3/30/08

The Perfect Party Cake

Well here it is, my first completed Daring Bakers challenge: Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. As I'm sure all Daring Bakers challenges are, this cake was a whole lotta work, but fun to make and definitely a "challenge". I had never made my own buttercream frosting before, so that was a learning experience. I followed the instructions and it whipped up nicely, but after storing it in the fridge for a little while until I needed it, I learned that it kind of hardens and you have to whip it up again with your mixer before you can spread it on the cake. Also, when you start whipping it again, it looks like you've just ruined it for a few minutes. It melts into a buttery wimpy looking substance and then little by little, it starts to whip up into a white frosting again. It was magic.

This cake ended up being Mark's birthday cake and one of our Easter dinner desserts. Everyone was impressed by the look of the cake and they all agreed that it tasted great, too. The cake itself had an angel-food cake feel to it, however it was just a little on the dry side. With the preserves and the frosting, it was good, but the cake on its own could have used a little more moisture. I would increase the buttermilk a bit if you decide to make this.

So here's how it all went down...

Start by sifting together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Next, whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Next, beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment paper.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up.

Now, as you can see here, I have baked four cakes instead of two. The recipe says to bake two, then cut those two in half to make four layers of cake. Yeah... take a look at those two on the left. Those suckers were NOT getting cut in half unless I wanted some cake carpaccio or something. Nope, I just went ahead and baked two more cakes to get my four layers and figured my cake would just be tall and majestic. As they say... "f" it.

As the cakes are cooling, let's make the frosting.

To make the frosting, first put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.

During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.

On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.

You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

At this point, I was in a huge time-crunch and needed to get this cake done and get my butt to the Easter dinner at Mark's parents' house. Therefore, I stopped taking pictures. Sorry! But basically what I did next was just place the first cake round on the cake board, spread out 1/3 of the black raspberry preserves, then top that with another layer of cake. I repeated that until I had all the layers piled on top of each other, then I frosted it.

I finished the cake by pressing sweetened coconut all over it and decorated it with large, plump blackberries. It was served, of course, with wine. In this case, Amarone della Valpohicella, 1998. Let me just say, YYYUUUUUMMMM!!!!!



Mark blew out his candles...

...and we quickly sliced into the cake.

What a pretty and light-tasting cake. It had a lemon flavor, but not over-powering as lemon can sometimes be. It had a bit of coconut on it, but once the cake is sliced, you only get a bit of the frosting and coconut, so those flavors are balanced out nicely as well. All in all, I was pleased with how this cake turned out. Would I make it again? Possibly... it was alot of work, but Mark's worth it.



HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARK!






PERFECT PARTY CAKE
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour (updated 25 March)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Serving
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake

If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

3/15/08

Red Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon with Black Bean Sauce and Jalapeño Crema ...and a side of Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto (...and Black Bean Soup)

How do ya like THAT title? Making up for lost time, am I? Mayyyyyyybe.....

Hello strangers! I feel like I've been gone forever! This working out thing is taking up a lot more time than I expected and other hobbies are suffering a bit. But I found some time today to share with you something I made about a month ago, maybe longer even... and would be a perfect dinner to prepare on Good Friday (if you're looking for a fish dish on that day).

This recipe is yet another one out of the spectacular Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook. I'll tell you right now, it was a couple-hour meal to prepare, but the finished product was worth it. Part of the reason it took so long is because I also made a side dish of Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto out of the same cookbook. In addition, this recipe has a couple different sauces to garnish the plate with; a Bobby Flay signature. So, there are a lot of little things to do to make this recipe as good as it should be, but if you have some time and the love of cooking like I do, you will end up with a very good dish that you will be proud to serve. Let's get started...

Start by getting all the sauces made. We'll start with the Black Bean Sauce. You'll want to have soaked your beans for a while before making this sauce; overnight if possible. However, I only soaked them for about two hours and they were completely fine. Next, drain the beans and combine them with red onion, garlic, chipotle peppers, and cumin.

Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients by an inch, then bring the mixture to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer, adding more water if needed to prevent dry beans, for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Once the beans are done, transfer the mixture with a slotted spoon (so you don't necessarily use all the liquid) to a food processor. Add 1 cup of the cooking liquid (which might be all of it) and process until smooth. The sauce will still have a slight texture to it and that's ok. Season with salt. (Told ya this wasn't a quickee recipe...) Oh, and if you don't have a food processor... walk away. Step AWAY from the Bobby Flay recipe... it will destroy you if you attempt it without a food processor. I mean it.

Ok, so while the beans are cooking, we'll make the Red Chile-Honey Glaze. Oh this is good glaze... YUM!!! To make it, combine honey, ancho powder, and mustard in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Now that was easy...

Ok, ready for sauce number three? Let's make the Jalapeño Crema. Start by roasting 1 large jalapeño, then peel, seed, and finely chop it.

