I remember going to a restaurant once and being repulsed at the "strawberry shortcake" that was served which had a base of something closer to a cookie than a cake. As it turns out, this is the "correct" American version, but you know what? I spit on American shortcake. The form I'm familiar with--strawberries, sweetened whipped cream, light sponge cake--is apparently a Japanese take on the concept, and I must say that once again I prefer the Asian approach to the American. I swear it's not a racial thing.
That aside, this is the latest in a series of experiments involving the original sponge that I had discovered. The main variable I was playing with in this cake was the sweetened whipped cream. Whipped cream alone is not stiff enough to hold a cake together; especially when you consider that it must be sliced, and pieces will be taken with forks, etc. It's simply too squishy. This problem is remedied with the addition of confectioner's sugar, which sets as the cake rests in the refrigerator, but add too much of that and here comes the diabetic shock. What I ended up settling with was:
- 600g cream
- 150g confectioner's sugar
The result was a very workable mixture that didn't taste TOO sweet. I took it to 180 once, which was just way too much; I think the final number I'd settle on is about 130, but in all practicality anything as low as 100-120 would probably be alright.
A side-note: Some people hold that you need all sorts of fancy contraptions to assemble a cake properly; for example, a cake "frame" to hold the cake in constant shape while frosting. This is, if I've ever seen any, some pretty class-A horse excrement. All you really need is a bit of skill and a flat-edged palette knife, maybe an even surface to work on. Sure, tools and gadgets and gizmos will probably make your life easier; especially if you're a professional and turning out one cake after another. But to believe that all that is necessary is an advanced case of what I like to call "powering on the electric mixer before ever holding a whisk." And by advanced, I mean like stages of cancer.
And aside from a bit of sloppiness on the bottom right-ish rim of the cake (oopsies), note how it's pretty presentable even with minimal effort; with an extra 5 seconds, I tidied up the rim to complete flatness. A quickly (albeit extrememly messily, look on the right there!) piped garland type thing did a perfect job in covering those bits that I missed up. Cake frames? Pah!
But all disdain for idiotic doodads aside, if there's one thing this little experiment has taught me it's that I've been giving decoration far too little credit. Thus far I've focused on other technical parts of cooking that weren't to do with pure aesthetics (for example, the intensely fickle process behind macarons) and dismissed decoration as something more artsy fartsy than having a significant effect on taste. Of course I knew appearances played a part in food but I guess I'd underestimated just how much, as well as the degree of technical skill needed for proper decoration even disregarding any sort of artistic ability and flair. I thought I'd hit a soft cap on the technical after I'd finished macarons, but it's nice to know that there's another frontier. And so for the time and effort it takes to properly decorate this strawberry monstrosity as well as the precision needed to get the slices the right thickness, the frosting just so, and the flavor completely balanced; I place it in Category 4.
Creampuffs are pretty easy and quick to make. They are made of choux pastry, filled with pastry cream and topped with whipped cream. Common variations include profiteroles, small creampuffs filled with whipped cream/ice cream/whatever and topped with chocolate; creampuffs with fruits; and the Paris-Brest, a ring-shaped choux filled with praline cream. The process for the basic creampuff consists of boiling milk, butter, flour (et al), and adding beaten egg to form the choux dough. The dough is then piped into rounds, baked, and then cut open and filled with pastry cream and whipped cream. The pastry cream consists mostly of milk boiled with egg yolks and sugar.
Ingredients - Choux
- 200g milk
- 80g butter
- 140g flour
- 5 eggs
- 18g sugar
- 1g salt
Methodology - Choux
- Pre-heat your oven to 390F.
- Put the milk, gutter, sugar, and salt into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer to melt the butter.
- While waiting for the milk to boil, you may sift the flour if you wish; it will make the next step easier. This is not mandatory though.
- Pour all the flour into the saucepan at once and mix rapidly with a wooden spoon. Work fast, the flour absorbs milk very quickly and if you don't mix it fast enough, you will get lumps. When finished, you should have a coherent ball of dough, and a slight residue on the saucepan, like so:
- Beat the eggs until you have a homogeneous mixture. Slowly (!!) add this mixture to the choux dough in the pot, making sure that you incorporate the egg completely before adding more. If you try this step too fast, you will get lumps of dough floating in egg; you don't want this. When done, the dough should be slick and shiny, and bordering on a batter in consistency.
- Pipe the batter into 1.5 inch mounds. If you do not have a pastry bag, or are too lazy, drop the batter off a large spoon; just don't expect anything too pretty if you do. Use a large tip (I like Ateco #807), and do not move while creating the mound. This is for the most basic shape; until you get more experience don't attempt to use a smaller tip to pipe a spiral or anything along those lines. The slightest mistake will leave it leaning lopsidedly, like so:
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 340F and bake for an additional 20 minutes. The 390F baking serves to expand the choux, and the 340 strengthens it. Do not open the oven at any point during the baking; the influx of cool air can very well collapse your pastries, and you end up with something looking like deflated balloons. Likewise, if you do not bake them for long enough for their size, they will not be strong enough and will turn out limp and hard to cut, and will probably collapse as well.
Ingredients - Pastry Cream
- 500g milk
- 30g butter
- 100g sugar
- 100g egg yolks (about 7)
- 40g flour
- vanilla extract
Methodology - Pastry Cream
- Put the milk, butter, and half the sugar into a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
- Mix the yolks and the rest of the sugar together. Add the flour and vanilla extract, and whisk further to combine.
- When the milk is boiling, slowly pour about half of it into the yolk mixture while whisking rapidly to temper the yolks. Then pour this new mixture back into the remaining milk in the saucepan. This process is to make sure you don't cook the yolks too fast and end up with yolk lumps in sugary milk.
- Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat, and keep whisking. Do not stop whisking, or the bottom will cook enough to solidify and create lumps in your cream. The pastry cream is done when it starts bubbling and spitting like a pot of polenta or porridge. When you see the big bubbles, take the pot off the stove immediately; it's a fine line between pastry cream and a sweetened scrambled egg.
- Leave the cream out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper to cool. You may cool it in the refrigerator if you are in a hurry, but if you try that make sure you cover it with plastic wrap, so a skin doesn't form on top of the cream. This isn't mandatory for resting at room temperature, but it wouldn't hurt.
When you are done with baking the choux, you will probably end up with something like the following, allowing for variance in size:
This is the most basic shape. You can try something more advanced with a smaller tip, or even a fancier top with a star tip or something similar, when you gain more experience in piping these things. Cut the creampuff open horizontally. Where you cut it depends on your preference for the amount of pastry cream filling, amount of whipped cream, aesthetics, etc. The most common I've seen seems to be a 1/3 top 2/3 bottom split, but I've also seen it cut halfway across the middle, or having just a tiny bit taken off the top for a dantier look.
Pipe the pastry cream into the choux, which should be empty (or very nearly) on the inside. Top with whipped cream, then the top part of the shell. Dust with powdered sugar to taste. Another option is to put some fruit on the whipped cream before topping with the upper half of the shell; the possibilities are endless. Personally I like using hand-whipped cream stiffened with a bit of confection's sugar with a star tip to make it look a bit fancier, but if you're in a huge hurry I guess reddi-whip will do as well... Though the results won't be nearly as good.
I've seen swan-shaped creampuffs in many bakeries, and it seems to be a fairly common improvement that doesn't take too much effort to accomplish. First, when piping you'll want to leave a bit of a tail on the base:
When cutting it, cut it in half across and cut the top lengthwise in half to make two "wings." Fill the bottom with pastry cream, then top with whipped cream. I like a series of teardrop-like shapes using a star tip for a good effect:
Simply attach the head (also choux pastry; simply pipe them with a small tip in a sort of S shape, and bake at 340 until brown and stiff, usually about 15-20 minutes) and re-top with the wings to finish. Again, dust with confectioner's sugar for a nice effect.
Amusing Stuff For No Raeson
I've been bouncing the idea of publishing this recipe around for a while now, but held off on it mostly because of the picture above. That is, I still can't roll this thing properly and consistently; the above was a combination of coincidence and luck. However, since it still tastes good and is apparently in demand, I decided to throw it up anyway, imperfect pictures or not. I'll just post better ones when I can...
This cake originally came from attempts to recreate what you can find at basically any chinese bakery/teahouse. I threw around with many western recipes, but most of them tasted horrendous, and were far too dry--much like western spongecake recipes that I've found in general. In addition, there were some fairly convoluted rolling methods (there was one where you would roll it without the filling, put it in the fridge, take it out, unroll it, fill it, and then re-roll it and put it in the fridge) that ended up not working 99% of the time anyway. Eventually, I went to Hong Kong google to look for leads, which also didn't turn up much, and started playing around on my own. Of course, when I perfected the alpha model, I trashed the hard drive I had the recipe written down on, and had to recently reconstruct it on demand. The result below is the closest I've come so far. Plus it works very well as a general spongecake. (Note: There are decimals in the gram measurements because I formulated this against 10 eggs; however, 5 eggs is plenty enough for most occasions, and you can just round down for the measurements. This will make enough to fill an approximately 12"x9"x1" jelly roll pan.)
- 5 large eggs
- 75g flour
- 2.5g baking powder
- 50g sunflower or other neutral oil
- 40g milk
- 10g lemon juice
- lemon zest
- 2.5g salt
- 37.5g sugar
- 100g confectioner's sugar
- Pre-heat the oven at 355 degrees F.
- Separate the egg whites and egg yolks.
- Combine the yolks with the flour, oil, baking powder, salt, sugar, and whisk to combine.
- Add the milk slowly, 1/3 at a time, whisking until smooth each time. This is to ensure you end up with a smooth, lumpless batter.
- Whisk in the lemon juice.
- Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the confectioner's sugar a little at a time. I prefer 1/2 of the sugar when the whites foam, and 1/2 when the whites have formed stiff peaks.
- Put 1/3 of the whites from step 5 into the mixture from steps 2-4, and fold in to combine. Fold the resulting mixture back into the whites.
- Bake in a parchment paper-lined tray for 13 minutes, then lower the temperature to 200 F and bake for 7 minutes.
- Take the tray out of the oven and remove the cake with the parchment paper from the tray. Leave it out to cool to room temperature.
- While it's cooling, whip some cream--about 100ml is more than enough for this size of cake. Don't use any sugar--the sugar from the cake will combine with the cream after the appropriate rest. Also, say no to whipped cream out of a can. Every time you fill a cake with coolwhip, God hangs a kitten.
- Spread a thin layer of cream across the cake, leaving a few inches at the end so that when you roll it the cake will stay rolled. Roll up the cake with the parchment paper. I actually don't have the words for this part, especially since I haven't got a method down for consistently turning out good rolls. So here's an animated picture to show you how I do it. The only tip I can give is to use the parchment paper as a support system so that the cake doesn't break up while rolling. There ARE a few other small things I've noted, but I'm not going to post them till I can consistently reproduce results. Soz.
- Put the cake into the fridge. Let the cake rest for a few hours so that the flavors from the cake and the filling have time to meld, and the cream has time to set.
- Slice and serve. This is a good tip for cake in general, but run the knife under hot water and wipe it off with a paper towel to heat up the knife; it results in a cleaner cut. Repeat every couple slices or so. This is useful for other cakes, but especially for this one, and very especially if you are impatient and try to eat before the cream has time to set.
- Do not put the lemon juice and the milk together under any circumstances. Do not put them in the same cup to add to the batter together. Do not add lemon juice when you have a pool of milk on top of the batter. Just don't. Why? Here's why:
- Do not skip the cooling period. If you don't let the cake cool before filling it, it will melt the cream, making it slide around, and it'll make the job of cake-rolling even harder.
- When combining the white mixture with the yolk mixture, be thorough. The combination is kind of like a macaron batter, but much less anal; you have a lot of leeway, but you still need to be fairly precise with it. Here is a series of informative photographs to illustrate. Since it's harder to see in a regular batter, for these pictures I used a batter laced with cocoa powder. (Click to embiggen.)
Picture 1: If you bake at this stage, you're an idiot. Notice the extreme bumps. The batter still holds its shape really well. And more importantly, there are still streaks of discrete whites in the batter. Picture 2: Close, but not quite. Notice that the batter still sort of refuses to flatten down, and there are subtle small white streaks in the batter. Picture 3: Just ready. The color is completely even, and the batter flows, but it is still very very airy. If you keep going after this stage, you will overmix and knock air out of the cake.
- For variations, you may substitute the lemon juice for more milk; just keep the amount of liquid consistent at 50g per batch of this size. Likewise, you can probably ditch the zest if you need, it doesn't play too well with, say, mocha flavors. For example, for the cake I used in the pictures, I subbed out the 10g lemon juice for milk, and added 4g cocoa powder instead of lemon zest. On that note, try not to add too much weight to the batter (for example, substituting all the sugar for cocoa), as it will cause the whites to collapse. Also some ingredients may be more absorbent than others, which may result in a dry cake. Whatever the case, tread lightly; if possible, just color the cake and play with the fillings.
- For fillings, it's best to use things that are not sweet, as the sugar from the cake with fuse with the filling while it rests in the fridge. When I make chocolate or coffee filling, I never add sugar; likewise for the plain filling. One of the reasons that western rollcakes are so godawful is because their sponges are far to sweet, and they fill it with jam, which results in a giant mouthful of sugar of diabetic proportions.
- The ones I find at asian bakeries tend to have a brownish skin around the outside. I still have not yet figured out how they do this; even when I achieve it, it peels off on contact, and is not sturdy at all. It probably has something to do with a nonstick baking spray they use or something.
- A common one is also a sort of semi lemon curd filling, except more delicious. I WILL figure it out one day, but I have not yet.
I was feeling bored, so here is a simple instructional as to how to most effectively line your jelly roll pan with parchment paper. This is actually more important than you may think, as it will influence the shape of the cake, and therefore make your life easier or harder depending on how you do it.
First, fold in your parchment paper so that it confirms to the dimensions of your pan. I will use a smaller piece just for demonstrations. Let's start with the first corner:
Bring the flaps up, then bring together the creases that I've highlighted below in green and blue.
It should look something like this: Fold down the paper (the edge is highlighted blue in the next picture), and you have one corner done.
Repeat with the other four corners, and you now have a mini paper tray to put into the baking tray. As a note, which way the little flaps face does not matter, unless you're completely anally retentive.
The Canelés are small French cakes which used to be consumed in the city of Bordeaux during the 17th century. You will find different ways to spell its name such as: Cannelé, Cannelet, Canelet... but the modern spelling is indeed Canelé.
This recipe was written by Bernard, who kindly accepted I translate it into English. Here is the link to his blog (in French): Bernard's Recipes. He has a fantastic food blog with a million great recipes. You will find his helpful comments in green and my comments in blue.
This recipe requires a 24h resting time, as well as specific molds. Your oven must be able to reach 250C (480F) otherwise it will not work.
Ingredients are for 22 large canelés:
- 1L whole milk
- 2 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 280g flour
- 475g sugar
- 50g unsalted butter
- 10cL dark rum (how to pick rum)
- 2 table spoons, liquid vanilla extract (how to pick vanilla)
- 2 vanilla beans (how to pick vanilla)
- 10 to 22 metallic canelé molds (we like aluminum with a black Teflon coating, copper is ok but requires a much warmer oven)
- non-stick cooking spray (we like Wilton's Cake Release)
- Boil together the milk, butter, rum, vanilla extract and the vanilla beans cut on their length.
- When it starts simmering, cut the heat and let it infuse 15 minutes on the stove.
- In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together until you get a pale colored mix with a few bubbles. This might take you a few minutes of mixing.
- Once the vanilla is done infusing in the pot, take out the beans and scrape their seeds out with your thumb and place the seeds in the mixing bowl with the eggs. Put the emptied beans back into the pot.
- Turn the heat on again until the milk simmers again. Once it does, cut the heat and let it cool down for 2 minutes.
- Pour about 1/5 of the hot milk into the eggs. Mix thoroughly and add all the flour. Mix again and add the remainder of the hot milk. It is important to pour the milk while its very hot (not boiling though) to allow the eggs to cook slightly.
- Rest the batter for 24h at room temperature. This step is absolutely necessary! otherwise it will just not work.
- The next day, make sure you mix the batter properly for 2 minutes to make sure the butter reintegrates in the batter. You will also notice the foam on top will disappear.
- Pre-heat your oven to 275C (or 530F). Your oven must reach at least 250C (480F) in order for the recipe to work.The baking is done in 2 steps. The first step is at a high temperature that solidifies the batter in the molds. The second step at a low temperature cooks the batter through the center. Do not use silicone molds! they can't withstand the first baking phase and since they are not made of metal, they do not conduct heat properly. Use aluminum or copper molds, we like Teflon coated aluminum molds.
- Now take your molds and spray them up with a non-stick food spray.Forget about butter here, it is completely useless and actually makes it worse when it comes to removing your canelés from the molds. Also, make sure your molds are perfectly clean! any tiny piece of older canelés could make a canelé impossible to get out of the mold.
- Fill the molds with batter up to 1mm off the edge. Some recipes recommend to leave up to a centimeter, but its wrong! after baking, the canelé is as high as the batter was in the mold.
- Place in the oven at mid height at 275C (530F) for 15 minutes. Then without stopping the oven, lower the temperature to 200C (390F) for 35 minutes.Every oven is different so it might take a few attempts before you can find your right timings. I advise putting 4 canelés in the oven at first, as a first attempt. It usually takes me one bad attempt to figure out the right timings when I use a new oven.
- Take the canelés out of the oven and let them cool down on a grid, then take them out of the molds. You should eat the canelés several hours after they cool down, as the core is still cooking after it's out of the oven. The inside needs to set.
Chocolate Soufflé is both one of the toughest and most delicious desserts ever invented, but hopefully if you follow this guide closely you should get a decent result.
- 170g of baking chocolate
- 4 eggs
- 100g of sugar
- 1 coffee spoon of corn starch
- 1 coffee spoon of cocoa powder
- 200mL of heavy cream
- Unsalted butter
- Sauce pot (smallest pot possible)
- 4 to 8 oven resistant glass/cermic cups
- Start by cutting the baking chocolate into small pieces (bigger than powder but smaller than pebbles), the size doesnt really matter as long as its small.
- Now place your sauce pot on the stove turn the heat to the lowest possible. Add the cream and using a sieve, add the cocoa powder and the corn starch. Even though this amount looks ridiculously small and might not even cover the bottom of the pot, don't worry.
- Wait until either bubbles appear or that the cocoa powder is obviously melted. Whisk the mixture and when done, turn off the heat and add the chocolate you cut in pieces.
- Then separate the yolks from the egg whites and mix the yolks with the chocolate mixture (keep the white in a bowl).
- After whisking for some time you should obtain a smooth result.
- Now whisk the egg whites until they form a snowy result. As you beat the whites, add the sugar step by step, a small amount at a time. When the whites stick to the bottom of the bowl, it means its ready. Be careful, as sugar is mixed, you won't be able to achieve the same hardness as usually when beating egg whites, don't be surprised.
- Pour the chocolate mix in a bigger bowl. Now comes the most delicate part of the process (forget about the electric beater), take a big spoon and add some egg whites to the chocolate. Don't mix! simply try to move it around slow until it becomes incorporated in the chocolate. Do this again until all the whites are in the chocolate and it looks uniform.
- This is all for now! pour the resulting batter in small oven resistant cups and place them in the fridge until you decide to serve, if you feel like eating it right away, then don't wait and keep reading.
When ready to serve
- Preheat your oven to 355F (180C).
- Place your cups in the oven for 10 to 15 mins (could take up to 20 mins). You know they are ready when you see them blowing and rising out of their cups.
- The chocolate soufflé should have a thin crust on the outside, have a light air filled inside with bubbles and the core may be more or less liquid, depending on how you like it.