Monday, March 31, 2008

The Perfect Party Cake

I give you: The lopsided pink snowball from planet delicious.

I hope will be forgiven for posting my Daring Bakers assignment a day late, but this chick aint got internet in her pad. Regardless, the Perfect Party Cake has been made, follwoing precise instructions and is waiting patiently in the fridge to be enjoyed by the office.

It started out pretty rough- An absent minded retelling of how I inexplicably failed to separate my eggs during my souffles last week lead to more INEXPLICABLE yolk in my eggs whites... This might be the first cooking technique I actually mastered, and here I am making modern art instead.
Now THIS is when you wish you had smell-o-vision: Sugar and lemon zest mixed by rubbing them through your fingers. It smelled so good my boyfriend had to come over and see what was going on.

Jumping ahead a bit- I baked the cakes in smaller cake pans (it's all I got folks) so they were done in about 15 minutes. You can see the perfect little bottom side of the first cake. I might also add at this junction, as many of the other Daring Bakers have said before, that my cakes didn't really rise either, but my little cake tins made for 3 cakes and not 2. So I just made mine a 3 layer cake without the hassled of horizontal slicing... please forgive :P You might also note that the raspberry preserves which were not so seedless... so a good sifting was in order.
I'll come out and tell you right now that the butter cream frosting was frightening. Sugar, 4 eggs whites, lemon juice, vanilla extract and about 18 pounds of butter.
Now the directions say to whisk the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl (and no, i didn't use this purple plastic salad bowl...) over simmering water until the mixture is hot to the touch. Then you remove the bowl and beat the mixture until cool. Then you add the butter and mix the butter cream for another 6-10 minutes just to make sure everything is nice and combined (and yes, this is exactly when my boyfriend's mom called- poor thing). You want your buttercream to be thick and shinny. Now, a weird thing happens about half way through beating the buttercream- it suddenly thickens and seriously turns into butter. Can you tell from the above pictures just how much the mixture beats down? I thought i'd done something wrong... But once you add your lemon lemon and vanilla extract you're good to go.

The real tricky but rewarding part of this cake is the assembly- I mean look at that monster! Maybe, just maybe I put too much raspberry preserves on each layer..... But i just can't help myself when I'm working with something so delicious. I would like to know from other bakers how the heck they managed to frost their cakes without turning it pink from the jam. Again, this might just have to do with the ridiculous amount of jam I layered on...
Or maybe the buttercream was *gasp* too thick! I mean, the piece i just ate right this very second as I write this, did have maybe 1/2 inch of frosting on the top.... I'm just saying...

In the end, the cake turned out wonderfully. I will definitely make it again, but only for a real special occasion because the sweet and thick butter cream frosting was beeeeeegging to be eaten with a glass of champagne.


From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (pages 250-252)

Words from Dorie

Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

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

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

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.Whisk together the sugar and lemon 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).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan 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 more lemon 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 one third of the preserves.Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).

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.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Party Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yeah- We sold that. The First Edition

I thought I would introduce a new feature to my blog and I'm calling it "yeah- we sold that." Cuz sometimes I need to remind myself that I do love my job.

So for this first edition of "Yeah. We sold that. " I give you:

The "Happy Birthday Mr. President" Marylin Monroe Dress
Estimate: On Request
Sold for: $1,267,500

A Yeti Footprint- hells yeah.

Estimate: £1,800-£2,500

Sold for: £3,500

Princess Margaret's freaking tiara
Estimate: £150,000- 200,000
Sold for: £926,400

The Galley from the Concorde (AKA: kicthen)

Estimate: 400-600 Euro

Sold for: 8,812 Euro

Jack Kerouac's Original Typescript scroll of "On the Road"

Did you know he wrote his book on a scroll? in 20 days? neither did I. Pretty fucking bad ass.

