Monday, March 28, 2011

Why use the fridge when the freezer is so much faster?!!

It's been more than a week since my last post, no I haven't dropped the ball, I went on a weekend trip with the bf to the south coast and had an AMAZING time. So when I got home this evening, I HAD to bake. This week's recipe utilizes one of my favorite nuts, pistachios. I made Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies from Gourmet December 2006.

I started by shelling the pistachios and zesting the orange, which again highlighted the fact that I need a zester. It's way too difficult to zest citrus with an ordinary grater. I can't find them anywhere in Jamaica. I'll have to get one the next time I go abroad. After reading the reviews, I decided to chop the nuts in my mini chopper for a bit so that the cookies would be easier to slice. 

Now that the hard stuff was complete, I combined the flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl I whipped the butter, sugar and orange zest together. 

In thirds, I added the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When it was completely combined, I added the cranberries and pistachios. I tasted the batter and decided it could use some more zest so I finished off whatever was left on the orange I had.

I divided the batter into two square logs using plastic wrap. The instructions said to refrigerate for at least two hours, but I figured it wouldn't hurt if I just put 'em in the freezer until they were firm enough to slice instead. So I did, and for the most part, it worked!. There were a few cookies that fell apart a little, but I just squooshed 'em back  together, no prob! After slicing them, I baked them for 18 minuted on a parchment lined sheet, then placed them on a rack to cool. They cooled very quickly, which was good because we couldn't wait to taste them.

My boyfriend, myself and our friend who was visiting took a taste. These tasted good but they weren't as sweet as I had expected, or wanted them to be. I was also disappointed that I did not pick up the fresh flavour of the orange zest. But with a few adjustments this could be a winner. I especially liked when I got a bite of cranberry or pistachio, that was the highlight of this cookie.

For those of you who can't stand the suspense involved in waiting for me to make a new blog post, I have added a new feature, you can follow me by email. Enter your email in the box entitled "Follow by Email" under the "About Me" section to the right and follow the instructions. You will receive an email to confirm your intentions to receive emails. Confirm it and you will receive an email every time I make a new post. Its that easy! All you have to do is make sure my emails aren't going to your junk box, after all my posts aren't junk! They're delicious! 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Tale of the Chocolate Cake, the Smiling Boyfriend and My First Attempt at Cake Decorating

Yesterday was my boyfriend's birthday and of course, like any good baking girlfriend would do, I decided to bake him a cake. Anthony has only one requirement when it comes to dessert and that's chocolate. So for this celebration nothing would be more appropriate than a Double Chocolate Layer Cake. I chose this recipe from Food and Wine because Ina Garten said this was the best chocolate cake she ever made and Ina usually knows her stuff, so in my search for a surefire recipe for this very special occasion, I felt I could depend on Ina.

I managed to bake the cake layers in the hour and fifteen minutes between when I arrived home from work and when I had to go to my dance rehearsal. This is a feat I am very proud of. As I rushed in from work I preheated the oven, then made the buttermilk and the cup of coffee. I mixed the dry ingredients together, first with the electric mixer which created a cloud of dust which had me coughing. So I turned off the electric mixer and just whisked it instead. Then, I mixed the liquid ingredients together and then combine the two mixtures together. I can't help but recognize that I have written those two sentences many many times. This seems to be one of the fundamentals of baking, mix dry with dry, wet with wet and then mix wet and dry together.

I had all intentions of lining the pans with parchment paper, but since I was short on time I fell back on my quick easy method, I lined the pans with foil and sprayed the foil with last of the baking PAM and poured the batter in. The cakes baked for 35 mins, at which point my toothpicks came out clean. I removed the pans from the oven and set them to cool while I went to rehearsal.

When I returned, it was time for decorating. For this occasion, I wanted  to attempt some simple cake decorating techniques. A shell border on the top and bottom of the cake and writing on the cake. This was my very first attempt at cake decorating. Deb from recommended freezing the cakes before frosting them so that they were easier to work with and didn't break during handling. I thought this would come in especially handy in this case because the cakes were very moist as they came out of the oven, just the way I like them. So I wrapped them in plastic wrap and then in foil and stuck them in the freezer for an hour while I made the butter cream frosting.

I then removed the cakes from the freezer and applied the crumb coat. This coat is a thin layer of frosting which "glues" the crumbs down so that the final frosting layer can be smooth and crumb-less. The crumb coated cake was placed in the fridge to set, about half an hour. During frosting I placed strips of parchment under all sides of the cake to keep the cake board from getting messy.

After removing the cake from the fridge again, I applied the final coat of frosting. I found that my brand new offset spatula made it much easier to spread the frosting, it was worth the money indeed. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the frosting perfectly smooth. I then attempted pipe the writing with chocolate. I had read about a technique where you pipe the words on parchment, allow it to dry and then remove the letters from the paper and place it on the cake. I'm not sure why this didn't work for me but it was impossible to remove the letters from the paper. So I tried my best to duplicate what I had done on the cake itself. That didn't come out perfect either. Next I attempted to pipe a shell border around the top and bottom of the cake. I learned this technique online from Wilton. That didn't come out perfect either, but the cake was now complete and I placed it in the fridge overnight. By this time it was 1 am. I went to bed. This was the finished product:

It wasn't until yesterday evening when I got home from that we decided to do the official cake cutting. We each cut a slice and guess what? It tasted perfect!! It was moist, fluffy, chocolaty. Anthony said it was one of the best chocolate cakes he had ever eaten.Thanks Ina!!! This made me very happy. It didn't look perfect but it tasted amazing, and once again, the person I made it for loved it.

So, this week I learned a valuable lesson, that cake decorating requires a lot of practice and patience. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect the first time, if I keep at it, one day we'll all be sitting around a beautiful cake I made, laughing and reminiscing about my first decorated cake.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

An Apple a Day the Otaheite Way

They're everywhere, even at the traffic light. One of my favorite fruits, otaheite apples, are in season. So this week, I decided to bake something with them. I took a recipe for a Rustic Pear Tart
and used 3 otaheite apples instead of pears.

This recipe is by Ellie Krieger, one of the hosts on Food Network. Her show is about healthy eating, so her recipes usually have less fat and sugar than others. This is a risk because I find healthy is not always tasty. But it was a risk I was willing to take, I felt daring.

I started by whisking together the dry ingredients for the crust. Then I cut in the butter with my favorite tool, my hands. I used a fork to add the buttermilk and ice water mixture, formed it into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. While it was chilling I made the filling. I sliced up 3 apples and combined them with the lime juice, corn starch, brown sugar and cinnamon.

After the 30 minutes of refrigeration time was up, I removed the crust from the fridge and rolled it into a 9" (very approximate) circle on a floured cutting board. Then I transferred it to my lined baking sheet sprayed with baking PAM. Now it was time for filling and crust to meet. I made a neat pile of fruit in the centre of the crust with a 2" (another very approximate measure) border. I folded the edges over and put it in the oven.

I baked it for 15 minutes at 425F and then turn it down to 350 and baked it for 40 minutes more. The tart smelt amazing when it was baking. After I removed it from the oven I brushed it with the honey glaze, transfered it to a plate and cooled it for a bit. I was impressed by how lovely my rustic tart looked. Then I cut myself a slice.

When I tasted it, the lovely fresh taste of the apples came out. They were definitely the thing on show here. I think this recipe is best if you use the sweeter otaheite apples, the ones with the very dark purplish skin. This recipe is great as a healthy dessert but I did miss the sugar in the crust, I wanted it to be sweeter. I can imagine making a similar tart with a less healthy, sweeter dough that will be totally bad for me. I can also see myself making it with different fruits.

As more fruits come into season, I hope to find delicious ways to showcase them just as I did with the otaheite apple.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Holiday + New Book = BAKING!

This week my aunt sent me an Amazon gift card to purchase any of the baking books on my list :-). I selected "Baking: From My Home To Yours" by Dorie Greenspan. I bought it in Kindle because its instant, more portable and I don't have to worry about shipping. Plus now I have a copy of it on my PC, my Kindle and my Ipod. Today is a holiday, so I decided that I'd try out a recipe from my new book. I thought, "What haven't I made yet?" and the answer came to me "cookies!" I chose a classic, chocolate chip cookies. Dorie's recipe is entitled "My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies".

I elected to make a half batch of these cookies since I didn't know what I'd do with 45 cookies which is what the full recipe makes. I started out by whisking the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) together. I added 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, cause, well, I can! Then I creamed the butter and sugar, beat in the egg and vanilla. Then I combined the two mixtures and added chocolate chips and finely ground pecans to the mix. I don't have a food processor, but I do have a mini chopper which I used to grind the pecans.

I scooped rounded tablespoons of the mixture unto two baking sheets lined with foil and baking PAM. Each sheet was baked for 12 minutes, Then cooled for one minute after which I removed the cookies and placed them on the cooling rack to continue cooling.

