July 30, 2008

DB Pecan Gateau with Praline Buttercream

For July's Daring Baker Challenge, Chris from Mele Cotte picked a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter. I have to admit I wasn't as enthusiastic about making this cake. This seemed like another fussy layer cake with a nut-based cake and an egg-based buttercream. I knew that Alex and John wouldn't be thrilled about it and it seemed too similar to May's Opera cake.

I tried not to give in to my doubts and so I went ahead and made a half recipe cake. I choose to substitute pecans for the hazelnuts since I had a bag of pecans from my recent shopping stops in Georgia. The praline paste was my first step. You can't go wrong with caramelized sugar and toasted nuts. It was delicious! I moved on to making the gateau (cake). I went ahead and used eggs but substituted warm canola oil for the clarified butter in the original recipe. The cake was very light and airy. Despite my troubles with the Opera cake buttercream, I attempted making the Swiss buttercream with Earth Balance. It really wasn't a smart move. The Earth Balance was too soft and the frosting while tasty wasn't pipeable even after extensive chilling. I knew I could sacrifice flavor and beat in shortening to stiffen things up but my principles wouldn't let me. I made do and froze the cake between steps. To cover the cake, I used a new ganache recipe per another alternative Daring Baker's suggestion. Little Rosa posted a link to this recipe from David Lebovitz. It uses butter (Earth Balance in my kitchen) and water instead of heavy cream for the ganache. It worked well and set up nicely. Decorating the top went badly but I covered the shapeless blobs of frosting with toasted pecans and tried to make the best of the sloppy frosting.

The finished cake was good. The praline paste in the frosting tastes wonderful. I just need to find a way to work it into a dairy-free frosting that will be stiff enough to pipe. The pecan flavor in the cake wasn't as noticeable as I had hoped. I think I preferred the jaconde from the Opera cake in both taste and texture. Perhaps there is some magical combination of the two cakes and my own frosting that could work. I just think all the syrups and layers aren't worth it in the long run when I'd much rather be eating a spoon of the praline paste straight up. The cut slice was a big hit with my kitten Abbie though. She just refused to stay out of the shot! I hope this distracts you from the fact that the bottom layer was oversoaked in syrup and got stuck to the serving plate. Oh well...

Until next month, please visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see some other successes and failures and come on over the Daring Bakers Kitchen to chat with us.
The full original recipe is available in Mele Cotte's post here.

P.S. I'm not sure if I typed in the date incorrectly or if there was an error on the part of Blogger future post but I really didn't mean to have a copy of this up on Tuesday. I'm SO sorry!

July 28, 2008

Michigan berry sorbets in mini pavlovas

I went a little crazy the last time I went to the Royal Oak Farmer's Market. I managed to hit the perfect time when there were still Michigan strawberries (which were at their end) as well as local raspberries and blueberries. Four quarts just had to come home with me! Tiny fragrant Michigan strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries and blueberries were quickly turned into four single note sorbets. Ok it wasn't that quick, the ice cream freezer had to chill for 15 hours between each batch, but it was worth it! To serve them all together I made local, Michigan, Recipes: individual pavlovas. A pavlova is usually a large cake sized meringue that has the addition of cornstarch and vinegar. Pavlovas are lovely and crisp outside with a soft, fluffy interior. I actually over baked mine a little. Alex and I were having a picnic in the backyard while they were cooking. In my opinion this only made them better. They had a toasted marshmallow flavor and a chewiness that worked perfectly with the fragrant, tart sorbets.

I'm adding this to the latest Sugar High Friday hosted by Susan of Food Blogga. Sugar High Friday is a blog event created by Jennifer the Domestic Goddess. This SHF theme is berries. Stop by Susan's site Food Blogga in early August to see the other posts.

Basic Berry Sorbet
Makes ~ 1 pint
1 quart of berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries*)
~1 cup sugar
juice from half a lemon

-Dump berries and lemon juice in a food processor and add two thirds of the sugar. Process until smooth and taste for sweetness. It should be just slightly sweeter than you would want for sauce. Add more sugar as needed. *Note: To get the most color and flavor from blueberries it's best to smash them in a pot with the sugar and then cook just until the berries give up their color. Then add the lemon juice and adjust the sugar as needed.
-Strain sorbet base through a fine sieve to remove seeds. Refrigerate until cold.
-Follow your ice cream maker's directions and then freeze til solid, ~2 hours.

Michigan berry sorbets: clockwise from top left
blueberry, strawberry, black raspberry and red raspberry

Mini Pavlovas
Serves 4
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar (100g)
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

-Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F.
-Whizz the sugar in a food processor or blender to create a finer grain but not powder.
-Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
-Slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, beat between each addition.
-Beat until mixture feels smooth to the touch, no grains of sugar remain undissolved.
-Fold in the vinegar and cornstarch.
-Visually divide the mixture in fourths and spoon onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
-Form four relatively equal mounds and create a shallow depression in the middle.
-Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. The finished pavlovas should be cream colored and the surface should be dry and crisp.
-Turn off oven and open the door slightly. Allow the pavlovas to cool until they can be handled.
-Serve filled with fruit, sorbet or ice cream. Store in an air tight container for a day or two if it is not too humid.

More pavlova recipes for inspiration:

Joy of Baking pavolvas
Smitten Kitchen pavlovas
Pistachio pavlovas (Food and Wine Magazine)
Coconut pavlovas with tropical fruit (Food and Wine Magazine) *I have to do this soon!
Vacherins with raspberry sorbet (Epicurious)

Meme time

I've been lax about following up on being double tagged for a meme. Speedbump Kitchen and The Allergic Kid both got me and I've been a bad girl and haven't responded.

What can I say? The weather here has been fantastic! My herbs are growing like crazy and so are the zucchini, green beans and tomatoes. However, my cucumbers are just not cooperating. I have plenty of flowers (see the image to the left) and the bumblebees love them but not a single cucumber has formed!? Luckily, I have my father-in-law to trade with. His zucchini aren't producing but he has a ton of cucumbers. He also let me have all of his rhubarb and I made a big batch of compote and dried some for an experiment. I'm thinking of trying out this rhubarb cupcake recipe that uses compote and trying a different spice combination. But back to the meme...

The Rules:
1. Link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6. Let the person who tagged you know when your entry is up.

My Random:
1. When I was a kid most people called me Margi (no e) and that's how I learned to spell my name.
2. When I grow lettuce I never pick enough and it all goes to seed. I really think lettuce flowers are pretty.
3. I was a vegetarian for over 7 years and the food that broke my resolve was beef jerky.
4. I have a BS in Ecology.
5. I couldn't eat cooked carrots while I was pregnant.
6. I love going grocery shopping when I'm on vacation. I hunt down local health food stores, co-ops and markets like other people look for museums and theme parks.

The Newly Tagged:
Tinker at Tinker Culture
Mary at Recipes to Eat
Bill of House Husband's Home Cooking
Kim at My plate, my world
Karale at What Josh and Karale Ate
Susan at the Vegetarianist

July 22, 2008

Zucchini Pancakes

Alex has really enjoyed picking vegetables this year. He loves that I'm letting him do some chopping with real knives. Yikes! His favorite vegetable for chopping has been zucchini. We forgot to pick two and over two days they turned monster sized. This only added to Alex's general excitement. I figured I'd better try and cash in and get him to eat more than his usual nibble of vegetable by making zucchini pancakes. He loved using the grater and cracking the egg but had a hard time getting the spatula under them to flip. I went ahead and let him have maple syrup (it is real stuff and from Michigan) but John had his with Tofutti Better than Sour Cream. I had real (ie cow's milk) sour cream.

Anyway, these are nothing special but they are
super easy and have lots of kid friendly steps. Alex washed the zucchini, trimmed the ends off, cut a piece off to grate, grated it, squished out the extra water, cracked the egg, measured and mixed in the flour, mixed it all up, oiled the skillet, dropped the batter onto the skillet by himself and took them out of the pan. All I needed to help him with was the flipping (and the clean up). I was pretty impressed with all the work he did.

I'm adding this to the Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival. Stop by The Allergic Kid for the rest of the entries.

Zucchini Pancakes
Makes 12 2-inch pancakes

1 cup grated zucchini with the extra water squeezed out
1 egg
3 tablespoons self rising flour*
1/4 teaspoon garlic, mashed (optional)
oil for skillet
*Make your own by mixing 1 cup all purpose flour, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt and then taking your 3 tablespoons from that mix

-Grate the zucchini and give it a good squeeze with your hands to remove all the excess water. You can place the zucchini in a tea towel first to make this easier. Discard the water.
-Add the egg and flour to the squeezed out zucchini and mix to combine. Add more flour if needed.
-Heat a skillet on medium high heat. Brush with oil or spray with spray oil.
-Spoon on heaping tablespoons of batter and cook on one side until lightly golden brown. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown.
-Serve immediately, salt if needed.

July 16, 2008

Sour cherry picking and pocket pies

This past Saturday my family decided to brave the threatening weather and go cherry picking. After a short drive in the country we ended up at Blake's cider mill. They have pick-your-own Bing, Rainier and sour cherries. Best of all they have a pitting machine!

We headed out to the sour cherry trees and started picking but shortly it began to rain. We all tried to stay dry under the trees but it kept coming down and we had to give up and run for the cars. Since my parents and I both had a full bucket we decided to call it a day and head to my house where my peach Danish was waiting for us.
In past years, I've made lots of sour cherry preserves but we're really not jam eaters and I hate how much sugar preserve recipes have. I've made dried cherries but they take a lot of cherries and get eaten up too fast. I even canned cherries in light syrup one year but let my jars cool too much and had a glass filled mess. While I was debating what to do with the cherries my husband John was working his way through my bucket making cherry-soymilk smoothies and I was eating a bowl of micro-stewed cherries for breakfast every day. I finally settled on using the last of the bucket to make homemade pie filling. The stuff in the cans always tastes like metal to me and the cherries are over sweetened and overcooked. I started with a simple recipe. When you have cherries pitted sitting around they give off a lot of juice. So, I skipped some steps, eliminated the lemon juice and lowered the amount of sugar to my tastes. The resulting pie filling was delicious! I had planned on freezing half of the filling but it was so good with yogurt I barely had enough to make some pocket pies.

I remembered seeing a Good Eats episode on pocket pies and thought Alex would love them. I make him dairy-free calzone with Food for Thought mozzarella and they are one of his favorite foods. Alton Brown makes a chocolate filling on the show that I wanted to try to make dairy-free in addition to filling some pies with the cherry filling.
When I started making the dough, Alex noticed what I was doing and came to help. He got the scraps of dough and made some teeny-tiny pies and cinnamon sugared animals. I rolled out my dough and mixed up the chocolate filling with Earth Balance as the butter substitute. I filled the first batch with chocolate filling and put them in the oven. Then I got to work on the cherry filled pies.
When the timer sounded a surprise awaited me. Most of the chocolate filling had oozed out of the pies! Alex heard my exclamation and ran over to see what had happened. He started laughing and told me that my pies had diarrhea. While this was an apt description his six year old mind was a little fixated on the scatological idea and he cackled and repeated the statement for at least 10 minutes. We then found that the "diarrhea" was chewy and delicious and pulled away from the pies without too much damage to them. There wasn't as much chocolate filling still inside as I would have liked but they were still really good.

I'm not sure if I didn't seal them well enough or put too much filling inside. Maybe I need to add something else to make the Earth Balance set? Flaxseed meal, cornstarch, or flour are options I'm going to try when I make these again. And I will make these again. The dough came together really quickly and easily and was easy to work with. The cherry filling bubbled out a little but otherwise they were perfect; fresh tasting and not overly sweet.

I'm sure I'm going to make more pocket pies with other fillings and work on getting the chocolate filling to stay inside. Using up my picked sour cherries as pie filling was new for me and I think it would be a good way to save the fruit while it is in season. I'd like to make more and try freezing individual portions to top yogurt or hot cereal with. The whole time I've been thinking about how next year we'll be living 100 feet from a sour cherry orchard. I really can't wait for the move!

I've been meaning to post an entry to Jen from Modern Beet's Fresh From the Farmer's Market Blog Carnival and this entry seems perfect. Be sure to check out the other posts on her blog in the beginning of August.

