Sunday, December 3, 2017

President's Cake!: Or, a cooking lesson with A Book of Cookrye

So my niece asked me a favor. She wants to learn how to bake. Well, as anyone who's read this can verify, I can not only bake things that turn out as intended, but also find new and exciting ways to fail!
I asked what she wanted to make. The answer: Chocolate cake! Great choice, don't you think? While there are tons of complicated cake recipes out there, it is very easy to find one where the instructions are "Put things in a bowl, stir, and bake." Plus, she picked chocolate! This'll be great, right?
.........Well, being one of the most generous people I know, she wanted to give this cake away to a teacher of hers. Ya gotta admit, it's pretty inadvertently daring of someone who's never cooked before to give her first attempt to someone else. You'd think she might want to bake a few times, get sure of herself, then start sharing with others. Or maybe that's just me. But that brings us to what made chocolate cake a terrible first choice: Her teacher is gluten-free.
There are are a lot of gluten-free desserts one can make easily. You know, anything that doesn't normally have flour. Things like meringues, custards, ice cream, cheesecake (depending on what you use in the crust). Those doing without gluten have a lot of easy-to-make desserts to choose from. However, cake isn't among them. By the time you've managed to do all the arcane substitutions that you need to make a flour-free cake act like it has flour, your recipe has gotten really complicated. Which brings us to today's perpetration.

I love how even though nothing about their clothes or the kitchen dates the production, somehow this entire show just screams that it comes from the nineties. Also, apparently while the chef has mastered making decadent chocolate masterpieces so fast it looks like he just throws things at bowls until a cake happens, apparently his English is not good enough that he can narrate his own recipe. Not that I mind. He can talk chocolate to me in broken English with a French accent all day.
President's Cake
1 c + 6 tbsp melted butter
8 oz bittersweet Chocolate, melted
10 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2½ tbsp sugar
6 egg yolks
⅓ c + 1 tsp sugar

     Chocolate Mousse:
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted*
10 tbsp (1¼ sticks) butter
⅔ c + 1 tsp sugar, divided
2 egg yolks
6 egg whites
Pinch of salt
⅓ c sugar

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare three 8" or two 9" pans. To make very sure the cake comes out in one piece, grease the pans. Then cut a circle of parchment paper to fit inside the bottom of each. Press it down, squeezing out as many air bubbles as possible. Grease the top of the paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the melted butter and melted chocolate. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When the egg whites reach the soft peak stage, add 2½ tablespoons of sugar and beat until stiff.
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with sugar until the yolks are thick and the sugar is dissolved. Add the egg yolk mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in the egg whites. Pour the batter pans.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the cake layers to cool.

Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine the butter and ⅓ c + 1 tsp sugar. Add the chocolate and mix until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and mix well.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
Chill the cake before removing from the pans. Fill and ice with the mousse, and keep refrigerated.

*You might want to melt this before doing anything else and let it cool while you make the cake. Apparently it's very important your chocolate not be hot.

Simplified from Dominique Leborgne, Le Palais du Chocolat, Washington DC via source

You may be wondering how the heck I found this recipe. And... well, I found it a long time ago. Way back when I was really tiny and we had our first dial-up internet, I discovered that there were recipes online. And so, fascinated, I saved every single one I found (we had dial-up, so it wasn't as many as you may think). And the idea of a flourless cake mystified me even then. I'd tried making a cake without flour not too long before (we'd run out) and it came out exactly as you think.
The point is, I've been saving this recipe for an embarrassingly long time and this is as good an excuse as any to finally make it. Well, I'm not going to make it. My niece is. With several of our friends also there, because everyone likes chocolate cake.
We start with a lot of dishes and a lot of separated eggs.
So it looks like we're basically making a chocolate meringue and putting it in cake pans? Maybe? I have to say, one of the fun things about showing others how to do this is their amazement at things you've gotten used to. First, I handed the mixer to my niece saying "And now, you get to use your first power tools!" Then she had to do this.

Her utter wonder at how egg whites turn into fluffy clouds was so sweet to behold. I got excited just seeing her get excited. Also, after having done this a few times, it's really awesome to see how amazed people get when it's new to them. Here I must credit her: for someone who's never cooked before, this is a pretty complicated recipe. First, one must separate over a dozen eggs, then beat egg whites to peaks, then fold them into a batter without deflating anything. Furthermore, on account of a faulty oven, we're baking in two toaster ovens (one per cake layer). In theory, if one can bake in adverse conditions one can bake anywhere. But despite these difficulties, she did an amazing job. My first attempt at this was an utter failure, check out my niece folding in undeflated egg whites perfectly on her first shot.

Incidentally, if you are prone to getting batter flung everywhere whenever you use a mixer, consider putting your bowl in the sink.
This is like 30 minutes of wiping no one will have to do.

We all (there were many of us gathered together because chocolate) decided that rather than give away a two layer cake, we would eat one of them ourselves and give the second one away. I mean really, when you had chocolate cake batter that looked this divine, would you give all of it away?

Meanwhile, going back to the aforementioned adverse conditions, it has been noted that we were using toaster ovens. It turns out only one of them could fit a 9" round pan. And so, in addition to learning a new cake recipe, we learned about smashing foil over a bowl to create a cake pan. Also, doesn't the batter look fantastic? I can't believe you're not supposed to eat it as it is.

And so, we removed the cakes from the oven! Remember everyone, make sure your oven is level or else this will happen. It appeared that today we will to learn how to fix crooked cakes with lots of icing. Incidentally, the doesn't the crispy top make this look like brownies?

Here's where all that business of putting parchment paper circles in before pouring in the batter pays off: If the cake tries to stick to the bottom of the pan, all it can do is glue itself to the paper which was going to fall out anyway.

Now, if you go up and watch the video, you'll notice that he skips the part where you get the cake out of the pans. This may be why.

See that weird gelatinous stuff? As far as I can tell, the egg whites sank to the bottom and deflated there, taking some of the sugar with them. We all tried some of them, and the lightly sweetened hard-bake egg whites tasted like a grim diet dessert. If you've ever dieted, you know the type. They are technically sweet, but taste more like disappointment than anything else. Fortunately, it easily scraped off, leaving... this marvelous tempting creation.
This may actually be the recipe's fault. If you compare the video to the written instructions, he dumps both cocoa powder and melted chocolate into the cake batter. The written recipe makes no mention of any cocoa powder. Maybe it would have absorbed the egg whites before they could sink to the bottom of the pan and make that weird gelatinous thing on top.
Cakes this ugly are why we invented icing.

All right, so it looks like we're about to serve a cow patty, but that's because we haven't hidden the cake yet with... the mousse! Which apparently starts with a chocolate oil slick over a sea of butter.

But following up on previous lessons, we got to once again practice the business of beating in egg whites!

At this point I have to say she was more excited about making the mousse than she'd been about the cake itself. I wanted to show her mixing it, but all I could get was an excited motion blur. For someone who had very nervously nearly dropped the stirring spoon when we started, she was having a lot of fun now that we'd been baking a while. Check out how fast she's stirring!

And so, we begin to crown the cake with the mousse. Which... well, just look at it! This is so thick it hold up its own shape! Incidentally, even if making fancy flourless cakes does not interest you, this mousse was seriously delicious. You could serve it as it is and everyone would love it.

All right, let's see how well the icing hides how ugly this poor cake turned out.

Well, that's no help at all. It still looks like a pathetic thin brown patty. Here we must note that in the original, you stack three layers of this cake instead of just a single one. So that would fix the height issue and make it look less... thin and puny. Howerver, what my niece lacks in baking experience (though don't you think she's done fabulously for having such a complicated recipe for her first?), she makes up for in crafts.

What was now a thin brown patty is now a spacious canvas for an adorable design! But how does it taste?
As aforementioned, we decided to reserve one cake layer for the teacher she meant to give her first baked creation to, and eat the other one for ourselves. Which meant we had a whole (though decidedly less pretty) cake to ourselves.
Now, if you go up to that video and skip to the end, you may notice that for all the elaborate decorating and such, you never see them cut a slice of the cake to show you just how tempting it looks inside. I'd wondered about that until we tried to cut the one we'd made.
You don't cut this cake, you scoop it off the platter like a cobbler. Even if we had done the extravagant chocolate decorations like he did in the video.
Given how it barely holds together long enough to move it onto a plate, I cannot blame the video producers for not showing this.

Now, this cake is rich. It's also not really a cake. Even though we had baked it, it barely held together. It tasted insanely rich and gloriously chocolatey (you may notice the cake is nearly black from all the chocolate in it), but as was noted as were we eating it, "This is chocolate mush!" If you absolutely love chocolate you will likely be ecstatic with this, but most people would be a bit underwhelmed.
You may think we underbaked it, but we not only left it in the oven for well over the given baking time, but we also used bigger pans, meaning the cake was thinner and therefore should have baked faster. It passed all known doneness tests- the toothpick came out clean, it sprang back when pressed, the cake pulled away from the sides of the pan.
What I'm saying here is that the cake itself is not the best part of the recipe-- though if you put the batter in a baked pie crust and froze it, you'd probably have an absolutely divine chocolate pie.
However, the mousse is absolutely delicious. Like, you could throw away the cake recipe and just serve the mousse in cute little cups. Which is great because the mousse recipe makes twice as much as we ended up using. We thoroughly iced 2 cakes and still had a big bowl of chocolate mousse left.

Friday, December 1, 2017

One-Pan Dinner from Canada!

Happy December everyone! We are now in that most trying time of year. Jingle Bells is on the radio around the clock, all those happy families gathered round the tree in commercials make us look at our own relatives and think "yeah right," and despite having a round of Christmas parties to go to and party clothes outfits we may or may not fit in as it is, there will be pies. And so, we at A Book of Cookrye are trying to find creative ways to get through the month without going up a clothing size.
Remember how last year I crossed national borders for the first time in years? Yes indeed, I went to Canada, and all I brought home was this magazine (previously seen here).

Unlike a lot of food magazines you'd see in America, a lot of the recipes look like they actually meant for you to try them at home. They even had an entire chapter dinners you do on a single baking sheet. Which brings us to today's perpetration...

Yes indeed, we're doing the cover recipe! The article was called "Simplifying Supper," but does the recipe live up to the premise?

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables and Baked Eggs with Feta
1 medium sweet potato
1 red bell pepper
1 head fresh fennel
1 red onion
1 zucchini
2 tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp paprika*
Salt and pepper
4 large eggs
¼ c crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
⅓ cup olive oil

Heat oven to 475°. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and grease it.
Cut all vegetables into 1-inch dice, except the tomatoes which you cut into halves. You can save the fennel leaves for decorating the plates if you want to be fancy with no extra effort, or chop them finely.
Toss the sweet potato with 2 tbsp olive oil and salt to taste. Spread the pieces over the pan and bake 10 minutes, or until it begins to soften.
Mix the other vegetables, coat with remaining oil, garlic, rosemary, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Push the sweet potatoes to one side of the pan and put the vegetables onto the vacated space. Be sure everything is in a single layer, and that the tomatoes are skin-side down. Bake 30 minutes or until everything is soft and slightly caramelized, stirring occasionally.
Remove pan from oven, and mix the vegetables. Divide them into into four piles, and turn each pile into a ring, the center of which is just big enough to push a tomato half into. Be sure the chopped vegetables are higher than the tomato halves on all sides, or else the egg won't stay on top of everything. Do this quickly so nothing has time to cool.
Crack an egg into each portion, and shake salt and pepper over each. Sprinkle with feta cheese and return the oven. Bake 6-8 minutes, depending on how done you want the eggs. Sprinkle with parsley.
Using a large spatula, put portions on plates.

NOTE: You can roast the vegetables ahead of time. Just be sure to get vegetables and pan really hot before cracking the eggs over them.

*Hot smoked paprika if you feel like obsessively and strictly sticking to the original.

Source: Food and Drink, Autumn 2016, Liquor Control Board of Ontario

Holy snizzbat, this really is easy! Cut vegetables, bake on a sheet pan, make into mounds, crack eggs on them, bake again until edible! Heck, they don't even have you take the time to cut them into small bits!
That was quick.

Also, the bell pepper I got had just the faintest blush of color which I thought was really pretty. Not that anyone would notice it after the pepper got cut up and cooked, but still...

Seriously, I love how you don't even cut the vegetables into tiny pieces. If you have even mediocre knife skills, you'll have the onion cut up before your eyes get irritated.

I was going to just cut up a bunch of vegetables that were lurking in the back of the refrigerator in varying states of squishiness, but behold what was on sale at the supermarket!

In case you're like me and couldn't identify the thing in the picture without a label, that is fresh fennel. Italians apparently cook the whole thing as a vegetable. I don't know how much of this other people cook, but I used the whole thing- white base, green stems, and all.
I've never eaten fennel in any form before, not even from a spice shaker. And... it's sweet. Surprisingly sweet, almost like stevia leaves, but with more actual flavor. When you expect something to taste like leafy greens, the almost fruit-like sweetness is a bit of a shock. I'm surprised fennel doesn't show up in desserts as much as cinnamon does.
I can't believe garlic sat around my kitchen long enough to look like this.

Right, that was a whole ten minutes spent cutting things, let's get this in the oven!
Just dumping things on a pan is gloriously satisfying after taking cooking classes where you were expected to be obsessed with presentation.

I'm usually skeptical about the portion sizes of recipes from high-end magazines. They assume that the hoity-toity magazine purchasers aren't going to eat. But, for the record, this pan contains half the recipe. You will note that said half-quantity recipe barely fits.
According to the recipe writers, this serves two. For once, the writers might be right.

Let us pause here and note the best part of this recipe so far. Below you will see literally all the dishes used in getting this ready to bake.

Now, they're not kidding when they say to make a well in the center of each pile for the egg to land in. The egg will run right down the side of your vegetable mountain and onto the pan if you don't. It's still edible of course, but looks like this.

If you're wondering why half the vegetables went missing, I wondered how I would ever eat a whole pan of this at once, and decided to instead save half of them for later. As you can see, a very generous portion remained- even if it looked like someone threw it at the pan. Let's see how we did on the second attempt:

Well, it doesn't look as decorative as the magazine cover, at all. How did they get the yolks to sit completely on top of the whites instead of in the middle of them? I think whoever made this for the photoshoot cooked the whites until solid, then dropped the yolks on top.
But that's all right, because I saved the fennel leaves and therefore have a garnish!
Maybe I should have chopped the fennel first.It looks like I dropped grass clippings on dinner.

As for how this tastes.... astonishingly good! Like, if you didn't see the recipe first, you'd never guess that it's so healthy. Don't ask how or why, but this is a lot better than the list of ingredients says it should be. Happy December, everyone, and good luck to those of us who are trying not to bust our diets too badly!