Monday, August 8, 2011

Stop 24: Texas Sheet Cake

A friend of mine who lives in Templeton, Mass. (wherever the heck that is) had a BBQ last week so we could all get together with another friend who was in town visiting.  For simplicity's sake, I will tell you their names.  Jenna is the one who lives in the middle of nowhere, and Sarah was the one visiting.  That's better.

Jenna, Sarah and I went to grad school together and are all school librarians.  It's a pretty wild time when we all get together.  Jenna and Sarah are both native Virginians, but last year, Jenna saw the light and moved back up here with her fiance (Adam), who I like.  Sarah was living in Virginia (which is for lovers), but in a few weeks is making a huge move to Texas.  She will be living in a town midway between Austin and San Antonio and now I have a reason to go to Austin to visit (I've always wanted to go to Austin).

Now that you have the backstory, I should probably get on to the cake.  Since Sarah is moving to Texas, it seemed like a perfect time to make a Texas sheet cake.  I had had a Texas sheet cake once before when a coworker brought one in and knew it was a good cake for feeding a lot of people.  It was a good sized BBQ too, which was good because now that I've been to Templeton and know where Templeton is and know I will never be returning to Templeton, it was nice to be able to bring a cake that would feed all of Jenna and Adam's friends, who were nice.

Texas sheet cake is a chocolate cake with chocolate icing that is big and sweet and Brown says, a good way to feed a crowd.  Brown says that the recipe is sometimes attributed to Lady Bird Johnson, but he couldn't find any record of a recipe of her's for it, so I'm not sure where it came from.

The recipe itself calls for pretty traditional ingredients.  It's a buttermilk cake, and calls for brandy, which I subbed bourbon for because I had bourbon and not brandy and it was only a tablespoon.  I made the chocolate pecan icing, which I used walnuts for instead because the mediocre Star Market next to my house had no pecans at all.  I used walnuts for the icing and the candied nuts that went on top.  Those were yummy.  I wasn't super impressed with the icing because I didn't feel like it ever really set, which was the same issue I had with the icing for the sauerkraut cake.  I might not be beating it long enough, or it might have to do with the humidity, which has been rampant recently.

The cake itself baked up nicely and was very moist.  It combined with the icing and candied nuts was very, very sweet, but that's what a dessert is for, right?  I thought it came out well and was tasty, though, as I mentioned above, I was disappointed with the icing and might try a different one if I did it again.  All the people who actually eat dessert seemed very pleased with it.


candied walnuts
Sarah and her Texas cake 
Clayton, Jenna and Sarah looking creepily salaciously at the cake 
and now with looks of deep admiration 

Next Stop: Ohio Cassata Cake

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stop 23: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

So, all I know about St. Louis is that it is in Missouri, there is an arch there, beer is cheaper than it is here, and I'm pretty sure the Mississippi River is involved, though I'm not 100% sure on that one.  Missouri is one of those strange "middle-of-the-country" states that awes me because even though I've seen them on maps and met people "from" them, I'm really not completely convinced in their reality.  What I do believe in though, is gooey butter cake.

My friend Anne, who is from the aforementioned "St. Louis," recently got married (to a guy from Pennsylvania, but I believe in Pennsylvania - they have airport hubs there), and at the wedding, they gave away St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake as a thank you gift.  When Anne first told me this I imagined all her mom's friends slaving over hot ovens in July and then delicately transporting hundreds of ooey, gooey cakes from the midwest to Massachusetts and putting them into our greedy hands.  What actually happened is that somebody bought a bunch of Gooey Louie cakes in bulk and put them in pretty boxes for us.  So now I know one more thing about St. Louis: they have prepackaged gooey butter cakes so you can take them home from 7/11 with you after a long day at work.  And the St. Louis area code is 314.

Brown presents gooey butter cake as one of the two Missouri cakes (the other is 7-Up Pound Cake).  He explains that what makes it so gooey is that it's basically a butter cake with a cheesecake poured on top and then baked together.  Because of this, the cheesecake topping seeps in and down the sides and makes the rest of the cake, which is already rich and delicious, pretty gooey.

I guess the gooey butter cake was first invented by a guy named Johnny Hoffman who accidentally added the wrong proportion of ingredients to a cake and ended up with baked, but gooey cakes.  The problem wasn't the gooey-ness, it was that he liked them so much that he wanted to be able to recreate them, but didn't know what he had done.  He called in his friend Richard Danzer and together they came up with what is now known as St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. And we thank them.

I baked these last week in honor of a BBQ I was going to be attending with some cousins.  Who else to inundate with overly sugary, fatty goodness than family?!

As mentioned above, these are literally made with two separate batters.  First you make a butter cake recipe with butter, shortening, buttermilk, vanilla bean seeds, some flour, sugar, milk, eggs, baking powder and salt.  Once that is mixed up and in the cups (I made cupcakes), you then mix together cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, eggs, and milk.  Brown also gave variations to add to the cheesecake mixture.  I did half chocolate (which involved adding melted bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, and some more butter), and half with peanut butter (for that you just added peanut butter).

Brown said the recipe would yield 18 cupcakes, but I got about 26 out of it.  I assume either I was using smaller cupcake tins than he was, or I did something wrong (either option is a possibility).  The cheesecake topping was also really soupy, almost pure liquid, which was a bit weird, and I ended up with a lot more of it leftover than I expected.  Basically, by the time I put these things in the oven, I was pretty sure they were going to be a bust and I was going to be showing up to the BBQ with a store-bought cake and a scowl.

I was wrong though!  They came out awesome.  The top set right at the same time that the bottoms were cooked through and the result was literally a gooey cake that was rich and sweet and delicious.  The peanut butter version were definitely the better option of the two, but I had no problem moving either flavor.  In fact, there were about eight of us at this BBQ, and I came home with two cupcakes, and those were mostly because I ran away with them before they were absconded with.

The pictures are subpar because they were taken outside at night with an iPhone, but you should get the idea.


Next Stop:  Texas sheet cake!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Summer Dinner

In my world summer equals grilling.  It hasn't always been that way; growing up we had an old gas grill which did its duty once or twice a summer.  Through the years though, summer cooking has become synonymous with firing up the grill and using it to its fullest.  Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while are familiar with the my grilled apple cake , my niece's second birthday cake, and of course we've been known to whip out the grill at odd times of year to create a plethora of grilled Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas roasts (most of which have caught the grill on fire at one point or another).  I think the grill fascination came mostly when my mother retired from a job she'd been at for many, many years and as a gift they gave her a beautiful six-burner Weber gas grill which was installed on the deck at the house on the Cape with a direct line to the gas in the house.  All of a sudden having access to a grill whenever you needed it, and with very little difficulty involving making it go, made the idea of grilling far more appealing and accessible.  Thus was born the summer=grill phenomenon in my world.  It kills me because I don't have a grill at home.  Of course, I don't have the beach three miles away at home either, so there are lots of things bringing me down here.

Anyway, the dinner we've created today is an example of the perfect summer meal in my eyes.  Fresh ingredients, some of them even local (I try!), turned into dishes made from scratch.  We did use the oven a bit for this one, but mostly, the grill was used to its fullest to make a meal of new and delicious delicacies!

Dinner tonight was brought to us by the color green (you know, like on Sesame Street, the numbers and the Count, you know what I'm talking about...).  July brought the grilling issue of Bon Appetit and everything in it looked amazing.

For this meal, we made three recipes from the magazine:
Green Shawarma Salmon,
Celery, Apple and Fennel Slaw,
and Cilantro-Scallion Bread

For dessert, a blueberry cake on the grill.

The cilantro scallion bread is a funny recipe.  It's a yeast dough that you make like a pastry dough.  You start by proofing the yeast with sugar and water, but while you're doing that, you cut butter into flour.  It was a bit counterintuitive.  After it had risen for an hour, you rolled the dough out and filled it with a mixture of cilantro, scallions, sesame seeds (it called for white and black, but I could only find white, so I did white and some toasted), and olive oil.  Then you rolled it up, cut it into 3/4" slices and laid them flat on a baking sheet where they were brushed with even more oil and then baked.  They were really good. Needed a bit more salt, but were really good.

(sorry about the sideways photo)

The next recipe was the Apple, Celery and Fennel Slaw.  BA advertised this as their updated version of Waldorf Salad, and while the thought (and crunch) was there, my father disagreed that it really took anything from the original Waldorf Salad.  That, for the most part though, is because my father loves all things mayonnaise and I think became fearful that we were going to start replacing all his mayo favorites with light olive oil vinaigrettes (we're not).  I would happily say this salad was inspired by the original, but maybe not a replacement of.  

This salad was also incredibly good and gave us a chance to use the brand spanking new mandoline to cut everything very, very thin.  The mandoline we still need to work on, but it did speed up the process significantly.  My only recommendation for the slaw off what they say in the recipe would definitely be to let it sit for at least a few hours before serving.  It didn't say anything about time in the recipe, so we made it just a half hour before and the leftovers definitely tasted better the next day.

It was pretty too (and green): 

The final BA recipe was the Green Shawarma salmon.  This also came out really well and much better than it happens to look in the picture below.  It basically involved blending a while bunch of cilantro with a whole bunch of olive oil and a whole bunch of spices (coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger).  Then you spred the marinade on the fish and let it rest for a few hours.  BA said that you were supposed to flip the fish while cooking which, I think, is why their picture looks so different from mine.  Either that or I did something wrong.  Either way, it was tasty.  And also super tasty the next day when cold.

Finally for the anomaly of the meal, the Blueberry Cake dessert.  The blueberry cake was the same recipe as the aforementioned grilled apple cake, but with blueberries rather than apples.  I don't know if it's the grill or it's just that some baking master is hanging out at the Weber kitchen writing recipes, but this cake is beyond good.  It's fluffy and dense and light and moist.  It has all thing going for it that a cake should have going for it.  If you have a grill, MAKE THIS CAKE, you will not be disappointed.  And if you are disappointed, please bring it to my house and I will eat it.  Thank you.

So that was our green-inspired, Bon Appetit and Weber discovered summer meal.  It was light, tasty and didn't heat up or stink up the house.  If I could eat like that every night, I would...