Happy Valentine’s: Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Chocolate, Framboise

February 14th, 2012 · 18 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

molten cake unmolded

Happy Valentine’s Day! This dessert is a little brainstorm I got last weekend when I realized it was three days from Valentine’s Day and I hadn’t thought of anything to make yet. I wanted to take a classic V-day dessert and give it a little modern spin. Molten chocolate cakes came to mind…perennial lurkers on Valentine’s “romantic” menus.

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A Little Night Circus Cake

November 21st, 2011 · 30 Comments · Books, Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

Darkness to Light Cake inspired by The Night Circus on dessertfirstgirl.com

I rarely mention my non-food-related reading here (and judging from the pile of new cookbooks on my kitchen table, leisure reading time is at a premium these days), but I thought I’d have to mention The Night Circus as I haven’t made any literature-inspired recipes recently . (By the way, for all you Song of Ice and Fire fans, this is the most amazing fansite out there.)

The Night Circus is a novel about magic, but a kind of magic far removed from the carefully delineated, all-encompassing sorcery of the Harry Potter world. Magic in this world is a mysterious, shadowy phenomenon practiced by a rare few. Although at least one character has certain “systems” for wielding magic, no elaboration follows. I found this nebulousness frustrating, but in the end I realized that the author wasn’t really interested in exploring the hows and whys of the feats of fancy in her book. Magic is a conduit to create some fantastical and evocative imagery, and lead the reader into a world where everything is deliberately, delightfully, extraordinary.

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Fig and Pistachio Cake for Fall

September 29th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Cakes, Recipes

fig cake lineup

How did it become fall? It seems like just a few weeks ago I was sailing the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Appearances of plums and peaches everywhere, a lambent harvest moon, and now the year’s gone crepuscular.

I know there are fall-weather fans who can’t wait to break out the scarves and wool coats; as for me, I find charms in all the seasons (or what pass for seasons in the bay area – I’ve heard all the jokes before). What always trips me up, though, is the one-step-forward, two-steps-back weather progression we have here. One day it’s completely foggy; the next perfectly sunny. A weekend of threateningly grey cloud-filled skies gives way to shorts-wearing temperatures. I’m perfectly eager to welcome fall – I just wish it’d make its definitive entrance and stay, instead of tip-tapping in and out like an elusive cat. While other parts of the country get a beautiful, russet-crimson-vermilion fadeout of summer, we get climate confusion. (more…)

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14th, 2011 · No Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Personal, Recipes

Vdaycake

Happy Valentine's Day to all! If you're just here for cake, at the end of this post you'll find a recipe for an absolutely addictive gianduja mousse cake. A rendition of flourless chocolate cake made even more irresistable by the addition of fresh toasted hazelnut paste to the batter. This is defnitely a one-slice-is-all-you-need dessert; the cake, which is surprisingly light and delicate out of the oven, firms into a more decadent, trufflelike texture in the refrigerator. Either way, it's a perfect combination of two of my favorite flavors.

If you're here for some Hong Kong photos, scroll on!

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Chocolate Malt Memories

June 5th, 2008 · 41 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

Maltchoccake  

Because I didn't have enough fun making an opera cake for Daring Bakers, I went for another layered, multi-component cake last week. Sometimes I like to go for simple, breezy creations and other times I just feel like challenging my skills. Making layer cakes is always an exercise that keeps me on my pastry toes. Also, it was my sister's birthday, and she is an unabashed lover of all things chocolate. I'd had my eye on this elegant little number from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot for quite a while, and now seemed like the ideal time to break it out.

As Ong describes his creation, it's a death by chocolate cake filtered through a distinctly Asian sensibility. Unlike most Western odes to decadence, which usually involve adjectives like fudgy, gooey, or sticky, and accoutrements like nuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top, this dessert hews to a lighter, more ethereal course. But I'm happy to say the perfect balance of flavors and textures makes it no less dreamily satisfying.

