My first attempt at baking in 15 years… frustrating, but rewarding.

My partner’s birthday is one week from tomorrow.  Her favorite cake to devour on her birthday is a german chocolate cake, and it’s been her one request for several years now.  So it’s become a tradition… a  home-cooked meal, and a german chocolate cake.  Except that I’ve always cheated and bought the cake from a bakery.  I always made excuses for why I was never able to bake her a cake… no time, had to work, her friends were not going to eat what I bake.  Those were the most common excuses.  I’m sure there were many more.  But in actuality, I was and still am intimidated by baking.  It’s too precise for me.  I like cooking savory dishes so much more because a little dash of this, and a little dash of that, and voila!… a tasty meal.  No measurements, no thing.  Just pure intuition.

I’m a horrible baker.  The last time I attempted to bake was fifteen years ago.  I was trying to bake chocolate chip cookies from store bought ready-made cookie dough.  The cookies looked nothing like the picture.  They were flat, and dry.  Ugh.  I mean, how can you mess up ready-made cookie dough?!  They are made to be fail proof.  You just drop dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, and wait 8 to 10 minutes for cookies!  Not me.  The cookies ended up in the garbage.  From then on, I swore to myself that I would never try to bake anything sweet ever again.  Ever.  Until this year.

I promised her a homemade german chocolate cake.  We were celebrating my partner’s birthday a little early this year with a group of friends, so today was the day.  The day to bake.  The day that I’ve avoided for a very long time.  It took me three hours to make, bake and assemble.  I don’t think it should have taken this long.  I also had many other revelations along the way of making this cake.  Firstly, I can’t believe that of all cakes I tried to bake, this was the one.  This was a very involved recipe!  Secondly, I had many horrible mishaps along the way of baking.  I think it was a sign that I was not meant to be a baker.  Lastly, I realized how important it is to have at least a hand-held electric mixer.  I hand-mixed and hand beat EVERYTHING in the recipe below.  My forearms were very sore by the end of the process.  And my eggs white didn’t quite have “stiff peaks,” but it worked out.  Why didn’t I just buy the hand-held electric mixer today when I was getting some accessories at Sur La Table?!  But with that being said, the mini cakes turned out very tasty.

I also had an epiphany after assembling the cakes… I’m not a baker.  I just don’t have the patience.  I plan on buying boxed cake mix, and will make the coconut filling from scratch.  It’ll be a hybrid homemade cake :)

Mini German Chocolate Cakes (adapted from Bakers Royale)

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.

Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.  Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.  (This was a really important part of making this cake.  I think this steps allows for the cakes to be handled with more ease.  I made the mistake of handling the cake layers while they were still warm, and the cakes seemed to crumble a lot easier.  Things to learn along the way, I suppose :) )

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

For the chocolate ganache:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot.  When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

To assemble cakes:
Requires a 2.5 inch cake ring

Using a serrated knife, cut the two cakes in half leaving you four large, round disks. Using the cake ring, cut as many 2.5 inch diameter cakes from the four round cakes. Brush each layer with the sugar-rum syrup. Spread one teaspoonful of filling on the top of the bottom layer, then repeating with one more layer, until layer is filled except the top. Pour chocolate top, and top off with a little sprinkle of shredded coconut and a pecan to finish it.

Makes 14 individual cakes.

Ooey, Gooey, Chewy, Chunky Chocolatey Chip Cookies with Mac Nuts

You know what’s best after a long day?  Cookies.  I came home to the smell of chocolate chip cookies after a very long, tragic, and exhausting day at work.  Work started out great, but it ended on such a sad note.  I hate those days.  It puts me in such a funk.  I usually come home looking forward to zoning out to endless, trashy, but oh so good reality TV shows to erase the day from my long-term memory.  Instead, I came home to my favorite chocolate chips cookies, and that made all the difference.

Ooey, Gooey, Chewy, Chunky Chocolatey Chip Cookies with Mac Nuts (lightly adapted from Wing-It Vegan)

Flax Egg
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
3 tablespoons cold water

1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond butter
4 tablespoon almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup toasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the flax seeds and water.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for the chocolate chips and nuts. Beat for about 30 seconds or until a smooth dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet and slightly flatten with the back of a spoon. Leave about an inch of space in between cookies.

Bake for 13-14 minutes. Let the cookies slightly cool on the baking sheet before you transfer them to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container or a paper bag.

Makes 14 cookies.

Decadent Chocolate Mousse… Just Like the Real Thing, but Healthier!

Who knew tofu was so versatile??  I’ve only known tofu used in savory dishes… soups, stews, baked, grilled, fried, stir-fried, and sauteed.  But I’ve never heard of its use in desserts.  Until recently, that is.  As I peruse through different recipes, mainly vegan and low-calorie recipes, I am amazed how it is the perfect substitute for all things dairy and such.  I’m all for substituting anything that calls for some sort of cream, shortening, butter, and eggs as I work on getting my health back in order.  Of course, the real thing is ALWAYS better, but these dessert recipes calling for silken tofu is a pretty darn good alternative.

I was a little skeptical at first when I came across this recipe.  I mean, how can chocolate mousse taste good with silken tofu?  Well, I certainly ate my words today.  I was afraid I was going to be able to taste the tofu, like I did when I made vegan cheesecake.  But I didn’t.  In fact, if someone had me try this without telling me it was made with tofu, I would have thought it was the real thing.  The chocolate and port really do a great job at masking the flavors of the tofu.

Decadent Chocolate Mousse (adapted from Veggiewala)

1 package (12.3 ounce) of silken tofu, drained
2.5 bars (1.65 ounces each) high quality dark chocolate (72% cacao)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon almond milk
2 tablespoons port
½ cup sugar
1 banana, sliced (optional)

Puree the silken tofu in a food processor until extremely smooth.  It should be the consistency of yogurt.

In double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, add in the chocolate bar, the cocoa powder, almond milk, water, and port. Stir together until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and slowly add in the sugar, stirring until smooth. (The mixture will not look creamy and smooth until the sugar is added).

Fold the tofu into the chocolate mixture, and mix together until completely blended.  Pour into a serving bowl or individual ramekins and refrigerate at least one hour.  The chocolate-tofu mixture will thicken up once refrigerated.  Serve with sliced bananas.

Makes 4 servings.

Calories per serving: 340.

Vegan Cheesecake… It’s a Close Second to the Real Thing!

I’m by no means a vegan. Not a chance. I am too much of a carnivore to be one. However, with that being said, I do enjoy having vegan and/or vegetarian days. Especially more so now that I’ve discovered vegan desserts. I really love desserts. It’s something that definitely contributed to my weight gain. Well, that and my lazy, inactive butt on the couch watching trashy reality TV shows. So finding vegan recipes that almost mimick “the real thing” is a fun challenge that I’ve engaged myself in.

I cut out desserts almost completely when I started my diet and exercise plan back in late August 2010. It was on a strict caloric intake per day and coupled with exercise has led to my success now. However, cutting out sweets was a really difficult thing. I love a good port with something sweet at night. I started having sugar withdrawals when I cut out the sweets (no way could I cut out my evening night cap!). I’ve slowly introduced desserts back, but only if it’s vegan. It amazes me how lower in fat vegan recipes can be compared to recipes that use butter and shortening. And that’s the thing, butter and shortening. The two very ingredients that can make anything taste good. But finding butter, egg, gelatin, shortening alternatives has been a wonderful and interesting learning experience.

Vegan Cheesecake (adapted from Happy Herbivore)

1 prepared graham cracker pie crust
14 ounces silken tofu
8 ounces Tofutti cream cheese
1/2 cup raw sugar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare pie crust if you have not already done so.

Place tofu and Tofutti cream cheese in a blender and blend for about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the sides, and blend for another 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and blend for another 3 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape the sides.

(Yes , that is a blender circa 1970.  It was my parents’ blender that I got to inherit!  It’s one of my favorite tools in the kitchen.  They just don’t make them like they used to!)

Once fully incorporated, pour into prepared pie crust and smooth top with a spatula. Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it. Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and place somewhere to cool to room temperature (about 2 to 3 hours). Chill overnight or for at least 6 hours before serving.

Blueberry Topping

1 pint blueberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons sugar

In a small saucepan add all the ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the fruit begins to break down slightly. Leave to cool before spreading on cheesecake.

Makes 6 servings.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,489 other followers