Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cake Decorating

In the last few weeks we've started to concentrate on the cake decorating aspects of the course. We've been doing simple cake decorating techniques. Check out the cakes I've done so far. I think we can agree that they're all an improvement on my first cake decorating attempt.




CAKE#4 which I did tonight

Memories of F&N Class

No I haven't given up on baking or the blog. October was a super crazy busy month for me because my dance company, Dance Theatre Xaymaca, staged their 16th Season of Dance on October 29 and 30. Rehearsals for the performances and the performances themselves pretty much kidnapped all my time, but I'm back now.

When I was in 3rd form in high school we had to take food and nutrition class. There were two desserts we made that I remember. The plantain tarts because they tasted really good and the donuts because we accidentally forgot the sugar and ended up with something similar to fried dumplings. These memories came back when we made these same treats in my baking class. But this time the donuts were divine. I like simple glazed donuts, no fillings, no fandangles. The donuts were tender and delicious and the glaze was to die for with a little tups of lemon mmm. We tried different shapes, round, twist and pretzel shaped. The plantain tarts were pretty good too.

Unfortunately some of the donuts came out a little dark. This is because while in the deep fryer its important to flip them unto the other side very quickly. Being a first-timer I didn't flip them as swiftly as required so the last ones I turned ended up dark on one side. They still tasted great. I think what I need to do is practice doing these over and over at home (wink, wink).

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Not Delivery, It's Me!

Apart from the hectic schedule, the expense of buying tools and ingredients and the hassles of dealing with the university's administration, I'm really enjoying the course I'm taking. Here's a look at some of the goodies we made last week.

Pizza - I chose to make mine Hawaiian. I can't wait to try a thin crust version at home.
We also made Italian bread (not pictured) which is made with the same dough as the pizza crust. After the bread baked we sliced it in half and slathered garlic butter in the middle then wrapped it in foil and let the flavour make love to the bread. Mmm mm good!

Chinese Almond Cookies - easy to make crispy cookies garnished with almonds with a hint of almond extract in the dough as well. A very yummy little treat. Perfect for making with kids actually. I'll keep that in mind for when I have some.

Spritz Cookie - a simple piped butter cookie garnished with dried cherries. We made 3 different shapes.

Banana Nut Bread - a simple, timeless, homey, classic. It was moist, delicious and oozing with flavour.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

War of the Cinnamon Buns

Last Friday in class we were scheduled to make cinnamon buns and I couldn't help but wonder whether the ones I'd make in class would beat the ones I made at home (see Move Over Cinnabon!). We were told to bring extra sugar, raisins and some store-bought fruit filling. It soon became apparent to us that we weren't just making cinnamon buns but many different shapes and variations with same basic dough. The sweet yeast dough was made, allowed to rise and divided in four pieces. Each piece was used to make a different type of pastry. We made the original cinnamon bun shape, a coffee cake ring shape, a twisted version which was wrapped into several different shapes and a braid with fruit filling in the middle. These were baked in the oven and brushed with a honey syrup then lightly drizzled with a glaze made from icing sugar, lemon flavor and water.

The honey syrup added that irresistible sheen to the pastry. It also added more sweetness to the pastry than in my version of the cinnamon bun. These cinnamon buns were what Jamaican's refer to as "Sugar Bun" while the ones I made previously were more like what you'd get at Cinnabon, but they were both delicious. All the variations were yummy. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Taking it to the next level

Its been about 7 months since I started baking and blogging and I've been having such a wonderful time that I decided to take my baking to another level. I've enrolled myself in a 1 year part-time course in pastry making and cake decorating. The classes started this week. We have practicals every Wednesday and Friday, so instead of my usual tales of weekend baking, I'll be blogging about all the things i'm learning in class with the occasional weekend project. I hope that's OK with you my valued readers.

Today we had our very first practical class and I'm loving it already. I happened to luck out and pick the most awesome, cool girls in the class to partner with. Today we made dinner rolls, our first yeast dough project. We made them in three shapes: round, knot and double knot. Our rolls came out soft and delicious. We couldn't stop "sampling" them when they were warm and fresh from the oven.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Cheesecake Brings All My Friends to the Yard

This week I decided to try my all time favorite dessert. Can anyone guess what that is? If you've been reading my blog at all you'd know that I love cream cheese, in fact I love all cheese so it should be no surprise to you that my favorite dessert is cheesecake. I've tasted many, many cheesecakes, so I consider myself an expert in sensory evaluation of them, but when it comes to baking them I'm a complete novice. This made me nervous. I mean who wants to screw up their favorite thing to eat, not me! Additionally, I've tasted a lot of disappointing cheesecakes. Ones that missed the mark by having the wrong texture, being too cakey, too sweet, not sweet enough and the list of faults goes on and on. I didn't want to be one of those. I wanted mine to be great!

After reading other bloggers' raving reviews about Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, I decided to use her recipe to bake my very first cheesecake.I prepared the crust by combining graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter to make the crust and fitting into into my buttered spring-form pan which was double wrapped in tin foil. I placed the tin in the freezer. I met upon a major setback when I preheated the oven and realized it wasn't heating up enough. Noooo! I felt pretty disappointed. But the next day I woke up with a new sense of determination, mixed up my batter, got in the car and drove over to my parents house and used their oven to bake it. I decided to make the lime version of Dorie's cheesecake because I like the brightness that a little citrus adds to desserts. So in addition to mixing together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs, sour cream, heavy cream and salt, I also added lime juice and lime zest. The crust baked at 350 for 10 minutes, then after it cooled I poured the filling into it and baked the cheesecake in a water bath at 325 for an hour and a half. Then the cheesecake was left in the water bath with the oven door slightly opened for another hour, then I removed it and cooled it on a wire rack.

The hardest part about making cheesecake is the waiting. After baking for an hour and a half, sitting for another hour in the slightly cracked oven and then cooling on the wire rack, it then has to chilled for at least 4 hours! This felt like the longest wait of all time. At around 9pm that night I just had to go and take a small sliver to see how my masterpiece turned out. It was wonderful! the texture was perfect! Really creamy! The lime was such a wonderful addition and gave it a little zing. It was just the right amount of sweet. It was lovely. It was so lovely that I invited my friends to come over and eat it before I ate it all myself.

So not only did my cheesecake turn out great but it inspired a gathering of great friends laughing and talking in my kitchen for a few hours last night. The cheesecake got rave reviews, and I had amazing company. Not only did I accomplish making my first cheesecake but I brought friends together, which doubles the benefits!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tropical Treats

For the last few weeks I've been feeling a tropical vibe. It came through in my desserts. Coconut macaroons are something I ate a lot as a child. My mom loves them and used to take them home for us as an occasional treat. Incidentally I happened to be talking to her on the phone for the entire time I was making them, which wasn't that long since they're so easy to make. Too easy in fact, I'm tempted to just through some together for a sweet snack. A temptation I will resist in the name of vanity. When I made the Chewy Lime and Coconut Sugar Cookies, I discovered the beauty of a marriage between the flavours and decided that I'd make Coconut Lime Macaroons. The flavours were just as delicious in macaroon form and I ate one everyday until they were done.

Revisiting things that worked seemed to be the second theme of the last couple weeks. I had a visit from my aunt who happens to be a huge fan of my blog. Since she lives abroad, this was her first opportunity to taste my goods. I remembered her comments about the Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart with Gingersnap Crust  and decided to do a version with mango, one of her favorite fruits. The ginger and lime zest in the tart went very well with the mango. I have to say I prefer this version to the Nectarines, but perhaps I'm biased towards tropical fruits. I served the tart with Moscato which according to my internet research, would go well with the fresh fruit in the dessert. I rushed to make this on the same day it was served, it was a rather busy weekend. But if you make this recipe it really is best to make it the day before and add the fruit topping just before you serve it. That way the creamy filling has more time to set. The piece I had the day after was just perfect! This is by far one of my favorite recipes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Good friends introduce you to good food

I have a longtime friend named Danae, who lives in NYC. Our parents are very good friends and we practically grew up together. She's older and wiser than me, especially in matters concerning food. It's no surprise that she introduced me to some of my favorite foods, like sushi, and Juniors cheesecake. On one of my trips to visit her she took me to Cake Man Raven. This was the first time I tasted red velvet cake and since I've started baking, I wanted to try to make it myself. So this week I made Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. I took the recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Brown Eyed Baker.

I also got a chance to try out one of the new pastry tips I bought on my last trip to Miami. I first combined the butter, sugar and egg. Then I mixed the food colouring, cocoa powder and vanilla together into a paste and added it to the sugar butter and egg mixture.The vinegar and dry ingredients were gradually added to the mixture and when it was thoroughly combined, I baked the cupcakes in the oven for 20 minutes. The frosting was made my mixing butter, cream cheese (mmmm cream cheese ), powdered sugar and vanilla. After the cupcakes cooled I piped the frosting on with a piping bag and open star tip.

The cake was moist and fluffy, just how I like my cake and the cream cheese frosting was delicious. But in terms of the taste of the cake it was just ok. One reviewer said she could taste the food colouring, I'd reduce it next time around and see how it tastes. The cake itself wasn't sweet, but the frosting made up for that, adding just the right amount of sweetness. I didn't quite make red velvet that rivals Cake Man Raven's but hey! I bet even Cake Man Raven didn't make his best red velvet on the first try.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Put the lime in the coconut

This week I decided I wasn't going to buy anything. Whatever I baked had to be from ingredients I already had on hand. Now, its pretty difficult to do this without the basics: eggs, flour, sugar and butter. Lucky I had them all. I chose a recipe from one the the blogs I follow, Two Peas and Their Pod, and made Chewy Lime and Coconut Sugar Cookies.

These cookies were very simple to make. First I combined the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl I beat together the sugar and butter, then added the egg, vanilla, lime zest, lime juice and desiccated coconut. I gradually added the dry mixture to the wet one and beat til combined. I took heaped tablespoons, rolled them into a ball with the palms of my hands and then rolled them in sugar and placed them on a baking sheet.

The cookies baked for about 10 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until the tops were cracked and very slightly golden. They were left to cool on the pan for 2 minutes and then transferred to the cooling rack where they completed the cooling process. I had my first taste with a cup of tea.

These cookies are more than meets the eye, they are absolutely divine, delectable, delicate, delicious. The lime and coconut work together so well and the texture, just the right amount of crisp on the outside but chewy at the heart of it without being doughy. Wonderful! And they took such a short time to make. I didn't bake all the batter at once. Some of it sat in the fridge for a day or two and wow the second batch was even more delicious. I'm on to batch number three now, making between 12 and 18 each time and I still have a little batter left. This recipe is yielding more than 36 cookies for me. I have to get rid of them quickly! Its too dangerous to have them here with me, alone. I may even have to resort to taking some to work. I spent nothing, used up some left over ingredients and ate some very very tasty cookies. Thumbs up for this one!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Passion-ate about Ice Cream, Crazy for Mangoes

This week my fiance's parents were visiting from Barbados and I decided to make some strawberry ice cream. Well, as luck would have it, there were no strawberries in the grocery store. Disappointed, I paced, trying to decide what other flavour I'd like to make. Then I passed by one of the produce displays and saw something that was even better than strawberries, passion fruit. I grabbed two bags and merrily skipped to the cash register. I have had passion fruit ice cream only a few times but each and every time it has left a lasting impression on me. I love the flavour of passion fruit.

I'm also discovering that I LOVE making ice cream. I used Food Blog Search to track down a recipe. I came upon David Lebovitz's recipe on several blogs. I've been wanting to get his book The Perfect Scoop for quite some time now. Everything I read about it is positive.

