Saturday, March 30, 2013

A week of cupcakes

Last week was one of those weeks. A measure of disillusionment. A pinch of self-doubt. Fickle weather (spring is finally here yet it's nowhere to be found). All this conspired to give me a case of the late-winter blues.

In the midst of this, a dose of reality: I wasn't making things better by retreating into myself. Then happenstance; inspiration delivered in the form of a quote:
I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink. (Leonardo da Vinci)
Buoyed by those words, I turned over a new leaf.  All this week I woke up uncharacteristically early.  I watched the sun rise.  And in the wee hours of the morning, I baked.  On Monday I baked strawberry cupcakes and topped them with strawberry cream cheese frosting and fresh-cut strawberries. On Wednesday I made chocolate olive oil cupcakes with almond cream cheese frosting.  On Thursday I made some white velvet butter cupcakes with maple buttercream frosting.  These cupcakes I shared with various others: colleagues, friends old and new.  (I brought some to the Baking Makes Friends event hosted by Lillie, of butter me up, Brooklyn!; it was such fun meeting fellow bakers and bloggers!)  I might have remembered to save one or two of the dozens that I baked for me, but smiles, some lip-smacking and second helpings were plenty enough reward.

And so it came to be that a wee little thing called a cupcake - bringing delight to others and in turn to me - helped turn things around.  This is why I bake, after all: I bake because it makes me content and fulfilled and it brings happiness to others.

The recipe for making the white velvet butter cupcakes can be found in an earlier post.  Simply halve the recipe to make about 16 cupcakes.

Maple Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 liquid cup maple syrup
1 cup unsalted butter (must be softened)
1 teaspoon maple extract

In a bowl beat the yolks until light and color. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. Immediately transfer the syrup to a heatproof glass measure to stop the cooking.

Pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Immediately beat at high-speed for five seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for five seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition user a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in the butter and maple extract.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 6 with Rose: Genoise Classique

My mother tells me that when I was a child, I would often say I couldn't wait to become an adult so that I could eat cake anytime I wanted.

Looking back now, I can only marvel at what a wise child I was: eating cake anytime I want is certainly one of the big joys and perks of being an adult (for me at least, anyway).

So while this sixth day with Rose is my final lesson on cakes, I am certainly not saying goodbye to cakes; they are, after all, my favorite of all sweet treats.  
I am merely pausing to turn my attention to making pies and pastries.  Nor am I saying goodbye to Rose. With all that I've learned from her in these few short weeks, I know I'll be revisiting her again and again for further inspiration and advice.

Today's lesson is on sponge-type cakes. Sponge-type cakes get their light, airy texture from a large amount of beaten eggs (compared with a basic butter cake, for example, a sponge-type cake uses double the egg). The Genoise, which I make today, is a European sponge-type cake. Unlike its American counterpart, it contains butter as well as much less sugar. Syrup is added to the cake to give it some added moisture. Since the cake is rather plain, I top it with some whipped cream. 

The cake is quite simple and quick to make. I find the most time-consuming and somewhat tedious part of the process to be removing the bottom and top crust. Rose explains that sponge-type cakes absorb syrup most easily if the crusts are removed; otherwise the crusts could become pasty. A long serrated knife (and some patience) will help in this process.

The results: a delightfully sweet and perfectly moist cake with a fine crumb.
Next up: pies, pies, and more pies!

Genoise Classique
Recipe from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 tablespoons clarified beurre noisette
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 cup – 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup + 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 liquid cup water
2 tablespoons liqueur of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Warm the beurre noisette*
 until almost hot. Add the vanilla and keep warm.
*If you don't have clarified butter, you will need to clarify some unsalted butter.  In a heavy saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat, partially covered to prevent splattering.   When the butter looks clear, cook uncovered, watching until the solids drop and begin to brown. Pour immediately through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

In a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the eggs and sugar until just lukewarm, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Beat the mixture on high-speed for five minutes or until triple in volume.

While the eggs are beating, sift together the flour and cornstarch.

Remove one cup of the egg mixture and thoroughly whisk it into the beurre noisette.

Sift 1/2 the flour mixture over the remaining egg mixture and fold it in gently but rapidly until almost all the flour has disappeared. Repeat with remaining flour mixture until the flour has disappeared completely. Fold in the butter mixture until just incorporated.

Pour immediately into the prepared pan** and bake 25 to 35 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and starts to shrink slightly from the size of the pan.
Avoid opening the oven door before the minimum time or the cake could fall.
**One 9-inch by 2-inch pan, greased, bottom lined with parchment, and then greased again and floured.

Loosen the sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and unmold at once unto a lightly greased rack. Reinvert to cool. Trim the bottom and top crust when ready to complete the cake and sprinkle the syrup evenly on both sides.

To make syrup, in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring the sugar and water to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Cover immediately, remove from the heat, and allow to cool completely.  Transfer to a liquid measuring cup and stir in the liqueur.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Doubly Good Blueberry Pie

"Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes" is the latest food memoir I've devoured.  It's a tale of romance, equal parts tender and wry, told charmingly by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the NY Times.  At its heart, the book is about love and discovery: the excitement, conflicts, and (ultimately) acceptance that play out when two people meet, fall in love, and somewhere along the way figure out how to live in happy congruence.

"Mr. Latte," Amanda's suitor, is so named because of a culinary faux pas he commits very early in their courtship (on their first date, in fact): he orders a latte after dinner.  

That got me thinking: however they're interpreted by others, I have a few culinary quirks of my own.  One such quirk: I think cream cheese makes everything better.  It's one of my favorite baking ingredients.  And it's oftentimes what I like to have for breakfast.  Much like I'll order a salad just for the dressing (peppercorn and Caesar are my two favorites), when I'm in the mood for some cream cheese for breakfast, I'll eat a bagel, or better yet, a sweet cheese danish.
So, naturally, the first recipe in the book I wanted to try was "Helen Getz's Double-Good Blueberry Pie," a pie with a cream cheese filling.  I had just bought some blueberries, and as usual had some cream cheese at the ready, so I got to work.  The perfectly flaky crust, topped with two distinct layers of sweet cream cheese and fresh blueberries, make this pie the homey kind of dessert you want to reach for as soon as you've filled your belly with dinner.  What makes it doubly good?  The cream cheese filling, of course!

Helen Getz's Double-Good Blueberry Pie
Recipe adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser

For the pie dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 small egg
2 tablespoons cold water

For the cream cheese filling
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream

For the blueberry filling
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
4 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut in the shortening until it is reduced to tiny granules.  In a separate bowl, beat together the vinegar, egg, and cold water.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in this liquid.  Mix it until a dough forms.  Make a ball and flatten slightly into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Roll out the dough between lightly floured sheets of parchment paper into a circle about 1/8-inch thick.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough.  Prick the base of the dough with a fork.  Line the pie dough with foil and pour in pie weights or beans.  Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 10 minutes more.  Remove the foil and pie weights and bake another 5 minutes.  Let cool complete before filling.

Prepare the cream cheese filling: Blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream until light and smooth.

Prepare the blueberry filling: Put the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium pan.  Add the water and 2 cups of the blueberries.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  The mixture will seize up and thicken and, after a minute or two, turn clear.  Take it off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter.  Pour in the remaining blueberries and stir until coated.

Assemble the pie: Spread the cream cheese mixture over the bottom of the cooled pie dough.  Drop the blueberry mixture over the cream cheese in large spoonfuls, then gently spread them around.  There should be two distinct layers.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to set.  Let it come to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 5 with Rose: Sour Cream Coffee Cake

When I'm home alone, I bake.  It's what I do to relax; it's how I treat myself; it's what I do to feel grounded.  Amidst my mixing bowls and baking pans, I am content.

On occasion I'll have a friend over and we'll bake together.  A dear friend from school has been reading my blog and expressed an interest in learning how to bake.  Two weekends ago, she came over for an afternoon of baking.  She is a novice, and we had a lot of catching up to do.  So I chose something simple: a cobbler.  Nothing quite says home like a freshly baked cobbler. It is warm, inviting, and satisfying.  The cobbler is also a very forgiving dessert: you can mix and match just about any variety of stone fruit or berry that you want, and no one ever minds what it ends up looking like.  After all, any way that it's cobbled together, the fruit and crust end up mingling, the crust absorbing the juices from the fruit.  We served our mixed berry cobbler topped with a generous serving of vanilla bean ice cream after a meal of Bombay-style chicken with red split lentils.  

But, by and large, baking is a solitary activity for me.  Today is no exception, although I am home alone out of necessity more than desire: I have temporarily lost my voice.  I cancel my plans and decide to bake instead.  Day 5 with Rose is a lesson on breakfast cakes.

I don't know what clever soul coined the phrase "breakfast cake," but I am eternally grateful, because it allows me to eat cake for breakfast without any pangs of guilt.  Today I make a sour cream coffee cake.  Ever since I visited Levain Bakery and devoured their coffee cake, I've been eager to bake my very own.

This particular sour cream coffee cake recipe is one of Rose's favorites.  The cake is moist and buttery, with a dark middle layer of cinnamon filling, and a sweet, crunchy streusel topping of sugar, butter, and ground walnuts.  

My first attempt at making the cake is rather disastrous.  Rose's recipe calls for the use of a cake pan.  I, however, want a coffee cake in the shape of a loaf.  So I use my loaf pan instead.  But it holds less volume than my cake pan, and yet knowing that, I pour the entire batter into the loaf pan because there is still room left in the pan once I'm done (granted, the pan is nearly full).  An hour into baking, the center of the cake is wet and the edges are starting to overcook.  I am running late for an appointment.  I turn off my oven and reluctantly abandon my under-done cake.  Lesson learned: don't overfill your cake pan.  If the pan is too small for the amount of batter on hand, use the remaining batter to make cupcakes.  If I'd had the presence of mind, that's what I would have done.

My second attempt yields a perfectly baked cake, although the streusel topping lacks the characteristic crumbly texture and some of the filling has sunk to the bottom of the cake.  I may have overmixed the ingredients for both the filling and topping: I recall they held together too well and had to be plopped onto the batter rather than sprinkled.  The cake, though, tastes delicious.  And what's a better way to start the day than with a generous slice of cake?

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Recipe from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Streusel topping and filling
1/3 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup unsifted cake flour (dip and sweep method)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup sugar 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter 

Streusel topping and filling
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the sugars, nuts and cinnamon until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Reserve 3/4 cup to use as a filling.  To the remainder add the flour, butter, and vanilla and pulse briefly to form a coarse, crumbly mixture for the topping.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the yolks, about 1/4 of the sour cream, and vanilla. 

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.  Add the butter and remaining sour cream.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.  Scrape down the sides.  Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients.  Scrape down the sides.

Reserve about 1/3 of the batter and scrape the rest into the prepared pan.*  Smooth the surface with a spatula.  Sprinkle with the streusel filling.  Drop the reserved batter in large blobs and spread evenly with the spatula.  Sprinkle with the streusel topping and bake for 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cover loosely with buttered foil after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning. 
*One 9-inch springform pan, greased, bottom lined with parchment, and then greased again and floured.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and remove the sides of the springform pan. Cool completely before wrapping airtight. Serve at room temperature.