Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Love is Sweet. (And Sometimes Crunchy.)

I've seen a few cake toppers in my time, but I just had to share these candy ones that were recently in the photo studio on the way to their cake-top destiny — they're just so supercute:

Bride and Groom Cake Topper Front

Bride and Groom Cake Topper Back

That bouquet is particularly great, isn't it?

They're made to resemble the sister and new brother in law of my coworker Suzy Hotrod.

And as Ms. Hotrod points out, it's kind of hilarious that they're made to fit together perfectly, but it also looks like he's patting her bum from the back view. Completely unintentional I'm sure, but still funny.

The sculptor is Gotham Girl Roller Derby menace Miss Beatrix Slaughter, and of course the photography is by the über-talented Suzy Hotrod herself.

If you or someone you know are gettin' hitched sometime soon, you can drop Slaughter a note at her real-life gmail digs. Her handle is zklogan.

I know I've been a bad blogger (bad blogger! no cookie for you!), but I'll be back on the web soon with some smokin' recipe action.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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4.27.2009

The Missing Tooth & The Red Velvet Pig

My boss, let's call him Dr. Bacon, completely missed out on his birthday cake this week.

If you're a longtime reader, you may recall that the one we did last year was the chocolate bacon cake. Well, this one wasn't half so crazy, but it was still sort of cute and appropriate to the recipient.

I blame the dentist. After a vicious morning root canal, Dr. Bacon wasn't up for work, or cake, or even consciousness, I'd wager. Too bad.

We ate up the red velvet pig on his behalf. Piggy wasn't willing to hang around waiting.

Red Velvet Pig

His frosting isn't perfect (but maybe that gives him character?), and yes... the eyes, hooves and snout are paper cut-outs, (which is kind of cheating), but I still think he's rather charming.

He certainly looked very cool after we divided him into pieces. Some gleefully went for pieces of the pork belly. Others claimed the ham, or the loin. I went after one of the tasty trotters.

I think my favorite aspect of red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting, and since I use less sugar than most people, mine is still a bit more cream-cheese tangy and not eye-poppingly sweet. That said, if you love the super-sweet frosting, by all means... double or even triple the confectioners' sugar in this recipe.
Red Velvet Sheet Cake (Makes one 13" x 9" cake)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup water or milk)
2 tbsp (1 oz) red food color
1 tsp white vinegar (raspberry vinegar is also nice)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt

For the frosting:
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13" x 9" baking pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs and vanilla, beating well.
3. In a separate bowl, blend the buttermilk and food color.
4. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt and soda, then add this dry blend to the butter mixture, alternating with additions of the buttermilk mixture. Mix out any lumps, but don't over-beat.
5. Stir in the vinegar, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the comes out clean. When done, remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
7. Make the frosting by blending together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. When smooth and creamy, smooth it across the surface of the cake. Top with chopped pecans, if desired.

To make the pig shape, I cut out a cardboard template and made a home-made pan by wrapping it with aluminum foil. And no, it didn't catch on fire in the oven, but you could just as easily (and probably more safely) get the same effect by cutting hooves, an ear and a snout out of the cake after it cools.

The lack of curly tail was noted, and if we'd been prepared, I think we might have inserted a twisted piece of ropey red liquorice or a slice of curly fried bacon.

Alas, the pig went without a tail, Mr. Bacon went without cake and the dentist ran away with the tooth.

But you know, that's how some days go down. At such times, all we can do is hope that tomorrow offers better prospects for healthy teeth, proud tails and tender slices of cake.

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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3.24.2009

On Bulding a Bombe

At culinary school, we spent one whole class period making bombes, and it was a wonderful experience, although I've noticed it's not polite to talk about that sort of thing in public.

People can't hear the silent "e" at the end of bombe, so one risks being labeled a terrorist. Thus, it becomes necessary to modify the word on each utterance... "pastry bombe" or "ice cream bombe" or "bombe cake" or something of the sort.

The bombe glacée is a traditional French confection made with a cake dome that encloses a mousse or ice cream center.

