Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So I Tried Something New

All my life I have loved baking. I don’t just love it because I love baked goods either. I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I have made something from scratch. I love the Zen I get from measuring and mixing. I love using the best ingredients I can get my hands on, knowing I’m making something so much better than a store-bought treat. I love the idea that I’m taking on a challenge others might not take on.

Over the years I haven’t backed down from too many challenges. I have made yeast breads and rolls, pies, custards, and candies. There are some pastries I haven’t tried (like puff pastry) but I’ve attempted many desserts at least once.

I have had success with some desserts more than others. There have been times when a single failure has turned me off from ever trying that recipe again.

As I grow older, I sometimes question the wisdom of my baking efforts. Years of baking haven’t made me any better at it. I still churn out patchwork pie crusts and lopsided cakes. I do better with cookies and ice cream and puddings since they don’t have a set shape. As much as I love baking I’m not sure I have the touch to be a really good baker. Sure my desserts taste good, but I have to wonder if the lack of visual appeal can turn people off.

Despite this, I still find myself wanting to take on a dessert challenge now and then. Since I started this blog I have made my first doughnuts as well as finally being successful with cream puffs. I may be discouraged from time to time, but I still keep going and finding new tastes to try.

That brings me to the main point of this post (if you’re a regular reader of TERP, you know how much I have to ramble on with stories or contemplative blather before I arrive at the point of the post). I do get those bugs up my butt now and again to make a specific food I have never made before (or haven’t made in a very long time due to a past flop). My current obsession is homemade dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche has been the hot dessert ingredient for the past few years. It shows up in cakes and cookies and ice cream. Most recipes I see that incorporate it suggest you buy it in a jar. Making it homemade is a long slow process that most cooks don’t have time for. There is no shame it buying it.

Homemade dulce de leche may be a slow process, but it didn’t seem like a difficult one. I decided that I really had to try making it myself. All I needed was a few hours at home.

I surfed the net like crazy for a recipe. You would not believe how many recipes out there are “shortcut” recipes that use condensed milk. I wanted to make it completely from scratch. I finally found Alton Brown’s recipe. I’m not an Alton Brown fan and find his recipes don’t work more often than they do, but he was offering me a from-scratch recipe and I took a chance.

After 3 hours of simmering, I ended up with this.  The consistency was on the thin side. It wasn't gooey and sticky as I thought it would be.  The directions said to simmer it until it was reduced to one cup and was a dark caramel color. It was more like 2 cups than one, but I didn't know how much more cooking the sugar could stand. The color was becoming very dark.  It tasted pretty good though and I knew it would serve my purposes.

So what were my purposes you ask? 

Well, this weekend some of my horse people friends got together to throw my mother a party for her upcoming landmark birthday.  The host of the party instructed me to "bring one of your outrageous desserts."  I have always been the designated dessert maker for occasions like this.  I was ready and willing to make something with my new dulce de leche.

I knew exactly what I should bring.  Emily's Mexican Milk Chocolate Cake.  It's chocolate, it uses dulce de leche, and it's a recipe of Emily's, so I knew it had to be good.  It seems every time I go to a party with this particular group of people, I end up making one of Emily's recipes.*

I definitely was a bit fearful.  I was going to a party for a major birthday for Mom and I wanted a cake that looked nice.  I wanted to present something that was at least symmetrical.  Could I do that?

I hit one snag when I started baking.  The recipe calls for both butter and oil.  I never used to keep anything other than olive oil or butter in the house.  Vegetable oil is made from soybeans - which I try very hard to avoid.  I think canola oil is just plain gross.  However, since I now have a deep fryer, I am more inclined to have oil in the house.  I was sure I had some.  When it came time to bake the cake, I found out I was wrong. 

I ended up using a whole stick of butter instead.  Emily's recipe calls for combining the oil, butter, sugar, and eggs together.  Since I was only using butter I stuck with the more traditional route of creaming the butter, adding the sugar, and then adding the eggs one at a time.  I crossed my fingers and stuck it in the oven.

My layers came out nice and even- almost. I was shocked.  I made the frosting.  It was buttery and rich, but not too sweet thanks to the addition of cocoa powder with the milk chocolate.  When I piled them on top of each other, there was a bit of a gap between the layers in one spot.  I didn't have quite enough frosting to fill it in.  When I took the photo, I took it from the "good side" of the cake. 

The cake was delicious and much loved by all party guests.  The consistency of the cake was very dense and brownie-like (I don't know if it was supposed to be that way or if it was caused in part by my tinkering with the recipe.)  The chocolate was subtle and balanced nicely with the cinnamon that spiked the dulce de leche.  Guests who said they really weren't all that into cake took second slices.  I made sure Mom took the leftovers home, which she was more than happy to do.  No one seemed to notice the gap.

I still have a fair amount of dulce-de-leche left in the jar.  I have all sorts of plans for it.  Ice cream anyone?  How about some pie?

*One time I made her chocolate coconut bread pudding and one of the party attendees, an employee of Martha Stewart, kept declaring it, "Yumm-o."  I didn't know what to think.


Emily said...

I didn't know that! You never told me that. (about the Martha Stewart employee) I'm flattered. Don't know about the yumm-o term, though. Haha. :) I know you feel the same.

I'm glad you liked the cake. I think this cake was kind of crumbly for me. I think that happens whenever I use melted chocolate in the batter. I'm glad it went over well. I was nervous.

I've never been successful making my own dulce de leche. I always end up burning it. The kind I used was super thick. It was cow milk dulce. I'm not a fan of the goat milk dulce.

The Blonde Duck said...

Oh God. Please make apple pie with dulce de leche.

And if it tastes good, who cares what it looks like?

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Duckie - Uh oh. You have issued me a challenge. Now I'm afraid I will have to do that.

Em - I think I never said anything because Betsy, the MS employee, is not someone who works for Martha's kitchen. She is the woman who runs her stable. ;-)

It was my fear of burning that kept me from cooking my DDL to the proper thickness. It was getting so dark I didn't dare try to reduce it anymore. I just diluted it with less milk when I poured it over the cake.

I used all butter with this recipe, so maybe your cake will be less crumbly if you try that too? (I can't believe I would be telling you how to improve on your own recipe - that just seems wrong!)

Sue said...

That recipe does sound awesome and your mother is SO lucky. What you made is just like the cajeta I made a while ago, where I should have used goat's milk, but I didn't have the nerve. It was SOOO good, but, unlike you, I got LESS than I thought I would. That's a good thing, because I could eat that stuff with a shovel...

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Sue - I would be afraid to use goat's milk too. I'm cool with cow stuff. I'm surprised that I haven't eaten all of the extra stuff in the jar. I'm really really trying to be good and try saving it for other recipes. Rigth now I even have a third one brewing in my head thanks to Duckie!