Sunday, November 29, 2009

End of November Post

I thought I'd end this month by discussing something I made at the end of last month - Marshmallow Ghouls for Halloween! I had, as usual, pretty elaborate plans for Halloween - I wanted to make macaroon candy corn, decorated sugar cookies, and these little ghosts. But as I had only a mere 4 days before Halloween (this also had to include my costume-making time), I had to pick one recipe to try out. Homemade marshmallows, other than being delicious, have major wow-factor and I thought I'd test out piping them out in different shapes.

I think I discussed in previous post on the ease of making your own 'mallows - really, it's easy! You just need a heavy and reliable saucepan and a stand mixer. You could use a hand mixer, but it would take a long time. A long, long time. The trick for piping and shaping marshmallows is to whip up the syrup so that it's really thick and strands of marshmallow are whipping around the bowl - that's when you know it's ready.

They look a little melty, and I did the chocolate super-fast, but otherwise, not bad, right?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buttercream in a Flash!

I think I'm starting to get a hang of this buttercream thing. I think it helps having different recipes to test out various methods. This time, twenty-something chocolate cupcakes were topped with strawberry buttercream, which were then topped with the previously mentioned special-for-purchase raspberries.

The cake I used was a classic dark chocolate cake that I've used for years - it's extremely reliable, light (yet rich), fluffly (yet dense), and delicious. There are definitely a lot of smudge marks on that page! It was a last-minute frosting job - the event I was going to was further away than expected and it was a last-minute decision to attend. I'm glad I did!

As a result, as soon as I got home, the butter got softened, and away we go!


The short form - 3 egg whites + 1 cup sugar, whisked over simmering water until the sugar was dissolved and the mixture was warm to the touch. Stick that bad boy in a mixer and whip until good 'n ready - and then gradually integrate a cup of butter and cup of jam. Yeah - not for the dieters, for sure, but it was delicious! And easy!

It does look a little....congealed, right? But even in the Martha vid - they looked kind of gloppy. I'm wondering if the jam separates the fat a bit to make it not-as-appetizing-looking.

So apart from that horrendous first buttercream, I'm 2 for 3! Let the good luck continue!

(below left: up close shot of the cupcake, below right: tray of cupcakes)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Sunday. Another cake. Mmmmm.

(ah, will I ever format my pictures again? Maybe one day. But they actually look really decent before I do all ma fancy edging. So perhaps for quality's sake, I'll keep them....'raw'. Maybe borders?)

I let Annie know that a cake was a comin' her way - what flavour would she like? "Chocolate..." is the response I received. "But what kind of chocolate?" I replied, "there's dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, chocolate orange, chocolate with coconut...!!"

"Give me direction...!" I pleaded, "I'll give you until Monday to decide."

Monday came and went with no response. :( Luckily for me, the local grocery store would make my decision for me. 2 packets of raspberries for $5! Score! Get me 4, Mothership!

The goods:

Dense chocolate cake base, doused liberally with Raspberry Marie Brizard (raspberry liquer, not as good as Chambord, though), topped with fresh raspberries and then covered in chocolate mousse. (two layers)
Cake was then covered on the sides with crumbled chocolate wafers, the top was edged with more raspberries and then ganached to within an inch of it's sweet, sweet life.

Ooh yeah.

(Top Left: It's like a wafer cobblestone. Like from a Willy Wonka dream. Top Right: "Hey, watch what you're doing with that knife!" Bottom Left: I practiced that icing writing three times on Saran Wrap (on top of a template) before doing it for real. Bottom Right: On first glance, it looks like a landslide disaster. On closer inspection - it's just the miracle of dessert.)

While nibbling on my second slice, I was asked whether or not this took me a long time. Yes and no. Yes, it took about a week from start to finish, but I had delayed this cake for a week (frozen the cake layers for the days in between). Technically it would have taken me....three days? One to make the cake. Another to do the mousse and chill. Another to assemble. But that's doing it leisurely and on a good pace. If you try and attempt to do it all in a day - forget it. You're not giving yourself enough breathing time to enjoy the process - not to mention time to do another cake in case you mess up. (I did mess up the mousse - forgot the gelatin, added it in TOO late, made the custard too watery. Start again. Thank G for Costco-quantity FRO eggs.)

But each step, really didn't take me too long. I suppose I've made enough cakes that each step can get completed fairly quickly.

But it's all avec l'amour, mon amie! Bon anniversaire!

(the Lu-monster. Her bark is far worse than her non-existent bite.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It tasted better than it looks.

It was T & J's housewarming party and I warmed their house by bringing a cake! A belated birthday cake for J, actually - this creation was a tower of crepes topped with chocolate ganache and candied hazelnuts. Yes, I'm in a candy-ing phase... kind of like this summer's ice cream blizzard.

I had been wanting to make this cake for a long time - I believe it was originally featured in Martha's January 2006 "Year of Cakes" spread. Yes, I have been holding onto this recipe for almost four years.

I'm glad I waited - I think if I had made it in 2006, it would have been a disaster. In the almost-four years since, I've really improved my cake and dessert making skills. Not to mention scheduling.

(above: view of cake in box)

Let's take a look at the pictures (unformatted again!) before we begin dissecting:

(upper left: candied hazelnuts with tails - air bubbles - reheated caramel? 'Virgin' caramel yields clear caramel? upper right: originally, I had 'x' amount of hazelnuts in the centre of the cake ONLY. However, I had a plate of caramel tail scraps, and therefore it became a nest of caramel. Bottom left: a stack of crepes. Bottom right: a cross section of the cake - with layers of strawberries and various other fillings. Funny, we ate lasagne for dinner too.)

So. Final thoughts.

The recipe called for 8" crepes. I went with 10" crepes because I would be feeding a large crowd. However, I used 10.5" - 11" pan. In retrospect, if I wanted to really duplicate the cake, I would have filled the entire pan instead of trying to make 10" crepes. All the layers were different in diameter and although it really didn't make much difference in terms of height, it just didn't look as nice. I also think making thicker crepes would have yielded a taller cake. This cake was tall, yes, but it wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped.

I used a variety of fillings - Nutella whipped cream, chocolate frosting, strawberries, hazelnuts, and icing sugar. I'm glad I used a variety of fillings - I think using the same one would have been pretty boring. Although my final results was a little...lumpy.

But like the title, it tasted better that it looked.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two down...many more to go.

(sorry, no formatted pics this post - I spent this Sunday afternoon scrubbing my kitchen down = no time!)

As I meandered the aisles of the local drugstore, I realized that the holidays were just around the corner. Well, less 'realized' and more 'hit-in-the-face' with all the seasonal chocolate already on display. Out with Halloween, in with Christmas! I admit, I do enjoy holiday chocolate - especially the novelty box sets. I am looking forward to the Loacker Advent calendar! Maybe I'll buy one for work and one for home. Hee hee....

Anyway - this past week I made two cakes, a Boston Cream and a Maple Pecan. The Boston Cream was for a coworker and I forgot to take photos - but another colleague did, so I'll have to remind myself to ask for the pics.

I didn't quite realize that the Maple Pecan birthday was quite so soon. As a result, I had to pull together a cake in an afternoon. A fully frosted and assembled three-layer cake. It was ambitious, but I knew I could do it - if I was smart. Here are the results:

The cake itself was flavoured with maple with a very generous helping of chopped pecans. It was frosted with a maple buttercream (it worked this time!). I used a different recipe for , provided by the lovely Martha Stewart. It was a lot easier than the Joy of Cooking version, although it did get a little soupy. A quick 15 min in the freezer solved that and it fluffed up nicely after that (also with the help of about 1/2 cup of icing sugar as well as a stabilizer).

I couldn't get a good pic of the finished and decorated cake, I hadn't really thought of a good concept on how to frame the shot, so here are a few of cake slices.

A few final comments.... This year for Christmas, I'm going to ask for the following:
  • cake decorating triangle
  • cake decorating turntable
  • cake decorating book
Cake decorating is difficult, yo!

Almost forgot - the cake was decorated with candied pecans. Very easy to do - caramelize 1 cup of sugar over medium high heat until medium-amber in colour. Gently stir in 1 cup of pecans and make sure each nut is coated. Take off the heat (if you haven't already) and CAREFULLY remove each pecan onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. They recommended two forks. I recommend a long skewer. It's less messy if you work quickly and doesn't collect as much caramel build-up. Let cool 5 min and then decorate (or eat)!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Comin' back with a vengeance!

It was a busy, busy October. You could say I was thoroughly baked out. Much of it went undocumented.

Thanksgiving: Chocolate-coated shortbread tart filled with crushed blackberry-whipped cream and topped with strawberries.

(I'm particularly proud of this creation. What started as a mocha roulade turned into a tart. This is the second time a jelly roll sponge has failed me. I will conquer it! I am determined to make a buche de noel this year. At the end of the night, I was very impressed with my kitchen improvisational skills.)

Boxed cookie hurricane: Classic chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies and said maple leaf cookies.

Halloween: Marshmallow Ghouls (upcoming post)

So - you'll have to excuse my lag in posting. I had a great week in Montreal and Toronto where I ate enough foie gras for the next decade and had more drink in one week than in the last few months (which, quite frankly, isn't a lot anyway). It was terrific meeting up with old friends and catching up - it's funny what a few years of adulthood can do to a bunch of college cronies. We've got jobs and commitments now! I miss them already and am hoping to see them again soon!

But November...ohh...November. Birthday of J. Plus two of my best gal pals. Also another Toronto college crony. And a coworker. Mama mia, thas a lotta cakes.

Better get butterin'!