Sunday, November 28, 2010

FFWD: Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake

As usual, I am cross-posting this week's French Fridays with Dorie entry as it is a cake and this a cakeblog after all. Find the rest of my French Fridays with Dorie escapades at the other blog: Everything But The Cake, and click on the badge to the left to learn more about French Fridays with Dorie and see what the other members have been cooking up.

This month's French Fridays with Dorie selections have all been quick and easy to prepare, and in most cases delicious. It is always wonderful to have such memorable food in the arsenal for weeknight dinners, or when having over friends. This week's selection, the Caramel Topped Semolina Cake, was no exception.

caramel topped semolina cake

When I hear semolina I think about pasta, but in this case the cake is made from farina, which most Americans know as Cream of Wheat. It is kind of a flan-type cake, a little custardy with a thin caramel top, and also a bit rustic and simple and comforting. As written the cake is very simple and plain in looks and taste, and a snap to prepare.

caramel topped semolina cake caramel topped semolina cake

It starts with making a batch of Cream of Wheat, using whole milk instead of water for a richer, thicker cereal. While that cools, the caramel is made and poured into the cake pan. Dorie has this great trick of warming the pan in the preheating oven so that the caramel will spread and cover the bottom of the pan evenly.

caramel topped semolina cake caramel topped semolina cake

The recipe calls for plump golden raisins, but I am not much of a raisin fan. I fired them and used plump dried sour cherries--a wonderful substitute that I may make permanent. I plumped up the cherries by simmering them in a bit of water for a couple of minutes, then letting them steam dry in a colander while I made the rest of the cake.

caramel topped semolina cake

So to the cooked and cooled farina, a couple of eggs are stirred in as well as some vanilla and the sour cherries. No spices are called for, but next time I would want to add a little fresh nutmeg or cardamom. Cinnamon would be an obvious add-in, but I think something a little more aromatic would offset all that creaminess really nicely.

caramel topped semolina cake

The farina custard is poured into the pan atop the caramel, and baked for about 20 minutes. The cake is unmolded right away and left to cool. I overbaked my cake a tad, as the edges looked a little too set compared to the middle.

caramel topped semolina cake

This was a delicious cake, and a wonderful springboard to what could be even more interesting with the addition of some spices. This was so simple, and so comforting that it would be a perfect weekend treat in front of the fire with friends.

caramel topped semolina cake

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

A couple of months ago, Cabbage turned the big 40. He didn't want a big party, or even a little party, but I did agree to bake him a cake. He is a chocolate-peanut butter fan so I had a few options in my arsenal. His birthday fell during a time when I was out of town, but I planned to bake his cake before I left. Then...I got busy...and promised to bake him a cake when I returned. Especially since I got him to feed my cats while I was gone.

So I left for my trip, and returned home, and Cabbage was a year older. And...I never got around to baking his cake. Until now! When I saw this cake on the list, I realised my chance at birthday cake redemption had come.

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

November 14, 2010
Name of Cake: Cabbage's Belated Birthday
Occasion:HCB, and Cabbage's Belated Birthday
Constituents: a 9 in layer chocolate genoise frosted with peanut butter whipped ganache

Whenever we bake a genoise, I think about how previously genoise and I didn't see eye to eye. They would be sad fallen discs and I would be miffed, because I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Things seemed to have taken a turn for the best lately, and I hope I don't jinx myself for saying that!

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

The secret to a nice genoise is in beating the eggs on high for a good five minutes or so. I like to go for an extra minute, just in case. After beating the eggs, the melted butter, the flour, and the chocolate paste need to be folded in. I was nervous about all this extra folding in of stuff; what if I deflated my gorgeous eggs and baked a sad fallen disc?

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

I did my best to fold quickly but thoroughly. I have discovered my favorite tool for all the folding is the whisk attachment from the KA. Better than the balloon whisk, way better than a spatula, and it was already dirty anyway. Less to wash!

