French Fridays with Dorie: Quatre-Quarts

January 20, 2012 at 12:02 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, french fridays with dorie, groups, simple cakes, sweet things | 17 Comments
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quatre-quarts

Yowzer– it’s been ages since I’ve had an FFWD post.  I happened to notice this week’s recipe, Quatre-Quarts, and it looked like good a point to jump back in.  I guess quatre-quarts is most often compared to pound cake.  I’m sure every grand-mère has her own version of quatre-quarts, but I thought this one was much lighter and springier than an American pound cake typically is.  In fact, it seemed quite like a sponge cake, thanks to the beaten egg whites that are folded into the batter.  I only made half a recipe, thinking a full would be too buttery and heavy for us to eat for more than a couple of days.  I was wrong–we could have easily polished of the whole thing.  Also, I flavored it with a glug of good Cognac, which made it pretty easy to enjoy!

For the recipe, see Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan. Don’t forget to check out my fellow francophiles’ posts.

P.S.: If you don’t already have it, enter my BOOK GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a copy of Baking with Julia!

TWD Rewind: Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte

January 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, cheesecakes, groups, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 4 Comments
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cream cheese torte

Happy New Year!  After the rush-rush of the holidays, things seemed to have returned to normal around these parts.  I’m back to my regular days off  from work, and even at home, it’s back to my regular living room.  I took down the Christmas tree yesterday.  Sad, but it was becoming more cactus than pine….so dry and prickly.  My vacuum smells like it has a built-in air freshener thanks to all the needles that are whirring around in there.

TWD may have made it through the book as a group, but I still have a few recipes left to catch-up on before I can personally say the same.  One of them is this Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte that was chosen a couple weeks before I joined on.  I have been wanting to make this for four years…yes, I’m a little slow to get moving.  Since I needed to come up with a dessert for Christmas dinner, I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally try it out.

I liked telling my dinner guests that we would be having a “torte” after dinner…made it sound super fancy and exotic.  But this really is a familiar dessert–a slim and elegant cheesecake.  It had the extra step of making a dough crust (rather than a crumb one), but the cheesecake batter itself was simply whizzed in the food processor.  That’s my favorite way to mix cheesecake batter, actually, because you never get any lumps.  A layer of jam hidden in the middle (I used some of my homemade plum jam) made a nice surprise when I cut the first slice.  Because it wasn’t t four inches tall like a NY-style cheesecake, I didn’t feel uncomfortable eating it after a big dinner.

This recipe was so nice, I made it twice!  I had to make up for that whole four years late thing, I guess.  Since, I’d made a half recipe the first time, I still had half the ingredients remaining to do another small cake.  For the second go-round though, I put my own little twist on it.  This time I used a crumb crust (made from some gianduja cookies I took home from work because we…ummm…screwed them up…it happens sometimes).  And instead of spreading on a layer of jam, I mixed a couple tablespoons of nutella (really a single packet of Justin’s) into the batter.  I didn’t know how intense the flavor would be, so topped it off with a little hazelnut ganache, which also handily disguised the little crack that formed in the middle.  It was New Year’s Eve, so I tossed on some stars.

cream cheese torte

I think this recipe was picked so early on, that there wasn’t really a host-post system set up yet, so here it is…

Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte– makes a 9″ cake
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

for the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (6 oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the filling:
1/3 cup thick berry or cherry jam
9 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz (1 cup) cottage cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)

-Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

-Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse just to blend. Toss in the pieces of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the egg yolks and vanilla together with a fork, and, still pulsing the machine, add them and continue to pulse until the dough comes together in clumps and curds – restrain yourself, and don’t allow the dough to form a ball.

-Turn the dough out onto a work surface. If you want to roll the dough, gather it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes before rolling. Or simply press the dough into the pan. The dough should come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the springform. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

-Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

-Fit a piece of buttered aluminum foil against the crust, covering it completely. Fill the crust lightly with rice, dried beans or pie weights and slide the sheet into the oven. Bake the crust for 20 minutes or so – you don’t want the crust to get too brown. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the filling.

-Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.

-Stir the jam, and spread it over the bottom of the crust – it’s okay to do this while the crust is still warm.

