Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TWJ: Baking Chez Moi - Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

You may have noticed that I haven't done many Baking with Julia recipes lately.  I promise that I haven't given it up.  The thing is, the recipes for this month I was super ambivalent about, so I chose not to make them.  In case you are interested, the first was an upside down inside out Tiramisu, and the second was a European Rye.  The thing is, I have troubles with both of these recipes.  First, I LOVE Tiramisu.  But I want my tiramisu to be the real deal.  And I have a recipe for the real deal that is DIVINE (completely swoon-worthy), so creating a deconstructed version of this treat just does not interest me.  I want the bonafide amazing dessert. 

As far as the European Rye bread, the thing is, I don't actually care for rye bread.  Sad, to some of you, but true.  So why make this loaf?  For the experience, yes, but....  Just to be clear, I do intend to do more Baking with Julia recipes.  Just not these two....

Here we are then, with a Baking Chez Moi recipe.  Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake.  I personally haven't ever heard of something referred to as a weekend cake before.  Here is Dorie's explanation, "a simple, sturdy cake that will last the weekend, that can be put out to be nibbled by family and houseguests, that will be as good for a dessert as it will be for an end-of-the-afternoon snack or an end-of-the-morning tide-me-over."  Ah-ha!  Now I get it.  And personally, I love this idea!

This cake is super simple to make.  No mixer necessary, just some bowls and a whisk and spatula.  Now I have to admit, any time that a recipe says to "fold" I get a quiver of trepidation.  Folding is not my forte.  I have no confidence in this arena and tend to hold my breath and pray for the best each time.  Is there anyone out there that has any sage folding advice for me?  It always makes me nervous.  Luckily, the amount of folding in this recipe is minimal and I had success (I think). 

The flavors in this cake are simple and delicious.  Browned butter and vanilla bean.  Oh and rum or amaretto if you like.  (IF??)  If you have never used brown butter, you need to.  It adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor of your dish.  You do have to be super careful when making browned butter.  Do not multi-task at this time.  This is very hard for me, as I often multi-task in the kitchen, but trust me.  You can't multi-task and brown butter.  The difference between lovely browned butter and yucky burned butter is a second.  And then you have to start all over!  Grrr.  So just stand there at the stove and focus on that lovely butter.  It is worth it and your dessert will thank you.  And quite honestly it doesn't take long at all to brown butter, it isn't like cooking risotto or something!   Oh, I used dark rum in my cake, but I think I'll try amaretto next....  YUM.

I would describe this as a pound cake, if someone didn't get the "weekend" cake concept.  They look similar and have a similar texture.  And like a good pound cake, you can heat this up in the toaster the next morning and have a special breakfast! 

You can find this recipe on pages 6-7 of Baking Chez Moi.

For insight as to what our other bakers thought of this recipe, go here and click on "LYL: Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake".  All of my fellow bakers list their blog addresses there for you to visit!  Who knows?  You might get inspired to join this group or to follow another of the great bakers!  I have!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black-Bottom, Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Right around the time that the clever girl's school let out for the winter holidays, my neighbor's son, C, had his 12th birthday.  The day prior to C's birthday, his mom delivered his new baby brother, baby A.  Since there was a lot of chaos around the time of C's birthday, the clever girl and I decided to celebrate his birthday right before school started up again.  According to his mom, C's favorite things are peanut butter and chocolate, so we made him a black-bottom peanut butter mousse pie! 

Once I found a recipe that I liked, it was super easy.  The problem with most peanut butter pie recipes is that instead of using PEANUT BUTTER (crazy idea, right?), they use peanut butter chips.  Yuck.  I mean, I should not judge, but I think they are more like peanut butter flavored wax, and why would you not just use peanut butter instead??  That is what I did.  Since I have never tried this recipe using the peanut butter chips, I am not totally sure as to what the filling is supposed to be like, but what I created was pretty tasty, I think!  I could probably reduce the amount of sugar next time, but overall, this is a delicious peanut butter and chocolate pie!

Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie
adapted a lot from Epicurious
1 9-inch+ graham cracker crust (or make your own)
1 1/3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 8 ounces)
2/3 cup plus 1 cup whipping cream, divided
2 TB light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 TB sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar (next time I will try using 1/4 cup)

Combine the chocolate chips, 2/3 cup whipping cream, corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave on medium until the chocolate softens, approximately 3 minutes.  Whisk the chocolate mixture until it is smooth.  Spread about 3/4 of the mixture over the bottom of the graham cracker crust,  It will be about 1/4 inch thick.  Refrigerate the remaining chocolate mixture, and place the crust with the chocolate in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Using the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla in a small bowl of an electric mixer until smooth.  Set aside.  In a separate larger bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup whipping cream and 2 TB sugar until thick but not holding peaks.  Fold into the peanut butter mixture in 3 additions.  Gently spoon the peanut butter mousse over the chocolate layer in the pie.  Chill for at least 1 hour, up to 1 day.

