Monday, December 27, 2010

Cranberry Crown Cheesecake and Christmas Pies

Since this week's selection for the Heavenly Bakers was very appropriate for holiday celebrations and because I was already taking two pies to my in-laws' house for Christmas dinner I planned to take this cheesecake to my mom's house for our smaller Christmas lunch. And, since I had recently purchased the correct size of tip to make ladyfingers I decided to try them again. Besides, my previous ones didn't get posted since I didn't actually finish making the lemon crown (maybe I'll try again sometime). For some reason my ladyfinger batter doesn't soak in all of the powdered sugar. Here are one of the sheets of completed lady fingers:

I opted to make a round ladyfinger base like we did for the lemon crown rather than positioning the individual ladyfinger across the base.

The cheesecake filling came together very quickly. I wrapped the springform pan with foil and then put the whole thing in one of my 12" cake pans with water. Water in the pan sure does make it difficult to carry to and from the oven.

It looked really good when it came out of the oven. I left it out to cool for about an hour and then covered it with a bowl and stuck it in the fridge.

There was a little condensation on the bowl in the morning. That moisture caused the ladyfingers to get a little soggy, but they weren't bad. The cranberry topping came together very quickly. It took a minute or two longer than the recipe indicated to get the cranberries to pop but not that long. I found some ribbon that perfectly matched the color of the cranberries and wrapped it around the cheesecake. Then I played with my Christmas gift (a SLR camera) to try to get a nice picture of the cheesecake. I still have lots to learn on how to use it.

I took the cheesecake to my mom's house, and it was well received by everyone there. It sat out a bit so it wasn't as hard as it should have been, but it still tasted great. Daniel who doesn't normally care for cheesecake really loved it. He liked how it wasn't quite as rich as normal cheesecakes.

I also made two other pies for Christmas - the Pecan Tart from the Pie and Pastry Bible and a cherry pie from Cooking Light. My MIL requested I bring the pecan tart for Christmas dinner, and my brother loves cherry pie so I had to make that one as well. I realized part way through making the pecan tart that I was actually using the wrong pie dough for it, but that ended up being a good thing because I had better luck with the Basic Flaky dough than the Cream Cheese dough which I also tried making. I really like Alton Brown's method of cutting the edges of the ziplock bag and using the bag to roll out the dough. It worked well for the basic dough, but that's where I ran into problems with the cream cheese dough.

I had better luck with the par baked tart shell this time than I did for Thanksgiving. I turned the oven temperature down 25 degrees. I decided to do two layers of pecans this time because it just seemed a little shallow last time I made it.

I had some leftover whipped cream from the coconut cake last week that I rewhipped and then piped onto the pecan tart and my mom's pumpkin pie. I think this has now become on of my favorite pies. Daniel seems to love it as well. I really like the chocolate lace topping on it.

I had originally planned to make the cherry pie from the pie and pastry bible, but my cream cheese pie dough just completely fell apart when I rolled it out so I went with my backup plan. I made the recipe from Cooking Light which I had made before. It calls for store bought crust but still uses fresh cherries. While pitting the cherries this year I decided that my little brother needs to come help with that part next year. Since I used the store bought crust I decided to focus more on my lattice work. I think it turned out much nicer than normal. It's amazing what a ruler can do for you.

Some of the cherry filling bubbled out a little over the lattice so it wasn't quite as pretty when it came out of the oven, but it still tasted great.

Several people in my family have commented that they were never huge fans of cherry pie until I started making them. I've made this recipe 3 or 4 times now, and it always turns out wonderful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

HCB: Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake

This week was another free choice week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers, and since I just joined the group a few months ago I have plenty of cake to choose from to catch up on. This particular cake had been calling my name ever since I got my copy of Rose's Heavenly Cakes last Christmas. The whipped cream icing isn't something that I would normally love because it's much lighter, but the fluffy icing just looks heavenly with the coconut on top. So, when I realized that our free choice week was going to fall on the same week as my in-laws' dinner party I volunteered to bring this. Only problem was the party was on Friday, and I ended up being incredibly busy the whole week. I also had a truffles class on Thursday from 6:00 to 9:00, but I decided that the cake seemed simple enough for me to throw together after the class. Wednesday night before going to bed I put out all of the non-perishable ingredients so that would be one less step for me. Then when I left the class I called Daniel and asked him to pull the butter out of the fridge so it would be softened by the time I got home.

