Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ovenly’s Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

The newest addition to my baking bookshelf is Ovenly  by  Agatha Kulagr and Erin Patinkin, and my first test subject from the book is the Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Don’t you just love chocolate chip cookies? Here, have one…

Now what makes this recipe different is the fact that it is Vegan, and pretty tasty to boot. It uses the standard dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt . . .

but it substitutes all the traditional dairy products (milk, butter, eggs) with canola oil and water.

I was a little skeptical that oil and water would combine, but after a minute of brisk whisking a smooth mixture was formed.

The chefs/owners of Ovenly Bakery stress that after mixing the dough you must let it chill for at least 12 hours before you bake it.  I'm not sure why it needs to be chilled.  Normally you chill to re-solidify the butter in the cookie recipe which helps it hold its shape, but this recipe just has oil.  Does oil solidify when it gets cold?  Where is Alton Brown when you need him!  I also found (unsurprisingly) that the dough was on the oily side.  When you form theses cookies make sure you have a towel handy, because your hands will get very slick.

But of course I was too impatient to wait more than an hour or two before baking up a few test subjects. Here are the little gems hot out of the oven. Golden brown and dotted with molten chocolate bliss.  I didn't have any coarse salt to sprinkle on them, so these are the unsalted version.

I actually managed to let them cool a bit before I popped one into my mouth. Hummm.... They were good, very tasty in fact, but I found them, how can I describe this … I found the texture of the cookie a tad oily and a little "loose".   The oily I can understand (the recipe called for 1/2 cup of canola oil), but it seemed that without the dairy the cookie didn't have anything to bind it together. The cookie just seemed to melt in your mouth without any chewing required. Melt in your mouth is not necessarily a bad thing, but I do like a little chew in my chocolate chip cookie. I wonder if chilling the dough for 24 hours will have any impact on the texture of the cookie...

 ~ 23 hours later ~

This time I followed the instructions to the letter.  I formed the dough into little pucks, popped them in the freezer for 10 minutes, and sprinkled them with coarse salt.

And the results were about the same.  I didn't see much difference between the cookies I chilled for 2 hours compared to the ones chilled for 23.  Same loose, melt in your mouth texture.  BUT much to my surprise I DID like the addition of the salt to the cookie.  With each bite I got this hint of salt mixed with the sweet of the cookie and chocolate.  It was like a brain teaser.  My mind didn't know whether to focus on the salt or the sweet.  The confusion kept me wanting more.  Very interesting phenomena.

So the final verdict from my family and myself...  Good cookies, very, very good cookies, but not the absolute best.  My favorite chocolate chip cookie is still the Mock Mrs. Field's also known as the Neiman-Marcus $250 Chocolate Chip Cookie that has ground oats and grated chocolate in the mix.

The next time I try this recipe I will throw in a some ground oats and some grated chocolate. That might dethrone the Mock Mrs. Field's cookie as my all time favorite!

Here is a link to the Ovenly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies as published in Vogue Magazine.

Happy Baking,


Update (10-5-2014):  I baked a batch for a Saints Game Day Party, and these cookies were a huge, huge hit.  Everyone loved them!  There were no vegans at the party but there were who were several lactose intolerant.  The LI people now want these cookies baked for every sporting event.   And thankfully the Saints did win the game in OT what a nail biter.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Family Tree of the Southern Pecan Praline (and recipes too)

Did you know that the Pecan Praline has a family tree? And that you can determine your Praline recipe’s age and place or origin by the ingredients it contains? Who would have thought!

While searching for a new praline recipe I stumbled across a blog post by Elaine Wherry entitled Praline Etymology. Hummm, had to look that one up… Etymology is the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. And there is even an Online Etymology Dictionary. If you plugin Praline you get this:

Elaine is a master sleuth when it comes to recipe etymology, and she says that you can tell a recipes’ age and area of origin based on the ingredients it contains. How cool is that? So in honor of Elaine I decided to do a little praline sleuthing of my own and come up with:

The Family Tree of the Southern Pecan Praline

Ta da, here it is  (sorry it is all text, I'll make some cool graphics soon)...

At the top of the Praline Family Tree is a sugary, almond treat that the cook/chef of duPlessis-Praslin’s invented way back in the early 1700s. There are conflicting reports on which duPlessis-Praslin is actually linked to the pralines. Some accounts list the praline duPlessis-Prasline as Marshal (his rank not his first name) duPlessis-Praslin, a French soldier and diplomat, and others list him as Cesar duc de Choiseul, comet duPlessis-Praslin a French diplomat and sugar industrialist. But all accounts agree that the actual creator of the treat was Clement Lassagne, duPlessis-Praslin’s personal chef.

But how (and why) did Clement Lassagne invent the praline? And why are they called pralines and not lassagines? One of the more colorful legends tells of the lascivious Cesar, duc de Choiseul, comet duPlessis-Praslin, who asked his personal chef, Clement Lassagne, to come up with an irresistible treat that he could present to women he wanted to court. Lassagne came up with almonds dipped in a creamy, caramelized sugar coating. Soon duPlessis-Praslin was putting the sugary nuts into little parcels emblazoned with his name and handing them out to women around town. People began calling the sweet treats after duPlessis-Praslin, or simply praslin (pronounced prah-leen with a long aaah sound). There is also an account that tells of Lassagne leaving duPlessis-Praslin’s employ, and opened a confectioner’s shop called Masion de la Prasline (which still exists today in Montargis, France, 110 km south of Paris).

The praslin craze soon spread through Europe, and eventually made its way to North America. Again there are several differing opinions on how this migration happened, but the one I like best involves the Ursuline Nuns of New Orleans. In this version the praslin made its way to Louisiana via the Ursuline Nuns who, in turn, were in charge of the Casket Girls that were conveyed to New Orleans during the early 1700s. The Bishop of Quebec had the duty of sending to New Orleans young women who were known to be good and virtuous. As proof of their respectability, the bishop gave each girl a casket to hold her possessions (hence the nick-name of Casket Girls). When the girls arrived in New Orleans that were met by the Ursuline Nuns who housed and trained the girls until appropriate marriages were arranged. At the Ursuline Convent, the nuns educated the girls in both scholastic and domestic topics, including the art of praline making. (Note: Almonds were in short supply in French New Orleans, so the almond was swapped out for the indigenous pecans.) As the Casket Girls completed their training and married their eager beaus, the knowledge of praline making went with them.

Soon pecan pralines were appearing all across South Louisiana. In New Orleans a good praline was soon a marketable commodity, and enterprising Slaves and Free Women of Color (known as Pralinieres) began selling their sugary-sweet confection on the streets of the French Quarter. Sailors and merchants visiting the thriving port city of New Orleans were soon carrying the tales of the candy back to their far-flung homes where their wives, mothers and sisters adapted the recipe to their local ingredients.

During the late 1700’s early 1800’s the traditional praline ingredients were water, sugar, and pecans. Brown or raw sugar was abundant in South Louisiana but typically the white refined product was available in the Northeast and Midwest. So the first clue to the origin of your recipe is the type of sugar used. If your favorite praline recipe has brown sugar it probably hails from the south. If it contains just white sugar it is probably a Northeast or Midwest version.

It also should be noted that the pralines sold on the streets of New Orleans’ pralines probably didn’t include cream. I discovered a recipe published in 1879 by the Godchaux Sugar Refinery (located in Reserve, Louisiana) titled Old-Fashioned Pecan Pralines. No milk or cream is used in this recipe, just water. (see Godchaux’s Old-Fashioned Pecan Pralines in the recipe section.)

In the 1850’s Baking Soda came into vogue, and cooks in the Northeast and Midwest found that if baking soda was added to the white sugar version of the praline the praline would become sweeter, softer and browner. Elaine Wherry tells us that adding baking soda at the start of praline cooking cycle increases the pH level and accelerates the caramelization (the Maillard reaction) thereby creating a sweeter, browner praline. (Note: A Millard reaction also occurs to a lesser degree between milk protein and the sugar.)

Down in South Louisiana the baking soda addition didn’t catch on because the brown sugar in the pralines added enough brown color and sweetness. Rarely do you see both brown sugar and baking soda in the same praline recipe. So the key to the geographic origin of your praline recipe is the presence of brown sugar or the white sugar/baking soda combination.

Pasteurized Milk replaced water in the recipes after 1880.

Buttermilk was commercialized in the 1900’s, and it started to appear soon after in praline recipes.

Evaporated milk was popularized during the 1920 and 1930’s, and it unsurprisingly made its way into our praline’s genealogy.

So what is the age and origin of your favorite praline recipe? What is the Etymology of that yellowed, sugar-splattered praline recipe your mother or grandmother lovingly wrote down for you? Based on the list of ingredients you should be able to tell….

 So now onto the recipes…..

