Monday, January 25, 2010

Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake

I made this cake today because my son Nate picked it out from pictures in the Baking With Julia cookbook. He has been asking me to make an upside down cake forever! I was going to hold off on it until I found some nectarines, but I found some at Sprouts last week that were beautiful.

I learned some new things today. A chiffon cake is a cake that is made without the customary butter in the batter. It is meant to be light as air and is instead made with oil and meringue and not a whole lot of flour to weigh it down. I also learned that this is a French style cake-no frostings, just fruit and sometimes cream for their sweet toppings. This is uncustomary for me, because I like frosting better than the cake, but it's fun to try something different.

This cake is two layers of soft, light cake with a streusel filling between it, topped with caramel covered fruit. So let's jump in!

The cookbook calls for making the topping first. But I think it is more efficient to toast the almonds first so that they cook while you make the other elements. So, take 1/4 cup of unblanched almonds, spread them out on a pan, and allow them to roast for between 10-15 minutes. Stir them a couple of times to make sure they got toasted on all sides. This brings out the nice earthy flavor of the almonds to give your cake more dimension.

While the almonds are roasting, take a 10 inch springform pan and place 1/2 stick of butter in the bottom. Place the pan on your stove top and cook the butter over medium heat. When it is melted, remove the pan from the heat and spread out 1 cup of dark brown sugar over the melted butter. Pat it down with your hands.

Next, take your nectarines and slice them into eights. I only needed 3 nectarines, but you may need 4 if they are small or if you want more fruit on your cake. Place them in circles on top of the brown sugar. I thought it was pretty to reverse their direction on the second circle. Place the springform to the side.

By now the almonds should be done roasting. Take them out and put them into a food processor. You will also put in 1/2 stick of butter, 1/3 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of ginger (I didn't end up having this, so I used nutmeg instead. It was good.) and 1/2 cups of quick oats. The book is very careful to say to not use instant oats.

Pulse the food processor to mix this all together and make sure the butter and almonds are turned into coarse meal.

Spread this meal out onto a jelly roll pan lined with parchment and bake for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. This smelled amazing while it baked in my oven!

Now this is a very different way for me to make a cake. I have never made a cake with steps like these.

Sift together your dry ingredients, which are 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder 1 tsp of baking soda, 1/4 tsp of kosher salt (if you don't have kosher salt, go out immediately and buy some and use it in all your cooking. You will thank me later). Next, take 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of lemon juice and whisk them together in a large bowl.

When they are nicely combined, you can add your dry ingredients. Keep whisking as you do, until they are mixed together and a pretty pale yellow color. I've never whisked a batter before by hand, but it isn't too hard. Kind of fun, actually.

Now make your meringue. Take 6 eggs whites and whip them with your Kitchen Aid until foamy. Pour in 1/2 cup of sugar and whip on high until stiff peaks form. See how glossy and shiny it is? This is the prettiest meringue I've ever made.

Take 1/2 of the meringue and pour it into the batter. Fold in with a spatula. I like using a spatula, but I know some people use a balloon whisk. I don't own one of those because it wouldn't fit in my drawers. When this is combined, add the remainder of the egg whites. The purpose here is that you don't want to deflate the egg whites. The meringue makes the cake billowy, soft and light.

Pour one half of the batter of ther nectarines in the spingform pan. Top this with some of the streusel. This adds an amazing crunchy texture to the softness and contrasts as well as sweet and salty does.

Top with the remaining batter and bake for 45 minutes or until done.

I cannot tell you how great my house smelled while this was baking. All I could smell was the butter and brown sugar caramelizing. Heaven.

And here it is! It isn't perfect, kind of a rustically beautiful cake. But none of that matters, because of how it tastes. It's light, not too sweet, and entirely wonderful.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hungarian Shortbread

I think rhubarb has a bad reputation. People judge it by the way it looks. They think that it will taste like water and dirt and OK, it does look like red celery or the stalk of Swiss Chard, but when it's cooked correctly it is sooo good.

My first experience with rhubarb was when I made a Thanksgiving pie for my brother in law, Jon. He loves rhubarb pie because it reminds him of his grandmother in Minnesota. I had never really had rhubarb before and assumed I would hate it, but no; it's awesome. It does has a distinctive taste that I have a hard time describing. It's tart, has a bite to it (which can be overcome by reducing it in sugar). It reminds me of strawberries, yet has it's own distinctive flavor and smell. It's delish. I wouldn't make a 50 mile treck for something unless it was special.

Hungarian Shortbread is a shortbread that sandwiches a layer of homemade rhubarb jam. I had always thought of shortbread as those dry cookies with the sand like texture from the supermarket that come wrapped in plastic sleeves. Nope. This short bread is made with four sticks of butter, is mixed gently so that the flour stays tender, and literally melts when you eat it.

This time of year rhubarb is not in season. That's OK, because you can buy frozen packages of it at some stores and since you will be reducing it into jam, fresh rhubarb is not especially important.

The first step is the put 1lb of rhubarb in with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 of water and 1/2 of a vanilla bean. If you don't like things tart, you can increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Turn up the heat and let it boil until there is no liquid left. Make sure you stir it occassionally so that it does not burn on the bottom of the pan. I have very good luck making jams with my ceramic Le Creuset pots.

While the jam boils away, it's time to start on the dough. Take four sticks of softened butter and cream them with a mixer.

Once it is light yellow and fluffy, add in four egg yolks. I personally like to beat my egg yolks with a fork or whisk before putting them in.

Beat the butter and yolks together until bright yellow, and then add two cups of sugar and beat some more. You want a creamy soft, uniform texture. Now isn't that the most beautiful thing?

While the jam is boiling and the butter, eggs and sugar are beating, mix together 4 cups of flower, 2 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. When the butter is ready, carefully pour in the dry ingredients.
Now this is very important-mix this as little as you can. Mixing flour causes gluten to form, which will make the shortbread tough. While this may be a good thing when making breads or brioche, you do not want this here. You want this to be impossibily tender.

Dump the dough onto your counter and smoosh it all together. Roll it into a ball, then take a
sharp knife and cut it in half. Next, wrap up each half and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

By now your rhubarb jam should be thick. Take it off the burner and allow to cool.

The next step is a little weird. Once your shortbread halves are cool, pull out your ceramic baking dish, a box grater and one of the balls of dough. I have no idea why the recipe calls for this, but I think it is to keep the shortbread from being to heavy and to keep it melting from the heat of your hands.

Grate the dough into the pan. Once it is all grated, smooth the shreds out across the pan, put do not press down. The warmth of my hands kept melting the butter in the dough, so I had to put it in the freezer a couple of times.

Next, spread the cooled rhubarb jam over the top.

And shred the second ball of dough over the top. Now you are ready for the over-cook at 350 for 40 minutes.
Once the top is golden brown, take it out of the oven and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar right away. Allow to cool....
Then slice up and devour.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Since moving to Colorado a few months ago, I have been missing baking and decorating terribly! Unfortunately my circumstances here are not so that I can easily sell my cakes at the moment. Which got me thinking-why am I not baking with all this extra time on my hands?

When I was selling my cakes in Dallas I received hordes of compliments on how my cakes tasted. This always made me exquisitely happy. But it also made me stick to the same 3 or 4 recipes that I would make over and over and over. Really there was 1 recipe I pretty much had in the oven constantly-my White Almond Sour Cream Cake. This was very similar to my White Cake, which meant I left out the almond extract and doubled the vanilla. If you were to drop in, it was one or the other that I had baking.

However the conundrum was this-I had a handful of reliable recipes and was so busy decorating cakes that I stopped exploring baking, stopped doing what had driven my passion for cakes and other baked items in the first place.

I have mentioned in my bio before that when I got married that I could not bake. I remember having some good friends over for dinner one night and I had made this apple spice cake thing from a cake mix. I hadn't mixed up the ingredients-I had simply dumped them all together into the pan, baked it, and my friends had to delicately pick around the lumps of dry ingredients while pretending my "cake" tasted great. I laughed it off at the time-I was too busy to bake! I had other interests than cooking! Baking was for dour old ladies!

But like I said, once I was pregnant with my first child something fueled me to be a good cook. I wanted my kids to have memories of coming home from school to cookies that I made from scratch, or huge wedges of warm chocolate cake with cold milk.

The first cake I was successful with I made because I saw Emeril Lagasse on Good Morning America. He made a carrot cake. My husband hated carrot cake (so he thought), but I didn't care. It looked like the best thing in the world. I went to the store, bought the ingredients and made it. I didn't have a Kitchen Aid mixer yet, just my little hand held beaters. It took me hours upon hours and my back ached when I finally finished it. But when we tasted it, it was heaven on earth. My husband had a new found love for carrot cake and I realized I could make something taste that good. It became an obsession! (I still make that cake, in fact. It's pretty frequently requested by family and friends.)

As time went on I would drag my then baby son to the library with me and get lost in the baking section while he sat in his stroller. This section was in the a dark corner of the library basement which felt like a cool refuge from the sweltering Texas summer. It had so many baking books that I would walk up and down the isles transfixed. I would leave with piles of books in my arms. This led me to discover Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible. It's a great collection of recipes that are finicky and difficult, but worth it if you have the time. I would look at photos of her simple wedding cakes and think "how impossible!"

In the quest for making cakes artwork, though, I stopped trying out recipes. In retrospect I think it is because I didn't have time. When I made these experiments it was usually for my family or our friends, but I honestly had no time for that anymore. Anytime I was in the kitchen I was working. I became exhausted from making cooking my job.

Now, though, things are different. We moved to Colorado, about an hour North of Denver. There is nothing out here. I have to drive twenty minutes to a decent grocery store (Super Walmart.) I have to take a couple of dirt roads to get there. We are in a tiny gem of a neighborhood nestled within hundreds of acres if agriculture. My cake supplies are in my basement. I have no kitchen to rent (yet) and no clients (yet). And, admittedly, I'm a little bored.

So, with said boredom, I'm going to work on baking. There is a book I have called Baking with Julia and everything I have tried from it is delectable. I'm not trying to do the Julie/Julia thing, I just think this book has the right amount of recipes to not overwhelm me. I'm not going to bake everyday, and I'm not going to make anything that sounds gross to me-just the good stuff. So if you are at all interested in learning a little about baking, feel free to follow me!

Tomorrow I am going to drive 50 miles round trip to pick up some rhubarb. That is where the closest Sprouts is, and the only place around here that sells rhubarb. I'm going to be making Hungarian Shortbread-I've made it before, and it is wonderful. I'll be making new recipes as my family polishes off the stuff I baked before. I'm going to be making pastries and breads, croissants and sticky buns, focaccias and pizzas. Pretty much anything. I'm hoping that I will learn more, and I hope you enjoy!
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