Thursday, January 27, 2011

January Daring Bakers' Challenge - Biscuit Jaconde Imprime/Entremet

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.

If you read all of that and still have no idea what this month's challenge was, well, you aren't alone. All I knew for sure when I saw the title of the challenge, before reading the details, was that it sounded fancy. Because anything with a French title sounds pretty fancy to me...

Then I read the challenge. Hoo boy, it wasn't just fancy, but it sounded pretty complicated! Turns out, a jaconde imprime is a thin sponge cake with a decorative design baked into it, and an entremet is an ornate layered dessert, usually in some kind of mold. Together, it's that layered dessert wrapped in that decorative sponge cake.

I am going to be honest, I considered sitting this one out. It looked so much fancier than anything I have ever done, and was a little intimidating. With the newborn in the house, I just wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. But I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did.

Little miss was glad to help, and there was definitely lots for her to help with. The jaconde imprime required two different batters - one for the sponge, and a thicker paste for creating the decorative pattern. Little miss helped me measure, pour, mix and stir the ingredients for both batters.

Once both batters were prepared, it was time to create my pattern. There are two methods for creating the pattern - the first involves pouring the colored (or, in my case, chocolate - I didn't want to use food coloring) paste onto a parchment lined baking sheet and using a pastry comb (or some other implement) to scrape a design into it. The other is to pipe the paste onto the parchment into a design. While my piping skills leave much to be desired, I decided to go for it anyway, and try to make a pattern specifically for little miss, who is very into pixie fairies and magic right now. Using a line drawing of a fairy from a Harold and the Purple Crayon book as inspiration, I set to work piping the chocolate paste onto my parchment. Little miss was happy to play photographer while I had my hands full... she takes good pictures for a four year old!

Anyway, once the design was piped onto the parchment, the pan was put into the freezer to allow the pattern to harden for the next step - pouring the sponge batter over the design. The pans were then put into the oven where they baked up really quickly. The recipe indicated a baking time of 15 minutes, but many of the other bakers mentioned that their jacondes baked up much more quickly, so I kept a very close eye on it as it baked. Good thing, too, because it was completely done in six or seven minutes!

The result? I have to say, I was pretty impressed - and I am not one to be overly impressed with my own work! How cool is that?? I made two pans - the one with the fairy, and a second of all stars, and I think they looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Then I realized that I had another challenge ahead of me - constructing the full dessert. I had planned to use a springform pan, use the sponge as the wrapper, and have the outside of the dessert look like a pixie fairy casting spells (stars) around the outside of the cake. Unfortunately, I made my design (well, the fairy, really) too tall for the sides of the springform pan, and, even with the two pans of jaconde sponge, the circumference of my pan was too big for the length of the two cakes... so it took a little bit of creativity to piece together my finished dessert. Between the two cakes, I made three strips of stars, and cut out the fairy to use to decorate the top of the finished dessert...

Astheroshe gave the bakers complete freedom to choose the fillings for the entremet aspect of this challenge, so I don't have much detail (or any pictures) of that part of the process... but in case you are curious, I made a graham cracker crust, and filled my jaconde wrapper with a double layer of rich, no-bake cheesecake - a bottom layer of plain cheesecake and a top layer of chocolate cheesecake (with an extra sprinkling of graham cracker in between the two). Once again, the height of my jaconde wrapper proved to be a little bit off - the filling did not reach the top of the jaconde, as I'd hoped, but I still think it looked pretty cool.

Astheroshe, thank you so much for this challenge. I had never heard of these baking terms or techniques before, and was certainly intimidated to give them a try, but I am so glad that I did, and I have you to thank for it. This technique is really great, and I am really looking forward to trying it again - I learned so much each step of the way and know that they next time, I will be able to apply all of that to make an even better dessert.

To see the amazing, impressive and truly artistic creations crafted by the other Daring Bakers, check them out here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January Daring Cooks' Challenge - Cassoulet with Confit

I know I always seem to talk about time flying, but it really, really does! This month is the one year anniversary of my blog, and marks my one year anniversary with the Daring Kitchen. The year has been exciting and busy on all fronts, and I am really excited to start this second year of Daring Cooking, blogging, and sharing a bit of my family life with you.

All that being said, I am actually amazed to be posting right now. The addition of little man into our family has been great, but the transition from having one very self sufficient preschooler to having that same preschooler and a newborn is pretty tricky. And tiring.

But I could not skip this challenge. Not that I ever want to skip a challenge, but I really didn't want to skip this one. Why? Because it was hosted by one of the Daring Kitchen members that I really, really respect, one whose blog is on my blog-roll on the right hand side there. And she and her awesome co-host chose something that sounded so interesting to me, I just knew that I would have to figure out how to get this done.

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Confit is a way of preserving foods (meats, vegetables) by slow-cooking them in oil. Cassoulet is a slow-cooked French stew with beans. Together, they make for a complex and delicious sounding challenge.

When I first read the challenge, I thought that there was no way I would be able to participate - the traditional recipe that they chose involved a lot of complicated ingredients and a LOT of time - at least three days of preparation to make it fully according to the directions. But where there is a will, there is a way. And where there are alternate recipes and options, crazy moms of newborns will complete cooking challenges.

What follows is what will probably be the least-wordy description of a cooking process you'll ever see from me, but hey - at least I am posting! :)

For starters, I chose to make chicken, rather than duck confit, using chicken thighs. The thighs were seasoned and a clove of garlic was placed on each one:

The meat was then drowned in olive oil:

The pan was then covered and placed in a 200 degree oven overnight. 16 hours later, this is what the chicken looked like:

Yum. And I think I ate most of that garlic right off the top rather than leaving it for the cassoulet. Oops.

For the cassoulet, I pretty much followed the recipe suggested by the hostesses for a vegetarian cassoulet, with only a couple of minor variations. I didn't have leeks, which the recipe called for, so I just omitted them, but I added onions and potatoes. I also didn't have white beans, the beans called for in the recipe, so I used what I had - pinto and kidney beans.

The vegetables were roughly chopped:

They were then cooked over medium heat in the soup pot (and for good measure, I actually used some of the oil from the chicken confit for cooking my veggies), at which point the beans were added to the pot, along with water to cover everything:

Then everything simmered and stewed and came together quite nicely. I then shredded the chicken confit and added that right in to the pot:

I then let it simmer some more to combine all of the flavors and to allow the stew to thicken up. Before serving, I spooned the stew (well, as much as would fit) into a casserole dish and topped it with lightly seasoned bread crumbs, then placed that under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until at last we had this:

This was served with a side of freshly baked bread, and was absolutely delicious. We actually had the leftovers for dinner a couple of days later, and it reheated beautifully and tasted just as good if not better the second time around.

Jenni and Lisa, thank you so much for this challenge - I will definitely be making this again, and hopefully trying the full version of the recipe, too. I am so glad that I didn't miss out on this one!

To see the delicious looking concoctions created by the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Bun is Out of the Oven!

Sorry for the radio silence, but things around the C-Family household have been quite hectic!

Two weeks ago we welcomed little man to the family. He is a wonderful baby, and little miss is a fantastic big sister.

We are getting back to "normal" around here - trying to settle in to the new non-routine of life with a newborn, and working our way back into the kitchen.

Thanks for your patience!
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