SFC: The Only Reason Christmas Should Enter November

                I LOVE Fruitcake. I decided to make a proper recipe for it last Christmas and I’m doing it again this year because I now really LOOOOOVVVEEE Fruitcake!

                If you are unable to relate to this sentiment, then I implore you to find a way to share this excitement, because it IS possible. And the time to do it, if any, is NOW. Because, if you ask any of them, all true Fruitcake bakers (the good stuff, not… “that”) know that Fruitcake season isn’t truly around Christmas; it’s the month (or more) beforehand!

                In fact, I’ve already mixed and baked my fruitcake, it’s just that this post has been a while in the actual creation. There is a reason for this of course, but why ruin the surprise now? Here’s the recipe I’ve been using so far (maybe I’ll try a different one, or two, next year for fun):

Fruitcake a-la Alton Brown

4 Cups Dried and/or Candied Fruit

Zest One Lemon + Orange

¼-½ cup Candied Ginger (homemade be best)

1 cup Rum

1 cup Sugar

5 oz/ 1 ¼ sticks Unsalted Butter

1 cup Apple Juice/Cider

4 whole Cloves, ground or equivalent

6 Allspice berries, ground or equivalent

1 tsp ground Cinnamon

1 tsp ground Ginger

1 ¾ cup AP Flour

1 ½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

2 Eggs

¼-½ cups Toasted Nuts, broken/rough chop

Delicious Liquor, like Brandy

                One of the biggest separations between the fruitcake that makes you drool and the ones you expect to put a dent in the floor if dropped (not for that reason of course… that’s a whole other problem right there) comes in the very first step: the actual Fruit. With a recipe like this, you have 4 whole cups of stuff to play around with, whatever you want… DON’T SCREW IT UP!! And by that I mean don’t, for the love of god, get any of those bright Green and Red “Candied Cherries” that serve to only mark what not to eat on the Christmas Table. Or any other really shitty mass-market candied products of things in fake colored syrup.

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                A good note is to just stick with dried fruit, it’s easy to find, can grab multiple different kinds, and always good with some of the “manipulations” we put them through next. If you can find, or make, some good quality candied fruits or other items, do so. It wouldn’t be too bad to switch out the citrus zests for candied versions of themselves either.

                With that little rant out of the way, we can move onto the first step for a brief period of time: combine all the dried fruit, zests, and candied ginger in a bowl. The latter of these ingredients is practically a necessity, and very easy to find in any Surdyk’s or Co-op… but then again, we could always make it ourselves.

                IMMEDIATE INSANE RECIPE INSERTION!

Homemade Candied Ginger (also a la Alton Brown; what can I say, he’s put up some thorough and fun recipes for a lotta shit)

1 lb Fresh Ginger

5 cups Water

Sugar – Equal weight to Ginger (after first phase)

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                Much like fruitcake I love candied ginger, so I just had to make this at some point, and the holiday season seemed just right. A note: when scaling this recipe up or down, I find the amount of water for boiling doesn’t seem that important with ratios, so just round up or down as you see fit.

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                Take however much Ginger you’re using (in my case, a loootttt) and peel it all; a spoon works really well at getting all the little corners while scraping very thin pieces of skin off, but the downside is it can take quite a while to get through all the ginger with just that.

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                Evenly slice all of it to 1/8” thick pieces; the original recipe recommends using a mandolin, which can work well if you have the nice, “young” ginger that’s smooth through and through, and/or a really nicely sharp mandolin. However it’s not so smooth going when you have the older, fibery ginger, and with how dangerous a mandolin can be if things don’t go smoothly I’d suggest only slicing SOME of the root on there to give an idea of thickness and then carefully slice the rest yourself. Though I’d say the more important thing isn’t how thick it is but just that they’re all about even.

                Place in pot, cover with the water and lid and cook on med-high for at least half an hour, or until “tender.” I’m still not exactly sure what that means as far as ginger is concerned, but sorta at the point when it seems noticeably softer than before (not so “crunchy” when you stick with a fork).

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                Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and drain the ginger. In a normal case I might implore you to save the leftover ginger-water to use in a number of flavorable applications, like syrups or stock bases, but then I tried a taste… do not, I swear do not use this for anything other than the recipe. It is just sharpness and burning and mouth pain all in a tiny spoonful; I swear I’ve had un-thinned whiskey straight from the barrel (for your reference, all liquors have water added afterward to get it to a proper alcohol content and flavor balance) that went down easier than that. Seriously.

                At this point you’ll want to carefully measure/weigh this out, figure out the exact measurement before weighing and equivalent amount of Sugar.

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                Damn… that’s a lot of sugar.

