Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buttermilk Cake with Caramel French Buttercream

Christmas has come and gone and here we are at the last day of the year!  December brought a bad case of the too-busy-to-blogitis, combined with an extended case of writer's block, days too dark to photograph anything well, two kids with pneumonia, and then a terrible cold the week before Christmas - the week which I had set aside to get everything done.  So I went to the stores and shopped for hours when I should've been home in bed.  I even managed to get some Sticky Buns made - for that is a Christmas morning tradition that cannot be skipped!

Christmas Eve, I was so exhausted, I fell asleep during the first 2 minutes of our family viewing of A Christmas Story, and completely forgot about the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas before bed.  I didn't wake up until 5 am - just in time to see Santa scurrying around, trying to get the gifts under the tree before the kids woke up.  Santa's helper told me that he fell down the steps while trying to navigate the house in the dark and he may have hurt his back.

After all that, I get to hear after Christmas that so-and-so got this expensive gift for Christmas and so-and-so got this expensive gift AND that expensive gift for Christmas.  It's very hard to keep up with Joneses in our neighborhood (I don't even try).  *sigh*

I've decided that next year we're going to Key West for Christmas.  We'll leave all the Christmas hustle and bustle behind (we'll bring the sticky buns with us if necessary!)

December also brought a lot of baking, mostly Christmas cookies such as these.  But this cake is what's been on my mind to tell you about.  The combination was suggested by a friend who asked me to make this cake for her daughter's birthday. It was a fantastic combination! The basic vanilla buttermilk cake is a cake I've made umpteen times before.  This time, I made one recipe and divided the batter among six 6" cake pans to bake.  The bonus is that I could make one cake for my friend, and we could keep the other as a special treat.  Six-inch cakes are adorable and can serve a surprising number of people (you can easily get 10 more-than-big-enough slices.)

The frosting is a new addition to my repetoire and a welcome one.  This French Buttercream differs from Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream in that it uses whole eggs and not just egg whites (no leftover egg yolks!).   The caramel is brought to soft ball stage on the stovetop and poured over the whipped eggs, then the butter is added once the mixture has cooled.  It's silky and smooth and rich, but not too dense or sweet.  It was delicious!

Maybe one of these days, I'll post a comprehensive study on the differences in buttercreams (I didn't even mention American Buttercream which has no eggs at all).   A side-by-side comparison would be fun.  Anyone want to toss those dieting New Year's Resolutions out the window and volunteer to be a tester?

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
from Sky High, Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne
makes one 8-inch triple later cake or two 6-inch triple layer cakes, or about 36 cupcakes

4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans or six 6-inch cake pans with vegetable oil spray such as Pam.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and spray the paper.

Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing bowl, add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Whisk to blend well.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.

Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.

Caramel Buttercream
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle
Makes enough to fill and frost one 8 or 9-inch cake or two 6-inch cakes

1 1/4 cups (300 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 pound (4 sticks/454 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In medium saucepan, combine the sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the eggs at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.

At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Add the vanilla extract, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes. (The buttercream must be used at room temperature.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fondant-Covered Purse Cake

Yup, I made this cake! It's my first attempt at a fondant-covered cake since I took the basic fondant course at Jo-Ann's two years ago. It's not perfect, but I'm pretty proud of it! Inside is four layers of chocolate cake filled with raspberry buttercream and frosted with vanilla buttercream under white rolled fondant.

I can't take all the credit. Melissa at My Cake School designed this cake and taught me how to make it. Melissa and her mother, BeBe, have been decorating cakes for years, and now they are teaching others their skills through a series of video tutorials - clear precise videos with lots of helpful tips.

In order to access the videos, you need to become a member. Membership is $30 a year - probably less than one course at JoAnn's - and besides learning a ton about all kinds of cake decorating, you can ask Melissa any of your cake decorating questions and get a prompt response, and read about what other members are doing. Well worth $30 in my opinion!

To see the collection of video tutorials from My Cake School, check it out here.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cauliflower Soup

Recently, I found myself with a refrigerator full of cauliflower. You may be wondering how, exactly, one finds themselves with a boatload of cauliflower. Well, I belong to a CSA and this year, I volunteered to be one of their drop-off sites where people from my area come once a week to pick up their box of local organic vegetables.

Once in a while, a CSA member will not pick up their box of veggies and I am left to give it away or use it. You may think this is a great deal for me - it is, except when you find that you have more cauliflower (and apples and acorn squash) than your family can eat (just one head of cauliflower is probably more than my family wants to eat)!

I hate to waste anything and start trying to find ways that I can cook with it and/or freeze it so I can enjoy the produce right through the long months of winter. Making soup is the perfect solution and, although I'm not a huge fan of cauliflower, I absolutely loved this soup and I've made two double batches of it so far!

I've eaten this soup for dinner, I've eaten it for lunch, and I've even eaten it for breakfast! Soup is a surprisingly satisfying mid-morning breakfast served with a piece of buttered multi-grain toast. Hey - don't knock it 'til you try it!

And don't be surprised if you see a few more soup recipes here in the future. I've got some good ones to share with you.

Anyone have a good recipe for acorn squash??

Cauliflower Soup
from Ree Drummond at Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 stick Butter, Divided
1/2 whole Onion, Finely Diced
1 whole Carrot Finely Diced
1 stalk Celery, Finely Diced
1 whole (to 2 Whole) Cauliflower Heads (roughly Chopped)
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley (chopped)
2 quarts Low-sodium Chicken Broth Or Stock
6 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper, to taste
2 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Half-and-half
2 teaspoons To 4 Teaspoons Salt, To Taste
1 cup (heaping) Sour Cream, Room Temperature (optional, I omitted)
Shredded cheese for garnish (also optional)

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, or until it starts to turn brown.

Add the carrots and celery and cook an additional couple of minutes. Add cauliflower and parsley and stir to combine.

Cover and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour in chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the flour and cook about one minute. Add the milk and half and half and whisk to combine. Add mixture to the simmering soup and allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Check seasoning and add more salt or pepper if necessary. Blend with a stick blender to desired consistency.

Optional additions: Just before serving, place the sour cream in a serving bowl or soup tureen. Add two to three ladles of hot soup into the tureen and stir to combine with the sour cream. Pour in remaining soup and stir.

Or sprinkle some grated cheese or croutons on top.

Serve immediately, for breakfast even!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

If you're looking for a quick, easy and delicious cake to have for breakfast or tea, look no further. This is a delicious cake that from start to finish took less than an hour, and only requires about 15 minutes of active time.

It's seriously one of the easiest things I've ever made. And this little cake is so versatile. Substitute any berry or fruit you desire, or add a little lemon zest if you want. Dust with powdered sugar, or leave it plain. Any way you make it, you'll love this cake!

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
from Melissa Robert's recipe in Gourmet | June 2009

Serves 8-10

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 ounces)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sugar such as turbinado or raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Leaf Cookies Decorated with Wilton Color Mist and Pearl Dust

The show of leaves here in Pennsylvania is spectacular right now. The beautiful maple trees are all dressed in shades of gold, orange and red. But those leaves were hard to duplicate on a cookie, until I read about using color mist from Sweet Sugarbelle.

Color mist is a spray on food coloring made by Wilton. I found it at Michael's and it comes in a rainbow of colors.

I added another dimension by applying some gold pearl dust around the edges of the cookie.

Step-by-step, here's how I decorated these cookies:

1. Pipe around the edges and flood the cookie with royal icing colored with Americolor Gold gel food color and allow to dry at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Pipe the veins using the same gold royal icing and a small round tip. Let dry at least an hour.

3. Protect your table with newspaper, place some waxed paper or parchment on top and arrange the cookies on the paper. Spray the cookies with red and orange color mist and let dry.

4. Dip a dry, for-food-only paintbrush in the pearl dust and apply directly to the cookie. You can choose to dust the entire cookie or just the edges.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pumpkin Shaped Carrot Cake and a few words about Cream Cheese Icing

I was asked to make a pumpkin shaped cake for a neighbor who was having a bridal shower for her daughter. The bride loves all things Fall and pumpkin and it was the perfect theme for an October shower.

I started by making two bundt cakes using this carrot cake recipe. The bride has a nut allergy, so I substituted coconut for the walnuts in the recipe. The stem and leaves are made of ready-made fondant mixed with a little powdered tylose for added structure. The tendrils are made of fondant/tylose strips wrapped around a straw and allowed to dry. All fondant pieces were made days ahead of the cake assembly and allowed to dry.

Then I assembled the cake as follows:

I cut each bundt cake in half horizontally so that I could layer icing between the two halves.

The first cake is placed on the board upside down and iced between the two layers. Then, because the cakes are dense and heavy, I felt that they needed more support to hold the second cake. I placed four wooden dowels, cut to size, into the bottom cake and placed a cake board on top of that. Then I placed the other bundt cake on top, right side up this time to make the top of the pumpkin, spreading some icing between the layers. This way the host of the party could cut the top bundt cake down to the cake board, then remove the board and dowels, and then cut pieces from the bottom layer (like a wedding cake is constructed) and each serving would be a more manageable size.

I filled the hole in the center with some extra cake I had from another carrot cake I was making. Then cream cheese icing, colored orange with a touch of brown, is spread over the entire cake. After icing is spread all over the cake, I used a spatula and spread the frosting from bottom to top to create the vertical lines on the pumpkin. The stem and leaves are set on the cake last.

Now for a note about cream cheese icing:

Cream cheese icing has a tendency to get soft and can be difficult to work with when you are trying to achieve a detailed look on a cake or even ice cupcakes with a decorating tip. My suggestion would be to NOT use cream cheese icing for the outside of this cake, but use maybe a cinnamon-vanilla Swiss Meringue buttercream instead.

If you must use cream cheese icing, here are some tips:

1. Use cold cream cheese and slightly softened, but still cool butter. If the cream cheese and butter have been allowed to come fully to room temperature, they will be too soft and you will end up with runny icing that does not hold its shape.

2. DO NOT overmix the frosting. There is a tendency to do this especially if there are persistent lumps in the icing, but cream cheese which has been over-beaten gets runny and soft and will not recover with chilling in the fridge. I settled for a few little lumps in the icing over having an icing which was too runny.

3. Increase the butter to cream cheese ratio in your icing recipe as butter hardens more when chilled than cream cheese does and will help your icing keep its shape. I used this recipe as is and it worked fine with cold cream cheese and cool butter. It did NOT work fine with too soft, overbeaten cream cheese and butter.

4. Beat the butter first, then add the cream cheese and beat until combined, then add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until just combined, no more!

Monday, October 24, 2011

{Pinterest} Pies and Tarts

Y'all know about Pinterest, right? If not, you really need to check it out at It's a virtual pin board where you can post pictures of your favorite ideas that you find all over the web into one place. You can create different boards to organize them. You can follow, like, and comment on people's pins, and repin them onto your boards if you like. It's very addicting, so don't say I didn't warn you.

I've been bookmarking a ton of recipes and inspirational food photos and I recently posted all the pies and tarts I had bookmarked onto Pinterest. So click here if you need some pie inspiration for the holidays!

Happy Pinning!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maple Iced Pumpkin Cookies

Fall is upon us, a chill is in the air, and pumpkins are everywhere! These pumpkin cookies taste like pumpkin pie but come in a handy bite-sized package. They are soft and cakey, much like the orange cookies we make at Christmastime. And they are spicy and delicious. They would be a perfect treat to take along with you on your trip to the pumpkin patch or the Christmas tree farm, along with some hot spiced apple cider or hot chocolate.

The icing is the perfect compliment, adding a bit of sweet and moist, and the chopped sugared pecans give it a little crunch. They come together in a jiffy, so you can go outside and enjoy the fall weather and pick out that perfect pumpkin! Here's my little pumpkin choosing hers!

Maple-Iced Pumpkin Cookies
Cookie recipe adapted from Allrecipes
Sugared Pecans from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

Makes about 40 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple Icing:
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cream
pinch of salt
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Sugared pecans:
(this recipe will make more than you need for these cookies)
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups pecans
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together 1/2 cup of butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet using a cookie scoop (I used a 1 1/2 tablespoon sized scoop).

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookie no longer looks wet and it springs back when pressed lightly with your finger. Allow to cool before icing.

To make icing:
Microwave or heat on the stove all of the ingredients except the sugar until melted and smooth.  Add the sifted confectioners sugar and mix until smooth.  Add more cream by the teaspoon if a thinner consistency is desired.  Drizzle or spread icing with a small spoon or spatula.

To make sugared pecans:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a baking sheet or line with a silicone sheet liner.

Place the egg white in a medium bowl, add the nuts, and stir to coat evenly.

Sprinkle the sugar over the mixture and stir to combine.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the nuts are lightly browned and fragrant. When cool, place one pecan half on each cookie, or chop the nuts if desired and sprinkle on top of icing before it has dried.

Store leftover nuts in an airtight container at room temperature.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Joanne Chang's Perfect Croissants

My kids are getting to the age where school is becoming more challenging and they are experiencing some failures along the way. They don't realize that these failures are teaching them valuable lessons that they just can't learn any other way. As a mom, it's hard to watch them struggle and I try to guide them as best I can. When they face obstacles, persevere, and succeed, the pride and confidence that they have in themselves is one of the most rewarding things that I have witnessed as a parent.

Failure is discouraging at any age, but you learn a little bit with each mistake and hopefully you try again until you find success. Baking is no exception. It comes with many failures and no matter how long you've been baking, there are still times when things just don't work out.

Take the croissant. Until now, the perfect croissant had evaded me. Everything I'd read about croissants (and laminated doughs in general) told me that they can be tricky. I tried a croissant recipe once before and thought all was well, until I baked them and the butter streamed out and pooled on the baking sheet in a buttery mess. No one could tell when I served them (they were still pretty tasty), but I knew something had gone terribly wrong. I needed to try again, but I lacked the confidence until I came upon this recipe.

When I picked up Flour from my library, I expected that I would try to make Joanne Chang's Sticky Sticky Buns, made famous when they kicked Bobby Flay's buns on The Food Network Throwdown. Instead, I decided to try the croissants - and I had to do it before the book needed to be returned. There was no time for procrastinating.

I tried not to be dissuaded by the 4 pages of instructions - it was daunting at first glance. But after reading through the recipe, I realized that 4 pages of instructions were a good thing. The directions were clear and precise and spelled out every turn and every measurement of the dough every step of the way. I could do this (and you can too)! It could have been labeled "Making Croissants for Dummies", and it's exactly what I needed!

Laminated dough is essentially dough which is wrapped around a block of butter. This dough is repeatedly folded and rolled out to form many, many thin layers of butter and dough. When the dough is baked, the moisture from the butter layers is released and the steam creates a light and flaky, delicious pastry. Other laminated doughs include puff pastry and danish dough.

Croissants can be paired equally well with savory and sweet accompaniments. Of course, there's pain au chocolat, my first choice when I go to a great bakery, or a croissant with homemade strawberry jam, but Nutella on a fresh warm croissant is a match made in heaven.

As for the savory - the simplest chicken salad is transcended by sandwiching it between two halves of a croissant. I may or may not have eaten all of these variations on a croissant all in one day. And I may or may not have been compelled to go on a diet the very next day. I have no regrets - it was worth every bite. In fact, I may be more proud of these little pastries than anything else that's ever come out of my kitchen.

Is there anything that you just don't have the confidence to bake? Maybe something you tried before that was not successful? Leave a comment and let us know!

from Flour by Joanne Chang

This tip from Joanne Chang could be a game changer in your croissant success so please read the following carefully and perhaps you can learn from my mistake: Each time the recipe tells you to roll out the dough, first press up and down all across the dough in both directions with your rolling pin to flatten it, and then begin to roll it out to the size indicated. This preserves the layers of butter within the dough and prevents the butter from oozing out the sides of the dough when you roll it out, which in turn will prevent the butter from pooling onto your cookie sheet when you bake them. Believe me when I tell you that I read a LOT of recipes and none ever told me to do that. Thank you Joanne.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk (260 grams), at room temperature
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups (315 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (100 grams) bread flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, very soft, plus 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1 egg

Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or a hand mixer), mix together the milk and yeast on low speed for 5 to 10 seconds to dissolve the yeast. Add the all-purpose flour, bread flour, salt, sugar, and the 2 tablespoons soft butter and continue to mix on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl, place it on a tray, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. This dough block is called the détrempe. Place the tray in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or for up to 12 hours. The dough will firm up and the yeast will take some action and proof a bit.

At least 6 hours later, put the détrempe on a well-floured work surface, and then press down firmly to create about an 8-inch square. Rotate the square so that, as you face it, it looks like a baseball diamond. Use the sides of your palm to mark a 7-inch square in the middle of the diamond, creating triangular flaps at the 4 corners.

As best you can, roll out each of the triangular flaps into a squarish shape (about 3-inch squares). You will have to tug a bit at the edges to pull the flap into a square as you roll. When you are done, the entire piece of dough will be about 12 inches wide and tall, with a 6-inch-square lump in the middle and one squarish flap off of each side of that lump. The 6-inch-square lump will be about 1 inch thick, and the 4 squarish flaps will be about 1/4 inch thick.

Place the 1 cup cold butter in the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to break up the butter, yet still keep it quite cold. (Alternatively, pound the cold butter with a rolling pin to soften it and shape it into a 6-inch square.) Scrape the butter out of the bowl directly onto the 6-inch-square lump in the center of the dough, and pat it with your fingers into a square that covers the 6-inch-square lump. The butter should be about the same consistency as the dough.

Fold one of the flaps up and stretch it over the butter square to cover it entirely. (The dough is quite stretchy, so you can stretch it to cover the butter completely.) Fold and stretch a second flap over the first flap, then repeat with the third and then the fourth flap. Tug at the flaps to keep them in a square that covers the butter. You will now have a butter square that is entirely encased in dough above and below. Using the palms of both hands, firmly press down on this dough package to create about an 8-inch square.

When the dough package is relatively flat, switch to a rolling pin and continue to flatten the dough by pressing up and down on the package with the pin. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 16 by 10 inches. As you work, flour the dough and the work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking to the dough.

Position the rectangle so a long side is facing you. Using a bench scraper or a knife, score the rectangle in half vertically, to create two 10-by-8-inch rectangles. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Lift the right side of the dough and fold it in, so the right edge meets the scored line in the center. Then lift the left side of the dough and fold it in, so the left edge also meets the scored line in the center and meets the right edge, as well. Square off the folds as much as possible so the edges meet neatly, then fold the right half of the dough on top of the left half. This is called a book fold. Your dough will now be 4 inches wide, 10 inches from top to bottom, and about 2 inches thick. Rotate the dough pile clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 10 inches wide and 4 inches from top to bottom. The process of folding and rotating is called “turning the dough.”

Now, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide and 8 inches from top to bottom. The dough might be a little sticky, so, again, be sure to flour the dough and the work surface as needed to prevent the pin from sticking. Using the bench scraper or knife, this time lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be 6 inches wide and 8 inches from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Take the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then take the left third of the dough and flip that third on top of the middle and right thirds. (This is like folding a business letter.) Your dough should now be about 6 inches wide, 8 inches from top to bottom, and about 2 inches thick. Rotate the dough pile clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 8 inches wide and 6 inches from top to bottom.

Place the dough on a baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic under the dough as if you are tucking it into bed. Refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours and no more than 3 hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a well-floured work surface, with a long side of the rectangle facing you. This time roll out the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide and 12 inches from top to bottom. If the dough resists rolling, let it sit and relax for up to 15 minutes and roll again. Once again score it vertically into thirds, and then give it another letter fold (fold the right third onto the middle third, and fold the left third on top of that). Return the dough to the baking sheet and again cover it completely with plastic wrap. This time let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 16 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and place it once again on a well-floured work surface, with a long side of the rectangle facing you. Roll it out into a long, narrow rectangle about 30 inches wide and 6 to 7 inches from top to bottom.

Starting at the bottom left corner of the rectangle, make a mark along the bottom edge of the rectangle every 5 inches until you reach the bottom right corner. Then, starting at the top left corner of the rectangle, mark along the top edge exactly midway between the notches on the bottom edge. Your first notch will be 2 1/2 inches from the left corner and then continue to notch every 5 inches. Use a chef’s knife to cut the dough rectangle into triangles by cutting on the diagonal from notch to notch. You will end up with 10 triangles and a few edge pieces of scrap.

Starting at the edge, cut a 1-inch vertical slit at the center of the base of each triangle. Turn all of the triangles so the base is at the top, farthest from you, and the point is directed toward you. Pick up a triangle and hold it by its base with one hand and gently stretch it and stroke it lengthwise with your other hand to elongate it to 10 to 12 inches in length.

Place the lengthened triangle on the work surface. Fan open the base at the 1-inch slit into a Y, and then roll the dough down to the point. Place the rolled triangle, point-side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet, so the point is touching the parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough triangles, spacing the pastries 2 to 3 inches apart on the baking sheet.

Cover the croissants lightly with plastic wrap and leave them in a warm place for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until they are somewhat poufy and airy.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg until blended. Gently brush the croissants lightly with the egg.

If you are baking the croissants the same day, cover them again with plastic wrap and let them finish proofing for another 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes. They will get even more poufy and jiggly when you nudge them.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 400°F.

When the croissants are done proofing, brush them again with the beaten egg. Bake at 400°F for the first 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350°F and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes (for a total baking time of 30 to 40 minutes), or until they are golden brown all over. Let cool on the pan on a wire rack for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm.

If you are baking the croissants the next day, after the first 2- to 2 ½-hour proof, brush them lightly with the beaten egg as directed, wrap them in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. The next morning, remove them from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes. Then heat the oven, brush them again with the beaten egg, and bake as directed.

The croissants taste best the day they are baked. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature overnight, and then refreshed in a 300°F oven for 5 to 8 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Delicious Soft Flatbread

I love this soft flatbread. It's one of the easiest yeast breads you can make. You don't even need to turn on the oven, so it's a great bread to make when the weather is hot.

Wraps are wonderful if you need a quick and healthy dinner before the kids rush off to their activities after school. And the bonus - no forks required! You can fill a wrap with just about anything - salads like Greek Salad with Chicken or Fattoush, grilled steak and vegetables, the fixins for burritos or any leftovers you have lying around. Still warm from the pan, the wrap and fillings make a delicious combination. I hope you try it!

Soft Flatbread
adapted from the King Arthur Flour website

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup potato flour OR 1/2 cup potato buds or flakes
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon instant yeast

1) Place 2 cups of the flour into a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flour, and stir till smooth (it will be very dry). Cover the bowl and set the mixture aside for 30 minutes.

2) In a separate bowl, using a fork, whisk together the potato flour (or flakes or buds) and the remaining 1 cup of flour with the salt, oil and yeast until a crumbly mixture forms.

3) Add this to the cooled flour/water mixture, stir, then knead for several minutes by hand to form a soft dough. The dough should form a ball, but will remain somewhat sticky. Add additional flour only if necessary and keep your hands and work surface lightly oiled to prevent sticking.

4) Let the dough rise, covered, for 1 hour.

5) Divide the dough into 8 pieces (each about the size of a handball, around 3 ounces), cover, and let rest for 15 to 30 minutes. The dough may be wrapped or placed in a baggie and then refrigerated or frozen after dividing if desired. Bring to room temperature before starting the next step.

6) Roll each piece into a 7"- to 8"-circle (a rolling pin helps here), and dry-fry them (fry without oil) over medium heat for about 1 minute per side, until they're puffed and flecked with brown spots. Adjust the heat if they seem to be cooking either too quickly, or too slowly; cooking too quickly means they may be raw in the center, while too slowly will dry them out.

7) Transfer the cooked breads to a rack, stacking them to keep them soft. Serve immediately (recommended), or cool completely before storing in a plastic bag.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Cake with a Surprise Inside (two actually)

My oldest turned 15 a month ago. {Yes, I am a month behind in blogging. There's no catching up.} Anyway, each year on her birthday, I'm reminded of how she came into the world - 3 months early and only 2 pounds 15 ounces. Now she's teaching herself and others (via YouTube) how to play the guitar, she's making her own spending money from babysitting jobs and doing her own laundry (not perfectly, but she's doing it). Oh, and she's a year away from driving a car. I'm. Not. Ready.

But ready or not, your kids grow up.

So let's bake a cake and forget about our kids growing up and leaving us for a minute recipe of white vanilla cake batter, six 6-inch round cake pans, 6 jars of gel food coloring in the colors of the rainbow. It's beautiful and makes a huge impact - the oohs and aahs you hear when you pull out that first slice!

So what is the second surprise in the cake? Well, just keepin it real -in my haste to get 6 layers of cake in the proper order all frosted and perfect, I forgot to pull the parchment paper off the yellow layer of cake. I cut into the cake, everyone waiting for the big surprise, and I felt some resistance, then I felt a bit of embarrassment. I knew exactly what the problem was. I cut through the parchment to get the first piece out, then I gently pulled the entire piece of parchment out of the rest of the cake - voila! What a relief!

It's a good lesson to learn when it's only close family around to see the blunder!

Happy Birthday Ellen!

