Monday, February 23, 2015

The Baking Bible: Lemon Posset Shortcakes

This week's project is another one of those easy to make, spectacular results kind of bake. Little genoise cakes filled with a lemon posset, which is a lemony custard made with just lemon juice, sugar, and cream. The acid in the lemon juice is what sets the cream, and such spare ingredients really let the lemon shine. A perfect dessert for the lemon lover in your life.

The original Lemon Posset was served in a cup without the cake, and there are instructions to make this variation as well. I doubled the posset, since I had enough lemons and cream, so we got to try both desserts. Such a hard life we have.

It has been awhile since I have made a genoise and I had forgotten how much I love them. A genoise is a sponge cake leavened with very well beaten eggs. What makes these cakes so delicious is the browned and clarified butter, or beurre noisette. This is what you do to butter when you want to make it more awesome than it already is. Beurre noisette can take a while to make, as you have to not only clarify the butter (cook off all the water and wait for the milk solids to separate) but then you wait for those solids to brown. And as Carla Hall says on The Chew, "there is flavor in the brown." Totes right, there is.

Rose mentions that beurre noisette can live in the freezer for a good long time so I like to clarify a pound of butter and freeze the results. This takes forever to do but having it on hand is wonderful. And holy cow, according to what I wrote on the top of my container, this beurre noisette is from 2012!?! And it is still perfectly good.

After the cakes cool they are syruped with a lemon simple syrup and left to rest. Usually we leave genoise to rest overnight once syruped, and although this recipe makes no mention of that, I went ahead and did it anyway. The recipe does call for glazing the cakes in an apple jelly glaze to seal the sides and keep the cake from drying out. I totally forgot to do that, but we ate all the cakes within 12 hours of final assembling so there were no dry cake problems to speak of.

The lemon posset component is really easy to make, but does take a lot of time to set. Lemon juice and sugar are brought to an almost boil, the scalded cream is mixed in, and then it is poured into a nonreactive container to set. Rose warns that the posset mustn't be deeper than 3/4 inch to set properly, and when you double the recipe it fits perfectly in a 9 in pyrex pie plate. Then the waiting game begins. 3-4 hours later, the top layer of the posset has set to a thick cream. This is scraped off with a spoon and set in the cakes' depression. Both the cakes and the posset go back into the refrigerator for another hour to set, then the more creamier middle layer of posset is spooned into the cakes up to the top. Then, OMG, another 2 hours of refrigeration to set that before you can eat it. Thank the fudge I doubled the posset so Mark and I could sample it while we waited for the final set. It was delicious, but I wanted a little whipped cream to set it off. Yep, I wanted even more cream. I also thought a little ginger syrup would go nicely with the lemony custard, but I was too lazy to make any. Next time.

When we finally were able to eat a shortcake, it was well worth the wait. The buttery, soft, genoise is a perfect match for the bright and creamy posset. I am not ashamed to say we ate two each last night, leaving the last two shortcakes for this morning for photos. Then we ate them as sort of a dessert after breakfast. Delicious.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Baking Bible: Chocolate Pavarotti with Wicked Good Ganache

There are chocolate cakes and there are chocolate cakes. This is one of the best I've had; it is light, moist, and tender. It almost feels like a cross between a sponge type cake (like the Chocolate Cuddle Cake) and a dense rich butter cake. It is easy to make and so delicious. The secret ingredient is white chocolate, which gives it that melt-in-your-mouth quality as well as a little bit of extra lift. Oil replaces some of the butter to keep it moist and soft at cool room temperature.

The ganache is also really wonderful; it is soft and pliant and richly satisfying without being too dark and possibly overpowering (I'm looking at you, Midnight Ganache of my dreams). There's a secret technique here, too, which is what Rose calls an "enrichment" of unsweetened chocolate and corn syrup. This gets mixed into the regular culprits of 61% chocolate and heavy cream. Oh, and there's a little kick from a bit of cayenne pepper. I thought we had cayenne until I went looking for it and discovered we don't anymore (Mark went on a big spice clean-out before we moved here). He suggested using the Ancho chili powder instead so I did. Just a tiny bit of lingering something that stays on your tongue, nothing overpowering or uncomfortable. Rose says the bit of heat encourages the chocolate flavor to linger in your mouth, and I think I might agree. At any rate, it is a yummy ganache.

I am loving pre-prepping the night before baking. Everything is up to room temperature, everything is measured out, and therefore mixing takes only a couple of minutes.  

And when you've given the child his favorite car, a stool, and some pots and pans to keep him occupied, a quick mix is a great thing.

Here's the finished cake. I got a little lazy with the melting of the white chocolate and you can see a little white chocolate blob on the side there.

And frosted. We couldn't wait to cut into this pretty little cake.

The young sir ate peas while I frosted and photographed.

So...can we eat yet?

 Pac-man cake.

We initially had vanilla ice cream with the cake, which was nice but not amazing. Also, the cake really blossomed in flavor and texture later that night, maybe four or five hours after cooling. Also, I would totally bake this cake again, if I had a chance!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Baking Bible: Black and Blueberry Pie

So this week is a catch-up week for the Alpha Bakers, which means we can either bake a recipe we missed, or redo one we messed up, or bake a variation, or take a week off. I have missed three projects to date, so I decided to play catch-up.

Out of all the projects I missed, I had already halfway begun the Black and Blueberry Pie so that is what I chose to finish. I had made the pastry then got pretty sick so I froze the dough for another time. In the meantime, the bakers had some problems with this pie so in retrospect I'm glad I got to bake it at a later date when I can benefit from all of the others experiences. (Thanks, guys!)

So here's a recap of the shenanigans: some of us lamented baking a summer berry pie in the dead of winter when fresh berries were hard to come by and in poor quality. Rose chimed in that we could use frozen berries no problem, just leave them frozen and bake for a longer time, tenting the pie with foil once the crust browns. So we all said, "hooray" and then things unraveled. Most bakers had very runny pies with unthickened juices, ack! Those that did not, were those that had defrosted their berries. Rose chimed in again, reminding us that we would have needed to bake the pie for longer and to tent the pie with foil once the crust was browned, and added that the cornstarch in the filling wouldn't activate until the filling had reached 212°F. Then a day or two later she suggested next time to defrost the berries, reduce the juices by half, then mix in all the cornstarch and stuff and then bake the pie. Vicki made a second pie and tried this method, with winning results.

Rose said she based her "frozen berries are ok" on her Blackberry Pie in The Pie and Pastry Bible, which she recommends baking frozen as frozen blackberries tend to be sweeter and have softer seeds. I went back and looked at that recipe, and there again she mentioned if baking with frozen berries the pie would need as much as 25 extra minutes to bake thoroughly, plus the foil tent and the 212°F. So I decided to try to bake the pie with frozen berries as she had intended and see if it could be done. Why not.

The cornstarch, sugar, and lemon zest and juice are mixed together then the frozen berries are tossed in. This sits for about 10 minutes to let the berries juice out a teeny bit, then they are tossed around again to evenly distribute the cornstarch and stuff. Then the filling is dumped into the pie, the top crust is laid on, and the pie rests for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Then the pie is baked, and after about 35 minutes as the crust is browned, a large piece of foil with a vent cut in the top goes over the whole pie and now you wait until the juices are bubbling thickly at 212°F. My oven must be low because this took almost another hour!

focus on the perfect filling! not the lack of flaky pastry!

Well, it did work! However there was some spilling over of about 1/4 cup of juices due to my poorly crimped pie crust, and I don't know if that influenced my filling results. My pie crust overall was very sad as I lost my patience rolling it out and all the butter softened and my crust was 100% NOT flaky. The filling? Perfect! The crust? Sigh. I am not a very patient person, and this is why pie crust and me are not friends yet. But let's focus on the filling. It worked! Hooray!
look at the ooze :( you should see the bottom of the pie plate!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Baking Bible: Swedish Apricot Walnut Bread

This week's project was the Swedish apricot Walnut Bread--a little loaf chock full of raisins, walnuts, and apricots with a slight hint of rye. This bread is meant to be served with a cheese course but it is still delicious with a healthy slather of butter.   
I have made bread only a couple of times, and I missed last month's Panettone, so when I saw this week's project was BREAD I took a deep breath and read the recipe 1000 times. I have made a bread similar to this (Whole Wheat Bread with Golden Raisins and Pecans) and it was a bit of a bust, as the bread was pretty dense due to serious user's error. So I was determined not to fudge it up.

First up: make the biga. Now, I only know what a biga is because the Alpha Bakers needed to make a biga for the panettone, and I read as many of the baker's blog posts as I could. Basically it is a blob of flour, yeast, and water that hopefully sits around in the fridge for 72 hours to develop depth of flavor. This biga had equal parts pumpernickel and bread flour. I couldn't find pumpernickel, but I did find dark rye flour and used it instead. Mark kept pulling the biga out of the refrigerator and asking, "what is this??" as if he was hoping he could throw it away. Sadly, my biga never really got bubbly and doubled, so I suspect my yeast is on the way out. I used the biga anyway.

bribe the baby with puffs so the biga can get made!
Next up: make the dough. Walnuts are toasted and skinned and set aside. The biga is cut into pieces and plopped into the mixer with a bit of water. Then more bread flour, salt, and yeast are added and the KA goes to town kneading the dough. Golden raisins and walnuts are kneaded in and then the dough is ready for the first rise.

I noticed that many Alpha Bakers rose their panettone dough in the microwave with a cup of boiling water (Rose suggests this in the back of the Baking Bible) so that's what I did, too. It worked like a charm.

The next step is to degas the dough and give it another rise. Rose gives the option to do the second rise overnight in the refrigerator, so that is what I decided to do.

The next morning the dough had only risen about halfway to doubled so I left it in there to continue doing its thing. And it continued to sit at halfway to doubled all day. By that evening I was a little panicky so I asked the Alphas what they thought was going on. Thankfully many of them told me that their dough didn't rise much in the refrigerator and so I toned down my panic and went to bed. Yes, my dough ended up spending 48 hours in the fridge.

The next day I pulled the dough out in the morning to come back to room temperature. Then around lunch time I bribed the child with the ruler so I could shape the dough, add the unsulphered apricots and leave it for a final rise. Then a couple of hours later I preheated  the oven, and an hour later I finally popped the bread into the oven. I would never call the Swedes a relaxed mellow people, but this bread certainly seemed it as it didn't care how off the schedule I was.

never doubt the power of the ruler
The bread emerged from the oven with a nice thin, crisp crust. Mark was very sad to hear we had to wait 4 hours before we could eat it. When we did cut into it, it revealed a very fruity and nutty inside. The bread didn't seem like a dense mass like that Whole Wheat etc bread was, but honestly there's not a ton of bread to fruit and nuts. That could be due to my possibly dying yeast, but who knows. We enjoyed the bread that night with butter, the next morning toasted with more butter, and later that afternoon with thin slices of cheddar (the only cheese we had in the house). A good bread, and really pretty easy to make. It feels nice to have put the ghost of the dense bread behind me.