You don't see them that often, and that's a shame, because it's fairly easy to construct a bombe.

I find that the mousse variety holds up a bit longer at room temperature, but the ice cream bombe seems to make people (particularly small people) squeal with delight.

To get started, you'll need a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a raised edge and a large, deep metal or glass mixing bowl. (Mine is from K-Mart's affordable Martha Stewart line)

The construction of a basic bombe works like this:
1. Bake a flat, flexible cake layer. (I used the chocolate genoise recipe for this.)
2. Cool the cake and and cut into pieces/strips.
3. Line the metal mixing bowl with plastic wrap and then line with the cake pieces, cutting smaller shapes (as necessary) to fit in all the spaces and make a single, uniform layer. This process is like making a cake puzzle across the inside of the bowl.
4. Pack mousse or softened (but not melted) ice cream into the empty space atop the cake, cover the entire bowl with plastic wrap or parchment and freeze 5 hours (or overnight).
5. Optional: Cover exposed ice cream top (cake bottom) with a quick chocolate ganache and let harden for 30 minutes in the freezer. This is just to seal up the bottom, but it doesn't show, and it's not necessary.
6. Using the plastic wrap lining for leverage, invert the bombe on a platter and quickly frost or ice it and/or decorate it. Return the bombe the freezer until it's time to cut and serve.

To illustrate, here's a bombe, still in the chilled bowl with the hardened ganache spread across the top.

Bombe in the Bowl

Observe the inverted, undecorated bombe here (you'll note the white ice cream crevices where the cake pieces fit together).

Bombe Cake (unfrosted)

And the frosted bombe here...

Bombe Cake (frosted)

The lovely Suzy Hotrod kindly documented the before and after bombe photos, so toques off to her for making this funny little cake look professional.

I do recommend avoiding the lowfat ice creams for this project. They're often very airy and whipped, making them melt too quickly for use here. But that aside, you can really use whatever ice cream you like. I went with plain old vanilla but most anything you enjoy will work fine.

Cheers!

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3.14.2009

Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Ice Cream

I was planning to write on a different topic today, but when you're inspired, sometimes you have to go where the wind blows you.

Today, the wind was blowing in the a pale green direction, and I'm not talking St. Patrick's Day here (although a person certainly could, were a person so inclined).

The inspiration of the day? Pistachio Carrot Cake & Saffron Coconut Ice Cream. Oh yes. We're just that crazy around here.

My coworkers joined forces for a boffo birthday cake combination, and it turns out, this one's not too difficult for mere mortals to pull off.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Whack! Pow! Suzy Hotrod cranked out a standard carrot cake (with gooey cream cheese frosting), but she threw an extra cup or so of chopped pistachios into the batter and saved another handful for sprinkling around the top. Easy, nutty, tasty... and green!

Meanwhile, back at the Bat Cave, Kate whipped up a coconut ice cream, but used a hint of saffron for its sunny hue and unmistakable flavor.

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

Together, they're like Batman and Robin... a dynamic duo. But don't take my word for it... try for yourself.
Pistachio Carrot Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" cake)

For the cake
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cups sugar (all white or half white/half brown)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pistachios

For the Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or lemon juice
1 cup chopped pistachios (for garnish)

1. Heat oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, applesauce, sugar and the two teaspoons of vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, then blend into the wet ingredients. Stir in carrots and pistachios.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. (Or simply leave in the pan and frost the top.)

For the frosting: In a mixing bowl, whip the butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla or lemon juice. Beat until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle reserved pistachios across the surface.

Saffron-Coconut Ice Cream (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

1 cup milk
1 pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 (14 ounce) can cream of coconut (not coconut milk!)

1. In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the milk and the pinch of saffron. Heat just until milk is hot, but not boiling. Stir and allow the mixture to steep 10 minutes before moving to the refrigerator to chill completely.
2. Strain out the saffron threads (optional) and whisk together the chilled saffron milk with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the cream and the cream of coconut.
3. Freeze the mix using an ice cream machine or attachment, then pack into pints and harden in the freezer for at least 5 hours (or overnight).

So then, what have we learned today? Pistachios are yummy. Cake and ice cream are yummy. Distribution of labor is totally yummy.

Good lessons, indeed. I think that about does it for today. See you back here at the same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.10.2009

Five Steps to Homemade Birthday Cake

Since the late 1940s, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and General Mills (aka Betty Crocker) have been putting out cake mixes for the masses. Billions of boxes of cake mix for billions of birthdays and graduations and anniversaries and whatnot.

Knowing that I have personally eaten more of these cakes than I can count, I'm led to wonder what minuscule portion of the population has ever made a cake from scratch.

Though it's true that pouring a little vegetable oil and cracking a couple of eggs into a box mix is about as easy as it gets, the very basic yellow cake isn't much more fuss, and the maker gets a lot more control over the end product.

Flight of the Conchords Cake
Easy to make, easy to customize. Bret & Jemaine would approve

I make a fair number of cakes for coworkers' birthdays, and on certain busy occasions, I've felt a gravitational pull to the box mix aisle.

It generally goes like this: I pick up the pretty packages, read the ingredient lists, sigh, put the boxes back on the shelf and move along to the flour and sugar bags so I can get the supplies I need for a scratch-made cake.

Why? Well... read for yourself. This is an ingredient list for a standard box mix:
Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats, Mono- And Diglycerides), Leavening (Soduim Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Wheat Starch. Contains 2% Or Less Of:Salt, Dextrose, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Artificial Flavor, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dextrin, Cellulose Gum, Xantham Gum, Colored With (Yellow 5 Lake, Red 40 Lake), Nonfat Dry Milk.

None of that stuff is inedible, of course... I'm just wild about partially hydrogenated oils.

On the other hand, my very basic yellow birthday cake recipe has eight ingredients and five steps. It takes about 15 minutes to mix and 30 to bake. No shortening required, no soy involved and if someone has a milk allergy, it's easy to make dairy-free substitutions. Plus, it's got the real yum.
A Very Basic Yellow Birthday Cake (Makes a 13" x 9" sheet cake)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour or pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and either grease a 13" x 9" rectangular pan, or put a layer of parchment paper across the bottom.
2. Cream together the butter, salt and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the milk and vanilla until blended.
3. Sift together the flour and baking powder.
4. Blend the dry ingredients into the egg/butter mixture until smooth (but don't overwork it).
5. Bake 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean), then remove from the oven and cool on a rack 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

You actually don't have to remove it from the pan. I almost never do. Just dust the top in powdered sugar or slather it with your favorite frosting, then slice and serve casually.

Maybe throw in a home-sung rendition of "Happy Birthday" to go along with your home-made cake.

Happy Eating,
Miss Ginsu

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2.08.2009

On The Clock Cake-A-Palooza

I've always found cake to be a culinary curiosity. It's one of those foods we often tend to value more for the way it looks than the flavor beneath the frosting.

A lot of the offices in which I've worked buy cakes to mark people's birthdays. In my experience, these cakes usually come from a supermarket.

Everyone gathers 'round to sing "happy birthday" and then someone cuts up a generic marble cake with frosting that tastes like vegetable shortening mixed with sugar.

I guess I should keep in mind that it's the thought that counts, but I must admit that when faced when one of those unhappy confections, I always find myself taking a square of it to be polite and then looking for an inconspicuous trash bin so I can politely ditch it when nobody's looking.

Thankfully, at my current office my department is made up of a pretty tight-knit group, so we're able to personalize the birthday cake experience. We really try to jointly come up with something that reflects the recipient's personality and/or sense of humor, and then someone volunteers to do the baking and frosting.

For the sake of inspiration, I thought I'd share some of the extremely personalized cakes our team produced this year.

For the athlete: The East German Olympic Swimmer Cake

Swimmer Cake

For the prankster: The Chocolate-Marshmallow Catbox Cake

Kitty Litter Cake


For the beer lover/Simpsons fan: The Duff Beer Cake

Duff Beer Cake


For the bacon devotee: The Chocolate Bacon Cake

Bacon Cake


For yours truly: The Miss Ginsu Cake

Miss Ginsu Cake


For the Flight of the Conchords groupie: The Bret & Jemaine Cake (with coordinating flipside, of course)

Bret & Jemaine


For the Coney Island girl: The Crazy Classic Coney Cake



And there's a few more that I failed to photograph with any skill, but what I've discovered in this whole process is:

1. It's less expensive (and more satisfying) to do a cake from scratch (or even a box mix) than it is to buy a far less tasty one from the grocery store.

2. Homemade means never having to discreetly fling a slice of cake in the wastebasket.

That said, it's only worth the effort if you actually know and like your co-workers. :)

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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1.23.2009

Day 16: Almond & Olive Oil Cake

This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Compared to cookies or layered bars, or — heaven forbid — strudle, a basic cake is such a simple, lovely treat. Just a few steps. Just a little time in the oven. Just a few ingredients.

Cake is essentially just flour, butter, sugar and eggs, right? Well, as I discovered on last summer's foray to Rome, sometimes cake is flour, olive oil, sugar and eggs.

Almond & Olive Oil Cake

Today's recipe is a sunny, elegant Italian-style cake that's just the thing for cawfee tawk or teatime... but it comes together so quickly, I'd even serve it warm out of the oven as a special breakfast or brunch for holiday guests. It's so delicious, this may just be my new favorite cake.
Almond & Olive Oil Cake (Makes One 9" Cake)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated lemon, orange or tangerine zest
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional, for garnish)
Powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and oil an 9" round or square cake pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the orange zest, vanilla, milk and olive oil.
4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Set pan on a wire rack to cool 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Top with toasted, sliced almonds and powdered sugar, if desired.
The first time I met an olive oil cake, it was a simple citrus-olive combination; absolutely delightful, but I think the emphasis on almonds makes it even more elegant.

That said, I'm nut crazy, so if for some reason you're not quite so wild about almonds, it's a simple thing to leave them off the top and substitute an orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier) or swap vanilla extract for the almond extract.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.16.2008

Day 8: Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes

This post marks Day 8 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

If you were reading last year, you'll know I'm batty for citrus around the holidays. It's just so fresh and tasty this time of year.

So this is a fruitcake I can really get behind. Essentially a buttery poundcake filled with candied ginger and citrus, it's a far cry from the much-maligned shelf-stable drugstore version.

Although most fruitcake recipes call for store-bought candied fruit, it's really easy and economical to make your own, as I discovered last year. And yes, you can use the same method to make candid ginger. Works great.

Candied Lemon & Tangerine Peel
Candied lemon and tangerine peels

Citrus-Ginger Fruitcakes (Makes 4 little fruitcakes)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the pans)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for flouring the pans)
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 tsp brandy, amaretto or ginger liqueur (plus extra for soaking the cakes)
2 tsp orange or lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup dried figs, minced
2 Tbsp candied or crystallized ginger, minced fine
2 Tbsp candied orange or lemon peel, minced

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 4 mini loaf pans or 4 large muffin cups, tapping out any excess flour.
2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, blend the butter and sugar, beating until creamy, about 1 minute.
3. Beat in the egg, the 4 teaspoons of brandy or liqueur and the citrus zest until just blended.
4. Sift together the flour and salt, beating the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just blended.
5. Fold in the almonds, figs, ginger and candied fruit.
6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans or cups, and fill any empty muffin cups halfway with water (to prevent uneven heating).
7. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes for mini loaf pans or 35 minutes for the muffin cups.
8. Once baked, move the pans to a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, take the cakes out of the pans and place directly on the wire rack. Brush with brandy or liqueur while they're still warm, then let the cakes cool completely.
9. To finish the cakes, soak squares of cheesecloth in the brandy or liqueur, wrap each cake with a square of damp cheesecloth, then wrap individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chill the wrapped cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.
10. To serve, bring the cakes to room temperature, slice and serve with mascarpone, fresh ricotta or cream cheese.

You'll have a few of these, so when it's time for gifting, unwrap the foil/plastic and cheesecloth, re-wrap to make it pretty and add a ribbon and a gift tag.

Since fruitcake has such a bad rep, you might want to call these something else. Brandy Cakes. Ginger-Citrus Cakes. Think of a nice alias. You can reveal the awful truth after they fall in love with these wee wonders.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.08.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 09.01.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Though an excellent guess was tendered for Yellowstone, last week, Cupcake was actually located in at the geothermal ponds of Iceland's Blue Lagoon. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Earthquake-proof a wine cellar
...with o-rings and zipties. A nice hack for connaisseurs living on fault lines.

Celebrating the produce pioneers
An article on one of the Bay area's produce boosters... followed, inexplicably (not that I'm complaining), by veeeery tasty looking brown-butter almond cake with plums. I'd eat that.

Marrow filled with spinach, bulgar and feta
Apparently in the UK, a "marrow" is a summer squash. Good to know.

Think Twice Before Jumping Into the Restaurant Business
The anatomy of fail: “I seriously thought we were going to die of exhaustion”

What It's Like to Be a Butcher
What makes the butcher? Find out in this really nicely done piece. Kudos to Esquire.

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9.01.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 08.11.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
It's Cupcake's birthday! Hooray, and happy birthday, Cupcake! Last week, our exploratory pastry hero was located out in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Beijing breakfast of champions
Eggs and tomatoes... with ginger!

Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions
Contrary to popular mythology, coffee doesn't appear to cause cancer, send you to the loo or give you high blood pressure.

Cutting Calories and Saving D'oh
Very nicely done.

Consumers are raising cane over corn sweetener
Count me in among the wary. I'm a big label-reader and HFCS-avoider these days...

.: Jen's Chocolate Cake :.
Not a blog, but simplicity itself: a single chocolate cake recipe that Jen (and others) apparently adore. I made a peanut-butter glaze for it last week.

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8.11.2008

Peanut-Butter Glazed Chocolate Cake

Now that we have an official MissGinsu.com Peanut Week theme around these parts, I realized I had to address one of the world's greatest flavor combinations: chocolate and peanut butter. (Thank you, Reese's. The world owes you a great debt.)



A recent commenter led me to Jen's Chocolate Cake... a brilliantly simple single-post blog that features a chocolate cake recipe. A chocolate bundt cake recipe, to be precise.

And as a side note, I'm honestly incapable of making a bundt cake anymore without thinking of the "parental conflict over bundt cake" scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And as a side note to the side note, Bundt is actually a registered trademark of the Minnesota-based Nordic Ware company, the folks who've made these pans for sixty years. That's why so many cookbooks refer to "tube pans" instead of bundt pans these days.

But back to the chocolate cake. Jen's recipe makes a very moist, rich cake, and she recommends a couple of different accompanying glazes.

And I've got one more that complements this cake very nicely. (Just remember what we discussed on Tuesday and don't bring it into school for snacktime.)
Jen Kwok's Chocolate Cake
1.75 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
0.5+ cup (two heaped quarter cups) cocoa
2 cups brown sugar
0.75 cup vegetable oil
0.5 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
0.75 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Blend all dry ingredients. Blend in brown sugar. Whisk in remaining ingredients, except water. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (turning about halfway through,) until cake tester comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan. Turn out of pan and finish cooling on rack.

My Peanut Butter Glaze for Jen's Chocolate Cake (Makes about 2 cups)

1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably smooth)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1/2 tsp salt (if you're using natural peanut butter)

1. Whisk together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Add a tablespoon or so more milk if it seems too thick to drizzle.

2. Drizzle over the chocolate cake. Use excess glaze to spoon over individual slices, if you wish. Or just save it and serve it over vanilla ice cream. Mmm...

As you can imagine, this cake + glaze combo was popular around the office.

One of the best things about Bundt, er... tube cakes is that they're great for sharing. I love how everyone can slice off just as much as they want. It offers more flexibility than the rigid squares/rectangles you get out of a 9"x13" pan.

Happy Eating!

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8.07.2008

Bacon + Cake = Yay!

"It's totally weird. I've never had anything like it before. And I want one for my birthday in November." — Marc

My boss is one of those people who considers the onion and the potato his favorite vegetables (all the better if they're fried). A meal just isn't a meal without meat, and practically any meal can be made better with the addition of a pork product. Not to mention that he's the only person I know who has three enormous barbecue grills on his Brooklyn patio roof-space.

So when his birthday rolled around, the email conversation naturally turned to bacon. There's been a lot of bacon sweets in the blog press lately. Bacon Brittle. Bacon Lollypops. The Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar.

Could we really do a bacon cake? With real bacon? And how would that work?

Bacon Cake

Tomi bravely took the plunge (she says she was actually rather terrified by the whole prospect), going for a simple rectangular chocolate layer cake. She discovered a plastic pig at the dollar store to drive home the whole piggy point and topped her cake off with a pretty pink version of Paula Deen's Brown Butter Icing, crunchy pink sugar sprinkles aaaaand.... BACON!

Now, before you say "eeeew!" remember that sweet and salty tastes are often pretty great together. Chocolate covered pretzels, say. Or salted butter caramels. Or peanut-butter cookies. Sweet plus salty makes them multi-dimensional and more exciting to the tongue. And crunchy bacon bits on a chocolate cake offer a third dimension... sweet + salty + savory. Very exciting!

Some approached cautiously, but everyone who tried the chocolate bacon cake proclaimed enjoyment. Some went back for seconds. In the end, not a single slice went unclaimed. The boss man was pleased, and the whole thing was an enormous success. I was left wondering why bacon bits aren't a standard topping for cakes in the same way they are for salads, casseroles and omelettes.

Bacon Cake Slice

The assembly couldn't be easier. (Bake cake. Make icing. Ice cake. Top with bacon bits.) The chocolate cake itself is ultra-basic. The icing's a snap. The key to this recipe is in the bacon. It must be crispy, and it must be broken into bits. Long, limp slices won't do at all.

A Simple Chocolate Cake

3 oz semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot black coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Combine hot coffee and chocolate pieces in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes before whisking smooth.

3. Butter and flour the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch cake pan. (Or butter the bottom of the pan and lay in a piece of parchment.)

4. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and pale, about 3 minutes. Gradually add yogurt (or buttermilk), vegetable oil, vanilla and coffee-chocolate mixture to eggs. Stir to combine well.

6. Add the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients and continue to beat until just combined.

7. Pour cake batter into the prepared pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean).

8. Place cake pan on a rack and cool completely in the pan. To remove, run a knife around edge of the pan and invert cake onto a rack. (May be wrapped tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for 3 weeks.)

Paula Deen's Browned Butter Icing (in a Pretty Piggy Pink)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Red food color (optional)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 2-3 (or more) drops red food color to achieve your own perfect piggy pink.

Cheers!

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3.25.2008

Give a fig? I give a fig cake!

I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)

And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.

fresh figs with cheese

But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.

Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.

Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)

dried California fig

These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.

I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.

It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.

That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.

fig cake, devoured

Moist & Sticky Fig Cake

2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
1 cup fig preserves
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)

Sticky Fig Glaze
1/4 cup fig preserves
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.

5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.

6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.

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3.11.2008

It's Log! It's Log!

"So it's like a giant Yodel." My boss was watching me glaze the yule log cake as he said this. I really couldn't argue with the assessment.

For those who don't know the Yodel, fret not. It's an East Coast thing. As it turns out, Yodels or Ding Dongs or whathaveyou, are essentially tiny yule logs.

One of my exceedingly cool coworkers is a punk rock guitar goddess, the captain of a multi-championship roller derby team and the proud owner of one of those cursed right-around-Christmas birthdays.

But she also has a great sense of humor, and this year, she requested a yule log birthday cake to complete her fest.

I'd never made one, so I was happy to take on the challenge. There were some moments of terror (Gah! Cracks in the cake!) but as you can see, it turned out pretty great. As she's also a talented food photographer, she snapped a quick studio shot of the final product for me. Pretty rad, no?

Yule Log, with Garden Gnome

Though actual Yule Logs — sometimes known as Ashen Faggots — and their copycat cakes might be considered quaint (and yes, maybe even tacky) to our modern sensibilities, there's a venerated tradition in there. The log-based cake even has a fancy French name with lots of diacritical marks: Bûche de Noël

There's piles of recipes for log cakes, some including complicated marzipan holly and all kinds of faux greenery. I evaluated a few and decided to base my bûche de noël off Martha Stewart's recipe. I'm a big fan of the meringue mushrooms. So cute!

I'm here to tell you the yule log cake isn't supremely difficult, but it is fairly time-consuming. You can make the whole project seem more achievable if you break the steps into four smaller recipes plus one assembly project. I did the four recipes the night before and then finished up with assembling the mushrooms and frosting the cake the next day while I was on-site.

Before you get started, know that you will need a candy thermometer, a 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1" pan and a pastry bag (preferably one with a large-sized tip). I've added a few other usage notes and tips between the recipes *within the asterisks.*

Yule log on fire

Bûche de Noël (Serves about 12)

Step 1: Chocolate Genoise Cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Pinch of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from the long side, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
7. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

*Don't worry if the cake cracks a little when you're rolling. You can usually frost over the crevasses pretty successfully.*

Rolled yule log
Step 2: Chocolate Mousse

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream tartar
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

*Chocolate mousse is delicious as a simple dessert on its own, so if you have extra, save it!*

spreading the chocolate mousse
Step 3: Chocolate Ganache (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl.
2. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding).
3. Pour cream over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.
4. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.

*This ganache is easy, delicious and makes a great all-purpose frosting recipe to keep in your personal arsenal.*

meringue mushrooms, ready to be baked
Step 4: Meringue Mushrooms

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1. Heat oven to 225°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248°F.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
4. Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
5. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
6. To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

*Essentially, you want flatter little domes for the mushroom caps and taller columns for stems, but even when they're lopsided the stems look good, so don't freak out too much about making them vertical.*

meringue mushrooms, setting up
Step 5: Assemble the Log

1. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
2. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut one wedge off an end of the cake at a 45° angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedge to the side of the log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula or a the back of a knife to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar to create "snow." Add garden gnomes and tinsel. Serve with panache.

*I also used some pulverized chocolate cookies to make "dirt" that sat around the log on the platter. This had the added benefit of covering any accidental ganache drips.*

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12.30.2007

Day 3: Merry Citrus!

This post marks Day 3 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Some people begin lighting candles for Hanukkah this week, some folks are more about Christmas, others get into Saturnalia or Kwanzaa or Festivus... but pretty much everyone (barring maybe the northernmost locavores) can get behind citrus season as a reason for celebration.

The clementines are back, the grapefruit are rich and juicy and I've seen some excellent oranges recently. Cold months are a little sad and spare in the farmers' market, but the shops are robust with crates of sweet-tart juiciness. Why not whip up some little lemon loaves to mark the seasonal return of sunshine-state citrus?

Merry Citrus
If you happen to like this cheery lemon, click it to get the printable PDF version.

I like to make a batch of little lemon loaves in December and give them away, wrapped up in parchment paper and kitchen twine, with the tag above.

You can usually find the little disposable/recyclable aluminum foil cake pans at grocery stores and discount shops. Get a package of the 5" long x 3" wide x 2" high size. I make my lemon loaves with a variation of Ina Garten's Lemon Cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties! It's yummy on its own and looks fantastic as a dessert with a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Mmm...

Luscious Little Lemon Loaves

For the Cakes
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease four 5 x 3 x 2-inch loaf pans.

2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

4. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk or yogurt and the vanilla.

5. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

6. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

8. When the cakes are done, let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. If you'll be giving the loaves away, leave them in the pans. If not, turn out onto a rack. In either case, spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes and allow them to cool completely before glazing.

9. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, whisking smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow to set up before wrapping them.

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12.03.2007