Dreams of the Cupcake Fiend

20 Apr devilcake

A few months ago, I decided to start this blog in an attempt to a) combine my greatest passions into one productive outlet that allowed me to practice both my writing and baking skills, b) assemble some sort of writing portfolio for any possible future career, and c) pass the time while I was living back at home in the interim between moving from Portland, Maine to San Francisco.  Everything was going great—I was baking every day, writing constantly, and feeling generally inspired.  But things started to go sour after about three weeks.  The novelty of enjoying a new, homemade baked good every day began to wear off as my parents were becoming increasingly embittered about the pastries calling to them every morning for breakfast, after every meal, and at every teatime.

Waistlines expanded as tensions rose.  We ran out of freezer space and I ran out of things to bake.  My clothes were all stained with chocolate, flour was coming out of my ears, and my mind was turning into a cookbook, perpetually sifting through the recipes that had become encyclopedia-ed into my brain.  Don’t even get me started on my computer—the only websites you would find in my bookmarks were recipe sites, my internet history was entirely devoted to baking blogs, and my picture folder contained snapshots of all my baking endeavors.  Like a thirteen-year-old boy who had just discovered the world of pornography, I confined myself to my bedroom, attempting to hide from the world the crazed obsession that had taken hold of me.

I awoke one morning after a particularly tormented night of sleep to recount to my parents the dream that had haunted me all night long:  I came home around 6 o’clock in the evening, where I found my father, gripping a large tumbler of whiskey, teetering aimlessly in our uncharacteristically messy kitchen.

“Oh good, you’re home,” he mumbled incoherently.  “I didn’t know what we were going to do about dinner.”

“Are you drunk?” I asked.

“Yes, I am!” he announced, rather proudly.

Then, I saw it.  A large platter, once full of several dozen miniature cupcakes had been entirely devoured.  “Did you eat all of those?” I questioned, in disbelief.  “No…” he replied.  I spotted the traces of chocolate frosting on the corners of my father’s mouth and smeared on his shirt collar, and my suspicions were confirmed.  But I couldn’t dwell on this horrifying fact for too long, as my attention was quickly diverted by the smell of smoke.  I looked toward the toaster oven, where I noticed a slice of bread burning away.  Two cold-looking croissants lay buttered, jammed, and untouched in front of the smoking toaster.  It was chaos.  My mother was nowhere to be found and my father, left to his own drunken devices, had polished off a Costco-size tray of chocolate cupcakes.  I had the sinking feeling of guilt as I tried to wrap my mind around what had happened—what had I done?

Relief washed over me as I saw my mom enter the kitchen.  But this feeling didn’t last long as she spotted the croissants, exclaiming: “Oh, the croissants I buttered! I forgot all about them!” Picking one up and realizing it was cold, she opened the freezer, which was packed to the brim with an array of breads, bagels, cakes, and scones.  She considered, with sadistic delight, which would become her next snack victim.

“What about dinner??” I pleaded.  Where was the protein? The vegetables?… for the love of all things savory!

And then, I awoke.  I took a deep breath, realizing it was only a dream, that I hadn’t really thrown my once orderly and healthy family into complete gluttonous disarray.

I recounted this dream to my parents, and instead of taking it as a sign that maybe I needed to get outside, take a walk, and smell the flowers (no, not the flour), it dawned on me that this would make for a very entertaining blog entry.  Yes, in keeping with my one-track, blog-obsessed mind, this dream did not act as a cautionary tale, deterring me from baking further, but rather, merely fostered my baking mania.  And so, I sighed, apologized to my poor parents for what was about to come, and began baking these chili-chocolate cupcakes—unsweetened dark chocolate with a kick of ancho chile spice—rich and spicy enough to make you insane.

Chili Chocolate Cupcakes with Chili Chocolate Ganache


For Cupcakes-

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces unsweetend chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup rich cocoa powder
  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flower
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Boil water in a kettle then measure out 1-1/4 cup.
Combine the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium sized bowl, add the boiling water, and whisk until smooth.

Sift the flours, baking soda, chili powder, cayenne, and salt onto parchment or into a separate bowl.
In yet another bowl, beat the butter until creamy.  Add the brown sugar and beat for about three minutes, until fluffy.  At a medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each.  Then add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl.  Add about a third of the flour mixture,  then about half of the chocolate mixture, beating in between each addition.  Repeat, adding flour, chocolate, then flour, but do not overbeat.

Transfer batter into large pastry bag with a plain tip, pipe into mini-cupcake pans with mini-cupcake liners, about 3/4 full.  Bake for about ten minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For frosting-

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation

Heat cream and butter over medium heat until butter is melted and cream bubbles around saucepan edge.
Place peppers and chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl, pour heated cream and butter over the chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for about 30 seconds then start whisking it until smooth.
Set aside the mixture and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, it should reach piping consistency within an hour or two.

*If you don’t know the title reference, do yourself a favor and check out Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip: “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”

Scones and Sensibility

23 Mar IMG_1222

I’ve never broken a bone, gotten stitches, suffered a black eye, or caught a bad case of chicken pox.  But when it comes to awkward injuries, I’m pretty well versed.  The first few weeks of fifth grade, I marched around school brimming with the confidence my fellow fifth-graders and I shared over being the graduating class and rulers of the playground.  In the midst of my arrogance, I decided to apply for class president.  Two weeks later, I got lice.  After a few failed attempts with store-bought lice medication, my mom moved on to more radical measures of bug termination.  First, mayonnaise.  But all that dousing of my hair in a tub of Heinz mayo accomplished was a head of gleaming locks, and though I looked like the women in shampoo commercials, I smelled unmistakably of macaroni salad.  When we checked my cole-slawed hair, the lice were still there.  So then we tried Vaseline.  Well, that did the trick—no living creature could withstand the suffocating effects of Vaseline (didn’t predict you’d get a little lice-advice in the midst of a baking blog, huh?).  And so, the lice were gone, but I was left with hair that resembled a plastic Kewpie doll for the next several months.  There’s something strangely Twilight Zone-esque about a pasta-salad plastic-headed pre-adolescent.  Needless to say, I pulled out of the running for class president, choosing instead to hide myself in the back of the classroom, close to the open window and away from any hungry fourth graders who may have been attracted by the smell of my well-seasoned hair, but turned off by its unnerving sheen.

Then there was my severe allergy to poison oak.  No one seems to quite comprehend the gravity of this situation, insisting that “everybody is allergic to poison oak.”  I know… everybody gets lice and everybody is allergic to poison oak, but what you obviously don’t quite realize is what accident-prone, awkward seven-year-old Eloise is capable of.

My allergy was first detected around the time we got our family pet.  Forget man’s best friend: Frizbee, the family cat, and I were inseparable.  I would drape him around my neck like a shawl, carrying him with me from room to room as I went about my business.  I have a picture in which I set up a card game, propping a fan of cards in his paws, and seated myself across from him as a worthy rival.  He would sleep in the crook of my arm every night, until I woke up one morning with a mysterious rash. Frizbee would run around the hill in our backyard, rubbing his long fur on bushes, branches, and yes, poison oak.

Like that lice on the playground, the poison oak spread like wildfire, and I woke up with a ghastly rash in the crook of my arm that proceeded to swell to the size of a football.  I didn’t let this stop me from keeping Frizbee perpetually strapped to my side, but it did make me wary of more obvious outdoorsy adventures—being sure to always suit up in knee-high socks, long sleeves, and leggings before setting off on family hikes.

But on one ill-fated trip to Sea Ranch, the ten-hour drive north up California’s coast to the secluded spot we picked as our annual family summer vacation, I got it bad.  My mother knew something was amiss when I slept through breakfast and lunch the day after a hike in Mendocino.  I never slept past nine, but there I was, curled in my bed at one o’clock in the afternoon.  Rolling me over, my mother gasped in horror as she saw that my entire face had swelled to three times its normal size.  I looked like the Bobble-Head, Cabbage Patch version of Eloise, which might have been humorous on my tiny eight-year-old frame, if I could have seen through my swollen eyeballs.  The pain was excruciating and even my intestines were itchy.  Needless to say, for the next two weeks I lived on Benadryl, cortisone, oatmeal baths, and aloe vera.  I refused to show my puffy face to the outside world, and so, for the rest of the vacation, while my parents and sister took bike rides and played tennis, I occupied myself reading hours upon hours of Harry Potter and enjoying our local café’s hand made scones, toasted, with a pat of butter and a touch of strawberry jam.  So it wasn’t all bad.  Sitting on the deck of our rented house, which overlooked the rocky California coastline, I contented myself with what my parents dubbed “Extreme Reading” and my newfound love of scones.  Some plain or filled with raisins, others dotted with ginger, the special few with chocolate chips, and others still containing the occasional cranberry—I couldn’t get enough.  As long as I was properly drugged to dull the terrible itch emanating from my face, I could enter into a fictitious world in which I pretended I was living in some Jane Austen novel, enjoying teatime in the brisk but sunny weather.

And so, if you are at all hungry after this slightly unpleasant tale, please do try to forget the balloon-face, and take the time to make yourself a batch of fresh scones, grab a book and a cup of tea, and enjoy.

Buttermilk Scones

Ingredients:

1 egg
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
4 cups white flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
1 cup raisins or currants

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Beat together the egg and buttermilk.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a bowl.  Rub in the butter cubes into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Dump the flour mixture into a large bowl, add the egg mixture, and stir lightly with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently. Divide the dough into quarters and pat into 1/2-inch thick circles. Cut each circle into 6 wedges.

Place scones close together on a greased baking sheet. Brush the top with an eggwash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until lightly browned.  Serve with  jam, butter, or clotted cream, and enjoy with a good book and a cup of tea.

Through Green Colored Glasses

13 Mar soda bread

When we were little bickering children, my older sister (an artist now, imagine that) claimed all the colors for herself.  Red, purple, pink, blue… the whole rainbow was off limits to me.  Except green.  Bullying, six-year-old Ava, in her infinite generosity, gave me green, and that was that. From then on, green was my favorite color.  And I believed her.  At my fifth birthday party, the balloons, paper plates, and party hats were bright green; my bedspread suddenly matched the recycling bin; and our mother dressed us in matching jumpers—Ava would be donning a bright magenta ensemble while I was always conspicuously the color of phlegm.

So it’s no wonder I felt the attraction to Ireland immediately.  The green landscape that became my backdrop for a year felt oddly like home.  It’s as if, from the moment Ava told me I loved green, Ireland became my homeland.  I’m a descendant of Russian and Hungarian Jews, so of course this isn’t really true… and I guess under this same rationale, my peculiar affinity for pickles around the same age could have placed me just as comfortably in Hungary or Germany.  But that’s beside the point, and for the purpose of this story, Ava led to green, which led to Ireland.

You’ll see it all over this blog… from Whiskey cakes to Guinness cookies to Bailey’s cupcakes—I just love all things Irish (particularly the booze and baked goods).  So, of course, I had to bake something to commemorate this St. Patrick’s Day (which I have never really celebrated, spending my past Patty’s Days in Greece, cramming for finals, or working long waitressing shifts).  I am aware of the obvious absurdity of the “holiday,” though, and can’t help but detest the way drunken American kids take this day as an excuse to swig massive amounts of bright green beers while wearing leprechaun hats and Mardi Gras beads.  So instead of making some kitschy green-frosted cupcake, I stuck with a classic—Irish soda bread.  Traditional, simple, and delicious.

Irish Soda Bread


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together with a whisk.  Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk, reserving 1/2 cup.  Stir the dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork, gradually adding more of the remaining liquid, until a dough is formed.  The dough should be soft and sticky, but not smooth.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface for 1 minute.  Form into a slightly flattened circle.  And make a large 1/2-inch deep X with a sharp knife in the center.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake soda bread for 40-45 minutes. The bread is ready when it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Allow it to cool slightly, and then enjoy with a pat of Irish butter and perhaps a pint of Guinness.

Bagel and the Beast

7 Mar bagel

I am admittedly stubborn.  Although I would deny this to all ends if pointed out by my parents or accused by my sister, I am, indeed, indisputably set in my ways.  It’s no wonder where I get this charming trait from.  Look no further than dear old dad.

I was raised to expect certain things in life to always be reliable.  This was especially applicable when it came to specific foods.  My father, born a poor Jew in Baltimore, knew certain things to be unequivocal.  ‘You can’t be certain of many things in this world,’ he would say.  A self-proclaimed Communist, he didn’t trust the government, or much of anyone besides the few friends he kept close since he was thirteen, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers in the streets of Baltimore before coming home to be reprimanded by ma, who could smell the stale stench on their breath.  Balmer, which it was called by those few natives in the know, was where he learned these irrefutable truths and became the obstinate eater he is today.

