Wednesday, March 17, 2010

President Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies

Every time I get a cookbook, it is a little like Christmas.  I furiously flip through the pages of the book to find my next project and proceed to dream about all of the things I am going to make someday.  Some of these hopes and dreams actually pan out...while others await the day I have more money to fund my baking projects.  Anyways, I was lent several books by my Chef Danny Jacob that I mentioned in a previous post and one of these books was Desserts By the Yard by Sherry Yard.  She is the famous Pastry Chef of a place called Spago in Beverly Hills and is also known for the desserts at the Oscars each year.  In others words, the woman is legendary.  With so many recipes to choose from, I picked her President Clinton's Oatmeal Cookie recipe for my first project out of her book.  Why this recipe you may ask?  Well, I picked this one mainly because I had most of the ingredients in my pantry.

From Desserts By the Yard by Sherry Yard p 250

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups FAT RAISINS (see recipe for these below)

1. Sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter on high speed until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle or beaters.  Add the sugar, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Continue creamin the mixture on high speed until it is smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each addition.  Beat on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds, until the eggs are fully incorportated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
4. On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture, beating until all the flour is incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  On low speed, mix in the oats and FAT raisins.
5. With a rubber spatula, scoop out the dough and divide it in half.  Center one half along the bottom of a sheet of parchment paper and roll it up in the paper, creating a log about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long.  Repeat with the second piece of dough.  Fold over the parchment, creating a sausage.  Twist the ends over and wrap in plastic.  Chill the dough logs for a minimum of 1 hour. (At this point the dough will keep nicely, wrapped well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or the freezer for up to 1 month) You can also simply spoon the dough onto parchment-covered baking sheets and bake at once. (see Note)
6. Place racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  When the dough is chilled, remove it from the parchment paper.  Using a chef's knife or an offset serrated knife, slice 1/2 inch rounds off the log.  Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and from front to back, and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes.  remove the cookies from the oven and carefully slide the parchment off the sheets and directly onto your work surface.  Cool the baking sheets between batches.  Wait a minimum of 5 minutes before eating, or allow to cool completely before storing the cookies in an airtight container.
NOTE: Instead of forming the logs and chilling, you can also scoop spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment lined sheets.  Spoon teaspoons for small cookies, tablespoons for large.

Fat Raisins (Note the recipe for this makes 1 cup and the above recipe calls for 1.5 cups
1 cup golden or Red Flame raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 tablespoons sugar

1, Combine the raisins, wine, orange juice, rum, and sugar in a small heavy saucepan, bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring all the while.  Lower the heat so that the liquid is at a bare simmer and poach for 20 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to cool to room temperature.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks!

 I want to first start off by saying that I haven't found an oatmeal cookie recipe that I am in love with.  After making these cookies, I am here to tell you that I still haven't found an oatmeal cookie recipe that I am in love with.  However, I did really like the FAT RAISINS in this recipe.  The idea of incorporating a sugary rum mixture into the raisins before using them to bake is glorious.  I think all oatmeal raisin cookies should have some soft of FAT RAISINS.  Overall, I give these cookies 3.4 out of 5 stars.  My biggest complaint about these cookies is they were not chewy enough and I baked each batch for shorter durations in an effort to achieve a softer cookie.  The cookies were too crisp when the directions were followed explicitly.  The recipe called for each batch to be baked close to 20 minutes.  Wow...way to long.  I eventually baked my fourth batch at close to 12 minutes... I don't know what I could have done to create a softer cookie here.  The cookies were cooled in the refrigerator prior to baking too.  If you have any suggestions, let me know.  Also, if you have a favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, please send it my way.  I want to find one that I am pumped about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tres Leches Cake

Last week, I went to what was possibly the last Houston Dining for Women with the med school gang.  I know I have mentioned Dining for Women in the past, but I don't know if I have been overly specific about what it is exactly.  It is a nonprofit organization that selects other non-profits benefiting women to donate money to.  Essentially, all of the money raised by Dining for Women is done so at small group dinners in which women bring food to the dinner (pot luck style) instead of going out and use the money that they would have spent going out on a non-profit organization.  This month's nonprofit was a group called INMED.  More information can be found: Here at  Our Houston Dining for Women group has been meeting for about a year and a half and has been a blast thus far.  A great excuse each month to meet up with all of my girlfriends.  This upcoming Thursday, I will find out where I am going to residency, and if I match in a location other than Houston, I plan on starting or joining a Dining for Women chapter in that new city.  Who knows...I may be staying in Houston for residency, but nonetheless, I will continue to carry the Dining for Women torch with whoever is still left here with me.

The theme for this meeting was Mexican Food.  I picked a recipe given to me from my little sister.  She made this Tres Leches Cake for my grandfather's birthday and the whole family is still talking about it.  I figured that if my mom, a non-Tres Leches fan, was raving about it that this recipe had to be good.  So I had the little sis send me the recipe.

From My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson as seen in the SA Express News

 For the Cake:
2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided use
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 eggs, separated
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For Tres Leches:
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark rum (optional)

Filling and Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspooon vanilla
1 cup fresh chopped fruit (strawberries and/or canned peaches are commonly used)

For the Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease two (8-inch) cake pans
3. Put a circle of parchment paper on bottom of each pan.
4. Mix flour, half of sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl with a whisk until thoroughly combined.
5. Using a whisk, beat vegetable oil, yolks, water and vanilla.
6. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites to soft peaks, add cream of tartar and second half of sugar and then continue beating until you reach stiff peaks but whites aren't dry.
7. Add 1/4 of the beaten whites to the yolk mixture and fold gently.
8. Add 1/3 of the dry mixture and fold gently.
9. Repeat, alternating finishing with egg whites.
10. Pour into lined pans and bake in middle rack until top springs to touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 to 35 minutes.
11. Allow to cool slightly and unmold.  Remove parchment paper and return to pans.

For Tres Leches:
1. Mix evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, cream, vanilla, rum and salt in medium bowl.
2. Pour half of mixture over one of the cakes and remainder over other cake.  Allow to soak in refrigerator.

For Filling and Topping:
1. Using electric mixer on medium speed, beat heavy cream till it slightly thickens.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until it is thick and fluffy.  The whipped cream should be stable and smooth.

To Assemble Cake:
1. Remove cakes from pans and place some of the whipped cream in the center of one.
2. Put the fruit on top, making sure to spread them evenly.  Top with the other cake and cover with rest of whipped cream.
3. Decorate with fruit as desired.

 I am sure many of you did not grow up with Tres Leches Cake like I did.  I don't remember the first time I had Tres Leches cake actually.  Many people though, have never heard of it or tried it.  So a little info on the cake:
--> It is a very popular dessert in Latin America with its name meaning "Three Milks". 
--> In fact in South Texas, it is many people's favorite dessert; it was my grandfather's.
--> There are rumors that Tres Leches cake was originally invented by the makers of the canned condensed milk to help promote the product in the mid 1800s and other rumors stating that its invention was helped with Nestle during WWII. 

I am going to say it.  I am not a big Tres Leches fan.  Hmmph... I said it. Tres Leches cake with all of the milk is just too rich for me.  This does not fault the recipe though.  This was a great Tres Leches cake.  Wow!  For Tres Leches I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars = goodness.  None of the cake making it out of Dining for Women= good.  Before I evaluate this cake more though, I want to tell you a little story about my own experiences with Tres Leches cake.  I made my very first Tres Leches cake two years ago for a Cinco de Mayo type event.  The cake was a semi-disaster.  Let's just say it was more of a soup than cake.  :)  There was the milk and then a thin layer of cake to go with it.  I am pleased to say that in the past two years that my baking has improved and that this Tres Leches cake was a HUGE hit.  The cake was nice and fluffy and was able to absorb ALL of the milk.  I say that the cake was milky because when you pressed on the cake, milk would slowly seep out.  This is exactly what a Tres Leches cake is suppose to do.  I am pleased with this portion of success.  The cake in the above picture looks poorly decorated and messy....this only occurred because the cake was so moist and milky it was hard to keep the icing on it!  The whipped cream icing was light and melted in your mouth.  If you like Tres Leches cake, I think you should give this recipe a whirl!

Perfect Party Cake

One of my good friends had her bridal shower two weekends ago.  As a bridesmaid, I agreed to help contribute to the party food.  I first made Martha Stewart's Mexican Wedding cookies that I made about a year ago.  (See blog history)  Unfortunately during the making of these cookies, almost everything went wrong!    The first batch I dropped on the ground and in the process losing grip of the cookie sheet, the cookie sheet slid down my arm leaving a significant burn.  I will include a picture of this burn at the end of this entry.  In the second batch, somehow the oven was turned on to broil in the middle of the batch and I subsequently created some pretty black cookies.  :(  At this point, I called it quits and decided that I would try again at a later time.  It just wasn't my night.  The next evening, the night before the shower, I went to work on the Perfect Party Cake by Dorie Greenspan.  I found the recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours.    My goal was to do better than the previous evening.  (Not a lofty goal in my opinion.)  Below are some pictures of my finished product: the Perfect Party Cake.   

To see Ms. Greenspan's recipe for this cake, you can access it at the following Blog.  I am not going to post the recipe on my blog.  However, I will make comments on the recipe and discuss what I could do to improve it. 

Overall the give this recipe 4.75 out of 5 stars.  I really enjoyed this cake and everyone at the party really enjoyed eating it.  The entire cake was eaten by the next day.  Decorating it with raspberries really made the cake pop and the raspberry preserves were delish.  The cake itself was moist, light and fluffy.  The lemon was not overpowering and was a slight distinct taste.  Mmmm... I ended up using store bought buttercream icing and adding a little lemon extract to the icing to get it a slight lemony flavor.  I tried my hand at the buttercream icing recommended in this recipe, but failed to say the least.  It tasted like straight up butter.  This is the second time that I have had trouble making one of Dorie's complex icings.  I did some further research into icings after my attempt at this one which I will describe below.  My failure in this particular icing was making the meringue prior to mixing in the butter.

The learning issue in this post is buttercream icing.  Prior to this learning issue, I thought there was only one type of buttercream icing.  Buttercream, duh!  However, there are actually six types of buttercream listed on Wikipedia: Simple, Decorator's, Meringue, French, Pastry cream-type, and Fondant-type.  Simple buttercream is powdered sugar with butter.  It is the main type of buttercream that I had made prior to this recipe.  The most common bakery buttercream though is the meringue-type.  The meringue-type involves heating sugar water into a syrup and mixing it into whipped egg whites creating a meringue.  Butter is then added as the meringue cools.  The buttercream in this recipe is the meringue type.  French buttercream is similar to the meringue type except egg yolks are used instead of egg whites.  Pastry cream is used used in the pastry cream type of buttercream.The fondant-type is self explanatory in my opinion--> fondant and butter, and the decorator's type is simple buttercream that is creamed less to create a stiff paste for cake decorations.

Despite my failures though...this cake was a success.  I can't wait to make it again for another party.  It is really and truly the PERFECT Party Cake. 

Below is a picture of my awesome burn....yeah, I hope it doesn't scar too bad.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Surprise Carrot Cake

With one of my friend's sister, we decided to make this Surprise Carrot Cake out of America's Favorite Brand Name Recipes.  The idea of making a carrot cake sounded good.  I haven't made one since August and the idea of making one sounded good.  I was a little skeptical of the recipe...America's Favorite Brand Name Recipes cook book...not necessarily a tested recipe, but I decided to give it a whirl.

1 8-ounce package Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped nuts

1. Combine cream cheese, sugar and egg, mixing until well blended.  Set aside.
2. Combine dry ingredients.  Add combined oil and eggs, mixing until moistened.  Fold in carrots and nuts.  Reserve 2 cups of batter; pour remaining batter into greased and flour 9-inch bundt pan.  Pour cream cheese mixture over batter; carefully spoon reserved batter over cream cheese mixture, spreading to cover.  Bake at 350 F, 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
3. Cool 10 minutes, remove from pan.
4. Cool thoroughly  Sprinkle with powdered sugar

Overall, the cake was okay.  I actually blame the recipe this time more than the chefs.  (How unusual right?)  I give this recipe 2.3 out of 5 stars.  The cake was moist but was lacking flavor.  More cinnamon and nutmeg could have been used.  The cream cheese layer at the bottom of the cake wasn't enough.  It too tasted bland.  I think the recipe was executed well.   One thing to note though was I was highly concerned with the layering of the carrot cake batter and cream cheese batter.  The main problem we encountered upon execution of this recipe was covering the cream cheese layer with carrot cake batter.  The cream cheese was lighter than the carrot cake batter the carrot cake kept sinking beneath the cream cheese.  In the end we managed to get some carrot cake batter on top of the cream cheese batter.  However, I was nervous when I placed the cake in the oven. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake

The month of March has officially started which means I am now taking a Transition to Residency course at school.  Basically, it is a month of lectures where I don't have to go into the hospital.  My whole medical school class is back in a classroom together.  Reunited after 1.5 years of being on the wards apart.  It is glorious, but it is also a little sad.  It is the end of an era.  With each lecture, I am closer to finishing medical school.  I don't know how to describe the feeling of finishing med school,  I am both scared and excited.  Excited that this stage of my career is done but scared to think that I will be the doctor with all of the responsibility that it entails.  Anyways, on to cakes and parties and good times.  To celebrate a close friend's birthday, I choose to make this cake....

