Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coffee Cream Ice Box Cake

I get a bunch of food magazines, which I love to read and get inspiration from. This month, one of the magazines featured ice box cakes created by famous (at least to foodies) pastry chefs. There were some really interesting ideas, so I decided that my project this summer is going to experiment with ice box cakes. They are perfect for summer, because you don't have to turn on the oven (which I hate to do when it's hot outside - just makes the air conditioner work harder), are super easy (can you whip some cream and stack cookies together?), and taste so yummy (what's better than whipped cream and cookies?)!

 It seemed like the combinations could be endless, and I was a little overwhelmed at first trying to figure out what to make first. However, I had made some coffee syrup a little while back and had wanted to use that in some way. Cruising the cookie aisle at the grocery store, I saw a package of Bischoff cookies (biscuits?) and it's tag line was something like "coffee's favorite cookie." Ding! Ding! Ding! We had a winner! So I grabbed a couple of packages of them, some whipping cream, and some creme fraiche.  Originally, I had wanted to use mascarpone cheese, thinking I needed a little tang to cut through some of the richness and sweetness, but I couldn't find it, so I used creme fraiche, which worked well. If you can't find either of those, I think a 50/50 mixture of cream cheese and sour cream would also work.

So give this a try - it really is simple!

Coffee Cream Ice Box Cake

2 packages Bischoff cookies (you won't need all of these, but some of the cookies might be broken, so it's best to have a back up package)
3 tbsp. coffee syrup (see recipe below) , more or less depending on how strong you want the coffee taste to come out
3 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (or scrape the seeds of half a vanilla bean and add)
1 8 oz container of creme fraiche (or mascarpone cheese)
raspberries or sliced almond for garnish (optional)

First, you need to whip the cream. To help matters along, I usually put my bowl and beater in the fridge for a while (20-30 minutes, or even a couple of hours if I think of it early enough). Pour the whipping cream in the mixing bowl, add the powdered sugar and vanilla and whip until thick and fluffy (with my Kitchen Aid mixer on high it takes about 3 minutes). Measure out 1.5 cups of the whipped cream and set aside.

To the remaining whipped cream in the mixing bowl, add the 3 tbsp of coffee syrup and creme fraiche. Whip together until incorporated. It should look something like this:

Take about 3 tablespoons of the coffee cream and thinly spread it (I used and offset spatula) on whatever serving platter you are going to use for the cake. Then, pour a little bit of the coffee syrup mixture into a shallow bowl or plate with sides.

Dip eight cookies into the coffee syrup, then arrange on top of the coffee cream like this:

Spread about a cup of coffee cream on top of the cookies. You want to have a fairly thick layer of cream -- about a quarter inch or so. Dip eight more cookies and layer those in the same way on top of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until you have 4 layers, ending with cream on top. Use the remaining cream to frost the sides. Alternatively, you can make an extra layer of cookies and cream, and leave the sides of the cake open, showing some of the cookies.

This is what mine looked like at the end:

Refrigerate the completed cake for at least 8 hours, overnight is best. I even had the cake in the fridge for 3 days and it was still delicious!

To serve, I used the vanilla whipped cream (remember setting that aside at the beginning of the recipe?) and piped along the bottom edge and on the top, using some fresh raspberries for decoration. You could also decorate with chocolate (sprinkle chocolate shavings or sift cocoa powder on top).

I served this at a PTA meeting and it was a big hit! Next time you want to make something sweet, but don't want to turn the oven on, this is definitely a good one to try. You will be the hit of the potluck! Serves 8-10.

To make the coffee syrup:  Simmer 2 cups strong coffee with 1.5 cups sugar in a small saucepan until reduced by about half and syrupy -- it took about an hour at a simmer for it to cook down to the right consistency. You'll end up with about 1 and 3/4 cups syrup and you won't use all of this for this recipe.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Who Needs Birthday Cake?

My oldest son is now a teenager. Wow! I'm not sure what I was expecting, some sort of sudden onset of moodiness and emotions, but he's still pretty normal, so I'm counting my blessings for now.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that he's going to be in high school soon, doing all the high-school-y things that kids do. I'm not really ready for that...

The thing about Max is that he's never been much of a cake guy. He likes cake, kind of, but doesn't really like frosting (I know, sacrilege!). He gets my creative juices flowing, though, to figure out something fun to celebrate his birthday, but with something that's not cake.

In the past, I've made a cookie cake (cookies stacked in layers with whipped cream, sort of like an ice box cake), ice cream cake (this one I made for Elliot, but I made one for Max with chocolate cake, peanut butter ice cream, and Reese's peanut butter cups chopped and scattered on top), and had root beer floats. This year, we had three different celebrations (family, then a sleepover with friends, then a larger neighborhood families party), so my challenge was particularly difficult. Luckily, Max had an idea of what he wanted, so I just had to figure out the execution.

For our family night, we had molten lava cakes with strawberry filling. Basically, I made a generic molten lava cake but added a teaspoon of strawberry sundae topping to the middle of the cake (1/4 cup of batter in the ramekin, then teaspoon of topping, then another 1/4-1/3 cup of batter on top). I love lava cakes, because you can prepare them ahead of time (like, hours) and put the ramekins in the fridge until you are ready to bake. And people love individual dessert. :-) Served it with vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream and more strawberry sauce on top. Although I prefer the traditional molten lava cake, Max seemed to really like it, so I'll call it a win!

The next night, we went a little bit over the top. I made a skillet brownie (the linked recipe is the one I used, cutting the chocolate chips in half and adding 1/2 cup peanut butter chips),  then topped it off with vanilla ice cream, homemade chocolate and peanut butter sauces, whipped cream (natch!), chopped peanuts and chopped dark chocolate. Oh my word! That was GOOD!

Finally, for the larger party (about 10 kids and 11 adults), we did a sundae bar with different ice creams, fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries), cookies, chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, whipped cream and lots of different sauces. It was a lot of fun, and the kids really enjoyed it! Unfortunately, I apparently didn't take a picture of the sundae spread, although I swear I did. The sundae bar was pretty easy, since it kind of built from the previous festivities. For Max's sleepover, we did a pancake bar, where I made pancakes and we had different syrups and fruits to put on top. We had stuff left over, so pretty much everything was already prepped for the ice cream sundaes (I did cheat and used canned whipped topping, because it's easy and fun - the kids could put their own on). :-)

What are your alternatives to birthday cake? I would love to hear about your ideas!