Nectarine Cardamom Vanilla Pie – for a Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday J.! To celebrate J. birthday, I was asked to make a fruit dessert.  Well hello peaches. Or nectarines. Or apricots.

Millions of peaches, peaches for me.
Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

J. is kind of an old soul stuck in a young body. Or as he puts it, in an old body. What is it with men and feeling older than they are? Isn’t it better to feel young and spry? It’s a mental game people! J. is also a longtime fan of The Unappreciated Baker (thanks!) and a lover of all things fruity desserty. And so, for his birthday – fruit dessert! Coincidentally, I love fruit desserts as well :).

Nectarines!
Nectarines!

Going back to nectarines.  I like to bake with nectarines as opposed to peaches because then I don’t have to worry about peeling them.  While I don’t mind the fuzzy peach peel in my desserts, others do. So if I bake with them, I need to peel them.  Due to the special occasion, I broke out my mini pie plates so that everyone could enjoy their very own peach pie.

Pie crusts ready to be filled.
Pie crusts ready to be filled.

I thought about going with my tried and true pie recipe, but then I thought about changing it up a bit – after all, isn’t that the point of this blog? To try new things. I found a recipe that flavored the peaches with vanilla and cardamom, not a combination I have used before with peaches. Testing time!

One pie all filled up.
One pie all filled up.

I did stick with my tried and true pie crust recipe, because, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With my regular double crust recipe I had enough dough for eight crusts and seven lattices. One ended up being a snack on Friday afternoon :).

The Little Rocker and I snacked on the sample and we enjoyed it a lot.  She was a little disappointed that she did not get her own pie to sample, but I told her that at the party she would have her own so it was okay to share this time.

And the others follow.
And the others follow.

On a related note, Squeaker just started eating solids and while she is not such a fan of the peas and sweet potatoes, she loves her some peaches. I mixed the peas and peaches and wham – at the whole bowl. Peach season for everyone!

The finished product.
Ready to be

I didn’t really feel the cardamom in the pie, maybe increase it next time?

And here we go!
And here we go!

We know what J.’s birthday means – Rocker Dude’s birthday! Amazing how close friends can have their birthdays so close together. Rocker Dude asked for a plain sheet cake for his birthday – can you see what I am working with?? A plain yellow cake??? With icing!! I hate working with icing. I am not talented in that way – drawing was never my forte, and the icing is always so sweet. It is always the part of the cake that I take off so that I can eat the actual cake.

So here is the cake that I made. My friend M. was kind enough to lend me a guitar shaped cake pan so that I didn’t have to try and cut out a guitar shape from a rectangular pan. That would have been disastrous. The Little Rocker had such a fun time watching the cake take shape, especially putting in the food coloring. I didn’t make the icing that bright as I hate putting in more than a few drops of food coloring. It may be weird but if I do then I feel like I am coloring my insides.

Happy Birthday Rocker Dude!
Happy Birthday Rocker Dude!

I have included the recipe for the cake because I thought that the cake was delicious on its own – with a bright citrus flavor. It’s perfect for birthday cakes and cupcakes.

And speaking of summer (weren’t we?), there are a few things that are ubiquitous to summer – baseball and ice pops. Here is a picture of Squeaker in an NY Yankees outfit that we originally got for the Little Rocker.

Yankee Fans!
Yankee Fans!

My father is a lifelong Yankees fan and if there is one thing I learned as a kid, it was that you root for the Yankees, or you’re not a real Schachter. Lucky for me, Rocker Dude is not into sports so I don’t have to keep up with his favorite team stats and stuff.

And ice pops! The Little Rocker remembered this picture of her “eating” my ice pop when she was a year old or so, and so she asked me to do it with Squeaker as well.

Eating ice pops.
Eating ice pops.
Squeaker tries to eat an ice pop.
Squeaker tries to eat an ice pop.

This time I just gave her a closed ice pop of her own, but she knew better. She still kept trying to grab my ice pop.

Nectarine Cardamom Vanilla Pie (makes 8 4-inch pies)

Recipe:
Crust:
A double crust recipe of this recipe, prepared through

Filling (based on this recipe from The Pastry Affair):
6 large (7 medium or 8 small) fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 vanilla bean, halved with the seeds removed (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg white
2 tbsp. sugar for sprinkling

Whipped Cream:
250g whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Prepare the dough through the refrigeration stage.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine all the ingredients for the filling and set aside while you roll out the dough. Roll out one disc of dough to a 1/8 inch thickness. You don’t want to leave the dough too thick as the pies are small. Cut out circles that are slightly larger than the circumference of the pie plates. Gently place each circle in the pie plates and trim the edges. Refrigerate the pie crusts as you make them to keep the dough cold. Then add filling into each of the pie plates and return to the refrigerator while you roll out the lattice top. Roll out the second disc to a 1/8 inch thickness. Slice into thin (about a finger’s width) strips with a very sharp knife or a pizza wheel. Carefully weave the lattice strips onto the tops of all the pies.

Brush egg white onto the tops of the pies and sprinkle with sugar. Place the pies in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the filling is bubbling. Let cool on a rack.

To serve, beat the whipping cream with the confectioner’s sugar and dollop a generous spoonful on top of each pie.

Yellow Cake (From The Kosher Palette):

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the a large mixing bowl and stir until well blended.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the oil, orange juice, eggs and vanilla. Beat until lightened in color. Add the dry ingredients in one shot and mix until just blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

This cake also freezes well.

 

The Saga of the Babka

The first time I ever made babka, I was in summer camp in the Catskills and we had a baking activity (because nice religious girls have to know how to bake for their husbands of course) and we learned how to make challah, chocolate cake and other traditional delicacies. One of the other things we learned was babka. Babka is a traditional Jewish yeast cake that is often served on Shabbat morning.

I used to make the babka recipe that I got from camp for a while, but it was a huge “patchke” (effort).  The recipe also called for over a whole pound of butter/margarine which is a bit much for me, and you had to let the dough rise for six or seven hours total which basically takes up a whole day.  Also, the recipe is on a paper inside the cover of one of my mom’s cookbooks, and not in Israel with me. I more or less forgot about it and that was that for many years. (That wasn’t much of a saga, was it? I guess in my mind, I added on all the years in between into the story.)

Chopped Walnuts
Chopped Walnuts

Last week was Shavuot and though the entire holiday is so dairy-centric, i was asked to make a non-dairy dessert for dinner.  I had no idea what to make.  Not even the slightest idea. So I pulled out one of my first cookbooks, The Perfect Cake, that was given to me by a classmate in high school. In high school I had a thing where I made a cake for everyone in my grade’s birthday.  We are not talking about fancy cakes here, but basic yellow cakes, maybe with chocolate chips or something. In twelfth grade, one of my classmates gave the book to me as a present but it has not gotten as much use as it should have.

Adding the dates.
Adding the dates.

So during my dessert decision making I pulled out this cookbook so that it wouldn’t feel lonely.  I was in the mood for a yeasted cake for some reason, and I had a package of yeast that needed to be used up before it expired. The Perfect Cake is basically a cookbook that provides basic recipes for various kinds of cakes – yeast, sponge, genoise, cheesecake, etc. and then a whole bunch of variations and flavorings. The recipe for the basic yeasted cake also came with a richer variation besides all the optional fillings. I went for the richer variation because I was worried that the dough might be dry, and as the cake was not going to be served with coffee, I wanted it on the moister side. What I most did not want was a recipe that would require more than two hours of total rising time because we had to leave to our friends’ by noon.  (We ended up being a bit late anyway as Rocker Dude had to paint the Little Rocker’s nails – fingers and toes! She wanted alternating pink and purple on her fingers and alternating green and blue on her toes.  It looked great!)

Cutting the roll to expose the filling.
Cutting the roll to expose the filling.

The dough was easy to mix up and did not have a whole pound of margarine, it rose really nicely and was easy to roll out.  The filling was another decision.  I like cinnamon babka best.  This hearkens back to the days when I did not like chocolate at all (what?!?!?) and I would not eat chocolate cakes or anything.  The only exception was Hershey’s and Reese’s.  Since then my tastes have matured somewhat and my father can again claim me as his daughter (He is a chocolate person.  One of his favorite ice creams is Death by Chocolate.) But for the babka I decided to go cinnamon anyway. I filled it the way I normally fill cinnamon buns, and rolled up the dough.  In retrospect, I should have used more filling because it was kind of lost in the dough.

One roll all done!
One loaf all done!

Instead of following the shaping instructions in the book, though, I followed the instructions on the back of the yeast package. I know, I am such a rebel. Basically, instead of just twisting two rolls together, I made one roll, and then cut it in half down the middle.  This gave me two half rolls of many layers.  Then I twisted these together and put them in the pan. I think it helps the filling get out and makes the cake a bit more appealing.

Two loaves ready to go.
Two loaves ready to go.

After this cake working out, but the filling not making me happy, I made the dough again and tried different fillings.  I made a date nut filling for the Little Rocker’s friend’s birthday party, a brown sugar and cinnamon that is now in the freezer, and a chocolate (yes Abba, a chocolate) that has since been completely finished. I used a lot of margarine before putting on the fillings and that definitely helped make the cakes a bit gooey-er. Rocker Dude did not want to even try the date-nut babka as it had nuts, and he does not get nuts in food. He is just unclear why they have to be there in the first place. I loved it.  We had organic barhi dates that I had ordered a few weeks ago from our csa and they were super-sweet. That version was a success.  A bit messy, but a success.

All done
All done

I made the brown sugar one and I enjoyed that one a lot, so did Rocker Dude. A basic sweet dough with a sweet filling. The chocolate was an afterthought as after the two loaves I still had some extra dough.  I didn’t want to just take chocolate spread and use that as a filling because I thought it was kind of a cop-out, so I mixed cocoa and sugar (you know, so it would be sweet), and sprinkled that over the melted margarine. Rocker Dude asked to use for filling.  He said that there should be so much filling that he has to lick it off his fingers. He has a point.

Three kinds of babka - top right - brown sugar, bottom - chocolate, and top left- date-nut.
Three kinds of babka – top right – brown sugar, bottom – chocolate, and top left- date-nut.

While this is not a quick recipe, it is simple and just requires some rising time.

P.S. I just finished watching the first season of Nashville, and who knew that Hayden Panettiere could sing?? Also the two main characters keep doing the stupidest things – so frustrating!! Can’t wait for the next season :).

Recipe:

Dough:
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 oz. active dry yeast, or 25 grams fresh yeast
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1 cup yogurt or soymilk with a little vinegar
2 eggs
1 tsp. grated lemon or orange zest
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 butter or margarine, melted and cooled to room temp.
4 to 6 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Egg Wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let sit for five minutes until the mixture looks bubbly (if you are using fresh yeast, then you don’t have to wait). Add the other ingredients except for the flour. Whisk until blended.  Add in the flour, one cup at a time until the dough forms a soft ball. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few minutes adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. When the dough feels smooth, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.

The dough can be refrigerated at this point overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the dough is finished rising, divide into three parts. Roll the first piece of dough out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Using a pastry brush, generously brush the dough with some melted butter. Sprinkle on the desired filling (recipes below). Roll up the dough lengthwise into a tight roll. Slice the roll down the middle with a sharp knife. Twist the two halves together, with the cut sides facing out. Place in a 9×5 inch loaf pan or in a 9×13 inch pan (with room for another one). Brush with egg wash.

Let rise again for forty minutes or so, until not quite doubled in bulk. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake sounds hollow when you tap on it. Cool on a wire rack.

Fillings:

Chocolate Filling:1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Filling:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

Date-Nut Filling:1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
8 dates (I used barhi dates), pitted and finely chopped

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust – Bring on the Dairy!

Hello everyone.  Here we are two days before Shavuot – the holiday during which we eat tons and tons of dairy to make up for all the other holidays in which we eat meat. Rocker Dude, being of a lactose intolerant nature, does not enjoy this holiday as much as other people, and this year, due to Squeaker’s sensitivities, I will be joining him in the non-dairy consuming club. But don’t worry, to make up for this, when I do stop nursing her, we will have a make-up Shavuot filled with all sorts of dairy delicacies.

In any case, at this time of year, the interwebs are filled with tons of cheesecake recipes of all varieties.  As we were having a cheesecake celebration at work, I wanted to make something different, something new. I spent a morning exploring options for possible flavorings, and settled on two options – something caramely or a brownie cheesecake. I knew that I would only have a few hours to make the cake on Saturday night as I did not want to stay up past midnight, so I decided to go with the caramel cheesecake for work.

Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.
Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.

I bounced around possible versions in my head for a few days and finally on Saturday I finalized how I would go about making it. I had bought dulce de leche to mix into the cheese, but then I read on the container that it is not suitable for cooking in high temperatures, so I freaked. What was I supposed to do now??? Do I just make a standard cheesecake and put the dulce de leche on top? Do I scrap the idea completely? Major dilemma.

I wanted to get the caramel flavor into the cake itself, so in the end, as I was measuring the sugar to mix into the batter, I decided to caramelize it first. I threw the whole cup and a half straight into a pot and set it on the fire.  I knew that it would be hard when it cooled, but that I could probably use the cheese to smooth the caramel out.  When the caramel was ready, I put in half of the cheese because I didn’t want the consistency to change too much. After much stirring, the caramel smoothed out and became usable in the cheesecake. I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients and into the oven it went.

The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).
The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).

My one issue with this whole affair was that I would not be able to taste the cheesecake when it was done – how would I know if it even tasted good?? Well, we put our faith in God.

When the cheesecake cooled, I spread the dulce de leche on top so that this cake would have a double whammy of caramel flavor.

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust
Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust

I brought the cake to work the next day and let me just say, God delivered.  It was a hit all around, the consistency was perfect, and the caramel flavor was there. I even snuck a bite (hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later when Squeaker wakes up crying at night because her tummy hurts), and it was delicious.

Shavuot cheesecake spectacular
Shavuot cheesecake spectacular

If you need a cheesecake pick-me-up – here you go. Also, just because I am curious, do you say car-a-mel or car-mel?

Recipe:

Crust:
50 g tea biscuits, crushed into fine crumbs
50 g butter or margarine, melted
1 tbsp. brown sugar

Cake:750 g white cheese (gevina levana) 5%, or equivalent amount of cream cheese
5 eggs
3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

400 g dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C/320 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the crust and press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan, or a 9×13 rectangular pan (the crust will just be a tad thinner). Bake the crust for ten minutes until it is lightly browned.

Place the sugar in a pot over medium-low heat. Without stirring, let the sugar heat up until it dissolves. You can use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot from any sugar crystals that might creep up. When the sugar starts browning, take it off the fire to ensure that it doesn’t get too dark.  It should stay a light amber color. The sugar will still cook after it is removed from the fire. Once you have reached the desired caramel color, add half of the cheese to the pot.  The caramel will seize up and bubble, but keep stirring the mixture over the medium-low heat, and it will soften and mix into the cheese. Set aside to cool (or refrigerate for 10 minutes or so.

In a bowl, mix up the rest of the ingredients, being careful to not incorporate too much air.  Add the caramel mixture and mix well.  Bang the bowl firmly on the table or counter to pop any air bubbles that might have gotten in. Gently pour the batter over the crust and place the pan in the oven. Because I usually cook my cheesecakes in my toaster oven I don’t have space for a water bath, so I just undercook the cake slightly – it should still be jiggly in the middle, and usually that is enough to prevent cracking. Also, covering the cake with a topping helps.

When the cake is completely cool, spread the dulce de leche over the top of the cake. Slice and serve!

You can also melt some chocolate with some heavy cream and drizzle it on top of the cake and that would be delicious too.  I just didn’t have time for it.

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread/Cake

I saw a recipe for Pull Apart Bread a while ago, but I was about nine months pregnant and working like mad so there was no way that it was going to happen.  So now that I am no longer pregnant and I stay up soooo much later (insert look of disbelief here) and have my hands free so often (insert second look of disbelief), I decided to make it finally.  We were planning a barbeque and I figured that it’s over-the-top sweetness would be good after all the saltiness of the meat.

The Pioneer Woman recently posted her version of pull apart bread using her cinnamon bun recipe.  Since I have adopted that recipe anyway and everyone likes it (a-hem younger brother who shall not be named), I figured I would try it. Also it doesn’t require a mixer to make, so any reason to have fewer dishes to wash.

Basically you follow the cinnamon bun recipe until the rolling out stage.  When it is rolled out, you just have to add more cinnamon/sugar over the melted margarine.  Then, instead of rolling it up, you slice the dough, width-wise into 5 inch strips.  Stack the slices, one on top of the other, sugar side up, until you have used all the slices.  Be careful because you will have melted margarine dripping everywhere.

Cinnamon-sugary goodness
Cinnamon-sugary goodness

Then slice your stack into six sections.  Carefully put each section sideways into a greased loaf-pan.  Let it rise and bake!

The glaze is the same as the cinnamon bun glaze, though I put a bit too much on my loaf so it was scarily sweet.  Moderation Elle! Portion control! And all of that.

Ready to go into the oven.
Ready to go into the oven.

Turned out delicious though, and the layers really did pull apart (due to all the fat in between them of course) and everyone enjoyed it, even Rocker Dude who was feeling a bit under the weather, and always prefers salty things when he is sick. Don’t worry, I made it up to him and made him a fresh pot of chicken soup the next day.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread
Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Try this out! Everyone has to indulge some time!

Recipe (From The Pioneer Woman): (I only used half the recipe and it made one loaf with a bit left over.)

Note: the butter can be replaced with margarine and the milk with soymilk.

Dough
2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1/2 cup Sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
4 cups All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup (additional) All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Salt
1 stick Butter, Melted
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon

Icing
3 cups Powdered Sugar
2 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
1 Tablespoon Maple Extract
1/3 cup Whole Milk
Dash Of Salt

To make the dough, combine milk, canola oil, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large saucepan. Heat it until very hot but not boiling. Turn off heat and allow to cool to warm (not at all hot.)

Sprinkle in the yeast and add 4 cups of flour. Stir to combine, then put lid on the pot and allow to rise for 1 hour. After 1 hour, stir in additional 1/2 cup flour, along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. If dough is overly sticky, stir in another 1/2 cup flour.

Place dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour to make it easier to work with.

Roll out dough onto a floured surface. Drizzle on melted butter and smear so that it covers all the dough. Mix together the sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it all over the surface of the dough. (Dough should look very covered.)

Cut the dough into 6 to 8 strips, then stack all the strips into one stack. Cut the stack of strips into 6 slices. Place the stacks sideways into a buttered bread pan. Do not cram the slices into the pan. (You may have a few leftover.)

Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes to make sure it’s not getting too brown on top. It’s important to bake the bread long enough to ensure that the middle won’t be too doughy, because if it is it won’t pull apart easily. If the top looks like it’s getting too brown, cover it lightly with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time.

Remove the pan from the oven when it’s done. Run a knife along the edges and take the bread out of the pan. Mix together the icing ingredients and drizzle over the top, allowing it to sink into the crevices. Serve warm or room temperature.

A Sweet Honey Cake for a Sweet New Year

It is that time of year again.  Rosh Hashana Yom Kippur and Sukkot – the fall holiday trilogy.  We start with two days (except for this year when it was three) of honey cakes, pomegranates and apples in honey, spend one day fasting to make up for the intense food consumption (it totally does not make up for it – ask my scale) and then spend a week eating more honey related things, squashes and other fall favorites outside in our decorated mini-houses.  Can you see the imbalance here?  Too much food, hmm?  Maybe we should throw in another fast day at the end or something.  But then, we wouldn’t be real Jews if we didn’t eat our own weight in food during a holiday.

So in the spirit of the honey-drenched holiday, here is a honey cake recipe.  I try new recipes every year looking for a moist, but not overly sweet version of the holiday favorite.  Unfortunately Rocker Dude is not a fan of the honey cake and therefore will not help in taste testing.  So no pre-gaming.  We bake the cake for the actual holiday and hope for the best.

Honey Cake

Last year I made a honey cake that was loaded with liquid – juice and booze.  It was delicious but a bit too sweet.  So I searched the interweb and found another recipe that was purported to be lighter (due to whipped egg whites) and not too sweet.  It was game time.

This cake is really easy to make – whip the egg whites first and then mix all the ingredients in a separate bowl.  Fold egg whites into the other ingredients and bake. Even my mom would consider making this cake (my mom is a long-time champion of the one-bowl baking experience).

And the verdict: delicioso! (I have been watching waaaay too much Dora the Explorer.)  Three days after baking, the cake was moist and light and not sticky.  Two days after that it was just as good.  There is still another week an a half before honey cake season ends for the year (it’s a very short season) – make this cake!

Honey Cake (from Allrecipes.com):

Ingredients

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup white sugar

1 cup honey

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

3 teaspoons instant coffee granules

1 cup hot water

Directions

Mix coffee in hot water, and then cool.

Whip egg whites until stiff.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the yolks with the sugar until creamy. Add the oil and then the honey, beating after each addition. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Sift and then measure 3 cups of flour. Combine with salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Add these dry ingredients alternately with the coffee to the honey mixture, stirring only until blended. Do not overmix.

Fold egg whites into the batter in three additions. Pour into 2 greased 8 inch square pans, or one bundt pan.

Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of cake comes out clean.

Where has all the rum gone?

In the spirit of the Top Chef Just Desserts episode a couple weeks ago, I have also flambeed my dessert.  The competitors had to make a dessert inspired by the Lucient Dossier experience, it’s basically like cirque de soleil with fire.

This is the first time that I have ever flambeed something and I was very excited.  I was imagining something like they do in Top Chef with big flames, so I tried to prepare accordingly.  In the end it was not as dramatic, though when I saw what they did on Top Chef Just Desserts, I realized that perhaps flambeing food as opposed to pastry might be very different, or perhaps wine flames more than liquor.

We took this dessert to our friends A. and E. (our Star Trek buddies).  I was given a request to make something chocolatey, as A. is not so into  fruit desserts, or peanut butter for that matter.  I looked through Dorie’s cookbook for something interesting and I came across this cake. It is supposed to be made with Armangnac, but I haven’t the faintest idea what that is, so I used rum because rum goes well with the prune flavor.

Whisked eggs and sugar.

I thought that adding prunes instead raisins was different and I agree with what Dorie said about prunes getting a bad rep.  Everyone always associates prunes with old people and babies (yet another similarity between the two groups, hmmm) and they are really delicious even by themselves.  People just need to give them a chance.

Chocolate mixture

I made the flambeed prunes earlier in the day and then made the rest of the cake later (you have to wait for the prunes to cool anyway).

 

Lightening the cake with the egg whites.

 

The cake came out nice and chocolatey-dense with a delicious chocolate glaze.  I let the glaze cool a bit before spreading it on the cake so it came out more like icing.  The prunes added something different to the cake that made it different from any other chocolate cake, something memorable.

 

Chocolate Glaze

The final pictures were taken by E. as I was unable to take pictures of the finished product before we ate it – she enjoyed it too!

 

 

Chocolate Rum Cake - before (photo credits to E.)
Chocolate Rum Cake - after (photo credits to E.)

Recipe (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from My Home to Yours):

 

Cake:

2/3 cup finely ground pecans or walnuts

1/4 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

12 moist prunes, pitted and cut into bits

1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. water

1/4 cup rum

7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter or margarine, cut into 4 pieces

3 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

Glaze:

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

3 tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter an 8 inch springform pan, fit the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper.  Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Cake: Whisk together the nuts, flour and salt.

Put the prunes and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, being careful not to scorch the fruit, until the water almost evaporates.  Pull the pan from the heat and pour in the rum.  Stand back and set it aflame with a match.  When the flames die out, transfer the fruit and any remaining liquid to a bowl and let cool.

Combine the chocolate, butter and remaining 3 tbsp. of water in a heatproof bowl.  Heat in a microwave on medium strength in 30 second bursts until the chocolate and butter are melted.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes.  Switch to a rubber spatula and, one by one, stir in the chocolate mixture, the nut mixture and the prunes with any leftover liquid.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they hold firm and glossy peaks.  Stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 25-32 minutes, or until it is puffed and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out streaky.  Let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan, and continue to cool until the cake has cooled completely.  Place a piece of foil or parchment paper under the rack to catch drips.

Once cool, if the cake has crowned, take a serrated knife and gently even the top, using a sawing motion.  Turn the cake over on the cooling rack.  The flat bottom will become the top of the cake.

Glaze: Melt the chocolate in a microwave on medium heat.  Slowly stir in the sugar and then the butter or margarine.  Stir until you have a smooth glaze.

With a long icing spatula, pour the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to run down the sides of the cake.  Use the spatula to smooth the top of the cake if necessary.  Let the glaze set at room temperature.

If you would like the icing to be more like a frosting, let it cool a bit before spreading it over the cake.  Make decorative swirls in the icing once it is on the cake.

Happy Birthday Little Rocker!

The Little Rocker turned two on September 15th (I know this has taken a while to post).  We waited until Sukkot to do the party for her because then we had vacation from work.  There is nothing the Little Rocker likes more that Elmo, except for maybe Winnie the Pooh.  So I decided to be really organized and I bought an Elmo shaped cake pan off Amazon.com while we were in America this summer.

Because we were going to be at the in-laws in Jerusalem for the holidays, and they don’t have a kitchen-aid, I knew that I was going to have to prepare all the components of this cake a week ahead of time.  So while Rocker Dude was off doing his radio show (www.rock4rookies.com) I made a basic yellow cake and a whole batch of white buttercream icing.  In order to make sure that I had enough of each color I decided to tint the icing right before using.

The pan came with recipes for both the cake and the icing (Wilton’s standard recipes for yellow cake and buttercream icing), but I decided to use recipes that I had used before and was successful with.

So with everything successfully transported to Jerusalem on a bus with the Little Rocker (not an easy feat I assure you), we were ready to begin.

The party was planned for Monday evening.  So on Monday morning, I took out my Elmo cake and put it on a tray.

Then I took some white icing and covered the eyes.  Then added two mini-York Peppermint Patties for eyes.

 

Elmo's eyeballs

 

Next step, the nose.  I mixed a small amount of icing with two orange drops of orange gel food coloring and one drop of red gel food coloring.

 

Elmo's eyes and nose and mouth.

 

The mouth was a little harder because I had to use a lot of black food coloring to get it so dark.  It was only afterward that I remembered that the best way to make black icing is to start with chocolate icing and then tint that with the black food coloring.  I decided to pipe in the mouth instead of spreading it with a spatula because I wanted to make sure to get the detail of the fur around the edges.  Smile Elmo!

 

Getting there, it's hard work.

 

Then the hard part – little red stars all around the cake.  This icing was tinted with three drops of red gel food coloring and one drop of orange gel food coloring.  It was a bit tedious and my hand started cramping in the middle, but as the icing warmed up a bit, it flowed a lot easier and it moved faster.  There was an option to just smear the icing on top of the cake with little peaks to represent the fur, but as I have not done a lot of cake decorating, I wanted to push myself all the way.

 

The detail

 

And then it was done!  Into the fridge for a few hours until the party, and out it came again.  We sang “Happy Birthday,” though the Little Rocker was too amazed by an Elmo cake to really care, and then we had to cut into it.

 

This is the song, la la la la, Elmo's song...

 

It kind of makes me think about the transient nature of so many things in life, here one minute and gone the next.  It was good though, and everyone was suitably impressed.

Basic Yellow Cake (from The Perfect Cake by Susan G. Purdy) makes 2 8 or 9-inch round pans or one sheet pan:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 1/4 cups milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Coat the cake pan with nonstick spray (if you are using a shaped pan, then do an extra coat).  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft and smooth.  Add the sugar and beat until light and smooth.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

With the mixer on a low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the batter into the pan(s).  For the Elmo size cake pan, bake for about 80 minutes.  Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.  Even off the top of the cake so that the shape won’t fall apart when you invert it (this is only for the Elmo pan). Invert the cake onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

This cake freezes really well.

All Purpose Frosting (from The Perfect Cake  by Susan G. Purdy) makes 3 cups frosting:

1/3 cup unsalted butter or margarine

pinch of salt

1 tsp. flavoring extract (I used vanilla)

4 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

5 tbsp. milk, or as needed

In a mixer, cream the butter or margarine really well (this is really important).  Beat in the salt and the flavoring.  With the mixer on the lowest speed, beat in the sugar and milk.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat on high until creamy.  Add more milk as necessary to achieve a spreading consistency.

This icing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Bring to room temperature and whip smooth before using.

To make Elmo:

Tint 1/2 cup icing black.

Tint 1/4 cup icing orange/red (small amount)

Leave 1/2 cup icing white

Tint whatever is left red/orange (small amount)

Using a spatula, cover the eyes with white icing.  You can either use chocolates as the eyes, or use some black icing.

Also with a spatula, ice the nose with the orange icing.

Using Wilton tip 3 with black icing, outline and fill the mouth (and pupils).

Using Wilton Star tip 16, cover the rest of the face with little stars of the red icing.

Rest your hand often.