custom cakes/cookies

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baked Alaska from the Soul of the Earth

Toasted marshmallow. Fresh peaches. Honey. A butter-rich cake that hints at caramel due to a heap of brown butter. These are the flavors of my first Baked Alaska. It's preparation wasn't the disaster (i.e., torching ice cream) I always assumed it would be. But maybe my kitchen confidence has improved a bit since the first time I heard what's involved in making a Baked Alaska.

Having no disastrous stories with which to regale you, let's move topics to the world news. Did you hear the price of wheat is rising? Bad news for the state of our global climate and for everyone not abstaining from gluten. But good impetus if, like me, you want to explore alternative grains in their whole form. After reading Good to the Grain cover to cover, I'm ready to nearly wholly commit back to this way of baking. Though, it's not purely from a health or economic perspective. Really, it's driven by wanting to learn new flavors and new textures. Spelt and buckwheat have been my mainstays when I wander past the bin of all-purpose. I'm ready to push the boundaries a little further.

So in that vein...

Today's new-to-me flour is brought to you by the whole grain: kamut [pronounced ka MOOT]. When ground to a fine powder to be used as flour, the amber-colored grain has a buttery flavor and lends a crumbly, sandy texture. This makes it well-suited for baked goods and an especially perfect complement to those rich in butter. Compared to standard wheat, kamut is higher in protein, lipids, selenium, zinc and magnesium, making it a high energy food source that is rich in antioxidants.

Kamut's ancestry can be traced as far back as the wild grains that grew in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia and are claimed to have traveled on Noah's ark. According to legend, 36 kernels of khorasan wheat found in an Egyptian tomb made their way into the capable hands of an organic farmer in Montana. He named the seeds "Kamut" after the ancient Egyptian name for wheat, a word that also meant "soul of the earth". The name was trademarked and an organization was founded to promote research and production worldwide. Still to this day, the organization has protected kamut from being altered by modern plant-breeding practices. Any wheat sold under the name Kamut is guaranteed to be produced organically, free of GMOs. To me, that fact alone is a beautiful reason to incorporate kamut into your baking repertoire.

The cake recipe I'm sharing here is a simple way to showcase its flavor. Using browned butter goes even further to intensify the richness. Read the recipe at least once through before starting to mix the ingredients. The order of additions is quite unique compared to standard pound cake recipes. Also, care should be taken to disturb the batter as little as possible when mixing.

To complete the dessert, I'm sharing my favorite method to make meringue. I learned the technique from Martha Stewart. Like the pound cake, it too is less conventional in preparation as the egg whites are heated over a pan of simmering water just long enough to coax the sugar to melt. Standard meringue recipes skip this step, and as a result, at least to my palate, have a metallic taste. This method produces something more akin to the texture of a marshmallow without the stiffness from added gelatin.

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”. Though both are excellent resources, I didn't use either for the following recipes.

Honey-Peach Ice Cream
who adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

Makes about 1 quart

2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup honey
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Coarsely chop half the peaches into 1/2-inch chunks, and combine with the honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peaches are soft, about 10 minutes. Puree the mixture using a blender, food processor or immersion blender. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together. While whisking, slowly pour in about one third of the milk-cream mixture – this will temper the eggs so they won’t curdle. Pour the custard back into the pan, whisking continuously. Cook over medium heat, stirring without stopping, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. The custard should reach at least 170° F, but no more than 180° F.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and peach puree. Refrigerate the custard until chilled (preferably overnight).

When sufficiently chilled, scrape the custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker, and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. While the ice cream is churning, finely dice the remaining 2 peaches, then, just before the ice cream is thickened and ready, add the peaches and churn to blend. Pack the ice cream into a container and freeze for at least 2 hours, until it is firm enough to scoop.

Brown Butter Kamut Pound Cake
adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

16 TBS unsalted butter
3 TBS whole milk, at room temp
3 large eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/3 cup plus 1 TBS whole-grain kamut flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a 8 x 4-in loaf pan with parchment.

