Posted in custard, dry heat

Coconut Chocolate Pie

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For my second birthday party (yes, I had two birthday parties), I made this pie. 

The crust is based on this recipe, made of only shredded coconut (which people brought to my first birthday party, making that really simple!) and butter. You could get away with less butter than is in the recipe. I don’t have any qualms with butter but I didn’t end up using all that was called for. Be careful about burning the edges – I covered them with foil and they still browned, so they turned out fine in the end but I wouldn’t want to push it.

The filling looks like it’s from the same recipe, but it’s not! That recipe has a ganache filling that you chill. Mine is my trusty recipe for flourless chocolate cake:

  • 200g dark chocolate (I use 60-70%; two nice bars of chocolate is usually exactly the right amount)
  • 200g eggs (4 eggs)
  • 200g butter (1 stick, 6 tablespoons, and a little smidge more)
  • 200g sugar (1 cup sugar)

You just melt the chocolate and butter together, and then mix in the eggs and sugar, making sure the mixture isn’t too hot for the eggs. If the chocolate separates, as it sometimes does, 1) don’t panic, 2) stir it over the heat until it comes back together, which it will.

Then bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.

It’s done when it doesn’t really jiggle, at 170F.

I can’t believe I hadn’t blogged that recipe yet. It’s easy to remember, easy to execute, and always makes friends.

So I blind baked the crust and then poured this inside – I didn’t have any problems with it leaking through the crust, just use enough coconut – and then baked again, still with foil around the edges. 

It was a hit! I was kind of sad that there weren’t any leftovers. 

Posted in baking

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Hype and The Truth

Anyone who’s into chocolate chip cookies knows about the NYT recipes from Jacques Torres.  Some swear by it.  Last night, I was struck with cookie inspiration and decided to finally try it. My overall impression is that it makes for great texture, meh flavor. Here’s what I’ve found out so far:

No need to be so fancy

  •  Flour: It calls for, by weight, half bread flour and half cake flour.  Depending on the flours you use (their contents vary by brand), I think this amounts to using all all-purpose flour.  Perhaps Jacques had some good reason for writing the recipe this way, but until further notice, I’ll assume it was just to look fancy.  I didn’t have enough bread or cake flour on hand (most of my bread flour is whole wheat because most of it goes to making, you know, bread), so I used all-purpose flour, and I was perfectly satisfied with the result.
  • Chocolate: I hope I don’t even have to tell you that you can use whatever bits of yumminess you want in these cookies. High quality chocolate tastes good, but I used regular old chocolate chips and they taste just as good as they always do.
  • Size: The NYT recipe wants you to make enormous cookies.  Well, sure, cookies the size of my head can stay soft for a while, but I like my cookies normal size, and I want a recipe that produces well-textured normal size cookies. So I test mine with somewhere around a tablespoon of dough per cookie.  The results are good: the success of the NYT recipe is not due to a size trick. It makes good normal size cookies, too.
  • Timing: The NYT recipe says to chill the cookie dough for 24-36 hours before baking. What a pain, I wanted cookies last night! So I decided to find out if it really matters. I baked one sheet of the cookies last night right after making up the dough – I stuck them in the fridge for 5 or 10 minutes just because the preheated oven was making the room hot and I wanted them to have a fair chance. Then I put one log of cookie dough in the fridge to be baked tonight, and another log (it makes a lot of cookies!) in the freezer for a rainy day (like yesterday, and today…).  I will report on the results of a blind taste test soon. But already I can tell you, unchilled NYT cookies are plenty good. Not too flat or hard or crispy, pretty much just how I like them.

It succeeds in making a cookie that’s chewy, not crispy or cakey.

  • It uses a little more brown sugar than white sugar, as a chocolate chip cookies should, in my opinion. Brown sugar is brown because it has molasses in it, and molasses has water in it, so it’s a way of making your cookie a little softer.
  • I like to compare cookies to the Nestle Tollhouse recipe, which I’ve had memorized for I don’t know how many years.  My Nestle cookies always come out too hard when cool, and kind of greasy. Here’s approximately how to make NYT cookies from a Nestle recipe (all comparisons are by weight):
    1. Divide the amount of butter in half.
    2. Divide the amount of egg in half.
    3. Subtract one fourth the total amount of sugar.
  • It’s hard to tell that these are the differences between the two recipes, since they make different amounts.  That’s why putting recipes in baker’s percentage is so handy. But the result is that the flour, leavening, salt, and vanilla play a bigger role in the NYT cookies.
  • Why less butter and egg: Cookies that are heavier on flour and lighter on butter stay soft better, but they run the risk of being too cakey and dry.  In fact, I made some like this once and compared that recipe to the NYT recipe.  It turns out that the only difference between the two was that the dry recipe used all white sugar instead of a mix of white and brown, and more egg.  We know that brown sugar makes a cookie wetter and softer, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, eggs make them cakey, even though eggs are wet. So I guess in order to increase the relative amount of flour in the recipe without ending up too cakey, the NYT recipe had to decrease the amount of egg.

My one complaint is the flavor.

  • What I don’t know about is the sugar. Does it have to be decreased?  The combination of less sugar and more salt seemed to trick my taste buds into thinking I was eating peanut butter cookies, which I’m sure is right up some people’s alley, but I’d rather have the regular old sweet flavor. So my next task will be to replicate this recipe but with more sugar and less salt. (In Jacques’ defense, I had to estimate the amount of salt, because I was using kosher instead of sea salt, which is less coarse.)
Posted in baking, candy, custard, emulsion, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Mousse in an edible container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com

So yeah, it was supposed to be maple mousse.  But I got inspired to have a Red and Black party, so I made chocolate mousse in red tuiles.  I shaped the tuiles by putting some in mini muffin tins and draping others over the tops of wine bottles, so that they made bowls to hold the mousse.  They came out looking like rose petals.

I made my chocolate mousse from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Julia Child’s recipe.  I tripled the recipe and, of course, made some minor changes, so mine came out like this – but be warned, this is for WAY more mousse than you really want to make.

  1. Mousse in the making
    Mixing the chocolate emulsion with the custard.

    Melt butter and chocolate with coffee.

    • 4 sticks butter
    • 510g dark chocolate (fair trade!)
    • 3/4 cup coffee
  2. Make zabaglione.  (A sweet custard with an alcoholic liquid.  Traditionally marsala wine; Julia’s recipe used rum; I used cognac and it was delicious.)  This is done by heating the ingredients in a double boiler until thick enough to coat a spoon, and then beating (an electric mixer is a good idea) off the heat (with the bowl in cool water, even) until lighter in color and thick enough that when you drip some, a trail remains.
    • 12 egg yolks (I bought jumbo by accident so I used 10)
    • 510g sugar
    • 6 Tbsp cognac
    • 3 Tbsp water
  3. Make meringue.  Beat egg whites; when it’s all opaque, add the sugar.  Keep beating until peaks form but aren’t too stiff.
    • 12 egg whites
    • 3 Tbsp sugar
    • a few pinches of salt
    • 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • 2 tsp vanilla
finished mousse
Blurry picture of finished mousse.

Gently mix the first two together and then fold the meringue into that.  This means you’ll be eating uncooked egg whites.  If you’re not ok with that, make a Swiss meringue instead, which is where you heat the egg whites and sugar to 160F before beating them.

This mousse was amazing, y’all.  Totally worth all the different ingredients and components.  The zabaglione alone was amazing, I’ll definitely make that again.

I did run into a hitch – my chocolate emulsion broke.  I googled around about this and came to the conclusion that humans do not fully understand chocolate, because what I found didn’t make a lot of sense.  But basically, I think it broke because I heated it too much, and what ended up working was cooling it in the fridge, and then heating it again, very slowly.  I tried this trick where I took just a little of it and mixed it with some heated corn syrup.  That bit re-emulsified, but as I added more of the broken mixture to the fixed mixture, it got fixed and then I added too much and it all broke again.  So I guess that last addition of broken mixture lowered the temperature too much.  So, chop your chocolate and butter before starting, so everything can melt fast and evenly, and if you run into this problem, cool and reheat slowly.

tuiles
Rose petal tuiles.

Now the tuiles.  I used this recipe without the almonds, and multiplied by 4.  These were really simple, and I had been so worried!  I used LOTS of red food coloring, and flavored them with cinnamon, but then added a little cocoa powder too because I wanted the red velvet color to come out right.  I didn’t add any liquid to the recipe to make up for this; maybe if I had they would’ve come out a little crispier, like I expected, but the texture they had was good for shaping them.  I’d skip the cinnamon next time; I wanted a red flavor to go with the red color, but I wasn’t crazy about the result.

Finally, I made some cayenne syrup to go on top.

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Boil until the thread stage, 130F.  Unfortunately, even though I stopped at the thread stage, mine eventually crystallized.  But it was a nice mixture of hot and sweet, and I love spice with my chocolate.

The official drink for the party was something that’s apparently called Devil’s Blood – it’s a vodka cranberry with black vodka.  I layered it by pouring the vodka from a measuring cup over the back of a spoon onto the cranberry juice, which worked well.

devil's blood
Layered cocktail.
Posted in baking, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

Recipe here.

filling station
All ready for my guests to dive in.

I used 545g of bread flour (the recipe gave a range for the amount of flour, and didn’t specify the type), and it was perfect.  The dough started out sticky and wasn’t anymore at the end of kneading.

I changed the shape of the bread/cake.  It was supposed to be rolled into a log and then made into a ring, exactly like the December challenge (especially because I filled my December challenge bread with this method instead of by mixing things into the dough).  I decided I would rather have my friends share the work with me and try something new, so I had a few people over and we each took part of the dough and rolled it up croissant-style: cut into an acute isosceles triangle, put fillings on it, and roll from the short edge to the point.

croissant construction
I decided mine was too big and cut it in two.
constructed croissants
We didn't skimp on the filling.

I’m in a cold climate, and since I was having people over to shape the bread, I wanted to make sure it rose on time.  So for the first rise, I put the bowl of dough in the oven with just the pilot light on.  It worked great.

For fillings, we used meringue, chocolate chips, chopped pecans, and dried cranberries.  Delicious.

I tried to do an egg wash the lazy way: rub some meringue on top.  It came out looking like bread with a little meringue rubbed on top, haha.

finished product
Yum.

I baked mine for about 18 minutes, which is shorter than the recipe says, which is expected given that mine had more surface area, and that my oven is crazy.  My thermometer read about 205F when they were done.

You’re supposed to let bread cool first, but we ate them hot, and they were great!  I had no problems with this dough, so I would definitely use that recipe again.

with lemon curd
The meringue left me with three egg yolks, which is just the right number for making lemon curd.
the inside
Very well-behaved dough.
Posted in baking, custard, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Entremet with Joconde

the outside
Now you know what the margins of my notebooks look like.

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

It’s my first Daring Bakerversary!  I’ve been a Daring Baker for a whole year now.  Yay.

Normally I just post the pdf of the recipe and leave it at that, but this recipe needs some tweaks, I think.

It says to make the sponge cake batter first and then the decorating paste that goes under the sponge cake as it bakes, even though the batter runs the risk of deflation and the paste needs to be frozen for 15 minutes before baking.  That’s just silly.

So first, make the decorating paste.  But unless you’re planning to forget the whole joconde thing and make 3 dozen cookies out of it, for goodness sake don’t make as much as they say.  I halved it and had way too much.  Here’s half of the cocoa version (ie, what I made):

  • 7 tablespoons/100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g Confectioners’ (icing) sugar
  • 100g egg whites (I used the kind in a carton so I didn’t have to worry about fractions of eggs)
  • 85g cake flour
  • 30 g cocoa powder (sifting this with the cake flour is not actually necessary)
  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Add eggs.
  3. Add dry ingredients.
  4. Pipe or otherwise make a design on a Silpat on a jellyroll pan.  I bought a Silpat especially for this, because parchment paper usually gets warpy in situations like this.  They say to put the jellyroll pan upside down; that’s fine, but it’s also ok to do it right-side up if you have an offset spatula.
  5. Freeze for 15 minutes, till hard.

Meanwhile, make the cake batter.

  • ¾ cup/ 180 ml/ 3oz/ 85g almond flour/meal
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 ml/ 2⅔ oz/ 75g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
  • ¼ cup/ 60 ml/ 1 oz/ 25g cake flour
  • 3 large eggs – about 5⅓ oz/ 150g
  • 2 tablespoons/ 30 ml/ 1oz / 30g unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large egg whites – about 3 oz/ 90g
  • 2½ teaspoons/ 12½ ml/ ⅓ oz/ 10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar
  1. Whisk dries together (not granulated sugar).
  2. Add whole eggs.
  3. Add melted butter. (Another place where I disagree with the recipe.  I did it this way, nothing exploded.)
  4. Separately, beat egg whites.  When frothy, add granulated sugar.  Beat to stiff peaks.
  5. Fold egg whites into batter.
  6. Take the frozen paste out of the freezer.
  7. Pour cake batter onto jellyroll pan.  Spread into an even layer (using offset spatula if you have one).  Remember cake decorating technique: pour it all in the middle and then spread from the middle.
  8. Bake at 475F for 7 minutes.  They said 15 minutes; clearly that was too long for my crazy oven, but I think that’s too long for anyone.  We’re talking about less than a half-inch of sponge cake here.
  9. Cool for a couple of minutes, then flip onto parchment paper.
  10. Cut into strips with the same width as the height of your mold (or the height that you want your joconde to be, if not the full height of the mold).
the inside
An unintentionally dramatic photo, with a flower pot from my Catalan friend in the background.

