IMG_4997 by you.

 

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.  We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.   I thought last month’s challenge was simple, but this month wins for the most minimalist of all recipes attempted for Daring Bakers Challenge thus far.  When there are only three ingredients, the quality of the three is paramount.  I used E. Guittard dark chocolate and as I was forwarned, the cake tasted exactly like the chocolate used. 

This month I had a slight cake disaster, and as I completed the challenge the day before the posting date, I had neither the time nor the inclination to make another cake.  Here’s what I learned:

  •  Use an 8″ (or larger) pan.  I thought that the recipe called for an 8″ heart pan, which seemed to me to translate to a 7″ pan.  I even scoured my local kitchenware store for the non-standard sized 7″ spring form cake pan.  It made the cooking time longer to have such a deep cake, not to mention the cake’s precariously rising above the edge of the pan.

IMG_4982 by you.

  • Do not unmold the pan after 10 minutes, as the recipe calls for.  My cake oozed out immediately after being freed from its form.  And like toothpaste, you can’t put it back in the tube.  It would have been fine it I had simply let it cool completely in the pan.

 

IMG_4986 by you.

Oh dear.

 

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

IMG_4970 by you.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

 

IMG_4977 by you.

My son, the chocoholic,  thought the cake smelled heavenly.

 

 Dharm’s Ice Cream Recipe
Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

 

Ingredients
1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat)
{you can easily increase your cream’s fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted – cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed.  Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways.  Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up.  Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.  3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl.  Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon.  Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container.  Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

IMG_5001 by you.

We were required to make an ice cream to accompany the dense cake, and I opted for a classic vanilla bean recipe, using organic cream and milk.   The verdict?  Decadently rich, a sliver of this cake goes a long way, even for self-admitted chocoholics.  Thanks to this month’s hosts for a wonderful challenge!

IMG_3700 by you.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberryand Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.  They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.  I was this close to skipping this month’s challenge as I was up to my eyeballs in cocktail parties, cookie baking, gift shopping and holiday meal preparations.  I certainly was not up for step-by-step photographs of an 18 page long recipe, even if I did decide to brave this month’s challenge.  In spite of the daunting nature of the tome they were passing off as a recipe,  I decided that this buche de noël was going to be the perfect dessert for Christmas Eve. 

The recipe is available here for those brave enough to tackle this time-consuming but exquisite dessert.  Just be prepared to go through ungodly amounts of cream, eggs and butter.   Also realize you will dirty every single bowl, whisk, pan, food processor, stand mixer, and hand mixer that you own.  And maybe some of your neighbor’s as well.

A few things I learned while making this dessert:

  1. Planning goes a long way.  Always read the recipe completely (all 18 pages) before starting.
  2. Let the yule log thaw completely before attempting to cut and eat it.  (or photograph it for that matter).
  3. caramel + chocolate (mixed together) = heaven on earth

I made all 6 elements of the recipe (mousse, creme brulee insert, praline (crisp) insert, ganache insert, dacquoise biscuit, and icing) exactly as suggested, with no variation as I was still Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  I also had no time to make pretty decorations (hence the sprig of holly plopped on top) and I especially had no time to wait for the yule log to come to room temperature.  I like to think the frost on the chocolate icing is in keeping with the wintry “Jack Frost” feel.

IMG_3703 by you.

My husband, who has tasted all of my culinary endeavors, proclaimed this was the most delicious thing I have ever made.  Too bad my photos couldn’t do it justice.

IMG_3242 by you.

After a savory Challenge last month, I was ready for a diabetic coma-inducing sweet dessert and this month’s challenge delivered. This challenge was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiousity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food, and the amazing cake recipe was created by Shauna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  I was forewarned that the cake and frosting may be overly sweet for some, so I decreased the amount of sugar and increased the fluer de sel accordingly.  The end result was a rich, moist cake with a sweet, creamy frosting.  I used the optional caramel (see recipe below) to decorate the cake with floral accents.   I then drizzled some of the leftover caramel syrup over the cake slices, which some might consider overkill, but my children sure didn’t. 

CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

IMG_3167 by you.

CARAMEL SYRUP

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.

IMG_3160 by you.

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS (from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, 2007)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

IMG_3170 by you.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

IMG_3172 by you.

I used two small floral cookie cutters to cut the caramel to decorate my cake.  And to mask the lumpy icing job.

IMG_3214 by you.

 

When the Daring Bakers challenge for July was revealed (graciously hosted by Chris of Melecotte), I have to admit I didn’t squeal with excitement.  As much at the cake itself sounded absolutely delicious, cake decorating is a skill I just don’t possess and no matter how many cakes I make, they all end up looking a little lopsided with bumpy frosting and uneven piping.  But not one to walk away from a challenge, I tried to think of a way I could forgo star tips but still use the required buttercream. 

With a cakestand like that, how could I possibly pass on an Indian-inspired cake? 

I eventually hit upon the idea for a henna design for the cake for several reasons:  the busy design would hide a multitude of sins in my ganache (which I knew would never be smooth and flawless), I have a good hand for free-form drawing, and it’s pretty.  The best laid plans, however, have a way of going very awry, and my cake and buttercream just didn’t behave.

