Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart

Pies and Tarts

Yield: one 9-inch tart
Recipe: 133/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 122

    Fall is truly my favorite season. The beautiful trees changing colour as the weeks go buy, the breezy but still warm air, the walks and the crunchy leaves, the hot chocolates, sweaters and long coats. But also, I feel like baking in autumn is just that much better, for some reason. A warm tray of cookies or a hot pie coming out of the oven just taste and smell better when it is a bit more chilly, I think. In any case, someone at work mentioned that they liked pumpkin, which I do not, and I was reminded of the pumpkin tart recipe that I have flipped through and ignored several times in the cookbook throughout the years. Since I never really liked pumpkin it was not a recipe that I was interested in doing. However, as it is my challenge to complete all the recipes in this great book, I thought that now would be a great opportunity to get it out of the way and at least one person at my workplace would enjoy it.

    Oh how misguided I was. This recipe for pumpkin cheesecake chocolate tart sounds… unusual, to say the least. Pumpkin, cheesecake and chocolate?! Seems a bit much. Anna Olson says as much in her cookbook. Nonetheless, I followed the recipe as prescribed and everything went as smooth as the pumpkin cheesecake mixture. One aspect that was undeniable is how pretty this tart looks, especially with the exposed pumpkin edge underneath the chocolate ganache. The tricky thing with tarts, pies or cakes is that you cannot try it before you bring it to its final destination, as it would be very apparent that it was tried beforehand and would ruin the look of the dessert. So I just had to trust the recipe and my skills and hope that it would taste okay. I had some doubts, of course, because of the pumpkin, but I brought it anyways. I kid you not, 3/4 of the tart had disappeared within 10 minutes. I have never in my life made a dessert that was devoured so rapidly and that received so much praise. People were going out of their way specifically to come tell me how delicious it was. It appears that I severely underestimated how much people like pumpkin-flavoured desserts. People were taking pictures and saving a piece for later, it was very surprising to me. Of course, I had to taste it myself just to see, and by golly were they right. Somehow, everything fits together exactly as it should in this tart. The autumnal flavour of the pumpkin, the fragrant spices of fall, the richness of the cream cheese and the sweetness of the chocolate. What a perfect mariage of flavours and textures! Turns out I do, in fact, like pumpkin. This dessert was truly one of a kind, scrumptious and not too guilty at the same time. It made a pumpkin convert out of me, after all! This is now my official fall dessert that I will bring to all and any party or gathering that occurs during this season.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe Chocolate-Crust Tart Shell, baked and cooled
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup plain pumpkin purée
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks

Ingredients for ganache topping:

  • 2 oz (60 g) bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Using electric beaters or a food processor, combine the cream cheese and brown sugar until the brown sugar dissolves.
  3. Stir in the pumpkin purée, cornstarch, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. Mix well to combine.
  4. Add the whole egg and egg yolks, and stir until homogenous.
  5. Pour this mixture into the cooked, cooled chocolate crust, and bake the tart on a baking tray for 20 minutes until, like a cheesecake, it is set around the outside with just a bit of a jiggle in the centre. Cool the tart to room temperature.
  6. For the ganache, melt the chocolate, butter and corn syrup in a metal or glass bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring with a spatula until smooth. Pour this gently on the centre of the pumpkin cheesecake, and carefully spread it toward the outside, leaving 1 inch of the pumpkin visible at the edge. Chill the tart for at least 2 hours in the pan before removing the outer ring of the pan and slicing the tart to serve.

Valerie

Chocolate Pavlovas

Cakes and Cupcakes

Yield: 8 individual pavlovas
Recipe: 129/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 301

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     It is clear to me now that I really am not good at making meringue desserts. I have tried twice now to make Pavlovas, and they always crack. Very finicky desserts, these. I don’t know what I am doing wrong but I can never get them right. I followed tricks on the internet to try to prevent it from cracking, the main one being to let them cool down in the oven after baking by shutting off the temperature and cracking the door open. However, by doing this I think the Pavlovas continued to bake and they were sadly overbaked and quite dry. I also put one blueberry too many on the baked and cooled Pavlova, and it simply collapsed under the weight. Sadly I was not a fan of this recipe, not only because of my technical failures, but the taste was also quite strange to me. I did not enjoy the mixture of balsamic vinegar and chocolate, although it did smell good as it was baking. Disappointing effort on my part, but it was still nice to try! Let me know if you have any tips and secrets for a fool-proof Pavlova that doesn’t crack!

