Thursday, March 29, 2012

Humble Bundle

My cousin Emma came to me with this idea of taking our talents - hair dressing for her, baking for me - and creating an event with them. Add Johnny, a handsome masseuse, and we had a bundle. If you've been to a Tupperware party the concept is similar, however our guests left relaxed, stomachs full, looking better than when they arrived, and no heaping bags of regretted containers. While our bundlers waited to get a haircut or massage they munched on elegant treats and we played games like Apples to Apples and Dirty Minds. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon full of indulgence and relaxation. Coincidentally, the word that best describes the day is humble.

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The menu:

Espresso cheesecakes with mascarpone icing and maple roasted pistachios.

Spongecake cups filled with mascarpone and strawberry reduction

Lemon banana squares with lemon mascarpone and raspberries

Mint chocolate shortbread with candied mint leaves

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These espresso cheesecakes are not possible without this cupcake tray I bought from St. Lawrence Market; it's like a Springform for cupcakes. The bottom of each cup has a hole covered by a metal disk that you place in each before adding the filling. Once baked and cooled you push through the holes on the tray's bottom and the cheesecakes pop out with clean-cut edges and the disk as the base. The cheesecake is almost as strong as an espresso shot - hence the minuscule size - because it has espresso powder (from William Sonoma) and fresh brewed coffee. I maple roasted the pistachios before blending them with sugar and salt to add a nutty sweetness on top of the creamiest icing.

2 pkg. regular cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup espresso powder
3 eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 cup brewed coffee
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tbsp. white flour

2 cups graham crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tbsp. sugar

Homemade mascarpone
Cream cheese icing

1 cup raw pistachios
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup

If you're using the same cupcake tray as me, make sure all of the disks are in the bottom of each cup. For the crust, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and put only half a spoonful in the bottom of each cup. I didn't want the crust to be a major element of the dessert, so I only put in a slight amount. I did not bake or press the crust to the bottom of each cup because I find it blends better with the batter making the crust subtle, as it should be. Set aside.

In a food processor blend all of the ingredients of the filling. I usually blend the cream cheese by itself first so its creamy, then add the sugar and process it for about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed. It will be very thin since you are adding hot coffee.

I filled the cups about half to three quarters full to keep them small. Bake at 300 degrees for 40 for 30 minutes in the oven after its been turned off. Then remove and let cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge.

For the icing, see mascarpone and cream cheese icing. Once they have been made, mix together by hand. Put the icing in an icing gun and use a wide-hole nozzle to make the spiral shape that I did.

For the topping, mix the pistachios and syrup in a bowl until all of the nuts are covered. Spread them out on a greased baking pan. It should be big enough so they don't over lap.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, about every 2 minutes. When finished put them back in the bowl and sprinkle 1 tbsp. of water on them to prevent sticking. As they cool stir occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and sugar.Once they have cooled put in a food processor with more sugar and salt to taste and blend to get your desired crumb. I blended mine for about 2 minutes.

Sprinkle on top of the icing.
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The Spongecake cups were a decadent surprise. It was my first time making spongecake so I did a trial. I learned the secret to fluffiness is over beating the eggs. I whisked the eggs alone for 5 minutes until they became bubbly and fluffy. Once the wet ingredients were combined I whisked them until they started to fluff, but my arm couldn't take it. The execution also went beautifully; I wasn't sure if the cups would hold their fillings. And my discovery of edible petals was a staple to this creation.

1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 tbsp. milk

Homemade mascarpone icing
Strawberries, cut and reduced
maple syrup

You will want to make all of this a few days before you serve the dish. I made the mascarpone (see mascarpone) two days before, the loaves and strawberry reduction the night before.

For the reduction, cut the stems off and quarter the strawberries. In a frying pan, add them and keep them on very low heat. Over the next couple of hours the juice will release and begin to thicken, similar to jam. As it thickens, add cinnamon, sugar and maple syrup to taste. When it gets to your desired thickness (you don't want it runny, but thick like jam) remove from heat and let it cool in the fridge for a day.

For the spongecake sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl, set aside. Before mixing the wet ingredients beat the eggs with a whisk for about five minutes. They should become bubbly and foamy. This is what gives the cake its sponginess. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, except for the milk and vanilla.

Heat up the milk and vanilla on the stove until hot, but do not let it boil or burn. Add to the wet ingredients. Whisk and stir the wet mixture until it becomes bubbly and foamy, again this will make the cake very light and less dense.

I doubled the ingredients so this should make about 3 loaves. Grease the pans before adding the ingredients and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove, let cool at room temperature and put in the fridge over night.

To punch towers out of the loaves you will need a tall, round cookie cutter, about 2 to 3 inches in height. It's important you do this when the loaf has completely cooled or the cuts might not be as crisp. Each loaf should make about 6 or 7 towers if you make them as close to the edges as possible.

When pushing down with the cutter, turn it side to side to make the initial break in the crust, then push down and make sure it goes all the way through. Slowly push out the cake with your fingers and set the towers aside.

Cut each tower in half and scoop out the insides. I cut out holes in the middle with the small knife, leaving about a 1/4 inch thick rim of spongecake. Dig out as much of the insides as you can and save the scraps for later.

I put the mascarpone icing (this is a mix of mascarpone and cream cheese icing) in the bottom of each cup the day before, but don't add the reduction until your ready to serve or it could go soggy. Store in the fridge.

Click here for a recipe to use your spongecake scraps.

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The mint shortbreads were inspired by Hershy's chocolate kisses, and they're quite refreshing little bites. I put mint in the batter and the candied mint on top to add a sweet, peppermint flavour. I got their shape by using my icing gun and a wide tip nozzle. Since the dough isn't as smooth as icing this presented a bit of a challenge; you have to make sure the dough is soft and warm or it cracks. I suppose you could use a flower tip as well, something to try in the future. The dough was donated to me by my friend Alannah and the George Brown grads from their culinary competition, thanks guys!

For my recipe, see shortbread
Semi-sweet chocolate
Peppermint extract

Candied mint:
Mint leaves
1egg white
white sugar

I candied the mint leaves a day before I made the cookies to ensure they dried. It's actually really easy to do this. Take one egg and separate the yolk from the white. This can be done by cracking the egg in two and passing the yolk back and forth between the shell halves. Do this over a small bowl because the egg white will gradually separate by falling from the shells as its passed.

Whisk the egg whites so they thin out a bit. Remove the leaves from their stems. Dip your fingers in the egg whites and rub each leaf between your coated fingers so each leaf is substantially wet with egg. Place the coated leaves on a tray covered in parchment paper so they won't stick. Before the egg dries shower the leaves with white sugar until the surfaces are covered. Let them sit in a warm room. When they dry the leaves will be candied.

I'm not positive on the recipe for the shortbread, but I have a whipped shortbread recipe that is probably similar here. I mixed the batter thoroughly with peppermint extract. I used a few teaspoons to get a subtle mint taste, but its pretty much all to taste, as long as you don't use too much.

Shortbread batter can be stored in the fridge, but if you're going to put it through the icing gun like I did you can defrost it in the microwave for a few minutes, or leave it on the counter for a couple of hours. Kneed the batter before you load it and use a spoon to push it down to prevent air bubbles. You need to use a wide tip nozzle so it comes out smoothly without cracking. Try to give each swirl enough height because it will slightly flatten while baking.

Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. I find the time varies, but its important to take them out as the bottoms begin to brown slightly. This will keep them soft so they crumbled in your mouth. Let them cool at room temperature. They don't need to be stored in the fridge, but you can if your keeping them for awhile.

I used a whole package of semi-sweet chocolate but you really only need a quarter of it depending on how much shortbread you make. To prevent the chocolate from melting at room temperature once its hardened you need to temper it. Over a double boiler heat up the chocolate until it gets to 51 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat it up at a low temperature or it will raise too high and will take forever to come back back down. You have to bring it back to exactly 31 degrees Fahrenheit before you can use it.

I used a small spoon to put a dollop of chocolate on the tip of each cookie. Place the mint leave in the chocolate before it cools and hardens. Once the chocolate is on the cookies I stored them in a container in the fridge.
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The lemon banana squares were a hit and miss. The loaf didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, but it tasted great with its toppings. I foolishly decided to use whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, thinking it would make a unique taste. But the flour ended up masking a lot of the flavour. In this sense it went wrong but the muteness of the lemon and banana in the bread paired excellent with the lemon mascarpone icing and raspberries. It also made it more healthy! I mixed the mascarpone with store-bought lemon curd, but my next venture will be to make my own!

The loaf:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 banana, ripened and pureed
6 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. lemon zest

The topping:
Homemade mascarpone
Lemon curd (1 package from Whole Foods)

To make the icing you need to make the mascarpone at least two days before, see mascarpone.

For the loaf, sift the dry ingredients in a bowl and set them aside. Mix all of the wet ingredients together and add them to the dry mixture.

The most tedious part of the recipe is making the lemon zest. I'm not sure if you can buy it in stores, but you have to grate the lemon peel on a small grater, I used a miniscule grater that took a lot of arm and hand power. The grater was so fine that the peel was a paste when grated. The recipe calls for about 3 tablespoons if this, with 4 lemons I almost made half of that. Perhaps a larger holed grater would be more useful. I also mixed the zest with the lemon juice before I added it to the mixture to optimize the distribution of flavour.

I used my lemon squeezer to get the juice.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until a skewer pulls out of the loaves clean. Let them cool at room temperature before storing in the fridge.

When I cubed the loaves I cut them length wise before cutting the width. This way the height is cut in half, it just makes it easier to cube. You want the cubes to be bite-size but it's really up to you.

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