Thursday, October 30, 2008

There's more to life than being a pizzaiolo...

So I tell myself, after trying it once and wasting a good piece of dough... So I quit! 
A cop out i know...
Pizza however, without the tossing, is a worthwhile endeavor... and truly produces great results. I started trying to make my own pizza dough about three years ago and I've never stopped making it since.  Sometimes I have pizza parties where most of the night I'm just by the oven, loading and unloading freshly baked pizzas which are the absolute best!
So when Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums proposed Peter Reinhart's pizza dough from the Bread Baker's Apprentice I was all for it!
I made one pizza with a tomato sauce base, italian sausage, portabello mushrooms, onions, mozzarella and basil.  The other pizza had pesto as the base, then topped with prosciutto, pears, gorgonzola, and mozzarella. The third pizza was smeared truffle oil then portabello, onions, taleggio and oregano. 

Okay, I'm going to make more of this on the weekend and I'll give the hand toss another go...
Thank you to Rosa for an excellent challenge and you can get the recipe for the dough here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

My birthday dinner

I like to make things immensely difficult for myself, almost killing myself every year right around the time of my birthday and it isn't about growing older and obviously I am not getting wiser either! At least not in this respect....Almost every year, I throw a theme dinner party for my birthday. A month before I already prepare my invitation and I have my menu and table setting practically planned out. I usually give my friends this time to get their costumes together.

Sounds like fun right? It is, but all the behind-the-scenes work keeps me up many nights labouring away for one night's glory. It's well worth it, especially with my friends who do go the distance with me. That's what I tell myself whenever my feet start to throb!

Through the years, I've gone through most of the world's cuisines. Those were the years when the food dictated the theme.  Then it all changed. I could no longer think of a cuisine to do. The creativity kicked in and I started doing things the other way around. I developed  a theme first and then the food followed. It was quite liberating and challenging. Most of what I was coming up with were reinterpretations of classics, of course based on ideas already thrown around by extremely talented blogger chefs all over the web. 

Last year I did a Zodiac party. This year I wanted to up the ante so I decided to go with artists.

My invitation got a lot of oohs and ahhs but I got a lot of complaints regarding the level of difficulty of the theme and was told that interpretations should be allowed. Then came the barrage of hilarious characters: (the non-Filipinos may not understand some of these) Raggedy Andy Warhol, Cherry Pie Picasso, Mango Van Gogh, Tenga ng Degas, Matisse Tessoro, Jonathan Livingston Chagall and Star for all Cezanne... 
But after all that, they actually came in great costumes! We had Degas (okay, wrong pigmentation, no facial hair and hat but that Jigs just didn't wear an old costume gives this three thumbs up! Thank god for his girlfriend!), Degas' ballerina (Oona, who lends all credibilty to Jigs!), Andy Warhol (Raggedy pants, Troy!), Jackson Pollock (Poor Jay, we had just drizzled what I thought was quick dry embossed paint on his tee only to find out it took 12 hours to dry!), Manet's Olympia (yours truly), the bride of Chagall (Why no goat, Suzy?) and my friend Jojo who came as an Easel (another three thumbs up for the effort! He hates costumes!)

Once I got my theme lined up, I started to think of how to present it
throughout the dinner. I wanted art, color and composition to really be central to my table setting. I decided to paint 10x14" canvasses in  different colors arranging them according to the color wheel. These were both placemats and thank you cards. Each place setting was marked by an easel I had made from cardboard and on these I laid out the place cards. My centerpiece was simply a floral arrangement of red carnations, yellow Lisianthus, hydrangeas and mini gourds that had  a nature-morte feel to it.

The menu cards were simplified.  No explanations were made. I just indicated the course and the artist who inspired the the direction so as not to give anything away. I wanted my guests to be able to discern why I had paired the artist with a particular course. 

For the appetizer, the Sunflowers of Van Gogh was my jump-off point.  I opted to make an uni (sea urchin) mousse with some fish roe.  The Uni was difficult to find as a storm had just hit the Philippines. I found it though through trips to 10 different stores. Perseverance pays off!!! And to boot, I found a fresh delivery. It made an excellent and sweetly delicate mousse. 

I followed this with a Cream of Portobello that I had made with a subtle but rich vegetable broth.  The broth actually heightened the taste of the mushrooms---much more so than if i had used water or YIKES a chicken cube!

I could not scan a label of a new campbell's soup can as they look slightly different today than they did when Andy Warhol painted them so I tried as best I could to replicate them on photoshop. My font wasn't quite right but it got the soup across! My friend Troy came as Andy Warhol and we had a hoot having him pose
 with his "creation!"

The next course was the Salad and my inspiration
 came from Picasso.  I had always wanted to make a puff ball with a salad hidden like a 
treasure inside as described by Richard Bertinet in his book, Dough. But how to do the puff ball and connect it to an artist? Painting picasso's dove of peace on the puff! There is no more profound explanation than it was pretty... 

The next course fish, proved to be tricky. Color was the primary association here and Rothko was the artist. I had one guest, Carlo, who was allergic to crustaceans so my original idea of a lobster bisque en gelee would have had one fatality!
I opted to do a Soupe de Poissons en Gelee with a rouille that was slathered on one end. This gave me the most trouble as the gelatin didn't want to set properly. 6 packets later and a lot of freezer action, it finally came together. It was interesting but I still prefer it the classic way as a warm soup with the crusty bread and loads of gruyere! 

The meat course was dedicated to Mondrian.  My original thought was to make a twin lasagna of beet pasta with the meat sauce and a little bechamel then create a layering of vegetables
 thinly sliced such a squash sandwiched with bechamel and cheese.  I didn't have the time to make the lasagna so I just used my squarish, grid-like fondue plates and seared a striploin steak over a red pepper coulis and a side of roasted potatoes in duck fat.

The last course was a panna cotta a la pollock. I had half mounds of panna cotta mildly flavoured with vanilla beans and lemon rind drizzled with dark chocolate ganache and an orange syrup. Here we have Pollock matched with Pollock. Much as I love dessert, I thought it was, hands down, the infinitely inferior Pollock!

I loved all the effort and detail I put into this party but i love that my friends indulge me at least once a year and take the path of whimsy. To them I say, merci. Except Carlo, who didn't come at the last minute... =)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Clearly Eclairs!

Daring bakers--they've done it again... and again and again from what I've gathered!

MeetaK and Tony Tahhan chose a great dessert for the August challenge--- the eclair. Though relatively simple and quick to make, it still requires a bit of attention to get it right.  

I am not the biggest fan of eclairs, more because of the pastry cream and less because of the pastry. I love choux pastry and would often make profiteroles.  I'd fill them in with ice cream and then pour a lovely chocolate sauce over it.

But when Meeta announced we would be doing Pierre Herme's recipe...I was quick to put aside my dislike for pastry cream and embrace eclairs.  My cousin Pia and I were having a baby shower for two of our cousins so I thought that these eclairs would make a nice dessert for the party.

I started out by making the pastry cream. I essentially followed the recipe as is but removed the chocolate and I boiled my milk with a vanilla bean. I also lessened the sugar. I loved the resulting cream but I did find it too rich.

Next I made the chocolate sauce. I wondered why I had to make a chocolate sauce that went into a chocolate glaze when the ingredients were basically the same.  But fine... let's not question the master.

Lastly I made the chocolate glaze.  I used a dark chocolate deeply flavoured with orange.  It was divine! Whatever questions I had about the sauce I tossed out the window!

The next morning, I made the pastry. I noticed the pastry wasn't cooked enough so I kept the trays in for another good 10 minutes. I rotated the trays twice more to even the browning.
I was running late and didn't want soggy eclairs so I put each of the components in individual containers and brought them to the party at my cousin's barely opened restaurant. I actually filled them and glazed them there. Before filling them though I lightened the pastry cream with some cream which I had to whip by hand with a fork as my cousin didn't have a mixer in the place!
All's well that end well and these eclairs ended well!
Thank you Meeta and Tony for a great recipe!
Check out the other daring bakers here.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.
Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.
The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the
handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the
oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue
baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking
time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)

• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the
bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40
degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of
the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the
bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms
with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream
and wriggle gently to settle them.


1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,
stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk

• ½ cup (125g) water

• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt

• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour

• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.


1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream 
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk

• 4 large egg yolks

• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar

• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted

• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted

• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble. 

Chocolate Glaze 
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream 

• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

• 4 tsp (20g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

• 7 tbsp (110g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature 

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce. 


1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze. 

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé 
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 

• 1 cup (250 g) water

• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream 

• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar 

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon. 


1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.

2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The verdict ++

So today I had my girlfriends over for lunch. I wanted to cook up a storm for two of my oldest and best girlfriends. Having been so busy the past couple of months, I had been dying to test out so many recipes. As I plotted and planned a hefty 6 course meal, I could not help but give in to the exhilaration of being in the kitchen.

I have been wanting to test the shrimp chorizo that I read about in Ideas in Food. As activa is not readily available to me, i used egg whites. It formed easily enough but it didn't feel as firm when I sliced it. The shrimp chorizo needed to be poached which was difficult as well as I could not keep the temperature constant at 52.5 centigrade. It turned out okay but I will have to rethink my procedure before I try it again.

I also made a goat cheese mousse piped over a bed of pine nuts and dri
zzled with honey. Yum! I served the mousse on little spoons alternating them with the chorizo that I drizzled with olive oil.  I also made little 
loaves of white bread that I sliced and presented in the middle of the spoons. It made such a  pretty photo!

For the next course, I served phyllo wrapped towers of foie gras, a saute of portabello and porcini mushrooms, and gruyere over a bed of mesclun with a fig vinaigrette. Whew!

This was followed a scallop ravioli in butter ginger sauce.  This is one of my favorite recipes.  I always make this using a technique that I saw in Master Class, Lessons with the World's Greatest Chefs.  You take flat leaf parsley and incorporate this into the pasta.

I tried making the Mojito Sorbet from Dragon's Kitchen which was inspired by David Lebovitz' Lime Sorbet and Mojito Granita. I have to applaud her combination concoction. It was not sweet but all the flavors are present. It was so refreshing and the rum kick was not bad either!

I pan fried some striploin to a crisp caramelization while keeping it pink inside. Arzak often serves steaks with vanilla roasted potatoes. I've been so curious to try this. There was a delicate flavour that made it different but I didn't feel like it enhanced  the meat nor the potatoes. I think I still prefer good old reliable garlic! 

And for the piece de resistance...the Filbert Gateau!  It was still a little too sweet for me but it was still good. No one could finish one whole mini cake though... and my 8" brick is still untouched!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

After dilly dallying and dragging my feet for a month the delays are finally over...because I ran out of time and the deadline is here! Presenting the daring bakers July challenge: The Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream...whew! Chris of Mele Cotte chose Carol Walters' daunting recipe.  
After my last fiasco with a nutty genoise, I wanted to be absolutely certain that I would not make the same mistakes.  This time I promised myself, I'd be so careful, everything would turn out beautifully... Heck, it wouldn't be daring if life in the kitchen were really all that simple!
 I made one 8" cake and three 2 1/2" cakes that I wanted to serve individually to some girlfriends coming for lunch tomorrow. The three mini cakes were done in no time and I left the 8" longer. When I tried to invert them, I realized that the 8" cake, was still rather uncooked... and now had an alien handprint on the center.  Can I change the theme for lunch to Roswell? HMMM.... 
I put the cake back in the oven and went merrily along making the next step. The glaze.
I realized I bought dried apricots instead of preserves so I looked up a recipe, and out came a 4 hour preserve. Was that easier than stepping out and buying  a bottle? Probably not, but that's so typical of me! So out came the crock pot that has never been used. My mother should be so proud but she would just exclaim with exasperation, "you're crazy!" And while this exchange was going on in my head I realized that my cake was starting to burn! Talk about action in the kitchen!
So while The preserve was cooking, I tackled the praline buttercream next. It's been very interesting making different kinds of buttercream. In this one, we add the meringue into creamed butter. It came together so easily I was amazed.  Now I have a new favorite buttercream method!
All in all, I like this cake though honestly I have not eaten it. So where is that statement coming from? I tasted all components individually (lots of fingers in the buttercream!) and they don't seem as sweet which suits me perfectly. I'm waiting to serve the 3 mini cakes for lunch  tomorrow and though I frosted and decorated my 8" BRICK cake, I am scared to try it!
More tomorrrow on the verdict!

Thank you to chris for another great challenge! You can find the recipe for the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


May’s Daring Baker’s challenge by all accounts, should have flopped. Though Murphy was an unwanted guest plaguing this daring baker, I persevered and managed to kick him out the door.