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                Recombine ginger with water and sugar in pot and bring to a boil. Which yes will be possible, I know it might not seem so at first but after the sugar is added and starts to dissolve you’ll end up with quite a decent amount of liquid in the pan.

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                Reduce heat to medium and cook for what could be 20 minutes up to an hour, stirring every now and then to start and then more frequently as it goes on. It’s hard to describe what it looks like as it gets close to the desired result, but you’ll know; the ginger’s color is different, the syrup is shinier and reduced, sorta thicker, looks and feels like it’s staying on the bottom. At this point you do NOT want to leave it at all; keep stirring, giving it a few seconds between to lay flat and let more sugar cook and evaporate before stirring some more. The moment you start seeing any signs of crystallization, do not stop the stirring.

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                This is the step you’re looking for, all the water evaporating and the sugar recrystallizing around the ginger pieces. Just like watching sugar caramelize, this will happen in the span of only a few seconds, thus you’ll want to keep it stirring fast so no sugar is left liquid and no ginger is uncovered and quickly turn out onto a cooling rack set over a pan, letting the excess sugars fall through.

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                Well, this is my excuse for a cooling rack; the only one we have has very wide spacing, more for actual pans then things like cookies and candied ginger. I figure I’d try out a makeshift way of turning it into a tight interlocking grid.

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                And this is all the ginger turned out onto it. Suffice to say the rack didn’t survive or serve its purpose too well, but that’s okay. The ginger wasn’t harmed and I was able to still collect all that excess Ginger Sugar (which you definitely need to save, it is awesome, such as a garnish for ice cream and stuff, or rimming cocktail glasses). Separate and store ginger in an airtight container for future use, like in my Fruitcake.

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                Considering how much I ended up actually making, and my adoration of its flavor, I actually ended up substituting about a cup of my dried fruit for extra candied ginger.

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                Soak all your fruit and citrus in Rum, or a 1 cup mixture of Rum and any flavored liqueur you enjoy; I’m using a bit Harlequin Orange as my own little substitute for the orange zest I didn’t have. Leave at least 4-6 hours, but ideally overnight, making sure to shake the container every now and then to ensure more fruit gets in contact with the delicious alcohol.

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                Move all this into a large pot and combine with butter, sugar, spices of choice, and your Apple “Juice.” Or in my case, Cider; a combination of both the alcoholic kind, for fun a deliciousness, and the non, for its inherent musty apple richness.

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                Bring to a boil and stir for about 5-10 minutes. Take off heat and let cool for at LEAST minutes. And though the recipe says to add the butter in the beginning, I actually sorta prefer keeping it cold and adding it to the mix while it’s still warm, mixing it in fast to let it properly emulsify into the fruity alcoholy syrup, like making a beurre blanc.

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                This can of course be done ahead of time, the important thing is that the mixture isn’t hot or even noticeably warm as you move onto the next step. One ready, turn over onto 325F and continue.

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Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a strainer/sifter and sift over your fruit, stirring it every now and then as you do. This could be done by transferring the mix to a large bowl beforehand, but I just like using the cooking pot; no need to wash another pan, and this way I know EVERYTHING is still in there. After mixing add the Eggs, one at a time, to make a complete batter.

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                Finish by mixing in your Knuts (traditionally, toasted Pecans) and transfer to a prepare loaf pan. Hopefully the pan is non-stick and/or you’ve been able to butter/spray it VERY well, but I had some issue with my cake from last year so I decided to line it with Parchment Paper as a just-in-case. This way I know it comes out whole.

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                Bake for at least an hour until toothpick test works. Definitely an “at least,” mine usually takes another 20-30 minutes more due to how thick it ends up. Ya wanna wait until it has that nice, evenly deep chestnut brown color on top, just like that… I mean how beautiful is that?

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                Then you let it cool before taking it out, slice into it, and just take a look at that kaleidoscope inside. That sight alone just calls me, and makes the next step even more difficult.

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                Shove this in a Tupperware or other covered dish, stick it in the fridge, and don’t touch it for a month. That’s right, you heard me, LEAVE IT ALONE. Well, not completely alone, for every day you must take this out of the fridge, open it up, and spritz it with a fine layer of Brandy (or any other alcohol/combo of your choice. This year I’m doing Hennessee Black and Kirschwasser). Which is why I’d say this recipe alone is worth going out to get yourself a spritz bottle to reserve just for cooking purposes.

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                This is why you do this a month beforehand, to give your big, rich, soft yet dense and sweet little fruit cake time to “age” and absorb each fine addition of complexly flavored alcohol, its flavor slowly evolving over the days. Not much at first, but after a week you start to see its appearance as different than what you remember, and if you were to try it halfway through… it might be too much temptation for the cake to last until Christmas.

