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Monday, January 31, 2011

HCB: Cradle Cake

The cradle cake that my friends Monica and Hanaa have been waiting for is here. I've flipped through Rose's Heavenly Cakes so many times and always pass by this cake without a moment's pause. I think it's the name. It just does not sound interesting. But now of course that I've made it, it made perfect sense.

This cake has a layer of dacquoise outside along the bottom and the sides of the cake, and the cake batter is in the middle. So the dacquoise is essentially hugging the cake, hence Cradle cake as the name. At least, that's how I interpret why Rose named this Cradle cake.

I've read the recipes a couple of times last week and thought that the cake sounded easy to put together. On Friday afternoon, I got an email from Monica where she said that her cake had sunk. Picture attached and I was horrified. Not at the picture (though Monica, as sweet as she is had written a warning in the email that the picture would be shocking). I was horrified thinking that if she had failed then I would too. I emailed her and said that maybe I should skip this cake and make something else. She wrote back saying, "oh no, you don't get to skip. You have to make this one." Okay okay.. I said.. It's nice to be able to count on good friends to keep me in line!

The cake is pretty easy to put together. Toast the pecans in the oven for 7 minutes. After it cooled, process it in the food processor with unsweetened chocolate and sugar. I speed-read the recipe and missed the part where Rose said to save some sugar for the meringue. So by the time I made the meringue, I added a tablespoon of sugar. I think I should have added more but I don't want to risk making this overly sweet. Once the meringue is stiff peak, fold it into the pecan chocolate mixture.

Rose said that it is best to use silicone pan. As I do not own a silicone loaf pan and I want to make half a recipe anyway, I get to use my somewhat new Wilton mini hearts silicone pan. Yay!

Putting the dacquoise on the bottom and the sides of the silicone pan is kinda fun (yes yes.. I know.. this sooo proof that I am a geek if I think things like this is fun). Anyway... the dacquoise mixture keep sliding off the sides of the pan and I thought it must have been because I put too much baking spray. Then this morning I read Monica's post where she said that her dacquoise stayed put because she waited until the egg whites reached stiff peaks before adding the sugar.

The cake batter is a typical butter cake. I can say this now, having made 27 cakes from the Butter & Oil cakes section *grin*. Miix all the dry ingredients together. Add the butter and a bit of buttermilk. Whisk the egg yolk, buttermilk, and vanilla until combined. Then add it to the cake batter in 2 additions.

Once the cake is baked, make the chocolate glaze. I realized that making chocolate glaze for 1/2 recipe is tricky. I got the heavy cream too hot, and when adding it to the chocolate, the chocolate started looking shiny and oily and unattractive. No I'm not kidding, chocolate separating is really unattractive to see. I added some cold heavy cream until it started looking better. In the end, I think I made a ganache :).

The ganache/chocolate sauce was fluid enough that I could make the drizzle with a spoon.

Tasting impressions:
It is pretty good. I like the crunchy-ness of the dacquoise. It is a bit too sweet though and I wonder if I can reduce the sugar a bit without compromising the structure. The cake part is uneventful, though it does go together nicely with the dacquoise. I am mostly happy with how the cake turned out. Yeah, I know I am a sucker for pretty little cakes. But it's just so cute. It makes me happy just looking at it :).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

FFWD: Chicken B'stilla

I was a little apprehensive about this week's selection. Mostly because the ingredients is all 100% chicken. I have nothing against chicken. My issue is that we don't eat that much meat. And there is nothing else in this dish, except for eggs of course, which again, is also protein and chicken-base.

So then I tried to think of what I could add to the recipe so I could use less chicken and at the same time  will not alter the taste so much. And it took me about 10 seconds before I figured it out.


Problem solved.

This dish is easy but it has a lot of steps that require you to wait (chicken needs to marinate for 1 hour, then simmer for 1 hour, then cool down, etc). Not a big problem for me as I can do other things while waiting, such as making cakes for HCB.
I followed the recipe exactly, except for I used 4 chicken thighs (instead of 8) and about a pound of cremini mushrooms. I diced the mushrooms and sauteed them on the side with EVOO and butter. Then they are  added to the thickened broth along with the shredded chicken.

I did get whole wheat fillo dough instead of regular fillo dough. I didn't use to like whole wheat flour but now that I'm used to it I love the taste (it's healthier as well).

Fillo dough is a bit annoying to work with. It's so fragile and thin that it breaks when I try to drape it into the pan. Good thing that they're all covered with the filling anyway, so it doesn't have to be pretty.

With the addition of mushrooms, this recipe makes one 9 inch Chicken B'stilla and a mini 4 inch one. I like the mini one, it's so cute.

Tasting impressions:
We love this dish so much that I have made it twice (both times with mushroom). And it will definitely get made again many many times in the future :).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

HCB: Genoise Tres Cafe

My 59th cake from Rose's Heavenly Cakes: Genoise Tres Cafe. I was looking forward to this cake. It's genoise - with the magical beurre noisette as the base.

For a change, I made the full recipes, baked in several different pans. I got these mini heart shaped pan last year at Sur La Table. It was one of those impulse buy on my 1st visit to the store. I have not used it and at some point regretted buying them. Then I saw this post on Hector's website last December where he used Wilton's miniature heart pan to bake a genoise. Hector said that genoise bake well in any shaped pan. I have been planning on using my heart shaped pan ever since.

There are still a lot of batter leftover after filling up 4 mini heart pan. So I used a 6-cavity Wilton mini heart silicone pan for the rest. Even after that, I still have leftover batter, so I used the financier pan. So yeah this genoise produced 10 mini heart shaped cakes and 4 financiers.

Okay, enough talking about the pans. Let's talk about the cake.

The genoise is easy enough. By now I should be able to do this with my eyes closed. Well ehem.. okay.. maybe not that exactly, but it is easy indeed.

The ganache, as always, proved to be difficult. Or it's just my incompetence talking because I curdled it. Thanks to Rose that in this recipe she mentioned how to save the ganache. I remelted it, rechilled, and rebeat. And it curdled again!

Annoyed (at myself), I remelted it again. This time, I told myself, I better not mess it up. Phew, 3rd time's the charm. It didn't curdle and I was able to pipe pretty decoration on one of the stacked heart cakes. By the time I wanted to do the same decoration on the other little cakes, the ganache was too soft. I re-whip it manually, and it was still too soft and threatened to curdle.

Okay then I give up. No way I'm going to melt the ganache for the 4th time. At least I got a pretty little heart cake out of it.

Tasting impression:
YUM! I'm not a big coffee drinker. I love the smell of coffee more than the taste. Not a huge fan of mocha either, but this cake packs a punch. I love the flavor of the cake and combined with the mocha ganache it is awesome.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mark Bittman's Cassoulet

I always browse recipes and love trying something new. I borrowed the Food Matter's cookbook from the library last week.

I read the intro and am liking what Bittman wrote. He's promoting reducing meat and dairy intake and increasing vegetables in recipes, something that I've been doing for years already. And here it is, a cookbook that already does it for me. Plus all the recipes are already tested. Score!

For my 1st try from the book, I choose Cassoulet. I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, doing the slow-cooked version, which means that I used dried beans and simmer them for an hour with the sausages.

Some modification that I made - intentionally or otherwise:
  • I used 2 chicken sausages and 1 pork sausage.
  • The recipe said to use 2 zucchini or 1 head of cabbage. I used both. Why not :).
  • I used dry thyme and parsley instead of fresh.
  • I forgot bay leaves  and cayenne pepper. Glad I forgot cayenne pepper as it has enough kick from the 2 spicy sausages.

Tasting impressions:
So good! The beans were tender and sweet and I love all the veggie in there. I've been bringing it to lunch the last 2 days and looked forward to eating it (okay, maybe I'm also feeling bored at work this week). It's the perfect lunch for the winter!

You can find the recipe here on Bittman's website.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011


    Last week something came in the mail that I've been looking forward too. So excited I was that I even took a photo of the package.

    Opened it up to reveal a hot/cold carry package.

    Inside, a smaller, foil-packaged goodies.

    In it, 2 banana-leaf wrapped food.

    I haven't met banana-leaf wrapped food that I didn't like. For one thing, the smell of banana leaf is so good. Another, food cooked in banana leaf taste super good.

    And this one, in particular, I have never had before. They are called Hallaca, which is a classic Venezuelan dish.

    According to Wikipedia: "In Venezuelan cuisine, an hallaca (alt. spelling, "hayaca") typically involves a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives wrapped in maize (cornmeal dough), bound with string within plantain leaves, and boiled or steamed afterwards. It is typically served during the Christmas holiday."

    These Hallacas that came to me in the mail, is sent to me by my HCB/FFWD/"adoptive sister" (if you can call someone you've never met/spoken to a sister, that is) Monica!!!

    They don't look big, but it is actually. Bigger than my hand in fact :).

