Friday, January 02, 2009

HAPPY 2009!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Did you party hearty? I definitely did. On New Year's Eve day, I went into town for a late matinee of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (very good--AMAZING special effects and makeup--but very long at three hours!). By the bye, can I just share the extreme JOY of all Plattsburghers and surrounding areas?! We have a brand new, 12-theatre cineplex in town called Cumberland 12. It's north of town on Route 9 (so that much closer to me!), it's HUGE, has a great concession stand, an arcade, a nice little sitting area, and best of all, stadium seating with comfy chairs that rock and recline and with armrests that raise. The ticket prices prices are less than at the mall cinema, and there is no comparison in ease of parking. Most importantly, though they may be showing Adam Sandler on two screens and Jim Carrey on two others, there are enough theatres to accommodate films like Doubt, Valkyrie and Benjamin Button. Usually, I have to go to Montreal or Burlington to see the smaller, dramatic Oscar contenders. YEE-HAW! I am holding out out hope for Slumdog Millionaire to show here, still, this town is finally coming together! We've already got a Starbucks and now the Tar-ghay and the new theatre...if we could just get ourselves a Chili's and an Olive Garden, we'd be all set. (P.F. Chang's might be pushing my luck.)

Anyway, after the movie, I made a foolish stop by the Wal-Mart to pick up a few things (most other places closed by 6pm). You would think that the world was coming to an end and everyone needed provisions to try and survive it! The lines at the registers were worse than at Christmas! JEEZ! Finally, I came home to monitor the pipes so that they didn't freeze in the 14-below wind chills. Pretty exciting stuff, eh? But I did watch my favorite New Year's duo, Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, countdown the new year with the Clintons dropping the ball (so to speak). On New Year's Day, I enjoyed a screwball comedy marathon on TCM. This winter break, I find myself in an inextricable Cary Grant period. I love His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell, and my very favorite is Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn. But I had never seen The Awful Truth with Irene Dunn. SO GOOD! If you haven't seen these wonderful, hilarious films, put them in your Blockbuster/Netflix queue at once!

Ok, so it's January 2. Now what? I didn't really make any resolutions this year ("I figure all that stuff's a bunch of crap anyway. You do what you do, right?" For bonus points, name the movie--another of my all-time faves.) However, I did renew my commitment to eat fresh and locally as much as possible in the new year. And here's a fun first step: sometime this summer, when no one was thinking about such things, I bought myself a half-price AeroGarden off of Amazon (thanks to Beth the Kitchen Mage who tipped me off to the sale!). It's been tucked in a corner of the back bedroom since then, but I finally pulled it out and got it all set up with lettuces (red leaf, green leaf and butterhead) and a few herbs (parsley, dill, thyme and basil). And now...we wait.

How about you? Are we over those bogus New Year's resolutions to lose weight yet? Good, because I'd like to introduce you to my leetle friend, a friend I call Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Brown Butter Pecan Topping! I was reading a couple of message board threads on Cooks Illustrated's site and on eGullet, and several people were extolling the virtues of CI's Sour Cream Chocolate Bundt Cake. I wanted to try it, but I certainly didn't need cake for 12-14 people, resolutions or no! So I halved the recipe and baked it in an 8x8 glass pan which worked perfectly. The cake is tender and flavorful enough to be eaten alone or with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar and/or whipped cream and maybe a garnish of fresh raspberries. But I took it over the top with a sweet browned butter topping that's chock-full of toasted pecans. WOW! Maybe that is my resolution for 2009: THE YEAR OF BROWNED BUTTER! I want it in everything--soups, green salads, Jello molds, pizza, you name it! (Tee hee.) Seriously, though, the browned butter topping really complements the brown sugar-based caramel notes in the deep-dark chocolate cake. I suppose that chocolate velvet cake is still my favorite chocolate cake overall; this cake has a similar flavor profile, but it's sturdier, to hold the shape of a bundt pan. Even in a plain, square dish, it developed deliciously crispy outer edges (which is why I chose not to frost and, therefore, soften the sides). Yum! I think this is a glorious and sweet way to ring in the New Year--just resolve to lengthen your dog walk or treadmill run after enjoying a piece! ;-)

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Browned Butter Pecan Topping
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

For the cake:
3/8 cup cocoa (1/4 cup Dutch processed + 1/8 cup black cocoa, like Hershey's Special Dark)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghiradelli chips)
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional (don't really need it if you use the black cocoa)
3/8 cup hot water
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 + 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick), softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 small eggs

For the topping:
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup pecans, chopped
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream (half and half or milk would work, too)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine cocoa, chocolate, and espresso powder (if using) in medium heatproof bowl; pour hot water over, microwave for one minute, then whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature; then whisk in the sour cream. Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda in second bowl to combine.

In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about three minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down bowl with rubber spatula between each addition. Reduce to medium-low speed (batter may appear separated); add about one third of flour mixture and half of chocolate/sour cream mixture and mix until just incorporated, about 20 seconds. Scrape bowl and repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining chocolate mixture; add remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 10 seconds. Scrape bowl and mix on medium-low until batter is thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

Pour batter into an 8x8 Pyrex pan sprayed with flour-added cooking spray, being careful not to pour batter on sides of pan. Bake until wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, about 45 minutes. Cool in pan ten minutes, then invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely.

To make the topping, melt one tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans and salt and cook for a few minutes until they smell "nutty" and just start to color. Turn off the heat and let cool. At the same time, in a small sauce pan over medium heat, brown the remaining four tablespoons of butter about five minutes until a dark golden color (but not black!). Remove from the heat and let cool until just warm, but not to the point of re-solidifying.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the powdered sugar with the cooled browned butter, vanilla, and enough cream or milk until the desired consistency is reached. Fold in the buttered pecans, then spread the mixture on top of your cooled cake. Cut and serve. Yields 9 generous pieces or 12 resolution-conscious ones.


Anonymous said...

Your cake looks and sounds delicious--it's positively cake porn! Happy New Year--and congrats on the new theater in town...and thanks for the fun blog. It's keeping my dream of moving up there alive while we wait out the bummer economy/house sale market down here in Albany.

Deeba PAB said...

That cake sounds awesome...I'm all for browned butter too & will join you in your annual call. Ever since I did a DB challenge with browned butter frosting, I was sold on the idea! Super yummy!!