Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Awesome, Easy, Most Decadent Brownies You'll Ever Experience (Gluten-Free and from a Mix!)

It's a cause for celebration that Aldi has started carrying gluten-free products in their baking section. Especially nice: their brownie mix can easily pass for regular, fudgy, somewhat gooey, gluten-filled dark brownies.

And, they can be dressed up so very easily, to make the kind of brownies you spend lots of money for, at those chi-chi little bakeries.


Oh, trust me. You don't need to add anything to the new line of gluten free baking mixes from Aldi, but if you're of the school of "don't use paint straight from the tube," you can create something almost criminally yummy.  All you need is the mix (and the eggs, butter, and water it calls for), plus 1/2 cup each of coarsely chopped toasted pecans, coarsely chopped dried tart cherries, and semisweet chocolate mini chips.

Follow the instructions on the box, to make the brownie batter. Stir in the nuts, cherries, and chips, pour into brownie pan, and bake as directed on the box. 

It's that simple, and they're this sinful:


Ain't misbehaving. No, really. I ain't. Well, not much, anyway.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Still working on the components for a birthday cake, I needed a plaque upon which to write the birthday wishes.  I had considered doing a second batch of the chocolate sugar cookies, but I had run out of room in the refrigerator and freezer, and the dough for those required lots of room in both. Instead, I went for something I knew my mother would help me eat, so I wouldn't pack on more pounds (after having earned my 9-inch waist shrinkage this past two-year span). Needless to say, shortbread was a fine option, and very forgiving when one makes it with gluten-free flours.  (I use Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour, but Bob's Red Mill also, now, has a GF 1:1 Baking Flour which has a character very much like the wheat-based AP flour)

In case you find shortbread cookies a little on the dry side (it depends upon my mood…and probably some sort of hormonal thing) you can easily frost these with your favorite frosting or icing. I topped the big cookie with my chocolate royal icing, and put the letters on it using wetted meringue powder, painted on with a brush, and then sprinkled with colored sugar.




Tender and Light Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2/3 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or your preferred GF all-purpose flour)
pinch kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325º F. (165º C.).

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or nonstick silicone sheet, ungreased.

In a medium or large mixing bowl, cream the butter (whip it up until it's light and fluffy). Continue to beat and gradually add in the confectioner's sugar, keeping it light and fluffy. At slow speed, mix in cocoa powder, flour, and salt.

When completely mixed, pat into a thick disc and wrap tightly in plastic, chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, to stiffen and temper the dough for shaping.

Remove from refrigerator, place on silicone sheet or parchment, lay a sheet of plastic over the top (it will keep the dough from sticking to fingers or rolling pin), and roll or pat dough to a minimum of 1/4 inch, or a maximum, if you're feeling wild and crazy, of 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into shapes (I like the easy solution: take a large knife and cut the cookies into bars, about 1 inch by 3 inches. But, if you're ambitious, cut them into fancier shapes with actual cookie cutters). If your cookies are on the thicker side, pierce them each a couple times with a fork.

Place about an inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on rack.





Royal Icing of the Chocolate Persuasion

Chocolate Royal Icing for Adult Taste Buds

Ingredients:

4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (Hershey's Special Dark works nicely)
1/4 cup meringue powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Cointreau, or your own favorite orange liqueur
1/3 cup water (plus a little, to reach desired consistency)


Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, mix liqueur and water. Gradually stir or mix into the dry ingredients, until the mixture reaches the consistency of molasses. 

Using an electric mixer, whip until fluffy, like meringue.

This may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, with a sheet of plastic laid over the top to seal it from exposure to air.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Sweetest Political Footballs You'll Ever Taste

This is the award-winning cafeteria cookie that Elyria, Ohio's school district was informed no longer met the federal nutritional standards, and, if served to the students, would cost them their federal funding. (I found the recipe and the pic their local newspaper ran on the subject, and I would usually, enthusiastically, send people to the source, but I found the site had an annoying "answer this survey or share on social media to continue reading" block, so I'm sharing the recipe here, with full graphic).


Were I in their town, I'd make these cookies and sell them at every school event, as a big fund-raiser, in order to replace the cuts in federal support. And, I'd wager, that would earn me enough, in the first month of each school year, to make it really easy to tell Michelle Obama and her federal food fascists to drop dead.


