Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flan at your fingertips

I have been to eat at "The" Columbia Restaurant since as far back as my memories go.  Eating Arroz con Pollo in the little courtyard with warm rays of sunshine filtering through and throwing pennies in the fountain outside were always the highlights.  It wasn't until I got older that I found an appreciation for the dessert that my dad always ordered and passed around for us all to share; flan.  

Then, like anything else I find that is amazing in life, I want it all the time.  Every restaurant I went to I would search for it.  The creamy custard and sweet caramel has taken over my brain.  The thought to make it myself from scratch never really crossed my mind.  Caramel is an intimidating thing for me - one wrong move and you could experience the worst pain of your life.

Then my mom and I drove down to St. Augustine for lunch at the Columbia a few months ago and a walk down St. George street.  As I was waiting outside the ladies room a framed photograph caught my eye...

It is really hard to read in the picture but it says:

Columbia's Special Flan

4 c whole milk
8 eggs
1/8 t salt
1 t vanilla
1 c sugar
6 T sugar

Pour milk into a large saucepan, add salt and scald.  Remove from fire and add 1 cup of sugar, stirring until it is dissolved.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until slightly foamy.  Add the milk and sugar mixture gradually.  Add vanilla.  Stir well and strain.  In a small skillet, melt the 6 tablespoons of sugar until they are a light golden color.    Coat a 1 1/2 qt. tubemold with the caramel.  Pour the custard mixture into the mold and place the mold in a shallow pan with water halfway up the side of the mold.  Bake the custard at 300 degrees for approx 1 hour or until set.  Custard is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool thoroughly before inverting into a shallow serving plate.  Serves 6-8.

I obviously don't have a tubemold so I made my recipe in 6 medium-sized ramekins.  

I researched many different methods for creating the caramel so I could narrow down what I thought I was comfortable with.  This site was a huge help in mastering the basics as well as defining the discernible difference between using whole milk as opposed to sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk.  Using whole milk results in a lighter texture.  After 4 unsuccessful attempts, I decided to just go with the original recipe's method of melting the sugar in a small skillet.  I think it was the simplicity of the directions that threw me; it couldn't be that simple!  But it really was.  Trick is to constantly stir the sugar until all the clumps are smooth.  The caramel browns pretty slowly as I was on about a medium heat, so I had total control.  I've burnt caramel before and it's not a flavor I want to taste again.  

The caramel sauce is always my favorite part of flan, so I went back and made a second batch of the caramel as the first 6 tablespoons barely covered the bottom of each dish.

I will definitely be making this on a regular basis now that I know it is so simple!  The finished flan last for about 4-5 days in the fridge and definitely got tastier every day!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I ♡ FL

There is something to be said for the feeling of peace when you cross over the Florida state line.  I have lived here my whole life and there is something soothing about flat land and horizons that go on forever.  I love how there is nothing else like a Florida sky or the smell of orange blossoms and jasmine wafting through a hot summer breeze.

Let's just say, an amazing summer full of thunderstorms every afternoon and lazy days made me want to haul myself out of cookie-retirement and get back to the business of baking.  And sharing.  :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Double Chocolate Kahlua and Salted Caramel Cake

Double Chocolate Kahlua Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream and Sugar Cage
A good friend and fellow team member Thomas commissioned me to make his birthday cake this year...with only three requirements:  Cocoa, Caramel, and Espresso.  A few weeks later he came to work with a bottle of Kahlua to add.  So this is what I came up with...
I added the Kahlua into the double chocolate cake but it lost alot of the flavor in the oven.  So, once the cakes were cooling, I used a pastry brush and soaked each 6 inch cake round with the Kahlua.  It ended up adding a layer of moisture as well as added flavor.
The salted caramel buttercream was none other than Martha Stewarts' recipe.  Fairly straightforward to follow, although a few times it looked like it was going to separate.  I held my breath and let the mixer do its thing... and it came right back together after adding the caramel.  I added a sprinkling of Sal de Ibiza (salt brought back from my trip to Spain) to each layer, on top of the buttercream. 
After dusting the top with cocoa powder over his initials I began the sugar cage to sit on top of the cake.  Jacques Torres is the king of all things chocolate and pastry so I was able to find his method for making sugar cages.  The base of the cake was lined with dark chocolate covered espresso beans.
Happy Birthday, Thomas!

Oatmeal Cream Pies

As funny as this sounds, I had a jar of marshmallow Fluff and was desperate to use it.  With limited ingredients and a strong desire not to set foot in a grocery store, I worked with what I had.  After a quick marshmallow Fluff Internet search I found this recipe for a throwback snack: Oatmeal Cream Pies.  I used to love these little snacks as a kid...
...but anything that comes in a Little Debbie box can't be good for you.  Made from scratch Oatmeal Cream Pies are the perfect solution; no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors.  Super easy to make....and they don't stick around for long.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making Beignets

Years ago, when I worked at La Parisienne (a fancy pants French restaurant) every Saturday and Sunday afternoon we served brunch.  One of my jobs was making beignets.  It was a really simple dough that was allowed to rise, cut out into small rectangles, fried, then dusted with powdered sugar.  I made so many of those little fried jewels that I often had to throw a dishtowel into the hot grease just to shake things up a bit.  Nevertheless, beignets are still one of my favorite memories from the restaurant. 
After searching the Internet for some recipes that came close to the "big batch" beignets from the restaurant days, I came across a recipe from a chef that I really admire, Alex Guarnaschelli from The Food Network.  These little pillows of fried dough came out perfectly, although a bit larger than your average beignets.
After mixing up the dough, I left it alone to rise.  Here it is after it doubled in size.
Next, I rolled the dough out to the thickness I wanted (about 1/2 inch) then cut out each beignets with a medium size round cookie cutter.
Once cut and on a floured sheet pan, let the beignets rise again.  Then it's time to fry!

Have a little plate or bowl filled with granulated sugar next to the fryer so that you can immediately roll the beignets in the sugar when they come out of the hot oil.

The recipe calls for a raspberry filling so definitely add that if it appeals to you.  I am a purist by nature so I opted out and left my beignets plain.
They came out warm, sugary, and delicate...and absolutely delicious!  Beignets take a bit of patience (all that resting, rising, and waiting) but they are well worth the wait!

A Modern Baby Shower

I recently had the opportunity to create some cookies for a very special baby shower.  A few months ago I received a message from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Audrey, asking if I was able to help out her Mom who was throwing a baby shower for her very pregnant sister-in-law.  They requested onesie cookies and the only guideline was "no pink!".  The mother is not a girly-girl (to which I can relate), so I decided to keep the cookies clean and modern.
I found some inpspiration cookies over here and loved the simplicity of the onesies.  The modern gray, white and teal needed a pop of color, so the pink was only used as an accent.  They really turned out exactly as I had hoped.

It was so much fun to reconnect with old friends!  Baby Harper has since joined the world and is doing well. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Last Minute Strawberry Shortcake

During a recent trip to visit some family, the topic of "what's for dessert?" came up.  Naturally, I had already come prepared with a few ideas and there was one in particular that had a very short prep list and easy assembly:  i am baker's Strawberry Shortcake.

After a quick adaptation (she used red velvet for the cake), I decided on a mix of chocolate and vanilla layers of cake.  I am almost ashamed to admit that they were boxed cake mixes from the grocery store, but they are quick and easy to make.  Especially when you're in someone else's kitchen with none of your proper tools or the luxury of time to do the job from scratch.  This recipe also called for Cool-Whip as the icing.  I layered the cake alternately and topped each layer with Cool-Whip and sliced strawberries. 

The best part about this cake is the presentation layer of Cool-Whip.  The bumps of icing were pretty easy to accomplish.  You take a sturdy piece of plastic or cardboard and cut out 1/2 circles into the edge.  Then, after you apply a heavy layer of Cool-Whip to the cake, drag the "comb" around the sides of the cake, while turning the cake with your other hand.  These types of cake "combs" are widely used in bakeries and come in varying sizes.  I unfortunately didn't have a sturdy enough piece of cardboard for the effect to really work on this cake...but it sure tasted good anyway!

The cake was so tall that when we cut into it, it hung off the side of the plate!  Typical fashion in my family.  :)

*This cake recipe was adapted from i am baker.