Combine the crema and chopped jalapeño in a food processor and puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Ok, sauce number four. This is actually going to be used in the side dish, but let's get it out of the way now. It's the Cilantro Pesto. To make it, combine cilantro, parsley, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. If you're not sure what that means, you basically just want to add the oil little by little until the ingredients aren't sticking to the sides anymore and the entire mixture looks more like a sauce and less like paste. Go slow... you can always add more oil but you can't take any away. Taste as you go and I promise you'll know when it's ready. Look at that color! That is a beautiful thing right there.

Next add some Paremesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Pulse the processor a few times to combine.

...and here are the 4 completed sauces. It's like a rainbow of yumminess. Clockwise starting on the left we have the Jalapeño Crema, the Black Bean Sauce, the Red Chile-Honey Glaze, and the Cilantro Pesto.

Ok, let's whip up (haha... I know, sorry, bad joke...) the potatoes! The obvious first step is to boil the potatoes for about 25 to 30 minutes until they're fork tender. Drain.

Next, combine butter, cream, and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Now add the cream mixture to the already-drained potatoes and beat until smooth.

Fold in the cilantro pesto and attempt to combine just enough where the potatoes are streaked with the green color.

I tried this and it just didn't work - you may be more successful. But hey, St. Patrick's Day is coming up in the next couple days, right?? Well here are the perfect potatoes for ya!

Now that all the sauces and side dishes are done, let's get to the main character of this dish: the salmon. Even though the salmon is the star of this show, he's definitely the easiest part. Simply brush the salmon with canola oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon, skin side down first, on a hot grill (or in my case my favorite cast iron griddle). Grill until the skin is golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Right before you flip it, brush the flesh side of the fish with some of the glaze.

Now flip the fish and grill on the flesh side. This side will take less time, about 2 minutes. Just look at those grill marks...

or how Mark and I pronounce it, "greel mocks".

When the salmon is ready, it should be pink in the center. Don't worry about the salmon being undercooked; if it's a little darker pink in the center, just keep in mind that some of the best sushi is salmon, so if it's a little on the rare side, it's completely safe. It's better to be a bit undercooked when it comes to salmon, than overcooked. It will immediately become dry if you cook it too long and if that's the case, you might as well just crack open a can of Chicken of the Sea and call it a day. Nah...

To plate this dish, start by spooning a generous portion of the black bean sauce onto the plate. Add a couple dollops of the jalapeño crema and set the salmon filet down onto the black bean sauce. Brush more of the glaze onto the fish and garnish the plate with thinly sliced green onions. If you also made the cilantro pesto potatoes, spoon out a portion of those off to the side and of course garnish with a sprig of cilantro!

This dish was both pretty and delicious. If nothing else, please at least try making the salmon with the glaze - it's VERY good.

I would make this dish again and next time I'm sure it would go much faster. It always does when you've made it before and you know what you're doing. Oh and hey... I had a bunch of black bean sauce left over, so what did I do?

Why, I made it into a lovely appetizer portion of black bean soup!

All I did was add a bit of chicken stock to thin out the sauce into more of a soup consistency, fried up some thinly sliced chorizo until it was crispy like bacon, sliced up some green onion and got out some leftover Jalapeño Crema from the fridge. I threw that all together and served this soup the next day as an appetizer to our dinner that night. It was very good and spicy just like we like.

"So can I have the recipes?", you ask... Well, like I said before, if I can find the recipe online, since I prepared these from a cookbook that I think you should DEFINITELY BUY, then I'll post it here for you. And you're in luck! I was able to find a very similar recipe at FoodandWine.com, so here it is (it's not exactly the same, but it's very close):

Ancho-and-Honey-Glazed Salmon with Black Bean Sauce and Jalapeño Crema

ACTIVE TIME: 50 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 50 MIN plus overnight soaking
SERVES: 4

A recipe from Bobby Flay, from the 2007 Classic in Aspen.

ingredients
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight in cold water and drained
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 large chipotle chile in adobo, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large jalapeño
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Four 8-ounce salmon fillets, with skin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

directions
In a large saucepan, combine the beans with the red onion, garlic, chipotle and cumin. Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately low heat until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a food processor. Add 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid and pulse until the beans are almost smooth. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and transfer to a small saucepan.

Roast the jalapeño directly over a gas flame until charred all over. Transfer the jalapeño to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool. Peel, seed and coarsely chop the jalapeño. In a food processor, puree the sour cream with the jalapeño until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the crema to a small bowl and refrigerate.

In another small bowl, whisk the honey with the ancho chile powder and mustard and season with salt and pepper. Rub the salmon fillets with the vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick skillet. Add the salmon, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat until the skin is browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the fillets and brush with some of the ancho-honey glaze. Cook until browned on the bottom and light pink throughout, about 3 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, reheat the black bean sauce and spoon it onto plates. Top with some of the jalapeño crema and the salmon fillets, skin side up. Brush the salmon with the ancho-honey glaze and serve.





Oh, and look at this... I was also able to find the cilantro pesto potatoes recipe on a Jackson, Mississippi news channel website, WLBT Channel 3:

Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto
A Bobby Flay recipe.

CILANTRO PESTO:

1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup tightly packed parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine cilantro, parsley, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the oil until emulsified. Add the cheese and salt and pepper and pulse a few times until combined.

MASHED POTATOES:
3 pounds baking potatoes, such as Idaho or Russet, peeled and cut into quarters
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water by 2-inches. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat and cook until soft, 25-30 minutes. Drain well and return them to the pot on the stove over low heat. Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Add the butter and hot milk/cream mixture to the potatoes and mash until smooth. Fold the cilantro pesto into the mashed potatoes and season with salt and pepper.

3/1/08

Beet Salad with Almond Butter and Gorgonzola

Hello everybody... how's your Saturday night going? Mine's a little tame this time, but no worries. I think maybe I'll flip through a couple cookbooks or click around on my favorite recipe sites (Epicurious and Food Network) and find something good to cook for dinner tonight. Mark's caught a bit of a cold, so maybe I'll try to heal him with a delicious, hot, home-cooked meal.

Speaking of cooking for Mark, here we have yet another course from the infamous V-day dinner: the Beet Salad with Almond Butter and Gorgonzola. This was the first course and we both liked it. I myself wasn't quite sure about the flavors of the very-sharp and bold Gorgonzola with the fresh and bright taste of the beet salad. However, the beet salad DID taste good with the homemade almond butter. Next time I would leave out the Gorgonzola (yes, I just said hold the cheese... I'm going to go take my temperature).

So how did I make this? Well...

First you want to cook the beets. You could use canned beets for this salad and save a TON of time, but I decided to go as much "from scratch" as I could for this dinner. I think the texture is a bit better when you use fresh beets and I have to imagine it's probably a bit healthier because it hasn't been processed at all, but canned beets really would work fine if you're pressed for time.

Simmer the beets in a covered pot with 3 inches of boiling water until they are fork tender. This takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your beets. These mamas were huge, so they took a while to cook.

While the beets are cooking away, go ahead and make your vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, a 1/2 teaspoon salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Once those ingredients are combined, add the shallots and chives.

Next, go ahead and make your almond butter. Now one thing I ALWAYS have on hand is almonds, and not just ANY almonds, but SMOKEHOUSE ALMONDS. Yeah, baby... oh yeah... These suckers are SO GOOD with a cold bottle of beer! Wooh! But, this dish called for plain blanched almonds, so rather than buying more almonds at the store, Mark suggested I blanch the smokehouse almonds and remove their skins. He's so smart...

So that's just what I did. I threw a 1/2 cup of smokehouse almonds into some boiling water and boiled them for a few minutes. I then transferred the almonds into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. The skins instantly started to shrivel. Then, using a paper towel, I literally just popped off each and every skin until I had a pile of lovely naked little almonds. Hey, it's Saturday night people... I'm feelin' a little frisky.

Ok ok... back to the recipe...

Combine the almonds, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cayenne in a food processor. Grind them to a paste.

Then with the motor running, add just enough oil to make a silky paste. Season with salt to taste.

Once your beets are tender, remove them from the pot and cut them in half. Check these beauties out... I mean they must be the prettiest vegetable around, don't ya think?

The next thing you'll want to do is remove the skins from the beets. I used a paper towel and kind of just rubbed off the skins and used a small paring knife when I needed to. Once the beets have been skinned, then cut them into bite-sized cubes and let them cool.

Once they've cooled, toss them with the vinaigrette.

To plate, put a shallow pool of creamy almond butter on the plate first, then pile the beet salad on top, allowing some of the butter to show around the edges. Garnish with minced chives and a small ball of creamy Gorgonzola cheese. Bon appetit!

Beet Salad with Almond Butter and Gorgonzola
Gourmet Magazine | October 2007
Holly Smith


Ingredients

For almond butter
1/2 cup toasted Marcona almonds
1/2 garlic clove, chopped
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 to 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For beet salad

1 1/2 lb small (2-inch) beets without greens (2 lb with greens)
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preparation

Make almond butter:
Grind almonds to a paste with garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cayenne in a food processor. With motor running, add just enough oil to make a silky paste. Season with salt.

Make beet salad:
Simmer beets in 3 inches of water in a large saucepan, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes. Cool in liquid, uncovered, about 30 minutes, then peel and cut into 1/2-inch wedges.

Whisk together vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then whisk in oil. Add shallot and chives and toss with beets.

Divide almond butter among 6 plates and top with beet salad.