Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chocolate with Francois - Chocolate Cannelé

This month's Chocolate with Francois recipe is chocolate cannelé, chosen by Sarah of Teapots and Cake Stands. I had never had a cannelé, so I didn't know what to expect. The instructions were unlike anything I've ever made, but the preparation was easy. Heated milk and butter are used to melt a few ounces of chocolate, then added with eggs to flour, sugar and cocoa. The recipe called for rum, but I replaced it with apple juice.

The mixture is strained and refrigerated overnight, then poured into special molds (or in my case,  silicone muffin molds), rested for 30 minutes and then baked. While baking, the cannelés bubble up around the edges, almost like they are boiling. They are done when the outsides are crisp and the top springs back when pressed lightly. Easy, huh?

Like I said, I had no idea what to expect from these. I waited until they cooled a little to sample one. The outside was crunchy and the inside was custardy. I think they could have baked a couple of minutes less, which I will do the next time I make these. And there will be a next time...they were fantastic! My co-workers LOVED them, and they were really very easy to make.

If you'd like the recipe, Sarah will have it here. And if you'd like to join us in baking our way through Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard, you can find out how here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TWD - Coconut Tea Cake

We're definitely ready for spring at Tuesdays with Dorie. This is our second coconut dessert this month, and it definitely put me in the mood for some tropical weather.

Carmen of the eponymous Carmen Cooks selected this one for us and I found it very easy to make. I love it when a recipe doesn't call for room temperature butter because that means I can make it on a whim. Yes, I know I can soften the butter in the microwave, but more often than not I end up with a buttery puddle rather than softened butter.

One of Dorie's playing around suggestions was the addition of lime zest and lime juice, and I went with that one. I doubled up on the zest, and it still wasn't enough--the lime was a faint background flavor rather than the tart foil to the sweetness of the coconut that I was looking for.

Beating the eggs with the sugar for several minutes gave the cake a nice light structure. This one was a little sweet for me, yet I think it would be lovely with a tart lime curd to balance the sweetness.

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it on Carmen's blog. Or better yet, buy the book we're baking from, Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. It's a wonderful collection of creative recipes that will impress your family and friends without stressing you out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Caesar Club Sandwich

Karen of Shortbread selected this Ina Garten recipe for Barefoot Bloggers, and initially it gave me flashbacks to my ciabatta fail last summer. So I resolved to make focaccia to serve this sandwich on so as to avoid another ciabatta disappointment.

In making the focaccia, I realized that the process for making ciabatta is remarkably similar, and it gave me the confidence to try ciabatta again. And I did, and told the story here. Conquering this delicious loaf was so satisfying.

It also put me behind on making this sandwich, but it was worth waiting for! I pan sauteed my chicken breasts and finished them in the oven, letting them sit for 10 minutes before slicing. The dressing was a snap to make in the food processor, and we liked it so much that I drizzled a little extra on the arugula.

It was soooo yummy! I'll be making this one again...and you should to. You can find the recipe here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

BBA - Ciabatta Redemption

Back when I had been baking bread for, oh, a month, we were entering the "C"s of the Bread Baker's Apprentice, and ciabatta was quite an undertaking for an absolute yeast novice like me. I read the instructions over and over and over and over, followed them diligently, and was rewarded with these monstrosities:

Yeah, I know. I was truly devastated. I doubted my ability to learn to bake yeast breads. Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs (one of my favorite bloggers) offered advice, but I was too scared to try this bread again. So to bounce back, I made bagels, which had been made before I joined the group. Where the ciabatta had been stressful, the bagels were fun. I've made many more recipes from the book with success, but I've never recovered from my ciabatta fail.

Last week, I made the focaccia again, and the stretching and resting that I found so enjoyable and therapeutic reminded me of the ciabatta. The ciabatta had stretching and resting. Why had it been such a different experience? I decided I would attempt the ciabatta again using Nancy's advice and see what happened. No matter how it went, I wouldn't let it stress me out.

