Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Yellow Cake Taste Test

I bring to anyone reading this my own yellow cake taste test.

The idea of the taste test came from me feeling like I don't always have a go-to recipe for a lot of things--in this particular situation, yellow cake.  I try a lot of different recipes and generally they are all great.  But when it comes time to make, say a yellow cake, I feel like I could use that one or this one or that other one because what's the difference?  I remember liking all of them so it shouldn't make a difference.  But maybe it does.

There are several different methods for making cakes but only about three that are used to make a yellow cake:  the creaming method, the reverse creaming method and the one-bowl method.  And each one is supposed to produce a different end result.  The creaming method should produce a cake that's good for stacking in layers--but still soft and tender.  The reverse creaming method is supposed to produce a similarly sturdy cake that's good for stacking multiple layers.  But, from what I've read it also has a denser crumb--but still tender and soft.  Lastly is the one-bowl method which is probably the simplest of them all.  For one thing--as the name implies--you do all of the work in one bowl. And in my opinion, it produces the best crumb that's soft and pillowy and most similar to a boxed cake mix. They're also usually made with all oil or at least some oil.

My recipe

How to Bake Everything
Cooks Illustrated
The Cake Bible

The Joy of Cooking

King Arthur

So, I made six yellow cakes using all three of those methods.  I picked five of the recipes from different recipe books I had on hand and the sixth one was my own.  I used the same baking pan, same oven and same types and brand of ingredients for each recipe where appropriate.  And lastly, I frosted each of the cakes with the same chocolate frosting.  Essentially I tried to be as scientific as I could.

My recipe

How to Bake Everything

Cooks Illustrated

The Cake Bible

The Joy of Cooking

King Arthur

I invited friends over, had them taste each of the anonymously numbered cakes and then vote for their top picks.  And after tallying up all of the votes, my recipe actually came out on top--which was made using the one-bowl method.  I promise I didn't rig the competition in my favor.  My recipe doesn't necessarily use any secret ingredient.  I think that by using the one-bowl method you do produce a cake that isn't super dense and is lighter.  From what I've read a lot of that might have something to do with the fact that you're using oil.  I don't know the exact science behind that but I'm sure I read about it at some point.  And generally, as I mentioned earlier, you get a cake that's most consistent with a cake made from a boxed mix.  You can take that for what it is--I personally am ok with it because I like the way boxed cake mixes taste.

I still think that all of the other recipes are great.  But now that I've had a side to side comparison I can narrow down the yellow cake recipes in my repertoire and make use of them on an appropriate basis respective of their individual characteristics.

For reference, the recipes I included--in most popular to least popular order--were from Mark Bittman's How to Bake Everything, Cooks Illustrated's classic yellow cake, Rose Levy Beranbaum's all-occasion downy yellow cake from The Cake Bible,  The Joy of Cooking's yellow cake recipe, and King Arthur's classic yellow cake recipe which I found off of their website.

Recipe for my own yellow cake: makes one 9" yellow cake

145g unbleached cake flour
150g superfine granulated sugar
65g unsalted butter melted and cooled
28g vegetable/canola oil
75g (~1 1/2) large eggs at room temperature
2/3c buttermilk at room temperature
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

First, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Then, butter the sides and bottom of a 9" round cake pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer, sift in all of the dry ingredients and then using the paddle attachment, mix together everything for about thirty seconds on low.  In a second medium bowl thoroughly whisk all of the wet ingredients together.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry.  Turn the mixer on medium speed and mix for about 1 1/2 minutes until everything is thoroughly combined--the batter will be very thin.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 22-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes and then remove it from the pan and let it cool completely before frosting.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Banana Nilla Cookies

I've made cookies from at least two James Beard Foundation award winners.  Both recipes were amazing.  At the same time, both recipes were rather involved--or at least included some extra steps. And, I don't mean that to act as a deterrent to anyone thinking about making something from a JBF award winner.  I mean, there is a good reason why they've won the award.  These cookies from Mindy Segal's Cookie Love were spectacular.  There were a lot of steps involved in the making of these cookies but they weren't difficult steps.  And if you have everything ready and able--or store bought--then it probably won't take you nearly as long.  I didn't, which is probably the main reason I'm bringing this up.  So, don't be like me--be more prepared.  Now let's discuss the actual cookies.

