Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Berry good dessert

After all the craziness of the past several weeks, it was really nice to go out for dinner on Saturday.  The daycare periodically does Parents Night Out, and we try to take advantage of it when we can.  (We also spent part of our evening grocery shopping at Central Market once we were done, but it was nice to do it by ourselves.)  We had a lovely meal, but as is usually the case after having an appetizer and entree, neither of us had room for dessert.  Since we enjoyed the food so much, I'd love to see what the restaurant does with dessert sometime--of course J would point out that I say that all the time, but we never do it. =)  

The whole thing got me thinking, though.  One reason that I'd like to go out for dessert is to be inspired and get new ideas.  On the other hand, my standards are pretty high these days--more often than not, I could probably make something at home that would be better.  And why spend calories on something that isn't really worth it?  I was reminded this weekend of how far my skills have improved over the past few years, when I made the French Strawberry Cake that was last week's pick for Tuesdays with Dorie.  Once upon a time, I would have been rather intimidated by a cake like this one, but instead I just thought it would be fun.

First off, my apologies to Sophia and Allison, our hosts for this week, for being so tardy with my post.  (Being out of town unexpectedly will do that to you.)  But I'm glad I finally found the time to make this lovely seasonal cake.  I admit to being a little crazy, though--I actually made the batter for the genoise totally by hand.  Why?  Just to see if I could.  Besides, I figured I could burn off at least a few calories that way. =) 

I played around just a little with the recipe.  For the cake flour, I used KAF's unbleached cake flour blend.  I used extra large eggs, since that was what I had on hand.  Since my eggs were right out of the fridge, I placed them in a bowl of hot water to warm up while I got everything else together.  For whisking both the egg mixture and later the whipped cream, I used my really big balloon whisk (rather than a spatula) and one of my biggest bowls.  I find that when whipping things by hand, using both of those makes the process go faster.  I also used the balloon whisk to fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, a trick I learned from making Rose Levy Beranbaum's chocolate angel food cake.  I baked the cake in an 8"x2" round cake pan lined with parchment paper, for about 26 minutes.

I must have done something right, because my cake rose right to the top of the pan.  I had no trouble slicing it into three layers.  I assembled the cake on a cardboard round, layering the cake with the macerated strawberries and some of the whipped cream mixture.  Then I coated the cake with a crumb coat of the whipped cream.  I made extra cream (roughly double the original amount, I think) because I wanted to do a bit more decorating with it than the original recipe called for.  I decided to use my 1M tip to pipe large stars all over the surface of the cake.

The verdict?  I'm quite happy with how this cake turned out.  It was a big hit with all of us.  Brianna was quite disappointed this evening when she found out that we'd already eaten it all.  Next time, though, I will probably use more strawberries.  (I kind of guestimated the amount, since my container was measured in pounds, rather than dry pints.)  I'm also curious how it would be with other fruit, so I'll have to make it again to try some variations.

If you'd like to try this lovely cake for yourself, you can find the recipe on Sophia's blog or Allison's blog.  And be sure to check out the Links to see how the rest of the TWD bakers fared with their French Strawberry Cakes.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Be good to yourself

So, do any of you totally beat yourselves up after making a mistake?  I just can't seem to stop.  Logically, I know that I just need to learn from it and move on, since I can't change what's already happened.  But emotionally, I can't let it go.  I go over and over things in my head, finding all of the things that I think I should have noticed at the time.   Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the more I think about it, the more stupid I feel. (And of course none of this is helped by the fact that I've been really, really tired due to my crazy work schedule the past couple of weeks.)

I really need to stop being such a perfectionist.  Yes, it's important to do a good job.  But the world won't end if things aren't totally perfect.  I'm that way about way too many things in my life, including baking.  I can't seem to help apologizing for everything, including things that other people wouldn't have any clue about if I didn't say anything.  I'm starting to realize that it keeps me from blogging more, too.  I worry that my pictures don't look good enough.  I worry that what I write about isn't interesting enough.

So how do you deal with this sort of stuff?  How do you get yourselves out of a funk and back to being more productive?

I debated whether to share these cookies.  After all, I've already blogged about the base recipe, the Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Why would anyone be interested a relatively small change that I made?  But what the heck--I like the way they turned out, and maybe you wouldn't think to do it on your own, or wouldn't know how to go about it.  It may have seemed to me like an obvious thing to try, but not everyone thinks like me.  (Thank goodness, or we'd all be too busy worrying to ever get anything done!)

I've altered cookie doughs in the past by substituting cocoa powder for some of the flour in the recipe.  You don't want to just add cocoa, or you'll end up with dry cookies.  Cocoa has a starchy quality to it, so it can fill in for part of the flour.  I decided to swap out about half a cup.  I prefer the flavor of natural cocoa, so that's what I used.  I wanted to bring out as much of the chocolate flavor as possible, so I took a tip from some of the chocolate cake recipes I make--a number of them mix cocoa with boiling water so the flavor can "bloom."  I didn't have water in this recipe, so I whisked it into the warm browned butter before adding the sugars.  Other than that, I followed the recipe as written.  For the mix-ins, I wanted a couple different types, so I split the dough in half.  Both portions got chocolate chips, but one half also got peanut butter chips while the other got white chips.  I like chocolate and peanut butter, but Gillian recently informed me that she does NOT like the PB chips.  Plus I wanted to be able to pack some of the cookies in Brianna's school lunch (this was about a month ago), and she really shouldn't take things with peanut butter.

The verdict?  Well, happily, I'm doing a lot better than when I started writing this post this morning.  I got past the sick feeling in my stomach and got mad at the situation, instead of just at myself.  And the cookies?  They were much appreciated both at home and at work.  I'll definitely be making this chocolate version again.  If you'd like to give it a try for yourself, here's the ingredient list I used.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

200 grams all-purpose flour
45 grams natural cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
100 grams granulated sugar
150 grams dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
340 grams mix-ins of your choice

For the recipe instructions, head over to Cook's Illustrated.  The recipe is also in the new Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.