Daring Bakers – L’Opéra

Special thanks to Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful for this challenge!

…or in layman’s terms, “Opera Cake.” Or, in hubby’s and my terms, “super yummy cake.” I was petrified of doing this cake…really petrified. The rules are intense and long, very explicit detail of the do’s and don’ts of the cake…I was sure I wouldn’t survive! Once I realized that the rules were really options that could be omitted at will, I breathed a sigh of relief, and took the easy way out–I omitted all the options. :D I’m feeling terribly burned out from trying to hard to healthify so many other things for hubby’s new diet, to add a cake in the mix seemed daunting, but I wanted the challenge. So, I chose an Orange-Almond themed cake, based on the fact that my favorite cookies in the whole world are Orange-Almond-Oatmeal, but hubby doesn’t like them, so I don’t make them too often.

Let’s remember…I’m a whiz at making things taste good, but as for presentation? I’m still in Kindergarten; probably the kid in the back of the room eating paste, instead of using it. I am totally OCD about the flavor, but as for decoration, I don’t really bother. Not very OCD of me, huh? I’ll have to work on that.

Getting back to L’Opéra, it was so easy! Like all good things, it took time, but absolutely worth it. Definitely different, but truly one of the best cakes I’ve had. And, as you’ll see below, I totally “healthified” it, due to the health changes we’ve had to make in the house.

Small-Batch Easy-Peasy L’Opéra

Joconde

  • one egg white
  • 5 grams sugar
  • 38 grams almond meal (or any ground nut of choice)
  • 38 grams confectioners sugar
  • one large egg (I used three tablespoons Better’n Eggs + 1 teaspoon extra-light olive oil)
  • 12 grams all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 8 grams butter (I used 6 grams extra-light olive oil + 2 grams water)
  1. Line jelly roll sheet with buttered parchment paper (I used PAM Butter Spray).
  2. Beat egg white to soft peaks; add 5 grams sugar and beat until stiff peaks have formed.
  3. Beat almond meal, confectioners sugar, and egg until light and fluffy. Add flour and gently mix in. Fold in egg white mixture. Add and gently mix in melted butter.
  4. Pour batter onto prepared cake pan and spread evenly. Bake cake layer until golden brown, and springy to the touch (about seven minutes).
  5. Use knife to gently separate cake form edges of pan, then turn over to cooling rack and peel off parchment paper. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Sugar Syrup

  • 21 grams water
  • 11 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Stir all ingredients together in small saucepan. Bring to rolling boil, then set-aside to cool to room temperature.

Buttercream

  1. Beat butter and salt until well-blended and light in color. Add orange oil and mix until well-blended. Add sugar and fold into butter mixture until fully dissolved. Set-aside.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

  1. Cut cooled cake into two large squares, with excess rectangular pieces (these can be assembled in additional layers to form a square).
  2. Place first square to baking sheet and moisten gently with flavored sugar syrup. Spread 1/3 buttercream atop layer.
  3. Repeat with remaining layers, sugar syrup and buttercream.
  4. Upon completion of assembled layers, place in fridge (cake tastes best cold).
  5. Enjoy! Sharing Optional.™

Tools Used

TWD – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread

This week’s recipe for the Tuesday’s with Dorie challenge came from Madam Chow’s Kitchen , who chose Pecan Honey Sticky Buns. However, as you can tell by my title, I clearly didn’t do that specific recipe. An alternate choice was offered–which I gladly chose, as I was not able to figure out how to manipulate the recipe (with great success) to fit into hubby’s new doctor-assigned diet. Though, there are many talented people on the TWD blogroll, so I’m sure I’ll find someone who did it successfully. As for me, I chose a recipe that had been done for TWD on 1 Jan, but I wasn’t able to make: Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread. An excellent choice, if I do say so myself!

I decided to use oat flour in place of a portion of the white flour (I got the idea from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking), which makes perfect sense, as now it is a lovely Scottish Shortbread (since oats are so very Scottish). The oats, pecans, and cloves worked so lovely together; the recipe came together very naturally. I was very pleased. I did cheat (not on the recipe, but on hubby’s diet) and use real butter–really, can you have true shortbread without real butter? It did taste wonderful!

I was terribly anxious about the recipe, as I am usually terrible with anything that requires patting, refrigerating, etc.…basically, anything related to a pie crust. However, Dorie managed to put together a phenomenal recipe that just made it work, even for us crust-challenged cooks. Dorie does recommend to roll the shortbread into a bag (or between saran wrap) and refrigerate. I felt that given the small-batch size of my recipe, patting into the pan would be fine. The proof is in the pudding, it tasted delightful!

Small-Batch Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread (a fusion between King Arthur Whole Grain Baking and Baking from My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)

  • 1.55 oz oat flour
  • .25 oz all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 t cornstarch
  • tiny pinch cloves
  • 1.30 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
  • .90 oz brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 T toasted, finely-ground pecans
  1. Whisk flours, cornstarch, and cloves together in small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat butter, salt and brown sugar together until well-mixed.
  3. Add flour mixture and beat until just mixed, resembling pebbles. Add pecans and gently stir until mixed.
  4. Pat dough into greased loaf pan and prick with fork. Refrigerate two hours.
  5. Bake at 300º F for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
  6. Enjoy! Sharing Optional.™

Tools Used

Excellent? Me?? Really???

Thanks to Kate from the clean plate club for the Excellent Blog award!!

I read a lot of cooking & baking blogs…I mean, a lot! I’m not a really big commenter, though. I need to be better, though, because as a blogger, I know how excited we can get when there is confirmed knowledge that people do, in fact, read our blogs! the clean plate club is among my favorites, for which I wait anxiously for kate’s next post. I love them! I love reading about life and cooking; I’m not really into celebrity cooking blogs—-they get paid to do it all. It’s about the people who try hard everyday to come up with the best food for their families.

With that in mind, can I give this award to every blog I read?? Seriously. There are lots. But, to be fair to the blogging world, and to keep the torch going, I’ll pick a few that I truly do lay in eagerness waiting for their next post. In alphabetical order:

Bakin’n’Bacon : Really, can there be a better name for a blog?? Darcie’s hip, get-with-it style is fantastic. Partially it makes you want to hide for not being as bold and daring as she is with her “step-it-up!” demands in the kitchen, yet, you want to keep reading. Even with the tongue lashing of how much better we can be, she really does believe it. And it makes you want to run to the kitchen and follow her recipes—because they have to be good with all the research she has done!

Cookie Chick : not only is her site gorgeous (she’s a graphic designer, as my hubby), but her writing style is familiar and inviting. I learn so many things of alternate ways to use products, or fabulous new recipes. Reading her blog is like having a good food chat with a best friend. Very engaging! I love following along with her life and her discoveries of new food experiences.

Keep it Rowdy : Though not a strictly cooking blog, my cousin offers the best laugh-out-loud experiences about being a young, hip mom with some great cooking experiences. She offers the best down-to-earth laugh-out-loud experiences I can find on a blog. Her cooking experiences are awesome–any attempts from a mom to get food on the table is fantastic in my book!

Porter House : How Becca has time to pull off all her cooking excursions with her children is far beyond me. Yet, it gives me hope…that perhaps I can keep it up when kiddleos do join hubby and I. Becca offers a very sweet, down-to-earth cooking style, with some excellent photos. I love her basic, home-cooking styles. I simply want to un-earth my grass and plant a garden so I can make food as lovely as hers!


Many thanks to y’all, and all the others on my blog roll, for all the inspiration that y’all provide!!

Challenge: eat healthier!

I’d like to say “eat healthy”, but I’ll take the -ier since that’s at least one step closer. I must be nagging my family enough, as in the past 24-hours, I’ve been with two siblings who have both noticably changed their eating habits for the better. Big Sis was excited to find Gogurt Simple, which is the same yogurt-on-the-go, but this time with no corn syrup. Hooray! Along with the Gogurts, she also found some Organic pop-tarts; though pop-tarts, they at least had pure sugar and not the offspring of corn. Small and simple steps, right?

Also, Big Bro made a post on his usual computer-focused blog about how much better he has been feeling since he decided to invest only pennies more to eat better food: the cost of eating healthy (very good post. check it out.) It is for Big Bro that I made the post Well, then, what should I eat?? to help get him jump-started. Another good post if you’re looking to get started on eating healthier.

In the adventure of eating healthier, dear hubby has just been put on “get healthier” diet by doctor, so I get to find new ways to be creative with veggies, all whole-wheat pastas and breads, etc. Join me in the adventure, as I’ll be posting all about the ups and downs of egg whites-only, whole grain pastas, and the potato-free zone.

TWD :: Florida Pie

It’s time for another Tuesdays with Dorie challenge, compliments of Dianne of Dianne’s Dishes.

If you are like me, the name Florida Pie sparks an interest, but knowing it must be a citrus of some sort. You got it—an upgraded Key Lime Pie. This pie is definitely taken to the next level, though, with a creamy-coconut base. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I cheated and made up my own version—so, you get to read about my special way of making the pie, the easy way. :D 

The original recipe (as listed below) calls for a boil of heavy cream and coconut on the stove, until the cream is half-reduced. Then, this serves as the base of the pie (on top of the crisp graham cracker crust), topped by the key-lime topping. I was out of heavy cream at the moment, and though I tend to use evaporated milk as a substitute for heavy cream in many cases, I was happy to omit just a teeny bit of calories from the pie–I knew it was going to be good and that I was going to want two pieces. 

For my cheater’s version, I simply beat egg yolks and lime zest together until the yolks took on a pale yellow look, then I added fat-free sweetened condensed milk and a handful of sweetened coconut and mixed thouroughly, then added some lime juice, mixed, and allowed to sit. Super yummy and easy. 

As for the fat-free sweetened condensed milk, this normally goes against all baking mantras to use full-fat milk, as the fat is what serves a basis for the texture of the goods. However, in the case of sweetened-condensed milk, the milk is reduced by half and then given an equal portion of sugar. Thus, in the end, the texture and thickness will react the same in most (I haven’t found a failure, yet, but I must add that disclaimer) baked goods as would the full-fat version.

Of course, I did a small-batch version, but did a half-version because I have a guest with me at the time. So, we each got our own mini pie. As usual, small-batches are perfect, with no leftovers (which works great if you’re easily tempted by the leftover baked goods to be eaten for breakfast).

Tools Used

Florida Pie by Dorie Greenspan’s Book, Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 9-inch graham cracker crust (page 235), fully baked and cooled, or a store-bought crust
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
4 large eggs, seperated
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh Key (or regular) lime juice (from about 5 regular limes)
1/4 cup of sugar

Getting Ready:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment of a silicone mat.

Put the cream and 1 cup of the coconut in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly.  Continue to cook and stir until the cream is reduced by half and the mixture is slightly thickened.  Scrape the coconut cream into a bowl and set it aside while you prepare the lime filling.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl beat the egg yolks at high speed until thick and pale.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the condensed milk.  Still on low, add half of the lime juice.  When it is incorporated, add the reaming juice, again mixing until it is blended.  Spread the coconut cream in the bottom of the graham cracker crust, and pour over the lime filling.

Bake the pie for 12 minutes.  Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes, then freeze the pie for at least 1 hour.

To Finish the Pie with Meringue:

Put the 4 egg whites and the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, whisking all the while, until the whites are hot to the touch.  Transfer the whites to a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a hand mixer in a large bowl, and beat the whites at high speed until they reach room temperature and hold firm peaks.  Using a rubber spatula, fold the remaining 1/2 cup coconut into the meringue.

Spread the meringue over the top of the pie, and run the pie under the broiler until the top of the meringue is golden brown.  (Or, if you’ve got a blowtorch, you can use it to brown the meringue.)  Return the pie to the freezer for another 30 minutes or for up to 3 hours before serving.

 

Gardening thyme!

Well, in my frozen world, I can’t even think about planing my little garden until towards the end of May. We sometimes still have frozen nights, so no reason to bother planting now. Also, because of space, I am only able to plant herbs—but, four large pots of them! Nothing compares to throwing open my door and plotting outside to snip off fresh chives for potatoes, thyme for my chicken and steaks, or basil and oregano for my tomato sauce. Even the blackest of thumbs can get a little garden going.

I thought that growing herbs would be horrendous, as I usually kill of all my indoor plants (but, now I can blame my water!), so why would my garden be any different? I called a wonderful garden-lady in my church who was very kind and took me to the nursery to pick out my plants, then on to pick out some large plant containers and potting soil. We returned home and placed the herbs in the containers, watered them, and voila! I grew herbs! Really, it was that simple. If you don’t get a lot of rain, you do need to water them frequently, but that was it. I’m still shocked how easy it was. And, that I managed not to kill them all.

If you are not able to grow fresh herbs outdoors, have you considered trying them indoors, with an AeroGarden? I’ve not personally tried one, but if I weren’t able to grow mine outdoors, it would definitely be at the top of my list. In the meantime, however, if funds are holding you back, I’ve listed the basics of using dried herbs. They make such a difference!

You say tomato, I say tomato

I think one of the most important things you can do in your cooking is taste test. Taste test, taste test, taste test! I think you would be amazed at the difference that one change in ingredient will make in your cooking! Even the type of water you are using affects your cooking and baking so much. If you cook a lot of Italian (as I do), I’d start first-thing with canned tomatoes. Yes, that simple can that costs about $.89, but could change your cooking world forever from “caca, me no likey” to “Yummy!” My very favorite and simplest tomato sauce is only one can of diced tomatoes (or crushed, depending on what I’m making), a little olive oil, and three cloves of garlic. Mmm. However, as I have well-learned, the brand of tomatoes I’m using can really make or break that sauce!

For tomatoes themselves, it really has to do with the acidity. If you have been taught (or taught yourself to put food away [can]), then you understand the importance of acidity level in food preservation. Foods in a can/jar from the grocery store are no differently-processed than how you or I have been taught to do it at home. Prepare your product, make sure you have enough acid, and boil away to preserve on the shelf. The key point is the acidity level. There is a minimum level needed, to allow for proper preservation, but the amount of acidity from there is completely at the discretion of the company.

My personal favorite canned tomatoes are Red Gold, or Red Pack on the other side of the Mississippi. (Isn’t it odd that names of the same food change on various sides of The River or The Rockies? Such as Hellman’s Mayo and Best Foods–yep, same thing!) Until I began trying Red Gold, I would faithfully use Muir Glen tomatoes (also sold under the Trader Joe’s label) because I had thought they were the best. Unfortunately, hubby was always complaining how much he didn’t like the sauce—which I thought was the best thing on earth! After a great deal of experimentation trying to convince him it was the best thing even, I realized it was the tomatoes. Sure enough, I tried the same sauce with my Red Gold, and now the sauce is a happy staple in our home. What gives? Come to find out, Muir Glen packs their tomatoes in a much higher acidity liquid than other tomatoes, which isn’t a bad thing. You, perhaps, may prefer a higher acidic tomato. Of course, a pinch of sugar can help offset the higher acidity, too.

Besides acidity, there are a few other factors to take into account when tasting tomatoes: firmness, size, texture, etc. The way that companies cut their tomatoes, how long they wait between harvest and processing, size of tomato pieces, etc. all make a huge difference in how they taste. So, shell out an extra $.89 at the grocery store and branch out a little next time…maybe you’ll find that the cheaper brand of diced tomatoes if your favorite. 

This is just about tomatoes…but, the same is said for oils, salts, beans, pasta, etc, etc. Truly, it’s about everything in your kitchen you’ve been buying. They’re all very easy to taste test, and not too expensive. Just start with one item at a time and cook a usual dish, but in two portions, one with each of the different ingredients. See what you think! You may find that you’ve been paying more than you need for a product that wasn’t your favorite to begin with. And with these rising food costs…wouldn’t that be great??

Simple Tomato Sauce

28 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use Red Gold petite diced)
3 cloves garlic, minced 
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt (I suggest Kosher or Sea salt) 
Fresh herbs (I like basic, hubby likes oregano) 

 

  1.  Heat Olive Oil in traditional 12″ pan until shiny and runny (before smoking point) over medium heat.
  2. Add minced garlic and stir with wooden spoon until it smells great (sorry, about 30 seconds—your nose will know).
  3. Immediately add yummy diced tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir to blend flavors together. Set to simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Taste test—add more salt as needed, or if too acidic, add a pinch of sugar.
  5. Add 2 Tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs (if you only have dried herbs, use 1 1/2 teaspoons and add at beginning, with the tomatoes).
  6. Enjoy! Sharing optional.

 

There’s something in the water.

Hooray–another excuse to add to the list why our baked goods sometimes fail, with no explanation. It just might be the water! I’ve heard this time and time again, that the water does affect our baking, and even our cooking. I have to agree. The water in the frozen tundra where I live is so chocked full of minerals and deposits, I’m surprised it leaves the tap in liquid form. Which, of course, is why we have a water softener which softens all the water in the house–except for the kitchen tap. I’m sure there’s a logical reason and explanation for that, but I’ve yet to figure out why the builders do that. 

I have noticed that when I make bread with bottled water (or filtered water), the bread does take on a different texture. I can’t really say better, because, hey–I am a total breadivore and I’ll eat whatever I can get! I’m sure if I took the time to baked two loaves of bread and compare them side-by-side, I’d definitely have a preference. I have, however, noticed a flavor difference in my rice when I use filtered water—definitely better. But, perhaps it’s all in my head?

Have you ever had the chance to visit the Big Apple, aka, New York City? Or, if you are lucky enough to live there, go eat some bagels on my behalf! Truly, the pizza and bagels are better in NYC than anywhere else. Could that really be in my head? Seemingly, food always tastes better on vacation. But, alas, I have been backed up by none other than Mario Batali—it’s not in my head, there really is something in the water. According to Batali, via Wired Magazine, “Water,water is huge. It’s probably one of California’s biggest problems with pizza.” Water binds the dough’s few ingredients. Nearly every chemical reaction that produces flavor occurs in water, says Chris Loss, a food scientist with the Culinary Institute of America. “So, naturally, the minerals and chemicals in it will affect every aspect of the way something tastes.”

Clickedy here for full article (really, it makes you feel better about failed baked goods). 

In the meantime, try doing a little experimenting on your own with different waters. It really depends on where you live and what type of water you are drawing. I can definitely attest, however, that you will find a significant different in your homemade pastas, breads, and even rice by trying different types of water. Even just using a simple Brita filter. So, I guess water really is the stuff of life!

Baked From Scratch