Thursday, February 18, 2016

Cardamom Cream Cake - Adapted Recipe

This recipe was adapted from the NY Times Cardamom Cream Cake here:

I have two very good friends who happen to mother and daughter, and also happen to have their birthdays right around Valentine's Day. I don't much celebrate Valentine's, but after a discussion about some chocolate cardamom cream cupcakes I made years ago (original recipe), I decided it was time to test out my cake baking and decorating skills to bring them both a tasty birthday treat.

Milk Syrup:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon decorticated cardamom
  • 6 TBS sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp rose water or one drop rose candy oil (found at most baking boutique shops)
I made the milk syrup first, which consists of reducing whole milk with cardamom (I used decorticated cardamom seeds in lieu of the pods), adding sugar and reducing further, then straining and mixing in rose water.

I made the filling and frosting the next day, and before making the cake, so as to let them chill while I baked.

  • 2 1/2 cups strained ricotta (I wrapped the ricotta in cheese cloth, put it in a strainer, and placed a heavy bowl bowl on top for a few hours).
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, which I didn't have so I went with 1/4 cup half & half, and a 1/4 cup of unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp rose water or one drop rose candy oil flavoring
The filling basically just requires you to beat the ingredients together until smooth and creamy, then add the rose water or oil and beat for a few minutes more. I don't have a stand mixer, so unfortunately my filling came out with something less than a smooth consistency but it still tasted fantastic. I like to start with the ingredients at room temperature so that they mix better, then chill after combined.

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 TBS) butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp rose water or one drop rose candy oil flavoring
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 cup marscapone
  • 1/4 cup honey Greek yogurt
Again, this is basically a mixer dance of getting everything creamed together without letting the marscapone "curdle" (it's not actually curdling that is occurring, but the resulting texture is similar). One trick I learned is to make sure all the ingredients are at the same (room) temperature and mix until only just combined.  The butter, sugar, rose water, and cardamom get creamed together first, then I add the yogurt and very last is the marscapone since it tends to be the most sensitive to separating. I didn't have this problem, but I have heard that if your frosting begins to separate or "curdle," heating the mixing bowl or putting in a double boiler over low heat will get you back to the correct consistency.

The cake:
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 TBS) butter, softened
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup whole milk - I ran out so I topped off what little whole milk I had with some of the milk syrup. Delicious.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp rose water or one to two drops rose candy flavoring oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 TBS plus 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salk (kosher or ground sea salt preferably)
Heat oven to 350*F. Grease and line cake pans. This recipe does either two standard 9 inch rounds or in my case, 5 small heart shaped pans that were the perfect size for a single layer a piece. I bought the set at the local bakery boutique shop.

Greasing and lining the pans basically just means spray the pans with cooking spray, or as I did it, wipe the pans with coconut oil, add a cut out of parchment, grease the parchment, then toss with flour to coat the inside of the pan.

Whisk together the egg whites, milk, vanilla, and rose water. In a separate bowl stir together the dry ingredients.  To the dry ingredients add the butter and a little bit (about a third) of the milk mixture and mix until fully combined and smooth. Add the remaining milk mixture in about three batches, mixing thoroughly between additions.

Add the batter to the pans, keeping in mind that they will rise a little bit. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and the center springs backs ever so slightly when gently pressed. Let cool in the pan for about 20 minutes then unmold and finishing cooling.

Drizzle syrup over cakes and then assemble.
Chocolate lining:
1 sheet edible decorating paper, cut to size to fit around cake border
1 pound melting chocolate

This part is tricky because if you wrap the cake too soon after laying down the chocolate, a lot of the chocolate will pool down like it did for mine. If you wait too long, the chocolate will set and crumble when you try to wrap the cake.

Bring the water of a double boiler to a rolling boil and remove from heat. Add chocolate to top part of double boiler and stir until fully liquid. Take the edible decorating paper, rough side up, and carefully pour the melted chocolate in as thin a layer as possible over the sheet. DO NOT SPREAD. Spreading the chocolate will smear the decoration - you can kind of see it in the picture of my cake.

Let the chocolate set for a few moments, making sure that it is still soft enough to mold. While the chocolate is setting, drizzle the top of the cake with any remaining melted chocolate. Take the sheet of paper and chocolate and wrap the cake.  Let the chocolate finish setting. For this I put the whole thing, cake and all, into the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Remove cake from where it is chilling and peal away the paper, leaving only the chocolate and design behind.

Serve and enjoy!

Note: This cake is fantastically tasty and very rich. There is the danger of texture issues from using ricotta and marscapone in the filling and frosting (and for me in only using a hand mixer since I still don't have a stand mixer), but that is small beans compared to how wonderfully tasty the resulting cake is.

Result: Standing ovation.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Poem - Sailboat Wars

Sailboat Wars

August, 2008

Sailboats race along a puddle’s
edge while dancing children,
triumphant in their
games, slip noisily behind.
Green grass, slick from rain and
scattered with red balloon corpses
remembrances of the birthday
clown, driven from the field of
battle by icicle swords and
peanut allergies.
You do not envy his escape, his
defeat, you, a dark figure waiting
wondering confused at the paper
eviction – prison in your hands
A sailboat tips, one child
mutinous against another’s crew
follows the king snake away
from the shelter of mothers’
eye, knowing freedom for
a few veiled seconds before
chastising hands pull him
back to slushy puddles and
sailboat wars.
Is this what you see? When
looking through your grimy
window, salvation in mock battles and
magic games.
Is he thinking of snake holes and
gnomes dancing under stones
where more interesting prey
waits for sunlight?
Battles end but the warriors are not
ready to return to the
mundane.  Stomachs call for
feasting and for
rest before another hunt.
Or perhaps you see
nothing, through your haze of
cheap liquor and stale cigarettes,
television wars and satisfaction
addicted to the death of bones.

Monday, February 1, 2016

There's no X in espresso...

While attempting to bring order to my vast and distinctly varied collection of personal writing works – a task that feels more like trying to build a rocket out of purple paper clips and neon green ink than a pursuit of organization – I came across a few gems from my snarky days. Who am I kidding? I’m still in my snarky days. However, these were all written during a particularly frustrating, semester long creative writing workshop that was regularly bulldozed into becoming a group therapy session for a few select individuals.  My selfish bitterness of the time most definitely shows in the numerous complaints I had towards… well… everyone.  
I worked as a barista for quite some time after getting my undergraduate degree.  During this time I became one of “those” baristas.  You probably know the type if you’ve ever frequented a boutique style espresso bar.  Intelligent, talkative, and oh so judgmental. Patience has never been my strong suit and it never showed more than in attempting to deal with the type of people that regularly enter coffee shops and try to impress a girl with their “knowledge” (how in the world can a regular coffee drinking person in this society not know that espresso has caffeine in it… seriously!?).  Not that passion for one’s trade is a bad thing, I loved learning about the industry I was working in, and it felt good to work in one of those, fair trade, organic, hippie-style, “let’s save the world one cup of coffee at a time” espresso bars.  But based purely on what I wrote during that time, I was kind of a… yeah.

The other half of my writing from that time was in my poor attempts at wit and travel. I’ve traveled. Not as much as some, but way more than others. And I have knack for finding trouble on the road. No, that’s not quite right. It’s not trouble I find, so much as humorous misadventure. As I wrote years ago:

"Not all of my travel experiences are made of disasters.  Many are of almost-disasters, situations that should have been disastrous but weren’t, or wrong turns that led into mountains of dirt roads with no exit but forward.  Some are just odd sightings of horror movie escapees, like Death Truck – which I came across in Seattle – and Flee Infested Bed, which I came across in Paris.  Some of the stories are about the return trip: three hour migraines while stuck in a middle seat of an airplane, or a seemingly haunted bathtub waiting at home for me after days of being on the road with no trustable shower anywhere to be found.  Some tales revolve around the people I met, the conversations I had.  Who else can say they had a one hour debate on the merits of cannibalism while wandering the streets of Lynnwood and Everett in Washington?" 

Okay, so… I remember most of the stories I reference in that one paragraph, but the last two? Not so much. I can only smack myself upside the head for not documenting some of those better. WHY SELF, WHY? Haunted bathtub? Where? When? Which trip? What country was I living in at the time? And the cannibalism conversation I can only assume was in some part about cultural relativism, but that’s mostly a guess at this point based on the fact that my undergraduate degree was Anthropology (and at the time of writing the above paragraph I had yet to discover the wonders of engineering and aerospace).  

Anyways, I’m realizing that this post has become distinctly… rambling. The past couple of weeks has been like that though. E. and I made a bit of progress on the circus tent. By progress I mean that I helped calculate how much fabric we will probably need, so not as much as I think we were both hoping. I’ve been recovering from two injuries, I’m back in grad school for a second Master’s degree, and after last week’s baking fiasco I have accomplished 3 fairly big cooking projects with plans to bake a 6-layer birthday cake for some friends in the coming week. 

With that I think I’ll wrap up this rambling mess of a post with something to look forward to. A list (because let’s be honest, I love lists and so assume that others must as well).

Upcoming foodie posts of projects I’ve mostly already done:

  • Empanadas with an avocado dipping sauce - (original filling, adapted pastry recipe)
  • Beef Stew - (my own original recipe and one that’s currently being considered for a cookbook, also: Excellent)
  • Puffed Pastry Pull-Apart Bread - (YES, I FINALLY SUCCEEDED) 
Coming soon to the kitchen witchery corner: