Saturday, June 30, 2012

Italian Rainbows!

I'm obsessed with rainbow cookies.

Whenever I stop by an Italian-American bakery, I invariably have to sample a few of these petit fours, almond cakes sandwiched with orange, raspberry, or apricot jam and sealed in dark chocolate. 

I never thought I could actually make them myself until I saw this recipe from the nouveau Italian restaurant Torrisi Specialities, first in New York Magazine and then again in Bon Appetit

These make a TON of cookies. I went with the Bon Appetit version, which makes half the amount of the New York version. The good news is they freeze beautifully.

The mode of operation is quite simple. You make three thin layers of cake, two dyed (I used extra food coloring for extra brightness), one plain, then layer them up with jam. Store them in the fridge, weighed down under heavy cans to press them firmly together, then spread melted chocolate over the top and bottom. When they're all set, cut to the desired size. Smaller and thinner is better.

A few tips.  First, underbake the layers slightly so they stay moist. Second, get some help in stacking the layers--these thin cakes are fairly fragile. I actually messed up my middle layer, but just smushed it into place. It worked out fine. Third, make sure to really press them down so they stick together. Fourth and finally, when spreading the chocolate, work quickly, as the cold cake causes the chocolate to firm up faster than you might expect.

Though I love them, these cookies aren't everyone's cup of tea: they're sweet and really almondy. But they look gorgeous!

Rainbow Cookies
adapted from Torrisi Specialities, as appeared in Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
12 ounces almond paste (not marzipan), chopped
2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon red food coloring (I used 2 tsp)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated, strained
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
1 teaspoon green food coloring (I used 2 tsp)

Special Equipment: 3 13x9x2" metal baking pans


1. Bake:
Preheat oven to 350° Line three 13x9x2" metal baking pans with foil, leaving overhang; grease with 2 tablespoon butter; set aside. Put egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover; chill. Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste and remaining sugar on medium-low until incorporated, 4–5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high; gradually add remaining butter. Beat until fluffy. Beat in yolks, then flour and salt. Fold in whites in 2 additions. Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into second bowl; leave third bowl plain. Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth tops. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until just set, 9–11 minutes. Let cool in pans.

2. Layer:
With a pastry brush, spread half of marmalade over green cake. Using foil overhang, lift plain layer out of pan. Invert onto green layer; discard foil. Brush remaining marmalade over plain layer. Lift red layer out of pan; invert onto plain layer and cover cake with foil.

3. Weight:
Top with a 13x9x2" pan. Weigh down pan with several heavy canned goods to compress cake layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

4. Unmold:
Remove cans, top pan, and foil. Transfer cake to a waxed paper–lined baking sheet.

5. Glaze:
Spread half of chocolate over cake in a thin layer. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper, invert the baking sheet on top, and flip cake. Uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate. Freeze 10 additional minutes.

6. Slice:
Trim cake to 12x8". Cut crosswise into six 2"-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 96"-wide cookies. Store in an airtight container.



Friday, June 22, 2012

Six Layers of Lemony Cake

photo by Anthony Palatta












Two years ago for my birthday, my husband Anthony took me to a steakhouse called Del Frisco's, where they serve a sweet, tart, and lemony "Doberge Cake." (It's not on the menu, but if you ask, they seem to always have it.)

Since then, I've looked online for a recipe, and while I haven't found an exact match, this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, is pretty damned good on its own, so much so, that I made it for my birthday this year.

A quick word on Doberge cake, which is actually a version of a Hungarian torte known as "Dobos" cake, named after the Hungarian pastry chef who invented it. Consisting of any number of thin layers of spongy cake alternating with frosting, the cake made its way to New Orleans, where it became "Doberge" and was served in caramel, chocolate, and yes, lemon flavors.
Dobos Cake

The trick of this multi-component cake is to take it in stages. First, make the lemon curd filling, which can be done a day or two in advance. Next, for the cakes, you'll need three 8-inch cake pans. (I like light silver pans rather than darker ones, which for me result in lighter colored cakes with a minimum of caramelized edges.) When you make the batter, you pour half of it into the three pans, divided evenly, and then bake. Once the cakes are cool, wash out the pans and use them again for the rest of the batter.

Now for the assembly. Alternate layers of cake and lemon curd until you get to the sixth layer. Then cover the whole thing in a lemony cream cheese frosting. The cake I had at Del Frisco's had a more traditional lemony fondant shell, but that was a bit more trouble than I wanted to go to.
Del Frisco's Lemon Doberge Cake, with Fondant Icing

Though some of the layers baked softer than others, the lemon curd moistens each cloud-like layer, which melts into the filling and frosting to make a sugary pudding in your mouth.

I wonder what a chocolate version would be like...

Lemon Doberge Cake
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

Ingredients

Lemon Filling (see below)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
3 stiff-beaten egg whites
Lemon Icing (see below)
Shredded lemon peel (optional)

Directions

1. Prepare and cool the Lemon Filling. Grease and lightly flour three 8x1-1/2-inch round baking pans. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a large mixer bowl beat butter or margarine and shortening with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each.

3. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating after each addition until blended. Gently fold in egg whites by hand.

4. To make the 6 cake layers, transfer a generous 3/4 cup of batter into each prepared pan, spreading evenly over the bottom of pan. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until cakes test done. Cool 5 minutes in pans. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

5. Wash, grease, and flour pans. Spoon the remaining batter into the 3 pans. Bake and cool as directed above.

6. To assemble, place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Spread a scant 1/2 cup Lemon Filling evenly atop. Repeat with 4 more layers and filling. Top with final layer. Cover and chill thoroughly. Spread Lemon Icing over top and sides of cake. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Before serving, sprinkle top with shredded lemon peel, if desired. Makes 16 servings.

Lemon Filling

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
dash of salt
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 beaten egg yolks

Directions

In a saucepan combine 1-1/4 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, and dash salt. Stir in 1-1/2 cups cold water. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel. Gradually stir in 1/3 cup lemon juice. Mix well. Cover surface with clear plastic wrap. Cool the mixture to room temperature without stirring. Stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into 3 beaten egg yolks. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring mixture to a gentle boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.


Lemon Icing

Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
1/4 tsp vanilla

Directions

In a mixer bowl beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add finely shredded lemon peel and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Blues

I travel to Maine twice a year to teach, and like most New Yorkers, when I'm out of the city, I love to visit sprawling suburban supermarkets. I love the sensation of strolling down an aisle wide enough to fit two, count 'em, two shopping carts at once. I love the ampleness of the displays, the varieties of consumer products I hadn't known existed. I love how clean suburban supermarkets seem, how enticing and brightly lit they are.

In Maine, I tend to go to a supermarket called Hannaford's, which publishes a small cooking magazine that you can get for free if you spend more than twenty-five bucks, and it's there that I discovered this delicious blueberry pie recipe. Fair warning, the recipe would probably be even better with wild Maine blueberries, which are tiny, sweet, and have a subtle cinnamon flavor in my opinion. But made with blueberries from my local fruit cart on the corner, this was still one of the best blueberry pies I've ever had.

The recipe comes from Melanie Chandler of Cherryfield, Maine, who says she'd developed it in her head for about four decades. All that planning paid off when she won first prize in the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival Cooking Contest two years running (2008 and 2009). I'm impressed.

I was even more impressed by the final result when I made the pie recently. As Melanie points out in her Hannaford Magazine profile, the secret is the use of turbinado sugar. (You can also use demerara, muscovado or "raw" sugar, which has an almost identical flavor. You basically want natural brown sugar (not the kind that is refined white sugar to which molasses is added and is so good in banana bread or on oatmeal). The raw sugar has a deeper, muskier flavor than refined which is a nice match for the blueberries' sweetness.

The ingredients and preparation are simple. If you don't like the shortening in the crust, just substitute butter.

Melanie A. Chandler's First Prize Blueberry Pie
(adapted from Hannaford's Magazine)

Filling:

8 cups blueberries (I used 3 pints and was fine)
1 cup turbinado sugar (I used demerara because I happened to have some)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup corn starch

Crust:

2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup solid vegetable shortening (I put mine in the freezer before I use it)
6 to 8 tbsp cold water

1. In a large stockpot, combine all filling ingredients and heat, stirring, until thickened to a pudding-like texture, about 15 minutes. Pour filling into a mixing bowl to cool while you make the crust.
2. Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor, mix flour, salt, and sugar, then pulse to add shortening until dough is fine and crumbly. (This can also be done by hand with a pastry blender or a fork and knife.) Add water until a rough dough forms.
3. Divide dough in half and pat into two disks, handling as little as possible. (The warmth form your hands can affect the texture of the pastry.) On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk to fit a 9-inch pie pan and place in the pan. Pour reserved filling into crust. (N. B. the original recipe calls for a DEEP-DISH pan, but I just used a regular one.)
4. Roll out second disk of dough into a circle large enough to cover the pie. Place over filling and crimp edges. Cut 6 to 8 slits in the top and sprinkle with about 1 tsp sugar. Bake about 35 minutes until crust turns pale gold. Let the pie cool at least 2 hours before slicing so filling can set.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Makin' Easy Whoopie

Whoopie pies, which are really not a pie but a cross between a cake and a cookie, are a classic New England sweet snack that seems to have caught on more widely in the past few years.

A few holiday seasons ago, I made my first whoopie pies, though mine were a more modern riff on the traditional version: pistachio flavored cakes, pumpkin-marscapone filling, and a white chocolate glaze.

This recipe, via the Food Network uses the classic combo of chocolate cookie with a white fluffy filling. The cookie batter is much like a brownie base and is mixed by hand, no electricity needed. You drop tablespoons full of the rich brown stuff (unsweetened chocolate, semisweet chocolate, and cocoa powder for extra chocolate flavor) onto baking sheets and bake at 350 for about 7 minutes to get that cakey texture.

Next, rather than use marshmallow fluff or shortening, you simply place a marshmallow on top of one of the cookies and put it back in the oven to melt slightly, and then sandwich. Presto--you've got your pie!

The upside:  easy to put together. No muss, no fuss with the filling. The marshmallow is nice with the chocolate cake. The final product is very, very good.

The downside:  if your cakes aren't quite big enough, the marshmallow tends to seep out all over the place. Also, the top portion of the sandwich tends to slide off, so you may need to adjust it a bit until the cakes have set. Finally, traditional fillings are a bit more rich, like a frosting, and have an added payoff that this pie, as delicious as it is, lacks.

My verdict:  A+ for the cakes.  B+ for the marshmallow. A for the final product.  But if you want an A+, go for a more traditional filling.