06 October 2012

OnTheFly - Honey Banana Bread Pudding

We've taken The Boy to the mountains for a long weekend getaway.

His first.  Our first with him.

We rented a little cabin on the lake and are trying for the first time in 5 months to RELAX.

Relaxing is a new skill we're hoping to master as first-time parents.  We're not awesome at it just yet, but we're giving it the old college try.

One way we've tried to make things easier is getting dinner to-go from local eateries.  Lugging the boy to a restaurant after a day of hiking or general exploring just doesn't appeal to either of us.  This to-go strategy has been hit and miss with some very hodge-podge meals.  Last night after a dinner of salad (finally some greens!), a ravioli, a few spoons of "potato soup" and 1/2 a grilled chicken sandwich, I was craving something sweet and honestly this cool 1950 Wedgewood stove had been calling to me to bake since we arrived!

Check out the baking guide on the oven door!  The broiler (the door on the right) has cooking instructions inside too.  I know some people who would really dig this feature on their fancy new stainless steel ovens...you know who you are.

How to satisfy my craving (to bake)?  I looked around our little kitchen and this is what I found:
  • almond milk
  • cereal (Trader Joe's Honey Oats & Granola)
  • coffee
  • honey
  • formula
  • herbal tea
  • sugar
  • butter
  • 4 eggs
  • cheap wheat bread
  • granola bar
  • onion
  • 2 packets of salt & pepper
  • leftover chili
  • half a bottle of chardonnay
  • 4 (expensive) bananas
  • baby oatmeal
Cody asked me, "Do you think you're on Chopped or something?"  Ye...of course not.  Besides, what we had in our bare vacation kitchen was way easier to work with than those Chopped baskets!

I toyed with making Pain Perdu, but the bread we had wouldn't make it worth the effort.  Or maybe a Chardonnay Sabayon, but with only bananas on hand it didn't seem worthwhile. Then it hit me. What about bread pudding?  That made sense and I there was this little 8-inch skillet I found in the cabinet that would be perfect.  I could even make a coffee caramel sauce to top it with if I was feeling fancy.

Bananas, honey, a couple of handfuls of cereal to keep it interesting.  I had a plan.

Oven preheating to 350, I was ready to improvise.

I cracked two eggs in a bowl and added some almond milk and a squeeze of honey and beat it well with a fork.  Meanwhile, I toasted the cheap bread a little to dry it out so it would soak up the custard.  I mashed one banana and stirred it into the custard then mashed up a second one when that didn't look to be enough.  After adding a pinch of salt I tasted it to see what I had--deliciously sweet custard.  Just to make sure it would be sweet I added a teaspoon of sugar (didn't need it after all).

The oven was pretty close to temp so I put a healthy tablespoon of butter in the skillet and put it in the oven to brown.  This would make sure my pudding wouldn't stick, but would caramelize the crust and add another flavor to the mix.

Back to the pudding.  I tore up the toasted bread and threw it in the bowl and mixed it with the custard.  Cody and I like a drier bread pudding so I didn't make as much custard as most recipes would instruct.  I did add a little more almond milk to make sure I had enough moisture to get a pudding-ish texture and then tossed in two small handfuls of cereal that I crushed before dropping into the bowl.

I pulled the skillet with the browned butter out of the oven and filled it with the custard soaked bread.  I drizzled some honey on top and let her bake.  The fancy caramel sauce was out the window when I remembered it was bath night for The Boy.  Next time.

Bath done.

Pudding baked.

Two little bowls of impromptu sweetness that we didn't need, but enjoyed immensely.  Cody said the cereal was a good addition--I liked the little bits of banana that popped up now and again.

 I love inspiration baking.  And this time it made for a perfect pre-Anniversary treat for my honey and me.

02 October 2012

Diós Torta or Walnut Torte with Walnut Custard Buttercream

Out of town guest?  Time to bake.

House guests are always a great excuse for me to try something new.  The way I see it:  I'll provide the shelter if you'll be my guinea pig.

I pulled the Kaffeehaus book off the shelf and rather than choosing a recipe, I let the book fall open to a page and that's how I landed on the Hungarian Diós Torta.


Sounded delicious and possibly nutritious. Walnuts are really good for you, right?

Diós Torta is in the 'Fancy Cakes' chapter of The Book.  I'm guessing it falls under that category because nuts can be pricey.  It may look impressive or "fancy," but don't be fooled, it's not difficult to make.

Walnuts show up a lot in Hungarian desserts.  I don't know if it's because of the historical connection to Turkey or just that the walnuts grow like weeds in Hungary.  In this recipe they are ground, but not with a food processor, by hand with a nut grinder.  Apparently, this retains the walnut's fluffy texture.  It was news to me that nuts could be fluffy, but after making the torte I now understand about the fluffiness.  Now I have another useful factoid to file away in my baking brain.

What Happened:
How to grind nuts without using a food processor?

I don't own a nut grinder.  My MacGyver instinct kicked in and I thought to try my rotary cheese grater.  Walnuts are pretty soft, so just maybe....

I'm happy to report it worked.  Messy and a bit of a pain, but I had hand-ground walnuts.

For comparison I also ground a small amount in my processor.  Rubbing the two samples between my fingers, the hand-ground nut really did feel fluffier.

I think the difference is that the speed and heat of the  processor blade tends to compact the nuts.  The blade heat forces too much of the nut's oil to be released creating a more "pasty" ground walnut, but only by comparison to the hand-ground ones.

Grinding by hand is slower and doesn't generate the same heat leaving the walnut (and its oil) more intact in effect making a mini, mini, mini nut that structurally more closely resembles the whole walnut.  

Presumably, the fluffier nut would make a difference in the texture of the cake, but if you don't have the patience to MacGyver it, then by all means grind your walnuts in the food processor--carefully. Only the fussiest of the fussy would be able to tell the difference.

Grinding the nuts--that was the only really challenging part of this recipe.

Something did happen with the baking of the cake though. After coming out of the oven it sunk slightly. WHAAA?

Don't panic if this happens.

It's no big deal--not ideal, but seriously no biggie. This can happen with the delicate structure of foam cakes.  I pulled it out of the oven probably about 3 minutes too soon.  While it was done by the toothpick-in-the-center test, the structure hadn't entirely set. It didn't effect the flavor or texture of the cake in any way.  The only consequence was that my layers weren't pristine--oh well, it happens.  So when you think the cake's done, wait 2 minutes and then pull it out.

Walnut buttercream.  In a word: Yum!

I didn't use it all so I froze what was left over thinking it would be really great on a chocolate cake with a little apricot preserves or orange marmalade smeared on the cake layers. I love leftover dessert inspirations.

Things I Would Change:

  • A touch of acid could do this cake a huge favor.  I added orange zest to the recipe to give it a little lilt.  It's a natural fit with walnuts and should serve to complement the play between the nuts and the cream.  Another way to balance the taste would be to slather a thin coating of tart preserves of any flavor between the two layers.
  • Toast the nuts.  With enough prep time this could only improve on what already works. Definitely gilding the lily.

The Results:
Pretty tasty.  OK, very tasty.

Cody's comment was, and I quote, "nutty."  I sure hope so!

The nuts made for a big flavor and added considerable moistness to the cake. Even with the custard-based buttercream it was surprisingly light. My house guest seemed to enjoy my experiment too.  You never know who is really up for trying something new and she was absolutely on board.

To be clear, this isn't one of those tall, sugary butter cakes that you see at birthday parties or anniversaries, this is more the low-slung, elegant, after-dinner variety that screams for a coffee chaser.  Now that Fall is here, I think this Diós Torta should sneak its way onto your table some night soon.  Don't forget the coffee!

16 July 2012

Cheaters Nectarine Tartlet

Tarts are my favorite.  Not pies, tarts.

Maybe it's the scalloped crust?  Although I like the straight-sided tarts too.

Maybe it's the fruit?  Nah, I dig a chocolate tart more.

Maybe it's just the simplicity?  Hmmmm.

Or maybe it's the pastry cream?  Not anymore....

It's summertime and to me that means stone fruits (and tomatoes).  Peaches are coming, but until then I'm indulging in lots o' nectarines.  I call them pre-peaches.

I like surprising Cody every once in a while with a fancy dessert after a simple supper.  To keep things a light--and simple--I ditched the pastry cream in favor of this cheat--non-fat Greek yogurt.

I don't know why I felt so clever this time, but I was very full of myself when I unveiled these beauties.  It could have something to do with the fact that Cody "doesn't like" Greek yogurt and yet I keep sneaking it into things that he absolutely laps up. 

Tasting the nectarines at the Farmer's Market--sweet, juicy, perfumy--I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.  I had tartlet shells on-hand, making assembly a breeze.

