Wednesday, March 21, 2007

To Top It Off

I have tracked the decline of baking over the years in the baking aisle at the grocery store. I used to decry the enormous section of boxed cake mixes because it was a sign that people were too lazy or intimidated to do "real" baking. Then, even more worrisome, the boxed mix section shrank. That meant that people were to pressed for time or too frightened even to throw a few ingredients on top of a mix and toss it into the oven. Now you can buy your brownies in the refrigerated section - just peel off the wrapper, press it into the pan, and bake. Homemade brownies....I guess. But where's the fun in that?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not slamming people who use box mixes. My guilty secret is the row of cake mixes in my pantry. My son loves them and thinks that's where all cakes come from. He loves breaking the eggs, stirring, and helping mommy bake. And because I could give a rip how a mix cake turns out, it's low stress for me to let him learn the basics of baking in this way. I'm hoping from this that he'll learn that baking is fun and be willing to confidently expand his baking horizons beyond the box. Knowledge takes away the fear and empowers.

I think a great deal of the decline of baking is due to fear of failure. If you're unsure how a recipe will turn out, it's easier to get a mix or just go to the bakery and buy what you want. That way you won't have the mortification of showing up at the PTA meeting with a plate of oozing cookies or a cake that looks like a soccer ball landed in the middle of it.

Over the years I've had my share of baking disasters and I've learned that it's not the end of the world. It's just food. And there's a lot that can be done to salvage disasters. Warming the goo and putting vanilla ice cream on top of it. Adding frosting. Or peanut butter. Or whipped cream. Or hot fudge sauce. It's just all in the attitude.

When I made my special dinner for my husband (see previous post), I wanted a knock his socks off dessert. The recipe for Chocolate Mousse Cake looked tremendous. I substituted half of the semisweet chocolate with bittersweet as my husband is a big fan of bittersweet. The cake looked lovely and I was crushed when he took only a bite or two then put down his piece. He said it was too dry. After pouting on this for a night, I realized, the cake could be saved. I served it again the next night. Refrigerating, like the directions said to, helped the texture. And I spread it with orange marmalade (he loves the combination of orange and dark chocolate) and then dollopped sweetened whipped cream on top. Success!

Chocolate Mousse Cake

1 cup finely chopped walnuts (4 oz.)
1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds (4 oz.)
2 oz (1/2 stick ) butter, softened

1 lb. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup whipped cream
powdered sugar to sweeten whipped cream, optional

Preheat oven to 325 deg.

To prepare crust, mix together nuts and butter. Press evenly over bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. I don't own a 9-inch pan and used a 10-inch. It made a slightly flatter cake. Also, when I baked the cake, the butter in the crust melted and seeped out of the pan, so I'd recommend setting your pan on a baking sheet, or first lining the bottom and sides of your springform pan with foil.

To prepare filling, in a medium saucepan, heat chocolate and cream over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature, 10 minutes.

Beat together eggs and vanilla at low speed until foamy. At high speed, gradually beat in flour and sugar until thick, for 8-10 minutes. (I was beating, and beating, and beating, muttering to myself, "Not thick, not thick." I'm not sure what thick is supposed to look like, but in my case it ended up being slightly thickened.)

Fold one-third of egg mixture into melted chocolate mixture. Fold chocolate mixture, one-qurter at a time, into remaining egg mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake cake until puffed around outer edges, 45 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Remove sides of pan.

Chill cake for 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with whipped cream. And, optionally, your choice of peanut butter, jam, berry puree, or fresh berries.


Sarah said...

My oppion is it has an extrem lack of peanut butter on it :-)

Anonymous said...

This cake was wonderful. I continued eating after it was too late, and my brother was calling me a "little piggy"! Well done. Might I have some more? Yes, it was a drier cake, however my watering mouth made up for the lack thereof. -D

Joe said...

Lynn, I read your blog because I like your style. As I mentioned to my son Greg and daughter-in-law Dianne last night (Friday, March 23rd), men's blogs are typically quite focused on their topic - politics, cars, technology etc. Women often blog in a much more personal style ("But here's where marrying a wonderful man pays off..."), while still fulfilling the purpose of their blogs. I enjoy reading your blog for the personal comments, as I can't cook.

We returned from Maui last weekend and I finally got around to catching up on my blogs, and I read your "To Top It Off" entry about the Chocolate Mousse Cake. Little did I know that I would be enjoying some of that cake, baked by the blog author herself, that very evening!

I had to run out to Fry's Electronics that evening and my wife doesn't much care for that store (wonder why...). So I went by myself and, as usual, I couldn't resist the warm pull of my son and daughter-in-law's close-by Renton home. "Grandpa!" is the happy shout I hear from little faces when I deliver my trademark knock ("Shave and a haircut - two bits") and Friday night was no exception.

Sitting on the floor in Dianne's kitchen, I happened to reference your blog, whereupon she produced not only a piece of the mousse cake in question but also a piece of your chocolate caramel crumble, prepared by the very person who wrote the blog entry. I fought with one-year-old Oscar (the reason I was sitting on the kitchen floor) over the mousse cake - he wanted the WHOLE thing. I enjoyed the chocolate caramel crumble a little more than the mousse cake, and I ate the crumble all up. I wrapped half the mousse cake and I'm enjoying it now (2:00 PM Saturday) as I post this response. Quite tasty.

Dianne said you live for your blog responses so I hope you enjoy this one. In addition to your precise writing style, those photographs display a marked sense of style and perspective. Whoever on earth could your photographer be (grin)? My compliments to her for her wonderful pictures and to you for your dandy blog.

Thanks from Joe Meboe

Emily (Meboe) said...

your cake is soooooo good.They just tickle my tounge that makes me want to laugh out loud! It's really good.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Sarah, You're right, peanut butter topping is awesome.

Dianne, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Joe, Thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoy your writing style as well. Do you blog? So happy you got to share in the baking bonanza.

Emily, You are so sweet!