Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

Cookie called me up a few days before the heat wave started and asked if there was a cake coming up that would be good for a potluck. I suggested the Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache, because who doesn't like chocolate? Then the heat wave hit.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

August 15, 2010
Name of Cake: It Is Freaking Hot Out
Occasion: Cookie has a potluck, and HCB
Constituents: one 9 in layer chocolate butter cake filled and frosted with caramel ganache

When I saw the phrase "caramel ganache" I didn't immediately register there was chocolate, too. Then I read the recipe and remembered that ganache is, in and of itself, chocolate and cream. Plus, when you think about what a caramel ganache would be without chocolate, it would be caramel and cream, which is just caramel.

So anyway.

I prepped this cake along with prepping the Featherbed, and this was much quicker to prepare. Mainly because as a butter cake, it gets prepped and mixed in the standard RLB way, with the cocoa paste on standby, the dry ingredients in the mixer, the other liquids in a bowl and the butter waiting patiently. No eggs to separate, no chocolate to melt, just plain and simple.

The exciting departure in this cake from her standard chocolate butter cake is the substitution of a little bit of oil for butter. Rose says this keeps the cake soft and tender, and I found it to be a brilliant sub. The other difference is that this recipe makes only one 9 inch cake layer instead of the usual two cakes.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

Rose's two stage method results in a cake that is mixed and poured into the pan in about 2 1/2 minutes. Awesome. The cake is baked for about 20 minutes at 350° F. In a hot kitchen, that was a bit of a bummer.

The caramel ganache starts out differently than most ganache, as unsweetened chocolate is called for in order to offset the sweetness of the caramel. You know what I found interesting? The unsweetened chocolate had not softened at all in the heat unlike the 60% chocolate I chopped up for the Featherbed. I used Scharffenberger in both cases and I wondered what it was about unsweetened chocolate that kept it untouched by the ambient heat in my kitchen. Do you guys know why?

On to the ganache.  First the caramel is made. After the sugar caramelizes a lot of hot cream is added. Rose warns the cream will bubble up, and as the cream bubbled up and over the rim of the pot I remembered Dorie Greenspan's instructions to add the hot cream to the caramel while the pot is in the sink. Wish I remembered that a little earlier.

I was a little alarmed by the appearance of the caramel for this ganache; there's a lot of cream in proportion to the caramel. It was really thin and pale.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

After the cream settles down the pot is put back on the stove to remelt any caramel that hardened. Once that is taken care of, a little butter is added and the thin caramel is added to the chopped chocolate. Now usually I do as Rose says and use the food processor to put the ganache together, but this night I threw caution to the wind and made the ganache the old fashioned way (pouring the hot liquid over finely chopped chocolate and stirring). Boy, it takes a lot longer with a lot of stirring! Eventually the ganache came together and looked lovely. I sneaked a taste and it was a strong chocolate velvety experience with a nice strong caramel punch at the end. Yum!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

The next morning I split the cake in two, filled and frosted with the caramel ganache, and sent it with Cookie to her potluck. I asked her to squirrel away a slice if possible so that I could taste it. That afternoon she came back with one slice on a plate with a fork and her reports on the cake.

Cookie thought the ganache on top was too rich but when sandwiched between the cake it became wonderful and fudgy. I asked her and Cabbage if they could taste the caramel in the frosting and they could. The cake plate came back clean, so the potluckers must have enjoyed it.

Later that evening I tried the cake. It was rich, but that caramel ganache is delicious. I would have preferred a good cold scoop of vanilla ice cream to counter the richness but I made my way through all right. The butter cake was very light and tender. I liked the substitution of a little bit of oil.

For me, this was a much better chocolate cake than the Featherbed. It had all the buttery cakey texture that I love with a surprise caramel flavor in the ganache. This cake definitely will be made again!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Roundup of Sweet Things in Montana (and Idaho)

Cookie cannonballs me in Flathead Lake

Last weekend Cookie and I took a road trip to Montana to visit our friend Joelf and his family. Joelf, Cookie, and I met our very first day at Willamette and have been fast friends ever since. That's almost 20 years now! My sister calls us a tripod, but I prefer to call us the Stooges.

