Archive for the ‘Cake’ Category

Rosy Thoughts

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Rose's Heavenly Cakes - Ready for Duty!

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a Baker’s Dozen luncheon featuring cake maker and cookbook author extraordinaire, Rose Levy Beranbaum. This was Rose’s third visit with Baker’s Dozen, and it was really enjoyable. She is promoting her new book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I have two of her previous books – she’s written nine of them! – that are rather dog-eared and well-used, as they should be. The Cake Bible was the first one I acquired many years ago, followed by The Pie and Pastry Bible. And now, of course, a copy of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is sitting on my counter waiting to be transformed from its pristine condition into another lovingly well-used resource in its own good time.

Rose talked about the “behind the scenes” of working with publishers and bringing a book like hers to the shelves – it sounded like this most recent one was about 6 years in the making. Her work is meticulous, and she takes her responsibilities as a recipe writer very seriously. She would never want to leave a fellow baker stranded in the kitchen because one of her recipes was not perfect. She told how she felt when she was about to publish one of her earlier books, only to see another book that covered similar material published first. She was reminded at the time that everyone has a voice, and she reminded each of us of that very same thing last week. It’s a good reminder.

What I most appreciated was the love Rose has for baking and for fellow bakers. It comes through like a beacon in every recipe she writes and in every way she shares her knowledge and carefully developed recipes.

She reminds me why I am a baker – for the love of it!

Happy Baking,
Cathy

Caramel Kick #2

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Homemade Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (covered with leftover English toffee bits!)

After my last post about English toffee, I thought that caramel sauce should be next. Both English toffee and caramel sauce (and caramels too, for that matter) involve cooking sugar to a certain degree of caramelization. Plus, caramel sauce is yet another (!) simple treat where the homemade result is so much better than what we can buy in the store. The same caution about working with hot sugar applies here, too…

Caramel sauce is made in two simple steps:
1) cook sugar and water to a light to medium amber color; and
2) whisk in 1 cup heavy cream and a little butter

Yes, that’s it! And, unlike the English Toffee, you don’t even have to stir! So, details…

Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Water and Sugar in the Pan; Sugar Completely Moistened; Cooked to Clear Syrup

1) Put 1/2 cup of water in a large saucepan and add 2 cups of sugar. Pour the sugar on top of the water carefully so stray sugar crystals don’t land on the sides of the pan. With a spoon, gently mix the sugar and water together until all of the sugar is moistened – and continue to keep the sugar off the sides of the pan. This attention to the sides of the pan will minimize the chance of the sugar crystallizing, i.e. turning chunky and grainy. And what if sugar lands on the sides of the pan? Just wash it down with a little fresh water on your (clean) fingertips.
Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Sugar Syrup Just Starting to Caramelize; Medium Amber Color; Cream Added

Steps for Making Caramel Sauce

Whisking in the Cream; Finished Caramel Sauce; Really Finished Caramel Sauce!

2) Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is clear and simmering (about 10 minutes – but you’ll have to watch it to know for sure). Remove the lid and continue to cook until the mixture is a light to medium amber color. Don’t stir the mixture at all! When it starts to color a little, you can slowly and carefully swirl the pan to help it color evenly, just don’t stir it – and be careful if you swirl it so you don’t splash yourself.

Once the mixture has cooked to a light to medium amber color, remove the pan from the heat and quickly pour in about ¼ of the cream. The sugar syrup will steam and boil fiercely when the cream is added, so don’t stand over the pan – stand back, continuing to pour the cream in ¼ increments until the cream is all in. Then, carefully whisk the sauce together, continuing to be careful because it will still be steaming. Finally, whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter (salted or unsalted is ok) and pour into a heat proof container. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.

The caramel sauce will thicken when it cools – just reheat it a little in the microwave to make it pourable. Serve over your favorite ice cream, on your favorite cake or with whatever else you like!

Let me know what you think!

Cathy

Cakes I’ve Known and Loved (for the most part)

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Bountiful Life

Bountiful Life Wedding Cake

To commemorate my birthday (today!), I thought I would put up a gallery of cakes I’ve made over the years. Some are better than others and there’s a little bit of everything – buttercream, fondant, gum paste flowers, fresh flowers, marzipan teddy bears, marzipan fruits, chocolate cakes, wedding cakes and birthday cakes for little ones and big ones. Many of these were done before I had a digital camera, so the pictures had to be scanned into digital format. And, once I got better at making these cakes and owned a digital camera, I apparently decided to stop taking photos of them. I mean where are Gracie’s butterfly cake, and my mom’s 80th birthday cake, and Vi’s 90th birthday cake, and Maddie’s life-size 3D soccer ball cake?! Maybe they’re just legends in my own mind, but I recall that those were all pretty special.

Christmas Cakes

Christmas Cakes

The poinsettia cakes were made the Christmas after we moved home from Australia and New Zealand. All of my specialty cake making equipment and books had been stolen with the rest of our sea shipment. Yes, the shipment made it from the shores of New Zealand to California and onto the delivery truck, and then the truck was stolen about 30 miles from my house. After I stopped crying, I thought that making the poinsettia cakes for my neighbors at Christmas would be a good way to start re-collecting what I had lost. Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the shipment stealers, their mouths watering over dreams of stereo equipment and TVs, only to find baking dishes, cookbooks and gum paste flower-making equipment? Serves ‘em right, but I’m over it – I swear (well, it’s only been about 13 years – I might need just a little more time).

Wedding Cakes

Wedding Cakes!

I guess there was a purple and pink phase in wedding cake couture. The Bountiful Life wedding cake with marzipan fruits pictured at the top of this post was an original I first made in pastry school. I entered it into competition at the Sydney Salon Culinaire – a massive food show in Australia. The executive chef I worked for at the time was a big German man, and he couldn’t really feel the California vibe of that cake. Much to the surprise of lots of people, that cake won the silver medal going up against very traditional British-style (and beautifully executed) wedding cakes. Winning that silver medal was fun, but getting the cake to the competition in the back of a cab almost killed me.

Kid's Birthday Cakes

Cakes for the Little Kiddies


Birthday Cakes

... And Cakes for the Big Kiddies

For the record, I only spent a short time of my career (about 1 year) actually working as a cake decorator. These cakes were all made for friends and family. If you want to be inspired, check out the book Cakes in Bloom by Anna von Marburg – it’s incredible.

One last thought about that stolen sea shipment – we were still in New Zealand when we got word that the shipment was “gone”. My husband, knowing I was crushed, arranged for us to fly home via Sydney (that’s the opposite direction from California when you’re leaving from Wellington, New Zealand!). We had one day in Sydney to visit a few book shops and replace some of the special (to me) items I had lost. I didn’t have the Bountiful Life cake at my wedding – I was married before the “official” pastry phase of my life. But, as I take this birthday to reflect on the name of that cake, it fits.

Happy Birthday to all of you February babies out there!

Cathy

I Ate It…

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake


I wanted to take a picture of the last remaining piece of the Triple Chocolate Mousse cake I made to show you but, well… I ate it. So, I’m showing you the cover of the new 2010 America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that recently showed up in the mail and inspired me to make this not-too-original but oh-so-good mousse cake. Mine looked very similar (really!), but I garnished with chocolate marbles instead of chocolate shavings because that’s what I had around from my Chocolate Mousse Kit.

I made this dessert for the second – and final (yippee!) – auction dinner of the year. My last post – lo those many weeks ago – was about the first auction dinner this year. The most recent auction dinner was a study in good menu planning – all tranquility and calm in the kitchen during service – and I don’t think it was just because I was drinking port this time! I did a lot of cooking in advance, which I typically do but it paid off extra well for this dinner.

