Sunday, September 26, 2010

RHC: Chocolate Tomato Cake with Mystery Ganache

Chocolate Tomato CakeThis week's cake is another of the many chocolate cakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Don't get me wrong, chocolate is a Very Good Thing, but this one seemed to go a bit far in looking for novelty in chocolate cakes. However, from the introductory text, the sequence was not "what odd thing can I do to chocolate cake", but "how can I put Campbell's soup into a cake, to mark a corporate anniversary". And so, Chocolate Tomato Cake with Mystery Ganache, containing Campbell's condensed (I assume--the recipe actually doesn't specify) tomato soup, added to both cake and ganache.

The cake is made with cocoa, and is a butter cake. It has a very thick batter and needs a little special handling to not dome excessively--Rose tells you to press the batter against the sides of the pan when spreading it out. Mine came out fine, though I perhaps underbaked slightly (still had a few crumbs on my cake testers when I pulled the layers out). I again did a half-size cake and was baking in 6" cake pans, so I watched the timing pretty carefully. Results: the moistest chocolate cake I've managed yet from RHC, and perhaps the moistest period if you leave out the Tres Leches. :) Adding veggies to cakes is pretty common as a technique for adding moisture at fairly low fat content, and this one really worked for me.

Chocolate Tomato Cake
Chocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato CakeChocolate Tomato Cake

The ganache, however, was less successful. A little additional canned tomato soup was added to the cream and chocolate, to give what Rose describes as a tang and presumably also for an added bonus for the Campbell's birthday. I can live with "tang" as a description of the taste, but everyone in my family found it an objectionable sort of tang. My brother said he could taste the tomato only on some bites, but that perhaps that was because he had been told the mystery ingredient--nonetheless, he was not a fan of the ganache. I'm not sure I would have been able to identify the taste as tomato, but it was odd and unpleasant. At the end of our taste-testing, the plates had little piles of peeled off ganache and (at least on mine and some others) the Pirouette cookies. When even the two teenage chocoholics leave ganache on their plates, something is off. After a quick look at the early posters from the HCB, I'm really surprised to see that no one else found the ganache to be objectionable. Did I have super-strength Campbell's soup??!

Let me digress on the cookies, now that I've mentioned them. I rarely buy cookies these days, and when I read the recipe I thought I knew what the Pirouette cookies were--lovely crisp cookies rolled into a hollow tube. I was upset to find that today's Pepperidge Farm Pirouette cookies are much larger than my memory, are all filled with some variety of flavored cream-like substance, and more resemble a baton than the crisp little cookie I recall. I don't find that this adds anything positive to the cookie at all...but then, I don't buy cookies often enough for Pepperidge Farm to care what I think. The main thing to note from a decorating standpoint, I guess, is that the vanilla-filled cookies are lighter in color and give a better contrast to the dark ganache than the "chocolate fudge" ones I used. And maybe that unless you really like the new-style Pirouette cookies, this cake would be better without them. They give a cool effect, but as I mentioned above, we mostly left them on the plate.

Chocolate Tomato CakeThe finishing touch for the cookies was supposed to be little icing flames on the top of each one. I didn't have any premade frosting tubes on hand, having pitched my old collection a while back when I realize how old some of them were. Sister-in-law's one tube of red was too stiff, so I decided it looked fine without.

Final note: we used about half of the 6" half-cake I baked for the first round of tasting. I took the remains, threw away the cookies, and peeled off the tomato-tainted <g> ganache. Freshly frosted with a plain dark chocolate ganache, I had a very nice chocolate layer cake half with no strange flavor.

Monday, September 20, 2010

RHC: Apple Caramel Charlotte

Apple Caramel Charlotte7 pages of recipe...this one is not on the easy list, for sure. I tackled it in stages, but still found the process pretty exhausting.

I baked the biscuit the weekend before, got it cut into the required pieces, spread with the strained apricot preserves, and into the freezer. No real problems following the diagram to cut out an 8" circle and 4 long rectangles of biscuit, but I should have alternated ends when I was spreading on apricot preserves and making my stack, as the not-completely-even-thickness of my biscuit was exaggerated by stacking 3 of the 4 layers the same way. I had one issue with the recipe: the "strained apricot preserves" recipe never says to strain the preserves--I'm guessing that an editor removed a line or two to not make this an 8-page recipe, and so you need to infer that you start with 1 cup of preserves, strain them, and end up with about 2/3 cup. The "recipe" starts off telling you to heat the strained preserves, skipping all that.

Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoApple Caramel Charlotte--process photoApple Caramel Charlotte--process photo

Next up, on Thursday night, was poaching the apples with their peel (to get a nice pink color). I got a nicely pink liquid, but somewhat splotchy colored apples. The final effect was nice, though, perhaps because I had plenty of apple slices and could pick and choose the prettier ones. I might have left the apples a tad undercooked despite paoching them a good bit longer than the given time. The charlotte was hard to serve as the knife sometimes dragged a slightly toothsome apple slice partly into the charlotte. Anyway, the apples were left to cool overnight in the fridge.

Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoApple Caramel Charlotte--process photoApple Caramel Charlotte--process photo

Friday was Charlotte Day: the rest of the recipe has to be done sequentially, as best I could tell, with no places to put stuff in the fridge or freezer and come back later (or not much, anyway). It took me all afternoon to get the charlotte into the mold--4-1/2 hours or so, with a little time out to make the weekly challah. I also dirtied more dishes than I can recall using on a single project, ever.

Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoFirst up was dealing with the cake shell, as it must be ready to receive the charlotte mixture. Slicing the semi-frozen stack of biscuit/apricot jam layer cake was not too difficult, but I made the mistake of lining up my slices in a long row (touching), then realized that I had to pick them up and place them vertically around the ring from my 9" springform pan. Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoOnce stuck together, though, the slices separate only by pulling the crust off the attached layer, and it was hard to get them back together without a noticeable defect. It was equally hard to pick up a 10-inch or so piece of striped cake pieces and get it over to the cake plate and into the ring without the whole thing falling apart. I moved some 6 inch sections into the pan without too much mess, but this effort perhaps explains why some of my vertical stripes of cake crust and apricot jam are a little wavy. Call it an "artistic effect", please.

Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoOn to the filling, with three major components: an apple caramel custard made from the apple poaching liquid, an Italian meringue (just call these my nemesis), and whipped cream. The caramel making was OK, though the caramel cooled and solidified while I grabbed for the hot apple-poaching liquid and then took forever to dissolve.Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photo No problems with the rest of the custard, or with the whipped cream. The Italian meringue, though.... We've made Italian meringue several times by now, and (unlike genoise) I still have trouble with it. Attempts with the stand mixer had resulted in globs of sugar syrup in the egg white, either from being flung on the sides of the bowl or not beaten in fast enough. Using a handheld mixer works somewhat better for me, except that I need at least 3 hands. Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoThis time was fairly typical--as I tried to add the sugar syrup slowly to the egg white without getting any in the beaters and while continuing to get the mixture evenly beaten, the syrup hardened in my glass measuring cup. Reheated in the microwave, only a quarter of the remaining syrup could be persuaded to flow and be added to the egg whites. A repeat microwaving didn't help. I finally decided it would be fine if the meringue was less sweet than intended given my family's preferences, and that it probably wouldn't make much difference structurally. I notice that it was the meringue making that stopped my photography, and I jumped from the custard to a shot of the finished charlotte mixture. No wonder!

Apple Caramel Charlotte--process photoHowever, the charlotte was finally glopped into the cake shell and smoothed out, then went into the fridge to firm up while I went next door for dinner. After dinner, I tackled the final steps: slicing the apples thinly, then arranging the slices atop the charlotte in a flower design, then making a glaze of the last bit of poaching liquid thickened with arrowroot and brushing it over the top. My apples were a little small, perhaps, and so when they were cored many slices were pretty thin in the middle. Still, by picking and choosing I got a reasonable flower look, brushed on the glaze, and went to bed. Long day...this was a lot of effort for a cake.

Apple Caramel CharlotteTaste results: It's a hit, though having heard my description of the steps involved, both younger niece and sister-in-law questioned whether it was worth it. Co-workers scarfed down the slices that went into the office on Monday and raved over the taste, in between asking "what is it?" I guess charlottes are no longer very common.