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                Though technically you’re only supposed to spritz every couple days when it looks “dry”… but who the heck wants to give it that many days without a drink? Give it a whole month’s worth of boozy additions (the spray as is only ends up as maybe a teaspoon or so); hell, last year I did this TWO months ahead of time.

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                And by Christmas you’ll have something that the whole family will be craving. Now, I just have to see how much of my cake actually lasts until then. I do plan on turning some of it into a fun Street-Food-Related post afterall (it’d be unfair to my other recipe posts if I didn’t), so look for that in a week or so.

                Now if you’ll excuse me, my cake needs some more Brandy.

SFC: France’s Gift

(ugh, one day after I start this post I see America’s Test Kitchen do an episode on the subject w/ ingredient ratios and all that!! Durnit!!)

               Almost every country has that one street food that’s just iconic, either to them or those who know of them, whether we’re aware of it or not. Japan has Takoyaki, India practices Dosa and Chaat, Mexico their own “Corn on the cob,” Italy idolizes the Gelato and Pizza, and the list goes on. But I think foremost of this lineup of stereotypical deliciousness will always be France and their Crepes.

crepe

                With their easy batter preparation, long history, holding ability, and amazing versatility in meals and flavor matching, it’s not surprising their popularity has moved from the street to the home kitchen. They can have a habit of holding a slight difficulty and trickyness in the cooking process, though if anything that’s probably made them more endearing in our eyes.

                It of course then fell upon me to attempt their creation sooner or later (especially since I have this totally awesome crepe machine/pan/thingy!!), and with a recent departure of a family member to Paris and their desire for a birthday dessert soon beforehand, the occasion presented itself.

Basic Crepe Recipe (a la Jacques Pepin)

2 Eggs

¾ cup Flour

½ cup Milk

1/8 tsp Salt

½ tsp Sugar

1/3 cup Cold Water

1 Tb Canola Oil

1 Tb Melted Butter

                Crepe recipes abound throughout books, websites, etc, all with the same ingredients but slightly different proportions. My past searches and experiments have led to countless, countless results of something that tastes sorta the same but yet never even close to my memory of that proper French result. As of now I don’t know if it’s simply HOW they cook it, a mixing preparation, or maybe they just use buckwheat flour (I’ve seen it in some recipes, but not a regular thing to get a hold on). Either way, I like to think a fun way to approach crepes is trying different base recipes each time to see what you enjoy; can also give one a good idea on which “sweet” versions are better for dessert and which “savory” for other meals.

                Such an easy recipe to put together, whisk the first 5 ingredients together to a thick batter, then finish with the last 3. The result should be sorta thin but with consistency enough to stick (sorta like a sauce). You can do this in a blender too; the idea is there’s too much liquid for overworking the gluten, but I still like the whisk.

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                So we get to the tricky party, actually cooking the guy; now, in this situation I’ve been quite lucky to be gifted with this cool, amazing little electric non-stick flat “grill” highly reminiscent of those wide stones used in France. Most people don’t have that luxury however. Besides this, people also sell these special “crepe pans,” which sort of look like a thinner-metalled cast-iron skillet but much wider with very tiny, angled edges, giving easy access to grab the curling edges and flip.

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                Good chance one won’t have these either, but it gives an idea of what kind of pan you should pick. If anything, the main importance in the cooking of crepes is ORGANIZATION of your station; get everything set up close and neat together in whatever way is easiest for you to produce. Find the widest NONSTICK sauté pan you have, preferably with lower edges. Good chance they’ll be rounded and you won’t be able to make as large of crepes as other pans, but they’re still yummeh!

                Move the pan to a medium-high temp; it should be VERY hot, but not to that extreme level ya know? One should still have some time to move the batter around the pan before it completely seizes.

                Brush a thin, even smear of oil or softened butter over the hot surface (I like using a paper towel, like when oiling a grill) before working; some recipes may have you doing these before every crepe, but depending on pan it may only be needed a few times while working, or even once (but you WILL need to ensure the pan is “clean” and free of any leftover bits of batter after each crepe; just a few wipe with a  dry paper towel should do). Scoop up a medium to large ladle (depending on size of pan, I hear ¼ cup for a 12” pan is proper) into the pan, OFF-CENTER (not in the middle, to the side) so that it spreads over more of the pan; there’s a mechanic to it, but I don’t feel like going into it.

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                Spreading can be accomplished traditionally with an awesome horizontal wooden spreader thingy, sorta looks like a car window squeegee but flat. For the rest of us, you’ll want to quickly lift and rotate the sauté pan at a high angle to have the batter slide over and cover the whole bottom. Really, do this FAST, and hope you have enough batter to fill a full circle; if it seizes up beforehand though, no worries, just add a little bit of extra batter into the empty areas and wiggle about. It won’t look so perfect, but who actually cares?

                This should cook quickly, so NO MOVING! After 15-30 seconds, the bottom should brown nicely, and the edge will (if done properly) start to curl slightly (lending crepe its name). Run the edge of your flipping instrument (most likely a spatula or, in my case, an awesome tradional long, thin wood paddle) under and around, pinch an edge to hold firm and lift, using the spatula to stabilize and help flip (gotta do it with both hands to get it right, not just one).

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                Before I continue, I should mention that, good chance, you will not accomplish a good, or decent, or even something even closely reminiscent of a crepe in your first one or two (or 5…) attempts. Don’t worry, that’s natural; if anything, it’s often just something one has to do to get the pan to a good temp.

                That said, the second side will take a lot faster to cook than the first, though it can stay on longer safely. And sadly won’t have that same, completely even and smooth browning to it; Most likely it’ll be sorta spotty. As it’s cooking, this is your chance to add any spices and ingredients to complete whatever crepe you’re making! This can be done quite easily with a pat of butter, spread over to melt, and topping with some jam, fresh fruit, some sugar and citrus juice, chopped (cooked) meat and/or veggies, etc. Fold, I like the doing it in halves to turn into the triangular wedges when it’s flat and able, or folding each side into a square package when there’s a savory mound in the middle.

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                Or, one could forego instant gratification and stack your crepes onto wax paper and, once cooled, into the fridge for later. One of crepe’s renowns is how AMAZING they store; people love them for parties, because you can cook them all up the night before, store in the fridge, and then just reheat them in a warm pan with whatever desired fillings on the next day for quicker service.

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                Then again, if you have all those crepes saved up, you could make something a little special… which is of course what I just had to do for that birthday dessert.

                Gateau Crepe Millefeuille (thousand-layer crepe cake… though it’s only 20 layers, ish), a very unique and very traditional preparation of stacked crepes with a pastry cream-like filling. A very, very simple but somewhat time consuming dessert which leads to a delicious and beautiful result.

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                Since I didn’t have 20 crepes, the pan made them too damn big for the amount of batter (and I did a double batch too), I decided to cop out and just cut each one in half, make a fully layered semi-circle cake. This also yields the possibility of cutting out shapes from your French pancakes, maybe making a small, tall square cake, or smaller individual circles. Many fun potentials!

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                While that’s kept away in the fridge, we can prepare the filling. Find any good looking pastry cream recipe (I was gonna list down mine, which was a simple Pepin recipe that used flour instead of cornstarch, but I wasn’t too thrilled about its final outcome) and prepare the ingredients. Could keep it simple, or like me you could add some flavor through infusion; in this case, adding some fresh basil and orange zest (along with half an actual vanilla bean, scraped) to the milk and/or cream while warming to get their flavor. Doesn’t need to sit in there too long, otherwise the flavors can overpower easily, so one just needs them for the scalding phase before straining.

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                Mix all the eggs, sugar, starch, and other ingredients together, temper once the dairy mixture has scalded (gotten hot, do NOT let it get even close to boiling and curdling!). Transfer back to the pot, turning the heat somewhere between medium and low (which you may have to increase as time goes on, depending on the recipe).

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                Based on your heat, the pastry cream will thicken either really fast or pretty slow. Whichever the situation, we must stick to the one golden rule: KEEP STIRRING! Never, never stop unless it’s in the very beginning, and use a whisk! One can start off slow easily, but as the mixture starts to thicken and give that little glossy shine the speed should increase. We are naturally taking this milk and dairy mixture to a temperature that it normally curdles at, but the starch addition is allowing it to survive and aiding in its thickening properties. That doesn’t mean it’ll do all the work, however; keeping it still will only serve to burn the bottom and let it set like a scrambled egg. Keep it moving, don’t let it stay on the bottom and sides any longer than it needs, and sooner or later you’ll be rewarded with a rich, creamy pot of congealed custard.

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                Quickly move this into a container (ideally a metal one which has been in the freezer for a while to chill it down), scraping off as much as possible, and cover it with parchment or wax paper covered in cooking spray. Move to the fridge, and let cool at least a few hours or ideally overnight (it should also thicken even further during this, so don’t feel you have to get it to the perfect consistency when cooking; go a few notches under unless serving immediately).

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                After cooling, we can move to the next step, or go right to setting up. Now, you COULD fill the cake with just the pastry cream as-is; many recipes do, and it’s a great suggestion if it came out exactly how you want it. There are other recipes though, and I sorta like the idea, that fold it with whipped cream, sorta making a mousse.

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                So I thought I’d do that with what cream I had, and I also whipped up some leftover egg whites from the yolks I used in the pastry cream. Fold in with the basic technique, “slicing” down the middle, gathering it with your spatula and “folding” it over the cut with a turn of the wrist and bowl.

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                Hell, if I was serving this mousse as is, I’d stop here, have those beautiful streaks of white and orangish-yellow. Put it over a beautiful, crispy tuile, some fresh black currants… so good… BUT we’re sliding it between crepes today, so a full mixing it is.

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                And putting it together is simple. Spread a thin, even layer over your bottom piece, top with another, spread a thin layer and repeat until either all your crepes are used up or all the pastry cream (sadly, the latter in my case… knew I should have made more whipped cream).

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                Also, by now I’m sure your crepes aren’t all perfect. That’s fine; take your largest (or one of them) and smoothest, best pieces and reserve it on the side (what I did was choose the best of my first two pieces, and if better ones came along during stacking I’d switch ‘em out) to place on top. This will act as a great presentation, and its larger size (amongst other large, good pieces placed near the top) will help hide the questionable ones below.

                Can serve immediately or keep it, covered, in the fridge for later. If doing the latter, make sure to remove 15-30 minutes before eating (… sorta like cheese… I don’t know if that excites me or makes me cautious). During this time we can finish it off the traditional way, with a Brulee of the top, best done maybe 5-8 minutes before ready at the MAX.

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                Spread a THIN (very important, otherwise one gets clumps of it), completely even layer of sugar over the top; should look like when one spreads sugar around a buttered ramekin and then taps out all the access (ideally… which I still have yet to master). Take your torch (hopefully you have some kind, handheld or those big clunky tanks or something; if you don’t, and want to attempt this, you could try doing it directly under a hot broiler) and simply run it over that granular top, holding it over the melting sugar until it turns a nice goldenish-brown, caramelized color. Do your best not to burn the crepe below.

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                We could stop here as well, just dust it with a bit of powdered sugar for the traditional crepe… but as we know I’m not one to “stop here” (and I’m sort of on a roll with adding things on with these guys!).  I have to get a good sauce to make this cake complete, and the Pepin recipe came with additional things to make a Suzette, so I couldn’t help but make a similar orange sauce.

Suzette Sauce

6 TB Butter

¼ cup + 2Tb Sugar

1 Tb Orange Zest

1/3 cup OJ

2 Tb Cognac

¼ cup Orange Liqueur

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                You’ll need to zest about 3 oranges to get all you need (and an additional 2 or more for infusing the cream earlier, hominah hominah lotsa citrus fruit…). Combine with the butter and ¼ cup sugar, either by hand, processor, or mixer.

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                The recipe states to add the orange juice to the butter; which, if using a food processor or maybe a mixer probably shouldn’t be to difficult. I found it hard to do by hand (at least in a smooth bowl… maybe a rougher plastic to get holding friction), if doing so yourself add in VERY slowly, a bit at a time. I ended up doing too much at one point and had to just add it to the sauce directly. I mean pretty easy, but having it in the butter just pumps up the flavor, in case you have leftovers that you might want to use in something else. Move butter to fridge before making.

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                Mix alcohol, sugar, and leftover oj in sauté pan, bring to a boil and move off heat. Whisk in COLD butter (of which you might only need ½-3/4 of what’s made) until fully emulsified and incorporated.

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                Assemble plates as desired; CAREFULLY slice cake with a sharp knife, revealing all those beautifully simple layers. Spoon sauce onto plate, maybe onto the side of the cake (not the top, don’t want to accidentally soften that crispy sugary crust). Garnish with thinly sliced basil and serve.

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                Quite a long journey from a typical French pancake to a dressed up layered cake, but that’s just how the modern world of street food has gotten to where it is. Well, that and as we know I like to ramble and add things. Either way I do hold hopes that you were able to enjoy and find inspiration in one or two sections of this long narration and recipe on Crepes.

SFC: Fudging up some Cake

               If you read my recent post on Cake Pop creation, you’re aware I was left with quite a bit of leftover Vanilla Cake. For me this was quite a joy, since it gave me the chance to make my FAVORITE little confection, one of my very own invention (truly, so far I have not found any evidence of this little creation in any form online, in recipes, etc). And by accident/chance too; this little guy sorta just came to me one night when I was making cupcakes and had most of my Chocolate ones completely destroyed when trying to take them from the pan. Had all this tasty cake leftover but nothing I could think of doing with them… and nothing on hand but a little pot of melted marshmallow.

               I call it “Cake/Brownie Fudge,” and it is easily one of, if not THE, best ways to use up leftover cake or brownies, vanilla or chocolate, sheet or cup, dry or already icing-ed, plain or flavor/nut studded, etc. It’s extremely simple, highly customizable, and sooooo good. And like fudge it’s easy to cut into squares, wrap in wax or whatever, and carry around (thus my ability to include it in Street Food Corner).

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              We start by taking our leftover cake, getting it completely or mostly crumbled up, and mixing it with melted Marshmallows (melt it in a pan with butter). There’s no real rule to ratios here; if you only have a small amount of cake, just use a few marshmallows, if you have most of a pan like I did then use over a cup of marshmallows (before melting… maybe after).

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              (Apologies for the blurry picture, didn’t realize camera was acting up) Pour this onto the crumbles along with ANYTHING else that you want or have leftover! In this instance, I added in the leftover blue white chocolate, and part of the cake I used was mixed with that frosting mixture. Mix thoroughly so you know the marshmallow is well integrated and move into whatever PROPERLY SIZED (enough so you can fit it all in thick, you don’t want a thin little layer of fudge here) Loaf, Cake, Cupcake, Bundt, or whatever pan you have, already well-covered with plastic wrap. If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, I am basically just making rice crispies but with cake.

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              Press this down evenly and top with anything else you want or have leftover. For this, I got some more marshmallow (which wasn’t too great of an idea, it keeps coming off on the plastic wrap), a little sweetened condensed milk drizzle (if you haven’t tasted condensed milk as is, DO SO… it is lactic heaven), and some of those sprinkles. We can also use some caramel, chocolate sauce, more icing, etc (I drizzled a port chocolate sauce over my chocolate cupcake fudge, mmmm).

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              Now, wrap the rest of the plastic over the top and cover it with a weight of some sort; preferably the same sized pan on top with some heavy cans (no luck for me, so I used some heavy coasters for one side and a can of chicken noodle on the other, haha). Place it in the fridge and leave overnight to cool, condense, and for those marshmallows and other fillings/sauces set up.

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             Once ready, you can take it out and slice off as big or small pieces you want to enjoy this now-rich, dense, tenderly chewy piece of heaven highly unique unto itself. Similar to fudge, but like a cake… really a cross between the two. Personally, I myself sorta prefer the Chocolate-based ones; maybe it’s that rich cocoa which converts it to even more fudgy. Or something.

             Hopefully this little post is able to inspire the spread of this new confectionary creation! But whether one tries creating it at home or not, I hope you at least enjoyed reading this idea of mine. If you’ve had similar kinds of creation experiences, please do share! Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating (of sweets) to all.

SFC: Baby Blue Sweet Cake

               Back again after a small hiatus, my class Finals are finished and now I can spend a bit more mental time on writing up various posts again. Like my little adventure in confections I had a week ago.

                So a friend of mine challenged me to reproduce the Birthday Cake Pops they sell at Starbucks; being somewhat competitive, confident, and curious about my reproduction capabilities, not to mention it’s the perfect street food version of a loved confection. Had to try it first, though, so I popped down to the nearest nationally-chained coffeehouse.

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                … bright pink white chocolate and sprinkles covering a very interesting center. Not my normal choice of baked item, but there were some intriguing components. For those who haven’t had it yet, the center isn’t just a simple cut white cake (like I thought it’d be). It’s noticeably “moist,” it possesses this very unique texture, sorta crumbly but sticking together at the same time, and there’s a flavor reminiscent of the childhood box-made birthday cake and cheap frosting. Which is all coming from the cake, as the outside is just a cheap white chocolate (seriously). So now the work comes in trying to reproduce it.

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                There are a couple different recipes and methods of productions I’ve found online to attempt to reproduce them, and though I like elements and methods of each I think they all need touching, so I combined a bit of two main ideas that I liked. 

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                We start with the cake of course. If you want to try completely duplicating the flavor notes of Starbuck’s, I think you could safely use a Box Cake Mix at home; in fact, I might actually SUGGEST doing that, or at the very least finding a REALLY good White Vanilla Cake Recipe to make from scratch (especially one using Oil). I went off the cake recipe from one of the main Recipes for these Cake Pops, which my Friend actually tried themselves before challenging me. Apparently they thought the cake was pretty close to original, but other parts of the recipe screwed things up… I’ll explain later.

Basic Vanilla Cake Recipe (from site)

1 cup Butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 Tb vanilla

4 eggs

3 cups flour

1 TB baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup  milk

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                Basic cake-making procedure here. We start by creaming the Butter, Sugar, and Vanilla (electric hand mixer always works well).

