cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tartine's Lemon Meringue Cake

This is a wonderful special occasion cake. I especially think of Easter and birthdays. It is both sweet and tart. The chiffon layers are brushed with lemon syrup and coated with a thin layer of caramel and filled with lemon pastry cream. The meringue icing is perfect: it is light enough that it compliments well the sweetness and acidity of the cake.

Makes a delicious 10-inch round cake

Chiffon Cake:
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
10 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch cake or springform pan with 3-inch sides with parchment paper cut to fit exactly; don’t grease the pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.

In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites and fold into the yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once completely cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment.

⅔ cup heavy cream
¼ vanilla bean
1¼ cup (8.5 ounces) sugar
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

Lemon Pastry Cream:
½ cup + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
¾ cup (6 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Whisk them together constantly until very thick, or 80°C (180°F) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and let it cool down until warm to touch (60°C or 140°F on a thermometer). Place the lemon cream in a blender and with the motor running, add the butter in small pieces. Allow to cool completely. (You may refrigerate it, but allow to come to cool room temperature before using.)

Lemon Syrup:
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup (2.5 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup lemon juice

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Transfer to a cool bowl, let cool for a bit, then chill for half an hour. Stir in the lemon juice.

Split the chiffon cake horizontally into four equal layers. Place one layer on your serving plate (which I lined with wax paper around to cake) and moisten evenly with ¼ of the lemon syrup. Spread ⅓ of the caramel over the cake, then ⅓ of the lemon cream. Repeat with 2 more layers, using up the remaining caramel and lemon cream. Top with the fourth cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Cover the cake completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Italian Meringue:
7 large egg whites
1¾ cup (12.25 ounces) sugar
pinch of salt

In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt and whisk until the whites are hot to the touch, about 120F, about 5 minutes. Beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Unmold the cake and spread the meringue all over. Use a spatula or a spoon to create dramatic swirls. Using a propane torch scorch the meringue, blackening the tips and swirls.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The Gold Coast, especially that main shopping drag, has a plethora of touristy, bland burger joints with bad food and terrible service. If afternoon tea at one of the Gold Coast hotels isn't possible, I always opt for a tostino and Orangina at L'Appetito. They have such a great selection of tostinos, paninis and pizzas, there's something to please everyone. It's all very casual. Tell one of the big Italian guys behind the counter what you want, they heat it up and hand it over, you pay and then find a coveted seat. They also have a small retail section where you can find all sorts of Italian imports like fine olive oil, vinegars, small fishes, and plenty of wines. By the registers, you will find countless types of cookies and sweets. Being located below street-level, under the John Hancock building, also cuts down on the number of annoying tourists in the way. You really only see them as they march towards the Cheesecake Factory next door. I went here (again) when my niece Sarah and her companion Wes visited. It seemed to be a lunchtime hit with them, too.

John Hancock Center
875 N. Michigan Avenue
(312) 337-0691

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reine de Saba Cake

I have made more Reine de Saba's than I can remember. I use a recipe from a generic French cookbook. However, I discovered just the other day it is basically the same as the famous Julia Child recipe; remember, Julie makes Julia's Reine de Saba recipe in the movie? Nonetheless, the key to this cake is fine ingredients. There aren't a ton of ingredients required, so you want to use the best chocolate and butter and nuts you can afford. I typically use Callebaut semisweet chocolate for this.

2/3 cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces fine chocolate, melted but cool
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp. organic almond flavor

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces fine semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter a 8-9" spring form cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment or a parchment liner then lightly dust the entire inside with flour.

Pulverize the almonds with 2 Tbsp. of the sugar in a food processor until very fine. Turn out into a small bowl. Sift over the flour and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Using a handheld mixer, whip the butter until fluffy in a medium bowl. Add half the remaining sugar and continue whipping for 1-2 minutes. Then, gradually beat in the melted but mostly cooled chocolate. Beat in the yolks, one by one, completely incorporating one before adding another. Beat in the almond flavor.

In a stand mixer, whip the whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in 1/4 of the whites into the butter and chocolate mixture to lighten it. Add half the almond and flour mixture and fold. Fold in another 1/4 of the whites then the other 1/2 of the dry ingredients. Finish by gently folding in the remaining half of the whites.

Turn into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a cake tester inserted 2" from the edge comes out clean. The center may still be quite moist, which is fine.

After baking, remove from the oven to a wire rack. Let rest for 15 minutes then remove the side of the spring form pan. Let rest on base until completely cool. Turn out onto an 8 inch cake board and remove the base of the pan and the paper.

Make the ganache glaze by bringing the cream to the boiling point then pouring over the chopped chocolate in a medium size glass bowl. Let rest for a couple minutes then begin gently stirring until all the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream. Let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter in 1 Tbsp knobs. Fully incorporate one knob of butter before adding the next.

Once the ganache is cool enough that it thoroughly coats the back of a spoon but isn't firm enough to mold, pour about 2/3 of the ganache over the cake. Allow it to thoroughly cover the top and run over the edges to coat the sides. You may want to tilt the cake to make this happen. Use a small spatula to make sure the sides have been covered. Next, add the chopped nuts to the side of the cake while the ganache is still wet. This can be done with a spoon or by sliding the nuts down a bench scraper onto the sides, my preferred and effective method

You should still have about 1/4 cup of ganache left in your bowl. Prepare a pastry bag with a 1, 2, or 3 tip and write on your cake. Traditionally, in France, the name of the cake is written, such as Reine de Saba or Opera. You can write whatever you wish, though, such as birthday or holiday greetings.

It is best served at room temperature but can be stored, airtight, in the refrigerator for up to three days.