Categories
Baking Chocolate Food General Recipes

In Praise of Spontaneity and Vanilla and Espresso Buttercream Frosting

One of the things that often irks me about living in North America is how much people seem to plan and organize their social lives. Speaking broadly of course, based on anecdotal evidence from my life, I find that people in India are far more spontaneous. I think there is something nice about being able to phone a friend and make an impromptu plan for the same day once in a while. But, here, more often than not, people plan dinner parties and drinks weeks in advance.

Unfortunately, having to pencil appointments with my friends into my calendar really doesn’t work for my personality. I often find myself feeling tired, or un-social, and want nothing more than to sit on the couch with a book, but end up having to go out because I accepted an invitation weeks ago. People may have gone to considerable trouble to cook for me, or a the very least they’ve set aside time to see me, so I feel compelled to go. At other times, I have a spontaneous urge to go out and see people, but end up staying in, because I haven’t made any plans with anyone.

I realize that part of life is having to do things one doesn’t feel like doing, but when it comes to how we interact with one another, I don’t think it has to be this way, and it isn’t this way in India. Of course, the ‘impromptu system’ I am advocating has its own drawbacks. In spite of its flaws however, I prefer this system to what I see as an overly organized North American model.

Luckily, that’s all it is, a model; which means not everyone follows it and I’ve managed to find a few people here who like spontaneity once in a while too 🙂 All of this has meant that last evening, I was able to indulge in one of the small, simple joys of life, namely throwing an impromptu soiree. The plan was made frantically, over multiple text messages, sometime last afternoon. After which, I could be seen running about trying to throw some snacks together. Since spontaneity was the theme, I even decided to bake a cake! It turned out pretty well, but what I really liked about it was the icing, so I thought I would share the recipe here with you 🙂

Ingredients:

1 Chocolate Cake

4 Eggs

1 Cup Sugar

2 Pinches of Salt

3 Sticks of Butter

1 tsp Vanilla Essence

1 tbsp Instant Espresso

Method:

Place the sugar, salt and eggs in a double boiler (just place them in a heat proof bowl and then place the bowl over another bowl of simmer water, make sure not to let the bottom of the first bowl touch the water). Gently and continuously, whisk the mixture while it heats up. Using a thermometer check the temperature of the mixture periodically. When the temperature reaches 160 F, take the mixture of the heat. Now beat the mixture at high-speed until it becomes fluffy and airy and reaches room temperature. Then add the butter in, half a stick at a time, beating continuously at medium speed. Once the butter is whipped in, separate the mixture into two equal parts in two bowls.

In the first bowl beat in the espresso at high-speed until you have a really light fluffy frosting.

Next, cut the cake in half. (Ideally, when you bake the cake, bake it in two separate bowls so that you have two layers without having to slice the cake in half later). Using a spatula spread a thick layer of espresso frosting over the top of the bottom layer. You don’t have to worry about doing this neatly. Make sure to leave aside about 3-4 tablespoons of frosting to decorate the top of the cake with. Then place the top layer of the cake on top of the frosting.

In the second bowl, beat in the vanilla essence, until you have a smooth, fluffy texture.

Using a separate spatula, spread this over the top and sides of the cake. Once you have a somewhat smooth (it does not have to be flawless) surface, use a basting brush to draw fine decorative lines along the sides and top of the cake. Finally, fill some of the left over frosting into a frosting bag and squeeze little bits of it on the top the cake in whatever pattern you like.

And there you have it, a white vanilla butter-cream frosted cake with a creamy espresso layer in the middle. Mmmm.

