Monday, March 31, 2008

Daring Bakers: Perfect Party Cake

This months Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts. She chose Dorie Greenspan's "Perfect Party Cake" from her cookbook Baking from My Home to Yours. Even though we had permission to change the recipe flavors, I followed the original because I absolutly love raspberries.

One reason I love these monthly challenges is it gives me an excuse to get new kitchen gadgets. This month, I went out and purchased a Microplane zester. This tool is awesome! I was able to zest two lemons in no time at all.

Making the swiss merengue frosting was a lot of fun as well. I watched a video on youtube that demonstrated the process. This frosting is so light and tastes great. You really need to give this a try. You're going to love it.

This cake is absolutly delicious! I love the tartness of the raspberries with the lemon flavor. Add the coconut and I'm in love. This is now one of my favorite desserts. I hope you enjoy it as well. Check out what other Daring Bakers did with their cakes.

Perfect Party Cake
from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250)

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ 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
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

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 lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white 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 it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think 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. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuscan Garlic Chicken

Another favorite from Olive Garden. This recipe can actually be found on the Olive Garden website and they even have a video with Chef Paolo Lafata showing how to make this wonderful dish.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 lb fettuccine pasta
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp roasted garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, julienne cut
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 lb whole leaf spinach, stemmed
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F

2. Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in the mixture, shaking off any excess.

3. Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Cook chicken breasts 2 at a time over medium-high heat until golden brown and crisp (2-3 min each side). Add more oil for each batch as necessary.

4. Place cooked chicken breasts on a baking sheet and transfer to preheated oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165F.

5. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

6. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and red pepper and cook for approximately 1 minute. Stir in 1 Tbsp flour, white wine, spinach and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Sauce is done when spinach becomes wilted. Complete by stirring in parmesan cheese.

7. Coat pasta with sauce, then top with chicken and remaining sauce. Garnish with extra Parmesan cheese.

Zuppa Toscana

This is probably my favorite soup at Olive Garden. I was so excited when I found the recipe at This is supposed to be the actual Olive Garden recipe, adapted to a manageable size.

I found this to be a little spicy, so I would recommend decreasing the amount of crushed red pepper. Other than that, the soup was wonderful and tasted as good as the restaurant version.

1 lb ground Italian sausage
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 large diced white onion
4 Tbsp bacon pieces
2 tsp garlic puree
10 cups water
5 cubes chicken bouillon
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb sliced Russet potatoes (3 large potatoes)
1/4 bunch kale

1. Saute Italian sausage and crushed red pepper in pot. Drain excess fat, refrigerate while you prepare other ingredients.

2. In the same pan, saute bacon, onions and garlic for approximately 15 mins. or until the onions are soft.

3. Mix together the chicken bouillon and water, then add it to the onions, bacon and garlic. Cook until boiling.

4. Add potatoes and cook until soft, about half an hour.

5. Add heavy cream and cook until thoroughly heated.

6. Stir in the sausage.

7. Add kale just before serving.

Caramel Apples

Here is a wonderful treat that doesn't take much time. My friend Cheri introduced me to this recipe, and I've loved it every since. I love the mixture of tastes between the sour apple, sweet caramel, and salty peanuts. I think my favorite topping is peanuts, although I'm thinking of trying some peanut M&Ms next time. A crushed up heath bar would be good too.

Yield: 6 pieces

6 medium granny smith apples
6 Popsicle sticks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
chopped nuts (optional)
chopped candy (optional)

1. Wash apples and dry thoroughly. Insert Popsicle stick in stem end of each apple. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or spray plate with cooking spray.

2. In 2 quart saucepan, mix sugar, corn syrup, milk and salt. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly to 230 F on candy thermometer or until a few drops of syrup dropped into cup of cold water forms a small ball that flattens when pressed lightly. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cool slightly.

3. Quickly dip apples, swirling until covered. Dip bottoms in candy, sprinkles, or nuts if desired.

Dutch Oven: Peachy Cobbler

Who doesn't love cobbler? What a great way to end a meal around the campfire. This is an easy recipe that ends with great results. I tend to like white or yellow cake mix, but feel free to mix things up a bit. You could also try different fruit. How about some pears or apricots? Let me know about any of your ideas.

For an easier clean up, line the bottom and sides of the dutch oven with aluminum foil.

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 45 min
Yield: 8+ servings

2 cans (30 oz) sliced peaches, drained
1 cake mix
1 can 7UP
1 tbsp butter
ground cinnamon

1. Spread drained peaches on bottom of 12 inch dutch oven. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

2. Sprinkle cake mix evenly on top of peaches.

3. Pour 7UP evenly on top of cake mix.

4. Place slices of butter on top of the cake mix.

5. Using 12 briquettes on bottom and 12 briquettes on top, cook for 45 to 60 minutes. Turn the dutch oven a quarter turn every 15 minutes.

6. When cobbler is done, crush the briquettes on top of the dutch oven with a hammer. This will release a lot of heat and brown the top of the cobbler nicely.

7. Serve warm. Goes great with ice cream.

Dutch Oven: 7UP Chicken

This is a really easy dutch oven recipe that tastes great. Last time I made this, I didn't listen to Sarah and didn't add enough seasoning, so make sure you add enough seasonings. Also, make sure you have enough heat under your dutch oven so it doesn't take all night to cook.

This is just a basic recipe, and I'm sure you can expand on it. I'm thinking it would be good to saute the onions, garlic, carrots, and maybe some peppers. Maybe even brown the chicken breasts before adding all the ingredients. Go ahead, be creative and let me know how it turns out.

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 min
Yield: 6+ servings

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, quartered
3 lbs russet potatoes
2 cans 7UP
seasoned salt
coarse ground black pepper
Tony's Creole Seasoning

1. Slice carrots, onion, and potatoes and place in dutch oven with garlic.

2. Add chicken breasts. Add a generous amount of seasoning salt, pepper, and Tony's Creole seasoning. Pour 7UP oven ingredients.

3. Place dutch oven over hot charcoal briquettes.

4. Cook for 1 hour 30 min or until potatoes are done.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Best Big, Fat, Chewy, Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't know if this is the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, but this is probably my favorite of all that I've tried. They are really easy to make, and taste great. Let me know what you think.

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Yield: 24

4 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, melted
2 cups packed brown sugar ( CH Golden Brown)
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups chocolate chips ( 11.5 oz Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate)

1. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

2. Cream together melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until creamy. Mix in sifted dry ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand with a wooden spoon. Refrigerate dough at least one hour.

3. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease cookie sheets.

4. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, press cookie dough into measuring cup and then drop on cookie sheet. Cookes should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets around 10 minutes before moving to wire rack to cool completely.

Original recipe from Doubled original recipe except for chocolate chips and added 1/2 cup extra flour