Sunday, July 31, 2016
I'll admit that the first time I saw this recipe, I wasn't that thrilled with it. After all, I can buy perfectly good ice cream sandwiches at the grocery store or at Costco, if I want a huge box of them. And anyway, an ice cream sandwich is all about the ice cream, right? So how much trouble do I want to go to in order to make my own. As it turns out, though, they're not that much trouble, and they offer the distinct advantage of tasting good on their own, being storable in the freezer for months, and allowing you to use whatever kind of ice cream you've been wanting to try. (This is chocolate-chocolate chip; I also made mine with a good store-bought vanilla, and it was better than the big box of sandwiches from the big box store.
First you melt some chocolate. A ridiculously small amount of chocolate, as you can see. So small that I thought the gram measurement must be wrong, but it was the same as the ounce measurement, and the volume measurement was so small it wasn't even given. Well, that's not going to be very chocolatey, I said to myself, because I was still a naysayer as far as these cookies were concerned.
Mix (and sift) the dry ingredients. I'm not much of a sifter, but even I could see that the lumps of cocoa needed some help.
Also a small amount of butter and sugar. Why am I going to all this trouble to make a few tiny cookies? I grumbled to myself throughout most of the cookie making. It wasn't serious grumbling, just feeling a little put upon.
Anyway, I couldn't grumble that much because it didn't take very long to mix up the butter, flour and cocoa, egg, and chocolate. It took even less time to shape a thin rectangle and put it in the refrigerator to chill while I went to the aquarium with the grandchildren.
By the time I came back, the dough was thoroughly chilled and ready to shape into cylinders.
Then force the dough into cardboard paper towel holders to make rounder, more even cylinders. These go in the freezer. At this point, all you need is ice cream. Any time you want to make a few ice cream sandwiches, you just remove a cylinder from the freezer, slice it into 12 little pieces, and bake them for a total of 8 minutes.
It takes even less time than going to the grocery store to buy them. I think this may have been the point where I started to become a believer.
The last question was how they'd go over with the under-four set.
JJ: "Sooooo good!" He added a lot of extra o's.
Lily: Words failed her.
My dream is to have a freezer full of baked treats so that I can just pull them out at the appropriate moment. Cream puffs. Cookies. Cakes. Pastries. Once Jim discovered that the freezer was my secret hiding place, my stash dwindled to nothing. I think these are safe, though, because they're still in unbaked form. And, by the way, even without ice cream, they make perfectly lovely little chocolate cookies. I'm a naysayer no more.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
This was one of my favorite desserts that we've baked so far, and a perfect example of why, much as I love chocolate, I'll almost always choose a fruit-based dessert over a chocolate one. And this miniature pie has so many things going for it: the star is Rose's classic lemon curd, of course, but there are other contrasting flavors and textures that make this a rich, flavorful, and extremely satisfying sweet.
The crust is a pate brisee--a delicately crunchy cookie-like crust, flavored with grated lemon peel. It would be nice on its own, but it has better things to do with its crunch. It was also fun to be able to use my new mini rolling pin.
The dough was fairly, although not perfectly, obedient. A few cracks and holes appeared, and occasionally a piece of the decorative crust fell off.
During a lull in the photographic work, I put Jim to work making foil pie shields. This is the kind of thing that makes me impatient, but it's right up Jim's alley. I halved the recipe, so he only had to make six. He might have been unhappy if he'd had to cut out 12. I might have been unhappy if I'd had to roll out 12 pie crusts.
It only took 2 and 1/2 lemons to make enough juice for a half-recipe of lemon curd.
I just dumped the pie weights right on the unbaked pie crusts instead of making little pieces of pleated parchment paper. That was a mistake, since they stuck to the dough and were difficult to remove. I broke off a few pieces of pie crust trying to extract the weights. In earlier days, I might have thrown something across the kitchen, but now I'm more mature.
What lemon curd looks like in its pre-lemon-curd state. I recently read about a new scientific study that shows that butter is not harmful to you after all. Next we'll find out that bleached flour and sugar are health foods and acai berries cause strokes. Ha.
It's a very nice touch to add lemon curd to the whipped cream that's spread over the full-strength lemon filling. I did add a little sugar to the whipped cream and a little extra sugar to the curd because my tasters all like desserts to be sweeter than I do.
My chief taster, JJ, liked it. He was going to leave the crust in the pan until I told him it tasted like cookies. Then he ate it.
Lily, who's one year old now, finally got to taste her first dessert (not counting her birthday cake, of course). She was pleased, although she was unsure about the puckery lemon at first. She liked the crust too. When my daughter asked me if it was hard to make, I hesitated. JJ repeated the question. I said, "Well, it's not really hard, but it takes a long time." I explained the process. JJ asked why it had to go in the refrigerator so often. "When mama and I make cookies, we just use a mix. You should try that, Lulu."
I'll admit it's an appealing idea, but I've never seen a mix that turns out a dessert like this.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Photo by Jen
Evil Cake Lady
It's fun to read through a group of blogs written by bakers who have all discovered the same magnificent dessert at the same time. I use the word "magnificent" advisedly because it's actually a very humble-looking cake, but the flavors are so perfectly balanced and each bite is so luscious that it's really a treat to watch people's eyes light up as they take their first bite.
As Jen says, "it's my favorite kind of cake: tender and light in texture, with a dense crumb." Jen loved the lemon curd, which is thicker than the usual kind, and reminded us that the leftover curd is also "delicious in a tart or on toast." She herself didn't have any leftovers because she used all the curd in the frosting, which she then decided it "overpowered" the cake, which would be good even without frosting--and that's how she intends to eat it the next time she makes it.
Phing and her tasters made it through the entire cake in much less time than it took to make the lemon curd. First, Phing's daughter, who pronounced the lemon curd "divine," Then she told Phing that one-sixth of the cake would be a better serving size than one-ninth. Then friends stopped by and said they would have to try more cake in order to give a reasoned opinion on the proper size of a slice. They tasted enough to be able to say it was "scrumptious" and "deliciously rich."
Katya took only a few pictures of the cake, since this is the kind of cake that's "more for eating than looking at." But it is definitely good for eating. Even after being in the refrigerator for a few days, the cake was chosen by tasters over blueberry pie. (And blueberry pie, after all, is no slouch in the People's Choice Dessert Category). "Such is the power of cake."
Catherine showed not only her skill as a baker but also as a seer as she predicted "100% Alpha Baker satisfaction with this cake" because "it's dead easy, incredibly quick and absolutely delicious. The only change I'd recommend is to double the recipe." "It goes straight to the pool room!" Catherine used regular unbleached flour instead of cake flour and got a slightly denser-looking crumb, but it still had a "very soft texture."
To Kristina, Rose's idea to do a cream cheese cake inspired by her cream cheese pastry crust was a brilliant idea, since said crust is "pretty much the best pie crust there ever was." And so the cake also is "gooood." (Amazing how just those two extra o's can convey the utter deliciousness of this cake). Good enough that the cake is Kristina's "new favourite cake recipe (aside from [here] mom's spice cake." If you're lucky enough to have a bit of lemon buttercream left over, Kristina says it makes a great filling from little cream puffs!
You might have even more leftover buttercream if you double the recipe, and you might change it up to a lime buttercream if you add lime zest instead of lemon zest. That is just what Faithy did. And even doubling the recipe didn't give her more cake than she wanted because the cake is "so velvety, delicate and moist crumbs. Just typing this is making me crave for a slice!" Although Faithy's family has been on a no-sugar kick in recent weeks, it looks like she found someone to help her finish this nice, double-sized cake.
Poor Vicki. I think she's going to have to make three cakes before she's able to eat a nice big piece. She made the first "disappearing lemon cake" with her granddaughter. Well, of course, if your grandchild begs you to let her take the cake home with her, you'll likely say "yes." And Vicki did. She was planning to make a second cake for her brother's birthday, and I think that that one also did a disappearing act. The third cake may be the charm.
Next week: Lemon Curd and Raspberry Pielets. Sorry about having two recipes in a row with lemon curd. Rose's cookbooks generally have a lot of chocolate and a lot of lemon recipes, not that I'm complaining about that fact, but I have tried, not always successfully, to separate them. In yet another snafu, I failed. Still, once you taste these delicious little pies, I think you'll forgive me.
