Sunday, March 23, 2008
No Spam In This Cake
I should explain myself. I hated food as a kid. Oh bleh. Really drab, lonely, sinking, quick-sand memories descend when I think of sitting alone for hours at the dinner table - staring at the obviously (in retrospect) lsd-angel-dust inspired, 70s wallpaper in front of me - locked in stare-downs with these scary little morphing leaf-wallpaper faces, one particularly mocking me (he wore a beret, oddly, but it was actually just a leaf), as I tried to eek this disgusting grub down my throat. Ugh. That's generally how I remember food as a child, ick. Except...
Sugar. Sucre. Azucar. Zucchero. Satou. Siucra. Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar. SHOO-ger, loved it, in any form. Vivid memories - not the hazy, just-woke-up-on-a-misty-morning kind of childhood memory. These are crisp. The granulated sugar was kept in an upper cupboard; but, there was always a little, plastic, red mug on the first shelf kept full of the glistening little crystals. Armed with a teaspoon, I would open a bottom cupboard, place both feet inside - elevating my bad, short self - and proceed to scoop the white love into my future dentist's child's college fund. Powdered sugar was kept in a middle drawer - amidst chocolate chips, nuts and other baking kin - what I loved most about my powder scoops was rooted in the aftermath of the first pass: take heaping spoonage, consume most of it, and leftover is a kind of moist mass of soft sugar goo - a whole new sugar species, a new texture to finagle off the spoon, this one is a new kind of savor - it's a sugar paste, mind you! The brown sugar was a triple prisoner - kept inside the fridge - then inside tupperware - then inside a plastic bag. I needed time to get at this golden sand. She was unpredictable too (no idea how she just became a "she") - she might be soft, flowy, fluffy - or hard, crumbly, cracked. I liked her either way - just the approach that changed. One way, she was easy and light - the other, I had to work at her slowly. Either way, brown sugar was always grainy-sweet and wonderfully textural. All of them had that melt-in-your-mouth quality. All of them were the only food that I understood - for a really, really long time. I wanted to live on sugar and all things related to sugar. Only.
I grew up in the middle of the country, you see. Casseroles. Hot dishes. Layers of crap piled together - whose visual strata so repulsed me as a child - that even now I flutter with a bit of nausea as I recall them, with not a shred of fond nostalgia. I mean, was it meant to be art? Was there a time in the Meat-and-Potatoes-Movement where it became so oppressive that a group of women pressed forward, braced like Suffragettes, armed with almost every pre-pre-prepared ingredient in their kitchens - manically throwing together ingredients that make the mind, and the stomach, reel - proving, perhaps, infinite abilities to combine and create? Oh the combinations! I was going to list some repulsive casserole ingredients here, but the shivers down my spine are getting to me - and I'm feeling weak. Another time, perhaps, when I regain my strength. Tater tots, spam, cream of mushroom, yams - there! Four to get you started down queasy lane with me (oh, gag).
Well, so, I guess I can trace my sugar ancestry quite succinctly here. Salty foods = ew. Sugary foods = heavenly. My sugar family tree. I did end up expanding my palette quite nicely, but it was after I left home. More on that some other time. Lately, I've really wanted to branch out a bit in the baking world, embrace my sugar roots - maybe try a new flourless cake - or something different. My lava cake production, no surprise, has been off the charts - Tony can't get enough of them and I really cannot convince him there is anything else worthwhile. Last week, I mentioned a "caramel-xyz-thing" and he said "caramel can just go ___ itself!" - partly, he was kidding; but mostly, he feels so strongly about the damn Lava cakes that he really does not like anything jockeying for its position, elbowing its way in. In his mind, if we have found the equivalent of our dessert "true love", why on earth should we still be seeking? Well, I am not Gandhi folks. I can't answer the big ones.
So, I adapted this flourless cake recipe by the incredible Alice Medrich - how could she be wrong? Told Tony about it, told him ahead of time - that this was just an experiment - I'd probably still make Lava cakes on Sunday - the day we usually have them. He tasted it yesterday. Well, I don't have to make Lava cakes today. So, we have a birth on my little sugar family tree. Glowing over here.
Inside Out Truffle Cake
This cake is dense, moist, ultra chocolate-y. It tastes like the inside of a truffle and melts in the mouth. This recipe is for an 8-inch spring-form pan.
8 large cold eggs
1 pound semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/4 cup strong coffee or liqueur, optional
8 inch spring-form pan
Chocolate meringue, for garnish, optional
Position the oven rack to the lower third of the oven (lower center) and preheat to 325 degrees. Line bottom of spring-form pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. Set the pan on a wide sheet of heavy-duty foil and wrap the foil up the sides, repeat for double layer. Set the pan in a larger baking pan or a roasting pan, set aside.
Melt the chocolate and butter (with optional liquor or coffee) in a double boiler, over simmering water, stirring frequently until the mixture is smooth. Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to a boil for the water-bath. Allow chocolate mixture to cool slightly.
Using a hand held mixer, whisk the eggs at high speed until the volume of the eggs doubles, about 5 minutes. Fold 1/3 of the egg foam into the chocolate mixture with a large rubber spatula until just a few streaks of egg are still visible; fold in half of the remaining foam likewise. Fold the remaining foam into the batter until completely incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared spring-form and smooth the surface. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, about halfway up the side of the spring-form pan. Set the roasting pan on the oven rack. Bake until the cake has risen slightly, edges are just beginning to set, a thin glazed crust (like a brownie) has formed on the surface, and an instant read thermometer inserted halfway into the center of the cake registers 140 degrees, about 22-25 minutes.
Remove the spring-form pan from the water bath and set on a wire rack. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight to mellow. Cake can be kept covered and refrigerated up to 4 days.
About 30 minutes before serving, remove the spring-form pan sides, invert the cake on a sheet of waxed paper, peel off parchment pan liner, and turn cake right side up on a serving platter. Serve with crumbled chocolate meringue, confectioners sugar, cocoa, or crème anglaise.
This is not like a casserole.