Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hungary for torte?

Is anyone else in utter disbelief that it's, basically September already? Kids are going back to school, commute is getting awful, weather is warming up (yes, that's the SF Bay Area model... what we perhaps politically INcorrectly call "Indian Summer"). I went into Michael's more than a few weeks ago now, and all I saw were Halloween decorations and Fall colors. Retail rushes the seasons, but you know what?... TIME rushes the seasons as well. Another thing that always seems to rush up on me is our Daring Baker's challenges. I still love to bake them; and love the anticipation of what we'll bake each month as I check the forums early morning on the 1st of each month. But they seem to come faster and faster!

This month we made the Hungarian Dobos Torte:The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
The Dobos Torte was introduced at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885 and was named after its creator, József C. Dobos, a well known Hungarian confectioner. Traditionally the dessert is made up of 5 layers of sponge cake with a caramel coated 6th layer adorning the top. I decided to keep it simple and aimed for them 6 layers, but the batter was enough for a 7th. So I made a Lucky 7 layer Dobos...

The Torte:
~layers of light sponge cake
~filled with dark chocolate buttercream
~topped with a caramel drenched sponge cake layer
~and garnished with nuts and buttercream

That's what beating egg yolks "until it forms a ribbon" means

It was very easy to over-bake the sponge layers. I found that they quickly went from liquid to overly browned (and chewy) within about 1 minute's time. So watching them in the oven was key.

Sponge cake layers waiting for assembly

Pieces of the cake trimmed in order to make even circles

The chocolate buttercream was definitely not my favorite part of this. While it tasted fine, it reminded me of chocolate pudding more than buttercream. It was even a bit too sweet and "milk chocolatey" tasting in light of using a very dark chocolate. I'm definitely more of a dark chocolate ganache person than a milk chocolate pudding person. I also really didn't like how soft the buttercream got within about 5 minutes of being out of the fridge. Did that mean I didn't cook my eggs long enough? I didn't want them to start curdling so I cooked to about 130°.

Mmmm - my fave Valrhona Le Noir

Blending pats of butter into the buttercream

While I LOVE caramel, I was most disappointed with this recipe. I should have known myself better than to put almost 3 tablespoons of lemon juice into the caramel. It sounded awful to me when I read it and while I even hesitated just before putting it in, I told myself I wanted to try this 'cuz what if I loved it?? Well.... I didn't. I couldn't even eat the caramel layer. It was beautiful and chewy but that lemon flavor was NOT a good partner to the chocolate.

Next time, no lemon juice in my caramel. I can't say that enough!!!

Chocolate pudding buttercream anyone?

All in all - I did not like this cake. It was edible, but I threw out all the leftovers since I never once craved a bite after my first night digging in. I can see how it'd be good with "better" components: a richer chocolate ganache and a non-citrus caramel. But I probably won't spend time perfecting it.

Almost good enough to eat...

I am always happy to try these challenges, even when I don't enjoy the finished result. I learn something from each and every one and for that reason I totally ♥ the Daring Bakers!! Thanks so much to Angela and Lorraine! And please go visit all my other Daring Baker friends!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Showering desserts

This summer has been a busy one for us and our attendance at weddings. It hasn't been as crazy as my 2009 Baby Arrival List (I know 39 2009 babies. THIRTY, NINE.) In fact I don't even think it's a record wedding year... 5 for us in 2009. Though 5 weddings in the span of 5 months does end up feeling like a lot. One of those weddings is a particularly special one for me and really for my family as well. That's the upcoming October wedding of my cousin, Courtney (specifically my first cousin's daughter; who happens to be just 5 years younger than I). It's a special wedding for my {ginormous} family since we haven't had a wedding in 6 years. But it's also special because I was asked to be a bridesmaid. ♥

The bride's Auntie Lorie (who is also a first cousin of mine) threw a beautiful shower yesterday and since I wasn't able to attend the bachelorette party, I elbowed my way into being involved to redeem some bridesmaid responsibilities! I'll save the overall shower details for a future post (as I get through all my pictures); this one is merely to tell you about the desserts I made. Lorie, our faithful hostess follows my blog, so when I told her I'd like to help with the shower she asked if I'd do my "famous" red velvet cake in cupcakes. Need you even ask? A few days later she sent me this picture with an "isn't this DARLING?!" and perhaps without realizing what she'd done... a challenge was posed.

I used clean stamps to stamp "C" and "C&S" in the hearts

So... red velvet cakes, check. My super special light cream cheese frosting, check. Adorable cupcake papers, check. Fondant hearts... hmm. I'd never worked with fondant before but it had always sort of fascinated me. I'd been reading a lot about marshmallow fondant on various food blogs and it sounded fantastic and really easy to make.

Drying til firm took roughly a day

In famous "Lisa" fashion, I started this fondant late Thursday night. I mean at like 10:30pm. That was before I realized it had to sit for 2 hours after mixing it up... Bossy does not equal Brilliant. I was working in too much of a hurry to shoot pictures of melted marshmallow so please just use your imagination. While I waited for the fondant to rest, I decided to fill my time by making some macarons as well. Doesn't it seem a party-for-women wouldn't be a party-for-women without little pink French macarons?

Lightly raspberry flavored shells with a Valrhona dark chocolate ganache

A lot of recipes for fondant instruct you to mix in the abundance of powdered sugar by hand, but I found another I liked a lot better that had you do it in a stand mixer with the dough hook. Way easier if you ask me (though less of a workout on the arm muscles).

Lorie's house just lends itself to a fancy bridal shower!

A little hard to make out, but see the C and C&S stamped on the hearts?

Lets get one thing straight here - marshmallow fondant tastes SO much better than regular fondant. It seems softer too and less gritty on the tongue. It's DEFINITELY worth your while to whip some up to cover your next cake. You'll absolutely wow people and it's truly not even that difficult.

Lorie borrowed this ADORABLE stand from a friend, who'd purchased
it for $1 (or less) at a yard sale, then painted it white. What a find!!

Marshmallow Fondant
makes ~3lbs fondant

16 oz bag mini marshmallows
2 T water lots of shortening, for greasing bowls, spoon, beaters, hands
2 tsp flavoring (vanilla, lemon, raspberry etc) optional
1/8 t salt
2 lb confectioner’s sugar, divided

**Note: When mixing fondant for decorations that will be dried out, add some cornstarch in place of powdered sugar. This will make the shapes a bit more stiff and will also help in the drying out time.

1. Generously grease with shortening: a large microwave safe bowl, a spatula or spoon, the stand mixer bowl and the dough hook. Put marshmallows and water in the microwave safe bowl and zap for 1 minute. Stir with spatula and see if there are still small marshmallow lumps. If so, zap for 30 seconds more. Stir in your optional extract (I used vanilla).

2. Remove 1 cup of the powdered sugar from the 2 pounds. Add pour the remainder into the bowl of the stand mixer. Sprinkle salt over the sugar. Make a well in the center of the sugar/salt and pour the melted marshmallows in. Mix at the lowest setting until it starts to incorporate then turn it up to a bit higher if you desire. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the sugar down if it stops incorporating it. When all the sugar is mixed in, see if the fondant is still very sticky. It should be pliable, but not sticky. Add the reserved sugar 1/4 cup at a time until it's a pliable consistency. I ended up adding all of it.

3. Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap, and place inside a ziploc to keep from exposing to air. Let the fondant rest for ~2 hours.

4. Dust counter with cornstarch and roll out sections of the fondant to 1/8" thick. Keep unused portions covered and zipped when not using. If the fondant becomes stiff, microwave for 10-15 seconds at a time until soft again.

5. If cutting out shapes (as opposed to using it to cover a cake) let the fondant shapes sit out exposed to air on cookie trays for at least a day.

They sat out for a good few hours before people were allowed to partake
- and all were accounted for!

It's worth noting that after an hour or even less in the frosting, the bottoms of the hearts had softened and they started to bend/bow/fold. A toothpick propped up behind each heart helped alleviate the problem. So display these within 1/2 an hour of eating - or have some toothpicks on hand! Adorable, right?!?!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tea and crumpets

I have become something of an afternoon tea fanatic. Perhaps the most spectacular was on our recent visit to The Mount Nelson Hotel in Capetown, South Africa. All you can eat finger sandwiches and petit fours for the equivalent of about $18. Hmm, but the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco was, well, ritzy and the food was quite fantastic in addition. Not to mention the SERVICE. Oh but then there was afternoon tea with the doggies at the Cypress Inn in Carmel. Vanilla bean black tea, egg salad and caprese sandwiches, with tea cookies and cakes all while our DOGGIES chomped on bones and bully-sticks at our sides! And now, I think Lovejoy's will be right up there at the top of my favorite afternoon tea locales as well. Perhaps it was the company. Perhaps it was the food. Hmm perhaps I'll have to go again to figure it out...



I hear two terms for "tea" used interchangeably here in the US, but there's actually a difference: High Tea and Afternoon Tea.

Afternoon Tea is here, what it is in the United Kingdom - tea with some snacks and light fare. Typically served in *shock surprise* the afternoon, before dinner. And commonly made up of a pot of loose leaf tea, those adorable crustless sandwiches, scones with butter, clotted cream and jam and little cakes and pastries for dessert.

Mothers and Daughters

Egg salad, chicken apple walnut, smoked salmon, roast beef & horseradish,
chicken & asparagus, hummus and bay shrimp & mayo finger sandwiches

High Tea seems to me, to have the same definition in the US as Afternoon Tea. However, in the UK, High Tea is a more substantial meal than what I described in the previous paragraph. High Tea in the United Kingdom, takes the place of both afternoon tea and dinner. It would include the obligatory pot of tea, cold meats, eggs or fish, sandwiches and cakes.

Seems that most of their teas are for sale - I had the vanilla rooibos

From wikipedia: In recent years, high tea has become a term for elaborate afternoon tea, though this is American usage and mainly unrecognised in Britain. Such usage is disfavored by etiquette advisors, such as Miss Manners. Well okay then, I'll be sure not to ruffle anyone's feathers on my next visit to London, by calling my tea, scones and finger-sammies "high tea".

I'm sure you're excruciatingly thrilled at my clearing all that up for you.

Perhaps I've mentioned that one of my favorite things to gift to a good friend is a meal out. Usually of the up-and-up variety. It ends up being a treat for me as well AND we get to spend quality time together. For Mom's birthday this year I gave her a gift of afternoon tea in the city. You'll recall I did this last year as well.

Couldn't you so easily sit here sipping tea for a while?

Since Tracey's mom and my mom have been friends for as long as we have *ahem20someyears* I asked Tracey if they'd like to join us and soon we found ourselves carpooling to San Francisco on a beautifully cool August Sunday. I'd heard glowing reviews of Lovejoy's from many friends and if the demand for reservations was any indication (booked up a week in advance) it seemed a lot of others agreed.

Little truffles and marzipan covered cakes

We all picked our sweet at the end - but we were STUFFED

Lovejoy's used to be an antique store that offered up a GREAT cup of tea to their patrons. They soon became known for their tea more than their antiques so... Lovejoy's tea room was born. And it seems they held on to many of the antiques for decor.

Streets of San Francisco

There's a little tea accessories store across the street

We had a truly fantastic time amidst the constantly in and out streaming parties of bridal and baby showers. It's a small tea room but they manage to squeeze everyone in cozily. The food was plentiful and the moms were tickled. I loved it! Before we'd even left my mom was telling me we could come back again. Oh we can, huh Mom?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Berry mixed up

Summertime. Lately, every time I visit the grocery store there are cartons and boxes of jewel-like berries staring at me from the produce section. Strawberries and blackberries and raspberries and blueberries... It was more than I could handle. I just had to DO something with all those berries! Well, easy enough, I suppose. Tracey was coming over for dinner and while she's not a fan of stone fruit desserts she will partake in a mixed berry one.

It should be illegal to eat fruit crisps without vanilla ice cream

Crisps are about the simplest thing one can make while still being quite impressive to one's dinner guests. It appears to be complicated, what with all the rich flavors, colors and crispy sweet topping but it's easy as pie...err... no, easier! I sorta did this recipe but added in a splash of lemon juice and did my own topping recipe which looks to be pretty close to this one anyway. To be honest, it's hard to mess it up.

Summer berries = summer's natural jewels

I didn't exactly use equal amounts of berries. I just started throwing berries into a measuring cup until I had what I needed. I was a bit heavier on the black, lighter on the blue and about average on the razz. I think I could just stare at a mixed berry medley for days (ok, maybe not days) - it's so pretty! The colors! Seriously, like jewels!

Toss gently with flour, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice

The main reason crisps are so easy to make (vs. a pie) is that instead of making a crust - which can be very finicky and quite challenging for a non baker - you just mix together some oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt; cut in some butter and sprinkle it on top of your fruit. No rolling, no hoping it doesn't rip or tear, no patching crust holes if it does, no crimping or sealing... not to mention: lower in fat. Not LOW-FAT, but lower in fat.

Cutting butter into the dry ingredients for topping

I decided to make individual servings here instead of baking it in a larger dish. It's easier storage for leftovers and most likely causes you to eat less too. Scoop the contents of that 6 oz. ramekin out onto a plate and it'll look like nothing! Keep it in the dish with ice cream on top: humongo! Have you heard how you can lose weight simply by eating dinner off of a smaller plate? Same idea...

Less than 1 cup per person; still plenty of dessert

The fruit cooks down quite a bit

I'm going to make a rule here. I think it should actually be written into California state (or Federal) law: do NOT serve any fruit crisp without vanilla ice cream. Just don't. do. it. A crisp is NOT the same without a dollop of rich vanilla ice cream accompanying the tart, warmness of that cooked, sweet fruit.

Luscious. Really, no other words...

Go buy yourselves some cartons of berries and have at this. Afterall, summer's almost half over. Those brightly colored berries will only be in your grocery stores and farmer's markets for a couple more months. Go crazy and crisp it up!