Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Filbert Gateau

No doubt there will be many comparisons between this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, Filbert Gateau and May’s challenge, Opera Cake. Both cakes were comprised of nut-based genoise cake layers, rich meringue buttercream, a chocolate glaze (chocolate in this case and white chocolate previously) with a little extra flair in the form of praline paste this month and white chocolate mousse in May.

Except for the buttercream, I wasn’t crazy about the individual components of the Opera cake. The opposite was true for the Filbert Gateau… I liked all of the elements by themselves. But this is where it gets weird. Once assembled, I liked the Opera Cake better. Go figure!

Now, I didn’t add the praline paste to the cake filling for the Filbert Gateau, and maybe this would have pushed it back into competition with the Opera Cake. Maybe, maybe not.

My praline paste bombed. Clearly, I cooked the caramel too long and it got bitter. But on the up side, I didn’t ruin the pan like the last time I attempted caramel. (Note to self… must make at least a passable caramel one of these days.)

It looked good, but tasted bad.

I used Frangelico in my buttercream and simple syrup, and they were delicious but somehow the chocolate flavor was overwhelming (note to self… add more booze!). Unfortunately, I got the chocolate layer too thick on top, which exaggerated the problem. (By the way, if you want, see two posts down for more about my adventures with ganache.)

All in all, it was a good experience, though. I learned about filberts (hazelnuts). I learned that baking with alcohol is a good thing. I learned that I liked hazelnut genoise.

I learned that I need to scrape some chocolate off the top before I pour that second layer of ganache. (See how thick it is... Not good.)

I also had fun making my first chocolate rose.

I learned that skinning hazelnuts blows big time, but hey, if I get invited to a hazelnut-skinning party, I'll know to be busy that day, lol.

Thanks so much to Mel Cotte for hosting this month. I really appreciated the opportunity to work with hazelnuts for the first time. If you're interested in the recipe, please refer to Mel Cotte's blog. Or better yet, get yourself a copy of the book "Great Cakes" by Carole Walter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TWD: Summer Fruit Galette

In case you’re new to the baking blog world and you keep stumbling across Tuesdays with Dorie posts, wondering what's up... here's the deal. A whole mess of us crazy bakers “get together” once a week and bake the same recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to Yours”. We all post on Tuesdays, hence the name. I've had a blast seeing how everyone else’s turned out, and what problems, successes and lessons learned they had. It’s been a FANTASTIC baking experience and I learn something new each and every week. I’ve also overcome both of my big baking fears… those dreaded yeast baked goods, and pie dough.

Speaking of pie dough, this week’s recipe was Summer Fruit Galette, chosen by Michelle from Michelle in Colorado Springs.

I had a baseball-sized ball of dough in the freezer from a previous TWD recipe, so I used that. I didn’t follow the recipe for a full-sized galette. Rather, I used fruit I had on hand and kept adding until it seemed like enough.

After rolling out the dough to about a 10-inch circle, I spread on some Clearbrook Farms Peach Butter.

For my fruit, I used… one very ripe peach, half of a small container of raspberries, and a handful of frozen blueberries (hence, the frosty appearance in the “before” shots). I didn't have any graham crackers, so I used breadcrumbs between the jam and fruit.

I folded up the sides, trying to make the pleats nice and neat. Next time, I'll try to make the pleats stand up a bit more so they hold the custard (you'll see why in a minute).

I stuck the galette in the freezer before baking. The one time I made a galette previously I didn't freeze beforehand and my pleats came undone and filling ran all over. So anyway, after baking, this is what it looked like. Aren't the blueberries fantastic?

I poured custard over the top, and promptly watched it run over the sides (boo!).

After baking a second time, I was met with this nastiness. Ewwwww!

I was able to cut away the charcoal mess, but there was a black ring around the bottom edge of half the galette. (Lesson learned! - make the sides stand up a bit more. And go easy on the custard.)

It was just the right amount of fruit. And I loved the combination… the blueberry and raspberry flavors melded to the quintissential “berry” flavor, while the peaches were different enough that they stood out when eaten. Kind of a little flavor surprise in your mouth.

I was pleased (again) with how flaky this crust is. Amazing, considering I used the wadded-up-and-thrown-in-the-freezer scraps from the Blueberry Pie recipe.

A hearty Thank You to Michelle for chosing this recipe. I seriously loved it and am happy for my waistline that I made a small galette.

Up next week? Black and White Banana Loaf... hmmm, sounds intersting!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How to Cover a Cake with Ganache

First, I have to admit that I’m no expert at pouring ganache. I’ve only done it twice as a matter of fact. But I learned a few good tips along the way and wanted to share them with you.

I had a few missteps my first time (which is the subject of this post), which I discuss below. Hopefully this will help you all do it right the first time.

So, here goes… to cover an 8-inch around, 4-inch tall cake, I used:

25 ounces (by weight) semi sweet chocolate chips or other chocolate to suit your needs and taste (but not white chocolate)
25 fluid ounces heavy (whipping) cream
1 T soft butter (the butter gives it more shine)

You can vary the amounts somewhat to suit your taste. Using more whipping cream will give you thinner ganache while using more chocolate will give you a thicker ganache. Also, I had more ganache than I really needed. I just wanted to make sure I had plenty. I did two pours and had about half the ganache left over. Ganache freezes well, so it wasn't a big deal.

You can scale the amounts up or down as needed to suit your size cake.

Before you get started, ice your cake in buttercream. If you want to make it a thinner layer of buttercream, that's probably fine, the key is to make sure it's smooth. It should be as smooth as you would ice a regular buttercream cake, because any imperfections in your icing will show up in the final cake. Or, if you aren't using buttercream, at the least trim the sides and top of the cake with a sharp knife so they're as smooth as possible.

Place your iced cake in the refrigerator to cool. A well-chilled cake will ensure your icing doesn't run off the sides of the cake. Make sure your cake is on a same-size cake board. (i.e 8-inch cake on an 8-inch cake board.)

Place the chocolate in a bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream just until it’s on the verge of boiling.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes.

Then stir with a spoon. It will look lumpy at first.

Keep stirring and it will start to smooth out and come together. Add the butter.

At this point you can use an immersion blender to get the final bits of not-quite melted chocolate chips mixed in. Keep the blade immersed in the chocolate to minimize the air bubbles. When I did this part, it left a lot of air bubbles, which I was worried about. But they didn't seem to affect the final product, so I guess it was OK. If I do this again, I might try stirring with a spoon until completely smooth.

Get a cookie sheet with sides and line it with wax paper. Place a cooling rack in the pan. Put something on the rack that will elevate the cake slightly. Make sure it's something stable. (I used a lid from a Gladware container, which isn't the most stable, LOL.)

I need to talk about the temperature of the ganache for a minute here. Before you pour your ganache, it needs to be cooled. If it's too warm, it will be too thin and you won't get a nice covering of ganache on your cake. (That's what happened to me as you'll see in a minute.) For my first pour, it still felt a warm to the touch. I measured it with my digital thermometer and it was 98 degrees F... too hot! Then I stirred and waited, and stirred and waited. It probably took an hour too cool sufficiently. When it got to 84 degrees, it no longer felt warm to the touch. I did my second pour at that point and it worked much better. But use caution, you don't want to let it get too cool or it will thicken.

Anyway, place your chilled cake on the rack. Put the ganache into a container with a pour spout.

Starting in the center of the cake, start pouring the ganache. Move the cup in an ever-widening circle above the cake, until the top is completely covered. Keep pouring once you get toward the edges until the sides are completely covered. (I liked having plenty of ganache at this point to ensure the sides are covered completely with no bare spots.)

Let the cake sit for a minute. Scrape the bottom edge of any excess chocolate. I moved the cake and rack to another cookie sheet lined with wax paper. You can see where the sides of the cake got lumpy and bumpy because the ganache was too warm/thin and it continued to drip down the sides.

I chilled the cake in the refrigerator until the remaining ganache was no longer warm to the touch (84 degrees F on the thermometer). Then I smoothed the sides of the cake with a spatula in preparation for another (hopefully better) try. If you're doing a second pour, you might scrape some of the chocolate off the top and then smooth. The second time I did this I did two pours and I ended up with too thick of a layer on top.

Then I did a second pour of ganache the same way as the first. That turned out much better.

I let the cake sit for just a minute, scraped the excess from the bottom, moved the cake and rack to my other cookie sheet, and chilled the cake in the refrigerator. You want to get it into the fridge so that the chocolate will set up.

Here's the finished cake. From here you can place it on a larger sized cake board or serving dish. Use royal icing or buttercream to attach the cake to the board. Don't use ganache to attach... it may slide around. It's pretty with some simple borders using lighter colored chocolate icing.

You can reuse the excess ganache that collected in the pan, as well as the unused ganache. It also freezes well. If frozen, thaw it to room temperature then heat it slowly in the microwave or on top of a double boiler before using. Then cool it to the correct temperature, if necessary, and use.

OK, thanks for sticking with me here. If anyone has any other tips or pointers on how they do it, feel free to share. Again, I'm far from an expert. Any questions, just ask.

Monday, July 21, 2008

TWD: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler

I owe a serious “Thank You” too all of the hosts at Tuesdays with Dorie who have chosen fruit desserts from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to Yours”. When I thumb through a baking book, I’m drawn like a magnet to the cookie and chocolate recipes. But no more. My eyes have been opened to the wonder of fruit desserts.

This week’s TWD recipe was Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler, chosen by Amanda from “Like Sprinkles on a Cupcake”. Just so you know, rhubarb pie is my all time favorite… grandma’s rhubarb pie anyway. So, I was looking forward to this week’s recipe.

By the way, I found out that my cheap-o cherry pitter works pretty slick!

The cobbler didn’t disappoint… I really enjoyed it. I was afraid the ginger would overpower, but it proved to be a very nice addition. It was just right.

I made a few small adjustments. I added a pinch of cinnamon to the filling. Also, I didn’t roll the topping into golf-ball sized balls, or any size balls for that matter. Rather, I patted it out, cut the topping into chunks and dropped them on top by spoon (I can’t wait to see what the direction-followers’ cobblers look like… undoubtedly prettier than mine.)

I also didn’t peel the rhubarb… I didn’t want to lose the ruby-redness of the rhubarb (and I’m lazy).

About 35 minutes into baking, the top seemed brown enough, but the filling hadn’t bubbled up onto the top yet, so I laid a piece of foil over top and baked another 10 minutes. It was just right… I had some bubbling up onto the top, the topping was a nice golden brown, and the rhubarb was soft and tender.

I was bummed I didn't get any shots of the plated cobbler. I took it to a cookout and didn't want to look like a goob taking a million pictures of dessert, lol.

Thanks Amanda! I loved it!

Up next? Summer Fruit Galette.

Friday, July 18, 2008

6 Random Things Meme

Hey there! I've been tagged by Susie Homemaker at She's Becoming DoughMesstic (love that blog name, lol). I'm to tell you 6 random things about myself, then tag others, and let her know...

1. I have the rarest blood type.

2. I've moved 37 times (or is it 38, hmmmm...)

3. I like bluegrass music, which most people who know me probably wouldn't guess.

4. Maybe you've figured it out by my (random) flower pictures, but I love flowers.

5. It kills me to throw out a magazine, so you can imagine what my closet looks like.

6. The funniest sounding town I've driven by was Chunky, Mississippi. (No disrrespect to Chunky, Mississippians :) )

Since I'm doing this on the fly, how about just tell me/us some random things about yourself. (I dare you! it's harder than you think.)

Thanks Susie Homemaker... this was fun!

Cookie Carnival: Blackberry Almond Bars

I joined a monthly cookie baking group called Cookie Carnival, hosted by Kate at The Clean Plate Club.

In keeping with the summer fruits theme, Kate picked Blackberry Almond Bars for this month’s cookie.

I had some blueberries and raspberries that were on the verge of heading south, so I used those rather than blackberries. And, since I didn’t need them right away, I made the blue–raspberry curd on Thursday and refrigerated until Sunday when I baked the cookies. I wasn't sure the curd would last, but it turned out fine.

The verdict? They were very tasty... a nice change from the chocolate-somthing type cookie I invariably end up baking. The fruit layer was sweet and just the right consistency, the cookie layer was like buttery shortbread.

My only complaint is that they weren’t very photogenic, lol.


For the shortbread:
* 12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup ground toasted almonds
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 tsp. salt

For the blackberry curd:
* 2 pints blackberries (I used 1-1/2 pints blueberries + 1/2 pink raspberries)
* 4 eggs
* 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
* Pinch of salt
* 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
* 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch cake pan.

To make the shortbread, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, flour, almonds, granulated sugar and salt and process until small lumps form. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom. Bake until the shortbread is golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Meanwhile, make the blackberry curd: In a food processor or blender, puree the blackberries until smooth. Pass the puree through a chinois set over a bowl, using a pestle to press on the solids and extract as much juice as possible; discard the solids. You should have about 3/4 cup juice.

In the top pan of a double boiler or in a nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar until blended. Then whisk in the blackberry juice, salt and lemon juice. Set the top pan over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan, or set the saucepan over medium-low heat. (If using a saucepan, take care not to heat the mixture too quickly.) Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon, until the mixture is warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Begin adding the butter a little at a time, stirring each addition until blended before adding more. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until a finger drawn across the back of the spatula leaves a path, 8 to 10 minutes more. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Pass the curd through the chinois set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Whisk to blend, then pour the curd over the shortbread, spreading it evenly to the edges.

Bake until the curd is set, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into individual bars, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Dust the bars with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Makes 20 bars.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Pudding

Mmmm… finally, a chocolate dessert. Pure, unadulterated chocolatey goodness.

This week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe was chosen by Melissa of “It’s Melissa’s Kitchen”. My family and neighbors and I thank you, Melissa!

One of these days I'm going to learn to "completely and thoroughly" read a recipe before getting started. When I got done with the final whiz of the pudding in the mixer (food processor proved to be too small), I thought it didn't seem very chocolatey. I added a little more cocoa but still it was only faintly chocolate. Then as I was cleaning up, I happen upon my bar chocolate... which was supposed to be in the pudding, NOT on the counter. Duh! I melted it and added it... Double DUH!

The verdict? It was very good and very chocolatey. I think I would change up the type of chocolate if I made it again, though.

The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, and only 6 tablespoons sugar. I thought that would probably be too bitter for our milk-chocolate-luvin’ tastebuds, so I used a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet. I also ended up adding about ½ cup powdered sugar because it was still just a tiny bit bitter. After it chilled for the requisite time, it tasted better.

Next time, I would probably try semi-sweet, and possibly some milk chocolate. I guess it’s hard to overcome a lifetime of eating (and enjoying) good old Hershey’s milk chocolate.

If you'd like to try it, you can find the RECIPE-----> HERE.

Better yet, go buy the book "Baking: From My Home to Yours", by Dorie Greenspan. It's worth it's weight in chocolate, I tell ya!

Stay tuned for next week's TWD adventure... Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Famous Hammus Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

A couple of life-times ago, I worked in an oil refinery. A refinery in Texas… on the Gulf Coast, a stone’s throw away from Louisiana. Kinda swampy, Cajun type country. The kind of country where one might see alligator road kill on the way to work (yes, I sure did).

The kind of country where one might eat gumbo, deep-fried crabs, and bread pudding... or find themselves elbow-deep in crawfish, boiled potatoes, and corn on the cob on a Friday night. No plates required at the crawfish boil, just newspaper and paper towels.

Them’s some good eats, as Alton Brown would say.

Some of the best cooks I ran into during my five years down south were the operators at the refinery. Guys whose dads and granddads had worked there before them. Men and women who, to me, were the salt of the earth. They worked to live, not the other way around.

In the control rooms of the refinery I ate crawfish etouffee, shrimp scampi, Italian cream cake, the most decadent and piled-high carrot cake I've ever eaten… the list goes on... from guys who loved to cook and were happy to share their recipes.

One recipe I collected was from a fellow named Robert Hamm. Fitting name as he was indeed, a ham. These are similar to other oatmeal chocolate chip recipes I’ve seen, but they don’t come with the quirky title that these do. Whatever… they’re hearty and delicious and get raves whenever I make them.

Oh, and what's interesting about the first picture in this post... I was about 300 feet in the air on a tiny little platform that you get to by ladder. Wonder if my inscription is still there...

Anyway, Enjoy!

Famous Hammus Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2-1/2 C. oatmeal
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 C. butter, room temperature
1 C. brown sugar
1 C. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 12-oz. bag chocolate chips
1 4-6 oz. Hershey bar or Kisses, chopped or grated
2 C. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Blend oatmeal to a powder in a blender or food processor. Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together with oatmeal powder and pulse a few times to combine.

Cream butter, eggs, vanilla, and both sugars together. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until blended. Add chocolates and pecans and stir well.

Roll into 2-inch balls or drop by an ice cream scooper onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.