Besides a tendency towards airier, more restrained composition, I've also noticed that many Asian desserts have an affinity for pairing chocolate with malt or coffee. Ong goes for the triple play by combining a chocolate genoise with a malted chocolate mousse and a Vietnamese coffee buttercream. I made all three components, but when it came to assembling them I found I preferred the way the cakes looked without the buttercream. The original recipe called for making one big square cake, which is naturally easier to frost than several small round cakes. The smoky-sweet buttercream, made with Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk, was definitely spoon-licking good though, and I'll probably find a way to use it again, whether in this dessert or another.

Maltchoccake3

My aim was to make those elegant individually-sized cakes you see in those French patisseries, and to make them you need those little metal cake rings. Using them is a bit like making a cake with a blindfold, since you can't see whether your layers are even. It was even trickier with this dessert since it was designed to make a single cake, and I didn't know whether the amounts of cake and mousse were proportioned to making multiple miniature cakes. A little eyeballing, a little guestimating, and I came out with some fairly well-stacked little guys. If it's any reassurance, though, even if the cakes don't come out perfectly even (and I had a few) they're still just as delicious!

The cake is basically a cocoa-flavored genoise and bakes up like a dream: light, springy, and moist. The malted chocolate mousse is airy, creamy, and silky, like all the best mousses should be. I never knew that malted milk was so popular around the world until I went to Hong Kong when I was ten and saw ads on tv touting Horlicks as the perfect breakfast food. In the United States, Carnation and Ovaltine are the most popular brands, but elsewhere there several other choices, the most well known ones being Horlicks and Milo. The same brands can be formulated differently for different markets, so be sure to compare and find which one you like best. Many brands, like Ovaltine and Milo, have cocoa in them so they have a sweeter, more chocolatey flavor. Horlicks has the most straightforward, unsweetened malt flavor. Ong recommends Horlicks in his recipe; combined with bittersweet chocolate it makes for a lovely mousse with notes of caramel and cocoa. I'm not sure if I use quite enough gelatin in making the mousse: it was wonderfully smooth and creamy but was not as firm as I would have liked. I think I might recommend against adding more gelatin and just noting that these cakes will soften up quite quickly once you remove them from the refrigerator. 

Dusted with a little cocoa on top, this cake reminds of Maltesers, another malted delight I was introduced to in Hong Kong. I consumed these malted milk balls by the bagful whenever I went there. There is a brand of malted milk balls in the US called Whoppers but to me there is absolutely no contest: Maltesers are far and away the superior candy. When a dessert makes me think of malted milk balls, I know it's going to stay on my list of favorites. It might take a bit of time in the kitchen, the results are surely worth it: an ideal chocolate indulgence for springtime.

Maltchoccake2

Malted Chocolate Mousse Cakes

adapted from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot

Makes about 8 2 1/2" round cakes

Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (45 g) cocoa powder

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

5 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup (125 g) sugar

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 up (50 g) vegetable or canola oil

3 tablespoons buttermilk

Malted Chocolate Mousse

3/4 cup (168 g) whole milk

1/2 cup (98 g) sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (37 g) malted milk powder

6 large egg yolks

1 1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

5 ounces (150 g) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup (226 g) whipping cream

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 11 x 17 baking pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and spray again. If you can find a pan with a rim at least 1" high, that's probably best – some jelly roll pans might a little too shallow.

Sift the cocoa, flour, and cornstarch into a bowl and set aside.

In stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks star to form. Add 1/3 cup of the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue whisking medium-soft peaks have formed. Do not overwhip the whites. Scrape the whites into a bowl, and clean the mixer bowl and whisk.

Place all 9 egg yolks in the clean mixer bowl and whisk on medium until they are combined. Add the salt and remaining sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue whisking until the mixture is pale yellow and very thick.

Whisk about half of the egg whites into th e egg yolk mixture by hand to lighten it up. Fold in the dry ingredients carefully until almost fully incorporated. Fold in the rest of the egg whites carefully.

Whisk the oil and buttermilk together in a bowl. Fold into the batter until fully incorporated.

Spread the batter into the pan and even out the surface with an offset spatula. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. The surface should be just dry and springy to the touch. Let cake cool on rack.

To make the mousse, combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat on stove over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and bubbles are starting to form around the edges. Whisk in the malted milk powder and cook until fully dissolved. Remove mixture from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks together in a large bowl. Pour in about half of the malted milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent the egg yolks from cooking. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove saucepan from heat and add the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Add in the chocolate and stir until fully melted and incorporated. Let mixture sit and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold gently into the chocolate mixture. The mixture may look very liquidy now but it will firm up as it cools and the gelatin sets.

When the mousse seems thick enough to spread, you can assemble the cakes. Place 8 cake rings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat. Use a 2 1/2" round cookie cutter to cut out circles from the cake. You want to have 3 circles of cake for each cake ring. Place a circle of cake into the bottom of a cake ring. Spoon some mousse in. Top with another circle of cake, some more mousse, and the final circle of cake. If you have room you can spoon some mousse on top, but depending on how soft your mousse is it might make it trickier for the cake to hold its shape.

Chill cakes in the refrigerator overnight.

Unmold cakes shortly before serving them. Dust a little cocoa powder on top if desired.

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Perfection, Once Again

March 29th, 2008 · 104 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes

Doriecake2

It looks like I came back from New York just in time for Daring Bakers! I need to do a report on my favorite dessert spots in the Big Apple, but of course how could I not participate in this month’s baking extravaganza, especially when it involves Dorie and a cake dear to my heart!

I made this cake before for my blog birthday, and I’m more than pleased to have a reason to make it again. It is a wonderful recipe that turns out a gorgeous cake with snowy good looks, elegant crumb, and pert, clean flavor. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to get creative with the flavors as I’m sure many other Daring Bakers did; freshly home from my trip, I was just glad there was a jar of raspberry jam in the refrigerator and flour in the cupboard!

Doriecake1

Never mind jet-lag woes: the cake is a snap to throw together even in a zombie-like post-trip trance. The cake is luxurious; moist and flavorful and yet firm enough to hold its form and cut cleanly. I was particularly enamoured with the pairing of lemon and raspberry flavors the first time I made it, so I was happy to repeat the combination – besides, the raspberry jam does look so pretty next to the pristine white of the cake. It also gives the cake a light freshness, even with four layers.

Dorie’s buttercream recipe is also a winner to me; fast, simple, and nearly foolproof. No need to muck about with cooking sugar or whipping egg whites, and I find its buttery smoothness complements the cake as well. If you’re looking for tips on frosting cakes, be sure to read my post on working with buttercream.

Thanks to Morven for reminding me of how much I adore this cake. And now, I should mention why I’m also so happy that a Dorie recipe got picked for this month – because I met up with Dorie in New York! Of course, I asked her if she knew about the Daring Bakers, and her immediate response was, "They’re doing that Perfect Party Cake, the one where the cake doesn’t rise!" Apparently she found that many people doing the recipe were using self-rising cake flour, which paradoxically led to collapsing cake layers that ended up flatter than intended. Note to all who attempt this recipe: DON"T use self-rising cake flour, and be sure you beat the butter and sugar together thoroughly, as well as the final combined batter, to properly aerate. I’ve never had a problem with having the cake layers rise – then again, when the cake is four layers, you don’t need to worry too much about your layers being too thin! No worries Dorie, I’m a lifelong fan of this cake!

Doriecake3_2

Dorie is basically the most awesome person ever – sweet, funny, ready to take on any pastry (we ate our way through several plates at Payard), and with the best taste in accessories! AND a Daring Baker fan! She was so excited to know that so many people in the blogosphere were being inspired to bake – and here’s the proof!

Meanddorie

My present to all you Daring Bakers out there from me and Dorie: Go Daring Bakers!

I’m looking forward to next month’s recipe!

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.

Pr ess 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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