In summary, it's a beautiful presentation, no question about it, but I don't think I'll ever repeat this one as a whole. Younger niece would like the poached apples alone, I'd certainly use the filling in some other dish (but there are simpler recipes I like about as well), but the full apple caramel charlotte is going in the "glad I tried it, but won't repeat" camp.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RHC: Ganache-Covered German Chocolate Cake (free choice week)

German Chocolate CakeI actually baked this German Chocolate Cake the same week as the Gold Ingots, taking advantage of my college-age nephew coming to town for a football game to get another taste-tester for cake-of-the-week. The other advantage of his trip was to send lots of calories off with him when he left, especially as he was traveling with his two roommates. College-age males, or at least that subset of them, can afford the calories.

The cake part of the German Chocolate Cake is the same as we made for the ice-cream cake. It's an oil cake, not butter, for better texture when refrigerated (which the topping requires), and that also makes it easy to mix up. It also yields a disconcertingly thin batter, but luckily Rose warns about this in the recipe. All went smoothly with the mixing and baking, but I had a little trouble getting the cake out of the pan--a matter of coordination, not really an issue with the cake. One layer missed the rack a little and was damaged, but the crack was completely hidden with topping once the cake was finished. I'd already planned to make the option with ganache covering the sides of the cake for better storage, and the ganache also hid the damage on the sides.

Rose suggests the Dark Ganache from the True Orange Genoise recipe, which had given me problems when I made it back in February. No problems this time around, though--perhaps it was the different temperature in the kitchen, or more experience, or even that I didn't use the food processor this time and just poured hot cream over chopped chocolate in a bowl and stirred until it was smooth. I made the ganache well in advance of when I needed it, too, which probably also helped.

German Chocolate CakeGerman Chocolate CakeGerman Chocolate CakeGerman Chocolate CakeGerman Chocolate Cake

Then it was on to the topping, the critical part of German Chocolate Cake. A mixture of sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and butter is cooked until slightly thickened. a little too thick. Let's call it "stiff", even, once I had stirred in the coconut, pecans, and vanilla. I had to warm it slightly to be able to spread it on the cake after it had cooled, and it was a little hard to cut when just out of the fridge, but the taste was just fine.

German Chocolate CakeTasting results: Very well received. Younger niece would have liked more coconut flavor, but did like the caramelly tones of the topping. College-age nephew said "this is really good" repeatedly. Next-door nephew and older niece chowed down without much comment besides "this is good". My brother doesn't like coconut and sister-in-law is restarting her diet, so both of them skipped tasting this one.

I liked it as well. The chocolate cake is moist, the topping (if a little stiff on mine) is the classic sweet combination, but as it is limited to filling and topping it's not as overwhelmingly sweet as if the cake was completely covered with it. The dark ganache frosting on the sides also helped balance the sweet topping. Put this cake in the winner column.

Monday, September 6, 2010

RHC: Gold Ingots (Financiers Classiques)

Gold IngotsHaving made the Plum Round Ingots recently, the Gold Ingots this week means I have only one "financier-style" cakelet left to bake. The Plum Round Ingots effort also provided enough leftover browned butter to make the Gold Ingots, reducing this week's effort on an already pretty-easy cake.

Just as I did with the first financier recipes from Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I found the directions less than clear. The small "plan ahead" note says "make the batter at least 1 hour ahead", but the step-by-step directions are similar to other of the financiers and could be interpreted to mean that only the batter that doesn't fit into your first pan-full needs to be refrigerated for at least an hour. However, I know the trick now, and so did remember to put the batter in the pans and then refrigerate the whole shebang for an hour before baking.

I followed the instructions for the Plum Round Ingots and made these completely in the food processor. Once I had ground the toasted almonds and sugar, it seemed silly to move over to the KitchenAid mixer. Not having a side-by-side comparison to check, I'll just assume that the food processor method worked fine.

Taste results: A hit for everyone, but especially for those who are able to fully appreciate non-chocolate cakes. (That would be me and my brother, plus a different nephew--my older brother's younger son, in town for a college football game.) Nicely buttery, the browned butter flavor coming through, and that little crust that Rose mentions as a highlight of the genre, all this made for a lovely few mouthfuls. I had a second taste the next day, and found I really missed the crust--it had softened overnight.

If I have browned butter on hand, this cake definitely becomes easy and pretty quick--except for the hour of refrigerator time. I'll be making it again.

Gold IngotsGold IngotsGold Ingots