After all the info on pralines with baking soda I decided to give it a try. I used a recipe listed in the recipe section un-glamorously, but appropriately, entitled White-Sugar Pralines. Here the white sugar, baking soda, and heavy cream are combined. The spoon hanging on the pot is part of the Rachael Ray Cucina Collection.  Now for the most part a spoon is a spoon, but I this one is unique because you can hang it on the side of the pot.  How cool is that!

This recipe will bubble and foam so use a very large pot. Also ware long sleeves; that bubbling sugar really burns if it gets on your skin. After a few minutes on medium heat, the mixture starts to bubble.

When I make a double batch of pralines (or gumbo), I use this big, mama jama pot.  It is huge.  When not in use I store cookie cutters in it.

It is still pale but it is turning brown...

After a few minutes more the mixture gets browner. In hindsight I probably had the fire too high at this stage of the cooking process. If the fire is too high the mixture will boil too rapidly and create a “boiling scum”. This doesn’t affect the taste of the pralines, but it will give the end product a splotchy, spotted look.

Pralines need to reach the “soft-ball” stage, which is 237-239 degrees. I usually remove the pot from the heat at about 237 degrees, and allow the residual heat in the pot and sugar to raise the mixture the last few degrees. You don’t want to overcook your pralines are they will turn out hard and brittle.

Remove the pralines from the heat and add the butter, vanilla, and pecans.

Stir to incorporate and then start whipping, and keep whipping until the mixture loses it shiny gloss and starts to thicken. If the pralines were cooked to the soft ball stage the whipping process should only take a minute or two.

Quickly spoon the hot pralines onto a prepared cookie sheet and allow to cool. Everyone says to use wax paper to cover the cookie sheet, but I always use aluminum foil. Works just as well.

The final product…

The praline recipe my grandmother taught me was the “traditional” New Orleans Praline recipe. Its list of ingredients includes brown sugar, white sugar, butter, and evaporated milk. This was the only recipe I ever used because it was the recipe my dad like best. It was only after he passed away that I started experimenting with other recipes. Some used different ratios of brown to white sugar, cream, some used whole milk, some used buttermilk, but honestly I couldn't distinguish much of a difference in taste.

UNTIL, that is, I tried the Baking Soda version. Now this one does taste different. I find the Baking Soda version a little softer, a little smoother, and actually a little sweeter. I gave these baking soda pralines to a few family members and I got mixed feedback. Some of them, like me, preferred the baking soda version and other preferred the dual white sugar/brown sugar version.

Oh well, I guess there is no "perfect" praline recipe.  Each person will have their own favorite, and that favorite will never be universal.


White Sugar Pecan Pralines 


2 cups white, granulated sugar
3/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups pecans


1. Place sugar, milk, baking soda, and salt in a large, heavy sauce pan.
2. Using medium heat, bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce to low-medium heat.
3. Cook, stirring constantly until soft ball stage. (I remove mine at 237 degrees.)
4. Remove from heat, and add butter and vanilla. Stir to incorporate, then stir in pecans.
5. Beat the mixture until the creamy, and it just starts to thicken.
6. Drop by tablespoonsful onto waxed paper or aluminum foil.
7. Cool until set

Traditional New Orleans Pecan Pralines (Bill Hahne) 


1-1/2 cups white, granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup Half & Half
3/4 stick unsalted butter (6 tablespoons)
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla


1. In a large, heavy saucepan combine all ingredients except pecans and vanilla
2. Bring to a boil
3. Reduce heat and stir in pecans
4. Cook until temperature reaches soft ball stage (239 degrees)
5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla
6. Beat the mixture until it becomes cloudy
7. Spoon onto buttered waxed paper

Godchaux’s Old-Fashioned Pecan Pralines (c. 1879)

3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1-1/2 cups water
3 cups chopped or halved pecans
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. In a large, heavy pot combine sugar, brown sugar, and water; bring to a boil.
2. Add pecans. Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
3. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes till temperature reaches soft-ball stage (237-239 degrees)
4. Remove from heat, and add butter and vanilla.
5. Beat mixture with wooden spoon unit it sticks to the spoon.
6. Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper or foil.
7. Cool completely

More recipes to come....

Chemistry behind a praline: Tips, Tricks and Hints

Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at a lot of different pecan praline recipes, and found them to be very similar. The only thing that varies is ratio between sugars and liquid (anywhere between 3:1 and 4:1), and the type of liquid. The bulk liquids can be water, or some type of milk product (whole milk, buttermilk, half & half, light cream, heavy cream, or pet milk). Honestly I’ve tried pralines with every type of milk product around, and I really don’t have a preference. Actually they all taste about the same to me. The real purpose of the milk product is for mouth & pallet feel, and more importantly to inhibit the formation of large sugar crystals as the candy cools.

Pralines are a crystalline candy, but the smoothness of the candy is controlled by the size of the sugar crystals. The smaller the crystals the smoother and creamer the praline will taste. As the sugar crystals grow larger the praline will have a grainier and grainier taste.

The fats in butter and milk coat the sugar crystals and slows down their aggregation into larger and larger crystals. But the fats can only do so much, so the praline mixture is also beat as it cools. This whipping also discourages larger crystals from forming.

In some praline recipes you see corn syrup, lemon juice, or cream of tartar. What is this for? Well, adding corn syrup (glucose) to a praline recipe is another way to discourage the formation of large sugar crystals. And adding an acid like lemon juice or cream of tartar will “invert” the sugar and break down the complex sugar molecule (sucrose) into its component parts (fructose and glucose) thereby giving you a smoother candy.

If your praline recipe calls for butter, you may also see salt as an ingredient. The salt helps stabilize the butter and keeps it from separating. But don’t substitute salted butter if your recipe calls for unsalted. Salted butter contains less fat and more liquid than unsalted butter, and this change may throw off your sugar/liquid proportions.

Avoid making pralines on a humid day. Sugar is hygroscopic and will absorb additional moisture on a humid data. This might throw off the sugar to liquid ration and keep your pralines from hardening.

More tips to come...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chia Seed Scones

I’ve jumped on the Chia Seed super-food bandwagon, and consequently I've been sprinkling the tiny seeds on everything. I’ve put them in salsa, guacamole dip, meatballs, smoothies, and sprinkled them in salads. They are packed with fiber, protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium, and they also have this weird ability to absorb 10 times their weight in water. If you let the seeds soak in water they turn the water into gelatinous goo that is a great thickening agent for soups and gravies.

But my passion is baking so I wanted to see how the seeds performed in the oven. But what to bake?  My favorite tea-time snack, Cream Scones, popped into my head. Yum. I’ve never met a scone I didn’t like, but my all-time favorite is a cream scone flavored with almond extract and poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds are tiny and black and chia seeds are (for the most part) tiny and black. This would be a perfect testing ground for the chia seeds .

The mixing…

The forming…

Just out of the oven…

The slicing...

Well if I do say so myself, these Chia Scones were excellent. Almond-ny, sweetness baked into a moist, puffy biscuit. Pure Bliss. I love the way the seeds dot the white scone with inky blackness. The seeds don’t add much flavor to the scones, but they sure are pretty.

And they are good for you!

I’m not much into healthy eating (I’ll give up any meal for a piece of chocolate cake), so if I can add something healthy to my dessert without sacrificing taste or texture I’m one happy baker.

So give Chia Seed Scones a try.  How often can you say that a carb-filled dessert is actually good for you?!!

Chia Seed Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour (9 ounces)
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
2 tablespoons Chia Seed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure extract (vanilla or almond or a combination of both)

milk or cream to brush on top of scones
2 tablespoons White Sparkling Sugar for the top

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place flour, sugar, chia seeds, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whisk until combined.  If you want your scones only slightly sweet use 1/4 cup of sugar.  If you want them sweeter use 1/3 cup.  If you want them to be more of a dessert be wild and add 1/2 cup!
  3. Cut the unsalted butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Using your fingers rub the butter into the flour until it resembles course meal.
  4. In a medium size bowl combine the heavy cream, egg, and desired extract.  (I use Almond but the Vanilla tastes good too.)  With a fork slightly beat the egg into cream.
  5. Pour the cream mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture, and stir with a spatula or your hand until a dough forms.  But don't mix too much.  The more you mix the tougher the scones will be. 
  6. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.  Form each portion into a ball.
  7. Lightly dust a baking stone with flour.  Place the dough balls on the floured stone, and then flatten the ball into a disk shape.  The disk should be about 3/4 inch thick.
  8. Dampen the tops  with milk or cream, and then sprinkle the tops with the white sparkling sugar.  Make sure you remove any sugar that falls onto the stone.  Any sugar left on the stone will melt and scorch at the 400 degree oven temperature.
  9. With a damp knife, cut each disk into quarters.
  10. Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until they are lightly golden brown.
  11. Remove scones from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.
  12. Serve warm with butter and jam, or just eat plain.
 Note: The dough can be flattened, dusted with sugar, and then frozen for up to 4 months. Bake frozen but add 5 minutes to the baking time.

