Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belated Birthday Cake

There's an amazing bakery in San Diego called Extraordinary Desserts that my partner and I frequent when we visit.  However, let me define what I mean by "frequent."  Our visits usually consist of an extended weekend of a mere three days.  Thus our frequenting means that we pretty much go each day...  They have extremely decadent cakes--like over the top decadence--if such a thing can be said.  And it can, because I've been to this bakery.

They fill their cakes with rich mousses and douse them in sweet syrups and then cover them in light creamy frostings.  There's this one particular cake that caught my partners taste buds called the Creme Ivoire.  Last year when we went, he ordered it on each visit.  Needless to say he was quite taken with this cake.  So, when I asked what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday this year he wasn't sure at first.  But then as I started listing off types of cakes I mentioned the Creme Ivoire--which neither of us actually remembered the name--and he stopped me and asked if I thought I could actually make that cake.

I was quite offended.  Of course I could make that cake!  But before I said that to him, we scoured the menu on the bakery's website until we found the one he adored so much.  I read the description which went something like this: A pound cake (I can make that) soaked in vanilla bean syrup (check) filled with white chocolate mousse (been done before) and covered in whipped cream (easy peasy). So yes, I felt I was quite capable of making this cake.  Well I was sorta right and sorta wrong.

The cake part was fine, the syrup couldn't have been easier but it was the mousse that got me.  It wasn't that I couldn't make the mousse because I could and did and it was rich and spectacularly light--perhaps exactly what a mousse should be.  But what this particular mousse shouldn't be is a filling for a cake--at least not one with six layers of pound cake sandwiching it.  I mean they don't call pound cake pound cake because it's light.  Anyway, basically--if you haven't guessed--the mousse was spilling out the sides of the cake and the layers were sliding off of one another.

So I grabbed some chop sticks and pierced the cake with them to hold the layers in place.  But that was really just a temporary fix and then I got mad at the whole mess and threw the cake in the trash.  My partner was upset.  But I explained what had happened and he accepted it and then I told him I'd go and get him a Dinkels cake for his birthday--which is a bakery that makes cakes we both love.  I also promised him that I would try again to make the same cake--a belated one.  So then I made a new mousse that was specified as a good cake filling and again, it was a great mousse.  But I still ended up with the same problem and I still ended up sticking more chop sticks in the cake to  prevent the layers from sliding and I got mad again.  But I didn't throw the cake away this time.  I threw it in the freezer instead.  And decided to encase the whole cake in white chocolate to create a sort of shell that would prevent the mousse from spilling out and keep the layers in check.  I probably could have just kept it refrigerated but it seemed like a cool idea.  In the end, the cake was probably nothing like the one at Extraordinary Desserts.  But it was good and decadent and I used it as an excuse to do some fancy decorations too.


"Perfect Pound Cake" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 tablespoons (45g) of whole milk at room temperature
3 large eggs (150g) at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2c (150g) cake flour
3/4c (150g) granulated sugar
3/4tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
13 tablespoons (184g) butter softened at room temperature

-Preheat oven to 350 F
-Grease two 6" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper
-Sift all of the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer
-With a paddle attachment, turn the mixer on for 30 seconds on the lowest setting just to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are well combined
-In a separate medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk and vanilla and lightly beat until well combined
-Add the butter to the dry ingredients and half of the egg/milk/vanilla mixture and turn the mixer on the lowest setting  and continue mixing on the lowest setting until the dry ingredients are well moistened (30-45s)
-Turn the mixer on to a medium-high setting and let it mix for 1 minute
-Turn the mixer off and add half of of the remaining egg/milk/vanilla mixture
-Turn the mixture on low-medium and mix until combined (30-45s)
-Repeat with the remaining egg/milk/vanilla mixture
-Divide the batter evenly between the two greased parchment paper lined cake pans and smooth/even the batter
-Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean
-Remove from the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes in the pans before removing from pans

Vanilla sugar syrup

1/2c (100g) granulated sugar
1/2c water
1/2 vanilla bean

-Combine the water and sugar into a small-medium saucepan
-Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the pan along with the pod
-Bring to a boil over medium heat until all of the sugar is dissolved
-Remove from heat and let cool completely

White chocolate mousse slightly adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2c chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons water or a flavored liqueur
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt
4 oz white chocolate melted and cooled

-In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened
-In the bowl of stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the cream until soft peaks are formed and then refrigerate for about 10 minutes
-In a small bowl, heat the water or liqueur in a microwave on high for about 45 seconds
-Remove from microwave and stir in the gelatin--set aside
-In another separate bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until the yolks are pale in color and the mixture is thickened (5 min)
-Next, beat in the water or liqueur/gelatin mixture
-Then beat in the white chocolate
-Remove bowl from the mixture and in two additions, fold in the chilled whipped cream
-Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until the mousse is set

Whipped cream

1c chilled heavy whipping cream
Granulated sugar to taste (depending upon how sweet you want the cream--I used about 2 tablespoons)

-Place the chilled whipping cream in the bowl of stand mixer
-With a whisk attachment, whisk the cream on medium-high speed
-When the whisk begins to leave tracks in the cream--the cream is thickening--slowly add the sugar and whisk until hard peaks form

8oz white chocolate melted and cooled (this is more than you'll need but you can always just let the extra white chocolate harden and use it for another recipe)

To put everything together (work as quickly as you can--you may need to refrigerate/freeze intermittently while you work to ensure that the mousse doesn't get too soft and things start to fall apart)

-First, slice each cake layer in half using a long serrated knife
-Next, lay one layer on your serving platter with the cut side facing up
-Using a pastry brush, brush the cooled vanilla sugar syrup on the layer evenly--don't drench it--just moisten it
-Add 1/3 of the while chocolate mousse on top of the bottom layer and spread evenly--or just let the weight of the next layer push it out over the layer...
-Repeat with the next 2 layers
-Add the last/top layer
-Wrap the cake in plastic wrap lightly and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour--mine was in there for a day...
-After the hour is up, remove the cake from the fridge/freezer and remove from the serving platter. -Place the cake on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet and pour the cooled melted white chocolate over the cake and use an offset spatula to guide it/smooth it out and to scrape off any excess white chocolate from the cake
-Carefully place the cake back on the serving platter and back in the fridge/freezer until the chocolate is set
-Once the chocolate has set, remove the cake from the fridge/freezer and frost with the whipped cream
-Decorate as desired--or just leave plain
-Refrigerate until ready to eat

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rhubarb Hand Pies

I could go on and on about how big of a pain in the ass making pie crust can be but this time it turned out pretty good so I just won't go there.  Instead I'll remark on the ease at which these seem to disappear after they're introduced to a bunch of people at a barbeque and the joy it was to finally get some rhubarb and make something with it.  

I've actually made 3 rhubarb desserts since it started showing up at the farmers market.  

These hand pies, a rhubarb crisp and a white chocolate mousse tart that I screwed up and then had the gall to serve to my co-workers knowing that it was going to taste just so (my apologies for that to any of you that are going to or will read this).  

All of this rhubarb madness got me thinking about why rhubarb is so popular as a dessert item.  I mean, it's actually a vegetable. 

I realize it isn't the first vegetable to be integrated within desserts-- which got me thinking more about things like zucchini bread and carrot cake.  

What's the point of adding these otherwise healthy foods into not-so-healthy baked goods?  It doesn't make the baked good any healthier.  

And let's be honest, do we like carrot cake and zucchini bread and strawberry rhubarb pie because these things actually taste like the vegetables that get baked into them?  Well, I kinda don't think so.  I think that as long as we pile a bunch of sugar on top of anything it's eventually going to taste good..  I could pulse and mince up some broccoli and fold it into my chocolate cake batter and I bet it would still taste good as long as I put a lot of sugar in it.  Right?

Well, maybe.  Maybe not.  I've never actually tried that and I could be wrong.  Maybe my cake would taste like broccoli or maybe it would taste just like chocolate cake with some added green "texture".  But what I do know is that I actually might be wrong about all of this because of these hand pies.

Yes yes, these hand pies have a good amount of sugar in them but it doesn't stop the one major characteristic of rhubarb from coming through which is its tartness.  Rhubarb is tart and I think that as long as you don't overwhelm your recipe with sugar--and other spices/ingredients--you can find a great balance and that tart trait can shine through gracefully.  In fact I think you could kick back the sugar amount even more and it would still be an amazing dessert that screamed rhubarb.  There are tons of recipes that always combine it with strawberries--and for good reason--but I think that rhubarb deserves its day in the sun.  These hand pies make the case for rhubarb.  Make them. Savor them. Revel in the tartness that rhubarb embodies.  This is the word of rhubarb.


For the pie crust:  

Lately I've gone back to basics with pie crust (for a while I was using the Cooks Illustrated recipe that uses vodka--but the honeymoon is over with that one--it's just too soft to deal with).  So, I've been using a real basic crust which I found on Saveur that has step by step instructions with pictures. You can use any pie crust recipe you wish but just make sure it is enough for what would be a top and bottom crust for a single 9" pie. 

For the filling:

1lb rhubarb stalks with the ends trimmed and cut into half inch slices
3/4c (150g) granulated sugar
2tbsp corn starch
1tsp lemon extract
pinch of salt

-Place the rhubarb, sugar and corn starch into a large bowl and toss it all together until the rhubarb is well coated
-Place the mixture in a medium saucepan and place on the stove over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, covered.  Then remove the cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes on medium heat until it is thick enough so that you can take a spoon and run it along the bottom of the pan and a trench quickly forms and then disappears.
-Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon extract and the salt
-Let cool completely.  Also--courtesy of a tip from Deb at Smitten Kitchen because it is quicker--you can spread the mixture on a plate and place in the freezer until it is cool enough.  It will thicken more as it cools.

To assemble:

1 large egg
1tbsp water
coarse sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture (which is what I used) for sprinkling on top

-Preheat the oven to 400 F
-Roll out your chilled pie dough--1 disc at a time--on a well-floured surface--to somewhere between a 1/8-1/4" thick
-Using a pastry cutter or a pizza cutter, cut 3x3 inch squares.  You could also probably use a 3" diameter biscuit or cookie cutter as well.  I got somewhere between 15-18 (I made these a week ago so I can't remember now..) hand pies total out of this dough.
-Once you've matched up your squares with a top and a bottom, in a small bowl whisk the egg and water together well and using a pastry brush, brush the bottom of each hand pie with the egg wash
-Spoon about a teaspoon of the mixture (maybe a tiny bit more--my one criticism is that they could have had just a tad more filling) on each of the bottom squares.
-Place the top square over the bottom with the filling and lightly press the edges to seal
-Brush the top square with the egg wash and sprinkle the course sugar on top
-Place pies on a parchment paper or silicon lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown 
-Remove from the oven and cool or eat warm