Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and since I haven't had it in so long, I was practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation for this week's TWD. I'd like to share with you my creme de la creme of creme brulee recipes: Ginger and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee. It's from Bon Appetit and it has 200 reviews with a 97% "would make again" score (which is quite high!). The ginger adds a dimension to this dessert which is very special and also a bit unusual. I've stuck to this recipe for the last few years and have found that it's easy to leave out the ginger and equally as easy to sub in other flavors, just like Dorie mentions in her book, as well. I couldn't wait to see how Ms. Greenspan's Creme Brulee stacks up against my favorite. Unfortunately, the custard part of Dorie's Creme Brulee sat in the oven for ages, barely baking at a wee 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The recipe calls for a baking time of 50-60 minutes "or until set." At 80 minutes, I got nervous and took it out, even though it was still a bit jiggly. I figured it would set a bit more in the refrigerator, as it should chill for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. I really love Baking: From My Home To Yours, and, of course, I adore Dorie Greenspan but this recipe just fell short for me. It's cloyingly sweet, and the vanilla extract seems to cheapen the taste. I know that makes me sound like a snot-nosed home baker, but the vanilla bean in the Bon Appetit recipe gives it much greater depth, it seems. It might follow the whole argument regarding recipes with very few ingredients: use the best components you can. Furthermore, I had the issues of baking it for so long at such a low temperature and not feeling like it quite set like it should. I refrigerated the custards for 5 hours and then made the crackly topping and found that the custard was not quite set. Although it was delicious, the custard was too loose to do it's job, which is to support that awesome sugary topping. I refrigerated another custard to see if it fared better after a 24 hour rest in the refrigerator. The next day, the custard was really perfect and I was much happier with the texture. But the sugar! It's as though the sugar became concentrated overnight and became tooth-achingly sweet, which did not sit well with me. I compared Dorie's sugar specifications to my Ginger and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee recipe and there's a bit more sugar in the Bon Appetit recipe, but also 2 extra egg yolks, which seems to dilute the sugar. Anyhow, the Bon Appetit recipe is still number one in my book. I'm glad I tried this week's TWD, though, and if you'd like to try too, check out Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home To Yours. Also, please visit the other TWD bakers to see how their Creme Brulees turned out! And, Thanks for a great choice, to our hostess this week, Mari, of Mevrouw Cupcake.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

It's been a while since I've participated in Tuesdays with Dorie. It's been so hectic for both Erin and me in the last month or so, which is why we had to take an unwanted hiatus. Way back in 2007, when we decided to start Smell The Basil jointly, we figured that if life got too busy for one of us, then, certainly the other would be available and capable of picking up the slack. Crazily enough, we both ended up moving at the exact same time and now, Erin's stuff is in storage, my stuff is in storage, and neither of us are able to cook or bake in the comforts of our own kitchens. It's frustrating to try to cook in other people's kitchen's, isn't it? I'm temporarily living at my parent's house, and I'm loathe to re-purchase any necessities since I know all my favorite pans, whisks, and fancy vanilla extract are patiently waiting for me in a cold, dark storage unit in Central Jersey.

Well, this week's recipe is so easy that I could participate in TWD even with my mom's bare-bones baking supplies. My mom hasn't touched a cookie sheet in years, but she does have a glass pyrex 8x8 dish and we lucked into loads of fresh prune-plums last week, everything needed to make this Dimply Plum Cake, chosen by Michelle of Bake-En. The batter was a cinch to put together and tasted pretty good, as well. It's the perfect breakfast treat, punctuated with a hint of cardomom and orange zest. The crumb is moist, but also firm and it sets up quite nicely.

The only downside is that the cake rose up and over the plums, mostly covering them, but they're in there, I promise! I'd make this again, for sure. For the full recipe, please check it out, either in Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking, From My Home To Yours," or visit Michelle's site! Thanks!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse

A while back, on another food blog, Bake or Break, I saw an outstanding chocolate dessert, a Chocolate-Glazed Hazelnut Mousse Cake. I spent days and nights thinking about this cake, but never had the courage to make it, mostly because the ingredient list and involved steps were intimidating. Um, so when I finally got a hold of the ingredients for this cake, I set to work and immediately fumbled. The shortbread base turned out overcooked and shrank so much, it didn't fit in the cake pan like it should. It was a mess and I'll spare you the details. But the mousse-- it was perfect. And no eggs, either, which is critical for me when making mousse. Something about raw eggs in many mousse recipes turns me off. This mousse had nary an egg, and big chocolate flavor with subtle nuances of hazelnut, thanks to Nutella. It was light and fluffy and impossible to keep my spoon out of. Full recipe after the jump.

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope)
3 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread such as Nutella (5 oz)
1/2 cup mascarpone (1/4 lb)
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over water in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat, stirring, just until gelatin is melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in chocolate hazelnut spread until combined and remove from heat.

Whisk together mascarpone and chocolate hazelnut mixture in a large bowl. Beat together cream, cocoa powder, and sugar in another large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed until just combined, then increase speed to high and beat until cream just holds soft peaks. Whisk one third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whipped cream until well combined. Spoon filling into ramekins, gently smoothing top, then chill, covered, at least 3 hours.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Daring Baker's August Challenge -- Chocolate Eclairs

I am late. I know it. This post was suppose to go up days ago when the rest of the Daring Baker's membership unvieled their eclair baking experiences during the past month. What can I say... life is super crazy. But, I was determined to make these all month, no matter what. So, make them I did... in stages.

That's what was nice about this recipe. The pastry cream, chocolate glaze and eclair dough can all be made seperately and put together at a later date. I made everything on Sunday and put them together last night. I will agree with some other Daring Bakers that the dough was really eggy. But I am not eclair expert so they still tasted fine to me. In fact, these could have been the first eclairs I have ever eaten.

(Funny thing would have it, Eddie told me last night that he is actually a huge eclair fan. I had no idea! He told me that when ever his family vacationed with his grandparents, he and his grandfather would seek out eclairs whereever they went and then compare notes.)

Knowing that these would end up being eaten by my coworkers I decided to make mini elclairs. So, my eclairs were only about 3 inches long and rather skinny. Pretty cute if I do say so myself. And, perhaps you will think so too.

Please check out our hosts this week, Tony and Meeta for the recipe.

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