November 30, 2008

Sugar High!

It's confession time folks.

Over the last couple of years, I've baked Shuna's Caramel Cake a handful of times. But until last night, I'd never paired it with the Caramelized Butter Frosting. I've dressed it with chocolate ganache; I've drizzled it a cream-mounted version of the caramel sauce and lemon-infused Caramel Sin. I've even served it nekkid.

Because browning butter? Waiting for it to cool? And all of that powdered sugar? Way too much work for the return.

Goes to show what *I* know.

Oh. My. Gawd.

A sincere mea culpa to the baking gods. Because to quote Nigel Tufnel, this stuff "goes to eleven."

I'm thankful Jenny tried it *with* the prescribed butter cream this summer and insisted we make both components mandatory parts of the challenge. Even if that meant I couldn't use one of the fifty or so pictures of previous cakes in my archives. Because clearly I *needed* to try the butter cream.

Off the beaters.

On the cake.

On Banana Bar cookies.

Off of John's fingers.

Someone's suggested it's great on breakfast cereal, though I confess I haven't gone there.


What's 20,000 calories among friends?

For those of you here for the recipe, scroll down a bit. And if you completed the challenge (or even if you didn't), please go over and give my co-hosts Alex and Jenny some love. Shuna too. Go ahead... I'll wait. I couldn't have done it without them.

And when you've got some spare time between online banking, twittering and holiday shopping at Amazon and eBay, go check out the images and stories behind almost a thousand other caramel cakes from all corners of the earth...

November 29, 2008

One would think...

...that if she were responsible for hosting the November Daring Baker challenge, your heroine would get her (_]_) in gear and have baked her final to-be- photographed version of the challenge recipe long before the posting deadline.

And one would be wrong.

My Caramelized Buttercream Frosting is in the refrigerator, my cake on the counter cooling. So those of you looking for photos will need to swing by in the morning. Oh, and Peabody? If you've got money on this, you've probably won. :)

I knew two years ago as I stood in the kitchen at Poulet learning to make caramel from Shuna Fish Lydon and watching her work her magic with this cake that when *I* hosted the Daring Baker challenge -- in 2008 when I'd be FORTY -- this was going to be one of my chosen recipes. I saw it as challenging, but with enough room for creativity to appeal to bakers of various skill levels.

Luckily my partners in crime -- Jenny of Foray into Food and Alex of Blondie and Brownie agreed that this was a cake with potential, and Shuna of Eggbeater not only graciously allowed us to use her recipe, but agreed to field Daring Baker questions in the midst of an intercontinental move. And Natalie from Gluten-a-Go-Go was a godsend in helping us guide the alternative bakers among us.

As an optional add-on to the cake in honor of the gift-giving holidays ahead, we offered the Daring-est of bakers the option of making Alice Medrich's Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels in addition to the cake -- a gift to the truly sugar-obsessed among us.

Without further ado, here are the recipes for those two of you who aren't *already* Daring Bakers and might want to try this at home. Stop by in a few hours to see how I fared with the challenge. And be sure to visit the Daring Baker Blog Roll to see the mind-boggling creativity of over a thousand of my BFFs.

courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (, as published on Bay Area Bites (

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt, and cream the mixture until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

November 25, 2008

Now THAT's more like it...

I *knew* my success with last summer's Dorie-licious blueberry pie was a fluke!

When I make pie dough, *this* is what it really looks like.

Thankfully John came to the rescue, added another couple drops of water, and as you'll soon see, my TWD Thanksgiving Two-Fer Pie wasn't a complete bust.

But first, the side story. It's sort of fitting that this one emerge during our anniversary month...

Very early in "us", John and I discovered a shared love of cooking and baking. And since I was living with my parents at the time, their oven got quite a workout in our early months. Ironically, I have no idea *what* we were planning on baking in it on the day in question. Just that I set the oven temperature to 350 without opening the oven first to ensure it was empty.

This was NOT a good idea in my father's kitchen. He used everything with a door save the dishwasher as potential storage space. And on this fateful afternoon, he'd stashed a jumbo pecan pie he'd purchased at Costco, one wedge missing. Which we noticed when we smelled the pecans burning. Since it wasn't salvageable, we pitched it in the trash. And when my father returned after the long weekend and wanted to know the whereabouts of his pie, I fibbed "John finished it. He LOVES pecan pie".


John HATES pecan pie. Loves the sweetness. Not fond of the nuts. In pie. He loves them raw. You figure it out.

Lucky for me, my dad never got around to baking him one of his favorite desserts.

So since I really don't want to eat 38,000 calories worth of pie this weekend, I placed a ring of pecans around the outside edge of the pie to stay true to the recipe without making it inedible for John.

The end result? Not my favorite Dorie recipe, but I'm betting some of that was operator error and that true holiday pie fans would adore it. In my case, the crust shrunk in pre-baking, and having nowhere else to go, the pecan sugar filling sort of lined the *outside* of the pie. Not unpleasant, but kind of ugly. And odd.

And it took *forever* to bake. I pulled it out of the oven after the requisite fifty minutes and dashed off to the gym. On my return I had pie soup. So back it went into the oven for five minutes. Fifteen minutes. Another 30 minutes before it was anything resembling slice-able. Not sure where I went wrong there, but it was gratifying to read the "Problems and Questions" on the TWD website and know I wasn't the ONLY one struggling with getting it to set.

Thanks to Vibi of La Casserole Carree for choosing this fitting ending to the traditional American Thanksgiving feast. The recipe can be found (thoughtfully translated to English at the end of the post) on her site. For far more photogenic versions of Dorie's masterpiece, check out the blog roll at Tuesdays with Dorie.

From the archives...
In 2006 I was playing with sugar and calling it "healthy"
In 2007 we made turkey stock that's still occupying a corner of my freezer.

November 21, 2008

Alton Brown inspires a Frugal Friday

It's been a while since I've contributed to a Frugal Friday. Hell, it's been a busy fall season, and it's been a while since I've contributed to *anything* in the food blog world.

I actually made this Alton Brown inspired entree in early October with every intention of sharing it here. And I am. Just two four almost eight weeks after the fact.

So sue me. Good things are worth waiting for.

The dish? Alton Brown's Tuna Croquette with some fried okra from our CSA on the side. At a little over $2 per serving, less than ten minutes from pantry to table and far more nutritional value than your average happy meal, this is my favorite kind of fast food.

November 15, 2008

Thirteen Years and Counting...

I saw this celebration of love over time back in March and bookmarked it for reference on *our* special day. It's also given me the advantage of over 6 months to get some of his answers; it's amazing what you can go over a decade not knowing.

Who am I kidding, I got the majority of his answers about thirty seconds before I pushed the "publish post" button...

I love you honey.

His: Casablanca
Hers: The Lion King, Gone with the Wind, Auntie Mame, The Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap

His: Summer
Hers: Fall

His: Classic Country, 80's Pop
Hers: Country, 80's Pop

Radio station—
His: KGO (News Talk), KOIT (easy listening)
Hers: KRTY (Country)

His: peanuts
Hers: salted buttered popcorn, marcona almonds

His: Tom Clancy
Hers: Anything by Jodi Picoult or Christopher Moore

His: chocolate mousse when it's done right
Her: rich and creamy and highly caloric

His: dark chocolate
Her: milk chocolate

His: nectarine
Her: mango

Bath or Shower—
His: shower
Her: shower

Type of food—
His: sushi
Her: sushi

TV show—
His: Dancing with the Stars, Good Eats, Top Chef
Her: Dancing with the Stars, Top Chef, Good Eats, Biggest Loser, Boston Legal, Buffy

His: Not really fond of most of them.
Her: Thanksgiving

His: Reader's Digest
Her: Fine Cooking, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Eating Well

November 10, 2008

The flavors of Celebrity Infinity

We were surprised that we really enjoyed the food served on our Caribbean cruise with Holland America back in 2006; we expected it would be hard to find excellence in mass-produced food. So when talking with our more cruise-savvy friends, we were pleased to learn that a cruise with Celebrity would be a couple notches above that, that many of them considered Celebrity's food "phenomenal."

Ten days into our thirteen day adventure, I'm convinced that our friends define phenomenal differently than we do.

There have certainly been some hits over the course of our journey. A chilled apricot soup was worth repeating. The beef tenderloin was excellent. Our dining experience at the SS United States (an adventure worthy of its own post) was a definite home run. And the service was certainly first rate. But the food overall? Meh.

Once we readjusted our expectations in the main dining room (skip the fish; it will be dry. Ditto the pasta; it's rarely more than mediocre) we enjoyed the experience. It was with some amusement that I observed that with two years as a Daring Baker and several months spending Tuesdays with Dorie, I could have made every one of the desserts -- and several of them far better.

On the positive side, while we've indulged we haven't gone nuts calorically. This vacation isn't an excuse to eat our body weights in buffet food. We've done some really wonderful, very active shore excursions and tasted some sensational local foods along the way(again another post). We haven't stepped on an elevator (opting for the stairs instead), and we've actually seen the inside of the gym on this ship. A quick trip to visit the scale in the ship doctor's office indicates no gain, no loss.

From the archives...
In 2006 we were headed home from the Caribbean
In 2007 we made ravioli Aunt Lena style