Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween! - Spooky Cake Pops

So I have a nephew... Actually I have 4 nephews, 2 nieces and a godson, but that's beside the point.  My youngest nephew, Marshall, saw the October issue of Family Circle which just happens to be covered with cute Halloween cake pop characters.  As a consequence, every time I have gone over to his house for a visit, since the beginning of September, I am asked the same question.......

"You make a cek pop Unca Sane?"  (he's 3)

So, not wanting to disappoint such a young soul who is so excited over the coming of Halloween, I am making cake pops this year.  LOL

Normally I am big on homemade desert type stuff.  OK, I am big on homemade anything.  But I have to admit that I am able to overcome this aversion to all things processed under certain circumstances.  Thus, I am not making the cake from scratch...  I know it's shocking and frightening, but hey, it IS Halloween after all.

A warning though...  Not all cake mixes are created equal.  It seems that some of the major brands have reduced the amount of "mix" in the mix. Duncan Hines has retained their 18.25 oz mixes, but Betty Crocker and Pilsbury have reduced the mix to a mere 15 oz.  Not being particularly familiar with cake mixes in general, I don't really know how much this would effect the final outcome... Maybe they added more DATEM or some other strange binding/leavening substance that makes up for it.   Maybe they found a way to harness Dark Matter, I don't know... But I am not taking any chances... So, I used my favorite cheating box mix.  I will be honest, the fact that Dr. Oetker cake mixes are organic soothes my conscience a little bit as well.

Now, cake pops are held together with frosting... Everything I have read calls for tub frosting from the store.  NO WAY...  I may occasionally cheat on the cake mix, but I DO NOT cheat on frosting.  After all, cake, as a general rule, is nothing more than a vehicle to get frosting in your face.  I refuse to allow an opportunity to make delicious frosting go by and purchase store bought chalky frosting that has been sitting in a plastic tub on a store shelf for lord knows how long.  Completely out of the question.  Thus, I am making Cream Cheese frosting to bind the cake pops together... Just a standard Cream Cheese variety, nothing really all that fancy, but it will do the job.  I have ulterior motives as well, I don't make Cream Cheese frosting very often, cause I don't make Carrot Cake that often.  :)

As far as dipping goes, I am breaking my rules again...  Oh, I could try to work with White Chocolate, but I am just going to have to dye it with Orange food coloring anyway.  And I have to watch the temperature like a hawk, because white chocolate is the really finicky.  So, in order to avoid a potential disaster at the 11th hour, I went and purchased the Wilton Candy melts...  Orange and White (yes, I even bought the white ones)

OK, so now that I have come clean about how much cheating I have done, lets get on with it, shall we? 

1-18.25 oz Cake Mix (I chose Chocolate, but other flavors will work too)
8 oz (226g) Cream Cheese, room temperature
4 oz (113g) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
pinch of Kosher Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
optional - 1 tsp Orange Zest (to go with the chocolate)
1 3/4 cups (6.6 oz)(189g) Confectioners' Sugar
Lollipop Sticks
Candy Melts (your choice of colors)
     Orange - Pumpkins
     White - Ghosts, Mummies, and Skulls
     Black - Bats, Black Cats (I am not covering these)
     Green - Witches (I am not doing these either)
Assorted candies
     Tic Tacs for Pumpkin Stems

Mix the cake according to the package directions.

Pour into a 13x9 dish and bake for about 30-35 minutes (or according to the back of the box)

Cut the cake into quarters and, working with 1 quarter at a time, begin tearing the cake into crumbs with a fork.

Continue in this fashion until you have a whole bowl full of fine cake crumbs.

Cover with plastic and chill while you make the frosting.

Beat Cream Cheese and Unsalted Butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, until fluffy.

Add a pinch of salt and Vanilla, then beat a little longer.

Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the Confectioners' Sugar in 4 additions, ensuring that the previous addition is completely incorporated before adding the next.

When all the Confectioners' sugar has been added, continue beating for an additional 2 minutes to ensure that there are no lumps.

Reserve about 1/4 cup of frosting in a small bowl for later (you will need it for the sticks)

Remove the cake crumbs from the refrigerator and add the remaining frosting.

Stir very gently until the frosting is completely incorporated

(don't worry, it will mix in completely, just be patient)

Cover with plastic and chill again, for about 2 hours. (the colder your mix is, the less likely you will be to have flat spots on your cake balls)

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or plastic wrap.
Remove the cake crumb mixture from the refrigerator and roll into walnut sized balls. (about 2 TB) using a medium-small cookie scoop.

Place on the baking sheet, then cover with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove the tray from the refrigerator, grab the sticks and the reserved frosting......

Dip the end of each Lollipop stick in the reserved frosting and skewer each cake ball. (Melted Candy actually works better for this)

This time, don't cover the cake balls with plastic wrap, simply place the pan in the refrigerator over night. (The frosting needs to be nice and hard or the cake pop will begin to spin while you are dipping)

Melt your chosen color of candy melts over simmering water.

Begin dipping each Cake Pop, allowing the excess to drain off. (There is an additive called "Paramount Crystals" that helps to smooth out the candy, but I could not find them)

Stick the end into a hunk of Styrofoam and allow the candy coating to set.

Originally, I had intended on painting faces on the pumpkins and ghosts, but alas, I am out of time.  Since I will be at work until 6pm on Halloween it just isn't going to happen this year.  (Next year I will PLAN a little bit better now that I am fully aware of the amount of time this takes

For Pumpkins...   Place a Tic-Tac in the top, to form a stem, before the Orange coating sets....

When the Coating has set completely you can paint faces with black food coloring, mixed with vodka. (Not exactly the smoothest dipping job, so I am calling these, "Heirloom Pumpkin Cake Pops")  LOL

For Ghosts.....
Dip in White Coating and let it set completely. (If you like, you can paint faces in black)

For Mummies.... 
Once the coating has set completely

Place a small amount of the coating in a squeeze bottle, and squeeze "bandages" across the cake pop.

Allow this to set completely as well.

Use a fine brush to paint little green "glowing" eyes with food coloring.

There you have it...

There are a lot more things you can do, but I decided to reign myself in at 3 different pops due to time constraints. Don't think for a second that I didn't toy with painting a hockey mask on one of them, but the kids don't have any idea who Jason Voorhees is, so it was kind of a "moo" point.  (That's a "Friends" reference for my SIL)

Maybe next year, if I plan this out better, I will make witches, skulls, pirates, spiders, bats and black cats.  Maybe even a couple zombies...   LOL   We'll see.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tomatoes Get the Brandy Blues - Brandied Gorgonzola Tomato Soup

Don't you just hate it when someone goes to a restaurant and has something really awesome; then, when they are telling you about it, they just automatically ASSUME that since you cook a lot of different things, you will just magically know how to make it?   I mean come on!   Just because I talk like Alton Brown sometimes and have read The Joy Of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Silver Spoon from cover to cover like novels, does not mean that I am capable of mind melding with every chef on the planet and simply downloading selected information from their brains.  (Although THAT would be really really really cool)

Such was the story of my mother and her Blue Cheese/Brandy Tomato Soup that she consumed at the 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview, WA (which is just south of Longbeach, WA). 

Normally I make tomato soup with my slow cooked tomato sauce and some cream or half & half.  Pretty simple really.  So I started asking questions.  I mean, obviously it had Blue Cheese & Brandy in it, but that really doesn't help much... There are at least 10 Blue Cheeses that I can name and they all taste different.  So I started asking questions like.....

"Does it have cream in it?"  She didn't know.
"Is it chunky or smooth?"  She said it was smooth (OK, so it IS pureed)
"Did you taste Basil in it?"  She didn't remember.
"Was it Brandy or Cognac?"  She didn't know.
"Did they mention what Blue Cheese was in it?"  She said no.
"Did you ask them for the recipe?"  She didn't, because she was sure that I would be able to figure it out.

(sigh)  While I am deeply touched that she thinks that highly of my culinary skills, considering that we still argue about the deliciousness of polenta and the intrinsic food value of gnocchi (cause she hates both of them), I knew right off the bat that I was not going to be able to pass off my normal tomato soup by just adding some blue cheese and brandy to it.  Thus, I have been pondering this recipe for about 2 months now.

Enter Michael Symon.....

I was watching a rerun of CHEW, thanks to my SIL for pointing me at that show, and they were covering soups.  Michael was making this Blue Cheese/Sriracha Tomato Soup.

Brain Flash!
After the smoke cleared and the scent of of Ozone dissipated, I decided to use his soup as a base... OK, all I really did was substitute the Sriracha with Red Pepper Paste, change the Blue Cheese from Buttermilk Blue to Gorgonzola Dolce and finish the soup with some Brandy.  Oh, and I dropped the Oregano...  I thought Dill would work better with my changes.

Bingo!!  It worked...  In fact, mom was licking the bottom of the pot.  Woo hoo!  So thank you Mr. Symon for pointing me in the right direction.

Brandied Gorgonzola Tomato Soup

2 TB olive oil
6 oz (170g) Red Onion, chopped (that's about 1 medium red onion)
Kosher Salt
4 cloves Garlic, sliced
1 28-ounce (794g) can San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) (355ml) Chicken Stock
3/4 cup (6 oz) (177ml) Heavy Cream
1 TB Red Pepper Concentrate (The stuff in the tube by Amore)
1 small sprig of Dill Weed (you need to fish it out later)
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) (65g) Gorgonzola Dolce (creamy Gorg - AKA: Dolcelatte), plus more for serving
2 TB Brandy (oh yeah, baby!)
Crème Fraîche for serving

Begin by heating the oil in a stock pot set over medium flame.

When hot, add the Red Onion and Kosher Salt, sweat for about 2 minutes. (The salt will force the water in the onions to release)

Add the Garlic and sweat 1 - 2 minutes longer.

Add the San Marzano Tomatoes, breaking them up a little with a spoon.

Then add the Chicken Stock as well.

Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Add the Heavy Cream and the Red Pepper Concentrate along with the sprig of Dill.

Return the mixture to a low simmer, cover and continue simmering for 40 minutes.

OK, Food Processor, Schmood Processor....  If you have a stick blender, your good to go.

Remove the Dill weed, add the Gorgonzola Dolce and beat the whole mixture into submission with the stick blender.

Run the soup through a strainer into a clean pot.

(this will remove the tomato seeds, of which there really aren't many, cause San Marzanos are almost seedless)

Return the soup to a low flame and stir in the Brandy.

Serve with a dollop of Crème Fraîche and a sprinkle of crumbled Gorgonzola.

Honestly, I think this is the best tomato soup I have ever had!  It's amazing!  If you're not a blue cheese fan, worry not.  You don't really "taste" blue cheese... There just isn't enough in the soup.  But somehow, some way, if gives more of a back bone to the sweetness of the San Marzano tomatoes... Then again, maybe I just got too much brandy in the soup.  ;)

If you'll excuse me now, I think I need to go have another bowl...

Now THIS is what I call Mmmm Mmmmm Good!