When I got home I got all of the ingredients measured and the pan lined with parchment. I wish the bake shop sold 9 inch parchment circles. They sell most of the even number sizes, but not 9. It sure would make my cake baking even simpler.

First you mix the wet ingredients including part of the cream of coconut.

Then the directions say to process the sugar and coconut. Apparently my brain wasn't working at almost 10pm because I put in the rest of the cream of coconut instead of the dried unsweetened coconut. Fortunately I realized it and scooped out as much as I could and continued on with the processing. It didn't seem to cause any problems. Next you mix the dry ingredients.

Then the butter and remaining cream of coconut get added to the dry ingredients.

Then you add the egg mixture and it's ready to go in the pan.

The bake time was pretty quick. It gave me just enough time to clean up my dishes and throw together lunch for the next day. Including baking time this cake came together in about an hour.

I waited to make the whipped cream until the next day right before going to the party, and that was just as quick as the cake. I had wanted to do something fancier with the cake, but there was just no time for that. So, I went with my standard shells and rosettes.

Everyone at the dinner loved the cake. Everyone commented on how light it tasted. Daniel even loved it, and he's like me in that he prefers buttercream to whipped cream icing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

HCB: Financier-Style Vanilla Bean Poundcake

I've been so busy with holiday baking lately that I haven't had time to post anything here. I'm going to try to play catch up over the next few days. I actually made these little cakes on Saturday afternoon because I had a big cookie decorating project to do Saturday evening and Sunday (and still more to do Tuesday evening).

If we thought last week's cake was simple this one was even easier to make. I had ordered my financier pan a few weeks ago, but I didn't realize that it was actually a mini financier pan so mine were about half the size they should have been. I guess I'll have to get the regular size one sometime. The batter came together pretty quickly. The only part that took much time was pulling out the food processor to process the sugar and vanilla bean. I also recently purchased a larger piping tip so I was able to pipe the batter into the pan. I had a little extra batter so I baked it in one of my holiday cookie pans (that I use for candy not cookies), but they stuck to the pan a little so the details were lost.

I guess I overfilled them a bit because the ran over the edges, but I just trimmed off the excess. For some reason those little pieces that you trim off always seem to taste better than the rest of the cake.

And, in case you want a sneak preview of what ate up all of my time, here are my finished cookies. I will try to get another post up later this week about the cookies.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake

This is going to be a quick post. I had planned to bake this cake on Sunday, and then I ended up being super busy. Then Monday I thought I would have time, but we took our cat to the specialty vet for surgery in the morning and then ended up at the emergency vet with our dog in the evening. So, I finally got around to baking this cake last night. Good thing it was a super simple cake because I didn't get started making it until after 9:00 last night.

Misen place minus the cocoa and water mixture which was already in the fridge cooling:

This batter came together very quick. First you mix the dry ingredients and then add in the butter and cocoa mixture.

Then you add in the egg mixture. The batter looks really good at this point.

The directions for the recipe said to use a silicon pan and put it on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. I didn't know if I still needed to do that with a metal pan, but I did anyway. Only problem is it looks like the cake got a little dark on top, but it looked fine once it came out of the pan.

I finished baking the cake just before 11:00 so neither of us really wanted to have a slice right before going to bed. I'll have to update this post tonight after we've tried the cake.

I'm a little late updating this post. There have just been too many things going on lately. My husband and I did taste the cake that morning and really liked it. My husband especially liked how moist it was. I tend to prefer cakes with icing, but this one was really good.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

BAKED Sunday Mornings: Sweet & Salty Brownie

This week's selection for BAKED Sunday Mornings is the Sweet & Salty Brownie. I was really looking forward to making these. I got to try them in the class I took with Matt and Renato at Central Market and really loved them. The only problem for me was they called for fleur de sel which I didn't have. When I went to the grocery store the only kind they had was $14 for the small container, and I really didn't want to spend that much on it so I decided to substitute regular sea salt which I already had.

