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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Tortoise: Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cake with Pecan Praline

The Tortoise
"Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cake with Pecan Praline"

Another animal named creation?

Even I think it's a bit absurd, but it was completely unintentional. It's not my fault that the original pecan caramel mash-up was called a Turtle. "Tortoise" just seemed like a fitting name for this cousin creation.

Make that second-cousin.

The Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cake is the focus of this week's creation. Pecan Praline is just the icing on the cake... literally.

This is Why We Test 

So "Biscuit Cake", eh?

I'll admit, I was playing with my food on this one. Specifically, I was playing with leavening techniques to see if I could come up with a uniquely textured base for the dish.

In the end, I wanted to see what would happen if I folded whipped egg whites into a dense, butter-laden biscuit dough. These are the thoughts I have at 2am.

Ultimately (after a lot of tinkering), the outcome was worth the work.

Biscuit dough is usually made by cutting cold butter into flour. When baked, evaporation creates small air pockets that cause the dough to rise. Some recipes also introduce chemical leavening, either baking soda or baking powder, which produces gas inside the dough when the dough is wet or heated, adding to the rise.

*Chef's note: Think baking soda and baking powder are the same thing? Try again. Although both are chemical leavening agents, baking soda remains inactive unless acid is present among the other dough ingredients. Baking powder, by contrast, requires no external catalyst - the powder contains all the chemicals that are needed to cause a gas-producing reaction when the powder is wet. So, if your dough doesn't have any acid (buttermilk, lemon juice, etc), you should use baking powder.

Many forms of baking powder are "double action". Gas is first produced when the dough is wet. There is a second reaction when the dough is subsequently heated in the oven, giving the dough a second lift mid-bake.

My first attempt at the cakes was pretty unremarkable (the bottom row of colorless bites). Pale and dense, several things had gone wrong.

First, the cakes never took on any color. Even after 30 minutes of baking, the outer coloring had barely started to appear. And the cake was painfully dry by that point. I determined this was a function of the 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (too cold) as well as the low sugar content of the dough (there was nothing to caramelize). The lack of sugar was also evident in the taste test.. as was the lack of salt.

Pale, dense, and flavorless - not much to get excited about.

The second major problem was the consistency. Dense dense dense... a leavening experiment failure. Even though I had whipped the egg whites, it would appear I had used too little chemical leavening.

Back to the mixing bowls, I made a few changes:
  • Double the sugar
  • Double the salt
  • Double the baking powder and add some baking soda (buttermilk would serve as the acid)
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Batch two was vastly improved. After 20 minutes of baking at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the cakes had taken on an appetizing amber color - a function of the increased heat and sugar. They also had a light crispiness, thanks to the caramelization.

As for the leavening, say goodbye to the hockey-pucks of batch one. The new leavening ratios had resulted in a significantly lighter interior. Here's to small wins in life!

 See it all come together tomorrow - 
including the pecan praline goodness!

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