Fresh Strawberry Mousse

June 8, 2014

With strawberries at such a luscious peak, I was finally able to try out this recipe that I’ve been eying for a few months. By reducing some of the juices on the stove-top to concentrate the strawberry flavor, it definitely packs a strong strawberry punch. While I did not get the mousse like texture that I was expecting; my son said it was more like a smoothie; it was undeniably delicious. 4-stars as mousse, but 5-stars as an un-named dessert.

Beautiful strawberries for just $2/lb

Beautiful strawberries for just $2/lb

Comments:

  1. The only mistake I made in the recipe was that I added the softened gelatin to the main bowl instead of to the saucepan in Step 5. There is some chance that the lack of heat meant that the gelatin didn’t evenly distribute to the mousse, causing my textural problem. I will definitely make it again, and update this post (and rating) if that was truly the cause.
  2. There were no solids left in the strainer in Step 6; only seeds.
  3. The dessert takes about 1h15m to make, but more than half of that time is waiting. I use that time as an excuse to relax.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $5.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12:30 PM. Dinner time 6 PM.

Here is the original Cook’s Illustrated link to for this recipe. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today is as follows:

2 pounds strawberries
1/2-cup sugar
Pinch salt
1-3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream

  1. Cut cream cheese into 8 pieces and allow to soften on the counter-top.
  2. Wash and hull all the strawberries replacing back in plastic containers. For garnishing, dice enough strawberries into 1/4″ dice to yield 1 cup (5-1/4 ounces). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. In two batches (three batches if your food processor is on the smaller side), pulse remaining strawberries 6 to 8 times until 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces; some pieces will be larger than others. Empty strawberries into a medium bowl and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Cover bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for 45 minutes; stir occasionally. Do NOT clean food processor.
  4. Strain the strawberries through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, within 1 minute you should have rendered 2/3 cup of juice. Measure out 3 tablespoons juice into a separate small bowl and sprinkle with 1-3/4 teaspoons gelatin. Allow gelatin to soften for 5 minutes.
  5. Put remaining juice into a small saucepan and reduce over medium-higher burner for 10 minutes, until it measures just 3 tablespoons. Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved. Add softened cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Empty into large bowl.
  6. Meanwhile while the juice is reducing, process fruit in food processor for 15 to 20 seconds until smooth. Again, strain the puree though your fine-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing down on the solids with a spatula. You should have 1-2/3 cup of puree. Add the puree to the juice/gelatin mixture and whisk together until combined. Discard the solids from the strainer.
  7. Use a standing mixer to whisk cream for 1 minute on medium/low until foamy. Increase to high and whip until soft peaks (2 to 3 minutes), then gradually ass 1/4 sugar and whip until stiff peaks (about 1 to 2 more minutes).
  8. Whisk cream into strawberry mixture until there are no more white steaks. Portion into individual serving bowls and chill for at least 4 hours (up to 48 hours).
  9. Garnish with diced strawberries and serve.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake

March 15, 2014

I’ve been making ice cream cakes for my sons’ birthdays for the past 4 years. Each year I learn something new, and this post represents my cumulative knowledge. This year I incorporated cookie dough into the cake, not only including chunks of cookie dough into the ice cream, but also including an entire layer of solid cookie dough sandwiched between two layers of ice cream. The theory of the cake was genius, lol, but the theory turned out to be better than the execution. I now realize that regular cookie dough turns much too hard when frozen. This post does not contain the secret to retained dough-like consistency at ice cream temperatures. I suspect it is a combination of, (1) reducing the flour, (2) adding heavy cream, (3) switching some of the butter for oil. I will keep you posted when I find the answer.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake

Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake

While the details are below in the recipe section, I also wanted to give a high-level overview to help plan the multi-day project. A two-level cake takes at least 3-to-4 days, and a three-level cake takes between 6-to-7 days. This is because most modern home ice cream machines require 2-to-3 days between batches. The sleeve needs to freeze-solid, which recharges the machines ability to freeze the custard into ice cream.

  • Day #1, is certainly the longest day, requiring about 3 hours. First make the cookie dough, and pat out into a thick 9″-to-10″ disk; wrap in plastic and refrigerate. After washing your bowls, make the first batch of ice cream. Prepare you custard and while it is chilling, use a rolling-pin to flatten your cookie dough, then invert your springform pan and press down to mark the required shape, and cut using a paring knife. Freeze the cookie dough disk, and break the trimmings into small chunks; freezing the chunks as well. Process the custard in your ice cream machine, adding half the frozen cookie dough chunks in the last 5 minutes of processing.
  • Day #3 also takes about 3 hours, but requires much less work. This is just a straight ice cream day. Prepare you custard, chill it down, process, adding the frozen cookie dough chunks in the last 5 minutes of processing.
  • Day #4 or 5. Frost the cake using 1 bottle of Magic Shell.

