Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Daring Bakers overdose on chocolate!

Daring Bakers around the world hover on the website on the first of the month, refreshing their screens to find out what the month's challenge is. Or is that just me? I'm not sure why I want to find out what the challenge is on the first day, as I rarely complete it until shortly before the deadline, but maybe it's because I'm insatiably curious about almost everything. Once I find out the challenge, I do nothing. For weeks, sometimes. Not this time, though: I made this challenge early, even though I wasn't very excited about it. You see, I don't love chocolate and this was a rich chocolate mousse, with torched meringue, creamy caramel sauce and sugar-coated nuts. Oh, and the recipe was enormous! It called for 11 eggs and made 18 servings and needed some last-minute attention, so wasn't something I wanted to make for a crowd. What's a girl to do? Get out her calculator and divide the recipe by 11, of course! It made for some ridiculously small quantities, but only took me about 15 minutes to whip up.  It made 3 servings, meaning I would have got over 50 from the original recipe. That's a lot of chocolate mousse.

I knew that I wouldn't enjoy more rich and creamy accompaniments with this, so I went with candied sour cherries and kirsch. Frozen sour cherries have been my sour fruit stand-in from January when I ran out of rhubarb and even though my fridge is bulging with rhubarb right now, I'm still on a sour cherry kick. I made a quick candied cherry recipe from David Lebovitz, reducing the water and adding a few tablespoons of kirsch. For the nuts, I used green almonds, but didn't like them much. They were sour, but are a taste I haven't acquired yet. Maybe that's why I forgot to put them on the plate and left them on the counter instead, only noticing them when I took the empty marquise plate in to the sink. You'll find a picture below. The meringue was a great excuse to dust off my blowtorch, and its sweetness was a nice foil to the mousse and cherries. I hadn't used my blowtorch since making the amazing roasted marshmallow ice cream sandwiches last year. The verdict? I liked it, but found it incredibly rich. I kept going back for another taste until it was all gone. This was a dangerous thing to have in the freezer, and I'll definitely keep it in mind for my chocolate-loving friends.
green almonds
Many thanks to Emma and Jenny for the challenge! I certainly wouldn't have made this otherwise, and if it weren't for the Daring Bakers and Tuesdays with Dorie, this blog would be made up entirely of rhubarb and cardamom recipes! Though I do have a few kilos of rhubarb in the fridge...

Original challenge and recipe PDF.

Blog-checking lines: The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma ofCookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones

I was so happy that the May picks for Tuesdays with Dorie had lots of breakfast recipes. 
Scones are so tasty, and I can usually find the time to make them. I had noticed at this recipe before, but this was the kick in the pants I needed to actually make it. Nutmeg is a favourite spice, though I find it works better in a background role than as a star, so I was curious to see how these would turn out. I decreased the sugar a bit and was generous with the freshly grated nutmeg, and these were a winner. As always, they were best when still warm, and I ate them plain. Cooled scones have no appeal for me, so I didn't touch them after they had cooled down--I gave them away to someone less fussy than me. I do still have a few unbaked in the freezer for a leisurely morning, but that may have to wait a bit. This is a busy month for work, and I am now another year older, so I am slowing down.
Actually, I'm pretty tired after a long weekend and thinking that 5 straight days of kindergarten is going to make baking a challenge. See you on Friday with the Daring Baker's Challenge, as I've got that one made and eaten! Oh, and for the scone recipe, go and visit Patricia at Life with a Whisk.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mango Passionfruit Pavlova

What is your perfect dessert? As I was eating this, all I could think was that this was it. It had all the things I like in desserts: contrasting textures, sweet and tart flavours, tropical fruit, acidity, and lashings of cream. As an added bonus, it helped to use up some of the egg whites that were taking over my fridge. Pavlovas require a bit of advance planning, as they take a while to bake, but once they are baked you can throw them together very quickly. And, on a grey and rainy day, you too can enjoy a melt-in-your-mouth taste of sunshine!
Makes 2 individual servings
1 egg white
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon vinegar
a bit of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat egg whites to soft peaks, then beat in sugar gradually, until they hold firm peaks. Quickly beat in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla. Form meringue into 2 mounds on baking sheet, making a dip in the centre to hold the filling. Place in oven and immediately reduce temperature to 250℉. Bake for 1 hour, until crisp but not browned. Turn oven off and cool in over with door propped open.
1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler
1 passionfruit, halved, and pulp and seeds scraped out
¼-⅓ cup whipping cream, chilled

Beat whipping cream to soft peaks and dollop on cooled meringues. Top with mango and then passionfruit. Eat. Repeat as necessary.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Maple Cornmeal Biscuits

A very late TWD post today: I got home from a rough day at work yesterday with a terrible sore throat and sinuses, fell asleep and woke up ... 12 hours later, still wearing my scarf! Feeling a lot better, though, but had to run out the door again. Today was a much better day. It really depends which school you go to as a substitute teacher, and there's not so much work that we can be choosy. 
Anyway, I couldn't believe it when the May recipes for Tuesdays with Dorie were posted. I thought I had broken up with cornmeal pretty definitively after the cornmeal shortbread, but here it was again. Never one to hold a grudge, I thought I'd give it one more chance. Dorie even recommended using the dreaded stone-ground for this recipe. I used half stone-ground and half regular cornmeal, and I have to admit that these were very tasty right out of the oven. I did eat them very gingerly, as I had fears of cracking (another) filling. I liked the taste, and ate a couple plain, but I didn't care for them the next morning. I couldn't really taste the maple, but I did like the cornmeal flavour, and will be taking the finely ground stuff for another spin soon. Lindsay over at A Little Something...Sweet has the recipe for you, and it's an easy one. As always, check out the TWD site for all the variations. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Maple walnut roulade

I love maple. I'm always a bit sad when sugaring-off season is over, even if it means the weather is above 0℃ on a regular basis. This year I didn't make it to the sugar bush at all, but luckily I still have lots of syrup from last year. I have lots of walnuts too: I won over a kilogram of fantastic walnuts from a giveaway on Evelyne's blog, Cheap Ethnic Eatz. They arrived when I was in Toronto, and I've been trying to decide what to do with them ever since I got home. As usual, I have lots of ideas, but can only eat so many sweets! Watch for more walnutty goodness around these parts, as this recipe only used about a half-cup.

I decided to make a small rolled cake, substituting walnuts for the almonds. For the filling, I went with mascarpone and maple syrup, because that is one of the loveliest combinations ever. I was worried about the maple syrup thinning out the filling too much, so I reduced mine, ending up with maple fudge. Now, maple fudge is a very good thing, but not what I wanted here. I used it anyway and it dissolved in the mascarpone, but I don't think reducing it was necessary, so I've adjusted for that below. I also couldn't resist garnishing with a few maple candied almonds. 3 components seems like a lot, but this actually took less than an hour to mix, bake, cool and roll. A quarter sheet pan measuring 33cm x 24cm (13" x 9.5"), made enough for 4 servings, so double everything if you want to make it in an 11" x 17" pan and serve 8. Measurements are in grams, as the amounts were small.

Candied walnuts
½ cup walnut halves
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
a pinch of salt, optional

Preheat oven to 275℉. Combine walnuts and syrup and salt, if using and spread on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Bake about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Cool.

Walnut cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Berenbaum
18 grams toasted walnuts
10 grams cake flour
2 large eggs
55 grams sugar
a few drops vanilla extract
¹⁄₈ teaspoon cream of tartar
  1. Grease quarter sheet pan and line with parchment. Grease again and flour. Increase oven temperature to 450℉. 
  2. Combine walnuts, cake flour and about a tablespoon of sugar in a food processor and grind finely. 
  3. Separate 1 egg and place the white in a small mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat on medium speed until frothy, then add the cream of tartar. Once soft peaks form, add a tablespoon of the remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  4. Place the yolk and the second whole egg in a small mixing bowl, along with the remaining sugar. Using the hand mixer (don't bother cleaning the beaters), beat on high speed for about 4 minutes, until thick, fluffy and tripled in volume. Beat in the vanilla.
  5. Add the ground walnut mixture and fold in, using a spatula. When almost uniform, fold in the egg white. Spread evenly on the prepared pan and bake for about 7 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cake is golden and springs back when you touch it.
  6. Loosen the edges and flip the cake, paper and all, onto a clean tea towel. Carefully peel off the parchment paper and sift a thin layer of icing sugar over the top. Roll it up from the short end, towel and all. Cool on a rack.
Maple Mascarpone Filling
Adapted from the Cake Bible
1-227 gram container mascarpone (1 cup)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
⅓ cup whipping cream

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and beat briefly, by hand or with a mixer until mixture thickens. Refrigerate while waiting for the cake to cool.

To assemble cake:
Unroll cake, remove towel and spread mascarpone filling evenly with a metal spatula. Leave the last inch of cake bare, as rolling will push the filling to the end. You won't need all the filling, unless you want a ridiculously full cake like mine. Re-roll and trim ends on the diagonal. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time. Garnish with candied walnuts.

I took the cake to some overworked friends, who said that it looked like a giant Twinkie. Exactly what I was aiming for...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Brown butter pumpkin birthday cake

The little one, for O
I'm finally back home! I was hoping to have something yummy and seasonal to share with you, but who am I kidding? There's not much seasonal in my neck of the woods these days. I raided my mother's freezer and made rhubarb crisp with the last of the frozen stuff, but I didn't get any pictures. It wasn't the most picturesque dessert anyway, even though it was very tasty. Instead, I bring you pumpkin cake! I made this cake for 2 friends' birthdays, one in November and one in March. The first one, in November, was a half recipe baked in 6" cake pans. The second was the full recipe. Both times I made extra frosting, because you really don't want to skimp on the cream cheese and browned butter goodness.
The big one, for M
This is a rich cake, best served in small slices. Make sure the frosting is at room temperature for spreading and serving, as you can see how it wasn't as smooth in the top picture. Sorry, no cut photos this time: these left my kitchen and only the cake plates came back, eventually. Because I am lazy actually made these according to the recipe, I am linking it here. Okay, I might have added a teaspoon of baking powder and browned all the butter at once and used butternut squash for one of them. The extra baking powder definitely helped lighten the cake a bit, as I forgot it for the second version and it was much denser. Also, for the second cake I didn't strain out the browned bits in the butter, thinking they would add extra texture to the frosting. They did, but it also looks like my frosting is full of crumbs. Do as I say, not as I do. The last little change was that I didn't put any nuts between the layers, but piled them all on top. 
Whatever changes you make, this is an absolutely fabulous cake, and one of my new favourites. It may not be spring-y, but there's a butternut squash on my counter that's tempting me to make this again. For me this time.