Before serving, gently heat the remaining chocolate syrup and drizzle over the top of the pie.  
Printable Recipe

 Super awesome big brother!

It was fun surprising C with his pie!  I hope it helped to make his birthday extra special!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Granola Energy Bars

Today's recipe for Baking Chez Moi is Granola Energy Bars.  I was especially interested to try this recipe, as I have long searched out recipes for CRUNCHY homemade granola bars.  I recently found one recipe that I like, but am always up to try another.  This recipe uses a different ingredient - brown rice syrup, for binding.  This is the trouble with most homemade granola bars - they  just are not crunchy.  Dorie claims that brown rice syrup will do the trick and guess what?  She is right!  (As if we are surprised!!)  Though my regular grocery store did not carry brown rice syrup (What??  Devastated, truly devastated), I was able to find some at a more "natural" supermarket.

The thing is, I can't decide whether I like these granola bars.  I mean, I must like them, because I eat them up.  However while I eat them, I have a constant thought of "hmmm, do I really like these" going through my mind.  It may be that I am just not used to the taste of brown rice syrup.  Or maybe they need a bit more oomph or something, though I am not really sure what the oomph would be.  I used raisins and cherries in my bars, so there is good flavor there.  The cherries and raisins were both large though, so if I cut them in half there would be more bites with dried fruit.   Maybe I should have toasted the oats and almonds longer?? 

When you take these out of the oven, they are nice and shiny looking and you are supposed to press down on them with a spatula to help them stay tightly together.  I forgot this step, so I did have some crumbles when I cut the bars. 

Overall, I give this recipe a hesitant thumbs-up.  It is definitely worth another try, and besides, what else am I going to do with my jar of brown rice syrup???

If you are curious about this recipe, check out Baking Chez Moi, pages 328-329.  And be sure to visit the TWD blog and click on "LYL: Granola Energy Bars" to find links to other blogs in our group!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Groovy Tie-Dye Cake

On New Years Eve, we attended a 60's-70's party to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday!  I made the cake, obviously!  *wink*  We were on a rooftop bar, so some of my pictures are not great, but hopefully they are good enough to give you the idea of this fabulously groovy cake!

I started out with my new favorite white cake recipe, which is from Cooks Illustrated.  I used it back in June to make the clever girl's rainbow birthday cake and it worked out well so I figured it would serve me well as a tie die cake, too.  If you recall that cake, it was a rainbow in layers, so I split the batter into 6 thin layers of cake and stacked them up.  For this cake, I wanted all of the colors to be within the same two layers, so I had to use a different method. 

I still split the batter into 6 relatively equal amounts.  This was fairly easy because the batter (I made 1 1/2 recipes of batter, for a 10-inch cake) ended up weighing around 60 ounces, so I measured 10 ounces into each bowl.  Then I added food coloring gel to each until they got to be the color I liked.  Don't use liquid food coloring for this - it will add too much liquid to the cake and change the texture.  The gels work nicely, and with Ateco brand you really don't need much to get a nice vibrant color.    I then layered the colors into the pans, using the most of the bottom color, and then a bit less of each color on top of that.  The reverse was done to the second pan.  This is easier to understand with the photo below:

I started with red in the right bowl and gently smoothed it across the bottom of the pan, then used a bit less orange, then yellow and so on.  Gently smooth each color on the top of the one below, being careful not to actually mix them up.  When you get to the top color, the batter sort of looks like a dome, so I just jiggled it and tapped it on the counter a few times to sort of even it out, and hoped for the best.  I forgot to take a photo of the cakes when I got the out of the oven, but they miraculously ended up nicely cake-shaped!  

I made up a double batch of buttercream frosting (recipe below) and  pulled out a bit to use for between the layers.  I colored that icing red, as I thought white would look too glaring and divide the layers visually too much.  In order to get a good RED color in the icing, I made it as red as I could with the red coloring gel, then added a couple drops of brown.  The brown seems to take the pinkish hint out of the frosting and deepen the red color!  Yes!  The rest of the cake was frosted in white.

As you can see, when I stacked my cake, I stacked the top layer upside-down, so the BOTTOM of the cake is now the top.  This is the layer that started with red batter.  You could stack them however you want, I just thought this way would look cool. 

After frosting the entire cake white, I had to make the tie-die effect for the top!  I got my idea from the blog Bird on a Cake.  However, she had better luck finding decorating gel in rainbow colors than I did.  I found red, green and blue, but not the rest.  So I made some myself!!  I found a couple of different recipes online and went with the one for which I had the ingredients on hand, hoping for the best.  It turned out great!  This recipe uses lemon juice which I think is probably for spoiling  purposes but since I didn't actually store it maybe you don't need the lemon?  To me it was fine and added a nice little zip to the cake but if you don't want lemon flavor you could try it without!  I actually found that the homemade decorating gel worked and spread easier than the store bought one, so I will definitely be using this in the future.  I used to have some Wilton Piping Gel in a big tub but I find it kinda nasty and even though it doesn't have an expiration date it sort of scares me at this point.  Oh, and I just put the gel in ziplock bags and snipped a tiny bit of the corner away for piping.  This is not an exact method and a bit messy but worked fine for this application!  I digress.  You will find the decorating gel recipe below as well!

Anyway, put the piping gel on the cake in concentric circles.  Then, using a NEW natural fiber paintbrush (not the kind with plastic bristles from your kid's water-color set... Not that I know this from personal experience or anything...) gently spread the gel from the center to the edge.  You will have to clean off your brush a lot, so set a paper towel next to you.  I tended to clean off my brush after blue and green and then after getting to the edge.  So it went:
*wipe brush*
*wipe brush*
*wipe brush*

If you look at the Bird on a Cake blog, I think her tie-dye effect turned out better than mine, and besides her being more skilled at this than I, I think she also used a wider paintbrush than I did.  Mine was pretty narrow so if I did this again I'd probably use a brush that is closer to 1/2 inch.  And maybe I should put the color lines closer together or thicker in general.  However, I still think it turned out pretty cool!  Our friends really enjoyed the cake and it was an overall hit!

Here are the recipes:
White Layer Cake
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
alterations for tie-die in italics
makes 1 double-layer 9-inch cake (I made 1 1/2 recipes for a 10-inch double layer cake)

2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple GEL food color.  (Liquid color will not be vibrant enough and could change the structure of the batter - too much added liquid)

Set oven rack in the center, and heat to 350F.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans (10-inch round cake pans), line bottoms with parchment, butter parchment, and dust with flour.  (Weigh your empty mixing bowl).

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into a 2-cup glass measure and whisk until blended.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed.  Add the butter and continue to beat until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.  There should be no powdery streaks.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat for 30 seconds more.  Stop mixer and scrape the bowl.  Return the mixer to medium speed and mix for 20 seconds.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans.  (Weigh the full mixing bowl and subtract the weight of the empty bowl.  This is the weight of the batter.  Divide that number by 6 and this is the amount of batter you will put into 6 separate bowls.  Gently whisk several drops of gel color into each bowl.  The color of the cake will be the same as the color of the unbaked batter, so mix in enough color to get the vibrancy that you want.  Pour about 3/4 of your red into the first pan, and then pour in a tad less of each color on top, gently smoothing each color but NOT stirring.  Do the second pan in the opposite order.)  Use a rubber spatula to spread the batter to the pan walls and smooth the top.  (Jiggle the pans a little and tap on the counter a few times.)  Place the pans into the oven, at least 3 inches apart and 3 inches from the oven walls.    Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 23-25 minutes (35-40 minutes). 

Let the cakes rest in the pans for 3 minutes.  Invert onto wire racks, remove the parchment, and then re-invert onto a different wire rack.  Allow to cool completely.   

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
adapted from SavorySweetLife
makes about 2 1/2 cups frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TB+ vanilla extract
3-4 TB milk or heavy cream

Beat the butter on medium speed in the bowl of a heavy mixer, using the paddle attachment.  Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn the mixer to your lowest setting until the sugar and butter have incorporated.  When the sugar and butter are incorporated enough that you can safely turn up the mixer speed without coating your kitchen in sugar, increase the speed to medium and add the salt, vanilla and 2 TB of milk/cream.  Beat for 3 minutes.  Add additional milk/cream if you need the frosting to be softer, or add additional if you need the frosting to be stiffer.    

Homemade Cake Piping/Decorating Gel
1/2 cup white sugar
1 TB cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan.  Gradually stir in the lemon juice.  Add in the water and stir to combine.

Stir over high heat until the mixture boils and thickens, then color as desired (or divide into smaller bowls and color as desired).  Store the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  

If the mixture becomes too thick, add a tiny amount of water at a time until the gel reaches a better consistency.
In case you are wondering, yes, Mr. Clever Mom and I got our groovy duds on for the party.  

One of my girlfriends who is a true born-in-Texas girl came over to give me a nice bouffant hair-do!  I had no idea how to make my hair big so I had to call in an expert!  Sorry, no tutorials on that one!  Just use lots of hairspray and a teasing brush! 

Let's disco, baby!