Monday, April 27, 2015

The Baking Bible: Lemon Jammies

Up this week are Lemon Jammies: a light crisp cookie sandwiched with either a lemon curd or lemon buttercream. Really one could fill these with pretty much anything that goes with lemon, but the main suggestions and the ones I went with are those mentioned.

The batter comes together pretty quickly in the food processor. With all the ingredients pre-prepped I was able to hold Eliot so he could watch the processing antics. He loved that and has been asking that we use the food processor ever since. (Pie dough coming up, kid!)

Perhaps I over processed the dough as it needed no kneading to come together. The dough gets divided into thirds and refrigerated for 2 hours or up to 2 days. I opted for overnight.

with buttercream

Then the dough gets rolled out and the cookies are cut. My stupid dough was sticky and difficult. It took a good bit of flouring and once an entire scrap and reboot. Maybe it was too warm? I don't know. The cookies bake for about 10 minutes and are taken off the sheet right away; they cool in about five minutes.

Now for the fun part! I had made the Lemon Neoclassic Buttercream the night before (wih Lyle's golden Syrup instead of corn syrup) and I made half the sandwiches with the buttercream and half with lemon curd (storebought). The neoclassic buttercream used to be my go-to frosting until I discovered the Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams. Mostly because the neoclassic is all egg yolks and that leaves even more egg whites in my freezer, and I already have too many egg whites in my freezer. The Neoclassic buttercream is very silky, very buttery, and yet very delicate. This version contains both lemon juice and lemon zest, which makes it super lemony. I loved it as a cookie filling, even more than I liked the curd. Interestingly, the cookies with the buttercream stayed a bit crisp while the curd cookies softened up by the end of the night.

with curd

Mark really liked these cookies, too. I asked him if he wanted to take some to work, and he told me he hasn't decided yet. Which probably means he would like us to eat them all.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Baking Bible: The Polish Princess

This is a very rich a decadent cake based on a modern Polish dessert called the Ambassador. Rose says, "the cake came into popularity in the early 1990s...when there was an influx of quality chocolate, alkalized cocoa, and raisins from abroad." I tried to Google what the Ambassador cake looks like but all I got were results pertaining to a DJ called the Polish Ambassador. So...I have no idea what the original inspiration is like but Rose came up with a sponge cake topped with two flavors of pastry buttercream. That's right, we took a regular ol' pastry cream and enriched it with MORE BUTTER. This is a really really good idea.

she's not the prettiest princess at the ball, but she has a buttery heart. a delicious, buttery heart. 

I assumed the cake would be a genoise, but it isn't. It was, for me, a very unusual sponge cake. The egg whites are beat to stiff peaks with the sugar, then then yolks are beat in, then the flour sifted over and folded in. Then, weirdest ingredient in my opinion for a sponge cake, a bit of warm water is folded in.

Important tidbit: the cake should not pull away from the sides of the pan until after you pull it from the oven, or at all, really. My cake wasn't done at the earliest suggested time so I left it in for ten more minutes and guess what--it had pulled away from the sides! Nooooo! Oh well. I am not a throw away and redo type of person, so I soldiered on. I am also not a perfectionist in any way, shape, or form, so I wasn't fretting about my overbaked cake. At least, not yet.

overbaked bottom
 The cake, once cooled, is syruped with a vodka tea syrup. Basically you make a cup of black tea, Eastern European style (with lemon and sugar), and you add a good glug of vodka. I used to have nice black tea but these days I'm keeping it classy with Red Rose and PG Tips. The cake got the Tips.

This is a lot of syrup for the cake, but patient dabbing with the pastry brush seemed to get it all in there. I focused the syrup more towards the outside edge and the sides of the cake especially since I overbaked it. I may have drank the last little bit for myself, but the cake didn't seem to suffer. (Neither did I.)

gooey, but it will be ok in the end

Next up, the pastry cream. I've never made pastry cream with cornstarch, but this one calls for it and a quick internet search reveals that it is pretty normal to use cornstarch to thicken pastry cream. I guess it would be good insurance against curdling the yolks and also keeping it from seeping later on. I bought the fancy jersey cow's milk in the jars. Really good ingredients can cover up some basic technique mistakes like overbaking the cake. :)

product placement

completed pastry cream

The recipe also recommends high fat butter so I splurged for the Danish Lurpack. Two packages, since we needed almost one pound of butter.

The pastry cream has to cool for at least a couple of hours. I stashed it in the fridge after one hour while we ventured out to the park.

Next up, making the pastry buttercream. Now it doesn't mention it in the recipe, but it would be best if the butter and the pastry cream were about the same temperature to encourage the smooth emulsification of the butter. I discovered this the hard way as my pastry cream was super cold and my butter was room temperature, but all I did was leave the grainy buttercream stuff on the counter for about an hour and rebeat it madly until it smoothed out.

The pastry cream is then divided in half, and to one half cocoa powder and thinly sliced and toasted walnuts are mixed in. I burnt my last stash of walnuts instead of toasting them, so I used pecans instead. I kinda like pecans better, so I wasn't too upset.

The other half of the pastry buttercream gets some raisins and chopped bitter chocolate. Well you know I hate raisins but I went ahead and used the golden raisins. So far I have been pleasantly surprised with the raisins in the recipes we've made so maybe they would be good here, too.

Once the pastry buttercreams have been mixed up and the cake has been syruped, all that's left is to assemble. I wonder if it would have been better for the pastry creams to have been a little chilled so as to be a bit stiff. Mine were close to room temperature at this point and almost on the verge of being runny. And since my cake had shrunk from the sides of the pan, it was a little trickier getting the pastry cream smoothed out. Anyways, first layer down is the chocolate-nut layer. Then it needs to be refrigerated for an hour to firm up, but I took a page out of Raymond's book and put it in the freezer for a bit instead. Then the pastry cream with the raisins and chocolate. After his layer firms up you're supposed to grate chocolate on top, but I was feeling done so I left it as-is.

not the prettiest top, but everybody ate it anyways
Then the cake needs to hang out overnight to sort itself out. So we had some for breakfast. It is a very decadent breakfast. The buttercreams are rich and creamy, and were the stars of the show. There was a nice light sponge cake lurking beneath all the creaminess, but honestly it wasn't much to write home about, especially when there was all that topping. Mark decided the real name of the cake is "Now We Can Buy Everything! (And Cram It Into One Cake) "

I was meeting some of my dear doula sisters later that afternoon and shared the cake with them. The ladies loved it, yet we all agreed (as did Mark) that the raisins don't add much and can and should be left out. I told them I was dreaming of turning the cocoa layer into a mocha layer with slightly salty nuts, and leaving the top layer as is (without raisins). One of them suggested toasted coconut in place of raisins which is certainly worth trying.    

There's one slice left for Mark, and I am having a hard time not eating it myself. A delicious, fairly simple cake to make, share, and eat.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Baking Bible: Dattelkonfekt

Dattelkonfekt, or date confections, or date-nut meringues, are a surprisingly addictive cookie. They don't seem like much; in fact upon first sampling I gave then a resounding, "eh." But they sneak up on you, and suddenly you discover you've easily eaten about six of them while reading up on next week's baking project. Now I love them, and the only thing I regret is that there isn't any chocolate in them.

These are a super easy confection to make with a list of ingredients you can count on one hand: egg whites, sugar, almonds, dates, and vanilla extract.

The almonds are ground up in the food processor. Rose prefers unblanched sliced almonds as they have a more almondy flavor. I could only find blanched so I gave mine a little toast to punch up their flavor, plus I was worried they would taste a bit raw in the final cookie, and I don't like that.

Next the almonds are removed from the processor so that the dates can be ground down into a sticky mass. Then the nuts are pulsed back in and set aside.

Then the whites get beaten in the mixer at supposedly medium-low speed until soft peaks are held. I decided this must be a typo (which I don't think it is) and beat them at medium-high. The sugar is added and mixed (now really at medium high) for exactly five minutes. Rose warns that at this stage the whites will not hold a peak but will be glossy. Check. Mix in the vanilla, then add the dates and almonds, and that's that.

kinda looks like super milky oatmeal
 The sticky batter gets piped onto either fancy schmancy Back-Oblaten (which I had never heard of before) or onto parchment lined cookie sheets. I opted for the parchment.

I suck at piping, so the first batch of piped meringues look like somebody who sucks at piping piped them. (Peter Piper piped a peck of peculiar patties!)

The second batch is a bit better (except I bumped the cookie sheet on the way to the table and that one cookie fell off)


The cookies baked for a bit longer than the maximum time suggested to get a pale brown color. I like them as is, which is to say crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. However, I wonder what they would be like if they were baked to a nice toasty brown? I might like that, too.

People who dislike the sickly sweetness of meringue have nothing to worry about here. Nuts do a wonderful job of offsetting sweet meringue, and the dates actually contribute some really nice jammy/fruity notes without adding more sweet. Super easy to bake, and super easy to eat. A surprise winner!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Pie and Pastry Bible: Shaker Lemon Pie

This week, the Alpha Bakers are baking up a really lovely looking and delicious Strawberry Shortcake Genoise, but since I want to wait for fresh strawberries I decided to skip this week's bake. Well, I couldn't take a whole week off baking so I decided to do something else. We had a couple of lemons laying around, and since it was Easter weekend, lemons seemed just Springy enough to work. So I decided to try a pie I've been curious about for a long time.

The Shaker Lemon Pie, from another of Rose's books The Pie and Pastry Bible, is a very tart and lemony pie made in the same manner as marmalade. That is, the entire lemon: peel, pith, and juicy segments are macerated in sugar for 24 hours and then all of it is mixed with eggs and baked in a pie crust. Crazy! I had to try it.

lemons, at the beginning of a 24 hour sugar soak
However, I am having such trouble with Rose's Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust that I took a break from it and used Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee. This is a standard workhorse of a pie dough; just flour, butter, salt, and some water. This crust can handle not being chilled before rolling, or not being chilled before baking, or not being chilled when it gets soft while rolling out. This makes it the ideal pastry for me, who does not like to wait more than is necessary for dessert.

Curiously, the pie is begun in a very hot oven but after 15 minutes turned down to 350 for the rest of its bake. This leaves the crust a pale blond color, not the nice crusty brown one expects from a baked pie. I wished I had brushed the top with cream or an egg wash or something to help the browning, plus a sprinkle of sugar would be welcome. Next time.

ready for a top crust

Rose gives instructions on how to slice the lemons super thinly by hand, but Mark encouraged me to use the mandolin slicer. I am afraid of anything that sharp as I'd like to keep my fingertips intact. He coached me through proper mandolin safety and reminded me several times to wear the teflon glove and stop slicing when I got to the pithy end. I did it, but if Mark wasn't home I would have totally sliced the lemons by hand.

I did make a mistake; I didn't read the directions very well and so I sliced up 340 grams of lemon, which it turns out is the weight of the whole lemons before slicing. I only needed about 300g for the pie, so I had 40g more already macerating in the sugar when I noticed. So, I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. If I was smart, I could have figured out how to increase the sugar and eggs but honestly I didn't think of that until right now. Oh well!

This pie is for the ultimate lemon lover, who doesn't mind a bit of bitter. Maybe it wouldn't have been a bit bitter if I had the proper ratio of lemon to sugar, but I actually don't mind. I am always saying that the best part of any citrus fruit is the bitter white pith we are trained to throw away; the pith is where all the flavonoids live! A generous dollop of whipped cream plays really nicely with the Shaker Lemon Pie, as does a creamy cup of coffee or a strong cup of milky black tea. (Which also has flavonoids! You're being so healthy.)

Next week I'm back with the Alpha Bakers as we bake up date-nut meringue cookies. Do go and check out all the Strawberry Shortcake Genoise, they look so pretty and I know they must be delicious. I'll be dreaming of that cake until strawberry season hits.