Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Haunted Houses

When I was in elementary school, I remember each December we would dutifully save an empty milk carton from lunch and use a mess of frosting, graham crackers, and candies to turn it into a "gingerbread house" as we celebrated Christmas. Last halloween, my co-workers and I adopted this concept and created frightfully sweet "haunted houses" with the children in our program. The kids had an awesome time ( I admit the adults did too), so I thought I would share our creepy creations with you all in time for the holiday this weekend.

This one's mine. Obviously the best. I used a candy corn "autumn mix" to grow my garden.

We used rice krispie's treats to support our walls of graham cracker, with frosting cement.
Seasonal peeps make good decorations.

Square preztels served as windows and doors. We're planning on doing this activity again, and the kids are super-psyched! The hardest part of this project is the shopping, but if you plan ahead and pick up things here and there in the run-up to Halloween, You should be set. For those of you with kids, give this a try!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

If you've been to a fancy schmancy bakery, especially one in Europe, you've seen macarons of every size, color, and flavor. They have an easily adaptable recipe that, despite it simplicity, requires exacting technique to get it just right. I've made macarons once before, and they turned out relatively successful. This time I hoped to perfect my technique and get creative . . . or not. I had some leftover salted caramel that I wanted to use in the filling, so I decided to make chocolate macarons. In adding the cocoa powder to make them "chocolatey" I must have messed up the chemistry of the cookie, so my end result, while tasty, was not really what you would call a true macaron.

Macarons (when done right) have a signature "foot" at the base of the cookie, topped with a light, slightly crunchy dome of sweet, airy cookie. Mine puffed up a bit, but failed to get the "foot" and were overall too cakey. I filled mine with a ganache made with cream and some gianduja chocolate from caillebaut that I scored on a trip to chelsea market- basically homemade nutella. Despite my best efforts, the salted caramel was too oozy to be a good filling for these cookies.

Since, as I've mentioned, these are finicky cookies, check out the following links below for some assistance.

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rewind: Hauntingly Chocolate Cupcakes

With Halloween just around the corner, I'm resurrecting this project from last year for all those in search of ideas for a spooky treat!

Sure, your grocery store is full of orange and brown frosted cupcakes, but why not make your favorite cupcake and dress it up? These marshmallow eyeballs from the dollar store turned tasty-but-plain chocolate cupcakes into something fun and festive! Best of all, it was homemade and easy.

See the original post here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Girasole

Because the Opera Company had the good fortune to call me after I had had a few glasses of wine with dinner, we're opera subscribers! We needed somewhere close to the Academy of Music for pre-show dining, so we decided to try out Girasole, recently moved into the new Symphony House.

Step through the doors of Girasole on Pine Street and you find yourself living out the old trope "a man walks into a bar". The square colossus of a bar takes up almost the whole front of the restaurant and makes it a little difficult to know where you're supposed to go, especially when the maître d's area is unstaffed. Eventually someone arrived and we were seated.

Our initial service issues were a hint of things to come. Despite assurances from our first waiter that he would be taking care of us, service proved to be more of a group effort. And when everyone's your waiter, no one's your waiter. Even with at least half a dozen servers in the not-that-large dining room, there was a long delay before our orders were taken, we had to place out wine orders twice, and even ask for bread plates. To their credit, our herd of servers was friendly, and they were responsive to our request to speed things along given our time constraints.

Normally I don't harp so much on interior layout and service, but they were the first things to come to mind about our experience, because the food really failed to distinguish itself enough to overcome these drawbacks. We all had the three-course, $35 prix fixe menu. I started with the beef carpaccio, which was fine (though difficult to screw up). Lauren had a layered, lasagna-ish contraption of eggplant, zucchini and tomato, which was fine until she reached the middle, where it was refrigerator-cold. A trip back into the microwave resolved this, but not a good start to the meal.

For an entree, I had the "bucatini Girasole", which was tossed in a sauce of onions, pancetta, tomato and pecorino. Nothing too fancy, but well-executed. Lauren had the grilled "Tasmanian" salmon with leeks and a balsamic reduction. The salmon was seared to the point of deep-brown crispiness on one side and otherwise a little overcooked and gummy, and the plate was devoid of any kind of accompaniment aside from the leeks.

