Monday, January 31, 2011

BBA #4: Brioche

BBA: BriocheThe BBA Challenge 2011 assignment for the week was brioche. I've made brioche before, I think as a food-processor recipe, but it's been years. Reinhart offers three versions, with different levels of richness (primarily butter content). I went with middle-class brioche, the one with a cup of butter, as opposed to 2 cups (rich man's) or 1/2 cup (poor man's). No matter which level you pick, brioche is pretty indulgent stuff.

BBA: BriocheClearly I need to work on my shaping methods for brioches à tête. Mine came out "brioches décapité", mostly (pardon my French). Part of that was maybe putting too much dough in the little tins, and maybe making the 'tête' too large. The larger part was certainly not getting the 2 pieces stuck together well enough. I used the technique I learned way back when: make the smaller piece into a teardrop shape, make a hole in the larger piece, and stick the pointy part of the teardrop in the hole. Well...that didn't work so well, and most of my heads ended up beside the bodies. Next time I'll try the one piece wrap-around and through method in the book.

I tried a few other experiments: I made 4 small cinnamon rolls with one piece of dough, using KA's cinnamon filling for convenience as I didn't have cinnamon-sugar mixed up and didn't want to add (more) butter in the filling anyway.

BBA: Brioche BBA: Brioche BBA: Brioche

I stuck a chunk of dark chocolate in 2 for Brioche au Chocolat--that was lovely, though I should have skipped the 'a tete' on those for better centering of the chocolate. And when I was all out of mini brioche tins and couldn't find my big one, I made the rest of the dough into a plain loaf which will become toast and/or bostock, the variety that's staled brioche with an almond-cream topping. Meanwhile, that loaf will go in the freezer. I let the loaf over-rise, I think, as I lost track of its timing--certainly the texture isn't as nicely fine-grained as the brioche a tete.

BBA: Brioche BBA: Brioche BBA: Brioche


BBA: Brioche BBA: Brioche

Baking notes: no problems with the dough. It appeared to be too wet at one point with part of the mixture in a layer over the sides of the mixer bowl and the rest on the paddle, but when I did a scrape-down and started up the mixer again, the dough came together and was more like a usual bread dough ball. It still needed another scrape-down or two, but it crossed the line from 'batter' to 'bread' at that point. I never needed to switch to the dough hook.

I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap (instead of using a plastic bag) and tucked it in the fridge overnight for the requisite chilling, but failed to remember that it would rise some--almost tilted a fridge shelf with the rise.

I overbaked all of 'em to too high a temperature. I forgot to set a timer on one batch, but have no excuse for the rest except not checking early enough. But you know, brioche is so rich this was not a big problem. I get to try again next week, as the Casatiello is a variation on brioche.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

RHC: Cradle Cake

Cradle CakeCake-of-the-week is a sort of gimmick cake, and harks back to the 1953 Pillsbury Bake-Off where it was a "Senior Third Prize Winner". A yellow butter cake is baked in a "cradle" of dacquoise, or meringue with chopped nuts and chocolate in it. In the original incarnation it was baked in a tube pan: Rose reduced the recipe to fit in a loaf pan, and used a buttermilk cake for the filling. (This blog has both an adaptation and the original recipe, and the recipe for Rose's version is on Serious Eats.)

The interior cake is a quick-and-easy buttermilk cake, but by adding in the dacquoise I had a mess of a kitchen at the end. There was the food processor for chopping chocolate and pecans, the KitchenAid mixer bowl with wire whip for the meringue, plus the other mixer bowl with beater blade for the cake batter. Add the other things cooking in the kitchen on Friday (the weekly whole-wheat dried-cherry challah, Latin chicken, and curried cauliflower flatbread), and the place was a mess of equipment and ingredients all afternoon. I need to spread out my cooking so Friday isn't a marathon session

For the dacquoise, I didn't pre-chop the chocolate enough and the mixture got damp and clumpy when chopped with the nuts. When I stopped for fear of ending up with chocolate-pecan butter, some small chocolate chunks were still present. I ended up hand chopping those, then re-chilled the mixture before folding it in to the meringue.

Cradle Cake Cradle Cake Cradle Cake Cradle Cake

[dacquoise-lined pan, batter filling the center, cake coming out of the oven, and cake turned out of the pan]

My non-stick metal loaf pan was the right capacity (7 cups). I sprayed with Baker's Joy then lined the bottom with parchment--but I wonder if it might have done better without the parchment lining. The cake came out of pan quite easily, but when I peeled the parchment off the bottom the meringue was still damp, whereas the sides were crisp. I notice on the original recipe there's a note to be sure to not underbake, and I wonder if getting the meringue to dry out is the reason. On one side of my cake the dacquoise broke and had a gap--looking back at my photos I think I didn't get the cake batter filled in against the dacquoise.

