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Techniques - Cakes and Desserts

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Cakes and Desserts

Whip cream

Depending on your recipe, you can whip to soft or stiff peaks. Chill the whisk, bowl, and cream beforehand.

Put the chilled cream in a bowl set in a large bowl of ice. Start beating with a broad circular motion at a leisurely pace, about 2 strokes per second (or the lowest speed on an electric hand mixer), until the cream begins to thicken. Increase to a moderate speed for soft peaks. It will barely hold its shape when lifted with the whisk.

For stiffly whipped cream, (firm peaks), continue beating the cream. At this point you can add other ingredients, such as superfine sugar, or vanilla. Test by lifting the whisk to see if the cream retains its shape. Be careful not to overwhip, because it will become granular and unusable as whipped cream.


Pipe

A pastry bag can be used not only to pipe whipped cream, but also buttercream, meringue, profiteroles, and éclairs

Choose a decorating tip, and put it in a pastry bag, then twist it to seal, and prevent leakage.

Holding the bag just above the nozzle with one hand, fold the top of the bag over with your other hand, creating a “collar,” and begin spooning in the cream.

Continue filling, until the bag is three-quarters full. Twist the top of the bag to clear any air pockets. The cream should be just visible in the tip of the nozzle.

Holding the twisted end of the bag taut in one hand, use your other hand to gently press the cream to start a steady flow, and direct the nozzle as desired.


Make crème pâtissière

This pastry cream is the classic, custard-style filling for profiteroles and éclairs

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, bring 11/4 cups whole milk and 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk 2 egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp each flour and cornstarch. Continue whisking, and slowly pour in the hot milk in a thin stream. Transfer to the pan, and whisk to boil, then remove from the heat.

Remove the vanilla and discard. Cut 2 tbsp room temperature butter into small cubes.

When the custard has cooled a little, add the butter, and briskly whisk into the sauce until it is smooth and glossy. This is best made just before serving. This recipe will make about 11/4 cups.


Test setting point for jam

The chilled plate method is more reliable than a candy thermometer

Using a wooden spoon, scoop up some of the jam. Hold the jam above the bowl for a few seconds, allowing it to cool. Tilt the spoon at an angle the jam should fall in a flake, rather than a stream.

Place a little of the jam onto a chilled plate. Allow it to cool, then push it to the side, using your finger. If the surface wrinkles, the jam is set. Alternatively, take a spoonful of hot jam, bring it to room temperature by quick chilling in the refrigerator for a minute, and if it stays in a mound when the plate is tilted, it is set.


Make fruit crisp

Adding a crumble topping to fresh fruit makes a quick and easy dessert. For fruit crumble recipes, see Plum Crumble and German Apple Cake

Rub chilled unsalted butter into all-purpose flour until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add sugar and rolled oats and mix together well.

Cut up fresh fruit and put into a buttered ovenproof dish; sweeten to taste. Spoon on the crisp mixture, and bake until golden and crisp.


Successful crisp topping

A perfect crisp topping should be made of coarse crumbs. Anything finer will mean the topping will have a cake-like texture rather than a rough crumble. Make sure the butter is chilled, and your hands are as cool as possible. Run your hands under cold water if they start getting too hot, or put the whole bowl in a refrigerator for a few minutes to allow the mixture to chill.

Once made, the topping can be poured into a freezer bag, and frozen until ready to use. There is no need to defrost before using. This also stops the crumble mixture clumping together when baking.


Steamed puddings

Steamed puddings are similar to baked puddings, but steaming is a slower process, and the water needs to be kept topped up

For ingredient quantities and pudding recipe, see Steamed Ginger Pudding. Mix a good-quality fruit preserve with dry sherry and some chopped, dried fruit. Stir them together in the bottom of the pudding bowl.

Spoon the pudding mixture over the preserves. Pleat the waxed paper and place it over the top of the bowl. Secure it firmly around the bowl with kitchen twine.

To keep out the steam, cover the waxed paper with pleated aluminum foil. Secure the foil to the outside of the bowl, and place the pudding in a steamer over boiling water. Make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

Remove the pudding from the steamer. When cool enough to handle, remove the foil and waxed paper. Cover the top with a plate, invert, then lift the bowl off the pudding. Serve with Crème Anglaise.


Make ice cream

A rich, vanilla Crème Anglaise ice cream can be flavored in endless variations. Refer ice cream recipes for more information.

Prepare a batch of Crème Anglaise, and cool in a bowl set in a large bowl of ice. Stir the mixture continuously to prevent a skin from forming on the surface.

Continue to stir the mixture to ensure a smooth texture. When cold, fold in 1 cup heavy cream, whipped, and stir gently until the two mixtures are combined.

Pour the custard mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a container, and freeze until firm.


Variations on vanilla

The greatness of vanilla is that it goes well with almost everything. Add fresh or frozen fruit when processing the mixture to make strawberry or peach ice cream. Chop your favorite kind of chocolate, and add it with 2 tbsp of cocoa powder. Or try adding some instant coffee, a little sugar, and some almonds.


