Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Tardy Valentine...

I was going to post about this little Valentine's Day treat for my co-workers, not to mention, a fabulous Valentine's dinner menu, but Thursday became a total nightmare. No, no, it was not the embittered cynicism of an aging single woman that marred the day, but an automotive catastrophe which was far more upsetting. When we were in the Big City last weekend, I scraped a curb in the front as I was parking at the Meadowlands. It must have broken something at that point, and then I drove over some icy snow in the road on Wednesday, and that was the final straw. As I was driving home that night, I heard something begin to drag and scrape, and it got louder as I neared home. But it was too dark to see what was wrong that night. The next morning, we were horrified to see the whole fan had been ripped out of the car! What's worse, as we were heading out to take it to my kindly repairman down the road, we got stuck in the (unplowed) driveway, and my longsuffering neighbor had to come push us out. Thank God for him, because he loaned us his car for two days to get to work while mine was being repaired. (YES, he is the best neighbor in the whole world!) So the bottom line is, the car needed a new fan, and of course, no used ones could be found. Wanna guess how much one of those stupid plastic things cost from the dealer? $330! And that was before the labor charges. Again, I am thankful to have an awesome guy down the road that charges next to nothing for labor, or it surely would have been twice the cost of the part. Still, after being in NYC and overspending as one always does, this car repair came at a terrible time, and it was especially aggravating because it was my dumb mistake that caused the damage. UGH! Happy Valentine's Day to me!

However, the Valentine's treats (pictured above) that I made for my division the night before the great auto debacle turned out very cute and VERY delicious! I used a recipe for German Chocolate Mini-Cakes from King Arthur Flour, and I made them in those little Reynolds Fun Shapes Baking Cups, in heart shapes, of course. I don't even like German Chocolate Cake (I don't care for coconut), but this cake was awesome! The cake itself was luscious--Cyd and I licked the batter bowl clean! I swapped a little Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa to make the flavor and color even deeper. Then it's frosted with a simple but heavenly ganache, and topped with a wonderful toasted coconut, pecan and caramel mixture that is good enough to eat by itself as candy! I will definitely be making this recipe again, perhaps next time as a layer cake.

German Chocolate Mini-Cakes
(Source: King Arthur Flour)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter*
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa (I swapped out 1/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) cool water
*If you use salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe to 1/4 teaspoon.

1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) half and half or milk
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pecan flavor or pralines & cream flavor, optional (I used princess cake flavoring)
1 cup (2 1/2 ounces) shredded or flaked coconut, sweetened or unsweetened, toasted*
1 cup (3 3/4 ounces) chopped pecans, toasted**

Toast the pecans and coconuts until golden brown in a 350°F oven. This is most easily done if you place each in a 9" round cake pan, and put them in the oven as soon as you pull out the finished cake. Bake for about 10 minutes, watching carefully towards the end, as the coconut will brown quickly. Remove from the oven, and stir the coconut to distribute the less-browned and more-browned pieces together evenly.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

To make the cake: In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, espresso powder, baking powder, and vanilla till very smooth and creamy, beating for 5 minutes. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl after you’ve added the first 2 eggs. Add one-third of the flour to the creamed mixture, then add half the water, another third of the flour, the remaining water, and the remaining flour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally throughout this process. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. (I divided the batter into 21 baking cups instead.)

Bake the cake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes (my cupckaes took only 30 minutes), until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the cake from the oven. Cool the cake for 10 minutes, then run a table knife all around the sides of the pan to loosen the edges. Use a spatula to gently lift the cake free of the pan all around the edges; you’re going to turn it out of the pan, hopefully without sticking. Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper on a cookie sheet, put the sheet, parchment-side down, atop the cake pan, pick up the cake pan/cookie sheet, and turn the whole thing over. The cake should settle down atop the cookie sheet. Lift off the pan, and allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes. Use a 2 ¾" to 3" round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut 12 circles out of the cake. Or use whatever shape cutter you want: hearts or scalloped flower shapes are nice, too. Whatever you use, it should be around 3" in diameter. Carefully transfer the cakes to a cooling rack, right side up, and allow them to cool. As for the leftover scraps, snack on them (baker’s privilege!), or stir into instant pudding for an easy dessert. You’ll have about 4 to 5 cups of coarse cake chunks, just in case you have a recipe calling for that amount.

To make the icing: Heat the chocolate chips and cream till the cream is very hot; this is easily done in the microwave. Remove from the heat, and stir till the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth. Don’t panic; it’ll look very sloppy at first, but keep stirring and it’ll become a smooth, rich glaze.Working with one cake at a time, grasp it in the center with thumb and forefinger, and roll it through the chocolate like a wheel, to coat the sides. Place the coated cake onto a piece of parchment paper, to catch any drips. Repeat with the remaining cakes.To make the topping: Combine the butter, salt, half and half, and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the flavors, coconut, and pecans. Spoon the topping evenly atop the cakes; you’ll use about 2 1/2 tablespoons for each. A tablespoon cookie scoop is perfect for this task.

Yield: 12 servings (I got 21 cupcakes!)

Because Thursday was such a nightmare, we just ate some leftovers for dinner and called it a night. But this weekend, I finally prepared the Valentine's menu that I had originally planned. As an appetizer, I made these utterly appalling, ridiculously fattening, but incredibly tasty little abominations that I am ashamed to either describe or picture here. But I will link you to the highly amusing Pioneer Woman's website (remember, she's the one who almost killed us with her heart-clogging but scrumptious mashed potatoes at Christmas!) where you can see pictures of the whole process--but skip the "parmesan" in the green can, I beg you, and grate your own! For the main course, I made roasted Cornish game hens stuffed with herbed rice. And for dessert, Valentine's Day demanded the ultimate chocolate pie! This recipe comes from the American Pie Council, and it was last year's winner in the chocolate cream division at the 2007 National Pie Championships. (Why don't they show that on the Food Network anymore? I lived for it!) Anyway, this is way more than a chocolate cream pie--more in the French Silk category, I'd say. It has an Oreo crust, then a thick layer of ganache, and finally, a light, Nutella-based filling. OH MAN, OH MAN! It a chocolate lover's ultimate fantasy! Of course, you should top it with whipped cream and perhaps some chocolate shavings, and I did that, but I am picturing it "naked" so you can get a better view of the different layers. DELISH! It will put the most amazing sweet finish to your next Valentine's Day or any other special occasion, and it will surely do much to soothe and comfort you if the fan happens to fall out of your car!

Evette Rahman's Oh My Ganache! Chocolate Cream Pie
(Source: American Pie Council)
Serves 8

1 1/2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix crust ingredients and press into a deep-dish pie plate. Bake for eight minutes, then cool completely.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to firm peaks
additional sweetened whipped cream

Heat cream in a small saucepan until hot. Place morsels in a small bowl. Pour hot cream over morsels and let stand for five minutes. Stir gently to combine. Let cool. Chill until very thick but still spreadable. Spread evenly over bottom and sides of prepared pie shell. Chill.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, salt, and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating two minutes after each addition*. Add Nutella and beat again for about five minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary. Fold in the whipped cream, then chill the mixture for an hour. Fill the prepared pie shell with the Nutella mixture, and chill again for at least four hours. Serve with additional whipped cream, and any chocolate garnishes as desired.

*When I beat in the eggs, the butter separated into little chunks floating around in eggy goo, and I thought it would never come back together. Also, my Nutella was rock-hard because my house is always so cold. So I softened it a little in the microwave before mixing it in (it was only tepid to lukewarm at most, not hot), and I think that helped bring it all together. It became very smooth and glossy, so don't worry if yours starts off looking lumpy.

Warning: As with other traditional French Silk Pies, this recipe contains raw eggs. So children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems should be careful. Everyone else should be okay, as long as you trust the source of your eggs. (My producers are out back in their coop!) But you could always use eggs pasteurized in the shell if you're nervous about it.


Just the Right Size said...

Oh my, those little Club "Heart Attack" appetizers look and sound devine! I love campy stuff like that! Isn't it funny how campy recipes from "back in the day" are still popular? Can't remember how many times I've had spinach dip made with the Knorr Leek soup packets!

It reminds me of another Club Cracker recipe that is basically Club Crackers with a sugar syrup poured over them, sprinkled with chopped almonds, and baked. I'll have to dig that out...

Joy Bugaloo said...

Indeed you must, and please forward it along! I love nothing so well as a trashy recipe, as long as it tastes good. :-)