(The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!)

I love mousse.  If I see chocolate mousse on a dessert menu, it’s almost always what I choose.  And I like maple syrup, so I fully expected to like maple mousse.

The mousse was only half of the challenge, though.  The other half was edible bowls.  There were a few choices, but I didn’t really want to make bacon cups, so I made mine from nuts.  They’re very simple – just finely diced walnuts, an egg, and a bit of sugar, pressed into tiny bowls lined with aluminum foil.  In retrospect, greasing the inside of the foil would have been a good idea, but I didn’t think about it at the time.

Bake the bowls at 350F for 15 minutes or so until the nuts are toasty. 

Maple Mousse

I looked at them when they came out of the oven, and I wasn’t sure they were going to hold together.  I was afraid to try to unmold one, so I coated the inside of the bowls with a layer of dark chocolate, hoping it would add more stability.

It turned out they were quite solid – you could easily pick them up, even full of mousse, so I shouldn’t have worried.  But the chocolate was good anyway.

Maple Mousse

On to the mousse!  This was more complicated.  It started with blooming unflavored gelatin in heavy cream.  Then, I brought a cup of maple syrup to a boil, and very carefully and slowly dribbled it into 4 beaten egg yolks.

Then the recipe said, "Whisk occasionally for approximately an hour or until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white."  I wasn’t sure the gelatin would set up on the counter to thicken it, and I wasn’t sure how occasionally to whisk – once every 5 minutes?  A few times over the hour?  So I left it on the counter while I made dinner, whisking it when I thought about it.

And in about 45 minutes, sure enough, it was exactly the consistency of a good, fresh, unbeaten egg white.  I was genuinely surprised, and I’m still not sure I understand how it worked.  But it did. 

After that, it was just a matter of whipping some cream, and carefully folding in the maple mixture.  I put it in the fridge to chill for an hour. While it was chilling, I gingerly unmolded the cups.  They were a bit stuck to the foil, but not bad, and I shouldn’t have worried about the strength – they were solid.

When the mousse was chilled, I piped it into the cups and sprinkled a few more nuts on top.

Maple Mousse

They came out gorgeous.  They would have made a great dinner party dessert – except that I didn’t like the mousse.  The maple flavor was way too strong, and I thought it was almost cloying.  On the other hand, I loved the process, and I may do them again, with a different recipe – say, a good peanut butter mousse, with a peanut cup with the chocolate layer? 

As always, a fun challenge!

( see the recipe )

I’m always up for trying new recipes, so when I saw this Polenta Layer Cake With Meat Sauce, I made it.  It was good, but it took up most of two evenings to make it.  30 minutes just stirring the polenta?  It was good, but I don’t want to spend hours over the stove to make what is essentially a casserole.  On the other hand, we did really like it.

So I simplified the recipe, thinking I could come up with a less labor-intensive version.  This is that version.

The polenta is easy – you can put it in the crockpot.   Boil 6 cups of water, and pour it into the crock.  The recipe says to grease the crock first, but I think the boiling water melts it all off anyway.  Add the polenta, some salt, and butter, and cook for 4-6 hours.  I try to remember to stir it every hour, but it’ll still work if you don’t – you just might have a few lumps.

When it’s done, grease a 13×9 pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper just slightly larger then the pan, and grease both sides of it.  A spray-on grease will work, butter is better.  Spread half the polenta in the bottom of the pan, then lay down the parchment paper, and spread the other half on top.

Polenta Lasagna

Put it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. 

In the meantime, make the sauce.  I chopped up a bell pepper, some carrots, some celery, an onion, and garlic, but you can use whatever you have in the fridge.  Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven, then drain it and set it aside.  Sauté the vegetables in some olive oil until soft.  Add the sausage back, then add a big can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, and some Italian seasoning and let it simmer for half an hour.  It would be nice if you stirred it every once in a while, but you don’t have to. 

When the half hour is up, add a 6-ounce can of tomato paste, fresh basil, and a pound of sliced mushrooms.  Simmer another 10 minutes until it’s thickened.  Salt to taste.

You could skip this entirely, and use 6 cups of your favorite meat sauce instead.   But I like homemade tomato sauces.

When you’re ready to assemble, just lift off the top layer of polenta, parchment paper and all:

Polenta Lasagna

Spread half the sauce on top:

Polenta Lasagna

Put the other polenta layer on top (without the parchment paper, please!):

Polenta Lasagna

Add the rest of the sauce, and spread the cheese over the top.

Polenta Lasagna

Bake at 350F until browned and bubbly.

Polenta Lasagna

And serve.  It’s best with warm, crusty bread.

Polenta Lasagna

It’s even better the next day.  I was just as happy with my version as the longer version, and I’m much more likely to make this.  To make it even easier, you could make the sauce in bulk and freeze it, then just thaw it out while the polenta cooks. 

( see the recipe )

These aren’t technically baked, I guess, but they’re close enough. 

We like breakfast for dinner, but I’m not a huge fried egg person, and I’m terrible at pancakes for some reason. I never get the temperature right, and they come out either burned or greasy.  So we eat a lot of waffles.

I’ve got a few recipes I like a lot, but this is my favorite.  All the flavors of carrot cake, in a not-terribly-sweet waffle.  And they come together really fast and easy.

Start by grating two cups of carrots (about 6 carrots or so, depending on their size).  I use my food processor to do this fast, but you can do it by hand. 

In one bowl, mix all-purpose and whole-wheat flour (or you can use one or the other, as long as the total comes out to 1 1/4 cups), some finely-chopped walnuts, baking powder, and spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  I like mine pretty strongly spiced, but you can play with the amounts of the spices until you get it perfect for your taste. 

In a different bowl, mix the brown sugar, buttermilk – I like the full-fat kind, but you can use the low-fat if you feel strongly about it – a bit of oil, vanilla, and 2 eggs. 

Then add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix, then mix in the carrots.  You get something that looks like this:

 Carrot Cake Waffles

It’s easy to get the carrots clumped up, so make sure they’re mixed in well.  Drop onto a greased, preheated waffle iron:

Carrot Cake Waffles

And cook for as long as your waffle iron recommends.  Mine likes 3 1/2 to 4 minutes:

Carrot Cake Waffles

And you have waffles.  They’re good with all sorts of toppings – I like just butter, but they’d be good with whipped cream cheese.  Or put a 1-to-1 ratio of cream cheese and butter in your mixer, and beat until combined, then add in honey and cinnamon to taste.  Maple syrup works well, too, either beaten into butter or on it’s own.

Carrot Cake Waffles

With the carrots and the wheat flour, they’re actually pretty healthy.  And as long as you have a food processor to grate the carrots, mixing them up only takes a few minutes, making them a quick and easy breakfast – or dinner.

( see the recipe )