Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pie in the Sky

One day at a friend's summer party I met a man who had been referred to as The Evil Pie Man. He was one of the hostess's best friends, and he was infamous for his decadent pies. He was dubbed Evil Pie Man because his pies were so good that they would entice you, no matter how long you had been dieting, no matter how much you had already eaten, to eat at least two pieces. And he would usually show up with several different pies. So doing the math, you knew if he was coming that you'd be eating at least four pieces of pie that night, if not more.

When I met him we hit it off right from the start. He was a very funny, very intelligent man which also meant that he was witty and clever. Plus, he was a lover of all things decadent and sumptous.

It was around this time that I started baking the RLB way, and as I needed places to bring my cakes, it became known that if I was showing up to a potluck you knew I was bringing cake. And so it became that Evil Pie Man would show up with his two or more pies and I would show up with my latest cake.

Hence I became the Evil Cake Lady.

Evil Pie Man decided at some point to "get healthy," which meant he wasn't going to supply cigarettes for me, the hostess, and himself to smoke in the backyard with our cocktails, and he stopped baking his delicious pies when he stopped eating sugar. Sigh. A little less decadent, but still the same caring, witty, delightful individual.

Evil Pie Man passed away in his sleep the other night, and I will miss his company at our friend's gatherings from now on. To his family and friends, I wish you ease of heart and a gentle healing. And to The Evil Pie Man, I wish you a safe journey back home. You will be missed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Trifle Spongy


I have known my friend Cookie since our first day of college in 1991. She was a fresh transplant from the real OC, and I had come from the bay area. I didn’t think much of her at first, mainly because I was trained as a bay area girl to strongly dislike anyone and anything coming from the LA area of California, because LA gave the rest of California a bad name (still does).

We lived in this pseudo-hippie, pseudo-anarchist dorm call Metanoia. At least, for the mostly conservative campus of Willamette, we were all pseudo-hippie-anarchist-commie-pinko-scum. Metanoia was a smaller dorm (two floors with about 17 people per floor) located in what used to be a frat house. The fraternity had been kicked off campus a year or two earlier for accusations of gang rape and whatnot. The frat houses were clustered at the ends of the two large, general dorms on the east side of campus, and the frat boys hated us. I mean, HATED US.

I think living amongst such animosity drew out little clan tighter together in some respects. We Metanoian freshmen had spent a long evening together on the first night sharing stories and bonding, and when the rest of the house moved in a day or two later most people were very welcoming and accepting. I met some of my closest friends that first night, and crazy OC Cookie is one of them.

Fast forward to present day: Cookie is making Christmas dinner for her family and has decided to make a fabulous trifle for dessert. She needs a couple rounds of sponge cake, and instead of buying them, or baking them herself, she asked me to do it.

Of course I’d do it—it’s baking! Plus, she bribed me with pizza and beer. Which when I got to her house, included a CostCo hot dog. A win-win situation for everybody.

Cookie got married last year and one of her wedding gifts was a lovely red KitchenAid mixer. She keeps it in the box in her pantry. The first time she used it was last December when Joelf, Cookie, and I made cookies. This was the second time she used it.

Her red KitchenAid purrs like a kitten. Mine has been around the block a bit and I use the hell out of it—not that she’s faltering in any way but she is a lot noisier than Cookie’s Red. A pleasure to work with.

little red kitchenaid
sweet Red

December 20, 2006
Name of cake: Trifley Sponge Cake
Occasion: Cookie’s Making a Trifle
Constituents: one recipe Biscuit Roulade, baked in a sheet pan

how do you pronounce that?
it's not "BisKit", its "BeeskWee"

For her sponge cake, I chose to make the Biscuit Roulade because you bake it up in a sheet pan, and cut out your rounds afterwards. It turns out a super light, fluffy, golden cake that is about ¾ to 1 inch tall and dissolves in your mouth. It would make a great jelly roll-type cake.

This cake is all egg and sweetness. There is only about 200 grams of flour and a tiny bit of cornstarch, plus four eggs and one extra egg yolk. There is about twice as much sugar as there is flour, and a little bit of vanilla for flavor. No butter, no oil, no fat.

so puffy

RLB says this cake will either need to be encased in moist stuff like Bavarian cream, whipping cream, or the like or else you need to moisten it with a sugar syrup. I think Cookie is going to do both. She wants to spike it with dark rum.

The cake comes together pretty easily, but like all European-type sponge cake you either need two bowls for your mixer or else a hand-held beater as well. Or, you could do what I’ve been doing all these years which is to beat up the yolks and fold in the flour, transfer the mixture to another bowl, wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment, reuse the bowl and whisk to whip up the egg whites and sugar, and fold into the yolk mixture standing in the wings. I wonder if I am messing with the batter too much and deflating it more than necessary with all my transfers and whatnot. I probably am, but so far the sponge cakes I’ve made seem to have been okay. It's just a pain in the hoohah.

I tried to get Cookie involved in helping with the cake by asking her to separate two eggs. I forgot that she has a slimy issue and usually wears latex gloves when dealing with anything that could be slimy, like raw meat and eggs. Cookie delegated the egg separating task to her husband, Jeremy. Who did a fabulous job. Thanks, Jeremy!

gloves, rum, diet coke
gloves, rum, diet coke, and Cookie

The cake bakes in a 450 oven for 7 minutes, or until springy and golden brown. Our cake smelled delicious, just like a yellow cake would. We wanted to break out some chocolate chip whipped cream and spread it thick over the cake, roll it up, and eat it with some vanilla ice cream. Or—maybe that was just me.

