Club Baked: Caramel Apple Cake

This week, as part of Club Baked, we tackled the Caramel Apple Cake (hosted by Lulu the Baker). This is a three layer, spiced apple cake with a caramel butter cream frosting. The cake, and it's six sticks of butter, is otherwise known as "the cake that induced a heart attack". Fettuccine Alfredo has nothing on this cake.

Just pretend you didn't read that last bit as you enjoy your slice and then pawn off very small slices to unsuspecting friends and family.

It wasn't a very complicated cake to make, just a bit time consuming. I first had to hunt down a third 8" pan. Perhaps real bakers have three, but I was really thinking I was doing pretty good when I upgraded to two just a short time ago.

The morning of, although you could just as easily tackle this part the night prior, I made the caramel sauce. I was tempted to make cinnamon cajeta since I knew that recipe was foul proof, but I went ahead with the Baked caramel recipe and I am glad I did. It's much thinner than the cajeta, but I think mine turned out a bit too thin. The thinner consistency comes in handy when whipping the frosting, but as a topping, it's a mess. Once I got all the equipment, and restocked my butter, and had set aside the caramel, I was ready to begin the cake.

The apples and spices in the cake remind me of apple bread, a good thing since I looove apple bread. I used unsweetened store bought apple sauce, although if you are adventurous you could make your own. It's not hard to make applesauce at home, but this cake is quite involved as is, so I gave myself a bit of a reprieve on that one. It's not like I'm worried about the nutrition value...

Once I had the cakes out of the oven (which took a bit longer than the recipe indicated, about 50 minutes), I began to work on the frosting. I was truly nervous here since I had heard some other bakers had trouble, but mine came together without a hitch. I did heat the goat's milk, sugar and flour in a cast iron dutch oven, so the temperature was quite stable and slow to heat. Once it started to thicken, I poured it into my mixing bowl and whipped until cool and then, of course, added three sticks of a little butter and the caramel sauce. Seriously, I read the recipe several times just to be sure that was the correct amount of butter.

With the cakes cool, I assembled the cake into three layers, with lots of butter cream frosting in between. I also snuck in a bit more caramel, drizzling a thin layer on top of each cake layer. It quickly soaked into the cake after which I smothered it in frosting. With an added drizzle a moderate pour of caramel to the top, it was ready to serve.

I served the first slice to my hubs and I (we shared as I was still getting over the butter) and he told me that I wasn't eating fast enough to stop him from eating the whole thing (He doesn't know about the butter...). He even said that I was getting better at baking cakes (I'm a pie person) and that I had perfected frosting. Needless to say, this cake was a winner. It wasn't too sweet as I had feared it would be. It does have a very moist, dense consistency similar to an apple bread, with the light sweetness of the frosting. The frosting is like a sweet, buttery cloud. I thought the thickness of the frosting layers was obnoxious at first but, once I tasted them, it all made sense.

I would say that if I had been more adventurous and made homemade applesauce, leaving little chunks of apple in there so not to be quite as homogeneous as store bought, it would have been even better. Like off the charts good. The hubs wished it had a bit more caramel, but that was easily remedied with a drizzle from the jar left in the fridge.

All in all, as if you couldn't tell, this was a great fall cake. The spice, the apples, the caramel - pure fall. <3 Check out Lulu the Baker's blog for the recipe!

Club Baked: Sawdust Pie & Homemade White Chocolate

This week's recipe is hosted by Tessa of The Cookin' Chemist and she selected Sawdust Pie. I'll be honest, I was a bit hesitant to try this one. The name was not the most appetizing and there wasn't a photo in the book indicating what to expect. But since I was busy studying for my licensing exam and missed the last two Club Baked picks, I thought I should give this a try. And I'm so glad I did!

The pie itself was easy to assemble with some prep - making the pie crust and white chocolate. (Sidenote: these two steps took longer to make than the actual pie, which shows you just how easy and quick this pie goes together) Due to that pesky cow's milk allergy, I can't have regular white chocolate since it contains milk powder. I thought about omitting the white chocolate all together and just using dark, but I also really wanted to try to make the white chocolate as I noticed a few other Baked recipes used them as well. The homemade white chocolate was the only substitution that I had to make in the entire recipe and I think it helped make the pie less sweet overall.  

Recipe for white chocolate at end of post.

For the pie crust, I stuck with the basic recipe found in Baked: Explorations with one minor change. I substituted vanilla sugar for plain granulated. I keep vanilla sugar in my pantry and sneak it in to all kinds of baked goods and the pie crust seemed like the perfect place.

Once I had the pie crust assembled, the rest was easy peasy. A few pulses of the food processor on some graham crackers and pecans, a little shaving of white chocolate, a handful of dried, unsweetened coconut and some scoops of sugar and I was almost done! I'll admit I was concerned about the coconut flavor in this pie. I like fresh coconut, but the dried stuff I normally have a texture aversion to, but in this pie, it is barely noticeable with all the other strong flavors and doesn't stand out texturally with everything else.

I couldn't help sneaking in 2 ounces of  semi-sweet chocolate, though. I was so happy I added this when I tasted the pie. The bite of the semi-sweet chocolate really complimented the nutty sweetness of the pie. After adding the (6!) egg whites and filling the pie crust, it was time for the oven. (Don't worry about those 6 egg yolks, I feel some ice cream making in my near future...Come to think of it, a scoop of cold ice cream would go fabulously with a warm slice of this pie...)

This pie was easy to make and tasty to eat. Sort of a less sweet, less syrupy version of traditional pecan pie. I served this pie warm, with a big, fat dollop of homemade whipped cream to some of the hub's friends. After looking skeptically at something called "Sawdust Pie" and quizzing me on ingredients a few times, each took a slice and cleaned their plates. Success!

Thanks to Tessa for choosing this recipe that I never would have given a second thought without her prompting. It's a great fall pie and would be a great dessert offering for Thanksgiving. Check out her blog for the recipe. Also, check out other baker's links here.

White Chocolate 
adapted from this recipe

2 oz. food grade cocoa butter - They carried this at my Whole Foods, but you can purchase online as well)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp goat's milk powder
itty bitty pinch of salt

Melt the cocoa butter in the microwave in a microwave safe dish. I used a Pyrex container with a lip to pour so it is easier to fill the molds later. Start with 2 minutes and add 1 minute at a time until all the cocoa butter solids are liquefied.

Using a pot holder, remove the cocoa butter from the microwave and stir in the extract, sugar, milk powder and pinch of salt. Continue to stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated and melted into the cocoa butter.

Pour the mixture into mold. I used silicone cupcake molds that I had on hand. An ice cube tray would work, too if you don't have candy molds. You could buy a fancy candy mold if you want, but it's not necessary. Then simply place the molds into the fridge to harden and a few hours later, you have great tasting, smooth, homemade white chocolate. :)

last weekend

Last weekend Nick and I headed out into the (finally) fabulous fall desert weather. It was perfect for hiking - not to cool and not too hot. I packed up some apples and pumpkin gobs (gosh I need to share that recipe with you guys) along with some water and spent the day relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and of course, climbing on rocks. Nick and I were both avid climbers as children, much to the dismay of our parents, and climbed anything and everything. According to my mom, I was in a walker for all of 30 seconds before I climbed out onto a chair and then onto a table. Nick would climb his mother's kitchen cabinets just to steal chocolate. Almost all of the childhood pictures I've seen have him standing on the top of something he climbed (the large whale statue at Sea World for instance) with his brothers posing firmly on the ground. (Based on this, I am already fearful of what our children will end up like...)

But, now that we are in the desert, with rocks 'a plenty, we both have an outlet for all our climbing around. It was a great time, heading off the beaten path at times to check things out, or just to see if we could get there. And with plenty of trails and routes around these parts, and each one changing so much with the seasons, we are sure to have plenty to keep us entertained.

making ricotta at home

I've always wanted to make cheese. Seriously. When I was a kid in the bathtub, I would take the crate that my toys were in, dump the toys and pretend to "cut" cheese (no, I didn't do that, you're gross!) like I saw on Mr. Roger's. 20 years or so later and I finally really did it!

I decided to make ricotta because it is most definitely a beginner's cheese. Plus, finding ricotta made with sheep or goat's milk in the states is impossibly difficult - and with the Italian we eat in this house, a solution to this problem was needed. Ricotta is more traditionally made with sheep and goat's milk, so no risk of it turning out super weird by substituting milks (Is this ever a problem? I don't know?)

After some research, I decided to try a few different methods. The first one I tried had you heating the milk until just below a simmer then stirring in the acid. But those directions were not specific enough. My simmer differed from the authors and led to ... nothing. Turned up the heat as suggested and went a little too hot. I did end up getting this to work using a thermometer and some more precise directions, but trying to keep such a specific temperature for such a short time ended up being quite an involved process which I found ridiculously, unnecessarily complicated.

The second method I tried was easier than boiling water. Pour milk and acid into a pot, let sit 24 hours. Place pot on stove and heat on low for 1 hour. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain. I think that's a recipe short enough to tweet, even though I don't tweet.

I like it.

I also liked making it. I mean, it was easy. I found that I needed to heat mine to about "2" on my stove, but I do suggest starting at the lowest setting and only increasing if you find it's not getting hot enough. I make mine in 8 cup batches (1/2 gal). I have made it with 1/4 c. vinegar and 1/4 c lemon juice, both of which worked equally well.

Using goat's milk, it is more expensive than buying Ricotta Salata and re-hydrating it, but it's waaaay better. It's much creamier and adds a little something to the recipes that was lacking when using the drier Ricotta Salata. I think Ricotta Salata is an acceptable substitute in a jiffy, but when cheese is the star of the dish, I would consider making your own ricotta.

Have you ever made cheese? If so, what kind? 

Fall, a tribute.

Gosh, I love fall. Love love love love love it. I love the crispness in the air. The layers of clothing. The warm, spicy flavors. The football. The pre-season hockey. The plaid. The flannel. The wool sock and boot wearing. The colors. The red noses. Thanksgiving. The acceptableness of pumpkin being added to just about every food, or Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

I wait all year, and although it won't be in stores, I keep my eye out for it at the very first hint of fall (like back to school sales, which are really at the end of summer). So you can imagine my delight when I popped into Whole Foods for a quickie shopping trip (for coffee and cheese) and saw the bright orange four pack shining bright on the beer display, begging passerby to give it a go.

It's expensive. The only downfall (@ $10.99/ 4). But seriously, it comes once a year. It's amazing. In my opinion, it is the BEST beer ever. No kidding. And the way I justify it (as if you even need to after you taste that punkin deliciousness in a bottle) is that $3.00 for a bottle of beer from the grocery is expensive, but if you go out to a bar, it's par for the course, so skip bar hopping and stay in to drink this (with friends of course, so you aren't too sketchy, or not, it's up to you).

Carve a punkin or two while you're at it. Or just hang out and watch football on the couch in your wool socks.

You're welcome.

Club Baked: Boston Cream Pie. I've got some splainin to do.

The Boston Cream Pie. I'll save my review for the end of my post as I think it requires a bit of background...

I made my first batch of pastry cream the night before, as suggested, to speed things up the next day. You caught that I said first batch, so something must have gone wrong, no? All was going fine, but all of the sudden, this happened:

I'm not sure, it never boiled or even bubbled as the recipe said it should for 2 minutes. It started to thicken and look tasty, but being a novice, I wanted to see some bubble action and set a timer, to make sure I was doing this per the book. I think (speculation, of course) that because I had substituted heavy cream for the whole milk as the recipe suggested that it may, with the additional fat, have set up far sooner than if I had stuck with milk. But I can't have milk, so whatevs.

So, the next afternoon, I'm in the kitchen working on the cakes. Place them in the oven, insert a bamboo drink stirrer because that's what I've got and the thing looked clean, honest. But after 20 minutes of cool down, I flipped over the cake pan and ended up with this:

*Lots of expletives*

So, I take a break, hubs and I eat the half baked cake off the plate, determine it is delicious and decide to screw the heavy cream in the cake batter and use goat's milk instead (I tend not to use it as much in desserts because sometimes the flavor is pretty distinct). Round two: I leave the cakes in for a full 30 minutes and turn up the oven to 350F. We usually bake smaller quantities in a toaster oven, so big oven baking was an eye opener. Lesson learned: the big oven does not accurately heat - at 350 my oven was reading slightly below 325. Yikes. We're renters.

I then continue to dirty up pots by making the chocolate sauce. I think this came out as it was supposed to on the first try. Thank goodness.

By now, my kitchen is a disaster. Hubs comes in and cleans off a little spot for me to assemble and I get to work. I flip over my cakes. One looks good and one has this sort of custardy film on the bottom. I say screw it, scrape it off and continue to work on getting this thing put together.

I fill it with some seriously heavenly pastry cream (seriously) and top it with the pretty average frosting. Sadly, at this point, I was so over the cake and staring at a kitchen that looked like this:

So I chucked the cake in the fridge and left the clean up for the morning.

I thought distancing my self a bit from the cake would give me time to get over all the trouble it gave me and let me give a more honest review of the cake. I love the pastry filling. That stuff was delicious. I was licking the bowl and really, really enjoyed that stuff.

The finished cake, though, left me wondering what happened to the delicious half baked mess from the night before*. Because properly cooked, I don't know, the cake wasn't my fav. It was moist, airy and yet still somehow not delightful. I think the prior Baked cakes had my expectations pretty high. The frosting was ok, but I preferred the one we made on the last cake - the Sunday Night cake.

Overall, the pastry cream was amazing. The rest was just ok for me. I would make the filling again in a heartbeat and fill pastries and doughnuts and eat it with a spoon straight from the bowl hidden in the back of the fridge...But I would probably find another cake and frosting recipe. These just didn't do it for me.

To see other baker's (more unbiased) reviews, check out the Club: Baked post. For the recipe, head on over to Brooke's Bountiful Kitchen.

*Hubs did like the cake.