Raspberry Trifle Cake

Ten days ago (that would be 8 March 2011) was a very auspicious day.  It was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (go us!), and it was also Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras.  AND.  And.  It was my birthday.  I turned TWENTY-NINE.  Holy smokes.  That’s a prime number.

In honour of the occasion (and because I need to perfect my fondant for Chel‘s wedding cake in June), I made my own birthday cake.

This is very loosely based on a cupcake the Pie and I made for our own wedding back in August 2009.  The cupcake itself came from Susannah Blake’s Cupcake Heaven, but I think I’ve sufficiently changed this so I can call this recipe all my own.

Some of this stuff you can do ahead of time, like the fondant and the buttercream icing, and just put them in the fridge until you need them.

For the Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter two 8″ round baking pans.  Line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper and butter those too.
Beat together 1 cup butter, softened, and 1 cup granulated sugar, until pale and fluffy.
Add in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Sift in 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder) and fold it in.
Fold in 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained.  Save about half a cup of the juice you’ve drained off for your icing.  You could use fresh raspberries if you’ve got them but it seems kind of a waste if you’re just squishing them into batter. 
Spoon the batter into your prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove the pans to racks to cool completely.

For the Fondant:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip together 3 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup butter, softened but not melted, and 1 cup corn syrup.  If you want your fondant to be white, use the light corn syrup, as the dark stuff I used gave the fondant a creamy complexion.

When the mixture is creamy and fluffy, reduce the speed to low and add 1kg icing sugar, a bit at a time.  If you do it all at once, or if you do it on high, you will get a mushroom cloud of icing sugar everywhere.

And it might even get on your dog.

When it is all incorporated, you will have a large doughy mass. 

Tip it out onto some waxed paper and knead it into a ball. If your dough is too tacky you might find that you want to add more icing sugar.  To do this simply dust a work surface with icing sugar and knead it in.

When the dough has reached the consistency that you are happy with (i.e., not sticky, but not so dry that it cracks), then you can colour it.   It helps to wear gloves for this part.

Spread a few drops of food colouring over your dough and knead them in until the colour is uniform. 

It will take a while to get it the colour you want it.

I was aiming for a pale pink but because of the yellowish tinge due to the dark corn syrup it came out more flesh coloured.  Or at least, MY flesh colour.

I pulled off an extra bit of the newly coloured dough here and added extra food colouring so it was a darker pink than the rest. 

I will use this for the decoration part.

When you have kneaded to your satisfaction, wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper and seal it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you need it.

For the Buttercream Icing:

In a stand mixer, whip 2 cups softened butter until pale and fluffy.  

Beat in 2 cups icing sugar until you get soft peaks.

Add in 4 tablespoons raspberry jam.

And that 1/2 cup reserved raspberry juice

Mix well.  It may be slightly grainy, but that’s okay for our purposes.

Plop the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To Decorate:

Remove the icing and the fondant from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature.

Tip out the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.

Slice off the round top of each cake, if you care about such things.  I didn’t, because I wanted the top to be rounded slightly, and so I flipped one cake upside down and put the two flat sides together.  Cut each cake in half horizontally.

I am spreading raspberry jam here in the centre, with custard on the bottom and top-most layers.  I did not make the jam or the custard myself.  I suppose you could create some form of preserve with fresh raspberries, but at this point I think I’ve done enough. I tried to make custard by hand, but I messed it up twice and that’s my limit on egg-wasting.  I suppose you could use pudding if you like, but I didn’t have any on hand.
So here’s the custard.
And here’s the jam.
Then there’s another custard layer.
Don’t go all the way to the edges, because the cake’s weight will force the filling out and down the sides.

Spread a crumb coat of buttercream on your cake (just a thin layer to trap the crumbs) and place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until the icing has set.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the remaining buttercream to smooth out the surface.  Chuck it in the refrigerator again until the second layer of icing is set.

While the cake is chilling, roll out your fondant on a surface dusted with icing sugar or corn starch.  You will want to roll it to about 1/4″ thick.  Any thinner and you will be able to see the flaws in the cake through it.  Any thicker and you will have trouble stretching it properly.  Make sure to take off your rings and watches while you do this so you don’t mar the fondant surface.

To determine the surface area you will be covering, measure the height and width of your cake.  You will need to create a round surface of fondant that is a diameter of twice the height plus the width of your cake.

Gently lift the flattened fondant over your rolling pin and use it as a lever to help you lay the fondant over your chilled cake.  I found that approach didn’t work for me, and I had to try several different methods before I found one that worked.  I rolled it out over waxed paper and used the waxed paper to do the transfer.  The only problem is that my waxed paper was too narrow and I had to double it, which resulted in it leaving a line on the fondant.  I will have to find some industrial-width waxed paper for next time.