This month, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina, our founders were also our hosts together with Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a complex looking cake---the opera.

Act 1 The Distraught Baker

Scene 1 the Joconde

Enter, the baker. She is in her kitchen on a Saturday morning, bright and full of hope, yet distracted by many personal issues. She goes about making her hazelnut Joconde carefully measuring her ingredients. She even melts her butter properly by defrosting it in the microwave...

She follows the recipe precisely or so she thinks. She folds in everything beautifully and divides the batter between four 9” tins. She is about to load them in the oven when she spies the melted butter on the counter.

OH NO! NO! NO! What shall I do? How shall I fix this?

What shall I do? How shall I fix this?

She divides the butter between the four tins and folds it in and prays! It seemed to be working. She places the tins inside the ovens and then looks at the recipe. She turns pale and worriedly removes the pans from the oven.

FLOUR! OH FLOUR! How could I have forgotten you?

OH NO! NO! NO! What now shall I do? What shall I do?

She sifts the flour over the four tins and tries to fold them in. She returns the tins to the oven and prays for the best. Against the odds, she produces decent cakes. They are not tall but they don’t feel dense. And boy are they moist! The hazelnut gives it a sweet nuttiness that is just incredible.

BRAVO! BRAVO! What a beautiful cake!

BRAVO! BRAVO! In spite of every mistake!

She makes a syrup of white crème de cacao. She wraps the cakes and promises to finish it off the next day to cap off the tournedos Rossini lunch with her family. She exits. Lights out.

Scene 2 the Buttercream

Our Daring Baker returns to the Kitchen. She is making a brioche for her tournedos and some time during the morning, she starts the crème de framboise buttercream.

Alas! She forgets to soften the butter. She keeps the butter close to the stove where she is making the syrup for the buttercream. When the syrup gets to 225, she removes it from the heat and adds it to the whisked eggs. At first it seems to work well. Then she adds the butter and it starts thinning out.

OH NO! NO! NO! Where did I go wrong? Was the syrup too hot?

Was it perhaps the medium egg? No! I think not!

The butter that didn’t melt! I forgot!

Dorie to the rescue! She attempts to make new buttercream using Dorie’s recipe which she successfully made before… Except that now she doesn’t have softened butter again… She tries to soften it manually and starts adding it to the whisked eggs. It starts losing volume. Disheartened, she leaves it in the ref for another hour. She whips it again and after a few minutes, it actually has structure!

MARVELOUS! MARVELOUS! Dorie saves the day once more!

MARVELOUS! MARVELOUS! Murphy is finally out the door!

With a sigh of relief and a smile on her face, the lights go out.

Act 2 The Proud Baker

Scene 1 the White Chocolate Ganache and Assembly

Enter, the baker. She is in her kitchen on a Sunday late afternoon. Yes, with all her problems, she was not able to make it for dessert. However, her family stays on to wait for her cake to be finished. She makes the ganache without incident and layers the 9” cakes within a 9” mould. She gets a 4” mould and cuts through the center to make an ‘opern ring’ and a smaller 4” cake.

She layers the cake and buttercream and tops it with the ganache. She serves it to her family and they sing in chorus---

BRAVA! BRAVA! What a beautiful cake!

BRAVA! BRAVA! In spite of every mistake!

Applause for Lis, Ivonne, Fran and Shea

Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temp

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans or 10 x 15-inches.

•a few tablespoons of melted butter and a brush (to grease the pans)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds

2 cups icing sugar, sifted

6 large eggs

½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour

3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup


½ cup (125 grams) water

cup (65 grams) granulated sugar

1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream (Update Note: The recipe for the buttercream that is listed below was originally based on the original but we had some typos. It's all very confusing (we're good at confusing ourselves) but here is the short of it: When testing the buttercream, we tested a modified version (we're crazy like that!!!) that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. Yes. That's right. 1¾ cups of butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. VERY. CREAMY.


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (60 grams) water

seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

flavouring of your choice

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse


7 ounces white chocolate

1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)

1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.

2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.

3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.

4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.

5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.

6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze

(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.

2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.

3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse): Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer. Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup. Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour). Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze. Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse): Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer. Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup. Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour). Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up. Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze. Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Popping Goodness!

Like clockwork, daring bakers know when it is the end of the month. A stirring within bubbles into excitement and voila---a few pounds heavier and a blog later, we come together in cybercelebration.

