Posts Tagged 'Make Ahead Dessert'

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

I made candied orange peel for the first time last year and loved it.  This year, I decided to make a double batch and use it for Christmas stollen, today’s recipe (Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels), and general nibbling.

Today’s recipe has its own instructions for making candied orange peel, but I just went with the tried-and-true process from last year.  If you already have candied orange peel (homemade or store-bought, really), this recipe is a fast way to turn out a really elegant, edible holiday gift.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels
Adapted from

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bars)
3/4 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup shelled, salted pistachios

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a double boiler set over a pot of simmering water, heat the bittersweet chocolate until two-thirds melted.  Remove from the heat.  Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it is completely melted and registers about 90°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Spread the warm chocolate on the parchment paper to a rough 9-x-13-inch rectangle.  Working quickly, so the chocolate doesn’t set, scatter the orange peels and pistachios evenly over the melted chocolate.  Gently tap the cookie sheet on the work surface to flatten the chocolate and allow the toppings to sink in slightly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, just until firm.  Cut or break the bark into 2-inch pieces and serve.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peels

Heavenly!  This bark is a chocolate-y, salty, and sweet treat.  The original recipe calls for unsalted pistachios, but the salt adds so much to the flavor profile.  Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Plus, the bark is just gorgeous for gift giving.  I didn’t think it would break very evenly since the orange peel is chewy, so I cut mine with a santoku knife.  I really like the look of the hard edges.  I’m making this one again!

TIPS:  I was worried that my chocolate wouldn’t melt completely (we’ve all been there, right?), so I think I let it melt a bit too long in the double boiler.  This didn’t hurt the chocolate, but it did get pretty warm (about 120°F) and took some time to come down in temperature.  After extended stirring and letting it fall in ribbons to cool it down, my patience ended when the chocolate hit 97°F.  I was afraid that it might be a bit too loose and spread too far, but everything turned out just fine.

Also, if you don’t know what a double boiler is or want to rig up your own at home, check out this post.

Recipe links: Candied Orange Peel and Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Candied Orange Peel (the original)

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Maple Mousse Served in an Edible Container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

I’m not going to win any creativity-related prizes for my container (the baker who created vols-au-vent out of pancakes with bacon spirals gets my vote!), but at least I completed the challenge.  I also managed to reset my kitchen disaster clock since my chocolate-coconut macaroon containers were mostly pried off my upside-down muffin pan in (flying) pieces, although one did survive for photos.  Here are my notes:

  • I made a half-recipe of the mousse.
  • Despite my best efforts, my gelatin just would not dissolve completely after the intervals in the microwave.  I ended up pressing my egg-maple-gelatin mixture through a sieve to eliminate any chunks before I let it sit for an hour.
  • For presentation’s sake, I found it better to allow the mousse to set up in the refrigerator inside the edible container, rather than allowing it to set and then transferring it.
  • I used the Chocolate-Coconut Macaroon Cups recipe (minus the almonds) from the April 2006 issue of Everyday Food for my containers.  I used 1/2 cup of batter for each container (I made four total) and just molded it over the tops of an inverted muffin pan that had been sprayed with cooking spray.  I baked the containers for 25 minutes at 350°F.  In hindsight, maybe they would have come off of the pan easier if I had placed cupcake liners over the muffin cups before molding the batter.  Lesson learned!

Maple Mousse in a Chocolate Coconut Macaroon Cup

Will I make this mousse again?  Probably not.  The consistency was a bit too thick and gelatinous (from the gelatin, naturally!) for my taste.  Many mousse recipes don’t use gelatin at all.  Despite the challenges, I will make this macaroon recipe again; I’ll just bake the cookies in their intended shape to avoid raining coconut bits all over my kitchen.

Thanks for the challenge, Evelyne!

