Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stop 19: Michigan Sauerkraut Cake

Remember how in the last post I vowed I was going to make the Lane cake next?  Well, it seems I lied.  I made the chocolate sauerkraut cake instead.  Oh yes, you heard me right, sauerkraut.  In a cake.  And you know what?  It wasn't half bad...

A few weeks ago I did the first recipe from Michigan, the Rice Krispies treats.  They were harmless and delicious.  This weekend, I was on the Cape, enjoying Memorial Day Weekend in beach-style when we (my mother and I) were challenged to a Scrabble game.  This is not an infrequent occasion with my mother and myself, nor the people who made the challenge.  It did seem to call for something exotic though, and since one of our challengers hasn't seemed to be able to get enough of sauerkraut recently, I decided to whip this little doozy up.  Of course, she hasn't been able to get enough of sauerkraut on hot dogs.  And sandwiches.  And other places where sauerkraut normally belongs.  And isn't disgusting.

In the book, Brown said that when looking for cakes that represent Michigan, he, unsurprisingly, came across a lot of recipes with German and Polish roots.   One that came up a lot was paczki, which is something like a doughnut.  Since it wasn't really a cake (and he knew I would never be able to deep fry anything), he kept looking, and eventually came across this cake.  

Brown's explanation for why sauerkraut makes sense in a cake is that it, "provides bulk in the batter and reacts with the baking soda to give more height to the cake.  Once it's baked into the cake, the texture of sauerkraut mimics that of shredded coconut..."  I found the first part of that reasoning to be untrue. though I did use a square pan that was larger than the round pan called for because we didn't have any round pans (what you'll find at the Cape house is always a bit of a mystery), and the second part to be completely true.  Not only did it take on the consistency of coconut, but it even tasted like it once you convinced yourself that was what was in it.

Brown's recipe called for the chocolate whole egg buttercream, but I didn't have it in me to make a meringue and deal with a hot stove, so I made the same old fashioned chocolate buttercream as I used on the Coca-Cola cake.  It never set up enough to make me happy, which probably had to do with the humidity (which was high).  

As far as how it tasted went, well, it tasted good.  I mean, for one thing, it was a cake filled with butter, eggs, sugar and sour cream, so really, how bad could it be.  As for the sauerkraut itself, you certainly couldn't taste that it was pickled cabbage.  There was no vinegar or cabbage flavor to it at all.  The consistency was a but like stringy coconut, which I didn't love, but everyone who tried it thought it was outstanding.  And the cake itself was dense and moist and everything a cake should be.  We didn't tell anyone what the secret ingredient was and made them guess.  One assumption was carrots, which I think was a good guess.  The best part was that my nine-year-old nephew, who normally won't touch anything that isn't "normal," asked if there was really cabbage in it and when discovered that there was, continued to eat it and even allowed that he liked it.  Though that might have had to do with the cake and it might just have had to do with him growing up.  Either way, I'll take it...

Here are some pics of it all dressed up.  There are still some pieces in the freezer if anyone wants to try it...

Next we're going off-book and taking a trip back in time to my New England youth...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stop 18: Georgia Coca-Cola Cake

Whenever I think of Georgia, I automatically think of the opening theme song to Designing Women.  I believe that Designing Women might be one of the best sitcoms ever aired on television.  I wept when Dixie Carter died and I once saw Annie Potts on Broadway.  She was playing a Chinese woman and the whole thing was terribly inappropriate, but it satisfied a long-unknown dream of seeing one of the women from Designing Women in person.  Magical, it was.

I digress.  Whenever I think of Georgia, I automatically think of Designing Women first, and then of Coca-Cola second.  Atlanta and Coke have been synonymous forever.  Especially since the Braves got over being the best thing in baseball.  It seems that Warren Brown also thought of Coca-Cola when thinking about Atlanta because that is the cake he allotted to Georgia.  No peach pie, no sweet tea trifle, nope, just a good, old-fashion Coca-Cola Cake.  And it turns out that the Coke cake is pretty old fashioned.  People have been experimenting with with Coke in recipes, both sweet and savory, pretty much since the stuff was bottled and available in the home.  Brown references a recipe to Coca-Cola chicken wings that I think sound delicious and might just have to try sometime (depending on how much frying is involved, me being me and all...).

The Coca-Cola cake was pretty standard, flour, butter, sugar, cocoa powder, etc.  It also called for mini marshmallows, which meant it was hellish to tell when it was cooked through (though, this might also have had something to do with my oven shutting off three times during the baking process).  (I hate my oven.)  Instead of any sort of leavening powder or the whatnot, the recipe called for a cup of good, old fashioned Coca-Cola.  That left me with 12 oz in the bottle, which I gave to a very confused co-worker on Monday morning.

As I mentioned above, the marshmallows and stupidity of the oven made it slightly difficult to tell when the cake was baked and I wasn't overwhelmed with the texture when it did come out.  I can't blame the recipe as much as the circumstance in this area though.  That being said, the icing was incredible.  And this is from a girl who doesn't like icing.  It was an Old-Fashioned Chocolate Buttercream and I swear, it was amazing.  Or at least, the two bites I had were.

As for the reception.  It went over quite well at the potluck.  One dinner attendent said that she liked it and could really tast the Coke in it.  The others then spent some time convincing her that she couldn't really taste the Coke in it at all, and then we progressed to a conversation about whether or not Victorian women talked about sex while needlepointing the day away.  We left split on that.

Next Stop: Alabama Lane Cake.  I want to make the Lane Cake before all the students are done reading To Kill a Mockingbird, since it's referenced in there.  But, since the reference is to how much liquor is in it, I will not be bringing this one to work...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stop 17: Hawaiian Coconut Cupcakes

Of course Rice Krispies Treats weren't enough.  I had to make cupcakes too!  I've also been on a totally weird wanting coconut kick, so the fact that the Hawaiian recipe happened to be a coconut recipe, totally fit the bill.

Hawaii is actually far more known as a producer of macadamia nuts and pineapple in the commercial world, but coconut, being a fun baking ingredient, is where Brown opted to go.

The coconut flavor in these cupcakes is from coconut milk and coconut oil, the latter of which I had never even heard of before, let alone baked with.  I called Whole Foods before I bothered getting on my bike to make sure they'd have it and they did.  It's a weird oil because it's hard and not solid like shortening, but hard and you kind of have to chip it out of the jar.  I needed a quarter-cup and used the water measuring technique my mom showed me years and years ago, filling a measuring cup with a half-cup of water and then adding the coconut oil until the water level reached 3/4 cup.  It sure beats trying to shove greasy, hard oil into a measuring cup.  Because the recipe called for the so the coconut oil, it called for very little butter (just about three tablespoons).  This made me wonder about experimenting with recipes to make pareve (no dairy or meat) desserts more tasty.

The cupcakes baked very nicely.  They were topped with an "Old-fashioned Tangy Buttercream," which uses a similar method as the old fashioned buttercream from the Red Velvet  and Hartford Election cakes, but with buttermilk instead of regular milk.  The icing didn't quite come together as well as I would have liked it to originally.  I think the milk mixture was still too warm when I added it to the creamed butter-sugar mixture, so the butter melted a little, but it all firmed up in the fridge.  I liked the icing, but I think I would go for something more tropical with these cupcakes in the future.

The cupcakes themselves were very good.  Or so I've been told.  My father said the cake was a bit dry, but the icing was good, but then he managed to eat the third cake I brought over (and decided not to eat because I'm me), meaning that he'd eaten two in a space of about 10 minutes.  It seems that men never do outgrow that garbage disposal period they go through in high school.  I have a bunch left for the pot luck.  Maybe I'll try one then.

 Next Stop:  I'm not 100% sure, but I think I'm going to attempt the Smith Island Cake for the End of the World Party on Friday.  We'll see!

Stop 16: Michigan Rice Krispies Treats

As you can see, we've deviated a bit from the straight and narrow trip south that we were so pleasantly heading on before.  Actually, what am I talking about?  We went from New York to Vermont to Delaware to Kentucky before this.  Never mind.  As expensive as baking is, if this were a real trip, I'd be way out of money by now.  Have you seen the price of gas recently?

Anyway, back to it.  I think I have looked at the east coast/south recipes too often because the idea of making any of them this weekend was terribly unappealing.  I wanted to make something to have when people came over on Saturday night (for the second week in a row-I'm a regular hostess-with-the-mostess!), and that would transfer well to the pot-luck on Tuesday, where, I hope they're okay with leftovers yet again.

Rice Krispies Treats were the perfect answer.  For one thing, they're easy.  For another, they're EASY.  For a third, I am the one person you've probably ever heard of who has messed up Rice Krispies Treats in the past.  Yeah, for some reason, they always seem to come out dry.  Knowing me, I probably don't put in enough butter.  I do like to make everything as low-fat as possible, but that seems like a bit much, even for me.

It turns out the reason we get to make Rice Krispies Treats in Michigan is because Mildred Day, an employee at the Kellogg Company (based in Battle Creek, Michigan), created them to sell at a fund-raiser for a Campfire Girls Group.  They were first featured on a Rice Krispies box in 1941 and have been showing up ever since.

Because Brown likes to mix it up, he gave two alternative recipes to the traditional treat.  One involved grinding dehydrated strawberries into a powder and mixing it in with the marshmallow and butter mixture.  The other was adding a chocolate/cream mixture and adding that in.  I thought the strawberry version sounded downright disgusting and as for the chocolate, I had a much better alternative.

