Archive | May, 2008

l’opera! (cake)

28 May

this is it folks.  my very first daring bakers challenge. and um, seriously, they were not kidding.  this was both incredibly daring and a challenge.  i mean, holy crap.  the recipe is about 4 miles long, involves jelly roll pans (which i didnt know existed until this challenge), and lots and lots and lots of layers and syrupy bits.  it is totally worth it though, let me tell you.  my coworkers kind of think i’m awesome now.  so, bonus!

this opera cake of doom was the devious idea of daring baker co-founders lis (la mia cucina) and ivonne (cream puffs in venice) with the help of fran (apples peaches pumpkin pie) and shea (whiskful).  i like to imagine them coming together (dragging a lame/club foot behind them), fingers rubbing creepily together, and nasally whispering, “how best to try these so-called daring bakers?”  “ah ha! an opera cake! and not just any opera cake, but one that can only be light in color.  no chocolate! or darkness!” (i know, no darkness seems out of character for this evil story i am spinning) 

weird story segue aside… because it is spring/summer (too bad no one has informed boston yet), our co-hosts (who i am sure are all very sweet and not igor-like at all) decided to go with an opera cake that is light in flavor and color.  that being the case, i decided to use an orange zest buttercream and orange blossom water glaze.  i have been racking my brain/the internet for things to do with my orange blossom water, which has been sitting in my cupboards since a previous baking experiment, and came to the conclusion that now was the time.  granted, i still have pretty much the entire bottle left despite using it for this recipe.  (note to readers… any orange blossom water baking ideas?) 

now… on to the baking.  get ready.  you might want to take a deep breath.

the joconde:

what you’ll need:

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 cups almond meal                                                                                                                                          2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.  preheat the oven to 425◦f.

3. line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.  (i couldn’t find any pans that size so i used two 12×17.  it just makes the cake a bit thinner… and you have to cut things down later when assembling.)

4. beat the egg whites with a hand-held mixer (with whisk attachment) until they form soft peaks. add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

(loooookin’ good!)

(why, what adorable little peaks you have.)

5. grab a second bowl. attach the paddle attachment to the mixer and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. (i don’t have a paddle attachment, and don’t even know where to find one… so i used the whisks, then grabbed my own paddle thingamajig (aka a spatula) and just pretended it was a paddle attachment…  i know, awful.)

6. add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7. using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter.

divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8. bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. this could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9. put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10. carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. let the cakes cool to room temperature.

on to the syrup!

what you’ll need:

½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. vanilla extract

1. stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2. remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

that was easy enough…  now, the buttercream:

what you’ll need:

1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 of medium orange zest

1. combine the sugar, water and extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2. continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3. while the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4. when the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment.  some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5. raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6. while the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7. with the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. when all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8. at this point add in the orange zest and beat for an additional minute or so.

9. refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).   rather than sit around and wait… i decided to go to the movies with my our pajamas.  because we are cool like that.  and then stuck my other lamer roommate (kidding, love you m!) on stirring duty.

(i couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap up my joconde due to its long thin shape… so seran wrapping the entire table seemed like my best bet.)

once i returned, after having a good cry at made of honor, (le sigh patty d. patrick dempsey and i are so chummy i can call him patty d.) i began the glaze. usually there is also a mousse or ganache involved.  but i opted out since i couldn’t quite figure out how to do it without using white chocolate. and i haaaaate white chocolate. plus, i was already putting forth a lot of effort on this challenge.  i didn’t want to explode or anything.

what you’ll need:

1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp. orange blossom water (pretty much just do it to taste)

1. combine ingredients, mix until smooth.

2. let stand for 5 minutes. (but you want to make this right before you glaze the cake.  i let it sit over night and it came out all wuckawucka.  don’t be like me.  listen to the insturction masters.)

the assembly! (finally!!)

gather the troops…

1. line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. (i totally forgot to do this.  typical.  i recommend that you do remember.)

2. working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total):  one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

3. place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

(also, just so you know, it’s pretty tricky to photograph and moisten at the same time.)

4. spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

5. top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

(woops.  definitely didn’t trim it to size.  don’t tell anyone.  got that internet?)

6. spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

7. at this point i decided that the cake seemed a little short… i didn’t want it to get a complex, so i cut the cake in half and put one on top of the other.  so now it has 6 lovely layers and feels tall and pretty.