For appetizers, I served Italian sausage stuffed mushrooms (The Silver Palate Cookbook), brie-en-croute (America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook) and smoked salmon mousse on endive (and crackers – those endive don’t have as many leaves on them as you might think! Also from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook). The day before the dinner, I made the mushroom filling and stuffed the mushrooms; wrapped the brie in puff pastry and refrigerated; and made the smoked salmon mousse. A note about the mushroom stuffing – the recipe called for 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce and some chopped black olives. I didn’t bother making the Bechamel sauce, instead I just added a little cream and reduced it down in the filling. I also omitted the olives because they didn’t appeal to me with the Italian sausage. For service, I just got the brie and mushrooms in the oven at the right times and spread the mousse on endive and crackers, and appetizers were done.

For the first course, I served shrimp cocktail (from Sara’s Secrets/Food Network) and a green salad with baked goat cheese rounds (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010). The day before, I made the shrimp cocktail sauce, the vinaigrette for the salad and the goat cheese rounds. The morning of the dinner, I brined and cooked the shrimp and put them in the refrigerator until service. One note about the shrimp cocktail sauce – don’t buy the Thai Hot Chili Sauce like I inadvertently did, just get a “normal” chili sauce and your ears won’t catch fire once the wasabi is added. My second batch was much better! For the baked goat cheese rounds, I didn’t add the herbs to the goat cheese as the recipe called for – I felt there were enough flavors going on with the vinaigrette, shrimp and cocktail sauce, so I just wanted the plain goat cheese flavor coming through. Plating this course was easy, and we had it on the table when the guests came in for dinner.

The main course was New York steak with herb butter (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008), scalloped potatoes (The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008), peas and fennel braised with white wine and garlic (Jamie Oliver/Return of the Naked Chef). I made the scalloped potatoes and herb butter the day before. The morning of the dinner, I trimmed the steaks, and cut the fennel and put it in a casserole dish so everything was ready to go at service. A note about the steaks – I decided to do New York steak because it’s a steak’s steak – it doesn’t need a lot to go with it to bring out that rich steak flavor. I bought USDA Prime grade steaks. I could have done perfectly well with USDA Choice grade – the most common grade in the supermarkets – for half the price, but my meat consultant (aka my husband, Terry) was in a meeting and couldn’t be reached at decision time. They were beautiful steaks, though!

With everything prepped, it was a matter of following my time schedule – written out in advance – and executing the plan. Easy-peasy, as Jamie Oliver likes to say. You know, for the most part.

You already know about dessert – Triple Chocolate Mousse cake that I made the day before. Once the main course went out, I cut, plated and garnished the cake, and it was at a nice temperature and ready to go at dessert time.

While I was serving dessert, one guest asked incredulously, “So, you made this cake?!” Yes, yes I did – now, your turn.

Happy cooking (and eating)!

Cathy

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie – Oh My!

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Every year, our parish school at Christ the King (www.ctkph.org) has an auction and festival to raise funds to offset the cost of school tuition. The auction is a major event, with dinner, dancing and silent and live bidding. One of the bid items is dessert for your table that night; a donator makes a dessert, writes a description and provides a photo to be displayed on the bid table – then, at dessert time, the winning bid takes the cake (or pie, or tart . . . ) for their table.

This year I donated a dessert for auction – actually three kinds of dessert, but all for one table. I applied my menu planning skills learned at pastry school and on the job, and covered all my bases. Knowing that some of us are “chocolate people”, some are “lemon/fruit people” and some are “custard” people, I did a little something for everyone. I figured if you can entice everyone at the table with something for each of them, then the WHOLE table REALLY wants your dessert and will bid accordingly. Plus, if you have a little bit of all of those “types” in you (like me), you’re especially happy because you get a little of everything! I made a lemon meringue pie, cheesecake with graham cracker crust (what other kind is there for cheesecake?) and a chocolate caramel tart.

For the lemon meringue pie, I used the Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust (the half butter, half shortening variation) from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Pie and Pastry Bible; the lemon pie filling from the Kingsford’s Cornstarch box – the one my mother and probably grandmother used, and I see no reason to change – the texture is great and it’s lemony perfect; and an Italian meringue recipe, also from The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I use 5 egg whites instead of 4 because the Kingsford’s lemon filling calls for 5 yolks!

