Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finally a daring baker!

I'm finally a daring baker! For the past year or so, I've eagerly checked my regular blogs at the end of every month to see what the daring bakers were dishing up next. I can't say that I had the time or inspiration to be as creative with this one as, say, Helen of Tartelette or Aran of Canelle et Vanille, but it's a start. I hope to get to some of the previous daring baker challenges as well: streudel, eclairs, and tuiles, ...

This month's challenge was the bakewell tart. I thought these tarts were good, but I won't be rushing to make them again too soon (personally, I think Dorie Greenspan's sweet tart dough is better). I made 6 muffin-sized tarts and two brioche-mold-sized tarts. I had a lot of frangipane leftover. I think the main problem with the tarts was the filling: I did some with a milk chocolate ganache, some with raspberry jam, and some with a combination of the two. The jam got very jelly-like when cooked, so the texture was a little on the rubbery side. The chocolate was better, but I've definitely had more interesting chocolate tarts. Check out the rest of the daring bakers to see other interpretations of these tarts.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of
Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.


For the Sweet Shortcrust Pastry Dough

Makes enough for one 9" tart or 8-9 smaller muffin-size tarts.

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
½ tsp salt
1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
½ tsp almond extract (I used vanilla)
1-2 Tbsp cold water

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside. (I used the food processor)

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the extract, and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the Frangipane

9 Tbsp (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) powdered sugar
3 eggs
½ tsp almond extract (I used vanilla)
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in color and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle, but it’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow color.

Assembling the Tarts:

Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the center and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in, and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of filling (I used raspberry jam on some, a chocolate ganache on some, and both the jam and ganache on others) onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes (for the full-size tart, about 20 minutes for the smaller tarts). Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking. I had quite a bit of frangipane left over.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy, and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream, or custard sauce if you wish.

*Thank you Derrick for the photographs!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake

I'm starting this blog primarily as a means of documenting my desserts, and as motivation to attempt taking better pictures. I will also be teaching a baking course in January, and I want a place for my students to document their work as well.

When I'm not baking, there's a good chance that I'm working out (gotta burn off all those baked goods), dancing, teaching math, or doing number theory research... or reading recipes... or dreaming up new dessert ideas... so much to bake, so little time! My To Bake list is over ten pages long now, so I have lots to do.

I am a peanut butter addict, as you will no doubt soon discover. I rarely ate it as a child, but now it's part of my daily diet - in sweet or savory form. This peanut butter cake is one of my all time favorite cakes. I've made it for my birthday three years in a row now, it's just that good. It's a peanut butter cake with a chocolate/peanut butter ganache, and cream cheese frosting. I found it in Bon Appetit (covered in Butterfingers in their version, which seems like overkill, even to me), and it's definitely best on day 2 or 3, after the flavors have had a chance to marry. The cream cheese frosting is particularly good: not overly sugary and very creamy.

Recipe (Adapted from Bon Appetit):
For Ganache Filling: (Make the night before)

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup old-fashioned (natural) chunky peanut butter

For Cake:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup old-fashioned (natural) chunky peanut butter
1 pound golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

For Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar, divided
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Prepare the ganache filling:

Bring cream and sugar to simmer in saucepan, whisking to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; let stand 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in peanut butter. Chill uncovered overnight or for several hours. If left overnight, you may need to microwave the ganache briefly in order to make it spreadable.

Prepare the cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. with baking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray again. Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter in a large bowl until blended. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions.
Divide the batter among the pans, spreading evenly. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool cakes 5 minutes. Turn out onto racks; peel off parchment. Cool completely.
Prepare the frosting:

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, 1 2/3 cups powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Whisk or beat the heavy cream and 1 cup powdered sugar in bowl until mixture holds medium-firm peaks. Fold into the cream cheese mixture in 3 additions; chill until firm but spreadable, about 1 hour.

Assemble the cake:

Level each cake layer. Place 1 cake layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate protected by strips of wax paper or parchment paper. Spread with half of the ganache, leaving a slight border at the outside edge. Place another layer on top of the first layer. Spread with remaining filling. Top with remaining cake layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the cream cheese frosting. Decorate with chocolate shavings.


You can serve the cake immediately, but it's best to let it sit (in the refrigerator) for a few hours or overnight. Serve at room temperature. Freeze leftovers (or the entire cake!) for up to two months. Defrost (still wrapped) overnight; or microwave directly from the freezer for a messier, more gooey slice of cake.

Thanks to Satyan for taking most of these pics.

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