Saturday, September 3, 2011

[almost-vegan but totally ethical] raspberry-walnut chiffon cake with chocolate-avocado buttercream

It's startling how quickly something can become routine, and how quickly other things can be pushed to the back of your mind, like dust swept under the rug. I've been cleaning out my hard drive of old files and photos in an effort to organize my life a bit, and rummaging through albums from summers past and collections of pictures of desserts baked for old friends' birthdays, I'm somewhat surprised at how long ago some things seem, even though they really weren't that long ago at all.

Spain, for example. I can't even believe that less than three months ago, I'd be waking up on the eleventh floor of Maria's apartment, grabbing my backpack and heading out on the routine 3-mile walk to campus, strolling past unassuming bookshops and cafes along narrow Valencian streets. Feels like years. And yet, not quite so.

I'm quite a fan of decorating chocolate and raspberry desserts in this fashion. The motivation behind it is my utter lack of creativity. At least, as Noosh so graciously pointed out [in the manner only a best friend would without actually highlighting your creative deficiencies], "it looks like a cake one would find in a bohemian cafe."

This weekend marks the end of the second week of the semester, and yet it feels like it's been going on for ages. Like there was no summer. Papers, hundreds of pages of reading, mundane assignments, insomnia, having to wake up early, wanting to procrastinate with Netflix. It's like I've been doing this for years without pause. The familiarity is nice, of course, but also draining. Feeling like I've been doing this for years also means feeling like I never get quite enough sleep.

But being a third year now, I don't have to deal with the torture of having to familiarize myself with a new place, overwhelmed by enormous classes and distant professors, new hallmates and suitemates and RAs, missing the ease of having a car on hand.

Instead, I have the ability to drive down to a good friend's apartment at any hour I please, dressed up [for once] and an almost-vegan but totally ethical cake in hand for a relaxing and sophisticated dinner party.


Raspberry-Walnut Chiffon Cake with Chocolate Avocado Buttercream
Adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes, passion 4 eating, and my imagination.
Yields one three-layer, 8-inch cake

For the walnut chiffon cake, you'll need:
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 8 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
For the chocolate-avocado "buttercream", you'll need:
  • 3 ripe avocados 
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 cup raspberry preserves
  • 1/2 pint fresh raspberries, to garnish

To prepare the walnut-chiffon cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour three 8-inch square pans [alternatively, three 8-inch round pans or two 9-inch round pans will work]. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts and 2 tbsp of flour until they are the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add in the remaining flour, cornstarch, and baking powder, and pulse until fine. Set aside.

In a the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add in cream of tartar and increase speed to medium-high until soft peaks form. Gradually add in half of the sugar [1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon] until stiff peak forms. Gently spoon the meringue into a large bowl, being careful not to deflate them, and set aside. Clean the bowl and whisk and dry completely.

Now whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the vanilla and mix until incorporated. Sprinkle the flour mixture on top of the egg yolks, but don't mix. Using a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten the batter [and consequently mixing the flour into the eggs]. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites in two additions, being careful not to over-mix or deflate the whipped egg whites. The batter will be thick and dense. Separate the batter equally across the pans. If using three pans, bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top of the cakes are golden-brown. If using two pans, bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cakes cool completely. 


To prepare the chocolate-avocado "buttercream": 
Scoop the flesh out of the three avocados into the bowl of a food processor. Add in all ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Add more sugar if it's not sweet enough to your liking. Keep buttercream refrigerated until using. Note that the frosting can be made a day ahead. 


To assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread a thin layer of the chocolate frosting over the top of the layer, as a sort of crumb-coating. Pour half of the raspberry preserves on top of the chocolate and spread it evenly. Gently place the second cake layer on top of the base, and repeat with another crumb-coating and the remaining raspberry preserves. Place the final layer on top of the cake and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Garnish the top of the cake with the fresh raspberries. Keep cake refrigerated until serving.



I'd have to say, playing Taboo and discussing anthropological differences in pop-culture film dubs, in a room full of college students well-fed with butternut squash lentils, roasted Brussels sprouts, stewed beans, and ethical cake, is a rather excellent way to spend an evening.

Chelsea invited us over this evening, meeting new friends and reuniting with old ones, for a small little dinner party. Since she eats ethical now, we had a vegan dinner and I took it upon myself to offer to make dessert. I have to admit, the challenge of baking ethical was hugely intriguing.


The cake is a dense walnut chiffon, adapted from Rose's almond chiffon cake recipe in her gorgeous cookbook, made ethical with the use of eggs from happy chickens [courtesy of Whole Foods, of course, and borrowed from Chelsea for this dessert]. Being a chiffon cake, it lacks any sort of dairy and thus is completely vegan save for the eggs. 

The frosting is something I've been dying to try for quite a while now; chocolate-avocado "buttercream." Avocado is extremely useful in foods with consistencies like sauces and frostings, as the oil content acts very much like butter. Here, the cocoa powder does a rather good job of masking the avocado taste, and though on its own the frosting is pretty distinct [in neither a positive nor negative way, mind you], on top of a cake it's absolutely brilliant.

And paired with raspberries, it's almost sinful.


Admittedly, I was extremely nervous about this cake. I mean, if it turned out disastrous...a room full of hungry people would be there to tell me all about it. Luckily, it was a hit. And everyone who was unaware of its ethical nature was absolutely floored when I told them about the vegan frosting. Which, I suppose, is the beauty of any sort of substitute dessert: the ability to make them taste convincing. I definitely hope to experiment more with avocado in future.


The rest of the weekend will be spent successfully muggling Famer's Market-bought Ezekiel bread into Panera bread, reading philosophy with a caffeine IV. A trip out of town on Sunday is the only thing motivating me to grin and bear tomorrow's day of catch-up.


As for now, I'm running on about 5 hours of sleep and am in desperate need of some shut-eye. Isn't college just the best?

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