Sunday, December 27, 2009


The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I chose to use Y's recipe from the The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.  We were given the following guidelines:

Your house can be as big or as small as you'd like, but it MUST meet these requirements:
  1. Everything needs to be edible - no glue or inner non-food supports allowed.
  2. You must bake the gingerbread yourself, whichever recipe you choose. No graham cracker houses please!
  3. You must use some sort of template. If you don't use ours, take a picture or link to what you do use in your final post. 
  4. Your house must be able to stand on its own. If you want to go adding balconies with candy stick buttresses or whatever go right ahead, but the main house itself must be free-standing.

Here is the recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, well packed
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda [I used only 1/2 t to reduce puffing during baking]
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour
  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Cut patterns for the house out of cardboard.
  3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place. [I rolled out the dough on a floured surface, roughly 1/4 inch thick, cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
  4. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
After the gingerbread pieces came out of the oven and cooled a bit, I put them on a sheet covered with foil and sprinkled crushed candies into the windows.  Popped them back in the oven for a few minutes and they melted beautifully.

I used a different Royal Icing recipe than the one listed in the challenge.  I don't like to use raw eggs, so this is my go-to recipe:

Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. meringue powder
5 tbsp. water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating.  Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated.  Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.

I unfortunately didn't get any pictures of the template I used to create my house.  :(  The pieces got mixed up in all of my wrapping paper scraps and got thrown away before I got pictures.  But believe me, there was a very complicated process which involved drawing the design on graph paper, cutting out the pieces to make sure they all fit together and then transferring those shapes to poster board.  The graph paper was very thin and knew it would be a nightmare to try to keep flat on the dough while I cut around it, so the poster board made that part of the process much easier.

I modeled my house after our house, seen here:

I just realized how old of a picture that is.  This was the day we moved in and since then we ripped out the louvers to expose a wonderful porch and we added a railing to match the upstairs porch.  I had grand dreams of having the porches and dormers on my gingerbread house, but ran into a couple snafus along the way.  Most of my baked pieces were spared from massive puffing, shrinking and warping that other Daring Bakers experienced... except for my porches.  For some reason they curled so much that I couldn't use them.  Oh well, it allowed the cute little door and wreath to be seen much better, but I was very sad that didn't work out.  I was even going to use white Good & Plenty candies to make the railings... oh well.  Now, if you scroll back up and look at the finished product you'll notice there are no dormers... yeah, well, I was only going to make one except I icing-ed the wrong side of one of the dormer sides and there was no way I was going to make a whole new batch of royal icing and dye my hands red once again just to icing a freaking dormer, so I left that off.  At least I got the bay window right.

So here are the pictures of the construction:

I kept my royal icing VERY stiff so that I wouldn't have to worry about the side falling down while it dried.  The downside?  Sore hands and icing that was very difficult to control - hence the globs here and there.

My boyfriend thought it would be fun to take a picture of me delicately placing the roof on - I think he was secretly taking bets on whether the whole thing would fall apart.

Here is the back of the house:

And the front, sans dormer:

The final product once again:

I had grand plans to add landscaping, but after making cookies for Christmas for my family I didn't have the energy for another batch of icing.  Maybe next year!  Thanks to Anna and Y for this challenge!  I had a lot of fun doing this and will probably try again next year with a bigger, badder version.  I'll be sure to do it early enough and space it out enough so I don't run out of steam!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Daring Bakers October Challenge - French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was so excited when I saw what October's challenge was.  I've been seeing these little delicate beasts pop up all over the place recently and I've been dying to try them myself.  I'm not typically one to vary too much from a recipe, but these suckers just beg to be tinted, flavored and laced with all sorts of things.  The first thought I had, as we were approaching Halloween, was that it needed to include pumpkin.  So I settled on spiced macarons (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) and got started, completely ignoring all of the trials and tribulations of my fellow Daring Bakers.  I'm not going to go into details, but I think this picture just about sums it up:
So I did some research (thanks to all of the early bakers this month and a HUGE thanks to Audax and Helen of Tartelette for all their tips)... found out I over-mixed the meringue as well as over-mixed during the macaronage (process of combining the meringue and almond flour/sugar mixture), used the wrong ratio of sugar to flour... I did a LOT wrong.  So I adjusted the recipe quite a bit (see below for recipe), which yeilded this:
FEET!  For those of you who aren't familiar with macarons, "feet" are what the ruffles on the bottom of the cookies are called.  No, I'm not making up all these terms. Here's a close up of the feet:

I added a little something extra to this batch... ok, so maybe I borrowed the idea from a fellow Baker (sorry I can't remember who you were, but it was a brilliant idea, so thanks!)... I added some Starbucks Via instant coffee to the batter to give it a latte twist.  I filled them with a pumpkin/cream cheese/mascarpone cheese recipe that I "borrowed" from Lisa over at Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives.  Thanks Lisa!  It's fab!  So here is my Pumpkin Spice Latte macaron:

I wanted to try a batch with more of a Halloween flair... ok, so maybe, now that I got the right consistency and feet, I was starting to become addicted to these uber sweet sandwiches with endless color/flavor combinations... and I wanted to make sure my blend of recipes and resulting feet wasn't a fluke.  So I got out my black food coloring and ended up with these:
Clearly I needed more food coloring, because these look pretty gross.  I would have added more coloring, but I mixed it in during the macaronage phase and I would have ended up over mixing if I had tried to add in more.  In the future, I would recommend mixing in any food coloring when you blend the flour and confectioners sugar together.
Regardless, I think I was able to spin it nicely... here we have ghoulish grey macarons with some green slime... voila!
They are actually lemon macarons (regular recipe with lemon zest), filled with lime curd. 

Macarons (my own interpretation of the recipe)
2 Egg Whites
1 1/4C + 1 3/4T confectioner's sugar
3/4C + 2 1/2t Almond Flour
5t extra fine granulated sugar
For pumpkin latte macarons, add 1/8t cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and 1/2t Starbucks Via coffee.

(Below are instructions from Tartelette's as I found hers to be the easiest process for me)

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry.
Combine the almonds, powdered sugar and spices in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 280F (I had to adjust this to 300F for my oven). Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool completely. If you have trouble removing the shells, try peeling the parchment paper away from the macaron as opposed to trying to lift the macaron from the sheet.  If they stick at at, leave on the counter to dry out some more, or put back into a cooling oven to help them dry.  Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon in the center of one shell and top with another one.

Pumpkin Filling
2 oz room temperature cream cheese
2 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup canned or fresh cooked and pureed pumpkin
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1. In a bowl, beat together both cheeses.  Add pumpkin, the sugar and spice.  Mix until smooth and uniform.  Chill for about an hour or so.
2.  Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, then pipe onto every other macaron shell  and sandwich with another macaron shell.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vol-au-Vent = roll till you drop

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

I was a little concerned and really put this off till the end of the month, but in the end it wasn't too bad.  I think the part that really scared me was the 5 hour prep time.  I'm proud to say now that I've made puff pastry from scratch, but the bruises this challenge left on my palms and forearms (when my palms got tired, I used my forearms to roll it out), make me want to buy the ready-made version in the future.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to make this baker's challenge a savory one since neither me nor my boyfriend have much of a sweet tooth.  I filled the vol-au-vents with a red wine beef stew.  The recipe I found was less than specific and I had to improvise, which doesn't work for me, since I'm used to baking, which is more of a science and doesn't require interpretation.  Regardless, it turned out alright.  Here's the recipe for the vol-au-vent:

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
plus extra flour for dusting work surface
Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.
Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)
Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.
Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.
Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.
To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.
Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).
With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Here's a picture of mine being rolled out and "turned" the second time.  It's now back into the fridge for a while...

Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.
The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Here are some pictures of my vol-au-vents baking:

Here is one nice and puffed up:

I used 2 rings on each base to get better height since I knew I was going to use these for a main course.  Here's more of an ariel view:

And here's the "recipe" for the red wine beef stew:
1.Heat oil in a hot pan, add garlic, fry for a bit. Add onions, fry for a bit. Add diced beef and fry till beef is sealed
season with thyme, salt and pepper pour in stock and red wine, once it starts boiling turn down heat. Season with more thyme, basil and place bay leaves into the liquid whole. Simmer for 1 hour uncovered to let the liquid reduce.
3. pour in stock and red wine, once it starts boiling turn down heat. Season with more thyme, basil and place bay leaves into the liquid whole. Simmer for 1 hour uncovered to let the liquid reduce. 

4. Add button mushrooms to pan, simmer for another half hour. While mushroom cooking, prepare pastry/vol au vents:

The finished product...

Wait, it's missing something....

There we go!  Perfect!

P.S. Thanks Steph for a great challenge!  I really enjoyed it despite the bruises and look forward to the next excuse I have to make a sweet version!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Fresh Strawberry Buttercream

Is using others people's life events as an excuse to bake wrong?  If so, I don't wanna be right!  That's right, I said it. 
A girl in my office recently got engaged.  So I thought it would be fun to bring in chocolate cupcakes with strawberry buttercream.  Here's a close up of one.  I thought about dying the frosting a bit, but ended up going with the au naturale look with the little strawberry specs. 
I have to say, they were incredible (not to mention gone within an hour).  Here's the whole lot...
I used Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe from her most recent cupcake book.  You can also find the recipe here.  The cupcakes themselves could have been a little more moist (since they were mini cupcakes they probably didn't need to bake for longer than 10-12 minutes and I went for 15), but the strawberry buttercream more than made up for it.  That recipe is also from Martha's (yes, we're on a first name basis) cupcake book, but you can also find it here.  It's fantastic!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

This is my first official challenge as a Daring Baker and boy what a challenge it was! The reason why I joined the Daring Bakers was to take myself out of my kitchen comfort zone and Angela and Lorraine did exactly that. Thank to the both of you for such a challenging (and tasty!) choice!

So, some of you may be asking.... What is a Dobos Torte?
The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel and the sides of the cake are sometimes coated with ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts or almonds.
And in case your mouth isn't watering enough from that description, here's a photo of a slice I picked up from Wikipedia.

It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

My first attempt, I have to admit, was a complete and utter failure. As I was dumping layers of sponge cake encrusted parchment paper into the trash, I glanced across the kitchen counter looking for signs of what could have gone wrong, sure that my first DB attempt would be the last, when I spotted it... the unopened box of cake flour. Apparently when a recipe calls for cake flour, it's serious. And at some point I must have overlooked that very crucial line in the recipe and grabbed my go to canister of all-purpose flour. Lesson learned.

Confident that the flour issue was the reason for my disaster, I decided to get a little creative on the 2nd try and attempt 3 different sizes of cake: small round, rectangle, and individual mini rectangle. I baked the round in a 6" cake pan. The two sizes of rectangles I cut out of a square pan.

I soaked the sponge layers in Drambuie and then used chocolate buttercream in the middle. This was my first time trying to make caramel and it was... difficult. I was also headed to a dinner at a friend's house and didn't want to coat the whole thing in hazelnuts in case there were some folks with an allergy so stuck to just coating the hazelnuts in caramel and placing them on top.
And here it is cut open. Yum! It was very tasty, but definitely not a kid friendly dessWith the rectangle ones, I soaked half in Drambuie, like the round cake, and half in Amarula, a South African fruit flavored liquor. These I was planning to keep for myself, so no problem coating them in hazelnuts!
First I stuck the hazelnuts on long skewers and set up a heavy cutting board at the edge of the counter. Then I dipped the hazelnuts in caramel, secured the skewer between the counter and cutting board. The drippings were caught by a mess of newspaper on the floor. They created a really cool effect that I had fun placing all over the little tortes.

Voila! Dobos Torte!

And finally, here's the recipe if you're feeling ambitious:


  • 2 baking sheets
  • 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
  • mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
  • a sieve
  • a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
  • a small saucepan
  • a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
  • metal offset spatula
  • sharp knife
  • a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
  • piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

  • Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
  • Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
  • Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
  • Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

  • a 7” cardboard round
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

  1. Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
  2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
  3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)
  4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
  5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

  1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
  3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
  4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
  5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Directions for the caramel topping:

  1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
  2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
  3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

  1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
  2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
  3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
  4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cheesecake Pops

I was asked to bring some desserts to an upcoming bridal shower for a friend getting married in September. The host wanted me to make these:
Now, Bakerella is an amazing lady, but I've tried her cake pops and
failed miserably so I knew I would need a trial run. Lucky for me, the Daring Bakers did cheesecake pops as a challenge a while back, so I had plenty of sources to research the best technique. A couple bakers tried the mold technique, which I thought was a smart way to go since there were several complaints about sticky fingers when the challengers rolled the cheesecake into balls. So I thought I'd try 2 types: half sphere (and roll 2 halves together) and square:I thought the square would make nice little squares that I could roll in some graham cracker crumbles. But, as you can see from the picture above, they sunk in the middle and ended up not looking very pretty at all. So in the end, those got rolled up by hand.
Here they are balled up and rolled in graham cracker - this served as a nice coating so I didn't end up with too much cheesecake on my hands. Then I dipped the sticks in some white chocolate and inserted them into the balls to act as a little glue to keep the sticks firmly in the pops. As I learned from my cake pop disaster, the sticks have a tendency to fall through the balls, so I thought this would prevent that from happening.
I started out this project planning to have these as pops - standing upright with cheesecake at the top. However the chocolate I used was a little thicker than I intended and I didn't think it would be thin enough to coat them smoothly. So I opted to have the sticks up and I think it turned out nicely:

I thought they looked cute in the little swirly dish. Since the square mold didn't really turn out the way I had hoped, I baked another batch in a big square dish and cut it into cubes. This worked much better than the square mold. I then rolled the squares in a graham cracker and hazelnut mixture that I had toasted earlier. Then I topped each with a slice of pear. These were the crowd favorite which works out well since they were the easiest to make!

I didn't get a picture, but these fit nicely on a 3-tier stand I have from Pottery Barn. Here's a link to it, so you can visualize how nicely they looked stacked up:

Lessons learned:
  • It pays to do your research! Thanks to all the Daring Bakers out there whose mistakes and successes I learned from!
  • Definitely mix the chocolate with some shortening to thin it a bit if you want smooth pops.
  • Squares are the way to go. Plus since I used the same technique with dipping the stick in chocolate to act as glue before inserting into the square, they had just a touch of sweetness that seemed to please all types of dessert eaters.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why Kleine Kuche?

I've never lived in Germany. I don't speak German... well, I don't speak it well at least. So, you ask, why "Kleine Küche"? Well, it has a couple meanings for me:
  • I heart alliteration
  • My great-grandparents came to the US from Germany, so the German made sense
  • I'm on the short side, and most of my life have been referred to as "Little Lori", so the "kleine" seemed to make sense
And really, If you've seen my kitchen, it would all come together. I love to bake. I often don't have the time, but it's a great stress reliever for me. However, here's a picture of my kitchen:

That's it. That's the whole thing. And this is a pretty average night for my kitchen. Dog eating his dinner. Dishes drying. But don't let those dishes fool you. We have a dishwasher, but it's not hooked up. Why you ask? Why would a perfectly new dishwasher sit in a kitchen unused? Because apparently a house built in 1939 doesn't have the right power source for modern appliances. And we keep holding out hoping that some day we'll actually be able to afford to expand the kitchen into the wonderful masterpiece that it deserves to be. But until then, the dishwasher sits there, taunting me on a nightly basis...

And from the other angle:
I'm not going to try to lie and say it's not normally this cluttered. It is. I mean, how could it NOT be?! Look at the counter space... or lack thereof. Ditto for the cabinet space. So typically when I bake, it causes my boyfriend much angst as I take up every square inch (and yes, square INCH is more fitting than square FOOT) of the kitchen. So my stress reliever become my significant other's source of stress.

I has come a long way though, here are some before pics (note the flowered wallpaper and circa 1945 stove):

And during renovation:

My favorite part is the various levels of flooring we found under the stove. Awesome. BTW, if anyone wants to buy a working circa 1945 stove, I've got one for sale. Just let me know. It weighs about 5 tons though, so you have to be willing to come pick the sucker up.

Anyway, before I digress too far, my kitchen is small. So Kleine Küche it is. If you're still confused, look it up here: