A Southern Grace: March 2011

March 31, 2011

a torte is a torte, of course, of course


Wait.  What is a torte?  Apparently, it’s defined by Mr. Webster as ‘a cake made with many eggs and often grated nuts or dry bread crumbs and usually covered with a rich frosting.’  Sometimes they’re layered, sometimes they’re not.  Sometimes they contain flour, sometimes they don’t.  So, what’s the conclusion here?  Torte is just a German word for cake.

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Since we’re talking about other languages, let’s talk about Italian and French as well.   More specifically, let’s talk about Ferrero Rocher. Have you ever eaten one of those?  ‘Rocher’ may mean rock, but the only similarity between the two is appearance.  The little treats consist of a whole roasted hazelnut encased in a thin wafer shell filled with hazelnut cream and covered in milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts and walnuts.  In other words, they’re sensational.
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This bonbon-inspired torte begins with a layer of chocolate cake that gets split in half (which may or may not be called torting; I’m beginning to think I just made that definition up).  Between the hazelnut-flavored sugar-syrup-soaked layers and along the top and sides goes a milk chocolate buttercream frosting speckled with a crisp and crunchy hazelnut praline.
It’s a mighty tasty combination for when you’re feeling like more than a fancy, delicate little bonbon.  Speaking of fancy (as in, the polar opposite of...), some of you chastised me for not posting a picture of myself after getting you to guess what I looked like.  I loved reading your theories—some popular choices were blonde bouffant hair (heck to the no) and cinnamon-colored freckles (yes!).  Many of you seem to picture me with a permanent smile on my face, which makes me smile even more.

Hello, chocolate fountain!
Enjoying the miracle known as a chocolate fountain.

Ferrero Rocher-y Torte

One recipe of your favorite chocolate cake, halved (or you could just make two 9-inch rounds and freeze one)

Nutty simple syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon nut extract or flavoring

Hazelnut Praline:
1/4 pound shelled and skinned hazelnuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Fluffy Ganache Frosting:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1-3/4 to 2-1/4 cups powdered sugar

Prepare the chocolate cake using 9-inch round pans according to your recipe's instructions. Once it has cooled, take it out of the pan and pop it into the freezer for a spell. Then, slice it in half horizontally (which may or may not be known as torting).

To make the simple syrup:
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Simmer for five minutes, remove from heat, and add extract. Stir, then allow to cool.

To make the praline:
Liberally coat a baking pan with vegetable oil, place the hazelnuts on it in a single layer, and set IT aside. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat and cook until the mixture turns amber. Immediately pour the syrup over the hazelnuts, let it cool completely, and break it into small pieces. Transfer the pieces to a sealable plastic bag and crush them using a heavy skillet or rolling pin. Transfer the crushed pieces to a food processor and process until the mixture is finely ground.

To make the frosting:
In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and then pour it over the chocolate chips. Let the mixture sit for 3-4 minutes before whisking until smooth. Place the pan in a bowl of ice water; stir constantly until cooled. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and whip until smooth, thick, and fluffy.

To assemble:

Brush half of the simple syrup evenly over one half of the cake.  Then spread about a third of the frosting onto the top of that half and sprinkle it with half of the praline. Place the other half of the cake layer on top, brush it with the rest of the syrup, and spread the remaining frosting along the top and sides. Press the remaining praline into the frosting on the sides and sprinkle some on top if you're feeling fanciful. Chill for a bit before serving.

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March 22, 2011

transformer trigger


Or, the one where I become a robot.

You've no doubt made, eaten, or at least seen roasted chickpeas at one point in your life. If you're anything like me, you found them so satisfying and noshable that you've made, eaten, and seen them oodles of times. I've gone the savory route, flavoring them with various herbs and spices (rosemary, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, and coriander have all made an appearance) and I've gone the not-so-savory route (cinnamon,clearly, as well as maple syrup and honey). I don't think you can go wrong pairing a taste you enjoy with these crunchy, chewy, oh-so-pleasing legumes.

My latest batch had a special touch--Olivari® Mediterranean Olive Oil, which just hit store shelves in August and is already gaining attention. Most recently, it won Product of the Year by the Consumer Survey for Product Innovation. What makes it innovative, you ask?
-Its exclusive pop-up pour spout makes for easy and even pouring, drizzling, and finishing.
-It’s carefully blended to deliver a subtle, fruity aroma and fresh flavor.
-Truly Mediterranean, Olivari® premium oils are sourced straight from Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey.

This stuff really does add a lot to a dish--it can only be described as a tad fruity and oh-so-richly smooth. I'm someone who usually uses the less expensive oils for applications like this, and the difference is obvious and astronomical.

I could go on. However, doing that seriously limits my ability to stuff handfuls of roasted chickpeas into my mouth. And that's what I do. I sit with a bowl o' beans, and my hand automatically feeds my face until said bowl is empty. See? Robot.

So tell me, dear readers (yes, that's a shout-out to you, Lorraine!), how do you like your poultrypeas?

Roasted Peas of the Chick
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
Spices and herbage of your choice

Preheat oven to 400F.
Drain the can of garbanzo beans in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with water to clean off the beans. Lay a paper towel on a baking sheet and spread the beans atop it. Use another paper towel to gently press and absorb the water on the beans. Roll the beans around with the paper towel to also remove the thin skin from any of the beans. Discard the skins and the paper towels.
Drizzle the olive oil over the beans and use your hands or a spatula to toss around and coat. Sprinkle the beans with salt and flavorings. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the beans are a deep golden brown and crunchy.

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March 15, 2011

disappearing act


Do you all have a mental image of me? I know that I form a picture of each of you in my head as time goes by, based only on the food you make and your style of writing (and perhaps, say, a photo you've posted of yourself).

I suspect that I'm way off-base with the majority of you and you actually look nothing like the person I see in my mind. I think that's part of the fun--I could pass you on the street (if I did, in fact, ever walk down a street) and not have any idea. Further, as most of us do, I look different than I did three years ago when I started this blog.

Speaking of things that change in appearance (how's that for a segue?!), let's talk about these bars. They're composed of three separate layers, but as they bake, the compositions of those layers change. The shortbread cookie crust stays the same, of course, but what begin as separate chocolate truffle and caramel-oat-pecan layers eventually become a chocolate-caramel truffle layer topped with oats and pecans. Sinking caramel! What fun! Good, clean, wholesome fun!

I make a lot of bar cookies, and I'm very comfortable saying that these are the tastiest ones I've done to date. The buttery base, the smooth and rich chocolate-caramel filling, and the crunchy, nutty topping all play together very nicely, and they really live up to their distinctive (and totally random) name.

So tell me, folks--what do you think I look like? If someone comes really close, I might be inspired to reward her! Those of you who actually know me need not apply. :)

Serendipity Deluxe Bars
(from A Passion for Baking, by Marcy Goldman)
1 cup butter, cold and diced
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Truffle Filling:
1 cup corn syrup
1 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 cup oats
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely ground
3/4 cup (6 oz) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13x9-inch pan.
To prepare the crust, combine all four ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarse crumbs are created. Press into the prepared pan and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling by microwaving together the corn syrup and chocolate chips, stopping to stir occasionally until the chips have melted. Let cool, then add the remaining filling ingredients and beat to combine. Pour over the hot crust and bake for 27 minutes, or until the outer edges are firm and the center is only slightly jiggly.
While the filling bakes, prepare the caramel layer by stirring together all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. When the pan is deemed ready to remove from the oven, let it sit for 10 minutes before dolloping on the caramel layer and spreading it evenly over the chocolate layer. Then return the pan to the oven for another 25-35 minutes, or until the bars are just set. Let cool completely before cutting.

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March 8, 2011

patty cake, patty cake, baker's man


Bake me a cake as fast as you can.

Moist and minty.

Specifically, bake me a chocolate cake filled with peppermint-flavored buttercream and topped with a rich ganache. Mmmkay?

Although I'm a well-documented fan of the chocolate-mint combination, peppermint patties don't blow me away. Mamster, on the other hand, has said that she'll take a simple peppermint pattie (NOT spelled patty, for the record) over a lush, complicated dessert any day.

She has not tasted my latest creation; I plan to change her tune.

While it's certainly decadent, this cake is by no means complex. It's simply a torted (meaning each of the two layers is cut in half horizontally) chocolate cake filled with buttercream frosting that's been flavored with exhilarating peppermint extract and crushed candy canes and topped with a smooth, creamy ganache.

Chocolate and peppermint in the form of wee little patties? Pshaw. I'll take mine as a honkin' hunk of cake.

Pretty-in-Pink Peppermint Pattie Cake
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water

3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
2-3 drops red food coloring
1/2 cup candy cane pieces, crushed

1 pound (16 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
To make the cake portion, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat very well. Stir in the boiling water and pour the batter into prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

For the peppermint filling, in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add peppermint and milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more milk if needed for spreading consistency. Beat in the food coloring until a nice pale pink color is obtained. Fold in the candy cane pieces.

To make the ganache, place your chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the cream and corn syrup just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let this stand, without stirring, until the chocolate begins to melt. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir the melted chocolate into the cream until the mixture is combined and smooth (do not overstir). Refrigerate, stirring every 5 minutes, until frosting just barely begins to hold its shape and is slightly lighter in color. Use immediately, as the ganache will continue to thicken after you stop stirring.

To assemble the cake, cut each cake layer in half. Spread one third of the filling atop one of the halves and repeat twice more. Place the final layer of cake on top and cover the cake with the ganache. Add embellishments as desired. Let set at least an hour before slicing.

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March 3, 2011

butter(scotch) me up


Brownies. Butterscotch. Buns in My Oven.

If you're interested in any of those things, check out my guest post on Karly's colorful, enchanting, and delectable blog!

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