Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TWD: Coconut Lime Tea Cake

I thought of myself as a coconut hater for so long that it is hard for me to remember that I'm now a (sometimes) coconut liker. My mind immediately defaults to its standard coconut setting (aversion, disinterest, lack of enthusiasm, Coppertone) when I see a coconut recipe, and this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection, Coconut Tea Cake, was no exception. It wasn't until the neurotransmitters carried the "Coconut Butter Thins!" message to the "baking motivation" section of my brain that I was able to rally enough to make this cake.

And (how predictable is this?) I'm so glad I did! I decided to make the coconut lime version of the cake, since I've enjoyed that combo before. The cake came together easily. I did make one mistake though - I was supposed to beat together the eggs and the sugar until "pale, thick and almost doubled in volume." Instead, I just beat the eggs until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, and then had to go back and add the sugar (and lime zest) later and beat for another few minutes. Those poor eggs. Believe it or not, I actually have to read things carefully for a living. Apparently when I'm not on the clock I prefer to read every third word.

The dry ingredients, coconut (I toasted mine), vanilla and dark rum get added to the eggs eggs and sugar, along with a melted butter/coconut milk mixture. I don't think I've ever used regular, full-fat coconut milk before. I've used light coconut milk in various Thai recipes. Dorie warns that you need to stir the coconut milk first, and it states clearly on the can that coconut milk naturally hardens and separates, but even so, I wasn't ready for this:

Mmmmmmm, can't wait for that coconut tea cake!

I poured the batter into my kugelhopf pan, and an hour later, D and I were eating and reviewing the cake:

D: It's really really good. It's kind of dry, but not in a bad way.
C: Exactly! That's just how Dorie's friend who grew up eating Austrian desserts likes it.
D: Um, yeah. I mean it's really good. It's not what I'd call a decadent cake.
C: Okay good, I nailed it then. I'd be worried if you thought this was decadent. Dorie specifically says that it is more of a well-mannered cake.
C: Good with coffee or tea.
C: Refined.
C: Perfect for cutting slice after slice every time you walk by it.
D: OH COME ON, that was a WALK!!!

(My taster got distracted by the end of the Tennessee/Michigan State game.)

One thing we both agreed on: the coconut flavor was VERY mild. If you are coconut-ambivalent, this is the perfect coconut cake for you. Honestly, if it weren't for the occasional coconut flake (more of a texture issue there), I'm not sure I would even identify this as a coconut cake. David said that he wouldn't go quite THAT far, but he agreed that the coconut was subtle. Either way, we loved the flavor and thoroughly enjoyed the cake.

Carmen of Carmen Cooks chose this week's recipes. Fabulous pick, Carmen!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TWD: Dulce de Leche Duos

We recently replaced our ten year old tube TV with an LCD flat screen. Then just weeks later, after listening to our ancient desktop grind and sputter whenever we tried to switch between applications, we bought a laptop and got wireless in the house. After the cable guys left after installing the wireless, I could barely resist the urge to carry the laptop around the house and email my husband from each room: "Works in J's room!" "Emailing you from the garage." "Just thought I'd say a quick hello from the deck." Later that night, as we sat on the couch, David patted my back and said that we had finally arrived in late 2006.

But having the technology in the house does not mean that I understand any of it or can troubleshoot when things go wrong. None of this is intuitive to me, and to make matters worse, I find it a little boring, so I have a hard time paying attention when someone tries to explain it to me. Basically, I can turn the TV on and off, and change channels, and after much studying, I learned to switch between the TV and the Wii. But if one of the kids presses the wrong button and the screen goes to static? Well, there's just nothing to be done about that until David gets home.

Same with computer stuff. I can handle the most basic functions as long as nothing goes wrong, but as soon as it does, I wave the white flag. And that is why the only picture I can post of this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Dulce de Leche Duos, is this lone, sad "bottom of the cookie jar" shot:

I took other pictures of these cookies. I tried to make them look pretty and stack them up and take them outside in good light and everything. And I can see the thumbnails of these dulce de leche cookie pictures in the folder on my (old, since the dulce de leche pix pre-date our new) computer. The thumbnails are plainly dulce de leche duos. But bizarrely, when I double click on the pictures and/or upload them to Blogger, the dulce de leche duo pictures freakishly turn into pictures of my husband opening presents on his birthday.

Wait, that's not a Dulce de Leche Duo! It's David, opening the Star Wars Wii game, given to him by our seven year old, who just happens to have an interest in Star Wars Wii games himself:

Here's another one of my dulce de lecho duo thumbnails that, when double clicked, turns into a picture of David opening a pair of argyle socks:

Does this kind of thing even happen to other people? I can't even begin to find the right words for a google search to help me solve this problem. I'm just hoping that it's not a chronic situation and it goes away on its own.

I did happen to post one dulce de leche duo picture on Flickr, so if you are interested, you can find it here. But if I were you, I'd know that I could probably find a thousand better pictures of dulce de leche duos in other places.

I made these cookies over a month ago (around David's birthday, in fact) so I don't remember much about making them. I had a can of dulce de leche that I was excited to use. I loved the texture of the cookies -- soft and chewy and maybe a little cakey -- but I think opinions about the flavor of these cookies will come down to whether you like the taste of the dulce de leche that you use in the recipe. In the end, I wasn't a huge fan of the canned stuff that I used, and that affected my overall impression of the cookies. I know that several other people made their own dulce de leche for this recipe, and I'll probably give that a try next time. David, on the other hand, LOVED these cookies -- I would say he was as enthusiastic about these as he's been about any cookie I've made with TWD. The kids preferred the singletons over the duos - I guess for them a little canned dulce de leche goes a long way.

I will probably make these again because my hubs was such a big fan of them. I'll attempt my own dulce de leche next time and see how that goes. Jodie of Beansy Loves Cake picked the dulce de leche duos. These were fun to make - thanks for the pick, Jodie!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TWD: Soft Chocolate and Raspberry Tart

I love this tart.

This tart is a perfect example of why I don't bother to order dessert in restaurants anymore. Even excellent restaurants. [Exceptions: the bread pudding souffle at Commander's Palace. And the chocolate souffle at Hot & Hot. Then there's the apple cake at Chez Fon Fon. Oh, and let's not forget the profiteroles at Highlands! Er, nevermind, I guess I do still bother to order dessert in restaurants. My husband told me in our early dating days that he wasn't attracted to salad-eating women, and I'm just doing my part to keep the fire burning.]

But if I wasn't bothering to order desserts in restaurants anymore, it would be because I can make THIS myself:

Dorie's recipes are delicious from top to bottom, but I think her tarts in particular are truly fabulous. After TWD is over and I look back and think about the experience and why it's been so valuable, one reason will be desserts like this one. I never would have even attempted a dessert like this pre-TWD. I would have assumed it was the kind of thing that real bakers make, not hacks like me. But Dorie has demystified the process and broken it down into manageable components, bringing these special, elegant desserts within the reach of the casual home baker.

The tart starts with Dorie's sweet tart dough, fully baked. I've made this dough numerous times, and every time I make it I'm afraid I'm handling it too much or somehow overworking it. And every time, it's delicious anyway. Delicious + forgiving = keeper.

Fill the tart shells with fresh raspberries. I know they're not in season, but mine were beautiful and really delicious.

I made two minis. Should have made the full recipe with this one - I wanted to sneak off for a good cry when this was gone.

It seems like Dorie has a hundred different recipes for ganache, and somehow one is better than the next. The ganache for this tart is made with a combination of milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, sugar, cream, butter and eggs. Dorie describes the texture of the finished product as "seductively slithery," which sounds rather snake-like to me. It is certainly seductive, though -- my intended "one bite" turned into a second, then a third, then a fourth, and then I started to think about rescinding that offer of half a tart that I had just extended to my dad. This tart turned me into a monster, a greedy monster, I tell you. Something about that slithery chocolate with the tart raspberries and the buttery shortbread crust - yup, this was pretty much heaven on a plate.

Nom nom nom . . .

Rachelle of Mommy, I'm Hungry! picked this week's most excellent recipe. Great pick, Rachelle!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TWD: Thumbprints for Us Big Guys

The name of this week's TWD recipe, Thumbprints for Us Big Guys, makes more sense if you own the cookbook (which you REALLY should!), where it follows the "Kids' Thumbprints." The Kids' Thumbprints are peanut butter cookies (or maybe more accurately, peanut butter and jelly cookies), whereas the Big Guy Thumbprints are more of a buttery nutty shortbread cookie. And, as with many things associated with being a Big Guy, making these may involve the kind of minor hassle that you just don't have to deal with when you're a kid; namely, that of tracking down hazelnuts (Dorie's nut of choice for this recipe), which I never even knew were all that exotic until the mainstream Big Guy grocery store in my medium-sized city did not carry them, at least not in any of the normal places where you would expect nuts to be found, like the nut aisle, the baking aisle, and the bulk specialty foods aisle. I eventually asked, and was alternatively sent to the Asian food aisle (?) and told that it was a seasonal item (?). I was not to be deterred, though -- I've had my eyes on these Big Guys for over a year, so if I had to drive to Nashville or Atlanta or even New York itself (or the Whole Foods on 280), I WOULD find the hazelnuts I needed for this recipe. Then I heard that Kayte and Tracey were using almonds, which I had in the house and love, and suddenly NOT running around town on a nut quest seemed like the sane thing to do. And for once, I did the sane thing.

This is a simple recipe. Mix up the dough (a combination of flour and ground nuts, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla and almond extract). No dough chilling required. Then make thumbprints (pinky prints if you want to get technical) in the dough to make room for the jam. Bake. After they come out of the oven, a quick once-over with the trusty pinky may be necessary.

Once they cool, heat up some jam and fill the indentations. I used some raspberry and some strawberry. I had a helper.

She turned five a couple of months ago, and suddenly she can fill thumbprints as neatly as I can. Quit that growing up too fast, kids.

The verdict? Everybody enjoyed these. I baked the full recipe (which yielded 50 cookies) on Saturday afternoon, and here it is Monday night and they're already gone. I knew I could count on David to eat most of these, and he did not disappoint me. His dad and my dad helped him out - thanks, menfolk. I liked the crumbly texture of these. They teetered on the "dry" line, but not in an unpleasant way. If I make them again, I might do a 3/4 flour to 1/4 ground nut ratio rather than 50/50, but that's just quibbling for quibbling's sake - I thought the cookies were great. I think the stronger flavor of the raspberry jam worked better than the milder strawberry. All in all, this recipe is a keeper and I'll make these again. They'll probably show up again at Christmas.

Mike of Ugly Food Dude chose this week's recipe. Nice pick, Mike!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TWD: Coconut Cream Tart

There are few desserts that just don't sound all that good to me, but coconut cream anything is one of them. I'm not a huge fan of coconut except in unusual circumstances. And while I'll never say no to a spoon dessert that is set in front of me, I generally don't get hit with those intense "must . . . have . . . custard . . ." cravings the way I regularly do with, say, brownies, or chocolate chip cookies. And that's just from the "eating" perspective. From the "making" perspective, there are few things I enjoy making less than custard. Caramel would be one of them, but that's only because of the devastation it tends to unleash in my kitchen. Even though caramel is more dangerous, I'd still rather make it than custard, because if by fluke the caramel works, I have caramel! But if the custard works, I just have custard. Did anyone follow that?

I'm trying not to eat sweets much over the next six weeks, however, so this week's TWD selection, Coconut Cream Tart, sounded like the perfect dessert to me. I could make it without being remotely tempted by it, and then pass it over to my husband, who doesn't have the coconut cream issues that I do. I would take one bite, purely for journalistic purposes.

Having thus hatched the perfect plan, I started with Dorie's sweet tart dough, which I've made several times and love. I made a full recipe of the tart dough, even though I knew I'd be scaling back the filling, because I planned to use some of the dough for this tart, and save some for the upcoming chocolate raspberry tart. I've got to tell you, every time I make the sweet tart dough and get to the part of the recipe where Dorie gives you the heads up that the food processor will start making a different noise when the dough is almost ready, I'm reminded of why Baking is such a truly fabulous cookbook.

Random photo of toasted coconut inserted into middle of post to break up the monotony of the long-winded prose

I made a half recipe of the custard, and it came off without a hitch. I think cornstarch really helps me in that regard -- thanks, Argo. I added the full (half recipe) amount of toasted coconut to the custard. And to make the tart even more resistible to me, I added the full (half) amount of dark rum called for in the recipe (both in the custard and in the topping). I'm not a big liquor girl (now wine is a different story), unless the drink is fruity and has a name that ends with the diminuitive "-ini," (e.g., "Sweet Tartini"), and I tend to have a real aversion to boozy desserts. But I knew I could count on my husband to take one for the team and review the recipe exactly as written.

I made poor David eat this when he was one his way out the door to take Jacob somewhere. ("What?! You're leaving now?! But Dorie says this is best right after it's assembled. You can't go now -- you need to eat this first. What? Well yeah, I knew it started at 3:15, but I had to assemble it now or it would be too dark for pictures later. Eat it. EAT IT!!!") Fortunately, he really enjoyed this. He said that even though this is not a dessert he'd ever pick on his own, he thought this was about as good as coconut cream pie (tart) could be.

I agree with that assessment. I thought this was delicious. While the rum was definitely noticeable, I did not think that it was at all overpowering, and it complemented the other flavors nicely. Leave it to Dorie to come up with a version of this dessert good enough to convert a coconut cream hater. Beryl of Cinemon Girl picked this week's tart - thanks for the great pick, Beryl!
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