Saturday, February 28, 2009

Raspberry Dacquoise

And one last Valentine's Day dessert for the month of Love: a Raspberry Dacquoise. I didn't even know what a dacquoise was until last month, when I read this recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini (still the food blog that I most faithfully read, although David Lebovitz's chocolate tempering post recently caused me to friend him on Facebook and become one of his 3000 friends, no joke). I'm not entirely sure that I do know what a dacquoise is even after having made one, but I'd like to think I made it successfully since I enjoyed eating it, as did my guests.

There seem to be many variations on the dacquoise riff, but here's how this one goes: you make a very thin cake of ground hazelnuts*, almonds, powdered sugar, and stiffly whipped egg whites. The cake gets cut out in the shape of a pastry mold** (another thing whose existence this recipe brought to my attention). You make a cream of whipped heavy cream, strained Greek yogurt, a tad of sugar, and a touch of vanilla, all thickened by gelatin. The cream gets spread into the pastry mold on top of the bottom layer of cake, and raspberries are lined inside the mold, around the edges and through the middle. Cream fills up the remaining mold space, leaving just enough room at the top for the top layer of cake. After some chilling time, you make some sort of stencil for the top, dust it with powdered sugar, and serve it to the rejoicing of your guests.

This is probably one of the most sophisticated and involved desserts I've ever made, and it was more than worth the purchase of the pastry mold and time required to make it. Now to find more dacquoise entremets to make, and more uses for the pastry mold!

*Whole Foods has ground hazelnuts, but they are $11.99 for 14 oz. I bought 16 oz. of whole hazelnuts at Trader Joe's and ground them myself in the food processor, and that 16 oz. was less than $5. I suggest you compare before buying!
**Sur La Table was the only store where I could find the pastry mold without going to a speciality or professional store. It was also called a square ring or mold, and at Sur La Table they were hung from the ceiling - I was lucky to find a salesperson who remembered they were there, after I had repeated the same description to them several times. Since I had never seen a mold in person, this was somewhat difficult! I recommend exploring your options online prior to purchasing, in order to expand the materials, shapes, and sizes available to you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Valentine's Marshmallows: Cinnamon, Rose, and Peppermint

Before February ends, I need to share more Valentine's Day treats for the month of Love. I made cinnamon, rose, and peppermint flavored guimauve (marshmallows) for a Valentine's party; the cinnamon were coated in red sprinkles and dipped in dark chocolate, the rose were tinted pink and drizzled with white chocolate, and the peppermint were layered with purple sprinkles and dipped in dark chocolate. I left a few plain hearts for the hot chocolate, as you see here, and all were a hit.

The cinnamon marshmallows dipped in chocolate are my new favorite: lightly spicy and reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate. So good!

Cinnamon marshmallows: flavor 1/2 marshmallow recipe with 4 tsp ground cinnamon dissolved in several tsp water.

Rose marshmallows: flavor 1/2 marshmallow recipe with 2 tsp rose water (for a light rose flavor)

Peppermint marshmallows: flavor 1/2 marshmallow recipe with 2-3 tsp peppermint extract (use 2 tsp if the marshmallows are not going to be dipped in chocolate; 3 tsp will stand up better to the chocolate, and the chocolate will take the sharp edge off the stronger peppermint)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dessert Sushi: A Concept in Process

I have decided to share this work-in-progress with you. Of course, this food has been made and eaten already, but the concept is not finished in my mind.

I've been thinking about the idea of dessert sushi for months, ever since I discovered that I could cut out my marshmallows into shapes and build things with them. Since the marshmallow is so versatile, I thought that I could make dessert sushi in the manner of California rolls, with the marshmallow serving as the "rice" on the outside, and all sorts of nice things to fill it up: ganache, salted caramel, nuts, fruit, coconut - you get the idea. And why not dust the outside with nice things as well to replace the sesame seeds?

So here's how it went this time:

I made the marshmallow in a thin layer and let it sit for a day, having dusted the initially sticky top side with roasted nuts and chocolate shavings. The next day, I cut it into sections that I estimated would roll into the right size, and started laying down the fillings. Pictured above is a layer of ganache on the marshmallow, with dried raspberries (rehydrated a tad) down the middle.

I had been concerned that the individual rolls would not hold together, but the marshmallow amazed me: it not only stretched around the fillings, it also stuck to itself when pinched, as long as the edge did not get moistened by the filling.

Here are the rolls, ready to be cut: pistachio-dusted with white chocolate and diced dried apricots and bing cherries in the middle, walnut-dusted with ganache and crushed coconut cream candies, almond-dusted with caramel and almond slivers, chocolate-shaving-dusted with caramel and ganache, and chocolate-shaving-dusted with ganache and dried raspberries (Not Pictured: the ugliest but perhaps tastiest roll that was the unfortunate guinea pig: pecan-dusted with caramel, ganache, and pecans. I got ambitious and tried to stuff it way too full!).

Here is the messiness that resulted. The rolls being soft and the fillings being of different consistencies, they were difficult to cut evenly. The caramel layer was too thick in most of them, so next time I would make the caramel in a larger pan, or just roll slivers of caramel in the center of some. I would have loved to put toasted shredded coconut in some, but was unable to obtain some prior to making these.

I think it did work to dip the bottom of each cut piece into melted chocolate in order to keep the rolls together, and I am glad that I stuck them in the fridge in order to make them harden quickly and keep the ganache cool. They just had to sit at room temperature a little while before serving so that the caramel could become chewable rather than cooled stiff.

So many things to consider for next time! I definitely plan to scale back the rolls by making the fillings thinner and cutting the pieces smaller (and neater, hopefully). I look forward to serving them on beautiful sushi plates sometime, each roll topped with a fresh raspberry, toasted coconut, or mint leaves, but meanwhile, these tasted good. The scheming will continue until I am satisfied.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nonfat Plain Frozen Yogurt at TJ's

My current favorite frozen dessert is a new item at Trader Joe's: Nonfat Plain Frozen Yogurt. As much as I want to avoid making my blog an advertisement for TJ's, I cannot deny that there is amazing stuff there...and that I need to make a pitch for this item before it disappears like a number of my other favorites (didn't anyone else like the frozen soba noodle entrée or the matcha green tea powder?).

If you're a fan of EuroTart/Pinkberry/Red Mango or other "pleasantly tart" frozen yogurts (the kinds with live active cultures in them), give this stuff a try. It's not soft-serve, but it's creamy and great with berries on top. Because it's low in fat and sugar, it's relatively low in calories, and can count as a serving of lowfat dairy. And they say those live active cultures are fabulous for your health, in some way or another. Really, I just like the way it tastes with strawberries. And straight from the carton.

So check your local Trader Joe's ice cream section! If it's too tart for you, at least you'll have TRIED a healthy dessert option, and you won't be able to blame me for only posting full-fat and sugar-laden goodies on my blog. And if this item lasts at TJ's, I may have to share my family mochi recipe, which is my other favorite yogurt topping.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crustless Vegetable Quiche

I've been eating this quiche all week and still haven't gotten tired of it; I think it's become one of my favorite egg dishes that I've made thus far. I got the recipe off the back of a soy cheese package and adapted it to the contents of my fridge, resulting in a healthy breakfast dish with nice body and flavor. This is a quick mix-and-bake recipe that yields a lot of servings, so enjoy the simple preparation and plentiful outcome! Vegetarian-, lactose intolerant-, low-carb-, and high-protein-friendly.

Crustless Vegetable Quiche

12 eggs
3 C nonfat plain yogurt
12 oz. shredded soy cheese or lowfat cheddar/jack cheese mix
5 slices high-fiber sandwich bread, de-crusted and cubed (I like Orowheat Double Fiber)
1 onion, diced
3 C vegetables, prepared as for stir fry (I used several types of kale)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T Italian seasoning mix (or any other seasoning mix you like)
sprinkling of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to preference

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9"x13" baking dish. Prepare the ingredients as listed. In a skillet on the stove top, pre-cook the onion and any tough vegetables (kale or other thick greens, etc. I would avoid broccoli in this vegetable mix, since it becomes overcooked and sulfuric quickly. Spinach, bell peppers, and mushrooms are examples of vegetables that do not need to be pre-cooked.).

Break all the eggs into a large mixing bowl and scramble them well. Stir in the yogurt, and then the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour into baking dish and bake for 40-60 minutes. Dish is done when the center is set (not jiggly anymore) and top is starting to brown.

Experiment with different cheeses, vegetables, and seasoning (fresh herbs, anyone?) according to the season!

I've still got one more serving for my breakfast tomorrow...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spice Cake and the Great Cheese Platter

What a food-busy week! In the midst of various other plots, I also created my first cheese platter for a vegetarian friend of mine. I thought that cheese would be a lavish treat for the non-vegan vegetarian, but I never imagined that my lactose intolerant self would fall so in love with it.

I raided Trader Joe's for Gorgonzola, light Havarti, smoked Gouda, herbed goat, medium cheddar, and mild creamy Brie, accompanied by Gala apples, D'Anjou pears, mango ginger chutney, sun-dried tomatoes, green olives, toasted baguette, and this lovely spice cake (stacked behind the baguette slices in the photo above). I was unsure of the spice cake's pairing with the cheese, until I started gorging myself on spongy cubes of spice cake with Brie...

Apparently this cake also worked with the cheddar, and it's quite nice on its own. Soft, moist, and springy, warmly spicy, it's a relatively healthy cake option with simple ingredients. Next time I may try this with all whole wheat flour, as it seemed light and moist enough to handle it.

Make the cake a day prior to serving it in order to let the spice and honey flavors bloom.

Spice Cake
(Pain d'Epice, from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook)

1 1/2 C nonfat milk
2/3 C honey
1/3 C mild-flavored dark molasses
1 C flour
1 C whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
optional: 1/4 C finely diced soft candied ginger OR candied orange peel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x5 inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Combine the milk, honey, and molasses in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and heat the mixture without boiling, stirring with a spatula until dissolved. Set aside and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Optional: In a small bowl, combine the ginger or orange peel with 2 teaspoons of the flour mixture.

Form a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the milk mixture slowly and whisk in a circular motion, starting from the center, until all the flour has been incorporated - the batter will be thin. Fold in the ginger or orange peel, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the surface is brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer pan to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the loaf, and unmold. Let cool completely, wrap in foil, and let rest at room temperature until the next day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Icing and Cupcake Decorating

I made cupcakes last week just because decoration ideas began to grow in my mind like weeds; although I normally save baking for occasions where others can eat my food, I just couldn't wait this time. Which means I had to invite people over spur of the moment to eat my food!

I found a recipe that was possible with the contents of my kitchen and set to work, consulting my scrap paper of scribbled notes as I planned out my flavors and decorations. These dark chocolate cupcakes came out in chocolate-orange, chocolate-caramel, and chocolate-walnut permutations.

More importantly, I got to play with my star, leaf, and round tips to produce these decorated cupcakes. I especially love this pile of leaf squigglies (above) and this cute pyramid of round plops (below).

I'll need to tinker with the cake recipe a tad more, but the dark chocolate buttercream icing pictured at the top of this post turned out great. Here 'tis!

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Icing

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 C powdered sugar
2 T cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. melted semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
pinch salt

Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly add the powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Beat in the cocoa powder, vanilla, melted chocolate, and salt. Turn the speed up to medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Try it with white chocolate sometime!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toblerone Fondant Cake

Seeing as how I've watched Stranger than Fiction twice this week (which always reaffirms that baking for me equals happiness, love, and revolutionary principles), I figured I better start sharing the Sweet Foodie Love that often complements Valentine's Day. This recipe is the perfect decadent chocolate treat for the ones you love!

Said fondant cake came to my attention on a French food blog that I've started reading, Les Sucreries de Bulle. A fondant cake, unlike fondant icing that is used to coat cakes with a smooth finish, is somewhat like a molten chocolate cake's consistency in the middle when it comes out of the oven. The cake is baked more like a brownie than a cake - a knife or toothpick should come out moist with batter as below, not clean. Once the cake cools, its interior is smooth, dense, and creamy. When I first made this cake, I told myself that I had made the best chocolate cake of my life thus far.

And, not insignificantly, it gave me a chance to use my happy new red digital kitchen scale (thanks, PP!) which I have been employing as frequently as possible since Christmas. The amounts below are both in weight and volume measurements to accommodate your scale-status.

So buy some high-quality chocolate (it'll be worth it!) and get that double boiler out...

Toblerone Fondant Cake

30 g flour (1/4 C and 1 tsp)
150 g unsalted butter (1 cube & 3 T)
150 g sugar (3/4 C)
210 g dark chocolate (try to get 76% cacao Valrhona at Trader Joe's for affordable good quality)
150 g Toblerone
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare an 8 inch round cake pan or springform pan by greasing it and lining it with parchment paper on the bottom. Melt your dark chocolate in a double boiler. Break the Toblerone into pieces (any size you like; big chunks if that's what you want!). Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the flour. Mix in the melted chocolate, and then add the Toblerone. Bake for 40 minutes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Macaron Guide to the Bay Area

It's amazing the sensations a photo can evoke: I just look over these photos, and I can feel the texture of the macarons in my mouth. Either I've eaten too many macarons recently, or the memory is too good to forget!

Consulting this now much-used list (thanks, M!), I made my way through all of the Bay Area macaron bakers and more. In the process, I also fell in love with San Francisco AND spread the good news of Parisian macaron tasting to a few more friends and family members, an outcome that only increases my enjoyment (food is meant to be shared, non?).

There were only 2 San Francisco bakeries on the list, and one in Napa Valley (hello, Thomas Keller!), but with a bit of help, I found one more place in SF to sample. Perhaps there are others, but this is what my first tasting of the Bay Area brought up.

I will start with the disappointments. Miette, bag pictured above, is a darling bakery shop in the Ferry Building whose super cute productions like the old-fashioned cupcake here certainly merit a taste. I bought this cupcake out of sheer admiration for its beauty! Miette's macarons, however, were not the best I've had. They were not the worst either; they were simply mediocre in texture. The grapefruit flavor macaron was good in flavor, even though it sounds odd, so try it if you're going for interesting flavor over texture. And any foodie will enjoy the Ferry Building's abundant mushroom, cookie, cheese, wine, chocolate, and meat shops, regardless of macarons.

Pâtisserie Phillipe was empty when I walked in, an ominous sign which was confirmed at my first bite. These meaty macarons were anything but the delicate love I hope for in a macaron, and the cassis (tart blackberry-ish flavor) was more unnaturally flavored than cassis-flavored. Sigh, in spite of the nice service.

But there is good news: San Francisco boasts a bakery for which I would move into the city. I loved it, and its atmosphere, and the French lady who served me so much that I went back a second time before leaving town. And did I mention the fact that their macarons had the best texture in the Bay Area? You must promise me to visit the Bay Bread Group's La Boulange the next time you are in SF.

The bakery on Pine Street has the feeling of a neighborhood bakery, where people walk with their dogs on Sunday morning or double park their cars while they run in for a pain au chocolat. The group also owns sit-down bakeries and restaurants, which I plan to try on my next visit. They definitely reminded me how lovely macarons look when well-packaged (cf. Paulette in Beverly Hills, whose macarons in their adorable box look MUCH, MUCH better than they taste). So, La Boulange wins the award for most delicately-textured macarons in the Bay Area.

The flavor award, however, goes to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley. Another cute box, too! The line at the small bakery was out the door on Sunday afternoon, but it moved quickly enough as we surveyed the goods. These macarons were meaty in texture, again, and big enough at $3 apiece (after $1.50 for each in the city) that I almost felt like I was eating a small hamburger. If I had not been looking for lightness in these delicacies, though, they would have been fabulous. The pistachio in particular blew the other bakeries out of the water with its natural and clean flavor.

I really would have to move to San Francisco if Thomas Keller would just have a conversation with La Boulange about macaron technique! Until then, Pierre Hermé has nothing to worry about.