The fillings were up to us.  I made what was supposed to be a brownie, with my very own recipe! I looked at several other brownie recipes to get a general idea of how much chocolate should go into them, and then brownie-fied Smitten Kitchen’s Blondie recipe using MATH.  Here’s the Blondie recipe:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 egg

Here’s the rationale behind my browniefication thereof:

  • 1 cup flour minus 1/3 cup, to be replaced by cocoa powder
  • 1 stick butter minus 1 Tbsp, to be replaced by the fat in the chocolate I use
  • 1 cup sugar minus 2 Tbsp, to be replaced by corn syrup, which is more hygroscopic (will keep it moist)
  • 1 egg

And my final brownie recipe:

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 7 Tbsp butter
  • 30g dark chocolate
  • 7/8 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt butter and chocolate.
  2. Add sugar, corn syrup, egg, and cocoa powder.
  3. Add flour.
  4. Bake at 325F for 30 minutes.

It turned out denser than I expected, but definitely not dry and definitely very chocolatey.  I never thought I’d do this, but I might add a little baking powder next time.

I also made champagne mousse using this Epicurious recipe.  I added a little extra champagne and that wasn’t the greatest idea, because it didn’t thicken much until I gave up and let it cool.  But it worked.  It was very sweet, probably due to the sweet pink champagne I used.  It doesn’t make very much.

I put a layer of my joconde sponge cake on the bottom (so the bottom of your slice is pretty!), then some strawberry jam, then the brownie, then a layer of the chocolate decorating paste (since I had so much extra), then the champagne mousse, and there was still room.  So I made some whipped cream with very little sugar, as a nice light finish to a very rich and sweet dessert.

Posted in baking, candy, foam

S’more bars

This summer, foodgawker was inundated with recipes for s’more bars and I’ve been dying to make some.  My friends’ housewarming seemed like the perfect opportunity.  But when I looked at the recipes (the ones that didn’t involve strange ingredients like granola), they were all exactly the same: it’s essentially a cookie dough with some of the flour replaced with graham cracker crumbs, topped by chocolate and marshmallow fluff and more of the same cookie dough.  I don’t know where it originated or I’d link to it.  Anyway, delicious as that sounds, I decided to try to go a little more traditional with it and use a graham cracker crust like you’d make for a cheesecake – just graham cracker crumbs and butter – topped with chocolate and homemade marshmallow.  I omitted the top graham cracker layer so I could flambe the marshmallow, because I don’t know about you, but I like my marshmallow seriously singed.

I based the graham cracker layer on this recipe, ending up with the following:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 crackers)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Based on the ubiquitous s’more bar recipe, put 6 Hershey bars on top of that.  I put this in the turned-off but still hot oven for a few minutes to melt them.

Instead of using marshmallow creme like the s’more bar recipe says, I made marshmallows according to Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe via Cooking For Engineers.  (The Keller link no longer leads anywhere, but that’s what CFE cites.)  It’s really easy: make a hard-ball stage candy while you bloom gelatin, then beat both together until it gets opaque and thick and voluminous.  Then I poured it over the chocolate and let it cool.  I didn’t use the whole recipe on the s’more bars – I saved enough to fill one of those short square Gladwares because it just made too much.  I still think I ended up with more marshmallow on the bars than I should have had, but I guess that just makes it indulgent.

I took the bars to my friends’ place and flambeed them, which melted the top of the marshmallow but didn’t get it really burnt like I like it.  I tried to take a picture but the picture put the fire out somehow!  Next I’ll try setting the reserved marshmallow on fire.

If I made the s’more bars again, I think I’d go with different chocolate – something darker.  I stuck with Hershey’s milk for tradition’s sake, but it really was a little too sweet for me.  I must be getting old.

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!