Dessert was a pleasantly light cheesecake (served in a chintzily small slice) that was served with a rather odd sauce. Our best guess is that it was some kind of strawberry and orange flower water concoction, but it had a strange note to it that was a bit off-putting.

Perhaps some of what we encountered were the pitfalls of a fixed-price pre-theater menu, but at the same time nothing in our experience enticed us to come back to try something from the rather pricey a-la carte menu. Even with the fixed-price "bargain" in place, throw in a glass of wine and tip and you're still talking over $100 per couple. In a town teeming with more or less interchangeable Italian restaurants with similar menus, there's just no reason to go to a place where the service is confused, the food is little more than adequate, and you can't even figure out how to get into the damn place in the first place.

Girasole on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake

My mother-in-law had a birthday recently, and the whole family came over to celebrate. She requested "any kind of chocolate cake" and I wanted to try something that would be new but familiar. I saw this recipe in the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and decided to give it a try (after approval from Paul). My first attempts at baking from this book were met with lackluster enthusiasm (red velvet cake, root beer bundt) but once I discovered their hands-down fantastic brownie recipe, my faith was renewed.

This cake was a little more complicated them my usual birthday cake but well worth it. The salted caramel had a very pronounced flavor, helped out by liberal sprinklings of fleur de sel during the assembly process. The frosting was also a new experience: a ganache started by making a chocolate caramel, bolstered by whipped butter.

Take note: leftover caramel is excellent on ice cream :)

Sweet and Salty Cake
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

Chocolate Cake:

Makes one 8-inch 3-layer cake
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup Caramel with Salt
Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing
Fleur de sel, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely.

Salted Caramel

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Chocolate Caramel Ganache

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

To assemble the cake

Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD: Sweet Potato/Squash Biscuits

So, after an extended break, I'm back on the TWD train. I was really excited for this recipe- i love all things sweet potato! But I have to say I jinxed myself on this one. While getting ready to bake them, I told my husband and my mom that I hadn't had a recipe that really turned out bad from Dorie's cookbook. Until now (actually I take that back, the arborio rice pudding was also a clunker). We had leftover roasted sweet potato and squash and I was excited to use that for these biscuits. Maybe because they were roasted, not steamed, the mixture was dry. I added a teeny bit of milk, which made the dough come together but perhaps they were overworked because these biscuits didn't "puff." They were flat and a little chewey, like some other experienced. They tasted alright though, alongside a bowl of beef chili with all the fixin's. This week's recipe was chosen by Erin of Prudence Pennywise. Check out the recipe on her blog or on page 26 of Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

I've been waiting to make this dish and I finally got off my butt and made it, spurred on by the attempts of my friends at
Recipies to Rival, who made this for the September challenge (people- I am gonna try to be on the stick this month, I promise). Hands down, one of the best things I have ever made, and surprisingly easy if you plan ahead. It takes just a little active/prep time up front, but most of it is passive cooking time, letting this stew away in a low oven. If you "cheat" and use frozen pearl onions and pre-sliced mushrooms (you know you do this), the prep is virtually nonexistent. I made this on a Sunday night, stuck it in the fridge, and we ate it for dinner on Monday. It was such a treat to have a rich slow-cook dish on a weeknight, and I plan on spoiling us again in this way soon!

Boeuf Bourguignon

Yield: For 6 people

A 6-ounce chunk of bacon
1 Tb olive oil or cooking oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes (see Notes)
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 Tb flour
3 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine such as one of those suggested for serving, or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
The blanched bacon rind
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter
Parsley sprigs

Remove bacon rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, ¼ inch thick and 1½ inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

FOR IMMEDIATE SERVING: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

FOR LATER SERVING: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About I5 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Village Whiskey

So what were we to make of Village Whiskey? Well, the "whiskey" in the place's name already gives it points in my book. And Jose Garces is Philly's reigning culinary hero – but I still found Chifa underwhelming, and with Village Whiskey's concept lying outside Garces's usual Latin area of expertise, one might wonder if our possible Next Iron Chef is fancying himself more of a Stephen Starr figure these days than a man who's strictly all about the food. But heck: Whiskey. Garces. Oh, and duck fat fries. We'll be there.

