April 28th, 2016

Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Cake

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It’s been a long while since I’ve made a big beautiful delicious cake, but the stars aligned last week. Gigi’s “double nickel” birthday and our “last—for a little while” community potluck fell on the same day: April 21st.

Time to celebrate changes and celebrate BIG.

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Yes, our community potluck is taking a hiatus. For almost 7 years, we’ve been gathering on the third Thursday of each month, sharing good food and fellowship. Things are changing in our household a bit faster than we anticipated. Our home of 16 years is under contract and we will soon be moving. This is not completely unexpected. We are building a smaller home (fit for our down-sized life!) and had always planned to sell.

Just not this fast.

But when the right person comes along with the right offer, well, you do the right thing.

And this means shift our gears and start packing. There’s one hitch:construction on our new home won’t be complete until late fall, like after Thanksgiving. Our plan? Put our stuff into storage and find a “Svaha” place to live.

Do you know the word “Svaha?” It’s a native American term that means the undefined place between two defined places, like what occurs between the flash of lightning and roll of thunder. The unknown in-between. Who knows where we’ll end up? Guess we’ll be gypsies.

Enough about change and moving and gypsy possibilities—let’s get to the heart of the post, this marvelous cake. The cake itself gets its richness from butter, eggs and Greek yogurt in the batter.

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You spread both custard and fruit sauce onto each layer, which seeps into the cake, making it exceptionally moist and delicious. I got the idea, and first made this confection using Florida strawberries while we were in DC for Easter. Everyone loved it.

I baked it again for our potluck-birthday-farewell feast, this time doubling the recipe for a towering dessert, and pairing local berries and rhubarb in the fruit sauce.

Raves around the table, my friends!

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If you don’t relish the puckery taste of these ruby stalks (rhubarb is actually a vegetable), try ’em with strawberries. It could change your ways.

As potlucker Rhonda noted, “I can’t believe it. I ‘m making friends with rhubarb.”

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The Cake (makes a grand 4 layer cake)
1 pound butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fiore di sicilia (optional)
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 10 inch cake pans (or springform pans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cake pans with parchment and coat with butter or baking spray.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then beat in the Greek yogurt and extracts.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, soda and salt.

Beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing into a smooth batter.
Divide the batter between the two cake pans.

Bake for 40-45 minutes–until top is golden and set.

Remove and cool on a baking rack.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 pound rhubarb, washed and chopped (like celery)
1 quart strawberries, washed, capped, and coarsely chopped

Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Pour in the sugar, cornstarch and water. Stir well until sugar and cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chopped rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in the strawberries. Cook for another two minutes, stirring well.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This cane be made ahead of time.)

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Custard
1 quart half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten

Pour the half-and-half into a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch. Place on medium heat. Stir constantly, making sure the sugar and cornstarch are well dissolved.
When small bubbles form along the rim of the pan, remove from heat.
Add a small amount of liquid to the egg yolks and beat well.
Pour the egg yolks into the saucepan. Place on low heat. Continue stirring (I use a whisk or wooden spoon) Mixture will thicken, and coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This can be made ahead of time.)

Chantilly Cream
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the ingredients into a chilled mixing bowl. Whip until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to ice the cake.

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ASSEMBLY
Split both cooled cakes in half, creating 4 layers.

Spread the first layer with strawberry-rhubarb sauce, followed by custard. Top with another cake layer and repeat this process until all four layers are spread with sauce and custard and stacked.

Place into the refrigerator for an hour to set up.

To finish the cake: cover sides and top with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh strawberries and flowers, if you like. Serves 20-25.

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Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 19 Comments »




February 26th, 2015

Grapefruit Cake, at last

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Soft chiffon crumb, fragrant with zest, dotted with bittersweet syrup, coated in cream cheese icing…

Before I tell you more about this “at last” cake, I need to tell you its backstory,
which curiously begins with cornbread.

Recently I was invited to participate in “Dirty Pages,” a photo and story-telling exhibit about Nashville women and their storied recipes. Each person was asked to submit a favored recipe, one whose splattered, ringed and tattered page demonstrated not only its much-loved use, but told its tale of food–family–community.

I knew immediately where I’d find mine, inside Recipes from Foods of the World. My first cookbook, it was a gift from my soon-to-be mother-in-law, presented on the eve of my wedding in 1974. The marriage didn’t last—but the cookbook is still with me.

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The recipe I had in mind was “Leola’s Cornbread.” Over the years, especially during my catering career, it was a workhorse. My staff and I tweaked and modified the recipe, cut back on the sugar, increased the butter, deleted the margarine, even created a version with buttermilk. We baked it into countless loaves, muffins, hoecakes, croutons, and stuffings. We sparked it with chilis, cheeses, pimentos and scallions.

The recipe became encrusted with cornmeal.

I smile poring over the page: A mess of meal and flour, the blurred notes in the margins jotted by my cohorts Wendy and Tonya, the release of a musty, almost rancid scent from smears of batter, set in now for decades. A veritable “Dirty Page” from my life.

But the cookbook holds other treasures.

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Turning pages, stirring memories–look at that picture of the Grapefruit Cake! When I first saw this as a young cook, I was enchanted by the look of it. I loved the campy tropical staging. But, in my early twenties, I wasn’t crazy about grapefruit, so I didn’t make it. (I know–silly youth.)

My tastes matured, thank goodness. Whenever I–the older, more sophisticated caterer and chef—would peruse the cookbook and land on that page I’d think, “I’d really like to make that cake. I bet it’s delicious.”

I never got to it. Until last week, I had forgotten about it.

Everything in its time, they say. A prompt to review the past, through all my “dirty pages,” and I decided it would be different this time. I was going to make this beauty.

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It took me almost forty one years. But I’ve made it, Amen, at last.

GRAPEFRUIT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND CANDIED GRAPEFRUIT PEEL
adapted from Recipes from Foods of the World published by Time/Life books, 1972

THE CAKE
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon fresh grated grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of cake pan(s) with softened butter, then dust with flour.

Sift cake flour, baking flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pour grapefruit juice and oil into a measuring cup. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 4 egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 yolks with 1 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and light yellow.

Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of the juice-oil mixture. Repeat this process until the batter is well incorporated. Beat in the grapefruit zest.

Fold in the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour the batter into the cake pan(s); smooth the tops, and place into the preheated oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting.

Invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

makes a 2-layer 9″cakes, or one 11″ springform round, split

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THE CANDIED PEEL
for great visual “how-to” steps, visit here at Cooking Light
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully peel the rind of the grapefruit into long strips. Place the strips into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Drain, add fresh water to cover and repeat. Drain and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring to dissolve.
Cover and place on medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Remove the strips, now supple and glazy, and lay them out on a rack to dry, reserving the syrup.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons grapefruit syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the zest, syrup and vanilla.
Beat in the powdered sugar, tasting for desired sweetness.

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ASSEMBLY

If you baked the cake in one large (10-11 inch) springform pan, split the cool layer in half.
Dot one layer with reserved syrup from making the candied peel. Spread a layer of frosting and place the other half (or other layer) on top.

Coat the top and sides with frosting.

Decorate the sides with candied peel. Cut the zested grapefruit into supremes–slices or sections without the pith or membrane. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.

Serves 12-16

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 24 Comments »




May 4th, 2014

Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake

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My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.

If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

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Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.

We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.

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When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.

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Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.

NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)

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Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.

While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)

There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!

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And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.

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It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!

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When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.

Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.

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NOTORIOUS LEGENDARY EBINGER’S BLACKOUT CAKE
Serves 12 to 16

Cake
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Filling
1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

THE CAKE

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.

Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts — about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.

THE FILLING
Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

THE FROSTING
Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.

ASSEMBLY
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »




August 23rd, 2012

A (Very) Local Honey Cake

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Our friend Jennifer Barrie has been almost as busy as her bees.

This is the first year that she’s had success: her hives holding frame after frame of cured-and-capped honey. Fortitude and backbone are beekeeper requirements. It takes a full cycle of the seasons–sometimes longer— for a colony to build a large enough population to create a honey surplus, fit for harvest.

Time and weather, pollen and patience all worked in Jen’s favor. She’s extracted copious quarts of light amber honey from her backyard hives–enough to sell.

I was excited to purchase a jar, and couldn’t wait to taste it: the closest to home honey I’ve ever had.

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What I came up with was a humble one-layer cake.
It incorporates the honey with restraint.
Caramel-browned butter deepens that flavor.
Fresh thyme leaves add an herbal undercurrent that seems right with Jen’s floral-forward nectar.

Not-too-sweet, it’s the sort of cake that you’d enjoy with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

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Although you’d be proud to serve it to guests, sidled by a scoop of ice cream
I’m thinking Strawberry, Orange, French Vanilla,
or fresh fruit.
such as Peaches, a scatter of Blueberries,
FIGS.

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I could have left the cake plain, or brushed it with a glaze of citrus and honey.

Instead, I whipped up a basic frosting–just butter, cream cheese, and honey. I split the single baked layer after it cooled, and spread it over the moist and fragrant crumb. I finished it with a top coat, strewn with pistachios.

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Jen told me that she’s just extracted a new batch. This time, it is deep yellow-gold in color. It all depends on what is blooming in the summer cycle. I’m anxious to sample this honey, and compare the differences in taste.

Meanwhile, a piece of delectable, very local honey cake awaits—I’d love it if you’d stop by for a slice.

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BROWN BUTTER HONEY CAKE

1 cup Brown Butter (slowly cook butter in a skillet on medium heat, occasionally stirring, until solids becomes toasty brown)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1 cup Honey
2 1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
2 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt
1 cup Milk
Juice from 1 Lemon (about 2 T.)
1 T. Vanilla
3 Eggs

equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, 9″ cake pan

Toss thyme leaves into warm brown butter.
Sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt together in a separate bowl.
Place lemon juice and vanilla into the cup of milk and stir. Let it stand and lightly thicken/curdle.
When butter is cooled, pour it into a mixing bowl and beat in the honey.
Beat in milk mixture.
Beat in flour mixture.
Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Pour batter into prepared 9″ cake pan. (bottom lined with parchment, sides and bottom coated with baking spray)

Bake in 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

HONEY CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 oz. (1 stick) Butter, softened
8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
3-4 T. Honey
1/2 cup Pistachios–coarsely chopped to garnish

Beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
Beat in the honey, one tablespoon at a time. Mixture will be creamy smooth, and somewhat fluffy.

Spread onto split layer and top. Garnish with chopped pistachios.

Serves 10-12
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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 28 Comments »