Dec 29, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

It was a struggle. Many of us--faced with blizzards, a demanding family, and stressful holidays--had to drag ourselves in the kitchen to bake one more thing in order to finish this week's cake. But those of us who did (including those who started the project at midnight) were glad we'd forced ourselves to open the oven door one more time.
Some of the draggers also were forced to substitute ingredients with what they had on hand.
Katya, for example, snowed in in her New York home, substituted ricotta and buttermilk for cream cheese and sour cream. She said it tasted good, although the wetter mixture seemed to cause some "bottom ladyfingers [to] float up, giving it an odd 'pond filled with floating logs' appearance." Hope your street has been plowed by now, Katya. I feel your pain.
Gartblue nearly didn't have time to bake, given the "rushy week" it was. And then she ran out of aluminum foil, had only the wrong size springform pan, and had blueberries but not cranberries. Did she have a snit? Well, yes, she did, but she still persevered.
It will probably surprise no one to hear that Jennifer was the above-named midnight baker--this isn't the first time that's happened. She also made some substitutions: a mixture of reduced-fat sour cream and full-fat yogurt. Again, the subs worked out well, converting at least one cheesecake naysayer to a fan.
Not everyone had to fly by the seat of their pants. Andrea was organized enough to make her own ladyfingers (after getting the right-sized piping tip--amazing what a difference that makes!). She also rolled out pie dough for two homemade pies: a pecan tart and a lattice-topped cherry pie. Nice work!
Raymond breezed through this cheesecake, even though he was also committed to "so many cookies and cakes and desserts for friends and parties" and San Diego was having "weird" weather (not blizzards). His reward? A "terrific" cheesecake, and high praise from one of the guests--a professional chef--at the party where the cheesecake was guest of honor.
Mendy's cheesecakes could have been guests of honor at about ten different parties--I don't know what size pan he used but he ended up with a multitude of cheesecakes, all looking very good. (Although there was one that "someone decided to poke their finger into ... a couple times.") That one looked, well, like someone had decided to poke their finger into it.

And then there were a few people who just couldn't get enough of baking--even in one of the busiest kitchen weeks of the year. Lois's extra baking time was a little inadvertent, since she ended up making two batches of ladyfingers. Apparently if you neglect to add flour to the ladyfingers, they end up being a little flat. You know how far you've come as a baker when you decide that it's easier to make another batch of ladyfingers from scratch than to run out to a nearby store to buy them.
Jenn chose this week to play more catch-up. Along with the cheesecake, she also made the financier-style vanilla bean poundcakes from a few weeks ago. She made five of those, which she and her husband "wolfed down" in minutes. (Can't imagine how "wolf" came to mean greedy eating).

This week's FEATURED BAKER is Nancy B.--in part to honor her as the only person who has made every single cake on the Heavenly Bakers list, and in part to show off her cheesecake, which was met with choruses of "good cheesecake" at the office potluck to which she brought it. Nancy made homemade ladyfingers to "reinforce her ladyfinger skills." She worried about a few imperfect spots, but was told that her ladyfingers looked so good they must be storebought. She thought she would have some left, so she could get a picture of an individual piece, but when she went to pick up her platter, all that was left was a "pile of crumbs." And I'll bet the pile wasn't very big.

And honorable mention goes to Joan, who didn't do the cheesecake, but instead did a reprise of the fabulous Saint-Honore trifle.

I think people are really going to like next week's Chocolate Bull's-Eye Cake. Don't be scared by all the components. Each one is easy, and the cake can be put together in a snap. It's going to be easier if you have the MaryAnn pan, because then you won't have to cut a circle out of the cake to put the chocolate in.
If you want your cake to be a little boozy, you have a couple of options. You can flavor the syrup with a vanilla cognac (or other liqueur) and you can also add a bit of apricot brandy to the strained apricot jam. Water, plus a little extra vanilla, works just fine as well.
This will be our first cake of 2011!
The following week, we go again to the Quick & Easy list, which is quickly diminishing. We'll make a layer cake: the classic White Velvet Cake topped with milk chocolate ganache. If anyone's birthday is coming up, it looks like it would be a fine birthday cake.

Happy New Year to all of you dear Heavenly Bakers!

Dec 26, 2010

Cranberry Crown Cheesecake

Once you have your ladyfingers for a cheesecake lined with ladyfingers, the rest is pretty much a walk in the park. As you may have guessed, I am unwarrantedly proud of my ladyfingers. I haven't yet stopped strangers on the street to tell them of my accomplishment, but I've come pretty close to it. So you may see a number of pictures of cheesecake that may look more like pictures of ladyfingers.

What a clever idea it is to make the ladyfingers so they spread together and make a solid line of cake. If you have such an unbroken line, you can shave off the bottom of the ladyfingers and tuck them in the pan so they form an unbroken circle. They don't fall over, nor do they lean precariously. They are so well-mannered you'd think they'd been attending a school for cake etiquette.

Granted, they don't fit so neatly in the bottom, but they can be cut and gently stuffed in holes so they make a pretty fair base for the cheesecake. No one complained that there was a hole in the bottom of the cheesecake.

