Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lemony Cheesecake Pops

This is my first, and unfortunately, only post for the Daring Baker's challenge. I over-estimated the amount of free time I would have to contribute and therefore withdrew from their blogroll. It's a fantastic idea though and I hope to rejoin in the future.

That said, lemony cheesecake pops! I was a bit dubious at the prospect of a cheesecake-on-a-stick, but the end result turned out very nice. A couple of notes:

1) These are better frozen than refrigerated. After forming the balls and inserting the sticks, you'll find them too soft to dip if you don't freeze them first. Also, they taste much better frozen as as they warm up the textures become too similar and you lose the transition from chocolate to cheesecake. My ultimate preference was to roll them in something crunchy (in this case, candied lemon peel, although I tested roasted hazelnuts as well) then freeze them for a few hours before eating.

2) I had big problems scooping these out. I didn't want to overcook the cheesecake so I actually baked it ~10 minutes less than the recipe calls for. It tasted great, but each scoop would fall apart as I formed it. I ended up rolling them in my hands which led to messy fingers but nicely rounded cheesecakes.

Overall they tasted like a heavier version of bonbons -- one was more than enough. I probably won't make these again -- there wasn't enough texture variation to allow you to truly appreciate the cheesecake versus the chocolate. They are very decadent-looking though, and no-one on the receiving end would think of complaining. ;)

To make these lemony, I added 2-3 tbsps of fresh lemon juice and the zest of one lemon to the batter before baking. Recipe for the candied lemon zest can be found here.

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

* 5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
* 2 cups sugar
* ¼ cup all-purpose flour
* ¼ teaspoon salt
* 5 large eggs
* 2 egg yolks
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* ¼ cup heavy cream
* Boiling water as needed
* Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
* 1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionery coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
* 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set at low speed, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at lwo speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan). Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake pan and place in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchemtn paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

As I've mentioned before, I'm a chocoholic. The boyo doesn't understand it - to him chocolate is too heavy, too rich, too ... oh darn, I'm drooling. Needless to say, when I ran that poll, he agreed with the majority of you and voted (audibly) for fruit cupcakes.

But after all was baked and done, I couldn't get the mint chocolate cupcakes out of my mind. I love the mint-chocolate combo, but it is strong, and it's definitely not an overwhelming preference of the masses. So I pace myself - about one mint recipe every few months. It was due time though, and this recipe demanded to be made. The cupcake base is dense and fudgy, with a mint chocolate ganache filling you can smell a mile away. The peppermint buttercream isn't as light as the lemon, but it's much sweeter to counter the dark chocolate that permeates the treat. The garnish is an Andes mint sliced in half diagonally (using the dip-knife-in-hot-water-and-wipe-dry trick).

One thing I noticed when packing these up: compared to the angel food, these weigh a ton. They are indeed a very filling dessert - after taking the cross-section picture, I had to eat the subject (of course, mustn't waste!) and half that would have been plenty. It was absolutely delicious though and I still have the mint lingerings on my tongue.

Recipes are from Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop - I used this recipe for base then got the frosting and ganache recipes from here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lemony Angel Food Cupcakes

The vote has closed, and we have a by-and-far winner: Angel Food Cupcakes! I'm surprised, I was expecting the Mint Chocolate Cupcakes to win. I should thank you all for voting though, 'cos these wouldn't have been top of my list to make otherwise - the chocolate would have been. What can I say! I'm a chocoholic.

I've read descriptions of summer recipes that always include "airy," "light," and "melts on the tongue." Well, now I'm adding one to the list. Guys, this recipe is airy, and light, and melts on the tongue, and is more than that besides. The angel food is basically foam with a gentle lemon edge to it; the buttercream is rich with a gentle sweetness, but no weight. The overall effect is a fluffy bite that whispers lemon and sugar - the strawberry is by far the most substantial part of the dessert. If I were to hold a tea party (and it is definitely on my to-do list) these would absolutely be on my menu.

Recipe, recipe! There are several parts to this one: the angel food, the buttercream, a lemon simple syrup, and the strawberries.

Angel Food (adapted from Fresh from the Oven):

Makes ~30 cupcakes

* 1 cup cake flour
* 1 1/2 cup sugar
* 12 large egg whites, at room temperature
* 1 tsp cream of tartar
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 2 tbsp juice from 1 lemon
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 tbsp grated lemon zest

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

Whisk flour and 3/4 cup sugar in a small bowl, set aside. In a dry, clean electric mixer bowl, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and salt, and increase speed to medium high. Continue to beat, adding the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are shiny and form soft peaks. Beat in the lemon juice, vanilla extract, lemon zest until just blended.

Sift the flour mixture over the whites, about 1/4 cup at a time, and gently fold it in using a large rubber spatula. Fill each cupcake liner almost full (a little over 3/4) and smooth the tops so they are flat and touching the liner on all sides (these cupcakes rise only a very little and tend to get malformed and oval if the tops have not been smoothed.) Bake until the tops are lightly golden and spongy to the touch, 20-25 minutes.

Remove from cupcake pan and let cool completely before assembly.

Lemon Simple Syrup (Candied Lemon Peel from The Kitchn - not a misspelling!):

Makes ~ 1 1/2 cups

* 5-6 lemons
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 cup cold water
* 2 cups sugar
* Superfine sugar (optional)

Peel the lemons with vegetable peeler, taking off long, thin strips (slice to 1/4 inch if yours - like mine - peel off in wider strips). Fill a medium sauce pan 3/4 full with water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the lemon peels and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain. Repeat, using the other 1/2 teaspoon of salt. This is softening the lemon peels and taking away the residual bitterness of the white pith.

Drain the peels for a second time and set aside. Add the cold water and two cups sugar to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the sugar dissolves add the lemon peels and simmer on low for 45-60 minutes. Watch near the end to make sure the sugar doesn't caramelize.

Immediately lift out the peels with a fork and let them cool on a piece of wax paper that has been sprayed with cooking spray. If you want to eat them as candy, roll them in superfine sugar while they are still wet. When they have cooled and dried put in a sealed container in the refrigerator, where they will last for quite a long time. The syrup can also be stored in the fridge and used for flavoring and sweetening.

Lemon Buttercream (from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible - best cake recipe book I've found yet. Recipe also here.):

Makes ~ 4 cups

* 6 large egg yolks (4 oz)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 oz)
* 1/2 liquid cup corn syrup (5.75 oz)
* 2 cups butter
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp lemon extract

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measure.

Beat the egg yolks in a stand (or hand held) mixer until light in color. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

If using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don't allow syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a rubber spatula to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in the butter and lemon extract. Place in an airtight bowl. Bring to room temperature before using; rebeat to restore texture.

Once cupcakes have cooled, place a small dollop of buttercream on the top and line the top with thin slices of strawberries (ADDED: after slicing the strawberries, gently pat down with a paper towel. You want them to be as dry as possible so they won't leak juice). Lightly brush strawberries with lemon syrup. Pipe buttercream on top. Brush small slices of strawberries with lemon syrup and use for garnish.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Praline Macarons with Dulce de Leche (now with full Technicolor documentation!)

Macarons are fickle, flighty culinary concoctions. On the one hand, they're wonderfully delicious -- the shells are crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and melded together with a thick, rich sauce or ganache. Each bite melts on the tongue, leaving a sweet, nutty taste and a craving for more.

On the other hand, they're a pain in the butt to make.

They weren't always so difficult. While in California I had engineered a few different types, and had had an easy enough time that I didn't understand the pain many protested undergoing. Then I moved from moderate California to rain-everyday Washington and discovered just how touchy macarons can be. They don't like cold, they don't like heat, and they don't like humidity. 68 degrees with <20% humidity was perfect. Washington, with 55 degrees and 100% humidity, was a whole 'nuther ballgame.

You're supposed to leave the macarons out after piping and before baking for an hour or two to allow a skin to form. Macarons are essentially a meringue, so to maintain the smooth top of an ideal macaron you must have a hard skin in place when the baking bubbles start. The bubbles then have nowhere to go but out the sides, creating the desired "foot" effect. The purpose of leaving the macarons out for the few hours before baking is to dry them out enough to create the necessary skin.

Did I mention the 100% humidity?

Four hours out and the macarons were still sticky to the touch. I should have just left them overnight (couldn't have hurt) but I like to wrap up my baking projects in one day, preferably. The end result therefore was mixed: some were cracked on top but peeled away from the paper easily, others had perfectly smooth tops but disintegrated when moved, and still more turned out unblemished and photographable.

"Get on with it!" I hear you cry. Ok, well: the recipe is adapted from Tartlette's version, modified to work for more humid areas. I don't believe it'll fail given drier climates, but that's what small batches and lots of practice is for! By the third batch I'd gotten the hang of it, and had photographic evidence to document the step-by-step process, just because I love you guys. By the way, here are a few other sites I referred to for symptomatic fixes.

Some basic notes: I left my egg whites out for ~24 hours before using, but I have no idea if it made a difference. Also, before processing my almond flour, I lightly toasted it on a cookie sheet at 325 degrees for ~3 minutes. The idea was to eliminate as much extra moisture from the almond flour as possible before use.

UPDATE: While writing up this post I was commenting to my boyo about how much the humidity here had affected the general skin-forming time. A few hours later he came back to the topic with "Could you have used a hairdryer?" ..... That's not a bad idea. You'd have to use a low setting, and hold the dryer way above the macarons so the air wouldn't force the batter around, but it might work in a pinch. The other solution that occurred to me after (of course!) was to turn the oven on "warm," and leave the macarons in for a bit with the door propped open. This would have to be watched carefully though, so try it first on just one batch!

The Dulce de Leche is from David Lebovitz's site: it's awesome and I could eat it by itself (and did!)

Crushed Praline:
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1 cup unblanched almonds

Combine the sugar and almonds in a heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat to begin melting the sugar, and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so the sugar melts and caramelizes evenly. Cook to a light amber color.

Scrape the praline from the saucepan and spread it about 1/4-inch thick on an oiled baking sheet or a marble surface. Let cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Break the hard praline into 1-1/2 inch pieces and place them in a bowl of a food processor and quickly pulse until finely ground to crumb consistency (any coarser and they'll break the macaron's skin).

* 3 egg whites
* 50 gr. granulated sugar
* 200 gr. powdered sugar
* 110 gr. ground almonds

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not over-beat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work. Soft peaks were about right for me.

Pulse the almond flour in a food processor a couple times, then gradually add the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined. You don't want to turn the almonds into butter, but by adding the powdered sugar in parts you'll insure the almonds are finely ground and fully incorporated. The picture below shows a before-and-after.

Add the almond mixture to the meringue in two parts, folding the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Make sure there are no lumps or streaks! Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple of turns.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Sprinkle the praline powder over the shells. Let macarons sit out for a couple hours (or if need be, overnight!) until they are no longer sticky to the touch.

Preheat the oven to 315F. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size (mine were just under 2 inches wide, so I baked for 15-17 minutes). Let cool completely. If bottoms are still sticky after cooling, move the parchment paper to a cooling rack and leave for a couple of hours (or again, overnight. I love humidity!). Sandwich them with the Dulce de Leche, collapse into a chair, and enjoy!