Calculating how much cake to make…

Calculating wedding cake batter- basic rule of thumb, round up….

ok, now we have a problem, most books that tell you how to make a wedding cake, assume a MUCH smaller portion than is reasonable.   So if you are using a different source, you may need to double the recipe to serve as many people as you want. Personally, unless you are hosting a whole dessert buffet, I think wedding cake is the appropriate dessert for a wedding. This cake is yummy.

To make a 6” cake  each layer will require 1 cup of batter. For Hazels wedding cake, you will need four layers of each size)

An 8# cake will require 1 and ⅔ cup of batter per layer.

a 10” cake will require two cups of batter.

A 12” cake will require 2 and 2/3

Now, weddings are an expensive proposition, so buy 1 pan each in your desired sizes.   You can bake cakes of different sizes at the same time- just put the smaller ones up front and watch them.  WE made 5 10” cakes ( i thought they would be birthday cakes, but presto chango!) We used 4 boxes of cake mix per cake. So that’s 20 boxes of high end cake mix which were about \$1.50 each.  If you dont live in Alaska, it will be cheaper for you.  You will also need eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and butter, baking spray and parchment paper.  We also used citrus juice, zest and essential oils.  and a few drops of food coloring.  We made enough cake to serve 100 people. We decorated them with a few roses.  They were simple and luscious and of course the rainbow of fillings looked and tasted amazing.

For my own wedding i used the same cake recipe, but for the filling I added a healthy dollop (about ⅔ a cup of huckleberry jam to butter cream frosting to make the filling. i didn’t have a choice, it all started with those rascally blue  berries…  i thank God for them every day.

Cooking a Proper Ham

Cooking an honest to God Ham

One of the banes of human existence is that  humans all too often use one word to describe two different things.  This is the sort of philosophical meandering that has driven people far smarter than I into a state of drooling in a fetal position.  So we are going to nip that in the bud and proceed to cooking a proper ham.  Most of what you think is ham isn’t, or at least it’s a very inferior sort.  If it is bubble gum pink and swimming in a slimy liquid, it’s a “city ham” or a “juice packed ham”(shudder). And those things are ok, but should the opportunity to get a proper dry aged ham arise, (Smithfield is the most famous American brand) stop at nothing to procure it. You know those nightmare scenes that happen every year on Black Friday- the ones where someone assaults or pepper sprays fellow shoppers to get the last  “My Mama loves me more than yours loves you” baby doll, or “Let’s kill everybody” video game? Those are shocking horrible instances of unacceptable behavior… but  such activity to get a Smithfield is totally understandable.. If you are going to jail it shouldn’t be over something stupid, people.    Follow the directions to the letter- most dry aged hams that you can get your hands on won’t need the soaking and scrubbing that our grandmother’s hams did.   Put it in a pot. Submerge it in liquid- i tend to use half chicken broth and ½ water. Allow it to barely simmer for 15 minutes a pound.  Skim off the gray nasty foam.    If time is on your side, allow it to cool in the liquid. If not, I absolve you.  Remove the ham and lay it on a roaster- you can score the rind, and add cloves, (although if you are going to do that go all the way serve it with broiled grapefruit a la’ Hazel and Jim’s wedding.) A glaze requires something sweet, brown sugar, maple syrup, something tangy, mustard is a favorite. Combine.  See how easy that was?  Spread it over your ham and slam it into the hottest oven you can muster for 15 minutes.  You will serve this in thin, salty sweet, pale pink ribbons.  The south knows its way around a swine… so biscuits are the perfect accompaniment.  It can also be the centerpiece of a charcuterie smorgasbord, to mix cultural dining patterns.  Serve on a board with appropriate slicing apparatus, tart pickles, cheeses, and crudité.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Variations

Swiss meringue Butter cream frosting variations

Add up to 1/12 cups melted semisweet, or dark chocolate- not unsweetened, unless you are giving it to very awful people that you hate. Let the chocolate cool a tiny bit before you add it to the frosting- it will be softer,  while its warm.  Just continue to beat like crazy. OR sift in ½ cup cocoa powder-

You can add drops of essential oil (any citrus is good, peppermint, cinnamon can be nice- the powdered spice will turn your frosting gritty… the main thing about essential oils is LITERALLY (and unlike some 20 somethings I know who work at the local pizzeria when I say LITERALLY I truly mean literally) add them a  drop at a time.  You can always add more, too much and you will turn your dazzling frosting into some sort of strongly flavored tooth paste.  Heartbreaking.

A Coral Cake for Hazel

Without question the prettiest cake you will ever see.  Its a tall cake-each “layer” consists of alternating thin layers of moist white cake and a citrus curd filling.  Since I adore Hazel we went for a rainbow affect. (you could use several layers of one filling) But combining different juices and zest ) and buttercream you can get a variety of colors and flavors. Since Lady Hazel prefers shades of coral we used  blood orange, ruby grapefruit and tangerine fillings.  I would recommend making all three of your fillings(or two, or four, or what have you) as you will want to compare their colors and perhaps jazz them up with a the tiniest bit of food coloring. You want the colors different enough that it doesn’t look as if you tried to make them match and didn’t quite succeed.  In cake baking as in life, confidence counts for a lot.

To make the grapefruit  filling:

You will need 1 cup of buttercream frosting(see index)

The juice of two grapefruits and the zest(zest them first)

Bring the juice to a boil and cook until its reduced by about half.   This is the (very very slightly tricky bit) while yoru syrup is still warmish(you can hold your finger in it easily) pour the warm juice unto the buttercream.  The warmth of the juice will open up the buttercream a wee bit and allow it absorb the juice.  Add 1 cup of sour cream- NOT straight out of the fridge- and ½ cup powdered sugar and 5 drops of grapefruit essential oil.. Beat like a madwoman. Soon you will have a  pale pink, luscious billowing sweet tart  filling.  Life is good. Set aside and do exactly the same thing with the tangerine(4 tangerines should be the right amount of juice and zest) and blood orange (2 should do it, but a 3rd wouldn’t be remiss.)  I highly recommend setting them in glass bowl next to each other so you can tweak the color.

Now- on your cardboard cake round- put a dollop of butter cream and one of your cake layers.
Filla piping bag with your filling and use your scissors to cut a large ish hole.  Pipe  the filling on in circles.  Add a cake layer. Continue in this fashion , ending with cake.  Now- should you desire you can leave it as is- those naked cakes are all the rage.  We however would rather leave a man behind on a battlefield then leave a cake unadorned.  So cover with your butter cream. Do a thin coat, stick the whole thing in the fridge and allow to chill and then add swirls of frosting.

Ham and Potato Scallop

A scallop of potatoes layered with ham is a very good way to use up ham leftover from a buffet. This is a tricky proposition. Ham is expensive grocery real estate. You certainly don’t want to throw any of it away. However, ham is one of those things that sits out on your buffet. There will be bits and pieces that have been passed on and touched. There are things in life that we can choose to not face head on.  So we will choose an application that will result in the thorough cooking of these leftovers.

Scalloped potatoes are one of those things that sound simple, but aren’t.  I know, I know your great grandmother threw casseroles of potatoes layered with flour and milk and they were a thrifty family favorite. Your grandmother had two advantages that you do not have.  1-She was feeding genuinely hungry  people who didn’t know any better. And-2- even more importantly, they  didn’t have cameras on their cell phones. A simply tossed together “scallop” of potatoes will consist of dull greying potatoes slices afloat in a grainy amniotic fluid.  We are going to avoid these pitfalls.

For this application you will need large potatoes, preferably pf the russet persuasion. Time for some brutal honesty, by the time these potatoes are cooked in milk and coated in cheese and pork, they have ceased to be a   vegetable they have moved into a nether state, where they exist as soothing ballast.  They won’t retain enough vitamins to dust a fiddle with anyway. The peels must therefore go. I am sorry, I try very hard to be peel friendly… just won’t fly this time.  I’d go with 1 large potato per person, plus an extra one, per  five guests. (So if you are serving five you need six spuds, if you are serving ten you need twelve). Slice them thinly and put into a an oven safe pot.  Pour whole milk over them, liberally salt and pepper and simmer until no traces of resistance remain. Individuality has its  place in a free society, but scalloped potatoes is not that place. Undercooked potatoes are a scourge.  When soft, remove some potato slices to your prepared casserole(by which i mean thoroughly sprayed with cooking spray), layer with finely chopped slivers of ham- continue – layer, potatoes, ham and grated cheddar(I’d go for a sharp white, myself)  Repeat until your pan is full, or until you are sadly out of potatoes.  Pour in some of the milk you boiled the taters in- almost to the surface, and cheese lavishly.  Hot oven- *375 for 30 minutes. Warm, cozy and showcases the flavor of good ham.

Grapefuit Chicken

There is definitely something to be said for winter food… And here in Alaska we say it a lot.  When you need warmth and succor nothing quite does the trick like a hearty stew glistening with red wine gravy. Although a close second would be Italian sausage bubbling in tomato sauce piled high atop cheesy polenta.  My stomach seems to be on a roll…Somewhere in the top five is chicken and dumplings.(reminder: I am from the midwest and chicken and dumplings means  hefty noodles- not fluffy biscuit type  drop dumplings.  If that offends you-start you own blog…  Those have their place,  I’m sure but they do not belong in the upper pantheon of the  comfort food rotation.  Warmth inducing as it may be, there is a danger of coziness to blending into stodginess.  The closeness  of  an eiderdown can move from warm and soothing to muffling. When you feel your palate deadening from a surfeit of rich food, action must be taken. Nothing will do the trick quite like cleansing lift of citrus.

I ran out of lemons the other day… I know I am shocked too…   Since a trip to Costco is an all day endeavor for me, I had to make do.  I emptied the cabinets, while i was trying to decide which vinegar to use to spring my tastebuds from their seasonal doldrums. A container of juice packed grapefruit segments rolled off of the counter.  Even I,heathen that I am, recognize a gift from the almighty when it falls literally at my feet.

The result was chicken breasts with sauteed grapefruit.  It literally looks like jewels on your plate and sends your tastebuds into hand stands.

Begin with

Two whole chicken breasts- cut into thin cutlets (lay your hand flat- do you hear me FLAT on top of  the chicken and work your knife through the meat, parallel to your hand. Cut each breast in half longwise and then  do the same to each half.  Very cold chicken will make this process a bit easier.  Go slow.  Now season your escallops with salt and white pepper- you can use black, but it will not be as pretty.   Part of the point of pink food is prettiness.  Swirl a pat of butter around a saute’ pan. NO cast iron- you will be making a delicious acidic pan sauce and the citrus will not only leach iron ito your sauce-it will literally taste rusty- it will pit and damage your pans… You have been warned. Heed me, for I know of whence I speak.  I may or may not have(I totally did) destroyed a cast iron pan that had probably accompanied a female antecedent of mine on a covered wagon. A batch of balsamic vinegar glazed  veal chops did what hailstorms, scurvy and age failed to do.

Give your chicken a quick saute’- you want it golden and brown… Set it aside, you may need to do this in batches- remember we never crowd the pan… A crowded pan will not cook that much faster than two batches  will, and it  will give you rubbery seized up poached, chicken.  Not what we are aiming for here.  Now into the pan juices add the grapefruit juice and cook down until its syrupy.  Add a little dollop of heavy cream and swirl your pan around like the superstar chef you are…. Return the chicken and the grapefruit segments and make sure everything is warm all the way through- over low heat.  Unusually for me, i find that rice or potatoes aren’t the best accompaniment. Oh pick your jaw up- you’ll catch flies like that…….  The best way to proceed  is to lay it on a bed of fresh spinach.  The heat will gently cook the spinach.   Now serve forth, pretty as a preppy’s spring break in Palm Springs.

CAKE

We have a bond you and I.  A connection that transcends the space time continuum…  We share a love for good food and snarky snark.  Therefore I will unburden my heart to you all and trust that my deepest secrets will be held in confidence and that you will not think the less of me for them….

I use cake mixes.    No.  Your love has emboldened me …. I USE CAKE MIXES AND SO SHOULD YOU. I know, I know, it’s appalling-           it’s low rent, trailer trashy and borderline deceptive.

Now, allow me to put forth the case for the defense.

Cake mixes are dry ingredients.  Yes, they are full of artificial moisteners, but unless someone has deceived both of us ,the food in question is cake.  Cake, not life support-although I am prepared to argue that sometimes they are one and the same.  And  you are making a wedding cake, which will require a significant freezing, thawing, decorating and then assembling time frame.   You owe those artificial moisteners and do not forget it.  Now, we are going to jack up the recipe, to get optimal lusciousness and keeping power.   It also saves you time which is something that you will find yourself grasping for as the blessed day approaches.   Now  am going to give you the basic recipe- such as it is- look in  the archives for the tables so you know how much to make.  This template talks you through making a 4 layer 10” cake. This is more than you need for tasting, in which case feel free to call and invite me.  However- you will definitely need a 10” layer so you should practice making that size and you can make a smaller top cake by cutting a bigger cake… trust me on this

2 boxes name brand premium cake mixes (white or chocolate)  my favorite might include the initials DH and the words ‘pudding in the mix”  or maybe not- a lady always keeps her secrets…..

12 egg yolks (see recipe for frosting- double it and you are good to go)

½ cup melted butter (use the amount of oil called for on the box- and double it)

1 ½ cups buttermilk(use double the amount of water called for on each box)

Put the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mixes first, covered by other ingredients.  Your bowl will be full, so it’s probably a good idea to stir with the paddle attachment by hand for a few turns  and then assemble the mixer.(we’ve already established that confession is good for the soul- so here goes- I lost part of the splash guard attachment within days of getting my mixer- if you have one of those  you can skip this step)

Allow to mix for a few minutes- you want it to be consistency or  well, cake batter- not quite as loose as pancake batter- nothing like cookie dough.  Add small amounts of water if you need to until you get there.

Spray a 10” cake pan liberally with a baking spray and eyeballing it- add 1/3 of the batter.  Bale at 315*(in convection- 345 if not)

Start testing at 20 minutes… Those recipes that say  to bake until a toothpick comes out dry are anti cake propaganda of the worst sort.  It’s trickier than that.  You need a tiny bit of moist crumb sticking.  Allow to cool I pan for a few minutes and then lay a rack over it and turn it out.  Repeat two more times.  –It’s a very good idea to plan a stew or pot roast for the days you will be baking.  The oven can easily hold both.

When cakes are cool- AND NOT A SECOND BEFORE-  slather with butter cream.  I’ll cover decorating in a future blog.  You can also- freeze cakes- separated by parchment and then wrapped n cling film and then foil for months.

PS the only possible response when people ask if the cake is homemade is”Yes I baked it myself”

– even I can’t come up with a witty title for that! Bake it any way.

2 1/2  teaspoons yeast

1/4 cup boiling  water

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon finely chopped dill

1 cup cottage cheese

1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg

10-15 fresh chives, snipped into small bits

2 -3 cups all-purpose flour

It has taken me longer to describe it than it will take you to do. The chive –dill combination can seem both Scandinavian and somehow Baltic.  See the archive for Beef Paprikash.  This bread is  also surreal as the basis of a turkey sandwich, or if royalty is visiting (or you live in Alaska) smoked salmon….

Sweet Tea

I’m a big fan of sun brewed tea. Put tea bags into a large glass container, fill with water and set it in the sun (on your kitchen counter is fine). Within a few hours you will have steeped yourself some lovely tea. Meanwhile make simple syrup:

Combine a cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until all sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool. I tend to sweeten the whole quart, but you could pour your syrup into one of those glass pitchers made for maple syrup, and let everyone sweeten their own. You can also flavor our syrup with lemon zest or a handful of frozen raspberries. I might even suggest making huckleberry tea. But everyone knows I think huckleberries are life changingly delicious.

Killian’s fave Rhubarb Custard Pie

Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons vegetable shortening (cut into cubes and chilled)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into cubes and chilled)

6 tablespoons ice water

You are hereby granted the right to use store bought pie crust, in this recipe and in perpetuity—there’s no guilt in cooking. Pick your battles.

Filling

3 eggs

3 tablespoons milk

1/4 cup unbleached white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

4 cups chopped rhubarb (Hazel grows her own of course- it can be sliced and frozen so you can enjoy the tart juiciness of early summer all year round). You can also buy it frozen. In either case, let it thaw first and let it slightly drain.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pulse butter, shortening and dry ingredients for the crusts in a food processor until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add water until dough comes together in a ball. Divide dough into two even parts and roll out for the top & bottom crusts

Beat together eggs & milk.

Mix flour, salt, sugar and nutmeg for the filling together. Then add these dry ingredients to the egg mixture.

Mix in chopped rhubarb.

Pour filling into pie shell and cover with second pastry top.

Bake 50-60 minutes.

Serve warm with ice cream! For the wedding my Mom and Hazel made small tarts of this. This was a labor of love and made our day even more special. Bake smaller tarts about 20 minutes. They should look set and slightly puffed when they are done.