I never really liked lollipops. Hard sugar candies, even on a stick just did not appeal to me. But when I saw this month’s challenge, I thought, now who would not like cheesecake lollies?

This cheesecake was particularly easy to bake. I halved the recipe and baked it in a square 8” pan. It took a little over 40 minutes to bake through. After 24 hours, I used a square and round cutter to make my pops. I wanted bigger circular pops so I cut them in half just so they wouldn’t be too heavy.

When they were ready to be enrobed in chocolate, I melted some white chocolate chips. They didn’t have the right consistency though so after coating one, I gave up. For the dark chocolate, I decided to use couverture to ensure the quality. Initially it melted beautifully then dried up so I guess I over heated the chocolate. I added more dark chocolate and it was much better.

I wasn’t sure how to decorate my pops and I didn’t have much time to do so either as it was midnight and I was going to the beach very early the next morning. I tried using cake glitter but that melted right away. I used sprinkles for a festive feel but I still wanted to do something a little different. I decided to do monogrammed pops! We were two couples going to the beach and I wanted to bring some for dessert. So using gold dust, I painted a P, two Js and an O. It was so cute---crude but cute! With all the computer work i do, i no longer have a steady painting hand. Unfortunately, the chocolate was sweating and I had to work fast. I tried a few more patterns, stripes, card suits and a flower. I have to practice  a bit more before I can post a picture I'm proud of!

The next day, everyone enjoyed the pops, amazed to find cheesecake inside. Two of the monograms got damaged during the transport but still, they made waves in the beach!

Thanks to Elle of Feeding my Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell for a great theme for april!

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor

Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Affair to Remember

On a Friday afternoon of May last year, I came down with the flu. I was really looking forward to a date with this guy I liked, but at almost the last minute I had to break it as the miracle recovery I was fervently praying to all the saints for just didn’t happen. Now you must know that when I am down with the flu, I am truly down for at least seven to ten days. On the fifth day my mind was active but my body was still frail. My constant companion during the next few days was not the date I called off (sniff, he didn’t even call me!) but rather my trusted laptop computer with all its wonderful internet capabilities.

I was looking for a recipe for a vanilla thyme martini, the delicious drink my date and I had had on our first evening out. Scouring the net for this, I was introduced to many an interesting blogger. One blogger led to another and another and eventually led me to favorites such as my dear daring bakers and Dorie Greenspan. You can imagine my delight when I found out that Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts had chosen Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake for March’s challenge! And what an honor for us all I when Dorie herself wrote us and gave tips and suggestions!

Since my more recent love affair with bread, I have not baked a layered cake in many, many years. Easter was a pretty good time to renew an old flame with cake along side my catholic faith…

As I gathered my ingredients and started off, I could not believe how wonderfully fresh-perfumed the sugar was after mixing it well with the lemon rind. I knew right there and then that this cake was going to be good---not a yeah, it’s good cake but rather a wow, this rocks cake!

I used cake flour as specified but I was only able to fill half of two 9” round tins. My cakes didn’t rise much which could have been because of old baking powder or perhaps the local cake flour could be of an inferior quality. Dense though the cakes seemed there was a curious lightness to them that made the lemon flavor so delicate and heady at the same time. I almost could not wait for the buttercream, I just wanted a slice. I was hooked. I was in love again with cake.

I had a lot of frozen egg whites from making tons of ice cream and I tried making the frosting with them. On the first attempt, my sister-in-law was talking to me and I thought I may have heated the whites too much. Into the bin. I had exactly four egg whites left. I tried it again watching the temperature as if my life depended on it and this time it was just to the right degree. A watched pot never boils? It never whips! Into the bin! Tired of manually beating my whites over a double broiler, I conceded that frozen whites don’t make buttercream and bowed to fresh eggs. Third time’s the charm!

Initially I had wanted to put an apple pie type layer in between the two cakes and top the cake with thinly sliced apple crisps. It was Easter and I was tired from the brunch I prepared for the family so an easy jar of strawberry jam was emptied on top of one cake. Buttercream was smeared over everything else.

My family loved the cake and they want me to try it with orange next time. With the million flavor permutations on this cake, this will obviously be a lifelong affair. Ditto on the date---Jay loved the cake too!


For the Cake
¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold.

Thanks to Morven and Dorie for a great choice and challenge!