Friday, March 30, 2018

Nutella Dream Cake

Nutella Dream Cake - made March 11, 2018, modified from Cleobuttera
My obsession and preference for feuilletine continues. I had to order a second container of the stuff to try out this recipe. At first I was skeptical of making the cake layers. The base was a cake mix and you know how judgy I am about grocery store box cake mixes. But there were enough added ingredients to it that I figured my snobby taste buds could deal.

Second moment of pause is when I baked these for only 20 minutes and the toothpick test came out almost completely clean. Did I overbake them? Were they going to be dry? Ugh. But thankfully, my paranoia was unfounded. In fact, I discovered the cake came out pretty well, was moist, had a good crumb and was appropriately chocolaty.

I simplified my version of the cake from the original blog several ways. I used the Nutella-feuilletine layer as the bottom layer as directed although I didn’t see the need to freeze it since it set just fine at room temperature. But I only used two of the three cake layers for the rest of the cake as I didn’t want the cake to be too tall. A towering cake looks impressive but once you start cutting it, things can go south really fast (ask me how I know). I didn’t cut each layer in half either but just went with them as is. That’s because more layers mean more frosting between the layers and I want more cake, not more frosting.

I also omitted the Nutella sauce. Instead, I frosted the feuilletine layer with straight Nutella then used the Nutella frosting as the filling between the cake layers and the overall cake. I also frosted the third layer and presented that as just a plain cake.

Despite all my simplifications, this was a really, really good cake. As in, when I brought it into work, I got a lot of compliments on it, getting stopped in the hall, people cursing me for ruining their diets (yeah, I’m that coworker), others sneaking in a second piece. I liked the contrast of the crunchy feuilletine layer on the bottom, the Nutella and chocolate combination of soft cake and I even liked the frosting. It was a bit too soft to use to pipe decorations (I tried and the results were disastrous) so I simply used it just as frosting and gave up on any fancy decorations.

Nutella Crunch Layer
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Nutella
2 1/2 cups (7 5/8 ounces) feuilletine

1 15.25-ounce box chocolate cake mix
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup sour cream

Nutella Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups Nutella
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup Nutella
  1. Make the Nutella Crunch Layer: Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper then spray with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips and butter; melt over a double boiler set over hot water.
  3. Stir in the Nutella until well combined. Add in the feuilletine and gently stir into the Nutella mixture to coat.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap then chill in the freezer until set and a firm layer, at least 30 minutes. Keep chilled until ready to assemble cake.
  5. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Line three 8-inch cake pans with parchment rounds and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake mix, flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt until well combined.
  8. Add in the eggs, vanilla, oil, water and sour cream. Beat at low speed until all ingredients are combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl to keep even-textured. Beat for 1 minute longer.
  9. Divide batter equally between prepared cake pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the centers comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
  10. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes then invert onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper and reinvert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. Make the frosting: in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water, melt chocolates.
  12. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add in the cream cheese and beat until smooth and well combined, about 1 minute.
  13. Add in the Nutella and mix until completely incorporated. Add in the melted chocolate and mix until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in a cool place until ready to use.
  14. Assemble the cake: take the Nutella crunch layer out of the freezer, remove plastic wrap and parchment and place in the middle of a cake board or large cake plate.
  15. Frost the crunch layer with a thin layer of the 1/2 cup Nutella. 
  16. Place the first cake layer over crunch later. Top with 1/2 cup of the Nutella frosting.
  17. Repeat with remaining layers. Frost entire cake with remaining Nutella frosting.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Vanilla Bread Pudding

Vanilla Bread Pudding - made March 4, 2018, modified from Recipe Tips

Bread pudding is one of those desserts that may not be very photogenic but tastes better than it looks. Not that it looks bad, necessarily, but it just looks humble. Unassuming even. But it’s a tasty dessert. That is, if you like French toast on steroids. Because that’s what a good bread pudding is.

For this one, I went plain vanilla. Mostly because I had milk I wanted to use up and not much else to flavor the bread pudding with. No mashed bananas, no caramelized apples, no toasted pecans. Fortunately, this vanilla bread pudding is still freaking delicious.

The only downside is bread pudding in any flavor is a heavy dessert. So maximize the caloric enjoyment and have bread pudding at its peak: when it’s still lukewarm so that the custard has had time to firm up and isn’t too mushy but the top still has some crunch from baking. Bread pudding is often serve chilled but that takes out the crunchy crust factor. I like the best of all worlds by having it still lukewarm and I’ve softened the top crusty part with a warm vanilla glaze. Worth that extra workout in the gym.
6 cups cubed challah (1 full-size loaf)
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk or more until of thin, pourable consistency

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13" casserole.
  2. Combine milk and butter in saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Whisk smooth.
  3. Combine sugar, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. Temper in milk, a ladleful at a time, whisking until mixture is combined,
  4. Place a single layer of cubed bread in casserole dish. Pour milk-custard mixture, covering bread completely. Add another layer of bread and alternately pour custard over bread, layering until all bread cubes have been added. Cover with remaining custard mixture, ensuring mixture has soaked through all bread pieces.
  5. Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes then place in preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool to lukewarm.
  6. Make glaze: whisk together powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and combined. Pour over lukewarm bread pudding, cut and serve.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Pao de Queijo - made February 25, 2018 from Olivia's Cuisine
Having developed a foodie crush now on Brazilian cheese bread, I googled recipes for it literally as soon as I left Pampas that night. It took me awhile to make it as I had to suss out some tapioca flour but I finally got to it. While tapioca flour is available on amazon, like millions of other hard-to-find things, I balked at how expensive it was on amazon and instead turned to my trusty local Ranch 99 Asian grocery store. 

The plus side is it cost a fraction of what it sells for on amazon. The minus side is it takes me forever and 3 days to find anything at Ranch 99 since I don’t know where anything is located and I can’t read anything non-English except for my smattering of Tagalog. And in the interests of brutal honesty, I couldn’t find it on my first trip so I asked my mom, a more regular Ranch 99 shopper than me, to get it for me on her next shopping trip. She eventually found it but even she had to ask someone where it was. Something I didn’t do since I couldn’t find anyone on the floor at the time to help.

But once the tapioca flour was secured, I finally made this recipe. It was surprisingly simple to make. Finding the tapioca flour was harder than mixing this together. Be warned that the dough does get super sticky and difficult to work with. I didn’t even bother trying to hand-shape it with my bare hands, envisioning my fingers getting cemented together with the sticky, pasty, rubbery mass. Instead, I spooned generous dollops of the dough directly into greased but unlined muffin tins. I was a little afraid they would be hard to pry out of the tins after but was pleasantly surprised to find they not only puff and rise during baking but also easily popped right out of the muffin cavities.

The first batch came out a little pale. I baked them for the time suggested in the recipe and they looked fine. The outside was crusty-soft but the inside looked like baked brie. I was afraid that meant they weren’t done because the cheese bread from Pampas had more structure than that so I put them back into the oven to bake another 10 minutes. I finally took them out before they got too brown. The outside was pleasingly crunchy and the inside was warm cheesy gooeyness. These still didn’t have the same texture as the ones from Pampas but they tasted pretty good. These are best eaten warm! While the outside is crusty (it softens after cooling) and the inside is warm molten cheese. These are a good bread-basket option if you want something gluten-free. But seriously, eat them warm. So good that way.

4 cups tapioca flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine the milk, water, oil and salt over medium high heat. Add the tapioca flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Once the milk boils, pour over the flour. Mix flour and milk on medium-high speed until well combined.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, until combined.
  4. Add the cheeses, a half cup at a time, until incorporated.
  5. Wet your hands and shape the dough into golf-ball size balls. Space evenly on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Serve warm.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Restaurant Review: Pampas Brazilian Churrascaria

Pampas Brazilian Churrascaria - team dinner on January 20, 2018
We had a team dinner back in January at Pampas, a Brazilian steakhouse. I’d heard of Pampas before and of Brazilian steakhouses in general so I had some idea of what to expect. But, as is the case most of the time, reality was way better than theory.

Cheese bread, fried bananas, fried polenta
If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before, my advice to get your money’s worth is: go hungry, pace yourself, and go easy on the sides. If you’re on a high protein diet, this is very diet-friendly for you. If you can manage to pass up the Brazilian cheese bread that is, served warm with a crunchy crust and is soft, cheesy goodness on the inside.
Best cheese bread ever

At Pampas, we were a large enough group that the restaurant gave us part of a separate room on the lower floor, away from the madding crowd. It was perfect. While we waited for everyone to arrive, we went to the “salad bar”. If you’re a vegetarian, you can still get a decent meal here. The side bar is filled with all manners of veggies and other non-protein choices, including a variety of cheeses. I was there for the steak so I limited my carb choices to a few chunks of cheese, half an ear of corn and a little mashed potatoes.

Once most of our tables were filled, the servers began arriving. The hallmark of a Brazilian steakhouse is the servers come to the tables, with long metal skewers of various proteins: different cuts of steak (sirloin, roast, filet mignon), poultry (turkey breast wrapped in bacon, chicken hearts, chicken drumsticks) and lamb. They snip off a serving to anyone who salivates asks for it. And they just keep coming until you turn the sign on the table to red, indicating “stop! I’m stuffed to the gills”.

Although they tell you what each thing is as they serve it, there were so many items that I have to confess I lost track of what I was eating. All I can say is it was amazing. All of it. Seriously flavorful, tender cuts of beef. I passed on the lamb because I was getting full but my favorite protein turned out to be the turkey breast wrapped in bacon. Bear in mind, I don’t normally like turkey and I’m usually indifferent to bacon. But this thing was extremely delicious.

Ironically though, despite it being a (to me) very good Brazilian steakhouse, the two things I loved and would go back there for those alone aren’t meats at all but the cheese bread and the roasted pineapple. I’ve never had Brazilian cheese bread before but it was so good, crusty on the outside, melting-warm on the inside, just cheesy goodness all around. I need to learn how to make it (more to follow on that).
Bacon-wrapped Turkey Breast (top), sausage (bottom)

And the pineapple! I usually prefer my pineapple to be cold because that’s what I’m used to. But served warm off the skewer with perfectly sweet goodness? I’m now a fan. The roasted pineapple comes at the end so next time I would do a better job of pacing myself so I leave room for it.
Roasted Pineapple - so good

All in all, thumbs up on Pampas. It’s rather pricey at $55 a head if you get the full meats and side bar option ($29 if you just want the side bar) but the service was good and the food was amazing. 

Peanut Butter Cup


One last look at the cheese bread