Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daring Bakers-Tiramisu'

It is that time of the month already, can you believe it? I can't, life is so busy, I can't seem to catch up and I am not even working right now. This time I am prepared though, done with the challenge on time. Pictures are really bad, I waited until now to take them and there is no light left, all obscured by a dark cloud. One day I will have a good camera! For now, the i-phone has to do.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I love this dessert, I named the blog after it because of the sinfulness and the simplicity. Tiramisu' means pick me up in Italian, a name that fits this rich dessert containing espresso, cheese, eggs and sugar. What I liked about the challenge was the thought of making mascarpone (something I have always wanted to try), and the biscotti Savoiardi, what we call lady fingers in Italian. I had only seen recipes for homemade mascarpone using tartaric acid, not lemon juice, so I was intrigued as tartaric acid is not something you can easily find. And the cookies turned out easier that I thought, so fear you not, if you have the time, these recipes are really fool proof.

I started making Tiramisu' soon after moving to the States since I grew up eating it and the ones I tried in restaurants were always disappointing. I didn't start with a recipe as I knew the ingredients, the method, and how it was supposed to taste. It took me three trials until I found the perfect combination. I normally make Tiramisu' with fresh eggs, and I love making it because it is one of the easiest dessert to make, if you use store bought ingredients it can be ready in 15 minutes, yes 15. Not to mention the effect it has on people! I normally use imported mascarpone since the domestic ones are not quite right, if you had tasted the real thing you would know what I am talking about. Yes, you can call me a snob, which is kind of true in many things Italian. Two blocks from my Venetian home there used to be a cheese store, or latteria Plip, knows as La Plip, and they used to make their own mascarpone. It was stored in little plastic tubs, nested in waxed white paper. It was so creamy and sweet, you could eat it by the spoonfuls. During the summer they wouldn't make it as it spoils really easily. Sadly, like many other small stores that couldn't survive the slow death Venice is suffering, the latteria is now defunct, and in its space there is a snack bar. RIP.

Mascarpone is pronounced with the "e" at the end, not like mascarpon, and the "e" is pronounced like in red not like in reed. Every letter is pronounced in Italian, and if you want to actually "hear" how it is pronounced check this post at Briciole, go to the bottom and click on the audio file to hear Simona's voice. The post has also wonderful instructions on how to make mascarpone.

This comes from the original post by Deeba and Aparna, to illustrate the history of this dessert:

So when, where and how was tiramisu born? Tiramisu is said to have its origins in Treviso (Italy), and there are quite a few stories about how it came to be created. One story traces the tiramisu as far back as the Renaissance claiming that it was first made in honour of the visit of Grand Duke Cosimo di Medici to Tuscany. Yet another one points to the tiramisu being an adaptation of the "Zuppa Inglese" referring to the sponge cake and cream layered English Trifle. However, experts in this area generally agree that the tiramisu as we know it today, was born in the ‘70s. Some believe that the Tiramisu was created in the the Le Beccherie (a restaurant in Treviso). Others suggest that Tiramisu was first made in 1971 by an Italian baker named Carminantonio Iannaccone in a small bakery in Treviso, Italy.

I am not sure where this dessert originated, the common version is that it comes from the Veneto region of Italy, where Venice is located. Tiramisu' is a staple in Italian restaurants, probably because it is so easily made and everyone loves it.

You can find the complete recipe and admire other bakers' creations here.

My notes:
* The gently heating the recipe calls for didn't work. My cream never reached 190F in the double boiler even with the little bubbles raising to the top. I had to heat it directly in a pot. Like the recipe says, the cream was really liquid and when I poured it in the sieve, half went right through, raising concerns that I would not have enough the next day. I then consulted the daring kitchen forum and it turned out that the cheesecloth was the problem, I used a napkin instead and the problem was solved. The cream thickened in the fridge and tasted amazing. I will never look back again and will only make my own mascarpone from now on.

* The recipe for ladyfingers is really easy, don't be scared, they look beautiful and are really light. I thought they needed a little bit more sugar, but for this purpose it wouldn't matter as they are soaked in coffee anyway.

