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More defiant baking: Part one October 14, 2010

If I’ve been out and about during the day, far from the kitchen and thoughts of dessert planning, I sometimes think to myself ‘Ah well, perhaps we don’t need dessert tonight. Perhaps I can just have a cup of tea and maybe a teensy piece of chocolate or twelve’. I’m almost convinced of this. Until about seven thirty pm. Then I get completely distracted, eyes glazing over, while I compile a mental list of potential dessert ingredients. Then I start grilling the beloved:

If I was making pudding, what would you want?

Don’t want pudding, am busy.

But if I was and you did, what would you want? (such a stupid question, beloved cannot understand the overwhelming need to make something different and will invariably suggest making these chocolate fondants)

Don’t want pudding. Thought you weren’t baking today? WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT BAKING? I’M WATCHING MY STORIES!!

What about something with cherries?

NO BAKING! STORIES! CHERRIES BAH!!

Lemon?

Gah. Can’t you just make chocolate fondants?

Hmmm. Lemon. Something quick and lemony? Lemon delicious? No. Boring. Lemon lemon lemon.

muttering… fondant fondant fondant

Hah! Lemon fondants! Would still need chocolate. Hmmm. White chocolate?

Ugh.

That’s it! White chocolate and lemon fondants! (could be way too sweet, but worth a shot)

8pm Puddings

300 grams of white chocolate (at least 35% cocoa butter: ie. Green & Black’s or Whittaker’s)

75 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature

75 grams of brown sugar

40 grams of plain flour

6 eggs of various sizes*

Zest and juice of a lemon

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Butter six ramekins/small cups/small glasses.

Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over just simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.

Put the butter, sugar, flour and eggs into a food processor and whizz until combined and smooth.

Add the zest and juice and whizz to incorporate.

With the processor running, add the melted chocolate in a continuous stream.

Divide the batter evenly between the six ramekins.

Bake for 8-9 minutes.

You can prepare these up to two days in advance. Just cover and chill the filled ramekins before the baking stage. I usually do this if I’m only baking for the beloved and I – bake two at first and the remaining four can be plucked out and baked as we like for snacks and whatnot. When you cook them, increase the baking time to about 12 minutes.

Turn out the puddings into bowls and top with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Dig in…with the first spoonful, the shell of the pudding will burst and molten pudding will ooze out deliciously.

The verdict: almost there, but not quite perfect. The balance of white chocolate to lemon needs to swing more to the lemon for my liking, to balance out the white chocolatey sweetness – next time I would add the zest of two more lemons. I would also use Whittaker’s white chocolate instead of Green & Black’s – the vanilla isn’t needed here and adds unnecessarily to the sweetness. We still have four in the fridge waiting to be baked, so I’m going to cook up some lemon curd this afternoon and try one with that for some added lemony oomph. Watch this space…

In exciting news, Betty is back on the lay after two months of concentrated chick-raising. Pictured (back left) are the shells of two of her gorgeous little eggs. Darker than Lola’s creamy shelled eggs (back right) and Mrs P’s bright white delights (front), Betty’s eggs are light brown, slightly glossy and oblong, with compact golden yolks and very viscous whites.

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Second chance September 5, 2010

Persistent in her attempts to curb my baking enthusiasm, the beloved has come up with a new system. Rather than just arbitrarily slapping down an embargo when she gets to sugar overload (usually by midweek), she’s now issuing out baking passes like she’s some kind of kitchen border control. “Carrying unsalted butter? Sorry, you cannot cross the border. Refer to the terms of your multiple-visit visa…see? Section 3, subsection a/ii: Items that pertain directly or indirectly to the pursuit of creating baked goods cannot be carried into The Kitchen. Are you intending to carry out work that may lead to the combination – mechanically or manually – of sugar, butter, eggs and flour? If so, again I refer you to the terms of your current visa… Section 5, subsection c/ix: declaration of intent to bake without a valid pass will result in detention and/or confiscation of equipment. False declarations will lead to deportation from The Kitchen and the revoking of all previously held visa rights.”

A couple of loopholes have yet to be covered by this legislation, allowing baking if the resulting goods are to exit the house – untouched – within twelve hours of completion, or if the resulting goods are of a flavour/form/consistency that would never be willingly consumed – even when desperate – by the beloved. In the true style of all corrupt border control officials, the beloved can also override her own rules and just demand baked goods at any time. Luckily for me, the weekend swung around and I realised that all of this week’s baking has ‘somehow’ fallen within the loopholes, leaving me with one perfectly valid baking pass. To celebrate this and feed a friend (and fellow baking enthusiast) visiting from Canberra, I decided to delve into the pristine pages of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.

This incredible book winged its way to me some months ago, a gift from the beloved’s sister. I have loved it dearly, all these months, even before I’d baked a single crumb from its pages. Not only is it photographed beautifully (which, let’s face it, accounts for 90% of the grade when you’re marking a potential new cookbook) but it is thorough. Really, really thorough. Ingredients are listed  by name, volume, weight in pounds & ounces, weight in metric and temperature (in celsius and fahrenheit, naturally) at which they should be used. Instructions for a single cake cover several pages. There are planning ahead tips, so as not to find out five minutes before your guests arrive that your icing will need 2 hours to set. There is a little back-story for each cake. And yet, despite the slightly anal thoroughness, Rose doesn’t come across as preachy or terse. She’s not as dip-your-bosoms-in-it indulgent as Nigella, but I still find myself drooling a little over almost every recipe (Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pie anyone? Or perhaps some Baby Chocolate Oblivions?). So what has taken me so long to get going? Well, the sheer length of the recipes did give me pause, but it was mainly the size of the completed cakes. This weekend’s project serves 14-16 people and requires 17 eggs. Obviously they would be 14-16 people who don’t like cake as much as I do, but even so, 17 eggs is a big commitment – either save up for a long long time and be super vigilant against The Crow or (the horror) buy extra eggs. I bought the extra eggs.

Lemon Luxury Layer Cake

Get settled in, this won’t be quick. This recipe has three components: cake, lemon curd and buttercream. Either give yourself two days to complete this, or start really early in the morning. The cake is pretty straightforward, but must be completely cooled before it can be cut into layers. The lemon curd and the buttercream each need about a three-four hour jump on your predicted serving time.

You will need two cake tins of equal size (23cm, springform), a food thermometer (Rose recommends an instant-read sort, but I only have a milk-frothing one and that did the job), and a good amount of baking paper. An offset palette knife would be useful. I don’t have one.

Cake batter:

170 grams of white chocolate (I know, the hated white chocolate. Rose convinced me to hazard this recipe by specifying exactly what to look for in my white chocolate – information that would have been useful a couple of weeks ago – it should be at least 30% cocoa butter, ideally with vanilla, such as Green & Blacks or Whittakers)

112 grams of egg yolk, at room temperature (roughly 6 large)

242 grams of milk (1 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

300 grams of plain flour

240 grams of caster sugar

4 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder

3/4 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

128 grams of unsalted butter at 19-23 degrees celsius (room temperature, unless you’re a bit stingy with the heating, or if it’s the middle of summer)

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees celsius (160 fan forced)

Butter and line your cake tins

Chop the white chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl. Simmer some water in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat. Put the bowl over the saucepan, not letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool until no longer warm to touch, but still fluid in consistency.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 1/3 of the milk and the vanilla extract until just combined.

Using a freestanding mixer (ie Kenwood Chef/Mixmaster) on low speed, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining milk. Mix on low speed until just combined, raise the speed to medium and mix for 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.

Gradually add the egg mixture to the batter, in three stages, mixing on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

Add the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.

Spoon the batter into your prepared tins. Each tin will be just under half full. To be precise, use your scales and put ~600 grams of mixture into each tin.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. The cakes are done when golden, springy to touch and when an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn onto greased racks to cool completely.

Lemon Curd:

6 grams of lemon zest, finely chopped/grated

130 grams of egg yolk at room temperature (about 7 large)

225 grams of caster sugar

85 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

141 grams of lemon juice, well strained

pinch of salt

Put the zest into a medium bowl and set it aside with a sieve over the top. Just before you start the curd, rest this bowl in another bowl with ice in it.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and butter until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice and salt. The mixture will appear split – this is okay and won’t last. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, scraping down the sides frequently. Keep stirring until the mixture thickly coats the spatula but is still liquid enough to pour (a kind of plopping consistency). The mixture will become opaque and turn a golden yellowy-orange. Do not let it boil or it will curdle. Err on the side of lower temperature. This may take a bit longer, but you won’t stuff it up. When you are satisfied, pour it immediately through the sieve into the bowl with the zest. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Divide the curd into two containers: 100 grams in one, to add to the buttercream and the rest in another. Cover tightly and refrigerate until cool (about three hours, or overnight is fine).

White Chocolate Lemon Buttercream, Part 1:

White Chocolate Custard base:

300 grams of white chocolate (as per above specifications), chopped

150 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature, chopped

200 grams of whole eggs (about 4 large), lightly beaten

In a large bowl, over just simmering water (again, don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), melt the white chocolate and butter together, stirring until smooth.

Whisk the eggs into the mixture.

Continue whisking and heating until the mixture reaches 60 degrees celsius and is slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and refrigerate, stirring every 15 minutes until the temperature has dropped to 21 degrees celsius.

Buttercream Part 2:

142 grams of unsalted butter

The White Chocolate Custard

The 100 gram portion of lemon curd

Using your freestanding mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually beat the white chocolate custard into the butter, scraping down the sides as necessary. Continue beating until stiff, creamy peaks form. Cover and set aside for about 1 hour (I had lunch and came back after about 40 minutes and that seemed fine)

Beat on high for 30 seconds, add the lemon curd and beat to just incorporate.

Putting it all together:

Cut your cooled cakes in half (horizontally, duh). This is not that tricky, just make sure you have plenty of bench space. Sliding two strips of baking paper under each piece will also help to maneuver them (you can pull the strips out from between the layers without dislodging much curd/buttercream at all).

Spread just under half the lemon curd on each of the bottom layers (leaving just a little left over). Spread not quite to the edges, the weight of the layers will push it further out.

Spread a little (~ a tablespoon) of buttercream on your serving plate (this stops the cake from lurching around)

Put a lower layer, spread with curd on the serving plate. Set an upper layer on top. Spread with about 1/2 a cup of buttercream, spreading not quite to the edges).

Put the next lower layer on top of this:

Set the final upper layer on the very top. Use the remaining buttercream to cover the top and sides of the cake:

Swirl the leftover lemon curd through the buttercream on the top of the cake:

Slice, serve and eat:

Do I need to say how good this tastes? I may have overdone the amount of buttercream on the top of the cake, but even so, it is truly lovely. Lemony, white-chocolatey and a cake that is dense but not at all dry.

Not only was it worthy of using up my baking pass, it has patched up the cracks in my relationship with the abominable white chocolate.

 

Hurry up and grow August 31, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 11:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

Late last summer I planted asparagus seeds. This was a seriously long-term investment in our culinary future. Although the tiny seedlings popped up – perfect asparagus in miniature – within weeks, there won’t be any harvesting for another eighteen months. Until then they grow, achingly slowly, in our raised vegetable bed, taunting me with their tiny perfection. On the upside, once an asparagus bed gets going you can leave it in place for years and years (seven or perhaps twenty, depending which source you might believe). Once something is planted in the garden, no matter what stage of its development, I am reluctant to buy it elsewhere. Partly this is thriftiness (or stinginess, if that’s your angle), partly it’s about attempting to honour the principles of eating seasonally, and partly it’s about the satisfaction of making do with what one has to hand. Sometimes though, as with eggs, I cave in to desire.

Cheat’s Risotto

2 tablespoons of olive oil

50 grams of unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

330 grams of arborio rice (or other risotto rice, as you wish)

250 mls of white wine (I keep a 2 litre cask of dry white in the pantry for just such a thing)

1 litre of vegetable stock (I use 2 massel ultra stock cubes) hot

3 bunches of asparagus

1 cup of grated parmesan

zest & juice of a lemon (homegrown, slightly redemptive)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan/deep sided, wide frypan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until softened.

Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat the grains.

Add the wine and stir for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each to absorb before adding the next. Now there are two schools of thought on this process – stirring vs non-stirring with occasional swirling. If you stir, particularly if it’s vigorous, your end result will be a thicker texture. If you swirl occasionally the end result is a looser risotto. Entirely up to you.

Carry on until the rice is cooked but not too soft. This will take 20-30 minutes. It’s best if you don’t wander off during this time. Inattention can lead to a much gluggier result.

In the meantime, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Peel the stalks, leaving the tips intact. Chop into ~5cm segments.

Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes, until just tender. The tips will be bright green. Drain, then refresh in cold water. I have read a theory that putting the peelings into the water you’ll blanch the asparagus in gives an extra-asparagusy flavour. I tried this and just found it fiddly without an appreciable difference in flavour.

When the risotto is almost done, add the asparagus, parmesan, lemon zest and juice. Gently combine then season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes, then serve.

It’s hard to turn down a good risotto. Some are dreadful. I once worked in a pub where the name risotto was given to cooked rice fried up with chunks of whatever and peas (always with the peas) then sprinkled with parmesan. Fine to eat if you’re a house-sharing uni student, at the end of a feet-blistering shift, if you need a heavy dose of carbs and salt, and you can disguise its hideousness with the wine bottle rejects of the night. Not fine if you’re bothering to cook yourself a dinner you plan to enjoy.

This is worth the moderate amount of effort and attention. For extra carby-deliciousness, serve it up with chunks of fresh crusty bread slathered with real butter. Oh and a bit of white wine won’t go astray.