Aug 31, 2009

Deep Chocolate Rosebuds

You could bake these little chocolate morsels in small muffin pans, and they would still be good, but they wouldn't be nearly as cute. I'm going to recommend that you do what I did, and buy this NordicWare rose muffin pan

They're pretty expensive for muffin pans--$30 at, but very well made from heavy cast aluminum and the rosebud design is sharp and clear. I had no problem extracting the cupcakes from the molds. You could use any cupcake or muffin recipe in this pan, but, unless you get two pans, you'd probably have to make some of them in regular pans. These make very petite cakes.
These aren't on the quick-and-easy list, but they're quite easy and pretty quick, so I don't know why they aren't. They're now on my personal quick-and-easy list as well as on my list of adorable desserts that will make people coo in pleasure.
There are two steps, but neither is complicated. The first is to make dark chocolate ganache puddles. Here's how easy that is:
1. Melt chocolate.

2. Heat cream.
3. Mix melted chocolate and heated cream. Et voila.
A bonus to this super-easy ganache is that if you have a little left, you can refrigerate it and roll it into a few chocolate truffles. But before you get to that stage, you cover the ganache and let it cool.
The batter is just cocoa, melted in boiling water,

egg yolks, vanilla, cake flour, superfine sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter.
It makes a nice, creamy, chocolatey batter.

Each little rosebud is filled about half full with cake batter.

I had no problem with the cakes sticking to this intricate pan, but I both sprayed it with baking spray and brushed the spray in the crevices for good measure. This care in preparation might seem to be another reason for not shelling out $30 for a new muffin pan that you don't really need, but, really, don't you just want to be able to bake rosebud cupcakes?

After all the batter is in the pan, you put about a teaspoon of ganache in the middle.
Jim got bored taking pictures and he wandered off somewhere as I was cleaning off the pan, so the only picture is of the dribbled-on pan. You can still see the ganache in the cakes after they're baked.

I was overjoyed when I turned the pan upside down and saw that everything had turned out just as it was supposed to!

I served these little baby cakes with whipped cream, blueberries, and strawberries. They probably didn't really need anything, but they looked a little naked on the plate by themselves, especially if the serving was one little piece. (The men all chose two-cake servings, but the women all had just one little cake.)

I was pleased with the way these turned out--not just their appearance, which was fetching, but their taste as well: a robust chocolate flavor in such a little cake, and a delicate texture. If I make these 30 times, my $30 pan will work out to just $1 per batch, or only about 8 cents per cakelet. A real bargain if I just keep baking!


Jim: "You know me. I like chocolate."

Sarah: "It's got a good, rich chocolate taste. Some chocolate cakes taste like Hershey bars, but this tastes like expensive chocolate."

James: "I really like them. Except for the fruit. I don't like fruit."

Joe: "Ummm. Scrumpdillyicious."

Liz: "I think they're a little dry, but I don't like cake that much. They're really cute though!"

Aug 24, 2009

Red Berry Shortcake

This may be my favorite cake so far. I hedged with that "may," because I wouldn't want to commit myself, but just about everything about this cake is perfect.
Because it's a sponge cake, I was afraid it was taste like those individual cakes you buy at the grocery store. But really, they are so far away from this cake that they're not even in the same dessert universe. This recipe makes a delicious sponge cake topped with a mixture of three bright red berries; all the flavors and textures meld perfectly, and topping it off with lightly sweetened whipped cream or whipped cream fraiche isn't gilding the lily--it's presenting the lily in all its natural glory.
You can make this recipe in a regular 9-inch round cake pan, but you can also buy yourself a German tart or flan pan. Since it cost only $6.99, and because I liked the idea of having my very own Tortenboden, I bought it.

I'm rather impressed with myself. This is the third recipe I've made from the sponge cake section, and I'm getting to be an old hand at it. I'm totally comfortable with the process, but not so comfortable that I don't still marvel at the transformation.
Four eggs and small amount of superfine sugar are heated over simmering water

until they're just lukewarm to the touch.

They're then beaten with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer until they amazingly turn into a thick, rich mixture about four times the original volume.

This cake is made with Wondra flour, which mixes into the egg mixture like a dream.

Add a little clarified butter, which, if you're working your way through a cookbook that has clarified butter in a lot of recipes, you have on hand in your freezer.

Because you can, and should, bake this cake at least a day before you're planning to serve it, it's a recipe that can fool you into thinking there's nothing to it. All you have to do is mix the berries, make a syrup, and whip the cream. When you're ready to serve, you can take the plastic wrap off the cake, and there you are.

The berry mixture should be strawberries, raspberries, and currants in order to replicate the "red fruit" (fruits rouges), which Rose says she first ate at Le Bernardin in Paris. You could use all strawberries, of course, or a mixture of berries, but if you used blueberries, which are in season now, it wouldn't be red fruit.
I didn't know where I was going to get currants, but there was one one-pint box at my neighborhood grocery store. The checkout woman asked me what they were, and I told her they were currants. I also told her that she wouldn't find anyone else more excited at finding currants at the store--ever. She looked at me to see if I was crazy, then decided I wasn't. (One of the side benefits of getting older is that people tend to think you're cute, rather than crazy. Or maybe both, but not dangerous).
The strawberries weren't local--that short season has already passed, but they were smallish, organic, and tasty.
The raspberries were local and luscious. I don't remember where the currants came from, but it was probably somewhere in Central America. Definitely not local. They're kind of a pain. They're so tiny, and you have to handle them gingerly, carefully plucking them from the stems, or they squish between your fingers. But they add a lovely shininess to the more ordinary strawberries and raspberries.
After the fruit is mixed, it macerates in sugar for a few hours, until the mixture gives up about two-thirds of a cup of bright red juice.

The juice gets boiled with sugar and, when it's cool, you brush it on both sides of the cake.

Because the cake is fairly sturdy, despite its delicate appearance, it can sit with berries atop for up to an hour without getting soggy. The picture in the book is decorated with tiny meringue stars. They're awfully cute, but not cute enough to warrant that much extra work. I sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top instead.

You can serve it with dollops of whipped creme fraiche, or just plain whipped cream. I had intended to make creme fraiche, but I forgot about it until the day I baked the cake, so I made do with whipped cream. It wasn't much of a sacrifice.
After I tasted the first bite, I said, "If I were choosing the last meal on earth, this might be the dessert I'd pick." I don't see how you couldn't like this cake unless you hated cake, red fruit, and whipped cream, in which case I'd feel sorry for you. My tasters were as enthusiastic as I was, although they didn't go so far as to say they hoped it was the last thing they ate on earth.
Karen, Jim, and I each had a leisurely piece (Jim had seconds) before we drove the rest of it over to a four-person family with instructions to eat it within the next 15 minutes. They seemed ready to oblige. (Two of the four people are under five years old, which is why I didn't include the optional Chambord liqueur in the syrup).


: "Really loved it. I enjoyed the combination of berries and the texture of the cake. When I signed on for [the tasting panel], I was imagining layer cakes oozing with frosting, but this is far better."

Jim: "The cake held up to the juices--it had good texture and flavor. It stood up to the flavor of the berries but didn't overwhelm them. A nice balance."

Rachel: "I thought the cake was fantastic. For me, the berries were the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I don’t like it when the strawberries are too sugary or the cake too wet (I see it’s best eaten right away, before the cake gets soggy), and this had neither. It was really, really good."

David: "Having the cake within the hour was great in terms of getting the moisture just right. I thought the currants were a nice touch -- tasty and a good visual complement to the strawberries and raspberries. And the whipped cream was excellent."

Aug 17, 2009

Rose Red Velvet Cake

The origins of the red velvet cake are shrouded in mystery. That's the only reliable thing I learned when I tried to figure out who thought it was good idea to bake a cake that is a color not found in nature and why. There's one story that's clearly false, but which explains why this cake is sometimes called the Waldorf Astoria cake. This urban legend has a woman asking for the recipe of the fabulous cake she'd just eaten at the Waldorf Astoria restaurant. When she found she'd been billed some exorbitant amount for the recipe, she decided to get even by broadcasting the recipe to everyone she knew. (The same story was going around about some chocolate chip cookies a while back. It never really made any sense).
A more plausible origin comes from the fact that cocoa used to be a lighter, rosier color. With the advent of darker, Dutch-processed cocoa, chocolate cakes took on a different hue, and people started adding red food coloring to try to replicate the original color. This story explains why the current red velvet cake almost always contains cocoa. Some recipes have enough cocoa to make it a real chocolate cake. Rose's recipe contains only a teaspoon of cocoa--just a "suspicion," as she says.

Rose also gives a variation using a quarter of a cup of cocoa. My mother used to make something she called red devil's food cake, which is apparently a distant relative of red velvet cake, but it was a definite chocolate cake, which the velvet version is usually not.

Dumping an entire bottle of red food coloring into a bowl of egg whites and vanilla was disconcerting, to put it mildly. Remember the Red Dye No. 2 scare? You probably don't, children, because you're all so young. But I do. Red Dye No. 2 caused cancer in lab rats, and everyone got really scared. Then it was banned in 1976. Everyone felt very virtuous until they noticed that food was suddenly starting to look very weird because we were so accustomed to having red dye in everything. That made me wonder what we use now. It is, according to Wikipedia, Red Dye No. 40 And just in case you think you're home free now that evil Red Dye No. 2 has been de-listed, you can find many articles on the internet about the evils of Red Dye No. 40. (If you click on this link, you'll find an article that begins, "The food in your refrigerator could make your child, or you, psychotic.")
I didn't see any signs that this cake made me, or anyone else who ate it, psychotic, at least no more than usual, but if you're worried about this kind of thing, you could substitute beet juice. (The recipe's directions tell you how to do this, but it's a lot more trouble than going to the grocery store and buying a bottle of red dye).
Rose's red velvet cake is unique, I believe, in that it does not use vinegar and baking soda. Instead, it uses just buttermilk and baking powder; Rose says using only baking powder "employ[s] the ful acidity of the buttermilk, making vinegar unnecessary." Because I've never had another red velvet cake, I can't compare this version to ones made with vinegar and baking soda, but I can say that it has a nice tang as it is, so I think vinegar might take it over the tanginess line.

Rose's recipe uses a mixture of oil and butter, for both flavor and moistness, while most traditional recipes call for shortening.

It is very, VERY red, both in its unbaked state, and as baked.

The frosting is Rose's riff on a simple cream cheese icing--the trick is that it has white chocolate instead of powdered sugar, which sweetens it as well as giving it some subtle depth of flavor.

Cream cheese frostings are often used for this kind of cake, but the very most traditional frosting seems to be something called "cooked flour" frosting, the first step of which is to cook flour and milk together until thickened. Okay, maybe this is good, but I've rarely read a recipe that has made me not want to try it as much as this one does.
My tasting panel consisted of our friends Greg and Barbara, in Minnesota from D.C.

I thought maybe that since D.C. is sort of southern, they'd know about red velvet cake, but they didn't. They were stupefied when they saw the color, and even more stupefieid when I told them about the bottle of food coloring. We had already spent a good part of the evening talking about The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, which we'd all read. I think Pollan probably doesn't whole-heartedly endorse using massive amounts of food coloring. But Greg and Barbara were good sports and took their tasting panel duties very seriously. There was no conversation during the first thoughtful bite. Then Greg said, "I wish it weren't so--RED." We actually ended up closing our eyes while we ate the cake, because we all felt that the color was somehow misleading our taste buds. And the more we ate it, the more we ended up liking it. Both Greg and Barbara asked for seconds, and really warmed to it. I'm usually the most critical taster because I always want perfection. I think I overbaked it by perhaps two minutes. At 25 minutes, the tester came out with no batter on it, but it was colored red. I baked it for another five minutes and by that time, it was starting to come away from the side. I believe it would have been a bit moister had I not been afraid of an underdone red cake. The texture is neither as light as, say, a chiffon cake nor as dense as a pound cake, but somewhere in between. I would make it again--but not with a bottle of food coloring.

Greg: "I wish it weren't so red, but I like it a lot. The frosting is especially good, not overly sweet and not overly thick."
Barbara: "There's just a faint taste of chocolate, but it's there. It improves a lot, the more I ate of it. I asked for seconds, and I didn't have any intention of doing that."
Jim: "It had a little tartness to it that I liked. It was a little dry compared to the coconut cake. [Jim is one who doesn't like coconut, but the coconut seduction cake has suddenly become his new gold standard.] It was a lot more red than I expected."

Aug 10, 2009

Plum Round Ingots

These little cakelets are so delicious! And if your eye-hand coordination is better than mine, yours can be really lovely, as they are in the book, with the overlapping plum slices making a perfect rose.
These little round versions of financiers look exactly like little fruit tarts in the cookbook, and I couldn't quite figure out how it was all going to work out, but it did.
Although I think I complained about all the steps involved in making financiers when I made the ones with cacao nibs, I've decided that they're really quite simple. The beurre noisette is the only thing that stops me from saying they're easy-peasy, because that is a little time-consuming. Because it freezes indefinitely, according to Rose, I decided to clarify and brown a whole pound of butter this time.

I've never seen so much butter melting away. The sight of this huge pot o' butter made Jim question my sanity, or at least my ability to follow directions: "Are you sure you're supposed to use this much butter?" But now I have three little plastic tubs of beurre noisette in my freezer, which is a lot, considering that I'd never even heard of it a month ago.

I liked the chocolate financiers a lot, especially the caramelized cacao nibs, but I think that chocolate almost does a disservice to the financier concept, because you lose the subtle flavors of the browned butter and the toasted almonds in the batter.

It's a snap to put all the ingredients together in the food processor, and then pour the batter into six individual tartlet pans. (The directions specify 3 7/8" pans. The only ones I could find were 4-inch, but I think that's close enough).

They can be topped with blueberries or currants, as well as plums, but I used plums because they're called plum ingots, not blueberry ingots.

I got all the fruit from the same bin, but that was the only red one, so my tarts don't all look the same.

As I was struggling to make my plum roses look like the plum roses in the book, I recalled taking an aptitude test in the third grade. The woman who gave the test told me that I had an extraordinarily low score in eye-hand coordination for "someone of normal intelligence." She told me never to work in a factory. I remembered that because I had a mental picture of how I wanted it to look, and what I ended up with didn't exactly match that picture.

Even the powdered sugar looks a little forlorn, instead of the delicate sprinkling that I envisioned. But you know what? I don't care because these were so fabulous. In fact, as I licked my fingers after finishing it, I thought to myself that what I really, really wanted to do was to eat another one. And they're not tiny, either. Jim told me to go ahead--he wouldn't tell. Then he taunted me by having a second one himself. But I'm made of sterner stuff.

Sarah: "There's a tartness I like. And I like the texture of the cake. The almonds give it a really subtle nuttiness."

James: "I've never had anything like this before! It's not too sweet, and it's got a really good texture."

Jim: "The crust has a really good flavor--just the right amount of sweetness. And it doesn't fall apart."

Karen: "I could eat a lot of these."

--And that's the way it is, Sunday, July 19, 2009.

Aug 3, 2009

Heavenly Seduction Coconut Cake - RECIPE

I'm so happy to give you another recipe--this time for an easy-to-make, truly delicious coconut cake. It's got coconut four or five ways, depending on whether you use the optional coconut cream powder in the whipped cream. The cake itself has canned cream of coconut, coconut extract, and desiccated coconut, which is just a $10 word for dried coconut. The whipped cream frosting is topped with sweetened grated coconut and flavored with coconut cream powder. (I didn't have the coconut cream powder; it was delicious without it, and might very well be even more delicious with it).
The cake uses only egg whites, so I could use up some of the leftover egg whites I had after making the tiramisu. (One of the handy things about this book, by the way, is an appendix telling you which cakes are made with egg yolks only and which are made with egg whites only.)

The egg whites, some of the cream of coconut, and the extracts are mixed up and set aside.

Then the sugar and desiccated coconut are whirred around in a food processor until the coconut gets very fine. This gets mixed in with the rest of the ingredients, and then the egg white mixture is added. I told you it was easy.
It makes a nice, thick batter.

And it bakes in about 30 minutes, with no problems.

The whipped cream recipe doesn't call for any sugar, but I added about a tablespoon because I wasn't using the coconut cream powder. The sweetened coconut gave it enough sweetness so that it probably didn't need any extra, but I thought that Jim might laboriously pick off each little shred of coconut, since coconut is right up there with cilantro in his list of foods that do not improve his disposition. I figured that when Rose called this a "seduction" cake, she wasn't thinking of people who don't like coconut and how unlikely they are to be seduced by coconut.

Really, the only thing even faintly difficult about this recipe is accumulating the five sources of coconut, and, of those five, only the desiccated coconut and the coconut cream powder might present a problem.
Woody, Rose's assistant and friend, gave me some desiccated coconut so I wouldn't have to order it myself. I thought it was out of the kindness of his heart, but it turned out that he wanted some of the cake for himself. "Marie," he said, "let's just say you don't want anything bad to happen. And nothing will if you leave a piece of cake on the front porch for me." "What time, Woody?" I asked, tremblingly. I'll admit it--I was scared. A protection racket based on cake? I never suspected.
"We like to do these things at night--for obvious reasons," he said. "Nobody's going to get hurt if you follow directions. And I know you have some trouble with following directions, so listen up, capisce?" "Capisce?" I thought to myself. "Where's the Woody I thought I knew?" At 10:00 p.m., sharp, I put two pieces of cake on the front porch. I left a note: "Take two slices, please. I don't want any trouble." I turned the light on, and went upstairs to bed. It was a sleepless night. I tossed and turned. Finally, I crept downstairs and looked on the porch. The cake was gone. I was safe. For now.

TASTING PANEL:Laurel: "Interesting combination of textures with the whipped cream, flaked coconut, and just a bit of coconut texture in the cake."
Karen: "I've always liked very sweet desserts, but Rose has won me over with her not-as-sweet, more subtle approach to baking. And this is the best one yet."
Jim:: "All I can say is I had two pieces and I don't like coconut."
Jan: "This goes down real easy." [This is a compliment, for those of you who don't speak Minnesotan].

Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake

Oven Temperature: 350°F/175˚C
Baking Time: 30 to 40 minutes

Serves: 8 to 10

3 large egg whites, room temperature: 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
(3 fluid ounces) (3.2 ounces, 90 grams)
Canned cream of coconut (NOT coconut cream): 2/3 cup, divided (5.3 fluid ounces)
(6.7 ounces, 190 grams) (processed in food processor before measuring)
Pure vanilla extract: 3/4 teaspoon
Ccoconut extract: 3/4 teaspoon
Superfine sugar: 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon (3 ounces, 88 grams)
Desiccated unsweetened grated coconut: 1/2 cup (1.2 ounces, 35 grams)
Cake flour: (see note) 2 cups (sifted into the cup and leveled off) (7 ounces, 200 grams)
Baking powder: 2 1/4 teaspoons (10.7 grams)
Salt: 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams)
Unsalted butter (65 to 75˚F/19 to 23˚C) (8 tablespoons, 1 stick (4 ounces, 113 grams)

A 9 by 2-inch cake pan, encircled with a cake strip, bottom coated with shortening, topped with a parchment round, then coated with baking spray with flour.
Preheat the Oven
20 minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175˚C.
Mix the Liquid Ingredients
In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites, 3 tablespoons of the cream of coconut, the vanilla, and the coconut extract just until lightly combined.
Mix the Batter
In a food processor, process the sugar and coconut until the coconut is powder fine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the sugar mixture, flour, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cream of coconut. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg white mixture in two batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the surface evenly.
Bake the Cake
Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean and just starts coming away from the sides of the pan. It will be under-baked in the center if it is removed before it starts shrinking. The cake is so fluffy it will not spring back readily when pressed in the center. Because it is so wondrously tender, the top will dip slightly on cooling.
Cool the Cake
Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake and invert it onto a wire rack that has been coated with cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so that the top side is up, and cool completely before serving.

Note: I love the flavor and incredibly tender texture offered by the cream of coconut but it requires cake flour to prevent serious dipping in the center. The cake is also very delicious with coconut milk and does not dip in the center. To substitute, use 2/3 cup/5.3 fluid ounces (5.7 ounces/163 grams) canned coconut milk (stirred well before measuring). Be sure to increase the sugar to 1 cup/7 ounces/200 grams and the baking powder to 2 1/2 teaspoons. You can also use the same weight of bleached all-purpose flour instead of cake flour (the volume is only 1 3/4 cups).

Whipped Cream
Makes: 3 cups/13 ounces/370 grams
Heavy cream, cold: 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) (12.3 ounces, 348 grams)
optional: Powdered coconut cream: 1/4 cup (1 ounce, 32 grams)
For the Topping: Sweetened flaked coconut: 1 cup (3 ounces, 85 grams)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the heavy cream and optional powdered coconut cream, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. (Chill the whisk beater alongside the bowl.)
Beat the mixture only until soft peaks form when the beater is raised or the cream mounds softly when dropped from a spoon.)
Mound the cream onto the cake and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Serve immediately. Be prepared to swoon.

Highlights for Success
Cream of coconut contains solid coconut oil and needs to be processed in the food processor until smooth, or thoroughly whisked to break it up into small pieces.
If you want to top the cake with whipped cream more than 30 minutes before serving, you will need to add 1/2 teaspoon of Cobasan before beating or use the gelatin stabilized whipped cream (page 00) to enable it to stand for up to several hours at room temperature without watering out or see cornstarch stabilized whipped cream, which will keep it from watering out for 24 hours refrigerated.
Powdered coconut cream is available in Eastern food supply stores such as Kalustyan.
This coconut cake is not as moist when held for several days as the coconut layer cake because of the slightly drying effect of the dried coconut and the low liquid/high fat content of the cream of coconut. The grated coconut, however, gives it extra coconut flavor and the higher fat content meltingly tender texture.