Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Daring Bakers' Challenge - Maple Mousse in an Edible Container

When the April Daring Cooks Challenge was announced as a dual challenge with the Daring Bakers, I was intrigued. When the cooks challenge was revealed as savory edible containers, I was excited. And when I thought about the idea of sweet edible containers, I was even more excited. While trying to think of ideas for my savory containers and their accompanying fillings, I also began trying to think of sweet containers and appropriate fillings, as well.

And soon enough, came the full announcement.

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

Hmm... I had to start re-thinking some of my ideas. Maple mousse sounded delicious, but was definitely a limiting factor for the edible container aspect of the challenge. I had to think of a container that could balance the sweetness of the mousse and that would complement its maple flavor.

I started by making the mousse. The key ingredient, of course, is maple syrup. Evelyne specifically stressed the importance of using pure maple syrup. She is, after all, Canadian, where maple syrup is more than a syrup, it is practically a religion. And, hey, that fake stuff is nothing more than flavored high fructose corn syrup, so I don't at all disagree. I did find it interesting, reading the comments on the forum, to see how regional maple syrup is, globally speaking. There were many who do not have access to real maple syrup, and had never even tasted it. Shows how tucked into my little Northeastern US mind-frame I am!

Anyway, the mousse recipe was different from any other mousse I have tried, more resembling a gelatin-stabilized custard. The first step was to bring the maple syrup to a boil. Meanwhile, I separated four eggs and softened some gelatin in some heavy cream. Once the syrup was boiling, I beat the egg yolks and tempered them with a bit of the hot syrup. The important thing when tempering eggs is to go slowly (when incorporating the heat), yet to keep whisking the eggs (or, in this case, yolks) briskly. The idea is to keep the eggs from turning into an omelet. Once the eggs were fully incorporated with the maple syrup, the whole thing was combined with the softened gelatin.

The last step of the process, once that combination rested for an hour, was to fold in fresh whipped cream. I started out by hand, using a silicone spatula to carefully fold the whipped cream into the thick maple mixture. This actually proved to be much harder than I'd expected. So after a couple of minutes, I transferred the whole thing into my KitchenAid mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and let it mix on its lowest speed for a couple of minutes. That certainly did the trick, and I soon had a beautiful bowl of maple mousse, all ready to set in the fridge.

As the mousse cooled, it was time to think about the container. The mousse was very sweet, so I wanted to choose container that could balance both the sweetness and richness of the filling. Evelyne had given a couple of suggestions, including making cups out of bacon and out of nuts. I liked the idea of the saltiness of bacon, but wasn't sure how they would go over with the family. I mean, we all love bacon, but for dessert? I know that isn't for everyone. So, combining the recipe for the nut cups and the salt-factor of the bacon cups, I decided to make cups out of pretzels.

I started by crushing mini pretzel twists into crumbs, though I did leave some bigger pieces for added texture. I combined the crumbs with a touch of brown sugar and an egg white (one of the four left over from the yolks used in the mousse). I then added another egg (beaten), as the mixture was nowhere near the right texture to shape into cups. I then lined the wells of a muffin tin with foil and pressed the mixture into them to form the cups and popped the whole thing into a 350 degree oven. After about 20 minutes or so (checking regularly after the first 15 minutes), they were ready.

The hardest part about these pretzel cups was separating them from the foil. I seriously should have sprayed the foil with cooking spray. It became our pre-dessert activity, trying to peel the foil away from the cups. It was pretty funny, actually. We managed to un-foil all but two of the cups, though, and were soon able to fill them with the delicious mousse. The salty pretzel cups were the perfect pairing for the rich, sweet mousse, and the cups were the perfect single-portion size. Everyone enjoyed them, and most of us found ourselves dipping pretzels in the extra mousse after finishing our portions.

But I wasn't done. The mousse recipe made a huge batch, so, even after filling six individual sized pretzel cups, I had more than half of the batch left over, so wanted to come up with another edible container to pair with it.

One idea that I'd had when I knew that we'd be making sweet edible containers this month was a chocolate cup. I have seen them before, and had even seen (online) demonstrations as to how they are made, but had never had the nerve to actually try. Well, half a batch of maple mousse was all the motivation that I needed!

The preparation of chocolate cups is actually quite simple, considering how elegant they look. You really only need two things.


And balloons:

These were the smallest balloons that I had. Water balloon sized balloons would have been perfect, but these were as close as I had on hand. And, yes, I actually washed off the balloons (very carefully) after blowing them up.

Making the chocolate cups is very straightforward. Simply melt the chocolate (either with or without a tablespoon of shortening - there are differing opinions on that...) and use it to coat the bottom of the balloons. It is important to melt the chocolate carefully so that it is smooth, but to let it cool a bit so that it is not so hot that it pops the balloons. Most people dip the balloons into the chocolate to make a smooth and sleek cup or bowl. I went for a different approach. Using my silicone basting brush, I brushed the chocolate onto the balloons, giving the cups a striped look and texture. Even little miss got in on the fun, and had a great time painting her balloon. We gave each balloon two coats of chocolate and then let them rest in the refrigerator to cool completely.

Once the chocolate was fully set, it was time to remove the balloons. I was actually a little nervous about this step - if you let the air out of the balloon too quickly, the cup could collapse. But handling the cup too much while deflating the balloon causes it to melt, simply due to the heat of your hand. I snipped a little hole near the knot of each balloon then carefully pulled the balloon away from the chocolate. I then put them back into the refrigerator until I was ready to fill them with the maple mousse.

Since these bowls were larger than the pretzel bowls, little miss, daddy and I shared one bowl. The semi-sweet chocolate paired very well with the maple mousse, and the whole dessert (including the little chocolate garnish that I made with some of the extra melted chocolate) just felt fun and fancy to eat.

And, in case you are curious as to what I did with the extra egg whites from making the mousse, I made one more edible container that I'd been wanting to try - a meringue cup. I almost didn't, since meringue is pretty sweet, and I knew that it would not be a good pairing for the mousse, but hey - I had the egg whites and was in the edible container zone, so I went ahead and made them anyway. But I filled them with fresh strawberries instead of the mousse. And used another chocolate garnish for decoration. This one, if you couldn't guess by the fairy, was for little miss.

And this is how you know that little miss notices everything I do regarding food-blogging:

Evelyne, thank you very much for hosting a great challenge and for sharing this delicious maple mousse with us!

To see the other amazingly creative edible containers concocted by the other Daring Bakers, check them out here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April Daring Cooks Challenge - Edible Containers

Hang on to your hats, folks, because this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was an awesome one, and there's a contest that goes along with it this month!

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at!

The best part about this challenge was that it allowed for total creativity on the part of us member cooks. And let me tell you, there was such creativity displayed that I was completely blown away.

Renata provided several examples to get our thoughts rolling, but did not limit the cooks at all by her suggestions, and allowed complete creative license for this challenge.

I actually read this challenge on the Daring Kitchen site bright and early in the morning on the day it was posted, and was so inspired by one of the examples that Renata posted that I made it for breakfast - toast cups! They are so easy to do, and completely fun.

I cut two slice of honey whole wheat bread and then used a flower cookie cutter to cut out, well, a flower shape from each slice:

Each flower was then carefully placed into the well of a cupcake pan, with the middle serving as the bottom and the petals forming the sides of the cup, like so:

A few minutes in the oven (during which little miss and I nibbled on the outsides of the bread that were not used for the container), and the bread was deliciously toasted and held its shape beautifully! To make it a complete breakfast, we filled our cups with scrambled eggs:

I have to tell you, this was quick, fun, and made for a really cute breakfast. I was off to a roaring start with this challenge, and couldn't wait to try another edible container.

I actually had several ideas that I was anxious to try out, but the month was completely crazy busy (two sick kids, husband traveling for work, birthdays and birthday parties...). While I am disappointed that I wasn't able to try all of the ideas that I had, I was able to try my hand at one more, and it was something that I'd wanted to try for a long time - bread bowls. More specifically, bread bowls to hold chili.

It might not sound all that daring, but it was something that I'd never done before, and that I had wanted to try for years. Before my mommy days, back when I worked in a real office, one of my favorite days in the cafeteria (and, in fact, one of the few days that I didn't bring a packed lunch from home) was chili in a bread bowl day. Somehow, chili tastes better out of a bread bowl - better than with bread on the side. No idea why. So I thought that this edible container challenge was the perfect opportunity to give it a shot.

I made it a little harder on myself by trying to find a cornbread bread bowl recipe, as the combination of chili and cornbread is just such a classic. The only problem is that cornbread, on its own, is just to porous and does not have enough strength or structure to make a good bread bowl. So I wound up using a recipe that is pretty much a regular bread bowl recipe, but that substitutes in some cornmeal for some of the flour to give it more of a cornbread taste and feel.

An interesting recommendation that I had seen while researching bread bowls was to score the shaped and risen bread right before baking in order to make it easier to cut off the lid later. I was nervous that cutting into the dough would cause it to deflate too much, so I only tried it with two of my four bread bowls, on the off change it didn't work.

While the bread deflated a bit upon being scored, it really didn't cause any damage to the structure, and what came out of the oven were some strong-crusted, very well sized breads just waiting to be hollowed and filled with some home-made chili

I started with one of the breads that I'd scored, and the line did give a good guideline for cutting a lid, but, to be honest, it was not any harder to cut the ones without the scoring, so I will skip that step next time.

The filled bread bowls made for a super fun dinner that night:

The bowls actually held quite a bit of chili, once they were all hollowed out:

Even little miss got in on the fun. She had insisted all day that she did not want a bread bowl, only some bread. So I started off by giving her the lid and some of the bread that had been pulled from my bowl in order to hollow it out. Halfway through dinner, check out what she was doing:

Yup - chili really does taste better out of a bread bowl!

As I said, I am only disappointed that I didn't have a chance to try all of the ideas that I had during the actual challenge month, because I think that some of them might have been creative enough to be contenders for the contest mentioned above, but hey - I will absolutely give them a go anyway, just for the fun of it, when time permits.

Renata, I cannot thank you enough for this challenge. I love that you challenged our creativity and allowed us the freedom to really follow wherever our inspiration led. The amazing creations crafted by the Daring Cooks community this month is a true testament to what a wonderful challenge this was, and I cannot imagine that anyone could have been a better host(ess) for it.

I strongly urge you to check out the amazing edible containers created by the Daring Cooks this month - you will be truly impressed, amazed and wowed by what this incredible group of cooks came up with. Check them out here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Wait, does that say sushi?


Another thing that daddy wanted to try.

Another thing that daddy wanted to try that I was really, really nervous about.

We don't even eat sushi, much less make it.

But daddy thought it looked like fun. And he is usually right about these things.

So we took out a book from the library - Sushi for Dummies. Because, seriously, we knew nothing about sushi.

Now, remember - we are not seafood eaters in this house, and we are especially not interested in raw fish. But I have had (and enjoyed!) vegetable sushi in the past, and daddy was super intrigued to give it a try.

So after reviewing the book and picking up a few supplies, we were ready to give it a shot.

The first thing we needed to do was prepare our ingredients. As I mentioned, no fish, raw or otherwise, for us, so I set to cutting vegetables into as close an approximation of matchsticks as I could manage. Some carrots, some cucumber, some celery, a couple of green onions sliced up for garnish, and of course some avocado. Which little miss was happy to help me scoop out of its rind.

Vegetables cut and prepared, it was time to make the rice. Only to find that, for the first time ever, we were out of rice in our house. How in the world does that happen?? And how did we not check before starting?? Okay, a quick trip to the supermarket later, it was then time to make the rice. For real. The book recommends using medium or short grain rice, but what we use for absolutely everything else is long grain. The book said that long grain rice would still work, so we decided to stick with that. While the rice was cooking on the stove top, I mixed up the dressing that transforms ordinary rice into sushi rice. It is a simple mixture of rice vinegar, sugar and salt.

Preparing the sushi rice is a fun and amusing process, one which little miss was greatly looking forward to. As was daddy, too, actually. The rice, once cooked, is turned out into a bowl, then the dressing is poured onto it, over the back of the rice-mixing paddle, and then the dressing is mixed into the rice all while someone fans the rice to dissipate the heat and cool the rice to a working temperature. Little miss fanned while I poured and mixed, and then we each took a little taste. And were shocked to find that it actually tasted like sushi rice. Wow. Those Dummies books sure know what they are talking about!

At this point, all of the fillings were ready, so it was time to start rolling our sushi! We'd purchased nori, the seaweed wrappers, as well as a sushi rolling mat (which came with the rice mixing paddle, mentioned above) when we saw them on sale at one of the local supermarkets a few weeks ago. As luck would have it, that same food store has a prepared foods section that includes a sushi station. So we also watched the guys there for a while. You know, to study. So, following the instructions from the book and trying to imitate what we had seen, we began preparing our rolls. The nori was lined up at the bottom of the rolling mat then covered with rice, leaving the top half inch bare. We then lined up our fillings in the middle and began to roll. Daddy handled the first one. For some reason, the rolling process had me really nervous. But daddy's came out beautifully. I mean, he sliced it, put it on the platter, and it looked, well, like real sushi!

It went so smoothly that little miss couldn't wait to take her turn.

So she filled her nori with rice and vegetables:

And she rolled it up:

And let me tell you, she did an awesome job. So awesome that daddy and I each only rolled one roll ourselves. She did the other four. And she had a blast doing it. So while she rolled, daddy sliced the rolls and I, well, I did the dishes. But that's okay. We soon had a tray full of fresh and delicious looking sushi all ready for our dinner. With a little bowl of soy sauce for dipping, we were ready to eat.

And eat we did. For a family who "doesn't eat sushi," we certainly ate our fill! Little miss wasn't a big fan of the nori, so she wound up unwrapping hers, but she more than made up for it with the amount she ate. And she totally chowed down on those edamame on the side. And, in case you are curious what that light colored roll is in that picture, we made one totally random roll using chicken salad as the filling. Yeah, when daddy suggested it, I thought he was nuts, but it turned out to be really, really delicious.

We didn't have much leftover, but what little there was, I devoured the next day for lunch.

So now I am totally looking forward to making this again, and to trying all kinds of wacky fillings for them!!
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