Sunday, September 23, 2012

Apple squares

Excuse me while I talk about my underwear for a second here. Yesterday was one of those days where I showered and put on my clean underwear backwards. Not inside out. No. I literally put them on backwards. Like I had the front in the back, and the back in the front with the little tag sticking out. I am particularly amazed that I didn't notice (feel) the difference. It took me a little while to realize what was going on down there. Weird.

Today was another one of those days, and though I was particularly proud that I managed to put my underwear on correctly, when it came time to make this recipe, I realized I had no more ground cinnamon in the cupboard (FAIL!), then, much to my horror, I forgot to add the maple syrup to the crumble, and in the end, I didn't set the kitchen timer. I think it took me a good 15 minutes to realize the timer wasn't ticking. And I only remembered the maple syrup when the squares were baking in the oven, and I went to put away the bottle. I had to grind a cinnamon stick to flavor the filling, thereby dirtying another kitchen appliance. I guess it's been one of those weeks months. Let's just call it a temporary funk.

I have been holding on to this recipe for many months, and much to my surprise, I didn't forget to make it as soon as fall rolled in. These are very much like date squares with their crumbly oaty base and topping, but instead of a date filling, they have an applesauce filling. What's not to love? Apples, brown sugar and oats are a killer combination and so, I do declare these bars fabulous.

In case you are wondering how I knew when the apple squares were done considering my failure to set the timer: the edges of the topping began to separate from the pan (a telltale sign when most things are done baking) and the topping was golden brown.

Apple squares

    Makes 9 squares

Crumble ingredients
  • 115 grams (1 1/4 cups) oats, large flake quick-cooking kind
  • 135 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) light brown sugar
  • 115 grams (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (optional since I made it without!)
Apple filling ingredients
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) light brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 500 grams (2 cups) unsweetened applesauce (I used Mott's)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare an 8x8-inch square pan by lightly greasing it, and lining the base and sides with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. To prepare the crumble mixture: In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, flour, and light brown sugar. Add the melted butter and maple syrup (if using) and continue stiring until the mixture is evenly moistened with the wet ingredients and begins to clump. Set aside.
  3. To prepare the apple filling: In a small saucepan, whisk together the light brown sugar, the corn starch and the cinnamon. Add the apple sauce and whisk well to combine and to be sure there are no lumps of cornstarch. Put the saucepan on a burner and heat over medium, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil, thickens and turns very glossy. Take the saucepan off the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
  4. To assemble: Sprinkle half the crumble mixture in the base of the lined pan, and using a flat-bottomed glass, press it firmly so that the crust is even. Be sure to get into the corners too. Top the crust with the apple mixture, then sprinkle the rest of the crumble over top, patting it in gently just to secure it.
  5. Bake the squares for about 40 minutes or until the edges begin to recede and the top is golden.
  6. Let cool before cutting or it might be a little messy (but oh so good!).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Italian meringue buttercream

Somebody actually ordered two cakes from me this week! Can you believe it? The cakes requested included Italian meringue buttercream and had to be covered with piped roses. I had no idea at the time what the cakes were for (birthday, anniversary...). However, given that I have trouble piping sometimes, I decided to do a test run the week-end before just to be sure I knew what I was doing, and also so I knew how much buttercream to prepare when the time came. I opted for a play on violet for the test cake, though the final cakes were to be pink/cream.

What I didn't realize is that the cakes requested were for a small wedding ceremony! Boy was I glad I had done a trial run when I found out what they were for. I learned the news when the couple came to pick up the cakes! So, not only did I get my first cake order, but in a sense, I also ended up making my first wedding cake!

I have to confess that I am back to making Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC)—and therefore Italian meringue—with my trusty KA stand mixer. Yeah, I know, I learned how to make Italian meringue by hand with a giant balloon whisk just a few months ago, but let's face it: the ease of preparation and the result obtained with the stand mixer cannot be beat.

One thing I found interesting from this practice session: it is much easier to make a double batch of IMBC than a single batch because the whipped egg whites (before the addition of the syrup) fill the 6.5 Qt mixer bowl enough that adding the syrup is much easier, without worrying about spraying it over the beater! From now on, I will be making my IMBC in double batches (therefore 10 egg whites at a time) instead of single batches. I'll freeze the leftovers.

To assemble and decorate this 3-layer 8-inch cake, I needed one 10-egg white batch of IMBC. I assembled and lightly frosted the cake with the plain, uncolored buttercream, then I split the remainder (~900 grams) into three bowls and colored each with a different amount of violet gel color (from Ateco/Spectrum). I used i am baker's fantastic rose cake tutorial for the piping using a 1M tip from Wilton. I found it difficult to properly fill the space and estimate the rose size to pipe, but I think I will soon get the hang of this. Also, my two darker lilac colors are too similar. I guess I need to work on my coloring technique too!

All in all, for my first attempts at this piping technique, I'm pretty pleased!

Italian meringue buttercream

    Makes ~1.8 kgs (~8–10 cups) buttercream 

  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) water
  • 560 grams (2 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided
  • 10 egg whites (from large eggs)
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 908 grams (4 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Two pinches salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Pour the water in a small saucepan. Top with the granulated sugar, reserving a 1/4 cup. Don't stir. Just put it on the burner on medium heat. Clip on your candy thermometer.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add a pinch of cream of tartar. Start the mixer on medium-low to begin frothing the whites.
  3. When the sugar begins to boil, increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high. When the whites are at soft peaks, gradually add the reserved sugar. Continue beating to stiff (not dry) peaks.
  4. When the sugar reaches 248°F (121°C), turn off the heat, unclip the thermometer and then slowly pour the hot sugar in a fine stream down the side of the bowl, being sure not to hit the beater (or it will splash!).
  5. When all the sugar is added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Increase the speed to high and beat til the mixture has just about cooled (this takes a good 5–10 mins for such a large batch).
  6. When the meringue has cooled, start adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running on medium.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the mixer to high to beat until the buttercream forms and is smooth.
  8. Beat in the vanilla and the salt.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spiced buttermilk pancakes with apple maple syrup


After years and years of my dentist hinting at the fact that I really had to get a couple of my wisdom teeth pulled, the day finally came when I actually had to listen and agree. To be fair, it wasn't the procedure I was worried about, but more that I wasn't ready to lose a tooth. What if I need it later? My body decided to grow these teeth, maybe they're important! Plus, pulling a tooth at my age is very final. There's no backup tooth that's going to grow in at this stage of the game. Pull it, and it's gone!

apple maple syrup

I completely avoided the discussion for years, quite successfully, until one morning I woke up with the mother of all infections. It was a doozy. I quickly faced the fact that I had to part ways with one of my wisdom teeth. Sad, but true.

buttermilk pancakes

Following the procedure, my diet of blended soups, soy beverages, and apple sauce quickly became less than exciting. So, on day 4 (post-extraction), I graduated to pancakes! Okay, fine, my dentist seriously WOULD NOT APPROVE of the syrup that I made to go with the pancakes, but hey! A girl's gotta eat! And there are chunks of fruit floating around in it. It's all good. Just brush your teeth after, people.

spiced buttermilk pancakes

I took a standard buttermilk pancake recipe and spiced it up for fall with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves. Then, I cooked/caramelized diced apples with sugar, and I deglazed with maple syrup. The apples candy in the syrup and become translucent and soft. This syrup is ridiculously good. It's sweet, a little tangy from the tart apples. It's the perfect accompaniment to pancakes in the fall.

Spiced buttermilk pancakes with apple maple syrup

    Makes about 1 dozen pancakes
  • 175 grans (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 1 pinch cloves
  • 2 tbsp (28 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for frying the pancakes
  • 200 mL buttermilk
  • 100 mL milk (I used skim)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs, separated

  • 2 apples (I used Cortlands)
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 200 mL maple syrup, plus more for serving

  1. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, milk, vanilla, and the egg yolks. Pour the wet mixture over the whisked dry mixture, and stir with the whisk to combine. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter, quickly, and set the batter aside while you prepare the fry pan.
  4. Preheat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat til it's good and hot. Add a dollop of butter, and let it melt, swishing it around with a spatula. Dollop half-ladles (or so) of the pancake batter onto the preheated pan, and cook the pancakes, flipping when the bottom-side is golden brown and the top batter is bubbly.
  5. When all the pancakes are fried, you can keep them hot in a warmed oven while you make the syrup.
  6. To make the syrup: Toss the diced apples with the sugar in a bowl. Wipe down the frying pan and add the sugar coated apples to it on medium heat, stirring. The sugar will melt while the apple cooks and releases its juice. Continue cooking til the sugar has caramelized, then remove the pan from the heat and deglaze with the maple syrup. Return the pan to the heat, and simmer for a few minutes to thicken (about 3 minutes on medium heat). If you had any lumps of sugar crystals form at the beginning, they should dissolve at this stage.
  7. Serve the pancakes drizzled with apple maple syrup, and more maple syrup if you dare. A dollop of crème fraiche or yogurt is really nice too!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chocolate caramel birthday cake

Piping. I want to be good at piping. I watch Sweetapolita's videos and I watch youtube videos, all with the volume on high. It looks so easy. It sounds so easy. Yet, when I pipe a border, or really anything, onto a cake, it's apparently not as easy as it seemed. The problem is that I have no opportunity to practice, and I maintain that piping on a piece of parchment is not the same as piping on a cake that you know is going to be ogled and served later that day.

Conclusion: I need more guinea pigs, who want a cake, and who will accept the not-so-perfect piping/finish of the cake. Any takers?

Lucky for me, it was my mommy's birthday last week, and she didn't mind if I made her an imperfect birthday cake, so I made her this chocolate caramel birthday cake. There's caramel hidden in between the layers of chocolate cakes! What's not to love about it?

This is actually my second attempt at a chocolate caramel layer cake and it held together MUCH better than the first. To make this version of the cake, I baked up three 8-inch chocolate cake layers (using another great recipe from Anna Olson's Back to Baking—I highly recommend this book if you don't have it!). I sandwiched caramel sauce that I cooked down to thicken (as suggested by my friend Selah of Sweet Nomélie—Thanks for the advice, Selah!), and a delicious fudge frosting (also from Anna Olson's new book) between the layers.

Chocolate caramel birthday cake

    Makes one 8-inch cake
Chocolate cake recipe
  • 300 grams (2 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 92 grams (1 cup) cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 170 grams (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus a little extra melted butter for the pans
  • 436 grams (2 cups) light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 375 mL (1 1/2 cups) buttermilk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 8-inch cake pans by evenly brushing with melted butter, flouring, and lining the bottom of each with a parchment round. Set aside.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the brown sugar.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat again.
  5. Add the sifted dry ingredients, alternately with the buttermilk. Be sure to scrape the sides and the bottom of the mixture with a spatula to make sure every ingredient is evenly incorporated.
  6. Divide the batter between the three pans, smooth, and bake the cakes for about 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  7. Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes before unmolding onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Caramel sauce recipe
  • 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • ~60 mL (1/4 cup) water
  • 58 grams (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into cubes
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) whipping cream, warmed on the stove

  1. Set out all your ingredients before beginning. This is very important. Have the cream heating on a back burner so that is is warm, but don't let it boil.
  2. In a deep 3 quart saucepan, pour the sugar, and then the water. Don't stir it.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium–high heat. If there's sugar stuck on the sides of the pan, carefully brush it with a heat-resistant silicone brush dipped in a little water.
  4. Continue to boil the caramel until it turns amber in color (the temperature will read somewhere between 350°F and 360°F with a candy thermometer). As soon as the caramel has reached the desired color, slide the pan off the heat, and turn the burner off.
  5. Slowly and carefully drop in the cubed butter (it will bubble and erupt so be careful!). Pour in the cream, slowly and carefully, a quarter at a time.
  6. When the bubbling has calmed down, begin to gently whisk the caramel until it is smooth and homogeneous.
  7. Put the caramel saucepan back on the burner, and cook it to 242°F to thicken it.
  8. Let the caramel cool to room temperature before sandwiching it between the cake and frosting layers.

Fudge frosting recipe
  • 170 grams (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 171 grams (6 oz) Baker's dark chocolate (either bittersweet or 70%), chopped
  • 45 grams cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 345 grams (3 cups) icing sugar, sifted
  • 250 mL (1 cup) full fat sour cream

  1. Melt the butter and the chopped chocolate together in a small bowl over a double boiler. When completely melted and uniform, set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together (starting on low) the cocoa powder, vanilla, half the icing sugar, the cooled melted chocolate mixture and the sour cream. When the mixture is smooth, add the rest of the icing sugar, and continue beating til it's smooth and fluffy.

To assemble the cake
  • White chocolate, melted for writing on cake
  • 1 8-inch cake board to build the cake on
  • 1 10-inch cake board (or a large, flat serving plate) to display the cake on

  1. Peel away the parchment and trim the layers using a serrated knife so that each is flat and leveled.
  2. Begin assembling the cake directly on an 8-inch cake board placed on a cake turntable, beginning with the first layer of chocolate cake. Pipe on one even layer of frosting (using a 10-mm round piping tip). Smooth it with an offset spatula, then pipe a border of frosting (to hold in the caramel and better adhere the layers).
  3. Dollop the caramel (or drop small spoonfuls) over the frosting but staying within the piped border.
  4. Top with the next layer of cake, pressing slightly.
  5. Again, pipe on a layer of frosting, smooth it, then pipe a border. Dollop with caramel (you may not want to use it all).
  6. Top with the third layer of cake, pressing slightly.
  7. Using an offset spatula, crumb coat the top and sides of the cake. Set the cake in the fridge to firm up for 20 minutes or so. Then frost the cake with an even layer of frosting. Again, put it in the fridge to set.
  8. Transfer the cake (carefully) to the 10-inch cake board (I glued the two boards together with Elmer's white glue) or the serving plate. Pipe a border around the top of the cake, and along the base edge (I used a star tip—D7).
  9. If desired, write a message on the cake with melted white chocolate.
  10. Store the decorated cake in the fridge to set up. Pull out of the fridge 20 minutes or so before serving to let it warm slightly.