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.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

RHC: Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava Cakes

Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava CakesRose's version of the "molten lava" chocolate cake is a flourless chocolate cakelet with a ball of ganache placed in the center of the batter before baking to produce the "lava" effect. My previous experience with a molten lava cake used the single-stage "underbaked cake" approach, which I had no trouble with that I recall and which is a good bit simpler. I'll have to do a direct comparison some time to see if the extra trouble in this recipe is worth it. It's really pretty hard to go wrong with a molten lava cake (as long as you do get the molten effect) in my book.

Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava CakesMolten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava CakesFirst up was making the balls of ganache by pouring the hot ganache into the cups of an egg carton, lined with plastic wrap. Theoretically the ganache would then harden enough to be handled--in actuality the ganache stayed quite soft, and was hard to roll into balls even using the plastic wrap to push. I ended up forming the balls, or maybe "globs" is a better term, as I put them into the cake batter...especially after I realized I was 2 short, one from mis-counting, and one because I had even more batter. Well, sort of miscounting--there's some recipe confusion here too. The overall note says the recipe yield is nine 3-oz. cupcakes or seven 4-oz. cupcakes. The subsection for the ganache centers makes 8 tablespoons, meaning a total volume, as the instructions do say to pour the ganache into 9 cavities. I missed that, however, and apparently picked up the 8 tablespoons and prepared that many globs.

Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava CakesOn to the cake itself: I had 5 3-oz. brioche tins (not silicon), 2 slightly larger ones, then had to fall back to silicone muffin cups for the remaining cakelets. The cake batter uses chocolate (62%), cocoa powder, and butter melted together. You whisk in a mixture of the egg yolks and crème fraîche, then a little egg white, then fold in the rest of the egg whites which have been beaten to a stiff peak with some sugar added. It did take me 4 eggs, not 3 plus an extra white, to get the specified weights of egg and yolk. I don't always decided to check, but when I do (and when it's an egg-heavy recipe), I'll need to add more egg yolk to get the specified amount.

My (10, not 9) little molds were on the edge of over-filled. The balls of ganache were placed on top and not pushed down, as instructed (so that wasn't a contributor to the overfilling, at least not at the start). The baked cakelets rose out of the pan (that was the "soufflé" part <g>) and the edges almost burned in about 12 minutes. The recipe said 10 minutes for the 3-oz. tins and 14 for 4-ounce muffin cups, but for silicone molds--I should have checked on my metal pans earlier. I expected the ganache to sink and become invisible, but instead I had deep pits in most of the cakelets. Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes In only two, I think, did the batter mostly close over the ganache. In the end, the "lava" didn't seem to run out of the holes on re-heating, so the pits were not a problem.

In another complexity over the other recipe I've made, the cakelets are cooled after baking and refrigerated. Then each cake is microwaved individually just before serving to re-heat the center and let it flow--an advantage if it's not convenient to serve the cakes straight from the oven. I served them with a small scoop of ice cream to offset the intensity of the dark chocolate.

Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Lava CakesTasting opinions: It was unanimous--these are really good, and a nice serving size for our tastes without any adjustment except the bonus 10th cakelet. I do want to try my other recipe again before too long and compare the results to see if the extra trouble on this one was worth it--it's not a very involved recipe (especially compare to the charlotte or the pineapple pudding cakes), but if the simpler approach suits us as well as this one, we'll go with simpler.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quick White Bean and Collard Green Gratin

Quick White Bean and Collard Green GratinI think it was a mention on 101 Cookbooks that sent me to the Amazon 'look inside' feature of Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill for this recipe--I had it printed out and in my huge notebook of recipes to try. I ended up making a rather bastardized version of the original, but it was very good and (in my simplified approach) not hard to throw together. I added about an 8" piece of chorizo that emerged from my freezer when I went looking for something in the "ham, sausage, etc" line as called for, but number of sausages or a little ham would lend their own character to this. The chorizo gave a spicy punch to what could have been on the bland side. If I use a different sausage next time I'll make sure it's a spicy one, or else add some spice separately--maybe smoked paprika would be good.

The beans-and-greens combination is almost creamy, at least at the moisture level I used, and the panko-cheese-olive oil topping gives a crunchy contrast. I think this one will end up in my comfort food repertoire.

