Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - August '08 Challenge!

No, I haven't dropped out of Daring Bakers, or the free world, for that matter. Still, I'm truly surprised that I wasn't able to do the June and July challenges! Wah! But it was really impossible the way things were going (schedules and all). Now I'm back on track. :)

This month's challenge was a Pierre Herme' recipe was chosen by our hosts Meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey? and Tony of Olive Juice: Éclairs from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé'. Hermé is a French pastry chef who, honestly, I had not heard of until recently, but I think it's safe to say he is truly a premiér Pastry Artist. The only cookbooks I've been able to find by him are in French, and I actually entertained the idea of buying one to refresh myself on the college French that I took. Just for fun, don'tcha know!

Tony and Meeta graciously gave us a good deal of leeway with the recipe. We did have to use the choux recipe provided and have one chocolate component, but otherwise we could do whatever we wanted in the line of flavorings and fillings.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 20-24 Éclairs)

Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

I made mini eclairs and mini cream puffs. They were most excellent!

Notes: 1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper. [As you can see, I ignored that part of the instructions. I thought it was easier to open them like clam shells; that way you could pipe filling into each half and just fold them back over themselves.]

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

Notes: 1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

[OK...I don't know about a ribbon but it looked OK to me.]

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and then freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Gah, just give me a spoon, man!

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stopping) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. [Here, I was paranoid that my water was going to slop into my pastry cream - I was careful and it didn't.] Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce Recipe
from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.

2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

I made both éclair and cream puff shapes - fun! Both were incredibly tasty, but I really liked the bitty cream puffs because you could pop one into your mouth and it was great - not too much (like that matters when you eat eleventy-six of them)!

I pretty much stuck with the original recipe, but played around with complimentary flavorings. I split the filling 3 ways: Grand Marnier with crushed almonds on top; Mocha (I added about 1 Tbsp. instant espresso); and "Mayan" (a large dose of cinnamon with maybe 1/4 tsp. cayenne to give it a subtle heat). I will admit, I was extremely tempted to use the pastry cream as a vanilla without adding any chocolate, but I decided to try the chocolate this time.

Left to Right: Mayan cream puff; Grand Marnier éclair; Mocha éclair

Several DB's commented that the rolls tasted "eggy", and I agree that they did on their own. However, once filled and glazed it gave it a subtle richness that held up with the filling and glaze. It wasn't too bland (I have had me some b-l-a-n-d eclairs in my life and that just detracts), but didn't overpower. It was an excellent supporting player. Kind of like the right undergarments help that little black party dress look uber-fab.


Inside of a Mayan cream puff, and a nibbled-on Mocha éclair

I really liked this recipe, and each component was ridiculously easy compared to how hard I always have thought éclairs would be to make. I'll definitely do it again, and be sure to make them a little bigger (though I must admit I liked the bite-size quality of these). Now that I've seen exactly how they rise, I'll be able to judge better next time. I *really* want to do a vanilla bean pastry cream in the future.

For those who've been daunted by the "hoh-hoh-hoh" Frenchiness and perceived difficulty level of éclairs, take a weekend afternoon to try this out. I think you will be pleasantly surprised! Thanks, Tony and Meeta!
Check out the other Daring Bakers' creations here!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Little Schoolgirl :)

I'm sure all parents nod and roll eyes when I say, "It seems like just the other day....she was born!" but it's true. Sweet Pea has another milestone notch in her belt; along with first word, 1st birthday, first steps, we now have First Day of School. We have a big kid 5-year-old in the house!

Wake up, sleepyhead! Hey, how'd you get in our bed, anyway?


Lest ye wonder - no, it wasn't a tearful day for me. It's been worse the last 5 years going to day care (rack that up to an eternal disagreement between Hubby and me re: stay-at-home moms)! I was actually excited that FINALLY she was going to be in a place where she would really have the opportunity to thrive.

Getting ready - she picked out her clothes the night before and was so excited
I thought it was funny - I was so the tomboy and HATED dresses of any kind (I remember howling to my mom on several occasions why girls had to wear a dress to church but boys didn't!) so obviously the "dress" gene skipped from my mom to my child. This kid LOVES them! As a matter of fact, she's started getting kind of "vocal" on the days I'd try and put shorts on her to go to day care.... Hey, whatever floats your boat, kid. ;>

Cute l'il jumper, and showing the dangly flower on her backpack


We had her backpack all stuffed and ready. This was a gift from a friend of mine who got this for her when we had a group vacation with college friends on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

"Granny Sheila" is actually nowhere close to being a granny. She is actually just a couple of years older than I, and was in the same social club at college (a social club is basically a non-Greek sorority); we are actually in the same "family tree". Specifically, this means that my big sister Nicole had a big sister Lauri; Lauri's big sister was Sheila. In club speak, Lauri is my "granny" and Sheila is my "great-granny". Get it? Anyway, she and Sweet Pea were major buddies during vacation, and Sheila was totally sweet to get her this totally adorable backpack. I got it monogrammed when we got back home.

We also got a big-girl haircut the weekend before school started, while she was visiting Grandmama and Granddaddy (my parents) in Mississippi. One of her vacation friends, Brenna, had the most precious haircut, which I loved, and when I mentioned it to Sweet Pea she became totally excited, as well as determined to have a Brenna Haircut. :) I thought it turned out adorable, and Sweet Pea is very fond of it, too!

We got to school and to the classroom (which we'd found a few nights before at "Welcome Back" night), where all the other kids and their parents were congregating. I heard the sweetest voice behind me, and turned to see none other than Ms. Susan, the teacher. She really seems so nice, and perfect for a kindergarten class. At first, Sweet Pea was excited; then Ms. Susan instructed them to hang their backpacks on hooks next to their names. This was when she froze up and got the Deer in Headlights look, and I had to point out her name/hook for her.

We walked back over to her desk, and she looked at me and said, "Mama....I WANT YOU" (which means, "I'm not really cool with this and you need to hold me or something."). I gave her a big hug and started talking about ALL of the fun things they'd do that day, and she seemed like she might have tried to accept that for a second.

Feeling a little reticent....but ended up OK!
If I'd wanted to slip out unnoticed, I failed miserably by leaving my purse in the car, so when Ms. Susan called for lunch money and my child looked at me like I had totally left her to the wolves.... I promised her I'd take care of it - with a quickness. Any meltdown I anticipated never happened, though she was left looking a little lost, and her best friend Olivia, who's in the other K5 class, began crying at some point. Sheesh.

Fortunately, by the time the hour came to pick her up, I was met by this exuberant little girl who proudly and confidently took me on a "tour" of her new school. The day was a success, and Mom and Dad were relieved. All is right with the world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Double DB Challenge - I'm Seeing Red!

First and foremost: Happy Independence Day to everyone!

And second: Oh my, ah can't believe ah'm gettin' ta bake somethin' that's so close to mah Southern roots. How verah excitin'!

Did that sound like Scarlett O'Hara? LOL! I headed South in my quest to follow in the footsteps of the Daring Bakers. At this time they were still a small group of ladies (try about 15 then versus over 1,000 now!) and they had just gotten the opportunity to share their new logo with the blogging world. Whoohoo! And this particular time they made red velvet cake.

Now, I'm from Mississippi, which is a historical mecca of beautiful antebellum homes, gracious ladies and gentlemen, and wonderful food. A lot of things have changed in the American South (human slavery being one, thank God), but one thing that hasn't changed is the welcoming nature of people all across the region. I mean, Mississippi is known as The Hospitality State - how much more obvious is that?! When we get together for pretty much anything, we eat....and the care put into making food - from a bridal tea to Sunday dinner to football tailgating - is phenomenal. To me, Southern meals exude a real love of life and community.

I have made red velvet cake before. When I was in high school, my friend Brad got me to join the church choir with him. The rest of the choir consisted of adults; I'm sure they were amused by us, as we're both extremely goofy by nature and from my own recollection sat around laughing at everything (when Brad and I got together at ANY time, we laughed - about something, about nothing at all - I'm laughing my butt off as I type this, thinking about the times we just sat around laughing).

When the choir Christmas party rolled around, everyone was instructed to bring something. We decided we'd cook together, and I don't remember how we came about deciding that we'd make red velvet cake but we did (we also made a 2nd dessert but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what it was)!

Anyway, we had a blast, of course, making this cake. At one point, Brad's mom came into the kitchen and said, "Oh, y'all, that looks soooo good. Can I try some?"

"Yes-ma'am," we replied (to not reply with "-ma'am" or "-sir" in the South shows signs of a substandard upbringing), and Mrs. C proceeded to get a spoon and daintily dip it into the batter. "Mmmm, y'all, that's good! I just want one more taste." She turned the spoon around and dipped the handle end into the batter so as not to contaminate it with the end of the spoon she'd already licked.

Brad and I howled with laughter and told his confused mother that we'd been sticking our fingers into the batter and icing repeatedly to taste-test. We were typical teens with no scruples, people! I think we got an exasperated eye-roll and a "Y'all!" Yes, we were nuts, and life was good that way.

The Daring Bakers group chose their own red velvet cake recipes in March 2007, so I went straight to my baker's rack full of cookbooks to find the recipe I would use. When my eyes fell upon Southern Grace, the cookbook that is put out by my alma mater (Mississippi University for Women, also called "The W" - I'm tellin' y'all....I'm Southern!) I knew with no doubt where I'd get the instructions for my cake.

Sure enough, there it was in the dessert section, preceding a recipe for brown velvet cake (really going to have to try that, as it sounds delicious in its own right). I knew that The W wouldn't let me down - she hasn't thus far. Here is a quote from the page of the recipe:

"The origin of Red Velvet Cake goes back to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, but Southerners have made it such a part of their holiday traditions for so long that it is now considered a Southern specialty. It is a beautifully textured chocolate cake that happens to be astonishingly red. The white icing is a startling contrast to the rich red cake. Red Velvet Cake has been a favorite with MUW students for decades and worth making two trips through the cafeteria line for that extra slice. Anyone who's seen the movie Steel Magnolias will remember the armadillo-shaped grooms cake with the blood-red interior. It HAD to be Red Velvet Cake!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Red Velvet Cake
from Southern Grace - Recipes and Rememberances from The W

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. baking cocoa
2 oz. liquid red food coloring
2 1/2 c. cake flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. milk
5 Tbsp. cake flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cream 1/2 c. butter, 1 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Mix the baking cocoa and food coloring in a small bowl to make a paste. Add to the egg mixture and beat well. Sift 2 1/2 c. flour and the salt into a bowl.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk into the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating well after each addition. Mix the vinegar and baking soda in a small bowl. Add to the batter and beat well. Pour into 3 well-greased 8" cake pans [I had two, so used them both once and reused one a second time].

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mix the cold milk and 5 Tbsp. flour in a small saucepan.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Pour into a bowl. Chill until cool to the touch.

Note to self: When chilling in freezer, be sure to turn ice maker OFF....

Cream 1 c. butter, 1 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla...

(That's vanilla powder ^^^) a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add to the cooled milk mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy.

Spread between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake.

Yield: 12 servings

"Stars and Stripes Forever"
I traced out a star shape with a skewer tip and then filled it in with small blueberries, so I'd have a red, white, and blue cake! Hoh hoh hoh, I am so cool, no?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *


This is the second cake I've made with an frosting recipe that makes b-a-r-e-l-y enough icing to cover the flipping cake, and it royally ticked me off. The other time, it was with Dorie's Perfect Party Cake and again, it really frustrated me that I was having to skimp and scrape and pray that I had enough!! I was just about to whip up another half-batch, but I realized that if I scraped the frosting from the beater then I should be OK. Still, next time I'll make 1 1/2 times the original recipe; I don't want to have to worry where the heck the icing's coming from when I'm trying to make my cake pretty! I mean, Fiddle Dee Dee, y'all! ;> I guess I'll just have to resign myself to the fact that this is a personal issue and I just like lots of icing.

Little wagon and swingset in the background. :)

Another thing I wished I'd done differently was to not bake the cakes quite as long as I did. I cooked them for 25 minutes, which was within the recipe's time frame, but I wish I'd checked them at 20 minutes and pulled them out then so that they'd have been moister. Not that the cakes were dry, but it's borderline for me as to the moistness and softness of the cake.

But two things:

  1. Red velvet cake, by nature, is just a denser cake. Period. So, to an extent it's just going to be that way. Just deal with it and grab a glass of cold milk.

  2. I also was baking via convection, so I should've thought to set the timer a little earlier, but the batter looked so dense I really thought it would need that baking time.

And gripes about the frosting aside, I have to say that it was really good! I was surprised that it wasn't a cream cheese frosting, which seems to be the traditional frosting of choice for Red Velvet Cake in the South. I'd never made icing with a milk/flour mixture so I was interested to see how it would turn out - and it ended up a light fluffy buttercream consistency that was kinda addictive.

Also, 2 oz. of red food coloring doesn't sound like much, until one goes to the store and finds out that 2 oz. of food coloring comes in a small brown glass bottle - NOT those little squeezy ones with the colored tops that come in the box with blue, yellow, and green! No wonder these cakes are so flippin' red.

Although we got the 4th off of work for the Independence Day holiday, we had guests over on the 5th and Hubby cooked out; I made baked beans and cole slaw and the cake. Our friends were very complimentary of the cake, including their 3-year-old, who told me, "Aunt Amy, your cake is good!"

A slice of cake out on the deck

Good food, good friends, and compliments from preschoolers. Can't get any better than that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Double DB Challenge - Flourless Chocolate Cake!

I'm getting in a little late on the Double DB challenge for June - but I'm here, baby! It's not that this one was necessarily difficult, it was just that I had so little time (hence, it being over a month since my last post). :P That was due to the fact that I was out of town two different weekends and I started a new job (which pays more but is also more time-consuming), so it cut down on those precious large pieces of free time that I usually get after the weekly grind.

For Chriesi's and my June Double DB challenge, we took on a decadent delight that the Daring Bakers did in Feb. 2007 - flourless chocolate cake. *sigh*

Here is my adaptation of "Chocolate Intensity" from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book. I halved the original recipe and made mine in a little 6" pan. #1, because it would be cute, and #2 because we surely didn't need one of these big things!! Speaking of the original, be sure to check out the creation that resulted from Chriesi's work!


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 62% cocoa), finely chopped
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. espresso powder
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla powder
Pinch salt
2 tsp. (approx.) freshly grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 6-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a parchment round and butter the parchment. Place chopped chocolate in a large bowl. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir butter, sugar, espresso powder, and Grand Marnier until the butter is melted and mixture is boiling. Pour the hot mixture over your chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute; then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs vigorously until blended. Whisk in the vanilla powder and salt. [Amy's note: I actually used salted butter *gasp* and omitted the salt - it was fine.] Slowly add about 1/3 cup of the hot chocolate mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly. (Tempering the eggs with a little bit of the hot chocolate mixture will prevent "scrambled eggs" when combining the two mixtures.) Add the egg mixture to the hot chocolate mixture and whisk to combine well. Whisk in orange zest. Strain the batter through a sieve (to catch any cooked egg bits and zest) and then pour batter into prepared pan.

Set cake pan in a large roasting pan and fill the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. [OK, my little pan kind of wanted to float, there!]

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the center is shiny and set but still a bit jiggly. Transfer cake pan to a cooling rack and cool for 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a cardboard round on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. [I anticipated trouble removing the cake from the pan, but mine practically leapt out of the pan.] Remove pan and carefully remove the parchment paper. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours before glazing with chocolate glaze*.

*Bittersweet Ganache
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla powder
1 tsp Grand Marnier

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add the chopped chocolate.

Cream, chocolate, vanilla powder - and maybe a splash of Grand Marnier

Let stand for 1 minute then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth.Gently stir in the vanilla and Grand Marnier *hic*. Transfer glaze to a small bowl and cover the surface of the glaze with plastic wrap [whatever, like I really did that...] and let cool for 5 minutes at room temperature before using .

To glaze the cake: Place the chilled cake, still on the cake round, on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Slowly pour the hot glaze onto the center of the cake.

Oh ma GAH, that looks so luscious, no?

Smooth the glaze over the top and sides, letting the excess drip onto the baking sheet. [As you can see above, I just let it sit over a plate.] Scrape the extra glaze from the baking sheet and put it in a small ziploc bag. Seal the bag and cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners. Gently squeeze the bag over the top of the cake to drizzle the glaze in a decorative pattern. Grate a couple of teaspoons of orange zest over the cake. Refrigerate the cake at least one hour before serving.

New plate - not the one that caught the drippings

When I pulled the cake out of the oven, I was like, "Wha!" because it was standing about 1/2" over the top of the cake pan! I was going to take a quick picture of it, just in case it fell (which it did), but I couldn't find the dadgum camera. Hmph! It smelled awesome, but considering that I had made my July Double DB challenge the day BEFORE (more on that later!) it was kind of like, "Eh." Of course, it also could be that from licking the bowl I was satiated with cocoa, sugar, and the like. Nah.....

I took the cake to work with me the next day - naturally, this would also be the day that someone brought a big pan of cinnamon rolls (eh? wiseguy!) but I waited until after lunch and set it out by the microwave. Everyone took small pieces - it was extremely rich - and loved it! One of my coworkers said he wanted the recipe - so here you go, Tom! This was a fun challenge - I enjoyed making it but am equally glad that I halved the recipe, because I had just a little bit that I took home!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers - May '08 Challenge!

Miiiiiiiiiii mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi!!!!! *cough* Ahem. That's me getting ready for the opera - no, not a REAL opera (I can sing, but not like that!) - an opera cake!

This month is a first for the Daring Bakers - typically there are one or two hosts each month, but this time we have four! Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, DB's co-founders, along with Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful (a.k.a. The Fearsome Foursome, LOL).

I had seen pictures of an opera cake before, but it looked pretty intimidating. I remember thinking, 'Well, there's something I'll never make.' This, however, was way before I became a Daring Baker! So when I saw our May challenge I was intrigued and kinda nervous. I was also excited because this month is dedicated to Barbara of winos and foodies. I don't know Barbara, but she is a formerly active and always honorary Daring Baker. If Lis and Ivonne honor her, then I do as well. :) Here's to you, Barbara! :)

Now, on to L'Opera! One of our rules was that we not use any "dark" colors or flavors - no brown chocolate, coffee flavoring, etc. - the colors had to be light. I chose to do a Vanilla-Lavender cake with Lavender-Caramel just looked so wonderful. Plus, I have some culinary lavender that a friend gave me which I really need to use! It was easy to make, in light of the fact that I couldn't find my THERMOMETER....which Hubby claims HE hasn't seen in a long time. Yeah, sure, I can tell you the last time *I* saw it -- when I got it from our deck, where it had been sitting on our grill, exposed to the elements. I was just lucky the sucker worked after that. Anyway, I kind of eyeballed it and imagined that something would have to cook a good little while to get to 305 degrees, did a little dropping into water (having minimal knowledge about soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, etc.) and it actually turned out all right!

OK, that was a complete understatement -- the stuff was totally FAB! Eat it with a spoon. Mmmmmm.....

The white chocolate mousse was really easy, too. I like white chocolate fine, especially combined with other things - but if I needed a chocolate fix I wouldn't even look the way of white chocolate. However, I have to say that the white chocolate ganache with lavender-vanilla whipped cream folded in is heavenly! I could never seem to get a smooth texture; I made the ganache first and put it into the fridge, which meant I then had to heat it back up a little to mix it with the whipped cream. Sounds easy, right? Ohhhh nooooooo, I left the ganache in the microwave a little too long so it got bubbling HOT. I stirred it up (it had a lot of grease going on that I had to try and incorporate back in) and put it into the freezer for a couple of minutes to get COOL again. I almost waited too long; the edges were starting to solidify, but I said 'screw it' and mixed it in, anyway. It had little chunks of white chocolate, which I felt would give it "character".

So it was soon after this that I got into my "dumb-butt" mode (ohhhh no, I've not arrived THERE yet). I decided to finish up the cake on a Saturday afternoon when we were having friends over for supper and was trying to rush through the last couple of steps and finish cleaning the house too. Thought I'd impress them with my Opera Cake Skills. Whooo boy! All those fears I'd ever had about the presentation of this art project came to fruition as my Opera Cake became a big sloppy mess right in front of my eyes, as I baked and assembled it!

#1, I reduced the cake recipe and thought I'd be all cool by pouring the batter all into one pan. Big mistake! I pulled it out when it started to turn brown, messed with it a little, and realized the center was still very goopy. Damn! I also realized that my melted butter was sitting there on the counter. Double damn! I fixed it, and back into the oven it went; it came back out looking rather lumpy on the top due to my fooling around with the top and stirring in the butter. When I took it out the second time it was done, and I cut it in half and then halved those 2 pieces horizontally (playing upon my Perfect Party Cake experience *cough*) to have 4 layers and a rectangular cake.

#2 - The buttercream.....apparently needed to be chilled more.
#3 - The mousse.....clearly needed to have been room temp.
#4 - The glaze.....dripped over the sides in the same manner as the buttercream!
(Shall I go on? LOL)

I came out with this lumpy-looking creation that - while extremely tasty, and raved over by adult and child guests alike - was nothing near the beautiful pictures at which I had gazed so fondly for the last several weeks. I will admit that the flavors were heavenly, though!

Sad, droopy, and dripping (but yummy)! LOL

Inside view, after we cut into it

Cake: Almond-Vanilla Joconde
Syrup: Lavender-Vanilla
Buttercream: Lavender-Caramel with Vanilla
Mousse: Lavender-Infused White Chocolate
Glaze: Lavender-Caramel with White Chocolate

This was the best picture I could get - makes ya kind of forget the big sloppy cake, doesn't it?

Well, doesn't it?! :>

I really DO want to try this again, though, and I'm so glad that this was our challenge since, as I said before, I'd never have attempted this on my own. I loved the light version but would love to try the traditional version, too! My biggest lesson learned, in Simon and Garfunkel style: "Slow down, you move too fast...." :D

Check out other Daring Bakers' more beautiful creations here. Many thanks to the Fearsome Foursome, and here's to you, Barbara!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Double DB Challenge - Croissants!

It's time again for the Double DB Challenge, with your fabulous hosts Chriesi and Amy J.! This time we did croissants, which the then-fledgling Daring Bakers did in January 2007 (check it here). We were both a little leery of this one, because it seemed like it was a really involved process plagued by issues with several of the DB's. But I think it made us more determined to DO IT!

First off, I've been doing this little by little after work for I think a week and a half, which isn't my optimal time to cook but hey, you do what you gotta, right? Right! Needless to say, this has been a LONG time coming.

I made the preferment,

a mixture of flour, warm milk, and yeast, on a Monday night and let it sit until I was able to get back to it on Tuesday evening. It was supposed to double; it rose a little but I definitely wouldn't call it "doubled".

I hoped it was enough; I started having fears that my milk was too hot when making the preferment, and I killed all of the yeast; you'll have to read further to see if my suspicions were right or not! On Tuesday, I did the "Make the Dough" step.

It wasn't too bad:

About 40 minutes after the dough began to sit, I took a peek. The recipe said to let the dough rise "until the volume increases by half". Heck, I don't know, but it seemed to be doing all right when I looked. I'm still leery about using yeast, as I haven't worked with it a lot, but I'm thinking, What really could go wrong, as long as I follow the recipe and directions? Right? Right! this point I did a little deviation from the recipe. Instead of letting the dough rise in the fridge for 4-6 hours it sat for about 4-5 DAYS. I seriously had zero time; we were getting the house ready for company on Saturday, and Sweet Pea had a dance recital on Sunday. So I picked back up Sunday afternoon and began laminating (folding the butter in with the dough).

I have to say that the dough was just fine after being in the fridge that long, and I had no problem with the laminating. It was fun! So after my 4th turn of the plaque, I allowed myself to indulge some impatience I was feeling. I put most of the dough into the fridge until tomorrow, and I cut a little off for myself. I made four small croissants - two with aged gouda in side and two with Nutella inside - did NOT let them rise (please - 2 to 3 freaking hours?!), and put them in the freaking oven.

I'm sorry, I guess I'm just an example of our modern age (ah, the humanity!), because I just couldn't STAND to let this stuff sit another day and not do SOMEthing where I could taste it. They were kinda flat...and lumpy....but tasted out of this world. Definitely not light and flaky, but still a good dough, I could tell. It reminded me of the dough that you make sausage pinwheels with. I'm not complaining - but I swore to be good and finish by the rules the next day.

So this past Monday after work, I got to working on the last stage of my challenge. I only used half of the dough because even with the long work island in my kitchen, I was wondering where I was gonna get the room to roll all this out like the recipe says. I'm gonna say, I had FUN, though I'll admit that the dough was really hard to roll out because I took it right out of the fridge. It just took a little elbow grease, though, and I made some original ones without "stuffing".

As my grandmother used to say, good heavenly days! These were THE best croissants I have ever put in my mouth! They were full of tender layers, and the outside flaked off...gah! I tried raspberry jam:

and I had to have my favorite, Nutella:

Hubby had a couple and said they were awesome, so I packed the remainder up and sent them and the Nutella to work with him. We laughed about the guys he works with "having tea" with croissants and Nutella -- but he didn't bring any back home! I only used half of the dough, so I still have some that I'm going to use sometime soon.

The only negative thing I have with this was, DANG!!!!!!!!!!! This recipe is NOT for patience-challenged persons! I mean, crap! Mix and let rise. More mixing and rise. Shape and rise. Laminate and rise. Form croissants and rise. Rise, rise rise! I was thinking, 'These things had better be good, after all this darned waiting.' And most certainly, they exceeded my expectations. I was also pretty impressed with myself because in the past I'd have looked at this big long recipe and totally lose interest.

I actually do plan on sucking up any impatience I might have and making these again!