Estimate: $1,000,000 -$1,500,000

Sold for: $2, 426,000

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meanwhile, back in Amsterdam

Yes I realize that by now my trip to Amsterdam was about 6 and half years ago and no one cares about part II, but damnit I made this blog to share my adventures, and share them I will- even if I'm only broadcasting to 4 potheads who stumbled across my blog because they googled flying+ any number of unlikely objects. But hey! This entry might actually be topical to you! See, for those not in the know, Amsterdam is famous for more than just Rembrandt, Van Gogh and wooden clogs. As Wikipedia puts it: "The city is known for its historic port, the Rijksmuseum, its red-light district (de Wallen), its liberal coffeeshops, and its many canals "
Well we'd already seen the art, the port and the canals. So we went in search of a "liberal coffeeshop" that wasn't filled with tourists and Bob Marley fans. One of the best of these was the (unfortunately stereotypedly named) Cafe 420 off of Oudebrugsteeg which had a laid back yet swanky atmosphere, backgammon boards and some kick ass lattees from a machine.
People are also advised to try a "space cake" while in Amsterdam, although the free guidebook we got at the hotel did warn that it was unwise to eat an entire one if you aren't used to its effects- but if you did anyway, don't be surprised if you start feeling anxious- and you might want to stick your head between your legs and drinks lots of water. Although maybe not in that order.

The last thing to do on my "Wikipedia-guides-me-through-Amsterdam-List" was the Red-Light district and I'm not sure there's much to say about it. Prostitution is legal is some places, under some circumstances and these girls make you well aware of that fact. One woman tried to get me, my boyfriend and my brother to go in "for a visit" all at the same time. Like the concept of prostitution isn't weird enough that she thought I'd want to have a foursome with my brother. But then how would she know that the tall, guy who looks exactly like me with short hair is in fact my brother? Can't blame a ho for trying.

Other things we enjoyed in Amsterdam:

DUTCH CHEESE And Crooked Houses


(with a guy who sooooo looks like my boyfriend's brother, Michael)

Fruit des Bois smoothies and some Orange Juice with Buttermilk
and yes- I realize that's a weird combo.

And this INSERT PLACE NAME wonderful little place where I got that entire bowl of veggies and noodles for about 5 Euros! I think that "pizza" cost about the same... which was slightly disapointing. But overall, a good value and fun atmosphere.
And I'll leave you with a picture taken exclusively for my hippie buddy Ashley, who I think would probably eat pork to own this car:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Quick (Musical) Interlude

I just had to jump in during this rant on Amsterdam and post about my night at Ronnie Scott's where I saw a Tribute to Oscar Peterson. I'd been before and absolutely loved it, but they somehow managed to surpass themselves this time.

My mom is visiting from China and her best buddy from High School flew in as well so when at 6pm, with only the early birds at some surrounding tables, the boyfriend and I were escorted to a long skinny bar overlooking the actual bar- I was a bit miffed. We were really far from the stage and I don't know how they expected us to actually converse during our pre-show dinner while sitting in that stupid line-up. Prepared for the worse, I grabbed my stuff and went over to confront- no, kindly approach, the head hostess- but I was intercepted by the waiter first

"Is anything wrong?" he asked. "Well, yes actually" I said with a big sigh.
The significant other hates it when I go up to argue or complain, but I insist that it's a necessary evil and I know that I'm always very polite and I do try to be as nice as possible. Empathy is the way with these situations, people! I used to be a hostess in a fancy DC restaurant, so I know how easy it is to hate an unreasonable client in a nano-second. So I carefully laid out my cards: Mother visiting from China, girlfriend from Michigan, hadn't seen each other in aaages, LOVE to chat and gossip, although never during the actual show, would be absolutely crushed to have to sit in a line-up, is there anything that can POSSIBLY be done? maybe? please? *puppy-dog-eyes-to-mean-I-am-a-reasonable-and-understanding-customer, I swear!*

And you know what? They took us to an actual table for four, right up front next to the stage entrance and the massive grand piano. I coulnd't have been happier.
When I had been last time I'd treated myself to a week's salary worth of cocktails so I hadn't actually tried the food and Ronnie Scott's, for some reason, seamed like the kind of place where the food would sound great and taste.... meh? So I ordered the duck with trepidation. I've had two really bad experiences with duck recently, but I just love it so much that I'm willing to put my physical well being on the line. And I was SO not disapointed. Holy crap was it good! Duck has long been my favorite dish. Last meal before the electric chair? Duck a L'orange without a doubt, but the Confit of Duck with Sweet Potato Mash was killer (har, har). The skin was crispy and sweet while the leg meat just fell right off the bone. Kris got it too and we've vowed to do our best to recreate this too-good-to-be-true dish.

