Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coconut Layer Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling . . .

Is it really almost September? Really? 

I guess it must be true. My kids are behaving as if they're straddling the border between two very different countries--one's called Summer, the other's called School. Nathan, my just-turned-sixteen-year old,  has been getting up early to attend marching band practice this week. It's an all-day affair, and  despite the need to haul himself out of bed at the crack of dawn, he still has that unquenchable teenage urge to stay up late every night. What's a mom to do? Remember when your kids were about three and a half and they finally gave up taking regular naps? In your chagrin you realized how helpless you were to change that. The nice quiet break, that reliable daily respite, was a thing of the past. I was reminded of this while pondering the staying-up-super-late issue. Sigh. You can lead a teenager to a comfy bed (well, you can try, anyway), but you cannot make him sleep.

Meanwhile, Charlie, my 19-year-old, is psyching up for his sophomore year in college. He's looking forward to being back in Michigan this time around. Last year, as you may recall, he ventured south to Columbus to experience life as an Ohio State buckeye. (Remember those buckeye cookie cups I made in honor of the event? Those babies were so good.) He had a busy year, without a doubt. Joined the OSU men's crew team, made lots of new friends, and generally loved the place, but ultimately decided that it wasn't the best fit for someone whose heart belongs to the mitten-shaped state, so over the summer he transferred to a university in Kalamazoo (yes, that Kalamazoo). It's pretty nice to know he's back in mitten land.

In any event, I think this Summer vs. School nether world has me feeling a little edgy and when I get edgy, I tend to bake. Yes. Bake. What a surprise.

About this recipe . . .

This sort-of-white cake recipe was adapted from this post at Whisk Kid; that's the adorable blog that started the rainbow-cake craze. I reduced, and slightly modified, the rainbow cake's base recipe (and obviously left out all food coloring!) to make just two 9" layers, adding in a little coconut milk in exchange for some of the regular milk. It's a very easy cake to put together, and this was a good opportunity--between the cake and the buttercream--to use up most of the egg whites I had in my freezer. I freeze whites in Ziploc sandwich bags, and I use black permanent marker to mark on the bags how many whites each one contains, along with the date I froze them. Fresh-frozen egg whites are still completely usable in baking even months after their freeze date. I love that!

The Swiss meringue buttercream frosting recipe that I used is from Sweetapolita, baking blog extraordinaire of the endlessly talented Rosie Alyea. I changed nothing in her recipe, except to add in a few drops of Lorann coconut oil for flavoring towards the end of the mixing process to about six cups of the total batch. Because the credit for this frosting is definitely Rosie's, I have just included a link directly to the post where that recipe appears within her blog; it's accompanied by many helpful photos and her invaluable advice (I highly recommend you check it out, especially if you are new to making meringue buttercream).  Be aware that her recipe makes about 15 cups of frosting, enough for a couple of tall layer cakes, at least. I made the whole huge batch and, in one big bowl, it was a fluffy sight to see. I froze the extra frosting for future use.

The chocolate ganache is so simple it almost doesn't require a formal recipe--two delectable ingredients are all you'll need.

Coconut Layer Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache Filling

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: One two-layer 9" round cake

Ingredients for the cake layers:

1 stick and 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 scant teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt.)
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature (I used 2 percent.)
1/3 cup coconut milk, at room temperature (I used Thai Kitchen brand.)

To make the cake layers:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease, or use baking spray on, two 9" round cake pans (I used the latter, generously). Line the bottom of the pans with rounds of parchment. Grease the parchment and flour the bottom and sides of the pan, or spray the parchment with baking spray.

In a medium size bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Stir together the milk and coconut milk in a small bowl. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until very light in color and fluffy. Pour in the egg whites gradually, mixing until they're completely combined, and stop to scrape as needed. Mix in the vanilla.

On the lowest speed, add in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and coconut milk, starting and ending with the dry (three portions of dry, and two portions of liquid). Beat only until the batter looks completely mixed.

Divide the batter equally into the two prepared pans, and bake in a preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top of the cakes no longer look wet and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on cooling racks for about five minutes then run a thin knife or metal spatula around the edges of the cakes, and invert the cakes out of their pans and onto racks to finish cooling. Peel off the parchment, slowly and carefully, while the cakes are still warm.

To make the chocolate ganache: 

6 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
6 ounces heavy cream

Put the chopped chocolate into a bowl. In a small saucepan, gently heat the cream until it's hot but not boiling. Pour the cream into the bowl, over the chocolate. Let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then gently stir the cream completely into the chocolate. The ganache should look smooth and silky. Let it cool to room temperature, when it will be ready to use as a filling between the cooled cake layers. Don't cover it until it's at room temperature or cooler.

