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Back in 1984, Ronald Reagan passed what may have been the most important piece of legislation during his term:  designating July as National Ice Cream Month, and that the third Sunday in July to be observed as National Ice Cream Day,  with ‘appropriate ceremonies and activities’ to celebrate these events.

Well.  If the POTUS of my high school days declared it, I believe it.  Let’s celebrate some ice cream!

When the weather started to heat up, it was time to pull out my ice cream maker, but alas, my trusty old Krups maker, after 8 years of noble service, had finally developed a crack in its casing.  It was time for a new ice cream maker, and found that Williams-Sonoma is having a sale on the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker with the bonus of an extra freezer bowl, which only meant one thing:  getting to make double the amount of ice cream!  The maker arrived on Friday, and after giving the bowls a chance to freeze for 24 hours, I was ready to crank out some new flavors of ice cream.

Also, one important lesson learned today:  photographing ice cream before it gets all melty is quite the challenge, but a delicious (someone’s gotta eat it) one.

First up:  Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Loosely based off the Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe that came with the ice cream maker, I knew it needed some love in the guise of a raspberry swirl.   The cheesecake base is egg-free and no-cook, which makes this easy for anyone who is uncomfortable with the making of anglaises.  The combination of cream cheese, mascarpone, and sour cream add the richness; the raspberry swirl is easily made with frozen raspberries and a bit of Chambord to be added to the maker in the last few seconds of churning to create a ribbon of raspberry flavor buried in a creamy cheesecake ice cream.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chambord or any raspberry-flavored liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  2. Beat in half & half, vanilla and sour cream until combined and pour into a covered container.  Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  3. While the ice cream base chills, take 2 cups of frozen raspberries and add into a medium saucepan, reserving the remaining frozen raspberries (appx. 1/2 cup).
  4. Add sugar and Chambord to raspberries and on medium heat, bring to a full simmer.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, then pour into raspberry sauce and stir until incorporated and sauce returns to a full simmer.
  6. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds.  Fold in remaining frozen raspberries.  Cover and refrigerate.
  7. When the ice cream base is cold, freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions.
  8. Once the ice cream is ready to take out of the maker, pour in the raspberry sauce and churn just long enough to create a swirl through the ice cream.  Ice cream will be of a soft-serve consistency;  pack into lidded container and freeze for 2-4 hours until firm before serving.

Next up:  Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

Man-oh-man, this just might be one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made.  It’s rich and deeply chocolate, not too sweet, with the hints of cinnamon, molasses from piloncillo sugar, and a touch of heat from cayenne pepper that makes it so uniquely Mexican chocolate.  This ice cream base gets its intense chocolate flavor from adding both cocoa powder and dark chocolate and the resulting base is more custard-like as opposed to a thinner anglaise.

A note about piloncillo sugar:  it’s a raw Mexican sugar, packed into cones;  you should be able to find it in the ethnic foods aisle of your market.  If you have difficulty in finding it, brown sugar is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cone of piloncillo sugar (or 3/4 cup brown sugar)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. In a saucepan, heat half & half, cinnamon sticks and piloncillo to a hard simmer, turning the heat off before the cream begins to boil.
  2. Turn off heat, and let steep for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Whisk cocoa powder into the cream and bring back to a simmer.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, then add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks, and whisk until smooth.  Add another 1/2 cup of cream to the yolk mixture, whisk, then pour back into saucepan, and whisk until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.  Remove from heat.
  5. Add in vanilla extract, chocolate, and cayenne pepper, and stir until chocolate has melted.
  6. Pour into lidded container and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  7. Freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions; pour into container and freeze until firm.

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Over at Chef It Yourself, the lovely Anamaris has started a monthly Top Chef It Yourself challenge, and I decided to be a part of it;  I love a good challenge, and look forward to doing more of these in the future. 

This being the first challenge, it was really a “get to know you” experience–the only request for the dish to be made and blogged was that it had to be about me and my cooking style;  something that brings back childhood memories, or something that gets pulled out for special occasions–perhaps, something that I’m famous for in my circle of friends.  Growing up in Southern California with a Mexican stepfather and eventually marrying into an Ecuadorian family has left a definite imprint on my cooking style.  Many meals in our home reflect the Latin influences in our lives;  rice is ever-present,  holiday breakfasts mean tostones and panela on the table, and when it’s time to make desserts for a special dinner, that’s when I roll out the flans. 

I did a stint at Border Grill not too long after I graduated from Cordon Bleu, and spent my time there as a pastry cook making flans on a near-daily basis.  You know, after making flans after a few months, you get pretty good at it, especially when it’s expected for you to also make not only their signature vanilla flan, but to also make a weekly special flan of another flavor.  One of my successful flavors was this Chocolate Kahlua concoction (lest you think all were successful, the Mango one was an absolute disaster);  a few ounces of chocolate and a bit of Kahlua turns what’s a simple creamy dessert into something remarkably decadent.  

One of the key components of a flan is the caramel.  Don’t be afraid to let that caramel get dark, too–it’s that burnt sugar flavor that adds complexity and depth to the custard.  When preparing the caramel, I’ve found doing it in a skillet is easier and faster, rather than a saucepan, and start with a little water in the skillet, before adding the sugar.  I put in about 3-4 tablespoons worth of water, just enough to create a “wet sand” look once you’ve added the sugar.  Never stir the caramel, as that can cause crystalization, and rather having that smooth, glassy looking caramel, it’ll be a grainy mess–just slowly swirl the pan if the caramelization is happening unevenly (and it usually does–there will be a hot spot or two in the pan where the sugar darkens faster than the rest).  Once the sugar is a dark caramel brown, pour quickly and carefully into the cake pan.  I’m serious when I say to be careful.  This stuff is over 300° and unlike, say, boiling water, it’s sticky.  There’s a reason why pastry chefs have called caramel “napalm”.  I’ve come away with blistered fingers working with the stuff.  If you’re clumsy and new to caramel, keep a bowl of cold water close by if you get any on your fingers. 

Yes, I know, I need to replace my oven light. 

When it comes to baking flans, it is absolutely necessary to do it in a  water bath.  I know it’s an extra step, but the water bath buffers the custard from direct heat so the proteins in the milk and eggs coagulate slowly, creating that smooth texture–too fast and the proteins seize and the end result is rubbery, overcooked flan that tastes and feels more like sweetened scrambled egg.  All you need is a baking pan just a bit bigger than the cake pan, and fill with hot tap water (no need to boil it or do anything special) until the water reaches about 1″ to 1 1/2″ up the cake pan.  Of course, I don’t need to tell you that you need to be careful when you slide your pan in the oven after adding the water–having water splash into the flan kind of sucks. 

Flans are best done a day or two in advance, as they need a minimum of 6 hours in the refrigerator to set.  I think that’s one of my reasons why I like serving them at get-togethers, as all I need to do is take it out and turn it over onto a plate. 

It would be silly for me to say this goes incredibly well with a cup of coffee, wouldn’t it?

Chocolate Kahlua Flan

1 cup sugar

4 ounces dark chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

5 eggs

3 cups whole milk

1- 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1/4 cup Kahlua

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a small skillet, add a few tablespoons of water, and the 1 cup of sugar.  On medium-high heat, simmer sugar to a dark caramel brown and pour quickly into a clean 9″ round metal cake pan (2″ depth or deeper).  Set aside to cool.
  3. Break up dark chocolate into small pieces and place into small bowl with heavy cream.  Heat in microwave in 20 second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until smooth, then add milk, condensed milk, and Kahlua;  whisk until incorporated.  Add chocolate and whisk until smooth again.  Strain custard base with a fine-mesh sieve to catch any possible lumps.
  5. Pour custard into prepared cake pan and place in larger baking pan for a water bath.  Pour hot tap water to reach at least 1″ high on cake pan, and place into oven. 
  6. Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes.  To check doneness, give the pan a small wiggle;  a flan that is set will jiggle slightly like jello. 
  7. When done, pull flan from oven and let cool in water bath until cool to the touch.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours, and up to 48. 
  8. To serve, run a small knife along the edge of the flan to release.  Turn out onto a plate with a curved edge to hold the caramel.  Serves 8-10. 

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These little guys came from the December 2007 issue Gourmet, and they were a part of my cookie platter that year.  The original recipe calls for a citrus icing, but I was feeling a bit experimental and drizzled them with dark chocolate.  It was a perfect combination, as the dark chocolate makes a nice highlight to the orange-cardamom punch these cookies hold. 

Oh, by the way, I don’t have a square cookie cutter.  I just used a ruler and pizza cutter after rolling out the dough.  It’s a fast way to make a bunch of these at one time, and they all come out nice and even.  This makes drizzing the chocolate easy, too, because I can just line them all up on the rack, and do it all in one go:

Orange-Cardamom Cookies

Gourmet  | December 2007 ◊ Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez and Lillian Chou

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Make dough:
Whisk together flour, zest, cardamom, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in yolk and cream. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Quarter dough and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped separately in plastic wrap, until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Cut and bake cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of parchment paper into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Slide dough in parchment onto a tray and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Cut out as many cookies as possible with cookie cutter (chill dough again if necessary), reserving and chilling scraps. Transfer cookies to a parchment-lined large baking sheet, arranging them 1 inch apart.

Bake until edges are golden-brown, 9 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then slide cookies, still on parchment, onto a rack to cool completely.

Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once) on cooled freshly lined baking sheets.

For the dark chocolate drizzle:  melt 3 ounces of a quality dark chocolate and pour into piping bag (or ziploc bag–just snip off the tip when you’re ready to go).  Drizzle chocolate onto cooled cookies and let set until firm.

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I kind of went crazy this year with making treats for Kiddo’s pre-school.  I know once he’s out there in the real world next year, his school isn’t going to be as keen about homemade goodies, so this was the year to get a chance to get some of my candy-making and cookie-baking desires satisfied.

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I debated for a while whether I was going to make sugar cookies or gingerbread for the kids.  Choo and several friends talked me off the gingerbread ledge (I can’t wait for December, when I attempt to be knee-deep in gingerbread for the whole month), but I decided to do a bit of a twist on sugar cookies that ended up being a very nice compromise.  It gave the cookies enough character that they were more than just plain sweet.  As for the icing, I like to go with Martha Stewart’s recipe and instructions.  If you do any amount of cookie baking through the year, I would recommend getting the meringue powder–it’s easy to pick up at craft stores like Michael’s or any candy making supply store.  It’s shelf stable, and you’re not wasting egg yolks (well, unless you’ve got plans for, say, lemon curd or pastry cream or hollandaise sauce).

I think I just realized my love of royal icing and brightly decorated cookies comes from them being completely verboten when I was a child.  Oh, sure, we had the occasional Toll House cookie, but a delightfully colored, almost-pure-sugar cookie was an absolute no-no, so I’m sure my inner child is just excited that I can make them now.

Brown Sugar and Spice Cookies

makes approximately 30 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if you use salted butter)

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy.
  2. With a rubber spatula, scrape down sides, then beat in egg and vanilla.
  3. Sift together all dry ingredients together, and add to butter mixture.  Beat until flour is fully incorporated.
  4. Turn dough out onto plastic wrap and press down to approximately 1/2″ thick.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 4 hours, up to overnight.
  5. When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350°.  Line sheet pans with parchment paper, or butter sheet pans.
  6. Roll dough to just under a 1/4″ thickness, and cut with cookie cutters.  Place on sheet pans 1″ apart.
  7. Bake cookies 11-13 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool on sheet pan for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
  8. Once fully cooled, they can be frosted with royal icing.

 

 

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Next up were the caramel apples.

One of the biggest complaints that come from home cooks when making caramel apples is that the caramel slips off the apple.  Well, of course:  if you’re buying them from the supermarket, they’re waxed like your cousin Skeeter’s Camaro.  If you have access to a farmer’s market, go buy unwaxed apples.  I know, they’re not as pretty, but your caramel will stick.  If you have to get your apples from the supermarket, then you need to get that wax off.  My method is to put them in a sinkful of water with a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid (a drop is all you need, it’ll help cut through that wax) and a fresh nylon scrubby or washcloth.  Wash the apples thoroughly and scrub the skins; be sure to dry the apples with a clean towel.  Once the apples are dry, remove any stems, and punch in the craft sticks at either the stem or blossom end.  As I was using baby Gala apples, the bottoms were on the small side, so the sticks went into the blossom end.

Once that was done, it was time to start the caramel.  As you may notice, I’ve got two shades of caramel happening in that picture.  The first batch of caramel I made, I used white sugar–by the time the caramel hit hard ball stage (255-260°, ideally) it was a very light brown–not as dark as I would have liked it, but if I had let it go farther, then I’d have headed into crack stage territory, and there would be no chewy caramel.  The next batch of caramel, I went with brown sugar, and I liked the final result–a much darker “caramelly” color once it reached 260°.

Once the caramel was made, I had my apples ready to dip.  I swirled the apples first in the caramel, then swirled them a second time over the pan so I could evenly coat the apples and any excess caramel could drip off.  A very important tip:  put your dipped apples on wax paper or silpat (if you have it).  It will do caramel-mind-melds with your pans and plates if you don’t have anything in between.  After dipping all the apples, I just did a drizzle of milk chocolate over the caramel, but this is where you can have fun and experiment–dip in different kinds of chocolate, roll in chopped nuts or candies–the possibilities are endless.  Kids can especially help out with the decorating the apples, and you can pretend it’s healthy, “because it’s got fruit.”

Caramel for Caramel Apples

covers 4-5 large apples, 6-8 medium apples, or 8-10 baby apples

1 pound sugar (white sugar for a light caramel, brown sugar for a darker caramel)

1/3 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter

Add all ingredients into a saucepan, and simmer over medium heat to hard ball stage (255-260°).  Take off heat immediately, and working quickly, swirl apples in caramel, and then tilt and spin slowly to let excess drip off and coat apple evenly.  Place on silpat or wax-paper lined sheet pans. While caramel is warm, roll in chopped nuts if desired, or let caramel cool completely and drizzle with chocolate, and roll in nuts or candies.

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I’ll say this now:  I totally nabbed this idea from Martha Stewart.  Easy, can be done in an afternoon, totally kid-friendly, and HEY, it’s candy!  What’s not to love?

First, there was a double boiler and a pound of white confectionary wafers.

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I’ll tell you one thing, I have never actually owned a double boiler in my life.  It’s easily rigged with a large metal mixing bowl that fits atop a small stockpot.   As for the white confectionary wafers, well, you don’t need to get them, you can use a pound of white chocolate, and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  The extra fat added to the chocolate helps mimic couverture–chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa butter–which professional candy makers use for those gorgeous shiny chocolate coatings.

So, anyway:  melt your white chocolate.

One more thing, if you’re using a double boiler, be careful about getting water in your chocolate.  That would be bad–crossing the streams bad.  Water causes chocolate to seize, meaning it will get grainy and lumpy and it will not cooperate at all.

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I lined sheet pans with parchment (wax paper would also work), and spooned about 1 tablespoon of the melted chocolate onto the paper.  With the spoon, I swirled the chocolate into ghost-like shapes, and went with short, fat ghosts with little stubby arms.   Kiddo helped out by adding the lollipop sticks.  I gave the sticks a little twirl to make sure they were fully covered with the chocolate.  I added about an extra teaspoon of chocolate once the sticks were in place, to make sure that they were fully anchored.

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The ghosts went into the fridge for a 10 minute rest to set.  Once ready, I gently peeled off the paper.

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About 2 ounces of dark chocolate (I just happened to have some leftover from when I made the Marjolaine 3 weeks ago) were melted and poured into a piping bag.  If you don’t have piping bags (because I’m sure you just keep a drawer full of ‘em, right?) you can use a ziploc bag, and snip off the tip–just be sure to use a freezer bag, as the plastic is heavier and will be easier to handle.

Piping chocolate can be tricky.  It took a few ghosts to get the hang of it again, but once I was comfortable, I was on a roll.

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C’mon!  How cute are these?!

And, these were not expensive at all:  The pound of confectionary wafers cost $3.79, the lollypop sticks were 89 cents for 25.  The pound was plenty to make a full 25 ghostie pops.

But, since these are destined to be part of the festivities at Kiddo’s pre-school, they needed to be wrapped.

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Yes, I found little ghost treat bags at the candy supply store.   Perhaps it was a bit overboard, but I still can’t get over how cute they turned out.

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I was made aware that this past Saturday was Sweetest Day, which I had never known its origins as being a promotion to boost candy sales.  A holiday designed for buying candy?  How did I not know about this sooner?

That’s it, I will always celebrate Sweetest Day by making candy to give away to people I like from now on.

I had a late start this time around and after thinking of different kinds of candies I could make, I decided on a favorite:  Toffee.  You want to know one of the reasons why it’s a favorite of mine?  The recipe starts out with one pound of butter.

Yes.  You read that right.  One. Pound. Of. Butter.

toffee1

See?  I wasn’t kidding.  And to that one pound of butter (say it a few times, it feels awfully decadent)  in went two cups of sugar.  I had this in my heavy enameled cast-iron pot with the heat on medium, and once the butter melted, I slipped on the candy thermometer and it was time to stir.  And stir.  And stir some more.

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At first, once the butter melted, it was kind of odd and “broken” looking (broken being a culinary term when a fat separates from a sauce, like in homemade macaroni and cheese or hollandaise that’s been overcooked)–the melted butter acts like it doesn’t want to incorporate into the sugar, but I knew better.  Somewhere at 240°, I had this bubbling mass that still had another 10 minutes or so to go before we had toffee.

After hours and hours and hours of stirring, the syrup hit the Hard Crack Stage (I should throw in some Crack Is Wack joke in here somehow) which is 300°-310°.  This is when it’s time to work quickly.  Once the heat gets turned off on a cooking sugar syrup, it will start its crystalization process.

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Immediately I tossed in about 1 1/2 cups of roughly chopped almonds.  To be honest, I stole them from Choo’s snacking stash, and they were already roasted and lightly salted.  I don’t mind some salt in caramels, and in fact, I think it enhances the flavor of the caramelized sugar and browned butter.  After the almonds were mixed in, I (carefully!) poured this into a well-buttered 8″ square cake pan.

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I use a smaller pan because I like my toffee in big, solid chunks, but I know that others like it in thinner sheets, so a 9 x 13 cake pan or a silpat-lined sheet pan (for even thinner sheets, or if you want to break it up for little toffee pieces for other confections like pretzels dipped in milk chocolate and rolled in toffee bits).

Once this block had cooled a bit (but still very warm to the touch), I sprinkled the top with shaved dark chocolate which promptly melted so I could spread it out into a nice, thin sheet of chocolate.   And, really, that’s it–you don’t need to do anything else.  Once it’s fully cooled, it pops out of the pan very easily, and can be broken up into bite-size pieces with a large knife or a toffee hammer.

One of my ideas for the holidays is to try to find a source for little toffee hammers like See’s used to put in their boxes of Victoria Toffee.  I could just wrap up an entire block of this toffee in cellophane and attach the hammer in the bow.  Sugar and Tools:  a winning combination.

But, this time around, I just piled pieces up on a plate and brought them into work:

toffee5

Yeah, that’ll do.

Almond Toffee

1 pound unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

1-2 cups of roughly chopped toasted almonds (amount is to personal preference)

4-6 ounces dark chocolate, either shaved, or in chips

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot turn heat to medium and add butter and sugar.
  2. Once butter melts, stir often as syrup begins to boil.  Keep a close eye on the syrup as it can scorch easily.
  3. Simmer syrup until it reaches the hard crack stage, at 300° to 310°, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  4. Turn heat off and working quickly, add nuts and stir until fully incorporated.  Pour into buttered cake pan or silpat-lined sheet pan.
  5. When the toffee has cooled slightly but is still very warm to the touch, sprinkle chocolate on top and let the heat of the toffee melt the chocolate.  Spread chocolate evenly with rubber spatula.
  6. Let toffee cool completely before lifting out of pan.  Use a heavy knife or small hammer to break into bite-sized pieces.

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I have had fond recollections of a cake I had made back in my school days;  I remembered it as layers of hazelnut meringues and ganache and (the oh-so-gorgeous Fat Bomb) French buttercream.  For some reason it had been sticking in my mind the past few months, and I decided that it had to be my birthday cake.

I still had my school recipe, but after a few searches online, I decided on Godiva Chocolate’s version.  I did a few things differently, the main thing being rather than spread the meringue into a full-sized sheet that would be cut after baking, I traced rectangles out on parchment paper and then piped the meringue into the rectangles (which is how I remember doing it in school).  In retrospect, I should have gone for the whole sheet–it would have saved me time, and I would have had more evenly sized pieces.  I didn’t bother with the Frangelico or butter in the ganache, and doubled the amount of chocolate covered hazelnuts for decoration.

One of those tricky things in life is getting those darn skins off of hazelnuts.

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I didn’t need to get every little bit of skin off of them, especially when they’re getting a trip to the Cuisinart. Getting all the flaky parts is the key.  After roasting them in the oven, I let them cool for about 10-15 minutes–they were still a mite warm, but easy to handle.  I piled them on one side of a towel, and folded over the other side, giving them a rubdown.  The skins slid right off.  From there, I saved the ones to be dipped in chocolate, and the rest went into the food processor to be finely ground.

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After the meringues were baked and cooled, it was time to do some layerin’.

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See what I mean about the uneven sizes of the meringues?  I could have trimmed them, yes, but I didn’t.  I went with it.

Besides, my family motto is gelu exuviae a vulgus of delictum* (Frosting covers a multitude of sins), as shown here:

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I used the buttercream like spackle–filling in the gaps, and creating a smooth surface. with a very thin layer (you might hear Martha Stewart call it a “crumb coat”–ok, ok, I call it that, too).  I popped that into the fridge for about 30 minutes for the buttercream to set, then I spread the final coat for a nice, smooth finish.

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I finally finished this around 2:30 in the morning–note that everything was looking great until the very last part–the piping at the bottom–I had finally hit the wall and the buttercream was getting really soft… well, let’s just say I usually do a much nicer job but there was a pillow screaming my name at that point.

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Ah, there’s a nice cross-section for you.  It was as good as I remembered it, if not better.  I served it with a Zinfandel Port (very yummy, and only $10 from Trader Joe’s) that was absolutely perfect.

Can I tell you I’m sad that I don’t have any more?  I gave away the rest at the office on Monday morning, because that stuff is dangerous.  Who’s birthday is next?  Any major celebrations coming up?  C’mon, give me a reason to make another!

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