Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moving On: Dulce de Leche Cake

All kinds of interesting things have happened over the last few weeks.  For the purposes of this blog, the only important thing is that I'm moving at the end of the month.  Since my stuff will not be delivered until the middle of August, this post will most likely be the last one until September.  That's probably how long it would have taken me to write up another entry anyways.

I decided to try something a little bit different for my last potluck out here, something besides chocolate or fruit tarts like I normally do.  Instead of a Fourth of July themed red, white, and blue dessert, I went a little south of the border and made a dulce de leche cake.

Dulce de leche is basically a very thick caramel that is made by heating sweetened milk until the water evaporates and the sugar caramelizes.  It is usually a dark tan color, and can be flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, or other spices.  It's a standard sweetening option in South and Central America, as well as Mexico.  People put it in their coffee, on muffins, in cakes, etc.

There are a couple of different ways to make dulce de leche.  The most common is to heat up a can of sweetened condensed milk.  This recipe uses the most time-consuming way: cooking it from scratch on the stove.  I'd never tried that method before so I figured I would give it a chance.  The results were just about the same as using the "put the can in boiling water" method.

This cake also has homemade buttercream frosting.  I wrote about making buttercream frosting at home in the post about checkerboard cakes.   The motor in the base of my Cuisinart heated up the frosting as it mixed so I had to put in the refrigerator for an hour or so to solidify properly.

Between the dulce de leche and the frosting, this cake was approximately two-thirds sugar.  I'm not kidding - it was so sweet that I didn't like it at all.  Ironically, several people told me that it was the best thing I've ever made.  I suggest eating a very thin sliver of cake with a nice cup of tea to balance it out.

The cake is a nice, moist vanilla cake and I will probably use the cake recipe for other projects.  The dulce de leche was a massive pain to make and took hours but it turned out nice so I may try using it again.  The frosting was just too sweet.  I dislike buttercream frosting because it's basically just butter and sugar, and there's only so much of that you can eat at one time.  If you like buttercream frosting, this recipe is definitely one of the best I've used, easy to make and has a nice consistency.

If you don't want to bother making dulce de leche and you live near a Trader Joe's, the TJ's fleur de sel caramel sauce is a very good dulce de leche substitute.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

I'm Too Poor For Your Recipe

Every cookbook and blog tell you the same thing: use high quality, fresh ingredients for the best tasting results.  This makes sense and I completely agree.  But there is a line between high quality ingredients and break-the-bank ingredients.  Certain blogs (no, I won't name them) assume that you have both access to quality but expensive foods and the bank balance to possibly waste a large quantity of said expensive foods.

"Take a quick hop over to Nepal and hike to the Lumbini Buddhist monastery.  Trade the monks for yak butter specially prepared according to the ancient rituals.  P.S. You need two cups of butter for this recipe."

No, thank you.  I will just use the regular, straight from the farm to my local farmer's market butter that is still kind of expensive but worth the money to support local farmers.

For this month's potluck, I tried two new recipes.  One was completely reasonable and used ingredients that I can get at my local supermarket.  The other one was also completely reasonable if you bake or cook using mostly pre-made stuff.  I am snobby enough that I will make my own whipped cream instead of using "whipped product".  This recipe was probably pretty cheap when made using Duncan Hines cake mix, etc, but became pretty expensive when I made almost everything from scratch.*  The good news is that everybody said both recipes tasted great, which is the most important part.

* Okay, so my complaint about how expensive the ingredients were for this recipe is due to my insistence on using expensive ingredients and not on the recipe itself, but let's forget about that so I can complain some more.

The first recipe was raspberry bars, although the original changed recipe used blackberries and the original original recipe used blueberries.  There weren't any blackberries at the store so the main ingredient changed.  People said that the crust was great and that the bars tasted very strongly of raspberry.  I like blackberries better than raspberries so I'll probably remake this one when blackberries are in season, or I may try this using cherries.  I also like this recipe because it shows the type of evolution that recipes undergo when we use in-season ingredients.  You can see how the basic structure and dough part of the recipe stay the same, but we all used different fruits.

The second recipe was a chocolate-nutella mousse stack cake.  If you love Nutella like I do, this is the cake for you.  This recipe also had very little from-scratch baking in it so my version has a similar result to the original but a very different set of steps.  People said that the Nutella mousse was fantastic as frosting, that the taste and texture was amazing.  They also said that the cake was great but the Nutella mousse got more compliments.  I would have felt better about all of this if the cake hadn't broken in the middle.

Cakes weigh a lot, so when you stack them up they need to be strong enough to hold up the layers on top of them and to stay together when stacked on top of other cakes.  Many cakes are moist and lovely but not strong enough to either hold up layers or stay together on top.  This cake recipe produced exactly that type of cake: moist, soft, and easily broken.  Stacking layers with this cake will work if you don't slice each cake into two layers.