A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a Piece Montee or a Croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump's Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.
A Croquembouche is basically a tower of cream puffs held together with spun sugar or chocolate or a combination of both. There are 3 components to this challenge: 1) the pate a choux (the pastry or "puff" component; 2) the creme patissiere (the custard filling); and 3) the glaze used to mount and decorate (i.e. the caramel/spun sugar or chocolate). 
When tackled individually, none of these components is particularly difficult, however when you think about the project as a whole, it is can definitely be time consuming and tedious work. I did a lot of reading about this dessert, from all tips posted on the Daring Kitchen, to Martha Stewart to my Baking Illustrated book. The biggest hurdle by far for me to overcome was timing. If you use spun sugar (sugar melted into a caramel sauce that hardens and is the ideal glue for the 'tower'), refrigerating it is not an option. The moisture from the fridge would compromise the caramel thereby compromising the structure of your tower. In fact, refrigerating the puffs after they were filled was not recommended unless it was for a very short period of time; as the puffs would lose their crisp exterior, rendering them mushy. So ideally, this is a dessert you would assemble just prior to eating. This posed a major problem for me as our entertaining schedule was set for the month of May and I simply did not have the time to make this when we had people over to enjoy it. 
Initially I had rather grandiose plans that entailed using both the spun sugar and chocolate to decorate and I wanted to unveil it to my guests at my Mother's Day dinner. This did not happen. The following weekend was spoken for and the next thing I knew it was 2 days before the challenge deadline and I had not even begun. So, in the end, I opted out of the spun sugar, although I would have loved to tackle that, and decided to use chocolate as my "glue". Sadly, I pretty much threw this together halfheartedly, as I knew that there would be no one to share it with, other than my husband who does not eat sweets and my 2 children, who are picky eaters and prefer a bowl of marshmallows to cream puffs. It felt like a crime against the Croquembouche, which is a lovely dessert and definitely a show-stopper. But you really want to make it when you have plenty of time and a captive audience - I had neither. I refused, however, to not participate, and so here is my sadly uninspired rendition.
I started by piping the choux pastry onto parchment lined baking sheets.
Pressed down the pointed tops using fingers dipped in egg wash. Then brushed each pastry with egg wash.
Baked until golden brown.
Once cooled, pierced each puff with tip of squeeze bottle and filled with pastry cream. I chose to make the basic vanilla pastry cream, and used vanilla bean.
Dipped each cream puff into bowl of melted milk chocolate.
Began assembling "tower" - but mine was more of a "pile". I used toothpicks because the chocolate wasn't setting fast enough.
And finally, I took one off the top and tried it. It was delicious - although slightly anticlimactic, having no interested parties to share in my delight.
Thanks Cat for a great challenge.  This one was definitely off the beaten path.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Modern Baker Challenge: Cocoa Banana Muffins

Earlier in the week, my mother-in-law dropped off a bunch of ripe bananas that she didn't want to leave rotting in her kitchen while they were on holidays. How is that for serendipity? I was actually awaiting the opportunity to bake the Cocoa Banana Muffins for The Modern Baker Challenge, and I suddenly had the the means to do so! I love when that stuff happens! So this morning, as soon as my kids were fed and everyone was happily busy, I dove in.

I was really glad that the recipe didn't just say "3 medium bananas". I hate that! How do you know if your idea of a medium sized banana is the same as the author's? Instead it says "3 medium bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork to make 1 1/2 cups".  Thank you!  Because in the end, I used 4 1/2 bananas.  Apparently mine were not medium at all - they were small.  Good to know. 
I read on someone else's blog that they wished they'd pulled theirs out at 27 minutes instead of the allotted 30. (Sorry, can't remember where I read it!) Anyway, I set my timer to 27 minutes and checked them. They were perfect.  I'm so glad I read that - whoever you are - thank you! You saved my muffins from becoming dry.