We showed up on a Tuesday night the week after VW's opening day. Seemed like word had gotten around, because we had to put our names on a list for a party of two, and we were informed that there would be a 45-minute wait (even to sit at the bar). Luckily, Jose has thoughtfully provided a waiting room next door by the name of Tinto (they apparently even share a kitchen), so we headed over there for some sangria and Albariño until our number was up.

Little wonder there was a wait, because VW is mighty cozy inside. Simple white tile adorns the walls, and behind the bar that runs most of the length of the restaurant, you will find bottles of the 80+ whiskeys that are offered. Perhaps paralyzed by the prospect of choosing one from the list, I went for an Old Fashioned, which they make by default with Old Grand Dad. It did the trick, though the Old Grand wouldn't have been my first choice, and other than the grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of my glass, it was well-made. (Insert Don Draper reference here.)

Looking at the menu again now, I would have loved to try some of the "bar snacks", but in an effort to have some semblance of a balanced meal, we started with the mixed green salad with huckleberry vinaigrette. Given the rest of the menu, it seemed oddly overpriced at $9 for what it was, which was a well-made though pretty unremarkable salad.

With roughage out of the way, we moved on to the Whiskey King, which for our arteries' sakes, we split. This is because the Whiskey King is eight ounces of beef topped with bacon, bleu cheese, maple bourbon glazed cipollini, and foie gras. And even at $24, damn if it isn't tasty. Though it would almost seem to be a parody of that old Simpsons episode where Homer watches the commercial for the burger topped with bacon, ham, and rich creamery butter, the Whiskey King is remarkable in the sense that it's hard to imagine it being as good without any of its constituent ingredients, except perhaps for the burger itself. Despite its seemingly heavy and fatty toppings, it's surprisingly easy to eat, making it all the more dangerous. In short, a glorious achievement in the burger arts.

If you don't care to indulge in the petting-zoo-between-two-buns grandeur of the King, starting at the low low price of $9 you can have a plain eight ounce burger and add toppings a la carte, including Rogue Smokey Bleu cheese (which is damn delicious), truffles (market price!), and yes, Homer, a fried egg. Though I would probably skip the egg, I'd love to come back and make up my own combination.

What about the duck fat fries, the mere idea of which was making me anticipate the opening of this place all summer? I won't say they were disappointing, but they weren't what we expected. They're rather lightly cooked, more or less blonde in color, and not very crisp at all. Perhaps it is a testament to the skill of the frying that you can't very much taste the duck-fattiness, but then, what's the point? Thankfully, I was talked by Lauren into getting the Sly Fox cheddar sauce on the side. In a word, bangin'. It's one of those sauces that you wish you could pour on everything. Oh, and another thing – the only homemade ketchup in the universe that's actually as good as or better than plain ol' Heinz. Period.

This is a place that demands a return visit. The "Kentucky fried quail" in particular sounds very alluring, and I would have loved to try something from the pickled section of the menu (which means I'll have to come back without my pickle-adverse wife). I haven't been by at lunchtime yet, but given the prices and menu selections, I think it would be a great lunch spot if it doesn't get too crowded, and if you don't mind showing up for work in the afternoon lightly soused (and/or in a saturated fat-induced coma).

Word is there's even been a few celebrity sightings there. In fact, we had one – Jose himself, seemingly on hand to make sure everything was going smoothly at his latest venture. And so it was on this night in the Village. I hope to be back for another visit some time soon.

Village Whiskey on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Caramelized Onion Focaccia

As part of the giant surprise anniversary/birthday party for my parents, we decided to make focaccia as an hors d'oeuvre. Piece of cake, I figured; I'll make our usual pizza dough and just not roll it out as thick. Good thing we had a consultation with Martha Stewart and her Baking Handbook, because focaccia is in fact a whole different animal: a sticky, messy, hard-to-work animal, but an exceptionally tasty one nonetheless.