What Mindy Segal has done is created a homemade recipe for Nilla Wafers.  She then used them to sandwich a banana caramel buttercream filling and topped them off with two types of chocolate--a bittersweet and a caramelized white chocolate.  The result is a decadent sandwich cookie that to me--due to the bananas--has a fairly accented fruity flavor--which is a good thing.  The cookies are softer and more pillowy than actual Nilla Wafers and pack a good vanilla flavored punch.  The bittersweet chocolate comes through nicely but I personally didn't think the caramelized white chocolate one did as much.  In truth, I think it's more decorative than anything.  But at the same time, I've been wanting to caramelize white chocolate for a while now and this project gave me a good reason to do so.  And by the by, even though I don't necessarily think it came through with these cookies, caramelized white chocolate is pretty damn tasty on its own--well worth the effort of caramelization.

What I really like about these cookies is the pure fact that they are sandwich cookies.  Basically my philosophy over sandwich cookies is the more the merrier.  Barring the fact--but probably because of this very fact--that sandwich cookies are double the cookie--which means they are double the fat, sugar, refined flour, blah blah blah--they are my favorite type of cookie.  I'll always take an oatmeal cream pie over a regular oatmeal cookie or an Oreo (preferably double-stuffed) over a simple chocolate wafer.  And now I can state, with a clear conscience that I would definitely take a Mindy Segal Banana Nilla cookie over a simple Nilla Wafer.  Yes, they're more decadent and more calories but they're a little more complex and a lot more fun to eat.

Recipe via the kitchn for Mindy Segal's Banana Nilla Cookies (makes about 30 sandwich cookies)


1/3c unsalted butter at room temp.
1/3c vegetable shortening
1c powdered sugar
2/3c granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs at room temp.
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 T water
3c cake flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes (I used Maldon)

Using a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salts and then set it aside.  Then in a small bowl crack in the eggs and add the vanilla and water and set that aside.  Next in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and shortening using the paddle attachment.  Mix that until they are combined on medium speed.  Add the sugars to the mixer bowl and cream the mixture on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes.  Then add each egg into the fat/sugar mixture one at a time--mixing just until it looks like cottage cheese.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and run the mixer for a minute more just make sure all that side and bottom stuff has been re-introduced into the mixture.  Now add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed just until combined.  Next, place a large sheet of plastic wrap flat on your work surface.  Scrape the batter onto the plastic wrap and pat it into a rectangle.  Wrap the batter up tightly and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day when you are ready to cut out the cookies and bake them, get out two baking sheets and cut out pieces of parchment paper to fit them.  Then lay each sheet of parchment paper on your work surface--you're going to roll out your dough directly on each parchment sheet.  Now, remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it and cut it in half.  Place one half back in the fridge and leave the other one out.  Lightly dust one sheet of parchment paper with flour and place the one half of dough on top of it.  Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness (you can either place an additional sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and roll or lightly flour the surface of the dough while rolling). Once you've got the dough rolled out to 1/4 inch thickness, place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough, ease the sheet of dough onto a baking sheet and refrigerate it for one hour.  Do the same thing for the other half of dough.  Once the hour is up, preheat your oven to 325 F.  Remove one sheet of dough at a time from the fridge and ease the sheet onto a work surface.  Place a silicone baking mat or another sheet of parchment paper onto the baking sheet.  Then with the dough, remove the top sheet of parchment paper and cut out 2 inch circles of dough--re-rolling the dough with the trimmings and cutting once again as needed.  Place your cookie circles on the prepared baking sheet, lower the oven temperature to 300 F and bake for 7-10 minutes or until the cookies feel firm.  Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool completely before sandwiching.  Repeat with the remaining half of dough.

Banana Puree

2 medium overripe bananas
2 T granulated sugar
1/4c water
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Break the bananas up with your hands into chunks.  Place them--along with the rest of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook them for about 5-7 minutes or until the bananas are soft and easily break apart when nudged with a spoon.  Once that is done, place the mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.  Pour the puree into a small bowl, place a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the puree and let it cool completely.


