Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cake and French Vanilla Ice Cream with a touch of Raspberry

Daring Bakers' Challenge this month was a delight to create and to feast upon. I have been eagerly waiting to share it with you since nearly the beginning of the month(!). Without further ado....

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This Valentino is aptly named -- it made a perfect Valentine dessert. I prepared it for My Valentine as the finishing crown to a delightful dinner of sirloin stir-fry.

I formed it in a small heart-shaped baking dish, cutting the recipe by a third. I used only one egg. I think two would have been a better choice, as the finished product was a tad on the dry side.

I drizzled it with warm raspberry preserves before serving. It was deliciously rich.

I would like to try it again with another brand/flavor of chocolate. (I used Ghiradelli's Semi-Sweet this time around.) The flavor of your cake DOES wholly depend on the chocolate used. It was good but I know some that could make it stellar.... ;-)

As I was short on time the night I made the cake, the ice cream didn't come until last night. I followed David Lebowitz's directions for making it by hand. I highly recommend following them if you decide to embark on the adventure of making your own ice cream sans machine. It produces impeccable results.

After the custard reached the desired consistency on the stove, I placed it in an ice bath (fill a deep dish with ice water and place the bowl of custard inside) to cool the custard. After whipping the cream until just before it turned into a stiff whipped cream, I folded it into the custard. Then, the custard cream went into the freezer for about 45 minutes before its first stir. Every 45 minutes or so, I would take it out and stir it around, breaking up any ice chunks. The first couple stirs I used a whisk, then turned to a large spoon when it became more solidified. After about 3 hours, it was ready to serve.

As I was about to scoop some for my dad, he commented he would just take the rest of the bowl. Haha. ;-p Again, out came the raspberry preserves...and a touch of dark chocolate. I had to tie it into the valentino somehow.

I can't wait to share this ice cream with My Valentine. (He was working late last night. :-( ) Ice cream consumption is his passion; vanilla is his favorite; raspberry preserves are his vice. I think I found the ideal combination.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Dharm's Ice Cream Recipe
Classic Vanilla Ice Cream

Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat)
{you can easily increase your cream's fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted - cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed. Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways. Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up. Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy. 3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl. Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon. Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cooking French

As a birthday gift, I received from my family the duet of Julie and Julia: My Year Living Dangerously by Julie Powell and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The former, I think, was meant to inspire my culinary pursuits, particularly in regards Julia's cookbook, but I'm afraid it may have actually frightened me from peeling open the cover of the Fleur-de-Lis adorned book.

It looks so inviting.

But, Julie recounts so many obstacles and outright disasters in her memoir of cooking through the entire cookbook over the course of a year, that I nearly want to hide under the bed for fear of a beady-eyed lobster coming straight out of the book when I crack it open. It is causing nightmares. She tells these fantastic stories of riding the New York subway with smelly, live crustaceans or of her attempts to cut through bone marrow with a saw. I nearly cower at the thought of roasting a chicken now.

Okay. She's a great storyteller. I couldn't entertain with an exciting story to save my life. My experience is in the kitchen. Not that I could easily whip out any of Julia's recipes any given day...I'm just saying, having cracked more than two eggs open in a lifetime, I think I can handle a quiche without too much folderol.

The challenge is slowly gaining ground in my mind. Oh dear, what will I try out first?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Raspberry Sponge Torte

My expertise in the field of cake-baking is rather sparse, but I am quite content with the results of my attempts thus far.
This delicious, multi-layered delight was our Christmas cake. Yet, I think the lightness of the cake and lingering flavors of almonds, raspberries and coconut make this a perfect cake for the anticipation of Spring. In fact, it would be just perfect for an afternoon tea or your Easter brunch table.

Raspberry Sponge Torte
from The Taste of Home Entertaining Cookbook

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. shortening

2 c. sugar

5 eggs, separated

1 1/2 t. vanilla
2 c. flour

1 t. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk

1 c. walnuts, chopped, toasted

1/2 c. coconut

1/2 t. cream of tartar


1 c. raspberry preserves, warmed

2 packages of cream cheese, softened

3/4 c. butter, softened

6 1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, cream butter, shortening, and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir in nuts and coconut. In another bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold into cake batter. Pour into 3 greased and floured 9 in. round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees 28-30 minutes, until toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

To assemble:
Spread raspberry preserves over 2 layers. Refrigerate 20 minutes. In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Spread between layers and over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with nuts. Store in fridge.

I followed this recipe to a T (which I rarely do) as I feared additions/omissions/substitutions might mess it up royally. Perhaps I might try it with a different flavored preserve next time, although the raspberry was quite popular.

The frosting would be an excellent garnish on a carrot cake.

I entirely forgot to take a photo of its interior, but I assure you it was every bit beautiful and delicious.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Meals

Today marks the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. If you saw people walking around today with a random black smudge on the center of their forehead, no, it is not suddenly en vogue to traipse around with dirt smeared on one's forehead. I remember being rather embarrassed as a child with the mark on my forehead. Or rather I was somewhat afraid of people's reactions. They usually range from a sympathetic grin upon sighting (usually indicating to me a sense of camaraderie in the act) to a quizzical look and a question akin to what a friend experienced this morning exiting her residence in Rome -- "Lei e un po sporco qua" (There is a little smudge there.) Oops, must have missed a spot when I was bathing this morning.

In all seriousness, though, the dusty cross is a reminder to us of the fleetingness of life. It calls to mind the fact that in this present world we will soon be no more than like the dirt we encounter today. It helps us to recall, too, that there is something beyond this world. The cross is a sign of hope. It reminds us of what we truly live for -- the promise of heaven made possible through Christ's death on the Cross.

During the Lenten season, it is good to forgo some of life's pleasures in order to atone for our sins, grow in virtue, and remember the suffering Christ underwent for our sins. One of the means of mortification practiced during Lent is abstinence from meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday. Fish dishes become frequent while rich meat dishes dwindle. (Makes one anticipate Easter Sunday with even more fervor! ;-))

Staple 'abstinence meals' in our household include tuna casserole, bean burritos, cheese raviolis with tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, fish sticks and fries, and scrambled eggs with toast.
This year I would like to discover and try some new fish and vegetarian meals. First on my list is fish tacos. Stay tuned for the results...

What are your favorite Lenten dishes?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A First Wedding Cake

Heading down south this past weekend, I found myself part of an operation team requiring much skill and precision. The objective: three pieces remaining in one piece individually and, then, becoming one in three. Sounded like some sort of theological endeavor.

My dear friend, Emma, ventured out into new territory last week boldly creating her first wedding cake at the behest of a mutual college friend.

Her dry run a few weeks prior produced fantastic results. If there had been a way to preserve it until the wedding, it should have been kept!

The second time around was no different. I arrived at her house immediately after her cake layers had completed their time in the oven. Ryan was her taste-tester, consuming many of the shavings lying around. He felt wasting to be such a horrendous crime...particularly the waste of something so delicious.

Emma awoke early the next morning before heading off to work to assemble and ice the exteriors of each level. (I was still sound asleep in my warm bed catching up on some zzz's...) Back to the grind upon returning from work, she carefully leveled the icing and delicately adorned each tier with a wide navy blue ribbon and elegant icing 'drops' to finish off its stately existence.

Early the next morning, we meticulously placed each tier in the back of the vehicle, making certain all our luggage was adequately secure and immobile to avoid any cake-crushing. We had a brief scare when I inadvertently left the car door open and one of the cats decided to peruse the interior of the vehicle. Fortunately, she left the cakes alone. I am certain I probably would not be alive to tell this tale if the situation had been otherwise...

We arrived at the site of the reception to witness and aid in the final construction of the spectacular cake. With her cake team, Emma went to work like a skilled surgeon carefully balancing each tier one on top of the other, adorning the seams with a fine beading of piped icing bringing each piece perfectly together. We stood by holding our breath, handing the baker the necessary tools to complete the formidable task. The bride had chosen a traditional topper to crown the cake. We discovered a "naval officer and bride"(the groom was a navy captain) to give the cake the final touch.

I loved the simplicity, yet elegance of this beautiful wedding cake. It was well-balanced in creativity, composition, taste and style.

The skilled baker with her creation

I hope this is merely the beginning of a beautiful career in designing spectacular wedding cakes for Emma. She certainly has the necessary flair for the task.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheese Blintzes

I am not a vegetarian but I do love vegetarian dishes. This one from the Laurel's Kitchen cookbook (one of my favorites) is amazingly versatile. The basic crepe batter can be used to make both crepes and blintzes stuffed with just about any filling you can imagine, sweet and savory alike.

I made the basic cheese blintzes from the cookbook for lunch today. The crepe pancakes take about 10 minutes to cook on the stove. Make sure to use a well-greased non-stick skillet to prevent your thin pancakes from turning into a scrambled mess. The first pancake will probably need to be thrown away as it soaks up a ton of butter, rendering it rather unappetizing.

I have made these before but somehow I was a bit of a failure today. The cheese mixture came out tasting rather salty and not sweet enough. I used cottage cheese exclusively and opted for cinnamon (a touch extra than called for) over the vanilla. I also used salted butter which I think caused the overtly saline taste. Next time I use salted butter, I think it would be best to omit the added salt. I think I was a tad skimpy on the sliced almonds as well which really enhance the flavor.

These are tough cookies to flip when attempting to bake the opposite side halfway through the cooking cycle. I've tried every spoon and spatula imaginable, but the cheese always seems to escape oozing out the folded side. If anyone can figure out a way to prevent this from happening, let me know. I just layer the escaping cheese mixture on top once I've scooped the blintzes out of the pan. Hardly anyone knows the difference. They imagine it to be my artistic need for decorating....

Cheese Blintzes
from the New Laurel's Kitchen cookbook

Crepe batter:
1 c. milk
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1/2 t. salt

Mix ingredients together in a bowl with a wire whisk until well-combined.
Heat a greased, non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Add 1/4 c. of batter to a 7-in. pan and roll the pan until the batter completely coats the bottom. Cook until the top becomes dry, about 1 minute.
If making crepes, flip over and cook the other side until lightly browned. Fill with your favorite fillings.
If making blintzes, remove from pan after cooking only one side and place on a platter to cool. Do not stack on top of each other.
Makes about 12 pancakes.

Cheese Blintzes

2 c. cottage or ricotta cheese
1 T brown sugar
1 T melted butter
1/2 t salt
2 T chopped toasted almonds
1 T raisins

1/2 t cinnamon or
1/2 t vanilla or
1 T lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix ingredients in a bowl.
Fill pancakes on cooked side with 2 heaping tablespoons of mixture. Turn in sides and roll up tightly. Place seam side down in a well-greased baking dish. Bake 20 minutes, flipping over halfway through to brown other side.

Makes about 12 blintzes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mini fruit galettes

I have become captivated lately by the prospect of baking pies. The beautiful thing about pies is that they come in all shapes and sizes. They can be simple or fancy. They can be savory or sweet. They will capture your favorite flavors into one, big juicy bite of warm pie-goodness.

I was simply looking for a way to enjoy pears before they fall out of season. I stumbled upon this recipe for mini pear galettes at maya* made which had the added bonus of a recipe for making them with apples. Truly, these could be made with just about any sweet filling your heart desires.

I used Bosc pears in the recipe which I thought were a tad lacking in flavor. Next time, I will definitely use Bartlett. They are my favorite of the different pear varieties. The grated ginger many found overwhelming. (Although, I was duly warned that this might be an issue...) But I think it was mainly the fault of the flavorless pears, which allowed the ginger to highlight itself inordinately.

The apples were the hit. They tend to be. You really can't go wrong with a sliced apples, cinnamon, a touch of sugar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. The leftovers are now being enjoyed for breakfast.

They are super-easy to assemble. In fact, I would consider it a fault if you fail to try these out with your favorite fall/winter fruit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grapefruit Cookies

Sweetness with the slightest hint of tang. If your Valentine fits this description, perhaps this would be the ideal treat to bake for your love this Valentine's Day.

A light, delectable grapefruit frosting layered between two chewy cookies laced with grapefruit juice and zest -- these cookies are melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. The platter here was devoid of their presence within minutes.

Pink Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies
from Martha Stewart Living

grated zest of 1 Ruby Red grapefruit, plus 1/4 c. of juice
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. cake flour (I just used more all-purpose)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter (if you only have salted, just omit the added salt)
2 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheet or line with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine zest with a tablespoon of sugar and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt.

In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat remaining sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks and beat until combined. Beat in zest-sugar mixture until combined. Add flour in two stages, alternating with juice. Mix until completely combined.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. (I had mine in the fridge overnight.)

On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 in. thickness and cut out cookies in desired shapes. Place on baking sheet and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes. (Martha says 18-20 but that would have burned mine to a crisp.) Cool on wire rack.

Pink grapefruit cream filling:
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. powdered sugar
1 T. honey
3 T. freshly squeezed Ruby Red grapefruit juice (I simply used the other half of the grapefruit)

Place butter and sugar in a mixer with paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add honey and beat into mixture. Lastly, add grapefruit juice and beat about 2 minutes until creamy and smooth.

Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Spread about a tablespoon on half of the cooled cookies and top each with another cookie.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Heart Day

This appeared in the bottom of the bowl of chocolate mousse the other night. Hearts seem to popping up everywhere these days....

Many people have been commenting to me lately that they are not looking forward to Valentine's Day. They say the holiday puts too much pressure on a person to produce some grand display of affection for one's significant other. I've been told that there is always some grandiose expectation on the other's part which it is practically impossible for one to guess and/or accomplish.

Is this true? It seems this is in large part due to the holiday (like any other these days) being so intricately connected with material goods that must be purchased. This, purportedly, is the only means to adequately convey one's feelings for another. Is expensive jewelry or a fancy restaurant dinner truly the only means of showing your love for another?

Even the most paraphernalia-addicted can appreciate displays of affection in other forms....

With a holiday so closely associated with the heart, homemade gifts seem the best way to convey one's love for another. What could possibly come more from the heart? Employ your greatest talents and make something sweet for your valentine.

Yet, even a tangible object isn't necessary to show your affection for another.

Those deeds we call 'random acts of kindness' may be seriously lacking in one's life; now would be an ideal time to dust them off and use them! Many of those common courtesies we use with our acquaintances are often forgotten when associating with those closest to us. A 'good morning,' a 'please' and 'thank you,' a conscious awareness of the needs and desires of others...a renewal of these in one's life are an excellent display of affection.

Valentine's Day is a day for remembering those we love. I do not feel burdened by this task, but use it as an opportunity to freshen and enliven my feelings and sentiments for my family and friends. A holiday, such as Valentine's Day, should not feel overwhelming but encourage us to rejuvenate those tendernesses which should be carried on in little ways the whole year through.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tea and Scones

There is nothing more soothing in the middle of a hectic day than a pot of tea and a warm scone to clear the head and bring you back to level ground. I miss my carefree college days when my friends and I used to take our afternoon tea around 3pm every week day. We took it as a time to reconnect and prepare ourselves for the long expedition through countless pages of Herodotus, memorization of Greek conjugations, and the declaration of our thoughts on Kant's categorical imperative. We would sip our tea and munch on the delicious homemade treats. (Several of us found baking cathartic, necessary for sanity, so there was nearly always a tasty bite to eat.)

I try to renew this intermission every once and while. Calling friends over to relax and reminisce, we leisurely sip our tea and watch as the sun dips ever closer to the horizon.

These scones are a frequent addition to my afternoon tea spreads. I found them over at The Skinny Gourmet. I've tried out a few of her scone recipes and always found them absolutely fantastic. Another great website for scone recipes is the Joy of Baking. For something simple, the Coffeehouse Scone is a great choice. It is perfect vehicle for sweet jams and curds. These pumpkin scones have been a frequent fall/winter addition to my tea table. Several people have commented on their superiority to the Starbucks version.

Enjoy a brief tea and scone respite this afternoon. You deserve it.

What are some of your favorite scone recipes?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Vanishing Birthday Cake

Seagulls are vicious creatures. If you don't believe, simply carry along a picnic to the beach and see what kind of attention you attract. (Better yet, leave a box of In 'N Out French fries on the top of your car in the middle of a seagull swarm. You'll be lucky if your car survives without large dents in the side of it....but that's a story for another time.)

Ryan surprised me with this beautiful strawberry cake on a coastal adventure he took me on for my birthday. He unveiled the cake after we ate our sandwiches, but we decided to go for a walk before slicing into its delectable layers.

Bad mistake.

As we were feasting on our sandwiches, a large group of seagulls were casing our picnic space. We thoroughly covered up all of our comestible goods with blankets and towels before embarking on our walk, but to no avail. These seagulls were hungry, by golly, and they were going to do everything in their power to get to the food.

When we came back an hour later this is all that was left of the cake.

Including the aluminum foil that covered the cake. Dumb birds. They deserve what they get for their greed if they die of aluminum poisoning.