* I decided to skip the pastry cream and the zabaglione since they are not traditional in the recipe and we were not required to make them. I just used my method of separating the eggs, whipping the yolks with half the sugar, adding the mascarpone, whipping the whites with the rest of the sugar, and folding all together. This version is light, not too sweet and oh so creamy. I normally use 3-4 eggs per 500 gr of mascarpone, and sugar to taste. I add only enough whites to create a creamy light texture, and whip the mascarpone with the yolks to make it stiffer. The savoiardi are dipped in cold espresso coffee to which I might add some brandy, or cognac, depending who is going to eat it.

* I ended up making few things with the cream: a traditional Tiramisu' that will be served for dinner tonight, and then I folded ground espresso powder in the cream and froze it to create a semifreddo, then I sandwiched the disk in between round ladyfingers.

Tiramisu' semifreddo sandwich

Thank you Aparna and Deeba for this month's challenge and to Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, the creators of the Daring Bakers' challenge.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blood Orange Caramels with Almonds and Cardamom

I had few blood oranges laying around, bought without a clear idea of what to make. Marmalade was on top of the list, but then I run into this recipe while reading mattbites blog and that sealed it, caramels, yum! Matt Armendariz lives in Los Angeles and is an amazing food stylist and photographer. Check out his website and his photos if you haven't already, just amazing.

Matt in turn got the recipe from Cindie, one of the authors of foodfanaticsunwashed, another amazing blog.

I substituted cardamom for the vanilla in their recipe and cut the salt amount by half. The taste of these caramels is amazing, the tartness of the orange juice cuts down the sweetness and the hint of cardamom is just perfect.

Warning, these are unbelievably addictive, so be prepared to consume a huge amount.

Blood Orange Caramels
adapted from Cindie

3 cups blood orange juice, strained
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 cup toasted almonds
1 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper and set aside.

Place blood orange juice in a 4-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup.

Remove from heat and stir in sugars, butter, and cream. Return to high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat to medium and let boil until a candy or deep fat thermometer reads 248 degrees F (or when a half teaspoon placed in a glass of icy cold water turns into a firm, chewy ball), about 17 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the cardamom.

Scatter almonds on bottom of parchment paper. Pour caramel over almonds. Let sit until cool and firm, about 2 hours. Remove from baking dish and sprinkle salt flakes over top. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chocolate Stout Cake-The Perfect Cake for Your Special Valentine

I made this cake for a Burns' supper I helped cater. I used Guinness which is not Scotch but Irish, but the point was to make a rich, buttery, stout cake any Scot would appreciate. I am proposing it here since it would be the perfect cake for a Valentine's celebration. Even better, make it on a sheet pan (the full recipe fills a half sheet pan perfectly), cut it with a heart shaped cutter, and cover it with a rich decadent glaze and you will for sure knock somebody's socks off (if that is what you want to do....).

I had meant to make a stout cake for a long time but never managed and since I was preparing the menu for a friend I was happy to finally try one. Sadly I couldn't find the recipe I wanted to try so I set on this one from Bon Appetit, which apparently 95% of the people who tried it, and took the time to review it, would make again. The cake is super simple, it comes together in minutes, and the result won't disappoint. The cake is even better the next day, and it lasts several days.

The butterscotch recipe comes from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, a funny and talented pastry chef now living in New York and working at 10 Downing.

My notes:

* The recipe below makes a three tier huge cake. By halving the recipe you can get a single 8", 3" high cake that you can still cut in half and frost, or make two 8" smaller cakes to use as layers. In retrospect that is what I should have done because this cake took for ever to cook due to the wetness of the batter.
*For the party I baked the cake in a half sheet pan, and it fit perfectly, and I cut it in squares, not too big, all you need of this rich cake.
* I decreased the amount of sugar from 4 cups to 3 1/2 cups and that worked, I like everything less sweet.
* Since I wanted to serve the cake with a butterscotch sauce I didn't glaze it. The cake is so rich and chocolaty that it doesn't need much else, but if you want an extra decadent cake, go ahead and glaze it using Bon Appetit's glaze recipe.

Chocolate Stout Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

by Shuna Fish Lydon
via Simply Recipes


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt


Butterscotch takes about a half an hour to make, from start to finish.

1 First, before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the brown sugar next to the pan, measured and waiting. Making butterscotch is a fast process that cannot wait for hunting around for ingredients.

2 In a heavy bottomed stainless steel 2 quart saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add all dark brown sugar at once and stir with wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.

butterscotch-1.jpg butterscotch-2.jpg

3 Stir infrequently until mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to notice how the mixture changes. It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

butterscotch-3.jpg butterscotch-4.jpg

4 Right before you add the cream, the caramelizing brown sugar will begin to look and feel more like liquid and less like thick wet sand.

5 At this point add all the cream at once and replace your spoon with a whisk. Lower heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. When liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes.

butterscotch-5.jpg butterscotch-6.jpg

6 After liquid has been boiling on the stove for its 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for a minute or two before transferring into a heatproof storage vessel. (I prefer a stainless steel or glass bowl.) Cool to room temperature.

butterscotch-7.jpg butterscotch-8.jpg

7 When butterscotch liquid is room temperature, take a small taste. It's important to know what cooked brown sugar and butter tastes like, and what happens when transforming that flat sweetness into real butterscotch flavor. Whisk in half the salt and vanilla extract. Taste again. Add more salt and vanilla extract until the marvelous taste of real butterscotch is achieved.

butterscotch-9.jpg butterscotch-10.jpg

Butterscotch makes a fantastic topping for ice cream.

Chill butterscotch sauce in a non-reactive container with a tightly fitting lid only after sauce has chilled completely. It will keep for one month refrigerated, that is if you can keep from eating it all the moment it has cooled down and been seasoned to your liking.

Photos and recipe courtesy of Shuna, found at Simply Recipes.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Freshest Eggs

As some of you might remember, I purchased seven chicks in July, two bought from a local mom, and five ordered through the internet. Sadly, the best looking of them turned out to be a rooster and we had to find a home for him. Speck was lucky because he was purchased by a very nice lady who even sent up pictures of him and his new "friends". It was really hard to let him go.

To my total surprise, raising chickens has turned out to be an wonderful experience (building a coop with my own hands was also amazing). If somebody had told me a year ago how much fun having chickens would be, I would have thought there was something seriously wrong with this person, now I know I was wrong. Holding a fast asleep chick in your hands is priceless, so is realizing that chickens are born with a personality, like children. Their nature manifests immediately, and it stays true when they are fully grown. Given the fact that our chicks never had a hen to show them how to be a chicken, we were amazed that they know what to do, instincts are really powerful.

I had hoped to get eggs at 4 months, but I should have listened to all the people who told me that in reality chickens start laying at 6 months. When we went to Italy we really missed our loud feathered friends, but we were pleasantly surprised to find our first eggs when we got back. Cloudy, our tiniest chicken, a bantam Ameraucana, started laying green eggs about a month ago, and they are the cutest thing, even though I never cease to be surprised on how something so big can come out of something so small. We were surprised again when we found the egg of the third chicken that started laying, as it was pure white. Yesterday, our biggest, blackest, and mellowest chicken laid her first egg, a beautiful pale beige, almost pink egg. Now we are waiting for the last two to star laying, and that should give us 3-4 fresh eggs a day, imagine the possibilities!

I know I cannot make everyone who has a garden get chickens and raise them, but after witnessing their excitement when they are let out of the coop, I had the painful confirmation that there is something really wrong and inhumane in keeping chickens confined in overcrowded cages, with no room for moving around. Since as consumers we have the power of making choices I strongly suggest that you buy eggs from chickens raised humanely. Besides the ethics against caging, the quality of nutrients from chickens raised inhumanely cannot be good, pumped with antibiotics and stressed from their living conditions. Thanks for listening.


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