Entries from May 27th, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge: Gâteau St. Honoré

May 27th, 2007 · 48 Comments · Cakes, Events, Pastry, Recipes

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My very first entry into the monthly Daring Bakers challenge, and coincidentally, also my very first time co-hosting! Helene of the dazzling Tartelette graciously offered to share hosting duties with me – how could I refuse, especially after I learned which dessert she wanted to make!

No surprise that the Gâteau St. Honoré would hold a special place in any pastry chef’s heart – it’s like doing a quadruple salchow to successfully make puff pastry, pâte à choux, Chiboust cream, and caramel and combine them all into a showstopper ode to French pâtisserie.

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I’ve expounded on my love for this cake before- as St. Honoré Day was May 16th, this was definitely the appropriate month to make this recipe! My last attempt used Pierre Hermé’s chocolatey version from his Chocolate Desserts book. For the Daring Bakers challenge, Helene and I went through a few versions before deciding on the classic recipe from Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef and The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef. Many thanks to Helene for compiling the recipes and being an all-around patron saint, answering questions from all the Daring Bakers throughout the month!

Instead of the usual single large cake, I decided to mix it up a bit this time with some miniature ones – two mouthfuls of buttery flaky pastry topped with crisp caramel-coated puffs and a creamy-cool-vanilla filling. The puffs came out a little larger than I intended – not having made the recipe in this size before, I misjudged how the cake base and puffs would bake in relation to each other. But I was very pleased with how the puff pastry grew and the crispness of the puffs. I think I prefer a looser filling of pastry cream to the stiffer Bavarian cream, but as the diminutive size of the cakes didn’t leave room for much filling anyway, it made little difference. (Incidentally, I’ve got a lot of filling to use up now!)

I’m glad I got another opportunity to make this wonderful dessert – every time I do it, I learn something new and I get to see if my pastry making has improved. And now, to fulfill my hosting duties, listed below are links to the other Daring Bakers – check out all their unique, lovely renditions of this dessert. Links will be updated as posts are added – and be sure to visit Helene for the rest of the Daring Bakers round-up!

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Helene at Tartelette

Ilva at Lucullian Delights

Marce at Pip in the City

Devra at Puu’s Cookbook

Patricia at Technicolor Kitchen

Meeta at What’s for Lunch Honey?

Sara at The Kitchen Pantry

Karen at Baking Soda

Swee at A Self-Proclaimed Foodaholic

Alice at Alice Q. Foodie

Nazca at Food is Good

Jenny at Jenny Bakes

Kelly-Jane at Cooking the Books

Rose at 64 Sq. Ft Kitchen

Kelly at Sass and Veracity

Gattina at Kitchen Unplugged

Cheryl at Gruel Omelet

Anne at Simply Anne’s

Gâteau St. Honoré

Components and respective recipes follow:
Puff pastry
Pate a Choux – Cream Puff Dough
Saint Honore Cream
8 oz sugar for caramel
1 cup heavy cream + 1 tsp sugar for decorating

Pate Feuillete – Puff Pastry

Makes about 2 1/2 pounds

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (420 gr)
3/4 cup cake flour (105 gr)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (7 gr)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, well chilled (60 gr)
1 1/4 cups cold water (295.5 ml)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (14 gr)
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, well-chilled (405 gr)

1/ Make the dough package: In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours with the salt. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture; using your fingers or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2/ Form a well in center of mixture, and pour the water into well. Using your hands, gradually draw flour mixture over the water, covering and gathering until mixture is well blended and begins to come togethe r. Gently knead mixture in the bowl just until it comes together to form a dough, about 15 seconds. Pat dough into a rough ball, and turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly, and place in refrigerator to chill 1 hour.
3/ Make the butter package: Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon flour on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Place uncut sticks of butter on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour. Top with another sheet of paper; using a rolling pin, pound butter to soften and flatten to about 1/2 inch. Remove top sheet of paper, and fold butter package in half onto itself. Replace top sheet of paper, and pound again until butter is about A inch thick. Repeat process two or three times, or until butter becomes quite pliable. Using your hands, shape butter package into a 6-inch square. Wrap well in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until it is chilled but not hardened, no more than 10 minutes.
4/ Assemble and roll the dough: Remove dough package from refrigerator, and place on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9-inch round. Remove butter package from refrigerator, and place it in the center of the dough round. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score the dough to outline the butter square; remove butter, and set it aside. Starting from each side of the center square, gently roll out dough with the rolling pin, forming four flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch the raised square in the center of the dough. Replace butter package on the center square. Fold flaps of dough over the butter package so that it is completely enclosed. Press with your hands to seal.
5/ Using the rolling pin, press down on the dough at regular intervals, repeating and covering the entire surface area, until it is about 1 inch thick. Gently roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 9 by 20 inches, with one of the short sides closest to you. Be careful not to press too hard around the edges, and keep the corners even as you roll out the dough by squaring them with the side of the rolling pin or your hands. Brush off any excess flour. Starting at the near end, fold the rectangle in thirds as you would a business letter; this completes the first single turn.Wrap in plastic wrap; place in refrigerator 45 to 60 minutes.
6/ Remove dough from refrigerator, and repeat process in step 5, giving it five more single turns.Always start with the flap opening on the right as if it were a book. Mark the dough with your knuckle each time you complete a turn to help you keep track. Chill 1 hour between each turn. After the sixth and final turn, wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before using.

Pate a Choux – Cream Puffs Dough

4 ¾ oz. all purpose flour (135 gr)
1 cup water ( 240 ml)
2 oz unsalted butter (58 gr)
¼ tsp. salt (1 gr)
1 cup eggs (240 ml)

Sift the flour and set aside.
Heat the water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil, so that the fat is not just floating on the top but is dispersed throughout the liquid.
Stir the flour into the liquid with a heavy wooden spoon, adding it as fast as it can be absorbed. Avoid adding it all at once or it will form clumps.
Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the lumps if necessary, by pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a mixer bowl. Let the paste cool slightly so that the eggs will not cook when they are added. You can add and stir the eggs by hand but it requires some serious elbow grease.
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle attachment on low or medium speed. Do not add all the eggs at once. Check after a few, the dough should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag and use as desired.

Saint Honore Cream (Rapid Chiboust or Diplomat Cream)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 gr.)
1/4 cup cold water (60 ml)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar (130 gr)
½ cup all-purpose flour (70 gr)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
1 Tb. rum
¼ cup whipping cream (57 gr)
3 egg whites
dash of salt
1/2 cup sugar (105 gr)

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup of cold water.
Put the sugar, flour, and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.
Place over low heat and stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Stir in the whipping cream.Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream is cool. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and using clean beaters, whip them with the dash of salt. As soon as the whites begin to stiffen, gradually add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until they are very stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cooled cream.

Assembly of cake
Roll the puff pastry out to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, 12 inch square (30 cm). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate covered at least 20 minutes.
While the puff pastry is resting, make the pate a choux and place it in a pastry bag with a # 4 (8mm) plain tip. Reserve.
Leaving the puff pastry on the sheet pan, cut a 11 inch (27.5 cm) circle from the dough and remove the scraps. (An easy way to cut it is to use a 11inch tart pan as a “cookie cutter”). Prick the circles lightly with a fork.
Pipe 4 concentric rings of Pate a Choux on the pastry circle. Pipe out 12 cream puffs the size of Bing cherries onto the paper around the cake.
Bake the puff pastry circle and the cream puffs at 400F (205C) until the pate a choux has puffed, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F (190C) and bake until everything is dry enough to hold its shape, about 35 minutes longer for the cake and 8 minutes longer for the cream puffs (just pick them up and take them out as they are done)
Place about 4 oz (114 gr) of the Saint Honore Cream in a pastry bag with a #2 (4mm) plain tip. Use the pastry bag tip or the tip of a paring knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each cream puff. Pipe the cream into the cream puffs to fill them. Refrigerate.
Spread the remaining cream filling on the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set the cream.
Caramelize the 8 oz. of sugar:
Fill a bowl that is large enough to hold the pan used for cooking the sugar with enough cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Set the bowl aside.
Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook until the sugar until it has caramelized to just a shade lighter than the desired color.
Remove from the heat and immediately place the bottom of the pan in the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
Dip the cream puffs into the hot caramel, using 2 forks or tongues to avoid burning your fingers. Place them on a sheet pan. The caramel must be hot enough to go on in a thin layer. Reheat if necessary as you are dipping, stirring constantly to avoid darkening the caramel any more than necessary. Also, avoid any Saint Honore cream to leak out of the puffs and get mixed in with the caramel while dipping as the cream can cause the sugar to recrystallize.
Whip the one cup of heavy cream and teaspoon of sugar to stiff peaks. Place the whipped cream in pastry bag fitted with a #5 (10mm) star tip. Pipe a border of whipped cream around the top of the cake. Arrange the cream puffs, evenly spaced, on top of the filling, next to the cream.

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Still Life of Strawberry Tart

May 24th, 2007 · 15 Comments · Pastry, Recipes, Tarts

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There was something about this little tart that made me pause as I was leafing through the cookbook. Something about the simplicity of strawberries arranged on a bed of sunshine-yellow pastry cream and crisp golden shortbread that captured me – here was pastry pared down to luminous, naked essentials.

I find a lot of beauty in my food, as I’m sure anyone who spends time in the kitchen does. The honeyed, heavenly fragrance of ripe berries; the cool, marble-smooth feel of perfectly rolled out dough; the languorous, somnolent burble of a slowly thickening custard on the stove, the mirror-slick sheen of tempered chocolate hardening; the heft and curve of a sun-warmed peach; the plashing of cold water into the metal sink.

Perhaps more than any other category of food, pastry is about beauty, about the ruler-straight, perfectly parallel layers in a cake, the silken smooth surface of a mousse, the curve of coulis around the tart on the plate, the jewel-tone buttercup gold of the lemon curd. Most of the time when I bake something I’ll look at the finished result and think it looks pretty nice. Sometimes I’ll shake my head and think I could really make it better next time. And sometimes I’ll put a dessert together and the pastry stars have aligned and I’ll think, this is something really special.

I don’t why this particular tart struck me, but I guess it’s like the mystery of why different people are drawn to different pieces of art or music. To me, this looks like snow falling on a candyland forest sprawled over a golden hilltop. The pieces were so simple: a round of buttery shortbread, a layer of custardy pastry cream, a circle of spring-ripened strawberries. All the elements needed for magic to happen.

This tart is from Eric Kayser’s new book, Sweet and Savory Tarts. The force behind Maison Kayser, one of Paris’ most famed boulangeries. Kayser has chosen for his first English-language cookbook a sumptuous collection of very French, very delicious tarts. There are various delightful quiches and savory tarts (I was almost tempted to make the very first savory item for this blog upon seeing some of the recipes!), and a patisserie-worthy array of sweet tarts filled with fruit, chocolate, caramel, and cream. All of the multitude of photos show the fulfillment of the concept of tart: perfectly squared, evenly browned crusts; lush, smoothly layered fillings just cresting the edge of the tart shell; fruits arranged in neat, straight rows, not a single piece mismatched or out of line. I’m very eager to try out so many of them…after I finish eating this one.

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Breton Shortbread with Strawberries

adapted from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts

makes one 10-in round tart or six 3 1/2-in round tarts

Breton Shortbread

90 g unsalted butter, room temperature

80 g sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

120 g cake flour

6 g baking powder

Pastry Cream

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup (50 g) sugar

3 tablespoons (30 g) cornstarch

1 cup (250 ml) milk

14 oz (400 g) strawberries, washed and hulled

Shredded sweetened coconut

For the shortbread: in either a food processor or stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy.

Add the sugar and salt and mix to combine.

Add the egg and mix to combine.

Add in the cake flour and baking powder and mix until thoroughly combined. The dough will be very soft.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and form into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator overnight so it will firm up.

When you are ready to make the shortbread, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Take the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/2" thick. The dough may be very soft and sticky so use flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin or the surface.

Either fit the dough into a 10-in tart ring and trim to fit (note this dough bakes up like a cookie, not like a tart shell, so you do not need to fit the dough up the sides of the ring) or into smaller 3 1/2-in rings and trim to fit. I found that leaving the circles of dough inside the rings helped them bake up into nice, round circles in the oven.

Make an egg wash with an egg yolk and some water and brush lightly over the tops of the dough circles.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the shortbread is golden. Remove and let cool.

While the shortbread is baking, make the pastry cream: whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together in a bowl.

Heat the milk in a saucepan on medium heat until almost boiling, then pour about half into the egg mixture, stirring constantly.

Pour the egg mixture back into the rest of the milk and cook the mixture on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from heat and force the mixture through a strainer to get rid of any cooked bits. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

To assemble the tart: Spread the pastry cream evenly over the shortbread. Arrange the strawberries on top of the pastry cream, and sprinkle with the shredded coconut to decorate.

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I've Been Nominated for Best Food Blog!

May 21st, 2007 · 10 Comments · Personal

My site was nominated for Best Food Blog!I got a surprise e-mail at the end of last week notifying me that I had been nominated for Best Food Blog in the Blogger’s Choice Awards!