8. make the glaze (cough, pull it out of the fridge from the night before) and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

serve the cake slightly chilled.

the verdict:  you still with me??  to make a long story short, it turned out great with minimal injury to myself.  it was super challenging, but definitely worth it if you are feeling like a… daring baker!

since i am silly, and did not halve this recipe like i should have considering my small boston family, i took half to work…
the buzz around the water cooler:

“did you make this? no you didnt. did you really? really? you made this?”

“wow. your talents are wasted here.”

“ah! this is so gourmet! and pretty!”  (impressive statement considering that the cake began its life as a gloopy blob cake.)

not to toot my own horn or anything… but yay!! 

(ps- very special thanks to nic and j for their seran wrapping advice, company keeping, and oohs and aahs throughout this entire ordeal!)

(pps- make sure you check out the other daring baker creations!)


a healthy cupcake

20 May

i can’t even begin to explain the heartbreaking realities of a corrupted memory card.  half of my healthy cupcake shoot is trapped in that wirey bit of plastic doom.  lovely photos of happy little cupcakes perched on my roommate’s hand. gone. gone forever. off to that abyss where corrupted memory card photos dwell and taunt the bereaved photographer.

if i did have the photos, you would be gazing upon one of the above cupcakes with a nice little chocolate frosting hat.  since obviously a hat is the only proper concise way to describe frosting spread about on top of a cupcake.

now, different train of thought… i might have mentioned before that it is tricky baking for my roommates due to their many dietary concerns.  one roommate is vegan, one is diabetic, one is gluten-free, and one is lactose intolerant.  (yes, i am aware that i have a ridiculous amount of roommates)  it is my own beginner baker nightmare.  how does one who is pretty much just winging it anyways accommodate all of these conditions??  the solution… the healthy cupcake!  (which unfortunately tastes a bit more “healthy” than i would have liked.)  i took a cue from vegan cupcakes take over the world and adapted their simple vanilla and agave nectar cupcake  so that it is gluten-free and paired it with the thick chocolate fudgy frostin’ recipe also listed in the book.  the nice thing about this cupcake is that 1. it is vegan (check one roommate), 2. it is therefore lactose free (check two roommates), 3. it uses agave nectar rather than sugar (check three roommates), and 4. by subbing in a gluten-free flour it is miraculously also gluten-free (check four roommates!).  kinda fantastic.

on to the cupcake

what you’ll need: 2/3 cup soy milk, 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 2/3 cup light agave nectar, 1/3 cup canola oil, 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, 1 1/3 cup gluten-free baking flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. line muffin pan with cupcake liners and preheat oven to 325 degrees f.

2. mix the soy milk and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl…

let it sit for a few minutes so that it can curdle.

3. beat in the agave nectar, oil, vanilla, and almond extract.

(when pouring ingredients together it made fun bubbly things. i thought it important to document.)

4. sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

now let’s quickly discuss this flour a bit, shall we?  to make it gluten-free, i had to cut out the regular all-purpose flour that the original recipe called for.  i got this handy precombined magic gluten-free baking & pancake mix by pamela’s products. it uses brown rice flour, white rice flour. almond meal, and a bunch of other fun stuff. i was a bit frightened that it would come out more pancakey than bakey, but you can rest assured that it didn’t turn into a pancake cupcake at all.

beat until smooth.

(i decided to hand beat the batter.  it makes me feel like i have worked off some of the calories i will be ultimately consuming. come on, can’t a girl pretend?)

the little specks are from the almond meal in the flour blend. i think they are cute. i’ll keep ’em.

5. now fill the liners two-thirds full. i always over guesstimate… and the result was a few muffiny cupcakes. but if you like your cupcakes to have muffin tops… heck.. fill away.

6. bake for 20-22 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

allow the cupcakes to cool for at least an hour before adding the frosting.  this will let the flavors and texture develop properly.

next is the frosting

what you’ll need: 1/2 cup margarine (room temp), 1/2 cup dark agave nectar (light is pictured.. but i ended up switching to dark bc i thought it would go better with the chocolate. you can use either), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/3 cup cocoa powder (sifted), 1/2 cup soy milk powder

(this is where my memory card gets switched and ultimately corrupts.  it only works if bribed now, but i refuse to give in to its devious ways… so no more photographic play-by-plays.  extreme sadface.)

