Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for November: Caramel Cake

Caramel is good. Who doesn't like it? Especially salted or with good chocolate, you can't beat a good hunk of caramel. But caramel in a cake...and in its frosting...well, too much of a good thing suddenly becomes not so good anymore. That's how I feel about the Daring Bakers Challenge for November: caramel cake. A bite of this cake was good, a few bites made me wonder about when my next dental appointment was, and a piece of it made me feel pretty uneasy for the next 24 hours. Yes, I should have stopped. But I soooo wanted to like it and so I kept forcing it down.

It has to be hard to choose a recipe for the Daring Bakers group. This month this daunting task went to: Dolores, Alex, and Jenny. A huge thank you to them for doing what so many of us have never had to do. Here you have a group of well over 1,000 people around the world, all with varying abilities and tastes, and as with everything in life you simply can't please everyone. I give kudos to all those who do all the research necessary to choose a recipe for the Daring Baker's group.

Usually I'm rather challenged and pretty excited about the monthly challenges. But this cake just didn't do it for me, and I'm sure that this is just a personal opinion. The cake prep itself was very straight-forward, as was the icing. The real challenge in this cake was in making the caramel, so that's good that bakers who had never made their own caramel got a chance to do so. The cake just turned out so very sweet, even with the addition of a huge amount of fleur de sel in the icing, it was still almost inedibly sweet. I brought it to dinner for a friend's birthday, and suffice it to say that this dessert-loving group ate very little of their servings and then declined taking home the leftovers. This was not a good sign! I think the cake would have been better either unfrosted, or with a cream cheese frosting. Something to cut the sweet factor waaaay down.

So, making this cake was a good experience in caramel, but I don't think I would make it again. My always reliable taste-testers were unimpressed, and there are simply too many other great cakes out there and too little time!

The recipe can be found on the Web site of Shuna Fish Lydon, who created it.

Chocolate Espresso Macarons

More and more, I am being associated with the macarons I bring to various parties and events. After 1 1/2 years of making them, I think I finally have the right recipe and "touch"...it takes a lot of practice to get that touch. But really, once you have it you have it, and you suddenly become a macaron superstar in your circle of friends and family.

So for a recent event I brought along a few batches of macarons: chocolate, salted butter caramel, and espresso. The other two recipes are already on the blog, the espresso ones are new so I will post about them here.

These suckers pack a punch of espresso, they taste great with coffee or hot chocolate and require nothing more than a bit of espresso powder.

For Macarons:
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup almond flour
3 egg whites at room temperature
3 Tb. granulated sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
caramel coloring

Blend the confectioner's sugar and the almond flour in a food processor. Begin to whip the egg whites in a stand mixer until they start to froth. Add a pinch of cream of tartar, and as they foam up more gradually add the granulated sugar. Beat until stiff.

Add the almond mixture to the egg white mixture and fold until the mixture begins to flow "like magma". I would say this will take about 40 - 60 turns of the spatula.

Fill pastry bag fitted with 1/4 " tip and make 1 inch mounds on cookie sheets lined with either parchment or a silpat. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Sift a bit of espresso powder (not too much) on each macaron before baking. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Chocolate/Espresso Filling
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/2 cup cream
1 Tb. butter
1 tsp. espresso powder

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small to medium bowl. Heat the cream, espresso powder and corn syrup until hot and bubbles form on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Add the butter and stir until it comes together. Refrigerate until ganache is at a spreadable consistency.

Spread ganache over the flat side of one macaron cookie. Top with another macaron.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Pie You'll Ever Eat

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. It's always rather gloppy and heavy, you could ball it up and throw it at the person sitting opposite you if you really wanted to. That's not appealing to me in my pie, or my dinner guest. So while perusing my Thanksgiving edition of Bon Appetit magazine, I saw an entire section devoted to the almighty pumpkin. Intrigued by some pretty good looking recipes, I decided to take on their "Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie" and go one further: I used a REAL pumpkin. No can 'o pumpkin puree for moi, I got the real thing. I had never done this in my life, and didn't know if it would make a difference.

