Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

It's fitting that February's Daring Bakers challenge is a cake recipe. It's the perfect choice since this just happens to be my one year blog-o-versary. (Yeah me! I've managed to say a lot about nothing for a whole year!!) Doubly perfect, since the Daring Bakers was the first baking group I joined back in March of last year.

I guess I'm feeling a little nostalgic about my journey with the Daring Bakers. Most recipes I've adored (my favorite was the Danish Braid), some not so much, but in all cases I've learned and grown as a baker. Thanks so much to Lis and Ivonne for starting this wonderful group and letting us all come along for the ride.

OK, on to February's challenge... a flourless chocolate cake aptly named Chocolate Valentino.

We bakers were to pair our cake with a home made ice cream of our choice. I couldn't resist flavoring my ice cream with my new best friend, browned butter. I found this recipe on Epicurious, but omitted the peanut brittle. I wanted pure, unadulterated browned butter heaven.

We got our cake, we got our ice cream. Let's get this party started!

The verdict? This was my first flourless chocolate cake and I didn't quite know what to expect. The texture was... ethereal. (Do you ever think you know the definition of a word, but when you go to use it, you're not sure? I looked up the definition of "ethereal" and it said "exceptionally delicate", which perfectly describes this confection.) I don't know how, but somehow it held together. I guess it was magic! As mentioned in the recipe notes, it tasted exactly like the chocolate I used, which was a mixture of semi-sweet chocolates. It was definitely tasty, but I might use some milk chocolate if I made this again, since I prefer it.

And the ice cream? It was incredible. Fantastic even.

It was perfect for my blogoversary. (I guess I need to go find something to give away, since that appears to be customary.) Until then, the recipe will have to suffice.

I have included some of Wendy and Dharm's notes at the bottom.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling, butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment (see notes below for pan size).
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater, beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't check until it was 170 F on the instant read thermo. D'oh! It still tasted good and I didn't sense any burned chocolate taste.)
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Note on recipe - the recipe consists of 3 simple ingredients and how you interpret them is part of the challenge. The simplicity of this recipe gives credit to the ingredients much in the same way of French baguette.
-This recipe comes together very quickly with a hand mixer.
-This is a very decadent cake that will sink a little as it cools but will still hold its shape.
-Very dense and fudgy cake that tastes divine.
-The top forms a light crust kind of like a brownie
- Use your favorite chocolate – the finished cake will taste exactly like the chocolate you use. Be creative with your chocolate, if you like a sweeter cake use milk chocolate or a combination of the semisweet and milk chocolate. If you like bittersweet chocolate use that and add sweetness by mixing the semi sweet with bittersweet. If you are daring, try white chocolate. (Dharm used all bittersweet and Wendy used a half bitter/half semi sweet chocolate).
- A higher cocoa percentage increases the bitterness of the chocolate.
-Equipment - it is optional to use a heart shaped pan. For a real Valentino, bake it in a heart shaped pan or cut it out into a heart shape. You may use any shape pan that gives you an area of 50 square inches - 6x8 or 7x7. An 8” spring form pan works with great results as do smaller pans or ramekins.
-An instant read thermometer is highly recommended.

Please stop by the Daring Bakers blogroll to check out the other delicious creations. See you next month!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Food for Thought: Bite Me

Dude! What? Bite you?

This month's Food for Thought book group selection was "Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture" by Fabio Parasecoli.

I find myself struggling to describe this book. It sort of feels like a bad boyfriend. Incredibly frustrating at times, then he's nice to you for a while and you think he's not so bad. I'm not quite sure how this relationship will end since I'm not done with the book. Now that I'm older, I'm not so willing to make time for bad boyfriends and difficult books. (Not that I actually have a boyfriend, since I'm married and all, but you know what I mean.)

This book started out reading like a senior level college textbook and I'm thinking "what the... ? Did I wake up back in college, except now I'm in some sort of food-related major?" It seemed like the author was trying to pack as many ideas into every sentence of the Introduction as humanly possible. I had to reread quite a few of the sentences, leaving me feeling like some sort of drugged out flunky. Here's an example sentence, where the author is trying to explain his definition of "Pop Culture":

"Received ideas about what culture is have deeply altered, following the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the crisis of the project of modernity that hinged on the ideal of progress and often coincided with the goals of Western white males, the end of the old-style Cold War and the crisis of the traditional political ideologies, the beginning of new cultural wars (including the so-called "War on Terror"), the crisis of the post-colonial model of international relations, the complex and ever-shifting dialectics between globalization, national boundaries, and empire, and many other factors that go beyond the scope of this book".

That was one sentence, people! If you took all of that in on the first pass, please tell me. I will forever consider you a brainiac.

I skipped half of the Introduction and I also didn't make it all of the way through Chapter 1. They were just too heavy.

Chapter 2 was titled "Of Breasts and Beasts". OK. Interesting. We're now reading about breast feeding, cannibalism, and vampires... and (get this) how they're related. This chapter was an easier read, but the subject matter was well, mind boggling. I suppose I can accept that on a deeply psychological level, these ideas are related, but, as a mother who has breast fed two incredibly adorable babies... I'd prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of their cannibal instincts, frankly.

Chapter 3 was about works of Science Fiction. There are many examples of hunger and eating (or "consumption and ingestion" as the author says. Why can't he just say "eating"?) and it's symbology in works of science fiction. OK, yea, there are lots of hungry zombies out there jonesing for a dinner of fresh brains. OK. I get it.

Now Chapter 4 looks like it has promise. It's titled "Quilting and the Empty Body, Food and Dieting". Unfortunately, I can't make myself get back to it now that I picked up next month's book "My Life in France", by Julia Child, and accidentally started reading it.

I'm sorry, Fabio, but I just haven't enjoyed reading your book. And I'm sorry to dis your book out here on the Internet where my millions of readers will be influenced by my bad review (ha ha, "millions of readers"... I crack myself up sometimes).

Anyway, if y'all want to join us, please stop by Kate's site, The Clean Plate Club, and get yourself on the blog list. I'm already enjoying Julia Child's book. I think it's going to be a winner.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cookie Carnival: Chocolate Fudge Cookies with Toffee and Dried Cherries

The title pretty much sums it up for this month's edition of Cookie Carnival.

These cookies were chocolaty with a slight crunch from the toffee and a bit of extra sweet tastiness from the dried cherries. They were soft inside, just the way I like them.

It looks like Regan Daley of "The Sweet Kitchen" knows her cookies. This is the second cookie recipe of hers we've made and it was another home run.

Seriously, these cookies were fantastic.

Try them, you won't be disappointed.

Chocolate Fudge Cookies with Toffee and Dried Cherries

makes 40 large cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup plump, moist, dried sour cherries
8 oz. bitter or semisweet chocolate chopped into chunks about the size of the cherries
1 cup English toffee pieces for baking such as Skor Bits

1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two heavy baking sheets, not non-stick, with parchment paper and set aside. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars until light in colour and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add
the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla. Stir in the flour-mixture in 3 additions, blending just until the dry ingredients are moistened. I find this part of the job easier with a wooden spoon, rather than a mixer, as I can see better which parts of the batter need more attention without overmixing. Stir in the chunky
ingredients and mix until they seem evenly distributed. (the dough may be frozen at this point for up to 4 months: wrap the dough securely in plastic wrap, then in a plastic freezer bag. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator without removing its wrapping before portioning the cookies and baking.)

2. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets and place them in the center of the oven. If you have a large, evenly tempered oven, place the 2 sheets in at once, on two racks positioned close to the middle of the oven. switch the position of the trays once during baking. If your oven is small, or tends to have hot or cold spots, bake one tray at a time so the cookies bake evenly.

3. Bake the cookies for 15-18 minutes, or until barely set in the center and just firm around the edges. Rotate the sheets once or twice. Cool the cookies on the tray for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely before storing. (feel free to eat them at any point.) Run the hot tray under cold water to cool it, dry thoroughly and repeat with remaining dough. Store the cookies in airtight containers, layered between sheets of parchment or waxed paper for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD: Caramel Crunch Bars

It's Tuesday again, and you know what that means! Time for the Tuesday's with Dorie crowd to tackle this weeks recipe, Caramel Crunch Bars, chosen by Whitney of What’s Left on the Table?

This was an interesting bar, with a cinnamon coffee cookie base topped with a layer of melted chocolate and toffee bits. Since I'm not a fan of coffee, I made these for a teacher's dinner at my son's school. I figured they were probably quite tasty if you like coffee, so no need wasting them on me.

For the record, I tried them, and as I expected, they weren't my favorite. I think they have potential though. Maybe I'll give them another try someday minus the java. If you'd like to give them a go, please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From my Home to Yours" (I promise, you will love it!), or Whitney's site above.

OK, that's that! See you next week when we make Chocolate Armagnac Cake. (Chocolate what?)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cake Slice: Southern Coconut Cake

This week, the Cake Slice Bakers tackled Southern Coconut Cake, from the cookbook Sky High, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne.

I told myself all month long that I was not making this cake. And I had a truck-load of excuses too... I'm not crazy about coconut, I don't have time, my waistline doesn't need it, I don't have my old neighbors to unload the extra on, etc., etc..

My husband really dislikes coconut. He'll make faces and tell me that shredded coconut reminds him of toenail clippings (ewwww!). (He can be so grown-up sometimes.)

But then, at the last minute, I got the excuse I needed to get me into the kitchen and channelling my inner coconut lover. You see, the last few nights, we've had two guys over doing some work in the house and they've run into every problem under the sun. What should have taken three or four hours has taken eight, and they're still not done. That's when I told myself, "cake will make it better!"

Turns out, I am SO glad I made this cake. The icing, a cream cheese Italian Meringue buttercream, is to DIE for!! I wish I could fill a swimming pool and swim in it. It's quite rich, though, so a small piece of cake was plenty.

I'm thinking the icing would also work as a "cream cheese mousse"... maybe as part of a fancy plated dessert. (You know, those fancy plated desserts that we all serve after a long day of work, homework checking, running kids, and cooking dinner?)

The cake is good too, moist and soft. I really couldn't detect the coconut milk in it, though.

If you're feeling a little coco-nutty, I highly recommend trying this cake. Coconut lovers might want to up the coconut factor by adding some coconut extract. (You can find the recipe ---> here.)

One last word on this cake. It's versatile... it goes with the tropical theme...

... and the winter wonderland theme.

Seriously, doesn't it just remind you of fluffy, white snow?

Baking Notes:
I halved the recipe and baked it in 6 inch pans. Also, and this is just me... whenever a cake recipe calls for egg whites only, I usually break the rules and use whole eggs, replacing two whites with one whole egg. I'm not all hung up on having pure white cake and having a bowl of egg yolks to find a home for is just one more task in my already busy day. So, that's why my cake is a nice creamy white instead of snow white.

OK, that's all for this month!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD: Devil's Food White-Out Cake

This has been a much anticipated week at Tuesday's with Dorie. The Devil's Food White Out Cake that is pictured on the cover of Dorie Greenspan's cookbook "Baking: From my Home to Yours" was finally chosen. We have Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater to thank for that.

I think one natural by-product of baking every week, even multiple times per week, is that you eventually become a tougher critic. You can't help it. The more you bake, the bigger the pool of recipes you have to compare the new ones to.

I feel like I've become a tough critic. Almost like something has to be REALLY good in order to get two thumbs up from me.

In spite of being a tough crowd, I suspect that most people are going to love this cake. It had dreamy light and billowy frosting and a deep chocolate cake studded with bits of solid chocolate.

On the plus side, it's a lovely cake that practically begs to be tasted. The cake was a deep chocolate color with a nice chocolaty flavor. The meringue icing was light and fluffy... a real dream.

On the down side, I thought the meringue had a hint of cream of tarter aftertaste. If I made this again, I might cut back on the cream of tarter, or maybe leave it out altogether. Also, and I know this is my nit-picky perfectionist side talking, but I thought it was messy to serve and it didn't slice well, or at least mine didn't. It didn't look too hot after we dug into it a few times.

(By the way, I made half the recipe and used 5-inch pans. I didn't seem to have the rising problems that some folks reported but I suspect it might be because of the less than half-sized pans I used.)

Overall, it was a decent cake that gets high marks for the "wow" factor. Thanks so much to Stephanie for picking this cake. You can check out Dorie's book or Stephanie's site for the recipe.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Vote Now: Food for Thought Book Blog

As if we didn't have enough excuses to blog, some of us bookworm-bakers and cooks have joined forces with Kate at the Clean Plate Club (sound familiar? Kate also hosts Cookie Carnival) and joined Food for Thought. It's a monthly excuse to visit the library and pick up a copy of whatever book the group votes in. Read the book, then, at the end of March, we share our views, thoughts, likes and dislikes. Plus there are bonus points if we chose a recipe from the book (if there are recipes) and make it.

For March, it's my turn to pick the pool of books we will chose from. Looking at my choices, I've got two "bad boy" books and one by the queen mother of the kitchen. LOL, If you pick one of the books by the guys, be forewarned that there's a bit of (OK, a lot of) foul language.

OK, folks, here are your choices for March:

1.Cooked by Jeff Henderson

2. My Life in France by Julia Child

3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

OK, make yourself heard and vote by commenting to this post. Once the votes are in, Kate will send out an email letting know which book was chosen and the due date.

If you'd like to join us, head on over to Food for Thought and Kate will get you signed up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I haven't lived in my mother's house for a good, oh... (looking skyward, chin in palm), well, I guess it's been 25 years (wow!). Come to think of it, we haven't lived in the same town in as many years either.

One constant in the time since I've been on my own is that every time mom and I visit each other we say "oooh, we should make divinity!" It goes back to my childhood and all of those times we'd get a hankering for the utterly sweet, soft, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth candy. I'm pretty sure divinity is the primary reason my mom had a Kitchenaid mixer way back before it was trendy and cool and they came in a rainbow of colors.

But, alas, it seems that mom and I rarely get around to actually making divinity. We talk about it, allright. But doing it... just doesn't seem to happen. I'd say we finally get around to it, on average, every 10 years.

Welp, I guess it's been 10 years since the last time. We were due for the excited watching and waiting while the Kitchenaid whipped the bejeezus out of the egg whites and sugar syrup. We were due for the mad scramble to scoop the candy out of the bowl into neat little clouds before it started to get thick and uncooperative.

Due for a little taste of heaven in our mouths. Mmmmm... words can't describe how I feel about divinity. "Love" is not too strong a word.

We've always followed the basic Divinity recipe from my tattered and checkered Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. You can also find it online ---> here.

A few words of advice if you decide to give this a whirl: divinity is perfect when flavored with almond extract... if you're a fan of almond extract, that is. A few drops of food coloring give it a lovely pastel color. And when it comes time to scoop the candy out onto waxed paper... you need to get your groove on, people. No dallying allowed or you'll be left with crusty (although still delicious) blobs rather than smooth swirly divine-ness. Finally, be warned, it's quite sweet and probably best left to serious sweet tooths like me and mom.

As a side note, I plan to try a batch of home-made marshmallows, for comparison. I suspect the two candies are similar. In looking at the recipe, the major difference is the gelatin in the marshmallows. Maybe the marshmallows are more chewy? Worth a test batch, I'd say.

So anyway, if you try your hand at divinity, give me a holler. I'd love to hear if you adore it like I do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TWD: Floating Islands

For this week's edition of Tuesday's with Dorie, Shari of Whisk: a food blog chose Floating Islands.

This French dessert definitely falls in the "woulda-never-tried-this-in-a-million-years-if-not-for-Tuesday's-with-Dorie" category. I've never even heard of such a dessert. But boy, I'm glad I have. What a tasty, unique treat.

It was like a custard soup with sweet clouds of meringue floating about. As you can see, I went the lazy route and used strawberry sauce in place of the recommended caramel drizzle. Talk about delish! Like a deconstructed strawberry ice cream (I got more generous with the strawberry sauce in the post photo-shoot servings.)

The "soup" was creme anglais, which gave me no problems. I made half of a batch, so it got to the right temperature in no time. It wasn't thick-thick, like pasty cream. I assume it was supposed to be somewhat runny.

The meringue clouds... those were so interesting. I had no idea what to expect when poaching them. I half expected them to dissolve before my very eyes.

But, no. (I still can't believe they stayed intact.) I overcooked a few of them - you can see those flat little eggies in the back.

Many, many thanks to Shari for introducing me to this lovely dessert. I really enjoyed making and tasting it. Very delish!

If you'd like to peek at the recipe, maybe even give it a try, see Shari's blog, or check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From My Home to Yours".

Thursday, February 5, 2009

P is for Peach

"Peach pie", that is.

This month's "You Want Pies with That?" assignment was to bake a literary-inspired pie and was chosen by Mary of The Food Librarian (what other theme could a librarian possibly chose?). I was all over this as I love, love, LOVE to read.

A bag of frozen peaches has been calling out to me every time I open the freezer, so I knew I wanted to bake a peach pie. It was just a matter of whether to chose the book "James and the Giant Peach" (one of my childhood favorites), or the alphabet inspired murder mystery series by Sue Grafton. Her first book is "A is for Alibi" and she's now up to "T is for Trespass". In the end, I went with Ms. Grafton's books... they take me back to the time when my second baby was born and I sat on my rear-end for pretty much the first three months of his life, reading her entire series and holding my sweet little munchkin while he alternately ate and slept. (I also read Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series during that time.)

So anyway... it's too late to appeal to Ms. Grafton to name her "P" book, "P is for Peach", but I'm running with the theme anyway.

P is also for "polka dots".

My peach pie looked so cute going into the oven (I thought)...

P is also for (slightly) "pathetic" and "pitiful".

Not so pretty coming out, huh? My sad little pie definitely falls into the "only-a-mother-could-love-it" category. I blame it on the convection oven, which I futzed around with the whole time the pie was baking.

(Gee, I wonder if I should pull out the owner's manual and read it? Nah... I think I'll flub up a few more recipes first, just for good measure, LOL.)

But you know what? It tasted awe-some! I served it at our Super Bowl party and got many, many compliments on it. I will definitely make this again.

Pathetic Pitiful Polka-dotted Peach Pie

One double 9-inch unbaked pie crust
5 cups sliced peaches (I used well-thawed frozen peaches, about 2-1/2 pounds)
3/4 C. sugar
4 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (if your peaches are on the dry side, I'd go with 4 tablespoons, but if they're quite juicy, I would use more)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, sliced

This recipe comes from an old family friend that I no longer keep in touch with. All I had was the ingredient list so I had to refer to other cookbooks and basically wing it as I went.

Prepare your pie dough up to the point of rolling it out and laying the bottom crust in your buttered pan and trimming the edges. Refrigerate the crust while you prepare the filling. Roll out and refrigerate your top crust (on a flat surface such as a cutting board) if using.

Gently toss the peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes, then add the filling to the pan. Dot the top with the butter. At this point, you could top with a lattice top or a full pie crust. Seal the edges and crimp or flute as desired. Make slits in the top if using a full crust. Refrigerate the pie for at least a half hour, or stick it in the freezer if you have less time. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the pie on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 50 minutes or until juices bubble. Cover the edges with aluminum foil or a pie shield if they start over-browning. (FYI... I baked mine for more like and hour and a half total, but that have been because I was messing with my oven the whole time. As a side note, I wonder if a top crust would have kept it from being a little dry on top.)

Remove from the oven and let cool on a cooling rack.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TWD: World Peace Cookies

I wondered how long it would take for one of the Tuesday's with Dorie bakers to pick World Peace Cookies. Thanks so much to Jessica of cookbookhabit for finally choosing these cookies (which coincidentally is the only recipe I made from the book before joining TWD).

Dorie Greenspan instructs us to cook them for 12 minutes and no longer. I think I found out why...

I was so proud of my little triangle shaped cookies, which where shaped into a triangle-y log, chilled, and then sliced.

I was not proud of my just slightly over-baked cookies, which went from adorable cute triangle cookies to unrecognizable blobs in the blink of an eye. (Sniff, sniff) I had been watching them closely and they were fine, but then I got distracted for a minute and when I turned around to check on them I was greeted with this...

They still tasted good, though, and I managed to get the round cookies out of the fiery cookie killer (i.e. oven) before tragedy struck again.

How were they? These are a chocolate chocolate chip cookie with a slightly sandy texture and a touch of saltiness. At first glance, they might remind you of the mall cookie store staple, but they're a more sophisticated cookie than that. Opinions were mixed amongst the tasters. My sons loved them. My hubby, a bona fide chocoholic, wasn't thrilled. I thought they were very good, but would probably pick a mall chocolate chocolate chip cookie over these, given the choice. (What can I say? I like soft cookies.)

I'm not complaining though... I ate my share of them. For the recipe, see Jessica's site above, or check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: from my Home to Yours".

OK, over and out until next week when we get all fancy-schmancy with Floating Islands.