The Elyria pink cookie
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix butter (or margarine), Crisco and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. In separate bowl, mix baking soda and sour cream until baking soda is completely dissolved. Add to butter mixture. In separate bowl, sift flour and salt together. Add to wet batter and mix well. Dough will be sticky and can then be used as drop dough, if desired. If too sticky, add more flour until it can be rolled  ¼-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
FROSTING
1 pound of margarine or butter
6 cups of powdered sugar
1/8 cup of water
Red food coloring
Beat margarine or butter until soft and creamy. Sift powdered sugar and then beat into the margarine/butter a cup at a time until creamy. Beat in water and a few drops of food coloring until smooth. Will frost about 3 dozen cookies.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Best Part of a Carrot: Cake

When your mother tells you that you need to eat more vegetables, and puts carrots on the list,  be happy. They are a food of great virtue, being full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and flavor.

Be especially happy, also, that you can make a darned fine vice out of this virtuous food. My very favorite carrot sin is carrot cake, using the fresh, flavor-filled roots from Pop's garden, made even more decadent by topping it with a lemony cream cheese frosting. (And, it seems, I have a friend in this, because this was exactly the combination requested for a birthday cake, this year.
I happily obliged.)  It is also the one cake Pop – a pie kind of guy – will eat without hesitation or reservation.

This is probably not what your mother meant, though, when she told you to eat more carrots.

On the other hand, the recipe I work from is the one my mother, The Bat, adapted from Joan Nathan's The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, which, as I recall, we found at an auction and now she refuses to surrender to anybody else (even though Bat was raised a Methodist, and I, an agnostic. It would seem our kitchen will forever be nonsectarian).

What The Bat does, now – after years of smudges causing the most important pages of her favorite cookbooks to stick together – is to scan the pages she knows she's likely to use more than a few times, and then put a print-out into a protective sleeve in a ring-binder notebook. Then she puts the original book somewhere safe for posterity. Wherever that is. I, then, ask her if I might use her recipe. She searches through the ring-binders for the specific sleeve, and pulls it out for me.

I do fear the days I need a page while she is not here (and this includes those months when she and Pop go off on their snowbird trips to the desert or the Carolinas). Her mind is well-organized, but I think our library skills are differently arranged. I admit it, now. I'm lazy. I also don't trust my own memory.Which is why I post. Write it, tag it, file it, post it, and let your fingers do the walking through the cookbook pages…the search engine is your friend.

It saves more time for playing in the kitchen.

So, without further fuss, I will file and share my mother's secret recipe, with adaptations included so I can nibble on it in gluten-free bunny bliss.

Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients for the cake:

3 cups sifted flour (if you need gluten-free, I recommend Bob's Red Mill GF 1:1)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups canola oil (or light olive oil)
3 cups fresh, coarsely grated raw carrots
4 large eggs
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped (you can even leave them whole)


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F.(180º C).

Grease (with butter) a 10-inch tube pan and dust it with flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (using the paddle), combine sugar and oil. Mix thoroughly. Add in the carrots, mixing completely, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing completely after each addition.

Fold in the nuts and cranberries, then gradually add in the flour mixture. Blend well.

Pour into tube pan, place in oven.

Bake 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Cool on rack about 20 minutes in pan, then invert and remove from pan onto rack, to cool completely.

When the cake is cooled, start making the frosting:


Ingredients for the frosting:

1 (8 ounce, or 16 Tablespoons) brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter,* also softened
3 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon fresh, finely grated lemon zest

Directions:

Combine cream cheese and butter in mixing bowl, mix until well-creamed and fluffy.

Gradually add in powdered sugar and continue to beat on medium until it reaches desired fluffiness.

Beat in lemon zest and lemon juice. Spread over cake.

(Optional: sprinkle more chopped toasted pecans on top of cake, for decoration)

Slice and serve.


*I don't recommend substitutions in the frosting. If you're trying to cut down on your fats, skip the frosting entirely, or adapt something else in your diet to make allowances for the equivalent of a Pat O'Butter and a dollop o' cream.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sculpting a White Rabbit Carrot Cake with All Sorts of Extras…

I made my last solo effort for a friend's daughter...next year, she will be turning thirteen, and will help design and construct her own cake, pooling our resources. This year, though, she got a rare bit.

I based the form (very loosely) upon the Tenniel drawing from Alice in Wonderland,
and, knowing my own abilities were VERY limited, I simplified more than a little, and still had a major project.

So, she had a magic-themed birthday party, with a white rabbit, playing cards, some Butterbeer...but that's another story. The Cake is what we're all about.


So, to introduce the cake:

It's a hare off-kilter, but that's life.


I'm betting you didn't know the White Rabbit's real name was Julius Caesar. This guy got et, too.

I know, I know – the poor hare looks like he's in the middle of an acupuncture session. I did try, initially, to build a ruffled collar which would also hold the candles, but the royal icing and the meringue options failed, so I was forced, at the last minute, to make a swirly, somewhat lace-topped disc of white chocolate, and didn't have the time or skill to place the candles in it without trashing them in transit, or to put dots of royal icing on it to receive the little sticks of wax upon their arrival at destination. So, we had a poor pitiful pincushion. 

But I imagine he looks quite spiffed up with flames surrounding his adorable meringue bunny ears (they didn't crumble the way so much else of meringue does when I'm under pressure).

For the record, there is quite a variety of foodstuffs involved in the making of this project. I made two cakes: one, in a giant cupcake mold, is a carrot/pecan/cranberry cake. His torso, legs, and head were those parts, carved up a bit to meet the needs of the design. He's leaning against a wall of more carrot cake – this time, gluten-free (substituting Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour for the regular AP flour in the Bat's basic recipe) and fruit-free. He is assembled using two frostings: lemon royal icing (the glue), and lemon/cream-cheese/buttercream frosting (the decoration), both whipped to a fare-thee-well.

His collar is white chocolate, plain and simple, straight from the supermarket, melted in the microwave oven, and shaped on a turntable before chilling. His ears, arms, and trumpet are lemon-flavored meringue. The cards fanning the wall he's leaning upon are chocolate sugar cookies with a basic vanilla royal icing. The large placard is a tender gluten-free chocolate shortbread with a chocolate-cinnamon-Cointreau royal icing. Decorations on card and placard are done using meringue powder wash (a teaspoon of meringue powder mixed thoroughly with 3 tablespoons water), painted on, and then sprinkled with colored sugar.

I did also "spray paint" a few features: the trumpet and the hearts on his jerkin (torso parts). Wilton has some very nice edible paints in cans, and I have enjoyed taking advantage of them for occasional use. I suppose I could have gone over the top and bought some pearl dust, but…maybe next year. They carry a nice, wide variety of decorating products at my favorite boutique, but if you don't live in my region, you can find them all at Hobby Lobby, Michael's, or, of course, Amazon.

In the interim, I hope to eventually get the proper posts up, including the Bat's recipe for carrot cake & the cream cheese frosting, the chocolate shortbread cookie, and the chocolate royal icing. Let me gather my notes and energy, and I'll get right on that.  

Meanwhile, I ended up running out of steam by the end of the day.  My chauffeur (hi, Bat!) arrived a little before the celebrants were ready to approach the cake (they had hot dogs, chips, beans, and a few other picnic foods), and I, having had a very long week, opted to come home right away, rather than to stay and watch the candles lit and blown out. Besides, the party really was for the roomful of tweens. I'd have been the one basking in the glory of the evening, instead of making it about her.   If her grandparents share pictures of the cake or her face all lit up, I hope I can post them, too. 

For now, though, I rest my weary self and enjoy the evening, and hope you'll do the same with your time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Escalloped Edges: Adventures in Comfort Foods

I read the other day that scientists now have definitive proof there is no such thing as "comfort food." Well, I am here to say, right here and now, that scientists can sometimes be kind of stupid.

For starters, it was they who chose which foods qualified, for each test subject, as the comfort food. None of the subjects had the power to decide – and this makes a bit of a difference. After all, what may be comforting to the palate and soul of one person may have little impact on another.

It isn't about the starches and sugars alone (that's what we used to call carbohydrates before everybody decided they wanted to sound more intellectual, even when they really had no clue). It's also about emotional associations, such as the memory of one's grandmother slicing off a slab of fresh baked bread and slathering it with homemade butter. Or one's mother, on a miserably cold January serving up a bowl of tomato soup  and a slice of toast.

And then there is the physiological response one might not otherwise realize should be factored into things, e.g., undiagnosed mild allergies and intolerances may come into play. I get migraines from eating wheat and aged cheeses. I have few problems with fresh dairy, but toss it into a vat, throw in a little fermenter, let it sit around and get hard, combine it with your average semolina pasta, and if I swallow it, I'm a whiny, useless puddle for about two days.

So, if the scientists want me to find a food (other than a slice of lovely gluten-free yeast bread cut warm and slathered with fresh butter) to take the edge off, they could do no better than to serve me escalloped potatoes (I like leaving the original "e" on the front of it. It distinguishes this dish from the seafood to which I am violently allergic. We all find comfort in different ways).

And, since I've been thinking about my favorite comfort food since the moment I first read the article on scientists displaying their silliness, I decided it was time to break down, say, "to heck with rational thought," and pile on the carbs for a day.

Now, there are two ways to make escalloped potatoes: the right way, and the diet way. The right way is simple, clean, and laden with fat, as well as carbs. All you need to do is preheat the oven to 400º F, thinly slice a few potatoes (about 1 cup per person you're serving, or enough to half-fill the dish you're using), chop an onion, butter the heck out of your baking dish, layer the onions and potatoes in the dish, pour enough heavy cream over the top of it to half-cover (about 2 cups, for a 9"x9"x4" casserole. For a larger dish, adjust upward accordingly). Bake for about an hour, until the potatoes in the center are firm, yet tender.

For the less decadent version (but one to fool your taste buds into thinking it's worse for you than it is), I swap out the cream and boost the protein. It goes something like this:

Skinnier Escalloped Potatoes

Ingredients:

4 cups thinly sliced potatoes, skins on
1 medium onion (about 1 cup), sliced thinly, or, if you prefer, chopped finely
1/2 cup chopped ham
1 cup lowfat milk (I like 2%)
1 brick (8 ounces) neufchatel cheese (reduced fat cream cheese)
1 clove roasted garlic, crushed, or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper to taste
butter or butter blend, for greasing the dish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Heavily coat 9"x9"x4" baking dish with butter or butter blend.

Scrub potatoes thoroughly, slice as thinly and evenly as you can (if you have a kitchen mandolin, use the thinnest straight setting it has). Keep in a bowl of very cold water until ready to use.

Slice or chop onions, chop ham.

Place unwrapped cheese in a medium microwave-safe bowl, mash up slightly to spread out, heat on high about 1 minute, until completely softened. Add garlic, pepper, salt. Add approximately 1/4 cup milk, stirring with whisk until completely mixed. Add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk, stirring thoroughly again, until it is smooth and liquid. Stir in remaining milk.

In the baking dish, spread a layer of onion, then drain half the potatoes, spread them evenly over the onions, then sprinkle half the ham evenly over that, and the rest of the potatoes, the rest of the onions, and the rest of the ham over that. Press down to compact it.

Pour the milk/cheese mixture evenly over the whole dish, allowing it to percolate downward.

Place on center rack of hot oven, bake for 1 hour, or until bubbles on top have begun to turn dark brown.

Remove from oven, allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.


It ain't pretty, but it tastes like a hug from Mom…


Note: I, personally, prefer to eat this as leftovers. Like chili, its flavors have more time to steep, so that it usually tastes even better on the second day. I put about a cup of this in a microwave-safe bowl, cover loosely, and heat on high 3 minutes. Let stand in the microwave oven at least 1 minute. Stir, enjoy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For a more contented canine


You know you want to make this big ol' pudding happy, right? And, if you had a chance to make his sister wage her tail, too, you'd probably have no issue with that, either.

Well, this past Christmas, I baked a few batches of doggie treats for Clyde, his sister who lives with my seester and her family, and for the new dog in my other sister's house. Sadly, Clyde's sister did not get her treats, making Bonnie's mood not very bonny. 

So, since the old fogeys are taking a trip out to not so very far away from where my sisters live, they're taking Clyde for a visit, affording me the perfect opportunity to make more treats for them to take along as hostess gifts…or, whatever excuse one needs to give cookies to an eleven-year-old Labrador Retriever.

I'll likely make some treats for my seester and her husband, as well, but I don't think they'll resemble these cookies very much at all, other than there will be no sugar added…

But the process for making doggy cookies is fairly simple: you start with a base dough, add the flavors or effects you want, bake until dry and crunchy, and store in a cool, dry place (or, if you so choose, you can freeze them. If you're doing stinky treats, I highly recommend freezing.)

For very crunchy cookies, the best flour to use is brown rice flour, or simple rice flour. Second best, and very good for stinky treats, is oat flour (if you don't want to spend a huge sum of money, buy some quick oats and run them through your blender/processor a couple of minutes, until they're powdery). If you need them to hold together and have just a hint of gluten in the dough, use a small amount of whole wheat flour (1 cup whole wheat to 2 cups rice or oat flour) to bind it.

Any way you look at it, all you want to start with is flour, egg, liquid, a further binder such as fat or sweet potato, and flavors (fish, bouillon, powdered milk, parsley, etc.). You mix it together until it is a cohesive mass (you can form a ball with the dough), pat it flat, cut it into bite-sized treats with a cookie cutter or just a big knife, pierce halfway with a fork, and bake it in a medium-low oven (325-350º F, or 160-180º C) until they're golden-browned, dry, and crunchy as heck (about 25-40 minutes, depending on size and shape). YOu can cool them on the cookie sheet or on a rack, and then store them away so the dog doesn't eat all of them at once.

I made a batch of breath-freshener treats, (Barkin' Bars) first, today, with added finely grated carrot because Bonnie still seems to not hate them, but I had to go ahead and make more, so here's the stinky batch (a double batch, at that) I baked today.



Stinky cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 Tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
6 Tablespoons chicken fat, chilled firm 
1 can sardines packed in oil
1 egg
1/2 cup water plus more if needed

Directions:
Be sure rack is in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325º F.

In a stand mixer bowl and using a dough hook, combine flour, powdered milk, bouillon. Mix in chicken fat, sardines (oil and all). Mix until the sardines appear as flecks amid crumbs. Add egg, mix completely, then add water, mixing until the dough starts to form a ball.

On a floured surface, pat out the dough into about 1/4 to 1/3-inch thickness, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Pierce each cookie with a fork, about halfway through it (you can pierce all the way if you want, but it's not really necessary. It just helps the middle firm up as quickly as the edges).

Place on large cookie sheet, bake at least 35 minutes, or as long as 50 minutes, until the cookie is lightly browned on all edges, dry and crispy-crunchy even in the centers. Remove from oven, allow to cool, and store in freezer for the sake of your own nose.

But don't forget to give a few to your favorite canine companion before they're all put away.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Moms are peachy keen...so give them a peachy cake like this

Let them eat flowers and stuff

We observe Mother's Day in this house pretty much the same way we observe every other day of the year: enjoy each other's company. This year, though, we  also get to toss in a couple of birthdays (not actually today, but with schedules being what they are, we consolidated).

In light of said natal anniversaries, I got cracking and worked up a cake or two. When I plan cakes for a crowd, I usually try to make one of them gluten-free, just for the heck of it (all right. It's so that, when it works, I can enjoy what everybody else does, and without the unpleasant side effects. So sue me).

At any rate, this was no exception. The only change is that, in going GF, I don't yet have the flour mix right for a fluffy, non-bricklike layer cake not involving chocolate. For some reason, I have no trouble making my chocolate cakes delicate and flavorful, but vanilla or coconut...plenty of flavor, for a doorstop. I suppose I could invest in some big brand-name GF cake flour, but then I'd have to freeze it for those months when I'm not baking birthday cakes…so, no.

Still, the regular people's cake does quite nicely. And I have meds and time, to get over the damage of my misbehaving.

Meanwhile.

It begins with a cake.

Two thick layers of loveliness.
Don't worry. It gets straightened out, eventually.

Embraced by peaches. Again, two thick layers, of neato keen.
This was the gluten free base. It sagged. I suppose I could have used it as a bird bath. The regular cake stayed tall and tender…and then some.

And then there is the fluff. All over. But not store-bought, this is meringue with cha-cha.
Sticky, gooey, fluffy, lighter than a marshmallow simple Italian Meringue with some to spare.

Plus some homemade candied violets.
I recommend getting the help of a young'un or two to pick a large supply of violets, (including a whole mess of white violets, if they grow near you) and use extrafine sugar on them.

All tied together with coconut, in syrup form and toasted flakes.

Mmmmmmm…coconutty! Heh heh!

Here comes the coconutty cake recipe, and the peachy filling recipe. And the meringue frosting recipe. You can click through on the above link for how to make the candied flowers, which can be made as much as two weeks ahead, but DO NOT REFRIGERATE. The cold will cause condensation which will turn the candy sticky rather than crisp, and you will be left with limp, colorless masses of useless carbohydrates of no particular charm.