OH MY GOD. The difference was astounding. The real pumpkin made the pie really light and smooth, almost like a light custard, rather than heavy like canned pumpkin tends to be. I've vowed that from now on, this will be my pumpkin pie recipe, and real pumpkin will be my partner in crime.

I'm cooking for zee French for Thanksgiving this year (well, not all zee French, only 3), and I'm pretty sure they've never thought to make a pumpkin into a pie. This pie will surely amaze.

(To get pumpkin puree, slice pie pumpkin (not Halloween carving pumpkin) in half, remove seeds and strings, turn upside down in about 1/2 inch of water in a pan, and bake at 350 until the pumpkin is soft, about 45 minutes. Remove the flesh from the pumpkin shell, puree in a food processor until smooth. Let cool before you use it for the pie.)

Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
10 tsp chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubews
3 Tb. ice water

3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar, divided
2 Tb. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Scotch (I didn't use this)
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup canned pumpkin (or puree of one small pie pumpkin)
3 large eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Mix flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter. Using on/off turns, process until very course meal forms. Add 3 Tb.ice water. Using on/off turns, process until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if too dry. Gather dough into ball and flatten into disk. Wrap and chill for one hour.

Roll out dough to 12 - 13 inch round. Transfer to 9 inch diameter glass pie dish. Fold edges under and crimp as you wish. Chill dough until firm, about one hour.
(I used a tart pan with high sides, and i froze the dough for one hour, it eliminates bubbles while baking).

* Crust can be made one day ahead, cover unbaked crust and keep chilled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line crust with sheet of foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil with beans. Bake until just beginning to turn golden brown, piercing with fork if bubbles form, about 15 minutes longer. Cool completely.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, butter and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Scotch, then cream (mixture will bubble a lot) and whisk until smooth. Return to medium hea t and stir until most caramel bits dissolve. Strain butterscotch mixture into small bowl. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Whisk remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and pumpkin in large bowl. Whisk in eggs, then spices. Add reserved butterscotch mixture, whisk to blend.

*Can be made one day ahead, cover and chill, rewhisk before using.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour filling into crust. Bake until just set, about 50 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.

*Can be made 8 hours ahead, store at room temperature.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate Tart with Fleur de Sel

If you are looking for an incredible easy dessert recipe for a chocoholic in your life, this is BY FAR the one. I jokingly refer to it as "chocolat/chocolat/chocolat" because it's basically three layers of chocolate: a chocolate cookie crust, a very smooth and truffle-like dark chocolate interior, and it is finished off with a gorgeous, shiny chocolate glaze.

The entire tart takes very little time or effort to make, and once served it disappears in no time. I've had friends beg me for the recipe, they like it so much. I found the recipe in the Paris edition of Gourmet Magazine (September, 2008...by the way, this edition is full of fabulous recipes). I have made the tart quite a few times, and after some experimentation I found that a sprinkling of fleur de sel on the finished tart makes the chocolate taste even better...it's that sweet and salty thing everyone loves. Plus, the fleur de sel looks so pretty on the shiny glaze.

9 chocolate graham crackers or chocolate cookies, finely ground (to make one cup)
5 Tb. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao), chopped
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

2 Tb. heavy cream
1 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp light corn syrup
1 Tb. warm water

For Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Stir together all ingredients an dpress evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool for 15 - 20 minutes

For Filling:
Bring cream to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla and salt in another bowl, then stir into the melted chocolate.
Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from the edge, but center is still wobbly. This will be about 20 - 25 minutes.
Cool completely in pan on rack, about one hour.

For Glaze:
Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water.
Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about one hour.
Sprinkle fleur de sel over top of glaze. (optional)

*Tart is best the day it is made. If you need to make it earlier, make it without the glaze and chill for one day. Bring it to room temperature, then add the glaze.