Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween: Pumpkin Cake

Happy Halloween!

Although I really will not be celebrating today, my apartment complex did have a Halloween party earlier this week.  The party also featured a contest for the best food item made with pumpkin.  So, I decided to bake a pumpkin cake to both enter the contest and practice my cake assembly/icing skills further.

I used a recipe from Martha Stewart's website for the cake and then modified the cream cheese icing we use in my Intro to Cakes class for the frosting.

I made the cake the night before the party and planned to ice it after I was done with class for the day. During my final class of the day, I had a sudden inspirational thought: Why not use caramel in the cake decoration as well? I knew I should have made the caramel myself (it's really pretty simple) but I was short on time, and most of all, I didn't want to do the dishes from making it.  I end up doing a lot of dishes in Culinary School and really dislike doing them again when I get home.....  So, I bought a jar of caramel sauce.

I thought I could get the caramel sauce to make a spider web-type pattern, but it was a little too runny to hold the pattern.  I could not even get the cake photographed before the caramel started running off....

Oh well, it still tasted good.  Instead of plain cream cheese icing, I decided to make a spiced cream cheese icing.  I've grown up with a phenomenal pumpkin pie recipe, courtesy of my late Great Grandma, full of great spices that all compliment pumpkin quite well. I used those spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger) in the cake as well as in the icing.

I did slightly under-judge how much icing I would need for a 4 layer cake.  And the jar of my caramel sauce came to my rescue! I used caramel between two of the layers and then cream cheese between only one of the layers (always pipe an icing "dam" though when using a less solid filling, such as caramel or a fruit curd etc.).  Here's what it looked like after being sliced at the party.  Sorry the lighting wasn't quite so great....

I had to leave the party early, so I haven't heard yet if I won, but everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy my cake!

Here's the recipe, modified from Martha Stewart's

Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Icing and Caramel Sauce

Pumpkin Cake
      2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
      3 cups of granulated sugar
      4 eggs, at room temperature
      3 1/3 cups flour
      2 tsp cinnamon
      1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
      1/2 tsp ground ginger
      1 tsp salt
      1 tsp baking powder
      1 tsp baking soda
      1 cup milk (I used cream, though because I was out of milk)
      1 can of organic pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter 2 8x2 inch round cake pans and 1 6x2 inch round cake pan.  Line with parchment paper and butter the parchment as well.

2.  Stir together the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt.

3.  Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy in the bowl of of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Add the pumpkin puree. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pans and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Note that the smaller 6" cake will take less than the 8" cakes. The 8" cake should bake in around 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Spiced Cream Cheese Icing
      12 oz softened cream cheese
      8 oz softened unsalted butter (2 sticks)
      4 oz powdered sugar
      Sprinkle cinnamon, ground ginger, and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1.  Add the spices to the powdered sugar and whisk to combine.

2.  Cream the cream cheese and the spiced powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well combined. Do no over whip.

2.  Add the softened butter and mix until combined.

p.s. Here's my halloween costume from the party! Do you get it?  :)

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Better late than never: Daring Bakers Oct 09 Challenge

Yes, I know I'm suppose to post results on Oct 27 for Daring Bakers' Challenges.....  But this month I am late :( Sorry!  I had several awful tries and then just couldn't get everything together before I left on my trip to ND.

I don't mean to be presumptuous, but I very rarely have total and complete disasters in the kitchen. Well, I guess I may when it comes to cooking, but very very unusual for baking.  However, I have been quite humbled by this challenge....

I give you: The Daring Bakers' French Macaron Challenge!

my one lonely macaron

The 2009 October Daring Bakers' Challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

She writes, in the introduction to the challenge:
Unless you’ve been frozen in permafrost for the past five years, you’ve likely noticed that cupcake bakeries have popped up all over like iced mushrooms. Knock one down, and three take its place. Much has been made about not only the cupcake’s popularity, but also its incipient demise as the sweet du jour. Since we seem to be a culture intent on the next sensation, pundits, food enthusiasts and bloggers have all wondered what this sensation might be. More than a few have suggested that French-style macaroons (called macarons in France) might supplant the cupcake. This may or may not come to pass, but the basic premise of the French macaroon is pretty tasty.

In the United States, the term “macaroon” generally refers to a cookie made primarily of coconut. But European macaroons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Frequently, two macaroons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy. The flavor possibilities and combinations are nigh endless, allowing infinitely customizable permutations.

I started making Macarons this summer, when I tried one my co-worker Teena made.  It was so delicious!  I couldn't believe I'd never tried them before (or tried baking them).  I had really good success with making Pistachio macarons in July and even used them as garnish on my birthday cake in July.

However, I think the move to SC and the great increase in humidity may have had some effect. I made two attempts, neither of which was very successful. I ended up with a few good options, but then had major issues with my filling and was down to two macarons.  THEN when I was getting ready to photograph these two lonely macarons, one broke :(  (which of course meant I had to eat it.)  So, I only had one to photograph.

I had so many ideas of options for macarons and fillings but decided on two kinds, both based on beverages.  I wanted to do an Earl Grey macaron with vanilla bean white chocolate ganache and then an Espresso macaron with dark chocolate ganache. Alas, though, I only got the Earl Grey option done, and a pretty poor execution at that.

Earl Grey macaron with vanilla bean white chocolate ganache

I'm still not exactly sure what went wrong with my recipe.... I'm not even going to post it because of my terrible results.  I do fully intend to figure out a way to fix it, however.  I will say this, though, that to get the Earl Grey flavor, I ground (via a mortar and pestle) the contents of one Harney & Sons Imperial Earl Grey tea sachet.  And I used another tea sachet to infuse the cream I used in the White Chocolate Ganache. The ganache was also a disaster, probably due to the fact that I used a greater ratio of infused cream because I wanted the added Earl Grey flavor......

My macarons failed to develop much for "feet" and worst of all, they all stuck horribly to the pan.  With the second batch, I tried putting them back in the oven to see if they set further if they would come off the pan, but then I ended up forgetting them in the oven, and they turned too brown (plus still stuck to the pan).  They also shattered really easily.....

I spoke with a couple of my Chefs from school, and it was recommended that I use a recipe with the addition of Meringue Powder and potentially age my egg whites further.  I'll give those options a try and report back!

Overall, the mess-ups still tasted good, and I really do hope to make my duo of tea and coffee macarons sometime soon!

Apple Strudel Class

While I was back in Grand Forks, I taught a Hand Stretched Austrian Apple Strudel Class at the UND Wellness Center Culinary Corner. It was a BLAST! I had forgotten how much I really enjoy teaching classes like that..... And I think everyone really enjoyed it too!

This was also the first class my parents were able to attend. Thanks Dad for taking pictures!

My Mom and friend Kelli helped me prep for the class.

As is visible from the pictures, I taught in my full culinary uniform, so that the participants could see what I wear while in school.

Demonstrating how to weigh eggs....

It was one of the largest classes I've ever taught, but I really didn't even notice.... And I also knew several of the participants, but that didn't seem to make me nervous either.

What I was a bit nervous about was the stretching process, because I do not have tons of experience... Overall, though, we got it stretched pretty well (friend Kelli helped me, once again)

Spattering the butter over the stretched strudel

Then, of course, one of the most important part of the class is the serving......

....and the eating!!

Thanks so much again to the UND Wellness Center Culinary Corner and Karina Wittmann for allowing me this opportunity! I hope to be able to teach other classes when I'm back in the future! Thank you also to all the participants and to my parents and friend Kelli for all their help. And I must not forget to thank my kitchen assistant Gray as well. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Place: Patrick's French Bakery

I traveled back home to Grand Forks recently for a long weekend trip. The trip was great, but the getting to Grand Forks part was not so great.... I ended up getting stuck in Minneapolis overnight (so close to home, yet so far away) and then my dad ended up just driving to get me instead of taking my final flight back.

While I was extremely upset about not getting back on time (and extremely might be an understatement), one good thing was that since my dad picked me up, I got to spend some extra time with him and we also stopped for lunch at one of my favorite Bakery/Cafe's in the world: Patrick's French Bakery.

We were going to just have a snack, but then realized how close it was to lunch (and that my stomach was still on Eastern time).

I ate a Bouchee a la Reine which is flaky puff pastry filled with chicken, chives, mushrooms and dumplings in a creamy sauce.

Absolutely Delicious!!

Then, for dessert, my dad and I split a Feullantine Pralinee Chocolate Cake which was also delicious. Very nice chocolate mousse with a cake layer on the bottom, entirely enrobed in chocolate ganache and garnished with gold leaf.

I've always really enjoyed just gazing at the beautiful pastries inside the case, but now, since I'm studying Baking and Pastry, I looked with new eyes....

Look at those delicious viennoissrie products!

I think I now have some ideas for new danish to try to make sometime back in Charleston....

I was a bit worried that after making such amazing product in my Laminated Doughs and Pastries class that I would be disappointed by Patrick's products.... But was I ever wrong! Everything was still as wonderful as ever.

We bought several things to take home for dessert that night (where I think I gave my grandparents one of the shocks of their lives because they didn't know I was coming). Patrick's Cheesecake, the Lemon Meringue Tarte and the Napoleon were eaten quite quickly :)

So, I guess getting stuck has its perks after all :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Danish, Danish, Danish.....

I've had a danish filled week!

In Bakeshop Production, we had our only Laminated Dough week, which was both wonderful and sad all at the same time. I've been so spoiled in my dedicated Laminated Doughs class because we make everything entirely from scratch, where as in Bakeshop, due to time constriction, we worked entirely with commercially-made dough.

I really do understand that many restaurants and bakeshops have to rely on commercially-made dough, because the process of laminating is so long and laborous. But I love the laminating process and it seemed like the flavor was just not quite the same.....

So, we made turnovers with commercial puff pastry.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, there are some really funny people in my class, so we’re continually laughing.

We were able to choose what shapes we wanted to do, as well as which fillings to use. I used entirely blueberry because it is one of my favorites.

The turnovers looked really beautiful before going in the oven. Unfortunately, the commercial puff pastry acts differently than the puff pastry we’ve made in Laminated Doughs..... It really puffed unevenly and failed to hold my designs I cut. Plus, several of my edge seams opened. And then I wasn’t completely thrilled with the flavor afterwards..... I’m afraid I’m getting really really spoiled by the products we’re making my dedicated Laminated Doughs class. I even forgot to take a picture of our final turnovers!

After the turnovers, we also made danish. Even though I’m in laminated doughs and pastries, we haven’t yet done much danish (later in the semester we will). So it was interesting to see how the different danish shapes are made.

We filled them with various pie fillings and then some cream cheese as well, if we wanted. Here’s how I chose to make- up my danish...

Then, after they were baked, Chef demonstrated glazing with an apricot glaze.

One especially fun thing about this class is that although we were working with commercially made dough, Chef did let me help demonstrate how a laminated dough is created. So, I made a half batch of our normal Croissant dough from Laminated Dough class and we mixed it, proofed it, and did a partial lamination in class.

Everyone in class thought the products we made were amazing. And yes, they did taste okay... probably better than things you might buy in a store... However, I’m getting spoiled and now would much rather not have to use commercial products, if I can help it, in the future.

So, after the Bakeshop laminated class, I was really happy to go to regular Laminated Doughs. And let me tell you, we made some AWESOME products this week.....

One extra help we had this week was that we had final laminated dough all ready to go, so we just had to concentrate on making fillings and cutting the dough into the correct shapes.

We made Apple Fontains, which have also been called “El Baños" by Chef Jeff’s previous classes. Hopefully I've spelled that right.... I'm a former French student, not Spanish...

The name “El Baños” comes from the shape of the dough, if it’s cut on the square and not on the diamond. See the above right and see if you can figure out the name :) They’re suppose to look like “fountains” hence the original name.

Then, we proofed the dough and made apple filling (by cooking apples in South Carolina Cotton Honey and a little cream) before filling the fontains. Delicious!

Here’s an image of one of my classmates adding some “Snow” garnish to her Fontains.

We also made a Streusel Danish with Sour Cream Pastry Cream, Apricots and a Cherry.

The apricots were torched a bit before baking to give them a nice caramelized effect.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would think of the sour cream pastry cream, but it was really delicious.... The sour cream just gave it a slightly lighter taste.

Then on top of the pastry cream, we added the caramelized apricot (with a cherry in its center) before baking them.

Next came the Cranberry Apricot Scrolls.

These were probably the easiest of the ones we made on Friday, but they also are one of my favorites (although it's very difficult to choose due to the fact that they were all extremely delicious!).

I’ve had a similar pastry before, only raisins were used in place of dried cranberries. I’m usually a big raisin fan, but I do admit that the cranberries were pretty delicious too....

And last, but not least, were the Banana Coconut Cream danish.

We made a delicious coconut cream mixture and piped it onto croissant dough, topped it with some banana slices, and proofed it.

After they had risen, we added some banana and coconut garnish on top before baking them.

Yummy too!

There simply is no comparison between the flavors of the commercial dough and the dough we make. Absolutely no comparison.

Is your mouth watering yet? :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I'm visiting Grand Forks until Tuesday morning!

While I'm here, I'll be teaching a Hand Stretched Austrian Apple Strudel Demo, for anyone who's interested......

Ever heard the song “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” and wondered what exactly is “crisp apple strudel”?

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens......Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels....these are a few of my favorite things!”--The Sound of Music

Come to the Culinary Corner on Monday October 26 at 7pm to learn what hand-stretched Austrian Apple Strudel is as well as the simple, yet very impressive process of making it. This delicious, fruit filled dessert is sure to be a hit!

To register:, click on Nutrition and Culinary Corner.

Cost: $7/person
Hurry, space is limited!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Disastrous Chocolate Mousse Torte

Last week was literally the week from hell. So sorry for my lack of posting. I was recovering from a bad cold and from volunteering all weekend at the Taste of Charleston events.... plus it was midterms!

The first project of the week was a very disastrous chocolate mousse torte. Thankfully, it was disastrous for my entire class, not just me, so I wasn't alone in my distress.... Chef made it look so easy, when it was, in fact, not....

We started with a devil's food cake with beets in it.

I'm actually a fan of cooked beets. But they're not exactly a picnic to work with. For whatever reason, I wasn't thinking (probably all the stress) and volunteered to be the one to grate the beets for everyone's cakes. Bad, Bad idea.... my lovely normally white uniform was COVERED in tiny purple dots. I will say, though, that OxyClean spray works wonders! Since washing, all the dots have disappeared.

Then came slicing this cake into 3 equal portions. Also not an easy task. This cake was uber moist and the layers were small to begin with..... Once again, Chef makes it look so easy....

Then we made the "fake" chocolate mousse. I say this because we did not use egg whites, like a traditional chocolate mousse (or what I think of as a traditional chocolate mousse).

We started with chantilly cream and some melted chocolate. We added some of the chantilly cream to the melted chocolate.....

And then added the mixture into the rest of the chantilly cream.

We then added Instant Modified Food Starch to keep the mixture thick.

We built this torte inside of the cake ring, due to the soft nature of the chocolate mousse prior to chilling.

Then chilled the torte to help the mousse set before making a second batch of mousse, this time without the Instant Modified Food Starch, to use as icing. Here's where things started to go badly when we as students made our version....

Then we added chocolate shavings as garnish on the bottom

As well as in the center of the scored top (all our 10" tortes are scored into 16)

Then we finished with Chocolate Mousse Rosettes (all the same size, hopefully, and all lined up exactly with the edge of the cake) and maraschino cherries

I thought the cherries were out of place since the torte had nothing to do with them.... I think I would have used chocolate discs or something else.... maybe white chocolate?

Now comes the disaster portion......

No one's icing mousse came out exactly right. Couple that with the fact that our classroom got incredibly hot..... not so fantastic results. By the time we critiqued the class's work, many people's rosettes had melted so dramatically that they lost their shape and the cherries began falling off the sides of many cakes. Plus the chocolate seized in several people's mousse, so they had a nice chocolate chip effect going on. Personally, I didn't mind it, but of course, we weren't suppose to have "chocolate chip mousse" so points were taken off.

My main problem was entirely different.... I, thankfully, didn't have melting rosettes with falling cherries or chocolate chip mousse, but I did have one very very large flaw.

When making the chantilly cream for the mousse icing, I left out one very key ingredient when beating the cream..... The confectioner's sugar..... And this icing was not just for myself but also for my partner. Oy! I considered just leaving it out because honestly, our products are graded by appearance, so Chef would have never known we didn't add the sugar. But the finished tortes were sold to a catering company and I really couldn't live with turning in a product that was minus sugar (although in hindsight, the sugar in the melted chocolate probably would have sufficed).

So, after apologizing profusely to my partner, we both decided to just add the confectioner's sugar to our mostly finished mousse.

Disastrous results.

The confectioner's sugar was all lumpy and there was no way to possibly get out the lumps. Perhaps had we sifted it prior to adding it? That thought didn't cross our minds. We tried to get the lumps out by stirring, but that only caused the mousse to become over worked. And I felt SO BAD because this wasn't just a mistake that would affect myself, but it was also my partner's icing.....

See all the nice white lumps?

I guess you live and you learn..... I'm guessing neither my partner nor myself will ever forget to add the confectioner's sugar next time....