APRICOT LINZER TORTE

Do you know Anna Olson? I don’t remember how I got hooked into her shows, but I think it was one of those suggestions that pop in the amazon page. At any rate, she is big on Canadian Food TV. As far as I can tell, the Canadian food TV is far superior to our own. I watched every single episode I could find online. Basically a full season of “Sugar“, and a full season of “Baking with Anna Olson.”  They are organized by ingredient (chocolate, blueberries, pecans),  or basic component (say, pastry cream, or pie dough), and she usually shares three recipes with increasing level of difficulty.  I like her a lot. She is the type of baker who is clearly talented, but also down to Earth. Some professional bakers make you think that unless you can find the vanilla bean harvested on the Sava region of Madagascar under a moon 100% full, please don’t bother making the recipe. Not the case with Anna. You’ll feel less constrained and even encouraged to try something a little different. Sometimes she might even have a little powdered sugar flying moment in her KitchenAid, which in my mind just makes her even more special.  Of course, that type of moment is not a rare event in the Bewitching Kitchen, quite the opposite (sigh). When I watched her show on apricots, I knew I had to try her Linzer version. I am glad I did…

APRICOT LINZER TORTE
(from Anna Olson)

for filling:
2 cups fresh apricot, washed and pitted
⅔ cup apricot jam
¼ cup sugar
zest of one orange

for dough:
3 hard-boiled egg yolks
1 ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup icing sugar
dash of vanilla extract
½ cup ground hazelnuts, lightly toasted
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, mixed with 2 tbsp cold water

Cook all ingredients for the filling in a big saucepan until apricots are tender. Remove from heat, puree and cool completely before using.

Push cooked egg yolks through a sieve and set aside. Cream together butter and icing sugar until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Add hazelnuts and cooked egg yolks and blend in. Sift together salt, baking powder and flour and add to butter mixture. Blend until dough comes together (it will be quite soft). Divide dough into 2 discs, wrap and chill for at least one hour, until firm.

Heat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough to 3/4- inch thick. Using the bottom of a 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan as your template, cut out a disc of pastry. Repeat this with the second disc of pastry.

Using the tart pan bottom as a lifter, transfer the first disc of pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the apricot filling over the entire surface of the dough. If the dough is very soft, I like to flash it in the freezer for 5 minutes, to make spreading the filling easier.

Using a 3/4 -inch round cutter cut decorative circles around the dough. Use a slightly smaller cutter to make a second series of smaller openings. While still on the cutting board, brush the top of the disc generously with egg wash. Place gently on top of apricot filling. Place ring of a springform pan around torte to help it hold shape while cooking.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a rich golden brown in colour. Allow to cool before cutting. If desired, sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: It was a lot of fun to make this recipe, it is a real soft though, and I decided to roll it out in between two sheets of parchment paper. Works much better for me that way. The filling is delicious, I had to hold myself back not to use it in macarons next day, it would be great added to some chocolate ganache, I think. Apricot and chocolate are a match made in heaven.

The dough is on the crumbly side as expected for a Linzer concoction. Her use of hazelnuts instead of almonds makes it quite unique and special. Everyone in the department loved this little treat, which brightened up one very summery Monday.


Make Sally happy, grab a pin!

 

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BRIGADEIROS FOR THE FOURTH OF JULY

Brazil meets USA, big time! A traditional Brazilian delicacy dresses up in American colors for one of the biggest holidays celebrated here, Independence Day. We were invited for dinner and fireworks over at a friend’s home, and on a last-minute move, I prepared these babies to take with us. They are a departure of the classic Brazilian brigadeiros, made with cocoa powder. In this case, I flavored them with a touch of coconut extract, but probably should have added more than I did, the flavor was barely noticeable.


