Archive for May, 2010

Let Them Eat Birthday Cake (Part II)

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

My favorite young goalie makes a save at the Verizon Center.

My nephew Michael loves to play and watch hockey. During hockey season he follows the exploits of the Washington Capitals.
He has even been known to read the newspaper (which I certainly never did when I was ten) in order to keep up with the latest Caps news.
I shudder to think what family life will be like when he realizes that entire chat rooms on the internet are devoted to analyzing the team’s performance on the ice.
When Michael’s birthday rolled around last week, his mother Leigh asked me to design a birthday cake that would (a) taste yummy and (b) look like a hockey puck.
“A” was not a stretch. All my cakes taste wonderful (probably because I’m so modest).
“B” was more challenging. Luckily, I knew I would have Leigh to help. She is much better at presentation than I am.
Even with her help the cake was a learning experience! As I mentioned in my recent cupcake post we had a couple of tries to get it right since like royalty Michael enjoyed a public birthday as well as a real one.
My concept was a chocolate cake with fudge frosting that would include a moon-pie-like marshmallow filling. (I know this is a bit excessive, but I also know kids love marshmallow filling.)
We started out with a pan from Williams-Sonoma with ridged edges, designed to mimic a chocolate sandwich cookie. The cake was adorable, but the ridges made it difficult to frost.
Even when we used a straightforward round cake pan we had a little trouble with the filling, which tended to melt and ooze when confronted with warm frosting.

Our solution was to refrigerate the cake and filling—and to make sure that the filling didn’t go all the way to the edge of the cake.
For one version of the cake we added butter to the frosting (you’ll see I’ve marked it as optional in the recipe). The butter made it possible to frost the cake later in the life of the frosting—that is, when the frosting was almost cool. It made the frosting a little less fudgy, however. This didn’t bother me, but Leigh was disappointed.
You may ice your cake either way. Frankly, delicious as both versions were, I don’t want to see another chocolate cake for a long time. It’s all yours now, dear readers…… 
Washington Capitals Puck Cake
For the Cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 squares (1 ounce each) baking chocolate
3/4 cup hot water
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, followed by the baking powder and soda.
Melt the chocolate in the hot water. Add the flour to the mixture alternately with the milk. Stir in the chocolate and hot water. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch layer pans (you may use 8-inch pans, but 9-inch pans look more puck like), and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before removing them from the pans. Allow them to cool completely before frosting.
For the Filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream
Beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Fold in the marshmallow cream.
For the Frosting:
2 cups sugar
4 squares (1 ounce each) baking chocolate
2 eggs
6 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Place the sugar, chocolate, eggs, milk, and butter (if you are using it) in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.
Cool the mixture for about 15 minutes. (If you use the butter, you may wait an hour before you use the frosting.)
For Assembly:
2 layers of cake
icing (you may have a little of this leftover, or you may skip the filling and use the icing between layers)
additional colored icing of your choice for decorating the puck
Bake the cake and allow it to cool completely. Assemble the filling, and spread it on the bottom layer of the cake. Do not go quite all the way to the edge of the cake. Refrigerate both layers, separately, lightly covered with foil to keep them from drying out.
Make the frosting. When it has cooled sufficiently to be usable assemble the cake layers and quickly but firmly spoon and spread the icing over the cake. Return the cake to the refrigerator until ready to decorate.
Decorate just before serving. Serves at least 10. 

Here are a couple of our experiments......

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Let Them Eat Birthday Cake (Part I)

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I think I can speak for the entire Weisblat family when I say that we have had enough cake in the past week or so to last for several months.
My nephew Michael turned ten on Thursday. Naturally, a birthday cake was in order.
We ended up making a number of cakes—two identical cakes for his official party the previous weekend (he had invited quite a number of guests), a similar cake for the actual birthday, and cupcakes for his classmates at school.
None of them was hard to make individually—but en masse they pretty much exhausted us.
I do not want to talk about calories here. I will say that we have bought and used a HUGE amount of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar of late. Luckily, the birthday boy and his friends ate most of the cake(s)—and they were very happy indeed.
I’m starting with the cupcake recipe because, frankly, I’m not sure I can write with equanimity yet about the main event—a chocolate, marshmallow-filled cake in the shape of a Washington Capitals hockey puck!
The cupcakes were made with one of my very favorite cake recipes—a simple yellow cake that takes less work than a mix (well, almost). It’s the Platonic ideal of a yellow cake.
This old-fashioned combination is called “1-2-3-4” because it takes a cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and four eggs.
If you want only 24 cupcakes (or a 9-by-13 sheet or 2 8-inch rounds), you may reduce the recipe by a quarter to 2-1/2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 cup butter, and so forth. Be sure to adjust baking times if you change pan sizes. You can probably get 3 8-inch rounds with this version, if you want a high and lovely cake!
Since my family is into excess we piled sprinkles on top of the cupcakes—red and blue for the Washington Capitals, of course (we already had white icing).

The birthday boy took cupcake decoration seriously.

1-2-3-4 Birthday Cupcakes
3 cups flour
2-2/3 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/3 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 32 cupcake tins with liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, and beat again.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into your cupcake tins.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes pass the toothpick test. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool. Ice with snappy butter icing (see below). Makes 32 cupcakes.
Snappy Butter Icing for 1-2-3-4 Cupcakes
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks!) sweet butter at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar as needed (I think we used a little less than a pound)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Cream the butter and add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time until the icing is tasty and spreadable. Beat in the vanilla. Ice your cupcakes, and throw on some birthday sprinkles if you want to. Ices 32 cupcakes generously.

Grandmother Jan went to town with the sprinkles.

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Thistle Be Yummy!

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Every few years my yard in Hawley, Massachusetts, is beset by a plague of thistles. Despite their gorgeous flowers, I detest the prickliness, the invasiveness, and the sheer tenacity of these plants.
I do absolutely adore a certain kind of thistle—one that thrives in only one garden in Hawley: the ARTICHOKE!
My neighbors who grow it have asked to be nameless since they have very few thistles to share each year. I can tell you this much: they’re MUCH better gardeners than I.
(Actually, just about anyone in Hawley is a much better gardener than I. But that’s another blog post and possibly another blog.)
I was thrilled when my friend Peter told me recently about the annual Artichoke Festival in Castroville, California. It takes place this weekend.
I won’t be able to go. But I will enjoy thinking of the joy of the folks in Castroville on Saturday and Sunday as they attend the festival’s gala parade, the exhibition of fruit and vegetable art, the classic car show, and the wine exposition.
Naturally, I’ll also eat some artichokes this weekend. They aren’t quite as fresh here as they are in Castroville, but they’re looking pretty perky in local grocery stores.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to artichokes. Generally, I just boil or steam them in water and vinegar. (I may try lemon juice this weekend.) And I can’t resist serving them with a little melted butter.
The Artichoke Festival has inspired me to play with artichokes a little more. My nephew Michael adores pizza so the other evening we prepared an artichoke pizza.
I wasn’t sure what to put on the pizza so we tried a number of different topping combinations in different sections of the pan.
We experimented with mushrooms, prosciutto, ripe olives, and fresh basil leaves. Surprisingly since I love it, the only thing I decided to leave out of the final recipe was the basil. The herb overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the artichoke hearts.
I highly recommend this recipe for those of you who want to hold your own artichoke festival this weekend. With my usual modesty, I think our pizza would qualify as vegetable art in the festival’s Agro Art Show.
Artichoke Plus Pizza
Since I was experimenting with this pizza, I don’t have exact quantities for most of the ingredients. Sprinkle happily but not too lavishly and you should be fine!
1 1-pound package of commercial pizza dough (make your own if you want to)
10 ounces mushrooms, washed, trimmed, and sliced
a small amount of butter and extra-virgin olive oil for sautéing
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
a sprinkling of salt and pepper
a SECOND small amount of extra-virgin olive oil for the pizza
2 to 3 handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese
4 to 6 thin slices of prosciutto cut into small pieces
1 12-ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut into quarters
1 cup (or so) feta cheese
1/2 cup pitted ripe olives, cut into rings
Bring the pizza dough to room temperature and preheat the oven as indicated in your dough instructions.
While the oven is preheating sauté the mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil until they are gently browned. Toss on the oregano, salt, and pepper, and set aside.
Next, roll and/or stretch the pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.
Spray your pan lightly with cooking spray and oil it even more lightly. Place the dough on the pan. Spread a very thin film of olive oil on top.
Sprinkle the mozzarella all over the pizza, and arrange the pieces of prosciutto in a pleasing fashion, followed by the artichoke hearts, feta, and olive rings.
Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven this took 15 to 20 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6. 

Here's the pizza just before baking......

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Ballpark Food III: Cracker Jack

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Today’s tribute to baseball food falls on the 85th birthday of Yogi Berra, the colorful player and manager whose propensity for malapropisms has made him the Sam Goldwyn of Baseball.
My favorite, of course, is food related: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Happy Birthday, Mr. Berra!
As a chanteuse I can’t do a series on ballpark food without alluding to baseball’s signature song, the 1908 hit “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Historians make much of the fact that neither the lyricist, Jack Norworth, nor the composer, Albert Von Tilzer, had ever attended a baseball game when they came up with the song.
I’ve never seen a professional baseball game in person, but I still understand the place of the sport in American culture—and clearly so did Norworth and Von Tilzer.

Nowadays few Americans recall that the song has verses. Here they are as they appeared in the 1908 sheet music (along with the more famous chorus, of course!) in an early Edison cylinder recording.

Cracker Jack predated the song and this recording, making its mass-market debut in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (It was then called “Candied Popcorn and Peanuts,” not receiving its name for a few more years.)
I love caramel corn—and CJ is nothing but caramel corn with a hint of molasses.
I’m afraid you’ll have to provide your own prizes……..
2 quarts freshly popped popcorn
1 cup roasted shelled peanuts
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, VERY firmly packed
5 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 generous tablespoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Mix together the popcorn and peanuts and place them on a large jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides) in the preheated oven.
In a small saucepan combine the remaining ingredients. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reaches about 260 degrees. It should form a definite but pliable ball when inserted into cold water.
Remove the popcorn and peanuts from the oven. Quickly but gently pour the caramel mixture over them and stir. Return the pan to the oven.

Cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes and making sure that all of the solid material is covered with the coating. If it starts to stick to the pan earlier, remove it from the oven; you’re aiming for Cracker Jack, not peanut/popcorn brittle!
When you remove the pan from the oven, transfer the Cracker Jack to sheets covered with waxed paper to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 2 quarts of candy-coated popcorn with peanuts. Don’t forget to add a prize or two!

This 1907 Cracker Jack postcard featured President Teddy Roosevelt (Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

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Ballpark Food II: Fenway Franks

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that hot dogs are the top-selling concession item at Fenway Park in Boston. I suspect that they dominate the menu in ballparks all over the country.
I’m still enough of a kid to love hot dogs, and I have a feeling I’ll never outgrow my fondness for these warm, portable meals.
Fenway Park is pretty specific about what it calls the Fenway Frank. The offical Red Sox hot dog features brown mustard–not yellow!–with a little relish on a New England-style bun. Feel free to vary this recipe by using your own favorite condiments.
I didn’t make relish for this post since the ingredients aren’t yet in season. I did bake hot-dog buns, however, with the help of my mother and sister-in-law. A New England-style hot-dog bun has soft sides. If you’d like your sides more crispy, just place your rising buns a little farther apart.
As you can see from the photo above, my family’s own baseball player is now a convert to home-made hot-dog buns………
Fenway Franks
1 New England-style hot-dog bun (see recipe below)
1 hot dog (Fenway Park serves Kayem franks, which are made in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and steams them. I like to grill them.)
brown mustard and relish (preferably homemade) to taste
Split the bun in the middle. Insert the hot dog into the bun, and cover it with mustard and relish. Makes 1 frank. Be sure to spill mustard and relish all over yourself as you cheer for your favorite team! 

New England Hot Dog Buns (from King Arthur Flour)
King Arthur Flour notes that this dough should be very relaxed so the buns will be soft and tender. When you’re adding the flour, don’t overdo it; just add enough after the first 3 cups to make the bread kneadable and to keep it from sticking to you or the board.
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees—slightly warmer than lukewarm but not hot)
1 cup warm milk (ditto)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 3-3/4 cups flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and then the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, the butter, the salt, and 1-1/2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.
Gradually add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.
Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly-woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled. King Arthur Flour says this will take about an hour; in my house it took quite a bit longer.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide it into thirds, and divide each of those into thirds again so that you have nine pieces. Roll them into little balls.
Roll the balls into cylinders, 4 1/2-inches long. Flatten the cylinders slightly and place them on a well-seasoned baking sheet 1/2 inch apart so they’ll grow together as they rise.
Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled—an hour or so. Keep an eye on the buns; if they rise too fast, they’ll stick to the towel and make a mess. (Can you tell I’m writing from experience?) If you can find a way to lightly cover the buns with a box or something do that instead to avoid the danger of sticking.
Fifteen minutes before you want to bake your buns, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bake the buns for 20 minutes or until they are a nice golden brown.
When the buns are done, remove them from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack.
Makes 9 buns. This recipe may be doubled.

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