1c unsalted butter at room temp.
1c powdered sugar
Seeds from half of a vanilla bean
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
All of the banana puree you just made at room temp.
1/2c homemade or store-bought caramel sauce at room temp.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat on medium-high for about 5 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.  Add in the vanilla bean seeds, extract and salts and mix until fully incorporated and evenly distributed.  Then add in the banana puree and mix in until fully incorporated.  Finally, add the caramel sauce and mix until that is fully incorporated.


All of your cookies
8oz bittersweet chocolate melted and cooled
2oz caramelized white chocolate melted and cooled (here is a good link to how to go about caramelizing white chocolate)

On your work surface, pair up the cookies with a suitable partner.  Fill a pastry bag with the frosting and pipe a tablespoon or two of the frosting on the bottoms of half of the cookies.  Sandwich each cookie with its unfrosted partner.  Dip each sandwich cookie into the bittersweet chocolate and set aside to set for a minute. Finally, using a fork or spoon drizzle the caramelized white chocolate over each sandwich cookie. Let the chocolates set and then enjoy at your leisure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Buckwheat Linzer Cookies

Doughs made with buckwheat don't look all that appetizing.  They're the color gray.  Incidentally, I dare someone to name one gray food that looks inviting.  I for one can't think of any.

Luckily when you bake with buckwheat, it browns a bit so the appearance warms up.  But before that--yuck.  For this recipe I had to create this log of gray buckwheat cookie dough to chill so I could slice it up into cookie circles later and bake. As you can guess, the log of gray dough looked less than tempting--like some sort of generic sustenance that would be served to the masses in a post-apocalyptic earth science fiction movie.  It was sticky, wet and of course...gray.  The upside is that the old adage, don't judge a book by its cover, applies here.  The resulting cookies were delicious.

This recipe is another one from Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours.  I've been baking from this recipe book a lot lately--partly because I'm intrigued to see how some of Alice Medrich's gluten free creations turn out.  Also because I've bought just about every flour specified in the book and I'm afraid it's going to go rancid if I don't start using them up faster.  Nevertheless, its been fun.  And the buckwheat linzer cookies--despite their pre-baked appearance--were delectable. They were buttery, sweet and soft.  Aside from the color, the buckwheat adds a bit of a grainy texture to the cookie--which I didn't look at that as a negative attribute.  A little texture is nice sometimes.

But at the same time I feel as though I need to have a traditional linzer cookie at my side in order to properly perceive the differences between the two types of flours.  Plus, in addition to buckwheat flour this recipe calls for oat flour and white rice flour.  Technically, the buckwheat flour is the predominant flour in the blend but I can't help but feel that with the added butter and sugar plus the other flours it might be hard to pick out the flavor of the buckwheat.  Or...maybe my taste buds just aren't that sophisticated.

If anyone has any trepidation about baking with buckwheat, let me be the one to allay those concerns. It may look kinda gross before it's baked but it doesn't taste gross--unless you make it taste gross of course.  I'm assuming, from my recent experience that you could use it to make any number of good baked goods--this recipe being proof of that in fact.  It's different yes.  But certainly not in a bad way--in a good way, a real good way.


55g (1/4c + 2 T) white rice flour
70g (1/2c + 2 T) buckwheat flour
65g (2/3c) oat flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
100g (1/2c) granulated sugar
60g (1/4c) cream cheese cut into chunks
170g (12 T) unsalted butter at room temp. and cut into chunks
1 T water

1/2c of preserves--I used blackberry

Using the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the dry ingredients and process for about 30 seconds.  Then add everything else and process until a smooth ball forms.  Scrape the dough out of the food processor and divide it in half.  With each half of dough, form it into a log that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  The next day when you are ready to get baking, place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and then preheat it to 325 F.  Line two baking sheets with either silicone baking mats or parchment paper and set them aside.  Next, take one chilled log of dough from the refrigerator and slice it into just a little less than 1/4 inch slices and place each slice on baking sheets at least 2 inches apart.  Make sure you have equal slices on each sheet--it will make the next step a little easier.  Do the same thing with the other log of dough.  Bake two baking sheets at a time for 12 minutes.  Remove the baking sheet from the upper rack.  Place the one on the lower rack into the upper position and rotate it 180 degrees. With the baking sheet that was removed from the oven, use a 1/2 inch cookie cutter to cut circles in the middles of each cookie--the centers may or may not pop out--it doesn't matter whether or not they do.  Place the baking sheet in the lower rack and bake both sheets for another 10-15 minutes or just until the edges start to brown a bit.  Once done, remove each baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on each sheet.

