A Tribute to the Queen of the Daring Bakers

November 15th, 2013 · 13 Comments · Personal, Recipes, Tarts

Chocolate Caramel Tart 2
The Chocolate Caramel Tart, from Daring Bakers August 2007

I've been busy for weeks with pre-trip madness, but on Tuesday I got a sudden, sad reminder of how fragile and precious life is. Lisa, the blogger behind La Mia Cucina and one of the founders of the Daring Bakers, unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind a community of baking bloggers that she helped create.

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The Opera Cake Goes Lemon and Lavender

May 27th, 2008 · 86 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes

Lemonoperacake3 

When the hosts of the month for Daring Bakers are none other than the intrepid founders themselves, Ivonne and Lis, you know it will be something special indeed. These two lovely ladies who have created the web's most wonderful baking community, along with Fran of Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a beautiful and very apropos challenge for all who dare to bake: the Opera cake.

The very first time I made opera cake in pastry school, I felt like I'd scaled a baker's Everest, one made of cake and chocolate and cream and sugar. Like all the hard-core classics of French p√Ętisserie, opera cake offers a full-scale obstacle course to surmount: whipping egg whites, making joconde, mixing up buttercream, assembling multiple centimeter-thin layers of cake…anyone who finishes an opera cake should certainly feel the happy glow of accomplishment!

There's so much to learn from the opera cake: for example, the joconde is an almond genoise. Genoise is the French form of sponge or chiffon cake; these cakes are distinguished by the lack of leaveners in their batter. The only leavening in these cakes comes from the air whipped into the egg whites or eggs, which gives an added dimension to what's going on when you turn on your mixer. Unlike classic butter cakes, where you simply combine all the ingredients with a bit of baking powder or soda and let the chemicals do their thing in the oven, when making a genoise awareness of your actions becomes paramount. If you don't whip the eggs enough, there won't be enough air in the batter to let it rise. If you fold the ingredients together too roughly or let the batter sit out too long, you risk letting the air bubbles deflate, again losing that critical component of a genoise.

Some may prefer the robust, gloriously thick butter cake of American layer cake fame to the finicky, delicate sheets of genoise, but I find they both have their unique charms. Genoises are essential to the refined elegance of petit fours and other tea-time pastries; with the French penchant for individual-sized cakelets, you need thin, light layers for an effective presentation. The classic opera cake, which is composed of seven layers of cake, buttercream, and ganache, should be less that 1.5 inches total in height, meaning you've got to be pretty precise with all your pieces.

Then there's the buttercream: Ivonne and Lis chose a rich French buttercream for the opera cake filling. French buttercream is always a favorite because of its creamy, buttery flavor, but it can also melt faster because of its high fat content – I think I saw several DBs commenting on the softness of the buttercream. You need to work quickly with this buttercream, and don't be afraid to chill it if it's getting too soft. Myself, I tend to be more partial to the Italian meringue buttercream, because it's more stable and workable, and because it forces me to get over my fears about sugar cookery. Whichever form of buttercream you use, be sure to keep the layers of buttercream about the same thickness as the genoise layers – the genius of opera cake is the balance of textures and flavors between all the various components.
Lemonoperacake

Finally, the top: classic opera cake is indelibly distinguished by its glossy smooth chocolate topping and swooping "l'Opera" writ in chocolate across the surface. But these days, all the classics are being interpreted and re-invented, and it's not surprising to find opera cake in all guises. I have to say one of my favorite versions is still Sadaharu Aoki's matcha version, which I tried to recreate. Ivonne and Lis specified a light-colored theme for the Daring Bakers challenge, and generously let us play around with flavors of our choosing. My mind immediately drifted to a lemon-lavender theme, and that's where I ended up: an opera cake brushed with lemon simple syrup, layered with lemon buttercream, and topped with lavender white chocolate mousse. Sweet, springy, and still lusciously decadent: I'd like to think French would approve of the modifications!

*By the way, for those that had trouble with making the white chocolate ganache mousse, I think the reason is that making a ganache with white chocolate and cream is quite different from making a ganache with dark chocolate. White chocolate is almost all fat, as is cream. Combining so much fat together can be almost impossible; overagitating the mixture will result in a clumpy curdled mess. The best strategy is to keep the cream and chocolate as cool as possible. Whip the cream to soft peaks, and then fold the melted chocolate in by hand. You can chill the mixture in the refrigerator to firm it up; this method is safer than trying to whip the ingredients together.

I always enjoy an opportunity to remake this pastry classic, and I especially enjoyed doing with all my fellow Daring Bakers! Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for creating the DB version of the opera cake – and for  inspiring hundreds of beautiful and scrumptious variants of this fabulous dessert!

This lemon and lavender opera cake is also dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies. Barbara is the founder of A Taste of Yellow, and I'm glad to have an appropriately-hued dessert to celebrate LiveStrong Day!

Lemonoperacake2

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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!

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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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