Monday, September 29, 2008

a piece of cake

Here's what I love. Champagne.

Here's what I hate. The word 'foodie'.

In case you couldn't tell, I am a complete rookie when it comes to blogging. My previous post was a case of testing the waters, of testing myself, too. Food is what I want to think about and work with in my life, and I am a really lucky girl because since graduating from college, I've found a couple of tasty ways to make it my day job.

In college I tried my hand at writing about food for the college paper, eventually having my own weekly column and becoming the Big Fancy Editor of the A&E section. Now, I spend my days with my hands deep in chocolaty goodness, which is an all out pleasure, but my mind needs a little exercise beyond converting ml to grams or imagining a new way to pair up chocolate and peanut butter (suggestions on that especially burning question are welcome, by the way). So here I am, jumping on the blog train at last, better late than never.

Clarity comes to me when my hands are busy pouring, whisking, rolling out. Like so many others, the kitchen is my shrink's office. Food only happens as quickly as it happens, only bakes as fast as it needs to bake. It demands that I listen to something other than the noise of the day; mustard seeds popping, jam simmering, ice crunching, chocolate bars snapping. Baking is my go-to therapy, but I have been known to try a thing or two on the savory side as well. No doubt I'll write a bit about bars and restaurants here too, because I live for a great night out. I love food and the meaning that it has in our lives, the memory is carries. 'Foodie' is a contender for Word Most Likely to Make Me Vomit (followed closely by 'classy, but that's another story). Now my lovely and very appreciated readers, enough about me.

So that's my story, that's why I'm here. I hope that this blog will be a juicy pleasure to read and write. In the spirit of laying all my cards on the table, I'm offering up a recipe that I've become rather known for in my circle and has thus become a real part of my culinary identity. It's a SUPER chocolaty layer cake and really, is there a more pure joy than making a layer cake for someone? I think not! Breezy to throw together, and gloriously tolerant of a night in the fridge, this is the most requested thing I have ever made-- at least 6 times in the last year, one of which was for a wedding, which totally counts for at least 5 more. Be prepared for that oh-so-awesome feeling of flattery when someone asks for your magical cake on their birthday, as though only you hold the key to taste bud bliss.

Resist the urge to tell them how easy it is, and bask in the glow of adoration and chocolate-induced euphoria. This cake is absolutely moist, full of buttermilk and oil and even hot black coffee, which you use to melt 3 oz of the best dark chocolate you are willing to bake with ( I used Ecuadorian 71% from Chocovic.)

Good cocoa powder is important too, as fully 1 1/2 cups of the stuff give the cake much of it's chocolaty depth. A Kitchen Aide is useful as always, but the cake can be mixed up pretty easily without it, which is always a bonus if you happen to be in the mood for a little therapeutic old-fashioned whisking, which I find is often the reason I'm baking in the first place.

The icing on the cake is quite literally a chocolate ganache, which is the only tricky part. There is nothing to be afriad of , but I have changed this recipe a bit because I don't think that the version from Gourmet is as simple or as good as it can be, so I hope that will make this potentially intimidating step simple. It can be helpful now to have a friend around because you'll want someone to help you lick the bowl. . .

. . .or not.

Without further ado, here goes! Enjoy and thanks for reading!
For Cake Layers
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot coffee
3 cups of sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetend cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
For Ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb good dark chocolate

Make Cake Layers
Preheat oven to 300F. Grease pans and line them with wax paper.

Chop up the chocolate super fine and pour the hot coffee over it. Let stand, stir occasionally.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs with an electric mixer until thick and lemony looking (about 3 mins.). Drizzle in oil, buttermilk, vanilla and lastly the coffee-chocolate mixture. Beat until well mixed.

Add the sugar mixture and mix until just combined. Divide between the two pans and bake for 1 hour.

Cool the layers, and when they are cool, invert them on the rack. They can be made 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. I like to give them a good chill before I frost them.

For Ganache:

Chop up the 1lb of chocolate into very small pieces and put in a nice big bowl. Heat the cream in a saute pan to just boiling. Remove from heat and pour it quickly over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit at least 30 seconds until the chocolate seems soft.
Using an immersion blender, emulsify the cream into the chocolate. It is important not to over-mix, and to do this quickly, moving the blender in clockwise circles and trying not to incorporate any air.
It is good to stop mixing as soon as it appears uniformly smooth. Chill it a little, and frost the cake when you think that the ganache is at a good spreading consistancy. Last but not least, be sure to serve with lots of bubbly to some good party people.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

promising. . .

Tonight is looking very, very sweet, thanks to a little inspiration from last months Gourmet and the irresistible bounty of chantrelles. Mushrooms two ways with poached eggs and of course a Pearl Bakery baguette to chew on. Ultra-salty butter and a bottle of red from the south of France to absolutely send me over the moon.

This afternoon, I took a walk in the autumn sunshine down to see the crazy-knowledgeable wine guys at Liner & Elsen, a great wine shop near my house, and they nerded-out with me until we found the perfect wine for tonights dinner. It was a complete blast and left me with a jubilent feeling about the rest of the day. A bottle of wine and a cliffs-notes-esqe intro to the Languedoc all for the total bargian price of $11.50.

I practically skipped all the way to the co-op, where I loaded up on criminis and the aformentioned chantrelles. Lobster mushrooms tempted, but I resisted. I didn't want to totally blow the budget, and besides, there can always be mushroom risotto tomorrow.

I wasn't going to write today, I'm working on an "Officially Introducing Miranda" post for later in the week, but this dinner was just too good to keep to myself. I hope you are relishing this gorgeous September day as much as I am. Maybe I don't miss summer so much after all. . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

a very early morning, a very grey day

When I have a Sunday afternoon, and it is gray outside, nothing could be nicer than being asked to bring dessert to a dinner that night. Especially on a Sunday like today when I am the giddy new owner of "The Last Course" by Claudia Flemming. Page by precious page of real passion and detailed understanding, it is a book that demands the most of it's reader, and it's the most inspiring cookbook I've read in a good while.

Deep purple little flirts that they are, a small but promising mound of Italian prune plums caught my eye at our neighborhood shop the other day. I felt like there was something a little criminal about missing a chance to spend a little time with them, but I was doing simple shopping that day and resisted the urge to snatch them up. So, today, with dessert as my excuse to leaf again through Flemming's book, I happened upon her Italian Prune Plum Crisp and all at once everything fell into place. Those plump indigo beauties had a home and I had my dessert.

Though 2 1/4 pounds is a LOT of prune plums to pit, the pits are very agreeable and pop out without a fight. Quartered and sprinkled with a little sugar, they are gorgegous to behold and just begging for a crispy coat.

Let it be known that I am no a crisp aficianado, but I was surprised that the topping has no oatmeal. It's nuttiness and body come from ground walnuts, which sounded so much more luscious and rich than the toppings that I am used to. Anyway, with sugar, flour, cardamom, and plenty of melted butter, it's a breeze to toss together and its' really messy fun to spatter around the top.

Here's what it looks like! Oh, and welcome to my blog, we'll see how this goes. . . .