Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gingerbread Farnsworth House

One of the things I loved most about architecture school was making scale models.  And I felt that building my own gingerbread house would be a way to revive my model-making skills and get into the spirit of the gay ole holiday.  I had a whole tackle box full of scale model-making tools that were yearning for use again.  I used my X-acto knife for the first time since architecture school making this gingerbread house--paring knives just weren't cutting it.  It was fun.  

For those of you who don't know, the Farnsworth house is a residence--former residence turned architecture tourist attraction--in Plano, Illinois.  It was designed by Mies van der Roe some time during the 1940's-50's.  And I like it.  But that actually wasn't the reason I chose to re-create it using gingerbread cookie.  I thought it would be easy and also I have the Lego Architecture series Farnsworth house already built at home so it was easy to use it as a model for my model.  I basically made it 1 1/2x the size of the Lego house.  

And about that thought I had that there would be some ease to making it... I was semi-wrong.  I mean, if you look at the house it's just a glass box--simple enough?  Well yes and no.  That glass was what gave me some trouble.  I read that you can make sugar glass by the same manner you use to make caramel--you just have to cook it slowly and take it off the heat before it begins to turn that caramel color.  I practiced doing that several times and it worked but then the sugar would re-crystallize on the surface of the sugar glass and it would look like frosted glass.  I wanted clear glass.  But after several attempts, I gave up and just let the frost win.  I figured it would just make it look like the glass had frosted over in the winter climate.  Whatever.  

But that was actually the most difficult part about it.  I thought I was going to have some issue with propping the house up with the gingerbread columns but that royal icing works wonders and is seriously an excellent adhesive.  

Aside from that, I just decorated the rest of it as I pleased using m&m's, jelly beans, gummy bears, sno-caps and some other random candies--that part is completely up to you.

Recipe for gingerbread cookie dough from the Joy of Cooking:

1c butter
1c granulated sugar
1c unsulphured molasses
5c all-purpose flour DIVIDED
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1T ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Once it's melted, add the sugar and molasses and stir constantly over low-medium heat until all of the sugar has dissolved.  Dip your finger in the saucepan (make sure you don't burn yourself) to make sure it no longer feels gritty.  Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside to cool to a lukewarm temperature.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk 4 1/2c of flour and the rest of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the lukewarm butter/molasses/sugar mixture and mix on low speed until fully combined.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a wooden spoon or a big silicone spatula, fold in the remaining 1/2c of flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool-cold.  When you are ready to bake the dough, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Preheat the oven to 350 F. Roll out the dough and cut the patterns or shapes of the parts of the house you need and bake them for 12-15 minutes.  Let cool completely before use.

For the sugar glass, I went to Martha:

1 1/2c sugar
3/4c water

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar and water until all of the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.  Stop stirring and turn down the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 290 F or just before it starts to turn that caramel color. Immediately pour the mixture into a mold that you are using for whatever shape you want--let me know if you want to know precisely what I did.  I'm happy to share.  Let the sugar glass harden and cool completely before picking it up and using it.

Royal icing

1 large egg white
1c confectioners sugar DIVIDED

In a small microwave safe bowl, stir the egg white and 2/3c of the sugar together until fully combined. Place the bowl in the microwave and microwave it on high in 10 second increments until the temperature reaches 160 F.  Remove the bowl from the microwave and pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Pour the remaining sugar in the bowl.  Using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture until stiff peaks form and the icing has cooled completely.  Use immediately or store in a covered container in the fridge for a few days.  Just make sure you place some plastic wrap directly atop the icing so it doesn't harden before you use it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yule Log Cake (Bûche de Noël)

One of my favorite cafes makes a yule log cake each year around this time.  They look pretty traditional--at least from the ones I see on Pinterest.  But this year I saw one in their glass display case that was a little different--it had a bit of a modern take on it.  It had a beautiful sleek chocolate glaze covering it and then it was speckled with macarons.

It was interesting looking and I wanted to copy it.  So I found a swanky looking chocolate glaze recipe and I decided to give macarons one more shot because they were just going to be decorative pieces anyway so what did I really care if they turned out right or not...  And after much deliberating I decided to go with a chocolate genoise cake recipe in my Joy of Cooking cookbook.

Roll cakes can be tricky because they can crack when you roll them.  Thus far, I've only made a handful and I've never actually had that much trouble with them--but that might just be luck.  This one cracked a bit at one end but it wasn't devastatingly bad.  And that wasn't my qualm with this cake recipe.  It was the non-separation of egg whites and yolks that annoyed me.  Usually, when I've made these types of cakes, you separate the whites from the yolks and then whip the whites into a giant meringue and then fold it into the batter.

But here, you whip the whole egg into a giant frenzy--along with the rest of the wet ingredients--and then fold the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder) into the whipped up egg mass.  And then it takes forever to fold the dry ingredients into the puffed up egg mixture and just when you think you are done, you dive your spatula into the bowl and end up finding more and more dry ingredients that haven't been incorporated into the batter.  So you keep folding and folding and deflating and deflating--it's a pain in the ass.  I find that folding a meringue into wet batter is a much easier and less time consuming process.  Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be, maybe I was doing it all wrong to begin with but never again will keep my egg yolk and white together to make a cake like this.  Some things are better left to be separated.

Despite all of that baking drama, the cake turned out pretty good.  My macarons were just eh--they looked fine but I'm not going to go into it anymore than that.  I decided to make a butterscotch cream filling with a little bit of whiskey in it--from the recipe of another roll cake I made a while back.  It was pretty darn tasty.

The glaze was pretty swanky.  I still have a hard time glazing cakes with an even finish.  Plus it's hard to tightly roll a cake like this.  I ended up with some gaps at the ends of the roll so I couldn't get the glaze to set over them too well.  Thus, I ended up covering the holes with some decorative macarons. All in all, it was a good project.


Chocolate genoise cake from Joy of Cooking

1/2c + 1T cake flour sifted
1/2c + 1T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3c unsalted butter at room temp.
6 large eggs at room temp.
1c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2c of moistening syrup of your choosing--I used just a simple sugar syrup

Line a 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Sift together the flour and cocoa powder a few times to make sure it's very fine and set aside.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then remove from the heat and set aside.  Next, in a large heatproof mixing bowl add the eggs and the rest of the sugar.  Then, fill a large skillet--one that is big enough to fit your mixing bowl that is holding the eggs--with water.  Heat the water until it is barely simmering and then place the bowl with the eggs and sugar inside the skillet of water.  While whisking constantly, heat the mixture until the temperature is 110 F or just warm to the touch.  Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs until they have tripled in volume and are light in color--about 5 minutes.  Next is the hard part in my opinion...  Sift the flour/cocoa mixture over the top of the egg mixture in 3 additions and fold it into the egg mixture.  Be vigilant because you will constantly find more dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl so dig deep but with care until everything is fully incorporated.  Now, re-heat the butter until it's hot and transfer it to a medium bowl.  Then take about 1 1/2c of the egg mixture and fold it into the butter along with the vanilla. Lastly, pour that back into the rest of the egg mixture and fold to combine.  Spread the batter into the prepared baking sheet evenly and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.  Meanwhile, using a tea towel or some sort of clean dish towel--something large enough to cover the cake--lay it flat on your work surface and sprinkle cocoa powder over it evenly.  When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes in the pan.  Then, run a knife along the edges to make sure the cake has detached from the sides of the pan and invert it onto the tea towel.  If the cake is "hot", then let it cool a bit more but you want it warm to the touch when you roll it.  So when it's warm roll it and the towel together as tightly as you can.  Place the roll on a baking sheet and let it cool completely--I let mine go overnight so I could make the glaze.

Chocolate mirror glaze courtesy of Chef Rachida

10g gelatin sheets
210g granulated sugar
110g water
65g unsweetened cocoa powder
65g heavy whipping cream
50g dark chocolate--I used semi-sweet

Using a medium bowl filled with very cold water, place the gelatin sheets in it to bloom them--making sure they are fully submerged--for about 10 minutes.  In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water, cocoa powder and cream to a boil stirring constantly.  Once it's boiling, stir in the chocolate until it is completely melted.  Remove the pan from the heat while you wring out the excess water from the bloomed gelatin.  Then stir in the gelatin--excluding the water--until it's dissolved into the chocolate.  Using a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl, pass the chocolate through the sieve into the bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Whiskey butterscotch filling

3/4c butterscotch sauce at room temp.
1 T whiskey
2c cold heavy whipping cream

Transfer the butterscotch to a small bowl and stir in the whiskey until fully incorporated.  In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.  Then, pour the whiskey butterscotch sauce into the whipped cream and stir to fully combine the two.  Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.

To assemble

First, unroll the cake carefully.  Next, brush the moistening syrup over the entire cake and let it soak in for about 10 minutes.  Then, spread the whiskey butterscotch cream over the entire surface of the cake evenly.  Now, roll the cake back up--minus the tea towel--carefully and as tight as you can get it.  Place the rolled cake on a cooling rack of some sort that is sitting on some aluminum foil or wax paper, etc...or a rimmed baking sheet.  This is because you are going to pour the glaze over it and you want all of that dripped chocolate glaze to catch on something for ease of clean-up.  Take the cold glaze and warm it up in the microwave until it reaches 105 F.  Using a fine-mesh sieve, pass the warmed glaze through the sieve over the cake and then begin using an offset spatula to guide the glaze along the surface of the cake making sure that you cover the whole cake with glaze.  The sieve will help get rid of any bubbles in the glaze but it's not a necessity.  You'll have a lot of glaze leftover but that's not a bad thing because it's really fucking good and you can use it to cover brownies or something like that.  After you've glazed the whole cake you can decorate it with macarons or anything you like (nuts, chocolate chips, something else...) or leave it as is because it looks pretty swanky on it's own.  Lastly, refrigerate the cake for a few hours so that the glaze sets and everything is kosher before you transfer it to a serving platter or wherever it's final destination may be.

Cranberry and Gingerbread Eclairs

I made this cranberry mousse a few weeks ago intending on using it to add as a layer to a fancy cake I was making.

But that didn't work out--which is a different boring story in itself.

So I still had this mousse and I wasn't sure what to do with it until I was talking to a friend and he suggested I use it as a filling for some donuts. This seemed like a brilliant idea.

I made the dough for the donuts and a chocolate glaze to top them off with.  But that didn't work out either.  I couldn't get all of the donuts to proof and the ones that I could get to rise were like bricks when I fried them.

So I still had this fucking mousse and now I had a fucking chocolate glaze that wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Then I thought of eclairs and everything seemed to be going in a zen direction from then on.

Eclairs are actually pretty easy to make.  Pate choux--the dough for eclairs--takes about 5 minutes to make and piping them out to make eclairs (or spooning them to make cream puffs) is a cinch.  I think they are a pretty forgiving pastry to make.

The only trouble that one might have is making sure you bake them enough to dry the insides out enough to fill them.  But I think I've figured that part out. Another thing I've noticed about pate choux is that a little dough goes a long way.

The recipe I use makes a lot of 4 inch eclairs.  In fact, I used up all of my cranberry mousse and still had over a dozen unfilled eclairs left.  So, I had to come up with another filling.

And in the spirit of it being the holiday season, gingerbread flavored pastry cream seemed to be appropriate.


Cranberry mousse:

12oz or 1 bag of fresh cranberries
2c granulated sugar
2c heavy whipping cream
1/4c orange juice (I used freshly squeezed)
1 1/2 tsp gelatin

In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine and cook the cranberries, sugar and orange juice until the cranberries start to pop.  It took me between 20-30 minutes if memory serves.  Once they have all popped, remove the pan from the heat and pour the cranberries into a blender or food processor and puree them until you have smooth mixture.  Pour the pureed cranberries back into the saucepan and stir in the gelatin.  Turn the heat back onto medium-low and cook until the cranberries thicken and can coat the back of a spoon--which took me about 10 minutes.  Remove them from the heat and let them cool completely, then put them in the fridge for at least an hour to get them cold. Once the cranberries are cold, place the cream in a large mixing bowl and whisk (either with a hand-held mixer or a standing one) until stiff peaks are formed.  Remove the cranberry sauce/jelly from the fridge and fold them into the whipped cream until you have a cohesive mixture.  Use immediately or store them in a covered container in the fridge.

Gingerbread flavored pastry cream:

4 large egg yolks
1/3c sugar
2T all-purpose flour
2T cornstarch
1 1/2c milk
1T vanilla extract or paste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves

In the bowl of stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch until pale yellow and a bit thicker--about 2 minutes.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the milk to a very light simmer or just until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan.  Once that happens, remove the pan of warm milk from the stove.  While whisking constantly, pour about a third of the warm milk into the egg mixture until well combined.  Once you've whisked it, pour the egg/warm milk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and return it to the stove. While whisking constantly over medium heat, cook the pastry cream until it becomes thicker and begins to bubble. Once it starts to bubble, cook it for about 45-60 seconds longer still whisking.  I can't emphasize enough the importance of constantly whisking the pastry cream over the heat because if you don't you can easily burn the bottom of it and then you'll have to sift out burnt portions of pastry cream and that just sucks (I speak from experience).  Lastly, remove the pastry cream from the heat, add in the vanilla and spices and whisk to combine. Scrape the pastry cream into a clean bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of it and let it cool completely--you can also place it in the fridge to speed up the process but just make sure the plastic wrap is sitting directly on top of the pastry cream.

Pate choux (choux paste):

1c water
1 stick of butter
1/2 tsp salt
1c all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt.  Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil.  Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the flour all at once and begin to stir it rapidly.  Continue stirring--the mixture will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and form a sort of dough/paste mass in the middle.  Once this happens continue to cook it while stirring constantly for another minute or two in order to cook off some more of the water.  Then, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool down for about 5 minutes--before you add the eggs you don't want the dough/paste to be too hot or else you'll cook them too quickly but at the same time you want the dough somewhat warm/hot.  After your 5 minute cool-down, add each egg one at a time stirring after each addition until the egg is fully incorporated.  It might look like the dough is breaking up but just keep stirring and it will come back together.  Once you've added in each egg, let the dough cool to room temperature--or again you can place it in the fridge with a piece of plastic wrap over it.

Chocolate glaze:

1/2c unsalted butter
1/4c whole milk
1T light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
4oz semi-sweet chocolate
2c powdered sugar

Combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla in a medium sauce pan.  Heat over low until the butter is melted and everything is fully combined.  Once the butter is melted, add the chocolate and stir over low heat until it's all melted.  Remove the mixture from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar until it's fully incorporated.  Use immediately or set aside to cool a bit.  But if you wait too long to use it, you may have to warm it up a tad before you glaze the eclairs because otherwise the glaze might be too thick.

To assemble:

First, bake the eclairs.  Line a sheet pan with either parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Place the choux paste into a piping bag fitted with a plain half inch tip.  Pipe 4" long logs onto the sheet pans leaving about a 2" separation around each log--you'll end up with a couple dozen of them--not all on one baking sheet.  Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes longer--I tend to go the full 20 minutes to make sure I dry out the middles of each eclair.  Remove the eclairs from the oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack.

Once the eclairs are cool, place the cranberry mousse into a piping bag fitting with a plain 1/4"-1/2" tip.  Do the same with the gingerbread flavored pastry cream.  Using a sharp paring knife, cut a little slit on each end of the eclair.  Carefully insert one of the tips of the filled piping bags into each slit and pipe in the filling slowly.  Fill them to your liking but I usually fill them until I inflate the empty eclair a bit--I judge this by feeling along the length of the eclair and making sure the filling has reached the entirety of it.  Fill as many eclairs as you can using all of the filling.  I had some empty eclairs leftover which I just placed in an air tight container and froze for another day.

Now for the chocolate glaze...  If your glaze has cooled and is too thick to dip an eclair in and glaze it then place it in the microwave for about 10 second intervals until it is at a consistency where dipping is possible.  Once you have a good dipping consistency, dip each filled eclair into the glaze.  Set aside to the allow the glaze to set.

Eat eclair.