When I saw that Chris of Mele Cotte would be taking charge of this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, I had my fingers crossed that she’d chose something sweet with an Italian twist to it. As if reading my mind, she chose Filbert Gâteau with Praline Buttercream–a cake featuring the quintessentially Italian combo of hazelnuts and chocolate (and two funny words, “filbert” and “gâteau”). Mmmm…wonderful.
I made a half recipe, fitting the cake batter into a six-inch pan with high sides. There’s a little bit of citrus in this recipe, but I decided to leave out the lemon zest in the cake batter and replace the Grand Marnier in the soaking syrup and buttercream with Kahlua, which suits my tastes better. As you can see, I kind of copped out and only cut the cake into two layers instead of three.
While I did not to make the praline to add to the buttercream frosting, I did make caramelized whole hazelnuts to use as decoration. I flavored my Swiss meringue buttercream instead with an unsweetened hazelnut butter that I had bought at the health food store awhile back. Buttercream is plenty sweet already, so this gave it a nice balance and a good hazelnut flavor. I realized that I’d have a few more of those caramelized nuts than I’d need to decorate the top of the cake, so I chopped up the extras roughly and sprinkled them over the buttercream before placing on the top layer of cake. That was a nice crunchy touch!
I am wondering if my glaze was a little on the thin side. The top was nice and smooth, but as it dripped down the side of cake, it seemed to get hung up on the little specks of hazelnut in the buttercream crumb coat (which I chose to use instead of apricot glaze). No matter…it was on to the decorating! Chris wanted us to use some of the buttercream in our decoration. Small cakes can easily look look overwhelmed by garnish, so I didn’t want to use too much. Little shells on the bottom border, a few rosettes on top, and that was enough for me. I finished it off with a little gold dust and the candied nuts.
After reading through all that, maybe you wonder what it tasted like. This cake was seriously delicious! We had it for three nights, and I savored every bite. There were a lot of steps to this cake, but the end result was totally worth it. I can hardly believe that I joined the Daring Bakers last July (I can also hardly believe that the group was still in the double digits back then)! I considered this to be my DB one-year anniversary cake!
P.S.: I’m still out of town, but back next week!
This May, the Daring Bakers’ challenge had a quartet of hostesses– a four-part harmony, featuring founders Ivonne and Lis and newer members Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful. In voices heard across the world, they sang out this month’s challenge: an opéra cake.
A traditional opéra cake is a thing of delicious beauty, carefully orchestrated with alternating layers of sponge cake, coffee buttercream and ganache, topped off with a dark chocolate glaze. As part of the challenge this month, our hostesses tasked us with rewriting the opéra for spring– the same basic components, but lightened up in flavor and color. For me, part of this challenge lay in that we are fast approaching winter here in Australia. While you can see from the flowers I pinched from a neighbor’s lawn, that I am by no means in a bare, frozen tundra, a lot of the things I may have chosen to flavor this cake are kinda off limits right now.
I’m no stranger to making opéra cake. At the first restaurant I worked for, we used little tiny pieces of the traditional version as a petit four. At least every other day for a few months, I’d make and assemble an opéra (and the scraps are dangerous– I would devour them as I portioned the cake into pieces!). Despite this, I did hem and haw my way through the month, wondering what to do flavor-wise. This past week, though, it was time to get down to business. Looking through my pantry, I realized I could easily make something that would pair perfectly with the Middle Eastern dinner I mentioned I would be making. My opéra would be composed of almond joconde moistened with lemon syrup, pistachio buttercream, lemon-rosewater mousse and white chocolate glaze.
I will make the same confession that I do with every DB challenge– I drastically scaled back the recipe. I made just one pan of joconde (the recipe halves perfectly), and only used half of that to assemble the cake. The rest I froze to use for other things, like the base for a meyer lemon bombe. My one-quarter sized opéra was small, but big enough to give the two of us dessert for three nights, and that’s about my maximum tolerance for any one particular thing.
We were allowed to use any buttercream recipe we liked…I used a whole-egg buttercream that I’ve made before, so as not to be suck with any bothersome extra whites or yolks. To turn it into a pistachio buttercream, I first eyeballed an amount of pistachios and blanched them so I could slip off their brown skins and expose their bright green insides. Then I roasted them in the oven just enough to dry them out, but not to color them, before grinding them in my mini food processor with a little bit of almond meal and drizzle of plain simple syrup. This formed a rough, homemade paste that incorporated easily into the buttercream and gave it pretty green flecks throughout.
I flavored the simple syrup used to moisten the cake layers with a few drops of lemon extract. I also used the lemon extract and rosewater to flavor the white chocolate mousse, which was the cake’s top layer, just beneath the glaze. I did this to taste–enough to make the flavor pronounced, without tasting like I swallowed a jar of perfume. (A chef that I used to work for once said that rosewater reminded him of “grandma’s panty drawer”–what?? And how the hell did he know what that smells like anyway??)
I must say that I was really pleased with how this cake came out. The joconde baked up to be my idea of the perfect height. Too thin and the joconde can be rubbery…too thick and you wind up with an opéra that’s crazy tall. I am quite particular and like all of the layers to be the same height, without feeling like there is too much of one component, and I was able to achieve that here. And the flavors were delicate, but wonderful. I was a little worried that the whole thing would be a bit too girlie for R’s tastes, but he loved it!
I tried sooo hard to get a photo of the whole cake, but it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t squeeze the whole thing into the frame without going on a weird angle that made it looked lopsided. That was a bummer, especially since I had bought a new platter to display it on. But it sliced really nicely, so at least I was able to get some good shots of individual pieces.
Last, but certainly not least, the Daring Bakers have dedicated this month’s challenge to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. Even if you don’t know Barbara, it’s evident through her words that she lives everyday to the fullest and she lives strong. I think we can all sing to that.
If you haven’t had your fill of opera-related metaphors after that post, check out the DB blogroll! And visit Ivonne’s post for the recipe (which was adapted from two sources, Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion).
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting…I probably don’t need to say much more than that.
But of course I will. Carrot cake is a favorite here, but not made nearly enough, so I was glad when Amanda of slow like honey gave me the excuse I needed to get grating, by choosing Bill’s Big Carrot Cake as this week’s TWD recipe. This one is *big* and loaded with carrots (of course), coconut, walnuts and dried cherries.
As per usual, I set out to do a half recipe of this cake, only to realize that I don’t have three 6-inch cake pans. Crud. I thought about making two larger layers and possibly splitting them into four, or using my 6-inch springform as the third pan, but I decided that this amount would probably fit perfectly into my quarter-sized sheet pan (my favorite and most useful sheet pan). So instead of a round cake, I baked a sheet cake that I cut into three strips (the baking time was reduced, of course). Once layered up with icing, it made a rectangular cake that I could cut into thin slices or chubby squares.
Armed with some tips from a great post by Joy, I made a gorgeous cream cheese frosting. I flavored mine with vanilla bean paste and orange zest, rather than the lemon juice that Dorie uses. This cake is tall, and moist and delicious…a winner of a carrot cake. And since I just did a half recipe, I made the whole thing, cake and frosting, easily by hand.
If you´ve looked at this blog lately, you´ll notice that the sweets in most of my recent posts stem from the same source– Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan is turning into one of my most used cookbooks on the shelf! This recipe also comes from that book, but this time my post is not a result of Tuesdays with Dorie, but of the Daring Bakers. Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts chose Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake as the March DB challenge.
Morven gave us basically free reign to flavor and fill our cakes however we liked, but I wanted to basically stick with Dorie’s version (which she actually accredits to Nick Malgieri), just to give the recipe a fair shot. I used the cake and buttercream recipes as they were written. Instead of using raspberry jam though, I filled my cake with blueberry preserves.
If I had one “issue” with this cake, it would be that I didn’t have enough buttercream for a good coat of frosting on the outside. I must have gone too crazy between the layers– oops!– and what I wound up with was more like a crumb coat. What to do?? I wasn’t about to make more buttercream, so I decided to toast my coconut flakes. Of course I didn’t get a pristine snow white cake like Dorie’s, but it desperately needed a little camouflage.
I know I must have said this a million times before, but OMG I love cake, and wow, was this good! The buttercream was outstanding, and the cake was really moist (and the jam helps keep it that way). I liked the instructions in the cake recipe to rub together the lemon zest and sugar. This is something we always do with citrus in the restaurant where I work and it really helps bring out the flavor in the zest.
Like probably a lot of you, I have a bookshelf dedicated to my cookbooks. I read them, I admire them, I love and cherish them…but apart from a couple of standards, I don’t really use them that often. Over the holidays, I finally got Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. I felt like the last person on Earth to get it…I wondered if anyone noticed the big “L” stamped on my forehead for the past year! From what I’ve heard, it’s a fabulous book, so I would also be a total loser if I didn’t put it to use. But I need a little peer pressure sometimes, so help cattle prod me, I just joined a really great group called Tuesdays with Dorie! The brainchild of Laurie from quirky cupcake, TWD makes one recipe a week out of Baking from My Home to Yours. It’ll take awhile, but we hope to get through the whole thing! This means that at some point I will also need to get around to baking the first five recipes that I missed out on. I’m hoping none of this is too ambitious on my part…
For my first TWD, the group is making Dorie’s Black-and-White-Chocolate Cake, a recipe chosen by April of Abbey Sweets. It’s a vanilla buttermilk cake, layered with dark chocolate pastry cream and white chocolate whipped cream. Then the whole thing gets frosted with more white chocolate whipped cream. I love me some cake, so I was pretty psyched to get this one going.
OK, if you have the book and look on page 260, you’ll probably notice that my cake doesn’t look a whole lot like Dorie’s from the outside. In fact, it looks like crap. I had some big-time filling and frosting issues…it was highly upsetting, and I almost didn’t want to post a photo. I found the white chocolate whipped cream too soft to spread on the side of the cake (I couldn’t whip it anymore, because it was beginning to look separated, and I actually had to make it twice because the first time it really did curdle and wouldn’t come back together no matter how I tried to save it). It just slid right off and mucked up the cake plate…in hindsight, I should have realized that would happen and just iced the top, leaving the side exposed for an old-fashioned look. Since the dark chocolate pastry cream was oozing out between the layers anyway, I put some that I had leftover into the freezer for half and hour and tried to use it to frost the side instead. Because of it’s consistency, I couldn’t get a nice frost with that either (that’s why no one frosts with pastry cream!), but had to settle for more of a thin smear…grrrrr. I had made some tempered chocolate curls before beginning this whole process, so I hoped they would distract the eye from my frosting failures.
Thank goodness that the inside of my cake looks more or less normal. Oh, by the way, I halved the recipe in the book so I’d just have a six-inch cake. I have have to say, the dark chocolate cream was damn good…a perfect chocolate pastry cream. The cake itself was a little dense, I thought, but this could very well be due to differences in flour (I have had a couple of baked goods come out funky using my US books and Aussie flour).
Because of the problems I had, I’m really interested to see how my fellow TWD members did with this recipe. I’m going over to the Tuesdays with Dorie blog that Laurie set up to see the list of TWD bakers and visit their sites. So should you! And if you want to try your hand at the cake, take a look here on Abbey Sweets for the recipe.
…so much that I decorated it with hearts!
*I Photoshopped that candle flame in– how fake does that look??
Every year around the start of August, I ask R to think about what kind of cake he’d like me to make for his birthday. I’ve done Boston Cream a couple of times, Black Forest, and once even a chocolate cream pie. This year he asked for a “red silk cake.” Hmmm…I wasn’t sure what that was, but I thought I should know, so I said no problem. I would figure it out.
I couldn’t figure it out. So the next day I broke down and asked for clarification. What he described was just a red velvet cake. Can’t blame the guy for confusing his fabrics, but now I can’t stop calling it “red silk,” and as it sounds sort of exotic, it must be said in a sultry whisper.
I’ve never actually had red silk…umm, velvet…cake myself. One time, years back, I saw Martha Stewart and a guest make it on her old show. I saw them put two bottles of McCormick red food coloring into the batter! Horrifying– I mean, remember when they thought red M&Ms would kill you?
I remembered seeing that the Daring Bakers had risen to the red velvet challenge back in March. That was before my time in the group, but I looked back over many of the posts to see their individual experiences and to know what to expect. Most thought a cream cheese frosting was traditional and that the chocolate flavor of the cake was very subtle.
There were a lot of different recipes out there, but I wound up going with one in a book I have at home. I’ve had the Chocolate Bar cookbook for sometime, without ever having baked from it. Now was as good a time as any to try it out. The book was written by Matt Lewis and Alison Nelson, and I chose this recipe because Mr. Lewis is now a co-owner of Baked in Red Hook, a favorite sweet spot when I lived in Brooklyn. The cake and frosting recipes below are for an 8-inch three layer cake, but I halved the recipes below to make a six-inch two layer one instead. Also, I only have gel food coloring, so I just used a little squirt (in case you wonder why it’s not super duper red) and added a spoonful of extra boiling water to make up for the missing liquid.
Although in the book, the authors recommend a vanilla buttercream (at Baked they use a cinnamon buttercream and decorate with red hots), I decided to go the cream cheese frosting route instead. I found this to be a tricky cake to ice– even with a crumb coat, there were little flecks of red all over the place. Oh well…one of the charms of homemade, I guess. R thought it looked and tasted great, and since it was his birthday, that’s all that matters to me.
Red Velvet Cake - makes three 8-inch rounds
adapted from Matt Lewis and Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar
4 T cocoa powder
1 oz red food coloring
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 t salt
1 cup buttermilk
6 T (3 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1 T plus 1 1/2 t vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 T boiling water
1 T white vinegar
1 t baking soda
-Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans lined with parchment circles.
-In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, food coloring and 2 T boiling water. Set mixture aside to cool.
-In the bowl of standing mixer, cream together butter and shortening on high speed until light. Add sugar and continue beating until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each.
-Mix buttermilk and vanilla into cooled cocoa mixture.
-Sift together flour and salt. With the mixer on low, alternatley add flour and cocoa mixtures, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.
-In a cup, dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar (it will be fizzy). Add immediately to batter and mix until just combined.
-Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes.
-Cool cakes on a rack in their pans for 10 minutes. Then turn out and let them finish cooling completely on the rack. When cool, frost with cream cheese frosting, below.
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting – makes enough for a three-tier 8-inch cake
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 t vanilla bean paste (can substitute 1 t extract)
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
-In the bowl of an electric mixer, slowly paddle the cream cheese, butter and vanilla bean paste. Add the powdered sugar and mix until just smooth, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. If too soft to spread, add more powdered sugar until it reaches desired consistency.
Hmmm….two cake products in one week. I am good to myself, aren’t I? Of course I will have to be punished with an extra trip to the gym. I couldn’t help it though. I’ve had German chocolate cake on the brain ever since I read the theme of this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by its founder Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess. Since childhood it has been my dream dessert. I just love the combination of chocolate, pecans and coconut. I would always ask my mum to make me a German chocolate cake for my birthday (and she always would).
I still request it every April 3, but R has yet to deliver the goods. It’s not for lack of trying though. You just don’t see it sold very often. This past birthday, he did call every German bakery in Sydney looking for it (how sweet!). No one had any idea what he was talking about, because it isn’t German at all. An Englishman man named Sam German developed a type of sweetened chocolate used in the traditional recipe, which likely originated in the American south.
I don’t make this very often, and that’s quite on purpose. Maybe it’s a bit masochistic, but I want it to remain something desired and special. Looking for a recipe, I decided to go with one from Baking Illustrated by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Although I hadn’t made this version before, Chris Kimball and the gang never let me down. Their version uses cocoa powder rather than German chocolate, so it was easier for me to find all the ingredients here in Sydney. In the recipe, the coconut/pecan goo goes in between the layers and on top of the cake, leaving the outside of the cake exposed. Since R and I would have this cake around for a couple of days, though, I decided it would probably stay fresher if I sealed up the sides. Luckily I had some leftover cream cheese frosting from my coconut cupcakes to use up. I just added some melted dark chocolate to the frosting and iced the cake with it, using up all of the filling between the layers. Then I decorated the cake with some toasted coconut chips. Yum! I can’t wait to have another slice tonight!
German Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Pecan Filling – makes 12 servings
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated
for the cake (two 8-inch rounds):
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) unbleached AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 cup non-alkalized cocoa, such as Hershey’s
2 t instant coffee or espresso powder
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 t vanilla extract
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
for the filling:
4 large egg yolks
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 t salt
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup heavy cream
1 t vanilla extract
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
-For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease and flour two 8″ round pans lined with parchment rounds. Combine cocoa and instant espresso powder in a small bowl. Add boiling water and mix until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the buttermilk and vanilla.
Using a mixer, beat butter until smooth (about 30 seconds). Gradually add the sugar and beat until light & fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in eggs one at a time, combining well after each. Scrape down the mixing bowl.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of the cocoa mixture to the batter. Repeat twice more, scraping as needed, until ingredients are just combined.
Divide batter evenly between the pans. Bake 23-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes on wire rack. Turn out of pans and cool completely before assembling.
-For the filling: Whisk yolks, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Beat in the butter, and then gradually add cream and vanilla. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 180°F. This will take about 15-20 minutes, and the mixture will be puffy and slightly thickened. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Stir in the coconut and pecans before assembling cake.
-To assemble: Cut both cakes in half horizontally so you have four layers total. Spread 1/4 of the filling on top of each layer, stacking as you go.