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cake

Stephen Colbert Americone Dream Cake

melted ice cream cake from The Cake Mix Doctor

CakeDecorated2

This post will just make it look like all I do is bake sweets, which isn’t true. I sometimes cook them on the stovetop, like peanut brittle. More seriously, I have been cooking some savory food, but it’s the holiday season and that means parties and festivity, and that means that like as not my contribution will be dessert.

IngredientsForCake

Oh, by the way, holiday party? That’s not an accidental phrasing. I support the secularized holiday season because it lets all of us revel in light as the dark nights draw in, not just a select few. I believe in the open, inclusive approach to this time of the year, when several holidays are taking place (one starting this very night). I think the fact that a wide variety of cultural traditions converge on the idea of a festive season of light and giving says a lot about our common humanity. I don’t give much credit to the idea of a war on Christmas, though the commercialization of it is a real if not especially new problem.

BatterInPan

As it happens, I was invited to a holiday party largely made up of humanists and skeptics, and we had a marvelous time full of good will and good cheer. I wanted to contribute something that would be fun and memorable but also easy to prepare, so I turned to The Cake Mix Doctor and flipped quickly to the recipe for Melted Ice Cream Cake. It’s very simple indeed: in a mixing bowl combine a box of white cake mix, three eggs, and a melted pint of superpremium ice cream of your choice. I considered New York Super Fudge Chunk but thought the chunks might be a problem for the mixer; I considered chocolate but wasn’t sure it would be distinctive. Then I spotted a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream, and thought, hey! I am cake and so can you!

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I mixed the ingredients together and poured them into a greased, floured Bundt pan, which went into the oven for about 50 minutes. I let it cool for 20 minutes, as instructed, then turned the cake out, which was tricky and didn’t go perfectly; I ended up with a small bit sticking to the pan, leaving a little divot on the top. Well, that’s what frosting is for.

MixedFrosting

The frosting recipe is from this cookbook as well: chocolate cream cheese frosting. It’s also easy: powdered sugar, vanilla, butter, cream cheese, cocoa. I spread it on the cake, using my offset spatula to try to shape and sculpt it a bit, then sprinkled on some gold dragees for a festive look.

SlicingTheCake

People liked it. It was most and tasty. My only complaint was that I ate way too much at the party, but that’s nobody’s fault but my own.

The Classic Carrot Cookbook: Cake Wrecks Edition

sour cream carrot cake

CakeWreckThe Classic Carrot Cookbook is a 1982 production of the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs. It’s plastic-comb bound (orange comb and cover, of course) and set in Courier type that may have been printed from a word processor, but may have been produced on the small-type ball of an IBM Selectric. The copy I have was sent by a friend; it’s a thrift-store find and she sent it for my GratingCarrotsRecipes of the Damned collection, largely because of recipes like ‘Nana Salad (colby cheese, canned pineapple, carrots, gelatin and bananas, to name but a few ingredients) and Bugs Bunny Bake (carrots and Velveeta).

I leafed through this book on several occasions, hoping I could find something I’d be willing to eat that I could cook in warmer PeelingBlanchedAlmondsweather (boeuf en daube was out), and wondering if I would be taking the easy way out by making carrot cake. No, I decided; I’ve never actually made carrot cake, so it’s not cheating to do what seems like the obvious thing.

Clearly I had no idea what I was in for.

GroundBlanchedAlmondsI bear some of the blame. I didn’t read the recipe through with complete attention before I began cooking, so I didn’t realize some of the problems until it was too late to choose something else. It seemed straightforward at a glance: divide 7 eggs, grate carrots, grind up some almonds, mix it all together with sugar and spice and lemon juice and flour. The sour cream would be part of CakeIngredsa cooked topping, a sort of sour cream custard that looked simple enough. So I went about my day and got caught up in various tasks, and finally started cooking, only to realize that I had some time-consuming things to do for this cake. If I had made the cake in the morning I could have dealt with some of this more smoothly; of course I also wouldn’t have gotten out of the apartment until EggSugarAt2Minsafter 2, so there are always tradeoffs.

The first time-suck was the almonds. I needed blanched ground almonds. Two and a half cups worth. Have you ever blanched almonds? It’s pretty simple: pour boiling water over your (shelled) almonds and let them sit for a few minutes, then drain, and slip off the skins, which EggsSugarAt4Minsshould come off easily when you rub the nuts in your fingers. There are a lot of almonds in enough to make two and a half cups of ground almonds, and slipping off the skins takes time, especially if it takes you a while to figure out that if a given almond is refusing to shed its skin you should set it aside to blanch again, not work hard at it. Finally I had the almonds peeled and AddedCarrotsput them into the food processor to grind. I pulsed repeatedly, anxious to get fine crumbs and not almond butter. After a bit, the food processor stopped working. I checked the plug; I checked the little lip on the container that needs to be engaged for the machine to run; I checked the toggle between high and low to make sure it wasn’t stuck in a AddedNutsnebulous middle. No; the machine was done. I don’t know if it’s just given up the ghost or if it’s simply thrown a belt, but since it’s a fairly cheap department-store brand that I think may have been a wedding present, it’s probably dead.

I had a bowl full of almond chunks the size of macadamia nuts, and was not sure what to AddedEggWhitesdo. The blender? Doubtful; I was sure the blender would turn it into almond butter instead of crumbs, and anyway I hadn’t checked it since I nearly burned it out on the failed Oaxacan pepian sauce. Then I remembered that my hand mixer has a little mini-food-processor attachment that I’ve never used. I assembled the pieces, and even though I had to do it in three batches, I very BatterInPansquickly had all the almonds nicely ground.

I readied my other ingredients, and came to the second puzzler. The recipe says to add sugar to the egg yolks and beat for 20 minutes. Really? I read it again. “Beat egg yolks and sugar for 20 minutes.” By hand or with a mixer? The recipe did not say. I began to read more carefully. The BatterInSecondPanrecipe was close-mouthed on other issues as well. What consistency should the egg yolks and sugar be after 20 minutes? What consistency after all the other ingredients go in, before adding the egg whites? What about the baking pans — should they be greased and floured, lined with parchment, anything? No guidance. I was out of parchment, but decided against using wax paper SourCreamAndSugar— I don’t really like that for oven baking. I decided to grease and flour the pans, hoping that would be enough to keep the cake from sticking.

As for the egg yolks and sugar, I decided that beating for 20 minutes probably meant by hand; I had a feeling 20 minutes with the hand mixer would only add to SourCreamAndSugarCookingmy appliance death tally. So I beat the egg yolks and sugar for 2 minutes, stopped and examined the consistency. Nicely blended and aerated, smooth. I had a hunch this was enough. Maybe 20 was a typo? I went ahead and beat the mixture 2 minutes more, saw no appreciable difference, and decided that I was going to move on with the recipe. I added grated carrots, then the almonds, SourCreamSauceFailthen some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove), then some lemon zest and juice, and finally a small amount of flour. Now it was time to add the beaten egg whites; I folded them in carefully and divided the mixture between my baking pans. They were pretty full; belatedly I thought, are these 9-inch pans or 8-inch? I pressed on and put them in the oven.

DoneLayersWhile the cake baked, I began to work on the topping. When I was prepping my ingredients earlier I noticed that I had only enough fresh eggs for the cake, but still needed 3 yolks for the sour cream topping. Wait, I thought, I have egg yolks in the freezer! I’ll just rest the container on some warm water until they’re thawed enough to scoop out 3, then float that bowl on some warm water DoneLayerCloseUPuntil they’re thawed. Microwave thawing, I reasoned, might go too fast and cook them. Um, guess what: So can warm-water thawing. I returned to my resting yolks to find worryingly solid bits at the edges. Well, I thought, mostly this is liquidy yolk, and I can spoon out the solid bits before I add it to the sour cream mixture. So I set to work: I mixed a cup of sour cream with a cup of CakeWreck2sugar and brought the mixture slowly to a boil. Then I added the beaten yolks. And despite my best efforts, little boiled-yolk bits made themselves evident, and began to multiply. Desperately I added grated carrot and chopped nuts, but the yolks continued to cook rather than to blend in. I had a dismal, unappealing mixture. Sighing, I pulled it off the heat. I would let it cool so I CakeWreck3could discard it; in the meantime, Scott and I would go pick up some eggs and something to eat, then I’d make a new batch of sour cream topping with fresh, non-pre-cooked yolks.

In the meantime, I had been enjoying the developing smell of the cake as it baked. The recipe said to bake for 50 minutes in a 375-degree oven, but at about SadScotthalf an hour I peered in and noticed that the cake looked very brown and solid on top. Could the baking time be off as well? I checked the cake with a toothpick; it came out clean. This cake was done; if I left it in another 20 minutes I would have bricks, not layers. So I pulled it out to cool.

After dinner, I returned to the CakeWithIceCream3kitchen and decided that before I began a new batch of sour cream topping, I’d turn the cake layers out of their pans. I ran a knife around the edge of the first pan, encountering some resistance along the way. Not a good sign. I inverted the pan onto the cake plate and tapped the bottom a few times, then lifted. The cake did not budge. Cautiously, I began to work around the RecipePageedge again, and chunks of the cake began to come out. Not exactly the clean layers I had been aiming for. Had I been wrong about the baking time? I sampled a piece; the cake had a nice consistency and terrific flavor. No, the cake was nicely done, on the verge of overdone; it just refused to come out of the pan. I extracted the rest of the layer and packed the pieces into a plastic SectionDividerstorage container, then tried the second layer to see if it would hold together any better. It didn’t. I had a cake wreck on my hands.

So I abandoned my plans to make the sour cream topping. Instead, we had chunks of cake with the vanilla ice cream I made last weekend. The cake was delicious.

Verdict: Cake wreck. I think I’m done with this cookbook.

Hello, Cupcake! The birthday party

chocolate cupcakes, cream cheese frosting, chocolate frosting, Black and White Party
Now that's a stylish spread
Since I was starting the 107 Cookbooks project close to my birthday, I kicked it off with my most recent acquisition, Hello, Cupcake! I found the softcover baking guide in the discount section at Barnes & Noble, and could not resist. It’s full of clever cupcake decorating ideas: cupcakes made to look like TV dinners and popcorn kernels, cupcakes assembled to depict an alligator, cupcakes colored to represent billiard balls. I chose a relatively simple project, the Black and White Party: chocolate cupcakes in white wrappers, coated with a base layer of either white frosting (I chose cream cheese) or chocolate frosting tinted black with food coloring, and embellished away.MeltingChocolate

There’s a cake decorating supply store three blocks from my apartment, where I found a lot of the things I needed. White wrappers, a smaller frosting spatula suited to cupcakes, black and white sanding sugars, black food coloring, cans of black and white decorating frosting. I needed more, though, and after racking my brain I remembered that Dylan’s Candy Bar on Third Avenue at 60th offers a broad selection of single colors of candy. There I found black and white M&Ms, black and white candy-coated sunflower seeds, and black licorice in thin ropes.

I felt that to really do the project right I had to use the cookbook’s recipes for cupcakes and frosting rather than making my usual versions (it offers a wide variety, including both mix and scratch preparations for the cake; of course I chose scratch).Cocoa and flour for batter I had some trepidation about the cake; I’m a huge fan of the devil’s food cake recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and I just didn’t think another recipe could measure up. But I was pleasantly surprised: Hello, Cupcake’s recipe is a little easier to prepare, and by using both melted unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder it provides a satisfying depth of chocolate flavor. The baked cake was tender and delicious. I still love Bittman’s recipe, but for cupcakes I will definitely consider adding this one to my rotation, and may try their other cake recipes as well.

I was less satisfied with the consistency of the frostings. But this is probably not the fault of the frostings themselves; it was a warm day and I’d already heated up the kitchen quite a bit with the other food prep, so by the time I’d made both frostings and had them ready to use the butter in them was far too soft and melty. You should have smelled it--mmm.I had to add quite a few drops of food coloring to the chocolate frosting to get it really black, and I felt that affected the consistency as well. They both tasted terrific, though, and all the guests were very impressed by the visual effect, so I was probably just being overparticular. I’ll have to try them again when the weather is more temperate before I make a final assessment.

I had one of my friends come over before the other guests so we could decorate the cupcakes. We both had a blast; it was really fun to play with the contrasts. Cupcakes fresh from the ovenThe canned decorating frostings were too soft—I should probably have put them in the fridge for most of the day, but I just didn’t consider that they would get warm along with the entire rest of the apartment.

Verdict: Success. Good flavor, good consistency of cake, good appearance; the decorations were fun and impressed the hell out of the party guests. The recipes were clear and easy to follow. I will definitely use this cookbook again.Decorations included M&Ms, candy-coated sunflower seeds, licorice, frosting, and sanding sugar