Monday, December 5, 2016

Luxury Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee

I wasn't too worried about making this cookie/candy because I've made the original Rose's Christmas Cookies buttercrunch toffee many times.  It used to be a regular on my Christmas cookie platter, but I haven't made it for a while.  I don't know why because everyone always loved it.

But when I started getting out the ingredients, something about the recipe deeply confused me:  the amount of chocolate was given as a range.  From 170 to 340 grams.  This from Rose, the Queen of Precision.  It must be a mistake, I thought.  Because I use the advance reading paperback copy to bake with (I know from experience that a cookbook you use once a week for two years gets torn, stained, and generally ratty), I checked the real (autographed) copy.  No, that book gave the same range.  I was so stunned I had to sit down to ponder.  Okay, I guess Rose is letting me decide how thick a layer I want on my toffee.  This is probably good.  I should be willing to take responsibility for how chocolatey I want my toffee.  But that's a big range.  I finally decided to let chance take over.  I have a huge bag (now almost empty) of Guittard chocolate chips.  I poured them in a bowl, and then looked at the scale.  223 grams.  I tossed in a few more to get it up to 225 grams.  Then I put another 225 grams in the measuring cup, to be melted at a later time.

I used dark brown sugar because I was out of light Muscovado.  Remember when your baking staples were just flour, sugar, and butter?  And remember when you'd never heard of Muscovado sugar or Lyle's golden syrup and didn't have at least four different kinds of flour in your pantry,   I dimly remember those days.  Anyway, the toffee mixture is much darker than I remember it being.  I'm too lazy to go compare recipes.

"Instant-reading" thermometers aren't really instant.  Also, the temperature varies depending on whether you take it in the center or the edge of the pan.  So much as I like the idea of taking the hot toffee mixture off the flame at just the right moment, it doesn't really happen.  At least not in my kitchen.

I love it when things change form as if by magic.  Here the chocolate melts while it sits on top of the hot toffee, which is also changing from molten lava to solid form.

I also remember when I didn't have two different sizes of offset spatulas.  Life was simpler then.

After cooling for an hour, the now-hardened toffee easily slipped off the Sil Pat and turned over without a hitch.  A lot of the almonds seemed to fall off even though I thought I'd done a thorough job of pressing them down.

Then melted chocolate and almonds go on the second side.  Press and cool.

And there you have it.  Luxury Buttercrunch Toffee with just exactly the right amount of chocolate.  It's very hard to get those proportions just right.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Rustic and Adorable"

Photo by Katya
Second Dinner

It's pretty hard not to like these cupcakes.  In fact, I think you'd have to be pretty grinchy not to like them, although being grinchy is always possible.

For Katya, they provided a chance to work on her "cupcake spin"--"that quick twist of the wrist, properly executed, [that] will make your cupcake frosting look both rustic and adorable, a la Magnolia Bakery or their offshoots."  Piping makes them look adorable, but if you add cherries to the raspberry mousseline, the cherries might get stuck in the piping tip.  Since Katya's previous foray into baking was brownies into which she'd forgotten to add flour ("weirdly delicious), she was satisfied with how these turned out.

Rosa has some of the best piping skills this side of the Rockies, so it's not surprising that her cupcakes also looked adorable (although perhaps not rustically so).  Rosa enjoyed the cupcakes so much, but she wished the recipe for the mousseline had made just a bit more--the better to make big and beautiful roses atop the cupcakes.  She also baked her cupcakes at 350 rather than 375 because she was afraid that temperature was too high for the delicate cupcakes.  

If you've read many of Vicki's posts, you'll know that she likes to taste-test the batter, as well as the finished product.  And yes, this was "another outstanding bowl of cake batter from Rose's repertoire." It was Vicki's "lucky day," as there was nary a glitch with meringue are mousseline.  And the result was some "pretty fancy cupcakes, ... perfect for a Fancy Nancy tea party."   I for one think that in these troubled times we could all do with more Fancy Nancy tea parties.  

I read Rachel's post with great interest because she compared smooshing the raspberries into puree with her old method (sieve and effort--ugh!) with her new method (food mill).  The food mill won, hands down, once she figured out that she had the blade in upside-down, that is.  Even though Rachel had to mix the butter by hand (her immersion blender "having given up the ghost"), all turned out well.  If you want to see what a cupcake with pink spaghetti frosting looks like, you'll have to check out her blog.  If you want to know how to get pink spaghetti frosting, you'll just have to figure out how to clog up a piping tip with a "small chunk of hardened sugar syrup."  