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

Phew! No sad fallen disc here. Next up, making the syrup to moisten the cake. Rose calls for Chambord but I just used a sugar syrup to which I added a couple of tablespoons of raspberry-cherry jam. I thought that might give the cake the berry flavor the Chambord would have. I strained out the jam solids before applying to the cake, but the berry flavor was pretty mild so I don't think it really made a difference in flavor. Even though it looks like too much syrup, the genoise slurps it up without falling apart or getting mushy. Once syruped, however, the cake is very delicate so careful moving it around.

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

It was time for the ganache. This ganache is unusual as it doesn't take hours to cool down to spreading consistency, in fact the cream isn't even heated. The chocolate is melted, the peanut butter is whisked in, then the cold cream and vanilla. This is all whisked (by hand) for a bit until the ganache is smooth and forms soft peaks. (Rose warns not to overmix as the ganache will become grainy. I must have overmixed as my ganache wasn't smooth as silk, but I wasn't too concerned.) At that point it is ready to be used. My kitchen was too cold as the ganache was quickly becoming too stiff, so I moved everything into the warm front room where I could finish frosting.

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

It took several passes before I got a swirl I could live with.

Then the hardest part of all: letting the cake come together overnight before eating it. So not fair! The ganache smelled so deliciously peanut buttery I really wanted to try it.

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

The next morning, the sun was out and the time was right to get my photos. I had thought about cutting a slice for the shot and then putting it back so that Cookie, Cabbage and I could try it together that night. But as I was shooting the cake slice the tea kettle boiled and what's better than tea and cake for breakfast? So I ate the slice. It was meant to be.

Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache

The genoise was light and spongy in texture, moist and not-too-sweet, and lightly chocolaty. The ganache is the star of the show here, and it was a perfect balance of chocolate and peanut butter and deliciously creamy to boot. It reminded me of my favorite chocolate peanut butter ice cream (minus the peanut butter chunks). I think a sprinkling of salted peanuts on top of the cake would be a nice decoration and a good sweet/salty punch.

That night I brought the cake to Cabbage and Cookie. It received a thumbs up from both of them, however Cabbage the peanut butter fan wished the cake could have been MORE peanut buttery. Maybe I should have stuck to one of my cakes in my arsenal? At any rate, happy birthday my friend!

Curious about the peanut butter cakes in my arsenal?

*Joelf's 2009 Birthday Cake: Chocolate Butter Cake with Heavenly Cakes' Peanut Buttercream

*Raeben's 2009 Birthday Cake: Dorie Greenspan's Peanut Butter Torte (there's an entertaining discussion about disgusting foods from the UK and Ukraine in the comments)

Oh, and by the way?  Green & Black's has made the best chocolate-peanut bar ever.  Holy yum.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

(At first I typed "Pure Pumpin Cheesecake" which I kind of like. It sounds very '80's.) Welcome to Free Cake Week, where the HCB get a chance to bake or re-bake a cake that Marie or the group has already made. I chose a cake the group baked a year ago, as a (pumpin') pumpkin cheesecake sounded perfect for this rainy November.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

November 8, 2010
Name of Cake: Pump it up yo
Occasion: HCB, and a trade with Coleen
Constituents: pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust

I have no idea why I skipped this cheesecake last year. Why would I do a lame thing like that? It may have had something to do with the five pies we made for Thanksgiving, but hello! This is pumpkin cheesecake.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

The crust is a spicy pecan-gingersnap cookie crust, which is a perfect foil for the pumpkin and brings a bit of the spices we expect from a pumpkin dessert. Plus, I love a spicy gingersnap. I bought a ridiculously large box of them from IKEA so I could have something to nibble on after giving away the cheesecake.

Then I got the idea to sandwich the leftover caramel between gingersnaps.

Caramel Gingersnap Sandwiches

Best idea ever.

So interestingly, the crust doesn't need to be pre-baked like most graham cracker crusts do. I have no idea why, but I liked skipping that step.

The pumpkin is cooked briefly in a pan with turbinado sugar until thick and shiny.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake
I loved the bit of sunshine illuminating the pan.  I mean, sunshine!  In November!  Such a treat.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

This cheesecake should get whirred together quickly in the food processor. Now unfortunately I deleted the photo, but there was a shot of pumpkin cheesecake batter (before adding the cream cheese) oozing out of the bottom of my food processor. I discovered that the max fill line for liquids is only about halfway up the side of the bowl, and as I began adding the cream cheese I pushed the liquid past the line. And onto my counter.

After a minor panic I dumped the batter into the KitchenAid mixer. In TCB, the Cordon Rose Cheesecake is made in the KA, so I referenced those instructions. Using the whisk beater, I beat the cream cheese into the liquid until well-blended. It took a while, but we got there in the end.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

Then the eggs are added and everything turns into a lovely custard.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

And after a bake in a waterbath, we get this:

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

My cheesecake was too jiggly after the required baking time, and remembering my Coconut Cheesecake Pudding, put the Pumpin' Cheesecake back into the oven for another 15 minutes.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

After cooling for one hour in the oven and to room temperature on the counter, the cheesecake is put to bed in the refrigerator overnight. Next up, the caramel drizzle.

Despite reading Rose's comment on Marie's post reminding everyone not to overcook the caramel (the group had caramel problems), I must have overcooked the caramel because I had the exact same problem. The caramel had such a small window of being drippy and drizzily and was mostly just a sticky blob. I tried spreading it across the top of the cheesecake but it looked ugly so I rolled it off in one sheet just as easily as rolling off the top crust of a genoise. I decided to skip the caramel and top with chopped toasted pecans, but I burned those. So, back to the caramel. No microwave to rewarm the caramel, so I placed the pyrex cup in a pan of simmering water. Eventually, the caramel softened enough to kind of drizzle.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

However my drizzles look like they've got the shakes. Oh well. (You can also see that when I rolled the sheet of caramel off the top of the cake it pulled away the top crust.)

I brought the cheesecake over to Coleen's house. I had promised her the cheesecake as a trade for some work she had done.  She is quite a baker herself and I was worried the absence of spices would be disappointing, but I had nothing to worry about. The caramel notes from the turbinado sugar complemented the pumpkin and cream cheese so perfectly and the gingersnap crust was enough to give the pumpkin cheesecake some spice. The texture was impossibly light and fluffy; nothing you would expect from a cheesecake. Coleen loved it; a good trade for everyone!

Read Marie's Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake post and hear about her old-school thermometer that had Woody very concerned. And a cat got to give her taste impressions!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

Hello, lovely Bakers. This week's cake is of my favorite variety: the sour cream bundt. I had no idea, before joining the Heavenly Cake Bakers, just how much I love a sour cream bundt. This one, with fresh pear and almond cream, is moist, delicious, and richly satisfying.

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

October 17, 2010
Name of cake: Sour Cream Bundt! (with pears and almond cream)
Occasion: HCB, and Raiuchka is in town!
Constituents: sour cream bundt with pears and almond cream (do i hear an echo?)

A couple of weeks ago Raiuchka came down to visit for the weekend. Our plan: Raiuchka would teach me some of our favorite Russian dishes, and we would bake a cake together. Also, we would explore some of the Russian markets around town (looking for the best Black Bread), reminisce about our time in Simferopol, and try to drink vodka like we used to. (Guess which one we failed at. Here's a hint: 37 year old livers aren't as spry as they were at 20. In our defense, potato vodka is strong assed shit.)

It was hard, at least for me, to pick a favorite Russian grocery, as each one had something I liked but none had all the things I liked. The nearest store to me, luckily, has the closest thing to black bread I have found so far, plus our favorite cheese from our days in Simferopol. It is called Rossisski--translates as russian cheese, and it is similar to havarti.

raiuchka took this shot while we were having tea at one of our professor's apartment.  i stole it from her flickr feed :)

The black bread we ate in Simferopol, after standing in the proverbial bread lines--but it was more like bread crowds--had a crackly crisp crust, a dark and dense interior with a sour tang. The loaves were always round, and there was never enough. We were in Simferopol in 1994, only three years after the the collapse of communism, and all of Ukraine was in hard times. There was nothing on the shelves of what was once a government store, just the bread behind the counter that people were fighting to buy. Ukraine didn't have any money to buy fuel from Russia, so the buses barely ran and when they did, people fought to get the very last spot on the steps, often running each other over or even forcibly pushing the crowd deeper into the bus, like you would force more clothes into your dresser drawer. Many people didn't have running water or electricity, or if they had running water it never was hot. The kids my age in their early twenties didn't have much of a future, as there were no jobs. The professors at the University hadn't been paid in six months, but they showed up and did their jobs anyway, because as they would say, "what else is there to be done?" Times were very uncertain, and almost everyone was scared. They would say to us, "we have it hard, and we've had it hard in the past. But one thing about us, we endure." They would say it with pride, thumping the table, and we would top it off with another shot of room temperature vodka. Oof, warm vodka.