Up until now I have been avoiding purchasing cookie sheets. I figured I would just make due with what I had. However it was clear during the baking of the cookies that the sheets I have are too small. The cookies were crowded and so they ended up odd shaped. So I have a choice either continue to make misshapen cookies, bake a small amount at a time or buy bigger baking sheets. I think I'll take the third option. 

After they were cooled, I tasted a cookie. The cookie was crisp, thin and chocolaty. These were good, but not the texture I prefer in a chocolate chip cookie. Some like them big and cake-like, some like them thin and crisp, me? I like them chewy. So along with the search for a brownie to knock my socks off, I'll also be looking for a chewy chocolate chip cookie that'll make me melt.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bonding, Brownies & Birthdays

This was quite a weekend, packed with activities and special celebrations and where there are special occasions, there is dessert. My cousin came to visit for the weekend and in honour of her visit I decided to make her something. I inquired what her favorites were and the first on the list was brownies, so I decided to make some. While contemplating the type of brownies I would make, I thought of the activities my cousins and I had planned to do this weekend and thought hmmmmm, girls flex, clubbing, alcohol AHA! I will make brownies with alcohol! I came upon a recipe for Irish cream brownies and decided to try it out but instead of using irish cream, I used Sangster's Rum Cream, one of my favorites.

 This weekend there were also two birthdays in the family. My mother's and my grandmother's. My mother lives abroad so it wouldn't have been practical to bake her something. I decided to bake Grandma a birthday cake and what says birthday more than a good layer cake. I chose carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

I started with the brownies. I whisked the dry ingredients together then put the butter and chocolate chips to melt in the microwave. I only found it necessary to microwave it for one minute, stirring after 30 seconds instead of the 1 1/2 minutes the recipe stated. Then I added the sugar and the liquid ingredients. I used one egg and an egg white instead of the egg substitute like some of the reviewers. Then I put it in the microwave to melt the sugar. It took two minutes, stirring every 30 seconds before the sugar dissolved.

 I combined the wet and dry ingredients, poured them in a 9x9 non-stick pan sprayed with baking PAM and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes. Then I set them to cool.
 After they cooled, I cut them into 16 squares and took a taste. How did they turn out? I was disappointed. They just tasted normal, regular. If I take the time to bake from scratch it should taste way better than the boxed version and these didn't. Not that anything was wrong with them, they were good but nothing special. You couldn't taste even a hint of the rum cream in it either. I am sort of puzzled why reviewers rated this recipe so highly, I was not impressed. So the hunt is still on for a better brownie recipe that'll knock my socks off and have me swearing off box mix.

While the brownies baked, I started grating carrots. Unfortunately, I don't have a food processor so I grated the carrots by hand. This part, I must admit, was not fun. It began to hurt my elbow at which point I'd switch to the left hand which was awkward but I got through it without any permanent injuries. I toasted the pecans in the oven which made them smell amazing.

After that, I whisked the dry ingredients together in a bowl. I particularly enjoyed the scent of the cinnamon as I incorporated it with the other ingredients. I beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and in a measuring cup I combined the liquid ingredients.

Then I combined the three mixtures together with, added the carrots and pecans, and divided it into 9" pans lined with foil and sprayed with PAM for Baking. It took 55 minutes for the cakes to bake. They had that nice warm brown colour you expect from a carrot cake. They were also quite moist. I removed them from the pan and put them to cool while I made the frosting.

The frosting was simple to make. I creamed butter and cream cheese together, then added vanilla and icing sugar. Now for the assembly. The cake pans I used had 2" sides, when the cakes rose, they developed a tiny muffin top that I had to trim a bit. Then I placed the first layer top down on the cake holder and frosted the top and sides. Then I placed the second layer on top and frosted the top and sides of the cake and placed it in the fridge.

Since this cake was a gift, I couldn't cut it right away, I had to wait until today at our family gathering to taste my masterpiece. This was difficult since I really wanted to find out how it tasted. It also made me nervous because it meant that others would be tasting the cake with me, on a special occasion, so the pressure was on. How did it turn out? Really good! Just the right amount sweetness, fluffy, moist, perfectly complimentary frosting and I got compliments all around the room. I would have paid for this cake. Best of all, my Grandma liked it, which was the whole purpose of the carrot cake.

I had a thought while making this layer cake, after the six months of baking adventures I may want to learn cake decorating techniques so my carrot cake can look as beautiful as it tastes :-)