Monday, December 14, 2009

The Candy Kitchen 2009 is Open!

Friday night, I played in the kitchen into the wee hours, baking Pie's birthday cake and making candy for my Art Gang Ohio buddies. For years, Pie wanted the same birthday cake as his brother, a 4-layer cake. 2 layers were white, 2 were chocolate. The chocolate ones had white icing and the white ones had chocolate icing. They invariably leaned at a scary angle and the white-iced layers had chocolate crumbs in the frosting most years. Two years ago, he decided he wanted pumpkin pie instead of cake, last year J made his cake in a 13x9 pan, this year, he decided he'd like to try my flourless chocolate cake for his birthday this year. I was delighted. I am rather picky about cake and this is my favorite of favorites. I happily went about purchase of the ingredients and fought off my wife's attempts to take on the task to help me out. This is my adaptation of the original recipe from the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine.

Chocolate Nemesis

2 sticks butter, cut into slices
12 oz. good bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (this was Ghirardelli)
5 eggs
1 c. sugar
7 tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a round 10" cake pan and line bottom with parchment. Butter parchment. Melt the chocolate with the butter just until it can be stirred smooth. I do this in the microwave, but you can use a double boiler. Beat the eggs with 1/3 c. sugar on high speed until tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Heat 2/3 c. sugar with the water over moderately low heat, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Pour into chocolate and mix well. Allow to cool 10 minutes, then pour gradually into the eggs, beating on medium speed until fully incorporated. Pour into cake pan. Place in roasting pan lined with a dish towel. Fill with boiling water until the level is 3/4 of the way up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until just set, 50-60 minutes. Allow to cool at least 2 hours. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and invert onto a cake stand. Remove parchment and decorate, if desire. I like to put raspberries along the edges and pile a bunch of them in the center. This is especially good with freshly whipped cream. I like mine unsweetened, with a hint of vanilla. You could also flavor it with the merest bit of orange or raspberry. It's also nice to sprinkle the whole shebang with powdered sugar.
While the cake was baking, I made treats for the gift bags I presented to the Art Gang Ohio gals. Every year at our Christmas tea, everyone brings wonderful gifts to exchange. Since most of my art is being made in the kitchen these days, and since my skill level with visual art is nowhere near that of my culinary ability or that of the other women in the group, I decided to give everyone candy. My idea was for them to take a rest for a cup of tea and a little snack during this busy season. Each bag contained a clementine (reminiscent of stockings from our childhoods), a little peanut brittle (which I gave my granddad every Christmas from the time I was tiny and now give my mom's partner), a couple packets of chamomile tea, a couple lemon drop tea spoons, a packet of cocoa, a candy cane (to stir the cocoa) and some homemade marshmallows. It was my first attempt at marshmallows and I was much-chagrined when I discovered, after the ingredients were already mixed, that my candy thermometer had the tip broken off sometime in the last year. Following my life coach's advice about cheesecake, I challenged myself with this question: "What will happen if they don't come out right? The ingredients will be wasted either way, so you might as well try it!" I just followed the time guideline and they turned out great! They are particularly delicious in Equal Exchange spicy hot cocoa (or your own cocoa spiked with cinnamon and chili). I used Martha Stewart's very simple recipe, which can be found here:
I think next time I make them, I'll try cutting out snowflakes or hearts. What fun!
The lemon drop spoon recipe came from my friend, Sam, and they make great gifts with mugs & tea. They're also simple, if a smidge fiddly. I used hot pink plastic spoons, but you could play around with colors. One year, I'd like to get a bunch of old spoons from an antique store and use those, tying beautiful ribbons around the ends for presentation. I also want to play with other flavors, like orange and butterscotch.
Lemon Drop Tea Spoons
34 lemon drops, crushed (although I completely forgot this step this time and it just took a little longer than usual for them to melt)
2 tbsp. Karo syrup (any brand is fine, I just like Karo)
Line a jellyroll pan with wax paper and spray with cooking spray. In a small, heavy pan, mix the candy with the Karo over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until melted completely. Fill the bowl of each spoon with the mixture. (you could also just dip the spoons into the mixture for a different look and to eliminate the fiddly bit) Place with the handles on the rim of the jellyroll pan and the bowls of the spoonds level. Let harden. This makes 20-24 spoons. They are nice wrapped in cellophane and tied with pretty twist ties.

Clyde's Peanut Brittle
(Clyde was my granddaddy and he loved peanut brittle)
2 c. sugar
A little baking soda
1 c. peanuts
Grease a pizza pan or cookie sheet. Get a high-sided pan good and hot. Add the sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is all gone to syrup. It will look horrible & ruined for awhile. Keep stirring. Your arm will get tired. Keep stirring. All of a sudden, it will be a lush, golden syrup and you will smile. At this glorious moment, add the soda and nuts and stir it just a little more, until everything is well-mixed, and pour out onto the prepared pan to cool and harden. When it's fully hard, break into bits.

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