White Cake with Blueberries

This is kind of a mish-mash cake I made for Rusty (the man loves his cake), and it turned out pretty well, all things considered.  The cake recipe comes from Epicurious.com and the icing is a modified version of the one I used in the Pie’s vanilla birthday cake.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9″ x 9″ square cake pan (or, in this case, a 10″ round springform pan).

Cream together 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup softened butter.  Then add in 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder and add that to the butter/egg mixture.

Finally, stir in 1/2 cup milk until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove to a rack to cool completely.

I was a little disappointed at how flat this cake turned out.  I suppose if I were to do it again I would separate the eggs and whip the whites to boost the volume.  You can gently fold the whites into your mixed batter to make your cake much fluffier.

While the cake is cooling, prepare your icing.  In a double boiler, melt 4 oz white chocolate.

Cream together 1 package (250g) softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup milk, 4 cups icing sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.  If you use heavy cream instead of milk you will need less icing sugar.

Add in the melted chocolate and blend until smooth.  Put that gooey goodness in the fridge to cool.

I decided to add a fruity boost to the cake with 1 cup blueberry fruit sauce (you can see the basic recipe here).  Make sure your sauce is cool before you put it on your cake or it will melt your icing.
When the cake is cool, carefully slice it in half horizontally so you have two layers.
Slather some white chocolate icing on the top of the bottom slice and cool that in the fridge for a few minutes.
Plop about three quarters of your fruit sauce on top of that icing layer and smooth it out.  I may have licked the spoon.  But everyone who ate it was related to me.
Plop the second cake layer on top and ice the whole cake with your icing.  Mine was pretty gooey and so oozed down the sides, but it worked out for me.
Pour the remaining fruit sauce on top of the cake.
Swirl with a knife for a marbled effect and then cool in the refrigerator until set.
EAT!

Delicious Disaster

Well.

I should know by now that experimenting with recipes before a dinner party is not a good idea.  But who else can I experiment on but my hapless dinner guests?

My goal was a dense, gooey, flourless chocolate cake, maybe with a glossy dark chocolate ganache poured over top.  I thought I had found the ideal recipe here.  It had four simple ingredients and no-nonsense instructions.  It even gave me the opportunity to use my kitchen scale, which had long sat unused.  Working in metric is such fun.

I’ll give you the recipe here, and then you can see for yourself how things went horribly wrong.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (that’s about 350°F for those of you who don’t have both measures on your ovens).  Grease (with lots and lots of butter) a 22cm/9″ cake pan and set that aside.

Measure yourself out 250g dark chocolate and chop that sucker into pieces.

Melt that in a double boiler with 100g butter until smooth.  Remove from the heat.

Separate 4 large eggs.  Sift 175g icing sugar into a bowl, add the 4 yolks, and whisk until pale and creamy.

Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.

In yet another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until soft peaks form.

Using a metal spoon, gradually fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan.  Mine nearly filled it, so I put a pizza pan underneath to catch any spills.  I needn’t have worried, it turns out.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface begins to crack but the centre is still gooey.

Alas, though the cake baked up perfectly and smelled divine, it wouldn’t come out of the pan, no sir.  Not at all.  I don’t even think lining the pan with parchment paper would have helped.

This is it after it cooled.

I ended up with warm, gooey, dense chocolate cake bits in a pile on a plate.

With three hours until the dinner guests arrived, the Pie said, “Well, you have time to make another cake.”

I gave him a dark look.

“Or,” he says, backtracking, “you could make a trifle?”

Huzzah!  Dessert is saved!  Another floor pizza crisis averted.

Of course, having never made trifle in my life (I save that duty for my mother-in-law, because Mrs. Nice does it so well), I do not own a trifle bowl.  Not to worry, I will improvise.  Though I wouldn’t mind getting a trifle bowl someday, hint, hint …

Trifle is all about the layers.  The traditional version is a sponge cake, usually soaked with some form of alcohol, like brandy or sherry, topped with fruit, custard, and whipping cream in alternating layers.  In a straight-sided container like a trifle bowl you can see all the layers and the effect is quite pretty.

This being a chocolate cake, I thought the custard would be inappropriate.  If I had more time, I would have made chocolate pudding as a substitute for the custard, but I didn’t have the time needed for the pudding to set.  Instead, I opted for a strawberry fruit sauce with drizzled melted chocolate between the layers of whipped cream, and topped with fresh raspberries.  I drizzled a wee bit of Grand Marnier over the cake and let that sink in.

When I made the fruit sauce I added a little bit of corn starch just so it would thicken, and then I made sure to let it cool.

I added butter to the melted chocolate so that when it cooled it wouldn’t be as hard as it was originally.

I also added a wee bit of cream of tartar to my whipped cream so that it would hold its shape better while chilling in the refrigerator.

Then I did my layering …

Gooey cake.  Drizzled chocolate.  Strawberry goodness.  Whipped cream.  Repeat.

Drop a handful or two of fresh raspberries on top and drizzle the remaining chocolate all over and we’re set.

The layering doesn’t look as pretty from the side but we have to sacrifice aesthetics sometimes.  Chill that sucker for a couple hours then feed it to your unsuspecting dinner guests with a sob story about your failed dessert.

Mo’ Waffles

I’m back in St. John’s for a brief visit.  How I missed my kitchen!

The Pie and I do love our waffles.  They’re not just a breakfast food, either.  They also make a good base for many savoury dishes.  Feel free to add things like frozen fruit or herbs and cheese to your mix.  And you can top them with anything: honey, whipped cream, fresh or frozen fruit, maple syrup, bacon …

The electric waffle iron has made making waffles so much easier.  My brothers and I got this one for my mother for Mother’s Day back in the 1990s, and when I moved to St. John’s I took it with me. 

Once you have properly seasoned your waffle maker (by making a couple batches of super buttery waffles in it), you will never need to do more than wipe the goo off the outside once in a while, and flick off the crumbs left inside after use.

This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking (of course).  The instructions claim that the recipe makes 6 waffles, but in our little iron it’s more like 12.  Just be prepared to eat lots of waffle-y goodness or halve the recipe.  Sure, you can get a decent waffle out of a boxed mix, but really it’s just as easy to make them from scratch.

Preheat your waffle iron. 

You may also want to set a stoneware plate or oven-safe dish in your oven and set it to about 225°F.  This is where you will keep your waffles warm while you’re making up the rest of the batch.

In one bowl, mix together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

In a second bowl, mix together 3 eggs, 1/2 cup melted butter, and 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.

Make a well in your dry ingredients and pour in your wet ingredients.  Whisk that sucker up good.

Pour some mixture into your waffle iron.  You don’t want it to fill up completely, because it will expand as it cooks.

Cook until your iron tells you it’s ready.  Ours chirps.  It’s rather obnoxious.  About as obnoxious as making heart-shaped waffles.

While you are cooking your waffles, you might want to toss some frozen blueberries, some lemon juice, and some sugar into a pot to make up a quick fruit sauce.Now all you have to do is eat them!

Cranberry Sauce

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

For those of you from elsewhere, Canadian Thanksgiving has nothing to do with pilgrims taking advantage of the hospitality of the local folk.  It’s a celebration of the end of the harvest (which, as Canada is further north than the United States, is a mite earlier in the year), and the harvest has been good this year, so let us FEAST.

I’ve been making this simple cranberry sauce (because, really, how can a cranberry sauce be complicated?) since I was tall enough to see the top of the stove.

We’ve got ten people coming to our feast tomorrow and they all like cranberry sauce so I’m going to make quite a bit of it.  If you’re familiar with my general-purpose fruit sauce, the process is very similar.  Or identical.

Take two packages (340g/12oz) fresh cranberries.

Wash them and bung them in a pot.  Add about 3/4 cup of granulated sugar as well as 1/2 cup cranberry juice or water.  You can add more sugar later if it’s not sweet enough for you.

Bring it to a boil, stirring often.

The berries will start to pop and foam.  You can help them along by gently squishing the popped berries against the side of the pot with the back of your spoon.

Then all of a sudden you’ll have a sauce.  You can add a bit of corn starch dissolved in liquid if you like a thick, jelly-like sauce, but we like ours runny so I didn’t bother.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Plop it in a pretty dish (though if it’s going to be there a while, avoid ones that are white in case they stain) and serve it with turkey and all your Thanksgiving goodness.  You can keep it covered in your fridge for ages, so it’s a good thing to make ahead, and make plenty of it for leftovers in the days to come.

Have a great holiday!

Chicken in Toronto

In the last week of August I went to Toronto for the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, which was incredibly exciting for me, to be able to rub elbows with all the people I hope to know personally once I’ve finished my doctorate.

I was also able to meet the Pie in town on two nights and catch some Blue Jays games.  This is Jose Bautista.  He’s not much to look at but he got a home run on one night.

I stayed with my best friend Chel and her lovely new husband Invis right downtown.  Talk about making the most out of a small space!  Here is their tiny kitchen, with Invis filling up most of it.  Chel had the clever idea of using one of her favourite coat hangers (because she couldn’t find another place for it) to hang up her pots and pans. I think it’s genius.

One night  they were kind enough to allow me to cook them dinner, and we decided, since it was hot and humid in the Big Smoke, to keep things on the simple side.  We settled on a chicken rosé sauce on pasta followed by vanilla ice cream with strawberry and red currant fruit sauce.

We decided to feature basil in the recipe because Chel has been keeping a lush little plant going for some time.Chop up a few boneless skinless chicken breasts, as well as a small onion, some mushrooms, and a red pepper or two.  And don’t forget lots and lots of fresh basil.

Chuck the onion in a pot with some olive oil and sauté until translucent.Season your chicken breasts and plop them in as well.  Stir it around until the chicken is cooked through.Add in your basil and let that aroma fill the space as it heats up.Then drop in your vegetables and let them cook for a wee spell.Now you can pour in a jar of your favourite pasta or other tomato sauce.Add in some whipping cream as well, about 250mL.  Let the whole thing simmer.If you find it’s too watery you can add in a can of tomato paste to thicken it up.Serve over your pasta of choice and you’ve got a lovely meal.Now while that is simmering you can whip up your dessert fruit sauce.  We found some lovely fresh red currants in the grocery store so I added them, some cut up strawberries, a bit of sugar, and some juice to the pot and set it to boil.Once you have simmered it for a while, remove it from the heat and let it cool while you eat your dinner.  Pour it over ice cream and you’re all set.

Made-Up Muffins

Yesterday I looked in my fridge and saw a little less than a cup of fruit sauce leftover from a waffle indulgence during Cait and iPM’s visit, a can of defrosted concentrated orange juice that I had never gotten around to making up, and about two cups of buttermilk, which was set to expire the following day.

Muffin time.

If I’ve learned anything from my baking idol Ovenhaven over at Epicurean Escapism, it’s that the key to baking a good muffin is not to overmix your ingredients.  This is why I now mix my muffins by hand, and not with a hand mixer or stand mixer.  From my own experience I’ve also learned that if you’re adding a lot of liquid, you need to compensate with extra dry ingredients.  So this particular recipe I had to do some thinking and some mental calculations first. 

The fruit sauce plus the concentrated orange juice came out to about two cups, so that meant I had to double the recipe.  In a weird way this meant that I came out with 36 regular sized muffins and another 12 mini-muffins.  So be it.

Anyway, here goes.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease your muffin tins or line them with paper cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together a little over 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The baking powder will counterbalance some of the acidity in the buttermilk.

In a smaller bowl, mix together 1 cup melted butter, 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 4 eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, and your 2 cups juice mixture.

This one is weirdly bubbly and gross, but smelled good.

Pour your wet ingredients over your dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are all moistened.  Don’t fret if you see one or two tiny spots of unmixed flour.  Err on the side of mixing it too little.  Mixing it too much will result in flat, tough muffins.  

You can see here how the chemistry is already beginning and the mixture is getting all bubbly.

Spoon into your pans so the cups are about 2/3 full and bake, rotating once halfway through, for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

I couldn’t wait for it to cool before trying one.  Totally worth a burnt tongue.

Serve right away or seal tightly in plastic bags and freeze for later.