Friday, August 27, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

When I read this month's challenge, I immediately decided I wanted to try the Baked Alaska. I didn't want to go with the individual options though. I wanted "an Alaskan sized" Baked Alaska. Well, not quite but close. After reading the requirements of using the browned butter cake and having to make homemade ice cream and meringue, I thought, no problem, I've done all those things before. The pound cake was a bit different from my grandma's recipe but I figured it was cake, so no pressure. I planned to incorporate the Baked Alaska into an upcoming Cooking Night. Then the matter was how to incorporate it. I learned that Baked Alaska has been around quite a bit longer than the state of Alaska. In fact, it was renamed Baked Alaska by an American restaurant to honor the newly acquired territory in 1846. Prior to that point, the French called it a Norwegian omelette. Why an omelet? I've no idea. Why Norwegian? Maybe because the dessert's "icy" look made them think of Norway. Either way, I had options, Alaskan Night or Norwegian? Stop by next week or later this weekend to find out the decision there!

I had decisions to make for the Baked Alaska too! Mainly, 1-what kind of ice cream to make , 2-what containers was I going to make this in, 3- how to fit this giant thing in my freezer. I decided that the nutty flavor of the brown butter pound cake would probably go well with caramel ice cream. From there, I had a plan. The next step was containers. I decided to prepare the pound cake in a 9 inch spring form pan to allow it to be as flat across the top as possible. Then I used my second largest stainless steel mixing bowl for freezing the ice cream. I thought if I filled it with about 2 quarts of ice cream, it would be about 9 inches around and fit just right on top of the cake. My friend Rebecca was less sure but reassured me we could always trim down the cake or the ice cream to make it fit. Fair enough, on with the show.

Step 1: Make Caramel Ice Cream (Be sure to start this at least the night before you plan to serve the Baked Alaska so there's enough time.)

There are a lot of ice cream recipes out there. Many homemade ice creams have a crystalline nature. To have a smooth, creamy ice cream, the first step is to make a custard. I started with a vanilla ice cream recipe from Pippa Cuthbert's "Ice Cream!". Then modified it with my favorite caramel recipe. This brings you the following recipe which will results in about 1.75 quarts of caramel ice cream. (Note: I didn't overdo the caramel b/c I knew the cake would be sweet and so would the meringue. If you make this just as caramel ice cream, make double the caramel sauce for an enhanced flavor.) Oh, don't forget to separate your whites! You'll need them later for the meringue! There's no waste in this recipe!

2 1/2 c. (600 mL) whole milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
1 c. (200 g.) sugar
2 1/2 c. (600 mL) heavy cream

(for the "caramel" sauce)
1/4 c. dark brown sugar (You can substitute light brown..if you have to but the flavor with dark brown will be better.)
4 Tbsp butter
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream

(a little something extra)
1/2 c. Heath toffee bits

How to:

Start with the caramel sauce. Place the brown sugar and 4 Tbsp of butter in a medium sauce pan. Melt them over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and continue whisking for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in 1/3 c. cream and blend well. Pour into a bowl that can handle the heat of hot caramel. Allow to cool at room temperature. (If you refrigerate this, it will be much harder on you in a few minutes.) To make life easier, go ahead and wash your saucepan. If you're going to begin the custard right away, you could skip the cleaning and go straight into the custard.

Then, begin the custard for the ice cream. Put 2 1/2 c. milk and 2 Tbsp of vanilla into your medium sauce pan. Heat until near boiling and remove from heat. In a separate (heatproof) bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk until thick and pale. Then, gradually beat the milk mixture into the egg mixture. Fill your saucepan halfway with water and bring the water to a simmer. Place the egg/sugar/milk mixture over the simmer sauce pan (or use a double boiler). Stir continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the bowl/double boiler top from heat. Whisk in your caramel sauce.

Cover the surface of the mixture with plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent skin formation. Place custard in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Yes, completely. Now's a good time to go to bed, unless you got an early start. The custard cooling process takes about 4 hours.

Once your custard is cool, pour into your ice cream. Arrange the device as directed. For mine, (an ice and rock salt electric churn) the ice cream maker is assembled, plugged in and then ice and salt are alternately added to each side. My ice cream maker makes up to 6 quarts. Since this was about a 2 quart recipe, I went ahead and filled the ice and salt levels to over halfway up the can to speed the process and prevent needing to add more.

After 40 minutes to 1 hour, the ice cream should be done and be very smooth and creamy.

I lined my large bowl with plastic wrap extending over the edges (for ease of removal later). Then I scooped/spooned the ice cream mixture into the bowl until it looked full enough to be a 9 inch circle. This was totally eyeballing for me. If you would feel more comfortable, grab a ruler or tape measure. Then I made a cone to taste the ice cream...you know, to make sure it was safe for people to eat later that night. It was important. ....Mmmmm. Since my cone was made from the dregs of the ice cream container, the ice cream was starting to melt a little down there. Especially since I'd been playing with the plastic wrap and smoothing everything out, etc. It still was pretty firm but nowhere near as firm as what was in the bowl.


Caramel Ice Cream with Toffee Bits

I placed the bowl in the freezer. It needed to freeze for about 8 hours. (Note: I got up at 7:30 AM Saturday morning to get this rolling. If that's not your thing, plan to make the ice cream the night before and start early.)

Step 2: Brown Butter Pound Cake

This was a required recipe. I didn't change it other than the container I used. Warning! Getting the browned butter to congeal takes time. This is a good step to do while your ice cream is churning (if you don't make a random trip to the farmer's market or something like that).

Brown Butter Pound Cake

19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) (See “Note” section for cake flour substitution)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan.

2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes. [This took longer for me. In fact, it was close to an hour before it was congealed. Granted my freezer was pretty full and it was close to the door but still, a word of caution to plan ahead.]

3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.

5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.

6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan [Ahem, I used a 9" round baking pan here]. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.


Inverted Pound Cake

At this point, I had to head to a baby shower...it was a hectic day. My plan for the cake was to finish the meringue and all once my friends arrived for cooking night. When they arrived, the first thing we did was start the meringue.


Step 3: Meringue

She said we could use any meringue we wanted but provided the following recipe. I am often not a meringue fan and figured I'd be having this one for looks and scrape it off before eating the cake and ice cream but this was delicious. Really. I'm not sure what was so different but I'm planning to modify the ratios to match this one the next time I make lime meringue pie. Mmm. To think, I had thought lime meringue pie could have little improvement!

How to:

8 large egg whites
½ teaspoon (3g) cream of tartar
½ teaspoon (3g) salt
1 cup (220g) sugar

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar gradually in a slow stream until stiff peaks form.


Carolyn beating the meringue while Sookie supervised!

Step 4: Assembly

Before assembly, I had concerns about a platter to place the cake on that would allow everything to still fit in the freezer and the door to close. I would encourage you to test a few plates and whatnot to minimize the height, should you choose to make a very tall Baked Alaska.While the meringue was being beaten, Becky and I ran downstairs, checked a few plates and got the ice cream out of the freezer. I pulled the cake out of the microwave (where it had safely cooled out of the way of my kitties' interest). I inverted the ice cream bowl, pulled at the plastic wrap and hoped for the best. It popped right out! Pretty as you please...well take a look!



Ice Cream on Top of Cake


Then we started the process of piping the meringue. The instructions said to be sure to fill in all the gaps. I did mention this was a large cake right?!?! The cake was about a foot tall. It took a while to pipe. We took turns!



Carolyn Piping Meringue


Becky Piping Meringue


Then Rebecca got it in her head that it needed color. Fair enough, what color, I asked. What colors do you have? ....Blue, yellow and green. Blue! I mixed a little blue into meringue in a separate bowl. This was a good thing. It can be easy to get gung ho and make a mess and ruin all your lovely meringue. I made an attempt at blue caramel flavored meringue that didn't work out. Blue meringue in hand, we weren't sure what to do with it. A heart, nah...how about a star? It could be a starfish in the ocean! Both Norway and Alaska are by the ocean! Ok, so I made a star on top. Then we quickly ran the cake downstairs, hoping it would fit. It did. Barely. There was nothing scraping but there wasn't more than 1/4" to spare. Whew! The door closed. Now it was time to wait.


After we'd cooked everything else and eaten, it was time for dessert! We pulled out the cake (which had been freezing for close to 2 hours now...it only required 1 hour) and carried it back upstairs. Rebecca got a new cooking blow torch recently. It took a few minutes to figure out how to load it with butane. (It helped to turn the butane bottle upside down.) Then we flamed it and sliced it up! Whew! Everyone enjoyed it! Success!

Top View of Completed Cake

Inside the Cake


A Slice of Baked Alaska! Yum!!!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Double Take: Margarita Pork Tenderloin

Remember how in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet said "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"...this is totally true of this recipe. The name just didn't get it for me. The lime and cilantro did though. Things didn't work out so well for Romeo and Juliet, but the lime and cilantro worked very well in this recipe. Anyone for tender, flavorful pork from the grill with relatively short prep time and short grill time?...Yes, please!

Did I mention, tender? Some pork recipes can result in tough meat that is honestly unpleasant. The combination of citrus in the marinade seem to have tenderized the meat. On first taste, I thought the cilantro might have done an overpowering act. I like cilantro though, so this was not a problem for me. The next day, I reheated some leftovers for lunch. Still wonderfully juicy! Amazing. As an added bonus, the other flavors of the marinade seemed to blend into increased delisciousness. Ruthann and Kyndra are my witnesses. They liked it too. Ruthann even put it on the rare list of things she'd be interested in eating again from Ultimate Southern Living...(which if you've been reading these double takes, you'll note is a pretty short list). Yay, for a crowd favorite!


Margarita Pork Tenderloin with Green Bean Risotto


The only unrealistic part of this recipe was the serving size. Typically, I've found the recipes to be overboard on servings. In this case, their 6 servings was a scant 4 and a more realistic 3. We enjoyed the pork with the green bean risotto from last weeks post. The flavors went well together but I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed the risotto nearly as much without this pork. Without further ado, here's

How To: (from the All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook with my notes for adaptation)

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced after seed removal
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped finely
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (This also comes in convenient squeeze bottles ...and for added oomph, try the key lime juice from the mixers section)
1 1/2 Tbsp tequila (I really think this just acted as a tenderizer. You could compensate with lime (1 Tbsp) and orange juice (1/2 Tbsp) if you prefer.)
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice (I actually used fresh but I wouldn't feel guilty using Tropicana.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin (I'm not a big cumin kind of girl. I didn't find the flavor overpowering in this dish though. If you prefer smoky flavor, you could increase it a bit to suit your taste.)
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 (1 lb) pork tenderloins (There was plenty of marinade here for at least another pound of meat.)

Combine all the ingredients except the pork tenderloin into a ziplock bag or your marinating dish of choice. I used a 9x13 pyrex dish. It had enough room for all my meat. Slice the pork into 1" thick slices about 1" wide. Place in the marinade dish and marinate 1 hour. (This does not mean marinate before going to work. The juices which tenderize also start to cook the meat if you leave it marinating too long. Stick with 1-2 hours tops if you're having trouble pulling yourself together. You can always put the marinade together ahead of time and just toss your thawed meat in when you get home from work. )

Remove pork from marinade. Discard the marinade (Its in the recipe but I guess they want to make sure you know not to eat marinade from raw pork.)

Grill (with cover closed) on high heat (400 - 500 F) for 4 minutes on each side. (Perhaps my grill runs hot, but I was closer to medium on this and it came out perfectly.)

Closing Comments:

I feel like this recipe also reminds me of green eggs and ham. Maybe the title doesn't appeal to you (hey, maybe it does) but try it, try it and you really might like it! We did.

Disclosure:

I really do like pork cooked well. Mmmm.

Head on over to Fabulously Fun Food to see what Mel and Bender thought about this recipe.




Thursday, August 19, 2010

Double Take: Green Bean Risotto

Earlier this summer, Rebecca, Ruthann, and I made risotto. For me it was both the first time making and tasting risotto. Mmmm. Creamy, lovely zucchini risotto was definitely a positive experience. Ruthann decided it was her favorite recipe ever...but that's not for this post. Because of the first risotto, I wanted to try others. This week we tested USL's Green Bean Risotto. Their recipes tend to over estimate the normal consumption I am accustomed to so I halved it. I bought the ingredients for halving and then got a message that Kyndra was back in town. She and Ruthann came over so we could see her recent pics from a teaching trip in China. The risotto ingredients were bought and since halving the recipe made enough for 3-4 servings, I figured it would go well with the Margarita Pork Tenderloin we have planned (come back next week for that one).

Anyway, I found the recipe to be a little confusing in places. Maybe it wouldn't have been a problem with me and an empty kitchen but I rewrote it below to make it easier to follow in the midst of a busy kitchen. I also wrote in the ways it was changed as we prepared it.




Green Bean Risotto (adapted from All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb fresh green beans
24 oz chicken broth (or better than bouillion with water)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 red onion, chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves
1/2 c. uncooked Arborio rice
1/4 tsp. dry thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 c. shredded parmesan

Equipment:

2 pots or 1 pot and one dutch oven
1 slotted spoon
1 medium sized bowl


How to:

String and break beans into 1" pieces. Bring beans and 1/4 c. of broth to a boil in pot number 1. (Labeling the handles here just might help you.) Cook 7-10 minutes and REMOVE the beans with a slotted spoon. Place them in your medium sized bowl.

In pot #2, bring the rest of the broth to a simmer. Do not boil. Then keep warm over low heat.

In pot #1, (the one you removed the beans from) add butter, chopped onions, and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes on medium high heat. Add rice and 1/2 c. chicken broth. Cook and stir constantly for 5 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Reduce temperature to medium.

Add 1/2 c. of the broth from pot #2 to the rice mixture in pot #1. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the procedure with the remaining broth, adding 1/2 c. at a time. Cooking time was 10-15 minutes.

Stir in beans, thyme, pepper, and parmesan. Serve immediately.

This makes 3-4 servings.


Review:

The flavor of the thyme was pretty strong. It could've been a little lighter. Kyndra and I both liked the recipe. Kyndra even went for seconds. Ruthann was not a fan. In the method of Mel,

1- really liked it
1-liked it but preferred less thyme
1- didn't like it and would really rather have zucchini risotto b/c it was much better

Head over to Fabulously Fun Food for Mel's thoughts.

Oh yeah...what's your favorite risotto?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Double Take: Fresh Peach Pie

To look at the last two weeks, you might think...these ladies have a sweet tooth. While that may be true, the real reason for thw past two choices had more to do with taking advantage of fruit while it was available. Fresh peaches are at their peak this time of year. At the farmer's market, I looked over all the options and learned it would be two more weeks before the coveted free stone peaches were available. Determined to sell me peaches, the farmer described the yellow and white one he had. I'm typically a yellow peach girl. They're usually more flavorful and juicy. When offered the chance to try what they had, I was shocked that I preferred the white semi freestone peaches they had. Sadly, I can't remember the name to share but they were awesome. In fact, I found them so tasty, I combined a bit with the yellow peaches I got at a different farmer's market to enhance the flavor of the peach in the pie. It works with apples and I was worried the peaches I'd chopped (with Rebecca's help) might have been a little shy of what the pie needed. Peaches ready, it was time to start the crust. I have a couple of standby crusts that I always turn to for pies. They work everytime and I love that. However, since Mel and I are testing recipes in the USL cookbook, it seemed suiting to try their double crust pastry.

Preparation:

Double Crust Pastry (modified from All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook)

2 c. all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

2/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp chilled shortening

2-3 Tbsp of ice water

Combine flour and salt; cut in shortening with a fork or pastry blender until mixture has a crumbly, pea-like texture. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of ice water at a time over the surface and stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Shape into a ball. (Chill for an hour to make easier to work.) OR generously dust your counter with 1/8 - 1/4 c. flour. Break your ball of dough in half. If you didn't chilll, (and even if you did and want life to be easier), place a silicone mat or piece of plastic wrap on your counter prior to dusting and rolling out the pastry. Roll out half the dough, lift the mat or plastic wrap and invert onto your pie plate.Pinch up the borders of your pie into V's or use a different shape if you like. Roll out the other half of the dough (again onto a mat), you either make a flat top, or cut strips of dough and place over your pie filling prior to baking. I like to lay the longest strips in first, bend them back, and then lay in the strips going the opposite direction. I weave the strips through to make a lattice. This description is less than awesome. Unfortunately, I didn't take step by step pictures to show you so I'll try to do that the next time I make a lattice crust.

Fresh Peach Pie Filling

5 1/2 c. peeled, sliced fresh peaches

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon ( I used cardamom instead.)

Combine peaches, sugar, flour, and cinnamon or cardamom. Stir to form a syrup. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook 10 minutes until peaches are tender. Remove from heat; add butter and vanilla and blend well.

Assembly:


Lattice is on, starting the edges



Edges assembled. Time to bake!

Place the bottom crust onto the pie plate. Pour the filling into the shell. Create the lattice using 1/4 to 1/2" strips of dough (as somewhat described above ...but hey its more of a description than from USL). Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake 25-30 minutes or until crust is browned. Serve warm or cool.



Ready to serve!

Review:

I think everyone loved this pie but me. I confirmed that I'm really picky about cooked peaches. Basically, I like my peaches fresh. All the peach pie lovers really liked it. My taste testers were the crowd at the church picnic, my parents who came in for a weekend visit, and Rebecca and Mike. Everyone really liked it a lot. Concerning the crust, it had a good flavor but was rather fussy. I prefer my standby crusts but it was fine to try something new. I made a second pie the same day b/c I was concerned about my reaction to a peach pie. Look forward to an upcoming post of butterscotch pie!

Be sure to get Mel's two bits on this one over at Fabulously Fun Food...and tell me...what's your favorite pie?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Double Take: Party Perfect Strawberry Shortcakes

Mel has been interested in this recipe since we got this All new Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. Biscuits, strawberries, and sweetened whipped cream...how could it be less than tasty?!? The goal was to wait until strawberries were in season. Alas - the complexity of transcontinental cooking! In NC, strawberries come into season between May and June. The season is later in Germany. Fortunately, in NC we have access to at least some California strawberries for an extended range of time so all we lacked as a good excuse to make them. In my case, they were prepared as a going away treat for my friend Andrea.


How to:

Strawberries:
Core and quarter 1 lb of strawberries into a bowl. Add 1/4 c. of sugar and allow to sit while the rest is being prepared (at least 1 hour).

Shortcakes :
1) Ultimate Southern Living (drastically modified to enable formation of a biscuit like pastry)
3 c. all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 c. butter (chopped into 1/2 inch pieces)
1 egg
1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder and sugar and mix well. Add butter and blend with a pastry cutter or fork until the texture of small peas is achieved. Mix 1 egg, sour cream and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add slowly to mixture while stirring to moisten all. The texture will be like that of drop biscuits. Drop your globs of dough onto a silpat or greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 F for about 20 minutes.

2) White Lily Shortcakes ( I wanted to make sure there were enough)
(This recipe is from the listing on the back of the White Lily Self Rising flour bag...Go White Lily!)

2 c. White Lily Self rising flour
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
3/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream

Cut up butter into 1/2 inch segments. Using a pastry cutter or fork, work 1/4 c. sugar into the the butter. Add flour and work mixture until it has the texture of small peas. Slowly add 3/4 c. of heavy whipping cream while stirring until the dough is evenly moistened. (This forms a pretty perfect dough. I was pleased.) Roll them out and cut into circles using a round 3" cutter or your favorite cup. Bake at 425 F for 18-20 minutes or until tops become golden brown.

Whipping Cream
Pour 1 c. of heavy cream into a bowl and beat for 2-4 minutes until it begins to thicken. Add 2 Tbsp of sugar (4 if you like it sweeter). Continue beating until it forms stiff peaks. (Total time should be less than 10 minutes and frankly I think it only took about 4 for me. Time will vary based on beating speed.)

Assembly:
Slice a biscuit in half. Place about 1 Tbsp of strawberry jam on the bottom. Cover with sweetened berries and a generous amount of whipped cream. Top with the lid of the biscuit. Enjoy.

Reviews: White Lily shortcakes were preferred over the USL biscuits. I liked the addition of vanilla though so I would be tempted to add a little vanilla if I ever entertained the thought of making shortcakes again. It seemed that the jam added nothing to the dessert. It wasn't the jams fault, its delicious. The other flavors just didn't allow the jam to have more than a side role, so I'd ditch the addition of jam in the future. I would sweeten the whipped cream a little more, but that's a matter of taste. The berries were good but a little firmer than I expected after 3 hrs of sitting. I think if you have a firmer berry, adding some extra sugar (or as Mel said, maybe heating a little over the stove), could increase the moisture. All the eaters seemed pleased. I think I prefer just berries and cream though.

Note: Due to an A/C malfunction, the shortcakes were baked at an alternate location. An oven temp malfunction, resulted in the bases of the shortcakes being overdone. Solution: Wait until cool (or the shortcakes will crumble) and slice off the bottoms. Use 2 biscuit portions, one for the base and top and it will all be ok.

Don't forget to check out Mel's view at Fabulously Fun Food.