Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Untraditional D(o)B(os) Torte

Mini Dobos Tortes
Before I say anything else, I have to give a shout out to two ladies. One is my good friend and partner in crime, as you'll see, Meeta K. of What's For Lunch Honey? and the other is the woman who regularly saves the day, the sweetest Frenchie (both literally and figuratively) on the Eastern seaboard, Helene of Tartelette. This challenge would not have seen completion without either one of these two ladies.

So why does my Dobos Torte not look like most of the other Daring Bakers' this month? Well, never one to conform, and sometimes for the worse, I used white chocolate.
We haven't been feeling very chocolatey at all here since it's been quite hot and sometimes very humid (for London that is, we're wimps we know), so I thought I'd try this Dobos Torte with a fruity spin. I halved the recipe to make two mini-cakes and used white chocolate, mascarpone and lemon for the frosting and fresh blueberries between the layers of sponge. If you've visited me before you know I have a fetish for this combination, and it seemed like if I was going to try something different than the stated recipe for yet another layer cake, I might as well be able to compare it to a previous DB challenge: Dorie Greenspan's perfect party cake.
Mini Dobos Tortes together
I didn't take pictures of the process and, really, you should thank me for that because it wasn't pretty. Oh the sponge went ok enough, as I said to Meeta on twitter I didn't have time to bake each layer for one big cake, particularly with Baby Saffron, but I did have time to use a cookie cutter! She and I baked the sponges separately and then met up over chat to do the rest of the cake. We'd done this once before for the Daring Bakers' 2007 Yule Log, and just like last time, the conversation was a hoot and really helped to ease the process. Between her and her chocolate quark mousse for Soeren's birthday cake (7 years old!) and me with my lemon mascarpone mousse because we both didn't really want to use butter for the buttercream, exclamations of all colors flew and at one point she proposed, and I agreed, that we needed a stiff drink, so dry martinis with extra olives were poured and enjoyed, virtually that is.
My lemon mascarpone mousse didn't set properly which is when I resorted to a twitter plea for help from Tartelette and, as always, she came to the rescue. She is, as I have been quite fond of saying since I first saw her blog in early 2007, a Baking Fairy. If you haven't seen her blog which just got a beautiful new makeover, get thee over there now!
As for Meeta, she is a dear friend, a rockin' blogger with a beautiful blog, and an awesome person all around and I am better for her friendship. We have to do this more often!

The cake turned out to be meh taste-wise (and yes that is about as elaborate and articulate as I am going to be about that) so I think it's probably the kind of cake for which you want to actually use dark chocolate and stick to the recipe. And Dorie, well, she's keeping my heart for now.
Oh one more thing: About the caramel layer, I'm not sure I get the purpose of it other than as decorative, but I actually didn't make it with lemon juice as prescribed in the recipe as it seemed a bit odd to me to mix caramel and lemon, and it turned out just fine by adding a little bit of butter to enable it to pour out onto the sponge layer before it set.
Mini Dobos Tortes Cut Up
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. You can find the recipe on our hostesses' blogs.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Old Hobbies and Upside Down Banana Cake

La Seine at the Pont-Neuf, Paris

Sometimes, when you've stopped an activity for a while, it's easy to forget that a long time ago you may have been good at it.

Back right after college, I was a mad photographer, taking pictures of everything all the time. Digital SLRs weren't around back then, at least not in any sense I could afford, and I so enjoyed shooting film, feeling that I was learning immeasurably with every roll, that it wouldn't really have mattered if I could have afforded a dSLR anyway. Then, oh the irony, I went to graduate film school and never had a minute to shoot still photographs unless it was for an assignment. Later, working 14 to sometimes 16 hour days, there was only just time to eat and sleep.
Banana Cake
In due course, everyone moved from film to digital and I, still skeptical and attached to the Minolta I'd had since I was 12, started very slowly with a little Canon Elf that I purchased to take on a solo trip to New Zealand. That was a complete blast and I loved this little foray I was making into digital photography (in fact, if you go back on this blog, all the pictures were taken with that Canon Elf for over a year).
Then life happened and I completely forgot about photography for a while. Good and mostly bad things overshadowed the need for hobbies, until just recently.

The biggest catalyst was probably Baby Saffron. I take pictures of her all the time because I know she's changing every day and I don't always notice since she and I are never truly apart.
5 months Dumpling
When she's older, I want her to be able to see herself as we see her now. I want her to have a treasure trove of pictures to choose from, if she wants to, for any occasion as an adult. If she has children I want them to see pictures of her as a baby and child. And, let's face it, she's just adorable, so it doesn't hurt to look at pictures of her anyway.
I know that back then I had an eye for it, and looking at the pictures I take now, I realize it will take some time to get that back. I still think I take better pictures with film, that somehow the camera and I get along better in the analog format, but I'm sure that with a lot of practice I can acquire my eye back on the digital format. It will be fun trying anyway. And I think this blog is going to become a little less about food and a little more about a lot of other things, primarily photography. I hope you'll stay with me as I go on this little adventure. Right now I'm just having fun digging through my old photographs. Very few of my film photographs have been scanned like the black and white pictures above and below, but I plan on rectifying that when I have the time to go through old boxes of negative and scan the ones I don't want to forget.
St Patricks Day
St. Patrick's Day, New York

As with the lemon bars, what does that have to do with upside down caramelized banana cake? Well, actually I saw a picture of this cake somewhere and had to follow the link because 1) I love bananas and 2) it looked so intriguing. When I read the post about it over at The Wicked Noodle, and realized we were talking about bananas + caramel, I had to try it. Besides, it was time to do something different from yet another banana bread recipe.
Banana Cake and Milk
Apparently this is a popular cake in Brazil and can be found in every bakery there. You'll notice in the pictures that the crumb is a bit dense, that's just the fault of yours truly overbeating the egg whites. It tasted wonderful anyway, the most delightful thing about it being that as the caramel is truly just caramelized sugar (there's hardly any butter in this cake), the bananas release juices as they cook which blend with the caramel below them, creating little pools of banana-flavored soft caramel between the slices of fruit. I had a little difficulty with the caramel as I've never made any in a thin-bottom pan before, so it was interesting to say the least.

While I love the look and flavor of this cake, I will say that if I want a cake with a really strong banana flavor I'd stick to a banana-bread type of recipe because this, as the look and name indicate, is another cake with caramelized fruit on top. If you love bananas and want a cake that will start a conversation, particularly if you're not in Brazil, this is the cake for you.
And by the way, if you haven't been to Paula Cinini's blog The Cookie Shop yet, run! don't walk, over there right now.

Banana Upside Down Cake

adapted from Paula Cinini at The Cookie Shop as posted on The Wicked Noodle

For a 10" or 26cm circular pan
For the caramel banana layer:
- 1 1/2 cup (170g) sugar
- 4-5 ripe bananas (must be ripe or they will become hard)

For the cake:
- 2 cups (240g) all purpose flour
- 1 cup (90g) cornstarch
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 4 large eggs, divided, at room temperature for best results
- 4 tbsp (50g) unsalted butter
- 1.5 cups (150g) sugar
- 1 cup (200ml) whole milk

For the banana layer:
- Put the sugar in the pan you will be baking the cake in and heat it on medium heat to make a dry caramel (no water). Once it's fluid and light amber in color, with a wooden spoon, as best you can try to distribute the caramel evenly all over the pan (bottom and sides sides). Keep in mind that the caramel will set quickly so you may not be able to coat everything, don't worry about it. Set aside.
- For the cake to look like the pictures here or at the Wicked Noodle, split the bananas lengthwise and distribute them with the cut side down, over the caramel. Alternatively, you could cut the bananas in thick slices and pack them over the caramel. Either way, try to place them as close to the pan sides as you can (they will shrink a bit) as this may make taking the cake out easier afterward.

For the cake:
- Heat the oven to 350° F (180°C).
- In a bowl, sift the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch and baking powder). Set aside.
- In a dry, clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Set aside.
- Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolks until very light and creamy. This is most easily done with an electric mixer, stand or hand.
- Use the dry/wet method, adding the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk. Beat only just until the flour is incorporated.
- Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter carefully by hand, preferably with a spatula.
- Pour the batter over the banana layer, distributing evenly.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the
center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let the cake rest for a bit so that it cools slightly and the caramel sets to some extent, but try to unmold it while it's still warm for ease.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I'm ONLY 10 Days Late = DB Mallomars = Alert the Media!

Post in Progress... Betcha ya didn't think I was tellin' the truth about makin' the DB Challenge in my last post didja?....

Birthday Flowers

These are some of the four dozen roses and other flowers that A. got me for my birthday on Saturday. Purty huh... I'm not really a flowers kinda gal (don't get me wrong, I love flowers, but receiving flowers is not something I long for, I'm more of an "equipment" type of gal on the longing scale).

And this is one of the goodies that baby Saffron let me get into the kitchen to make over the last two weeks. Yep, between the three or four 30mn naps she takes a day, it took me that long to get these done from when I started them on the 26th (yeah, the day before I should have posted them, wanna make something of it?) Working on the post now, you'll see all of it when I'm done and not a minute sooner. Hold your water.

DB Mallomars

I know y'all probably have mallow(mars - see below) coming out of your ears right now, but what's done is done, and since I even took some damn pictures while I was making them, you're stuck with this write-up now.
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.

You could make either one or both so I chose to make the mallomars (let's call a spade a spade, shall we) because Pepperidge Farm and I have had a relationship over the years that was exclusively centered on their Milano cookies and I'm just not ready to give that up right now. Also I wanted to try my hand at marshmallows.
Naturally, the first thing I did was use a different recipe for the base than the one given which was a shortbread recipe. I figure if I'm making a cookie that has marshmallow and chocolate, I might as well make a cookie base that's graham cracker and make a s'more. So of course in my time of need, I turned to Deb of Smitten Kitchen and her adaptation of Nancy Silverton's recipe for graham crackers. What's that you say? you think Deb's the bomb too? I know, and trust me, if there ever was something that Deb was right about, and Deb is right about a lot of things in the kitchen, it would have to be how good these graham crackers are. Better than any other graham cracker and certainly better than the store-bought ones
DB Mallomars
I made half the recipe in her post anticipating that that should be plenty, and indeed it was. I felt like playing around with some cookie cutters I hardly ever use and made both fluted and plain cookies. They were one and a half inches in diameter.
DB Mallomars
I think I underbeat the marshmallow batter just a touch but they stayed put anyway once on the cookie rounds. I improvised a piping bag and tip (as mine are packed away somewhere) with a ziploc bag and out they came.
DB Mallomars
As for the chocolate glaze, I think the recipe's is too thin, I used 1.5 ounces of sunflower oil instead of 2 and it still hardly set and melted very quickly once between my fingers. I think it might be preferable to do some sort of very thin ganache or something, anything that would set a little more sturdily.
DB Mallomars
Yeah yeah, I didn't temper the chocolate, have you seen the title of this post? I'm 10 days late people, these look good enough and taste good too, right now that's about where I set the bar.

DB Mallomars

Thanks for listening. By the way, in case anyone cares, this month (well last month now) was the 2nd anniversary of my being a Daring Baker. Two years. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to keep at it but it's been fun. At some point I have to do the 6 or so challenges that I've missed in that time between the ones I missed when I was getting married, being pregnant and having the papoose (I guess you could say it's my 1.5 year anniversary then).

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