Lessons learned about making ice cream cakes:

  1. The secret to making spectacular ice cream is two-fold: (1) reduce the amount of water as much as possible; e.g. only egg yolks, never egg whites, and (2) increase the fat content. That’s the “secret” of Haagan-Dazs. Really, it’s no secret. Just look at the nutritional information on the side of the package; 18 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving, compared to an industry standard closer to 7 to 8 grams.
  2. Leave your cake uncovered in the freezer for no more that 2 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of ice particles marring your week-long project. The plastic wrap should be right up against the cake with as little air as possible between the cake and plastic wrap. By the way, the more you open your freezer door the more moisture will enter your freezer and the more protection your cake will need.
  3. Complete the illusion of a real cake by making a slight dome of the final layer.
  4. Use a spring-form pan to shape the cake. Layering each batch of ice cream by lightly pressing into an even layer. Run a paring knife along the sides to make it easier to remove.
  5. If you plan to move the cake from the spring-form-pan-disk, then put a disc of parchment at the bottom of the pan before the first layer of ice cream. I put the disk in this time. but ended up keeping in on the spring-form-pan-disk.
  6. While the cake cost me just $10, that’s because quarts of heavy cream went on sale for 1/2 price. I was able to buy 1/2 gallon of heavy cream for just $4.80 of which I used 1-1/2 quarts for this cake.
  7. I topped the cake with Magic Shell to simulate the icing. Next time I want to work out an improved version that will provide a nicer finish. Plus the magic shell is rather expensive ($5.50 for two bottles) and the finished coating is too thin.
  8. If using Magic Shell be sure to warm and shake exceptionally well.  The trick to applying icing to the sides is to hold your rubber spatula against the side of the cake, squeeze a little Magic Shell between the cake and the spatula and work it upwards to form an even coating. It takes a little practice.
  9. As written, Chris Kimball’s instructions require 1 large and 3 medium mixing bowls. I’ve reworked the logistics of making the chocolate ice cream because I only have 1 large and 1 medium mixing bowl; the small bowl in step 4 can be any small bowl.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $15.
How much work? Medium
How big of a mess?  Large but spread over many days.
Started: Monday. Ready: Saturday.

Cookie Dough:
2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (11-1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5-1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (8 ounces)

  1. To reduce the risk of salmonella, bring a pan of water up to a boil. Add cold eggs to boiling water for a scant 30 seconds.
  2. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Add 14 tablespoons butter to large heatproof bowl and melt/soften in microwave for 1m25s.
  4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and the extra yolk, then whisk for 30 seconds until smooth until no limps of sugar remain.  Allow mixture to sit for 3 minutes, then whisk again for another 30 seconds. Repeat the resting/whisking two times more.
  5. Use a wooden spoon to combine flour mixture for 1 minute until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips ensuring that no pockets of flour remain.
  6. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes so that dough becomes stiffer.
  7. Empty dough out onto a large cutting board. Use a rolling-pin to flatten into a large 10″-to-11″ circle. Overturn your springform pan and push into cookie dough, which will mark the correct circumference. Use a paring knife to cut away the extra dough, leaving a perfect circle.
  8. Use a large knife to separate the dough from the cutting board. Break the cookie dough trimmings into at least 40 pieces.
  9. Cover both disk and trimmings with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.

Chocolate Cookie Dough Ice Cream (Layer 1):
8-oz dark chocolate
1-1/4 cups whole milk (10 oz)
1-1/2 cups heavy cream (11-1/2 oz)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing from stove-top in step 8. Put your springform pan into the freezer. If you don’t want to serve the final cake on the bottom disk of your springform pan, then cut a piece of parchment and line the bottom of your pan.
  2. Put a medium heat-proof bowl over a pan of nearly-simmering water. Break your chocolate into large chunks and melt completely while occasionally stirring. Allow to partially cool.
  3. Add milk, heavy cream, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Remove pan from heat until Step 6 to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs to the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.
  5. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the warmed milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  6. Add the milk/yolk/chocolate mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  7. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  8. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, and freeze for 1 hour. Be sure the mixture is below 38°.
  9. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction. With about 5 minutes remaining, add half your froze cookie dough chunks so that they become evenly distributed.
  10. Empty finished ice cream in springform pan. Scrape out as much as possible using  a rubber spatula. Work to evenly smooth out ice cream. Cover with plastic wrap and use the bottom of a metal 1-cup measuring cup to work into a smooth, even layer.
  11. Add frozen cookie dough disk on top of ice cream. Cover with a clean sheet of plastic wrap and gently press dough into ice cream. Freeze for 3 days until ready to add the next layer.
Two layers down, one to go

Two layers down, one to go

Cookie Dough Ice Cream:

2 Cup heavy cream (1 pint)
1-1/2 whole milk
1/2 cup ground coffee or espresso beans.
1-1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing cream from stove-top.
  2. Add heavy cream, milk, coffee grounds and 1 cup sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Be sure not to let the egg yolks and sugar sit for any length of time; after 5 minutes the combination will get hard. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  4. Add the yolk mixture back in with the cream/coffee in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  5. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  6. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. Wash the strainer and then strain the mixture two more times to remove as much of the grounds as possible.
  7. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour; just be sure it’s below 40°.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes or how ever long your ice cream machine recommends. If this were not part of a cake recipe, while ice cream churns,  I would normally pre-freeze a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and the ice cream’s final container/bowl.
  9. Empty into spring-form pan (or spread in thin, even layer of pre-chilled baking sheet). Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to leave as little air as possible, and freeze for 2 to 2-1/2 hours before serving.
There is a layer of cookie dough between the chocolate and coffee

There is a layer of cookie dough between the chocolate and coffee


Valentine’s Day Truffles

February 16, 2014

I made these truffles once before. While the cocoa powder coating was a disaster, my main complaint was the unbearable monotony of having 64 exactly-equal truffles. So this year for Valentine’s Day, I pulled out all the stops and made more than a dozen variations. They turned out beautiful, even though I sat home alone on Valentine’s Day (well, alone with my two sons). The variety started with two base fillings; (1) the chocolate ganache in the original recipe, and (2) a peanut butter filling. I formed both into round balls, and I describe below how I turned these two varieties into at least a dozen unique truffles. Overall, the truffles need to be made in two phases, (1) prepare the ganache/peanut butter balls (about 3 hours total), and (2) the final assembly (about 1-1/2 hours). The chocolate mixture needs at least 2 hours between the steps, and the peanut butter needs to freeze solid. Of course, they turned out to be a perfect 5-star.