The cake and coconut, also, may be prepared a day or two in advance, and, in both cases, not chilled. 

The peach filling can be made as much as a day ahead, and kept in the fridge.

The meringue needs to be fresh on the day of serving the cake.

Cake Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (I used powdered, and mixed it with skim milk)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sweetened cream of coconut (Coco Lopez or Coco Reàl will do nicely. Do NOT use light versions. That would be just silly, considering how decadent the cake already is.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2-3 cups unsweetened coconut flakes

Cake Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF, with rack placed in the center.

Grease two DEEP 9-inch cake pans (at least 1 1/2 inch deep), line the bottoms with parchment, and coat parchment and sides of pans with butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt (if you are using buttermilk powder, mix it in here). 

In a small bowl, whisk milk (buttermilk, if you're using the straight stuff) and sour cream together .

In a large stand-mixer bowl, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. With mixer still running on medium, gradually add in the sugar, and beat until creamy and fluffy (at least 5-7 minutes). Add in egg yolks one at a time, beating them in completely before adding the next. Then mix in coconut cream and vanilla.

Keeping mixer running on low, add in 1/4 of the dry ingredients, allow it to fully mix in, then add about 1/4 of the milk/sour cream mixture and be sure to allow it to fully mix in. Add another 1/4 of the dry, mix in, then the milk…repeat this process until the whole thing is completely combined.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until light and fluffy, forming firm, moist peaks. Gently fold this into the large bowl of batter. 

When it is all mixed together, divide batter between the two prepared cake pans. Place on middle rack of oven. Bake at least 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven but LEAVE THE OVEN ON.  Allow to cool on a rack, in pans, for ten minutes, then remove from pans to continue to cool. When they are completely cool (daddy-oh!), you may wish to take a long serrated knife and trim to make it flat and even. For myself, I don't mind a little hummock to build upon. If you are not frosting this right away, cover loosely with plastic or put in cake box and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a jelly-roll pan (a sided cookie sheet), evenly spread coconut flakes. Place on center rack of oven. Bake 12-15 minutes, stirring once at about midpoint, until golden brown and toasty.

Remove from oven, cool. Set aside for end stages of decorating.



Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup peach preserves
2 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed (or 3 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled and pitted) cut into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon peel (optional)


Filling Directions:

In a small saucepan on low to medium heat, melt the peach preserves.

In large bowl, mix peaches, sugar, lemon juice and peel, add liquid peach preserves, stir to cover. Allow to stand. After a few minutes, drain away liquids. (If you are preparing ahead, allow the liquid to stay until just before you apply peaches to the layers of the cake.) If you want, you can use the liquid in a nice drink, with a little of your cream of coconut and some rum…get creative!



Meringue Frosting Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 Tablespoons corn syrup
3 Tablespoons water
5 large egg whites, room temperature

Meringue Frosting Directions:

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, plus corn syrup and water. Using a brush dipped in water, brush down any granules of sugar which might have been clinging to the sides of the pan. Place candy thermometer in pan so that it does not touch the bottom of the pan. On medium to medium-high heat, WITHOUT STIRRING as it heats, bring to a boil and continue to heat until it comes to 238ºF, or soft ball stage (when you drop a small bit of the mixture into a glass of  cool water, it forms a ball as it sinks to the bottom. But use a thermometer. It's much more effective a gauge of whether the syrup is ready).

At the same time you are boiling  the syrup, in a VERY clean LARGE stand mixing bowl with no residue (oils and fatty substances will keep the egg whites from whipping up all fluffy. I have read that some bakers rinse out their bowls with vinegar & then dry with paper towels, before whipping their egg whites, just to be sure), begin to beat the egg whites on medium-high speed. As the egg whites begin to become more frothy, sprinkle in 2 Tablespoons sugar, while continuing to whip until they are at soft peak.. You may be finished with this process a little before the syrup is ready. That is not a problem. The other way around, however…no.  So, if the syrup is heating too quickly, lower the temp a little (very little).

When the eggs are ready and the syrup reaches temperature, set the mixer at medium to high speed and pour syrup in a thin stream into the egg whites. Don't scrape the pan – just let what wants to come out, come out. Scraping may cause crystals to form in the fluff, and you don't need that.