    I brought one to the office for lunch and saved the other for the weekend, so I could take a photo of the insides. It was very hard to refrain myself from eating it before the weekend.

    But I did, mostly because I want to share this experience and the photo with you all. You can see the beef and a piece of the dried plum/apricot in there.

    They were gone in mere minutes.

    THANK YOU Monica for sending me such awesome goodies. It was my 1st Venezuelan dish and I LOVE every bite of it!

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    HCB Free Choice: Chocolate Pinecone Cake

    For the Free Choice this week, I decided on Chocolate Pinecone Cake. I was looking forward to this cake, mostly to the idea to making fondant for the 1st time. It felt so exciting. 

    It's been something that's on my "bucket list" to do. Plus this recipe sound yummy and that makes it even better.

    So excited I was that I even made all the ingredients pose for a photo shoot, :). 

     Here's the diluted gelatin heated up over simmering water.

    Dry ingredients - powdered sugar and cocoa powder - sifted and combined.

    You can't really see it but the gelatin mixture, corn syrup, and vanilla are in with the dry ingredients.

    I don't have a picture of how it got from the mess above to this nice long fondant log, as my hands were completely sticky and brown from the cocoa. 

    Let me just tell you that this fondant is sticky and confusing to work with. Rose said to knead the fondant until it's smooth and satiny. I got to the smooth part but it doesn't feel satiny and it breaks when I try to pull it (trying to imitate rolling it out). Nowhere in the recipe does it say that it's supposed to break and I thought how am I gonna drape it over the cake when it breaks like that.

    I was so troubled that I posted a cry for help over at Rose's forum. The awesome Hector and Liza confirmed that this particular fondant does breaks and rips. Having learned that, I breath a sigh of relief and glad that I hadn't thrown it away.

    The cake, as it turns out, pose a problem also. This confirms again that sponge cake that are made in a sheet pan is my demise. Some of you guys have said that piping or decorating make you shudder. For me, it's sheet pan sponge cake!!!

    It all started so well. Cocoa powder water mixture - check. Whisked eggs and egg yolks with sugar until quadruled, ribbony, and beautiful - check. Fold in cocoa mixture - check. Fold in dry ingredients - check. Finally, fold in the meringue - check. Mixture is still billowy, high inside the mixer bowl, and looking fine. Last step is to pour it onto the baking pan. It looks nice in there. Into the oven it goes for 8 minutes. Set timer. At 8 minutes mark, took a peek through the oven window, looks great. Opened the door to check the middle, yes, it indeed bounce back. Took the pan out, set it on the counter, and witnessed the sponge cake DEFLATING before my eyes!!! It became 1/4 inch in height.

    Devastated, sad, frustrated, and annoyed. I considered chucking the whole thing and making something else.

    I thought of the fondant, sitting in the fridge, waiting to be tested...

    The idea of starting over and doing this whole thing again, sometime in the future, in unfathomable. So I proceeded. Might as well get it over with.

    Making the ganache. Much smoother and there's nothing to report except instead of adding cognac to the ganache, I added Grand Marnier instead :).

    Since the sponge cake is so short and sad-looking, I ended up quartering the sheet and making 2 mini pinecone instead. I thought since it's such a narrow log it will look very weird and not pinecone-looking if I use the whole thing. 

    The chocolate fondant turned out to be nice! Easy to roll and looks good. Happy happy. At least something turns out - I thought to myself.

    And there, next to the fondant, is the Wilton fondant rolling pin that I just bought last week.

    Draping the fondant over the cake is tricky. It breaks in several places and when it didn't, it threatened to break. And while making the numerous V cuts' on the fondant, it breaks in several places as well. I was becoming very sad and on the verge of depression, until I realized that a heavy dusting of powdered sugar will hide all the imperfection that I am seeing.

    Tasting impression:
    This cake ain't bad. Okay, maybe that's just my somber mood talking. It is a pretty good cake. The ganache is yummy and the chocolate fondant taste really good as well - I love the smell of it, very chocolate-y. I'm not sure I will make this cake again, though I would probably attempt the sponge cake at some point.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    HCB: Fruitcake Wreath

    I already made this week's cake for a Free Choice back in November, so I'm doing a catch up again (seems to be a trend these day).

    These are fruitcake cupcakes. I do not own the wreath pan, nor do I wish to own one. Even though it was on sale for $9.99 at Michael's during Christmas last year. The pan is huge and it's supposed to feed 14-16 people. I don't see how often I will get to use it, so I'd rather use the storage space for something else :).

