Monday, December 29, 2008

Cakes I Have Known 6

This year my eldest son wanted a hamburger cake for his 12th birthday. Apparently we don't eat nearly enough hamburgers for his liking. I don't know why, but other than salmon burgers I am not a big fan of your average burger. But Max, he loves them with a passion.

Here's what I did first: baked two 9" round vanilla cakes. Then I baked a double chocolate rectangle (I only needed half this as it turned out), out of which I cut another, slightly larger, circle. I wanted the "burger" part to hang out slightly. For this part of the cake I'd advise a solid, dense cake, with very little crumb, because you won't want it shedding while you're icing it.
Then, as you can see from the photo, I cut one vanilla cake horizontally for the "bun" bottom, and one vanilla cake horizontally for the "bun" top. You could use one cake, I suppose, but I wanted the "bun" to be slightly larger than a half of a cake, so for the "bun" bottom I just shaved off the top; ditto for the top portion of the "bun."

Next, cut out a circle of chocolate cake for the hamburger patty. I simply laid the 9" tin on the cake, and cut away a slightly larger circle.

Then I stuck them together with some ganache, made the night before so it would be thick and cool. Need a ganache recipe? Here's mine:

Chop up 13 ounces of chocolate (or use chips), place them in your food processor, then, with the motor running, slowly pour in 1 & 1/4 cups hot whipping cream. Process until smooth. Pour into a bowl and leave it for a few hours to cool.

Then I used a buttercream icing to frost the details. Need an easy buttercream recipe? Here's mine:

1/2 c Crisco (make sure it's all vegetable)
1/2 c butter
1.5 c icing sugar
milk to thin (no more than 1/4 c)
Put everything in your mixmaster or Kitchen-Aid and blend on high for 5 minutes. Makes a lovely silky buttercream.

Initially I used Wilton's Brown gel for the "patty," but either I had an old gel or I was feeling particularly colour-blind, but that brown wasn't what I'd call brown, so I scraped it off and wondered what to do instead. I might even have panicked a little, because the Party was at that point only an hour or so away. Then I decided to thin the left-over ganache with a couple of blobs of butter, in the food processor, and add some icing sugar and milk, to make a sort of icing. This I patted on with a knife, trying to make it knobbly like ground meat.

I also found myself slightly distressed by the tan/skin colour that I'd intended to use for the bun portion, because that had a distinct reddish tinge to it. I added some yellow and brown, and eventually got something more to my liking. I need to find some better colouring gels though, because the red was similarly at odds with my idea of red. I ended up using red gel in those decorator tubes you can get in the grocery stores. Fortunately the green and I got along fine. I used decorator tip #67 for the "lettuce." I was going to use pine nuts or sesame seeds for the seeds on the top of the bun, but I ended up using yellow decorator's sugar because I had no pine nuts and I wondered about having sesame seeds on a cake. Seemed slightly incongruous.

The kids all gasped and said "A hamburger cake? Wow!" when we brought it out, which was really all I wanted to hear. I'd instructed a friend of mine to say "Wow! Is that a hamburger?" just in case it was unrecognizable and no one knew what the heck it was, and she said it, much to our mutual hilarity, but fortunately it wasn't necessary. Max was quite delighted.

Monday, December 22, 2008


1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp ground cloves
6 tsp ground cinnamon
6 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp cardamon
1.5 tsp baking soda
6 cups (more or less) flour (I use white flour, you might get rocks if you use whole wheat)

Mix everything in order, pausing a little with the sugar and butter. When you've got a nice firm ball of dough, flatten it slightly into a disc, then wrap in a bag and chill for at least an hour.

Then you can roll it out (I roll between parchment, so as not to have too much added flour - I find it makes them hard) and go wild with your cutters. 

This is an incredibly flavourful gingerbread. I've increased the spice amounts from what Martha initially set out, so feel free to get wimpy with the spices if you like. I don't mind. I don't think Martha will, either. 

Oops, forgot the baking instructions:

350ºF for about 12 minutes. Be careful with these though - you don't want them overbaked. 

Easy Peppermint Creams

2 cups icing sugar
1/2 egg white (weird, I know, like who has half an egg white lying around?)
few drops peppermint flavouring
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Place everything in a food processor, and let it churn into a smooth ball. Take out, divide in half. (We dyed one half blue, then rolled out strips of white and blue and rolled them together: looked like weird but cool candy canes) If you want to dye them red or green for a more festive look (or if you've hit the eggnog earlier than usual and are feeling a little wild'n'crazy), do it now. Don't use too much food dye or it might look a little too lurid for your guests.

Then you can either roll them out between parchment (careful, they tend to be sticky) and use tiny cutters (finally, a use for all those Playdough shapers!), or roll them into ropes and slice tiny pieces off. Then place them on a cookie sheet and let them dry overnight.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


This is an adaptation of a recipe I saw in Martha Stewart's 2005 Holiday Baking issue. It's pretty easy. If you need advanced instructions beyond what I provide, go to her website and type in "Chocolate Truffles." 

