11/29/08

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

whole caramel cake

Attention sweet tooths! Woh Mama! If you have a MEGA sweet tooth, then you will love this cake. It's a sweet one. It's also a tasty one, made with homemade caramel syrup, brown butter, and sprinkled with crunchy pecans. This is the perfect cake to have a small piece of with a strong cup of coffee. Aside from my complete adoration of everything chocolate, I do not have the biggest sweet tooth. I am able to appreciate good quality sweets, however I rarely crave them. They tend to make my heart feel like it's gonna burst out of my chest.

Proud member of Daring Bakers

This cake was my completed November Daring Bakers challenge, which was hosted by Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food. Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting is a recipe written by Shuna Fish Lydon of the food blog Eggbeater. You can also find the recipe at Bay Area Bites.

The consistency of this cake is that of a coffee cake, in my opinion. It's very dense, but moist. The frosting is super sweet, which is the preference of some, but not me. If I make this cake again, I will omit the granulated sugar completely from the frosting recipe and just use the caramel syrup to sweeten it.

This challenge marked the first time I have ever browned butter or made my own caramel syrup. I tried making caramel one other time but burnt it because I didn't know the rule of "no stirring" when the sugar syrup is boiling and changing into its signature amber color. Oops! But now I know and I was able to create a delicious caramel syrup that was a perfect partner to this cake, as it would surely be to a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream.

So, how do you make this caramelized sweet bomb? Well, start by making your caramel syrup since it has to cool before you can incorporate it into your cake batter. In a small stainless steel saucepan with tall sides, mix water and sugar until the mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with a wet pastry brush.

sugar and water

Turn on the heat to highest flame. Your sugar mixture will start to boil. DO NOT STIR THE MIXTURE AT ALL AT THIS POINT! If you do, your caramel will burn. It takes about 5 to 7 minutes for the sugar mixture to turn amber depending on the size of your burner and the heat it produces, so be patient, but don't walk out of the room or you might let it go too dark and again, burn your caramel.

sugar syrup boiling

Allow it to boil until the sugar mixture reaches a dark amber color.

caramel syrup cooking

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. I didn't even attempt to take a picture of that part because you really do have to jump back when you pour the water into the caramel.

At this point you can now whisk the caramel syrup over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. To test the "stickiness", just put a little on a spoon, blow on the spoon until it's cool enough to touch, then test it out. In other words, just whisk it for about 3 minutes on a medium heat, then take it off the heat and let it cool down. I poured mine into a glass bowl when I took it off the heat so it could cool down. I stirred it with the whisk every now and then to help the cooling process along. As it cools, it gets thicker like syrup.

caramel syrup

Once the caramel syrup has cooled to room temperature, it's time to make the cake. Take a look at the recipe below to see how the cake batter is made. When it is done, turn batter into a buttered 9-inch cake pan that's at least 2 inches deep.

caramel cake batter

Place the cake pan on a cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set your first timer for 30 minutes, then rotate the pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Mine took 15 minutes to finish up.

caramel cake before frosting

Cool cake completely before icing it. NOTE: When the cake first comes out of the oven, it will be tall and fluffy. As it cools, it will shrink in size. Don't worry, this is supposed to happen. It is a dense cake.

While the cake is cooking, make your frosting. See below for the frosting recipe.

caramalized butter frosting

Once the cake has cooled, you can go ahead and frost it. I chose to frost mine, then drizzle it with the caramel syrup and add chopped pecans to the entire cake.

This cake will last at least 3 days out of the refrigerator on a covered cake plate.

piece of caramel cake

I decided to serve this cake last night at our after-Thanksgiving dinner at my dad's house and everyone seemed to agree that it was good, but a bit sweet.

So that's all for now. I know my November has not been the biggest food blog posting month, but finals are almost here, so I'm hoping that December will allow me to visit you all more often. I also have a birthday coming up soon, yay! Did I mention that I love my birthday? I do. I'll be 33. So far, my thirties have been very good. I find it to be a decade of knowing who you really are and celebrating it. So here's to an even better thirty-third year of life!

Oh and a quick shout-out to Rachael Ray as she prepares to go into surgery to have a benign cyst removed from her vocal cord: good luck in your surgery and get well soon!

See you soon.




CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING


whole caramel cake

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:
So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 - 1 tsp baking powder (this would be the recipe amount to the amount it might need to be raised to & I'm going to check)


Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)


BONUS RECIPE!
GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS
- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -

Ingredients
1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment
A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Procedure

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Variations

Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)

11/24/08

Restaurant Review: Flying Fig in Cleveland, Ohio



Last night Mark and I and his parents had the pleasure of dining at an excellent restaurant in the Ohio City area of Cleveland called "Flying Fig". It is located at 2523 Market Avenue in Cleveland and their phone number is 216-241-4243.

