Friday, May 23, 2008

Inner Beauty

I have a love/hate relationship with this month's Daring Baker's Challenge, Opera Cake. Mothers don't make this cake. It will surely result in child neglect. In fact I started making it on a sunday and didn't finish until tuesday. I was pretty annoyed on Tuesday when my kitchen looked like it blew up, the kids were not quite taken care of, and I had what I thought was a disaster of a cake on my hands, too.

Half of the cake stuck to the tinfoil in the bottom of the pan (that's why the recipe calls for parchment paper, I guess) so I made a few mini opera cakes with the bits and peices of cake that I could peel off of the tinfoil. So I was pretty frustrated by the time I finally finished making the cake, but then when I tasted it suddenly it was all okay. It wasn't pretty, but we all agreed that it was tasty.

I came away with my new favorite buttercream, and ideas of how to make the cake simpler and more delicious- by making just the cake, buttercream, and sugar syrup (no mousse or glaze). Oh yeah- and next time I will be buying almond meal at whole foods instead of blanching and processing my own almonds.

Here's the recipe, but just the parts I recommend.

For the cake (Joconde)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
2 Tb orange zest
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C). Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside. If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and orange zest and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven. Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold. Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup:
½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp.coconut extract

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar (Used to say 2 cups but should be 1 cup)
¼ cup (60 grams) water (Used to say ½ cup but should say ¼ cup)
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Used to say 1¾ cups of butter but it should be 1¾ sticks).
Coconut Extract- about 1 Tablespoon)
Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) (Note: The original recipe instructs to heat the syrup to 255◦F (124◦C). We heated it to 225◦F and it worked just fine. However, if you are concerned, then by all means heat your syrup to 255◦F.) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don't worry about this and don't try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it's set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

Monday, May 19, 2008


This is my brother-in-law, Ryan, with his chicken. He has no taste. The man literally can not taste. It happened in a longboarding accident which resulted in a head injury which resulted in a loss of smell which resulted in a loss of taste. Ryan continues to eat pretty much what he ate before the accident (not always. I saw him mix milk and apple juice once, when there was just a little bit left of each. That was nasty, Ryan.)

Anyway, this post is dedicated to Ryan, who I thought of when I ate half of this flan in one afternoon. It had the smoothest texture to ever grace my lips, and the texture of his food is very important to my brother-in-law.
It's also very important to me, so I'll be making this again.

This was my first flan attempt, and it came out pretty well, but the sugar was a bit too caramelized. Next time I will follow America's Test Kitchen's recipe and use half water/half sugar, and hopefully that will eliminate any sugar lumps. Waiting for the sugar lumps to dissolve was the reason I continued cooking past the caramelized peak.

Actually, I don't really know how it is supposed to look or taste, really. I don't eat flan much and never order it at restaurants because I don't love that burnt sugar taste. But somehow the texture made up for it and I found that I had eaten half of the pictured flan, sliver by sliver, in one afternoon.

This recipe made 6 custard cups of flan (they looked adorable, but I took them to a cinco de mayo party, so there are no pictures) plus this breadpan of flan, which would probably serve 5 people or so.

15 egg yolks
2 cans evaporated milk (14 oz
1 1/2 cans condensed milk (12 oz
Aluminum foil

Create burnt sugar: boil 1 C sugar and 1/2 C water over medium-high heat until 300 degrees or straw-colored. lower the heat until its 350 degrees (amber colored). Pour some into the dishes you will be baking your flan in. Work quickly as the sugar will continue cooking in the pan. I used breadpans and custard cups. You might have extra burned sugar.

Flan: Separate yolks. Remove all white as possible. Add evaporated and condensed milk. Mix mixture with a spoon and try not to create bubbles. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth to remove the excess white part of the egg. Pour into dishes and cover them tightly with aluminum foil.
Create water bath by arranging flan dishes in a deep aluminum pan (ones used for roasting or those used for serving in buffets will do nicely) filled with water halfway of the flan dishes. Add more water in the middle of the cooking time, if needed, to prevent burning of bottom. Cook in oven at 350 F for around 30-40 minutes for smaller flans, and more time for bigger flans The water-bath is more like “steam-cooking” than baking. Insert a toothpick in the center to check if done.Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.
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Saturday, May 17, 2008


This has nothing to do with food but I have to brag a little about my fantastic, talented husband.

Ryan's website launched earlier this week at

He submitted his table to, a modern and contemporary design blog, and they posted it here. And yes, it's a table and not a bench. However, it can hold the weight

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Winner Is...

Paige and Garrett!

Congratulations! I'll be in touch for your mailing address!