1 cup whipping cream
2 tsp Golden Syrup (you could use corn syrup too)
1/4 cup butter (I like unsalted)

Heat this in a good sized saucepan over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Then, working quickly, add 1 lb of chopped chocolate. 

I've used everything from chocolate chips to really good quality chocolate here, and while you can taste the difference between, say Chipits' best and some bittersweet Scharffenburger, don't stress over what you use. If budget is a consideration, save your Valhrona for the coating. 

Once you've added the chocolate, swirl the pan without stirring, until the cream mixture has covered the chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes, then grab a whisk (or a fork) and mix until smooth.

At this point I figure out how many types of truffles I'm going to make. I usually divide this mixture into 2-3 bowls - even though I might make this recipe 4 times over (inspiration sometimes hits me after the fact, so I revisit my drawing board a few times). This gives me enough to give away a few boxes AND have some left over. 

Once you've divided the mix into bowls, add your flavourings. These can be anything from chopped nuts to liqueurs. Be generous here. None of your 1 measly teaspoons of this or pinches of that. Well, unless you're using some ancho chilies, like I did...

Then, depending on your schedule, let each bowl sit on the counter until thick, or, if you're in a rush, chuck them in the fridge. It doesn't take long, but if you have a cool place you can greatly speed up this step. At this point, get some cookie sheets covered with parchment (or waxed paper) and have them nearby. Once the mixture is hard(ish), get yourself a little spoon (I use the small end of a melon baller) and scoop out little balls. Roll them around if you like a more uniform chocolate, or leave them as blobs on the cookie sheets. If you've added too much scotch or brandy, and you find that the mixture isn't solid enough to shape easily, you can do one of two things: if the mixture is sort of scoopable, spoon out blobs and plop them onto the cookie sheet. Then chuck the cookie sheet in the freezer. Once the blobs have hardened a bit, roll them around on your palms until they hold more of a shape, then refreeze until you are going to dip them (in which case you'll need to work in very small batches). Alternately, you can freeze the bowl of melted cream/chocolate, until it's semi-solid, then scoop your truffles from that. You'll probably need to leave that sheet in the freezer as well. Don't fret about this, though, because it will all work out once you've dipped them in melted chocolate. That coating will hold anything together!

I like to dip these centres in melted chocolate, then roll them in something the echoes their inner flavour: candy canes for mint, toasted coconut for coconut, chocolate sprinkles or unsweetened cocoa for chocolate or scotch or brandy, etc. Use your imagination here. All you have to consider is "Is it edible?" and "Will it be a good taste experience?" 

Remember the Prime Directive of every cook: you want your audience to delight in your food. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mince Pies

I make a mean mince pie. This year was pretty exciting because I grew both the tomatoes AND the apples with my own two hands (figuratively speaking of course). The sugar and the grapes will have to wait until I either get more land or grow more hands...

I use Martha's Pate Brisée* for the tart shells, and this recipe for the mincemeat:

8 lb apples (I like Granny Smith because they melt in the mix)
6 lbs green tomatoes
3 lbs sugar
2 lbs raisins
1 lb currants
1 c vinegar
8 Tbsp butter
$ Tbsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp grated lemon rind
4 Tbsp grated orange rind
2 tsp nutmeg
20 cloves, stuck in one of those tea balls and left in the mixture the entire time (until you can it)

Peel, core, and chop the apples roughly. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Chuck everything in a very large pot and bring to a boil. Once it's boiled, turn down and let it simmer for an hour or two. I usually leave it to sit overnight or even longer, just to let the flavours meld together a bit. Then I can it.

*Martha's (slightly altered) Pate Brisée

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup butter
6 Tbsp sugar

Martha adds 1 tsp salt but I don't do that, and GASP, I don't use salted butter either. Go for it: the French swear by salt in recipes like these (and I haven't got a good reason why I don't).

Black Bean Soup

This soup started life here as the Black Bean Chili from The Greens Cookbook, but as usual, ingredient availability (and the cook's inclinations) have changed it somewhat.

Sauté an onion (or two, if they're small) and some garlic in a little oil. When they are getting translucent, add a couple of tablespoons of cumin seeds (whole, not ground, but I'll let you off this time if you only have ground), a tablespoon or two of chili powder, same of paprika, and I add something I have called, rather enigmatically Mexican Chili Powder (I think it has oregano and ancho powder added in). Stir everything up thoroughly. Then chuck in about 2 cups of salsa (I use a homemade tomato/pepper salsa but you could even use canned tomatoes in a pinch, just be prepared to add extra flavourings). Stir well, then add 3 cups of cooked black beans. Then, add between 2-5 cups water, depending upon how watery you like your soup.

Then, let it simmer for an hour or three.

The picture above has a few potatoes added to it.