Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hazelnut dacquoise cake with chocolate mousse and espresso whipped cream

Tada, cake #3! I'd planned to make the daquoise from the Flour cookbook (shown pictorally here), but then I realized that this hazelnut cake was the same idea but faster and more cake-like. The cake only has a smidge of flour, so it might be adaptable into something the gluten-free bride can consume! But I did my best to follow the recipes this time, at least for the cake. Leaving the raw egg white out of the mousse resulted in dense, almost truffle-like filling.

This cake was barely tall enough to consider slicing in half when baked in a 9" pan—apparently my folding-in-egg-whites skills are a few notches below smittenkitchen's. And, although I did successfully slice it into two flat and even halves, I was not able to successfully place the top layer on the mousse without it breaking. Luckily the whipped cream covered up my mishaps. The flavors go together beautifully, but I think the dacquoise is too finicky to make for the wedding itself.

5 oz hazelnuts
2 sticks butter (preferably unsalted, but I had 1/2 stick unsalted and the rest salted)
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 c powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake
1/3 c flour
6 large egg whites
3 T sugar

Preheat oven to 350F, and butter and parchment a 9" springform pan.

Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 12 minutes. Dump onto a clean dishtowel, fold the towel up into a nice little package, and roll your palms around on the towel to rub off the hazelnut skins. It's like a warm massage for your hands.

Put the butter, the scrapings out of the vanilla bean, and the vanilla bean itself in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until browned, stirring frequently after it started to foam. Remove the vanilla bean and let cool.

Transfer the hazelnuts, sans skins, into the bowl of the food processor. Add the powdered sugar and grind until fine, then add the flour and pulse to combine.

Separate the egg whites into the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat with the whisk attachment until just shiny, then with the mixer still running slowly pour in the sugar. Beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Fold in the butter and dry ingredients extremely carefully in small alternating batches. (I opted to err on the side of leaving some small egg white chunks in the batter instead of on the side of extra deflating, which resulted in a few unappealing egg white spots in the finished cake.) Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes until browned and a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely (1 hr).

3 T butter
4 oz TJs pound plus dark chocolate, chopped
2 T Drambuie
1/2 c cold whipping cream

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler equivalent, then stir in the Drambuie and let cool. Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks, and gently stir the cream into the chocolate. Let sit on the counter for up to an hour until it's time to assemble the cake; it will set up within a minute or two.

whipped cream frosting:
2/3 c cold whipping cream
3 T powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla
pinch allspice
1/2 t espresso powder

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks, then whip in the other ingredients until holds not quite firm peaks and the espresso powder is dissolved. Stick in the fridge until assembly time.

Place the cake, flat side down, back on the base of the springform pan. Slice the cake in half with a serrated knife, even though it's not very tall, and set the top half aside. Spread the mousse on the bottom half of the cake and top with the top half of the cake, then spread the whipped cream on top. Carefully put on the sides of the springform pan, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge overnight.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chocolate orange cake

Cake number two of the Great Wedding Cake Training Season! All the components are adapted from this cake and inspired by the need to use up a denuded blood orange left over from cocktail production on Friday night with only 1/2 c cocoa powder in the house. The cake base is pretty much perfect—dark, moist, soft yet held its structure despite my tendency to come perilously close to dropping layers on the floor at various points. The frosting and ganache are delicious but a bit sloppy in the context of a sunny afternoon barbeque, as expected.

Noga didn't seem to mind though.

And Virginia Wolff the coolest caterpillar around was quite happy running in circles around her red cup.

If I had been a bit smarter, I would have drawn an eclipse on the top of the cake with the extra frosting. Nevertheless, totally functional pinhole cameras were made!

orange curd:
3 egg yolks
3 T sugar
1/4 c blood orange juice
3 T Meyer lemon juice
pinch salt

Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a small saucepan, the whisk in the juices and salt. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, for several minutes until thick. Pour through a sieve into a small bowl and put in the fridge until needed. Makes 1/2 c curd.

1/2 c Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 oz dark chocolate (TJs pound plus), chopped
1 c hot coffee
3/4 c brown sugar
2/3 c plain Greek yogurt
2 t vanilla extract
1.75 c flour
1.5 t baking soda
1 t salt
1.5 sticks butter, softened
3/4 c white sugar
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 300F. Choose your pans wisely: this amount of batter would fit comfortably in two 9" round, two 8" square, or two 8"x2" round pans, and it just barely didn't overflow my 8"x1.5" round pans (but only because they happen have a bit of a lip on top). Once you've made your choice, butter them, line the bottoms with parchment, and butter and flour that.

Place the cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour in the coffee and stir until smooth, then stir in the brown sugar, yogurt, and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) in a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and beat until fluffy. Mix in the flour and chocolate in several alternating additions.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake until a tester comes out clean; 47-52 min for tall layers, presumably less time for shorter layers. Cool for a few minutes in the pans. Invert onto one wire rack (parchment side up) then invert onto another wire rack (parchment side down) to let cool completely. I wanted to go to bed at this point and the layers were flat enough to stack as is, so I placed one layer (parchment side down) on top of the other layer (still on a small wire rack), wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and let the package sit on the counter overnight.

8 oz dark chocolate (TJs pound plus), chopped
2 T blood orange marmalade, blended until smooth
1 c cream
1 t John's blood orange bitters

Place the chocolate and marmalade in a bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until about to boil, then pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit a few minutes to soften, then stir until smooth. Stir in the bitters. Let sit on the counter for an hour or two to set up.

3 egg whites
3/4 c sugar
2 sticks butter, slightly softened
orange curd

Same general idea as for the last cake. Place the egg whites and sugar over a double boiler and heat, whisking constantly, for 7 minutes. Pour into the stand mixer and whisk for several minutes until glossy and stiff peaks. Add the butter one chunk at a time, stopping as soon as the frosting gets fluffy. This makes 2 cups of frosting, which is more than you need to frost only the middle and top of the cake, so I left 1 c frosting in the mixer and put the other 1 c in a tupperware in the fridge for the next cake. Add the orange curd to the frosting in the mixer and beat until smooth.

For not-impossible transportation, I assembled this cake on a cardboard round cut out of a cereal box and placed on a round wire rack. Place one cake layer (parchment side down) on the cardboard and spread with half of the orange buttercream. Peel the parchment off the other layer, place on top of the first layer, and spread with the other half of the buttercream. (Next time I would split the cake layers in half and use the same amount of buttercream to spread in three thinner layers in between the cake layers, with no frosting on top.) Place in a cool place to set while you to go the farmers market. Microwave the ganache for 15 seconds if it's not pourable, and give it a good stir. Pour half the ganache in the center of the top of the cake and spread to the edges of the top, letting it start to drip down the sides. Pour on more ganache and push to the edges, smoothing the ganache around the sides when there's enough of it. This is about the right amount of ganache to generously cover the top and sides, with some extra glops on the cardboard here and there. Let set in the fridge if possible (but I didn't).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Orange tofu and veggies

Here's something to do with a blood orange that's not a cocktail or a dessert. Cocktails were last night, when several lovely friends came over to infuse things into other things and to consume already-infused alcoholic concoctions; amaro post forthcoming. Dessert is later tonight, installment two of the wedding cake training regimen; post on that forthcoming too. But dinner is a good thing to do in between.

This is supposed to be along the lines of that Chinese orange chicken dish. The sauce goops right up and sticks inside the broccoli florets in bright flavorful clumps, just as it should. For a true cheap Chinese restaurant experience, you'll probably want more sweetness and/or saltiness than the amounts listed, so make sure to taste the sauce before dumping it in the pan. Regular orange and regular garlic would work perfectly fine too of course.

brown rice
1/2 block tofu
1/4 c (blood) orange juice
3 T lemon juice
1 T soy sauce
1/2 T honey
1/2 t chili flakes
1 T minced ginger
1 T minced (green) garlic
1/2 T sesame oil
1 T cornstarch
canola oil
small head broccoli
1/2 red bell pepper
1 small bok choy

Start cooking some brown rice, and start pressing the tofu. Stir together the sauce ingredients (orange juice through cornstarch) in a small bowl with a fork until smooth, then taste and adjust if needed. Cube the tofu and chop the veggies. Heat some canola oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, and fry the tofu until browned on all sides. Add the broccoli and red pepper and fry until just starting to soften, then add the bok choy and fry until done. Pour in the sauce and stir briefly until everything is coated with thickened sauce. Serve the stirfry over rice.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Vanilla and raspberry layer cake with Swiss meringue buttercream

The careful reader of this blog will notice that I have never posted a layer cake. Cakes in general abound, whether bundt or sheet or round or loaf or cupcake. But none of those linked to are decorated with more than a simple glaze or a dollop of whipped cream, and none are the traditional two-layers-and-picture-perfect-frosting type cake that you probably think of when you hear "cake." That's because, whenever I do attempt that sort of cake, it invariably ends up a lopsided mess that I don't even bother to post, no matter how delicious it is.

This sad state of affairs is about to change. Because by mid July, I plan to be capable of creating a cake that is worthy of gracing the table at James and Margo's nuptials. That's right, I'm making a wedding cake! Well, not just me: my sister and her kitchen and I are going to team up to create the awesomest cake of the summer. We have no idea yet what flavor or aesthetic or whatever we'll be going for—suggestions anyone?

Between now and then, I'm going to make a bunch of practice cakes until I suck a bit less at decorating and have a bit more intuition for what makes a good layer cake recipe. This is the first of those attempts, and I'm pretty darn happy with it. Decorating-wise, it's at least an order of magnitude better than any other layer cake I've made, mostly due to a good structurally-sound frosting recipe. Way pinker than I'm comfortable with, frankly, but great for Mother's Day if your mom is into that. (ps happy Mother's Day to any moms reading this!)

For the record: The cake itself is on the firm side, not unlike a pound cake, which means that it handled very well with the flipping and leveling and stacking. There's a delicate vanilla flavor in the crumb and a bright buttery flavor in the domed crust (which makes the parts I sliced off during leveling extra good for snacking). It's not dry per se, but it would benefit from being brushed with some sort of sweet boozy or jammy glaze. The frosting tastes much lighter than it seems like it should be with all that butter and is definitely not too sweet. The assembled cake, minus a few slices of course, held up well on the counter overnight.

2 c cake flour = 1 3/4 c all-purpose + 1/4 c cornstarch
1 T baking powder
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 t cardamom
1/4 t salt
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/4 sticks butter (10 T), thoroughly softened and cut into chunks
1/3 c plain Greek yogurt + 1/3 c milk, stirred until smooth (or 2/3 c buttermilk)
2 T milk, in addition
3 eggs + 1 yolk
2 t Christina's bourbon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F and butter and flour two 8" round cake pans. If you're good, put a round of buttered parchment paper inside the bottom of each pan too.

Sift the cake flour (or flour + cornstarch) and baking powder together into a large bowl. Stir in the rest of what this cake considers dry ingredients: sugar, cardamom, and salt. Add the vanilla bean, butter chunks, and 2/3 c buttermilk or yogurtmilk, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth, fluffy, and pretty stiff. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 T milk with the eggs and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture into the rest of the batter in three additions, folding the thin liquid into the thick batter with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula between each addition until smooth. It's weird, but it works. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 28-32 min until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out onto wire racks and let cool completely.

Swiss meringue buttercream frosting:
4 egg whites
1 c sugar
2.5-3 sticks butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 t Meyer lemon zest
1 T Meyer lemon juice
pinch salt

Bring some water to a simmer in the bottom of your favorite double boiler substitute. In the top, place the egg whites and sugar. Whisk constantly for 5-7 minutes, past when the sugar seems to be well dissolved. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whisk at medium speed for 4-6 minutes until the bowl is a neutral temperature and the meringue holds stiff peaks. With the mixer running, add the butter one chunk at a time, mixing until it looks like frosting. (Mine looked great and hadn't gone through the rumored curdled stage after I'd added 2.5 sticks of butter, so I called it quits there, even though all the recipes I saw called for at least another few tablespoons.) Toss in a bit of salt and whatever flavorings you like, eg lemon, and mix briefly to combine. This can sit uncovered on the counter for a few hours until you're ready for assembly.

1 pack raspberries (about 30)

If you have a cake stand or cake cardboard or whatever, you're way ahead of me and probably shouldn't read this part. If not, put some parchment on a cutting board, and transfer one cake layer (flat side down and domed side up) onto the parchment. Level the top with a serrated knife (level the other cake layer too while you're at it). Spread the cake on the parchment with a generous layer (about 3/4 c) of frosting using a flat icing spatula, spreading all the way to the edges. (I've decided that the key to not having trouble with crumbs is to use a lot of frosting; screw crumb coats.) Gently break some of the raspberries in half and cover the surface of the frosting with them. Place the other cake layer (cut side down and flat side up) on top of the bottom layer. Spread the top and sides of the cake with another generous layer of frosting, using the base of the kitchen scale as a not-really-rotating cake stand. Place some of the remaining raspberries decoratively on top of the cake. You should have less than a cup of frosting and maybe a dozen raspberries left; crush the raspberries and mix them into the frosting. Use the pink (pink!) frosting to pipe more decorations around the cake.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Lester made me a birthday cake! It's lovely and delicious and will come car-camping with you with grace. It will also come back from camping ready to be eaten for breakfast.

The syrup from candying the orange slices is worth making on its own—it's already found its way into John's old-fashioneds and this granola. The rest of the granola, using these ratios, is just sweet enough and nicely nutty. This was my first granola attempt, but don't be surprised if there are more granolas in our future.

(Sorry for the smudges in the centers of those photos, I just checked and I do indeed have a fingerprint smack in the middle of my lens. My bad.)

1/2 c raw whole hazelnuts
1/2 c raw shelled pumpkin seeds
3 c oats
1/2 c shredded coconut
2 T sugar
dash of salt
6 T cardamom-honey-orange syrup
3 T canola oil

Preheat the oven to 300F. Toast the hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds in a frying pan, then roughly chop the hazelnuts. Combine the nuts, seeds, oat, coconut, sugar, and salt in a bowl, and toss with the syrup and oil until everything is coated and clumping slightly. Spread onto one or two rimmed baking sheets and bake for 25 minutes or until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring once or twice during baking. Stir again on the baking sheet(s) then let cool completely. The recipe suggests adding chocolate bits, which I'm sure would be wonderful. But we enjoyed it chocolate-less by the handful, in yogurt, or with milk.

Anna ganoush

Like baba ganoush, but sufficiently different that Alan (pictured) decided it needed a different name. When I was throwing this together out of the veggies that didn't fit on my kabob skewers, I didn't expect it to be notable in any way, so I didn't pay much attention to measurements (I can vouch that the ingredient list is complete though). What did make it notable to folks on my birthday camping weekend extravaganza is the combination of mint and chili flakes, so don't leave those out. Everything else is "to taste." The texture was surprisingly reminiscent of pate the next day: stir to break it up if that's a bug, or call it a vegetarian pate substitute if that's a feature.

olive oil
1/2 medium eggplant, cubed, salted, and drained as if for kabobs
1/2 red + 1/2 yellow bell pepper, cubed as if for kabobs
3 crimini mushrooms, minced (optional)
1/3 c plain greek yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 t or more red chili flakes
at least 10 leaves fresh mint
salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the eggplant and saute until softening on both sides. Add the bell pepper and mushrooms, and cook until everything is soft. Transfer the veggies to a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Firms up overnight in the fridge.