Rustic Chocolate Raspberry Almond Valentine Cake for SRC and #chocolatelove, plus, Bad Boy First Love Part ThreeFebruary 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Posted in Cakes, Dessert, Fruit, Holiday, SRC | 89 Comments
Tags: #chocolatelove, baking, Cake, Chocolate Cake, chocolate ganache, Dark Chocolate, First Love, Hearts, Jordan Almonds, Milk Chocolate, NY Giants Superbowl Champs, Raspberry buttercream, Recipe, Tempered Chocolate, Valentine Cake, Valentine's Day
First I’d like to start this post with a huge WOOHOO to the Super Bowl XLVI Champs, the NY Giants! Way to go, Big Blue!
February is definitely a chocolatey month, so when I was assigned the blog The Pajama Chef by The Secret Recipe Club for February, my cursor went straight to CHOCOLATE in Sarah’s cloud of categories. Don’t get me wrong, Sarah’s blog is filled with loads of fantastic recipes of all sorts (Dying to try these!), but chocolate has been occupying 99.8% of my brain the past few weeks so I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless I chose something chocolatey.
I had this whimsical, rustic Valentine cake in mind already, but I didn’t think I would get so lucky and find this great one bowl chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart which Sarah calls ‘Chocolate Cake that Changes Everything’. I think I have to agree. It’s so deep, dark, moist and super chocolatey, it’ll blow your socks off if you’re a deep, dark chocolatey lover. Sarah made hers in a 13 x 9 -inch pan, but I decided to make it as Martha’s original recipe reads..in two 8-inch cake pans. I had serious plans for this chocolate cake.
Notice the one broken heart? Everyone needs to be represented on Valentines Day.
I ended up doubling the recipe and baking four separate 8-inch layers because after the first two were baked, I felt they were a little too thin to be torted, plus, I had a ton of homemade fresh, raspberry buttercream and chocolate ganache to use . I sliced about 1/2-inch off the tops, then spread each layer with milk chocolate ganache and a smashed assortment of red, pink and white Jordan Almonds. They’re not just for weddings, you know. I love candy coated nuts, so much so that I practically subsisted on Boston baked beans for a period in my early 20′s.
Oh Nuts, my favorite place for all things nuts, fruits, candy etc, sent me my choice of 1 lb of Jordan Almonds to play around with – and play I did. I chose a Valentine mix, and after smashing some of the Jordan Almonds to smithereens, I stirred them into the ganache while it was still liquid. This way, you get bits of almonds and candy shell with each bite. Oh, but I’m not done yet. The ganache was then topped with the aforementioned deep pink, fresh raspberry buttercream. Manna, I tell ya.
I try to avoid food color at all costs, so for this luscious buttercream, a fresh raspberry reduction made that possible. Look at that deep, hot pink hue! I was originally going to make swiss or italian meringue based buttercreams for the filling and frosting, but with this decadent, deep chocolate cake and all the tempered chocolate hearts I painted, plus the chocolate shards and ganache, I felt the cake would be far too rich with all the butter. So, I made a confectioner’s based buttercream reducing the powdered sugar in both the raspberry filling and the super, silky dark chocolate frosting – another recipe courtesy of Martha dearest.
I hit a few disasters, both of them with my tempered chocolate decor. The transfer sheets I used for the hearts did not adhere properly to the chocolate, the red color was completely washed out (poorly made). I ended up painting about 20 chocolate hearts with tinted cocoa butters and melted milk and white chocolate. Disaster #2 – The cake was supposed to be topped with long, thin chocolate curls and loops. I wrapped chocolate coated and tined (scraped with a fork to create thin divides to break them apart) acetate around a rolling pin to and used two bowls to support the rolling pin while the chocolate set.
Just my luck, when the chocolate was set, I accidentally knocked over the rolling pin – smack against the table. Those shards on top of the cake are the remains of my beautiful curls and loops *sniff*. So, a cake that was supposed to be eclectic and whimsical is now ‘rustic’. In the end, taste and texture is what matters most, and it certainly delivers on both.
I couldn’t believe what was happening – this was going to end up being the best and now worst night of my life. I could already feel my tear ducts conferring with me. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Remember, you don’t wear mascara, so no scary, psycho mime or clown face if we let the waterworks go!
He opened the door and jumped out of the car. Oh great, I’m so repulsive he couldn’t even stay in the car with me.
Then I saw it. While we were kissing, I was on another planet. Meanwhile, on earth, in my right hand I was holding my giant lemonade filled with loads of shaved ice, water, sugar and lemon halves, on my right knee. Being completely immersed in his awesomeness, wrapped up and taken to all kinds of kissy-face nirvana over and over, my wrist had slowly keeled over and the whole lemonade had spilled onto his lap. I stared at the remaining lemon halves and bits of ice on the driver’s seat, almost mocking me. I heard the trunk open. There were some shuffling noises, then he slammed it shut.
He came back to the front and started wiping down the seat with towels. He’d changed into shorts he had in his trunk, along with the towels, for “spontaneous ocean dips before or after work”, he said as he started wiping the seat and floor. He gave me a huge smile to let me know it was okay. I couldn’t stop apologizing as I grabbed one of the towels and helped him clean the seat and floor of the Beetle.
“Wow, I forgot you were still holding the lemonade!” he exclaimed
“Me too!..I’m SO SO sorry!” (for the 10th time) *this is what you do to me, nothing existed but you..my body wasn’t jibing with my brain because you took up residence in every lobe and vessel.*
He stopped, leaned in and gave me a kiss.
“You’re so sweet, such a sweetheart” he said softly.
“Don’t worry, baby, it was accident, but man was it cold!”
He called me ‘baby’. OMG.
He laughed, I laughed. I was no longer freaking out or convinced I’d repulsed him, well, at least for now. Now, what should we name our first child? Dreamboat Jr. has a nice ring to it.
He put some dry towels down on his seat and got back into the car. With the interior light on I noticed a scar..a healed, but open gash above his left knee on his thigh. I ran my finger over it.
“How did you get that?” I asked.
“Some guy got me with his switch blade in a fight outside L’Amours (a rock club in Brooklyn that closed down in 2004) last March. A bunch of idiots were giving one of my buddies a hard time over a chick, so we went after them” (bad boy – check one). He was so nonchalant about it, he could have been telling me - I went to the store to buy a jar of peanut butter.
“OMG, did you call the police, is he in jail now?” I squealed, then slapped my hand over my mouth. UGH, I squealed – so, so embarrassed.
He gave me a baffled, but amused look.
“Why would I call the cops? I was just lucky the blade got me there instead of here” He said, patting his chest.
“BUT, he stabbed you! You could have bled to death! He should be in prison!” I almost squealed again.
He laughed and flashed me his gorgeous smile. “I just wrapped it in a ripped t-shirt to stop the bleeding, then cleaned it out and taped it when I got home” (tough guy – check).
I was flabbergasted. That wound had most definitely needed stitches. He was enjoying my wide-eyed innocence over the situation, but he didn’t understand. Where I come from (or where most people come from!), if someone gets stabbed, not only does the stabber get locked up, but a trial ensues and lawsuits would be hitting the switch blade guy, his family, his friends, friends of friends, and anyone associated with him, like paint balls at a target in full view.
God forbid it affects Chip’s tennis swing and there would be hell to pay if he had to sit out the JV football season even though he sat most of the time anyway because he sucked or wasn’t big enough to play football. In High School, everyone makes the team, because that’s what they’re supposed to do so no one is left out.
I still remember 5’3″ guys strutting down the hallways in their football jerseys thinking they were so cool, when realistically, the only time they got into a game was in a blowout with 30 seconds to go in the 4th quarter.
While I was thinking of names for our second child, I realized he was not only bad in such a good way, he was also wicked tough and incredibly brave. Nothing seemed to rattle him. You’d never find this guy hiding under a table if a fight broke out.
In order for the chocolate hearts to stick, you need a textured frosting. The sloppier, the better, although I ran out of frosting right here, above, so there wasn’t enough to really push them in to adhere.
He took out a joint and asked if I’d mind if he took a hit or two and did I want one too? (bad boy, check two). Of course I didn’t mind..he could do just about anything and I probably wouldn’t mind. Okay, I never liked pot the few times I’d tried it. All it did was make me laugh a lot and hard (the only good part), eat a lot, induce wicked paranoia, then put me to sleep. What the heck, I thought. With him, one or two hits wouldn’t kill me.
After our 5-second stoner interlude, he pulled me close to him and wrapped his arms around me. “Hug me..I’m still a little cold.” he whispered into my ear.
We hugged and remained that way for a while, my face nestled in the crook of his neck..inhaling him, while he kissed my head and stroked my back and hair. I could stay like this forever. I kept thinking I was going to wake up from this amazing dream – I mean, it had to be a dream, what did this beautiful man see in me?
Soon, we were back on make out highway for what seemed like hours. The DJ’s soothing, late night voice broke the kiss for a moment when he announced that it was quarter to 4 in the morning. Holy sh*t, my mother usually woke up at 5 or 6 am. I needed to get home quick. I didn’t want to go, I wanted to stay with him forever, I thought woefully.
Hmmm..he was 18, maybe he could adopt me or become my guardian, kind of like that weird Elvis and Priscilla thing.
I had a hard time saying it.
“I..I umm, have to get home, my mother will probably be really worried if she wakes and I’m not there” I said, shrewdly omitting any sentences that included the words ‘curfew’ and ‘snuck out’.
“I know, and I don’t want your mother worrying” he said as he caressed my cheek with such tenderness, I wanted to cry.
He turned the key in the ignition, and the Beetle let out a few coughs and chokes. Turned it again, more coughs and chokes. He waited a minute, then tried again. More long coughs and chokes.
Great, not only did I soak his jeans and freeze his lap with mega-iced lemonade, but now the spill had caused his Beetle, the one he brought back to life all by himself, to die.
Oh wait, the engine isn’t in the seat or on the floor. Okay, maybe the mad heat between us, for hours, caused the Bug to not cooperate. Helloooo, Christine. I waited for more 70′s tunes to start blasting from the classic rock station.
“Well..looks like I need to walk you home, sweetheart.” he said, pulling the keys out of the ignition and shoving them into his pocket.
Now I was sweetheart and I loved when he called me that because it was a term of endearment old people used, which just accentuated how mature he really was. Pinch me, again!
He gave me yet another huge smile, locked up the car, and took my hand. He wasn’t bothered in the least. It was at least a 3 mile walk.
“You’re just going to leave your car here? Maybe we should find a pay phone and you can call a tow truck.” I suggested
“Nahh..she does this every so often, just needs a jump, I’ll get one later”
She? Yep, the bitch hated me. I was stealing her man. I looked back at her uneasily, expecting her to start-up on her own, Black Sabbath blaring , and try to run me down.
Those thoughts were gone in a second when he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into yet another amazing kiss. Then we held hands and walked. Then we’d look at each other and start kissing as we were walking. Then we’d stop and hug and kiss, ad infinitum. This is what went on the entire walk back to my Seaside cottage, this is what also disgusts people when they see it or read about it, as in ‘get a room already’, but when you’re IN IT, it’s awesome and you don’t give two shits.
We finally made it back to the cottage, where my friend was probably tucked snugly in bed and my Mother was probably starting to stir. It was almost 5 am. It took us forever to say goodbye. He took both of my hands in his and said ..
“I’ve never felt like this before with anyone.” *OMG – did he really just say that?*
“Neither have I.” I squeaked *Yeah, with only a few kisses and one ‘sort of’ BF under my belt, Miss Lisa big talker*
We kissed some more, then hugged for a while…sort of rocking together. Then I heard a toilet flush inside the cottage. Uh Oh.
“Can I see you tomorrow night after I get off of work?” *YES! YES! YES!* but, in reality…
“Sure, I would like that.”
“Meet at the carousel at midnight, okay?”
I watched him walk away – Geeeez, he even walked sexy. When he turned the corner, I did something like THIS (again) - starting at 2:53.
BUT, when I opened the door, my world changed forever, still floating, happy as a pig in ,…..oh shit – there stood my mother, her face distorted in anger. I could almost see thick, black steam spewing from every orifice, She was the bull, I was the matador., clinging desperately to my red cape.
“WHERE WERE YOU? I WAS GOING TO CALL THE POLICE…I LOOKED FOR YOU ON THE BOARDWALK…I WALKED ALL AROUND THE STREETS…”
I put my hands over my ears to cut her off, then ran to my room and slammed the door.
Her yelling woke my friend up, but just briefly. I put the covers over my head to drown out her residue of angry mumbles because I didn’t want to lose one bit of every moment with him. I wanted to relive it over and over until sleep took me under its wing. I could still smell him on me.
Keep checking back for Part Four of Bad Boy First Love – I’m thinking the 14th, but aiming for sooner. In case you were wondering…there will also be a Part 5 and it will be the last installment. I had no clue it was going to go this far..seriously..but so much more to tell!
This month also happens to be #chocolatelove in the lovebloghop I’m a member of. Link up any chocolate recipe from the month of February 2012. Don’t forget to link back to this post, so that your readers know to stop by the #chocolatelove event! The twitter hashtag is #chocolatelove. Click below to see a ton of beautiful and decadent chocolate creations!
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I forgot to trim the top layer, so the heavy, moist cake with all that chocolate on top squished down the other layers. Did it matter when we ate it? Ummm..NO.
Rustic Chocolate Raspberry Almond Valentine Cake
Jordan Almond Milk Chocolate Ganache**
9 ounces good quality, chopped milk chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon Framboise (optional)
2/3 cup Oh Nuts whole Jordan Almonds, preferably in Valentine colors (red, white and pink), smashed to bits in a ziplock using a mallet
Fresh Raspberry Buttercream
Adapted from Making Life Delicious
24 ounces fresh raspberries
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
big pinch of kosher salt
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
** You can either leave out the candy coated almonds and spread with the plain ganache, or just make it a chocolate cake with raspberry vuttercream. filling. All options are wonderful.
1. Make the milk chocolate – Jordan Almond ganache. Place the chopped milk chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. Boil the cream on the stove until it’s bubbling. Pour over chopped chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes as is, then stir until uniform. Stir in bashed to smithereens Jordan Almonds, almond extract, and Framboise, if using. Cover and place in the fridge for several hours.
2. Make the cakes. Cut about 1/2 inch off the tops of all four layers of cake. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap, and chill until ready to assemble cake.
3. Make Dark Chocolate Frosting, cover and set aside.
4. Make the fresh raspberry reduction for the buttercream. In a medium to large saucepan, cook down the raspberries until they’ve broken down and released their juices..they will be floating in their own liquid – super saucy. If you use frozen, this will take longer. Strain cooked down raspberries in a fine meshed sieve into a bowl, pressing down on them to get every bit of liquid out. You should have about 1 cup raspberry juice. Place this back in a clean saucepan, and cook down until reduced to 1/2 cup. It should be thick - like chocolate syrup, and will be dark blood red. Set aside until completely cool (I put it in the fridge).
5. Make the fresh raspberry buttercream. In a bowl, beat the two sticks of butter until creamy. Add in 2 cups of powdered sugar, the reduced raspberry sauce, the lemon juice and huge pinch of kosher salt. Beat until creamy and uniform in color. Add as much powdered sugar to get a nice, thick, but still creamy consistency. I only used a little less than 3 1/2 cups. If you end up adding too much, drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of milk or cream until you reach desired consistency.
6. Assemble Cake. Place one layer, cut side up, on a cake plate or board (I glue down the first layer of all cakes with a dab of buttercream so it stays put). Spread about 1/2 cup of thickened ganache within 1/8-inch of the edge. Top with about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the raspberry buttercream. Top with next layer and press down. Repeat above. Do the same with one more layer, then top with last layer, pressing down.
7. Frost cake sloppily, meaning thick with swirls or lines, so the hearts can stick - don’t smooth it out. Use the icing spatula to make swirls or lines all around it.
8. Top with homemade or any chocolate hearts and decorations you like, placing them around the cake too – pressing them lightly into the frosting. Top with a few Valentine Jordan Almonds. Chill for a bit for easier cutting. Enjoy!
Tags: baking, Cheesecake, Chocolate, chocolate ganache, Muffins, Pumpkin, Pumpkin Cheese Muffins, streusel, Toffee, Toffee Streusel
Once again I come armed with pumpkin, cheesecake and a squeeze bottle of chocolate ganache, which is a combination you’ve seen on my blog twice in the past month, from pie to these muffins. Not to mention pumpkin nutella snickerdoodle bars, pumpkin povitica, and pumpkin gnocchi. Five pumpkin recipes in a little over a month.
Pumpkin, Sage and Sweet?
Wellll…I told you I wasn’t done with pumpkin. Actually, I made these back in October, but was going to make them again because I made a small mistake which led to an aesthetic issue with me. This is the life of a food blogger, if it ain’t pretty, you hem and haw, and sometimes make it again, even if it’s absolutely perfect in the palate department and the last thing you need is another batch of whatever you made hanging around for you to consume.
People eat with their eyes when they look at food blogs, so it’s up to the food blogger to put out as pretty and mouth-watering a photo as he/she can get.
In my case, that’s not an easy task. The cheaper artificial lighting is not kind to the details that make one’s mouth water. BUT, I do my best..and I do have that small, patch of dim sunlight I just found, As I mentioned above, these photos were shot weeks ago, before my mediocre ‘light patch’ discovery – which needs a lot of futzing with before I decide that either A) The small amount of light is not worth the blur since I can’t fit a tripod in that area, and it needs a tripod even more than my artificial lighting! or B) I start to experience physical pain from twisting my body into unnatural positions just to get the shot in this small nook.
Having said all that, my mistake, which I will get to in a moment, led to messy muffin tops, except for one.
I finally decided not to make a new batch and post as is. I just couldn’t have another few of these tempting me, all in the name of perfectly beautiful muffins for my blog.
I cobbled these muffins together using a recipe for Jumbo Pumpkin Pecan Streusel muffins from Taste of Home that I like – minus the pecans in the muffin batter, but doubled the streusel and added chopped chocolate covered toffee to it. I used some homemade toffee in the freezer, from this recipe, but you can use chopped Skor or Heath bars if you like.
We all love muffin tops. It’s the stumps that get the raw end of the deal. If there’s nothing in the stumps (chocolate chips, nuts..fillings), they’re usually kind of boring and, I’m sure there’s been times your stumps have ended up in the trash. The big, fluffy muffin tops are always the star, and usually pretty filling..so the stumps are a 50/50 deal. Eat or chuck – unless you can wrangle up a ‘Cleaner’.
Here’s the part I really love. I filled my stumps, but not only filled them, REALLY filled them. You don’t just get that usual one bite circle of filling in these – every bite of the stump contains creamy cheesecake. There’s one full-proof, fantastic way to do this, that doesn’t involve a spoon, which leads to a messy batter ‘plop and splatter’, and not that much filling once baked. OR – you don’t bake them first, then cut a gaping hole in the bottom, basically emptying out the stump, piping in a cooked or eggless cheesecake whip, and plugging with the jagged, crumbly part you cut out. Annoying.
Kind of looks like bacon streusel, doesn’t it? Although I think that’s an idea waiting to happen, it’s the chocolate toffee melted on the streusel crumb.
This is what you do, and I got this brilliant idea from Chef Dennis from A Culinary Journey via his exquisite Black and White Muffins. You fill a pastry bag with the infamous 1 bar of cream cheese ‘cheesecake recipe’ of no known or definitive origin. Next, you fill your jumbo muffin cups half way with the pumpkin batter and then, stick that cheesecake batter filled pastry bag with a plain tip, or ziplock bag with an end snipped off, smack dab in the middle of the pumpkin muffin batter and squeeeeeze…
…squeeeeze until that pumpkin batter rises in the muffin well until it’s about 2/3 to 3/4′s full.
Here’s where I messed up, but didn’t really mess up because it’s a question of…
To dome or not to dome?
Do you see that little white circle of cheesecake in the middle of the pumpkin batter in the demo photos? If you do not cover it with more pumpkin batter, the toffee streusel will sink into it, as you see in most of my photos. BUT, this is not a bad thing. What you lose aesthetically as far as a big, fat, fluffy, streusel topped domes go, you make up for with extra gooey melted toffee streusel in part of the cheesecake filling.
On the flip side, you cover up that little hole with pumpkin batter, and the streusel topping remains on top, along with a beautiful dome, like you see in the first photo with the black background.
I did not cover the cheesecake batter circles on 7 out of 8 of my muffins. The last one I did because there was only enough cheesecake batter to rise it to a little less than 2/3′s full – so I scraped out every last bit of pumpkin batter, and filled it the rest of the way.
SO, your choice, big, beautiful ‘impress your guests/recipients’ domed jumbo muffins with a crumbly, crunchy toffee streusel, or a flatter topped muffin with melted, gooey streusel inside-out. You can’t lose either way..unless it’s a beauty contest.
Muffins and Tiaras.
If you find gooey, muddled, flat top muffins ‘too ugly’ to present to guests or for gifting, just drizzle melted chocolate on top of them. I think that hikes the beauty quotient up quite a bit. Melted, chocolate drizzle is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Hmm..but then the same can be done to hotty dome queen and it’ll look even more gorgeous. Who said the life of a muffin was fair?
Finally, I think my giant, rough and tumble looking muffins would have a mad crush on these beauties. So delicate and tea party with white gloves, ready – the antithesis of my scruffy, muscled blue-collar workers with calloused hands. The Muffin Notebook.
Jumbo Cheesecake Stuffed Pumpkin Muffins with Toffee Streusel
Adapted from Taste of Home, with my revisions
YieldL About 8 – 10 jumbo muffins – 18-20 standard size muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree (If using canned, strain puree overnight in a colander)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
2/3 cup finely chopped chocolate covered toffee
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients.
2. In another bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened – do not overdo it, you’ll get tough muffins. Just a few folds until no flour remains.
3. Make the filling. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla beat until smooth. Do not over beat. Spoon the cream cheese filling into a pastry bag with a medium plain tip or a zip-lock bag with one end snipped off. Set Aside.
4. Make the streusel topping. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, pecans, chopped toffee and flour; cut in butter until crumbly. Place in fridge, covered, until ready to use.
5. Grease the top of the jumbo muffin tins lightly, making sure the area around each muffin well is greased. These babies rise a lot and spread a bit. If you don’t use jumbo muffin liners, grease each well too.
6. Fill the 8 to 10 greased or paper-lined jumbo muffin cups half way with pumpkin batter. Place cheesecake batter filled pastry bag in the middle of each half filled muffin well, and squeeze in the filling until the batter rises and fills the lined muffin wells 2/3 to 3/4ths full. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles, which I forgot to do, hence some of the holes in my cheesecake filling.
7. Cover white circles of cheesecake on top with any extra pumpkin batter, or just scoop from the sides or underneath. If you don’t care about a big, muffin dome, skip this step.
8. Dump large handfuls of toffee streusel over muffin batter. Make sure to keep it contained in the muffin well -mounding it like little mountains. Any that spills onto muffin pan, wipe off or brush into one of the wells. Ignore my raw streusel photos…I wiped all that extra crumb off ;D
9. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes (about 15-18 minutes for standard sized muffins) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.
Tags: Caramelized Sugar, chocolate ganache, Cream Puffs, croquembouche, Daring Bakers, fruit, Pate a Choux, Piece Montee, profiteroles
This entry is VERRRY late, three days late to be specific. Humidity turned caramelized sugar to croquembouche goo and well, I almost gave up. I’m glad I didn’t, so better late than never (are you listening, BOT?).
When I was in my early 20′s, I constructed my first croquembouche (aka Piece Montee). I saw it on the cover of a Good Housekeeping magazine at the market and had to attempt it. That combined with having seen a classic Martha Stewart repeat, in all of her 90′s wedge-cut glory, dipping a snipped whisk into caramelized sugar and spinning it around and around this amazing tower of cream puffs, forming golden strand after golden strand – seducing me like no pastry had before. Before I continue, the infamous blog checking lines…
The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. Thanks, Cat!
I decided it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a Christmas day family get together of my boyfriend at the time. After a few problems with the creme patisserie, which I hadn’t made before, I spent hours building this tower of beauty, decorating it like the one on the cover of Good Housekeeping – silver dragees, red and green Jordan almonds, and of course, that gorgeous angel hair mane of spun sugar. It looked like a golden Christmas Tree! I was ecstatic to show this baby off, but even more excited for everyone to take a bite of these puffs and discover the rich, creamy centers in various flavors (vanilla ginger, chocolate truffle, and salted caramel). Surely they would marvel at my artistry and ability to make something that looked so good taste SO delicious!!
When we got there, both of us holding the croquembouche like it was a newborn baby..walking in slow motion, scoping the room for any stable place to put down this beauty, everyone did marvel. Ooohs and ahhhs, and exclamation of “WOW, I can’t believe you made that!’ ‘HOW GORGEOUS!!’ . I was basking in a “D’s chick is a supergirl – what a catch’ moment.
His brother placed the croquembouche smack dab in the middle of the table – the centerpiece!! As more people arrived, their eyes went straight to my ‘bouche’, asking where they bought this amazing, edible tower. Of course they were shocked to find out I made it all by my ‘lil ole self. To say I was lovin’ it is such a freakin’ understatement, it isn’t even funny. I was the bomb that day! I was SO full of my pastry prowess (inwardly, of course) it was almost humorous, and I couldn’t wait until everyone experienced profiterole pleasure on the palate!
Notice the puddle of melting sugar at the bottom from the humidity. It seeps through the dang walls no matter how high you have the AC or CA blasting. Within an hour, the puffs started to keel over and roll off. Even the perfect dip of sprinkles, on several of the profiteroles, wouldn’t hold and started to melt off – as well as the spun sugar, which literally disintegrated before I took photos.
Well, you all know what’s coming. This kind of self-congratulatory euphoria cannot take place without some form of karma, can it? We were all sitting in the living room, our bellies full after a lovely dinner, chatting away until our tummies made room for dessert, everyone commenting on how they couldn’t wait to dig into my tower of cream puff gorgeousness, so much so, that the Italian pastries, pies and cakes were all but kicked to the side of the table. My croquembouche stood grand, in full view, tall and proud, glistening like an actual Christmas tree with lights.. lights that were winking at us in a come hither way, luring all to pull off a cream puff or three. Suddenly, someone said “Oh, look, Socky and Basher love the croquembouche too!” The cats were ON THE TABLE.. investigating this odd upside down cone shaped tower with intense curiosity.
We all watched in horror as both cats started licking my croquembouche. Not just little licks, but rapid, ravenous licks,,along with (which was ‘sort of’ even worse), long, sensuous rubs against the sides, their hair sticking to every puff. They were ‘courting’ my croquembouche! They even sat up up on their hind legs and licked the top and all around the top! OMG, they weren’t going to leave one area untouched.
Soon, everyone started to laugh..and I had to join in so the sight of my head deflating wouldn’t be too obvious. It went from light laughter to extremely loud guffaws, with comments like “Looks like we won’t be eating THAT for dessert!” and “I had no idea your cats were into French chicks, Jack!” I wanted to crawl underneath the couch and remain there for eternity, or at least until I didn’t feel like sulking or crying anymore.
I did make several more of these in coming years – with no kitty foreplay rendering them inedible, but whenever I make or even hear the word ‘croquembouche’, my mind always wanders back to that first moment of glory turned to gloom.
Cut/pulled offf the bottom layer of puffs to give it a more ‘vase’ shape.
Onto the challenge..no tower this time..but a croquemVASE filled with fruit! Papaya hearts, watermelon flowers with mango centers, pineapple-melon kebabs, strawberries etc. Inititally, I was going to make a croquem’bowl’, but as I kept building toward the ceiling, I realized a bowl wasn’t to be had. In France, croquembouche is usually presented as a wedding cake. I associate it with birthdays and holidays, so I felt an elaborate cone tower was not in the cards. Why not morph one into ‘Springy/Summery’ goodness with a bouquet of fruits in a vaseMBOUCHE? Well, that’s what I did. I filled the pate a choux puffs with a simple soft chocolate ganache, sort of emulating a chocolate fondue you’d be dipping the fruit in. Bite of fruit, bite of crispy with oozing chocolate..bite of fruit, bite of crispy with oozing chocolate… ad infinitum. Perfect!
Truth be told, I always felt a croquembouche could do without the hard caramel coating as far as the taste and texture goes, but it makes such a pretty presentation, I can never resist. Next time I may just use chocolate and save the ‘shimmer’ for holidays. At the very least, cool weather eliminates the muggy, humidity that results in gooey, melting sugar aka the croquembouche killer.
Tags: chocolate ganache, Daring Cooks, Fritters, Mango, Parfaits, Pistachio, Risotto, Sopressata, Strawberry Compote, Sweet Risotto, Vanilla Bean, Verrines, white chocolate
Ahhh, Risotto..who doesn’t love a rich, creamy risotto? Well, who doesn’t love a rich, creamy risotto outside the one who’s cooking it? I think most agree that standing at the stove for 20 some odd minutes, adding simmering stock, stirring until the rice absorbs it, then adding more, ad infinitum, could be called tedious. It’s like lather, rinse repeat over and over again until your head feels numb.
Let me make this clear..I’m not bashing risotto..I love it. I just love when someone else cooks it for me. It was fun the first 50 times I made it, but now it’s become somewhat of a ‘Ohhh..I really feel like risotto tonight, but the stock, the ladling, the stirring..my aching feet!’ dilemma. However. you have to..I repeat HAVE TO do this if you want a perfectly silky, creamy risotto. All that stirring releases the lovely starch in the arborio rice (Or whatever rice the risotto experts that be decide is NOW BETTER for risotto, but I’ll get to that later), resulting in a creamy risotto. You can add cream and/or butter at the end to achieve that (sort of a cheat), but if done properly, you won’t need either – although it”s not like it’s a bad thing outside of adding to your waistline. Butter and cream are two of the most beautiful words in the culinary/pastry world..IMhumbleO.
The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
I had a lot of fun with this challenge. I went off the beaten path, then stepped back onto it using the challenge recipe. The first vision I had was some kind of parfait layered with a sweet risotto. Basically a rice pudding made with arborio rice accompanied by the tedious ladling of simmering milk in lieu of savory stock. As I was surfing around..I came across a sweet risotto recipe at Food & Wine in which you add flour, eggs and baking powder to make risotto fritters! I made a few changes to the recipe, including several additions and increasing the sugar a bit. This is a unique way to use risotto, since many take the Arancini aka rice ball route. Nothing like a light, crispy fritter..similar to a zeppole, but filled with sweet, creamy rice. I could eat these once day..seriously.
My parfaits or verrines, rather, were also a success. Not only did they turn out beautiful, albeit the mango gelee spilling out a few times while setting on an angle, but the taste and texture of this cup ‘o surprise with every bite, is a rave party on the palate. When you first stick your spoon in..breaking through the crunchy pistachios, shaved white chocolate and sweet mango cubes..it slides into creamy, white chocolate melty, silken, very slightly al dente risotto with crunchy, chopped pistachios – the tip of your spoon picking up the smooth mango gelee peppered with sweet mango cubes. Each spoonful is an absolute delight.
After basking in luscious dessert risottos, I decided I really needed to make a nice, savory one..using the master recipe given to us, almost verbatim. We were required to make our own stock from scratch, but I already had several quarts of homemade beef, chicken and roasted vegetable stock on hand. I always have stock in the freezer…it’s almost become a must for me. I usually spend one week in the Fall making stock to freeze and then repeat later on if necessary. If there’s no homemade stock in my freezer – I sort of feel naked. This is why there was no need to make a new stock for my risotto. It was the simplest preparation – I just reached into the freezer and pulled out a quart of roasted veggie love. Yay, part one - DONE.
I decided to keep it simple with a twist, even though while perusing through the Daring Cooks completed challenge forum, I nearly drowned in drool after seeing all the beautiful, creamy and sometimes very unique twists on savory risotto (You can check them out by clicking on the links to each Daring Cook’s blog, HERE). The bell peppers at the supermarket were huge, vibrant, and well, calling to me. I bought one of each color and then stood there stumped. OK.. I could do a vegetarian risotto, maybe roasted tomato with these gorgeous peppers? After mulling over that temporary decision, I stopped at an Italian market to pick up some fresh mozzarella. Walking toward the cheese section, I was stopped in my tracks by a hunky looking log of sopressata that looked and smelled wonderful. After the nice Italian mom and pop force fed (Ha..more like I kept begging for more) me some of this beautiful dried sausage/salami..whichever you want to call it..the bells went off. DING, DING, DING..why not a sausage and pepper risotto with a twist? The twist being the sopressata. I was set…well, after I threw in a couple handfuls of sweet petit peas, just because I happened to have them on hand.
Now to my risotto ‘rice beef’. I always use Arborio. Arborio used to be (well, at least it seemed that way) THE rice you used for risotto. It had the monopoly on risotto! Then someone started telling me that Vialone Nano is even better – SO, I start using that. Then someone else lets me know that Carnaroli rice is really the best rice for risotto, so I start using that. OK, enough..Im going back to Arborio because Arborio is my old friend and it’s easier to find in the supermarket. I fully expect a new ‘better for risotto’ rice to pop up any day now – but I’m not budging! Hrmmph.
Well, that’s the end of my fun filled, month long love affair with risotto. I just may call him again, but only if he’s ok with someone else ladling and stirring up his starchy goodness. Loved this challenge becasue it was so delicious. For the Master risotto recipe and tips, click HERE.
UPDATE: I’ve received several inquiries as to how I got the cool design in my verrines. It’s really simple. Divide an even amount of gelee, about 1/3-1/2 cup in each of 4 glasses, then tilt each glass about 45 degrees in an egg carton and let set in the fridge. When set, fill the empty space next to the gelee with the sweet risotto, even with the top of the gelee. Pour another 1/3 – 1/2 cup of gelee and tilt again in the egg carton, in the opposite direction of the first layer of gelee, letting it set. Take care to not let too much of the sweet risotto seep into the new gelee like mine did (notice the second layer of gelee is a little darker?). When set, fill the rest of the glass with the sweet risotto and top with remaining gelee (just pour this layer over the top and let set upright) to seal everything in. That’s it!
Creamy, Sweet Risotto with White Chocolate and Pistachios
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup orange muscat or Riesling
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
2 1/2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 oz white chocolate, chopped and melted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios
Special Equipment for Verrines – 4 6-8 oz clear glasses and 1 empty egg carton
DIRECTIONS FOR RISOTTO:
1.Heat the olive oil in a heavy, medium saucepan. Add the rice and stir over moderate heat until coated with the oil.
2. Add the orange muscat, white wine or Riesling and cook, stirring, until it is completely absorbed. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and 1/2 cup of the vanilla milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the milk is completely absorbed. Continue adding milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until it is absorbed before adding more. Cook until the risotto is creamy and porridgelike and the grains of rice are just tender.
3. Stir in the melted white chocolate, sugar, vanilla and orange zest. Chill until ready to fill verrines or chill and serve as is.
Mango Gelee for Verrines - makes about 4 verrines
1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope)
1/4 cup water
2 cups mango nectar or puree
1 medium mango, peeled and cubed, reserving some for topping
1. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften. Cook over low heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon mango nectar at a time until gelatin mixture is cool, then whisk in remaining nectar. Stir in cubed mango.
2. Transfer to a metal bowl and set bowl into a larger bowl half-filled with ice and cold water. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until gelée is consistency of raw egg white, 15 to 25 minutes.
1. Put egg carton in a shallow baking pan and arrange glasses in carton, then tilt glasses to a 45-degree angle. Divide gelee among glasses. Carefully transfer pan with glasses to refrigerator and chill until gelée is set, at least 1 hour.
2. Spoon white chocolate-pistachio risotto into glasses along side the set gelee. Top with any leftover gelee, cubed mango, chopped white chocolate and chopped pistachios.
Sweet Vanilla Bean Risotto Fritters
1 recipe Creamy, Sweet Risotto minus the melted white chocolate, pistachios and vanilla extract
1 plump vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large egg whites
Peanut oil, for frying
1. Make the Risotto above…splitting and scraping the vanilla bean into the milk..placing the scraped pods in with the vanilla beans (Be careful not to get any of the pod into the risotto as you add the milk in increments and stir) Omit the melted white chocolate, pistachios and vanilla extract. When all the milk is absorbed and the rice slightly al dente, transfer to a bowl and let cool.
2. Stir in the beaten egg, then stir in the flour and baking powder.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir half of the beaten egg whites into the risotto, then fold in the rest.
4. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches of peanut oil to 350°. Position a wire rack on a baking sheet and cover the rack with paper towels. Scoop rounded tablespoons of the rice into the hot oil without crowding and fry until golden brown all over, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the rack to drain. Repeat to make the remaining fritters. Sprinkle the fritters with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm, with the strawberry compote and chocolate ganache.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups quartered strawberries (halved if small), divided
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon orange liqueur and/or orange zest (optional)
1. Heat 1 cup quartered strawberries, sugar and water in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer about 10 minutes, then remove from heat. .Give it a whir in the food processor, blender or with a stick blender until smooth.
2. Stir in orange liqueur and/or zest, if using..let cool. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup quartered strawberries. Chill or serve at room temperature.