Sunday, April 24, 2011

RHC: Deep Chocolate Rosebuds

IMG_0304No, no, I didn't bake two cakes this week--the Red Fruit Shortcake is my real cake-of-the-week. This one is another of the recipes Marie baked before the bake-along started, back in August 2009, and I baked it back in December 2009. (The group bake-along started in October 2009.) I forgot to blog this one for a couple of weeks, and then kept it out as a sort of reserve in case I couldn't bake one week. Now that I'm almost done with the bake-through, I'd better get it posted. As the memory has faded, this will be brief.

IMG_0296The Dark Chocolate Rosebuds are from the baby cakes chapter, and call for a miniature rose pan. I don't have one, so mine baked in miniature muffin tins. You make a chocolate batter, then a small dollop of ganache is placed on each cup before baking. When I turned out my mini cupcakes and swiped some of the cake that had stuck to the pan, I was thinking "this is perfectly acceptable, but nothing special". But when I bit into the ganache area of a full cupcake--oh, that was special!

IMG_0302I overfilled my cupcake pan and had flattened mushroom tops--these should be a lot prettier without that. And I think I would try pushing the ganache down into the batter a little so it is more in the middle of the cakelet. You want every bite of the cakelet to have some of the ganache area.

My memory says that these were terrific when still a little warm, but not so special after they cooled. The ganache melded with the cake and while it was still a nice chocolate cupcake, that rich moistness of the warm ganache was gone.

BBA #16 Kaiser Rolls

BBA Kaiser RollsKaiser rolls aren't one of the bread-baking experiences on my bucket list (not that I have one), but this BBA Challenge was fun anyway. The only challenge is in the shaping, and that turned out to be much easier than I'd thought.

This is a recipe that needs some planning because it uses a pâte fermentée that is mixed up the day before (at least), let rise for a while, then refrigerated to gain flavor. On baking day that dough is brought to room temperature and mixed in with the rest of the ingredients, which included an egg to make this a lightly enriched dough. I used half whole-wheat flour for the main dough, though the pâte fermentée was made with all bread flour. I also added in a little gluten after my dough had trouble with the windowpane test after an initial kneading.

BBA Kaiser RollsAfter the first rise came the shaping. I reviewed the section in BBA, plus looked at the site Chris had used, but really I think the BBA was clear enough on its own for me. Roll a rope of dough (longer than either set of instructions suggested--maybe 12" for my smaller rolls), make an overhand knot, then let each end make one more wrap around the loop in the same direction it had been going. You should end up with a little nub sticking up in the middle of the roll from the end that was coming up through the middle on that pass, and when the roll is flipped halfway through the second rise there should be another nub on that side. Well, most of mine had that--a few sort of melded into a vaguely pleated roll.

I did find the instructions to flip the rolls over halfway through the rise odd, and wish there was reason given. Does it keep the roll a little flatter?

My 9 smaller-sized rolls were done in 20 minutes total, nicely brown and at temperature. They've got a nice flavor and good texture, and I like the whole-wheat in there--these should be great for sandwiches. As soon as Passover ends I'll be handing most of these off to the folks next door. I suspect these would be popular even without the "I'm sick of matzoh" effect.

BBA Kaiser RollsCrumb shot.

RHC: Red Fruit Shortcake

Red Fruit ShortcakeIn the home stretch of cake-of-the-week, up this time is a génoise-based shortcake covered in red fruit that Marie baked back in August 2009. My cake had strawberries and raspberries, lacking the red currants Rose included and that Marie also managed to find. I've still never seen a red currant in the flesh, but even if someone in Atlanta did carry them I gather they are not yet in season. That's OK, the strawberries and raspberries were good by themselves.

Red Fruit ShortcakeThe recipe calls for a Maryann pan, a fluted pan with a recess on top, in either an 8-cup or 10-cup size. Knowing this recipe would come up eventually, I bought a silicone Maryann pan a while back. When I pulled it out and checked, it turned out to hold 5 cups, perfect for a half-recipe of the larger version. That sent me to the recipe for the Génoise Rose for the cake--beurre noisette, beaten eggs, sugar, and a cake flour/cornstarch mix for the dry ingredients. The cake released fairly well from the silicone, losing only a small piece of edge crust and a bit on the bottom that would have been removed anyway before syruping. Red Fruit Shortcake

My berries did not produce much juice despite a nice long maceration period, so my syrup was a little on the light side for taste. I used a light hand with the Chambord liqueur even so, as it has proved too much in some earlier recipes. The syrup still had a nice color and gave the cake a pale pink tinge after it was brushed on. Once you pile on the berry mixture, though, the bright reds are what you focus on. I ate my piece with a dollop of whipped crème fraîche, lightly sweetened and with just a couple of drops of vanilla added.

Red Fruit ShortcakeTaste results: génoise is never going to be my favorite cake, but this is the way to eat it. The cake is a light vehicle to hold the pile of berries, and the tang of the crème fraîche is a good counterpoint to the sweet.

I'm without my usual "carb sink" next door as it's Passover, and so no leavened foods are allowed over there. (Well, my brother might have had some, but he's dieting.) Younger niece feels quite cheated, as this cake is right down her alley with the pile of fruit--she'd have taken a pass on the crème fraîche, though, I bet. We'll see how the cake survives overnight to be taken to the office tomorrow for other opinions. With the berries piled on the cake, it's really one that should be eaten immediately.

BBA #15: Italian Bread

BBA Italian BreadI don't have a strong internal concept of "Italian bread", associating it with loaves grabbed at the grocery store for making garlic bread when you don't want much chew. And that's almost what I got here, just a little better crust and texture. It's a basic white bread with a nice crust, in between an artisan style with interesting texture and a fluffy-texture bread bought for kids' sandwiches...if the kids weren't raised on more interesting bread than that.

Baking notes: I was halving the recipe, as usual, but forgot to halve the liquid until a lot of it had gone in. I compensated with more flour but kept it more hydrated than called for.

BBA Italian Bread
I decided to shape the dough as 4 torpedo rolls plus a batch of breadsticks, soft ones. My breadsticks weren't pretty (how do you transfer thinly rolled breadstick dough to a cooking surface without it stretching irregularly, anyway?), but the concept was clear. BBA Italian Bread

BBA Italian Bread
I baked on a sheet pan on top of the baking stone. The torpedo rolls were almost burned on the bottom, like the French baguettes baked directly on the stone the week before. That was with my heaviest sheet pan. Either I've got an unusually heat-retentive baking stone (generic thin 'pizza stone' from somewhere-or-other, nah), the oven is running too hot (not by other evidence, but I'm going to dig out a thermometer), or this is another place where thie results just don't come out quite the way the book says it should.

BBA Italian Bread
Results: The breadsticks were good. I suspect any of the other recipes Reinhart says could be used would be interchangeable, as the character of the dough is mostly lost in the thinly rolled, seeded, etc. As for the torpedo rolls, see above: nice even texture, but not a bread I see much reason to repeat. I made a sandwich with one roll, but the rest I think will be used for toasted garlic bread, where the bread itself is secondary.

Monday, April 18, 2011

RHC: Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake with Silk Meringue Buttercream

Southern (Manhattan) Coconut CupcakesWe're winding down with the Heavenly Cakes bake-along, with only 4 weeks, and cakes, after this one. That includes 2 free choice weeks to bake things Marie has done but we haven't, and that will get me caught up completely if I dig out my notes on the one baked-but-not-blogged cake on my list. That is, unless I decide to make one or more of the wedding cake recipes in greatly cut-down form. After a break from weekly cakes.

This week it's another coconut cake. The base is a white butter cake using coconut milk mixed with egg whites for the liquid, and with coconut extract added to the batter to intensify the flavor. I actually found the elusive natural coconut extract this time, too, and I do think it was more potent than that ancient bottle of the artificial stuff in my pantry. Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cupcakes(I found it at Rainbow Natural Foods, which apparently also sometimes has the marionberries I couldn't find.) I did another half recipe of the cake and decided to go with cupcakes this time. No special notes about the baking of the cupcakes except that I still have not figured out how much batter is "2/3 full" and my cupcakes had mushroom tops. Again. Maybe I'll do better with the upcoming cupcakes where Rose supplies the weight in grams for each.

Southern (Manhattan) Coconut CupcakesIt's the frosting that is the killer on this recipe, another multi-stage production including (shudder) Italian meringue. First came a thin crème anglaise (a custard sauce, basically) made with more coconut milk. That had to chill. Then the Italian meringue--for my half-recipe it was one egg white's worth, so I used a hand-held mixer and didn't get too much of the sugar syrup on the sides of the bowl. Or left in the measuring cup. Or spread on me or the kitchen counter. The last stage is to beat butter (it is a buttercream...) and add in the crème anglaise until smooth. Smooth. Right. Mine was curdled looking for a while, and I kept working to get the temperature up to the target 70 degrees. Finally got there and the mix got smoother, though it watered out a little bit. In went the Italian meringue, and perhaps because of the earlier temperature adjustment that didn't look curdled. Then it was time for my frozen unsweetened coconut, which the directions say to defrost and towel dry. Mine didn't need a towel--it was very finely shredded and almost desiccated, though not labelled as such. Committed at that point, I just dumped it in instead of reverting to the sweetened Baker's stuff. I made some feeble attempts to color the additional coconut that was sprinkled or pressed into the buttercream for a spring pastels concept, with not very even results.

Southern (Manhattan) Coconut CupcakesTasting results: This one goes in my "perfectly OK, not a standout" group. For other you realize how many people have an aversion to coconut? I've only recently realized this, being one who always liked the stuff. So, sister-in-law and brother passed because it was coconut, as did one of my usual tasters at work and several other people I asked. Older niece passed, maybe influenced by the presence of leftover brownie puddle. Younger niece thought the buttercream too buttery but the cake was fine. Nephew thought the buttercream was great. One co-worker loved the buttercream but thought the cake was uninteresting, another loved the buttercream and said the cake was good, and a third preferred the cake to the buttercream. Let's just call it a mixed reaction.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brownie Puddle

Brownie puddleI paused in the middle of making cake-of-the-week on Friday to bake a brownie puddle from Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. I've made it before, and for the same occasion, I think--my sister-in-law's birthday. As cake-of-the-week involves coconut and she doesn't like that, the brownie puddle was a much better choice.

It's the same recipe as the Barcelona Brownie Bars in Rose's Heavenly Cakes but I think better, as the bar shape was prone to overbaking. As a 9-1/2" tart the brownie stays fudgy. The "puddle" part is a dark chocolate ganache spooned into holes punched into the brownie while hot--you keep spooning in ganache as long as the hot brownie absorbs it. (Or maybe a bit longer as my overfilled holes show...)

Lots of pecans, fudgy brownie, ganache, some whipped cream to set off the chocolate can't lose making this for a chocoholic. I also grilled herbed barbecue turkey thighs for the entree for Friday dinner, handed over the latest Nora Roberts, just checked out of the library, and let s-i-l escape with the book for some quiet time instead of being dragged into the game of Settlers of Catan I played with my nephew after dinner. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BBA #14: French Bread

French breadThe BBA Challenge 2011 is up to "F", and so French Bread. I'm not a huge French bread fan so I am not one to get infected with the compulsion to perfect the crusty loaf. That's probably a good thing, as I've read blogs by those who got obsesses with that goal, and there are many other breads I'd rather keep repeating in order to reach my ideal loaf.

I kept the dough for my French bread fairly wet, and after the first rise had to add a little more flour to be able to handle it--it sort of crept over my hand until I did. It then doubled in less than 2 hours, so it got a deflation and another rise. I made a half recipe, then split the dough into 2 baguettes when shaping. It was hard to keep from deflating the dough as I folded it, but the texture did come out fairly 'holey'.

I let the baguettes rise on a floured cloth in a "french bread pan", but baked directly on a stone along with all the ritual for trying to get steam in the oven to benefit the crust. Baked the 10 minutes then turned the loaves, and the internal temp was >205 after another ten minutes and the bottoms were getting quite dark brown. However, the tops stayed pale, barely golden. Maybe I need to skip the stone and use a perforated pan to be able to bake these to golden brown all over. Or maybe some surface flour hindered the browning. Or...I see in the Cooks illustrated that arrived yesterday that temperature is not a good indicator of bread doneness alone, as they found bread can reach 210 degrees a good 15 minutes before the loaf is done, and that if removed early the bread had "a pale soft crust and a gummy interior". Well, mine was not gummy and was fairly crusty, but I had the pale part down. CI now tells me "...stick to the recommended baking time and make sure the crust has achieved the appropriate color before removing the loaf from the oven." Will do from now on...

Results, besides the pale crust? The texture was good. The crust was definitely shy of the classic crisp French bread crust, but was nicely crunchy for all that. The bread texture was quite chewy and it had a very nice flavor.

French bread
French bread
French bread

French bread

Sunday, April 10, 2011

RHC: Miette's Tomboy

Miette's TomboyCake of the week is "Miette's Tomboy", a small (6") chocolate cake with raspberry mousseline (I went with the raspberry variation instead of vanilla). It all came together pretty quickly--good, because I was out of town last week on a mini-vacation, touring the Biltmore Estate with 3 friends.

The cake is an oil cake with buttermilk, and uses both some 70% cacao chocolate and cocoa powder. My only note is that the recipe says the batter will be thick, but mine was not--not as thin as the batter for the Chocolate Almond-Butter Cake, but far thinner than the usual butter cake. "Smoothing the top" with a spatula mostly managed to pop some of the bubbles in the batter instead of removing any surface irregularities, as the batter was too thin to have held any peaks. Miette's TomboyThe cake baked up well, filling the odd 6"x3" cake pan and ending up with a rather gnarled looking top. Once turned out, the cake sat with a little plastic-wrap hat to keep the crust soft--I guess it helped to some degree, but I still had a fairly firm top crust.

The more complicated part was the mousseline, which involved my nemesis: beating sugar syrup into egg whites. How many of the short list of remaining cakes are going to include this step which I still find so challenging? (Answer: 2 out of 5, I think.) And the additional challenge of my Southern kitchen in the warmer parts of the year is back--with a high yesterday in the upper 80's, I had to turn on the A/C and move the thermostat down to keep my mousseline components from quickly warming past the critical 70 degree point. However, despite all that I managed an extremely fluffy mousseline--a texture it's supposed to get on standing but that seems to be the natural state of mine, not reducible to the "silky" texture that might have been easier to apply to the cake. Never mind, I opted out of trying to replicate the very elegant ruffled-edge presentation shown in RHC and slathered my fluffy raspberry-pink mousseline on my dome-topped cake with a spatula (no piping bag for me this week) until it was sort of smooth on top and peeking out between the layers on the sides. A purchased red rose and a couple of leaves for the top, and it was done.

Miette's TomboyTasting results: the cake is a big hit--lovely chocolate flavor, very moist, no criticisms there. The mousseline was less popular. The raspberry flavor was good and (of course) nicely accented the chocolate cake, but the marshmallow-like fluffiness got thumbs down.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

RHC: Karmel Cake

Karmel CakeJust a handful of cakes left to go for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along! This week it's Karmel Cake, which uses a caramel made with brown sugar for flavor.

The caramel process is straightforward: boil brown sugar, milk, and a little butter to soft ball stage, remove from heat, and whisk in more milk. That gets cooled before moving on to the rest of the cake.

Then the recipe proceeds as a usual butter cake, mixing the dry ingredients, adding the butter and the caramel, beating for structure, then adding eggs and vanilla in 2 additions. It's baked as a single layer.

Karmel CakeMine took about 30 minutes, and dipped in the center during the last 10 minutes or so of baking. The texture seemed fine, maybe a thin denser layer at the bottom--I don't really know why my center decided to sag there at the end.

The suggestion was to serve it plain, or with coffee cream. I went with coffee cream, or really just coffee-flavored whipped cream as I skipped the gelatin stabilizer and just softly whipped the cream, coffee extract, and sugar.

Taste results: sister-in-law: not sure I can taste the cake for the coffee cream. It is nice and moist. Nephew: really excellent cake: nice texture, really like the crisp crust, very moist. Young niece: good cake. Older niece declined cake as she wanted power carbs--she's in crew, and there was a regatta the next day.

Karmel CakeI enjoyed the cake, but agree with the general opinion that it doesn't have much character. I don't get any caramel taste, for instance, even carefully eating only cake and no coffee cream. Nice texture, moist, yes, but not a standout. It would indeed do fine without accompaniment, but it's sort of a plain 'snack cake'. A couple of days later as I distributed pieces around the office, I tasted the crumbs and got some brown sugar/caramel flavor, but it was faint. The office cake-testers agreed.

So: did the coffee cream overwhelm the delicate caramel taste? Did I need to go buy the recommended muscovado sugar (which I'd used before and been unable to tell from regular brown sugar)? I would have liked to love this cake, as a big caramel fan, but it just underwhelmed me.

BBA #13: Foccacia

BBA: FoccaciaFoccacia, the condensed writeup...

I made a full recipe of the standard, non-poolish, foccacia, and used half whole-wheat flour, half bread flour, with a little added vital wheat gluten to try to compensate for the lower-gluten whole wheat.

Gads that's a lot of olive oil--and I only made 1 cup of the herbed oil using a 'roasted garlic' flavored oil and mixing in dried herbs, not the warm/steep method. Too lazy that night. I still left maybe 1/4 cup of the oil, either never applied or spooned out of the corner where it tended to collect. I can't imagine what *2* cups would look like.

Mine rose energetically between stretches. Still not sure I'm doing this stretch and fold correctly--Chris's blog just gave me a few more pointers to try next time around.

The dough retarded in the fridge overnight. I saw no significant absorption of oil during this period, so I really didn't feel the need to pour on more when it came back to room temperature.

Put walnuts on half as a pre-proof and added grated asiago as a during-bake to the same side. The other side was plain but for the herb oil, to better taste the bread itself. (And to placate younger niece who dislikes cheese and prefers pecans to walnuts for all things.)

BBA: FoccaciaResults: good, but not quite the texture I expect in foccacia--not enough holes, mostly. I'd better work on that stretch-and-fold technique. No complaints from anyone on the taste, probably because it's pretty lovely after swimming in all that herbed oil.

There are pics of various stages of unbaked foccacia on Flickr if you click through.