Wednesday, May 28, 2008

l'Opera - Daring Baker Project #8, sort of

Mark 2:9 
Which is easier: 
to say to the paralytic,
 'Your sins are forgiven,' 
or to say, 
'Get up, take your mat and walk'?

When I saw that we were going to make l'Opera I was so excited. I'm reasonably certain that the reason I knew about the cake was seeing it in the windows of pastry shops in Paris. You can't miss the name, as it's written across the cake. I love looking at the exquisite desserts in the windows of the pâtisseries in Paris. Unfortunately I never went in to buy anything, as I was not in the market for cakes and the like. And also, unfortunately, I forgot to read the Daring Baker recipe. I saw that the recipe came from Dorie Greenspan's book Paris Sweets, and since I own the book I went right to it. I never bothered to read the Daring Baker recipe. I simply made Dorie's cake.

So when I finally looked at the recipe, what a tremendous disappointment it was to see that we were not to use chocolate or coffee flavoring. Well the cake took me soooo long to make that there was no doing it again. I will simply submit my erroneous, but VERY delicious, l'Opera! And I'm not meaning to dis on Lance Armstrong. Why, as a matter of fact, I stood in the hot afternoon sun on the Champs Elysées for three hours just to see Lance Armstrong come riding in first for the 2001 Tour de France. And then I watched as he rode the loop from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe ten times.

The cake took me three days to make. And I was very nervous about all the elements.  By the time I had most of the elements finished on Monday I just wanted to go to bed, so I packed everything up and went to bed.  Then Tuesday I was very busy, and couldn't even get to the cake until 9:30 PM.  I assembled it, save the glaze, and wrapped it up and put it into the refrigerator.  Then today I finally finished it, while keeping Emily busy watching Max and Ruby.

joconde: I ground almonds in my Cuisanart, putting a tablespoon of flour into the mix to prevent clumping. I think it all went well, but maybe I didn't get it fine enough. The cake itself was quite easy, but my biggest hitch was that my pans were a bit bigger than specified - 12x17. This made for a thinner cake. I cooked one in my Miele, and one in my Lacanche electric oven. They were done in six minutes.

Then we had friends stop by who were hoping to have a piece, and me not having any idea how much longer this would take.  So next I made the simple syrup - just water and sugar, as I was planning to add some cognac later.  Then came my most feared element.

French coffee butter cream:  This turned out to be a complete disaster on my first try.  I had the eggs beating in the Kitchenaide, and there was the coffee sitting ready to go in, the soft butter cut into hunks, and the water and sugar boiling on the stove.  I was using my extra fancy candy thermometer, recommended by Emiril.  But it just wasn't coming up to temperature and the syrup was diminishing rapidly.  I finally decided that the thermometer was not working and I slowly poured in the syrup into the eggs.  Major Disaster!  Hard sugar stuck to the sides of the bowl, and the beaters looked like I was trying to make cotton candy.  But I persisted.  When the bowl felt room temperature to me I began putting in the butter.  Immediately it turned to liquid.  At that I quit and we all went out for dinner.  On the way home I told Riley that I just didn't want to try that again, but he encouraged me to hang in there and do it again.  So when we got home I went right back to making butter cream, but this time, before I had hardly begun, my husband had a brilliant idea.  He got out my electronic gun temperature taker.  It was awesome.  I would recommend to anyone needing to use a candy thermometer to use the gun instead.  It didn't take long at all for the sugar syrup to come to temperature.  And a second good idea - I used my hand mixer instead of the Kitchenaide stand mixer.  The syrup and egg combined beautifully.  So then for the next problem - adding the butter.  I decided to use the gun again.  I check the temperature of the butter - 71 degrees.  Then I checked the egg and sugar mixture, which I thought was cool enough.  It was 85 degrees.  So I got a bowl filled with ice, and set the egg and sugar mixture bowl in it.  It took a fairly long time for the mixture to reach 71 dgrees.  But when it did, and I added the butter, it all mixed wonderfully.  When all mixed I add the coffee, 4 teaspoons, and it was really really yummy.

So the next element was the chocolate ganache. Compared to the French butter cream, the ganache was a piece of cake. It took almost not effort at all the come up with the ganache. I did make an effort to chop up the bittersweet chocolate nice and fine. I heated the cream and milk in the microwave, add the finely chopped chocolate, the mixed with my hand mixer, and I then had beautiful ganache.

At this point I was done for the day! I'd learned a lot, but my brain couldn't handle any more learning for the day. The next way I had the kids, and I had to go to a meeting at church, and I had to pick up a daughter after work, so at 9:30 I took the butter cream and ganache out of the refrigerator to thaw a bit, and sat down to watch Jeapordy. Being a Scot, I couldn't cut up the cake and discarding some. So I decided that I'd make a four layer cake. I should have started with the ganache, but I didn't. I got the cakes cut in half, and added cognac to the simple syrup, and fluffed up the butter cream, and then decided to put a layer of chocolate on the bottom of the cake, placing it on a piece of parchment on a big upside-down cake pan. Then I but syrup on the first layer, then butter cream. The next two layers were of ganache, because it occured to me that the last layer had to be buttercream. The ganache was soooo hard that I couldn't whip it up, so I put it into the microwave for 20 seconds. At first I was going to do 40 seconds, but I decided to be more cautious. That was such a good idea. Any more heating and it would have been a melted mess. As it was, it whipped up very nicely. In the end I forgot to put syrup on the last layer, which irked me a lot. I then put the whole thing into the basement refrigerator to chill up a while before I put the plastic wrap on for the night. I then proceeded to get thuroughly sucked into watching the Mariners/Red Sox game. The Mariners won!!! Admittedly the Red Sox had some bad luck, but it was so nice to see the Mariners win. I got to bed at 1:30.

This morning, while Emily was in her chair eating her breakfast and watching Max and Ruby, I brought the cake up and went to work. I did the mis en place routine, making sure nothing would hinder my efforts. Then I made the glaze, first clarifying the butter. I found that it was easier than I'd thought. I just herded the foam bits to one area and scooped them up. Then I added it the the chocolate that I'd chopped up, and put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, and gave it a good thorough stir. With the cake positioned on a wrack, over a baking sheet I carefully spooned on the glaze. One thing that I discovered was that the suggestion to smooth out the glaze with a pallet knife wasn't right, because the glaze was setting up straight away because the cake was so cold. The knife just made things messy. But I didn't do much smoothing. I think it turned out great. Then I carefully moved the cake to the cutting board, and squared it up. Then I put it on the serving plate, and put it in the basement.

Assessment:  When all is said and done, when all the lessons are learned, this wasn't such a terribly difficult cake to make, and it was very delicious.  

1. The joconde was an easy cake, and buying to almonds at Trader Joe's really cut the cost.  I followed the CIA directions and put a tablespoon of flour into the almonds while grinding them up.  I do need a small jelly roll pan, as 12x17 was a bit too big.  I make a four layer cake in the end, because of the big sheets.

2. The butter cream is a complete disaster when it goes wrong.  Candy thermometers are a pain, but my thermometer gun was fantastic.  It's essential to remember that room temperature (about 71 degrees) is quite a bit colder than body temperature (98 degrees).  To feel something and think it is room temperature because it doesn't feel warm will not work.  Stirring the egg and sugar mixture over ice was very helpful.

3. It's good to remember that ganache is easy and really tasty.  It's actually the center for truffles.  I bet it takes on flavors really well.

4. I made the syrup up ahead of time, and added the cognac just before using it.  This seems a good idea.

5. The glaze was so amazing.  Of course I was pouring it over a very chilled cake.  I did learn not to touch the glaze, but to just carefully pour it on.  When I was clarifying the butter I found that just gently skooting the foam to one side of the pan (kind of like herding sheep) make it easy to scoop out. A Daring Baker who is actually a pastry chef, sugar chef, and can make a dead flat cake, recommended that I pour on the glaze when it's 90 degrees, and then just give the cake a gentle shake to even things out.

6. I cut the cake with my very big German bread knife.  It wasn't perfect, but I don't imagine having the perfect knife for the job anytime soon.  On one side of the cake I used a daughter's fancy Japanese knife and it didn't work as well.

7. I'm so going to put this cake in my repertoire.  When trimmed up it serves an easy 16 people, if you don't count what was cut off.  I could think of changing the butter cream flavor - though I really liked the coffee.  And the ganache could take on many flavors.

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: 
it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Night Out In Provence

Job 10: 12 
You gave me life and showed me kindness, 
and in your providence watched over my spirit.

For Mother's Day three of my daughters gave me a cooking class at Sur la Table called Friday Night in Provence. The menu for the evening was Pissaladière - Bouillabaisse Served with Rouille - Classic Bistro Roast Chicken with Ratatouille - Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream. I thought it was a great present, and I kept checking the card to make sure I didn't miss it. Forgetting to go to things is one of my worst traits.

So yesterday was the day. Riley took the day off, but of course I didn't have it off. Emily was quite full of herself and by the end of the day I knew that it was the end of the week. The house was a mess and I was frazzled. I didn't want to be all worn out and frazzled at the cooking class, so I asked Riley to watch Emily while I went upstairs to get ready. I put on my Sabrina outfit - black capris, black knit shirt with a v-neck and collar, white socks, and little black flats. The I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and decided to wear my black Army hoodie for a coat, as the weather has gone back to early spring after being in the 90s earlier in the week. I felt as though I looked okay, but I still felt a lack of confidence. Riley sensed this, and assured me that I was going to do great as long as I remembered that I was fine.

Heidi picked up Emily while I was dressing, and Christian had already gone to a birthday party sleep over. Riley drove me to Sur la Table, where I could see, from the great bit window looking into the cooking classroom, that people were already gathering, so I hurried on in. The name tag they had for me was Heidi, so while they were changing it I went over to get my apron on and wash my hands. I was told I could get a bit to eat and a glass of Italian sparkling water, so I did. Then I surveyed the room. There were different prep stations in the room with mats around them and some people were standing quietly in front of the mats. So I decided this must have something to do with how it all worked. But I remained rather confused, as did the other people, as I could tell by the looks on their faces. In all there were twenty students. They all looked unprofessional as cooks, were middle aged for the most part, conservatively dressed, and looked educated, though one older couple didn't seem to fit this description. I'm guessing that I was probably the oldest person there, though one woman who I got into a conversation with thought that i was about 15 years younger than I actually am. That was encouraging.

But despite the fact that they were all quietly standing at work stations - though I never did that - when the class started we were all asked to come up towards where the teacher was standing. I went right up, though it took the others a while to come reasonably close, and I had a great vantage. Our teacher had a difficult name - this is because she had hippy parents - and all I can remember is that she said to call her Say. She was educated at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and had worked for a couple years at one of the top restaurants in Paris, one that was used in part as a prototype for the restaurant in Ratatouille. She also worked under Pierre Herme. I found that very impressive, and I wanted to ask her about that, but I forgot to do so! She gave us a run down of what we were going to be doing, and gave us some instructions, and then asked us to each pick a part of the meal that we wanted to work on. At this point I was a bit hesitant, and in the end, when I saw that no one was going over to the profiterole station, I went there. Now this was a bit odd, as I know how to make profiteroles, but no matter, I would be perfecting my technique. And that is exactly what happened. It was a bit like the Lord telling me that I was indeed a pastry cook, and not so much a dinner cook.

The recipe I worked on comes from the February 2000 issue of Gourmet Magazine, and was title Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream.

Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Makes about 40

for the lavender ice cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup half & half
1 tablespoon dried lavender leaves
5 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons honey

for the profiteroles

3/4 stick butter (unsalted if you have it), cut into pieces
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
4 large eggs (approximately)

for decoration

some chocolate sauce or some honey

Making the ice cream

Put the creams and lavender into a saucepan and let the lavender soak for maybe 1/2 hour.
Then put the cream and lavender mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil. Then pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl to strain out the lavender.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and honey. Then slowly stir in the cream mixture into the eggs. Pour back into the saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Do not bring to a boil. You will know when the mixture is sufficiently cooked when you can coat the back of a wooden spoon with the mixture and then draw your finger across the coated spoon and there is an uncoated area where your finger went.

Pour the custard through fine sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill, covered, until cold - at least two hours. [This part makes me think that the cooking instructor pulled some out of the refrigerator and I didn't notice.} Freeze custard in a ie-cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. It took about 20 minutes in the ice cream maker.

making the profiteroles

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.
Put the butter, water, sugar and salt into a heavy 3 quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. When the butter has melted reduce the heat to moderate and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook the mixture, beating constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Take pan off the heat. This takes about a minute. Break the eggs into a dish and whisk well. Then vigorously stir in the eggs about an egg at a time, until the mixture is runny, but still holds its shape. Reserve just a bit of the egg for brushing onto the tops of the puffs just before baking. Put the mixture into a large pastry bag fitted with a large plane hole tip - maybe 1/2 inch across. Line two baking trays with parchment and pipe 20 1 1/4 inch diameter mounds about 1 inch apart. Brush each profiterole with a big of egg. Bake the profiteroles in the upper third of the oven for about 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking until the outside of the puffs are crisp and golden - about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. For an excellent explanation of making choux paste see Delia.


Cut each profiterole in half horizontally with a serrated knife and sandwich a small scoop of ice cream in between. Place on a plate and drizzle with a little chocolate sauce or honey.

Cooks' notes:

• Custard can be chilled up to 24 hours.

• Ice cream may be made 2 weeks ahead.

• Profiteroles may be made 1 day ahead and recrisped in a 350°F oven about 5 minutes, or 1 month ahead and frozen in an airtight container.

Before we took a "shopping break" we ate the Bouillabaisse [boul ya bess]. It seemed to be easy to make, and was quite tastey, though I wasn't so fond of the mussels, though some times I like them. This was also a Gourmet Magazine recipe, from the July 2002 issue. But the Gourmet Mag called for lobster, which was eliminated from our recipe.

Roast Chicken with Jus

I think that one of the most informative lessons for cooking that the teacher gave was on how to roast a chicken French style. She had us all come forward to watch as she got the bird ready for roasting. The first thing she did was to chop off the wings. These were to be chopped smaller and place in the bottom of the roasting pan along with the mirapoix (carrot, onion, celery). She then proceeded to truss the chicken. She explained that the French like all of their cooking to be tidy. That statement seemed to explain a lot, really. She had a trussing needle (I've probably got one somewhere), and she put a length of string onto it. She then sewed up a wing, then a leg, then the flap, then a leg, and then a wing, and tied the whole thing up. The bird was then placed on its side on top of the mirapoix and chopped wing bits, put into a 400 degree oven, and set for 15 minutes. At the end of that time the bird (which jumped right out of the pan and onto the oven door) was placed on the other side for 15 minutes. Then turn the chicken breast side up - that would look upside down - and bast with pan juices and cook until the chicken juices run clear.

When cooked, remove the chicken from the roasting pan and tent it wil foil to keep it warn. Pour off any fat from the roasting pan and place the pan over medium high heat. Deglaze with some white wine. Onve the wine has redued, add water to almost cover the bones and scrap the pan. Cook until the jus has reduced by half. Strain through a fine mech sieve, discarding the solids. Season jus with salt and pepper to taste.

After the jus was made, our teacher gave us instructions on how to carve up the chicken. She first torn pack the leg, and then cut it off at an exposed joint. She then carefully removed the thighs, being careful not to cut the very special little piece of meat - see Amelie. And lastly she carved off the breast meat by first running the knife to one side of the ridge up the tack, and then cutting along the hard part. Once cut up, she sliced the meat into large hunks and placed it on the platter. The jus is served separately in a bowl with a spoon or ladle.

Continuous effort 
- not strength or intelligence - 
is the key to unlocking our potential.
Winston Churchill

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day - Doing what I like

Genesis 3:20 
"Adam named his wife Eve, 
because she would become the mother of all the living."

Riley had hinted to me that my daughters were planning something for me for Mother's Day, and that was nice to hear. I eventually found out that it was to be a lovely breakfast at Heidi and Annie's house. But I kept wondering what I was going to do about my mother. Because I've been sick I didn't want to do anything that included a bunch of my siblings. Well on Saturday my mother called to wish me happy Mother's Day, and I could tell that she would like me to do something, so I told her that because I'd been sick I really didn't want to go anywhere, but would she and Dad like to come over for dinner on Mother's Day. She very gladly accepted my invitation. I then called and invited Ken and Marilyn, because I knew they would like to see my parents. Soon afterwards Sarah and Zac called. They wanted to come over and go out for coffee and cards and then have dinner with us. I told them about Sunday dinner. They were coming for the breakfast at Heidi's, but they wouldn't be staying for dinner, as they needed to get prepared for something at school on Monday. So that made 10 for dinner - a nice number. I was still wondering what I would serve. I went to the basement to get something out of the refrigerator and there it was - a great big ham. I'd have to think later about what we would have with the ham. So for the time being we all went to Starbucks on 20th and played cards, and then, after a failed attempt to go to Nicholas' (a huge crowd was waiting outside to get in), we went to Cha Cha Cha for dinner. I had a cheese quesadilla and it was really yummy. Afterwards we all went back to our house and sat around and talked for a long time. At one point Corey came home in a panic because she couldn't find her wallet. In the end, after talking with her about all she did during the day, I think that it fell out of her purse and is now in the possession of a stranger. She was understandably distraught. She was going out with her co-workers to a place to see one co-worker who was in a band. She knew she would need ID, so she got her passport. I sure hope she eventually finds her wallet. I HATE losing my wallet!!!

Sunday morning I woke up early coughing really badly, so I got up. I hadn't been up long before I decided that what I would do was cook. I love cooking in a clean kitchen early in the morning. Once I made eleven desserts by one o'clock. Being busy nicely took my mind off my problem of excessive coughing.

The first thing I made was an orange flan. I didn't get enough on cinco de maio. I needed to have it done enough to be able to put it into the refrigerator before going to church, I got it into the oven by 7 o'clock. [On Monday I went to have the left-over flan for dessert and it turned out that my daughters had eaten it. So now I need to make some more.]

Next I made cockeyed cake, because my Mom is a vegan and that's a vegan cake. I decided to put the batter into two small bundt pans, with a view to giving my Mom one of the cakes to take home. Well in the end I forgot to give it to her. So before going to bed I wrapped it up and put it into the freezer. Odd thing is that on the next morning I found it sitting on the kitchen table. I got the cakes into the oven by about 7:30.

Then I decided to make an orange almond angel cake because I had 10 left-over egg whites from making the flan twice in one week. I found a recipe on a cooking blog in Malasia for an orange angel food cake. Being very fond of orange flavored desserts I went for it. the recipe very nicely gave measurements in grams, so I was able to make it fit exactly to what I had. Unfortunately the cake did not stay as high as when it went in. So in the end I made a orange brandy syrup to spoon over the cake. So even though it wasn't exactly an angel food cake it was tasty.

And finally, I got bread started. I did a 1.25 pound of flour dough. And then I charged upstairs to take a shower, having 28 minutes still left before the angel food cake came out of the oven. When I got back from taking the shower there was 19 minutes still left. While I was sitting waiting for the cake to come out Riley came and gave me a Mother's Day present - tickets to the Irvington Home Tour, which was a delightful surprise.

When the cake was done I again charged upstairs to get dressed for church. It was so nice that my whole family was at church, as Sarah and Zac came into town to join us. So that was Riley and I, Annie and Corey, Heidi and Christian and Emily, and Sarah and Zac.

After church Riley and I headed to the nice new nursery in our neighborhood, Garden Fever. I wanted to get a plant for each mother in the family that I would see today.

For Sarah, who isn't at all interest in flowers, I got an heirloom tomato plant - brandywine tomato.

Then for Heidi I found a a tray with mixed gourmet lettuce. She want s to lose weight, so lettuce seemed like a good idea.

Then for my Mom I found a terrific sunflower called lemon sunflower. There were three lovely plants in the pot. The plant only gets to about 4 feet tall, which I think is a good thing, as sunflowers are a bit too tall, especially if you're short, as my Mom is.

I then went home and wrapped up the plants, putting bubble wrap around the pots, then white tissue paper, and then a nice big ribbon.

I was worried about getting to Heidi's house late for breakfast, but is was definitely not ready when we got there. I didn't realize it at the time, but Heidi was sick. That explains why she was so grumpy. I asked if I could help and she snapped at me. So I went and sat in the living room. While sitting there Emily came into the room bearing what was obviously another present for me - a new watering wand for the garden. My old one was squirting all over me. It was seemingly a present from Emily and Riley.

But when breakfast was finally ready it was quite delightful. We had bacon and sausages, pancakes, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, and strawberries and tea and orange juice. And when we were mostly done eating I asked Emily if she would go over and get a present for me. She went right over to the side table and brought all of them over to me. I'm so amazed of late at how well Emily understands what I am saying.

Heidi, Annie, and Corey gave me a cooking class in French Provencal cooking at Sur la Table. At this hands on event we will be cooking Pissaladière - Bouillabaisse Served with Rouille - Classic Bistro Roast Chicken with Ratatouille - Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream. I'm really glad it's hands on, though they probably don't want to let everybody be hands on to everything. And then when done, we get to eat the food.

Sarah and Zac gave me two lovely embroidered hand towels to go with the new piece of furniture in the second floor bathroom. I think I will need a new towel rack. And then Riley gave me a third present, one that I had requested, a lovely knitting book called Little Knits.  I've been eying that book since September, and I've already put pictures of the sweaters in my iPhoto.  The book is a story book as well as a knitting book, which Emily loves.

After breakfast we headed home, knowing that I at least needed to get the ham in the oven. The menu for the Mother's Day Dinner was to be:

baked glazed ham
French bread and butter
roasted potatoes
fruity green salad
garlicky green beans

cockeyed cake
orange flan
orange almond angel food cake

After the ham was in the oven we went for coffee at a local Starbucks and did a puzzle or two. There was still stuff to be done, and I couldn't remember when I told people to come over, so we didn't linger too long. All in all, everything went very well. Corey surprised me by coming home and helping with the cooking. She was actually a very big help, which is usually not her way when it comes to cooking. She did the potatoes and the green beans and helped with the salad. One could almost say that she cooked the dinner.

When Ken and Marilyn showed up they asked how they could help, and I set them on the dining room. Marilyn tidied up all the toys and Ken helped me clear off the dining table, and then they set it. One funny thing was that Marilyn asked if she could do something fancy with the napkins, and I said "certainly". She laid them in the middle of the plates. My parents soon settled in the living room and Riley provided everyone with a drink. Heidi and her crew arrived quite late, but I suspect this was because she was sick.

It was a lovely dinner, and even the angel food cake was well received. My Mother seemed to enjoy herself very much, and was a bit disappointed when my Dad said that it was time to go home. Being 89 years old he doesn't want to be driving in the dark. Unfortunately Marilyn came down with a stomach ache. I found her sitting in the living room looking very miserable. After questioning her about her symptoms I told her that she could use to drink some French green clay. She consented, so I went a got a very small glass of water with a teaspoon of green clay in it and a spoon. Standing beside her I stirred it all up and told her to chug it. She did, and with in no time she felt a lot better.

“Enjoying the joys of others 
and suffering with them
 - these are the best guides for man”
Albert Einstein