Avid Bakers Challenge:Caramel Chocolate Cream Pie

This is one of those great kitschy retro recipes from the 60’s like grasshopper pie, baked alaska and mud slide pie that everyone seems to be revisiting these days.  This one is definitely worth a second look.  It’s the kind of dessert your mom would make for fancy dinner parties where she probably served Steak Diane in a chafing dish of Chicken Kiev.  As your making it you can almost see your mom, an apron covering her best sheath dress and pearls getting ready to make the grand presentation to the dinner guest and all of them oohing and ahhing all over it, without a care in the world about the thousands of calories one slice of it would bring.  Those were the days, and these are the days with this great pie.

The pie has several steps to assembly but none of them take more than 15 minutes to do and all of them except the final whipped cream flourish can be done ahead and kept until you are ready for assembly.  The crust can be made weeks ahead and frozen until needed.  If you really don’t want to be bothered with it,  just make the chocolate pudding filling and dollop it with some plain whipped cream and you will be in seventh heaven.  What a fantastic visit back to those glory days when big gooey desserts were the norm and calories, cholesterol and fat content were not a concern.  Let’s get back into our peddle pushers and high top keds and enjoy another slice, just this once.  Go ahead, you deserve it.

Gutsy Cooks Club Menu 18: Chicken Croquettes and Tarte Tatin

I must own up to a total fondness for these sorts of little fried bites.  Mozzarella sticks, zucchini sticks and almost anything that even comes close to resembling a meat ball and I am all over it.  Light and airy, crispy and crunchy and loaded with flavor.  These croquettes are simple to make, they go together in a snap and can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, ready to fry up when you want them.  They are great with a salad for a light lunch or early supper and are just the thing for afternoon snacking.  And for those of you so inclined, they make spectacular cocktail fair.  They are great straight out of the fryer but are just as good cold.  I have to admit that late last night I was having a hunger attack in the middle of the night.  A few of these wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a bit of aoili and some sliced avocado.  What a simple and super indulgent midnight snack.  While they are delicious on their own, a any nice dipping sauce, a hearty marinara or zesty mayonnaise is great, even plain sour cream is a good alternative.   A thick bechamel with a hint of tomato flavor and lots of freshly ground pepper bind the tender ground chicken and the bread crumbs give the outside a crisp crust that gently gives away to the creamy, moist interior.  Definitely a winner.

Tarte Tatin is one of those eternal dishes.  Everyone knows about it and I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like it.  All the stories of how the demoiselles Tatin created it for the hungry patrons of their restaurant in France have become the stuff of legend and endless debate as to whether or not they actually did invent it.  All of that doesn’t matter when you get your first whiff of the tender baked apples and rich caramel sauce and the butter crust as it emerges from the oven, ready to be tipped onto a serving plate and dug into.

This is definitely a dish that relies on the highest quality ingredients being that there are so few ingredients in it.  The apples need to be crisp and tart, the butter of the highest quality and extreme care must be given to each simple step in order for the dish to be at it’s best. It is simple to make and always a pleasure to eat so definitely take the extra time to make it properly.

Cradle Cake

I have to admit that every time I thumb through the book looking for recipes to make for free choice weeks I come across this cake and I always just shrug and move on.  I have never found anything all that appealing about this cake.  It just looks like another simple snack cake and nothing more.  Then I kept reading on other blogs about how Monica was really anxious to make this and I had to stop and revisit it.  Monica is such an excellent cook and baker and she has such an intuitive kitchen sense that I thought, if she is really that keen on making this there must be something I am missing.  I reread the recipe and at first glance I saw that it was a Pillsbury Bake Off winner.  While that is an impressive pedigree I have to admit that it doesn’t really hold a lot of water with me.  I always imagine dishes made with store bought pie dough and canned dinner rolls or the dreaded Tunnel of Fudge cake which everyone seems to be constantly trying to remake and I never cared for it all that much the first time around.  With all that being said, I forged ahead through the recipe and became intrigued with the use of dacquoise as a mold liner.  I have made dacquoise many many times but usually as a component in an elaborate composed dessert, never as an integral part of the cake itself.  I did have my doubts about how this would work.  This cake certainly gets high marks for ease of assembly and it certainly scores high on the taste scale.  It is richly flavored with butter and vanilla and the nut dacquoise adds a very nice chocolatey, nutty crunch to the exterior but it certainly fails big time in the presentation arena.  The crusty dacquoise came of and the cake is just not fit to present that way.  I actually baked this cake twice, one in a metal pan and once in silicone and I had the same results with both pans.  the crust crumbled and flaked off leaving big exposed areas of  the cake underneath and it was certainly nothing to look at.  I really didn’t want to have to revisit the ganache from last week, even though I loved it.  However, the cake was just not presentable in its unadorned state so the ganache it was.  Okay, let’s make this cake.  

Toast the nuts and set them aside to cool.  I deviated a bit here as Norman brought back a supply of the most incredible walnuts I have ever tasted from his last trip to the Middle East and I thought it was a sin to not use them here, so I substituted walnuts for the pecans.  When the nuts have cooled, grind them with the chocolate and sugar and set aside until needed.  

Whip the egg whites until foamy and soft peaks form, then blend in the remaining sugar and whip until stiff and glossy and the peaks hold their shape.  Gently fold in the nut mixture and spread this into the prepared loaf pan covering the bottom and 3/4 of the way up the sides.  Set aside and proceed with the cake batter.  

Whisk egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of buttermilk and vanilla until blended and set aside.

Teh completed dacquoise

The lined tin

 In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter and remaining buttermilk and mix until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the egg yolk mixture in two additions, blending for 30 seconds between each addition.  Spoon the batter into the dacqouise lined pan and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until done.   

The completed cake batter  

Ready to bake

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes if using metal or completely if using silicone.   

The baked cake

 When cool, unmold and invert the cake onto a serving plate.   

Unmolded, less than spectacular

At this point you can if you wish drizzle the cake with chocolate glaze and serve.  I made the Mocha ganache from last week and frosted the cake to cover it’s defects.  




Next Up:  Mud Turtle Cupcakes  

Gutsy Cooks Club Menu 17: Spicy Shrimp Gratin

I must admit that I am not very fond of seafood, and I am not a great lover of shellfish, but I especially do not like shrimp.  I don’t know what it is but there is something about the texture of these little creatures that just screams to me, that I shouldn’t be eating it.  I dislike shrimp so much that I have to admit that even cleaning these things to make this dish had my stomach doing flip flops.  However, shrimp are a great favorite around my house so I took a deep breath and dove in.

I thought it was an interesting recipe.  The shrimp are handled almost in a ceviche style.  They are marinated in lime juice and minced chile peppers so they emerge practically cooked, to be added to the savory onions and cream and cheese for a final run under the broiler to warm everything through and brown the cheese and the shrimp get that final pink color and a bit of a toasty edge. 

I sat down to dinner with every intention of at least tasting this dish but after several failed attempts to even get it close to my mouth without my stomach turning over I finally gave up, admitted that I am a shrimp hater and always will be and left the eating of the dish to everyone else.  I was told that it was very good, had a nice spiciness that went very well with the shrimp but didn’t overpower it.  I will just have to take everyone’s word for it.

I didn’t do the Key Lime Pie since no one in my house is especially fond of it.  I had a dessert from the Heavenly Bakers so I didn’t really need another sweet in the house.  I may revisit it at a later time.

Genoise Tres Cafe

I am constantly amazed when I make this genoise how something so simple with so few ingredients can transform into something so magical.  Of course for me it is that magical combination of beurre noisette and vanilla.  I never tire of it nor does it ever cease to fill me with such heavenly satisfaction.  Just the smell transports me to wonderful places.  I never thought I would ever utter these words but this recipe has replaced Julia Childs genoise recipe in my bakers building blocks repertoire.  I find myself reaching for this whenever I need to make a fancy dessert cake.  (Julias recipe if virtually foolproof but it does require a bit more work).  While most genoise are traditionally dry, which is why we always syrup them with some type of flavored syrup, this one can actually stand on it’s own without a syrup.  At least I think it can.  Shall we bake it?… 

Prepare the beurre noisette, add the vanilla and set aside.  Combine eggs and sugar and whisk them over a pan of simmering water until they are warm to the touch.  

Heating the eggs and sugar

Transfer to the stand mixer and whip them at high speed for 5 minutes until they have tripled in volume.  

The whipped eggs and sugar

Add one cup of the whipped egg whites to the beurre noisette and whisk to combine and set aside.  

Whipped eggs and beurre noisette

Sift half the flour over the whipped egg whites and gently fold in, repeat with the remaining flour.  Add the beurre noisette mixture to the batter and gently fold until incorportated.  Scrape the batter into a prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Unmold the cake while it is still hot and then reinvert onto a cake rack so the top side is up and allow to cool completely. 

The baked cake

To make the syrup, combine sugar and water and stir to dissolve.  Bring to a rapid boil,  remove from the heat, cover and cool completely.  When cool add the coffee essence and Kahlua and set aside until needed. 

As is my usual, I skipped all of Rose’s food processor hoo hah and make the ganache the old fashioned way. Chop the chocolate and put it in a medium bowl.  Heat the cream and pour it over the chocolate.  Add the coffee essence and vanilla and allow to stand a few minutes to melt the chocolate.  Whisk gently to combine the ingredients.  Refrigerate for 60 minutes or until cool to the touch.  Whip the ganache until creamy enough to frost the cake. 

To assemble the cake.  Split the genoise into two layers.  

The split layers

Brush the top and bottom with the syrup.  

The layers with their syrup

Place the bottom layer on a serving plate and frost the layer with the ganache.  

Filling the layers

Place the top layer on the bottom layer and frost the entire cake.  Decorate as desired.  




Next Up:

Gutsy Cooks Club Menu 14: Hungarian Gulash Soup, Parmesan Potato Cakes

I am constantly amazed by this book.  When I first got it for the club I was a but disappointed, I thought it was rather simple and the recipes, while encompassing many world cuisines, seemed so over simplified that I didn’t think that they would really be all that good.  Wrong.  Yes, these menus are very simplified, many of them only have 3-4 steps but they certainly do deliver on taste. I certainly wouldn’t pull out this book for a fancy dinner party but it is great for everyday meals when you want some variety and loads of flavor without a lot of work, and who wants that at the end of the workday.  This is one book everyone needs to have on the shelf.  Keep it in the kitchen and refer to it often.

I wish this soup had been on the menu last week when I was sick with the flu. I may have hauled myself into the kitchen to make it and it’s warm and spicy flavors would certainly have hit the spot while I was under the weather.  The hardest part is slicing a few onions and the most time consuming part is browning the meat.  It delivers on taste with caraway, cayenne and cloves and the combination of those with the meaty chuck and the long slow simmering are comfort food at it’s down home best.  A whole lot of flavor for very little effort.  This ones a keeper.

I love these kinds of potato dishes that I can just imagine came from some country cook trying to use up leftovers.  These can certainly be made with leftover mashed potatoes.  The addition of the parmesan adds an earthiness and the egg yolk for richness all make a simple and satisfying side dish. You can experiment with other additions such as parsley, chives, scallions.  They do call for a lot of seasoning as the potatoes seem to soak it up.  I doubled up on the salt and put in loads of freshly ground pepper and they were marvelous.


Since I made profiteroles a while back with the Avid Bakers I opted to skip those this week although they certainly are simple enough to put together quickly and I don’t think I know a soul who doesn’t love them.  I’ll revisit them another time.

Black Chocolate Party Cake

I am on the mend this week and thought I would venture back into the kitchen for a little baking.  Since this was a free choice week I decided not to push my luck and again opted for one of the quick and easy cakes.  This cake is indeed easy but I think the title is a bit of a misnomer.  This is hardy a party cake, at least I would never serve it for a party.  It is definitely an adult cake with very intense flavors. And, it definitely cries out for a cup of strong hot coffee to go along with it.  While it was certainly very easy and the flavors are intense, it was not universally well received around my house.  I took it to the neighbors for coffee and most people there found it to be way too intense and a bit on the bitter side.  I have to admit that I agree with them.  If I was going to make this one again, I would certainly leave out the nuts as I am sure they are what caused the bitterness and I would try using regular super fine sugar as opposed to the turbinado sugar for maybe a bit more sweetness.  With all that said, let’s bake.

In a medium bowl combine the cocoa, sour cream, eggs and vanilla and stir until a lumpy batter consistency is reached and set aside.

The cocoa mixture

In the bowl of a stand mixer blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the butter and half of the cocoa mixture and blend on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. 

Adding butter and cocoa

 Increase the speed to medium and beat for one and a half minutes to lighten the mixture.  Add the remaining cocoa mixture in two additions, beating at least 30 seconds after each addition to strengthen the structure. 

The completed batter

 Scrape the batter into a prepared bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50 – 60 minutes or until done.

While the cake is baking, make the glaze.  In a small sauce pan combine cocoa, sugar and water and stir until dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a rapid boil, remove from the heat and cool a few minutes.  Add the vanilla and whatever liqueur you are using (I used Kahlua) and stir. 

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and poke holes all over the bottom with a skewer and then brush the bottom of the cake with some of the glaze.  Drape the pan with plastic wrap and invert it onto a cooling rack.  Brush the cake generously with the remaining glaze and allow to cool completely.


When cool, invert the cake onto a cardboard cake round and carefully remove the plastic wrap and reinvert the cake onto a serving plate.


Next Up:   Genoise Tres Cafe

White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache

I made this cake a few weeks ago while I was doing the other holiday baking, frankly because I couldn’t wait to taste it.  It turns out it was a good thing that I did because I have been in bed with the flu for the majority of this past week and I can barely even think of food let alone face baking this weekend.  This cake is terrific, it has a light moist crumb that is sturdy enough to stand up to syrups and fillings.  It’s mild vanilla flavor is the perfect foil for a myriad of frostings and fillings.  I can’t think of anything that I don’t think would go great with this cake.  And, it is so easy that you can have it in the oven in under 30 minutes.  This is definitely a cake to have in your go to repertoire. You will always have these simple staple ingredients in the house and you hardly need to even look at the recipe.  This cake is proof positive that a top quality scratch cake is even easier than a mix (not that any of us would ever use a mix), but for those of you out there that still do, try this once and you won’t ever use a mix again.  I actually made this several times over the holidays to have on hand when friends and neighbors dropped in for coffee.  I usually just dusted it with powdered sugar or cocoa and it never failed to win raves and requests for the recipe, so definitely try this one.  Okay, lets bake…. 

Combine 3 tablespoons milk, the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, sugar and baking powder.  Add the butter and remaining milk and beat on low until the dry ingredients are moistened, then raise the speed to medium and beat for one and a half minutes.  Add the egg mixture in two additions, beating for 30 seconds between additions.  That’s it.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees until done.  Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and then unmold the cake on to a rake.  Invert the cake so that the top is up and let cool completely. 

Adding butter and milk

Adding the eggs

Ready to bake 

The baked cake

To make the ganache, melt the milk and dark chocolates until smooth, add the cream and stir until fully combined.  Stir in the vanilla and let stand until no longer warm to the touch.  Add the butter by the tablespoon and whisk gently being careful not to incorporate any air. Use immediately. 

To compose the cake.  Split the cake into two layers.  Place the bottom layer on a serving plate and fill with some of the ganache.  Center the top layer on the ganache filling and frost the top and sides.  Decorate as desired.  I personally felt that the chocolate ganache was a bit too sweet for my taste and I prefer this cake left in one layer and just dusted with confectioners sugar.  However you choose to do it, it is terrific.  

The split layers

Adding the filling

The frosted cake



Next Up:  Free Choice

Eve Lieb’s Processor Challah

I bake bread often and have wanted to do a Challah for some time now but just never seem to get around to actually doing it. This was my excuse to finally try it and I am glad I did.  This was a quick and easy dough to make.  I usually shy away from using the food processor for my bread dough as I have a tendency to over mix the dough in the processor and my bread doesn’t turn out, so I usually do my bread by hand.  As always, Flo’s directions were letter perfect from start to finish and my dough turned out exactly as she described it in the recipe.  I was also expection the braiding and forming of the loaf to be a bit time consuming but it went together in a snap and when I had it in the oven I kept thinking to myself that if I had known how easy this was I would have been making Challah all along.  I know I will be making this again and again.  It is just too good and too easy not to.

The loaf ready for the oven

Gutsy Cooks Club Menu 14: Croque Monsieur and Apple Charlotte

I have to say that I think a Croque Monsieur is quite possibly my abosolute favorite sandwich.  I have never understood why so many restaurants in this country fail to have it at least on their lunch menus.  They could make a killing on this sandwich alone.  We we are in France I have this for lunch practically every day.  I doubt there is a restaurant in France that doesn’t make it and no matter where you go or what time of day you have it, it is always delicious.  And as Monica said, if it has Gruyere cheese in it, sign me up.

The sandwich is very easy to make.  Make a simple Bechamel sauce, stir in Dijon mustard and the cheese and stir until it melts. I guess that would technically make this a mornay sauce but who really cares as long as the cheese is there.  Toast some crusty bread, butter it, add some ham, the second slice of toasted bread, pile on the cheese sauce, give it a quick pass under the broiler to get it toasty and melting and you are in total heaven.  I had mine with the last of the French Onion soup from last week (of course I made a double batch of that)> and a spinach salad.  Life just doesn’t get much better than that.

I am also a big fan of Apple Charlottle, any Charlotte for that matter.  This is rather tradional with the one except that it was made in a springform pan instead of a charlotte mold but it sure tastes great.  Trim the crusts off of a nice firm white loaf of bread.  Butter your mold, then brush the bread slices with melted butter and cinnamon sugar.  Line the bottom and side of the mold.  Toss the peeled and sliced apples with cinnamon sugar and combine with raisins and lemon juice. Pile them into the lined mold.  Top with more butter bread slices and bake.  Voila, a total showstopper for very little effort.  Delicious.