Tag Archives: Baking

Life Is Too Short – Eat Dessert Before Dinner!

I recently had a dinner party for some good friends, so I was going to write about what I served for dinner. However, I was not feeling the love to talk about lamb this morning, so I decided to write about the dessert course before the main dish! After all, everyone loves dessert! 😉 (And the pictures are way better to look at, especially early in the morning!)

This is one of the best and easiest desserts that I make. It is Ina Garten’s Brownie Tart (click for the link to the recipe). I thought about baking a flourless chocolate cake, but I was not interested in buying 28 ounces of top-notch chocolate. I had already gone big time over the budget on this dinner party and was receiving many lectures from my hubby on how much I was spending on dinner (again!) This is a great alternative and a little less intrusive to your wallet.

The presentation is beautiful served on top of a small puddle of Creme Anglaise (click for the recipe, also by Ina Garten). Don’t drown it in the stuff, just a few tablespoons will do! The brownie tart is best served warm, but you can make it ahead. Pop the slices in the microwave for a few seconds to slightly warm up the yummy and gooey chocolate center before your serve it to guests!

I serve the creme anglaise chilled as a custard in the traditional manner (and not frozen, as the recipe suggests). Of course, making the ice cream version is delightful as well, but this is still my personal favorite. You can always find a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream (can you say fern bar dessert??). I know that a half of vanilla bean is optional in Ina’s recipe, but it really makes a difference. The vanilla flavor is much more pronounced and it certainly looks more attractive knowing that real vanilla is in the sauce!

There has been some discussion between several bloggers and chefs about the proper way to make creme anglaise. Should it be made with cream or milk? You can read this blog by Michael Ruhlman on the subject. I really did not know that it was such a hot topic!

I have made creme anglaise for many years and have always made it with whole milk. I find that when the custard is properly thickened there is no need for cream (at least not for the desserts I serve it with). The consistency is perfect. Besides that, who needs the extra calories? We eat enough fattening stuff around here! I would think that there might be times when making it with cream would be preferable, but I think this particular version is wonderful with the chocolate in the Brownie Tart.

This is a beautiful and easy dessert to make. It is perfect for a larger dinner party because it can serve between 10 and 12 guests (I think it is best served in smaller slices). You can bake it and make the creme anglaise in advance and assemble the plates when you are ready to serve your dessert. It is always a huge hit and looks fussier than the time it takes to make it. Most of my friends are not big cooks, so it is easy to fool them into thinking you spent many long hours preparing this dessert when you didn’t! 😉

I feel better already now that I have had my dessert first!

Bon Appetit!

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Filed under Baking, Brownie, Chocolate, Creme anglaise, Desserts, French, Recipes, Vanilla

Oh My Ganache!

THIS RECIPE IS A FINALIST IN THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING CONTEST IN ATLANTA! Judging is March 11 at The Cooks Warehouse!

I decided to do some baking and enter the Great American Baking Contest in Atlanta. This event and bake sale help to support efforts by Share Our Strength to end childhood hunger in America. This year marks the 3rd anniversary of the bake sale in Atlanta. The actual event is on Thursday, March 11th at Cooks Warehouse in Midtown Atlanta.

My hubby and I will attend so that we can get to taste all the goodies, support the effort and see who wins the best dessert in all the categories (professional, amateur (that would be me 🙂 ) and child baker.

I had been thinking about trying to create a cupcake that combined all my favorite things – dark chocolate, raspberries, mascarpone cheese and a little booze! Well, this is the winner!

I have baked a dark chocolate cupcake, filled it with a raspberry filling, glazed it with a dark chocolate ganache flavored with Chambord and topped it off with a decorative touch of mascarpone icing! There is nothing better than getting a bite of the cupcake with all the chocolate, raspberries and ever so slightly sweetened cheese. Oh, yum!

There are so many recipes for chocolate cupcakes out there. I know one of the favorites is Martha Stewarts’s One Bowl recipe. I say use whichever you prefer and then add the other goodies. I start with a recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated. I add a little espresso powder to really bring out the flavor of the 2 types of chocolate. I prefer this one since it only makes 12 cupcakes and I know I certainly do not need to have more than that number in my home!

Be sure to check these cupcakes for doneness at about 15 minutes. You want to underbake them just a bit!

Oh My Ganache!
Makes 12 Cupcakes

Cupcakes
8 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.
2. Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.
3. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.
4. Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add espresso powder, sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick. DO NOT overbeat the batter.
5. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out almost clean, 15 to 18 minutes.
6. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Raspberry Filling
1 10 oz. package frozen raspberries with sugar
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Thaw raspberries and drain. You should have almost 3/4 cup liquid/juice. Put liquid in a small saucepan and combine with sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Cook stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil and is very thick. Let cool. Stir in raspberries without the extra juice that drains further (you want the filling to be thick). Fill cupcakes by removing a small piece in the middle of the cupcake, fill hole with about 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling. Trim the piece you have cut out and place back over the filling in the cupcake. You can also pipe filling into the cupcake, however, this is pretty thick, so it is more difficult.

Chambord Ganache
3/8 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoon Chambord

Bring cream and butter just to a boil. Pour over chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk until glossy and smooth. Add Chambord. Let mixture sit 5 minutes to set before frosting cupcakes.

Mascarpone Frosting
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
3/8 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup whipped heavy cream

Beat together mascarpone cheese and sugar until smooth. Gently fold in whipped cream until combined. Place in a decorating bag and decorate tops of cupcakes as desired.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baking, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Great American Bake Sale, Mascarpone Cheese, Raspberries, Recipes, Share Our Strength

Forelle Pear and Almond Cakes with Muscat Wine Reduction

I saw a Forelle pear for the first time about a month or so ago at our local International Market. I must say that I had never even heard of a Forelle pear until that day. I knew of Seckel pears, but not Forelle pears. Well, of course, I had to buy a bag full and then decide what to do with them once I was home!

After some research, I did find out that they are a bit sweeter and larger than Seckel pears and their season runs from October to March. So, I decided we better cook and bake with them while we can! My husband tasted one as soon as it was ripe and he was hooked! I took a bite and they were so delicious!

I did see a few recipes online with a few types of small pears and some called for Forelle pears, however, they did not necessarily show off the pears themselves. Why slice these cute little pears on the top of a tart? I did, however, find a recipe at Epicurious for an almond cake with a poached Seckel pear tucked neatly inside. The recipe said you could substitute a Forelle pear cut in half, but why do that? I left the pear whole.

The original recipe is for making the cakes with the poached pears and reserving the Muscat reduction for another use. I made some changes and served the cakes with vanilla ice cream and drizzled both with the Muscat reduction. The pears had a delightful flavor from poaching and the cake had a texture and taste almost similar to a sweet cornbread. The Muscat reduction really added another layer of flavor to the pear cakes and ice cream.

It also would make a lovely dessert for guests since the presentation is so attractive and everything can be prepared in advance. One important note, you must serve this the same day you make it. The recipe says to serve within 8 hours. We had a few left over and tried to eat them the next day. The cake was still very good, but the pear was not very pretty on the inside, so be sure to either have enough guests to finish them off or do that yourself! 😉 Also, you would be wise to remove them from the ramekin once they are cooled, and not attempting to do it after only resting 10 minutes. They did not stick at all by allowing them to cool first.

Although the cakes were not as good the following day, I still had some Muscat reduction left, so I poured that over vanilla ice cream and we enjoyed it almost as much! I would definitely make the Muscat reduction again and serve it with the pears and ice cream as a simple and lovely dessert.

By the way, the original recipe made 12 cakes. I have changed the proportions to make 6 cakes.

Here is the recipe adapted from Epicurious:

Small Pear and Almond Cakes

Makes 6 servings

For poached pears
6 firm small Seckel pears (I used Forelle pears)
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup Muscat wine
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

For cakes
3/4 cup whole blanched almonds (4 oz.)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing ramekins
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt

Vanilla ice cream (use a really good one)

Special equipment: a small melon-ball cutter; 6 (4-oz.) ramekins

Poach pears:

Peel pears, leaving stems intact, then core from bottom with melon-ball cutter. Toss pears with lemon juice in a bowl as peeled, then arrange on their sides in a 10-inch heavy skillet. Add wine, butter, and lemon juice from bowl (liquid will not cover pears) and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until pears are just tender, 10 to 20 minutes (my pears were tender in 10 minutes). Transfer pears with a slotted spoon to a dish. Boil poaching liquid, uncovered, until just syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup, 12 to 15 minutes. Spoon syrup over pears and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Prepare cakes:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

Pulse almonds with 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor until finely ground, then transfer to a bowl (do not clean processor).

Process butter with 1/4 cup sugar in processor until pale and creamy, then pulse in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition, then pulse in almond mixture, flour, and salt until just combined.

Lightly butter and flour ramekins, knocking out excess flour, then arrange in a baking pan. Divide batter among ramekins (about a slightly rounded 1/2 cup per ramekin), then gently nestle a pear, leaning it slightly and pressing it very lightly, into batter in center of each cake. (Cakes will rise around pears as they bake.) Reserve reduced poaching liquid for another use serve it over vanilla ice cream!). Sprinkle pears and tops of cakes with remaining tablespoon sugar.

Bake, rotating pan halfway through baking, until cakes are just firm and pale golden with slightly darker edges, about 20 minutes.

Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of each cake and invert on a plate. (I let mine cool completely before removing). Turn cakes right side up and serve warm or at room temperature.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we did! It is a perfect dessert for a Wintry night!
This dessert was featured on Tastespotting today!

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Filed under Almonds, Baking, Cakes, Desserts, Ice Cream, Muscat, Pears, Poaching, Recipes, Wine

Renaissance Challenge – Handbag Cake!

I immediately thought of SHOPPING when I saw the post on the Renaissance Challenge hosted by Chickenless Kitchen! The challenge was to make a food item that looked like your hobby. My hobbies used to be shopping and then cooking (in that order), but the order has now been reversed! Most of my shopping (especially these days) is spent in the grocery stores and that counts as kitchen time! My other hobby (when I am not in the kitchen or on the computer) is to go shopping and check out all the latest clothes, shoes and handbags!

After taking on this challenge, I now remember why I am not a Wilton cake baking kind of gal, however, being the kind of shopping gal that I am, I decided to take on and complete the challenge anyway! I was aware going in to this that if I was going to do a theme cake, I had to do something pretty basic. My first bright idea was a shoe cake (since awesome shoes are my favorite single item to buy), however creating a shoe seemed a bit daunting (after all, as well as not being a cake gal, I am no Manolo!). Hmmm….a handbag….now I was on to something!

So, as any good Fashionista (that is not Foodista) would know, one of the most coveted handbags on earth is a bag with the two little C’s entwined – a Chanel handbag. I figured this would be a classic shape (ie. easy to make) and most recognizable since Coco Chanel was certainly a notable figure. Even if you don’t give a flip about clothes, you probably know who she is (how about perfume and make-up?) and have to admit that she truly was a fashion icon.

The last theme type cake that I made was of Mickey Mouse for my 4-year-old son (who will be 21 this year), so you will understand my expertise level in this area. That cake was baked in one large bowl (the head) and two smaller bowls (the ears!) and it also had black frosting (yuck!). So, if you are not entirely impressed with my latest foray in to cake baking, you might now know why. I make one every 17 years!

Anyway, I wanted to put forth the effort to take part in the Renaissance Challenge. It was fun to bake the cake and play around a bit. Now I even know how to make, dye and use gum paste mix and you never know when you might need that skill again!

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Filed under Baking, Cakes, Renaissance Challenge

English Scones

My husband is the scone baker in our home. He has a recipe from an old friend that was kind enough to share it with him many years ago. They usually appear once a year on Christmas day, but this year we had much activity in the kitchen as well as a coffeecake to nibble on, so they were served on New Year’s Day instead.

I was told to be very specific about how to make the scones since they can be over mixed or over cooked very easily. He has been doing this a really long time, so I will tell you what he told me about making perfect scones.

Be sure to mix all the dry ingredients together and then sift the dry ingredients before mixing them with the butter and milk/vanilla mixture. Gradually add the softened butter in by little bits by hand. Be careful not to mix too much. You want to have the little chunks of butter throughout the flour mixture.

You then gradually add the liquids to the dry ingredients, still mixing by hand (it is messy and sticky!). Just blend enough to get the dry ingredients wet and don’t be tempted to use a mixer.

The final texture should be just like the picture (yes, that sticky!). Drop them by rather large spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. You should have approximately 12 scones.

My hubby also said to really watch them in the oven and be sure not to overcook the scones. You want to get them out right before they turn golden brown. Depending on the size of the scone and the accuracy of your oven, this takes between 12 and 15 minutes.

He sometimes will add raisins to half of the batch. If you wish to add raisins, do so during the mixing of the liquid ingredients. They are yummy either way.

If you are truly English, or just feeling that way, you might want to serve these with clotted cream and tea. If you are American like us, you may enjoy a nice jam with your scones. We serve ours with raspberry jam.

Here is the top secret recipe:

English Scones

2 cups flour (we use unbleached all-purpose flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 dessert spoons sugar (the ones you eat with)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 oz. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
1/3 cup raisins (optional)

1. Sift dry ingredients together.
2. Gently blend in room temperature butter (in little pieces).
3. Add beaten egg throughout the mixture.
4. Add milk and vanilla and raisins (if using).
5. Spoon onto cookie sheet.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

I hope you enjoy baking the scones on these cold Winter days. They are great for lazy weekend mornings and for impressing company. They are also perfect with afternoon tea. Happy scone baking!

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Filed under Baking, Recipes, Scones