Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Stunner of a Cake

This cake, sliced, may be one of the most visually stunning cakes I have ever made. 

The cake is lemon.  A preserves of blueberry, lemon, and ginger is marbled on the top of the layers as well as the filling in between layers.  The icing is a lemon Italian buttercream, which can be spread almost as smooth as fondant.  Silky smooth, slightly sweet, and all around delicious it is my new favorite frosting.

All around it didn't have as much flavor as I was expecting.  The cake in particular was not as lemony as I was hoping.  Much of that I attribute to not having lemon extract in the cupboard.  I'm going to try it again when the pantry is better stocked.  It is a perfect spring cake.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coconut Cake Revisited

I'm determined to perfect this coconut cake.  Here it is again, same cake, different icing.  The last one was great, just not quite right.

This icing is basically an Italian butter cream.  Egg whites beaten with sugar and water cooked to the soft ball stage.  When body temperature butter and then coconut milk are beat in.  (The coconut milk is not part of the traditional recipe.)  The icing is silky smooth, not too sweet, and pillowy soft.  The perfect complement to the slightly dense cake, and packs quite the coconut flavor punch.  Sprinkled with shredded coconut, this is THE perfect icing (for this cake).

I dare say I have perfected the coconut-lovers cake.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ginger Snaps to Beat all Ginger Snaps

I'm on a bit of a cookie kick lately.

My future sister-in-law love Trader Joe's ginger snaps.  What makes their ginger snaps unique is the three different types of ginger in each cookie: powdered, fresh, and candied.  I decided to give it a try.

First I candied my own ginger.  Following Alice Waters' recipe for ginger snaps in The Art of Simple Food, I added minced fresh ginger and diced candied ginger in addition to the powdered ginger already in the recipe.  I then rolled the dough into long cylinders, and put them in the refrigerator, like you would for sablés.  After about two hours I rolled the cylinders in the sugar that dripped off the candied ginger during cooling.  That's ginger four ways.

I have to say I think I have Trader Joe's beat here.  These cookies are delightfully gingery, not too sweet, with just the right amount of spice.  Definite winners.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

I like trying my hand at doing iconic foods from scratch.  Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, is an excellent guide for doing so.   Marshmallows make an appearance, along with graham crackers, toaster pastries, and chocolate sandwich cookies (oreos).

The cookie part is a crumbly chocolate cookie batter, rolled out and cut with cookie cutters.  The white icing is a simple mix of confectioner's sugar, corn syrup (we used honey instead), and evaporated milk.  Sandwiched together they look much like an oreo.

If you bite into one expecting an oreo, you will be disappointed.  The cookies are the crisp wafers you might expect, they're too thick and soft.  (Much of which is my fault, they should've been rolled thinner).  The other major faux pas was substituting honey for corn syrup.  I thought the honey might add flavor and intrigue, but it merely overpowers. 

That said, our sandwich cookies are good, maybe excellent, if only judged on their own merit without consideration for their iconic relative. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guinness Gone Wrong

I was so excited to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year.  The celebration: an Irish movie and Guinness Floats.  What better way to honor the Irish than with Guinness?

I've enjoyed a Guinness or two in my day, but have only heard of the float version (think traditional root beer float but with Guinness instead of root beer).  Wanting to be sure to do it right, I bought the imported Guinness and ice cream from our local creamery, Spring Ridge.  They have a cinnamon vanilla ice cream that I just love.  It really is wonderful.  By itself.

The combination looks good.  But let me tell you, the cinnamon vanilla ice cream and Guinness was a really bad combination.  So bad I couldn't ingest it.  It was frothy bitterness. 

So bad it seemed like some kind of science experiment gone wrong, like the ice cream reacted with the beer.  And maybe it did.  I'm interested in trying it again with vanilla ice cream.  But only skeptically. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blackberry Crisp

I have been eating a lot of cake, as you may have guessed from the recent posts.  I might be addicted to dessert.  No. I definitely am addicted.

Last night called for a healthier dessert alternative.  We still had two jars of blackberries frozen from summer berry picking.  I topped the berries with mixture of oats, agave nectar, and two tablespoons of berry.  After forty minutes in the oven it was beautifully browned and ready to eat.  The "crisp" wasn't as crispy as most thanks to the small amount of butter and lack of refined sugar.  But it was warm and sweet, and my body said thank you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brown Butter

This is a pretty regular looking cake.  And in a lot of ways it is.  But I have two words for you: Brown Butter.

If you haven't yet experienced the wonder of brown butter I suggest you step away from your computer screen and go immediately to your stove.  Put a stick or two of butter over medium heat and watch it melt.  Keep it there until the milk solids have separated and turned golden.  Strain.  And enjoy the resulting rich nuttiness.

I made said brown butter, let it harden a little, and used it instead of regular butter for this icing.  With the help of some confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and sea salt this icing is absolutely to die for.

The cake, on the other hand, was disappointing.  The recipe is from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.  This is a great collection that my aunt put together for me.  It is an alphabetical listing of recipes by genre.  This recipe, in the cake section, is accompanied by many other different types of cakes recipes.  I swear I used this recipe and it was delicious.  But lately it hasn't been turning out right.  I have a theory that it doesn't have enough fat. I'm going to adapt the recipe, and will report back.

The real moral of the story is to use your own chocolate cake recipe, that you know and love.  Top it with icing made from your brown butter.  You will not regret it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Brilliance of Coconut

I recently revisited the coconut cake I first wrote about this past July.  I loved the cake.  It is delightfully dense, tender, and has a lot of coconut flavor.  The fat in the cake is coconut milk.  No butter, no oil, just coconut milk.

This icing on the previous cake was too sweet for me, and too close to marshmallow.  I wanted to try making the icing with coconut oil, some cream cheese, and powdered sugar to really bring home the coconut flavor.  We didn't have any coconut oil though, so I stuck with a more traditional cream cheese icing, adding plenty of shredded coconut.

I liked this cake and icing better than the one the Saveur recipe suggests.  It is less sweet, slightly more subtle, and the coconut shines more.  I was really wishing I had coconut flakes instead of shreds, aesthetically the flakes are airier and smoother.

But if you love coconut this is a definite winner.  It's even won-over some disbelievers in the tastiness of coconut.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mincemeat Pie

In preparation for spring we're cleaning our cupboards and freezer of all our winter stockpiles.  Mostly this means our homemade turkey broth from Thanksgiving's turkey and pumpkin from Halloween, all piled up in our freezer.  There was one, more exciting item to get off the shelves, dad's mincemeat leftover from Christmas.

Last night we made an orange cinnamon pastry to encase the mince meat.  I had never thought of flavoring a pie crust.  I recently saw it while perusing some recipes, and thought orange and cinnamon would complement the mincemeat. The combination was exceptional.

This is not a crust that can be left uneaten. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Loving the Sablés...Still

My newest sablé flavor of choice is vanilla.  

I used my favorite sablé recipe as a starting off point (still Amanda Hesser's lemon sables).  I cut out the lemon, and instead added vanilla bean and Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract.  The leftover vanilla pod I stuck in about a cup of sugar.  The resulting vanilla sugar coated the outside of the sablés for an extra punch of vanilla.  

They have the same delightful sandy texture of the lemon, and the sweet intrigue of pure vanilla.  All around an excellent cookie. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lucious Lemon

Spring is coming, and I have been craving lighter desserts.   This cake is a variation on the popular muffin flavor: lemon poppy seed.

Moist and light, this cake contains no yolks, only whites, which contribute both to its light texture and color.  The lemon flavor comes from zest in the batter.  The real secret here is the lemon simple syrup, made from the juice of the zested lemon, sugar, and a little bit of water.  I brushed this syrup on the cake as the layers were cooling.  It added quite the flavor punch.

The icing is an almond cream cheese icing.  Pretty much a regular cream cheese icing with almond extract, a perfect complement to the lemon in the cake.  I then pressed poppy seeds onto the side of the cake, and piped frosting along the outer edge.

The lemon and almond combination is a real crowd pleaser.  Perfect for those like me, with spring fever.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cranberry Update: Ice Cream

I tried making cranberry ice cream as promised.  First I strained yogurt to thicken it up a little.  Mixed it with the cranberry sauce in the spinning ice cream machine with two teaspoons agave nector.  The result is the beautiful pink ice cream.  The walnuts in the sauce gave it a crunchy textural contrast, the agave just enough sweetness to perk up the tartness of the cranberries and the yogurt. 

This will be a beautiful accompaniment to holiday dishes next winter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Sweet Sixtieth

A dear family friend turned sixty this past weekend.  It is such an exciting occasion, we wanted to do something very special.  She also graciously gave us her cake decorating supplies, and some extras for Christmas.  I've been teaching myself, and wanted to share my progress with her.

So, we made her a cake.  The cake is vanilla bean, and the icing darjeeling tea (her favorite).  I made the icing like you would a red velvet icing, starting by cooking flour and milk together until thickened.  Except first I steeped darjeeling in warmed milk, then followed the steps to a typical red velvet icing.  It was full of darjeeling flavor with the typical creamy lightness of red velvet.

We sandwiched the icing between four layers of cake, spread it on the top and sides, then covered it all with white fondant and a green fondant bow at the bottom.  The cake is topped with sugar paste roses and leaves.  This was my first time using sugar paste to decorate a cake, we've been practicing since the beginning of January.  The first couple of attempts were disaster, but after watching a couple of YouTube videos we really started to get it down.  These roses are definitely the best yet, we're very proud.  I've included this second picture so the detail is clear.

I was so pleased with the aesthetic of this cake, it is this type of artistry in cakes that I find so fun and inspiring.