July Daring Bakers challenge!

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network. (Except that I don’t think she’s actually on the Food Network anymore [though Brian Boitano will be soon – what the what?!] which is a shame because I always like her show.)

Basically, I think we were recreating Mallomars and Pepperidge Farms’ Milanos (which were one of the few things that I missed when I stopped eating chocolate). But the times, they are a-changin’! I may not be eating chocolate on a regular basis, but I have recently decided to try and ease it back into my diet. So I was excited to try these recipes, particularly making my own marshmallows for the Mallomars!

Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the Mallomars once they were finished. I’ve never had a real one, so I can’t say for sure how closely they were replicated here, but I think what I didn’t like was the cinnamon that was in the cookie dough. I think when I make these again, I’ll use vanilla or maybe almond extract instead of the cinnamon.

Making the marshmallows went pretty well (I was disappointed not to get to use my new candy thermometer because there wasn’t enough depth of liquid in the pan I was using) – there was a bit of a kerfuffle with the gelatin, but it all worked out. I have to say, though, that I hope marshmallows aren’t made by hand because it took about 10 minutes or so of whipping at a very high speed with my KitchenAid mixer. Thank god for my Pink Lady otherwise, that would have been exhausting!

I was much more fond of the Milanos and will definitely be making these again! I had a little bit of trouble managing to pipe the right amount of batter for the cookies – mostly just because I was never sure quite how much they were going to spread. So the sizes ranged from tiny, bite-sized cookies to fairly hefty ones. Also, I think I probably could have let the cookies bake a bit longer – my cookies were fairly chewy instead of the crispy crunch that I remember real Milanos having. They actually crisped up a bit as they went stale which made for a more similar texture.

So two new cookies to add to my repertoire – yay! Click on the Daring Bakers logo above to click through the blogroll and see everyone’s experiences with this challenge.

June Daring Bakers challenge!

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

I was very much looking forward to this challenge – it sounded very yummy and the instructions didn’t seem extraordinarily challenging. And I was right! In the end, I think mine might have come out a little bit underbaked – this is one of those baked goods that is difficult to judge its doneness – but it’s edible. And if I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with salmonella or something, I might take it to work to share with my friends there. Might.

We were allowed creative license when it came to the jam – flavorwise and whether or not to make it ourselves. Inspired by my favorite cookies, I decided to do lemon curd and add in some blueberries. And I’ve always wanted to make the lemon curd cake from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, so I decided to use its accompanying recipe for lemon curd.

Next up was the sweet shortcrust pastry which cake together very well and ended up being very sweet and not too flaky – a nice contrast to the sweet-tartness of the lemon curd. The frangipane went smoothly, too, though I’m very glad the hosts mentioned in the recipe that it would appear to curdle and not to panic because if they hadn’t, well, I definitely would have panicked.

After baking for 30 minutes, it seemed quite jiggly still in the middle, so I left it in for a few more minutes until it seemed to set just a bit more, though, as I said above, I’m not sure that it couldn’t benefit from a few more minutes baking. But the top was fairly dark brown when I pulled it out of the oven and I hadn’t wanted to let it burn.

So, yes, very tasty and pretty easy really – success! Click on the Daring Bakers logo above to click through our blogroll and see lots of other lovely Bakewell Tarts.

May Daring Baker’s Challenge!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I had never made apple strudel before so this was a very interesting challenge. I will admit to being worried after I read the instructions (anything that involves tissue-paper-thin dough is usually very frustrating [e.g., phyllo dough]), but it ended up being fairly simple.

Although my dough never got stretched out to the 2×3 foot dimensions that were given in the instructions, I think it could definitely be described as tissue-paper-thin:

It looked pretty yummy when it was done, too:

But then I took a bite and I was, well, a bit disappointed. I think it came out tasting like it was supposed to, it’s just that this kind of dessert is not at the top of my dessert hierarchy. This is a very delicate, not overly sweet dessert – probably a big scoop of vanilla ice cream would have helped it a bit but since ice cream falls quite low in the hierarchy, I didn’t have any on hand to serve with it – and I’m afraid my dessert tastes run to the more substantial.

I gave it to my parents to share with my grandparents and reports came back that were positive, so even though I’m not a huge fan, I think I’ll count this as a success!

Click on the Daring Kitchen logo to see our temporary blogroll where you’ll find lots of beautiful strudels to drool over!

Apologies again for the poor quality photos – I still haven’t found the plug for my camera charger and have been forced to rely on Edward who, despite taking perfectly good holiday snaps, is a tad out of his element with attempts at artful foodie photography…

April Daring Bakers Challenge!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

This month we were pretty much invited to let our imaginations run wild – we were given a basic cheesecake recipe and the instructions to get creative! Now, I love cheesecake (who doesn’t?!) and I love margaritas (again, who doesn’t?!), so…I think you can see where I’m going with this…I made a margarita cheesecake!

I think it’s basically a key lime pie, but it does have orange flavoring (though you can’t really taste it) and tequila (um, again, though you can’t really taste it) along with the lime juice and lime zest. Still, it’s a really nice lime cheesecake – it’s super-creamy and not too rich. It’s just the right amount of sweet. If I were to make it again – and I do expect to make this recipe again –  I think I would use some orange zest – for some reason, the zests always have more flavor than the liqueurs and extracts.

At any rate, what with the weather finally getting quite nice lately, it’s, if nothing else, a good excuse to have a real magarita. So, yes, quite a successful Daring Bakers challenge!

If you’d like to see other beauteous cheesecakes, click on the Daring Bakers logo above to go to the temporary blogroll or click here to go the The Daring Kitchen and have a look around!

March Daring Bakers Challenge!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure about this challenge – savoury baking? What?! But I was intrigued by attempting to make my own noodles and it actually turned out to be a fairly relaxed challenge. Mostly because lasagna is a fairly forgiving product – it doesn’t matter if your noodles tear or if things are lumpy, there’s really not much you can do that makes it taste bad and it’s not really a high-design product (though I’m sure if you click through the other Daring Baker blogs, you’ll find some gorgeous representations – Tartelette, I’m looking at you!). I totally cheated and waited until the next day when we were eating it as leftovers and it was cold from the fridge to photograph it, allowing me to show the layers – otherwise, it was exactly as the recipe warned us – very slippery and unsturdy.

It was not nearly as tricky as I thought it would be – I was particularly intimidated by the rolling/stretching instructions. I knew that the noodles had to be very, very thin and I wasn’t sure if, without a noodle machine, I had the ability (or the patience) to pull it off. But I did! The ragu turned out very tasty – we weren’t provided with a veggie version, so I just Googled and used this one instead (no, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with the other 4T of butter or the 4T of olive oil…). My bechamel worked, too – in fact, all of the elements came together very nicely.

But I’m not sure I liked it. I think it was just a bit too rich for me – and there’s something in there that’s sort of sweet as an afterthought and I’m not sure what it is, but I find it a little unsettling. But that may just be me – my mom particularly liked it (my dad doesn’t like mushrooms, so his opinion doesn’t really count). So, yes, a successful, though probably not to be repeated challenge.

I think our blogroll isn’t up quite yet, but click on our new logo and head over to our brand new, sparkly website and have a look around!

p.s. – Hopefully the next Daring Bakers challenge will be completed in my newly remodeled kitchen – cross your fingers for me!

February Daring Bakers Challenge!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This is the first challenge I’ve made that I can’t actually eat. Since I stopped having caffeine (which tends to give me migraines), I haven’t baked with chocolate  – because I’m selfish and don’t see the point of making things that I can’t have! 😉 But I owed my grandparents a dessert (and my carob powder is hidden in the depths of my kitchen disaster at the moment), so I thought I’d be generous and make it with real chocolate. And I chose Wendy’s recipe for ice cream because it had fewer ingredients and I was feeling lazy.

This recipe was very quick and easy to make – I think I’d definitely have another go with my trusty carob powder! The ice cream I CAN taste and it is super yummy. I don’t even really like ice cream that much, but I just have this overwhelming desire to curl up on the couch and eat it straight out of the ice cream maker!

Technically, because it’s not heart-shaped, it’s not a Valentino cake, but the rules said we didn’t have to and again…lazy! Plus why expend all that extra energy on something I can’t have! So I made one large one and gave it to my grandparents, whose response seemed positive – my grandmother called me up and grilled me about how exactly it was made because she couldn’t figure out how it got the consistency that it was. I also made two small ones (one of which is in my photos) to give to my parents. They both liked it, too. I ended up serving the ice cream in a small ramekin because I was too anxious to get it served, photographed, and tasted and didn’t want to wait for it to set any more in the freezer.

So, yes, even though I haven’t actually tried it myself, reports have been that it’s quite good. Once I’ve dug my carob powder/chips out of the remnants of my kitchen, I’ll probably give this another try just for myself!

Click on the Daring Bakers logo above to check out everyone else’s Valentino cakes.

January Daring Bakers Challenge!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I am not actually here posting this – I’m in sunny Mexico (at least I hope it’s sunny!), having left behind the arctic wonder that has become central Illinois. But before I left, I managed to get this challenge completed.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angelique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

Let me start by saying that, apparently, cream horn molds do not actually exist in my vicinity. At all. I called/went to EVERY possible store that I thought would have them, including a professional kitchen supply shop. NO CREAM HORN MOLDS. So I just had to sort of very carefully and with lots of swearing attempt to roll them into a cone shape by hand.

NOT COOL.

Literally.

I wasn’t sure how thick to spread the batter and I think they ended up being kind of uneven. Also, I probably should have let the egg whites come to room temperature before I added them to the butter mixture because I think they made the butter seize back up again and ended up in clumps in the batter. ALSO, I let the second batch bake for less time than the first and they were too soft to hold their shape and then I overbaked the third batch and they ended up being too crispy to roll without cracking.

So I really only got two good ones (okay, to be honest, I ate some of the more misshapen ones and they tasted super-yummy – especially the lovely, crispy third batch) that would be in any sort of way picturesque. I filled them with Ina’s Lemon Mousse which, oh, my god, SO GOOD. But since I only ended up with two fillable cookies, I had an actual ton of mousse left over. Guess I’ll just have to eat it by itself – darn!

Click on the Daring Bakers logo above to see lots of other beautiful and tasty tuiles!

December Daring Bakers Challenge!

And WHAT a challenge it was! This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

This is probaby not what you’re thinking of when you think of a yule log (some sort of log-shaped cake with marzipan mushrooms [which the Daring Bakers did last year]) – this is a proper Buche de Noel – a frozen layered dessert!

Six layers, to be precise – dacquoise, creme brulee, vanilla mousse, white chocolate feuillete, white chocolate ganache, and white chocolate icing. Whew! Quite a handful, especially in light of all the other holiday baking I’ve been attempting, but somehow I managed to get it done just in the nick of time.

I forgot to place it in the fridge for a while before attempting to slice it and, as could be expected, the almond bark that I’d used over the white chocolate icing (because it didn’t end up coating as well as could be hoped) pretty much shattered, hence the missing picture of a slice. But my layers actually turned out pretty well, I think.

Two questions, though, for any other Daring Bakers who happen to be wandering by:

  1. I don’t think I understood why the first step of the ganache had us make a caramel – my ganache insert ended up being pretty much just caramel with no hint of the white chocolate. It’s quite nice, but just not what I was expecting.
  2. I always thought you weren’t supposed to boil cream (or else it would curdle), so I didn’t even though the instructions repeatedly had us bring it to a boil. Have I just been laboring under an urban myth all these years and it really is okay to boil cream?

Click on the Daring Bakers logo to see all the other (more beautifully decorated, I’m sure) Yule Logs!