These muffins were so delicious. They had a tender crumb, they were moist, and they had just the right balance of banana and chocolate flavor. The recipe makes 16 muffins, there are only 3 left on my counter. What does that say?! 
I'm so glad I joined in on the fun with The Modern Baker Challenge.  I'm not just the proud owner of the great new book "The Modern Baker" by Nick Malgieri but I also have some incentive to actually use it without the pressure or stress of deadlines. I own a lot of great books, my husband would say too many. When I told my friend I'd added to the collection she asked me, "Where are you going to put it? I've seen your cupboard. It's full." She's right. The answer to that question is that it has never been put away. Ever. It sits out on my island so that I don't forget about it. It calls out my name, enticing me with it's beautiful pictures and really easy to follow directions. I like a challenge, but I'm also a fan of simple. Simplicity is my friend these days. Why do something in 5 steps if you can do it in 3? Or less?
As I mentioned before, we are not publishing the recipes on our blogs. As much as I support that out of respect for the author, I'm totally bummed about it today. I really want to share this recipe! So instead, I took a lot of pictures, I couldn't help myself.

I have a lot more recipes to tackle in the 'Quick Breads' section of this book, but I am now more eager than ever. I have to admit that I am a little nervous about the Bread section. I find anything with yeast daunting. So much room for failure. However, if that section is anything like the Quick Breads, I may just be alright. This book is definitely user-friendly. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meet Our Newest Addition: Daisy!

Dear Sanity,

Where art thou?  

I haven't seen you in some time and I'm beginning to worry.  Your absences were never longer than a moment or two in the past, and now I fear I may have lost you for good. 

In your absence, I've made some pretty 'interesting' choices. For instance, I bought another puppy. She's an 8 week old bloodhound who will grow to be over 100 pounds. Yes, you heard me right. So now, I spend my days coaxing my poor, defenceless children off the top of the couch, where they seek refuge from Puppy's razor sharp teeth. It seems they don't enjoy being chased by a crazy pup who pounces on anything or anyone that moves. 
I blame your extended absence for this. 

Can I ask you something?  Do you know what happened to Patience?  She left shortly after you and I fear that is no coincidence. I need her now more than ever. In fact, I could have really used her today when Puppy pooped in the dining room and then immediately turned around to eat it. In my haste to stop her, I startled her and she fell in her little pile of 'would-be' recycled dinner. She then ran around the house, leaving paw prints of poop everywhere. That was not fun. Patience would have been a welcomed guest in our house tonight. 
I don't suppose your flying the coop had anything to do with the fact that I've had a falling out with Common Sense, does it? Look, I'm really sorry, I've tried listening to her but she is just so damn boring. Had I not kicked her lame ass out, it stands to reason that Puppy would never have found her way into our home in the first place. Right?! Well, that just wouldn't do.
Okay, listen. I admit it, I'm desperate. I promise not to ask any questions about your whereabouts if you just get back here as soon as you can. Oh yes, and please let me keep Puppy. There must be a way for Sanity and Puppy to co-exist peacefully. Right?!

Anxiously awaiting your return,


Fudgy Brownies (Low Fat!!)

I haven't made brownies in a long time...huge oversight on my part since they are one of my absolute favorite things. The other day, while perusing the cooking magazines at the store, I stumbled across the magazine Light and Healthy 2010 by America's Test Kitchen. Intrigued, I flipped through the pages and found this recipe. I've never tried a light version of brownies before but I figured if I was ever going to, this would be the one. The magazine promises a fudgy texture with bold chocolate flavor. They delivered. They were delicious and if someone had served me this brownie, I would never have known they were light. (I even pulled out my handy Weight Watchers calculator and these are only 2 points per brownie!!)
You are supposed to use an 8 inch square pan and I only had a 9 inch pan, making them slightly thinner than they would have been otherwise. You create a foil "sling" in the pan, which makes pulling the brownies out and cutting them super easy.
Yes, these brownies are worth the extra effort - and I'll definitely be making them again. And probably soon too because between me and my kids, half the pan was eaten last night. 
Recipe for Fudgy Brownies
Source: Light & Healthy 2010 by America's Test Kitchen
Vegetable oil spray
3/4 c. (3 3/4 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 c. (1 ounce) cocoa powder
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 T. unsalted butter
1 c. (7 ounces) sugar
2 T. low fat (but not fat free) sour cream
1 T. chocolate syrup
1 large egg plus one large egg white
2 t. vanilla extract
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold 2 long sheets of foil to be as wide as the pan. Lay the sheets in the pan, perpendicular to one another, with the extra foil hanging over the edges. Push the foil into the corners and up the sides, smoothing any wrinkles in the foil. Spray the sides and bottoms with vegetable spray. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter together in a large bowl in the microwave; stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly.
Whisk the sugar, sour cream, chocolate syrup, egg, egg white, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the the flour mixture with a rubber spatula in 3 additions, until just incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached 20 to 25 minutes. (I baked for 16 - because I used a larger pan.)
Let brownies cool. Cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Modern Baker Challenge: Butterscotch Scones

The Modern Baker Challenge is the newest "club" I've joined.  Here's the premise: a group of people are baking their way through every recipe in the book "The Modern Baker" by Nick Malgieri and blogging about it.  What I like best about this club is that there are no strict rules to adhere to and no hard and fast deadlines to meet. Phew! With my crazy and unpredictable schedule, which teeters between having large blocks of time to bake, and then weeks at a time when I can barely get organized enough to throw together dinner, this suits my lifestyle perfectly.  The only "rule" is that we are not publishing the recipe - so if you really want to try this, you'll have to get the book. Sorry. As much as I like to share all the recipes I use, I have to respect that - for reasons that require no further explanation.
Having said that, I have to admit, I've never really gotten excited about scones. They've always looked like a heavy clump of dry dough that is better suited to be used as a paper weight than  something I'd eat. So, having received my copy of this beautiful cookbook, "The Modern Baker", and being that we are on the 'Quick Breads' section that has several scones in it, I decided to was high time to step outside my comfort zone. It helped that I tried my first scone at a bakery earlier in the week in preparation for this task.  I mean, how would I know how successful I was if I didn't have a frame of reference for comparison?
These scones were super easy to throw together.  You use your food processor to cut the butter into your dry ingredients (flour, dark brown sugar, baking powder and salt);

When the mixture is "mealy", you add the wet (eggs and cream).  Then you make three 5 inch disks with the dough, cut each disk into quarters;
place the scones on a parchment lined baking sheet;
and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.  As you can see, I chose to add chocolate chunks into the batter because I had them and they just make everything better.
The verdict:  I'm a convert. I now subscribe to the Scone Fan Club.  They are not too heavy or dry. These ones were sweet in the subtle way - the chocolate helped. I would happily eat one of these with my latte for breakfast.  I am now looking even more forward to delving into this book.  Go get it and join in on the fun!  Here's the link: The Modern Baker Challenge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

