July Daring Bakers: Swiss Swirl Ice Cream Cake

Why hello there. I’m stopping in for my monthly update to bring you an ice cream treat. Not that the San Diego weather this summer necessitates ice cream relief from the heat — it’s been cloudy and cool here for the last million weeks. I am really tired of it. Sunny San Diego, my rear.

Anyway, on to more pleasant things like sugar and cream! The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

Mmmm… mess…

So when I first saw this challenge, I was a little deflated. For one thing, I’m not a huge fan of ice cream desserts. (I really just like ice cream by itself. Or on top of warm pie or cobbler or cake.) And for another, when I hear “swiss rolls,” I think of Ho-Hos, which makes me think of my freshman year of high school, which was pretty much the worst year of my life. So two strikes against this Swiss Roll bombe, through nobody’s fault but my own. But after I checked out the recipe and the procedures, I started to look forward to making it. It looked pretty easy overall, and it involved hot fudge and lots of cream, and those are good things.

So let’s talk about the procedure. There are five different components to this recipe: the swiss rolls (basically a chocolate sponge cake), the roll filling, the chocolate ice cream, the vanilla ice cream, and the hot fudge. While making all of these different things wasn’t especially time consuming, the amount of freezing time and assembly time called for a two-day process. On Saturday, I made the ice creams and the swiss rolls, and on Sunday, I made the filling and the hot fudge. I don’t have an ice-cream maker, so the ice creams required lots of freezing time and they also required me to remember to stir and re-freeze them three to four times, which I’m not sure I managed to do correctly because I went out on Saturday night and totally forgot about the tasty treats waiting for me to attend to them in the freezer.

I am not sure if my ice cream neglect is what caused my chocolate ice cream to be… more like a Frosty from Wendy’s. It tasted amazing, but it never, ever firmed up. The vanilla ice cream did, and it tasted and looked just like regular ice cream. But the chocolate… not so much. Now, I freaking love melty ice cream, so I didn’t have a problem with the results, but it did make for a melty mess when I went to invert the bombe and slice it up.

Let’s see, what else… Okay, so the recipe called for the Swiss rolls to be baked in 11 x 9 pans, which I have never heard of. Have you? Where do I find these magical pans? So I ended up using a rimmed 11 x 15 cookie sheet, and I think that resulted in rather enormous Swiss rolls. Oh well. They still tasted good.

Um, I don’t know what that splotch is on the right. It looks like a cocoa eye.

I mixed it up a little by throwing some mini chocolate chips into the roll filling and adding a layer of strawberries on top of the hot fudge. I thought I was being all clever with the strawberries, but they weren’t such a great idea. They just froze and tasted kind of like chewy, tart ice cubes in the middle of the cake.

Hello, sweet strawberries! You sure did taste good before I foolishly froze you.

One more thing before I send you to the recipe: it seems like everyone else who made this had beautiful end-results. Mine was an eyesore. I don’t really know what I could have done differently to make it prettier (other than not take hurried photos at night in bad lighting), but I urge you to explore the other daring bakers’ results to see what this *should* look like.

“He’s an ugly little spud, isn’t he?”

I’m not recopying the whole recipe here, b/c it’s incredibly long and I’m feeling lazy. I will tell you this: the ingredients are cream. Also, cream. And sugar and cocoa, then more cream. Go here to see the whole recipe!

Updates and Links

Oh, hai! I just wanted to pop in with a quick update and to direct you toward some good readin’. First off, I have another blog, Jill in San Diego, that I am starting to update more regularly. Pop on over there if you want to read my thoughts unrelated to food.

Second of all, I missed the Daring Bakers challenge this month because June has been crazy. But it looked really good, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to participate. I looooove pavlovas, and I especially love chocolate, so I’m bummed that I missed this. Tune in on July 27th to see what challenge Daring Bakers cooked up for next month.

Finally, my awesome friend Amanda just did a write-up of our favorite San Diego restaurant, Extraordinary Desserts. She took lots of gorgeous photos and included one of me and, guess what, a pavlova. It was as big as my face. Literally. Amanda wrote about all the things that ExtraDess the best place on earth, so go check it out and wish you were there.

Bye for now!

Cherry Brown Butter Bars

One weekend in May, I messed with brown butter for the first time. I made brown butter chocolate chip kitchen sink cookies (recipe coming eventually… I forgot to take photos because om nom nom they were so good and I just ate them and… what was I saying? Oh yes, I froze some of the dough for future cookie cravings, so I’ll take photos of those) and was delighted by my first experience with browning butter. So since I had tackled what I considered a challenge, I tried another recipe with brown butter for a Memorial Day cookout a few weeks ago.

This recipe comes from the ever-reliable Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and after I read through the comments on the page, I decided to tweak the recipe just the slightest bit. Namely, I used salted butter instead of unsalted. Because I gotta say, I love the salty. It worked pretty well, so I’d encourage you to go with salted butter as well.

So let’s talk about brown butter. Wow, it smells good. It’s actually kind of misleading, because you’re all “Mmmm, this smells like butterscotch! I’ll bet it’s delicious!” and then you remember that it’s still just butter, and it’s kind of weird to dip your finger into a pot of melted butter for a taste. So then you start really wanting some damn butterscotch.


If you’ve never browned butter before, be prepared to be patient. It’s very easy, but you don’t want to rush the process. You just slip a stick of butter into a saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and wait, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to become a rich caramel color. This will take anywhere from 6 – 10 minutes. Start watching around 6, because once the butter changes color, it can quickly get scorched. (Just so you know, the butter will start out very pale yellow, then darken to a slightly disturbing yellow, then turn into its heavenly nutty color.) When it’s ready, there will be a little opaque swirl of browned bits in the middle of the pot. Go ahead and scrape all these out when you remove the butter from the pan; they won’t hurt you.

Also, another note: for stirring, don’t use a plastic spatula that can’t withstand prolonged heat. Yeah.

The rest of the recipe is very straightforward, and the results are fan-freaking-tastic. Kind of a vanilla-cherry-buttery-shortbread flavor, all tinged with cream. These bars actually reminded me a bit of the cherry cheesecake cupcakes my mom used to make for Christmas, which were just cheesecake mixture cooked in muffin cups, chilled, and topped with cherry pie filling. God, they were good.

So, have you deduced that I really love the flavor of cherries and cream? If you do too, you’ll love these brown butter bars.

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 t. salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup flour
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (this will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries*)

*If you don’t have a cherry pitter (I don’t), just cut the cherry in half with a sharp knife and ply out the pit. This took a while, so I actually did it in front of the tv for entertainment. Perhaps you don’t need such distractions.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch square pan, then make a little parchment hammock — From Smitten Kitchen: “cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.”

Make the crust:
Melt the butter (you’re not browning this batch) in a large saucepan, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, then bake until golden, about 18 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make your filling.

For filling:
Brown the butter — melt it over medium heat and stir frequently until it turns a dark golden-brown color and smells nutty. Remove from heat and pour into glass measuring cup to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with salt, sugar and vanilla. Add flour and mix until smooth. Gradually pour browned butter into egg mixture and whisk until smooth.

Scatter halved cherries over cooled crust and arrange however you wish. Pour brown butter batter over cherries. Bake bars for 40 minutes, or until puffed and golden on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Move to cooling rack and cool bars in pan.

Once cool, use parchment overhang to pull the whole square of bars out of the pan, then slice into squares. Use a sharp knife to get through those cherries, and you’ll want to wipe off the knife after each cut to keep it neat.

May Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

Yummmmm. And faaaaaiiiiilll. Those are the two words that sum up my experience with this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge. I sat out last month, because the recipe called for suet, and even though we could use substitutions, just the word “suet” freaked me out enough to turn away. But this month, oh, this month I was excited! 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. Croquembouche is a gorgeous confectionery tower of puff pastry, vanilla cream, and a crunchy, sugary glaze.

Though we were offered the option to play around with fillings and glazes, I went totally traditional, and I’m glad I did. Even though the glaze was a bitch to make and I failed at it once. But that means I can give you some tips!

The custard came together very quickly and very easily. After my pastry cream disaster from the fruit tart I made, I approached this custard with trepidation. But holy simplicity, Batman! This was so easy and delicious that I think I might have a go-to recipe for custard in the future. Or at least custard that requires some substance, like the kind you need to fill a tart shell and support a load of berries.

After whipping up the custard, I was feeling a little cocky, all “Bring it on, pate a choux! Ain’t nothing I can’t do now!”

And that didn’t last very long. Herein we encounter my first fail. The choux batter is supposed to be thick enough that, when piped, it holds its own little inch-high blob shape. Mine… oozed into silver dollar pancakes. I had to have Terwilliger help me pour the batter into a pastry bag, an event that turned into a mess of such epic proportions that I should have realized sooner that something was amiss.

So I piped the oozing batter into oozing circles on the baking sheet and gave it the ol’ college try. When they didn’t rise at all and I was left with wee little hollow pancakes, I threw away the rest of the batter and started over, reading the recipe more carefully this time.

I’m honestly not sure what I did wrong — I measured everything correctly and used the right amount of eggs, but I have a hunch the disaster occurred because I missed a step. Yeah. That’ll do it.

See, with this pastry dough, you bring water, sugar, a pinch of salt, and some butter to a boil, then you stir in flour. Then you return the mixture (which totally resembles play-doh, by the way) to the heat and cook it for a little while longer to dry it out. That’s what I forgot to do.

My next batch was more successful, even if the puffs did look like Smurf hats. But at least they rose to an appropriate puff-like height!

After my puffs were all ready to go, I got to work on the caramel, which, as I mentioned before, was a pain in the ass. The first caramel recipe I tried was just too thick and candy-like. This might be because I walked away and putzed around on the internet while the sugar was cooking, and when I came back it was sliiiiiightly darker than it probably should have been. So yeah, I pretty much cooked it into candy. But anyway, I tried another recipe from my reliably perfect friend Martha Stewart and had much better luck with that.

Assembling the croquembouche was the best part! First I did a trial run with the dry, unfilled puffs and was pleased to find that the basic stacking skills I learned in kindergarten were still in tact. The puffs actually nestle into each other quite naturally, so it was easy to find the most practical pattern for building skyward. I didn’t have that many puffs, so my final piece was relatively small, but I was still delighted with it.

Also, stuffing the puffs with pastry cream was super fun. I’ve never pumped filling into a dessert before, and it was strangely satisfying feeling the little puff plump up all heavy with custard. You just press a pastry tip into the bottom of the puff and squeeze, and that’s all there is to it! Except when you squeeze too much and send a geyser of custard out through a weak spot in a puff. Don’t do that.

After the puffs were filled, the rest of it was just brick-and-mortar. I started with a flower of puffs, then dipped the bottom of each consecutive puff in the caramel sauce and stuck it in place. The caramel was a perfect glue. And because it started to harden just a bit toward the end, I was able to create some pretty little wisps of sugar just by pulling a caramel-coated spoon around the pastry tower.

That said, I do think that if I were to make this again, I’d prefer a slightly wetter version of caramel, one that could function more as a thin glaze for all the puffs instead of as candy-glue for the just the bottoms. But that’s a small gripe. Overall, this was incredibly fun to put together, and it wasn’t all that difficult or time consuming.

Oh, you want to know what it tastes like? Let me say again that the custard is heaven on a spoon, and tucked inside the lightest little pastry puffs sitting on a slate of caramelized sugar, it’s even better.

Here’s the lowdown on how to make this recipe. Be sure to check out the Daring Bakers website for more details and lots of other photos. Thanks to Cat for picking a recipe that’s as much fun to assemble as it is to eat!

Croquembouche has three main components — the pate a choux (puff pastry — the same stuff that makes up eclairs and profiteroles and their ilk), the custard, and the caramel. We’ll start with the custard, which — heads up — has to chill for at least six hours:

1 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 T. cornstarch
6 T. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 T. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup of milk and set aside. In a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup milk with the sugar and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg into the cornstarch-milk mixture, then beat in the yolks. Pour a third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to the heat and bring to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, whisking all the while. Keep whisking steadily until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Using a spatula, scrape the cream into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface and chill immediately. Leave in fridge until ready to use.

On to the pate a choux:

3/4 cup water
6 T. (85 g.) unsalted butter
1 T. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
For egg wash: one egg beaten with a pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. Once it boils, remove from heat and stir in the flour until assimilated.

*Return the mixture to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.* Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for one minute to cool slightly.

Stir in 1 egg. The batter will get all loose and shiny. As you stir, it will start to come together and look kind of like mashed potatoes. Now it’s time to add the second egg. Repeat this until you have added all the eggs.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe batter into 1-inch-round blobs onto the baking sheets, space about 1 inch apart. Dip your finger in water and gently tamp down any prominent tips, being careful not to squish the dough too much. Brush the tops of each puff with egg wash.

Bake the choux at 425 degrees until they puff up and are getting slightly golden-colored, about 10 minutes. Drop the heat to 350F and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until the puffs are a rich golden color. Remove to a rack and cool. These can be stored in a airtight box overnight, if you wish.

When you are ready to assemble your masterpiece, fill a pastry bag with the custard. Using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each puff and fill the choux, then place on a paper-lined baking sheet. The choux can be refrigerated for a few minutes while you make your caramel glaze.

And finally, the caramel — Martha’s recipe:
1 cup (225 g.) granulated sugar
2 T. water
1 tsp. lemon juice

First, prepare an ice-water bath and keep it close by. Combine sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook without stirring until sugar begins to melt, about 5 – 6 minutes. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup turn an amber color, about another 5 – 6 minutes. (You might wonder why it’s taking so damn long as you gaze at your plain old clear syrup, but have faith — it will start to color soon enough.) Remove caramel from heat and immediately set bottom of pan in ice-water bath for a few seconds to stop the sugar from cooking further. Now use it to assemble your croquembouche.

I’m going to leave the assembly up to you — check out the Daring Bakers site for tips, or just wing it with a plate and a vision. I have faith in you. All you need to remember is to use your caramel as glue. Delicious, sweet, messy glue that is extremely hot, so be careful!

Margarita Cookies

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Or as my friend Steph calls it, Cinco de Drinko. That rhyme amuses me greatly. Anyhoodle, I will not be drinko-ing it up today, but I did make these delicious little margarita-themed cookies for a lunch event at work.

These are just a simple butter sable cookie dressed up with tequila, lime, and a crunchy sugar-salt coating. The texture of the cookies is soft and crumbly, and the tang from the lime is perfectly matched by the salty-sweet coating. For those of you who relish that blissful pairing of sugar and salt, these are sublime. Finally, while the slice-and-bake cookies aren’t very labor-intensive, the dough requires a good couple hours of chilling time, so keep that in mind if you set out to prepare these.

A few notes before we begin:
* The dough will be sticky when you roll it into logs. Don’t worry — just pull at it gently until you get a roll about 1.5 inches in thickness. Use plastic wrap to help if you need to. (Make sure it’s a large piece, b/c these logs end up pretty long.)
* I used coarse demerara sugar for the coating, and it ended up melting and sticking a bit to the cookie sheets after I let the cookies cool on there. I had a few crumbled casualties in my first batch of cookies, but with the second batch, I removed them while they were still warm and had no issues. If you use parchment paper to line your cookie sheets (I had run out), you shouldn’t have this problem.


Margarita Cookies
Source: Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 5 dozen

For cookies —
1 C. unsalted butter, at room temp.
2/3 C. powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk, at room temp.
2 t. tequila
grated zest from two limes
grated zest from half an orange
pinch of salt
2 C. flour

For coating —
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/2 C. coarse sugar
2 t. flaky sea salt (I used Maldon brand)*
*Note: If you don’t have flaky sea salt, just use 1 tsp. regular table salt.

Using a mixer (or your strong arms), beat the butter on medium speed until it is creamy and pale. Add the powdered sugar and beat until very smooth. Add the yolk, then mix in the tequila, zest, and pinch of salt. Reduce mixer to low and stir in flour just until incorporated. Mix in any remaining streaks of flour with a spatula. (You don’t want to overmix here — gently mixing the flour keeps the texture of the cookies light.)

Divide dough into two equal halves and wrap each in plastic. Chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Shape each dough half into a log with a diameter about 1 – 1.5 inches around. Wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (Do ahead: dough can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for a month.)

For the coating and baking:
Preheat oven to 350. Mix together the sugar and salt and spread it on a long sheet of plastic wrap. Unwrap the chilled dough and brush with egg yolk. Lay the dough on the sugar-salt mixture and roll it through. I found it helpful to fold the plastic wrap over the top of the dough and roll that way to get the sugar mixture to adhere.

Once coated, slice the dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place 1/2-inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 13 – 15 minutes, or until the cookies are set but not browned. Remove warm cookies to a cooling rack.