The first step for making the brownies is to make caramel. Caramel has become one of my baking nemesis. Last time I made some for the Caramel Apple Cake it boiled over. I was determined to not let that happen this time. I think I just needed to make sure the cream was warm (which I did last time) and pour it in very, very slowly. Only problem this time was my sugar mixture burnt on the first try. I had my thermometer in there, and it never got anywhere near the 350 degrees when it was done.

Things went much better the second time around. I used the thermometer again but only as a gauge to know when it was getting closer. I really just went by color of the sugar mixture. I added the cream in small increments to keep it from boiling over, and it all worked. The only thing I wasn't thrilled with was it was a little too salty tasting with the sea salt rather than fleur de sel. I think I may have to put fleur de sel on my Christmas list (good stocking stuffer).

Next up was time to make the brownie batter. This was pretty simple. It just required using a double boiler to melt the chocolate and butter and then add the sugar.

Once the mixture cools the eggs and then the flour mixture are folded into the rest of the batter. By the way if anyone is wondering what method to use for measuring the flour in these recipes the authors told me they spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level it with a knife. I personally prefer using weights, but as long as I know which method to use I figure it should come out pretty close to the right amount.

Half of the batter gets spread into a glass pan lined with parchment paper. Then the caramel is spread over that followed by the remaining batter. It then goes into the oven for 30 minutes. Mine took 35.

When they come out of the oven you sprinkle them with fleur de sel and course sugar. I used a little less sea salt than the recipe called for, but I think I should have cut it way down because they were a little salty. I will probably try brushing off a little of the salt before serving them.

Lining the brownie pan with parchment paper sure does make it easy to get the brownies out of the pan. I was actually able to lift them all out which makes serving much easier.

Since I have another thing to bake today and because the authors give instructions for freezing brownies I thought I would give that a try and take some of them to work for our holiday potluck on Friday.

Since I know my husband is one of those who prefers the end pieces, and I don't really have a preference I kept the end ones for us to try. I ate one for breakfast this morning. It was really good, and my only complaint is the salt flavor is a little too much. It's probably the sea salt vs. fleur de sel that caused that so maybe I'll try them again sometime with fleur de sel. The brownies are very moist, and I love the caramel flavor. I have a little caramel leftover so I might try drizzling some with the caramel.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner

I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Mine was busy but great. My dad and stepmom drove down from Kansas to visit us, and my mom, stepdad, younger brother, and my in-laws came over for dinner. I had grand plans for dinner and dessert and with lots of help we managed to pull off most of them. The above picture shows me in the center with my main helpers - my mom (on the right), my dad, and my stepmom (on the left).

Let me back up to last weekend first. I went to two Thanksgiving related classes last Saturday. The first was a Thanksgiving dinner class at Le Cordon Bleu. I learned some new recipes, and I decided to incorporate the brussels sprouts recipe and dressing recipe (with some tweaks) in my menu. The second class was a tarts class. I didn't make any of the tarts from class yet, but I plan to make one or two of them sometime during the holidays. I did use the Chantilly Cream (whipped cream) recipe from class rather than using canned or frozen whipped cream.

I wanted my Thanksgiving menu to use more fresh produce and scratch recipes than usual so in addition to the two recipes from class I also used Alton Brown's green bean casserole recipe, a mashed sweet potato recipe from Cooking Light, and butter rolls from the Bread Bible. My mom brought fruit salad, and my mother-in-law brought cranberry sauce.

We also had the normal turkey (bought a free range one from Whole Foods this year) which I had hoped to brine, but I ran out of time. The instructions that came with it made it sound like it would take 4 hours to cook the 17lb bird, but I was planning to follow the Le Cordon Bleu chef's and Alton Brown's suggestions to cook for 20-30 minutes at 500 degrees first and then lower the temperature. I didn't realize how much faster the turkey would be done doing that so it ended up being done really early and was a tiny bit dry. It still tasted good, but it wasn't perfect. We also had ham which was really simple and turned out great. My dad took care of cooking the ham.

I had never made brussels sprouts before, and I didn't really think they would be good. But, they were great with maple syrup, bacon, and pecans. I was really amazed that everyone ate them.

The green bean casserole was really good, but it was definitely a bit more work than your normal canned variety. You have to blanche the green beans, bake the onions coated in panko crumbs, cook the mushrooms and other ingredients to make the cream of mushroom, and then bake it all in a cast iron skillet in the oven. But, it really did live up to the recipe's name of Best Ever Green Bean Casserole.

The day before Thanksgiving I had planned to spend the whole day baking, but I had an appointment and a couple other errands so I was a little short on time. Fortunately my mom came over to help when she got off work. I had chosen three recipes from the Pie and Pastry Bible - Pumpkin Pie, Designer Apple Pie, and Pecan Tart. I also chose Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie from Throwdown which has a graham cracker crust. I made all of the pie dough before my mom came over and had started making the dough for the rolls and the first pumpkin pie filling so we had a lot of work left to do. This was my first time making pie dough (outside of a class) so I ran into some problems, but it mostly turned out okay. The all butter recipe was my favorite. I did discover that I prefer Alton Brown's technique of rolling the dough in a ziplock bag and just cutting the edges of the bag. Amazingly in a few hours we managed to get everything except the apple pie mostly done, and the apple pie was about half way there. I finished the pie and rolls that evening except for baking the rolls. I stuck them in the fridge overnight, pulled them out of the fridge a few hours before dinner so they could continue to rise, and baked them right before dinner.

Here's the designer apple pie. My one complaint about this pie is it was a little shallow. I almost wish I had filled it with apple and then put the design on top of the other apples.

The pecan tart with a chocolate lace design and whipped cream rosettes:

The butter rolls were delicious. I bought some backup premade rolls just in case, but there was no need to even open the package.

I had my husband set up the tables. We put the food on a separate table buffet style so we could have more room at the table. He was a great help with all of the little things that needed to be done.

Monday, November 22, 2010

HCB: Chocolate Genoise with Whipped Peanut Butter Ganache

This is going to be a much shorter post than normal because my Thanksgiving Day list seems like it's never ending right now. I was pretty skeptical about this cake as it sounds everyone else in the group was. For one thing I had never made a genoise before so I really had no idea how it would turn out, and the flavor combination of black raspberry, chocolate, and peanut butter sounded a little odd to me. I actually didn't use the black raspberry liqueur and went with a pomegranate juice instead, but it still turned out much better than I had anticipated.

I had a busy weekend with cooking and baking classes on Saturday and then two things to bake on Sunday so I finally got started on this cake Sunday before dinner. It was pretty simple, but there were a few parts of the recipe that were a little more tedious than your simple butter cake. Clarifying the butter was one of those. I had never done that before so I wasn't completely sure if I let mine go long enough.

Having to heat up the eggs over a pot of simmering water was another one, but it wasn't too bad. Only thing I probably should have done was strain the eggs just in case any of them curdled, but I think it turned out okay. For the most part the rest of the batter was relatively easy. I really need to get a fine mesh strainer or sieve to use for sifting because it would be much easier than the hand crank one. Once it was done baking I let it cool while I ate dinner and then started the icing and simple syrup later.

The icing came together pretty easily. When I started noticing it was getting a tiny bit grainy I stopped whipping it.

The only problem I had was mine was really moist and a little warm so I couldn't do any piping on the cake like I wanted. I wanted to put it in the fridge, but my fridge was already pretty full with stuff for Thanksgiving. I stuck the rest of the icing in the fridge in hopes that I could do a little in the morning. This morning I started moving things around in the fridge because I needed to make space for the turkey anyway, and I managed to get the cake in there while I got ready for work. So, I was able to make it look pretty before I left.

I took the cake to work for the monthly birthday celebration and saved one slice for my husband. The rest of the cake disappeared. My coworkers commented on how moist it was.