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The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

February was a whirlwind of month with lots of baking projects going on, and while I actually completed this challenge a few days before the deadline I got a case of Oscar fever and completely forgot about posting until now. This month’s challenge was to make a creamy Panna Cotta along with a batch of Florentine Cookies. Our host gave us recipes for a vanilla and chocolate Panna Cotta. We were encouraged to play around with these base recipes and challenged to get creative with how we garnished them. I wanted to do a vegan version, so I set out to find a recipe that would work with what ingredients I had on hand. I got super stoked when I saw a recipe for a soy milk Panna Cotta in the Great Chefs Cook Vegan cookbook. I don’t usually keep soy milk around, so I used what I had on hand, which in this case was hemp milk. The reason this is important to note, is that while the recipe for the panna cotta set up nicely and tasted good, there was a little bit of an issue with how it looked. I’m not sure what happened, but it looked like the hemp milk had separated so there was a bit of a “cloudy” look to the final Panna Cotta. I don’t know if this occurred due to the particular brand of hemp milk I used or the fact that it wasn’t soy or something else entirely (perhaps liquid from the fresh fruit?), but it was a little disappointing to say the least. The Florentine recipe I used however was excellent, and they came out quite tasty. For the decorations I chose to make little agar agar fruit jellies inspired by Nature Insider. These turned out awesome and were quite the hit at the dinner table.

Since I’m late and pressed for time, I’m just going to provide the links to the recipes I used along with any alterations I may have made.

Soy Milk Panna Cotta from Great Chefs Cook Vegan
As previously mentioned, I used hemp milk in place of the soy milk. I also used 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean. I threw in some fresh fruit into the glass before pouring in the Panna Cotta, and I would probably omit that next time. I figured they would sink, but some stayed right up at the top and just didn’t look all that attractive.

Florentine Cookies from Strawberry Pepper
I omitted the orange zest and used whole wheat flour in place of the all-purpose. I also chose to use the chocolate to sandwich the cookies together, rather than drizzle it on top.

Fruit Jellies from Nature Insider
Instead of water, I made a half batch (which is more than you need) of the vanilla muscat sauce included with the Panna Cotta recipe and used that as the liquid. I did not add any additional sweetener, but if I were to do it again I would definitely add some. Granted, I neglected to taste the sauce before adding the agar-agar, but once they were set they were not very sweet at all.

It still needs some work, but maybe one day it will turn into something a little more visually appealing.

If you are interested in the original challenge recipes you can download them in a printable PDF here.


The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

For this month’s challenge we were challenged to make a biscuit joconde imprime that would be cut and fit into a dessert mold for a completed entremets. Are you totally lost? Because I know I was! So let’s go over some vocabulary:

A joconde imprime (French Baking term) is a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake providing an elegant finish to desserts/torts/entremets formed in ring molds. A joconde batter is used because it bakes into a moist, flexible cake. The cake batter may be tinted or marbleized for a further decorative effect.

This joconde requires attentive baking so that it remains flexible to easily conform to the molds. If under baked it will stick to the baking mat. If over baked it will dry out and crack. Once cooled, the sponge may be cut into strips to line any shape ring mold.

Entremets (French baking term) is an ornate dessert with many different layers of cake and pastry creams in a mold, usually served cold.

For this challenge the joconde imprime would be the outside cake wrapper of the completed entremets dessert.

Once I got my brain wrapped around the vocabulary, I went into full-on panic mode. I was still recovering from a holiday baking overload, and this challenge was looking pretty out of my league. I seriously almost threw in the towel before I even began. I just didn’t think I had it in in me, but I didn’t really want to start off the new year skipping out on a challenge, so I let it sit for a few days and then reread the challenge. The more I went over the steps (and after watching a few videos of the process) it slowly started to look a bit less daunting.

I began scouring the internet looking for entremets that featured a decorated joconde sponge. For this challenge we were to decorate the joconde sponge using a provided décor paste recipe. I had my heart sent on a vegan version of this challenge and got really hung up on the fact that the décor paste recipe included so many egg whites. I really had no idea how to sub for the egg whites, and I was having no luck finding an already existing veganized décor paste recipe. Then I stumbled upon an image of a joconde sponge decorated with preserves. I got super excited and decided that even though it wasn’t sticking to the original challenge recipe it would still result in a decorated joconde, and I would be ok with that. I decided on raspberry preserves and bouncing off of that decided to go with a raspberry/lemon cheesecake type entremets. There were a number of vegan joconde recipes on the internet thanks to when the Daring Bakers took on Opera Cakes.

