Monday, May 31, 2010

Crepe Cake: How to Become a Pro at Crepes

The crepe cake, halved, since three people post brinner could hardly handle more.

I remember seeing the words crepe cake on a menu at a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok. I adore crepes, but I didn't have time to savor the dessert, so we never ordered it (and hence made it reasonably on time to our movie).

I'm not religious, but I'm pretty sure browned butter is what heaven smells like.

I decided that brinner was the perfect occasion for such a dessert and settled on the crepe cake recipe at Cream Puffs In Venice. I mean, the site claims to have tested out "The Real Crepe Cake Recipe" posted in the NY Times, so who am I to question it?

Twelve crepes, stacked and cooling.

Smitten Kitchen posted a savory crepe cake around the same time I made this, and I laughed in agreement with their similar experiences with the first crepe (like pancakes, it never seems to work out). I'm glad I only made half a cake, otherwise the three of us would have died a little after brinner.

Thick and smooth vanilla pastry cream.

I would say I am not a master of pastry cream, especially since this was my first attempt, and I was sort of alarmed when it clumped together in a disturbing manner while I whisked it on the stove. Thankfully, an electric mixer fixed the lumpy goop and made it a lovely, spreadable consistency. Phew.

Pastry cream spread thin, nearing the lacy edges of the crepe.


The Real Crepe Cake 
(halved and broken into "crepe batter,""pastry cream," and "assembly")
Adapted from Cream Puffs In Venice, originally from the NY Times


Yields one half crepe cake

crepe batter
yields 13 whole crepes (but you're probably tossing the first one)


3 T (45g)  unsalted butter
1 1/2 C  milk
3  eggs
3/4 C (75g)  all-purpose flour
3 T  caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp  vanilla
1/4 tsp  almond extract
extra butter for cooking

  1. Brown the butter in a small pot, then pour into a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the milk to the same pot and heat until it begins to steam; remove the pot and cool 10 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat together the remaining ingredients.
  4. While continuing to stir, slowly add the milk and butter.
  5. Pour batter into a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
pastry cream
yields double what you need, even though it's halved from the original

1 C  milk
1/2 T  vanilla
3  egg yolks
1/4 C  sugar
2 1/2 T  cornstarch (corn flour)
1 3/4 T  unsalted butter, softened
  1. Heat the milk until bubbles form around the edge; remove from heat.
  2. Mix in the vanilla and let sit 3 minutes.
  3. Make an ice bath and set a bowl inside that can hold about 2 cups of liquid or chill a pyrex bowl in the freezer until cold.
  4. In a pot, whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch, then whisk in the vanilla milk.
  5. Heat until it begins to simmer, continuing to whisk the entire time, until it begins to thicken.
  6. Once it has reached a thin pudding-like consistency (it will thicken slightly when cooled), remove from heat and use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixture into the ice bath or chilled bowl.
  7. Beat using an electric mixer until smooth and slightly cooled (3 minutes or so).
  8. Beat in the butter, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
assembly

3/4 C  heavy cream
1 T  sugar
strawberries, sliced (optional)
powdered sugar (optional)
  1. Whip together the heavy cream and sugar until it's fluffy; it won't hold peaks, but get some air in there.
  2. Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream and return to fridge until ready to use.
  3. Warm a pan and melt a little butter in it and spread it around.
  4. Pour in a small amount of crepe batter (scant 1/4 C) and swirl it around until the bottom of the pan is coated.
  5. Cook about a minute or so, until the edges begin to brown.
  6. Flip and cook a few seconds, then remove to a plate. Cover with a piece of parchment paper.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 until all the batter is used, then allow the crepes to cool completely.
  8. Spread a small amount of pastry cream on the top of a crepe, cut in half (because we're making a half a cake), and stack together on the serving plate (cream side facing up).
  9. Repeat step 8 until all crepes have been used, leaving the very top crepe bare (no cream - you can flip the cream side down if you already did the deed).
  10. Refrigerate at least two hours.
  11. Garnish with strawberries and powdered sugar to serve.
  12. Enjoy!
Crepe Cake Reflections

Imagine how delighted the chocolate lover in your life would be if you replaced that vanilla pastry cream with Nutella.

This cake takes some time. And by some time, I mean a lot of time. The batter and pastry cream are prepared the night before, then you make a bunch of crepes, let them cool, finish the pastry cream, stack it all together, let it sit in the fridge another two hours, garnish it, and are finally allowed to eat it.

The crepes themselves are more fragile than I would have liked, but the texture of the assembled cake was nice. Refrigeration before serving is key; without it, the crepe layers would slide around in an undesirable manner when you're trying to cut in.

Nutella monster, using Nutella instead of pastry cream and garnishing with hazelnuts, an idea the Resident Taste Tester is keen on. Lemon pastry cream and a garnish of coarse sugar and lemon juice sounds like a dream. You could also try peanut butter and thin banana slices, though that might get a bit thick on the tongue. I think I would die if I made a white Russian crepe cake, but I'd be smiling in my grave.

Give it a try and let me know if you've made any creative changes!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cornbread Muffins and Apologies

When I think cornbread, I think of the southern U.S. as well as Southern Kitchen and childhood dinners from KFC.

I'll admit it, I'm vastly behind in my posting. I've got a camera absolutely full of delicious goodies from the oven that I've been slacking on sharing. Now, thanks to the oven being temporarily out of service, the feeling that I should stop procrastinating, and my memory card needing a break after a trip to Ho Chi Minh with a lot of baked baggage, updates will appear more frequently until I'm back on track and back in business.

Bob's Red Mill organic medium grind cornmeal.

Here's a quick baking project I did a couple weeks (ahem) ago. I felt like steamed corn on the cob and homemade chili deserved some good old fashioned cornbread on the side. This recipe comes from the back of the Bob's Red Mill organic medium grain cornmeal bag.



Dry ingredients.

Golden Cornbread Muffins
Adapted from Bob's Red Mill

Yields 6 muffins

1 C  ground cornmeal, any grind
1 C  whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp  salt
4 tsp  baking powder
1 T  sugar (optional, increase to 2-3 T if you like sweet cornbread)
1  egg
1 C  milk
1/4 C  unsalted butter, softened
shortening or extra butter for greasing tins


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C) and grease six muffin tins.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix.
  3. Add all wet ingredients and fold together until just combined.
  4. Optional: Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight for a softer, smoother texture.
  5. Divide the batter between tins and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Enjoy warm (and with a smear of softened salted butter if desired).
Golden Cornbread Muffins

Cornbread, fresh from the oven and ready to serve with some butter and a bowl of chili.

Two notes: sweetness and texture.

For those of you that like a sweet cornbread, definitely at least double the sugar; I find that a scant tablespoon of it just tempers the slight bitterness of plain whole wheat flour. You could also give them a quick sprinkle of coarse sugar on top before baking.


The recipe says nothing about letting the batter sit, but if you are using medium to coarse grind cornmeal and would like a cornbread that's not grainy, let it have a rest in the fridge. I borrowed the "3 hours to overnight" solution from the Smitten Kitchen pecan cornmeal butter cake recipe.

Though I have yet to let cornbread batter sit, increase the sugar content, or even try the aforementioned cake recipe, I think it's all worthwhile advice based on sampling the cornbread as written and Smitten Kitchen's reputation as being pretty great.

Come back soon for more posts on delicious things like molten chocolate cake, dark rye bread, cowboy cookies, crepe cake, and more.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hey YOU

Thanks! Really, thank you for reading. I get pretty pumped up about it when people leave evidence of their blog wanderings here. If we happen to meet, I owe you a baked goodie or two.

X Melissa

Pretzels: Parmesan & Rosemary

Parmesan and rosemary pretzels, fresh from the oven and ready to party.

Basic pretzels are made with all same things as baguettes (flour, salt, yeast, and water) plus brown sugar. Toppings or roll-ins can take you in any direction, sweet or savory, simple or complex.

Rosemary pretzels, covered with chopped fresh rosemary and coarse salt, just before baking.

As some of you recall, the runner-up for the readers' choice poll was parmesan pretzels. I still had some fresh rosemary when I made these, and like all good little cooks, I decided not to let precious fresh herbs go to waste.

Parmesan pretzel, with as much parmesan sticking to it as possible.

The pretzel recipe I followed is from The Kitchen Project, a sweet, how-to website (specializing in German cuisine) that could use some layout updates. Check them out and don't giggle too much at the visual presentation, they have some good things going on in the kitchen.

Inside view of the baked rosemary pretzel.

Parmesan and Rosemary Pretzels
Adapted from The Kitchen Project


Yields 12 medium pretzels

1 C (99 g)  all-purpose flour
3/4 C (98 g)  whole wheat flour
2 T  brown sugar
1 tsp  salt
1/2 T  yeast
1/2 C + 1 T  lukewarm water
2 T  baking soda
4 C  water
coarse salt
parmesan, grated (optional)
rosemary, chopped (optional)

  1. Mix the lukewarm water and yeast, then combine with the flours, sugar, and salt, mixing thoroughly.
  2. Knead the dough for 2 minutes, place in a bowl, and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap.
  3. Refrigerate the dough overnight.
  4. Remove from the fridge and punch down the dough.
  5. Divide into 12 (or 6 for large pretzels) even pieces.
  6. Roll one piece into a rope about two feet (61 cm) long, leaving the middle third slightly thicker.
  7. Form the pretzel shape (see the original recipe for visuals), pressing ends into the pretzel to secure.
  8. Place on a lined baking sheet (I use silicone mats), cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).
  9. Preheat the oven to 440 F (225 C) and bring the 4 cups water and baking soda to a simmer in a pot.
  10. Drop pretzels into the water (do not crowd) to a count of 10, basting with a ladle or turning for another count of 10.
  11. Cover the tops of the pretzels with toppings of your choice (the rosemary is very nice with coarse salt, the parmesan is lovely solo).
  12. Bake 12-15 minutes, until the pretzels are nicely brown (not golden, but brown).
  13. Remove to a rack to cool (they're yummy warm and fresh, just, you know, don't burn your mouth).
  14. Enjoy!
Pretzel Reflections

The extra parmesan hanging off the pretzel is crisp and wonderful to eat.

I don't think I'd ever had a rosemary pretzel before I made them and by golly, they're delicious. Don't get me wrong, parmesan pretzels are scrumptious too, they're just not novel to me. They have this amazing butter flavor when fresh from the oven; mysterious, but completely welcome. Pretzels are great with sweet mustard, butter, cold cuts, and cheese. Feel free to get crazy with toppings and use whatever appeals to you.

I think they could be chewier; I've read bagel recipes that suggest leaving dough in the pot of water for 1-2 minutes on both sides. Still, the texture is quite nice as written.

I feel like I should be trying more savory recipes. I love sweets, but I think there are flavors and textures to be explored and there is so much to gain practicing different breads. Plus, breads add to meals, making home feel really nice (especially when it's timed just right so bread is coming out of the oven when the Resident Taste Tester walks in the door). We had these with brinner, a spread which included cheese, cold cuts, grapes, strawberries, baked beans, scrambled and sunny side up eggs, bacon, toast with butter and kaya jam, extra pulpy orange juice, canned coffee (trashy and just right), and a crepe cake to top it all off. Yum.

Note to self: keep baking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Martha's Perfect White Cake, Plus White Chocolate

You wouldn't send a lady to jail with a cupcake like this, would you?


Martha, you never let me down. Even though you went to prison, you still have the knack to pour glitter on gluey pine cones and make magic. Major street cred. I'd give you an electronic hand clap, but I don't think you'd understand my love of 80's music, so let me lay it down for you.


The completed batter.


Few people have the audacity to put "perfect" in their recipes, but Martha has the results to back it up. I've been looking for a good white cake recipe to modify, sifting through blogs, general recipe sites, and so on for at least a week now. After narrowing it down to two, I consulted a friend (mind you, this friend is an excellent baker and I would trust her with my life and oven) about whether to go with Martha or Mangio Da Sola. Though the pictures from MDS looked lovely, she said Martha had never failed her. I suppose that's the way of the world; default to Martha.


Cooled cupcakes, just prior to being frosted.


I worried a little, after reading a comment or two about how the cake was too buttery. Too buttery? I pondered how things could have gone wrong for that person. My little cupcakes came out wonderful. Perfect white cake, indeed.


The incredibly fluffy interior of perfect white cake, plus white chocolate.


Perfect White Cake, Plus White Chocolate
Adapted from www.marthastewart.com (halved from original)


Yields 22 cupcakes



3/4 C  milk
4 1/2  egg whites
1/2 T  vanilla
1/4 tsp  almond extract
2 1/4 C (200g)  cake flour
1 T  baking powder
3/4 tsp  salt


9 T (125g)  butter
1 C + 2 T (215g)  sugar
6 oz (170g)  white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)


White Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from dianasdesserts.com (in Diana's Recipe Book)


Frosts at least 24 cupcakes


4 1/2 oz (130g)  white chocolate, in chips or chopped
1 3/4 C (230g)  powdered sugar
1/4 C  milk
1/2 tsp  vanilla
6 T (90g)  butter, softened
pinch of salt


          Cake Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C) and line 11 cupcake tins.
  2. Mix together milk, egg whites, and extracts and set aside.
  3. Place flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat chocolate into creamed butter-sugar (optional).
  6. In three parts, alternately add the wet mix and dry mix to the creamed butter-sugar-chocolate. Beat on low until just mixed.
  7. Divide batter evenly between lined tins and bake 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcake center comes out clean (tops will begin to crack and brown).
  8. Cool in tins 5 minutes and then remove to rack and place upside down to cool completely.
          Frosting Directions
  1. Microwave the chocolate in 30 second intervals until spreadable.
  2. Beat milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar until smooth.
  3. Add butter and salt and beat smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate and (again) beat smooth.
  5. Refrigerate until the desired spreading consistency is achieved (minimum 30 minutes).
  6. Frost cupcakes and enjoy!
Martha's White Cake, Plus White Chocolate Reflections

The other white chocolate cupcake attempt. Sure, they tasted alright, but the white chocolate just didn't read right and the texture was too much like a dense sponge (not sponge cake, sponge).


I have made white chocolate cupcakes before, but with a recipe that gave me results I didn't really care for. It could have been my fault, since I halved the recipe and rounded my egg count up; regardless, it didn't thrill me.


Martha's white cake, plus some white chocolate. One of the best tastes and textures of cake to come out of this oven.


This recipe, however, is great. Oh fine, the cupcakes straight out of the oven seemed a bit butter-heavy (you could see it soaking the liners), but cooling them upside down is a reasonable fix. Perhaps next time, I'll reduce the butter by two tablespoons; I don't think it would hurt.


The frosting could be thicker, then again I probably could have waited longer to frost the cupcakes, but their wonderfully domed tops called to me.


I made these for a friend of mine. He told me, and I quote, "BEST CUPCAKE EVER." He offered to trade professional photos of my baking for consumption of said goodies. He's not the first photographer friend to offer, but it's always nice to know people are willing to trade their valuable and professional services for mine. I would take my photographer friends up on their offers, but that involves planning, and I bake on a whim, so they'll just have to wait until I've got something epic in the oven.

Coffee Cupcakes: An Adventure in Baking with Ramekins

Coffee cream & walnut cupcakes, baked in ramekins to produce short cakes.

I don't know about you, but when I'm baking something, I write down the recipe with simple instructions and then take notes as I go. Sometimes I'll let an entry marinate a while (translation: I've done something more interesting after, so the notes and photos gather dust). It's only been a week, but my scribbly baking shorthand gets harder to decipher by the day. Let me try to interpret things for you.


I wanted to try out coffee cream and walnut cupcakes because they simply sound good. The Resident Taste Tester is a coffee drinker and I have been known to down a latte or mocha every now and then. The internet led me to bbcgoodfood.com where I found a deceivingly simple recipe accompanied by a banging photo.


I read a few reviews and decided to go ahead with it, but with the addition of one teaspoon of instant coffee stirred into the finished batter. During this baking excursion, I found out that the liners I bought didn't fit my cupcake tins at all, so I threw them in ramekins and came out with short little cakes. Not too shabby.


Batter before the walnuts are folded in.


Coffee Cream & Walnut Cupcakes
Adapted from Jane Hornby at bbcgoodfood.com


Yields 11 cupcakes


1 C (100g)  all-purpose flour*
scant 1 tsp  baking powder
1/4 tsp  salt
3 1/2 T (50g)  butter, soft
100g  light muscovado sugar
2 tsp  instant coffee + scant 1/2 C (100ml)  warm water
1 tsp  instant coffee, dry
1/4 C (25g)  chopped walnuts, extra to garnish


*the recipe calls for self-rising flour, but you can make your own by combining flour, baking powder, and salt

  1. Preheat oven to  355 F (180 C).
  2. Beat all ingredients except walnuts and dry coffee until creamy.
  3. Fold in walnuts and dry coffee.
  4. Spoon into 11 lined ramekins and bake 18-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cupcakes.
  5. Cool 5 minutes in ramekins and then remove cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Frost, garnish with walnuts, and enjoy!
Coffee Cupcake Reflections
Cupcakes baked in ramekins produce short cakes, which could read as more refined and less cutesy than the traditional cupcake shape.

I know, some of you looked at step 6 and pondered aloud, "What frosting?" Don't panic, your basic vanilla butter cream will do, just mix some instant coffee into the liquid portion, proceed as the recipe says, add more coffee to taste, and everything will be fine. "But how will the added instant coffee blend in?" Just let it sit for a few minutes and then stir. You're going to be fine.

This recipe does produce dense cupcakes, like the commenters had said. The flavor is nice and I would say the density is on par with carrot cake or banana bread. The chopped nuts have the pesky habit of sinking to the bottom, which wasn't as big of a deal with the ramekins producing short cakes, but you might want to chop them finely to suspend them in the batter. Also, stirring in that extra teaspoon of instant coffee right before you divide the batter  makes little pockets of more intense coffee flavor, which is lovely.

It's an okay recipe, and I do thank Jane for getting me to buy muscovado sugar, because it is really tasty. I don't think I'd use this particular recipe again unless someone requested it; it's not bad, it just doesn't wow me as a cupcake. The search for a solid coffee cake recipe continues...




Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Readers' Choice: Coconut Macaroons


Coconut macaroons are easier than you think!

Thanks again to everyone that voted (all eight of you). I sort of wonder why you picked what you did; not because it's weird or anything, I'm just curious. Is it because macaroons seem like a challenge? Do you just like coconut? Are they your favorite sweet fix?

Step 1: frothing the egg whites.

I just ate two of them right after doing some final photos, so my reason for making them (other than baking democracy) would be that they're tasty. I'm not going to lie, I have made them before. But! This prior experience does not mean that they aren't just as easy as I'm telling you they are. They're just about as easy as (eating) pie (because making pie can pose a challenge every now and then).

Step 4: filling the macaroons with white chocolate and hazelnuts. Optional, but delicious.

I take my cues from Lulu & Phoebe for coconut macaroons. Happy news for people sensitive to gluten: these are gluten free! Hooray!

Steps 5 and 6: it's okay to crowd them, they won't spread into each other, just make sure they have 30 minutes to dry a bit before heading into the oven.

Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Lulu & Phoebe


Yields 12 macaroons


1 1/2 C (115g)  mixed sweetened and unsweetened coconut (I do half and half by mass)
1/3 C (65g)  caster sugar
2  egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tsp  vanilla
1/4 tsp  almond extract
24  white chocolate chips (optional)
12  hazelnuts (optional)
3 oz. (85g)  dark or white chocolate (optional)

  1. Gently froth the egg whites and salt (no more than a minute of whisking).
  2. Mix in the sugar, extracts, and salt.
  3. Mix in the coconut.
  4. Line a tablespoon with macaroon mix, place a nut and 2 chocolate chips inside, and fill with more macaroon mix (or leave out the nuts and chocolate and go straight up coconut macaroon).
  5. Give the tablespoon a good whack onto a silicone mat (or parchment) lined baking pan and shape the dome a little by hand if it comes apart. You can pack them pretty close on the sheet since they don't spread.
  6. Let them sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to dry a little.
  7. Heat the oven to 325 F (160 C).
  8. Bake macaroons for 15-25 minutes, until they're as golden as you like.
  9. Cool on sheet for about 5-10 minutes (until cool enough to touch) and then remove to a rack to cool completely.
  10. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and drizzle over cooled macaroons (ooor not, if you don't feel like it).
  11. Enjoy!
Coconut Macaroon Reflections

I like mine lightly toasted, but you might prefer them snowy white or even deeper brown. These were in the oven about 17 minutes.

When I first tried the raw macaroon mix, I thought it was way too sweet. I trudged around while they baked, thinking they were ruined before they even made it to the oven. The Resident Taste Tester gave them a try after they were baked and said they could actually be sweeter. I popped one in my mouth, and was pleasantly surprised: not too sweet at all! I felt they were lovely with just that much sweetness, but the Resident Taste Tester suggested a little more sugar next time.

I thought they might be too dry when I had them straight out of the oven. The following morning, after having a sleep in a tin container, they were juuust right. I don't think I'd want them any more moist.

I've had these without the hazelnuts and white chocolate and with just the dark chocolate drizzle. Both options are delightful, though if you can manage to cram another chip or two inside, the white chocolate would read better.

Thanks again for voting, folks! It actually makes me smile when you visit my blog and leave evidence. For the three of you rooting for the parmesan pretzels, don't you worry, a batch is going in the oven tonight!


Dark Chocolate, Pear and Pistachio Fail Cake

Looks nice and done, right? Wrong. 200g dark chocolate, 1 Packham pear, and 70g of pistachios in an undercooked cake.

This is the cake that broke my heart. I found it in the April issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller and thought, "Hey, I can do that." It looked decadent and delicious and I thought I could will it to be mine.

A Packham pear that met my really sharp knife.

I had planned on making it for a friend's barbecue. I'd only ever brought cupcakes before and the idea of bringing a full cake, a magazine photo-op worthy cake, to this barbecue made me hunger for oven glory.

The batter, just before the chocolate and pistachios were folded in.

I followed the recipe. I gave it my all. I took the cake out after 30 minutes, thinking that the wet sheen on the toothpick was just from pear juice, and set it on the rack to cool... That's when I watched in horror as the middle of the cake collapsed and mooshed itself between metal, onto the kitchen counter. What.. the fun (and replace fun with the obscenity of your choice). I tried in desperation to scoop it back into the spring form pan from whence it came and threw it bake in the oven, hoping that another 10 minutes would do the trick. No such luck.

The complete batter, smoothed into a greased and lined spring form pan.

In a panic, I threw chunks of the half-baked caked into cupcake tins and glued it all together with vanilla cake batter. I frosted them with both the failed ganache turned "whipped ganache" frosting (it separated, so I added a bit of powdered sugar, some cocoa powder, and took an electric mixer to it) and some cream cheese frosting. These crazed cupcakes had literally eaten my fail cake. Thus, cannibal cakes were born.

But this is about dark chocolate, pear, and pistachio cake, how it failed, and what I would change next time. So here we go!

Dark Chocolate, Pear, and Pistachio Cake
Adapted from Tartine in Armadale, NSW, AUS, submitted to Australian Gourmet Traveller April 2010

200g 100g dark chocolate (half 60% cocoa solids, half 100%), coarsely chopped
70g (3/4 C) pistachio kernels, plus extra to serve
150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g (1 C) plain flour, sieved
1 tsp baking powder
1 Packham pear, cored and coarsely chopped

chocolate topping ganache
150g dark chocolate (60% cocoa solids) coarsely chopped
150ml pouring cream


Different batter stages. Left to right: creamed sugar and butter, eggs mixed in plus flour and baking powder, basic cake ingredients combined.
  1. Preheat the oven to 320 F (160C).
  2. Grease a 22cm spring form pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper.
  3. Combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Crack eggs into a small bowl and pour one-by-one into the creamed butter-sugar, mixing well after each addition.
  5. Add flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
  6. Fold in pistachios and 100g mixed chocolate.
  7. Fold in chopped pear.
  8. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.*
  9. Set on cooling rack and cool in tin 10 minutes before turning out and cooling completely.
  10. Once the cake has cooled, melt 150g chocolate in a double boiler and smooth over entire cake top, allowing some to drip down the sides. Garnish with pistachios.
  11. Let the cake set (30 minutes or so in the fridge) and enjoy!
*time given is an estimate, since my cake failed :)

Dark Chocolate, Pear, and Pistachio Cake Reflections

It certainly looks done from the outside, doesn't it? Sigh.

It still stings a little when I think about how $25 of supplies and a good amount of time just plopped through the cooling rack. Even so, the batter and the cooked portion (a 2 inch ring around the pan) were delicious. I recommend reducing the original amount of mixed in chocolate by half; if the cake is going to have chocolate on the outside, there is absolutely no reason to put 200g inside, I promise.

I'd recommend buying some nice chocolate for spreading on top; Ghirardelli's 60% cacao baking chips have never failed me in the melting department, these can spread and drizzle with the best of them. My ganache failed, and though I will attempt it again some day, I think this cake would be delightful with straight up chocolate on top.

Oh, the timing of this recipe, how it pains me. I should have kept with the toothpick test and waited until it came out clean. Perhaps life would be easier if I made it a bundt. I'm going to try this again some time, and I will have more than a 2 inch ring of cake to show for it!



I sent this recipe to my colleague Jordan at The Caker in New Zealand. She bakes a new cake every week and said she would attempt this very recipe in the future, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Polls Closed: What I'll Bake...

Thanks for voting! I'll be whipping up some coconut macaroons this afternoon and the post will be up by Thursday. Feel free to check out the recipe beforehand and have a wander around Lulu & Phoebe while you're at it.

Know any sweet baking blogs that you think I should check out? Link it up in the comments and thanks in advance.



X M

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Proud Mama Bear: Julie's First Cupcakes

Julie's first cupcakes: Yellow cake with mini chocolate chips and chopped almonds, topped with chocolate buttercream frosting, chopped almonds, and raspberries. Photo taken and tweeted by DaveDoesDeejay.

A couple of people have asked me lately about whether I could teach them how to bake cupcakes, or just how to bake in general. Though I've been baking for years, I am quite the amateur and have had my fair share of disasters in the oven. Still, I'm more than happy to assist friends and share any insights I have in the kitchen.

Sweet Julie asked me a couple weeks ago at our last big cook up if I could show her how to do cupcakes; we had such great success today. We loosely followed the yellow cake and chocolate frosting recipes, measuring with coffee mugs, hands, various spoons, our eyes, and our taste buds. The results were amazing. All the cupcake styling was done by Julie; she's a natural.

We also made a cake for another person, consisting of the same batter as our cupcakes, another layer of chocolate cake, bananas cooked in butter and light muscovado sugar in between, all with vanilla buttercream frosting and fresh banana slices on top.

We will be baking again.

For those of you afraid of the oven, quiet your fears. Recipe wins and utter fails are a part of learning. As cliche as it sounds, there is a lot to be gained from the experiences that don't come out of the oven as planned. Once you get over the loss of time and ingredients, you'll see what I'm getting at. Check back soon for my epic cake fail!

