Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Pinecone Cake (Proof of global warming)

The Holiday Pinecone Cake in Rose's Heavenly Cakes is a sure fire cure for even the most advanced case of chocolate addiction. Making this five pound cake was like living in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. To say it is "rich" would surely elicit a flogging by the Oompa Loompas. This dark chocolate confection bested me and therefore I humbly lay down my fondant covered latex glove.

It was fun making my first ever sponge cake. It got a bit overdone in the newly repaired oven. My granddaughter, nibbling at the trimmed bits, requested the cake be left plain, and perhaps it was a premonition that I might have wisely listened to. Cooking up the chocolate-almond ganache was easy enough. A terrible creature of habit, I used the little mini cuisinart to finely chop the chocolate but sadly realized it could not handle the heated cream. The time had come to face the new eleven cup Christmas cuisinart and its terrifying array of martial arts blades. It was a momentous occasion that only another baker would appreciate. I was surprised how nicely the ganache thickened when cooled.

Fondant is something I've long been curious about. It was extremely dry and took several sprinklings of water until the consistency became smooth and sticky, pulling the latex glove right off my hand. Kneading and smooshing it gave me a good upper body workout. That stuff takes muscles. It was much easier to roll out. I confess the thought of pulling out the pasta machine crossed my mind.

I covered the "pinecone" with the fondant and forgot to spackle the cake with the remaining ganache. Off came the fondant, the ganache trowled on and the fondant re-applied. Since I didn't let the fondant sit overnight, cutting the V's was a bit tricky as the texture was soft.

The thought of running out in the rain for pine needles and red berries went by the wayside and I opted for a powdered sugar blizzard instead. Finally finished, it was brought to my attention that it did not look like a pinecone, but rather a porcupine. Perhaps one should not try to bake after spending a few hours in Chuck E Cheese with a giant mouse running around dancing to the Bee Gees' disco music; a sight I never thought I'd live to see.

I might make this cake again only with a greater ratio of cake to almond ganache and a sprinkling of powdered sugar instead of the fondant to cut down on sweetness.

FYI-Curious how leftover fondant handled with a night's rest, I played with it this morning and the V cuts hold their shape much better. Or maybe I'm holding up better after a night's recovery from a certain giant Mouse. For those of you not living in the land of Chuck E Cheese, let me introduce you.....www.chuckecheese.com

Monday, December 21, 2009

English Gingerbread Cake-Almost

There I was, happily stirring the batter for Rose's English Gingerbread Cake, wondering why it was not resembling "thick soup". Ah blast, the eggs and milk! I mixed the two together and whisked them into the bowl, wondering, once again, if Rose's recipe could possibly survive in my hands. Poured into cupcakes and the rest into a cake pan, my hopes were high. And I couldn't wait for the delectable aroma to waft round the kitchen, all those lovely spices, syrups and orange marmalade complementing each other.

I waited. And tested. And waited some more before it dawned on me my oven was not working properly. The thermometer hanging off the rack said 150 degrees. Curses! In desperation I hauled out an old Easy Bake oven but even that had seen better days. I contemplated pouring out all the batter into a double boiler and making a steamed pudding but hadn't a clue if that was possible. My daughter switched on the broiler which still worked and got the oven heated enough to barely bake the cupcakes. The cake was a total loss.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I mixed up the syrup and let my granddaughter brush to her heart's content the dubious cupcakes. Once again, Rose came through. I had to fight for a picture before the surviving few were devoured. Granddaughter proclaimed this the "best cake yet" which is saying alot as she ticked off the list from Heavenly Bakers...."except for the lemon curd" and wondered if I could put the syrup on the Upside Down Apple Cake which she deemed in first place until now.

I will be making these again soon. All I can think about is getting down to Costco and picking up a toaster oven a la Mendy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Classic Carrot Cake

Yesterday morning, my father passed away very peacefully from this life. He was at home with us in Hospice care since September first. It was perhaps the most miraculous time of my life with him.

As a tribute I would like to share one of his recipes brought home from the Navy many many years ago. Growing up I only knew of my dad's time in the Navy as a cook. It wasn't until closing his house and organizing papers I found out he was a decorated marksman; memories he chose never to speak about.

1-2-3 Cake

sugar 18 pounds
shortening 9 pounds
salt 6 ounces
eggs 6 dozen
milk, water and vanilla combined 9 quarts
flour 27 pounds
baking powder 27 ounces

Bake at 400 degrees

That's all the instructions there are. The quantities for brownies are just as hilarious. If you ever need to make 700 biscuits, just whistle.

The many aides, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others who passed through my house never failed to ask about the cookbook I was often seen taking notes from. Needless to say, it was Heavenly Cakes. They were invariably curious about the bake along. It was fun to see their reaction when they looked at the photographs of Rose's cakes.

