Saturday 26 April 2008

Cheesecake pops

After missing the last Daring Baker's challenge, I knew I couldn't miss this month's. Yet, procrastinator that I am, I didn't get started on this until the day before posting day. Thankfully, I had all the ingredients I needed in the fridge - including the lollipop sticks - so there was no need to make a midnight run to the grocery store.

When I first read through this month's challenge, I was seriously worried about my lack of freezer space. One of my major gripes about living in London is the lack of American style refrigerators. You know, the Sub-zero kind with huge double doors. So I'm insanely jealous of anyone who can actually fit a baking sheet into their freezer. I had to put my cheesecake pops into a small tupperware in order to freeze them, and even then, i had to take half of the things out of my freezer temporarily and put them in the fridge.

Despite the slight logistical challenge, I still managed to get the pops frozen enough to coat them with chocolate. Since I'm not a fan of shortening, I chose to use plain tempered chocolate instead. I wasn't quite sure how to get the chocolate to set up cleanly on the pops though so I'll be the first to admit that my cheesecake pops are not the prettiest. Still, as they say, don't judge a book by its cover, for the pops were delicious. To be honest, what I really enjoyed was the cheesecake - I didn't care as much for the chocolate coating. The next time I make a cheesecake though, I know exactly what recipe to turn to!

Cheesecake Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
Boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable shortening

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

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

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the 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 the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake 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. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. 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 confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

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

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Carrot Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Last week, I had to miss out on TWD. I had a good excuse - I was running in the London marathon last Sunday. Yes, after 4 long months of training, it was finally race day and it was absolutely, mind-blowingly fantastic! Many people had told me over and over again that on race day, the crowds would carry you to the finish line. Yet, I still had my doubts. They were right, though. Despite the rain and dreary weather, approximately a quarter million people lined the route and cheered their hearts out for all the runners. Buoyed by their amazing support, I crossed the finish line almost a whole hour faster than I anticipated.

Now that I no longer have to spend hours training each weekend, I was glad to have a TWD recipe to look forward to. This week's choice was a carrot cake, something that I've made just once before. That time, I didn't quite like the result so I was hoping that Dorie's version would turn out better.

Since I already had a cake in the fridge from a previous baking session, I decided to use the recipe to make cupcakes instead. To do so, I halved both the cake and frosting recipe and had enough of both to make about 14 regular cupcakes.

I brought these cupcakes to a brunch on Sunday and I must say they were a huge hit. Reactions ranged from "these cupcakes are killer" to "these are the best cupcakes I've ever had in my life". Yet another hit from Dorie!

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
From Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted with a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick ( 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 and ¾ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.

If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.

Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Makes 10 servings

Wednesday 9 April 2008

White chocolate and matcha pound cake

Yesterday, while surfing around food blogs, I came across this post for a White chocolate and Matcha pound cake. Now, white chocolate and matcha is one of my favourite flavour combinations, one that I find works particularly well in this ice cream recipe that previously featured on this blog. After seeing this post then, I just couldn't get this cake out of my mind and absolutely had to make it after coming home from work last night. I was doubly persuaded when I saw the post that originally inspired this cake and another similar post about this cake.

While the batter was really easy to make, the problem with pound cakes, and its really not a problem at all if you're patient, is that it takes so long to bake - 50 minutes. Since my cake didn't come out of the oven till about 10 o'clock at night, my conscience wouldn't let me try a slice right away as it was just too close to bed time. The smells, though, were amazing and it took all my willpower to resist cutting a slice then and there.

So I dutifully waited till the morning and took my first slice at breakfast. (What makes it ok to eat cake at breakfast but not just before bedtime? Beats me... crazy female logic, I guess.) At first, I didn't find the cake quite so special - likely because I was eating the end slice. You know, it like the end slice of bread that is mostly crust but no crumb. So I took another (!) and this time, I could really taste the white chocolate and green tea flavours coming through. I like!

White Chocolate and Matcha Pound Cake
From La Tartine Gourmande

3 large eggs (2 oz each)
6 1/3 oz all-purpose flour
2 3/4 oz white chocolate
4 1/4 oz butter
5 1/4 oz fine sugar
1 pinch of salt
1.5 tsp Matcha tea
1 tsp baking powder

Melt the butter. Place the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water and let simmer until the chocolate is melted. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs with the sugar and beat until it is white in color, then remove.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and add it to the egg/sugar preparation, mixing manually with a whisk. Then add the salt and butter and mix.

Divide the batter in 2/3 and 1/3. Add the melted chocolate to the 2/3 batter and the matcha tea to the 1/3 batter.

Preheat your oven at 350 F. Grease a rectangular cake pan and add half of the chocolate batter. Continue with the matcha tea batter and finish with the other half of the chocolate batter. Take a fork and pass it through the different layers of batter.

Bake the cake for 50 mins, or until the blade of a knife comes out dry when inserted in the cake. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before unmolding.

Makes 1 loaf

Monday 7 April 2008

An unmissable TWD

While I already normally look forward to every Tuesday with Dorie, the recipe this week, The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart, was even more special for me. Why? Because the centerpiece of this recipe, the exquisitely smooth and delicious lemon cream, originates from the Picasso of pastry - Pierre Hermé

For those of you who don't know him, Pierre Hermé is a pastry chef extraordinaire. He is responsible for creations such as the Isaphan, a rose flavoured macaron with litchis and raspberries), and Plasir Sucré. For me, no visit to Paris is complete without a mandatory stop at his boutique on Rue Bonaparte. If you're going there for the first time, there's no missing it. Its the little store with the line of people snaking out its door.
Knowing what I know about Pierre Hermé, I was sure that this recipe would indeed live up to its name. Sure enough, I was not disappointed. Although the lemon cream is marginally more of a hassle to make than regular lemon curd, if you have a blender or a food processor handy, it really is a snap. I did find the crust a little more difficult to handle - its not one that you can roll easily (which Dorie did warn about) - but by pressing it into the pan as Dorie suggests, the crust turned out beautifully.

I served this for tea on Sunday and again for dinner. M, who is usually a chocolate fanatic, raved about it as well. I think this recipe is definitely a keeper!

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
From Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell

Getting ready:
Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk - you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling - you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point - the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience - depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going - to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats. 

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator). 

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Makes 8 servings