Perfection, Once Again

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

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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!

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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!

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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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Meeting Dorie

November 21st, 2006 · 15 Comments · Cookbooks, Personal

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Where was I last Saturday night? Not out eating or clubbing or partying, but something much more exciting – meeting Dorie Greenspan at Sur La Table! Dorie was on the last stop of her cross-country tour to promote her Baking book; once she let me know she would be in town, I could hardly wait to meet someone who’s been so inspirational to my baking.

In person, Dorie is as charming and warm as you would expect her to be. Upon learning who I was, she gave me a huge hug and exclaimed how thrilled she was that I showed up. Mind you, there were dozens of eager fans waiting to get their cookbooks signed, and many members of the professional pastry community, doubtless good friends of Dorie, also in attendance. That she would remember someone with whom she’d exchanged just a few e-mails is a testament to her wonderful personality.

I told Dorie that her new book was a huge hit in the blogosphere and that new posts about her recipes were showing up every day. She replied that she was thrilled so many people were making and enjoying her recipes. So for all of you bloggers who have been writing about Dorie and her book, she is completely delighted by your enthusiasm! I found it very heartwarming that this author who has written so many cookbooks and received so many awards, can still be so happy to know that "regular people" out there are baking from her books!

After signing her books, Dorie also answered some questions from the audience, and told some charming stories about working with Julia Child and Pierre Hermé. Did you know that Dorie initially turned down the offer to write Baking with Julia, but (fortunately for us) changed her mind? Dorie recounted the time Julia called her up and told her that they should both get their hands on those new-fangled bread machines and test them out; Dorie recalled this as just one example of Julia’s insatiable curiosity and passion for life. As for monsieur Hermé, Dorie remembers her work with him as an incredible learning experience. I was amused to learn that most of the work for their first collaboration, Desserts by Pierre Herme, was done on a windswept beach in Portugal. Pierre invited Dorie and her husband on a sort of working vacation, and told them they would all be staying in a fisherman’s shack by the sea. Dorie assumed he was being modest about the shack bit, but it turned out he was not. Hmm…hanging out on a beach with Pierre, getting to go through all of his recipes and have him explain his inspirations to you? I guess I wouldn’t mind the accommodations if I got to do that!

So now that I’ve finally met Dorie, I’ve come away only more excited to bake from her books, knowing the great person behind them. If you haven’t got your hands on a copy of her new one, I would strongly recommend it – it’s a wonderful compendium of recipes for every baking mood that strikes you, from cookies to puddings to tarts to cakes. There’s also a great selection of holiday pies, if you’re bringing dessert to Thanksgiving!

I’ll end with an early wish of a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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My Favorite Cookie Ever

September 11th, 2006 · 50 Comments · Cookbooks, Cookies, Personal, Recipes

edited on 9/19/06: I had to add this in – two days ago I received a very kind e-mail from Ms. Greenspan herself!!! See end of post.

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Saying I have one favorite cookie seems like a bold and potentially disingenuous claim; after all, variety is the hallmark and joy of the cookie world, and why there are dozens of cookie cookbooks on the market, to address when you have chocolate-chip-cookie-days or macaron-days, Christmas-sugar-cookie-days or tea-time-shortbread-days, or even those guilty I-really-want-an-Oreo-days.

But I have to say I fell in love with this cookie the first time I made it, everyone I’ve ever shared them with has loved them, and it keeps appearing in my kitchen on a regular basis. It is a cookie that makes you realize that the cookie, or koekje in its original Dutch, is not a minor sweet to be munched mindlessly out of a bag or snacked on as a poor substitute for a fancy dessert, but a full and proper member of the pastry world.

Of course, with a lineage tracing to Dorie Greenspan and Pierre Hermé, who would expect anything less? This cookie first appeared under the name of Korova Cookies in Greenspan’s darling Paris Sweets, her charming, intimate ode to Parisian pâtisseries. Being the rabid fan of Hermé that I am, I made a batch, and true to the headnote, had to keep myself to consuming them all that evening. These cookies have made their return in Greenspan’s new book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, which appears to not be in general release yet but which I have been lucky enough to find! In her new tome, the cookies have been renamed World Peace Cookies, an indication of Greenspan’s continuing infatuation with these little handfuls of joy – and her recognition that they have won fans everywhere!