Quick White Bean and Collard Green Gratin
heavily modified from Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill

Quick White Bean and Collard Green Gratin4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cans lower-sodium collard greens, drained (I used Glory "Sensibly Seasoned" canned greens)
2 cans small white beans, drained and liquid reserved (I used Goya's descriptively labelled "Small White Beans")
1/4 -1/2 cup diced or chopped cooked ham hock, sausage, bacon or chorizo
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Extra virgin olive oil
1 rosemary sprig, leaves removed and finely chopped
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste (I skipped any additional salt, as the canned beans had plenty)
1/2 cup panko

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a 3-quart flat casserole, or a gratin dish, with cooking spray. (The original recipe called for rubbing the pan with another clove of garlic. Feel free--I never am convinced that I can taste any effect from this if there's other garlic in the recipe, and besides, I hate getting garlic all over my fingers.)
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion & bell pepper and saute till tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a minute. Set aside.
Put the drained beans and collards in a large mixing bowl and toss to mix them well. Add the chopped meat, the sauteed vegetables, half the cheese, a splash of olive oil, the rosemary, and salt and pepper. Mix gently and adjust seasoning. Add some of the bean liquid for extra moisture if needed.
Spread the mixture in the prepared dish. Top with the rest of the cheese, bread crumbs, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or till top is golden and crusty.
Serves 8-10 as a side, 4-5 as an entree.Quick White Bean and Collard Green Gratin

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

RHC: Yellow Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate-Egg White Buttercream, and Chocolate Tomato Cake, round 2

Yellow Butter CupcakesAlong with an official cake-of-the-week (not the very time-consuming Pineapple Pudding Cake, I hasten to add--I'm baking a couple of weeks ahead to allow for my end of the month vacation trip) I baked for the neighborhood block party last weekend. The neighborhood association provided barbecued pork and chicken and asked everyone to bring a side. Gee, I think I'll bake something! The butter cupcakes with chocolate buttercream seemed like a good option (Marie did these very early on, in May of 2009), maybe as mini-cupcakes to be bite-sized. Then there's the cakewalk, a tradition at our block parties--I had a partial can of the pirouette cookies around from the chocolate tomato cake, and that cake with the fancy presentation seemed likely to be a hit for the cake walk even if the cookies were too much for my family's tastes.

Both of these recipes are butter cakes, so the mixing process was very similar. The cupcakes use sour cream instead of the tomato soup, and of course leave out the cocoa, but otherwise I felt like I was making the same recipe twice. I again did a 6" cake of the tomato cake--I didn't want to have to buy two more cans of those cookies, and I also have some sympathy for the parents whose child comes home with a huge cake...or two (either multiple children, or one child with multiple cakes). Oh, and if you recall my post on the tomato cake, you'll not be surprised that I went with a plain ganache, sans tomato soup.

Yellow Butter CupcakesI overfilled my mini-cupcake liners and got flat-topped mushroom cakes. Oddly, the bottom of the cupcake liners felt empty, and in fact there seemed to be airspace under the cupcakes even though there were crumbs on the bottom of the liner. My guess is that as the cakes shrank on cooling, the cake pulled up from the bottom. Very odd...

The chocolate egg white buttercream was not quite so easy. It took a long time to get to anything resembling stiff peaks in the meringue, but it finally got there (or close enough). Then I started adding the butter a tablespoon at a time, and halfway through got the dreaded curdled appearance. Turned up the mixer to high as the recipe instructs...and the mixture got really curdled. However, persistence paid off, and eventually the mixture went smooth again and I could finish adding the butter, then the melted chocolate. By then my energy had flagged, so I squished the buttercream into a large decorating bag with a large star tip, and squeezed out a blob of icing onto each mini cupcake. Good enough.

Chocolate Tomato Cake #2The cupcakes went over well, even though I got the first batch a little too brown. At a bite or two of cake, max, and a healthy blob of buttercream, no problems with dryness were apparent. They didn't outcompete the homemade brownies in the dessert array but were doing a lot better than the platter of grocery deli counter cookies.

The tomato cake decorated with cookies (and red 'candle flames' this time!) was picked second in the cake walk--the first pick, made by a 7 or 8 year old, was a grocery store cake with LOTS of sprinkles. Can't beat the sprinkles!