Once the cookies are cooled, match all of them up and spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of preserves on the bottom of each one.  Sandwich it with the cut-out top and enjoy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lemon Tart with Coconut Crust

In my neck of the woods, citrus is about the only fruit available during the frigid winter months.  And if I really didn't like citrus, I'd probably be mad about that.  Luckily I do like it--quite a bit in fact.  Its got that tart bite that I find refreshing during the bleak winter months--and they're tropical fruits that hint at the warmth from which they are borne.  And I fantasize about that warmth.  My all time favorite citrus dessert is key lime pie.  My ideal one has a tooth-achingly sweet and salty graham cracker crust that cuts up the key lime filling.    

I found a recipe for a key lime tart in Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours.  Unfortunately, I only had lemons on hand and no condensed milk so I couldn't make it.  But, I could use the recipe for the crust. Not surprisingly--since this particular recipe book explores baking using just about any flour other than wheat flours--it doesn't call for my beloved graham cracker crust.  Instead, it pairs itself with another tropical fruit, the coconut. Both shredded coconut and coconut flour join forces to create the base for this tart.  The result is essentially a crust that tastes like a macaroon.  And since the recipe for the crust is just about the same as one for macaroons, it's not all that shocking.  The only difference is that it uses coconut flour. I think macaroons are pretty amazing so eating a crust in the form of a giant one is by no means a chore.  

My only trouble with making this coconut crust was that it wasn't exactly the most structurally sound crust.  Macaroons are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  But this crust was just chewy all over.  So when I cut into the tart, it was more pliable than anything else so I never got a clean cut.  I always ended up having to scrape off some of the crust from the bottom of the pan.  Nevertheless, I think that if I baked it a bit longer, that issue would have been resolved.  

In my mind, pairing two tropical fruits like this just seems to make perfect sense.  And truly, they go together well--it was an excellent crust.  I'm not saying I'm going to totally give up on a graham cracker crust for a key lime pie but it's certainly a nice alternative to have in your back pocket.  


Crust via Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours

40g (1/3c) coconut flour
100g (1c + 1T) unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
85g (6T) unsalted butter at room temp. and softened
100g (1/2c) granulated sugar
1 large egg white

First, preheat the oven to 350 F and then grease a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Next, using a large bowl combine all of the ingredients together until everything is well incorporated. After that, press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the tart pan--making sure that every inch is covered well and that the sides of the pan are thicker than the base.  Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake it in the oven for at least 15 minutes.  I baked mine for 15 minutes and I felt that it wasn't done so maybe in the time range between 15-20 minutes depending upon your oven.  I would touch the bottom of the crust and if it seems fairly firm then it will probably be good.  Once, the crust has baked, remove it from the oven and let it cool completely before making the filling.


100g (1/2) granulated sugar
2T corn starch
1/8 tsp salt
1/2c water
1/4c milk
2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
1T unsalted butter
1/4c fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest

First, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Then using a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks until lighter in color and set it aside.  In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn starch, salt, water and milk. Set the mixture over medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture just comes to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour about a third of the mixture into the egg yolks and quickly whisk to combine. Pour that mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk mixture. Set it over low heat while whisking constantly and cook just until it thickens and it starts to slowly bubble. Remove it from the heat and add the butter, lemon juice and lemon zest and whisk to combine.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the filling and set aside while you make the meringue.


2 large egg whites
50g (1/4c) granulated sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, start whisking the egg whites on medium speed until they are foamy.  Then slowly start pouring in the sugar.  Whisk the whites on medium-high speed until stiff glossy peak form.  Set the meringue aside while you assemble everything.