    I've macerated the candied fruits and golden raisins for this cake for 4 weeks now. I used a large canning jar and turned the jar around every day for a week, and then the jar sort of sat on the counter for the last 3 weeks.

    I did not intend to macerate the fruits for that long, but things happened. Or more correctly, other cakes happened. Somehow this cake does not sound appetizing to me, which is strange, considering I like cakes with fruit so much.

    Trying to figure out why this cake is not interesting, I think it's because there's way too much stuff in it. All those candied fruits, plus raisins, plus walnuts and pecans. The rum component sounds yummy though - I love cake with alcohol. And this one in particular sounds like it's on the drunk side.

    This cake, as it turns out, is very easy. The hardest part is waiting for the toasted nuts to cool. Had I realized that I need to toast the nuts, I would have done it last night or something. Anyway, I made 1/4 recipe of the fruitcake, and it yielded 8 cupcakes - about 55 grams each. Yes, it seems like I can't avoid complicated math when baking. Thank you Rose for grams measurement in your recipes! And thank goodness for whoever invented calculators!

    Back to the recipes, the cake calls for mixing butter and brown sugar together, add eggs and vanilla, then add the remaining dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt), and finally add the candied fruits and nuts.

    In cupcake form, they bake in 20 minutes. While it was cooling, I brushed a bit more rum on top of each cupcake. Why not, the more rum the merrier!

    Tasting impressions:
    Where did all the rum go? It was pretty rummy yesterday right after it cooled down and today all the rum taste is gone! It is not bad, but I'm not falling in love with it. I like the nuts flavor and texture with the batter but I'm not sure I'm liking the candied fruits. And I'm definitely sad that it's not a drunk cake anymore!

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    FFWD: Paris Mushroom Soup

    I heart mushrooms. That's right. As cheesy as that sounds, I really do love mushrooms. Love it so much that I have cremini almost every week. Basically I try to incorporate it into anything I make. This week, for example, I made Chicken for Les Parreseux again (for the 3rd time). I roasted some mushrooms (coated with thyme, salt & pepper, and olive oil) to go along with the yummy chicken.

    When I make some sort of stew (boeuf bourgignon, tangine, coq au vin) I always added a bunch of mushroom to the pot. Hm.. come to think of it, I have not made Coq Au Vin for a while.

    Sorry, I digress. That's what happens when I'm hungry :). 

    Let's talk about this dish, shall we?

    It's so easy to make. Sautee onions and garlic, add mushrooms, broth (I used vegetable broth), and white wine. Simmer until tender, then puree.

    I don't know about you guys, but I did not think pureed mushroom looks appetizing at all! The color is a bit depressing. And even after adding that big chunk of parsley for the photo, I still don't think it looks good.

    But boy, this dish is tasty! Especially if you love mushroom as much as I do. And even if you don't, you should try it anyway. Why not? It's good for you. And at the very least, it will warm you up when it's freezing outside.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    TCB: Bittersweet Cocoa Almond Genoise

    For a New Year's party at a friend's house, I offered to make a cake. Which cake, I have no idea. It took me forever to choose. Do I choose one of the 40 cakes I have left from Rose's Heavenly Cakes? That would be good, one more cake down, 39 to go. Or do I try something from The Cake Bible?

    The crowd I'm serving to seem to like Genoise-type cakes, and chocolate is always a favorite. I have made both Moist Chocolate Genoise and Genoise Au Chocolat. Genoise Au Chocolat is the running favorite (lighter, fluffy, and less sweet).

    I flipped through RHC, looking at the ones I have not made. Then I did the same with TCB. My hand stopped at a page... the cake is called Bittersweet Cocoa Almond Genoise.

    Score! I thought. This would work perfectly with a decorating idea that I had in mind, borrowing from this blog.

    I read the genoise recipe. Intrigued. Then I did a search for this cake over at Rose's forum. It yielded results. Reading on, I'm liking the cake. And so here it is.

    I made the full recipe of the cake, baked in 2 7 inch pans. It is not what Rose recommended, but I wanted to achieve a good height for the chocolate decor.

    I used a low fat cocoa (Ghirardelli). I took Julie's suggestion and used 75% of the cocoa and 25% of Schaffenberger unsweetened chocolate. The combo worked like a charm and the cake turned out wonderful.

    For the filling, at first I was going for stabilized whipped cream all over. On baking day I changed my mind and went for light whipped ganache. I didn't do a good job when melting the chocolate with the cream, the mixture was too hot and I can see the chocolate separating. Not a big issue, I took it off the heat and started adding cream slowly until the mixture come together.

    Too lazy at this point to add more chocolate, I went with it and the result is a very very light ganache, more like a chocolate flavored whipped cream. It was wonderful. Fit perfectly with the cake as it was pretty rich.

    Making this cake, I figured out that I much prefer piping than torting and frosting a cake. Slicing each cake in half is no biggie except the sides of the cake started falling a part and they look more like a distorted circle. I gathered all the crumbs, combined with some light ganache, and started spackling.

    The chocolate decoration is pretty easy to do. I followed Emma's instruction down to a T. The only deviation I did was that I apply the chocolate directly onto a cake, instead of forming it around the tin can, as Emma did.

    The chocolate was not even tempered, and it held up throughout the 60 photos I took and through the evening.

    I'm very pleased with the end result, it didn't look like the mess that I torted.

    And most importantly? My friends LOVED the cake. They all think it looks awesome and it tasted awesome.

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    HCB: Chocolate Bull's-Eye Cakes and She Loves Me Cake

    Another weekend of two-fer for me...

    Chocolate Bull's-Eye Cakes

    Marie has said, this cake is very easy to make, even though the instruction is 4 pages long. And she was right. And as I discovered, while putting this cake together, I could recite how to make this cake from memory. I don't remember the amount of any of the components, LOL, so I still need to look at the recipes, but I know the method by heart.

    First you make beurre noisette, which smells so heavenly (or orgasmic, as Raymond would tell you). Then keep it warm while you heat up the eggs over simmering water. Beat the eggs until quadrupled, then sacrifice a quarter of it to the beurre noisette. Next, fold in the flour cornstarch mixture into the eggs in 2 addition. Finally, fold in the beurre noisette mixture.

    While the cake was baking in the ramekins, I made the sugar syrup. Nothing to it, just boiled some sugar and water. I don't have Navan or vanilla liquor so I used Grand Marnier instead.

    After the cake is syruped, apply some apricot glaze all around the cake. Opening the fridge, I realized all I have is raspberry fruit spread, so that's what I used instead. I just mix it with some water, didn't add any alcohol as I suspected the cake is boozy enough already with 3 Tablespoon of Grand Marnier.

    Next, make the chocolate cream filling. This is very easy also. Melt some chocolate in heavy cream, pour into egg yolk sugar mixture, then heat up the whole thing until almost boil and thick. And as I am typing this post, I realized I had forgotten to add vanilla to this cream. Oh well. It's too late by now *grin*.

    Then make chocolate glaze by melting some chocolate with cream over simmering water. Or you can do like me and be lazy and melt some chocolate instead of making the glaze.

    And finally, adorn with a chocolate butterfly. Melt some chocolate and fill a parchment cone and pipe. This part is not hard. The hardest part is piping the chocolate to look like butterfly. I find I had to do several tries before getting the shape that I like.

    Tasting impressions:
    Oh man oh man. This is so good. The sponge cake is so moist and boozy it's so good. The cream filling is so yummy and fit so well with it.

    She Loves Me Cake

    This cake, according to Rose, feeds 16 people. So I made 2/5th of the recipe. Why the complicated math? Well, there are 5 eggs, so I thought I should make fractions of 5. I know, I know, I'm nuts. But that's how my brain works yesterday. Blame it on the sleep deprivation. I stayed up for new year's and got up early.

    2/5th of the recipe, I discovered, made 8 cupcakes (40 grams each). There are only 7 in this picture. The 8th cupcake didn't make it to the picture table, it ended up in the photographer's tummy.

    This cake is so easy to make as well. Even easier than the Bull's-Eye. The hardest part is weighing the batter into each cupcake wrapper. I do not like this weighing business. I'd much rather pipe decorations. But I wanted to have even size cupcakes, so weigh I did.

    First, mix the egg yolks with vanilla and 1/4th of the milk. Then combine all the dry ingredients in the mixer, add the butter and the rest of the milk and mix until combined. Then add the egg yolk mixture in 2 additions.

    While the cupcakes were baking, I made the lemon curd. Also 2/5th of the recipe.

    I made some royal icing and pipe the individual cupcakes. My icing was pretty thick, or so I thought, but it ended up a little runny by the time the photos were taken. And as you can read from the writing, I just had a birthday a couple of days ago.

    Tasting impressions:
    YUM! This cake is really good. We love the tangy-ness of the curd. It fit well with the moist cake.