Saturday, April 26, 2008

Daring Bakers April Challenge - cheesecake pops

OK - I should be right up front and tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with this recipe. I love the cheesecake, and the flavors were delicious and the end result was cute as heck, and it was a very good challenge, but in terms of return on investment I don't think I would do it again, because they turned out to be hard to eat and overall they were cuter than they were good. And they didn't stay on the stick - this may well have been my fault for not dipping all the way up to the stick, but I had visions of people dropping cheesecake in their laps!

I made a half recipe of the cheesecake in a 7"x7" pan - I wanted it to be deep b ecause I wanted to cut them into squares instead of scooping then into balls. The baking time was a little longer, but it came out terrific. So far, I love it.

I chilled it overnight, then took it out of the pan in its little parchment paper sling - easy, everything is working great! Then I tried to cut it. Hmmm hmmm hmmmm. Not so good. No matter what I did, the cheesecake stuck to the knife in big chunks - slender knife, hot knife, it didn't matter. What a huge mess! I was hating it at this point. And no, I didn't have any plain dental floss to cut it with (only mint!), though that might have worked.

So, I put the lollipop sticks into the squares of cheesecake and jammed the whole mess into the freezer and waited until they were really frozen. Then found that I had to trim the frozen pops to get a nice smooth surface, but that worked great, really.

I started dipping in white chocolate - I had an idea to use colored sugar to decorate, to coordinate with the ribbons I was going to use. At this point I had a "what was I thinking" moment.

This was not as cute as I had hoped it would be --not nearly as cute as it was in my mind!!

But I decided to just keep on working - I wanted to use orange sugar, so I added some orange oil to the white chocolate so the pops would be like creamsicles (later note - this was a great idea and the orange oil made the white chocolate fantastic!!) But I still wasn't in love with how they looked.

Then, finally, epiphany! Some of the ribbon I had was white and dark brown, so I had the idea to make the pops geometric, with contrasting white and dark circles - I dipped them, then poured a bit of chocolate on some waxed paper and I used a decorating tip as a tiny cutter to make the dots. These were the best yet - I really liked how they looked, and of course the flavors were great. It was fun to do, even though it was frustrating at times. Looking forward to next month!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mango Sorbet and Kumquat Syrup

Lots of baking going on lately, and lots of other stuff too. But the fun stuff has to do with baking. I was shopping last weekend and came across kumquats at Trader Joe's - so cute! I had no idea what to do with them, but then we were making a sugar syrup to enhance our Gewurtztraminer,

some of which is being bottled up into a dessert wine, (this is the label image, I love it! - the actual label says "La Dolce Vita" on it as well). Anyway, I got the idea to just slice the kumquats and put them in a syrup and cook them just for a minute to get tender. Delicious! Kind of orange marmalade-y. Apparently with kumquats the flesh is tart and the skin is sweet - I found the whole package to be pretty tart, and seedy, but they are perfect this way.

Then I scooped up some mango sorbet and topped it with the kumquats and syrup. I went out to the garden to pick some fresh mint to put on top, only to find that the April snow and hail had burned the mint black - it'll come back, but it sure wasn't available for photos! So I cheated and used a pinch from the basil that's in the house! I think vanilla ice cream with the kumquats would be perfect - like a swanky Creamsicle.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clarification to the "butterfinger" recipe!

Yipes. I was flush with success and confidence after the candy bar triumph - so it was pretty certain I was due to have my wings melted a little bit! On Tuesday I raced off to the store for more peanut butter and decided to make a DOUBLE BATCH of the bars. I mean, what could be more efficient, right? Well, you pretty much know the answer to that. Disaster. See pic below for what you don't want them to look like. This stuff was like epoxy with too much of the setting up agent in it - there was no controlling it!

And I wasn't sure why - there were a couple of different variables.

First, I made the mistake of watching the candy thermometer too closely, and actually pulled the syrup off at about 325 degrees - almost exactly what they recommend, but I could tell from looking at it that it was cooler than the original batch. But at the time I didn't know that this would be a problem.

Then, the peanut butter I bought was not the same as what I originally used - my fault for
grabbing the wrong kind in the store, even after I studied the shelf for 10 minutes. It was supposedly just one gram lower in sugar (still Jif), but it seemed quite stiff and not as nice as the regular kind. In my defense, I never buy peanut butter, and there are like hundreds of variations - Jif, Skippy, Adams, store brand, upscale store brand, and some organic brand. Then, each one has a low salt option, a low sugar option, a low salt AND low sugar option, and THEN you have to find creamy versus chunky versus extra chunky. Good lord, it was a miracle I got as close as I did.

So, anyway, when I mixed the peanut butter into the sugar syrup, it seized up and turned crumbly- absolutely unspreadable and completely different from the creamy caramely mass I had on Monday that I was able to spread nicely into the pan. Recovery efforts just made it worse, including some burned sugar and a pan that required 24 hours of soaking, plus some chiseling, to get it clean. Long story short(er) - I threw everything away and lay awake all night fretting about what went wrong - was it the wrong peanut butter? the wrong temperature? the double batch? Shoot, I could hardly wait to get home on Wednesday and try it again.