Place the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark toasty brown and the butter smells nutty. Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed but still soft, 15-30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla by whisking together.

Mix together and then sift the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer. In tablespoon portions, scoop 13 TBS of brown butter into the mixing bowl as well. To this add half of the egg mixture. Beat on low speed just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for just 1 minute longer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the remaining egg mixture. Beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl again and add the final remaining portion of the egg mixture. Beat for 20 seconds.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the surface before transferring to the oven. Bake about 55-65 minutes, until golden brown and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If excess browning occurs, tent the pan loosely with foil, after the first 30 minutes into baking.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Use the parchment overhang to transfer right-side-up onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.


4 egg whites
1 cups plus 2 TBS sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Just before serving, combine whites and sugar in a mixer bowl. Set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture is warm, about 3 minutes. Transfer bowl to a mixer, and add vanilla, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Whisk on medium-high speed until shiny, stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes.

Assembly Instructions

Line a bowl with plastic wrap, so that plastic wrap covers all the sides and hangs over the edge. Fill to the top with ice cream. Cover the top with the overhanging plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, or until solid.

Level the top of the brown butter pound cake with a serrated knife. Cut out a circle of cake equal to the diameter of the rim of the bowl. Eat the scraps as a reward for your labor.

Make the meringue.

Unmold the ice cream and invert on top of a cake round. Trim any excess cake if necessary.

Pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cake, or smooth it over with a spatula, so that none of the ice cream or cake is exposed. Freeze for one hour or up to a day.

Toast the tips of the meringue with a culinary torch. Or, bake the meringue-topped Baked Alaska on a rimmed baking sheet under a broiler until lightly golden.

Serve immediately.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Local Ingredients meet Culture Fusion

The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

My choice for representing my locale: kimchi.

Nope, I don't live in Korea. There just so happens to be a new food vendor at my farmer's market, and I've taken it upon myself to get acquainted. For those of you who don't know, kimchi is an ancient Korean food made of various salted, lacto fermented vegetables (the bulk of which usually includes cabbage), hot peppers, and fish oil. It's a natural superfood that's high in dietary fiber, low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals, and is full of probiotics. Because of its wonderful digestive properties, Koreans use it as sort of a palate cleanser during just about every meal. Due to it's distinctive flavor, Americans typically use it as a condiment. So much better on a hot dog instead of ketchup!

Since kimchi is mostly cabbage, it doesn't seem a far stretch to swap it into any recipe where cabbage or perhaps sauerkraut usually is involved. That's why kimchi on a hot dog is a good idea. That's also why it ended up as the filling in my pierogi. Pierogies often are filled with potatoes and cabbage. There seems to be a very fine line dividing the definition of a pierogi and a dumpling. It may have a lot to do with the filling ingredients (which reflects regional/cultural differences) and also a bit to do with the preparation. Do you steam? Pan fry? Deep fry? A quick poll of those I know with Polish heritage resoundingly said sauté in butter and onions. So that's where I began to play, replacing butter with sesame oil and keeping the onions. Lots of onions! While I was at it, I tweaked the dough recipe to include whole grains like spelt and buckwheat and whole wheat. At this point, I'm sure traditionalists might abandon calling this a pierogi, but I'm pretty sure, whatever the name, they'd still call it delicious.

Kimchi Pierogi Potstickers

makes 4-5 servings, around 40 dumplings

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup buckwheat four
¼ cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
up to 1 cup lukewarm water (you won't use all of it)

12 oz prepared kimchi, drained (reserve liquid) and chopped

In exchange for this jar below, I bartered half a batch of pierogi with The Brinery CFO, David Klingenberger. Thank you, David!

