Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Carrot Cake

Years ago, I cut out an article in one of my cooking magazines about cake and ratios. It talked about the ratios: of sugar = flour and eggs = butter... as well as eggs + liquid = sugar. It was a lovely article and I was thirsty for more information. About a year ago, at a party, I met the sister-in-law of a friend here who is a food scientist. How cool is that? She works at Mars and has to work with caramel and nougat extruders. Not to mention the chocolate. Can you imagine walking into work every day to the smell of chocolate? She recommended a cooking textbook: McGee's Food and Cooking and so I bought it. Granted, it is huge, so I have not yet read the whole thing. But whenever I pick it up, I want to read the rest! Can you imagine being excited about a text book? It is amazing.

But I digress. This post is about Carrot Cake, so I will bring it on. Using only these ratios I began to fiddle around with a carrot cake recipe.  I had the Belimar book's Carrot Bundt cake recipe to start with and one from my aunt. It really only took me a few tries (I got lucky!) and I had a hunch that I was onto something.
If you are hoping for cupcakes, half of this recipe makes about 15 muffins/cupcakes (bake for 25 minutes). (Don't get me started on the difference between a muffin and a cupcake.)

Carrot Cake
400 g (3 and 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour (use the Zeeuwse Bloem in Nederland)
200 g (1 cup) sugar (fijn suiker)
220 g (1 cup) brown sugar (light bastard suiker)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp all-spice (or 1/8 tsp cloves)
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
2 egg yolks (37 g)
5 whole eggs (270 g)
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil (300 ml)
2/3 cup buttermilk (150 ml karne melk)
2 cups shredded carrots (275 g)
1 cup toasted walnuts (120g)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans and line with parchment. Grease and flour the parchment.
2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour through salt)
3. Beat eggs lightly, add oil, buttermilk and mix until combined. Fold in dry ingredients. Fold in carrots and walnuts.
4. Pour batter into the prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, checking after 30 min using the toothpick test (does it come out clean) and the press-test (lightly touch the center of the cake with your finger and see if it springs back. If it does not spring back, it is not done)
5. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes. Wait about 10 minutes and then turn cakes out onto a wire rack. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting. I used the Cooks Country Cream Cheese frosting recipe.
The first time I made this cake was for my friend Viktorija's birthday. I followed advice from Hello Cupcake and made sunflowers from oreos.
Another time I made this cake was for my husband's birthday, and I spelled his name with raisins on the top as the decoration. A bit low-brow compared to the sunflowers, no? But he just wanted to eat the cake! And it was good.
Viktorija requested carrot cake for her birthday again this year and so I obliged. And I even remembered to take a photo of the inside of the cake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where oh where is the cereal here?

Brought from the USA
We've been in the Netherlands for 3 (!) years now and so I've had to make-do with products I find here (for the most part... I will admit to some addictions to things like Tom's of Maine toothpaste and still being unable to find unscented deodorant here.) In the Netherlands, there are very few choices of cereal. Seventeen varieties of Special K and a few others is about it. One of the cereals I miss most is Raisin Bran Crunch. It has just the right amount of crunchy-ness, a generous helping of raisins, and even decent bran content. Since the airlines implemented the recent fee increase for the second checked bag (well, at one point, long ago, you could take two bags on an international flight for no charge. Then it was $50 for the second bag. Now it is $70 or more, depending on the airline... argh), it makes more sense to try to create my favorite things here rather than import them.  For Raisin Bran Crunch, here is my 'recipe':
Pour Bran Flakes into bowl about 1/2 full. Add Special "K" and Frosties(equivalent to Frosted Flakes in the USA), in equal portions to make up the other half. Sprinkle bits of muesli and tons of raisins. Voila! You have a close approximation of Raisin Bran Crunch! And it only took you 5 products in the Netherlands!
It sounds ridiculous, but I miss cereal so much. I probably should not admit this online, but when we drive to Belgium and hit Carrefour I stock up on things like Golden Grahams, *almost like honey nut* Nestle Cheerios, and other sugar cereals. I know I shouldn't, but when I see things I can't get here in the Netherlands, it is a total impulse buy. On a related note, when we are in the USA and near a Dunkin Donuts, we have to stop and indulge. When we lived in the USA we rarely went to Dunkin Donuts! But now that we can't get it, we crave it!
Speaking of cereal, I'd like to end this post with a review of Cheerios-like cereals. Above, you see my favorite, Honey Nut Cheerios(imported) with the closest approximation here in my grocery-shopping area of Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany), Nestle Cheerios. If you look closely, you can actually see the coating of sugar on the Nestle Cheerios, which makes sense since they are quite crunchy. The HN Cheerios even seem to have more holes (air pockets?) which makes them less crunchy and results in a lovely 'pop' in your mouth. Don't get me started about the Dutch version of Cheerios, called "Loops". 
The only way to describe Loops is that they are rocks masquerading as food. If I thought the Nestle Cheerios were 'crunchy' then the Loops are 'tooth-breakers'. Additionally, it is impossible to find cereal for kids here that has a low sugar level like regular Cheerios. When my daughter was little, I imported regular Cheerios with regularity because I just couldn't imagine a 12 month old not eating Cheerios! Unfortunately, now that she is two years old, she finally noticed the difference between my Nestle Cheerios and the low-sugar imported from the USA ones she was eating and now asks for "Belgian cereal". It totally cracks me up when I hear her say that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving in the USA is just around the corner, therefore I have to discuss Pumpkin Pie. Over the years, I've been perfecting my recipe, based on my grandma's, my MIL's, and a brief discussion with a professional baker while cake tasting for our wedding. The key to the best pumpkin pie is using canned pumpkin, which poses a bit of a challenge for my friends living here in the Netherlands. Do not despair! A little shop in Utrecht sells canned pumpkin, and you can often convince your friends visiting from the US to bring you a can of Libbys. I've used fresh pumpkin a few times and only one thing is for certain with the results I've had: they are never consistent. Furthermore, Cooks Illustrated uses canned pumpkin in their recipes so it has to be the right thing to do.

First, the crust: I say go big or go home. If you want a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth crust you have to use a Pate Brisse recipe. I've mentioned this before, but since pie can never be over-discussed, I'll say it again: make sure your butter is cold. Less than 68 degrees, to be exact. Start with 250g of cubed butter, that you've frozen for 30 minutes or overnight. (That's a bit more than a couple of sticks to you folks in the USA).
Next, process your all-purpose flour (2 & 1/2 cups or 300 g), 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt in a food processor until mixed. Add the chopped, frozen butter and process until you have a sandy-looking texture.
Add just less than 1/2 cup cold water and process until it comes together. Test by pinching a bit with your thumb and finger and seeing if it sticks together.

Shape into two discs (you've made enough for two pumpkin pies!) and wrap in saran wrap. Place in the fridge for at least a couple hours, preferably overnight. When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F (210 degrees C) and roll out the crust to be just larger than a 9" pie plate. Place into a glass or ceramic pie plate and trim the edge to overhang about 2 inches. Fold that under to give yourself a thicker edge, and crimp the edge using your index finger from one hand and your index finger and thumb from the other hand.

The filling:
15 oz can of pumpkin (just pumpkin, please, no additives)
10 oz evaporated milk
2 oz milk
2/3 cup sugar (135 g)
2 eggs, slightly beaten (do not beat them too much because the air bubbles are no good.)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh ground cloves or you can use allspice instead

Pour the filling into your unbaked prepared crust, place it in the oven (425 degrees F) and bake for 15 minutes. It is best if you have a baking sheet to place on the rack beneath the pie, to catch the butter drips. Otherwise you'll have fun cleaning your oven later. Next, cover the crust with a pie shield, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C)and bake for 35-40 minutes more. You will know your pie is done when you insert a knife and it comes out clean.
This poor pie had to be checked many, many times. Alternatively, you can slightly jiggle the pie and see if the center is wobbly. It should wobble a tiny bit, but mostly look set.

Pie holds a special place in my heart because it was my daughter's first word. Miraculously, I managed to capture it on video.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Simple Soup

A hot bowl of soup when you feel a cold coming on is so soothing. As my friend, Viktorija would say, "Use whatever veggies you have." or "Relax"! Take her advice- I know I should!

In French cooking, carrots, celery, and onion minced and mixed together can be the main part of your broth- Mirepoix if you will. If you are lucky enough to have leftover chicken on hand, or a whole, uncooked chicken, you can use it to make the stock. If not, simply chop equal parts carrots, onions, and celery (1 cup of each if you need exact measurements) and throw it all into a pot with some olive oil coating the bottom (1 tsp or so). Stir, on medium heat, until the onions are fragrant. The veggies will not be 'done' yet, but go ahead and add 4 cups (1 liter) of boiling water or (preferably) broth or stock. I use bullion cubes to make my broth when I'm lazy, or if I'm industrious, I create stock from scratch by boiling a whole chicken with a bunch of veggies, straining this completely, stripping the meat off the chicken bones and then using the strained broth at this point in the process (add the cooked chicken pieces at the last minute, if desired).  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally and then time the addition of any other veggies you like, such as broccoli (takes 5 minutes to cook), cauliflower (3 minutes), sweet peppers or herbs (add at the last minute). If you are adding potatoes, I recommend doing so when you saute the carrots, celery, and onion in the first step, or right after you bring your mixture to a boil. If you are crazy about veggies not being over cooked, you can also start your stock/broth boiling, add potatoes, cook for 15 minutes, then add the carrots, celery, and onion and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. However, I really prefer the onions sauteed a bit with the olive oil(and a pinch of salt) at the start, so that they get a bit caramelized.

Serve, piping hot, with Parmesan cheese or a swirl of extra virgin olive oil on the top along side some homemade French bread. If you want your soup to be a noodle soup you can add the pasta (preferably something small like ditalini) as soon as your mixture has come to a boil after you've added the broth or stock or water. If you only use boiling water you will definitely need to salt your soup!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Special Cake for Dina's First Birthday

I'm going to attempt to post about cake at least once a week so that my blog name remains relevant. When Dina was turning one, I considered her favorite toys and decided her tea-pot and tea-cups would be the perfect theme for her birthday party. Additionally, they had the added bonus of being a perfect cake topper, in case I couldn't get it together enough to create edible ones. First, I made a test-cake, to see what proportions I needed for the tea set. The actual tea set fit on the test cake pretty well- maybe a bit too big. I also tried some fun borders to see what I liked best. 
The test cake- making borders. Everyone loves test cakes.

Next, I thought I'd try to create the tea cups from gum paste I got at the Dutch Cake Event earlier that year. A word to the wise: Don't use a finite supply of anything if you are worried about the colors matching. Always make more than you think you will need for your project. Along with the tea cups I made the flowers and butterflies ahead of time. The Wilton Royal Icing recipe is awesome for making flowers. You don't even need to do them as perfect as the ones you see online. Here, you can observe I've made what amounts to five 'petals' but might also be referred to as 'lumps' with yellow dots in the center. Once they are on the cake, no one will notice if they are perfect, trust me.
For the butterflies, I folded wax paper over a box (just needed a 90 degree angle) and piped the wings on each of the sides of the box, and the body of the butterfly down the seam. Give it about 48 hours to dry completely and you have three dimensional butterflies!
Next, I looked online at one of the many font shops to see which font I liked. I can't remember which one I choose, but then I my husband printed it to the right size and then I held it above where I wanted the writing to be, checking it for size and shape as I piped onto the cake:
I placed the tea cups, flowers, butterflies at the last moment because I used a whipped cream frosting which, over time (like an hour or two) will begin to melt a bit, even if stabilized. A side note: Dutch whipped cream is the bomb, people.
The tea pot was made painting Royal Icing over top of a balloon and allowing it to harden. I used one of Dina's balls from her ball-pit for supporting the shape of the lid of the tea-pot (a circle made from gum paste) and the gum paste ball on the top of the lid was attached with Royal Icing as well. The purple wiggle boarder on the cake was made with buttercream icing and the filling was strawberries and cream.
Most people use fondant for covering cakes but I'll save my opinion of fondant for another post. While I agree that cakes should look beautiful, I also believe they should taste amazing, no matter what they look like!
Using the Culinary Institute of America's white cake recipe, I then torted each cake to make four layers, layering strawberries and homemade strawberry sauce inbetween. 

The most important part of this project was my baby girl's reaction. At her first opportunity, she grabbed a tea cup! Success!
 Dina's first birthday party- I will never forget it. I love you, my sweet Dina!