So starting with a dough that has a consistency somewhere between Marshmallow Fluff and The Blob, and following a few cryptic folding maneuvers as ordained by Martha, we ended up the next day with a sticky, spongey dough ready to be pressed into shape. As if it wasn't messy enough, the recipe requires you to pour a decent amount of olive oil in a cookie sheet, then add the dough and flip it over so both sides are coated. Then with the aid of some plastic wrap, it's pressed into its rectangular shape. A topping of caramelized onions, and into the oven it went.

And? Well, it looked beautiful. The unique dough engenders the trademark pocks-and-crannies focaccia texture, resulting in a bread that is thick but light, chewy yet airy. It was a big hit and there wasn't much left, which is good thing because its freshness drops off quite a bit after the day it's made. Though I certainly wouldn't want to make it every day, it was a special bread for a special occasion.

Caramelized Onion Focaccia
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart

Slice 2-3 small yellow onions and caramelize in butter and olive oil slowly over low heat. Add a pinch of dried thyme and a splash of balsalmic vinegar for extra flavor. Cool.

Makes one 17-by-12-inch bread
2 1/4 pounds bread flour (about 7 cups), plus more for dusting
3 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons coarse salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, such as Maldon (or other coarse salt), for sprinkling

Whisk together flour, water, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until tripled in bulk and full of sponge-like bubbles, about 2 hours.
Add salt. Attach bowl to a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. When dough begins to cling to and almost climb sides of bowl, raise speed to medium; mix 15 seconds. Dough will be wet, slack, and very sticky.
Using a plastic bowl scraper, turn out dough onto a well-floured work surface. (The dough will be hard to handle, but resist the urge to add flour to the top; instead, keep your hands and tools well floured.) With the bowl scraper (and, to a lesser degree, your fingertips), gather and fold bottom edge of dough about 1/3 of the way toward center. Pat down to deflate slightly and dislodge any extra flour. Fold top edge down 1/3 of the way toward center; the 2 folds should overlap slightly. Repeat with left and right sides, until all edges meet and overlap in center. Tap off excess flour as you work. Gently scoop up dough and flip it over, seam side down. Place dough in a lightly floured bowl, smooth side up. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Return dough to a well-floured work surface. Repeat folding process, making sure to brush off excess flour. Lightly flour the mixing bowl, and return dough to bowl, smooth side up. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk again, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. with a rack in lower third. Coat a 17-by-12-inch rimmed baking sheet with 1/2 cup oil; set aside.
Place dough on prepared sheet. Flip dough over, and coat both sides with oil. Push dough out toward edges of sheet. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest 10 minutes. With plastic wrap still on top, press out dough to fill sheet. Remove plastic (dough should be very bubbly and supple). Drizzle remaining 1/4 cup oil over top. Sprinkle generously with onions and sea salt.
Bake, rotating halfway through, until evenly browned on top and bottom, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately slide focaccia onto a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet; pour any oil left in pan over top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Supper Club: Kong

The supper club ladies and I hit up Kong in September. I had been so excited to try this place- the idea of Hong Kong style street food was so alluring. Overall, this was an incredible disappointment. Our first course of dumplings were cold and a bit salty. Actually, almost everything we ordered was cold. We reported this after the 1st course came out, they comped an order of dumplings but the temperature of our food did not improve. The high point was the rice beer I ordered- light and refreshing. We all left feeling empty and let down- and headed home to a second dinner.

Kong on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 5, 2009

Italian Creme Cake

Last month, Paul and I faced a huge culinary challenge: we held a surprise party for my in-laws to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary and both their 60th birthdays, which fall this year. We hosted nearly 40 family members and friends in our new house, and we catered it ourselves. My shining contribution was my first half-sheet cake- a delicious 3 layer sponge filled with chocolate and vanilla pastry cream, rum syrup, and bathed in whipped cream.

The process of making this cake was a calamity of sorts, but the end result turned out well.
First, I was unsure on how to adjust te quantities in the recipes- did I need 2 or 3 times the recipe? I settled on 2, but when poured into 3 half sheets, it wasn't enough. Scraped one pan out (overworking the delicate sponge batter) to fill the remaining 2, whipped up another batch of the sponge. Doubled the pastry cream to be safe, had WAY too much. Nearly jammed up my kitchen aid motor (and made a HUGE mess) when adding melted marshmallow to the whipped cream to stabilize the frosting; and promptly ran out of whipped cream. Sent Paul out to 4 different stores for heavy cream with no success. Ended up decorating the cake with leftover pastry cream, which saved the day but gave the cake a decidedly '70s vibe- which worked out, since they were married in 1974.

Despite the drama, it ended up tasting a looking delicious, and I was given the ultimate compliment- everyone wanted to know where I bought the cake! I do have to share credit- the recipe is from my wonderful godmother-in-law, MaryAnne!

These quantities are for a 9 inch round cake. For a half sheet, multiple the cake by 3, the pastry cream by 1.5. Remember you can double a cake recipe, but not triple it in the same batch, or the chemistry will be thrown off and the cake may fail. For a half sheet, make one double recipe and one single recipe of the cake to ensure success! (more dishes, but worth it!)

MaryAnne's Sponge Cake

You will need:

8 large eggs, separated

sugar 2/3 cup and 1/3 cup, separated

2 tsp vanilla

1 Tbs warm water

1 cup + 2 Tbs sifted all purpose flour.

1/2 cup + 1 Tbs cornstarch.

1 Tsp cream of tartar

3 9' cake pans, buttered with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 325

Sift flour and cornstarch together and set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat yolks and 2/3 c sugar on high for 5 minutes until ribbons form. Lower speed and beat in vanilla and water. Increase speed to high for 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/3 c sugar until stiff peaks form. Add 1/3 of the white to yolk mixture and fold in. Gently fold in remaining whites. Sprinkle flour mixture on top and gently fold in until combined.

Bake 25 minutes, cool on wire rack. When cool, trim crust.

MaryAnne's Pastry Cream

½ Gallon Milk

16 oz sugar, separated into 8 oz and 8 oz

8 egg yolks

4 whole eggs

10 to 11 oz cornstarch

4 oz butter

2 Tbs vanilla

4 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted

In a heavy pot, dissolve 8 oz sugar in the milk and bring just to a boil. In a bowl, beat egg yolks and eggs until combined. Sift remaining 8 oz of sugar and cornstarch into the eggs and whip until perfectly smooth. Temper the eggs- while whisking, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs in a thin stream. Return the egg and milk mixture to the pot, place on the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When it comes to a boil and thickens, remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla until dissolved. Pour half the cream into a bowl and cover with parchment or buttered waxed paper to avoid a film forming. This is the vanilla pastry cream. Add the melted chocolate to the remaining cream, stir until combined. Place in a bowl and cover accordingly. Chill both for at least 4 hours.

Rum Simple Syrup

In a saucepan over medium- high heat, combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water. Let come to a boil, let cool, stir in 1 1/2 cups dark rum. Refrigerate in an airtight container. Use leftovers for cocktails.

Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:

2 c whipping cream

1/4 to 1/2 c powdered sugar

1 Tbs vanilla

2-3 marshmallows, melted

Combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer. Melt marshmallows in the microwave and add to the cream while whipping (you can also use gelatin; this is more fun). However, lower the bowl to add the melted marshmallows, because maybe, just maybe, the marshmallows might cling to the top of the mixer attachment and wind itself around the place where you attach stuff to the mixer. And make a big mess that makes you want to throw it away and buy a new one. Maybe. Frost and pipe as desired.

To assemble: place bottom layer of cake, sprinkle generously with syrup. Spread on chocolate pastry cream. place middle layer, sprinkle with syrup, spread vanilla cream. Final layer, syrup, frost. decorate. eat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

aaand, we're back!

The fall off the blogging wagon had been long and hard, but we've climbed back up to bring you more delicious dispatches!

A brief rundown of what we've found delicious lately:

From around town:
Village Whiskey
Circles Chinese Cuisine
Sweet Endings Frozen Yogurt
Babbo in NYC (ok not much "around town")

From our kitchen:
Baked Apples
Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake
Eggplant and Goat Cheese Panini

These and many more (including my first bonafide wedding cake!) coming to a blog near you!