Things I learned on this Daring Bakers Challenge:

  1. Do not buy no-name cheap butter.  And for goodness sake, do not try to clarify said cheap butter.
  2. Do not try to do delicate piping with buttercream that actually had solids in it that can and will clog the tip.
  3. Do not try to take the skins off 4 cups of hazelnuts at one time (unless you like standing by the sink rinsing hazelnuts and your hands for an hour and are on very good terms with a chiropractor).
  4. I need to buy a better food processor.

And now for the amazing 4 page recipe that took 2 days to complete:

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds.  Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture.  You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process.  Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar.  It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step.  When finished, the mixture should be ribbony.  Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind.  Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so.  Continue to beat for another ½ minute. 
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.*  Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds.   Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter.  Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon.  **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter!  It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan.  Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan.  Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake.  *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream.  Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine.  Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved.  The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute.  Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My  buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed  butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet.  Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals.  If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides.  Cook until the mixture starts to bubble.  **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor.  Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place.  Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm.  If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms.  While warm – great fudge sauce.  While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ – 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil.  Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate.  Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake.  Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream.  Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake.  Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake.  Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely.  Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings.  Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center.  Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance.  The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”.  Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Licking the chocolate ganache off the pan:  does life get any better?

 

So even though I was forced to use a larger #4 piping tip, rather than the delicate #2 I had planned on, I wasn’t terribly disappointed in the henna design.  (I especially like the photos when I shrink them down to 10%.)  After letting the cake firm up in the fridge for a few hours, I cut clean slices while it was very cold.  I then brought the cut slices to room temperature, which (unlike the recipe which says to keep the cake out for 3 hours) in this July heat wave, took all of 10 minutes. 

The verdict?  The genoise had a wonderful crunch which satisfied the nut-lover in me, while the buttercream had the most unexpected bite of the unbroken bits of caramelized sugar and hazelnuts.  This genoise was moister the jaconde from the Opera Cake from May and more “cake-like.”  My often picky husband gave it the thumbs up.  On to August’s Challenge!

Let them eat cake!  My Marie Antoinette-inspired opéra cake.

This was my very first Daring Bakers Challenge and what a month to join!  We were to create an opéra cake, a French pastry traditionally done in chocolate and coffee flavors.  It usually consists of five components:  a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse).  However, in honor of the season, we were not allowed to use any dark colors or flavors. 

I am not a trained chef – I’ve never even taken a cake decorating class.  I mused on how to make my cake different from the hundreds of other Daring Bakers, some of whom are professional bakers and chefs.  Hmmm …. opera … Phantom of the Opera … French pastry … aha!  I have it!

Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, Halloween 2005

I had created Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI costumes for my children several years ago, pre-dating Sophia Coppola’s visually delicious Marie Antoinette (2006).  How could I not use a palette inspired by the doomed queen infamous for her alleged love of cake?

 My little homage to Kirsten Dunst as Marie-Antoinette.

 

I settled on raspberry buttercream, partly for the taste and partly for the color.  The almond in the joconde led me naturally to flavor the syrup and ganache with Amaretto.  I chose to tint the glaze with a single drop of blue candy dye to tie in the color palette I was striving for.  The glaze was a bit sweet and the next time I make this, I will definitely make the layer of glaze very thin (1/8″ thick).  The joconde was delightfully substantial on the teeth (translation:  it had a slight crunch), the raspberry buttercream sweetly creamy with the hint of tartness, the white chocolate ganache ethereally light and the white chocolate glaze richly gooey and sweet.  All the elements melded in my mouth to create a symphonic movement, dare I say, of operatic proportions. Così fan tutte?  I am not sure, but I think Marie-Antoinette would have approved.

 

Raspberry Amaretto Opéra Cake

Part I: The Joconde

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 Tbsp.  granulated sugar
2 C. ground blanched almonds
2 C. powdered sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ C.  all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp.  unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.  Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.  Preheat the oven to 425◦F. 

3.  Line two 12½ x 15½- inch jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.  If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.  Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!).

7.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.  Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.  Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.  Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

 

Part II:  The syrup 

½ C. water
⅓ C. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. of amaretto

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.    Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.  The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.

 

Part III:  The buttercream

1 C. sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbs. of strained fresh raspberry puree
Put the sugar and the egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.  The sugar will be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.  Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.  Switch to the paddle attachment, if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.  Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and smooth, 6 -10 minutes.  During the time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.  On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice and raspberry juice/puree, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more and then the vanilla.  Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream if you want to set it aside.

 

Part IV:  The white chocolate ganache (mousse)

7 ounces white chocolate
1 C. plus 3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Amaretto

Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.  Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of Amaretto to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.  The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.

 

Part V:  The glaze

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ C. heavy cream

Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream in a small saucepan. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.  Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake.  Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.  Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

 

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note:  The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total):  two 9.5″  squares and two 9.5 x 4.75″ rectangles.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavored syrup.

Spread about half of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

 

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

 

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour it over the top of the chilled cake (be careful not to let it cool too much or else it won’t pour nicely).  Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.  Using a hot knife, cut the edges in sawing motions to make clean edges.  Serve the cake slightly chilled and cut into long, thin rectangular slices. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

 

Eating the edges is my son’s favorite part. 

 I wrote “Opéra” in melted white chocolate on parchment paper and placed the hardened writing on to the slices of cake. 

 

 The final product

 

Au revoir!