Saturday, January 23, 2010

Best Christmas Present---Best Neighbor!

I recognize that it is nearly one month AFTER Christmas, but I have to tell you about a belated Christmas/housewarming surprise. I have shared many, many times about what a WONDERFUL next-door neighbor we had for nine years living in Sciota. In fact, it was the one thing that truly gave me pause about moving--what would I ever do without Ken? He is just a gem of a human being, however, he is next to impossible to buy presents for! He is a man of very simple means who also has no patience. So he doesn't need much, but if he wants something, he buys it for himself right away. It's very frustrating for me, as I want to be able to get him something that would give him some sense of how much I appreciate him! So mostly, I just bake him homemade treats and take him out to dinner and a movie once in awhile, which he seems to enjoy more than the lame presents I choose for him semi-annually.

A couple of weeks after Christmas and the big move, Cyd and I finally managed to get together with Ken to go see a movie ("It's Complicated"--LOVE Meryl and Alec!) and grab some dinner (Mangia's). When we were done eating, Ken said that he needed to pull around to load something into my car. What in the world, I thought? I asked if it was alive, and then told him that I had quite enough pets at present, thank you very much! He said, no, it wasn't alive, but it was HEAVY! When I got out to the parking lot and unlocked the back door, Ken began hauling a ginormous box out of his car and into mine. Friends, that saintly man had bought me this:

Is it not the most GORGEOUS thing you've ever seen? I have no idea what put it into his head to get me a new Kitchen Aid mixer, but I was over the moon! I bought my old one probably 15 years ago, a no-frills classic white refurb from a kitchen outlet outside of Boise. Don't get me wrong--that thing was a faithful workhorse, and besides having to replace a knob on it, gave me no trouble at all, even with heavy use. However, I always wanted to upgrade to a more powerful model--one where the bowl lifts up and down so that I could knead bread dough in it without having to hold the bowl in place and keep the speed low so that it wouldn't fly off the base! Plus, since the move into the new house, I haven't been able to locate the attachments to my old mixer, and I had been jonesin' to get back to some real baking! So it really was the PERFECT gift, but WAY too generous! I tried to protest, but Ken wouldn't hear of it. So I told him that he doesn't owe me a birthday or Christmas present for at least another three years after this! Ha!

I couldn't wait to get started using my new black beauty. The first thing I whipped up was a Toll House pie, always a crowd pleaser. I followed the recipe that everyone uses, except that I like to toast the nuts and add a teaspoon of vanilla.

Secondly, after seeing "It's Complicated" and the decadent double fudge cake that Meryl Streep's character made, Cyd, Ken and I were all craving some truly awesome chocolate cake. I did a Google search for double fudge cake, and found something on BakeSpace called a Double Chocolate Whammy Cake with Fudge Icing. That sounded like just the ticket, though I decided to make the recipe into 24 cupcakes so that I could easily transport Ken's share up to him in Sciota. (My timing was impeccable, too, as the poor fellow was having knee surgery and would be on crutches for awhile. So I took him a large pan of spicy chicken enchiladas and the cupcakes to keep him fed for a few days!)

Though the recipe begins with a boxed devil's food cake mix, it was very good. However, the frosting was a NIGHTMARE! The fact that it called for the use of a candy thermometer should have been my first clue. I was game to try, though. I am not afraid of candy making. But when I brought it up to the soft ball stage and then cooled it back down as directed, it became as hard as a rock! I had no choice but to melt it back down and smooth it out with some heavy cream (like a ganache). But then it didn't set up enough to suit me. So I decided to try and whip it in the mixer. It did fluff up, and made a surprisingly light and delicious topping for the cupcakes, but they had to be kept in the fridge to keep the frosting from melting. Next time, I would frost the cupcakes with something like Martha's recipe for "Mrs. Milman's Chocolate Frosting," which is basically just a thick ganache.

Double Chocolate Whammy Cake with Fudge Icing

1 package of any good Devil's Food Cake Mix
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup minus 1 tablespoon whole milk
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated
2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Sour Cream (or Whole Milk)

Preheat oven to 350°. Trace around bottom edge of two 9 inch cake pans on sheets of parchment paper. Cut out circles, and place one in bottom of each pan.

Beat the Devil's Food cake mix together with the water, sour cream, oil, and eggs with a mixer for at least 2 minutes. Add the miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips, and stir in by hand. Pour equal amounts of batter into the pans lined with parchment paper.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350° (or adjust for specific cake mix directions if needed). Let cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then loosen around edge of cakes, invert them onto buttered parchment paper and let them cool thoroughly.

Bring the milk to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, sugar and salt. Bring again to a boil and cook covered 2 to 3 minutes at a full boil. Uncover, reduce the heat and cook without stirring to soft-ball stage or about 234°F (112°C) by a candy thermometer.

Cool the icing to 110°F (43°C). (Placing the hot pan in a larger pan of cold or ice water for awhile will speed this process). Add 4 tablespoons of Butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the icing until it begins to loose its sheen. Beat in up to 1 cup of sour cream until the fudge icing is spreadable.

Ice the top of the first cake layer and then put second cake layer on top. Ice the second layer's top and then the sides of the cake.

If you don't mind "death from chocolate", decorate the top with Semi Sweet Chocolate Curls. You might want to drink lots of milk or enjoy some ice cream to "cut through" the incredible richness of this Chocolate Double Whammy Cake.

Last but not least, I had to test the new mixer's bread-making abilities. And I was overjoyed to find that it worked like a dream! I made three loaves of Sherry Yard's sweet potato bread (one to eat right away, one to stick in the freezer, and one to take over to introduce myself to my new neighbors across the road--sorry, Ken!). I have already posted that recipe, but I will show you some new pictures just for shiggles.

Beautiful, huh? And all thanks to my amazing (former) neighbor, Ken! I will miss living next door to such wonderful friend!

P.S. I have come to the realization that my beloved roommate, Cyd, will read this at some point and may be hurt that I didn't publicly acknowledge HER fabulous Christmas gifts. Since I just bought a new 50-inch plasma t.v. as a housewarming gift to myself, she made it PERFECT with the addition of a new Blu-Ray player and some wonderful 3-D movies like Up! and Coraline. So THANKS to Cyd as well! I have terrific friends! :-)

1 comment:

Randi said...

What a great gift. My KA( also about 15yrs old) died over xmas while in the midst of all my baking. Thankfully, I had another one( only slightly more powerful) downstairs. Robin bought it for 20.00 at a yard sale so I couldnt justify getting a newer, more expensive one.