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.