To cook:
1 white onion, sliced into super thin rounds
2 cups water
2 TBS sesame oil
1 tsp (or less depending on taste) salt
fresh parsley to garnish

Dipping sauce:
reserved liquid from kimchi mixed with an equal portion of shoyu (my preference) or soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil


Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl (or on a work surface) and make a well in the center. Break the egg into the well and add a little lukewarm water at a time (½ cup was sufficient for me). Bring the dough together, kneading well and adding more flour or water as necessary, but keeping in mind that you are aiming for soft dough. Cover the dough with a bowl or towel. Let rest 20 minutes.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out thinly (about ⅛-inch thick) cut with a 2-inch round cutter. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the middle of each circle. Fold dough in half and pinch edges with the tines of a floured fork to seal. Gather scraps, re-roll and fill. Repeat with the remainder of the dough.

At this point you can freeze the pierogi for later use. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan for at least 30 minutes. When completely frozen transfer to a freezer-rated zip-top plastic bag and store up to 3 months.

When ready to cook:

In a wok (or large skillet) over high heat, bring water, sesame oil, sliced onions, and salt to a boil. Add pierogies in a single layer. Reduce heat to med-high. Cook, uncovered, until all the liquid is absorbed and the pierogies begin to sizzle, about 15-20 minutes.

Continue to cook 3-5 minutes more, shaking the pan often without turning pierogies, until golden and crisp on the bottom. You may find you need to rearrange the pierogies for even browning, but resist the urge to turn them over.

Carefully pry the potsickers from the pan with a thin spatula. Serve with the kimchi-soy dipping sauce.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tea-Flavored Frozen Fruit Pops

I often contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here is the latest recipe I developed using a few of their teas.

Summer is in full swing now, bringing with it plenty of sweltering heat and an outcropping of icy treats on a stick for relief. With all the press they're getting lately, frozen pops appear to be the latest trend. It's peculiar how life cycles; everything once old and nostalgic is eventually new and hip again. This is fantastic news for the home cook who doesn't have the patience or the dedicated appliance needed to whip up a batch of gelato or semifreddo or ice cream. Making popsicles is easy and requires no special equipment!

The recipe guide below calls for just five simple ingredients. And adding Arbor Teas organic loose-leaf tea provides a whole new flavor dimension and an extra level of refreshment. Upon freezing, the tea flavor truly comes forward of the fruit. This is achieved by first making a tea-infused simple syrup. You could stop here and use the chilled syrup in cocktails or more casual summertime beverages, or you could forge on by adding fruit and freezing it on a stick. Wide grins are your guaranteed reward for just these few extra measures.

The flavors of pops pictured here include: Peppermint-Blueberry, Crimson Berry Fruit Tisane-Cherry, Pineapple Passion Green Tea-Strawberry, and Raspberry Green Tea-Peach. Purposefully, though, the recipe below is specific with regard to ratios but vague on flavors. I'm leaving it to you to peruse the Arbor Teas selection and be inspired by what's available at your local fruit stands. And don't be deterred if you don't own frozen pop molds. Try the tricks outlined here for a simple substitute.

Tea-Flavored Frozen Fruit Pops
makes about a dozen

2 cups water
8 TBS organic loose-leaf tea
2 cups sugar
3⅔ cups fresh or frozen fruit
1 tsp lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, heat the water to boiling. Remove from heat, add the tealeaves, cover the pan, and allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes.

Strain to remove the leaves. Return the freshly brewed tea to the saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Add the sugar, stirring constantly until it completely dissolves, about 2 minutes.

Add the fruit to the tea-infused syrup. Gently boil the mixture until the fruit is soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes depending on the type of fruit. Remove from heat and pass the mixture through a food mill (or strain through a mesh sieve) set over a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much fruit as possible. Add the lemon juice to the fruit puree mixture and stir to thoroughly combine.

Cool to room temperature and then divide the mixture among the ice pop molds. Freeze until semi-firm (~2 hours), insert popsicle sticks, then continue freezing until completely solid, at least 8 hours or overnight.

To release pops for serving, dip the bottoms of the molds in warm water for 10-15 seconds.