From what I could find, in order to decorate the sponge with preserves one would just pipe the preserves into a pattern on top of the sponge batter and then bake. Simple enough. Only problem was that while the sponge was baking the preserves started to sink into the batter, resulting in less than clean lines. I really did love the flavor of the preserves in the sponge, so I am curious if anyone out there knows of a better way to decorate sponge in this manner. It is definitely something I would like to master.

To assemble the entremets I had to build a make-shift mold out of a cardboard cereal box. It actually worked surprisingly well, although I lined the inside with parchment paper and the moisture from the entremets filling made it get all wrinkly (can you tell I really wanted some pristine lines and smooth edges for this thing?). For the base I used leftover joconde sponge and layered that with some more raspberry preserves. I topped the preserves with a layer of the lemon filling along with some fresh raspberries. Then threw in another layer of joconde sponge with preserves and the rest of filling. Topped it all off with some fresh raspberries and powdered sugar and voila – a super impressive looking dessert!

Despite it’s less than perfect appearance, I did really love this dessert. And in the end, it was not all that hard to put together. In fact, because I had leftover filling, and I was feeling guilty about not veganizing the décor paste, I made another quick one the next day!

I had read someone mention decorating the joconde sponge by tinting a portion of the joconde batter and piping that onto the bottom of their baking pan and freezing. They then poured the un-tinted batter over the frozen tinted batter and placed the pan back in the freezer before baking. I tried this approach by tinting my batter with cocoa powder, and it actually seemed to work. I did two different designs and unfortunately totally broke the joconde with the cool pattern on it. Thus, I was left with my failed homemade pastry comb attempt, which really didn’t have much of a pattern.

Since I used cocoa for the joconde I decided to add a few tablespoons of chocolate chips to about 3/4 of the leftover lemon filling and then added some raspberry preserves to the leftover 1/4 of the filling. I layered those in the mold and then topped with more preserves, some toasted almonds, and chocolate chips.

And just to show you the other sponge that broke:

You can view the recipes and how to assemble the dessert after the jump. Please bear in mind that a lot of this was experimentation and could certainly use more tinkering to get the decorated joconde just right.

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Cranberry & Walnut Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona from briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This month’s challenge was to make an Italian dessert known as crostata (tart). The base of a crostata is made of pasta frolla, a sweet short crust pastry made of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. A crostata can be filled with any number of fillings including fruit preserves, pastry cream, ricotta, and fresh fruit. For this challenge we were provided with two pasta frolla recipes to choose from for the base layer of the crostata. As for the filling, that was left entirely up to the bakers.

I was not familiar with crostatas at all before this challenge, so I spent some time reading up on some different recipes to get ideas for various fillings. I’ve been suffering a bit from “holiday fever” as of late, so when I stumbled upon this Crostata di Natale (Christmas Tart Recipe), I knew I had found my filling. The pasta frolla recipe I chose (Version 2 of the ones provided) worked up very nicely, and I was ecstatic to learn Simona’s little trick of rolling out the dough on plastic wrap (you can then fairly easily flip the dough over the tart pan and then gently peel away the plastic wrap) – worked like a dream! And speaking of rolling out dough, I think I may have finally started to get a handle on the secret to this essential baking skill thanks to another of Simone’s tips regarding working with firm dough – I finally achieved rolled dough that looked like the shape it was supposed to! The finished crostata was excellent. The pasta frolla crust had a great flavor and texture due to the addition of almond meal, and the filling was pleasantly balanced between tartness and sweetness – a perfect treat to start off the holiday season!

Slice of Crostata

You can view the recipes and instructions for assembling after the jump.

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Crab-Artichoke Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

When it was announced that we would be making soufflés for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge I was quaking in my boots. I have seen my fair share of cooking shows featuring soufflés that never rise or if they do rise totally deflate before serving. With this culinary disaster stereotype in mind I was rather nervous to give this challenge a go. I did a lot of reading up on soufflés and tried to get as many soufflé baking tips in my arsenal before I actually attempted baking my own.

Dave and Linda provided us with three recipes, which we were free to use, but they also allowed us to substitute a recipe of our choosing as long as it was a proper, baked soufflé. We were also allowed to choose between making a savory or dessert soufflé.

When I told my husband about the challenge he immediately requested a savory soufflé, so that is where my recipe hunt began. Of course, I couldn’t help but take a peek at a few dessert soufflé recipes as well, and luckily, I had the time to try my hand at both a savory and dessert soufflé recipe before the posting deadline.

For my savory recipe I went with a crab and artichoke soufflé (pictured at the top). This was my first savory soufflé (to eat or bake), and I must say it is quite a tasty dish! They had a pretty good rise coming out of the oven, but they definitely began to deflate as I was removing the collars and trying to rush them to the table.

Banana Souffle

For the dessert recipe I chose a banana soufflé. I still have an abundance of Halloween candy lying around that I am trying to get rid of, so I decided to add a roughly chopped peanut butter cup to the recipe. This was a very good move; in my book, there are few things finer than the combination of bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate – and bonus, when combined in soufflé form, the combo gets all warm and deliciously gooey. Also, these babies rose sky high and held their shape considerably longer than the savory soufflés, which was pretty exciting.

All in all, I am really happy Dave and Linda challenged us with soufflés this month. Based on my previous notions of them I probably never would have dared to try baking one on my own. I would have most likely kept tossing them off as overly complicated or too finicky to mess with, but boy was I wrong! You definitely have to be on your toes when making them (have all those ingredients ready to go beforehand and be ready to serve immediately!) but the results are nothing short of spectacular. It is a pretty awesome feeling to pull out a pair of beautifully risen soufflés from the oven – something every cook should experience at least once!

You can view both soufflé recipes after the jump.

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The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world- life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this month’s challenge – not only were we making Swiss rolls (which turned out to be quite a challenge in and of itself), but we were also making two flavors of homemade ice cream and a hot fudge sauce – and then combining them all into one large, multi-layered ice cream bombe style dessert!

Sunita provided recipes for a chocolate Swiss roll with a vanilla cream filling, along with recipes for vanilla and chocolate ice creams (made without an ice cream maker) and a hot fudge sauce. We were allowed to follow the given recipes or we could change the flavor of the Swiss roll, filling, or ice creams. What was mandatory was that all the components had to be made from scratch and the final dessert had to be set in a bowl/pan in the following order – Swiss roll first, followed by the first ice cream, the fudge topping, and finally the second ice cream.

After spending some time contemplating flavor combinations, I decided to go with a s’mores inspired Swiss roll ice cream cake. I kept with the chocolate Swiss roll, but did a marshmallow cream filling, with a layer of vanilla graham cracker ice cream and a layer of chocolate marshmallow ice cream.

I had really wanted to do a vegan sponge cake, but after two epic failures I reverted back to the original challenge recipe and finally got a Swiss roll that didn’t break into a million pieces after unrolling it. In keeping with the Daring Bakers style of making everything from scratch, I also made the graham crackers and marshmallows included in the two ice cream recipes. If you have never made homemade marshmallows, I highly encourage you to do so. You won’t believe how wonderful and natural they taste; they seriously put store bought marshmallows to shame.

While the process seemed epic, stretching over three days (with many broken Swiss rolls in between), I have to say that I can’t think of a finer reward than finally getting to bite into this dessert! The taste was beyond amazing, and I was quite sad to see the last few bites finished off last night.

You can view the recipes and how to assemble the dessert after the jump.

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The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I was pretty excited when I saw this month’s challenge. I have seen quite a few pavlova recipes pop up on Tastespotting, and they have had my interests piqued, so this month’s challenge finally provided the perfect opportunity to put on my apron and give one a shot.

A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert that has a crisp exterior and a light, almost cotton candy-like interior. It is traditionally decorated with a topping of cream and fresh fruit. For this challenge, we were to make chocolate pavlovas topped with mascarpone mousse and drizzled with a mascarpone cream. I went dairy free with this challenge, so I adhered with the chocolate meringue recipe pretty much to the letter, but deviated in my chocolate mousse and cream recipes. I had remembered seeing a gorgeous cherry chocolate pavlova recipe over at BBC Good Food, so that served as my inspiration for this challenge. My final pavlova consisted of the chocolate meringue, a layer of cherry compote (that you can almost see poking out from under the mousse in the picture above), a layer of chocolate mousse, and a cherry almond cream for drizzling.

I have to say, I am a fan of the pavlova. I loved the contrasting crunch of the outer shell of the meringue with the soft interior of the meringue. It is overall a pretty sweet dessert, but it makes for a great indulgence on a summer day!

You can view all of my recipes after the jump.

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The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

This month’s challenge recipe was for a Piece Montée, which literally means “mounted piece.” You may also recognize this dessert by its other name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”). A classic Piece Montée consists of a high pyramid created by stacking cream filled puff pastries. The pastries are then bound with caramel and decorated with spun sugar, flowers, or ribbons.

For this challenge the recipe had 3 main components: pate a choux (puff pastry), crème patissiere (to fill pastries), and a glaze to mount/decorate the Piece Montée. The flavor of the crème patissiere was up to us, and we could use either a chocolate glaze or caramel glaze (or a combination of both) to mount and decorate the piece. The main guidelines we had to stick to were that we had to use the pate a choux recipe provided and the final piece had to be a “mounted piece,” although the overall structure of the piece was up to us as long as it had some height.

I decided that I would attempt a vegan version of the Piece Montée. When doing some initial research on the internet about creating a vegan pate a choux batter it appeared that I may have been a bit in over my head. There was a Daring Bakers eclair challenge in 2008 that used a pate a choux batter, and most bakers reported a myriad of problems with getting their eclairs to rise. I then turned to cookbooks to see if I could find any that contained a recipe for a vegan pate a choux.

I found a book that had a vegan pate a choux recipe in it, but unfortunately my attempt with this recipe was a total failure. Once in the oven the choux didn’t rise at all, and the outsides were rock hard while the insides were still moist and doughy.

I went back to the internet and looked over those eclair challenges again. I read all of the blog entries I could find and tried to prepare for my second attempt. For this attempt I decided I would invest in some Ener-G Egg Replacer and go that route. Again, I piped my puffs and they came out of the oven looking just like they had when they went in – no rise whatsoever. Back to the drawing board…

As I prepared for my third attempt I started thinking that maybe it really is hard to replace 4 eggs in a recipe and maybe I would have better luck if I halved the recipe. I also decided that I needed more help with the rise, so instead of using regular water to mix with the egg replacer, I decided to try carbonated water (club soda) on the next attempt. It also occurred to me that maybe the way I was piping the puffs was setting them up for failure from the very beginning. I had been following the instructions from the initial book recipe I found and piping a little swirled mound. For my third attempt I decided I would try piping in more of a Hershey Kiss formation. I also wanted to try some not piped at all, and instead planned to shape them with a spoon similar to a drop cookie.

I got really excited with the consistency of the batter in my third attempt and wound up piping out about 3/4 of the batter into Hershey Kiss shapes because I was so confident they would finally work. They didn’t. The choux still came out of the oven in the same exact shape they went in. Disheartened, I took the remaining 1/4 of the pate a choux batter and using a teaspoon, scooped out heaping teaspoons of batter that I then rolled into balls and placed onto the pan. After peeking into the oven after about 5 minutes it appeared that I was about to experience failure yet again, but I went back to cleaning up and when I looked back in after 10 minutes, to my surprise and delight I was getting some puffing action! I quickly had to work to assemble the pastry cream and chocolate sauce so that I could actually enjoy these little puffs when they came out of the oven. For the pastry cream I used the vanilla pastry cream recipe found in the Joy of Vegan Baking.

Of course, as luck would have it, when I finally hit upon the right combination to get the choux to puff I had only used a small amount of pate a choux batter, so I wasn’t really able to have any height to my Piece Montée, but to finally have a success made it all worth it – and even better, the choux were awesome. They actually tasted like real cream puffs! I had to fight off my husband to grab a few for myself!

You can check out my final recipe for the pate a choux and learn how to assemble the Piece Montée after the jump.

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The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I was not familiar with suet upon first reading about the challenge, and after discovering that it was actually the hard but flaky fat found on the inside of a cow or sheep around the kidneys (and that area of the body) I was really worried I may have to sit out my first challenge. Luckily, our host anticipated that not everyone may be comfortable or able to use suet and gave us a lot of leeway in this respect. We were working from the definition of a pudding as any dish cooked in a pudding bowl or pudding cloth normally steamed, boiled but sometimes baked. Some recipes were provided, but really the flavors and fillings were left up to the bakers. In fact, we could even choose to do a savory or sweet pudding. The important part was trying the cooking method, so the puddings had to be steamed.

After looking at dozens of steamed pudding recipes I decided on a vegan, steamed pumpkin-date pudding with liquor sauce from Bryanna Clark Grogan’s website. The steaming process was totally new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. I was really anxious to know if things were working, but since the pudding is wrapped up nice and tight during the steaming process you can’t really see what’s going on.

After a one and half hour steaming period I unwrapped the pudding. I really felt like a kid on Christmas morning; I was so excited to find out what everything looked like inside the steamer.

When I was able to remove the pudding from the bowl with ease I literally squealed in delight and went running through the house with it to show my husband. We were both so impressed with the results.The pudding was absolutely delicious and incredibly moist. I plated it with a rum liquor sauce that really knocked it out of the park.

The pudding comes together so easily and the majority of the time is completely hands off. I really enjoyed this challenge and learning this new cooking technique. So much so, that I made two more puddings!

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Almond Torte

I found myself making another crack pie the other night, so in an effort to put all of those egg whites to good use I whipped up this Almond Torte recipe found over at Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. I had a bit of trouble with this recipe from the start, but the end results were pretty good. I think I may have misunderstood her directions for folding in the ground almonds, resulting in slightly deflated egg whites. As you can see, my torte doesn’t have nearly the height of the one pictured on her website.

Orange TIan

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

This month’s challenge was a citrus-dessert known as the Orange Tian. The dessert is made up of a few different layers: the bottom layer is a pate sablee that has been spread with orange marmalade, a whipped cream topping rounds out the middle layer, and topping it all off is fresh orange segments drizzled with an orange caramel sauce. You actually build the dessert upside down in a mold, and then unmold it to have the orange segments neatly arranged on top. The dessert was absolutely delicious, and a wonderful way to usher in the new spring season.

Thank you Jennifer for hosting a great challenge!

There were some variations allowed in this challenge. First, we could choose to serve the dessert in a “family-style” version or in individual portions. We could also choose to use our favorite pate sablee recipe. The addition of different flavorings to the whipped cream were allowed, as well as utilizing different types of citrus in the dessert. However, we had to make the pate sablee dough, whipped cream, caramel sauce, citrus segments, and marmalade.

Blanching Oranges

As you can imagine, there were a lot of steps involved in making this dessert, but several of them can be made ahead in stages. I made my dessert over a total of 3 days. On the first day, I started by making the orange marmalade. This was a first for me, and a really exciting part of the challenge. I stuck to the orange marmalade recipe provided in the challenge. I would never think of myself as a marmalade fan, but this recipe yielded delicious results. I have been spooning this stuff on everything!


On day 2 I tackled the orange segments and caramel sauce. The orange segments need to soak overnight in the caramel sauce so this step must be done the day before you plan to complete the desserts. I chose to use a mixture of orange and tangelo segments as well a combination of orange and tangelo juice in the caramel. The homemade caramel sauce was another first for me. I’m not quite sure it was the right consistency; it seemed a bit more “watery” then what I would typically think of as caramel sauce, but in the end it seemed to work out fine. The leftovers have even gotten good use jazzing up late night bowls of ice cream.

Day 3 was started by making the pate sablee dough. After the dough had been chilled, baked, and then cooled, I moved on to the whipped topping. I decided to add about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the whipped topping mix, and I am so glad I went with that choice. It really added a great flavor to the overall dessert. Next I assembled the desserts in their molds and popped them in the freezer so they could start to set up. While the desserts were setting up I reheated the leftover orange-tangelo caramel sauce so it would be ready to spoon over the finished dessert. I must say it was quite a treat to unmold these little beauties – they have quite an impressive appearance!

Orange Tian

You can check out all of the recipes and instructions for this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge after the jump.

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