Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving #11: The Greatest Cake In The World

I know I'm very late with this post, but I'm backdating it to go with the Thanksgiving series. I just couldn't manage cooking and real-time blogging. Maybe for Christmas.
Now, what's Thanksgiving without dessert? Okay, I had two desserts, but who's counting? (You have to have at least one pie and one cake.) This year's cake was a coconut cake. Done right and it is one of my favorites. How do you do it right? Get rid of that 7-minute frosting.
I spend more than $5 a slice for coconut cake from Bloomingdale's. I was determined to recreate it myself and do it better than they did. Tall order. I couldn't find one recipe that did exactly what I wanted, but I could steal bits and pieces from other recipes. The cake and pastry cream come from Cook's Illustrated. The simple syrup is from Bobby Flay and the frosting is from Rosy Levy Beranbaum. It was time consuming, expensive and worth all of it. What really worked out is that the frosting was all yolks and the cake was mostly whites, so there was no waste with the eggs.
I tackled the pastry cream the night before so that it would be fully chilled and the flavors would meld. Boy was it good. So good that I almost came up short because I kept thieving random spoonfuls until I made the cake.
Here are the humble beginnings of pastry cream:
Cook on the stove.
Refrigerate. It's not hard at all.
Let's move to the cake. I don't have any "making of" pics. I was itching to use my new Williams-Sonoma cake pans. These babies did not disappoint!
I don't have any pics of it, but I also made a coconut simple syrup. Let's assemble. We know I suck at torting cakes. I actually got it right this time!
After brushing on the simple syrup, reach for the pastry cream.
Cover this with another layer and repeat the process. Your top layer should be a bottom.
Let's get to the icing. I made a half batch of icing, which was almost enough to cover the whole cake. Because I used pastry cream between the layers, I just couldn't see wasting all that butter and eggs for a full batch of icing.
Believe it or not, this was the start of the icing.
Now the application wasn't pretty, so there aren't any photos of that. Hey, I was covering it with toasted coconut anyway.
This cake was the cause of the five pounds I picked up over Thanksgiving. (Okay, well the dressing, rolls and sweet potato pie helped too.) A bite is heavenly. It was moist and full of coconut flavor. I loved how the different textures worked together. If you don't think you can deal with the temptation, it freezes beautifully.

Thanksgiving #10: After The Fact

I know I'm very late with this post, but I'm backdating it to go with the Thanksgiving series. I just couldn't manage cooking and real-time blogging. Maybe for Christmas.
Anyhoo. Let's finish up the greens. In the last post, we'd gotten up to the boiling. After a 40 minute simmer, drain the greens and try to get as much water out of them as possible. Give 'em a good chop.
Make your cream mixture. This was a recipe departure. I added minced garlic, nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes in addition to the required salt and pepper. Whoever heard of creamed anything without nutmeg?
I then poured this over the greens. Two things bothered me:
A) Was I messing up some good damn greens? As I poured the cream over the greens, I kept thinking, "This is so wrong."
B) I can't really explain it, but something about the pattern created by the greens in the cream (like the upper right of the pic below) freaks me out. I also don't like the site of dry, cracked earth. I'm sure that I'll one day pay somebody a lot of money to figure that out.
It's important to note that there isn't really a lot of cream in this dish.
I chose to use individual ramekins for this dish. It makes the leftovers so much easier. And yes, I skipped the breadcrumbs the recipe called for.
I baked them at 350 degrees. I'll share the finished pic later.
What else can I show you? The Pioneer Woman's squash. Isn't it pretty? The next time I make this, I won't go for the syrup. The brown sugar adds enough sweetness.
Let's knock out the rolls. I just didn't have the heart or time for my usual yeast rolls. I decided to go with Williams-Sonoma's Sally Lunn Herbed Rolls. No kneading? I'm all for it. The dough was very sticky. It was also more like a batter.
Check out all the herbs that went into these. What else can you expect from an herbed roll recipe?
Here's the dough after the first rise and a push down with a wooden spoon:
Now you have to get all of this goodness into a muffin tin. I used a large scoop to portion. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise. The tops aren't perfectly smooth because I didn't do the greatest job of greasing the plastic wrap before I covered the rolls.
Brush the top with an egg wash and bake. You're supposed to put a whole herb leaf on the top of every roll. Maybe next time.
The winners this year were really the creamed collard greens, cranberry sauce and coconut cake. The disappointment was the turkey, but I'm blaming that on truffle butter that wasn't what it was supposed to be. I'll do separate posts for finishing the turkey and the coconut cake.

Thanksgiving #9: Turkey & Gravy

I know I'm very late with this post, but I'm backdating it to go with the Thanksgiving series. I just couldn't manage cooking and real-time blogging. Maybe for Christmas.
Y'all know I was stressing over the turkey. Don't get me wrong, I was really excited about turkey with truffle, but I was trying to figure out if I could brine and air dry it too, blah, blah, blah.
space Here's how it went down. I did end up brining the turkey.
I made a killer Crock-Pot stock for the white wine gravy.
The cool thing about this recipe is that you browned the turkey parts before making the stock.
Isn't it all golden and beautiful?
Switching back to the turkey. After the brine, I patted Mr. Turkey dry and placed truffle butter under the skin. In hindsight, I don't think my truffle butter was fresh, so I didn't get the flavor I wanted. I'll be buying it locally next year.
Here's the turkey right before the flip -- I roasted it breast side down first and then breast side up.
Here's the finished bird. Look at that crispy skin! Wow.

Now for the gravy. I just don't like gravy. I make it every year because I know it's a requirement, but yuck. I did have better hopes for this year's gravy because of the white wine. I have to admit it was better than most

Here's what was left in the pan after I took the bird out.

You need a ton of shallots needed for the recipe.

I browned these in a little of the turkey fat.

Next, I deglazed the pan with the wine and brought the wine to a boil.

After the wine reduced, I added the wonderful turkey stock.

After I got this to a boil, I strained it and put it in a saucepan.

I made a past with flour and truffle butter and added it to the then boiling sauce.

Not bad, huh?

I made gravy! I get excited every time I do it correctly. It's such a challenge to cook stuff you don't like.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving #8: Late Again

Okay. So maybe I'll be eating at 3-3:30. The rolls set me back. I really didn't feel like making my usual recipe. Too much work. I had pretty much decided that last night, but was trying to tell myself that I'd make them this morning. Not. I decided on a Williams-Sonoma recipe instead. The dough is on its first rise. I still need to frost the cake too, but I'm in no rush ... I think I'll take a nap during the rolls' second rise.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving #7: Not Bad At All

My standard joke every year is that around this time, the night before Thanksgiving, black women across the nation exclaim, "Oh Lord!!!" This happens because we are near exhaustion; it's getting late and we're still up; something didn't get crossed off the list and there's even more to do tomorrow. I was true to form, but my "Oh Lord!" was followed by, "Thank you, Jesus." I'm not exhausted. Tired yes, but not the way I've been every previous year. I took two naps today and several breaks where I put my feet up. That has been the difference between delirium and the calm that comes from managing chaos. I also made sure that I cleaned up after every dish. I mean really cleaned up. Nothing zaps your spirit more than working in a dirty kitchen.
I called an audible today (yes, to myself). I made the cranberry sauce today and left the veggie prep to tomorrow morning. I did stop myself from making a silly mistake I've made before -- icing a cake that needs to be refrigerated when there's no room in the fridge. I wrapped the cake layers in plastic wrap. Hopefully, I knock out the icing in the morning. Here are the pics from today's activities: space
Coconut pastry cream. You wouldn't believe how good this is.
After I got the pastry cream into the fridge, I moved on to the coconut cake. My coconut cake is going to be a Frankenstein cake -- cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated, filling (coconut custard) from another Cook's Illustrated recipe, simple syrup from Bobby Flay and buttercream from Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is going to be downright sinful. I'll finish the cake tomorrow. See that kinda bare corner in the toasted coconut? That's where I was sampling. I thought I had done a better job of covering it up.
That reminds me. I did not fix myself anything to eat today. My nutrition consisted of a half cup of tea, pie dough, sweet potato pie filling, pastry cream, cake batter, toasted coconut and smoked turkey that I pulled from the wing I used to make the greens.
Then there was the cornbread -- another Cook's Illustrated recipe. I had lost the light for the day, so this is the best picture I could get.
space space Next came cranberry sauce. I am a purist. I don't want orange, ginger and nuts in my cranberry sauce. I'm also particular about what type I eat and when. For a full plate, give me homemade whole berry. For sandwiches and the joy of eating dressing by itself, canned jellied cranberry sauce. Slicing it works so well.
I got my second wind and knocked out the greens and squash. A sink full of greens gets you enough for about four people!
Splitting acorn squash is a lot easier than splitting butternut squash. This recipe is from the Pioneer Woman.
Tools of the trade:
I'll do this later. I'm going to bed!