Week 2 Thrills & Blues

Week one of culinary school down and week two has begun! I have passed through all the stuff I already know how to do and am into the actually learning part – that didn’t take long!

Here’s a story: When I was a kid, like any brainy kid, I not only was excited to be learning my 2nd grade material, but was excited to see what was coming in grade three. In my elementary school, I knew that in third grade, I would learn conversions! How many teaspoons in a cup? How many cups in a gallon? My little mind bristled with excitement. The problem that has haunted me all of my adult life (especially as a math teacher!) is that when I made it to third grade, the conversion unit had been dropped down to second grade, and I never was formally taught teaspoons to cups and so on. So the basics that I do know are pure memorization of conversions I come across most frequently. I know that there are 16 ounces in a pound. I know that there are… that’s where my confidence ends. I am never sure that I am not about to sound like a fool.

Culinary math has been a big part of recent days and while my classmates want to stand by me to make sure they are doing the chiffonade correctly, they are quickly learning that I, the former math teacher, am not the one to stand near during math, except to offer help.

On the plus side, last week, we did a tasting of thirty cheeses. Awesome. We’ve tasted tons of different greens and learned about oils and vinegars in an in depth and practical way.

Today, I got in the mail my student loan, hooray, and the paper work on the compounding interest payback. I felt light-headed. I scrubbed my stovetop for a distraction.

Also, this weekend was my birthday, for which I had friends over for a make-your-own pizza party and made a German Chocolate Cake from the Tate’s Bakeshop Cookbook. Tate’s is in Southampton, NY. Mark & I bought our wedding cakes from them. (Sidebar: If you are getting married and aren’t obsessed with the idea of the inedible, rolled fondant tower of chalk, opt for several 10″ cakes, so you not only get to choose a variety of filling/cake/icing combinations, but won’t pay $10 a slice either. Our total cake bill was under $250 for 100 guests. Just don’t mention “wedding.”)

Kathleen King’s (née Tate) cookbook is adorable and my mom gave it to me last Christmas. The problem with it is that the recipe development is, well, lacking. It pains me to critique such a successful and prolific cookbook author, but I will because if you want your cakes (specifically the presentation) to be a success, adjustments need to be made, primarily in the icing. Unless her theory is that you don’t feel successful and keep buying her fabricated cakes… conspiracy?

Tate’s Bake Shop German Chocolate Cake with Notes from Yours Truly

Cake
4 oz Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup canned Coco Lopez (look in the cocktail mixes isle)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened to being easily malleable, room temperature
1 1/4 cups white sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 tsp real vanilla extract (NOT imitation)
1 cup buttermilk

1. Heat oven to 350.

2. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. (If you grease then flour, you run the risk of white streaks turning out on your chocolate cake. I used Pam Baker’s Spray, which has flour in the spray, and no white streaks. Alternately, you could grease with butter, but dust with cocoa powder, so the streaks don’t appear on the cake because they are both brown!)

3. In a small sacepan, melt the chocolate and the cream of coconut together, stirring constantly. (Use a bigger saucepan and stir with a whisk, to break up the gooey coconut.) Set aside to cool. (The recipe doesn’t say how cool. I let it sit until I was ready for it, and it was fine. Just put the pan on a different burner than the one you cooked on, as the metal/coil will hold heat and thus keep the bottom of your pot warm.)

4. Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

5. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (I used my KitchenAid on medium speed for about 2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom halfway through.)

6. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides and bottom of the bowl.

7. Beat in the vanilla extract.

8. Stir in the chocolate coconut mixture and mix until completely combined. (Take big, deep inhalations to enjoy the rich, sweet smell.)

9. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to a soft peak. (The bowl must be absolutely clean, no rogue grease from last night’s french fries. The act of whipping egg whites incorporates air. This is most efficiently accomplished with a hand mixer, but a whisk and a strong arm work just as well. If you are whisking by hand, don’t lift the whisk out of the bowl, except to test the density of the egg white, otherwise you are releasing air and undoing your hard work. Instead, rapidly trace a figure eight in the bottom of the bowl. To test for the soft peak stage, stop stirring and lift the whisk or mixer straight up, slowly. As soon as the whisk separates from the eggs, the top of the peak in the bowl should stand up and immediately flop over, retaining its shape. Test frequently because if you go too far, you get stiff peaks (they don’t flop over) and you can’t recover from that except to start over. Oh, and soft peaks take about a minute and a half by machine, 2 and a half by elbow grease.)

10. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter to start the fluffing, then fold in the rest. (Be gentle, you don’t want to break up all the air pockets you just created. Only stir until all but a few thin streaks of white remain.)

11. Divide the batter into the three prepared pans.

12. Bake for 25 minutes. The edges will pull away from the edges of the pan, the center will spring back when lightly pressed on and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. (Rotate pans once halfway through to ensure evenly cooked cakes.)

13. Remove from oven. Cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Icing
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 cups evaporated milk
6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp real vanilla
2 cups pecans, lightly toasted (I chopped mine lightly before toasting)
2 cups shredded coconut (the recipe says either sweetened or unsweetened. Use unsweetened if you can find it. I used sweetened and the whole cake was too sweet. I know there’s not really a such thing. But it was too sweet. We were all twitching.)

1. In a small saucepan, stir together butter, milk, eggs, and brown sugar.

2. Cook ingredients over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and is golden brown. (Here is where a poorly written recipe stands out. How thick? How “golden?” Because of the dark brown sugar, its golden brown as soon as everything is evenly mixed. How thick is the bigger issue. I feared over-cooking and thought that the mixture would set up (get thicker) as it cooled and that the coconut and pecans would add to the the thickening. WRONG. It doesn’t set up at all, so you have to cook it until its the consistency you want at the finish. I’d give you a temperature, but I didn’t temp it. I cooked my mixture for about 20 minutes over low. It was thickened and golden brown, but soaked the cake and created a nice pool on the cake plate. I’d go for medium-low heat next time, and cook until I can scoop a bit of icing up without it flattening out too much on the spoon.)

3. Remove from heat and cool completely.

4. Stir in cooled (from toasting) pecans and coconut.

*To toast pecans, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spread out the pecans in a single layer. Put in a 425 degree oven for 3 minutes, take out par, stir around the nuts, place back in over and toast for a minute or two more. the best gague is your nos. When you smell toastiness, they’re done.

Build the cake
On a large cake platter, center the first layer. Scoop 1/3 of the icing into the center and spread it flat all the way to the edges of the cake, without spilling over. Place second cake ring, repeat icing treatment. Place final cake, top with remaining 1/3 of icing. Don’t ice the sides, the icing is too heavy.

Ok, so yes this cake has 4 sticks of butter (as my dad says “if a recipe calls for butter in sticks, you know its going to be good”) but you aren’t going to eat this cake everyday, or all of it in one sitting.

I recommend it served with a sweet sparkling wine (Clairette de Die, if you can find it,) a calculator for practicing culinary math, a Sallie Mae student loan statement, or a 29th birthday party with great friends.

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