Wednesday, May 28, 2008

L'Opera Cake Daring Bakers challenge

I came thisclose to sitting out the challenge this month. I had the best of intentions at the beginning of the month but as May slipped away I wasn't sure I'd have time to complete the challenge. Thank goodness I decided (very last minute) to dive in and make the L'Opera Cake. It's a fantastic cake.
I've had Opera cake in the past but they've always been chocolate and coffee flavored. Our hostesses, Lis, Ivonne,Fran and Shea forbid the use of these flavors or anything dark in color. They challenged us to make a lighter more summery Opera cake.
I opted to make a key lime syrup with a caramel rum butter cream. I made half into cupcakes and the rest I cut out into mini cakes. I filled the cupcakes with banana on the middle layer.

It's wasn't really difficult so mach as very time consuming. There were five components to the cake with one, a white chocolate mousse layer, being optional.
I opted not to make the mousse layer.

The Elements of an Opéra Cake:

Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).

Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved. We are giving Daring Bakers the option of either using the buttercream to cover the final layer or, if they’re feeling up to it, to go ahead and make the ganache/mousse.

Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance
For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)
I add 2 Tbl of Key Lime juice

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

(Update Note: The recipe for the buttercream that is listed below was originally based on the original but we had some typos. It's all very confusing (we're good at confusing ourselves) but here is the short of it: When testing the buttercream, we tested a modified version (we're crazy like that!!!) that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. Yes. That's right. 1¾ cups of butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. VERY. CREAMY. But we don’t want anyone to be afraid of our modified version so you have the option of using the original version listed below or the quantities we’ve listed here in this note. If you are still confused and want to cry, then please e-mail us and we will comfort you!!! We promise!!!)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)
I mixed in 1/2 cup of caramel sauce that I made and had on hand.
1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).
For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Thanks Liz, Ivvone, Fran and Shea for really challenging us with this one!! Be sure to check out all the other DB'rs cakes here

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Key Lime Squares

Summer and citrus desserts just seem to go together. When I saw that Helen, of Tartlette fame and my personal pastry hero, was hosting Sugar High Friday Citrus, I knew I wanted to join in! I decided to make key lime squares. When I googled a recipe, guess who's turned up? Helen's! So of course I had to make them, and they're superb! They have the perfect balance of sweet and tart with a buttery, delicious crust. I did add a little ground ginger to the crust because I like that hint of ginger with the key lime.
Thanks Helen for hosting Sugar High Friday's and for the great new recipe.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
6 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb finely grated key lime zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and line a 13x9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
To make crust:Combine flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the mixture is pebbly. Press evenly into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake until lightly golden, about 18-20 minutes. Set aside crust.

To make filling:In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and salt. Whisk in lime zest and juice until well combined. Pour over crust (it's okay if crust is still hot). Bake until filling is just set, about 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely before serving. It's much easier to cut when chilled completetly. Dust with confectioners' sugar if desired.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sweet Potato Curry Yeast Rolls

This is an idea for rolls that I've been kicking around for awhile. I make sweet potato biscuits frequently and love the flavor. So I thought I'd try making sweet potato yeast rolls. To give the rolls a little kick I decided to add curry to the dough. I've had curry rolls with currants or raisins in them so I threw in some currants in as well.

I think these are a nice change from your usual yeast rolls. I love the wonderful fragrance from the curry, as well as the lovely color it gives the dough. The sweet potato in the dough gives the rolls a nice soft texture, and the currants give a bit of sweetness to the rolls.

Don't let the yeast scare you. These rolls are really quite easy to make, even if your not that comfortable making yeast doughs.

Sweet Potato Curry Rolls

Makes one dozen rolls
2 tablespoons or 2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup cooked, pureed cooked sweet potato
1/4 cup (1/2 stick), melted butter
1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup currants or golden raisins
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.
In a large bowl,(I mixed it up in my kichen-aid bowl) combine sweet potatos, oil, curry, salt, eggs and currants. Add yeast mixture to the sweet potato mixture. Add flour to the yeast/sweet potato mixture. Mix well and using the dough hook attachment, knead until smooth about 4 minutes. If not using a Kitchen aid, knead dough by hand until it's smooth. Place in a warm area free of drafts and let dough rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out the dough and cut into 12 same-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on buttered cookie sheets far enough apart to allow rolls to double in size without touching. Let rolls rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.
Bake rolls at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Blake Bakes

I was recently invited, along with several other distinguished bloggers, to be a guest blogger on BlakeBakes. My first post (banana cupcakes with caramel rum buttercream)is here. You can read my posts on BlakeMakes the 3rd Wednesday of every month, so check it out!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Asparagus, bacon, quiche

I love brunch. It's the best of both breakfast and lunch so the food combinations are endless. I also like the fact that I've never heard anyone say they were going to "grab a quick brunch". Something about the idea of eating in between two meals says there's no need to hurry.

Brunch food tends to be easy to prepare, which makes it a great option when feeding a crowd. When my family gets together there's always a crowd. So for Mother's Day this year I had brunch at my house for Mom. I had some really nice asparagus so I made an asparagus, bacon, quiche. It's a quick easy crowd pleaser. Great for anytime but I love quiche is a great brunch option.

I cheated a little and asked mom to make me a recipe of her pie dough. She makes the best pie crust and can whip up a recipe in 5 minutes. Really, maybe less. So I pulled that out of the fridge and rolled it out to fit a 9 inch pie pan. If your mom isn't making your crust use your favorite Pate Brisee recipe. (Or you could use a store bought crust. *hugh collective gasp of horror*)
At this point you can prebake your crust or leave it uncooked. I've done both and really don't think it makes a huge difference. I made this quiche without prebaking the crust. I only got this one picture of the quiche because it was devoured shortly after coming out of the oven!

serves 6

Preheat oven to 475 degrees

The Custard:
4 ounces bacon cut into 1 inch pieces and cooked.
10 or so spears of asparagus roasted. Roasting removes some of the moister from the asparagus and keeps it from making your quiche to soupy. I also like the flavor that roasting gives the asparagus. I then cut off the top of the spears to about three inches long. Cutting the bottoms that were left into 1/2 inch pieces.
Whisk together:
2 cups milk or cream or a combination of both
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
a fresh grating of nutmeg
1/2 cup of diced Swiss cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Stir in the bacon and chopped asparagus pieces and pour into prepared crust. Arrange asparagus spears in decorative pattern on the top.
Cook quiche 40-45 minutes or until center of quiche is set.

This is my submission to this month's In the Bag. Asparagus, eggs and Parmesan are the ingredients In the Bag. In the Bag, a seasonal food blogging event, is hosted this month by The Real Epicurean.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cardamom scented Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp

Oh joy, the rhubarb is ready to be pulled at the farm! It's really gorgeous this year, and I could hardly wait until it was finally mature. I came home with a large bunch a couple of days ago and have been debating on what to make. I decided to make a crisp, and naturally use some of our strawberries as well. I had seen Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp, in Baking with Dorie. I loved her idea of using some of the topping from the crisp as a crust hence the "double crisp". Cause that's the best part!! She uses crystallized ginger in her recipe which I didn't have on hand, but sounds great. I did have cardamom and wanted to try it in the crumble. I also thought that orange zest in the filling would be good. Lately I have been attempting to try baking with different flavor combos than just the ones I grew up eating. I don't know that using cardamom in rhubarb crisp is really going out on a limb, but it's a little different for me.
I used Dorie's recipe a a guide but made a few changes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Pinch of cardamom
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Filling:
1 pound (4-5 medium stalks) rhubarb, trimmed and peeled
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Put a nonreactive 9-inch square baking pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon mat. I made half of the crisp in individual ramekins and put the rest into a small baking dish. Be sure to put them on the baking sheet because the crisp will cook out onto your oven!

Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, ground ginger, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and sift the ingredients through your fingers to blend them, be on the lookout for lumps in the brown sugar. Mix in the nuts and then pour over the melted butter. Using a fork, stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly moistened. Spoon half the mixture into the pan and pat it down lightly to form a thick crust. Set the remainder aside for the topping.

For the filling: Slice the rhubarb into 1/2-inch wide pieces and scatter them over the pressed in base. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water; set aside. Put the strawberries, sugar, and ginger in a medium saucepan and, with a fork, pastry blender, or potato masher, crush the berries. Place the pan over medium heat and, stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a full boil. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the pan and, stirring with a whisk, bring everything back to a boil. Keep cooking and stirring until the strawberry filling is thick and no longer cloudy, about 3 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat, and pour the filling over the rhubarb. Scatter the remaining crisp mix over the filling.

Slide the crisp into the oven and bake for 60 minutes for the large crisp, or about 35 for the individual ramekins, or until the topping is golden and the strawberry jam is bubbling up all around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool until only just warm or at room temperature. Serve with freshly whipped cream or your favorite ice cream.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

I've never tried to make frozen yogurt before. It's probably because I associate frozen yogurt with the late 80's frozen yogurt craze. When frozen yogurt places were cropping up everywhere. It was touted as healthier because it was yogurt, not ice cream. However, the end product had so little to do with actual yogurt that many of frozen yogurt places had to take the word yogurt out of their advertising. I never liked it. It was so sweet and gummy. The store bought varieties weren't much better. I never found one that I really enjoyed. I think it has something to do with the texture. So I haven't even eaten any frozen yogurt in quite a while. While trying to find a recipe for strawberry sorbet, I came across David Lebovitz's strawberry Frozen yogurt. I was intrigued. He description of French frozen yogurt made me want to give this recipe a try. David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop has hundreds of wonderful recipes and tips for making all kinds of ice creams.
With an abundance of strawberries at the farm right now I decided to give frozen yogurt another chance.
This recipe is super easy and unbelievably delicious, I foresee making this all the time. It's so good that you won't believe it's got about half the fat of ice cream. I can't wait to try making it with our fresh blueberries when they're in season!

David Lebovitz's Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

About 1 quart (1 liter)

"French yogurt is astoundingly good and I suggest you use a good-quality, locally-produced yogurt for similar results."

1 pound (450 g) strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
optional: 2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch (I used vodka)
1 cup (240 g) plain, whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch (if using) until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often.

Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is almost smooth. If you wish, press mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds.

Chill for 1 hour, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.