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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rhubarb Cream Cake Variation

Had a pleasant surprise at the farmers' market on Saturday: local Hood strawberries! Not as good as they'll be in a couple of weeks, but still almost-indescribably delicious. So I modified the two rhubarb cream cakes I made this weekend to include some. I still used the rhubarb-custard mixture for the top and bottom layers of filling, but changed to middle layer to a little of the cream plus sliced and sugared strawberries. We saved a few pretty strawberry halves for the top.

Here's a shot that shows how unstable the cake can be when cut. I stabilized the cake I made to give away on Saturday with a few bamboo skewers, which I'd highly recommend if you want to avoid severe layer slippage as seen here.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Almond-Hazelnut Macaroons

I make macaroons a lot (basically whenever I have leftover egg whites), but I've never posted the 100% complete recipe here (I did sort of post it, but the details of making them came out in the comments, and at least one important detail was omitted).

I detest coconut, and so never really ate the macaroons most commonly available here in the US. In Russia, though, I bought a hazelnut macaroon on the street, and LOVED it. In the last few years fancy bakeries have started making them here in Portland. One popular place makes them in pastel colors with delicate flavors and buttercream filling. They're good, but fairly insubstantial. I like something with a bit more oomph: crunch, chew, and nut flavor. So, it didn't take much convincing for me to try the recipe for macaroons in The Dessert Bible. I've deviated from the original in ways that some might consider pretty major, most notably by using a) roasted and b) natural (not blanched) almonds. This is all by way of boosting the nut flavor; I'm afraid I wouldn't like traditional macaroons using raw blanched almonds nearly as much.

One reason I've made so many macaroons is that I had a huge amount of diced roasted almonds I'd purchased several years ago (I can feel the Laundry Queen cringing!) at a deep discount directly from the Blue Diamond growers' collective. I'd been storing them in my freezer (where you should always store all nuts, raw or roasted), but they really needed to get used up. After several recent batches (using up the egg whites generated as a side product of the Rhubarb Cream Cake), I finally ran out of diced roasted almonds while measuring out the nuts for today's batch! Fortunately I had several pounds of roasted hazelnuts on hand, so used almost half hazelnuts this time around. These macaroons are probably my favorite ever. Ever.
Chewy Nut Macaroons
adapted from The Dessert Bible

1 3/4 C nuts, preferably roasted, either with or without skins, with at least half of the nuts almonds
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
pinch salt
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 t almond extract (or vanilla extract if using other kinds of nuts)

Ganache Filling:
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 T heavy cream

Process nuts with sugar and salt in food processor until finely ground. Add egg whites and flavor extract, and process until batter is smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag, and pipe 1.5-2.5" circles of dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour and not longer than two. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macaroons, one sheet at a time, until firm, fragrant, and just starting to brown at edges, 30 minutes on insulated sheets. Let cool completely before peeling off parchment (otherwise you'll leave cookie on the paper).

To make ganache filling, put chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly, and microwave in additional 30-second increments as needed, stirring well in between, until perfectly smooth. Sandwich cookies around a little ganache filling, and let it set before eating if you want to avoid chocolate oozing.

I regularly make these in a double batch, but I think trying to do more at once would severely risk quality (not to mention overworking your food processor!).


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rhubarb Cream Cake

No, I haven't been posting much lately, but this one is worth the wait. I first made this cake last week for a church fundraising auction, and it went for $50. Time constraints meant I didn't photograph it, and since someone else bought it I didn't get to taste it, either. Reports from the eaters were favorable enough, however, to warrant making it again. I didn't take pictures of the process, but here is the final product:

Mmmm, let's look a little more closely:

I'll tell you right now, it tasted every bit as good as it looked. And yes, I use the past tense advisedly--our barbecue crowd polished this thing off in a matter of minutes.

This cake was inspired by a recipe from a couple years back in Cook's Illustrated for Strawberry Cream Cake. I've never actually made the cake with strawberries, but I did make it once with mixed berries (raspberries, boysenberries, marionberries) (huge hit, polished off in its entirety by 7 people), and once with peaches. The peach version was tasty, but not nearly so much as the berry version. It struck me that the tart/acidic punch of the berries was a key component in what made it so good. And what fruit is more tart than rhubarb? But I didn't think the original cake would translate directly into a rhubarb version, so some changes would be necessary.

The berry cream cake has exposed whole berries lining the edges of the filling layers, and no frosting on the sides. But rhubarb doesn't lend itself to this treatment, so I decided I would frost the sides of the cake. The frosting for the original cake was whipped cream stabilized with cream cheese, and it is perfectly dreamy. I knew for sure that I wouldn't tinker with that. The cake in the original recipe was a single layer of chiffon, cut into three layers, but I thought a bit softer cake would better complement the strong rhubarb. So I switched it out for two layers of Fluffy Yellow Cake (also from Cook's), each cut into two layers. For the filling, I used two recipes from The Cook's Dessert Bible: stewed rhubarb and pastry cream. Then I mixed them together for a rhubarb pudding filling.

Now, with pudding, cake, and cream, this cake ends up more or less a trifle without the bowl. The filling tends to make the layers slip, so maybe it would be better in a bowl as a trifle. But however you put the elements together, it's delicious.

Make the rhubarb and pastry cream the night before, so they have plenty of time to chill before assembling the cake.
Stewed Rhubarb
adapted from The Dessert Bible

1 lb rhubarb, trimmed, cleaned, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 C sugar
2 T honey
2 T lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and let sit, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has released its juices and most of the sugar is dissolved, a couple of hours. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Remove lid and keep simmering, stirring very occasionally, until thick and jammy, 15-20 minutes.

Pastry Cream
adapted from The Dessert Bible

1 pt half and half
6 large egg yolks (reserve whites to make macaroons later!)
1/2 C sugar
3 T flour
1/8 t salt
2 t vanilla

Heat half and half on stovetop or in microwave until just about to simmer. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt, then whisk dry ingredients into the egg yolks in a medium saucepan until smooth and pale yellow. Very slowly add the hot half and half to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly.

Put pan on stove over low heat and heat until mixture reaches 180 degrees, whisking constantly (no kidding, CONSTANTLY, or you will regret it). Strain into a bowl, stir in vanilla, then put waxed paper or plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and let cool.

Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March/April 2008

10 oz (about 2 1/2 C) cake flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 t table salt
1 3/4 C sugar
10 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 C buttermilk, room temperature
3 T vegetable oil
2 t vanilla
6 large egg yolks + 3 large egg whites, room temperature

The eggs are easier to separate when cold, so put three whites in bowl of stand mixer, three whites in container to save for making macaroons later, and six yolks in a four-cup Pyrex measuring cup with the buttermilk. Let sit for a couple of hours to come to room temperature.

Melt butter and let cool slightly (it took 30 seconds plus just a little stirring to melt room temperature butter in my microwave). Preheat oven to 350 and prepare two nine-inch round cake pans (either baking spray, or butter and flour; the original recipe calls for lining the bottoms of the pans with parchment as well, but I had good luck without). Whisk together flour, 1 1/2 C sugar, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk butter, oil and vanilla into measuring cup with buttermilk and egg yolks.

Beat three egg whites with whisk attachment until foamy, then gradually add 1/4 C sugar with mixer running. Scrape sides of bowl, then beat at medium-high speed until mixture just forms stiff peaks (it should still look moist, not dry). Scrape beaten whites into a small bowl, then return mixer bowl to machine.

Dump dry ingredients into mixer bowl. With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in buttermilk mixture and blend until just incorporated. Scrape sides of bowl, then mix on medium-low speed until smooth, 10-15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer, and use spatula to gently mix in one-third of the egg whites to lighten the mixture. Then gently fold in remaining egg whites just until no streaks remain. Divide batter between pans, drop pans from 2 inches to dislodge big air bubbles, and put pans in the oven on the middle rack. Bake until a toothpick just comes out clean, about 30-32 minutes, rotating pans after 15 minutes. Cool on rack in pans 10 minutes, then take out of pans and cool completely on rack, at least an hour.

Cheesy Whipped Cream
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2006

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1/8 t salt
1 pt heavy cream

Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and salt in stand mixer with whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add cream in a steady stream. Stop mixer to thoroughly scrape sides, and mix at medium speed until just blended. Then increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture forms stiff peaks.

To assemble the cake, use a serrated knife to cut each cake layer in half horizontally, holding knife steady and rotating cake. Stir together rhubarb and pastry cream. Put one cake layer on serving plate and top with a thick layer of rhubarb pudding (less than one-third of the total; there will be some left over). Repeat with remaining cake layers. Using a straight icing spatula, spread a thin layer of cheesy cream over the sides of the cake. If it's warm in the kitchen, chill the cake for 10 minutes, then apply a thicker layer to the sides. Scrape remaining cream onto the top of the cake and use spatula to spread to edges. Refrigerate whole cake for a couple of hours before serving.

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