not the tall pillow that the full recipe would have made. My reduced version still had plenty, I thought. One nice touch was the addition of some lemon juice to the meringue, giving some lemon flavor to all the components of the cake. I also went with lemon curd from a jar.

Lemon Meringue CakeI slightly over baked the cakes, as they were pulling away from the sides of the pan at my first check. For this cake, though, that was no big deal as the cakes get a thorough moistening with lemon syrup as the cake is composed. My cakes were a little uneven so the stack looked vaguely topsy-turvy, the lemon curd was a little runny and bulged from between the cake layers, but the meringue covered all the sins.

Lemon Meringue CakeOne the meringue had been swirled over the cake, the directions were to put it in a 500 degree over for a few minutes until the meringue had browned. My oven was full at the time with a chicken pie (requested by the nephew upon his return from summer camp) and the weekly challah. Out came the propane torch, recently purchased for the making of creme brulee, as a substitute. I managed to not scorch the cake (probably left it a little light), and didn't set the cardboard round on fire either.

Lemon Meringue CakeTasting results: better than I expected. I liked it, and the small wedge from a 6" cake was just about the right amount to not cause sugar overload. Sister-in-law liked it, and she's normally very sensitive to the sweetness level of desserts--the lemon balanced the reduced amount of meringue very well, she thought. Older niece enjoyed it, though she was really jonesing for chocolate. Younger niece said the meringue tasted sort of like a lemon marshmallow (which I took as somewhat positive). She ate all of a very small slice, but in the end said she didn't like it. Nephew ate a full piece and echoed his sister that he didn't like it. <g>