Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dare to make cake with no flour

It sort of boggles my mind that a "cake" can be made with eggs, chocolate and butter -- and that's it. Don't you need some grain or carbs in there to give it substance? Well, it seems apparently not.

For February the Daring Bakers made Flourless Chocolate cakes with Homemade Ice Cream!:
Flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and strawberry glaze

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I placed a heart shaped cookie cutter on the cake
before dusting with powdered sugar

The Chocolate Valentino is a flourless chocolate cake which basically takes on the flavor of whatever chocolate you use. I had just completed THIS the week before, which ended up costing an arm and a leg due to investing in higher quality chocolate. So I went a bit cheap on the chocolate for the Valentino; maybe that's why I didn't enjoy the cake so much, since we were warned the cake would taste precisely like the chocolate we used. I've commented a couple times here that I am not really a chocolate person; so that did not help things either. I did, however love how the cakes rose in the oven as if they were souffles. All those egg whites did them good!

I know, I know - I just used plain ole Bakers semisweet but did half Ghirardelli milk.
Bottom right is yolks mixed with chocolate while upper shot is folding egg whites in.

There was a lot of batter in 1 recipe! I made 6 large and 4 tiny cakes

For the ice cream portion, I skipped the suggested recipes and made David Lebovitz's Vanilla Ice Cream from his The Perfect Scoop book. While this was very good and very rich - I might actually reduce the egg yolks next time. The recipe called for 6 yolks and since I did half again the recipe it would have called for 9. NINE EGG YOLKS! I'm sorry - I couldn't do it. I think I ended up doing about 7 yolks and then threw in a whole egg to make up for the 2 more yolks. Believe me, it was PLENTY rich and quite yellow!

I left those vanilla beans to infuse as long
as possible - overnight in this case

Another thing I'd probably do with the ice cream recipe is add more salt. I know - to people who don't do a lot of cooking or baking, this might sound weird. Salt in sweets?? But yes - salt is very important to bring out the sweetness in things. It really works as a flavor enhancer and you don't taste the salt. I guess what I'm saying is, next time I won't make Lebovitz's vanilla ice cream and instead should perhaps just stick to what's not broke: family recipes...
Ice cream has to be made at least a day before serving so that it can
firm up in the freezer for at least 5-8 hours

Finally I opted for a strawberry coulis or glaze to accompany the very rich chocolate cake. I wanted to do raspberry but alas... no South American raspberries to purchase mid-February at my local Safeway. I wasn't about to do multiple grocery store stops for the accompanying glaze (heck, like I said - I didn't even go out of my way to buy good chocolate) so it became a strawberry sauce. I think raspberry would have been nicer with its added tang. The strawberry was just a bit too sweet.

Cooked the strawberries with a little water; added sugar and lemon juice
then blended and strained before thickening with a bit of cornstarch

Can you see what I'm getting at?... I've been hinting in each paragraph: I didn't like this dessert. It was a fun challenge but I'd do each element differently if I were ever to make it again. And I probably wouldn't. Still, we learn new things from every challenge and I'm happy to do each of them.

Very rich and moist on the inside

As I would imagine most folks also did, I served this for Valentine's dinner. We had John & Janelle, their dog Abby and their foster dog, Shelby over for dinner that night. I promised anyone who helped me take care of Lucca, a very nice dinner. So a very nice dinner they got!

Okay, do you KNOW how hard it is to get a shot like this?
BFFs Abby & Lucca on Valentine's Night

Lots of fantastic [and let's be honest - much better] variations out there in Daring Baker land today. Stop by to see some others. And if you'd like the recipe please visit either of the hosts' blogs.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Concorde might change my life

That's a pretty bold statement... a dessert changing my life? But allow me to explain. If you actually read the words in my blog as opposed to merely gazing at the photos (*ahem*Ellis) you have read that I'm not a chocolate person. I'm really not. I LOVE most sweets and desserts but I don't want chocolates on Valentine's Day, I don't order chocolate desserts in a restaurant and I'd rather spend money on vanilla than Valrhona. BUT - the Lenôtre Concorde may have just changed my life. I might now have to say that I'm a chocolate person because of this one dessert!

The Lenôtre Concorde (created by Pierre Hermé)

Paul & Vickie (yup, this Paul & Vickie) invited us over for dinner last night and I offered to bring the dessert. One of the reasons I love to cook and bake for people is because food, GOOD FOOD, can bring such pleasure to people. The look that crosses someone's face when they're eating something they love - it's priceless! I find that I get that reaction more often from cooking for someone than... say, buying them a gift card to Banana Republic (don't get me wrong - I'd grin widely if you got me a GC to BR). It's one of the best gifts I can give! So, I decided to push Paul for Vickie's favorite dessert. He told me she loved the chocolate vacherin at Coco500 so I worked from there.

Fobbin' it!

The Concorde is very simple in elements - only two: Meringue and Mousse. 3 layers of chocolate meringue and 2 layers of chocolate mousse all covered with a thin layer of the same chocolate mousse (which is a bit more like a buttercream than a mousse).
Meringes: Add powdered sugar and cocoa powder to beaten egg whites,
then pipe onto
a circle drawn on the back of parchment paper

Mousse: Melt chocolate and mix with soft butter then fold egg
lightened with a bit of yolk into the chocolate

I'd read about The Concorde in my Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé book and it fascinated me. Perhaps because it was this famous dessert yet looked very -- rustic. Hermé created this dessert when he was apprenticing for Gaston Lenôtre over 20 years ago. It was not a vacherin but it resembled one with the layers of meringue. And since I still have egg whites to use up... I thought it was the perfect dessert to make on my Sunday afternoon!
Piped meringue disks and lines

3 layers of chocolate meringue sandwiches with 2 layers of chocolate mousse - it's decadent!

The dessert is really very easy to make. The most difficult part was piping circles and lines - and I think any of us who colored in Kindergarten could manage that. It's kind of a shame how intimidated people are by tackling "fancy" desserts. When you really sit down and read recipes you'll likely discover they're not all that difficult. It's more about planning the execution than complex pastry-art techniques. For example, since this Concorde required sitting in the freezer overnight and then defrosting in the fridge for a day - I knew I had to complete it at least 24 hours prior to serving. Not a difficult thing to plan for...

Polish it off with a thin layer of mousse

After the first freezing (~2 hours after covering with mousse) you warm
outsides to adhere the smaller meringue pieces

Paul & Vickie somehow managed to whip up a beautiful dinner for us on a Monday night complete with chips & guacamole, artichoke & leek soup, grilled corn & tomato salad and ribeye steaks with truffle oil mashed potatoes!

Vickie & Paul's artichoke & leek soup and roasted corn & tomato salad -
I was too busy eating to shoot the rest!

The Concorde went down fabulously with cups of coffee and some 80's music. Paul captured its description perfectly with his "it's light but deceivingly rich" comment. The textures contradict each other since it's crisp while being chewy. I really can't believe I'm saying this - but I'm craving more!! WHY did I leave them the leftovers?..!!
Oh I remember - it was that look on their faces as they took their first bites. Makes it all worthwhile...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ile be making this a lot!

I have been wanting to make Îles Flottantes for a looooong time now. I can't remember where I first saw the dessert but it might even have been on an episode of Barefoot Contessa. 'Ina makes Iles' -- there's a tongue twister... I'm not sure why I was so enamored with this dessert before even tasting it. Perhaps because it's made up of elements I enjoy separately. But after finally putting it together Tuesday night for a visit from Angela, I know I will be making it [lot's] more!

Île Flottante - a fluffy vanilla meringue puff, floating in creme anglaise,
drizzled with caramelized sugar and almond praline

Dontcha love it when you try something in a restaurant and it's good... and then you make it at home and it's FANTASTIC? Well, since I had been lusting over this dessert for the past few seasons, I decided to order one at a restaurant Trace and I dined in while in Carmel. It was okay, but not great. There wasn't enough creme anglaise in the bottom, the sugar was a bit too caramelized (burnt) and the meringues seemed a bit over-beaten and dry to me. I knew I could do better...

The [not as good] restaurant version

Four easy elements - I put it together with no problems on Tuesday night after work. I did the first 3 elements starting around 6pm; Ang showed up a little after 7; I made the meringues around 9 and served at 9:30! (and served seconds around 9:47)

This is Ina's recipe. I did my own creme anglaise just cuz I've got what I think is a perfected recipe, but her recipe is simple!

Caramelizing sugar, almond praline and meringue puffs ready to gently bake

Easy steps for a wonderful night of treating a friend to dessert:

Step 1) make creme anglaise then put aside to cool
Step 2) make caramelized sugar and put aside to cool
Step 3) make praline almonds with caramelized sugar and (yup) put aside to cool
Step 4) hang out with friend(s), talk about life, watch Mamma Mia on Blu-Ray, laugh ridiculously at Pierce Brosnan's attempt to sing
Step 5) wipe away the tears from laughing over Pierce Brosnan's attempt to sing
Step 6) basically let your mixer make the meringues and bake for 20 mins
-Assemble all together and serve-

Most importantly - don't burn your sugar!

Oh yah and if you can't pronounce it correctly (roughly) "Ill Flo-tont", you can also call it "Floating Islands"; someone who knows their desserts should follow you. Actually, someone who likes to EAT dessert should likely follow you too - physically.

It's so light and creamy and absolutely delicious without feeling overly rich and heavy. I really cannot wait to make more and treat more friends to this. Gosh imagine how many other desserts are out there that are better than I've ever imagined!
DO NOT forget the praline - it made it just perfect!

*I hate my pictures in this post but they're all I've got if you want a blog post on this tonight... this is the one problem with baking, shooting and serving in a relative hurry. Quality on something's gotta go!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keeping up with the bloggerses

Some of you, my blogger friends, may have noticed that I've recently been commenting on your blogs mere moments after you've posted! It's not because I have no life and I spend my days clicking on your blogs and hoping for posts (that's what I used to do) - but because I recently started using Google Reader! I totally love it! And I have absolutely nothing to do with Google - I don't work for them, I don't use gmail, I don't necessarily care to work there (tho bringing doggie to work would be nice!) So I'm seriously not sharing this as "advertising" but because I really love it and it's changed the way I keep up with blogs I follow. I just wanted to share in case you all like to read a lot of different blogs as well!

This post is for people who want things faster!
*pictures taken by my friend, Ellis back in November

Basically Google Reader allows you to keep lists of your favorite blogs - you just have to enter in the web address and then it treats each new blog post almost like email. When there's a new post on someone's blog it appears in Google Reader in the same way an un-read email looks and you can either read the post in Google Reader itself or click to open the blog in a new window.

It makes my blog surfing so much more efficient! Anything I can do to help my blog-loving friends, right?! Hope you all have a great week!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Just wanted to say...

Happy Valentine's Day!!

I'm getting ready to cook and bake... how about you?

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about a significant other - it's about people you love.

So spend today with people you love and don't forget to do something sweet together.
Like eating cake, cookies and chocolate...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You ask, you receive

I was surprised to find people asking me to post more pictures of Lucca. Granted, my brother is one of those people and it's not exactly 'cuz he reads my blog but because it seems he wants to show friends pictures of her. But all the same - Lucca's getting another post!

"Playing at the dog park is one of my absolute favorite things to do!!"
(this is likely the day she injured her paw which triggered $900 worth of vet bills...)

"Mom needs lots of supervision in the kitchen. Especially if she drops something
on the floor. *sigh* must I do ALL the cleaning?!"

Lucca is growing - FAST. She's now 51 pounds and while it sounds like a lot - she's actually on the small side for her age. I can't imagine comprehending how big she'd be if she was growing at the rate of an "average" Labrador!! The vet thinks she might continue to grow into her 2nd year, especially since her parents are quite large. But I really don't care. I'd almost prefer her to be on the small side so that I can pick her up if I really need to (like I had to, to get her into her bathtub last week!)

"Why do they laugh so hard when I do this? It's a nice
stretch through my quads..."

"And why does everyone run for their camera when I sleep in my nice
quiet den at 'Grandma's' house? It's comfy and dark under the table!"

Today is Lucca's 9 month birthday. I can't believe she's been with us for over half a year already! I'm really not being biased when I say she is SUCH a sweetheart. People tell us ALL the time. She has such a mellow, sweet temperament. She just wants to be near people.

"As soon as Dad got home from Africa, we picked up right where
we'd left off - snoozing on my bed!"

"A treat??!!??!! I will do anything you'd like!! At attention! At your service!!"

I was having a really rough day recently and as I lounged around moping I couldn't help but notice how often she'd come to the side of the couch, sit, and just stare at me. After a few seconds she'd put her paw on my arm as if saying "I'm here for you" (in reality it probably meant "so, you wanna give me a snack or are you gonna lie there all day?") Needless to say, I broke some rules and let her lie with me on the couch that day.

"This thing they call Christmas is really tiring. And it gets really hot by the
fireplace all day too. Those humans are CRAZY!"

"Perhaps I look like I'm posing, but in reality I'm paying close
attention to some food being handled in the kitchen."

Don't get me wrong... Lucca has her moments. Her newest "trick" is to push her exercise pen (which surrounds the patio outside, in order to keep her out of the dirt) with her nose until she can reach said dirt - and then she digs to her puppy heart's content; dirt is flung in all directions and then tracked into the house on her paws. I try to remind him that he should be proud she's so clever. But it's hard to remember such things when one has to interrupt himself to go wash puppy paws and hose down a patio.

"Even if I'm fast asleep at the time, I HAVE to get up to see what's
going on when 'Grandpa' builds a fire in the fireplace."

"It can be quite fascinating to gaze down upon
everyone from the top of the staircase."

Everyone loves Lucca though. We get compliments ALL the time. She has so many wonderful traits that make me feel so lucky to own this particular doggie. I can pet her and harass her and give her noogies while she's eating. She comes when called; even as she's just excitedly trotted out the front door! She isn't the least bit aggressive with any other dogs; if anything would only annoy them out of desire to play with them! Other than a few shoes we've left in her reach and that previously discussed dirt on the patio -- she's not overly destructive. The only time I've ever heard her bark is at the dog park when she can't keep up with a playmate! She's never tried to escape from anywhere - hasn't even tried jumping over her 3 foot gate that keeps her in the bathroom for hours at a time. After quickly recovering from the excitement of meeting a child - she's absolutely and completely gentle with them.

"These girls are crazy. But I'll still play with
them since they throw my ball for me."

"Ahh it was so nice to have someone keep me company during the Chinese
New Years party. Mom couldn't pay any attention to me!"

As you can see, I could go on and on about my doggie for days. She's my baby - at least until I have a baby. I worry about her and spoil her and discipline her and sacrifice my own purchases for her recent $900 vet bill. [Good news - no surgery needed for a persistent limp! Just rest and some meds.] And as long as you folks ask for her - I'm more than happy to blog about her!

Happy Nine Months Little Miss Lucca!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Got a few days? Make a French entremet

You'll recall that I had to miss a couple Daring Bakers challenges in the end of 2008. I missed November as I was preparing to leave for Africa and I missed December as I was acclimating after getting home. While the November challenge didn't knock me off my socks - December's did. I wanted so badly to make the French Entremet. The bakers turned out beauty after beauty of entremet formed into yule log shape.

In December the Daring Bakers made French entremets.
Better late than never pour moi?

I just had to try my hand at it. I knew from reading the EIGHTEEN-PAGE recipe that it'd take me a few days to put this together. And I also knew if there was one group for which I'd be willing to spend 4 days baking, it'd be my family.

We had a belated Chinese New Years dinner at my parents' house

An entremet is a [typically] cream dessert filled with layers of different goodies. Since I wasn't doing this during the Christmas season, I could have made it in a completely different shaped mold and it wouldn't have resembled a yule log whatsoever. But I decided to stick with the Daring Bakers' plan and executed it accordingly. There were 6 elements to this dessert listed in the order I made them [note: for serving on Saturday evening]:

Wednesday night: Praline feuillete (made the praline Tuesday night)
Wednesday night: Vanilla crème brûlée
Thursday night: Dacquoise Biscuit
Thursday night: Chocolate mousse
Thursday night: Dark chocolate caramel ganache
Friday night: Chocolate icing

It was definitely a lot of work and I used every mixing bowl, measuring cup/spoon, rubber scraper, appliance, whisk and piping bag I own - MANY times over! But it wasn't difficult. Each element in itself is rather simple - especially if you have some cooking/baking experience. I had to wing it in a few places but nothing overly troublesome.
Candy the pecans and then grind until it forms a paste - praline paste!

The recipe for the praline feuillete called for praline paste, which I didn't easily find anywhere (though didn't look too hard since I figured I'd just make it.) This above one is a pecan praline paste.

My praline feuillete didn't come together well until I used a
rolling pin; even then it was very crumbly on the edges

The praline feuillete was my absolute favorite part of the entremet. I found myself snacking on the scraps even days later. I used milk chocolate as the recipe called for - Ghirardelli to be exact... which is a local San Franciscan [tourists'] favorite. And instead of the gavottes I used the suggested Rice Krispies! Crushed down... no one had any idea! 1 recipe of praline feuillete and rolled thin made enough for 2 layers in the entremet. Since it was my favorite part I was happy for the double-up!

Making vanilla crème brûlée then promptly freezing it up!

I make a lot of crème brûlées but lemme tell you, this was the first time I'd man-handled it like this! :) Fortunately mine cooperated a bit easier than it seems others' did. I actually made a recipe and a half but only needed the 1 recipe. In fact, I wasn't sure how much this entire 18 page recipe would make but it turns out 1 recipe of each element (and a double recipe of the icing) was perfect if not a bit too much, for my 10" x 3" x 4.5" French loaf pan.

I didn't really need to make those 3 different sizes of cake -
thought it'd avoid having to cut it, but I still had to!

Making the dacquoise biscuit was pretty familiar for me after making batch after batch of French macarons last year. It's really the same formula with a bit of flour thrown in too. Though the resulting product is more cakey than chewy like a macaron. It got a little sticky as it sat out too.

I don't usually love chocolate mousse but with all the other
elements this was a very nice complement

The chocolate mousse is made with dark chocolate. You make a pate a bomb with egg yolks and a hot sugar syrup and then combine it with the chocolate and whipped cream. I decided to use a 70% cacao Scharffenberger dark chocolate, another local and even a bit more meaningful since they'll be going out of business soon. *Sniff*

So if you're following along and counting - that's four of the five "inside" elements. There was still a chocolate ganache and chocolate icing to make but those come later. At this point it was time to build my entremet and freeze it all together!

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an acetate transparency sheet. This allowed my otherwise roughly right angled loaf pan to produce a rounded top on my yule log. See above, how it forms a rounded U-shape in the bottom of the pan when you cut it just right and tape it to the sides?

So obviously we'll be filling this guy from the top to the bottom:

Fill the top with mousse then top it with the frozen
crème brûlée and push it down to embed it

After the crème brûlée I topped it with more mousse and carefully cut my praline feuillete to the correct size and shape. It's quite fragile!

Cutting the feuillete and piping more mousse over it after placing it in the mold

After a couple iterations, I had squashed in 7 thin layers by this point:
1. mousse
2. crème brûlée
3. mousse
4. praline feuillete
5. mousse
6. praline feuillete
7. mousse

and this is how much room I still had in my 3" tall loaf pan:

About 1/2" - 3/4" of space left at the top for the ganache and dacquoise

I froze those 7 layers until the mousse was firmed up on top. It probably took about an hour or maybe even less since the mousse has some stability on its own. Next it was time for the ganache!

Caramel + chocolate = yummerlicious ganache!

The ganache was truly decadent. Melt sugar, add cream - voilà you have caramel! Pour it over a combination of dark chocolate, chocolate chips and milk chocolate (I ran out of my Scharffenberger by this point but winged it with various other chocolate I had around - it was still fantastical!); add some butter and... mmmmmmm.

Glop on the ganache!

I still had some room at the top - you know what that means?
I could have added even more goodies!

And finally top with the almond dacquoise. I mentioned earlier that it got a bit sticky as it sat out - so next time I'd probably make sure the bottom of the cake was also the bottom of this mold (ie: put the top of the cake down first as you build from the bottom up). I found that the [sticky] cake stuck to my serving plate as I tried to dish it out.

Glazing is fun - as long as you wait until it cools and
thickens enough. Don't pour too early!

My mold sat in the freezer overnight and while I enjoyed my time at work the next day too. I got home Friday night and whipped up the chocolate icing. On the whole, I really am not a chocolate lover *GASP*SHOCK*BLASPHEME* I know, I know... but I'm just not! And while I enjoy an occasional dark chocolate, loads of bittersweet chocolate is just plain too bitter/strong for me. So since the icing recipe called for un-sweetened chocolate (eeks!) I decided to make it with half milk chocolate and kept the sugar amount the same. I really liked the result.

I let it sit on the counter for a little over an hour before cutting into it - perfect!

WHEW - are you tired of reading yet? Cuz by this point, I couldn't believe I'd been working on this thing for (honestly) the last 4 days! Saturday afternoon, I spun some sugar and totally forgot to non-stick-spray my mold, thus ended up with spun sugar shards (as opposed to a complete design) but I didn't care by this point. It looked just fine to me!

Surprising for someone who doesn't love chocolate: I loved this!

It. Was. Divine. I was even impressed with myself. Seriously I realize I'm tooting my own horn a bit - but it was amazing! And I fully admit that it's really not so much skill as it is organization which brings success with this dessert. Next time I have 4 free evenings in a row, I'll for sure make another!

Made 2 little guys with another half recipe of everything!

I made about half again as much during my 4 days - and was able to clog our arteries with a couple smaller versions over the last few nights. It's missing the ganache - but honestly, it's all so chocolatey I couldn't tell a difference! The one thing you absolutely can't leave out tho? That praline feuillete. YUM!

If you'd like to try your hand at it too - surf on over to Hilda's or Marion's blogs (our wonderful hostesses for this challenge) for the recipe.