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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Daring Flan

The Daring Bakers strike again! Once again, this growing group of enthusiastic bakers has tackled another challenge. This month the gauntlet was thrown down by Chris of Mele Cotte. She chose Filbert Gateau with Praline Butter cream from the book Great Cakes by Carol Walters.

I'm starting to get the hang of organizing these multi step challenges. This cake recipe had five distinct components to assemble.

1) Hazelnut Praline
2) Sugar Syrup
3) Butter Cream Icing
4) Cake
5) Chocolate Glaze
6) Apricot Glaze

Did I say five? I meant six. Yep, that organizing thing is coming along nicely.

The praline was the most worrisome component for me. Sugar is slowly melted in a pan until golden; then toasted, skinned hazelnuts are added to the hot sticky mixture. I watched this like a new baby taking his first steps. It took time but the result was worth it. Chris warned us how hot the mixture would be... but I wasn't expecting a stickiness that grabbed my spatula in a tug of war.My personal goal was to make a great looking cake and I let nothing stand in my way. Look carefully at the picture - see anything? From the top, there is the apricot glaze on top of a lovely layer of hazelnut genoise followed by some hidden whipped cream, a layer of butter cream icing and...... a flan?

Yep, my cake was augmented with a store bought flan. Due to extenuating circumstances, my cake did not have enough height to divide into three layers. I desperately wanted three layers so I rushed out to buy one "peel from the package and slap down" flan. A slap down flan has the texture and taste of a kitchen sponge. But... if a kitchen sponge is soaked in orange sugar syrup and it's rubbing elbows with enough butter cream, hazelnut, apricot, chocolaty goodness to sink a ship, the kitchen sponge taste and texture fade to the background.

No one really needs to know ...

Butter cream icing is much easier to make in cool weather. I beat the tar out of my butter cream but the heat constantly worked against me. The butter cream kept melting and sliding around. Since I've made buttercream before, I just shrugged it off as a learning experience.

This cake was devoured (kitchen sponge and all) in two days with the help of friends and neighbours. My mistakes with this cake were eclipsed by the sheer quality and taste of the ingredients. Would I make this cake again? Yes, but in cooler weather.

Thank you Chris for providing another great learning opportunity! The full recipe can be found at Chris' site Mele Cotte.

Check out the other Daring Bakers and their lovely creations.

NB. My genoise was gluten free but alas the flan was not...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I am not a gardener.

My mother has beautiful flowers and plants. People stop to take pictures of the cascading flowers in her planters. She is forever explaining to me how to take care of this plant or that plant. Unfortunately, talking to me about gardening is like the adults talking in a Peanuts cartoon. There is a garbled noise that I don't quite understand.

My approach to my garden is a more Darwinian type philosophy. Throw it in and see if it survives. Many plants don't survive but the ones that do, boy they're tough little suckers.

Take rhubarb. Rhubarb is not my favourite plant but I inherited a huge specimen when we bought this house. I know nothing about rhubarb except that it requires copious amounts of sugar to render it palatable. I divided the huge root, parcelled it out to friends, and relocated parts of the plant to other areas of the garden.

My mother offered this nugget of wisdom this summer. Rhubarb is apparently a heavy feeder; I should fertilise to keep it strong and healthy. Frankly, I don't know what I would do with a healthier plant. I just dig it up and move it every once and a while.

My mother was shocked... but then she burst out laughing.

The apple fell sooo far from that tree.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Bake or Not to Bake?

Summer is the season of weddings.

My wedding is long long past. In fact, we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary this summer. We were married at 12 years of age, in case you're wondering about our ages.

Wedding planning and decision making are fascinating dynamics to watch. There are a couple of promising trends that have sprung up over the years.

The dresses are much more elegant and streamlined. I remember dresses dripping with lace, exploding with ruffles, and bows popping out everywhere. The bridal party would glide down the aisle like a portable notions rack. Youthful exuberance without restraint is charming but revisiting the pictures years later ... it's just painful.

People are making their own wedding cakes. More power to them! Many weddings I attended had rented fake wedding cakes. It was the fashion then, but now I snicker a little bit. Some of the rented cakes appeared like tired tarts circulating the endless rounds of the wedding season.

Wedding cakes were hideously expensive and no one ate the real ones. There was one exception that stood out. It was the multi-tiered-chocolate-chip-cookie-cake made by the groom at our best friend's wedding. That was just delicious fun; it begged for shots of milk for toasting.

(Think of overgrown tuxedoed cookie monsters as groomsmen. You know you're going to have fun with that bridal party.)

Of all the weddings I have attended, the one that was the most relaxed was a potluck. That's right, potluck. The bride and groom were heavily involved in the community but their budget would not stretch to fit all the important people in their lives. "Why not a potluck?" I asked. The bride looked at me as if I sprouted horns but her mind was whirling around the idea.

But it made sense. This couple was well loved; their friends wanted to contribute to their special day. A good friend offered her house and garden for the reception. Another friend offered to coordinate all the food. We all pitched in to make it a success. It became a cooperative community wedding with fabulous food.

More power to the wedding party!

....that crack about being 12 years old, shame on you if you believe it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What would a Daring Baker do?

What do Daring Bakers talk about when they get together?

You would think that we would be spinning sugar from the roof top, kneading dough, or reviewing the latest culinary hot spot...

Instead, it went like this...

Hmmm, that wild giggling means they're up to something.... There's a wasps nest in the play house!!? ..... and you did what to the wasps nest? ... I think it's time to play inside.... No, you're not allowed to lock yourselves into the trunk....say please and thank you...

Jenny of All Things Edible and I got together for a fun "play date". No pictures, no fabulous food, but a lot of fun.

It's summer time and the kids are home.....
Oops, I owe someone a Mr. Freezie.