Monday, December 21, 2009

Plan B

Pick up any cookbook about entertaining and it will always tell you NEVER try out a new recipe on company.  Although I never follow it, sometimes this is good advice.  I, however, have always boldly gone where no cookbook will ever tell you to go - and that means I have never thought twice about making something I haven't made before ... even if company is coming.

Which brings me to the ten-thousand layer "chocolate little layer cake" that I so enthusiastically mentioned in the last two posts.

On the spur of the moment ( like last Wednesday, when I read about it in The Times), I decided to make it for my friend Jon's birthday.  A group of us were going out to dinner on Saturday, then coming back to our house to celebrate the end of Hannukah (even though it had ended the night before).  Since Jon's birthday was in the mix, it only made sense to have a birthday cake for him as well.

So I spent the entire day on Friday in cake hell.  It started off well enough.  I greased and papered all 10 of my 9-inch cake pans.  I mixed the dough in my Kitchenaid, wondering if it could handle the capacity.  It did.  But the dough (shouldn't it have been cake batter?) came out really heavy, like something you would use to grout the tile in your bathroom.  Undaunted (although I should have gotten a clue from that), I forged ahead.  I baked all of those 14 layers and they slid out of the pans beautifully.  I set them out to cool and began working on the frosting.

OMG.  Believe everything they said in the article about boiled frosting.  Cake goddess Nancy McDermott (whom I met a couple of years ago) said it is the most temperamental frosting EVER.  I blew her comment off when I read it, but I now come crawling back in humble agreement.  I ended up making the stuff twice.

The real issue is that you have only a VERY short window of time when it is spreadable.  Other than that brief five minutes or so, it is either thin and runny or so thick that you can hardly get a spoon into it.  I managed to spread it between all of those (seemed like hundreds) cake layers, then had to reheat it and let it cool again before I could spread it over the top and sides of the cake.  But, I managed to get it done.

And it looked like a winner.  And if you compare this with the picture of the cake in the Times article, mine looks pretty damn close.

That's the good news.  Remember, I have said all along that I will share the good, the bad and the ugly.  Okay, so no ugly here, but the bad news is twofold.  First of all, the layers were DRY.  Like totally.  I baked them for 8 minutes and they tasted like cardboard rounds.  One bite and you felt like you were out on the desert, begging for water.  Second?  When the frosting solidified, it became grainy and sugary.  It was almost caramelized and you could barely discern the chocolate.

When I went back and looked at the photo of the cake in The Times, I could see that in the frosting.  Duh, how come I missed that before I started this silly process?

By Friday night, I came to the tragic realization that I could not serve this combination of sheet rock and grainy paste to my guests on Saturday, no matter how stunning it looked.  So yet once again, I gave up my favorite step class on Saturday morning and stayed home to make another birthday cake.  This time I used a recipe from my food maven Ina Garten and it turned out beautifully....

Just to hedge my bets though, I launched Plan B.  I decided that we should have DOUGHNUTS for the "sort of" last night of Hannukah.  Better yet, I decided that we should all make them together.  (This of course, would be after we had all had copious amounts of alcohol and wine at dinner).  I set up prep stations in my (crappy) kitchen, provided everyone with aprons and let them have at it (with some guidance from me, of course).  It was a huge success.  We all had a great time and the doughnuts were AWESOME!  By the time everyone was flushed with their accomplishments, no one cared about the failed cake anyway!

And did I learn a lessson?  Well, no.  I had never made the doughnut recipe before, either.....

GINGER DOUGHNUTS  (from Gourmet Today)

4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
3/4 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
3 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

In a large bowl, whisk together four, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 teaspoon of the ginger.  Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the sugar and remaining teaspoon of ginger to use for coating doughnuts after they are fried.

Pulse crystallized ginger in food processor.  Transfer to a bowl and whisk in buttermilk, melted butter and eggs until smooth.  Add this to flour mixture and stir until a dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured board.  Knead briefly until it forms a ball and is no longer sticky.  Flatten and roll into a 1/2-inch oval.  Cut into three-inch rounds, then use a 1/2-inch cutter to cut out centers.  Re-roll dough once again, cutting as above.

Heat oil in a deep pan to 375-degrees.  Fry doughnuts and doughnut holes in batches, turning with a slotted spoon once, until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per batch.  Drain on paper towels and roll in reserved sugar/ginger mixture.

If I could remember how many this served, I would tell you.  Oh well!

And so, of course, I had both CAKE and DOUGHNUTS this weekend.  How's the diet going, Liz?

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