The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

This was a great cake! I really like the sponge layers for this cake. My issue came with how to make them even so that you would have a beautiful flat, even cake like the professionals do versus the higher in the middle and sloping sides. Yes, I've taken cake decorating classes and know about carving a straight line across the top of a cake - but that's with thick layered cakes. You can't do that with a bunch of thin layers. A pro cake baker (Audax Artiflax) latered shared her technique so that she had lots of thin, even layers as you see here:

So now I am compelled to make the recipe again and try her technique to see if I can get a more professional looking cake.

The part of the challenge I didn't like was the caramel wedges at the top of the cake. They seemed so unnecessary and were thick and hard for eating. Jim said it seemed like they really belonged to a different dessert entirely.

So my verdict? Awesome cake, just forget about the top caramel layer unless you are trying to really impress someone with it as a decorating element.

Sponge cake layers
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping
1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Directions for the sponge layers:

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

I have a party today and decided to bring a salad instead of baking. I chose a broccoli salad because it is super easy and I just needed to get some broccoli and raisins at the store.

7 stalks of broccoli, chopped
1.5 c golden raisins
1 red onion, chopped
1.5 c mayonnaise
2 t sugar
2 T red wine vinegar
bacon bits

Mix everything but bacon bits together and refrigerate overnight. Add bacon bits before serving.
Grange Restauarant on Urbanspoon
original post - 4/22/09
updated post/new review at end - 8/11/09

Grange = Price > (Value +Taste)

Do you remember your algebra? The Grange equals price greater than its value and taste. For all the hype I've read and heard lately, I was sorely disappointed in what I got for a bill of $102 (without tip). It's been six months since The Citizen Hotel and The Grange opened. In that time they have been able to work through any early learning curves with service and timing. I certainly have no complaint on service. The staff were all very pleasant and enthusiastic as well as attentive. My disappointment lay with the food. As I've read in reviews and articles, the server explained that the menu changes daily because the chef focuses on locally grown, seasonal produce and meats. On this day there was nothing strikingly different on the menu. A new item was the chilled strawberry/rhubarb soup. I'm not a fan of chilled soups in general, but decided I wanted to give this one a try. It was light and refreshing with a swirl of creme fraiche and a bit of chopped mint. I enjoyed it, but wondered on having a smoothie as a soup course. I ordered the duck breast. It arrived on a bed of faro and wilted spinach. Everything was cooked well, but there was no seasoning or flavor popping out. I found it all pretty bland and the duck meat a bit tough. After I finished the dish I requested the menu again so that I could review the description. It mentioned the breast, the faro, the spinach, and then a strawberry/rhubarb gastrique. There had been only two bites that I had any of that. And I enjoyed those bites because the sweetness complimented the duck meat (and why duck is often paired with cherries, oranges, or other fruit). Someone had been extremely frugal on putting that on my plate. You can't even see any in the photo. My roommate had ordered the salmon which arrived, as you see above, over a bed of steamed vegetables and an aioli. She was confused because she had seen the word 'salad' on her item. Again we referred to the menu where the description said salmon with a spring vegetable salad. To her that conjured an image of some leafy spring greens, not steamed vegetables. As for the salmon and aioli, she found them to be pretty simple and regular for a price of $32. Considering the large piece of salmon, it could have used more than the trickle of aioli you see above. We both felt that when you eat out at an upscale place such as this that you want to have food that you would not prepare for yourself at home because of complexity or originality. As we reviewed the rest of the entrees listed we decided that all of them were pretty simple. The meats were basically grilled and then plated with some rather plain sides. So am I paying the high price purely because the stuff is organic and grown locally? Because it certainly isn't for any strikingly special treatment of the dishes. (Afterthought: Recently the Paragary's group has been doing three courses for $20 at their restaurants. Interestingly they all ran the same low cost items - salmon and chicken as the two entree options. So if salmon is a cheap meal to make, why does Grange charge $32 - even if it is a larger piece and line caught wild salmon. Still don't see what we got as justifying $32.) The desserts did show more creativity and I had to pick between three items that caught my eye. I figured I would stick to my Napoleon comparison and order their version with honey pineapple sauce. It was artfully presented with the puff layers all askew. It was not bad, but the puff squares were too thick and dense and difficult to cut through. There could have been more cream as well. The pineapple was fresh and sweetened with a bit of honey. Good, but not great for $9. As you can tell, we were disappointed with the value of our meal. We did have two cocktails on the bill as well, which brought the total to $102. For that amount of money I would appreciate more flavor and complexity than what I got.

8/11/09 update It's always good to give a place a second chance. Last night I had a much better meal at The Grange. Our meal started off with a salmon tartare made with fresh, raw salmon, avocado, a soy-ginger sauce, and cilantro. I had expectations of thin slices of raw salmon drizzled with the sauce. Instead we got the above mixture of chopped salmon and avocado set in shape with a mold. The whole thing was very flavorful and fresh, although there was one citrusy flavor note that I just couldn't place that was a little too strong for me. We still ate it all up though. The Grange has been written about a lot and one article went on about how they are serving goat. Goat, it turns out, is one of the trendy ingredients of the moment. No matter that cultures such as African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern have been eating goat for centuries. I saw that it was one of the featured entrees this night and selected the goat shank and loin with goat cheese fondue and spicy pepperonata. As you see, the dish was split in two. On the left was not a shank, but rather a couple of ribs that had just been roasted. This side of the plate was very disappointing. First of all, it was a struggle to get any meat off of the bones. Certainly it could not be done in a proper, delicate manner with knife and fork. It was demanding finger picking action. I decided to pass. After all, besides the struggle, it just wasn't all that tasty and worth the effort. The pepperonata underneath was nice enough, but I ended up eating it with the other side of the plate. The loin on the right was a hit flavorwise. I don't know how one would properly describe goat-taste, but I suppose if you like lamb (which I love) then you know you'll be OK with goat. The goat cheese fondue was naturally a perfect compliment and nice and creamy. My complaint with this side was that the meat was tough. Isn't loin supposed to be one of the most tender cuts or an animal? My date ordered the ribeye with mushroom ragout. He received a nice sized steak which he enjoyed. Careful to scrape off the offending mushrooms, he offered me a few pieces and I must say, it was the best tasting beef I've had in a long time. So full of flavor. I did note that it was really leaning to the rare side of medium rare and there was quite a bit of fat that my date was trimming off. But again, the flavor was fantastic.

We had watched with amusement as the couple beside us had ordered three desserts. The amusement came from the lovely panna cotta. Play the video and see why. I've never seen a better jiggle in my life. My date couldn't resist ordering it himself and we were definitely pleased with how light and delicious it was. I wanted something new and different and so I selected the chevre tart. It arrived at a nice warm temperature so that the goat cheese was so smooth and creamy. It was a generous size too. Both of us agreed that dessert was our favorite course. The Grange certainly did much better this time around. Our total dinner bill this time came to $118 but at least I felt more comfortable about getting what I had paid for.

So I have recently picked some of my first homegrown tomatoes. The funny thing is, I'm not really a tomato person. I don't eat raw tomatoes and will always say, "hold the tomato" on any sandwich, salad, or burger. But I will eat them when they are used in salsa... and I make a lot of salsa in the summer time. I love the freshness of all the ingredients and that it is a healthy snack.

I planted three tomato plants. One is a Green Zebra and I actually can't remember what the other two are. Shame on me. Anyway, two of them are producing a few fruit. Not a lot, which suits me fine. If I had an abundance of tomatoes I wouldn't know what to do with them. The small crop suits my salsa making plans just fine. The third plant I haven't figured out what's wrong. It flowers, but it doesn't produce fruit.

I've sold Pampered Chef products for 12 years now and in my heyday I got the ruby ring and trips to Cancun, Rome, and more. I think a lot of my success was because people were educated at my shows. I wasn't just selling products, I was teaching about food. I often shared about tomatoes and how people store them incorrectly.

I'll recommend a great book to any true foodies out there. It's called The Food Lover's Tiptionary by Sharon Tyler Herbst and it has a treasure trove of food information from A-Z. I particularly love all the entries on produce and meat because it will tell you how long things will store for before they spoil, how to pick what's ripe, etc.

Here are some of the important things you should know about tomatoes:

Do not store them in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures turn the fruit pulpy and destroy the flavor.

Tomatoes should be set with the stem side down, on their shoulders. That's because fruit ripens on the vine from the bottom up. Think of your half ripened tomato. It starts turning red from the bottom up to the stem. So that means the bottom of the tomato is the most ripe and the faster it will mush and spoil. Store the tomato stem side down on its shoulders, the firmest and last section of the tomato to ripen.

Never cook tomatoes or a tomato based sauce in an aluminum pan - the tomatoes will lose their bright color and you will get a bitter undertaste.

Tomato slices will hold their shape better if you slice it vertically vs horizontally.