Happy Baking,

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Misadventures in Piñata Cake Land

In my endless trolling of Baking Sites I ran across Nordic Ware’s Piñata Cake Pan.  It looked unique, it looked intriguing, it looked like something I had to HAVE!!!  This pan was different from anything I had played with before.  This piñata cake pan lets you bake a cake with a hole in the middle!  And inside that hole you could stuff candy or fruit, or whatever you imagination could conger up.  How cool it that?
Here is the pan... 

It comes in two part: the main pan, and a mini-dome pan that is secured to larger pan.  The mini-dome acts like a barrier and forces the cake to bake around in, leaving a dome shaped hole in the center of the finished cake.
But how to decorate my Piñata Cake?  The finished cake is shaped like a ball so the obvious choice is a soccer, basketball, or volleyball, but nooooo I have to be different.  I have to do something fancy.  Silly me, when will I ever learn.  In the end I decided on a Puffer Fish.
Ta, da, here is the finished cake. (No submissions to Cake Wrecks, pleaaaase.)

My Puffer Fish looks a little squashed. In fact he is A LOT squashed, but his flattened shape is all part of my Misadventures in Piñata Cake Land so read on if you dare....
This misadventure begins (like that all do), with the baking of a cake.  I guess I should have predicated something would go wrong, but I’m an optimist and never see disaster barreling towards me like an out-of-control freight train.  So here is the cake going into the oven.  It is a 16 oz Duncan Hines Blue Velvet varieties.  It is one of their Signature cakes and calls for a stick of butter and 3 eggs.

The instructions that come with the cake pan said to fill the pan 3/4 full.  I put ALL the batter into the pan and decided it looked about 3/4 full.  I was very scientific about my measurements.  Into the oven it goes, and about 25 minutes into the baking cycle I checked the cake.  Oh the horror that greeted my unsuspecting eyes. 

The half-baked batter had bubbled up and filled the inverted mini-dome of the pan.  I took the cake out of the oven, scooped the still liquid batter out of the mini-dome, and put the cake back into the oven.

After another  15 minutes in the oven, and the cake was done.   Doesn't look too appealing does it?

The metal arms that link the mini-dome to the main cake pan were covered in caked and needed to be cut free.  Later I came to realize this was a good thing because having to trim the cake down to the height of the pan ensured that both cakes were exactly the same size.  In theory having two cake exactly the same size would give me a perfectly shaped “ball” cake.  Bawhahaha.  My “Theory” didn’t take into account that pesky little thing called GRAVITY!

Having learned my “overflow” lesson from the first cake, I removed 1 cup of batter before filling the piñata cake pan again.  With 1 cup removed, the batter was just touching the underside of the inverted dome.  I figured that this cake would be safe from overflow…

WRONG!  The batter still overflowed.  Not as much as the first time of course, but I still had to pull the cake out and scoop out the semi-liquid overflow.  Guess for this particular brand of box cake mix I need to remove 1-1/4 cups.

But in the end I had two perfectly round cakes, with a fist sized cavity in each.  Happy Days!  Time to fill my fishy Piñata Cake.

I frosted the seam of the bottom cake, and filled the cavity with gummy worms.  Why gummy worms?  I figured this was going to be a fish cake, and what is inside the belly of a fish????  Well worms of course.  I don’t know if my creative genius is cute or disgusting.

More frosting, and then the fondant decorations.  For the scales of the fish I just cut out circles of pink and green fondant.  I use the Fondarific brand because this stuff has a shelf life of a year and it NEVER gets hard.  Just keep the fondant wrapped in its plastic bag, and it will be still be soft and pliable 9 months after you open the container.  It is not the best tasting fondant I’ve tried, but if you don’t make fondant cakes very often this is the best one to keep in your pantry.  

I had been working on my cake for about an hour when I noticed the first crack.  It was on the bottom half of the cake near where my fondant fish scales started.  I was a little worried, make that a lot worried.  I stuck some long wooden skewers into the cake, and hoped for the best.   I also noticed that the cake seemed flatter than it was earlier.  It no longer had that round soccer ball shape.  It looked like a ball that saw slowly losing air.
And the longer I worked, the bigger the crack got.  I added three rows of smaller fondant circles trying to hide and stabilize the crack.  I also added white fondant circles to cover the face of the fish.  Originally I was just going to keep the face as just frosting, but all my attempts at crack repairs had destroyed the smooth finish of the buttercream.    My new motto: when something looks bad---cover it in fondant.

But alas, nothing could camouflage the every widening crack.  In a last-ditch effort to keep the cake together I made a long ribbon out of plastic wrap and tied it around the collapsing bottom layer.  Then into the fridge it went.  I was hoping the cold temperature would stabilize the cake.  Duh… just had a thought.  Guess I should have chilled the cake before I started to decorate it.  Bet you were whispering that thought to yourself all along.   But be nice.  It was late and I was trying to finish the cake!

Next I made some fish body parts (fins, tail, mouth, eyes) out of white chocolate.  I just formed them free hand, embedded long wooden skewers into the melted chocolate, and let them set overnight.   The next morning I decided I didn’t like the white fins against the pink and green body, so I covered the white chocolate with a thin film of green fondant.

And I was very happy to find that a night in the refrigerator had stabilized the cake.  There were a few cracks still visible so I just covered them with more fondant fish scales.  But I kept the plastic “Belt” around the belly of the fish until the cake arrived at my family’s Labor Day party.
Once at the party I quickly stuck the body part into the fish and snapped a few pictures.  And as the cake slowly warmed, it got flatter and flatter.  No more cracks appeared, but by the time I cut the cake my Puffer Fish was starting to look like a Flounder.  
Cutting the cake also brought to light another problem: the gummy worms.  In hindsight they probably weren’t the best choice of candy to fill my Piñata Cake.   For one thing I couldn’t cut the cake with those things in the center.  Gummy worms are tough.  The long worms also didn’t “spill” from the cake in broken Piñata style.  I had to stick a fork inside the cake and pull those little suckers out.   Next time I will fill will M&M’s or Skittles.

So lessons learned from my first Piñata Cake :
1)      Don’t overfill the pan.  This is a little hard to judge beforehand because different recipes will rise by different amounts, so opt for a cake that doesn’t have much lift.  Go for dense cake instead of light and fluffy.
2)      Don’t underfill the pan.  A little overfill is good because the extra cake can be trimmed away ensuring that both halves of your cake are exactly the same size.
3)      Use a Dense type of cake mix.  In addition to reducing the rise of the cake, a denser cake will help to make the cake more stable.
4)      Use small hard candies to fill the central cavity.  This will give you the best show of tumbling candy when the cake is cut. 
5)      Next time I will also cut a core from the top of the cake and drop more candy into the cavity.  This will give you more candy to spill out, and it will also fill the cavity to capacity and keep the upper layer of cake from sinking.
6)      Chill/freeze the frosted cake before decorating.  This will help stabilize the cake and keep it from compressing.

So I think that is it.  I certainly learned a lot from my Misadventures with the Nordic Ware Piñata Cake Pan.  But the cake was a hit at the party, so I will definitely make one again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake - SCB

Here is another recipe from Southern Living’s new book The Southern Cake Book -2014

Strawberry Shortcake 
 Click HERE for recipe

Now Strawberry Shortcake is one of my favorite desserts. I love the traditional style where the cake is more of a biscuits and less of an angel food cake. Think of a fat, fluffy scone smothered in strawberries and whipped cream and you will get a hint of what I’m after. And while the shortcake version in The Southern Cake Book wasn’t exactly my ideal (a little too flat), I decided to expand my horizons and give it a try.

Well the end product turn out kind of pretty, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the taste.  The cake/biscuit part didn’t wow me. It was a little bland and nondescript. In the end I scraped off the strawberries and cream, threw the cake away, and stirred the salvaged strawberry into some vanilla ice cream.

So sad.  Where did I go wrong???? ;-(

The dough came together easy enough, but it was very wet and very sticky...

But the directions in the book warned of this and suggested using damp fingers to push and spread the dough around.  And it actually worked. I manged to fill all the gaps.

The only thing that I had trouble with was spreading the beaten egg whites over the top of the cake.  The directions says to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Well I guess I beat them too long because try as I might I couldn't get those egg whites to spread evenly.  Looks a little lumpy, ah?

Here is the cake right out of the oven.  Notice the scorching of the egg white?   Oven possibly too hot for egg whites?  Hummm...  There was one difference between the online version of the recipe and the recipe in the book.  The book says to bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes, but the online recipes says to bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes.  I wonder which one is right?

I usually tastes cakes after I take them out of the oven, but I forgot in this case.  Stupid me because if I had tasted it first I wouldn't have wasted the strawberries and whipped cream.  Here is the cake being assembled...

And here is the finished cake.  Looks good, but in my opinion it just didn't have a great taste.  I probably did something wrong (I usually do), but with this cake I'm not even tempted to try it again.