Joelf has been in the Dominican Republic for several months and has only just recently returned stateside. His family is in western Montana and I haven't been out to visit them in almost 10 years, so I was really looking forward to the trip. Plus, Stooge time! I always look forward to Stooge time.

Western Montana is absolutely gorgeous. We were right at the base of the Rocky Mountains with their granite peaks towering high above the valley floor. Deer bounded through Joelf's family's property and the full moon lit the night like lights in Vegas.

getting goofy
Joelf and Cookie in his backyard. Hello mountains!

We gathered Joelf's two brothers and spent an afternoon at Flathead Lake. We swam, snacked, and socialized. I almost took a nap on the dock. Cookie, Joelf, and his brother Allie swam out to a nearby rock.

circus seals

Huckleberries in Montana are like Marionberries in Oregon. When the season hits, people go crazy for them. Huckleberries are related to blueberries in that the berries are round and have a waxy look. Huckleberries are purple in color and smaller, and when cooked exude a whole lot of juice. Like Marionberries they have a sweet/tart flavor that is uniquely their own. Huckleberry plants like cold alpine air and don't seem to do well in captivity. Hucks grow on Mt Hood here in Oregon but they are hard to find, and people guard their huckleberry patches like they do their morels.

Joelf and his mom made a couple of experimental huckleberry hand pies one night while we were there. Joelf's mom didn't like all the extra work it took to make individual pies and decided to make a traditional two crust pie. Unfortunately I only have a photo of one of the hand pies.

huckleberry hand pie

The crust was nice and flaky, the berries jammy and juicy. Vanilla ice cream, episodes of Glee, and a round of Canasta were perfect accompaniments.

Joelf and his mom told tales of wonderful and huge raised doughnuts in a nearby town that were to die for. The Stooges drove out there one morning only to find that the bakery was closed, and for apparently no good reason. We were robbed! Joelf suggested driving back to his cousin's huckleberry shop where they used to have huckleberry empanadas. But no dice; they stopped baking empanadas years ago. Now what? Joelf told us about a bakery in downtown and without hesitation we piled back into the car and headed out there.

Ronan Cafe' has been around for forty years, but the present owners are a group of Mennonites who bake a mean pie. The cafe was busy with the lunch crowd but we stuck with our original intention of sweets and bought coffee and pie. Joelf chose the triple berry and I ordered the german chocolate cream.

mennonite german chocolate cream pie

Pretty tasty. It was sweet, but a couple cups of coffee helped balance things out nicely.

On the day we left for Portland, (Joelf came with us!) we stopped once more at the doughnut shop (Windmill Village)--we really wanted those doughnuts! This time, the store was open, and there were TWO doughnuts left. Success!!

this donut is huge

Unfortunately I only have shots of the pastries on their own so it is difficult to imagine their size. They were about 4-5 inches across and about 2 inches high. Now that's a doughnut! Mine seems to be drowning in glaze.

seriously glazed and raised

These doughnuts had a slightly tangy flavor and were chewy like a raised doughnut but dense like a cake doughnut. It was fantastic.

We headed west, and after a couple of hours were were in Northern Idaho. I used to come to N. Idaho yearly for camping and vision quests outside of Cataldo. We would be out camping for about a week, and at least twice people would sneak off to get huckleberry milkshakes in nearby Pinehurst. I say sneak off as if it was a secret and forbidden mission, but really everybody knew when anybody was going, and the rest of us would press cash into their hands along with our orders. I convinced Joelf and Cookie to stop by The Tall Pine so we could see if their milkshakes were still as rich and thick as I remembered.

still worth sneaking out for

Which they are. So good. No fake fruit flavoring here; little chunks of huckleberry created some textural interest, and contributed big berry flavor. Delicious!

After our milkshakes we said our goodbyes to Montana and Idaho, and turned our faces west and south towards Portland and a week of urban adventures with the Stooges. More to come!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Marionberry Shortcakes!!

This week's Heavenly Cake is the Marionberry Shortcake. Marionberries, unlike myself, are an Oregonian native which is probably why I like them so much. It gives me street cred amongst the natives.

gleaning the marionberries

The Marionberry is is named after Marion county, which encompasses our state capital (and the first place I lived in Oregon) and according to the official Marion County website, "...is the largest producer of agriculture among Oregon's 36 counties." Woo! Go Oregon!


(warning: this post is mostly about the berry)

August 18, 2010
Name of cakes: We Are Awesome! Shortcakes
Occasion: HCB
Constituents: individual genoise shortcake cups syruped with marionberry syrup and filled with marions, served with whipped cream

marionberry shortcakes

I can still remember as clear as yesterday the first time I ate a marionberry. Sadly, although I've lived in Oregon pretty much since 1991 it was only a couple of summers ago. I had poured myself a bowl of Heritage Flakes with rice milk and sprinkled marionberries over the top. The first spoonful was delicious, sweet cereal grains, but the second spoonful! The marionberry exploded in my mouth with such brilliant juicy purply flavor, it seemed like they should always be spelled in purple bold all-caps, with a period for badassness: MARIONBERRY.

It was awesome.

gleaning the marionberries

Apparently they are called the cabernet of berries, because of their complex flavors.  Its true; they are sweet and tart and sort of like the best most ripe Chester Blackberry ever, but different.  They taste like a plush purple silk velvet pillow feels. Also, they have a short season of just July, and when are they are around Oregonians are a little frenzied for them. I could have sworn their season extended into August, but when I started looking for marions at the end of July I discovered that it was the last week of the season! And most places didn't have any! And the farmer's markets sold out in the first few hours! And then I found a produce stand which had a few last flats and I snatched one up! And hooray! And then I left for Toronto and then for California, and then I looked at my marions stashed in the refrigerator and oh no! Moldy berries!

I was so sad. However, frozen marions are just as great as Rose says they are, and I resigned myself to using frozen berries. I just felt that since the darn berries actually grow within driving distance from my apartment, I really ought to use the fresh ones. But oh well.

Today Cookie and I ventured out to Sauvie Island Farms for more blueberries, and as we walked past their marionberry patch, I stopped to take a few photos for the blog. Cookie noticed a few ripe berries still hanging on the nearest vine and sampled one for herself. One berry was enough for her to suggest we spend our afternoon gleaning marions for the cake. Which we did. It only took an hour to get a pound.

2010 08 18

And there was great rejoicing.

And so....on to the cake.

A couple of months ago I found one of those individual Mary Ann shortcake specialty pans for only 8 bucks, so I decided to give in and just get it. You know I am not a specialty pan fan, but...8 bucks.

The little genoise shortcakes are actually pretty quick and easy to make. There was a time when genoise sounded tedious and stressful, and never came out properly, and I am glad that for the most part that time is over. The fun part of making genoise batter is when you beat the warmed eggs and sugar for 5+ minutes on high in the KA. That part is fun for two reasons: the egg mixture becomes fluffy and gorgeous, and you can do 5 min of cleanup in the meantime.

marionberry shortcakes

Once the eggs have had their 5 minute transformation, about a half cup is whisked into the warmed beurre noisette and vanilla extract. The wondra flour is then folded into the remaining eggs in two parts, followed by the beurre noisette mixture. The batter is scraped into the pan and baked for 15 minutes.

marionberry shortcakes

The cakes are turned out of the pans as soon as they are finished baking and left to cool.

marionberry shortcakes

I have a public service annoucement:
If there were any need to prove that making sure the amount of batter per cup is important take a gander at this next photo.

marionberry shortcakes

See how the cake in the back left is already finished baking, but the two giant ones in the front are not? Yeah, that's why it is important to make sure the same amount of batter goes into each cup. Cakes were overbaked by the time those behemoths finished baking.

In the meantime, the gorgeous MARIONBERRIES. have been macerating to pull out the juices. It broke my heart a little bit to dump all that sugar on the marions, I mean they're straight off the vine delicious, but I knew the juice was going to good use.

marionberry shortcakes

I got a little confused by Rose's directions about making the marion syrup. The recipe says to macerate the berries until they release 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) of syrup. The syrup is then reduced to 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp if using the additional 2 tbsp of Chambord. If omitting the Chambord, the recipe says to reduce the syrup to 1/2 cup (2.4 fl oz). Do you see the math problems and typos? When omitting the Chambord, it should be 1/4 cup instead of a 1/2 cup, but it really should be the 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp and when using the Chambord you should reduce to 1/4 cup (the 2 tbsp will come when you add the Chambord).

Did that make sense? I got tired just typing it all out.

Since these marions were fresh, after many hours of macerating they released only 1/4 cup of juice. In the notes below the recipe Rose says that if subbing with other berries, use fresh berries and you'll get about 1/4 cup of juice. So I went with that.

The juice/syrup is painted on the shortcakes to flavor and moisten. I was nervous this wouldn't be enough juice to thoroughly moisten all the cakes. What could I do? I could have made a sugar syrup to dilute the juice, but I didn't want to dilute the flavor. So I left them as is, and hoped an overnight rest would help moisten the whole cake.

Look how cute they looked today--like little kids who got into their mom's lipstick.

marionberry shortcakes

Next up, the berries are spooned into each cup and left to rest for no more than an hour while the whipped topping is made. There were two choices for the topping: whipped creme fraiche or whipped cream. In a cheap moment I chose the whipped cream, but in hindsight the creme fraiche would have been much better.

marionberry shortcakes

The heavy cream is whipped with sugar and vanilla until it mounds softly when dropped from a spoon. And now....time to eat marionberry shortcake!!

marionberry shortcakes

marionberry shortcakes

marionberry shortcakes

So how were the marionberry shortcakes?

Well, the cakes were a little drier that I would have preferred for genoise. That is due to the overbaking, but it will be interesting to see how the leftovers are tomorrow. So far, I have found my genoise cakes even better 36-48 hours after being syruped.

The berries are still as bright and complex as they were straight from the vine, and macerating in sugar didn't leave them too sweet. I certainly enjoyed these shortcakes, and I am glad I found fresh berries. However my favorite way to eat marions remains right out of hand, preferably while still standing in the berry patch, juices staining my fingers and mouth purple with Oregon's summer bounty.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oregon Blues

After the Plum and Blueberry Upside Down cake post where several of you mentioned never seeing a blueberry bush before, I felt it my duty to introduce you to my favorite berry plant...

...and then I left my camera in the car. So I used my phone, and tried to fix the photos as best I could. So, meet your Oregon Blues!

row of blueberries
a nice row of blueberry bushes

blueberries!
this bush is a bit scraggly, but look at all the blueberries!  only a few in the top right corner of the photo are ripe enough to pick.

For more information on Oregon blueberries (somebody pay me for the free advertising) check out this website: Oregon-grown Blueberries, and check out this article on Oregon blueberry production written back in 2008.

maky.  back to cake.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chocolate Feather Bed

We are having a little heat wave here in Portland--nothing compared to everywhere else in the country--but weather here is normally so mild that Portland panics when it gets too hot or too cold. What can I say? We are all weather wimps. Well, we are rain-toughened, but that's about it. Above 90 and we are all OMG IT IS SO HOT OUT, WE ARE GONNA DIE. Unfortunately this means that I have no appetite and rich chocolate desserts are out of the question. But do I skip this week's cake? Hell to the no. This heat wave won't last forever!