A bucket of truffles

A bucket of truffles

It was important for me to try to make a lot of unique truffles. Here’s how I did it. For the chocolate ganache, I used to following techniques to make 10 different varieties.

  1. Cocoa powder coating.
  2. Rolled in chopped nuts.
  3. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  4. Same at #3, but using Dark chocolate.
  5. Made cups, putting a dab of melted Milk and/or Dark Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small truffle, then another dab of chocolate.
  6. Same as #5, but top with some chopped nuts. Between #5 and #6 there were 4 difference variations.
  7. I used a toothpick to decorate some of the milk chocolate truffles with melted dark chocolate.

For the Peanut Butter, I used to following techniques to make 4 different varieties.

  1. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  2. Same at #1, but using Dark chocolate.
  3. I made classic peanut butter cups, both with milk and dark chocolate.

Comments / Issues:

  1. Below there are three parts. I would recommend preparing the first three parts the night before you plan to do the finally assembly. The Peanut Butter balls especially need to be frozen solid of they will not slice. The next day, be sure to remove them from the freezer at the last-minute, and only in batches of about 7 to 8.
  2. Microwaving at 50% power on my counter-top microwave was not enough. I needed 80% power.
  3. The recipe says to use an 8″x8″ pan, yielding 64 pieces. I used a 7″x7″ pan and got 49 slightly-larger pieces. If you are using 1-1/2″ cups, then I would suggest the slightly larger size.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 4:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Lightly spray a 7″-to-8″ square baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of baking dish. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to baking dish.
  2. Roughly chop the chocolate and put in a medium microwave proof bowl. Microwave at 50% power (or 80% for a counter-top microwave) for 2 to 3 minutes; stirring once or twice. The chocolate should be mostly melted, but there should remain a few small pieces of chocolate. Set aside.
  3. In a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave cream for 30 seconds until it is warm to touch. Add corn syrup, vanilla and the pinch of salt; stirring to combine. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit, without stirring, for 3 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave butter for 20 second to soften and cut into 8 pieces.
  5. After 3 minutes, use a wooden spoon to combine cream into chocolate, then add small butter cubes one at a time, until everything becomes fully incorporated and smooth.
  6. Empty ganache into the prepared baking dish, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  7. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days)

Peanut Butter Filling:
16-to-18 ounce jar of creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder for dusting your hands.

  1. Lightly spray a 4″x8″ loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of loaf pan. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, dry milk, and sugar until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.
  3. Empty peanut butter mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Freeze for at least 3 hours.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift to remove from loaf pan. Cut into thirty-two 1″ squares (8 rows by 4 rows).
  5. Keeping remaining squares as frozen as possible, work in batches of 8. Dust your hands in cocoa powder to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to your hands. Roll into round balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Cover balls with plastic wrap and freeze again for at least 2 hours. (I’m talking about cooking! lol)

Final Assembly:
1 pound Milk Chocolate
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (1/2 ounce)
1-1/2″ mini cup-cake liners
1 pound Bittersweet Chocolate

  1. Break milk chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a bowl set over simmering water (later you will melt the dark chocolate in step 8).
  2. Prepare the coating by sifting the cocoa and sugar through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl. Sift again into a pie plate and set aside.
  3. Wipe out large bowl from previous step with paper towel, chop nuts, and place in the freshly wiped bowl. Set aside.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift ganache. Cut into sixty-four 1″  squares (8 rows by 8 rows). If the ganache cracks while you are slicing, allow to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.
  5. Use the dusting powder to cover your hands so that theganache doesn’t stick to your hands. Use your hands to roll each square into a round ball, re-applying dusting powder as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands. I would suggest rolling in big circles between your hands. If at first they don’t roll, eventually the warmth from your hands will allow you to succeed.
    1. For those truffles that you want to coat in powder, transfer to pie plate and evenly cover with powder, then lightly shake to remove excess powder.
    2. For those truffles that you want to cover in nuts, more them around bowl with chopped nuts, pressing the nuts firmly
    3. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    4. If some of your squares of ganache are small, then make in mini cup cake wrapper. Put a dab of melted Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small ganache ball, then another dab of chocolate to top. Sprinkle some of them with left-over chopped nuts.
  6. Working in batches of 6 to 8 peanut butter balls, cut those that you want to make into peanut butter cups in half, and leave the remaining peanut butter balls un-sliced.
    1. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate peanut butter balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    2. For those truffles that you want peanut butter cups; Put a dab of melted chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a half-ball with the flat side upward. Add another dab of chocolate to top, and smooth so that the top is flat. I would suggest doing the peanut butter cups last, so that you know how much extra chocolate you have. That will dictate how full you fill the cups.
  7. Return all unused peanut butter balls to the freezer.
  8. Break dark chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a same bowl containing the remaining milk chocolate. Continue to simmer pot of water, ensuring that the water doesn’t boil.
  9. As the dark chocolate melts, dip the tip of a toothpick into the melted dark chocolate and draw some designed some of the finished milk chocolate truffles; especially 5.3 and 5.4 (nut-less).
  10. Assemble the remaining truffles as you did in step 5 and 6, saving the peanut butter cups until last (and fill to a level based upon available chocolate).
  11. Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Old-Fashioned Christmas Chocolate Fudge

December 23, 2013

I have tried to make fudge in the past, but have never been successful and always found it extremely fussy. Chris Kimball has devised an easy 15-minute fudge, which I’ve very successfully made a few times; see here and here. Simultaneously to Chris Kimball publishing his easy 15-minute fudge recipe in 2007, he also published this old-fashioned fudge recipe. My years of successfully following Chris Kimball’s recipe has given me renewed confidence in making traditional Christmas fudge; candy thermometer and all. Unfortunately, one small mis-read left me with burnt fingers and grainy fudge.

Delicious, but barely worked out

Delicious, but near catastrophe

Overall, fudge making is a slow process, and that slowness is supposed to ensure a smooth texture. I remember reading somewhere that Chris Kimball tested 1,000 pounds of chocolate to come up with this recipe, which he claimed to have perfected. First off, you need to be sure you have the right equipment: candy thermometer, pastry brush, wooden spoon, Dutch oven and a 13”x 9” baking dish (117 square-inches). I had a 14″x10″ baking dish (140 square-inches), so I used cardboard to reduce the volume by 20%. (see photo at bottom of post).

Most things in the recipe were clear, except for two crucial steps. In Step 7, I misread his instructions and didn’t realize that I was supposed to dunk the syrup-covered handle into the ice batch to cool. Instead, I burner my fingers and never got the syrup to form any kind of ball. Finally, I removed the pot from the stove-top when the temperature read 242-degrees, because that was already too hot. Secondly, step 9 and 10 were extremely unclear as to how long I should lift and stir fudge. After just 5 minutes (was expecting 8 to 12 minutes), my fudge had seized up and I had to re-heat it to get it to spread into my pan. The time period between glossy and solid was about 30 seconds. I’m assuming that the issue was because I over-heated the fudge because I misread step 7.

Overall, I can only give the results 2-stars, because of the dry, grainy texture.

UPDATE ON 12/24: By putting each piece of fudge in the microwave for ten seconds, the texture becomes soft and the Fudge jumps from 2-to-4-stars. Not good enough to give away to friends and neighbors, but good enough to eat myself.

Comments:

  1. This recipe makes 4 pounds of fudge. Fudge is one of those recipes that you cannot double.
  2. I found this website filled with helpful fudge-making hints.

Rating: 2-stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Ready at: 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces unsweetened chocolate (3 bars)
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar (31-1/2 ounces; 1/2 oz under 2 pounds)
1-1/2 cups light brown sugar (10-1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
2-1/4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Cut your butter into 1/2″ cubes. Roughly chopped  your chocolate and divide into two equal 6 ounce parts.  Place butter cubes and 6 ounces chocolate in freezer.
  2. To keep your utensils clean during the preparation, fill a large saucepan 3/4 full with water and heat on medium-low burner until bubbles just begin to form, then reduce burner to low to keep water warm. Put your candy thermometer, pastry brush, and wooden spoon in warm water. Prepare a medium bowl with ice and cold water, which you will also use to keep your utensils clean. Later, you will need to fill sink 1″ deep with room-temperature tap water, so make sure the sink is clean.
  3. Fold an 18” piece of aluminum foil and fold it lengthwise into an 8” by 18” strip. Lay foil into 13″x9″ baking dish. Pushing foil into corners and sides allowing the excess to hang over the pan ends. Next fold a 14” long piece of aluminum foil (If foil is more than 12″ wide fold it to fit pan) and put in pan perpendicular to first sheet of foil.
  4. Put a large Dutch oven over medium burner and heat sugars, salt, chocolate syrup, milk, and remaining unfrozen 6 ounces chocolate for 6 to 12 minutes, constantly stirring with wooden spoon, until the chocolate melts. Clean wooden spoon with hot running tap water to remove all sugar crystals, then set spoon in container filled with ice water with the handle-side down.
  5. Using pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pot, dipping brush back into hot water before wiping down another part of pot Continue washing down the sides of pot until no sugar crystals remain. Attach candy thermometer to side of pot and continue to cook until syrup boils; about 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Boil sugar for 30 minutes until it reaches 236 degrees, then start to test for doneness. Avoid stirring the fudge once it has reach the boiling stage, unless you notice that a thick edge of syrup that is not boiling, briefly stir the syrup with a clean wooden spoon.
  7. To test for doneness, dip the wooden spoon’s handle (from ice bath) into syrup, sweep and twist a few times to coat the end of the handle times until enough chocolate adheres to the spoon handle. Dunk into ice bath and wait 5 to 10 seconds to cool down (twist the handle as necessary so that syrup doesn’t fall off), then gather the syrup with your fingers and attempt to roll up into a ball. The syrup will be done when it forms a soft ball that will flatten when lightly pressed between two fingers. Continue to cook until syrup forms a soft ball, checking every 2 degrees. (Total cooking time should be about 40 minutes). Meanwhile, make sure your kitchen sink has 1″ of room-temperature tap water.
  8. Remove Dutch oven from burner and immediately put into prepared sink. Sprinkle frozen butter cubes, chocolate and vanilla over the fudge. Cool in sink for 5 minutes, then move to counter and allow to cool, without stirring, for another 25 to 35 minutes until the fudge reaches 110 to 120 degrees.
  9. Use the wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients, then once or twice clean the perimeter of the pot. Lift a spoonful of mixture 1 foot above pot and allow to drip back into the pot, repeating the lifting process 5 times. Allow to rest for 1 minute.
  10. Repeat the lifting/resting process in step 9 for between 8 to 12 minutes until the fudge loses its shine and becomes difficult to stir.
  11. Quickly empty the fudge into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread into an even layer. If the fudge sets too soon and crumbles when you try to spread it into the pan, reheat it over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until some of the sugar melts and the fudge becomes more fluid.
  12. Cool fudge at room temperature for 4 hours until it becomes firm. Use the foil overhang to remove the fudge from the pan and cut into squares. Tightly wrapped in waxed paper or plastic, the fudge can be stored for up to 2 weeks in a cool cabinet or 3 months in the freezer.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

November 22, 2013

I was planning to make vanilla ice cream to go alongside a birthday cake, but after the planned cake failed to materialize I decided to form my vanilla ice cream into a cake. After removing from the ice cream machine, I spread it out onto a pre-frozen sheet pan. I covered with plastic wrap and allowed to harden for 2 hours (in step 9), then cut into three equal sized rectangles. I added caramel between the layers, but the caramel oozed out after just a few hours. While I wanted something to compliment that chocolate topping, I now see that anything between the layers must harden into a solid. If it were summer I might try some fruit, but at this time of year it looks like it must be chocolate.

