MINI-HEART CAKES FOR YOUR VALENTINE


Valentine’s Day is so commercial. Who needs a special day to celebrate love and friendship? No one. We should all just ignore it. With that in mind, let me say I have no problem with a special day to shower all those special persons in your life with attention and affection. A partner, a special friend, that family member you look up to and adore. Today I share a recipe that seems a bit involved, but when you break it down into its components, it is quite simple. Trust me. I almost always speak the truth.

VALENTINE’S MINI-HEARTS MOUSSE CAKES
(inspired from many sources)

for the sable base:
120 g cold butter, cut in pieces
65 g powdered sugar
260 g all-purpose flour
30 g almond flour
pinch of salt
1 egg

Heat oven to 375 F.

Add the sugar, flour, almond flour and salt to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at low speed for about 30 seconds just to incorporate the ingredients together. Add the cold butter and process until the butter gets in small pieces, a bit smaller than pea-size. Add the egg and mix just until it starts to glue together as a dough, but stop before it all gets into a single mass to avoid gluten formation.  Gather the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and gently form it as a disk with your hand.

Roll the pastry between plastic or parchment paper to a 3mm thickness. Cut heart or round shapes. Place over parchment paper on a baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes.  Bake for about 10 minutes until it starts to get golden around the edges.  Reserve.

for the quinoa-crisp:
115 g white chocolate
20 g pistachio paste (or almond butter)
20 g puffed quinoa (or rice Krispies)
for home-made puffed quinoa, click here

Bake the puffed quinoa in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a microwave very gently. Mix the melted chocolate with the pistachio paste.  Add the quinoa and spread  in a 4 mm (1/8 inch) thickness in between two sheets of parchment paper. It will be a little sticky, try to level it as best as you can. When it is cooled down a bit, cut the exact dimension of the bigger mold you will use for the dessert. Reserve in freezer until  needed.

For the Raspberry Mousse insert:
2 g of Platinum gelatin (1 sheet)
100 g mashed raspberries (fresh or frozen), seeds sieved out
20 g granulated sugar
100 g whipping cream, cold

First, put the gelatin leaves, in a bowl with very cold water to bloom for 10 minutes.  In a small saucepan, heat the raspberry puree until it boils. Remove from heat, wait 5 minutes, drain the gelatin and add to the mixture. Mix until completely dissolved. Let cool to about 95 F.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks. Gradually incorporate the cream into the raspberry mixture. Place the mousse in the semi-spheres and freeze overnight.

For the mascarpone mousse:
6 g Platinum gelatin (3 sheets)
80 ml whipping cream
55 g egg yolks
80 g granulated sugar
160 g mascarpone cheese
1/4 tsp vanilla paste
320 g heavy cream

Bloom the gelatin in cold water for 10 minutes. Combine egg yolks with sugar, whisking well and set aside. In a saucepan, heat 80 ml of cream until it boils. Remove from heat, and slowly pour a bit of the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture, to temper it gently. Add the rest of the cream and transfer all the mixture to a saucepan.

Over low heat, cook until 180 F stirring constantly. Remove from heat, drain the gelatin, and add to the mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool down to around 140 F. Add the mascarpone cheese, mix until the cheese is incorporated. Process with a hand mixer, to emulsify. Add the vanilla paste, and let it cool to around 95 F.

Meanwhile, whip the 320 ml of cream to soft peaks. Incorporate the  cream gradually to the mascarpone mixture. Place in the mini-hearts mold, 1/2 to the volume, spread gently with a spoon around the sides to avoid air bubble.  Drop the frozen raspberry inserts, cover with mousse almost to the top, place the crunchy quinoa layer on top, press gently and freeze overnight.

For mirror glaze:
3 sheets Platinum grade sheet gelatin
120ml water
150 g liquid glucose
150 g granulated or caster sugar
1 tsp agar-agar
100 g condensed milk
150 g white chocolate, chopped fairly small
½ tsp titanium oxide (optional, but advisable)
red gel food coloring

Put the water, sugar, liquid glucose and agar-agar in a small pan and bring to simmering point, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes. This is the base syrup for the glaze.  Meanwhile, soak the gelatin in some cold water for about 5 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water and stir into the hot water, sugar and liquid glucose mixture to dissolve. Stir in the condensed milk and the titanium oxide.

Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour this hot mixture slowly over the chocolate, stirring gently to melt it, avoid making bubbles. Add the red food gel dye. A stick immersion blender works great, but you must keep the blades fully submerged at all times. If bubbles are present, pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

The ideal temperature to glaze is 92 to 94 F. Glaze the frozen mousse cakes, decorate with sprinkles if desired.

Defrost 2 hours in fridge before serving.

 ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: For this dessert I used a mini-heart mold from Silikomart and a mini-half-sphere mold. The mini-heart mold I bought came with a cookie cutter with the exact dimension to made a cookie base. I am not sure every single mold sold comes with the cutter (I got mine at ebay a while ago), but any heart-shaped cookie cutter will work, if the dimensions are approximately right.

Start your preparation two days before serving, by making the raspberry centers. In this case I used a mousse, which tones down the sharpness of the raspberry a bit. If you prefer a sharper, more intense taste, consider using just the puree thickened with gelatin, like I shared in this post. You can also make the crunchy base with puffed quinoa (or rice Krispies) and the sable base two days in advance. Or even earlier. Stick the crunchy layer in the freezer, keep the sable at room temperature.

The day before serving make the mascarpone mousse and assemble the little cakes. Freeze everything and if you want to make your life very easy on serving day, prepare the mirror glaze emulsion and store it in the fridge.

On serving day, glaze those babies and keep in the fridge to defrost for a couple of hours. It is a process I love making, no matter how many times I do the mirror glaze thing, I am always in awe…

I had to add sprinkles because that’s how I roll… Also, they work wonders if you have a small boo-boo here and there on the glaze. Just drop a silver star on it, and call it a day.

You could omit the crunchy later with puffed quinoa but it is so simple to make and it does add a lot to the dessert. You can buy puffed quinoa or quickly make some, following the instructions here. If you don’t have  pistachio paste, use a bit of almond butter softened in the microwave just to make it a tad more spreadable. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will work.

I am pretty happy with the way these little hearts turned out. Both mousses combined well in flavor and texture. If you don’t have the hear-shaped mold, use large half-spheres. You can also go for dessert rings and make the insert as a smaller component with any shape that is convenient for you. Just keep in mind the volumes you will need. Every component can be scaled up easily if necessary, but the raspberry mousse already makes more than you’ll need for 8 mini-cakes. I had enough for 15 inserts and only used 8.  Leftovers are in the freezer, patiently waiting for a next opportunity to play.

Finally, when you pour the mirror glaze, do it over a baking sheet lined with Saran wrap, so you can easily store leftovers. They freeze well and if you accumulate several colors you can go Pollock on your next dessert…

ONE YEAR AGO: Blue Moon Milk

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THE DOBOS TORTE


Several years ago I saw a recipe for Dobos Torte in a website and the image of those thin cake layers joined together with chocolate buttercream, plus the interesting crown of caramelized cake made me wish I could taste a piece right then through the screen. I said to myself I would be making it really soon. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and I swear it’s been at least 3 years if not more in my plans. Finally, I went for it, and it was one of the most rewarding experiments in our kitchen. I enjoyed the preparation of each component, and loved how they came together nicely. But what really makes this cake is the decoration on top. You must get the caramel dark enough so that it will stay hard on the cake, otherwise it might start to weep and you lose the textural contrast. This is definitely a cake fit for a special occasion. Like a gray Monday early in November that brought with it unexpected snow showers.

THE DOBOS TORTE
(adapted from a recipe from Chef Wilhelm Wanders)

for the sponge cake layers:
140 g egg yolks
120 g granulated sugar, divided (60 + 60g)
2 g salt
1 tsp vanilla paste
210 g egg whites
120 g all-purpose Flour
40 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for the chocolate buttercream:
250g granulated sugar
250 g whole eggs
550 g unsalted butter at room temperature
200 g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)

for the caramel:
150 g granulated sugar
50 g water
10 g fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp coffee extract

to decorate:
crispearls or shaved chocolate

Heat the oven to 375 F. 2. Prepare six sheets of parchment paper drawing a circle with 8 in diameter in the center. Flip the parchment, so that the pencil drawing is in the bottom. Reserve.

Important: weigh the bowl you will be using to make the cake batter and write down that number. 

Whisk the egg yolks with  half of the sugar (60g), salt and vanilla using a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the wire whisk. You must whisk until the mixture is thick enough to form a ribbon when the batter drips from the whisk. It might take more than 8 minutes to get there, be patient.

In a clean mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and remaining 60 g of sugar on high speed to soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into egg yolk mixture, then fold the flour (sifted on top). Remove a small amount of the batter and mix with the melted, cooled butter. That makes it easier to incorporate the butter homogeneously into the cake batter. Fold the butter into the cake batter.  Weight the bowl and calculate exactly how much batter you have. Divide by six to get the exact amount you’ll need to spread on each parchment paper. In my case I played conservative, and although the calculations gave me 104 g of batter per circle, I used 100 g only.

Spread onto the parchment lined baking sheets within the circles. Bake for about 10 minutes, in my oven I could do two sheets at a time. The other circles can wait as you bake.  Remove from oven and transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.

Make the chocolate buttercream. In a clean metal mixing bowl, warm the sugar and eggs over a water bath to 140 F. Whisk in a KitchenAid at medium-high speed for 5 minutes, so that the mixture will cool almost to room temperature.  Add the butter (room temperature, preferably as close as possible as the temperature of the egg/sugar mixture) in small pieces, then the melted chocolate, and mix until homogenous and a spreadable consistency.

Make the caramel:  Stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice and melt in a saucepan over medium heat. Prepare an off-set spatula by coating it lightly with oil. Cook the sugar until the caramel turns amber. Pour the caramel onto one of the cake layers and spread with an oiled offset spatula.  Wait 30 to 60 seconds. With a well-oiled chef’s knife score the caramel-coated cake layer into twelve even pieces slices. Use scissors to cut neatly the 12 triangle shaped slices.  Set aside to cool in the fridge. Add 1/4 cup water and coffee extract to the pan with the leftover caramel, gently heat and make a simple syrup to use as a soaker for the cake slices.

Place the first sponge layer on work surface. Soak the sponge layer with simple syrup. Evenly spread a thin layer of buttercream filling on the cake layer. Repeat until five cake layers have been filled with equal amounts of buttercream filling. Frost the cake and decorate the sides using a cake comb.  Score the cake into 12 pieces.

Pipe decoration on each piece using a star-shaped piping tip. Place caramel sponge decoration on each cake piece and decorate the center with crispearls or shaved chocolate.  Cool for buttercream to set, but if possible bring to room temperature before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: One of the best advices I’ve seen lately for baking in general is to weigh the bowls you use most often and write down that number someplace. I actually stuck a tape on my Kitchen Aid with the magical number 1,045. That is how much the bowl weighs.  Whenever I make cake layers I don’t need to think twice. Just weigh the bowl with the batter, subtract the magical number and work from there. If I  need to divide the batter in 2, 3, 4 pans, I do it on the scale and know exactly how much to pour.

In the case of the Dobos, it’s really important that the layers get uniform in thickness. Next time I will also weigh the amount of buttercream added to the first layer, so that I can make sure all others are exactly the same. I had a little too much enthusiasm filling one of the layers and it is evident in the sliced photo that you’ll see later. Finally, I think it could be also good to spread the cake batter slightly bigger than 8 inches in diameter and then use a cake ring to cut them all exactly the same size. Details like this will make the final product more polished.

I cannot praise enough that caramel coated-decoration. In fact, I think one could make cake-cookies just like that. I had to control myself not to go to the mail room in our department and steal all the decorations. But truth is I always send a picture of the dessert as a group email on Sunday, so it would be hard to explain how its crown would be all of a sudden absent.

The cake is obviously very rich but a small slice is more than enough. I’ve seen Dobos Tortes showcasing 8 or even 9 layers, so if you feel particularly brave and indulgent, make more cake batter and go for it. But you will need extra buttercream also, the recipe as written had enough to fill, cover and make the piped decorations with a small amount leftover. I have also seen variations without the cake layers fanned on top and using sugar work instead. I urge you to stick to the classic method. I hate to be repetitive, but… those caramelized pieces? You need to get up close and personal with them…

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GIANT COOKIE MEETS MOUSSE

…and the Entremet Cookie is born! I cannot take credit for it, so before I even start talking about this delicious dessert, let me thank Maxime, from Empreintesucree.fr.  She is a professional pâtissière who shares very detailed recipes of her beautiful productions. If you are a bit intimidated by entremet type cakes, this one is an excellent starting point, especially if you simplify the decoration steps (see comments). I guarantee it will still impress your guests.

ENTREMET COOKIE
(slightly modified from Empreintesucree.fr)

for the cookie base:
80 g butter (at room temperature)
65 g muscovado sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg (55 g)
120 g all purpose flour
2 g baking powder
90 g dark chocolate mini chips

for the chocolate cream:
1 egg yolk
10 g of sugar
100 g heavy whipping cream
38 g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)

for the dark chocolate buttercream:
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
290 g confectioners’ sugar
90 g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

for the chocolate mousse:
180 g Caramelia chocolate (or milk chocolate of  your choice) of milk chocolate
250 g heavy whipping cream

for the chocolate velvet spray (optional)
120 g milk chocolate (I used Caramelia)
80 g of cocoa butter

for decoration:
golden stars
chocolate Crispearls

Suggested timeframe: make cookie two days before serving time and freeze it. The day before serving make the mousse, and the chocolate cream. Assemble the cake and save the cream in fridge until cake is un-molded.  On serving day make the chocolate buttercream, and the chocolate spray suspension (if using).

Make the cookie base. Heat the oven to 350 F. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper  and place over it a 20 cm ring. Reserve.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar and salt. Add the egg and mix again, then sift the flour with the baking powder and mix gently.  Add the mini chocolate chips, and spoon the batter inside the ring. (It is easier to just pour the batter over the parchment paper eye-balling the dimension, then sit the ring on top and use an off-set spatula to carefully spread it uniformly inside the ring).

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges start to get some color. Remove from the oven, and – using oven mitts – immediately make circles with the ring, which will make the cookie base shrink a little bit, as it is still hot. You just want to have the cookie a tiny bit smaller than the ring, so that the mousse will cover the edges fully.  Allow the cookie to cool completely before placing it in the freezer.

Make the chocolate cream.  Whisk the sugar and the egg yolk in a small bowl. In parallel, heat the cream in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the sugar/yolk mixture to temper it, then transfer everything back to the saucepan. Cook the custard over low heat until 180 F.  Pour the cream over the chocolate until it is slightly melted and mix with a spatula.  Place a plastic film in contact with the cream and reserve it in the refrigerator. When ready to assemble, place in piping bag with a plastic adaptor and have two round piping tips ready, of different sizes.

Make the chocolate mousse. Melt the Caramelia chocolate gently in a double boiler.  Bring one third of the cream, about 80 g to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the melted chocolate and mix with a spatula until fully smooth. Whip the remaining whipping cream until it gets the consistency of melted ice cream.  Pour half of the cream on your milk chocolate mixture and mix gently with a spatula. Add the remaining cream and mix again until you get a perfectly smooth chocolate whipped cream.

Assemble the dessert. Stretch a piece of plastic wrap on the 20cm circle ring, pulling it well to stretch it nicely.  Flip your circle over a baking dish that fits in your freezer and place a strip of acetate film on the inside to facilitate un-molding later. Pour all the mousse into the circle, then smooth roughly. Take the cookie out of the freezer and push it upside down into the foam (the smooth side of the cookie up). The mousse should be flush with the cookie, smooth over what is needed. Reserve the dessert in the freezer overnight.

Make the dark chocolate buttercream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is smooth. Turn the speed to slow, add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and beat until combined. Pour the milk and vanilla extract then add the salt and continue beating until well combined. Increase the speed to high and beat the frosting for a couple of minutes. Place in a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip or another star-shaped tip of your choice.

Make the chocolate suspension for velvet effect.  Melt milk chocolate and cocoa butter in a double-boiler. Filter and place the mixture into the tank of your sprayer. Temperature should be 98 F. Un-mold your dessert and immediately spray the chocolate on it. Ideally, do this inside a dishwasher with racks removed. Decorate the cake with the cream and buttercream, add sprinkles of your choice. Leave in the fridge to thaw for at least one hour before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Well, I do realize that it seems a bit of a stretch to post this recipe as simple and then come up with quite a few components to make it. As I mentioned, you can simplify it quite a bit. For instance, you can skip the two different types of piped decoration and do a drizzle of melted dark chocolate all over it. That would work well. A shower of golden sprinkles for fun and a bit of a dressed up look. The velvet spray is also optional. I find it fun to do, though, and it helps me deal with guilty feelings of having a sprayer sitting in the basement just for my patisserie adventures. It’s nice to put it to use.

On that note, three things are worth mentioning. First, you must strain the melted chocolate + cocoa butter before pouring it in the sprayer. If you look at my photo above, you’ll notice how much stuff gets retained in the sieve. That could conceivably clog the sprayer and you don’t want that at all. Second, if you are using a regular paint sprayer for chocolate work, the container is large, so what works very well is to place a much smaller plastic cup inside, so that you don’t need to make a huge amount of chocolate suspension. I used an empty Benecol container. And third, do the spraying inside an empty dishwasher, because it is a messy process and all you need to do after is turn the dishwasher on.

We took this cake to a dinner party at a friend’s home, so I snapped the pictures with my cell phone very quickly. I admit they are not prize-winning shots. At any rate, everybody raved about the dessert. The cookie component goes very well with the creamy mousse, and it had just the right thickness, don’t try to make it thinner because it won’t work the same way. I loved the contrast of the sharp cocoa buttercream with the milk chocolate cream and mousse, but the cake can shine with only one of the piped toppings.

Maxime, thanks for a lovely recipe, I am thinking of many variations in the future.

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PTICHYE MOLOKO, A RUSSIAN DESSERT

Have you heard of it? In plain English it means Bird’s Milk, a very traditional Russian delicacy, also common in Ukraine and Romania. The name originates from Greek, bird’s milk implying a delicacy very hard to obtain, a rare pleasure. My encounter with this dessert deserves further explanation.

I’ve been seriously bitten by the dangerous Silikomart bug. Silikomart is an Italian company specialized in silicone molds for cakes, mousses, chocolates, anything your mind dreams, they might just make it. They can be pricey, but I found out that ebay is a delightful source to make this type of obsession even harder to control. Oh, well. The bottom line is that somehow I found myself with a couple of amazing molds and not that many recipes adapted for them. A cart-before-the-horse situation. I put google to work and next thing I knew, I stumbled upon a blog that blew my little mind away. The blog is written in Russian and… wait for it… Portuguese!  I know, it was fate. The food blogger behind it, Ekaterina, is a fantastic professional patissière who trained with top chefs in Russia.  I still have a hard time believing that I found one of the best desserts blogs out there, and she writes it in my native language. Reading her blog (Verdade de Sabor) became my routine late at night, indulging in her gorgeous dessert posts before falling asleep. That’s how I became acquainted with Bird’s Milk. A cookie base. A milk souffle-ish on top. A thin chocolate layer wrapping it all.  And a big smile when you bring it to the table!

BIRD’S MILK (PTICHYE MOLOKO)
(very slightly modified from Verdade de Sabor)

for the cookie base:
80 g of softened butter
65 g powdered sugar
5 g sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
90 g all purpose-flour
10 g almond flour
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder

for the milk filling:
100 g of egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
180 g sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
160 g water (divided in 60 and 100 g)
20 g gelatin powder
100 g of softened butter
100 g condensed milk

Chocolate cover:
400 g of chocolate 50-55%
100 g of oil (I used grapeseed)

Make the cookie base. Heat the oven to 350 F.  In a bowl beat the butter and the powdered sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one by one, constantly beating. In another bowl sift the flour and baking powder and add to the previous mixture. Finally, add the almond flour. Stir very well. The dough does not get too thick or too liquid, the texture must be creamy.

Spread the dough as a square, about 1/8 inch thick, smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 15 minutes (depending on the oven) or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Then, cut circles just slightly smaller than the diameter of your silicone mold. You can also make the dessert as a single rectangle or square, using a ring to assemble it. Your choice. Allow to cool completely.

Make the milk souffle:  Hydrate the gelatin in 60 mL ice water. Then melt in a water bath (I placed it in the microwave for bursts of  seconds, watching it very carefully). Reserve. In a bowl, beat the butter well with the condensed milk until you get a fluffy cream. Reserve.

Add the sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan, pour 100 mL cold water. Put a culinary thermometer in the mixture and bring to medium heat. Meanwhile, in the mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. When the syrup boils, add the cream of tartar. When the syrup reaches 240 F (116 ° C), remove from the heat, and add the hot syrup to the egg whites gradually. Continue beating the meringue for a few more minutes or until it forms firm peaks. Then slowly add the melted gelatin, and continue to beat. Reduce the speed of the mixer to the minimum and gradually add the cream of butter and condensed milk.

Pour the souffle into the silicone molds (I made 6 individual serving ones, but had leftover filling that I added to a smaller mold and saved in the freezer for later).  Place a cookie on top, and press it slightly into the mousse, but do not sink it in. Cover with plastic film and freeze. You can do that a couple of days in advance.

Make the chocolate coating: Melt the chocolate in a water bath or in the microwave. Add oil and stir well. Allow to cool at room temperature to 86 to 93 F (30-34 ° C). That is really pretty cold, below body temperature. You can also make that the day before and warm it up gently, without stirring with a whisk, as you don’t want bubbles to form.

Unmold the domes and cover with the glazing. Decorate with tempered chocolate if you desire. I used white chocolate drizzle.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I used this mold for assembly of our dessert. It is not a Silikomart, but I like the quality and they are quite a bit cheaper.  In Ekaterina’s blog, she used a different mold, in the “buche de Noel” shape, but you can assemble this dessert in a square format too. Whatever you do, the cookie base must be cut slightly smaller because the goal is to cover the dessert with chocolate and hide the base.  Alternatively, you could cut it exactly the same size, coat the frozen milky filling with chocolate, let it set and then place it over the naked cookie. But it would have a totally different look. I like the way she did it, so that the cookie becomes a nice crunchy surprise as you cut into the dessert.

To un-mold the domes, I advise you to get a hairdryer and heat the surface of the dome just for a few seconds – that releases them very nicely, as you can see below.  In fact, it’s amazing how often a hairdryer can come in handy when making more elaborate desserts. I rarely dry my hair, so it now lives in the kitchen… Go figure!

See the difference? I am so glad I thought about the hairdryer trick after un-molding the first one. In this type of dessert, any boo-boo makes the final product suffer. The trickiest part of the dessert is in fact the last one, the coating with the chocolate. It must be cold enough that it will settle right away instead of sliding down and not coating the surface. But that means you’ll have ONE SHOT at getting it right. I advise you to look at youtube videos to see how the pros do it, then cross your fingers and try it yourself.  Keep in mind that you won’t be able to fix the surface with an offset spatula, or go at it again a second time. Both options will result in a wavy, not-attractive coating. I opted for a drizzle of white chocolate in the end not only because of the contrast of color, but to hide some of the imperfections I left as I poured the chocolate over the dome. What can I say? I am still learning and making mistakes in the process… Speaking of the drizzle (and mistakes), my virtual teacher Gary gave me a nice tip to make them better. Go passed the dome as the chocolate drizzle falls on it, so that you get a straight line all the way across. It will be more elegant that way. Lesson (hopefully) learned.

The dessert is truly delicious and worth the effort of the preparation. In fact, it’s not that hard if you make the components in advance and take your time. You can definitely make the filling a couple of days earlier, bake the cookie in the morning, and assemble it all before a dinner party. Leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours, and remove to room temperature about 15 minutes before you want to enjoy it. Then you’ll have a perfect texture in the filling.

I know that her blog being written in Russian and Portuguese makes it a bit hard to fully enjoy it, but I urge you to go there and marvel at her posts. She is also a delightful person, very responsive and helpful. She reads and writes in English, so comments in English are not a problem.

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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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RED VELVET CUPCAKES

If you are not completely overwhelmed by the influx of sweets, chocolates,  strawberries, and heart-shaped things in the blogosphere, you could be now, because I am adding one more shockingly red item to the 26.2 mile-long list. But, how could I resist joining this party, when I baked a batch of these:

RedVelvetCupcakes1
Aren’t you absolutely amazed?  Aren’t they cute? Did you notice the icing? Can you believe “I” made them? So many questions, I know… but you have to be amazed. Because I certainly am. Granted, this baking adventure was not drama-free.

RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
(from Kristine’s Kitchen)

**recipe makes 24 cupcakes, I halved all amounts for a batch of 12**

for the cupcakes:
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. (1 ounce) red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

for the cream cheese frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese (straight from refrigerator do not soften)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 – 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine eggs, oil, buttermilk, red food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix on medium speed until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and beat first on low-speed and then on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners, filling each a little over halfway full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 16-18 minutes. Let cupcakes cool in pans for 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting: Beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and mix on low-speed until incorporated, and then medium-high speed until frosting reaches desired consistency, about 3 more minutes. For a stiffer icing, add more powdered sugar. Beat in the vanilla extract. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes as desired. Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

baked

The stunning paper linings were a gift from our friend Cindy. I decided to trim their tops after baking to make it easier to frost the cakes. I know my limitations.

iced
Everything was going on well, until it was time to frost the cakes. I was set on doing a good job on these, so I bought myself a pastry bag. Not a fancy one, but a disposable, single use plastic type. I filled the bag with the cream cheese frosting,  took a deep breath, and went to work.  All went smoothly for the first two babies, then all of a sudden, I squeezed and squeezed, and nothing came out of the pastry bag’s tip.  I told myself – you are a P90Xer, you can certainly squeeze harder than that! – and that’s when I felt a moist, cold, sticky feeling on my wrist, the consequence of frosting that had found its way up instead of down, and not satisfied to reach midway through my arm, was now splashing on the floor.

Not sure if you ever had to deal with this type of situation, but there’s only one word to describe it: messy.  Very messy.  The bag gets slippery, the frosting refuses to compact down, and the Jack Russell gets overly agitated from the sudden intake of sugar. Chaos in the Bewitching Kitchen. Still, only one little cake was lost in that battle, due to jerky movements on my part and the merciless Law of Gravity.

These cupcakes were moist, tender, and the frosting complemented them quite well. The only problem was the decoration added on top. It turns out that those sugar pearls were rock hard.  I thought they would more or less melt in the mouth, but… not the case. More the dental filling destroyer kind. I will use a different type of sprinkle next time.  Because obviously there will be a next time. And when that next time arrives, I intend to do as pros do, and twist the top of the pastry bag. It’s all in the details, my friends.  🙂

BuckBoy

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

ONE YEAR AGO: Happy Valentine’s Day!

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Few Blogging Issues

THREE YEARS AGO: Dan Dan Noodles

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Sophie Grigson’s Parmesan Cake

FIVE YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food

 

 

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKE BARS

Where is 2014 going in such a big hurry?  It acts as if it’s desperately searching for 2015 or something, hard to believe we are in the end of May already!  Still, each month closes with the secretive deliciousness of Reveal Day in the Secret Recipe Club. For those who may not know, it is that super fun event in which bloggers pick are assigned a blog in secret, choose a recipe to cook from it, and blog about it on the exact same day (and time!).  This month I went through several cycles of hyperventilation from the moment I got my assignment. Why, you may ask?  Because I received the blog of our group’s moderator!  Can you imagine that?  It’s like having to present a seminar on the research topic of the Head of your department!   Hummmm, come to think of it, I’ve done that a few times in the past couple of years.  No wonder I hyperventilate so much…  (inside joke, laugh if you get it).

Our moderator, Sarah, is the gorgeous hostess of the blog Fantastical Sharing of Recipes. She is the Mom of two kids, 7-year-old Matthew and 6-year-old Cambria, and also has two kittens, Bella and Muffin. That seems busy enough for me, but she talks about getting a dog to join the fun! Let’s hope she will think twice before getting a Jack Russell Terror…  😉  Apart from taking care of two young kids, she also supervises 37 grownup kids in Group D of The Secret Recipe Club. For the most part, I suppose we are well-behaved,  but undoubtedly there’s a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders. I went through her site with desserts and sweets in mind, hoping to bake something to take to our graduate students.  But a lot of savory options tempted me like her Atomic Hashbrowns (with a name like that, they gotta be awesome!), her Tamale BallsPhilly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls (fusion cooking, anyone?), and her Jalapeno Popper Turkey Chili.  After struggling with several options for sweets, I could not decide between her Blueberry Breakfast Braid. and the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars.  I tossed a coin. Yes, I did.  And here is what the coin told me to do:

Bars1

 

DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKE BARS
(from Fantastical Sharing of Recipes)

for the crust:
1 sleeve graham crackers
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

for the filling:
12 oz. dulce de leche
2 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

for the glaze:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. corn syrup
1 Tbsp. heavy cream

Prepare an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray.

Grind crackers with sugar in a food processor. Stir in butter. Cover the bottom of the pan pressing the crumbs well with your fingers. Bake at 325* for 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Pour dulce de leche on the crust and refrigerate.

Make the filling:  beat cream cheese for 3 minutes. Add sugar and beat another 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat just until incorporated. Spread filling on top of dulce de leche layer. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Cool for 2 hours.

For glaze: Heat all ingredients in a saucepan or double broiler, stirring until smooth. Cool for 10 minutes and pour over cooled filling. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Let sit at room temp for 10 minutes before cutting.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite

 Comments:  This was my first time making a cheesecake type dessert, so I was excited to try it, but a bit worried about my inexperience. My goal was to take these bars to our lab meeting, which happens early on Thursdays.  I laid out a nice schedule to make everything the evening before, taking in account that I had to meet Phil and a guest speaker for dinner at 8pm.  On my way home I stopped at the store to get the ingredients, arrived home and got busy. Each step was planned to the minute,  I was following along flawlessly. Flawlessly? Not so fast, Silly Sally… not so fast.  When making my list for the grocery store, I did not notice the recipe called for TWO cream cheese packages. TWO. I brought home only one.  Can you imagine the shiver up and down my spine? Can you picture my kitchen at that very moment? Can you, really?  Yeap.  Best laid plans.

Considering all my options and how fast the clock was ticking, I rushed back to the grocery store, faced the same cashier with a sheepish smile, and brought the second package of cream cheese home.  Drove like a maniac to the restaurant, joined the gentlemen for dinner, and…  found myself baking way past bedtime.  Best laid plans. Story of my life.

CheesecakeBars22

 

But, as usual, it all had a happy ending, although I should have remembered to bring a good knife to the lab to cut the squares.  The knife available at the department was definitely not up to the challenge, and my production did not look nearly as good as that from Sarah. I think the best way to cut a cheesecake is a very sharp knife, dipping it in hot water at each cut, and cleaning the blade with a paper towel as you go. Keep that in mind if you make this decadent dessert.   Decadent is a good way to define it, we are talking major caloric intake, but a little piece should satisfy even those with a very sweet tooth…   I wish I had made my own dulce de leche from scratch like Sarah did,  but that will have to wait for another opportunity.

Sarah, I had a blast with my assignment this month, I know it was not a secret for you, but that is part of the life of a moderator, right?  I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for always sending the assignments very early, giving us more than enough time to stalk, cook, and blog. I know that everyone from our group certainly appreciates that… 😉

If you want to check the labor of love of my fellow Group D members, click on the blue entity smiling at you at the end of the post.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Penne with Trapanese Pesto

TWO YEARS AGO: Superman

THREE YEARS AGO: Spring Pasta

FOUR YEARS AGO: Ice Cream Melts for Mango