I made the treats and they came out very well.  Soft and chewy and just buttery enough.  Perfect.  I left half of them plain and put them aside.  The other half I decided to dress up in my own special way.  Along the lines of the paradise brownies from last week, first I smothered them in a peanut butter powdered sugar concoction and then I covered that in a dark chocolate ganache.  I left everything set in between and they came out really well.  Oh, I also dumped some leftover Reese's Pieces on top, because, well, come out.  How could I not?

 They really did come out gluttonously delicious.

I also made Coconut Cupcakes because I like to overdo it.  Those are up next!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stop 15: Massachusetts Boston Cream Pie (+)

Remember last year this time?  It was Mother's Day, which always falls on the same week as my grandmother, sister-in-law and mother's birthdays.  So, every year, I make a cake.  Now, if you knew my grandmother, you would know that she is 92 years old, quite smitten with her great grandchildren (to put it extremely mildly), and likes Boston Cream Pie.  I know this last fact because every time we are anywhere where there is Boston Cream Pie, she tells me that it's her favorite dessert and I think that, damn it! when you're 92, you should get your favorite dessert on every birthday.  I would give it to her every day, but she wouldn't eat it, she's convinced she has to watch her diet. When I'm 92, I'll be hitting the tanning beds and bourbon bottle more than just on Derby day, but to each their own.

OK, so I made the Boston Cream pie according to Brown's recipe, and to be honest, I didn't love it.  I didn't actually eat the cake, and it seemed like it came out alright, but it took an awfully long time to cook.  My issue was much more with the pastry cream.  The recipe I used last year, was much easier, and came out much better.  I also found the ganache from last year's recipe to come out a lot better as well.  Anyway, the cake was a big success regardless of what I thought.  I don't think I'll be recreating it, since I've had better success elsewhere, but everyone who actually ate it thought it was quite good.  I just wish the pastry cream would have set better...  Oh well.

Oh right, the detour in PARADISE!

Because of the aforementioned multitude of birthdays, it was requested that something chocolate and peanut butter be created for the occasion as well.  I was a little pouty about it because I couldn't think of anything and had so much on my baking plate, but then I found these!

I decided to make them.  And they, like the cake, did not come out physically as well as I would have liked, but they tasted like a slightly absurdly good version of awesome.  I used brownies from a mix and they didn't cook evenly for some reason which meant that the ones in the middle had extra gooey bottoms (really not much of an issue).  My peanut butter didn't firm up as much as I'd have liked, and the chocolate firmed up a bit too much, which made the cutting a little bit difficult.  But hey, I'm a perfectionist.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Stop 14: Kentucky Derby Cake

I know that at the end of the last post I said I would make the New Jersey ice box cake next, but I guess I lied.  The Kentucky Derby came along and I just couldn't pass up the chance to make a cake called the Kentucky Derby Cake that was soaked in a bourbon sugar syrup.  Who could pass that up?  Of course, then I realized that I needed an occasion at which the cake would be eaten and since bringing a bourbon-soaked cake to a middle school seemed wrong, I threw an accidental party.  It was accidental because more people said they'd attend than I expected.  It was a party because we played Apples to Apples.  And there was cake.

This cake was based on a traditional derby pie, which I guess is chock full of nuts, chocolate and fatty goodness.  Brown took that recipe and translated into a "rich buttermilk cake glazed with chocolate and candied nuts that should keep us safely beyond the reach of the long arm of the law."  The cake was pretty easy to make, though there were a few different steps to it that made it seem complicated.  It has nuts in it as well as on it.  The recipe starts by toasting the nuts to be baked into the cake (the cake has nuts and chocolate chips in it).  Then you make the cake, which is a buttermilk-y, egg-filled bundt of goodness.  

While it's baking (at Brown's ever-favorite 335 degrees), you make the candied nuts, which involves making sugar syrup.  I should probably have made the sugar syrup earlier, but in true me-fashion, I don't read recipes in advance!!  To make the nuts, you mix the walnuts (or pecans, your choice), sugar syrup, salt, turbinado sugar, and bourbon together and bake them for a while.  While those are baking, you might as well go ahead and make the syrup you're going to drench the cake in.  That calls for butter, sugar, water and more bourbon! 

Brown didn't specify whether the syrup was supposed to be poured on the cake while it was hot or after it was cooled, so I did it when the cake had been out of the oven for a while, but was still a bit warm.  Here is the biggest piece of advice I can offer you about this cake: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE THE CAKE AFTER SOAKING IT IN SYRUP.  Yeah, I did that and I almost lost the entire thing.  I managed to save it and luckily, there was a chocolate glaze to cover the cracks with.  The chocolate glaze was the only thing involved in this cake that didn't have bourbon in it, by the way.  

So, after all the steps and all the recipes and all the bourbon, the cake was beautiful.  Eventually, the house was also clean and the people arrived (with food!), and the derby party, sans horses and races, started and was a marvelous success!  The cake was quite tasty, incredibly rich and definitely vault-worthy.


Next Stop: Massachusetts Boston Cream Pie (with a stop in chocolate peanut butter paradise)!