Friday, March 09, 2007

TGIF/Spring Break Kickoff Potluck

Despite arriving home in the early afternoon due to my first ever migraine (wow--how do people live through those things?), I was down for the count, recuperating until about 5pm. When I finally arose and after I had consumed a medicinal portion of Haagen-Daz (tee-hee), I realized with horror that I still had to prepare something for a potluck the next evening at my dear friend June's house. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone (which is a terrible expression--why are people killing innocent little birdies with rocks?!) and make a double batch of something for dinner, perhaps a casserole that would hold well until the next day. I have been wanting to make a recipe that I saw on two of the blogs that I regularly read--Culinary in the Desert and then Randi at 2 Girls in the Kitchen made it, and that was enough of a recommendation for me to try it as well. The dish turned out quite delicious, although I made it with five-cheese tortelloni instead of orechiette, Emmenthal instead of Gruyere (although Gruyere might have been better, more flavorful--so I added some shredded parmesan to the top of my dish), and halved the amount of cayenne (that Joe likes stuff HOT!). The only thing that I might change when I make it next time--and there will definitely be a next time!--is to work some onion into it somehow. It's also undoubtedly better with fresh shrimp, but I only had frozen on hand. So I just thawed them under running water and did not cook them ahead of time. That is, I just sauteed the garlic in butter with the cayenne and then added the wine, leaving the shrimp out of it until I combined everything before baking. And it turned out well, though fresh shrimp is always preferred.

Creamy Gruyère and Shrimp Pasta

(Adapted from
and Cooking Light)

8 ounces dry orecchiette (I used a nice five-cheese tortelloni instead)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
5 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese, divided (I used Emmenthal)
1 tablespoon butter
24 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used about a pound of medium frozen cooked shrimp which was plenty!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (I used 1/4 and it was almost too spicy for me..and I like spicy!)
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions - drain well when done.

Gradually whisk together flour, salt and milk. Pour into Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until slightly thick, whisking constantly - about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 ounces of cheese.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and garlic - cook just until the shrimp are beginning to turn opaque - about 1-2 minutes. Mix in wine and pepper - cook until the shrimp are almost done - about 1 minute. Toss together the pasta, shrimp mixture, and peas into the cheese mixture until well coated.

Scoop mixture into a 9 x 13" baking dish lightly coated with nonstick spray. Scatter the top with the remaining 2 ounces of cheese. Bake until cheese melts and begins to brown - about 20 minutes.*

Makes about 6 servings (um, or four at my house!)

*For the potluck, I made the casserole up to the point of baking it last night, then covered and refrigerated the dish overnight. Then I will bake it off at June's house later this evening. I suspect it might take upwards of a half hour or more from the cold state, but I will report back to confirm that. (Follow-up: It did take longer to reheat, maybe even longer than 30 minutes. I would guess 40? Who knows! There was much merry-making in the kitchen, and I wasn't paying close attention. Plus, I was sharing the oven with Angela's yummy Fresco Chicken.)

As you can imagine, I was quite pleased with myself, having managed to make a fine casserole while still in the post-mortem stages of my migraine. But then I made the mistake of opening up my e-mail and reading that June had assigned me to make a dessert! Yikes! My first thought was to throw something simple together, like the Black Forest Tart that I read about on the Baking Sheet blog. But since I made those Oreo Truffles for Valentine's Day--not to mention two chocolate icebox cakes--I was completely out of chocolate cookies for the crust. Still, be assured that I will be making that tart at some point, because my people love sour cherries, and I have a jar of Morellos from Trader Joe's eyeballing me in the pantry!

So I needed a new vision that would only involve the items that I had on hand. (No way was I making a trip into town with my head still throbbing and the temperatures dropping to 20 below or some such ridiculous number!) Then I made a decision that was probably unwise considering my physical (and mental/emotional) state. I foolishly committed to make what is perhaps the most complicated, involved, time-consuming dessert on record, second only to laminated doughs and croquembouches! But I had been wanting to try it for so long, that I screwed my courage to the sticking place and jumped right in. Some six or seven hours later, and behold (below) the fruits of my labors: the divine SWEET AND SALTY CAKE!

I caught sight of this bad boy on Martha awhile back. The pastry chef was from a bakery called, aptly enough, Baked in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was on my list to get down there during our last NYC adventure, but you may recall what a debacle that was, so we didn't make it. Then again, I don't have $46 to spend on an 8-inch cake (or if you prefer, $56 for a 10-inch or $72 for a 12-inch--WHOA!). I probably could have scraped up four bucks for a sampler slice, which would have been nice to be able to compare, but oh well. Come to think of it, the money may have been well spent, considering how much effort I had to put into making this thing at home! The cake layers themselves took me 45 minutes to get in the pan (is 14-plus minutes of beating really necessary??), though they baked up beautifully, turned right out of the pan, and they were pretty much level so that I didn't even have to trim them up. And I must confess that I overcooked the first batch of salted caramel (turned my back on it for two seconds...learn from my mistake!), so I had to redo that. Then you have to make a second, unsalted caramel to add to the ganache for the frosting. And there was a lot of chilling time during assembly. The recipe doesn't call for it, but when the salted caramel started to drip down the sides of the cake and/or the frosting started to squish out, I just popped the layer that I was working on out on the porch for a minute or two (it was -17 out there when I checked the temp at one point!) to firm it up before continuing with assembly. Plus, I'm just a slow froster in general because I hate it. There...I said it. This is why I could never have a cake business.

Nevertheless, I must say, it turned out GORGEOUS! Just look at the thing! Isn't it amazing?? I even tried to make it look similar to how they do it at Baked (check it out at their website under menu, and then cakes and juniors, and then Sweet and Salty Cake--and look at all of the other wonderfully whimsical cakes they make there while you're at it). Now, I don't know how the finished product tastes once it's all put together, though I did sample each part as I went along (=DIVINE!). But I suspect, like with the Trashy Toffee, that people are going to need an intervention and/or a 12-step program to break this habit. Then again, it's not the kind of cake that one would make very often, so we might be okay. Actually, come to think of it, you could certainly bake the layers ahead of time and make the salted caramel in advance, too--those two things alone would really speed the process along. In any case, I will post a follow-up after we try the cake tonight. In the meantime, I invite you to bask in the beauty of it! ;-)

(Follow-up: The cake was delicious, and it sliced and served up so beautifully. It was definitely worth all the effort!)

Sweet and Salty Cake

Makes one 8-inch 3-layer cake

3/4 cup cocoa powder (try to use a fine quality of cocoa--it's so worth it! I used some Scharffen Berger)
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar (I used light)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup Caramel with Salt (recipe follows)
Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing (recipe follows)
Fleur de sel, for garnish (I was out of Fleur de Sel, so I used Hawaiian red salt--gotta love Trader Joe's!)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside. (I used a floured baking spray and parchment rounds.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
3. In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
5. Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes (mine took a little longer, about 30 minutes). Let cool completely.
6. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Caramel with Salt
Makes enough for two to three 8-inch 3-layer cakes

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (I used fine sea salt instead)
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350° on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350°, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing
Makes enough for one 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips, as is my way)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350° on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350°, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
4. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

1 comment:

Randi said...

That cake is beautiful!! How did it taste.