Monthly Archives: June 2013

Things I’m Thinking About: Cake Day

Running Things I’m Thinking About on Fridays, which I personally refer to sending out link love, was kind of a test.

For lack of a better term, it’s breathing room. In the past, I was posting three days or so a week, but once I got ill/distracted by grad school, that failed miserably and I simply stopped posting. Once I decided I wanted to get Ricochet moving again, I decided five days a week made more sense, but I don’t think I quite understood how mentally challenging it would be to be posting that often. Being creative enough that I want to post content on it is a lot of work, and it’s hard to explain unless you’ve done NaNoWriMo or some other form of constant writing. Once I caught on – somewhere around day five – I decided on the current schedule.

Yes, I set this pace, it’s just that I could be going three days a week and get a larger backlog more easily, which would be less stress for when (not if) I get a fever and have to catch up in a flurry of activity.

It was also, honestly, something to include until I could figure out what to even do with Friday posts.

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Then the blindingly, searingly obvious hit me: cake.

While making the bavarian cake, I had originally planned to next go on a quest for my all-time favorite cake, but I like so many that it makes more sense to highlight them all until I get bored. So, starting in July, Fridays will be devoted to reviewing unusual cakes and desserts you can get in and around Seattle. I may bring some in from desserts I’ve had while abroad or out of state, but the general plan is to stay local and, ideally, seasonal.

I haven’t thought of a title past ‘Awesome Cake of the Week,’ but I’m really, really bad with naming things. (“Things That No Longer Exist Because They’re DELICIOUS” is also a teensy bit wordy.)

My plan is to highlight a range, from cheap mochi to expensive plated desserts, from gluten-free to gluten-stuffed. I also expect to be hitting up as many food truck offerings as possible, because that’s usually what catches my eye. But I want them to be unusual – no white cake on vanilla buttercream, no chocolate ganache unless it’s studded with peppercorns. I’ll probably make a concession for things with lemon curd, but my citrus addiction knows no bounds.

If you have a dessert you’d like included because you know it’s crazy awesome, send me a line via email or twitter.

I may return to doing link love monthly, as I do like ways to give shout-outs to stuff I find online and through social media. Or I may eventually add it as one of two posts you get on Fridays, you lucky people. But for now, as of July 5th, on Fridays are Cake Days.

My quest for the best cake in Seattle, part I

(Please excuse the horrible photos in advance. The camera of glory is in the shop with a broken lens, and nothing, not even necessary repairs, was going to stop me from eating cake.)

Growing up, my favorite was the strawberry cake from Regent Bakery. It’s one of those deceptively addictive layered cakes, with a pretty whipped cream topping covering sliced strawberries and sponge cake. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and since it’s always wrapped up delicately buying a slice feels like a serious treat. (Seriously, the second they announced the Seattle expansion, I started planning a visit involving monocles. We went in later and bought out half the shop to taste test.) The nerd bonus is that Regent’s responsible for the Portal Cake, so it’s fun to bring friends in for a slice of black forest during PAX weekend.

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Later on I started falling in love with Bakery Nouveau. While all their cakes are amazing, this one time they reached my personal pinnacle of cake perfection: moist chiffon cake layered with strawberries and pastry cream, a more grown up, vanilla-scented version of the original dream. I brought a huge slice to gaming night and inhaled it.

Now the problem for my patience is I haven’t seen this cake in Bakery Nouveau since. I mean, seriously? You can’t cater to my whims, o amazing cake place?

Since I started randomly craving it recently, I remembered that I now have this epic kitchen full of bakery tools and have made vanilla custard enough times that I can all but make it from memory. One Pinterest/Google search later, I determined that this piece of culinary heaven was probably a fraisier, also called a strawberry bavarian cake, which is comprised of a syrup-moistened cake, berries, pastry cream, and usually topped with almond paste. (Bakery Nouveau’s had a strawberry glaze.) And, what do you know, the Daring Bakers did a challenge based on it once, and they used a cookbook that’s already in my house. Then I found a second version on Food & Wine magazine that also looked delicious.

At this point I was pretty much out of excuses.

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I ended up making two batches of pastry cream, one for the citrus-free dessert, and decided the Food & Wine cake recipe would use slightly fewer eggs, so I made their version. I stuffed the final cake with the Smitten Kitchen pastry cream, which was much thicker and didn’t want to be friends with its new layered destiny, but things worked out okay.

Even rarer, I plated it. I didn’t do everything, of course – in all the photos online this cake comes out much prettier, with whole strawberries in the center and topped with a generous layer of custard, all neat and exact. But it’s a cake, and it’s finished.

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You’ve got to realize how amazingly lazy I am as a baker to appreciate how rare that is. Oh sure, I bake a lot, but very, very rarely do I do things like layer cakes. I’m the person who will make a salad, a lovely composed dish of greens, carrot ribbons, thinly sliced radishes, pan fried snap peas, and crumbled Samish Bay chive ladysmith cheese, dress it with 10-year aged balsamic vinegar and the best olive oil I can afford, and then eat it straight out of the huge mixing bowl I made it in. Putting it on a plate means more stuff to clean later, and I was going to eat it all anyway.

So the fact that a cake was both made and finished as intended is one of the rarest moments in my kitchen to date. More likely it would have usually been made in cupcake form then sort of topped with the berries and custard. Or I would have made some other random cake that didn’t involve whipping both the egg whites and yolks separately before folding them together.

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Still, it was delicious. The cake was a little dry when I took a slice soon after finishing plating for photo purposed, but a few hours later it was improved significantly, and much closer to my dream cake. I don’t think the kirsch really helped; it almost left an artificial aftertaste. (It was probably bad kirsch; I didn’t pick it out. Next time, if I need to include alcohol in the simple syrup, I’d use apple brandy or something citrus. I’m also now wondering how this cake would come out with that rose geranium liquor from Brovo, or even that currant liquour from Finnriver Farm.

This cake may not have exactly been what Bakery Nouveau put on their shelves, but at least it was a step in the right direction. Next time, a less fussy custard, and more of it.

Travel in Seattle

The sun is shining, the grass looks walkable, and the Starbucks signs are out in a flurry of activity. It’s tourism season in Seattle.

Seattle’s been getting a lot of travel accolades recently, so I thought I’d chip in with my two cents on being a tourist in my fair home. I used to be a tour guide, so some of this could be filed under “old but still good” information, but I hope it can still help out.

Most tour groups/attractions/etc. downtown know where the first Starbucks is. It’s in Pike Place Market on the north end, a few stores before you hit Seatown Seabar. It looks like a small Starbucks. Really. If you’re dead set on going, it’s usually crazy crowded in the summer, especially when a cruise ship comes to port.

If you’re on the waterfront/Pike Place Market and want to go from one to the other, there’s an elevator connecting them. It’s slow, but it beats hauling anything up the Hillclimb. It’s half-hidden in Pike Place on street level, next to Chukar Cherries. Take it to the waterfront level and walk out of the parking garage, and the Seattle Aquarium will be to your left.

You should so use this time to hit up World Spice Merchants, which is off the elevator to the south on the stop above the parking garage. It can be hard to breathe when you first walk in, but it’s one of the best spice shops on the entire coast.

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I don’t have any photos of the inside of this lovely, lovely place, so have some of my recent haul. My bag of goodies smells like spicy marshmallows.

Pike Place Market fills up quickly. When I volunteered at the Aquarium, I made it a general goal to be out of the market by 10 am at the latest in the summer, which is when the non-produce vendors start up. Also, by 10:15 most of the people are out and about, so it becomes really hard to move. Learn to weave or split up, or just accept that it will be slow going. Do not, for the love of all that is good in the world, try to drive through there.

