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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was a signature cake from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater. The hosts for this month's DB Challenge were Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food. We had to make the cake and camelized butter frosting. Making flavored caramels from Alice Medrich's recipe were optional, so I chose the option of NOT making them...too much going on this month.

Evidently, the cake is supposed to be delicate, light, and subtly flavored. Mine wasn't. It was very dense (and VERY sweet) with a straightforward taste of caramel. I don't think I did something right. Pitiful looking cake, right?

After reviewing Shuna's FAQ, I think I poured in the caramel syrup too quickly (all at once) when making the cake. The batter looked broken, and I don't think I ever achieved an emulsification again. Don't get me wrong, the cake had a wonderful flavor. The caramelized butter frosting was good, too, although I didn't really have enough to use for decorating. Together, however, I think mine would have sent someone into a diabetic coma...way too sweet!!! I think I'll definitely be baking the cake again (especially since I have some caramel syrup left over), but I will probably use a different frosting. Likewise, I may try the frosting again, but most likely it will be on a different cake.

Oh, and since the cake was so dense (and short), I decided to torte the layer into two. Bad idea. Don't do it. Just don't. But do try the recipe for yourself and see what you think!

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. [Yeah, use a tall pan. Lining a shorter one with parchment worked, but not too well.]

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! ***Note: It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.*** Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream (I used 3 Tbsp)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup(I used 3 Tbsp)
Kosher or sea salt to taste (just a pinch was enough)

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into mixer bowl to cool completely.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting recipe courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pico de Gallo

Since we seem to have a Mexican theme going on, I thought I should include my Pico de Gallo recipe. We used salsa until I figured out how easy it was to make this. Now, we very rarely buy salsa (though I keep some on hand for Tortilla Soup now). And, this pico is not dependent on the time of year since I use canned tomatoes. (Of course, fresh are better in the summer.) This makes quite a lot (~3-4 cups, I think) since we really like it and it keeps a few days in the fridge. Just use fresh limes if you can; you can use bottled lime juice, but it won't be as good. (The fresh limes make much more of a difference than using fresh tomatoes.)

Pam's Pico de Gallo

2 15 oz cans petite diced tomatoes, well drained!
~1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, minced very fine (~1/2 cup or so)
3/4 to 1 whole bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped, stems discarded
juice of 2 limes (~6 Tbsp.)

Put the drained tomatoes into a bowl and mix in the onion. Add more if you think it needs it. Stir in the cilantro. Add more if needed. Then, add the lime juice, making sure there's enough to coat everything really well. Stir, stir, stir. There should be some lime juice standing in the bottom of the bowl; if not, add more. Store in the fridge until ready to use. This should be made at least a couple hours ahead of time, preferably the day before. It gets better as it sits.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Al Pastor

Mexican is so easy to get 'wrong'. Take, for example, about 95% of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. - you can't tell what you're eating because it's slathered in red sauce and cheese. The best Mexican I've ever had (not having lived close to Mexico and having somewhat limited exposure) was at Taco Roc. Story goes that the guy who started Taco Roc couldn't find any Mexican restaurants he liked either, so he started his own restaurant. I'm glad he did. Inexpensive, flavorful, and friendly. (Their agua fresca is awesome!) My favorite is their Al Pastor, a spicy marinated pork with chilies and pineapple. In fact, I liked it so much, I went in search of a recipe so I could recreate it at home. Unfortunately, like many good recipes, there are as many versions as cooks. So, here is my version that I came up with after reviewing quite a few recipes online. Taco Roc makes theirs with ancho chiles, but when I tried them, the Al Pastor didn't have much flavor. So, I'll stick to guajillo chilies.

Oh, you can use this stuff in/on anything: burritos, tacos, nachos, pizza...pretty much anything you can think of. Yum.

Al Pastor

~4 lb bone-in pork roast
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 small can pineapple chunks, drained - reserve juice ( or 4 rings)
13 dried guajillo chiles, soaked, seeded, stemmed

In a crock pot, cook the pork roast in a few cups of water overnight (or during the day). Remove the roast from the crock pot, and when cool enough to handle, shred the meat.*

In a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic, cumin, oregano, oil, pineapple juice, and peppers until mostly smooth. You can also add the pineapple if you don't want bigger chunks in with the meat. Add the chunks of pineapple and the sauce to the shredded cooked pork and simmer about 20 minutes. Let it sit overnight and reheat in a skillet.

*I've also read that you can cube/dice the pork and then cook it in the crock pot with the sauce. However, I think shredding the meat first allows for more even coating and consistent flavor.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Streusel-Topped Pear Pie

I am not a pie maker. I mostly do cakes, breads, and cookies. I think this is probably the third pie I've made since I've been married (wow, that's more than 7 years already!). My husband just isn't a big fan of pie - as in, he usually eats the filling and leaves the crust. However, I knew I had to add this pie recipe to my repertoire because he literally stuck his fork in the pie and declared, "This is the best pie I've ever had."

I used pears that were just barely ripe/still really firm and it worked beautifully. It wasn't mushy like fruit pies are typically; it had a bit of a bite to it that was great with the mild sweetness and spices. I adapted the recipe from The Good Home Cookbook, and it was the first time I've ever used tapioca. It allowed the mellow flavor of the pears to come through without any muddling with the rest of the ingredients. (Sorry...I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that.) I'll definitely be using more tapioca in the future. And so should you...in this pie. You'll be glad you did.

Streusel-Topped Pear Pie

7 medium pears, peeled, cored, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground mace
Pre-made dough for 1 9-inch pie crust (cold)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine the pears with the sugar, lemon juice, tapioca, cinnamon, and mace in a large bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F (rack in lower third of oven). Roll out pie dough to 1/8 inch and fit into a 9-inch pie pan leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold & flute the edges. (Do not dock the bottom.) Spoon filling into pie crust.

Stir together the flour & brown sugar. Use a fork to mash together with the butter until crumbly. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the pie and bake for about an hour*, until the topping is golden. If the top gets too brown before the rest of the pie is done, cover with alumnimum foil and continue to bake. Serve warm or at room temp.

*Note: The original recipe instructed you to bake the pie without the streusel topping for 10 minutes at 425F. Then reduce the oven temp to 350F and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes after adding the streusel tipping. I didn't do this because evidently I can't read directions. I suppose it was a happy accident. :)

Adapted from The Good Home Cookbook

Monday, November 03, 2008

Tortilla Soup

I love Mexican food. LOVE it. And this recipe is so easy and tasty, it would be silly not to try it. Sam Zien enlightened me with this recipe on Discovery Health's show Just Cook This, and since I actually had a jar of salsa in the fridge, I had to try it. It was surprisingly good, super-easy to make, filling, and not-too-bad-for-you. I'll definitely be making this again (and again, and again...).

Tortilla Soup

16 ounces red salsa (medium hot, or whatever level of heat you prefer)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (ahem, rotisserie chicken!)
2 flour tortillas
1 one avocado, small dice
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat salsa in a sauce pan on the stove. Once it starts to bubble, add the broth and chicken and simmer until chicken is heated through, about 5 minutes.

While it's heating, cook tortillas on both sides in a hot oven or in a non-stick pan until they are crispy. Then, slice into thin strips.

Serve the soup in bowls and top with avocado, tortilla strips, and chopped cilantro.

Recipe courtesy Sam Zien