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                Add Eggs in one at a time. Once that’s done, get all those Dry ingredients mixed together and start carefully adding about 30% of it in.

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                Add a similar percentage of the Milk in and switch the additions back and forth 1-2 times until both milk and flour-mixture are fully incorporated. Mix well so there be no lumps; and an fyi, no real need to be careful and try and “preserve a light cake” by sifting flour or anything else. We’re gonna be mashing this all up at the end of the day, any delicate texture will get destroyed anyways. Which makes Poundcake a really good and tasty cake substitute if you wanted to try something different.

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                350F oven in a 9x13in Cake Pan, HIGHLY buttered, for about 30-35 minutes is what the recipe states; mine took longer than that for the same pan actually (look how much I got in there…), and ultimately one can use whatever pan they like, just keep close watch.

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                And there we have a simple, boring, and sorta bland white vanilla cake. Almost perfect for adding in loads of frosting and forming into balls of sugar joy.

                Speaking of Frosting, we can get to making that while the cake is cooling (over a rack preferably). Now, the original recipe called for a very simple icing mixture of ½ cup each of butter and milk along with 3 ½ cups of powdered sugar… yeah, that’s right, 3 ½ cups. No wonder my friend’s attempt was reminiscent of gingivitis.

                This being one of, or actually THE key element into what gives these Pops their identity, I really couldn’t stand the idea of using SO MUCH of this in just one cake, not to mention all that sugar; you just know all sense of the butter would be completely lost. So, what I ultimately ended up with was a recipe/ratio that looked like this:

¼ cup (2 oz, ½ stick) Butter

¼ cup Milk

1 Tb Vanilla extract

1 Cup Powdered Sugar

                Now, I only used about ½-2/3rds of the actual cake for this entire batch of frosting, so if one wanted to make more just increase proportionately with the same ratios (you’ll notice that if I had ½ cup butter like the original recipe the Powdered Sugar used would only equal 2 cups, noticeably less than before).

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                Steps are the same for any simple icing; cream the butter with vanilla, add some of the powdered sugar and carefully mix in the rest with the milk back and forth, similar to the cake batter. The ACTUALLY recipe calls to cream the butter with the milk, no sugar, in the beginning: do not do this, for the love of god DO NOT DO THIS!! I have no idea what sorta crack this guy was smoking when he wrote it, but these two things just do not want to get along…you’ll end up with a puddle of milk and butter that still won’t fully come together no matter how much powdered sugar one adds… like me. Luckily, though, even if one’s frosting DOES break, it doesn’t really matter too much for our application, as we’re only using the mixture for added moistness, sweetness, and flavor.

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                Now, take all the cake that we’re going to use and break it all up into a bowl quite thoroughly, like so.

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                Add the icing in ¼ths; if you know exactly how much you need/want for the amount of cake being used, then go ahead and dump it all in. Otherwise I would suggest being careful and adding only a bit at a time, mixing carefully with a spoon or, even better, one’s hands, until it gets the exact flavor and stickiness/consistency that YOU want it. Taste and test the consistency as we go.

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                Damn that’s a big ball…

                When I did it, I actually got to the point where you didn’t even need to SQUEEZE it to create a ball that sticks together. You should ideally be able to just take some now-sticky frosting-cake and gently roll it in a palm, with only a little bit of pressure, to make your balls. This is a really nice alternative to the second recipe/method I found in my research, which called for none of this frosting steps and just squished un-affected cake into balls. Though the flavor is still good, it’s noticeably different than the original Pops; plus, by not having to press it down, one is able to use less cake for the same sized ball.

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               I did learn one fun trick from the “press” method that I applied here; before rolling, smear a little bit of butter into your palms. Besides helping to grease them so fingers don’t get all “cakey,” I like to think it adds just a bit more of that special richness to the orbs.

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              Once you’ve rolled the desired amount, stick ‘em with whatever handle one decides to use. Ideally, one should use some nice long, somewhat thick sticks like they use for caramel apples or others. However I didn’t want to pay all that money for those so I thought I’d try something else: straws! Brightly colored straws!

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              Yeah that wasn’t the best idea… they hold the pop very well once everything is done, but they’re a pain during the dipping process. I would suggest one either cut them much longer than me or just find something a lot sturdier; get a pack of those thick wooden picks and just re-use them afterwards.

              After sticking the “sticks” in, making sure to give a good press to the cake around it so that it sticks (that’s 3 sticks in a sentence… well, 4 now), move them into the fridge to cool and set up. Many recipes just say 10-15 minutes for this, I say I’m more comfortable with at least 1-2 hours to make sure they’re solid. Plus, this way one can make the balls earlier in the day and then dip whenever they want to later on.

