Posted in baking, foam, freezing

Daring Baker Challenge: Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and
Baking
. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and
Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa
chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice
Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s
“The Perfect Scoop”.

The pdf with all the recipes is here.

Brown Butter Pound Cake

I had never browned butter before and was a little nervous about burning it, but it went fine.  I just put it all in the pan – didn’t even worry about cutting it up – and heated and stirred and heated and stirred until the milk solids turned brown.  Then got it out of that hot pan quick, because they get browner and browner really fast.

The annoying part is cooling the butter just enough to where it’s solid but soft for creaming with the sugar.  From there, it’s just a regular creaming method pound cake.  A breeze in my stand mixer :).

Cake and ice cream layers

Zabaglione Ice Cream

I thought a French vanilla would go well with the brown butter cake, and I looked through The Perfect Scoop for something like that but a little more exciting.  Enter zabaglione ice cream.  Zabaglione is a poured custard made with egg yolks, marsala wine, and sugar.  I adore it.  We used it in the DB tiramisu challenge.  But Lebovitz’s recipe says to use 1/2 cup of dry marsala for a 1 quart recipe (he just substitutes it in for 1/2 cup of the dairy), and that seemed like a lot.  Alcohol makes ice cream softer, and I wanted mine to stay frozen during the baking and flambeing, plus I wasn’t sure if my guests would love the flavor as much as I do; some people don’t go for it as much.  So I used 1/4 of a cup.  This is even less when you consider that I increased the recipe to make 1.5 quarts.  I still tasted it, though; I think it might have been a little overpowering if I had used as much as he said, but a little more would have been fine.

Besides that, I followed his recipe, egg yolks and all.  I found that when I use light cream, as I am wont to do instead of all heavy cream or Lebovitz’s mix of whole milk and heavy cream, the yolks don’t make it too fatty.  I had some freezing issues due to not having frozen my ice cream maker’s core early enough, so I couldn’t judge this ice cream very accurately, but I think it turned out pretty well.

Unbaked meringue on the first one
Baked meringue on the second one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meringue

I could make meringue in my sleep, which was good to know because I decided to wait until my guests had arrived to make it.  That was a Good Idea; I piped, baked, flambeed, and served one baked Alaska before doing the same to the next one, and in the meantime, the quality of the meringue had noticeably declined.  It was less satiny, starting to separate I guess.  But not too much – purely an aesthetic issue at that point.  Having the stand mixer do the beating for me made doing this mid-party less of a hassle.

I tried to do some pretty piping but I wanted to make sure to cover every little cranny since the meringue is an insulator for the ice cream, and that necessitated going over some spots multiple times.  But all in all, not too bad.

Don’t know how to make meringue?  Commit this to memory:

Beat room temperature egg whites with a few sprinkles of cream of tartar and cornstarch.  When they start to turn opaque, add sugar (1/4 cup or 60 g per white is customary for meringue shells; in this case, about half that much*) and keep beating.  Stop when they stick out pretty straight from the beater when you stop it and pull it out of the foam.

There, now you can make meringue in your sleep, too.

*1/4 cup or 60g per white is twice as much sugar per egg white by either volume or weight.  This recipe used slightly less than an equal weight of egg whites and sugar.  It was a nice amount.

Bake

Heat up the broiler and put the Alaska under it for five minutes.  My ice cream was definitely starting to melt at this point, which didn’t matter since my Alaskas were so horizontal, but one of those tower-type ones might have had trouble.

Flambeing

Flambe

I was kind of afraid to flambe them, because I had never done it before, but it’s so easy.  Just pour a little alcohol – at least 40% abv, I think; I used cognac – into a pan, heat it until it just starts to bubble, pour it on the dessert, and light it with a long match.  I had better luck lighting the pan of alcohol, actually, and then poured the flaming alcohol onto the dessert.  It sounds dangerous, but it went fine.  It looks really cool if you turn out the lights.

This part is unnecessary and actually not traditional for baked Alaska; mine were technically bombe Alaska because I did this.  But it makes a great show! And the leftover booze that soaked in tasted good.

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Posted in freezing

The Summer of Ice Cream II: Cookies and Cream, twice

Don’t know why it took me so long to post this…

cookies and cream
Lower fat version on the left, higher fat on the right. The color difference is because I used different brands of cream.

You, lucky reader, are about to be let in on The Secret of Ice Cream.  It’s not in The Perfect Scoop (which I own and read, of course).  It’s not on foodgawker (my constant companion).  It’s in books like The Science of Ice Cream and The Handbook of Food Science, Technology, and Engineering.  It’s hardcore science that will make your ice cream soft.

The reigning messiah of ice cream, David Lebovitz (author of The Perfect Scoop, reigning ice cream bible) distinguishes between two kinds of ice cream: Philadelphia style and French style.  The former is based on cream and sugar while the latter adds to these egg yolks.  He gives a recipe for Philadelphia style ice cream but warns us that it will be icier than the French style.  What he doesn’t say is that there are other options.

It makes perfect sense, actually.  Ice cream aside, what are egg yolks used for?  Thickening and emulsifying things.  But they’re far from the only ingredients used for these purposes.  For thickening, you can use any of dozens of kinds of starches and gums, as well as gelatin and pectin.  (There are other chemicals that emulsify as well, but I don’t worry about that – yet, anyway.)  So it’s no coincidence that you can use all of these things to improve the texture of your ice cream, too.  But gelatin, pectin, and gums are needed in smaller amounts than egg yolks and starches, and lack the fat of egg yolks (it’s not a health thing, I swear – I just think an overly fatty ice cream isn’t as delicious), so I’d rather use them.

Unfortunately, ice cream scientists seem not to be very gossipy, so no one is helping me get the secret out, and as a result, there are precious few recipes to go on.  So, I took Lebovitz’s Philly Vanilla recipe and added an envelope of gelatin to it (and a row of Oreos, because I had been craving cookies and cream ice cream for at least a month).  It came out too thick for my taste, so I tried again with slightly less gelatin and light cream in place of heavy cream (I didn’t use his option of using part milk in either case), and it came out better, but ever so slightly too icy.  The experiments will have to continue, but my hunch is that more fat is not what’s needed.  Rather, more sugar or even more milk protein (which I could add in the form of nonfat milk powder) may be the key.  Or the full envelope of gelatin.  Or a different thickener (I’m considering ordering some guar gum).  I just try to see all these questions and the batches of ice cream they necessitate as the silver lining to the ridiculous heat wave we’ve been having here in Massafrickingchusetts, of all places.  I expect these temperatures in Florida, but in Florida I have air conditioning!

Posted in baking, emulsion, foam

Yellow cupcakes with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream frosting

Two of the professors in my department just emailed me saying they have a KitchenAid stand mixer they never use and would I be able to give it a home and make it feel used?

Just take a minute to absorb that.

Within 48 hours, it was in my kitchen making cupcakes for them.

Yellow Cupcakes

cake batter in the mixer
The batter after mixing.

I’ve made yellow cake once before, and as I remember it was good, but it took an awful lot of egg yolks.  Instead of going back to that recipe, I just foodgawked yellow cake and found four recipes that looked good and came from reputable sources.  I ran these through my baker’s percentage program to make them easier to compare and then picked Smitten Kitchen’s, because it looked like an especially moist recipe, and not one that contained egg whites.  (Who puts egg whites in a yellow cake?  The Culinary Institute of America, apparently.  Shrug.)

I won’t copy the recipe here, but I will tell you that I used lowfat milk instead of buttermilk because that way I didn’t have to go shopping, and since I wasn’t going to have the acid of the buttermilk in the recipe to react with the baking soda, I replaced the baking soda with baking powder (the internets say amount of baking powder = amount of baking soda divided by three).  Baking powder contains both baking soda and an acid for it to react with – gotta remember to balance your acids and bases, or your cake won’t rise and will have a metallic taste.  Then I halved the recipe.  It made 48 mini cupcakes, exactly two pans’ worth.  I seem to have underfilled the cups, because most of them didn’t rise enough to make little tops for themselves, so maybe it should actually make less than that.

You’re supposed to bake the cake for 35-45 minutes, but the mini cupcakes baked in about 18 minutes at the same temperature, 350F.