Cradle CakeTasting results:

Nephew: the meringue tastes like a brownie, and the cake is moist and has good flavor.

Older niece: reminds me of a Milano cookie--needs to be eaten with milk, just like Milanos do.

Younger niece: I see where the Milano and brownie comments came from--the brownie idea is because of the crunch of the meringue with the chocolate (probably from the drizzle). This is one of my favorites of the cakes.

Sister-in-law: good, but not a favorite. The meringue might have contributed too much sweetness for me.

Me: very nice combination, with the chocolate from the dacquoise and the drizzle glaze, the little crunch from the dacquoise, and a nice moist buttermilk cake in the middle. This one is going high on my list of favorites, too. However, I'm not sure I'd ever repeat it, as it was a lot of trouble to get that nice crunchy chocolate-pecan cradle.

Monday, January 24, 2011

TVP experiments: Chipotle Black Bean Burgers and Meatless Meatballs

Chipotle-black bean burgerThis was the first test of a new cookbook, Lukas Volger's Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, which I think I found via the Svelte Gourmand blog--it was some food blog or other of the list I read, anyway, and the Amazon reviews looked good, too. I'm always looking for ways to reduce the meat in my diet and not miss it (big carnivore here), and this looked like a possible option.

This first recipe was not an unqualified success. (The chipotle black bean burger is available in the Amazon "look inside" feature, so I'm not going to type it out.) First off, the oven temperature was omitted from the recipe--hitting a typo on your first shot is not a good sign. In a lot of the recipes Volger has you brown the burger on the stove first, then finish cooking it in the oven. The base of the recipe is a mix of reconstituted textured vegetable protein (TVP), cooked brown rice, and bread crumbs, with black beans, corn, and onion for character and chipotle peppers in adobo and lime juice for spice. I omitted the cilantro--I would have searched the garden to see if there was any usable parsley after our snow/sleet cover finally melted, but forgot. I did go the convenience route: canned black beans, brown rice in the pre-cooked bag (would have used Trader Joe's frozen, but I don't have any on hand), and panko.

These formed into patties without too much difficulty, and were pretty easy to brown and then move to the oven. I then had to hold them a little too long while waiting for sister-in-law's call that the rest of dinner was ready, and that probably contributed to my main problem with these: the brown rice was too hard, so the browned crust, instead of being a tasty bit, had these tough grains in it. Flavor-wise the burgers bordered on too spicy--I rounded up on the chipotltes, and should have stuck to the recommended amount. Without the cilantro (or a substitute), the peppers were the main flavoring, and it was a little one-note, I think. All in all, these were acceptable, but not great. I've got some other recipes marked to try, though!

Second TVP experiment was these Homemade Meatless Meatballs. Again some substitutions: I used smoked paprika instead of cumin, and dried basil instead of fresh. I've now got a container of browned meatballs in the fridge for quick meals--tonight's dinner was a handful of them with jarred marinara sauce on top. These are pretty good, overall. They're not going to fool anyone who's expecting ground beef or turkey, but the flavor is not bad, they hold together pretty well heated in a sauce, and are very low fat. I'll send some next door to see if anyone else finds 'em edible.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

RHC: Génoise Très Café

Lots of cooking and baking this weekend, thus this flurry of posts to document the results. I'm not sure that the black-bean chipotle burgers will get written up tonight...

Génoise Très CaféCake of the week is Génoise Très Café, or a sponge cake with coffee-coffee-coffee. Coffee in the cake batter, coffee in the syrup, and coffee in the whipped ganache frosting. My bottle of coffee extract got quite a workout. I added a fourth coffee touch with chocolate-covered coffee beans as decorations. Alas, despite the strong positive feelings towards coffee in my family, this cake got mediocre reviews because of my continuing problems with génoise.

I have made reasonable génoise, though usually not ones that achieve the heights RHC states they should. I beat the eggs for at least 5 minutes (usually just that long, as I'm afraid of overbeating), I fold the remaining ingredients in lightly and quickly, and....I get a not-so-tall génoise. This one, unfortunately, was downright dense, but with lots of other cooking to do I didn't make a second one. Perhaps I should stick to ladyfingers and biscuit, which are only supposed to be a half-inch or so high.

Génoise Très CaféI was again doing a half-recipe (despite our love of coffee, we do not generally love the génoise), and you can see that my baked cake is little more than half as high as the 2" cake pan sides. The syrup gave it moisture, but the texture looked more like a pound cake--not what you want in génoise. The autofocus didn't cooperate on my slice-of-cake picture, and I'll refrain from sticking in a thumbnail of it. Trust me, it was dense.

