Misspellings, with a side of rum

Aha!  It's Sunday night and I baked Saturday.  I have no excuse not to blog about this! :) Just in time for all of your holiday feasts hopefully, too.

Last night we went over to our friends Beth and Justins' house to celebrate Justin's birthday.  Beth and I spent the whole day shopping for ingredients and decorations.  We had baked brie, goat cheese with honey and green apples on crackers, egg rolls, spinach and artichoke dip...so much food!  But naturally no birthday is complete without a big ol' hunk of cake with (literally) your name on it.  Last week I emailed Beth with a cake idea that I've had my eye on for a while, from Smitten Kitchen (natch), and she was nice enough to let me give it a go on her hubby's birthday!

The cake is an epresso chiffon cake, brushed with an espresso-rum syrup between the layers, and then frosted with a chocolate buttercream.  Ohh yeaaaah.  Sounds delicious, right?  Well tell a bunch of party goers that there's rum involved with the cake and it turns into "So wait...there's rum in the cake?  Or in the frosting...?  Or wait...where's the rum...?"  Which was hilarious, since the rum's actually a very small part of this cake.  It made me think of this:


The cake actually turned out fantastic, even though I had to trash my first set of eggs whites from a tiny bit of yolk (once the yolks in there, don't even bother trying to beat your egg whites.  It just doesn't work).  I also LOVED making the chocolate buttercream.  Who knew that you could make frosting in the food processor?!  Genius!  It was so easy.  I made it without the chocolate at first, scooped out enough for the writing, and then added the melted chocolate to the rest.  It tasted absolutely delicious!  Like brownies, or fudge, or something else intensely chocolatey and delicious.

So I make the frosting, frost the cake,  pipe on "Happy Birthday Justin!" with a couple stars, and then pipe on some small dots to the bottom of the cake.  A couple things happen here.  I was very nervous about tearing the cake, and didn't have time to freeze the layers to make it easier, so I thickly piped on the frosting around the edges, swirled it in the middle, and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula.  Holy cow.  SO much easier than scooping on a big mound in the middle and spreading from there!!  I will do this every time from now on!! 

Then I piped on the birthday message.  Yikes.  So maybe I had a drink while baking...then maybe I had a glass of wine while frosting (Hey! It's a PARTY!)...so maybe I forgot the "D" in "birthday."  Woops!  :) We all got a big laugh out of it, and I shoved it in there anyway.

on to the recipe!

Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes an 8- or 9-inch triple-layer cake

  • 1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as soybean, canola or vegetable blend
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons freshly brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Huntsman recommends freshly-brewed over hydrating espresso powder, which she feels can be too bitter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment or waxed paper, but do not grease.

In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixer bowl with an electric mixture, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raising the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining half cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form; do not whip until stiff or the cake will shirk excessively upon cooling.

Add the espresso-egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just enough to combine. Add one-fourth of the beaten egg whites and fold them in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remainder of the whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes each, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.

To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the Espresso Syrup (below). Spread about 1 1/3 cups of the Instant Fudge Frosting (below) evenly over the top of the layer. Repeat with the next layer, more syrup and more frosting. Finally, top with the third layer. Soak it with the remaining syrup and frost the tops and sides with the remaining frosting.

Espresso Syrup
Makes one cup
1/3 cup hot, freshly brewed espresso
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s
In a bowl, stir together the espresso and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and let cool to room temperature.
Don’t want to use rum? (I know someone will ask.) I’d swap it with water, perhaps flavored with some vanilla extract. Worried about the caffeine? Use decaf espresso.

Instant Fudge Frosting
Adapted, barely, from a Sky High recipe
Now, this is, to be honest, a fancy name for a quick buttercream but it’s got two things going for it that are worth mentioning: One, the frosting isn’t flavored with cocoa (too mild) or even good semisweet chocolate, but unsweetened chocolate. Brilliant, I tell you. I find most quick buttercreams way too sweet, and although this one still is quite sugary, the super-bitter chocolate goes a long way to mitigating it. The second thing worth mentioning is this: Did you know you can make quick buttercreams in the food processor? I had no idea, I hadn’t even considered it before. But there I was whirling everything together in ten seconds flat and I will make it no other way from now on.

