Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers & Dorrie's Perfect Party Cake

I was thrilled when March's DB challenged was announced: Dorrie Greenspan's perfect party cake. Our host, Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, said we could play around, adapting the recipe's flavor as we liked; we just needed to stick to a layer cake format.

Who doesn't love cake?

As spring is here, and I am dreaming of warmer weather (specifically, the trip to Florida we'll be taking in May) I decided to make an orange layer cake. The orange flavor was outstanding, but I would probably make two alterations to the recipe overall going forward:

1) The original recipe calls for spreading jam between the cake layers next to the buttercream. I omitted this and, although the cake's crumb was delicate, I thought it was a tad dry. (Note: Dorrie writes that "the original recipe was given to [her] by [her] great dear friend Nick Malgieri" and I've never made a Malgieri cake that wasn't on the dry side. So take from that what you will.] Next time, I'd either add the jam or spread the cake layers with a simple syrup to increase moisture.

2) This will sound ridiculous, however: the buttercream was too buttery for me. Three sticks of butter in one batch of frosting is above my butter tolerance threshold. I'd use a different frosting recipe.

If you'd like to see more variations on Dorrie's Perfect Party Cake please visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Big thanks to Morven for hosting!

Perfect Party Cake

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure orange extract

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and orange zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh orange juice (from 1 navel orange)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the orange juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer . Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spicy Honey-Maple Glazed Chicken

There's not much of a narrative here, but suffice it to say (one hopes...) that this chicken is well-seasoned with a bit of a spicy kick, nicely complemented by a gentle sweetness. Plus, the chicken is incredibly moist and can be on the table in under 15 minutes.

Spicy Honey-Maple Glazed Chicken (adapted)

2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preheat broiler. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil coated with cooking spray.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, add chicken to bowl and toss to coat. Place chicken on the prepared pan and broil for 5 minutes. Flip, and broil for another 5 minutes.

Combine honey, maple syrup and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring well. Remove chicken from oven; brush half of honey-maple mixture on chicken. Broil 1 minute. Remove chicken from oven and flip. Brush chicken with remaining honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until chicken is done.

Serves 4 (2 thighs per person)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Which Big Companies Own "Little" Organic Brands

I picked up the current issue of Good magazine this weekend and was interested to find this chart explaining what big companies are behind organic brands. (Kind of like wolves in responsibly-raised sheep's clothing.)

The issue as a whole is dedicated to food and eating ; it's a wonderful read.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

I know it's not brain surgery but since I don't hard boil eggs very often, I have to relearn the method a couple of times a year.

Underboiling results in a runny middle (or, erm, "soft" boiled egg), while overboiling turns the yolks a greyish green. Using the method below, you'll get a nicely cooked hard boiled egg, perfect for dying, turning into devilled eggs or simply eating with a dusting of salt and pepper.

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs (method source)

12 large eggs, room temperature

Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cool water by 1 inch. Slowly bring water to a boil over medium heat; when the water has reached a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit 12 minutes.

Transfer eggs to a colander using a slotted spoon and place under cool running water to stop the cooking. Eggs can be peeled and served immediately. Remaining eggs, with shells on, may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Something To Chew On: The Pinky Show Explores GMOs

Welcome to the blog's 400th post!

A former student sent me a link to The Pinky Show, an "original super lo-tech hand-drawn educational TV show. The Pinky Show focuses on information and ideas that have, for various reasons, been misrepresented, distorted, suppressed, ignored, or otherwise excluded from mainstream discussion. The creator and main character of the show, a cat named Pinky, presents and analyzes the material in an informal, easy-to-understand way, with helpful illustrations that she draws herself."

It's pretty terrific; I love the idea of using of simple animation to explore complex problems. We've been watching and discussing the programs all weekend, from an analysis of "illegal" immigration to do-it-yourself ribbon stickers to using elephants as weapons.

The episode that I've been thinking about the most, however, is What's Wrong With GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)? While this episode is a straight interview between Pinky and Jeffery Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, it's one that discusses little-explored issues behind, and the potential effects on animals resulting from, GMOs.

This quote come from the Institute for Responsible Technology, but it's a point Smith makes in the interview:

Many consumers in the US mistakenly believe that the FDA approves GM foods through rigorous, in-depth, long-term studies. In reality, the agency has absolutely no safety testing requirements. Pathetic research from companies like Monsanto who voluntarily perform on their own crops is meticulously designed to avoid finding problems. The reason for the FDA’s industry-friendly policy on GMOs is that the White House (under the first George Bush) ordered the agency to promote biotechnology and the person in charge of developing the policy was Monsanto’s former attorney, and later their vice president. That policy claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing that GM crops were different “in any meaningful or uniform way,” and therefore didn’t need testing. But 44,000 FDA internal documents made public from a lawsuit show that this was a complete lie. The overwhelming consensus among the FDA’s own scientists was that GM foods were quite different and could lead to unpredictable and hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. They had urged superiors to require long-term studies, but were ignored.

If you haven't given much thought to GMOs, haven't thought about it lately, or have received all your info on GMOs from the mainstream media, please listen to the Pinky Show interview as soon as you can.

UPDATE: I was just thumbing through the pages of the April 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living and came across a reader's letter asking how s/he can tell if produce has been genetically engineered. The response, abridged:

There is some uncertainty regarding the safety of genetically altered crops. Although foods can be engineered to improve nutritional content and increase pest resistance, doing so raises environmental and health issues. In Europe, all GMOs are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Some are banned as a result, and those that are approved are labeled accordingly. In the United States, where it is not mandatory to identify genetically modified ingredients, GMOs are prevalent in packaged products -- especially those containing soy, corn, and wheat.

Genetically altered fruits and vegetables are rare so you probably won't find them at your market. To avoid them entirely, buy foods labeled "organic," which can not be bioengineered. Or simply check your produce. According to the Produce Marketing Association, price lookup codes (PLU) -- the number on stickers that are affixed to individual fruits and vegetables -- can be used to identify the origin of produce. The standard PLU code is four digits, though some stickers feature a fifth digit that precedes the others. An 8 indicates that the fruit was genetically engineered; a 9 means the food is organic.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Singapore Mei Fun with Shrimp

Before Shane and I got engaged and I moved Upstate, I used to eat Chinese take-out at least twice a month, sometimes more. It was cheap, it was flavorful, it was everywhere.

But Shane isn't a big fan of Chinese food, and I haven't found any Chinese restaurants I really like, so now I eat Chinese food maybe three or four times a year.

So I was thrilled to walk into Wegmans a few weeks ago and see them pushing their recipe for Singapore Noodles with Shrimp. Make no mistake -- this is definately a marketing tactic, with the goal of you spending your money in their store, on their products.

But I hadn't had Singapore Mei Fun in ages, and the mere thought of it transported me to 2000, when I would buy a quart of it for $4.00 from a tiny, dingy restaurant around the corner from my first real job at the corner of Broadway and Houston. The place was always packed at lunchtime, with people from all walks of life: executives, construction workers, hungry students, shop girls and guys, all looking for something fast, tasty and cheap.

The memory pushed me up and down the aisles, pulling ingrediants off the shelves, and then drove me home and into the kitchen. Things came together fairly quickly (though it made me wish I had a bigger wok) and result was suprisingly tasty, with a strong curry flavor, and shockingly healthy.

The only changes I made to the recipe below were to increase the curry (which I love) by 2 teaspoons -- I might add more the next time; and skip the egg to streamline the entire process. The recipe also says it serves 4, but I think you'll get more like 6.

Singapore Mei Fun with Shrimp (adapted)

1 pkg (8.8 oz) Mei Fun (rice vermicelli)
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsps Hot Madras Curry Powder
1/4 cup Oyster Sauce 1/4 cup Thai Culinary Stock or chicken stock
1 egg
1 lb. frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp (41-50 ct)
1 Tbsp +2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, peeled, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
12 oz. Cleaned & Cut Asian Slaw (a mix of Napa cabbage, carrots & celery)
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced

Follow directions for preparing mei fun; drain well and set aside.

Combine curry powder, oyster sauce, and stock in small bowl; set aside.

Blanch shrimp 30 to 60 seconds in large pot of boiling salted water. Add slaw and green onion; blanch 5 seconds. Drain well; set aside.

Drizzle 2 tsp oil around sides of the largest wok you have; tilt pan to distribute evenly. Heat oil in pan on high until oil faintly smokes. (If oil smokes too much, pan is too hot.) Add egg; cook, scrambling it, just until set. Set aside. Wipe out pan with paper towel.

Drizzle remaining Tbsp oil around sides of pan; tilt pan to distribute evenly. Heat oil in pan on high until oil faintly smokes. Add onion slices; cook, stirring, about 2 min.

Add noodles and curry powder/stock mixture to pan. Stir fry about 1 min. Add shrimp, vegetables, and egg. Stir fry 1 min.

Nutrition Info, based on 4 servings: Each serving (2 cups) contains 330 calories, 43 g carbohydrate, (3 g fiber), 21 g protein, 7 g fat, (1 g saturated fat), 200 mg cholesterol, 280 mg omega-3 fats, and 910 mg sodium.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tate's Bake Shop Thin and Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies with their friend, Carmelized Pineapple Upside-down Cake.

I'm posting this before heading off to the gym, the first day of a renewed effort to lose the last 15 -- scratch that, 13.4 pounds -- to reach my goal weight. I'm kicking up my exercise regimen in the hopes that it speeds up the process so I'll be there before summer (though I'm conflicted about this & here's why) while maintaining my need to eat sweets.

Yes, it's a need, not a desire. I crave sweets everyday, usually multiple times, and it's a pull I can't ignore. Sometimes a stick of gum or a cup of tea will sate things, but often I need something more substantial.

Like a chocolate chip cookie. Studded with giant bits of dark chocolate, this crunchy little cookie is buttery with a salty hit; my favorite kind of chocolate chip cookie. Add a glass of milk, and I'm in heaven.

Tate's Bake Shop Thin & Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies (source)

2 cups all-purpose pour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients until they are just combined. Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons . Bake for 12 to 17 minutes or until the edges and centers are golden brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Yield: 4 1/2 dozen three-inch cookies.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

KJ's Honeycomb Candy for Taste & Create

From left to right: honeycomb clusters, plain honeycomb candy, chocolate-covered honeycomb candy.

Taste & Create is a wonderful event where food bloggers are paired up and asked to choose a recipe from their partner's blog, cook/bake it up, and post the results.

The only problem occurs if one partner totally drops the ball, doesn't see the event email because the spam filter ate it, and doesn't realized what's happened until after the round-up. (Can you guess whom I'm refering to here?)

My partner was KJ of A Cracking Good Egg and, when I realized what had happened, I began rifling through her posts like my life depended on it. Before I continue, let me apologize: KJ, I am so sorry I am late with this post. You and your lovely blog do not deserve it! I'm also sorry that I'm late submitting to Taste & Create - so, so sorry!

After taking a good long look at A Cracking Good Egg, I realized making a choice would be difficult; KJ has so many delicious recipes! But in the end, my sweet tooth won out and went with her recipe for honeycomb candy. It looks a lot like a regional Rochester favorite, sponge candy, and I'd never made so I thought I'd give it a go.

Who knew something so simple could yeild such complex flavors and textures? The carmelized sugar gets a sharp tang (it's hard for me to describe) from the addition of baking soda, so the final flavor it a bit like a toasted marsmallow with a bite. The texture, of course, is NOTHING like a marshmallow, again thanks to the baking soda.

Once you add the baking soda (mixed with a bit of water) to the melted sugar, the whole thing puffs up and turns a deep yellow. You have to work fast and pour the mixture out onto a parchment-line baking sheet before it cools. (Don't spread it with a spoon either or you'll burst all those lovely bubbles.)

When it cools, you get a crunchy, bubbly confection. I covered mine in semi-sweet chocolate which was very nice, though I think I would have preferred a milk chocolate to off set a bit of the candy's bite.

So please head over to A Cracking Good Egg to get the recipe for honeycomb candy and take a look at all of KJ's wonderful recipes. And again, my apologies for being late!