Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chocolate Mousse (Moose!) Torte

A few years ago, I decided to make this recipe for a potluck lunch at work. I wrote “Chocolate Mousse Torte” on the signup sheet. About a week before the lunch, an e-mail went around listing what everyone was bringing. My contribution appeared as “Chocolate Mouse Torte”. At first I considered going to the secretary and throwing a fit, and then I thought, “hey, maybe I can do something with this…..” So I looked high and low for a chocolate mouse. The best I could find was a chocolate computer mouse, and I would have had to order it online and pay for overnight shipping in order to get it on time, and I decided I didn’t want it that badly. So I started to look around for a moose, to emphasize that it’s supposed to be a MOOSE, er, MOUSSE, cake. By this time it was only a couple of days until the lunch, and I’d given up hope of finding a chocolate moose; I was willing to use about anything that would fit on a cake. Finally at a craft store I found a small plastic moose that was part of one of these miniature Christmas villages, so I used that.

A couple of months ago I was in a Hallmark store and decided to check out the new Christmas ornaments, which had just come out. Among them was – of all things – one called “Chocolate Moose”. It’s actually plastic, of course, but the body looks like a layered chocolate torte, the head is shaped like a piece of chocolate candy, the antlers are forks, and around its neck is a wreath with bonbons attached. So I decided to bake the chocolate mousse (moose) torte for the upcoming holiday potluck of the Rutgers Gardens volunteers, and decorate it with this moose. (Disclaimer: I am not a Hallmark employee and have no connection with them except that I buy their stuff.)

The recipe is fairly simple, but gives impressive results. It’s also nice for working people in that it can be spread out over (at least) two days: bake the bottom layer and melt the chocolate in the cream on the first day, let everything cool overnight, then whip the cream and apply on the second day. It’s helpful to be familiar with whipping technique, because the bottom layer is a sponge cake – where the volume comes from the air that you beat into the egg whites – and the top layer is basically whipped cream. I like Julia Child’s description of a sponge cake in her French Chef Cookbook: “You will note that there is no baking powder; the lightness of the cake depends entirely on beautifully beaten egg whites which are folded into the batter with such speed and delicacy that they retain their volume and the maximum of their puffing abilities.”

You will also note that there is no flour in this recipe. Instead, the original recipe, which is from Germany, calls for ground hazelnuts, which are probably the most commonly used nut there. I use ground almonds instead. Both of these can be purchased already ground in Germany, so they have it easy. I haven’t been able to find them here, and I have a couple of favorite recipes that call for ground almonds, so I got a friend to send me some. If you don’t have such connections, you could probably use a blender or food processor. You want them ground fairly fine, finer than a nut topping but not as fine as flour.

The original recipe also calls for the bottom layer to be moistened with rum flavoring before adding the marmalade. I’m not a big fan of rum flavoring, so I skip this step. The marmalade gives a nice little tang and also seals in crumbs, but you can leave it out too if you want.

The cream is whipped with a stabilizer sold in the US as “Whipit”. It comes in small paper packets, like the way they used to sell Kool-Aid without sugar. I’ve been able to find it in the bakery aisle of several supermarket chains. The recipe called for three packets, but the first time I made this cake the whipped cream had a metallic off-flavor, so I cut back to two packets. Then this last time I refrigerated the cream and chocolate mixture for about 24 hours, and it became surprisingly thick, like pudding. Whether that was due to the long refrigeration, or the brand of chocolate, I don’t know. I used only one packet of Whipit, and the result was a frosting that spread beautifully.

The original recipe uses metric units, so I have converted them as well as I could, and give both in case anyone has metric utensils.

But, back to the Rutgers Gardens party: OldRoses and I snuck off during dinner, found a suitably picturesque spot to set up the cake and moose, and had a blast doing the photo shoot. Too late I discovered that all the pictures were dark. I've done the best I can, but the moose doesn't come out as well as I'd hoped...

Verdict: Yum! this one's a keeper!

Chocolate Mousse Torte
(source: Schwartau Recipe Service, Germany)

Bottom layer:

6 eggs
125 grams (about 3/8 cup) sugar
100 grams (1 cup) ground hazelnuts or almonds
10 grams (2 tbsp) cocoa powder

Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Beat the yolks with the sugar until creamy and pale yellow. Stir in the cocoa and ground nuts. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour into a 10” springform pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Let cool.

Top layer:

600 milliliters (about 2 ½ cups) whipping cream
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or 5/6 cup bittersweet chocolate chips)
1-2 packets Whipit
orange marmalade

Heat the cream, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and well mixed with the cream. Cool the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. Beat until creamy, add the Whipit, and then beat until very stiff.

Spread a thin layer of marmalade over the bottom layer of the cake. Spread the whipped cream over the top and sides, putting most of it on the top. Decorate with grated chocolate. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Store any remaining torte in the refrigerator.

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A's Top Secret Apple Pie

There’s nothing better than the aroma of an apple pie baking. (Except maybe the aroma of a batch of cranberry–orange relish simmering on the stove.) So I offered to take an apple pie to our Thanksgiving dinner (and I’m sorry for the delay in getting this recipe posted; the holidays are always hectic). The recipe I use is one I came up with after some experimentation. It’s basically a combination of several recipes with some tweaking of the spices. I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon, or more accurately, I prefer more complex flavors, so my recipe has more than just cinnamon in it. I saw lemon juice and zest used in another recipe and added them to mine as I’d already learned the value of lemon zest from my experiences with German cookie recipes. Germans use lemon zest in recipes a lot; it adds a wonderful, sweetish touch, not sour like you might think.

This may sound odd, but I’m not particularly picky about a) the crust recipe, or b) which apple varieties I use. I haven’t done a lot of experimenting, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge flavor difference due to variety. As for the crust recipe, this one is from epicurious.com, but feel free to use your own favorite. I know people have serious differences of opinion as to whether crusts should be made with lard or butter or Crisco or what, but I’m not going to go there. I usually use margarine simply because that’s what I usually have on hand. I have noticed, though, that dough made with margarine seems to need considerably less water. In case you aren’t already familiar with my favorite trick for moving pie crusts without cracking them, you can read about it in this post.

Then there’s the issue of baking temperature. My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook says to bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes. Other recipes I’ve seen suggest baking at 400 for only the first 10 or 15 minutes, then turning the oven down to 375 and baking for an hour or more. I don’t have a strong preference on this point either. The main thing, I’ve found, is to get the pie to the point where the juices are bubbly and thickening, otherwise the pie will be runny. Of course, you also have to watch so the crust doesn’t burn!

One final note: When I started baking apple pies, they would end up with a huge gap between the top crust and the fruit, because the fruit cooks down as the pie bakes. I eventually discovered that this can be mitigated by carefully arranging the apple slices so they’re packed in well, rather than just dumping the slices in the crust.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

A's Top Secret Apple Pie

Crust: (source: Jasper White's Cooking from New England | June 1998, via epicurious.com)

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold
about 7 tablespoons water, ice cold


2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
5-6 apples

1. Mix together the flour and salt. Cut the butter into pieces the size of a walnut (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Mix the flour and butter together in a large bowl, using only your hands, until the butter begins to break up.

2. When the flour has just begun to pick up a little color from the butter, add the water, a bit at a time, and mix until the dough starts to come together. Since the exact amount of water needed will always vary, you have to develop a feel for how much to use.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl to a floured surface and knead briefly, just until the dough begins to smooth out. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate immediately. Allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.

4. Mix together all the filling ingredients except the lemon juice and apples in a large bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples . Add the apples to the bowl, squirt with lemon juice, and stir to coat with the other ingredients.

5. Divide the dough in half. Place one half on a floured surface; return the other half to the refrigerator. You may need to let the dough warm up for a few minutes until it’s pliable enough to be rolled without cracking. Pat it into a flat circle, then roll it into a thin (about ¼ inch thick) circle. Line a 9” pie pan, then add the filling.

6. Roll out the other half of the dough. Transfer it to the pie plate and cut vents, for a solid top crust. For a lattice top, cut the dough into strips and lay them evenly vertically across the pie. Then lay the remaining strips horizontally, carefully flipping back alternate vertical strips to “weave”. Then wet the edges where the two crusts join, to form a seal. Using your thumb and index finger, crimp them together.

7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until the juices are thick and bubbly and the crust is golden. If parts of the crust brown too quickly, cover with foil.

Recycle: vanilla bottle, spice containers (if glass or plastic)

Compost: apple peelings and cores (Note: I understand you’re not supposed to compost citrus peels; the bugs don’t like them.)