Using your hands, gently lift and press the fondant into the sides of your cake after smoothing the top.  Don’t pull on the fondant or it will crack — lift instead and flatten out the wrinkles with the palm of your hand.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll see what I mean when you do it.  Notice the strong colour resemblance between my hand hand the fondant?  Yes, I am pale and pasty and spring can’t come soon enough.

Trim off excess fondant at the base of the cake.  Otherwise you will have a cake that resembles a demented jellyfish.  Or some bizarre prehistoric alien life form that may slowly yet inexorably expand, engulfing your family, your house, and then the entire planet.  THE THING THAT TIME FORGOT.

So yeah, you want to trim that sucker.

There are such things as fondant smoothers that you can use to even out the fondant surface.  I didn’t have one, so I used a flat-sided plastic cup.  And that excess icing sugar or corn starch on the surface?  Don’t worry about it.  It will either come off by itself in the course of you smoothing and shaping, or you can wipe it off with a wet finger.It’s far from perfect, but quite impressive for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

Here I have rolled out the darker fondant onto a sheet of waxed paper and traced on it a design.

Cut out the design with a sharp knife and pull off the excess, leaving the design on the waxed paper.

Lightly brush the top of the fondant pieces with water.

Carefully roll the design on the paper face down on top of the cake and press down lightly.

I took a deep breath after I’d done this.

Even more carefully, peel off the waxed paper, leaving your design on the cake.  Smooth the sharp edges with your fingers.

You can also freehand other elements out of the leftover fondant, as you see I did here.  You can also store the scraps in the fridge in an airtight container, just in case you want them for something else later.

Chill the cake to harden the fondant before serving.  Then eat as much of it as you can handle.

I would definitely recommend storing this cake in the refrigerator and eating it within a few days of making it.

Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

This recipe is an interesting one, and the Pie pointed it out to me.  He loves peanut butter, but isn’t a huge fan of the peanut butter cookie, finding it too crumbly and dry.  So he found me this recipe in Baked’s first cookbook, and I thought I would try it out for one of my research participants.  The participant in question, poor fellow, just broke his collarbone in two places.  I got a one-armed hug for my cookie efforts.  It helped that I also brought along some of the ever-popular peanut butter cups.

And, because my lovely Baked book is back in St. John’s, I used the instructions of Laura over at Kitchen Illiterate — thanks Laura!

I doubled my recipe and am going to attempt to freeze half this dough and see how it turns out.  As always, I left out the salt, because my butter is salted.

So get your mis en place all set up:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, whisked or sifted together with 2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup butter, softened and cut into pieces

1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter (I used all-natural crunchy)

6 ounces chocolate, chopped (I used dark chocolate)

If you’re not sure how fine to chop your chocolate, remember that, unlike chocolate chips, bar and slab chocolate does not retain its shape when it’s melted, so think carefully about the size of chocolate goo you want wandering around in your cookie and you’ll be fine.

First, beat the butter and the sugars together until they’re totally fluffy.  If you find your mixture is too dry and crumbly, your butter needs to be softer.  You can chuck your mixing bowl into the oven at 250°F for a few minutes and that will do the trick nicely.

Add each egg one at a time and beat until fully incorporated.

Then you can plop in your peanut butter and the vanilla.  I found it mixed easier if I softened the peanut butter as well, but it depends on the type of peanut butter you use.  Beat that until it’s just mixed.

Add about half the flour mixture and beat for 15 seconds (just following the recipe here, folks).  Add the second half and beat until just incorporated, though you want to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour anywhere.

Now you can add in your chocolate.

Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  I am a bad person, and only had time to do it for 2 hours, but I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference.  The dough might be a little harder to handle, but you get used to it.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and use a tablespoon measure or small scoop to drop rounded balls of dough onto the sheet. 

The secret is in the roundness of your implement.

Make sure they’re at least 2″ apart, because these babies will spread like the Dickens. (Incidentally, does anyone know where that particular turn of phrase comes from?)

Flatten the balls with your fingers, but just a little bit.  They’ll do the rest on their own.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating your sheets halfway through baking, until the cookies have just started to brown on top.  You may find that your oven is hotter or more efficient than this and your cookies end up a bit darker or slightly burnt on the bottom. I always burn my first batch anyway.  My dad loves it because it means more cookies for him.

I ended up cutting the baking time down to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.  It might even be better to cook them at 350°F instead, but I guess it depends on how thick your pan is.  I used two kinds of baking sheets, one rimmed and one not, and the ones on the rimmed sheet did not turn out as dark.

Remove them from the oven and allow them to sit on the baking sheets for a few minutes to firm up before you transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Then you can stuff your face.  Go ahead.  You know you want to.

German Chocolate Cake

For my dad’s birthday back in November, he requested chocolate, and we settled on German chocolate cake for the big celebration.  German chocolate cake is not German, despite the name.  Emerging out of the heart of America in the 1950s, the recipe was actually named after Samuel German, founder of the Bakers Chocolate company.  And of course I have borrowed the recipe from my favourite American in Paris, David Lebovitz.  This cake has a few more extra steps than you’re probably used to (unless you do stuff like this all the time, in which case I bow down to you), so be prepared to devote quite a bit of time to it.  Hopefully yours will turn out a bit better than mine did.

The Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  I didn’t have my handy-dandy kitchen compass (it’s still in Newfoundland) so I had to wing it.

In a double boiler or in your microwave, melt together 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, with 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, also chopped, and 6 tablespoons water.  Set that aside and let it cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar until fluffy, about five minutes.

Separate 4 eggs into two small bowls (one for the whites, one for the yolks, natch).  Beat your melted chocolate into your butter, and add your 4 egg yolks, one at a time.

In a measuring cup, sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Mix in half the dry ingredients into the creamed butter.

Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

***TIPS AND TRICKS INTERRUPTION***

If you don’t have buttermilk you can make an easy substitution here: plop a tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice (I used lemon here) into a measuring cup.

Top it up with milk to equal 1 cup.

Allow it to sit for about five minutes to curdle and you’re all set.

***END INTERRUPTION ***

Add in the rest of the dry ingredients and mix.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. 

Beat in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and keep going until you get stiff peaks.

Fold in your egg white mixture until there’s no trace of it visible.

Divide your batter into the two prepared pans and bake for about 45 minutes, until your toothpick test comes out clean.

Place the pans on racks to cool completely.

While your cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the coconut pecan custard filling, the rum syrup, and the chocolate icing.  Mmm!

The Filling

If the oven is free, or if you had the foresight to do this ahead of time, spread 1 cup finely chopped pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast, turning halfway through, for 10 minutes in your oven at about 400°F.  Do the same with 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut.  Allow them to cool.

In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream), 1 cup granulated sugar, and 3 large egg yolks.

Cut 3 oz room temperature butter (that’s 6 tablespoons) into small pieces and place them in a bowl with the cooled coconut and pecans.  Okay, so my pieces aren’t that small.  Sue me.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the custard thickens and coats the back of your spoon.

Pour the hot custard immediately into the coconut and pecan mixture and stir until the butter is melted.  Cool to room temperature.

The Syrup

In a small saucepan heat together 1 cup water and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is clear.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in 2 tablespoons dark rum.  I of course used Screech.

The Icing

Chop up 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and plop it in a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and 3 tablespoons butter. [Ali’s note: I found that using corn syrup in this particular ganache made my icing runny and hard to apply.  I would probably not use it next time.]

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) until it just begins to boil.  Pour that sucker over the chocolate and let it stand for a minute.

Stir until totally smooth and let sit until it’s room temperature.

Cake Construction

Ease your cooled cakes out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife) cut both cake layers in half horizontally. 

I also cut off the tops of my cakes to make them more level.  Lots of bubbles in this here cake.

Set the first cake layer on a cake plate.  Brush well with your rum syrup.  Don’t be shy — there’s plenty.

Spread 3/4 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges.

Plop another cake layer on top, and then repeat the syrup and filling process, even on the top.

Use your chocolate icing all up the sides of the cake.  This will seal in all the moisture.  I tried to do the decorative piping of icing around the edges of the top, but as I said, my icing was too runny, so I ended up just dribbling it everywhere.  Make sure you use all of it, no matter what happens to its consistency.

I chilled the cake to set the icing.  If your icing is normal, then you won’t need to worry.

Serve and enjoy!

Happy Hallowe’en Cupcakes

Hurray!  It’s Hallowe’en!

These spooky cupcakes come from my favourite cupcake book, Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake, and they’re easy as pie.  Or cupcakes.  And pumpkin is an awesome thing to bake with.

‘Twas an ominous storm a-brewing this afternoon when I made them up.  It almost ruined my light! 

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Beat together 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup sunflower oil, and 2 eggs.

Fold in 1 cup grated pumpkin or butternut squash (you can used canned pumpkin, and I usually add a little extra for moistness) and the grated peel of 1 unwaxed lemon.

Combine in a separate bowl 1 cup self-rising flour (or one cup minus one teaspoon all-purpose flour mixed with 1 teaspoon baking powder, though for this recipe regular flour works just fine), 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Sift flour mixture into pumpkin mixture and fold in.

Spoon mixture into 12 paper liners and bake for 18 minutes.  I only had medium liners (so I ended up with 24) but usually I make large ones.  Also, make sure to flatten out your batter so it’s level before baking, as the batter, having no butter to melt, won’t do it on its own.  Obviously, I forgot that step.

Cool completely on wire racks.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt 5 oz chopped white chocolate

In a separate bowl, melt 1 oz chopped bittersweet or dark chocolate.  Allow the chocolates to cool for about 5 minutes.

Spoon the white chocolate evenly to cover the top of the cooled cupcakes.

Make a parchment paper cone (fold it into triangles and snip off a corner, though don’t snip the corner until you’re ready to pipe the chocolate).

Pour the dark chocolate into the cone.  It’s easiest if you have an extra pair of hands, but we do what we can with what we have.  Fold over the opening of the cone several times to avoid gooey messes.

Pipe the bittersweet chocolate onto the cupcakes with a central dot surrounded by two concentric circles (you can use a spiral if you have difficulty making discrete circles).

Use a toothpick or skewer to drag lines from the centre chocolate dot out to the edge of the cupcake, about six or seven of them, to make a spiderweb pattern.  Normally they turn out better than this, but I’m not one to dwell on small mistakes.

You can also ice them however you wish, really.  It’s up to you after all.

The cupcakes are best eaten when the chocolate is still gooey, but they can also be chilled in the refrigerator until set.

And hark!  The sun makes a final, feeble attempt to burst through the clouds.

Alas, forces of darkness take over.

Have a very happy and safe Hallowe’en!

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

There is a new god in the pantheon and its name is COOKIE.

Holy SMOKES these are wicked good.  And I don’t even really LIKE cookies.

I was going to make cream cheese brownies to give to the Pie when he came to visit for Thanksgiving, but I figured I should probably go with something new that he hadn’t had before, and besides, I had a lot of cream cheese on hand.  What goes well with cream cheese?

Coconut, of course.  This recipe was adapted with thanks from Dawn Finicane at Vanilla Sugar (who made some adaptations of her own) and it’s fantastic.  FANTASTIC. 

(Just note that this is a two-day cookie to make.  And yeah, I doubled the recipe, as usual.)

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and divide 5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut between them.  Seems like a lot, I know, but trust me on this one.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for even toasting.  When the coconut is a golden brown, take it out and let it cool.

Melt 1 1/2 cups butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Whisk together4 1/2 cups flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and set aside.

In a large bowl, plop in two 400g packages cream cheese.

Add to this your now-cooled butter.

Use an electric mixer to cream the crap out of it.

Add 2 cups packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 4 teaspoons vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add your flour gradually and mix at a low speed until just combined. 

Stir in your cooled coconut.

Cover the dough and chill it overnight.

DAY TWO:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  For this amount of cookie dough you’ll need to use your pans several times, so I prepped four pans, to bake two at a time.

Drop the dough onto the parchment — the cookies will not expand much but might settle slightly during baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are set and the bottoms are light brown.  You have to be careful not to overbake these babies. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets until you can lift them without breaking them. Place on wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container until you eat them all up!

Next time I think I might add a bit of lime juice and grated lime peel to the recipe.  I think that would boost its godliness to new heights.  It will be like the creamy coconut lime cupcakes, but in cookie form.

*** Ali’s Note, 31 January 2010: I added the juice and rind of two limes to this at the cream cheese stage.  The result? OH.  MY.  DO IT.

Chocolate Meringues

Happy Birthday Minda!

I love meringues, and they’re something I actually mastered as a young child, though how I had the patience for them I will never know.  The sweet, crispy, chewy lightness of the meringue cookies made it worth the wait.

Recently I’ve been looking at alternative forms of meringue, and other methods of making them.  I made these amazing chocolate mocha meringues last year around Valentine’s Day but of course I can’t remember where I got the recipe from.  Do you remember Kª?  Perhaps it was an issue of Every Day Food.  Who knows …

In an effort to recreate these magic chocolate tasties (and because I had 8 egg whites left over from my foray into vanilla ice cream [post to follow next Wednesday, stay tuned]), I flipped through The Joy of Cooking (2006) for a new take on the old classic.  These ones are from page 741, and I doubled the batch (of course).

Now I’ve mentioned this before, but make sure that your egg whites are at room temperature before you start whipping them.  If they are cold you can always warm them up by putting them in a bowl of warm water.

Preheat your oven to 225°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer, plop in 1 egg whites, 1 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whisk ’em up at high speed, and add, gradually, 2/3 cup granulated sugar

When you get to the stiff peak stage, you’re done.

