Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers 6: Chocolate Valentino

Well it's that time of the month again- Daring Bakers.  I am eternally grateful that this month's challenge was not overly daring.  This recipe was chosen, I believe, with Valentines Day in mind, as traditionally the cake is made in a heart shaped tin.  While I do have a (very underused) heart shaped tin, I did not end up making this cake for Valentines Day.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge. 

Of course we couldn't get out of it that easy!  Along with the Chocolate Valentino cake (a flourless chocolate cake) we also needed to make home made ice cream.  I'm really glad they included this component as I always seem to forget how much I love making ice cream (and how easy it is).  We have recently discovered an ice cream place called Movenpick.  It's a Swiss ice cream company and it has the best ice cream!  I've fallen head over heels for their Stracciatella ice cream, so I thought I should attempt my own at home.  I have this bad habit of not completely reading a recipe before I start- this I can assure you, maddens S like nothing else.  I am forever making mistakes or forgetting ingredients or steps due to skimming through the recipe.  Well, this occasion was no exception...  I had been wondering how I would achieve those flaky waves of chocolate that run through Straciatella, and had decided in my own mind to simply hand shave each piece of chocolate with a potato peeler.  While I wasn't particularly happy with enduring such a long process, I really wanted the get the texture right.  Wrong!  If I had bothered to read the whole recipe properly, I would have seen that the chocolate needs to be melted and simply poured into the churning ice cream mixture!  Once the warm chocolate hits the freezing ice cream, it hardens instantly, creating those ribbons of chocolate.  How simple.  How stupid of me.  I'm happy with the end result of the ice cream and I'll definitely make it again.

Now, the Chocolate Valentino.  Boy was this rich.  The recipe clearly stated that you should choose your chocolate wisely, as whatever you chose, this would be exactly what the cake tasted like.  I am a big fan of Valrhona Caraibe, so I went with that.  Wrong!  It really was too bitter of a chocolate for this recipe.  I'm glad that we made ice cream to go with it, because it was just so richly bitter. 

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry). 
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. 
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie 30: Caramel Crunch Bars

I've never really thought of myself as a caramel lover.  My mum and S on the other hand, start salivating just hearing the word.  I certainly wouldn't say that I dislike caramel- I do actually really like it, but to me it's not an attention grabber.  So when Whitney of What's left on the table? chose this week's recipe, I wasn't all that fussed on it.  Their name is a little deceiving though- there isn't that much caramel involved, and if need be, it can easily be withheld. 

Since joining Tuesdays with Dorie, I have come across many ingredients that I have never heard of (whoppers etc), so it came as no surprise that I had no idea what Heath Toffee Bits were.  I ended up just making up a batch of my own English Toffee, and chopping it into small pieces.  Unfortunately I didn't boil the toffee long enough, and while it had a nice crunch to begin with, by the end it was a little too tacky to chew.  I'm not sure what Heath Toffee Bits taste like, but if I were to make these again, I would definitely leave out the toffee bits on top and would maybe replace them with some Valrhona crunchy pearls instead.

The biscuit base is absolutely delicious.  It is sinfully good.  It's hard to believe that a biscuit could be so buttery.  I ended up cutting the biscuit slab into tiny squares, just because it really is that rich.  I've become quite fond of my freezer lately, so I've popped them all in there to take out as I need.  I found a chocolate and gingerbread cake in my freezer the other day (from a previous Tuesdays with Dorie), defrosted it, and it was as good as new.  A real revelation as now S has no excuse to eat an entire cake within 2 days.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vanilla Bean Panacotta

I've mentioned before that S is the savoury cook in our house, while I take care of all things sweet.  One of his specialities is his Spaghetti Bolognese.  The recipe is very time consuming, so he only tends to make it a couple of times a year.  Lately I have been craving lasagna- funnily enough, neither of us has ever made one before.  Since we love S's Bolognese sauce so much, we decided to use it in the lasagna.  Well, let me say that S started cooking at around 12 pm, and the lasagna wasn't eaten until 7 pm.  The whole process was just so time consuming!  Mind you, S is a perfectionist.  This is usually a good thing, but when it comes to cooking savoury food, I like to be a little more efficient!  I think he finds something quite therapeutic in hand dicing vegetables into tiny little squares (that's what food processors are for, no?)  I admit that I nagged a bit during the day with the usual 'when's dinner ready'? and 'how come it's taking so long'?  Suffice to say that it really was worth the wait.  Absolutely delicious.  Not that I will be asking him to make lasagna again anytime soon...

Unintentionally, it ended up being quite the Italian theme for food that night.  We served the lasagna with a big leafy green salad in a balsamic dressing, and for dessert I served a Vanilla Bean Panacotta.  Honestly, it wasn't planned at all!  Just a coincidence.  It wasn't until after, that we put all the pieces together.  Panacotta is one of those desserts that I just love- so simple, but just perfect.  Unless I remind myself that I literally am eating cooked cream, I would probably want to eat it everyday.

Vanilla Bean Panacotta
from Neil Perry's 'The Food I Love'
Serves 4

125 ml milk
250 ml pure whipping cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped out
2 tablespoons caster sugar
8 g leaf gelatin (I used 5 g)
125 ml double cream

1.  Put the milk, whipping cream, vanilla bean and seeds and half the sugar into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil, stirring, then gently simmer for 1 minute.  Soften the leaf gelatin in a little cold water, then squeeze out.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining sugar and softened leaf gelatin.
2.  Strain the mixture into a bowl and chill over ice.  As it sets, keep stirring- this will help keep an even distribution of the vanilla seeds.  When the mixture reaches a gelatinous appearance, similar to the thickness of thick cream, remove the bowl from the ice.
3.  Stir some of the mixture into the double cream to break it down, then add back to the remaining mixture.  Strain again and pour into the dariole moulds to set.  Leave in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
4.  To release the panacotta, pour some boiling water into a bowl and submerge the moulds half way down in the water for about 10 seconds.  Gently place a small knife down the inside edge to create an air pocket and separate the panacotta from the mould.  Turn the panacotta onto a plate and serve with fresh berries.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie 29: Devils Food White Out Cake

Thanks to Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater for choosing this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  I've mentioned before, that S was really eager for me to bake him this cake for his birthday last year.  His birthday is in the midst of exams mind you, so I never got around to it.  It's a shame that I didn't have an occasion to make this for this week, because it would have looked really spectacular full size.  My soft spot for anything miniature won out and I am sure my thighs will thank me.

It seems to me that like myself, Dorie is a bit of a chocolate cake nut, having provided many different recipes throughout her book Baking: from my home to yours.  I love her chocolate cupcake recipe, as do I love her cocoa buttermilk birthday cake recipe.  Now I have yet another chocolate cake recipe to add to the list because I really loved this cake.  Mind you, I did forget to stir through chocolate chips into the batter at the very end, but I honestly don't think it mattered.  This cake is densely chocolatey, yet very light at the same time.  My favourite way to eat chocolate cake is simple by itself- no frosting, no ice cream, no whipped cream.  I didn't particularly care for the frosting that Dorie pairs with this cake.  And not just with this cake- I can't really see myself ever using this recipe again.  To me, if I choose to use frosting, it has to be smooth and buttery (Italian meringue buttercream anyone?), yet this one was incredibly light and simply puffed away in to oblivion the second it touched your mouth.  

I'm glad that S finally gets to eat this cake.  He's waited long enough that I just hope it lives up to his expectations.  Check out Stephanie's blog for this week's recipe.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentines Day 2009

As some of you know, S has been away for work for the past six weeks.  Luckily for me though, he was scheduled to come home on Valentines Day!  What better present than that?  I had planned an elaborate dessert buffet for his arrival, but I was so busy leading up to the day that it simply just couldn't be done.  I did manage to bake some chocolate cupcakes with strawberry Italian meringue buttercream though, much to S's delight.

The day didn't go without some hiccups though; S was supposed to catch a 9am flight, but due to late night work celebrations, he missed his flight by 4 minutes!  I was really upset that he might not make it home that day.  The next flight he could catch was 11am, however, after boarding the plane, the baggage people went on strike half way through loading the plane!  The day really was turning out to be one disaster after another- so stressful!  After a few more hours, he finally got home- sans luggage.  This was rather inconvenient since all he had were the clothes on his back, and we had planned on going out to dinner that night.  S's Valentines present to me was also in his luggage so he was a little upset that I wouldn't be able to open it that day.  I really wasn't too concerned as I already had my present (him).  In the end, everything worked out fine and we got his luggage the next day.  Just goes to show how one little thing (missing a plane by 4 minutes) can escalate into something quite inconvenient!

I used Dorie's chocolate cupcake recipe, which I might add, makes for a delicious cupcake.  I added fresh strawberry puree to the Italian meringue which was just perfect.  I was really concerned that the buttercream wouldn't turn out and that it would be too sloppy from adding the puree, but it was fine.  Nothing beats the taste of fresh strawberries!

Strawberry Italian Meringue Buttercream
For 24 cupcakes or 1 cake

1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
680 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup strawberry puree

1. Place the 1 1/4 cups of caster sugar and water into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil.  Turn down the heat while you whip the egg whites.  You want to be able to bring it back to the boil quickly.
2.  Whip egg whites on low speed until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar and turn speed up to medium high.  When soft peaks form, gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to whip to stiff peaks.  This is the meringue part of the buttercream.
3.  Bring the sugar and water mixture back to the boil and heat until it reaches 120 degrees Celsius.  Pour in a steady stream into the meringue mixture, which should be on medium-high speed.  Continue whipping the meringue mixture until it cools.
4.  Add the pieces of butter into the cooled meringue mixture, a few at a time.  Continue beating the butter into the meringue mixture until it is smooth and creamy.
5.  Beat in the strawberry puree.  Add food colour if desired.  Use buttercream immediately, or refrigerated for one week, or freeze for one month.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie 28: World Peace Cookies

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Jessica of cookbookhabit, but I am sure that most people couldn't help themselves, and baked these long before this week's challenge. These World Peace Cookies have to be one of the more famous recipes in Baking: from my home, to yours. Heck, I baked these week's ago, and that was restraining myself! I try not to bake too often, because quite frankly, S and I have put on weight these past few months! BUT, I really couldn't help myself with these cookies- I just had to try them. Who knew when they would be chosen? I'm surprised it took this long actually.

In Dorie's cookbook, she says that a neighbour came up with the name for these cookies- according to him, if everyone got a dose of these cookies each day, there would be world peace. I'm not sure if I would go as far as to say that- these cookies are really yummy and a bit different from the usual type, but, I can't say they are my favourite ever. S would disagree, but as some of you know by now, everything becomes his new favourite. This week, World Peace Cookies are the new Gingerbread cake to S, if you know what I mean?

The first time I made these cookies I had a bit of trouble with the dough. I was extremely cautious not to overmix the dough, but I think this resulted in undermixed dough. It was virtually impossible to form the dough into a log. Cutting it into cookies was even worse! Each cookie I attempted to slice, shattered into a thousand pieces. I gave up, and ended up rolling little balls of dough then flattening them. While these turned out fine, I just love the look of sliced cookies and I really think it plays an important part in these cookies' texture. Luckily, this time I had learnt from that experience, and made sure I didn't undermix the dough. This resulted in me being able to slice off nice cookies. I admit that it was still difficult, but not impossible. I read some suggestions that you should freeze the dough in a log shape, take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes, then slice. I'll try this next time for sure.

While they weren't my favourite cookies ever (I'm not a cookie kind of girl though), they are undeniably delicious. They are intensly chocolatey, thanks to the pieces of chopped chocolate throughout. Belonging to the sable family, the texture is amazing- I think I'm obsessed with the texture more than anything else. Particularly this most recent batch. To the most important part, fleur de sel. I am an absolute salt nut. I love it. I am not really a sweet person, but put anything salty and savoury in front of me, and I'm in trouble. Salt... mmm. Anyway, the salt definitely lifts this cookie to another level. As I said before, the cookie is very chocolately, so the salt really balances this out with a hit of savouryness. I have only used fleur de sel in these cookies, so I can comment on the use of regular salt.