And it didn't. I found it to be relaxing and fun. This time, I made it with 2% milk instead of water and I added the optional olive oil. I paid attention to how the dough was during the mixing and added a little more milk when it cleared the bottom of the bowl when it shouldn't have. I didn't get the sought after "holes" in the bread but it was delicious, crusty and smelled amazing. Nothing at all like my first attempt. It's inspired me to retry some other recipes that were disappointing. I'll let you know how that goes!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

CEiMB - Pasta Puttanesca

Oh man, I completely forgot to post this last week! Since I'm working a ton of hours and there's no way I'll be able to make this week's pick (Chicken and Grape Skewers, hosted by Elina of Healthy and Sane), I'm posting it today instead.

Pasta puttanesca is one of those go-to dishes that come together in minutes and taste really good. I added a can of garbanzo beans for extra protein and doubled up on the garlic. We love garlic. While it was good, I think I'd use crushed tomatoes next time instead of the diced tomatoes the recipe calls for. I think it would make it a little saucier. I'd also add some minced sun dried tomatoes to amp up the tomato flavor.

This recipe was picked by Jen of What Jen's Cooking. Thanks for picking this one! I really needed a quick dinner and this was perfect! If you'd like the recipe, Jen has it or you can find it here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TWD - Dulce de Leche Duos

Judging by the number of people who mainline dulce de leche, it's a popular thing. I haven't been successful finding it in the jar at my grocery stores and since it's made by boiling unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk, I was a little scared to make this one. But I found Alton Brown's recipe and made it without boiling any cans and with a minimum of drama. You can read about it here. Just to prove to you that I am a bit strange, I didn't looove it. It was nice, tasty, good, but I'll take homemade caramel any day.

These cookies, selected by Jody of Beansy Loves Cake, were fast, easy and a bit of a sticky mess to make. They call for 3/4 of a cup of dulce de leche plus extra to sandwich them together (hence the "duo" part of their name). Given my ambivalence about dulce de leche, I threw together Dorie's ganache recipe (also found in Baking From My Home to Yours) and filled half of them with ganache (chocolate makes everything better) and half with dulce de leche.

Both were embraced warmly and each had its own fans, but I thought the ganache added a nice counterpoint to the dulce de leche wafers. All in all, this one was good but not a recipe I'll make over and over.

If dulce de leche makes your heart sing, head over to Jodie's as she'll have the recipe.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

SMS - Double Crust Apple Pie Epic Fail

For me, failing at pie is like forgetting how to brush my teeth--it just can't happen. Wake me at 3 AM, and I could make a slammin' apple pie without a recipe.

This fail is no reflection on the recipe because plenty of other bakers got beautiful pies. I've gone over and over it in my head and I think I followed the recipe exactly but obviously not when you look at this:

No, something obviously went very wrong. First, the pie crust. I have a tried and true all butter pie crust I've been making for 20 years. This wasn't it. I must have measured the flour wrong because I know I used 2 sticks of butter. It was impossible to work, with little pebbles of butter spread throughout that didn't have enough flour to hold them together. Then there was the filling. I mistakenly thought the caramel was served on top of the pie after it baked. I read the recipe repeatedly and never saw the part where you combine the caramel with the apples. My Granny Smith apples were huge so I only used 6, and the filling of the pie towered over the pan. I almost added cinnamon (apple pie without cinnamon just seems wrong to me) but didn't. After 10 minutes in the oven, the pie crust was dripping butter and the crimped edge fell off in places. But I still baked my pie for the full amount of time (1 hour and 45 minutes) that the recipe called for. It wasn't until after this epic fail that I reread the P&Q and saw that one hour was sufficient. Really, 45 minutes less would not have changed the outcome because at one hour, there was a layer of butter on the sheet pan and the pie still looked awful, just less brown. Perhaps the inside wouldn't have been mush:

Where did the enormous mound of apples go? Obviously, I was making applesauce pie.

