Eat Cake

I have found a chocolate cake that I love. I have a simpler chocolate cake, an any day, make-on-a-whim chocolate cake that is really good, but this new one? It is very good. I found the recipe a few years ago on The Faux Martha, made the cake as written, in collaboration with my baker niece, Annie, for Spouse’s birthday. I collaborated with Ann because this cake uses an Italian Buttercream, a Salted Caramel Italian Buttercream. Planning a dinner party for 20 allowed me few extra neurons to devote to something I had never made before, something that sounded so-daunting. Annie, a caramel pro, produced a beautiful product with which we filled the cake before finishing with ganache. Despite the rave reviews and Annie’s reassurances to the contrary, that intimidating buttercream left the recipe to sit unceremoniously disheveled, piled in with all the Others on the shelf directly behind my office chair.

A few months ago, for reasons I can’t fully remember, the cake returned to my consciousness. Planning a baby shower for a dessert-loving co-worker, I knew I had to make this cake. This time I reduced the sugar a bit and used fresh-ground, whole grain einkorn flour. Einkorn, with its naturally lower gluten levels, produces an excellent pastry flour. Though any finished product might be a tad more dense, not sifting away the ground germ & bran keeps the protein levels high. Low gluten, high protein. Einkorn is crazy. I made a few iterations then my niece Betsey came over with her camera for Cake Day. Here’s what went down.food

A basic butter cake using natural cocoa powder, but with half & half rather than just milk.food-121

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I wanted a 6-inch by 6-inch square finished cake, so used a 12-inch square for baking. One recipe yielded four 3/4-inch layers. I reduced baking time, watching the oven closely, to account for the increased surface area.

The buttercream will have its own post, but while the cake baked, I made the caramel, ensuring time for some cooling before adding it to the whipped butter. I did find that if the caramel had cooled a bit too much, the buttercream became Toffee Buttercream, also delicious.food-57

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The ganache frosting is enriched with egg yolk and a small amount of butter, cooled, then whipped for a matter of seconds to incorporate a bit of air. If it goes grainy, you can rewarm, recool, rewhip.food-34

Finally, the layers were filled with buttercream, each pressing into the last. I chilled the cake, then finished with the ganache frosting.food-154

food-157Since Betsey is a photographer and nothing beats natural light, she set a charming garden scene for the finished photos. We didn’t cut this cake open. It was to be eaten the next day for a Nephew-FatherInLaw Combo Birthday. This, along with the other two cakes I made. It was, after all, Cake Day.food-13-2

I’ll leave you to use the recipe linked at The Faux Martha. If you want to try Einkorn flour, I used it ounce for ounce as the recipe is written. Enjoy!

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Vanilla Pound Cake

It is officially summer in Western Washington. All of the 40F degrees and rain of (especially) November, February, and March are a distant and hazy memory. The gardens are relentless in their demand for water, raspberries ripen daily, hollering “pick me! pick me!”, dinners cooked and served al fresco, Junior entertaining us in the small but useful above-ground pool.

The cusp of this glorious summer had my sister getting married, and me working to make the after-party happen. While the caterers handled the delicious and very authentic taco bar and sides, I and some others worked magic for the dessert table. The varied array looked lovely and yummy! One of my offerings was to turn this flourless chocolate cake into pretty 3-bite morsels. I found the pan I wanted, but needed to test it on something here at home. As the Vanilla Pound Cake from Baking With Julia suggested using a tube or Bundt pan, I baked the cake as minis.

When I think pound cake, my mind  jumps to lemon. I love lemon pound cake, every sugary, dense, buttery bit of it. I had never made nor tasted any pound cake other than lemon. (OK-I may have had some Sara Lee from the freezer case at a potluck during a past life but that could never count.) This recipe is a straight-forward, everything at room temperature butter cake. Here’s what I did!

Mise en place
Mise en place
Sifted
Sifted
Sugar waiting to join butter
Sugar waiting to join butter
Eggs waiting to join sugar & butter
Eggs waiting to join sugar & butter
Flour taking turns with milk while vanilla looks on
Flour taking turns with milk while vanilla looks on
Cute cakes cooling
Cute cakes cooling
Just-picked raspberries and a powdered sugar dusting
Just-picked raspberries and a powdered sugar dusting

My new pan worked beautifully. Recipe formulation always takes into account the size of pan a cake will bake in. As I veered greatly from the pan size for this recipe, I had to guess on bake time. I stayed close to the oven and was happy with the result. The recipe calls to cut the cooled cake into slices, but the mini cakes were perfect to serve whole. The cakes were sweet, sturdy and tender, only lacking a dollop of whipped cream to keep the berries company. Rather than send all the extras to Spouse’s break room, I have several cakes Ziploc’d in my freezer, waiting to serve summer guests on the patio. As for the wedding chocolate cakes, they were light, moist, very chocolately, and the first thing to disappear from the buffet. Cheers!

Vanilla Pound Cake • Baking With Julia • Contributing Baker: Flo Braker • pages 251-252

School Lunch

I don’t know the quality of school lunches in my day, of how they might be rated by today’s *ahem* standards. I don’t know if they were full of textured vegetable protein, if any of it was fresh-made, if the dietitians considered ketchup a vegetable. I do remember the lunch carts being wheeled through the hallways, the Lunch Ladies that commandeered them, the red tokens we handed over, and the 75-cents that faculty paid, in cash.

I didn’t take part in those hallway procured meals very often. I remember when I did, it felt exotic and very inclusive. My lunches were usually a sandwich (woefully so on tuna salad day,the white bread overly saturated with the mayonnaise and pickle juice), a piece of fruit, and a cookie or other small yum-yum. Mini bags of chips and Hostess desserts were the hallmark of a Field Trip Sack Lunch, always the best brought-from-home lunches.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese was one of the few lunches I did get to buy on occasion. Carrying the tray hosting the divided melamine plate, with the square, cardboard-like, overcooked, hot-held grilled American Cheese sandwich in one section, a small bowl of water-based from-a-can tomato soup in another, some unremembered fruit, and the finale: a serving of full-sheet pan chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Perfection.

We often had tomato soup and grilled cheese lunches at home, so I don’t know why this school menu was such a favorite of mine. It could have been the comfort factor, it could have been the power of that chocolate cake. What I do know now, tomato soup and grilled cheese it still one of my favorite comfort lunches, except no more canned soup or American Cheese or wimpy bread.

Tomato soup is easy to make. This batch started with some onion & garlic, gently cooked in a combination of butter & olive oil. Shallots are my first choice for this soup, but I don’t always have those on hand. When the onions are translucent, the organic canned tomatoes, some fresh thyme, and a few cups of water or chicken broth join in, then the covered pot simmers for 20 minutes or so. Adding salt is always dependent on the tomatoes used-some canned tomatoes are laden with the stuff!

Set to simmer
Set to simmer

After the simmer, the soup needs to be blended, which can be done in a standard blender, but I forego the mess and danger of traditional method and always use my immersion blender. The original recipe calls for a bit of baking soda to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes. If I’m using cream to finish the soup, I will omit the baking soda, letting the dairy fat mask any startling acidity, but leaving enough to make the soup interesting.

Ready to blend
Ready to blend
Baking soda fizz
Baking soda fizz

Grilled cheese at my house is always on my Tartine 60-70% whole wheat Country Loaf, with Tillamook Cheddar. Tillamook is not the greatest or most sustainable cheddar in the land, but Junior eats it so that’s what I have on hand, cooked with butter on cast iron.

Sturdy bread
Sturdy bread
Perfect on a rainy day!
Perfect on a rainy day!

Food memory, food as comfort, the taste preferences of any individual are all very mysterious. Why do I like this lunch? The slight acidity of the soup? The crunchy whole wheat nuttiness of the bread? The decadent nature of the full-fat, full-dairy cheese? How all three elements play together? I will ponder these, perhaps unanswerable, questions while I eat my lunch, remembering that there will be some chocolate at the finish. Bon Appetit!

!!
!!

Tuesdays With Dorie: Mocha Brownie Cake Rewind

With the first assignment being scones I had baked for years, starting Tuesdays With Dorie in March was easy. So easy, it felt like cheating. March’s second assignment was Mocha Brownie Cake. The cake looked delicious, but I was emerging from 3 weeks of cake research and testing for Wednesdays, and, subsequently, Junior’s birthday. I had to admit that I was actually sick of cake and would NOT be doing a second TWD blog post for March. I *gasp* didn’t want to think about cake!

The Fates showed mercy, though, (I’m not sure The Fates do mercy, being fate and all) and gave April three Tuesdays in which I could work with Dorie. The occasional third Tuesday in any given month is a Rewind week: one can revisit a previous favorite or  pick up a recipe that had otherwise been skipped. This wildcard week would give me two entries for the month, since I had no intention of doing April’s 2nd project: lefse. I grew up in a Lefse Household, and while I appreciate it for the heritage tag, and while I could have borrowed the electric skillet gizmo to bake them on, the cloth-lined rolling-pin to roll them with, as well as the special stick to flip them from my Mom, I don’t like lefse enough to have squeezed the project into my early-April life.

Needing the TWD projects to remotely fit into my IRL existence, I decided the Mocha Brownie Cake would be perfect for the Spring (aka Birthday) Dinner I make yearly for my lovely Mother-in-law. This cake did not disappoint.

Here we go!
Here we go!
Eggs, vanilla, & sugar
Eggs, vanilla, & sugar

The recipe calls for 5 eggs which should be beaten until a bit thickened and doubled in volume. This step highlights one of my favorite metamorphoses of the humble egg.

Thicker & doubled in volume: sheer beauty
Thicker & doubled in volume: sheer beauty
Before
Unsweetened, bittersweet, milk chocolate, & butter before
During
during
Being added
then being added

As always, the better the chocolate you start with, the better chocolate tasting the whateveritis you’re making will be. The recipe instructs to use 4.5 oz semisweet plus 2.5 oz unsweetened chocolate; I used something closer to 50/50 Scharffen Berger unsweetened and Cordillera Milk Chocolate. Intense!

Called for 1 pan; I used 3. Didn't want to hassle with slicing
Called for 1 pan; I used 3. Didn’t want to hassle with slicing
Ganache step 1
Ganache step 1

The mocha element for this cake comes from strong coffee (I used a shot of espresso) added to the chocolate and cream of the ganache. The chocolate I had on hand was almost equal parts: 70% Cordillera Dark Chocolate and 65% Sunspire Bittersweet Chocolate Chips.

Ganache Step 2
Ganache Step 2
Oh My Ganache!
Oh My Ganache!
1st layer to springform
1st layer to springform
Cover with 1 cup of ganache; chill
Cover with 1 cup of ganache; chill
Repeat with 2nd & 3rd layers, spreading ganache between, then chilling
Repeat with 2nd & 3rd layers, spreading ganache between, then chilling
Cover the top, chill, then unmold
Cover the top, chill, then unmold
Do final coat of ganache over top & sides, then celebrate spring!
Do final coat of ganache over top & sides, then celebrate spring!

The cake was a little dry from guessing on the baking time for 3 thin layers rather than 1 thick layer. Next time, I would bake for 18 minutes rather than 20. While I followed the recipe closely, measuring each cup of ganache for the filling, I barely had enough left for the final coat, so had to spread a thin layer rather than pour a smooth one. Next time I will increase the ganache quantity. That being said, this cake was delicious! It was not overly mocha-y, while being a very sincere hit of chocolate. Most important, the guest of honor found it beautiful and delicious. I look forward to making this cake for many Springs to come!

The last piece
The last piece

Mocha Brownie Cake • Baking with Julia • Contributing Baker: Marcel Desaulniers •       pages 282-283

Wednesdays

In January I started a new Wednesday routine: I load a bin or two with sheet pans, measuring cups, pastry cutters, and parchment paper; aprons, bowls, required ingredients, and recipe packs; drive the 40 minutes to venue where I unload, sanitize, and set up a teaching kitchen for a group of 8-12 year olds. The space is tiny, the oven is not ideal, but the students are eager, sometimes excepting Junior who attends by default, and we bake.

We are a homeschooling household. While there are many misconceptions of homeschooling and homeschoolers, I will simply say that we chose this path for Junior’s education as it best meets the learning requirements of his right-brained self. We cover all the subjects required by our state, we get assessed every year, but we most certainly do not stay home. Homeschooling, or  home-based instruction, means we as parents get to guide our child’s schooling path. We could choose to take classes through our school district or through state online programs; we could choose to take classes through one of several homeschool coops; we could organize our own classes with a group of families, hiring an instructor for any given subject; we can learn through books, movies, video games, the public library, an established curriculum, field trips, most of which we employ at one time or another. Our beloved Seattle Homeschooling Group has partnered with two of our city community centers to provide weekly classes for families. As a mom, a homeschool teacher, and a baker, I chose to lead a fearless group of student bakers.

The actual time in the community center’s own Tiny Kitchen has to be thought through like a well-choreographed dance. We have an hour to demonstrate, then mix, roll, shape, bake, clean up, and taste.  Each recipe dictates whether we will work individually, in small teams, or as one group. Sometimes the students do the measuring, but if timing is tricky, they will add pre-measured wet to dry. Who knew that making biscuits could take such a long time?! As everything hinges on baking time, we sometimes shape/bake one recipe, then while baking, we measure/mix another recipe to finish at home.

Biscuits
Biscuits

Before getting to the kitchen, however, I need to find the recipes, test the recipes, re-write the recipes in a consistent, easy-t0-follow way, along with information pages regarding ingredients, methods, and equipment. As with many areas of cooking and baking, I have the recipes down that I use at home on a regular basis. For a class, one in which I want to share method and taste experiences, I need to find good recipes for things I don’t necessarily make, recipes that will work in our facility, within our timeframe, and with my group of bakers.

Piles of printouts/testing donuts
Piles of printouts/testing donuts

While I look for recipes that call for lower amounts of sugar, budget limitations keep me from introducing the more expensive alternative sweeteners, such as my dear coconut palm sugar. When recipe testing, I make the smallest batch the measurements will allow, I don’t want to mess around with anything less than 1 whole egg, and then send most of the finished product to Spouse’s break room. The office break room is an excellent abyss to toss in loads of sugar, butter, and flour! On chocolate chip cookie day, Spouse took 6 versions of 3 different recipes, set up a taste test, and tallied the results. The least favorite cookie was that with the least amount of sweetener, coconut sugar at that, and a little more whole wheat flour. I didn’t use that recipe in class.

Yum!
Yum!

Winter Session had us making pretzels, pumpkin bread, pancakes, and hand-pies. Spring began with scones and will continue with breadsticks, baked donuts, fish crackers, and a triple layer, chocolate whipped-cream filled, buttercream frosted yellow layer cake, unless there is a mutiny and the students demand a chocolate cake like last time. The chocolate cake was really good. So good that I’m leaving it here. Bon appetit!

Chocolate Cake

Makes 2 8-inch layers

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup cultured yogurt, plain

1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup strong brewed coffee, hot

 

How to:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Butter 2 8-inch round cake pans. Scatter flour around, coat butter, knockout extra. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of each pan. Place in pan.

2. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer in a large bowl) combine the eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, canola oil, and vanilla. Beat together until smooth.

4. On the lowest speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix on low until there are no more clumps of flour. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.

5. Pour in the hot coffee and mix until combined.

6. Pour the batter into the cake pans. Try to make the two pans have the same amount of batter.

7. Gently place the pans into the oven.

8. Bake for 20 minutes then check the cakes. Bake these until the tops are just set and no longer wiggly. This cake should be moist so try not to over bake.

9. Let cool, then run a knife around the edge of the pan. Put a piece of parchment on a plate. Place the parchment and plate upside down over a cake pan. Flip the cake pan over so the cake will fall out onto the parchment-lined plate. Repeat with 2nd cake. Cakes should be completely cool before frosting. Wrap each layer in plastic wrap, place in a Ziploc bag and put in the freezer. Cold cakes are easier to fill and frost.(the freezer doesn’t dry out the cake like the fridge will).

Recipe from Somewhere on the Internet.

 

 

Necessity

Early in my cooking life, I found myself intrigued with gadgets, gizmos, and trendy must-haves for any kitchen, many of which are now stowed away, given away, or garage-saled away.  The few things I love and use regularly are: tongs, whisks, sharp knives, swivel-head peeler, zester, stainless steel bowls, glass stacking bowls, wooden spoons, metal spatulas, immersion blender, Kitchen Aid mixer, and my digital scale. Of these, the one thing from which I’d never want to part is the scale.

Taylor Compact Digital Scale
Taylor Compact Digital Scale

Measuring implements are not created equal. For that matter, vegetables are not created equal either. When recipe calls for: 1 onion, chopped, how much onion is that? If a recipe is developed for cups of white, all-purpose flour, how can I know the type of measuring cups used? Is it possible to substitute other flours using the same measurement? I have an assortment of measuring cups. If I use the one-cup measure from Set A, will using the half-cup measure from Set B give me the correct ratio? All of these dilemmas can be removed by using a scale. A pound is a pound, whether of flour, fruit, or flesh.

When I began making sourdough bread, which requires ingredients to be measured by weight, I gradually switched many of my baking recipes to pounds & ounces. I know the pizza dough requires 12-oz of flour, the cheesecake requires 2-lbs of cream cheese, the ganache requires 13-oz of heavy cream, and the pancakes are happiest with something closer to 11.5-oz of milk. Somethings, like pancakes, don’t always require the weighing of flour as the batter, thick or thin, is a matter of preference, but in a commercial kitchen, consistency and cost control dictate that all recipes be scaled. Thanks to my secret lover Excel, I can know how much made-at-home pizza costs vs Pagliacci delivered.

All that being said, I get lazy. I find new recipes, I make substitutions, the end results seem fine. For a while now, I have used a chocolate chip cookie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated The Best Recipe. This recipe calls for melted butter, lots of sugar (brown & white), all-purpose flour (2 cups + 2 tablespoons, usually a give away that the original recipe formulations used a scale), an egg plus egg yolk, and the other usual baking bits. From the get go, I used only evaporated cane juice for the sugar, and of that I reduced the recipe amount by half. I usually replaced half the flour with whole wheat, and when I was grinding the sprouted flour, I replaced the white flour completely. Eventually, I stopped adding the 2nd yolk,  just using 2 whole eggs instead. Most recently, I’ve switched to using coconut palm sugar, which is very different from sugar sugar or ECJ.

So, last night, after the successful einka pasta, I thought some einka chocolate chip cookies were in order. Knowing that the einka flour was looser than regular whole wheat, and knowing that baking science is more exact than that of cooking, I measured one cup. It weighed 3 ounces. I grabbed a cup of white flour and it came in at 4.6 ounces. I would need to scale recipes when using the einka.

Even though I did throw in too many chocolate chips (I found a bargain on 42% cocoa rather than my preferred 65%)  which upped the total sugar content and sweetness level, the cookies are delicious.

einka, coconut palm sugar, backyard eggs, grass-fed butter, annie's bourbon vanilla, and fair trade chocolate
einka, coconut palm sugar, backyard eggs, grass-fed butter, annie’s bourbon vanilla, and fair trade chocolate

Chicken Math

Answer the following:

Scotti

1. The small urban farm has some chickens. Scotti and Bernadette lay dark brown eggs daily. Robbi, Dizzy, and Beatrice lay every other day. Robbi’s eggs are creamy tan, Dizzy’s are almost white, and Beatrice lays beautiful greenish blue eggs. How many eggs are in the farmer’s refrigerator?

Beauty

2. If the farmer has 2 eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, how long will it take for her to become tired of eating eggs?

3. If pasta uses 4 eggs, waffles use 3 eggs, and egg salad for one uses 2, how much weight will the farmer gain?

4. If  the farmer found a recipe calling for 9 eggs, how often would she need to make it to keep ahead of the backyard abundance?

Yum!

(answer key: 1. A lot 2. Not very long 3. Badonkadonk 4. As often as folks would come share  it with her)

Cracked Chocolate Earth
(Flourless Chocolate Cake)

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
9 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl, set over, but not touching, about 1 inch of simmering water until melted.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light yellow in color. Whisk a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs – this will keep the eggs from scrambling from the heat of the chocolate; then whisk in the rest of the chocolate mixture.
Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set, the top starts to crack, and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, then unmold.
Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar and serve at room temperature.
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network