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.
Notice the one broken heart? Everyone needs to be represented on Valentines Day.
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 chocolate 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.
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. 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.
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. Please excuse the ugly cake board. I forgot to remove it before frosting the cake.
Of course I ran head first into 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, 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.
Finally, you don’t have to make this behemoth of a cake. You can make a normal cake using two layers. Normally, for a 4-layer cake, I just split two layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers, but I was feeling behemoth, so I built a tower with 4 whole layers. The layers weren’t too high, so it made complete sense at the time. Thankfully there were enough people willing to attack it, regardless of the massive, wobbly tower slices doled out to them.
Now for the linky’s. The first one is for this month’s Secret Recipe Club. Click the blue froggy to see a gallery of amazing dishes from all of our blog assignments!
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!
Powered by Linky Tools
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…
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? Uh..NO.
Cake and frosting adapted from Martha Stewart
Fresh Raspberry Buttercream adapted from Making Life Delicious
- 1½ cups unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder, plus more for pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1½ cups low-fat buttermilk
- 1½ cups warm water
- 6 tablespoons safflower oil or any neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Framboise for brushing cake layers (optional)
- 9 ounces good quality, chopped milk chocolate
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 tablespoon Framboise (optional)
- ½ cup chopped, toasted almonds (optional)
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
- 2¼ cups (4½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- 24 ounces fresh raspberries
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- big pinch of kosher salt
- 3½ to 4½ cups powdered sugar
- Make the dark chocolate frosting and chocolate ganache before you make the cake, so they have enough time to reach a spreadable consistency in the fridge by the time you're ready to assemble the cake.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter four 8-inch round cake pans (2 inches deep); and dust with cocoa. Sift cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Divide batter between the four pans. Place two on the middle rack and two on the rack below, unless your oven is deep enough to hold 4 cake pans on one rack. If on one rack, switch pans from back to front and front to back half way through baking. On different racks, switch pans from top to bottom rack and bottom to top rack half way through baking.
- Bake until set and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Turn out from pans. Transfer, top up, to wire racks. Let cool completely.
- When cakes are cooled, cut about ½ inch off the tops of all four layers of cake. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and chill until ready to assemble cake.
- Place the chopped milk chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil (once you see a bubble orv two, take it off the heat), then pour over chopped chocolate and let it sit for about 2 minute as is, no stirring. Once it's sat for 2 minutes, stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is uniform. Stir in almond extract and Framboise and chopped, toasted almonds, if using. Cover and place in the fridge for several hours or until it's of a spreadable consistency, 1 to 2 hours at least.
- Combine the cocoa and the boiling water, stirring until the cocoa has dissolved (dissolved meaning there is no more powder, like you would packets of instant hot chocolate). With an electric mixer , starting on low speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt until combined, then, on medium-high speed, beat until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low then add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa - water mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's of a spreadable consistency, at least 1 hour.
- 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 a little 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 ½ 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).
- In a bowl, beat the two sticks of butter until creamy. Add in 2 cups of powdered sugar, the reduced raspberry juice, the lemon juice and huge pinch of kosher salt. Beat until creamy and uniform in color. Continue adding powdered sugar until you get a nice, thick, but still creamy consistency. I used a little less than 3½ cups. If you end up adding too much, drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of milk or cream until you reach the desired consistency. Set aside covered, at room temperature, until ready to assemble the 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). If using Framboise, brush top of layer with it lightly. Spread about ½ cup of thickened ganache within ⅛-inch of the edge. Top with about 1 to 1½ cups of the raspberry buttercream and spread to within ½-inch of the edge of the cake. Top with next layer and press down. Repeat above. Do the same with one more layer, then top with last layer, pressing down.
- If you're adding any chocolate decorations, like my hearts, frost the cake sloppily, meaning thick with swirls or lines, so the hearts can stick - do not smooth it out. If not adding decor, frost any which way you please.How to Make Chocolate Transfer Sheet Cut-Outs, like my Hearts. You can find chocolate transfer sheets at some craft stores or candy making supply businesses, You can also do a search online and find loads of places to order them from.
** You can leave out the milk chocolate ganache and just make it a chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream filling. Either option is wonderful.
Tags: baking, Cheesecake, Chocolate, chocolate ganache, Muffins, Pumpkin, Pumpkin Cheese Muffins, streusel, Toffee, Toffee Streusel
Do not let these awful, messy photos deter you. These muffins are one of the best things you will ever wrap your mouth around.
..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 almost to the top (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 every last bit of pumpkin batter out of the bowl, 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.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup fresh, roasted or canned pumpkin puree *
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- ⅔ cup packed brown sugar
- ⅓ cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
- ⅔ cup finely chopped chocolate covered toffee
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cold butter, cubed
- In a large bowl, combine the first seven muffin batter ingredients.
- In another bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened - do not over stir it or you'll get tough muffins. Just a few folds until no flour remains. Set aside while you make the filling and streusel.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 muffin well too.
- 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 ⅔ to ¾ths 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.
- Cover white circles of cheesecake on top with any extra pumpkin batter, or just scoop the pumpkin batter from the sides or underneath to cover. If you don't care about a big, muffin dome, skip this step.
- Dump large handfuls of toffee streusel over cheesecake filled 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
- 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 boyfriend’s Christmas day family gathering. After a few issues 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 a side of the croquembouche platter like a newborn baby, walking in slow motion, then scoping the room for any stable place to put it down, everyone did marvel. Ooohs and ahhhs and exclamation of “WOW, I can’t believe you made that!’ ‘HOW GORGEOUS!!’, peppered the room . I was basking in a “D’s chick is a supergirl – what a catch’ moment.
His brother took a side of the plattter and helped us place it smack dab in the middle of the main dinner 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. This is why croquembouche is not a summer dessert.
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!” I looked over and saw that their 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 of the croquembouche with their flanks, 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 desserts, 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 races back to that first moment of glory turned gloom.
I cut and pulled off 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.