Early this morning, I baked the Classic Carrot Cake recipe. The only recipe deviation was using Lindt Excellence White Coconut white chocolate. The store was out of both Lindt and Black and Greens white chocolate. I love coconut in carrot cake and thought it might be a nice touch. The frosting turned out to be exquisite to the point I would love to know how to turn it into truffles rolled in roasted pecans. Half the batter went into cupcakes and the other into the round cake pan. I found it to be a lighter carrot cake than I have had in the past. It is a definite new favorite in my house.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fruitcake Wreath

I baked the Fruitcake Wreath from Heavenly Cakes yesterday. Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli might as well have been singing Time To Say Goodbye the moment it came to pour my beloved glaceed cherries, lemon and orange peel into the batter. Very fond of waking each morning to see how the lovely little jewels progressed in their stay of Bacardi rum, I loved watching the peel begin to glisten and soften, though a bit guilty of the carbon footprint. I am in California and the fruit came from Holland.

I must be learning something as this time I actually remembered to turn down the oven twenty five degrees while roasting the pecans and walnuts on a dark tray. Not a burned one in the lot.
It was a bit crowded in my KitchenAid, which must be the smaller version. The final addition of the nuts brought the batter up to the very top. A few pecans jumped ship. I did follow Raymond's advice on not microwaving the butter and letting it come to room temperature only. It was easy peasy. Thanks again Raymond for the heads up.

Out of respect to my fellow bakers, I refrained from reading anyone's postings until now lest I reap the benefits of anyone's mistakes as well as, successes. And y'all know how many mistakes I make each week!

This time I opted not to use a wreath pan because honestly, I could not imagine who I could foist this large a fruitcake onto. I don't know any fruitcake lovers, except now Raymond. I've only tasted one fruitcake in my life that I liked. I used a mini bundt cake pan which held six and an oversized cupcake pan. The mini bundt pan proved a better choice. That blasted instant read thermometer assured me those in the cupcake were not 190 degress and again it lies. They were overdone. I'm hoping getting bathed in more Bacardi might save them.

By far, the biggest surprise is how much everyone likes them. I mean really, they made fruitcake jokes all week long and raised an eyebrow while I cooed and clucked at the macerating fruit. And here's the unbelievable part, they want me to make another batch!

And I give you all my favorite Holiday Fruitcake Story from the blog, Joe Pastry.

You could never interest my father in much that happened in the kitchen. Except when it got to be fruitcake making season, at which point his attention suddenly became focused on baked goods like a Labrador stalking a pheasant. Even now I'm not sure where my parents got their special secret recipe, though Mom and Dad's fruitcake was a much desired item in the neighborhood, even by the Swedish baking queen who lived two doors down. Which was, you know, really saying something.
The process always started the same way, with a trip to the local co-op (still a novelty in the Chicago suburbs in the 70's) to acquire candied fruit in bulk. I can still remember the sense of confusion I felt there, how I could scarcely identify any of the products on the flimsy shelves, and how the people who shopped there smelled funny in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on. Due to all the traffic that time of year, every inch of linoleum within fifteen feet of the bulk section was covered with syrup, to the point that when you were standing directly in front of the candied fruit bins you could barely pry your feet off the floor. Even so, Dad took his time, carefully examining each neon fruit as a vintner would grapes for a cuvée.
When everything had been selected, bagged and paid for, we headed back home to start the production line. My twin sister and I would be seated at our little wooden turtle-shaped table, given plastic scissors, and directed to start cutting the maraschino cherries in two while my parents went at the tougher citrus rinds with kitchen shears. The cutting alone took hours the way I remember it, and culminated in the making of the batter: a thick, brown Christmas-smelling goo that dad mixed in a tub until he was sticky up to the elbows. The panning and baking I don't remember quite as well, probably because my sister and I were in the TV room watching Scooby Doo by then.
After the baking was of course the cooling, and then the critical part: the injecting of the booze. This was where Dad got truly clinical about his cake. There was a time I'd have sworn he wore full surgical garb for the procedure, scrubbed himself sterile, and demanded clamps, sponges and retractors from my mother at regular intervals. More light! MORE LIGHT! Though looking back now I can see it was all in his attitude. He had a special syringe that he used specially for the occasion. A horse needle I think, and every year it seemed Dad had to march down to the drug store and cajole a new plunger out of the pharmacist. The fellow was always reticent to sell him one, even though no one in town could have told you what a junkie was then, and the needle was of a gage you could sip a milk shake through.
Needle in hand, dad injected the fruitcakes with bourbon the way a mad scientist might insert frog DNA into a dinosaur egg. Half an hour later he would emerge from the kitchen and announce that the procedure had been a success, that the patients were resting comfortably, and we could all go home and relax. Whew! Since it was usually bed time by then I don't remember much of the wrapping, only that going up the stairs I could see dad swaddling the loaves in cheesecloth as if each one were its own baby Jesus.
From that point forward the loaves were stowed under the cellar stairs to ripen, which on good years went from early November all the way to Christmas, with Dad turning them at least once a day. Looking back I'm convinced that giving those precious loaves away was harder on him than giving my sister away at the altar. But such is the passion of a dedicated baker, even if it only happened once a year.