Some of my friends were having a Costa Rican-themed party to watch Jurassic Park.  And I said, "I’ll bring dessert!", because that’s what I do.

Only I had no idea what a Costa Rican dessert was.  A bit of googling, and I had a list of possibilities:  Tres Leches (one person was lactose-intolerant, so that was right out), rice pudding (same problem), panna cotta (too hard to transport).  And then I found a site that mentioned orange custard and orange pound cake.  I figured if I did both, everyone would have something they could eat.

So I stocked up on oranges.

Oranges

I made the custard first.  It was pretty simple – cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs, some flour to thicken it, then some orange juice and orange zest.  One that’s all combined, add a cup of milk.

I didn’t want to put it in individual ramekins, because they’re a pain to transport, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have a matching set anymore – I had 3 sets at one point, but a few have broken out of each set. Now I have just the right amount – only they’re in three different size.

So I figured I’d put it in my smallest CorningWare casserole. In retrospect, I should have doubled it to fill the casserole better, but I didn’t realize that until it was in the pan. 

Orange Custard

It took longer to bake then the recipe called for, but I expected that.  I started checking on it at 45 minutes, but it wasn’t really finished until it had been in for an hour.

 Orange Custard

I was worried the edges would over-cook, but it came out remarkably even.

While it cooled, I made the pound cake.

This was a very odd pound cake recipe. The technique was more like a biscuit dough – the dry ingredients got combined first, then the butter was worked into the flour.  Once it was crumbly, the liquid went in.

When everything was mixed, it was still disturbingly lumpy.  But my dough matched the pictures in the recipe, so I took the chance and poured it into the pan.

Luckily, the oven was still pre-heated from the custard.

Orange Pound Cake

60 minutes later, and it was done.  While it was cooling, I reduced down some orange juice and sugar into a glaze.  When it was ready to come out of the pan, the glaze got brushed on top to soak into the cake, making it amazingly moist.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture once the glaze was on it, so you’ll have to imagine a shinier version here.

They both got great reviews.  I think the custard was supposed to be softer then it was, so I may have overcooked it a bit.  No one complained, certainly, and I liked it a lot.

The pound cake was also a hit – the orange really jumped out at you, and the cake flour made it light, and the glaze made it moist.  It’s going in my regular rotation of "desserts to take places".  I think it would be equally good with grapefruit or lemon.  Maybe even lime, with some coconut added.

All in all, I considered them both a success.

( see the custard recipe )

( see the pound cake recipe )

(Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.)

This month was a dessert I’d never heard of before – San Rival.  It’s Filipino – layers of meringue with nuts, separated with layers of buttercream.  I did both the meringues and buttercream in chocolate. 

The base started with 10 egg whites. They got beaten with a cup of sugar and a bit of cocoa.  Once they get to stiff peaks, a cup of finely chopped nuts gets folded in.  The recipe calls for cashews, but I had walnuts, so I used those.

The layers get baked in cake pans.  The recipe was written for one large "cake", but I thought they’d be cute as mini desserts. So I baked them in layers:

IMG_6011 IMG_6013

Then took a biscuit cutter and cut out small circles of each layer.  Other people said their layers came out too crunchy for cutting, but mine were only very crunchy around the edges.  I could have baked them longer, but I liked the texture as they were.

On to the buttercream.  I’ve made buttercream a lot, and so I knew what to expect.  I beat the eggs, cooked the sugar, poured it in slowly, let it cool, and added the butter.  I don’t even get nervous anymore when it looks just about to break – I just let it settle.

 IMG_6014

I had fresh eggs, which had very yellow yolks, so my buttercream came out pretty cream-colored.  At the very end, I added 2 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate.

Then the assembly. I stacked the meringues, piped the buttercream on them, and sprinkled walnuts on top:

IMG_6016

A whole plate:

IMG_6017

They came out really good. I like this buttercream recipe better then my current one – it’s much lighter.  Vanilla meringues with the chocolate filling would look impressive, too.  This one is going into my rotation for guest nights!

( see the recipe )

When I was a kid, I went to school with a few kids from a church that made peanut brittle every Christmas.  It came in rounds the size of pie tins, and it was the best peanut brittle I’ve ever had.

I’ve made a lot of peanut brittle myself over the years, but none of it was as good as that was. 

Then I picked up a copy of Sweet Confections.  I’ve been a huge fan of BonBonBar for years, so when I heard she was closing shop, I got in one last order of candy bars – and a copy of her cookbook.

It’s been taunting me on the counter for a couple of weeks, and finally I managed to get all the ingredients together for her peanut brittle recipe. 

It starts with sugar, corn syrup, and water in a pan, cooked to 250F.  Then, you add the peanuts and some butter, and stir, until  it gets to 320F. I’d never tried that before – all the other recipes I’d tried cooked the syrup, then just poured it over the peanuts.

Add a bit of kosher salt, some vanilla for flavor, and baking soda for texture, then pour it out onto parchment paper.

Peanut Brittle The recipe said to spread it with an offset spatula, but I don’t have one, and my marble rolling pin was already out on the counter, so I sprayed a silpat with pam, laid it on top, and ran the rolling pin over it a few times.  I ended up with perfectly flat brittle.

