Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers—Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, Caramels and Spun Sugar

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, Caramels and Spun SugarThis month for the Daring Bakers it's time to get back to a foundation ingredient in baking: sugar. Caramel takes center stage. It's in the caramel cake, the frosting, the spun sugar, and obviously the caramels.

This caramel cake comes from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater. I am a big fan of Shuna and have enjoyed her poetic posts on life and being a pastry chef since I stumbled on her blog earlier this year. When I saw this caramel cake months ago, I flagged it as one I wanted to make someday, so I was excited to find out we would be making Shuna's signature cake this month.
This is not an easy cake to make. In fact it might be a cake which requires the baker to be perhaps professional or at least highly intuitive—meaning that one need know to and how to change recipe/method while making said baked good based on how things look in the moment.
Shuna Fish Lydon

And on the Daring Bakers forum:
"This is one of those cakes that is truly about baking. It may sound strange because aren't all cakes about baking? What I mean is that getting this cake to bake is about balancing fat with acid and protein JUST RIGHT."
‑ Shuna Fish Lydon
After reading these two quotes, I realized that this would definitely be a "daring baker" event.

Caramel Syrup
The first thing to make is the caramel, since it's used in both the cake and the frosting. When making caramel, I have always put the sugar and water in a heavy, stainless steel pot and left it alone to do its thing. I don’t cover the pan or brush down the sides or stir the sugar and water mixture, and I’ve never had problems. Once it starts to turn color, though, it requires babysitting since it can go from a nice light golden color to a burnt state very quickly. When you start to see some color, start swirling the pan to distribute the color. Also know the color of your pan is dark, making the caramel look darker than it is. Be bold, and hang on or test some on a white ramekin to see the color.

This caramel syrup becomes an ingredient in the cake and frosting. I also used it in a sauce for the cake. To add a festive touch to the sauce, I added some President's Choice Candy Cane Eggnog to some caramel. This sauce with the cake was amazing!

Spun Sugar
I have always wanted to make spun sugar, and recently Zoë from Zoë Bakes did just that which inspired me to try it myself. It wasn't so hard, just messy. I covered my counter and floor with newspaper and set out three pot handles to dangle over the edge that were sprayed with cooking spray. Then, after cooking the caramel to just the right temperature, I used one of the whisks I've owned for just this purpose but never used. Dipping and flicking the sugar onto the pot handles was childlike fun. As the caramel fell to the paper-lined floor, it made a web of spun sugar strings. After I flicked all the caramel, I gathered it up into a ball or nest, and it was ready to decorate the cake. Then, I had a big mess to clean up!

Mackintosh Toffee has always been one of my favorite treats. I used to pick it over chocolate bars, and I still buy the odd one for a treat. Well, now I don't have to buy it because the caramels I made this week are so much better! It's dangerous to know how to make them. I used a liner from a bag of Oreo cookies to pour some of the caramels into so they came out ridged. I also used a silicon mini muffin pan to make some. Wrapped in cellophane, I now have some Christmas treats ready to go to friends and family.

To see the different versions of caramel cake cropping up all over the foodblogosphere, check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Thanks to Delores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity who hosted this month, along with Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo), Jenny of Foray into Food and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go who came up with the gluten-free version.

Ingredients for Caramel Syrup, Caramel Cake, Caramelized Butter Frosting, and Caramels

Recipe—Caramel Syrup

Caramel Cake and Caramel2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Recipe—Caramel Cake
from Shuna Fish Lydon

Individual Caramel Cake10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1¼ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe above)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Recipe—Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons Caramel Syrup (see recipe above)
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

More help on this caramel cake.

Recipe‑Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramelsfrom Pure Dessert: True Flavors, Inspiring Ingredients, and Simple Recipes by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

Makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1½ teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Recipe‑Spun Sugar
from link

2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup corn syrup

Combine sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Heat until it reaches 310˚F degrees. The sugar will cook very quickly towards the end, so watch closely to ensure it doesn’t burn.

As soon as the sugar reaches the proper temperature, remove the saucepan from the heat and dunk the bottom in the prepared ice water to stop the sugar from cooking further. Allow the mixture to stand for a minute or two, to thicken slightly.

Individual Caramel CakeTasting Notes
The browned butter frosting made this caramel cake delicious for me. The touch of salt with the caramelized butter is delicious, and I can see pulling out this frosting recipe for other treats like brownies or to decorate sugar cookies. The caramels are worth their calories and ones that will be added to my Christmas baking list. And the caramel and eggnog sauce will be nice with our traditional Christmas plum pudding. Although spinning sugar is messy business, it's pretty and adds a nice crunch to a dessert.