Keep Baking,


X Melissa

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rosemary Bread and the Plain Baguette

Two loaves of rosemary bread and one plain baguette.

There comes a time in every baker's life when (s)he breathes in the air wafting from the oven and just knows that something has gone right. Hopefully this happens nearly every time, but I have to admit that bread is the best. 


No, it's really not the same as when you toast something (especially when the toaster sets a flame). There's an olfactory warmth flooding every kitchen-connected corridor that can make even the least spiritual person have visions of heaven. Baking rosemary bread, my friends, is nasal ambrosia.


I bought fresh rosemary from two different vendors at the farmers' market last Saturday. One was hydroponically grown, sold by The Pantry. The other was organically grown in Nepal and sold by Organic Himalaya Produce. Of course I compulsively sniffed the herb bouquets while wandering the market, dazzled by how the little bunch from OHP was far more fragrant than the sapling-esque hydroponically grown variety.


Top: Hydroponically grown rosemary, no pesticides used, sold by The Pantry. The bunch was approximately 10" long, with leaves nearly twice the size of any rosemary I'd seen before. The Organic Himalaya Produce vendors took one look and said, "Fertilizers."


Bottom: Organic rosemary from Nepal, grown and sold by Organic Himalayan Produce. The bunch was about 3" long and had normal-sized leaves. The organic was far more fragrant than the hydroponic when purchased.


Just the day before, I had been day dreaming about rosemary bread from the Corina Bakery in Tacoma, WA. This had to be fate.


The Corina Bakery site doesn't hint at how their rosemary bread is made, though a casual comment on yelp.com let me to believe the recipe was baguette-based. Those of you that have done your reading know that real baguettes consist of only yeast, water, flour, and salt. That is why my rosemary bread is just rosemary bread and not a rosemary baguette.


I did make a regular baguette along with the two rosemary loaves (does it still count as a baguette if you mix in whole wheat flour?). Apparently a lot of bakers spend a significant amount of time perfecting baguettes, and I can tell that this will invade my life as well. The baguette recipe I used can be found at kingarthurflour.com and some helpful shaping instructions can be found at artisanbreadinfive.com.


This looks a bit too much like stock photography to me, but I wanted to show you how all three loaves look in entirety rather than just texture-ific close-ups.


Rosemary Bread and Plain Baguettes
Adapted from the Baker's Catalogue 2001, posted at kingartherflour.com
Yields 3 loaves


starter:
1/2 C  water
1 C (100g)  bread flour
1/16 tsp  yeast


dough:
starter
1 tsp  yeast
1 C  lukewarm water*
2 C  (200g) bread flour
1 1/2 C (195g)  whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp  salt
1 bunch  fresh rosemary (about 5 T per loaf), optional**
coarse salt (to sprinkle on top), optional


*in the original recipe, it says to add 2 T water if you use bread flour, but I found that to be too wet
**I used half as much when I made my bread and it didn't read as well when tasted, so pump it up!


This is what starter looks like after a good sleep.

  1. Mix up your starter, cover, and let it sit at room temperature over night. (It'll have a texture similar to that glue-paste you used in kindergarten. Do not be alarmed.)
  2. After your starter has had a good sleep, mix the yeast and lukewarm water together. (It won't bubble and froth up like when you give it sugar; totally normal.)
  3. Now mix everything, including your swampy-looking starter, and begin kneading on a floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, until it's soft and decently smooth.
  4. Cover dough with greased plastic wrap and let it rise 1 hour, punch it down and turn it over (picture above right: dough after first rise).
  5. Cover it again, let it rise for 2 hours, punch it down and turn it over.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, divide your dough into three equal portions and shape into ovals.
  7. Cover dough and rest 15 minutes.
  8. Take one oval, flatten a bit, sprinkle with 4 T rosemary (optional), and do a three-fold like a business letter or wallet; pinch the first fold into the center and pinch the final flap to seal your roll (click here for shaping help).
  9. Gently stretch your roll out to about 12-15", allowing it to rest a few minutes between stretches if it's not compliant. Don't fight the gluten!
  10. Repeat this for your other two pieces of dough and set about 2" apart on a lined baking sheet.
  11. Cut three long diagonal slashes on the tops, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise for an hour or so (you want the loaves puffy but not quite doubled).
  12. Preheat the oven to 450F (232C).
  13. Brush or sprinkle plain loaves with warm water and brush rosemary loaves with olive oil, sprinkling with 1 T rosemary each and some coarse salt (leave your plain baguettes alone, just the warm water!).
  14. Bake about 25 minutes, until the loaves are nice and brown. Remove to racks to cool or just turn off the heat and crack the oven door a couple inches to cool slowly (the slow cooling makes for the crunchiest crust).
  15. Enjoy!
Shaped dough before entering the oven.

