June 30, 2009

TWD- Cake Perfected

There was a time when I was willing to settle...for mediocre desserts. Boxed cookies, over-refrigerated restaurant cakes, and I'll admit to eating more than a few chocolate bars past there prime. That white stuff is safe right? Well friends, those days are over. Baking classes, awesome blogging groups like Tuesday's With Dorie, and a whole lot of Food Network have made me quite the dessert snob these days. Why settle for old grocery store cake when I have a Perfect Party Cake recipe in my arsenal?!
This is the second time I have successfully made this cake and despite many previous white cake disasters I thinks I am finally getting the hang of this thing! I'm not so over confident as to branch out just yet so I followed this recipe almost exactly, save for halving it to make a 4 inch mini cake and replacing the lemon extract with vanilla.

For the layers I used homemade raspberry pan jam and and I totally heart pressing coconut into the buttercream. Especially since it covers up my less than stellar icing job.
Finally being able to bust out darn good dessert from my kitchen is enough to make me want to celebrate. For more Party Cake perfection, head on over the blogroll.

June 27, 2009

Bakewell Tart- The Name Says It Best

June's Daring Bakers challenge, the Bakewell Tart, is a classic English dessert with a bit of an identity crisis. Some call it a tart, other a pudding. Admittedly, I had low expectations for this little pastry. Shortbread crust with jam and frangipane, topped with slivered almonds, it was easy to throw together but not much to look at.

Until you take a bite.

Soft gooey frangipane giving way to sweet tart raspberry jam, it knocked my socks of people! So whatever you want to name it, I just call it delicious.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Raspberry Bakewell Tartlets

For the Pastry

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

For the Frangipane
125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. I used raspberry pan jam based on Jasmine's recipe found here. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

June 26, 2009

Flying Solo

Due to a family crisis, I was unable to attend my last Pro Baking 1 class, croissant and puff pastry. The makeup class won't be until the fall and I was feeling a little nervous about starting Pro 2 without those skills under my belt. I'd already learned to make the croissant dough in class so I took out my notebook and got to work. Initially I was sure I had failed because the dough was way stickier than I remembered but since I'd already invested half my household supply of flour I soldiered on. After adding more flour and a few minutes of kneading I felt I had something I could work with and ultimately I was happier with this dough than the one I had made previously. The butter didn't even squish out the sides when I rolled and turned it- very encouraging. I refrigerated the dough overnight and got an early start this morning in the hopes that they'd be done in time for breakfast. I formed my plain and chocolate croissants and let them rise for 1 1/2 hours, popped them in the oven and crossed my fingers. 20 minutes later...

Success! I couldn't believe it. They looked really great and tasted even better. 2 months ago I never would have attempted croissants at home and now I can't wait to make them again. Sweet, buttery, flaky victory!
For great croissant tutorials and recipes, go here and here.

June 23, 2009

TWD- Oh The Humidity

Flying cross country from LA to West Palm Beach can be grueling, unless of course you get upgraded to first class (thanks Continental!), but it's worth the for the hugs. The first and best one coming from Mom, and next the embrace of the soft, humid Florida air. Yes, I love humidity. It makes my skin glow, my hair curl, it makes me happy. That old SoCal excuse, well sure it's 9o degrees but it's a dry heat, just doesn't do it for me. However, it is hell on baking. Whenever I go to Florida I try to recreate the desserts I make in my own kitchen, often to less than stellar results. Mushy eclairs, tart dough that keeps cracking apart- I blame my friend humidity. It's a good thing I waited until I got home to attempt this week's TWD, Coconut-Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise.
Getting those meringue layers to the crisp stage, and keeping them there, was quite an adventure. Unsure of whether or not I would enjoy this, I halved the recipe and made the meringue layers 6x3. Plus I was hoping it would cut down on the 3 hour baking time. 2 1/2 hours in they were still sticky and I was running late for a tennis lesson. I shut the oven off and left them in there while I was gone. One hour later they were perfect so I took them out and left them on the counter but by the end of the day they had started sticking to the parchment paper. I put them back in the oven for 20 minutes then shut off the heat and left them in there overnight. Even after all that, just sitting on the counter this morning while roasting the pineapple and whipping the ganache, the meringue had already begun to soften. I quickly assembled the Dacquoise and put it in the fridge. From the cook's treat I left my self (a spare piece of meringe dredged through ganache and coconut scraps) I can tell this is going to be swoon-worthy and well worth the effort.
For more Dacquoise fun, check out the TWD blogroll.

June 16, 2009

TWD- Keeping It Real

I had grand plans. After years of wanting an ice cream maker, trying to convince myself I needed one, jealous of how everyone else seemed to be casually throwing together awesome ice creams to accompany all their desserts, Mom finally sent us one for our anniversary- just in time for this week's TWD, Honey Peach Ice Cream. Boy was I excited. Would it be ice cream sandwiches? A topping for that peach cobbler recipe I've been wanting to try? Maybe topped with caramelized peach sauce?
I made the peach puree and the custard base, and turned on my new toy. 25 minutes later I scooped the ice cream into my new, adorable little pint container, popped it in the freezer and waited. 2 hours later I checked on it and it was still soft. An hour later, still too soft, and I had tell my husband to have a mango for dessert instead of the delicious ice cream I had previously promised. Finally by the next night, after spicy drunken noodles, the we could wait no longer. We dove in to perfectly peach scented, velvety soft ice cream and it was good. So good I was planning a second helping when I realized that not only was there not enough for seconds, but I hadn't taken any photos yet. Oops.
So, instead of artfully arranged scoops in cute bowls, or stacks of little sandwiches, give you the dregs of the carton...which will be consumed as soon as I've taken this last photo.

Yeah I feel a little guilty, guess you'll just have to get your own. Go here to find out how.

June 14, 2009

Sunday School- Better With Butter

The last 2 weeks of class have been a butter and flour covered blur. Focaccia, crackers and pizza, then straight into brioche, croissant and puff pastry. Pro Baking 1 isn't winding down so much as careening toward the end at break-neck speed.
Today we made blocks out of butter to fold into croissant and puff pastry dough, and turned last week's brioche down into gorgeous pain au raisin. I was amazed at how well mine turned out considering I had to really book it to get the dough done last week before the end of class.
This is the part of the post where I usually give out lots of helpful tips but to be frank I'm still processing it all. I do know the basis for the success of these doughs lies even distribution of leaves of butter throughout. There is a lot of rolling and turning the dough to get that flakiness one expects in a croissant so basically, if you're not wearing flecks of pain au chocolate all over you when you eat one, you wasting calories on a something that is not the real deal. Just say no to fake pastry!
I figure, if you're going to have a cinnamon roll, really have one. And don't skimp on the milk either.

June 9, 2009

Handy Dandy Apple Tartlet

Paris. It has a tendency to slip through my fingers. Like the silk scarf I imagine I would buy if I ever make it there. I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe twice but there never seemed to be enough days in the week, or enough money in the budget, to make it to France. Even now, with my husband having three weeks off between jobs and mercilessly released from Grand Jury duty (phew!) we toyed with the idea of meeting up with cousins on their whirlwind European tour but the airfare was just astronomical. Sigh. Paris will just have to wait a little longer. At least I have the French Open on tv, and a Parisian Apple Tartlet in my hand. Thanks Tuesdays With Dorie, for making my French fantasies a little more tangible!
Not only are these tartlets delicious, but I almost felt guilty about how easy they are to make. Almost. Trader Joe's frozen puff pastry, fuji apples, a sprinkling of sugar, and a dab of sugar- it doesn't get any more low tech than that. The hardest part was cutting the apples evenly and getting them to remain upright- mine had a little more of a Stonhenge vibe than I would have liked.

But oh so tasty. And did I mention easy?
I think I may have. Can't afford a stroll down the Champs Elysees? How about a stroll through TWD blogroll? You can take your deliciously portable Parisian Apple Tartlet with you.

June 3, 2009

Rainy Day Raspberry Rugelach

Rain in So Cal makes me giggle. Not the rain so much as peoples' reaction to it. Driving past the elementary school in my neighborhood today, every single kid was carrying an umbrella! It was only sprinkling! Growing up in Florida rain was an everyday occurrence, especially in the summer. You could actually set your watch by it- three o'clock the storm would roll in. The skies would darken, thunder claps, lightning, everybody out of the pool! I loved the storms and they are one of things I miss most about my home state- well third most behind my mom and Dunkin Donuts.
Speaking of pastry, rainy days are made for baking and with the storm outside reminding me of home, and a bowl of homemade raspberry jam in the fridge, Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach was the obvious choice. I used Dorie's tried and true recipe, minus the dried fruit and nuts- just a layer of raspberry pan jam and chopped bittersweet chips. This was also a great way to use the Raspberry sugar I picked up from a great little spice market the last time I was home.
You don't need to wait for a rainy day to enjoy these delicious cookies, they are perfect in any weather.

Raspberry Pan Jam
adapted from Cardamom Addict
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
juice from 1/2 a meyer lemon
splash of vanilla

Combine raspberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until the berries soften and give up their juices. Add sugar to taste if needed. Stir for a few minutes then add lemon juice. Reduce heat to low and stir for a few more minutes until thickened to desired consistency. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat. Store unused jam in the fridge.

June 2, 2009

Cinnamon Squares Go Round

Despite living in Sunny Southern California, May Gray/June Gloom sets in every year. Coastal communities, like the one I live in, become covered by a thick layer of clouds and fog which if you're lucky burns off in time for a late afternoon or perhaps sunset. I just got back from a few days in Seattle and came home with an actual sunburn, something I'd be hard pressed to get at home these days. One benefit of June Gloom is not having to feel guilty spending the day indoors, specifically in my kitchen, whipping up a batch of this week's TWD, Cinnamon Squares. After all the great food we consumed in the Pacific Northwest (the coconut cream pie at Etta's should not be missed) I halved the recipe, which yielded 6 cupcakes.

To achieve the same layered effect in the full square cake, fill each liner with one heaping spoonful of batter, sprinkle on the chocolate and cinnamon/sugar mixture, then add a second spoonful of batter evenly over the top. Be careful not to overfill to avoid excessive muffin top. That goes for the baker as well- so be sure to share these with your loved ones!
Thanks Tracey for a great pick this week. For more Cinnamon Square fun, check out the blogroll.