Saturday, June 21, 2008

Awesome Cake Chemistry

I was a solid B student in high school and college. If I worked my bottom off I could have been an A student, but why bother? Cramming was my lifestyle. With the exception of English, I never read more than I needed to do the homework. And I got Bs, and I was happy.

Until I met chemistry. Chemistry killed me. I had to work my ass off every single night. I had to read the textbook and take notes on the reading every night. I did all the study questions at the end of each chapter--just so I understood what the hell was going on. We weren't turning in these study questions--but if I didn't do them, I was totally lost in the class. Working my ass off got me a solid B. I enjoyed the challenge, and I was proud of myself for working hard and getting a nice passing grade in response. This kind of made me like chemistry.

Well, it made me like food chemistry. I LOVE food chemistry.

Back when I was addicted to The Food Network and couldn't leave the house for fear of missing a good recipe, Paula Deen made some sort of crazy pudding cake thing. It was mixed in one bowl, and somehow during the bake the batter sorted itself out and made a cake layer on top and a nice looking pudding on the bottom.

Magic! How did they do it?!

June 19, 2008
Name of Cake: Lemon Pudding Cake
Occasion: Student Doula Meeting
Constituents: Magic! (with macerated strawberries on the side)

I don't know if it is due to the busy nature of modern day lifestyles, or a Portland thing, or just a thing that everyone in my social and business circles do, but I go to a lot of freaking potlucks. Which is perfect for me and this blog (and hence, you) as I have lots of opportunities to inflict baked goods on a lot of people.

So Thursday night, we had our twice-monthly meeting for the student doulas in our group. The book they were reading was Birthing From Within, and since I'm a mentor I was asked to help facilitate the meeting and lead them through an exercise. (An exercise which made everyone cry. Good thing I brought cake.)

I was flipping through my baking books the day before and found in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book a recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake, which was a dead ringer for Paula Deen's magic cake (but probably with less butter). I got pretty excited about it and decided that was what I was going to bake.

lemon (and lime)  pudding cake

This cake is practically foolproof and really quick to put together. It is mixed up in one bowl--with the exception of the egg whites, which you beat up separately and fold into the rest--and makes a very wet batter. It is mostly liquid, actually. There isn't much flour and no leavening besides the egg whites.

lemon pudding cake

I am assuming that during the bake, the egg whites and flour must bind with just enough of the sugar and liquid to make a nice little sponge cake on top, and that all the extra liquid falls to the bottom with the egg yolks and makes a nice lemony pudding. How's that for chemistry? Pretty scientific, huh?

lemon pudding cake

To help with the magic, you bake the cake for 45 minutes in a bain marie; presumably to help the pudding set. There were no directions for cooling the cake, simply that you could serve it warm or chilled with a little heavy cream, so I left it out to cool for about an hour, then set it in the refrigerator to chill.

lemon pudding cake

The little sponge cake on top was very light, moist, and springy, however it didn't have much flavor on its own. I would have loved to have gotten some of the lemon zest or even a little bit of vanilla into the cake, but I'm not sure how you would get it to stay in the cake such as this.

lemon pudding cake

The pudding part was a little watery at first, when it was chilled, but as the pudding warmed up it thickened. It was refreshingly, tartly, lemony (and limey; I ran out of lemons). I would have liked the pudding to be a little thicker yet, but perhaps that could be due to the 2% milk I used; I suspect whole milk would yield better results.

You serve the pudding cake right out of the pan you bake it in, with a large spoon to scoop out cake and pudding. I like that; it keeps things pretty low-key. I had a bunch of macerated sliced strawberries on the side, in case the cake was bland and needed flavor, but the pudding did the trick. However, strawberries and lemon? Yum. It was a good idea anyway.

lemon pudding cake

The doulas liked my little magical cake experiment, and there was just enough for me to take home for a midnight snack. Excellent!
Here's Paula Deen's recipe: she calls it Lemon Curd Pudding. Hers is a little more rich, with half-and-half and 4 eggs, but no butter! I guess with all the butterfat in the half-and-half you don't need it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Toasty Strawberry Pavlova

I bought a pack of California strawberries a few weeks ago and I thought I would eat them all in a matter of two days, but I didn't.

Eventually, I told myself that if I didn't do something with those strawberries now, they would go bad and I would be lame for letting strawberries go bad.

I also remembered I had a small carton of heavy cream that I bought earlier in the month still hanging out in the refrigerator.

And, I had about 2 dozen frozen egg whites in the freezer.

Excellent.

June 1, 2008
Name of dessert: Giant Strawberry Pavlova
Occasion: I have leftovers
Constituents: two huge layers of meringue, layered with whipped cream and sliced strawberries

(giant) strawberry pavlova

Now, I really only needed three or four egg whites to whip up into a couple of meringue discs, but why use four egg whites when I can use seven?

I made two giant meringue layers, and about a dozen meringue cookies. I was going to follow Jamie Oliver's suggestion of baking the meringues for 2 hours at 200 degrees, them letting them dry out in the warm oven. But when I checked in on them after an hour, smoke billowed out, and the meringues were that lovely brown color! I panicked and pulled them all out, and let them cool at room temperature. Did I burn them? Was there something shriveled and black at the bottom of my oven? What happened?

There wasn't anything shriveled and black in my oven, but the foil lining the bottom looked pretty well used. That's the only thing I came up with. Which isn't much.

Anyway, the short bake and room temperature cool left the meringues soft and sticky on the inside. They didn't taste burnt, just a little toasty. I thought that might be a nice contrast to the whipped cream and berries.

And, it was.

strawberry pavlova

However, by the next day the whipped cream had begun to weep, leaving a pool of funky liquid around the edges of the pavlova. It didn't affect the taste, but it sure was unappetizing to see. Next time I make a pavlova, especially a giant one that won't be completely devoured the same day, I will want to stabilize the whipped cream. Let my mistake be a lesson to all of you.