Here are the recipes with my alterations:

Sour Cherry Pie Filling
This was great with yogurt or hot cereal and worked beautifully in my pocket pies.
Makes ~5 cups

4 cups (1 quart) pitted sour cherries
1/2 cup juice from the cherries
3 tablespoons corn starch or tapioca starch
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt

-Add the juice from the cherries to a large saucepan. Stir in the sugar and cornstarch until there are no lumps of cornstarch left.
-Add the cherries and bring to a boil. Only boil it until it thickens so you retain the cherries fresh taste.
-Remove from heat and cool. Store in the fridge or freeze. Can be used like canned cherry pie filling.

Pocket Pies
My dairy-free version of Alton Brown's Good Eats Pocket Pie Recipe. If you'd like directions on how to deep fry or pan fry these pies look to the original recipe.
Makes 10-15 pies

9 1/2 oz all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 oz shortening (~6 tablespoons)
3/4 cup soymilk
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water, or just water
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Have your fillings ready.
  2. Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix together well with a wire whisk.
  3. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter until the shortening is the size of flakes of oatmeal.
  4. Add in the milk all at once and stir together.
  5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 10-20 times.
  6. Roll the dough out to 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick and cut out 2 1/4 inch circles of dough.
  7. Form pies by taking a circle of dough and rolling it to a thin disk 4-6 inches across. Brush one edge with egg wash or with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of filling and fold over the other side. Crimp with a fork and snip 2-3 holes in the top for venting. Transfer to a baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool and eat.

July 12, 2008

In case you were wondering

Peaches are great in Danish braids. I really love this recipe!

I cooked down peaches, sugar and scraped vanilla pods and then used the cooled mixture in the braid along with a sprinkle of ginger chips. I used the original dough recipe (with my dairy-free substitutes) and added a drizzle of lemon juice powdered sugar icing. We went sour cherry picking today so look for upcoming sour cherry recipes.

July 10, 2008

Peaches, peaches, peaches

Sometimes a recipe helps us make do with the less than supreme quality of ingredients you have at hand. Other times you have to restrain a recipe because of how great an ingredient is on it's own. These recipes are definately of the latter sort.

We just returned home from a vacation in Florida and along the long, straight stretches of I-75 we passed dozens of signs for Georgia peaches. When I stopped I planned on grabbing just a small bag. But when the smell hit me, I couldn't resist getting a whole case of the juiciest, most fragrant peaches I have ever had! These peaches really need very little done to them. Here are my favorite ways to eat them so far:

Micro-stewed Peaches and Blueberries
I returned to Michigan and the start of blueberry season. This is my perfectly simple way to serve the two together. I also love making this with Italian plums or cherries.
Makes 1 serving

1 peach, pitted and chopped into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup blueberries
2 teaspoons brown sugar or maple syrup
2 tablespoons of sour cream*

Place the peach chunks and blueberries into a small bowl and microwave uncovered for 1-2 minutes, just until the fruit is hot and the berries begin to burst.
Top with brown sugar or maple syrup and sour cream.
*Soy yogurt, regular yogurt, and Tofutti Better than Sour Cream are all good on this. It goes without saying that ice cream would gild the lily.

Peppery Peach Slices
I love black pepper with fruit. Freshly ground black pepper has a lot of subtle flavors that are enhanced by sweet fruit. I use an Excalibur dehydrator which I love but it was pricey. For oven drying instructions look here.
Makes 2 cups

6 peaches
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

-Slice the peaches into 1/2 inch wedges. Toss gently in a bowl with the pepper and salt.
-Dry until only slightly flexible ~8-10 hours at 135 degrees F in a food dehydrator.
-Store in an airtight container or they will absorb moisture from the air.

Broiled Peaches
Serves 1, increase as needed
1 peach
1 tablespoon chopped pecans (also acquired in Georgia)
1 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon

-Preheat your broiler.
-Split the peach in half and remove the pit. Fill the pit cavity with pecans and the pinch of cinnamon. Place the peach halves with the cut side up on an oven-proof dish and sprinkle on the brown sugar.
-Broil 4-7 minutes until the sugar melts and the peach is warmed.
*Ice cream on top is delicious but optional.

Peach recipes on my list to try:
Peaches and Cream Cupcakes
Plum and Peach Crisp
Grilled Peaches with Creme Fraiche and Molasses
End of Summer Peach Sorbet
Ginger Peach Jam
Peach Clafouti
Raw Peach Soup