Rosemary Bread and Plain Baguette Reflections
Rosemary bread with coarse salt, the crispiest and crustiest bread I've made to date. Just look at that torn crust and the assortment of air pockets inside.

As always, bread takes some time and planning. Then again, you're only touching it for a little bit between rising/resting periods, during which you could nap or watch a movie or obsessively search for new recipes. The result, granted nothing goes epically wrong, is lovely.

The smell in the kitchen! In the living room! Everywhere in the apartment that wasn't sealed off from the oven was heaven scent (LOL? A giggle? Anyone?). I have to say that I have never experienced any smell in my life as delicious and heady as fresh baking rosemary bread.

As noted in the recipe, 2 T fresh rosemary worked into the dough and 1 T on top were simply not enough to make the rosemary flavor really read in the bread. Doubling the in-bread rosemary seems like it'll do the trick, and perhaps a quick crush to release the oils a bit more wouldn't hurt.

Organic versus hydroponic rosemary? Surprisingly, our hulky hydroponic rosemary read in the bread a bit better than the organic variety. Strange. I'll let you know how things go with the doubled herbs soon. Also, if anyone sees anything about scratch and sniff pictures via the interweb, let me know, because you would reap the benefits on this one.

One more texture picture to tease you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BEST JAM OF MY LIFE and Other Farmers' Market Treats

Organic sweet potatoes and other fresh produce can be found at the Loewen Gardens Farmers' Market.

Remember when I was rambling on about how wonderful homemade pumpkin mash is? Whether you do or don't, there was a plug for farmers' markets at the bottom, including the one and only farmers' market in Singapore. It looked a little something like this:


1st Saturday of the month     9a-2p
75E Loewen Rd, Tanglin Village
6474 0441


The Resident Taste Tester and I went to it this past Saturday, the 1st of May. Not many people seem to know where Loewen Road is, and that included our taxi driver. Hint: it's in the same neighborhood as Dempsey (we actually walked 10 minutes to Dempsey after the market, very close).

While the place is small, with about 15 or so vendors, it does have its gems. We found friendly people offering us organic sweet potatoes (yes please), hydroponically grown rosemary (that might be nice for bread), sun-dried tomatoes, wine, cupcakes... It's hard not to buy something from everyone, not just because they're nice and you want to support local business, but also because it all looks so good.

I'd have to say my favorite vendors were these two women from Organic Himalaya Produce. They chat you up about how they fly in fresh produce, herbs, teas, oils, and jams every week from their organic farms in Nepal and are offering you samples of their tasty jams at the same time. This jam is amazing. Literally, THE BEST JAM OF MY LIFE, and I say this without hesitation or exaggeration. I'm obsessed with their peach jam, to the point where the $11 jar is over halfway gone and it's only Wednesday. I'm glad I put myself on their mailing list so I can bother them with peach jam hoarding weekly. You can email them at cynthiahoefer@mac.com (doesn't sound very Himalayan, but I don't care so much about the story, just the jam please).

Organic Himalaya vendors at the farmers' market. Fresh produce, jams, and oils are flown in every week from their organic farms in Nepal.

Organic Himalaya's peach jam, a.k.a. THE BEST JAM OF MY LIFE.

Another delightful thing about Organic Himalaya Produce is the rosemary they sell. The leaves are smaller than the hydroponically grown sort that the Pantry was selling and I believe they are much more fragrant. I bought a $2 bundle from both vendors and am proofing rosemary bread as this is written.

Two varieties of rosemary from the farmers' market. The smaller bunch is organic from Nepal and the other is hydroponically grown, sold by The Pantry.


One more vendor caught my eye and that is one at the very end of the trail: Madz Chef. Madz is run by Madhvi Timbadia and when the shelf is empty behind that Banana Walnut Bread sign, it's with good reason. Banana bread is not an exotic nor fancy baked goody, but something that speaks of home to me. My mom makes amazing zucchini bread and while they are clearly not the same thing, the texture and feeling surrounding the sampled bites were reminiscent of my childhood. Unfortunately, this homey goodness is probably why Madz was out of it by the time we sauntered up, a wee hour before the whole shebang was to close shop. Next time, Madz.

Madz Chef's booth, completely sold out of banana walnut bread and something else I cared about less because I only wanted the banana bread.

The next Loewen Gardens Farmers' Market is on the 5th of June. Mark your calendars, pack your tote bags, and prepare to ignore the girl foaming at the mouth at 8:30am outside the gate muttering something about peachy jam.


If you already forgot...

1st Saturday of the month     9a-2p
75E Loewen Rd, Tanglin Village
6474 0441