First, there is the egg cream.  ‘There is no such thing as a chocolate egg cream,’ he would declare.  ‘An egg cream includes three very simple ingredients: milk, chocolate, and soda water.  There is no chocolate egg cream because, damnit, egg creams are chocolate.’  Mention a vanilla egg cream and the man goes mad.  You don’t want to see the obvious infuriation when he sees those three blasphemous words on a diner menu.

Next up, meats.  My grandfather was a counterman at the local deli, waking up every morning to slice pounds and pounds of pastrami, corned beef, and brisket.  So my dad learned a thing or two about meat, and boy would he make sure every one knew it.  The deli drawer in our overwhelmingly lean and healthy fridge was perpetually stuffed full of salamis of every imaginable size, texture, and flavor.  Having dinner at one of our local Los Angeles delis, my mom, sister, and I would perch on the edge of our seats as Dad would take the first bite of a sandwich stacked four inches high with dark pink pastrami, always on rye bread, and always only with yellow mustard as garnish.  (There’s no such thing as pastrami on rye, pastrami only ever comes on rye).  Chewing his first bite, and washing it down with a crisp pickle and a sip of his egg cream (note, not chocolate), we would await his review.  It would have to be the perfect ratio of meat-to-fat, with just the right balance of salt.  None of the rest of us would even try our sandwiches before they received the Balmer seal of approval.  Get it wrong, and onto the next deli to try to replicate that ideal pastrami from his childhood.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the bagel.  A true bagel comes in only one variety: plain.  In fact, there is no such thing as a plain bagel, there is only a bagel.  The man is a purist, what can I say.  Just like his egg creams and his roast beef sandwiches, the truly perfect meal is simple and to the point.  A bagel, when made correctly, does not need to be toasted.  It is chewy and dense, more like a rubber tire than bread, and, when smeared with cream cheese and topped with lox, rather hard on the jaw.  He claims that this ultimate, quintessential bagel can only be found in New York City.  Something about the water.  I swear, my father claims that the city’s water, used to boil those chewy tubes of dough, lends the precise scientific makeup to produce the definitive bagel.

So you can imagine my fathers’ disgruntled response when I told him I wanted to try my hand at making bagels.  ‘Pfft,’ he scoffed.  ‘You can’t bake a damn bagel.  What do you think, they’re donuts?’  I knew not to push him too far by suggesting varieties, although my baking mind swam with visions of onion, poppy seed, and sourdough.  I assured him that the bagels would be plain, and would be boiled before I baked them, and after a few tense moments of silence, he reluctantly agreed to give them a taste.  I briefly toyed with the thought of calling my aunt to Fed-Ex some precious New York water, but dismissed the idea after considering the high cost of such a venture.

And so, with my sub par Los Angeles water and very few ingredients in tow, I set off to make as near an approximation as I could to the perfect New York bagel.

Simple Homemade Bagels


Ingredients:

1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups water, warm (100-110F)
4 cups bread flour (not all purpose)
1 tbsp salt
1 egg, for egg wash

Preparation:

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) combine the yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in flour and salt. Mix dough thoroughly until it comes together in a large ball, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Add an additional tablespoon of flour or water, if needed.
If kneading by hand (like me), turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until very smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If using a stand mixer, knead the dough with the dough hook until elastic, about 8 minutes on a low speed. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size, about one hour.

Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil and preheat the oven to 400F.

When dough has risen, turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces (first quarters, then thirds). Shape each piece into a tight ball, pinching the corners together at the bottom of the piece of dough. When all the balls are shaped, let the dough rest for 30 minutes covered with a clean dish towel.

Now shape the bagels. Using your fingers, poke a hole through the center of each dough ball and stretch out the dough into a ring with your fingers.  Make sure to make the hole a little larger than you want the finished bagel to have, and try not to flatten them too much (like I did).  The holes will shrink slightly during the baking process when the bagel expands. Let the bagels rest for about 10 minutes before boiling.

Drop four of the bagels carefully into the boiling water. Boil for 2 minutes on the first side, then flip and boil for an additional minute. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, transfer bagels to a clean towel to drain for a moment, then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining bagels.

Using a pastry brush, brush the boiled bagels with a lightly beaten egg and bake for 20-24 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool completely on a wire rack.
Slice and toast to serve (with cream cheese and all the fun extras).

Of Cabbages and Confections

20 Feb cabbage strudel

We were two young American travelers abroad.  Thinking we had our fill of sophisticated Western Europe—the art, the food, the culture—Jessica and I headed east.  We were looking for the real, gritty, and unpretentious… and boy, did we find it.

Landing in Budapest, we made our way to the small, wine-producing town of Eger.  Immediately upon exiting the train we knew we had found what we were looking for.  Completely at odds with our subdued and decrepit surroundings, the two of us stuck out like sore thumbs— Jessica with her fire-engine red hair, I with my wild blond curls, and both of us decked out in brightly colored hats, tailored coats, and chic, oversized scarves.  We were two Los Angeles natives navigating the tiny, run-down streets of rural Hungary, knowing none of the landscape, language, or customs.  After miles of aimless meandering down dingy roads, heads constantly turning to gaze at us with avid curiosity and wild bemusement, we hailed a cab in an attempt to reach our destination.

“Valley of the Beautiful Women,” Jessica said to the cab driver, who looked perplexedly at us through round-rimmed glasses.  Unlike the incense and body-odoured cabs of New York that I was used to, this car had the distinct aroma of pickles and Goulash, a traditional Hungarian meat-stew. Rolling his eyes, the driver turned back toward the wheel and we puttered precariously down the rocky road toward our inappropriately named destination (neither is it a valley, nor does it boast beautiful women).  The “town,” rather, was a collection of about twenty-five cement wine cellars, offering free tastings and selling plastic jugs filled with sweet wines to the few patrons wandering the town’s small circumference… and nowhere could we find a “beautiful” woman under fifty years of age or under two hundred and fifty pounds.

Nevertheless, we emerged from the cab and hesitantly walked up to the first cellar, opened the heavy wooden door, and sat ourselves down at the long communal table.  As my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit cellar, I noticed an old man with an unshaven face, rotund belly, and matted, wavy hair, wearing a wine-and-sweat-stained white t-shirt.  He was slumped behind a small bar that was lined with about ten plastic bottles filled with a spectrum of dark red to musty yellow liquids.  Clearly aware that we were American, the man addressed us with a gruff, heavily accented “Hello,” and proceeded to ask in broken English if we would like to try sweet or dry, red or white.

We chose a sweet red, and after drinking our rather large sample of the sickly sweet wine, Jessica and I emerged from the dark cellar and made our way next door to a similar, equally empty “bar” (if you could even call the shanty caves such a thing).  But despite their decrepitude and humble décor, they possessed an undeniable, rustic charm, and the two of us immersed ourselves whole-heartedly in the unrefined setting.

We spent the next two hours stumbling from cellar to cellar, sampling wines that slowly began to taste more and more indistinct—even the colors began to blend together in an amalgam of plastic-bottled inebriation.  The sun set and the night grew colder, but Jessica and I were too happy in our red-faced insobriety to notice or care.  We sat in the last of the cellars, sipping wine, discussing our travels, and laughing, in what I’m sure were loud, garrulous American voices.  Finally, we decided it was time to venture back to the station and return to our hostel in Budapest.  We somehow managed to secure a taxi and reach the station, where we continued our drunken conversations—discussing God-knows-what at an all too loud volume for the few downtrodden commuters to hear.  A train sat motionless on the tracks, and then departed, as the dingy station slowly emptied of people.

After twenty minutes or so of waiting, I looked down at my watch. It read 8:25.

“I thought the train was supposed to leave at 8:05,” Jessica mumbled.  Panic crossed both of our faces and we silently rushed to the information booth.  We managed, somehow, to communicate to the Hungarian worker that we were waiting for the train back to Budapest, and when would it be leaving? In broken and disjointed English, he informed us that the train left right on schedule, and the next one would not be for another 2 hours.

We were shocked and crushed.  Foolish and drunk, we had reached the station on time—early, in fact—but had distractedly let our train depart without us.  Slightly sobered by the situation, but still feeling the delirious effects of the wine, we decided the only reasonable solution would be to wait for the next train at the closest bar.  So, out we wandered once again—two tipsy tourists searching for a fix.  About half a block down from the station we found our means: a tiny, decrepit room with a flashing blue light outside that read “BAR.”  The interior was nothing short of Kafkaesque.  Drunken old Hungarian men stood throughout the minuscule, disconcertingly bright room sipping cheap beer out of glass bottles.  Upon our entrance, we were greeted by a patron wearing a shabby Santa Clause hat and bright red Christmas sweater, much like one you would expect to receive from a clueless Granny on Christmas morning.  Another customer swayed precariously in front of a videogame machine (a surprisingly high-tech device for the archaic and obviously unprofitable business).  We ignored the stares of disbelief at our obviously unexpected entrance and made our way across the room to the bar.

