Sunday, February 19, 2012

white chocolate truffle-trifle

"Truffle-trifle" is a bit of a mouthful. The reason is that it should just be "truffle cake." But baking disasters can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself to retain some shred of self-preservation.

So, if you've been following this thing at all, you'll know that I have a major problem with layered desserts. Not like typical layered cakes smothered in a frosting of some sort, but mousses, custards, and stacked cakes. I honestly don't know what to do about it, save perhaps get a ring mold, and even then I wouldn't know how to use it adequately. Even worse when the filling itself doesn't work as expected and actually wedges its way beneath the sponge cake you've worked tirelessly to make perfectly and you end up with a half-sunk Titanic situation happening in your springform cake pan, complete with white chocolate filling seeping through the cracks that is nothing if not reminiscent of when the lower decks of the ship begin to flood and consequently fill you with a sense of deep-seated trepidation at the inevitable destruction of a once-great piece of art.

Or maybe that's just the product of a stressful week full of minor disappointments here and there, with a futile baking project as the metaphorical icing on the why-does-God-have-it-out-for-me-these-days cake.

Nevertheless, as I stood there watching white chocolate dripping solemnly onto the floor, I felt totally at peace. [I think it's because I fully expected something much worse, like a minor house fire or earthquake to swallow my Kitchen Aid whole, but nuances.] I watched it for several seconds, transfixed by the tragic beauty of the thing, before I overturned the truffle cake, salvaging the sponge base and most of the filling. I flipped through mental notes for a minute, scurrying through the kitchen, opening cabinets and muttering to myself [in my head or out loud, I'm not even sure], as Farnoosh glanced up in alarm to watch me buzzing about. She came over to ask if everything was alright and saw the disaster of a truffle cake on the counter. At this point, though, I had an idea ready, and grabbed a few of my prized ramekins from the ceramics basket, slamming them excitedly on the counter and grabbing a knife from my silverware drawer. Sliced the cake up into three small rounds, set them at the base of each ramekin, and poured the filling on top.

Voila. Truffle cake trifle. Noosh took each and put them in the fridge for me so they'd settle, we cleaned up the counter, and then ate the left over, white chocolate-soaked sponge cake. It ended up being quite a delicious disaster, in the end.

And perhaps even lovelier than the intended cake, sitting serenely in their ceramic ramekins like debutantes at a ball.

White Chocolate Truffle Trifle
Makes 4-6 small ramekins worth of trifle

For the sponge cake, you'll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 oz good-quality white chocolate, melted *
  • 1/3 cup flour
For the white chocolate filling, you'll need:
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, softened

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease a 9x13-inch pan with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, whisk sugar and eggs on high speed until light and frothy, about 10 minutes. Gently fold in flour and white chocolate. Pour filling onto pan and bake for 15-20 mins, until springy. Let cool in pan about 5 mins, then remove cake from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare the filling:
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat heavy cream to boiling. Lower the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until the chocolate melts completely. Fold in the mascarpone cheese and stir until mixture is smooth. Allow filling to cool completely, about 1 hour. Stir periodically so the filling doesn't set.

To assemble the trifle:
Cut a circle the size of the base of each ramekin out of the sponge cake. Gently press the sliced cakes onto the base of the ramekins. Slowly spoon the cooled filling on top of the sponge cake, smoothing out the top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until completely set. 

*Note: Honestly, do not skimp on the quality of the white chocolate. Cheap chocolate will give the entire dessert an air of artificiality, since cheap chocolate itself tastes like over-sweetened plastic. Splurge on the good stuff - a nice Swiss or Belgian - or this dessert isn't worth the time.

It had been a rather long week, so Noosh, Matt and I decided to wind down with a dinner last night. It was originally intended to be a belated Valentine's Day dessert affair, since there wasn't much time to do any baking during the week [although Farnoosh made Valentine's night absolutely delicious with a silken-tofu chocolate pudding (quite possibly one of my favorite desserts of all time) to go along with our marathon of Supernatural season 2]. But after the week dragged on a bit too much for my happiness, we decided to just do a understated dinner party.

As much as I enjoy baking, there's nothing I love more than cooking. It's much more therapeutic than baking, since it requires less precision and stress and aesthetic disappointments are much less noticeable [okay, maybe I am still a little bitter]. I spent Wednesday and Thursday perfecting my, admittedly meager, menu, and eventually settled on a 3-course affair: toasted mascarpone-stuffed dates and seeded red grapes as hors d'oeuvres, followed by a simple salad of romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes topped with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil and Portuguese sea salt, and then spaghetti cacio e pepe with freshly grated pecorino romano [hands-down the best pasta recipe you will eat in your entire life] for a relatively light main. And, of course, white chocolate truffle-trifle to round it off.

The entire affair stretched out over about 2 and a half hours, all the while with plenty of French-inspired acoustic music [my cooking playlist] and pleasant chatter in between. Not gonna lie, it was an impressively sophisticated event.