Peanut Brittle 

After half an hour of cooling, I broke it into pieces.  It shattered perfectly.

Peanut Brittle

And it was really good.  It’s very peanut-y, the candy is caramelized enough to give it depth, and the kosher salt gives it tiny pockets of saltiness.  You could add cinnamon or cayenne pepper (I like ancho chili pepper, too, for smokiness), but I didn’t.  It was good just the way it was.

I’ve made 4 batches over the last week.  They’re all gone now.  And the best measure of a brittle is how fast it disappears!

( see the recipe )

Macarons – the real, French kind – have been on my to-bake list for a long time.  I imagined it would be an all-day process, and I just kept putting it off.

Until I got a dinner invitation, and I offered to bring dessert, and nothing in my recipes looked good.  I did have all day to work on them, so I pulled up the Definitive Macaron Guide and got started.

This will all make sense if you follow along in the guide. 

I started by marking circles on parchment to pipe them into.  I didn’t have a 1.5 inch cookie cutter, and the closest round thing I did have was a give-away champagne glass that lurks in the pack of my cupboard.  So I used it.  The important note here is that you must remember to flip the paper over before you start piping onto and, and also that blue sharpie is a pain to get off your good cookie sheets.  A pen would have been a better choice.

Macarons

Next, the measuring:  4 ounces of almond flour and 8 ounces of powdered sugar.  I actually had almond flour in the fridge from an almond cake recipe I made earlier this year, so that made this part simple.  Macarons

Then the eggs.  I really did weigh the eggs.  It came out to about 5 eggs for me, but I get farm-type eggs which cannot be restricted by labels like "large" or "extra-large".  I followed her instructions exactly – 3 minutes on medium, 3 minutes on medium-high, and 3 minutes on high.  And they looked perfectly meringue-y to me:

Macarons

Then the folding.  All the dry ingredients get folded into the egg whites.  This is where I deviated, and I should not have.  She said about 40 strokes was right – I stopped at 30, because I was afraid they were getting too runny.  The result was that I had an awful lot of big bubbles in my shells, instead of many more little bubbles.  I won’t make that mistake again!

Macarons

Next, piping.  I should have knocked down those little points on top before I baked them, because with the points, they don’t lay flat on the table so you can fill them.

 Macarons Then, off to the oven for 18 minutes.  Mine took closer to 20 minutes, but I suspect my oven thermostat is drifting.  Perhaps the next time I buy an oven thermometer, I’ll actually remember to remove it before I run the self-cleaning cycle?  No, probably not.

Macarons

I was genuinely impressed.  They weren’t perfect, but they were very close, especially for a first try.  While they cooled, I whipped up a batch of vanilla buttercream to fill them with.  I piped in the buttercream…

Macarons

…and then we went out to dinner.  Everyone loved them, even if they could have been a bit flatter and less airy.  My impression was that they weren’t nearly as hard as everyone says they are, and they were well worth the trouble.  I can see myself making a huge batch, with different colors and fillings, for a party.  I’m thinking cherry shells with a chocolate ganache, to start with…

( see the recipe )

(The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!)

This month was candy.  I make a lot of candy, but I don’t usually try it in August in Houston.

I made three different types this month – the first one was a batch of sponge candy.  Well, actually, it was two batches, but the first batch flopped so badly I had to toss it.  The idea is to cook the sugar to 285F or so, then take it off the heat, and add baking soda.  The baking soda reacts with the sugar mixture, and creates lots of little bubbles in the candy as it cools. 

The first batch I burned badly, and it had to be tossed.  The second batch came out much better:

Sponge Candy

I didn’t really want to dip it in chocolate – I was afraid the holes would fill up and it would be a mess.  So I just drizzled some dark chocolate on top.  It turned out very good – next time I’ll mix it a bit more and hopefully the bubbles will be a bit smaller.

Then I did a batch of Nutella balls.  I have a recipe for peanut butter cups that takes one cup of good peanut butter and half a cup of confectioner’s sugar.  I substituted Nutella for the peanut butter, and got these:

Nutella truffles

I put them in the fridge to set up a bit while I made peppermint patties.  I’ve made these before, and they’re also very simple – a little confectioner’s sugar, some peppermint extract, some butter for richness, and a bit of cream to bring it all together.  Everything gets mixed and shaped:

Daring Bakers: Candylicious!

And then those went in the fridge.  They’re sitting on powdered sugar so they don’t stick to the plate. 

An hour later, I tempered some chocolate to dip them in.  There are no intermediate pictures, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that melted chocolate and a good camera should never be on the kitchen counter at the same time. 

But I gently melted 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave, then added the other 1/4 as seed chocolate to temper it.  Then the peppermint patties and nutella truffles got dipped.  Unfortunately, I was an idiot and sat them down on a cold plate, where they stuck.  A few of the chocolate shells broke when I tried to get them off the plate.  Usually, when I do a big batch of chocolates, I put them on parchment paper, which can be peeled off easily.

This was the final result:

Chocolate!

It was a fun challenge!  Looking forward to next month!

( see the recipes )