Friday, February 24, 2012

Lemon-Lime Tarts with Semolina Shortbread Crust . . . Get Your Zing On!

Tarts. They're hard to resist. So cute. So small.

Even the pans they're baked in are adorable. Those scalloped edges. The way the little round bottom part of the pan lifts out, leaving you with a pretty ring of golden crust. Tart shells cry out to be filled with something really good. Something fresh and biting . . . something, well . . . tart. 

Lemons and limes must have been designed with tarts in mind. They supply such an unmistakable zzziing! 

And everyone needs to inject a bit of zing into their life now and again, don't you think?

About this recipe . . . 

This tart dough is made, in part, with semolina flour, which comes from durum wheat. It's more yellow in hue, and slightly more coarse in texture, than regular flour. Often used to make pasta, semolina reminds me of very finely ground corn meal. It makes for a firm tart shell that's pleasantly crumbly when you finally sink your teeth into it. Nice flavor, too. You can find it in small packages in most large grocery stores these days, and reliably in fancier markets (I used Bob's Red Mill brand). The dough recipe is a very simple one adapted from this Tastebook page, that I roughly converted from gram measurements.

The lemon-lime filling I adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery & Cafe, by Joanne Chang and Christie Matheson. Full of really satisfying recipes, the book is written in a friendly, matter of fact, let's-do-this-together tone. I'm a sucker for any competent cookbook author who manages not just to teach, but to reassure and embolden home bakers all in the same breath. If you want to feel intimidated don't buy this book. On the other hand, if you want to feel like you're in your kitchen working next to someone who understands that smart home baking should be an engaging and creative task, then you won't be disappointed in this delectable book.

Maybe you're wondering why I didn't top these tarts with meringue? That would have been so logical, right? Well, I almost did. Had my egg whites at the ready and everything. But then the Gods of Whipped Cream called out to me. From my refrigerator . . . 'cuz they live in there. Maybe meringue will win out next time. We'll see.

Lemon-Lime Tarts with Semolina Shortbread Crust
(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Yield for tart dough: Enough to make at least 12 tart shells that are 3-4" in diameter (I used only about half of the dough, made seven tarts, and froze the rest for future use.)

Yield for tart filling: Enough to fill about 7 to 8 tart shells.

To make the tart shells:

3 sticks and 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened (that's 1 and 1/2 cups, plus 1 Tbsp.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup and 1 Tbsp. semolina flour
1 and 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. In the large bowl of your mixer, on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar for two or three minutes, until it looks light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, semolina flour, and salt.  With your mixer on low speed, pour this into the butter mixture in two additions. Stop to scrape the bowl and beaters between additions. Beat just until obviously blended. Don't over-mix.

If you're using tart pans that are 3" to 4" in diameter, put a glob of dough about the size of a large walnut into each one. Press with your fingers so the dough is evenly spread on the bottom and all the way up the sides of each tart pan. Be sure to gently nudge the dough closely into the scallops so the design will be firmly impressed into the shells when they're unmolded after baking. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the shells; this will help keep them from puffing up while baking. (Also, I recommend placing pie weights in muffin papers set in each tart pan over the dough. That's the best insurance to help them keep their shape as they bake.)

Place all the filled tart pans on a baking sheet with sides. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. When the shells are done baking, place them on a cooling rack for a few minutes before removing them from the pans to cool completely before filling them.

To make the lemon-lime filling:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
yolks from 3 large eggs (You can freeze those leftover whites. I do it all the time.)
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (strained to remove seeds and pulp)
2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice (strained to remove seeds and pulp)
1 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium size saucepan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, and heavy cream. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat until it starts to thicken up and looks translucent (you'll know it when you see it).

While the sugar is cooking, in a medium size heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice, and lime juice together. After the sugar mixture on the stove has thickened, as noted above, pour it slowly into the bowl of yolks and juice, whisking all the while (you don't want the hot sugar to cook the eggs, so just keep on whisking). When it's all mixed in, pour it all back into the saucepan and return that to the stove. Over medium heat, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continually the entire time, now with a wooden spoon (the mixture's going to get super hot, thus it's better to do this with a wooden spoon), until it thickens. Take the pan off the heat and immediately stir in the butter and vanilla.

Scoop or spoon the hot filling evenly into the baked, cooled tart shells. Let the filling cool down somewhat before you refrigerate the filled tarts. When the tarts are cold, top them with sweetened whipped cream (toss a few tablespoons of sifted confectioners' sugar in when whipping the cream) before serving, if you like, and garnish each one with little wedges of lemon and lime, or perhaps a few raspberries or a nice big blackberry or strawberry.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache . . .

Last week in my Bakery Merchandising class, my fellow students and I spent hours preparing for a sale in the culinary school's retail bakery. One of my duties included piping huge swirls of fluffy vanilla buttercream onto dozens of yellow cupcakes, chilling them until firm, then suspending them upside down, one by one, and dipping them into a deep bowl of warm chocolate ganache.

At first my task progressed smoothly, but then the big white swirls started plopping off as I lifted the cold cupcakes out of the chocolate. Cursing under my breath with each failed attempt, I nervously fished out big globs of buttercream--once, twice, three times. Speed was of the essence that day and, not wanting to gum up the works, I took immediate steps to remedy the problem. Soldiering on, I carefully refrosted some of the cupcakes, chilled them longer, rewarmed the ganache, and crossed my fingers.

Meanwhile, directly across from me a much younger student, who told me she'd been working in a bakery since high school, was deftly enrobing iced layer cakes in ganache. I kept glancing over as she ladled the fluid chocolate atop each cake, letting it move languidly down the sides before picking up a small offset spatula to cover any bare spots. Her sense of calm bordered on the meditative, and her technique produced beautiful results.

It made me want to do the same thing at home. Damn the cupcakes, I said to myself, full speed ahead with a big round layer cake in my own kitchen. 

Thus was the inspiration for today's cake. (A cake that would, I believe, make a sensational Valentine's Day dessert!)

About this recipe . . . 

From the book Welcome to Junior's! Remembering Brooklyn with Recipes and Memories from its Favorite Restaurant, this fudge cake is moist and densely textured. The recipe actually produces three hefty layers, but they were each so tall and obviously substantive, I decided to save and freeze the third one. If I'd actually used all three layers the iced and coated cake would probably have been 10" tall. (If you need a truly lofty layer cake, go ahead and use all three.) The vanilla buttercream recipe is also adapted from Junior's. The decision to apply a luxurious dark-chocolate ganache over the whole thing was, as you know, quite my own.

I bought this book last April in Junior's Restaurant (the one in Times Square) during a trip to NYC, and I have to admit I'm pretty fond of it (the book, yes, and also the restaurant!). My family and I visited Junior's twice while we were there, one night just for dessert (that famous cheesecake, of course), and again on our last morning in town before heading to the airport. We'd finished breakfast and were getting up to leave when it hit me that I could not exit Manhattan without my own copy, bright stacks of which were displayed near the entrance. Along with solid recipes, this volume offers an honest and deeply affectionate homage to Brooklyn--as it was decades ago, and as it is now. It's full of historical tidbits that are pretty engrossing for anyone who's interested in the evolution of a classic, family-owned, American restaurant. I began reading it at the airport, while awaiting our flight, and hardly put it down until our plane landed back in Detroit. I used one of Junior's cute paper coasters as my bookmark.

Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream 
and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Makes one large, tall, 3-layer cake that, when iced and ganached, could probably serve 20 or more people.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three round 9"x2" cake pans, place parchment paper circles in the bottom, and then butter the parchment (it's easiest to do this with a pastry brush, and do use unsalted butter). Place a rack in the middle of your oven.

Ingredients for the cake layers:

3 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 generous teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
1/2 cup vegetable shortening 
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
7 large eggs, not cold
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 and 1/4 cups milk (I used 2 percent.)

Onto parchment, or into a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on high speed, cream together the butter, shortening, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Beat for several minutes, until the mixture turns light yellow. Scrape the bowl and beaters. Again on high speed, add in the eggs one at a time, beating for a couple of minutes after each addition. Stop and scrape the bowl and beaters.

Pour in all of the chocolate and vanilla, and continue mixing on high speed for up to 20 minutes. (Yes, I said 20 minutes--that's what the instructions indicate, and that's what I did. The batter is quite fluffy when you're done with this step.) Take the bowl off of the mixer now, and gently scrape again with your spatula.

Now, sift one quarter of the dry mixture over the batter and carefully stir (as opposed to just folding, which you will be inclined to do) it in. Then pour in one third of the milk, stirring to blend. Continue in this fashion, until you've incorporated all the flour and milk, stirring well after each addition.

Portion the batter equally into the three prepared pans, and smooth it out. Gently tap each pan on your work surface to help release air bubbles. Bake the pans side by side on the middle rack, but don't let them touch each other. (The cookbook suggests delaying the baking of one layer if you don't have an oven large enough to accomplish this, rather than baking one of the layers on an upper- or lower rack.)

Bake the layers for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each one comes out clean, and the sides of the cakes just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the layers on racks for 30 minutes before inverting them onto racks (and removing any parchment still stuck to them) to finish cooling.

Ingredients for Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

2 lbs. (8 cups) of confectioners' sugar, well sifted (I always use Domino's 10x for frosting. Much less lumpy than the cheaper stuff.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup margarine or high-ratio shortening, not cold (I did not use margarine, which the original recipe indicates. Instead, I used Sweetex, which is a "high-ratio" shortening typically used by cake decorators. Trans-fat free, it adds stability to frostings--ie., helps them hold up without softening in warm temps--and doesn't lend a greasy mouth-feel the way vegetable shortening can. It also helps make frosting easier to spread. You can buy it at cake decorating supply stores, but be forewarned that it's not cheap.)
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. and 2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 scant tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup heavy cream, not too cold

Onto a parchment sheet, or into a large bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and the salt, being sure to break up out any stubborn sugar lumps. In the large bowl of your electric mixer, using the paddle attachment on high speed, cream together the butter and margarine/Sweetex; beat for about three minutes, until light yellow. Still on high speed, add in the corn syrup and vanilla. Stop and scrape the beaters and bowl. Now on low speed, add the sugar in two additions, beating well after each one. Pour in the cream and blend until the frosting seems of reasonable spreading consistency; if it seems too thick, add in more cream as needed, a teaspoon or so at a time. Keep the frosting tightly covered until you're ready to use it. If you won't be using it within a couple of hours, cover and refrigerate it. 

Ingredients for the Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache:

8-10 oz. good quality dark chocolate (I tend to use Ghirardelli if I don't want to spend a fortune. If I'm flush with cash, I'm more likely to use Callebaut, and more rarely Valrhona. Bittersweet ganache works well with this cake since it balances the sweetness of the buttercream frosting.)
5-6 oz. heavy cream (The amount can vary a little bit, depending upon how soft you want your ganache to be.)
2 tsp. soft unsalted butter

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a heatproof bowl.

In a small sauce pan, heat the cream slowly until it simmers. Pour it over the chocolate, add the butter, and do not stir. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Stir until the chocolate is obviously completely melted; don't whisk, as you don't want to add bubbles. As the ganache begins to cool, you'll be able to get an idea of its texture. If it seems it will be too thick to ladle onto your cake, stir in a little bit more warm cream, adjusting as needed. If you won't be using the ganache right away, keep it well covered in the fridge. It can be warmed up in a double boiler, or gradually in the microwave if watched very closely. 

To assemble the cake:

Place your first layer of cake on a cardboard cake-circle so you can more easily lift and move it; this will be a big help when it comes time to add the ganache coating. Frost the top of the bottom layer.  Frost the top of the middle layer. Frost the top of the top layer and the sides of the cake as smoothly as you can, ideally with an offset spatula. It doesn't matter too much if some crumbs show through in the frosting at this point since the cake will be covered in chocolate, but any obvious lumps should be smoothed out to ensure a nice finish. 

Place the cake, still on its cardboard circle, over a cake rack that's been placed atop a rimmed baking sheet. 

When your ganache is at the right consistency (it should drip easily from a ladle, like a very pourable gravy), ladle it directly onto the top center of the cake, letting it spread out and drip down the sides. The excess ganache will drip off the bottom edges of the cake onto your baking sheet (that excess can be saved and used again, assuming it doesn't contain crumbs, etc.). Use a small, metal, offset spatula to smooth out, and dab delicately at, any bare spots on the top and sides of the cake; work fairly quickly since the ganache will start to set up as it cools. Let the ganache-covered cake sit on the cooling rack over the baking sheet until the ganache seems somewhat firm. Move the cake onto its serving plate, sliding a firm metal spatula beneath it to help lift it up off the cooling rack. Before serving, add on any decorations you prefer (whipped cream swirls, piped frosting, chocolate-dipped strawberries, whatever you like).

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