Sift together 2/3 cup icing sugar with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and fold it into the beaten mixture as well.

If it’s still a little swirly, that’s okay.

Spoon the mixture onto the parchment and shape it however you wish.

I had enough leftover for a large meringue to make into a sort of pavlova.

Bake it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (seriously).  You can see if it’s done if you can remove a meringue from the parchment without it breaking.

Turn off your oven and prop the door open a bit with a wooden spoon.  Leave it like that for an hour or so (again with the waiting).  The trick with good crisp meringue is to let it cool slowly. 

Store the meringues in an airtight container or wrap them tightly for up to three days.

For my little pavlova, I cut up some fruit for the top: raspberries, strawberries, and grapes.

Then I melted some chocolate in a double boiler.

Plopped the berries on the meringue.

Drizzled the chocolate on top.  It’s pretty much a pavlova, minus the whipped cream.

Monolithic Date Squares

The Pie and I spent several long hot days in the kitchen, doing the prep-work for my brother’s wedding celebration.  One of the confections we produced were some rich, tall date squares.

Interesting fact for you: date squares are a Canadian invention.  I kid you not.  If you look up date squares in some of the older cookbooks you’ll find it under “matrimonial date squares”.  If anyone knows the reason for this, I’d love to hear it.

As a bit of a preparation for this, zest an orange.

While you’re at it get the juice from it as well.

And take 1/4 cup of hazelnuts and pulse them in a food processor until you have some lovely crumbs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Now you start with the filling.

In a saucepan, stir together 2 cups water with 1 package (375g) pitted dates, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the juice from your orange, about 4 tablespoons.  Let that stand for about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often, until it’s thickened.  This will take about ten minutes.  And when it bubbles it will more resemble swamp goo than anything else.  Let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups flour, and 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Cut in 1 cup cold cubed butter.  Keep going until the mixture is in coarse crumbs.

Press half (or slightly more than half) the oat mixture evenly into an 8-inch (2L) square pan lined with parchment paper.

Spread the mixture with your date goo.

Add the hazelnuts to your remaining oat mixture and toss well.

Pile the remaining mixture on top of the date goo and press it down lightly.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown on top, and let it cool before cutting into squares.

If you keep it covered it will last for weeks.  You can also freeze the squares before baking, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Yes! We have no bananas Banana Bread

There are so, so very many bananas in my freezer.  I swear that the Pie doesn’t eat the fresh bananas simply so I will chuck them in the freezer in anticipation of me having a banana bread fest.  He loves banana bread.  More than he loves me. Honest.

This recipe comes from my magic book, though I think Kristopf actually gave it to me, ages ago.  Who knows where he got it from.  I was about ten or twelve at the time, which would put him at about fourteen or sixteen.  What teenage boy makes banana bread for fun?

Anyway.

Me being me, I of course have modified the original recipe, and I generally use more bananas than is really necessary.  It makes the finished loaf a little more crumbly but it ups the banana-y-ness to the max.  I also generally make these loaves in bulk, usually three at a time (I have three pans) but sometimes more, and then I wrap what we don’t eat tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for another day.  Or give it to KK.  Or both.

I thawed the bananas in a bowl on my counter overnight and they were nice and blackened and soggy.  Today I made the recipe below, but I did it in triplicate.  If you make the single version that I’ve outlined below you should end up with two loaves.

The Pie, having nothing to keep him occupied, decided to help me today.  He has never made banana bread before.  He absolutely refused to touch the bananas in their black skins.  He promised me he would do all the raw chicken touching for the rest of our lives if I would do the banana stuff.  I’m okay with that.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

You’ll need 5 defrosted or very ripe bananas. Peel those gooshy suckers into a bowl.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon baking soda in 3 tablespoons hot water.  Of course, it doesn’t really dissolve, but if you keep stirring it you can get a temporary suspension.

Pour this into the banana mixture and mush it in with a fork until the bananas are all separated into small pieces.  The Pie helped me with this part, but under duress.  Set them aside for the nonce.

In a large bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup room temperature butter (that’s half of one of those 1-pound blocks), and 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar until fluffy.

In yet another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  Set that aside, too.

Pour your banana mixture into your egg mixture and stir that up as well. 

The mixture should look slightly curdled at this point, and weird tendrils of banana fibre will stick to your mixing utensil and may gross you out.  The Pie said, at this point, “This – making banana bread for the first time – is kind of like seeing a woman give birth.  It’s something that you can’t un-see, and it will always affect how you see it in the future.”

Fold in your flour mixture, a little at a time.  If you want to put in chocolate chips or walnuts or whatever, now is the time to do so.  The Pie is a purist, however, so we have ours plain.

If you are following my lead and doing more than two loaves, do all your batches separately (in case of measuring mistakes) and don’t mix your wet and dry ingredients together in the other batches until you are ready to bake them.  Don’t want no chemical reactions to start too early.

Divide your batter between two greased loaf pans and smooth the tops.  I’ve been having trouble getting my extra-crumbly loaf out of the pan in one piece, so this time I decided to line them with parchment paper to ease the passage.  It was an experiment that worked out really well because it was a snap to use the edges of the paper to lift out the cooked loaves.  Then I just peeled off the paper and left the loaf on the rack to cool.

Bake for 60 minutes until dark brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn out and let cool on a wire rack.

This stuff is good hot, it’s good cold, and as I said above, it freezes really well.

Artisanry: Lean Bread

This is the first recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day (page 46), and my first adventure in fancy bread.  Artisanal bread recipes are intensive, for sure, but the process is pretty simple.  There are many tiny instructions, but I think with practice all that stuff becomes second nature.  It’s more about timing, and having the patience to leave your dough overnight for fermenting purposes.  I plan to do this particular recipe a couple of times so that I can get it right before I move on to the next one.  This post is epically long, and for that I apologise.  But good bread comes out of it so it’s worth the time it takes to read.

DAY ONE:

Mixing Ingredients

Combine, in a mixing bowl or in the bowl of your mixer, 5 1/3 cups unbleached bread flour, 2 teaspoons table salt or 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, and 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water.  Kosher salt doesn’t have any anti-clumping agents in it, so it is quite different in consistency and size from table salt or even sea salt.  Also, Mr. Reinhart recommends using instant yeast because then you get the fermenting action started right away.

Stir or mix on the lowest speed setting for 2 minutes or until well-blended.  I found that it all sort of clumped around my paddle and I had to remove it and start again before it took over the world. 

The dough should be, as Mr. Reinhart says, “very soft, sticky, coarse, and shaggy, but still doughlike.”  Whatever that means.

Use a wet spatula to scrape the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl.  Let it rest there for 5 minutes.  It should be soft enough to spread out over the bottom of the bowl.  Mine, of course, didn’t.  I think the wrangling with the paddle in the mixer made it a bit tougher.

Stretching and Folding Dough

Once the five minutes is up you get to do some more fun wrangling. Put your dough on a slightly oiled surface.  With wet or slightly oiled fingers, grab the front edge, stretch it out, and fold it over top of the rest of the dough.  Now grab the back edge and do the same, then again with both sides.  Finally, flip the dough over and bundle it into a ball.  Put it back in the lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap for ten minutes.

Repeat this stretching step three more times, every ten minutes.  You should get all your stretching out within forty to forty-five minutes.

Using my tripod I’ve taken pictures of most of the whole process, just to show you the mechanics of the whole thing and also the changing texture of the dough as it gets stretched.  The way Mr. Reinhart puts it, it’s like you’re aligning the gluten molecules through stretching, in the same way that iron atoms align along their poles when a magnet is created.

Excuse my scary scarred and disfigured hands.  They’re really not that weird-looking in real life – my hands are just not very photogenic.  Also, that stuff?  On my pants?  It’s paint.  I swear.  Those are my painting pants.  What, it’s a Saturday.  I’m allowed to be lax in my dress.  You should be glad you didn’t see my bedhead.

Mouse over the photos to see where we are in the stretching process.  Below is the second round of stretching.

You can see that the dough is already smoother than it was to begin with.  On to the third stretching round.After the third rest you can see that it’s already significantly larger than it used to be.  I also felt some bubbles in the dough that indicated the fermentation process had already begun.  I hoped that popping them in the course of my machinations wasn’t to the bread’s detriment.

Fermenting Overnight

After the final stretch I tucked the dough into a ball and put it in a larger, lightly oiled bowl.

Immediately cover the bowl with plastic wrap (to keep in the moisture) and chuck it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight or up to 4 days.

If you are planning on making loaves over the course of many days, this would be the point at which you could separate your dough into separate bowls for separate fermentation.  I’m doing it all at once so it all goes in at once.

DAY TWO:

Take your dough out of the fridge at least two hours before you want to bake.  Holy smokes look how HUGE my ball is!  And check out that MASSIVE bubble on the top.

It was sad to pop it, but the most gorgeous yeasty smell came out when I did so it was totally worth it.

Shaping Bread

This recipe makes 2 large loaves, 4-6 smaller loaves, or 24 rolls.  I’ve decided to make two of the three, see what comes out the best.  Don’t want to get over-ambitious here.

So I divided my dough in half.  One half will become a round loaf called a boule (‘ball’).  The other half will become 2 baguette-style torpedoes (or bâtards, haha, bâtards).

I used a sharp serrated knife to divide the dough, but you can use a pastry scraper as well.  Make sure if you use a knife you let the serrated edges of the knife do all the work, and avoid pressing down into the dough.

The trick to getting a crusty loaf is in maintaining the surface tension, so you want to pinch the bubbles you see on the surface to pop them, and be gentle in your stretching.

To make the boule:

This is pretty easy, and it’s something you’ve done several times before when you were in the stretching process.

Prepare a bowl or proofing basket.  I don’t have the basket so I took a bowl and lined it with a linen couche or proofing cloth.  For me, this is an old linen tablecloth that became too stained for company, torn into sections.  Spray the cloth in the bowl with oil and dust it with flour.

Gently pat the dough into a rectangle.

Gather the corners underneath and pinch together, stretching out the surface of the boule.

Place the boule, seam-side-down, in your bowl, mist it with spray oil and cover with the edge of the couche.  You can see how my seam is already coming undone.  Tsk.

To make the bâtard:

Prepare a pan by lining it with parchment paper and dusting it with corn meal or semolina.

Pat the dough into a rectangle, popping the bubbles as you go.

Using the edge of your hand, press a little furrow into the middle of the dough, running along its length.

Roll the front end of the dough over the top of itself until it’s all rolled up.

Pinch the seam shut.

Rock the dough back and forth, seam-side-down, until the dough has reached a desired length, probably between 6 and 12 inches.

Set the dough, seam-side-down, on your prepared pan.  Mist them with spray oil and cover with a couche

I need some serious practice.  Look how lumpy and deformed they are.  Tsk again.

Proofing

Proofing is a rest period in the fermentation process.  Once the bread is shaped, you let it sit, covered, at room temperature for an hour.

Uncover it and let it proof for a further hour.  Uncovering it will let the top of the dough dry out a bit and firm up.

Setting up the Oven

The Pie and I received a pizza stone as an engagement present (thanks KB!) in the summer of 2008 (holy smokes has it really been that long?), and we had yet to use it.  While the round shape of the pizza stone is not ideal for baking bread (Mr. Reinhart recommends an oblong shape), it’s the same consistency and will do the same job, which is giving a consistent heat without over-drying the bread.  It’s like bread magic.  You can of course do this with a sheet pan or cookie sheet instead, lined with parchment paper or sprinkled with semolina or corn meal.  I already own the stone, so I might as well use it.

About 45 minutes before you start to bake, you want to prepare your oven for hearth baking.  If you’re using a stone, place it on the centre rack and preheat the oven to 550°F or as hot as you can get it without turning on the broiler element.

The key to that lovely crackly crust is steam, believe it or not.  On the rack under the heating stone place a pan, like a rimmed cookie sheet, to be filled with water when everything gets hot.

Scoring

Just before baking, take your boule out of the proofing bowl and lay it on a clean surface, seam-side down.

Using a razor blade, score a cross-wise slash into the dough, which will allow some of the moisture to escape while baking and maintain surface tension.

On your bâtards, cut diagonal slashes the length of the bread.Baking

Ease your loaves onto your hot baking stone (use a peel if you’ve got one).  If you aren’t using a baking stone, put your prepared pan straight in the oven. I am pretty certain I overloaded my baking stone here, but I am not a patient enough person to wait and do it in two batches.  It’ll just bake all stuck together and I’m cool with that.

Very carefully pour one cup of water into the steam pan.  Use long gloves and wear long sleeves as you do this to prevent injury.  The Pie took this photo as I had my face averted and my whole body as far away from the heat as possible. 

Reduce oven temperature to 450°F.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for a further 10-12 minutes.  I found it easier to just rotate the bread, and I took the opportunity to break apart my breads, which were, in fact baking into one large lump as predicted.  I think I saved them from looking too demented.

You can get a crispier crust by turning off the oven and leaving your bread in for another 5-10 minutes.  Smaller bread shapes will take less time, of course.

Storing Dough

Cool your bread on a rack for at least an hour before cutting and eating.  It’s a hardship, I know, after all that time you’ve waited.  But it gets the crust all good.  I promise.  Or you could break the rules and eat some while it’s still warm.  We did.  Mmmmmm.

Wrap any uneaten baked bread tightly in plastic wrap and it will keep for a couple days.

I found myself constantly comparing it to the knowledge I had of French bread, and so I had to constantly remind myself that this isn’t French bread.  The dough is much wetter and the bubbles are much smaller.

When the Pie took his first bite and looked at me I knew he loved me a little bit more, the bread was that good.

Mr. Reinhart says that the unbaked dough will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but that the flavour of the dough deteriorates after four days.  He suggests that if you want to keep some dough for later you can seal it in a lightly oiled freezer bag and freeze it after the initial overnight fermentation.  Thaw it in the refrigerator the day before you need it so it can thaw slowly without over-fermenting.  He also says that the dough makes excellent pizza dough.

Devil (‘s Food Cake) Made Me Do It

I have designated certain days in my life as chocolate cake days.  You know, those days where things tend to go wrong, and you end up with FLOOR PIZZAThat kind of day.  Normally I turn to the convenient comfort of cake-in-a-box (similar to garlic-in-a-jar but probably not quite as good for you), but recently I’ve been more interested in the process of making one from scratch, and doing it was way easier than I expected.  You, my lovely readers, get the benefit of my experience here.

Seeing as I had recently made an angel’s food cake, it was only fitting that I make a devil’s food cake as well.  You may not know this but traditionally the angel’s food and devil’s food were made concurrently, as the angel’s food used all the whites of the eggs and the devil’s food used all of the yolks.  Modern devil’s food cakes are much lighter affairs these days and generally use whole eggs (and less of them), but I think they would be a nice accompaniment to each other even without the egg symbiosis.  I still have the yolks from the other cake, but I’m going to make them into a masterful pudding sometime soon.

I got this recipe from David Lebovitz, and this is his American-in-Paris masterpiece.  I picked it because of his pictures of the icing on the cake.  I’m such a sucker for chocolate frosting, especially a ganache.  I also thought this recipe had an interesting improvement of putting coffee into the mix.  Coffee and chocolate are always a good combination.  His recipe calls for unsalted butter and salt, but I just use salted butter and I rarely add salt to anything.

Okie dokey (never really sure how to spell that).

Put your oven rack in the centre of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Butter up two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and place pretty circles of parchment paper (not to be mistaken with waxed paper, that would be a bad idea) in the bottom of each.  I used a compass because I have a good attention to detail (the Pie called me a nerd for doing so but HE’s the one who wrote a remote sensing exam today).  Put those pans somewhere and work on the other stuff.

Sift together 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose because that’s what I had), 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder in a bowl and set that sucker aside for a spell.

In yer mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter (or a stick, or 4 ounces) and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar until creamy and fluffy and stuff.

Add 2 eggs, one at a time.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl on occasion.

Mix 1/2 cup strong coffee and 1/2 cup milk together in a measuring cup (or some other form of vessel).

Add half your dry mixture to the creamy butter goodness in the mixer and stir.  Don’t forget to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the milky coffee and stir that up.

Finally, add the second half of the dry mixture to your bowl and mix that up as well.

Divide your batter between the two buttered and papered pans, smooth it flat, and bake for 25 minutes.

You can tell it’s done when you stick a toothpick in the centre and it comes out clean.  I found that mine took an extra five minutes.  Make sure the cake is completely cool before you think about icing it.  When removing from the pan, run a spatula around the edge to loosen the sucker. Due to time constraints, I actually made up the cake part the day before, then wrapped it tightly in plastic over night, and made the frosting the next day.

While it’s cooling (or sitting politely in plastic wrap) you can make your lovely ganache frosting.

In a double boiler or a bowl set over (but not touching) a pot of barely simmering water, melt 10 oz good quality chocolate (your preference for the type) in 1/2 cup cream.  Just so you know, an ounce of chocolate is one of those squares in the boxes of baking chocolate.

Be very careful removing the top of your double boiler, as escaping steam can burn.

Remove from heat and cut in 3/4 cup butter.  Whisk until butter is thoroughly melted and mixed in and the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Let your ganache cool until it’s spreadable, which could take up to an hour (your cake will take probably this long to cool anyway).  Be sure to give the cooled ganache a good whisk to fluff it up a little.

Pop your cooled cakes out of the pans and remove the paper. 

Put one half of the cake on the plate of your choice.

I made another modification here.  I took the leftover frozen glaze from the previous angel’s food cake and decided to put it on this one as well.  It seemed fitting.  All I did was defrost the glaze and whisk it up a little.  It was slightly lumpy after its time in the freezer but it tasted the same.

Smooth a generous amount of your cooled ganache over the top of the first cake. 

Plop the second cake on top of that frosted layer and go nuts covering the whole thing with luscious ganache (or, in my case, glaze it first, then go nuts). 

The cake was very moist and I didn’t do a crumb coat, so you’ll notice a few crumbs here and there in the frosting. 

I also decided to jazz it up a little by drizzling melted 2 oz white chocolate over it.

As with most cakes, you should eat it the day it’s made but it’s pretty good the next day as well.  And the day after that, and the day after that.  Just keep it wrapped up.  Om nom indeed.