a mirror for my ineptitude - july DB challenge

it is my fourth month as a daring baker, and my third month in a new kitchen, my second month in a new job, and my first month after finding a new, permanent home (beginning in september). to recap, i missed the crepe cake challenge; i bungled the gateau st-honore; i was vaguely repulsed by the bagels. but i learned a lot of things, like the best way to make crepe batter; different techniques for making choux; and the proper way to feed yeast for bread. (i still have a picture in my head of the happy, happy yeast in my bagel dough).

i seem to have set up a streak for myself. in this fourth month, i again tackled the challenge—strawberry mirror cake--with alacrity. i set up my ingredients. i plotted carefully. i thought, for the first time, that i was prepared for the challenge. the trick to this challenge, i decided, was planning ahead and working in stages. accordingly, i baked the cake layers—soft, springy and gorgeous—as i counted down the moments until midnight on july 21st. over the course of the next week, i made the bavarian crème base, the strawberry puree, and got ready to make the mirror.

here is where the customary bungling began.

it took me three tries to make the bavarian crème. i ran out of milk and eggs. i had to buy—i cringe to say it—a&p house brand milk instead of my beloved milk fresh from my csa delivery. i have a long history of seriously screwing up custard bases, to the point where i gave up making custard-base ice cream and despaired of ever getting proper pastry cream. it’s been a unicorn for me, impossible to catch, always out of reach. and people have been telling me for months that it is easy to make, they can’t understand why i continually fail and am quivering with fear at the mere thought of thickening eggs in hot cream.

now, i did, at last, find success. several of my fellow bakers offered this simple but shockingly effective advice: always bring the base ingredients to room temperature when making custard.

worked like a charm. i stared in amazement at the thickened crème, waiting to see the usual bits of curdled egg floating around. they never came. i felt emboldened, which led me to my next bungle—i added the gelatin mixture to the bavarian crème. days before i actually had a chance to spread it all over the cake. so while i sit here, drooling over the picture-perfect smooth creations of some of my compatriots, i am hiding with shame from the thick, somewhat lumpy mass on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.

most appallingly, i failed to grasp the best possible strategy for the crème—the pouring of the cream over the cake layers. (of course, even had i realized this, i would have been unable to accomplish it, since my crème was perhaps a bit stiffer than the recipe intended, owing to its prolonged stay in my refrigerator) i was flustered by the fact that even with my nine-inch cake rounds, the cake was still smaller than my 9-inch springform. i didn’t understand (until about 11 last night, as i sat trying to watch pride and prejudice but really contemplating my errors), that the slight size discrepancy allowed the cream to pile smoothly around the cake, leaving a relatively clean surface for the mirror.

i, in my frustration, wrapped a layer of tin foil around my cake to contain the mirror, and needless to say, the mirror was neither smooth nor clean (although i will say that it was damn tasty).

i actually haven’t even had a chance to taste the cake as a whole. i know that the elements are delicious, however malformed they might be, so i am not afraid of what awaits me at home tonight.

but for all of that, i will steadfastly refuse to post a picture. if drooling is what you are after, check out some of the others

Strawberry Mirror Cake
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 TBSP sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
½ cup water
1/3 cups sugar
2 TBSP kirsch or strawberry liqueur

Strawberry Bavarian Cream

2 ½ TBSP unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups strained strawberry puree(1 ½ baskets)
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
several drops of red food coloring
1 ¾ cups whipping cream
Strawberry Mirror
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBSP kirsch
1 TBSP water
1 TBSP unflavored gelatin
Few drops of red food coloring

Strawberry Juice

1 ½ pints of strawberries(18 oz)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water

1.Preheat oven to 450F. Butter and flour the sides of an 11-by-17 inch jelly roll pan(rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.
2.Beat eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 TBSP sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks(do not over beat).
4.Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
5.Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch(7 to 10 minutes). Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Invert cake tin to cut out 8 ¼ inch circles of cake. Wrap the cake layers, separated with waxed paper, and set aside. Cake may be frozen at this point.
6.To make soaking syrup: Combine water and the 1/3 cup sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature; flavor with liqueur. Set aside or refrigerate in glass jar until ready to use.
7.To assemble cake: Brush sides of 10-inch springform pan lightly with flavorless salad oil or almond oil. Cut out a cardboard circle that is exactly the same size as the bottom inside of the pan; cover cardboard with aluminum foil and fit into bottom of pan. Center one layer of the cake bottom of pan. Brush the cake with some of the soaking syrup to just moisten(not drench) the cake; set aside.
8.Prepare Strawberry Bavarian Cream. Immediately pour about half of the Bavarian Cream over the first layer of cake in the pan. Set the next layer of cake on top of the cream. Pour remaining Bavarian Cream over cake and smooth top of the cream with spatula. Refrigerate until the cream sets(1 to 2 hours).
9.Prepare the Strawberry Mirror.
10.To serve: Wrap a hot towel around the outside of springform pan for a few minutes. Run a small sharp knife tip around the edge of the Strawberry Mirror to separate it form the sides of pan. Mirror will tear when sides are unlatched if it is stuck at ANY point. Slowly unlatch the pan and slide it off the cake. Slice cake in wedges and serve in upright slices.

Prep Work
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
1.Sprinkle the gelatin over the strawberry puree in a small bowl and set aside until spongy.
2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl' beat until light. Bring milk to a boil in sauce pan. Pour hot milk into yolk mixture ans stir with a wooden spoon(it doesn't say so but I would temper the egg mixture first to be safe). Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until your finger leaves a clear trail in sauce when drawn across the back of the spoon.(Do not boil or mixture will curdle.) Immediately remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin mixture. Pour into a stainless steel bowl places over a bowl of ice water. Stir in lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring. Cool over ice water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens to the consistency of softly whipped cream.
3.White gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. When the gelatin mixture resembles softly whipped cream, fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture.

Strawberry Mirror
1.Prepare strawberry juice.
2.Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.
3.Measure 1 ½ cups Strawberry juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Tint to desired color with red food coloring. Place bowl over bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken(do not let jell); remove from ice water.
4.When mixture is syrupy, pour a 1/16-inch layer over the top of cake. Refrigerate until set.

Strawberry JuiceWash and hull strawberries; coarsely chop. Place strawberries in saucepan; crush to start juices flowing. Place over low heat; add sugar and water; simmer slowly 10 minutes. Pour juice and pulp through damp jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and drain into a bowl for 15 minutes(Do not press down on fruit).
Adapted from Cakes and Pastries At The Academy by the California Culinary Academy 1993


mid-summer update

i’ve really lost track of my writing lately. the fact of the matter is, moving is unsettling in so many ways. it’s easy to lose interest in things that once kept you spellbound. it’s hard to maintain old habits as you settle into a new routine. with new causes of stress, the old cures can lose their potency.

but all of these are excuses.

happily, in spite of my appalling lack of daily writing--the major reason i started this journal--i’ve managed to keep cooking. not every day, not by a long shot, and not with as gung-ho a philosophy, but i think these have turned into favorables instead of unfavorables. i’ve stepped back and learned to approach things more calmly and more systematically. with my CSA, i’ve learned to eat new foods and seen new ways to cook old things. with all of the fresh fruit, i’ve got six kinds of ice cream in the freezer. i’ve made pies, and cobblers, fillings and flummeries.

best of all, i’ve finally gotten on my way toward two goals: cooking through the kitchen diaries, and cooking through a passion for desserts.

it’s true that i made a list. probably a bit anal, especially considering my generally sloppy tendencies, but it’s been invaluable to me. every time i pick up some fresh fruit or get a new CSA dropoff, i can look at my list and pick something accordingly.

i carry my list around with me like a kind of talisman. i stare at it and make grandiose plans or daydream on a boring day. i learn new techniques and add new tastes to my repertoire. this has been particularly true with ice creams. last summer, i had a few favorites that i made over and over. this summer, it’s like i’m trying a new one every day. i’ve been hoarding summer fruit in the freezer like some kind of fruitarian squirrel--sour cherries were my most elusive quarry, to be sure.

i’m not settled in yet. i look at the mess i call a pantry and long for the will and the time to pull it all down and organize it properly. i still hate doing the dishes and watch them pile up for days at a time. six types of ice cream have left my freezer with little space left over for real food, and i’ve fallen into bad lunchtime habits with a string of fast-food restaurants on west 48th street. my stomach rebels.

and in the interim, i keep working on my list.

Asian Wraps
Flaky Curry Turnovers
Lotus Chicken Packages
Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes
Curried Coconut Chicken
Tandoori Chicken with Mango Chutney
Seared Steak with Wild Mushrooms
Fried Wild Mushroom Rice Wraps

East & Southeast
Vietnamese Pork Balls
Bok Choy Rolls with Spicy Chicken
Chinese Dim Sum
Indonesian Chicken Martabak
Japanese Soba Noodle Salad
Japanese Fresh Corn Soup
Vietnamese Pancakes
Braised Duck and Ginger

The New Spanish Table
Truffled Turkey and Wild Mushroom Croquettes
Patatas Bravas
Tomato and Bread Soup
Castilian Garlic Soup
Rosa’s Wild Mushroom Soup with Garlic Shoots
Potato Soup with Fried Almonds
Chicken Soup with Mini Meatballs
Cherry and Beet Gazpacho
Chilled Potato and Bacon Soup
Frisee with Pears and Honeyed Lardons
Potato Tortilla
Eggs over Smoky Bread Hasg
Pork Tenderloin with Lightly Seared Strawberries
Braised and Glazed Pork Ribs with Applesauce
Catalan Meatballs
Garlicky Roast Chicken with Apple Compote
Chicken Flamenquin
Chicken and Apples Braised in Hard Cider
Smoky Mashed Potatoes
Creamy Basque Smoked Cheese Risotto
Inma’s Baked Macaroni
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms with Ham and Allioli
Basque Cream and Cherry Tart
Yogurt Cream with Honey Gelee

My Vue
Potato Ravioli with Mushroom Essence
Morels Stuffed with Chicken and tarragon mousse
Wild Duck with Cherries
Duck a l’orange
Apple Crème Brulee

Everyday Pasta
Jamie’s Italy
Fried Ricotta with Tomato Salad
Baked Mushrooms Stuffed with Ricotta
Sliced Mushrooms with Melted Mozzarella and Thyme

The Kitchen Diaries
Lemon and Basil Linguine
Lamb Chops with Lemon and Mint and Potatoes Crushed into the Pan Juices
A really fast cake with blueberries and pears
Roast Pork with Lemon and Potatoes
Raspberry ricotta pancakes
A chicken roasted with new garlic
Chicken and rice salad
Vietnamese Beef Salad
Orecchiette with roast tomato and basil sauce
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart
Strawberry Water Ice
Roast Lamb Rolls with Oregano and Garlic
Lamb-filled flatbread
Peach and Blueberry Sour Cream Cobbler
Orange Yogurt Water Ice
Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Lemon Butter

A Passion for Desserts
Honey Cream-Strawberry Parfaits
Ice Wine Ice Cream with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Strawberry Ginger Sodas with Orange Sherbet
Best-of-Summer Shortcakes
Berry Crème Fraiche Cake
Bing Cherry Filo Rolls with Ice Cream
Lemon-Raspberry Bread Pudding
Candied Ginger Shortbread Stacks with peach-blackberry compote
Peach Blueberry Trifle
Red Berry-White Chocolate Trifles
White Peach Melba

A Passion for Ice Cream
Blackberry Sorbet-filled Peaches
Bountiful Berry Compote with Buttermilk Ice Cream
Cherries Jubilee with Butter Crunch Ice Cream
Iced Bellinis
Apple Cider Sodas with Penuche Swirl Ice Cream
Very Berry Sodas
Lemonade-Strawberry Floats with Mascarpone Ice Cream
Tangerine Creamsicle Sodas
Profiteroles with Orange Custard-chocolate chip Ice Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

The Perfect Scoop
Chocolate-Rasberry Ice Cream
Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
Orange Popsicle Ice Cream
Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream
Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt
Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Peach Ice Cream (Frozen Yogurt)
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Fresh Mint Ice Cream
Watermelon Sorbetto
Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet
Cherry Sorbet


a truly exemplary summer sunday (HHDD - Sorbet)

the day broke here in new york, hot and humid and sunny, the sort of day where one can barely see the skyline through the soup.

a perfect day for an outing and for something cool and icy.

after pancakes for breakfast, i set out for a walk with my friend aaron. we took the R down to city hall and spent the morning walking over the brooklyn bridge, stopping often in the shady bits for a respite and a few gulps of water. by the time we got over, it was lunchtime, and at his offer of lunch i suggested my favorite summertime splurge: ice cream instead of a meal. i must warn that this indulgence is not for the faint of heart, and its privilege is not one to be abused. it is for really hot, gross, sticky days full of exertion and good company ONLY. use with care. we stopped in brooklyn heights at the truly excellent creamery, where we each had the vanilla chocolate crunch. this ice cream was so pure that you could actually taste the cream in it, an oasis in a world full of edys.

this just got me in the mood for more frozen goodness, especially when i fell back through the door of my own apartment late in the afternoon, soaked in sweat and barely capable of forward movement. having had a milkshake for lunch, i couldn't justify another one, no matter how much the quart of homemade strawberry ice cream was calling me from the freezer. i turned, as ever, to my beloved kitchen diaries for inspiration and found what i was looking for: orange yogurt water ice.

i spent yesterday at the union square greenmarket on a quest for sour cherries and new summer garlic, but came home with 5 quarts of cherries, some fresh buttermilk and some fresh yogurt. i disposed of the buttermilk in the pancakes but when i saw this recipe i knew i had found the perfect vessel for the yogurt.

the technique is simple: prepare a simple sugar syrup, take several squeezed oranges, add some squeezed lemon, and the zest of one or two of the oranges. pour in the yogurt. stir vigorously and freeze. nigel writes, wisely as always, "it complements any summer fruit, but especially lusciously ripe peaches and aprictos. perhaps the prettiest way to serve it is as i did, the pale orange water ice surrounded by dark red cherries still attached to their stalks."

he's never steered me wrong before, and i did have all of those quarts in the fridge. i set to. the first swallow was fresh and cold with the smoothness imparted from the yogurt, cooling me to my very soul and making moot the fact that i skipped dinner.

i offer my water ice for this month's "hey, hey it's donna day -- sorbet," hosted by eat drink live.


the 4th on a wednesday??

ok, i spent a nice chunk of last week--as did most of the 9-5 working world--railing against the idiocy of the 4th of july on a wednesday. i mean, how is a girl supposed to really enjoy the holiday when she only gets one day off?? and since i've only just started a new job, i'm ineligible to apply for vacation time for another 6 weeks at least. i was near despair, except for one thing: i was in desperate need of a day off.

not to get too personal, but i've been struggling with my new job and having a difficult time keeping track of all of my new responsibilities, and it's been weighing on me. monday i had my first really great day--i actually got through my entire list of tasks, and got them done properly. this was a big step. tuesday we closed early and although i felt similarly confident in my task list, it turned out--i realized with a stomach-dropping thud as i walked out of the locked office door and noticed that i had forgotten my keys--i forgot one small but (in the grander scheme of things) important task.


so i sat on the subway with a heavy heart on my way to columbus circle, but it only took a few minutes' time in whole foods to feel better about life. i'd decided to make up for my weekend-that-might-have-been and spend my extra daylight hours preparing a delicious meal to help me relax and get into the proper frame of mind. i made wild mushroom soup with garlic scapes, and catalan meatballs with veal, pork, pancetta and applesauce. i made a basque cherry tart (which, in retrospect, is much like the one peabody made, but it is a coincidence, i swear) which, for my first home tart-making experience, came out like a dream. and was super-tasty besides.

the weather, meanwhile, was humid but lovely, not too hot, and i enjoyed the afternoon of cooking with the windows open for a literal breath of fresh air. i eagerly plotted my holiday meal--lunch and dinner.

i took a page from nigel slater, my idol, and went for a long walk along the hudson river followed by a fresh chicken-pancetta-rosemary burger patty with some freshly shredded jack cheese mixed in. yum.

dinner, though, was my real triumph and ultimately the point of this writing. i got back to my oleana tome, spice, and pulled out my bookmarked recipes for fried haloumi cheese and cumin-tomato-brown butter-smothered skirt steak and spent several happy hours making a disgustingly large pile of dishes in the sink. i successfully browned butter. i ate sheep's milk cheese for the first time. i got to use my new all-clad grill pan.

and, best of all, i made ice cream, which i offer up for this month's mingle. in keeping with my middle-eastern theme, i decided to go for a flavor i usually save for the fall and the jewish high holidays, honey. i took out the last of my bottle of wildflower honey, some of my CSA milk, and a new container of , which i blended together in my mixer. to this i added about 3/8 of a cup of honey, a splash of vanilla and a splash of orange blossom water. while this was churning in the ice cream maker, i whipped up a batch of martha stewart's "cocoa bee cookies" from the recent color issue (which, by the way, if you didn't get a chance to see and drool, you missed out). the recipe was quite similar to the one in her baking handbook for chocolate wafers only it used brown sugar and extra molasses instead of regular granulated sugar. the molasses made the dough much more difficult to handle but in the end went much better with the honey ice cream.

which i drizzled with a few spoonfuls of pomegranate molasses.

is that good enough to share with the mingle, meeta?
please say it is.

editor's note - i think i left my camera at my parents' house when i was there last weekend, so this continues to be a text-only blog, at least for now...