I Believe This Might Just Be My Masterpiece: Birthday Cake 2014

Brown Butter & Lime Cake, with Strawberry Jam, Cornflake Crunch, and Corn Buttercream

Who makes the best cakes?  Momofuku Milk Bar makes the best cakes.  I am not being paid or otherwise compensated to say this.  It’s just the damn truth.

Here’s the logic: the best food texture is, obviously, crunchy.  Obviously.

What makes a good salad better?  Crunchy croutons (or crunchy bits of bacon).

Want your mac and cheese to go to 11?  Put a parmesan-breadcrumb topping on it.  Crunchy.

Best fried eggs ever?  Fry them on some panko.  You have unlocked achievement: crunchy.

What do you put on yogurt?  Granola.  Because crunchy.

What is lacking in 99.999% of cakes?  You daaamn right: crunchy.

pretty cake

I’m not a bakery connoisseur, but as far as I know, Christina Tosi is the only baker out there putting substantial crunchy in her cakes.  I’m talking serious crunch here.  Buckets of crunch.  Toasted nuts do not count, they are weak.  Other than the occasional dacquoise, which involves layers of dried meringue (and who makes those?), I’m not really aware of any.  Am I missing anything?

Crunchy layers will take a good cake to a friggin’ amazing cake.  Since I got my grubby hands on the Milk Bar cookbook, I haven’t made a layer cake without some sort of crunchy “crumb” layer.  You can never go back.

This year for my birthday, in imitation of Tosi, I made myself a Brown Butter & Lime Cake, with Strawberry Jam, Cornflake Crunch, and Corn Buttercream.

And hoo boy.

Hooooooo boy.

This cake… this cake was special.  It did not last long.

This is my new favorite cake trick: flavored buttercream.  And it’s stupid easy!  Figure out what flavor you want.  Buy some freeze dried whatever-that-flavor-is.  Me, I used corn.  Grind some to a fine powder in a spice/coffee grinder, and add it to your favorite buttercream.  Wham!  Corn Buttercream.

You’re welcome.

Brown Butter & Lime Cake, with Strawberry Jam, Cornflake Crunch, and Corn Buttercream

Yield: 1 friggin amazing cake

Brown Butter & Lime Cake, with Strawberry Jam, Cornflake Crunch, and Corn Buttercream

All right, let's do this thing.

The cake was Rose Levy Beranbaum's French Génoise. I made the Rich Variant, doubled the recipe to make 2 cakes, and rubbed the zest of 1 lime into the sugar until it looked like wet sand and smelled incredible. In the syrup, I used Bourbon.

For the strawberry jam, I sliced up a shy quart of farmers market strawberries, put 'em in a pan with a sprinkling of sugar (maybe a couple of tablespoons), and a hefty squeeze of lemon. I measured nothing. It cooked on medium-low until thick and jammy, which took it at least 30 minutes, probably more. And buddy, it was intense.

The cornflake crunch was based on Chef Tosi's Corn Crumbs, but I swapped cornflakes for the indicated Cap'n Crunch.  It didn't really work as expected.  It needed waaay more white chocolate at the end to make it come together.  It did the job, though.

The buttercream was based on the same recipe as this one, sans rum. I made only a half recipe this time, and it was the perfect amount for a 10" four-layer cake. I added 60 grams of finely ground freeze-dried corn to the finished buttercream.

Ingredients

  • (links to recipes in the headnotes)
  • Brown Butter and Lime Cake
  • Bourbon Syrup
  • Strawberry Jam
  • Cornflake Crunch
  • Corn Buttercream

Instructions

1. Slice the cakes in half horizontally, and trim any domed tops until things are nice and flat. Place the bottom of one cake on a cake plate or serving platter. (Reserve the other bottom for the top of the cake.) Slide four strips of wax paper under each side of the cake to protect the platter from over-frosting.

2. Brush the cake with the Bourbon Syrup until well-moistened.

3. Spread one third of the Strawberry Jam in a thin layer all the way to the edge.

4. Crumble an even layer of Cornflake Crunch over the jam, and press until mostly even.

5. Spread a dollop of Corn Buttercream evenly over the top of the Crunch layer, as evenly as possible.

6. Place another layer of cake on top of the frosting, and gently press into place.

7. Repeat the layering process. Brush the cut side of the last cake layer with syrup before stacking it syrup-side-down onto the cake.

8. Place a very large dollop of frosting on the top of the cake. Smooth it across the top and down the sides of the cake in a thin, even layer. Don't worry about crumbs at this point, just make it look even. This is called a "crumb coat". Use additional frosting as needed, but make this coat a thin one. Don't get crumbs in the bowl of remaining frosting.

9. Once the crumb coat is finished, chill the cake and any unused frosting for at least 1 hour.

10. When the crumb coat is firm and well chilled, repeat the frosting procedure with the remaining frosting. No crumbs should be showing.

11. Decorate however you want to, with piped frosting, leftover Cornflake Crunch, or whatever.

12. Chill the cake at least 1 hour, or until frosting is firm and well chilled. Now remove the wax paper from under the cake. Admire how clean your platter looks.

13. Serve at a party with candles and friends to sing "Happy Birthday". Champagne, Bourbon, you know the drill.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/i-believe-this-might-just-be-my-masterpiece-birthday-cake-2014/

Strawbalsamic, and the Cocktails It Hath Wrought

A few weeks ago, I posted a salad recipe that I had developed for a client.  That recipe, as so many of my recipes often do, involved the use of a Very Special Ingredient: Strawberry White Balsamic Vinegar.  Or, as it’s now commonly referred to ’round these parts, “strawbalsamic”.

™.

before
after

That vinegar is so smooth and sweet, you can practically drink it.  So let’s drink it already.

These two cocktails are in the spirit of the shrub renaissance that’s been sweeping the bars and blogs of our nation lately.  Our strawbalsamic, though, is much less sweet and less complicated than many of those shrub syrup recipes.  Because with cocktails, there’s no time to mess around.  Simplicity is key.

I mean, there wasn’t even time for a garnish.  We’re on a tight schedule around here.

Could you make that salad without strawbalsamic?  Yes, absolutely.  Can you make these cocktails without it?  I don’t recommend it.

Making the vinegar (recipe here) will take ten minutes of your time (including washing the strawberries, plus the hands-off time needed to steep), and will reward you for weeks: in cocktails, in green salads, to brighten up grain-vegetable mélanges, or anyplace you might use lemon juice and don’t mind a bit of fragrant strawberry.

The vinegar recipe calls for a food processor, which I used because I have one; but I imagine you could get the same effect by smashing the hulled berries with a potato masher or fork.  Or shoot, just chop them up with a knife.  Don’t let a lack of power tools scare you off.  This one’s too good.

My Old Kentucky Strawberry

Yield: 1 cocktail

My Old Kentucky Strawberry

If you're a purist (or don't have a cocktail shaker), you can stir this drink together over ice, then strain into a glass. I like my drinks shook.

I tried this with both rye and Bourbon, and thought they were both delightful. Use something that has some personality to it. The Bourbon version is a touch more sweet, but not at all in a cloying way.

Ingredients

  • 1 jigger Bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1/4 jigger white creme de cacao
  • 1/4 jigger Strawbalsamic (recipe here)
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Instructions

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass. Serve.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/strawbalsamic-and-the-cocktails-it-hath-wrought/

Strawberry Bullet

Yield: 1 cocktail

Strawberry Bullet

Again, if you've got something against drinks being shaken, then stir and strain it. There's no judgement here.

I specify Hendrick's here, because when I tried making this cocktail with a more subtle gin (Broker's), it seemed a bit flat. I'm sure whatever your preferred gin, it will be a-okay.

Ingredients

  • 1 jigger Hendrick's gin
  • 1/4 jigger Strawbalsamic (recipe here)

Instructions

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. Serve.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/strawbalsamic-and-the-cocktails-it-hath-wrought/

Strawberry, Watermelon, & Arugula Salad with Cardamom-Candied Pistachios

Recently, a dinner party client requested a strawberry salad for the meal I was cooking for him.  And I don’t know the last time you searched for “strawberry salad”, but 99.99% of the recipes out there involve two things:

1. Spinach

2. Poppy seeds

Not that there’s a thing in the world wrong with a good strawberry-spinach-poppy seed salad.  It’s a lovely little thing, simple, tasty, and pretty, which is why it’s ubiquitous.

