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:

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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.

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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:

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A whole plate:

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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 )

(Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.)

Another fun month!  Every time I do one of these pretty desserts, I wish I entertained more. This would have made a perfect dinner party dessert.

I didn’t take a million assembly pictures this time – none of the sub-recipes was particularly hard or particularly photogenic, so I didn’t drag out the lights for them.  Someday, I’ll have a kitchen with beautiful, natural light, but not this month.

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The top and bottom are a basic chiffon cake. I was worried about mine – I get eggs from my CSA, but they’re not very consistent.  They’re always fresh, but they’re never quite large enough to be large or small enough to justify adding an extra one to a recipe, so I worry about baking with them.  The chiffon cake involved beating 5 egg whites to firm peaks, while mixing the rest of the batter (oil, egg yolks, flour, a bit of lemon zest), then carefully folding everything together. 

I’m getting better at folding, so mine came together without a hitch, and baked up beautifully. 

While the cake was baking, I made the pastry cream.  It was also a reasonably standard recipe – heat the milk, temper in an egg, cook until thick, then cool.  One it’s cool, fold into whipped cream to lighten it.  Did I mention how good I’m getting at folding things into other things?

I should have added some sugar to the whipped cream – I like mine pastry cream a little sweeter then this turned out to be, but it was still good.  I saved a bit of whipped cream and colored it pink, to decorate with later.

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Assembly was straightforward.  There’s a Good Eats episode where Alton Brown shows you how to precisely split a cake with a hacksaw blade, but I never remember to get an extra one when I go to Home Depot, so mine came out a bit crooked. 

The bottom gets soaked with a simple syrup, then the fruit goes on top.  I put some around the edges and the rest in the middle.  The pastry cream goes on top, then the top layer of cake.  I left it in the fridge overnight at this point to make sure it was entirely set up before trying to cut it.

When I took it out the next day, I dusted it with powdered sugar, added some accents of pink whipped cream, and served.IMG_5918

It turned out great!  There weren’t a lot of strong flavors besides the strawberries, so they really stood out.  I’d have liked the pastry cream to be a bit sweeter, but next time I’ll just use a different recipe or add a bit more sugar.  I’m thinking next time I’ll try a chocolate chiffon cake, with fresh cherries in the middle.  Or maybe a banana pastry cream with bananas.  Or…

( see the recipe )

(The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.)

I’m never good at artistic Daring Bakers recipes, so I put this one off until the end of the month.  The idea was simple – make a decorated sponge cake to wrap around a filling.  The recipe called for almond flour in the cake, so I figured a cherry mousse would be the perfect filling. 

And if the center was going to be cherry, then the design on the cake should also be cherries. 

I started by mixing up a half batch of the Joconde Paste.  It was very simple – some butter, some sugar, a lot of eggs, and a bit of flour.  I used my good gel candy colors to get a bright red and green:

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

Piping it was fun and easy.  I laid out two long rows of cherries for the “wrappers”, and a few more because I had more room left. 

They went in the freezer for 15 minutes to solidify, so they wouldn’t get distorted when I poured the cake over them.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

The sponge cake was easy, too.  Cake and almond flour, more eggs (the entire recipe took 13 eggs, 10 of them whites only, so I have 10 egg yolks in the fridge waiting for a use), a bit of sugar.

The eggs got beaten into a foam, then folded back into the batter.   I was careful not to deflate the eggs, but my sponge came out a bit thick.  A bit more melted butter would have helped, but I didn’t realize it was too thick until it was baked – and by then, I was out of eggs.

My pretty piped cherries flatted a bit after baking, and Mike thought they looked more like Christmas tree lights.  I just don’t have the artistic gene.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

I used some small Corning Ware bowls for molds.  My sponge was thick enough that a biscuit-sized version wouldn’t have had enough room for filling, but I thought a springform-pan sized one might lack structural stability.

I cut the wrapper too short on the first one:

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

But I got the second one right.  I think if the sponge had been warmer, the ends would have stuck together better, but they did okay even cold.  I should have used a ruler and pizza cutter to get the edges more straight.

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

I filled the center with a basic cherry mousse – some whipped cream and a bag of chopped frozen cherries.  It would have been improved with a bit of almond extract.   You can see that the wrapper came a bit unstuck, but it held together. 

Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

This wasn’t really part of the challenge, but I took some of the random bits and make little “sandwich cakes” with them.  These little ones would have made great finger food for a party, maybe with a very firm pastry cream inside.

Daring Bakers: Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet

All in all, it was a fun challenge.  Next time I’ll make sure to spread the sponge thinner, and think more carefully about how the backside of the decorations will come out.

Or maybe I’ll just wait for the holidays, and then the Christmas tree light design will be perfect!

( see the cake recipes )

( see the mousse recipe )

Last weekend, I made cupcakes.  I didn’t make cupcakes because I wanted cupcakes, though – I made cupcakes because I’ve been craving really good frosting.  And as tempting as it was to just make a batch of frosting and eat it with a spoon, I decided I should at least pretend to have some level of decorum.

So, the cupcakes.  I used the first likely-looking vanilla cupcake recipe from Food Network, which turned out to be Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes.  They were perfectly good cupcakes.  Nothing to write home about, but a nice, basic, vanilla cupcake. 

While they were cooling, I started on the frosting.  I’ve been looking for a not-terribly-sweet cooked buttercream, so when I saw this one on Baking Bites, I had to try it.  It wasn’t that hard, really – beat the eggs, and then “cook” them with a simple syrup to stabilize the frosting.  Once all the simple syrup was in, it looked really good and stable – then I started added an entire pound of very soft butter.

I’ll admit, it started looking scary a few times.  It was hard to find the patience to not add more butter until the previous pat was entirely integrated, and a couple time it looked like it was going to break.  After all the butter was in, I watched it nervously for a few minutes, then turned my back for just one minute to finish loading the dishwasher.

And when I looked back, it was perfect

Vanila Bean Buttercream

It was light and fluffy, flecked with vanilla bean bits, and amazingly rich.  It was just sweet enough to be “frosting”, but not that awful cloying sweetness of grocery-store-bakery frosting.  It was exactly the frosting I’d been fantasizing about.

So I put it on the cupcakes.  All the cool kids these days seem to be piping frosting on top of the cupcakes instead of frosting them with a knife, so I did the same thing:

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The only problem was it made 36 cupcakes, and there was no way we could eat them fast enough, so the exposed tops got stale very quickly.  Next time, I’ll spread a thin coat of frosting to just cover and protect the top of the cupcake, then pipe the rest. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a little bit of frosting left in a bowl in the fridge, and I have a spoon…

( see the recipe )