Sunday, March 30, 2008

Perfect Party Cake for a homecoming

This month's challenge was from one of my favorite cookbooks, Baking from My Home to Yours, by Dori Greenspan. Although I've made many of the recipes from the cookbook I had not made the Perfect Party Cake yet. I was excited to make this cake and wanted to make it for a special occasion. I almost made it for our family Easter, but decided to save it for an even more special occasion. Hubs came home for 2 weeks from Iraq today and I couldn't think of a better time for a celebration cake! So I made the cake last night and waited until today to fill it because I was using fresh berries. The cake looked great when it came out of the oven and smelled even better. The layers were a little thinner than I had hoped but slicing the layers was no problem. In fact I had no problems with the cake except for the getting greedy with the filling. I decided at the last minute that I'd add a layer of lemon curd over a layer of strawberry preserves (that I made a couple days ago) and a layer of fresh berries.

I put whipped cream in the middle layer and on the outside of the cake and the rest of the lemon curd on the top of the cake. It was fantastic, but less than beautiful. The cake held up really well to all the fillings. However the lemon curd being a last minute decision, didn't really have the opportunity to really set up. So it kind of ran down the sides a bit. If I make it again, I'd make the lemon curd the night before, so it could be very cold.

See not beautiful, but very tasty! That's what happens when you get greedy with your fillings! My mom said it was like a trifle without the bowl. Welcome home Hubs, I've missed you!
Thanks Morven for a fun challenge! Check out all the other DB'rs cakes!

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour (updated 25 March)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Strawberry Preserves

Making preserves is a great way to use up your not quite perfect or leftover berries. Not that I need any special reason! This is an old fashioned way to make preserves that uses no pectin. It's quick, easy and tastes outstanding. I make mine in small batches and don't actually can these preserves, but they freeze nicely so you could double the batch if needed.
These preserves bear little resemblance to the high fructose corn syrup laden variety you buy in the grocery store. Trust me after you make them the first time, you'll never want the store bought kind again.

3 1-pint baskets (about 6 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled. Frozen strawberries will also work.
2 cups sugar
Lemon juice from one lemon

Place hulled strawberries in heavy large saucepan and mash coarsely. Cook strawberries over medium heat until beginning to thicken, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add 2 cups sugar and stir until dissolved. Increase heat to medium and boil gently until mixture thickens and mounds on spoon, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.

Skim any foam that rises to the top. You can skip this step, but your preserves will be much nicer looking without the foam. Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in the lemon juice. Cool. (Preserves can be prepared 1 week ahead. Refrigerate in airtight container.)Makes about 3 cups.
It's great on toast, muffins, over ice cream, spread between the layers of a cake, added to buttercream, or my favorite way stirred into yogurt. Mmmm.

I thought this would make the perfect entry for this month's Monthly Mingle Spring Fruit Sensations. Check out the other entries at the mingle on Eat The Right Stuff.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

English Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce

I admit it, I love a bargain. The feeling of satisfaction that comes after getting a great deal. However my love of a bargain can sometimes override my good sense. Especially when it comes to the wholesale clubs, like Sam's and Costco. I'm a Sam's club member, and you really can get great deals on everything from tires to milk. I've gotten two garden hoses for less then the price of one in a regular store, and picked up steaks for significantly less than the price at the grocery store. The excitement of such deals can make me temporarily loose all sense of reason. Aside from restaurants and families of 8 or more who really needs two gallons of mayonnaise? Who's got enough space in the refrigerator? But it's such a great deal that I've been known to make such purchases. This happened on a recent trip to Sam's. They had dates on sale for $4.88, about the price of a small box at the grocery store. $4.88, for 3 pounds of pitted dates. I grabbed a container and threw it into my cart. See right there, losing sense of reason...3lbs of dates?!? Yes an amazing bargain, but how many dates can I really eat? So after making my great purchase and going home, it began to dawn on me that I had 3 pounds of dates to use!! I've looked for any reason to use dates since I bought them. I stuffed some with Parmesan and wrapped them in bacon as an appetizer for a party. I made 2 dozen for the party and it barely made a dent in the 3 pounds. So I've been keeping an eye out for any recipe using LOTS of dates. I came across a recipe for Queens Cake from La Cuisine d'Helen. It uses 1 3/4 cups of dates!! Yeah. Queens cake is sort of a chocolate version of sticky toffee pudding, which is one of favorite desserts, so I couldn't wait to give it a try. This is an awesome cake. No one would even guess it had so many dates in it! Helen calls it the ultimate cake and I would have to agree. The caramel sauce alone is enough to make you swoon. Make this cake even if your not trying to use up 3 lbs of dates. With all those dates it's healthy cake, right? Well maybe not after you add the caramel sauce;)
I still have about a pound and a half of dates left to use so if you've got any suggestions???
English Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce

1 1/4 cups water
1 3/4 cups dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter -- softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound nuts (optional)
8 ounces chocolate chips

2 cups cream
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

Put the water and dates in a saucepan. Bring to boil. Boil the dates for 3 min. Turn off the heat, add the baking soda and let cool a bit. Mash the dates with a fork until pureed.

In a medium bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Whisk well.

In a large bowl, cream sugar with the soft butter. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add half of the flour mixture and mix. Add the dates. Then finish with the flour and mix well.

Pour into a 13x9 buttered pan. Bake for 25 min.

In the meantime, bring the cream, brown sugar and butter to a boil. Boil for 4 min. on med-heat and take out 1 1/4 cups of the mix. Continue to cook what's remaining for another 10-13 min.

After 25 min., take out the cake and put on top the nuts, if using. Add the chocolate chips and pour the 1 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce on top.

Return to oven for another 20 min.

Serve with ice cream and the caramel sauce

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ipod Giveaway

Jerry at Cooking by the Seat of Your Pants is giving away an ipod touch. Yes giving away! Why because we bloggers rock! Go to his site to find out how you can enter to win the ipod!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Strawberry Lemon Curd Tart

I'm so excited! I got my first pint of strawberries from my parents farm this week. (It doesn't take much to excite me) Their berries are just starting to get ripe and in a couple of weeks we'll have more berries than we know what to do with! I've had the berries I froze last year that I used all winter. They're great, but the first fresh berries are something I look forward to all year. After eating a handful, I wanted to use the rest for a dessert. Strawberries and lemon are one of my favorite combos. Sweet and tangy, they just beg to be together. Having just gotten my own copy of Baking with Julia last week, I wanted to make her version of lemon curd. Yes I just got my own copy of Baking with Julia. In the past I've just called mom. She's pulled out her copy that's got pages that have fallen loose in the middle from use, and given me Julia's recipes. I decided a few weeks ago that I really needed my own copy, so having just gotten it, I wanted to break it in. In Julia's version of lemon curd, you use the whole egg rather than just the egg yolk. The end result is a very fluffy almost creamy, lemon curd. It's really wonderful!
I like Dori Greenspan's sweet tart dough. It's easy and always great. So after making the tart dough I filled it with the lemon curd and chilled it for several hours then topped the tart with the strawberries and freshly whipped cream. Perfection! The lemon curd recipe makes quite a bit. I had some leftover so I guess I'll just have to make some blueberry muffins or scones to use it up. Poor me! Check out other great strawberry recipes at the Strawberry Seduction round-up at Mike's Table.
The Curd
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temp cut into 8 pieces

Choose a saucepan that will hold the bowl from your mixer (or a heat proof mixing bowl) in a double-boiler arrangement. Fill the pan with 2 to 3 inches of water and bring to a simmer.
Put the eggs and sugar in the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed until very light and fluffy. Still whisking, add the lemon juice and zest. Set the bowl in the saucepan, making sure the the bottom of the bowl does not touch the simmering water, and cook the mixture, whisking constantly by hand until smooth, thick , and custardlike. Be patient; this can take a while. Remove bowl from saucepan and whisk in butter piece by piece. Cover the curd with plastic wrap pressed to the top, and refrigerate until chilled and set. I put mine right into my pre-baked tart shell and refrigerated until set. Don't stir the curd again once it's set. After the curd set I topped the tart with the strawberries that I had hulled. Then finished with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Sweet Dough Crust
- makes enough for one 9-inch crust -
from Baking From My Home to Yours.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk lightly beaten

1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

2. To roll or press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

If you want to roll the dough, chill it for about 2 hours before rolling (unless you've used frozen butter and the dough comes out of the processor firm and cold, in which case you can roll it immediately). I find it easiest to roll this dough out between two sheets of plastic film – make sure to peel away the film frequently, so it doesn't get rolled into the dough.
If you want to use the press-in method, you can work with the dough as soon as it's processed. Just press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don't press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

4. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

5. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn't have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Love Triangle?... two men and a cookie

Hubs has been deployed for about 6 months now and I gotta tell you it gets lonelier as the weeks go by. I gone through a lot of chocolate lately! Oh and I've fallen for a french man. I've worshipped him from afar for a long time and he sends me wonderful e-mails. The pictures make me swoon! I find him a bit intimidating, but he has wooed me with his chocolate and pastries. I have finally worked up the courage to introduce myself to Pierre Herme. Well not literally, but after drooling over his incredible confections for years, I wanted to try to make one of his delectable pastries myself. I found his recipe for Joyaux au Chocolat or Chocolate Sparklers and Pierre, I think I love you! These cookies are delicate, flaky, buttery, chocolaty, with just a hint of salt, in a word, perfect. The cookies simple to make, with only a few ingredients. Be sure to use a good quality butter and cocoa when making them because that's what really makes the cookie so divine. This was a great introduction to Pierre's recipes , I can't wait to try another. If your not already in love with Pierre Herme, just make these cookies and he'll sweep you off your feet!
P.S. don't worry hubs I haven't replaced you;)
Chocolate Sparklers
Makes about 30 cookies.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch processed cocoa
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
Crystallized (turbinado) sugar for coating

Sift the flour, cocoa, cinnamon and salt together and keep close at hand. Place the butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on medium speed to soften it. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy but not airy.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, blending only until the ingredients are just combined - no more. Alternatively, you can remove the bowl from the mixer and stir the flour into the dough with a rubber spatula. The point is to mix the dough as gently as possible - this light touch is what will give the cookies their characteristic crumbly texture.

As soon as the last of the flour is no longer visible, divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball, wrap the balls in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that's about 1 1/2 inches thick and 7 1/2 inches long. To get a solid log, one without that commonly found hole in the center; use the heel of your hand to gently flatten the dough, then flatten the dough lightly each time you fold it over on itself to make the log. Assured that the log is solid, you can roll it gently under your palms to smooth it out.

Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 1 to 2 hours. (The dough can be made ahead, wrapped airtight, and stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk until it is smooth and liquid enough to use as a glaze; keep it close at hand. Spread some sugar out on a piece of wax paper.

Remove the logs of dough from the refrigerator; unwrap them and brush them very lightly with a small amount of the egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing gently on the sugar to get it to stick if necessary. Then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies 1/2 inch thick.

Arrange the cookies on the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between each one, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom at the midway mark, until the cookies are just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to room temperature.

Unbaked logs of dough can be frozen for up to one month (before rolling them in sugar).

Baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.

P.S.S. By the way in his latest e-mail, Pierre mentioned he's bringing back his gorgeous macaroons this month. Oh how I wish I were in Paris right now!