On the other hand, the light whipped ganache did much better for me than last time, perhaps because with the small quantity (a half recipe yields about a cup) I did it all by hand. I whipped very briefly--far less than the 3 minutes called for by machine--and had a lovely smooth mocha ganache just making soft peaks. Alas, it did indeed continue to thicken as I syruped my cake layer, and when I stirred the ganache to start the frosting process, I had an instantly grainy mess. At this point I wasn't putting more effort into it (hey, the ganache still tasted fine, and didn't have an objectionable mouth-feel), so I frosted away regardless.

I think I've already summarized the tasting comments: nice flavor (coffee!), but dense. I've got 3 more sponge cakes to bake from RHC, so perhaps I'll have some technique breakthrough with one of those and get a truly light génoise. No wait--one of those is the Orange-Glow Chiffon. Two more cracks at a génoise....I'll try to contain my excitement. :)

BBA #3: Bagels

BBA: bagelsThe BBA Challenge 2011 is on bread #3, bagels, this week. I've never tried my hand at bagels before, but have always been intrigued by the technique of boiling, then baking. These came off very well indeed, and I'll keep working on getting just the bagel I like from the process.

The dough was (unusually for bread!) just right as written--I used the stated amounts of flour and water without adjustment. The result is an extremely stiff dough, but satiny smooth. This time I did check both temperature and the windowpane test after machine kneading, and the dough was great. I made a half-recipe again, then made the bagels in an in-between size to get 9 from the half-recipe. I let mine cold-rise for the minimum time, and my test bagel floated immediately in cold water (and also the next day when boiling them--lots of yeast action in my bagels, I guess). I was surprised at how easy and fast the boiling process was. I guess I expected the risen bagels to take careful handling, but these are sturdy and could be picked up and dropped in the water without difficulty.

I boiled mine for 2 minutes a side in search of the very chewy bagels I remember from my first bagel experiences back in the mid-'70's when I moved to Atlanta for college and had a Jewish roommate. (Best I recall there were no bagels in south Georgia at that point. No good ones, certainly.) I eventually settled on a bagel bakery at Ansley Mall that had great bagels: dense, chewy, lots of flavor. That bakery is long gone, and I haven't found a substitute for the same style. Not that there aren't some good bagel bakeries in Altanta (and I got good bagels indeed on a trip to NYC a few years ago), but the general style of bagel has gone to a less-dense and often less-chewy version.

Toppings: My favorite is sesame, sister-in-law's is poppyseed. Chris's post sparked an attempt at asiago, as there just happened to be a chunk of asiago cheese in my fridge. Younger niece requested an everything bagel. "Everything", based on my pantry contents, turned out to be sesame seed, poppyseed, kosher salt, and reconstituted dried onion. No dried garlic chips in the house, so I sprinkled a little garlic power over the blend, too.

I used Rose's suggestion in The Bread Bible of an egg white wash to glue on my toppings. I'd be interested in a side-by-side comparison of the egg white wash vs. topping the bagel when it's damp from the boiling to see if one makes the topping stick better. Next time....

BBA: sesame bagelWarned by Chris's post about the very short stated baking time, I checked Rose's and found it bakes at 5 minutes at 500° (like Reinhart's), but then 20 minutes at 450. I tried Rose's timing on my first batch of 6, but thought those were a little overbaked. I found a blog note with Reinhart's suggestions for asiago cheese bagels (summary: bake 8 minutes at 500, rotate, then 8 minutes at 450), and that seemed about right for full-sized bagels. I'll cut back a minute or two next time I make my mid-sized version.

Tasting comments: Good bagels! Nephew and younger niece really liked the everything bagels, sister-in-law approved the poppyseed one, and I had an asiago one with lunch yesterday and a sesame seed one for breakfast. The texture is not as dense as my memory of that long-ago bagel, but these have good chew and a nice flavor. Definitely up for a repeat, and I'll be trying cinnamon-raisin with Reinhart's adaptation, too.

Edited to add the shot of a sliced bagel, and to note that last night sister-in-law said the kids would like the bagel supply moved to their house, as they'd eaten all I took over for tasting. Too bad, I was down to two, and those are breakfasts for me this week. Guess I'll make a full recipe next time...

Chocolate Passionfruit Tart

Chocolate Passionfruit TartsWith only a little hinting, younger niece chose a 'clipping' (printouts of web pages these days, mostly) from my recipes-to-try file for her birthday celebration: Chocolate Passionfruit Tarts. I was seduced by the beautiful photographs and by the flavor of passionfruit, discovered first by making Rose's White Gold Pasison Genoise. That was for younger niece's birthday last year, come to think of it.

Recipe description in pictures:

Chocolate Passionfruit Tarts
Make a chocolate pate sucre crust and pre-bake. Brush with egg-white glaze to seal.

Chocolate Passionfruit Tarts
Spread a thin layer of butter-enriched ganache in crusts.

Chocolate Passionfruit TartsMake a passionfruit mousse, let it cool, and fill tarts with it.

Notes: we all liked the flavors, but had various comments to try to improve it overall. First on the cooking side: I made a half recipe of the crust and ganache, but decided to make a full recipe of the mousse to use up more of the package of passionfruit puree. However, when I'd filled my tarts I had about an ounce of mousse left. Maybe my tart proportions made the volume difference (the recipe doesn't give a suggested tart size), but just be warned. I got 6 4-1/2" x 3/4" tartlets, one 3" or so, and 2 baby 2" tartlet from the crust scraps.

The biggest tartlets were too large for our preferred dessert serving size: on a repeat I'd go for the 3 or 3-1/2" size. The chocolate crust was difficult to work with even rolling it between 2 pieces of parchment--it's got a very high butter content and went from "too rigid to be worked" to "about to melt" in what seemed like seconds, needing frequent trips back to the fridge to chill. Younger niece wanted a higher ratio of ganache to mousse, and I think I agree with her. I suggested that we do a crustless version, even, with maybe a 1:2 ganache:mousse blend and maybe a dab of whipped cream on top. My brother would like a different crust, though, to keep the crunch but do better than the flavor in this one. Maybe a shortbread crust, or plain pate sucree. (I'm no great shakes at pate sucree or any pie crust...might improve by changing crusts, might not...)

Last note of possible improvement is that the passionfuit mousse is quite stiff. The recipe describes it as "passionfruit puree, sugar, butter, eggs, and a smidge of gelatin", but that smidge is really 3 teaspoons. I'll cut that back to 2 next time, trying for a softer and less jello-like texture.

Lots of critical comments above, but don't be turned off. These tarts are a really nice flavor combination, and are beautiful to boot.

White Chili with Cornbread

White Chili with CornbreadNew recipe, White Chili with Cornbread from the King Arthur Flour site.

Notes: It starts with cooked chicken, and the easy route was rotisserie chicken. It took one plus the breasts of a second to get the 5-1/2 c. OK, I might have had 6 cups in there, or maybe a little more. I skipped the fresh jalapeño pepper because I didn't want to deal with chopping it, cut the cumin back from 1 tablespoon to 1/2 teaspoon (I don't like cumin very well, but even so I think I will up to a full teaspoon next time). Skipped the cilantro in the cornbread--I *really* don't like cilantro. And skipped the sugar in the cornbread because, well, sugar in cornbread is an abomination. (Hey, born-and-bread Southerner here!)

My usual pan for this type of dish is a flat Pyrex, and my 3 qt./13"x9" isn't as deep as they called for. I moved up to the 4 qt. Pyrex, and that was right for the amount of chili and cornbread. The effect was about the same thickness of cornbread and chili--seemed nicely balanced to me. This is a personal thing, as younger niece was looking for more cornbread with her servings.

I skipped putting shredded cheese on top of the chili and under the cornbread, and instead sprinkled about 3/4 c. on top of the cornbread where it browned prettily. I think it would have been lost in the middle of the casserole, at least at the amount I'd have been willing to add, even if reduced fat. A big gooey layer of it would have been tastable, of course, but the calorie load....

Tasting results: this went over well. It was not spicy, and I think several of us would like to up that next time--add the jalapeño, certainly, and maybe move up one or more of the cans of mild chopped green chilis to a higher heat level, if I can find them. (I'm not sure they come in anything but mild.) The pureed white beans give a nice 'sauce', and I found the chili mixture to be moist but not soupy, which wouldn't have worked as well under the cornbread topping. From my experiences trying to perfect Beatrice's Chicken Pie, it's difficult to hit that right balance of liquid in this type of dish.

Nephew was very dubious at first appearance, was given a sampler serving, and later went back for a serious full serving. The only person who really didn't eat it was older niece, who said she just wasn't very hungry. However, she did manage to choke down a full serving of cake-of-the-week, the Genoise Tres Cafe--she's a coffee fiend.

Monday, January 17, 2011

RHC: Banana Refrigerator Cake with Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting

Banana Refrigerator CakeFree choice week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers: a chance to catch up with Marie on one of the cakes she baked before we started baking along. Once the icy streets had melted enough for me to get to a store, I bought some cream cheese and white chocolate for the frosting and was ready to make a half-size banana refrigerator cake. Luckily I had a frozen banana available (well, plus sister-in–law offered a backup banana that wasn't quite ideally ripe for banana cake), because the winter storm had left a dearth of bananas in my usual store.

