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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

Yum! Yum! Tom Yum Soup

I have had a real craving lately for hot and spicy dishes (no, I am not expecting). I have been trying to eat healthier foods, so sometimes a little spice or heat adds the flavors that I miss from my “usual” cooking. So, I have been going back into the archives to retrieve some oldies and goodies that I knew would satisfy that craving!

I first discovered one of my favorite hot and spicy soups about 6 years ago when we had some friends come to visit us for a weekend. The husband brought all the goodies to cook a Thai dinner for us the first evening. I could not tell you what exactly he cooked for the main dish. I do know that it was some traditional Thai dish and it was made in a wok. I can, however, tell you that he made one awesome Tom Yum Soup that night! It was really off the charts on the hot and spicy meter (we all had beads of perspiration on our foreheads!), and the flavors were fabulous!

I had never had Tom Yum Soup until that weekend. I had my usual Thai favorites that I always ordered out in a restaurant (Pad Thai (naturally), basil rolls, chicken satay, Thai green curry, etc.), but I rarely ordered soup because it is too much food for me with all the rice, etc. But now that I was a devotee, I had to find out what was in this stuff and make it myself! My neighbor actually used a lot of dried ingredients that evening (lemon grass, Thai chilis, etc.) because even a few years back it was far more difficult to locate all the fresh ingredients.

Needless to say, there was some trial and error in the process to find the perfect Tom Yum Soup. At one point I found a pretty decent recipe with all the right flavors, but I still wanted to do better. I even ordered Tom Yum Soup at a few Thai restaurants and felt that they were not all that good. The kick was missing. What I was making at home was far better (so said my hubby). My friend said that he really did not have a particular recipe (just in case you are wondering). He made it a bit different most every time he made it, depending on what ingredients he could find.

Regardless of the recipe, most of them had similar ingredients. And because it was more difficult several years ago for me to find some of the key ingredients, I would chop up lemon grass and freeze it when I did find it so that it would be on hand if I decided I wanted it and it was not available fresh. I did the same with Kaffir lime leaves and galanga root. I would suggest doing that if you happen to come across these things. They last a long time in the freezer and they are key ingredients in so many Thai dishes. I know that it is much easier now to locate specialty items. I am fortunate enough to have an International market not far from home if Whole Foods does not have what I need. However, Murphy’s Law always occurs when you are looking for something and you will not be able to find it, so just freeze it so it is always on hand in case you have the craving (and this soup is something you will crave!).

I finally located the perfect recipe in an older cookbook (1996). The book is The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking by Mai Pham. Her soup is actually called Yummy Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup, but it is definitely identical to Tom Yum Soup if you have ever had it and this is the best recipe I could find years ago. There are many versions of this soup online these days, but I still prefer this one. We also add chicken to the soup (Tom Yum Kai is the same soup base with chicken instead of shrimp). However, we have found that we enjoy it far more with both chicken and shrimp. It also becomes a much heartier soup with both. Here is my adaptation.

Yummy Hot and Sour Soup

2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 tsp. ground chili paste
1 fresh red Thai chili, sliced (discard the seeds if you want less heat)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or canola oil
1/2 lb. raw medium shrimp, peeled and rinsed (reserve the shells) – I use more shrimp than the original recipe.
5 cups homemade unsalted or canned low-sodium chicken stock (I use Swanson’s Organic)
1 small skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/4 strips (optional – see note)
1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 1 inch pieces and bruised with the back of a knife
3 thin slices galanga
3 Kaffir lime leaves
3 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 cup sliced fresh white mushrooms (or straw mushrooms if you can find them)
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
10 fresh Thai basil leaves
5 fresh cilantro springs, chopped

Note – The original recipe does not call for the chicken, but we tried it and enjoyed it with both chicken and shrimp. It you use the chicken, you can cut the shrimp back to 1/3 pound.

* If you cannot find Kaffir lime leaves, you can use a little zest of fresh lime to taste. You can substitute regular basil for the Thai basil, but the soup will have a slightly different flavor. There really is no substitute for galanga root. Apparently, some stores may sell dried pieces, but search for the fresh root if possible.

Place the garlic, shallot, chili paste, chili, cilantro, and peppercorns into a mortar and pound into a paste. (I usually start the mixture in a mini food processor to break it down and then use the mortar and pestle).

Heat the oil in a soup pot over moderate heat. add the shrimp shells and brown until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the spice mixture to the pot and heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the chicken stock and the chicken pieces (if you are using chicken) and let simmer for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shells and discard.

Add the lemon grass, galanga, lime leaves, fish sauce, brown sugar, mushrooms, and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook until almost done, about 2 minutes. (Shrimp will continue to cook, so do not overcook). Remove from heat and add lime juice, basil and cilantro. Serve piping hot.

This is a wonderfully flavored, hot and sour soup. You can certainly adjust the heat by reducing the amount of fresh chili, chili paste or peppercorns. My hubby likes it really hot, so I prepare it as above. If the fresh chili is small, I will throw the whole thing in, otherwise, I may leave all or some of the seeds out of the soup.

The soup is also filled with all sorts of yummy flavorings that you probably do not want to eat, so you will be fishing out the lemongrass and lime leaf pieces, but it is so worth it! The best version is truly made with all the authentic ingredients, so find them if you can!

Tom Yum Goong on Foodista

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Filed under Recipes, Soups, Thai