Posts tagged ‘frostings & fillings’

August 3, 2011

Éclairs With A Flair

I’m very pleased to share with you the news of my recent enrollment in a 6-month pastry program at a French culinary school here in the DC area.  Classes started just a couple weeks ago and I’ve already learned so much about the technique and art of pastry… I couldn’t be more thrilled with my personal and career decisions that have led me to culinary school and the exploration of the wonderful world of pastry!

My favorite of all of the lectures, demonstrations, and lessons thus far has been that of a simple and delicious pastry cream.  Pastry cream has been a staple for my desserts for quite a while now, but, as I’ve enhanced my understanding and adapted my techniques, my entire idea of pastry cream has completely changed.  My new go-to recipe is about ten times more simple than my old version, and the finished product is a billion times more delectable.  I’ve edited the recipe on my instructional pastry cream page (found on the upper tab above) and have been itching to include it in a Pumpercake recipe.
I decided to incorporate another of the “basics” I’ve learned so far in class into today’s recipe, “Choux paste,” which is the dough base for cream puffs, éclairs, and other pastries.   The appeal of the choux is that it can be piped into just about any shape (swans, anyone?) and, once baked, it acts as a bit of a blank canvas as it is beautifully hollow and can be filled with a delicious custard, curd, or cream.

On a mission to make a super summer version of the ever-traditional éclair, I chose to fold some citrus-y sweet fruit curds into the vanilla pastry cream and used brightly colored white chocolate glazes to coat the tops of them.  An explosion of strawberry-pomegranate and orange-grapefruit flavors burst from a buttery crisp envelope of delicate choux, which is then topped off with a bright and sweet chocolate glaze to dress up the pretty little pastries.  These tiny sweet treats are decadent enough to feel indulgent, yet light enough to allow for continuous enjoyment of 2 or 3 of them.  In fact, I’ve found that making the éclairs extra-tiny can really help to rationalize eating at least 4 per sitting…

Sweet Summertime Éclairs

-In flavors of Strawberry-Pomegranate and Orange-Grapefruit

Inspired by: Éclairs

Choux Paste (Éclair Base)

100 grams unsalted butter
(about 7¼ tablespoons)

½ cup milk

½ cup water

150 grams all-purpose flour
(about 1 cup & 2 tablespoons)

½ teaspoon salt

3-4 large eggs,
plus 1 for egg wash

–recipe yield:
about 50 4-inch éclairs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, melt butter.  Add milk and water, increase heat to medium, and bring mixture to a full boil.  Remove immediately from heat and add combined flour and salt at once.  Stir together with a wooden spoon into a panade (thick, almost paste-like mixture).  Replace saucepan onto warm burner to evaporate some of the water and dry out the panade slightly, allowing easier incorporation of the eggs.  When panade can “flake” easily while breaking with a wooden spoon, transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Using a paddle attachment of an electric mixer on a low speed, turn and loosen the dough, allowing it to cool slightly until it reaches the point where you can touch the bottom of the bowl comfortably.  Mix in 2 eggs until absorbed, then add the 3rd egg, mixing until it has also been absorbed.  Beat the 4th egg in a separate dish and add gradually, as the entire egg may not be needed.  The choux paste is finished when it can be pulled up by the paddle attachment into a distinct point that easily folds when flipped (like a soft peak).

Transfer choux paste into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain round tip.  Pipe paste into desired size éclair rectangles.  Coat each mound with a small amount of egg wash (1 egg, beaten) using a pastry brush, and tap the tops surface of each brushed éclair with the back of a fork that’s been dampened with water.  The egg wash helps the pastry to achieve a golden brown color, while the fork marks create expanding ridges, much like ribbing in clothing.  Bake until puffed, golden, and firm (about 20-25 minutes).

Strawberry Pomegranate Curd

½ cup strawberry pulp, strained

¼-1/3 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tablespoon cornstarch

1 egg, plus 2 yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon salt

Place strawberry pulp and ¼ cup pomegranate juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to simmer.  Allow liquid to reduce by about half (4-5 minutes) before removing the syrup from heat and stirring in lemon juice and an extra splash of pomegranate juice.  While syrup cools, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk in egg and yolks until combined.  While continuing to whisk, gradually drizzle in the cooled syrup until it has all been added, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy.  Transfer mixture back into saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  After 6-8 minutes, when the curd has thickened greatly, remove from heat and push through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.  While stirring, gradually add in small pieces of the butter until it has all been dissolved into the curd.  Mix in salt, and continue to stir until curd has cooled.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Orange Grapefruit Curd

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup grapefruit juice

zest of 2 oranges & ¼ grapefruit

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1½ teaspoons orange extract

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ tablespoon cornstarch

1 egg, plus 2 yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon salt

Place fruit juices in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to simmer.  Allow liquid to reduce by about half (5-6 minutes) before removing the syrup from heat and stirring in zest, lemon juice and orange extract.  While syrup cools, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk in egg and yolks until combined.  While continuing to whisk, gradually drizzle in the cooled syrup until it has all been added, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy.  Transfer mixture back into saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  After 6-8 minutes, when the curd has thickened greatly, remove from heat and push through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.  While stirring, gradually add in small pieces of the butter until it has all been dissolved into the curd.  Mix in salt, and continue to stir until curd has cooled.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Additional Ingredients & Preparation:

A full batch of pastry cream should be prepared, and divided into two equal parts to be folded into the two fruit curds.  Pastry cream is the standard filling for éclairs, so one may choose to omit the curd portion of the recipe and fill the éclairs with only the vanilla cream.  Fruit curd-pastry creams should be stored the same as a regular pastry cream, refrigerated and covered tightly with a layer of plastic wrap draped onto the surface of the mixture.

A full batch of chocolate glaze should be prepared using white chocolate in the place of semisweet.  The prepared glaze can be divided in half and colored with pink rose and orange gel food colorings, if desired.

Assembly:

Transfer fruit curd pastry creams into pastry or zip-top bags fitted with small round tips.  Using a sharp paring knife, create two tiny slits on each end of the underside of each cooled éclair.  Place the tip of one of the bags of curd-cream into one slit, squeeze until slightly plumped, and then into the other slit, squeezing again.  This will help the éclairs to be filled evenly and prevent tearing or bursting.  Repeat this process with all the éclairs, filling half of them with strawberry pomegranate filling and half with orange grapefruit filling.

Dip the tops of each filled  éclair into the coordinating cooled chocolate glaze, and set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate glaze to set.  Éclairs should be served immediately to prevent sogginess, however, leftovers may be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

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July 15, 2011

Merlin’s Beard! The Day Is Here!

Today marks the premier of long-awaited movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Part 2, a film very much worth waiting for and an event worth celebrating!  As we wrap up our Potter Week festivities, I must admit that it’s a bittersweet day here at Pumpercake.    As the battle has ended and  the loose ends have been tied, there will be no more books, movies, or exciting plot twists in our favorite wizarding world.  While the incredible final movie was everything I hoped it would be, I’m sad to see this saga come to an end.  And, I must admit, I’m also a little sad to see the Pumpercake Potter Week  come to an end.  Many of the recipes of this past week have been some of my favorite to think up and create, and the introductions to each of the posts have been, by far, my favorite to write.

Today’s recipe is inspired by “butterbeer,” every Witch’s and Wizard’s beverage of choice.   I created a dramatic and delicious “Butterbeer Layer Cake,” complete with three layers of fluffy, moist cake and multiple frostings and fillings, all flavored in themes of rich and salty butter, sweet and fragrant butterscotch and even a splash of liqueur.  To accompany the extravagant cake, cute little cake-pops take the form of the “golden snitch,” the tiny, fluttering ball from Harry’s favorite wizarding sport, Quidditch.  It wasn’t until after I made up the treats that I recalled Mrs. Weasley creating a magical snitch-themed birthday cake for Harry’s 17th in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’d like to give a heartfelt “thank you” to those loyal Pumpercake readers and Harry-loving fans who’ve followed along all week.  This week’s new subscribers and viewing numbers have taken a gigantic jump up from Pumper’s average stats, making me the happiest girl in the world, as I truly feel that my hard work this week was well worth it.  I hope you enjoyed being a part of Potter Week half as much as I enjoyed organizing it.

Butterbeer Layer Cake
& Golden Snitch Cake Pops

Inspired by: Butterbeer

“I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch,” Scrimgeour said to Harry. “Why is that?”

Hermione laughed derisively.

“Oh, it can’t be a reference to the fact Harry’s a great Seeker, that’s way too obvious,” she said. “There must be a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the icing!”

-Rufus Scrimgeor of the “Ministry of Magic” questions Harry, Ron and Hermione in order to uncover the secret mission left to them by Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Butterbeer Cake

One batch of this recipe creates the base for the layer cake and also for the cake-pop filling.

1¾ cup cake flour

1½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup buttermilk

¾ cup cream soda

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup light brown sugar

4 eggs plus 1 white, room temperature

2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons butter extract

–recipe yield: 1 three-layer cake (trimmed to 7½ inches in diameter), and about 18-22 cake pops.

Butter and flour three 9-inch pans and preheat oven to degrees.  In a medium bowl, sift to combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl stir together the buttermilk and cream soda, and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed to soften.  Beat in both sugars and cream together until sugars have dissolved completely and mixture is fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, additional egg white, and vanilla and butter extracts, beating well after each addition.

Slowly add the dry ingredients in 3 equal parts into the creamed mixture, alternating each addition with half of the liquid ingredients (buttermilk and cream soda).  Divide batter between the three prepared pans (about 2 cups of batter in each pan), and tap the bottom of the pans against counter-top to help release air bubbles.  Place pans into oven for 20-22 minutes, or until cake is springy and edges are light golden.  Allow cakes to cool in pans on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing and placing directly on rack to cool completely.

Butterbeer Butterscotch-Chocolate Ganache Topping
& Butterscotch-Chocolate Whipped Ganache Filling

2 cups heavy whipping cream, plus 2-3 tablespoons

3 tablespoons butterscotch schnapps

3 cups butterscotch chips

1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat the 2 cups of whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  Once cream has been brought to a simmer, turn off heat, and stir in butterscotch schnapps.  Dump butterscotch chips and chocolate chips into a large bowl, and add in the hot liquid, pouring it directly over the chips.  Whisk to melt the chips completely.  Pour about 1/3 of the smooth ganache into a separate bowl, and let sit at room temperature.  This is the ganache topping.

For the whipped ganache, cover the bowl containing the other 2/3 ganache with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to set up (at least 4 hours).  When ready to use, remove the hardened ganache from the refrigerator, let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, and whip until fluffy, adding 2-3 extra tablespoons heavy cream if needed.

Butterscotch Buttercream Frosting

 

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

¼ cup vegetable shortening

½ cup butterscotch chips, melted & cooled

1½ teaspoons butter extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons butterscotch custard powder*

3½-4 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a small cup or dish, sprinkle gelatin powder over 1 tablespoon very cool water.  Set aside to allow gelatin to fully dissolve in water, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, cream together butter, cheese and shortening until soft and combined.  Add in melted butterscotch, butter and vanilla extracts, salt, and custard powder and mix on a high speed until combined.  Gradually beat in about half of the confectioner’s sugar until dissolved, then pour in the milk and lemon juice, mixing well until homogeneous.  Gradually add in the remaining confection’s sugar.  Heat the dissolved gelatin until just melted, and beat it and the heavy cream into the mixture until fluffy and homogeneous.

*butterscotch flavored instant pudding will work here, too.

Layer Cake Assembly

Using a 7½-inch round pan or a cardboard cutout as a guide, trim down the 3 cake layers, placing the excess cake edges into a separate bowl to be used later for cake pops.  Using a serrated knife, slice away the very top dome-shaped portion of each trimmed cake layer, leaving a flat and level surface on each cake.  Cake layers can be thinned and leveled to any desired thickness.   The leftover cake pieces should, again, be added to the bowl of excess pieces.

Place one trimmed, leveled cake layer onto serving dish or cake plate.  Spoon a few large scoops of the whipped ganache filling into a pastry or zip-top bag fitted with a medium round tip, and pipe a circle of the filling onto the cake layer following the perimeter of the round cake.  Spoon some more whipped filling into the center of the cake and spread the filling with an angled spatula into an even layer reaching the piped circle of filling.  Spread extra whipped ganache, if needed, to ensure that the center portion of ganache is level with the piped circle edges.  Gently place second cake layer directly onto the whipped ganache layer, lining it up evenly with the bottom layer.  Repeat the piping and spreading techniques with the whipped filling atop the second cake layer, and cover the layer of filling with the final, top layer of cake, lining it up accordingly.

Spoon onto the stacked cake, a few large, heaping scoops of buttercream frosting.  Using an angled spatula, spread the buttercream into an even layer on the top surface, as well as the sides of the stacked and filled cake.  Add any additional buttercream needed to completely cover the assembled cake, smoothing it cleanly and evenly.  Gently re-whisk the ganache topping once or twice, warming it slightly in the microwave if needed, until it has reached a thick, pour-able consistency.  Slowly pour some of the ganache topping onto the center of the frosted cake, allowing the ganache to just barely reach the edges of the cake.  Using an angled spatula, carefully push the poured ganache over the edges of the perimeter of the cake, allowing the topping to spill over onto the sides of the cake.  More smooth ganache topping can be added to the top of the cake, if necessary.

If desired, a quarter cup each of buttercream and ganache (filling or chilled topping) can be re-whipped and transferred into a pastry bag to be piped decoratively around the bottom perimeter of the assembled, frosted cake.  Cake can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator.

Golden Snitch Cake Pops

Adapted from Amy Bites

Reserved cake pieces (see above)

Leftover frostings/fillings (see above)

1 cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup butterscotch chips

1 pound gum paste mix

optional: edible opalescent powder (gold)

Use your hands or a butter knife to gently slice through and break down the reserved cake pieces into crumbles.  Combine leftover buttercream frosting with a few tablespoons ganache (filling or chilled topping), and gradually add the mixture, one or two scoops at a time, to the bowl of cake pieces.  Continuously mix the cake crumbles with the frosting mixture, adding frosting as necessary, until the consistency is pliable enough for moist, sticky cake balls to be formed.  Form heaping tablespoons of the sticky mixture into round balls and place onto a parchment-lined sheet.  Stab each cake ball with a lollipop stick.  Chill the tray of cake balls in the refrigerator to allow them to set and securely fasten to the sticks.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the white chocolate and butterscotch chips, and melt until smooth.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before dunking in the chilled cake balls, one at a time, to be completely coated.  Placed coated cake balls back onto lined tray and allow the outer-coating to slightly set, but not completely harden.  Use a paring knife to create two small, vertical slits into two sides of each cake ball, and allow coating to finish hardening.  Prepare gum-paste as directed on package instructions and roll out to about ¼-inch in thickness.  Draw a narrow wing shape on a piece of heavy card-stock or cardboard and cut it out to be used as a template to eventually create the wings of the “snitch.”  Use a sharp paring knife and the template to cut out gum paste wings.  Store the wings in an airtight container until ready to push into the slits of each cake ball.  If desired, use a small, soft paint brush to dust each “snitch” with edible opalescent gold powder.

July 14, 2011

Kosher Kupcakes

         

As if publishing Pumpercake’s Seven-Layer Cake this week wasn’t exciting enough, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a guest blogger at  Joy of Kosher today!

A Joy of Kosher representative contacted me asking for a guest post and a couple summery cupcake recipes that could be made pareve (without dairy).  My guest post features Pumpercake’s cocktail-inspired “Margarita Cupcakes,” and “Black & White Cupcakes,” inspired by the well known Jewish cookie.

Make sure you stop by Joy of Kosher today to take a look at Pumpercake’s cupcake article, recipes, and pictures, as well as the many other great articles and wonderful everyday recipes throughout the site!

July 12, 2011

“They’re Not Really Frogs, Are They?”

Happy Potter Week Tuesday!   It seems today is the perfect time to share Pumpercake’s 3rd HP-inspired recipe, as we’re only three days away from the big movie premier!

A recipe for Chocolate Frogs and Peppermint Toads was an easy and obvious choice to include in Pumpercake’s Potter Week festivities.  Whether it be on the Hogwarts Express or in the common room after a trip back from Honeydukes (a sweets and candy shop in Hogsmeade, the wizarding village), Harry and his friends can constantly be found snacking on the reptile-shaped confections or trading their Chocolate Frog Collector’s Cards.

The recipes I’ve included can be used for Frogs and Toads by use of appropriate candy-mold trays, but the recipes can also be applied to any other chocolate-coated shaped candy.  Unlike the Chocolate Frogs served on the Hogwar’s Express food trolly, my Chocolate Frogs are bursting with delicious fillings, like coconut-marshmallow cream and salted peanut butter filling.  Also unlike the Chocolate Frogs on the Hogwart’s Express food trolly, mine don’t magically leap out of their packages or “hop realistically in the stomach.”

Chocolate Frogs & Peppermint Toads

Inspired by: Honeydukes’
“Chocolate Frogs” &
“Peppermint Toads”
-Hogsmead Village

“What are these?” Harry asked Ron, holding up a pack of Chocolate Frogs.  “They’re not really frogs, are they?” He was starting to feel that nothing would surprise him.”
–  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Chocolate Frogs

12 ounces milk chocolate chips

12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

1 batch salted peanut butter filling
(recipe below)

1 batch coconut-mallow filling
(recipe below)

chocolate frog candy molds

–recipe yield: about 24 chocolate frogs,
12 of both filling/chocolate combinations

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the milk chocolate chips.  Over low heat, melt the milk chocolate and remove it from the heat.  Spoon a small amount into each individual frog mold, adding just enough chocolate so that it covers the very bottom of each mold.  Using a small paintbrush, spread the chocolate up to thinly coat all sides of each frog, creating a little hollow bowl-like bed for the filling to fit in.  Place mold tray into the refrigerator to chill for 3-5 minutes, or until chocolate has set.

After chocolate has set, drop about ¾ teaspoon of peanut butter filling into the center of each frog.  Spread the filling slightly so that it is not level with the top surface of the mold tray, leaving room for the top layer of chocolate.  Spoon more melted chocolate into each frog mold, right on top of the filling.   Fill each frog until the chocolate is just level with the top surface of the tray.  Refrigerate or freeze 8-10 minutes, or until completely set and hardened, before removing frogs from the tray.

For coconut-filled chocolate frogs, follow the same directions as above, replacing the milk chocolate with dark and the peanut butter filling with coconut-mallow filling.

Peppermint Toads

12 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1-2 drops pure peppermint extract

1 batch white peppermint filling (recipe below)

chocolate toad candy molds

–recipe yield: about 24 peppermint toads (as my candy molds were very shallow)

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate.  Over low heat, melt the chocolate and remove it from the heat.  Stir in 1-2 small drops of peppermint extract.  Spoon a very small amount into each individual toad mold, adding just enough chocolate so that it covers the very bottom of each toad.  Using a small paintbrush, spread the chocolate up to thinly coat all sides of each toad, creating a little hollow bowl-like bed for the filling to fit in.  Place mold tray into the refrigerator to chill for 3-5 minutes, or until chocolate has set.

After chocolate has set, spoon in about ¼-½ teaspoon of white peppermint filling into the center of each frog.  Spread the filling slightly, just so it is not level with the top surface of the mold tray, leaving room for the top layer of chocolate.  Spoon more melted chocolate into each toad mold, right on top of the filling.   Fill each toad until the chocolate is just level with the top surface of the tray.  Refrigerate or freeze 8-10 minutes, or until completely set and hardened, before removing toads from the tray.

Candy Fillings

Salted Peanut Butter Filling

½ cup smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon table salt

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

–makes enough for 12 candies, plus extra

In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and  butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla and salt.  Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and continue to beat.  When the sugar has been combined, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until fluffy, being careful not to over-whip.

Coconut-Mallow Filling

¾ cup marshmallow fluff (my fluff recipe can be found here)

1½ cups sweetened flaked coconut

¼ teaspoon coconut extract or coconut oil

–makes enough for 12 candies, plus extra

Gently combine all ingredients, folding until flaked coconut has been distributed throughout mixture.

White Peppermint Filling

¾ cup marshmallow fluff (my fluff recipe can be found here)

1-2 drops pure peppermint extract

–makes enough for 24 candies, plus extra

Add into the fluff one small drop of peppermint extract and fold to incorporate.  If desired, another drop or so can be added and combined into the filling.

July 2, 2011

Bombes Away On Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July!  Sure, I may be a few days early, but that’s part of the beauty of this dessert… that it can be made days ahead of time.  Another part of the beauty of this dessert is, well, the beauty of the dessert!

I’ve known for months that this year’s Independence Day treat would be inspired by everyone’s favorite patriotic popsicle, the Bomb Pop.  The ice-cold striped snack, layered with bold, crisp flavors of blue raspberry, lime, and cherry left me with many possibilities.  The more I brainstormed, the more excited I got, leaving me with way too many dessert ideas.  I finally narrowed it down to two red, white, and blue desserts, and decided to make both of them.  Luckily, I will have an apartment full of visitors for the weekend who, I’m hoping, will help tear through these dishes (and the refrigerator full of other dessert leftovers, too!).

As I have two fabulous, patriotic desserts to share, I decided to post one a few days early (possibly giving an inspired reader a chance to make a quick copycat before Monday?).  During the bulk of my brainstorming, I focused mainly on dishes that showcase color, as it was important to me to display red, white, and blue in an exciting, attractive way.  As I was scribbling notes in my recipe journal, I glanced at where I’d written “Bomb Pop” on the page and noticed an accidental flourish resembling an “e” at the end of the word “Bomb”.  A bomb explosion went off in my brain.  A layered ice cream cake, or a “bombe glacée,” would be a perfect way to playfully mimic a Bomb Pop, showcasing the three flavors and colors, and also playing off the title of the treat itself!

Bombes are mainly made up of ice cream or sherbet, but some versions include a cake layer, mine included.  I layered homemade lime and homemade sweet dark cherry ice cream and enveloped both in a layer of bright blue raspberry cake.  I chose Swiss cake roll slices because I thought that the white buttercream swirls would pop against the blue cake.  And maybe also because I was somewhat hesitant as to how, exactly, a blue raspberry flavored cake would taste and wanted some vanilla buttercream to fall back on in case the cake wasn’t as pleasant-tasting as I’d hoped.  Luckily, the flavors of the cake and both ice creams came out wonderful, the cohesive dessert creamy and refreshing…  a perfect tribute to the Bomb Pop and a sweet way to celebrate (two days before) the 4th.

Patriotic Ice Cream Cake Bombe

Inspired by: Red, White & Blue Bomb Pops

Blue Raspberry Swiss Cake Roll

Adapted from Heather Baird’s Pink Velvet Roulade,” SprinkleBakes

4 eggs                                      ¼ teaspoon raspberry extract

¾ cup superfine sugar              ¾ tablespoon blue gel food coloring

3 tablespoons vegetable oil      1-2 drops purple gel food coloring

1½ tablespoons whole milk       1 cup all purpose flour

½ tablespoon lemon juice          1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cider vinegar           ¼ teaspoon salt

1½ tablespoons blue raspberry syrup

–recipe yield: 9-12 slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9½x13½ pan with buttered parchment paper.  Beat eggs for five full minutes, then,  slowly beat in superfine sugar and vegetable oil.  In a small bowl, whisk together milk, lemon juice, vinegar, raspberry syrup, and extract.  Gradually add the liquid into egg mixture while continuing to mix on a high speed.  Add food coloring until desired color is reached.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.  In small batches, add the sifted dry ingredients into the batter, mixing after each addition.  When completely combined and smooth, pour the batter into the prepared pan, tilting the pan to evenly distribute the batter.  Tap the bottom of the pan against the counter top to allow any air bubbles to escape before placing into the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the cake is spring-y to the touch.

Lay out a pastry cloth or tea towel next to a wire cooling rack.  Sprinkle cloth with a confectioner’s sugar and smooth it into an even layer.  Immediately upon removing it from the oven, turn out the cake onto the sugared cloth.  Remove paper from the cake and gently roll cake and cloth into a tight log, starting at a shorter end of the cake.  When cake log is rolled with and wrapped in the cloth, place it on the wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Best Vanilla Buttercream

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

¼ teaspoon salt

2½-3 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla almond milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1½-2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

–recipe yield: about 2 cups frosting

In a large bowl, beat together butter and salt until soft and creamed (about 2-4 minutes).  Add in about half of the sugar and the almond milk, and beat until combined.  Add in the remaining sugar, as well as the vanilla, and beat until smooth.  Drizzle in heavy cream while continuing to beat until desired fluffy consistency is reached.

Swiss Roll Assembly

When cake roll is cool, gently unroll it and pull away the cloth.  Spoon frosting onto the surface of unrolled cake and smooth in an even layer, leaving a thin, border unfrosted.  Gently roll cake back into log and wrap securely with plastic wrap. Freeze for 4 hours before cutting into slices with a serrated knife.

Lime Ice Cream

Adapted from Key Lime Ice Cream,” Food.com

10 ounces frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

zest and juice from 2 limes

14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk

3 cups heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract

1 teaspoon key lime extract

Line a 9×9-inch pan with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer.  In a medium bowl, whisk together limeade concentrate, zest, juice, and condensed milk.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whip the cream on a low speed until just slightly thickened.  Add both vanilla and lime extracts while continuing to mix.  When medium soft peaks form, fold in condensed milk mixture.  Spoon the combined mixture into prepare pan and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Sweet Black Cherry Ice Cream

Adapted from Spumoni Ice Cream,”
The Prepared Pantry

½ pint dark sweet cherries

2 tablespoons cherry preserves

2 cups whipping cream

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon pure cherry extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red gel food coloring

Line a 9×9-inch pan with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer.  Rinse and remove pits and stems from cherries.  Pat dry and give cherries a thorough, rough chop, or pulse a couple times in a food processor.  Combine chopped cherries and preserves in a small bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix the whipping cream on a low speed until just slightly thickened.  Gradually pour in the condensed milk and both cherry and vanilla extracts, and continue to whip until soft peaks form.  Add food coloring until desired color is reached.  Gently fold the cherry-preserve mixture into the cream.  Spoon the combined mixture into the lined, chilled pan and freeze for at least 4 hours, or until firm.

Assembly

Line a round-bottomed bowl (preferably aluminum) with plastic wrap.  Using a serrated knife, cut chilled cake roll into slices about 1-1½ inches thick.  Arrange slices in the lined bowl into a layer at the bottom of the pan and up the side of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and freeze till the slices are firm, at least 30 minutes.

Remove the lime ice cream from the freezer to allow it to soften for about 10 minutes.  Then, take the cake-roll lined bowl out of the freezer, remove outermost layer of plastic wrap and smooth the lime ice cream on top of the cake slices.  Spread ice cream into an even layer to cover the bottom third of the inside of the bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.  Repeat the softening process with the cherry ice cream, and spread it into the bowl onto the chilled lime ice cream and cake rolls.  Allow the cherry ice cream layer to reach another third of the way up inside the bowl, leaving the very top third portion of the bowl empty for the last layer.  Re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap and freeze for another hour or so until firm.  Repeat the softening and smoothing process with the third and final layer of lime ice cream.  Smooth it into an even layer reaching the very top of the bowl and sides of the cake slices.  Re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap and freeze til completely set and firm, 4-5 hours or overnight.

About 10 minutes before ready to serve, remove the bowl from the freezer and discard plastic wrap.  Invert the dessert onto serving plate and peel away and discard plastic wrap.  If the dessert doesn’t release from the bowl with ease, run a kitchen towel dampened with hot water across the sides of the bowl before attempting to pull it away.  To serve, submerge a sharp knife into hot water before cutting into slices.

June 15, 2011

Key-nadian Twist On A Father’s Day Favorite

I really thought that I’d tried every Key lime dessert recipe known to man.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my dad’s all-time favorite indulgence is Key lime pie, which I grew tired of making about fifteen Birthdays/Father’s Days ago.  Since then, I’ve found ways to incorporate all of those delicious Key lime pie components into many different dessert shapes and forms.  I truly believed that I’d done it all… every Key lime concoction on the planet.  But there was one region of the Earth that I missed… Canada.  Cana..DUH!

Originating from the Great White North, a Nanaimo bar is a layered dessert traditionally composed of a sometimes nutty, brownie-like layer, a custard or buttercream layer, and a chocolate layer.  There are many different versions of Nanaimo bars, leaving me with lots of options to incorporate all of the flavors of the Key lime pie.  I was sold.  As the Vancouver Canucks have demonstrated this season, Canada knows great hockey, just as my dad, a die-hard Red Wings fan, does.   And, as it turns out, Canada also knows a thing or two about dessert!

Upon grocery shopping for ingredients, I also stumbled upon a couple of products that I’d been previously unfamiliar with, pure Key lime extract and natural crystallized lime.  The extract allowed me to achieve a nice, strong lime flavor without having to add too much actual lime juice and watering down the custard.  And the crystallized lime also added an extra kick without ruining the consistency of the filling.  This is an issue I’ve dealt with in the past, having never wanted to sacrifice any of my dad’s favorite lime flavor but also not wanting to jeopardize the quality of the dessert.  Both of these great new products will be of great use to me for years to come as I continue to make Key lime confections for the world’s greatest dad.  Happy Father’s Day, Papa Lew!