Devil's Food Cake (from William Sonoma's Cake Book)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 oz unsweetened chocolate chopped and melted (I used bittersweet)
1 cup low fat or nonfat buttermilk at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven and prepare the pans.  Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Butter two 9 inch round layer cake pans.  Line the pans with parchment (baking) paper.  Butter the paper, sprinkle lightly with flour, then tap out the extra flour.

2.  Suspend a fine mesh sieve over a small bowl and add the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Lightly tap the rim of the sieve to encourage the ingredients to pass into the bowl.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and both sugars.  Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer with the twin beaters.  Beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and airy and lightens in color, about 2 minutes.  If using a handheld mixer, move the beaters around the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides o the bowl.  After all the eggs have been added, add the vanilla extract and beat for 1 minute longer.  Add the melted chocolate and mix on medium speed until the mixture is a uniform color.  Reduce the mixer speed to low.  Add the dry ingredient in 3 batches alternately with the buttermilk in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition until incorporated before adding the next.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula.  Bake for 30 minutes.  If the cakes look set, insert a thin skewer or toothpick in the center.  If it comes out dry, the cakes are done.  If it comes out wet with crumbs clinging to it, continue to bake until they test done.  Using pot holders, transfer cakes to a wire rack.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache
From Rose Levy Berenbaum
Ingredients: 12 ounces chocolate (I used semisweet)
                   1 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream
I watched the below video to learn how to make ganache.
How to Make Chocolate Ganache

Coffee Syrup: In a small saucepan, stir together 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot.  Stir in 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee powder and let cool.

To Assemble, brush 3 tablespoons coffe syrip onto the top of each cake layer (you don't need to split them).  Then spread the ganache over 1 cake layer and place the second layer on top.  Use the frosting to frost the rest of the cake and serve.

This is the first time I have ever made a ganache.  Since it is my first time, I thought learning some about ganaches would be appropriate.  Ganache is a cream and chocolate mixture.  Chocolate is chopped finely and then almost boiling heavy cream is poured on top of the chocolate.  The two are then mixed together.  Different ratios of cream and chocolate can make various frostings and fillings.  A one to one ratio of cream and chocolate creates a light filling. A one part cream and two parts chocolate ratio creates a truffle filling.  While a one part cream and three parts chocolate ratio makes a glaze or coating.  A The taste of the ganache is dependent upon the type of chocolate you use to make it.  AKA the better the chocolate...the better your ganache will taste.  Ganache is thought to have been invented in the mid-1800s.  It is up for debate as to which country ganache is from; France and Switzerland both claim it as their own.  Regardless of its origins, ganache has become extremely popular since its invention.  I hope you enjoy making your first ganache too.  My first experience with ganache will be discussed in further detail below.

Overall, this cake was a 4 out of 5 stars.  Enjoyable and tasty!  Almost the entire cake was finished by the 15 people that attended the party.  The cake was slightly denser than I would have liked.  This is most likely my fault for not sifting the flour.  I actually used cake flour for this recipe for the first time ever too and I don't know whether it made a difference.  In addition, I wish the cake was a little moister.  The coffee syrup between the layers was excellent.  No one could tell that there was a coffee taste, but the coffee syrup really brought out the richness of the chocolate.  On to the ganache... hmm... well first off, Rose's ganache wasn't the first one I tried.  I first tried the William Sonoma Cake book's ganache.  It somehow separated into a oily, buttery, disgusting mess.  I was a little frustrated with the fact that I wasted nice chocolate making this particular disaster of a ganache.  (I am not at all bitter! :) )  I then scoured the internet for how to make a ganache.  By golly, I wasn't going to screw it up the second time... chocolate is expensive.  I closely watched the video of Rose Berenbaum online and decided that I would go for it again.  (I am not a quitter :))  Success came the second time.  The ganache almost tasted like pure chocolate to me.  It was excellent and looked appropriate.  I am still not sold on using a ganache as frosting is a little like biting into a candy bar, but it looks so sophisticated that I may not be able to resist including it in my future baking adventures.  Enjoy making this cake!  It is a winner!  :)