Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Adventures in Ebelskiver

Not perfect, but definitely not bad for a first time! And powdered sugar always covers a multitude of sins.
Last weekend I tried my hand at Ebelskiver for the first time. Pancakes nor French toast appealed to us, and a run to Starbucks next door (in 0-degree weather) was out of the question, so I broke out the Ebelskiver pan I got for Christmas What is Ebelskiver, you ask? It's a delicious little filled-pancake-on-the-verge-of-a-doughnut, created by those very clever Danes. It has its very own pan with round troughs, and the basic batter can be used to create almost any flavor or filling your heart desires.

I happened to use bittersweet chocolate chips for a filling, but you can use almost anything your imagination conjures. Nutella, berries, jam, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped nuts, and crumbled bacon are just some of the things that come to my mind. Then you can add toppings post-cooking; powdered sugar is the traditional topper, but I envision hot maple syrup, confectioner's icing, melted chocolate, and chopped nuts all as viable candidates.

Admittedly, my first batch was a disaster. But I quickly picked up the knack and successfully completed enough Ebelskiver for breakfast. Here are a few things I learned:
Cooking the Ebelskiver
Flipped and almost ready
  • Only work with a hot pan. Like a griddle, make sure the Ebelskiver pan is nice and hot before you add the batter. This allows the outside of the Ebelskiver to fry quickly and create a golden, almost crispy, shell. 
  • Don't forget the oil. Use about 1 tsp of oil in each well for each batch.
  • It takes only about a tablespoon of batter to fill the well. The batter will be just shy of the top of the well, and if you add anything as a filling, it will be level with the top. That was the mistake I made with my first batch. I filled the well to the top, not realizing it would puff up and further overflow once I added the chocolate chips (my selected filling) to the well. Overflow on the pan=disastrous flipping!
  • After about a minute of cooking, the pancake is ready to flip. Look for signs that the batter is cooking through, similar to that of a griddle pancake: the edges will appear dry and bubbles will form on the surface. Use a fork to push down one edge of the Ebelskiver, then slide the fork under the exposed side to flip the pancake. 
  • It will only take about another minute to finish the pancake. Simply slide them out onto a paper towel-covered plate and dust with powdered sugar, drizzle with icing, or anything else that sounds tasty! Make sure to serve them hot, so that they maintain their fresh crispiness.
Resources for Recipes--here are some recipes to give your imagination a jump-start:
Cinnamon Bun Pancakes from Williams Sonoma
Apple Ebelskiver from Rachael Ray

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Have Your Cake and Eat it too....and Don't Forget the Frosting!

So Marie Antoinette may have never insensitively said "let them eat cake", but even the misguided mistress of Versailles understood the decadent importance of a good cake. And what good is cake without its crowning glory, a sometimes thick, sometimes glossy, sometimes rich layer of frosting?

Every year I make about a dozen desserts for a non-profit organization that is near and dear to my heart. In early January this organization has a formal dinner and dance, complete with a live swing orchestra and a dessert auction (clever really, dinner is included in your ticket but you have to pay for your dessert!). I provide a range of desserts, trying to appeal to any taste, and always try to bring back the best-sellers of the dessert auction. Many of these best of the best are cakes, and in mastering a sell-able dessert (and doing it several times over again) I have learned many dos and don't-dos.

Do: trim the top of your cake. If you're working on a layer cake, a cake trimmer is magic. Seriously, I don't know how I lived without this tool for so many years of auctions. A serrated knife is fine if the blade of the knife is longer than the diameter of your cake and you have a really good eye for cutting levelly, but I am not that talented. The $4 Wilton cake trimmer was worth its weight in gold after the first use.
Do: flip over your top cake layer. Even after leveling my top layer, I find that is much easier to frost the bottom of the cake than the top. By flipping over the top layer (so that the trimmed side is down), you are going to prevent a lot of crumbs and cake bits from messing up your frosting.
 Don't: forget to do a crumb layer. The secret to the smoothest surface is doing a crumb layer first. Sometimes I'll make my frosting a little thinner than usual, do the crumb layer, and then thicken the frosting with some more confectioner's sugar for the top layer. Spread a really thin layer of frosting over the entire layer cake (it doesn't matter if it's smooth or's meant to catch crumbs) and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Once the frosting has set, proceed with your top layer of frosting.
Frosting a cake with my offset spatula (don't forget to scrape it off once in a while!)
Do: buy an offset spatula. A long offset spatula (you can buy them almost any store that sells kitchen supplies) is the key to great frosting. It allows you to smooth the sides easily and gives you control when spreading frosting across the top.
Don't: forget to clean off your spatula while you work. If you happen to pick up any crumbs while spreading the frosting, scrape the spatula onto the bowl or a small plate right away. Otherwise you'll end up pushing crumbs around in your frosting...not attractive.
The finished product, ready for transport
 Don't: worry about making the surface absolutely perfect. I've found it's really hard to mimic the perfectly smooth surface of a professionally-baked cake, so I don't even try. Plus, there's something really pretty about a cake that looks homemade...thick frosting molded into pretty swirls.

A few other tried-and-true tips:
  • Work on an elevated surface. It's a lot easier to work on a cake when it's not at the counter level. I use baking racks to get closer to my cake, but a pedestal or even an overturned mixing bowl will work too.
  • Start with the center and work your way out. Work your frosting from the top and center, spreading outward and to the sides. The same goes for cupcakes: put a dollop in the center, spread out to the edges, then smooth the frosting from the outside inward.
  • When serving the cake, use a sharp knife and hot water. Dipping the knife in a glass of hot water will help keep the blade clean and your slices picture-perfect.