Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Better Nutters

For Christmas this year my sisters gave me Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook.  It's the biggest cookbook I've ever seen.  It could fulfill Kramer's dream and have a dual purpose as a cookbook and a coffee table.  It's mega.  And there are tons of recipes in it--many of which look sort of intimidating because everything in it looks pristine.  Nevertheless, I decided to dive into it with one of his cookie recipes and more specifically his take on the Nutter Better (which is one of the most addicting cookies in human history) which he coined the Better Nutter.  If you've ever been to a Bouchon Bakery you'll notice that all of his cookies--even the renowned macaron--are three times the size of the average cookie.

He makes them big and the Better Nutter is no exception.  Another thing I noticed while flipping through a lot of his recipes is that he pretty much ages all of his doughs--from cookies to scones and probably beyond.  For this cookie recipe and few others I saw he ages the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours at least.  So if you want to make these cookies--like exactly the way he does--you're gonna need some time.  I think that some of the aging (if that's what it even is--I might be using that term incorrectly for this instance) is practical because the dough is a bit sticky and difficult to work with if it's warm which isn't uncommon with some cookie doughs too.  But also, if you've ever made the New York Times cookies they require a day of aging in the fridge before you bake them.  So maybe there's a little bit of flavor enhancement that goes on too. 

The only criticism I have (who am I to criticize Thomas Keller?!) is that I thought the cookies tasted slightly bland.  And the only thing that this recipe doesn't have is salt.  So maybe...maybe...it could use a pinch.  I am not sure that would make a difference but I always read how salt brings out flavor in all things--even sweet.

Here is the recipe for the cookies from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller:

30g (1/4c) unsalted peanut halves (or--in reference to my no salt criticism--use salted peanuts)
198g (1 1/4c + 2 1/2tbsp) all-purpose sifted flour
9.1g (1 3/4tsp + 1/8tsp) baking soda
3.8g (3/4tsp) baking powder
210g unsalted butter at room temp.
86g (1/2c) creamy peanut butter (Bouchon uses Skippy natural peanut butter.  I used Smuckers natural)
106g (1/2c + 1tbsp) light brown sugar
1 large egg
8.5g (1 1/2tsp) vanilla paste (I used vanilla extract)
106g (1 1/2c) old fashioned oats

Peanut butter filling

175g (1c + 3tbsp) of your favorite basic buttercream
175g (1/2c + 3tbsp) of creamy peanut butter
pinch of kosher salt

First toast the peanuts so preheat the oven to 325 F.  Spread the peanuts on a baking pan and toast them for 16-18 minutes.  Remove them from the oven and let cool completely.

-Using a medium bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, baking soda and baking powder.
-Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the peanut butter and butter together until smooth,  creamy and the mixture holds a peak when you lift the paddle from it.
-Add the sugar to the peanut butter/butter mixture and beat for 2 minutes or until fluffy
-Add the vanilla paste (extract) and egg and mix just until combined--15-30s.  It's noted in the cookbook that over-mixing the eggs can cause too much spreading of the cookies when they are baking and then they will deflate.
-Scrape down the bowl
-Add the dry ingredients in two additions mixing until just combined with each addition.  Scrape down the bowl between additions as well.
-Add the oats and peanuts and pulse mix them about 10 times
-Place the dough into plastic wrap forming a block of dough and wrap tightly.  Refrigerate that for at least 2 hours or until firm.
-After the dough is firm roll it out at about a 1/4 inch thick between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a 3" cookie cutter cut out as many rounds as you can.  Scrape up the remaining dough and refrigerate again if too warm for a while.  Then roll it out again and cut out as many more rounds as you can.  I got about 14 total.
-Place all of the rounds on cookie sheets and place in the freezer for another 2 hours or until firm.
-Once the cookies are firm, position the racks in your oven to the top and bottom thirds of it and preheat the oven to 325F
-Make sure the cookies are arranged 2 inches apart on the sheets and bake them for 16-18 minutes rotating the cookie sheets 180 halfway through the baking time.
-Once done baking remove them from the oven, let them sit on the cookies sheets for 10 minutes before removing them and setting them atop cooling racks and then allow them to cool completely.
-Meanwhile, prepare the peanut butter filling by beating together the peanut butter, buttercream and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer until it is good and fluffy.
-Once the cookies are completely cool, pipe the buttercream on one cookie and then place another cookie atop that to make a sandwich.

You should have about 6-7 cookie sandwiches when done.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Insane Caramel Cake

I was just reading David Lebovitz's new blog post about a white chocolate cake he made.  In the post he mentioned how in the United States we are more accustomed to layer cakes ensconced in frosting.  But in France--and other places in Europe--the cakes are often single layer with some icing or buttercream.  So it reminded me of when we were in Sicily this past Fall and I looked up all of the top pasticceria's in Palermo to visit.  One of the reviewers mentioned a famous seven layer chocolate cake that was housed at one particular pasticceria.  My mouth began watering at the thought of this cake.  Thus, we trekked over there and as I was perusing the glass case of pastries I asked the gentleman manning it if they had a seven layer chocolate cake.  He pointed to something that I took notice of but certainly not because it was what I was looking for.  It was about as tall as a one layer cake and although it looked delicious each layer was only about an 1/8" thick.  My boyfriend tells me that my jaw dropped at the realization that the cake I built up in my head (as a cake that was probably as big as my head) was a petit torte that I could probably down in three bites...

See how the caramel just drapes the whole cake?!
On the other hand this cake here--this insanely decadent caramel cake--is the anti-cake of any cake you would probably find in a French or Italian bakery.  Not only is it composed of three giant layers of yellow cake but, as you can see, it is seriously draped in caramel.

I've been wanting to make this cake for a long time.  It's supposed to be a traditional southern caramel cake and it's got pounds of butter and shortening in it to prove it.  I had read the reviews on it and everyone said it can be kind of challenging because you need to work quickly to make sure the caramel doesn't stiffen up while you put everything together.  Also, there are a lot steps.  I didn't have an issue with this exactly.  What I did realize is that this cake is messy--like really messy.  And if you're looking to make a pretty cake that is beautifully frosted and even then you probably don't want to make this cake.  I mean you pretty much just pour the caramel over the cake and try direct it.  But really it just drips wherever and then you put on the next layer and try to do the same thing over again.

You're gonna need that glass of milk.

Nevertheless, I loved this cake.  Despite it's challenges in putting it together, I think it's fun to make and I would most definitely go another round with it.  The cake itself was awesome, tender and had a great "crumb."  And the caramel...my god...the caramel was something sent down from heaven or something like that.  It was phenomenal.

Here is the recipe.  Read the reviews too--they give some helpful tips.

Make.  This.  Cake!!!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

I saw a picture of this beautiful cake on either Foodgawker or Tastespotting--maybe both--and I was immediately drawn to it.  So I clicked on the link to the food blog it came from and discovered that it was in Russian.  Great....  I mean the pictures were gorgeous but I was a little put off that it was in Russian until I scrolled down a little further to find that it was also in Portuguese...  Oh wait, I don't speak either of those languages.  In fact the two are completely foreign to me.  But I had to make this cake so I used Google Translate.  And I don't know if you've ever used Google Translate but let's just say that once you've translated it into your native tongue you need to go an extra step to translate the translation.  Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome tool and gets the general meaning across but I venture to say that it is less than perfect.

This looks like a Kraft single
Moreover, using it to decipher a recipe is a little tricky.  But at the same time I felt that I had come a long way in my baking expeditions and could muddle through it somehow which is kind of surprising because I had yet to make a mousse of any sort nor a flourless chocolate cake--which if you read down it is divulged as the base for the cake.  Nevertheless, I went through with it and I think it came out fairly well.  I ran into some snags with putting the cake together--mainly trying to get the layers even and pretty looking but I worked through it as best I could.  I messed up with the base cake.  I guess I was supposed to do one thing and I didn't do that thing....and I can't actually blame it on the translation.  My normally super good direction reading skills actually failed me.  But I got through it.  Here's MY translation--or rather my interpretation.

The link to the original recipe is here

Flourless Chocolate Cake:

3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
67 g dark chocolate 75-80%
32 g butter
40g sugar

Dark Chocolate Mousse:

267 g heavy cream
27g sugar
3 egg yolks
214 g cream whipped
8-10 g gelatin sheets
80 g chopped dark chocolate 75-80%

Milk Chocolate Mousse:

267 g heavy cream 
27g sugar
3 egg yolks
214 g cream whipped
8-10 g gelatin sheets
80 g of chopped milk chocolate 

White Chocolate Mousse:

267 g heavy cream 
27g sugar
3 egg yolks
214 g cream whipped
8-10 g gelatin sheets
80 g of chopped white chocolate 

White Chocolate Glaze? (The word did not translate so I think it was just some sort of jellied glaze)

37 g water
75g sugar
75 g light corn syrup
50 g of cold milk
75 g of white chocolate
5-7 g gelatin sheets

 For the flourless chocolate cake:

1.)  Preheat the oven to 350
2.)  Line a jelly roll with parchment paper (this is where I failed to read the directions.  When I finished the cake batter I poured it into the 10" springform pan that I was going to use as the mold for the cake when in reality you were supposed to bake it in a jelly roll pan and cut out a circle to fit into the springform you are using as a mold for the rest of the cake.  The problem with my way was that because I baked it over a smaller surface area the cake was twice the thickness so I had to cut it in half which for this particular cake was not so easy)
3.) Melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler and stir to combine.  Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly
4.)  Once it's cooled whisk in the egg yolks one at a time until fully combined.  Set aside
5.) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until foamy.  Then, add the sugar slowly and continue to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form
6.) Gently fold in the egg whites to the chocolate mixture until fully combined.
7.)  Pour the batter onto the prepared baking sheet and smooth out evenly with a spatula.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.
8.)  Remove from heat and let cool while you make the mousse.

For the mousse:  The method is the same for each type of chocolate.

1.)  Soak gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water
2.)  Place the whisk and bowl that you are going to use to make the whipped cream in the fridge to get nice and cold
3.)   In a medium-large bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until combined.  Set aside.
4.)  Heat the other cream (the 267g one) in a saucepan slowly until it just starts to form bubbles around the edges of the saucepan--to about 167 degrees F
5.)  At that point, remove the sauce pan from the heat and slowly pour about 1/3 of the hot cream into the egg/sugar mixture whisking the whole time until combined.
6.)  Pour the egg/sugar/cream mixture back into the hot sauce pan with the rest of the cream and return to the heat.  Heat--while whisking constantly-- until the mixture begins to thicken up a bit--to about 185 F.  Remove from heat.
7.)  Pour in the chopped chocolate (the type that you are making at this point) and the gelatin sheets (when you remove the gelatin sheets from the cold water, squeeze them out a bit to remove any excess water)  and stir until melted and fully combined.
8.)  Place a fine mesh strainer over a separate clean bowl and strain the mousse over it.  This was an extra step I did because the first time I forgot to temper the egg yolk/sugar mixture and I had little bits of cooked scrambled egg floating around (I know, gross) and the next couple of times I just did it because--either by my own screwing up or otherwise--I still had some coagulated residue at the bottom of the pan.  If you don't feel the need to do this then don't but I think it just helps the mousse set more smoothly as well.
8.)  Set aside the mousse to cool.  Once it's cool, remove the bowl and whisk that were getting all nice and cold from the fridge and whisk the other cream until medium peaks form (I wasn't exactly sure how much to whisk the cream so I just took a guess).
9.)  Pour the whipped cream into the cooled mousse and fold/gently stir until fully combined.

Do this for each type of chocolate.  If you baked the cake in a jelly roll pan, cut out a circle for the size of springform pan you are using (in my case it wold have been a 10" diameter circle) and place it at the bottom of the pan.  Once your first chocolate mousse is done, pour it into your springform pan atop the cake and smooth/even it out.  Set it in the freezer until it's set and firm.  Meanwhile, make the second mousse (for me the first was dark and the second was milk etc.) and once it is ready pour it atop the first one.  Repeat this for the last type of chocolate.  Once you have all of your mousse layers, set them in the fridge/freezer to firm up.

Then, make the glaze:

1.)  Soak the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water
2.)  Bring the water, sugar and corn syrup to a boil -- to about 217 degrees F.  Remove from heat.
3.)  Stir in the chocolate and cold milk until fully incorporated.
4.)  Stir in the gelatin (again, wring out any excess water from the gelatin sheets)
5.)  Let the mixture cool a bit and the pour it atop the mousse cake.
6.)  Place the cake in the fridge until the glaze has set.

So, one last thing.  Clearly my cake is a square(ish) form.  That's because when I removed it from the 10" springform pan I wasn't happy with the edges so I cut it up to make it look "neater".  I am not sure how the original baker got her cake to look so beautiful but bravo to her.