Ice cream as a 3 layer cake

Ice cream as a 3 layer cake

Fortunately, a kid’s palate is fairly forgiving. Taste-wise, The cake was a very successful 4-1/2 stars; despite its visual shortcomings of the oozing caramel.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball calls for a slightly different technique that takes 8 hours from start to finish, as opposed to 4-1/2 hours as I’ve described. The difference: He divides the custard in step 7 into 2 bowls; a small bowl containing 1 cup is placed in the freezer and allowed to freeze solid, and the remaining custard is chilled in the refrigerator. He says this will take between 4 and 24 hours. Instead, the ice bath technique as I described in step 6/7 allows the mixture to get nearly as cold in just one hour.
  2. Chris Kimball says to process in ice cream machine until it reaches 21-degrees,  about 15 to 25 minutes. Personally, I wait until the thickness of the ice cream looks good, which usually takes between 30 to 35 minutes.
  3. I made a small, three-layer ice cream cake out of the ice cream. Instead of pre-chilling an 8″-to-9″-square metal baking pan, I put a regular sheet pan lined with plastic wrap in freezer (in step 1). That allowed me to more easily work the ice cream, which I formed into a rustic cake. If you want a more regular shaped cake then use a knife to cut sides after the cake is assembled.
  4. For a delicious variation, roughly chop 12 Oreo cookies; my son’s favorite.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $2.50 per quart.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2pm. Ready: 6:30pm.

Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
1/3 cup light corn syrup.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
6 egg yolks.
1 vanilla bean.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top. Place an 8″-to-9″-square metal baking pan in freezer.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream, about half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape out vanilla seeds (caviar). Add both the caviar and the empty stalks to the saucepan.
  3. Warm over medium burner for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar.  Never let your yolks/sugar sit for more than a few minutes. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches 180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  6. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the medium bowl (discarding empty vanilla pods). The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool in about 30 minutes; stirring occasionally will help. Then place the bowl in freezer for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour to further reduce the temperature. The mixture will begin to freeze along the sides of the bowl, which you should scrape down to further reduce the temperature.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze the ice creams final container/bowl.
  9. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. Makes 1 quart.
The layers were virtually indistinguishable.

The layers were virtually indistinguishable.


Rich Chocolate Tart

October 18, 2013

As a chocolate lover, I gazed in amazement at the picture of this chocolate tart on the Cook’s Illustrated website. It was a thing of absolute beauty, and I was sure it would taste just as amazing. It did. The recipe did require some equipment that I didn’t have: 9″ tart pan with removable bottom, and 2 cups of pie weights. So I made the 20 mile trip to buy the pan, though there was a problem with the pie weights (see Issues below).

Brand new masterpiece from November 2013 issue

Brand new masterpiece from November 2013 issue.

The only caveat is that the tart is difficult to make in 1 day, requiring about 9 hours of clock time. I mistakenly started making the crust at noon, hoping the tart would be finished in time for 7pm dessert. It wasn’t. The pie crust takes about 3 hours, including 1 hour to cool before you start making the filling. Then another 5 hours to make the filling and bake the tart, including a full 4 hours of cooling before moving onto the glaze. The final glazing steps will require an additional 2 hours before slicing, including a total of at least 1-1/2 hours of waiting.  Of course, the recipe is worth the wait; 4-1/2 stars. I will definitely make it again.

Delicious tart was worth the effort

Delicious tart was worth the effort

Comments / Issues:

  1. I accidentally used a whole stick of butter for crust (8 rather than 6 tablespoons). So the dough did not form into a ball in step 6. To compensate, I had to add more flour until the dough turned into a ball. The 1/2-star deduction from a perfect score was because of the dough, which might have been caused by my own error (and not the recipe). The dough didn’t taste enough like almonds, and was a little too cake-like.
  2. After driving the 20 miles to buy pie weights, I was discouraged by the lilliputian container; about 4-1/2 ounces for $6. I guessed that I would need $18 of pie weights. So I put off that purchase to buy them online, and I used 1-pound of dried kidney beans to make the tart.
  3. I wasn’t able to make chocolate curls as suggested for topping, but will try again next time using a straighter block of chocolate and vegetable peeler. Chris Kimball also says that I could top it with coarse salt, but I wasn’t prepared to risk the entire tart. Another serving suggestion: lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with cognac or vanilla
  4. Chris Kimball says that you can use skinned hazelnuts in lieu of almond slices, which will similarly need to be toasted in Step 1 of making the crust.
  5. Chris Kimball recommends using dark chocolate containing between 60 and 65% cacao. Two recommended brands include: Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar, or Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate, L-60-40NV.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $10.
How much work? High.
How big of a mess? High.
Started: 9:00 AM.  Ready: 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original tart recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Crust Ingredients:
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sugar (1-3/4 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Toast the sliced almonds for 5 minutes over medium heat until toasted; stirring often to ensure even toasting. Allow to cool for 5 minutes,
  2. Meanwhile, cut 6 tablespoons butter into 1/2″ pieces, and set aside until step 5. Then in a small bowl, add the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and beat to combine. Set aside until step 6.
  3. Add toasted almonds and 1/4 cup of sugar to food processor, and process for 15 to 20 seconds until nets are finely ground.
  4. Add 1 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pulse for 10 one-second pulses. I had to scrape out the corners of the bowl.
  5. Evenly spread butter over flour mixture, and pulse for 15 one-second pulses until resembles coarse meal.
  6. With the food processor running, and the egg yolk mixture from Step 2, and process for 10 seconds until the dough forms a ball.
  7. Empty dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and press out until it forms a 6″ disk. Refrigerate the wrapped dough for 30 minutes, until the dough becomes firm but still workable.
  8. Lay out dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, then roll into an 11″ circle (If dough becomes too soft or sticky, refrigerate until the texture improves). Refrigerate the 11″ disk for 15 minutes on a sheet pan.
  9. Spray your 9″ tart pan with non-stick cooking spray. Remove dough from refrigerator, but leave it on the sheet pan (to aid flipping). Remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Put tart pan upside down, and press so that the pan’s edges cut the dough. Flip (sheet pan and all) so that tart pan is now upright. Remove plastic wrap, and use your rolling-pin to finish cutting the dough. Reserve both sheets of plastic wrap and the dough scrapes. (see photos for flipping technique).
  10. Gently push dough down to the bottom on the tart pan. Roll dough scrapes into 3/4″-thick rope, and line the edge all the way around the pan.
  11. Gently push dough rope into the pan’s fluted sides, and lay the plastic wrap on top of the dough, and use a measuring cup to smooth the dough along the edges (see photo). The sides should be about 1/4″-thick. Use a paring knife to neatly trim away the dough down to the level of the rim of the tart pan. This time you can discard the scraps.
  12. Put tart pan in freezer for 25 minutes until firm. Meanwhile, set a rack to the middle of your oven and begin preheating to 375-degrees.
  13. Put on a baking sheet. Spray a 12″ square sheet of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray, and lay over pie crust with oiled-side-down. Empty 2 cups of pie weights to maintain shape; I used dried kidney beans instead. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the crust half-way through baking to ensure the crust is evenly cooked.
  14. Remove pie weights and aluminum foil and continue baking at 375-degrees for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust becomes golden brown.
  15. Place one a wire rack and allow to cool completely for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Also remove 4 tablespoons of butter (for filling) so that it properly softens, and 2 large eggs so that the come up to room temperature.

Filling Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups heavy cream (10 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs

  1. Finely chop your 9 ounces of dark chocolate and add to a large, heat-proof mixing bowl. Unless you chop up your chocolate, the pre-heated cream would have enough residual heat to properly melt your ingredients in Step 4. Cut your butter into thin slices.
  2. Begin preheating to 250-degrees, with your oven rack still in the middle of your oven.
  3. Combine 1-1/4 cups heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Put over a medium burner, and bring it up to a simmer.
  4. Empty simmering cream into bowl with chocolate, cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes without stirring. Use a whisk to slowly stir until combined, being careful not to incorporate any air into the mixture. Add butter slices and continue to whisk until it becomes completely incorporated.
  5. Put eggs through a fine mesh strainer and carefully whisk into chocolate until it becomes glossy.
  6. Empty filling into prepared tart crust and gently move crust from side-to-side until the filling is evenly distributed and the surface is smooth. Use a toothpick to pop and air bubbles that you see.
  7. Bake, with tart on a baking sheet, at 250-degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until the outer edge is barely set. You may see very faint cracks on the surface, but the filling will still wobble when moved.
  8. Leave on sheet pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack for 1 hour. The refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 3 hours (but up to 18 hours) until the filling becomes chilled and is completely set.

Glaze Ingredients:
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon hot water

  1. Remove the tart from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you begin the glaze. Finely chop 2 ounces of chocolate.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons heavy cream and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup to a small saucepan. Bring up to a simmer over a medium burner, stirring occasionally to combine.
  3. Once you bring it to a simmer, remove the pan from burner. Add the chopped chocolate, cover, and allow the chocolate to soften for 5 minutes. Gently whisk without incorporating any air until smooth.
  4. Add hot water, and whisk until shiny and pourable. Quickly pour the glaze over the middle of the tart, and tilt the tart so that the glaze runs to the edges. In my case, I wasn’t quick enough and the glaze had cooled too much, so I had to use the blade of a chef’s knife to even out the glaze (which left a few marks).
  5. Use a toothpick to pop and bubbles, and allow to cool for at least 1 hour (but 2 hours is better, as my glaze hadn’t quite hardened).
  6. Remove the outer ring of the tart pan, and use a thin-blade metal spatula (or chef’s knife) to loosen the tart from the pan’s bottom, and slide onto your serving plate.
After 1 hour glaze still hadn't fully hardened.

After 1 hour glaze still hadn’t fully hardened.


Chocolate Mousse

September 30, 2012

For those who have never made chocolate mousse, here’s the secret: it’s one of the easiest and quickest desserts to make. Easier than ice cream, brownies or even cookies. People just assume it’s difficult; perhaps because of the double-boiler. My old recipe for making Chocolate Mousse always received lots of compliments, but after trying Chris Kimball’s I see that his is more chocolatey, lighter and more complex. The extra-chocolatey flavor comes from cocoa powder. The extra lightness comes from using both egg whites and heavy cream to incorporate air bubbles, whereas most mousse only uses one or the other. This recipe also breaks the golden rule of melting chocolate; never allow even a drop of water to come in contact with chocolate. Here I add 5 tablespoons of water. The results are 4-1/2 stars.

About 15 minutes of work

Comments:

  1. This recipe uses dark chocolate containing 60% cacao. Chris Kimball has another recipe for 70% cacao, which adds an extra 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons more water, and an extra egg.
  2. Sometimes I used Trader Joes’s dark chocolate, which contains 54% cacao, in which case I cut the water down to 4 tablespoons.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4,40
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 3:00. Dessert time: 6:00

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brandy
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. Put the heavy cream into the freezer while the chocolate melts. Put a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water to create a double boiler. Either chop the chocolate finely (for faster melting) or break into small pieces.
  2. Melt chocolate in the double-boiler. When the chocolate is almost melted stir in the cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and brandy. When the mixture becomes smooth remove the bowl from the heat.
  3. Separate the eggs; adding the whites to a mixing bowl and the yolks to the chocolate mixture.
  4. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar, and salt to chocolate and yolks, and whisk until combined. Allow to cool for 15 minutes until just warmer than room temperature.
  5. Whisk eggs whites to soft peaks, adding another 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar half-way during mixing.
  6. Temper the chocolate by adding 1/4 of the egg whites, using a whisk to combine. Then use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites. Stop folding them there are just a few white streaks.
  7. Now beat the heavy cream until it reaches soft peak. Again, use a rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream. Stop folding them there are no more white streaks.
  8. Spoon into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Carrot Layer Cake

May 31, 2012

I’ve never loved carrot cake, which is why this is my last recipe from the May / June issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Carrot Cake always seemed dense and unbalanced,  that the heavy carrot always meant a heavy and squat cake. Fortunately, today’s recipe is perfectly balanced with the just right amount of carrot. The cake uses a layering technique to support the weight of the moist carrot, it’s as if it defies gravity. Finally, a carrot cake truly worth of being loved. Plus it looks like a work of art. 4-stars.

Not quite level, but otherwise the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

But the cake is not without its problems. The thin cake ripped as I took it out of the pan, and the parchment paper made thinner rounded corners that prevented me from orienting the pieces to even as I pleased.

Comments / Issues:

  1. I’m glad that all 4 layers cook together as a single large piece. It’s so much easier than trying to make 4 separate layers.
  2. There was a problem flipping the carrot cake. The cake ripped because it was thin (and therefore fragile) and I don’t have a cooling rack that is as large as my sheet pan. I was able to reassemble the broken parts and use them as the middle layers. It came out fine.
  3. The thick batter will not spread evenly, so you are guaranteed to have an uneven cake. Chris Kimball’s suggestion to just arrange the layers to even out the final cake would only work if you have a perfect rectangle. But the parchment paper means you’ll have thin, rounded corners. My cake only fit together one specific way; unevenly.
  4. I’d suggest chopping the pecans smaller than my pieces. It will make for a slightly more refined appearance.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against substitute liquid buttermilk for the buttermilk powder in the frosting. Obviously one is liquid and the other is powder.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $11. ($5 of which was the pecans)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Ready at 5:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Cake ingredients:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8-3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar (8-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 carrots; about 10 ounces)
2/3 cups dried currants (about 3 ounces)

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease an 18”x 13” rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper too.  Remove two sticks of unsalted butter from refrigerator so that it will have softened when you are ready to make the frosting.
  2. Shred four carrots on the large holes of a box grater or using the shedding disk and your food processor. Be sure to use the small round feeding tube (the small hole within your full-sized oval tube).
  3. In a medium bowl, add together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Whisk together until combined.
  4. In another large bowl add sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Use a whisk to combine until smooth. Gently stir in carrots and currants with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed. Finally, add in flour mixture and fold in with your rubber spatula, but only until it is just combined.
  5. Empty batter onto baking sheet. Use an offset spatula to smooth surface and ensure the batter is an even depth. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating half-way through baking, until the center is firm when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool for 5 minutes in pan set on a wire rack. Flip the cake onto a wire rack then immediately re-flip back onto a second wire rack. The cake should be resting with the parchment side down. Allow the cake to cool for another 30 minutes.

Frosting ingredients:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (12 ounces)
1/3 cup buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces cream cheese (1-1/2 packages)
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

  1. While the cake is cooking, toast your pecans and chop them coarsely. Cut your cream cheese into 12 equal-size pieces, but keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use in step 3.
  2. Add the butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla extract and salt to the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment on low-speed for 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium-low, then add cream cheese one piece at a time. Mix for 2 minutes until the frosting is smooth.

To Finish:

  1. Put cooled cake on a cutting board and cut into equal halves cross-wise. Cut length-wise so that you have 4 equal pieces, measuring about 6″x8″ each.
  2. Cut out a 6″x8″ rectangle out of stiff cardboard. Put the first of the cake piece on the cardboard. Use a spatula to spread 2/3-cup of frosting over layer. Repeat with two more layers.
  3. Place the final cake layer on top. Remove any crumbs from your spatula and frost the top with a 1-cup of frosting.
  4. Frost the sides of the cake with your remaining frosting. You just need enough frosting to hold the chopped pecans, not completely hide all the crumbs.
  5. Holding the cake with one hand, use your other hand to gently press the chopped pecans onto the side of your cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

    The interior layers were not perfectly uniform; but they’re hidden.


Donuts

April 25, 2012

I haven’t made donuts for 2 years because the last ones were such a big disappointment, with some of them as hard as a hockey puck. Today they came out much better, but still I am not completely satisfied. I believe that I rolling out in step 7 to 3/8″ is too thin, so I modified the recipe to 1/2″-thick. At first my oil was too hot because the oil wasn’t deep enough for my clip-on candy thermometer to properly register the temperature. The donuts overcooked within 1 minute, but when I lowered the temperature they came out much better. I was looking for chocolate glaze, but again ended up with chocolate frosting. At best, I consider these a work-in-progress; 3-1/2 stars (which is not very good for a donut). Please fell free to add comments with suggestions about how to make the donuts fluffier and how to improve the consistency of the chocolate glaze.

they were just okay; 3-1/2 stars

Comments:

  1. The donuts are best eaten the day they are made. Without any preservatives these donuts became stale quickly, even when tightly wrapped in plastic. I’d suggest freezing half your donuts. When you are ready to eat them, heat them up in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $1.50 for 10 donuts, plus donut holes.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Huge.
Start time 9:00 AM. Dessert time 1:00 PM.

3/4 cups milk
5 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (14-1/2 ounces)

  1. Put milk and butter in micowaveable bowl or measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Alternatively you could melt it a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and butter until just melted. Then set aside.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of 110° water to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast and let stand 5 minutes.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the remaining milk and butter to standing mixer, then add the egg, sugar, salt and half the flour.
  4. Mix with dough hook on low, increasing to medium until well combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour on low, increasing to medium until dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour.
  7. Transfer dough to lightly floured  surface and roll out to 3/8″ 1/2″-thick. Use a donut cutter to create the donuts, pressing down firmly and rotating cutter at least 90-degrees to ensure a clean cut.
  8. Do not try to re-form the scraps to form more donuts, because the flour from the counter will prevent them from holding together. Instead you should make donut holes without adding additional flour.
  9. Transfer  the donut rings and donut holes to a lightly floured baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat oil in Dutch oven to 360°, about 15 minutes.
  11. Working with 3 or 4 rings at a time, gently place doughnuts in the oil.
  12. Cook for approximately 1 minute per side until lightly golden brown, being careful not to overcook. Use a slotted spoon and tongs remove from oil and allow some of the oil to fall back into the fryer for a few seconds, then transfer to a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to glazing.

Chocolate Glaze:

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate
3/4 cups powdered sugar

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate until fully melted.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and milk.
  3. Let cool slightly then dunk doughnuts.

 


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

April 4, 2012

Every day my peanut-loving son takes a PBJ sandwich and Nutter Butter cookies to school for lunch, so my son was especially interested in the outcome of this recipe. As I expected, he loved the cookies and said they were 10 times better than pre-packaged Nutter Butter. The crisp cookie was fresh and tender, not at all dried out, and the peanut butter filling really intensified the nutty flavor. 4-stars.

Final cookies were a home run for my peanut-loving son

  1. The recipe calls for raw peanuts, but after looking in 3 different supermarkets I wasn’t able to locate raw peanuts anywhere. In the end, I bought pre-roasted peanuts labelled as “party peanuts”, because the ingredient list was very simple. It appears to be a much better substitute than Planter’s.
  2. The recipe yields 35-ounces of filled cookies, a little more than two 16-oz packages of Nutter Butters.  The full retail price of Nutter Butters is $4.50 per pound, but I usually buy them when they are $2.50 per pound. So while this recipe won’t save a careful shopper any money, they are still worth making because they are fresher and free on weird oils and other additives; what is hydrogenated rapseed oil anyway.
  3. If you use a level tablespoon to measure out the dough, the recipe will make 24 filled-cookies; i.e. 48 halves. I slightly heaped my tablespoons and ended up with 18 slightly larger cookies; i.e. 36 halves.
  4. There was barely enough filling to fill all the cookies. I had to be careful and sometimes under-estimated and the filling didn’t make it all the way to the edges. Next time I will increase the filling by 20%, so that I don’t have to be so stingy with the filling. Also there are two other fillings available; milk chocolate filling or honey-cinnamon filling.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against using unsalted peanut butter in this recipe, but I have never seen unsalted peanut butter for sale in my main-stream supermarket.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $4.50 for 35-ounces.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Snack time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Cookies:
1 -1/4 cups toasted peanuts (6-1/4 ounces)
3/4-cup all-purpose flour (3-3/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (4-3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-3/4 ounces)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 large egg

Peanut Butter Filling:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (7-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (4 ounces)

  1. Set two rack to the upper-middle and lower-middle of your oven, and begin to pre-heat to 350-degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Add toasted peanuts to bowl of food processor and pulse 8 times until they become finely chopped.
  3. If a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  4. Put butter in another large bowl and microwave for 25 seconds until melted. Whisk together peanut putter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, milk and egg. Then add flour mixture and stir using a rubber spatula until well combined. Add the chopped peanuts and continue mixing until the peanuts have been evenly incorporated.
  5. Use a level (or ever so slightly heaping) tablespoon to measure out 12 mounds onto each of the two parchment-lined sheet pans. Moisten your hands with water and flatten each cooking into 2″ rounds.
  6. Bake at 350-degrees for 16 to 18 minutes, or until they turn a deep golden brown. Be sure to switch racks and rotate 180-degrees halfway through cooking.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet pans before moving them to a wire rack, where they will take an additional 30 minutes to completely cool.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 with remaining dough, though the recipe may not yield the full 48 cookie halves.
  9. For the filling, add butter and peanut butter to a medium bowl and microwave on high for 40 seconds. Use a rubber spatula to combine, then add confectioners’ sugar. Again, stir until there is no more powdered sugar.
  10. Because some cookies will be slightly different size, group them in pairs so that the two sandwich halves will be approximately the same size. Put 1 level tablespoon of the filling into the middle of one side of the sandwhcih, then put the second cookie on top and use a twisting motion until the filling works it’s way to the edges.
  11. It’s best to allow the filling to firm up for an hour before serving, but my son and I couldn’t resist and they were delicious, though the filling squished out a little.

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