Sunday, November 27, 2011

{DBC} sans rival

I feel like it's been months since I've done a DBC. Which is, well, true, since I've missed the last two. I just did not have the copious amounts of time necessary to spend baking croissants and breads.

Not that November has been any less busy, but now that papers, end-of-term assignments, and thesis proposals are established and underway, a large part of my mind has been freed up for things totally unrelated to academics.

[Things aside from BBC television, anyway, which, as it were, I've finished all of save for Merlin, and even then weekly airings keep me from spending hours upon hours in front of the TV.  I've even had time to read actual literature and finally got around to finishing The Things They Carried (a four-year long endeavor, not because my capabilities of reading a 200-page novel are deficient, but because I've never just sat down and read it all the way through), which is a feat in and of itself and quite possibly my biggest intellectual accomplishment of the semester. Some might say I lead a sad existence. They would probably be right.]

But I saw this month's challenge and knew I had to participate. Not only was it something that didn't have yeast or gelatin in it, but was something I could finish up in one afternoon and looked gorgeous to boot.

Filipino Sans Rival, originally a French dessert comprised of layers of dacquoise and a rich buttercream frosting. Admittedly, Tommy and my version is pretty much the farthest thing from the traditional as you can get while still cheating your way by calling it a "Sans Rival," but it made for a really delicious dessert.

I'll give you the recipe for ours, but if you want to go the traditional route, omit the cocoa in the cake and chocolate in the buttercream, and use cashews instead of almonds.

Baking and Super Smash Bros seems to be the established norm whenever Tommy comes over for DBC. It makes we wish DBCs were a weekly occurrence, if it wouldn't mean that I would probably end up having to drop out of university.

Filipino "Sans Rival"
Adapted from the November Daring Baker's Challenge

For the dacquoise, you'll need:
  • 10 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups almonds, finely ground
For the French buttercream, you'll need:
  • 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 sticks [20 tbsp] butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour four 9-inch pans (or two 9-inch pans, keeping in mind that you'll have to bake an additional two batches). Make sure you grease and flour them very well, as the dacquoise becomes quite sticky. Set aside.

In a clean and dry stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until frothy, about two minutes. Sprinkle with cream of tartar. Gradually add sugar and cocoa powder, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until stiff peaks form, 7-10 minutes. Fold in 1 3/4 cups of the ground almonds, reserving about 1/4 cup to garnish. Divide the batter equally among the four pans (or divide half of the batter equally among the two pans, reserving the other half of the batter for when the first two cakes are done). Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set. Now is a good time to make the buttercream. Once cakes are down, allow the them to cool for a couple of minutes in the pan, but then overturn quite soon onto cooling racks.

To prepare the frosting:
Whisk the egg yolks on high speed in a large bowl until they've turned a pale yellow and have doubled in volume. In a medium saucepan, whisk the water and sugar over medium flame until a syrup has formed. The sugar should be a very pale amber color, but make sure to remove from the heat before it caramelizes. With the whisk still running on high speed, very carefully pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl. Continue beating on high until the mixture comes to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Still on high speed, add butter, one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated. Add in melted chocolate and whisk for another 30-60 minutes, until uniform. Refrigerate the buttercream for at least one hour before using, and whip it smooth before frosting.

To assemble the cake:
Place one layer of dacquoise on a serving plate. Frost the top with about 2 heaping tablespoons of the buttercream. Place a second layer on top and frost. Repeat with the remaining two layers. Using the remaining buttercream, frost the top and sides of the cake. Press the reserved ground almonds along the sides or top of the cake. Garnish with whole almonds, if desired.

I very much loved the look of this cake. Images flashed before my eyes bringing back memories, visions of small patisseries in Italy, with layers of homemade cakes piled high with thick, creamy frostings, imperfect in their presentation but beautiful in their simplicity, rustic in a very comforting, understated way.

Those are always the cakes that taste the best, after all.

I myself am not partial to meringue, for the most part, and really detest buttercream frostings, so I didn't have very high expectations for this cake. Not that I doubted it would be tasty; rather, I didn't expect to like it as much as Tommy or Noosh might. I was gravely [fortunately?] mistaken, and really just had to drive the thing over to Shea to give to Matt for fear that I would spend the rest of the afternoon and evening with my head in the fridge, cutting slices and eating them with a fork straight off of the serving plate.

It was tantalizingly good.

In fact, I so loved the soft, chewiness of the dacqouise that it was the inspiration for one of my Thanksgiving desserts [and a huge hit with the fam, so clearly dacquoise is the ticket].

And now, another month is gone, and there's only December standing between me and 2012. It's the point in the semester where I'm so, dangerously close to being done that making myself study for finals and finish up term papers is actually physically painful.

I just want to be home, snuggled up under covers, finishing up Assassins Creed: Revelations, and eating enough home-cooked meals to rival a bear preparing for hibernation. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

[churros and orange juice] cinnamon cake with dulce de leche frosting and salted caramel shards

I am just realizing that 11/11/11 is happening tomorrow. I am also realizing that this was a Facebook group I joined at least two years ago, thinking "oh, that's so far away, I have forever to think up the most epic wish I can conceive."

Yet, an odd-two years later, I don't know what to wish for. Two years ago I thought I'd be more mature, with a concrete path laid out for my life, knowing exactly what I'd want to do and how long it'd take me to do it. Two years ago I thought that being in my 20s meant I'd be an independent adult, fully-functioning social paradigm of grace and poise, with a repertoire of meritorious experiences under my belt.


All I've learned since then is that I'm likely not at all capable of surviving even a week in the real world without parental guidance, financial support, or an academic counselor telling me what I should do with my life. Perhaps I should wish for some direction. Or coming up with an adequate thesis topic before Thanksgiving break. Or being proposed to by a handsome prince with loads of cash.

I kid, of course. Okay, perhaps not so much about the rich prince, but as for the rest, I'm not concerned. Still growing up, after all. And learning, and experiencing, and all that important stuff.

All that's more useful than wishing, anyway. Where will wishing get you, save for crushing disappointment when laziness trumps pro-activity? Not that I'll stop being lazy, of course, but best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Particularly when that basket is just a socially constructed label of "epicness" for one of the [admittedly] coolest numerical dates in existence.

But I digress. This post isn't about wishes. It is about a date, though, and an important one, at that. Specifically, my dear friend Zach's birthday. Which was yesterday, but whatever.

[Also my father's, incidentally, but that celebration is for another day when I'm actually at home. Nevertheless, all my love and best wishes, dad!]

Zach loves dessert. I know this because he and Jerm often serve as my human garbage disposals for leftover baked goods. But when I bake for Zach, it has always been with peanut butter. It's a safe bet, since the only thing Zach loves more than dessert is peanut butter. But I'm tired of peanut butter and predictability. I wanted to do something unique, and different, and special, and totally and utterly for Zach.

So I decided on churros.

...okay, so, not really churros. But a cake totally and utterly churro-inspired. I had been pondering for a while earlier in the week about what I could do outside of the realm of legume butters, and suddenly it struck me. And I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it earlier.

Cinnamon Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting and Salted Caramel Shards
A bakedbeen original.
Yields one 9-inch cake.

For the cinnamon cake, you'll need:
  • 4 eggs
  • scant 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp whole milk
  • 2 tsps vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder

For the dulce de leche frosting, you'll need:
  • 11 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened 
  • 1 14-oz can dulce de leche
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the salted caramel shards, you'll need:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel

To prepare the cinnamon cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. In a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, mix eggs and sugar on medium speed until blended. Add in milk and vanilla and incorporate. Lower speed and add flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Mix until just blended. Divide batter equally among both pans and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when poked in the center. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto wire racks and let cool completely.

To prepare the dulce de leche frosting: 
In a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add dulce de leche and mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fully blended.  Lower speed to low and slowly add in powdered sugar. Gradually raise speed to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat another 30 seconds. Frosting can be prepared up to a day ahead and kept refrigerated until using.

To prepare the salted caramel shards:
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high flame, whisk sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Once the syrup starts to bubble, stop whisking. Allow syrup to heat, undisturbed, until the mixture turns a deep amber color. Quickly remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup onto the aluminum foil, allowing it to spread out into a thin layer. Sprinkle fleur de sel evenly over the sugar. Let sugar harden, about 30 minutes. Peel sugar off of the aluminum foil and, with your hands, break it apart into shards. Set aside and cover loosely with cling-wrap until using.

To assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a generous layer of the frosting on top of the cake. Sprinkle some of the shards on top of the frosting. If the shards are large, break them into small pieces [but be sure to reserve a few large shards to decorate]. Place the second layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Refrigerate until serving.

Right before serving the cake, pierce the remaining large shards around the center of the cake.

Zach and I spent 4.5 weeks in Spain earlier this summer, which, if you know me at all, are familiar with in excruciating detail. We had a marvelous time, of course, from exploring Valencia to trying new foods to visiting Granada to actually being able to converse with the locals. One of my fondest memories, though, is on one of our walks back from university.

It was a nice walk, about 2.5 miles, strolling past familiar old bookshops, banks, and boutiques, chatting about anything and everything. Zach had been telling me, since day one, that he wanted nothing more than to eat some good, Spanish churros, but we had yet to have done so. So we decided, probably about halfway into our trip, after having come to that startling realization, to stop at one of the unassuming cafes by our apartments to eat some flipping churros.

And they were delicious. Fresh and crispy, still hot and leaving traces of cinnamon sugar on our fingers, a mug full of warm chocolate sauce for dipping, and a tall glass of Valencian orange juice for patriotism. A perfect 15 minutes of sitting in the center of the plaza with nothing on our minds save for realization that we were actually in Spain, sitting in the center of the plaza, eating churros.

And so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to give some of that perfection back to Zach for his 21st birthday. Not exactly churros, but a cake unequivocally inspired by that afternoon. Perhaps not the answer to his epic wish for Friday, but intended to remind him of something meaningful.

Unparalleled deliciousness was only a bonus, really.

[But seriously. One of the best cakes I've ever made. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but seriously.]

Though I think I'm settling with the rich prince wish for 11/11/11. No harm in trying, right?

Only crushing disappointment can come out of this, after all.