I decided that for Mother's Day, I wanted to bake a cheesecake after I saw this recipe on another food blog What the Fruitcake?! Mandy made an incredibly beautiful "zebra patterned" triple chocolate cheesecake by dividing the batter into 3 equal portions, flavoring each portion with melted dark, milk and white chocolates, then alternately pouring the batters into the centre of the pan. The result was stunning and I was inspired. I went to Bernard Callebaut, bought the chocolate, prepared the pan and the crust the night before so I could just get down to business the next morning, and then promptly pulled a muscle in my right shoulder that radiated pain up my neck and all the way down my right arm.  Awesome!  What are the chances?  You really need your arm to mix the batter to the right "pouring" consistency because once the chocolate was added, it set, making the batter too stiff to pour freely which is necessary in order to achieve the 'zebra' pattern.  Despite the pain, I persevered. I put the batter over a pan of simmering water and I stirred and stirred and stirred, and then when the pain was intolerable and I was ready to toss the entire project into the garbage, I admitted defeat, and settled for a marbled effect.  It's not that I think my cheesecake isn't somewhat pretty, but it's no show-stopper.  You really must check out Mandy's version, then you will understand my disappointment.
Luckily, this minor mishap did not compromise the flavor of the cheesecake.  It was deliciously rich and creamy and, of course, very chocolatey. I'm still a fan of the plain old vanilla cheesecake with a fresh fruit topping, but this was a nice change. Mandy's version is decorated with chocolate shavings on top, but like I said, I was in a bad place. I'm just happy this cake made it into the oven, to be perfectly honest.  And being that the marbled effect is best seen on the top of the cake, I didn't see any reason to cover it up with more chocolate. One day I may re-visit this recipe and make another attempt at the zebra pattern. But for now, here's the instructions for my "Plan B" marbled cheesecake.
Recipe for Triple Chocolate Cheesecake
(source: What the Fruitcake?! blog) 
200 grams Disgestive Cookies
1/4 c. brown sugar
115 grams butter
2 T. cocoa
Blend cookies to a fine crumb.  Melt butter, add to cookie crumbs along with the sugar and cocoa. Mix until well-blended. Press into the bottom of prepared pan. (See below)
4 x 225 grams packages of cream cheese (room temp.)
4 eggs (room temp.)
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 c. cream (room temp.)
1 T. lemon juice (I omitted)
1 t. vanilla (I used 1 T.)
100 grams of dark chocolate
100 grams of milk chocolate
100 grams of white chocolate
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 330 degrees (no, that's not a typo). Carefully butter a 9 inch springform pan all the way to top. Wrap bottom with 2 layers of foil so no water seeps in. The foil should come 2 inches up the side of the pan. Prepare crust.
With mixer, cream the cheese till smooth. Add sugar, mix till combined. With mixer on low, add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add cream, vanilla, lemon and salt. Mix till smooth. Divide into 3 bowls.
Melt each chocolate separately, allowing to cool slightly. Thoroughly mix dark chocolate into first bowl. Thoroughly mix milk chocolate into 2nd bowl. Thoroughly mix white chocolate into 3rd bowl.
Add one cup of batter at a time to the pan, alternating between the different chocolates.

Using a knife, swirl the batter until you achieve a marbled effect. Don't over-mix, or you'll lose the effect altogether. Place cake pan into larger roasting pan and place into preheated oven. Pour enough hot water into larger roasting pan to come up about 1 1/2 inches of the cheesecake pan. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes. The cake should be firm around the outside but still jiggly in the centre. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven for an additional hour. The cake will continue to bake but it also gently cools in the oven, preventing cracking.
After the hour, remove cake from the oven, and remove pan from the water bath.  Allow to cool on the counter top until it reaches room temperature. Chill in fridge for several hours, or preferably over night to allow the flavors to develop and the cake to set.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy 5th Birthday to My Sweetie

My sweet girl,

Today is your 5th birthday.  What a milestone we've reached, you're officially a little girl now, no longer my baby. When you blew out your candles at your party on Saturday, you turned to me and said, "I'm five now mom?" You can't wait to grow up, and I can't stop wishing for a pause button. 

You believe in fairy tales and princesses asleep in towers.  You look at mommy and daddy's wedding picture in front of City Hall and think it's a castle. You think that when dad says he's going to work to 'make money' that he is literally making money at work. Oh, how I'll miss your innocence. 

You can't wait to get "bigger" so you can wear mommy's clothes and drive my car, you don't know that by then they'll have lost their appeal. You like your cereal dry and served on a plate. You've insisted on wearing a headband every day for well over a year now. You only eat your vegetables raw and that's still a struggle. I'm no longer allowed to kiss you in public, unless I'm saying goodbye. Your favorite food is fries. You love using scotch tape for your crafts and go through, on average, 2 rolls a week. Your favorite restaurant is Earl's and you call it "Girls".  I don't correct you because I like your version better. You sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" twice to your brother every night before bed. You bring your pillow into my room and climb into bed with me every morning. It's my favorite part of our day.  Your laugh warms me to my very core.

I can't press pause, and I know that all these things, although ingrained in our daily routine now, will eventually fade away into something new. So many changes are coming, I'm bracing myself, I am. But some things do stay the same...you will always be precious, and you'll always be my 'little' girl. There are no words for how much I love you.
Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Related Posts with Thumbnails