So why all the rhapsodizing? I humbly suggest the best way is to make the cookies yourself (and as a bonus, these are among the simplest of cookies to make; you have no excuse not to try them!) and take a bite of one minutes after it cools on the baking rack. They are a rich, dark, chocolately take on the classic sablé, and, as is Hermé’s trademark, he has perfected both texture and taste in this recipe. There is no other way to describe biting into the cookie other than it melts and crumbles in your mouth, the perfect sandy consistency. And the smooth, buttery chocolate taste that comes from cocoa powder and chocolate chunks is enhanced by the addition of fleur de sel, which takes the level of taste to a preternatural, addictive high.

I have added a few drops of peppermint extract to these cookies for Christmastime, and they are the ones that everyone always asks if I will make again.

So I’m doing my little bit to spread some world peace and happiness and send this cookie with the simple advice to Try it! and see if it doesn’t become one of your favorites as well.

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I am also adding a little song of praise for Greenspan’s new book, which I am sure you will see fully explored by me in the following months. She is forever my idol for translating Hermé’s genius and making his recipes available to English speakers and the home baker. Now she finally gets to share her own recipes from her home kitchen, and it’s a wonderful masterpiece that is homey, comprehensive, informative, and very delicious.

Korova Cookies

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets

makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (do not use natural; I find the taste too light. I prefer Scharffen Berger or Valrhona)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into little bits (I will admit I have used Nestle Toll House Mini Morsels before because they are nearly the perfect size; very tiny for this cookie is best. However, Greenspan does recommend chopping up your favorite chocolate for best results. If you see the mini morsels in the store, check them out for their size!)

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together in a bowl. Beat the butter in a mixer until it is soft and creamy. Add in the sugars, salt, and vanilla extract and beat for a few more minutes to combine. Add in the flour and combine on low speed just until the flour is combined. This is probably the trickiest part because the texture of the cookie depends on as little mixing as possible. The dough will be very crumbly; resist the urge to keep mixing until it all comes together because then the cookies will be too tough when baked. Add in the chocolate bits and mix just to distribute them.

If you have a scale, the easiest thing to do next is to divide the dough in half by weighing. If you don’t, just turn the dough out onto a flat surface, press together into a ball and roughly divide in two. With each half, press the dough together gently and form into a log about 1 1/2-in in diameter. In the past, for fear of overworking the dough, I would simply form rough cylinders, wrap in plastic, and chill. The cookies would not be perfect rounds but they tasted good! (There is actually opportunity to reshape the cookies when you’re getting ready to bake them). Now, I use the trick of rolling the dough into a log on a piece of parchment paper, folding the parchment in half over the log, and using a ruler to compact the log and smooth out its shape. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for at least an hour; the logs will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or you can freeze them for a month.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Take out the logs and let them sit for a little while to soften up, otherwise I find they shatter into pieces when I slice them. Greenspan does not seem to be bothered by this and suggests you can just press the pieces back together. I have done this before and it does not appear to affect the result.

Slice the logs into rounds about 1/2-in thick; I prefer a little thinner.  Place the cookies on the sheets with about an inch between them. Bake them one sheet at a time in the oven for 12 minutes. They will not look done but that’s ok – again, overbaking will give the m a crispy texture instead. Let them cool on wire racks until just warm.

9/19/06: I received the best surprise two days ago – this e-mail in my inbox from Ms. Greenspan! Here it is:

Hi Anita,

I friend just told me about your blog and I was thrilled to visit and see your gorgeous photos of our favorite cookie, Pierre Herme’s Korova Cookies, now known as World Peace Cookies. Isn’t it extraordinary that something so simple and so easy to make can be sooooooooo good!

Many thanks for your kind and generous words about my cookbooks. I hope you will enjoy baking from my newest book, Baking, From My Home To Yours, as much as you’ve enjoyed Paris Sweets. (And, for your reader who asked, the book is now in stores and online.)

I’ll be visiting often to admire your beautiful work.

Again, my thanks — Dorie

Can I say I was floating in the clouds for the rest of the day??? FYI, I neglected to mention that I got my copy of Baking at my local Costco (called Sam’s Club in other parts of the country), although they do not offer it online so you have to go to the warehouse yourself. It should also be available on Amazon, Jessica’s Biscuit, and other online retailers at this point.

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