Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Very Truant Rose's Heavenly Cakes Bake-Through

I signed up for the Rose's Heavenly Cakes bake-through because I figured, really, how hard can it be to bake a cake every two weeks? And it's not hard at all. Two cakes into it, it's fun. But life has been messing with my ability to blog about the baking. Hence, I'm two days late writing this.

But let's back up three days to last Sunday. Max, Tommy, and I went to the Haunted House at the Children's Museum. Tommy was a little listless. At lunch, I looked over and was alarmed to find his face pale, and his lips as colorless as his face. We headed for home where he watched some Thomas movies quietly and, while Phil occupied the other kids, I baked the Apple Upside Down Cake on this week's schedule.

With the cake safely out of the oven, I took Tom to Immediate Care where they determined he might be in the early stages of H1N1 and prescribed Tamiflu. Back home, undeterred, I whipped up the bourbon whipped cream for the cake, and Noah and Holly came over for our weekly Mad Men date. All four of us agreed the cake was spectacular. The fact that Tommy cried out for me, delusional and extremely sick, midway through my piece and during a climax on the show isn't important. What's important is that this is a really really really good cake.

Being new to the upside down cake world, I thought the process went like this:
  1. Cut up apples and put them in the pan.
  2. Mix up cake batter and pour over.
  3. Bake and enjoy.
This one's slightly more labor-intensive, although well worth the effort. It would have been a bit of a pain if Sylvie had been in the kitchen clinging to my legs, but Phil had her outside playing some form of toddler baseball, so I enjoyed my kitchen time. Here's what I did:
  1. Peel and cut up the apples and let macerate in lemon juice and brown sugar for 30 to 90 minutes.
  2. Melt some butter and pour some into the pan to grease the pan. To the remaining melted butter, add the juice from the macerating apples and more brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Then let this bubble and simmer for a while until it becomes a deep golden brown. Pour this into the pan.
  3. Add the apples to the pan, trying to make a pretty and even pattern.
  4. Mix up cake batter and pour over.
  5. Bake and enjoy.

The final step before eating is to whir up some whipped cream with a tablespoon of bourbon to make a (we found) rather boozy foil for the sweet cake. The whole package really was magnificent.

A couple things to note:

  • I baked this in a silicone pan that was regifted to me. I'm beside myself in love with silicone now. A co-worker read my Barcelona Brownie entry and brought me some silicone pans she'd received as a gift that she felt were just cluttering her kitchen. If you haven't baked with silicone, run to your nearest Target and get some. Seriously. Nothing sticks to this. In fact, when I unmolded the cake I was slightly off-center on the serving plate and had no second chance to make it right as the cake slide right out immediately.
  • I eyeballed the bourbon going into the whipped cream, and might have overshot. The cream tasted extremely boozy. Next time I'll be measuring. Although I do have to say bourbony cream seems perfect for enjoying during Mad Men, even if most bourbon on that show is enjoyed liberally during the workday.
  • I used a cake tester to see if the cake was ready, but didn't stick it in the center of the cake. My bad. The center wasn't cooked through. In fact, after the first night, I scooped out the center so that it wouldn't go rancid and spoil the rest of the cake.
  • Rose suggests baking this in the pan on a pizza or baking stone to better caramelize the caramel sauce. I didn't, but I'm going to try this next time.
  • Tommy was very sick and delusional Sunday night, and when he called desperately for me mid-cake, I was a bad enough mom to weigh whether it seemed he needed me immediately, or if I could just finish my cake first. It's that good.

I never got a chance to have a second piece of this masterpiece; Phil ate big hunks of it the next couple nights until it was gone. Which just means I'm going to have to make another. Soon. I'm hoping this next time will be on a night when Tommy doesn't projectile vomit on me, as it delays my getting back to my cake. Just sayin'.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Tell Them That It's Human Nature

Lately I've noticed that moments of contentment come unexpectedly. With three kids, a sometimes demanding job, a house, a marriage, and other relationships I don't spend nearly enough time tending to, I often spend more time thinking of what didn't get done than what did. What I hadn't gotten to at work and should have. What quality time I'd half-assed with my kids because my mind was in a million places.

Michael Jackson's Thriller came out when I was in tenth grade. It defined my high school experience. My best friend Susan and I shared a locker in our conservative private Christian school, and were reprimanded for decorating the door in a montage of Jackson shots. I put a plastic "Thriller" jacket on layaway at Sears; not being particularly courageous in the fashion department, I ultimately only had the courage to wear it once or twice.

By this time I no longer shared a room with my sister, but the remnants of our time together remained. Years earlier we were allowed to choose how we wanted the room decorated, and at that moment Becky had been feeling purple. The result was purple carpet, purple walls, a purple ceiling, purple crushed velvet bedspreads on our twin beds. The room remained regal into my high school years, although I made throw pillows to tone down some of its royalty. So I spent hours in my purple room, playing Thriller over and over on my Emerson turntable. I loved every song on the album, but "Human Nature" had a special, eerie feel for me. It felt grown-up in the way the other songs didn't, and I heard it and thought of all the possibilities laying out before me. The road was wide open.

A few years later I was in college, and Michael Jackson was a joke. The Thriller jacket was loaned to a friend for a comedy bit in a college show and never returned. The album was long packed away. The ensuing years, with their tabloid drama and true or untrue allegations, were not kind to Michael. I gave Thriller and Off the Wall to Goodwill when Phil and I were downsizing for a move to Brooklyn.

When Michael died, though, I bought a copy of The Essential Michael Jackson, and the kids and I have been listening to it nonstop. Whenever a slow song comes on, the boys yell that they hate love songs, and I have to skip over, say, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" so that we can get to "Leave Me Alone." They have no tolerance for "Human Nature," which is fine with me. The song has made me feel sad, seeing that the road is no longer wide open, and I prefer to listen to it alone, without their banter and squabbling. I've made life choices that have negated other life choices. My age now was inconceivably old to 16-year-old purpled-roomed Cindy. Had I let my mind wander to this age, I would have won an Oscar for best screenplay in between consulting with patients in my thriving New York psychology practice. I was not picturing the chaos that is my current life. The fact that the physical flaws I saw at 16 didn't disappear but only magnified as I grew older. I wouldn't have pictured myself schlepping to work in jeans and a hail-damaged Subaru.

Tonight Phil took the boys out to get their Halloween costumes, and Sylvia and I had a little girl time. She destroyed the living room while I loaded the iPod with some favorites I'm only able to listen to alone. When "Human Nature" came on, before I could get wistful, she came into the kitchen and started dancing and laughing. She appreciated the song. She didn't ask me to flip past the ballads. She has her whole life ahead of her, with all the promise and possibility that brings, and she was enjoying it.

Sylvia wasn't a planned-for or necessarily wanted baby. I was at the point that I was ready to move on from babies. When I learned I was pregnant, Phil and I spent a good deal of time hand-wringing before we settled into the inevitable. When I lost that baby, we were sad but also had some guilty relief. When I learned I was pregnant again a month after the miscarriage, I knew this baby wanted to be here. Watching her dance to "Human Nature," I listened to the song for the first time feeling the same excitement and potential I'd felt at 16. I hope she felt it, too.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Bake-Through Entry 1: Barcelona Brownies

Stardate Sunday morning. Sylvia's still asleep. The boys are plugged into Sponge Bob. The kitchen, with its new countertops and lovely new stainless steel sink is begging to be messed with, and I remember that I signed up for the Rose's Heavenly Cakes bake-through. So I roll up my sleeves and flip to the appropriate marked page.

Barcelona Brownies.

Normally, my favorite brownie recipe is the One-Pot Brownies from the out-of-print masterpiece Cook Something. Since I'm usually playing beat-the-clock in the kitchen these days, the idea of one pot and 10 minutes is perfect for me. But I signed up for the bake-through, I'm in the mood for chocolate, and Barcelona Brownies are on the docket.

Check and check.

A couple things to note about these brownies. They are baked, in the book, in a silicone financier mold that make individual brownies. Brilliant. Except that three calls the Friday before brought me to the conclusion Indianapolis is not long on your specialty baking items. I was excited to try the molds, however, so I bought a silicone mold featuring six hearts at Target, and figured I'd make the rest of the brownies in a muffin tin, as I was digging the idea of individual brownies.

Another thing to note is that they include optional ganache plugs of lovely gooey chocolate. I was on the fence about whether to go for the plugs. I ultimately decided against it because 1) I didn't know how much time I had before Sylvie would wake up and cling to my leg as I moved around the kitchen 2) I had forgotten to pick up heavy cream 3) I bought enough dark chocolate to make both the brownies and the plugs, but Tommy and I had snacked on it the day before, and now I only had enough for the brownies. So no plugs. So really 2 and 3 trumped 1, as I didn't have the ingredients to make the plugs. Next time.

The recipe has some great details: toasting the pecans so that they're more flavorful. Combining two kinds of chocolate -- sweetened bar and unsweetened powdered -- to get extra chocolate flavor. The addition of a couple ounces of cream cheese for extra creaminess. And Rose is right: The brownies pop right out the silicone molds. I don't know where these have been all my life.

So after toasting the pecans, melting the chocolate in a make-shift double-boiler (as mine is now part of the kitchen play equipment in the basement playroom), whirring everything in the Kitchenaid, spooning into individual molds, and waiting the allotted time, I was rewarded with some pretty fantastic brownies. I tried one to see how they were, hot hot hot from the silicone mold. Then I tried another just to be sure I could truly report on the taste. (Lovely.) Sylvia meanwhile woke up, had her breakfast, and then spied the brownies. She yelled and pointed until I let her try a piece, and then yelled "more" and pointed and kept getting bites until I distracted her with a walk to the drugstore. Our friend Holly was over Sunday night for our weekly date with she, her husband, and Don and Betty Draper, and tried one. She commented that they were extra chocalatey without being too sweet.

Phil, by the way, was thrown the next day by the muffin shape, thinking I'd made muffins. He ate two, apparently because one wasn't enough to realize they were rich brownies and not breakfast food, and then said he had to go lie down for a while.

Will I make them again? Heck, yeah. I'm even thinking of ordering the financier molds, which I found on Amazon. Next time I will make them at night so that I can make the ganache plugs without worrying that someone will be waking up and harshing my kitchen mellow. And I will go a little lighter on the chocolate; the bar I chose was 86% cocoa, and my powder was dark chocolate. Next time I'll do as Rose suggests and keep the chocolate in the 60s. And, eyeing the pots piled in my new stainless steel sink, I think I'd melt the chocolate and butter (very carefully) in the microwave. I won't skip toasting the pecans, though. They had a much more complex taste after toasting.

If you want to try this recipe, Rose includes the recipe here on her blog. It's delicious.

Next up: Apple Upside Down Cake. I can hardly wait!

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