I instructed her to report back on the trifle, and to take some pictures of it. Here’s to wishing her great success!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Coleen's Chocolate-Chocolate Cake

I have a headache. Too much cake.

Coleen is a wonderful friend of mine; she is caring and nurturing, and she believes in feeding whoever walks through her door. On Sunday she turned 50 something, but make no mistake--she still is a wild child. She dreams of studying the secrets in the shadows of steamy green jungles in South America. In the meantime, she works in the health care industry and tends to a yummy garden in NE Portland.

And she likes chocolate.

Last year I baked her an experimental Turtle Cake which was pretty darn good and all, but this year I have outdone even myself. If I may say so myself.

December 15, 2006
Name of Cake: Super Chocolate Cake
Occasion: Coleen's Birthday!
Constituents: two layers chocolate fudge cake filled and frosted with milk chocolate buttercream

If you are at all interested in baking the best cake ever, please buy RLB's The Cake Bible. I am serious. People always marvel over my cakes and how they taste good but they aren't too sweet. Come on people: it is possible to have a tasty dessert whose predominant flavor isn't sweet. It could be, oh I don't know, CHOCOLATE! Or, VANILLA! Or, ANYTHING BUT SUGAR! Dare to dream my friends, dare to dream.

So this cake, the chocolate fudge cake, is different than regular chocolate cake because it is made with brown sugar instead of regular sugar. The molasses in the brown sugar gives the cake a slightly bitter, earthy edge and brings more moisture to the cake. You can just barely detect that something is different about this cake; there is a more complex flavor due to the brown sugar which is very enjoyable.

Also, RLB uses cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate for her cakes. This gives the baker the ability to control the amount of sugar in relation to the amount of chocolate--if you use melted chocolate you will always be adding sugar when you add the chocolate. Also, cocoa powder gives you control over the amount of moisture being added and in what form. RLB believes that using milk in conjunction with chocolate brings out an unpleasant bitterness, so she uses water and cocoa powder. To the traditional cake baker this may seem like a terrible thing to do, and that you would lose some of the richness and flavor to use water instead of milk, but believe me that is not the case. What you get is a full, unadulterated, non-diluted chocolate taste.

So what did I do to make this cake so damn good?
1. Followed the recipe precisely.
1a. I mean, I weigh all the ingredients, and I even weigh the egg yolks and egg whites separately. Why? The egg yolk conspiracy.
2. RLB instructs you to boil the water and add it to the cocoa powder, stir thoroughly and let it cool to room temperature. Basically you are making a cocoa paste. And what none of us realised until the blessed Aaron came along, is that we were losing precious moisture as the water evaporated off while waiting for it to come down to room temperature. So after it cooled, I re-weighed it and added back in the 6 grams or so of water I had lost. This, my friends, is the real reason why my chocolate cakes have become incredibly freaking amazing. I owe it all to Aaron, may he be blessed, and RLB, for providing a forum where we can all share our passion for baking.

(moment of silence)

3. Also, for the brown sugar not only did I use the far superior muscovado sugar--which is better because it is REAL brown sugar, not white processed sugar with the molasses added back in like "regular" brown sugar--but I decided to use dark muscovado. Which smells heavenly. Really, you need to go out and buy some of this stuff. The difference in smell and feel and energetics between a white sugar and a less refined, more natural sugar is amazing.
4. The cocoa powder I've been using lately isn't anything really gourmet, it's just Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. It turns out a rich, chocolaty, almost black cake. Simply stunning.

As I checked on the cakes while they baked, I got nervous because I thought they were burning, they were turning so dark. I freaked out and turned the oven down to 300, and tented some foil over the cakes. I tried to figure out what happened--the oven had never done that before....ten minutes later the cakes were getting darker but still not fully baked...then I realised my cakes weren't burning, they were just that dark. I turned the oven back up and let them finish baking.
Quick tip for those who are baking in a hurry:
If you want your cakes to cool down quicker, take advantage of the near-freezing temperatures and place them in front of an open window. That arctic wind will blow right over your cakes and will cool them down to room temperature in about 30 minutes. Yes, you'll have to put on your coat and scarf, but you'll be ready to frost in about half the time!

For the frosting I chose the Milk Chocolate Buttercream which is super duper easy. There are three ingredients: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butter.

I decided to use Guittard chocolate, which I've never used before. They have milk chocolate chips in a bag (which would make excellent cookies) and they were deliciously creamy, smooth, and chocolaty, with a hint of cinnamon in the background. I bought the dark chocolate couverture (spelling?) in convenient little wafers. The dark chocolate was 72%. (Didn't taste it)

The only problem I encountered when making the frosting was our cold kitchen. The arctic cooling technique made our already really cold apartment even colder. I had to keep the mixer going to keep the butter from hardening up in the mixer. The chocolate took forever to melt. And as soon as I took it off the double boiler to add to the butter, it began to HARDEN. ALREADY. There were little chunks of chocolate in the frosting, but really, that's not much of a problem.

After frosting the cake, I tried to drag a bread knife over the frosting to make neat lines but it didn’t really work. So then I decided to make a cool tonal design using cocoa powder. I placed the bottom of a 6 inch springform on top of the cake and sifted cocoa powder around the edge to make a dark brown border. In the middle of the circle, I hastily poured the cocoa powder in a big C. Ooooh. Fancy.

The cake was amazingly dark, moist, chocolaty, complex, and deeply satisfying. The frosting was intensely chocolaty and kind of was a distraction from the cake. As seriously tasty as the frosting was, I would have liked less of it. The cake was that good.

Coleen and I took photos with her camera since mine decided to die. I will post them once I receive them from Her Lady Coleen.