Posts tagged ‘gluten-free’

August 31, 2011

Vodka Cheesecake: To Chicago, With Love

My latest, greatest find in the world of food and drink is one that I’m extremely excited about, to say the least.  It excites me to the point that it’s impossible for me to waste another moment thinking up a witty introduction to build it up before actually revealing what it is.  UV Vodka: Cake.  Yes, that’s right… white cake flavored vodka.

Tracking down a bottle (or two) of this liquid heaven proved to be quite a challenge, and figuring out how to use it in a recipe wasn’t as easy as you might think, either.  What was I going to do, use it to make a “cake-flavored-vodka -flavored cake?”  I can’t even speak that phrase without slurring, especially after a couple cake-flavored cocktails.  Or should I say, “cake-tails.”

With my best friend Nina’s 23rd birthday fast approaching, I finally buckled down, stopped recipe “experimenting” (aka, playing bartender instead of baker), and cut to the chase.  I eventually came up with the idea of using the vodka in a cheesecake and was immediately sold.  Nina absolutely needed some sort of birthday cake and I knew she liked cheesecake, and as a no-bake recipe, it’s great for summer.  I combined the buttercream-fragrant vodka with velvety cream cheese filling and tons of fresh vanilla bean flecks and flavor, poured it onto a crumbly chocolate graham crust, and a masterpiece had been born.  Even airport security staff seemed tempted to sneak a taste upon learning what I was carrying in my luggage aboard my flight to see Nina in Chicago.

The cake went over so well in Chicago that I ended up making a second for my vacation with my Virginia family and their friends.  One of their friends on the trip was Maxim, who just so happens to be from Russia and grew up in the former USSR (and knows a thing or two about vodka!).  I was thrilled when he gave the cake his stamp of approval!  Whitney also insisted that it was her favorite dessert that I’ve made thus far, which makes me so happy that it was specifically created with my Nina in mind.  I hope my best friend had a fabulous birthday, loved her cake, and knows how much I love her!

Vodka & Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

Inspired by: UV Cake

1/3 cup plus ¼ cup vodka, divided
(vanilla or cake vodka works well!)

3½ teaspoons powdered gelatin

2 vanilla beans

1/3 cup granulated sugar

525 grams cream cheese, softened

¾ cup superfine granulated sugar

1½ cups heavy whipping cream

Chocolate Crust (recipe below)

–recipe yield: one 9-inch cheesecake

Prepare the graham crust as directed below.  Line the sides of the crust-pressed cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.  Pour ¼ cup very cold vodka and 2 tablespoons very cold water into a small bowl.  Sprinkle gelatin into the bowl and set aside, allowing it to dissolve completely into the liquid.Use a sharp paring knife to split the vanilla bean(s) vertically and to scrape out the seeds from the inside.  Empty extracted seeds into a small saucepan, along with the hollowed whole beans, the regular granulated sugar, and the remaining vodka.  Place saucepan over low heat to dissolve sugar into the liquid.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 1-2 minutes before removing from heat and allowing to cool.

In a large bowl, cream together cream cheese and superfine sugar until smooth.  Beat in the cooled syrup, removing and discarding hollowed, whole beans beforehand.  Gently heat the gelatin mixture until it has reached a liquid consistency, and then beat it into the cream cheese mixture.  In a separate large bowl,  whip the heavy cream until it has reached medium-soft peaks.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture until homogeneous.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan over top of the chocolate graham crust and refrigerate 3-4 hours, or until set.  Once set, it can be stored by covering the top surface of the cake with a layer of plastic wrap and keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer.  If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator before removing the cake from the pan, peeling away and discarding the plastic wrap and parchment paper, slicing, and serving.

Chocolate Graham Crust
Deliciously salty and sweet, this no-bake crust can easily be made gluten-free by use of gluten-free graham cracker crumbs, which is what I used.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa

-recipe yield:
9-inch cheesecake crust

In a small saucepan over low heat, gently melt the butter, eventually stirring in the sugar and salt.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Combine cracker crumbs and cocoa powder in a large bowl.  Pour the cooled butter over the chocolate cracker crumb mixture and mix until all the crumbs have been coated.  Press the mixture into an even layer on the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan (either springform or with a removable bottom) and refrigerate to set.

August 24, 2011

Pumpercake’s Cherry Chocolate Comeback

I’m ashamed of how long its been since I’ve shared a recipe with you.  There’s no excuse for my blatant neglect of the site, however, I assure you that the recent absence of posts doesn’t mean that there’s been any less baking going on in the Pumpercake kitchen.  Quite the opposite, actually.  The past couple weeks have been spent in preparation of and taking much joy in sharing a series of fun and delicious summertime treats to be enjoyed by friends and family during various visits and vacations.  In the weeks leading up to my jam-packed vacation week, I was able to plan and put together many delightful desserts, and even squeezed in a couple food-photo sessions (special thanks goes out to my favorite food photographer for these especially beautiful shots).What I wasn’t quite able to find time for, however, was the actual article-writing/recipe-posting/desperate-attempts-at-witty-storytelling.

Now, as I attempt to  find myself with a surplus of notes on pre-perfected recipes and hundreds of unedited dessert photos floating about my computer in a devastatingly unorganized manner, just waiting to be sorted and presented to you.  The recipe I chose to share today is one from the lovely vacation I went on with my favorite Virginia family (including my favorite Virginia baby) to Wrightsville Beach.

My cherry-almond chocolate ganache tart is inspired by my favorite kind of protein bar of the same flavor combination.  This version is gluten-free and to enjoyed by all.  As if that weren’t enough, the entire dessert can be made as a no-bake… perfect for a hot summer night when you can’t bare to turn on the oven.  Variations in the type of chocolate, fruit, and nuts used can be made according to your preferences, but I love this combination of silky bitter and semisweet chocolate freckled with juicy dark cherries and fragrant toasted almonds.  The simplicity of the ingredients and assembly seems to only enhance the rustic beauty of the final product.

Cherry-Dimpled Chocolate Ganache Tart

Inspired by: LUNA’s “Chocolate Cherry Almond Bar”

Adapted from Hot Polka Dot‘s Chocolate Hazelnut Cherry Tart

1 cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cherry extract

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

¼ cup salted almonds

Chocolate Tart Crust
(recipe below)

1 cup dark cherries, pitted

– -recipe yield:
12 x 8½-inch rectangle tart

Pour cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk in the extracts and corn syrup.  Place saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a rapid simmer.  While cream mixture is heating, roughly chop semisweet and bittersweet chocolate and place in a large bowl.  Pour simmering cream over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit, untouched, for about 2 minutes.  Then, whisk the mixture in the center of the bowl to melt the chocolate and form a smooth ganache.  Set aside for about 4-5 minutes to slightly cool and thicken.

Place whole almonds in a dry non-stick skillet over low heat while the ganache thickens.  Toss the almonds to toast them evenly and remove them from heat as soon as they are fragrant (which should only take a few minutes).  Transfer nuts to a cutting boar, and, once cooled, give them a rough chop to desired size.  Pour the lukewarm, thickened ganache into a completely cooled tart shell and smooth evenly with an angled spatula.  Scatter pitted cherries into the tart, pressing them slightly into the ganache, and sprinkle on the toasted, chopped almonds evenly over top of the cherry-dimpled tart.  Allow to set up at room temperature for about 3-4 hours, or 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Gluten Free Chocolate Tart Crust

Adapted from  Dinners & DreamsCorn Flake Pie Crust

 6 cups gluten-free corn flakes

¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 egg, lightly beaten (omit for no-bake)

½ teaspoon salt

-recipe yield: one 12×8½-inch tart shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a large tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside.  Pulse together in a food processor the corn flakes and cocoa powder until completely crushed and combined.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the butter, sugar and chocolate chips and place over medium heat until melted and homogeneous.  Pour the chocolate-butter mixture over the corn flake mixture along with the lightly beaten egg and the salt, and stir until the crumbly mixture has fully combined.  Press crust firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan, and place into preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, or until crisped and slightly puffed.  Allow to cool completely in pan on a wire rack before filling with ganache.


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.

June 23, 2011

Pineapple… Frozen, Torched, Grilled, & Honey Ice Cream Filled

My mom and I recently visited a small downtown thrift shop filled with hundreds of  little treasures, including a very wide selection of vintage kitchen supplies.  I somehow even got my hands on a beautiful embroidered apron from the 1940’s that I’m in love with, despite the fact that I can’t bring myself to wear it while baking and risk dirtying it.  My mom generously treated me to quite a few goodies after our hunt through the baking supply section.  Among the many retro tools and trinkets I ended up taking home was an Anne Willan cookbook, costing Mama Lew a whopping 99¢.

Leafing through the pages of my new French cookbook, there was one recipe that immediately caught my eye.  It was a frozen dessert topped with a browned meringue, a play on a Baked Alaska, except with a hollow pineapple shell taking the place of the cake layer.  The finished product made for a very dramatic presentation, one that may even be considered a slight bit tacky (Anne Willan is a legend, and the book is from 1980…  so, we’ll give her a break).  For whatever reason, I felt very compelled to recreate this dish.  And that’s exactly what I did.

While Anne filled her pineapple shell with pineapple sherbet, I chose to go with a “Honey-Pineapple Semifreddo,” inspired by the increasingly popular summertime treat of grilled pineapple drizzled with honey.  I decided to grill and glaze the pineapple pieces in the dessert, which added a caramelized sweetness to the final product.  I assembled the dessert in Anne’s extravagant pineapple boat, and also did my own version in a smaller pineapple “bowl,” which turned out to be a little easier to handle and serve out of, and less messy.  Both the bowl and the boat turned out very delicious and super cute… the type of thing that looks like lot of work went into it.  In all honesty, the most difficult part of this dessert was trying to figure out what to call it.
I brainstormed lots of ideas, including “Baked Hawaii” (instead of Alaska), or anything else suggesting a tropical honeymoon.  I bounced a few off Whitney, who admitted that every time I brought up “the pineapple,” all she could think about was Doody calling Frenchy a “beautiful blonde pineapple,” in her favorite childhood movie, Grease.  I loved the Grease reference!  I also loved the fact that she called it her favorite childhood movie.  I, too, loved the movie as a kid, but my mom decided maybe it wasn’t the best childhood movie after my sassy 8-year-old self starting saying things like “Eat your heart out,” and asking what a “hickey from Kinicky” was.  Anyway, as the dish came from a French cookbook published right around the time of the premier of the movie, and the “beautiful blonde pineapple” reference was describing French-y, I decided it was a perfect fit.

The “Beautiful, (Honey-)Blonde Pineapple”

Inspired by: Grilled Pineapple, Baked Alaska, “Ananas en Surprise”

Adapted from Anne Willan’s “Ananas en Surprise,” LaVarenne’s Basic French Cookery

Honey-Pineapple Semifreddo

Adapted from “Honey Semifreddo,” Tasty Palettes

20 ounces crushed pineapple, plus juice

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold

zest and juice of two lemons

pinch of salt

1 egg, plus 6 egg yolks

1½ tablespoons cornstarch

1¼ cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup honey

–recipe yield: about 8-10 servings

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine crushed pineapple, juice, brown sugar, ½ tablespoon butter, zest and juice of one lemon and salt.  Whisk ingredients together over medium-low heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and, stirring occasionally, allow mixture to simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by half and pineapple is caramelized.  Remove from heat and pour mixture over mesh strainer, reserving all the liquid and replacing it back into the saucepan, along with about 2 or 3 tablespoons of the strained crushed pineapple shreds.  Discard the excess dry crushed pineapple.  In a small bowl, whisk together 2 of the egg yolks and the cornstarch.  While whisking, pour in a few tablespoons of the hot pineapple juice mixture into the yolk mixture, slowly warming the yolks without cooking them.  When yolks are brought up to temperature, pour them into the saucepan containing the pineapple juice mixture.  Heat mixture over medium-low heat while constantly whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon.  When mixture has thickened (about 2-4 minutes), remove saucepan from heat and stir in juice and zest of remaining lemon, along with the remaining ½ tablespoon cold butter.  Once butter has dissolved, transfer pineapple mixture to a small bowl and continue to stir until cooled.   Once the mixture has 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.

Line the inside of a 9×5 inch large loaf pan with plastic wrap In a large, chilled glass bowl, beat the heavy cream until it just reaches stiff peaks.  Place the bowl in the freezer and allow it to chill while preparing the rest of the ice cream.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a very large glass bowl.  Combine the remaining 4 egg yolks, the whole egg, and the honey in the large bowl of the double boiler over medium-low heat and beat the mixture for 8-10 minutes, or until pale yellow and tripled in volume.  Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat on high to cool and thicken the mixture.  Once the thick yolk-honey has cooled to lukewarm, fold it into the chilled whipping cream until there are no colored streaks visible in the mixture.  Gently pour the ice cream base into the lined loaf pan and place it in the freezer to set.  Once the ice cream has been been freezing for about an hour, remove the pineapple-honey mixture from the refrigerator.  Discard the plastic wrap and stir the set custard to loosen it up.  Remove the loaf pan containing the semi-frozen ice cream from the freezer and dollop pineapple custard in heaping tablespoons onto the ice cream.  When all of the custard has been dotted onto the cream, insert the tip of a butter knife into the cream and run it through the cream a few times to cut and swirl the custard into the cream, creating a marbleized effect.  Replace the loaf pan back into the freeze allow swirled ice cream to set up and freeze overnight.

Rum Scented Meringue

This meringue shouldn’t be prepared until about 20 minutes before serving time.  The rum extract adds a nice depth of flavor to the meringue, but can easily be replaced by vanilla extract.

4 egg whites

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½-¾ cup superfine sugar

1 teaspoon rum extract

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl over medium-low heat.  Using an electric mixer, mix egg whites and salt until slightly foamy.  Add in cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks have been achieved.  Gradually add tablespoon after tablespoon of superfine sugar, continuing to beat on medium speed.  Continue to beat mixture for 7-8 minutes.  Remove bowl from heat and mix in the rum extract.  When the meringue has been brought to stiff peaks, the meringue is ready.

Assembly

To prepare the pineapple shell, the pineapple must be sliced and hollowed.  For a bowl-shaped shell, simply slice across the width of the pineapple below the leaves, leaving only the bottom portion to be hollowed out.  For a boat-shaped shell, slice across the entire length of the pineapple (my cookbook sliced through the leaves as well in order to make two boats with the halves, I chose to make one boat and leave the leaves in tact for a prettier presentation).  Using a sharp paring knife, slice around the inner perimeter of the halved pineapple (boat or bowl).  Cut the inner portion into cubes and, using a spoon or the knife, remove the cubes.  Scrape the inside of the hollowed pineapple to smooth out the inner-surface.  Place the hollowed bowl or boat shell(s) into the freezer to chill.  Any leftover pineapple should be cored and sliced.

In a small bowl, whisk together the following ingredients:
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
½ tablespoon lemon juice

Pour the glaze over the sliced pineapple pieces and toss until coated.  The pineapple can, at this point, be grilled (over medium-low heat for about 3-5 minutes, turning once) or used as is.  If choosing to grill the pineapple, be sure to brush the pieces with the leftover glaze afterward as well.  Sprinkle the glazed pineapple pieces into the chilled pineapple shell(s) in a even layer along the bottom.  Scoop the set, frozen semifreddo into each shell directly on top of the layer of pineapple pieces.  The shell should be completely filled by a mound of the scoops of semifreddo.  Place filled shell(s) back into the freezer and prepare the meringue.

Transfer meringue into a pastry or plastic zip-top bag, (fitted with a large star tip, if desired).  Remove filled pineapple shells from freezer and pipe meringue  onto the top of the shell, completely covering any semifreddo or sliced pineapple pieces.  Brown the top of the meringue-covered pineapple shell using a kitchen torch, or place the dessert in the oven directly under a preheated broiler for 6-8 minutes, or until desired golden brown color has been achieved.  Serve immediately.

To serve,  scoop directly through the meringue down to the bottom of the shell to include pineapple pieces, ice cream and meringue into each serving.  It will be messy!  Garnish with an extra slice of grilled and/or glazed pineapple and a drizzle of honey.

June 19, 2011

Food For Thought

Where there would normally be an abundance of sugar, flour, butter and maybe the occasional frozen pizza, lately, I’ve been finding some less-likely foods. Goodies such as avocados, tuna salad, pomegranate juice, and mixed nuts have been gracing the shelves of my refrigerator and pantry most recently. When I inquired about the sudden additions to our snack collection, Evan, who has been avidly preparing for his GMAT exam, shared with me an article he’d read. The article described how to improve brain function and memory by means of consuming foods rich in Omega-3 fats, antioxidants and fiber. It also listed the top 20 foods to “supercharge your brain.” I was intrigued. And after reading through the list of “brain foods,” I was inspired.

I set out to create a dessert recipe using at least ten of the twenty foods as ingredients.  There were the obvious choices, like nuts (#4), coffee (#6), oats (#7), chocolate (yes! # 12), and cocoa nibs (#20).  And there were the more challenging choices, like avocados (#1),  seeds (#5), pomegranate (#9), and olive oil (#14).  After recipe hunting, tweaking, taste-testing and a bit of improvisation, I came up with today’s recipe.  It includes all of the brain-fueling ingredients listed above, as well as the #2 ingredient, blueberries.  That’s 10 of the “20 Best Foods For Your Brain,” with 7 ingredients coming from the top 10.  The result?  A heavenly combination of velvety smooth chocolate cascading over crisp, fresh blueberries, tart pomegranate jam, and a crispy-crumbly crust… a decadent pie to spark both the appetite and the brain.

Choco-Pom-Berry
“Brainpower Pie”

Inspired by: “The 20 Smartest Foods On Earth”

Adapted from Renee Mahon & S. Duquet’s
Dark Chocolate, Avocado & Berry Pie

This recipe is gluten free, 100% vegan and should be enjoyed by all!  The avocado is used in place of butter or margarine as the main source of fat in the chocolate filling and makes for a delicious, almost pudding-like texture (and tastes nothing like guacamole, I promise!).

1/3 cup almond milk

2 tablespoons orange juice

1½ tablespoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon instant coffee granules

0at, nut & seed crust (recipe below)

½ cup pomegranate jam (recipe below)

1 pint fresh blueberries

2 ripe avocados

12 oz. semisweet chocolate (vegan)

–recipe yield: one 8- or 9-inch pie
(about 8-10 servings)

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together milk, orange juice and vanilla extract and place over medium heat.  Once liquid has come to a delicate simmer, remove from heat and whisk in coffee granules.  Set aside and allow mixture to steep.  While liquid is steeping, spoon pomegranate jam into prepared crust and spread into a thin, even layer to coat entire surface.  Sprinkle blueberries over top of the jam layer and arrange them to cover the jam entirely.

Core and slice avocados into a food processor.  Strain the warm, steeped liquid into the food processor as well, discarding any whole coffee granules that may remain.  Puree the mixture until desired consistency is reached.  Transfer the smooth avocado mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Constantly stirring, heat mixture for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour in chocolate chips.  Stir to completely melt the chocolate until the mixture is completely homogeneous.  Pour the entire mixture into the pan over top of the blueberries.  Using an angled spatula, smooth out the chocolate mixture into a flat, even layer.  Transfer to refrigerator (or freezer) to chill overnight until set.  Serve cold.

Pomegranate Jam

Adapted from “Pomegranate Jelly,”
Taste Of Home

1½ cups pomegranate juice

¼ cup water

2 cups sugar

2½ tablespoons pure fruit pectin

–recipe yield: about 2 cups jam

Pour juice and water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and allow liquid to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Measure out sugar in a separate container and set aside.  Add pectin into juice, whisking until dissolved.  Bring liquid to a full, rolling boil.  At this point, quickly dump in the sugar while constantly whisking.  Return to a rolling boil and allow to boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring.  Remove from heat and skim off any foam on the top of mixture.  Pour into jars/containers and allow to sit at room temperature overnight.  Store, covered, in refrigerator or freezer.

Oat, Nut & Seed Pie Crust

Adapted from “Vegan Oat-Nut Pie Crust,”  SmarterFitter and The Whole Food Bible

½ cup walnuts                                    ¾ cup almond flour                        ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup rolled oats                                 ¼ cup flax meal                              3 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons cocoa nibs                   ¼ teaspoon salt                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Spread walnuts out onto a sheet tray and toast them in a 350 degree oven for 8-9 minutes, tossing them halfway through baking time.  Remove them from oven, allow to cool, and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Prepare a 8- or 9-inch springform pan by well-oiling the bottom of the pan and halfway up the sides.  Set aside.

In a food processor, pulse together walnuts, oats, and cocoa nibs until ground.  Add in almond flour, flax meal, and salt, and pulse to combine.  In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, syrup and vanilla.  Pour the liquid into the food processor and pulse to mix.  Remove mixture from food processor and press into pan in an even layer.  Bake crust for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are slightly crisp.  Set aside to cool.

-Optional
Pomegranate seeds or cocoa nibs may be used as a garnish.  To make swirl design, heat pomegranate jam and use a small paintbrush dipped in the jam to paint onto dish.

June 11, 2011

S’more Truffles & Even MORE Macarons

As I’ve openly professed my love for all things marshmallow throughout the duration of Pumpercake’s existence, it should come as no surprise to my most loyal readers that I’m also a big fan of s’mores.  Smore’s are one of the only hot desserts that are perfectly acceptable during even the hottest summer nights.  A few years back, there was one summer in particular that Alicia, Katie and I lived solely off of graham crackers, milk chocolate and melted mallow, maybe with the occasional dollop of creamy peanut butter thrown in.  So when our families planned a visit during my last trip to Michigan, I knew I had to create a couple s’mores-inspired treats to pass around as the girls re-told the story of my being too impatient to wait for my metal marshmallow skewer to cool before devouring the mallow and nearly burning off my bottom lip.

Both desserts combine all the elements of the beloved s’more in different ways.  The truffles have crushed grahams and melted marshmallow that make up the base of  the candy, as well as a surprise mini-mallow hidden in the center.  The truffles are finished with a coating of milk chocolate and an extra pinch of crumbs.  The macarons, much sweeter than the truffles, present the flavors of the s’more in a more familiar, sandwich-like display.  Both bite-sized treats were delicious, looked beautiful together, and went over very well.


S’mores Truffles

Inspired by: S’mores

These truffles are most delicious when served cold, straight out of the refrigerator or cooler, if possible.  This allows for the texture of the truffle interior to match that of the marshmallow hidden inside, creating a velvety, homogeneous bite.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

15 large marshmallows

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs*

½ cup mini marshmallows

2 cups milk chocolate chips

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter.  Add in large marshmallows, toss them to coat in the melted butter, and allow them to melt entirely.  Once melted, transfer the mixture to a medium bowl containing the softened cream cheese.  Beat together the melted marshmallow and cream cheese until homogeneous.  Mix in the graham crumbs until completely combined.  Refrigerate mixture for about 10 minutes.  Once the mixture has chilled, it’s time to shape the truffles.  Using a melon-baller or a small cookie dough scoop makes this job a breeze, otherwise, I suggest using a round tablespoon measuring spoon to scoop and measure out the mixture.  Each time a truffle is scooped, place a mini-marshmallow into the center of it and roll the truffle to re-shape it into a ball with your hands.  Once all the balls are formed and stuffed with a marshmallow, transfer them to the freezer to chill for 15-20 minutes.

While the truffle centers are chilling, prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the chocolate chips.  Over low heat, slowly, evenly start to melt the chocolate until it has almost completely melted.  Remove bowl from heat and continue to stir chocolate to melt the remaining solid pieces and to slightly cool the mixture.  Remove the truffles from the freezer to prepare to coat them, one at a time, with the melted chocolate.  I find that the easiest way to do this is to use the fork and spoon method, thoroughly described in another of my candy-making posts, here.  Once each truffle is coated and dropped onto a sheet of parchment paper, they may be dusted with a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs before the chocolate has hardened.  Store cooled, hardened truffles in between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.


S’mores Macarons

Inspired by: S’mores

A truly delicious rendition of  the dessert.  Each of the components that make up this recipe can be found throughout Pumpercake.

Chocolate Shells

Marshmallow Frosting

Graham cracker crumbs*

Flaked sea salt

Once macaron shells have baked and cookies have been sandwiched with frosting, 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 on top of the shells.  Sprinkle a bit of graham cracker crumbs and pinch of flaked sea salt over top of the syrup-brushed cookies.

*Both desserts can also be made gluten-free by use of gluten-free graham crackers crumbs.

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 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.

May 9, 2011

Turkish Java & Molten Lava

This past Holiday season, upon opening a Christmas card from a family that I’d gotten to know shortly after moving to the area, I was surprised to discover a gift card to their favorite place to get Middle Eastern food.  When Evan and I visited the little Lebanese restaurant, we were very strategic in placing our appetizer and entree orders and made sure to leave room for a dessert selection as well.  On impulse, I decided on a chocolate molten lava cake, mainly because the menu described it as being served alongside homemade  marshmallow cream.  Little did I know, although the pair was absolutely delicious, it was neither the lava cake, nor my beloved marshmallow fluff that would turn out to be the star of the dessert (as well as the entire dinner experience).  There was another component to this little dessert trio, and that was a dollop of an unbelievable pistachio and orange ice cream.  Sounds strange, a chocolate “Turkish Coffee” cake served alongside marshmallow, pistachio and orange flavors, I know.  But, when gathered onto one spoon, the combination of the different flavors, textures, and temperatures seemed as deliciously obvious as a pairing of spaghetti and meatballs.

This unforgettable dessert has very frequently been the topic of conversation between Evan and I since our visit to that restaurant.  Clearly, I had to recreate this dish, but very delicately.  There was no way I was going to tweak any of the perfect flavors in the slightest degree and risk compromising the divinity of this dessert.  I decided, instead, to deconstruct the assembly of the cake.  The result is what I’m calling a “semifreddo lava cake,” composed of a rich, spiced chocolate sheet cake wrapped around a pistachio-orange semifreddo creme.  The “hot lava” took the form of a hot-fudge sauce and was drizzled atop the dessert, and with the obvious inclusion of my favorite marshmallow frosting, the reconstructed dish was complete and just as euphoric as we’d remembered it the first time.

Semifreddo Lava Cake

Inspired by: “Molten Chocolate ‘Turkish Coffee’ Cake”

-Lebanese Taverna (Arlington, VA)

Mocha-Spice Sheet Cake

Adapted from “Mocha Cake,” Gourmet – August 2009

Rich and chocolate-y with a subtle hint of coffee and spice, this flourless cake stays fluffy, moist and soft when frozen… perfect for a semifreddo dessert.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

3 teaspoons  espresso powder

6 eggs, separated

½ cup granulated sugar, separated

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 13×9 inch pan.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl to melt the chocolate.  Before turning on the heat under the double boiler, dissolve the espresso powder by stirring it into 3 tablespoon of hot water.  Once dissolved, strain the espresso into to bowl of chocolate, turn on the heat, and melt the chocolate together with the espresso.  Once almost completely melted, remove bowl from heat, stir to melt completely, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ¼ cup of the sugar, the salt and the cardamom until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 8 minutes.  Beat in the cooled chocolate.  In a separate bowl, beat the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks, gradually add in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue to beat until the meringue just creates stiff peaks.  Gradually and gently fold the egg whites in small batches into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the batter as evenly as possibly (without deflating it) into the prepared pan and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until it has puffed and is dry and springy to the touch.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cover the cake with two layers of damp paper towel.  Let the covered cake rest for about 3 minutes, remove the towel (allowing the crispy top layer to peel away with it), and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.  Once the cake has completely cooled, loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and invert onto a large cutting board or sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Transfer the cake (still covered with parchment atop the cutting board) to the freezer for 2-3 hours for easy slicing and assembly.

Pistachio-Orange Semifreddo

Adapted from Tim Nugent’s “Pistachio Semifreddo,” Top Chef

This semifreddo is simply divine and can stand alone as a truly delectable dessert.  The flavors are amazing, but it’s the texture that makes this semifreddo so special.  Make sure to whip each layer of ingredients carefully as directed and fold as gently as possible for a beautiful, airy-light finish.

4 eggs, separated                               1 cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup superfine sugar, separated       zest from half an orange

1/3 cup pistachio paste*                      1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl and, over medium-low heat, whip together the egg yolks and ¼ of the caster sugar.  Continue to whip on a high speed until as much volume as possible has been achieved, about 5-8 minutes.  At this point, remove from heat and, while still warm, add the pistachio paste and gently swirl it into the yolk mixture.  Set bowl aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whip the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks.  Gradually add in the remaining superfine sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks have been achieved.  In small batches, gradually fold the stiffened egg white meringue gently into the yolk-pistachio mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the cold whipping cream to soft peaks, add in the orange zest and juice, and continue to whip slightly until they’ve reached medium-stiff peaks (do not over-whip or the cream can turn into butter).  In gradual batches, gently fold the whipped orange cream into the fluffy pistachio mixture.  Once the semifreddo base has been combined and poured into properly lined pan (as directed below), allow to freeze overnight before serving.

*I made my own pistachio paste for this dessert, but it actually ended up being quite a bit of work and not as easy as the recipe makes it seem.  I would suggest just purchasing some pre-made pistachio paste and adjusting the amount of sugar in the semifreddo accordingly, as it may not be quite as sweet as my homemade paste turned out.

Hot Lava Fudge

Adapted from the Old Occidental Hotel’s “Hot Fudge Sauce,”  -Muskegon, Michigan

1 cup superfine sugar          1/3 cup cocoa powder          2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour              1 cup milk                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-recipe yield:  1 ¾ cups sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and unsweetened cocoa powder.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine and stir together the milk, butter and vanilla just until the butter has melted.  Add in the dry ingredients to the milk mixture, constantly whisking.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Remove from stove and transfer to serving cup or gravy-boat to allow to cool.  Refrigerate unused portion.   Leftovers be reheated in a double-boiler or microwave as needed.

For the marshmallow fluff, make a half-batch of my favorite marshmallow frosting recipe.

Assembly:

Once the sheet cake has chilled in the freezer, remove it and peel back the top layer of parchment paper.  Using a large loaf pan as a guide, trace onto the removed parchment paper the shape of the top, bottom, and two longest sides of the loaf pan.  Cut the shapes out of the parchment paper and arrange them on top of the sheet cake.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice the cake in the shapes of each of the parchment paper to (eventually) fit along the inside of the loaf pan.

Line the large loaf pan with two large pieces of parchment paper, allowing the paper to drape outside of the pan, creating “tabs” that can eventually be pulled up to remove the dessert from the pan.  Handling the cake very gingerly, place into the bottom of the lined loaf pan the slice of cake that fits accordingly and gently press it so that it’s lying across the entire bottom of the pan.  Place both long side pieces of cake into the lined loaf pan along the matching sides and gently press.  Pour the semifreddo base into the cake-lined loaf pan and cover the semifreddo with the final slice of cake fitting the very top of the loaf pan.  If the semifreddo doesn’t reach the top of the pan, slice this piece of cake to fit into the pan atop the semifreddo accordingly.  Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and allow assembled dessert to freeze overnight.
To serve, remove the dessert from the freezer and lift the parchment tabs to loosen the dessert from the loaf pan.  Place plate or serving tray on top of loaf pan and flip to invert the dessert onto server.  Peel back the parchment paper.  Cut dessert into slices, drizzle the hot fudge, and spoon a dollop of marshmallow fluff on or next to the dessert or slices.  Serve immediately.

April 8, 2011

Marshmallows & Memories

While students at Michigan State (Go Green!), my roommates, Molly and Ashley, and I developed and embraced a love for everything marshmallow.  Late night marshmallow latte runs were a regular occurrence, bowls of homemade Rice Krispie Treats were shared during movie nights, and birthday cakes were almost always topped with marshmallow frosting.  Molly and I found a bag of marshmallows to be a perfectly suitable substitute for meals, partially because we were broke college students and partially because they are delicious. And it was not uncommon for Ashley and I to cuddle up to a jar of Marshmallow fluff and a couple spoons to start off a Saturday morning.  How the three of us survived four years together without so much as a cavity, I’ll never know.

Now, with Ashley headed to Arizona, Molly in Chicago and me here in DC, celebrations with all three of us sharing birthday cakes with marshmallow frosting will be harder and harder to come by.  Molly and Ashley’s birthdays are a month apart, and I wanted to send them both a little something that they’d love and that would help trigger a few of our fun memories together.  Homemade marshmallows were an obvious choice.  And despite Evan’s comments regarding their appearance, including a comparison to tofu, I think they turned out beautifully.

Homemade Vanilla & Coconut Marshmallows

Inspired by: Marshmallows

-adapted, just a touch, from Dinah Bucholz’s “Marshmallows,”  The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar                    ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup cornstarch                                   1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract*

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin             -optional: toasted coconut**

1 cup ice cold water, divided

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

-special tools:  candy thermometer,  a good-quality electric mixer or stand mixer (preferred)***

Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and coat the parchment with cooking spray.  I used butter-flavored cooking spray, which seemed to really add to the melt-in-your-mouth flavor of the mallows.

In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch.  Sprinkle the mixture onto the lined, greased pan and shake around until bottom and all sides of pan are completely covered with the mixture.  This is important, as the marshmallow will be next to impossible to remove without a well-powdered pan.  Return the remaining cornstarch mixture to the bowl for later use.  If desired, sprinkle the toasted coconut in an even layer on the pan or on a portion of the pan (I did half with and half without).  Set prepared pans aside.

Empty the gelatin into a large mixing bowl along with ½ cup of the water.  Have the whisk attachment of the stand mixer or an electric mixer standing by.  In a small saucepan, whisk together the remaining ½ cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium-high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees.  For an accurate reading, the thermometer should be well-submerged in the liquid, but not touching the bottom of the saucepan. My mixture hit 240 after about 7 or 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping and let it incorporate.  

At that point, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan.  Do your best to pour it evenly onto the pan.  I found that the more I tried to spread it or messed with it, the less smooth and whimsical it looked.  Using a flour sifter, dust the top with enough of the remaining cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallow to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallow out onto a cutting board and peel back and discard the parchment paper.  Using a pizza wheel dusted with the cornstarch mixture, cut the marshmallows into squares.  Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

*I’m not normally a stickler for the fanciest, most expensive ingredients, but I would suggest using a higher quality, pure vanilla extract for this recipe.  Upon researching candy-makers’ experiences with marshmallow, it seemed to be the trend that if poor quality or too little vanilla was used, the marshmallows had a funny gelatin taste.  For this reason, I bumped up the vanilla from the suggested tablespoon, to a tablespoon and a half and was happy with the result.
**To toast coconut, sprinkle desired amount of shredded or flaked sweetened coconut in a thin layer onto a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.  Place in a 300 degree oven for about 13-15 minutes, tossing the coconut and checking on it every 4-5 minutes, as it browns fairly quickly.  When finished, it should be fragrant, lightly crisp and a pale, golden color.
***Another common trend that I found upon researching the horror stories of mallow-making was the misconception that an electric mixer that “has seen better days” would suffice for this project.  It seems that many an aspiring marshmallow-maker were left with a burnt-out electric mixer halfway through whipping and, sadly, never got to complete the process or enjoy the finished product. –Now, I must admit, I have an unjustified attitude problem when it comes to stand mixers (I have this crazy idea that using one takes away from all the fun).  So far, in my years of baking, I’ve refused to touch one.  I know that one day, probably not too far from now, I’ll cave and buy one and probably fall in love with it, but for now, I put my faith in my high-powered handheld mixer.  Long story short, make sure that your mixer is up for the task!  Luckily, mine ended up to be a “Little Mixer That Could.” -Special thanks to Kim Botsford, who supplied me with that electric mixer just over a year ago : )