All in all, it was a daring, delicious, sugary, and decadent baking event! Thanks, Shuna!
"It won't do
To dream of caramel
To think of cinnamon
And long for you"
‑Suzanne Vega, "Caramel"
Suzanne Vega's song called "Caramel":

Other caramel-laden desserts:
Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake
Crème renversée au caramel (Reversed caramel cream)
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Caramel tips:
• Joe from Joe Pastry recently did a whole segment on making your own caramel with pictures.
Ten Tips For Making Caramel
Video on caramelizing sugar
Caramelizing Sugar 101
Article on sugar

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whisk Wednesdays—Oeufs Mollets Florentine (Soft-boiled Eggs with Spinach and Mornay Sauce)

Oeufs Mollets Florentine (Soft-boiled Eggs with Spinach and Mornay Sauce)I have to say I wasn't looking forward to Oeufs Mollets Florentine. Poached eggs with spinach covered in sauce and broiled. How exciting is that? But then, the newest member to Whisk Wednesdays, Melissa of From Stovetop to Laptop, emailed everyone after making it earlier this week raving about how good it was: "OMGAWD. Holy cow. They were a FABULOUS brunch! So rich, decadent and well worth it!! We had NO idea." She went on to explain all her tips and gotchas and got everyone excited about making this classic French recipe.

This dish is a popular brunch item like Eggs Benedict but uses spinach instead of ham and is often called Eggs Florentine. For Julia Child, it was one of the recipes that caused her to fail at Le Cordon Bleu.
"Did I remember what an oeuf mollet was? No. How could I miss that? (I later discovered that it was an egg that has been coddled and then peeled.)"‑ My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
And then later she made Eggs Florentine for a friend and it didn't turn out:
"I remained a long way from being a maitre de cuisine. This was made plain the day I invited my friend Winnie for lunch, and managed to serve her the most vile eggs Florentine. ... I suppose I had gotten a little too confident for my own good: rather than measure out the flour, I had guessed at the proportions, and the result was a goopy sauce Mornay. "‑ My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
With all this history, it was more interesting to get into the kitchen and see how I would fare.

We've already learned how to make béchamel and Mornay sauces so this was just a refresher. Basically, you make a roux, add some milk and whisk away. Season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then, add a liaison of cream and egg slowly so that you don't curdle the egg. Finally, you add the cheese. I kept the sauce warm in a thermos while I prepared the rest of the dish.

For this recipe, the spinach is boiled, drained, cooled, squeezed, and then sautéed. According to Peter Hertzmann, all these steps were required because spinach used to be a lot tougher than it is today. I used baby spinach and I would skip the boiling-draining-cooling-squeezing stage next time.

One of the ten basic ways of cooking eggs is soft-boiled, called oeufs mollet in French. According to Hertzmann, you boil the eggs five to five and half minutes, cool and peel. Here is a great article that shows the different cooking methods for eggs and how each should look. Mine turned out more like medium-cooked eggs rather than soft probably because they sat in lukewarm water too long while I finished the rest of the recipe. Next time I would make the eggs last.

The ingredients list in the cookbook didn't list breadcrumbs, so I scrambled at the end to make some quick homemade crumbs by toasting half an English muffin and then blending it. [Melissa had warned about this, but I forgot, and I guess I didn't read the recipe thoroughly enough before I started.]

Broiled and browned

Buttered Gratin DishAfter preparing the gratin dish with butter, I added the spinach and set the eggs on top. Then I poured on [too much] sauce [forgetting that I had made a full batch of sauce but not a full recipe of eggs and spinach]. A sprinkling of cheese and breadcrumbs, and it was ready for the broiler. Again, I used old cheddar since that's more popular around here than Gruyère. Five minutes later, it was done.

Serves 6

Ingredients for Oeufs Mollets Florentine (Soft-boiled Eggs with Spinach and Mornay Sauce)
3 eggs (use 12 for 6 people)
8 ounces spinach (use 2 pounds for 6 people)

Mornay sauce:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cold milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 ounce cheese, grated
1¼ tablespoons unsalted butter (use 5 tablespoons for 6 people)
1 ounce cheese, grated (use more for 6 people)

You can find the recipe for Oeufs Mollets Florentine (Soft-boiled Eggs with Spinach and Mornay Sauce) in the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home. To see how the rest of the Whisk Wednesdays group fared with their recipe, click here (or check out the sidebar) and then click on each blogger!

Here is the famous chef Fernand Point's recipe from his book Ma Gastronmie (en français):
Gratin d'oeufs
Couper des oeufs durs en rondelles, et les faire chauffer avec de la crème double en liant avec un peu de béchamel et de hollandaise. Assaisonner sel et poivre. Puis disposer dans un plat à gratin en étalant, et en parsemant de champignons de Paris émincés et revenus au vin blanc. Glacer à a salamander et server très chaud. –Fernand Point in Ma Gastronomie
Tasting Notes
This was a fairly light meal since we only had one egg each. I loved the sauce and the crunch from the broiling made it extra tasty. It wasn't as rich as Eggs Benedict, and it really isn't all that hard to make. The hardest part is getting the eggs done properly. The sauce requires some patience as well so that it doesn't separate or coagulate, however, you could make it ahead of time and keep it warm in a thermos. Overall, it's a straightforward meal to wow and impress friends for brunch.

Next Week (December 3)
• Saumon au Champagne (Salmon in Champagne Sauce) on page 486 OR Petite marmite Henri IV (Chicken pot-au-feu) on page 246 in Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook Home Collection

Other breakfast ideas:
Eggs Benedict
Quiche Lorraine
. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $880.70 + $6.79 = $887.49

Butter used so far: 8 pounds, 14 tablespoons

. . . . . . . . . .
::Whisk Wednesdays::
We're cooking our way through a cooking school curriculum using the Le Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook. The "classes" are based on the Le Cordon Bleu curriculum found online and used as a guideline. Not all the items in the curriculum are in the cookbook, but most are. Where the items are not in the book, we try to find a suitable substitution. Find out more here.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie—Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

Thanksgiving Twofer PieThis pie is not only square, but it is also a twofer: pumpkin and pecan in one. I've often wondered why a pie is usually baked in a round pan. I found this little known fact: colonial women used round pans literally to cut corners and stretch the ingredients (for the same reason they baked shallow pies) according to this link.

Here's a little round-up of square pies or tarts that I found this week:

• Martha Stewart's Blueberry and Buttermilk Tart
• Toast's Square Cherry Tart
• Gourmet's Berry Tart with Ginger Cream
• Gourmet Girl's Key Lime Pie/Tart
• Cook Sister's Pistachio Tarts
• Gluten A Go Go's Lemon Meringue Tart
• Madam Chow's Kitchen's The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
• Joe Pastry's Caramel-Pumpkin Bars
• Baking Obsession's Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

In my reading about pies, I found an interesting article talking about how chic it is to make square pies. As it turns out, Rose Bakery in Paris had some custom square tart pans made and filled their bakery with a variety of tarts that were squared. Eric Kayser of Boulangerie Kayser also makes square tarts, which have become very popular. Kayser has published a book called Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts and on the cover is a gorgeous looking square tart.

To bake my pie, I used an 8x8 square pan lined with parchment paper. To remove the pie from the pan, I popped it into the freezer. Then after it was frozen, I removed it from the pan and defrosted it.

It's chic to be square.


For the pumpkin filling:
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin purée
2/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons dark rum (I used coconut rum)
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

For the pecan filling
½ cup corn syrup
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1½ cups pecan halves

You can find the recipe for Thanksgiving Twofer Pie in the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or here. You can find the recipe for Dorie's Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough here. To see how the rest of the TWD group fared with this week's recipe, click here and then click on each blogger! Thanks to Vibi from La casserole carrée (one of my favourite TWD-ers!) who chose the recipe for this week and will post the recipe.

Thanksgiving Twofer PieTasting Notes
This pie is the perfect combination of pumpkin and pecan and would only be better with some chocolate drizzled on top. But I bet one of the 300+ TWD members did just that!
Q: What do you call what happens when you cut a jack'o'lantern by its diameter?
A: Pumpkin Pi!
Recipe for Next Week (December 2)
Linzer Sables on pages 134-135 chosen by noskos from Living the Life.

My Bucket List
  • Buy a square pie from Rose Bakery in Paris and another from Boulangerie Kayser in Paris.

  • Other pumpkin ideas:
    Pumpkin Chai Tart
    Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
    Pumpkin Muffins

    Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers from the United States!

    An Award
    Cathy from The Tortefeasor has given me an award. Cathy's blog is a must read, filled with humorous anecdotes of her life raising three small children, baking, cooking, and working as a lawyer in her spare time. Check out her collection of Pam and Cooking Light annuals! Impressive.

    Thanks, Cathy. Here are 5 blogs I want to pass this award to (in no particular order):

    1. Gretchen from Canela & Comino is living in Peru as a missionary and documenting her adventure with food and life there. Her beautiful photos and stories feature Peru's food and culture and make you want to visit her kitchen.

    2. Kim from Scrumptious Photography has such beautiful photos that I make sure I don't miss out on one of her posts. Lately she's been telling us about her wonderful trip to Greece so you can travel a bit while you visit her blog too.

    3. Susan's posts from She's Becoming Doughmesstic are always fun to read, plus she's the brainchild behind the Baking Gals, You Want Pies with That and My Kitchen My World. She's an amazing woman!

    4. Bellini Valli from More than Burnt Toast is a fellow Canadian blogger who just launched BloggerAid. Another amazing blogger who always has something brewing in her kitchen and on her blog.

    5. Vera from Baking Obsession has such stunning photography and delicious desserts. Grab a large coffee and catch up on the latest desserts at her blog. Scrumptious.

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    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Streusel Coffee Cake with Cherries

    Streusel Coffee Cake with CherriesI know it's not cherry season anymore around here, but I'm holding onto summer for as long as I can and saw these in the grocery store flown in from Chile, and they sucked me in and said "buy me" and make Streusel Coffee Cake with Cherries.

    When I got home, I googled and found out that Chile is 5,454.47 miles (8,777.88 kilometers) from Ottawa. I also found out it would cost me $1,145 to fly from Ottawa to Santiago so that I could taste the local cherries. So, $10 for one pound of cherries means I'm actually being financially responsible!

    This recipe comes from my aunt who owns an apple orchard in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and uses the cherries and apples from her garden for this cake. Most summers, we would drive out to visit my aunt and uncle, and we would stop at all the fruit stands along the way, picking up buckets of freshly-picked cherries. Then, we'd devour them as we continued driving through the Rockies, spitting the pits out the window until our stomachs ached.

    This coffee cake would be perfect the morning after Thanksgiving or Christmas. If you want to be more seasonal and responsible, you could also use apples (or pears, nectarines, peaches or plums).


    1 9x9 pan or 12 muffin-size cakes

    Ingredients for Streusel Coffee Cake with CherriesCake:
    ¼ cup unsalted butter
    ¾ cup sugar
    2 eggs, separated
    1½ cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ½ cup milk
    2 cups fresh fruit (cherries, plums, apples, pears), pitted or cored and halved or sliced

    Streusel Topping:
    ½ cup brown sugar
    1 tablespoon butter, melted
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Pinch of allspice

    ¼ cup confectioners' sugar
    1 teaspoon milk
    ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    Butter a 9x9 inch pan or line a muffin tin.

    Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

    In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks and beat until fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Stir the flour and baking powder into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

    Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

    For the streusel topping: Combine all the streusel ingredients.

    Fill the pan with the batter. Arrange the fruit on top. Sprinkle streusel on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool.

    For the glaze: Mix the glaze ingredients until spreading consistency. Drizzle over cooled cake.

    Streusel Coffee Cake with CherriesNote: I used the silicon shot glasses for baking some of the batter in, inspired by Hannah from BitterSweet who baked the cutest cupcakes in them.

    My Bucket List

  • Visit Santiago, Chile and taste the cherries when they're in season.

  • Other breakfast ideas:
  • Sour Cream and Yogurt Cinnamon Coffee Cake
  • Black-and-White Banana Loaf
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins baked in cookie cutters

  • Check out these coffee cakes from other food bloggers:
  • Apple Praline Coffee Cake
  • Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel
  • Spiced Pumpkin Sour Cream Upside-Down Coffee Cake

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    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Whisk Wednesdays—Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin with Garlic and Cream)

    Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin with Garlic and Cream)This week's class about browning has us making another of my all-time favorite food: scalloped potatoes. But it's not just any scalloped potatoes. It's Gratin Dauphinois prepared with love using the delicate Le Cordon Bleu method. Layers of flavor are built, and not just by layering the potatoes. Oh no. That would be too easy.

    Steep the milk
    The first step is to heat the milk and then steep it with a Bouquet Garni, salt and nutmeg. Sounds easy enough.
    [And you must not burn the milk, as I did … twice. Burnt milk doesn't smell good. My house has a lingering burnt milk smell that will take days to fade away since yesterday it was rice pudding problems and today it's scalloped potatoes. I'm wondering if the skim milk I used was the reason and if whole milk has a higher smoke point. Ever heard of smoke points in milk? Any tips on getting burnt milk off the bottom of a stainless steel pot and while you're at it off a smooth top range? I guess I'm taking this class on "browning" too literally!]
    Par-cook the potatoes
    After the [third batch of] milk has steeped, then you add [the second batch of] thinly sliced potatoes [since I didn't notice the milk had burnt during steeping until after adding the potatoes for the first batch]. The potatoes steep and get partially cooked in this milky [unburnt] goodness.
    [Actually, after the first two mishaps with the milk, I resorted to the microwave to heat the milk. Then, I let it steep on the counter for 10 minutes. When I put the potatoes in the pot to par-cook, I left them on the lowest setting and added more time. I was intent on not burning another batch of milk.]
    Next, you drain the milk. DRAIN. I couldn't believe it. Such waste [that's 9 cups of milk in my case, and I was making a half recipe, thank God!]. It was a shock after saving and using so many parts of vegetables and chickens (namely, feet) in previous classes to make stock. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking that next time I should save that milk [not the burnt milk!] and make another, less wasteful batch of scalloped potatoes with it.

    Prepare the gratin dishes
    The garlic is even wasted. You must cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the gratin dish with it. What do you do with the rest of the clove of garlic that doesn't get rubbed into the dish? You throw it away. After smearing some butter in the gratin dish too, it was ready for the delicate layering of potato slices and sprinkling of salt and pepper in-between.

    Heat the cream and finish with cheese
    Instead of the flavorful milk that you just drained, you must scald some fresh, unflavored cream [next time I'll mince the leftover garlic and throw it in with the cream] and pour this over the potato slices. Finally, you top it with sprinkled cheese and it's ready for a hot oven. I used old cheddar, but you could use Gruyère cheese, which is traditional but not appreciated at our house.

    The ingredients shown in the photo are for a half recipe (serves 3).

    Gratin Dauphinois mise en place
    3 cups milk
    Freshly grated nutmeg
    1 Bouquet Garni
    1¼ pounds baking potatoes
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1 clove garlic
    1/3 cup heavy cream
    2 ounces grated cheese
    Unsalted butter, for gratin dish

    You can find the recipe for Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin with Garlic and Cream) in the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home. To see how the rest of the Whisk Wednesdays group fared with their recipe, click here (or check out the sidebar) and then click on each blogger!

    Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin with Garlic and Cream)Tasting Notes
    They were the best scalloped potatoes we've ever tasted! I may have added too much salt when layering, but we tend to like a lot of salt around here.

    Although this class was supposed to be about browning (not the milk but the potatoes and cheese in the oven), I learned a lot about heating milk on the stove: I'm not good at it. I'll stick with the microwave for this or use my old stand-by recipe for scalloped potatoes that doesn't involve all these tricky layers of flavors and still tastes good in the end. It's from Gourmet magazine, December 1997. My version that I clipped out doesn't have fennel in it, but the one in this link does. And I always sprinkle cheese on top of mine too.

    Yukon Gold, White, Red Potatoes
    Yukon Gold, White, Red Potatoes

    I forgot to mention one last tidbit in this saga. I bought three varieties of potato: white, red and Yukon gold. After all the trouble, there was no taste difference. I noticed one thing though: the red potatoes started turning brown sooner than the others while waiting for the milk to steep ever so slowly via the microwave/counter method. I solved that by covering them with water, but now I have three times the dishes to do plus all the burnt milk pots.

    It was still worth it.

    Next Week (November 26)
    • Oeufs Mollets Florentine (Soft-boiled Eggs with Spinach and Mornay Sauce) pages 69-70

    My Bucket List
  • Stay in the Dauphiné region of France to ski in the Alps and eat Gratin Dauphinois.

    . . . . . . . . . .

    Running total: $875.79 + $4.91 = $880.70
    [Here's a little dilemma: should I count the failed attempts in the running total? I probably should, but I'm not going to. The number is starting to feel a little high given my ROI. It seemed like a good idea in Class 1, but I'm learning a lot. And that's all that counts, right?!]
    Butter used so far: 8 pounds, 12 tablespoons

    . . . . . . . . . .
    ::Whisk Wednesdays::
    We're cooking our way through a cooking school curriculum using the Le Cordon Bleu at Home cookbook. The "classes" are based on the Le Cordon Bleu curriculum found online and used as a guideline. Not all the items in the curriculum are in the cookbook, but most are. Where the items are not in the book, we try to find a suitable substitution. Find out more here.

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