Pour the slightly cooled filling into the cooled tart shell and make sure it's evenly distributed.  Next, either spread the entire meringue over the tart or pour it into a piping baking with a plain tip and pipe any sort of design you wish.  Once that's done, bake the tart for about 12-15 minutes until it is set and the meringue peaks have just started to brown.  Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool completely before slicing into.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Black and White Cookies

I've been feeling fairly unmotivated lately with respect to baking.  Nothing seems to really capture my attention.  I think part of it comes from the fact that I did a lot of it over the holidays and I feel a bit burnt out.  I scoured all of my cookbooks and then through my list of saved recipes and baking to-do's and still, nothing really stood out.  It was sad.

I want to bake but maybe it's just too soon... Or so I thought.  Last night I had a budding inclination to make something.  I still felt just so so about the idea but I mustered through my lackadaisical countenance and found at least one thing that gave me some inkling of motivation allowing me to break out my mixer's paddle attachment.  And for whatever reason that inkling of motivation manifested itself in the form of black and white cookies.  I mean the idea of making them just popped into my head without any discernable suggestion.  But I went with it.

Admittedly, I see black and white cookies around quite a bit but never pick one up. Although, they always appeal to me. They have the best of both worlds--both white and chocolate icing.  At the same time they remind me of those yellow smiley-faced cookies they sell at gas stations and convenience stores.  And those I'm not into so much.

Actually, those are appealing too--mostly because of all of that icing they have slathered over them--but they're also fairly disappointing to me. The cookie is usually too hard and the icing tastes like nothing.  So I just assume that the black and white cookie will be that way too.  Yet, what I began to understand from some of the recipes and background information on the black and white cookie is that it's actually supposed to be more of a cakey cookie. Obviously this threw my mind through a whirlwind.  I was confused.  Distraught.  Everything I had assumed about these cookies was suddenly askew.  Luckily I rebounded quickly and just made the damn cookies.

As promised they were cakey and soft--not necessarily as I expected them to be--which was good. The icing on the other hand wasn't much to write home about--it's sugary sweet and good of course but it's not like it's the most amazing icing you'll ever taste.  There weren't any added flavorings added to the white icing side and the chocolate just tasted liked chocolate icing--good but well...sugary.  In the end, the thing I took away most from the black and white cookie is that it's a simple cookie.  It's a good simple cake-like cookie.  There's not much flair to it.  It's iconic.  And it's black and white on top.

Recipe slightly adapted from: 

I halved the recipe which made about a dozen 3 inch cookies.

What you need for the cookies:

175g granulated sugar
113g unsalted butter softened
2 large eggs at room temp.
3/4c whole milk at room temp.
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp lemon extract
140g cake flour
177g all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt

To make the cookies, first preheat the oven to 375 F.  Then, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Using a medium bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda and salt together and set that mixture aside.  Next, in a large bowl of a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy--about 5 minutes.  Then add in the eggs, milk and both extracts to the creamed mixture and mix until fully combined.  Then in a few batches, add the flour mixture--mixing on low speed just until it is incorporated.  Once all of the flour has been added, remove the bowl from the mixer and begin scooping the spoonfuls of batter onto the baking sheets. You'll want to scoop about 2 tablespoons of batter for each cookie and place them at about 2 inches apart from each other.  Finally, bake the cookies for about 17-20 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.  After they are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before icing them.

For assembly....

Make the white icing first using:

113g confections sugar
1/8c boiling water

In a small bowl, mix the boiling water and confectioners sugar until completely smooth.  Then spread some of the white icing over half of each cookie.  The quicker you work the better because the icing will start to harden as time passes--which will make it impossible to spread.

Then make the black/chocolate icing using:

113g confectioners sugar
1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/8c boiling water
1/2 tsp light corn syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water and stir until smooth and fully combined.  Working quickly--because the same will happen to this icing as well if you let too much time to go by--spread the black icing over the other half of each cookie.  Let the icing set and then enjoy the cookies!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Salted Caramel Chocolates

I think I mentioned this in a post a while ago...but I can't remember when actually. Nevertheless, a few years ago I took a chocolate-making class via some Groupon.  It was eye-opening to say the least.  I mean, my eyes didn't just open but they bulged at the sight of the machine in the back kitchen that spewed out a thick stream of melted chocolate.  If I could have just positioned my open mouth below that fountain of chocolate...

Aside from that godsend of a machine, our rather intense teacher exposed me to the process of tempering chocolate--which was honestly eye-opening.  He spoke about the crystalline structures in chocolate and specifically those very important beta crystals that one must get into alignment at just the right temperature--via tempering the chocolate--in order for the finished chocolate product to have that gorgeous sheen on the outside and a crisp hard crack when broken.  Unfortunately, attaining those two key characteristics has always been a challenge for me.

Now, there are a few different ways to temper chocolate.  In the class, we did--what I would term--the "messy" way.  We poured the un-tempered melted chocolate onto a marble slab, took a bench scraper and kept scooping and scraping up the chocolate back and forth onto the slab until our teacher gave it a quick look and told us to test it--and knowing what I know now, I have no idea how he would know without using a thermometer. I guess with experience you just come to know? Anyway, by testing it we took a small amount of the chocolate we had been working with and put it in the freezer to harden.  If it was shiny and had a snap when broken, it was tempered. If not, we had to keep agitating it and testing it.  The other--less messy--way is seeding.  With seeding, you basically do all of the tempering in a bowl. And since temperature plays such a vital indicator of whether or not chocolate has been tempered--and I like being as exact as possible--I use a thermometer to help me determine how close I am to forming those famed beta crystals.  Alas, even with my handy thermometer I can never seem to get a perfectly tempered chocolate.  There's always streaks.  Blah.

So, when I read an article on Serious Eats proclaiming that there is another way to achieve a perfect tempered chocolate that wasn't messy or labor intensive (i.e. stirring and agitating the chocolate until your arm feels like falling off), I was intrigued.  Especially since it involved the use of a sous vide.   The beauty with using a sous vide to temper chocolate is that--again since temperature plays such an important role--you can adjust the temperature fairly easily and hold that temperature.  And once you've achieved the tempered state, you should be able to hold it in that state--provided you keep agitating the chocolate every once in a while.

I actually didn't have a sous vide at the time I read this article and the only thing I knew about them was that they were used to cook meat.  Hence, the idea of one being used to temper chocolate was alluring.  So alluring that I ended up buying a sous vide.  And I've had it for about a year now and have used it fairly often--but to cook pork tenderloins, pork chops and chicken.  But not to temper chocolate.  I know, I know.  The reason that sold me on buying it was the idea that I could temper chocolate perfectly.  However, I think part of me was a little hesitant to try it out because I was afraid it wouldn't work and then I'd have to go back to the seeding method--which I can't seem to get right--and then tempering chocolate would just be another one of those things that is eating away at my soul because I can never make it work.  Woe is me. Well, not really.  Because the sous vide method actually worked pretty darn well.  Is it perfect?  No. But I did get a good shine and fairly good snap. There were some small disfigurements and the snap wasn't as crisp as I think it should have been. But maybe next time if I try pulling the chocolate out of the sous vide and agitating it more often I'll get those beta crystals in line a bit better.  In any case, I was pleased with the results.  At the same time, it's still another method  that needs practice.  And I don't think--as much as I dislike it--I will completely give up on the seeding method.  It needs some practice too.  But if you have a sous vide and you have trouble tempering chocolate via traditional methods then give this a shot because it really does work quite nicely.

Recipe for 12 - 2 inch diameter hemispheres (For a great tutorial on how to temper chocolate in a sous vide, visit Serious Eats)

16oz of dark chocolate (I used Callebaut semi-sweet) chopped
1/2c salted caramel sauce (recipe follows for about 1 cup of sauce)

Salted caramel sauce

1/2c heavy cream
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3/4c granulated sugar
2 T light corn syrup
2 T water

First, using a small sauce pan, combine the cream, butter and salt.  Heat the the mixture over low heat while stirring until the butter has melted and the salt has dissolved.  Once that's been accomplished, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set nearby.  In a medium heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Heat that mixture over medium-high heat.  Let it boil up--bubbles will ebb and flow--just let it go until it starts changing color.  Once it starts changing color, slowly swirl the pan around to distribute the heat evenly.  After it gets to a good even amber color and the bubbles are much smaller, reduce the heat to low and carefully pour in the cream mixture while whisking constantly.  Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and let it cool completely before use.

For Assembly

Temper your chocolate in whatever manner you have at your disposal.  Once tempered, pour about half of the chocolate into the mold to line the insides of the hemispheres with it.  Turn the molds upside down and tap out any excess chocolate--make sure that the surfce of each hemisphere is completely covered in chocolate.  Place the chocolate mold aside to set.  After it's set, fill the chocolate lined hemispheres with your completely cooled caramel sauce--I put about a tablespoon in for these particular molds.  Then, pour the other half of your tempered chocolate over the caramel to fill the rest of the molds.  Use a bench scraper to scrape evenly along the surface of the mold to remove any excess chocolate and to ensure that each chocolate has a nice flat even bottom. Set the chocolates aside to set/harden.  Once they have set, turn the mold over carefully and tap out the chocolates. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Red Wine Poached Pear Tarts

This is such a simple dessert.  Puff pastry and fruit.  That's it.

Of course you can dress it up a bit in any number of ways.  But if you didn't, the buttery flaky puff pastry and sweet ripe fruit would hardly be a disappointment in itself.  On the other hand, there's certainly no harm in sprucing it up.

Like maybe you can poach some pears in a sweet red wine syrup and let them marinade in the red wine syrup for a few days in the refrigerator.

Then cut some squares of puff pastry out, slice up the poached pears and place them on top of the pastry and bake them.  It's still pretty uncomplicated--assuming you have some readily available puff pastry.

I like that it's not too sweet either.  Buttery? You betcha.  But not that sweet because the sweetness really just comes from the fruit and the syrup that the pears are poached in.

I might even go as far as designating this is a healthy dessert.  But I won't.  Because it's really not healthy--I mean there's a lot of butter in that puff pastry.  So it's not healthy--but it's damn good.


2-2 1/2 pounds puff pastry dough
4 medium red wine poached pears (recipe follows)
1/4c of granulated sugar
1 egg and 1 tsp of water for the egg wash

For the red wine poached pears:

2 1//2c dry red wine--I used a cabernet
1/4c granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of cloves
4 firm medium pears peeled--ripe but still fairly firm

Using a 3 quart saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves.  Place the saucepan on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently add the pears.  Cook the pears for 15-20 minutes in the simmering liquid--turning the pears every so often so that each pear is evenly cooked and colored by the red wine poaching liquid.  Make sure not to overcook the pears so that they are still firm once they are evenly colored.  If at any point they seem to be getting mushy, remove the pears and poaching liquid from the heat.  In any case, once they are fully cooked, remove the saucepan from the heat, place the pears so that they are sitting upright in the pan and let them cook completely.  After the pears have cooled, place them and all of the poaching liquid in an airtight container, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3-4 days.

When the pears have sat in the poaching liquid for at least 24 hours, get ready to bake the tarts.  First, line two large baking sheets with either silicone baking mats or parchment paper and set them aside. Then, on a well floured surface roll out the puff pastry into at least an 8 inch wide by 16 inch long by 1/8 inch thick rectangle.  Cut eight 4 inch by 4 inch rectangles out of the larger rectangle and place four of them on one baking sheet and the other four on the other baking sheet.  Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator while you get the pears ready.  Next, slice each pear into 1/8 inch thick slices--discarding any of the core pieces.  Once that's done place oven racks in the lower and upper third sections of your oven and preheat it to 450 F.  Remove the baking sheets from the refrigerator, distribute the pear slices evenly between the eight pastry squares and arrange them in any way you prefer.  After the pears slices have been arranged, sprinkle the sugar over each tart.  Then, in a small bowl whisk together the egg and water.  Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the exposed pastry that borders the fruit--not the sides of it.  Finally, place one baking sheet in the upper and one in the lower rack.  Bake them for 20 minutes at 450 F switching the two baking sheets between the two racks after the first 10 minutes.  After the first 20 minutes of baking, decrease the oven temperature to 400 F, switch the baking sheets again between the two racks and bake them for another 20 minutes switching the baking sheets between the two racks one more time halfway through the second 20 minute period.  Confused?  Well, just switch up the baking sheets every once in a while to ensure that they bake evenly since they are on separate oven racks.  Anyway, after a total cooking time of 40 minutes remove the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool completely.  Enjoy.