Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Le Fraisier !!!

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

I recently found this website, and they have challenges every month for daring bakers and daring cooks. All these challenges are so interesting and the best part is that, at the end of so much hard-work and creativity, you get to eat it ;) :)

The challenge for July, was Fresh Fraisier, a french dessert. Fraisier actually means "strawberry", in French. So, even though this might not be the healthiest way to eat a strawberry, I bet it is one of the tastiest ways ;)
This dessert is traditionally made with a layer of cake at the bottom, pastry cream in the middle, adorned and filled with a lot of strawberries, topped with a layer of cake and finished with a layer of almond paste. It is also made with fruits, other than strawberries.

When I first saw this as the challenge for July, I had to make it :) Just that the techniques were new to me, I was just procrastinating! Finally, I decided to make it last weekend, when we had friends over for dinner. I made mine with chocolate ganache dripping chocolate cake, vanilla pastry cream and strawberries.

At first, the entire recipe looked simple, but, only when I wanted to start making it, boy, I was overwhelmed. It took me some time to figure out where to start and how to proceed. This was my plan of action and it really worked out. 
1. Step 1 of the pastry cream
2. Bake the cake and let it cool.
3. Make the simple syrup. Let it cool.
4. Add the simple syrup to the cake, wrap and refrigerate.
5. Make the chocolate ganache.
6. Pour the ganache over the cake layers and refrigerate.
7. Step 2 of pastry cream.
8. Cut the strawberries.
9. Assemble the bottom layer of the cake and the strawberries that go around the cake.
10. Step 3 of pastry cream.
11. Add the pastry cream to the cake. Fill it with cut strawberries.
12. Top it with the layer of the cake that has the ganache on it.
Patients is virtue! So, wait for at least 6-8 hours before you devour the cake :)

Steps 1-4 can be done 3-4 days in advance. Steps 5-12 can be done 2 days in advance. The cake can be assembled and left to set in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Chocolate sponge cake:
Dry ingredients:
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Wet ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest
5 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F.
Line the bottom of an 10-inch(You can use anything between 8-10 inches. I used 10) spring form pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients, until combined.
In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.
Combine the wet ingredient mixture with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.
Put the egg whites in a large porcelain/ glass or stainless steel bowl, and beat on medium speed using a whisk attachment on a medium speed, until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 3 tablespoon sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.
Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Make sure you don't mix it much and flatten the egg whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes.
To unmold, run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the spring form sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Allow it to cool on the wire rack.

Once the cake is cooled, cut the cake horizontally into layers. The recipe called for 2 layers, but, I thought they were too thick and I made 3 layers. Save the 2 layers that look good (the top and bottom layers on mine looked good) and may be you can munch on the 3rd, not so good looking layer ;)
You can refrigerate the cake for upto 4 days, either as a whole or after cutting it into layers. I wrapped mine with plastic wrap and left it in the refrigerator.

Simple syrup:
This is used to moisten the cake layers before assembling them. This is basically a mixture of sugar and water. I added a little bit of instant coffee power to mine, because, I think chocolate taste much better with a slight tinge of coffee :) Feel free to use anything else to add flavor, like vanilla, orange zest, rose syrup or any other spices.

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan.
Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup.
Remove the syrup from the heat, add the coffee powder and cool slightly.
Transfer syrup to a lidded container or jar that can be stored in the refrigerator. Simple syrup can be stored for up to one month.
With a pastry brush(I used to sprinkle the syrup using my fingers, before I got my pastry brush. So, don't fret if you don't have one), drizzle the simple syrup on the cut surface of the cake layers, until the entire cake is moistened.
Wrap the cake with a plastic wrap and save it in the refrigerator, until you are ready to pour the ganache.

Chocolate ganache:
I wanted my fraisier to look very elegant and I did not want the "not so smooth" sides of the cake to be seen.  So, I decided to pour chocolate ganache (like a molten chocolate) on it.
4 oz unsweetened 100% dark chocolate 
4 oz semi-sweet 70% chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

Break or chop the chocolates and add them to a bowl. Heat the cream on medium flame, until it begins to boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolates and mix well, until the chocolate melts. Let it cool slightly, before pouring it on the cake.

To pour the ganache on the cake: Place the two layers of the cake(top layer on top) on a wire rack, placed on a sheet-pan. Pour the ganache on the center of the top layer and tilt the wire rack to make the ganache run evenly in all directions. The excess will drip on to the sheet-pan and you can take care of it ;) and nobody has to know about the excess chocolate(C'mon, there can never be excess chocolate!!!)
Place the whole thing(the sheet pan with the wire-rack and the cake layers) into the refrigerator and the molten chocolate hardens into a beautiful shiny shell :) Awesome!!!

Pastry cream filling:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Step 1 of pastry cream:
Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine
Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk with a hand-mixer, until smooth.
When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while the mixer is whisking, pour the heated milk, very slowly in a trickle, down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.Keep whisking and make sure the egg mixture does not curdle.
Pour the mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon. At this stage, the mixture begins to form lumps, mainly because of the cornstarch, and keep pressing on those lumps to smooth them out.
Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. You can press the remaining lumps though the sieve, so that you no longer have lumps.
Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.
Cut the butter into 6 pieces and whisk into the pastry cream until smooth.
Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Step 2 of pastry cream:
In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.
Put two inches of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.
Measure 1/4 cup of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel/ glass or porcelain bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
Heat the cream until it is 120 F(If you do not have a thermometer, use your finger and try touching the pastry cream while it is heating until temperatures you can handle. don't let it overheat or boil). Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth.
Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
Step 3 of pastry cream:
In a large bowl, using the hand mixer, whip the heavy-whipping cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream, in 3 batches, with a rubber spatula.
Strawberries for the Fraisier:
You will need two pounds of strawberries for the entire fraisier. Pick about 10 similar sized, good looking strawberries and cut them into halves. These can be used to decorate the sides of the fraisier.
Cut the remaining strawberries into small pieces. These will be used with the pastry cream, in the middle layer of the fraisier.

Assembling the Fraisier:
Place the base of the spring-form pan(the 10 inch pan that we used to bake the cake) and layer it with parchment paper.
Place the bottom layer of the cake (this one has already been drizzled with the simple syrup and has ganache only on the sides), over the parchement paper.
Now place the rim of the springform pan around the base of the pan and lock it.
Line the inside of the rim with a strip of parchment paper, cut according to the height of the rim.
Place the strawberry halves around the rim, with the cut side facing the parchment paper, with no gap between the cut side of the berries and the parchment paper.
Once step 3 of the pastry cream is done, fill a pastry bag(or a ziploc bag, with one corner cut) with the cream mixture. Fill the gaps in between the berries with the cream. Make sure the berries stay close to the parchment and the cream does not enter in between the berry and the parchment.
Cover the center of the bottom layer with pastry cream and add remaining cut strawberries.
Top it with the remaining cream and smooth the top.
Now, take the top layer of the cake(that has already be drizzled with the simple syrup and has ganache on the entire upper surface and the sides) and place it carefully and gently over the cream layer.
Place the entire spring-form pan in a cake carrier and let it set in the refrigerator, for atleast 8 hours.

Top it with some cut strawberries, just before serving and just dive in!!!

Next time, I will try to click pictures while I am making it. It will be much easier with pictures :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blueberry Coffee Cake

I am a huge fan of the reduced fat blueberry coffee cake at Starbucks. Though they call it reduced fat, the calorie count does not look great and comes to approximately 350 calories per serving. Once I thought about it, then the itch started to make a home-made healthier version (I tell you, Ignorance is Bliss!!!).

I searched online and found some copy-cat recipes for the Starbucks cake. It does have quite a lot of butter and sugar(c'mon, they never told you reduced-sugar;) ). Finally, I landed on Ellie Krieger's recipe from Food Network. I tweeked it, slightly, to make my version.

It turned out to be delicious. Nothing fancy, just a healthy snack you can have without any guilt :) So, give it a try!

(Makes 18 servings) 
Dry ingredients:
All purpose flour - 1 1/2 cups
Whole wheat flour - 1 1/2 cups
Salt - 3/4 tsp
Baking soda - 1 1/2 tsp
Sugar - 2 tbsp (Add two more if you want it sweeter)
Ground nutmeg - 1/4 tsp (Feel free to add 3/4 tsp of ground cinnamon, instead)
Chopped walnuts - 3/4 cups
Wet ingredients:
Brown sugar - 3/4 cups
Vegetable/ olive oil - 6 tbsp
Eggs - 3 large
Vanilla extract - 1 1/2 tsp
Buttermilk - 1 cup
Yogurt - 3/4 cup
Frozen blueberries, thawed - 2 cups

Pre-heat the oven to 350F and spray cooking spray on a bundt cake pan. You can also use a regular baking pan, approximately 10 x 10 inches.  You can try making 18 muffins instead, but the baking time might vary.
Mix all the dry ingredients.
In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the topping.
In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar and oil. Add the eggs one by one and beat well. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and yogurt. Beat well.
Now add the dry ingredients to the wet, in two batches and mix well, until combined. Do not over-mix.
Add the blueberries and fold them in evenly in the batter. Too much mixing at this stage will break the berries and change the color of the batter. So, just some light mixing would do.
Transfer the batter to the pan and spread evenly.
Top it with the topping mixture and gently press the mixture into the top of the batter, just to make sure the topping does not fall off once done.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, if using a bundt pan. If using a regular pan, please check if the cake is done(with a tooth-pick), after 30-35 minutes.
Once done, let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes and transfer it to a wire-rack and cool it completely, before slicing.

Enjoy with or without a cup of hot coffee :) Each serving comes to slightly less than 200 calories, approximately. So, what are you waiting for???????
I have also tried making it with strawberries and they taste great, too. Just cut the strawberries into small pieces and add them just like the blueberries.I actually made muffins with the strawberry batter and they were great for breakfast!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Spinach Smoothies ;)

 Last weekend when I went grocery shopping, I got all enthusiastic and health-conscious and bought 2 bags of fresh spinach. The plan was to stay healthy and cook a meal out of it, but, good thoughts don't last long and I totally forgot about the spinach, after placing it in the refrigerator. Two days ago, Vathsal and I went to the grocery store again and this time it was Vathsal's turn to be smitten by the health-bug. He suggested we buy spinach and eat healthy! So, in came the third bag of spinach.

So, what do you do when you are stuck with so much spinach and no intention to cook??!!! Well, you put a spin on everything possible ;) I tried making smoothies out of them and I loved it. In my opinion, this is the simplest, yet, tastiest way to eat spinach.

Even Vathsal was like, "Whaaat? Spinach in Smoothies????", but, no complaints after tasting it! You really don't taste the spinach distinctly, after you mask it with the other flavors. The whole thing looks GREEEEEN  which might look a bit weird and apart from that, its just delicious.

Apart from the specific ingredients, I also get crazier at times and add a few other stuff, like,
* Whey protein powder - especially after a trip to the gym.
* Fiber powder (like Benefiber) - doesn't really have a taste but gives you some additional fiber goodness.
* Ground flax seed - Good stuff with all the good fats and the fiber. Also, adds some thickness to the smoothie.
* Egg whites (from the carton) - Full of protein and the egg whites from the carton are pasteurized, so they are safe, unlike the fresh egg whites, if you worry about the Salmonella and the rest of the gang.
* Plain or flavored fat-free yogurt - Substitute it for the soymilk.
* Plain or flavored skimmed or 1% milk - Substitute it for the soymilk.
* Frozen fat-free vanilla yogurt - Makes it taste even better! Any flavored frozen yogurt would do, according to the smoothie that is being done.

Straw-nach-ana: Servings-2
Strawberries - 10, frozen
Spinach - 2 handfulls
Banana - 1 medium sized (fresh or frozen)
Vanilla flavored Soymilk -  1 cup (I use the light version, which is like 70 calories/serving)

Add all the ingredients to the blender and blend until you get a smoothie! Add more or less soymilk depending on how your blender blends.

Spinach island: Servings - 2
Mixed frozen fruits (mango, peach, pineapple) - 1 to 1 1/2 handfuls
Banana - 1 medium
Spinach - 2 handfuls
Vanilla flavored soymilk - 1 cup

Go Green: Servings -  2
Avocado - 1 medium
Spinach - 2 handfuls
Fat-free Vanilla frozen yogurt - 1 cup (I did not use the soymilk here, as the avocado is not strong enough to mask the flavor of the spinach. So, we get the extra support from the frozen yogurt and its sweetness)

Green berry: Servings - 2
Mixed frozen berries - 2 handfuls
Spinach -2 handfuls
Vanilla flavored soymilk - 1 cup

If you are still not convinced about making it, then I say you should definitely try it once, because,
(1) It is all the stuff that is good for you - Fresh greens, fruits, milk, soymilk, yogurt, flax seed, egg whites,......C'mon, it doesn't get better than this!
(2) Even if you have 2 servings of it in the morning for a breakfast, it will still look good on the calorie count(less than 400 calories for 2 servings) and will keep you full for more than 3 hours!
(3) Anything else as healthy as this, whipped up in two minutes???!!!
(4) Once you start your day with such healthy and guilt-free stuff, chances are more that you will stay good the entire day and not indulge in a junk-food :)

Think Green and Drink Green !!!