Daring Bakers


Salted caramel macarons single

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.

Imagine my joy when I read those words.

As many of you know, I adore French macarons.  I have experimented with countless flavours and tweaked my own recipe to the point of almost being foolproof.  As I am promoting caramel month, there was no question what flavour I would make.  The challenge for me, however, was trialing a new French macaron recipe.

I hesitated for a while.  Then quickly decided it was ‘acceptable’, as Gramercy Tavern was the location of the first dinner Mr Mélanger and I enjoyed during our visit to New York last year. 

I am sentimental like that.

Salted caramel macarons

{ French Macarons } from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern

* Ingredients *
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

* Directions *
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavourings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t over fold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly coloured.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

{ Caramel Fleur de sel }

* Ingredients *
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 vanilla pod
200g cream
Big pinch fleur de sel
125g or 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

* Directions *
Place the sugar in a saucepan with the water.  Without stirring, cook the sugar to 160C or 320F until it takes on a light, golden colour.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Add in the cream being careful as you poor into the hot sugar.  Add in the Fleur de sel.  Allow the mixture to cool to around 40C or 105F then add the butter.  Blend until you have a glossy paste.  Chill until required.

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Dobos Torte

My baking book wishlist never seems to subside.  I add new books quicker than I can buy them.  So I was excited that for my birthday, I was lucky to reduce my wishlist down by quite a few books.  One book in particular I had been eyeing off for some time was Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers.  I felt the time had come to bring this one into my home (oh, with a few other baking book orphans at the same time!).  No sooner had my books arrived, then the August Daring Bakers challenge was posted.  I just shook my head.

The book is a delicious journey through some of the most famous Austro-Hungarian desserts, including the Dobos Torte – five thin layers of vanilla sponge, filled with chocolate butter cream icing, and topped with wedges of caramel glazed cake.  The cake was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties.

I took the liberty of steering away from the typical round cake, opting instead for a more linear, rectangular version. 

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus:  Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Thank you ladies.  A wonderful selection!

Dobos Torte set

{ Dobos Torte } from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

Sponge cake
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping
1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

* Directions *

Sponge layers
NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.
1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.)
4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Chocolate buttercream
NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.
1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Caramel topping
1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Assembling
1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Mallow cookies

I have never left a Daring Baker challenge so late.  But with all the birthday festivities, I somehow managed to let it slip.  With time short, I opted to only make the chocolate covered marshmallow cookie.  They actually reminded me of the Hi-Hat cupcakes I made with my niece B. – which I loved!

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

These cookies were delicious.  They reminded me of my childhood!

{ Mallows – Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies }
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

* Ingredients *
3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
3 eggs, whisked together
Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

* Directions *
1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

{ Homemade marshmallows }

* Ingredients *
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 egg whites , room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

* Directions *
1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

{ Chocolate glaze }

* Ingredients *
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

* Directions *
1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Bakewell Tart

I was quite pleased when I saw the Daring Bakers challenge this month.  I have very British parents and, despite also having lived in London myself  for a few years, am quite familiar with the Bakewell Tart.  I knew one taste would bring with it some happy memories and a warm sense of nostalgia.

On a practical note, I was also delighted to be making short crust pastry (after quite an absence, I must say).  Every time I make pastry, I vow never to wait so long next time.   So here was my chance.

The tart is very easy to make.  It is essentially a very simple sweet short crust pastry, topped with jam and then a deliciously rich frangipane (almond paste).  I made this tart with blackberry jam, but would love to experiment further.  Perhaps create little individual tarts next time that showcase a variety of flavours.

I will definitely make this again.  It is so simple, and for me, full of lovely memories.

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

{ Bakewell Tart }

Place the chilled dough disc (recipe below) on a lightly floured surface. If it is overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane (recipe below), spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.  The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.  When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

{ Sweet shortcrust pastry }

* Ingredients *

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

* Directions *

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.  Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.  Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

{ Frangipane }

* Ingredients *

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

* Directions *

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)

Cherry Strudel single

I probably should not share this, but I often talk to myself.  It can happen anytime.  Anywhere.  Once, I was talking to myself while getting out of my car in the driveway, and my partner (inside the house!), thought someone was with me.  I am not sure why I talk to myself on occasion, but I am fairly certain it has been a regular part of my life.

Making the strudel for the Daring Bakers challenge this month was no exception.

I have been reading about a few cherry dishes at some of my favourite blogs recently.  Even though we are quite a few months off fresh cherries here in Australia, I was keen to incorporate cherry into my strudel.  So as a substitute, I bought some preserved sour cherries.  With a small additional of breadcrumbs and sugar, this turned out to be a perfect filling.

I was disappointed with my pastry effort.  I had quite a few holes as I worked the pastry and attempted to make it paper-thin.  The actually dough was quite easy to make so will try again at some point.  Despite the hiccups with the pastry, however, I was really happy with the challenge this month.  Strudel pastry is not something I had made before.

When the strudel was baked, I needed to take a few photos.  It was a little chilly outside and overcast.  It has been practically raining non-stop here in Brisbane.  So when picking a plate, I reached for black.  It seemed to match the drizzle outside.  The dark cherry looked nice against the colour, so off I went.  I took a few photos and checked in the viewfinder.  My ‘talking to myself’ habit then kicked in.  I giggled and then said to the strudel – yes, an inanimate object! – “You are such a moody strudel!”  Oh, I tried that in my best Austrian accent, too.

I continued to punctuate the conversation with my strudel with a few other snappy lines.  And not one to let a joke die its natural death, I call out to my partner to include him in the banter, and declared, “my strudel is moody, ja?”  He walked away grinning, shaking his head.

We have enjoyed our moody strudel the last few nights, slightly warmed with a tiny serve of vanilla ice cream.  I do enjoy fruit desserts so want to definitely try this pastry again.  And hopefully I have not disappointed my lovely friend M. in Austria.  Hopefully it would past the test?  I would send a test piece to you in Vienna if I could!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Cherry Strudel

{ Apple strudel }
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

* Directions *
1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

{ Strudel dough }
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

* Directions *

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it’s about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

caramel-cheesecake11

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I hate to admit, but I am not a fan of cheesecake.  I love cake.  I love cheese.  I love cream cheese (particularly on bagels!), but not a fan of cheesecake.  (I am also not a fan of ice-cream cake though I love ice cream and I love cake.  Go figure…)

My sister’s husband, on the other hand, is a big fan of cheesecake.  So cheesecake has featured a couple of times as my selection of birthday cake for him in the past.  My first attempt though was disastrous.  I found a seemingly simple baked cheesecake recipe and managed to make a mess of it. I prepared and baked it per instruction, but was left with a massive crack or two along the top.  I fondly termed it the San Andreas Cheesecake to play up the error.

After the failure, I obviously needed to do some troubleshooting.  I identified the problem.  No water bath.  So when another birthday for my brother in law rolled around, I gave the cheesecake another whirl.  This time, I am pleased to announce success.

So for this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, I was quietly confident I could produce a ‘crack free’ cake.  The only question was how creative could be.  After considering a few outrageous flavour combinations, I settled on a simple caramel cheesecake.  I always seem to opt for simple.

Why caramel?  Mostly because I have never filled a cheesecake before and wanted to trial that outcome.  Also, because my lovely Chilean friend K. is always thinking about caramel so the flavour was top of mind.

As challenges go, this for me was pretty simple having made cheesecake before.  I was secretly grateful given some of the more time intensive baked goods I have been tackling this month (sourdough, bagels, brioche and croissants).

If you love cheesecake, this is a perfect recipe.  Proof?  After taking photos for this post, the cake was practically inhaled.  Major contributors include my partner (another cheesecake lover), my brother-in-law (of course), and my little Easter helpers, my nieces.  Every time I turned around another chunk had disappeared.  So proof enough for me!

Here is the basic recipe.

{ Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake }

* Ingredients *

crust:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
cheesecake:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

* Directions *

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil “casserole” shaped pans from the grocery store. They’re 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly.

daring-bakers-flourless-chocolate-cakeFebruary’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake – Chocolate Valentino – inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan.

I hit the jackpot with this the challenge this month.  A rich, flourless chocolate cake is one of my all-time favourite desserts.  I have frequently made flourless chocolate cakes using almond or hazelnut meal.  But this challenge included only a simple mix of chocolate, butter and eggs.

The simplicity of the ingredients really only adds to the complexity …  strangely enough.  I was overwhelmed by the richness and flavour of this superb cake given how few ingredients are included. 

Due to the limited ingredients, however, the end result is enormously influenced by the quality you select.  For that reason I included the best quality chocolate and butter I could afford.  In this case, the chocolate was Callebaut, and the butter was Lurpak.

This cake is incredibly quick and easy to make.  I would highly recommend it for a special occasion or a decadent after-dinner dessert.

{ Chocolate Valentino } Recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan

* Ingredients *

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

* Directions *

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.  While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.  Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).  With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.  Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.  Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.  Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C.  Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.  If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.  Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

The flourless chocolate cake was to be accompanied by homemade ice cream.  A couple of recipes were provided by our hosts.  I enjoy the creamy standard vanilla ice cream recipe from my KitchenAid ice cream maker instruction book so selected that instead.

{ French Vanilla Ice Cream }

This recipe is perfect for the 2-quart capacity of a KitchenAid ice cream maker.

* Ingredients *

1-⅞ cups half-and-half (see note)
6 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1-⅞ cups whipping cream
3 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

* Directions *

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat half-and-half until very hot, but not boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar.  Very gradually, whipping all the while, add half-and-half and mix until blended.  Return half-and-half mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat until small bubbles form around edge and mixture is steamy, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
Transfer half-and-half mixture into large bowl. Stir in whipping cream, vanilla and salt.  Cover and chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours.
Assemble ice cream maker according to directions. Start up ice cream maker and add mixture slowly. Churn until thick, soft-serve consistency is reached.  Remove from ice cream maker.

Note :: Half-and-half is a combination of whole milk and cream (and my ‘creamer’ of choice for coffee when living in America – regrettable for my waistline!). Half-and-half typically contains 10.5 percent to 18 percent fat.  In Australia, use ‘light’ or ‘extra light’ cream.

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