Posted in baking, candy, custard, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Fraisier

 Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.



Instead of the Daring Baker recipe, I used this recipe from Food Lover’s Odyssey. It uses genoise cake instead of chiffon, meaning the eggs aren’t separated but are heated and then beaten to make a foam, and it uses an ungodly amount of butter to make the cream stand up instead of gelatin.

I used half the amount of butter it calls for – the strawberries in the center of the middle layer did most of the work of holding the cake up.  My boyfriend and I picked the strawberries ourselves! And the blueberries came from the same farm.

The cake shrunk as it cooked, naturally, so my springform pan had a little extra room when I used it as a mold for the center layer. The result was the strawberries hanging kind of low. If I had started with the cream it probably would’ve worked better.

Regardless, it was delicious! Decadent and summery at the same time. We ate it on the Fourth of July. I would definitely make it again, but probably in the structure of a regular cake just to make my life easier.

Posted in baking, foam, freezing

Daring Baker Challenge: Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and
. 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













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.


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.



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.

Posted in baking, candy, thickening

Daring Baker Challenge: Croquembouche!

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

This challenge was so epic, I had to invite people over to see it.  And eat it, which they did – the whole entire thing.  I made 3 1/2 batches of pate a choux, 3 batches of pastry cream, and two batches of caramel for it.

Pate a choux:

Dense profiterole
This was one with too little egg - it didn't rise much.
Light profiterole
This is a profiterole with too much egg - it's light and airy, but kind of flat.

This is an interesting kind of baked good that I frankly don’t understand the science behind, so if anyone out there does, please, enlighten me.  You boil water and butter (with a little salt and sugar), add flour and heat a little more, and then add eggs.  You end up with a completely un-airy batter that can be piped.  It contains no chemical leaveners, no yeast.  And then you bake it, and voila, it comes out almost completely hollow inside!

I’ll tell you what I do know: not enough egg will keep them from puffing; you can spot this problem if the paste is too dense.  It should have a pleasant, smooth feel between your fingers, not too thick and sticky.  Too much egg will make them too wet to hold their shape after being piped, and you’ll end up with puffed but squat profiteroles.  The batter should keep its shape.  The recipe said to use 4 eggs for a cup of flour and 6 tbsp of butter, but I ended up using a little less than that.  I beat some eggs and put them in a measuring cup so I could add a little at a time.  How much you use still depends on how much you heated the flour mixture, though, so I’ll say around 3/4 cup worked for me, but you have to kind of play it by ear.

Pastry cream:

Filled cream puffs
Some of the cream puffs, filled with pastry cream.

I flavored two batches with chocolate and one with cream cheese and a little bit of sour cream, trying to go for a cheesecake flavor.  Most pastry cream recipes say to boil the milk and then temper the eggs, that is, add 1/3 of the milk to the eggs, whisking, and then add the eggs to the rest of the milk and continue heating.  I tried this and curdled my eggs.  I think adding the hot milk to the eggs didn’t heat them up as much as it was supposed to, and so they were untempered when I threw them onto the hot stove, poor things.  So I made my creams in a double boiler.  No fancy steps, I just mixed everything together (except the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla) in a double boiler and whisked for approximately forever.  I was worried that I wouldn’t get it to a high enough temperature to deactive the enzymes in the eggs that attack the starch, but I made them the night before and they never separated, so I guess it did the job.  I never really saw it boil, but I may have missed it because I was whisking constantly and whenever I noticed the bottom had suddenly thickened, I’d take it off the heat and stir like crazy.  It thickened to the point of coating a spoon, but then also past that, to the point of leaving a trail that doesn’t disappear.  So, if anyone has tips on how to do pastry cream the normal way, don’t be shy, but at least you know you can fall back on this method if necessary.


It was pretty while it lasted.

Our recipe said to make a dry caramel, that is, to just heat sugar till it’s caramel.  I tried that, but I guess I was stirring too much, because I ended up with crystallized bits.  So I went with a wet caramel after that, which is sugar and water (I used approximately equal amounts by volume, but it doesn’t really matter), heated until it changes color.  I stopped it at a fairly light amber, because caramel gets softer as it gets darker and I wanted mine to dry fairly hard so it would make good glue.  I cooked until I saw a light amber color, touched the bottom of the pan to the surface of some water I had standing by in a big bowl a couple of times, and then set the pan over a pot of simmering water in an

effort to keep the caramel workable for as long as possible.  I don’t know if the double boiler helped at all; I don’t really think it did.  It took me two batches of caramel to build the whole thing, not because I ran out of caramel, but because I ran out of time while it was workable.

I also drizzled some caramel on parchment paper the night before, thinking I’d break it into pieces and stick them into the croquembouche as decoration, but the caramel absorbed moisture overnight, so that the really small strands just plain dissolved, and the bigger areas got sticky and stuck to the paper (which they had come off of easily before). I wanted to do some more real quick before serving, but when it got to that time, I had burnt myself twice with the caramel and was a little bit over it.  Definitely have cold water around if you work with caramel, it gives second degree burns.

inside the cone
The inside of the cone.


I made a cone out of posterboard and lined it with parchment paper, which I sprayed with Pam just to be safe.  I put the cone in a vase and dipped the profiteroles in the caramel and then put them in the cone.  My friend kindly offered to help and she arranged them in the cone so I could work faster and burn myself less. I made a hollow cone, which seems to be the thing to do.  Then I cut off the extra posterboard, inverted on a baking pan, and unwrapped the cone.  It stood!  Just long enough for everyone to start digging in.

This was a hit.  You wouldn’t believe the comments I got.  I have now been called a “wizard of food.”  So if you have the time and motivation, this dessert comes with a big payoff!  Just be sure to serve it right away – it’s not known for its long-term stability.

finished croquembouche

The really finished croquembouche

Posted in baking, custard, foam

Dinner for 25 and Melktert

Some of the food for the party
Some of the food for the party

A speaker from South Africa came to my department and my friend and I were in charge of cooking for the party after his talk.  She’s into curry so we made some of that (and by some, I mean roughly twice as much as 25 people can eat), and I looked up South African desserts.  I found one called melktert, as in milk tart, and it seemed to be pretty popular, so I settled on that.  It’s a custard pie, which means it needed pie crust.  I had never made pie crust before, and I had a feeling that could end up going badly, but I went for it anyway.  I made two crusts to start and carefully crimped the edges, but when I blind baked them, they shrunk up so much that they didn’t really have edges anymore.  I’m told this means too much butter, which doesn’t surprise me because I was so worried about overmixing the butter and flour that I actually ended up with visible pieces of butter in the crusts.

The rest of the food for the party.
The rest of the food for the party.

They tasted good, though, and all that butter did make them quite flaky.  But I was embarrassed to serve them, so I ran to the store and bought three pre-made crusts.  When I tripled the recipe for the filling, I ended up with enough for four pies, so I went ahead and used one of my ugly but yummy crusts, and I’ll have you know it was the first one to disappear at the party.

For the filling I used this recipe from Epicurious. The South African speaker was really surprised to see it at a party so far away from his home, and he said that it was the kind of thing you would never have a party without in South Africa.  Exactly what I was going for.  More importantly, he and the other guests liked it.  Few things are as gratifying as making a dish that reminds someone of home.

My ugly but flaky crust.
My ugly but flaky crust.

It’s an interesting kind of custard.  In my book, a custard is what it is because it has egg yolks in it.  Egg whites can also be in it, but they need not be.  In a lot of custards, only egg yolks are used, so you end up with a lot of extra whites.  The natural thing to do with egg whites is make meringue, and thus we have a lot of custard pies with meringue on top, like lemon meringue pie.  In melktert, you separate the eggs and beat the whites, but then you mix them into the batter instead of putting them on top.  Of course, the foam sort of floats no matter how much you try to mix it in, so you end up with a foamy layer on top of the custard that browns really well.  There’s also a nice subtle cinnamon flavor from infusing a cinnamon stick in the milk rather than adding ground cinnamon to the custard.  With my American tastes, I would probably add more sugar if I did it again, but overall, it was quite popular.

A finished melktert.
A finished melktert.
It settled into a top layer of meringue and then a layer of custard.
It settled into a top layer of meringue and then a layer of custard.