Thursday, March 27, 2014

- Newfangled Birthday Bites: Almond cake balls go decadent

It's really, really hard to bake for someone like Paul, who slam-dunks incredible meals on a regular basis ... but I tried. My idea was to create cake balls, but made from scratch rather than using cake mix and prefab frosting. And not too sweet. With a few different varieties. Of course I decided to do all this the day before needing them, leaving no time for experimentation. In fact, as I'm writing this, the cake balls newfangled birthday bites are in the chill chest and I'm hoping they'll be ready to transport by 6:00 tonight (in 4 hours).

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. This all began with yet another adaptation of the Smitten Kitchen Petit Four Cake (which is itself an adaptation ... stealing like an artist to make Austin Kleon proud).

Almond Cake

6 ounces butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond flour
2/3 Tbs. baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Alternate flours and milk (2 rounds of each), but don't overmix.Spray two 6"x2" round pans (Wilton makes them and they are fantabulous), divide batter between the two. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Put on wire racks to cool.

While the cakes were cooling, I assembled my additions for six different flavor combos: 


 The ingredients on the left were destined to be paired with a chocolate ganache coating. From the lower left:
  • Drambuie, espresso powder, and chopped hazelnuts for "After Dinner Bites"
  • Seedless raspberry jam, almond extract, and almond meal for "Petit Four Bites"
  • Cocoa and chipotle powders for "Hot Chocolate Bites"
The ingredients on the right were to be enrobed in sweetened Mascarpone cream. From lower right:
  • Cinnamon, vanilla, and colored sugar crytals for "Mardi Gras Bites"
  • Tequila, Cointreau, lime (zest and juice), and Outer Banks Sea Salt for "Margarita Bites"
  • Barbancourt (Haitian rum), nutmeg, and toasted coconut for "Island Bites"
I whipped 16 ounces of Mascarpone with 8 ounces of heavy cream and divided it into six small bowls, reserving a small portion for the Mardi Gras Bites (to be explained later). The cake was likewise divided into six equal portions. From there is was a sequential operation of crumbling cake, mixing additions into the mascarpone, and gently combining the two, while holding back about 1/3 cup each of the flavored Mascarpone to coat the Margarita and Island Bites.

It was especially enjoyable working out how much of what to add to each batch, as I sampled my way through the process using most of the teaspoons in the flatware drawer (over a dozen). The resulting cake combos were shaped into five walnut-size balls per flavor and packed off to the freezer in a parchment-lined Pyrex dish.

While the the naked birthday bites chilled out, I tested out my first cream coating with some plain mascarpone and cream, half and half, confectioners sugar, and vanilla for the Mardi Gras Bites (I didn't want to use the cinnamon filling in this case because I wanted the sugar crystals to show up on the cream). Dipping the chilled bites in the vanilla Mascarpone cream was a little dicey and I didn't make quite enough so the coating was a bit thin. But I soldiered on, placing each bite on a metal cooling rack and then sprinkled them all with King Cake green, purple, and gold sugar crystals.

The Margarita Bites went better, with a larger batch of lime/tequila/Cointreau/confectioners sugar/Mascarpone cream topped with a pinch of salt. The similarly upsized batch of nutmeg/Barbancourt/confectioners sugar/Mascarpone cream on the Island Bites was dusted with toasted coconut. At which point everything went back in the freezer again.

Since the remaining three batches were all to be topped with chocolate ganache, I glugged about 1/3 cup of heavy cream into a medium-sized mixing bowl, then thought the better of it and doubled the amount. One minute in the microwave on high and 8 ounces of Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips later, I was whisking my way to a glossy ganache.

The remaining bites were quickly swirled through the ganache using some old fondue forks and given different toppings to make them identifiable: coarsely chopped hazelnuts on the After Dinner Bites, finely ground almonds on the Petit Four Bites, and a sprinkling of chipotle and cocoa powders on the Hot Chocolate Bites.

Then back in the freezer yet again whilst I tackled this blog post to keep me from peeking too often ... which worked, up until now. So I just checked and the ganache-coated bites have firmed up nicely ... the mascarpone bites not so much. Uh oh ...

What's worse, the ganache-coated bites are more than a bit too big to fit in the nifty little cupcake liners that I got to put in the egg cartons that I'm using (they're brand new, unused egg cartons, btw). So much for my attempt at upping my presentation skills.

Fortunately, the Mascarpone cream bites are a little smaller, so I get to use the liners after all ... which is a good thing because the cream coating is a bit soft. By George, I think I'm going to pull this thing off!

Note to my future self:  If I'm going to use the cute egg cartons again  I'll definitely have to down-size the bite-size. As for the flavor profiles, the jury is still out. News at 11 (well 10 actually ... we're on Central Time). 

Update: the consensus winner was the Drambuie/Espresso/Chocolate/Hazelnut combo

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