-Put the cream cheese and cottage cheese into the food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, for 2 minutes, until you’ve got a smooth, satiny mix. Add the sugar, salt and spices and process for another 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the eggs and process, scraping the bowl as needed, for a final minute. Pour the filling over the jam.

-Bake the cake for 60-70 minutes, or until the filling is uniformly puffed and no longer jiggly. Gently transfer the springform pan to a cooling rack and allow the torte to cool to room temperature, during which time the filling will collapse into a thin, elegant layer.

-Run a blunt knife between the crust and the sides of the pan, then open and remove the sides of the springform. If the sides of the crust extend above the filling and you don’t like this look, very gently saw off the excess crust using a serrated knife. Chill the torte slightly or thoroughly before serving and, if you’d like, dust the top with confectioner’s sugar.  Wrapped well, the torte will keep in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chai Tea Madeleines

December 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, cookies & bars, groups, simple cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 8 Comments

chai tea madeleines

The fourth and final madeleine recipe from the book…you can tell Dorie lives in Paris!  The original recipe calls for an Earl Grey tea infusion to give these cookie/cakes flavor, but I usually only have one or two types of tea kicking around my cupboard at a time, and the Earl wasn’t one of them.  So I used chai (from a teabag actually…I tore the bag open and sprinkled the bits into my hot butter to infuse; then I put it through a very fine strainer to remove any sediment).  I thought the chai spices would be nice with the honey that was already in the ingredient list.  I could really taste the tea in here.  They were delicious, and I amped up the spicing even more by tossing them in a cardamom sugar while they were still warm.  I made big, full-sized madelines…I didn’t really get the pronounced madeleine bump with these, but they had rounded backsides and great texture and taste, so I guess I don’t mind so much.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Bakeologie And see Grandma’s Kitchen Table for Honey-Almond Fig Tart, this week’s other recipe (which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make this week). Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

TWD Rewind: Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake

November 25, 2011 at 12:15 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, groups, layer cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 8 Comments
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cocoa-buttermilk birthday cake

This week, we are having a rare rewind week for TWD, a chance to make-up something we missed.  There was a time when I was making (and eating) layer cakes left and right.  Despite the last couple of weeks, they are kind of a rarity around here now (although I wish they weren’t).  In fact, I really made this cake months ago..for Easter…in case the pastel Robin Eggs didn’t give that away.  Chocolate cake with a chocolate-malt buttercream…I can see why this would be a good birthday cake.  Maybe my husband will make it for me next year?  Yeah, probably not….I’ll have to make it for his instead.

I made a half recipe of this cake and baked it in my six-inch pans.  Any time I have a cake recipe, I pay close attention to it as it bakes.  Sometimes it takes just as long as the full recipe, and sometimes it takes ten minutes less….you just never know.  I happened to pull this cake out of the oven at the perfect sweet spot.  The cake was so moist and velvety…I wish I remembered how long it was in there for!  Hopefully I can repeat that success next time.  This cake recipe is really just a scaled-up version of Dorie’s Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes.  It’s the same thing, but for some reason I liked it much, much more as a layer cake.  I think it baked nicer in “real” cake form, but maybe it was really the pairing with the chocolate-malt buttercream that I liked so much.  There were some reported troubles with the frosting, but I thought it came out just right, and it was easy to work with.  I like when I can get the frosting on a cake without too much mucking about. 

cocoa-buttermilk birthday cake

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or look at The Splendid Table’s website (not sure that we had an “official” TWD host/recipe poster that particular week, as it was a recipe for the group’s second anniversary).  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll to see what everyone picked to catch up on this week!

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

November 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, layer cakes, sweet things | 6 Comments
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brown butter pumpkin layer cake

I know that I’ll be making a pie for Thanksgiving dinner, so I’m getting the craving to stuff my face with cake out of the way ahead of time.  I’ve actually been itching to make this Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake ever since I saw it on the cover of  Fine Cooking last year.  And it was everything I’d hoped for in a spice cake, complete with cream cheese frosting and a crunchy topping.

If you are ambitious, you can make your own pumpkin purée by roasting a squash.  If you are lazy, like I am, you can just open a can.  The canned stuff works just fine, in my opinion, and you always know what you are going to get.  Anyway, you have to go through the extra step of browning butter a couple of times, so why make things too hard on yourself?  Actually, making browned butter is no big deal, and it’s totally worth it in terms of flavor.  It makes an especially gorgeous addition to the cream cheese frosting, giving it that slightly nutty taste and beautiful taupe color.  The browned butter baked into the cake gives the pumpkin and spices extra dimension, and because you use it as a liquid fat, you mix the cake by hand.  I love that!  I thought about skipping the pecan and pepita topping, but I’m glad I didn’t.  It’s crunchy and kind of Cracker Jackey caramelized.  I can’t wait to make this again next fall (or possibly sooner…)

P.S.:  Don’t forget to enter my BOOK GIVEAWAY, if you haven’t done so already….

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake– makes 8-12 servings
adapted from Fine Cooking, Issue 107

Steph’s Notes:  You can substitute 1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin purée for homemade, if you like.  If you do choose to make the purée, you can do so up to 2 days ahead.  The frosting amount is a bit on the skimpy side.  I made it work, but there wasn’t a lot of extra play around with.  If you’d like more leeway, I’d suggest a 1.5x recipe.

for the purée (if not using 1-1/2 cups canned):
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium-large Sugar Pie pumpkin, cut in half from stem to bottom and seeded

for the cake:
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

for the topping:
 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2/3 cup pecans
 1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt

for the frosting:
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
pinch of salt
5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

-Make the pumpkin purée (if not using 1-1/2 cups canned): Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Brush a 9×13-inch baking dish with the oil. Put the pumpkin halves in the dish cut side down and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Peel the pumpkin and purée the flesh in a food processor until smooth. You’ll need 1-1/2 cups of the purée for the cake. Refrigerate or freeze any remaining purée for another use.

-Make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.   Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).   Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

-Make the topping (while the cake bakes):  Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

-Make the frosting:  Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.  With an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, brown sugar and pinch of salt on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

-Assemble the cake:  Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer and top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Arrange the topping  on top of the cake and serve.  The assembled, frosted cake can be covered with a cake dome and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve at room temperature.


Tuesdays with Dorie (on Friday!): Mini Madeleines

November 11, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, cookies & bars, groups, simple cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 2 Comments
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mini madeleines

OK, Tuesday has come and gone (happy 11/11/11, by the way), but I did bake both of this week’s TWD recipes, so I wanted to show you my Mini Madeleines as well. Better late than never, right?  I like madeleines…so much that I got a little greedy and swiped one from my photo session…oops.

Good reasons to make madeleines include:
*Little cakes that disguise themselves as shell-shaped cookies– how cute!
*A batter that’s hand-whisked and allowed to rest for as long as a couple of days– how easy!
*A soft crumb that you can flavor a zillion different ways– how tasty!
*Less than ten minutes of baking time– how energy efficient!  (alright, that’s a stretch)

If you’ve avoided making them because you don’t have the traditional madeleine baking pan, I’m pretty sure a mini muffin tin would make a fine substitute.  I browned my butter for these and used lots of lemon zest.  They had great flavor and were nice with chamomile tea.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Di’s Kitchen Notebook Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake

November 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, simple cakes, sweet things | 9 Comments
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upside-down pear chocolate cake

When did weekends become all about errands and housekeeping?  This weekend, in addition to the usual vacuuming, laundry and trips to the market and bank, I did some grout touch-ups to the bathroom (how do I even know how to do that??), removed and cleaned up the couple of A/C units we still had dangling out the windows and did a rather ghetto weatherproofing job to the hatch that leads from our backyard into the basement (it involved a blue tarp and some bricks).  Carving out a little baking time on the weekends is a must.  For me, even though there are always dishes to wash afterward, it’s pure fun.

While I’ve never been one for most fruit and chocolate combos, I can do pears and chocolate together…Poire Belle Hélène is good stuff, afterall.  While I was flipping through the very sweet little book Rustic Fruit Desserts, this recipe for Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake caught my eye as a good and unusual way to use up the last of my CSA pears.  Making an upside-down cake is always exciting.  There’s the big revel– what’s going to happen when you turn it out of the pan??  Here’s what I got with this one: a perfectly moist and caramel-soaked chocolate cake with pears that turned a translucent, shimmering gold.  I must say though, that just from tasting the raw cake batter, I knew we were in for a treat.  I love the way the pears glisten in the light…this one might show up again for Christmas dinner.

upside-down pear chocolate cake

Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake- makes a 9-inch cake
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

Steph’s Note:  Regarding the caramel for the fruit topping– if you have another method of making caramel that you prefer (a dry caramel, for example), feel free to use it here, keeping the amount of sugar the same.  This one worked perfectly for me, but do what you are comfortable with.

for the fruit topping:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (4 oz) water
3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, and each cut into  12 slices (1 pound prepped)

for the cake:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa  powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

-Preheat the oven to 350° F and butter a 9-inch round cake pan (preferably not a springform one).

-To make the fruit topping, put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan (one with a tight-fitting lid) and stir until the sugar  dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for  2 minutes. (Covering in this way allows the steam to wash down the sides of pan,  which will prevent any sugar crystals from forming.) Uncover the saucepan and  continue to boil the sugar, gently and slowly swirling the pan as needed to cook  the caramel evenly, until it becomes a dark amber color. Occasionally wash down  the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, if necessary. Carefully pour  the caramel into the prepared pan and allow it to harden. The pan will be very  hot from the sugar, so take care in moving it if you need to. Fan the pear  slices on top of the caramel in a circle around the perimeter, filling in the  center with the remaining slices.

-To make the cake, place  the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring  occasionally. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.  Transfer the melted chocolate to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and  add the sugar. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the  paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and  fluffy. Add the eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each  addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions  alternating with the milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour  and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

-Tip the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to move it to the edges and cover the fruit. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until  the cake bounces back slightly when touched. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife or small offset around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a plate, leaving the pan on top of the cake for 5 minutes before you remove it.  If any pear slices stick to the pan, just lift them out and place them on top of the cake.  Serve the cake warm or room temperature.

-Wrapped in plastic wrap, this cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Far Breton

November 1, 2011 at 12:13 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, groups, puddings & custards, simple cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 6 Comments
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far breton

It’s hard to believe, but TWD is coming close to the end of the book!  There are two recipes a week from now till the end of the year, but I think I’ll only be able to choose one because I can’t do much baking at home during the work week.  This week, I’m making the Far Breton, chosen by Nicole of Cookies on Friday (Jeannette of The Whimsical Cupcake chose Honey Nut Scones as the other recipe).  I’ve been intrigued by this one for a long time…just the name sounds so classy.  And there are Armagnac-soaked prunes–yum!  Falling somewhere between custard and cake, it’s made from a no-brainer batter that gets whizzed up in the blender, crêpe-style.  The finished dessert actually reminded me a lot of an unmolded clafoutis.  I like eggy desserts, so this was just the ticket.  I also like easy desserts that are totally dinner party worthy, and this one fits that bill, too.  Next time I’ll add a splash more booze.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Cookies on Friday.  And see The Whimsical Cupcake for the Honey Nut Scones. Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Tuesdays with Dorie: A Fig Cake For Fall

October 25, 2011 at 12:15 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, groups, simple cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 14 Comments

a fig cake for fall

Fresh figs are a rare treat in my house…they are not so hard to find at the shops when they’re in season, but they don’t come home with me often.  I was excited to buy a pint to make this cake with TWD.  Beneath these flashy ruby port-poached figs is an appealingly rustic and sturdy cake, flavored with honey and cornmeal.  I brushed a little of the reduced port syrup on top of the figs after the cake had cooled.  Whipped cream on the side was a must.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Cookie Rookie.  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

Tuesdays with Dorie: Apple Nut Muffin Cake

October 4, 2011 at 12:09 am | Posted in breakfast things, cakes & tortes, groups, muffins & quick breads, simple cakes, sweet things, tuesdays with dorie | 10 Comments
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apple nut muffin cake

This Apple Nut Muffin Cake is quintessential fall baking…apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts and raisins…all things that make your house smell great.  Rolled oats (and swapping a little whole grain flour for AP) make this easy breakfast cake feel even more wholesome.  It is just like a muffin in terms of technique and texture, but, not that I would ever really call muffin-making fussy, you simply slap the batter into a cake pan and go….ready for coffee in about 35 minutes.

For the recipe, see Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or read Baking and Boys!, as it was Katrina’s pick this week.  Don’t forget to check out the TWD Blogroll!

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