Though, honestly, there is little I can complain about after having seen my favorite band in concert on Friday night, having spent the better part of 3 hours wanting nothing more than to have an intimate relationship with the lead singer's voice.

To be fair, by the end of the week, even after the baking adventure [which took place on Friday afternoon], things were looking up. A bit of reading, a new cookbook, an absolutely fantastic Blind Pilot concert, and catching up on schoolwork does wonders for one's psyche. And then a delicious meal with old friends to look forward to, and then you realize that small disappointments are worth bearing because it makes you appreciate the good things even more.

Particularly when the end result is the most delicious trifle you've ever eaten in your entire life. And I am now metaphorically flipping the bird at conventionality.

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands
- and then eat just one of the pieces.  
Judith Viorst

Friday, February 10, 2012

tall, dark, and handsome cake with blackberry preserves [and an ethical 21st birthday]

I love sound. It's my favorite sense after taste, I think.

I love buzzing chatter. The nice kind, mind you, when you're at a coffee shop with your laptop in the midst of writing a paper for a class with the soft hum of people musing to one another over lattes and biscotti.

I love laughter. Even irritating, too-loud laughter that kind of makes you want to punch the person after too long, but knowing that they're happy is the only thing keeping you from doing it.

I love music. Listening to a favorite playlist while speed-walking through grounds on the way to class, too distracted by the lyrics to notice your friends trying to get your attention as you brush past them without sparing a glance.

Lately, I love wiring my laptop up to my speaker system and listening to soundtracks playing in the background as I bustle about the kitchen. For this particular baking endeavor, I alternated between James Vincent McMorrow and the gorgeous soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. It made for a soothing touch as I struggled fruitlessly to keep the layers from toppling over and getting chocolate frosting on absolutely every inch of counter space physically accessible.

It was real cute, let me tell you.

But in the end, Cole Porter kept me sane, and I was able to put together a rather homely-looking birthday cake for two wonderful friends.

Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting 
Adapted from bella eats and Healthy. Happy. Life.
Yields one 3-layer, 8-inch cake.

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 3 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups hot, brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk [for dairy free, substitute 1 1/2 cups soy milk plus 1 tbsp cider vinegar, well mixed and set aside ~5 mins to curdle]
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • your choice preserves, for layers [raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry work best]

For chocolate buttercream, you'll need:
  • 2/3 cup [1 1/2 sticks, 12 tbsp, 6 oz] butter
  • 2/3 cup melted chocolate
  • 4-6 tbsp soy milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. Line bottom of the pans with wax paper and grease.

In a small heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate chips and hot coffee, stirring until the mixture is smooth. In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set both aside.

In another large bowl, beat eggs on medium-high speed until thickened and lemon in color, about 3 minutes. Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture. Beat until fully incorporated. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture, beating until batter is just combined. 

Divide batter among the pans and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool layers in their pans on a cooling rack. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the pans and invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Slowly peel away wax paper and let layers cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:
On medium-high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 mins. Add melted chocolate and vanilla and beat. Lower mixer speed to low and slowly add in confectioner's sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once sugar is added, increase mixer speed to medium. Pour in soy milk until the mixture has the preferred consistency - this will vary, and may need less than 4 tbsp or more than 6 depending on your preference. Beat frosting until light. Refrigerate until using.

To assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a generous amount of raspberry preserves [I do about 2/3 cup worth] on top of the layer. Frost the top of the preserves with a bit of the frosting. Place second layer on top and repeat. Place third layer on top and use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until serving.

Chelsea and Roods celebrated a joint birthday dinner last night, for which I happily offered to bake the cake. I wanted something quite different from last year's coconut layer cake with lemon curd filling, and so opted for chocolate. Ethical, and chocolate. The thought was a bit daunting, which obviously meant I was going to take up the challenge.

In actuality, the cake was a breeze to make even with the restriction to ethical ingredients. Chelsea provided me with her preferred eggs and butter, and soy milk took care of the rest. In the end, it didn't taste any different from what one would expect from a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

And, ethical fun fact: Ghirardelli's semisweet chocolate chips [you know, the ones they sell next to the Nestle for an extra 60 cents or what have you] are made with soy lecithin. I just love happy coincidences.

I went with blackberries for this one, as I love the earthy tartness of blackberries against the bitter chocolate. A bit more sophisticated than raspberry, which was quite fitting for a classy little dessert and cocktail/mocktail night. Chelsea even made the world's most adorable [vegan] margarita cupcakes for the occasion. It was all rather precious.

So, in the end, it was two hours spent with cake, cupcakes, and drinks. All the while with a lovely backdrop of chatter, laughter, and music.

Because, really, what more do you need for a good night?

Happy 21st birthdays, my darlings Chelsea and Rudhdi. I hope this next year is filled with pleasant sounds, piquant tastes, and lots of happy memories. Love always.