Thursday, July 30, 2009

Egg White Chocolate Buttercream

Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible is literally my cake bible. It contains recipes for the only from-scratch cakes that ever turned out any good in my kitchen, and her buttercreams & fillings are all superb. I have yet to try a recipe in it that has failed, not only because they are excellent, but because she is very specific in her directions and gives plenty of tips for beginners.

This chocolate egg white buttercream is one of my favorites because it's relatively simple (believe me, she's got some majorly complicated ones in that book) but extrememly delicious. I'd compare it to a light mousse. It's firm but airy and kind of dissolves on your tongue...sometimes it's like I'm eating rich chocolate air...but it does have substance so that's not exactly right. How about I let Rose do the talking...

"This special version of chocolate buttercream is the color of rich milk chocolate and has a more assertive chocolate flavor than the traditional one made with egg yolks. In fact, it is just as smooth and even easier and faster to prepare than Classic or Neoclassic Buttercream because a sugar syrup is not needed.

"This buttercream is airy yet, because of the whites' structure, has more body than a buttercream made with all yolks. It is an excellent texture and flavor for both chocolate butter cakes and chocolate genoise."

Thanks Rose, that about sums it up. Except I like it on any chocolate cake, any yellow cake, or white cake. I just like it period. It is NOT your typical frosting and I've found that frosting haters (the women in my family) usually enjoy this one, along with everyone else that is normal (frosting lovers).

Classic Egg White Chocolate Buttercream
Makes 4 3/4 Cups, enough to fill & frost a two layer cake

10 oz bittersweet chocolate (I always use semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter (must be room temperature)
4 large egg whites (must be room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar

Melt the chocolate using a double boiler or in the microwave. I use the microwave & stir ever 15 seconds (after an initial 30 seconds). This time I accidentally did 45 seconds initially and that caused enough heat for the chips to completely melt as I stirred them. Do not overheat or the chocolate will seize up & you'll have to start over. Once melted, set aside to cool completely.

Beat the butter until smooth & creamy & set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. (Veronica's note: if you're using the same beaters you used to beat the butter, wash them thoroughly before using them on the egg whites or they won't ever fluff up or get stiff. Fat is the enemy when it comes to beating egg whites!) Gradually beat in the sugar until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Beat in the butter by the tablespoon. If the mixture looks slightly curdled, increase the speed a little and beat until smooth before continuing to add more butter (In my experience, sometimes the curdled look won't go away until all the butter has been added). Add the melted and cooled chocolate all at once and beat until smooth and uniform in color. Use immediately or place in an airtight bowl. Rebeat to restore texture.

You can store it 3 days at room temp, 2 weeks refrigerated, or six months frozen.

*Note : While it is necessary to cook egg yolks for a buttercream to prevent bacterial growth, raw egg whites are far less prone to this problem.
*Veronica's note: I know people are seriously paranoid about raw eggs, but I've made this a lot and can promise you that no one has gotten sick off of it yet--even after more than three days at room temp. I know, I live on the edge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

1955 Almond Burnt Sugar Cake

I found a 1955 copy of Household magazine at my parents' house recently, and the beauituful coconut cake gracing the cover compelled me to flip through the pages. Once I found the section of cake recipes that the cover promised, I scanned them over and came to an "Almond Burnt Sugar Cake" that caught my interest because I remembered reading that the use of burnt sugar began during the Great Depression.

Indeed, this burnt sugar cake is a perfect example of the resourcefulness and creativity that was stimulated during those lean times. Expensive ingredients were nearly unattainable and to keep things from getting redundant, housewives invented new ways to flavor desserts without actually having to purchase anything extra, such as burning sugar & turning it into a syrup before adding it to a cake.

Sadly, we have nearly forgotten this inexpsensive and tasty flavoring because many of us rely on mixes and fast fixes in this age of convenience & cheap substitutes. Before stumbling upon this magazine in my Dad's abundant collection of old books, I'd never in my life tasted burnt sugar and when I found the recipe for the burnt sugar cake, I knew it was high time I bring this tiny piece of history back to life.

The cake I made is in the lower left corner, and I obviously had more trouble with mine than whatever chef whipped that beauty up.

The funny thing about burnt sugar is that it doesn't particularly smell or taste good in its syrup state, but once added to cake or turned into frosting, the slight bitterness subsides and what remains is a flavor very similar to caramel and brown sugar, but different enough that I wanted to keep tasting it to try to ascribe it some elusive adjective. It was a pointless endeavor because burnt sugar is its own flavor & the only way to describe it is, "burnt sugar." And it is wonderful.

I have to admit that the cake as a whole was somewhat disappointing. The velvety light batter, so silky I wanted to lie in a bed made with it, held such promise! Alas, though I pulled off a series of time-learned stunts to ensure a glorious result, I still ended up with a cake that was slightly dry & crumbly, and with icing that was more like a grainy liquid caramel (seriously, half of it ran off the cake and I had to keep scraping off the growing pool around the bottom) than the fluffy/creamy stuff most cakes are frosted with. Don't get me wrong, the flavor was divine, but the textures weren't. If you are a baking pro, perhaps you can pull it off with greater success than I, but even if your result is similar to mine, I think you'll appreciate the flavor & your loved ones most likely will not be complaining (mine aren't). In fact, it's probably just the cake snob in me that finds anything wrong with this recipe at all.

As for me, I won't be trying this recipe again (I plan to incorporate the burnt sugar syrup into another cake recipe to see if I can enhance the crumb) but I feel I should share the original with you, to fulfill my objective of keeping this piece of history alive.

*Pictures of ads from the magazine follow the recipe.

My cake is pictured on a reproduction of the Depression-era Madrid-pattern crystal glass cake plate, a gift from my father.

Almond Burnt Sugar Cake
From Household Magazine, March 1955

3 cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs, unbeaten
1/3 cup burnt sugar syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Prepare burnt sugar syrup as directed in recipe below. Sift cake flour with baking powder, soda and salt. Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beating until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in 1/3 cup of burn sugar syrup and the vanilla, blending well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, stirring until smooth after each addition. Pour into 2 oiled and wax-paper-lined, round 9-inch layer cake pans 1 ½ inches deep. Bake in moderate oven (350 F) about 35 minutes. Remove to cooling rack and cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove from pans, peel off wax paper carefully, and complete cooling. Frost with Burnt Sugar Frosting.

Burnt Sugar Syrup: Place 1 cup sugar in heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar melts and turns golden brown. Lower heat and gradually add ½ cup boiling water. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup is slightly thickened. Cool. Blend in water, if necessary, to make 2/3 cup syrup.

Burnt Sugar Frosting
1/3 cup burnt sugar syrup
½ cup almonds, blanched and halved
2 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup butter
½ tsp soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Place 1/3 cup burnt sugar in 4-quart, heavy saucepan. Add almonds and stir over low heat for one minute. Remove almonds from syrup to cookie sheet, separating them with fork. Add sugar, butter, soda, salt and milk to syrup in saucepan. Cook to soft ball stage (234 F). Cool. Sir in vanilla. Beat until creamy. Spread on top and sides of layers. If frosting gets too stiff, add few drops hot water. Decorate with the caramel-coated almonds.

*Veronica's notes: be sure ALL your cake ingredients are at room temperature (including the syrup). When cooking the frosting, I recommend using a dutch oven or stock pot as the mixture boils up 2-3 times it's uncooked volume. It boiled over in my 3-quart saucepan and probably would in a 4-quart as well.

Household Magazine's 10 Tips for Better Cakes

1. Begin with high quality ingredients.
2. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
3. Be sure baking temperature is correct.
4. Use the pan size specified in the recipe.
5. Measure ingredients exactly, using standard measuring cups and spoons.
6. Always sift flour before measuring.
7. When using an electric mixer, scrape sides of bowl and beaters often during mixing.
8. Use low speed to blend and medium speed for beating.
9. Cool butter cakes in pan (upright) on cake rack for 10 minutes; then remove from pan.
10. Before frosting, cool cake thoroughly and remove excess crumbs from surface.

Now you know when instant oatmeal was invented--1955! Also, the picture is too small to see it (darned Picassa), but Quaker Oats used to also make "Mother's Oats" which had a picture of a mother with her son on the canister, pictured to the right of the Quaker Oats container we still see today.

I wonder when Kellogg's got the idea that putting the word CONSTIPATED in bold black letters at the top of their Allbran ad wasn't the best way to appeal to someone's appetite?

Karo makes it "extra good?" Well, isn't that swell!

This is one part of history I'll happily leave behind!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PMS Pie, AKA Five-Layer Toffee Pie

When you start screaming at the pot of water because it hasn't boiled yet, then start slamming drawers while searching for your pasta server, and eventually start throwing utensils on the kitchen floor and then start grabbing things off the counter with intent to break as many of them as know it's time to make this pie. You can tell your friends that it's Five-Layer Toffee Pie but you and I both know it's just a cure for PMS.

*Warning: this sucker is RICH so cut into small slivers if you are not actually suffering from PMS. Otherwise, this pie serves one.

PMS Pie (AKA Five-Layer Toffee Pie)

1 store-bought Oreo cookie crust (or make your own)
2 cups dulce de leche*, room temperature
1 (8-oz) container Cool Whip, thawed
1 (8-oz) bag toffee bits (you won't use the whole bag but you'll need something to sustain you until the pie is assembled)

Sprinkle some toffee bits over the bottom of the crust...

Spread the dulce de leche over it (oops, started on the next step b4 I took the pic)...

Sprinkle on some more toffee...

Spread on the Cool Whip...

And then top it off with more toffee.

It's best to refrigerate it overnight so that the dulce de leche firms up but if you're thinking about taking a meat cleaver to the back of your neighbor's head for parking in front of your driveway again, by all means--dig in immediately!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dulce de Leche

My method of making dulce de leche is probably the most commonly used, but I'm posting it here because two recipes using dulce de leche will follow and I want to include instructions on how to prepare it.

This is the cheater's way of making it. Go elsewhere if you want the stuff with real cream and vanilla bean seeds. This blog is for the non-food snobs. Me? I can be both but I prefer to cheat when it comes to dulce de leche.

Dulce de Leche

1. Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. (This is the only ingredient, by the way.) I use Eagle brand.

2. Place it in the bottom of a pot on it's side and cover with water at least an inch above the top of the can.

3. Put it on the stove, put the lid on, and turn the burner to high. You will let it boil on high for 2 hours. Alternately, you can simmer it on medium for four hours but it turns out exactly the same so I do it on high to save time.

4. Check the water level every half hour or so and add more water to keep it above the top of the can. DO NOT LET THE WATER LINE FALL BENEATH THE TOP OF THE CAN, OR THE CAN COULD EXPLODE, RESULTING IN SERIOUS INJURY.

5. Have I scared you into never trying my method yet?

6. Once it has boiled for two hours, turn off the heat and carefully remove the can with tongs.

7. Allow to cool completely, then open and use as you wish. Some just wait until the can is managably warm before opening, but I'm not so brave. The fear of the can exploding in my face keeps me from attempting anything of the sort. I usually let it sit overnight or just stash it in the cupboard if I won't be using it for a while. It has a long shelf life, even after cooking. I'm not sure how long, because the longest it's ever lasted on my cupboard shelf is one month. I'd say you've got until the expiration date on the can, but I'm not making any promises.

I opened this can today, one month after making it--still perfect!

Veronica's tip: I use a stock pot and cook several at once so I have them on hand. Also, I recently found prepared dulce de leche in a can at the grocery store on the Mexican food aisle so if preparing dulce de leche yourself doesn't appeal to you, check to see if your grocer sells them. The kind I found looks like this (and it looks & tastes exactly the same as the kind I make):

When it's done, you'll have some lovely thick, caramelly stuff like this. Heaven!