Sunday, May 9, 2010
Celebrating 70 Years!
(Happy birthday, Pops!) He had a little dinner party at his house for a few close friends, and like most people I know, he's impossible to buy for. So, I decided to make use of my love of baking and offer to make his birthday cake. I would have just made one, but I wanted it to be a layer cake, and with 20 people eating dinner, I worried one wouldn't be enough. So two it was. I made my old standard: old-fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and I made something a bit simpler: pound cake. I intended on making chocolate sauce for the pound cake, but I ran out of time. (I always push it on the timing of these things.)
[Side note: I read recently that Southerners use the phrase "icing" while everyone else uses "frosting." Frosting sounds like it comes in a can to me. Icing sounds deliciously yummy and homemade.]
Both of these cakes are more on the complicated side of things, so don't even bother if you don't have a few hours to spare. I think I started around 1pm and I finished with both around 5:30.
Chocolate Cake (from my beloved Cooks Illustrated)
4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I use Scharffen Berger)
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa*
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's 8.75 oz.)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbs) unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbs pieces and very soft
*This is hard to find, and chances are, you won't find it at the grocery. I usually get a big can of it at Williams-Sonoma, but I didn't have time to get over there, so I looked at Whole Foods and found a small can of organic dutch processed cocoa. Seemed fine to me. The regular grocery just has "natural" cocoa or Hershey's Special Dark Dutch-processed. I only use regular if I'm really desperate.
Set your butter out to soften in a warm place. (I sit mine on top of the ice machine or on the counter above the dishwasher if it's been run recently.) Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Set a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water on the stove and add your chopped chocolate, cocoa, and hot water. Stir with a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. When all melted, add the 1/2 cup sugar, stirring until glossy. Set aside to cool.
In one medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine. In small bowl or large pyrex measuring cup, combine buttermilk and vanilla, whisking to combine. In the bowl of a large standing mixer with the whisk attachment, add the eggs and mix just to break up the yolks. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar and mix on high for 2-3 minutes until really fluffy and light in color. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment and add the cooled chocolate mixture on medium about 30-45 seconds. Add the softened butter, 1 Tbs at a time, mixing about 10 seconds each. Next you'll add the flour and buttermilk alternating like this: flour - buttermilk - flour - buttermilk - flour. So you'll add the flour in three additions and the buttermilk in two, each time mixing about 15 seconds. Before the final flour, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Give it a final stir with the rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour and divide between your two prepared cake pans. Bake @ 350° for 25 - 30 minutes. You should be able to insert a toothpick into the center and have a few crumbs attached, but no gooey batter. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan, then invert to a wire rack and let cook entirely (45 minutes - an hour).
Fluffy Chocolate Icing
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chopped (NOT chocolate chips! I use Ghirardelli, which is available at the grocery, usually. AND it's pronounced GEAR-a-deli, NOT JEER-a-deli)
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (cold)
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave (1 minute at 50% power, then still and do again if needed). In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir constantly over medium heat. This will get all bubbly. You want the sugar to dissolve and the bubbles to subside, which will take about 4 or 5 minutes. It will look all syrupy as well. This is good.
Pour this buttery mixture into either the bowl of your standing mixer or a large mixing bowl. There are pros and cons of each (which I'll get to). Add your melted chocolate and the cold cream. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Place this bowl in an ice bath to cool the mixture down. If you're using a standing mixer bowl (which is metal), this happens rather quickly but a regular mixing bowl (depending on the material) can be slower. If it cools quickly, it begins to harden against the inside of the bowl and can be hard to incorporate. A ceramic bowl is much more gradual, but it can also take what seems like FOREVER to cool down. I use a kitchen thermometer to test it. You want it to be about 70 degrees. Once it's at the desired temperature, use the standing mixer or a hand mixer to beat the icing on medium high until it's light and fluffy. You can then ice your cake! (And if the icing is too cold and clumps up, put a kitchen towel soaked in warm water on the bottom of your bowl to warm it up a bit, then beat again. My first time making this, I went back and forth between the ice bath and the warm towel before I got it right.)
Now . . . on to the pound cake. I actually made this before the icing and while the chocolate cakes were cooling. This recipe came from my beloved friend, Lauren Myracle. I made it for the first time about 7 years ago for Frances's first birthday. We turned it into a barn for her barnyard birthday.
Sour Cream Pound Cake (Lauren Myracle)
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 sticks butter, softened (I always use unsalted but the original recipe didn't specify)
6 eggs, separated
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Combine sugar, sour cream, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each one. Sift the flour and baking soda together and add to the mixture. Wash your beaters & beat the egg whites on the highest setting until stiff. (I just switch my beaters to the whisk attachment.) Fold the egg whites into the batter using a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour into a buttered and floured bundt pan or tube pan. Bake 30 minutes at 350°. Then lower the oven to 300° and bake for 1 hour more. Let cool slightly before removing from the pan to cool on a wire rack. Serve with ice cream and chocolate sauce.
I have lost the recipe for Lauren's chocolate sauce, but I found this one. Like I said, I didn't have time to make it, but I will do it soon. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Chocolate Sauce (also from Cooks Illustrated)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs light corn syrup
3 Tbs unsalted butter cut into 3 pieces
6 ounces chocolate, chopped (for Milk Chocolate, I use Dove)
Bring heavy cream, corn syrup, butter, and salt to boil in small nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Off heat, add chocolate while gently swirling saucepan. Cover pan and let stand until chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes. Uncover and whisk gently until combined. (Can be cooled to room temperature, placed in airtight container, and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. To reheat, transfer sauce to heatproof bowl set over saucepan of simmering water. Alternatively, microwave at 50 percent power, stirring once or twice, 1 to 3 minutes.)