Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daring Candy!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

I’m a few days tardy to post the candies I made for this challenge, but they’re done and I’m happy to share them here. This was a tough challenge in that I don’t make candy, not even for the holidays, so I took my time choosing recipes that would have easily accessible ingredients, yet use techniques somewhat new to me.

The first part of the challenge was to make something chocolate. I chose Chocolate Merlot Tarragon Truffles. I used tarragon from the garden and a cabernet/merlot blend wine, and decided to roll them in cocoa as a finish. The bitter cocoa balances the richness of the chocolate, and the tarragon adds just a hint of licorice sweet. In other words, they’re delicious! I read that these were made for Prince William and his new bride when they visited the U.S. in July.


I’ve made ganache before, but never truffles, and I always hesitate to have to use the double boiler. These were easy to make, yet they’re a rich and decadent treat.

The second part of the challenge could be anything and it took me a long time to decide on Spicy Cashew Brittle. I’ve never made any kind of brittle before, and frankly, avoid having to use a candy thermometer at all costs. This recipe intrigued me because it uses jalapeno peppers as the “spicy” component, and I have tons of them in my garden.


Now, I’m not a huge fan of hard, crunchy candy – I prefer soft, chewy, melty chocolate – but this brittle is so good! You can’t really taste the jalapeno, there’s just a “warmth” left on your palate when you finish a piece, and that takes the place of the sweetness that usually lingers. I cannot say there will be piles of truffles and brittle around here now, but having successfully completed this challenge was pretty sweet!

Chocolate Merlot Tarragon Truffles (recipe from Giada DeLaurentis)

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli 1/3 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 3 tablespoons Merlot wine
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Place the cream and chocolate in a medium bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, which takes about six minutes.
Stir in the tarragon, wine and salt until smooth.
Refrigerate for two hours until firm. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until moldable, which takes about 45 minutes.
Using a melon scoop, scoop level amounts of the truffle mixture on to the prepared baking sheet. Roll into 1/2-inch balls.
Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Roll the truffles in the cocoa powder until coated.
Arrange on a platter and serve or refrigerate in an airtight container.

Spicy Cashew Brittle (recipe from Today’s Nest) 

The ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups cashews (halves and pieces will do)
  • 3 medium jalapeno peppers
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

The method:

    1. Butter a large baking sheet.
    2. Assemble all ingredients.
    3. Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove pith and seeds.
    4. Place sugar, corn syrup, water, and pepper halves in a large pot over medium heat.
    5. Attach the thermometer to the side.
    6. When mixture comes to a boil (about 5 minutes), add in butter. Stir occasionally.
    7. When mixture reaches 230 (about 15 minutes) degrees remove peppers and begin stirring frequently.
    8. Turn heat down slightly to medium low.
    9. When mixture reaches 275 degrees (about 20 minutes) add cashews and stir constantly.
    10. Turn heat back up to medium.
    11. When mixture reaches 300 degrees (about 10 minutes) remove from heat and stir in baking soda.
    12. Pour onto baking sheet and spread out with two forks while candy is still hot.
    13. Place sheet on wire cooling rack and do not touch until it is cool.
    14. Invert baking sheet and snap brittle into pieces.
    15. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do You Dare?

Try something new in the kitchen and join me – I am a Daring Baker!

This was my first Daring Baker challenge and I very much enjoyed making the chiffon cake and pastry cream as well as experimenting with infusing simple syrup with basil (yum!). I made the components of the recipe one day, then assembled and chilled it the next. I regret that I didn’t take photos during the process, but was really concentrating on each step of the recipe. There was lots of whipping and folding and heating and stirring. Ah, but the result was wonderful!

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 used the lemon chiffon cake recipe, and infused the simple syrup with fresh basil. The pastry cream was smooth and not too sweet. This is a perfect summertime dessert, light, cool, and creamy.

Here’s the recipe:

Basic Chiffon Cake:

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
5 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar


  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F.
  2. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add in all but 3 tablespoons of sugar, and all of the salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.
  6. Put the egg whites into a stand mixer, 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 remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.
  7. 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.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Removed the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  10. 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. Refrigerate for up to four days.

To make Lemon Chiffon cake:

Reduce water to 1/4 cup, add 1/8 cup lemon juice
Increase lemon zest to 1½ teaspoon
Remove the vanilla from the recipe

Follow the directions, same as above, adding the lemon juice and zest to the oil, egg yolks and water in step 4

Pastry Cream Filling:

1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon gelatin
1/2 tablespoon water
1 cup heavy cream


  1. Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and scald, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine
  3. Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while the stand mixer is whisking, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.
  5. 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.
  6. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.
  7. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream a piece at a time until smooth.
  8. 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.
  9. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.
  10. Put two inches of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.
  11. Measure 1/4 cup of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
  12. Heat the cream until it is 120° F. 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.
  13. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.

Simple Syrup:

1/3 cup of sugar, flavored or white
1/3 cup of water

(I added three fresh basil leaves after removing from the heat, and left the leaves in overnight, removing them when ready to use the syrup)


  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup.
  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly.
  4. 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.

Fraisier Assembly:

1 baked 8 inch (20 cm) chiffon cake
1 recipe pastry cream filling
⅓ cup (80 ml) simple syrup or flavored syrup
2 lbs (900 g) strawberries
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
½ cup (120 ml) (5 oz/140 gm) almond paste


  1. Line the sides of a 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers.
  3. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the simple syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough.
  4. Hull and slice in half enough strawberries to arrange around the sides of the cake pan. Place the cut side of the strawberry against the sides of the pan, point side up forming a ring.
  5. Pipe cream in-between strawberries and a thin layer across the top of the cake.
  6. Hull and quarter your remaining strawberries and place them in the middle of the cake. Cover the strawberries and entirely with the all but 1 tbsp. (15 ml) of the pastry cream.
  7. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the simple syrup.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  9. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap.
  10. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.