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.
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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, foam

Middle Eastern Macarons

I didn't dye them, so they're just a faint green from the pistachios.

My first attempt at macarons went pretty well, and I had been excited to try them again ever since.  So when a professor who works in France came to visit our department, you know what I made.  But I didn’t go with French flavors.  Instead, I

  • swapped out the almond meal for pistachio meal (you can’t find that in stores, I just threw some pistachios in my magic bullet),
  • added a scant Tbsp rose water to the egg whites before beating them (remember, you can add some water-based liquid to your egg whites without hurting the meringue),
  • and filled them with honey jam (like I did with my May Flowers Macarons).
  • Besides these changes, I followed the exact same recipe as last time – Not So Humble Pie’s recipe – and I had the same weak point as last time – air pockets in the macarons.  But I don’t really mind them.  As soon as you bite it’s all the same anyway.

These are common flavors in Middle Eastern cuisine, so I told my friends they were Middle Eastern flavored.  One person replied “I don’t think I know what the Middle East tastes like,” but when she tried one she said “These are Middle Eastern flavored!”

And it turns out, the Middle East tastes good.  This is one of those rare dishes that I plan to make again without needing someone to specially request it.  I’ll probably try a honey buttercream instead of honey jam next time (honey jam is so sweet and sticky) but the combination of flavors with the texture of the macarons was heavenly.

A tale of warning: I wanted to make these again for some especially helpful professors as a holiday gift, but I made two different batches using defrosted frozen egg whites, which normally work fine in meringues, and they just were not right.  The first batch was too sticky, and the second batch never dried on the top, so neither came out very macaron-like.  They tasted good, but I think they taste better in macaron form.  So it looks like you should use never-frozen whites for your macarons.

 

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.

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, emulsion, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Chocolate Pavlova

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

the meringue
The piped meringue, before baking.

The pdf of the recipe is here.

I was kind of lukewarm about this challenge, because I had already tried chocolate pavlovas before.  I never got around to posting them, so maybe I’ll put them up soon for comparison.  This one involved a ganache-mascarpone mousse and a creme anglaise, though, so that was exciting.  I had never made creme anglaise before and it. is. delicious.

So here are some issues I have with the recipe (which have nothing to do with taste – no complaints there!):

1. It isn’t really a recipe for a pavlova.  It’s a recipe for chocolate French meringue, cooked until dry, as if for meringue shells.  Which are great!  But not pavlovas.  Meringue shells are egg whites and sugar, beaten to stiff peaks, and baked at a low temperature, say 200F, until hard and dry, say 2 hours.  Pavlovas are large mounds of the same, baked in an oven that was preheated at a higher temperature, say 350F, to make a nice crust, and then lowered to around 300F for maybe 45 minutes to an hour, so that the inside stays moist and marshmallowy.

I went for a pavlova, but I forgot to start the oven off at a high temperature because the recipe, of course, specified a low temperature, so I ended up with something not quite the same as either a pav or a meringue shell.  This mixture had a lot of cocoa powder in it, and I think that may have changed the texture, too.  It was almost cakelike.

finished pavlova
My finished pavlova.

2. The creme anglaise required 6 egg yolks, and the “pavlova” called for 3 egg whites.  Now that’s kind of silly.  So naturally, I doubled the amount of pavlova so I’d use up all my eggs.  I could have forgiven the silliness, though, if it weren’t for the fact that, even with twice the amount of meringue, I had about three times as much of both toppings as I could use.  Maybe I was supposed to dump them on, but I served the extra toppings with the pavlova and encouraged my friends to add more, and I still ended up having to throw a lot away.  (The mousse is great with the sweet pavlova but not sweet enough to eat on its own, and the creme anglaise is delicious but I couldn’t find many things to put it on that went with its eggy flavor.)

This recipe had some interesting flavors: Grand Marnier in the mousse and Sambuca in the creme anglaise mixture.  I didn’t have Grand Marnier on hand, but I did have Cointreau (made margaritas on Cinco de Mayo :)) and brandy, and since Cointreau is orange flavored nondescript liquor and Grand Marnier is orange flavored brandy, I thought a little of those two would have a similar effect.  It tasted great!

pavlova with mousse and creme anglaise

Posted in foam, thickening

May Flowers Macarons

Baked macarons
When I first read about the importance of the frilly feet, I thought it was nonsense. When I saw these feet, I was ecstatic.

For our last departmental reception of the school year, I finally made macarons de Paris.  I’ve made macarons d’Amiens before, and I long preferred their unassuming deliciousness to the over-celebrated froufrou that is the Parisian macaron.  I actually never ate them in Paris, partially because I misunderstood what they were and didn’t think I’d really like them, and partially because I thought the colors everyone loves so much were a little silly.  But somehow I came around.

Spring makes me deliriously happy after spending my first winter above the Mason-Dixon line, so these macarons were an ode to flowers.  As a Floridian, the flowers were, naturally, orange blossoms.  So: orange blossom flavored macarons filled with orange blossom honey jam.

I used Not So Humble Pie’s French meringue macaron recipe with a capful (probably a little over a teaspoon) of orange blossom water mixed in while I was beating the egg whites.  I knew I could get away with that because Alton Brown taught me that you can add a little water to your egg whites for more volume.  I used an oven temperature of about 300F, and I used Bob’s Red Mill almond meal – please don’t even try to use Trader Joe’s (I’ll have to remake the macarons d’Amiens with the Red Mill meal, so much better).  I piped them with a Ziploc bag and a star tip, because it turns out my random assortment of piping tips does not include a large round one.  So they were not quite perfectly smooth, but they were pretty good.  I also didn’t bother to shield them with a sheet pan from getting browned.  They browned a little, and since I didn’t color them, I thought it was a nice peachy tinge.  I am very proud to say that they had lovely feet.  And great height, which of course came along with air bubbles inside.  Whatever.  You can’t even tell when you eat them.  I was super proud.

Assembled macaron
I ate this one after taking this shot.

Now, I have to confess: I tried to make honey buttercream frosting three times before giving up and making honey jam instead.  I’ll write a full post on that so you can learn from my mistakes.  But the honey jam was super easy: just add some water to the honey, and a little lemon juice (which I still suspect of being unnecessary since pectin comes with acid nowadays, but worst case scenario it freshens up the flavor, right?), boil, add pectin, boil a minute more, and you’re done.  I actually have a lot left over despite making about a third of this recipe.  I am not complaining.

They were loved and every last one was eaten.  Ok, I ate the last one.  What?  It’s important to try your own food, so you know what to improve on.  So even though buttercream kicked my butt, I am really proud that I can make macarons.  I feel like I can just whip them up for anything now.

Oh, and a lesson: it really does help to let your egg whites come to room temperature before beating them.  I was never patient enough before, and they will beat cold, but this time I let the whites age overnight and wow, the beating went a lot faster.  I also wait a little longer than most people to add the sugar in, because I find it really hard to get to stiff peaks if I added the sugar as soon as the eggs get frothy.