Friday, January 7, 2011

Lime Kefir Frozen Yogurt

My lovely siblings gave me an ice cream maker for Christmas! Another opportunity for scheming. I'm not an experienced ice cream maker, and in fact unsuccessfully attempted an ice cream recipe twice in October, so I feel like I need to work up to making actual ice cream. I made this lemon kefir ice cream a few years ago, and very much liked it.

It is the simplest of frozen dessert recipes: mix, refrigerate, mix, freeze - no cooking required. And it's probably the healthiest of frozen desserts, since it's low-fat and only sweetened by agave syrup.

Lime Kefir Frozen Yogurt

1 2/3 cups kefir (or other fermented milk, or buttermilk, or plain yogurt; low fat makes it icier)
the zest from two limes, microplaned or very finely chopped
1/4 cup lime juice (a little less than the yield of the 2 zested limes)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons agave syrup (or the sweetener of your choice -- maple syrup, rice syrup, honey, or a mix of honey and sugar)
a good splash of rum (or lemoncello, or cachaça) (optional)

Makes about 1/2 liter (1/2 quart).

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Cover, refrigerate for an hour until well chilled, and churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Let it firm up in the freezer in a plastic container; mine took about a day to be firm enough to form scoops, since the mixture is low in fat and my freezer is not the coldest. Has an icy, sorbet-feel to it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pistachio Cake with Honey Buttercream Frosting

I have to admit, I first bought Baked Explorations for my mom's Christmas gift, then decided she would prefer a more classic reference cookbook over these "reinvented" recipes, then gave Explorations as a gift to another friend. As I poured over the recipes with her, I realized that I had to have it - and promptly ordered one for myself. This pistachio cake, inexplicably called Aunt Sassy Cake in the book, was one that caught my friend's eye. I must have gotten cake envy at that point, because suddenly I wanted to make it.

So I did. Just because I wanted to.

A generous taster compared this cake to a fine scotch; my family called it "subtle"; another taster ate for a bit and agreed "it's subtle, and I like it." I say I LOVE it, but it may not appeal to everyone in the whole world - it's not your typical American cake, even though it comes from this cookbook, and is not super sweet nor obvious in its flavor. It does taste like pistachio, even though it is not artificially-colored bright green, and I think that's a good thing. What's more, the ever difficult-to-achieve texture of the scratch cake is rendered light and fine by the nuts and the shortening (just find a trans-fat-free version, they do exist!). I took care with the mixing of the cake batter, and was pleased with the results.

Everyone agreed that the frosting is a keeper; it is the first cooked buttercream I've ever made, and the texture is fabulously smooth and light. The honey flavor is clean but not overwhelming, and would pair very well with a banana cake. It's a little more time-consuming than uncooked buttercream, but it is not difficult to make and worth the wait.

Pistachio Cake with Honey Buttercream Frosting
aka Aunt Sassy Cake from Baked Explorations

1 C shelled pistachios (unsalted roasted gave a good flavor)
2 1/2 C cake flour
3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C vegetable shortening
1 3/4 C sugar
1 T pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 large egg whites, at room temperature*
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Honey Vanilla Buttercream:
1 1/2 C sugar
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C whole milk
1/3 C heavy cream**
1 1/2 C (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 T honey

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust the parchment with flour and knock out the excess flour.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons' worth of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery - but not a superfine dust. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together over the large bowl containing the pistachio mix. Stir to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low.

In a measuring cup, make 1 1/2 C ice water (for a total of 1 1/2 C of liquid). Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (You can do this by hand. Don't be intimidated, it should only take 2 to 3 minutes). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (if you use 9-inch pans, check the cake at 35 or 40 minutes). Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes at least 7 to 9 minutes of mixing; you can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or frozen corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Cake Assembly:
Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 C frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up (This is known as crumb coating and will help to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake). Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to firm it up before serving.

This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is cool and humidity free. Otherwise, put it in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

*if you only have extra large eggs, use the one whole egg, but reduce the egg whites to two.
**I didn't have whole milk, so I used 1 C of 1% milk, and increased the heavy cream to 1/2 + 1/3 C (don't make me add fractions!).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mississippi Mud Pie

I actually spelled out M-I-SS-I-SS-I-PP-I in my head as I typed the title of this post. I love how some mnemonics stick with you for life - it gives me hope that I'll at least remember one word per language I study over the course of my life!

Unlike the language details that gradually slip away out of disuse, I know that I will remember this pie. It participated in a dear yearly ritual: ringing in the New Year with my own set of Woo Girls. As I've said to many of my friends, I have always found New Year's a disappointing holiday - until I started spending it with my Woo Girls. This was our third celebration together, and it just gets better every year. And this pie was...the icing on the cake? Or something like that. In any case, it was rich, good, and easy - just allow time for each layer to set, and you'll be enjoying the yumminess before you know it.

This recipe is from my Christmas gift to myself, Baked Explorations. Coming out of the NYC bakery Baked, it is full of rave-reviewed recipes that are new takes on classic American baked goods. The photos are gorgeous, the reinventions creative, and for once I want to make the entire pie/tart section of a cookbook - and I'm a cake girl!

A few notes:
  • Be aware that American desserts mean butter, cream, corn syrup, and even shortening sometimes.
  • I would use the unsalted butter as indicated; I did not, due to butter availability in the kitchen, and the dessert tasted salty to me. There is plenty of salt in the cookies to complement the sweetness of the filling.
  • Each layer of the pie needs time to set in the refrigerator or freezer, so make sure to build that waiting time into your plans. I've bolded the waiting time in the recipe below.
  • Let the finished pie sit in the freezer long enough for each layer to come to a consistent hardness; we were in a rush to eat the pie, so the ice cream was not as solid as the fudge layers, which I found harder to eat since it squashed out of the middle.

That being said, here's the first pie I tried from Baked Explorations (to be shortly followed by the first cake):

Mississippi Mud Pie (there I go again spelling it!)
from Baked Explorations

Chocolate Cookie Crust Ingredients:
30 chocolate wafer cookies, about 6 oz.
1 T granulated sugar
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling Ingredients:
4 oz. dark chocolate (60-72%)
1/4 C plus 1 T heavy cream
3 T unsalted butter
2 T light corn syrup
1 C confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 T Kentucky bourbon
1 pint good-quality coffee ice cream
1/2 C toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Bourbon Fudge Topping Ingredients:
2 T heavy cream
2 T unsalted butter
1 T light corn syrup
3 oz. good-quality dark chocolate (60-72%)
1 tsp Kentucky bourbon

1. Chocolate Cookie Crust
Pulse the wafer cookies into fine crumbs with a food processor (if you don't have a food processor, place the cookies in a heavy duty ziplock bag and beat them with a rolling pin - but beware of holes in the bag!). Makes about 1 1/2 C. In a mixing bowl, stir together the crumbs and sugar.
Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and mix well. Transfer the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press it into the bottom and up the sides. Use the back of a large spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup to get an even crust. Set the crust aside in the refrigerator.

2. Filling
Place the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, butter, and corn syrup to a simmer. Remove the mixture from the heat, pour it over the chocolate, and let sit for 1 minute. Then whisk the chocolate mixture until it is completely smooth. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar and bourbon.
Spread the fudge evenly over the bottom of the pie crust, cover it, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Soften the coffee ice cream by placing the container in the microwave for 10 seconds on high. Put it into a large bowl and use a rubber spatula to beat it until it is slightly malleable. Spread the ice cream over the chilled fudge filling, sprinkle it with pecans, gently pressing them into the ice cream, and freeze the pie for about 1.5 hours, or until the ice cream is firm.

3. Bourbon Fudge Topping
In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the cream, butter, and corn syrup together until the mixture begins to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Whisk until the fudge is smooth - if you still have a few stray chocolate chunks, reheat the mixture over very low heat until they are completely melted. Stir in the bourbon.
Beat the fudge topping until it reaches room temperature, and pour it over the ice cream and pecan layer in a zigzag pattern. Freeze the Mississippi Mud Pie until it is set, about 20 minutes. To serve the pie, cut it with a warmed sharp knife.

The pie will keep in the freezer, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

Happy New Year indeed!