Recipe links: Maple Mousse and Chocolate-Coconut Macaroon Cups

Strawberry Cake Balls

So I finally decided to jump on the cake ball bandwagon this past week.  I needed to put together a dessert buffet for a party I had on Saturday night, and I thought they would be a great make-ahead option.  This certainly isn’t an original concept and the recipe is ridiculously easy, but I thought it might be helpful to some of you if I share my notes on the experience.  Here’s the recipe and what I learned:

Strawberry Cake Balls
Makes about 120 balls if portioned by tablespoons

1 (18.25-ounce) box strawberry cake mix
1 (16-ounce) container prepared strawberry frosting
2 (16-ounce) packages white Candiquick
4 (1-ounce) squares Baker’s white chocolate (optional)
Wilton gel food coloring in rose (optional)

Bake cake according to package directions.  Cool completely, then crumble cake in a large bowl.  Add frosting and stir together or mix together with your hands until fully incorporated.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with wax paper.  Roll 1-tablespoon portions of cake-frosting mix into balls and place on baking sheets.  Freeze for at least two hours.

Melt the Candiquick in a double boiler.  (You may want to work with one package or a half package at a time.)  Pull about a dozen cake balls from the freezer and let them thaw slightly (five minutes).  (If you dip them straight from the freezer, the coating may crack.)  Just before you begin dipping the first dozen cake balls, pull another dozen from the freezer so they can thaw briefly while you dip the first dozen.  Continue this cycle until all of the cake balls are dipped.  Place dipped cake balls on wax paper to set.

If desired, you can melt the white chocolate in the microwave (according to package directions) or in a double boiler and then color it pink with the Wilton coloring. Drizzle or pipe the white chocolate on top of the cake balls once the Candiquick coating has set.  Place the decorated cake balls in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes to set the white chocolate.  Store up to 1 week in an airtight container in a cool, dark area of the kitchen.  (If you store them in the refrigerator, they may sweat.)

My notes:

  • I used Pillsbury Strawberry Moist Supreme cake mix and followed the high-altitude baking instructions.  I typically prefer Duncan Hines cake mix, but SuperTarget didn’t have Duncan Hines in strawberry.
  • I used Duncan Hines Strawberry Cream frosting.
  • I used a 1-tablespoon scoop from Sur La Table to portion out my cake balls. I then rolled them in my hands to round them out a bit.
  • To dip the cake balls in the Candiquick, I fashioned my own candy-dipping fork by breaking the two center tines out of a plastic fork.  I placed each cake ball in the melted Candiquick, used a spatula to cover the cake ball, and then gently lifted the covered cake ball out of the coating with my fork.  I tapped the fork a few times gently on the side of the bowl to remove any excess chocolate and then placed the dipped cake balls on wax paper to set.
  • I found that, regardless of my best efforts, it was nearly impossible to create an even, gorgeous coating on my dipped cake balls.  This is precisely why I drizzled the pink white chocolate on top.  I think it hid any imperfections nicely and also hinted at the pink center of the cake balls.
  • I was able to coat only half of my cake balls because I ran out of Candiquick; I thought I would need only one package.  I had more surface area to cover since I made mine pretty small.  If you make larger cake balls, you may be able to get away with only one package of the coating (but you also may need to freeze them longer for them to hold together well when dipping them).
Strawberry Cake Balls

I was in too much of a hurry to photograph the cake balls before the party, so these are the only two that were left. They were a hit!

These were a great success!  My party guests loved them (as did I), and they were an adorable addition to the buffet.  I love that the recipe is so simple, and the flavor possibilities are practically endless with all of the different cakes and frostings that are available.  I’ll definitely make these (or some variation of them) again sometime soon.

Other cake ball resources:
Bakerella (the queen of cake balls)
SimplySweeter (I used a few of her tips)

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Does anyone else still have cranberries left over from Thanksgiving?  Since they keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and also freeze beautifully, I’ve been steadily working my way through the half-full jumbo bag my mom sent home with us last month.  Today’s recipe – Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake from the December 2010 issue of Cooking Light – was a special request from my darling husband.  The dessert looked so good on the cover of the magazine that we just had to try it.

Since the process was a bit long, I’ll spare you the play-by-play today.  I did have several issues and modifications, though.

  • When I bake cheesecakes in a water bath, I always use the 18-inch-wide heavy-duty Reynolds foil because it allows me to wrap the entire 9-inch springform pan with one piece.  When I would overlap two pieces of the 12-inch foil in the past, I would consistently get leakage and a soggy crust.  I bring the foil all the way up the sides and then roll any excess at the top into a “lip” so the foil doesn’t extend down into the pan.  Works like a charm!
  • The only chocolate graham crackers my grocery store had were chocolate Teddy Grahams, so that’s what I bought.  Once they’re ground up, they’re pretty much all the same, right?
  • There was no way I was going to put oil in my cheesecake crust, so I substituted 3 tablespoons of melted butter for the 3 tablespoons of canola oil.
  • I didn’t have any Chambord and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle for the recipe, so I bought two mini bottles at the liquor store for $5.  (I have half of one bottle left.)
  • I don’t know if it was the saucepan I used (a hard anodized Calphalon) or the fact that water evaporates more quickly at high altitude, but my cranberry topping was initially more like candied cranberries than sauce (and that was even after I shaved a minute off of the cooking time).  I ended up adding 5 tablespoons of water to the sauce in the food processor step to thin it out.
  • I don’t ever use fat-free cream cheese (it’s like plastic!), so I used all reduced-fat cream cheese instead of using both types.
  • I used Fage 0% for the Greek yogurt.
  • My whole eggs were room temperature; my egg whites were pretty cold. (Eggs separate best when they’re fresh from the refrigerator.)
  • Many of the recipe reviewers complained that a 9-inch springform pan won’t fit inside a 9 x 13-inch metal pan for the water bath, and it’s true.  Luckily, I have a large lasagna pan (11 x 16) that worked well.
  • I boiled my water in a tea kettle before pouring it around the foil-wrapped cheesecake.
  • The recipe indicated that the cheesecake should barely move in the center after 50 minutes of baking time at 325°F.  Several reviewers said they had to add baking time, whether it was 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or more.  I ended up giving my cheesecake 65 minutes at 325°F before turning off the oven and giving it 30 minutes of in-oven cooling time.

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

This recipe isn’t going to knock my all-time favorite cheesecake (Margarita Cheesecake!) off its throne, but it was pretty fantastic (and far more seasonally appropriate).  This recipe produced a light, fluffy, creamy texture and I loved the play between the slightly tart cranberry topping and the sweetness of the cheesecake.  One of the recipe reviewers on the Cooking Light site said that she didn’t like the chocolate crust because it created “too many flavors” in the final result; I think chocolate and cranberry go together beautifully, though, so I loved it. It was a bit challenging to get the crust out when I cut the first piece (the first piece is always the hardest!), but subsequent pieces came out easily.

I’ve made quite a few cheesecakes and have a pretty sensitive palate, so I could tell this was a lower-fat cheesecake.  I don’t think your average dinner guest would have an inkling, though.  Since this cheesecake is gorgeous, delicious, and able to be made ahead, I’m definitely putting it in my holiday recipe arsenal.

Recipe link: Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Margarita Cupcakes

I have another cake recipe that works here in Denver!  Yay!

I typically prefer to make cake (and just about anything else) from scratch, but altitude seriously interferes with my baking.  While I’ve had some from-scratch success (these most recently), I know the one thing I can really count on in a bind is cake mix.  Yes, I said it.  For me, cake mix is kind of like cheating, but it’s never let me down the way that some of my from-scratch experiments have.

Recently, I was looking for a margarita cupcake recipe to use for a little fiesta I’m having in a few weeks.  There are plenty of recipes, but I couldn’t find anything geared specifically towards the high-altitude baker.  I did find one, though, that used trusty cake mix as a base.  It had enough “extra” ingredients to be fairly original; plus, the icing recipe looked absolutely amazing.  I decided to give it a go.

To make the cake batter, I combined 1 package (18.25 ounces) of white cake mix, 1 can (10 ounces, thawed, undiluted) of frozen margarita mix (I used Bacardi), 3 egg whites (room temperature), and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, I beat the mixture on low speed for 30 seconds and on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Next, I stirred in 1 loosely-packed tablespoon of lime zest (from 1 lime).

I wanted to try this recipe as full-size cupcakes and as minis, so I made the full-size ones first.  I put cupcake liners in a standard muffin pan, filled the cups 2/3 full of batter, and baked them at 350°F.  The recipe suggested they’d be done in 22 – 24 minutes; my toothpick test was clean at 18 minutes.  While they initially puffed up really nicely in the oven, the full-size cupcakes did end up falling quite a bit.  The minis, on the other hand, turned out pretty well.  I put liners in a 24-cup mini muffin pan, filled them 2/3 full, and baked them at 350°F for 12 minutes this time around.  They had much smoother tops than the full-size cupcakes and actually retained a bit of crown.

Mini and Full Cupcakes

Comparison of mini and full-size cupcakes

While the cupcakes cooled, I whipped up the frosting.  Swiss meringue buttercream definitely takes more effort than a standard buttercream, but it was so smooth, fluffy, and delicious that it was absolutely worth it.  I put 5 egg whites (room temperature), 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar, and a pinch of table salt in a heatproof bowl.  I then set it over (not touching) a pot of simmering water to create my own double boiler.  (Read my Chocolate Pisatchio Torte post if you can’t quite visualize how this works.)  Whisking constantly, I cooked the mixture until the sugar had dissolved and the mixture had reached 160°F.  (I used an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature, and it took me about 10 minutes to get to 160°F.)

I poured the heated mixture into the bowl of my stand mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment) and beat it on high speed until it formed stiff (but not dry) peaks (about 2 – 3 minutes).  I lowered the speed to medium and continued beating until the mixture was fluffy and cooled (about 7 minutes).

Once the mixture had cooled, I switched out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on medium speed, I added 2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temperature), 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.  With all the butter added, I increased the speed to medium-high and continued beating until the frosting appeared thick (3 minutes).  Finally, I reduced the speed to low and added 2 tablespoons of tequila, the zest of half a lime (about 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons), and the juice of half a lime (about 1 tablespoon).  After a moment of terror – the frosting initially became flat and slick when the last ingredients were added! – I continued mixing until everything was incorporated. I piped the frosting onto the cupcakes and garnished them with sanding sugar (like margarita salt!) and jelly lime slices.

Margarita Cupcake

I was really pleasantly surprised by how these turned out!  They’re absolutely adorable, and the amount of zest in the cake and the icing gives them a strong lime flavor.  The cake is just box cake, yes, but the light and fluffy texture goes well with the texture of the icing (which is so amazing I could happily eat it straight from the mixing bowl).  I thought there might be a slight burn from the uncooked booze in the buttercream, but I could hardly taste it.

I do think this recipe is best suited for minis; the cake bakes up better in the smaller cups and I think the flavor could be overwhelming for some in the full-size version.  These two-bite minis are going to be absolutely perfect for my party, though.

TIPS:  The original recipe said to use a cake mix that didn’t have pudding in the mix.  I realized that the Betty Crocker mix I had purchased actually did have pudding in it (after I got home, of course), but everything worked out fine.  I’m going to try a pudding-free Duncan Hines mix when I make my next batch just to see if there’s really a difference.  If there are any high-altitude modifications on the box, I’ll follow them.  (The Betty Crocker mix didn’t require any changes, but I think the Duncan Hines mix has high-altitude bakers add 2 tablespoons of flour or something.)

Also, since the icing has cooked egg and butter in it, I would recommend refrigerating these cupcakes if you plan to store them overnight.  Bring them to room temperature (about 20 minutes on the counter) before serving.

Recipe link: Margarita Cupcakes

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