Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge August 2009 - Dobos Torta

Dobos Torta
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

In usual Daring Baker fashion, or maybe usual JennyBakes fashion, I put this off until the day before the challenge needed to be posted. It was the first day of classes at the university where I work, and since I run the music library, I couldn't be sure I'd even have time at home! I set aside two hours and was able to finish most of it during that time, although the buttercream was too soft to put the cake together until 11 pm or so. Then my brain woke me up at 5 this morning demanding that I take pictures and blog about it before I went to work. So here I am, a bleary-eyed baker, wishing I realized I didn't have any hazelnuts before the wee hours of the morning. This cake would have looked nice with nuts under each caramel wedge, and sprinkled around the outside, wouldn't it? Ah, well, next time.

Dobos Torta Slice
The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

Dobos is pronounced with an "sh" sound at the end, because that is how you say the Hungarian "s." I might be delirious, but I have been giggling and saying Daring Bakersh Challenge Augusht 2009.... you get the picture. Thanks to my co-worker who is from Hungary and could tell me how to pronounce it! He will receive a slice of torta this morning.

You might notice that this recipe involves caramel, and anyone following me for a while knows that caramel is my nemesis. It went pretty well this time. It took the sugar/lemon juice/water mixture a long time to get to the beautiful amber color, and I only burned two of my fingers while I spread it over my cake wedges, so I consider it a caramel success. Take that, nemesis. I am not sure its worth much to eat - I found it super lemony in a bad way.

So without that special wedge of caramel on the top, you are left with a cake of thin sponge cake with chocolate buttercream. It tasted good, and in the end that's really all anyone cares about! You can see many other versions of the dobos torta by heading to the The Daring Kitchen.

Categories: Cake, Caramel, Chocolate, Daring Bakers

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Best Brownies?

So Good Brownies
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
When I stumble across a recipe in a magazine that claims to be the best version of something, I'll admit to curiosity as to whether their claims are true. The August 2009 issue of Southern Living Magazine featured this brownie recipe as being the "best," so I gave it a try.

So Good Brownies
Makes: 16 servings
An Adaptation of a recipe from Baker's Chocolate

4 (1-oz) unsweetened chocolate baking squares
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2-3 inches to extend over sides; lightly grease foil.

2. Microwave chocolate squares and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in granulated and brown sugars. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Whisk in flour, vanilla, and salt.

3. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

4. Bake at 350 for 40-44 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Lift brownies from pan, using foil sides as handles. Gently remove foil, and cut brownies into 16 squares.

The magazine had a bunch of stir-in and dress-up ideas for the brownies, but I just dumped in a cup of white chocolate chips and a cup of regular chocolate chips, because I had them on hand. I had to bake them for maybe 15 minutes more because the middle wasn't setting, which made the edge ones a little hard. Mine were also considerably thicker than the picture they provide.

So were these the best? Not in my opinion. There was too much sugar, so much that they tasted almost grainy with it. The chocolate was a nice flavor, but there wasn't really a lot of depth to it. My winners probably still include Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownies for cakey ones and maybe Fat Witch brownies for fudgy ones (of course I'm still on the hunt for the elusive fudgy vegan brownie too).

Categories: Brownies, Chocolate

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marshmallow Madness

Marshmallows are not vegetarian (did you know?) because they usually contain gelatin. A while back I came across this recipe for vegetarian marshmallows, but haven't had a chance to try making them until today! My friend Mary came over and we worked together to make these.

The end result - delicious. Sweet, clean and fresh tasting. The vanilla was strong, and since I used a real vanilla bean, it was fun to see the little black specks throughout. Not that much different from a regular marshmallow, actually, rather like the texture of the first one you take from a freshly opened bag. Marshmallows aren't my favorite treat (clearly I had to put it IN chocolate, see above) but it is nice to know they can easily be made vegetarian for those of us who do not eat meat!

The replacement for the gelatin was xantham gum, which is also used in gluten-free baking, because it adds stabilization and structure. In this particular recipe it made the vegetarian marshmallows so stable they almost refused to melt down to be made into rice krispie treats!

Vegetarian Rice Krispie Treats
Almost. We managed. :)

Categories: Marshmallows

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux (Leek Quiche)

Close up - cute leeks!
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I find myself still on a kick of trying recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 by Julia Child. Yes the movie is coming out, but I have also gone back to read the original blog by Julie Powell from 2002-2003, The Julie/Julia Project. While the book is a story of her personal journey while she happened to be cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the blog has a lot more about the recipes she tried - whether they worked, how they tasted, what she learned. As I read, I mark recipes to try!

Of all the quiches, I chose leek because that seems very French, and Julia Child really does love to use leeks in everything. While searching around the web, I came across the entry on the same recipe in Smitten Kitchen, where she marvels at how you think you know how to cook something well, and Julia Child will give you a strange technique that tastes better than anything you've ever had. I think the leek preparation in this recipe is one of those instances.

Unbaked shell
To me, however, the true star of this recipe isn't the quiche but the crust. It is a pâte brisée, known by many names - short paste, short crust, pastry dough, pie crust. Before I swore up and down by my Grandmother's recipe (with the vinegar that stops the crust from developing too much gluten), but I may have had a conversion experience. I'm not sure if it is the ration of butter to shortening, the salt that adds the correct amount of flavor, or the fraisage technique used before the chilling of the dough that makes the end texture so nice, but it really works - flaky, flavorful, and easy to work with. Fraisage is the step where you take the dough that has barely come together and smear it across the counter, small bit by small bit, which mixes the flour and fat a different way.

My only beef with this recipe is that Julia never says how much it makes. How many crusts, Julia? I decided it was way too much for one, and wish I'd cut it in half to begin with so as not to have so much weight on the outsides of the shell that I cut off.

Slice of Leek Quiche
One last confession before I go. I've been making quite a few Julia Child recipes in the last two weeks, and they are all very butter-centric and full-fat. I just couldn't bring myself to use 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream in one quiche that serves 4-6 (according to the cookbook; we cut it into 8 pieces). So I did substitute fat free half and half for the cream, which sets up just fine. The crust alone contains 12 tbsp butter and 4 tbsp shortening, so this isn't exactly a fat free dish!

Since I had about a half recipe of the pâte brisée left, I decided to use the opportunity to use up a few things in the fridge, and a key lime buttermilk tart is downstairs cooling as we speak. Technically I should have made a sweet crust for it, but I don't expect it to be too bad.

Categories: Eggs, Crust, Pie, Quiche, Leeks, Savory Baking

Monday, August 03, 2009

Baking and Cooking with Julie and Julia - Souffle L'Orange

Souffle L'Orange
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The movie Julie and Julia comes out this weekend, the movie that was based on the book Julie and Julia, which was based on The Julie/Julia Project blog from 2002, which was devoted to cooking all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, a cookbook whose process is chronicled in My Life in France, also by Julia Child. What foodie wouldn't be excited about this string of books and movie, and a gathering seemed inevitable.

Book and Food Club
I e-mailed some friends earlier this summer, proposing a book/movie/cooking club, a one-shot thing, where we would read Julie & Julia, meet to talk about the book and eat Julia Child food that we were inspired to try making, and then later on go and see the movie. Last night, seven women came over, Julia Child recipes in one hand and Julie & Julia in the other. We dined on cold stuffed eggs, two quiches, one with swiss and one with eggplant. Also coming from one woman's garden was ratatouille along with what Julie Powell deemed "Bitch Rice," because of the seemingly ridiculous complexity in preparing rice. One person made Julia Child's recipe for Coq au Vin, which seemed quintessentially Julia to me.

Book and Food Club
For dessert there were these amazing Chocolate Cups with Wine-Poached Peaches, definitely my favorite of the night. I had made Reine de Saba Cake in case my souffle flopped, but I did a trial one Friday night just to see if it would work. The picture at the beginning of the entry is of the original Friday night souffle, because I completely forgot to photograph the second one.

I had not made a souffle before, but in My Life in France, Julia Child mentions the Grand Marnier souffle several times, including making it on Christmas Eve as a tradition. I thought I'd attempt it first, since chocolate sounded more problematic (since chocolate is heavy). The recipe is technically Souffle L'Orange, and comes from volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What I love about Julia Child's recipes is that while they are often complicated with steps that sometimes seem unnecessary, I felt like she was standing in the kitchen with me, allowing me to fail if I wanted, as long as I tried it (but also feeling like I wouldn't, since she'd written down exactly what she wanted me to do). Julia became an expert, the authority, but she didn't even start learning to cook until she was 37. So why couldn't I make a souffle?

Well, I could! I wasn't sure what a souffle even tasted like, so I turned to my friends at Cooks Illustrated, who say that "At its best, a soufflé rises dramatically above its rim to create a light but substantial and crusty top layer cushioned by a luxurious, creamy center that flows slowly across the tongue, richly saucing the taste buds. The contrast between exterior and interior is the essence of a great soufflé." Okay, so creamy and crusty, luxurious and light. Easy. :P

The recipe starts with what I'll call a sweet roux, although Julia calls it a bouillie. She had me massage an orange with sugar lumps, so I did, feeling ridiculous, but I think it helps release the oils before zesting. All in all the process wasn't very time-consuming, although there is always the precarious balance between mixing everything well enough and overmixing as you fold in the whites. I did less than I thought I should, because I was so afraid I wouldn't get the lightness. The first one I made rose considerably above the pan, but the one I made last night was even better.

Souffle L'Orange, after
After it has been cut into, or even as it cools, a souffle starts to deflate. But you can still see the contrast between airy and custardy, crusty and creamy. It was ethereal. I used that word after trying it Friday, and one of the people at the table used it to describe it last night. It hits your tongue and then melts away, leaving the essences fo the flavor you have made. And for a French recipe, it isn't as bad calorie wise as some of the other recipes might be, making it the ultimate indulgence.

I'm not going to type up the recipe here. Almost everyone has Mastering the Art of French Cooking on sale now. It should be a staple in every kitchen, yes, even mine, the vegetarian. I didn't think so until I looked through it and started making some of the recipes. They are complex but not impossible, with delicious, well-tested results. As Julia would say, Bon Appétit!

Categories: Dessert, Eggs, Orange