Make wine granita

A frozen combination of a full-flavored syrup and water (or red or white wine), is light and refreshing after any meal

Make a syrup of sugar, fruit juice, water, and/or wine over low heat. Bring slowly to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 2–3 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat, let cool, then pour the liquid into a shallow baking pan and freeze. When half-frozen, use a fork to break up the frozen chunks. Repeat, once or twice, breaking up the ice crystals, until evenly frozen.

Remove the granita from the freezer 5–10 minutes before serving, to thaw slightly. Use a spoon to scrape up the frozen granita and serve in pre-chilled glasses.


Make a soufflé omelet

This airy dessert omelet is made by folding stiffly beaten egg whites with the yolks, and finishing under the broiler

Separate 2 large eggs. Beat the yolks with 1 tbsp superfine sugar, 1 tbsp water, and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. Whisk the whites until stiff, then stir a small amount of the yolk mixture into the whites. When incorporated, carefully fold the remaining yolks into the mixture.

Heat a flat frying pan over medium heat, then melt enough butter to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Pour in the eggs, and cook until set, and the bottom is just beginning to brown. Place under a hot broiler until the top is golden. Quickly add a sweet filling, fold over, and serve immediately.


Make crêpes

Making these crêpes involves two essential elements: the right temperature and the perfect batter. See Crêpes Flambée for ingredient quantities

Heat a little clarified butter in a nonstick crêpe pan and pour off any excess. Holding the pan at an angle, pour in a little of the batter.

Tilt and swirl the pan as you pour in more batter to thinly and evenly coat the bottom of the pan.

When the bottom of the crêpe has cooked to a pale golden color, use a spatula to loosen and flip the crêpe back into the pan. Cook until the other side is golden.

Put the cooked crêpe on parchment paper on a plate in a warm oven. Continue cooking the remaining crêpes, interleaving with parchment paper.


Fold crêpes

Traditionally, crêpes are folded into fans, but other folded variations are just as attractive

Fill crêpes with about 1 tsp of sweet fruit preserves, cooked fruit, or chocolate sauce. Fold as desired and eat immediately.


Fans

To fold fans, fold one half of the filled crêpe over the other to make a semicircle, then fold in half again.


Pannequets

To fold pannequets, or squares, fold opposite sides inward to meet in the center. Then bring the top and bottom together at the center. Serve with the folded side down.


Cigarettes

To fold cigarettes, or rolls, fold opposite sides inward to meet in the center. Starting from one end, roll the crêpe, taking care not to roll too tightly, or the filling will ooze out.


Making choux paste

Choux paste is used for filling profiteroles, éclairs, and tarts. For ingredient quantities, see Profiteroles

In a saucepan, heat the water and butter until the butter melts. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, and add the flour and salt all at once.

Continue cooking for about 2 minutes or less, until the dough is very stiff and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the eggs. Beat into the dough gradually, one egg at a time, beating hard after each addition.

Continue beating until the paste is very smooth and glossy. The paste is now ready to be shaped.


Shaping choux paste

Choux in any shape is perfect for filling with crème pâtissière, custard, or chocolate


Cream puffs (profiteroles)

Pipe neat and uniform walnut-sized balls on to a lined baking sheet, pressing the nozzle gently into the paste at the end of each ball to avoid forming a peak. Allow plenty of space between each.

If peaks should form, dip a fork in a little beaten egg to gently flatten them. Lightly brush with beaten egg, using a pastry brush, being careful not to let the glaze drip, then bake.

When the cream puffs are baked, they should be puffy and golden. Make a small slit in each of the puffs to allow the steam to escape, then cool on a wire rack.

When cool, cut a small slit in the base of each puff. Fill the puffs by piping cream, custard, or chocolate through the slit in the base using a large, plain nozzle.


Choux fingers

Using a plain nozzle, pipe the choux paste in strips, making each “finger” identical in length. Bake, pierce, and cool on a wire rack. Split in half, and pipe flavored mousse onto the base. Replace the top, and repeat for the other fingers.


Choux rings

Mark out circles of your chosen size on a baking sheet, using a circular cutter dusted with flour. These templates will ensure uniform ring sizes. Following the circles, pipe choux rings using an appropriately sized ring nozzle. Bake the rings, pierce, and cool on a wire rack. Split the rings in half, fill with cream, and replace the tops.


Make sponge cakes

A light génoise sponge is perfect with simple cream or preserves. Add butter for a firmer sponge that will support the weight of fruit

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C ) and line the bottom of a springform cake pan with parchment paper. Sift 11/2 cups (200g) cake flour and set aside. Place 6 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp clear honey, and a pinch of salt in a heatproof bowl, and set over barely simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until the mixture is creamy, pale yellow, and doubled in volume.

Remove the bowl from the heat and beat at high speed until the mixture is cool and thick. Add zest of 1/2 lemon, set the speed to low, and continue beating for 15 minutes to stabilize the eggs. Using a spatula, gently fold the sifted flour into the mixture until well blended. Stir a few tbsp of the mixture into 4 tbsp melted unsalted butter, then quickly fold the two mixtures together, taking care not to lose any volume.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, and place it into the oven. Reduce the heat to 350°F (180°C) and bake for 30–40 minutes, or until golden brown and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the edges of the cake pan, then release the springform. Peel off the paper lining, and cool on a wire rack.

To cut layers, place the cake on a firm, level surface. Place one hand on top to steady the cake and using a sharp, long-bladed, serrated edge knife, score an even guideline around the cake. Following your guideline, cut through the layer completely. Using a spatula, carefully lift the layer, set aside, and fill the cake. You can also slice the cake into 3 or 4 layers depending on its depth.


Jelly roll

A jelly roll is less likely to tear if filled and rolled up while it is still warm and flexible

Make the mixture for the sponge cake, following the instructions for the génoise, and taking care to fold the egg white and yolk mixtures together very gently, so that none of the volume is lost. Then gently fold in the flour.

Transfer the batter to the lined jelly roll pan, and spread evenly to the edge using a spatula. Bake until golden and springy to the touch. Sprinkle with a little sugar, and cover with a clean piece of parchment paper. Carefully turn the cake out onto a work surface.

Slowly peel away the lining paper, pressing down onto it with a ruler to avoid tearing the cake. Spread with your desired filling to within 3/4in (2cm) of the edge. Lifting the cake with the help of a new piece of parchment paper underneath, roll up with gentle pressure.

Lay the roll on another sheet of paper, draping one end of the paper over it. Hold the other end of the paper with one hand, and push a ruler against the roll with your free hand. This will tighten and shape the roll evenly. Remove the paper, cover the cake, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Trim the ends before serving.


Make french meringue

This lighter-than-air meringue is crisp on the outside, and soft and yielding inside. For ingredient quantities, see Classic Pavlova

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed, gradually adding half the sugar, and the vanilla seeds.

Continue beating until the mixture is shiny and smooth, and will hold a peak when the beaters are lifted from it.

Using a rubber spatula, gradually fold in the rest of the sugar, lifting the egg whites up and over from the bottom, being careful not to lose any volume.

Shape then bake in a preheated 225°F (120°C) oven according to recipe directions. Turn off the oven, prop the door open, and leave to dry for 8 hours or overnight.


Piped meringue

Using a pastry bag with different nozzles, meringue can be piped into many shapes and sizes, or applied as a topping to a tart or pie

For discs or layers, on a lined baking sheet using a pastry bag with a star tip, pipe meringue in a spiral beginning at the center. Bake in a preheated 225°F (120°C) oven for 1 hour 20 minutes, then let dry.

For shells, using a pastry bag with a round tip, pipe the meringue in equal-sized dollops about 3in (7.5cm) in diameter. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes (the center will be slightly golden if broken open), then let dry.

For fingers, using a pastry bag with a round tip, pipe the meringue into sticks about 3in (7.5cm) long. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Bake for 30–35 minutes, then let dry.

To cover a tart, using a pastry bag with a star tip, pipe the meringue over the tart in attractive peaks. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and place under a preheated broiler for a few minutes, until golden brown.


Use sheet or powdered gelatin

Whether you are using unflavored gelatin in sheet or powdered form, it must first be soaked in a little cold water

Soak 4 sheets (equal to about one 1/4 oz/7g envelope of powdered gelatin) in a bowl in cold water to cover for at least 10 minutes. After soaking, squeeze out as much water from the sheets as possible before using. If using powdered gelatin, sprinkle 1 envelope over 1/4 cup cold liquid and let soften for 3–5 minutes.

Warm water or flavored liquid over low heat in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the gelatin sheets and stir until completely dissolved. For powdered gelatin, place the bowl in simmering water and stir until dissolved.


Make caramel

To help prevent the sugar from crystallizing, add some glucose syrup (available at candy supply stores)


Make syrup

Bring 11/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 6 tbsp liquid glucose to a boil in a saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil, using a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan.

Cook the syrup without stirring until it is dark golden brown. Stop the cooking by plunging the saucepan in a bowl of iced water.


Make sauce

Carefully whisk warmed heavy cream into the caramel (it will bubble up). Cook over low heat until the sauce is smooth and glossy.

Use a candy thermometer when making candy to ensure accurate temperatures.


Prepare chocolate

Chill the chocolate before cutting and grating, since the warmth of your hands will quickly melt it


Chop

For chopping, use your hands to break the chocolate into small pieces, then chill the pieces in the freezer for a few minutes. Place the chilled chocolate on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, hold the tip down with your other hand, and chop, using a rocking motion.


Grate

For grating, rub chilled chocolate against the face of the grater, using the widest holes. Once the chocolate begins to melt, stick it back in the freezer. Once re-hardened, continue grating until you have enough.


Melt

To melt chocolate, bring a pan of water to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and set it over the gently simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt, then stir with a wooden spoon until it is smooth. Alternatively, melt in a microwave.


Make curls

For curls, spread soft or melted chocolate onto a cool marble surface. When it solidifies, use the blade of a chef’s knife to scrape the chocolate into curls.

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