             While this is cooling, we can start dealing with our coating. Now, that “pressed cake” method recipe also suggested using something on the lines of “colored candy discs” made for people to just melt down and dip whatever they want in. Supposedly they’re the same thing as what Starbucks uses (I wouldn’t be surprised if they were similar) and one can find them at Walmart or something. They basically look like this:

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              And they’re basically just really cheap, pre-colored white chocolate, or the closest one could make to it; not to mention they cost a bit more considering the “production cost” for making a packet of these little discs. I personally don’t care how close I’m trying to reproduce the flavor of these, I will NOT stoop so low as to buy crappy chocolate. At the very least I’m getting a decent quality White Chocolate and melting it myself.

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             This is a block of white chocolate, taken off from an even BIGGER (think about the size of a small countertop) block of white chocolate. I got it at a Cake and Candy Supply shop that I happen to live relatively close to; places like that often sell various kinds of good quality, block-cut chocolates for one to peruse. If one doesn’t have  a shop like that near them, I’ve also seen some good quality chocolates (sometimes in block form, sometimes in Chip) at the larger shops of Kitchen Window, some Co-ops, etc. I always try to go to a place like that for my quality chocolate needs; stay away from the National Grocery Store Baking Aisle.

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              I also picked up a little container (which will last me years I’m sure) of mini-pearl white sprinkles! I didn’t want to, but the friend said it wouldn’t count if I didn’t have them… for those wanting to duplicate entirely and unable to find a thing of just white sprinkles, I hear there are some black n white mixes that use the style, just gotta pick them out…

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              Alright, let’s get back to things. Cut off as much of the white chocolate as you need; you’ll want a lot, say 2 cups-ish. Also, just a little note to remember, though it’s easy to slice off pieces of white chocolate, the Milk and Dark ones can be a bit of a Bitch. For those playing with them, a good method for quick, easy, and less messy separation, take any solid knife (a duller one that you use for whatever is perfect; no need to use the finest blade in the kitchen), stab it an inch or so back (or however far back for the size pieces one needs) and just lever off chunks. With the firmer dark chocolates, will probably need to hit the handle with your hand or a wood/plastic mallet to get it down enough to crack.

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              We now have our white chocolate in a bowl, which we gently melt over a pan of warm/simmering water (double boiler). Stick to the same chocolate-melting suggestions used in my Cheesecake Bar experience, minus the oil thing.

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              Swirl in your food coloring (yes, apparently I forgot that I didn’t have any red, so I made baby blue colored ones instead) to the preferred shade and begin your dipping!

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              So, here’s what you want to do: Get some Styrofoam. Seriously. The idea is that, after you’ve dipped the cake pops, you press the end of the stick into the foam so the whole thing stands upright while it cools/dries. This leaves a nice, smooth orb with no marks or flat parts or whatever, maybe some drips on the stick (or swirls around it if there was trouble with dipping). For whatever reason, I actually couldn’t find any styarofoam in the house, so I tried making my own little platform out of a cardboard box with holes in it:

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             Yeah, this didn’t work too well… I had one stick that staid up, but the other ones either sank all the way down to the base of the pop or just wouldn’t go in the hole. So I just ended up having to carefully dip them, take them out without the straw popping out (which it did), and tenderly pull them OFF the straw with a fork and transfer to wax paper in a way that at least the top was smooth. It still looked nice, but once cool I had to break off a lot of thick, built up chocolate “bases” at the bottom.

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            Add the sprinkles right after you’ve dipped, otherwise it’ll cool quickly and you won’t be able to get any on; I might suggest having a friend help if you’re having a messy time like me. Especially towards the end, when the chocolate is getting low and you’re trying to spoon it on all sides and such… not easy.

            But, when you’re done, you should still have a little pile of your own Birthday Cake Pops like they make at Starbucks, if not better! Look how smooth and pretty it is!

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            And the friend’s judgment? : “Pretty damn close actually.”

           That’s a win in my book! As for next time (the friend is making demands now), I think I’ll try a box cake mix, get myself some damn Styrofoam and wooden sticks (and red food coloring yes), and I think I’ll try something different with the chocolate. The shell, though tasty, was a bit thick to my liking, and again I was having some issue with dipping, and it ran low pretty quickly. I think next time I might find a recipe for a White Chocolate Glaze, like with cream or something; that way I can increase the volume of the actual dipping without spending so much on pure chocolate, while creating a slightly thinner coating that A: stays smooth easily and B: uses less glaze. Just need to find one that actually sets up firm…

             Well, that’s it for my Return-Post. Wait a little bit and I’ll post a fun recipe one can do to use up any of that leftover Cake you have! Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating.