Oct 31, 2010

The Great Bostini

I don't know why it took so long for me to schedule these marvelous little desserts, but now that I've made them once, I'll certainly make them again.
While they weren't on the Q&E list, and they do have three components, nothing was particularly difficult. They're also impressive and everyone loves them--although it's probably not a good idea to advertise the half-pound of butter. People are funny about butter.

The little orange cupcakes are good in themselves, which is helpful, since you'll have leftovers if you make the whole recipe.

Fresh orange juice and orange peel give them a definite orange flavor that holds its own with the other two components.

The cupcakes are made with oil and meringue, so they're lighter, moister, and spongier than regular butter cupcakes. But they don't get soggy when they're sandwiched between the other two layers of this dessert.

They rise up quite a bit higher than the muffin pans while they're baking, but sink to about even with the pan's height after being out of the oven for a while.

Next comes the Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream Sauce. Why such a plain name for this sauce?

I think that if the cream cheese frosting deserves a name like Dreamy Creamy Frosting, this filling should be called something like Shazam! Sauce. It definitely deserves something snazzy. 6 egg yolks and 2 1/2 cups of cream. (Don't mention this to your guests either--people are as funny about cream as they are about butter. Really. You'd think that everyone was scared by a cow at an impressionable age).

Again, the sauce isn't difficult, although there's always the possibility of curdled eggs when you're mixing hot ingredients with egg yolks. Just do it gradually, and all will be well.

Finally, the coup de maitre--the spectacular and spectacularly easy chocolate glaze. You put a bunch of butter (8 ounces) and a bunch of dark chocolate (also 8 ounces) in the microwave, and whisk them until they're combined. Since the amounts are the same, you can easily make the amounts smaller or larger, as your heart desires.

The fun part: composing them. I have some 8-ounce Irish Coffee glasses, which were perfect, except that they were a little too big (6- to 7-ounce glasses are recommended). According to the photograph, it looks like the glasses should be filled about two-thirds full with the Shazam! Pastry Cream, but I divided mine among eight glasses, and got only about one-third to one-half.

Then the cupcake, bottom side up, is tenderly squished atop the cream.

The photo indicates that the cupcake top (bottom) should sit jauntily above the rim of the glass. Mine didn't, but who cares because nobody knew what the picture looked like except me. Finally, chocolate glaze is lavishly poured on top of the cupcake. A deconstructed Boston Cream Pie that's better than anything they ever served in Boston.

Doug: "Wonderful fancy dessert. I'm a sucker for Boston Cream Pie."
Mary: "I loved the three layers. What a great combination of cake, chocolate, and creamy custard."
Jim: "I really liked it. I'm sorry we didn't gather more people to enjoy it. Great orange flavor in the cake."
Karen: "I enjoyed the different flavors and different temperatures. It's a fun dessert, and the most fun was watching you pour the chocolate in the cup."

Oct 27, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

It felt a little like Top Chef around here last week, where the challenge was to create a unique and interesting angel food cake--the kind of cake that you'd pick as one of your three foods to have on a desert (dessert?) island. We had lots of great entries.
Some people reached back to their mothers' cakes for inspiration:
For example, Raymond made a cake "in a strawberry cloud"--like his mother used to make. No offense to your mother, Raymond, but I'll bet she never made a cake that looked this grand.
Vicki also took a page out of her mother's cookbook and filled her cake with lemon filling from "Heaven Only Knows Where, i.e., Mom's Recipe Box." She frosted it with whipped cream, and declared it to be "exquisite--the best angel food cake ever."

Mendy's was plain, but still good--at least it was good after he let it cool. A word to the wise from Mendy: angel food cake straight from the oven is not angelic. Mendy also shared a bit of Hebrew lore about manna, the food of angels.

Chocolate, not surprisingly, played a part in a number of the cakes.
 Hanaa made the Chocolate Tweed again, with the inspired addition of orange rind to the shaved chocolate. Hanaa, if you like the combination of orange and chocolate, be sure to make the Bostini next week!
Maria thought her 9-egg-white cake was a little plain--but she fixed that in a hurry. She filled it with raspberry sauce, topped it with chocolate ganache that she just happened to have in her refrigerator and frosted the whole thing with chocolate whipped cream sprinkled with silver dragees. No longer plain.
Lynnette made a chocolate angel food cake straight from Rose's playbook. She found the cake to be "moist, tender, and simply delicious" as is, but thought that for its second night, she'd sit it "next to a scoop of ice cream."
Nancy made very adorable mini angel food cake cherubs. Although she admired their looks, even their cuteness didn't quite persuade her or her tasters that angel food cake was as good as chocolate.

