Yield: 25-30 bars
“Back to Baking”, pp. 68
As is often the case, lately I have been craving chocolate. Fortunately, I can always count on Anna to have a wonderful chocolate-containing recipe in her cookbook. This time I opted for d’Artagnan bars, a dessert with which I was not familiar with but later learned is similar in taste to the chocolate bar 3 musketeers. Like the peanut butter nanaimo bars, these chocolate bars are composed of three layers: the chocolate cookie crumb base, the fluffy chocolatey filling and the top chocolate glaze. So much chocolate!
I seem to have lost my mojo these days, for this is another recipe with which I had difficulty. Firstly, I realized after the fact that the crust was dry and crumbly, most likely because my kitchen is very humid and the oven may have been hotter than expected. I solved this problem by brushing a bit of butter on the surface of the base. My other problem was the filling, which in the end was not at all fluffy and delectable-looking. I seem to not have grasped the concept of soft vs. stiff peaks with egg whites. Whenever egg whites are involved, I usually do not obtain the right texture. I think my mistake this time was that I probably overbeat the egg whites. Nonetheless, although the bars I made did not look particularly appetizing, they actually tasted very good. The chocolate flavor is there in all the layers and the bars are both sweet and rich. Delicious. This is a perfect example of how to not judge a book by its cover – or in this case, a dessert by its appearance. Although they do not look scrumptious, these d’Artagnan bars are a treat!
Ingredients for base:
- 1 3/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
- 1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Ingredients for filling:
- 4 oz. (125 g) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup white corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- candy thermometer
Ingredients for topping:
- 6 oz. (170 g) milk chocolate, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square pan and line it with parchment paper, making sure that it goes up the sides of the pan.
- To prepare the base, whisk together the cookie crumbs, icing sugar, cocoa powder and flour.
- Add the melted butter and combine with a spatula until the cookie crumb mixture has a wet texture.
- Press down this mixture into the prepared pan, making sure to even it out with a spatula, and bake for 10 minutes. Cool the crust in the fridge while making the filling.
- For the filling, melt the chocolate in a large glass or metal bowl over a bowl of simmering water. Set aside.
- In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar until they begin to hold a soft peak. Set aside.
- Pour the water into a medium saucepot, then add the sugar and corn syrup. Set the candy thermometer on the inside of the saucepot, making sure that the bulb does not touch the bottom of the pot. Without stirring, bring the mixture to a boil and continue to boil over high heat while brushing the sides of the pot with water until the sugar reaches a temperature of 255°F (124°C).
- Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully pour it into the whipped egg white mixture while beating at medium-high speed. Continue whipping until the mixture cools to almost room temperature, approximately 7 minutes.
- Beat in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Quickly spread this over the cooled crust. Chill for an hour in the fridge.
- To prepare the topping, melt the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water (alternatively, you can melt it in the microwave at 30-second intervals). Pour the fluid chocolate over the filling, tilting the pan to make sure that the chocolate covers the whole surface. Chill to set for about 3 hours.
- Slice in bars and enjoy!
Notes from Anna:
- The bars are best cut when chilled, but can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
Yield: a 6- and 9-inch 2-tier round cake
“Back to Baking”, pp. 178
As mentioned in my two previous posts, I made a triple-layer lemon cake for my mom this mother’s day. I say triple-layer not because of the physical cake layers, but rather because the cake is composed of three different lemon elements: the lemon curd, the lemon buttercream and the lemon cake. This multi-step cake has been quite an adventure. Briefly, my lemon curd was a success but took longer than expected to make. The actual cake was simple enough to make, but I could not find a 6-inch cake pan anywhere, so sadly in the end I had to cut down a tier and only had a 9-inch round cake – ironically, I found such a pan the day after I baked the cake. The lemon buttercream, on the other hand, was a disaster. In retrospect, it is probably best to not finish baking a cake at 2 am. My brain was tired and I was not thinking as clearly as I should have.
To follow up on the episode of the buttercream covering not only my cake, but also my table and my chair, I had placed the cake in the fridge to chill and hoped for the best. The best eventually happened. The next day, the buttercream had set reasonably well. I simply removed all the excess buttercream around the cake and the plate and transferred the cake to a new and clean serving plater. I did not buy fondant because I prefer the taste of homemade marshmallow fondant. I always make homemade marshmallow fondant, and always successfully might I add. However, in line with the other events surrounding this cake-making process, my fondant was quite unappetizing to look at. As I covered the cake with it, I soon realized that the fondant was cracked in many places. No matter, at this stage there was no going back. I left it on and decorated the cake later. Fortunately, with the added white fondant flowers and a bit of patching up, the cake didn’t look so bad. It was definitely my least pretty cake, but I was still very happy that I managed to make something out of all that mess. I was almost embarrassed to bring it out after supper for my mother and grandmother because I had told my dad that, if I was able to repeat the recipes correctly, it would be a gorgeous-looking cake. Nonetheless, they thought it was very pretty and they definitely thought it was delicious. I have never heard so many “Mmmmm, that’s good” repeatedly for any other dessert I have made. That was a good feeling. Even I, not an avid lemon dessert eater, found the cake moist and scrumptious. I am all in all happy with the dessert, but would like to repeat at least the buttercream, if not the whole cake, to feel happy with myself and know that I can do it.
Reading this, you are maybe thinking that I am too hard on myself and that it couldn’t have been so bad. Well, I am a perfectionist, what can I say? Aren’t many bakers? I highly suggest that you try to make this cake, but as suggested by Anna herself in the cookbook, read, re-read and read once more each of the recipes used for this cake to make sure that you have everything on hand and that you organize your time more efficiently than I. Good luck and, most importantly, have fun!
Ingredients for lemon cake:
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 3 cups + 3 tablespoons cake and pastry flour *
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Ingredients for assembly:
- 1 recipe Lemon Curd
- 1 recipe Lemon Buttercream
- 9-inch round cardboard cake board
- 6-inch round cardboard cake board
- 2 lb. (1 kg) white fondant
- Yellow gel food coloring
- Icing sugar, for rolling the fondant
- Rolling pin
- Small fondant cutter in a flower shape
- Fondant smoother (optional)
- Measuring tape (optional)
- Prepare the lemon curd before baking the cake.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 9-inch and three 6-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle the sides of the pans with sugar and tap out any excess.
- With a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg whites and vanilla extract.
- In a third bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Alternatively add the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the butter mixture in small additions, starting with the flour and mixing well after each addition.
- Divide the batter between the prepared pans and spread with a spatula to level. Bake the 6-inch cakes for about 20 minutes and the 9-inch cakes for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes for 20 minutes in the pan and then turn them out of the pan to cool down completely.
- While the cakes are cooling down, prepare the lemon buttercream.
- For assembly of the cake, first peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cakes. Place a 9-inch cake layer onto a 9-inch cardboard cake board. Spoon a cup of buttercream into a pipping bag fitted with a plain round tip.
- Pipe a ring of buttercream on the top outside edge of the cake.
- Spoon a 1/2 cup of the lemon curd into the centre of the cake and spread it evenly. Place the second 9-inch cake layer on top of the curd and buttercream.
- Repeat steps 10 and 11. Top with the third cake layer.
- Spread the top and outsides of the cake with the buttercream, using an angled spatula to make it as level and smooth as possible. Chill the cake for at least 2 hours to set the buttercream.
- Repeat steps 9-13 for the 6-inch cake.
- Once the buttercream has set, it is time to cover them with fondant. Add a good amount of yellow food coloring to the prepared or homemade fondant and knead it until the fondant is a homogenous color. On a flat surface sprinkled with icing sugar, use a rolling pin to roll out the fondant into a circle of about 15 inches in diameter. Using the rolling pin, transfer the fondant on top of the 9-inch cake. Use your hands or a fondant smoother to smooth out the fondant on the cake and remove any air bubbles. Cut off the excess fondant at the bottom of the cake and tuck the fondant under the cake using a knife for a smooth finish.
- Repeat step 15 for the 6-inch cake by rolling the fondant to about 11 inches in diameter.
- Place the 6-inch cake on top of the 9-inch cake, making sure that it is centred.
- With another batch of white fondant, roll out the fondant until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Using the flower-shaped fondant cutter, make several small flowers and leave them on a plate to dry for 15 minutes. Place them on and around the cake as desired using the remaining lemon buttercream.
Notes from Anna:
- It is best to cover the cake with fondant and to decorate the cake the day it will be presented.
- A fondant-covered cake is best is it can sit out at room temperature.
Yield: about 6 cups
“Back to Baking”, pp. 181
I really enjoy buttercream. Used to frost cakes, cupcakes or even to separate and fill the layers in a cake, it is both sweet and rich. Nonetheless, I have only ever made vanilla or chocolate buttercream, with slight variations at times. Lemon buttercream was a first for me. More than that, it was the first time I made buttercream with egg whites as opposed to butter and icing sugar. I was so unsure about the ingredients that I double-, no triple-, checked the ingredients and instructions to make sure that it was indeed a recipe for buttercream composed of plain white sugar and egg whites. Suffice it to say I had my doubts. However, this recipe was in Anna’s cookbook, book that never fails me, so of course I knew it must be delicious and doable.
I don’t know what happened or at what step I could have made a mistake, but even though I followed the instructions to the letter (in my opinion), it was a total disaster. In all my baking experience and baking mistakes, never had a recipe been so disastrous for me. The buttercream was as liquid as a potage. After whisking for a long time and not seeing a difference in consistency, I added, in desperation and in a last-ditch attempt to thicken the buttercream, what seems to be about 4 cups of icing sugar. Probably not the best move. The consistency did not change but the buttercream was now much sweeter. Being tired and having no other option, I decided to try anyways to pour the buttercream on the cake. As I should have expected, the buttercream covered the whole cake, then went on to cover the plate it was sitting on, the table, and part of a chair. It just would not stop. I put the buttercream-covered cake in the fridge to chill and hoped (almost prayed) that it would solidify. Such a ridiculous attempt at making buttercream with sugar and egg whites has left me no less then flabbergasted and a bit embarrassed, I must add, as I am sure than many a baker has successfully made egg-white-based buttercream. I will no doubt repeat this recipe to try to understand what I could have done wrong. Mostly, I just need to prove to myself that I can actually do it.
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 6 egg whites
- 2 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a large metal bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites until well combined.
- Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk by hand until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, whip the mixture until it has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Note that the egg whites will have more than doubled in size.
- While beating, add the butter a little at a time, and mix until homogenous.
- Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and beat until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy. The frosting is best used at room temperature, but can be stored in the fridge.
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups
“Back to Baking”, pp. 181
If you read my previous post, you will know that I am not a big fan of custard or similar textures. I have however learned to be more open-minded about custard since I actually quite enjoyed it in the classic fruit-flan tart I made a while back. I needed to make this particular recipe because I was making the lemon cake for mother’s day. This recipe looked pretty straightforward. Whisk the ingredients together, whisk over a water bath and then whisk in the butter. A nice 20 minutes. However, I don’t know what happened but my curd took almost an hour to make! Maybe it is because I was using a ceramic bowl instead of a metal bowl as recommended (I wouldn’t think that would be the cause) or perhaps because I wasn’t whisking as constantly as I could have, but after an hour my custard had still not thickened enough to form a ribbon. I decided it was enough anyways and, after straining it and adding the butter, put it in the fridge to chill for 2 hours. I was worried that it wouldn’t set since it wasn’t (or so I thought) cooked enough, but it was definitely very well set and had the undeniable texture of curd. It looked shiny and tasted very lemony, which is ideal since it is a lemon curd after all.
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- In a large metal bowl, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolks and whole eggs to combine the ingredients.
- Place the bowl over a water bath of simmering water. Gently whisk until the curd thickens and is able to form a ribbon when the whisk is lifted, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Strain the curd into a bowl.
- Add the butter and whisk until melted completely. Chill the curd in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until set.
Yield: 2 to 3 dozen cookies
“Back to Baking”, pp. 23
I will freely admit that I never had a snickerdoodle cookie. Not only that, but I never really knew what they were. I guess I never bothered to look it up. However, following a small pause in my usually very frequent baking, I felt like making cookies that were new to me and I thus made these. Unbeknownst to me during all this time is that snickerdoodles are actually soft and chewy, sugary and sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cookies! How no one ever told me is a mystery. They are very simple to make but taste oh so delicious! I am glad that I now know what snickerdoodles are, and you should too.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Follow the steps to the Basic White Sugar Cookie Dough recipe.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and ground cinnamon.
- Spoon out a tablespoon of the cookie dough, form a rough ball with your hands and drop it into the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Roll the dough ball in the mixture to cover the entire surface. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Press down on the dough balls with your fingers to flatten the cookies.
- Bake for 12-14 minutes, just until the bottom of each cookie is a light brown. Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes prior to transferring to a rack to cool down completely.