Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Make Dorie's Cake

Wow! My first Daring Bakers challenge completed! I am proud to be a part of the group, now over 1,000 strong, started by Lis and Ivonne. Reading other blogs posting about these Daring Bakers got me interested in finding out more. So I signed up for the group and thought- what the heck- might as well start blogging instead of having someone else doing the work of posting about my exploits in the group. Which lead me to thinking that maybe blogging was a good idea also in the fact that I would have a record of what and when I made something to refer back to.
The challenge for March - picked by the host of the month, Morven - was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. It's a very pretty lemon cake layered with hot meringue buttercream frosting and raspberry jam. It is a visually beautiful cake. For some reason in the past, I have shied away from recipes that called for egg whites or yolks. Maybe its lack of time, for separating eggs is easy, but sometimes the recipes that call to do that step are a little more involved. But the cake itself was a cinch to make and is light and lightly lemony in flavor. The frosting is very rich and buttery. I took the cake to work, where our office of 6 left just a quarter of the cake to bring home.When I told Mark of the cake I was baking, he claimed that because he didn't like jelly donuts, he wouldn't like the raspberry part. (Hmm- took me 26 years to find that out!) The raspberry layer does make the cake a very appealing sight, with the contrast of the red against the white cake. But to make him happy, I used lemon curd in place of the raspberry, and the cake was very yummy with an extra lemon kick.I would use the cake recipe again in a heartbeat, but personally the frosting was not to my liking. Maybe it was the thought of the 3 sticks of butter in it, but I would have liked a lighter frosting. I may be in the minority, cuz at work they liked the play of the rich frosting and the lighter cake. I would like to try the hot meringue idea without all the butter.

Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

You can view all the Daring Bakers' Party Cakes here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spaghetti Sauce w/Olives

A few weeks ago we went to one of out favorite Italian restaurants, Stino DaNapoli. I had Lasagna Alla Meridionale and Mark had Linguine Alla Posillipo. Mark especially liked his meal, the sauce in particular, so I thought I would try to see how close a version I could make myself. We both thought the sauce had the flavor of olives. I came pretty close, with maybe the only change would be pureeing the olives instead of a fine chop.

Spaghetti Sauce with Olives

2 Tbl. olive oil
1 1/4 cups mixed olives, pitted and finely minced (or pureed)
1 c. chopped onion
1 celery rib, chopped
2 T chopped garlic
1/4 t basil
1/8 t oregano
1/4 t garlic salt
1 lg can crushed tomatoes
1/4 tablespoon red pepper flakes, plus more if desired

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan. Add onion and celery, cook a few minutes then add garlic and olives (if minced-if you puree them add them later with the tomatoes). Cook a few minutes more then add the spices, then tomatoes and pepper flakes, then the salt. Bring to a low boil and turn heat down to simmer for a bout 15 minutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Impossible Bacon Pie

This recipe has been one of my family's standards ever since the kids were little. Impossible pies were quite popular back in the 80's and with good reason. They are really quick and easy to make and it takes little effort to put a comforting meal on the table. The basis of the pies is Bisquick, but feel free to use your favorite baking mix. There are many "Impossible" recipes to choose from, some are main dish, some are dessert.
This is a good recipe for any meal of the day; we serve it mostly at dinner.

Impossible Bacon Pie
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 10 inch quiche pan or pie plate with cooking spray.

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
12 strips crisped bacon, crumbled
1/4 cup onion or green onion
Layer these 3 items in the pie plate.

1 cup Baking mix
2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/8 t salt
1/8 t pepper
Whisk these 5 items together in a bowl till well blended and pour over the ingredients in the pie plate. Place in oven and bake for 35-43 minutes. Remove from oven and let set for 5 minutes, then serve.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dorie's Peanut Butter Torte!

We are going to Mark's sister Marcia's home for Easter Dinner. I am to bring a salad (yay!) and the dessert (yay again!). Since we will usually have so much food, I like to do a simple green salad, maybe with some cranberries, blue cheese and pecans optional, with a light viniagrette. That recipe is below.
But I am splurging on the dessert, and since I have in my possession Dorie Greenspan's wonderful book Baking: FromMy Home to Yours
I thought her recipe for Peanut Butter Torte sounded like a hit.
Note-It was well received , but VERY rich.

Here's the recipe...
Dorie's Peanut Butter Torte
heat oven to 350 deg. Butter a 9" springform pan and set aside on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Toss together in a small bowl-
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
2 t sugar
1/2 t instant expresso pwder or instant coffee - finely ground
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
14 to 1/2 c mini chocolate chips
Set this bowl aside. (this will be used in the filling)
24 whole Oreo cookies- finely crumbled (I used food processer, or use blender)
1/2 stick (4T) melted butter
Put these 3 items in a small bowl and toss with a fork just until evenly moistened. Press the crumbs into and up the side of the springform pan. (Sides should go up about 2 inches.)
Place in freezer for 10 min. then bake at 350 for 10 min. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack.
2 c heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar plus 1 more cup (divided)
12 oz cream cheese at room temp.
1 1/2 c peanut butter- creamy or crunchy-but don't use natural
2 T milk
1/4 c chopped peanuts
In a large bowl, beat cream until med. peaks form, add 1/4 c. conf. sugar and beat until cream holds firm peaks. Scrape the cream in a bowl and refridgerate until needed.
In the same bowl (wipe out- no need to wash) beat the cream cheese and the 1 c. conf sugar on med. speed until satiny smooth.. Beat in the peanut butter, the 1/4 c chopped peanuts and the milk.
Using a large spatula, gently stir about one quater of the whipped cream to the pb mixture to lighten it up. Then, gingerly fold in the set aside bowl of nuts and spices andthe rest of the whipped cream.
Scape the mousse into the crust, mounding and smoothing the top. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, cover with plastic wrap as soon as the mousse firms.
4 oz fine chocolate (Dorie calls for bittersweet- I used Guittard milk choc.)
1/2 c cream (maybe a little less)
1/2 c peanuts, chopped or not
Melt the choc. in a bowl set over simmering water. Leave the bowl for about 3 min. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil, then pour cream over choc. and remove from heat. . Very gently stir together until ganache is completely blended and glossy. ( My ganache was a lil' too soft- I would use less cream next time.)
Pour over chilled tart, smooth with a metal spatula; top with 1/2 chopped nuts. and chill to set about 20 min. Run a hair dryer around sides of springform for a few seconds to release pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Here is the recipe for the viniagrette...

Herb-Mustard Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/3 cups mild flavored olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

My version- For the salad:
Your choice of lettuce (romaine is good)
Blue cheese
Dried Cranberries
Spicy Glazed Pecans (see below)

Spicy Glazed Pecans
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoons water
1/2 scant teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teas Worchester sauce
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or use your favorite liner.

Combine first 5 ingredients in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves; boil 2 minutes. Add pecans and stir until pecans are well coated with mixture, about 1 minute. Transfer pecans to prepared sheet, spreading evenly. Bake until the pecans are beginning to brown, anywhere from 11 to 13 minutes.

(Note- can be microwaved instead- omit the water- micro for 3-5 min stir every 30 sec.)

Transfer the cooked pecans to a parchment lined sheet and keep separate. Cool completely.

Store in airtight container

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Winter Won't Leave

We just received another 5-7 inches of snow again last night. It is Spring already!!! At least today is sunny.
I have decided I need to take a Wilton cake decorating class. I need all the help I can get in this regard. HaHa- I did want to go back to school, so this will be it!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day

*****(oh crappy pic!)*****
Yep, you got that right- today is Pi Day. As in Math. In honor of my daughter Lindsay, who earned her BS in Mathematics, we shall have pie, which is especially fortunate since she is in town for the weekend!
This is a pie I have made for years, the filling is from an old cookbook, Betty Crockers' Good and Easy(1954). It is our family's favorite pecan pie- we don't care for the usual goo made with corn syrup. I use double the pecans that this recipe calls for.

Southern Pecan Chess Pie

1 unbaked pie crust for 10 inch pan
1 c brown sugar ( packed)
1/2 c superfine sugar
1 T flour
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 c butter, melted
1 c pecans

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together sugars and flour. Beat in thoroughly butter eggs, vanilla, milk. Fold in pecans. Pour into pastry lined pan. Bale for 40-50 min. Directions are to serve slightly warm, with whipped cream or plain. Mark likes to eat the pie best COLD.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge- Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

My first challenge of any kind!!! Although it's not the weekend, I knew this challenge, Weekend Cookbook Challenge, was one to participate in. The theme, hosted by Lis of LaMiaCucina, is Crockpots, Dutch Ovens, and Pressure Cookers. I decided a long time ago, back when the kids were little, that the Crockpot is my friend. I love the idea of making good meals with seemingly little effort. I had planned on cooking up some pork today, but Mark made corned beef yesterday and I didn't want meat again tonight.
For Christmas, I got Lindsay and Lacey both The Taste of Home Baking Book. There is a postcard inside for a free subscription to the Taste of Home Magazine. The first mag came this week and Lacey and I decided that the Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers looked good. I used to make stuffed peppers often, but haven't in a long time.
As usual, I played with the recipe a bit. I used a 14 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes instead of the fresh. Instead of both the beans, I used 1 can of Garbanzo Beans as we just had black beans recently. I eliminated the salt and added extra Parmesan and some mozzerella.
This is definitely something to keep in my repetoire. This seemed even easier than my usual recipe because you are only precooking the rice instead of rice and ground meat.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Crockpot Day

The weather was so bad yesterday, over 14 inches of snow, that we decided to watch movies and basketball. Yeah Tarheels!!!
Anyway, it would have been a great day to bake, but my butt told me I'd better not. By the time I figured out I wanted something easy, I had not a whole lot of time to crockpot all day. So I pulled out 3 of my many crockpot cookbooks and started searching. I settled on one I hadn't used in awhile, Crock-It by Barbara Murray. It is really a very small, homey sort of cookbook. There are a few mexican recipes in it that have become staples, one for chicken enchiladas and one for a great red chili sauce. But what I ended up making wasn't so much a recipe from the book as inspired by several recipes and what I had in my kitchen. Here is what I ended up with - let's call it ...

Mexicali Crockpot

(or flour) tortillas
1 can refried beans
1 can black beans
1 can chopped green chilis
1 - 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes (drained with juice set aside)
1 pkg Perdue roasted chicken already cooked (2 cups)
8 oz bag shredded cheese (I use 2% cheese)
1 pkg taco seasoning
sour cream for topping

I layered 1 tortilla spread with some of the refried beans on the bottom. Layer some of all the ingredients on top of that, then repeat layers a few times. I poured the juice from the tomatoes (there wasn't much) on the top and topped with some more cheese.
I cooked on HIGH for about 4 hours. I'm sure it can be cooked instead all day on LOW if you so desire. Slice into all the layers and serve. We had 4 servings, but my crockpot was only a little more that half full. You can add more ingredients and layer more to serve more people.
Garnish with the sour cream.
I served this with a tossed salad of
green onions
lemon pepper to taste.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sweet Corn Muffins

If you live in the Cleveland area, you may know Al "Bubba" Baker. Bubba used to play football wonderfully for the Cleveland Browns back in the 70's-early 80s. He owns a very popular restaurant in the western suburb of Avon, Bubba's Q. Bubba and his wife, Sabrina, are great people (Bubba is quite a character) and serve some fine barbeque.
One of the yummy things they serve is sweet cornbread muffins. Mark likes them so much, that I came up with a similar recipe.

Sweet Corn Muffins

1 cup flour
1 cup yellow corn meal (I prefer Aunt Jemina's)
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 tsp white sugar
4 tsp brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup oil
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients together, add the liquids and mix until blended. Pour into muffin pans. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Makes 36 mini muffins.
This can be cooked as regular muffins or cornbread- adjust baking times accordingly.

Lake Erie Perch

As I've said before, I love fresh Lake Erie Perch. When I was growing up, on Friday evenings during Lent I would walk to the Polish Club down the street from my dad's grocery and pick up a few fried perch dinners for my family. They included perch- fried to perfection, creamy in taste, some fries and cold cole slaw.

The fish fries crop up every year during Lent, but I hesitate, because as much as we love fried foods, it's to our benefit not to eat it. I have found that I get the same enjoyment from pan frying perch in just a little butter/olive oil mix. It really is the taste and texture of the fish itself that I love.