I also need to figure out that ratios for their delish cocktails. I was treated to a Jelly Roll Julep (which has nothing to do with jam), a Caffe Coco and Ronnie's Sting which might have been my favorite. And direct from their website we have:

Caffè Coco
Shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, chocolate dusting. Havana Club añejo blanco rum, Koko Kanu coconut rum, Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Coco Lopez, cream. Recently created by master drinksmith Tim Halilaj. A sweet and silky digestif.

Ronnie's Sting
Shaken and strained, lemon twist. Hennessy Fine de Cognac, mint leaves, lemon juice, sugar. Created in memory of Ronnie Scott. Based on the late 1800’s cognac cocktail. Our Sting carries fresh mint and lemon juice.

The Jelly Roll Julep must be a secret as it's not on the website...But here's a recreation for you- just imagine a large lemon peel sticking out of the back-
Ronnie Scott's did post the description of the Fitzgerald which I had last time and is pretty divine:

The Fitzgerald
Stacked, coated and charged. A flourish of orange to finish. Laborie calvados, crème de peche, absinthe-laden white sugar cube, Moët & Chandon champagne. A fruity version of the classic cocktail, created for Ella Circa 1950. Respect!

And the music wasn't bed either- Two pianos battled it out trying to immitate Oscar Peterson's quick handywork. "Hymn for Freedom", a tune written by Oscar was a real delight. They brought out 2 ADDITIONAL pianist for a rendition of "Cottontail" which was pretty freaking awesome. A new kid on the block (and I do mean "kid"- he's younger than me for God's sakes!) was brought out as one of the 4 pianists and he was absolutely stunning. Kit Downs was just as good as anyone else up there and even showed them up a couple times just taking over the entire piano for himself. All in all- a fabulous show. One that'll make go hunt down some Oscar Peterson tunes and keep a eye out for Kitt Downs.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Art in Amsterdam

So my little baby brother spent his spring break with me in Londontown on the (unspoken) condition that we also go to Amsterdam for a few days. And you can go ahead and guess that it wasn't for the art. But he is a sensible boy afterall and a pretty cultured one as well so we did spend tons of time in the fabulous museums of Amsterdam.

The Rijksmuseum is a truly gorgeous building undergoing some major renovations. So you only see a fraction of the contens which is a bit of a bummer despite all the Rembrandts. I did love the way the interior was designed. They had some really cool wallpaper which reminded me (in a good way) of something you might get at Urban Outfitters. But the gift shop made me smile with a postcard they had taped to their till- It was of the Girl with a Pearl Earing saying "I am in The Mauritshuis in The Hague!!"

The museum that really blew me away was the Van Gogh Museum. It was so well laid out! It was set up chronologically so it's more like reading a biography of the artist. I don't know why more museums don't follow this format. I know it may not be incredibly inspired or avant guarde, but I loved it. It just makes sense for god's sake! I was at the Tate Modern recently and one of their exhibitions is called "Dreams and Poetry" or some such nonesense which sounds 'nice' but as all the art is by Surrealists, it's just freaking confusing. When art is "out there" it's better to keep your exhibit grounded-

In any case, the museum has some truly iconic pieces:

and some I never would have guessed were by Van Gogh:

Even the museum's website kicks some ass- They have images of all their paintings and the "important" ones (whatever that may mean) have a flash player to zoom into the painting and see all that wonderful brushstroke detail.

Due to an unforunate plumbing accident, my brother wasn't able to go to Tate Britain, but it hardly mattered since the Van Gogh Museum was having a Millais Exhibit which was pretty massive.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You should always say "Yes" to souffles

One of the life lessons my mother has taught me is: "When someone asks you if want a souffle, you always say 'Yes'" I've never really questioned her about this philosophy. But if one were to ponder why, they would innevitably come to the conclusion that souffles are hard to make and therefore very special.
I am a list maker. so it should come as no surprise that I have a "Life Goals" list and that on this list I have the goal of learning to make the perfect souffle.
In the past, whenever I thought about taking on this daunting task, I was immediately reminded of Audrey Hepburn in the movie Sabrina. To escape her love woes, she moves to Paris and goes to cooking school. They learn to crack an egg and make hollandaise sauce but every student in the film flunks the souffle, especially Sabrina because she forgets to turn on the oven. But souffle related problems are usually a bit trickier to remedy than just remembering to turn on the oven.

I've made this souffle recipe twice this week and I would have it again tonight if I hadn't already committed myself to a giant bowl of strawberries and cream. Give it a go and I promise you won't regret it-

Raspberry Souffles with White Chocolate Whipped Cream

Makes 4 ramekins

For the Souffles:

  • 6oz barquette of raspberries (or about a heaping 3/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup sugar + 2 Tblsp seperate
  • 2 Tblsp cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • Butter
Preheat the oven to 200C degrees

In the original recipe, you would combine the raspberries and 2 tblsp sugar in a food processor, but I mashed them through a sieve and that seemed to work quite well.

Once you have that lovely fuschia juice, put in a saucpan on a medium heat and add the cornstarch while whisking. Make sure it doesn't clump!

This pudding like mixture can be made 2 hous in advance and set to cool. I left a batch in the fridge over night and it tasted just as good the next day. Either way, you want to make sure the mixture is at room temperature when you use it.

Crack the egg whites into a large bowl and mix them with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Add 1/3 cup sugar in small batches until combined without drying out the eggs.

Take about a third of the egg whites and mix it into the raspberry mixture. Fold the mixture back into the remaining egg whites

Butter the four ramekins and coat the insides with sugar. Seperate equally and bake for about 12 minutes or until the tops are golden.

For the White Chocolate Whipped Cream:

  • 1 bar of white chocolate
  • 1 pot of double cream (284ml)

Melt the chocolate in large bowl over a boiling pot of water. Let it cool a bit and then add the cream and whip it up!

A lovely delicious mess

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wien- The Cultural Tour- Part II

A scream in the night refers to that Saturday at about 2am when I awoke in our stuffy room feeling a little off. The room suddenly felt unbearably hot, so Kris suggested that I open the window but I was barely able to find the light switch to the bathroom before I lost my expensive 3 year anniversary meal down the toilet. It was tragic.
I had taken pictures of the meal to share with you, but now I'm not so sure I should or even name the restaurant. I mean- it wasn't THAT good anyway.

But I'll tell you what was good- pretty much everything else in Vienna. OK maybe the concert we saw in a questionable "concert hall" wasn't great... We worried when the woman manning the clipboard asked if we'd bought our tickets on the streets!! And she wasn't kidding. Apparently the pricey concert we'd chosen online was actually a glamorized student recital. They even made a penis joke. But we were treated to all the standards from Mozart, Strauss and Brahms- everything you would expect from a tourist trap. But enough of my complaints! I really did love it! I mean look at these cakes! Vienna has a serious obsession with coffee houses which I thoroughly support. I just want to know why more countries don't adopt these temples of pastry and caffeine.

One of the most impressive sights was in fact the central cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof. It's so huge that you can actually see it from the train coming in from the airport. Its grandeur lies somewhere between Pere Lachaise in Paris and Highgate in London.

When our tour guide for the Third Man tour told us how to get to that famous street from the last scene she said: "walk through the main gate and when you see the chapel- make a left." I don't know why, but the way she said it made me think that the "chapel" might be hard to find or perhaps it was small and made of wood. Instead we were treated to this behemoth of a building which pretty much dominates the landscape no matter where you look. In fact, in the Third Man, all those scenes that take place in the cemetery should have this building looming somewhere behind the trees. I guess it was removed thanks to movie magic. Pity really.