Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coconut Cream Meringue Cake

Ahhh the taste of success. It's really the cake that tastes so wonderful, but it's always nice to make a slam dunk after a horrible failure. Thank you Fine Cooking! Fine Cooking is officially my new favorite food magazine. Ok, that's a lie, Fine Cooking has been at the top of my list for quite awhile. They won me over with their big glossy pictures, and backed up their photo skills with superb recipes. This is one of those recipes. The picture in the magazine is a little better than mine, but I wanted to give you the "real thing," not some gussied up Styrofoam frosted with shaving cream (I'm on to you Fine Cooking! No way those gorgeous pictures are real. Next thing you know people are going to start claiming that no airbrushes ever touched those photo-captured fashion models).

This cake has the "Wow" factor in every respect: three fat layers, moist from sinful amounts of butter and sour cream, are buoyed on puddles of custard that has been stuffed with fluffy coconut and lightened with clouds of whipped cream. Then the whole shebang is smothered with enough meringue to kill a diabetic. I should know. THEN, the meringue is caramelized with the handy kitchen-torch I'm sure all of you have lying around in your kitchens. If you don't own a kitchen blow torch you should probably get one. Even if you only use it one time, to make this cake, it will be worth it (provided you don't somehow screw up the cake before you get to the torching).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that this is not a trivial recipe. In addition to a beautiful, miraculously good cake, I ended up with cramped hands, sore arms, seven-thousand dirty bowls, and a kitchen splattered with egg whites and whipping cream. Not to mention I felt ill after nibbling cake batter and frosting for 3 hours. But don't let me dissuade you! The cake is freakin' delicious.

One more tip: not a good idea to put a roll of paper towels behind the cake while caramelize the meringue. Aiming flame thrower at flammable objects = bad.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
13.5 oz all-purpose flour (3 c. for those of you without baking scales)
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 c. coconut milk (shake well, room temp)
1 T. vanilla
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs at room temp
6 large egg whites at room temp (don't throw away the yolks! save 3)
2/3 c. sour cream

Coconut Filling:
2 c. heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. flour
1 c. sweetened flaked coconut
2 T. unsalted butter
1 T. vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

3 c. sugar
1.5 c. egg whites (about ten large) at room temp

Make Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter three cake pans and line with parchment. Butter the parchment. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a 1 c. measure, mix the coconut milk and vanilla.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat slowly to incorporate. Add half the coconut milk and beat to incorporate. Alternate adding flour and coconut milk, beating after each addition to incorporate, and ending with the flour. Beat in the sour cream.

In a clean bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks (lift out the beaters and the whites should droop a little off the ends). Dollop some egg whites into the batter and stir to loosen. Fold remaining whites into the batter gently. Divide batter between three pans and bake 25-30 minutes. A toothpick poked into the center should come out clean. Now, the recipe instructs you to position the pans so that two are on the top rack and one is on the lower rack, and no pan is directly over another. This sounds like a bunch of hooey to me, but do it just in case.

Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk yolks with 1.5 c. of the cream. In a medium saucepan, combine the yolk mixture with the flour and sugar. Cook over medium heat, whisking continually, until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cooking, whisking, for 8-10 minutes. The mixture should achieve a pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut, vanilla, and butter. Allow to cool to room temp. Whip the remaining half cup cream into soft peaks and fold into the cooled pudding.

Make the Meringue:
Set a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk the egg whites with the sugar until the sugar melts completely, 3-4 min. Rub the mixture between your fingertips to ensure complete melting. Transfer the mixture to a cool bowl and beat on low speed until the mixture becomes opaque and thickens, 4 min. Raise speed to medium and beat the mixture to barely-soft peaks. Increase speed to high and whip the mixture until thick and glossy. Peaks should stand up and curl slightly when the beater is lifted. This should take another 4 min or so.

To assemble, unmold the cakes and sandwich half the filling between two layers. Add the rest of the filling to the top layer, and place the third layer over it. Don't forget to remove the parchment. Mound the meringue on the cake. You do not need to use all of it! Dollop gobs here and there and spread it to cover the cake completely, then pile a little more in the center for good measure. You'll probably use about a third, but if you really want to you can use all of it. I just prefer to have a few crumbs of cake with my meringue.

To make the fancy little spikes on the cake, dip your fingers into the meringue and lift. Poke the cake all over until it's crazy looking.

Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue by holding the torch a few inches from its surface and guiding the flame around the cake until it is browned to your liking.

Invite 10 people over to help you eat it because it won't keep very well! Nothing worse than slimy second-day meringue! Ok, another lie. I ate two pieces the second day. But I don't recommend refrigerating leftovers (cardinal cake sin), and since the whole thing is made of eggs I wouldn't advise keeping it too long. Shouldn't be a big problem!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Golden Prosecco Cake with Lemon Curd and Macerated Berries

Wow. Martha Stewart completely failed me this time. Yes, I am most certainly blaming this failure on her recipe, seeing as how I followed it to the letter. I should have known there was something fishy about a recipe that required whipping egg whites mixed with loads of brown sugar to stiff peaks! Ain't gonna happen. My whites remained a puddle of brown froth.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead, convinced that baking the brown slop migh somehow revive it. Nope. Martha's brown sugar angel cake looked edible when I pulled it out of the oven, however, and I began to think nothing was amiss. The lemon curd went off without a hitch, my tangerine-macerated berries glistened in their crystal bowl, and a jar of double cream waited in the fridge for dinner to end.

As the guests finished their wine, I hopped up from the table to unmold the cake. I sawed the edges loose, tipped the cake over, and patted the bottom. A damp chunk of gray cake fell out with a splat. Not good. The cake was a total, utter, disgusting mess. It looked more like a drowned squirrel caracass than angel food cake. I ventured a nibble and grimaced at the slimy, tough texture and old-sock flavor. With a furtive glance over my shoulder I whisked the disaster into the garbage, and hurried to the cupboard to look for a cake mix. Good old trusty cake mix!

Plain yellow cake, while delicious, would not exactly go with a random bowl of berries and lemon curd, so I opted to doctor the cake and make ... whatever I had ingredients to make! A half-consumed bottle of prosecco in the fridge inspired Golden Prosecco Cake With Lemon Curd and Macerated Berries. Fortunately, the cake turned out perfectly.

The butter in the recipe gives the cake a pleasant toothsome crumb, and the prosecco lends a heady fragrance. This cake has a sturdier texture than regular yellow cake, which allows it to absorb the juice from the berries and create a moist mouthful without becoming soggy. It would probably taste great with berries mixed right into the batter! That can be my next experiment. Although, I'm somewhat dissuaded from experiments after the horrible rubbery mess my last one produced.

Prosecco Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
1 pkg instant vanilla pudding
1/2 c. melted butter, cooled
1/4 c. canola oil
4 eggs
3/4 c. prosecco

Lemon Curd

6 egg yolks
1/2 c. lemon juice from 3-4 lemons
1 T. grated lemon zest
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. softened butter

Macerated Berries

1 pkg fresh raspberries
1 pkg fresh blackberries
1/2 a tangerine
3 T. sugar

Whipped Cream

3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
2-3 T. powdered sugar

Make the lemon curd:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice, and egg yolks over low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of hollandaise sauce (coats the back of the spoon). Do not allow the mixture to boil! This will result in lemon flavored scrambled eggs. Remove from heat and stir in softened butter and lemon zest until the butter melts completely. Chill until cold. If you don't like skin on your puddings, set plastic wrap on the surface of the curd before chilling.

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350. Mix all the cake ingredients together, stirring for five minutes. Pour into a heavily buttered bundt pan and bake for 30-45 minuts, or until golden brown. Make the berry mixture while the cake bakes.

Wash and dry the berries. Stir the berries and sugar together, and squeeze the juice of the tangerine half over the mixture. Stir and refrigerate.

While the cake is still warm, but cool enough to handle, gently cut around the edges of the bundt pan and release the cake onto a serving plate.

Whip the cream into soft peaks, add the powdered sugar, and mix on low until incorporated.

Serve wedges of the warm prosecco cake with a scoop each of lemon curd, whipping cream, and berries. Deny existence of fallen angel cake.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Shortbread

I love peanut butter. I think it is one of the ultimate American comfort foods. Almost every recipe involving peanut butter produces a cheap, easy, scrumptious result. Peanut butter will never betray you! Ok, not true. Excessive consumption will wreak havoc on your thighs... but thoughts of thighs do not belong on a baking blog, so forget I said that! I recently discovered that peanut butter makes an incredible pancake topping in place of butter. Yes, the syrup still works. Think about it, peanut butter on toast with honey tastes amazing, and that's nearly the same (though not half as good) as peanut butter on a pancake with syrup. That was a bit of a sidetrack, but life would be terribly dull if you traveled the straight path every time, right? So without (much) further ado, I give you Peanut Butter Chocolate Shortbread.

Alas! This post will not do the recipe justice due to the lack of a photograph. It would be very sad for this particularly delicious, ridiculously easy recipe to suffer the sad fate of other, photo-less recipes that remain unread, unsplattered, and untasted between the pages of plainer cookbooks. I have to admit, I don't own a single cookbook without pictures (or if I do it has been banished to the back of my bookshelf while the pretty ones sit front and center), and I am rarely inclined to test a recipe that doesn't have an appetizing depiction of the delectable result... but, sometimes a tantalizing description will do the trick!

These bars start with a buttery layer of tender shortbread. A sprinkle of cinnamon adds spicy heat to the shortbread's mild, homey flavor. Peanut-butter filling (candy-sweet and frosting-thick) tops the shortbread layer. Finally, the deep flavor of a dark chocolate glaze balances the bars' buttery sweetness. The crumbly shortbread serves as a perfect foil for the creamy, sticky, peanut-butter chocolate topping. The bars are a little easier to handle if you eat them after they've been chilled, but I think the flavors taste richer at room temp.

They're so easy I made them twice in one week (on short notice)! So give the ugly recipe a chance.

14 T. melted, cooled, unsalted butter (ok, maybe that was a little demanding)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 cups flour
1/2 t. cinnamon

Peanut Butter Filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural, i.e. Skippy, not Scudders)
1 stick softened, unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Chocolate Glaze:
1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oven to 325. Line a 9x13 in. baking pan with foil, letting the foil hang over the edge (longways and shortways) to make a "handle". This will help you get the shortbread out later, and saves you the trouble of washing the pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the flour until a thick dough forms. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan and prick it all over with a fork. Freeze the entire pan for 5 minutes to firm up the dough.

Pull the pan out, pop it in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temp to 300 and bake for about 20 more minutes. The dough should just start to turn a golden brown.

While the shortbread bakes, make the pb filling and chocolate glaze.

Use the same bowl you used for the dough to make the filling (unless you have tons of bowls and a giant dishwasher- then you can do whatever you want). Beat the peanut butter and the softened butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add half the powdered sugar and the vanilla, and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Add the rest of the powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. The peanut butter filling will be very thick. If it seems unspreadable, add some hot water until it reaches a reasonable consistency.

For the glaze, put the chocolate chips and the heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave at 30 second intervals until the chips become loose and glossy (gloosy? haha). Wisk the mixture with a fork until completely blended and smooth.

Once the shortbread comes out of the oven, allow it to cool briefly. Spread the pb filling evenly over the shortbread in the pan. Pour the chocolate glaze over the pb filling, and either spread it with a spatula or tilt the pan so that the glaze completely coats the filling.

Place the entire pan into the fridge or freezer until COLD (an hour in the fridge is probably enough). Using the foil overhangs as handles, remove the peanut butter shortbread from the pan. Peel the foil back from the sides, and use a long, sharp knife to cut the peanut butter shortbread into small squares. You probably won't have time to take a picture either.