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>