FYI--whenever I make a pie or a tart I use the dough scraps to make tartlet shells.  Lay out the scraps, overlapping them just enough, sprinkle over some flour and roll lightly to remarry the dough pieces then lay them into the pans and cut.  Bake the shells and after they've cooled, wrap them well and freeze until you need them.  Sweet or savory fillings work--anything from extra pudding to mini quiche.

After gussying up the yogurt with lemon zest, vanilla and a squeeze of honey, I spread a little apricot jam in the bottom of the tartlet shells and filled them with the yogurt.  I sliced two nectarines very thin and layered the fruit over the yogurt filling and let them chill for a couple of hours.  To make them shiny I could have glazed them with warm apricot jam, but it was just a simple sweet bite for the two of us.

Cody doesn't like Greek yogurt, but he liked the Nectarine Tartlets!

The shells were so crispy that we could pick them up with our hands and bite into their sweet, creamy, crunchy goodness.  The nectarine was the absolute star of this show--as it should be.  And I know we saved a calorie or two by ditching the pastry cream. 

I love summer!!

12 July 2012

Rigó Jancsi or Hungarian Chocolate Mousse Slices

"This is the best thing to come out of that cafe book yet," said Cody with a mouth full of creamy chocolate goodness.

That's one solid vote for the Rigó Jancsi.
If you like your chocolate sandwiched between chocolate and topped with chocolate, then this recipe is definitely for you.

Yeah, it's decadent.

It's the dessert equivalent of the sexy girl hidden inside the mousey librarian.

The story goes that Rigó Jancsi was the name of a Hungarian gypsy violinist whose playing was so passionate that he successfully seduced a wealthy married woman during one of his performances.  Big scandal.  Must've been an amazing show!! 

Can you imagine having a reputation so fierce that a pastry chef would name their most sinful, decadent dessert after you?  Something for us all to aspire to...

What Happened:
Trying to be sensible with all this baking, or more honestly, panicked about my expanding waistline, I decided to make a half recipe.  All this meant was that I baked the cake in a 1/4 sheet pan instead of a 1/2 sheet pan.  Everything else remained the same.

The idea for the dessert is that there are two cake layers with a thick, creamy, chocolate mousse between them.  There is a secret weapon though--a thin layer of apricot glaze tucked inside.

All the elements are easily prepared and didn't take too much time really.  I found no pitfalls or temperamental steps in the recipe. 

One surprise was the oil in the cake given that the dessert is supposed to date back to the late nineteenth century.  The oil makes it a quasi-chiffon cake (quasi because you don't beat the egg whites separately and fold them in), and they weren't invented until the early part of the twentieth century.  But what do I know?  Although, a cake that is to be refrigerated has a better texture when it's made with oil instead of butter.  Butter cakes get stiff when chilled.

Things I Would Change:
  • I probably would slice the cake differently just to up the level of presentation.  Instead of cutting the pieces into rectangles I might cut them into "pie" slices.  It's a prettier shape and I'm known to be fussy about these things.  Or, I would garnish with a flower or a long chocolate curl.
The Result:
I already spilled the beans on this one:  Cody loved it.

Me?  I was surprised.  When I tasted the elements separately, the mousse, the cake, I was sure it wouldn't be my cup o' tea.  Too bitter.  Too earthy.  But when I tasted a finished slice I really liked it.  I couldn't believe the difference in flavor. 

The mousse played off the cake and the cake married with the chocolate glaze and, per usual, the apricot made it all work together.  It was complex and more importantly, it was complete.  Not bitter.  Delicious and well-balanced.  If you need a chocolate fix, Rigó Jancsi is definitely the ticket.

I will make this again, but I'm sure I'll try to make it look less Plain Jane.

04 July 2012

A Fast One For July 4th - Berries & Sabayon

While I'm not big on festive food I have to admit I was inspired by a bit of the Red, White & Blue this morning. 

My refrigerator is full of different beautiful berries right now and I've been playing with all kinds of ways to spotlight their deliciousness.

Sometime between comforting the baby and answering the kitty cries, it occurred to me to whip up a sabayon for a light breakfast treat.

When I realized that sabayon would be a great way to use up some of my frozen egg yolks and that I just happen to have a chilled bottle of Prosecco in the frig, I was sold. 

Yay!  It was turning into a fancy morning with Berries and Bellinis!

What Happened:
I sliced up some strawberries, threw on a wee bit of sugar and let them macerate while I put together the sabayon.  I thawed my egg yolks (which I froze with a little bit of sugar so they wouldn't get funky) and whipped them together with a little sugar and Prosecco.

It only took about 5 minutes or so to whip the sauce into a nice foam over a bain marie. Unfortunately, I didn't have the berries in their cups or the toast buttered or the Bellinis poured when the sauce was ready so it lost a bit of volume while I caught up. 

Next time I'll be fully prepped!

Things I Would Change:
  • Nada!
The Result:
Yum, yum and YUM!

Easy and creamy without the cream.

Sabayon is simple to make and I like the fact that I can make as little or as much as I need.  The ratios are really adaptable.

To me, it's a gorgeous sauce and makes a luxurious addition to fruit.  The flavor is light and doesn't overpower the berries at all.

I also love the contrast between the warm sauce and the cool fruit.  Frankly, I could have just taken a spoon to the bowl of sauce, but I'm a freak for creamy textures.

So how's that for patriotic?  Cody and I ate red, white & blue for breakfast! 

29 June 2012

Faschingkrapfen (Mardi Gras Doughnuts)

Time for another Girls Brunch, so I busted out the cast iron skillet and some oil to fry us up some Austrian doughnuts--Faschingkrapfen from Rick Rodgers' book, Kaffeehaus.

The three of us have been doing brunch long enough that the girls are used to my food experiments.  Poor things, they're always having to taste some new recipe I've dug up.

Although I admit one lemon fig crostata failed so miserably I wouldn't even let them see it!!  (The photo is a definite Before)

Honestly, it would probably be weird if I didn't have something untested for them to try.

Smaller than a typical Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donut, Faschingkrapfen are traditionally eaten in February during Carnival.  Usually these sweet little indulgences are filled with apricot jam, and found in every bakeshop prior to Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Their trademark is the "white ribbon" band that wraps around the doughnut.  All I know is that they looked like little pillows of doughy goodness and I had to have one (or seven!).

What Happened:
The doughnuts are based on a sweet, fairly wet and sticky dough that gives them their pillow-y quality when they're fried.

It's a fairly fast dough to put together, considering it starts with a sponge.  But I don't think this is a recipe I'd wake up one morning and decide to make for breakfast, although you could prep them the night before.  To me, the better idea would be to have them for dessert or as an afternoon snack.

Something to know about this dough is that it has considerable elasticity, so rolling it out requires a little patience because it shrinks back pretty easily.  If you're slow and steady the dough will ultimately succumb.  Remember, you control the dough the dough doesn't control you!

Like most "stuffed" pastries, be sure not to overfill them or they will bust open in the skillet. 

Also, they relax a little after they come out of their oil hot tub.  Don't panic if they look more like balls at first.

Things I Would Change:
  • I added a little more salt (reflected in the recipe) to the dough just to give it some character.
  • The frying method in Rodgers' book didn't work for me.  He suggested covering the skillet once the Faschingkrapfen were in the oil.  That way the trapped heat would help cook the top of the dough too, then you would flip the doughnuts to brown the other side.  Instead, I flipped the dough frequently to cook both sides to golden brown and still managed to get the white ribbon around the middle.  Rodgers' method made it difficult for me to flip the doughnuts and I had to try to hold them on the second side so they would cook.  Their natural tendency was to float cooked side down.  Even when flipped, they flipped back.

The Results:

The funny thing to me was that I thought I was being clever filling most of the Faschingkrapfen with Nutella, a few with Plum Jam and only TWO with Apricot Jam.  The best flavor was in the traditional Apricot filled doughnuts!

I was leery of the apricot because of my cooked fruit issues, but the fruit brought out more flavor in the dough.  The acid in the jam married well with the lemon zest in the slightly sweet dough.

My advice is to stick with acid based fillings.  Hey, you could even spike the jam with rum or another spirit of choice.  That would definitely add a bit of complexity.

Between the three of us we ate 18 doughnuts, leaving just 2 for Cody to taste.  EIGHTEEN!!  Guess we liked them a little, huh?

24 June 2012

Farmers Market Forage: Fresh Strawberry Pie & Grilled Veg Sandwiches

I've been itching to get to the Saturday Farmer's Market in Calabasas for weeks.

In fact, we had plans to go twice in the last month only to scrap them because Egan woke up late or took longer to feed or I spilled formula all over me and the kitchen floor.  Outings can be a lot to coordinate.

Do you remember the movie Out Of Africa (or any movie involving the British traveling in Africa) when they would go on safari and would take EVERYTHING including fine china?  That's what I feel like traveling with baby!!  It's just wrong.

We finally got it together and had our Farmer's Market Safari.

So happy to see all the local bounty!  I had to restrain myself from buying every color in the rainbow.  The fact is I just don't have as much time to play in the kitchen as I used to.

I kept it simple.

I bought tons of super-sweet strawberries along with an eggplant and a huge tomato that I could add to the zucchini, red peppers and lettuce we had in the garden at home.

A perfect summer meal was coming together in my head.

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches with Limoncello Spritzers and Fresh Strawberry Pie.

For the sandwiches, I just sliced the vegetables (except for the red pepper) lengthwise about 1/4-inch thick drizzled them with olive oil seasoned each side with salt, pepper and crumbled Herbes de Provence and let them "marinate" until the grill was ready.

I also put together a zippy tarragon "aioli" by adding chopped tarragon, lemon juice, zest, garlic powder and a good amount of salt and pepper to mayonnaise.

Grilling the vegetables was pretty straight-forward--I cooked them until they were tender, not mush.  I roasted the peppers until they were charred then put them in a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap for 10 minutes or so to sweat the skin loose.  Pulling the skin off was easy then I just sliced the peppers in half scrapping out any loose seeds.

I like lightly toasted bread for sandwiches.  It assures the bread doesn't get soggy--so does slathering un-toasted bread with a bit of butter, but that's another story!.

I only do a light toast because I don't want the bread to be so sharp it cuts up the roof of my mouth.  Maybe that's just me who has that issue?

Bread toasted, I added the aioli, lettuce, tomato, eggplant, zucchini and roasted red pepper.  Voila.

The Limoncello Spritzer is a riff on Electric Lemonade.   Great for summer.

  • Limoncello
  • Simple syrup
  • Mint
  • Lemon juice
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water 
  • Blueberries

So refreshing.  And pretty.

Finally.  The Pie.

I love Strawberry Pie and like most things I'm full of opinions about what works and what doesn't in a Strawberry Pie.

  • savory crust
  • sliced or quartered strawberries
  • whipped cream
  • whole strawberries (how do you eat that???)
  • Jello

Here's What Happened:
I had a recipe from Cook's Country that I wanted to try.  Basically, they created the filling using fresh strawberries with a little gelatin for stability.

The recipe is not complicated.  You cook down 2/3 of the strawberries into a jam, add the sugar and gelatin then when the filling is cool you fold in the remaining fresh strawberries and pour into a baked pie shell and chill.

So I threw together my basic cream cheese crust and tested out their filling.

Things I Would Change:
Per usual I made changes.
  • The first thing I did and would do again was add vanilla to the "jam."  I like the mellow flavor that vanilla brings to fruit.
  • I would use a little less gelatin the next go around.  The pie was a little too firm. The recipe reflects this change.
  • In order to make the flavor of the berry elements more compatible I would lightly sugar the fresh berries before folding them into the filling.
  • I used lime instead of lemon.  It's more interesting.

The Results:
Close, but not EXACTLY what I wanted.  Mind you, I am splitting hairs here.  Truth be told I'm on a quest for PERFECT Strawberry Pie, not just good Strawberry Pie.  This pie is good.  Not Perfect.

The filling was a little tight, but the real hair I'm splitting here is that there was a distinct difference in taste between the strawberry gel and the chunks of fresh (uncooked) strawberries.  The gel was sweetened and the fresh berries were not.  To me there should be a uniformity of taste between the two or at least congruity.

I'm not sure if this recipe is the path to my dream Strawberry Pie, but I learned a few things which is always valuable.

Make no mistake we ate this pie--every slice.  It's good, just not perfect.  But the whole summery meal really hit the spot!

17 May 2012

The Sweetest Bonbon

Yes, it's been a while.

Yes, I'm still baking.

Yes, I owe you an explanation for my LONG absence.

Here it is: I BECAME A MOM!!!

So incredible. So long in coming. So thrilling.

Cody and I have been trying to start a family since we got married almost 5 years ago. It was a long, often difficult journey, but at the end of it we have our own little chewy nugget of joy. His name is Egan and I still can't believe he's ours.

My inner chef can't wait until he gets old enough for me to play with his palate, but until then I'll be showering him with hugs and kisses and sneaking away when I can to share baking discoveries with you.

So I'm begging you to please, please, please stick around!  I promise I have fun recipes to share.

I'm trying to figure out how to add 2 hours to the day (without much luck) so I can blog, but until I can successfully manufacture time I'm afraid the posts may be a tad sporadic--but AWESOME.

Until next time, here's a taste...


01 March 2012

Gerbeaud Slices

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I've got a big catering job this weekend.  It's a baby shower with lots of little bites and nibbles from Black Forest Ham & Dublin Cheddar Thumbprints to Crunchy Caramel Cream Balls.  I've done as much prep as I can.  It's only Thursday.  Now what?

I hate waiting around and I've got the itch to make something so what about one of Hungary's most famous cafe desserts--Gerbeaud Slices.

Named after the famed Budapest cafe, Gerbeaud Cukrászda, that created it, this layered cookie/cake has been a favorite for over 125 years.

It's a yeasted sweet dough with layers of walnuts and apricot finished with a thin smear of chocolate.  If there's one thing Hungarians know how to do it's come up with infinite ideas for walnuts, apricot and chocolate.

I got to taste the real deal last year.  It was so nice and well-balanced.  No ingredient overpowered the other.  But could I recreate it?

What Happened:
I relied on Rick Rodgers' Kaffeehaus to guide me.  I was happy that the ingredient list was full of pantry basics.

The dough was quick and simple.  Rodgers describes the pre-baked texture as a sticky sugar cookie dough and that seems about right to me.  Chilling it is supposed to make it easier to roll out, but it's still a little fragile.  Working through the recipe the first time takes a little longer just because you have to get to know the dough.  You want thin, even layers in order to see beautiful stripes when you slice it.

Getting used to the dough is the only challenge in this dish.  Roll it out thin cause the yeast will add a little puff.  Shoot for 1/16-inch if you can.

I would also recommend weighing the dough in order to divide it evenly.  Makes it infinitely easier to get the pretty results.

Things I Would Change:
The recipe I've linked includes some tinkering on my part.  I want to get as close to the cafe original and I think these little tweaks help.
  • More walnuts in the filling.  The Kaffeehaus recipe calls for 1 cup of walnuts.  I would up that to 1 1/2 cups to bring out the nuttiness in the bar.
  • Sugar.  I took it down in the dough, filling and glaze.  This is what I do!
  • Glaze method.  I've found it's more foolproof when making a boiled chocolate glaze to dissolve the sugar in the water before adding the chocolate.  That way there's less chance that the sugar won't dissolve and bring a yucky mouth-feel (i.e. sugar crystals) to the glaze.
The Results:
I was so happy with the way these slices turned out. For a moment I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could bake at one of my favorite European cafes.

My layers were a little thicker than theirs, but not bad for a first attempt.  I only wish I'd pulled out the photo beforehand so I could have tried for the 4 layers.  Next time I'll know to go a little thinner and not worry about having leftover dough.  I'll just freeze the extra.

Although it would be akin to blasphemy to change such an iconic dessert in any real way, I do think a version with hazelnuts and almonds would be amazing too.  Even the jam could be switched up successfully - but you didn't hear that from me!

FYI the key to getting really clean slices is thoroughly refrigerating the cake after it's glazed then running a sharp knife under HOT water and wiping dry with a paper towel before each cut. Then let the slices come to room temperature before digging in.

I do wonder if these slices will freeze well.  I'm testing it out and I'll let you know how it goes.

When I open my cafe, Gerbeaud slices will definitely be on the menu.  I'll probably serve it at my next party too.

28 February 2012

Hazelnut Mocha Roulade

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Coo-coo for hazelnuts?  I am.

Roulades, Le Gateau Roulé, Swiss Rolls or whatever you want to call them, are easy and totally underutilized if you ask me.  Bake a thin, rectangle cake, slather it with something yummy, roll it up, glaze it or simply dust it with powdered sugar, slice and chow down.  The combinations are limitless.  I'm definitely going to add a few of these to the Fresh from the oven menu this year.

Haselnussrouladen mit Mokkacreme--this version comes from the Rick Rodgers Kaffeehaus book, of course.  It's an airy hazelnut sponge cake filled with an espresso flavored chocolate ganache garnished with whole hazelnuts.

The most challenging part of this recipe is getting the skins off the hazelnuts (blanching) after they've been toasted.  Just understand that some of the skin will always remain.  It's maddening, but true.  Funny how I know this, but still refuse to accept it when the nuts aren't perfectly naked.

I know of 3 ways to "blanch" hazelnuts:

1)  Toast them in a 350 degree oven until they almost look overdone.  The skins really protect them so it can take a bit to get the flesh golden.  Transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel, cover them and wait a few minutes so they can steam a little, then rub them like crazy until the skins flake away from the nut.

2)  Toast them just like in method #1, transfer them to a fine mesh strainer suspended over a bowl or the sink to catch the skins and rub the nuts against the mesh to remove the skins.  I usually resort to this method for those stubborn hazelnuts that keep their coats on even after the towel treatment.

3)  This involves 2 quarts of boiling water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda.  Bring the mixture to a boil, add the nuts, leave them for 5 minutes then drain them in a colander.  Rinse them with cool water and peel.  Once the skins are removed, toast the nuts in the oven until brown.  Don't panic or get creeped-out when the water turns black.  That's supposed to happen.  This isn't my preferred method because the nuts never seem to totally dry out afterward and I rarely plan far enough ahead to give the nuts adequate time to dry before I need them.  It does work though.

Now on to the cake.

What Happened:
Easy enough to put together.  In fact, you can get the cake mixed and baked inside of 25 minutes.  While the cake roll cools, whip up the mocha ganache.  By the time you finish that, the cake should be cool and you can unroll, slather and re-roll.

Things I Would Change:
I like a variety of texture in my desserts.  As written, this is a one-texture cake.  The one whole hazelnut on top of each slice isn't enough for me.  Not enough hazelnuttiness or crunch.
  • I suggest adding 1/2 cup of chopped toasted hazelnuts to be sprinkled over the whipped ganache before it's rolled up inside the cake.  I like the idea of boosting the nut flavor and it should add some texture too.
  • Use a combo of milk and dark chocolate for the ganache.  I think using only the darker chocolate let the ganache overpower the subtle hazelnut flavor.
There are other things you can do too, from glazing the roll with chocolate and finishing with a sprinkle of hazelnut, to skipping the ganache altogether and just filling with a hazelnut whipped cream.  Just let your love of hazelnut guide you!!

The Results:
Yummy deliciousness plain and simple which is just the way I like it.

25 February 2012

Nashville Nosh - Burgers, Fruit Tea, Fried Chicken and Goo Goo Clusters

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Some people visit family during the holidays.  Cody and I aren't most people.  We want quality time with the relatives not stressful, house-packed, near nervous breakdown visits.  Not to mention that my holiday baking brings in some $$$, so we opt to travel during the "off-season."

This is the off-season.

Nashville bound.  Music City.  Grand Ole Opry.  Home of the Goo Goo Cluster?  Yeah, I bought one.

When we go to Nashville, it's all about family.  Our choice.  We've talked about doing things like going to the Opryland Hotel (which is supposed to be impressive) every visit, but we never manage to fit anything in.

Something we did fit in this time was lunch at Gabby's.  I had just booked our rental car online when a story popped up on Yahoo! about Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys giving Bon Appetit the lowdown on where to grub in Nashville.  Now that's serendipity.

On that recommendation, Cody and I dragged his mother to this funky little burger joint called Gabby's in south Nashville.  I was hungry and craving meat.  Our timing and destination were in synch.

It was crowded and the lunch counter was full.  The menu was simple and I'd read that one must-order was the sweet potato fries.  SPF are my favorite so no arm twisting required.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that I have a firm policy that when a menu item features a fried egg garnish, I have to order it.  That goes double for a burger joint.  Forget the cheese, bring on the rich, runny egg deliciousness.  Gabby's menu offers a fried egg topping.  Yeah, I ordered it.

This is the Seamus.  Single grass fed beef patty, fried egg, onion, lettuce tomato and chipotle mayo.  LOOK at those fries!!  Skins on.  Crispy, crunchy, crackly sticks of yum.  No, I'm not overstating the experience of those fries.  They tasted so good that my mother-in-law asked how they were made and they told her!

Here's the secret:  First you bake the whole potato for an hour.  The next day you slice the potato into fries and fry them in oil for a few minutes at 325 degrees.  When you're ready to eat, fry them again at 350 degrees to crisp and caramelize.  I think it's the combo of baking and leaving the skins on that make them awesome.

Cody went for the Gabby--basically a Double Double for you In-and-Out fans.  Cody's mom went with the Seamus, like me, although she passed on the fried egg indulgence.

So Gabby's was the second place we visited in Nashville that offered "Fruit Tea."  I passed on it the first time around because I'm more of a black tea girl--although I do like it sweet.  No Lemon.  No Arnold Palmer.  No passion fruit or peach or whatever the fruit of the day happens to be.  HOWEVER, after tasting the first fruit tea combo of tea, lemon, orange and ginger ale that Cody wisely ordered at another eatery, I didn't make the same mistake twice.  Gabby's take is tea, orange juice, sugar and pineapple juice.  The best punch ever!  This trend has taken sweet tea to a whole 'notha level.  Bravo.

For dessert--yes, we went there--they had a few of those homemade dessert bar concoctions to choose from and I grabbed two - one with peanut butter, cornflakes and peanuts on a slab of chocolate that tasted like a Butterfinger and the other was chocolate, marshmallow and pretzels all mushed together in a ridiculously thick bar.

Both desserts were a hit at home with the family--we shared.  I wanted to add a sprinkle of grey sea salt onto the chocolate, marshmallow, pretzel thing, but then I can be too fancy sometimes.

Our Gabby adventure was a total success.  Happy we took the recommendation from a fellow Ohioan.  We Buckeyes know how to eat!

The Loveless Cafe is a Nashville institution.  It's a motel and cafe that built its reputation on fried chicken and biscuits served to travelers passing by on Highway 100 as early as 1951.  The motel no longer operates but the cafe is thriving on the strength of those light and cakey biscuits.

Since Aunt Jennifer is into food and had never been to the Loveless, seven of us loaded into the car and drove out into the country south of Nashville to get some biscuits and jam and whatever else sounded good.  I should mention the Loveless doesn't take reservations for fewer than 12 people.  I should also mention this was a Saturday.

We put our name in for a table around 11ish.  There were throngs of people sitting outside the cafe in rocking chairs and at picnic tables.  Even more people milled about in the motel rooms that had been converted into gift shops selling the wares of local artisans.  They even had cornhole to pass the time.  Yeah, it was going to be a 2 hour wait?!

You could say I was heavy with guilt that day.  I hoped it was worth the wait.

After thumbing through the Cafe's dessert cookbook to pass the time and looking at all the trinkets and bobbles we finally got the call (the page actually).  They gave us a nice big table in the sunny front room of the converted country house.  It's a checkered oil tablecloth kind of place.

The most striking thing to me was that the tables weren't jammed together like they are in most restaurants.  I can only guess they thought it was worth it to give the staff enough room to safely carry gigantic trays piled high with biscuits and all the fixin's through the dining room.

I'm a bit of traditionalist so I went with their claim to fame--fried chicken and biscuits.  I had two sides to choose so I ordered southern staples, fried okra and creamed corn.

Cody chose pulled pork with fried eggs, grits and hash-brown casserole.

Truth be told, the biscuits are the whole story.

I couldn't even guess the number of buttermilk biscuits we gobbled up that day.

Jams are another Loveless specialty, but what got my attention was the sorghum - a rare find.  It was sweet and a little floral with a nice bite at the end.  Perfect on a buttered biscuit.  Sorghum is considered molasses, but it's lighter and looks more like a reddish honey.

The jams were a big hit though.  The Jam Champion at our table, by a unanimous vote, was the blackberry.  Peach took second prize, followed by the strawberry.

Wouldn't be an outing without a slice o' pie and I chose Peanut Butter.

This was an icebox pie, not the baked custard like my Grandma used to make.  At the Loveless they serve it on a chocolate crust that tasted a lot like brownie.  Sounds rich, but it was nice and light and I made sure everyone got a taste.

One of the things I came across during our wait, aside from this slice of Elvis

was a candy called, Goo Goo Cluster.  Cody snapped it off the shelf, all smiles, and told me his dad used to buy them for him all the time when he was a kid.  Sounded like a good childhood memory to me so I bought it.

Turns out the Goo Goo Cluster is a Nashville creation (one of my favorites as a kid, the Moon Pie, hails from Chattanooga).

It's a combination of caramel, peanuts and marshmallow nougat covered in milk chocolate.

I tried it.

It should be delicious.

It's definitely sweeeeet.


Something tells me that changing manufacturing needs have cost the Goo Goo some flavor somewhere since its 1912 debut.  I can't help but think that if I tried to make it myself it would be an outstanding indulgence.  I just enjoyed getting to taste something I'd never heard of that put a smile on my hubby's face as a kid.

I like family time that doesn't involve the holidays.  Much more fun and adventure to be had.