To make the Swiss meringue buttercream:
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe that I used, please visit this link at Sweetapolita for detailed step-by-step instructions in her excellent post, Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified. Please note that I added in several drops--to taste--of Lorann coconut oil flavoring. You could also use coconut extract/flavoring if you like, or omit the flavoring/oil altogether and just go with vanilla. Her recipe as written makes a very big batch; you will need perhaps one third of the batch to frost a standard size two-layer cake.

To assemble and frost the cake, you'll need:

2 cake layers
At least one cup of the ganache
At least five cups of the buttercream
1 and 1/2 cups of sweetened, shredded coconut

Place one cake layer upside down onto a cardboard/cake-board or onto the plate it will be served from. Spread a generous layer of room-temperature ganache on top. Add the second cake layer, placing its flattest surface facing up. Spread about a cup or so of buttercream on the top, and frost a generous layer on the sides. Because the cake will be covered with sweetened coconut, it's not really necessary to try and make the surface or sides of the cake completely smooth. To add the coconut, hold your cake, on its board/plate over a baking sheet. Gently press handfuls of coconut into the sides as you turn the cake until it's completely covered, and then sprinkle more on the top. Scoop up any coconut that falls onto the baking sheet and scatter it on as well.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Choffee Chip Chunk Ice Cream . . . (Coffee Ice Cream with Chunks of Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Let's have a show of hands. Of all you folks out there, who among you likes ice cream, likes coffee, and also likes chocolate chip cookies? Please keep 'em up while I count . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . um . . . . . . . . . . okay . . . still counting . . . . . . still counting . . . whew . . . lots of hands . . .

Just as I thought. You can put your hands down. I'm gonna go ahead and round the total up to about a zillion people or we'll be here all day. Clearly, the vast majority of us are of the same mind on this issue. After all, what's not to like?

About this recipe . . .

If you are a fan of that flavor trio, you'll love this. Adapted from the formula for Black Coffee Ice Cream in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, a compact book by Jeni Britton Bauer (that I first mentioned to you in this post, on vanilla mascarpone ice cream with roasted cherries, several weeks ago), this is another recipe that's too good to ignore. Expect an absolute premium result, and prepare to experience superb creaminess.

As for the cookie chunks, I recommend using this fail-safe chocolate chip cookie recipe, using all milk chocolate chips/chunks instead of an assortment of chocolate. I suggest baking the cookies slightly longer than normal, so they'll be crispier and will easily break into small pieces. You'll need about eight, thin 3" cookies to add into the ice cream. This is an excellent chocolate chip cookie recipe for any purpose, and one that I've made dozens of times over the years. (My kids are crazy-cuckoo-nuts for these cookies.)

So, love coffee? Love ice cream? Love chocolate chip cookies? Yes? Then it's settled. You've got to try this. That's all there is to it.

Choffee Chip Chunk Ice Cream (Coffee Ice Cream 
with Milk Chocolate Chip Cookie Chunks)

(For a printable copy of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Slightly less than one quart

2 and 1/2 cups whole milk (I didn't have whole milk, so I used 2 cups 2 percent milk, and 1/2 cup half & half instead.)
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) cream cheese, softened (I used Philadelphia brand.)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup of coffee beans, ground coarsely (I used French roast beans.)
About 8 thin and crispy milk-chocolate chip cookies, approximately 3" in diameter,
       broken into small pieces and frozen

In a very small bowl, stir together two tablespoons of milk with all of the cornstarch until smooth (this is the "slurry").

In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese and the salt. Set aside.

Fit a piece of cheesecloth into a strainer and place that atop a medium size bowl (this will be used to strain the coffee-bean particles out of the still-in-process hot liquid). Set aside.

Fill a large bowl about halfway with ice cubes and cold water. Set aside. Place a large, clean Ziploc bag, opened and ready, near the bowl (you'll pour the finished hot liquid into it, then place the closed bag into the ice water to cool).

In a large saucepan, combine the rest of the milk, the heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup. Over medium high heat bring the mixture to a steady low boil. Boil for four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and pour in the ground coffee beans. Let it steep for five minutes. Pour the liquid through the cheesecloth-lined strainer into the medium bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the beans, wrapped in the cheesecloth, then discard the beans and cloth.

Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and whisk the cornstarch in slowly. Return the liquid to a boil over medium high heat and cook just until it's slightly thickened, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides with a heat-proof spatula. Take the pan off the heat.

Slowly pour the hot liquid into the bowl with the cream cheese and salt, whisking as you do so until it looks quite smooth.

Pour all of this into the Ziploc bag, zip it closed tightly, and place that into the bowl of ice water for about half an hour or until decidedly cold, adding more ice to the bowl as needed.

Remove your frozen cookie pieces from the freezer. Have the container into which you will put your churned ice cream close at hand. Following the manufacturer's directions for your own ice cream freezer, churn the ice cream until it thickens. (I use the ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and usually need to churn ice cream for about 20 minutes or longer.)

Quickly layer the churned ice cream into its container along with the broken cookie pieces; don't stir the cookies in, just sprinkle them over the ice cream more or less evenly, remembering to sprinkle some atop the last layer.

Seal your container well, and freeze your ice cream until very firm (I let it freeze for about 16 hours before trying it, but you don't have to wait that long!). Enjoy!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Big-Top Nectarine Muffins . . . with Salted Marcona Almonds and Turbinado Sugar: Get Under the Big Top!

Over 25 years ago I landed my first real job at a publishing company in downtown Detroit. It was an interesting place, filled with smart, witty, and sometimes eccentric people, most of whom were recently graduated English majors like me. As entry-level research/editorial workers we had much in common--an insatiable love for reading, a constant yen to discuss books and authors, and the fact that we were all pathetically underpaid.

Despite our paltry wages, we did have unique company benefits. For example, employees could get free copies of any book they worked on and, typically, each person had a hand in several books each year, so that was potentially a lot of books. Since our names appeared on the credits page of each such book, that was a nice perk. In those early days, it was a thrill to open up a spanking new volume and show parents or friends your name in print. Another benefit was a policy requiring us to take rigidly scheduled breaks twice a day. Mandatory breaks. Just like recess in elementary school, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. A cute idea, at least in theory. You weren't supposed to work through a break, even if you were smack in the middle of a meeting or an involved task. That was the rule.

The break allowed enough time for a cup of coffee and chit-chat, but not much else. That, however, rarely deterred the famished among us from trekking out of our historic high-rise and heading down West Fort Street in search of nourishment. We'd dash half a block and duck into Britt's Cafe, a cafeteria/bakery that was bizarrely sequestered in the back of a high-end office supply store. (I know I reminisced here about Britt's once before, but please indulge me as I simply must do it again.) A best-kept-secret kind of place, Britt's produced fabulous baked goods, along with fantastic sandwiches, soups, and salads. Their roughly-constructed scones were to die for, and their fresh muffins sported the most colossal tops I'd ever seen. Once pulled from the oven, the muffins were cut apart and hoisted out of the pans. They were hearty, deeply golden, and packed with chunks of ripe fruit, toasted nuts, tangy dried berries. Sprinkled with coarse sugar, each was a glittering spectacle, a muffin-meal in and of itself. Well worth the risk of making it back to work a few minutes late.

I was reminded of Britt's muffins as I made these yesterday morning. My batter was really thick, there was a lot of it, and I wondered for a moment if I'd need two 12-cup pans versus just one. As I greased the cups with a pastry brush, I decided it would be fun to engineer a similar  top-heavy result. I loaded the cups with batter, rounding them above capacity with my ice cream scoop, dusted the tops with nuts and sugar, then slid them into the oven.

These big-tops are in honor of Britt's, a great Detroit food spot that no longer exists but, happily, still persists in memory.

About this recipe . . . 

This is an original, unadapted recipe. It contains a small amount of whole wheat pastry flour, which you can leave out if you wish (use white or regular whole wheat instead), along with small pieces of sliced, peeled nectarines (feel free to use peaches, or apples, instead). Coarsely chopped, salted, unblanched, Marcona almonds (oh, they're so, so good--I buy them from Trader Joe's) and turbinado sugar crystals are sprinkled on top. This recipe produces a hearty muffin that's not what I'd call cakey, nor too sweet.

Hearty Big-Top Nectarine Muffins with Marcona Almonds

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: 12 very generous standard size muffins

1 and 1/3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt (stir in a tablespoon or so of milk if it's thick yogurt)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons canola oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 XL (or 2 medium size) ripe nectarine, peeled, and cut into very small chunks (you'll need about one generous cup of chunks)
3 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (if you omit this, add in the same amount of another flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of sea salt or coarse kosher salt
2 pinches of ground cinnamon
A few scrapings of fresh nutmeg, or about 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

For the top of the muffins:
1/2 cup salted, unblanched, Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (if you don't have this, you can instead use Demerara sugar, sanding/coarse sugar, or regular granulated sugar)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Liberally grease a 12-cup standard size non-stick muffin pan, and also grease the top of the pan (I even use baking spray on top of all this, whenever I'm not using paper liners); or use paper liners and grease just the top of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices.

In another large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, oil, and eggs. Stir until well combined, then add in the nectarine chunks.

Make a well in the center of the bowl of dry ingredients, pour in all of the wet ingredients, and stir just until combined. It's okay if a few small streaks of flour are visible. Using a portion scoop, distribute the batter equally into the muffin cups, heaping them high. Sprinkle the tops first with chopped almonds, and then with turbinado sugar.

Bake for about 20 minutes or more, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, the muffins are golden brown, and a finger pressed gently on the top of a muffin springs back. Check the muffins after about 15 minutes and if they're browning too quickly, lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Let the muffins cool for about five minutes in the pan on a rack, then cut them apart to remove them from the pan and let them cool further on the rack.

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