PATRIOTIC BRIGADEIROS
(from Easy and Delish)

2 (14-oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract)
food coloring (Red and Blue)
red/white/blue sprinkles (optional)
white chocolate ganache to drizzle (optional)

Combine sweetened condensed milk with unsalted butter in a wide, no stick pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth.
Mixture is ready when it thickens and starts to peel away or show the bottom of the pan when you scrape it with your wood spoon (about 10-15 minutes). The fudge mixture should be thick enough to reveal the bottom of the pan for a couple of seconds before the mixture levels out again.
When the fudge mixture is ready, remove from the stove top and stir in the vanilla or coconut extract. Next, spread 1/3 of the mixture in the center of a half-sheet pan coated with a little butter so that it won’t stick. 
Place another 1/3 of the mixture in a bowl and stir in  blue food coloring.  Place the remaining 1/3 of the fudge mixture in another bowl and stir in red food coloring. Transfer both the blue and red mixtures to the greased baking sheet, spreading them around side by side. Allow to cool completely.
Using a tablespoon as measurement, scoop out one spoon of the white/red/blue mixture (starting from the center to the edge of the plate) and with greased hands, roll out into balls. Place each little ball into a small paper liner  and decorate the way you want.  They can be kept in the fridge until serving time. 
ENJOY!
to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you’ve never made traditional brigadeiros, or worse yet – have not even heard about them, please read my old blog post to fix this major gap in your culinary knowledge. It’s important. It was really fun to make these, I advise you to use two cans of condensed milk, so that you have enough to play with. With this amount, I made 26 brigadeiros. They are rich and sweet, so one or two is all you’ll need. But they bring me so many nice memories of my home country, I usually have a bit of a hard time stopping at two. So I accept my weakness, and move on. And jog on. Weight lift on. Kickbox on… you get the picture… damage control.

You can definitely use different colors to celebrate your favorite team, your school, your mood. Halloween Black and Orange brigadeiros might be the rage this year (wink, wink).

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SPRINKLED MERINGUES

This is a fun recipe to make with kids. So simple! The idea was in a very nice cookbook, called Sweetapolita, which I very highly recommend for those who have been bitten by the Baking Bug. I haven’t asked for permission to share her recipe and method to make meringues (she has a few little tricks up her sleeve), but you can definitely use any meringue recipe out there. The secret is to bake them slow and low, and allow them to dry for a while inside the closed, turned off oven. I used a closed star tip to pipe mine, but you can go with a regular piping tip, or even just use a spoon.

For a classic meringue recipe using the French method click here.

After they are done, you melt some white chocolate, and add your favorite type of sprinkles into a small bowl. Dip the bottoms of the meringues in chocolate, then coat with sprinkles.  It is a bit tricky to get the amount just right, but no matter what you do, they will be a ton of fun to make and eat.

You can customize the color of your sprinkles too, of course. Maybe your favorite team is playing in the World Cup? Or your kid’s team will have a nice baseball match and you are the one in charge of loading them with sugar after?

Any kid will love these!

ONE YEAR AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Three

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FOUR YEARS AGO: Wheat Berry Caraway Bread

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mexican Focaccia 

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SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pane de Casa & Crostini

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Down-home Dig-in Chili

NINE YEARS AGO:  Cinnamon Rolls

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FRAISIER CAKE: A CELEBRATION OF SPRING

Fraisier is a classic cake in French patisserie. You will find countless versions for it. The cake can be round, square, rectangular, the topping also quite varied:  meringue, a thin layer of gelatin, or some marzipan. You can also go with a more rustic version topped with just a dusting of powdered sugar. The common denominator is two layers of cake, separated by a filling of strawberries in buttercream (preferably mousseline, which is buttercream on steroids). Some of the strawberries must be cut in half lengthwise and sit at the edge, so that they will be visible in the assembled cake.  What’s not to like? For my version I used a simple genoise brushed with Cointreau-syrup, a mousseline cream with a touch of white chocolate, and for the topping a thin layer of almond paste.

FRAISIER CAKE
(adapted from many sources)

for the cake:
6 eggs
5 tbs butter
1 cup (225g) sugar
1 + 3/4 cup (210g) flour
1/2 tsp vanilla paste

For simple syrup:
6 Tablespoons water
6 Tablespoons sugar
3 tsp Cointreau

For creme mousseline:
2½ cups (600ml) whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (56g) corn starch
454g  butter, softened, divided
100 g white chocolate, melted and cooled

For decoration:
Hulled and halved strawberries for perimeter of the cake (I used 19 halves)
Diced strawberries for the filling (about 12 large strawberries)
100 g almond paste
powdered sugar for rolling

Equipment: One 10-inch round cake pan; one 9.5-inch cake ring or springform pan.

Heat the oven to 350 F. Prepare a 10 inch cake pan by buttering the interior. Then dust with flour and set aside.  

Place the butter in a small dish and cover then melt in the microwave. Set aside to let cool. Fill a pot with about 1 inch water over medium high heat. Once it starts to simmer, sit the bowl of a stand mixer over the pot. Put the eggs and sugar in the bowl and beat with a whisk until it warms up to a temperature between 130 to 140 degrees F. Return the bowl to the stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk the mixture on high-speed. Continue to beat until the batter is cool to the touch. The end result should be a light batter that has tripled in volume.

Set aside 2 tbs of the batter in a small bowl. Add the flour to the large bowl of batter in increments, gently folding until no dry streaks remain. Blend together the 2 tbs of batter with the melted butter. Pour into the large bowl of batter and stir until incorporated. Fill the prepared cake pan with the batter. Place pan in oven and bake until cake springs back when lightly touched. Baking time should be about 30 minutes. Remove pan and invert cake onto a rack to cool.

While the cake is cooling, make the simple syrup by heating the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat and stir the Cointreau. Set aside to cool.

Make the mousseline cream by combining in a saucepan the milk and vanilla paste, then bringing to a simmer over low-heat. Do not let the milk come to a boil. Reserve. Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk vigorously until the mixture turns a light shade of yellow and becomes slightly thick and frothy, about 3 minutes. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until completely incorporated.

Slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the warm milk into the egg mixture, and whisk continuously to temper the eggs.  Add the rest of the milk, always whisking. Once all the milk has been added to the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan, and over low heat keep whisking until the cream comes to a full boil, but do it slowly. Keep removing from the heat and placing it back if you feel it is boiling too quickly. Do not stop whisking, and make sure to go over each little spot of the bottom of the pan to prevent the cream from scorching.

When large bubbles start coming to the surface, continue whisking for 15 seconds, then remove from heat, let it stand for a couple of minutes and add half of the butter, then the melted and cooled chocolate. Pass it through a fine sieve to remove any little lumps and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight, with a plastic film on top to prevent a skin from forming.

When fully cold, remove from fridge, place in a Kitchen Aid and beat at full speed for 5 minutes or longer, to bring it to room temperature. Now add the other half of the butter, which must be softened.  Beat until fully smooth. The mousseline cream is ready to use.

Assemble the cake: Place a piece of acetate film against the inner surface of the cake ring. If needed, trim the top crust of the sponge cake, to level it. Split in half and place the bottom half (cut side face up)in a 9 1/1 inch cake ring set over a cardboard cake round of the same size. Brush with half of the Cointreau syrup.

Place each strawberry half upright inside the ring, forming an interior circle. The stem top should be face down and the cut side facing the inside of the flan ring. Smooth one cup of the mousseline cream over the split cake inside the flan ring. The cream should cover all exposed cake. Then place diced strawberries covering the center of the cake.  Fill all spaces with the mousseline cream by using a piping tip and covering until you reach the top of the flan ring. Then place the other cake half over the cream layer and brush the top with the remaining syrup. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll a piece of almond paste very thin, make a pattern on the surface if you have an embossing rolling-pin. Cover the cake with a very thin layer of mousseline cream, then set the rolled almond paste on top, with the pattern facing up. Decorate with strawberries, if desired.

Refrigerate until serving time.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: One thing that makes it easier to assemble a Fraisier is placing acetate film to line the  perimeter of the pan. I used my beloved elephant pins (a gift from my niece) to keep the acetate in place (see 2nd of the smaller photos in the composite above). The film makes sure that once you lift the ring the sides of the cake won’t be messed up, by smearing the cream or moving the strawberries in the process. Super clever.

Some recipes instruct you to cover the center of the cake with whole strawberries standing with the pointed end up, but I think that would make a bit harder to cut the cake in slices. I decided to dice the fruit instead and distribute the pieces more or less evenly on the surface. I like the way it turned out.

The sun shinning through the window, cast a bright yellow tone on the slice of cake I served in our department mail room. Interesting effect…

For the topping, my goal was to imprint a pattern on the thin layer of almond paste. I used a wooden rolling-pin, but unfortunately the effect was barely visible.

Points to consider in the future

Exchanging thoughts with Patissiers Extraordinaires Gary and Jennifer I realize a few things that could be improved. First, instead of baking a single round cake and slicing it in half, it would be nice to bake a cake in a sheet pan and cut two layers of the desired size. They could be any shape, circular, square, rectangular. The advantage of that method is that you don’t have to worry about slicing the cake horizontally and both layers would be absolutely equal in height.

As to the design on the almond paste, Gary suggests using a silicone mat instead of the rolling-pin. I think that is a great idea, and will definitely incorporate it on my next time. Perhaps even adding a bit of green food color to the paste, I’ve seen many examples that do so.

Another possibility that makes this cake even more appealing is to completely hide the cake when assembled. You achieve that by placing the strawberries outside the perimeter of the cake, which is then cut about one inch smaller than the ring. The mousseline will be outside, on the sides and top of the cake. You can see one beautiful example here.

All things considered, I am happy with the way my first attempt turned out. The almond paste layer gives a nice almond-y flavor to the cake, and the texture is not harsh at all, it gets quite a bit softer in contact with the mousseline cream underneath. No doubt there is room for improvement, but isn’t that the case for many things in life?

🙂

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Zucchini Frittata with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

TWO YEARS AGO: Playing with Pectinase

THREE YEARS AGO: Poached White Asparagus with Lemon and Pistachios

FOUR YEARS AGO: Dan Lepard’s Saffron Bloomer

FIVE YEARS AGO: Fesenjan & The New Persian Kitchen

SIX YEARS AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere

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SECRET RECIPE CLUB REUNION 2018

Talk about a flash back!  Those who follow my blog for a while might remember my favorite group virtual event, The Secret Recipe Club.  Food bloggers were paired in secret, and had a few weeks to stalk the assigned blog, pick a recipe and blog about it on Reveal Day. Every post would go live at the exact same time, midnight of the first Monday of the month, New York time. I was a member for years, and had a lot of fun with it. Not only for the cooking aspect, but for its social component. SRC had it’s last appearance in November 2016, but our beloved organizer, Sarah, had the idea of a special encore that celebrates the 10th year anniversary of its creation. So here we are, one final time! I was assigned pure royalty in food blog shape. I got Sarah’s food blog, Fantastical Sharing of Recipes!  Can you believe it? The queen behind my favorite event!  I was assigned her blog in the past as pretty much every member rotated through every blog in the group.  At that time, I made a fantastical recipe as you can see here.  Now I share another fantastical recipe, a Carrot Cake Roll with Cream Cheese Icing. OMG OMG OMG. Because this is such a special occasion, I felt like dressing it up a little, and tried my hands at adding a pattern on the surface of the cake. One word: THRILL!

CARROT CAKE ROLL
(from Fantastical Sharing of Recipes)

for the decoration (optional):
50g  butter, softened
50g powdered sugar
50g  egg whites
50g  all-purpose flour
orange food coloring (I used gel)

for the cake:
3 eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup flour
2 cups shredded carrots (about 2 medium carrots, pat dry)
Powdered sugar

for the filling:
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Make the piping decoration by beating the butter with powdered sugar in a small bowl until fully combined. I used a hand-held electric mixer. Add the egg whites and beat for a couple of minutes. Add the flour and mix by hand with a spoon, add a couple of drops of orange food color.  Reserve.

Draw the design you want to have on the surface of the cake with a pencil on parchment paper that fits a half-sheet baking pan. Invert the paper so that the pencil mark is at the bottom. Pipe the icing using a very thin piping tip. Freeze the whole tray with the decoration for at least one hour. When the time is almost up, prepare the cake batter.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Beat eggs on high-speed for 5 minutes until they are dark yellow and frothy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat. In a medium bowl, whisk together salt, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and flour. Stir dry ingredients into wet until just combined. Then stir in carrots.

Remove baking sheet from the freezer, and quickly spread the batter on top of the decorations. Gently bang the pan so that the batter gets well into the design.  Bake for about 15 minutes until done, it should spring back gently when you press your finger at the center of the cake.

You will need to flip the cake twice, first time the pattern will be up, but you will need to flip it again so that it will be down, and once the cake is rolled, it will be on the outside surface. On the second time, flip it over parchment paper sprinkled with sugar. Roll the cake while still warm, and let it cool completely, about one hour.

Make the filling: beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat again until nice and smooth. Unroll cake, spread filling evenly, then roll it back. Chill in fridge for at least one hour to firm it up.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Public thank you goes for my dear friend Gary, Patissier Extraordinaire, for his advice on the piping technique. I used my new gadget, the silicone bulb with a very fine piping tip (featured here), and was pretty pleased with the way it worked. The amount of piping icing made would be enough to cover three cakes, but particularly on my first time doing it, I decided that having extra icing was better than not enough. And, by the way, this was also my first time making a rolled cake!  I was quite happy with the outcome, although as usual, there is room for improvement. A small crack happened in one side of the cake, but it was not too bad. Considering the types of tragedy I’ve endured during cake baking, this was nothing.

Our departmental colleagues loved the cake! It was very moist, warm due to all spices, and the cream cheese filling takes it over the top. I cannot wait to try another type of rolled cake and a bit more elaborate patterns. The trickiest part of this recipe was flipping the cake twice, I think it would be easier to wait maybe a few more minutes before doing that, the crack actually happened during flipping, not rolling. The cake was a bit too warm and still very moist from the oven. Live and learn.

Sarah, I am so thrilled I got your blog for this special reunion!  
Really felt like closing the Secret Recipe Club chapter with a golden key!

I invite all my readers to browse through the recipes posted by all members of SRC following the link at the end of my post.

ONE YEAR AGO: Parsnip and Tomato Soup

TWO YEARS AGO: A Retro Dessert

THREE YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Tortillas: Going low-carb and loving it!

FOUR YEARS AGO: Clementines in Cinnamon Syrup

FIVE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, April 2013 

SIX YEARS AGO: Thrilling Moments

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Maple-Oatmeal Sourdough Bread

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Pork Trinity: coffee, mushrooms, and curry

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TRES LECHES CAKE: THREE TIMES A WINNER!

I baked this cake three times in the same month.
I shall now pause briefly so you can recover from the shock.

Breathe in…. Breathe out….
(image from Wikimedia)

Allow me to explain. I had never paid much attention to this cake, until a scientist from our department who joined another university in Kansas, mentioned that he would travel all the way back to our town if he knew I would be baking a Tres Leches. His all-time favorite cake. I filed that information in my neuronal system, and a few months later guess what happened? He needed to do some experiments with bacterial membranes and joined our group for the duration of the work. I decided to bake that cake for his first day in our lab, which, quite conveniently, fell on a Monday. And that’s when my best laid plans degenerated. He texted me to say he would be driving to the lab in a few minutes, and I assumed he was already in town since the evening before. Nope. He was not. What he was about to start was a 90 minute drive to our lab. When he arrived, not even a crumb of the cake was left.  Can you feel his pain, and my pain when I found out about this harsh outcome?  Undeterred, I made another Tres Leches on Thursday.  And you know what? The second turned out better than the first… Sweet mission finally accomplished!

TRES LECHES CAKE
(slightly modified from The Pioneer Woman)

for the cake and soaking:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 whole eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
1/3 cup milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

for the icing:
1 pint heavy cream
3 Tablespoons Sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan liberally until coated. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.

Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high-speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.

Beat egg whites on high-speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.

Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1/3 cup of the milk mixture—try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.

Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. I actually allowed it to sit in the fridge overnight, lightly covered with aluminum foil. To ice the cake, whip the heavy cream with the sugar until thick and spreadable.

Spread over the surface of the cake, you might not need all the amount made, but a thick layer of icing should be your goal. Decorate cake with maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is a fantastic cake. Period. It is sweet, it is rich, but it does not feel heavy. It is obviously super moist, with a very delicate crumb, and the icing goes perfectly with it. I’ve been baking cookies, cakes, tarts, pies, brownies on a regular basis to share with our departmental colleagues.  No other bake got even remotely close to this one in terms of praise. The second time around there was a migration of people to the mail room because they heard that “the best cake ever” was there. I know, I know, it sounds as if I’m bragging. I promise you, I’m not. It’s not my recipe, and as I mentioned, I had no idea what this cake was all about until then.

Tres Leches means “three milks” in Spanish. The name reflects the use of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream to soak the cake. Since there is a little regular milk in the cake, I suppose a more accurate description should be “Cuatro Leches“, but let’s not split hairs. We go with the soaking milk component only, as that is what gives the cake so much flavor and sweetness.  My only modification from the original recipe was to increase a little the amount of liquid in the cake (yeah, imagine that!). Ree advises to leave one full cup of the three milks  behind. I did it that way on my first time, but on the second cake I left just 1/3 cup behind. I liked the cake better that way, particularly when soaking it overnight. The extended time in the fridge allows the crumb to retain additional moisture. Consider making the cake the day before you intend to serve it.

You might be wondering why the title “Three times a winner?”  I actually baked it again just a couple of weeks later, as one a graduate student from another lab asked me if I could make one for his Birthday. It turns out he grew up enjoying Tres Leches baked by his family, and professed mine to be “the best one he’d ever had.”  I still carry a permanent internal smile for that. Complete gratitude should be directed to Ree Drummond as I followed her recipe to a T.  “T” for Total Winner!

(photo by Dr. P. Sukthankar)

ONE YEAR AGO: The Joys of Grating Squash

TWO YEARS AGO: Auberge-Pecan Walnut Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: Gluten-free and Vegan Raspberry Bars

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lasserre, a French Classic

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

SIX YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

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A VALENTINE’S DAY OPERA

Not everyone is fond of opera. I go as far as saying that it is an acquired taste. But if you switch from music to cake, the polls are reversed: most people will go weak in the knees anticipating a slice. Opera Cake is often described as a dessert in six acts. Layers of thin cake, moist with a delicate coffee syrup, separated by luscious coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. A real French classic. A real beauty. A perfect way to say I love you on February 14th. Or any other day of the year. Because this is a cake that creates its own moment. And thanks to Colette Christian and  Craftsy lessons online, Sally, the cake-o-phobe produced a version that made her very happy…

 

OPERA CAKE – RECIPE OVERVIEW

(based on Colette Christian’s Miniature French Desserts at Craftsy.com)

 

It all starts with the mis-en-place for a Joconde sponge cake. With a name like that, you know it’s going to be special. Joconde is a cake leavened exclusively by beaten eggs, with a nice proportion of ground almonds (or almond meal) in the batter. Colette gives very nice tips to make it homogeneous in thickness, because the Opera Cake is all about precision. Any small mistake in a step, and the outcome might suffer.

You can use any formula you like for the cake, I will give you one example from BBC food, very similar to the one I used from Colette.

JOCONDE SPONGE CAKE

3 whole eggs
15g sugar
100g almond flour
100g icing sugar
3 egg whites
20g granulated sugar
30g cake flour
30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Almonds and icing sugar are sifted into a large bowl, eggs added and whisked to combine.

A meringue is made with the egg whites, raining the granulated sugar slowly, until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to medium-high, and mix until the whites are at a firm peak. Add 1/3 of the meringue to the almond mixture. Add half the cake flour and half the melted butter.  Add another 1/3 of meringue, the rest of the flour and butter. Finally fold in the remaining third of the meringue.

Spread the batter as homogeneously as possible on a half-sheet pan. Try not to deflate it and bake it right away for about 15 minutes at 375 F. The cake should not get any color, but it should spring back lightly when touched at the center.

 

After baking, the cake is cut in three rectangles. Try to be precise, but don’t worry too much, as the cake will be trimmed at the very end. One layer is painted with melted chocolate and allowed to set. That layer of chocolate will be the very base of the final cake, preventing any soaking syrup from forming a puddle in the bottom.

You will also need to make a coffee buttercream, more specifically a French buttercream, in which a mixture of sugar and water is cooked to 236 to 240 F (soft-ball stage).  You can use this recipe, which is again very similar to the one I got from Craftsy. Just include 1 tablespoon of coffee extract together with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. You need coffee extract to make sure the flavor will come through without diluting the buttercream too much and affecting texture.

Apart from the buttercream, you’ll need chocolate ganache for one of the cake layers.  A regular kind, equal weights of chocolate and heavy cream, allowed to cool to room temperature and placed in a piping bag.  The buttercream also goes in a piping bag, the easiest and less messy way to assemble the cake. No need to use a piping tip, just cut the bag to form a 1/2 inch opening.

To assemble, first start with the cake painted with melted chocolate at the base. A nice soaking of coffee syrup (water, strong coffee extract and sugar, cooked until the sugar fully dissolves). A layer of buttercream. A second layer of cake. More soaking. Ganache lavishly spread on top. Final layer of syrup-soaked cake, final top layer of buttercream. Now, the assembled cake rests in the fridge for a couple of hours, waiting for the final step. Don’t worry about the way the sides look now. It will all be fine in the end…

The pouring ganache, perhaps better described as a chocolate glaze. A good formula would be 227g chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), 170g heavy cream, and 28g light corn syrup. The glaze cannot be too hot, and cannot be too cold. A little colder than body temperature will be perfect. Colette shows a nice technique to pour the glaze, so that it sits as a very smooth layer on top. Once all that is done, the cake is refrigerated for several hours so that all layers are nicely set. Do not dare cutting it before it sets, you will not have defined layers unless you exercise patience. That gave me a bit of a chuckle. Me, advising patience, the virtue I lack the most…

Then what? Then the final fun begins… I decided to cut the cake in 2 inch squares, and for that I used a very cool gadget. I tell you, just getting that tool ready made me feel like some heavy hitter baker… I know, I’m easily amused. But, seriously, just look at how cool that is:

I also used this tool to cut the laminated dough for croissants and pain au chocolat, but failed to get a picture at the time.  All you need to do is measure the precise dimension of what you want to cut (or score the surface, as in the case of the Opera Cake), and lock the rolling blades in place.  Gently roll them over the surface of the fully set cake, and you will have perfect squares, ready to be sliced with a serrated knife. The edges are trimmed off to reveal clean layers on all sides of the cut pieces. The secret is to place the knife in very hot tap water, and clean the blade after every cut you make. If you’d like to order one, here is a link to amazon.com (I do not make any profit from your purchase, by the way).

A little buttercream goes in a small piping bag couple with a star tip. And you are ready to decorate the top. Or, you can do the more authentic decoration, writing Opera on each slice. Since I opted to cut the cake small, I went with the buttercream instead. What do you think?

This cake was so much fun to make!  I started early on a Sunday morning, and tried to work as relaxed as possible. It is cake, after all, and they make me a little nervous. But, less now than in the past.

For those who celebrate…

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!


I know I’ll be repeating myself, but I must give high praise to the online baking classes from Craftsy, particularly those taught by Colette Christian.  Without her guidance, making the Opera Cake would have been a tragedy in six acts… 


ONE YEAR AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Chocolate Truffles

THREE YEARS AGO: Red Velvet Cupcakes

FOUR YEARS AGO: Valentine’s Day: The Finale

FIVE YEARS AGO: Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

SIX YEARS AGO: Dan Dan Noodles

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Sophie Grigson’s Parmesan Cake

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food

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