Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ina Garten: Beatty's Chocolate Cake

This is the best chocolate cake I have ever made.  Or ever eaten.  And I'm not even exaggerating.  I threw out every other chocolate cake recipe I own.  You can't beat perfection, so why bother to try?  The cake is tender, the chocolate is rich, and the coffee just sits in the background, minding it's own business, and yet making everything else even more fabulous.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten

Butter, for greasing the pans
1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
¾ cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Soupe de Poisson (Strained Fish Soup)

Tonight I made something a little bit different: a fish soup. This one has been in the planning stages for a couple of weeks now, since I've been trying to locate such fabulous ingredients as 3 pounds of fish heads. I finally realized, after the tenth weird look from someone behind a fish counter, that I was not going to find fish heads at any self-respecting American grocery store.

Anyway, the soup was very...interesting. I'm still undecided. The rouille made it more interesting (and spicy!), but my overall impression is less of fish and more of garlic. And I kept feeling like the soup should have something in it, besides bread and cheese. Maybe a fish head?

Soupe de Poisson (Strained Fish Soup)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

1 cup minced onions
¾ cup of minced leek, or ½ cup more onions
½ cup olive oil
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 pound of ripe, red tomatoes roughly chopped, or 1½ cups drained canned tomatoes, or ¼ cup tomato paste
2½ quarts water
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme or basil
⅛ teaspoon fennel
2 big pinches of saffron
A 2-inch piece or ½ teaspoon dried orange peel
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon salt (none if clam juice is used)
3 to 4 pounds lean fish, fish heads, bones, and trimmings, shellfish remains or frozen fish (cod, sea bass, flounder, grouper, haddock, etc); or 1 quart clam juice, 1½ quarts of water, and no salt
½ cup to ⅔ cup spaghetti or vermicelli broken into 2-inch pieces
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese and rouille

In a large pot, cook the onions and leeks slowly in olive oil for 5 minutes or until almost tender but not browned.  Stir in the garlic and tomatoes.  Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more.

Add the water, herbs, seasonings, and fish to the pot and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.  Strain the soup into a 3-quart saucepan, pressing juices out of ingredients.  Correct seasoning, adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.  Stir in the pasta and boil for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender.  Correct seasoning again.

Pour the soup into a tureen or soup plates over the bread rounds, and pass the cheese and rouille separately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Rouille (Garlic, Pimiento, and Chili Pepper Sauce)
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper simmered for several minutes in salted water and drained, or cann pimiento
A small chili pepper boiled until tender, or drops of Tabasco sauce
1 medium potato cooked in the soup
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 teaspoon basil, thyme, or savory
4 to 6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons hot soup

Pound first five ingredients in a bowl or mortar for several minutes to form a very smooth, sticky paste.  Drop by drop, pound or beat in the olive oil as for making a mayonnaise.  Season to taste.  Just before serving, beat in the hot soup by driblets.  Pour into a sauceboat.

Makes 1 cup

Monday, March 08, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Aïgo Bouïdo (Garlic Soup)

I wasn't sure what to think when I saw this soup in the book. I like garlic, but I didn't think a soup made strictly for that particular flavor would be particularly appetizing. I put my faith in Julia, though, and cooked it up.  The garlic in the soup actually mellows out really nicely, leaving behind this sort of sweet roasted flavor. I absolutely loved the little toasts on the top, and I highly recommend using the Swiss cheese. It really goes with the flavor of the soup.

Aïgo Bouïdo (Garlic Soup)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

1 separated head or about 16 cloves whole, unpeeled garlic
2 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of pepper
2 cloves
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon thyme
½ bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 egg yolks
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 cup grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

Drop the garlic cloves in boiling water and boil 30 seconds. Drain, run cold water over them, and peel.

Place the garlic and the rest of the ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan and boil slowly for 30 minutes. Correct seasoning.

Beat the egg yolks in a soup tureen for a minute until they are thick and sticky.  Drop by drop, beat in 3 tablespoons olive oil as for making a mayonnaise.

Just before serving, beat a ladleful of hot soup into the egg mixture by droplets.  Gradually strain in the rest, beating, and pressing the juice out of the garlic.  Serve immediately, accompanied by the bread and cheese.

Makes 6 to 8 servings