Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte

This week's challenge comes from Amy of Food, Family and Fun. This is only my second TWD recipe, and to be candid, something about it scared the fool out of me. Maybe it was the ganache. But then I remembered the Fancy Nancy books I read to my kids, and told myself "ganache is just a fancy way of saying chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs all mixed up together." Pep talk delivered, I got back to the recipe and was delighted to realize that I was lacking an essential tool needed to make the torte and therefore had to go shopping. So step one was to stop by one of my very favorite retailers for an 8 inch springform pan.

Rounding out my shopping preparations was a trip to the packy to purchase Chambord. I always feel like I am doing something naughty when I go into a package store, even though I have been legal for nearly 15 years. The guy working there was chain smoking, heavily tatooed and pierced, and wearing headphones and a Jane's Addiction t-shirt. He pointed me to a ginormous bottle of Chambord. I told him I only needed a tablespoon for a recipe and asked if there was a smaller bottle. No, just the big bottle. Seeing as the Chambord was over $60 and an optional ingredient, I almost bagged it, but then Rocker Boy convinced me that it was a timeless classic with any chocolate/raspberry dessert, would be delightful in hot chocolate on a cold winter's night, and would last for years. I have always been a salesperson's dream come true, and to the surprise of no one who knows me, I bought the Chambord.

Next hurdle was dealing with the seeds of doubt planted in my head by posts on the TWD website calling attention to the fact that the ganache contained raw eggs. I hadn't really zoned in on that fact when I first read the recipe. I asked Amanda if she was worried, and she said that she was not, as she eats raw eggs every time she bakes. Excellent point, Amanda. I am also a veteran batter eater, but somehow it doesn't seem like a few licks of batter should count towards your daily salmonella allowance in quite the way that 8 raw eggs in three layers of chocolate might. I ended up using a tip from savvy TWD-ers and found pasteurized eggs at Publix:

I have no idea how they pasteurize eggs. Come to think of it, I have no idea how they pasteurize anything. But now that I know they have these on the market, I may well buy them every time I bake, so that I can eat the batter with abandon. Okay, moving on from all this salmonella talk.

I started with the ganache. Once I got past the fancy French name, it didn't sound too terribly difficult, and it really wasn't. The chocolate and butter melted nicely in the bowl over the pan; I didn't have the separation issues that Dorie mentioned in the book.

The humble beginnings of the ganache:

The sugar and eggs whisked right in. I worried a bit that mine didn't have any bubbles, and therefore there didn't seem to be any reason to whack the bowl on the side of the counter to de-bubble it, but I did it anyway, because who doesn't like to whack things every now and then? It looked, smelled and tasted so rich that I felt guilty just being in the same room with it. The finished ganache:

It spread into the pan easily enough, and I stuck it in the freezer and moved on to the ice cream. I used Mayfield Vanilla, which was very good, but hardly super premium. I added it to the pureed raspberries and, of course, the Chambord, a.k.a. The World's Most Expensive Tablespoon:

The ice cream was UNBELIEVABLY delicious. That had to be because of the Chambord! I was a little worried that my texture wasn't right, however. Despite my conservative food processor pulsing, it seemed a little closer to the liquid end of the spectrum than it did the creamy end of the spectrum. So I fretted that it would be a little icy and not quite creamy enough once it refroze inside the torte.

I layered it all up. This recipe requires a wait time of 15 to 30 minutes between layers to let each new layer set. That worked well for me because everything I do happens in 15 to 30 minute bursts. The torte-making night went something like "spread ganache, give the kids baths, spread ice cream, read the kids books, spread ganache, deal with laundry, spread ice cream, watch Olympics, spread ganache, go to bed." I feel certain that the reality TV show trucks will be rolling up to my house any day now.

I was pretty sure that my layers were uneven. I am not good at eyeballing "one third of the ganache" or "half the ice cream." Instructions like this cause me angst every time. I am not an eyeballer. My grandmother, who was a phenomenal baker, did not even own measuring cups or spoons -- she eyeballed everything. I inherited her love of baking, but sadly, I did not inherit her talent for eyeballing. Also, my second ganache layer still seemed a little soft after 30 minutes and probably needed more time to set, but I am just not patient about such things, so I went ahead and slapped the ice cream on that layer anyway, knowing full well that this might cause me to end up with a wavy torte. Given all this, I was very curious to cut into the torte and see exactly how dizzy I got when I looked at my layers.

I woke up the next morning like a kid on Christmas, just itching to take my torte out of the pan. But our morning routine is hectic, and I decided that adding "extract torte from springform pan" to the to-do list might just cause the whole house of cards to come tumbling down. So I had to wait nearly 24 hours after the torte assembly to see the finished product.

The recipe suggests using a blowdryer to soften the torte enough to get it out of the pan. I decided that this was a two person job, and recruited my husband to blowdry while I lifted the pan. Here is David, who had to wait 36 years to blowdry his first torte:

To my great delight, the blowdryer method worked like a charm, and the torte came out perfectly! As I suspected, my layers were uneven. The best side:
The "if you were a Christmas tree, I'd stick you in the corner" side:

By the slice:

The ice cream, as I feared, had sort of that icy edge to it that you get when ice cream melts and refreezes, but it had a great flavor. Looking back, my ice cream came out of the carton soft, so it is not surprising that it essentially melted when processed. Next time, I will crank up my freezer and start out with very hard ice cream; I think that will help with the texture. Overall, the torte was delicious. My husband does not eat chocolate (and yet, I married him anyway) but we had family in town for the weekend, so thankfully I had some tasters around. Thanks Mom, Dad, Jane & Grady! Everyone seemed to like the torte. I would definitely make this again. I love the chocolate/raspberry combo, but depending on the occasion or season, it would be great with vanilla, strawberry, mint, or peanut butter ice cream as well. Lots of possibilities here. This one's a keeper!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Granola Grabbers

This week's TWD recipe was selected by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. I bought two kinds of granola, Mona's and Kellogg's, figuring I'd use whichever one I liked better in the recipe.

I suspect that Mona's is much more authentic, and would probably be preferred by true outdoorsmen, but I am an inside girl and I liked the Kellogg's better. Kellogg's was clumpier than Mona's -- the recipe said to break up large clumps by hand, but there was no way that those bad boys were coming apart by hand. So I broke out my faithful rolling pin and let the marble do the work:

This is a great recipe to make with small kids. It contains small quantities of many different dry ingredients, so kids can help with pouring everything into the bowl and mixing things together.

Things were humming along nicely when I got to the butter creaming part. I am not the best planner in the world. You can pretty much bet that any butter that I need for a recipe will be in the freezer when I need it. This one called for room temperature butter, so I decided to defrost it in the microwave 10 seconds at a time. But I got cocky at one point and went for 20 seconds, and this is what I got:

That would be melted butter, not room temperature butter. I just kept thinking about my friend Julie's wise words: "disasters are much more interesting." I thought long and hard about just using the melted butter, but since this is my first TWD recipe, I decided to do the right thing and start over with new butter.
I snuck a taste of the batter -- so good!

And the finished product:

I love these cookies. I was amazed that I could so thoroughly love a cookie that contains ingredients that I don't ordinarily like on their own, such as wheat germ and coconut. Some cookies are at their best warm, right out of the oven -- chocolate chip being the classic example. But I think these cookies are best the next day, once they are thoroughly cooled and set up. My husband wanted me to add that they go really well with beer, thanks to the peanuts. A cookie that is equally at home whether it is accompanied by milk or beer. We can call off the search; we have found the perfect cookie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


In some ways, this is really not the best time in my life to be joining an online baking club. I have a 6, 3.5 and almost 1 year old. I work out of the home part-time as a lawyer. I spend a lot of time in the car driving people here and there. Life is busy. Life is messy. Do I really want to subject my kitchen to weekly flour spills and batter explosions on top of everything else?

But the truth is, I am a compulsive hobby seeker, and since having kids, I have tended to be drawn to more "domestic" hobbies. So shortly after Elizabeth was born, I decided that I was going to start scrapbooking. I went out and spent several hundreds of dollars on scrapbooking paraphernalia, right down to an eyelet press (which, in case you don't know anything about scrapbooking, is really not the kind of Scrapbooking 101 essential that you need starting out). I stayed up late every night for two or three weeks making very amateur-ish pages, and totally enjoyed it. And then I packed it all up in the fancy scrapbooking case that I purchased during the binge, and have not cropped since. That was about three years ago.

But shortly after that I felt like I needed another creative outlet, so I signed up for beginning sewing at The Smocking Bird. I thought that this definitely sounded like the perfect hobby for me! I would make cute clothes for my kids! I would make beautiful silk draperies with french pleats and dress up store-bought pillows with fringe and tassles! So I went to the class, but always felt like I was operating a step or two behind the rest of the class. I decided that the problem was that I didn't own a sewing machine, and went out and bought a shiny new Janome machine. I even went to the special class that came with my sewing machine, but could never quite figure out how to get the damn thing threaded. So I put my sewing supplies away for a while, but I WILL figure out how to sew someday when I have more time (and private lessons - obviously I need more attention than can be given in a class setting).

So I guess you could say that recently, anyway, my real hobby has been purchasing supplies for potential new hobbies. And it is very true that shopping is the one hobby that I have managed to stick with no matter how crazy life gets.

Yet here I was, still looking for a fun, creative activity, when I started talking to my friend Amanda about this online baking club that she is in, Tuesdays with Dorie, based on Dorie Greenspan's amazing cookbook "Baking: From My Home to Yours." On paper, baking is really the perfect hobby for me. I already love to bake and wish I did more of it. I already have most of the major equipment (the Kitchen Aid, the food processor, the rolling pin, a wide assortment of pans, etc). Yet surely this baking club will provide me with some occasions to buy new tools, which is always important with any hobby that I am considering, given my love of shopping. I can bake with my kids (well, we can do box brownies together -- not sure how they will do with galettes, but they can definitely pour this or that ingredient into a bowl, which is what they really like to do anyway). The fact that club rules require all members to bake twice a month will hold me accountable and keep me baking (because I am a rule follower above all else). And, weekly baking sessions will mesh perfectly with my goal of losing the last 10 pounds of baby weight. Er, okay, maybe not so much on that last one. But in any event, I am up for the challenge! I hope to be up and ready to officially join in on the action in the next week or two!
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