Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lacquered Birthday Cake

Normally for birthdays I just phone up a bakery and order a cake, simple, no stress, just pick it up and enjoy. However, having baked my daughter's birthday cake it was only fair that I would also bake my son's birthday cake and besides if I hadn't I know I would have heard something like -"mom loves me more because I got a homemade cake" to which my son would have responded with something like - "yes, but I'm mom's favourite".

I've been wanting to try the lacquered glaze in Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Bernanbaum for a while now so I knew for sure that I would use it on this cake. I also wanted the cake to be a genoise with a custard cream filling and frosted with a ganache. All of this sounded pretty good to me but in the end it wasn't the best combination of choices.

I made the genoise the day before using the recipe for Genoise Rose because it had five eggs in it and I thought it would give me more cake baked in a 9" x 3" round cake pan. This went off without a hitch. The cake baked up high, light and lovely and I could cut it into three layers.

Normally I use a recipe from The Five Roses Baking Book that makes a great custard cream that holds up really well in cake layers but I wanted to try something new. I decided to use a recipe for a chantilly custard cream in the Joy of Cooking and although it was good it just wasn't very stiff but once it cooled I managed to fill the cake layers moistened with coffee flavoured sugar syrup and all was well.

I made a simple ganache of chocolate and whipping cream and when this cooled I frosted the cake but this is where I realized that this wasn't the best choice for the light genoise because as I frosted the cake the cake's crust would lift off. I had to use a light hand so this would not happen. I also had to be careful frosting the sides of the cake as some of the custard was oozing out and made frosting difficult, but slowly I managed to frost the entire cake and by the time I was finished I thought the cake looked pretty good.
I had heard how easy it was to make the lacquer glaze and sure enough it was. Once it cooled to the proper temperature I poured it all at once over the cake making sure the sides were well glazed also. The only problem was that because the sides weren't prefectly straight, the glaze, which is unforgiving and shows any imperfections, was uneven here. The top was just fine and boy was it shiny.
After the glaze set a bit I wrote Happy Birthday Steven with royal icing and I was done.

If I had to do it all again I would not use a ganache for this cake because when it set it was just too stiff for the light cake and cream and slicing was difficult. A buttercream would have worked out better. We enjoyed it nonetheless and even had seconds.
Happy Easter!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pollo Bianca

Many years ago the Toronto Star Starweek (a weekly TV guide) had a column called Mary McGrath's Chef’s Showcase where a reader could ask that a favourite recipe from a restaurant be featured. I have cut out many recipes from this section that appealed to me, especially if they were pasta dishes or great desserts. A wonderful carrot cake was featured here and has remained a favourite ever since. There are several recipes that I have torned out from this section that I've made over and over again and Pollo Bianca by chef Sandra Vattay of Pimentos is one of them. Pollo Bianca (gramatically I think it should be Pollo Bianco and that's what we call it), translated means White Chicken and the dish is aptly named because all the main ingredients are pretty much colourless; chicken breast, onions, garlic, mushrooms and cream, white wine and chicken stock. The only colour is in the sundried tomatoes and rosemary and the tri-coloured pasta.

It is one of those pasta dishes that you prepare when you don’t feel like cooking and spending hours tending a pot. It is also a recipe you make if you want to impress your guests - it's that good. That is also why I though this pasta dish would be a perfect entry for Presto Pasta Nights #156 hosted by Our Taste of Life and created by Pollo Bianca is a creamy chicken pasta dish simply flavoured with a bit of fresh rosemary which I snip off from two of my rosemary plants. I prepare all the ingredients before hand and place them in small bowls. Once this is done I put on a large pot of water to boil the tri-coloured fusilli (or rotini as I've use here) and then I cook the sauce. It could not be easier, and honestly you’ll wonder how something so good didn’t take hours to make.

It has been many years since I've cut out this recipe and I wonder if Pimento is still around and if Sandra Vattay is still chef there, probably not I imagine, as restaurants and chefs come and go and just as columns come and go as well, Chef Showcase is no longer featured in Toronto Starweek. I really miss it and I'm sure a lot of readers miss it as well.

Pollo Bianca

2 tbsp. butter
8 oz. boneless chicken breast, diced
salt and pepper
1 small onion
4 oz. mushrooms, quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. dry white wine
½ cup chicken stock
1 to 1½ cups whipping cream
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1 oz. oil-packed sundried tomatoes, chopped
1½ cups cooked fusilli pasta (you can use 3 cups)
chopped fresh parsley, garnish

In a sauté pan brown chicken in hot butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add onion, cook 1 minute then add mushrooms and cook 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.
Deglaze pan with white wine, add chicken stock, cream, rosemary, and sundried tomatoes. Simmer gently until thickened. Add cooked pasta, parsley and spoon into two bowls. Garnish with fresh parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Polka Dot Cake

I can whip up an ordinary plain cake quite easily, but making a celebration cake, one with buttercream frosting and piping decoration appropriate for the occasion is quite another thing for me. Let just say that with my limited knowledge when it comes to decorating a cake, I could never take on a task of making a wedding cake. The stress just thinking about it would surely raise my blood pressure to the point of needing medical attention.

However, having said that, on very rare occasions I will make a birthday cake. My daughter celebrated a birthday last week and I decided that rather than order a cake from a bakery, I would bake a cake for her. Andrea requested a chocolate cake so that part was easy enough. After flipping through the Cake Bible and Heavenly Cakes both by Rose Levy Beranbaum I decided on the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake from the Cake Bible. I was sure that I had two 9” x 1-1/2” cake pans lying around in my “not often used storage place” but they weren’t there. I must have thrown them out some time ago, probably because they were old and rusted. I had one newer pan that came in a set (why would they not have included two pans? who uses just one 9” x 1-1/2” round cake pan?) but that wasn’t going to help me any and I wasn’t about to go out to purchase one. I had recently purchased a 9” x 3” round cake pan and, although I am sure this would affect the height of the finished cake, I decided that I would use this pan and cut the cake in half myself. The cake was easy to assemble and I could tell that it would be rich and chocolaty. I poured it into the pan and wrapped the pan with a homemade cake strip from the instructions on Virginia Taylors’ blog and set the cake in the oven. It took about 45 minutes to bake in the one pan but by the time it was almost done the kitchen smelled intensely of chocolate.

The last two times I made the Neoclassical buttercream I used the KitchenAid mixer and even though I had been very careful to keep the syrup away from the beaters, the sugar syrup landed on the beaters and hardened on the beaters as well as the sides of the bowl as I was mixing it into the beaten eggs. I was afraid that not enough of the syrup had been incorporated into the eggs so I boiled a bit more of the corn syrup and sugar to make up for the hardened sugar. I am sure I upset the balance of the ingredients by doing this but in the end it seem to have turned out alright, except that it left my confidence frazzled as to whether I could ever whip up a really good frosting.

I was determined to give this buttercream one more try, only this time I would use a hand held mixer instead. I began with the eggs, beating them until they were light and fluffy, and when the sugar syrup boiled I poured it into the oiled measuring cup and held my breath. If only I had used a hand held mixer the first two times I would not have been so stressed this time.
This time the sugar syrup mixed beautifully into the eggs and I was very happy that none clumped onto the beaters. Now I just had to keep beating until the mixture was totally cooled. This seemed to take an awfully long time. I opened up the kitchen window to let the cold air in to help the process along, but it still took a long time. When it was finally coolish I began beating in the softened butter, and this process seemed to go off without a hitch. I thought a coffee flavoured buttercream would be nice with the chocolate cake so I added instant espresso granules mixed with a bit of water as per Rose's recipe. I was all out of coffee flavoured liqueur so I added a bit of brandy instead. For the first time I had a really nice buttercream ready to frost the cake.

I plainly frosted the cake with all the buttercream leaving none aside for piping decoration. I am not very good at piping so I decided to decorate it in some other manner. All I knew at this point was that I would use a chocolate plate and write on it - Happy Birthday Andrea - and place it on the cake as I had seen bakeries do. That part was easy enough; I melted semi-sweet chocolate and with an off set spatula smeared the back of a baking sheet lined with foil as evenly and thinly as I could with the melted chocolate.

Once the chocolate was hard again I cut a rectangle with a sharp knife. I wrote Happy Birthday Andrea as best I could (not as easy as with a pen) with royal icing and placed it on the cake. Still the cake looked plain and it really did need to be jazzed up a bit. I had an awful lot of chocolate left so I decided that I would cut two sizes of circles using a melon baller for the larger circles and a decorating tip’s round end for the smaller circles. When I cut out enough chocolate circles I randomly placed them on the cake. As adornment this easy decoration did the trick and my daughter was very happy with her birthday cake.

The cake with the coffee buttercream was delicious, very chocolaty and dense.