Saturday, March 29, 2008

Daring Baker's Party Cake without A Party

When I started Daring Bakers, I had people I could relie on to eat the baked goods, i.e. friends, coworkers, and a boyfriend. Now single and away, I find myself without these mouths that I greatly looked to, to eat my food. Cookies, brownies, and cupcakes lay untouched on the counter the past week with me missing the quickness of there disappearances. With my love to bake what am I to do?
Well, I haven't solved that question but I'm sure I will find someone who will eat half a cake, right?
With the fast paced events this month, moving, breaking up, moving again, some say that I am strong for what I have done. However, I had to move on, I had to pick up the pieces. That meant not skipping out on the Daring Baker's challenges. I had done that before and sorely missed the friendship I had made in this online club.
So the day before the post date, I set out to make the cake. I seperated eggs, I mixed things together. There were no problems. None.
We all know me. Something goes wrong every challenge-Lemon Meringue Casserole, shattered pyrex pan full of cinnamon rolls, and unproffed bagels. But this time there was nothing. The batter came together, it rose. I hesistantly made the buttercream, worried that I was doing that wrong. But no that too, was done correctly. In my new state of calmness, had I finally come to my baking zen?
No, icing the cake ended up to be difficult. I've never been good at it. I don't like icing the sides. Of course everytime I ever do it, I don't have a cake plate. Maybe that's the problem. I improvised and made it work. It is not up to a bakery standard, but hey I'll still eat it. So maybe I don't have complete zen, but still no major issues this month. Now I'm scared what will happen next month.

Perfect Party Cake
(Dorie Greenspan's: Baking from my house to yours)

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Baking out of Boredom

Oh a beautiful day outside, I should be running with a puppy in the park, walking with a friend, or playing soccer, but I'm inside. Now I could be outside yes, I've choosen this, but I don't want to get lost in thoughts. So, I choose to bake.
Baking at least takes 45 minutes occupying enough time to keep me busy. Plus, I had an urge to bake. The other day I baked brownies because I promised friends. It felt good to be baking again for people. But I didn't have that reason today, I just wanted something to do.
Options were limited, not enough flour, and my lazy butt was not making a trip to the store just for flour. Waste of gas. So, I had to either half a recipe or find something with little flour. Thankfully Martha Steward came through with Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies. It called for 3/4 cup of flour, perfect cause I maybe had a little bit more than that.
Of course I changed up the recipe, mostly the sugar and add-ins, other than that it stayed the same. So if you are bored and have limited flour try the recipe or adapt it to your tastes.

Boredom Cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for fingertips
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup toffee bits
1/4 cup chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter and egg; beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture. Stir in toffee and morsels.

Using 1 level tablespoon batter per cookie, drop onto baking sheets, about 1 inch apart; flatten slightly with floured fingertips. Bake until edges are golden brown, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies immediately to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 2 days.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kitchen Therapy

Spring is the season of renewal. Flowers, sunshine, long days, and.... Singleness? Yes, this lady is back to being single. The details are complicated and dreary and not full of spring flavor. So I'll spare you, but I am doing well.
So for this new beginning, I decided a couple things. One---I am never giving up yoga, I find so much balance and relaxation in it. Two-- I will do one thing that scares me every day. (Note: I have now eaten a raw quail's egg and it is YUMMY!) Three-- I need to get back in the kitchen. I feel bad that I haven't blogged in 20 days. But honestly, the kitchen was home to so many memories between the ex and I that it is often hard to get in there. But that is no excuse. I have ideas, and people love my cooking, so I should do what makes me happy---cooking.
So, why not start right now in the beginning of spring? I have no reasons not to, well maybe that people won't eat it, but I'm sure I can find someone. Right?
With this in mind this evening I made an Asparagus Risotto. I love risottos, I find them easy to make and very comforting. Maybe its the time or the stirring, but its repetitiveness eases me. So I share my new recipe with you to help you start Spring.

Asparagus Risotto

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 c arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine (Note: I used chardonnay)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 lb of asparagus

Parsley Pesto
1 c chopped parsley
1 c Parmesan
1/4 c pine nuts
grated peel of 1 lemon

In a heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent and softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and rice; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the rice is toasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the wine until absorbed and add 1/2 cup of stock until absorbed, usually every 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a food processor, finely chop the parsley, 1/2 cup Parmesan, the pine nuts and the lemon peel. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and process until blended. Set the pesto aside.

After adding the last 1/2 cup of stock, stir in 2 Tbsps of pesto. Once all the liquid is absorbed add Parmesan and asparagus, cook until asparagus is tender. Serve.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Red Velvet with the Slow Southern Style

I don't remember ever having a red velvet cake. Maybe I mistake it for that strawberry cake stuck in my memory, but I believe that was a light pink rather than red. I don't really know.
All I know is I decided to make it. Why?
I felt the urge to bake a cake. I had already made a carrot cake, italian cream cake, tres leches cake, butterscotch upside down sour cream apple cake, and a few chocolate cakes. I didn't feel like repeats, though there are many versions of them all. I wanted something new. Something racy!
Red Velvet cake seemed to be the answer. I looked up recipes, finally deciding on an adaptation of Rebecca Rather's. I read the recipe and thought that 1/4 cup of red food coloring was unnecessary. So I added probably 1 to 2 Tbsp. I completely left out the vinegar, didn't have it. Did I mention I mixed it all in a pasta pot?
No? Oh, let me explain then. I had no mixing bowl. It was being used for a salad, so I looked at what I did have and chose the pasta pot as a suitable substituion. Luckily, the food coloring didn't stain it.
The cake came out great! The red that I see on all other red velvet cakes. It tasted heavely. I think that the cream cheese frosting is a little strong for the cake because it over powers the cake. However, my boyfriend disagreed. We do have our differences.
Now what do I bake?

Sexy Red Velvet Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp red food coloring
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 8 x 8 pan with butter.

Cream butter and sugar on medium-high for two minutes. Mix in one egg at a time, beating after each addition. Turn mixer off and add food coloring and cocoa powder to bowl. Turn on low until just incorporated and then beat on medium for 4 minutes.

Sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda and set aside. Stir buttermilk and vanilla together. Add dry ingredients to the bowl in three batches, alternately with the buttermilk in two batches, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat on medium until just combined. Add sour cream and vinegar and beat on low until combined.

Fill pan up half way and bake for 35-45 mins. Cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting,
8 oz cream cheese, soften
5 Tbsp butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on med-high speed. Sift the powdered sugar after measuring. Add the powdered sugar to the bowl in batches, beating on low until just combined and then beating on high until desired consistency is reached. For a stiffer icing, add more powdered sugar.

Note: I had a thin layer of cream cheese between each layer, if you want more double frosting recipe.