Friday, March 11, 2005

Layer Cake with Baker's Ammonia

 Posted by Hello

I have very fond memories of this cake dating back to my college years. It was a popular offering of tea parties at that time. The look is quite elegant with many thin biscuit layers sandwiched between pastry cream. Recently, someone requested the recipe in's forum, and several people responded. Meanwhile, I made my own little Internet search on baker's ammonia, also known as ammonium carbonate or Hartshorn. I found out that as a leavening agent, it is a precursor to the baking soda and baking powder that we use these days. It readily breaks down into a gas when heated (causing the leavening), but unless it escapes completely, it may leave a hint of the smell of ammonia. For that reason, it is generally used in cookie recipes where it doesn’t have to fight its way out of a deep batter. Cookies made with baker's ammonia are more crisp and delicate than cookies made with other leaveners. It is not affected by age, but it will evaporate if not kept in an airtight container. In US, one cannot find baker's ammonia in supermarkets, but it can be mail-ordered. So I did, and my two tiny packages of white, smelly powder arrived yesterday. I must say that I found the smell really offensive, but of course, that did not stop me from making the cake since I knew from past experience that the end product would be very tasty.

For the biscuits

3/8 c milk
3/8 c melted butter
3/8 c sugar
2 eggs
1 heaping tbs of baker's ammonia
Flour as needed

Put the eggs and sugar in a medium-sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until combined. In a seperate small bowl, mix the milk and melted butter. Stir ammonia into some of the flour. Add this to the whipped eggs alternately with the milk-butter mixture as you mix on low-speed to form the dough. Continue adding flour and mixing until the dough holds together and is just firm enough to roll. Shape it into a log and cut into 8 equal pieces. Gather each piece into a rough ball and rest them for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, flour your rolling surface. Roll each ball of dough to a 9-inch round. You can use the leftover scraps of dough to make a ninth biscuit. Prick each round with a fork like you would a pie crust. Place as many biscuit layers as you can fit on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350F oven until the biscuits are light golden in color. Bake all the biscuit layers in this manner.

For the pastry cream filling:

1 lt milk
3 heaping tbs flour
1 c sugar (I used less)
2 eggs
3 tbs butter, cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour. Add the cold milk, mix well and cook until the mixture thickens and starts to boil, stirring continuously. Turn off the heat, add chunks of butter and whisk until they melt.

For assembly, put a biscuit on a serving plate. Pour some warm pastry cream to cover. Add the second biscuit on top of the pastry cream and repeat until all the biscuits are used up. Cover the top and sides of the cake with pastry cream. Refrigerate overnight or at least a few hours. You can serve the cake as is or cover the top and sides with 1 c of slightly sweetened and whipped cream like I did.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dried Apricot and Almond Cream Tart

 Posted by Hello

I am posting this recipe because Zeynep requested it. I made it a while ago to see if it was something I might want to make for the dergah, and Zeynep liked the almond filling very much. The original recipe from Simple Tarts by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen calls for Pate Sucree Riche, partially blind baked. I personally never partially bake my pie crusts, and have never been disappointed by the results--maybe because I do not know any better. For this one, I used the pie crust recipe I got from Ceyda years ago instead of pate sucree and baked it with the filling. Here is the recipe the way I made it:

For Ceyda's Pie Crust

1 c flour
5 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
2-4 tbs cold water

Put flour and salt into the food processor bowl. Process a few seconds to blend. Add the small pieces of butter into the bowl and process 10-15 seconds until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water one tbs at a time and process the mixture in pulses until the dough just begins to hold together. Do not overprocess. Test by pinching the dough, add water if too crumbly. Form into a ball, and then roll it to line a 9-inch tart pan or springform pan.

For the Filling and Topping

2/3 c blanched almonds
1/3 c sugar, or to taste
1/2 lb cream cheese, softened
6 tbs butter, softened
2 eggs
4-5 tbs orange juice mixed with almond extract (instead of Amaretto liqueur)
1/2 lb dried apricots, halved
2 tbs apricot preserves

Preheat oven to 375F. In a food processor, process the almonds with half the sugar until very fine crumbs form. Add the remaining sugar, cream cheese, butter, eggs and 2 tbs of orange juice mixture, and process until smooth and creamy, 20-30 seconds. Spread evenly on the bottom of the tart shell.

Arrange the apricot halves over the filling, pressing them gently into the mixture. Bake until the filling is set and golden. Heat the preserves with what remains of the orange juice-almond extract mixture, and brush over the top of the tart.

White Chocolate Coconut Cream Bars

 Posted by Hello

After Fatima also tried this and we shared our experiences about it, we decided that it may be a good idea to use less flour for the crust. Do NOT forget to sift the cake flour before you measure it, and add it gradually until the dough comes to "press to pan" consistency. Do NOT use the leftover flour.

The recipe for these bar cookies comes from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow, a very good book with detailed instructions for each recipe. These cookies turned out quite good except for a very crunchy crust; and I think I know why. The recipe calls for cake flour which I did not have. Supermarkets do not seem to carry it anymore. So I made an internet search and found out that a very good substitute for cake flour can be made by mixing 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour with 1/4 c corn starch. Unfortunately, I did not have corn starch, either. Instead, I simply substituted 7/8 c all-purpose flour for every cup of cake flour. This reduction is neccessary because all-purpose flour absorbs water better than cake flour. So one has to either add a little extra moisture to the recipe to get the right consistency in the dough, or cut the amount of flour. Since cake flour is sifted many, many times, I took the trouble to sift my flour 3 times, and measured it afterwards. Even with all these measures, I realized that the amount of flour I used was a little too much. This is the second time I am running into this problem (see Pistachio Cookies), just because I rely on measurements rather than common sense. The extra crunchy crust I ended up with actually complemented the smoothness of the coconut cream, and was not a problem except that it made it somewhat difficult to cut the bars nicely.

Coconut Cream Filling

1/2 c heavy cream
8 oz white chocolate
1 1/4 oz unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut

White Chocolate Shortbread Crust

4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I substituted chocolate chips)
6 oz white chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 c sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c cake flour, sifted then measured

Ganache Topping

1/2 c heavy cream
3 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

To make the filling, heat the cream in a saucepan until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat, add the white chocolate, and stir until smooth. Stir in the coconut. Pour into a small bowl, and cover with plastic wrap touching the top. Let sit at room temperature at least 3 but no longer than 24 hours.

To make the shortbread crust, lightly butter a 9x13-inch pan. In a food precessor, process the semisweet chocolate to pieces about 1/16 to 1/8 inch. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Cream the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the melted white chocolate and blend thoroughly. Add the sifted cake flour and the processed chocolate. Mix on low speed until the dough begins to hold together. Gently knead a few times by hand to thoroughly mix.

Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate or freeze until firm. (Mine was already firm!)

To bake the bars, preheat the oven to 325F. Bake the chilled shortbread until lightly golden and lightly puffed, 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.

To assemble the bars, beat the coconut cream filling with an electric mixer on medium speed until the filling is lighter in both color and texture, less than 1 minute. Spread the filling evenly and smoothly over the cooled crust.

To finish the bars, heat 1/2 c cream in a pot until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until smooth. Let cool until about 80-85F. Slowly pour over the coconut filling, spreading it evenly to the edges.

Let set at room temperature about 1 hour or place in the refrigerator to cool quickly, about 20 minutes. To cut, score the filling with a sharp knife where you wish to cut. Then cut through the base with a long, sharp blade. Remove bars with a spatula. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator as long as week.

 Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Buttery Spelt Biscuits


2 cups white spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup buttermilk
1tbsp melted butter

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. With a pastry blender cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it becomes coarse crumbs. Make a space in the center. Add the buttermilk. Mix only until it gets moistened and it holds together. Knead the dough on a ligtly floured surface ten times. Roll it to one inch thickness. With a pastry cutter cut into as many two inch circles as you can. Repeat the same process until you use the dough up. Place them on a baking sheet an inch apart from each other. Brush with the melted butter. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.
About Spelt:
Spelt is one of the first grains to be grown by early farmers originally in Mesopotamia as long as 5,000 BC. It is a distant couisin to modern wheat. Naturally high in fiber and containing more protein and B complex vitamins than wheat, Spelt's protein is easier to digest.It has a tough hull or husk which protects the grain from pollutants and insects, so it allows the growers to avoid using pesticides. Because of its tough husk to be removed white spelt flour still has more nutrients than white wheat flour.