Monday, October 4, 2010

RHC: Caramelized Pineapple Pudding Cakes

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesThis week's cake-of-the-week is another very long recipe--if you count in the brioche pages, it rivals the charlotte. This recipe, however, was a little easier to take in stages, and in fact had some of that built in.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesI made the brioche the week ahead and froze it. No difficulties there (I bake bread regularly, so no yeast trauma or anything)--as the recipe says, it's a nicely behaved dough. It seemed a little odd to not be making the classic brioche shape with the little topknots, though. I allowed myself one piece of the warm loaf (yum!) before I let it cool and got it into the freezer.

To start on the pudding cakes, then, the first step was to defrost the bread, cut an approximate chunk, and remove the crusts before weighing out the required 200 grams. It then needed to dry out some for better absorbing of the crème anglaise. I started that process at room temperature, and at the end helped it along in a low oven. I managed one lovely breakfast of brioche french toast with part of the leftover bread before the rest was snagged by older niece for a sandwich. It's bad to be reminded how lovely homemade brioche is and how easy it is to make, when it's also so high-calorie. At least when you're trying to get your weight back down. If I could just be sure that the nieces would abscond with most of the loaf, I'd make brioche more often.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesNext up was the crème anglaise, a thin custard sauce that I'm not sure I'd made before, though I've made similar custards. The crème anglaise got poured into a flat dish, then the dried bread cubes were sprinkled over it to soak overnight. Here was another nice break point for the long recipe.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesThe next morning I started on the caramel and the pineapple. (I had peeled and quartered the pineapple the night before as another means of spreading out the effort.) Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesFirst thing was to figure out which dishes to use. I didn't have exactly the right size ramekins, so I went with a smaller size than called for and made 8 pudding cakes, not 6. With the ramekins at the ready, it was time to make a light caramel sauce by cooking sugar, then adding butter. This made far more caramel that I could imagine using even in my 8 dishes, so most of it was thrown out. The caramel layer that did go into the souffle dishes mostly stayed there--as I turned out the desserts, the pudding cake and the pineapple slices (mostly) came out, but the caramel crust remained. It also seemed very sugary and was hard--not the right texture to top the delicate pudding cake and roasted pineapple. Should it have made a liquid caramel sauce and poured out over the puddings? Oh well, I left it in the dishes and we didn't miss it--the pineapple topping was all that was needed. (And I see that most of the other HCBs had similar problems, leading to the conclusion that perhaps something's not right in the recipe.)

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesRoasting the pineapple involved making another caramel, this time with turbinado sugar and using a skillet that would eventually hold the pineapple pieces. When the caramel reached the correct temperature, in went a can of pineapple juice and 2 pineapple quarters. That got stirred around, then the whole thing went in the oven to roast until the sauce was reduced and the pineapple was soft. Let me just say that the roasted pineapple alone would make a lovely dessert, perhaps cutting back on the amount of caramel roasting sauce--there was more than was needed to baste the pineapple and later to garnish the finished cakes.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesThe pineapple came out of the oven and was cooled, then sliced thinly to make a decorative layer (to become the top once the cakes were turned out) in the ramekins. Then in went the brioche soaked in crème anglaise, and the dishes went into the oven in a water bath.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesI needed to hold these half a day, so I cooled them on a rack once the baking time was over, then put them into the fridge. Reheated in a water bath, the cakes rose a little above the edges of the dishes, perhaps because I got a full foil cover over them the second time around, perhaps because they just cooked more. (The recipe said 'tent with foil' and I'd used a loose sheet during the initial baking.)

The little remaining crème anglaise (only a quarter cup, not the half Rose mentioned) was cooked until slightly thickened. The cakes unmolded without problems except for the aforementioned caramel crusts, then were garnished with leftover roasted pineapple and drizzled with a little crème anglaise and some leftover roasting juices from the pineapple.

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding CakesAll in all, the pineapple pudding cakes are a very nice dessert, and might be possible (with some shortcuts) to make again. The smaller size (especially with more roasted pineapple on the side) was just right for us. Younger niece (who'd been looking ahead at this recipe and thought she wouldn't like it at all) tried a small bite, and pronounced it as not having much of a flavor. A few minutes later, as the rest of us praised the flavor combination, she took another bite from her father's serving. Another 5 minutes or so and she asked me to get her a full cake. I suspect none of us would have picked this recipe out of the book as something we'd really like, but there certainly were no bites of cake left on the plates at the tasting.