Sunday, January 30, 2011

tiffany cake, part deux

red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
I had my first piece of red velvet cake while I was in school in South Carolina. They made giant slabs of it for lunch on Sunday in the cafeteria. So, so good. The best part for me is always the frosting----butter, sugar and cream cheese whipped together until smooth and fluffy.
This was a 30th birthday cake for Cara. I made her wedding cake a few months ago and her new husband Chris contacted me about making her birthday cake. Her favorite flavor is red velvet so I was extremely excited to make this cake. I made seven thin layers so it would look elegant when when sliced. I wish I could have seen the inside because one of my favorite color combinations is deep red and Tiffany blue.

My partner in crime, Anthony, helped with this cake as well. I baked and stacked the cake and he came over yesterday to help decorate it. For our last cake, Anthony made the roses, so I volunteered to make the flowers for this cake. It's been a while since I made roses, so this was good practice. Once the flowers are dry, they last forever, and will be a nice keepsake for the birthday girl.
We used the pasta roller again to roll out the sugar paste for the ribbons on the cake. Anthony is letting me store it at my place now so I think I will have to have a pasta night coming up....

cream cheese frosting

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound butter, room temperature
1 pound confectioner's sugar

Beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
Add the sugar and beat until blended.

The cream cheese must be at room temperature. Leave it out overnight if you have to. You will have lumps if you try to beat it while it is still cold.

This recipe is a general ratio (2:1) that you can increase or decrease according to how large your cake is. For my seven layer, 12" square cake I used 6 pounds cream cheese and 3 pounds each of butter and sugar. That's right baby, 6 POUNDS of cream cheese.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

brown butter brownies

cocoa brownies with brown butter and walnuts
The latest issue of Bon Appetit featured a series of chocolate recipes from the Alice Medrich. These brownies were on the cover so I knew I wanted to try them first. I'm not usually a nut fan in chocolate chip cookies or in brownies. I don't like anything to come between me and the ultimate gooey, fudgy chocolate experience. I happened to have walnuts in the house, though, so I figured I would throw them in anyway.
The instructions called for making a brown butter which would then be incorporated into the mix. Unfortunately, with all the walnuts inside, I didn't get a good taste of the brown butter. I don't think I would take the extra step of browning the butter next time. Also, walnuts are not one of my favorite nuts. They taste a little too bitter and oily for me. Next time I would toss some cashews with butter and a little salt, roast them in the oven and add them to the batter instead. Salted cashew brownies. Yeah.
This is the third time I've seen a brownie recipe that calls for beating the finished batter repeatedly until it is smooth and shiny before baking. I've also seen it in a David Lebovitz recipe from his book Ready for Dessert and a Maida Heatter recipe. None of these recipes says why this step is important. Is beating the batter creating air to help the brownies rise a tiny bit? Is it creating gluten so the brownies hold together instead of becoming a crumbly mess? I hate unanswered questions.

nutella macarons

So I have to give a shout out to the current KING OF MACARONS at work, Luis. I still haven't had time to make macarons at home so I took some chocolate macarons home from work that he had made. I filled them with the often-referenced nutella buttercream.
I found a recipe in the latest issue of La Cucina Italiana for homemade nutella by the everpresent Karen DeMasco. I will have to make my own next and add that to a buttercream to see if I like it better...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

pizza pie

pizza dough
We made pizza dough at work this past Friday for family meal to celebrate someone's last day at Gramercy Tavern. It tasted so good at work that I decided to make some at home as well. This is a shot right before it went into the oven. I prefer basic toppings: mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce (I had some leftover in my freezer from a batch I made a few weeks ago for lasagna).
The dough comes together in minutes, gets kneaded for a bit by hand then proofs until doubled in size. I stretched the dough out to a circle and then needed to let it rise at room temp for fifteen minutes. Unfortunately at that point, I set off the smoke alarm because my pizza stone, which I had popped in the oven at 450 degrees, got so hot that it started to smoke. I set the smoke alarm off so much that I usually cover it up with a shower cap before I start cooking or baking at high temperatures, but I was feeling lazy and didn't bother. Bad decision, obviously.
Chris knows the drill well by now. He threw open the front windows and I manned the front door, swinging it open and closed like a giant fan. After all that I just wanted to bake the thing off and get it over with, so my crust didn't get enough time to rise and was therefore not as tender as it could have been. I snapped the picture above right before I threw the pie in the oven. Below is a picture of the dough before I put it in a bowl to double in size.

basic pizza dough
1 T active dry yeast
1/2 C. water
1 C. all purpose flour
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t salt
cornmeal for the pizza peel or sheet pan

Combine all the ingredients except the salt. Begin kneading the dough. As it comes together, add the salt and continue to knead until the dough is satiny smooth and has some elasticity. The salt and the yeast should never directly touch because, repeat after me, SALT KILLS YEAST!

Form the dough into a round, place in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise to double it's original size.

Stretch dough to a 10 inch circle and place on a pizza peel or sheet pan sprinkled with cornmeal.

Top with your favorite toppings. One of my favorite combos is ricotta, sausage and mushrooms.

Let pizza dough rise for 15-20 minutes.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees or until nicely browned.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

everybody loves Tiffany's

vanilla cake with nutella buttercream
Anthony, a former classmate, and I put this two-tiered fondant-covered cake together for a 30th birthday. A Tiffany's cake is a popular request because what girl doesn't want a special occasion to include one of those beautiful blue boxes? For the filling we made a Nutella buttercream which came out beautifully. Anthony let me keep the leftover buttercream so I can make some Nutella macarons in the near future. OH YEAH.
I've never covered a square cake in fondant before so this cake was a challenge. We decided to cut out pieces of fondant and place them individually on the cake so it looked as much as possible like an actual box. We then used a pasta roller to roll the fondant out to make the ribbons and bows. I piped on the inscription on the gift tag and Anthony added the coup de grace in the form of that beautiful rose.
Below is a picture of the cake before we covered it in fondant. I was in the process of crumb coating it which means covering it in a thin layer of butter cream to create a smooth surface for the fondant to stick to. The cakes were eight and four inches square and both four layers high.

vanilla bean tasting
Anthony ordered three types of vanilla beans---Madagascar-Bourbon, Mexican and Tahitian as pictured below---and wanted me to make ice cream with each kind in order to decide which he liked best. So I did. I froze bite sized portions in a silicone mold and we tried them before we worked on the cake. My favorite was Madagascar which tasted sweet to me, his was Mexican and Chris's was Tahitian. A split decision for sure. What surprised me the most was how small the Tahitian bean was. It also had a distinctively floral taste that I surprisingly didn't like.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


No, I can't pronounce it either but in short, it's a brioche-type bread filled with candied orange and anise seeds and covered in a thick layer of sugar. I first read about it in this article on the New York Times website a few days ago and knew I wanted to make the recipe when I had a chance.

The recipe starts with making a small amount of dough called a sponge that has to ferment for eight hours before making the final dough (that's a pic of the fermenting sponge below). I also had to candy the orange peel before starting so it was a bit of a lengthy process. But worth it. It was DELICIOUS.