Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wilton Course 3 - Fondant and Tiered Cakes

I'm a glutton for punishment. This fact is becoming very very clear. I decided to take Wilton's Course 3, Fondant and Tiered Cakes even though I have a fear of fondant. What does it taste like? Is it hard to work with? What about coloring it? I don't have a sheeter so how hard is it to roll? Lots and lots of questions. But I hiked up my big girl pants and dove in. It was in the second class that fondant really came into play. We played with it a little in the first class, but applying it to an actual cake happened in the second.

So let's start with the cake. You may remember from such blogs as this one and this one, how much I detest buttercream icing. This class uses buttercream and royal icing, but in very limited quantities. So let's start first with the cake. Class two is the package cake, meaning it looks like a package, so the cake was to be square. Knowing this probably will not end up being edible, I used a box cake mix and baked it in an 8 inch square pan. Check out the bump on this bad boy!

This cake had to be evened out so I used my handy dandy cake leveler, which by the way, is my fave tool ever. It's the coolest thing. It looks like this. And after leveling it, this is how the cake looked:

Then I put it on the cake board upside down so the flat side was up. Then it had to be iced with the vile buttercream. This step is important because it keeps the fondant in place. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be smooth.

So far, so good. From there I took the cake to class to finish up the decorations. But first, we got to make fondant roses. There are a lot of steps and they are time consuming, but I like them a lot better than vile buttercream roses. One of the reasons being that the center can be a jellybean! Believe me, when you realize you have to roll out the fondant, cut it, ruffle it, cup it, and fold it all up into a rose, the fact that you don't have to make the center too is a very welcome time saver! Here is my very first fondant rosebud.

So, now we're getting to the good stuff. Time to decorate our cake. We started by rolling out the fondant. It's like rolling out dough, and then you roll the fondant around the rolling pin like you would if you were making a pie.

Then drape it over the cake, and start smoothing it down!

My fondant might look like it's a little thick, but it actually wasn't. And it smoothed over the cake just beautifully. My fondant fears were so far proving to be unfounded. It's actually almost easier than vile buttercream!

Once the cake is covered and smoothed, I trimmed off the excess and started to build my decorations on it. I had strips of pink fondant that would look like a ribbon and bow, plus some pink spirals and some white flower cut outs. To get the fondant to stick to each other, we brushed each piece with clear vanilla extract.

And here it all is, put together. Hey not too bad for my first try huh?? (humor me ok?)

There are some errors, sure. And the edges could use a border. But I'm actually pretty pleased with this result. What I'm not pleased about is this weeks class. It's daunting, to say the least. Before class I will need to make about 30 fondant roses and some fondant leaves, two cakes (iced and covered with fondant), dowels placed in cakes. And then in class we will put it all together and tier them. I'd be totally lying if I didn't say I was ascared! Yikes!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Soupy Goodness

Last week I went to Kreiger's Market in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio to see what kind of yummy fresh stuff I could get. While there, I saw some beautiful fresh escarole and knew immediately that Italian Wedding soup would be on the menu very soon!

Italian Wedding Soup is probably my favorite soup with a close contender being my mom's oxtail soup for the top spot. mmm oxtail soup. *shaking myself out of the oxtail reverie*

Let's start with the mini meatballs. I'm pretty much exclusively using ground turkey these days and I know there are some people out there who do not like it at all. In truth, it took some getting used to, but now that we are used to it, I rarely ever buy ground beef. On the day I was making the soup, I also had several other things going on so forgive my lack of photo documentation. There is some, but not as much as I would usually have. The brain can't hold on to too many things at once.

I used half a pound of ground turkey, 1 half cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs, one small onion and 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped (I actually put them in the food processor so they would be super fine!) and sauteed in 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese, one egg and salt and pepper to taste. Once you mix all these ingredients together, by hand is best, shape into small meatballs. Not so small that they will disappear when you cook them, but not as big as a ping pong ball. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 until they are nicely browned, about 20 minutes or so. I got about 30 meatballs or so from the half pound of ground turkey.

While the meatballs are baking, take one leek (or two shallots, or a small onion), chopped, and saute it in 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. If you use a leek, be sure to clean it well. If you watch any cooking shows you probably already know how to clean a leek, but I'll tell you anyway. Cut off the tops and the root, cut down the middle and then chop so you have half moon shapes or a half circle shape. Then soak in a bowl of cold water so the grit can go to the bottom. My leek was so full of grit, I almost need to toss it in the washing machine! Speaking of, did you ever see Alton Brown using his washing machine as a salad spinner? He did!

I like leeks in soup for their mellowness. Don't brown them, just cook them enough that they soften and become yummy deliciousness.

Then in a large pot, add 4-5 cups of chicken stock or broth (homemade is always best but if you don't have it, a good quality boxed broth will do - Kitchen Basics is my fave, but Giant Eagle's Market District broth is also good and a little less expensive), your baked meatballs and the sauteed leeks on medium low heat. You don't want this to boil, just simmer. If you use store bought broth, be sure to taste before you season. Some of them can be a bit salty. You may not want to add more salt. Otherwise, always season as you go!

Now you need another pot to boil your pasta. When I get Italian Wedding soup out, most of the time the pasta used is a pearl type pasta. I like it, and I would like to use it. But I have never been able to find it in the store. It is not Acini di pepe. It is a little bigger than that. So the question I pose to you readers is, is pearl pasta actually Israeli Couscous? Or is it it's own thing that I just cannot find in my area anywhere, even specialty shops? Are they interchangeable or is Israeli Couscous a good substitution for pearl pasta?

Since I can't find pearl, I use orzo. And I don't like to cook my pasta directly in the soup. I prefer to boil water and cook the pasta separately and then add it to the soup. To me, the consistency of the pasta is just better this way. So while your pasta water is boiling, you can prep your escarole.

There are certain things I just will not do when it comes to Italian Wedding soup. For instance, I will not abide by spinach in Italian Wedding soup. It must be escarole. No exceptions! Spinach is just plain wrong. And I don't dislike spinach. It's just not how this soup was meant to be. So suck it up and buy the escarole! Clean and chop up a whole head and then put it in your soup.

It's going to look like an overflowing pot of greens, but they cook down very quickly. Just stir it in a few times.

You may be wondering why I'm not using the glorious red pot for this soup. Truth be told, I probably should have used it. But I was thinking it I was making a small amount of soup and the glorious pot was too big. It probably wasn't. Anyway, once your escarole cooks down and your orzo or other pasta of your choice (I know some who do use the Acini di pepe and others who use ditalini) is done cooking, add that to the soup. And then all that's left after letting all the ingredients cook together for about 10-15 minutes, is pure enjoyment!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It Worked! It Really Really Worked!

I admit it, I was skeptical. The phenomenon of baking a loaf of bread in a heavy duty enamel over cast iron pot seemed like a load of bunk to me. How could this possibly work? I tried to talk myself into explanations... the pot steams the bread, making the crust what you would expect to find in a high end bakery. Is that true? I'm not sure, but I suspect it to be at least partially true, now. Now that I've tried it and become a believer!

The first time I heard of this magical bread was on America's Test Kitchen, where the people who bring us the fab mag Cook's Illustrated show us how to make all kind of incredible dishes. It stayed in the back of mind to try sometime. Then I saw it again in two different cooking demos that I went to last year. It's like it was taunting me... calling to me. Make that bread! So I gave in and tried it. And I'm a damn fool for not having done it sooner!

The recipe I use is from America's Test Kitchen. Start off with 3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour in a large bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon of instant or rapid rise yeast. I'm not positive the yeast I have is the quick kind. I buy it in bulk since I make so much foccacia for customers so I put it in an airtight container in my fridge. So considering that, I used about a full teaspoon and a half. Also add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. IMO, it could use a touch more. I think I'll go with 2 teaspoons next time. But by all means, try it with 1 1/2 first! Combine these ingredients with a whisk.

To the dry ingredients, add 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (7 oz) of room temperature water, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ounces) of lager beer and 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar.

Do you like the big econo jug of white vinegar? It's got many many household uses ;)

All you need is a rubber spatula to mix the dough. Fold the ingredients together and make sure to scrap the sides of the bowl. When you are doing this, it's going to look like a complete mess. And if you panic, like I did, you may find yourself putting the whole thing in the Kitchen Aid and mixing it together. I admit it, I did it. I couldn't help myself! I think it was probably unnecessary, but it made me feel better about how terrible the dough looks. The recipe calls it a shaggy ball. That's pretty much exactly what it is. Even after a minute in the Kitchen Aid, it didn't look much better, but I put it in the bowl to rise. Cover with plastic wrap and set at room temperature for, get this... 8 to 18 hours!

I gave it about 8-9 hours. After that amount of time it really doesn't look all that much better. But then you put it on a lightly floured surface and knead it about 10 times or so, forming it into a ball. Then place your now beautiful and smooth ball in a parchment paper lined skillet (I used my cast iron). Make sure your parchment is bigger than the skillet, you will need that overhang later and spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Put the dough seam side down.

Can you believe how that dough came together!? It was shocked, especially because it really didn't rise all that much in that 8-9 hours I had it sitting out. But a few kneads and it was this perfectly smooth ball of dough. Once it's in the skillet, spray the top with nonstick cooking spray and then cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours. The second rise only took a little over one hour for me.

Now, about half an hour before you're ready to bake you need to get your pot hot. The recipe says to adjust the oven rack to the lowest position. I didn't do this and my bread turned out amazing, so use your judgment on whether or not you think you need to. The pot needed for this must be a heavy bottomed 6-8 quart pot with a lid.

You may remember my glorious pot from such blogs as this one or this one. With the lid on, place the pot in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes before baking the bread. Yeah it's hot. Screaming hot! After that 30 minutes, take the plastic off your dough and score the top with a sharp knife or a razor blade, about 6 inches long ad 1/2 an inch deep. And sprinkle with flour.

Yes, I'm well aware that it looks like a big ass of dough! So after your pot has been heating for half an hour, take your own ass of dough and lift it by the parchment and carefully put it in your extremely hot pot, then put on the lid. Reduce oven temperature to 425 and put the pot back in the oven for 30 minutes. After that time, take the lid off the pot.

Bake another 20-30 minutes without the lid on so the crust can get a nice brown. You most likely will not need the full 30 minutes. I pulled mine out after 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pot carefully. Remember how hot that pan is. Lift with parchment paper and place on a cooling rack.

Can you even stand how gorgeous that bread is!? The recipe says to let cool for 2 hours. I dare you to try that! I was slicing into this bread about 5 minutes after it came out of the oven! It's really really incredible!