November Daring Bakers Challenge


This month’s challenge was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray Into Food. Our recipe was Shuna Fish Lydon‘s Caramel Cake and an optional recipe for Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels (from her book, Pure Dessert).

I went into this worried that it was going to be a very involved process like most of the cakes I’ve made for the Daring Bakers have been – making syrups, making cakes, soaking things, frosting things – but this was actually a very simple, straightforward (and yummy!) cake to make. There was a syrup involved – caramel, of course:

Thank goodness this process was just based on the color of the caramel and didn’t actually require a candy thermometer – I hate those things! And then you make a cake. I don’t think there were any crazy instructions or anything – not even cake flour.

I was baking in my parents’ kitchen this month and it was nice to have a reliable oven – took out one last variable. So once the cake’s done, you whip up a quick frosting using brown butter (How can you go wrong?!), pour yourself a big glass of milk, and enjoy!

Presentation and decoration are obviously my weaknesses, but if you click through the blogroll up there, you’ll find some gorgeously decorated cakes!

p.s. – I did try the caramels, but I think my candy thermometer failed me – it didn’t seem to want to get any higher than 220 degrees which is not nearly as high as we were meant to get our mixtures and everything ended up tasting quite burny. I may try it again, but we’re coming up on Thanksgiving and I may be occupied with baking lots of other things instead…

October Daring Bakers Challenge!

I was looking forward to this month’s challenge, but it wasn’t without a bit of trepidation. I…do not have the best of luck when it comes to pizza dough – I’ve tried it in the Kitchen Aid, I’ve tried it in the food processor with the regular blade, and I’ve tried it in the food processor with the dough blade and it’s never very pretty. I think pizza dough is difficult to render inedible – even I have not managed that yet – but it’s never been easy. It always ends up horribly crumbly and then I argue with it and add water and knead it and swear at it and eventually we come to a bit of an agreement in which no one is killed and in the end we both count it a vague success.

So this time I tried it just using my brute strength…and then I argued with it and added a bit more water and kneaded it and swore at it and here’s what we came up with!

The Dough

The dough actually turned out very well – I was worried that it wasn’t going to be soft and sticky enough to actually throw because it was a tad on the tough side when I put it into the fridge at the end of Day 1, but after it had rested at room temperature for two hours on Day 2, it was lovely and soft and perfect for tossing.

The Tossing of the Dough

It actually went pretty well, I think – and super-quick! Much easier than rolling it out. (Apologies for the bad quality, but trust me, this is still better than an attempt at a still photo would have been.)

The Pizzas

I halved the recipe – in case my pizza dough curse struck again, I didn’t want to have wasted 4 1/2 cups of flour – which gave me enough for three pizzas:

Pizza 1 – Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola

This is the pizza I was telling you about earlier. It is, frankly, amazing – the gorgonzola is lovely and salty and the squash is sweet but spicy with the hot red pepper flakes and the mozarella just fills in the blanks.

Pizza 2 – Boozy Peach

This was an improvised dessert pizza. I used the cream cheese base from this pizza and the leftover peach filling I had from the Bourbon Southern Comfort Peach Hand Pies that I made earlier. The cream cheese mixture nearly overflowed the pizza dough, but that was easily solved with foil. I let that bake until it was set, then added the peach mixture and baked it…a while longer, I don’t really know.

This pizza may be one of the ugliest things I’ve ever made, but it sure is tasty – it’s a little heavy on the cream cheese, but I’d say that’s more in its favor than not.

Pizza 3 – Pizza Margherita

This? Was SUPER-DUPER-YUMMY! This was the only one of the three that I actually baked at the high temperature called for in the dough’s recipe (500 degrees) – the other two I did according to the instructions for the toppings, but I figured the mozzarella, tomato, and basil that I used here were sturdy enough to handle the very high temperatures.

And I’m sooooo glad I did. The other two were good, but this is outstanding! The pizza base is crispy, but fluffy and sort of sweet – something I didn’t notice in the other two, even the sweet dessert pizza. And the sauce is really good, too – it’s not called Exquisite Pizza Sauce for nothing – and easy, too – it’s just combining ingredients, no cooking required.

All in all, a very successful Daring Bakers Challenge! (Click on the Daring Bakers logo at the top to see what everyone else came up with.)

September Daring Bakers Challenge!

I left this to the very last minute, but I made it! This was a nice change from the cakes and pastries (not that I don’t love cakes and pastries). And it was an extra bit of a challenge because we were all baking vegan this month! And it was a savory recipe!! Or it was until I saw that someone had covered theirs with sugar and cinnamon instead of savory spices.

It was very easy to put together – only bowls and spoons – no mixers this time which means easy clean-up. And it was very tasty! I’m not usually a big fan of crunchy dessert things, but because these have more of a cracker texture than, say, a shortbread, I think that made the difference.

My dipping sauce is Strawberry Balsamic Buttercream. I still had the strawberry balsamic syrup from the cupcake attempts and was desperate to use it up (I may be making some more cupcakes soon if I can’t think of anything else!), so I used the raspberry buttercream recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and just substituted my strawberry balsamic syrup for the raspberry syrup.

Yum!

August Daring Bakers Challenge!

I was starting to think that my Daring Bakers challenges might be like the Star Trek movies or Madonna albums,* but that theory was, unfortunately, not proved to be correct. I give you…my eclairs:

Now the first thing you’ll notice is that there is no chocolate here. That’s because I’m allergic (it’s the caffeine), so I decided to do pina colada eclairs with a coconut-rum pastry cream and pineapple glaze. Both of those turned out to be pretty good, especially the coconut-rum pastry cream (though that may be because there was rather more rum in it than I originally intended). The pate choux, on the other hand…well, it tasted fine, but it was definitely not puffy.

Actually, they were puffy when I took them out of the oven, but they started to sink almost immediately – did that happen to anyone else? My official statement is that it was due to the high humidity levels on the day, but I have no idea if it that’s true or if there was something I could have done differently.

Even though I was disappointed that they didn’t turn out to be beautiful, I figured that they’d probably still taste good, right? Wrong! Far too sweet for me. Again, alone, each part of the eclairs was very good, but together it was just overwhelmingly, cloyingly sweet. So maybe good for others – my mom gamely ate one – but not for me, I’m afraid. I think I’d try the recipe – or at least pate choux, in general – again (I’ve made successful cream puffs in the past – maybe I was overly confident when approaching the eclairs).

Also, I have to remember not to make these recipes all in one day – things go much more smoothly when I make only one or two elements at one go. By the time things were ready to be assembled, I’d kind of lost energy and interest in the project.

*Every other one is good.

Ahoy, matey! Thar be a recipe under here

July Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month’s Daring Baker challenge was…let me get this correct…a Filbert Gateau With Praline Buttercream. My first question was ‘What the hell is a filbert?’ Unfortunately, the recipe was not much help at all, calling, as it did, for not a single filbert. It did call for hazelnuts, so…maybe filberts are hazelnuts when they’ve been cooked/baked? My second question, I have to be honest, was ‘And this is different from the Opera Cakes we made…how?’

But I figured it’d be fun to get a second try at a nut-based cake and a first try at making the other kind of buttercream and a proper carob ganache. However, based on my appreciation of the opera cake, I decided to halve the recipe (I’m afraid this sort of cake just isn’t my favorite kind of thing). I should have taken some pictures to demonstrate the scale of it because it’s quite cute, being all small and everything.

However, halving the recipe was a bit of a challenge as it called for 5 egg yolks and 7 egg whites. Rather than weighing them out and then taking half of that, I decided to sort of split the difference and do three of each…which may have altered the consistency of the cake somewhat (it was surprisingly dense – more like a quickbread than a light, airy cake), but was not untasty. Mostly I was impressed with the ganache – the carob behaved amazingly well and set just like it was supposed to.

And everyone else that I foisted this cake off on insisted that they really liked it, so it really must just be me.

And now for a couple of pictures:

Looks nice enough, right? Not from the side!

If I’d been thinking about it, I would have mushed the layers of cake down a bit more – as it was, the ganache split between the layers. So, yes, more successful cake, more successful buttercream, whipped cream (impossible to mess up, really), same for the sugar syrup – which means that it was definitely a worthwhile project.

Click on the Daring Bakers icon at the top there to see lots of other (more beautiful) cakes!

June Daring Bakers Challenge!

This month’s challenge was to make a danish braid. A little bit more straightforward than last month’s Opera Cake, but still a challenge as not only does making a danish require making a dough similar in process to a puff pastry, it’s also a yeast dough. Yeast seems to scare quite a few people. But not me. What scares me is my Kitchen Aid dough hook. Now I love my pink lady and, in the past, I have said I would more than happily run away with it if only it would ask me. But I would definitely make it choose – it could have me or the dough hook. Not both. When I use the dough hook, my dough always, always comes out tough and then proceeds to not rise. So I was a little wary of doing this the easy way.

But let’s face it, those of you who know me, know I’m all about doing things the easy way. 😉

And it worked! The dough was very tough to begin with and I wasn’t sure that my mixer was actually strong enough to keep going, but I thought ‘I always worry that I’m over-dough-hooking the dough, maybe I’m under-dough-hooking the dough’ and let it go on its merry way. Now I won’t say that the dough did not seem a little on the tough side, but in the end, whatever I did worked.

The recipe we were given made enough danish dough for two braids, so I went with a cherry filling (with a cream cheese filling that I forgot to take a picture of):

and the apple filling provided in the recipe (along with an almond pastry cream which I again neglected to take a picture of):

Then you roll out the dough, put your fillings in the middle, cut the edges into strips, and braid away!

Then they sit for TWO HOURS to rise (I don’t know how anybody actually manages to make this for breakfast).

(That’s before the rise on the left and after on the right.) Then into the oven for about a half an hour apiece. The cherry-filled one ended up being less aesthetically pleasing than the apple one – I think I cut the strips on the left side a little bit narrower than those on the right and they sort of expanded and pulled apart a little bit during baking. But it still tastes yummy!

And now a couple of close-up… The cherry and cream cheese braid:

And the apple and almond pastry cream braid:

We’ll see how well they hold up. Right now they are terribly delicious – maybe even one of my best kitchen creations – they’re just a bit warm, the outside is a little bit crunchy, and the inside is chewy and sweet. Yum!

The only drawback is that it did take me three days to make it. I made the dough on Friday, the fillings on Saturday, and then put everything together and baked on Sunday. That and I now have rather an abundance of apple filling, cherry filling, pastry cream, and cream cheese filling. I haven’t quite decided how to use it up yet – more danish? Pies? Something else?

This challenge was really fun and I’m very, very proud of the way the braids turned out. Even though it was time-consuming, I would definitely make it again, although it does require planning ahead. Again, click on the Daring Bakers logo up at the top of this post to go to the master blogroll of participants to see what everybody else has been baking up!

ETA: Having made a lackluster version of this using a dough recipe from Martha Stewart (in an attempt to use up the rest of the fillings), I feel obligated to post the far superior Daring Bakers version…

Click here for the recipe

May Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month was my first Daring Bakers Challenge – very exciting! Basically, the Daring Bakers are a group of bloggers who like to bake. Each month, somebody picks a recipe and makes up rules about how closely we have to follow that recipe (exceptions are made for dietary choices and allergies, of course). Then we all make the recipe and post about it on the same day, i.e., today!

This month’s recipe was an Opera Cake but with a spring twist. Ordinarily Opera Cakes are flavored with chocolate and coffee, I think, but our rule was that we could flavor it with anything that would end up being a springy color. As you’ll see, I tried but did not have much success, so the springiness of my cake is all in the frosting.

This is a more complicated dessert recipe than I usually make in my teeny, tiny kitchen and rightly so. But I joined the Daring Bakers in an effort to broaden my baking horizons and I suppose making adjustments for uncooperative equipment and space constraints is all part of those horizons.

The cake is made up of…five parts? The first is, obviously, the cake.

And the source of the first of my problems. It’s made of a sort of almond meal (or whatever nuts you may happen to have in your fridge if you can’t be bothered going back to the market again) and then baked on jelly roll pans. Large jelly roll pans. The size of jelly roll pans that don’t really fit into my oven. So I had to use two that do. I don’t think I split the batter very evenly, but I don’t think it helped that one of the pans I used was a cookie sheet (the cake on the left) and the other had fairly high sides (the cake on the right). You can’t tell from that picture, but the cake on the right is much thicker than the cake on the left. And the cake on the left is much thicker on the right than it is on the left due to the fact that the cookie sheet it baked in warped while it was in the oven. Also, I think I shouldn’t have tried to bake them at the same time given that my oven is fairly temperamental about its, well, temperature. And I burned my arm on the door because apparently I am unable to remember that my oven is freakishly small. (This was the same day as the steam incident, so I was really on a roll.) But they turned out edible, just not pretty (much like the finished product, actually).

Next, there are two layers of buttercream. And the biggest of my problems. The first was due to an error in the recipe up on the Daring Bakers site. I think next month, I’ll wait until some other people have had a chance to look things over for a while before I actually bake (but I was so excited to get going I couldn’t wait!) – I bake a lot, but I don’t have the real understanding of the chemistry of baking and can’t tell when recipes are weird just by reading them. The second was that I just don’t understand how you make the buttercream taste of anything but caramel and be anything but a caramelly-brown color because you have to heat the sugar up with the water before you beat it into the egg mixture (thus creating a rock hard trail of sugar on the edge of your bowl and in your whisk attachment). Any advice, Janis? 😉

I tried to get mine to taste of lemon, using the limoncello liqueur that I had from the mirror cake, but it just ended up tasting of the aforementioned caramel. And being brown, so technically I didn’t follow the rules, but hopefully I won’t be shunned because I did try to make it a springy flavor/color.

Then there’s a flavored syrup that you use to soak the cakes, but I don’t think that should really count as a part of the cake because you can’t see it in the finished product and it’s not that exciting to make. Actually, the rest of the cake isn’t that exciting either. There’s a white chocolate mousse (I always get excited about white chocolate because it’s chocolate [or at least has the word chocolate in the title, I know it’s not really chocolate] and I always forget that it tastes vaguely of stomach acid [not unlike parmesan cheese, actually]) and then a white chocolate glaze that I thought was going to be like a ganache, but wasn’t (or at least what I made wasn’t)

Then you decorate.

Because I failed to make the inside of my cake a springy color, I decided to focus my efforts on the top of the cake. Initially I was going to make it a plaid, but got tired of having to wash out my pastry bag each time I needed a new color (I have got to get another one) and just ended up sticking with the checkerboard (it matches my kitchen!). So here’s a slice of my finished Opera Cake:

Oh, also, because my jelly roll pans were smaller, the area of the top of my cake was smaller than intended but I still used all the mousse because what else was I going to do with it? Hence the high ratio of mousse to cake. It didn’t taste bad. I thought the cake was maybe a little dry, but actually the combination of the caramel with the nut meal in the cake gave it a sort of sweet/salty effect that I hadn’t intended. You couldn’t taste the lemon at all – what a waste of limoncello! (Don’t worry, it didn’t all go to waste. It gave me courage to make the second batch of buttercream after I had to throw the first away.) 😉

Even though this wasn’t a complete success (or even really a success at all), it was fun to have a go and I think the Daring Bakers will be a fun project to take part in and hopefully it’ll make me a better baker. If you click through the blogroll up there (clicking on the Daring Bakers logo should take you there) you’ll see some absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering cakes that put my cake to shame but give me something to aspire to!