Mine turned out a little lopsided 😦 clearly I have to work some more on my decorative skills. However, it tasted pretty darned good and got rave reviews at my party 🙂

Categories
Baking Chocolate Food Recipes

Universal Dark Chocolate Icing Recipe

After making the Gianduja cake earlier today (see earlier post) I sat down to figure out what sort of icing would work with the cake. As I said in my earlier post, I used a recipe from Nigella lawson’s book, “How to be a Domestic Goddess” for the cake. However, I didn’t really like the sound of the dark chocolate ganache she recommended for the cake. It didn’t sound bad or anything, I mean how can “dark chocolate ganache” be bad, but it didn’t sound perfect to me (I have particular preferences. For instance, I always prefer buttercream frosting to cream-based frosting). Also, I didn’t have enough cream at home. So I decided to wing it, as it were. And this is what I came up with.

What you need:

Equipment:

Mortar and pestle (if you want to add toasted ground hazelnuts on top of the icing) 

Spatula or knife to spread icing

A double boiler or a small bowl and a microwave

A food processor or stand-alone mixer OR 1 large bowl and a hand-held mixer or whisk.

Ingredients:

100 g bar of good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)

A few tablespoons of the heaviest cream you can find (in Canada you’ll have to settle for whipping cream which is about 38% I believe)

1/2 tsp vanilla essense

About a cup of icing sugar

1 1/3 stick of unsalted butter

Two handfuls of hazelnuts

There is a reason these measurements are so imprecise. I just sort of experimented. They say that cooking is an art-form because you can adjust ingredients and spices to taste, whereas baking is science. This is generally true I think, but frosting is a little more on the art side of the scale than baking a cake is. What I mean is you can have an adjustable frosting recipe. I find most frosting to be too sweet and creamy- I would prefer it to be more buttery and chocolately. I also like to put a lot of frosting on my cake 🙂 This is why I have listed approximate measures here.

Preparing the chocolate: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave.

Preparing the hazelnuts: Toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 375 farenheit (that’s 180 celsius) for about 10 minutes, tossing the nuts once during this time. Let them cool and then place them in a tea-towel and rub them against each other until they lose their skins. Then place them in a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind them. I suggested a mortar and pestle rather than a dry-grinder because this way you can make sure you break up all the nuts without reducing most of the nuts to a powder.

Method:

I began by putting about 3/4 cup of icing sugar into my food processor. I then processed it to get rid of any lumps. Next, I added the butter to this and processed it again, until it was a smooth, creamy mix. If you don’t have a processor just put the sugar and butter in a large bowl and use an egg-beater ( or whisk).

I tasted it at this point and felt it wasn’t sweet enough, so I added a little sugar and then a little more and a little more- until it was just right. I think each person’s desired level of sweetness differs, so this is a great way to make the icing just right for you! At this point, I added the vanilla essence and two tablespoons of heavy cream and gave the whole mixture a nice whirl in the processor. I made sure that the mixture was creamy and light at this point.

The next step was to add the chocolate. I spooned about 3/4 of the chocolate into the processor and processed it.

Upon tasting the icing it I found it needed more chocolate, so I added some more melted chocolate. I also added one more tablespoon of cream to the mix and gave the whole thing a few more whirls until everything was nicely mixed up and I had a smooth, creamy chocolatey frosting.

In the mean time, the Gianduja cake had been cooling on the dining table. I poured the icing at the centre of the cake and then spread it over the cake.

You can get angled spatulas that are great for spreading icing – since I didn’t have one, I used this:

Periodically, I rinsed off the extra icing on the knife in warm water and shook off the extra water. This made it easier to spread the icing.

I finally managed to spread the icing somewhat evenly over the cake. It didn’t matter that much if it wasn’t perfectly even because I was going to top it off with nuts. Finally, I sprinkled the toasted, crushed hazelnuts all over the cake.

And the end result was this:

Which my friends will be enjoying tomorrow when I have them over for tea! I already sneaked a piece though, and it was absolutely YUMMY! I recommend this recipe to anyone who likes chocolate and nuts and doesn’t like their desserts overly sweet.

I cannot stress this enough though, this icing tastes best when it’s warm. So reheat a cake slice in the microwave before you serve it.