Thursday, December 24, 2015

Throwback Post: Muse, Thy Name is Chocolate

Hello all! Time for a Christmas special throwback post! I got about 90% through writing this post back in June so I finished it up and now you get to enjoy a somewhat harrowing kitchen adventure. This time, we return to an oldie but a goodie: the Death by Chocolate cookbook. Do you even remember the last time I made a recipe from that cookbook? I can't either! But I know it was delicious! In fact, I've never made a bad recipe from that book. So, to reground my baking efforts, I return to my tried and true love: chocolate.

Ok, maybe it wasn't an effort to reground my baking efforts. Maybe it was more like I had to bake a birthday cake for my husband's birthday dinner and I stupidly handed him a random cookbook and said "Pick a cake!" So I suppose it's my own fault that he picked the Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake from the Death By Chocolate cookbook. So there I was, the morning of the dinner with both our families and I had to a) bake a cake b) prepare for a chicken parm dinner for seven people and c) clean my house because it was a complete disaster mess. Oh yeah, did I mention that my husband picked a cake that takes around five hours to make? Ready, Set, Go!

At about 7:30 in the morning, I headed to my friendly neighborhood Big Y to pick up the ingredients. I checked my supplies in advance so I only needed a few things. Or so I thought. I started out with melting a bunch of chocolate in my double boiler. This cookbook always recommends covering the top of the double boiler with plastic wrap to melt the chocolate, which is a nice trick that I usually forget. Only problem is that sometimes the edges of the plastic wrap sort of melt onto the double boiler itself. Oops. Not too big a deal though - just a burn-y smell and a bigger pain to clean. While that was melting, I commenced creaming the butter and brown sugar. One problem. My brown sugar hardened. Like, a lot. I keep it in a big container with a brown sugar terra cotta bear that usually keeps it soft so I didn't even think about it. But there it was, in a hardened brick in my container. It was so hard, I couldn't even chip at it with a knife. Hmm.

Creative solution time! I wasn't about to go out to the store because that's nonsense. Instead, I covered my plastic container back up and started to run hot water over the sides to try to soften it away. While this was happening, I prepared my baking pans for the cake. The recipe wanted me to use melted butter to grease the pans and then flour the pans with cake flour. I was so pissed about the brown sugar that I was already ready to defy the recipe and just used Crisco. It took probably half the time to do that and I doubt it made any difference. So for the next half hour, I alternated heating the brown sugar and chipping pieces away with a spoon. When I finally got what I thought was enough brown sugar for the recipe, I put it in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and microwaved it for about 30 seconds. This softened it up perfectly. Except I had totally only gotten enough for half of the brown sugar I needed. UGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! Recommencing heating brown sugar container.

So things didn't start well. But after I got all my brown sugar (and a sore hand), I creamed the sugar and butter, added the eggs, then added the melted chocolate and vanilla. Not too hard. I then had to boil a cup of water to add to the recipe (that's another pot to clean, fyi) and add the cake flour and other dry ingredients. Oh yeah, and sour cream. Can't forget that. That's the secret to moist cakes, after all! Put in pans, put in oven, bing, bang, boom. Wash tools and get to work on the next phase.

The next phase includes making a chocolate espresso buttercream and an espresso ganache. Halfway through making this recipe, I decided to read the margin notes. My, how I love this cookbook and the author who waxes poetic about everything. Here are some excerpts from the margin notes for this recipe: "My olfactory senses have been put in high gear by walking by espresso bars in Auckland, Berkeley, Paris, and especially in tiny alcoves on crowded streets in Florence and Palermo. It would be over-romanticizing to say that the best espresso is made in Italy [when has that ever stopped him from over-romanticizing???], but then again the Italians are known for romance....This is the buttercream from hell if you have to prepare it - but buttercream from heaven when you eat it!" I'm so glad I read this when I was halfway through making the buttercream.

The ganache part was super easy with the exception of the instant espresso powder. Because I didn't have any. I did however have instant coffee powder so I just used that and called it a day. The buttercream on the other hand, was a bit of a pain. Heat chocolate, easy. By the way, it's worth pointing out at this point that there was an awful lot of chocolate in this cake. 22 ounces. That's kind of crazy. Again, no espresso powder here so I had to substitute instant coffee powder. I feel a bit bad about that. Next step, beat a pound of butter in the mixer. Yes, a pound. Yes, butter was flying out of my mixer. Really wish I had gotten that bigger mixer. After beating the pound of butter, I transferred it to a bowl. Wait, really? I just dirtied my KitchenAid to beat butter? I didn't even add anything to it? This recipe is nonsense.

Then I had to heat egg whites and sugar in a double boiler. For those keeping track, this is now the fourth time I'm using my double boiler in this recipe. Then I had to gently whisk until the egg whites reached a temperature of 120 degrees. No, I didn't check. I just went with 3-5 minutes. Then I had to transfer to my KitchenAid bowl (which I had to clean the butter out of) and whip those egg whites into a frenzy before folding the butter, egg whites, and chocolate together. What a pain. But fine, whatever, time to assemble!

I was starting to feel the time pressure now but the assembly wasn't too bad. I was directed to assemble the cake inside a springform pan and to slice each cake in half so I would have four layers. Assembly was easy and I tossed the cake back into the fridge to chill.

Now the finishing touches. I had to frost the cake with the remaining buttercream and then pipe decoration with the remaining ganache and buttercream. It recommended alternating buttercream and ganache rings on the top of the cake which looked quite lovely. And then, drama. I had a nice cake stand that I put the cake on but in the process, the bottom of the springform pan (and hence the whole cake) nearly slid off the stand! I balanced it just in time though so we didn't have a smashed cake. (I'll tell you now though, the next day when I took the cake out of the fridge to cut another slice, the base of the stand actually cracked off and the cake went flying. Amazingly enough, I actually caught the cake. But I was really pissed that my cake stand broke.)

Anyway, this cake was very tasty and very rich and not too shabby in terms of decoration. But it sure was a headache. Next time, I pick the birthday dessert!

Oh, and I'm not going to blog about this one, but I made panda birthday cupcakes for my sister. Here's a few pictures because they're adorable.

Special and exciting Christmas desserts post coming soon! Merry Christmas everyone!

A Disney Moment: Meet the Robinsons

I did not care for this movie. Halfway through it, I had no idea what was going on. Since I'm writing this so late, I don't really remember anything about it (unfortunately) but I do remember it was my least favorite in this group. There's a time machine and a bowler hat and if I recall correctly, things get timey-wimey but in general, it just wasn't for me. Eh, nuff said. We all know we're just waiting for the final verdict on what the best Disney movie of all is so we'll just move it along. It's clearly not this one. 5/5.

A Disney Moment: Bolt
Ah, my love of cartoon dogs. It ends here with Bolt. I didn't like Bolt. This was my first time seeing Bolt and it was largely forgettable. I remember that Bolt thought he had super powers and I remember Penny missed Bolt and there was a big fire and a superbark. After that, I'm out. I remember thinking that it felt like a strange cross between Oliver and Company and Homeward Bound but lacked some of the charm. It just felt very predictable in terms of plot. I think that's why I liked Chicken Little better. But maybe I'm not really remembering correctly. Who knows? This one earned a 4/5 and thank goodness, we're coming to actual good movies again!

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