The review: Wow.  First of all, making a cake with a scale and a stand mixer is a lovely experience.  Everything was so easy and fast.  Secondly, this is a great cake recipe.  Soft (cake flour is a good thing), moist, fluffy.  The tops are flat; I have no opinion on the optimal shape of the top of a cupcake, but now you know what you’ll get out of this recipe.  They’re losing moisture fast, though, so if you make them, eat them forthwith.

cupcakes
Some baked mini cupcakes.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

meringue in mixer
The meringue just after whipping.

Buttercream frosting and I have a shady past.  I tried to make it three times in a row to no avail.  First, a whole egg buttercream that fell flat.  Then, an egg yolk buttercream that was unacceptably salty because I used salted butter (normally you can get away with salted butter; not in buttercream!) and that really had too much butter in it, anyway (it got so hard in the fridge that I was able to pick up the entire mass by one edge and throw it away).  Finally, another whole egg buttercream that just never came together, no matter how long I beat it with my hand mixer.  It seemed to me that buttercream frosting was one of the few things that I couldn’t figure out how to make without a stand mixer.  So it was the perfect recipe to welcome my new toy to my kitchen.  But this time, I decided to make an egg white buttercream, because I imagined the meringue would be better at balancing out all that butter than the egg yolks had been.

I used a recipe from My Buttery Fingers which is based on a vanilla buttercream from Smitten Kitchen (whence all good things come, apparently!) and a chocolate espresso buttercream from Use Real Butter.  The only changes I made were to beat the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks before adding the butter, rather than adding it as soon as the meringue was cool, and to use 150g of butter rather than 180g, which Wendy suggested.  I think it was absolutely the right choice.

The recipe worked perfectly.  It’s normal for buttercream to separate into a chunky solid phase and a liquid phase before coming together again, but mine never even did that.  It was just perfect the whole entire time.  My hand mixer couldn’t quite get Swiss meringue to stiff peaks; I tried once for long enough that I ended up moving the bowl and mixer to a table so I could sit down, and all I got was an overheated mixer and soft peaks.  So expect to see some piped meringues in the future.

As for the flavor of the frosting, I think it was a nice amount of chocolate.  You could go chocolatier, but only if you want to really make a statement.  This was a nice, classic yellow cake-chocolate frosting combo.

finished cupcakes
Thanks, John and Ellen!
Posted in custard

Flourless chocolate cognac cake/tarte

chocolate cognac tarte
Read on for my theory on why this cake looks like it got in a bar fight.

Two of the students (one former) in our department recently got married, and tonight we toasted to them.  I asked the bride what she’d like, and she said she likes anything chocolate.  When people tell me that, I think chocolate cake just won’t cut it – not chocolatey enough.  So I decided to make a flourless chocolate cake.  Before googling or foodgawking (foodgawkering? I can’t decide) for a recipe, I checked my bookmarks, because I keep a store of recipes I’ve seen and want to try.  Sure enough, I had a chocolate tarte recipe saved in my bookmarks that looked delicious.  The recipe is from Côté Maison and is in French, so I’ve translated it.

pâte sablée (already made – I didn’t use one)
156.3 B%       250 g crème fraîche liquide (I used heavy cream)
18.8 B%        30 g butter
78.1 B%        125 g chocolate
15.6 B%        25 g sugar (I added two tablespoons to this)
62.5 B%        2 eggs
37.5 B%        3 yolks
a little unsweetened cocoa powder (I used powdered sugar instead, but it melted into the cake by the time I served it)
32.5 B%        5 cl cognac

I added a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla.

I did it without a crust and doubled the recipe, which made a thin cake in a 13×9 in pan.  It served 12 people with a little left over.  Sadly, I don’t think the flavor of the cognac came through in the final product.  It tasted great in the batter, but I guess the cognac couldn’t take the heat.  If I make it again, I’d use a lighter cream, because I think too much fat can cover the flavor of the chocolate.   Here’s how I made it – mostly following the instructions, but you know me, I always have to change something:

  1. Heat cream, butter, sugar, salt, and chocolate in a saucepan until everything is melted and dissolved.  Remove from heat.
  2. Lightly beat eggs and yolks.
  3. When cream mixture is cool, mix eggs, cognac, and vanilla together.  Pour into pan.
  4. Bake at 350F (180C) for 20 minutes.
  5. Cool, then sieve powdered sugar on top.

