Whipped Cream Layer Cake {ModBak}

I’m still baking my way through the Cakes Section of the Modern Baker Challenge, and this week’s entry is a simple and delicious layer cake. What makes this cake unique is that the butter you would normally expect to find in a cake is replaced by whipping cream. This makes sense if you recall that overwhipped cream turns into butter.

So all you are really doing with this recipe is replacing the butterfat in butter with that in whipped cream. The fat and the air whipped into the cream add to the texture, lightness, and tender crumb in this cake.

The frosting for this cake is also made with whipped cream, but the sweetness of the cake and cream are balanced by the addition of caramel to the frosting. At least, they are supposed to be.

My misadventures with caramel are legend (although I’ve had some successes, too). At least I’m at the point of not fearing caramel in recipes anymore. So I wasn’t really concerned about making the caramel for this frosting. And it seemed to come out OK. But some of it seized up when I mixed in the cream, and after pulling out the solid chunks, what remained wasn’t enough to be visible or to flavor the whipped cream in any discernible way.

No matter, because even with regular whipped cream, this cake was light, airy, and delicious. Definitely one to make again.

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Pecan Sticky Buns {TWD-BWJ}

Our second May recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is one with which I am very familiar. Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sticky buns were an almost ubiquitous morning treat. After leaving PA Dutch country, I tried so-called sticky buns literally from coast to coast. None of them could hold a candle to any that I had growing up. And of the sticky buns in Lancaster County, none could compare to the ones made by Melinda Fisher.

I was close friends with the Fisher boys growing up — John, Jake, and David — and was lucky enough to spend many nights at their house. Dan and Melinda grew up Amish, and although they no longer lived on a farm, they still breakfasted like farmers. So breakfast at their house was always a treat. But never more so than when Melinda made sticky buns.

I’m not sure what made her sticky buns so much better than all others. Dan raised bees, so she naturally used honey in her recipe. But it was more than that. And I wish I had her recipe. They were, as the Dutch would say, am beschde (the best).

So, when Dorie claims that Nancy Silverton’s recipe is the ne plus ultra of sticky buns, she has a high bar to clear in my book. This, then, is a battle of superlatives: the ne plus ultra versus am beschde. And as much as I love Melinda’s sticky buns, I was pulling for Nancy’s recipe to come out on top. After all, I have her recipe available to me in my copy of Baking with Julia.

Nancy Silverton’s sticky buns recipe begins with a batch of her brioche dough. I made the dough the day before baking the sticky buns, and because it is a completely separate recipe, I gave it its own blog post.

The first step in making the sticky buns (once you’ve made your brioche dough) is laminating the dough. No, this doesn’t mean putting through a machine to encase it in plastic. In this context, laminating refers to folding (or turning) layers of butter into the dough. To do this, I divided the dough in half, and rolled one piece out to a large rectangle. Then I spread softened butter over the dough.

When I made the brioche dough, I found it much easier to work with the butter if I spread it with an offset spatula. So even though the sticky buns recipe said to dot the dough with butter, I used my spatula to spread it evenly over the entire surface of the dough. I folded the dough in thirds. letter-style, then rolled it out to roughly the same size it had been before. I folded the dough again, then wrapped it and put it in the fridge while I worked with the other half.

When the dough was chilled, I rolled one piece out again, then brushed it with an egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar and chopped pecans. The recipe said to roll the pecans and sugar mixture into the dough with a rolling pin, which just sounded like a mess waiting to happen. So I covered the dough with wax paper before rolling it. That kept my rolling pin clean and ready for the other half of the dough.

I rolled the dough into a tight log, which I then wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for about an hour.

This recipe makes 14 sticky buns, but as there are only four of us, I decided I didn’t want to make all the buns at once. After the initial chill, I double-wrapped one log and put it in the freezer for another day.

One of the unique things about sticky buns is that they are baked upside down and inverted onto a plate as soon as they come out of the oven. The “sticky” is a caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan that, when inverted, covers the tops of the buns and oozes down the sides, covering the entire sticky bun with ooey-gooey goodness.

Most recipes for sticky buns that I’ve seen use a caramel sauce that is cooked and then poured into the bottom of the pan. This recipe, however, makes the caramel sauce directly in the pan while the buns are baking. To do this, you use your fingers to smear a stick of butter on the bottom of the pan (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I found this much easier to do with an offset spatula).

Then you top the butter with brown sugar.

In my final major departure from the recipe, I arranged pecans on top of the brown sugar. The recipe says to press the pecans into the top of the buns, then try to hold them in place while you invert the buns into the pan. Why not just put the pecans in the pan to begin with?

To form the buns, I cut the dough into even-sized pieces (yes, I measured them).

I flattened each roll slightly, then arranged them in the pan.

Looking at the formed rolls, I saw the results of laminating the dough.

I set the rolls aside to rise, which I knew would take a few hours, as the dough was still quite cold. After about two hours, the rolls had risen and were touching, so it was time to bake them.

I baked the sticky buns at 350°F for about 40 minutes, until they were well-risen and golden brown.

As soon as they came out of the oven, I inverted the sticky buns onto a plate.

They were beautifully layered, and the caramel flowed over and around them as if on cue. I waited for the buns to cool a bit (no sense scorching myself with hot caramel after all that work), then dug into them.

The sticky buns were rich, buttery, and pull-apart flaky. The caramel was sweet and creamy, and the pecans gave the buns a nice crunch. As far as the flavor goes, both the buns and caramel were a bit flat and tasted like they needed some salt. And the buns overall were just so-so. Better than many I have eaten around the country. But not as good as the ones I used to get in PA. And nothing like Melinda Fisher’s.

I had such high hopes for these sticky buns, especially since they used an insane amount of butter and were two days in the making. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to the hype. And while I will continue to search for a sticky buns recipe that can live up to the ones made by Melinda Fisher, I definitely won’t be making this recipe again.

Mardi Gras Caramel Corn {Recipe}

With Fat Tuesday just around the corner, I thought I’d try something new this year in addition to my traditional King Cake. I had the idea to make something with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, green, and purple, and I wanted it to resemble beads.

And then it hit me: caramel corn! It’s sweet and decadent, perfect for Fat Tuesday. And with a few drops of food coloring, the caramel turns the popcorn into little sweet salty bead-like nuggets of love.

I searched the ‘net for a caramel corn recipe to use as a base, and ended up taking ingredients, amounts, and techniques from several recipes, which I combined to come up with my own version.

Here are some hints, tips, and tricks to make things easier:

  • 2 regular sized bags of microwave popcorn make just the right amount of popcorn. You could also use about 6 quarts of popped regular popcorn.

  • Keeping the popcorn warm before adding the caramel will keep the caramel from seizing up and will make it easier to mix.
  • If you want more uniformly coated caramel corn, put the popcorn in bowls before adding the caramel. This will allow you to mix it more thoroughly (but will also result in three unnecessary dirty dishes). Using roasting pans or other pans with high sides will also make it easier to stir the caramel corn.
  • The caramel has to be used as soon as it’s ready, or it will start to cool and harden, so mise en place it key to this recipe. Having all of your ingredients and equipment set out and at hand will enable you to manage making three separate batches of caramel corn all at once.

  • If you want to make an insanely large batch of caramel corn for a party or to give away, you could make three separate batches, one of each color. In that case, you could bake each batch of caramel corn on two pans.
  • Spraying the measuring cup before measuring the corn syrup will make the sticky syrup slide right out of the cup.
  • I like the mixture of light and dark brown sugars, as it gives the caramel corn a nice color and depth of flavor; but you could use 2 cups of either.
  • When adding the food coloring, remember — less is more. Start with just a few drops and mix it in well before adding more. You can always add more food coloring, but you can’t take it out. I used a bit too much in my purple batch, as the caramel was a deep golden color, and I thought it would take quite a bit to color it. It really doesn’t take much at all.
  • If you like nuts in your caramel corn, add 2 cups peanuts, pecans, or mixed nuts to the popcorn in the pans before adding the caramel.
  • Run the saucepans and spoons under hot water as soon as you’re finished with them. The caramel will scrape off easily.

Mardi Gras Caramel Corn

Ingredients

  • 2 bags Natural microwave popcorn
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • purple and green food coloring

Directions

  1. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 200°F. Line three roasting or jellyroll pans with foil and grease with cooking spray.
  2. Pop popcorn and divide evenly among the three pans. Place pans in oven to keep popcorn warm.
  3. Measure vanilla and baking soda into small prep bowls and set near stove. Fill small saucepan with hot water and set aside.
  4. Place butter, brown sugars, corn syrup, and salt in large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter and sugars melt and mixture comes to a boil. As soon as it boils, stop stirring and set a timer for 4 minutes. While the caramel is cooking, empty and dry the small saucepan, setting on the stovetop to stay warm, and take one pan of popcorn out of the oven. When the timer goes off, remove the saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will foam up a bit at first.
  5. Pour 1/3 of the caramel over the first pan of popcorn and immediately return the pan to the oven (don’t stir the popcorn). Pour another 1/3 of the caramel into the small sauce pan. Set the large saucepan aside.
  6. Add a few drops of purple food coloring to the caramel in the small pan and mix well, adding more food coloring if necessary to get the desired color. Remove a second pan of popcorn from the oven, pour the purple caramel over the popcorn, and return the pan immediately to the oven (don’t stir the popcorn).
  7. Add a few drops of green food coloring to the caramel in the large pan and mix well with a clean spoon, adding more food coloring if necessary to get the desired color. Remove the third pan of popcorn from the oven, pour the green caramel over the popcorn, and stir the popcorn to coat with caramel. Return the pan to the oven, then take the other pans out one at a time and mix well, using a different spoon for each pan.
  8. Bake the caramel corn for 60 minutes, taking the pans out to stir well every 15 minutes.
  9. Dump the caramel corn out onto waxed paper and use a wooden spoon to break up any big chunks. Allow to cool, then mix all three colors together and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 22 cups.

Sour Cream Brownies & Caramel Crumb Bars {ModBak}

Today, we bring you a Modern Baker Challenge two-fer. One thing that I love about baking cookies, brownies, and bars is that it’s almost as easy to make two recipes as it is to just make one. In fact, growing up I don’t ever recall my Mom making just one type of cookie when she baked. And she still makes them in multiples to this day, as evidenced by the fact that she often shows up here with bags of Snickerdoodles, chocolate chips, and peanut butter cookies.

So it was not at all unusual for me to decide to bake Sour Cream Brownies and Caramel Crumb Bars from the Cookies, Bars & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker on the same day. In fact, I’ve baked a number of the cookie recipes in this section this way, even though I’ve blogged them separately. But there was just something about the way these two looked on a plate together that made me decide they wanted to be in the same post.

I started with the Sour Cream Brownies. Like the Cocoa Nib Brownies, these babies are loaded with bittersweet chocolate. Nick Malgieri says that the inclusion of the sour cream cuts back the sweetness just a bit and keeps the brownies moist, and I’d have to agree. These brownies are very rich, but not cloying; and they are moist and fudgy, even after a day or so in the fridge.

If you’ve ever struggled with melting chocolate over a pan of simmering water while holding a bowl and trying not burn your fingers, or attempted to melt it in the microwave without burning it, you’ll appreciate Nick’s technique for melting the chocolate in this recipe. I melted the 6 ounces of butter called for in the recipe in a saucepan and let it bubble for a few seconds. Then I removed the pan from the heat, dropped in the chocolate chunks, and shook the pan to submerge the chocolate in the hot butter. By the time I had mixed the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt, and vanilla in the mixer, the chocolate was melted and ready to be whisked into the butter.

I stirred the chocolate mixture, and then the flour and walnuts, into the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula — another trick I learned from Nick. Overmixing the batter results in tough brownies and fallen cookies, so he recommends mixing in the last few ingredients, including the flour, by hand.

I spread the batter in the pan, smoothed the top, and sprinkled it with a few more walnuts.

I baked the brownies at 350°F for 30 minutes, and not a second more. They still looked very moist in the center, but that’s exactly how the recipe said they should look.

I set the brownies aside to cool. Cutting them would have to wait a day, as Nick also recommends refrigerating brownies overnight. This makes moist brownies like these easier to cut and intensifies the chocolate flavor.

While the brownies were baking, I mixed up the Caramel Crumb Bars. These bars are Nick’s favorite cookie, and I can see why. They consist of three layers — a buttery dough, caramel filling, and crumb topping. And yet they are surprisingly easy to make.

I began by mixing the dough in the mixer. It was made of butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and flour, all mixed together to a soft, silky texture reminiscent of Scottish shortbread dough. I pressed 3/4 of the dough into the pan for the bottom crust. I put the pan in the refrigerator to chill and added a bit more flour to the remaining dough to make the crumb topping.

The next step was to make the caramel. Despite my previous issues with making caramel for semolina cake and pineapple tatin, I have since had better success with caramel, so I felt pretty good about making the filling for these bars. Besides, this caramel started with sweetened, condensed milk and light corn syrup, so I was halfway home before I ever began.

I put the milk and corn syrup into a pan with butter and dark brown sugar. I brought it to a low boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until the caramel was thick and had taken on just a little bit of color. I set the caramel aside to cool for a few minutes before assembling the bars.

I spread the caramel over the chilled dough, then sprinkled the crumbs on top.

By this time the brownies were finished baking, so I put the caramel bars into the oven, which was still set at 350°F. I baked the bars for 30 minutes, until the filling was a deep, caramel color and the topping had baked through.

I cooled the bars in the pan for about 20 minutes, then cut them. Because of the thick, gooey caramel, these bars are easier to cut when still slightly warm. And although the recipe says to cool them to room temperature before serving, I can attest that they are delicious when they are still a bit warm.

I can easily see why the caramel crumb bars are Nick’s favorites. The sweet, creamy caramel filling is out of this world, and it pairs nicely with the soft, buttery, slightly chewy crust. And of course, crumb topping goes well with almost any sweet. These are definitely on the repeat list. In fact, just writing this post has me thinking about making them to take to work tomorrow.

The brownies came out of the fridge moist and chewy. They were rich, dense, and oh-so-chocolatey. And of course, walnuts are a classic addition to brownies and gave these a nice crunch.

Having made a number of Nick’s brownie recipes, I am convinced that using real chocolate, rather than cocoa or chocolate chips, is the way to go for rich, moist brownies. The only thing I’m not sure of is whether I liked these brownies or the cocoa nibs ones better. I’ll probably have to make both of them together so I can do a side-by-side comparison. In the interest of baking science, of course.

Apple Tarte Tatin {ModBak}

After my recent tatin disaster, you’d think I wouldn’t want to rush right back in and try another one. But as I’m never one to let a little thing like failure dissuade me, jump back in I did. Besides, this it the real thing — a classic apple tarte tatin.

Having learned from my issues with the pineapple tatin, I did make some changes this time. To begin with, I made my caramel in a saucepan. That way, I could pour it out as soon as it was done so it wouldn’t overcook.

Now that, my friends, if perfectly cooked caramel. Despite my history of burning caramel, this time I nailed it.

The other change I made to the recipe was to bake it in a cake pan instead of a sauté pan. I poured the cooked caramel into the cake pan, then layered on the apples.

I covered the pan with puff pastry dough, which didn’t melt this time, as the pan wasn’t hot.

I baked the tatin at 350°F for about an hour, then cooled it a bit before turning it out onto a plate.

It was obvious at first glance that the caramel wasn’t overcooked on this tatin like it was when I made the pineapple tatin, and I was hopeful that this one would make up for the disaster I had the first time around.

I didn’t have any ice cream, so I served this one naked.

As it turned out, this tatin didn’t need any adornment. It was delicious. The caramel was perfectly cooked and complemented the apples beautifully. I would gladly make this again, caramel and all. In fact, this may just be the recipe to help me overcome my mental block with caramel.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin {ModBak}

I knew this week’s recipe for the Puff Pastry section of the Modern Baker Challenge was going to give me trouble. Like my well-known issues with pie crusts, I’ve always struggled with caramel. It goes from amber to burnt so quickly, and I usually end up having to make it twice. Nonetheless, I bought my pineapple, assembled my ingredients, and got to work.

I began by roasting the pineapple until it was cooked and slightly dried.

While the pineapple cooled, I made the caramel sauce. This recipe is unique in that the tatin is baked in the same pan that you use for the caramel sauce. One of the problems with this is that the caramel continues to cook after you remove it from the heat, so you have to be careful not to overcook it.

I, of course, overcooked it. It very quickly went from this…

…to this…

…to this.

In my own defense, I don’t think the caramel was actually overcooked when I took it off the heat. But it, of course, kept cooking after I removed it from the heat. I turned my attention to the pineapple, and by the time I got back to the pan, the caramel looked a bit overdone.

The caramel contained sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter and only took about 10 minutes to make; so I should have made it again as soon as I suspected it was burnt. But, of course, I didn’t. I layered on the pineapple, covered the top with puff pastry dough, and baked it.

Another issue created by the hot pan was that the puff pastry dough started to melt when I laid it over the top of the tatin. This didn’t seem to negatively impact the baked tart too much.

I let the tatin cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turned it out onto a plate.

It smelled delicious with the caramel and pineapple, and I was hopeful that the caramel hadn’t overcooked to the point of bitterness.

After the tarte had cooled, I cut a slice and plated it with some homemade vanilla ice cream.

One bite was all it took. The pineapple was sweet and well-caramelized. But the caramel was overcooked and inedible. I ate the ice cream (no sense wasting that), then threw out the slice and the rest of the tatin.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly difficult or time-consuming recipe, nor did it call for a lot of ingredients. But it was still a huge disappointment. Don’t get me wrong: there was nothing wrong with the recipe as written. All of my problems were operator error. 

Unfortunately, they were enough to ruin the entire tatin. And it made me that much more anxious about the next recipe: apple tarte tatin. It’s the same basic recipe made with raw apples instead of roasted pineapple. You’ll have to come back in a few days to see how that turned out.

Scallops in Caramel-orange Sauce {FFwD}

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe looks and sounds like just the sort of haute cuisine you’d expect in a French cookbook. But in fact it’s surprisingly simple and straightforward.

Like the semolina cake, this recipe starts with a simple caramel syrup. And like the cake, you have to be really careful not to burn the sugar when making the caramel sauce.

Two tablespoons of sugar isn’t a lot, and once it starts to liquefy, it can quickly go from melted to burnt. So I had my wine and orange standing by, and added them as soon as the sugar was melted and well-colored. I cooked the mixture down until it was a deep amber and had reduced by about half.

I set the caramel sauce aside while I made the scallops. This part of the recipe surprised me. I rarely cook seafood at home, and I always think that it is an involved process. In this case, the scallops couldn’t have been quicker or easier. After heating olive oil in a pan, I added the scallops, seasoned them with salt and white pepper, and cooked them for two minutes on each side.

I plated the scallops with the warm caramel sauce and some peas for a simple, yet elegant dinner.

This was another wonderful dish from Around My French Table. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected, and unlike Dorie, I found the scallops — rather than the caramel — to be the star. I probably wouldn’t have chosen this recipe on my own, but I’m glad I tried it. I’m not sure I’ll make it again, but if nothing else, it reminded me of how easy and delicious scallops can be.

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake {FFwD}

I have to put this out front: I don’t like semolina. It’s fine in pasta, and I grew up eating — and still enjoy — Cream of Wheat. But I have yet to find a bread recipe made with it that I like. And believe me, I’ve tried. And tried.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t vote for this recipe. In fact, I’d have voted for just about any recipe in the book over this one. But the majority spoke, so I would bake.

Two things about this recipe gave me a small glimmer of hope. First, it was made with Cream of Wheat rather than straight semolina flour. That may not sound like much of a difference, but as I said, I like the cereal, so I hoped the finished product might be more akin to it than to the semolina breads I’ve made. In any case, I hadn’t had Cream of  Wheat in a while, and making this recipe prompted me to go out and buy a fresh box.

The other thing about this recipe that encouraged me to try it is that it is a dessert. I’ve rarely met a cake I don’t like, so I was willing to give this one a go. And the promise of caramel didn’t hurt matters, either.

The recipe itself is quite simple. You cook the Cream of Wheat, then add sugar and vanilla. After stirring the sugar and vanilla into the cereal, I was tempted to just give up on the recipe and eat the Cream of Wheat. It was really good, especially while it was still hot.

While the cereal mixture was cooling, I made the caramel sauce, which consisted of sugar, water, and lemon juice. The mixture is boiled and then allowed to keep cooking until it takes on an amber color.

If you make this recipe, be aware that, because it is such a small amount of sugar syrup, it will go from light to amber to burnt really quickly. My caramel had a nice amber color, and it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and the caramel pan had cooled to the point that I could sample it that I realized my caramel had overcooked and become slightly bitter.

After pouring the caramel into a preheated cake pan, the final step was to mix eggs and golden raisins into the cereal mixture, then put the mixture into the pan on top of the caramel. The cake bakes for about 30 minutes in a 350° oven, until it is puffed up and firm.

I let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turned it out onto a serving plate.

The caramel pooled on top of the cake, and the whole thing smelled really good. I began to think my reservations had been unfounded.

I allowed the cake to cool to room temperature, then sliced it, spooning some caramel onto each slice.

We had the cake for dessert after dinner, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. No one complained about the burnt caramel, although I found it quite bitter. And the cake itself didn’t do much for me, either. It tasted like Cream of Wheat that had been allowed to firm up.

So I guess I’m still batting .000 when it comes to semolina recipes. But I’m not sorry I tried it. And at least I have a fresh box of Cream of Wheat to enjoy as the weather gets colder.