Thursday, 24 July 2014

Birthday Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Ganache

The best part of any birthday is the cake - it just isn't a proper birthday celebration without one.  I love baking birthday cakes - and every July I try to make something new and different for my mom.  Two years ago, it was the Big Berry Birthday Cake, and last year it was this pretty pink ombre vanilla cake.  I couldn't decide what to do this year, and I was waffling back and forth for a while before deciding to go with a simple vanilla cake base, a proper chocolate ganache filling, and something pretty on top.

I have seen and heard the term ganache many times without really understanding what it is.
Ganache is a glaze, icing, sauce, or filling for pastries made from chocolate and cream. Ganache is normally made by heating cream, then pouring it over chopped chocolate of any kind.  
Thank you Wikipedia.

Perfect. I had leftover whipping cream from this pie, and I certainly never need an excuse to buy chocolate.  I read up on how to make chocolate ganache, and most sources cited the same thing - the ratio of cream to chocolate depends on what you intend to do with it - if using as a filling, use a 1:1 ratio.

I also tried a trick from The Law Student's Wife on how to bake the most moist cake ever.  Well, half of the trick.  She recommends letting the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then wrapping in plastic wrap to seal in the moisture until cool.  The second step is the brush the top with a sugar-water mixture before icing...which I did not do.

I cannot even tell you how delicious this cake was - Perfection.  It deserves the title of Birthday Vanilla Cake.  I would even consider this over the chocolate version for my birthday cake.  And that is definitely the highest compliment from a life-long chocolate cake devotee.

Birthday Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Cake recipe from Chatelaine

Vanilla Cake
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour                          
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

2/3 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 9-in. round cake pans* and line bottoms with parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, cream softened butter together with granulated sugar using a hand mixer. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla.  Add one-third of flour mixture, then add half the milk. Repeat, ending with flour mixture.
Divide evenly between the two cake pans.
Bake in centre of oven until a cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean, about 24 minutes.  Cool in pans on a rack for 10 min, then turn cakes out onto rack. Remove parchment. Cool completely, about 30 min.

Chocolate Ganache Filling
2/3 cup chopped chocolate (I used 50% dark, but any kind will do)
2/3 cup whipping cream

Chop chocolate in small pieces and put in a heat safe bowl.  Heat cream up until just before boiling, and pour over the chocolate.  Resist the urge to stir (although I did, and mine turned out fine) for a few minutes.

Let cool to room temperature.  Pour into a larger bowl (big enough to whip in) and whip until it turns into a smooth, fluffy consistency.  To be honest, I almost gave up.  I thought I had done something wrong - it didn't appear to be changing consistency after I had been whipping for a few minutes, but my persistency paid off. Spread ganache thickly on the top of the bottom layer and gently place the top layer on top.

Frost with your favourite icing and a pretty strawberry flower.

*Note:  this recipe makes 2 thin layers of cake.  I recommend using 8 inch pans for a slightly thicker layer, or doubling the recipe and using some batter as cupcakes.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Strawberry Cream Pie with Pecan Shortbread Crust

Helllllooooo Summer!

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was speeding to the top of my summer baking list.  It's strawberry season in Ontario - and the pickin's are good.

I think the strawberries could easily be substituted with what ever berries or fruit you like - blueberries and peaches immediately come to mind.

Strawberry Cream Pie with Pecan Shortbread Crust
from The Law Student's Wife 

Pecan Shortbread Crust
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon icing sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cups unsalted butter, melted

Fresh Strawberry Topping
1 cup mashed plus approx. 20 nice ripe strawberries (1.5 quarts)
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Whipped Cream Cheese Filling
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup (4oz) ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a deep 10-inch pie dish and set aside.

2. Start with the crust. Melt the butter. Set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, icing sugar, and pecans. Pour in melted butter and mix until combined. Press into the prepared dish. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely to room temperature. This is important.

3. Wash and hull your strawberries.  Mash 1 cup of strawberries, leaving some small chunks.  It's OK if you overestimate the number of strawberries needed to mash - just eat them : )  Add the mashed berries to a small saucepan along with the water.  Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add at all once to the berries in the saucepan - bring to a boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  This is where Erin suggests to add a few drops of red food colouring.  I did not do this.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.

4. Pick out the best looking, ripe, red strawberries, approximately 20 or so.  Cut the tops off so that they stand up.

5. Whip the cream. In a different bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, adding in the icing sugar gradually. Add vanilla. Continue to beat until completely smooth.  Fold in the whipped cream. Once your pecan crust is cool (and not before!), spread the cream mixture on top (make sure to leave room for the strawberry sauce!) and refrigerate for a half hour.

6. Place cut strawberries over the top of the cream in whatever design you want. Add as many as you can or leave spaces - entirely up to you.  Spoon your cooled strawberry sauce over top of the berries, in between the berries, so that all the cream is covered.  There will be some leftover, which is great, because it is delicious - I plan to eat mine over vanilla ice cream.

Chill pie at least 2 hours before serving.  Yum!