Happy Birtday?

Today was Tartlet 2’s birthday.  Or, in a Cake Wrecks worthy entry, it was her birtday. Yes, on close inspection it really *does* say BIRTDAY! I noticed it right away at the Meijer bakery, but they had smooshed in the writing already by dropping the H, so I didn’t think anything was to be gained by arguing with non-English speaking lady with the decorator’s bag in her hand. Who knows what it might have said with a ‘correction’. I think I was the only one who noticed it. The 9 yr old crowd is much more interested in Troy and Gabriella. *swoon*  or *gag*, depending on your taste.

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Dipping With The Daring Bakers

Once again it’s time to see what the Daring Bakers have been whipping up. This month our hostesses, Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell, selected Cheesecake Pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor.  There were mixed results among the Daring Bakers and mine weren’t among the best by any means.  I had trouble with the cheesecake being too soft, despite a longer baking time than the recipe calls for, and I ended up freezing it to get it to stay on the stick and be able to dip it in the chocolate.  Others I rolled in graham cracker crumbs to get that cheesecake taste and texture.  I really like the idea of these and I might try it again with a different cheesecake recipe to see if I can get a firmer texture.  The cheesecake tasted fabulous, though, and was incredibly creamy.  Go check out the other DBs because there were some great results.

Recipe after the jump.

Continue reading

SHF: Asian Invasion

As promised, I’m back with more information on this birthday cake. Ramona’s birthday is on Tuesday and she said what she would really like to have is a steamed sponge cake such as could be found in a bakery in Taiwan, but sadly unavailable in central Illinois. Just knowing that there was a cake that couldn’t be found here, I was inspired to attempt it. What’s the worst that could happen? Dessert in the name of science. Off to the laboratory, Igor . . . er, the kitchen.

Coincidently, La Petite Boulangette selected ‘Asian Invasion’ as the theme for Sugar High Friday (the brilliant blog event created by Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess. Although our hostess suggested using Asian ingredients in a typical dessert, I opted for the dessert requested by my Asian friend.

After reading several recipes, I tried this one at Cooks.com. When I got to the actual steaming step, I found that my new 9-inch cake pan was too tall to put the lid on my wok and I don’t have a steamer. What to do? I read a bit online and someone else made their steamed sponge cake in the oven with a water bath and a foil tent. It took over 1.5 hrs for it to finish cooking. The frosting is slightly sweetened whipping cream and there is a layer of strawberries and whipping cream in the center. The final cake was tasty, but the top was a bit chewy from steaming so long; it also wasn’t as tall as I had expected/hoped. After we analyzed that cake, I decided that I would attempt it at least once more, using almond extract as Ramona said that would be the best (the original calls for lemon but I had orange on hand and used it instead).

I also saw another description of making a steamed sponge cake in which the person beat the egg whites separately and I thought that would help achieve the light, airy, delicate texture Ramona described. So I took the recipe I used the first time and separated the eggs and went on from there. But after beating the egg yolks and sugar and folding in the flour, I was left with a thick paste that I couldn’t possibly incorporate egg whites into. So rather than beat the egg whites, I dumped them into the mixing bowl and beat the entire mixture until it was fluffy and looked like cake batter. I steamed it in Ramona’s bamboo steamer for about 45 minutes and ended up with the cake on the left below. Despite its Lilliputian size and obvious birthday cake failure it tasted wonderful, but it used the last 1/2 t. of almond extract I had and I was without a vehicle for the day, so I decided to try again with the orange flavor. I followed the original recipe and method again as I did the first time, but using the bamboo steamer (it took over 30 minutes to steam, rather than the 20 minutes in the recipe). That yielded the cake below on the right.

The third time was a charm, apparently. It still doesn’t have quite the ‘melt in your mouth’ texture Ramona was looking for, though. It definitely tasted better with the almond extract, however, and if I ever made it again I would certainly want to use the almond.

I don’t think this will become the new birthday standard in our house, but it was fun to experiment with a new method. It’s also fun to make special cakes for people, like I did for Crystal (twice, even) and Mrs. V. Happy Birthday, Ramona!

Now I wonder what Natalie, Ellie & Ruth will request . . .  😉

The Daring Bakers Party With Dorie

This month the Daring Bakers tackled Dorie Greenspan’s beautiful Perfect Party Cake (p. 250 of Baking, recipe below). As soon as I flipped through the book, I knew I wanted to attempt this cake some day. I rarely have had a white cake come out completely white — there’s always some ‘golden’ edge, much as I’d like mine to turn out like Glenna’s, it never does. So, while I admired Dorie’s cake, I doubted mine would look much like it. However, I was pleased with the final result.

I baked this for Easter dinner, starting it the night before. My first run through, being quite distracted with making dinner, cleaning the house, kids running around, and not having a functional timer, I overbaked the cakes by 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES on a white cake. No, it wasn’t close to white. After the kids were in bed, I started over. The Husband helped me keep track of the time. It wasn’t completely without a little color, but it was probably the whitest cake I’ve made and it didn’t dome at all, which was nice. It did seem particularly thin; I was hoping it would make thicker layers but I knew as I spread it in the pan that it wasn’t going to be very high. The second one was higher than the first and I think the amount of whipping the butter and sugar was the critical difference. Warm butter, lots of whipping, and mine still never achieved a ‘light and fluffy’ stage, but more is definitely better here.

After the cakes were baked, The Husband convinced me we should go to bed and ‘get up early tomorrow to finish’. These are always famous last words in this house. It never works out quite like he plans. I woke up an hour later than ‘early’ and as I scrambled to make the buttercream I realized that I didn’t have the needed *3* sticks of butter. I had one. Boo. And I wasn’t about to run out to the store b/c I didn’t have time for that. So I punted and made a cream cheese frosting with lemon flavor. It was very good. I think the buttercream would have held the structure of the cake much more firmly and the next time I make this I’d like to try that, but I wasn’t going to bake another this week to experiment. Also, Dorie notes that this cake is best served at room temperature, and I can’t stress enough how significant that is. I regrettably served mine from the fridge, but the next day I ate half a slice before a prayer meeting and finished it afterward and the flavor was *SOOOO* much better after it was warm. So, really, serve this at room temp! It makes a difference.

With the first round of overbaked cake, which was still lovely on the inside, I went with an old standby for ‘ruined cake’ and made trifle from it. I used both strawberries and raspberries and it was especially good with a little blueberry syrup drizzled on it.

Thank you Morven for the excellent challenge! Recipe after the jump. Continue reading

Ironic

I’ve never had any food allergies. Sure, I’m lactose intolerant, but that’s not a food allergy. It just means my body doesn’t have the lactase enzyme to munch up the lactose sugar that is found in milk. I can have a Lactaid pill and consume most dairy products painlessly. For the first 30 years of my life, however, I didn’t use Lactaid so simply avoided dairy. It has made me sympathetic to those with food allergies.

cheesy crab stuffed mushroom

I’ve mentioned that I have been baking for the upcoming ladies’ retreat for our church. I’m the cook for the two ladies with food allergies. I’ve cooked for them before, and generally it hasn’t been too difficult. On Saturday, Mrs. V. mentioned that she would like to figure out how to make a cereal bar similar to one she purchased at $1/bar. I thought that would be something nice to make for the retreat since everyone else gets some sort of snackages.

jam filled scones

Off I went in search of the few flours she can have . . . amaranth, millet, rice. But these gluten-free flours need a little help in baking so I picked up some xanthan gum too. Couldn’t find the arrowroot powder. (This would be crucial later). I bought some walnuts, the only nuts she can have. What you might not realize, if you aren’t accustomed to baking gluten-free foods, is these weird, different grains and xanthan gum are actually laced with gold dust. At least, that was my understanding as I walked out with a couple of puny bags for about 1/4 of my usual weekly grocery expenses. The reason all those people who shop at Strawberry Fields and in the Natural Food section of the Round Barn IGA are thin isn’t because they ride their bikes and eat beans and soy . . . it’s because they can’t afford to eat more than they do! 😉

zucotto slice

I read the ingredient list of the bars she could eat and it seemed like it could be divided into ‘sweet sticky’ and ‘grain’ ingredients. So I went home and mixed together some stuff. I used maple syrup and applesauce for sweet/sticky and flavor and then added in white rice flour, amaranth (let me just interject an ‘ugh’ here — that stuff just stinks. It reminded me of the smell of corn silk that is left to sit and ferment for a couple of days.), ground flax, and some puffed millet that I was hoping I could munch with my rolling pin but I couldn’t so it went in like mini-styrofoam packaging puffs, xanthan gum, and some chopped figs.

chocolate flower

I may not have baked it quite long enough but, nonetheless, it came out sticky and gummy. But worse, much worse, when I taste tested one (blech!) my hands swelled up. And a few minutes later when I took a sip of water, my lips and tongue felt swollen and numb. My favorite food scientist and resident allergy expert, Crystal, said, yep. Allergic reaction to either amaranth or millet, since I’ve had the others before. Ironic. Not necessarily funny.

muffin

Crystal came and inspected my failure and suggested arrowroot powder to give the funky gluten-free grains some lift, a little less xanthan gum maybe, less applesauce. I told her that I know what to do with flour, sugar, and eggs but this gluten-free stuff makes me feel like I need to start a new blog series . . . ‘Clueless in the Kitchen’. I think that’s her new nickname for me! 😉

And, no, these photos have nothing to do with the recipe failure.

Hay, Hay, It’s A Caramelized Pear Tart!

carmelized pear tart

You know, sometimes with this blogging stuff I wonder just how much of the back story I ought to share with you. I mean, do I *really* want to tell you about my disasters or just gloss over all that and share pictures of beautiful foods and success stories? But with this one, unless I first share about the tart that *wasn’t*, I won’t have much to say about the tart that is, er, was.

When Trinigourmet announced the 15th Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day! with a theme of tarts, well of course I had to play along . . . what else would a Fruit tart do? I saw a cover photo of a back issue of the Donna Hay magazine with a pear tart and knew that’s what I wanted to make. But I don’t have that issue and I didn’t find the recipe so I thought I’d improvise. I do have an issue of Donna Hay’s magazine with a custard tart. I thought I’d use nutmeg rather than cinnamon and I wanted to put pear slices on the top.

pear tart

I started by making my own crust with pecans in it. What I didn’t realize is that when I was removing the beans from the blind baking, I cracked the crust. When I started pouring the custard into the crust, well, let’s just say I was glad the kids were outside with The Husband. I mean, I want to enlarge their vocabulary and encourage proper enunciation, but just not with *those* words. The custard filling poured out the bottom of the tart pan through the crack in the crust and while I was trying to pour it back into a bowl the crust, or at least pieces of it, fell completely out of the tin.

slice of tart

Not to be undone over a little thing like complete failure, I threw together a new crust. This time I used my favorite shortbread crust with some pecans added to it. Then I threw a partial stick of butter in my large frying pan and tossed in a little brown sugar and white sugar and sprinkled it with some nutmeg and let it simmer until it was a thick liquid. Next, I added three sliced pears and a splash of lemon juice and let them simmer for a few minutes, stirring them in the sauce. I cooked them until the pears were beginning to get tender but still firm and opaque. They made quite a bit of juice in the pan so after I pulled the pears out and arranged them on my crust, I added a little more sugar to the pan and let it cook until it was thick again. I poured some of the caramel sauce over the pears and the rest I used to serve with the ice cream.

tart and ice cream

So, although this project was inspired by Donna Hay, it doesn’t actually include any of her recipes and doesn’t look like the picture on her magazine. But I think we’ll still call it a success and sweep the rest under the rug.

New Math

Tonight we were giving away our last available car seat (yay!) and threw in dinner with it. I didn’t take any pictures of the dinner — grilled citrus chicken, grilled red snapper, mango/pineapple salsa, potatoes, and green salad. For dessert I made a nectarine & blueberry tart but the filling was less than stellar.

nectarine-blueberry-tart.jpg

I combined approximately equal amounts of yogurt and lemon-lime curd. I thought I bought vanilla yogurt but it was plain but, still, it was very thick Stonyfield Farms yogurt and the curd, of course, was quite thick. Thick + Thick = Thin & Runny isn’t an equation with which I’m familiar. pH shift broke the structure? Maybe Crystal will know what happened. It was also a bit too tart overall, but it lived up to its name!

Thing 1 was pretty funny this afternoon. After I was lamenting the thinness of my filling she suggested that I write a rather large note to myself and hang it by the cookbooks: Do Not Mix Yogurt and Curd for Tart Filling! Then I had her hold a light for me as I experimented with different picture taking and she requested that she get credit for being the photographer’s assistant.

Photography by Fruittart
Photographer’s assistant: Thing 1