Monthly Archives: July 2008

Daring Baker Challenge – Gateau with Amazing Praline Buttercream

Another month already? I can’t believe how time flies!

This month’s Daring Baker Challenge was chosen and hosted by Chris from Mele Cotte. She chose a beautiful Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from the cookbook Great Cakes by Carole Walter. I must have read and re-read the recipe a hundred times… made all sorts of plans in my head… and still I waited until the very last minute to make the silly thing.

I’d like to tell you that it’s because I was busy finishing off the last bits of unpacking that needed to be done (but there are still easily a half dozen boxes waiting to be unpacked)… or that it’s because I work better under pressure (except that you’ll soon see that’s not so much the case)… but, in reality, it’s only because I procrastinated my way through no less than three baking opportunities, backing myself into a do-or-die baking corner on the last Sunday of the month.


So, Sunday morning I finally came to terms with the fact that, if I didn’t tackle this cake immediately, I’d have to skip the challenge. I don’t like to skip challenges. It’s just not very Daring Baker like. That only meant one thing… time to motivate. I called my parents and invited them down for afternoon cake. That gave me exactly six hours to get the cake done. Crazy talk.


The gateau was surprisingly easy. I didn’t have any luck in finding filberts (hazelnuts) locally and didn’t want to have to mail order them. So, I subbed some almond meal that I had in the pantry. My cake didn’t rise quite as much as I’d have liked, so I opted to to make it into just two layers rather than three. No problem. Things were moving right along.

For my praline paste, I blanched my own almonds and went to work. The paste came together beautifully and was OMG tasty. The buttercream behaved pretty well considering the heat and humidity lately and, once the praline paste was added, went from tasty to absolutely phenomenal.


I’d read so much about all of my fellow DB’ers trials and tribulations trying to get a smooth ganache finish that I psyched myself out. After applying the apricot glaze, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the blemishes that were going to show through the ganache. So, I decided to add a thin layer of buttercream on top of the glaze so that I could smooth everything out. Great in theory… not so much in application. The oh-so-soft buttercream slid all over the glaze and really gave me a hard time. However, perseverance paid off and I managed to smooth out the top fairly well. What I didn’t manage to do was properly fill in the gaps on the sides. But… the clock was ticking and I decided to cut my losses, keep moving and throw the cake in the fridge to chill while I made the ganache.


The ganache came together easily and poured over the cake without much problem. I even managed to maneuver it onto the cake stand without mangling the finish. I let the cake set while I tried to restore some order to the kitchen and, with twenty minutes left before the arrival of our guests, filled my piping bag with the now REALLY soft, summer-hating buttercream.

No time for the prescribed piping method, I opted for something a little simpler. I attached my star tip and went to work. In case you didn’t know, warm buttercream doesn’t hold it’s shape so well. So, my pretty little stars weren’t quite as well-defined as I had hoped. But, when you procrastinate there’s really no time for chilling buttercream, is there? You’d think I’d learn.


Six hours and three loads of dishes later, I was just putting the finishing touches on the cake as my parents pulled into our driveway. Whew. Forget that the cake was supposed to set in the fridge for three to four hours and then come to temperature for another three. Yeah… not happening. After snapping a few pictures, we sat down to enjoy this little labor of love. Happily, this cake was worth every second of anxiety. Light and moist, the cake perfectly complimented not only the buttercream, but the glaze and the ganache. It’s an absolute perfect marriage of flavors. And, even with its rushed imperfections, it’s a lovely looking cake.

Would I make this cake again? Yes. But not in July. And not at the last minute. But when you really want a cake that impresses, this is a good one to which you can turn. Next time, I’ll find filberts.

You can find the original challenge recipe over at Mele Cotte – you’ll find my adaptation posted below. Thanks, Chris, for a fabulous challenge! By the way… don’t forget to see how everyone else fared by checking out the Daring Baker Blogroll. I promise you’ll find some great stories and some gorgeous cakes out there.


Almond Gateau with Praline Buttercream
(Adapted from Great Cakes by Carole Walter)
1 Almond Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using

Almond Genoise
(Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.)
2 cups minus 1 tablespoon almond meal
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10″ X 2″ inch round cake pan.

Sift together almond flour, cake flour, and cornstarch. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and sprinkle in almond-flour mixture about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. (If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.)

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

(If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.)

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, more than enough for one 10-inch cake. Can be made in advance.

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum

In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the rum. Cool slightly before using on the cake.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream, recipe follows
1/3 cup praline paste, recipe follows
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. rum

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. rum
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.

Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. Do not overbeat. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. Do not overbeat or the butter will become too soft.

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the rum and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) almonds, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. CAREFULLY pour onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 10 inch layer cake

6 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
6 oz. (¾ cup) heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon dark rum
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ – 1 teaspoon hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold.

Assembling Cake
Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 2 or 3 layers. For tree layers, follow the directions as follows… for two, adjust accordingly.

Place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

Decorate the cake with the reserved buttercream. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

a tribute to friends

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

~Marcel Proust


Friends. They come to us in real life. They come to us virtually. And, when we’re really lucky, those two worlds come together in a wonderful mix of support and love that crosses every border imaginable. How lucky, then, am I? Probably more lucky than I deserve to be!


Recently, the food blogging community lost a wonderful member of our family. Sherry Cermack, of What Did You Eat?, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, July 20, leaving behind a loving husband and many family and friends.

I discovered Sher by way of the Daring Bakers community, but she was very active member of many different forums. Sher had so many friends in the blogging community… she was truly followed and loved by many. The news of her death spread quickly and, appropriately, a foodie tribute event came to life. Sher’s friends, the Bread Baking Babes, decided to forego their monthly bread challenge and, instead, to encourage everyone who knew and loved Sher to go to her site, choose one of her recipes, and feature it on their own blogs… For Sher.


I’ve had Sher’s recipe for Strawberry Coffee Cake bookmarked to make for some time, so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad that I did, because it’s fabulous. After having a piece for breakfast (perfect with coffee), we took the remainder to a get together with friends (also great after a barbecue). Everyone agreed it was a hit.


So, here’s to Sher. We’ll miss your friendship, your good nature and wit. And here’s to you, my friends. Thank you all for being a part of my world. May we share many, many more good times together.


Strawberry Coffee Cake
(adapted from Sher at What Did You Eat?)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (regular sugar may be substituted)
1 stick of cold butter

Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Place the butter in the bowl and, using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until a very coarse meal is formed (think pea sized bits). Place the bowl of crumbles in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 cups strawberries, sliced

Sift the first four ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla, and melted margarine together in a separate bowl. Add the mix of wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and beat together with a handheld mixer until well incorporated. Pour into a greased 13×9 pan. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the crumble topping. Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

finding my happy place

The amount of natural light in our last house was seriously underwhelming. Taking good photos was a challenge that I struggled to overcome. Some days I met with success. Other days not so much. Of course, my great timing being what it is, I’d finally started to find a little bit of a groove… right about the time we decided to relocate. Figures.


So, here we are in the new house.* The natural light is much better. MUCH. But, when you’ve been at work for eleven hours and you’re tired and hungry and just ready to sit down and relax for a while, you tend to get a little over-anxious and rush your photos.


Rushed photos in the evening? Not such a great idea. You’ll note a bit of an unwelcome cast. Unfortunately for all of us, I just don’t have the will to mess with them any further. There are still dishes to be done and TV to catch up on. But… lesson learned. When you don’t have good photo editing software (yet) nor the patience to use what you do have, go ahead and plan to do it right. You’ll be disappointed if you don’t. And, when the burgers are gone, there’s nothing to use for a re-shoot, is there?


In spite of the less than stellar photography, these turkey burgers are awesome. I just couldn’t wait to share them. So, if you can’t trust the pictures, trust me on this one. These are a winner.

Roasted Red Pepper & Mozz Turkey Burgers
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground turkey breast
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained and diced
1 cup shredded mozzarella, plus 4 tablespoons for melting over burgers
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Montreal chicken seasoning
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons roasted red peppers
Hamburger buns

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, combine the turkey, peppers, mozzarella, and seasonings in a large bowl and mix thoroughly (I use my hands).

Divide mixture into 3-4 patties (depending on the size of your buns) and pat into patties. Fry 5 or so minutes on each side or until cooked through.

While burgers cook, combine mayo and peppers in a food processor and blend until smooth.

When burgers are nearly done, sprinkle with additional cheese and cook until cheese melts. Slather buns with red pepper mayo, top with burgers, and serve.

*Note: I still owe you pictures of the new kitchen… soon, my friends. The kitchen boxes are very nearly unpacked and the counters will soon be clear. And then comes the big reveal!

chinese take out minus the take out

Man… I’ve been out of the loop for too long. This moving thing? For the birds. I’m never doing it again. No, really… don’t ever let me decide to move again.


There is, however, a good side to all of this. Not only did we find a house, but we closed last week! I really can’t say enough about having a place of our own again! I know what you’re wondering… how’s the kitchen? Well, my friends, it is – in a word – wonderful. And, just as soon as I have everything in order, I will show you just how wonderful.


For now, I’ve got to deal with the chaos of unpacking box after box (after box), and you’ll have to settle for the perfect way to get your chinese take out fix without having to actually pay for take out… or to wait for it to arrive at your door!


Teriyaki Chicken with Edamame and Broccoli
1 lb whole wheat linguine, cooked to al dente and drained
3 Tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 Tablespoons AP flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups frozen broccoli florets
2 cups frozen edamame (shelled)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While oil heats, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss in flour to coat. Add chicken to hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through.

Meanwhile, mix 3/4 cup of the chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger together and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix remaining 1/4 cup of broth with cornstarch to form a slurry. Set aside.

When chicken is cooked through, remove to a plate and cover to keep warm. Add teriyaki mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened slightly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Return chicken to pan along with broccoli and edamame. Cook until vegetables are heated through, then toss with cooked pasta to coat.

after school special

I love the challenge of themed food days at work. Rather than everyone just bringing random things all willy-nilly, I love the order that a theme brings to things.

Getting the idea that we recently had a food day? You’re sharp, aren’t you? Well… we did. And the theme was “after school special” which loosely translated to all the fun childhood snacks you got into when you got home from school and just couldn’t wait until dinner.


I was immediately thinking of something peanut butter and jelly like. My first thought was of a PB&J muffin, but then I remembered something I saw on the Food Network ages ago… Ina’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. All the fun flavor of the quintessential after school snack in a bar cookie form? Love it.


Not only was the idea lovely, but the recipe resulted in an fun little cookie that was definitely a winner. Perfect, by the way for that Fourth of July event you’re going to this weekend. In fact, I think maybe I’ll whip up another batch myself this weekend and try them with raspberry jam. Yum.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
(adapted from Ina Garten)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups creamy peanut butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups grape jelly
2/3 cups roasted peanuts
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jelly evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven. Sprinkle with peanuts and PB chips and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.


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