Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strawberry Lemonade Cake

Disclaimer: I'm feeling nostalgic because I'm currently planning a trip to NYC. Next week we're going on our awesome family vacation to Skaneateles and finishing the week with a couple days in the city! Therefore this post may or may not be mostly about this quintessential summer cake.

I really enjoy exploring on my own. Events are more significant when you don't have to acknowledge them to another person. They seem to be a tailor-made gift just for you.

Maybe if you were with a soul mate of the type where you don't have to acknowledge things to know that they've been absorbed, then you could have the same special feeling. Then months later you could be like "Remember that time...?" and they could be like "Yeah, that was amazing."

I kind of have that relationship with my brother, but it usually only applies to funny-looking people. Later I can say "That man today- he was crazy." and he'll say "I know. I've never seen a beard that color before."

One time when I was living in New York City, I decided to visit Redhook for the first time by myself. Its a long trip that requires taking the metro to a bus and then walking, but its worth it for such wonders as Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie and Baked.

My train emerged from its tunnel to ride along tracks raised above the streets, and I found that I was sharing the car with only one other person. This young man took out a one-legged stool and sat leaning against a pole in the middle of the aisle. He slowly bowed a cello; fluid, sad and lovely.

It was so precious and tenuous, sitting in that light-filled car at roof-top level as the city buildings shrank and spread below. The air in that bright, music-laden car made my head swim as it seemed to grow thicker and thicker with beauty and impossibility. It was hard to breath for loveliness. We came to a station. The man stood, picked up his stool and instrument, and exited the train.

I was lonely and yearning for the rest of the ride, and it pains me to tell people about it now. I can't say out loud how I felt and so I rush it and it seems like just another part of a bigger story, when really, it was the story.

I won't say that this cake is like that, though maybe you get very emotional about cake, I don't know. But this cake could be part of a experience like that. It could be part of your ideal, sun-filled afternoon with a soul mate. It could you and that person, sitting on the perfect hill, under the most majestic tree, on the loveliest blanket, in an idyllic breeze under a flawless sky, with the coldest lemonade in the ideal glasses, having the best conversation of your life, eating this dreamy cake. Maybe you wouldn't even want to post pictures on the internet later, because that would ruin the perfection. Maybe you'll just keep that day to yourself and never speak of it again, but hold it so, so dearly.

I guess you'll have to make this cake and make it all happen. Because this cake really is worthy of such magic.

The layers are the lemon-drop cake layers from the (awesome) Baked cookbook, paired with lemon curd and a lightly lemon frosting, and stuffed with as many strawberries as you can fit between each layer.


Lemon Layers (from Baked)

2 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup AP flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temp
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup cold water
2 large egg whites, room temp
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lemon Curd (from Baked)

3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (from 6-8 lemons)
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
optional 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
4 tablespoons butter, room temp

Lemon Frosting (adapted from Baked and Tasty Kitchen)

2 cups whole milk
10 tablespoons flour
2 cups sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup lemon curd

Strawberries- chopped. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be to slice the cake.

Lemon Layers

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray with oil and line 3 8-in pans with parchment rounds. If you're using 9-in pans, I'd make the recipe times 1.5.

In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking soda and powder, and salt together.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or using a bowl and a hand-held mixer, cream the butter, shortening, zest and sugar together for 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the while egg and vanilla, beating until just combined.

With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, alternating with the ice water, in three additions, beginning and ending the the dry and scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix for a few seconds after the ingredients are all combined.

In a spotless bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Don't over beat. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops and bake, for 40-45 minutes, or until a cake testing object stuck in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool for 20 or so minutes. Then remove the cakes from the pan and allow to cool completely before frosting. If you want your frosting to go easier, you can wrap the layers with plastic wrap when cool, then stick them in the freezer for a couple hours before frosting. Believe me, its so much easier to frost a cold cake.

Make the Lemon Curd*

In a small, non-reactive pan, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until combined. Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk thoroughly. If you're worried about runny lemon curd, you can mix a tablespoon of cornstarch in the with sugar before combining the ingredients.

Place the pot on the stove over very low heat and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened.

Pour/scrape the curd through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits and lemon zest. Add the butter, cut into chunks and stir until the mixture is homogenous. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the lemon curd and set aside to cool. If you're using it soon you can refrigerate it, or if you're using VERY soon, you can set the bowl of curd in an ice bath.

*The ingredients are the same, but my instructions vary slightly from the original Baked ones, most notably, the fact that I don't use a double boiler. Its just the way I do things and it turns out fab.

Make the frosting

Pour the 2 cups of milk into a small sauce pan and set it over low heat. Gradually add the flour, one tablespoon at a time, whisking to incorporate between each addition. Whisk constantly while the gravy mixture heats, until it thickens to brownie-batter consistency.

Set it aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

When the gravy-mixture is cool, place the sugar and butter in bowl of your stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment on low speed for at LEAST 5 minutes, until the butter and sugar are incredibly fluffy and whipped-cream-like. The sugar should be almost dissolved.

Scrape the cooled (<-important) gravy-mixture though a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of sugar butter and mix for several more minutes, until the whole thing is very fluffy and nice-looking. Add the vanilla and the half-cup of lemon curd and mix until combined. The frosting should taste lightly of lemon and be very smooth and light and delicious. It's even reminiscent of whipped cream, but it will hold up way better.

To assemble, put a thin layer of lightly lemon frosting on the bottom layer of the cake. COVER the thing with as many chopped strawberries as your heart desires and the spoon a layer of lemon curd evenly over the strawberries. Top with the next layer and repeat. Top with the final layer and then spread the remaining frosting over the entire cake. Garnish with more strawberries and lemon rind curls. OR...make cupcakes.

Serve to your soul mate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Triple Chocolate Bread Pudding

It's not just because I bake bread and desserts for a restaurant that I find myself making a lot of bread pudding. It's because right now there is no dessert I'd rather eat than bread pudding.

I go through phases like this- flan for awhile, then chocolate pudding, then rice pudding and now bread pudding. (Notice any trends in my dessert obsessions? Apparently I don't like to chew.)

I first made this recipe for Masters Week because one of the caterings we did was for a company that actually brought their own chef. I'm not sure how that situation worked, but this chef was named Nick Stellino. One night the dinner entertainment for the clients was a cooking demo by Mr. Stellino, and he requested a specific dessert be served- his Bread Pudding with Two Chocolates. And it was my job to make it.

I was nervous about how it would turn out with our iffy oven, but I followed his recipe and the bread pudding turned out to be DIVINE. So divine that instead of bringing leftovers back to the restaurant, the servers and cooks ate the rest of it on site. I've made it for the restaurant several times since.

It's dense, moist and chocolatey (as all good things in this world are.) If you want to go nuts on your guests, make additional of the chocolate sauce required for the recipe and serve the pudding in a pool of chocolate sauce. With strawberries or raspberries.

Chocolate Sauce:

1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place heavy cream, chocolate and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low until cream bubbles and chocolate starts to melt. Remove from heat and whisk until all melted and smooth. Whisk in corn syrup, salt and vanilla.

Bread Pudding with Two Chocolates:

Chocolate Sauce (recipe above)
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
10 cups day-old bread, cut into 2-in pieces
1 cup dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup white chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a deep baking dish or individual ramekins.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, yolks and sugar with a whisk or electric mixer until it forms a thick yellow custard. Add the milk, cream and vanilla and beat for several minutes more.

Add the bread to the bowl of wet ingredients and mix well. Press down the bread often to make sure it's absorbing as much of the liquid as possible. Add the chocolate sauce, white chocolate and dark chocolate and stir so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Let the pudding rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then place in the oven, reducing the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It's done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Beware of hitting a dark chocolate spot and thinking it's not done when it is. If you're using small containers, the bake time will be shorter.

MMM!! Serve hot or at room temperature with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, shaved chocolate, fruit- whatever suits your fancy. This dessert would go great after an italian meal that has lots of fresh basil and rustic bread. Preferably served outdoors under bistro lights or lanterns. With wine. (Or maybe milk.) Okay, now I need to have a party.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Goat Cheesecake

photo by Leah Paulette

I made a quick day trip to Savannah this week with my friend Leah*, who came spur of the moment to see me while her husband was off fighting fires for the Forest Service (impressive, I know.) We spent time on the beach reading aloud from Matilda, ran screaming from scary jellyfish water, walked for about 6 hours straight and ate seafood, icecream, bread, and cookies. And free samples of pralines on River Street.

I don't think most people understand my need to visit every bakery in a given city (this is hard in places like New York City, but believe me, I have tried). But Leah understands. She even reminded me about one we'd missed as we started to head home. Eric would've been praying I'd forgotten so we could get out of there- he doesn't really get it.

If you're planning a visit to Savannah, make sure you stop by Leopold's Ice Cream Shop, Harris Baking Company (AHmazing Ciabatta bread) and one that looked cool but we missed (cause it closes at 4pm), Back in the Day Bakery (a little ways from the main downtown area.)

*Leah and I have been officially best friends since 9th grade, when we stood in the bathroom at school and decided it was so. We shared family vacations. We lived together for a while in college. Then we did the whole maid-of-honor thing in each other's weddings. We're BFFs, no big deal.

So Leah came and hung out at work one morning while I baked. I rewarded her patience with bread pudding, which she confirmed is the best she's ever eaten. She even used her mad photography skills to capture images of this Goat Cheese Cake with Lemon Curd. Which, by the way, is DELICIOUS.

This Goat Cheesecake is one of the creamiest cheesecakes I've ever bitten into. Totally Luscious. The goat cheese flavor is subtle at first, then expands as you swallow each bite. The graham cracker crust is spiced with ginger and cinnamon. The addition of Lemon Curd isn't necessary, but the flavors are lovely together and it does bring it up a notch on the dessert-impressiveness-scale. Throw some strawberries or blueberries on the plate, and you have a dessert worthy of some fan fare. It manages to be tart and sweet, pungent and fresh all at the same time- also, people hear "goat cheese" and go nuts for some reason.

This is not your run of the mill NY style cheesecake with sticky berries in syrup, this is:

Goat Cheesecake with Lemon Curd and Fresh Berries. Inspired by Emeril's recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350. Get out a 9-in springform pan and a baking dish large enough to hold the springform pan.

For the crust:

2 cups finely ground graham crackers (or 2 cups gingersnap crumbs. if using gingersnaps, omit the spices) Using a food processor is the easiest way to get good crumbs.
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Stir the graham crumbs, spices and sugar together. Slowly add the butter until the crumbs are evenly moistened and stick together when you squeeze them.

Press this mixture onto the bottom and sides of the springform pan, creating the crust for the cheesecake. Use your fingers or a straight-sided glass or measuring cup to make the job easy. Freeze the crust for 10 or 15 minutes. This will help it keep its structure in the oven. After freezing, bake the crust for 10 or so minutes until it is golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the batter:

3.5 packages cream cheese (28 oz total), room temp
1 cup sour cream
12 oz goat cheese, room temp
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoons Gran Marnier, Cointreau or orange extract

In a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer with a deep bowl, mix the cream cheese until creamy. Add the goat cheese and the sour cream and mix until smooth. Add the sugar and mix, scraping down the bowl occasionally with a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Finally, mix in the vanilla, lime juice and orange liquor until the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Wrap tinfoil around the sides and base of the springform pan to make sure no water penetrates the pan during baking. Set the pan into the baking dish and fill the baking dish with very hot water so it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan. This is a waterbath and will ensure the cheesecake doesn't crack during baking.

Bake at 350 for about 1.5 hours (or 2 if you have shady spotty oven like me). The center will move only slightly when the cheesecake is done- the edges will be completely set.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool on a rack. Once cool, chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

While the cheesecake is cooling, make the lemon curd:
1 t finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 stick of butter

Whisk together the zest, juice, sugar and eggs in a heavy saucepan. Cook over med-low heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture has thickened and is bubbling.

Force the curd through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl to remove the zest, and any eggy bits. Cut the butter into 1/2 in pieces, and add them to the curd. Stir until the butter is melted. If you're in a hurry, use an ice bath to cool the curd, stirring occasionally. (Simply place the bowl of curd into a larger bowl of ice water.) Otherwise, place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve the cheesecake with a dollop of lemon curd and a smattering of berries.