Saturday, 28 January 2012

The First Use of My Standing Mixer

Over the winter break, I received a standing mixer for Christmas. And since then, it's been sitting in my makeshift demo station as I sought out time to actually make use of it. All told, I knew that once I started using it, it would be very difficult to go back to basics and whisk everything up by hand; midway through the first semester of my time here at Denison, my electric hand mixer broke and so anything that needed whisking had to be done old school. In many respects, knowing full well the workout that would ensue helped me to decide which recipes I would attempt. The first use of my standing mixer would have to be for something I had never made before but wanted to... had I had such an amazing kitchen appliance. Last night, I decided that that something would be homemade butter which I would then use for berry butter, and mini chili chocolate cakes in celebration of National Chocolate Cake Day.

The idea for making homemade butter had been quite the longstanding one for me and after reading this article, I felt perfectly fine not even attempting it. The amount of time needed to make it, as well as the price itself, were (and in many cases still are) both in favour of buying the sticks of butter you see in the supermarket. But, as this article suggests, there really is nothing unlike the real deal, homemade version-- and that's certainly the case for nearly anything else we consume. And again when it's something as easy as setting the standing mixer on medium speed and letting it work its magic for 10 minutes, I'm definitely up for it.

Quite literally, into a large mixing bowl, pour in your heavy cream and slowly (so you don't splash the liquid all over the place) bring your standing mixer up to medium speed, and allow it to run until the solids (butterfat) separate from the liquids (buttermilk). Just to see how this worked, and because I happened to have a little bit of heavy cream sitting in my refrigerator, I went with 1/2 c. If you don't have a standing mixer, the very old school style would be to pour some cream into a jar and shake it like no other to agitate it to the point of separation; if you have a hand mixer, you should be able to make a makeshift contraption to hold it in place or if you've got nothing else to do, you could sit/stand there and hold it yourself.

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Within seconds (photo 1), the cream starts to foam as air gets incorporated into the liquid. After about two and half minutes, the cream should be forming soft peaks and by minute three (photo 2) they should be approaching stiff peaks. By hand, this would usually take about 5-7 minutes. About three to four minutes later (photo 3), the cream should begin to look rather dense and actually turn golden in colour. As you near the eight- to nine-minute mark (photo 4), you should see the solids start to separate from the liquid.

Before I go any further, I do want to note I did use ultra pasteurised heavy cream; I find it particularly important to note this because pretty much all the websites and blogs I've browsed through all say not to go that route (1, 2, 3 and 4) And some (such as this one) go so far as to say it won't work. And while I understand the less messed with the butter the better, I honestly have no idea what the issue is other than the quality of the resulting butter (and even still, I'm doing more with the butter in this post than just eating it as is). In any case, my eyes and senses tell me that by minute nine, going into ten, the solids (butterfat, stabilisers and all) have separated from the liquid. The point at which this becomes a reality happens when you hear the sloshing sound coming from the bowl.

At this point, lower the mixer speed and continue mixing, extracting as much liquid as you can from the butterfat. As this is going, get a sheet or two of cheese cloth and/or a mesh strainer. After another minute or so, the still wet butter will look creamy and look like it's begun to dry as it better clumps together.

With a bowl or container underneath your cheese cloth, dump out all the contents of your mixing bowl into it. Strain as much of the liquid as you possibly can from the (now) butter. Though I didn't do it, you could run this butter through some cold water until it runs clear, just to make sure all the buttermilk has been extracted. The less buttermilk that's left in the final product, the longer it will keep.

And voilà ! May I present to you what I consider buttermilk and butter good enough to use and enjoy for your culinary pleasure! From my 1/2 c heavy whipping cream (ultra pasteurised), I managed to get about 1/4 c each buttermilk and butter. This being said, if you can find a sale on heavy whipping cream and you could use some fresh butter, chances are thing could work out where going this route is much more budget friendly (for those interested in butter price trends or just food trends overall, read this and/or this).

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I had been wanting to make berry butter after seeing it made on Food Network's The Pioneer Woman. So, when I went to Meijer yesterday to do my grocery shopping I stopped by the frozen foods section to pick up some frozen mixed berries. However, none of it was on sale; this prompted me to try out the fresh fruit which is typically higher in price. Well, here in the Midwest it's rather difficult to find cheap berries (let alone berries, period) this time of the year. Luckily, I found fruit that was on sale (typically prices are more budget friendly early in the morning, later at night or just before a new shipment comes in) and went with two handfuls of blueberries and a handful of diced strawberries that would go into my version of berry butter. But first, I had to come to grips with the fact my little yield of butter wouldn't be enough for this concoction. With the whisk attachment, I first softened a stick of unsalted butter and then incorporated about half the butter I made (saving 1.5 tbsp). That all combined, I switched to the paddle attachment and incorporated the berries.

With everything thoroughly combined, plop the berry butter mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap laying on top of a sheet of tin foil. Shape this into a log as best as possible, using the plastic wrap to help you. Wrap this lot with the tin foil and twist the ends. Certainly you could use the berry butter as is, but it wouldn't do all that much for presentation as the butter is rather soft at this point. Stick the butter in the freezer for about half an hour and then transfer it to the refrigerator. You want the butter to be soft enough that you don't destroy your knife but hard enough that you can actually cut rounds of butter. At the time of my writing this post, the berry butter is still in my fridge. I suppose I'll need to make pancakes or French toast sooner rather than later so I can report how it turned out (and if my bit of homemade butter compromised the flavours in any way).

Back to that saved butter, I was reminded that yesterday was National Chocolate Cake Day and so I used the butter to make a chocolate cake to celebrate (and to see how the butter would affect it); get the oven preheating at 350°F. As you may know, my slightly adapted Hershey's chocolate cake recipe is my typical standard as it is relatively light and consistently moist. This time around, I wanted to try something new and so I used as my guide Chocolate: Cooking with the World's Best Ingredient's "Death by Chocolate" cake base recipe (pg 102) to make mini chili chocolate cakes (ratio-wise I made four times less batter). To begin, I melted in a small pot the reserved 1.5 tbsp of my homemade butter and melted in a little over 2 oz (six squares) dark chocolate infused with red chili. As this all melted together, 1/4 c milk was added and stirred until very smooth; to this, add 1/4 c brown sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract. Again, mix this lot very well so the sugar has melted and you don't have any clumps.

Taking the pot off the heat to cool slightly, beat very well a whole egg in a mixing bowl and pitch half of it (or make an incredibly mini omelette or a bit of scrambled egg on toast if you so desire). While whisking the egg, slowly and in three or four batches incorporate the melted chocolate mixture; you don't want to just dump the chocolate in all at one time or else the egg will scramble. With quite a bit of air now incorporated into the batter, sift and fold in slightly less than 1 c all-purpose flour, a pinch of baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Once thoroughly combined, divide the batter between two ramekins set within a small baking dish (just to ensure the heat is rather well distributed and the bottoms don't burn in the process), and get these into your oven. The cakes will be done within a window of 20-25 minutes; you'll know they're ready to go when the tops peak and slightly crack.

Instead of making a frosting (and I'm glad I didn't), I topped the cakes off with a light dusting of powdered sugar and dark cocoa (ratio of 2:1), and small curls of more chili chocolate using a vegetable peeler.

Quite simple to make, this decadent dessert is most certainly one of the richest dense cakes I've ever made and three bites was all I could muster (with a tall glass of orange juice) after midnight. But hey, great tasting leftovers are always good to have around!

For the complete album of these food preparations, as well as photos from last night's grocery trip, click here.

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