Aug 27, 2009

Dobos Torte-Daring Bakers

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I had a really hard time with this dobos torte. I don't think there's actually anything wrong with the recipe, but my heart just wasn't in it the night that I made this cake. I planned to make the dobos torte for a friend for her birthday. Her birthday was on a weekday. After a long day at work, I came home dreading the idea of baking.

But bake, I did. The cake batter came together with no problems. Instead of baking it on a sheet pan, I baked it layer by layer in a springform pan. The problem is by the last layer, the batter didn't look as light and airy as the first layer. If I made this cake again, I will follow the recipe.

The chocolate buttercream is absolutely delicious. I can eat it straight, and I'm not a frosting person. I keep telling you that, but I don't know if you believe me anymore. Anyway, I think the buttercream saved the cake. When I assembled the cake, it was so short and looked so sad. So I cut it in half and stacked in on top of each other.

I couldn't give my friend a half circle cake, so I cut it to make a triangle. The good part is I got to have a taste of the cake. It was okay....nothing to the recipe though, it was completely my mood and me not baking it correctly. Here's the recipe.

Dobos Torta
from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague

Sponge cake layers
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour
pinch of salt

The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1. Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.

2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)

3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the center rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Chocolate Buttercream
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favorite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.

3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.

4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.

5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Caramel topping
1 cup caster sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.

2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.

3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Finishing touches
a 7” cardboard round
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
1/2 cup peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Assembling the Dobos
1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.

2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.

3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.

4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the center of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavor.

Aug 22, 2009

Hummus and Pita bread

There's a wonderful Greek restaurant in Honolulu called the Olive Tree. I especially love their hummus and pita bread. I woke up this morning with an intense craving for it..but they don't open until 5pm!! What is a girl to do?

I already have a hummus recipe that I like, but I have never made pita bread before. I looked through my bookmarked recipe, and found the pictures of these non-denominational bread the closest to the one at Olive Tree.

The hummus is good, but just not quite the same as Olive Tree's. The pita bread was very good!! They have a slight crunch on the outside and a soft middle. A perfectly yummy bread for hummus. It's not quite the same as Olive Tree's, but it will do until my next visit. Till then, I am a happy camper! Here are the recipes.

Turbo Hummus
adapted from Alton Brown

2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and liquid reserved
2 to 3 tablespoons tahini (see note)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (see note)

1. Blanch the garlic cloves in boiling water for 10 seconds (see note). Chop the garlic finely in a blender (see note).

2. Add the beans and 1/2 of the reserved liquid and process finely or to desired consistency. Add the tahini, lemon zest and juice, black pepper, and salt. Process until it forms a paste. Drizzle in the olive oil and process until it reaches the consistency of mayonnaise.

  • *The original recipe uses smooth peanut butter. I tried both peanut butter and tahini and found tahini to have a better, more authentic taste.

  • *The original recipe uses 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil. I only used about 1/4 cup and if it's still too thick, I add the reserved garbanzo bean liquid.

  • *I blanch the garlic cloves in boiling water to take away the strong, bitter taste of the garlic cloves. You can also put the cloves in the microwave for about 10 seconds.

  • *The original recipe uses a food processor, but I find I need a blender to get a really smooth consistency.

Non Denominational bread
adapted from MissJ9 at Nibbledish

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110ºF)
2 tbsp full-flavored olive oil
2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt
oil and salt for cooking

1. Bloom yeast in warm water; stir in gently and let sit for five minutes.

2. Add olive oil and flour and stir to combine well. Sprinkle in salt and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.

3. Let dough rest in a warm area in an oiled bowl covered with a clean dishcloth. Let the dough rise for between thirty minutes to one hour, or until dough is doubled in size.

4. Turn dough out onto very lightly floured surface and divide with sharp knife or bench scraper. The number of dough pieces you cut is dependent on the size and thickness you desire in your end product.

5. Heat up your grill or cast iron skillet. Roll the dough pieces into desired flatbread shape and thickness. For a crispier flatbread, stretch or roll until the dough is translucent.

6. Brush one side of the dough with olive oil (not too much!) and apply, oil-side down, to preheated skillet or grill. It may take a few trials to gauge appropriate cooing temperature.

7..Once the dough is in the pan, brush the other side with oil and sprinkle with a little salt. When the flatbread is well-browned on the first side, turn it over.

8. Keep flatbreads warm. They also re-heat nicely in the oven or toaster.

Aug 3, 2009

Chocolate cheesecake bars

Mr. G. had a little tennis function this past weekend and needed a potluck item. I love potlucks because it gives me a chance to try a new recipe!! I'm always worried about who's going to eat all the baked goods when I'm baking just for fun.

I was thinking about making this Apple strudel cheesecake bar, but I have to admit I was too lazy to go to the store to buy granny smith apples. So I found a recipe for a chocolate cheesecake bar that looked pretty promising.

I didn't use the original graham cracker recipe because I was, again, too lazy to go and buy graham crackers. I used a shortbread crust recipe that I love for cheesecakes. After I finished baking the crust, I found out I didn't have enough bittersweet chocolate in my pantry!! Yikes!! I'm rarely without bittersweet feels very strange. I had some unsweetened chocolate still, so I did a little researching and substituted it with that.

I stole a small slice before giving it to Mr. G. and I thought it was very good. It's very rich and creamy and the crust complements the creaminess very well. I think it would've been better with all bittersweet chocolate. The unsweetened chocolate gives it a much stronger chocolate taste..but also an acidic after taste. Nonetheless, Mr. G. said everyone loved it and the pan came back empty (yipee!!) The following is the original recipe with all bittersweet chocolate.

Chocolate cheesecake bars
crust recipe from Tartelette
chocolate cheesecake recipe adapted from Culinary in the Desert

125g butter, very cold, cubed small
42g sugar
150g all purpose flour
12g cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Work the butter, sugar, flour and cacao with a food processor or your fingers to get a sandy mixture. Work the dough for a minute. Press mixture into the bottom of a 8” square pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the filling

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
105g granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, room temperature

1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water (don't allow the bowl to touch the water) - stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add sour cream and mix well, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until incorporated. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix until smooth.

3. Pour the filling evenly over the crust and smooth the top. Bake until filling puffs slightly around the edges, but is still a bit wobbly in the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack to begin cooling.

4. After the cheesecake is completely cool, refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

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