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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vacation. Be back later, :).

I will be absent for a couple of weeks. Will be back for the Fruitcake Wreath.

Monday, November 16, 2009

HCB: Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake

Before I start with my Lemon Luxury Cake tale, let me begin by telling you about the lemon roses. I made them a couple of weekends ago. I bought over half a dozen of lemons. I've never made this before and I was afraid I'd fail. The recipe (on page 432 of Heavenly Cakes) tells you to peel the skin of the lemon with a paring knife. I don't understand what Rose meant by "start by cutting a round section across the base of the fruit but not all the way through," but I figured since I have so many lemons I should just start peeling. Then I boil sugar syrup, add the peel to the simmering syrup, cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let sit overnight. The next morning, remove the peel from the syrup to paper towels. I wasn't sure whether I should let it sit in the paper towel first until dried before moving on to the next step. So I went ahead anyway, curling each strip loosely around itself to form a rose. Then I let them dry for 1 hour. Then coat all sides of the peel with corn syrup. After 1 hour, apply a second coat, and then another coat after another hour. Oops, as I'm reading the recipe now I realize I made a mistake. It said here that after all those 3 coats of corn syrup, to allow the peel to dry completely which can take several days before storing in covered container. I missed this step. After a couple of hours of the third coat, I store it in a container and put it in the freezer. No wonder my lemon roses looks a bit different than the picture in the book. It is still pretty though, :). This is the picture of the lemon roses before the corn syrup applications.

Moving on to the cake. For once, I would not say that this is an easy cake to make. The recipe itself is four pages long. This is a big cake, so I decided to make it in 6-inch pans. 6-inch pan by volume is not exactly half of 9-inch pan, but when I did the math it comes up to 0.44 so for easiness' sake I divided everything by half.

First I made the lemon curd. I whisk the yolks, sugar, and butter until blended, then add the lemon juice and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. It takes a good 10-15 minutes before the mixture start turning opaque and yellow. I felt like I was stirring and stirring for the longest time. Then it takes another 10 minutes or so before it starts thickening. I must confess that I was really tempted to increase the heat but I didn't want it to curdle.

Next I made the white chocolate custard base. This calls for melting white chocolate and butter on a double boiler while stirring often. Then whisk the eggs lightly and then whisk it into the white chocolate mixture. Then continue mixing while heating it up until 140 degrees.

I then switched gears to composing the cake. Again, I substituted the cake flour with unbleached AP flour. I melted the white chocolate, then mix the butter, 2/3 of the milk with all the dry ingredients. Then incorporate the egg and 1/3 milk mixture. Then incorporate the white chocolate. Then bake the cake for 35 minutes. Everything went on swimmingly until I took the cake out of the pan and they look like this!

I put the lighter cake back to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes. It's done in the center but the top still has the light color. By the time I flip the cake out of the pan, it fell apart and taste odd. The other cake was fine, it was a bit dense - because I used the unbleached AP but it tasted okay. I could not figure out what went wrong with the other cake. I baked the cake on the 3rd rack from the bottom, on the same rack, I rotated the pan halfway through baking. I didn't open the oven door until 5 minutes at the end. I re-read the recipe 5 times and determined that I didn't not messed anything up. Using unbleached AP instead of cake flour would impact structure and texture but it should not impact taste - that is my understanding at least. Frustrated and confused, I gave up for the day and decided to redo the cake the next day.
Day 2 of Lemon Cake adventure. I was sad and frustrated but determined to make the cake. This time I use cake flour. Everything went on swimmingly again, and when it's time to incorporate the melted white chocolate into the batter, I let it mix longer just to make sure. The cake baked for 35 minutes again but one of them sunk a little bit in the center and the other one sunk a lot on one side. To make matters worse, there is a big height difference! I weigh the batter when I distributed them between the 2 pans and they were both 301 grams. Argh... At this point, I was really frustrated. Though sadly thinking that of course the cake that I requested would be the one that gives me the biggest challenge.

Back to the buttercream. I cream the butter, then added the white chocolate custard base and mix until it achieved stiff peak. I didn't want to wait 1 1/2 - 2 hours so I chilled it for a few minutes in an ice bath. The buttercream came together nicely without any issue.

Lastly, composing the cake. I tried to make up for the sunken center and inconsistent sides with the buttercream. I know it will look funny when the cake is cut but I really want the exterior of the cake to look good and even. After 3 hours of numerous chilling/freezing the cake and using both bench scraper and heated offset spatula to smooth out the sides, here is the cake with a lemon rose in the center.

It is as smooth as I could get it to be. In retrospect, it is probably overkill to spend 3 hours composing the cake but I am very happy with the result.

Onto tasting. This cake is really good. It is rich though, I wonder if it's because of all those egg yolks! I would definitely make this cake again, but probably for special occassions since it does take some time and effort (and patience :)).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

PP&B: Apple Pie

This is Open-Faced Designer Apple Pie from page 84 of the Pie & Pastry Bible. My first attempt of making this pie last month were not this good: the bottom crust was a bit under baked and the leaves around the crust looked like it was hit by a hurricane. I was so happy that this second attempt was more successful. One tip I have for anyone who is going to attempt this is to try to split the task into 2 days: make the crust and shape the leaves on day 1, then finish the pie on day 2. If you can't do this in one day, start as early in the day as possible. Also, be patient. The leaves take time to make. You have to roll out the dough then cut it with a paring knife. By then the dough is too soft so have to chill it before prying the leaves out. Then have to chill the scraps again before rolling it out and cutting it. Anyone who's ever made sugar cookies in different shapes would know what it takes. Next time I should try putting the chilled marble pastry board beneath it so it doesn't get soft too fast.

Regardless of the time it takes, I was glad I did it. I don’t think this is something I will do often, but it’s nice to do it at least once to have the experience, and of course, apture the moment in eternity in a nice picture, :).

Monday, November 9, 2009

HCB: Baby Chocolate Oblivion

Last month I ordered the 6 cup Lekue silicone muffin pan from Amazon. I only ordered one of them for now since I have been buying other things for the kitchen. This cake sounds pretty rich so I decided to make 1/2 a recipe.

For 1/2 the recipe, melt 1/2 a pound of chocolate, 8 oz of butter, and 1 1/2 Tbps of sugar over hot water (bowl should not touch the water) - stirring occasionally. I bought Valrhona dark chocolate (70%) and I didn't bother chopping it up so it takes a while to melt through the whole chunk. Once this is done, whisked 3 eggs over simmering water until they're warm to the touch. Then move it to the stand mixer and beat on high speed for 5 minutes until they've tripled in size and almost reach soft peak when the whisk is raised (I think it looks like it's a few minutes away from what's called "ribbony"). Then fold 1/2 the eggs into the chocolate, using either a balloon whisk or a large spatula. I should've used my large spatula. Somehow I used a regular whisk - which may or may not attributed to the mixture deflated so much.

When this is done, distributed them evenly into the 6-cup muffin pan, set it in the roasting pan that has a wire rack and a hot water bath. In to the oven it goes! When it's done, take them out of the pan. Easier said than done - we have all those hot water in the pan. I was not sure how to do this because I don't have silicone gloves or a bulb baster. Oh, and I don't plan on getting hot water splashed on any part of me. Even if I do have a bulb baster I don't think I want to spend 1/2 hour pulling the water out. Then a thought came over me. The good thing about silicone pans is that they cool down instantenously, right? I touched the edges of the pan to test and they are room temperature cool. So I placed a kitchen towel next to the roasting pan, hold the edges of the silicone pan and with a quick but fast movement move it to the towel. Ta-da.

So far it's been easy. The hardest part came when having to take the cake out. Only 3 of them came out smoothly - the rest has some bits sticking into the pan. Not really a huge deal because I took a spoon and scrape those babies out. But those 3 "damaged" babies didn't make it to the picture session. Sorry love, if it makes you feel better, I love you 3 all the same and you will get eaten just like your 3 other siblings :). Oh, have I mentioned that I love love love the name of this cake. It is so cute and so fitting use the word "oblivion" since they are so potently chocolate. It is very rich. It reminds me of chocolate Pot-de-creme or a very very chocolatey truffles. Actually, I think this would be perfect is smaller, truffle- like, size.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

HCB: Pumpkin Cake (sans Buttercream)

I was so looking forward to this cake. I have never made any baked goods with Pumpkin before so I am finding myself being very curious as to how this would taste. Hector over at Rose's forum said it is "utterly delicious" and Rose herself said that this is the best non-chocolate cake ever so as you can imagine, it sounds very promising. I decided not to get the pumpkin pan but I have bought the Fleur De Lis Bundt Pan from Nordic Ware and I was planning on "christening" it for this occassion. So I was doubly excited. I was planning on making 1/2 recipe of the buttercream and sort of pipe it decoratively on the cake. Not sure if it makes sense but it sort of does in my head and I was curious to see if my plan will turn out.

Well, apparently fate has a different plan because I got terribly sick over the weekend so no cooking or baking - in fact no anything short of sleeping and eating. Late yesterday I felt slightly better so I made the pumpkin cake. No buttercream though. It was all I could manage to do before collapsing. As those who have made this cake will tell you, the cake itself is very easy to do. Pretty uneventful really. It tells you to toast the walnuts and then mix it with the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt mixture. Apparently you don't have to process the walnuts into powder, just coarsely chop it (I break them into pieces with my hands). Then mix the eggs, brown sugar, canola oil, and walnut oil. I substituted walnut oil with the same amount of canola oil - not sure how often I will use walnut oil so I decided not to purchase it. Then it tells you to add vanilla and then the pumpkin puree. Then add the flour mixture and mix until it all blended, pour into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes (if using bundt pan). I ended up baking mine for 45 minutes. I am eating the pumpkin cake as I am writing this. It is so good! So tender and moist (I noticed this seems to be a trend for Rose's cakes). Even though I made this with AP flour again it is very tender and moist. It makes me think of fall, this taste medley of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg. YUM!