In fact, no one did any complaining at all. I really do think that Rose's cheesecakes are the best on earth. At least they're the best I've sampled so far in my many years on earth, and I've tasted a fair number. This one is no exception--a basic cheesecake made only with cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar, fresh lemon juice, and vanilla--it's rich, light, and flavorful.

With three cups of sour cream (compared to two cups in the coconut cheesecake and two cups of sweet cream in the pumpkin cheesecake), you may think it's going to be too light and not cheesy enough. But it's just right.

It goes in a hot water bath. A 9-inch springform pan set in a 10-inch silicone cake pan set in a large, heavy skillet works perfectly for me. You do have to pay attention when you're pouring the hot water in the pan.

45 minutes later, you turn off the oven. An hour after that, you open the door and remove the cheesecake. Even after all that time in the oven, you will notice what is NOT on the top of the cheesecake: not a gap, a crack, a canyon, or a chasm. I've made cheesecakes in the past that tasted good but were nearly split in two by such imperfections. Of course, you can tell yourself that it doesn't matter because it will be covered by some topping, but in your heart, you know it's wrong.

No apologies are necessary when you serve this cheesecake. And there's just the right amount of cranberry topping that's just the right tart-sweet blend. (I made a cranberry cheesecake a few years ago that I was really looking forward to, but the cranberry topping turned out to be an overly sweet, cornstarchy mess.)

I took this to an office potluck for the project I've been volunteering for, and it was the star. Jim was convinced he'd never get a piece of this cake, but, fortunately, I was able to bring home a few pieces for him. I think otherwise he was going to take his camera and go to the basement and pout.


Julie: "This was really good. I don't even like cheesecakes-they're so heavy--and I just took a piece to be polite. But then I had to take another piece because I liked it."
Bridget: "You know, she made the ladyfingers. She makes everything."
Rachel: "I really liked it. I thought it was cherry topping because it wasn't too tart. Now that I know it's cranberry, I'll have to take another piece."
Erika: "It's delicious!"
Jim: "It really tastes good. The cranberry sauce is not too sweet or too tart, and the cheesecake was light but still rich. It's also quite pretty."

Dec 23, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Free Choice week is like going down Memory Lane for me.  I love reading about peoples' discovery of the recipes I've already made--makes me feel like The Old Baker who says, I remember when I made that Tiramisu back in 2009.  Those were the days.
I also have noticed that most of the recipes picked for Free Choice week tend to be from the Quick & Easy list.  This makes sense to me because why would you voluntarily make a lot of trouble for yourself?

For example, both Mendy and Andrea made the Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake. If you like coconut at all, how can you nut be tempted by a cake that has both "heavenly" and "seduction" in its name? Andrea decorated it beautifully, although she kind of apologized for just using her "standard shells and rosettes"--don't know how to break this to you, Andrea, but there are some households where shells and rosettes are not standard. Mendy doubled the recipe, for a tall, lovely layer cake, and said that his guests commented on how "fancy" it looked.
Gartblue made the Golden Lemon Almond cake, also on the Q&E list. She was actually sure that she had already made it; but then, checking her blog, realized that it was still on her to-do list. How much did she like it? Here's her response: "Whatever possessed me to make the Holiday Pinecone cake and miss this?" Hmmm. I have noticed that no one has done the Holiday Pinecone cake for a Free Choice week.
Jenn did the Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream--on the Q&E list and the first cake that I did from Heavenly Cakes. But Jenn doesn't get full credit for doing a cake from the Q&E list because she also made Whoopie Pies, for a double catch-up week. Check out Jenn's Heavenly Cake List, in which she gives the full list of cakes to bake with the ones she's already baked crossed out. Congratulations, Jenn!
I thought at first that Vicki also did a double catch-up because she blogged about two cakes as well: the Deep Chocolate Rosebuds and the Fruitcake. But it turns out that the fruitcake is a repeat: it has already become an annual event at Vicki's house.
Lois salso did the Fruitcake Wreath, but it was brand new to her, and she was doubtful about the whole fruitcake thing: "I haven't eaten fruitcake since I was a child, and my memories mainly involve disappointment. Shouldn't a cake have frosting? And even in its candied version, I couldn't understand why anyone would eat citrus peel." But she gave it a try, and was glad she did--she likes it so much she's been eating it for breakfast.
Raymond and Jennifer both did the Apple Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake, which I assumed was on the Q&E list, but, try as I might, I couldn't find it on the list. I have no idea why it isn't, especially since Raymond said he chose it out of "pure laziness" and Jennifer has already made various incarnations of this cake from The Cake Bible. Of course, both of them liked it--how can you not like a sour cream coffee cake filled with apples and topped with crumbs?
Not everyone went the Quick and Easy route--a few took detours off to, for example, Tiramisu-land and Bostini-ville.
Nancy is not a big fan of tiramisu, but she definitely liked this, as did one of her tasters who considers herself a connoisseur of tiramisu. And Hanaa was thrilled that she finally got a make the Bostini that had received such rave reviews. She made it three different ways, and liked all three.
Katya was finally able to work in the Torta de las Tres Leches at her parents's house. She said, "The tasting panel was enthusiastic, although they refused to write down pithy, witty commentary on an index card, citing exhaustion. Several did, however, reach for a second slice." I have that same problem with Tasting Panels--they're eager enough to eat the cake but but balk at being required to come up with pithy, witty comments.
Kristina resisted the Q&E temptation and tackled one of the more complicated cakes ("really fussy" is how she put it): the Chocolate Featherbed--and did a bang-up job. You should see the thin, beautiful layers she carefully made. Kristina's post is also noteworthy in that she therein confesses to a secret vice (that is no longer secret).

I have the good luck to have already made the next two cakes on the list: the Cranberry Crown Cheesecake and the Chocolate Bulls'-Eye Cakes. (I had two parties to go to, and said I'd bring dessert to both). I know that many of you will be super busy the next few weeks, but don't miss these cakes! The cheesecake is one of Rose's patented light-but-rich cheesecakes, and it's absolutely beautiful in a ladyfinger crown.
And don't be put off by the four components in the Bulls'-Eye Cakes. All components are easy to make, and come together to make an impressive, delicious dessert. I used my MaryAnn pan (which is nice, but not essential), and I was very glad that I had it--the chocolate filling (superb!) fits perfectly in the indentation made by the pan.

Happy Solstice, everyone!  At least everyone living in the northern hemisphere.  Maybe you can't quite tell it yet, but days are starting to get longer at last.  You can't say spring is right around the corner, but I think you can believe that it's a possibility.

Dec 19, 2010

Ladyfingers--Take Two

I remember when I blogged about the Lemon Canadian Crown with the misshapen ladyfingers, and I said if I ever made them again, I should have my head examined. Well, I tried them again, and I actually think that my head is in pretty good shape.

Would you believe me if I said I made these chocolate ladyfingers?

I thought not. This picture is courtesy of Dana Bellefeuille, a blog reader who took pity on my woeful attempt, and showed me how they make them at the resort she works at. The pictures she sent, and her narrative accompaniment, helped me quite a bit.

Would you believe me if I said I made these?

Yes, you probably would, because, although they look considerably better than my first attempt, they still don't look professional. The main reason they look better is that I bought the appropriate piping tip. As in so many things, having the proper equipment is key. You'd think I would have figured that out before now.

This is the biggest tip they had at the kitchen equipment store. It's about three times the diameter of the tip I used before. I can't tell you how much easier it was to use the recommended piping tip. As I keep saying to myself (although it doesn't seem to take), following directions is usually a good thing.

From Dana, Hector, and Rose's video, I learned that the template for the ladyfingers should go the length of the pan, not the width. Through Rose's video, I learned that you can put dabs of ladyfinger batter under the four corners of the parchment paper, which will make the parchment stay in place. Rose also tells you to turn the paper over because you wouldn't want to get pencil marks on your ladyfingers. Having traces of graphite on my ladyfingers was the least of my worries, but I turned the paper over anyway because I didn't want to seem like I didn't care about culinary hygiene.

Presto! Eight minutes in the oven and reasonable facsimiles of ladyfingers emerge from the oven. And, better yet, I'm all set for next week's cheesecake. In fact, I have so many ladyfingers, I might have to make two.

Dec 15, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

We are on a roll here. The second cake in a row from the Quick & Easy list (I hate to break this to you, but there are only 3 cakes left to do on that list, which may mean we have some killers ahead of us). That is, we will have some exciting challenges.

Most people loved these easy little gems, although several missed the richness that egg yolks generally bring to something named "pound cake," and a few thought the cake was just okay.

Jennifer, for example, was just a wee bit grumbly when she discovered there were no egg yolks in the cake, but she recovered, and admitted that once she got "over the lack of egg yolk, they really are quite lovely. Almost tea cake-like in their dense crumb, and with wonderful flavor." See, she's really quite open-minded.

Neither Nancy nor her always-willing-to-give-it-a-try family members were "wowed" but this cake. Nancy prefers the "tighter crumb" of traditional pound cake, and liked the "classic financier" best of the four financier (or pseudo-financier) recipes she's tried.

Monica also tsk-tsked a bit about calling these "pound cakes" when they're made sans egg yolks. Her final conclusion: "They were good, not spectacular; I guess I was missing the rich, dense texture that a true pound cake gives you."

On the other hand, ButterYum found them "moist and addictive," as well as "delicious and very easy to put together."

And Raymond liked them so much ("pound cake, vanilla, butter! Are there any better or sweeter words in the English language?") that he barely complained about their baby size, although he did say that the next time he made them, he'd try using his mini-loaf pans, brought back from Paris. They are "mini" but not as mini as a financier pan.

Mendy made his ("the taste was very vanilla-y eand fantastic") in his brand new tiny silicone fluted pans--a thoughtful Hanukkah present from his wife.

Gartblue sounds like she'll be making them again. Not only were they buttery, she said but she also loved "the vanilla bean effect on them. Pretty and tasted heavenly. Another winner in my book"
(By the way, Gartblue's post was the first one I read that pointed out that Rose had foresaw the curdling problem. I missed that little warning in the directions, so when I was making them, I thought, "This is weird--the batter is curdling. Hope that's okay." It was.)

Vicki also gave them high marks: "Topped with a dab of marscapone and apricot jam, these were delicious. Everyone very much enjoyed them and they go on the Make Again List."

Lois focused on their Q&E nature. How easy? "So easy that I've just whipped them up in the wee hours of the morning - before the sun is even up. If you can tackle a recipe before you're really awake, how hard can it be?"

Kristina also liked how easy they were. And how easy it was to write her blog post because she "refused to spend longer typing it up than [she] did making it."

Lola didn't make the pound cakes [yet}, because computer problems forced her to play catch up. She posted about last week's chocolate velvet fudge cake. Like everyone else, she liked it. And she also shared her "BTG" technique for baking, but not eating, whenever she pleases. "Buy-Taste-Gift."

The beauty of these little cakes is that they don't need much dressing up. They can be served as is or with a little fruit. But Maria, our FEATURED BAKER, showed that they also take well to getting dressed up. Maria put a single sour cherry atop the batter, and then carefully placed some green pistachio slivers around the cherry. Who would have thought these little financiers could double as Christmas cupcakes?

I warned you that I was going to load up the "Free Choice" weeks as we go into the final stretch. (I have only 16 cakes left!) You'll see from the "Next in the Oven" list that there's one scheduled for next week and another one on January 17, just a month later.

After the Free Choice week, the Cranberry Crown Cheesecake is up. It'll be a perfect winter dessert, whether or not you celebrate Christmas. You may notice that the cheesecake can be made with soft ladyfingers as a base. It can also be made with Savoiardi biscuits or angel food cake. YOU CAN BUY ANY THESE. You do not have to make the base unless you really, really want to.

And then, believe it or not, it will be 2011! We started this project in 2009. Holy crap.

Dec 13, 2010

Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Poundcake

These little "financier"-style "poundcakes" are not true financiers (no ground nuts) and not true poundcakes (eggwhites only, not whole eggs). They may not have a technically accurate name, but you could call them tender, moist, buttery little nuggets of flavor. They don't knock your socks off, but they might cause you to wiggle your toes in delight. I ate one just two hours ago, and I wrapped up the rest to put in the freezer so I wouldn't eat all the rest of them in one sitting.

If you thought last week's cake was easy, wait until you try this one. Jim missed the photogenic slicing and seeding of the vanilla bean. The second step--mixing the dry ingredients, including the aforesaid sugar, turned out to be not very photogenic. Ditto for the third step, whisking eggs, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Had I piped the batter into the financier molds, as recommended, I might have gotten something more photogenic, or (more likely) something a lot messier. You know how I feel about piping. Instead, I used the time-honored glob and smooth method of filling the pan.

Mixing everything together was only marginally more photogenic, and that's just because the Beater Blade made nice designs in the batter.

We had a kazillion inches of snow today. Our neighbor Fred used his snowblower on our front sidewalk this morning, so we took him and his wife a little plate of cookies and cakelets to thank them. The cakes look a little on the pale side, but they were perfectly done. If they'd been browner, they might have been too dry. As it was, they were perfect.

The tasting panel this week was cancelled due to a blizzard. Jim says to tell you that he liked these cakes a lot, although there weren't very many of them (9 because that's the number of openings my financier pan has), and he wishes I hadn't put them in the freezer.

Dec 8, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Here are Rose's pictures of the original marzipan candle, and the original recipient of the cake and candle:

I'm afraid that this week's roundup may be a little boring. One after another, bakers reported that the cake was not only easy, it was also delicious. But how many ways are there to say "good" and "easy"? Let us count the ways.

For example, Jennifer found it "simple to make" and "satisfying to eat."

Joan said it was "luscious" and "not difficult or time-consuming."

Raymond judged it "so easy" and "nice and light and flavorful."

Katya thought it was "very simple" and "easy to eat," although, to be honest, she was perhaps more enthralled with her new Heritage bundt pan than with the cake.

Lois, still cooking in her "little Polish kitchen," thought the cake was "soft and tender." She thought it was easy even thought she had to substitute migdałów aromatycznych for the aromat waniliowy, which you'd think would be enough to drive anyone to drink.

Vicki declared that the cake was "incredibly light crumbed" and "very easy to make."

Andrea thought it was "super simple," but hadn't tasted yet as of posting time.

Monica really said it all: The cake is "perfect because its easy to make, easy to decorate, easy to served and the most important easy of all? To eat."

For Kristina, it was so easy that it didn't present enough of a challenge--she had to try the marzipan candle in order to make it interesting.

Mendy, who found the cake "delicious," also tried the marzipan candle. Nice work, Mendy, but the marzipan decoration isn't as pretty as your Hannukah candles.

For Sarah, the candle was the hero (or villain) of her piece. Villain because she thought it looked "ridiculous," and made both her and Steve "burst out laughing."

Although Jenn found the cake "dense and fudgy," she wasn't jumping on the quick and easy bandwagon, mostly because she broke her stride when she realized she'd forgotten to add sugar. She recovered, but worried about overbeating, and also worried that part of the cake stuck to the cake pan. She's going to give it another shot, though.

And Nancy was having so much fun making quick and easy chocolate cakes that she added another one: the Black Chocolate Party Cake, which she made in addition to the assigned chocolate fudge cake.

Our featured baker this week is Gartblue. As you may have noticed, I'm a pushover for anyone who goes all out, since I like to go all out myself. So I love it that Gartblue gave a birthday party for her daughter Ayisha that included not only the Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake ("what a surprise this cake turned out to be despite its deceptive appearance"), but also the Lemon Canadian Crown, which she'd stashed in the freezer last week, AND the chocolate ice cream cake. A birthday lunch at Gartblue's also includes lamb kebabs, meatballs in black pepper sauce, and fried vegetables. Coincidentally, this is what I want for my next birthday lunch.

Our next cake should also be quick and easy--unless, of course, you try making it with marzipan candles. Then I'm not responsible. It's the Financier-style Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes. You'll need half a vanilla bean, as you might guess, and egg whites only. Check your freezer. And isn't it about time for you to break down and buy those silicone financier pans?

After that, it's another Free Choice week. We've never had so many, but I want to give everyone a chance to play Catch-Up.

By the way, since cocoa is the basis for nearly all of the chocolate cakes--which means almost half the cakes in the book--Jenn was wondering if people have found a brand of cocoa they're satisfied with, and, if so, what is it and where do you get it?
I used Droste almost exclusively. Then I ordered a big bag of Perugina from King Arthur, and I've been quite pleased with it. It has a higher fat content than cocoa you can buy in the supermarket. I'll either buy it again when I run out, or I'll try some French cocoa and compare.

Dec 6, 2010

Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake

If I were naming this cake, I think I'd just call it Plain Chocolate Cake. Not plain as in ugly, but plain as in unadorned, simple, essential. If you only had one chocolate cake in your baking repertoire, you'd want to give serious thought to making it this one.

First of all, unlike some of the other recent cakes which seemed easy, but weren't on the Q&E list, this one really is. That is, it's on the list, it's quick, and it's easy. Easy enough that I had it almost entirely put together by the time Jim went upstairs and got his camera. (He's kind of a slow walker).

In fact, the hardest part was picking the pan. I already announced I wasn't going to buy a new silicone bundt pan when I'd mortgaged the house for various Nordicware pans. I decided it was time to bring out the Christmas wreath pan again.

Here's how you put it together.
1) Mix cocoa and boiling water.
2) Mix eggs, water, and vanilla.

3) Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, and cocoa mixture.

4) Add egg mixture.

5) Put in pan.

6) Bake

Really. If you can make a cake mix, you can make this.

My cake took a few minutes less than the minimum 50 minutes, probably because the pan was wider and flatter than a typical bundt pan.

The simple decoration of powdered sugar brought out the ribbon and pine cones that you couldn't see before sugar was sifted over the cake.
And that's it--eat, taste, love.

You could also serve it with ice cream or whipped cream, if you wanted to gussy it up. If you wanted to further gussy, you could put some chocolate sauce on the ice cream that sits next to the cake. (Maybe you have some leftover sauce from the Bostini?) But I like it best plain.
Even writing the blog was quick and easy. Whereas it took me hours to write about the Lemon Canadian Crown cake, and required multitudes of photos, not to mention a fair amount of complaining, this blog virtually wrote itself. Thanks, Rose. I needed that.

Jim: "Really good chocolatey taste. I like the light texture. I think I'd like it even better with whipped cream."
Rachel: "Delicious. I don't think it needed anything else."
Steve: "I'd eat it with ice cream or with frosting or plain because I'm so agreeable."

Dec 1, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

It was a pretty small group that tackled the Lemon Canadian Cream this week, and an even smaller group that made the ladyfingers as well. But those of us who did were rewarded with a wonderful, (deceptively) light dessert that was perfect for Thanksgiving. And perfect for just about any other occasion.
Since I was obsessed with my own ladyfingers, and their lack of professional smoothness, I was also obsessed with checking out how the other Heavenly Bakers fared in the ladyfinger department.
Frankly, I was most impressed with Gartblue and Vicki, who both bought their ladyfingers. Not only did they buy them, but they bought the "wrong" kind--Saviordi instead of soft. But what they did with their "mistakes" was pretty impressive. Vicki turned hers into a kind of trifle, adding blueberries to the mix, to make a "showstopper" dessert. And Gartblue's looked stunning, even though she thought she'd burned the meringue.
Kristina also burned her meringue; she claimed that it looked bad enough that she had to scrape it off and start over. I couldn't tell because I was too jealous of her ladyfinger perfection. I tried not to be jealous, I really did, but when I saw her beautiful concentric circles, I couldn't help myself. But enough about me.
Special praise to Lois, who made her ladyfinger baking debut in Poland, using the white powdery substances she explained to the authorities were her baking supplies. And then she realized that she didn't have powdered sugar with her, so had to go to a Polish supermarket. And then, after all that, she remarked about how easy it was to make ladyfingers!
Nancy also found the ladyfingers to be "surprisingly easy." She had the good sense to watch Rose's video before tackling them--something which Hector also recommended and which, of course, is an excellent idea. Nancy made a half recipe, as she often does, and ended up with something both beautiful and, because of its small size, cute.
Raymond found the ladyfingers to be "so easy it hardly seemed worth the effort of tracking down the store bought ones." He also described the whole dessert as "deceptively simple." And, I have to say, his pictures make it look like he's been making ladyfingers his whole life.
Monica didn't think they were easy to make; in fact, they drove her to distraction. But they were on her "kitchen bucket" list, so she went at them with determination--and success--and then she wrapped her "crown" up with a big blue ribbon. So pretty!
But the FEATURED BAKER this week is Mendy, who likened his his ladyfingers to the "Great Wall" of Ladyfingers, or, perhaps, to a baseball glove. Mendy made his ladyfingers with a makeshift piping bag (a Ziploc bag), and his trusty toaster oven. I loved his wall of ladyfingers, his sprightly ribbon, and his good humor.

No piping bags next week, with the Chocolate Velvet Fudget Cake, although you will have to make a Marzipan candle if you want to imitate Rose's presentation. You would then cut the candle into very thin slices and drape a slice over each individual piece of cake. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be opting out of the Marzipan candle, but a good dusting of powdered sugar sounds like a great idea. We haven't made a plain butter chocolate cake for a while, and I'm excited about getting out a bundt pan and seeing what happens. (By the way, Rose recommends a silicone bundt pan, but after investing in a half-dozen different Nordicware pans, I think I'm committed to using one of them).
Next up are "Financier-Style" Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes--not really Financiers, as Rose says, because they don't have ground nuts in them, but you can make them in silicone financier molds. These baby pound cakes are, I think, going to look very elegant on a holiday dessert platter. (And in case you're missing your piping bag after the chocolate cake, you're welcome to bring it out in order to neatly pipe the batter into the financier molds).

Nov 28, 2010

Lemon Canadian Crown with Homemade Ladyfingers

Well, I predicted last week that my ladyfingers would not be picture-perfect, which turned out to be an understatement. But I'm including pictures anyway. Feel free to laugh at my wobbly efforts--I certainly did. As it turned out, they tasted just fine anyway--much lighter and lovelier than anything I could have bought, and the meringue--the first thing you see when you look at a piece of this cake--looked good. So I'm not unhappy at all. If I ever venture into ladyfinger territory again, however, I should have my head examined. Once is enough.
Here are the piping guides I drew on a piece of parchment paper. If there's anything I'm worse at than piping, it's drawing. My poor third-grade art teacher tried so hard to compliment me on my drawing. But she always guessed wrong about what I was trying to draw.

It was easy enough to make the ladyfinger batter. Just an egg-yolk and Wondra flour mixture into which a meringue is folded.
It's the piping where it gets tricky. I used a 9-inch parchment round that some machine had already cut for me. I figured all I'd have to do is make the circle a little smaller since I was supposed to have an 8-inch round. Whoa! The piping apparatus appears to have a mind of its own. I envision nice thick swirls going in concentric circles. What comes out of the tube is skinny, wobbly, and going in curlicues. It reminded me of Mickey's magic broom in The Sorcerer's Apprentice section of Fantasia.

The ladyfingers didn't go much better, although I cheered up when I decided that I would just think of them as ornate, somewhat rococo ladyfingers instead of the plain straight ones that anyone can buy in the grocery store.

Here's how the bottom turned out when I took it out of the oven and sprinkled powdered sugar on it. It was somewhat humbling to realize that that was as good as it was ever going to look. Oh well, I thought. It's on the bottom, covered by lemon cream. No one will ever see it. And at least I tried, I thought to myself, unlike Woody who just went to a big-box grocery store and pulled some lame factory-made ladyfingers off the shelf. So what if his looked perfect?

I think it's at least within the realm of possibility that ladyfingers like this could start a fad for homemade Baroque ladyfingers.
Enough of that. I lined the springform pan with misshapen ladyfingers and put them in the freezer. I was going to make the lemon cream next, but I decided I'd had enough trauma for one day. Instead, I put the pan in the refrigerator and had a glass of wine, along with a couple of ladyfingers. A much better choice than continuing to bake. The ladyfingers actually tasted pretty good. I gave some to Jim even though he had tried to cheer me up by suggesting that I should watch someone who knew what they were doing a few times and maybe then I wouldn't be so bad.
The next day was so much easier. Just make a lemon cream--a version of lemon curd made with whipping cream instead of butter. For those of you who object to lemon curd because it's too eggy, you might want to try this. Although it's got plenty of eggs in, the cream somehow mixes in a different way than butter, making the mixture seem more creamy than eggy. Of course, I don't object to lemon curd in any form so I may be the wrong person to give advice.

I remember a day that I said I hated recipes that told you to have a sieve at the ready because those were always recipes that bore many possibilities for failure. I don't know what I was talking about. A sieve no longer inspires terror in me.

Two cups of whipped cream. Now that's a recipe I can love.

And so pretty when the white cream is folded into the brilliant yellow of the curd.

All that lemon cream is spread into the pan that's been lined with frozen ladyfingers since the previous day. Some of the ladyfingers have somehow tilted inward, but it's easy enough to straighten them up. Even though they're frozen, they don't crack or break.
And now the meringue. This is the second meringue I've made for this project, the first one having been folded into the ladyfinger batter. As I was making it, I was very thankful that it was not an Italian meringue, which would require me to make a sugar syrup. I was grateful that I could just fold in a bit of powdered sugar and call it a day. I was also grateful for the directions about making "swirls and peaks" in the meringue. I was familiar with swirls, but hadn't tried peaks before. To my utter amazement, just dabbing at the meringue with a small spatula caused attractive-looking peaks to form. Just one minute in the broiler is enough to brown the meringue perfectly.

I actually loved making this collar. For such an elegant dessert, it had a Rube-Goldberg quality that's unusual in Rose's desserts. For example, I believe this is the first time I've ever heard Rose mention masking tape. I didn't know she had ever heard of masking tape.
Et voila! A very impressive dessert that tastes absolutely delicious and turned out to be a perfect, if nontraditional, Thanksgiving dessert. And if I do say so, my daughter Sarah, cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner, did a great job. Heckuva job, as they say in Washington. Her turkey was made with a half-pound of butter. It runs in the family.

Sarah: "Delicious--but you know how much I like anything with lemon."
Mary: "I love it. It looks like it was a lot of work, though."
Roger: "Now that's a good dessert."
James: "Very tasty."
Jim: "I really like it. A really good lemon taste. The ladyfingers were kind of overwhelmed by the lemon. Also, it was really pretty. I was very impressed with the browned meringue."

Nov 24, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

This is our third winner in a row! Everyone who tried the chocolate genoise with peanut butter whipped ganache--even those of us who, like me, were doubtful about the combination--fell in love.
I didn't even think about decorating mine. I was happy just getting the frosting on the cake. But most of you did beautiful and imaginative decorating.
Faithy, whose bottle of Chambord is still in mint (unopened) condition, used miniature Oreos for a cute touch.
I can't tell what kind of chocolate candies Raymond used, but they look pretty. He also took the extra step of cutting his cake layer in half in filling it with the ganache. To me, slicing a cake in half is a step to be avoided if possible, but Raymond seems to take it in stride.
Vicki, who loves Valrhona, had some chocolate pearls on hand, and she used them to decorate her cake. The pearls look like the candy that Raymond used--my apologies if I didn't recognize pearls when I saw them.
When it comes to decorating, Jenn knows how to pull out all the stops. First, she made cute little cupcakes. Then she piped on different decorative icings. And then she topped them with assorted chocolate flakes, including some that were the initials "KB" (for "Knitty Baker"). Mind you, even after all this, she wasn't satisfied, and complained that her icing looked too grainy. I don't think so. Jenn, if I had your piping skills, I'd take a grainy frosting any day.
Joan's decorations didn't take the chocolate route. Instead, she placed fresh blackberries on her cake--a nice marriage with the Chambord. After our cake was long gone, I noticed that I had another bag of frozen marionberries, and I wished that I had used those for a garnish. Too late.
Katya's cake was topped with just a few raspberries (red, not black) in the center. A nice touch. Katya thinks that this frosting would be excellent with a yellow cake, and I'm inclined to agree.
Andrea is another baker who knows her way around a pastry bag. She said she had just enough frosting left to make her cake "look pretty" before she took it into work. It almost looked too pretty to eat.

Jennifer didn't use anything extra to decorate, but she did do her trademark swirl, which looks pretty and festive.
Gartblue also used her trademark swirl, which is different than Jennifer's. Congratulations on your promotion, GB!
Nancy used still another swirly pattern for her cake, which her supervisor at work declared to be the best ever. (As Nancy noted, however, supervisors do not necessarily always get a piece of cake brought into the office, so his sample was limited).
Mendy didn't decorate either--he did something even better. He doubled the recipe for a dynamite-looking layer cake.
Lois's cake is pure in its simplicity. Besides, she was so busy gathering up varieties of white powdery substances, hoping to get them all by the TSA people, that she had no time for any decorating folderol.
Like Katya, Kristina thought red raspberries instead of black. She translated that thought into a Framboise syrup rather than using fresh raspberries, and that also sounds like a good variation.

Did I mention that we fell in love with this cake? Our FEATURED BAKER, Sarah, really fell in love. She describes the cake as "a peanut butter and jelly sandwich meets a Reese’s peanut butter cup from heaven, and it is so divine that feeling guilty simply didn’t cross my mind as I licked every spatula in sight." Feeling completely enamored, Sarah put together a series of pictorial tributes to a slice of the cake: imagining it as "on a yacht, parked outside of its mansion," "represent[ing] our country in outer space," and being completely at home in the oval office.

Is it possible that this cake could encourage across-the-aisle peace and understanding? Could it be that a slice of cake with a cup of tea could make angry Tea Partiers happy? Sarah, your assignment is to take a bunch of cakes to D.C. and bring about detente.

We'll see if next week's cake, the Lemon Canadian Crown with homemade ladyfingers (optional, but recommended) , can continue this unbroken chain of love. I have already made the ladyfingers and, as I predicted, they did not turn out to look exactly like the pictures. In fact, Jim said they looked like arthritic old woman's fingers instead of lady's fingers. On the other hand, I tasted the lemon cream filling, and I think its glorious taste should outweigh the less than handsome ladyfingers.

The next week, we're back to chocolate: the chocolate velvet fudge cake. This cake, which is on the Quick & Easy list, is your reward for making the ladyfingers.

Nov 21, 2010

Chocolate Genoise with Whipped Peanut Butter Ganache

To tell you the truth, I wasn't really looking forward to making this cake. I'm one of the few people I know who isn't crazy about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups--too sweet, too sticky, and not at all subtle. And the black raspberry liqueur? That just sounded weird. But this cake was different: one of the best chocolate cakes I've tasted, and definitely the best chocolate genoise. Not too sweet, not too sticky, and subtle as the dickens. Move over, peanut butter cups. You've been bested.
Of course, I had to add another expensive liqueur to my steadily growing supply. You can see why Faithy fell so in love with the bottle that she refused to open hers. But the pretty crown stays intact when it's opened, so there's no reason not to. I'll confess I had a few nips while I was baking. It tastes kind of like a very grown-up version of black raspberry Kool-Aid but improved my mood much more than Kool-Aid would have.
Here are some of the other bottles I've bought/used for various cake projects:

This was another very easy cake to make. No, it's not on the Q&E list. Are the cakes getting easier or am I actually getting better? Whatever--it's nice not to face every new cake with dread of failure. (Although, as you'll see, there was a total failure involved here). Note that I left my whisk in the cocoa mixture, just as instructed.

I can never resist including a picture of the lovely, billowy egg mixture after it's been beaten for "at least five minutes." Don't be fooled and stop beating after three!

The cocoa mixture is gently folded into the batter, making--what else?--a chocolate batter.
I baked the cake for 25 minutes, and immediately took it out of the pan "to prevent the collapse of its delicate foam structure." This takes two wire racks that have been coated with cooking spray. By the time I turned the cake back over, the lines of the first rack were etched into the cake. Not a problem, though, because the top is going to be taken off anyway so the syrup can soak in.
Here is the cake after it's been syruped on both sides. Note the tart pan bottom in the background. After seeing a genoise fall apart before my eyes when I transferred it to a serving dish, I never tried that again without the assistance of this sturdy pan bottom.

On to the ganache! I melted the chocolate, added the peanut butter, and tried the whip in the cream. It didn't whip at all. "Rose! WTF?!" I said to myself. "This is never going to work!" Suddenly I had a thought. Surely it wasn't possible that I had poured in the half-and-half instead of the heavy cream? I checked the refrigerator. Oh, it was possible all right. Note: making whipped ganache with half-and-half is not a good idea. Jim said, "Do we have to start over?" "Yes." "Do I have to go out and get more chocolate?" "Yes." "What percent?" Don't you love that? My non-cooking, non-baking husband is asking me what percentage of cacao is supposed to be in the chocolate he's going to pick up.

Armed with more Scharffenburger 60% semisweet chocolate, I start over. This time it works. First it looks speckled and unpromising.

Then, in just seconds, it whips into the perfect consistency. It's so good! I was afraid the peanut butter would overwhelm, but it's just the right amount of peanut butter to make itself known but stay in the background.

It was amazingly easy to frost this cake. Really, it should be on the Q&E list. If you don't make the mistake of grabbing the half and half carton, everything about this cake and ganache goes together so smoothly. I had a little trouble again slipping the waxed paper strips out from under the cake, but I left it refrigerated for longer than I did last week, and I got them out without doing much damage to the frosting. I wonder if parchment would work better than waxed paper.

We went out for dinner with some friends. When the waitress asked if we wanted dessert, I told them they couldn't eat dessert at the restaurant; they had to come back to our house. They are used to my bossy ways and didn't put up much of a fight, especially when I told them they could also taste the Chambord.
Perhaps the only thing I'd do differently next time is use all the Chambord syrup. I didn't think the cake would need much syrup because I could see it wasn't going to be dry. And it wasn't dry, and probably didn't need all the syrup, but the black raspberry flavor was so delicious that I wished I could taste it even more. On the other hand, you could make a case for it being perfect just the way it was.

Karen: "This is no ordinary chocolate cake--it just bursts with flavor."
Jim: "I like the black raspberry taste. Now I know why there's a crown on the bottle--it's royally good."
June: "It looks like it's going to be a dense, heavy cake, like a flourless torte, but then it turns out to be so light. It's a really good cake."
David: "I agree that it's really good. It doesn't have much relation to peanut butter candy."