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."

Nov 19, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

This was definitely a fall-themed Free Choice week, with lots of people being attracted by apples, pumpkin, and spice. 
Both Vicki ("lovely cake for this time of year") and Lola ("a good keeper recipe") made the apple-cinnamon coffee cake. What could be better on a chilly November day?
Well, maybe an apple upside-down cake, which is what both Lynnette ("easy to like") and Hanaa ("Hubby liked this cake a lot. He gave it a 9 out of 10") made.
And, of course, apples aren't the only fall fruit--and Shandy made good use of fall pears with her Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake ("The cake is moist, the almond and pear combination delicious; I will be baking this cake again.")
Like Shandy, Andrea didn't have to go very far back to find the cake she wanted to make--the highly praised Bostini. You can now add Andrea to the list of The Bostini's devoted followers: ("Daniel and I both really loved this one. It certainly lived up to the rave reviews").

Katya was attracted to the pumpkin cake (in a bundt cake pan instead of the pumpkin-shaped pan pictured in the book). In fact, she was so attracted to the pumpkin cake that she and her tasters thought it outshone the burnt orange silk meringue buttercream frosting, even though the frosting was "more addictive" than she expected (she likes making frosting more than eating it). Rachelino, who had opted for a simple glaze the first time she made the pumpkin cake, decided to tackle the burnt orange etc. frosting ("ranks high for flavor with its notes of citrus and caramel") this time.
Jennifer was also attracted to pumpkin, but she took it in a different direction, with the pure pumpkin cheesecake ("the texture was impossibly light and fluffy"). Julie tried another cheesecake appropriate to fall: the ginger cheesecake. When I made this cheesecake, I passed on the cute but optional gingerbread girls and boys that could decorate the sides of the cheesecake. Julie made them, though, and I'll admit they're so precious that they probably justify the work.
Raymond's yen for autumnal spice flavors led him to the first cake I baked from Rose's Heavenly Cakes: the spice cake with peanut buttercream ("When I was a child the smell of a spice cake baking in the kitchen always screamed out fall, thanksgiving, turkey").
And, in the spirit of winter coming on, Nancy B. transformed the "She Loves Me Cake" (a cake that just said "spring" to me) into a great seasonally appropriate cake with the use of a snowflake pan. By the way, Nancy is only eight cakes behind me: that is, she has (I'm pretty sure) baked every cake since the group started baking together, and she's done enough catching up so that there are only eight cakes left that I've baked and she hasn't. I plan to schedule a Free Choice week about once a month through the end of this project, which I anticipate will end sometime in May, so, Nancy, if you sneak in an extra cake here and there, we'll end at the same time!
Mendy did another cake that says "spring" to me--the Golden Lemon Almond Cake.
Jenn did a catch-up (Black Chocolate Party Cake) plus a preview (White Velvet Butter Cake) for her Free Choice week. Sad to say, she wasn't crazy about the chocolate cake, which she described as being "too dense" for her taste (although this remark led other readers, who like dense cakes, to say they now wanted to try it). As they say, Chacun a son gout.
Jenn also gets a mention on the small list of people who baked cakes for Free Choice week that did not, strictly speaking, follow the rules of Free Choice Week (a cake that has been baked before, either by the group or by me, but not yet baked by you).
Jenn went to the Ethereal Pear Charlotte, the kissing cousin of the Apple Caramel Charlotte that caused some of us to swear off baking (or at least to swear). The Pear Charlotte is from The Cake Bible, and Jenn's rendition looks perfect.
Joan had made Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake (or WLLLC, as she affectionately terms it) months ago, but returned to it in spectacular fashion when she made it, decorated beautifully with fresh flowers, for her daughter's 50th birthday.
And Sarah, not in catch-up mode, baked ahead, giving us all a nice preview of the Southern Manhattan Coconut Cake, which she actually turned into two smaller cakes.

Next week--and the baking weekend is coming up very soon--we turn to the all-American flavors of chocolate and peanut butter, fancied up with a Chambord-flavored syrup. For some reason, when I was claiming that this Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache required no exotic equipment or ingredients, I overlooked the fact that the syrup has Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur, as an ingredient. I'm sure there are many things you could substitute, but I'm interested to see how black raspberry blends with peanut butter. I guess you could think of it as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on chocolate bread.
The following week brings more complexities. Whenever I see a piping bag, it sends chills down my spine. The piping bag comes in with the homemade ladyfingers, made for the Lemon Canadian Crown. If you choose to make the ladyfingers, this is another two-fer. You'll be able to cross two recipes off your list in the same weekend. Of course, you can also buy the ladyfingers and eliminate the whole trauma of the piping bag, but I plan to soldier on, even though I'm expecting some rather wobbly-looking ladyfingers. Perhaps they'll look more like peasant-woman-fingers.
I'm sorry I couldn't give you a more obviously appropriate Thanksgiving dessert, but I actually think either of these desserts would be lovely for Thanksgiving, if your family wouldn't throw a fit at the idea of a pumpkin pie substitute. Even so, I'm seeing the Lemon Canadian Crown as a welcome adjunct to the traditional pies. And if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, there is no reason to protest.

Nov 15, 2010

Woody's Test Cake with Light Whipped Ganache

Free Choice week always presents a problem. (Not a real problem, I hasten to add). I sometimes bake a different version of something I've baked before. This time, however, I pair something I didn't bake at all with a frosting from The Cake Bible that I'd never tried.

A few weeks ago, Woody dropped by on his way to tai chi, or broomball, or one of his esoteric activities, and invited Jim and me to sample the cake he was taking along for his buddies. Honestly, I don't even remember what the cake was, so taken was I with the frosting. He showed me the recipe (p. 268 in The Cake Bible), and problem of Free Choice week was solved! I didn't even have to bake a cake to put under the frosting because Woody had also given me several sample cakes a while ago when he and Rose were testing flours.
You can see the test slices in the cake. I just covered them over with frosting and no one was the wiser.
In case you're wondering, yes, I do know how lucky I am to know someone like Woody, who drops by the house with delicious treats, a big hug, and an even bigger grin. I just don't want him to develop a big ego to go along with the grin.
The whipped ganache begins with melting bittersweet chocolate with part of the whipping cream. (In TCB, Rose doesn't specify the cacao %. I felt giddy with freedom, and chose a 70%).
I healted the chocolate and the cream in the microwave, and let the hot cream gradually melt the rest of the chocolate.
This mixture is lovely, and you almost feel like stopping right there. But you don't. I used the "quick" variation, which Rose describes as involving a little more work. It actually seemed pretty easy to me.
After this chocolate mixture cools, you whip the rest of the cream (I halved the recipe and used 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and a cup of whipping cream), and then add the chocolate mixture. In retrospect, I see that this picture shows the whipped chocolate to be just about right.
Did I stop when it was just about right? No, I did not. I continued beating, and guess what? It didn't become thicker, it became thinner and somewhat grainy. I had a deadline, however, so it was going to have to be good enough.
And it was. Like so many of Rose's recipes, although the directions and amounts are completely precise, there is still room for user error.
Piling the ganache on the cake--the piece that was cut out will no longer be visible.
I had refrigerated the ganache briefly to make it more spreadable, but it was still pretty soft. Usually the strips of waxed paper I put under the cake while I'm frosting it will slide out easily, leaving a clean bottom line.
But in this case, some of the frosting came off each time I pulled the waxed paper out, no matter I gently I tried to slide it. I would have avoided this problem entirely if I'd used it to frost cupcakes, which was my initial plan. However, there was really no contest when I weighed the cupcake plan against the getting-a-cake-out-of-the-freezer plan.
You can see the imperfections in the frosted cake, but I didn't hear anyone complaining. I loved this frosting as much as I did when I first tasted it. It's so chocolatey, and yet, even with all that chocolate and cream, it seems light, rather than rich.
The cake was fine, but the frosting was so much the star of the show that one of my tasters carefully ate all the ganache and left the cake.

Jim: "This is delicious. I like the cake too, but I really like the frosting."
Liz: "I'd give the ganache an A, but I'm not even going to bother with the cake."
Sarah: "I usually don't want dessert after a big meal, but who can resist this?"
James: "Very good, especially the frosting."

Nov 10, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

The Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake was another big hit. Just when I think I've already baked Rose's very best cakes, along comes another winner--last week the Bostini, and this week the pear cake. I'm either going to have to rethink my top five cakes at the end of the project, or I'm going to have to expand the list to the top ten.
Thanks to Kristina for clarifying what I finally figured out how this cake should be described. As it's not made with Swedish pears, and it doesn't have cream in it, it should be a "Swedish … pear … and … almond cream … cake, not Swedish pear … and almond … cream cake.” Got that?

Not so many variations this time--people mostly stuck to the recipe as written. Katya, whose mantra is "bake with what you have," used Bosc pears rather than Bartlett (because she had nice Farmers' Market Bosc).
Jennifer and Mendy used marzipan instead of almond paste: Jennifer because she mistakenly bought the marzipan and Mendy because he read Jennifer's comment on LCNC last week, which told him that marzipan would work. I like how we watch out for each other. By the way, Jennifer's blog is especially fun to read this week--not only does she show the cake, but she's also got some fascinating stories about her past life as a 20-year-old student in Simferopol, Russia.
Lynnette had already baked this as a pear cake for a "Free Choice" week, and decided to try it with apples this time. It worked with apples too, but she thought she'd add a little cinnamon if she made it again with apples.
Rachelino, who made hers for a party for a long-time, new-mother friend of hers, "dressed it up" a bit with a citrus glaze.
Sarah used all the requisite ingredients, but baked her cake while "camping out"--that is, without access to her KitchenAid, scale, and thermometer. Practically like a pioneer.

Joan used the intricately designed chrysanthemum pan.
Nancy B. chose the Bavaria bundt pan (excellent choice, Nancy!)
Vicki baked her cake in the classic bundt pan.

No matter what pan was used, the verdict was pretty much the same: a fabulous cake.
Lola said that the cake was "tender, delicious and light. My honey loves a little not too sweet treat in the morning with his second cup of coffee - this will be perfect!"
Raymond found this cake so much to his liking that he imagined Rose, recipe in hand, looking directly at him, and saying, She looks across the counter at me and she says, “Raymond, I know that you’re a tired, cranky, old curmudgeon, but just to prove that I do listen, this one is for you.”
Vicki called it an "amazing cake, so simple and yet utterly sophisticated."
For Maria it was comfort food par excellence, and she paired it with chicken soup as a welcome-home dinner for her parents, the weary travelers.

As soon as I saw that Andrea (who's been out of baking commission lately because of foot surgery) was so taken with the cake that she just had to bake it--by scooting around the kitchen on an office chair on wheels, I knew she had to be the FEATURED BAKER. What dedication! She had to send her husband to the grocery store to pick up almond paste (first going on-line and showing him a picture), and she had to do the cake in stages, resting after making the almond cream, but make it she did. And love it she did--she described it as having an "outside [that] was hard and slightly crunchy, and the inside was very soft."
I heard from Bungalow Barbara a few days ago. Barbara had to drop out of the group a while back, but she still follows our progress and now and then bakes along with us, as she did this week. Nice to hear from you!

Next week, it's time for another Free Choice. As we head into the final stretch (I have only 20 cakes left to bake!), the Free Choice week is a time for you to catch up, either by baking cakes that I baked in the three or four months before this group was formed, or by baking one of the cakes that you missed. It's always fun to see what choices people make.

After Free Choice, it's back to regularly-scheduled cakes. Next up there is a sponge cake: the Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache (p. 184). If you like the classic chocolate/peanut butter combination, this one's for you. No special ingredients or equipment required.

Nov 7, 2010

Swedish Pear and Almond Cream Cake

When I saw that this was a sour cream cake, I knew I was going to like it--even if the pears and almond cream didn't rise to the top like they were supposed to (which they did). I love the rich, moist, slightly tangy cake you get with sour cream, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, this cake might now make my "Top 5" list.
I breezed through this cake. It was so easy to make, I assumed it was on the "Quick and Easy" list, but it's not. Maybe because you have to go through the extra step of making the almond cream?

I had a tube of unmarked almond-y smelling paste in the freezer, but was it marzipan or almond paste? I couldn't remember. Once I stopped sniffing the unidentified tube, and stopped dithering about whether I should just use it or go to the store and get something labeled "almond paste," I put together the almond cream in about a minute.

The cake batter presented no problems, either--just a simple butter cake (with sour cream, of course). A rich, creamy batter that filled only about half the cake pan, making me wonder if I had the right size pan. And it was easy enough to slice the pears.

Jim suggested that the reason the cake wasn't on the Q&E list was because of the trough you have to make in the top of the cake. After making the trough, you fill it with the almond paste, which has been sitting patiently in a bowl, just waiting to be added to the cake.

And then pear slices are layered on top.

I was sure there was no way the pears and almond cream were going to miraculously make their way to the top of the cake, as pictured. They were both solidly placed on the bottom. I turned the oven light on, and checked The Pears' Progress about every 10 minutes. Sure enough, I could see that they were sinking into the batter. And, by the way, this cake smells wonderful while it's baking. If you ordered up a particular smell to remind you of a crisp, sunny fall day, you couldn't do better than this.

When I took it out of the oven, it looked solidly embedded into the pan. I didn't think it would come out in one piece. But, again, the cake followed the instructions and flipped right out. Very handsome, if I do say so.

And look! It's just like the picture in the book, with the subtle layer of pears and almond cream at the top.
So pretty, in a homey, unpretentious way. And so good. We had a piece for a mid-afternoon snack. Jim finished his, and immediately cut himself a second (and bigger) slice. I only had one piece and felt more virtuous than Jim, if not as happy.


Karen: "Elegant and smooth. I just love that pan, too--the cake is just gorgeous. Although I love chocolate, the cakes that have fruit in them have been my favorites. I know you've made some really complicated cakes, and it's nice that something this simple can taste so good."

Jim: "I was surprised at how many different flavors there are in this cake, and especially how prominent the taste of pears was."

Teddie: "Delicious."

Sarah: "Yum. Very tasty. It really has a great moist texture."

Nov 4, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Before getting into the various Bostinis, let me talk just a little about my trip to New York. It was great fun all around, but the very best parts were my meetings with two Heavenly Bakers: Katya and Rose herself, the original Heavenly Baker.
We met Katya in her capacity as leader of a Ghost Tour. If you're ever in New York (or even if you live there already), I recommend taking a tour from Katya--ghost or otherwise. She knows a ton of New York lore, is both funny and erudite, and will give you one of the best tours you've ever had. We definitely fell down on our picture-taking responsibilities.
In this picture, Katya is assuming a suitable pose for a ghost-tour leader. I'll tell you that it's not a particularly flattering picture, but she manages to look cute even when she's narrowing her eyes and trying to appear forbidding.
We fell down even more as picture takers when we met Rose and Elliott. Jim forgot to take pictures of them, and forgot to take pictures of the food at chef Suvir Savran's amazing Indian restaurant, Devi, until the dessert course, when Elliott said, "Jim, why aren't you taking pictures?" Our only excuse is that we were enjoying the food (and the company, of course) so much that we completely failed in our recording duties. We do at least have pictures of the delicious desserts that we shared:




And now, on to the Bostini!
I think this was one of the most uniformly successful undertakings for the HCBs. Not only did it turn out well for everyone, but everyone liked it. Even Raymond, whose dislike of cupcakes is well known, said, "I could have eaten all 12 of these little beauties. They were so good I couldn’t get over it." (Although to be fair to Raymond's sense of consistency, I should point out that he said he'd make them next time as a whole cake).
To me, the most fun of reading all the posts was seeing how creatively the Bakers plated (or should I say "glassed"?) this dessert.
Lola used a pretty green Mexican Margarita glass.
Lois got a few extra because she chose smallish Ikea juice glasses.
Kristina's sundae glasses also gave her a few extra Bostinis, which she said were way better than Tim Horton's Boston Cream pie.
Katya said the Bostinis were also superior to Dunkin' Doughnuts' Boston Cream Pie doughnuts, and also more elegant. Her version, in heavy-stemmed clear glass, definitely looked more elegant than a doughnut.
Joan's version, in her cappuccino cups, also looked elegant and overflowing with chocolate. (Joan had made hers in May, and she was one of the early reporters of the Bostinis' deliciousness).
Nancy used both 6-ounce white wine glasses and custard cups, and thought the wine glasses worked perfectly but the custard cups, filled to overflowing, were difficult to manage.
Both Monica and Jenn managed to track down the same glasses used in the photo in Rose's Heavenly Cakes--good choice. You might also want to make your way over to Monica's blog because she's got a nice giveaway to celebrate her blog's first-year anniversary.
Sarah also used wine glasses, and, for some reason, although her Bostinis looked great, I'm especially fond of her picture of the empty glass, scraped clean of nearly all traces of this dessert.
Maria bucked the trend of using tall, skinny glasses and presented hers in a short, wide glass that looked like a miniature fruit compote bowl.
Julie used 8-ounce glass cups, and she used up most of her pastry cream just filling the cups. They look sumptuous.
Jennifer had an eclectic group of glasses, including one with an embossed honeybee on it and a couple of jam jars.
Mendy said he'd managed to go through life without ever hearing of Boston Cream pies, so he didn't even realize he was making a deconstructed one; you apparently don't have to have this knowledge to turn out a good-looking Bostini, however. Like Jennifer, Mendy had a kitchen-sink approach to the cups--whatever you have on hand works.
For pure cuteness, Faithy's Coca-Cola glasses and bubble tea straws probably take the cake and chocolate sauce, especially against the pink polka-dotted background.
This was another week that I had great difficulty in choosing a FEATURED BAKER. So much imagination! So many beautiful presentations! In the end, I picked Lynnette because her first photo just said PARTY! Since she used a short, wide dish, you could really see the cupcake, which wasn't hidden by the pastry cream or under the chocolate. And her chocolate glaze drizzled down over the cupcake instead of over the glass, so every component was clearly visible. Finally, her festive sprinkles on top of the dessert added a touch of exuberance that I loved. And not only did the cake look great, but her family loved it too: "it was gone as soon as the photo shoot was done!"

Next up: the Swedish Pear and Almond Cake (p. 58). For a sneak preview, take a look at Joan's blog. What you'll need: almond paste, a Bartlett pear, sour cream, and the regular suspects of eggs, flour, sugar, and butter. Any kind of 10-cup fluted metal pan (or Bundt pan). Be ready to serve this cake "shortly after cooling, when the crust is still crunchy and the crumb is at its softest." But save some for yourself, for "it is still delicious for at least two days after baking."
Following that: another Free Choice week. Time to catch up!