If you click on either the badge at the top of the post or in the right sidebar, it will take you to my nomination page on the Blogger’s Choice Awards webpage. The winners are chosen by popular vote, so please, if you have been enjoying my little corner of the web, could you take a moment to go to the page and click the little yellow "vote" button?

(Actually, when I got the e-mail that let me know of my nomination, I had to go to the site and register myself as the owner of Dessert First. In the process of registering, I guess I automatically voted for myself. I am hoping you will spare me the embarassment of looking like the only person who voted for her own blog!)

Thank you all! I promise a dessert-related post will be coming later this week! I happen to have a slew of birthdays coming up, plus Memorial Day weekend – so many occasions, and only one KitchenAid!

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A Sweet Spring Breeze: Strawberry Semifreddo

May 16th, 2007 · 27 Comments · Custards, Ice Cream, Recipes

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The last few times I’ve posted about ice cream, I always get a few e-mails from people bemoaning the fact that they don’t have an ice cream maker and therefore can’t try making the recipe. In the interest of providing equal access to sweet, frozen, creamy treats to all regardless of whether you’ve got one of these little babies, I decided to try making that magical dessert known as semifreddo.

Semifreddo means "half cold" in Italian, and like its name this creation seems to straddle various dessert categorizations, defying easy definition. It typically means a semi-frozen dessert made by chilling a light custard in the freezer. To prevent the custard from freezing solid and to keep it edible, air is incorporated into the mixture, usually by folding in a meringue or some whipped cream. This gives the final result a fluffy, mousselike texture similar to ice cream without it needing to be churned in an ice cream maker.

True to its name, semifreddo is softer, less frozen than ice cream, and melts quickly in the mouth, leaving only the lightest and airiest of sensations; eating the semifreddo I made on a warm day was like catching the sweetest of snowflakes on my tongue – a little pleasant tickle of winter to chase away the heat.

There are several ways to make semifreddo: most involve making a classic crème anglaise of milk, eggs, and sugar or a sabayon (zabaglione if we’re staying Italian) of egg yolks and sugar, and combining that with a meringue or whipped cream. There are also versions using simply an Italian meringue enriched with whipped cream with no egg yolks at all. However, with all these various methods once you’ve made the mixture you’re practically there; all that’s left is to pour the mixture into your desired mold, leave in the freezer for a few hours, and then you’ve got some frosty, frothy bliss.

The semifreddo I made is taken from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking, and she makes hers with a crème anglaise, enriched with both a meringue and whipped cream, plus a bit of mascarpone cheese swirled in for richness. It’s a bit more complicated than most, but I found the result satisfying substantial to the taste and meltingly ephemeral in the mouth.

You can make semifreddo in any form you like – you can even freeze the entire batch in a large container and scoop it out to serve just like ice cream, but I found a trick that works well is to pour then into individual waxed paper cups. After the semifreddo has firmed up, you can simply peel off the paper and have some very cute little cups of cold ready to be eaten.

As we are getting some beautiful strawberries at market, and I am helpless before anything including them, making this sweetly pink semifreddo has been a marvelous way to embrace the ongoing flowering of spring – no ice cream maker required.

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Strawberry Semifreddo

adapted from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking

makes about 8 3-oz cups

1 pint strawberries

1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup (4 1/4 fl oz) milk

2 large egg yolks

1 3/4 oz sugar

pinch of salt

1 large egg white

pinch of cream of tartar

1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) sugar

1/4 cup mascarpone

1/2 cup (4 1/4 fl oz) heavy cream

Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries in half. Combine them in a large bowl with sugar and lemon juice and let sit for about 20 minutes.

Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.

Bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove.

While the milk is heating, whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together in a bowl.

When the milk is boiling, pour about half of it into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously.

Pour the tempered eggs back into the rest of the milk and place the saucepan back on the stove.

Heat the milk and egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent eggs from cooking, until the mixture reaches 170 degrees F. The mixture should thicken into the consistency of heavy cream, and if you draw your finger down the back of the spoon coated with the mixture, you should leave a clear trail.

Remove the saucepan from heat. Stir in the strawberries and mix with the spoon to combine.

Pour the mixture into the bowl which contained the strawberries and place into a ice bath (made by filling a larger bowl with ice cubes). Let the mixture cool to about 40 degrees F.

While the strawberry mixture is chilling, whip the egg white in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until frothy.

Add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue whipping until medium peaks form.

Scrape the whipped white into a bowl and set aside.

Place the mascarpone and heavy cream into the mixer bowl and whip with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form.

When the strawberry mixture is cool, fold in the whipped egg white very gently with a rubber spatula.

When the egg white is almost incorporated, add the whipped cream and mascarpone and gently fold to combine. Be as gentle as possible to avoid deflating the mixture and losing air.

Pour the mixture into a large container or molds of your choosing, cover, and place in the freezer for about 4 hours or until firm.

The semifreddo will keep covered in the freezer for about 2 weeks.

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Gingersnap Lemon Sherbet Sandwiches

May 11th, 2007 · 30 Comments · Cookies, Ice Cream, Recipes

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We had an unexpected surge in the temperature over the weekend – a shockingly blazing sun in a shiny blue sky, making people scramble in their drawers for tank tops and causing all the green grassy parks to be suddenly carpeted with sunbathers. It’s supposed to be colder in San Francisco when summer approaches, not brutally scorching.

As I opened the apartment window in the morning to the feel of already-warm air on my face, I knew this did not bode well. Far earlier than I anticipated, I needed something cool and refreshing to combat the incipient heat. I needed to make ice cream.

Of course, what better inspiration than Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream? I zeroed in on a recipe I’d earmarked earlier, for some ice cream sandwiches made from lemon ice cream spread between gingersnaps. Icy, tart, lemon sounded just perfect to combat the heat, and gingersnaps are my sweetie’s favorite cookie, so this was a no-brainer. Or so I thought.

When I told him what recipe I going to make, my boyfriend sounded a little hesitant, then admitted he wasn’t so sure about the lemon ice cream. Couldn’t I make it another flavor? Normally, I would have indulged him, but this time I was surprised. Who doesn’t like lemon? Tall, frosty glasses of lemonade, jewelike French lemon tarts, sour lemon candies…I was going to convince him to try it!

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Upon starting the recipe I decided to make a lemon sherbet instead of an ice cream as it sounded even cleaner and more refreshing. I was very pleased with this version, as it is beyond simple to make – no stovetop required, just a combining of milk, cream, sugar, and lemon – and a marvelous restorative in hot weather. Pleasantly tart, luxuriously light and creamy, it slides effortlessly down your throat, sending the sweetest of frissons down your spine. With my new ice cream machine, I didn’t even have to chill the mixture beforehand – it churned perfectly in just 30 minutes!

The gingersnaps prove worthy bookends to the sherbet – comfortingly sturdy, crackling satisfying under the bite to provide a crisp contrast to the smooth filling. The spicy flavors of the cookie also work well against the clean, citrusy taste of the sherbet. Combined, these two parts form the perfect antidote to a surprise of a sweltering day.

How did the boyfriend like the lemon sherbet? I gave him a spoonful straight from the ice cream maker and awaited his verdict.

"Can I have some more?" was the reply.

"No, you’ve got to wait until I make the cookies and we can put the sandwiches together." I replied. A wistful look was the only response. I’ll take that as an endorsement of lemon sherbet!

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Lemon Sherbet

makes about 1 quart

1 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

zest of 2 lemons

160 g sugar

Gingersnaps

adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts

makes about 24 cookies

5 oz all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1 3/4 oz (1/4 cup) sugar

2 oz dark brown sugar

1 large egg

3 tablespoons molasses

For the sherbet: Put the lemon juice in a bowl. Add in the milk and cream together and stir to combine.

Add in the lemon zest.

Add in the sugar and stir to combine. Taste the mixture and add more sugar if necessary.

Freeze in an ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions.

For the gingersnaps: Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, allspice, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar and brown sugar and beat until it is smooth and fluffy.

Add in the egg and combine.

Add in the molasses and combine.

Add in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. The dough will be very soft.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

Divide the dough into two pieces and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for another 2 hours until very firm.

When the dough is firm, roll into two 1-in diameter logs on a lightly sugared surface.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line some baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Fill a small bowl with sugar for dipping cookies.

Cut the dough logs into 1/2 slices (They look small but will expand in size in the oven).

Coat the slices in the sugar on all sides.

Place the cookies 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared sheets and bake for about 12 minutes until the centers no longer look wet. Cool on a wire rack.

To assemble the sandwiches: Arrange the gingersnaps in pairs, with one cookie in each pair facing up.

Use a scoop to place portions of sherbet on the gingersnaps turned bottom side up. Top with the other cookie and press together.

Serve immediately or store in the freezer until ready.

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Happy Birthday to Me

May 3rd, 2007 · 53 Comments · Cakes, Recipes

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"Party for Me?" thought Pooh to himself. "How grand!"

Forgive me for drawing such attention to myself, but the thing about birthdays is that there is always birthday cake, and so I ask your kind indulgence by presenting to you a very special cake – in fact, a "Perfect Party Cake", as Dorie Greenspan so rightly names it in her Baking tome.

Having unfortunately reached the point in my life where I may answer that it’s not polite to ask a lady her age, I will just say I am accepting turning a year older, but what I’m really celebrating is a year full of baking and photographing and eating and blogging – and all the wonderful friends I’ve made through this little page.

While my birthday is tomorrow, I missed noting the anniversary of Dessert First, so this page is about a year and four months old now, and I can say that it is one of the very best things I’ve ever done. It’s inspired me to continually challenge and improve my baking skills, to be more creative and confident in the kitchen, and to really appreciate the beauty of food, as I try to share in my photos. It’s also caused me to spend a small fortune on baking books, ingredients and tools – it’s a good thing I don’t have a weakness for shoes, or I’d surely be in the poorhouse by now! Best of all, it’s allowed me to meet all of you talented, like-minded people out there who also dream constantly of food and love sharing their creations. Thank you all for the lovely comments you leave, the e-mails, the gift exchanges, and for your own beautiful sites.

I wish I could have you all over to my place for a big birthday celebration, but I hope I can share with you at least a slice of dessert – Dorie’s cake, which is a breeze to bake and assemble and tastes as special as a birthday cake should. The velvety white cake is moist, tight-crumbed, and flavored with lemon zest and extract – bakes up perfectly and slices like a dream. Layered with raspberry preserves and a silky, not-too-rich buttercream, topped with coconut, it looks like a tea-party fantasy (I always favored the white birthday cakes with fruit fillings, although thankfully I’ve outgrown the gaudy icing roses).

The recipe makes a typical 9" cake, but I’ve made little miniatures to highlight their adorableness. Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up, I’d highly recommend it for any special occasion where you want a cake that looks and tastes like it took much more effort than it does.

My sweetie pie has already made this week quite a happy one for me, and I think there may be a few more birthday desserts in my near future, so I’ll leave you all in hopes that you’re having as wonderful week as I am! I look forward to making and sharing many more delicious desserts with you in the future!

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Perfect Party Cake

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

makes 12 to 14 servings

Cake

9 oz cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 3/4 fl. oz. buttermilk

4 large egg whites

10 1/2 oz sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Buttercream

7 oz sugar

4 large egg whites

12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces

2 1/4 fl. oz. fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For finishing

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or butter two 9" x 2" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each cake pan with a buttered parchment circle.

For the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk the buttermilk and egg whites together in a separate bowl.

Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a stand mixer bowl and rub together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and smells like the lemon.

Add the butter to the mixer bowl and beat together with the sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and light.

Add in the vanilla extract.

Add in the flour and buttermilk mixtures in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixtures. Be sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.

When everything is added beat the batter for an additional 2 minutes.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 30 minutes in the oven or until the tops are set and springy, and a cake tester inserted into the centers come out clean.

Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for a few minutes, then flip and unmold the cakes (run a knife around the sides of the cakes if necessary). Peel the parchment off and flip the cakes back over right side up on the wire racks to finish cooling.

The fully cooled cake layers can be wrapped in plastic and kept overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

For the buttercream: Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.

Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.

When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth.

Add in the lemon juice and beat until combined. Add in the vanilla.

The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

To assemble the cake: Using a sharp serrated knife, slice each cake layer horizontally in half – see this post for tips on cutting cake layers.

Stir the raspberry preserves until it is loose and spreadable.

Place a layer on a cardboard cake round, cut side up. Spread about a third of the raspberry preserves on the cake layer.

Spread a layer of buttercream on top of the preserves. Top with a second cake layer. I found that if you have problems with this, you can spread the buttercream on a second cake layer and flip it over onto the preserve-covered layer – but you have to be very careful doing this or you’ll break your cake layer!

Spread preserves and buttercream on the second cake layer as you did with the first. Top with a third cake layer.

Spread preserves and buttercream on the third cake layer as you did with the second. Top with the last cake layer, cut side down.

Use the rest of the buttercream to frost the sides and top of the cake.

Press the coconut over the sides and top of the cake.

The cake is best served a couple of hours after it is assembled to let the flavors develop. You can refrigerate it for up to 2 days, but be sure it is well covered or the cake will dry out. You should also let the cake come to room temperature before you serve it as it does not taste as good cold.

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