A heart of darkness

February 28, 2009

When I saw the February Daring Baker’s challenge was to make a Chocolate Valentino cake using a recipe by Chef Wan, I was stoked since my mother’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day! What perfect luck to have a heart shaped cake as our challenge when I needed to bake something special on that day anyhow!

I used Amadei’s Tuscano 66% cocoa chocolate to make my cake and I paired it with a simple but super rich caramel sauce (see recipe below). Since one of the reasons this recipe was chosen as a DB challenge was that it used just three simple ingredients, I thought making a sauce using just three ingredients (water, sugar and cream) was the perfect accompaniment. And besides, chocolate and caramel are a match made in heaven, right?

Now, I don’t like to be a naysayer (actually, that’s not true, I do sort of like to whine and complain, just not right this second), but I have to say that I didn’t like this recipe and I won’t make it again. I made flourless chocolate cake literally hundreds of times as an apprentice to the now late (and much missed) pastry chef Andrew MacIssac. His recipe calls for 8 eggs and some sugar that is used to make a sabayon with egg yolks before they are added to the melted chocolate. The result is a cake that is simultaneously fudgier and lighter than the cake recipe we used for this month’s challenge. (If you’d like Andrew’s recipe, drop me a line and I’ll dig it out of my back up drive and send it to you).

That said, although I didn’t fall in love with this Valentine’s Day cake, I do want to thank the hosts for doing a great job! The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.

Dana’s Easy Caramel Sauce

11/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
3/4 cup (175 mL) 35% whipping cream

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan set over high heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Boil sugar, brushing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped into water to dissolve any crystals that start to form, until the mixture is the colour of amber. Remove from heat.

Shield your hands with oven mitts or clean dish towels and whisk in the cream until the mixture quits boiling. Makes about 11/2 cups (375 mL) caramel sauce.

Tip: Add a gourmet touch by sprinkling large flake sea salt over the sauce once it has been poured over the cake.

“Open That Bottle Night”

February 27, 2009


I’ll embrace almost any reason to open up a bottle of wine. Most Friday evenings the fact that Battlestar Galactica is on is reason enough for me to pop a cork. So, when I heard that February 27th is Open That Bottle Night, I was instantly intrigued.

The event, which has taken place on the last Saturday of February for the past 10 years, is meant to prompt wine lovers to uncork the bottle that they coddled and ogled until now it’s the perfect age or just let sit and collect dust waiting for a special occasion that either didn’t come or didn’t include people who would appreciate the wine.

I love this idea since I think that in the current economic climate we all need a treat and what’s better than a treat you paid for years ago? My husband Martin has always said that wine cellars are for when you’re broke and, as you can see from the picture above, we’ve been broke many times!

Do you have a bottle in your wine cellar or liquor cabinet that you’ve been saving for special occasion? Will you open it tonight?

Bake a cake: Cranberry Bundt Cake

February 26, 2009


Reading my blog, you could get the impression that all I ever make are butter tarts, banana bread and butterscotch pudding (otherwise known around my house as the sugary trinity of B). And, truth be told, I do fall into cycles when it comes to dessert recipes. That fact admitted and duly noted, I shsould tell you that I also know how to make other yummy things, too.

Take this bundt cake for instance. It’s super moist, freezes well and needs no frosting or glaze to present well. In fact, the most difficult thing about making this cake is not eating more of it than I should!

I’ve noticed lately that many bundt cake recipes on the net and in recently printed cookbooks contain sour cream. While I like what sour cream adds to the texture of a cake like this one, I find that even with no dairy beyond butter that the recipe below is moist and yummy.

Does your favourite bundt cake recipe contain sour cream?

Lemony Cranberry Bundt Cake

1/2 cup (125 mL) dried cranberries
3/4 cup (175 mL) lemon juice
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 1/4 cups (310 mL) butter, softened
2 cups (500 mL) icing sugar (approx.)
4 eggs. beaten
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla

Combine the cranberries and the lemon juice in a microwave-safe glass bowl or measure. Heat until steaming. Let stand until cool. Strain, reserving the lemon juice and cranberries separately. Butter a 10-in (25 cm) bundt/tube pan well.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Stir the flour with the baking powder and salt. Beat the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, reserved lemon juice and vanilla. Add the flour, stirring until batter is almost smooth. Fold in the reserved cranberries. Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a rack and cool completely. Lightly dust with icing sugar before serving. Makes 16 servings.

Gourmet cupcakes cross the pond

February 25, 2009


To know that we are ga-ga for cupcakes here in Canada and the U.S., all you have to do is check my reader stats. Consistently each week, my posts about gourmet cupcakes and cupcakes in a jar are among my top read pages (it’s true!).

Well, it seems that our affection for these hand-held cakes was so infectious that it spread to the U.K. (I can only imagine that it was lurking in the ventilation system of some transatlantic airplane). According to this article, cupcakes, long viewed as a treat for kids in England, have transitioned to be a stylish grown-up indulgence featured at weddings, adult birthday parties and posh bake shops more often. Likewise, this cake love has even spread to Italy; according to this blog, Italians are in the throes of cupcake mania, too.  (Still no reports of anyone in Europe serving them at funerals in those countries but perhaps they’ll grow into that practice in time, too.)

All I can say is — what took them so long?

Topline Trends Tuesday: Flavour trends of note

February 24, 2009


Although it isn’t true that I never repeat myself (just ask my son if I’m a broken record and he’ll give you his signature eye roll in agreement -yeah, he’s at that stage), I do try to make each of these posts at least somewhat original. That said, although I’ve already discussed some of these trends here and in my latest Topline Trends newsletter, people keep asking me to list what I think the top flavour trends are right now!!! So, today I’m posting this succinct little, alphabetical list that interested folks can refer to easily:

1. Bacon: in desserts. So wrong but so good.
2. Flavoured sugars: for finishing baked goods, as a garnish and for coffee and tea.
3. Floral flavours: beyond rose and lavender, this trend is expanding to include hibiscus in desserts and cocktails.
4. Fruit in burgers: jazzing up meat patties with fruit fillings and toppings will be popular in restaurants this summer.
5. Fruits: in drinks, yumberry is emerging and acai continues to gain momentum. That said, local fruit will be king in the kitchen during harvest season.
6. Fruitwood smoke: applewood, persimmon and cherry will add subtlety to smoked meats, cheese, fish and more.
7. Greek flavours: oregano, garlic, lemon and mint will reach new gourmet heights when teamed together.
8. Miso: look for more people using miso in home cooked soups, salad dressings and marinades.
9. Pepper: from comet tail to bali long, pepper is hot for 2009.
10. Varietal citrus: meyer lemons, kaffir lime and blood orange are turning up in products and recipes at a rapid pace.

On a personal note, I’m hooked on grapefruit these days. What flavour(s) are you hooked on these days?