A Cake that Wears Many Hats

Have you ever wanted a cake that could be a round-the-clock enjoyment? An elegant dessert, a midday snack, or even a late night nosh? There’s no “rule” that cakes can only be enjoyed at certain times of day, yet there are few that can satiate those random cravings. Enter this beauty –   a Chocolate Soufflé Brownie Cake. You can enjoy it chilled with a berry coulis, microwaved and served with ice cream, or even just as is with your hands! What more can you ask of a cake…or brownie…or whatever it is.The reason you can say I’m slightly confused about this cake’s “category” is because it has all the components of a soufflé, and yet still manages to taste just like a brownie. The brownie element comes from the melted chocolate, to which the egg yolks and flour are stirred in by hand. This creates a smooth, rich texture of chocolatey goodness. Most “authentic” brownie recipes are made this way, and often use a really good chocolate (and I used Ghiradelli for this cake).The soufflé element comes from the separation of the eggs. The yolks, as mentioned above, are added per usual, yet the white are whipped to a frothy perfection on the side. By whipping the whites separately from the rest of the batter, the cake’s texture is leavened substantially. This cake, in a way, gets the best of both worlds thanks to these separate but wonderful elements. Click HERE to make this versatile dessert today! In thinking about a composer that could also “wear many hats,” there was one name that I was shocked to discover has yet to be on my blog: Mozart. He was an extremely prolific composer whose list of repertoire is nearly endless: operas, sonatas, symphonies, vocal works, concertos, numerous chamber settings (the list goes on).  Though his life was tragically cut short, he managed to produce a wealth of musical genius that influenced countless generations. Le Nozze di Figarois arguably one of his most renowned operas, and I have chosen the beautiful aria “Porgi, amor” for this pairing. In this scene, the Countess laments her husband’s alleged duplicity with her maid Susanna (even though such is not the case). This recording, from the 1980 Paris Opéra production (thanks Tim Wilfong for helping me find this!) features the extremely talented Gundula Janowitz as the Countess – enjoy! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz3jBUmzqlQ&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“The Marriage of Figaro,” Wikipedia.com

Effortless Perfection

“These are the best macaroons I’ve ever had, and trust me – I know my macaroons!” I’m not usually one to brag, but this compliment (from my coworker Dianne who loves coconut) only confirmed how simply amazing these cookies are! I originally made these for a friend to congratulate his big win with the Spokane Symphony (congratulations Ross!) Wanting to create something both quick and easy, I came up with these Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons. I brought the remaining cookies to my office the next day – they disappeared almost instantly.
Though most Americans associate these as being macaroons, the “authentic” macaroon has no coconut whatsoever! It is instead a meringue-like cookie, made from almond paste and egg whites, that is believed to have originated within an Italian monastery several centuries ago. The term macaroon is derived from the Italian term maccarone, meaning “paste.” While the coconut variety is extremely popular in the US and the UK, its delicate, almond cousin takes the lead elsewhere.* That being said, if you like coconut and/or chocolate, you won’t think twice about these cookies’ departure from the norm – click HERE to bake a batch of these today!
And now for the musical pairing – I have to admit, cookies are always an interesting case for me. They can generally be assembled and baked in under 30 minutes. While these cookies were really easy to make, they had a surprising depth of flavor. This led me to choose a composer who is often seen as being simple, yet is far more complex when experienced: Bach. I chose his Fugue in B minor on a theme by Tomaso Albinoni. While there are only two voices in the work, it is beautifully intricate and surprisingly profound. The recording is by Glenn Gould, whose playing of this difficult fugue seems so entirely effortless – enjoy!   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQjF0TNsDCk

Sources Cited:
*”History of Macaroons.” The Nibble

Strawberries and Cozy Saturdays

As my previous post implied, this hasn’t been the easiest month for me – that being said, I’ve been dying to start blogging again. Considering I’m still on “the mend,” I haven’t been quite as active a culinarian…for those of you who know me, you can see why I had to do something during this “hurry up and wait” period. So I thought I could share a few recipes from my archives – aka photos of dishes that I never had the chance to post. So what better way to make a comeback than with Strawberry Chocolate Shortcakes with Whipped Cream?!
So why are we so addicted to shortcakes? Whether it be the crumbly, buttery biscuits or the bright, juicy berries, they have become one of the idyllic desserts in our culture. I used an interested method with these biscuits – rather than cubing cold butter and using a pastry cutter, I shredded the frozen butter with a cheese grater. The end result was a light, flaky biscuit. As you noticed, these are a little different than your “classic”  shortcakes – they have finely chopped chocolate bits – this is an optional add-in, but I loved the visual aesthetic. Click HERE to learn how to make these beautiful treats.
I’m blogging about these shortcakes on a Saturday, and quite frankly (since I’m relegated to limited activity) I’ve come to enjoy the refuge of these lazy days. Whether curling up on the sofa with a good book or enjoying one of the several TV shows on my queue (TNG and Justified are the current frontrunners), the weekends have proven ideal for summer rest. Though I don’t often listen to the works of Edvard Grieg, I felt that the Sarabande from his Holberg Suite, Op. 40 was the ideal pairing for such peaceful refuge. The suite is neoclassical (drawing from the Baroque style), though Grieg’s signature can be discerned throughout. This quality helped draw my connection to the idea that these shortcakes are also a thing “from the past.” Though the Sarabande is beautiful, the piece is relatively short – if you have the time, I recommend listening to all 5 movements. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjoBxMR095g&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“Holberg Suite.” Wikipedia.com 

Finding the Perfect Balance

There’s this small hole-in-the-wall bakery near my apartment that I had been dying to visit. The owner had won the lottery a while back, then cashed in and opened his own bakery! I just had to meet this guy. My roommate Jenn and I finally went, and after introducing myself we began talking about our shared passion for baking. We both immediately agreed upon the one book that every baker should own – Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. No baking kitchen is complete without it! Recently when I was asked to bake a cake for a coworker’s going-away party, this “bible” certainly lived up to its name when I made the Chocolate Butter Cake with Mocha Espresso Buttercream.
What’s ingenious about Rose’s book is not the recipes themselves, but the science that structures them. Rather than assuming the old measured ratios, Rose explores the chemistry behind baking and how the different components react with one another. All of the recipes includes actual weight measurements, as well as an explanation behind the process and ingredient ratios. Additionally, she provides the basics so you can choose from a variety of cake batters, frostings, etc. to build your own!
This was the first time I had made a cake where the dry ingredients are added before the butter. Normally, the butter is creamed with the sugar to aerate the butter’s proteins and disperse the sugar crystals. By adding the butter after the dry ingredients, the fats in the butter are able to coat the gluten in the flour, and prevent the batter from toughening during the mixing process. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth cake whose texture is far more consistent than that from the traditional creaming method. The only downside to this process is that cakes won’t rise quite as high as they would with the creaming method. Since I was baking this for my entire office, a short double-layer cake wouldn’t quite cut it. Upon realizing this, I decided to bake a second batch. I used only one of the cakes to make a triple-layer, and froze the leftover for another use.
This buttercream is to die for, but I will warn you – I nearly lost the entire thing thinking I had botched it. Water and sugar is boiled to a “soft ball stage,” or when a spoonful can be dropped into very cold water and forms a ball while in the water. Patience is key here – I dropped several little drops into a constantly refilled glass until it reached that  point. My agony could also be blamed on the ridiculously hot weather, with my buttercream resembling a milk shake more than a frosting. So I refrigerated it for about 30 minutes, then removed it and whisked it with a hand mixer once again – the end result was gorgeous. To make it espresso, I added both instant espresso powder AND Kahlua. Click HERE to learn how to make this decadent cake.
To honor Rose’s baking wisdom, I wanted to choose a piece that reflects the way the different ingredients interact with one another. This led me to chamber music – unlike a large ensemble, every performer in a chamber setting plays a crucial role. The unique balance relies on the reactions the musicians have with one another, almost like a musical conversation. One person who arguably understood the “chemistry” of chamber music was Beethoven. Every voice in his works has a purposeful, expressive quality that is truly brilliant. This is especially true of his string quartets. For this cake, I chose his String Quartet No. 1 in F major, op. 18. The recording below is the Alban Berg Quartet performing the first movement, “Allegro con brio” – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
– Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1988.

Two Cupcakes, Both Alike in Delectability

One guaranteed way to brighten up a roomful of people is to present them with a platter of cupcakes. While other desserts can be equally as enchanting, there is something more special about the personal enjoyment cupcakes can provide. Each one is its own little present, waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed. My office loves it when I make cupcakes, so for the monthly birthday celebration (when we acknowledge all of our coworkers with birthdays that month), I brought two very distinct varieties: Sour Cream-Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella and Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting.
Ever since visiting Germany with my youth orchestra when I was 16, I have had a true appreciation for the genius of Nutella: a sweet, spreadable delight that has no parallel in either flavor or form. Nutella is truly a baker’s best friend, given it is sure to please any who try it. In fact, it’s so amazing I decided to just use it AS the frosting alone – perhaps one of the tastiest shortcuts I’ve ever taken.
The cupcakes themselves are a little tricky – the sour cream gives them an inherent lightness in texture, to which the melted chocolate lends a beautiful silkiness. This makes the batter a little capricious (I had to toss 3 or 4 that sort of collapsed within the cups – they were that delicate). I cut holes out of the top to fill with the nutella, and I suggest using a serrated knife so you don’t “drag” the cake. The flavor of this cake made the effort all worthwhile – click HERE to check out these chocolatey delights.
This next recipe has been in my repertoire for quite some time now, and it has never failed to please. It is quite time consuming, given all the prep work and steps involved. The reduced coconut milk isn’t too scary to make, just be sure to keep an eye on the pot to prevent scorching. Vanilla bean is absolutely necessary here – it is what gives these cupcakes their profound taste. Trust me, you won’t regret taking the time to create these – click HERE to learn how to make these fantastic cupcakes.
Now I mentioned I made these for an office birthday party – someone had purchased a gallon of vanilla ice cream, and I started noticing that a few of my coworkers were halving one of each cupcake and placing the two types in a bowl together with a scoop of ice cream. I thought I had seen it all, but this was definitely a novel concept: pairing together two entirely different flavors with a “loving” scoop of ice cream. Funny thing is, they were a match made in heaven!
This inevitably led me to choose my musical pairing for this piece: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. I had initially intended to post these two recipes separately, but this was the perfect way to combine the two:  This piece is styled in sonata form (fast-slow-fast), with the middle section containing the work extremely well-known “love theme.” This work, which runs at just under 20 minutes, hopes to capture the passion and color of the story, rather than narrate the tale itself. Below I’ve included a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev – Enjoy!

Oranges Take the Cake!

I am not an orange juice drinker – I love oranges, and love cooking with them, but the straight-up juice isn’t my specialty. So the question of how to make use of a TON of orange juice leftover from a hang at my place became priority number one. I poured through cookbooks, running off ingredients and trying to see what pantry staples I could rely on. My Bon Appetit Desserts cookbook (an awesome gift from my friend Maya) provided the perfect solution (which I modified slightly): Orange-Scented Loaf Cakes with Glaze.
Oranges are the world’s most commonly grown tree fruit, with over 65 million tons produced annually around the world*. As any baker knows, fresh is best…but as you already know, I used juice from a carton. Here’s my defense: it was Tropicana, which according to the box (see above) is NEVER made from concentrate – there is nothing other than 100% pure orange juice. Though it’s not straight from the fruit, it’s pretty darn close. Since this cake was my way of using up leftover juice, I used vanilla extract rather than vanilla bean (for the sake of convenience). What makes this cake is the glaze – pouring the glaze on while the cake is hot is a MUST (both the texture and flavor depend on it). The original recipe makes a bundt, but I vied for two loaves (for serving purposes): click HERE to see my version of these flavorful cakes!
When considering what piece to pair with this recipe, it almost automatically began playing in my head – the Preludio from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin. I hadn’t really developed a solid reason on why, but it just felt perfect. It’s a nice way to introduce the “father of music” to my blog (still trying to fathom what possible recipe can justify his legendary Chaconne). Perhaps one of the most recognized names in classical music, the works of J.S. Bach have influenced generation upon generation of performers and listeners alike. His music is defined by its beauty and creative depth, while it also places a substantail amount of technical and artistic demands on those who perform it – such is certainly the case with the Preludio. In retrospect, I wanted a “bright” work to pair with cake, and the Partita’s setting of E Major provides the ideal character – bright, lively, and filled with “flavor.” The recording I’ve included here is by violinst Nathan Milstein, whose interpretations of Bach’s music helped define his soloing career. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIemzStWOog

Sources Cited:
*”Orange,” Wikipedia.com

Seeking Serenity through Tzatziki

Had you told me 10 years ago that I would love the city life, complete with renting an apartment and relying on public transportation, I would have laughed. Yet here I am: living in Boston proper with a 2-bedroom apartment, and commuting daily to work on the subway, and loving every bit of it. That being said, it does have some restrictions – most notably, lack of a grill. So there’s George Foreman, or I could get a small charcoal and drag it out to the parking lot every time I want a steak; but neither really suits my own culinary finesse. Enter the solution: a grill pan. Now obviously the smoky taste of a true grill won’t be achieved, but it’s the next best thing. I just bought a 13-inch Calphalon nonstick grill pan (see below) and wanted to take it for a test ride. For its debut, I decided to make Pan-Grilled Salmon with Tzatziki.
While I am an avid user of cast-iron for meats, fish works quite well in the nonstick setting. Salmon is an oily, or fatty, fish – it thus takes slightly longer to cook. To create the perfectly cooked fillet, salmon is often removed from the heat just before it is fully cooked. This prevents the fish from drying out, giving it a beautiful texture. The result will be flesh that is slightly translucent in the center, and completely opaque around the edges. Like Tuna, salmon is a safe fish to eat undercooked, or even raw (NOTE: this only applies to fresh fish – read all labels and safety instructions beforehand).* Leaving the skin on the fillets prevents the fish from drying out; it can easily be removed with a long knife or spatula once the fish is done cooking.
For this salmon, I chose to make Tzatziki: a Greek dish that consists of strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, and lemon; mint and parsley are optional add-ins (which I did not use). It is used in a number of contexts in Greek cuisine, from being served as a meze (appetizer) with dippers to serving as a sauce for gyros. Tzatziki pairs beautifully with salmon – the dill and lemon highlight the fish’s natural flavor, while the yogurt and cucumber provide an almost “spa-like” freshness. Greek yogurt is a must for achieving the right consistency of this sauce – I like Trader Joe’s brand, but Fage is another excellent variety. If you prefer to use regular yogurt, be sure to strain it for at least 2 hours (in the refrigerator) by placing the yogurt in a coffee filter over a large bowl. To learn how to make this lovely summer dish, click HERE.
The “soothing” flavors of the Tzatziki received my attention for this musical pairing, and Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau was the perfect match. This work opens the series Images pour piano, though the three parts are often performed as individual works. This series was written just after the completion of La Mer (which was just featured on this blog). It evince many of the same harmonic qualities found in the orchestra piece, yet finds a more delicate ambience through poetic expression. Reflets dans l’eau translates to “Reflection in the Water,” and is meant to evoke a rippling effect.^ I’ve included here a recording by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (a French pianist for a French piece!) His interpretation is precisely the ambiance I hoped to capture with this dish. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*”Cooking Fish Fundamentals.” Rouxbe Cooking School http://rouxbe.com
**”Tzatziki.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzatziki
^”Claude Debussy.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy

A Classic Dessert with a Twist

In case you didn’t notice, summer in Boston is one of my favorite times of year. The weather is almost always perfect (knock on wood), and the notorious audacity of Boston’s residents is temporarily replaced with a warm conviviality. Fall is lovely, of course, and the fist snow of winter can be breathtaking; but I can’t get enough of this beautiful season. My relish for hosting parties is tenfold, and friends/coworkers who are around for the summer become the guinea pigs of my culinary adventures. I hosted one party this past weekend that was your all-American standard: burgers, beer, chips & salsa, etc. The dessert was a classic that allowed my southern heritage to really shine: Key Lime Pie.
Key Lime Pie is named for the use of the Floridian Key Lime…okay I confess, I didn’t use actual Key Limes to make this pie. I used an organic brand of regular lime juice that I had on hand. The primary difference between these citrus cousins is color and flavor. Unlike conventional limes, Key Limes are noted for their bitter, tart taste and for having a yellow to light green skin. Native to Southeast Asia, the Key Lime was introduced brought by Spanish explorers to the West Indies. The Florida Keys became a prominent location of harvest for the fruit, with the term “Key” being added to differentiate them from the traditional Persian cultivar.* I decided to split the difference by omitting a tablespoon or two of sugar to achieve a more tart filling. Check out how to make this fabulous recipe by clicking HERE.
In pairing this dish, I chose to acknowledge Spain and its role in introducing Key Limes to North America. Spain is a nation rich with culture and history, and its composers bring that wealth of culture to their music. One example is the music of Isaac Albéniz – a Catalan composer, pianist, and conductor whose efforts were instrumental in promoting Spanish music abroad. He is most well-known for his piano works, many of which were later transcribed for the guitar.** such is the case with the selection I chose: Asturias, from Suite española, Op. 47. This suite consists of eight movements, each representing a different region in Spain. Several of these movements are performed on guitar more often than piano, including Asturias.^ This “reinterpretation” of the original composition further compelled me to pair this work with my own “reinterpretation” of the original recipe. The recording I have included is by John Williams: not “Star Wars” John Williams, but perhaps the guitar soloist of his generation. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEfFbuT3I6A

Sources Cited:
*”Key Lime.” Wikipedia.com
**”Isaac Albéniz,” Wikipedia.com
^”Suite española,” Wikipedia.com

A Divine Pastiche

Enjoying a cold glass of milk with a slice of cake is a beautiful thing. Given that success, who’s to say combining the two can’t be just as beautiful? I don’t mean just simply cooking a cake with a cup of milk in the batter – I mean literally drenching it in milk. Heck, why not make it THREE types of milk, just for added measure…this is precisely the method used for the beloved cake Tres Leches Cake. When I bake for a large crowd, I try to make a cake that brings the biggest “bang for the buck” – this cake was a HUGE hit: Dulce de Leche Cake with Fresh Strawberries.
The history of Tres Leches Cake relies on two of its primary ingredients: sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, both of which are “canned milks.” Due to spoilage and preservation difficulties, excessive health risks made fresh cow’s milk a limited commodity prior to the 20th century. Inventor Gail Borden was the first to develop the concept of canning milk. Heating the product was the primary solution to eradicating harmful bacterias, allowing for milk to be stored and distributed without refrigeration.* The dispute over the demographic history of this cake, though, is both a cultural and corporate issue. Nestlé claims a big role, having advertised the recipe on the backs of canned milks to promote the products, while Central American nations claim rights to its conception. There is little evidence on the actual origin, making the dispute a futile one.**
This cake is much easier to make than it seems, even though there are a lot ingredients (see above) – it is essentially a vanilla cake that is subsequently soaked in three types of milk (see photo below). The result is a beautifully moist cake with a lighter taste than expected. The recipe I used, originally from Saveur, is called Dulce de Leche Cake given the layer of dulce de leche spread over the top; the “traditional” tres leches cake simply uses whipped cream as a topping. I took it one step further and halved strawberries to add a decorative flair. All-in-all, it was a delectable work of art. View this recipe by clicking HERE.
Wanting to focus on the diversity of ingredients used in this cake, I went with a piece that has a number of musical “ingredients”: Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England (as per the recommendation of my dear friend Neal Markowski). This work was composed over a span of nearly three decades, and stands as one of Ives’ most iconic pieces. Considered to be one the first American composers to reach international acclaim, Ives’ works went largely unrecognized for the majority of his lifetime (having led an extremely successful career as a life insurance executive). While the literal interpretation of “three” and “tres” can be considered, my pairing takes into regard the numerous styles and layers Ives incorporates into this work. Ives is best known for his adaptation of traditional hymns and popular American songs, such as Yankee Doodle, into his compositions. These themes provide relatable substance within contexts of heavy chromaticism, polytonality, and layered melodic passages.^ Three Places is considered to be highly representative of Ive’s style, incorporating both his “avant garde” techniques as well as a number of (paraphrased) traditional themes. This work consists of three movements, each representing a different location in New England:

I. The “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common
II. Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut
III. ‘The Housatonic at Stockbridge^^

The link I’ve included below is of the first movement (slightly biased considering I’m a Boston gal), and is performed by Orchestra New England (quite fitting) with James Sinclair conducting. For those unfamiliar with Ives, he’s certainly no Beethoven; yet his works have an endearing, rich quality which is truly masterful, and stand as important emblems for our culture. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
* http://homecooking.about.com/od/milkproducts/a/canmilkhistory.htm
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tres_leches_cake
^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives
^^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Places_in_New_England