Week 4 Technical: Tiramisu

The cake week technical challenge is the classic Italian cake tiramisu, a coffee and brandy soaked sponge cake with layers of marscapone frosting and chocolate. Tiramisu may not seem like a challenge, but I think the biggest challenge for the bakers was making the appearance to Mary Berry’s standards. Mary Berry asked for even layers that were evenly soaked. I’m just hoping the cake won’t end up looking like it was beat up in a fight…

Tiramisu Cake recipe

The Bake

At first glance the recipe doesn’t seem too complicated, but there are a lot of steps. Again, I think the challenge here is going to be keeping everything neat.

  1. The Batter

This is an odd batter. It only has three ingredients. It would have a meringue base if the egg yolks weren’t included, which means I’ll be getting the most rise from mixing the eggs and sugar. The flour is sifted and I was worried I undermixed it because as I spread it in the tray, I found pockets of flour. I mixed it as best as I could while trying to keep air in the batter.

2. The Bake

This cake came out much earlier than the recipe’s bake time but it was baked until springy (with some slight crisp edges I got to trim off). I was worried I’d have to find a way to trim this cake in half but I had enough to cut four separate squares.

3. Fillings

Nothing in this cake is sweet. The mascarpone “frosting” is essentially mascarpone and cream with a little powdered sugar. The coffee and brandy weren’t reduced into a syrup, just mixed and brushed right onto the cake.

I hate grating chocolate and hope I never do it again.

4. Assembly

My cake squares were not all perfect sizes. As a result, the cake seemed lopsided as I stacked it. Looking at the photo now, I see that I did not use enough of the brandy mixture to soak the sponge and create that darker appearance.

5. Decoration

I had zero idea how to get those loop-the-loops like in the show… I tried using one of my piping bags but the tip I chose was too large and the hot chocolate just poured out.

The Final Result

As I thought the layers were not soaked enough (something I’ll know for next time). The cake actually turned out alright and once I left the cake in the fridge long enough, I was able to trim it so it didn’t look like it had been smooshed. My European coworkers enjoyed that it was not very sweet and my American coworkers liked the high-quality chocolate.

Week 1 Showstopper: Lemon Drizzle Mini-Cakes

The showstopper challenge for cake week was to make 36 miniature classic British cakes. The bakers chose Victorian sponge, Jaffa cakes, lemon drizzle cakes, and more. The cakes needed to be aesthetically pleasing and as consistently identical as possible. Since supplies are short right now, I cut back to 24 mini-cakes. As an American, I’m decidedly unfamiliar with “classic” British cakes other than the obvious Victoria sponge. However, both Jaffa cakes and Victorian sponge cakes end up being challenges later on in the show, so I decided to go with the lemon drizzle.

The Planning

NY times Cooking actually wrote about the Great British Baking Show, and included some recipes including a “classic” lemon drizzle cake. However, a plain lemon drizzle is not exactly “showstopping.” I rewatched the episode for inspiration.

Luis added elderberry syrup, which got me thinking about using fruit. Since I used strawberry for the signature bake, I figured this time I would use raspberries. Martha and Iain both used marscapone in a cream, which I figured would balance some of the tart fruit flavors.

The cakes will be evenly shaped, two-layer cakes. The middle will be filled with a marscapone whipped cream/cream cheese frosting and raspberry compote, then topped with piped cream and fresh raspberries.

The Bake

Step 1: Batter

I read later on that there is so much baking powder (which makes cakes rise) because the original recipe uses self-rising flour. Is that the go-to flour in Britain? Either way the batter tasted nice. I think this is one of the first cakes I haven’t used vanilla as an ingredient.

I was just watching Spring Baking Championship. Several bakers mentioned using herbs and other aromatics in the flour for more flavor! I’m excited I got to try it out.

Step 2: Bake & Glaze

Of course with all that baking powder it certainly puffed up! I thought I might have overbaked it but it was perfectly springy to the touch. I’m starting to like darker colors on my bake.

I think my glaze was a little too thick. I also expected it to be more like a simple syrup. I spread it across the cake prior to trimming. I’m not sure if the cake was warm enough but I did manage to spread it fairly evenly.

Step 3: Whipped Cream & the Couli

I was a little disappointed in my choice of whipped cream. Perhaps I’m used to sweeter desserts as an American. Fortunately, in combination with the cake it added a nice mild creaminess.

I absolutely did not buy enough raspberries. I wanted to put a raspberry on top but I used them all in the couli. Can’t stop a challenge to grocery shop!

Step 4: Cool and Cut

I tried to make these as even as possible, but because I didn’t use a perfectly square pan I had to trim, then it ended up being 11.5 inches long. Kind of annoying for trying to make even squares. I did have 24 but one fell apart when I cut it!

Step 5: Assemble

I thought about stacking the cakes on top of each other but then they would have been huge! I remembered the judges making a comment about that to Ian. I cut the cake slices in half instead. Boy do I wish I had the guillotine that Nancy’s husband made her.

Next was the cream and filling between the layers. Piping all of the little whipped cream stars was exhausting! I’m mostly disappointed it didn’t look as nice as I thought it would…

The Judging

Well I only made 23 out of 24 cakes, but at least they were baked! Appearance-wise I really wish I had fresh raspberries to brighten it up. The bake is consistent, as is color, but size is a little off. Some were much larger than others. Most of my coworkers commented that they were “cute.”

As for taste, I’m immensely pleased. The cake itself was not too sweet. You get the tang of the lemon from the drizzle and some extra tart from the raspberry. The crumb of the cake was nice. Even if it was a bit dry, the balance from the whipped cream and raspberry filling made a nice moist bite. They may not be the prettiest but they sure tasted divine!

What do you guys think? Would I make it to week 2?

Week 1 Technical: Cherry Cake

Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.

For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.

Predictions

As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.

The Bake

Step 1: Prep

I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.

Step 2: Batter

I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.

Step 3: Bake

The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.

Step 4: Decorate

I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.

The Judging

I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.

The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?


Easy Sopapilla Cheesecake

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Living in Arizona, the holiday is celebrated by our resident Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I’ve never been one to take part of “Cinco de Drinko,” as that’s not why the holiday is celebrated. The holiday marks the anniversary of the Mexican Army’s victory against the French in 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Mexico has a rich, diverse food culture outside of the “Tex-Mex” often mistaken for true Mexican food. Though tacos, burritos and the like have Mexican counterparts, I wanted to make food that incorporated traditional Mexican foods.

Sopapillas are a popular dessert in northern Mexico and Latin America, the result of Spanish influence. Sweet dough is fried into a pillowy pastry that is then covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’m still not quite comfortable with frying, so I found this recipe for a faux-sopapilla cheesecake.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Notes about Ingredients: Frozen puff pastry takes about 30-45 minutes to defrost. For the best results in your baking, your ingredients (egg, cream cheese, sour cream, and butter) should be at room temperature.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 in. baking dish. Lay the first sheet of puff pastry flat in the bottom of the dish. Do not trim any extra dough. Gently press the pastry to the sides of the dish.

2) Poke holes in the puff pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.

3) Beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Be careful not to overmix.

IMG_0747

4) Remove the crust from the oven. Let it sit for 5 minutes, especially to deflate. Pour the cheesecake mix over the crust.

IMG_0748

5) Top the cream cheese mixture with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gently tuck or press the sides of both sheets together. Brush this pastry with the melted butter.

IMG_0749

6) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the melted butter on the pastry sheet.

IMG_0750

7) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature. Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

IMG_0753

Final Thoughts: I’m not 100% sure this counts as sopapilla cheesecake, but it was tasty. It was less appealing once it had cooled, but it was sweet and tasty. Once I took the first piece, people were more willing to try (because it “looked weird”). By the end of our potluck, the entire cheesecake was gone.

 

Pieced Together Lemon Cake

Though this recipe is for a simply delicious lemon cake, I felt it was important to bring it from my old blog. Mistakes happen. I have shared my “foodie fails” on my blog in the past. I can be a perfectionist, who gets frustrated about the slightest problems.

Learning to cook and bake means that I have to embrace the mistakes. The great part about food is that it can often be forgiving. No one cares if your cake is a little messy as long as it tastes good. If it doesn’t taste very good or it’s rendered inedible, you’ll know for the next time you try. The important part is that you don’t give up!

 

 

Would you have guessed that one of the layers of this cake fell apart? This isn’t an episode of Chopped. While you may disappointed, no one is going to kick you out of the kitchen. My coworkers enjoyed the tasty cake even with its flaws.

Ingredients:

THE CAKE

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

 

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 2 9-inch baking pans.

To “grease” pans you can use sprays like Pam. I prefer to use butter, then lightly coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Beat together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon zest.

 

3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

 

4. Add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla to the mixer. Mix well.

5. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

 

6. While the cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Syrups and reductions seem to be one of my weak points. They never seem to get quite thick enough. Fortunately, this will brushed onto the cake so it doesn’t need to be thick like maple syrup.

7. Make the frosting. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix in vanilla and 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

 

8. When the cake has finished baking, poke holes in the top. Divide the simple syrup between the two layers and pour over the top.

 

I kept the cakes in the pans to avoid making a mess. I also brushed the syrup over top to avoid saturating one part of the cake more than another.

9. Once the cakes have cooled COMPLETELY, assemble the cake and frost. Keep refrigerated 1 hour prior to serving.

Okay here’s where the fail happened. Do not rush the cooling process. The simple syrup makes the cake much softer. If it doesn’t cool, well then you end up with this…

 

With a little magic…

 

Final Thoughts: See what I was talking about? The first layer came out fine, but the simple syrup moistened the cake and my second layer fell apart. I placed the broken layer on the bottom, piecing it as flat as I could (aided by a layer of frosting to pull everything together). The whole layer went on top. By the time I finished, you couldn’t tell it had broken unless you cut inside! Even better, the cake was delicious. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors. This cake had sweet lemon-y goodness in every bite.

Almost Allergen-Free Carrot Cake

I have a very close friend who, due to health issues, must stick to very strict diet restrictions. Naturally, this means that he doesn’t get to eat some of his favorite foods anymore, things like pizza and matzo ball soup, unless it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, and lacks certain other foods like onions and garlic.

Carrot cake is a favorite treat of his. We were both unsure about the recipe the first time I made this, but once we tried it we were both pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture (a common complaint with gluten-free cakes). Now whenever he comes back to Arizona, he requests the same cake (which he freezes and eats piece-by-piece by himself). Please note that this is NOT egg-free. The original recipe uses flax eggs to make it vegan, but I used real chicken eggs.

After some searching and negotiating ingredients, I decided to alter this recipe for gluten-free, vegan carrot cake from renowned food blogger Gimme Some Oven.

INGREDIENTS:

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE CARROT CAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 2.5 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend, plus extra for dusting the pans
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled
  • Stevia equivalent to 1 cup of granulate sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE “CREAM CHEESE” FROSTING INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) vegan butter or margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons non-dairy milk
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Note on the Ingredients: I use Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour rather than adding the flours together myself. For the vegan butter, I use soy-free Earth Balance brand vegan margarine. I chose coconut milk for the frosting for the sweeter taste.

While mixing ingredients, the batter smells like the inside of a rotted jack o’lantern. Adjust the spices to taste (I know the batter doesn’t taste very good). Usually I can adjust the spices in the ratio indicated in the recipe until the smell improves.

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use vegan margarine to thoroughly grease the inside of 2 9-in pans. Dust the inside of each pan with gluten-free flour.

 

 

A common method is to coat the pan by turning it like a steering wheel over the sink.

2) In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cloves and ginger) until combined.

3) Using a blender or food processor, shred or blend the carrots.

 

I prefer my carrots well-blended to avoid a chunky texture.

4) Transfer the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the blender or food processor. Add the Stevia, brown sugar, and eggs and blend until frothy.

 

5) While the blender or food processor is running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Blend the egg mixture until well mixed.
6) Add the carrots and dry ingredients to the blender or food processor. Blend all of the ingredients together into a smooth batter.
This is the point where you should taste the batter! If it smells bad, add more cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
7) Pour batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. While the cake bakes, mix the frosting ingredients together.
8) Let cake cool completely in the pans on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Remove cake, if transferring to a different serving platter, and frost as desired.

 

Once I removed the cakes from the pan, I had to scrape some leftover flour off of the bottoms.

Final Thoughts: This is a tried and true recipe, though I understand that adding spices “to taste” can be a frustrating instruction. Vegan baking and using substitutions can be difficult. Each time I bake this I’m still never 100% sure that it turned out properly. I’ve played with the frosting in an attempt to reduce the processed sugar, but I can’t use milk powder to thicken. This recipe tastes the best so far. Does anyone have any suggestions?