Wednesday, April 13, 2016

White Cake White Icing

I absolutely LOVE white cake with white icing.

I do not often indulge this love, primarily because not everyone loves white cake and white icing the way I do. Secondarily, I try not to get carried away making cakes, which are possibly my favorite of desserts. 
Heidi and our Exceptional White Cake


However, a few years back I met the significant other of my husband's best school chum Richard, from way, way back when. Her name is Heidi, and her birthday is 6 days prior to mine. Born the same year, even! I was amazed! And even better? She LOVES white cake with white icing! Who'd-a thunkit? 

So when she and Rich were here visiting last weekend for the Annual Winefest Renaissance, for the benefit of the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen, I indulged in this mutual love for white cake with white icing for our birthday dinner on Friday (though my own actual birthday is not until this coming Saturday).  

I have made many white cakes over the years. I have made white wedding cakes, using the recipe in a Wilton magazine on wedding cakes. That recipe is just-to-die-for-good. I made a wedding cake for my niece back around 2002 or so, and when I was trimming all the rounded tops so the cake would lay flat, all these bits were piled on a plate. All my sisters and nieces and nephews were there picking at the cake pieces. One of my sisters said, "I don't even LIKE white cake - but this is really GOOD!" I've made other white cakes over the years, all of them pretty darned good. But somehow, this one I created last week was truly exceptionally good, and so I have named it "Exceptional White Cake." 
Exceptional White Cake
Exceptional White Cake with Whipped Buttercream Icing


I hate recipes that make such a small amount of cake in the pan that if you want to trim off the rounded dome, you end up with a cake about 1/2-inch thick. That's no cake at all. So I went a bit large with the recipe. I could easily have made these layers in 9-inch pans, but instead I used 8-inch round pans. It made a very tall cake. Very majestic. I suppose you could make two 10-inch layers, and have them be tall enough for something more normal, if desired. This is supposition - I have not done it. So this cake was made in three, straight-sided 8-inch cake pans and while the cakes did not rise higher than the edge of the pans, it made a lovely tall cake.
Whipped Buttercream Icing
Whipped Buttercream Icing

The icing recipe is one I have on my blog from 2013, called Whipped Buttercream Icing. It so happens that I have on hand something called Vanilla Bean Paste. It is a thicker consistency, almost slightly gelatinous, and it contains lots and lots of vanilla seeds. It also carries a stronger vanilla flavor, and all those minuscule seeds are visible in the icing. Heidi absolutely fell in love with the icing, and wanted the recipe, which I shared with her. It takes a little time to make, and really requires a stand mixer, but the flavor and consistency are well worth the time it takes. The icing is also lovely for piping any kind of decorations. I did not decorate the cake for Heidi and me this year, as I was mainly busy with the prep-work for the Winefest Renaissance, but this photo shows how nicely the icing holds shape. I will say this recipe was not large enough to cover the sides of the cake, which was no problem, because I just didn't have time to dedicate to a full-out decorated cake. You might have to increase the recipe by at least 1/2 to accommodate the size of cake. Even double the recipe for the Whipped Buttercream Icing if you are making extensive decorations.


Exceptional White Cake


makes 3 layers, either 8 or 9-inch round pans
Exceptional White Cake

Exceptional White Cake

3 1/2 cups cake flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
12 tablespoons or 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sour cream
6 egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 8 or 9-inch pans with cooking spray. Line the pan bottoms with parchment. Spray the parchment. Set pans aside.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Measure out the milk and set aside. In a glass or metal bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks and set aside. In a mixer bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the sugar gradually and beat until light. Begin adding the dry ingredients alternately in three batches with the milk, mixing until combined after each addition. Mix in the sour cream until no traces are visible. Fold in one-third of the whipped egg whites to loosen the batter, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites until well combined and distributed. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing equally between pans. Rap the pans sharply on the counter to release trapped air bubbles. Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes, or until a crumb or two remain when inserting a toothpick or other cake tester. 

Allow the cakes to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pans. If making ahead, allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans. Run a knife around the edges so they do not stick. Wrap well, then place pans in gallon zip-top bags and freeze for up to 3 weeks. Thaw before icing.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Winefest Was a Great Success

It's taken me a couple of days to wind down after spending a few very focused weeks prepping for this years Winefest Renaissance, held for the benefit of the Boys & Girls Club of Aberdeen. The Winefest event was held on April 9th at the Ward Hotel downtown, and had a huge turnout. My part of the event was to pair four appetizer foods with four wines, to match food flavors as perfectly as possible with the flavors in the wine. 
 
Flank Steak Rolls with Romano & Cherry Onion Relish
Flank Steak Rolls with Romano & Cherry Onion Relish, paired with Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria

When tasting a wine, there may be mixed reactions. Some wines are friendly all on their own. While they may pair excellently with food, they can also be enjoyed solo. Other wines are truly meant to pair with a food in order to bring out the wine's best flavors and attributes. For this reason, when I create a new food combination to pair with a wine, I endeavor to take into consideration all the flavors the winemaker has worked to create. If a wine is supposed to have notes of cherry or strawberry, then I try to work in those flavors, even if only in a marginal way. If it is best paired with particular aged cheeses, then I might select one of those cheeses to use in the food.

What makes it challenging for me is that most of the wines that are listed as possible selections, are also not ones that are sold here in town. I must rely exclusively on what I can glean from online sites. I read critic's commentary, winemaker's notes, expert ratings where available, and anything at all I can find, to prepare myself to make a food that will pair most appropriately - all for a wine I cannot taste-test while working on the food prep. Still, this has not hampered my efforts to date, as in all these 4 years of Winefest events, all the foods have been absolutely wonderful pairings with the wines I selected. 

Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, DOCGWhile planning for the foods, the final wine I was planning for was Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria (shown at right), an Sicilian wine, with the only D.O.C.G. wine designation in Sicily. I wrote about this wine and a proposed appetizer on March 26th (read that blog here). Ultimately, I made a change rather late in the game and switched to making flank steak rolls once again. I have made differently flavored and filled flank steak rolls for each of the four Winefest Renaissances to date, and always to great acclaim. I had wanted to diverge from that rut this year, but in the end I caved and made them again. Again, to great acclaim. And, they paired most excellently with the wine. What was written about the wine were things such as "fruity, reminiscent of red berries, strawberries, cherries" . . . "lively and pretty" . . . "brooding dark fruit and herb flavors" . . . "pairs well with medium aged cheeses, lamb . . .".

Gourmet Garden Italian Herbs PasteWith these descriptors to take into consideration, I created strawberry & jalapeno marinade for the flank steak and used the Cherry & Onion Relish I had created originally. I chose Romano cheese, grated it and mixed it with a bit of Chevre goat cheese to bind it enough to roll into little logs. I kept the cheese flavors savory, as the wine, while evoking bright fruit flavors, is a dry red wine. The Cherry & Onion Relish had some sweetness, so I used only a small amount per roll - just enough to give the bright flavor. The herb flavors were accented with the use of a little dab of "Gourmet Garden Italian Herbs" paste. The mixture made a most flavorful mix, and paired well with the wine. 

While the marinade flavor was not extremely noticeable in the broiled steak, it also did not fight with the wine. The use of jalapenos gave a little zip without there being any overwhelming heat. Here is the marinade I created:

Strawberry Jalapeno Marinade for Steak

enough for 2 - 3 pounds of steak

1/2 pound fresh, hulled strawberries
3 fresh jalapenos
4 cloves fresh garlic
1 cup fresh blackberries
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh minced sage
1 teaspoon fresh, minced oregano
1 teaspoon fresh minced basil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 medium onion

Place the strawberries into a blender container. Remove stems and cut the jalapenos into 3 - 4 chunks, with seeds, then add to blender along with all the remaining ingredients and blend to a puree. It is of no importance to be perfectly pureed, but only to make a liquid mixture for the marinade. Place your meat of choice (I used flank steak) into a gallon zip-top baggie or other marinating container and pour in the marinade. Toss well and refrigerate overnight. When ready to use, remove the steak from the marinade and scrape off excess. Broil or grill the meat to your desired doneness.

For flank steak, I broil the meat about 4-inches from the broiler element in my oven for 6 minutes per side for perfectly pink centers. Allow the steak to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes or more before slicing very thinly across the grain of the meat.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies

Friday, April 1, 2016

Two Fabulous New Cheesecakes

Happy April Fool's Day! Though there is no "fooling" around with these excellent recipes!

Cheesecakes are terribly rich. This is what makes them so exceptionally tasty, of course. So when I was asked to make two cheesecakes for Easter dinner I was surprised. Finding that there were to be three others besides, just blew me away. Granted, there were over 30 family and extended family there... so I was asked to make a cherry cheesecake and a blueberry cheesecake. In general, I prefer plain, unadorned cheesecake. Skip the cherry topping dripping down the sides. Skip any flavorings inside. 
Cherry Swirl and Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecakes
Cherry Swirl and Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecakes

That hasn't stopped me from occasionally making a really spectacularly flavored cheesecake. Check out either my Chestnut Cheesecake or my Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake, in case you might wonder. So, when asked for cherry and blueberry cheesecakes, well, these are ones I had never attempted. 

I have a basic cheesecake I really love, and usually use that as a base recipe, changing or adding as needed, and that is what I did with these two new cheesecakes. The question was, how was I to incorporate these flavors best?

So I went online.

Cherries are definitely not in season, so obviously something canned would be needed for those. I didn't want to make a white cheesecake and open a can of pie filling to top it. So, how to go about this project? As for the blueberries, I had eaten some delicious fresh blueberries lately (I know, they are not in season either, but the ones sold locally are really good just now!), so I wondered if adding fresh blueberries to the batter would work or not?
 
Straight from the oven: Cherry Swirl left and Blueberry White Chocolate right
Straight from the oven: Cherry Swirl left and Blueberry White Chocolate right

For the Cherry, what was most commonly found was precisely what I imagined: pie filling poured over a plain cheesecake. This was SO not what I wanted! And then I found someplace that used a can of cherry pie filling, pureed in the blender and swirled into the cheesecake. Aha! So this is where I went with the cherry version. I used my base recipe, and swirled in the pureed pie filling. I also opted to use chocolate graham crackers for the crust, since chocolate and cherry go so well together. The only thing I would do differently is to fish out the cherries in the pie filling, and use must less of the "filling" part. I felt the mixture was far too runny when pureed all together. It left some of the cheesecake very thin and prone to falling apart. In general, from a flavor and texture standpoint, it was fabulous.

A Note on the Crusts, and Gluten-Free Options

This time I opted to make the cheesecake crusts using graham cracker crumbs and gingersnap cookies, which are not gluten free. The Almond Crust I used for my Chestnut Cheesecake recipe is completely gluten free, and makes an excellent crust option. The remainder of the recipe is gluten free in and of itself.   

Cherry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust

makes one 9-inch cheesecake

CRUST:
1 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (about 6 ounces)
Cherry Swirl Cheesecake
Cherry Swirl Cheesecake

1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt  
4 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
3.5- to 4-ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the crumbs, nuts, sugar and salt in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir together quickly with a fork. Press this mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides of a 9-inch spring form pan. Bake the crust for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and spread the chopped chocolate into the bottom of the hot crust. It will melt quickly. Allow to cool completely. Reset oven to 325 degrees.

CHEESECAKE:
3 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling

Have ready a larger baking pan that will easily accommodate the 9-inch spring form pan. Have a kettle of water at a simmer. Cut a sheet of aluminum foil that will cover the bottom and sides of the spring form pan (this is more easily accomplished if done before the pan is filled with the crust, then set the formed foil aside for later). Set the pan onto the foil and bring up the foil, encasing and waterproofing the pan. Set aside.

Set the cream cheese into a mixer bowl. On lowest speed possibly, mix the cream cheese until no lumps remain. Do not beat at high speed. In a small bowl combine and stir together the sugar, cornstarch and salt and then add this to the cream cheese, beating gently to combine. Once well mixed, add the sour cream until incorporated, then begin adding the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each thoroughly before adding the next. Add in the vanilla extract to combine.

Separately, scoop out the cherries from the pie filling into a blender container. No need to strain them, just do not use all the excess filling "liquid" from the can. Puree the cherries.

Pour half the cheesecake batter into the foil-wrapped pan. Spoon half of the cherry puree in mounds over the cheesecake batter. Carefully pour in the remaining cheesecake batter, then top with small mounds of the remaining cherry puree. Shake the pan, or rap sharply on the counter to settle the mixture. Use a spatula or knife to swirl the cherry mixture into the cheesecake batter, using figure-8 motions. Do not over-mix. Set the pan into the larger baking pan and place in the oven on middle rack. Carefully pour the simmering water into the larger pan, creating a water bath for the foil-encased spring form pan. Bake the cheesecake for 50 to 60 minutes. The center should be jiggly. Turn the oven off, leaving the cheesecake in the hot oven for 20 minutes more. Remove. Cool completely, then wrap well and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !

For the Blueberry cheesecake, and my idea of using fresh blueberries - I looked and looked and finally found one recipe by Tyler Florence, who used fresh blueberries. That was good enough for me. I read no further. I used my base recipe, and opted to melt 4 ounces of white chocolate to fold into the batter, adding in the fresh blueberries. For this cheesecake crust I used half regular graham crackers and half gingersnaps. According to personal taste, either using all graham crackers or all gingersnaps would work fine. This is my version:

Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

makes one 9-inch spring form pan 
Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake
Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

CRUST:
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 3 ounces)


3/4 cup gingersnap crumbs (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup almond meal

2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt  
4 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the two kinds of crumbs, almond meal, sugar and salt in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir together quickly with a fork. Press this mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides of a 9-inch spring form pan. Bake the crust for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Reset the oven to 325 degrees.

CHEESECAKE:
3 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4.4-ounces good quality white chocolate, melted, cooled
1 quart fresh blueberries
1 jar "All-Fruit Blueberry Jam"

Have ready a larger baking pan that will easily accommodate the 9-inch spring form pan. Have a kettle of water at a simmer. Cut a sheet of aluminum foil that will cover the bottom and sides of the spring form pan (this is more easily accomplished if done before the pan is filled with the crust, then set the formed foil aside for later). Set the pan onto the foil and bring up the foil, encasing and waterproofing the pan. Set aside.
What I used

Set the cream cheese into a mixer bowl. On lowest speed possibly, mix the cream cheese until no lumps remain. Do not beat at high speed. In a small bowl combine and stir together the sugar, cornstarch and salt and then add this to the cream cheese, beating gently to combine. Once well mixed, add the sour cream until incorporated, then using a whisk, begin adding the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each thoroughly before adding the next. Add in the vanilla extract to combine, along with the cooled white chocolate (I used Lindt Classic White Chocolate, 4-ounce bar - see right).


Pour half the cheesecake batter into the foil-wrapped pan. Sprinkle half the fresh blueberries over the cheesecake batter. Carefully pour in the remaining cheesecake batter, spreading evenly to edges to cover the blueberries. Top with the remaining fresh blueberries, then using a spatula, gently "trowel" over them to just submerge into the batter. Shake the pan, or rap sharply on the counter to settle the mixture. Set the pan into the larger baking pan and place in the oven on middle rack. Carefully pour the simmering water into the larger pan, creating a water bath for the foil-encased spring form pan. Bake the cheesecake for 50 to 60 minutes. The center should be jiggly. Turn the oven off, leaving the cheesecake in the hot oven for 20 minutes more. Remove from oven. 

Melt the Blueberry Jam, then pour this evenly over the top of the warm cheesecake. Cool the cheesecake completely, then wrap well and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A New and Different Red Italian Wine

A few days back I wrote about selecting the wines for my wine and food pairing at the Winefest Renaissance coming up on April 9th. As it turned out, the two Italian red wines I chose were not going to be available after all, so I spoke with the wine representative, because after perusing the list again, I found that there were not two more Italian reds on the list at all. She called later to say they did have another Chianti available (which I wrote about a couple of days ago), but that second Italian red was proving elusive. Much later that day, she called to say they did find one more red Italian. She spelled it out for me, as I had never heard of this wine before! Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. 

Huh? 

Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
With absolutely no knowledge of what this was, I went online again. This time I found that "Cerasuolo di Vittoria" is the only DOCG (the highest designation for controlled wines in Italy) wine in Sicily. It is, by law, a blend of two grapes: 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato. Again, I still had never heard of either of these two grapes - but then again, I don't believe I have ever tried a wine from Sicily before. After researching more on these two grape varieties, I learned much about what the flavors should be when made together. The first grape, Nero d'Avola, is a dark ("Nero" means black) grape, with some similar characteristics to Pinot Noir. It provides the deeper color in this blend, giving a deeper ruby and with fruity flavors that run strongly to blackberry. The second grape, Frappato, is a much lighter grape, and if made solo as a wine is quite light ruby, with particular flavors of cherry and strawberry. 

When blended together, creating Cerasuolo d'Avola, the descriptors for this wine are things like "deep color with cherry highlights, and pronounced flavors of cherry and strawberry." The Nero d'Avola provides structure, body and depth, while the Frappato component lightens and brightens and adds fruitiness.
 
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish

So, with all that in mind, I couldn't quite think of a food that would pair with this combo. "Spicy sausage" and "strong, aged cheese" were both recommended. While there are hot Italian sausages available, I didn't want to use something hot, only to find the majority of people would not want to try it. Instead, I opted to just use Italian Sausage. I am still up in the air about which of two cheeses to use: Fontina or Pecorino. Pecorino would likely be the better choice, but I am concerned at slicing it without having it crumble. Stacked on a toasted crostini with sausage and the relish I was planning, well, it seemed a bit of a gamble.

Yesterday, while creating a Cherry Swirl Cheesecake for Easter dinner, I also created the Cherry Onion Relish to be used on these Crostini stacks.Today, I cooked some sausage, sliced some cheese, poured a little wine and sat with my husband to try these out. I found a Nero'dAvola wine in the store here, but not the actual combo wine (with the other grape, Frappato) I will be serving that night of the Winefest. Still, it was the darker and bolder of the two, and easy enough to gauge. I believe that this combination will be just fine for the Wine pairing, so I am proceeding with that in mind. For now. It could change!

Meanwhile, the Cherry Onion Relish is truly fabulous. It has just a little sweetness, just a little tartness and just a little crunch. It really couldn't fit the bill any better, and it would be fabulous on most any sandwich. It takes only a short while to make, and I got 2 pints out of the recipe. I recommend it highly!  

Cherry Onion Relish
Cherry Onion Relish, atop Sausage and Cheese Crostini
Cherry Onion Relish, atop Sausage and Cheese Crostini

makes 2 pints

2/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds red onions, sliced in thin wedge-sices
1 bag (5-ounces) dried tart red cherries
zest of 1 orange
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Set a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat with the first four ingredients, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once dissolved, add in all remaining ingredients and cook, stirring often for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until there is little liquid left and what liquid remains is syrupy. Spoon into clean jars and seal tightly. May be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or so.   

I want to add here that because of the mention of cherry and strawberry flavors coming through on the Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend, I dried some strawberries, ground them into powder and added these to the relish while cooking. While I cannot specifically pick out the strawberry flavors in the relish, it is very good. I feel that not everyone will have dried strawberries at hand, so I left these out of the recipe. Should you have them to hand, please feel free to add them in. I used a whole quart box of strawberries, sliced them and dried them. Once well dried, I powdered them in a bullet blender, then passed the powder through a fine sieve, to remove all the little seeds. This was reduced to a usable 5 tablespoons of powder, and I used all of this in the relish. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

 

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