Monday, October 29, 2012

Torta de Regina de Notte

Alone a chunk of bittersweet chocolate is redolent with night blooming floral scents, of garden paths still warm from the sun's kiss, expressing passions that unfurl only during night's dark embrace. For me citrus fruits grant the ability to taste sunshine. Bursting and bright, it is no wonder humans have long heralded oranges as symbols for the sun's rebirth. The perfect globes contrasting the scant arch of a Northern hemipshere's winter day, especially an overcast, grey day like today.
In this torte the contrasting & complimentary are wedded together by earthy hazelnuts, resulting a sensory experience exceeding the sum of its parts. It tastes better than the recipe reads, better than the gorgeous photo by Helen Dujardin, which is no small feat as her photos are always lush...Queen of the Night fits this torte.

Since citrus isn't in season yet I cheated with a premium organic store-bought marmalade. I always use bittersweet chocolate, not semisweet, use either. The simplicity of baking by weight, not volume means you can grind your own hazelnuts or buy flour/meal at the store. Ditto the chocolate - ground chocolate (not cocoa!) also makes this recipe faster to assemble. Otherwise use the standard grate side of the box grater, it will result in a fine grate chocolated, not chunks or the melted mess the fine side will make (ask me how I know that...) Prepping each ingredient before starting to mix the cake helps maintain the egg-based structure.
Each winter one new-to-me cookbook becomes 'the' cookbook of the season. Winter 2012 will be Marmalades Savory & Sweet. In a few months when citrus peaks I'll make a batch and repeat this recipe. May even cheat again so I can dally with this Queen again. Waiting for good citrus to have this cake was not an option. Despite cheating on the citrus marmalade, the cherry marmalade cannot be ignored, especially as twelve ounces of fat Bing cherries in my freezer are chorusing in siren song. By next week there will be a post extolling another pleasure awaiting between the covers of Ellen's delightful book.

Here's how I made the Queen of the Night: it took only one ingredient change to make this safe for me to eat, and I think the coconut oil enhanced the main ingredient floral notes.

Cake Ingredients
7.06 ounces / 200 grams ground hazelnuts, plus half an ounce more to dust the pan
9.52 ounces / 270 grams granulated sugar
8 large eggs, separated
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
4 ounces orange juice (the juice of 2 oranges)
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur or vanilla extract
7 ounces / 225 grams semisweet chocolate - ground or finely shaved
pinch of salt

Glaze Ingredients
8 ounces marmalade
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
1-2 tablespoons orange juice

Lightly grease a 9" springform pan with coconut oil. I like to parchment the bottom of the pan then oil the paper & sides. Dust with extra ground nuts.

Combine the egg yolks and sugar, mixing until ribbons form...about 5 minutes with a stand mixer. Add in the orange zest, ground hazelnuts, chocolate, orange juice, hazelnut liqueur and the pinch of salt. Blend until fully incorporated and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees - 325 if you have a convection oven.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/4 to 1/3 of the egg whites into the rest of the ingredients. Gently, this is where the cake's crumb and texture comes from. Repeat until all the egg whites are folded in. Pour into the prepared springform and set in the oven.

The book says to bake the cake for 55 minutes, mine was done in 40 minutes. Keep toothpicks handy and pay attention to the baking scents. Once a pick comes out mostly dry, pull the cake and set to cool for 10-15 minutes. Run the back of a knife edge around the outer rim, pop the spring form off and make the glaze.

While the cake baked I cleaned up and made the glaze. If you like the rind in marmalade, just combine the marmalade, liqueur and orange juice, warm in a small pan until runny. I'm not a fan of the rind, so I strained the glaze, let it cool to room temp and then brushed the top and sides, using a silicone brush.

The first sliver was slightly warm when I devoured it. The second  cooler slice was just as good...and the house smells delicious. Whipped topping & chocolate shavings complete the presentation. Coffee or champagne or prosecco are the ideal accompaniment to this rich, yet not too-sweet cake. The book says 8 servings from the 9" round, at my table it is 16 servings/decadent slivers.

If the cake isn't going to be consumed within a day, wrap servings of the completely cooled cake in plastic wrap, and freeze it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Knives: Selection, Care and the Feeding of...

A good knife is one tool universely acknowledged as a kitchen necessity. Also usually acknowledged as one of the expensive tools. One year the best Yule gift I received was a set of Henckels knives. Finally, my very own set of good, will-never-need-to-buy-replacements knives. Grown Up knives. I hugged the box, kept in my lap for hours, then proceeded to spend the rest of the winter making only recipes requiring lots and lots of chopping.

The surprise? Good knives mean more chopping with far less pain for arthritic hands. In hindsight it seems only logical, self evident, without diminishing the wonder of experiencing it after years of making do with cheaper Ginsu-esque knives It also means once you've spent time with a good set of knives there's no going back to lesser knives. At least not without much muttering, grumbling, and snarling imprecations.

More recently I had the pleasure of helping a young friend who enjoys cooking begin assembling his kitchen. After he'd spent months as my kitchen minion...using my knives, and other tools acquired over a couple decades, which created the challenge of how to get him 'the basics' on a budget. Deconstructing this dilema required assessing what he had, what he was cooking & baking most often, and which items he tended to use.

One part is understanding it doesn't take many knives to fulfill most tasks. That ostenatious set of 12, 14 or 30 knives is plain old conspicuous consumption. A good 8" or 10" chef's knife, a 6" utility knife, and a paring knife will more than suffice. When baking cakes & breads, add a bread knife, and a sturdy set of kitchen shears to the must-have list. If budget allows a Santuko is a useful splurge. The wee sharpener is a necessity, dull knives being more dangerous than boiling sugar and more frustrating than a cheap knife...more on caring & feeding knives below.

The solution to owning those good knives without waiting for years or a generous gift is a restaurant supply store. Most likely they won't carry a known brand, or sets with excess pieces. What they will have, without fail, is solid selection of individual cold-forged, full tang knives for far less than the usual retail big box or boutique chains. Why? Because commercial kitchen staff need quality, durable tools to use in the grueling environment of a restaurant. You can buy your perfect chef's knife this knife or a couple at a time as budget allows.
Plus most restaurant supply stores are locally owned, family businesses. They'll be staffed by knowledgeable, friendly adults, not sullen retail drones. Knives will be easily available to handle, feel the balance, the handle shape, how it weighs in hand. I fondled many a knife before I decided long ago exactly which knives I planned to buy once and then use for a lifetime.

As someone with small hands, slight wrists, and not much heft to bear down behind the blade, Henckels and many of the Victorinox work beautifully for me. An 8" chef knife the one I automatically grab. Burly friends with large hands and no lack of forearm or shoulder to quarter turkeys or tame monsterous squashes enjoy using Wustoff and certain Victorinox blades. A 10" chef knife is their default knife.

The discovery of our common ground, Victorinox, arrived thanks to Cresco restaurant supply here in Denver. Professionals with knowledge providing service with quality retail. I tend to sing their praises often. If you live in the West, there are Cresco's in Reno, Fresno, Denver, Santa Maria, and Sacramento.

Another knife tip they imparted: buy 2-4 inexpensive paring knives instead of one full-tang paring knife. It saves time while wrist deep in a recipe with many small ingredients: like ginger, strawberries, peaches and chilis. Since then while cleaning up I've noticed often I used all my paring knives...again.

Unless you have a burning desire to learn the ever so precise technique, skip the honing steel, and buy one of these: 

Victorinox Sharpener
Never ever get an electrical sharpening machine. Having used both the steel and this wee sharpener, I prefer the sharpener for ease of use and just as consistent results. By the time I'm done playing with my food (cooking) I've very little energy left to clean up. Accomplishing that with minimal energy expended isn't optional...pots may soak until the next day, but knives cannot, should not ever wait. 3-5 swipes of the washed & dry blade, followed with a gentle wipe of lintless towel to remove shavings, solves the energy vs proper care dilema.

My wish for you is a good knife or three in your kitchen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Feeding the Witch while Baking

Inevitably while I'm baking I get hungry, peckish at the very least, for something savory. And it needs to be something I can graze on while working, substantial enough to keep me from eating the ingredients for whatever I'm playing with, and often feed a friend or three perched on the other side of the kitchen work table. Hummus and cucumber slices or baby carrots are a long-time standby. When David Lebovitz posted this recipe for a white bean dip I had to make it. Everything I've ever made from one of his recipes turns out exactly as described, tastes great, and often are quite simple. This recipe has that additional rare quality of not requiring a single substitution or tweak.

After soaking the beans over night and cooking them in my wee crockpot for the morning, my IV nurse and I each enjoyed a small bowl garnished with warm olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. Add in a pot of gun powder tea for a delicious, light mid-afternoon meal.

Not in the mood for dill or mint? Use paprika and a hefty pinch of chili and cayenne instead.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marmalade Cook Book Give Away

I recently won a copy of this gorgeous cook book, and now Tartelette is holding a giveaway for two copies.

Marmalade Savory & Sweet Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste by Elizabeth Field, photographed by Helene Dujardins aka Tartelette.

Today I'm making the Torta de Regina de Notte...hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate, oranges; autumn decadence in a pan. The lamb recipe, the cherry marmalade, rhubarb marmalade, and more are vying for priority on my kitchen.

For now, pop over to Tartelette and leave comment to try and win a copy of your very own. Later this week I'll post photos and an update on how the torta comes out.