There are 3 styles of meringue – Swiss meringue, Italian meringue and French meringue. I use Italian meringue because it’s very stable – sugar syrup is cooked to 236F degrees and then slowly poured onto whipping egg whites. This also heats the egg whites enough to pasteurize them, so I don’t worry about serving or eating raw eggs.

The filling for the chocolate caramel tart is a recipe from Good Housekeeping, with the modification of almonds instead of walnuts – plus, I’m careful to not make the caramel too dark. The crust for this recipe is another from – you guessed it – The Pie and Pastry Bible! This time, the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, because I like my tart crusts to have a little sweetness to them.

And finally – the cheesecake. Both the crust and filling are from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax, which I’ve written about before. Okay, so I admit to a few little modifications on the cheesecake recipe: I use 1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and vanilla extract, and no zest – I don’t like the texture that the lemon zest adds to the otherwise super smooth cheesecake filling.

When I’m planning a party and dreaming about the dessert menu, I go through the same process of considering different desserts in the lemon/fruit, custard and chocolate categories. If I pick from each category, I’m sure to have a little something that every guest will enjoy.

So . . . back to the dessert auction . . . this is the way I described the selection:

Gourmet Dessert Trio – something for everyone, all made from scratch using the best of everything . . .
- Lemon Meringue Pie: flaky, buttery pie crust filled with perfectly tart lemon curd and topped with toasted sweet meringue
- Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart: sweet tart crust filled with a chocolate caramel ganache and roasted almonds
- Classic New York Style Cheesecake: graham cracker crust filled with creamy cheesecake made with a little sour cream

There were competing bids with some last minute back and forth, and the winners walked away happy. The losers? Well, let’s just say they walked away. There’s always next year!

What dessert “type” are you??

Sweet dreams,
Cathy

Chocolate Mousse Cake for Jackie

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

14 inch Round Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

14 inch Round Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

My friend and neighbor, Beth, is a great seamstress (www.SunnyGalStudio.com). When I was growing up, Mrs. McCool was the seamstress my mom would take us to for sewing needs that were outside of my mom’s interest or ability. I don’t think it was all that often – with seven kids and goodness knows how many versions of cheerleading/drill team/dance team and school uniforms, I suspect my mom would have loved to use her lots more . . .

Beth made two skirts and hemmed two pairs of pants for me just before our recent trip to France (and I mean JUST before). I’m pretty good about getting rid of clothes that I don’t wear for whatever reasons – like “it doesn’t fit anymore”, “never really liked it but needed something RIGHT NOW”, “what was I thinking when I got this?” – but I’m not so good at adding clothes to my collection and clothes shopping is never high on my list of ways to spend free time. It was so great to pick the material and style I wanted, and then have everything fit just like it was made for me (because it was!). Good quality clothing that I will get lots of use out of equals a great value.

So, what does this have to do with gourmet desserts made easy? Well, Beth’s mom just turned 80 and Beth and her sister, Kelly, gave her a big Hawaiian-themed party. In exchange for a beautiful new sundress that Beth made for me with great fabric I found on sale, I made the birthday cake for about 70 people.

Beth’s mom, Jackie, wanted chocolate cake with chocolate and raspberry filling, finished with whipped cream. I make a chocolate cake filled with the chocolate mousse from our Chocolate Mousse Kit, studded with raspberries. You can see the steps to make this cake here – although this version has a poured chocolate glaze on top instead of whipped cream (scroll down the page for all the details). Jackie’s cake had purple orchids flown over from Hawaii to go with the Aloha theme. I made one 14″ cake, shown above, and one 10″ cake for back up – each had 3 layers of chocolate cake and two layers of chocolate mousse stuffed with raspberries.

Whipped cream can be a little tricky when it’s 100 degrees outside in July – but the cake stayed refrigerated until it was presented and served, and it sounds like everyone loved it.

I have a new sundress that I love, and Jackie, Beth, Kelly and their friends have an evening of memories with a chocolate raspberry mousse cake on top.

Aloha,
Cathy