Archive for the 'Daring Bakers' Category

coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
April’s Daring Bakers challenge was a cheesecake recipe, the challenge of which involved taking a basic recipe and being creative with it. While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I took this as an opportunity to try out some techniques I’ve learned or read about recently (though they’re hardly novel and have been used for some years). Ultimately, I created a Coconut Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Cashew Ginger Crust, and Mango-Blood Orange pearls. The white “sauce” is coconut foam.


When I visited Thailand several years ago, I became enamored with kaffir lime leaves. It’s often used in curries and the delightful Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut lemongrass chicken soup). I finally received a baby kaffir lime tree last year as a birthday gift, which I’ve been nursing since. After the dormancy of winter, I’m quite thrilled with how much it’s been growing. Generally, the leaves are not eaten, but rather torn and used in soups or curries, similar to the function of bay leaves. However, it is more easily ingested when finely chiffonaded.


Instead of a traditional fruit sauce topping or glaze, I tried my hand at making fruit pearls or spheres, which originated several years ago in El Bulli restaurant in Spain. The spheres are often made with sodium alginate or calcium chloride, but not wanting to use such ingredients (not did I have access to them), I used a recipe using agar agar (seaweed-based gelling ingredient) from a recent class with Michael Laiskonis as a basis, omitting the locust bean gum. I basically cooked the juice of one mango and and one blood orange with some sugar (I read that certain fruits such as mangoes, due to their high acidity level will not set with agar agar, but coooking them might change their enzymes and alter their ability to gel). I thought the juice needed a little more kick so I also added some from half a lemon. I had to experiment with the amount of agar agar I used, but I ended up using just over a teaspoon of powder, which needs to be dissolved by boiling in water for several minutes. This juice-agar  mixture was poured into a squeeze bottle and “dropped” into a container of very cold canola oil. In class, we used a large square bucket-like container and the type of container you use will be a determining factor in the success. This part is somewhat trickier than it would sound, because the spheres can fall to the bottom and puddle, or flatten when they reach the bottom of the container, (which happened to some of my pearls). Then you strain the pearls and rinse under cold water.


The cheesecake itself is flavored with coconut extract and coconut flakes and infused the whipping cream with kaffir lime leaves. I also decided upon a cashew ginger crust using ground cashews and crystallized ginger from the book In the Sweet Kitchen. I also tried foaming, a technique made infamous (and not necessarily in a good way) by the contestant Marcel from Top Chef. It is easy to make foam (depending on the liquid-some will not foam) using an immersion blender. You just need to ensure the blade is not entirely immersed in the liquid, but rather at an angle.


Thank you to this month’s host, Jenny.

January Daring Bakers Challenge

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


Has it been a month already since the last challenge? Time seems to have passed so quickly, yet the yule log and the holidays associated with it seem at once long gone…I’ve been a bit preoccupied with time lately (the recent season premiere of LOST has something to do with it, no doubt), or just preoccupied in general, perhaps. I had visions of “Rock Band” inspired guitar tuiles that never materialized thanks to various projects I’ve got going on, but oh well…

January’s Daring Bakers challenge was all about keeping it light. A tuile, either sweet or savory, or nougatine, were all options this month. Inspired by my recent class with Johnny Iuzzini, I decided to recreate certain elements from the class, partly to see if I could indeed successfuly execute the recipes again. This month, I made peanut nougatine with rum and coke ice cream, and caramelized bananas flambeed with rum.

I tried two shapes for the nougatine – one free form and one cut out in circles. I did not want my nougatine to be too dense, so I chopped the peanuts instead of keeping it whole or halved. They were still a bit dense after introducing the caramelized sugar, so I manually stretched the nougatine to intentionally create holes or a lighter effect. The bananas were caramelized and flambeed with a bit of rum, and the rum was further emphasized in the rum and coke ice cream. Incidentally, the recipes for the caramelized bananas and ice cream are available in Iuzzini’s new book, Dessert Fourplay.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

Buche de Noel and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008


I was very happy with the selection of this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge. I’ve made the traditional yule log cakes before with a genoise that is rolled up and I’ve been wanting to try the more modern French style cakes which I saw everywhere in Paris last winter. The challenge cake is comprised of an almond dacquoise, chocolate mousse, praline crisp, creme brulee, ganache, and chocolate glaze.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’m once again down to the wire, as I’m preparing for a party tomorrow, where I’m presenting this lovely cake. Hopefully I can write a bit more…erm, after the New Year? Yikes. I pretty much followed the given recipe exactly, but incorporated a bit more orange essence, by infusing the creme brulee insert with orange rind and vanilla, using orange chocolate for the praline crisp, and grand marnier in the ganache.


This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Thank you for a wonderful, challenging challenge!

Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a wonderful 2009!!

Tiered Caramel Cakes with Caramelized Ginger Butter Frosting

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

After hosting a hectic Thanksgiving gathering, I erm, didn’t get to complete this challenge until today. I wasn’t sure I could find the time or the room in my stomach, but I couldn’t skip a cake challenge! November’s challenge, caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting, comes from Shuna Fish Lydon, from Eggbeater and the original recipe is posted here. The cake was made following her recipe exactly, but after reading about some Daring Bakers complaining about the overly sweet nature of the frosting, I added ground ginger and a bit of cinnamon to the frosting.


I decided to go with a stacked mini cake this time, well, just because. Now, I underestimated the difficulty of this mini cake. I found it a much more painstaking process to frost these little babies as opposed to a larger cake because you don’t have the weight of the cake to anchor it as you frost. Well, I had to see my idea it to its completion, so I stuck with it.

Admittedly, my mini cake resembled a wedding cake. My wedding anniversary has passed, so we found some other friends who were celebrating their anniversary. In case you don’t know who they are, they are Moomins, adorable and adventurous Finnish characters from books my husband grew up reading.




10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

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. 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.

caramel syrup (though probably darker than it should be)


2 cups sugar
1/2 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.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
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

Thank you Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex from Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie and Jenny from Foray into Food for hosting this month’s challenge. To see what other Daring Bakers have come up with this month, please visit the Daring Bakers site.

une religieuse, un éclair

Sunday, August 31st, 2008


August’s Daring Bakers challenge was the humble yet heavenly éclair, which consists of a pâte à choux or cream puff, pastry cream and chocolate glaze. The éclair (which is French for lightning) is traditionally piped into a long form, such as the one pictured below. The same dough can be used for profiteroles, or the French pastry la religieuse, such as the one pictured above, among other varieties.

I thought I would attempt to make the beautiful religieuses I have admired in Laduree’s windows in Paris. I was pleased with the results. The religieuse is one large pastry cream-filled profiterole topped by a smaller one, both glazed with fondant/glaze. It supposedly resembles a nun, hence the name. I used the chocolate glaze, firmed in the refrigerator, to pipe the chocolate spikes around the sides. The éclair below is filled with vanilla pastry cream and fresh raspberries, topped with chocolate glaze and chocolate decorations.

These éclairs were absolutely delicious and relatively easy to make, especially the dough. The multi-step chocolate glaze was perhaps the most tedious element, and the second time, I made a simple chocolate ganache which worked well. I made the éclairs twice this month, though I only photographed my first batch. I have a feeling I will be making these often.

To see what other Daring Bakers have done, click here.

cosmic dome cake

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008


This Filbert Gateau with praline buttercream, filbert (or hazelnut) genoise and ganache glaze was perhaps the most frustrating Daring Baker’s Challenge for me yet, which really shouldn’t have been since it IS cake, and I should be fortunate I was in my element. I want to attribute it up to the heat and the fact that this wasn’t the most seasonally appropriate cake to make, but I just wasn’t as inspired with this month’s challenge.

I thought I’d experiment with this cake by trying a dome shape. I received a Betty Crocker bake and fill kit a few years ago, which included a dome baking pan. I didn’t actually bake the cake in the pan (the depth of the center would mean increased baking time = dry cake). Instead, I baked the cake as a sheet and cut out circles of various sizes to fill the cake.

The praline wasn’t sufficiently incorporated into buttercream, hence the chunks. It still tasted delicious but I knew that piping anything decorative on the surface of the cake would be nightmare. I decided to try it but as expected, the constantly clogging tip just wasn’t working. (While I think I’ve done a decent job covering up the blemishes between touching up the cake and avoiding photographing at certain angles, I can technically still say that the buttercream is part of the decoration, as that was a requirement in this challenge.) Anyway, after some deliberation I decided I would decorate with chocolate modeling paste.


I rolled out the modeling paste onto a thin sheet and cut circles out of it, and painted the circles with edible gold dust.


Cutting out and arranging the circles proved meditative and helped quel an otherwise frustrating experience. In the end, I was pleased with the mod/abstract aesthetics of the cake. But right up until the end, even cutting the cake proved challenging. The firmer chocolate circles pressed into the soft sides of cake from the pressure of the knife, so I had to freeze the cake to firm it up and wait another day to actually cut into the cake.

Another challenge down and boy am I glad this one is over. To see what other Daring Bakers have concocted this month, click here.

Daring the Danish Braid

Sunday, June 29th, 2008


I was fortunate that my first three Daring Bakers challenges were all cake-related and not unfamiliar territory. I knew my luck would eventually run out and that one day I’d come across a dough challenge. Well, that time finally arrived when this month’s challenge of a Danish braid was announced by Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking?. I think I’ve attempted cooking with yeast perhaps once before. It may have been in my childhood or teen years, but it was enough of a failed experience to have turned me off from working with yeast.

My initial reaction was to skip this month’s challenge, as after all, this is mostly a site about cakes. But my husband who has a lot of faith in me really wanted me to try this. And after perusing so many scrumptious and successful braid after braid completed by other zealous Daring Bakers, I decided to give this a go.


Braid, pre-baked

I decided upon a cream cheese/egg filling and fresh blueberries, topped with raw sugar and sliced almonds.


Nothing novel here, but I’m glad I “rose above” my fear of yeast and ventured out of my cake comfort zone! Thanks to Kelly and Ben for hosting! To see what other Daring Bakers have done, please visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Opéra Cake with Apricot Mousse and Pistachio Buttercream

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008


I was sooo excited when I found out this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was an Opéra cake. I’ve enjoyed my share of similarly quadrilateral shaped layer cakes in Paris, always wondering how they were done (and mostly questioning how those sides were cut with such laser-like precision).

This month’s Opéra cake challenge was a marriage of recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion. While the Opéra cake is typically made with joconde, dark chocolate ganache, and buttercream, the twist for this month’s challenge was to keep the colors and flavors light, i.e. no dark chocolate, coffee, etc. I decided the light theme would be well suited for Mother’s Day, so I ultimately decided upon a combination of almond joconde flavored with apricot-kirsch syrup, pistachio buttercream, apricot mousse, apricot glaze. This flavor combination was inspired by a class on petits gateaux that I took with Chef Chad Pagano at the ICE. I filled it with fresh apricot chunks, and the top is decorated with white chocolate swirls, chopped pistachios and specks of edible gold leaf.


For the buttercream recipe, I used an old standby which can be found on a previous post (with modified quantities). I mixed pistachio paste into the basic buttercream at the end and it was delicious. Sugar Chef made an amazing creation and was kind enough to post her recipe and photo on the Daring Baker’s non-public site and I basically used her mango mousse recipe to create my apricot mousse. For the glaze, I used agar agar dissolved in apricot juice. I also used syrup flavored with kirsch and apricot juice to moisten the cake. The white chocolate swirls were a bit tricky. Instead of just drizzling the chocolate over the top of the glaze, I drizzled it over silpat which I topped with chopped pistachios while the chocolate was still liquid. I then carefully transferred the fragile, hardened white chocolate web onto the top of the cake. I did this perhaps unnecessarily complicated maneuver so the pistachio bits would adhere only to the chocolate, not the glaze. Finally, I added a few small bits of edible gold leaf.

I’m thrilled these seemingly daunting cakes were finally demystified! Though there are some changes I would make to this cake next time, the process was actually much simpler than I would have guessed. And the getting the sides cut neatly wasn’t rocket science and didn’t require a laser. A freezer and a long knife dipped in hot water and cleaned, however, was extremely helpful.


Thanks to Lis, Ivonne, Fran, and Shea for hosting and choosing such an awesome challenge! If you’d like the basic recipe, I’m hoping and fairly certain you will find it on their sites. For an inspiring roundup of other Daring Bakers’ concoctions, click here.

April Daring Bakers Challenge – Cheesecake Pops!

Sunday, April 27th, 2008


April’s Daring Bakers challenge was cheesecake lollipops dipped in chocolate. I had first seen and eaten these cheesecake pops at Davidburke and Donatella restaurant in New York (their pops come with bubble gum whipped cream) and thought the concept was really quite inventive and playful. In an episode of Road Tasted on FoodNetwork, it was revealed that David Burke’s children were the actual inspiration for these pops and now they’re a huge seller. A chef from the restaurant demonstrated how their pops are created. After baking the cheesecake, it is whipped, put into a pastry bag, piped onto a sheet, then dipped into chocolates, tuxedo style. In our challenge recipe, the cheesecake was baked, frozen, scooped into balls, then dipped in chocolate.

We were given free reign in our choice of toppings and in the shapes of the pops, so I eventually settled on five toppings: cocoa nibs, chopped dried cherries, crystallized ginger chips, crushed chocolate chip cookies, and crushed chocolate cookies. I think my pops turned out resembling meteoritic space balls, but I was not unhappy with the look.

At first, I dipped a single topping onto each pop, but I starting mixing it up a bit to accommodate eaters who might like to sample several of the toppings at once.


I also experimented with the shape a bit and used round cutter to create a drum-like shape with sides. This allowed me to alternate toppings a bit easier.


Thanks to Deborah from Taste and Tell and Elle from Feeding my Enthusiasms, who were this month’s hostesses. Deborah has the recipe posted on her site if you’re interested. The recipe calls for adding shortening in the chocolate to create a snap, but I used cocoa butter instead, which worked well. I also flavored my pops with seeds from a vanilla bean. To be frank, if I made these again, I would try another cheesecake recipe. I think at the very least, the cheesecake itself could have used a kick with more citrus flavors. I would also try the piping method to avoid the mess created from rolling the cheesecake balls by hand. To check out what other Daring Bakers have done for this challenge, click here.

Whimsical Spring Cake: Luscious Lemon Layer Cake with Passion Fruit Buttercream

Sunday, March 30th, 2008


My first Daring Bakers challenge is coincidentally, similar to the first layer cake I ever posted on my blog. Since I was already familiar with the techniques for making the cake and buttercream, I puzzled over how I would re-create this challenge. I ultimately decided to make a cake that celebrated Spring and Easter: a luscious lemon layer cake with passion fruit buttercream and apricot jam. The top is decorated with a spun sugar nest and chocolate mini-eggs dusted with iridescent luster dusts.


I’ve been enamored with passion fruit for a while. This tart, intensively flavored tropical fruit found in South America, Southeast Asia and Australia is not the most accessible or economical fruit. I found purees available on Amazon and L’epicerie, and also found the actual fruit available at my local Garden of Eden store for $2 for one piece. Consequently, I was delighted when my husband came home one day with passion fruit pulp he found in the freezer section of our local supermarket, at about $2 for the Goya brand. I haven’t actually tried many passion fruit purees or pulps for comparison, but I think the Goya brand flavored the buttercream just fine. As an added bonus, the passion fruit pulp tinted the buttercream a lovely and natural yellow color, the very color I had envisioned for my cake, which also hints to the lemon flavored cake within.

At the risk of belaboring my passion for passion fruit, waxing philosophical over cake, and perhaps drawing too many connections, the thought occurred to me after the fact that this fruit was appropriate for Easter for another reason. While researching how “passion fruit” got its name, I discovered that it was attributed to early European explorers who thought the flower of the passion fruit resembled the crown of thorns in the passion of Christ.


Pictured above is the spun sugar nest I made. I actually received a second degree burn in the process – but fortunately, I am quite experienced at treating burns thanks to my glassblowing experience. I made this nest as I was treating my burn, so I suppose it came out sufficiently well under the circumstances. I piped buttercream vines and flowers, which I then painted over with edible luster dust dissolved in alcohol.

I thought I would earn some brownie points with my parents by bringing the cake to their church for Easter. I was concerned that the passion fruit/apricot/lemon combination would be too tart, but the cake was a huge hit and people responded very positively to the flavors. The Korean congregation felt the need to sing, as if celebrating a birthday, and somehow this cake got lost in translation as they sang in broken English:

Happy Easter to you
Happy Easter to you
Happy Easter, Jesus Christ
Happy Easter to you!

Without further ado, here is the recipe (the original is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours, but I am posting a version with the adjustments I made):

For the Cake
2¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream (this is 1.5x Doree’s buttercream recipe, to accommodate the extra needed for decorating)
1½ cup sugar
6 large egg whites
4½ sticks (18 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup passion fruit pulp (start with less and add to taste)

For Filling
apricot jam

Optional Decorations
spun sugar nest
chocolate mini eggs, such as Cadbury’s or make your own truffle eggs
luster dust

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2 minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the passion fruit pulp, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread with preserves. Cover the jam evenly with buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and frost the sides and top with buttercream. [Tip: I like to do a “crumb coat” before the final frosting, which seals the crumbs and prevents it from mixing into the frosting. Frost the entire cake with a very thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Then proceed to frost the cake with the rest of the buttercream.] Decorate as you wish.


The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold.


First Daring Baker’s challenge completed! Thanks to Morven for hosting this month’s event, and to Lis and Ivonne for founding the group. To see what fellow daring bakers have created for this month’s theme, click on the logo below.