Monday, January 2, 2012

Let Them Eat Heavenly Chocolate Cake

My first recipe of the year was an ambitious one. I decided to make a chocolate cake with espresso cream filling and a white chocolate cream cheese frosting. Now, though I've had some success with the cake baking recently, I've also had some big disappointments. I figured I may as well start the year off with a big bang.

When I was younger, a dear friend of my mother's tried to teach me how to bake. "Unmitigated disaster" barely even begins to cover it. The result of my "chocolate cake" was more like a "dry, crumbling mix of disgusting." Luckily for me, my inability to follow simple directions has changed and I generally get it more right than wrong. I promise, from here on in, there will be process photos, but I honestly didn't think about it for this one. Sorry about that!

So! On to the recipe. I got this one from the November 2011 Taste of Home magazine article titled "1 Cake, 3 Ways." The recipe appealed to me because it was relatively simple, especially for such a decadent looking dessert. I ended up throwing out an entire tier's worth of batter, simply because the three cakes would have been obscene. If I could have scaled it down, I would have, but it simply wasn't an option.

The instructions were a little bit off. It says to bake the cake for 24 minutes, but it was still batter for me at that point.. It took more like 38 in my oven. Just keep an eye on it and keep checking. For this cake, you want your butter to be soft, not room temperature, otherwise it will not cream properly. As for the room temperature eggs, you can bring them safely up to room temperature by putting them in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes.

For the Espresso Filling, I did not have enough Mascarpone cheese on hand. The recipe calls for 1½ cups and I only had 1, so I substituted ½ cup cream cheese. It was still quite delicious and brought the filling more in line with the frosting.

Given the choice, I would not make this cake again with the white chocolate frosting included with the recipe. The cream cheese significantly overpowered the white chocolate flavor. It was also quite soft and required 15 minutes in the freezer to become a spreadable consistency.

Anyway, on to the recipes!

Heavenly Chocolate Cake
Taste Of Home, November 2011. Page 49

1 cup butter, softened
2½ cup sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1½ cups water

1. In a large blow, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with water, beating well after each addition.

2. Pour into three greased and floured 9-in round baking pans. Bake at 350 for 24-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, run a knife carefully around the cake and transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

Espresso Filling
Megan Byers, Taste of Home November 2011

2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
1½ tsp. hot water
1½ cups Mascarpone cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

¾ cup heavy whipping cream
1½ vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, mix espresso powder and water together until smooth; cool.

2. In a large bowl, mix remaining ingredients and espresso paste on medium speed until creamy and slightly thickened (don't overmix!). Spread on bottom and middle cake layers.

Winter White Frosting
Taste of Home November 2011

12 oz chopped white baking chocolate
2¼ cups cream cheese
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
4½ tsp. lemon juice

1. In microwave, melt white chocolate and stir until smooth; set aside and cool to room temperature.

2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in cooled baking chocolate and lemon juice until smooth.

3. Cover and put in freezer for 10 minutes, stir and spread on cooled and filled cake.

Once it's all put together, you'll get a gorgeous piece of cake!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Recipe A Day...

This is, first and foremost, a blog about food, but I feel that I need to tell you a little bit about myself first. I love food, anyone who knows me knows that it's true. Eighteen months ago, I would've been content to rest on that statement, reckoning that almost all food is great food. Unfortunately, that's simply not true. My husband enlisted in the United States Army and we moved from the very edges of the southwest, where Mexican food is still appreciated - some of it is even authentic! - to the flat, flavorless pit of foodie despair that is Maryland.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure if you were born and raised with a love of all things Crab, this is the place for you. I wasn't. I was raised on plainer stuff, stuck in the middle of the Utah desert, surrounded by people who harbored a great love for Funeral Potatoes and green jello. Simple though it may be, it was (almost always) delicious, satisfying food. "Seafood" was something that came in yellow boxes, pre-cut into neat squares or sorted into plastic bags and smothered with all manner of flavorings from our local frozen food department. Sure, there were places to fish in the mountains, and many people did it, but it wasn't something I was ever privy to. The one and only time I held a fishing rod, I was with a dear friend and her family and I cried when I pulled my first fish out of the water.

Instead, I learned to cook with only the basics. Chicken, Pork, Beef. A handful of frozen vegetable blends, an overabundance of Campbell's condensed soups, pasta and rice. Nothing special, nothing fancy. When I finished college, I moved from the middle of nowhere to the "city." You may laugh, I know I certainly do now that I've seen what a city truly is, but it was a life altering experience for me. I added fresh fruits and veggies from the Farmer's Market in downtown Provo to my tiny reserve of food-preparing knowledge. I also added several wonderful restaurants.

Fast-forward to April 1, 2010. I boarded a plane in a snowstorm and landed in springtime, the trees and flowers already budding and blooming. That very first night began my (still) unsuccessful quest for great food. It didn't take long for me to realize that if I wanted anything halfway palatable, I was going to have to make it myself. Unfortunately, it took me quite a bit longer to realize that I had a wealth of new and interesting ingredients with which to work and nothing but time on my hands.

That's how this little experiment began. The last several months, I've begun to experiment with new recipes and flavors, cooking the vast majority of our meals not only at home, but from scratch. Long gone are the days where cans upon cans of soup waited in my cupboard for use in some casserole or another. When I realized that I wouldn't be able to go home for Christmas, I decided to make Christmas dinner from entirely new and unfamiliar recipes. Armed with my trusty notebook, of which I'm sure you'll hear plenty, and a handful of Taste Of Home magazines, I set out to plan a magnificent dinner.

As I flipped through the glossy pages, chock full of recipe ideas, I realized this was something I could do. So, I began marking the pages I'd like to come back to and committed myself to doing 31 new recipes beginning on the first of January, 2012. One new recipe every single day. I knew if I tried to take on too much, I'd give up at the beginning. I can't promise to keep this up for a year, but I can for a month.

My goals are many-fold but I'd like to share the most important of them with you. The first, and perhaps most simple, is that I want to know how to make good food. I don't mean follow a recipe, though I undoubtedly will continue that for some time to come. I mean that I want to learn what flavors go well together and those that don't, what I like and what I don't. I did not inherit my mother's gift of sorting through the pantry and the refrigerator and creating something entirely new and different. I've had to work for it.

Second, I want to learn healthier ways of making delicious things. Again, I don't imagine that in thirty-one day's time I will be turning out low-fat, healthy masterpieces, but it's a beginning. I imagine that it's something that will come with a lot of practice and a lot of time.

Finally, I wanted to share the experience with you. While he supports my efforts and gladly eats what I put on the proverbial table, my soldier couldn't care less about the process of making it or learning about it. Perhaps the same holds true for you and that's okay, but I am doing this in the hope that my journey will encourage you to embark on one of your own.

I know that this post is technically a day late. I spent the vast majority of our new year sick in bed. Still, I did manage to do my first recipe, which I will post sometime later today. That will be my posting schedule from now on. If you stumble across something you'd love to see me make, don't hesitate to let me know. Lord knows, I'm going to need all the help I can get.