“Beer,” Jessica desperately attempted to communicate.  But despite several efforts, the barmaid could not understand our request and so, laughing, pulled me behind the counter and opened the one, practically bare refrigerator, gesturing me to take my pick.  Choosing two foreign beers, I handed her my random change and sat down with Jessica to continue our consumption.

After gulping down a few sips of beer, the bartender, taking obvious pity on the displaced and drunken American girls, set two plates down on our table.  A questionable looking confection sat in front of each of us.  A mix between Rugelach and a soggy burrito, the rolled up, stringy pastry looked more like burnt syrup and Spanakopita than anything else.  “Cabbage strudel,” the bartender explained in what I thought was faulty English.  Cabbage? No, she must not know the word.  Noodle, maybe.  Apple, possibly.  But cabbage? As a dessert? Impossible.

She eagerly awaited our first bite, and so, I reluctantly dug in.  A surprising mix of sweet and savory, this pastry was far superior to the glasses of sweet wines we had been throwing back all day.  And yes, amidst the raisins, nuts, and sugar, I could taste it! Cabbage. And I must say, despite the associations I now had of cabbage with our sauerkraut-scented taxi driver, it was delicious.  Sweet, crunchy, and oozing with butter and caramelized sugar.  I don’t know, maybe it was a much needed break from the Goulash and pickled vegetables, but to me, it tasted sweeter than Paris.

Sweet Cabbage Strudel

Ingredients:

For filling:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark or light raisins
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted

For pastry:

  • 3 sheets filo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preparation:

For the filling:
In a large skillet, melt the butter.  Add the cabbage and saute until tender, careful not to over brown.  Add salt and sugar and stir to dissolve.  Add raisins and cook a few minutes to reduce and thicken any juices.  Stir in the toasted walnuts.  Spread on a parchment-lined sheet pan to cool completely.

To assemble the strudel:
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place one sheet of filo dough on a parchment-lined baking pan.  Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with 1/3 of the sugar and 1/3 of the chopped walnuts. Place another sheet of  filo dough on top of the filling, brush with butter and sprinkle with 1/3 sugar and 1/3 chopped walnuts. Place the remaining sheet of filo dough on top of filling and brush with butter. Reserve any remaining butter and the last 1/3 sugar and walnuts for the top.

Turn the pan lengthwise, so the short end of filo is closest to your body.  Spread the cooled cabbage filling 2 inches from top and sides, but all the way to the edge closest to you.  Using the parchment paper to help you lift, roll the strudel away from you, encasing the filling and forming a cylinder. Move the strudel, seam side down, to the center of the parchment paper and tuck in the strudel ends. It’s okay if the filo tears a little bit, just think of it as giving your strudel more character.
Brush the entire surface with remaining melted butter, sugar, and walnuts. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool on the pan for about 15 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, carefully cut into 8 pieces and serve warm. Garnish with an edible flower, if desired, whipped cream, or a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar. Since it’s pretty sweet on it’s own, I thought it was best without extra sugar, and perhaps with a cup of tea.

Love in the Time of Cupid Cake

13 Feb

As a baker, there are certain, and many, occasions when one is expected to deliver.  Birthdays and religious holidays are obvious baking domain.  I’ll never forget the Passover in which I appeared empty handed, distracted by the hours I had spent that day filling out college applications.  I arrived at the Seder, prepared to relax and enjoy the food that had been cooked by my hosts.  But no, my dear, expectant family and friends were horrified when their token baker appeared macaroon-less.  Never again will I attend a holiday function without some appropriately themed dessert in tow.  Even smaller, routine dinner parties require a confectionary contribution.  I was recently invited to a “wine and baking” party, in which everyone enjoyed a delicious spread of cheeses, meats, and baguette, while I was relegated to the kitchen to bake the apple pie.  I rolled out the pie dough and cursed them all under my breath as I bitterly swigged down my wine.

Therefore, despite my lack of interest in this upcoming fictitious holiday, I was forced to brainstorm Valentine’s Day dessert ideas.  First, as I envisioned the impending “holiday” which so far, includes a 3 o’clock dentist appointment followed by my plan to lure my parents into joining me for a brooding happy hour, I could think only of baking Lolita-inspired bittersweet chocolate tarts, Romeo and Juliet-themed poison pastries, and broken-heart shaped cookies.

But really, I’m not that cynical.  And although, on a daily basis, I surround myself with little more than a good novel, my Dorie Greenspan baking bible, my brand new Cuisinart electric mixer, my parents, and a handful of lesbians, I really can’t complain.  Plus, if I ever do get depressed enough about my boyfriend-less existence to sit around eating bonbons and watching sappy Romantic comedies, at least I know I can make my own, delicious homemade bonbons.

And so, after ruling out the clichéd chocolate, heart-shaped, and red hued Valentine treats, I went to my dad for literary inspiration.  We considered “Finnegan’s Cake”—a Joyce’s “Ulysses” inspired cake of lemon soap.  But again, this seemed a bit too cynical, far too obscure, and way too tricky to successfully accomplish… and plus (although I hate to admit it), I haven’t even read the epic novel.

So we went with simplicity: Cupid and Pysche.  The myth tells of Cupid’s adoring pursuit of beautiful, mortal Psyche, and of her subsequent hunt for him (this spoke to my twenty-first century, girl-powered, egalitarian sensibility that women, too, should have to do a little bit of work in the courting process).  In the tale, Cupid disguises himself as mortal and claims Psyche as his wife, visiting her only in the night.  Promising her a happy future, he warns her only to refrain from attempting to see him or discover his identity.  So, Psyche agrees, and begins to love him deeply, despite having never laid eyes on him.  But Psyche’s jealous sisters terrify her into believing that her mysterious husband could turn into a serpent, creep into her womb, and devour her and her child.  Consumed by paranoia and fear, Psyche retires to their bed with a lantern and a dagger.  Cupid awakens to find the lamp held to his face and his wife raising a dagger to his chest.  But, Cupid’s beauty startles Psyche and she stops herself, letting Cupid escape.

Psyche, in despair, searches everywhere for her lost love.  After lengthy trials that lead her to the Underworld and back, Psyche still cannot find him.

Finally, Cupid realizes that he desperately misses Psyche, and pleads to Jupiter that he rescue her from this (for lack of a better phrase) wild goose chase.  Jupiter agrees to stop the madness and lawfully wed Cupid and Psyche.  But, of course, it can’t be that easy; and as Psyche journeys back from the Underworld, she falls into a deathly sleep.  Cupid gallantly rescues her, bringing her back to life, and carrying her back to Olympus, where they finally wed.  Jupiter presents Psyche with a drink of sweet nectar, which immortalizes her, allowing her to forever be united to her love.

Okay, so long story not so short (but it never is with those Greek myths), Cupid and Psyche are finally joined by this sweet drink of nectar and ambrosia, the food of the gods.  And what is more romantic than unrequited love?— practically murdering your husband, performing tedious and demeaning tasks to reclaim him, and traveling to the Underworld all for the sake of love.  It melts my cynical little heart.  So, of course, I had to bake a Cupid and Psyche inspired cake, honoring the flavors of ambrosia—oranges, coconut, and sugar.

Eloise’s Cupid and Psyche Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake


Ingredients:

  • 3 oranges
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preparation:

Place the oranges in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about two hours until they are tender all the way through and pierce easily with a knife.  Cut the fruit into quarters and fish out any white bits and seeds.  Put the fruit (skin and all) into a food processor and puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Add the eggs to the food processor with the pureed oranges and pulse until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well (you can do this all in the food processor, if it fits, or mix it in a large bowl).  Pour into a buttered and parchment lined 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

Bake for about an hour, when a toothpick inserted comes out relatively clean (it’s a very moist cake).  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

Unmold the cake and serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Notes:

You can make this cake ahead.  It tastes best after a day or two and keeps for up to four days—you know, in case you have to go chasing your fiancé to the ends of the earth.  Although, in that case, you may want to freeze it.

I actually think this cake is better with clementines, in which case use about 5 boiled clementines.  It is also amazing with a dark chocolate ganache, which I left out purely because I am stubborn and wanted to be contrary about Valentine’s Day.  Do yourself a favor, and melt some semi-sweet chocolate with butter to spread over the top of the cake.

Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain

10 Feb

Dublin weather is relentless.   My American friends and family constantly questioned how I, a southern California girl, born and raised in seventy degree sunshine, could handle a year of Irish rain.  ‘Didn’t you freeze?’ I constantly heard.  ‘Wasn’t it miserable?’

The fact is, yes, it’s pretty wretched.  Damp socks and limp hair were an expected part of daily life.  And not only was it always raining, but the rain seemed to be accompanied by perpetual gusts of wind, blowing the torrents down at awkward angles, which made it impossible to shield oneself with an umbrella.  They worked mere seconds before being blown inside out, catching puddles of water rather than deflecting them.  So instead, we Dubliners braved the downpours, protected by nothing more than our Guinness-induced stupors.

The thing is, the rain became a bonding experience. ‘That damned Irish gloom’ created instant camaraderie.  Ducking into the nearest pub when your clothes began to soak through, the annoyance would immediately abate, as the gregarious, pint-drinking Dubliners would bond over the foul weather.  How could anyone stay cranky in a cozy pub, drying off with a fresh pint of Guinness in one hand and a warm ham and cheese toastie in the other?

It was one of those gray days.  I stayed inside, baking a masterpiece of a birthday cake for the friend’s party I would be attending that evening. This cake was indulgence at its finest: three, yes, three, tiers of chocolate Guinness cake, choc-full of butter, eggs, and stout, sandwiched between layers of dark chocolate ganache, which encased the whole thing.  It must have been a foot and a half tall, weighing at least thirty pounds.  It was enough to feed a small army, and, due to my imprecision, uncannily resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.  I finished the tilted masterpiece just in time for the party, a twenty-five or so minute walk from my flat.  Realizing I didn’t own a platter large enough to transport this monster of a cake, I let my creative juices flow.  Propped in the corner of my tiny living room was a box my mother had used to ship extra clothes to me for Dublin’s winter.  I grabbed the box, cut it apart, and fashioned a tray out of the cardboard and duct tape.  Precariously constructed, it wasn’t glamorous but it would do.

I grabbed my coat and an umbrella, just in case, and embarked on the usually brief walk up the Liffey to Smithfield.  I say usually brief because, let me tell you, minutes seem like hours when you’re carrying a thirty pound confection of  questionable structural integrity on a tray of even less structural integrity.

And of course, it began to rain.  Just my luck.  There I am, a wisp of a thing carrying a cake half my size through the Dublin streets… and it starts raining.  What am I supposed to do?  I couldn’t take the usual approach of seeking refuge in a pub until the rain abated— not only would I be late for the party, but there was no way a room full of drunken Irishmen would leave me or my cake unconsumed.

So, I opened my umbrella and trudged on.  The rain came in sheets, and so came the wind.  One arm gripping my umbrella, trying desperately to keep it right-side-in, and the other holding onto the cake for dear life, I marched on.

Boy, did heads turn.  One could only imagine what I was doing hauling an uncovered, three-tiered, chocolate cake through the streets of Dublin. My hair was soaked, my clothes were drenched, but the cake, damnit, the cake would be kept dry.

And so it was.  I finally made it to Jonathan’s flat up the Liffey.  Soaking wet and obviously perturbed, I shoved the miraculously dry cake into his arms, the weight of it taking him by surprise, and pushed past him into the shelter of the apartment.

But, in keeping with the inescapable Dublin cheer, it wasn’t long before my anger was soothed by a full glass of wine, the company of friends, and a large slice of this sinfully delicious and decadent Guinness chocolate cake.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
From Bon Appétit


Ingredients:
For Cake:

  • 2 cups stout (I used Guinness, obviously, and would wince at the suggestion of using anything else)
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream

For icing:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and parchment line three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.  Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat.  At this point, the aroma may cause you to feel the urge to crack open a Guinness for yourself.  Follow this instinct.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cakes to rack and allow to cool completely.

For icing:
Bring cream to a simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours. This is also when that extra Guinness may come in handy (purely for indulgent and time-passing purposes).

Assembly:
Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. When you realize it looks like a lopsided mound of chocolate, garnish it with whatever colorful fruit you have on hand, and console yourself with the knowledge that once your guests take a bite, they won’t care what the damn thing looks like.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.