I highly recommend you check out this restaurant. You can choose to order small plates or full size entrees, both of which are to die for. The atmosphere is also pretty casual, so we didn't feel odd at all going there after the Browns game. For any occasion, this restaurant is a great choice in my opinion.







Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any pictures of the food. However, be sure to check out their website at FlyingFig.com to see some gallery pictures and to check out their menu.

We started our meal with a few appetizers. We had the Beef Carpaccio, the Sauteed Sweet Breads, and the Flatbread.

The Beef Carpaccio included some fresh arugula and was dressed with parmesan, lemon, capers, and creme fraiche. It was bright, clean, and simply perfect. Delicious.

The Sauteed Sweet Breads were accompanied by applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, local organic spinach, Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese, and a sherry reduction. They were tender and perfectly cooked. Heaven on a plate.

The Flatbread was basically a small pizza topped with killbuck mushrooms, braised local greens, pancetta, and taleggio. It was so amazingly full of flavor that every bite was unforgettable. I wouldn't have changed a thing about any of our appetizers or how they were presented. Beautiful.

For our salads, I had the Apple Salad and Mark had the Bacon & Eggs. His parents both enjoyed the Roasted Local Beets.

The Apple Salad consisted of mixed greens, sweet spiced pecans, buttermilk blue cheese, and local honey vinaigrette. It was SO good. I think I ate it at light speed - it was just so good. I could have eaten a pound of those pecans!

Mark had the Bacon & Eggs "salad" which consisted of a crispy pork belly, a small perfect little fried egg, arugula, goat cheese, and maple sherry vinaigrette. The presentation of this dish was so great. The vinaigrette swirled on the plate, and the perfect little egg resting on top of the pork belly that was itself resting on top of the arugula. I didn't taste the salad, but Mark said it was very good.

Mark's parents both got the Roasted Local Beets as their salad and what first struck me was the presentation on a long, horizontal white plate. The beets were lined up and in the middle was a nice mound of goat cheese mousse, pickled onions, toasted walnuts, and the whole thing was dressed with Lucy's honey vinaigrette. They both said that they loved the beet salad.

On to the entrees! I had the Seared Duck Breast & Confit of Duck Leg. It was paired with butternut squash spaetzle, brussels sprouts with bacon & apple, and a cranberry reduction. It was SO so yummy. The duck breast, ordered medium rare as suggested by the waitress, was perfectly cooked, tender, juicy, and completely delicious. The confit of duck leg had the crispiest skin and was equally as delicious. My only criticism would be that the confit was a touch on the salty side, but still very, very good. I also loved the spaetzle and brussels sprouts mixture as it paired perfectly with the duck. Wonderful dish and highly recommended to duck lovers.

Mark decided to go with the Trio of Small Plates option. This option allows you to choose three small plates and enjoy them all as your entree. He chose the Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi, the Medjool Dates, and the Crispy Polenta Cake. All I tried from his plate was the polenta cake and can I just say.... OMG. I had to take a moment. It was perfect. So creamy, so delicious. SO perfect. We're already planning on trying to recreate those little polenta triangles in our kitchen. I can't wait!

Mark's Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi was dressed with braised Plum Creek Farm rabbit, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, and romano cheese. His Medjool Dates were wrapped with smoked bacon and stuffed with chorizo and dressed with smoked pepper sauce. His Crispy Polenta Cakes had tomato & fennel sauce with mascarpone. He said he really enjoyed all three, but the polenta was his favorite. The presentation of his dish was really cute, too, with all three plates sitting on one long, horizontal white plate. It was like a flight of small plates.

Mark's mother had the Pancetta Wrapped Scallops with apple parsnip puree, braised local greens, and a garlic maple cider glaze. I tried one of her scallops and it was delicate and very tasty. She said she really liked her dinner choice.

Mark's dad had the Braised Lamb Shank with rutabaga gratin and lamb jus. He loved it and the reason I know this is because that lamb bone was sparkling clean at the end of his meal. haha...

So, since the entire meal was just excellent, we decided to try some dessert whether our full bellies liked it or not. I of course chose the Warm Molten Chocolate Cake with Kahlua syrup, chocolate ganache, and fig ice cream. It was AWESOME!!!! No, it ws HEAVENLY. I'm pretty sure angels made it. I think I had an out of body experience when eating that ooey-gooey chocolate cake. I can't even talk about it right now, there are no words. The ice cream was really good, too.

So, in summary, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this restaurant. We enjoyed our experience there immensely because of the food, the beautiful atmosphere, and also the wonderful and cheerful service from our server. We will for sure be back to visit the Flying Fig and I can't wait! If you're in Cleveland, do not miss it.

11/8/08

Chicken, Black Bean, and Avocado Stacks

Chicken, Bean, and Avocado Stacks

Hey guys, I'm back with another FOODIE original. As you should know by now, I LOVE to make appetizers or "small plates". It's cute food and it's always easier to make the presentation great with less food on the plate. I think I'm showing my "Bobby Flay-ness" in this recipe because it's got a nice southwestern taste with the beans and the spicy taste, but I also add some honey for sweetness, some avocado on top for freshness, and some lovely cotija cheese on top for some saltiness and texture. I think Bobby would be proud.

So how was everyone's week? Mine was very eventful, actually, but not all in a good way. But before I get to that part, first my dad, stepmom, and my 6 year old brother Jake came over last Saturday night for a quesadilla party complete with a viewing of "Iron Man". Awesome movie! I love RDJ's character. He was such an awesome ass in that movie. haha... But one of the coolest parts of that night was when Jake helped me make some of the quesadilla fillings. He was entirely responsible for the garlic chicken pieces. I mean that, I didn't do anything but cut the chicken into pieces and he did the rest: the seasoning, the olive oil, the sauteeing, etc. Sure, he may have needed to kneel on a stool, but so what? He did a great job and I'm so glad that he's interested in cooking at such a young age! Yay! I'm gonna have plenty of fun with this!

Jake the Future Chef

Jake smelling his chicken creation

While I finished preparing the quesadillas, Jake kicked back and played some tunes on Mark's guitar. Ok "played" may be a strong word, but you get the picture. :-)

playin' some tunes

Sunday Mark's parents came over and Mark made some spectacular ducks cooked on the rotisserie. He paired it with a blackberry reduction sauce and it was out of this world.

However, that's when our week took a huge turn for the worst. At about 4am Monday morning, both Mark and I came down with a raging case of the flu. Oh yes, it hit both of us at the exact same time. Remember that cute little boy that helped us make quesadillas a couple nights before? hahaha... yep! Oh well... It was awful and lasted until Wednesday before we started really feeling like ourselves again. So, whenever we're asked in the future, "Where were YOU when Barack Obama was elected president??", we will be able to say, "in bed with the flu!" But we did have CNN on all day and night that day and all I can say is that it was an absolutely amazing moment to see that Obama was going to win. I guess all my hoping and praying worked!

The rest of the week has been about getting back to normal. So needless to say, the subject of this post was not created this past week, but the week before. And here's how you make it:

Start by roasting up two medium sized poblano peppers until charred all over. Remove the skins, seeds, and dice up the flesh.

roast the poblano pepper, deseed, and peel

While the peppers are roasting, you can start on sauteeing the onions in some olive oil and seasoning them lightly with salt and pepper.

sautee the onions

Next, open a can of black beans, rinse them off, then add them to the skillet. Season with some cumin and lime juice. Remove from the pan when the onions are tender and set aside.

add black beans and lime juice

Next, cut about 3 small chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and toss them in olive oil. Then season them with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and ancho chile powder. Finally, drizzle honey over the whole mixture.

season the chicken

Add the chicken mixture to a hot skillet coated with olive oil and saute until the chicken is cooked through.

sautee the chicken until brown

Transfer the chicken mixture to a bowl and stir in the chopped up pieces of roasted poblano pepper. Yum!!!

stir the poblano into the cooked chicken

Next, open a package of Naan and cut up both pieces into circles with a biscuit cutter.

cut the naan into circles with a biscuit cutter

Then grill the Naan circles on an olive-oiled griddle until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towl-lined plate and sprinkle them with sea salt.

grill the naan circles until brown on both sides

Now it is time to stack these babies up and get them into the oven. Lay down five Naan circles and top each one with the chicken-poblano mixture.

top the bottom naan circle with chicken mixture

Then top that with some shredded colby-jack cheese.

then top with colby jack cheese

Top each of those with a second Naan circle.

top with a second naan circle

Then top each second Naan circle with the onion-bean mixture. Yes, you will have beans, chicken, everything falling everywhere, but do your best to get things to stack on top of each other. It's ok if it's a little messy, it actually looks nice that way, too.

top the second naan circle with bean and onion mixture

Carefully place these into a 350 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes so the cheese can melt and everything heats through. Remove the tray of stacks from the oven and top them with some diced fresh avocado and sprinkle some crumbled cotija cheese on each one. Just do your best to get everything to balance on top. Then return them to the oven for a few more minutes so the cotija cheese can melt a little.

add avocado and cotija to the top

Remove them from the oven and serve them on a plate decorated with zig-zags of sour cream and pureed pico de gallo. Sprinkle everything with chopped cilantro and serve! I used parsley in the picture because it's all I had and it was still good (but I did miss the cilantro because I LOVE the stuff!).

Chicken, Bean, and Avocado Stacks

That's it! I didn't put together a formal recipe but if you follow the steps above and eye-ball everything, you'll be just fine. Have a great weekend!

Oh! and by the way... FOODIE's 1-year anniversary has already come and gone! So Happy 1-Year, FOODIE! I continue to enjoy sharing my food with all of you and I love the interaction I get with other foodies. This has turned out to be the creative outlet I so desperatley needed and I thank all of you for continuing to stop by and see how I'm doing. Thank you!