Thursday, June 25, 2009

Great Modifications: Happy First Birthday Cake

There was a big birthday in our house in June -- Rebecca's son and Sarah's nephew turned one! It was a joyous day of celebration with many, many 1-year-olds and we, of course, had cake. We decided to turn to our good friend Dorie Greenspan for cake inspiration. She has a cake called The Perfect Party Cake. Not to judge Dorie, but we think that any cake that involves so much coconut cannot be called perfect.

However, in Dorie's infinite wisdom, she offered some suggestions for modifications, which we took her up on.
Our son/nephew loves strawberries. He is, as we call him, a strawberry-atarian and so we thought that a strawberry short cake would be perfect. We modified Dorie's cake so that it was a lot like a strawberry short cake but with the moist, lemon-y cake of the Perfect Party Cake.

As you can see from the picture above, we made one large cake and one small cake. We made 1.25 times the recipe, which was insane with the measuring, but worked out well for making one small cake in a ramekin. He loved his tiny cake and both the large and small cakes were delicious, enjoyed by grownups and kids alike. Go Dorie!
The recipe for the cake is below.

Here are the modifications that we made:

1. In putting the cake together, we used lightly sweetened whipped cream instead of butter cream for the filling and frosting
2. We used strawberry jam, then a layer of whipped cream on each layer

3. After the whipped cream, we put a layer of thinly sliced strawberries in each layer

4. We decorated the top with strawberries instead of coconut
5. If you use whipped cream, you have to store it in the fridge. We took it out about 20 minutes before we served it.

And now, the recipe:

Perfect Party Cake
From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”
Makes 12 to 14 servings
For the Cake
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For Finishing
  • 2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
  • About 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To Make The Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the tough – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
To Make the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
To Assemble the Cake: Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with the third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.
Serving: The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but it’s best to let it set for a couple of hours in a cool room. Serve it at room temperature with anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.
Storing: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days.

If you want to see some other photos, here is one of the big cake and one of the little cake:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ethnic Flavor: Challah Three Ways

Challah is a great food. You eat it on Shabbat, on holidays and it makes killer french toast. One might ask why you would bake your own challah when there are a large variety of packaged challahs available that taste really good. While it is true that challah can take a while to make (with all the rising and waiting and braiding), it is totally worth it. It is delicious and with this recipe, there is only one rising which is great and you can customize to make any flavor you want. In addition, if you want to make a whole batch of dough, you can braid it and then freeze it. When the mood strikes for fresh challah, you defrost you dough, let it rise a bit and then pop it in the oven. Fresh challah for Shabbat...yummy.

This recipe comes from my friend Shoshanah, who is an amazing cook and baker and has a great blog called Couldn't Be Parve where she explores all matters of parve baking. You should check it out!

The baking sisters made six small challahs -- two plain, to chocolate chip (we accidentally used diary chips, so we had to serve it at a diary meal) and two cinnamon sugar. For the chocolate chips, we just added in what looked like the right amount (no measuring) during the pre-braiding kneading stage. For the cinnamon sugar, we rolled each piece of the braid into cinnamon sugar before braiding.

A note on braiding. We made three and four strand braids, but you could do more. All you have to do is google braid challah and lots of information will come up.

Yields 2 medium loaves and 2 small loaves (or six small loaves)

3 packages dry yeast (about 2 tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
¾ warm water
6 cups unbleached white flour (more, if necessary) -- note that you don't have to take challlah from this recipe, since the amount of flour is less than the required amount.
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
½ cup honey
1 cup raisins or chocolate chips (optional)
1 egg beaten with 1-2 tsp water
sesame seeds, poppy seeds (optional)

Mix yeast and brown sugar with warm water in a bowl. Let stand for about 5 minutes until mixture starts to bubble a bit. If it doesn’t bubble, it’s not working: try again.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, mix eggs, oil, water and honey. Set aside.

When yeast has proofed (bubbled), add the yeast mixture to flour and salt mixture and mix well. Add egg mixture and continue mixing until the dough has come together. If necessary, add unbleached white flour as you’re mixing. The dough will remain fairly soft, but it shouldn’t be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a counter or a board, and knead it a few times just to smooth it out. Form it into a ball. This “kneading” should not take more than one minute. Place the ball of dough in a large, well-oiled bowl, turning the dough to oil all the surfaces. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, non-drafty place for about two hours, or until doubled in size

Preheat oven to 325

Punch down the dough. If raisins or chocolate chips are desired, add them at this point, working them into the dough. To make two medium and two small challah divide the dough into three pieces. Use one piece to make each medium challah and divide the third piece in half to make the two small challot.

Divide each piece of dough into three, roll out into long ropes and braid them together.

Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg and water glaze, then sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Challah is done when both top and bottom are browned and it makes a hollow sound when tapped.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great Modifications: Scrumptious Sandwiches

Some days, you just gotta bake cookies. Your sister leaves you for exotic climes, your friends are flakes, your sweet tooth is achin' and you need to do something with your hands or you'll go crazy. You call up your good pal Maida Heatter and she suggests that you try some fancy little cookies called "Les Petites." "But Maida," you protest, "I wanted to make these for Shabbos, and they have dairy in them!" And then a brainwave hits you! You will MODIFY the cookies so that they are parve!

