Friday, April 30, 2010

Beautiful, Creamy Strawberry Cream Cake, from America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated

Strawberries... beautiful, red, juicy and sweet little gems... I love them so.  I live in the Salinas Valley (California) where Driscoll berries grow in fields that are part of my daily commute. My local farm stand, "The Farm",  grows their own organic strawberries. Their berries are freshly picked, red all the way through and naturally sweet.  I buy them several times a week, they are that good.  and the season for these are in full swing!  I've posted a few strawberry desserts-- Ina Garten's Strawberry tart with pastry cream, The Pioneer Woman's Strawberry Shortcake Cake and Strawberry Scones.  I debated making the strawberry tart again, until...

The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
I found this recipe in one of my newest cookbooks.  America's Test Kitchen is the sister company to Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country.  I was intrigued by the cake recipe, and I had never thought of using cream cheese and heavy cream to make a frosting.  After reading the directions, I got busy making this dessert. I'll start with making the cake.  I admit, that I'm a gadget and special ingredient freak. My husband things I need therapy.  Still, here are two ingredients that I bough from King Arthur flour, on one of my shopping sprees. This is the Bakewell Cream Baking Powder maiden voyage.  The  Sweet Dough Bakery Emulsion has become one of my favorite products for my baked goods. It smells like yellow cake mix dough. I think it gives a subtle "bakery store" flavor to my cookies and cakes. Before you email me that I didn't list all of the ingredients... just scroll to the very bottom of this post. You will find a printable recipe. So, here we go:

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites)...

 ...butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds.

 Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten; add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain.

 Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.

I used a springform pan.  I have an extra large spatula, which makes the transferring of cakes a breeze. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.The aroma of the cake was intoxicating-- notes of vanilla and butter... oh, yum! Now, for the berries...

 Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries and reserve (you should have about ½ cup). In workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, give macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 ½ cups).

 In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes.

 Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.

When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 ½ minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 ½ cups).  NOTE: This tastes incredibly delicious!

Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers.  TIP: A rotating cake stand makes this a whole lot easier!  The cake was very moist, by the way. I'm feeling very optimistic, right about now...

See that big cake spatula? No more worries of breaking the cake layer in half. Easy peasy!  Now, it's time to put the cake together:

Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer.

Pour one half of pureed berry mixture (about ¾ cup) in center, then spread to cover any exposed cake.

Gently spread about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 ½ cups) over berry layer, leaving ½-inch border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries.

 I have to say, that this cake is really easy to make.  I'm not the fanciest of cake decorators, but this frosting is definitely the right texture to work with.  It's also very addicting.

Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.  I chilled this for about an hour... prepare to drool...

It took a lot of self-control to take this shot...

Shall we get on with it?

See all that juice?  It didn't soak through the cake! No wet, soggy mess. So, how did it taste?

VERDICT: The berries are the star, no doubt.  The cake is moist-- it's sweet, but not over-the-top sweet. It's a cross between a sponge cake and a white cake-- kind of dense, but not like a shortcake biscuit. The frosting...oh, the frosting!  The creaminess of the whipped cream, with a perfect balance of cream's the perfect topping.  In fact, the next day, the cake held up really well...what was left of it.  My husband, son and "Yours Truly" polished it off.  

So far, this is my favorite strawberry cake of all time. Sorry Ina Garten and The Pioneer Woman... Cook's Illustrated has created a strawberry dessert that is just a bit above the rest! At least, until I find another new recipe.  This cake is the perfect recipe to bring to a potluck.  It would make a beautiful summer birthday cake.  Heck, I'd eat this for any reason I could find!  While this might look like a bit of work, it's so worth it!  You can view a printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

Here's the recipe:

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Antipasto Pasta Salad, America's Test Kitchen Way

I recently bought The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook and I have bookmarked a lot of recipes. To be honest, I didn't bookmark this particular recipe, because it didn't fully grab my full attention...

The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
...until last weekend, when I caught an episode of American's Test Kitchen, and watched as the salad was prepared on their show. I was intrigued about a few techniques they used-- and then I realized that I had most of the pantry ingredients. My son, who has moved home with us again, exclaimed "that looks so good, mom", as we watched the episode together.  Those green eyes, with thick lashes batted at me-- and I knew I was destined to make this.  This salad takes a few steps to prepare, but I have to say that each step was worth the effort.  Let's begin:

The choice of meats from ATK are pepperoni and soppresata (or salami).  My husband and son love pepperoni (I don't, particularly) so I stuck with that. Here's ATK's Tip #1-- we're about to quickly cook the meats in the microwave to prevents the salad from becoming greasy. I like this!

Arrange pepperoni in single layer on paper towel. Cover with another paper towel and layer sopresatta on towel. Top with another paper towel and microwave on highest power until meat begins to render fat, about 1 minute. Set meat aside. I have drained a 12-oz jar, each, of roasted red peppers, and pepperoncini. I love pepperoncini, and they're a great condiment to add to a sandwich-- and that's why I usually have a jar on hand. I like to roast my own red bell peppers, but once in a while I buy them in a jar for a quick shortcut.

 Per ATK's recommendation, I used provolone cheese, grated.  According to America's Test Kitchen, tasters preferred strong aged provolone cheese to milder cheeses, especially when grated into the salad for even distribution.Who's to argue with them? Timing is everything, with this salad, so the dressing comes next:

The ingredients are simple-- red wine vinegar, a little mayonnaise, garlic, olive oil, and some of the reserved juice from the pepperoncini. Of course, I'm going to add the red pepper flakes, because I've learned to add just the right amount for a little bit of kick.   So, now that prep work is done and it's time for pasta:

Campanelle pasta is one of my favorites to cook with.  Cook your pasta, according to package directions, until al dente.  The mushrooms (I'm still remembering how tasty these were, as I type this)...

Clean and quarter the mushrooms.  You're going to reserve 1/2 cup of this dressing to toss onto the hot pasta.  You'll bring the remaining dressing to simmer in large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices and are lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Transfer to large bowl and cool.  At this point, I could have just eaten the entire bowl of mushrooms!

In fact, I'm going to make just the mushrooms for a tasty Friday Happy Hour snack. But, back to the pasta salad...  drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pot.  ATK's Tip #2: adding vinegar and dressing to hot pasta will help the flavors to absorb faster (I do this when making my German potato salad).

Drain the pasta, return to pot, and toss with ½ cup dressing and the remaining vinegar.

Adjust seasonings, spread dressed pasta on rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes (truthfully, I let it cook to room temperature and it was fine).   It's time to bring all of the prep work and steps together to create the finished product.  Fresh basil! Yes, that's important. I have fresh basil in my garden and I look forward to these plants flourishing as the temperatures get warmer.

Add meat, provolone, roasted red peppers, chopped pepperoncini, basil, and cooled pasta to mushrooms and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.

 As Christopher Kimball usually says, "so there you have it".  It's quite colorful, don't you think?

TASTING NOTES: Since I'm not a big fan of pepperoni, I found that flavor to be a little too dominant for my own personal taste. However, my husband and son loved this recipe.  They thought the pepperoni ratio was just right for them-- so adjust according to your personal preference. I picked out the mushrooms and ate them with great relish, they are that good.  This salad is hearty enough as a main dish, but could also be a side dish. From start to finish, this salad took over an hour to prepare. I would definitely make it again, especially for a potluck. It's flavorful, colorful and I think it would be a big hit.

The printable recipe for this delicious salad is at the bottom of this post. This recipe was originally printed in the October 2007 issue of Cook's Country, which I also subscribe to.

Enjoying my weekend in the kitchen,

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Oh, my Darlin' Clementine (for a Breakfast Olive Oil Cake)

My son and I are on a Clementine kick.  You've never had them?  To be honest, neither had we, until this season.  Where we live, the brand Cuties are easily spotted at our local grocery store and at Costco.

They're a blend of two kinds of mandarins: Clementine and Murcott.  I keep them in my purse, for  a quick snack that satisfies my craving for sweets. They peel so easily!

I buy them in 3 pound and 5 pound bags, and they disappear really fast!  My Blogger Buddy, Stacey ("Stacey Snacks") posted her recipe of a Clementine Olive Oil cake in early March.  I remembered it, as I was enjoying a juice "Cutie" and pondering what I could make with some of them.  This cake is super easy to make:

First, I zested the four of the clementines, and then peeled them. (The zest will be added to the batter.) In a food processor, I whizzed the peeled fruit to make about ⅔ cup of fresh pulpy juice.  You'll need flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Just whisk those together.  You also need 2 eggs, room temperature. Next..

 Instead of butter, we're using olive oil-- NOT vegetable oil, or canola oil... I'm using Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.  I have expensive stuff, but that's more of a finishing oil.  I buy my EVOO at Trader Joe''s a staple in my pantry.  You only need 3/4 of a cup, which is added with the eggs and sugar until it's well blended and light.

Next, you add the pulpy juice...then the dry ingredients...and the batter is done. Quick!

Parchment paper is a good thing to use, but I use Baker's Joy.  Stacey says to bake it at 375F for 50-55 minutes, but I always set the timer for 10-15  minutes less when I am trying a new recipe. It's a good thing that I did, because the loaf was finished at 40 minutes!  NOTE: You could easily turn these into muffins.

I let the baked loaf cool for 20 minutes, and then put it on a cooling rack.  Stace says to wait a day to taste the cake, because it tastes even better. Uh-huh.

It is my duty to slice the cake, once it cooled down-- purely for quality control purposes. I'm liking those bits of Clementine pulp, Stacey!

VERDICT:  The cake was moist, and slightly dense.  It's not too sweet -- so, if you have a sweet tooth for traditional American Cakes... you might be disappointed.  I felt the taste of the Clementine was very subtle... I almost wanted more of it to come through.  My husband didn't like the cake that much-- he ate two slices and that was it..  I think he just couldn't fathom the idea of olive oil, instead of butter. I shouldn't have told him, in advance!  Me?  I was raised by a German mom, so I like cakes that aren't super sweet with a lot of frosting. I liked the cake, and I ate a slice or two each morning with my coffee.    I bet that if I made a glaze for this, with some tangy lemon juice, that he would like the cake better. Oh, I'd also have to fool him by calling it Clementine Butter Cake. 

I am linking this recipe to the Saturday Blog Showcase, hosted by Lori at "All  That Splatters" and Ann at "Thibeault's Table".   It's a great way to give a shout out to fellow bloggers and a fun way to discover new food blogs.  I would love to have more of you participate, so please link a recipe you've recently made from a fellow Food Blogger. Thanks Stacey!

I hope you find Clementines, before the season is over!

Easy Clementine Olive Oil Cake

If you've never made a cake with olive oil ...

See Easy Clementine Olive Oil Cake on Key Ingredient.

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