Update – I have been munching on the unassembled Pavlova shell over the past couple of days and I actually quite like it. Perhaps without the cultured crème fraîche I can appreciate more the flavour of the chocolate pavlova itself. Not all is lost.

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Crème Fraîche
  • 4 cups mixed fresh berries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Cut two sheets of parchment paper to fit 2 baking trays, and trace 4 circles about 4 inches across on each paper. Place them on the trays, marker side down. 
  2. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly add the sugar and continue whipping at high speed until the whites hold a stiff peak when the beaters are lifted. The egg whites should be thick and glossy.
  3. Stir the cocoa powder and cornstarch over the whites and fold in gently.
  4. Quickly fold in the balsamic vinegar and vanilla extract. 
  5. Dollop a generous cupful of meringue onto each circle drawn onto the parchment paper. Gently press an indent into the centre of each, but don’t flatten or spread the meringue too much.
  6. Bake the Pavlovas for 75 to 90 minutes, until they are dry on the outside. Let them cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
  7. Serve the Pavlovas with a dollop of crème fraîche on top of each, and sprinkle with fresh berries. The Pavlovas will keep, unassembled, in an airtight container for up to a day.

Valerie

Chocolate-Dipped Orange Madeleine Cookies

Cookies, Bars and Biscotti

Yield: 24 cookies
Recipe: 126/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 37

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   As the weeks of quarantine are prolonged, my supply of flour is decreasing at an alarming rate. I have only a few more recipes’ worth of flour as there is a nation-wide shortage and I have been unable to get my hands on some, so I have to choose my last few bakes carefully. Of course I was looking for a little cookie or hand-held dessert to eat with tea in the evenings. And so came these chocolate-dipped madeleine cookies.

   These cookies are interesting because they look like cookies but have more the consistency of a cake. They are like small, very cute portable cakes. They are simply delicious and the orange purée in the cookie really comes through, marrying very well with the chocolate. To be made time and time again, undoubtedly.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized navel orange
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a madeleine pan, tapping out any excess flour.
  2. Roughly chop the whole orange, with the peel on, making sure to remove any seeds, and place in a small saucepot. Cover the orange with water and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, then purée in a blender. Measure ½ cup of the puréed orange to use for the madeleines.
    • Note: When reading this recipe I was very uncertain whether I really truly had to put the whole orange, peel included, into the pot with water. It seemed so counter-intuitive! But yes, you must. During the time in which the water will evaporate almost completely, the orange peel will soften and lose all its bitterness. Perfect and simple way to make a lovely orange purée.
    • I didn’t have a navel orange so used a blood orange instead, and it worked out very well. The purée by itself tasted very nice and citrusy, full of flavour.
    • I don’t have an actual blender so used my hand mixer instead, and that also worked out for me. A food processor should also do the trick if you are in a pickle.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Beat in the eggs and mix until well combined.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt. Add this to the butter mixture, stirring until just incorporated.
  6. Stir in the ½ cup of orange purée.
  7. Spoon the batter by tablespoonfuls into the prepared madeleine pan and bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let the madeleines cool in the pan before gently removing.
    • Note: these madeleine cookies change colour quite quickly near the end, so make sure to keep an eye on them starting about 16 minutes to make sure that they don’t become too brown and overbaked.
  8. Melt the chocolate chips by stirring them in a metal bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Dip each madeleine halfway into the melted chocolate, shake off excess and place each on a sheet of parchment paper to set. Store in an airtight container.

Valerie

Dobos Torte

Cakes and Cupcakes

Yield: one 8-inch torte
Recipe: 120/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 168

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    This recipe is one that I have been avoiding for years. Every time I was looking for a beautiful and impressive dessert to make for a special occasion, I would look through the cookbook, come across the Dobos Torte and immediately think to myself that it looked way too complicated, so I would pass on it and do something else, something that was in my comfort zone. Again, looking for an elegant dessert, ideally a cake, to make for our New Year’s Eve party at friends’ place, I stumbled upon this recipe. This time, however, was different. I actually considered it. I pondered whether I could, this year, actually make the Dobos Torte. I read the recipe over twice, and decided that my accumulated skillset over the years should be sufficient to get me by. If not now, then when? The last day of the year, December 31st, 2019, was when I decided I was ready to finally make this beautiful cake.