To make this rainbow cake (originally seen at Whisk Kid), I used my favorite white cake recipe (without lemon zest) and divided the batter evenly into 6 bowls. A scale is handy for this to be sure the layers are the same size. Add the desired amount of food coloring (Spectrum or Americolor gels are easiest to use) and pour into 6 separate greased and parchment-lined 6-inch round baking pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Layer and frost with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (leave out the raspberry puree). I used this easy method of decorating.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lego Star Wars Brownie Pops

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

...a 5 year old had a birthday party. His grandma made all the guests brown Jedi hooded capes and the little Jedi warriors went home with one of these brownie pops.

To make these for your little Jedi, follow the instructions for basic brownie pops.

For the yellow Lego head, shape the brownie into a marshmallow shape and chill. Make a peg for the top by shaping a piece of Tootsie roll and inserting it into the brownie shape. Dip the end of the lollipop the stick in yellow melted candy pieces thinned with vegetable oil and insert the stick into the bottom of the brownie. Then dip the entire shape into yellow candy melts and let dry. Then pipe face with fairly stiff black royal icing using a very small round tip (I used a PME 1.5).

For Princess Leia and Hans Solo, make round brownie forms, insert the stick and dip into a mixture of mostly white, with a few yellow and pink candy melts to make a skin tone mixture and allow it to dry. {For Princess Leia, while the pops are drying, form the braids by making thin snakes out of Tootsie roll and coiling the snakes into a flat round shape. Set these aside.} Dip the top, back and sides of the heads in brown candy melts for the hair. {For Princess Leia, while the brown is still wet, attach a Tootsie roll braid to each side.} Pipe the face using fairly stiff black royal icing and a small round icing tip.

For the storm trooper, do your best to shape the head into a Rolo candy shape with a flaired bottom. You can use tootsie roll snakes for the bottom edge to create the flair if it's easier for you. Insert the lollipop stick and dip in white candy melts. Pipe the details using fairly stiff black royal icing and a small round piping tip.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Have you tried...Wheat Chex with Peaches?

I love, love, love peaches. But I'm picky. They have to be perfectly ripe and juicy, not mealy (of course), in season, and grown locally. I buy my peaches from Soergel's and let them sit on the counter until they are perfectly ripe (the fruit yields to gentle pressure and it is no longer green at the stem end). If you're not ready to eat them when they become perfectly ripe, they can be placed in the fridge for a few days longer.

I don't know about you, but I don't generally like my peaches cooked, like in a pie or a muffin. I think that some of the flavor is lost in the cooking and well as the texture that I love.

My favorite way to eat a peach is for breakfast with Wheat Chex and milk and just a sprinkling of sugar. There must be enough peaches in the bowl so that there is peach in every bite. It's a bonus if the peaches are cold from the fridge. Sometime I indulge and use whole milk - it's like having dessert for breakfast, a la peaches and cream.

I don't buy Wheat Chex the rest of the year, but during late July and August, I'll go through several boxes. Then the peaches will be gone and I'll mourn them for a little while, and I'll move on to another cereal. When berries come into season, I'll get onto the Kashi Autumn Wheat with berries kick. When it's chilly outside, only Frosted Mini Wheats with hot milk will be as comforting. I'll never eat bananas on any cereal.

Do you have a favorite cereal and fruit combination? Do you even like to eat fruit on your cereal? I'd love to know!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Provençal Tomato Tart with a Crunchy Savory Tart Crust

This is a wonderful way to use the abundance of tomatoes from your garden or farm market. I wouldn't exactly call it a quiche, although it does have a little egg custard to bind the filling together. The main stars are the tomatoes, and the Gruyere cheese, and the herbs. There's also a little Dijon mustard in there, but it's not noticeable - it just adds a little extra flavor.

And the crust! I loved the slight crunch from the addition of semolina flour. It is the perfect complement to the savory filling.

The tart calls for a bit of herbes de Provence, but since my bottle of herbes de Provence is getting old, I thought I'd chop up a combination of herbs from my garden - thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and summer savory (new to my garden this year). It's delicious, fresh, seasonal, and pretty too.

Provençal Tart with Gruyere and Herbes de Provence
from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

one par-baked 9-inch Crunchy Savory Tart Crust (recipe below)
12-15 plum tomatoes cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (I used a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme, sage, summer savory, and oregano)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light cream
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the tomato slices in a colander and place it in the sink. Let the tomatoes drain their excess water for 15 minutes.

Spread the mustard evenly over the tart shell, then sprinkle the cheese and half of the herbs. Lay the tomato slices in overlapping concentric circles until the crust is entirely covered.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl with the cream, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture evenly over the tomatoes until it comes to about 1/4 inch from the top edge of the crust. Pour a little cream on top if there is not enough to fill the tart.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the custard is set. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Crunchy Savory Tart Crust
from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening
a glass of ice water

Put flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to combine.

Add the butter and shortening and pulse several time until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some butter chunks still visible.

Remove the blade from the food processor and dump the dough into a large bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the dough, then use your hands or a wooden spoon to bring the dough together to form a ball. The dough should be just past crumbly, but holding together. Add more water as needed, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to get the dough to come together.

Cut the dough in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, fit it into your tart pan, and trim the edges. Chill 30 minutes. Prick the bottom of the tart with the tines of a fork, line the tart with parchment or foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Place the tart shell on the center rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights from the pan and return the tart crust to the oven. Bake another 5-10 minutes for a par-baked shell (crust is golden brown and no doughy areas remain), or bake for 10-20 minutes for fully-baked tart shell (golden brown all over). Cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tomatoes, from Seedling to Fruit

It's time for tomatoes!

You might remember last Mother's Day, when all I asked for was a garden. I never dreamed this little plot of land could produce such bounty.

May 8, 2011

The seedlings went in shortly after and the mushroom compost was spread around to keep the weeds in control and nourish the plants. (The mushroom compost is the only fertilizer we used.) I bought so many plants, I had to give some away, but I packed as many in the garden as I could.

May 23, 2011

A little more than 3 weeks later on June 15th - I think that rate of growth could break a record - in my garden anyway. It's so green and lush. They look happy.

June 15, 2011

Here they are, another three weeks later on July 5th, the day before we left on a 2-week vacation to the other side of the country. Are you kidding me? I was stunned at how well the garden was doing. The plants were loaded with green tomatoes. I hated to leave it.

July 5, 2011

When we returned home, the tomatoes were just beginning to ripen. The beefsteak tomatoes were so big that after a heavy rain, the plants and stakes just couldn't support them anymore. They toppled over and have taken over our sidewalk. We'll just walk around for now. There's just no moving them, or the stems would break. The tomatoes from these plants are huge. Some have been eaten by chipmunks, but there are so many tomatoes, I don't even mind sharing.

August 12, 2011

There have been multiple days of harvesting, but here's what I picked on just one of those days...

The beefsteaks:

The plums:

Tomorrow, I'll show you a delicious tomato tart you can make with the bounty from your garden or farmer's market.

But guess what I'm doing today.

Canning, of course! And thinking of how nice it will be to have jars full of tomatoes for making wintertime soups and sauces.

I'd love to hear how your garden is doing!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fattoush {Middle Eastern Chopped Salad}

I beg your pardon! Fat what?

Fattoush is not a fat anything, but a delicious salad made with chopped vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber, feta cheese, olives, herbs, and grilled pita wedges. It's the Arabic version of the Italian Panzanella salad. It's also the perfect summertime salad to serve alongside some grilled chicken or kebabs. This version of fattoush includes some grilled zucchini and red pepper strips, but you could easily leave those out if you want. If you have some purslane handy, throw some of that in as well! This is an awesome salad.

Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Fattoush
as seen at Yum Yum originally from Epicurious

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings

On the grill
3 medium orange or red bell peppers (about 1 pound), stemmed, seeded, quartered
4 to 5 slender zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed, cut lengthwise in half
2 (5- to 6-inch) pita breads, each cut horizontally into 2 disks, or two 6x4x1/2-inch slices country white bread
Olive oil (for grilling)

For the dish
1 (8-ounce) cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 cherry tomatoes, each halved
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup (scant) pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 4-ounce piece feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (scant 1 cup)
Ground sumac (I omitted)

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush peppers, zucchini, and bread on both sides with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 6 minutes. Transfer vegetables to foil-lined baking sheet. Grill bread until lightly charred and just crisp, turning often, about 3 minutes. Transfer to sheet with vegetables and cool. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces. Vegetables and bread can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Cut peppers lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut zucchini lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in large bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, green onions, olives, mint, and cilantro and toss to combine. Add bread pieces. Whisk 1/2 cup oil, lemon juice, cumin, and sumac, if using, in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add dressing to salad; toss to coat. Add feta and gently mix into salad.
Transfer salad to large bowl. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summertime Cookies - Peaches and Watermelon

Peaches and Watermelon are two of my favorite fruits this time of year. I buy and buy and eat and eat until they are out of season. These aren't the juicy variety, but delicious all the same! Enjoy the season while it lasts!

To decorate the peaches:
1. Frost peach with royal icing colored with one part copper and two parts lemon yellow gel food coloring
2. Frost stem with chestnut-colored icing and the leaf with leaf green-colored icing
3. Let dry 8 hours.
4. In each of 2 small bowls, mix about 3 tablespoons of water with one drop of peach or orange gel color in one bowl and one drop red gel color in the other bowl.
5. With a food-only paintbrush, brush lightly all over the peach with peach colored water and then highlight the left side with red colored water.
6. Before the water dries, sprinkle all over with white sanding sugar.

For the watermelon how-to, see this post at Glorious Treats.

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Real Raspberry Buttercream

In my last post, I showed you a little trick for filling a cake with lemon curd. Now you can put it into practice and make this special cake with the delicious combination of lemon and raspberry. It's a great summertime cake - the flavors are light and refreshing.

Cake...filling...buttercream...homemade raspberry sounds like a lot of work. It is. Baking from scratch almost always is. All those bowls and strainers (stuck with raspberry seeds! ugh!) and pots to wash - that's the part I could do without. I haven't been able to feel like washing dishes is therapeutic just yet, especially when I'm in a hurry. (It's the baking part for me that's therapeutic - unless I'm in a hurry!) But the work is all worth it once you taste the result of your efforts.

Here's a tip...if you have freezer space, it helps to make more than you need and freeze the rest, for quick assembly of defrosted components. No bowls or strainers or pots to wash the next time around. Or use the freezer to space out the work over a week's time, making each component as it is convenient.

Make more puree than you need, then freeze the leftover puree in 1/4 cup portions and save yourself from making puree each time you make raspberry icing, or raspberry ice cream, or raspberry sauce. I poured 1/4 cup of puree into each section of a muffin tin, froze it, then transferred the puree chunks to a plastic baggie for long term freezer storage. If I could find raspberry puree in the store, I would definitely consider buying it.

You can certainly freeze the cake layers. I do that anyway, whether I'm using the cake the next day or the next month. I don't recommend freezing cake longer than a month, however.

You can freeze Swiss meringue buttercream. Freeze it with only the vanilla added and add the raspberry puree when re-whipping the icing after it comes to room temperature.

I've heard you can even freeze lemon curd, although I've never tried it. Have you?

The photo below is not an actual slice from the cake above, but I wanted to show you what the inside of a lemon curd-filled cake looks like. See where I made the "dam" of icing when I filled the cake? A lot of work? Yes. Delicious? Definitely yes!

Lemon Cake
adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups milk
5 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 3 8" cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment and spray the parchment.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend well. Add the butter and 1 cup of the milk and mix to blend. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites with the vanilla extract and the remaining 1/3 cup milk. Add this to the batter in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate. Divide the batter evenly among the pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert them onto wire racks and cool completely, about 1 hour.

Wrap each cake layer with a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour or up to one month.

Lemon Curd
adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
makes about 2 cups

2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped or grated lemon zest
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cups lemon juice, or 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup lime juice
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Fill a medium saucepan with about 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse for about one minute. Combine the lemon sugar, eggs, and egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl such as a stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk together for 30 seconds. Place the bowl over the simmering water and immediately begin whisking and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice and continue to cook and stir with a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl, until the curd has thickened and reached a temperature of 160 degrees F.

Rinse and dry the bowl of your food processor. Using a mesh strainer, strain the curd into the food processor bowl. Pulse the food processor while you add the butter a piece at a time, until the texture is homogenous. Transfer the curd to a container with a lid and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd. Allow the curd to cool completely and then place the lid on your container and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.

Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream

6 ounces egg whites
10.5 ounces granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup raspberry puree

Place 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan and bring the water to a simmer. Choose a saucepan that your mixer bowl will fit on top of without touching the water. In your mixer bowl, place the egg whites, sugar, and salt and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over the simmering water and continue to whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is very hot to the touch, about 130-140 degrees F.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and place on your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until the outside of the mixer bowl is room temperature. It is very important that the meringue be completely cool before adding the butter.

Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, letting each tablespoon disappear before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, switch to the paddle attachement and beat until the mixture becomes fluffy and thick. This could take up to an additional 5 minutes or so. The mixture will go through a stage where it looks curdled before it reaches the proper consistency.

Add the vanilla and the raspberry puree and beat until completely combined, about a minute.

Raspberry Puree

a bag of frozen raspberries (a gallon sized bag yielded about 2 cups of puree)
a sprinkling of sugar

Place the rasperries and sugar in a saucepan and bring them to a simmer. When the raspberries are softened and liquidy, pass the mixture through a strainer (I used a chinois) to remove the seeds, trying to get as much of the seedless pulp and liquid as possible through the strainer by pressing on the solids with a spatula or spoon. Return the strained liquid to the saucepan and reduce the liquid so that it becomes a little thicker and has a syrupy consistency. Pour 1/4 of the liquid into each cup of a muffin tin and freeze. (Reserve 1/4 cup if you will be using it right away. Let it come to room temperature before adding to the icing.) Transfer the frozen puree portions to a plastic bag for long term storage in the freezer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Filling a Cake with Lemon Curd or Jam

When filling a cake with something soft like lemon curd or jam, it helps to have a couple of tricks up your sleeve so that the filling doesn't ooze out when you place the second cake layer on top.

For Lemon Curd:

Place your cake in the center of the cake board which has been lined with 6" strips of plastic wrap or waxed paper or parchment paper around the edges. This is to keep the cake board clean while you are frosting the cake. For the sake of recycling, I re-use the plastic wrap which I used to double-wrap and freeze the cake layers. Only place the plastic around the edges so that they are easy to pull out from under the cake when the cake is completed.

Place some buttercream icing in a large piping bag fitted with a large (3/4" opening) round or star tip and pipe a border of icing around the perimeter of the cake layer.

Spread the lemon curd inside the buttercream walls which you have created, but no higher.

Place the second cake layer on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 20 minutes. Then frost the cake as you normally would, trying not to press down on the top of the cake too much, which would force some of the lemon curd out of the middle. Refrigerate the completed cake until one hour before serving to let the buttercream soften a bit. Refrigerate any leftovers (because of the lemon curd filling).

For a Jam-Filled Cake:

The process is essentially the same, except that I spread a very thin layer of buttercream on the bottom cake layer to prevent any of the jam from seeping into the cake. The layer of jam is not intended to be as thick as the lemon curd, so my walls are smaller. I used a smaller round tip with about a 3/8" opening to create the walls here.

Spread the jam on the inside of buttercream wall, place the top layer and continue icing as you would any layer cake. The cake filled with jam can stay at room temperature for up to 2 days.


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