Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TWD: Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake(s)

I was happy when this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie selection, Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes, appeared on the June schedule because I’d actually had it before and knew how good it is. Quite a while ago we had a bake sale at my office and one of my co-workers made this cake. Most people avoided it because there was rum, but I bought two pieces and was tempted to buy more. Suffice to say, I was delighted for an excuse to have this delicious cake again. I was even greedily tempted to make the pair of cakes, but decided to be practical and halve the recipe since there are only two of us and I had already learned it doesn’t go over so well at work. I can always make more and next time I don’t think it’ll be nearly two years before I eat this cake again.

Given the amount in the cake, I actually thought the rum was fairly subtle, and Dorie offers a myriad of other ways to drench the cake if rum’s not your thing. And I’m sure the creative TWD bakers have come up with some stellar ideas of their own. The real stars of the cake are the sweet vanilla taste and the wonderfully soft texture. We gave this cake a 9 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, for an EDR of 3. A big thank you to Wendy of Pink Stripes for an excellent selection. You can find the recipe here on Wendy’s site, along with many other enticing concoctions, and visit the TWD site to see how the rest of the bakers liked this cake.

I also made some ice cream to go along with the cake. A few weeks ago, Josh needed to spend a few more dollars on Amazon in order to qualify for free shipping, so I graciously offered to put a copy of The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto in his cart. (And luckily for me, for once he was not ordering an obscure comic or music book that holds up shipping and delays my cookbook gratification.) I figured I should make Josh an ice cream flavor I knew he’d love since he bought me a new book.

Chocolate S’mores Gelato from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto
Printable Recipe

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped (I used semisweet)
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup (I used a half cup) chopped graham crackers, chilled
½ cup mini marshmallows, chilled

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Place over a medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn’t form, until tiny bubbles start to form. Around the edges and the mixture reaches a temperature of 170 degrees. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder. Add the chopped chocolate and stir or whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Meanwhile, in a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until it is well incorporated and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Temper the egg yolks by very slowly pouring in the hot milk mixture while whisking continuously. Return the custard to the saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches a temperature of 185 degrees. Do not bring to a boil. (The recipe specifies to cook over low heat, but I felt the custard was taking a very long time to come to temperature that way, so I turned up the heat a bit.)

Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl and cool completely, stirring often. To cool the custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in it; stir until cooled. Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least four hours or overnight.

Remove the custard from the refrigerator and gently stir in the chopped graham crackers. Pour the mixture into the container of an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the mini marshmallows five minutes before the churning is completed. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least two hours before serving.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

SMS: Ginger Snaps!

This week’s Sweet Melissa treat is Ginger Snaps. Although I have a couple of ginger snap recipes I like (which you can find posted here and here), I was happy to try a new one. I hadn’t made any in a while and, in my opinion, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with ginger snaps. I made just a few minor modifications to the recipe: I halved the recipe but used the full amount of spices, omitted the white pepper, rolled the cookies in coarse sugar before baking, and cut the baking time by several minutes in order to ensure a chewy cookie. Josh is a pretty equal-opportunity cookie eater, but he definitely has a preference for ones that are both sugar-coated and chewy, and I aim to please. White pepper does not seem to come up in ingredient lists, and when it does it is usually a minuscule amount, often enough for me to think I need to purchase a jar of it.

So how did these cookies stack up to the other snap recipes? Josh ate two straight out of the oven and said they were some of the best ginger snaps I’ve made. He shared some with his mom at a baseball game today and they got a big thumbs up from her as well. I think my vote may be for Alice Medrich’s recipe, which I really thought was the perfect ginger snap. That recipe calls for grated fresh ginger and crystallized ginger, though, and this recipe has no fussy ingredients (except for the pepper, which I decided wasn’t necessary), so if you want a good ginger snap cookie made from pantry staples, this one wins.

This recipe rated a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, for an EDR of 4.5. Many thanks to Gloria of The Ginger Snap Girl for selecting this treat. Stop by Gloria’s blog for an excellent ginger snap recipe and also because it’s a great blog; I always enjoy reading her posts and seeing her take on the Sweet Melissa recipes. And click on the bakers’ links on the Sweet Melissa site to see what the rest of the group thought of this treat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TWD: Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie selection is Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake. Looking at my photos, I’m realizing I should have dressed it up a bit more, maybe some fresh raspberries? It looks pretty plain (and a little messy). And a little bit short, because when I was cutting the layers, the middle layer crumbled. The cake was completely cool when I cut it, I just wasn’t super-careful. I briefly contemplated how I could piece the center layer together, but quickly realized that would make an even bigger mess. I decided a short chocolate cake was perfectly acceptable, since I was also serving a Key Lime Tart and people would probably want a little of each dessert (and sure enough, they did).

Sorry, I couldn’t resist posting a photo of the tart, as it was the more photogenic of the two desserts I made this weekend. But seriously, the Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake is a darn good cake! I loved the fudgy texture and the raspberry filling cut the chocolatiness of it splendidly. Aside from my little mistake slicing the layers, the cake was simple and quick to make, and it’s always nice to have recipes like that in your repertoire.

This cake rated an 8 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, for an EDR of 2.66. Thank you to Amy Ruth of Amy Ruth Bakes for choosing this lovely cake. You can find the recipe here on Amy Ruth’s site; her conversational writing style and pretty photos are also worth stopping by for. And visit the TWD site to see what the rest of the group thought of this chocolate treat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

SMS: Chestnut Honey Madeleines

Shortly after Josh and I moved in together, we went on a shopping spree to fill in the gaps for our shared kitchen. Although I did cook (not as much as I do now), I had always lived with roommates and had limited kitchen equipment of my own. And Josh didn’t cook at all, unless you count heating up bags of frozen pasta, so his kitchen was pretty sparse. He didn’t even have a cutting board until I came along – you should see him now though, he has excellent knife skills. Anyway, when we went shopping, one of the items I deemed *essential* was a Madeleine pan. Actually two: both mini and standard. Did I really think I was going to be making the tender little cakes all the time? This was a couple years ago and I can probably count on one hand how many times the pans have been used, so I was happy to see this week’s Sweet Melissa selection was Chestnut Honey Madeleines and I would have an opportunity to use the pans.

I was worried that the recipe would involve chestnuts, which would be impossible to find this time of year, but it actually called for chestnut honey. I just used clover honey, which seemed to work fine. The recipe did call for roasted hazelnuts. I was very happy that last time I needed hazelnuts, I roasted and peeled the skins (tedious!) off extra nuts, which saved a lot of time when I wanted to make these cookies. I made a half recipe, which yielded a dozen minis and 6 standard size Madeleines. The recipe says to place the oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven, but it did not specify to rotate in the middle of baking, which I should have known better to do, because the Madeleines on the lower level were quite a bit darker. Luckily they still tasted fine, just not as pretty.

Hazelnuts are so often paired with chocolate (also delicious) that I’m glad they had a chance to be the star of this recipe and I really enjoyed the flavor in these little cakes. The recipe was heavy in sugar and low in honey, so I’m curious how they’d be if the recipe could be tweaked to add a more prominent honey flavor. We rated this recipe a 7.5 (approaching on 8) for Deliciousness and I gave them a 2.5 for Effort, for an EDR 3. Thank you to Debbie of CafĂ© Chibita for selecting this yummy treat and giving me an opportunity to use my Madeleine pans. The recipe will be posted on Debbie’s site and visit the Sweet Melissa site to see what the other bakers thought of this selection.

I’d also like to wish a happy Father’s Day to my dad (and all other dads out there). Eloise says happy Father’s Day to Josh. Seriously, she loves me (anyone holding bread or willing to pet her, actually), but she’s really a daddy’s girl!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TWD: Raisin Swirl Bread

Just last Tuesday I mentioned that I hadn’t made Josh too many breakfast treats recently, so I was delighted that this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie selection, Raisin Swirl Bread, would provide breakfasts for him this week. There aren’t a lot of yeast bread recipes in Baking and I’m always happy when they’re selected, since it is so satisfying to bake yeasted treats. The dough came together quickly and rose beautifully – seriously, it seemed enormous! This bread was meant to be baked in a 10x5 inch pan. I had baked an amazingly good cinnamon raisin bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice a while ago, which was divided in two portions and baked in smaller pans (8x4?). I noticed the proportions of ingredients were similar, so I divided the dough in two parts to make two loaves. I baked one yesterday and I’m hoping the dough will last in the refrigerator another day or two and then I will make a second loaf. I used the ingredients (cinnamon, raisins – not quite as many as the recipe called for, sugar, cocoa) in the recipe for the first loaf and I’m thinking of adding chocolate chips and hazelnuts to the swirl for the next one. I’m pretty sure I’ll see some inspiring ideas from other bakers, though.

I was pleased with how the bread turned out. It was slightly misshapen and the swirl could have been a bit more dramatic, but those are minor complaints. I haven’t sampled it yet, but Josh enjoyed it for breakfast this morning. I suspect it will be extra-good toasted and sprinkled with some more cinnamon and sugar. Josh rated the bread an 8 for Deliciousness and I gave it a 3.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 2.28. Many thanks to Susan of Food.Baby for a great selection. You can find the recipe here on Susan’s site and visit the TWD site for more swirly goodness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Super SMS: Pistachio Linzer Thumbprints and Chocolate Orange Macaroons

It’s cookie month for Sweet Melissa Sundays (every single recipe selected this month was a cookie recipe – fun) and I have a double post today. First up are Pistachio Linzer Thumbprints, which were last week’s selection. I made them on time, but didn’t get around to posting them last Sunday. I blame the season premiere of “The Next Food Network Star” being two hours long, if it had been its normal length, I would have been able to watch it, post, and get to bed at a decent hour. (Actually, we had a busy weekend in general, including a half-marathon in oppressive humidity and attending the first birthday party of a cute relative, so by Sunday night, flopping on the couch and watching reality television was an appealing activity.) Anyway, it had been reported on the Problems & Questions section that the dough was difficult to work with when cold. I made mine on Saturday and then let it sit out for about half an hour when I made the cookies on Sunday, before shaping the cookies and found it easy to work with.

Though they ended up being a bit more work than a simple mix and scoop cookie (somehow I created quite a mess between rolling them in the pistachio crumbles and filling a pastry bag with jam), I thought they were fun to make and enjoyed the flavor combination. I also thought their rustic-look was quite charming. I was worried Josh wouldn’t like them, since he had told me he’s not big on pistachios, so I was pleasantly surprised when the half-batch I made disappeared in just a few days. He said he was happy he could surprise me with his gluttony. These cookies rated a 7 for Deliciousness and a 3.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 2. Tracey kindly helped out a fellow baker and hosted last week; you can find the recipe here on her site.

Moving on to this week’s cookie: Chocolate Orange Macaroons. I made these last Sunday evening, another thing I did when I should have been posting, with intentions to bring them to my book club on Monday. Unfortunately, the macaroons did not turn out so well. As Melissa promised, it was a very simple recipe to put together – one bowl, no mixer! – but I ended up over-baking mine a bit. My oven is kind of temperamental and I need to be careful about monitoring the actual temperature and baking times. I checked these on the low end and the bottoms had totally crisped up. The flavor combination was great and cookies were edible, but I didn’t want to bring them to my friends and be like, “here, have some kind of burned cookies.”

I’m not sure how to rate these, because mine really didn’t turn out so well and just really aren’t worth the calories to me. I guess they ended up rating about a 5 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, for an EDR of 2.5. Many thanks to Ellen of Blue Tree, Green Heart for hosting this week. You can find the recipe here on her site and visit the SMS site to see how the other bakers fared (hopefully better).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

TWD: Tender Shortcakes

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is Tender Shortcakes. What an ideal selection for this time of year. I’ve been eating strawberries pretty much every day for the past month and a half, but last week ALL the good summer produce started appearing at the farmer’s market. Also, we’ve had a rather cool spring and it finally got warm last weekend, so I appreciated that the shortcakes only required fifteen minutes of baking time and a minimum of prep time. I love when recipes end up taking much less time than I think they will. Last time Tuesdays With Dorie made biscuits, I learned I underestimated how much the dough should be mixed, and was much happier with the results of the shortcakes. I feel bad that I haven’t made Josh too many breakfast treats recently, so I told him they were scones and that he could have them for breakfast. Of course we had to try one (I only made four) the traditional way with berries and whipped cream and it was amazing. I don’t make whipped cream very often since Josh prefers his desserts be drowned in ice cream and I’d forgotten how delicious it is. I’ll definitely need to find an excuse to make these again before the end of the summer.

I gave the shortcakes an 8 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 3.2. Many thanks to Cathy of The Tortefeasor for a splendid seasonal choice. You can find the recipe here on Cathy’s site and visit the TWD site for more shortcake.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

TWD: White Chocolate Brownies

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie selection is the much-anticipated White Chocolate Brownies. (I say that they’re much-anticipated because for months there has been a campaign to have them selected.) When I told Josh what the selection was, he said, “wouldn’t they be blondies?” Hmm, good question. I’d never seen a white chocolate brownie, either. Then he tried them and said they tasted more like cupcakes than brownies.

There was much chatter on the Problems and Questions section this week about it being impossible to tell when the brownies were done underneath the layer of meringue, and also that they were difficult to get out of the pan. The latter problem was solved with a parchment paper sling and I lucked out with the baking time. I left them in about ten minutes longer than the recipe called for (even though I only made a half recipe) and they turned out well. The one problem I had was the meringue distribution. I plopped some on the brownies, then had trouble spreading it without mangling the entire concoction, so I whipped up more meringue in order to evenly coat the entire pan. Since I make a lot of ice cream, I almost always have extra egg whites on hand and I was happy to use up some more of my surplus.

So did we like them? Eh, they're good but I can definitely resist them and Josh even warned me they might not get finished, which NEVER happens with regular brownies in this house. I liked the addition of citrus (in the form of orange zest) with the sweet white chocolate, but didn’t think the meringue was a particularly special addition and I missed the chewy texture of a traditional brownie. We rated the brownies a 6.5 for Deliciousness and I gave them a 3.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 1.85. Many thanks to Marthe of Culinary Delights for ending the White Chocolate Brownie anticipation. You can find the recipe here on Marthe’s lovely blog and visit the TWD site to see what the other bakers thought of this recipe.