Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vanilla panna cotta on clementine Amaretto gelée

Does gelée sound like the most pretentious thing ever? Maybe, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than Jell-O. I could have called it jelly, but isn't that something you spread on toast? Gelatin just doesn't sound very appetizing. Whatever you call it, this is a super easy and delicious dessert. It's summery and refreshing, but uses one of winter's most popular fruits. And it only takes a few minutes to make.

Clementine gelée layer
1 cup freshly squeezed, strained clementine juice (I used 7 clementines)
1-2 tablespoons Amaretto
¾ teaspoon powdered gelatin*
Panna cotta layer
1 cup light cream or heavy cream ( I used mostly whole milk with some cream)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (or more Amaretto)
¾ teaspoon powdered gelatin*
  1. For the clementine layer: Pour ¼ cup juice into a small saucepan and sprinkle 1 teaspoon gelatin over the top. Let stand a few minutes, then heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until gelatin is completely dissolved. Add the rest of the juice and the Amaretto. Divide amongst 4 small ramekins or pretty glasses (¼ cup in each). Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until set.
  2. For the panna cotta layer. Pour ¼ cup cream and the sugar into a small saucepan and sprinkle 1 teaspoon gelatin over the top. Let stand a few minutes, then heat over medium-low heat until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the rest of the cream and the vanilla and carefully pour over the clementine layer. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. 
  3. Serve with some candied orange peel or a cookie. Makes 4 small ramekins.
*This is enough gelatin to give a very soft, wobbly set, but not enough that you can turn the dessert out onto a plate. If you'd like to do that, use 1 teaspoon of gelatin for each layer and then refrigerate overnight. 

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    The Daring Bakers make fancy cake

    Well, what we really made was a joconde imprimé and wrapped it around a filling, making an entremet. Fancy cake is a bit clearer, no? This was a fantastic challenge from Astheroshe of accro. I would never have made something so fancy-looking on my own, and I was thrilled to see the challenge and discover that it was not too complicated, though there were plenty of components. In fact, I was so eager to get started that I neither read all the instructions nor watched the video that was described as 'MUST WATCH THIS'. So, I was a bit disappointed with my results. It tasted amazing, but it just didn't look as nice as I wanted it to. If you were in a nice French bakery, your gaze would pass over mine, unless you're a real softie. Anyway, I'm being a bit melodramatic. If you decide to make one of these, please read the PDF and watch the video. No, I still haven't watched it.

    I used the passionfruit mousse from a couple of weeks ago to fill my entremets, and topped them with some passionfruit gelée (that's the fancy name for homemade Jell-O). The decor paste was tinted with cocoa, and the cake is an almond sponge. It was the construction where I messed up. I had it in my head that the entremets needed a cake base (they don't--it's in the instructions), but it just looks kind of stuck on. I also wrapped my molds completely in plastic wrap before lining them with parchment, meaning I mangled them a bit when trying to unmold them. Again, it was in the instructions not to do this. Like a few others, I discovered the gelée had run down the outside of the entremet, staining the cake a bit. Not tragic, but I definitely plan to make more of these, as I have so many ideas for designs and fillings. Stay tuned!
    Thanks so much for a great challenge, Astheroshe! The Daring Bakers really went all out this month, so head over to The Daring Kitchen to see the slideshow of gorgeous entremets. 

    Blog-checking lines: The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Clementine almond cake

    Do you go through crates of clementines every winter like I do? I can't get enough of them before Christmas, and can easily eat ten a day. After Christmas, though, I find I don't care for them nearly as much. They still taste good, but they just don't call out to me the same way. Every year I buy a box in January and they hang around until I have to throw the last few away. This year I decided to make a cake with some of them, and if the batter was any indication, I'll be buying a lot more clementines. (It's still in the oven as I write this)
    This is a Nigella Lawson recipe, which I found on the Food Network website, as well as on Smitten Kitchen. The recipes are the same, but the SK site has the weight measurements, and lots of good tips about baking the cake. Do you read the comments when you look up recipes? I always do, because (a) I'm nosy, and (b) I like to know what other bakers thought. It's funny that the same cake got rave reviews and people were generally enthusiastic about it on the SK site, but many on the Food Network thought it was a lot of work, and not sweet enough. Different audiences, I suppose. I thought this was an incredibly easy cake to make. 2 hours of unattended boiling for the clementines, a quick whirl in the food processor, and the rest can be mixed together by hand. I even blanched my own almonds and ground them, but that's only because I'm a nut. Actually, I have a store nearby that sells the freshest and tastiest nuts, and I'd rather use them than some flavourless, overpriced dust.
    I managed to leave the cake overnight before tasting it, and it was well worth the wait. It was very moist, orangey, sweet enough, but with a very slight marmalade bitterness, and a bit crunchy from the almonds. I saw Meyer lemons on sale the other day, and I think they'd be marvelous here too. I served it with some candied orange peel, but only because I have a quart jar of it in the fridge and need to use it up. You really don't need anything but a fork.

    Clementine cake
    Source: Nigella Lawson via Smitten Kitchen
    4 or 5 clementines (mine weighed about 400 grams, or just under a pound)
    6 eggs
    1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (225 grams)
    2⅓ cups ground almonds (250 grams), or whole, blanched almonds
    1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
    1. Cover the clementines with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 hours. Drain and cool to room temperature.
    2. Preheat oven to 375℉. Grease an 8" springform pan and line with parchment. (I used a 9" pan)
    3. If you are beginning with whole almonds, combine them and the sugar in the food processor and process until finely ground. Add baking powder and pulse to mix. If you have purchased ground almonds, go to the next step.
    4. Cut clementines in half and remove any seeds. Add the cooked clementines, peel and all to the  food processor and process until reduced to a thick orange puree. This will only take a few seconds.
    5. Beat eggs and add almonds, sugar and baking powder. Add the clementines and mix well.
    6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. You may need to cover the cake with foil after 30 minutes or so to prevent over-browning. I took mine out after 50 minutes, but I discovered that it was still a bit squidgy in the very centre, and I should have used the foil and left it in the oven a few more minutes.
    7. Cool in pan on rack. Unmold when cool. This cake is best made the day before, and it keeps well. You may sprinkle the top with icing sugar or make a simple icing sugar and clementine juice glaze, but it really doesn't need it. 
    I have submitted this for Sweets for a Saturday. 

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Chocolate beet cake

    Pudding. That's all I want to eat these days. Rice pudding, tapioca pudding, maybe even bread pudding. I even made a cornstarch based vanilla pudding, but it was too starchy for me. I like custardy puddings best, and would be quite happy with baked custard and more crème caramel. So, maybe I'll be back in a few days with a pudding, but for now I've made you a cake. The quest for beet cake started back in October when I first moved. My mother gave me a large bag of beets and I was looking for ways to use them. I made one, but wasn't completely happy with it, so the draft of that post languished until the other day when I had more beets to use up. Yes, they were from my mother again. She likes to send me home with iron-rich foods. Thanks, Mom.

    Oh, and guess what? I got a brand-new stove! I got home the other day, and there it was. So far, so good. The temperature is spot-on, and it goes up to 500℉, which is 100℉ hotter than my old oven, and means I can make great pizza and bread again. In fact, I've already made pizza, but I ate it all up, alongside some celery soup, which is my new favourite soup. My old oven was probably donated to a museum, or maybe you can see one just like it on an old episode of Happy Days. I'm hoping the new stove shakes me out of my blog ennui. I just don't feel like making much these days, and can never find the time to take pictures or write about what I make. Work has been busy and daylight is hard to find. Also, puddingy things are not the most photogenic desserts, at least not in my hands.

    Anyway, I went looking for a beet cake recipe online, and found a few, but none of them were quite right. One used 2½ cups of oil for 2-9" layers, which seemed like an awful lot. Another one used chocolate, which I didn't have on hand (it's also in Portuguese, but that's not a big problem: I speak food rather well). The third one used just a little chocolate and spice, so that wasn't it either. Still another one used raw beets, but I had already roasted mine, and had no intention of buying more. So, slightly disappointed that I didn't have a Goldilocks moment, I decided to wing it. That's not as hard as you might think, especially if you understand the interactions between ingredients and what purpose they serve in a baked good. Some folks, especially non-bakers, think of baking as chemistry, where everything has to be just so for it to work. That's just not true! You may not get a prize-winner on your first try, but something made with lots of butter, sugar, eggs and flour will only rarely be a total fail. Here's how I went about developing this recipe:
    • I wanted to use oil, as in a carrot cake, for moistness. I also didn't think the taste of butter would come through with all the cocoa and the beets. Oh, and I had bought 2.5 litres for the doughnut challenge
    • I had no chocolate, only cocoa
    • I was having trouble getting a fine enough puree of beets on their own, so I knew I needed to add something else to the food processor. Buttermilk and cocoa make a great cake, so I went with that. And I had found a litre of it in the back of the fridge. Expiry date today!
    • I like brown sugar in chocolate cakes, so I used it
    • Buttermilk and brown sugar are acidic, meaning that baking soda would be a good addition. I also added baking powder. Think of it as leavening insurance
    • Usually when I make up recipes I don't measure anything, but I did this time. I used my scale because it was easier to see the proportions of ingredients. Sorry, no cup measurements this time!
    Go ahead, pile on the whipped cream! You're having beets for dessert.

    Chocolate Beet Cake (Updated, based on my friend Judy's results and my 3rd remake)

    200 grams all-purpose flour
    75 grams Dutch-process cocoa
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    200 grams brown or white sugar
    200 grams cooked beet
    ½ cup water
    100 grams buttermilk (or yogurt, or sour cream)
    2 eggs
    150 grams oil

    1. Preheat oven to 350℉/180℃. Grease a 10” pan and line with parchment.
    2. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
    3. Puree beets and buttermilk until smooth. Add eggs, brown sugar, cocoa mixture and oil and combine well. (I just put all this in the food processor and liquified it)
    4. Pour over dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Do not overmix.
    5. Scrape into pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. (May take longer)
    6. Cool in pan on rack, then turn out of pan. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.
    The verdict? Well, the top was very cracked, but it was very moist, chocolaty and fudgy. It doesn't taste of beets at all. I found it perfect with whipped cream and a cup of coffee.
    This is the first one I made, back in October. It had more cocoa, no water,
    less oil and a fussier preparation. It looks much the same as version 2 though.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    The Daring Cooks make a casserole?

    Don't worry: it's not tuna noodle with potato chips on top! It's cassoulet: a classic French stew of white beans, sausage, confit duck and pork. Topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and baked, it's warm and comforting, and a bit stodgy too. Perfect for January! Jenni, of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa, of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives really challenged us this month, to make a confit, and even our own sausage! Normally I love doing stuff like that, even if I don't eat a lot of meat. That's what dinner parties are for, right? This month, because I still felt full a week after the holidays, I decided to make a vegetarian version. I started with this recipe, but made quite a few changes. First off, I skipped the carrots, as I don't find they roast all that well. I couldn't find celery root, so I used fennel instead. I love fennel--it's a winter staple around here. I used cherry tomatoes instead of canned and added a bit of tomato paste to the broth. I roasted all the vegetables, including a red onion. For the topping, I used fresh bread crumbs, parsley and the shallot confit I made. They were the best breadcrumbs ever, even before baking. I served the cassoulet with more shallot confit and some chimichurri sauce, to brighten up the long-cooked flavours. I must say, it worked a treat and I went back for seconds. Now, to eat the other 6 portions...
    Complete challenge PDF here, with pictures, recipes and links. I have not included recipes, as I don't often measure when I'm cooking. Instead, I just use recipes as a guide. Try it!
    Blog Checking Lines: Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Cardamom crème caramel

    Simple, sweet and soothing, this is like a favourite childhood dessert, though not one from my childhood. We were more likely to have baked rice pudding or stovetop tapioca pudding, both of which I also love. This is my first foray into baking after yet another illness. It seems that I have caught every bug going around this winter. I visit many elementary schools, so I have plenty of opportunities to pick up germs, but this is getting ridiculous. This time it was a fever that stole my entire weekend, keeping me in bed for all but a few hours over 3 days. Once I woke up and started eating again I ate toast and tea, along with rice and orange juice. French toast was the next step, and today, I decided that I was ready for some dessert. Tomorrow it's back to germ warfare, sadly.
    This recipe is from a wonderful book called My Bombay Kitchen, by Niloufer Ichaporia King. All the recipes sound delicious, but I haven't gotten any further than the desserts chapter. It might as well be called the cardamom chapter, as it is full of amazing-sounding sweets, spiced with that fragrant green pod. More on those other recipes later, but now I think you need to get yourself into the kitchen to make this. I used egg yolks rather than whole eggs, giving me a silky, pale yellow custard with the sharp flavour of very fresh cardamom. Don't even think about using pre-ground cardamom: you won't get any appreciable flavour from it.

    Cardamom caramel custard
    From My Bombay Kitchen, by Niloufer Ichaporia King
    ⅓ cup plus ½ cup sugar
    2 cups half-and-half (I used some half-and-half and some milk)
    1½ teaspoons cardamom seeds, pounded in a mortar (measure the sticky black seeds, not the green pods)
    4 large eggs (I used 5 yolks and 1 egg)
    pinch of salt
    1. Combine ⅓ cup of the sugar, the half-and-half, and the cardamom in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from the heat and set aside for at least an hour to let the cardamom flavour develop. 
    2. To make the caramel: over medium heat, stir together the remaining ½ cup sugar in a small heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons water until it melts. Keep stirring until it darkens to dark brown (I don't like my caramel that dark, so pull it off the heat when it's a dark amber). Add a splash of water and quickly pour into a 4-cup baking dish, or into 6 small (½ cup) ramekins. Set them aside until you're ready to make the custard.
    3. Preheat the oven to 350℉. (I went with 300℉, as I prefer a lower temperature for baked custards)
    4. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt, and continue whisking as you pour in the cardamom-infused cream. Strain it into the caramel-lined dish.
    5. Set the baking dish or ramekins into a larger baking dish. Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 35 minutes, until a knife inserted an inch from the centre still looks wet. The custard will thicken and firm up as it cools. Remove from the water bath.
    6. Cool to room temperature and then chill thoroughly, several hours or overnight. The longer you chill it, the more the caramel will melt into a sauce. Run a knife around the custard and turn it out onto a deep plate.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Passion fruit mousse

    I've had a hard time getting back into the swing of things since the holidays. I've been surprisingly busy at work this week, and daylight has been fleeting. I actually made this on Monday, and just managed to get some pictures today, so I can tell you that this mousse is a good keeper. Not that it'll last long once you try it. Isn't it just the dreamiest colour? Well, maybe not in Ottawa's dull light, but trust me, it was a beautiful pale orange.
    I love passion fruit, but it's so expensive to buy them fresh here, and sometimes you get a dud, with almost no pulp inside it. I lucked out just before Christmas, because my aunt brought me back a shopping bag full of them from the Dominican Republic. I ate a lot over the holidays, but still got almost a kilogram of pulp from the rest. I've been sneaking spoonfuls and using it in smoothies, enjoying it thoroughly, but I wanted to make something I've never made before with passion fruit. When I was at my mother's over the holidays, I looked through some of the cookbooks I keep there and found a recipe for a bavarois, or Bavarian cream. Now, I'm not sure that it actually is a Bavarian cream, as they don't usually contain meringue. My Larousse Gastronomique is in storage, so I've just called this a mousse, and enjoyed it thoroughly. A rose by another name and all that.
    This recipe started with a passion fruit curd, which got lightened with an Italian meringue and whipped cream and set with a bit of gelatin. Perfect: it would dirty all my dishes! I had also been loaned a set of small metal molds, by a friend who went hunting in her childhood home over the holidays. This recipe did indeed require lots of bowls, but the results were worth it. The texture is light, from the meringue, and tart, but still a bit creamy. It really is January diet fare, if you ignore the 7 egg yolks and cup of cream. That said, it made a lot! I filled all my ramekins, molds, and even set some aside for another dessert. According to The Cake Bible, it can even be frozen, so I'll try that with a few ramekins and let you know how it turns out.

    Passion fruit bavarois
    From The Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard
    Serves 8

    ½ cup cold water, divided
    1 ¼ ounce envelope powdered gelatin
    1¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
    3 large eggs
    4 large egg yolks
    ¾ cup strained. pureed passion fruit pulp (can use frozen)
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I skipped this, as my passion fruit was very tart)
    1 cup heavy cream
    4 large egg whites

    a 2-quart/litre decorative mold or smaller individual ones
    1. Pour ¼ cup of the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Set aside to soften. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer over medium heat. 
    2. Whisk together the egg yolks, eggs and ¾ cup of the sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Place over the simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the passion fruit and continue whisking until the curd reaches 160℉/71℃, or is the thickness of sour cream.
    3. Melt the softened gelatin by heating for about 20-30 seconds in the microwave, and stir into the curd.
    4. The recipe recommends straining and cooling over an ice bath, but I just put it in the fridge while I prepared the other components, and stirred it occasionally.
    5. Whip the cream, then place in the fridge. Wash the beaters.
    6. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup water. Swirl to moisten the sugar, then cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and cook to 235℉/113℃. While you are waiting...
    7. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites to the soft peak stage. When the syrup is ready, drizzle it into the whites while you are beating. Be careful not to get the syrup directly on the beaters, as it will harden there, or be spun onto the sides of the bowl. Whip until stiff, shiny peaks have formed.
    8. When the curd is cool (70℉/21℃), but not set, fold the meringue in with a spatula or a whisk. When it is almost incorporated, fold in the whipped cream. 
    9. Immediately pour the mixture into the mold(s) and refrigerate. It will be set in about 2 hours. To remove from the mold, invert it onto a serving dish and rub the outside of the mold with a warm damp towel. Tap the mold to loosen the gelatin. This did not work for me! I had to dunk the molds into hot water before they would release. Perhaps I'll oil them lightly next time. If you wet your plate first, you will be able to slide the bavarian into place more easily. Stays fresh, refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap for up to 3 days. Garnish with extra passionfruit pulp, or other tropical fruit.