I'm going out of town for a wedding, so the roundup will likely come very early in the week, like Tuesday. If I don't get it done by Tuesday, I won't get it done at all.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
This is my very favorite cake from The Baking Bible. There are still a few more that I haven't baked, so it's possible that one might edge this one out as first choice, but I doubt it. It's one of those simple recipes that you can always put together, even when you don't have time, and people always love it. Even when things go wrong (as in this rather runny lemon buttercream, it simply doesn't matter. Who's going to know--or care--that the frosting isn't supposed to drip artistically down the sides?
Yes, it takes eggs, but not a dozen and a half of them, like some recipes I could name. But you always have eggs in your refrigerator. You might not have lemons or cream cheese, but if you've been baking your way through The Baking Bible, you won't be surprised to find either one on the ingredient list. I would call those semi-staples.
It's a pretty standard Rose butter cake. Mix the dry ingredients, add the butter, cream cheese, and part of the sour cream, (I'm a sucker for sour cream cakes. And when they have butter and cream cheese as well, it's pure bliss).
I've always meant to ask Rose and Woody why this cake is in a square cake pan. I've always thought of square cakes as Lutheran Church Basement cakes, not at all like Rose's cakes. I've wondered why it's not just a single layer round cake, but I never have gotten around to asking. It's certainly easy to cut a square cake into 9 pieces. Do not try to get 12 pieces out of this cake! Yes, you can, but people will gobble up their small piece and feel sad. They're even a little sad to finish a piece that's 1/9 of the cake. If you try to feed them less, they may not only be sad, there could be open rebellion. Just a friendly warning.
While the cake is baking, you can make the lemon curd. It's Rose's lemon curd. What can I say? It's tart, it's bright, it's delicious.
And it magically turns into a light, subtle lemon buttercream with the simple addition of (lots of) butter and an immersion blender. Supposedly this recipe makes way more buttercream than you need for the cake, but I find that when you put the recommended amount on top of the cake, it looks a little skimpy, so I added more. And then a little more because it was softer than it should have been, and I didn't want half of it to end up on the cake plate.
I could have added still more because you can see the cake through the frosting in places. I like to decorate it with blueberries because I think it looks elegant, It also makes it easy to cut into 9 pieces, and everyone gets their own blueberry. You could do a lot of other things with it, and I hope that I get some new ideas. But right now this is my favorite.
Jim didn't get any pictures of the cake after it was cut, because I served it to a group of women, and Jim likes to hide out in his room when there are a group of women in the house. But he got to eat two pieces after all the female people went home.
The only negative thing I have to say about this cake is that it disappears very quickly. I wish it stayed around longer. I wish I had another piece right now.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Photo by Phing
My Baking Mania
I loved going through everyone's version of these cream puffs--although they're labeled as "savory," some people made them sweet, and I have to say that the ice cream or whipped cream puffs were outpolling the chicken liver ones. In the words of Phing's daughter, when given the choice between whipped cream and chicken liver, "You've gotta be kidding me." So Phing not only made whipped cream puffs, she also turned them into these charming, delicious-looking swans. Her daughter's reaction: "You're a genius!" I have to concur.
I love the way Orin begins her blog: "I enjoy the simple things in life: a good conversation, a good book and making cream puffs." Now, I'll admit that it would never occur to me to put making cream puffs right up there with good conversations and books, principally because conversations and books don't require piping bags. Still, you've got to respect those who do, especially when they go to the extra trouble of making deluxe puffs. And especially when they fill them them with whipped cream and a delicious-sounding homemade peach filling.
Always one to write an amusing blog, Catherine is at her funniest when something goes wrong. So I had hopes when I saw the "almost perfect" title. (I know that sounds heartless, but she really does write a good mishap story.) But there was no mishap here--just a story of a prior entertaining mishap (not with Rose's recipe). Catherine has always blamed Darwin's humidity for her prior choux fiasco, but she has now learned it's not the humidity, or even the heat, it's the recipe. And this recipe turns out perfect puffs, both sweet and chorizo-savory, even in the depths of Darwin.
Katya, being a "big fan of anything that puffs," especially liked eating these plain. Very plain, out of hand, no filling at all. Sort of like eating crackers and cheese without the cheese. Or ice cream sandwiches without the ice cream. (I'm just jealous because I didn't get to eat any of these cream puffs in any form). But a friend of hers came over and filled some with mozzarella, and olive, and a sprinkling of paprika. As Katya said, it "has the amusing whiff of a mid-century cocktail party." And after making that observation, she ate the rest for breakfast, with a cup of soothing tea.
Vicki calls these cream puffs "literally foolproof," which makes me a little nervous because I can imagine all kinds of ways you might mess them up. The last time I used the word "foolproof," I told a friend of mine that Rose's recipe for popovers was foolproof. She made them and told me that they didn't puff. Then I made them and they didn't puff. But that won't happen to Vicki, I'm sure, especially not if she keeps filling them with that pretty spoonful of "delectable" egg salad. And, by the way, Vicki's new saucier pan "really carried its weight."
Kristina, after her last catch-up blog, missed a few weeks and did another catch-up blog, this time writing about savory cream puffs made with duck liver, blueberry crumb cake and molasses butter cookies. It must be said that both Kristina and Jay approached the liver with some trepidation, as in, "I need water!" And I'm afraid they were not converted by the tasting, even with the ruby port caramel sauce, which Kristina thought went better with the blueberry cake than with the cream puffs. In fact, she said "now that's a winning combination!" And, just think, Kristina's probably the first to try that combination. Is there duck liver in Kristina's future? I don't think so, but cream puffs filled with ice cream? I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Now Faithy likes liver and has eaten it many times, usually with ginger. But, like Kristina, she wasn't that crazy about making it. Although it smelled good while it was baking, it had a funny odor afterwards. Also, she didn't much care for the color, especially the greenish color it got when exposed to air. But she doubled the recipe, and was extremely enthusiastic about the puffs that were filled with ice cream: "mango, green tea with red bean, and rum and raisin flavors" being the best. But she may try it again with fois gras.
Rachel doesn't have to try them again (although she probably will because they were "so puffy! so crunchy! A most excellent foil for a flavorful filling!"), because she has already tried them with four different fillings. For the savory ones, she used pulled pork, Brie, and blue cheese. She also tried a few sweet ones "with whipped cream, for dessert." While making these, Rachel realized that cream puffs are the ultimate in "edible food packaging." That makes them sound all thrifty and green, when really they're just good.
Jen, not a fan of liver, told Mark that he could make the chicken liver filling if he wanted to taste it, but she was going to give it a miss. He looked at the recipe, decided it was too much work, and opted to settle for Jen's puffs, filled with vanilla ice cream and homemade hot fudge. You've got to feel sorry for someone who's faced with ice cream and homemade hot fudge as a substitute for chicken livers. "Everybody was very taken with them as well, and it was wonderful to catch up with some old friends."
Another successful recipe from Rose, and I think we should all drink a toast to her for showing us that we can make perfect cream puffs.
You'll want to toast her again when you taste the cream cheese butter cake that's coming up next--proof, in case you needed proof, that the most delicious things can be the plainest. This is a real work horse of a dessert, not fancy, not beautiful, just toothsome and slightly addictive. It's the recipe I've made most often from The Baking Bible, and I have yet to serve it to someone who didn't love it.
Gooseberry crisp is coming up in a few weeks. Be on the lookout for gooseberries, but be prepared not to find them. I made it last year when I found a small stash of very small, very sour gooseberries, and if I'm lucky enough to find them again, I'll add some other, more civilized, berries to the mix.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Are these perfect? I can't find anything wrong with them. But I can't say for sure that they're perfect because I didn't get a chance to taste even one. I brought this platter of puffs to a neighborhood 4th of July brunch, and they disappeared before I had a chance to wander into the dining room and taste one.
I didn't fill them with faux gras, or vrai gras, for that matter because chicken livers don't go over well in my house (except for my wonderful son-in-law, who cheerfully eats anything I put in front of him--except olives). Also, I had some shrimp and artichoke salad at a friend's house a few weeks ago, and I thought that would be nice in these puffs. Apparently it was.
These were so easy and so much fun to make that I should make them regularly and freeze them so I'd always have them on hand for a quick appetizer. That would be so impressive that it might be the kind of thing people would talk about in a eulogy. At my funeral, people are more likely to say, "She had some good ideas, but wasn't much on follow-through." I'll bet that I won't have any cream puffs in my freezer in six months, even though it's a terrific idea. I include the picture of the flour being sifted so you can see that I didn't cheat.
If you've made cream puffs before, you know that the technique is unlike almost anything else in baking. You heat up butter, water, a little sugar and salt, then dump the flour in all at once and beat like crazy. I love doing it. It's one of those quirky chemical reactions that seems very unlikeky to work. But it does work.
Then you add the eggs, one at a time. I actually enjoy doing this so much that I passed up the chance to let my food processor do the work for me.
It's possible that I've occasionally mentioned that I don't like piping, and I considered just using a spoon to put tiny glops of batter on the baking sheet, but in the end I got out my piping equipment. (Yes, I do know you're supposed to keep the piping tip close to the baking sheet, but Jim was trying to get a shot of batter that came out looking like a Dairy Queen).
Even if they come out have a twist on top, you can easily smooth them out with a dampened spoon.
I weighed the first mini-puff (14 grams, right on the nose), and thought I could duplicate the size so I wouldn't have to weigh all of them. I seem to have made most of them bigger than my first try, so I ended up with 29 puffs instead of 36. Nobody seemed to mind that they weren't exactly the same size.
I followed the baking instructions exactly and love the look of these little puffs. I didn't open one ahead of time to test the texture, but they were just right--no unbaked dough in the middle.
The filling was just chopped shrimp and canned marinated artichoke hearts, a little mayo, and salt and pepper. I added a little lime juice for brightness. Amazingly, I ran out of filling and shells at the same time. That never happens!
Although I didn't get to taste a shrimp puff, Jim did, and he pronounced it good. Knowing that his tasting vocabulary is limited, I wasn't going to bother to ask him to expand. But I did, and he said, "Well, the puff was light, and it held the filling. It was good." I asked if he could be more specific. He said, "I don't think so." So there you have it. Shrimp-filled cream puffs that are appetizing enough to disappear within 15 minutes. As we say in Minnesota, that's pretty darn good.
Friday, July 8, 2016
Photo by Faithy
The Amateur Baker
Isn't this a lovely picture of Faithy's daughter waiting to eat this piece of coffee cake? The photo editor (Jim) must have thought so too, because he chose this as Picture of the Week. And it must be true that one picture is worth a thousand words, because Faithy had very little to say about this cake except that it was "perfect," although it could have used even more blueberries so that there would be blueberries in the cake too.
"Everything a crumb cake should be," said Vicki. The butter sour cream cake was "divine," and the "cinnamon-y walnut topping is just how I like it." Vicki also added a few extra handfuls of blueberries, "tossing them over the top" when the cake came out of the oven. The residual heat from the cake was just enough to cook the berries through.
Rachel had an unintended variation on the coffee cake, since she saw the sour cream and egg mixture still on the counter as she was ready to put the layered coffee cake in the oven. With a little quick thinking, she just added the missing mixture to the rest of the batter. This meant that there was no longer any layering and the "filling" was mixed in with the coffee cake was still "perfectly fine." Oh, and that little thing you didn't want Rose to know about? Don't worry--the secret is safe with me.
This recipe seems to be so good and sturdy that it can withstand any number of substitutions. Aimee, for example, didn't have quite enough sour cream, so she used some sweet cream too; she added some rhubarb macerated in sugar to her not-quite-big-enough stash of blueberries, and she ended up with a coffee cake that rivaled the coffee cake of her childhood memories: a cinnamon pecan coffee ring from Freihofer's, a regional bakery. She and her siblings would fight over the nuts remaining in the bottom of the box. Rose's coffee cake received the highest praise--a cake worth fighting over.
Jenn says she's been a "slacker-o" of an Alpha Baker lately, but, even with hot weather at hand, when she saw this cake on the baking list, she "knew she had to bake it." She cleverly figured out how to make just one-third of the recipe (a seven-inch pan in case you're wondering), which still made a decent-size cake, one, in fact, about which she had "nothing but good things to say about." Another baking catastrophe averted--Jenn almost forgot the sugar but remembered it just in time. A lovely summer treat that tastes as good as it looks.
Phing describes this cake as a "crowd-pleasing cake to bake for every occasion, from birthdays to holidays, children to adult, friendly get together to official gatherings. It has everything you need for a perfect cake." In fact, since it's a large recipe, you can divide it into two cakes for two separate occasions, as Phing did, and wow even more people with this "very attractive" cake that has a "very satisfying" taste.
Making this cake remind Catherine of Rose's Sour Cream Coffee Cake from The Cake Bible--the very first "Rose recipe" she ever tried. That first cake was delicious, and this one, with the added blueberries (and raspberries that Catherine used) was perhaps even better. This version met with "universal acclaim" at work, and Catherine assures you that if you take yours to a party, "you will definitely have a hit on your hands."
Katya would agree. She took her coffee cake to work, but by the time her own coffee break rolled around, "the cake was no more." Sad for Katya, whose generosity was not rewarded, but a happy coffee break for everyone else. Katya may not have eaten this coffee cake, but she knows how to describe it: a "coffeecake in the best style, perfect for all-day eating. A soft sour cream butter cake, threaded through with a sugary nutty streusel, then topped with blueberries and crumbs." Who wouldn't want to eat something that sounds that good?
And with Rosa, who says "this dessert is a winner indeed," the vote becomes unanimous. This is "an ideal summer holiday dessert and with a couple of scoops of ice cream and a nice cup of coffee," it's a great way to celebrate American Independence Day, Canada Day, or any other holiday that comes to mind. Or, you could make it for no reason at all--it really is a simple but spectacular cake.
Next week: I can't believe I haven't fretted about these upcoming Perfect Savory Cream Puffs. When I first saw the recipe, I thought that the Chicken Faux Gras was going to be a hard sell. But then I saw that you could fill the puffs with "the filling of your choice," and you'd still be making the cream puffs. I do hope that at least one person tries the "faux gras" and the ruby port caramel sauce, but I filled mine with a shrimp and artichoke mixture, and they were a huge hit.
Monday, July 4, 2016
Back in the day, there was a local restaurant that advertised with this ditty, "Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Every meal's a winner." Despite the ditty, the food wasn't very good, which might have something to do with why The Embers is just a distant memory. But unlike The Embers, this cake is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and also for after-school or midnight snack. This cake is a winner.
I think we're pretty much in agreement that no one does a sour cream butter cake like Rose. And this one has blueberries in too, which can only improve it. I timed this so some of us could use fresh blueberries, but I made it for a big party in April, so I made do with frozen berries. Still good.
I did have to jury-rig the baking strips. The only thing about Rose's nice stretchy silicone strips is that you can't stretch them to fit a 9" by 13" pan. I thought about baking two round pans, but I thought that it would be better to cut squares than slices for the party, so I found these old insulated strips that I haven't used since I got Rose's. Woody, aren't you proud of Jim and me for using these metal paper clips to affix the strips to the pan? I am. This was actually the hardest part of making the cake.
Pouring eggs and sour cream into the batter. Jim likes action shots. But he grumbles if I get in the way of the shot. I tell him that I am, after all, baking a cake, not posing, but he thinks the baker should cooperate more with the photographer. It's hard to work with a sensitive artist.
He also likes to get reflections. I thought this was just a picture of the batter, but it turns out to have a number of things caught in the metal mixing bowl.
This sour cream-butter cake is probably my favorite kind of cake and my favorite batter. It's thick and rich-looking, and it's very cooperative when it needs to be spread all over a large pan.
Thawed blueberries. America's Test Kitchen is big on using frozen blueberries unless you can get perfectly fresh ones. I always thought that was nonsense until I did a taste test. Sure enough, the frozen ones have a lot more flavor than the ones flown in from Chile. I don't know why that should be surprising. I remember how fresh I felt when I flew home from South America.
I took the cake out of the oven after 40 minutes to put on the topping, but I should have checked after 30 minutes. The cake was already coming away from the sides of the pan and was almost completely done. So I had to put the blueberries and crumb topping on, and put it back in the oven, but I could only bake it another 10 minutes. The crumbs would have been better if they'd baked a little longer, but I don't think anyone but me noticed. Certainly no one said, "your crumbs are a tad underdone," and I probably wouldn't have thought they were referring to the cake. If you wanted to, you could serve this with a little ice cream, or creme fraiche, or whipped cream. But it's very good as is, so you might also think, why bother?