1. beat margarine and agave nectar with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. whisk in vanilla, then slowly fold in cocoa powder (be careful or it will poof in your face, which is not entirely pleasant). slowly beat in soy milk powder at low speed.

2. pop the frosting into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so until firm enough to spread. 

the verdict: as i said before, this cupcake tasted “healthy.”  if you are in to that sort of thing, i say go for it. i think my problem is that i was expecting a cupcake cupcake. as in a sugary delight… which this definitely isn’t.  but if you are a diabetic gluten-free vegan, i would again say to go for it.  the cupcake itself was pretty good.  although, contrary to the recipe book title, i don’t think this cupcake will be taking over the world. 

the frosting… was kind of a failure.  perhaps that is why my memory card decided to die. it was too frightened by the frosting.  because i am chronicling both my successes and my failures, i still wanted to post the recipe.  maybe i messed something up?  the book said it would be velvety.. but it came out a bit sandy… if that makes any sense.  perhaps i bought the wrong soy milk powder?  if anyone out there has any ideas, please let me know.  but, point of this story… i would skip this particular frosting recipe… unless you know how to fix whatever i did wrong… i think with a different frosting, the cupcake would have been much better.

but, don’t let any of this talk fool you… i still ate pretty much over half of these cupcakes.  so they couldn’t have been that bad.  ooooor i just have no self-control…

in other news, my testers were very diplomatic…

tester m: “it tastes… healthy.  i bet my mom would like it.”  tester m’s fam is all about the organic, healthy, buy-in-bulk life style.

tester a: “its… not bad. its… interesting.” 

peanut butter blondies with chocolate ganache

12 May

(special thanks to tester m, my food stylist.)

 i ate these for breakfast. i ate these for lunch. i ate these for dinner. i ate these for dessert. that, my friends, is how yummy these are.  so yummy, i contemplated blending them up and drinking them.  ok.. maybe not. that could be strange, but most likely still fantastic.

i made these for my book club, because they are demanding.  and in this case, they demanded baked goods. afraid of possible book chuckage at my head if i came treatless, i complied.  and while searching for the perfect recipe, i came across this on smitten kitchen (in case you couldn’t tell, i am currently smitten with this particular site. har har.)  now, tester m loves peanut butter. like only one food you could eat for the rest of your life love.  so i decided to make these in her honor.  because i love her.  and she’s real pretty.  and she leaves fun magazines in my room for me to read.  of course, as soon as i made these… she informed me that she has decided to go gluten-free for the next few weeks.  i cried.  then i sucked it up, and laughed at her as she gave them a good sniff, like those people on diets who smell donuts while drinking water so that they can pretend like they are actually eating it.

unfortunately, i do not have a photo of what you’ll need for this particular project. why, you ask?


boys.  and their grilling.  (please don’t judge the baby tiny grill…) while the girls were inside baking up a storm, a slew of boys were running about grilling on the back porch.  yea, we like to keep the stereotypes alive at casa d’achy bakey.  the flurry of activity stressed me out a little bit.  our grillers kept trying to sample, so i was forced to beat them back with my spatula.  which is a lot of work, let me tell ya.

so… what you’ll need: (imagine photo above.  it’s a really great photo.  you are pretty much salivating as the ingredients pop out of the web page at you.)   for blondie: 2 sticks unsalted butter (softened), 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 2 large eggs, 1 large egg yolk, 2 tsps pure vanilla extract, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips; for ganache: 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 tblsp unsalted butter (softened)

blondie building: (somtimes i like to build brownies, rather than make or bake them.)

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle. butter a 13×9 baking pan. line bottom of pan with parchment paper and then butter the parchment.

like so….

my lovely friend at cuisine heart taught me this little trick.

2. beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light anf fluffy. add peanut butter, and beat until incorporated.

beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. reduce mixer speed to low, and mix in flour until just combined.

3. mix in chocolate chips.

spread batter in baking pan and smooth the top. (it comes out thick, like cookie batter. also, you should keep your spatula on hand, because at this point, if there are any pesky boys/roommates about, you will need to wack them with it to protect your creation.)

4. bake for about 40-45 minutes, until brownies are a deep golden color, puffed on top, and your toothpick comes out with just some crumbs sticking to it.  cool in pan on a rack for about 1 1/2 hours.

(again, watch your blondie baby. i literally had to chase a griller down the hall as he was actually stealing it!!)

time for the ganache!  this was my first time making ganache, and i have to tell you, not nearly as scary as i thought it would be. easy peasy!

1. put chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl.

2. bring cream to a boil in a small sauce pan, then pour over the chocolate chips and let mixture stand for 1 minute.

3. gently whisk in butter until it is incorporated, chocolate is melted, and a smooth mixture forms.

(we begin our mixing…)

(yup, still mixing…)

4. spread ganache on cooled blondies and let stand until set… should be about 15 minutes.  although i popped them in the fridge for a little bit too just to make them extra super duper set…

and voila!  time to feed them to your friends and loved ones (and book clubs!) and feel their adoration.

the verdict: i think there is nothing more to say.  if the robbery attempts haven’t convinced you to grab your apron this very second…

tester w: “mmmmmmm”   literally no words.  pretty much just a bunch of mmms and half closed eyes.

tester m: “they sure do smell good!”  harumph. what a week to become gluten-free.

tester nic: “man, i wish i didn’t hate peanut butter!!”


vegan margarita cookies

7 May

 what is more appropriate for cinco de mayo than margarita cookies?  (let’s pretend i had managed to actually post this on cinco de mayo)  not that i’m a lush or anything, ahem, but cocktail inspired cookies/baked goods really are the tops and put a twinkle in my eye.  now if only they had the same fuzzy effects… right, not a lush.  when i started seeing margarita inspired treats popping up on a bunch of food blogs, i could tell it would be a match made in heaven.  i mean, tequila instead of an extract?  genius! i  ended up using the recipe i found on smitten kitchen and adapted it so that it is vegan.  one of my many roommates has recently joined the vegan fold, and since she likes baked treats, and i get upset if i am the only one growing little baked good love handles, i have to mix things up. 

what you’ll need: 2 sticks unsalted margarine (room temp), 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (sifted), egg replacer(i used ener g), pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons tequila, grated zest of two limes, grated zest of half an orange, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup clear standing or other coarse sugar, 2 teaspoons flaky Maldon sea salt (these last two ingredients are for the coating.  my regular grocery didn’t carry such fancy things, so i used regular sugar and regular sea salt.)

1. with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at a medium speed until smooth. (i did not have a paddle attachment, so i just beat it by hand with a big spoon. i think my right forearm might now be extremely disproportionate. seriously, i am half a pop-eye.)

add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth.

now you are going to want to add your 1 “egg yolk,” or in this case, 1 egg yolk worth of egg replacer. this actually worked great.  and wasn’t nearly as weird as i thought it would be.  there are instructions on the box on how to use the substitute depending on what sort of egg your recipe called for.

here we whip up an “egg yolk.”  it was horribly thrilling, as you can see.  once you make it, you will beat it into the mixture, followed by the salt, tequila, grated lime and orange zest.

(remember folks, it is always important to sample your ingredients… tequila is no different.  unless you are under 21. in which case i do not promote tequila samples…)

(my, how zesty!)

now add the flour.  if you are using a mixer, reduce the speed to low.  beat it just until it disappears. it is better to underbeat than overbeat.

2. gather dough into a ball and divide it in half. wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

3. on a smooth surface, roll each dough ball into a log that is about 1 to 1/4 inches thick.

(isn’t teamwork nice?)

4. wrap the logs back up and chill for 2 hours.

5. preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. time to make your sugar/salt coating! mix the coarse sugar and flaky salt well and spread on a piece of wax paper.  prepare another egg replacer for the equivilent of one egg yolk… this will be used to glaze your dough. 

7. brush logs lightly with egg replacer glaze. then roll the logs over the sugar/salt combo.

8. slice each log into 1/4 width cookies.  place cookies on lined baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch between them.

9. bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. transfer your cookies to cooling racks.

10. eat ’em up!

the verdict: a winner.  do i smell strawberry daiquiri cookies on the horizon? no idea how i would pull that one off… can you zest a strawberry? no?  i’ll give it a think…  i got a couple complaints that they were too salty, and read after the fact that you should use less salt in the coating if you don’t use the Maldon flaky salt. so take that into consideration.  i personally could eat a salt lick for dinner, so it didn’t bother me one bit.  yum salt.