Keep whipping the fluff on medium to high until it cools down to lukewarm (about 7-10 minutes).



Assembly:

As soon as the meringue is cool enough to handle, you'll want to assemble the cake, before the frosting begins to set up.

Place your bottom layer of cake in the center of the plate (or, if you have one, a decorator's turntable covered with parchment) in the middle of a large jelly-roll pan. Spoon a layer of drained peaches onto the cake layer, covering it completely. Pile on a generous amount of meringue frosting, spread evenly. Top with next layer of cake, cover with peaches, completely cover that with meringue. Slather meringue on sides of cake as thickly as you like it, and don't worry about crumbs showing through – you'll be pressing small handfuls of toasted coconut all around those sides. Be aware, the coconutting process is, by its very nature, an untidy one, which is why I suggest not skipping the jelly-roll pan. It will catch the flakes which don't immediately stick to the frosting, rather than letting them fall on the placemat – or, worse, the carpet. Scoop those fallen flakes up from the cookie sheet and add 'em to the next spot. 

If you have candied flowers, use them on top (or, if you have lots of them, stick them also amid the coconut on the sides, too). If you have no flowers, you can coat the top of the cake with more coconut, or you can leave it looking all yummy and fluffy on its own.

Cover without refrigerating. Will keep for up to 2 days, but is best served within an hour of finishing.

Four moms happy, two of them also satisfied with this as a birthday cake.

Note: I made a double batch of peach filling and meringue, as well as extra toasted coconut because I like to use it in other things. I layered the frosting on the sides of both cakes – regular and GF – rather sparingly, because I knew this was going to be a sweet cake, and I didn't need to make that overpowering. Therefore, I had about a pint of fluff left over, which I carefully spooned into a pair of pretty half-pint jars and sent off with a birthday girl, so she can use it to make fluffernutter sandwiches (or fluffernutellas, as she hinted she might) on toast. This is always an option with spare fluff.

If, on the other hand, you're not a big fan of fluff, you can replace the frosting with simple sweetened whipped cream or whipped coconut milk. But then you need to refrigerate the cake once it's assembled, and our fridge refuses to accommodate all that. It says it has enough stuff in it already.



Any way you look at this, though, you should eat it right away. It's too good not to.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stumped for Ideas for Another Birthday Cake? We're In for a Treet!

For the young'uns close to me, I usually bake two birthday cakes – one for the family dinner, and one to feed to the kids who come to the separate party. The family cake is designed to appeal to the adults. I don't take shortcuts for those.

buzzzzz
This spring's cake, for example, was a gluten-free bumblebee sponge cake slathered in a rich, dark, whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache and decorated with cheery strawberry cream cheese candies. Granted, the candies aren't exactly no-frills, but Asteroidae enjoyed making them, so they were a "must-use" item on the cake, as well. And they served very nicely to hold the candles.
have a piece!
But when it comes time to make the one for the boys' overnight party, they care less about the substance of the cake, and more about style. For this, I usually throw together a mix, or, in this case, two boxes of Aldi's house-brand chocolate cake mix. After that, it's all about the brown sugar meringue mushrooms, vanilla wafer cookie lichen, gummi worms, bugs, & slugs in a mass of cookie crumb dirt... & a double batch of frosting.... 
in the garden of eatin'

I did drag out my little can of green food coloring spray mist to give it that final, slightly mossy effect, and allowed my assistant (the birthday boy's older sister, Asteroidae) to strategically place a couple of candy slugs where they could be seen before cutting into the cake (look for the little green wormy thing near the bottom of the frame, above).


I didn't realize chocolate was a grain…

The center 2 layers of the cake had been hollowed out using my largest biscuit cutter to take out all but the 1 1/2 inches around the outside, and those cut-out pieces were used in two ways: first, I set aside 5 crescents of varying sizes, for the exterior – the "root" bumps; second, I had Asteroidae gently crumble the remainder of the cut-outs and mix it, in a very large bowl, into the Oreo crumbs. Into that, we stirred a mess of gummi worms, bugs, and slugs. Dirt, bugs, slugs, & worms...in a cake!


the cake spills its guts

And there was plenty of dirt and worms mixture left over to serve up outside the cake, as well, since I used an entire bag of cookies, plus a pound of gummi worms, plus more bugs & slugs. The yard-apes had a blast with it! 
Bugs? Bugs! IS THAT A SPIDER? AWESOME!