Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alpha Bakers -- Flo-Ro Elegance Cake

Happy Spring, Cocksuckers! Oh sorry, that was me thinking about Deadwood again. When the seasons turn, it's time to head back to the hills and try to start up that town again. That show is the best. Barely a day goes by that I don't think of the wisdom of the writing, especially this conversation:
Reverend H.W. Smith: When I read the Scriptures, I do not feel Christ's love as I used to.

Calamity Jane: Aw, is that so? That is too bad! Join the fuckin' club of most of us!

All that aside, happy Easter too, to those of you who like a good resurrection! All the little flowers were coming up at my parents' house and they were headed to a Ukrainian Easter eggstravaganza, so while they fussed about creating a little nest for Jello eggs (and Homer Simpson), I made a layer cake.

Mom, on the other hand, made blintzes with sour cherry filling. She has more sour cherries in her freezer than anyone.

This week's cake was the Flo-Ro Elegance cake, a chocolate layer cake (made with cocoa and unsweetened chocolate) with white chocolate caramel buttercream.

The recipe didn't seem difficult but I have trouble concentrating in kitchens that aren't mine, I did some fancy mise-en-place.
The caramel buttercream had a lot of steps but went very smoothly, although I did end up with many bits of chewy caramel in the finished buttercream. That was probably avoidable, but I thought it was a positive, so I left it. I filled it a little lightly--I'm always worried about running out of buttercream, and did a few layers of raspberry jam as well.

I didn't see the finished cake, as I was already on a bus back to NYC, but my Dad took this picture for me.
In addition to cake, the menu at the party included: "Cheese blintzes, cole slaw, salad, kielbasa, jello eggs, goyish babka, cherry blintzes (awesome), fruit salad, herring." This list is verbatim from my mother. The hosts of the party, a lovely couple that I have known for much of my life, each sent me an email, entitled 'your culinary delight.' Happy spring.




Friday, March 18, 2016

Alpha Bakers -- (Chocolate) Almond Babka

There's nothing more satisfying than bread in a bundt. Unless it's a babka. And I dispute whether this is a babka. It's a great filled brioche, but Rose's babka recipe is not exactly my idea of the real thing. I'm loyal to the richer and sweeter charms of the Zabars-style stuff, a stickier, more tightly rolled and almost underbaked masterpiece that might not charm Paul Hollywood but tastes like the Jewish best to me.

Name disputes aside, this is a simple enriched dough rolled around a filling (I made it at Thanksgiving with a chocolate almond, and last week with an almond-only (sorry George Costanza)), and baked in a bundt pan.

The dough is an easy process of starter ferment, rise, chill, and fill. In a warm kitchen on a March sick day, it came together with no trouble, and the almond filling, which contains almond paste, was delicious. My co-workers did not question the name, they just ate it. Fast.

My party guests the weekend after Thanksgiving didn't eat quite as voraciously, partly because there was a lot of other food, and so I tried making bread pudding out of the leftovers. I don't recommend that plan, as the soft bread was too weak to stand up to the custard mixture and didn't provide a satisfying finish. Now I want to make a babka.

Alpha Bakers -- "The Dutch" Pecan Sandies

Buttery sables are my favorite kind of cookies, and these fragile pecan sandies are a perfect example of the type. Made with crumbly pecans, cinnamon sugar, and browned butter, they have a rich lightness that mirrors their eponymous sandiness. My sister says, "I kind of get dry mouth looking at the words "pecan sandies," but I think if she had one of these, especially with black coffee, she might find it suitably moist. Just kidding, she's hard to please and doesn't drink coffee.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Alpha Bakers -- Ganache City

I like living with messy people. In fact, I like messy people in general.

That's not to say I'm in love with clothes strewn all over the floor, or dirty dishes under the bed, although those things don't bother me as much as they do some people. What I like is people who are unafraid of the odd impulses, weird tics, and dark holes that live inside them. People who embrace their bizarre habits without too much normalizing commentary and are able to allow their lives to have untucked corners.
Every time a kid starts a question with...'Is this weird...?' my heart breaks a little. Who cares? The only thing that's interesting about anyone is the weird things that they do. There's barely a point to life if all your interesting edges are rubbed off. Sometimes I find that theater people are better at just not caring about small social observances, but sometimes they just find other ones to conform to. We are all so afraid of each other sometimes. It's...weird.

Which is to say, I like to hang out with two and three year olds, who are unabashedly strange. And I have a few strange habits of my own, like obsessive baking. Lately my schedule has been a little thrown off, due to all sorts of business and the arrival of a new person in my life, a person who doesn't even care about sweets. How in the name of all that is holy did I get matched up with a person who can ignore freshly baked cupcakes? At least I know he likes me for me?

Luckily, everyone else in my life is still cupcake-mad, and so after plying my workplace with last week's Praline Tart (made, in my case, with almonds), I whipped up this week's Coconut Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Ganache for one of my sacred weekly institutions, Nacho Friday. These cupcakes are based on one of Rose's coconut cakes, already a huge favorite in my circles, and the only changes I made were to make them gluten free (using Thomas Keller's Cup4Cup flour) for my friend who has celiac disease and, due to my general messiness and failure to retrieve the muffin pan I left at a friend's house three months ago, to minimize them. As I was having dinner with toddlers, mini-cupcakes seemed like a good way to go, although the decision was not without its own fraught moments, as you'll see.

The cupcakes, with a milk chocolate ganache, that Rose-typically was not just made with milk chocolate but with a mix of white and bittersweet, were delicious and a huge hit. Anais, one of the two and a half year olds in question, ate one excitedly and then asked for another. One cupcake for each of us, she was told, whereupon she dissolved into tears and said, 'But I like two cupcakes....'

Everyone has a fold in their smooth surface. Some of us re-use bathwater or teabags with our spouses. Some of us hang out with our exes even though it hurts. Some of us embrace the things that make us broken. Some of us chant weird lines from children's books and love Maurice Sendak and eat odd things at odd times or do whatever it is we need to stay alive. Some of us like two cupcakes.

After Anais went to bed, several of us had a few more cupcakes. Because we're grown-ass women who can do as we please. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alpha Bakers -- Pink Pearl Lady Cake

Happy Valentine's Day! I have a lovely aunt who, among her other excellent trait, really enjoys sending involved Valentine's day packages, so at this very moment I am sporting some red and white heart socks while I type this, and it couldn't feel like a more appropriate outfit to be wearing as I introduce you to the Pink Pearl Lady Cake and her friends.
Lady Cake is at heart a simple creature, made from a rich yellow cake dyed pink. Her wit verges on the dry side, but she cloaks it in luxurious pink strawberry buttercream which helps it all slide down, and around her shoulders slides a smooth layer of white chocolate fondant, accented with glam lustre-dusted purple pearls. She's a class act.

I had a lot of fun making this one, focusing more on looks than taste, but the whole package, especially the buttercream, which I made from Target-brand strawberry preserves with a squirt of lime, was delicious. The recipe includes instructions for making fondant, but I've been there, done that once in my life and unless there's some compelling reason, once is fine. Instead, I bought a small tub of fondant and mixed it with the white chocolate plastique (white chocolate and corn syrup) in a 1:1 ratio. The resulting play-doh was smooth, easy to work with, and not at all bad tasting.

The most fun was dying things purple and covering them with the shiny lustre dust (my new glam-rock band name), so the next day my friend Libby and I did it all over again, and got a little more fanciful.


Happy Valentine's Day. May your heart grow three sizes each day. Although that could get seriously painful.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Alpha Bakers -- Pizza Rustica

"But it's not a pizza!"

Wise words from a friend, as she watched me roll out a rich tart dough with thyme. In fact, she was so concerned that she flipped back through the book to check the picture.

"Nope, definitely not a pizza. That's a quiche."

While its pizza status might be debate-able (this delicacy is also known as a 'ham pie,' I'm told), the tart's appeal isn't up for debate, as long as you are craving a solid rich hit of cheese, sausage, and flaky crust. 

What this pie (pizza) is, is sturdy. Baked in a 9"x2" cake tin, a firm crust surrounds a rich filling of sopressata layered with mozzarella and a ricotta/egg custard. I had slightly less mozzarella than needed so I slipped in a little gruyere and goat boucheron. Whenever I have a party I stash a bunch of leftover cheese bits in the freezer for just this sort of occasion, and I'm working very hard on bringing the freezer back down to a manageable capacity right now, so that worked out well.

I served the pie in conjunction with some buckwheat waffles (yeast-raised, Marion Cunningham-style) and blackberry jam, so it never had a chance with me, but the others who ate it were big fans, and it was so easy to make, transport, and cut, that I will definitely be making versions of it again. Hearty and sturdy.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Alpha Bakers - Irish Cream Scones

Cream scones are a miracle of simplicity. No butter to cut, no eggs, just a quick batter, a quick rest, and a quick bake. Naturally I managed to leave out the sugar and folded it in at the last second, but theoretically simple stuff.
The glaze is a mix of sugar, butter, corn syrup, and similar things, stirred into a fruit puree. Instead of making the raspberry puree in the recipe, I used a bit of a Thanskgiving leftover sitting in my fridge, a bag of chunky bits from Libby's cranberry ginger jelly experiment. It was not as smooth as the raspberry puree would have been but the flavor and texture were spot on.
Having recently started spending some time with a person who despises breakfast pastry, I've been slightly defiant every time I turn some out, but I made some yeasted waffles last week as well as these scones and can assure the team that I still like breakfast pastry as much as any reasonable person with a soul should.