Chocolate Feather Bed

August 14, 2010
Name of Cake: A Whole Lotta Chocolate for Such Hot Weather
Occasion: HCB
Constituents: four layers (2 batches) GF chocolate souffle-like cake layered with either light whipped ganache or stabilized whipped cream

I decided to split my cake in two and try both variations--the regular chocolate on chocolate and the chocolate on whipped cream. I was worried the choc/choc would be just too much.

This was another two-cake weekend as Cookie asked for a potluck dessert and I offered her the upcoming Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache (more on that in three weeks).  (At the time I was feeling greedy and didn't want to give away all of the Feather Bed, as it was one of the cakes I initially bookmarked when I got the book.)  So I prepped for all the cakes Saturday afternoon/evening. I am of the chaotic school of baking/cooking where I do a lot of my prep work as I go. It mostly works, but since it was so hot out and I didn't want to have the oven on for longer than necessary, I prepped everything, down to the teaspoons of vanilla and the separation of the 2 tablespoons of sugar. I wish I had a photo of that, but I didn't take many shots last night--I have a hard time getting a nice night photo.

Anyway once midnight came around the kitchen had cooled down to about 75° F so I reluctantly turned on the oven and got to mixing up the first batch of feather cake.

First, chocolate is melted in a double boiler. I do have a shot of that, mostly because I like my copper bowl:

Chocolate Feather Bed

As it cools to room temperature, egg yolks and sugar are brought to the ribbon stage.

Chocolate Feather Bed

And that's the last process photo I took.

The chocolate is mixed into the egg yolks and it becomes a thick sticky mass. This is set aside while the egg whites are whipped to the stiff peaks stage. The meringue is folded into the chocolate yolk mixture, the resulting batter spread out on a half sheet pan and baked for 16 minutes.

The cake cools in the pan covered with a clean kitchen towel. I needed the pan for the second cake, so after about ten minutes I gingerly slid the cake out and left it to cool on the parchment on a rack. I was worried the cake would fall apart, but it didn't.  Phew!

The second cake actually had a little more volume--I must have done a better job whipping or folding or something.

After both cakes cool, they are stacked on top of each other and chilled in the refrigerator for a bit which makes them easier to handle. During this time Rose suggests making the ganache, but I had misread--even after all the pre-prep!--and had made the ganache first. Oh well.

There are two ways to make the light whipped ganache, and after reading both options, I decided the second method, which was more hands-on, was going to be easier for me. The chocolate is melted in a double boiler on the stove with about a quarter of the cream. Meanwhile the mixing bowl, whisk attachment, and remaining cream are chilled. Once the chocolate is melted it is set aside to cool. The cream gets whipped just until beater marks show, then the chocolate and vanilla are added and the ganache is whipped until it mounds softly. That's it!

Back to the cakes: after they chill for about 30 minutes, the edges are trimmed and each cake is cut in half. These get re-chilled for a maximum of 12 hours. I was tired and it was 2 am, so I decided to finish the cake in the morning. What to do with the ganache? There's no mention of being able to chill it, but I did so anyway.

This morning after letting the ganache come up to room temperature, I stirred it up with a spatula to re-aerate it, sort of. The texture had definitely suffered and looked grainy. I wondered if re-whipping it in the KA would help, but I also thought what I really needed to do was remelt, rechill, and rebeat. So I decided to live with grainy ganache.

It was time to make the stabilized whip cream, which is really quick and easy. Gelatin and powdered sugar are combined and brought to a boil with a bit of cream while the remainder plus the bowl and beaters are chilled. (Sound familiar?) The boiled mix gets cooled down to room temperature, and it looks a little gooey and unappetizing. Not to worry--the rest of the cream gets whipped until beater marks show, then the gooey stuff is poured in and the cream beaten until stiff peaks form. And, that's it.

Chocolate Feather Bed

I cut all the layers in half once more to make two separate cakes. Layering was easy--the ganache wasn't sticky as warned--and just as I was looking for chocolate to make curls the Jellos arrived to pick up the Caramel Ganache Cake. I quickly cut Featherbed Cake for us to sample, and as such I never put the curls on, and probably won't. Eh, it's too hot for chocolate curls!

