Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Baking Cookbooks

I recently added 3 new baking cookbooks to my ever-growing collection.  Whenever I am in a bookstore, I always browse for new baking books, even though I have more than enough.  I have 11 that focus on cookies, brownies and bars.  Cakes and cupcakes - 7.  Chocolate - 3.  And I have 18 that are general baking cookbooks that cover a wide range of baked goods.  That doesn't include the many Taste of Home magazine publications I have, some of which are specifically focused on baking, or the countless Wilton Yearbooks and other publications that I own, or the general cookbooks that include chapters on baking.  Still, I am always on the hunt for a new find.

My poor family must really want to grimace when we visit Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia almost every year.  If you've never been there, it's a historic farmers market that's been in existence since 1860.  We love to visit Bassetts for the best ice cream in the world (banana) and many of the other food vendors.  There are several bakeries, including Flying Monkey Bakery, which has been featured on Outrageous Food for their Pumpple Cakes, apple and pumpkin pies baked inside vanilla and chocolate cakes and covered in buttercream.  Yes, I said pie baked inside cake.  But that topic is for another time.....the reason I mentioned Reading Terminal Market is that they have a shop called the Cookbook Stall that sells nothing but cookbooks and kitchen tools.  Can you imagine having to forcibly drag me away from such a place?  We tend to spend only about an hour or so at the Market when we go (which has always been at lunch time, and this place gets mobbed by tourists and all the local business people on their lunch breaks), and so far, I have been good about not spending too much time there.  But the next time we go I am going to give the Cookbook Stall the attention it deserves!

Anyway, two of my recent cookbooks came from Amazon and cost me nothing, as I was using up a credit and a gift certificate code I'd redeemed after earning points through  These books were 101 Gourmet Cake Bites for All Occasions by Wendy Paul, and Flour; Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang.  I was tempted by the Cake Bites book because I have several publications focusing on creating adorable cake pops, but nothing that really addresses coming up with creative flavor combinations for the cake pops/bites.  This book fills that void and features recipes for cake bites/pops like Raspberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cherry Cordial, Mint Brownie, and Rosemary Lavender.  I think I am most intrigued by Churro, Root Beer Float, and French Toast.  I can't wait to try these out.  It's a good thing I work at a school full of appreciative taste testers!  (Of course, my kids are usually very happy to try things, too, even though they are pretty tired of cake after all my years of teaching cake decorating classes.)  This book features about 20 pages of cake bite/pop design ideas, too.

I hesitated to buy the Flour cookbook, then went ahead and added it to my shopping cart after reading a review that convinced me I would not regret purchasing it (thanks Amazon reviewer Justin S!)  I've only had the book for a week but I can already tell it will fast become a favorite.  I made the banana bread, even though I'd been completely satisfied with the banana bread recipe I'd been using for years.  The Flour recipe stomped all over that old banana bread recipe I used to make - I plan to forever use this new recipe!  I bought a big bunch of bananas at one of my last trips to the store and I'm looking forward to making it again before the end of the week.  There are also recipes for Homemade Oreos, Homemade Pop Tarts, and Homemade Fig Newtons, along with recipes for croissants, doughnuts, and other treats I am looking forward to making.  My only complaint is the lack of photos.  All of the photos in the book are full color and full page, which is great.  The downside is that there is a lot of unused white space in the book where the recipe directions end; these spots would have been perfect for photos.  I'd rather have more photos of smaller sizes than have all that wasted page space.

Finally, yesterday my daughter and I made a trip to our local independent bookstore.  She had some cash that was burning a hole in her wallet and wanted to look for a new WebKinz, and the bookstore has been a good source for specific WebKinz she's wanted in the past.  I, of course, could not resist peeking in the bargain corner and found A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman.  I glanced through it pretty quickly and convinced myself it was worth the $10 bargain price.  Once home, I paged through the whole thing and determined my gut instinct had been correct.  It covers the gamut from breads and rolls, pizza, scones, biscuits, muffins, cookies and biscotti, bars, cakes, pies, cheesecakes, etc.  There is a recipe for raised doughnuts that hints they are almost as good as Krispy Kremes, so that will be one of the first recipes I try.  You can visit Marcy's online magazine for bakers, BetterBaking.

Good thing that it's cooling down quite a bit this week here in southeastern Wisconsin, because I've got a feeling my oven is going to be in marathon mode.  I'll keep you posted on how things turn out!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Late on Labor Day: Boston Cream Pie Cake for Club Baked

I had pretty much figured out by last weekend that baking this go-around's recipe for Club Baked wasn't going to happen in a timely fashion.  If you haven't already figured it out, Club Baked is a group of baker/bloggers that is baking their way through the book Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, owners of Baked NYC (and brilliant cookbook authors.)  On the 1st and 15th of each month, we all publish a blog post discussing our baking experience (and hopefully sharing photos of said experience) with a chosen recipe from Baked Explorations; all of us in the group own the book.  There is a different "host" each time, and that host chooses the recipe and shares the recipe for the rest of the world in his/her blog post.

We were supposed to publish our blog posts about this time's recipe, Boston Cream Pie Cake, on September 1st.  I knew it wasn't going to work for me.......that day was the first day of school, and the first day back to work for me, since I am employed as a special education aide at an elementary school.  The last days of August were a little crazy, and I figured I'd get around to making the recipe over the long Labor Day weekend.  On Friday night, my mom called and asked if she and my dad could come out to visit with my family and take us out to dinner sometime during the weekend, as we had not seen each other in a while.  This was the perfect opportunity to actually make the cake, instead of just thinking about it or planning to get to it...I'd make the cake and we could all have it as our dessert after our dinner out with my parents on Labor Day.

On Sunday, I made the pastry cream(s).  All of the Boston Cream Pie recipes that I've come across have pretty much been the same.......two layers of yellow sponge cake with a vanilla pastry cream in the middle, then chocolate ganache poured over the top.  However, with the recipe from Baked Explorations, the baker turns part of the pastry cream into chocolate pastry cream.  When the cake is assembled, it goes cake, chocolate pastry cream, cake, vanilla pastry cream, cake, chocolate pastry cream, cake, chocolate ganache.  I debated whether I wanted to go this route......did I really want to mess around with two types of pastry cream?  Did I really want to work with four layers of cake?  Ultimately, I decided to make the recipe exactly as written.

And therein lies the rub.  This morning, I had a heck of a time with the milk sponge cake.  The cake batter seemed very odd to me.....very foamy and runny, and I doubted each layer would rise to the height necessary for me to be able to cut each cake into two layers.  I was right.  When my cakes came out of the oven, they were very flat and fairly dense.  I turned them out of the cake pans when cool enough, and they were only a quarter of an inch tall!  Knowing I wasn't going to use it, I tasted a corner of the cake and not only did it feel like a sponge, but it tasted like one, too!  Not much flavor at all.....I'd read that a lot of the other baker/bloggers had had difficulty with the cake and/or didn't like the texture or taste, so I pulled out one of my Nigella cookbooks and made new cakes using the recipe for Victoria Sponge.  I'd followed this recipe before to make Boston Cream Pie at least once before, so I knew it would turn out much better than this first attempt.  Sure enough, these cakes had a lighter, softer texture and much more flavor.  Here is my cake (I made 8 inch squares instead of rounds, 'cuz I'm cool like that) before the ganache.....

and after the ganache was poured.....

Here's what the sliced cake looked like.  I'm glad I ended up going with both types of pastry cream.  I had to quickly grab my camera to capture those two beautiful drips of chocolate ganache glaze oozing so prettily down the cake!

So, all in all, I am glad I made this, but in the future I will likely use the pastry cream and chocolate glaze recipe components, but rely on Nigella's tried and true Victoria Sponge for the cake.  I'm an experienced baker and it takes a lot to frustrate me, but that first cake did it and I don't expect to want to give it another try.

This recipe was hosted by Brooke's Bountiful Kitchen.