One of my favorite bloggers, Susan of Baking with Susan picked this week's recipe. I'm working so much that I probably should have skipped it but I wanted to make her pick. Sorry, Susan, for mangling your pick!

Make sure you visit Susan and see her pie. She'll also have the recipe. And check out the other Sweet Melissa Sundays can find them here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de leche is one of those things that inspires rapture when mentioned. It's a sweet milky caramel that is typically made by some manner of boiling an unopened or pierced can of sweetened condensed milk for hours. It has to be watched carefully for if the water evaporates, the can can explode and spray sticky caramel all over your kitchen.

I was dubious about boiling cans for hours and the accompanying risk of disaster. I don't have such a great track record with such things so I spent a few minutes with my buddy Google. Sure enough, Alton Brown has a recipe for dulce de leche, and it doesn't involve cans of exploding sugary milk.

Here's the thing: making your own dulce de leche is easy. You only need four ingredients, and you might have all of them without a trip to the store. It does eliminate the excitement that comes with waiting for your can of sweetened condensed milk to explode but I'm willing to forego that to keep my kitchen clean.

Homemade Dulce de Leche - adapted from Alton Brown
Printable recipe

1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine the whole milk, sugar and vanilla bean in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar melts and the mixture starts to boil, add the baking soda and lower the heat to low until the mixture is barely simmering. Cook for an hour, stirring occasionally (don't try to incorporate the foam that forms on the top of the milk). Remove the vanilla bean and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a measuring cup or clean container, cover and refrigerate for up to one month.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brown Butter Toffee Blondies

Sitting at my desk at work the other day, my mind suddenly seized on a single thought.

Now, if you stop by here from time to time, you know the Lethally Delicious kitchen is stocked to the ceiling with chocolate. But this craving wasn't for a deep, dark fudgy brownie. It was for its paler, less appreciated cousin.


Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I found Martha Stewart's brown butter blondies. Brown butter has made several appearances in this space, namely these cookies (make them soon), this cake, these other blondies and oh yes, these cookies. I didn't have toffee bits but I recently saw Nancy substitute Skor bars for toffee chips in these blondies. I keep a stash of Skor bars in the pantry as I make these cookies from time to time. I used dark brown sugar as I was going for caramel notes.

These were easy to put together (a good thing as Martha would say, since I didn't start them until 9 PM). I went with a parchment sling instead of lining the bottom of the pan with parchment. Mine baked up in 40 minutes at 350. I cut one after it had cooled for 15 minutes, and it was good but not great. The walnuts seemed very bitter and the blondies were very gooey inside, even though they had tested done. Greatness was achieved after the blondies had cooled overnight. Their texture was chewy and moist without seeming undercooked and the walnuts were less assertive. I took some to work and they got rave reviews.

If you'd like to indulge yourself in these delicious blondies, you can find the recipe here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TWD - Soft Chocolate and Raspberry Tartlet

Tuesdays with Dorie is a wonderful group of bakers who are baking and blogging their way through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours. Each week, one of the group hosts and that means she or he gets to pick the recipe that hundreds of us make and write about. Pretty cool, huh?

This week was Rachelle's turn. Rachelle's blog is Mommy? I'm Hungry! She writes about cooking, baking, does product reviews and has an astonishing number of giveaways. If I had to go to the post office (my least favorite place to go, less than the DMV) as often as she does, I would have already lost my mind.

But you're not here to read about my dislike of the post office (unless you're a professional and can offer advice). You're here for my adorable if badly executed soft chocolate tart. And with "chocolate" in the name of the recipe, you'd think I would have knocked this one out when the recipes were first announced. Not at all. Late last night, I turned off the TV and got to work. I had a mini tart shell in the freezer (not Dorie's recipe nor nut-based, but ready to go). I made a quarter of the recipe for the filling in 2 small dishes in the microwave, one for melting the chocolate and one for heating the cream and butter. All went well until the last two seconds of heating the butter/cream mixture when it went blurp in the microwave. Some of my best cleaning happens during these late night baking mishaps.

Since I was making a tartlet, I couldn't scatter the raspberries in the shell and pour the ganache over them, they would just be too tall. So I embraced their stature and stood them up in the ganache. My tartlet was done after about 25 minutes at convection bake 275. Letting it cool was torturous because it was late, I was tired and I wanted to sample it. Would it be soft? Would my decision to go bittersweet or go home pay off? Would the graininess of the sugar be less noticeable than it was when I licked the bowl? Would I be able to get a decent photo in the dead of night?

It was indeed soft, and delicious still warm from the oven. My tartlet didn't have a silky texture, which I missed, but it was still good.

If you'd like the recipe, Rachelle has it here. And you can find the other TWD bakers here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

BBA - Light Wheat Bread

This is one of the last breads from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread that we'll make before they get more difficult. I dread the second half of the book, with its sourdough starters and pan ancienne. An easy part-wheat bread I can handle.

Or not. The first time I made this, it looked like a bowlful of worms. I added additional water, tried kneading it by hand, and finally gave up. Bread making is enjoyable. When it doesn't work, I shrug it off and start over. I think it was the gluten flour. I've never successfully made a loaf that contains gluten flour.

But this one was successful when I switched to bread flour. So successful, in fact. It rose perfectly, gave me some oven spring and looked glorious. It even tasted wonderful, with its part white/part whole wheat lending tenderness and bite. I used butter in place of the vegetable shortening, and brown sugar instead of honey, and I liked the flavor of the loaf. All in all, it was a subtle loaf, so it played well with other foods.

If you like bread and would like to get better at making it, check out The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. It's a book that changed my life, and I'm not exaggerating. Peter is aware of our little blogging group; check out his blog post where he mentions the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SMS - Carrot Cupcakes (Muffins?)

Julie of A Little Bit of Everything chose this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, carrot cake. I have an easier time giving away cupcakes, so I made 24 minis and 15 regular cupcakes. The cream cheese frosting received lukewarm reviews on the P&Q, so I elected to skip it and serve these unadorned.

I used the food processor to shred the carrots and that made this recipe a snap. Even though the recipe called for 1 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon, which seemed excessive, I stuck with it, using my favorite Vietnamese cinnamon to amp up the flavor. The minis baked for 15 minutes and the regular cupcakes baked in 20. I sampled one warm and found the flavor a bit lacking. I have a favorite carrot cake recipe and will probably stick with it instead of retooling this one.  Sorry, Julie!

If you'd like the recipe, Julie has it here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Individual Meat Loaves and CEiMB - Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo

My blogging/tweeting friend and all-around favorite Indianan Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table chose this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe, Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo. That Kayte chose this recipe didn't surprise me at all since I bet she's made it more than Ellie Krieger herself. She's tweeted many times that she's made it again, and her gang of guys has again demolished it in record time. Many of my Twitter friends have been turned on to this soup based on Kayte's recommendation. So when I saw this was her pick, I couldn't wait to make it.

Things have been rather busy of late, so I oven roasted the chicken breasts the day before I made the soup, and threw together the soup one morning before leaving for work. It's that easy to put this one together, and if you didn't have time to cook your own chicken, you'd get great results from using a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. I had everything I needed to make this one in my pantry (broadly defined to include the refrigerator and freezer), except for the orzo. Since it was Kayte (one of my favorite people), I made a special trip to the store for orzo. But this would be just as good if you used shells or orecchiette, or ditalini, or broken angel hair. I also used homemade chicken stock from the freezer, which would prove to be an aesthetic faux pas.

Ellie's recipe calls for four whole eggs in this soup, and I initially thought it would have chunks of cooked egg floating in the broth, which was a textural turn off for me, and why I never made this soup after Kayte raved about it. But no, you whisk the four beaten eggs with some heated chicken broth, and add this mixture to the soup. It made a creamy soup without the addition of cream. It's these little tricks that make me love Ellie's food.

Even though the recipe didn't call for it, I added the zest of the lemon before juicing it, because more lemon is always better. My only disappointment was my soup ended up looking like a bowl of mud since my homemade stock gave it a brownish tint. But it was the most delicious bowl of mud I've ever had and I'll definitely be making this one again. Thanks, Kayte, for turning me on to this soup!

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it in The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger, or Kayte has it here. And if you're not already visiting her regularly, you need to. She posts delicious recipes and updates on what's going on with her guys. Her son's swim team just won the Indiana State swimming and diving championship. 


Now, this week's Barefoot Bloggers pick.


The name doesn't exactly scream "delicious" to me. I would have skipped it but I skipped the second recipe last month (Shrimp Scampi) because I'm allergic to shellfish. So I resolved to make the meatloaf, even if meatloaf is something I don't enjoy. Maybe it's that it's made with beef, and my love of beef ends with the cheeseburger.

So I made my individual meat loaves with ground turkey, and I halved the recipe, because a 10-11 ounce portion per person seemed a little excessive to me. I intended to make them in a muffin tin, but I found a mini loaf pan in my drawer that I'd never used. Perfect!

The most complicated part of this recipe was chopping the onions, which is to say it was super easy. I put it together and baked the little guys off before I went to work. Be careful to combine your ingredients very gently or your meatloaf will be dense. I didn't even pat them into shape, instead, I spooned the ingredients into the tins and smoothed the top a little before putting on the ketchup. Next time I'll try them with barbeque sauce or even May Ploy sauce (sweet chili sauce). I get mine at Safeway, but you can order online. Here's one link.

They reached 160 degrees in 25 minutes in my oven but yours may vary. After they cooled, I popped each in its own Ziploc bag and stuck them in the freezer. We're going to have some nice tasty dinners thanks to this easy, delicious recipe.

Many thanks to Tonya of What's On My Plate for hosting this week. She picked a real winner! If you'd like Ina's recipe, you can find it here. Here is my variation:

Individual Meat Loaves - adapted from Ina Garten

Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 1/4 pounds lean (not extra lean!) ground turkey
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 - 1/2 cup ketchup, barbecue sauce or May Ploy, to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, thyme, salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and add Worcestershire, chicken broth and tomato paste. Mix to combine and set aside to cool.

Place ground turkey in a medium bowl and break into chunks with a spoon. Add cooled onion mixture, bread crumbs and egg and mix gently. Don't try to completely mix in the ingredients, you want this to be very loose and soft. Transfer to jumbo muffin tins or mini loaf pans. Depending on the size of your pans, you should get 6-8 mini meat loaves.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle of a meatloaf registers 160 degrees. Serve immediately, or cool slightly before wrapping and refrigerating or freezing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TWD - Thumbprints for Us Big Guys

Let's just set the record straight. Of all the things I am, I'm not a big guy. But I still loved these cookies.

I refer to the recipe of the week for Tuesdays with Dorie, Thumbprints for Us Big Guys. Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude is hosting this week, and I'm so glad he picked this one. I was feeling somewhat worn out from this cake, and couldn't muster the enthusiasm to go to the store for hazelnuts, so I used what I had on hand: almond meal. I also decided that these wanted to be made with salted caramel ganache (adapted from Heavenly Cakes, recipe below), which I made several months ago. This was the first time I used frozen ganache and it won't be the last.

I loved Dorie's tip of using the end of a wooden spoon to poke holes. I usually use my big guy-sized thumb for thumbprint cookies, and I often smash the poor little cookie. Not this time. Just poke the end of the wooden spoon almost to the bottom of the cookie and pull it out. Once the cookies have baked, cool slightly before applying the jam (or ganache).

These were wonderful with the bitter chocolate of the ganache, and the crumbly texture was a little like a sable, but they were a snap to make. They're definitely going in the rotation.

If you'd like the recipe for the cookies, Mike has it here. Here is my adaptation of RLB's caramel ganache.

Salted Caramel Ganache - adapted from Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Printable Recipe
3 ounces fine-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 ounces fine-quality 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, heated
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the chocolate until very fine.

Spray a heatproof 2 cup measuring cup with cooking spray and set aside.

To make the caramel, stir together the sugar and water in a medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is moistened. Heat on medium-high, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and allow the syrup to boil undisturbed until it turns deep amber (370 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant read thermometer.) Remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully stir in the hot cream. It will bubble up furiously.

Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture gently, scraping down to the bottom of the pan. Return the pan to very low heat, continuing to stir gently for 1 minute, or until the mixture is uniform in color and the caramel is fully dissolved. Remove pan from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. Pour into prepared measuring cup.

With the food processor running, pour the hot caramel sauce onto the grated chocolate. By the time all of the caramel has been added, the chocolate will be melted and the mixture will be smooth and shiny. Add the vanilla and the salt and pulse 2-3 times.

Scrape ganache into a bowl and let stand uncovered for 1 hour then cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for two more hours, until firm enough to spread as a filling and frosting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick is Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream. I know you're thinking "good grief, whose idea was it to make such a high maintenance dessert?"

Umm, that would be me.

Unlike the times I've gotten to pick the recipe for Craving Ellie in My Belly, I didn't choose something easy and popular like granola or grilled cheese. It's like I was challenging myself to see how few of my fellow SMS bakers would be able to play along with me this week.

I'm going to be straight with you. This cake was a lot of work. I made it over a three day period. You can make it in one day, but if you have a life and only one dishwasher, I suggest you do it over two days.
These are the dishes that couldn't go in the dishwasher. 

I started with the orange marmalade filling. It was super easy, and I tucked the saucepan in the fridge until I had time to continue.

A few days later, I rushed home from work and toasted the pecans and started separating eggs (eggs separate better when they are cold, but whip better when they are at room temperature). I was watching House, and it was hard to focus on the recipe with the doctors throwing out possibilities for the mysterious ailment that was killing their patient.

Once I pulsed the pecans and sugar in the food processor, I melted and browned the butter. I browned it past the point that Melissa tells us to take if off the heat because the flavor is so good when the butter is well browned. Then I strained out all the bitter black solids and added the butter to the pecan and sugar mixture, which I had transferred to a bowl. Toasted pecans and browned butter smells better to me than any substance on earth, and I wanted to eat it out of the bowl. But I resisted.

Next, I whipped a dozen egg whites until soft peaks formed, added some sugar, and whipped to the point where the eggs held stiff peaks. I folded the egg whites in to the pecan mixture and divided it between two prepared cake pans. I followed Melissa's advice and spun the cake pans on the counter to level them off. DON'T DO THIS! It piled the batter up against the sides of the pans, and I didn't catch it, so my layers ended up higher on the sides than in the center.

Once the cake cooled, I made the buttercream. It starts with reducing orange juice until it caramelizes. 3/4 of a cup of orange juice netted about 2 tablespoons of reduced caramelized orange juice, which I don't think was enough to flavor the buttercream. If you make this cake, double the orange juice. The buttercream did break as the book said it would, but it came together. When I tasted it, I wasn't impressed. It tasted just like butter, not like burnt orange.

The broken buttercream, before it came together

Once assembled, I completely forgot to finish the cake with toasted pecans, which would have helped cut the butteriness of the frosting and dominant marmalade flavor.

All in all, this was popular at work, but I was disappointed. It was a lot of work for a cake that didn't live up to the allure of its name. I loved the toasted pecans and browned butter (not a big surprise if you saw these cookies), but I found the orange marmalade too sweet and too marmalade-y. If I make this cake again, I'll fill it with orange curd instead of the marmalade. It would be more work, but a superior cake.

Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream
Printable Recipe

I made this cake for my friend Brandon's wedding, which was held in Virginia, at the beautiful farm where she grew up. She and I used to ride horses together, and Brandon loved to tell me of the adventures she'd had on her pony Irving back when she was a child--how they'd just take off for hours without a saddle or a plan.

When Brandon asked me to make her wedding cake, I wanted the decoration to capture the farm I imagined in my mind. She had a whimsical horsey cake topper that I embellished with fondant daisies. I decorated the rest of the cake to look like green pastures filled with lots of clover and lots of love. I only wish her pony could have had a slice.

Makes one 9-inch cake

1 2/3 cups coarsely chopped pecan pieces, toasted and cooled (see Note)
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 cup orange marmalade

3/4 cup fresh orange juice (I suggest doubling the juice, it really cooks down a lot)
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted


Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. butter and flour two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a 9-inch round of parchment paper.

  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the pecans with 2/3 cup of the sugar and pulse grind until it is a coarse flour. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, an additional 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
  2. Have ready a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. (The butter will melt first, and then the milk solids will settle to the bottom. After a little while, the milk solids will start to turn golden.) When the milk solids have reached a nutty brown color, immediately remove from the heat.
  3. Using the fine-meshed strainer, strain the butter into the flour mixture. Stir to combine. Discard the butter solids. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. In the very clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the very clean whip attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. In a slow steady stream, with the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 2/3 cup of the sugar and increase the speed back to high. Beat until there are firm--not dry--glossy peaks of meringue.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, briskly fold in one-third of the meringue mixture into the batter to lighten it. Add the remaining meringue and gently fold it in until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Spin the pans to level the batter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto the rack. Cool completely before filling or frosting.
  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, heat the sugar with the water until amber in color, like clover honey. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the orange juice to stop the cooking.
  2. Add the marmalade and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.
The marmalade may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, reduce the orange juice until it is syrupy and just starts to caramelize (it turns brown). Watch it closely; don't let it burn! Add a splash of water to the caramel orange syrup to stop the cooking. Set aside to cool.
  2. In another small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the 2/3 cup of the sugar and water and cook to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until there are medium-stiff peaks of meringue.
  4. When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, decrease the speed of the mixer to medium, and immediately but slowly pour the hot liquid sugar in a steady stream down the side of the bowl and into the meringue. (Or, if the syrup is not yet 240 degrees when the meringue is ready, turn off the mixer until it is. Then turn the mixer to medium and add the syrup.) Beat together until stiff glossy peaks form.
  5. With the mixer still on medium, add the butter in pieces to the meringue. The mixture will break, but just keep beating and it will come together beautifully. Add the vanilla and reserved caramel orange syrup and mix to combine.
If using the buttercream immediately, set aside at room temperature. If not, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If the buttercream has been chilling, let it reach room temperature before beating it in the electric mixer. The buttercream will break, but then it will come together beautifully.

  1. See How to Assemble a Layer Cake (below) for instructions on how to fill and frost a split layer cake. You will split each cake layer in half, and spread one-third of the marmalade over each of the interior layers.
  2. After frosting the cake, gently press the toasted pecans against the sides of the cake with your fingers.
This cake keeps very well, in a cake saver in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The cake should come to room temperature before serving.

Assembling a layer cake seems as though it would be pretty straight forward, but there are a few tips I use so that my results look consistent and professional.

First, the filling:  Before you assemble your cake, be sure that your fillings are at the appropriate temperature. Fruit curds should be cold. Ganache fillings, buttercreams, and frostings should be at room temperature.

Next, the cake:  The layer cake recipes in this book are made up of two separate layers. Before you do anything, use a serrated knife to trim off any excess cake that has domed or risen up, and make your layers as flat and even as possible. Give the scraps to your kids or save them for something like trifle.

For fillings that are looser in texture, such as lemon curd, or fillings that taste best in smaller amounts, such as raspberry preserves, you want more layers holding less filling. Therefore, you will need to split each trimmed cake layer in half. This can be done with a long serrated bread knife. If you're good, you can cut the layer without measuring and do so evenly. If you're not sure how good you are, you can use a ruler to measure and toothpicks to mark the center of the layer every 3 inches or so all around. Once you've marked the center all around, lay your knife above the toothpicks and cut through the layer as you turn the cake, always staying on top of the toothpicks and cutting until you have cut the layer completely in half. Don't separate the halves yet. Repeat with your second layer.

While the cakes halves are still together, take a finger full of frosting and mark a vertical smear down the side of the cake, anywhere, from top to bottom, so that later you can line up the layers where they belong.

Slide each of the top layers onto a separate flat plate, or paper plate, and set aside.

Cut four strips of wax or parchment paper about 12 inches long by 3 inches wide. Place the bottom half of a cake layer cut side up on your serving plate. Tuck the wax paper under the edges of your cake on all sides. Later, after frosting the cake, you can pull away the strips to reveal a nice clean serving plate.

Using a metal offset spatula, spread the filling across the top of the layer but leave about 1/2 inch uncovered around the outside edges. (This leaves room for the filling to be squished down but to stay inside the cake.)

Place the matching half of the bottom layer over it cut side down. Spread filling over the trimmed top, leaving a 1/2 inch around the edges uncovered. (You know--squish room.)

Now place the reserved top half of the second layer trimmed side down on the second layer of filling. Spread it with filling, again leaving 1/2 inch around the edges uncovered.

Place the matching half of the second cake cut side down on top of the third layer of filling.

Using your hands, press gently on the center of the top layer to join the layers together. If you have the time, refrigerate the filled layer cake for at least 1 hour. Chilling will make the cake easier to frost.

You are going to frost your layer cake in two steps. The first step will be a crumb coat, which will keep most of the unsightly crumbs from ruining your finished frosting. To do this, simply apply a light, even layer of frosting on all sides of the cake. (Really, it doesn't matter what it looks like; it will be underneath the final frosting.) Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill for a good 30 minutes.

After the crumb coat has chilled, smooth on your final layer of frosting. It does take a lot of time to get it really smooth and perfect, so I prefer to make the frosting all swirly and peaked--it looks way more delicious this way as well.

If you must travel with your cake, finish it the night before, and refrigerate it overnight. Your layer cake will will be a lot happier on the trip, and have the best odds of getting to the party in one piece.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SMS on Wednesday - Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Cinnamon sugar. Who doesn't love it? It makes me think about toasted cinnamon swirl bread slathered with butter, and plain toast with butter and cinnamon sugar on it. Thanks to Nina of Nina's Cupcakes, I got to enjoy this classic flavor combination in a cookie.

When I first saw Nina picked sugar cookies for this week's Sweet Melissa's Sundays, I was disappointed. For one thing, it wasn't even a real recipe. The book gives directions for rolling it out as a pie crust and casually mentions you can make cut out cookies from the dough, but doesn't give instructions, oven temperature or timing. Thanks to the P&Q, I knew these would need about 10 minutes to bake at 350.

I had a whole other problem. I don't heart sugar cookies. But I wanted to make them because I do heart Nina's blog, so I had to get busy with transforming their plain sugar cookie persona to something flashy and bold.

Enter my favorite Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon. 1 teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon gave these cookies a definite smoky edge. The only other change I made was to leave out the lemon zest, thinking it would complete with the cinnamon.

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TWD - Coconut-Cream Pie

Beryl of Cinemon Girl chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, coconut-cream tart. This one was a scramble for me to finish today. I left off the cream because we aren't whipped cream fans, and it was still absolutely delicious.

Check out what the other TWD bakers can find them all here. I've peeked at a few of them and theirs look fantastic!