Yes, it’s on the map as driveable. It’s effectively not. Do not be that driver.

Protip: If you call it Pike’s Place, we’ll know you’re probably a tourist. Use that knowledge as needed.

Seattle is huge. It’s not as large a population as San Francisco, but getting to the cool stuff around town can take a while, even by car. Unless you want to spend a lot of the time in your car/bus, I’d hit up 1-2 neighborhoods a day, max. That or have one serious battle plan.

Also, our parking sucks in a lot of the more happening areas. (I’m looking at you, Capitol Hill.) Uber isn’t necessarily a bad idea, depending on the trek, and we also have sidecar and car2go. I wish I could say mass transit was the way to go, but with all the recent budget cuts it’s not the most relaxing experience. Still, make sure to grab an ORCA card to save money on transfers between Sound Transit and Metro, which are different systems.

Our food trucks may not be Portland-level everywhere, but they’re pretty fantastic – and some have restaurants. We finally have waffle trucks, grilled cheese trucks, and fusion tacos. They won’t be cheap per se – $15 sandwiches can happen – but there are pods forming and it’s hard to beat that in the sunshine. I mean, just look at this taco from Off the Rez.

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Look at it.

(Yes, it’s on concrete. It was cooling and I had no patience for hunting down a table.)

And yes, some have their own restaurants, and often have near cult followings. If you’re not sure of your schedule, it’s a lot easier to grab a taco from Marination Station or Ma Kai than hunt for the truck, and Skillet is at both Capitol Hill and the Seattle Center.

Our bars are awesome – even if you don’t drink alcohol. There are a large number of obsessed mixologists, distillers, and crafters in Seattle, and that makes for a lot of experimentation with and without alcohol. Canon, Needle & Thread/Tavern Law, and Knee High Stocking Co. all do a fine job on the mocktail front in addition to their love for spirits, and that’s just a few of them. Treat that poor friend who normally gets stuck sipping Coke all night, and, if you’re at Knee High, get some seriously awesome tater tots.

Making citrus-free desserts

(This deserves the subtitle: The Cake That Hated Me.)

So my roommate’s previous lady friend has a citrus allergy. I am lazy as all get out in terms of remembering everyone else’s allergies (I barely keep track of my hoard – that’s what Google Documents is for) but I think this one is intriguing.

You see, I’m slightly addicted to all that is citrus. Lemon curd is one of my favorite things, I could eat grapefruit all day, and my best cheesecake recipe uses zest like it’s going out of style. While I could just stick to chocolate desserts when she’s here, and I do make a ton of chocolate chip cookies, that’s lazy, and even I can get bored of chocolate.

Really.

The thing is, by dessert standards this is fairly safe; I just like adding citrus to everything. But I also like to do fancy things for guests on occasion, and all my fancy-pants recipes are zesty. That being said, in the summer citrus is still pretty much the go-to seasoning for most people, even if it’s not actually in season. I mean, just think about what you eat at restaurants or want to cook at home right now – citrus-scented chevres, citrus vinaigrettes, citrus marinades, even margaritas. I don’t want to kick her out of eating at our place, so I’m trying to figure out ways to maximize my cooking time while still respecting her needs.

So what could I make that she probably hadn’t eaten a million times before, was citrus-free, ideally lacked chocolate, and was a wee bit of a showstopper? Angel food cake.

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I’ve been wanting to make this particular angel food cake roll recipe for ages, but it calls for nine egg whites and I never know what to do with that many leftover yolks. Egg whites are great – you have three, in they go in the stand mixer and you get meringue. Two to three yolks work for most pot de creme recipes, but nine?

Then I found a recipe for a flan relative, Tocino de Cielo, that called for six egg yolks, and my fraisier recipe called for three, and I figured if I got frustrated there were zest-free vanilla puddings and custards to consider. Time to wreck the kitchen.

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I also had these grand plans of going strawberry picking, but then I hit the farmer’s market and the price for a half flat wasn’t bad. Score one for laziness!

Next, that cake. The recipe seemed harmless enough, but then I actually got to making it. Again, everything was easy – in theory – but have you ever tried to fold ¾ cup of cake flour into nine egg whites that have been whipped to hard peak stage? It’s like fighting an egg white monster. A monster who really, really doesn’t like you, and you have to pet carefully anyway so it stays all fluffy.

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And after I corralled it onto the sheet pan, baked it, and let it cool, cutting the cake wasn’t going to happen. It kind of smooshed instead. I went for the ‘rustic’ (i.e., lazy) route and tore it into strips, then plated it like a mille-feuille with dollops of custard and strawberry slices that were macerated with the barest amount of sugar because they were like eating candy already.

It was messy, it was beautiful, and it was free of all forms of citrus. Fantastic.

Even better, the angel food cake-custard-strawberry disaster was tastier after some time in the fridge. It became this epic, scoopable dessert, more like an icebox cake with the flavors just beginning to meld together, and while the cake was still hard to cut, it was a bit more melt-on-the-tongue soft. The next day you could scoop it like it was all custard. Dreamy, sugary, light-as-air in pockets custard.

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I ate some of it for breakfast the next morning. I regret nothing.

Play With Your Food: Stack your dice

For the last round of Play With Your Food, it’s one final round with the dice.

I went looking for food-related dice, and all I found were ingredient dice for cooking. And they were kind of boring, and weren’t that great for doing ridiculous things with photography.

So, I found a dice template, and made my own.

How to Play:

What you’ll need:

First, make your dice. Print it out, or you can, like in the first PWYF, take note of what each number’s assigned to and then roll for each category.

I went with three dice, each with different ideas. Here’s what the sides were:

Ingredients: Cheese, strawberries, eggplant, pecans, watermelon, chocolate

Styling Props: Wine glass, shot glass, skillet, whisk, teacup, cupcake liners

Techniques/ideas: Sandwich, stir fry with garlic, add balsamic vinegar, stacks, braise, frost

Use one, two, all of them, or even make your own dice plans and ideas based on what’s in your house.

Once you have your dice, roll them and follow the instructions, or reroll until a combination sounds awesome.

My Game:

First, I learned I suck at making dice. For a house with rainbows of duct tape, we had no scotch tape or glue sticks, so I used masking tape. They’re going to be ugly dice; deal with it.

Once I wrote everything down and started rolling, most of the rolls were disgusting. Even for you, awesome readers, I was not going to frost an eggplant and put it in a shot glass. (Maybe when I have some savory frosting options.) I was at least hoping for something silly, like an strawberry sandwich in a wine glass, but I actually never rolled something that awesome.

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Instead, the first functional roll I got was teacup/watermelon/stacks. Okay then.

This was easy enough to style – I grabbed a teacup and layered slices of watermelon with the pineapple I had on hand.

If I was repeating this, thanks to the cuteness of melon in a cup I’d want to include other parts of traditional afternoon tea, like tiny cucumber sandwiches. Our house is totally out of bread, and cucumbers, so that can wait until I do things like plan these in advance instead of actually just playing the games.

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While I didn’t shoot the ‘failed’ rolls, they weren’t really failures – they were more ideas I wasn’t totally sold on, or that I should use in other posts. And I think I’ll come back to them another time if I want to work with savory ingredients or even to remind myself to not put everything just on a plate to get a picture. It’s too easy to default to one style because it “works” and I had totally found myself in that trap. This may not fix it, but I got a good laugh out of it all.

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So, that ends Play With Your Food – thanks for playing with me! I’d love to hear if any of you tried these out, even if they went horribly lopsided.

Now, like any good plot, this is not really the end. I do have one last idea, but it simply needs more time and doesn’t fit with the dice theme I’ve been playing around with. It’ll show up sometime in July, and probably be a small disaster. In the interim, game on!