Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers - Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake

I had a great time with this recipe. It was simple, straightforward, and most importantly, delicious. The cake itself was light and buttery, with the gentle whisper of vanilla and lemon. The swiss meringue came together beautifully. It was rich but not cloying, silky on the tongue, and sweet on the palate. I made some alteration to the original recipe and those are in parenthesis.

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless o
pportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

Perfect Party Cake

For the Cake:
2 1/4 cup cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt (omitted because of the salted butter)
1 ¼ cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature (salted butter because that was all I had)
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (omitted and replaced with vanilla extract)

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs
beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well rise
n and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keepin
g the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look frothy and like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remain
ing buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is best eaten at room temperature a few hours after assemblage, since it loses all subtlety of flavor if eaten cold. If you used whipped cream, store in the refrigerator and bring it out to warm to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

My notes:
Originally I had planned to use freshly whipped cream for the layers and frost the outside with the buttercream, but somehow my whipped cream refu
sed to stay stiff and fell apart in a liquidity mess (not very appetizing). Since I only made half the buttercream recipe, I had to skimp a little on the frosting. I also layered in sliced fresh strawberries and covered the sides of the cake with shredded coconut. Another thing to note is that the cake does not rise very much. When I went to slice it in half horizontally, I was met with complete disaster. I already knew I pretty much suck at doing that, but I tried anyways, and ended up with a hole in one layer and too much cake in the other. So I did some patchwork and used those as the middle and the top layer. I intelligently decided to not slice the other cake, and used that as the bottom layer.

All in all, it was a successful challenge. The cake was well-received and I had a great time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Japanese White Chocolate Almond Cheesecake

I'm so glad I stumbled across this recipe. It makes a really unique and tasty cake, reminiscent of the airy sponge cakes you get at Chinese bakeries. The recipe for a 9-inches cake only has 3 tablespoons of flour and 1 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch. It's lightened with beaten egg whites, and baked in a water bath. The first time I made it, I simply flavored it with vanilla, and found that it tasted too much of cream cheese and egg. I adapted the recipe this time by adding in melted Ghirardelli white chocolate and almond extract. It got the approval of me and some of my friends. It doesn't rise very much and comes out smooth and flat on top. I'm thinking of tripling the recipe and making a layer cake next time.

Japanese White Chocolate Almond Cheesecake
Makes 1 9" Cake

3 ounce package of cream cheese
1/3 cup milk
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp white sugar, divided
3 tbsp all purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch, sifted
2 egg whites
1/3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup white chocolate chunks
1/2 tsp almond extract

Combine cream cheese, milk, and white chocolate chunks in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until cream cheese and chocolate has melted. The mixture wouldn't be completely smooth, but try to get out the big lumps. Let cool.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and 2 tbsp sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the cooled cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth. Add in almond extract. Stir in sifted flour and cornstarch until combined.

Using an electric mixture with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add in 2 tbsp of sugar until white whites reach stiff peak stage. Gently fold egg whites into the cream cheese mixture. The mixture should be smooth and look like clouds. Pour into a 9" parchment-lined pan, or a greased springform pan with a removable bottom. If using a springform pan, wrap the pan in foil so that water will not leak in.

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven in a water bath for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 15 minutes. Allow cake to cool before removing from pan. If using a springform, simply remove the side of the pan. If using a regular baking pan, invert cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment and re-invert onto another plate.

A few notes:
  • When beating egg whites, make sure there are no fats coming into contact. That means no bits of egg yolk and clean beaters and bowl. Any amount of fat would prevent the egg whites from reaching stiff peaks. Since they are the leavening agent (in a sense of speaking) in this recipe, it is very important that they are well beaten.
  • A water bath is used to maintain a moist environment so the cheesecake doesn't dry out. To make a water bath: place the cake pan inside another larger baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until it comes about halfway up the side of the cake pan. Be careful to not get water into the cake mixture itself. It is best to set the baking dish on the oven rack first, place the cake pan inside, and fill with water from a kettle. You can prevent a lot of grief and potential burns this way.
  • The top of the cake never takes on much color. If you like it pale yellow (which is still pretty) you can just follow the baking instructions above. I like to turn on the broiler for about 30 seconds at the end to brown the tops. Just a matter of preference.

for Perry...

Since I'm trying to cut 5 more pounds before the end of the month, the urge to bake is proving problematic. I usually have the best intention beforehand to set aside some of the goods to eat later. Well that doesn't always work out. So instead, I've decided to just bake for other people. These chocolate chunk banana crumb muffins are for my friend Perry. They came out moist and delicious, not too dense, with a great banana flavor. The semisweet chocolate chunks are wonderfully melty when the muffins are warm, and the crumb topping adds a contrasting texture component. Too bad I could only eat one :(

Chocolate Chunk Banana Crumb Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chocolate chunks

Crumb Topping:
2 tbsp cold butter
4 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp raw or turbinado sugar

Blend mashed bananas, brown and white sugar, oil, and egg until combined. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon until moistened, being careful to not overbeat. Fold in chocolate chunks. Pour into greased or lined muffin pans to about 3/4 full.

To make crumb topping, cut cold butter into the flour, cinnamon and sugar until coarse. Add a spoonful on top of each muffin. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Meyer Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

My friend Helen gave me a book titled Homemade Muffins by Carol Tennant a few years ago. I've flipped through it a few times but never got around to making the recipes. I thought I'd try the recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Muffins. I used the sweeter meyer lemons because I had those on hand, but you can use regular lemons or even oranges.

Meyer Lemon Poppyseed Muffins
Makes 12

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

pinch salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

1/3 cup butter, melted

2 tbsp poppy seed
zest and juice of 2 meyer lemons

1 tsp lemon extract

Lemon Syrup:

3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

zest and juice of 1 lemon

In a bowl, mix lemon juice, egg, milk, butter, lemon extract, and lemon peel. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined, being careful to not over-mix. Spoon batter into greased muffin pan, about 3/4 full. Bake in a 400 degrees preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. The muffins should be golden and risen.
In the meantime, mix the confectioner's sugar with the lemon juice and zest until well blended. Spoon over hot muffins and let cool in the pan.

I actually made these without the lemon extract and found that the muffins weren't lemon-y enough. I figured the addition of the extract would help with that. The soaking syrup on top was a nice touch, though it's very important to soak the muffins when they're right out of the oven. I found it helpful to remove the muffins from the pan and dip the entire top into the syrup.

I had these the next day with a bit of vanilla yogurt and blueberries. Just split the muffin into top and bottom and heat in the microwave. Spoon on some yogurt, add in a few blueberries, and top with the muffin top. Yum.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

still searching...

One of the first things I baked (once I graduated from the boxed brownie mix) were thumbprint cookies. I remember those preserve-filled gems as rich and buttery, tangy and sweet from the filing, and nutty from their walnut coating. Unfortunately I misplaced the recipe a few years ago and have been searching for an equivalent one since. I tried this one from Though it was alright, the cookies were a bit sandy and didn't have quite the moistness I wanted. Alas, I am still searching.

I made half the batch with strawberry and blackberry preserve, and drizzled a simple glaze over them. The other half I rolled first in egg white and then in finely chopped pecans and filled with Bon Mama's chestnut spread.

Thumbprint Cookies
yields 20 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
pinch salt
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
preserve or jam of your preference

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp milk or water

Beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add in egg yolk and mix. Stir in flour and salt until dough comes together. Roll dough into little balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place upon greased cookie sheet (I lined my pan with foil), and make a thumbprint in the center, being careful to not press all the way through to the bottom. Fill with preserve. Bake in a 350 degrees preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes.

To make glaze, simply combine confectionary sugar and milk. The glaze should be milky white, rather thick but still thin enough to drizzle.

Once cookies have cooled slightly, drizzle with glaze. Eat and enjoy.