Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Pinecone Cake (Proof of global warming)

The Holiday Pinecone Cake in Rose's Heavenly Cakes is a sure fire cure for even the most advanced case of chocolate addiction. Making this five pound cake was like living in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. To say it is "rich" would surely elicit a flogging by the Oompa Loompas. This dark chocolate confection bested me and therefore I humbly lay down my fondant covered latex glove.

It was fun making my first ever sponge cake. It got a bit overdone in the newly repaired oven. My granddaughter, nibbling at the trimmed bits, requested the cake be left plain, and perhaps it was a premonition that I might have wisely listened to. Cooking up the chocolate-almond ganache was easy enough. A terrible creature of habit, I used the little mini cuisinart to finely chop the chocolate but sadly realized it could not handle the heated cream. The time had come to face the new eleven cup Christmas cuisinart and its terrifying array of martial arts blades. It was a momentous occasion that only another baker would appreciate. I was surprised how nicely the ganache thickened when cooled.

Fondant is something I've long been curious about. It was extremely dry and took several sprinklings of water until the consistency became smooth and sticky, pulling the latex glove right off my hand. Kneading and smooshing it gave me a good upper body workout. That stuff takes muscles. It was much easier to roll out. I confess the thought of pulling out the pasta machine crossed my mind.

I covered the "pinecone" with the fondant and forgot to spackle the cake with the remaining ganache. Off came the fondant, the ganache trowled on and the fondant re-applied. Since I didn't let the fondant sit overnight, cutting the V's was a bit tricky as the texture was soft.

The thought of running out in the rain for pine needles and red berries went by the wayside and I opted for a powdered sugar blizzard instead. Finally finished, it was brought to my attention that it did not look like a pinecone, but rather a porcupine. Perhaps one should not try to bake after spending a few hours in Chuck E Cheese with a giant mouse running around dancing to the Bee Gees' disco music; a sight I never thought I'd live to see.

I might make this cake again only with a greater ratio of cake to almond ganache and a sprinkling of powdered sugar instead of the fondant to cut down on sweetness.

FYI-Curious how leftover fondant handled with a night's rest, I played with it this morning and the V cuts hold their shape much better. Or maybe I'm holding up better after a night's recovery from a certain giant Mouse. For those of you not living in the land of Chuck E Cheese, let me introduce you.....www.chuckecheese.com

Monday, December 21, 2009

English Gingerbread Cake-Almost

There I was, happily stirring the batter for Rose's English Gingerbread Cake, wondering why it was not resembling "thick soup". Ah blast, the eggs and milk! I mixed the two together and whisked them into the bowl, wondering, once again, if Rose's recipe could possibly survive in my hands. Poured into cupcakes and the rest into a cake pan, my hopes were high. And I couldn't wait for the delectable aroma to waft round the kitchen, all those lovely spices, syrups and orange marmalade complementing each other.

I waited. And tested. And waited some more before it dawned on me my oven was not working properly. The thermometer hanging off the rack said 150 degrees. Curses! In desperation I hauled out an old Easy Bake oven but even that had seen better days. I contemplated pouring out all the batter into a double boiler and making a steamed pudding but hadn't a clue if that was possible. My daughter switched on the broiler which still worked and got the oven heated enough to barely bake the cupcakes. The cake was a total loss.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I mixed up the syrup and let my granddaughter brush to her heart's content the dubious cupcakes. Once again, Rose came through. I had to fight for a picture before the surviving few were devoured. Granddaughter proclaimed this the "best cake yet" which is saying alot as she ticked off the list from Heavenly Bakers...."except for the lemon curd" and wondered if I could put the syrup on the Upside Down Apple Cake which she deemed in first place until now.

I will be making these again soon. All I can think about is getting down to Costco and picking up a toaster oven a la Mendy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Classic Carrot Cake

Yesterday morning, my father passed away very peacefully from this life. He was at home with us in Hospice care since September first. It was perhaps the most miraculous time of my life with him.

As a tribute I would like to share one of his recipes brought home from the Navy many many years ago. Growing up I only knew of my dad's time in the Navy as a cook. It wasn't until closing his house and organizing papers I found out he was a decorated marksman; memories he chose never to speak about.

1-2-3 Cake

sugar 18 pounds
shortening 9 pounds
salt 6 ounces
eggs 6 dozen
milk, water and vanilla combined 9 quarts
flour 27 pounds
baking powder 27 ounces

Bake at 400 degrees

That's all the instructions there are. The quantities for brownies are just as hilarious. If you ever need to make 700 biscuits, just whistle.

The many aides, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others who passed through my house never failed to ask about the cookbook I was often seen taking notes from. Needless to say, it was Heavenly Cakes. They were invariably curious about the bake along. It was fun to see their reaction when they looked at the photographs of Rose's cakes.

Early this morning, I baked the Classic Carrot Cake recipe. The only recipe deviation was using Lindt Excellence White Coconut white chocolate. The store was out of both Lindt and Black and Greens white chocolate. I love coconut in carrot cake and thought it might be a nice touch. The frosting turned out to be exquisite to the point I would love to know how to turn it into truffles rolled in roasted pecans. Half the batter went into cupcakes and the other into the round cake pan. I found it to be a lighter carrot cake than I have had in the past. It is a definite new favorite in my house.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fruitcake Wreath

I baked the Fruitcake Wreath from Heavenly Cakes yesterday. Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli might as well have been singing Time To Say Goodbye the moment it came to pour my beloved glaceed cherries, lemon and orange peel into the batter. Very fond of waking each morning to see how the lovely little jewels progressed in their stay of Bacardi rum, I loved watching the peel begin to glisten and soften, though a bit guilty of the carbon footprint. I am in California and the fruit came from Holland.

I must be learning something as this time I actually remembered to turn down the oven twenty five degrees while roasting the pecans and walnuts on a dark tray. Not a burned one in the lot.
It was a bit crowded in my KitchenAid, which must be the smaller version. The final addition of the nuts brought the batter up to the very top. A few pecans jumped ship. I did follow Raymond's advice on not microwaving the butter and letting it come to room temperature only. It was easy peasy. Thanks again Raymond for the heads up.

Out of respect to my fellow bakers, I refrained from reading anyone's postings until now lest I reap the benefits of anyone's mistakes as well as, successes. And y'all know how many mistakes I make each week!

This time I opted not to use a wreath pan because honestly, I could not imagine who I could foist this large a fruitcake onto. I don't know any fruitcake lovers, except now Raymond. I've only tasted one fruitcake in my life that I liked. I used a mini bundt cake pan which held six and an oversized cupcake pan. The mini bundt pan proved a better choice. That blasted instant read thermometer assured me those in the cupcake were not 190 degress and again it lies. They were overdone. I'm hoping getting bathed in more Bacardi might save them.

By far, the biggest surprise is how much everyone likes them. I mean really, they made fruitcake jokes all week long and raised an eyebrow while I cooed and clucked at the macerating fruit. And here's the unbelievable part, they want me to make another batch!

And I give you all my favorite Holiday Fruitcake Story from the blog, Joe Pastry.

You could never interest my father in much that happened in the kitchen. Except when it got to be fruitcake making season, at which point his attention suddenly became focused on baked goods like a Labrador stalking a pheasant. Even now I'm not sure where my parents got their special secret recipe, though Mom and Dad's fruitcake was a much desired item in the neighborhood, even by the Swedish baking queen who lived two doors down. Which was, you know, really saying something.
The process always started the same way, with a trip to the local co-op (still a novelty in the Chicago suburbs in the 70's) to acquire candied fruit in bulk. I can still remember the sense of confusion I felt there, how I could scarcely identify any of the products on the flimsy shelves, and how the people who shopped there smelled funny in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on. Due to all the traffic that time of year, every inch of linoleum within fifteen feet of the bulk section was covered with syrup, to the point that when you were standing directly in front of the candied fruit bins you could barely pry your feet off the floor. Even so, Dad took his time, carefully examining each neon fruit as a vintner would grapes for a cuvée.
When everything had been selected, bagged and paid for, we headed back home to start the production line. My twin sister and I would be seated at our little wooden turtle-shaped table, given plastic scissors, and directed to start cutting the maraschino cherries in two while my parents went at the tougher citrus rinds with kitchen shears. The cutting alone took hours the way I remember it, and culminated in the making of the batter: a thick, brown Christmas-smelling goo that dad mixed in a tub until he was sticky up to the elbows. The panning and baking I don't remember quite as well, probably because my sister and I were in the TV room watching Scooby Doo by then.
After the baking was of course the cooling, and then the critical part: the injecting of the booze. This was where Dad got truly clinical about his cake. There was a time I'd have sworn he wore full surgical garb for the procedure, scrubbed himself sterile, and demanded clamps, sponges and retractors from my mother at regular intervals. More light! MORE LIGHT! Though looking back now I can see it was all in his attitude. He had a special syringe that he used specially for the occasion. A horse needle I think, and every year it seemed Dad had to march down to the drug store and cajole a new plunger out of the pharmacist. The fellow was always reticent to sell him one, even though no one in town could have told you what a junkie was then, and the needle was of a gage you could sip a milk shake through.
Needle in hand, dad injected the fruitcakes with bourbon the way a mad scientist might insert frog DNA into a dinosaur egg. Half an hour later he would emerge from the kitchen and announce that the procedure had been a success, that the patients were resting comfortably, and we could all go home and relax. Whew! Since it was usually bed time by then I don't remember much of the wrapping, only that going up the stairs I could see dad swaddling the loaves in cheesecloth as if each one were its own baby Jesus.
From that point forward the loaves were stowed under the cellar stairs to ripen, which on good years went from early November all the way to Christmas, with Dad turning them at least once a day. Looking back I'm convinced that giving those precious loaves away was harder on him than giving my sister away at the altar. But such is the passion of a dedicated baker, even if it only happened once a year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ghee, Glorious Ghee!

Ghee is one of my most favorite things in the world. Everything is made better with ghee.

Ghee turns plain white rice into a delicacy. A fresh baked, hot off the griddle chapati with a slight dousing of ghee-it just doesn't get any tastier. How do I know so much about ghee you may wonder? I was introduced to this food of the gods by a friend who is Gujarati. And let me say, Gujarati homecooks know the secrets of ghee better than any cook anywhere. The most maddening thing is she never ever read or wrote recipes, having learned ancient dishes passed down through generations.

Even so, I did not know Ghee had a French cousin, Buerre Noisette. It was fun taking ghee to the edge and going one step further, making Buerre Noisette for this week's Heavenly Cake bake through, Rose's Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake. I personally have never met a cheesecake I didn't like, unless it was an imposter cheesecake. You know the kind, listed on a restaurant menu disguising itself and fooling no one.

The Buerre Noisett definitely added an extra depth of flavor to the gingersnap crumb mixture. It took quite a bit of restraint not to roll the cream cheese in the aromatic crumbs, dub them truffles and call it a day.

The only bit of difficulty I had was making the cookie crumb mixture stick to the side of the springform pan. Chilled for a few minutes, I resorted to using a spoon with better luck. I think the warmth of my hand wrapped in plastic caused the Buerre Noisett to slightly melt.

Making the batter was a kick. I thoroughly enjoyed cooking the pumpkin and sugar together, watching it thicken. I passed the time stirring by reading the inside of the cream cheese package. I expected to find a recipe but instead found, and I kid you not, The Cheesecake Cheat Sheet! It listed all sorts of tips to avoid cheesecake catastrophies. I had to laugh because it's usually at this point in the middle of baking that I start lamenting the fact I do not have a direct pipeline to Rose for H-E-L-P.

I have a mini Cuisinart food processor which presented a bit of a challenge. Well, actually I wasn't supposed to know I'm getting the grown up version for Christmas. About to grab Macy's coupons and head off to battle the sale crowds, my lovely daughter had to fess up that she already ordered the one I brazenly listed on my Christmas wish list and it was hidden in her office. Exasperated, she offered to fetch it for the greater good of the cheesecake. It was tempting.

I didn't quite know how to mix the pumpkin, cream, cream cheese and eggs together since there was no way the mini could hold everything without exploding. I divided the amounts in half, pulsed the ingredients, added the eggs to a small portion, then gently whisked it back together. The light, fluffly texture amazed me. At that point I didn't care if it turned out to be less than a stellar presentation. I knew Rose had a hit recipe and all I had to do was get it baked without drenching it in the water bath.

To be on the safe side I double wrapped and then double double wrapped again the springform pan in foil, cursing myself for not braving the post holiday shopping traffic jams to pick up a silicone cake pan. When it came out of the oven, I truly was astonished to not see any cracks whatsoever, and even more so, to find the water didn't seep through the foil. Pulling off the foil layers was more like opening up a batch of crazy Jiffy Pop Popcorn than an elegant cheesecake.

It took me two tries to get the caramel topping to turn out. The first batch didn't set hard enough but boy is it ever tasty! The second try came out well, then I spoiled it by stirring the vanilla a little too much. I saw the texture change and cystalize slightly.

My cheesecake needs to set for another twelve hours. We took pictures and tasted one cut slice so I could post. It's a unanimous winner. The texture is so silken I'm afraid we will forever be spoiled with mere mortal cheesecakes.


Aromatic crust encased in its aluminum spacesuit.

Batter bursting out of little mini Cuisinart

Whisking the two batches together

Ready for the dreaded waterbath

Safely emerged from the waterbath. Phew!

Il est délicieux, cette beauté à la citrouille avec buerre noisette.

Study in willpower putting this back into the

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fickle Egg Whites

After such glaring Catalan Salt Pinch Cake catastrophies, my frustration has been replaced by curiosity. What is going, or more specifically, not going on here?

Sleuthing around I discovered a few truths about the touchiness of egg whites and their ability to foam, reach various stages of peaks and ultimately meringue. Evidently, humidity is enemy number one.

Baking 911 offered a great deal of information:

"If it is humid or raining outside, sometimes you won't get the proper volume no matter what you do."

It's been rainy and foggy in my neck of the woods. Right now we are at 93% humidity and climbing. Driving visibility is down to one-half mile. Faithy, however, bakes in extreme humidity and produces lovely creations.

There is also the question of how sugar is added to the whipped egg whites.

"In foam-type cakes, sugar interacts with egg proteins to stabilize the whipped foam structure. Sugar makes the egg foam more elastic so that air- cells call expand and take up gases from the leavening agent. Sugar stabilizes the batter and also delays the evaporation of water from the egg white foam in the oven. This is good because it allows its protein structure ample time to rise and then set.
It is very important to be aware of when you add the sugar to the egg whites. If adding in a 1/4 cup or less of sugar, add at the "raw egg white stage". Otherwise, begin to slowly add it in the "soft peak stage". In either case, always add sugar in a stream, slowly at the side of the bowl while the whites are being whipped; do not dump it in the center -- you don't want to risk deflating the whites. "

I think this is the culprit. For fun, I'm going to play with egg whites and sugar, as Marie has made me promise to stop making anymore Catalan Salt Pinch Cake sculptures.

The question of beating egg whites at room temperature or cold did not affect others' success.

Baking 911 had this to say:

"To get the highest egg whites, whip room temperature egg whites, not cold ones; it's because the egg's protein is more elastic and will create more tiny air bubbles. Also, the colder their temperature, the longer the beating time will be."

I feel greatly enlightened. Whether this translates into a successful cake is another thing entirely. But I wouldn't know....because I won't be baking any cakes today.....maybe....
I thought I'd spend the day visiting a friend, Manuel. From Fawlty Towers. He's from Barcelona. He's promised to show me the baking secrets of Catalan. After he makes us paella for lunch.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Catalan Salt Pinch UFO Cake

I ask you, is this any way for a Catalan Salt Pinch Cake to behave? Shimmying out of its parchmant collar in the oven and emerging like some sort of alien spaceship?

The mystery continues. I haven't a clue why all three cakes failed consistently. They ranged in height from 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch. All three had a beautiful top crust, never mind it was only 1/4 inch thick. Underneath lay a dense, rubbery mass.

I tried eggs at room temperature and straight out of the refrigerator. I even had backup to help verify the recipe was being followed correctly. It seems the eggs did not support the structure. They were organic, free range, if that matters one way or the other. I was extra careful on cakes 2 and 3 to gently fold in the flour. I checked the oven temperature. There must be a logical explanation but I cannot figure out what it is.

Cake #1

Cake #2

Cake #3


Catalan Salt Pinch Meteor Crater Cake

Catalan Cake number two is even naughtier.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Catalan Salt Pinch Orthodic Cake

This is the first cake of Rose's I have made without one mistake.

It was a complete and utter flop.

I have read and re-read the recipe trying to figure out what went wrong. I followed the recipe exactly and did not leave out any ingredients. It is dense and rubbery; easily used for shoe inserts. Lisa Douglas' "hotscakes" on Green Acres comes to mind. You know the ones, used to repair Oliver's engine head gasket or for roof shingles.

Yes, really, my golden lovely cake is Flubber, only it doesn't bounce. Nor make my car fly.


That's it-back to Trader Joes for more sliced almonds. Stay tuned, or not, for Catalan Salt Pinch Cake Round Two.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake

"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet

But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."

Imagine if you will, Elaine Benes on Seinfeld walzing around eating Edward VIII's 100 year old wedding cake bought at auction by her boss, Mr. Peterman. This is how ecstatic I felt after tasting my first batch ever of lemon curd made specifically for Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake. I may also have been humming the Lemon Tree song while perhaps waving a spoonful of the aforementioned lemon lusciousness.

Woody's confection was this week's choice for the Heavenly Bakers. The recipe began by making Rose's lemon curd and I am so glad it did. I will be forever indebted having been forced to learn the art of "pooling." Saturday had already begun with very expensive mediocre lemon curd along side imposter Devonshire cream at a tea room. To end the day on a high note was delightful, even with the angst of wondering if an hour of stirring was long enough. This lemon curd reawakened a long held dream of jam making. It was confidence building.

Sunday the cake batter came together surprisingly well but I was disappointed at the cakes overbrowning even at the lesser baking time. I trimmed the edges and nearly lopped off their tops but decided to leave them.

Making the white chocolate custard was easier than I anticipated, all due to the Instant Read Thermometer I cursed repeatedly only a few weeks earlier. I have to admit I feared pouring the egg mixture into the delicious Green and Black's melted white chocolate, hoping a sweetened batch of scrambled eggs wasn't about to materialize. The best part was having a spoon to lick at every fifteen minute stirring interval.

Pouring the custard base into the creamed butter proved iffy, inspite of the Instant Read assuring me the butter's temperature was perfectly acceptable. I wondered if it was due to the cold Kitchen Aid metal bowl and heated it over hot water as we did for Chocolate Oblivions. It smoothed out and the fluffy frosting began taking shape. The hardest part was waiting two hours for it to become spongy before adding the lemon curd.

It never occurred to me slicing a cake in half could be so difficult, but it was. I remembered seeing my mom use toothpicks to outline the middle for cutting, but it was too late for that. I also faintly remembered it was possible to use dental floss to pull the cake in half, but it was too late for that as well. There was nothing left to do but decide this was going to be a cake fit for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party crossed with a Mary Englebreit Princess of Everything creation.

Frosted and glazed with the remaining lemon curd, the cake was ready for tasting.

I found Woody's namesake exquisite and worthy of wedding cake status. I imagine his t'ai chi Sitfu was very pleased. My family and daughter's office thought it was delicious.

Old electric juicer still in working condition

No salt? No problem thanks to leftover In and Out Burger packets

Ladies and Gents, it's Real Lemon Curd

Greatly humored finding this empty jar while looking for the electric juicer and couldn't resist using it to store the six tablespoons of curd.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baby Chocolate Oblivions

Baby Chocolate Oblivions were this week's choice for the Heavenly Bakers. Richly decadent, they are comprised of four ingredients; sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate. The fact these beauties were coddled in a water bath struck fear in me.

Rose suggested using a silicone muffin pan. It took a bit of sleuthing, but I managed to find one at Sur La Table, an amazing store chockablock full of culinary bounty. Seeing Rose's cheerful face among the vast selection was a huge relief.

It was quite fun melting the chocolate, butter and sugar together, reminding me of Ghirardelli's chocolate making display in their San Francisco ice cream parlor. I was a bit unsure about warming the whisked eggs over simmering water and fortunately they did not curdle. What a feast for the eyes to see the same eggs magically billow into a cloud while whisking in the stand mixer. They folded into the waiting chocolate and I popped them in the oven. So far so good.

Not really. I pulled the cakes out after only five minutes, having mistakenly read the instructions. Back in they went, ruined or not. They cooled and slipped out of the silicone pan with a warm cloth melting the Oblivions just enough to cause their release. It was so much fun I let my eldest granddaughter pop out the rest. The most difficult part was waiting four hours to try one. They were quite good inspite of my blunder.

Wanting to know what the milk chocolate version tasted like, I mixed up another batch, this time baking them correctly. I did as Rose directed, replacing 6 0z of dark chocolate with milk, combining Valrhona dark with Schargen Berger milk. We were all too impatient to wait for the cool down and dove into one still quite warm, covered in whipped cream and raspberries. It was absolutely delicious, sort of like a souffle brownie. The milk chocolate cut the intensity of the dark chocolate just enough to subtly lighten the richness.

Four of us tried the little Oblivions and the unanimous concensus is we prefered the milk chocolate version warmed! I snuggly wrapped the remaining cache in plastic wrap and relegated them off to the freezer. My thinking is, cut or sliced in fourths, put in colorful foil mini cups and dollaped with peppermint flavored whipping cream, they will be a nice holiday tidbit.

I have to say I am learning so much baking through Rose's recipes with everyone. My daughter aptly commented that I was being taken out of my "comfort zone" to which I replied, "Are you kidding? I'm being nailed against a wall." And I'm really loving it.

Rose smiling at the top of the box.

Valrohna and Scharffen Berger dark and milk chocolate.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange Silk Meringue Buttercream

I solemnly swear never again to laugh, snicker or giggle at any baked confection immoralized on Cake Wrecks.

With that said, I had an inkling this was a serious assignment when Marie wished us Good Luck. "This mission, should you decide to accept it....." came to mind.

I baked the cake Saturday night. It went together without any mishap. The tricky bit was getting the walnuts out of their skins. Cooled, I gave them a spin through an ancient turn key nut chopper for a finer texture. The baking cakes filled the house with a glorious aroma. They turned out of the molds easily and there sat two of the cutest, most perfectly formed little pumpkin halves ready to be tucked away for the night.

Brandishing a new instant read thermometer, I had a go at the Creme Angalise. The sugar and water turned a beautiful shade of amber but refused to reach the required temperature, because of course, I didn't notice the fine print instructions never having read them at all. It started smoking and smelled horrid.

When I poured in the milk, it not only refused to foam, it immediately curdled. I took the term "Burnt" a little too literal and whisked in the eggs. It didn't help. Thank goodness Marie had posted, solving the thermometer mystery. I started over and magically the concoction turned into the most lovely caramel creamy confection.

With this new found success, I figured whipping up the Italian Meringue would be a snap. My unearthed hand mixer seemed to be missing its beaters. The trusty hand crank egg beater was pressed into service. It worked like a charm.

Totally on a roll, I felt quite confident making the sugar syrup and instead managed to produce rock candy in three minutes. A couple hours and many egg whites later, I poured the hot syrup straight into the very patient meringue.

Adding the lovely Creme Anglaise to the creamed butter did not go well. I followed Rose's instruction to heat the pan over simmering water. The butter mixture smoothed out and accepted the meringue. It looked beautiful, tasted fantastic and this was the point I realized perhaps I had become a little too emotionally invested in this Burnt Orange Silk Meringue Buttercream.

I couldn't bare to add the orange food coloring paste which consisted mainly of artificial ingredients. It was so delicate and pure, this caramely, orangy, vanilla-y perfection. I began frosting the little pumpkin and it turned into a colassal mess.

By this time it was after midnight but I was determined to mold marzipan. After all, how hard can playing with Marzipan be? As it turned out, not quite as easy as Play-Doh. .

The bowling ball was adorned with marzipan modern art and my husband only too happy to have the first taste.

"This is better than anything at Starbucks."

I loved the flavor combination of this cake with the orange undertones in the buttercream.
I loved it so much I sent half of it to my daughter's office. Her office loved it and one co-worker asked to take home the last remaining pieces. They volunteered to taste test any and all future Heavenly Cake Bake-throughs. This cake was a definite hit.

Nut chopper thing

Ta Da!

I'll have a Venti Hot Chai No Water Tea Latte, please.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Almond Shamah Chiffon Part Deux

Yesterday while baking Miss Almond Shamah, I noticed Rose's Plan Ahead notation.

"For best flavor, compose the cake 1 day ahead."

I wondered if that meant to make the cake base with the Amaretto syrup or put the cake together with the raspberry whip cream frosting. My husband and I debated the pros and cons. He thought the cake should be made in its entirety, I wondered if the whipping cream would slide off. Turns out, he was correct. This morning I checked the leftover cake to see how the flavor was after resting overnight. It was even more delicious. The raspberry and almond flavors tasted sharper, more distinct.

Today, after reading through all the Heavenly Bakers' experiences, I pondered why I go amiss in the middle of recipes. No one else seems to have any problem remembering details. It then hit me like a ton of butter.

There are five learning styles in education. I didn't apply the same principle to baking. Now I get it. I'm a visual/kinesthetic combo which means I have to see it in action and do it repeatedly for something to sink in. Plus, the times I did bake as a kid was out of an old Betty Crocker cookbook. Betty didn't trust her bakers and gave a heads up when an ingredient was divided, how much to divide, and what to save it for. With this knowledge I am going to label all mis en place ingredients so I quit ending up with a big mess en place.

Next time I make Almond Shamah Chiffon it will be a day in advance and give her my full, undivided attention. She's a high maintenance cake but she's worth it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Almond Shamah Chiffon

This is a lovely cake and suitable for special occasions, however it nearly did me in. I may have to book into a day spa to recuperate.

The first obstacle was finding blanched almonds. It seems grocers do not stock them around these parts anymore. I poured boiling water over raw almonds for one minute, drained and plunged them briefly into cold water. They slipped right out of their skins and Voila! Blanched almonds. Cutting them into slices was a bit tricky but it worked, albeit minus a few burned ones during roasting.

I had a glorious time mixing up the egg mixture, especially after I cracked open the first egg and watched it go down the drain. At least measuring the yolks and whites, something I've never done before, it was possible to see enough was left without warming more eggs. I'm used to separating cold eggs and didn't realize warm eggs are more liquidy, full of little gymnastic tricks. The whites flipped themselves right out of the measuring cup.

Grinding the almonds in my mini Cuisinart, it was iffy knowing when to stop before I had almond butter for lunch. I was happy seeing how it fluffed up with the Wondra flour and in my zeal set it aside, and completely forgot about it.

I creamed the eggs, not certain what an eggy ribbon looked like, then watched the color and texture change. I felt giddy folding in the egg whites. After the first portion of whites I realized something was missing; the almonds and flour. At this point I nearly chucked the whole thing. It was disheartening to make such a silly mistake. There was nothing left to do but pour the almond mixture into the yolk and white blend. I used the funny unnamed tool from the fifties used to fold egg whites into Angel Food cake batter.

I'm sure the density of the batter suffered as it only filled the pans one quarter full.

My hopes were pretty well dashed by this point. I was astonished to open the oven and actually find the cake puffed up.

The sugar syrup had me slightly baffled because it went from zero to full boil in a blink, skipping the rolling step. The Amaretto was looking really good at this point. In a glass. For me. Not the sugar syrup.

My eldest granddaughter wanted to know what I was painting on the cake. When I explained about the sugar and water mixture she asked why we were eating Hummingbird food!

Flipping the cakes this way and that proved easy enough. I got myself into trouble placing the top layer onto the iced bottom and missed centering it. There was no going back unless this was going to be Almond Shamah Chiffon Triffle. By this time, I could have cared less. I was not liking this cake very much. We had been wrestling for eight hours, Almond Shamah Chiffon and I, and Almond Shamah was winning.

I slathered on the raspberry whipping cream, told the kids to take pictures for posterity's sake and cut into it. They were jumping up and down for a pretty pink piece of cake when it occurred to me maybe giving a three year old Amaretto wasn't the wisest thing. Using the loads of leftover raspberry whipping cream and the cake top pieces I made mini trifles in clear glasses.

Honestly I was so tired I was relieved the baking was over. And then I had a bite. It was yummy. The almond cake texture and raspberry whipping cream go well together. I think it will be even more scrumptious when it has had time to set.

The only conclusion I have come to is Rose needs an unskilled-wanna-be-baker to try out her recipes. The simpleton tester. Like a lab experiment behind one way glass. To see when confusion sets in. I hereby volunteer myself.

The blanched almonds out of their skins.

Over toasted and just right almonds

Mini Cuisinart. I think I can...I think I can....I think I can........

Here it is and there is the half inch of remaining Amaretto. I called "Dibs".

Voici Voila! Almond Shama, you little vixen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Trader Joe's tempted me with boxes of peaches. They caught my eye stacked by the apples I chose for Rose's Apple Upside-Down Cake. The variety was Last Tango, tree ripened in California and reasonably priced at $4.99 for 12. Whole Foods also had peaches; a large unknown variety. Remembering a few Heavenly Bakers mixed apple varieties I opted to buy both.

This time around I was ready with regular AA butter and noticed it produced more foam than Kerrygold during melting. Peeling the peaches after they sat in the boiling water was a new experience. The Whole Food peaches did not peel easily so I followed Rose's advice and tossed them back into the hot water for a few more minutes. It worked but they felt hard compared to Trader Joe's. The little Trader Joe's peeled easily and were quite juicy.

Both varieties were cling and it did not occur to me choosing a non-cling variety would make for tidier slicing. The brown sugar coated them easier than the apples which I attributed to the lovely peach juice. Later I discovered it was due to the fact I inadvertantly put the entire amount of brown sugar in the bowl instead of removing two tablespoons. Let me say they began releasing their juices at a furious rate. Caramelizing the sugar with the juice produced a significantly larger amount which was not as dense as the apple mixture.

This cake took longer to bake probably due to the excess liquid from my brown sugar faux pas. When turned onto a plate, the entire cake came out with loads of lovely peach caramel running over the rim. The parchment paper stayed in the pan. I whipped the heavy cream using Amaretto instead of Bourbon, thinking it might play off the toasted almonds and almond extract.

This cake stands up very well to both toppings. The family liked it, although not quite as enthusiastically as the apple. I cannot decide if this is a result of the colder than normal fall weather and furious rainstorms. It definitely is a delicous cake and next summer I will make it again. Perfect for a hot day, perhaps with nectarines, mangos or all three.