Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bake Sale Goodies

I had hoped this blog would encourage me to try more ambitious recipes. Indeed, I keep bookmarking elaborate dishes I want to try, such as this or this. Or I fantasize about trying my hand at baking bread.

But while I manage to steal of bit of time from my daily responsibilities to bake simple cakes, I can't seem to put everything on hold long enough to try something challenging. The vacherin was an exception, but I can't say I was encouraged by the result.

So without further apology, here are two more simple recipes. These were made for a bake sale, and as I've learned the hard way, you really don't want to make anything finicky or elaborate for a bake sale. It's not worth it and doesn't sell any faster. You make big batches, bake them in pans, chop them up and done.

I made lemon cake, maple pecan bars and brownies.

The brownies were a failure, (hence no photo), because I doubled all quantities except the sugar. While the flavor was good (not as cloyingly sweet), reducing the sugar seemed to make them very dry, despite the daunting quantities of butter used, and even though I baked them for less time than usual. So I learned something interesting: sugar provides moisture. Still, they sold well enough, marketed as "cakey brownies." That would be another rule for bake sales: anything chocolate sells.

The lemon cake was a success, and I'm definitely adding it to my regular repertoire. It makes a lovely-textured loaf, but also pretty stars (yay, another recipe to use with my silicone molds). I kept the stars for home consumption, as they were too time-consuming for the bake sale. Sure it's no effort to pour batter into a mold, but you can only bake a few at a time.

The maple pecan bars were quite good, but I felt there was a little something missing. I read in some recipe that a few teaspoons of lemon gives a little kick and undercuts all the sweetness, which I might try next time.

Recipe: Lemon Cake
Source: Les Cakes de Sophie, by Sophie Dudemaine

The recipe isn't very detailed so I'll add my thoughts as I go...

- 3 eggs
I would recommend these be at room temperature so they can incorporate as much air as possible when you beat them with the sugar
- 150g sugar (original is 170g)
- 160g flour
- 1 tspn baking powder
I'm not sure that's the right amount, since the recipe only said "1/3 de sachet de levure" I believe a "sachet" usually holds 12g, so 1/3 would be 4g of baking powder.
- 1/4 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)
- 150g melted salted butter
The recipe specifies salted butter, but I never have it on hand so I use sweet butter and add salt. I would like to try with a little less butter. Update: I tried with 125g, you wouldn't know the difference.
- 2 lemons.

1. Preheat oven to 180°C
2. Whip the eggs and sugar until the mixture turns white. I beat this for a good 4-5 minutes with an egg beater so the eggs really turn frothy and pale and form a ribbon.
3. Incorporate the flour and the baking powder.
I mixed the baking powder and salt in the flour first. I believe you don't want to beat the flour in so as not to deflate the eggs.
4. Mix the butter into the batter.
5. Prepare the lemons: Wash them, remove the zests with a potato peeler and cut them length-wise. Plunge them in a little boiling water for 5 seconds, drain them, then plunge them in ice cold water. Drain them and dry them.
6. Squeeze the lemons and delicately mix their juice into the batter along with the zests, with a spatula.
A word of warning. I must have been too delicate, as I found a fair amount of lemon juice and butter stayed at the bottom of my bowl, making the last muffins I made very greasy and sour. Perhaps this was because I made a double batch. But since the main cake came out well, it made me think it might be possible to reduce the quantity of butter somewhat, provided it all gets mixed in correctly.
7. Pour the batter in a buttered and floured loaf pan (about 26 centimeters long, though I think French loaf pans are a bit narrower than American loaf pans).
8. Bake for 40 minutes. Don't open the oven before the cake is fully set, as I did the first time I made this: opening the door and turning the cake around after 20 minutes made it deflate in the center. Not pretty, but still good.

Recipe: Maple Pecan Bars
Source: Bon Appétit/Epicurious

For the crust
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the filling
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 1/4 cup whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Making the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter 9x9x2-inch metal cake pan
Note: I lined the pan with parchment paper, which turned out to be a good idea, as the filling was very runny and slipped under the edge of the crust. I also made a double batch and used both a 9x9 inch pan and a 9x13 inch pan, which resulted in relatively thin bars. I had added flour to the crust, which was not a good idea, but it made more dough. If you want to do this maybe make 2 1/2 times the crust recipe.
3. Beat butter, sugar, and egg yolk in bowl using the electric mixer.
4. Add flour and salt; beat until moist clumps form. Gather dough together.
5. Press dough over bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of pan.
Note: I didn't bother pushing the dough up the sides of the pan since I had lined it with parchment paper.
6. Bake crust until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool.
Note: I thought dough was too moist so I added about 1/2 cup of flour if not more. I regret doing this, it made the crust a bit too dry.

Making the filling:
1. Combine first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan.
2. Bring to boil, stirring until butter melts and mixture is smooth. Boil filling 30 seconds.
3. Remove from heat; mix in vanilla, then nuts.
4. Pour hot filling into crust.
5. Bake bars until filling is bubbling in center, about 15 minutes.
6. Cool bars completely in pan on rack (filling will become firm). Chill at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.) Cut into 30 bars.
Note: Though I didn't chill the bars, I was able to slice them without difficulty. But this was perhaps because they were so thin.


zorra said...

I like simple recipes!

tanya d said...

Brownies are a difficult one to get right. My fav recipe right now is from Alton Brown. One note, I saw him make it on his TV show and he used natural cocoa powder, not dutched (though not mentioned in recipe).

Also, I attempted a dessert bisteeya, filled with an almond flavored rice pudding. I had quite a fight with phyllo, resulting in a few cracks here and there. But powdered sugar hides many flaw and it tasted pretty darn good.

Astrid said...

Thanks Tanya for the recipe. I guess the advantage of cocoa is you can use a lot of sugar without getting quite as sweet a result. And it seems loads of sugar are necessary to achieve the real brownies effect.

About dutched or not dutched, I forget, which kind is the kind sold in Europe? (I would guess dutched...) I remember you had a post on that in your blog, I'll have to look.

I added Alton Brown's recipe here for handy reference:

Cocoa Brownies Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: 16 brownies
User Rating: (5 stars)

Soft butter, for greasing the pan
Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
8 ounces melted butter
11/4 cups cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.

Source: Food Network

Claudia said...

I tried the Alton-Brown-recipe:
Cocoa Brownies
I think a bit more flour could make them better.

Astrid said...

Thanks Claudia. I enjoyed your post on the subject.

Anonymous said...

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Astrid said...

Anonymous - Wow, thanks!