These cookies were way fun to bake, even if they were time-consuming. They also look very nice and taste very good. I changed the assembly a little because I didn't have a small enough cookie cutter to create a hole within the top cookie, and my recipe reflects that, but if you have such a thing then by all means go with it. These are good cookies to serve on special occasions, and since the holy Sabbath is always a special occasion, they were perfect! I will definitely make these again. Of course, they are probably even better not parve; simply substitute butter for margarine and you are set!

3/4 blanched hazelnuts or almonds, finely ground in a food processor
1.5 sticks unsalted margarine
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1.5 cups sifted flour
5 ounces parve semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the margarine in the mixer, then add the vanilla, sugar and salt, then the flour, then finally the nuts. Beat well until mixed.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface so that it is between 1/3 and 1/4 inch thick. Using a round (preferably scalloped) 1.25 inch cookie cutter, place the cookies on the baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes or longer, until the cookies are sandy-colored but not too soft- do not underbake.

While the cookies are still on the sheet, use a fork to poke holes in half of the cookies. Be careful with this step, since the cookies will still be warm and a little fragile. Once you are done, put all the cookies on a rack to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or a microwave-proof bowl. When it is melted, find a cookie without holes in it. Place a dollop of chocolate on the cookie- don't spread it- and then sandwich it lightly with one of the holey cookies. Repeat. Refrigerate the cookies so the chocolate can set, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar through a sieve.

P.S. Here are the answers to the Tony Cupcakes quiz from last time.
1-4 2-a 3-g 4-e 5-h 6-c 7-f 8-b

Some Very Tony Cupcakes

So, last Sunday was the Tony Awards, the night when, across the land, a thousand awkward high school girls and their "not gay" male best friends get together, pour some Martinelli's Sparkling Cider and watch theater royalty* pat themselves on the back. Of course, I am in college now, and thus much more sophisticated than those losers. The Tony party I attended called for cupcakes. And while my cupcake decorating skills are likely to land me on Cakewrecks (and not in the Sunday Sweets Section), I still thought I could have a little fun with it.

For the recipe, I went with Magnolia's chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream. You really can't go wrong with Magnolia, though I found the cupcake to be a little dry and dense for my taste. Here is the cupcake recipe, and here is the frosting. I halved both the cupcake and frosting recipes; however, in general I would recommend halving the frosting recipe even if you're making the full amount of cake, or else you will end up with a ton of extra frosting. (Which can be fun, don't get me wrong, but unless you, like me, enjoy eating entire meals made of buttercream, you might want to take my advice to heart.)

*Very talented people that no one has ever heard of.

And now, the quiz! See if you can match the cupcake's "theme" with the Broadway musical nominated for a Tony. As I said, my cupcake decorating skills leave something to be desired, so I'm telling you what all the designs are, along with the guesses from various friends and family members. If you fail this quiz, you will be forced to watch the touring company of Legally Blonde sing "Oh My God You Guys" for all eternity! Bwa ha ha ha ha

Mommy: "Is it an umbrella?"
Correct answer: It is an electric guitar.

C'mon, I don't think this one is so bad. At least not compared the the deformed pink lump that preceded it. This is a ballet slipper.

Daddy: "I think it's a lock."
Mommy: "I think it's a handbag."
Correct answer: It is a pill.
Daddy: "Oh, I was looking at it upside down."

Mommy: "Uh...a palm tree."
Sharon: "A green star."
Correct answer: It is a pot leaf.

Mommy: "Um..."
Daddy: "Is that a gun?"
Correct answer: Yes.

Once again, I'm not sure how this could be construed as being anything but the head of a grumpy green ogre.

Sarah: "A cube with smallpox?"
Correct answer: It is a die (as in the singular of dice). Dude, I didn't think I was that bad.

Sarah: "Musical notes and a guitar."
Correct answer: Close. It is musical notes and a microphone.

And the nominees are...
a) Billy Elliot (winner, Best Musical)
b) Pal Joey
c) Shrek the Musical
d) Rock of Ages
e) Hair (winner, Best Revival)
f) Guys and Dolls
g) Next to Normal
h) West Side Story

I will post answers on the next posting. Have fun! (And don't forget what happens if you fail. This is real, guys.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lemon Meringue Shabbos

So we had halibut this Shabbos, which was nice because it meant we could make a dessert without the onerous constrains of pareveosity. However, there was the onerous constraint of Rebecca's freak husband, who hates chocolate, of the fact that we couldn't have cake because we had just eaten an entire strawberry shortcake at Baby Simon's first birthday party (more on that later), and of Sarah, who decided that she really really wanted to make meringues. So dessert could possibly be dairy, have meringue and not be chocolate or a cake? Why, lemon meringue pie, of course!

This pie comes courtesy of Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts, which seems to be out of print, but if you are a novice baker (or even if you aren't) it's a really great book, because she gives incredibly detailed instructions for every recipe, and it also has a lot of tips and tricks to make anyone handier around the kitchen.

Despite all this hand-holding, I still managed to mess up the crust. It just wasn't coming together properly, and that combined with the lack of pie weights made for a very...interesting crust. So the next time I make this pie, I will probably use a different recipe. However, I would like you all to know that as of today, the Baking Sisters are proud owners of pie weights! And silicone mats! Hooray for Zabars!

As for the actual pie, it came out quite well, though everyone else seemed to like it better than I did. I think that's because I prefer a thinner, harder layer of meringue (this one was quite voluminous), but that's easy to fix based on your preference. I thought the sweetness of the meringue was not too sweet and the tartness of the lemon filling was not too tart, and that they balanced out really well. Also, on a superficial note, this pie is really pretty; even if like me you aren't particularly adept at making meringue all swirly and professional-looking, this is a crowd-pleaser that elicits oohs and aahs when you bring it out. Just be sure to store it in a safe place without any wind before you serve it (we used the bottom oven, because the top oven was still hot from the baking). Since the book is out of print, here is the lemon meringue recipe, from page 164:

1 9-inch baked pie shell
Finely grated rind of 3 lemons
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringues)
1/3 cup cornstarch
1.5 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1.5 cups warm tap water
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the rind and juice and set aside. Place the yolks in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and stir to mix. Gradually add the water, stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth. Place over medium heat and stir gently and constantly until the mixture comes to a low boil. Boil gently, stirring with the rubber spatula, for 1.5 minutes. (Blogger's note: Don't be alarmed if your mixture looks like particularly gloopy rubber cement at this point. That's supposed to happen.) Add the butter and stir briefly to melt.
Remove from the heat. Add a few large spoonfuls of the hot cornstarch mixture to the yolks, stirring well to mix thoroughly. Then pour the yolk mixture into the cornstarch mixture, stirring gently. Also stir in the lemon rind and juice.
Return to moderate heat and stir gently until the mixture comes to a boil again. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Immediately pour the hot mixture into the pie crust and begin to make the meringue. (The filling should not be completely cool when you cover it with the meringue.)

4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Place the whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at high speed until the whites hold a soft point when the beaters are raised. Reduce the speed to moderate and gradually add the sugar, adding 2 tablespoons at a time and beating about 20 seconds between additions. Then increase the speed to high again and beat only until the mixture holds a firm point when the beaters are raised — it should be stiff but do not overbeat.
It is essential that the meringue touch the crust all around the plate or the meringue will shrink away from the crust when it is baked, so use two spoons to pick up gobs of meringue and seal the crust all around. Then gradually place the rest of the meringue over the center, and smooth and swirl as you like. (Blogger's note: I tried to make mine all swirly but in retrospect I think it would have looked even nicer if I had just left the meringue the way it was. The two-spoons methods leaves very attractive-looking peaks that needn't be messed with.)
Bake the pie immediately but only until the meringue is lightly colored on the peaks — it will take 7 to 9 minutes.
This pie can be refrigerated, or not, but the filling becomes firmer when refirgerated.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One Ring (of cheesy goodness) to Rule Them All

I don't really know what to write about the Pizza Bubble Ring. The name kind of says it all. The Baking Sisters were having Shabbos lunch at the house of their other sister (yes, there are three of us) and flipping through her copy of Kosher By Design: Kids in the Kitchen. Kosher by Design is a fabulous series of kosher cookbooks that includes Kosher by Design, Kosher by Design Lightens Up, Passover by Design, and my personal favorite, Kosher by Design: Short on Time. They are totally kosher. Anyway, we saw Pizza Bubble Ring and decided that it was just crying out to be made, so we heard its cry and saw its oppression, and took it out of the oven with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Note: This is the recipe as sent to us by our sister Rachel, but we added some more details because there was confusion. Luckily, everything turned out just as planned but we thought that we would not leave our readers who wanted to try this recipe wandering through the wilderness for 40 years. (Wow, I am feeling biblical today.)

1 stick of butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Pizza dough (We used a bag and a half of Trader Joe's pre-made pizza dough)
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesan cheese (optional- we topped it with mozzarella cheese instead and it turned out fine)
Marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a tube pan with non-stick cooking spray. Melt the stick of butter in the microwave and then mix the garlic, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder
and pepper into the melted butter. Stir until evenly distributed.
Cut the dough into small balls (they don't all need to be uniform in size). Flatten one of the balls and place some cheese in its center. Roll the dough around the cheese. Repeat this for each ball of dough.
Dip each ball into the butter mixture. Allow excess butter to drip off and place the ball into the pan. By the end, you should have one layer that totally fills the pan. Sprinkle parmesan (or whatever) over the dough balls. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.  (It took ours about 50 minutes.)
Serve the bubble ring with warm marinara sauce.

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