I began by extracting the juice from the passion fruits. This was done by pressing the juicy seeds in a strainer with the back of a spoon which was the most time consuming part of the recipe. I decided to double the recipe to yield a quart. Then I added a cup of cream. I warmed the sugar, salt and remaining cream in a medium saucepan and slowly added it to six whisked egg yolks in a bowl. Then I put the custard back in the pot and cooked it until it coated the spoon. I then added this mixture to the passion fruit mixture. I chilled the mixture, churned it in my ice cream maker and let it freeze overnight.

The ice cream was lovely. It had the fresh, vibrant flavour passion fruit with just the right amount of sweetness, mm mm mm superb!

Later on in the week, my fiance's Dad brought home some mangoes from St. Thomas, providing me with the inspiration for my next two desserts. I decided to make Mango Sorbet (using another David Lebovitz recipe).The sorbet was simple to make. I simply put sugar, water, diced mango, lime juice, a tablespoon of dark rum and a pinch of salt into the food processor and pureed it until smooth. Then I chilled the mixture, churned it in the good ole ice cream machine and froze it for several hours. The sorbet tasted completely authentic, it was just like biting into a sweet, ripe, juicy Julie mango. One of my testers even said it was better than Haagen Daaz! What a compliment! :-)

I still had many mangoes left so I figured I'd bake something. After all this is "The Baker Within". So I decided to make Fresh Mango Bread from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. It was made by combining the dry ingredients and spices, mixing together the wet ingredients, marrying both mixtures and then adding the diced mangoes, lime zest and golden raisins.

After making sure everything was well incorporated, I placed it into a loaf pan and baked it for an hour and a half. The center was still wet, so I had to bake it for another 20 minutes.

The bread was delicious and moist, the spice and sweetness just right. But even though I could see the chunks of mango all throughout the bread it just didn't taste mango-y enough. It should've been bursting with mango flavour. Next time I try this recipe I'll either increase the amount of mango or pulse the mango in the food processor first so that it can be even more incorporated into the batter or heck maybe I'll even do both.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 2011 Daring Bakers Challenge: Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

For those of you unfamiliar with Baklava, its a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. I was first introduced to it while studying in Canada and I'm definitely a fan but I haven't had any since I left, so when I saw that it was this month's challenge, I was very excited. It would normally be pretty simple to make using store bought phyllo but this challenge required that we make homemade phyllo, which was, well, difficult. The recipe can be found on the Daring Bakers Website

I began with the phyllo dough which was made by combining flour, salt, water, vegetable oil and cider vinegar then kneading it until smooth and letting it rest for 2 hours wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. During the resting time I prepared the syrup by boiling a cinnamon stick, lime rind, cloves, honey, sugar and water together for 10 minutes. 

While the syrup cooled, I created the nut mixture by grinding the walnuts, almonds, pistachios, allspice and cinnamon in the food processor. 

The phyllo dough was ready for rolling and I followed the instructions as best I could, trying to get it as thin as possible by rolling and stretching. I then layered about 5 sheets of phyllo, making sure to butter in between sheets, then 1/3 nut mixture, then another 5 sheets, more nut mixture, until the phyllo and nut mixture were all used up. I cut the baklava into pieces and generously buttered the top.

I baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, then cut it again and baked it for another 30 minutes. It smelled amazing when it was baking which made me a little upset that it had to sit overnight and I wouldn't be able to eat it until the next day. I removed it from the oven and it was lovely and golden. 

It looked just like the picture in the recipe and I felt a sense of achievement. I poured the syrup over it and left it to absorb overnight. There was so much syrup that my baklava actually began to float but I wasn't concerned since the recipe said we should expect it to be a lot of syrup but it would be absorbed overnight. The next day though I awoke to disappointment. The baklava was drowning in tons of syrup. I had to pour off the excess.

The flavour of the baklava was sweet, with wonderful spice. The flavour was terrific. But everything else was turned out to be well, not so great. The baklava was very wet and sticky, the  "phyllo" I made wasn't thin or flaky enough and the cinnamon sticks hadn't been ground up small enough so every now and then I bit into a very tough bite of stick. Had I known that would happen I would've just used cinnamon powder. I was very disappointed since I was so looking forward to recreating this dessert. I will definitely try it again one day, but with store bought phyllo and a different recipe and see if I have better luck. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Covered Chocolate Dipped in Chocolate

A good friend of mine was leaving for Spain for six weeks and she made one request "Something Chocolate". I begun to quiz her on what she liked with chocolate. Did she like nuts, caramel,coconut, what accompaniments could I put in this dessert. To which she replied that all those things were just distractions, she wanted chocolate, forget the other stuff. So when I saw this recipe for Life by Chocolate on Pioneer Woman's Blog, I thought of her. These are chocolate cupcakes with a Hersheys Kiss inside dipped in chocolate ganache. Unfortunately the weekend before she left I bit off more than I could chew and fell ill, so I couldn't make them for her departure, however I made them this weekend to commemorate her long awaited return.

Dry mixture
These cupcakes were simple to make. I combined the salt, sugar and flour in a bowl. I used whole wheat flour instead of white because with all this chocolate I figured noone could tell the difference and we could all use some extra fiber here and there. Then I whisked the eggs, vanilla, baking soda and natural yogurt (used instead of buttermilk) together in a measuring cup. I melted the butter over medium heat and added the cocoa.  I used Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa Powder. I added the boiling water and removed the pot from the heat. Then I combined all three mixtures, the dry, the wet and the cocoa.
Wet mixture
Cocoa mixture


Dry, wet and cocoa mixtures combined

I filled each muffin cup with 1/4cup batter and placed a kiss lightly in the centre of each muffin cup. The muffins baked for 20 minutes.

As they cooled I made the chocolate ganache by adding warm cream, corn syrup and vanilla to chopped chocolate and whisking until smooth. When both the cupcakes and the ganache were cool, I dipped the cupcakes in them.

These were very chocolaty, not too sweet, with a sweet surprise milk chocolate kiss in the middle. This was chocolaty, chocolaty, chocolaty and quite dark. They were good and although I got rave reviews from my tasters, I didn't think it was great.A moister, fluffier cupcake recipe would take this from good to great!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Come Rain or Shine

For about two weeks the rain fell, and fell, and fell. It felt like it would never end. The weather inspired me to make something warm and cozy for the weekend and I selected a bread pudding with spiced rum sauce. I even decided that only a wimpy baker would go buy the bread to make the bread pudding, I on the other hand was a daring baker who did not believe in short cuts! So I decided I'd make cinnamon raisin bread days before and then turn it into bread pudding on the weekend. But, just as my plan came together the sun appeared, blazing with a vengeance and I just couldn't bring myself to execute my plan.

I went back to the drawing board and while in the grocery store I was inspired by a huge bag of limes. I'll make Key Lime Pie, I thought. But these weren't key limes, just regular limes. While talking about it with a friend she made a mistake and called it Lime Cay Pie. I liked the way it sounded and decided to rename my dessert after one of my favorite beaches. After all, this weekend would've been perfect for a trip to Lime Cay plus I'd eliminate the risk of being accosted by purists who are against using anything but Key Limes to make this dessert. I searched for a recipe and found one for Key Lime Tart in Martha's Baking Handbook. I love tarts and thought it would be more elegant and easier to slice so I went for it! Lime Cay Tart!

I ditched the crust in the book and decided to make one from ginger biscuits. The same crust I made for the Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart. I thought the ginger and lime would go well together. Perhaps it could've done with more baking because it crumbled quite a bit at the edges, affecting the look of my tart. After making the crust with processing ginger biscuits and combining the crumbs with melted butter, I baked it for 8 minutes and left it to cool. 

The filling was soooo easy to make, I beat egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then added lime zest, condensed milk and lime juice. I then filled the cooled crust and baked it for 10 minutes. Then I attempted to cover it loosely with plastic wrap but once the plastic wrap touched the top some of it stuck to it. It ruined the smooth finish of the tart :( . Oh, the simple lessons I learn while baking. I placed it in the fridge and left it to cool. I declined to make the garnish. It would take 30-40 minutes of cooking to make and I did not have the luxury of time for such a frivolous undertaking. 

I tasted the tart and it was wonderful. It was tart but sweet, silky smooth and refreshing, just the thing you'd want on a nice hot day. The book suggested that it be served with sweetened whipped cream, which I also didn't bother to make but I can see why they would suggest it. Something to cut the tartness a bit. For me though, it was great without it. Had a lovely zing to it!

On Saturday my fiancĂ© mentioned he felt for ice cream so of course I volunteered to make some for him. I chose Unbelieveably Good Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours. I couldn't resist trying this recipe. The name was taunting me and I just had to know whether it did its name justice. This was my second time making ice cream but the first time I made one which contained egg yolks and had a custard that needed to be heated. Well I learned some lessons there as well, I cooked the custard into something resembling scrambled eggs twice before getting it right. But finally, on the third try I made the custard and heated it properly. Then I poured it over the chopped chocolate, stirred it until smooth and then put it in my ice cream maker. When it was almost done I added the blueberry preserves. I let the mixture freeze overnight before tasting.

The ice cream was tasty, very chocolaty and had a beautiful dark colour but unbelievably good? No. Just good. So, like the brownies and chocolate chip cookies, I'm still on the search for the perfect recipe.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Too Short Shortcake

Two friends of mine requested strawberry shortcake so I selected it as this week's project. While doing recipe research I discovered that what we have been accustomed to calling "Strawberry Shortcake" was not really Strawberry Shortcake. Real strawberry shortcake is made with biscuits. Yeah, biscuits, weird huh? Anyway, I set out to make the cake version and came upon this fabulous recipe for Strawberry Cream Cake from Cooks Illustrated

After last week's daring bakers challenge I thought this one would be 
easy as pie. then something happened that brought me down from my cloud of invincibility. I began by making the cake and followed the directions to the letter. But while it was baking I noticed it hadn't risen as much as I had expected. It also took 10 minutes more than the recipe said it would to bake. I let the cake cool, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. It bothered me all night. I thought about it and the next morning I awoke feeling renewed and decided to make another cake. I decided to use a recipe for moist yellow cake layers from Nick Malgieri's Bake!. I figured the problem with the first one was the delicate folding in of the egg whites. Maybe I had mixed them too much. This recipe didn't have that, I thought it would be harder to screw up. 

While the cake baked, I prepared the strawberries. One of the things that drew me to this recipe was that it not only had fresh strawberries but also contained another filling made with macerated strawberries and cherry brandy. I sliced 24 of the strawberries and quartered the rest of them. 

Then I removed the cake from the oven. This cake didn't rise enough either. The cake was supposed to be 5cm tall and it was only 3cm. So with two short cakes I decided to make the best of it, cut each cake in half and use three of those halves to make the strawberry shortcake. 
Cake #1
Cake #2

I liked the texture of the second cake the most so I decided to use two layers of it and one layer of the first one. While cake #2 cooled, I macerated  the quartered strawberries with 6 tablespoons of sugar. After an hour I strained the strawberries and put the liquid in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons of cherry brandy and simmered it for 5 minutes until it became quite syrupy. The quartered strawberries were then pulsed in the food processor 5 times and added to the syrup. I put the mixture to cool while I made the cream. The cream was simple and involved beating cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together and whipping that with heavy cream. 

I assembled the cake by placing the fresh strawberry halves around the circumference of a cake layer then filled the center with the macerated strawberry mixture. Then I added a generous layer of the cream mixture. I repeated this for the next layer. Then I placed the final layer on top, topped it with cream and surrounded the top layer with fresh strawberry halves. My middle layer suffered an injury while being transferred, it broke in several places. I just put it together and hoped that this wouldn't seriously affect the stability of the cake.

I put the cake in the fridge to cool for a couple hours before I cut it. This was one of those weeks when I had a lot of tasters and I was nervous about how it would come out. I had some strawberry shortcake lovers in the group and I didn't want to disappoint them by not doing their favorite dessert justice. Despite my issues with the cake not rising and the breaking of the middle layer, the cake was deeeeelicious and still quite beautiful. I even have a request to make another one next weekend!