Key-nadian Lime Pie Bars

Inspired by: Key Lime Pie

Adapted from “Nanaimo Bars,” The Daring Kitchen  and Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives

Graham Layer

½ cup unsalted butter              2/3 cup almond flour

3 tablespoons brown sugar     1/3 cup flaked coconut, finely ground in food processor

1 egg, lightly beaten                ¼ cup unsalted pistachios, finely ground in food processor

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Melt the butter and brown sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Pour a small amount of the melted butter-sugar into the dish containing the egg while whisking, bringing the egg slowly up to temperature without cooking and scrambling it.  Once the egg has been slightly warmed, pour it into the glass bowl with the remaining melted butter-sugar, stir, and continue to heat.  After the mixture is homogeneous and slightly thickened, remove the bowl from heat and stir in graham crumbs, almond flour, and ground coconut.

Key Lime Layer

3 egg yolks                                           ¼ cup cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons granulated sugar          2 tablespoons custard powder*

3 tablespoons Key lime extract            1-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

zest and juice of 1 lime                        3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

-optional: crystallized lime, green/yellow gel food coloring

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, granulated sugar, lime extract, juice, zest, and cornstarch.  Place over medium-low heat and continue to stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Allow about 5-7 minutes for the mixture to thicken, and then remove it from heat and transfer it to a small bowl.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of the cold butter, allowing each piece to dissolve before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth and cooled, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the mixture so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Allow mixture to set up in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

When lime mixture has set, remove it from the refrigerator, peel away and discard the plastic wrap.  Set mixture aside, stirring occasionally, and allow it to come to room temperature.  In a large bowl, beat together the room temperature butter and cream cheese until thoroughly creamed.  Beat in the room temperature lime mixture and food coloring (if desired) until homogeneous.  Mix in the custard powder and gradually beat in the powdered sugar.  If an increase in lime flavor is desired, also beat in desired amount of crystallized lime (I used about 1½ teaspoons).  When desired flavor is reached, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until combined and fluffy.

*Vanilla instant pudding mix may be used here.

Chocolate Layer

2 ½  tablespoons unsalted butter

½ tablespoon heavy whipping cream

6 ounces white chocolate

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, bring butter and cream to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent it from scalding.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate and place it over medium heat.  Stir in the hot cream to the melting chocolate and continue to stir until fully melted.  Remove from heat.

Assembly

Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper, allowing the excess to drape over the sides  for easy dessert removal.  Press graham mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the lined pan.  Spoon on the lime layer and spread evenly across the entire surface of the graham layer.  Then, pour the warm, melted chocolate onto the top, evenly coating the dessert and reach all edges of the pan.  Let the dessert rest until chocolate has cooled and set before removing it from pan and slicing into bars.

June 2, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part III: Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve been going a bit overboard with macaron practice and production lately.  The delicate cookie that I once loathed has recently become my favorite kitchen experiment and my favorite gift to give away.  I’m constantly thinking and talking about them, and I may have even had a few dreams revolving solely around the macaron and its endless flavor combination possibilities.  It became clear to me that it was time to re-visit the chocolate-peanut butter macaron recipe from my very first attempt (emphasis on the word “attempt”) about a month ago.  Regardless of the fact that I’ve been a mac-making machine lately, making chocolate macaron shells still brought about a whole new challenge for me.  The addition of cocoa powder into the batter scared the living daylights out of me.  And as David Lebovitz suggests cutting back on almond flour while Tartelette suggests cutting back on powdered sugar when attempting chocolate macarons, I was torn and confused.  What’s the difference between unsweetened cocoa powder and Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa anyway?

Luckily, my chocolate shells turned out very nicely due to David’s recipe (although that doesn’t mean that Tartelette’s wouldn’t have turned out just as well!).  I went with my original inspiration and filled the shells with a salted-peanut butter buttercream, mimicking my sister-in-law’s peanut butter buckeyes.  I kept my promise to my sister-in-law and my brother and made sure that they got to taste these less-fragile, correctly made cookies.

In other (much more exciting) news, Evan’s great friends, Sam and Megan, were married at a gorgeous black tie ceremony in Detroit this past weekend.  Evan selected some really nice wedding gifts to be shipped to their home, but I also decided to bake them something nice and have it waiting for them in their suite after the reception.  I wanted to make them something really special and pretty… something personalized just for them on their special day.  I didn’t even find out until after I’d given them the cookies that Megan just so happens to be allergic to gluten.  Thank goodness I’d ended up making these… one of the few fancy and gluten-free treats that I’ve come to grow so fond of whipping up!

As purple was one of the theme colors of their wedding decor, I chose to make Megan and Sam some violet shells with a blackberry buttercream filling.  I hand-painted some of the macs with tiny designs and flourishes, including one with their initials.  I saw the beautiful couple two days after the wedding and found out how much they enjoyed the cookies.  Congratulations, newlyweds!

Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons

Inspired by: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Buckeyes

Chocolate Macaron Shells

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s “French Chocolate Macarons”

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ cup almond flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

¼ cup superfine sugar

2 egg whites, aged & room temperature*

small pinch of cream of tartar

-recipe yield: about 17 filled macarons

Substituting the vanilla ingredients for the chocolate ingredients and proportions above, follow the French Macaron Shell directions portion of the recipe (as well as the extra tips listed just before the recipe).  The cocoa should be added into the food processor and ground along with the confectioners sugar and almond flour.  Baking time may need to be increased by an extra minute or so.

Salted Peanut Butter Buttercream

½ cup smooth peanut butter           ½ teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter        ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract              2 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and  butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla and salt.  Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and continue to beat.  When the sugar has been combined, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until fluffy, being careful not to over-whip.

-Optional:

Once macaron shells have baked and cookies have assembled and sandwiched with buttercream, prepare a small batch of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil over the stove, reduced to a syrup and cooled) to brush over top of the shells.  Sprinkle a little kosher or flaked sea salt over top of the syrup-brushed cookies for an extra salty bite.

Blackberry Wedding Macarons

Pretty Purple Macaron Shells

For purple (or any other color) macaron shells, follow the French Macaron Shell recipe (as well as the extra tips listed just before the recipe).  Desired amount of gel food coloring can be added to macaron batter just after dry ingredients are sifted in and just before starting to fold dry ingredients into the meringue.  A good way to do this is to squeeze the gel directly onto a clean spatula before using the same spatula to fold the batter.

Blackberry Buttercream

Adapted from sammyw‘s “Raspberry Buttercream Frosting”

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup seedless blackberry preserves

2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, whip butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add in blackberry preserves and beat until homogeneous.  Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar until desired sweetness has been achieved.  Once sugar has been dissolved, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until fluffy.

-Optional

To make the designs, I diluted some more of the purple food coloring with a drop or so of water and used a fine paintbrush to apply a small amount of the thick purple liquid to the tops of the cookies in different designs.  Allow painted shells to dry completely before stacking, packaging, handling or serving.

May 27, 2011

Tangy Drink Turned Tasty Dessert

Summer heat may bring about many cravings for those finding themselves with a sweet tooth… ice cream, popsicles, and maybe a tall, cool glass of tart lemonade.  Or, better yet, strawberry lemonade.  The average high in DC this week has been about 93 degrees with humidity that could cause even the most poker-straight hair to go completely Hugo Reyes.  Needless to say, refreshing treats have been on my mind.  With a craving for something tangy and little inspirational help from those tantalizing McDonald’s commercials, these strawberry-lemonade cupcakes were born.

These muffin-like cakes were sweetened up with a tart, bright burst of strawberry-lemon curd filling.  The citrus-y sweet cupcakes turned out great and were shared with many.  My favorite reaction of any of the tasters was my friend Claire’s, who after biting into the cake exclaimed, “That filling tastes just like strawberry lemonade!”  Sounds like a successful recipe if I’ve ever heard one.

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Inspired by: Strawberry Lemonade

Strawberry-Lemon Cakes

Adapted from Gail Wagman’s “Strawberry Cupcakes,” Cupcakes Galore

1 cup chopped strawberries                2 eggs

1 tablespoon honey                            ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons lemon juice                  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

zest from 1 lemon                                ¾ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter             2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk                                             1 teaspoon baking soda

recipe yield: about 18 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake pans with paper liners.  Place finely chopped strawberries in a small bowl with honey, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and lemon zest.  Set aside to macerate.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the butter.  Gently melt the butter over low heat, remove from stove top, and allow to cool slightly.  In a medium bowl, combine the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice and the milk.  Add the eggs, breaking apart the yolks slightly, as well as the vanilla extract.  Mix in cooled, melted butter.  Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.  Form a small “well” in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the butter-egg mixture into the well.  Mix ingredients together until just combined.  Gently stir in the macerated strawberry mixture until strawberries are dispersed throughout the batter.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers until each is about ¾ full.  Place pans into the oven and bake cupcakes for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool on racks in pans for about 10 minutes before removing from pans and allowing to cool completely on racks.

Strawberry-Lemon Curd

Adapted from pumpercake‘sPineapple-Lemon Curd

6 egg yolks

zest of ½ lemon

1 cup seedless strawberry pulp*

¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)

½ cup sugar

2 ¼ tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted cold butter

-recipe yield: about 2 ½ cups

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, lightly break apart egg yolks with a small whisk.  While whisking, add in the zest, fruit juices, sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Place saucepan over medium heat and, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, constantly stir mixture for 4-6 minutes, or until it thickens up to the point where it coats the spoon and holds its shape when you run your finger across the spoon.

At this point, immediately remove the saucepan from heat.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of butter, allowing each piece to dissolve into the curd before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth, transfer the curd to a small bowl and continue to stir until it has cooled.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that the curd doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered pineapple-lemon curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

*To make strawberry pulp, place clean, fresh strawberries into a food processor and pulse until fully broken down.  Transfer ground strawberries into a mesh strainer and allow pulp to strain through into a clean bowl.  To help pulp fall through strainer, use a small whisk.  Discard any seeds or rough pieces remaining in the strainer and use only the smooth, seedless pulp.

Strawberry-Lemonade Buttercream

Adapted from “Lemon Kissed Buttercream Frosting,”
The Cupcakery Blog

This is a very versatile buttercream recipe that can be prepared and presented in a couple different ways.  Depending on your preferences of sweet vs. tangy, the amount of curd added can be adjusted or even omitted all together.  The curd can be swirled, marbleized, or fully combined into the buttercream.

½ cup unsalted butter                 3 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice           1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon lemon zest                1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½-¾ cup reserved strawberry-lemon curd (recipe above)

In large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Drizzle in lemon juice and zest and beat well. Gradually add sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating on medium speed and scraping sides of bowl often.  After sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the mixture while drizzling in vanilla and milk. Beat at medium speed until homogeneous.

At this point, the buttercream can either be piped onto the cupcakes or combined in the curd in some way.  For a homogeneous strawberry lemonade frosting, beat curd into the buttercream until combined.  The curd can also be gently swirled into the buttercream with a spatula before being piped onto cakes.  To create a marbleized effect, fill the pastry bag on one side with buttercream and on the other side with curd so that they’re somewhat separated in the bag.  Pipe the frostings out as normal and the two together in the bag will create pretty ribbons of color.  Swirled or marbleized cupcakes should be served immediately, or the milk may start to lump and look curdled due to the acid in the juice.

May 22, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part II: Macaron Success!

It is with great enthusiasm that I share with you today the news of my recent triumph over the anticipated (and dreaded)  French macaron!  You may remember my recent post involving my previously unsuccessful and all-around sad attempts at the temperamental cookie, as well as my promise to keep practicing, researching and attempting to master the art of the macaron.  Luckily, this is one of those instances where my more obsessive-compulsive traits came in handy, and after another week or so of reading up, gathering a few more materials, aging another couple pairs of egg whites, and picking apart the brain of the brilliant blogger/baker/creative mastermind, Heather (aka Ms. Sprinkle Bakes), I was finally able to pop out a couple batches of some pretty successful macarons.  Hooray!

I came to realize that I’d had a pretty good idea of what I was doing during the first few attempts, and with a few little tweaks to my original game plan, I found victory.  Victory, in this case, comes in the form of smooth, crispy, eggshell-like crusts, soft and meringue-y cookie center, and beautifully flourished “feet.”  One of the most crucial (and ridiculously simple)  changes I made had to do with the temperature of the oven.  After describing to her in painful detail every step I took in preparing my macaron batter, Heather’s first suggestion to me was to use an oven thermometer to test the true temperature of my oven.  I immediately bought the tool and came to find out that my oven is an astonishing 20 degrees hotter than its stated temperature says it should be.  This, most definitely, played a part in my failed cookies.

Convinced that I had jinxed myself the first time by previously making the filling before the macarons (incorrectly) baked, this time I focused only on the macaron batter and didn’t think twice about making a filling until they (hopefully) baked up correctly.  My first successful batch was just a simple white macaron.  In the spirit of celebration, I whipped up a rum-infused chocolate-black cherry filling to pipe in between the lovely little cookies.  Having been too nervous to sprinkle anything atop the unbaked batter, I instead brushed the top of the cookies with a little simple syrup and dusted them with some chopped cocoa nibs.

Just in case this batch had been a fluke, I made one more batch using the exact same techniques and adding a touch of green food coloring to the batter.  To my amazement, this batch worked out just as beautifully.  Using the extra pistachio paste I had leftover from my semifreddo, I made a pistachio buttercream for the filling, and used the same simple syrup brushing method to sprinkle some chopped nuts on the top of the assembled cookies.

By no means am I claiming that my macarons turned out perfect or that I’ve mastered the process, but I do feel pretty satisfied with the cookies I’ve been able to crank out so far.   I’m not sure if the oven temperature was the only flaw in my previous attempts, as I made a few other changes in the steps taken to achieve my final product, but I’ve formulated a (rather long) list of all the helpful tips and tricks that I’ve gathered along the way for anyone looking to make their own macarons.  I will continue to practice and possibly add to this list, but for now, I feel confident in saying that if these precautions are taken and the steps are followed meticulously, you’re bound to find the same success that I eventually did!

  • Invest in an oven thermometer.  As stated above, I found out (after a few failed batches) that my oven was much hotter than the temperature set.  While these cookies are too fragile to withstand such high heat, they also won’t bake up properly if the heat is too low.  Get to know your oven and it’s true temperatures before attempting your macarons.
  • Keep your almond flour in the freezer.  I always keep nuts in the freezer in order to keep the oils from going rancid, but for some reason I never thought to apply  this rule to my almond flour.  Not only will it keep the natural oils in the ground almonds from spoiling, but freezing the flour will also keep it from turning into a paste when you further grind it down.  So simple, but makes all the difference.
  • Use super-superfine sugar.  I normally buy Domino brand superfine sugar that comes in a skinny cardboard box.  When my first couple batches of macarons didn’t come out, Ms. Sprinkle Bakes inquired about my SF sugar and suggested that I might have gotten a bad box.  The fact that it comes in a cardboard box makes it susceptible to moisture.  If the box gets set into even the tiniest puddle of water on the counter, the sugar can be ruined.  I found another brand of superfine sugar that’s meant for dissolving into iced tea and is sold in a plastic container.  I double checked that it was pure SF sugar and nothing else and gave it a little zip through the food processor before using it to create my meringue for the macs.  I highly suggest being extra cautious in the quality and condition of your SF sugar!
  • Pulverize, pulverize, pulverize.  Grind up all of your dry ingredients to the finest powder you can possibly achieve.  Even the superfine sugar can benefit from a good run through the food processor.  Combine both the cold almond flour and the powdered sugar together in the food processor before grinding it down in order to keep the almond flour from becoming almond butter.  If the almonds start to separate from the sugar in the food processor, turn it off, fluff the powders together with a fork, and combine again.
  • Sift, sift, sift.  Sift the ground almond-powdered sugar mixture two or three times before sifting it (again) into the meringue.  Discard any and all excess almond bits that don’t make it through the sifter.
  • Beat the perfect meringue. The meringue should reach stiff peaks before the dry ingredients are incorporated, but not so stiff that the eggs start to separate in chunks.  Try beating on medium speed instead of high speed and checking the meringue frequently to make sure the mixture holds its shape and isn’t runny, but doesn’t appear too dry and over-whipped.
  • Fold carefully. When it comes to combining the batter, one fold too few or one fold too many can mean misshapen, cracked, or foot-less finished cookies.  Regardless of what anyone else said about starting with quick folding strokes, I’ve found long, gentle strokes are the best way to slowly but surely incorporate your batter to the perfect consistency, to the point where the batter falls from a spatula in shiny, smooth “ribbons.”
  • Line and prep insulated aluminum cookie sheets.  I read that the best pans to bake macarons on are insulated aluminum sheets (not non-stick), and after testing out this theory for myself, I most definitely agree.  The cookies baked up on these sheets were the most evenly cooked and the all-around best ones.  To line the cookie sheets, I tested both silpat mats and parchment paper and was pleased with the results of both, but would suggest parchment paper.  The reason for this is that I found it very helpful to trace 1-inch circles onto the paper to use as a guide when piping the batter onto the sheets.  This will help to create perfectly round, evenly sized and shaped round cookies every time.  Space the circles about an inch and a half apart.
  • Use a pastry bag and tip.  Using a pastry bag and tip will help the batter to pipe out smoothly into perfect little disks.  Using a pastry bag and tip will also help you to test out the consistency of your batter, as batter that just starts to ooze out of the tip of the filled pastry bag is the correct consistency.  If it does not, it is too stiff and hasn’t been folded enough.  Squeeze the batter back out of the bag, give it another fold, and try again.
  • Dry out your batter.  Once the batter has been piped into round disks on the sheets, tap the sheets on the counter-top to help get rid of any air bubbles and then allow the sheets to sit a room temperature for 15-30 minutes.  This will help the batter to create a shell on the top of the disks, and when the cookies are placed in the oven, the heat will help the bottom of the cookies to rise and form the little feet, while the dried shells will stay round, smooth and intact.
  • Rotate your pans. Being overly-cautious, I was hesitant to open the oven enough to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through baking, but found that it does make a huge difference in helping the macarons to bake evenly and the feet to flourish nicely around each cookie.

    French Macaron Shells

From Martha Stewart’s “French Macaroons”

1 cup confectioners sugar

¾ cup almond flour

¼ cup superfine sugar

2 egg whites, aged & room temperature*

small pinch of cream of tartar

-recipe yield: about 17 filled macarons

Trace 1-inch circles onto parchment paper and line cookie sheets with the paper.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the confectioners sugar and the almond flour until further ground into a fine powder and thoroughly combined.  Sift the powder at least twice through, discarding any clumps, and set aside.  Clean the food processor and blade, and then use it to further grind down the superfine sugar.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add in the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks have just formed.  Gradually add in the ground superfine sugar and continue to beat on medium speed, frequently turning off the mixer and checking for stiff peaks.  Once stiff peaks have been achieved, sift in the almond-confectioners sugar mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together without deflating the meringue.  Batter is properly folded when it falls from the spatula in shiny “ribbons.”

Fill pastry bag with cookie batter.  Pipe circles of batter onto parchment-lined sheets using the traced circles as guides.  Lightly tap trays on kitchen counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.   Gently press down with your finger any little peaks on the surface of the cookies that may have formed from piping.  Allow trays to sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes so that cookie batter can dry out.

When cookies have dried, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and insert one sheet of cookies into the center rack of the oven.  Rotate the pan after 5 minutes of baking and allow cookies to bake for an additional 5 minutes (10 minutes total).  Remove from oven and place onto cooling rack.  Replace oven temperature to 375 degrees, wait about 5 minutes for oven to reheat, and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees when inserting next sheet of cookies into the oven.  Repeat this process for each sheet of cookies.  Let baked cookies cool on trays on cooling racks for 10 minutes before carefully removing them to be assembled with filling.

Optional Ingredients:

gel food coloring

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

topping of choice (chopped cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, kosher salt)

If choosing to dye the macaron batter, the food coloring should be added to the batter just after the dry ingredients have been sifted in but before any folding has taken place.

To add a topping to the top of the baked macarons, a simple syrup is needed to bind the topping to the cookies.  To make a simple syrup, simple combine equal parts sugar and water into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow the liquid to come to a simmer.  Remove from heat when all the sugar has dissolved and liquid has formed a syrup, about 5-10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.

Brush a small amount of cooled simple syrup onto top cookie of the assembled macaron.  Sprinkle on the finely chopped topping of choice and allow to dry completely before handling.

Rum Infused Chocolate-Black Cherry Filling

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips          ¼ cup black cherry preserves

¼ cup cream cheese, softened                 1 teaspoon rum extract

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add in the cherry preserves and rum extract and beat until combined.  Pour in the cooled chocolate and beat until homogeneous.  Transfer filling to a pastry bag and pipe a small amount onto the bottom surface of macarons to sandwich the cookies together.

Pistachio Cream Cheese Buttercream

½ cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup pistachio paste

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a large bowl, cream together the cheese and butter until soft and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add in pistachio paste and salt and beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in the cooled white chocolate.  Gradually mix in the confectioners sugar while continuing to beat, and then drizzle in vanilla and heavy cream and beat until desired consistency has been achieved.

April 22, 2011

Traditional Seven Layer Cake for an Untraditional Passover

It’s been pretty busy in my apartment lately, as celebrations and preparations for Passover as well as Holy Week and Easter Sunday have all taken place this week.  Since Evan and I aren’t able to visit our families in Michigan this holiday season, I wanted to bring as much festivity as I could to our quiet home.  Each day of Passover I tried to prepare a different dish that followed either a family or Jewish tradition, including a matzo ball soup, Evan’s family’s favorite Caprese salad, and a kugel (more to come on this soon!).

Ever since I first heard of them, I’ve been anxious to try to make a Jewish seven layer cake.  Regardless of the fact that customary Passover foods aren’t supposed to contain any chametz (leavening agents), I decided to use the high holiday as an opportunity to bake the cake.  Yes, an entire seven layer cake may be a ridiculous dessert to make for a celebration involving a total of two people, but I justified this by making it at the very beginning of the week in hopes that the cake would be consumed a little at a time throughout the length of Passover.

There are many different versions of  the seven layer cake, including a Hungarian and a German version.  I found a Jewish recipe and adapted it a little to fit Evan’s description of what he remembers.  The cake is made up of six thin layers of a yellow sponge cake stacked in between six thin layers of a rich chocolate buttercream, and then topped with the seventh layer of cake,  which has been sliced and covered in caramel.Evan had described the cake to me as being a little “mocha-y,” so I added a good amount of coffee to the buttercream.  And even though he didn’t recall the caramel layer as being a part of the cake that he’d enjoyed as a kid, I decided to do it as I thought it would add a cool, dramatic look to the cake.  That simple little caramel layer actually ended up being my favorite part of the cake…  I’m certainly glad that I didn’t pass-it-over! : )

Traditional Jewish Seven Layer Cake

Inspired by: “Seven Layer Cake” -Diamond Bakery (West Bloomfield, MI)

Adapted from Gil Marks’ “7-Layer Cake,” The World of Jewish Desserts

Chocolate-Mocha Buttercream

I highly suggest making the buttercream the day before, as baking and assembling the actual cake is a pretty big project that can easily take up an entire day.  Store the buttercream in a covered container in the refrigerator, and let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour before attempting to assemble the cake.

10 ounces semisweet chocolate                     1  pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate                  ½ cup vegetable shortening

3 tablespoons instant coffee granules            1 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ cups sugar                                               ½ teaspoon rum extract

¾ cup water                                                    ¼ teaspoon salt

6 egg yolks

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl and melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate.  When chocolate is melted, stir in the coffee granules and remove from stove top to allow to cool slightly.  In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine water and sugar and place on the stove over low heat.  Stir mixture for about five minutes or until the sugar has dissolved, and increase the heat to medium and, without stirring, bring the syrup to a boil.  Allow boiling syrup to reach 250 degrees on a candy thermometer (also called the “soft-ball stage”), before removing from heat.

While syrup is boiling, beat egg yolks in a large bowl until pale and thick, about 4 minutes.  Once sugar syrup has reached 250 degrees, very slowly drizzle the syrup into the eggs by allowing it to flow in a steady stream down the side of the bowl gradually into the eggs while continuing to beat the mixture.  Once all the hot syrup has been added, continue to beat on high until the mixture has thickened and cooled to room temperature (about 10 minutes).

Once the thick mixture has cooled, continue to beat while adding in, a couple tablespoons at a time, the butter and shortening.  After both have been fully incorporated, gradually beat in the melted, cooled chocolate-coffee mixture, followed by the salt, vanilla, and rum extracts, beating well with the addition of each ingredient.  Once all ingredients have been incorporated, push entire mixture through a strainer and discard any undissolved coffee granules or solid egg parts.  Cover and store the buttercream frosting in the refrigerator until an hour before ready to frost the cake.  Spoon ¼ of the buttercream into a zip-lock or pastry bag and leave the rest in the bowl to be spread onto the cakes with an angled spatula.

Sponge Cake Layers

12 egg whites, room temperature

2 ¼ cups granulated sugar

12 egg yolks

¼ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line bottom of 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and butter and flour paper and sides of pans.  It’s very important that the buttering and flouring be done extremely thoroughly or the baked cakes will be very difficult to remove from the pans, as there is no butter in the batter itself.  Unless you have 7 cake pans, you’ll have to bake the cake layers in batches (which isn’t a big deal since the cakes bake pretty quickly) and re-prepare the pans this way each time.

In a medium bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until they have formed soft peaks, and set aside.  In a separate, large bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar on a high speed for 5-9 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.  Reduce mixing speed to low and add in the buttermilk, a tablespoon at a time, along with the vanilla extract and the salt, and replace mixing speed to high.  Once the mixture has been beaten and has re-thickened, remove electric mixture and gradually and gently fold egg whites into the yolk mixture.  Once all the whites have been incorporated, slowly and in small batches, sift in the flour, folding after each addition of flour.

Measure out 1 cup of the batter for each cake pan and gently spread the batter into a thin, even layer in each pan.  Measuring the batter will ensure that each layer be exactly the same thickness, creating a pretty finished product and also allowing each layer to have the same baking time.  Tap the bottom of the cake pans against the countertop to help some of the larger air-bubbles to release so that the cakes bake evenly.  Bake the layers either one or two at a time (any more than two cake pans in the oven will bring the temperature down) for 6-8 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time.  When cakes are finished baking, the edges will turn light golden and will pull away slightly from the sides of the pan.  Allow cakes to cool in the pans for 1-2 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

Caramel

Covering the seventh layer of the cake with this caramel is optional, but encouraged!  The caramel shouldn’t be made until ready to cover cake.  Without the caramel, the last cake layer can be stacked between buttercream with the other layers.

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup water

½ tablespoon unsalted butter

In a small skillet, stir together sugar and water on high heat.  Once the sugar has dissolved into a syrup (about 5 minutes), add butter and allow mixture to come to a boil.  Continue to stir the syrup so the caramel browns evenly.  Once the caramel has reached desired color, remove from heat and immediately pour onto prepared cake layer (see specific directions below).

Assembly:

First, I like to slice off the outer edges of each of the cake layers using a perforated knife (or even a pizza cuter) and a round tupperware top or cardboard cutout as a guide.  It’s important to wait to trim the cakes this way until just before ready to frost them, as the exposed edges will dry out if left uncovered for too long.

Smear a dollop of the room temperature buttercream onto the center of cake plate or server to secure the cake and center one cake layer atop the buttercream dollop.  Using a pastry or zip-lock bag, follow the edges of the cake and pipe a ring of buttercream on top of the layer.  Measure out 1/3 cup of the buttercream (from the bowl) and spoon onto the center of the layer.  Using a small, angled spatula,  push the buttercream out towards the ring of piped buttercream until it has been spread into an even layer covering the top of the cake.  Add the second layer of cake on top of the layer of buttercream, pipe another ring of buttercream, and measure and spread 1/3 cup of the frosting into another even layer.  Continue this process until the sixth layer of cake has been stacked and covered in buttercream.  Slip a few small strips of parchment paper under the bottom layer of the cake to catch any drips of buttercream.  Spread the remaining buttercream from the bowl onto the sides of the cake into an  even layer.  Once the entire cake has been evenly covered in buttercream, transfer cake to the refrigerator to cool and slightly harden the buttercream while you prepare the caramel and seventh cake layer.

Using the back edge of a large knife, score the seventh layer of the cake into 8 or 12 portions, making grooves into the cake but not cutting all the way through.  Lay the scored cake onto a layer of parchment paper and prepare the caramel as directed above.  Pour the hot caramel evenly onto the cake layer and spread using a buttered spatula until the layer has been fully covered by the caramel.  Before the warm caramel cools and hardens, use a large, buttered knife to slice the caramel-covered cake into slices along the score marks.  Re-buttering the knife as needed, trim off any excess caramel that has spread outside the cake.  Allow caramel-covered cake slivers to cool completely before topping the frosted, assembled cake.

Once the frosted cake has cooled and hardened slightly, remove it from the fridge.  Using an angled spatula dipped in very hot water, smooth out any imperfections in the buttercream, making a even surface for decorating.  Remove parchment strips from the bottom of the cake.

Transfer any extra buttercream to a pastry or zip-lock bag with a decorative tip and pipe a border on the bottom and/or top edges of the cake, or decorate however you wish.  Depending upon how many slices the caramel-cake layer has been sliced into, I would suggest piping the same number of buttercream dollops or rosettes onto the top of the frosted cake to serve as little pillows for the caramel-cake slivers.  Arrange the slivers on top of the cake, resting them on the rosettes.  Pipe one final rosette in the center of the cake, if desired, and serve.