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

Life was hard but we still had a great time. The people can be very gruff and indeed, run you down to get on the bus, but once you stop being a stranger and they know who you are, they will invite you into their home, share what they have, drink long and deep with you, and pretty much bend over backwards for you if need be.

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

Anyway, back to present day life in Portland, Oregon. Actually, back to a couple of weeks ago when Raiuchka was visiting and we baked the Swedish Pear and Almond Cake. We spent all day Saturday cooking Russian, so we baked the cake on Sunday, while still in our pjs, a little hungover and yet buzzing from all that black tea.

chai c raiuchke

It is a simple and basic sour cream bundt cake, with the fun trick of adding a layer of almond cream and fresh pears to the top of the cake which will sink to the bottom by the end of the bake. That is good baking magic, and delicious to boot. I would have preferred to use at least partly almond extract instead of just vanilla for the cake, as the delicious almond flavor stayed pretty much in the cream at the top of the cake.

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

We ate this cake while playing Durak, which is a very addictive card game. We played it A LOT during our stay in Simferopol. It can be played in teams or as individuals, and is better when there are more than two people playing. I find it fascinating that there is no winner to durak, only a loser. In our own games, there is a clear winner and it is the winner who is singled out (and everybody else are the losers). In Durak, there is a clear loser and it is the loser who is singled out (and everybody else are the non-losers).

Swedish Pear and Almond Cake

By the way, the cake was delicious, in all the ways a sour cream bundt is delicious: rich, dense, moist, soft, simple and unassuming yet full of flavor and deeply satisfying. I think in the sour cream bundt category the marble velvet is still the winner, but this is certainly a non-loser.

a couple of non losers
a couple of durischkas

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today is a typical gray Oregon day, and I planned to spend it cleaning the bathroom, baking a pumpkin cheesecake for next week's Heavenly Cakes (free cake week!), and making some Pumpkin-Gorgonzola flans for next week's French Fridays with Dorie. It is pumpkin time, and I'm still going through last year's canned pumpkin spree.

However, running through my blog feed this afternoon, I discovered Molly over at Orangette had a new post. After reading, Saturday's plans needed to change. She had me at digestive biscuit. I was powerless to resist. The bathroom can be cleaned tomorrow.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

November 06, 2010
Name of Cookie: Forget the pumpkin, gimme the cookie
Occasion: Trying to avoid cleaning the bathroom
Constituents: Chocolate chip cookie, made with whole wheat flour

This is a super easy cookie to make. Dry ingredients are whisked together in a bowl. The butter, which should be cold, is cut into 1/2 inch cubes and creamed with white sugar and dark muscovado. (I actually pulled a RLB move and draped the mixer in plastic wrap--sugar and butter flew everywhere, on low speed!) Two eggs are added, one at a time, then vanilla. The flour is dumped in (cover the mixer!) and mixed until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. And, bake.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

The recipe suggests balls of dough about 3 tablespoons big. I'm sure there's a handy ice cream scoop perfect for the job, but lacking that I weighed out a 3 tbsp ball--66 grams--and went from there. I got 18 cookies which I fit onto two cookie sheets.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Let me tell you, these aren't dry and depressing like people think whole wheat baked goodies can be. They are moist, and chewy. The dark muscovado brings a round molasses note, which complements the earthy sweetness of the whole wheat. Of course, every melty chocolate chip is a delight. I am so glad I took a detour this afternoon. However, someone get these cookies out of my kitchen!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

On a side note, I think I am going to need to start my blog projects in the morning, as the days are dark and the sun is going down progressively earlier. It is 5:43 pm and I've lost my light!

Find the recipe at Orangette, or in Kim Boyce's book Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.