Archive for August, 2009

27
Aug
09

A lesson in decadence – homemade ice cream and chocolate peanut butter cake

This week has been a lesson in decadence indeed…. So far I’ve made two of the creamiest creations in my short baking experience in the last couple days!  Ah, and what fun it is to see people innocently enjoy the fruits of my labor 🙂  Surprisingly, these desserts were quite simple to make… I just wouldn’t recommend eating them every week unless you have the metabolism of Michael Phelps.

The first dessert I will spotlight is just plain homemade ice cream.  Well, not entirely plain, as I added some macerated strawberries to the mix to give it a bit more flavor.  Thanks mom for the great ice cream machine for my birthday 🙂  I just had to put it to good use immediately, much to the delight of my coworkers.  Normal ice cream is actually quite easy to make, though I eventually plan to expand my repertoire to more complex frozen desserts such as sorbet and gelato.  But we all need to get started somewhere, right?

I remember making ice cream from scratch in middle school using a big oatmeal can and rock salt.  Wow, sure that was fun, but what a lot of work!  And I’ve even seen modern ice cream machines require the use of a crank or something… maybe good exercise, but come on, we live in an era of convenience now 🙂  Thanks to my new trusty Cuisinart, ice cream can be made in 20 minutes with little more than a flip of a switch!  Ah… technology.  Sometimes it makes me actually appreciate engineering.  Well, almost.

Homemade strawberry ice cream

Homemade strawberry ice cream

Next up, I was asked to bake a birthday cake for my most gracious and knowledgeable bible study leader, Chris Jee.  Hm, seeing as there probably would be more than 20 people attending this surprise potluck, I decided on a very rich birthday cake that I’ve been meaning to make for a while but never mustered the courage.  With the birthday cake slices most likely cut thin, the richness of this cake should be able to appease even the greediest sweet tooth.  To put in a nutshell, the three layers of cake are made of super moist chocolate sour cream batter.  These layers are then connected with a filling and initial frosting of peanut butter cream cheese.  This is chilled then covered with another layer of peanut butter semisweet ganache.  And finally, I sprinkled generous amounts of toffee bits on top.  If you’re getting worried about the health of these servings… well, satisfy that part of your mind with the knowledge that there isn’t really too much sugar involved in this cake.   Then serve yourself a slice of this most decadent dessert guilt free 🙂

Three layers of moist chocolate cake, coated with the PB Cream Cheese, covered with ganache :)

Three layers of moist chocolate cake, coated with the PB Cream Cheese, covered with ganache 🙂

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16
Aug
09

Chiffon Cakes – for the health conscious

When it comes to cakes, there are really two different types that exist on either end of a spectrum; most other cakes fall somewhere in between.  I am referring to butter cakes versus foam cakes.  Butter cakes attribute their structure and texture to the little pockets of air that occurs when you cream sugar and butter together.  Baking soda (and/or baking powder) or other leavening agents then fill these pockets, thereby “inflating” the cake, or making it rise.  The proteins in flour (gluten) and egg whites then strengthen the structure of the cake, while the fat in butter, egg yolks, etc keep the texture moist and tender.  A good example of a simple butter cake would be the omnipresent yet delicious pound cake: dense, moist, and oh so flavorful.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have foam cakes… named thusly because they gain most of their structure and expansion from whipping egg whites to stiff peaks before folding into the batter.  Foam cakes are lighter and “spongier” than butter cakes, as they have more egg whites and less fat than their counterparts.  Most of the volume is achieved even before baking by whipping the egg whites to soft peaks; however, you shouldn’t overinflate the eggs (stiff peaks) because then the structure will collapse on itself while baking.  Foam cakes are generally healthier than butter cakes because they have much less fat, though sometimes they do make up for it with some extra sugar.

Foam cakes can also be further subdivided into a few other categories, such as genoise, chiffon, and angel food cakes.  Angel cakes are the extreme foam cakes, as they have absolutely zero fat (no butter, oil, or egg whites) and rely on sugar to strengthen their structure.  They are generally the healthiest “cakes” but often are rather tasteless.  Genoise cakes has about 3x the eggs of a butter cake but only about half the flour and butter.  These types of cakes are usually a bit dry and almost always come coated with syrup to give it some more flavor and moistness.  Chiffon cakes fall somewhere in the middle, and are my favorite compromise between taste, moistness and health.  Chiffon cakes are nearly as rich as a butter cake with the light “foaminess” of a sponge cake, because it uses oil to tenderize it.  It contains less fat and sugar than a butter cake (9% oil vs 12% butter and only 24% sugar), and a small amount of leavening is added to give it a little more extra volume (as it does not rely on whipped egg whites as much as other foam cakes).  The recipe I followed also called for moistening it with a syrup for extra flavor.

The buttercream frosting I use in this recipe is very similar to the one I used in my checkerboard cake, which didn’t come out well… However, I made a few changes: I added some extra butter and didn’t let it warm completely to room temperature, because it would be too greasy/watery by then.  I kept it slightly cool so that the consistency would be easier to spread, and that definitely worked wonders.

This cake is in honor of one of my best childhood friends, Victor.  Since he is quite the drinker, I opted to use this recipe which infused espresso and rum into the syrup to give it a unique flavor in each bite.  The cake was still very light and was the perfect complement to a heavy Italian birthday dinner.

Chocolate espresso chiffon cake

Chocolate espresso chiffon cake

Birthday boy and slightly tilted cake from the car trip....

Birthday boy and slightly tilted cake from the car trip....

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11
Aug
09

Checkerboard Cake

Normally I try to put taste and texture as a higher priority over decoration and appearance… foolish, I realize, as people generally eat with their eyes before their mouth.  Maybe it stems from the fact I’m just not a very artsy or decorative person… or maybe I’m just lazy?  Who knows, but it IS something I’m working on.  To that end, I decided to make an otherwise normal cake this week for my good friend Chrissy’s birthday, but gave it a nice twist: the ever popular checkerboard pattern!  While this won’t add anything to a cake’s flavor, it definitely makes the treat more unique than most other cakes.  The best part is that it looks like an otherwise normal cake on the outside until you cut into it… I always wondered how this was even possible, until I realized you can actually buy a cake set specifically designed to make this pattern.  Tina was kind enough to lend me her checkerboard set, so I set off to work!

Vanilla and Chocolate Checkerboard Cake

Vanilla and Chocolate Checkerboard Cake

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04
Aug
09

Dulce de Leche Brownies and Creme Brulee

Another week, another opportunity to find a recipe I truly love for its taste and simplicity.  I found just the thing last week with a new attempt at America’s favorite brownies.  Most people know that brownies generally fall into two categories: 1) fudgy and dense, or 2) light and cake-like.  The main difference stems on how the batter is put together.  Does the recipe call for melted butter + chocolate for a fudgy texture, or for cocoa powder and perhaps some extra flour or even baking powder to make it seem more like a chocolate flavored cake?  The recipe I followed generously compromised between both methods, resulting in a texture that almost everyone can enjoy.

But there’s got to be more to it than that, right?  Plain, simple brownies (while often delicious) seemed a bit boring for me at the time.  So why not give it an extra kick with some homemade dulce de leche?  For the unitiated, dulce de leche is a caramel-like sauce (with the consistency of peanut butter) that is particularly popular in places like Argentina and Brazil.  While it looks and tastes very similar to caramel, it is actually a product of the Maillard reaction (which is also the basis behind toast) instead of caramelization.  Ok ok, sounds really nerdy, but it’s actually very simple (and cheap) to make!  Sure, you CAN buy some pre-made dulce de leche in a can at some specialty marts, but why bother when all you need is a can of condensed milk (generally less than $1).

The best part is that this entire recipe doesn’t require much work or much money, yet tastes so good!  The only thing I’d recommend is using some good chocolate, and since it only requires 2 ounces, I don’t feel like that’s asking for too much 🙂

dulce de leche brownies

dulce de leche brownies

vanilla bean creme brulee

vanilla bean creme brulee

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