Thursday, February 25, 2010

A chocolate cake any idiot could make

Chocolate Idiot Cake (yes, that’s really the name) is another David Lebovitz recipe that I decided to take for a spin. Given my unlucky streak with cake recipes, the name alone was enticing. He devised the recipe when he was consulting for restaurants that were hurting due to underpaid, untrained staff. The idea was a simplistic, no brainer, sure-to-please chocolate cake recipe that, well, any idiot could make.

We were having friends over for a Valentine’s dinner and I decided to make chocolate cake since chocolate is a traditional favorite for the holiday. I had been thinking about doing a little research for a good recipe when I saw a link that David posted on FaceBook regarding an argument he and Michael Ruhlman had about whether crème anglaise should be made with milk versus heavy cream. It piqued my interest so I clicked on the link to Michael Ruhlman’s website and saw his pics of chocolate cake with a simple crème anglaise sauce. Michael's post included a link to David’s site and his recipe for said idiot cake. Voilá! Perfect dessert for V’Day.  The pics and the “so easy an idiot could make it” promise sold me.

Well, when I made the cake it didn’t turn out exactly “idiot free”. I’m not posting  pictures of the whole, uncut cake since I overfilled the cake pan a bit causing it to rise against the tinfoil cover. The top of the cake was a little funky looking in places so I just cut up slices from the prettier parts of the cake and plated it with the crème anglaise. The cake is deliciously moist and decadently chocolatey. Check out how dense it is from the side view below. 
I used one-half milk and one-half heavy cream to approximate the richer, creamer texture of non-homogenized milk that David recommends for his crème anglaise recipe. I can’t find non-homogenized milk at Central Market now that a local dairy, Remember When, stopped deliveries. I’ve heard they went out of business due to a dispute between the partners- such a shame. I’m working on a new source, though. Vanessa, my fellow LCB classmate who also lives in Austin, found a gentleman through the Sunset Valley Farmers Market who will deliver non-homogenized milk and cream to your door. He transports his dairy products in his BMW's cooler-laden trunk. My, how farmers have changed... I have an uncle whose family has farmed in South Alabama for generations and he wouldn’t be caught dead in any vehicle other than a Chevy pick-up or a tractor!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lova the Baklava

Conde Nast, when killing off Gourmet, thoughtfully signed subscribers up for Bon Appetit to fulfill their remaining obligation. I can't say I'm a fan- mostly because I think that Bon Appetit should have fallen on it's sword and allowed Gourmet to continue. I know the economics of the magazine publishing industry don't work that way.  It's not as if Bon Appetit could have said, "Really, Gourmet, you're the better magazine and you've been around much longer so you're more deserving of remaining in publication." Too bad. Although I can't say I've really taken to Bon Appetit on the whole, I do enjoy Molly Wizenberg's monthly column. I also love her blog, her book, and now her podcast
So Molly's January column in Bon Appetit was on her love of baklava and her fear of phyllo. It was like she was writing just for me - I love baklava and I've been scared of working with phyllo! We're so on the same wave length. 

Guess what? Phyllo is just as tricky as you've ever heard or imagined. Thankfully the pack of dough I purchased was more than needed for the recipe* as I wound up with a pile of torn, unusable sheets. But I persevered and by the top layer, I was feeling like my phyllo skills practically rivaled a Greek grandma (other than the fact that I purchased the dough at a supermarket and a real Greek grandma would have made her own). Perhaps all the gloating I was doing jinxed me because the last, top layer of phyllo tore on me- three times. By the end, the dough was drying out even though I was careful to keep it covered with a wet towel. It took me at least 30 minutes to assemble the three layers. The ingredient list is deceptively simple but production is whole other story. Good thing I love baklava since practice makes perfect! 

*Le Chef (my husband) was horrified over the use of orange juice in the syrup in Molly's recipe so I made the traditional version using honey to shut him up. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

3rd Time was not the charm.... and neither is the 4th

Michael is our Administrative Professional Extraordinaire. We all know she's the real boss and so we'd better keep her happy. So to curry favor, I made her a cake for her birthday. Not sure I did her a favor but she was terribly gracious about it anyway. I pulled out a cake recipe that I've tried a few times before but  have never have been quite thrilled with the result. I kept thinking I could tweak it until I got it right. That's the problem with thinking...

So I am officially retiring the cinnamon cake with chili-chocolate buttercream recipe that I've written about previously. After four tries, this cake keeps turning out with a vaguely sawdusty quality. I even tried a cinnamon flavored sugar syrup this last time. Still no dice. I think its the recipe but I've decided not to invest anymore energy into figuring out the problem. Surely its the recipe and not the cook! Actually, it could very well be user error. See my sad follow up batch of stecca below. Note to self- this dough does not freeze well.
My baking mojo has been a little off lately- probably because I'm not spending enough time in the kitchen. You would think cold, gloomy weather would send a person into the kitchen to cook up all manner of comfort food. Not me- I've been retreating back to bed. Eric and I have developed a bad habit of taking long naps on weekends. Other than whittling away at my pile of unread books, I haven't accomplished much lately. I'm vowing to change that this weekend so I'm putting it in writing here to hold me accountable. Internet, I will make baklava this weekend!