I'm going with a quick write-up for this easy cake--I imagine only the frosting that keeps this one off the easy list, and it's not very difficult if the ingredient temperatures are OK. Banana Refrigerator Cake
For the cake, the wet ingredients (bananas, sour cream, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla) are combined in a food processor for better homogenization of the banana. That combination transfers to the mixer for beating with turbinado sugar, then the oil (not butter, for better tenderness coming out of the fridge).The dry ingredients are sifted on top and beaten in, and the batter is done. Mine baked up with a fairly high dome in a 6" pan with a baking strip on it, and the small cake took longer than the time given for a full-sized one. I blame that on the more watery texture of my frozen banana. No sweat: I just frosted the dome. :)

Banana Refrigerator CakeFor the frosting, the biggest issue was dealing with a yield of less than 1/2 cup. I turned to a mini-processor that came with my immersion blender, which took a little more scraping of the sides than if I'd been doing a full recipe in the big Cuisinart, but it got the job done. Unlike the last time I made the dreamy creamy white chocolate frosting, the melted white chocolate blended in to the butter-cream cheese mixture without forming any little chocolate chunks.

Banana Refrigerator CakeTasting results: it's a hit! I love it--moist cake with a nice amount of banana flavor, and cream-cheese frosting. What's not to like? Younger brother really liked it, and so did older brother (in town so we could all three go spend the weekend working on our father's estate, to whit, getting stuff out of the house in south Georgia). I sent the rest of the little cake next door and didn't get a specific report other than "there's none left" when my brothers and I got back tonight. Next time there's an over-ripe banana around, I think I'll make this cake instead of freezing the banana--it would be a good snacking cake without the extra effort of the frosting.

BBA #2: Artos (Greek Celebration Breads)--Christopsomos

Artos--ChristopsomosAnother product of the housebound period of last week's winter storm: bread #2 for the BBA Challenge. The base recipe for Artos is an enriched bread (it has eggs, honey, olive oil, and milk) with spices and flavorings--cinnamon primarily, with nutmeg, cloves, allspice, almond extract, and orange or lemon zest or extract. I needed my lemon zest for something else, had no orange on hand, so I used a touch of lemon oil. I decided to do the Christopsomos options, which adds raisins, dried cherries, and walnuts to the bread--but i skipped the raisins because the folks next door aren't fond of 'em. I have to get rid of all this bread somehow, you see...

Fist up was the barm, a term I've been seeing on people's blogs without knowing what it really is, other than one of several flour-water mixtures mixed up ahead of time and added to bread for flavor. Barm, in Reinhart's usage (I understand that the term maybe has some other definitions) is a sourdough starter, really. After reading through all the instructions for the multi-day project of starting your own with wild yeast, I saw the line "[over] time the organisms indigenous to your region will gradually take charge of it...a starter made from a seed culture imported from Egypt or Russia will, over time, produce bread that tastes like a starter made locally from scratch." Aha! My sourdough starter, purchased several years ago from KA and fed 1:1 by weight, surely has by now been taken over by indigenous microorganisms. It should be the same thing I'd get if I followed the make-your-own steps. All I need to do is feed the starter the night before I want to bake bread, and make sure I have enough volume for the recipe.

This dough was very well behaved. All the ingredients went in the mixer bowl, on went the dough hook, and eventually there was a lovely ball of dough. I didn't knead the full 10 minutes because the texture looked so good. Come to think if it, I also skipped the windowpane test and the temperature test...I'll try to do better next time...but it felt right.

The dough rose nicely to double, if slowly--I'm getting used to these room temperature rises instead of my usual practice of using my warming oven's proof setting, which makes things go much faster. Reinhart maintains the slower rise gives more flavor, but says if you need the speed, use whatever you need to to give the dough a warmer environment.

Artos--ChristopsomosTo shape the Christopsomos, the dough is divided 2/3 - 1/3, and the smaller piece goes in the fridge. The larger piece is formed into a boule and allowed to double, then the smaller piece comes out and is used to make the decorative cross and curlicues. Except...I misread and formed the decorations before the second rise. I guess if I'd followed the directions I'd have had better definition in the curls.

There's an optional sugar-syrup glaze which I skipped in fovar of a little butter rubbed over the warm loaf for some shine.

Taste results: a lovely bread, very nice flavor with the spices in the dough. The cherries are a great bread addition (my weekly challah almost always has dried cherries in it). It was great just plain, with butter, or toasted. I might make this one for a breakfast bread without bothering with the fancy shaping.

Friday, January 14, 2011

RHC: Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's Cake

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeAtlanta got hit with a winter storm this week, as you may have heard. Sunday night to Monday morning saw about 4-1/2 inches of snow and sleet at my house, and then it got cold, so the usual "gone in a couple of days" storm stuck around. This is the South where such events are rare and the equipment to deal with it isn't in place. Soooo....schools have been closed all week. (The kids next door are thrilled.) My office was closed 3 days, and opened late today (but I could work from home). All you guys from places where snow is a regular occurrence, please snicker quietly so I can't hear you.

Until some melting started yesterday I was housebound--I'm a Southern driver, and I know better than to get out on the roads when things are very snowy/icy. The cats were thrilled, as I must be staying home to provide extra attention and playtime for them, right? Or maybe it would be a good time to do some baking. I could have done a cake for the free choice week we're in, but I'm down to 5 cakes Marie has done that I haven't. The banana cake needed cream cheese, not on hand. No cream of coconut for the Heavenly Seduction coconut cake, no cream cheese for the Whipped Cream No-Bake Cheesecake (which sounded like way too much trouble in any case--custard? Italian meringue? Not this week, thanks). No piles of berries for the chocolate trifle or the berry shortcake. Not looking good...but there's the Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's Cake. Marie isn't going to schedule it for HCB because it's in the wedding cakes chapter, but she made it during our first free-choice week last February and as a chocoholic I knew I was going to have to bake it sometime.

It's a gimmick cake, really. Make a pan of very fudgey brownies. Cut these up into little cubes. Fold brownie cubes into a chocolate cake batter. Bake (Rose used a specialty pan shaped like a stadium to emphasize the "manly groom" aspect <g>) and serve.

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeBrownies, maybe just a little underbaked. Younger niece assured me that was fine, as they would bake again in the cake.

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeOh look! My cooling rack has made a 1/2" grid on the brownies to give me a cutting guide!

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeIt makes quite a pile of brownies, even after niece steals one. Her verdict: skip the cake, eat the brownies now.

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeIs that all the batter, and can it possibly cover all the brownie cubes?

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeGuess it can....

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeI went with the old-fashioned Bundt pan to minimize the amount of odd crevices I'd have to pack the batter into, and to avoid thinner edges that might scorch. Even so I had a few air pockets on the cake.

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeBaked up beautifully, but again maybe underbaked. I went with the 190 degree mark given for the brownies and for butter cakes in general, not trusting my ability to pick the "springs back when pressed" moment. But you know, having to scrape some goo off your slicing knife after each cut isn't such a bad thing in a brownie-cake. Maybe I should have gone to a plastic knife like I use for brownies.

Double Chocolate Whammy Groom's CakeTasting results: No complaints about this one, except for the general "why not just make brownies?" I had hoped to be able to see the brownie chunks in the cake, but they are only perceptable by the moister texture compared to the cake proper. On the other hand, there's really not much cake there anyway, so mostly you do just get brownies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

BBA #1: Anadama Bread

BBA: Anadama BreadFirst bread for the BBA Challenge 2011! This is the Anadama Bread, a standard white-flour loaf enhanced with some cornmeal and flavored with molasses. The cornmeal is soaked overnight (thus it's, logically, a "soaker" in this bread-baking terminology I'm learning to use)--that was different from anadama bread I've made in the past where the cornmeal was just added to the flour. Reinhart's version calls for polenta grind cornmeal.


I used garden-variety "Grandma's" molasses, that being all I had on hand. I think I'd prefer this loaf with the lighter molasses Reinhart recommends--the molasses flavor was a little too strong. Or maybe I should have tried that leftover pomegranate molasses...not sure what the relative sweetness levels are, though.

I mixed and kneaded in the KitchenAid (I may do a post on 'how I do bread' to cover my level of experience and my usual methods), and found as others did that the recipe needed more flour than the recipe called for to get past a quite sticky dough to merely tacky.

BBA: Anadama BreadI did a half recipe (one loaf) and used the slightly oversized 10 x 5" corrugated loaf pan purchased from King Arthur. The loaf took quite a while for the second rise, then I forgot it and let it over-proof slightly. I still got some oven spring, so perhaps it was no big deal.

The bread had a nice texture, very light. The molasses and cornmeal combo, though, just doesn't do much for my taste buds, so I suspect I won't repeat this one.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The BBA Challenge bread list

I'll update this post to track my progress on the BBA Challenge 2011.

This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called BBA Challenge 2011. Make your own badge here.

Anadama Bread
Artos: Greek Celebration Breads (Christopsomos)
Middle-Class Brioche
Ciabatta (choose one variation)
Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns
Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Pecan Bread
Corn Bread
Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread
English Muffins
French Bread
Italian Bread
Kaiser Rolls
Lavash Crackers
Light Wheat Bread
Marbled Rye Bread
Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire
Pain à l’Ancienne
Pain de Campagne
Pane Siciliano
Pizza Napoletano
Poolish Baguettes
Portuguese Sweet Bread
Potato Rosemary Bread
Basic Sourdough Bread
(Sourdough) New York Deli Rye
100% Sourdough Rye Bread
(Sourdough) Poilane-Style Miche
(Sourdough) Pumpernickel Bread
(Sourdough) Sunflower Seed Rye
Swedish Rye (Limpa)
Tuscan Bread
Vienna Bread
White Breads (choose one variation)
Whole-Wheat Bread
Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes
Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche

Starting the BBA Challenge....sort of

As we're on the downhill slope of the Heavenly Cakes Bake-along, I've been thinking about another online baking project. French Fridays with Dorie almost seduced me, the Gutsy Cooks would keep up the connection with several HCBs (though I wasn't grabbed by the cookbook they are using), but I decided I was better off sticking with a baking emphasis. The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is out there, the cookbook (Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread) had been on my wish list for a while, so I decided to go for it.

Why not The Bread Bible, which I already owned? Size of project: BBA has 43 recipes or so, plus a few variations. The Bread Bible has 84 recipesand (I suspect) many more variations, and while I've done some baking from it, I have to confess that Rose's level of detail in some of those recipes may have crossed the line from helpful to 'I can't pick out the next step from all this verbiage'.

The main BBA Challenge started back in May 2009 with a rather different setup than some of the other Internet cooking groups. They don't bake together: each baker works on their own schedule. The only rule is that they bake all the recipes in BBA in the order presented in the book. The "in order" part may not get followed--we'll see. I first thought it was because the cookbook presented the recipes in some sort of logical order like requiring increasing skills, or contrasting different recipes, but it turns out that the recipes are presented in (wait for it)....alphabetical order. That rather changes my perception about the basic premise of the BBA Challenge from "has a purpose related to baking" to "akin to fraternity initiation ritual".

OK, small digression there, sorry.

The BBA Challenge quickly got too large for a "blog roll" approach and was frozen at 200 members. New joiners can just start baking, and post pictures, blog URLs, or questions to a Facebook group or a Flickr group. When they're done, they stop--rather like the Caucus Race from Alice in Wonderland, really. There's a new BBA Challenge 2011 group, just started this week, that is trying to do a more structured approach of bread a week, but I'm still uncertain about the "do 'em in order" thing so I'm debating whether to join.

Anyway, I may not bake these in order, though I did start with the first one today. I'll make another post with the list of breads and try to keep it updated as I bake.

RHC: White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache

White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate GanacheI was very glad that this week's cake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along was on the quick-and-easy list. I attended my local filk convention this weekend, and so baking had to be either before or after that trip--I do go stay at the convention hotel even though it is in Atlanta, because filk convention activities run late into the evening. Or really, into the wee hours of the morning.

I think I started the cake about 2:30 Friday afternoon and still made it to the opening convention session shortly after it started at 7, including the time to pack, finish laundry, clean up the kitchen, photograph the cake, taste it myself, deliver it to the folks next door for them to taste later (with instructions to email comments to me), placate the cats made unhappy by the appearance of a suitcase, drive the 30 miles across town, and check in at the hotel. Add in the extras in the baking process of defrosting the frozen egg whites I'd forgotten to remove from the freezer, rescuing the ganache when it broke, and even digging out a pastry bag and star tip for at least a token amount of decorating, and you see that the actual cake-baking couldn't have taken very long!

(If I had known we'd have a winter storm in Atlanta Sunday night to Monday, keeping me home today, I could have reduced my Friday stress and baked today. Oh, well, I'm baking bread instead.)

The cake itself is a white cake (butter cake with egg whites only, no yolks), and is mixed with the usual method for RHC of blending the dry ingredients, adding the butter and some liquid (milk in this case), then adding the egg mixture in a couple of additions beating in between to create structure in the batter. Knowing my taste-test group and our usual reaction to Rose's butter cakes (a little on the dry side for our tastes), I did a half-recipe, baked in a 6" pan. White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate GanacheI still used one of my Rose's (silicon) Cake Strips by clipping it with the ever-handy kitchen gadget of a binder clip to keep it tight around the pan. I've got sets of the Wilton cloth cake strips, but the silicon ones are so much easier to deal with if the cake pan is anywhere in the range that they fit.

My 6" pan was almost not big enough as it turned out, for this batter rose high during baking before subsiding a little to end up just completely filling the pan. White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache It did end up with a very crisp edge around the top and a little bowing in the center of the edge of the cake, but a little trimming before applying the frosting took care of that.

The frosting is a milk-chocolate ganache, with some added butter and vanilla. After a search of several of my usual spots for superior chocolate, I was about to conclude that the higher-cacao milk chocolate called for wasn't going to be findable in this period of dark-chocolate mania. But Friday morning a quick stop at a smaller Whole Foods store turned up bars of "Endangered Species Chocolate" with a 48% cocoa content--even better than the 40-42% specified in the recipe. I was saved from having to mix the lower percent Ghirardelli I had in the pantry with some bittersweet.

For a change I actually followed the recipe's method of making the ganache--this time it was melt the chocolate in the microwave until almost melted, then stir until the melting was complete. Stir in warm cream until smooth....but my ganache broke despite care with the temperature. I rescued it by heating a couple of tablespoons of extra cream, adding a little chocolate, then adding some of the broken ganache. Stir, stir, stir, add this mixture to the rest of the ganache, and stir, stir, stir some more. Finally it all went smooth again. I used a small spatula instead of a whisk to incorporate the butter as the intent is not to add air to the ganache anyway. It was very hard to get all the little butter bits to blend in (and my butter was if anything too soft, so I don't know why), but most of them finally succumbed to being smashed against the side of my measuring cup I was using to make the ganache. I consoled myself by saying that a whisk would only have broken up the butter into even more little bits to stubbornly resist integration with the ganache. Don't tell me if there's some whisk magic that makes this wrong!

White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate GanacheOnce the butter and vanilla were incorporated, frosting went easily, if hurriedly at this point. I was worried that the ganache was too soft, but after a quick pause to finish my packing I came back to find it had set up almost too much. A stir softened it again, though, and frosting was completed with no more trouble.

Tasting results: I like this cake. The milk chocolate is a nice change, and the contrast with the white cake was nice. My brother agreed, liking the combination. However, the rest of the folks next door all felt the cake was dry (yeah, yeah, we always say that), though the ganache got praise. I certainly didn't think the cake was of the extra-moist type I really prefer, but eaten with the frosting I didn't find it unacceptably dry myself. Older niece said "not worth eating again because there are better options" (cake-of-the-week has spoiled these guys), younger niece agreed and noted that the cake part was "almost like white bread". Hmmm.....

Overall, a pretty good cake, but not in my list of ones to repeat. I may look for other opportunities for the milk-chocolate ganache, though.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

RHC: Chocolate Bull's Eye Cakes

Chocolate Bull's Eye CakesThis week's cake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers is from the cakelet section, making 6 largish cupcakes using a specialty Maryann pan--that's a pan that bakes a little depression in the top of the cake or cupcake, suitable for filling with fruit or a topping. I have a Maryann pan inherited from my mother, never used until the Heavenly Cakebake-along started. It's nice to be able to get the right pan down from the top shelf, and not have to debate the purchase of something new.

I think this week's post will be mostly pictures--as others have commented, this is a pretty straightforward cake, even though it has 5 components: cake, syrup, glaze, chocolate cream, and drizzle.

DSCN1483The Maryann pan that will create cakelets with a depression in the top of each one.

DSCN1484 The cake itself is a genoise, which means beating the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes in a stand mixer as the egg foam provides the lift for the cake.

DSCN1489At the end of the 5 minutes, a lovely fluffy mixture to be blended with the flour, salt, and browned butter.

DSCN1486Browned butter (not very brown--I got impatient at the end), with vanilla, about to have some of the egg mixture folded in.

DSCN1490The genoise is complete and ready to bake.

DSCN1494Just out of the oven, with the cakelets barely browning and just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan.

DSCN1497The syruping of the cakelets was not so photogenic, but here you can see the glisten that the apricot glaze gives. The glaze also seals the cakes to keep them moist with the syrup.

DSCN1498The components for the chocolate cream, a chocolate custard. This was really luscious stuff.

DSCN1500Cakelets are filled and ready for the last step, a drizzle of chocolate ganache for decoration.

Chocolate Bull's Eye CakesTa da! Chocolate Bull's Eye Cake.

Tasting results: very favorable. Nephew likes the way all the flavors came together (but my brother was less certain that it all melded--he liked the components but was unsure about the combination). The nieces liked it. We all thought the cake was nice and moist, a point where we often find RHC lacking. And S., a friend of younger niece's who was having a sleep-over, said "This cake is amazing!"