Wednesday - I made three batches! Kind of like a "Cooks Illustrated" sort of experiment. The first batch I cooked to about 340 degrees and it was nearly perfect - caramel-y and spreadable., but a little rough compared to how the first batch came out. See below.
The second batch I cooked to the recipe, 325 degrees - this would test if the earlier failure was due to double batching or peanut butter. Success!! I mean failure!! I mean it failed in the same way as it failed before, so at this point I was pretty sure I had identified the cause as being sugar that was not sufficiently caramelized. Then I cooked the third batch until the thermometer nearly went off the scale - 375 degrees. But honestly the syrup was just starting to turn amber, which is supposed to happen at a lower temp. But I had calibrated the thermometer in boiling water and it seems to be accurate. So. One of life's mysteries. The important thing is that this one was perfect! Smooth and creamy, pourable and spreadable, not crumbly. See picture below.

So the good news is I can use all three batches - the first and the third worked to make bars, and the second crumbly batch still tasted good, so I think I am going to mix it with chocolate and stir it into some vanilla ice cream!

OK, chocolate tempering to come up later this month, I may be getting that nailed down as well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Home made "butterfinger-type" candy bars!

omg. I heard that approximately 8 times when I shared these treats today. And I agree, if I do
say so myself. These are SO GOOD. Don't know what exactly inspired me to try this, other than that the croissants went so well and I know in my heart of hearts that the process of tempering chocolate is one I have to master. So, what better excuse? The process of cooking the sugar and corn syrup is pretty easy, though I did turn away from the sugar for a minute and cooked it way past the recommended 310 degrees - it was probably at 330 or 340 - starting to really color up as caramel. But the peanut butter stirred in saved it. The funniest thing about this recipe is it says it makes 96 pieces - ha ha ha! Not even close. Maybe 3 dozen.

Then there's the issue with tempering the chocolate. I DON'T KNOW what I do wrong, because it's either too hot or too cool but anyway it blooms on me - I'll keep at it. The chocolate coating is a mixture of dark and milk chocolate (sssshhhhh- I think that might be the secret ingredient!) Anyway, it's about perfect - not too sweet, not too bitter.

Here's one that came out very nicely though! And the macro function on the camera is working too!

Recipe to come later tonight.

Here is the recipe – I actually cooked the sugar syrup to something slightly higher than the recommended temp – not sure how hot because when I saw that the temp was way up I yelped and pulled it off the stove quickly, then tried to get the candy thermometer out of the syrup, then dropped part of the thermometer into the syrup, then had to restrain myself from fishing it out with my fingers (350 degrees – it takes the skin off!). So, I did not get a 100% accurate reading on how hot it actually got.

Do make sure not to undercook the syrup – it needs to be at least 310 – and you can safely go to 320 or 330 just to make sure it is firm enough. The link below is a pretty good reference.

Also, in the second paragraph of the recipe there is some nonsense about washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush. I see this in every recipe that involves cooking sugar and I personally ignore it – it’s never been an issue and the whole process seems like too much work to me.

Candy Bars
(Yields about 96 miniature candy bars)
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup peanut butter
Spray Vegetable Oil (Pam, etc.) for keeping the knife lubricated in scoring
1 Pound of Tempered Semi-Sweet Chocolate for dipping

Greasing a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (with 1-inch sides) with safflower, vegetable or canola oil. Place the pan into a slightly warm oven to warm the pan while making the candy. (Don’t allow the pan to become hot, only barely warm to give you more time to spread and score the candy later.)
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the corn syrup and water, stirring well to combine. Place over medium-low heat and add the sugar. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it is clear and then stirring often until it reaches a full boil. Clip on your calibrated candy thermometer, raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook – without stirring – until the mixture reaches 310 degrees (F). During this cooking period, should sugar crystals form above the boiling line, carefully wipe away using a damp pastry brush, but be careful not to touch the boiling mixture. Rinse the pastry brush well – and make certain to blot-dry the brush well – between each swipe.
Remove your pan from the warming oven and place on your work surface.
Remove the candy from heat and add the peanut butter, stirring to blend completely using a clean wooden spoon. Working quickly, pour the mixture onto your well-greased jelly roll pan, and spread as evenly as possible. Score the mass with an oiled, heavy chef’s knife into 1-inch by 2-inch pieces, cutting at least half way through the candy. (The more quickly you do this, the easier and deeper your scoring will be.) It is helpful to spray the knife with cooking oil occasionally to aide the knife in scoring.
Allow the scored mixture to cool at room temperature. When cool and hard, break them into pieces.
Place the cut candies into the refrigerator while you temper your dipping chocolate and allow to chill for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the candies from the fridge and dip each piece into the chocolate, then place on parchment paper to allow the chocolate to harden completely (About 3 hours).
Store on waxed-paper sheets in an airtight container for up to two weeks (again - ha ha ha - mine lasted exactly 18 hours, including overnight!)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chocolate Croissants!

I have this love/hate thing with Chocolate Croissants - I want to love them, because they have two of my favorite things in them - chocolate and croissants.
But I end up not liking them, mainly because they're not sweet enough I think.

So, with a fresh supply of Dr. Oetker yeast - thanks mom! -

I decided to try croissants again at home, hoping for better results all around. Even though I feel like I have puff pastry down cold, and croissant dough is nothing more than puff pastry with yeast, I've struggled with croissants - not rising, butter leaking out onto the baking pan, etc. So, I took another run at them. I used the recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pastry Bible, combined with a little bit of Julia Child, and the results were very good. I think the two hours in the fridge makes a huge difference in how easy it is to work. I ended up making about 2 pounds of dough and worked it 1/3 at a time, with the rest staying cold - it was perfect.

These are the unbaked chocolate and plain croissants. The dough went together well - better than my photos! I think I forgot to turn on the digital macro function until all the raw dough was baket, but anyway, you can see that they shaped up nicely. The yeast was past its pull date but it worked nonetheless, though a bit more slowly I think. Anyway, I used semisweet chocolate in the chocolate version, and it turned out to be just right - bittersweet is just too dry and, well, bitter, for breakfast. I did not increase the amount of sugar in the dough (only 2 T.) but I might double that to 1/4 cup next time.

Here is a finished pan of assorted treates - the scraps went to Scout! The unbaked dough is supposed to freeze well, and with the fat content I'm sure it does, but I didn't freeze any this time. The recipe made about 19 or 20 pieces that were fairly small by current standards, but I think just about right.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Strawberry Shortcake

Lots of stuff contributing to the creation of this dessert. First, there was the white cake that kept staring at me from the kitchen counter - I had baked two 10"x10" square cakes, one white, using only the egg whites, and one yellow, using only the yolks. This was just for field testing for Shasha's wedding cake (more to come on that). Plan A is to make a genoise, but I thought I would give some of the traditional cakes a trial run too - the genoise have been giving me problems lately and not wanting to rise. Both the yellow and the white were very nice, though the white one did not rise like I expected - but I do think it did what it was supposed to do. And I think the yellow one rose more than it should have - it came up over the top of the 2" pan. So, anyway, there they were on the counter, wrapped up tight. I kept thinking of and rejecting chocolate type fillings. Finally, after reading three different recent entries about strawberries - from,, and - I caved and bought some strawberries - no doubt not the same quality as either Paris or South Carolina this time of year, but still, they turned out to be pretty darn good.

Then I made a creme patissiere, or pastry cream, for the filling. I doused the cake layers in a marsala syrup, filled them with pastry cream (lightened with whipped cream) and some sliced berries, and frosted with a whipped cream cream cheese frosting.

And then I had some leftover frosting, so I added little frosting runs down the sides for fun! Really fabulous. Again, no pictures of the inside - I am working on this!!! It only used half of the cake too, so there are many more options to play with.

The pastry cream is very light. It is made with milk as opposed to half and half or heavy cream and it doesn't really lose anything this way.

Pastry Cream – Crème Patisserie

2 cups milk

3 T cornstarch
½ cup sugar
3 eggs

1 T unsalted butter
Vanilla or rum or almond extract

1 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks and lightly sweetened with powdered sugar

Whisk cornstarch and sugar and eggs in a 1 quart sauce pan. Scald milk (in microwave is fine) then stir gradually into the egg mixture. Turn heat on medium and cook, stirring, until it gets very thick. Take off the heat, beat in the butter and flavoring. Transfer to a bowl, cover with waxed paper pressed right on the top of the custard, then let cool at room temp 15-20 minutes and then refrigerate. After it is cool and firm, whip the 1 cup of cream and then whisk the cream into the custard to lighten it.

Use as a filling for a white cake with berries, or fill a prebaked tart shell and cover with fresh berries.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Chocolate and Caramel

Oh! This stuff has such potential. Chocolate caramel mousse. With an artistic sort of a flair- you know, a jaunty little tilt to the whole thing. I have to thank Tartlette for the idea and recipe and the link to the pastry chef. There was a lot of "oh la la-ing" going on in connection with this post, and it wasn't necessarily limited to food. But, sadly, the execution turned out to be a little less than what you might have hoped for - but maybe consistent with Tartlette's experience with other recipes of his. In any event, the caramel mousse was a little gummy - too much gelatin I think! But the chocolate mousse was yummy - light and airy, though I wouldn't hesitate to go back to my usual Joy of Cooking chocolate mousse instead, since I can make that one with my eyes closed.

Anyway, the caramel was lots of fun to make - here it is ready to go into the champage flutes. And here is is again resting on its side to get the proper angle.

And another shot of the lovely finished product.