But my clients don’t pay me to make exactly what the next guy is serving.  My clients hire me because they want something bespoke, something more thoughtful.  And I thought I could do better.

So I brainstormed.  At the top of the page, I wrote “NO GODDAMN SPINACH OR POPPY SEEDS”, just in case I needed a reminder.  I laid out some flavors: watermelon, arugula, pistachios, lime, balsamic vinegar, mint, shallot, cardamom, vanilla.

Peppery arugula made the base of the salad, while chopped watermelon and strawberries marinated in a bath of lime, herbs, shallot, olive oil, a splash of vanilla, and this incredible Strawberry White Balsamic Vinegar that I discovered from Our Dearly Departed Gourmet Magazine.  If you try nothing else from this recipe, make that.  You could practically drink it.

(Note to self: develop cocktail recipe using Strawberry White Balsamic Vinegar.)

(Edit: Done.)

The pistachios got candied with some egg white, sugar, and a heavy dose of cardamom.  They might seem like a fussy afterthought, but they go a long way towards tying everything together.  Besides, crunchy bits are requisite on moderately-fussy salads like this.  (And they’re a lovely little snack to boot, if you happen to make extra.)

These pictures are from the test run I did many weeks ago, and I can just about smell it through the screen.  This is one super fragrant salad, y’all.

We paired it with a punchy rosé, and oh my goodness if you make this salad, you really ought to have a bottle of rosé on hand.  It was one of those situations where one legitimately could not tell if the wine was making the food better, or the food was making the wine better.  There was a lovely roasted salmon too, but it became incidental.

My client, by the way, was thrilled.  And so was I.  I think you will be too.

Strawberry, Watermelon, & Arugula Salad with Cardamom-Candied Pistachios

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

If you choose to make the Strawberry Vinegar (which you absolutely should; recipe linked below), plan a little in advance, as it requires at least 1 hour to make. You can make it well in advance, and it's wildly versatile, so you have very little excuse.

If you don't have time for that, though, I specify white balsamic vinegar, only because regular balsamic vinegar will muddy the appearance a little. If that doesn't bother you, by all means use regular balsamic vinegar.

This strikes me as an ideal picnic salad, or contribution to a potluck dinner. While the strawberries and watermelon marinate in the dressing, that gives you ample time to get to, you know, wherever you're going. Once there, serve them with the arugula and the pistachios. Wham. You look like Martha Stewart.

Ingredients

    For the Cardamom-Candied Pistachios:
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 cups raw, shelled pistachios
  • For the Dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons Strawberry Vinegar, or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • For the Salad:
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 to 2 cups diced seedless watermelon
  • 3 to 5 ounces baby arugula, or as needed

Instructions

To Make the Cardamom-Candied Pistachios:

1. Preheat oven to 300° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk the egg white with the water until foamy. Whisk in the sugars, cardamom, salt, and pepper until combined.

3. Add the pistachios and mix until coated.

4. LIft the pistachios out of the bowl, letting any excess liquid remain in the bowl, and spread in an even layer on the prepared pan. Do not crowd the nuts (use a second pan if necessary).

5. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until the nuts look dry, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking and clumping together. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

To Make the Dressing:

1. In a large bowl, combine the Strawberry Vinegar (or white balsamic), shallot, mint, basil, lime zest and juice, vanilla, and cardamom. Add a three-fingered pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

2. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil (it's okay if it doesn't emulsify). Taste. If the dressing seems too tart, add additional olive oil one tablespoon at a time until it tastes more balanced. When it tastes good to you, proceed with the recipe.

To Finish the Salad:

1. Toss the quartered strawberries and diced watermelon with the dressing in the bowl. Let stand for at least 10 minutes at room temperature, or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

2. When ready to serve, add arugula and toss to coat with the dressing. Divide into bowls or plates, top with Cardamom-Candied Pistachios, and serve.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/strawberry-watermelon-arugula-salad-with-cardamom-candied-pistachios/