Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cakes, round 2

I turned cake pusher this evening, taking the remaining Coffee Chiffonlets, Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream, and Financiers au Chocolat over next door. This also let me wish my brother Happy Birthday in person, and as a bonus I hit the present-opening, too.

Reactions to the cakes: nephew went for a second round of the Coffee Chiffonlet with whipped cream, which I'd diluted from the recipe strength to something with about the concentration of dulce de leche, much more to my tastes. Older niece went for the chocolate, but spread it with the dulce de leche whipped cream. And came back for seconds. Younger niece, just in from gym, had a financier before dinner, and another after. My brother went for a half a chiffonlet, whipped cream, and a financier. Sister-in-law is being good about sticking to her diet.

The only review comments I got other than "this is good" was from my brother, whose reaction is rather like mine. The coffee chiffonlet has a great flavor, but we were raised on butter cakes. The chiffon texture just isn't what we prefer. The financiers don't have that problem. <g> Oh, and younger niece remarked that she preferred the diluted dulce de leche whipped cream as well. It's a nice flavor, but just too sweet for us in the original incarnation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

RHC: Financiers au Chocolat (Chocolate Ingots)

Financiers au ChocolatI somehow got stuck on the idea of baking these chocolate financiers last weekend in addition to the Coffee Chiffonlets. And in addition to trying out a new multigrain waffle recipe Sunday morning. Hmmm...lots of time in the kitchen, an indicator of stress in other parts of my life. Yep....

Stress, chocolate. It's a natural pairing in my world. Marie had baked these back in June before the Heavenly Cake Bake-along started, so I had them on my list of cakes to make when the urge struck for extra baking.

Financiers au ChocolatDespite having found many of the pitfalls of the financier recipe section in Rose's Heavenly Cakes back when the Peanut Butter Ingots were the cake-of-the-week, I still had a couple of problems. This time I remembered that despite the unclear (well, to me) wording, the financier batter is supposed to be refrigerated for an hour before baking. I also recalled my feeling that my taste buds can't distinguish buerre noisette from plain old melted butter in a cake with other flavors (peanut butter, praline, or chocolate), and so skipped the butter-browning. I forgot, however, how easy it is to get on the wrong page and start baking from a different financier recipe. Oh, well, the extra 25 grams of sugar didn't seem to hurt anything, and neither did the different order of combining the ingredients. <g>

I took several other short-cuts (it was the second cake of the weekend). I used Trader Joe's almond meal instead of grinding my own. Thanks to the page mix-up, I then mixed in the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and baking powder, added the cocoa, then stirred in the egg whites before turning to the mixer. It did make it a one-bowl cake, of sorts. I thought about chopping up some chocolate-covered espresso beans and using them in in lieu of the optional caramelized cacao nibs (which would have been beyond my level of effort even if I did have cacao beans in-house), but decided to just let the financiers speak for themselves. Looking back at Marie's post, I think I'll have to find cacao nibs and try these again.

Tasting results: lovely little chocolate cakes. A nice light texture, not at all in the dense chocolate cake class, but with the very buttery taste of financiers and a good amount of chocolatey flavor. I haven't shared these with the Folks Next Door yet--will do that tonight.

RHC: Coffee Chiffonlets with Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream

Coffee ChiffonletsWe're back in the Baby Cakes chapter for this week's Heavenly Cake Bakers cake-of-the-week, with a coffee-flavored chiffon cake. I used more of the Nielsen-Massey coffee extract purchased for Sybil's Pecan Torte a few weeks back, and I think I'm going to keep this stuff around given the great flavor it gives to cakes, and the number of coffee flavor addicts among the Folks Next Door.

The Coffee Chiffonlets recipe calls for mini angel food cake pans which I don't have, so I followed Marie's lead and used my 6-hole mini Mary Ann pan. These are a good bit smaller (about 2/3 c. instead of 1-1/4 c.), though, so the excess batter went into 3 Texas muffins. The cake preparation was straightforward (my, how far I've come from doing my first chiffon cake...), though it took a little ingenuity to figure out how to invert the cake pans without squashing my domed cakelets. The Mary Ann pan ended up balanced on 2 jiggers, and the Texas muffin pan got tilted to keep the cakelets more-or-less upside down. Once cool, the cake tops were brushed with a Kahlúa syrup, made with an ancient bottle of homemade Kahlúa. Then came the fun of extracting the cakes from the (ungreased) pans--the non-stick Texas muffin pans were no problem, but the old aluminum Mary Ann pan took a little work. Running the metal spatula around the edges then prying gently two or three places around the edge seemed to do it, and all the Mary Ann cakelets came out with their top depression (for holding the whipped cream, natch) intact.

Coffee ChiffonletsCoffee ChiffonletsCoffee ChiffonletsCoffee ChiffonletsCoffee Chiffonlets

For serving, the cakelets are topped with Dulce de Leche whipped cream--which is exactly that, cream with a few tablespoons of dulce de leche mixed in, whipped. I declined to make the dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk, as the recipe makes over a cup (but only 3 tablespoons go into the whipped cream) and takes an hour and a half. I'm sure the small can of dulce de leche I found at Wal-Mart does not taste as good as the homemade stuff (though it only had a couple of "extra" ingredients over sugar and milk), but it was far easier to just reach for the can opener. I reduced the amount of whipped cream by a third, but probably will have to whip more for the leftovers even though I didn't pile a lot on each cake. I attribute that to having 9 cakelets instead of 4 or 6. Instead of the grated chocolate, I stuck a chocolate-covered espresso bean in the whipped cream.

Taste results: I really like this cake. Lovely light texture and great flavor in the cake, and enough fat in the whipped cream for good mouth-feel. The whipped cream is too sweet for me, though, and I would cut back on the dulce de leche by half, I think. Or perhaps make a lightly sweetened coffee or chocolate flavored whipped cream instead, even if it won't be as stable as the version made with dulce de leche. I delivered 4 cakelets to the Folks Next Door Saturday night, but no one ate theirs immediately to give me feedback. (Must work on training these cake testers!) Younger niece said it was good when she was raiding my fridge for her lunch yesterday, but made no further comments.

Monday, April 19, 2010

RHC: Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pies

Two Fat Cats Whoopie PiesPosting from Baltimore today, while on a short business trip. I did get the cake o' the week baked before I left, though!

Did I use every bowl in my kitchen for this week's cake? Well, no, but it sure felt like it...and I have a great surplus of bowls. The results were good, but oh, the cleanup. Even with the dishwasher, it seemed to take forever.

Whoopie pies seem to be very 'in' at the moment. A whoopie pie is made of 2 cake pieces stuck together with frosting, or ganache, or whipped cream, or whatever. Marshmallow cream or fluff seems to be traditional as an ingredient in the filling in Maine, the source of Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pies. The recipe uses a very sweet buttercream to get to a marshmallow-like filling.

Two Fat Cats Whoopie PiesTwo Fat Cats Whoopie PiesThe chocolate cake batter was made with melted dark chocolate, unsweetened cocoa, and buttermilk, making a very chocolatey and not too sweet cake. The technique for the whoopie pies is to scoop out the batter into mounds onto baking sheets instead of baking it in a pan. My "pies" came out considerably flatter than the photo of Rose's. despite trying to mound it up. Perhaps the batter was not quite stiff enough, or maybe I had a problem with the baking itself.

Let's start the major bowl count here: KitchenAid bowl and flat beater dirtied for the cake part. I'm not going to tally the prep bowls and measuring spoons.

The cakes got set aside to cool, and it was on to the multi-step frosting. Boiling a sugar syrup, then setting it aside to keep warm. Beating an egg white in a small bowl with a hand-held mixer to stiff peaks, then returning to the syrup to bring it to firm-ball stage, dumping it into a glass measuring cup to stop the cooking, then drizzling it into the beaten egg white while beating some more to make a meringue. (Are you counting? saucepan-small bowl-handheld beaters-measuring cup...) The meringue was beaten a while to cool, then went in the fridge for further temperature reduction. The standing mixer came back out, first with the paddle to beat butter and powdered sugar, then a change to the wisk and beat more, until the butter-sugar mix was light and fluffy. (There was very little in the bowl at this point, and the beaters barely seemed to beat it. It wasn't until I scraped the bowl and saw some unbeaten butter that I realized the mixture had lightened somewhat.) The meringue mixture was just about at the right temp, and that got beaten into the butter/sugar mixture. That was it--just add the paddle and whisk beaters and the KitchenAid bowl to the washup list, plus all the prep bowls, measuring instruments, scrapers and so on. The resulting buttercream was very pretty and fluffy but *very* sweet, and I'm not normally that sensitive to extra sugar. I can see why this substitutes for a true marshmallow-based frosting.

Now, last step: sticking the cake pieces together with the frosting. But the cake tops were very soft and stuck to my hands and to any surface they touched. Which meant when I put a completed whoopie pie on a plate, it left a swath of chocolate behind when it was picked up. 'S OK, a swipe of the finger took care of that. Maybe it was the warmth and humidity of my kitchen, as we were having summertime temps in Atlanta and I had not yet cranked up the A/C to drop the house temperature and lower the humidity.

Tasting verdict: I like these a lot. The overly sweet filling is balanced by the dark chocolate cakes. Nephew and younger niece were not overly impressed: call it a "good, but not great" reaction from both of them. A single whoopie pie was too large a serving, though, and if I make these again I think I'll use a smaller scoop.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

RHC: Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream Frosting

Spice Cake with Peanut ButtercreamLast weekend was another 2-cake weekend. My 10-year-old nephew was on spring break and wanted to bake the Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream Frosting, which he'd spotted it on my list of "cakes Marie made before the bake-along started" (it was actually the cake Marie started with). He's a big spice cake fan. As I'd already baked the banana cake Thursday night, he came over on Friday afternoon and we baked the spice cake.

The combination of peanut butter and spice cake sounded odd, but I was willing to give it a try. I did resist the nephew's urging to add more spices, cautioning that the tastes of the cake and the frosting might be carefully balanced so perhaps we should go with the 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of cloves, and see how it came out.

Spice Cake with Peanut ButtercreamI let my nephew take the lead, and he handled most of the cake and the frosting. The cake mixed up easily in the KitchenAid, and baked up beautifully brown and flat-topped, with only a few air bubbles that I didn't get out of the batter. The peanut butter-cream cheese frosting was smooth and very peanutty, and come together in an instant in the food processor. Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream I'm trying to decide if I prefer it or the peanut butter frosting from the fabulous Chocolate-Peanut Butter cake from Sky High (via Smitten Kitchen), but memory confuses the two--perhaps I'll have to have a direct taste comparison one of these days. I may also try Rose's version with the substitution I did for my last birthday cake, using almond butter instead of peanut butter for a much subtler frosting.

Spice Cake with Peanut ButtercreamVerdict on this one: it's....unusual. The spice cake is very nice. So is the peanut buttercream. The combination does work together, but I'm not sure I want to make it again. I think I want the peanut buttercream with a chocolate cake (overdone, I know, see above) and the spice cake with a nice cream-cheese frosting with perhaps a hint of lemon or orange. The cake wasn't quite moist enough for me to try it without any frosting at all. Oh, and the nephew who started it all found the peanut butter too overwhelming, and abandoned his piece half-eaten. Oh, well....

Monday, April 12, 2010

RHC: Banana Refrigerator Cake with Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting

Refrigerator Banana CakePerhaps those very ripe bananas, thrown into the freezer, um, quite some time ago, were a little old. They smelled OK--still banana-y, but the texture might have broken down just a tad. Or something.

The banana refrigerator cake is an oil cake, made with crème fraîche for moisture, along with those bananas. First the bananas and the crème fraîche go in the food processor to get a smooth mixture--I had a thin liquid after this step, which was not a good sign. The eggs and vanilla are added, then the mix moves to a stand mixer to be beaten with turbinado sugar, the oil, then the dry ingredients. Refrigerator Banana CakeMy batter stayed thin--I didn't need to smooth it with a spatula as directed, because it was too thin to hold an uneven surface. Baking went fine, though it didn't rise a great deal, and it seemed done after the minimum time of 30 minutes to both the finger test and a skewer.

Refrigerator Banana CakeDuring cooling the middle sank, giving a sort of 'trying to be a Bundt cake' impression. I frosted it anyway with the fabulous white chocolate frosting, piling all the frosting on top as Rose suggested, and following the contours of my fallen cake. Refrigerator Banana Cake Looked very pretty at that point....but alas, on cutting, the fallen part was the texture of unbaked batter, with the banana slime factor in play.

Undeterred, and not willing to let a banana cake go, I cut out the middle and we ate the outer ring. In fact, after the first tasting round, I salvaged the white chocolate frosting from the middle and frosted my "half-ring" cake to protect the insides from drying out in the fridge.

Verdict: forget the slimed middle. The banana cake was really good, and the frosting was a perfect accompaniment. High marks all round for this one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

RHC: Le Succès

Le SuccèsAs I mentioned in my post for Sybil's Pecan Torte, I made Le Succès the same weekend as I was in Denver on a business trip the weekend before. Knowing about the travel, and also predicting how well The Folks Next Door would like these two cakes, I decided to make a half-size Le Succès. Whipping out calculator and a compass, I soon had three 5.7" diameter circles on a sheet of parchment paper. All the ingredients divided easily by weight or dry measure, though I had even more excess instant lemon tea mix than the other Heavenly Cake Bakers.

Le SuccèsLe Succès is composed of 3 disks of meringue with ground almonds folded in, frosted with dark chocolate ganache. I had blanched slivered almonds instead of sliced, which perhaps meant not quite as fine a grinding job in the food processor. I didn't see a problem though--that little bit of texture just added character. The meringue making went smoothly though I was rather haphazard about piping the disks on my parchment paper. No neat inward spirals of batter were coming out that night, so I tried to fill in the gaps with more piping then finished the job with an offset spatula.

Before even starting the meringue I made the ganache: dark chocolate, crème fraîche, cream, and the instant powdered lemon-flavored tea. It sat cooling while the meringue disks were made and baked, then when those were cool the ganache was at a usable consistency. The recipe calls for covering the first layer and putting the second on, then chilling the cake for an hour before frosting the second layer. That's repeated for the last layer. Le SuccèsI cheated on the chill time--hey, my cake was half-size, so it should cool faster. One interesting note is that my supply of ganache went from easy frosting consistency to very stiff in that first chilling interval. I worked it with my offset spatula to get to a spreadable consistency for the second layer, but when it came to the top and wanting a decoration, I zapped the ganache in the microwave to warm it a little. And that was it: Le Succès.

Le SuccèsTasting results: no one loved this one, and it was seriously overshadowed by the pecan torte that was served at the same time. The lemon ganache was rated strange (but my inferior taste buds had a hard time getting any lemon over the dark chocolate taste). The meringue disks were called "odd...OK, but odd" by younger niece. She ate them first to get them out of the way, then had the ganache to eat as rather thin truffles. Older niece left half of her piece, and finished the pecan torte. Just not the sort of cake any of us prefer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

RHC: Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream

Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee CreamI had a two-cake weekend, catching up with Le Succès, then doing Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream for this week. I'm doing the write-ups in reverse to at least have the pecan torte posted in concert with the other Heavenly Cake Bakers. I don't have many pictures of the baking process, which I suspect is because a) it's a quick and easy cake and b) hey, a two cake weekend (after 7 days away on a business trip).

The weekend's two cakes had a lot of similarity in method, though the results are nothing alike. Part of this is that both use a common strategy for cakes that are kosher for Passover, using ground nuts instead of flour. So: similar is the ground nuts with sugar, folded into a mixture of beaten eggs. That nut mixture is baked, then a frosting-surrogate is applied. (OK, stretching the similarity thing here...) Differences are egg yolks and whites in the pecan torte vs. egg whites in Le Succès. This cake bakes as a cake, not as meringue disks. Then there's the "frosting"--whipped cream here, a ganache in Le Succès.

The pecan torte begins with toasted pecans, ground with sugar. Then the yolks of the eggs are beaten with more sugar until very fluffy, and the ground pecans are folded in along with coffee extract. I made a dash over to the farmer's market for the extract just before starting the cake, as my King Arthur espresso powder had clumped (Georgia humidity!) and I didn't want to mess with grinding it back to a powder just then. For once I could get the brand Rose mentions and locally, too--Nielsen-Massey coffee extract. As soon as I added the extract the batter had a wonderful coffee smell. Last step for the batter was to beat the egg whites until stiff, fold them into the mixture, and pour it all into a springform pan, sides ungreased, bottom lined with parchment.

I punched quite a few holes in my cake checking the temperature for doneness--it took the full 40 minutes (perhaps affected by my opening the oven a few too many times). I inverted the cake onto a rack to cool, thinking that the cake would stay in the pan and hang above the rack like an angel food cake cools. My pecan torte, however, came out onto the rack, leaving a nice grid pattern on the top of the cake and rather ugly sides with a thin 'peel' of crust coming off in places where it had stuck to the pan. 'S OK--the top of the cake all gets covered up with a bounteous pile of coffee-flavored (more extract) whipped cream stabilized with gelatin. If appearance had been critical, I could probably have removed that peel of crust from the rest of the cake for a uniform look, but I didn't bother.

Taste results: I loved it--wonderful flavors, loads of whipped cream, a nice bit of texture from the ground pecans which I didn't attempt to reduce to a 'flour' being too afraid of having pecan butter. My brother also really liked it. Older niece, who has abandoned several cake pieces half-way through, polished this one off. Younger niece did too, though she saved the ganache bits from Le Succès as "best for last". I'm making a note to repeat this one next year.

I do have to confess that the tasting panel might not have been completely impartial, here at the end of Passover when the matzoh is looking rather uninteresting. Though I'm not Jewish, I often provide some type of Passover cake or other dessert during the holiday. This year, however, I was gone, then The Folks Next Door left on a trip before I got back. Last night was the first night of Passover when we were all in the same city, and so the 2 Passover cakes for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along were welcomed.

Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream
Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee CreamSybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee CreamSybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream