My First Daring Bakers Challenge

IMG_1927, originally uploaded by lclea.

Hazelnut genoise, or how I made Swiss praline buttercream bend to my will

This month in the middle of going back to school, moving and basically making almost every major life change someone can make that involves only one person, I decided to become a Daring Baker. This is an online challenge to intrepid people all over the world who want to try fancy schmancy desserts or baked goods. The thought is to push yourself to go beyond the comfort zone and go boldly into new adventurous areas of cooking.

Well, let me tell you it wasn’t easy this first challenge. We had to make a hazelnut genoise, praline paste, swiss buttercream, an apricot glaze, a sugar syrup, and a chocolate ganache to glaze the top. Oh and then piping and whatsit for the top. I wrote out diagrams, step, matrixes and spreadsheets to make it seem doable. And you know what? It was! It was hard, I had issues with my cake (probably didn’t clarify the butter right) but I forged on (after all icing covers a host of sins). I got the boojezus burned out of my finger on the pralines (yes, the recipe even said it was hot, but a filbert leapt out of the pan and tagged me), and then came that fickle minx swiss buttercream.

My first inclination was to just make my old friend the Neapolitan buttercream from the Cake Bible. It ALWAYS turns out, but is that daring? Is that intrepid? No, alas no, so I had to embark into new territory. And boldly I went. It was fine, the whipping the whites over simmering water, it looked marshmallowy, I wanted to eat all of it right then and there, but I held off (must…not…eat…meringue…in one sitting…), then I needed to beat it (not whisk), beat it until it was cool (okay it’s summer when is it cool??), I added the butter slightly creamed like the said, and it broke. It broke bad. I was ready to give up, throw in the towel, quit the whole mess. Is that daring, or intrepid? No, so I did what any good baker would do, I googled swiss buttercream. I got input and a youtube video (thanks Dyann Bakes.com!!!), and I got right back up on that buttercreamy horse and it WORKED! Woohoo!!

The rest was easy. I did do a crumb coat with the buttercream which I’ve seen others advise against, but I waited until my ganache was coolish and it didn’t melt the buttercream and didn’t slide off (the cake gods were on my side, finally). Then at piping that blasted buttercream tried to break, and I forgot no whisking, but put on the beaters and wham bam thank you ma’am, it came back together. And here it is in all its glory. I came, I saw, I kicked it’s toosh (sort of), and we got the tiniest riches little cake. To save $ I halved the cake, so it’s a 6” little monster.

Mine is fine for a first attempt, take a look at all the other great cakes!

Want to give it a whirl? The whole magilla is below…

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise

Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cook the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ – 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Quality vs Easy

000_0044, originally uploaded by lclea.

I’ve thought about this dychotomy a lot lately. It seems like we live in a world where fast and easy is better for many people. We’ve lost touch with quality. Really good locally owned restaurants used to be commonplace in my hometown growing up. Slowly, most of them have gone away and been gobbled up by the chains. The “big boxes” have driven out the local hardware stores and although I shop at Walgreens, I can’t remember the last time I was in a locally owned pharmacy. They were commonplace when I was little and loved going there after chruch to get a little gift if I was good.

Then there’s food. So many people today feel like they “don’t have time to cook”. Now I understand that a lot of people don’t like to cook, and I get it. My grandma didn’t love cooking, but cooked several meals a day for her , and at holidays, I never could tell it was chore. My other grandma did love to cook, but worked her whole life.  She’d leave a casserole, or roast ready for my dad to pop in the oven when he got home from school.  She made it work, and her family got a hot homecooked meal. 

This is a spread we did for my grandma’s 90th birthday (you can guess which one).  I made everything from scratch. What you do see are the sandwiches and salads and the cakes and a summer pudding.  If this party was for you and someone took a day to cook up really great food for you, wouldn’t you feel special?  That’s the point.  It’s not that hard, and it shows you made a effort. It shows you cared enough to make something yourself.  I’m tired of “good enough”, or bring something but “you don’t have to make it”. 

Come on, people, step up.  We’re all busy, but we shouldn’t be too busy for some quality.

Clothes line

IMG_1853, originally uploaded by lclea.

Does anyone hang their clothes out anymore? I love to when I can. Nothing smells better than sheets that dry out in the wind. Does that make me a throwback, old fashioned? Maybe. I’ve been known to can tomatoes and make my own bread, so I guess sort of. Heaven knows, especially going back to school now, I love technology, but some things from the past are just plain better. If you don’t agree, you’ve never had hot homemade bread. Anyway, drying clothes on the line is green, I’m hip, current and keeping my carbon footprint low.

Or I just like the way it smells.

Bridal Veil Falls

scan0405, originally uploaded by lclea.

This is one of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a relatively easy hike, but you can get back to this great waterfall. What I love most about it is even in the middle of the summer when the rest of the park is swarming with tourists you can find it empty. This picture was taken the day after the 4th of July a few years ago. My boyfriend and I wanted a quick escape from the hordes of people and spent three hours up here all alone. It was a beautiful hot day and it was so peaceful. This was when I lived in Colorado and although I have since moved, I will always feel a special connection with this place. I usually get back to Colorado once or twice a year, but lately we’ve been going over Thanksgiving and I’ve missed this hot summer day treat. This year I should try it just for fun.  And no, I’m not avoiding talking about the “big news”.  I’m just trying not to jinx it.

Me and Mind



scan0250, originally uploaded by lclea.

Here’s me and my cousin again. She’s haming it up, of course, and I’m looking sweet and demure in the back. Looking is the operate word in that sentance. I’m still working on all the logistics of the Big Move. Tomorrow I get to have a blood test to make up for the fact that my doctor lost my immunization records, close out a CD, and get my dog shots for the racoon pee disease. Aren’t you jealous? I can’t wait until I get through all the piddly little details and can get to meat of this move, the fun stuff. This weekend, more packing and planning. Sorry I’ve been AWOL and made you look at the flag cake. There are things brewing…