Monday, December 15, 2008


The birthday celebration of someone special demands cake. The birthday celebration of someone who recently graduated pastry school and is quite accomplished in the kitchen substantially raises the bar. I have been feeling the pressure of trying to come up with something that would be more than adequate; something that would be amazing.

My friend shared with me his recipe for a Dacquoise - a French cake made out of layers meringue augmented with nut flour and buttercream. After finding out that traditional recipes are naturally gluten free... well I really couldn't resist trying it out. The birthday cake recipient is a big fan of salted caramel, so I thought and thought and came up with the concept of an almond Dacquoise with a salted caramel buttercream and at least one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache. After some more tinkering and discussion, it seemed more appropriate to do layers of the merangue and buttercream and enrobe the entire thing in chocolate ganache.

My friend's recipe, Pecan Dacquoise with Carmelized Honey Ganache was the launching pad for this idea. The buttercream is an adaptation of a recipe in the magazine Chocolatier, which was for Praline buttercream and worked off this recipe for Salted Caramel Frosting. The ganache is a modified version of the online Joy of Baking Ganache Recipe.

This cake is very involved, with lots of steps, but again, I think its worth it to splurge for days of celebration. If you are going to attempt this, I recommend pre-measuring and laying out all of your ingredients ahead of time and making the dacquoise and buttercream the night before, so that assembly the day-of is much faster.

Almond Dacquoise
7 egg whites
1 cup of almond meal
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Prepare 7-8" parchment rounds. Take a piece of parchment paper and with a pencil, trace a circle with an 7-8" diameter on the paper. Allow at least 1" between circles. Flip the parchment paper over onto a cookie sheet. (These pencil marks will be your guide for spreading the batter.)
3. Mix the almond meal and 3/4 cup of sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
4. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a whisk until they form soft peaks.
5. Sprinkle in 2 tbsp of sugar into the egg whites and beat until shinny and hold stiff peaks.
6. Using a rubber scrapper, gently fold in the almond meal and sugar mixture.
7. Gently spread the mixture out onto parchment circles.
8. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
9. Allow to cool completely before peeling off the parchment paper.

Salted Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 egg whites
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups of unsalted butter, softened until shiny (butter that is too firm will cause the buttercream to have a separated appearance)
1 vanilla bean
2tbsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: Parchment paper or Silpat, candy thermometer, mixer with wire whisk attachment and paddle attachment.

1.Caramelize 1 1/2 cups sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan. You are looking for a dark amber color, but once it reaches a golden amber hue, pay very close attention. (Do not answer the phone, door, or turn your attention away from that pot! The sugar is very very hot and burning quickly and will go from luscious caramel to charred mess in seconds. I am serious about this.)
2. Once the you have reached the appropriate color, pour onto a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper.
3. Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces.
4. Place egg whites in a grease-free mixing bowl of a mixer. Place this bowl in a larger bowl filled with warm water. Swirl the egg whites around a few times. Leave them alone while you make the syrup.
5. Place the caramelized sugar, salt and 1/2 cup of water in a small, heavy bottom sauce pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Dip a clean pastry brush in warm water and wash down the side of the pan to remove any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a bowl. Cook the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the syrup registers 240°F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer. When the syrup reaches 230°F on a candy thermometer, start preparing the beaten egg whites.
6. Remove the bowl of egg whites from the bowl of water. Using the wire whip attachment, beat the egg whites at low speed until frothy. Gradually increase the speed to medium and continue to beat the whites until soft peaks begin to form.
7. At this point the sugar syrup should register 240°F on the candy thermometer. While continuing to beat at medium speed, gradually pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the beaten whites. Continue beating for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is cool and forms stiff, glossy peaks when the wire whip is lifted.
8. While the mixture is beating, open and scrape the seeds and pulp of one vanilla bean. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla pulp and vanilla extract. Mix well until most of the vanilla seeds have separate and there are no clumps of pulp remaining.
9. Change the wire whip to the paddle attachment. In three additions, at medium speed, beat the softened butter into the meringue. Scrape down the side of the bowl and continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the buttercream no longer has a separated appearance. Slowly beat in the vanilla. Beat for 1 minute, or until thick and smooth.

Cake Assembly
I recommend using a cake round or making your own by cutting cardboard to the size of your cake and covering it with aluminum foil. For frosting purposes, its helpful to use little pieces of parchment paper tucked under the bottom layer to help in the transfer of the cake to its final presentation plate.

If you make the buttercream ahead of time, and refridgerate it, you need to bring it to room temperature before attempting to frost with it. THIS IS A MUST. If you try to mix it cold, you will break the emmulsion and the frosting will separate. To bring back to room temp, place the frosting in a mixing bowl, submerge the bowl into a second, larger bowl filled with hot water for a few seconds. Remove from the hot water for a few seconds, then submerge again. Doing this a few times and then beating it with paddle attachment - stopping and dunking it in the hot water again - will warm the buttercream and make it workable.

1. Place a small dab of buttercream on your cake round.
2. Center one one merangue atop the buttercream, press down gentely.
3. Add a thin layer of butter cream (a little less than 1/4 of the batch) atop the merangue. Place buttercream in the center and work out.
4. Repeat until all the layers have been added. Try to keep they layers as level as possible. It will help when it comes time to pour on the ganache.
5. When you add the final layer, use the remaing buttercream to cover the top and sides.
6. Place frosted cake in freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a glass or metal bowl.
2. In a saucepan, heat the milk till it just begins to boil.
3. Pour immediately over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. (Do not futz with it, leave it alone.)
4. Whisk until smooth. Add in vanilla and stir until incorporated.
5. You can allow the mixture to cool slightly if its hot to the touch.
6. Remove the cake from the freezer, place it on a cooling rack with a pan or cookie sheet beneath it to catch the excess ganache.
7. Pour the ganache over the cake. Using a spatula push off the excess from the top and allow to poor down the sides.
This is tricky because the cake is cold and the ganache is hot. Do not worry, it will not melt the cake, but it will start to freeze to the sides and if you play with it too much, it will begin to lift the buttercream off the sides of the cake.
8. All the ganache to set for 20-30 minutes after it stops dripping down the sides.
9. Decorate.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa Lucia

A friend of a friend celebrates Santa Lucia day each year with Swedish foods and carroling. This year I was lucky enough to get an invite. I was not really sure what to make until the googler turned up: Rose Hip Soup Recipe (another version Rose Hip Soup Recipe) and deiced to make that and spiced cabbage as a just-in-case dish.

The soup was not what I expected. I thought it would be more floral and tart, but it was light and refreshing.

International Travel

I am going on a trip! I am very excited, but a bit nervous about long flights and snacks. I have called the airline, twice, requesting a gluten-free meal. (The first call, lasting a half hour ensuring that I was "all set" apparently didn't work because the second time I called they had no record of a dietary request. This has lead me to believe that calling a third time to check, perhaps the day before the flight, is also a good idea.)

Do you have any stellar travel snacks?

Any recommendations about what will and won't survive the security check?
(fresh fruit, open containers are out... but I am thinking that a package of almonds should be ok)


Cuchi Cuchi

Dinner at Cuchi Cuchi restaurant was a big surprise.

A group of 7 of us went out to celebrate a double birthday and had an amazing time. There cocktail list was not only impressive, the drinks were really good and not cloyingly sweet. The Lime Ricky Ricardo was subtle and played up the sourness of the raspberries and lime, with just a hint of sweetness. The drink was the first of many served to us at the LED light table, which has sensors and responded to the hover of coasters and waving of hands--oddly but perfectly fit into the decor of reverse painted glass lampshades, bejeweled kitsch and vintage or vintage-inspired dresses that graced the front of the house employees and life-size mannequin that was perched in the corner of the room.

Much to my surprise, they also had a list of gluten free menu options. Set up as "small plates" dishes spanned the globe, and I was able to choose from over 12 options, plus homemade ice cream for dessert. We ordered and ordered a lot, and dishes came out of the kitchen at a steady pace. The pauses between dishes were well timed to sneak in more conversation before the next round arrived.

I am going to omit the dishes I did not eat, because I do not think its fair to comment on appearance and aroma alone (but I would say that the Mexican tomato and fried artichokes made me drool). I sampled the baby beet salad, seafood filled avocado, grilled eggplant napoleon, grilled Indian lamb, sizzling shrimp, and gratin Dauphinois. The true star was the baby back ribs (with apple fritters on the side). Upon close examination, accompanied by some oohhhs and ahhhs, diners came to the conclusion that the ribs tasted like they had been just dusted with some cocoa powder. Slightly sweet, savory and fall-off-the-bone-tender, these little bit-sized morsels were a real treat.

A trio of ice cream finished the meal: Cuchi nougat, Mexican chocolate and pistachio served with a garnish of kirsh cherries and caramelized sugar.

One item that we ordered was forgotten, but appropriately did not grace our bill. With that exception, service good. The repetitive clearing of plates was welcomed to make room for more to come. Cuchi Cuchi is very clear about the fact that they are not tappas, but all about small plates and their portions reflect this very well. 3 dishes per person were recommended. Our server politely tried to warn us that we requested too much, but it was a birthday and going a bit over the top was to be expected.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cereals & Waffles

I am not a huge breakfast person, but lately I have consuming breakfast for dinner, a lot.

Here are some of my favorites, which vary depending on what is on sale:

Envirokidz - Nature's Path
Gorilla Munch - like Kixx but crunchier
Peanut butter Panda Puffs - The above munch coated in peanut butter (so good!)

Erewhon Rice Cereal
Crispy Brown Rice - makes me want to make krispie treats with it, but I eat it too fast
Crispy Brown Rice with Mixed Berries - totally awesome!

Maple Buckwheat Flakes from Arrowhead Mills
Super loud and crunchy and delicious.

Trader Joe's gluten free granola. I have had the maple and one other kind; the maple wins, hands down.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Waffles were my all time favorite, but I have not seem them around lately. I know there are some big fans of Van's but they taste weird to me. Mesa Sunrise Waffles fall apart a bit once toasted, but they have a pretty decent flavor.

I know I should get a move-on on testing out homemade waffles, but I lack a maker - so hunt shall continue for the perfect frozen waffle.