It came out moist, but cuttable (rather than needing to be spooned).  I should have checked it earlier, but thought it would need longer than 20 minutes (at slightly less than 350F) since I made twice as much, but then, I made it in a larger pan.  Twenty minutes was just right or possibly a minute or two too long.  It didn’t weep, so the eggs hadn’t coagulated, but I suspect it would have been a little smoother a couple of minutes earlier.

When I took it out of the oven, it had huge bubbles that sank into valleys upon cooling.  One of the sunken spots even caused a crack (the other, smaller crack is where I checked for doneness).  I think it went like this: the beaten eggs had lots of bubbles in them, and during cooking, they coalesced into big bubbles, which grew due to the heat into monster bubbles, which pushed a little of the batter out from under them, so that when the high spots sank, they sank even lower than the areas around them.  It did not make for a pretty cake.  (But everyone ate it anyway, bless their hearts!)  So take it from me: don’t overbeat your eggs – we’re not going for fluffy here – and let the batter sit for a while, maybe hit the pan on the counter a few times, to get rid of bubbles.

Overall, it’s hard to go wrong with a rich chocolate dessert, but I think this recipe could be improved upon.

Posted in baking

Peach Cobbler

peach cobblerMy friend had an awesome birthday party today.  We went tubing on the Deerfield River, then went home and showered and changed, and reconvened for a barbecue and finally, a bonfire.  Now there’s a dude who knows how to celebrate the passage of time.  He mentioned that peaches were in season when I asked him what I could make, so at first I was thinking of a peach pie, but I’m not great with pie crusts and I was low on time to experiment, so I decided on a peach cobbler.  I haven’t actually made a cobbler since I was pretty young and made a blackberry one with my grandmother in North Carolina (fond memories), so I was a little iffy on what I was shooting for.

I used Paula Deen’s recipe, reprinted here in baker’s percentage and all that good stuff:

257.1 B%        383.3 g        2 cups sugar, divided
79.4 B%            118.3 g        1/2 cup water
77.0 B%            114.8 g        1/2 cup butter
100.0 B%        149.1 g        1 1/2 cups flour
5.7 B%            8.4 g        2 1/4 tsp baking powder
245.2 B%        365.5 g        1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups (7-8) peeled, sliced peaches
Ground cinnamon, optional

I threw in a little ground nutmeg and changed the self-rising flour to flour and baking powder.  Her recipe doesn’t have salt, but my butter was salted.  Here’s my paraphrase on the instructions, plus my instructions for the peaches:

  1. Blanch and shock peaches.  (Put them in boiling water for 45 seconds to a minute, then put in ice water to cool.)
  2. Peel off whatever skin will come off.  Cut off the rest; it will still come off more easily than if they weren’t blanched.  But, they will have a slightly cooked outer layer that might not be as pretty as if you had just peeled them.  Your call.
  3. Slice peaches.  I tried slicing one radially, you know, like how canned peaches come sliced, but it’s hard to do thanks to the pit.  So I hacked off one cheek, the other, then the sides, and then the bottom.  Sliced the cheeks in half.  Works for me.
  4. Turn oven on to 350F.  Put butter in pan and pan in oven.
  5. Put peaches, 1 cup sugar, and water in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Mix flour, baking powder, 1 cup sugar, and milk.
  7. Put batter, then peaches and syrup, in the pan with the butter, without stirring.
  8. Bake 30-45 minutes.  I baked mine for 35 minutes.

I think it needed to be baked longer.  I was skeptical about this but thought the top looked and felt done, but when I tried some at the party it was definitely doughy beneath the surface.  With no eggs, it’s not dangerous, but I imagine doughy isn’t the goal.  I should really eat more cobblers.

That said, get yourselves to Whole Foods and buy some ripe peaches pronto.  Eating the leftover bits of peach was magical.  I don’t think I have properly appreciated peaches in the past because I haven’t normally had really good, really ripe ones.  I also got rainier cherries after 1) having them stare at me on my computer background for months and 2) not finding any at the store until recently, when my usual grocery store started having them, but first they looked really bad, and then they looked ok but where EIGHT dollars a pound, and 3) finally happening upon them at Whole Foods, looking perfect and costing something I could stomach. And man. are. they. good.  I can’t even tell you.  You’ll just have to go buy some yourself.