I have a confession to make.  I've always been comforted by the fact that Jen is almost as piping-averse as I am.  After all, if the Evil Cake Lady herself can bake 100's of great cakes without piping, why shouldn't I?  But now she's gone and made these cupcakes and decorated them so beautifully, with roses straight out of Alice in Wonderland.  Even though she claims she hid her piping errors, I didn't spot any.  Not only did her cupcakes look great, but they tasted great too.  "I immediately wanted another cupcake, but in an attempt to model good behavior for Eliot I did not.  He is in bed now, and of course I am eating another cupcake."

Catherine's "baking adventure" was a "tale of shortcuts, go-arounds, and straight out laziness."  (Note that this is a quotation from Catherine, and that I am not accusing her of being lazy.)  Catherine figured that she could find just enough energy to make cupcakes or mousseline, but not both.  So she decided to bake the cakes and make raspberry cream cheese icing instead of the mousseline, as Baker Google assured her this would be a snap.  Not quite a snap when you run out of icing sugar in the middle of the night, but Catherine managed a series of improvisations that resulted in good, though runny, frosting.  Perfect for a young dog's birthday party.  Yes, you read that right.

Next week:  Luxury Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee, an ultra-chocolatey variation on Rose's old favorite from Rose's Christmas Cookies.

The countdown:  We're down to two.  It's only the toffee and Kouigns Amann Redux.  If you want to get in on the fun, better do it now.

Monday, November 28, 2016

White Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Mousseline

Have you ever been tempted by a cupcake at a bakery only to bring it home and find that it's dry and flavorless and the nicely-piped mountain of icing tastes of nothing but sweetness?  Well, these cupcakes are not like those cupcakes.

First, they're made with melted white chocolate, which gives them an indefinable but definite flavor and also (I think) gives the cake some texture so that you can't just squish it in your hand and have it turn to mush.  (Well, I didn't try that maneuver, but I'm still standing behind my statement).

Other than making sure you have real white chocolate with butterfat content, there's nothing tricky about making the batter.  And even without weighing the individual cupcakes, I found that the batter was just enough for 16 cupcakes.  You probably could have put a little more batter in each cup and make 14 cupcakes, but there's too much for just a dozen.  Having more than a dozen of these cupcakes is not the worst thing in the world.

Now the frosting.  When I first read the name of the recipe, I said to myself, "Mousseline.  Hmm.  Isn't that the frosting with the sugar syrup that can fly all over the kitchen and the one that turns into a horrible curdled mess but eventually turns out OK?  If you're lucky."  Yes, indeed it is.

I hate straining and pounding and mashing raspberries.  Last time I had to do it, I told myself to immediately order a food mill.  But I forgot.  I forgot until I was pounding and mashing the raspberries this time.  I even know which one I'm going to get, but there are no more raspberry puree recipes in The Baking Bible, so should I get it now or wait until the next time I need it, which may be never.  The jury is out.

Once you have the raspberry juice and the puree (I have to say it was really hard to tell the juice from the puree).

Creaming the butter for a good long time is the easy part.

And this time, adding the sugar syrup to the egged whites was easy too.

Dealing with the curdled mess was not so easy.  Actually, curdled messes, as in two of them.  First, the butter and sweetened meringue mixture curdles.  Then, when you add the raspberries, it breaks apart and curdles again.  I took the curdled mess's temperature several times; it was 68 or 69.  Not too hot and not too cold.  But definitely not just right.  However, by magic as far as I can tell, eventually the curdled mess turns into mousseline.  Should it be called messeline?

I'll grant you that this doesn't look much like a rose.  But hey, I piped it, didn't I?  I should get credit for that, especially since I hadn't a clue which tip I was supposed to use.  Also I got tired of piping from the middle outward, so I went from thse outside in.  There is actually one cupcake that you might look at and say to yourself, yeah, I guess you might call that a rose.  Unfortunately, Jim didn't take a picture of that one.

Mess or not, I love the taste of this mousseline.  Usually I try to eat one piece of whatever I've made and get it out the door ASAP.  I put these in the freezer, however, to reward myself for doing something reward-worthy.  JJ gets a treat for being a good listener.  Maybe I should
try that.

What did you say?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Wow!"

Photo by Rosa
Simply Delicious

This picture of Rosa's looks, at first glance, like it's made with a meringue pie shell, but that beautiful white rim is actually piped super-stabilized whipped cream.  For the crust, Rosa made a honey wafer graham crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible, and added lemon zest and toasted walnuts for extra flavor.  I think she was a little surprised at how delicious this pie turned out to be, and suggested that it would make a dynamite Christmas dessert.  Some other alternatives she suggested were to make mini pies or to simply skip the pie concept altogether, and spoon it into pretty glasses topped with whipped cream and crumb topping.

When you have enough Minor Mishaps to start numbering them, you know it wasn't completely smooth sailing.  But Rachel didn't let her list of mishaps stop her from making the pie from start to finish.  First, there was the two-hour slow-oven meringue bake, which prevented her from baking the pie before taking a planned walk, but that just threw the timing off.  More problematic was the Losing of the Pie Pan.  This clearly shows the disadvantage of having only one pie pan (although you can see that logic would require you to have at least two of every cooking utensil).  Well, in fact, she did have another pie pan, which was perfectly fine except for being a little shallow for this recipe.  Minor mishap #3 was beating her egg whites for the meringue with an immersion blender that was leaking oil.  It turns out that you can beat egg whites by hand.  Rachel, who's not on Facebook, missed Rose's instructions on how to get a meringue shell out of the pan.  Suffice it to say "the pie had to be scraped out like a baked pudding."  Oh well.  Rachel still found things to admire about this pie, but it wasn't going to make it on her Top Ten All-Time Favorite list.

Rachel should take a look at Catherine's blog if she wants to feel a little better about her mishaps.  Catherine didn't number her mishaps, but I think she might challenge Rachel to a mishap duel.  (Easy for me to say since I didn't even make the meringue).  Had Catherine not been an Alpha Baker, she would not even have considered making this pie.  "To my mind, a meringue pie crust is an odd concept, and filling it with mousse straight out eccentricity."  But, as it turned out, she was glad she made it.  "The meringue swirls at the rim of the pie ... are a clever and pretty way to show off the pink mousse filling.  The pomegranate flavoured filling is a really lovely, fresh flavour that goes well with the sweet meringue."  Because I've already written enough, I won't detail the things that went wrong in the formation of the meringue (but remember that Catherine lives in one of the most humid spots in the world).  I'll just say that in Catherine's estimation, delicious as it tasted, the rest of the pie just might have to "go to the big fridge in the sky."  Sniff.

Let me add that Joan has been baking right along with us, but the fruits of her labors are not always visible.  Her blog is acting up, so she's been unable to post photos to the blog, but you can see some on Facebook.  She may be working on her pie at this very moment!

Next week:  The last cake in the book--a white chocolate cupcake with raspberry mousseline.  Sounds delightful.

The countdown:  We have only three recipes left--the cupcakes, a candy/cookie, and the incredible Kouign Amann.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pomegranate Winter Chiffon Meringue Pie

Although the name of this pie has the word "meringue" in it, my pie does not, as the picture makes clear, contain meringue, piped or otherwise.  We had dinner guests on Saturday.  I was still shocked and saddened by the election results, and I didn't have it in me to plan the menu.  Saturday morning, though, I realized I was either going to off to shake off my gloom and get started or I would end up ordering pizza and having ice cream for dessert.  Nothing wrong with pizza and ice cream, but that's not what I have in mind when I invite people for dinner.

I decided on comfort food--braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots.  Then I checked the pomegranate pie recipe to see if I'd have time to make it.  Well, clearly the meringue shell wasn't going to work.  Not only did I have to make meringue and pipe it into a pie pan, but I'd also have to bake it for over 2 hours.  And where did that leave the short ribs that had to go into the oven for 3 to 4 hours.

I considered the alternative: a lemon cookie crust.  That sounded delicious, but I'd have to bake cookies, which gave me the same short rib problem.  Then I had, if I do say so, a brilliant idea.  Remember the very good, very easy crumb crust made with vanilla wafers?  What if I made that, and just added lemon peel to it.

And so I did.  Vanilla wafers, sugar, almonds, butter, and lemon zest.  No baking, no interfering with the short ribs.

Once I got the crust problem out of the way, it couldn't have been simpler to make the pomegranate chiffon part of the pie.  POM pomegranate juice (Rose is right about the beautiful color) with sugar and cornstarch.

Then beaten egg whites mixed in with the thickened juice to make a sweet pink mixture, and whipped cream to make it even more sweetly pink.

Poured into the already made crumb crust.

Since I wasn't doing any of the hard stuff, I thought that the least I could do is decorate the pie with fresh pomegranate seeds, AKA pomegranate arils.  It's a little tricky to get rid of all the bitter white pith that wants to cling to the arils.

And here is a piece of pie.  As the pie sits, the mixture wants to separate.  The next day, there was a definite dark red layer at the bottom of the pie, but if you don't say anything about it, people will think it's supposed to be like that.

My guests loved this pie.  We had it for dessert at our pre-theater dinner.  Then, after we watched the play, we came back and had a second piece.  Our friend David said that mango chiffon pie was his old favorite pie, but his new favorite is pomegranate chiffon pie.  I feel a little bad about displacing an old family favorite, but I think there's always room for two kinds of pie in your life.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Dangerously easy to eat"

Photo by Jen
Evil Cake Lady

The question of the week was "Are these real madeleines?"  Jen, for example, said she had never tried a madeleine before, so she has "no idea if this is true to the original or not," but it is a "lovely soft little chocolate cake," so that's good enough for her, especially since the madeleines are "easy enough to make and pretty quick."  (You'll notice that she made full-sized madeleines, which accounts for their being quick and easy.)  She also discovered that the unbaked batter tastes like "soft serve ice cream."  An added bonus.

It seemed to Catherine that an authentic madeleine would be made with almond meal.  But she acknowledged that she was no expert in the arcana of madeleine-making, especially since she had only one single madeleine mould.  So she made just a few madeleines that looked like madeleines; she filled up her mince pie tray with the rest of the batter.  Without "the traditional shell shape," these looked like "cake blobs.  Delicious but meaningless."  But is anything delicious really meaningless?  That is my existential question for the day.

Raymond may be the Alpha font of madeleine knowledge, since he says he has "made many different kinds of madeleines over the years," his favorite being "the classic lemon flavored Commercy madeleine."  His "only complaint about madeleines is that they go stale so quickly."  He liked these chocolate madeleines (and, I'm guessing, the fact that they don't get dry and stale), but would not bother brushing on the glaze next time:  he'd either "dunk them in the chocolate glaze or skip it altogether and just dust them with cocoa."  

Faithy had some doubts about whether you could call these true madeleines because they were "humpless"--they came out of the oven without the "characteristic hump" of traditional madeleines and they "tasted more like chocolate cake than madeleines."  They actually reminded her of whoopie pies, and so she decided to sandwich them with ganache.  Doubts about this madeleine's authenticity fell by the wayside after she tasted them.  "I would still make it again anytime since they are easy to make, delicious, and easy to eat too in bite size."  

Vicki didn't much care if they were true madeleines or not.  She didn't even much care if they were baked or not.  Like all of Rose's cake batters, "why bother baking them at all?  Just hand out spoons and sit around the mixer bowl like a fondue pot."  But she did bake them, in both regular- and mini-sized versions.  There were "more casualties among the mini."  On the other hand, that meant "more to pop into my very willing mouth."  They are "lovely little morsels."  

Rachel's "adventure into madeleine land definitely ended well," even though she used mini-cupcake pans instead of madeleine pans and even though she dipped the cupcake-madeleines into the ganache instead of glazing it on.  (No stray bristles on your madeleines that way).  They were delicious, and easy to make, although that could just be because "compared to the complicated dance of supervising college applications while not being overbearing makes most things look simple by comparison."  Yes, I remember that dance.

Next week:  The Pomegranate Winter Chiffon Meringue Pie.  A perfect choice for Minnesota, and probably some other states and provinces, since we're supposed to have our first winter snowfall tonight.  Note Rose's new information on how to unmold a meringue pie.  

The countdown:  Only 4 recipes left, one from each major category of the book--pies, cakes, cookies, and breads.  You can do it!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Chocolate Sweetheart Madeleines

This would be quick and easy if you didn't use mini-madeleine pans and if you didn't have to glaze the mini-madeleines with a tiny paint brush (that shed red bristles on the tiny cookies).  Also, if your mini-madeleine pans had some definition, you might end up with tiny madeleines that actually looked like madeleines.  If they don't, then you end up with little brown blobs.  Brown blobs taste fine, but they don't have the same cachet as madeleines.

The madeleine batter is based on Rose's Chocolate Domingo Cake recipe, so even though the madeleines are in the cookie section, they're really more of a cake.  Even the small madeleines (made using only 4 grams of batter) remained moist after baking.

I had only two mini-madeleine pans (24 small indentations in each pan, for a total of 48).  I'm glad I didn't get four pans to make 100 (or 96, to be precise).

These are the little molds.

And these are the big ones.  Even when I looked at them both, it didn't occur to me that the big one was going to produce something that looked like a shell, and the little one wasn't.

Even when I spooned (no, I didn't pipe) them in their little pan in 4-ounce increments, it didn't occur to me that they might not look like madeleines.

Finally, after I took them out of the pan and started daubing chocolate glaze on them, I started thinking, hmm, these don't look like much of anything.  Aren't madeleines supposed to look like shells?  Well, maybe when they have glaze on them, they'll look like something.

Nope.  Well, maybe a little bit like a newly hatched bunch of headless brown turtles.

Actually, even the bigger ones didn't look so much like madeleines.  On the other hand, they didn't look so much like headless turtles.

The good news is that they really did taste good.  And the small ones were just the right size for granddaughter Lily to smush in her hand before popping into her mouth.  And anything that elicits a big toothy grin from Lily is OK with me.