Makes about 5 cups
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

Okay, my notes now. 
  • We used extra virgin olive oil, because I goofed and forgot to bring vegetable oil.  Didn't make a difference at all, so if you need to use it, no big deal (it's probably not ideal, though). 
  • Don't have an espresso machine?  I'll bet you've got a Starbucks!  Venti cup about half full.  Just microwave it before you make the syrup, so it's hot enough to dissolve the sugar. 
  • From what I could see when I made the cakes, I had enough batter to make three thin-ish  cakes, or two regular-sized cakes.  I just made two.  Everybody loves a little less clean up!
  • For the frosting: I used whole milk, not half-and-half, and it was RICH.  Rich as in "Oh em geez I need some milk with this cake, stat," rich.  I think half-and-half might have given us all heart attacks. 
    • Also, as mentioned above, I didn't add the chocolate right away, since I wanted some white frosting to write with.  I scooped some plain buttercream into my piping bag, then added the melted chocolate to the rest.

As you can see, no one hated it!  :) All in all, I'd say this recipe is definitely a keeper.  Was it a little complicated to make?  Sure.  I'd rate it "Intermediate" from the separating eggs, folding in egg whites, and because it's a delicate cake (harder to frost).  If you've got the time and patience, though, it's definitely worth the hard work!

Happy Holidays, and enjoy!!

Pamp-keen Pie!

So if you don't get the title of this post, let me explain...then we'll get on to the goodness!

I won a trip to Barcelona, Spain two years ago through work (people who had the highest sales goals got to go, that kind of thing). Many of you who know me know that Spain is my favorite place in the world, and I have some great friends there, Cristina and Lalis and their family. So of course I worked it out with them to meet up one day while there and have lunch. During lunch it was a crowd of me, my friend Anne (also American), my two Spanish friends, one of their boyfriends, and a German exchange student. So to sum up the languages being spoken at our table: English, Spanish, Catalan, and German. We were quite the international crowd.

During this lunch, we somehow got to talking about funny-sounding words in different languages, and all of the Spaniards at the table agreed that "Pumpkin" was the strangest word they had ever heard. So for the rest of lunch they kept saying "Pamp-keen!" with their Spanish accents and laughing like crazy. Ever since, I have never been able to say "Pumpkin" like a normal person, this way is just so much better :). As for crazy sounding Spanish words? I've always been a fan of "Habichuelas," or green beans, pronounced "ah-bee-CHWAY-lahs." Also, "albondigas" always struck me as kind of funny too (meatballs-"al-BOHN-dee-gahs").

ANYWAY! Enough rambling-I know what you're here for. You're here to unlock the secrets to a perfect pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving? That was just a test run. Now you've got some practice under your belt and you're ready to pull out the big guns! Well this pumpkin pie is the big daddy of all pumpkin pies (if I do say so myself). The fresh ginger and bourbon in it totally send it over the edge! So I now want you to listen very carefully:

  • go to your freezer
  • politely break it off with your Sara Lee pumpkin pie...that means YOU, Mom! (you're growing apart, your culinary skills have improved, and you need something else that will challenge you as a budding bakery goddess...or god...you get my drift)
  • now throw it away, and follow this recipe...

Pumpkin Pie

Courtesy of Brock Kuhlman, of Hill's Kitchen in Washington, DC

par-baked 9” pie crust

1 T all-purpose flour
1 t cinnamon, ground
1 t salt
¼ t nutmeg, ground
2 c fresh or canned pumpkin puree, unsweetened
1 1/3 c heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c sugar
1 T vanilla extract
2 t finely grated peeled ginger

*for those of you who love bourbon: reduce the heavy cream to 1 cup.  Add 1/3 cup of bourbon to the filling, along with 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  You should love bourbon.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a mixer, whip the pumpkin, eggs, cream, sugars, vanilla, and grated ginger until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and blend just until combined.  Fill the parbaked shell and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the middle of the custard jiggles but doesn't slosh.

Cool at least three hours before cutting.  This pie really improves after sitting overnight- the spice flavors really smooth out and become luscious. 

Butter/Shortening Pie Crust*

single crust
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
¼ t salt
5 T cold unsalted butter
3 T cold shortening
4-5 T cold water

double crust
2 c all-purpose flour
½ t salt
7 T cold unsalted butter
4 T cold shortening
5-6 T cold water

Measure out the water for the crust and then chill in the freezer.

Measure out the flour and salt into a cold bowl and whisk until well mixed.

Coat the stick of butter in the flour, and then using a bench knife or chef's knife, cut length ways into four long pieces.  Coat in flour.  Cut the long pieces into ¼” cubes (1” pieces for a food processor) and coat in flour.  Using a pastry cutter, press the tines straight down through the fat and flour mixture repeatedly until the largest pieces of fat are the size of large peas and the smallest are the size of lentils.  Don't over do it- range of fat pieces makes for a flaky pastry.  Rechill if your kitchen is warm.  (if using a food processor, pulse a few times until the fat is cut into a range of sizes as indicated above.  Do not run the processor continuously- only pulse. Transfer to a cold bowl.)

Be stingy with the water.  Add a tablespoon at a time, tossing the dough between each addition, not mixing or smearing.  Work the dough as little as possible.  Add just enough water that there is no more dry flour at the bottom of the bowl- you want all the flour to be incorporated until there are only little cobble like bits hanging together.  Add the last bit of water in drips, or flicks.  To test, pat together a tennis ball size piece of dough- if it falls apart or has big, floury cracks, you need to add a few more drops of water.  Too much dough makes a tough dough, so be judicious at this point.  If you get your dough too wet, throw it away and start over.  It can't be recovered.

For a single crust, form into a ball.  For a double crust, divide into two balls, one slightly larger than the other (the bottom crust will need to be bigger to fit the pan).  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour. 

*Working with pastry is a bit of an art, but one that can be mastered if you remember two things.  The dough has to have enough water to be cohesive, but too much water (which paradoxically makes the dough easier to work with) will make it tough.  Second, the fat always has to be cold.  Always.  Warm fat will never make a good crust.  If it seems too warm, stop and chill it a few minutes in the freezer.

Blind Baking/ Par-Baking a Pie Shell

Roll out the pastry and fill a 9” pie tin, crimping the edge.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes.  Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork to keep it from bubbling up, and then line the pie shell with parchement paper or aluminum foil.  Fill the pie with pie weights or kidney beans and bake as follows:

For a par-baked crust (for pumpkin pie), bake the bean/weight filled crust for 15-20 minutes at 450 F, or until the edges look blonde and slightly blistered.

For a blind baked crust (for a fresh fruit tart), bake the bean/weight filled crust as above, but then remove the weights/beans, turn the oven down to 375 F, and then bake it for ten minutes or so until the crust edges and bottom are golden brown. 

First off, let's be honest here.  I've slacked on the blog.  I used to write it on my lunch hours at work, but now I've taken to not taking lunch hours.  If you work in front of a computer screen like me, you know you don't want to even SEE a keyboard after work!  I know, excuses excuses.  So why I am I giving you this now?  Truthfully, I wrote this LAST year around this time...but I lost my recipes!  They were in a packet that got thrown away.  I just got around to asking Brock for the packet, and he was nice enough to send it to me.  Why is it a big deal that he was nice enough to send it to me?  Because he lives in THAILAND now.  Yah.  The man is awesome.  You should check out his blog here.

Me waiting around on this draft for a year and still posting also tells you something...this pie is GOOD!  Like really good.  And Brock's right, add the bourbon.  Between the bourbon and the fresh ginger and the regular pumpkin pie deliciousness, it's heavenly.  I'm thinking I might make this for Christmas in San Diego.  I'm thinking you should too, wherever you are.

Happy Holidays!  :) I promise to try and write more!  And remember...

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