Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daring Bakers - Tuiles

While most people made resolutions to lose weight, I resolved to bake more and joined the Daring Bakers Group! Lucky for me, my first month with the group brought a relatively easy challenge!
This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. Thanks ladies for a super fun (and yummy) challenge!
A tuile is a light, dry, crisp cookie that is molded into tiles or other shapes. Tuiles that are formed into cups can hold a wide variety of fillings, such as mousse or ice cream. For the challenge, I used some handmade stencils to shape the tuiles into flowers and circles before baking and then formed them into little cups while they were still warm. For the stencils, I used some quilting plastic that I cut into 4" square and I used my Sizzix die cut machine to cut the shapes. The possibilities are endless! When my cups cooled, I filled them with mango mousse and gave them a drizzle of strawberry coulis. I had intended for the coulis to go on the plate as garnish but I thought it looked much yummier right on the cookie! They tasted great!

I also filled a couple of my cups with some leftover cream cheese filling from my Berry Surprise Cake and topped them with a slice of mango, a dollop of whipped cream, and a sprinkling of cinnamon! Fabulous!

Finally, I put some mango mousse in cup, topped it with a smidge of coulis, a dollop of whipped cream, and used a flower-shaped tuile as a garnish (and an edible spoon)!

I had a ton of fun with this challenge! I had never made tuiles but will definitely be making them again. Please check the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see all of the yummy concoctions from the rest of the group!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TWD - Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread

I'll admit that I had pigeon-holed gingerbread into the category of treats to be only enjoyed during the Christmas holidays but let me tell you, this chocolate gingerbread is to die for any time of the year! Holy smokes, this was one heck of a good recipe! Thanks Heather of Sherry Trifle for choosing the Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread. The recipe can be found on Heather's blog and on page 212 of "Baking: From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan.

Now, before we delve into TWD business let's see a show of hands - who here watches Top Chef? If you don't, I recommend you do, and if you do you'll recall that last week's episode was the infamous "restaurant wars". In this particular episode, Stefan, makes a wonderful little treat which is not really talked about and is only shown for a few seconds - Mango Lollipops. How are chocolate dipped mangoes related to gingerbread you ask? Patience, grasshopper, patience ... I'm getting there. When I saw the little chocolate/mango squares, I knew I would make gingerbread lollipops. I have been eyeballing a silicone brownie bites pan and this weeks recipe gave me just the excuse I was looking for to buy it! Of course, I really think I need another one because I had to fill that bad boy up 4 or 5 times to use up all of the gingerbread batter! So now do you see my plan coming together? Do you?
The recipe calls for letting the icing firm up for about 10 minutes before spreading on the gingerbread but I wanted a smooth satiny finish so I used it right away. I put the icing in a squeeze bottle and squirted it on the brownie bites allowing it to dribble over the sides a wee bit.

I topped them with a little piece of mango and a lollipop stick for a tasty little nibble. These things were awesome by themselves but the mango pushed them to spectacular.

I also made the ginger infused whipped cream but whipped it until stiff peaks formed to that I could pipe it. I added a little swirl to the top of some of the gingerbread squares.

I also added a little dollop to be scooped up on my lollipop. Wow. Just wow.

Each gingerbread bite was about one inch square and 1/2 inch tall. I double the icing recipe but still didn't make enough to frost each and every square. I will definitely be making the chocolate gingerbread again! Yum! Please check out the rest of TWD group to see how they handled this weeks challenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD - Berry Surprise Cake

If you're here looking for a Berry Surprise Cake, I'm afraid you've stopped at the wrong blog. Surprise! I have no berries and I have no cake. I do, however, have my own adulterated version of Dorie's recipe on pages 273-275 (that's not a typo - the recipe took an entire 3 pages without a photo) of Baking: From My Home to Yours. You can also find the recipe on Mary Ann's blog "Meet Me in the Kitchen".
Dorie explains that her inspiration for this cake comes from a treat from her childhood called charlotte russe. Specifically the charlotte russe served in New York City bakeries that consisted of sponge cake, fruit or jam, and whipped cream. The treat was served in a cardboard cylinder with a round of cardboard on the bottom that you pushed up as you ate. Here's a link to a photo.

I knew from the get go that I wouldn't be using berries in this recipe because they are out of season. Even the frozen ones taste tart to me. I quickly decided on frozen mangoes and swapped out the Chambord used in the soaking syrup for Peach Schnapps. I was also strangely intrigued by the concept of cake as "street food" and after a few days mulling over the situation, I thought that I could make cupcakes in my king size baking pan and use tulip muffin wrappers so they would be portable. One problem - I can't find tulip muffin wrappers locally and to have them shipped by Tuesday would cost a fortune. I decided to give it a go with the regular muffin liners but that didn't work out so well ...
My cupcakes collapsed and while I could still dig out the cake with spoon and eat my concoction "street food style", it just wasn't what I wanted. I wanted the smooth sided tulip cups and nothing else would do! Late Saturday night I decided to try and make my own tulip cups out of parchment paper. To my surprise and delight - it worked! Now they are not nearly as perfectly pretty as the ones you can buy, but I think they suited my purposes!
The second time around, I paid closer attention to my eggs and I used superfine baker's sugar instead of regular sugar. I'm not sure if either change made a difference but I ended up with five beautiful king size genoise cupcakes! Here are some photos of the assembly process.

I love how these turned out! They taste fabulous and my mind is spinning with possibilities. How great would these be filled with ice cream at a kid's birthday party? Have I mentioned they're portable? And adorable. Check it out ...

My son could not squeeze one of my creations into his regularly scheduled diet of chicken nuggets and ketchup, but my official taste tester took one for a test drive and gave it a thumbs up. The wrapper really stayed together even while digging around with a spoon. I wanted to tape the loose ends together but ... uh ... nothing sticks to parchment paper ... the ribbon's cuter anyway! Here are a couple more photos of the cake unwrapped and cut in half.

Please check out the rest of TWD group to see how they handled this weeks challenge.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cake Mania!

My office probably has the best fed employees in the country. Not only do they get the spoils from my Tuesdays with Dorie baking, I also bake cakes for my co-worker's birthdays. Usually, we average 2 or 3 birthdays a month but apparently Midwesterners are gettin' busy at the end of March and we had 4 celebrations the first week of January!

First up is carrot cake. Since Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours" has been such a great resource, I turned to the recipe for Bill's Big Carrot Cake on pages 254-255. When I pulled the cakes out of oven I was a little worried because they didn't rise very much. I was even more alarmed when I tried to remove them from the pans and they stuck like crazy! Two of the layers came out in pieces and I contemplated starting over and making a sheet cake but since it was late Sunday afternoon, I decided to try and salvage what I had. I used the cream cheese frosting to stick everything together in a shape that resembled round and called it good. The cake was tasty but didn't live up to my perfectionist standards so I will be trying this one again and hoping for better results.

Next up was a "baker's choice." I love when I get to choose the flavors because it gives me the opportunity to try something new. I recently found some Meyer lemons at the grocery store and since everyone raves about them and I'm such a follower, I grabbed them. They probably set me back $10 bucks (I averted my eyes when the cashier rang them up) but I really really wanted to try them! I made Meyer Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. The cupcakes had a pretty mild lemon flavor (I was hoping for something tangier) but were moist and delicious.

On Thursday, I got an unexpected reprieve. The birthday boy requested an angel food cake but I don't have a tube pan. I had intended to forge ahead and try to make some cupcakes but when a coworker offered up the baking talents (and tube pan) of her significant other, I reluctantly agreed to take the night off! ;)

For the last cake of the week the birthday girl chose my most requested recipe - German Chocolate Cake. I think nearly everyone in the office would pick this cake but most change their minds when they see my brow start furrowing in consternation. Yeah yeah, I know it's not all about me, but really people, change is good! I just use the recipe on the back of the German's Sweet Chocolate box but I have made this cake so many times, I have tweaked it to perfection and it turns out wonderfully. One coworker remarked that this was the best version yet! This time around, I got smart and made the frosting FIRST so that it would have plenty of time to cool and I could go to bed sometime before 2am. Unfortunately, this cake doesn't photograph very well ...

But wait, there's more! In addition to the craziness at work, my mother's birthday also falls during this same week! She really loves the recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa container, so I went that route for her and the results were an epic fail! Every single cupcake collapsed on me no matter what I did. I tossed them all in the garbage and started over. Mom is a huge fan of peanut butter cups so I decided to try a chocolate/peanut butter cupcake. A google search lead me to Food and Wine Magazine's Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling. Oh. My. Word. These cupcakes were so rich and decadent I could hardly restrain myself from eating them all. Each and every one of you MUST make these treats immediately! Serve them up with a talk glass of milk. Seriously, the calories are worth it.

So there you have it ... a weeks worth of crazy cake baking! Now it's time for ME to get busy. Not with baby making but with this week's TWD recipe. Can you guess what it is? Surprise! It's cake. That's right, cake. Berry Surprise Cake. I'm off to make another cake.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD - Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

This week we have Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake to thank for choosing Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins. You can find the recipe on her site or on page 6 of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours."

I'll confess that when I made this recipe, I felt like I was just going through the motions. As the official office birthday cake baker, I had a busy last week. I made two cakes and thirty or so cupcakes for my coworkers, as well as a couple dozen cupcakes for my mother's birthday! I'll share more about those sweet treats later. By the time TWD baking time rolled around, I wasn't particularly excited about corn muffins.

All of that ambivalence changed once I popped one of these babies in my mouth! These things are GOOD! I made tiny little mini muffins and served them alongside barbecued pork ribs and homemade baked potato chips. Going forward, these muffins will be a staple in my recipe rotation.
I threw a couple muffins on the dinner plate of my official taste tester, but I didn't tell him what they were. See, he's a believer that corn bread should be baked in an iron skillet with bacon grease. If I would have let him in on the secret he would have turned his nose up at my cute little muffins! I watched out of the corner of my eye as he took a couple of bites and eyed them suspiciously. He asked "is this some type of corn bread?" I was all innocence. "What?" "Why yes, yes they are. They're corn muffins! Aren't they cute?" He kind of snorted, ignored me for a while, cleaned his plate, and ate 4 or 5 more muffins. Eventually, he grudgingly gave them his seal of approval.
The bottom line? Try them! You'll like them! Check out the other TWD bakers here!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD - French Pear Tart

This weeks recipe for a French Pear Tart was chosen by the author of "Baking: From My Home to Yours", Dorie Greenspan! Ooh la la ... a french pastry. I had a French class in college and we had to give a 5 minute speech, en francais, about something French. I, of course, choose French pastries, which I knew absolutely nothing about. My rambling speech also included some fresh examples. My professor, who was approximately 39 weeks pregnant at the time, gave me some sort of passing grade and ate all my desserts.

I've never baked a tart and I'm pretty sure that I've never even eaten a tart so I was a little intimidated by this assignment. After reading through the recipe I realized that this recipe was relatively easy and that, once AGAIN, I have the wrong size pan! I think this is the third recipe, that did not involve a cookie sheet, in a row! Although I own a new 10-inch tart pan and the recipe called for a 9-inch tart pan, I relaxed about the pan size after pre-baking the crust. The crust fit the pan well!

I whipped up the almond cream, filled the tart shell, and got started on slicing the pears. I bought 4 fresh pears (the recipe called for only 3) and I pealed and sliced all 4 of them. For some reason, I was thinking that the pears should cover the entire top of the tart so ended up using all of my pears!

I really love how this dessert turned out! The crust tasted like shortbread, the almond cream was smooth and delicious, and the pears had just the right firmness. I will definitely be making this one again!

When I do it again, however, I will make more almond cream because I think my slices (yeah, I ate 3 of them) were a little slim.

The recipe called for brushing the tart with apple jelly or sprinkling with powdered sugar. I did neither. I like my tart naked. Please go to the TWD Blogroll to see how the rest of the bakers did.