   As Anna suggests for this recipe, definitely do leave yourself plenty of time to prepare, bake and assemble this cake. It takes much longer than you would think if you calculate how much time each component should take. Anna said it best: “As is the tradition with European tortes, they are as elaborate to make as they look.” I confess, this cake was not easy to do , but not impossible. It can be done! I had, however, a few obstacles and errors along the way, so I have added my own little faux-pas and tips to fix them in the recipe below. For example, you may notice that my cake has 7 layers instead of 9. That is essentially because I ran out of buttercream to coat the layers! And since the buttercream is more complex than a typical buttercream, I didn’t feel like and honestly did not have time to make another batch. Overall, the cake looked very pretty, except for the oversized caramel decorations that were too thick. The taste and textures of this cake were also very appealing: the chocolate and hazelnut blended together very well, and the fluffy and soft cake was a pleasure to eat, especially with the crunchy caramel hazelnut crumble. The buttercream was a little bit too salty in my opinion, but mixed in with the cake layers and the hazelnut crumble it was still very pleasant to eat. I am sure that using the Frangelico hazelnut liqueur would not only add a great hazelnut flavour, but also balance out the saltiness a bit better. I recommend this cake for special occasions, if and only if you have many hours ahead of you so that you do not feel rushed and make mistakes. I suggest reading the recipe a couple of times beforehand to make sure that you have everything you need and you can plan accordingly. Good luck, and enjoy!

Ingredients for cake:

Ingredients for caramel garnish:

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour the underside of three 8-inch cake pans, tapping off any excess flour.
    • I tried doing this for my first three layers and it did not work at all for me. Even though I greased and floured the pans very well, the cake layers stuck to the bottom of the pan and broke into several pieces when I tried to remove them. I found it easier to grease the bottom of the pan, add a piece of parchment paper cut into a circle the diameter of the pan, then grease and flour the parchment paper circle as you would normally. This resulted in thin cake layers that were easily removed from the pan without breaking. You can reuse the parchment paper for the other layers, simply grease it and flour it again.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the egg yolks with ½ cup of the sugar at high speed until they have doubled in volume and are thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  3. Sift in the flour and salt, then fold into the egg mixture. The batter will be thick.
  4. In a clean bowl and with a clean whip, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly pour in the remaining 5 tablespoons of sugar. Continue whipping at high speed until the whites hold a medium peak when the beaters are lifted. Fold in the egg whites into the yolk mixture in two additions.
  5. Spoon a bit less than ½ cup of batter onto the bottom of each cake pan and  gently spread it to the edges, spreading it evenly as you do. Bake these layers for 7-10 minutes, until they turn a light golden brown. Let the cakes cool for about 5 minutes, then very gently remove them from the pan by carefully running a palette knife under the entire surface of the cake, working from the outside in. It’s okay if they have a few rough edges or a slight tear or crack, as they will all be covered in buttercream.
  6. Grease and re-flour the cake pans, and repeat Step 5 two more times for a total of 9 layers. Store the cake layers on a parchment-lined baking tray, separating them with parchment paper.
  7. To prepare the caramel garnish, place all but 8 of the hazelnuts onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-inch cookie cutter (or the outside ring of an 8-inch fluted pan) and place on a second parchment-lined baking tray. Bring the sugar, lemon juice and water to a boil over high heat and boil, uncovered and occasionally brushing down the sides of the pot, until the mixture caramelizes, about 7 minutes. Carefully pour about half of the hot sugar into the centre of the cookie cutter, then pour the remaining sugar over the hazelnuts, and stir them to coat. Let the cookie-cutter ring set until almost cool, about 8 minutes, then remove the ring and with a greased chef’s knife, score the disc of sugar into 8 wedges. Cool completely. After the caramelized hazelnuts have cooled, pulse them into a food processor into a coarse crumble.
    • Make sure to use a cookie-cutter or fluted tart pan of a proper size. I think 6 inches would be better than 8, as it might be easier to create the fan pattern without all the pieces overlapping in the middle. I made a mistake and used a 9-inch fluted tart pan, thinking that it was 8 inches, and so the pieces were too big and I had difficulty creating the pattern.
    • Removing the cookie cutter or fluted tart outer ring from the almost-cooled caramel was easier to do than I anticipated. To score the caramel garnish, simply press down the knife to make an indentation, but not so deep that you cut the caramel. You must score it before it has cooled down completely, or it will break. I found the suggested 8 minutes to be a perfect time to do this.
  8. To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a platter and cover it with a thin layer of buttercream, then top it with a second layer. Repeat this process until all 9 cake layers are used. Frost the top and sides of the cake, and press the caramelized hazelnut crumble onto the side of the cake. Arrange the 8 hazelnuts in a circle around the outside edge of the top of the cake, equally spaced apart. Carefully break apart the 8 scored caramel wedges, and rest each wedge on a hazelnut, angling them in the same direction so as to create a fan pattern. Chill the cake completely before slicing to serve.
    • I sadly ran out of buttercream for the assembly. I spread what I thought was a thin layer of buttercream between each layer, but at my 7th layer I had barely any left, so I stopped adding layers and instead attempted to cover the sides of the cake with buttercream as best I could to make sure that the crumble would adhere. I had to really scrape the last bit of buttercream to make sure that I had enough. To prevent this, I would advise making 1.5x the Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream recipe so that you don’t have to struggle with it. It is sometimes hard to see how thick of a layer of buttercream you are spreading, so this would give you more wiggle room.

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* Tips from Anna:

  • To be considered a Dobos torte, a Hungarian dessert, it must have a minimum of 5 layers, a chocolate buttercream and a layer of caramelized sugar on top.
  • Give yourself ample time to make this torte. More than you think you need.

* Notes:

  • I really did not have enough buttercream, even though I don’t think I slathered it on too thick between the layers. I had to reduce my cake to 7 layers because I did not have enough buttercream for the final two layers. Even doing so, I barely had enough to cover the sides of the cake to press the caramel hazelnut crumble into. To make sure you don’t run out of frosting for the very last steps of assembly after having spent hours making this cake, I would definitely multiply the Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream recipe by 1.5x.
  • I prepared 1½ cups of toasted and peeled hazelnuts and had a large quantity leftover after decorating the cake. I suspect that 1 cup would be more than enough.

Valerie

Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream

Frosting, sauces and garnishes

Yield: about 2 ½ cups buttercream
Recipe: 119/200
“Back to Baking”, pp. 170

    For New Year’s Eve I offered to bring a dessert for our hosts since they were taking care of everything else. I wanted to make a beautiful-looking cake that would be tasty as well, and this is the chocolate hazelnut* buttercream required for the recipe. This is a more involved buttercream that requires more steps than simply whipping eggs with sugar and butter, but I enjoyed making it and the flavour was delicious. I did find however that it was too salty*, so I would recommend using ¼ teaspoon of salt instead. This may have something to do with the fact that I used whisky instead of the sweeter Frangelico liqueur or brandy though, so if using those you may want to start with ¼ teaspoon, taste it and add more salt if necessary.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz (90 g) semisweet chocolate
  • 2 oz (60 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico or brandy *
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt *

Directions:

  1. In a glass or metal bowl, melt together the semisweet and bittersweet chocolate over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring until melted. Set aside. Note: If using a substitute for bittersweet chocolate, add the sugar and/or cocoa powder in this bowl.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer ideally, mix the egg yolks with ¼ cup of sugar until they are pale and have doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
  3. In a small saucepot, bring the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, and cook uncovered, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pot with water, until it reaches a temperature of 238°F (114°C).
  4. While beating at slow speed, carefully pour the hot sugar down the side of the bowl with the yolks. Once all of the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until cool, about 6 minutes.
  5. Beat in the melted chocolate, then beat in the butter a few pieces at a time.
  6. Beat in the Frangelico or brandy *, the vanilla and the salt.
  7. Use the buttercream at room temperature. It can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. If doing so, just pull it out of the refrigerator to warm it up to room temperature and beat until it is smooth and spreadable.

* Notes:

  • I did not have bittersweet chocolate so used instead unsweetened chocolate. Semisweet chocolate could also be used as a substitute, provided that you add the appropriate amount of sugar and/or cocoa powder to compensate.
  • Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur. Since I possessed neither Frangelico nor brandy, I used whisky instead. I do think it enhanced the flavor of the buttercream without being too much, but just keep in mind that if you do not use Frangelico it is no longer a chocolate hazelnut buttercream, but just a brandy- or whisky-flavored chocolate buttercream. Still tasty, but not quite the same I imagine.
  • I used the suggested ½ teaspoon of salt but the buttercream was too salty. Not so salty as to make it inedible, but almost. I would decrease this amount to ¼ teaspoon. I do however wonder if the choice of alcohol would affect the saltiness of the buttercream. Please keep this in mind when adding the salt at the very last step of making the buttercream.

Valerie