Some people took more unexpected routes.
Jennifer did a very creative take--a coffee angel food cake (to be eaten for breakfast, with coffee, of course). She dissolved instant espresso--next time she thought she'd use a little more--in boiling water and got a beautiful caramel-colored cake.
Kristinadid another variation that had never occurred to me: the spice angel food cake. A mixture of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg jazzed up her version.
Speaking of jazzing up a cake, Julie did just that in her exotic lime and coconut cake, dreamed up as the perfect finale to a Thai dinner. The cake looks very pretty, filled and frosted with lime custard, and topped with toasted coconut. Julie did her cake in an eight-cup pan.

Sarah discovered that she didn't have a tube pan, so naturally she had to pay a visit to Sur La Table, where she got the required pan and the not-required (but great to have!) balloon whisk. She put both to immediate good use in her vanilla-bean angel food cake.

Most weeks, the Featured Baker is somebody who made a particularly beautiful or imaginative version of the week's cake. But sometimes you have to honor someone who may not have turned out a beauty, but who kept trying ... and trying ... and trying. Joan prepared for his first angel food cake bake "as if it was surgery." When the cake was beautifully done, it came out of the oven and "a huge surge took place and the cake turned on its side and slid out halfway into the colander receptacle." Undaunted, (or not daunted very much), Joan sent her agreeable husband out for more eggs. Cake #2: Joan investigated possible problems on the Forum and tried again. "Boom. It plops on its side." Cake #3: Husband, now fully invested in the success of this cake, buys more eggs. This one looks promising: "It was so perfectly gorgeous in medium brown, luscious and tender looking; domed to about 3 inches, and then flattened out as it was supposed to do. It tested well.... Oh, I have accomplished a miracle. I ran for the camera, only to hear my husband shouting: 'It's falling!'"
Joan, I promise you, one of your next cakes will work!

If you haven't already done so, be sure to go to Rose's web site and find out the answer to the mystery of the caramel!

Next week is the Bostini--the dessert we've all been waiting for! I'm going to be out of town next weekend, so I made it early, and I can tell you that it's worth waiting for. Delicious orange cupcakes, incredibly rich and flavorful creme patisserie, all topped with chocolate glaze (don't let people know that the glaze is made with a half-pound of butter!). The Bostini is not for the cowardly.
Have a great Halloween weekend!

Oct 25, 2010

The Little Angel Food Cake that Could

Oh joy! Oh rapture!

If you think these words and exclamation points are excessive, then you have never watched an angel food cake collapse before your very eyes.

That cake was my worst failure so far (I'm not eliminating the possibility that something worse could happen in one of the next cakes), and part of me wanted to try it again. Another part--the noisier part--wanted to just admit that angel food cakes were not for me, and never to go in that direction again. And somehow the try-again part won out.

For one thing, trying again gave me the chance to buy another cake pan. I've been very virtuous lately, and have not bought a single NordicWare pan or anything at all unnecessary, so it seemed about time for me to buy an unnecessary junior-sized angel food cake pan. It was really a savings in the long run, I rationalized, because if the cake failed again, I wouldn't be wasting so many egg whites.
I didn't remember how easy this cake was to make. All I remember is the "splosh" it made when it collapsed. But it really is easy. Just beat some egg whites, and then beat then some more, adding sugar. Then whisk in a little Wondra flour. I didn't use chocolate this time, so I didn't have to grate that, but I did use a vanilla bean. Really, it couldn't get much simpler, assuming you have leftover egg whites in the freezer, which you're almost bound to have. (For example, next week's Bostini has 11 egg yolks to 6 egg whites, so you've already got enough for a five-cup angel food cake). And here is my 8-egg-white batter in my new cake pan. I'm glad I didn't try to fill it to the very top.

I remembered learning after Fiasco Cake that you shouldn't take the cake out of the oven until after it's risen above the pan and THEN fallen back down. So I didn't. And that's all there was to it. It worked like a charm. No matter how I stared at it, and even dared it to collapse on me, it just stoically stayed inside the pan. Good cake.
Of course, then I realized that I now had to remove the cake from the pan. I'm so accustomed to spraying all my cake pans with Baker's Joy that I couldn't see how unmolding this cake was going to work, especially since it was only a one-piece pan. I decided that if it stuck in the pan, it was a sign from above that I should never, ever make this cake again. Oddly enough, it didn't stick. It took a little persuasion, but the cake made it on the plate more or less intact.
After encouraging everyone to be creative, I decided I'd better come up with something a little fancier than the vanilla bean variation, so I made a passion fruit coulis. I had some frozen passion fruit concentrate left over from the White Gold Passion Fruit Genoise, and found a simple coulis recipe on the Perfect Puree website.

• 3/4 cup Culinary Traditions™ Passion Fruit Concentrate thawed
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• a vanilla bean, split

1. Combine puree and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan.

2. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add both to the saucepan.

3. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer until mixture has reduced to 1/2 cup, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

4. Remove bean then transfer coulis to bowl and refrigerate until cold.

5. Drizzle coulis over cake just before serving.

Obviously, this is very simple to make, as long as you have the passion fruit concentrate. And it worked out handily that I'd used a vanilla bean for the cake and so still had the bean as well as some of the seeds left. A half-cup of sugar seemed like a lot, but I followed the directions anyway, and was glad I did.  The coulis was quite tart, but was a good foil for the sweet cake and whipped cream.

Here's my verdict: Why didn't anyone ever tell me that angel food cake could be so good? The stuff you buy from the store is tough, overly sweet, but otherwise tasteless. The only reason you'd want it for dessert is if you're desperate for something sweet and you figure a cake that tastes that bad must be pretty harmless.
But this cake....this is something else. It's delicious!
I'm ashamed to admit that Jim and I finished this cake off completely by ourselves over the course of three days. The first night, it was too late to invite anyone over and we each had two pieces (they were small!). I don't remember what our excuse was the second day. By the third day the whipped cream was pretty runny, so I didn't think it was good enough to serve to guests. Then Jim had some for lunch. I had some for breakfast. And it was gone.  So is my angel-food cake phobia.

- - - - -
A note on caramel: After reading about our caramel issues with the caramelized pineapple pudding cake, Woody tried it again. He had issues too. Neither he nor Rose is sure why it worked for them previously, and doesn't now, but they're experimenting

Oct 20, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Did the same woman who concocted the Apple Caramel Charlotte really devise the Many-Splendored Quick Bread as well?
It would seem so. And I guess that doesn't really indicate a Jekyll-Hyde personality, since both cakes are wonderfully delicious, in their own way, but it sure does point to the breadth (no pun intended) of what's available in this book.

Almost no one had trouble with this bread, except for poor Faithy, who painstakingly peeled her zucchini, substituted cashews for walnuts, and, after one bite, declared it inedible, fit only for the trash can, which is where it went.
More bakers were in Jenn's camp, who asked, rhetorically, "Doesn’t it look super yummy?" and concluded that she was "very pleased with the result." (Actually, Jenn's pictures do look super-yummy.

No one was quite sure what kind of bread this was.
Vicki called it zucchini bread, but thought that adding "carrots, banana and [her own addition of] lemon zest gave it a completely different flavor than ordinary zucchini bread."
Jennifer referred to it as the "zucchini/banana/carrot/oatmeal bread," and "wasn't sure" about the idea of it, but a group of enthusiastic doulas gave it solid ratings.
Katya dubbed the "banana-squash-carrot loaf" a "phantasmagorical concoction."
Sarah said she couldn't figure out why it was called "many-splendored" until she tried to describe it. Not zucchini bread, not carrot bread--she finally ended up asking her friend if she'd like "a slice of ... very special bread."
Mendy thought it was "splendiferous."
By the way, Woody said that there was some consternation after the book was published, when people found out that "splendored" wasn't really a word. I said, "But it's just like the old song, 'Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.'"  Blank stare from Woody. I guess that song was before his time.

As usual, there were a few additions or embellishments to the original recipe:
Kristina substituted chocolate chips for walnuts, and decided that next time, she'd add even more, for "just a bit more of a chocolate punch." (And congrats to Jay on his new job!)
Lynnette brushed it with honey and sprinkled it with a sugar-cinnamon mixture. She thought it was "tender, moist and colorful" but would add a few spices next time.
Lois pronounced it "perfect with a cup of tea," and that it might be even better with "more or darker sugar, maybe some chocolate chips or cinnamon."
Katya used winter squash instead of zucchini, and added a little tea from her teacup in place of some of the water.
Nancy B. added part of a bag of mini dark-chocolate chunks and substituted toasted pecans for the walnuts.

Monica--who beat Raymond to the "first post" punch this time--thought it smelled "tantalizing," and tasted even better, even though it had oatmeal in it ("not so yum").
Lola said it was "perfect with your second cup of coffee in the morning."
Raymond went her one better and said it's good to have around "all the time." "Perfect toasted for breakfast, a grab and go snack anytime during the day, perfect with coffee or tea in late afternoon, that nice little nibble after dinner and the go to snack for raid the kitchen in the middle of the night." (I think I want to live at Raymond's house).

Andrea loved "the green and orange specks in it" and thought it "almost looked healthy." Julie agreed that the ingredient list looked "pretty darn healthy," but then she did a nutrition check: lots of Vitamin A, calcium, and iron, but 341 calories in an innocent, vegetable-laden slice.

Nicola gets huge numbers of catch-up points. She blogged about the many-splendoured bread, but also gave us pictures and stories about 1) the chocolate-tomato cake, 2) the apple caramel charlotte, 3) the plum and blueberry upside-down cake, 4) the marionberry shortcakes, and 5) the lemon meringue cake.

You might not be surprised to hear that Hanaâ is this week's FEATURED BAKER. Really, how could I not give her that title when I saw first-hand what an excellent baker she is. (I totally and categorically deny that naming Hanaâ Featured Baker has anything to do with the fact that she brought me a delicious, prize-winning lemon cake.)
Hanaa omitted the walnuts and used dark brown sugar, which she preferrs to light brown, but thought she might try toasted almonds next time (she's not allergic to almonds, oddly enough.) Since her husband rated this bread 9.5 out of 10, she figured there would be more than one next time. She also thought a bit of orange zest would be nice, as would her favorite spice combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

A word about the next cake: Angel Food Cake (any way you like). When I first took on this project, I browsed the table of contents, counted the cakes, and wondered what on earth I'd gotten myself into. I couldn't figure out how I should count the Angel Food Cake Base Recipe on page 154. Should it be considered a separate recipe, or should I declare that the Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake was the only actual recipe that merited its own week.
I initially came down on the side of the Tweed cake only, but I had misgivings. When I finished the book, that meant I'd still have one recipe not crossed out. That thought did not appeal to the OCD part of my nature. And then I baked the Chocolate Tweed cake. Too painful to revisit, but for those of you who don't remember/care, it did not go well. That fiasco made me determined to try again, and that line of reasoning is what gives us next week's cake--the do-whatever-you-want with Rose's base recipe.

Just take that recipe,and let your imagination run wild. The base recipe has one egg white, and would make one mini angel-food cake. I bought a small (but not mini) tube pan with a 9-cup capacity. I'm going to multiply the base recipe by 8 (or, more easily, divide the quantities in Chocolate Tweed by 2).
You can make whatever quantity you want, in whatever shape pan you want to try. You can add any flavorings you want. You might want to use coconut extract in the cake, frost it, and cover the frosting with coconut. You might crush up some peppermint candy and use that for flavoring. Or lemon. Or chocolate. (My mother used to make a chocolate angel food cake that she slathered with whipped cream--and, later, to prove she was modern, with Cool Whip). I don't recommend the Cool Whip, but the chocolate cake was quite good.
I'm hoping we'll end up without any duplicates. But, frankly, what I'm really hoping is that my own cake doesn't fall out of the pan and collapse into a messy heap on the counter.

The following week, we finally get to The Bostini, which for some reason seems to hold the record of the most-baked cake that has not been assigned. Those who have made it have given it rave reviews.

Oct 17, 2010

Many-Splendored Quick Bread--Baking with Hanaâ and Woody

Like me, Hanaâ and Woody both live in the hinterlands of Minnesota. (If you doubt that it's the hinterlands, ask yourself if you live in a place where one of the biggest political powers is the Greater Metropolitan Mosquito Control District).
A few months ago, Hanaâ e-mailed me with the suggestion that we get together to bake a HCB weekly selection. That seemed like an excellent idea, and Woody signed up to critique, supervise, help. We settled on the next cake from the Quick and Easy List: the Many-Splendored Quick Bread, scheduled for October 18. I wanted Hanaâ to think I was super-organized, so I had everything ready to go by 12:45.
My walnuts were toasted, my frozen bananas were thawed (and liquified), and my zucchini and carrots were grated. Hanaâ arrived at 1:00 on the dot (seriously--not at 12:59 or at 1:01). Woody was late. He had some lame excuse about having to bake a cake.
Oh! Not only did Hanaâ arrive right on time, but she also brought a present--her Minnesota State Fair Prize-Winning Lemon Cake!
More about that later.
I did one regular-sized loaf pan, and Hanaâ did three mini-pans. I made the recipe exactly as is, and Hanaâ omitted the walnuts. (She's violently allergic to nuts, so I told her it was okay to skip them. Nice of me).
Other than that, our cake/breads were exactly alike and ready to go into the oven at the same time.
And here comes Woody! He has a new gadget with him, made by the inventor of the Beater Blade. It's a lemon-shaped lemon zester that holds the zest inside the lemon. It's awesome. Hanaâ and I were mighty impressed.
And he also brought along gold stickers for us. No, not because we were good (I didn't say gold stars). Gold stickers to affix to our copies of Heavenly Cakes!
And he also brought us a new cake from Rose's cookbook in-the-making. But the cake is Top Secret, so I can't even show you a piece. The Baking CIA altered the photos so no identifying marksk are visible.
But both cakes--Hanaâ's Prize Winner and Woody's Top Secret--were excellent. And then, after trying both of these cakes, of course we had to sample the Many-Splendored Quick Bread--both Hanaâ's version and mine. Hanaa could try only her own because she didn't think it would be a good idea for her to eat the one with nuts. She'll show you her version on her own blog, but here's a picture of one of her little minis right out of the oven.
And about 15 minutes later--because it was a lot bigger--mine came out of the oven.
They both looked very handsome. The loaves didn't look that much different from the outside, but I was surprised at how much difference there was between them when we sliced and sampled them.
The inside of Hanaâ's loaf is more golden than mine, which was considerably darker, both because of the walnuts and the fact that my banana was darker than hers (she had cleverly mixed hers with lemon juice to keep it banana-y looking). Her version tasted more like banana bread than mine, where the walnuts added another dimension of flavor.
Both were very good, and very different from anything else in the book: simple, moist, and not at all shocking to anyone's cardiologist. It's more bread than cake, but if you baked it in a bundt pan and poured a glaze over it, I'm guessing that no one would argue with you if you called it a cake. Probably no one would argue with you about anything if you offered them a piece of this Many-Splendored Thing, no matter what you called it.

Jim: "It's very good. I like the crunchiness of the nuts, and the banana flavor that's subtle, not excessive."
Woody: "It's the healthiest cake in the book--a complete meal in a cake."
Hanaâ: "I didn't really taste the carrots or zucchini. I like how moist it is--moist without being wet."

Oct 13, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

First, the results of the poll:
These results were very surprising to me. I expected some clear winners, but there were none. In fact, of the first three people who sent me their choices (that's 15 cakes), there were no duplicates. In all, 37 cakes got at least one vote as someone's favorite! I think that shows the depth of this cookbook--it doesn't just have a few great recipes and a lot of chaff. It's got a lot of great recipes.
If you were like me, you found it very hard to get down to just five favorite cakes. I went through the cookbook and was ruthless about picking only the best of the best. That gave me a list of about 15 from which to cull. I made some fairly arbitrary decisions and picked my final five, but I could have had a different list of five that would still have been accurate as being favorites.

One Cake got Four Votes:
St. Honore Trifle

Five Cakes got Three Votes:
Almond Shamah Chiffon
Coconut Cheesecake with Coconut Cookie Crust
Lemon Sour Cream Poppy Seed
Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange Silk Meringue Buttercream
Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

Fourteen Cakes got Two Votes:
Apple Caramel Charlotte
Apple/Peach Upside Down Cake (one vote for each)
Chocolate Banana Studcake
Chocolate Ice Cream Cake or Sandwich
Gateau Breton
Golden Lemon Almond Cake
Lemon Meringue Cake
Marionberry Shortcakes
Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte
Plum Round Ingots
Rose Genoise
Torta de las Tres Leches
Whipped Cream Cake
Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake

Sixteen Cakes Got One Vote
Baby Chocolate Oblivions
Baby Lemon Cheesecakes
Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze
Chocolate Streusel Coffee Cake
Chocolate Tweed Angel Cake
Classic Carrot Cake
Coffee Chiffonlets with Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream
Chocolate Feather Bed
Deep Chocolate Passion
Double Chocolate Valentine
Marble Velvet Cake
Sicilian Pistachio Cake
Strawberry Chocolate Layer Cake with Miss Irene Thompson's Fudge Frosting
Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Whipped Cream
True Orange Genoise
White Gold Passion Genoise

And one cake that we haven't officially baked yet got one vote:
The Bostini

I certainly owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Rose for providing Jim, me, our guests, and neighbors with so much delicious eating, and for stretching me w-a-a-y beyond my comfort level in each new challenge. (Spun sugar!? No way!) Thanks, Rose.

And now, back to this week's cake, the Molten Chocolate Souffle and Lava Cakes. Although some people said they didn't like the whole lava cake craze, we had good participation this week...so somebody must like them. It was Maria's (from Michigan) first official post as a Heavenly Cake Baker. Although Maria professes herself to be a "total lava cake snob," she was pleased with how this one turned out.
Although this cake isn't on the Q&E list, most people commented on how quick and easy it was to put together. Lois, for example, said it "came together easily - much easier than the cakes I've been watching my HCB pals prepare the last couple of weeks." Raymond wasn't crazy about the intensely chocolate cakes, and he didn't like the egg carton instructions, but he praised the "really simple" cake batter. In fact, Mendy thought they were so easy that he thought there would be no need for his wife and him to go out for dinner to order them: "we can stay home indefinitely. Or, maybe we can just order something else. ;). Plus, he thought they were "delish."
Even Katya, who didn't want to like them because she disapproves of the whole molten lava cake craze, thought they were easy. And, though she was hoping not to make them or to like them, concluded, "They were pretty good. Hmph."
Poor Jennifer had so much trouble with the ganache that, after swearing at it for hours, she was finally led to class this cake under her "failure" subheading. (It didn't look like a failure to me, but then I wasn't swearing at my ganache).
Faithy didn't swear at her ganache--in fact, she liked the way it hardened quickly and efficiently in the freezer, but she thought her lava cakes were "ugly," and maybe too bitter for someone who doesn't like dark chocolate. But no worries, since she's not one of those misguided people herself.
Vicki also thought they were a bit too chocolatey, although she's the "queen of dark chocolate," but what she really loved was the smell: "If I was staging an open house for sale, this is what I'd have baking in the oven!"
Some other snapshot reviews:
Lola: "Delicious," ... but they "didn't look like Rose's photo."
Gartblue: "Tasted heavenly. My lava didn't quite flow,but then again, I had problems making and shaping them into balls. Instead I squeezed them into balls instead. *cringe* But I love these."
Shandy: "I was not over excited about the chocolate flavor and my ganache was not oozing out like Rose's. I did like how fast these little cakes went together and nothing stuck to the bottom of my cake cups."
Nancy: "It was unanimous--these are really good."
Andrea: "Given my issues with the ganache I would say they turned out okay, but there really wasn't much lava to them." [Andrea was comparing these cakes to ones she'd eaten in Hawaii on her honeymoon--probably no other cake will ever compare to the ones she remembers with love-misted fondness.]
Julie: "I thought that it was a nice cake texture and really loved the soft ganache inside."

Overall, there was a lot of enthusiasm for these little cakes--even from people who didn't make them. Several bakers said they didn't like the idea of eating undercooked cake batter, so deliberately decided to give these a miss. When they discovered that the lava was actually warmed ganache, though, they said they thought they'd try them after all--some other time.

Every now and then, I confess, I choose the week's FEATURED BAKER
for totally arbitrary and capricious reasons. This is one of those times. Not that Sarah didn't deserve the title for her pretty cake or her description of the "ethereal, melt on the tongue crumb that I’m beginning to associate with the Rose Levy Beranbaum brand." But honestly, what did me in was her tribute to her mother, on her birthday: "She has the looks of a schoolgirl, even though she just became a grandmother for the third and fourth time. She’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet, and I hope to have her patience, zest for life, and Michelle Obama arms when I’m 60." Nice, huh?
If you didn't vote in this week's poll, don't worry--we'll do another one at the end of the project.
And speaking of the "end of the project," do you want me to start building in more "Free Choice" weeks? Some of you are so close to being able to finish at the same time I do--you can probably do it if you have a few more weeks to catch up. I've been scheduling a free choice about every three months, but I could step it up to once every two months, or even once a month. Just let me know your preference.

I know you're thinking, will this woman ever stop writing? Is there an end to this post? The end is coming right up.
Next cake: quick, easy, healthy, dairy-free. Just make sure you have a ripe banana, some instant oatmeal, and grated vegetables. (Real vegetables, not the ones in soup). Rose says "everyone adores" this bread/cake. Let's hope we prove her right.

Oct 10, 2010

Molten Chocolate Souffle and Lava Cakes

Before trying this recipe of Rose's, I had made lava cakes twice, from the same recipe.  The first time they turned out perfectly. The second time, I must have baked them just a hair longer because there was no lava at all. They were just chocolate cakes, and a little dry to boot. Thinking that they were one of those things that would only turn out right when you didn't really care, I decided to stay away from them. So I was a little tentative about baking them again. When I found out that these lava cakes didn't rely on underbaked cake batter for their moltenness, I was very happy. It's a better concept, I think, and you're not at the mercy of your oven timer.
The first thing to do is to make the ganache, the star of this particular cake. And a chance to make ganache using the egg carton technique, a first for me. The ganache is, of course, just melted chocolate and warmed cream, mixed and poured into the individual egg containers, after they're first lined with plastic wrap. I had enough ganache to make 9 little balls, but I was confident the other two wouldn't be wasted. Into the refrigerator they went.
The technique for making the cupcakes was slightly different than I've done with any of the other cakes (at least that I remember doing), but it's quite simple. Warm up and mix chocolate, cocoa, and butter.
Then mix up egg yolks and creme fraiche. Why is it that no matter what kinds of eggs I buy, the yolks always weigh less than they're supposed to and the whites always weigh more? Do we only have runty little egg yolks in Minnesota?
At this point Jim asked me if this was a flourless cake. Only then did I realize there was no flour in this recipe. He asked if that meant it was going to be really rich. I said I didn't think so, because of the beaten egg whites that I was mixing in with the chocolate. And, in fact, the batter went from deep chocolate to soft, light chocolate.

As it turned out, I had too much batter for seven cupcakes. I could have made nine. Too bad, though, because I'd already given Jim what I thought was the extra ganache egg, so I didn't have enough for nine. I made the six-pack of cupcakes and two larger ones made in glass custard cups.
Jim's birthday was Wednesday, but I had no cake for him on Wednesday, so this turned out to be his birthday cake. Not the best picture, but you get the idea.
I really enjoyed this cake. I think the liquid ganache center is much nicer and more foolproof than relying on a not-quite-done cake. It's chocolate, but not in-your-face chocolate, and the small cupcake-size was just the right-sized serving. I'm not sure that chocolate lava cakes will still be around in another ten years (although cookie-dough ice cream is still with us), but this version could easily become a standard.



Jan: "Delicious! And it's also light."

Laurel: "Very pretty to look at, and not too sweet."

Jim: "It's got a nice chocolate flavor. I got to eat the extra truffle, and I loved it."

Oct 6, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

I don't think there has been another week where almost everyone who baked the cake had the same problem. In Mendy's words, we all had "caramel issues."

Just see if this doesn't sound like a broken record:
First came Faithy: "The caramel stayed at the bottom of the ramekins and didn't quite dissolve after 40mins in the waterbath..and i had to microwave it to soften so i can pour it out. But the moment it is poured on top of the pineapple, the caramel hardens really HARD like toffee candy (and at times like spun sugar like strings)! How to eat?"
And Vicki, who said: "The caramel didn't quite cooperate with the puds. It stuck to the bottom of the ramekins and was rock hard. As I pulled the pineapple and sugar out, the caramel pulled into long ribbons! It also turned itself into spun sugar without benefit of being swung across the kitchen with a lopped off whisk." But she made the best of the situation: "It made me feel very creative and quite avant-garde, turning out hip and modern sugar garnish."
Katya was poetic: "The caramel stayed in a hard, thick layer in the pan, as all the rest flipped semi-neatly out. I went after it with a spoon and it cascaded down onto the pudding in taffy-like waves."
And Monica was just mad: "I took them out and inverted one unto a serving plate. Let’s call this move, a “test run”. And my screams were heard around the world. Mold to plate, nothing. Ran the metal spatula once more between the sides and tried again. Felt it come out of the mold. Looked at the mold and what do I find? Caramel sauce - not.melted! Half of the pineapples stuck to the UN-MELTED caramel sauce."
Well, you get the picture.
Poor Julie! Not only did she have difficult caramel, but--much worse--she ended up at the emergency room after absent-mindedly testing the temperature of the caramel with her finger. Looking on the bright side (as she did herself), she "ended up with a pretty nice dessert." And she finally got a chance to test her pineapple corer, which she now enthusiastically recommends.
But did people like the pineapple caramel bread pudding? By and large, they did. I liked how Nancy B. described her niece's reaction: "Younger niece (who'd been looking ahead at this recipe and thought she wouldn't like it at all) tried a small bite, and pronounced it as not having much of a flavor. A few minutes later, as the rest of us praised the flavor combination, she took another bite from her father's serving. Another 5 minutes or so and she asked me to get her a full cake. I suspect none of us would have picked this recipe out of the book as something we'd really like, but there certainly were no bites of cake left on the plates at the tasting."
Jennifer's description was more succinct: "pretty damn delicious."

But the real star of this show was the brioche. Shandy said she "loved everything about the brioche." And Andrea said she would "definitely make the bread again." She also noted that it "helped [her] get over [her] fear of working with yeast breads."
In fact, so popular was the brioche that two of our bakers--Raymond and Sarah--made the brioche only and skipped the final step of the cake.
Not that the brioche--delicious as it was--lacked its own complications. Jenn found that out when she put the loaf in the oven and "noticed that there's not much head space between the top of the brioche and the top of the oven. I didn't think that much of it because hey, there's still some room. Well, next thing you know, about 10 minutes later, I smell something burning, opened the oven and saw that the top of the brioche is stuck on the oven ceiling. On another circumstances I would have said: "hey Rose's brioche has nice oven spring!" This is not one of those circumstances. What I said was: "Oh shit!" I frantically grabbed my oven mitts, pulled the brioche out, pulled the baking stone out, put the cheapo baking stone in (it's shorter), put the brioche back in the oven, checked the head room (there are plenty of space!), went to the liquor cabinet and treat myself to a little sip of Grand Marnier."

As marvelous as everyone's final pudding cakes looked, even with caramel mishaps, this week's FEATURED BAKER award must go to Kristina. She definitely deserves notice for her savoir-faire in unmolding the cakes: "When it came time to unmold, I was expecting a bit of a mess, really. Much to my surprise, they turned out perfectly." Folks, Kristina holds the secret to the caramel! And not only did her pudding cakes turn out perfectly, but she also did a marathon blog about 1) the pudding cakes, 2) the tomato-chocolate surprise cake, and 3) the lemon meringue cake.

On to next week, which is also from the "Baby Cakes" chapter (how did that happen?). It's Rose's take on the modern classic, the lava cake. Realizing that the success of this dessert depends totally on taking it out of the oven at the exact right time, because otherwise it's just chocolate cake, Rose decided to substitute ganache for the underdone center that gives the cake its molten lava quality. For these babies, Rose specifies silicone cupcake or brioche molds. The brioche cakes pictured in the book are attractive, but I have the cupcake pans, so that's what it's going to be for me.

You will be happy to learn that we're back to the Q&E list for the following week: the Many-Splendored Quick Bread, which, with its oatmeal, banana, zucchini, and carrots, you could even call healthy.

One last thing: this week is the first anniversary of the onset of this project. In honor of the group's birthday, Raymond suggested that we conduct a poll to figure out the bakers' favorite cakes. Vote for up to five of your very favorite cakes--just email your answers to me, at mlwolf2@comcast.net. I'll tally the votes and announce the top five vote-getters next week. Polls close on Wednesday, October 13, at 9:00 AM CST. Don't forget to vote!

Oct 3, 2010

Caramelized Pineapple Pudding Cakes

The best part of this cake was the homemade brioche, which I wrote about on breadbasketcase.com. The roasted pineapple was delicious, as was the thickened roasting sauce and the creme anglaise. The only problem I had was the caramel itself--it looked perfect when I poured it into the custard cups, but when I turned them over onto the plate, the hardened caramel stayed stubbornly in the bottom of the cups.
With a few more seconds in the microwave, it softened enough to pour over the cake and it looked very attractive. It hardened immediately on contact, however, so it was more like caramel crunch than caramel sauce. Tasty, but not right.

As I am somewhat wont to do, I missed the instructions telling me to cut up the bread and let it dry out gradually. In fairness to me, I just got back from vacation last night and got out the cookbook this morning (Sunday). Fortunately, there was a one-hour alternative in a 200-degree oven. I chose that option.
The creme anglaise was easy--really just a matter of whisking eggs, milk, and cream, along with vanilla beans and grated nutmeg.
If you cut up pineapple about twice a year, you don't get good at it. I remember Julia Child showing me how to cut up pineapple. Somehow you're supposed to be able to see that the "eyes" are in a diagonal row, and it's supposed to work very slickly to slice the eyes off row by row. It didn't work very well. I whacked off the most noticeable eyes and decided to ignore the little spots.
I also mistakenly added the pineapple juice to the roasting and basting sauce, but that seemed to work out all right. The pineapple was ripe and very sweet. Actually, the whole dessert was a little on the sweet side. I'm not sure it needed both the caramel on the bottom (top) and the thickened caramel-y pineapple juices.
I thought I had caramel down pat. However, I didn't use my thermometer because I usually overcook the caramel mixture with the thermometer. I suppose it would make more sense to use the thermometer, but take the caramel off the heat before it reaches the recommended temperature. In any case, I believe the operative words here are "pale amber." I think I let mine turn at least medium amber, and that, I assume, is what made the caramel turn to stone.
Cutting the pineapple went pretty smoothly, although--of course--my fan arrangement was not as attractive as the picture in the book. So I'm not a food stylist.
I drained the creme anglaise off the soaking brioche cubes, and was looking forward to having extra for the puddings. Here is some advice: do not answer the doorbell while you are warming the creme. If you do, you will find that your creme has turned into scrambled eggs, and there is nothing to do but pour it down the drain.
After the pudding cakes are layered, they're put into a roasting/baking pan which is filled with boiling water, and they're covered loosely with foil. (No browning of the bread cubes). After about 35 minutes, they're heated through and ready to turn upside down on the plate.
That is when I realized that the caramel wasn't coming out. And then I realized that the caramel in the bottom of the dish wasn't just sticky; it was rock solid.
It took 32 seconds in the microwave to warm it back up to sticky caramel, which promptly turned rock solid again.

I thought the pineapple basting sauce, which was also somewhat caramelized, but still liquid, might have been enough of a caramel flavor, and I think if I made it again, I might try it without the bottom caramel layer. Or I might just try cooking the sugar and water until it was very pale, as instructed to do. Following instructions is rarely a bad idea.

Sarah: "It tastes like Mad Men. Something about the pineapple and brown sugar makes me think of the 60's. It makes me want a Manhattan. I like it."

Karen: "I like it too. I can't imagine having it any other way than warm. It's quite a bit sweeter than most of Rose's other cakes."

Jim: "The caramel was a little hard to deal with, and I wish the bread had been a little firmer, but the flavors went really well together."