We all unanimously agreed the whipped cream variation looked more appealing as well as being more to our tastes. The choc/choc version is quite rich, and I thought it would make a good ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream and cherries. Cookie would have liked the choc/choc better if she had a cup of coffee to counter all the richness.

Chocolate Feather Bed

Chocolate Feather Bed

I can't say that I am in love with this cake, but I think that has more to do with the weather than anything else. Nothing that isn't slushy sounds appealing. I wouldn't hesitate to make this again when it isn't so hot, and I bet my gluten free girls Regenia and Annamaria would love it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte

During my first few years in Portland I discovered that this place is crazy for summer fruit: strawberries, cane berries, blueberries, melons, and most importantly, stone fruit. Peaches! Nectarines! Plums! Cherries! They are everywhere in the summer: the grocery stores, farmer's markets, impromptu farm stands by the side of the road, at the u-pick farms outside of Portland in every direction...everywhere! You bet your juicy peach that I dove right into the summer fruit, and that dinner would often be half a basket of blueberries with a side of plum. Unfortunately after a couple of fruity summers I started to notice that my mouth would get all itchy and slightly numb after eating any fresh fruit with a pit. I also noticed that if the fruit was cooked or canned I had no problems whatsoever. Weird, but true. So now, I take home those gorgeous plums and fragrant nectarines and cook/bake them up in stuff (stuff not being pie--I'm not really a pie person). So this week's Heavenly Cake was a wonderful excuse to buy some plums!

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

July 31, 2010
Name of cake: Plums and blueberries yay!
Occasion: Summertime, and HCB
Constituents: plums and blueberries atop a lovely yellow cake with a little bit of caramel

I was so excited for this cake that I was convinced it was on schedule for last week, so I called Cookie and told her I needed to go pick blueberries and invited her along. She wasn't much for picking blueberries but she's all into pickling this year so agreed to come out to the u-pick farms to pick some cucumbers and green beans. I helped her pick the pickling cucumbers, which were thorny--I wasn't expecting that! We realised we were pressed for time so we skipped the green beans and walked out to the blueberry patch.

Here's Sauvie Island Farms, where we did our pickin'. The blueberries are past the rise in the road after a very large cabbage patch. I was standing in the cucumber patch as I shot this:

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

Not a bad day, huh?

Out of all the berries, I am a big fan of u-picking blueberries as you don't have to bend over or squat like you do with strawberries, nor do you get attacked by thorns like you do with cane berries, nor do you have to hike into the alpine hinterlands like you do with huckleberries. Blueberry bushes are about as high as a person, all the berries are clustered together in plain sight, and if they are ripe they just fall off the bush and into your eager hands. Easy peasy!

We stopped at a farm stand on the way back into town, and I chose a couple of beautiful purple plums for the cake.

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

That evening I discovered the plum blueberry cake wasn't until the next week. But the berries! They were freshly picked! By me! I decided I was going to have a two-cake weekend.

This is a super easy cake to make, and can be mixed together in what seemed like 30 seconds. The cake can be made in either a skillet (oven proof of course) or a 10 in cake pan. I opted for the skillet, because that's just how upside down cakes are made. Unfortunately my cast iron skillet was too small so I had to move on to a stainless steel pan. Not as traditional, but I had already committed to cake in a skillet so I stuck to my plan.

First up, the caramel is made. For those traditionalists like myself who believe in baking upside down cakes in skillets in which you've already made the caramel, Rose warns to pull the pan off the heat before the caramel completely cooks so as not to burn the stuff. Trust me, burning the caramel is bad. However I erred on the side of too safe and my caramel didn't caramelize. Alas.

Next, the plums, which have been halved or quartered depending on size and type, are arranged in the pan with the blueberries filling in the gaps. I tried to make a fancy pattern but messed up a bit on the middle.

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

At this point the cake pan is set aside as it is time to get to mixing up the cake. This batter is unusual as it is made without adding any liquid. BAPF is used as well, presumably to give the cake a little more structure and toughness in order to stand up to all that juicy fruit. The cake is mixed in the food processor, which like I said seemed to take no more than 30 seconds. It is a lovely yellow cake base and despite being thick and a tad unruly, smelled like vanilla and butter, which is to say, delicious.

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

The batter gets plopped onto the fruit and with an offset spatula smoothed carefully. Then it goes into the oven until the cake is golden and your home smells heavenly.

After a cool down of about ten minutes, every baker's skills are tested as the cake is turned out of the pan. Here's when I regretted being stubborn and insisting on baking the cake in a skillet. The handle prevented me from being able to hold the cake plate flush and center over the pan. I decided I could center the cake once it was on the cake plate, but what I didn't count on was having some of the juicy juices miss the plate entirely. Dangit!

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

Also, a lot of the barely caramelized caramel stuck to the pan. I scraped it off and plopped it over the top of the cake.

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

It was so hard not to bust into the cake while it was still warm. I was also really concerned that in 24 hours the cake would be a complete mush from all the fruity juices. My thoughts circled around like this: Maybe I should eat it before 24 hours. Maybe I should wait. Maybe I should eat a slice now and save the rest for 24 hours to compare. I should wait. But I should try a piece now.

Then Cookie came over and told me the whole place smelled like the cake and that we needed to try it RIGHT AWAY. Secretly I cheered, yessssss!

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

The little crunchy bits that were supposed to be caramel were distracting, but otherwise the cake was excellent. It was obviously very moist, and super flavorful. Tart but not puckery, juicy but not mushy, bright and summery with a mellow yellow cake base to finish it all off. This cake didn't need whipped cream or ice cream but I bet it would be nice. Cookie loved the cake and immediately had a second slice, and took a large chunk home.

The next day, the cake wasn't mushy at all, in fact it had reabsorbed much of the juice that previously was pooling on the cake plate. I should have known that Rose wouldn't have written a recipe for a mushy upside down cake. I almost feel like the caramel is unnecessary and detracts from the clean flavors of the fruit, but maybe I should try again with proper caramel before I make my decision. This is a wonderful cake that would be an easy way to top off a backyard barbecue or for a weekday dessert.

Plum Blueberry Upside Down Cake

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lemon Meringue Cake

This week's Heavenly Cake is the Lemon Meringue Cake; Rose's take on the lemon meringue pie. I love the lemon, and I sorta like the meringue, so I was curious to see how I would like this cake.

Lemon Meringue Cake

August 1, 2010
Name of Cake: Lemony POW!
Occasion: HCB
Constituents: two layers biscuit soaked with a lemon syrup, filled with lemon curd, frosted with lemon italian meringue

This reminds me of the Triple Lemon Threat (the lemon luxury layer cake), which had lemon in all three components. That cake was good eatin. I have high hopes for this one too, except that I flaked on making the lemon curd and bought a jar at the store today. I thought I bought a good brand, but when I came home and opened the jar, it was only meh. A little too buttery for my tastes. Oh well. I am hoping that the rest of the cake will overpower the curd a bit.

This is the second cake I baked this weekend so I decided to just half the recipe. I know--first I only make a half recipe then I cheat and buy curd. So lazy.

There are several components to this cake but they are all pretty easy to do, especially if you cut corners and skip the making of the curd. Not that curd is hard to make, it is just a lot of standing and stirring and staring at the pot. It is well worth the standing and staring as homemade curd is delicious, and then you don't regret buying a mediocre jar of curd.

The cake component is a biscuit that is baked in two rounds. The original recipe calls for two 9 inch rounds but since I halved it I got to use my cute little 6 in cake pans. Interestingly, the pans get greased and floured then parchmented, which I suppose is to let the parchment get a good grip on the bottom of the cake. By its nature biscuit is tough and fairly flavorless and needs a liberal soak to make it worth eating--in order for the soaking liquid to easily penetrate, the top and bottom crusts are removed. Usually the bottom crust comes off with the parchment so long story long the pans are greased and floured but the parchment is not.

Lemon Meringue Cake

A biscuit is a sponge-type cake, which means the cake's rise comes mainly from very whipped eggs instead of baking powder or soda like in a butter cake. To this end, the egg yolks are whipped up with the sugar and in this case lemon zest until it falls from the beater in a thick ribbon. I like the ribbon stage of egg beating, so pretty.

The egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks separately and folded into the ribbon. All that's left is to scrape the thick batter into the pans and get them into the oven for 30 minutes. Biscuit need to be unmolded as soon as they are pulled from the oven, and left to cool upright.

While the cakes bake and cool, the lemon-sugar syrup is made. Sugar and water are brought to a boil and immediately covered and removed from heat. Once this cools the lemon juice is added. And, we're done.

Next up: the italian meringue. What makes this meringue all Italian and chic is the presence of a sugar syrup. This stabilizes the meringue and keeps it from watering out, which is gross. Nobody likes that.

The sugar, water, and lemon juice are brought to the hard ball stage and then poured into the already stiffly beaten egg whites. Rose advises pouring the syrup into a glass measuring cup to stop the cooking, and then pouring from the cup into the mixer. This way, if the syrup cools down too much before it gets mixed into the egg whites, you could simply nuke the cup and remelt the syrup. I don't have a nuker anymore so I left the syrup in the pan--I felt very rebellious--with the plan of reheating it on the stovetop if need be. Well there was no problem as the syrup is incorporated into the whites pretty quickly, and I was happy to put the clean measuring cup back into the cupboard.

Italian meringue is fascinating. The egg whites are already stiffly beaten and looking really good, but something happens to them when the hot sugar syrup is added. It doesn't necessarily get bigger and fluffier, but more glossier and fabulous. Kind of like a drag queen.

Lemon Meringue Cake

It looks like too much meringue for the cake, but just like the pie, all that fluff gets piled on top. I decided to try to copy the photo in the book and go for a flat top instead of a dome; I thought I could fool people into eating it if they didn't know just how thick a layer of meringue is on top. Most meringue is so damn sweet that people are afraid of it now.

I love billowy marshmallowy frosting. Not necessarily because of the taste, but because it is so much fun to frost. It is forgiving, fluffy, and willing to do whatever you want without melting, picking up crumbs, or giving you the finger and refusing. So I had fun frosting the cake with the chic meringue.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lastly, Rose instructs you to stick your billowy frosted cake into a 500°F oven for a bit until the meringue looks nicely toasted. I had other things hogging up the oven so I busted out the tiny little butane torch and got to toasting. I burnt the frosting in places but I think I did ok.

By the time the cake was cooled, assembled, frosted and torched, it was past midnight and I needed to to go sleep. Curiously, usually anytime we syrup a cake we wait 24 hours before eating, so as to give the moisture and flavor time to evenly distribute. With this cake there's no mention of waiting, but I'm doing it anyway. We'll see how it tastes when I have it for breakfast tomorrow.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Breakfast tomorrow:
WOW, so lemony! It is delicious! The meringue isn't too sweet at all, and the tartness of the lemon keeps the cake from being too sweet. The biscuit is really moist, bordering on really wet. The curd has been bullied into tasting good by the rest of the components. The combination of the light biscuit and the italian meringue makes this dessert feel lighter than air.

Lemon Meringue Cake

This would be a great dessert for a summer party.  I shared a few slices with my friends Coleen and Cookie.  Coleen agreed that the cake was moist bordering on wet and thought it would have been better if she didn't feel like she needed to wring out the cake.  Cookie enjoyed the cake but felt it was too lemony for her tastes.  I think if you are a lemon lover this cake is a dream come true.

Lemon Meringue Cake
the high-top meringue reminds me of Kid. remember the early 90's?

Here's more photos....I couldn't decide which ones to post so I just dumped them all here :P

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake