Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chex Mix

There are thousands of recipes out there for "original" chex mix, and I've made a few of them.  Here's my version, not "original" but it gets eaten up pretty quickly every time I make it.
  • 2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ½ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground sage
  • Tabasco to taste
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 9 cups chex cereal
  • 1 cup mixed nuts
  • 1 cup pretzels
  • 1 cup rye chips

Begin the hard, tedious work of measuring out all the seasoning.

And then continue on with the drudgery of assembling the dry ingredients.  Start heating the oven to 250° F.

I use a combination of rice and corn chex.

Add a cup of nuts, a cup of rye chips, and cup of pretzels...a cup of any other nibblie you have lying around the kitchen.  Put in a bowl with a lid.

Now it's time to prepare the sauce.  Put a stick of butter in a bowl and head for the microwave.

Add the Worcester, seasonings, and a few dashes of Tabasco.

Mix it all together.

Pour the sauce over the chex.  Cover the bowl and shake vigorously.

 Pour the chex into a 9" x 13" baking dish.

Bake one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Place the mix on paper towels to catch any excess sauce.  You know this isn't a calorie saving thing, it's a preventing excess grease thing.

And don't eat it all in one sitting!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Italian Cream Cake

Christmas is a double duty holiday in my family since it's also my father's birthday.  I was thrilled when he asked me to make the cake.  Specifically, a frosted layer cake.  Which was a problem because that's not my specialty.  My past attempts at cakes have been...unsuccessful.  Specifically they've been dense, brick like, cracked, and domed.  And most of my past frosting attempts have been...bad.

But that's all in the past.  Let's talk though my first successful cake project.

Yield: 1 9" double layer cake
(Recipe from Cook's Country)

Note: All ingredients for cake and frosting at room temperature
  • Cake
    • 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 2 ½ cups cake flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • ¾ teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
    • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
    • 1 ¾ cups sugar
    • 5 large eggs
    • 2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
  • Frosting
    • 12 tablespoons (1 and ½ sticks) unsalted butter
    • 2 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar
    • ½ cup cream of coconut
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • salt
    • 16 ounces cream cheese
Grease two 9" cake pans.
Line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper.

Dust the cake pans with flour, making sure to get the sides.  Tap out any excess flour and set the pans aside.

Toast the coconut and pecans at 350° F for 10 minutes, watching carefully.  Enjoy the smell and take a few nibbles.

Set the pecans aside and put the coconut in a food processor.

Pulse the coconut until finely ground.

Add the vanilla and buttermilk to the ground coconut.

Mix together and set aside.

Add the sugar, butter, and shortening to a large mixing bowl.  It's worth mentioning that I when I saw shortening on the ingredient list, I almost skipped the recipe entirely.  I've had nothing but bad experiences with shortening.  There's a reason why I never use it in pastry.  It doesn't smell good and doesn't taste good.  Some of my previous cake failures included shortening.  But I sucked it up and decided to follow the recipe.

Beat on medium for three minutes until fluffy and creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating until blended with each addition.  I highly recommend cracking the eggs into a separate bowl before adding.  As you may have guessed, I love eggs but hate eggshells.

Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and combine.  This is where I overcame another prejudice.  I actually bought cake flour.  Like the recipe said.  In the past, I've always tried to "make" cake flour by adding corn starch to all purpose flour (google it before you laugh at me).  I figured that if I was going to compromise on the shortening I might as well cave in on the flour also.

Now it's action time: alternate adding the flour in three batches with adding the coconut mixture in two batches.  Beat until combined with each pass.

At this point, it's time to preheat the oven to 300° F.  Chop ¾ cup of pecans.  Um, that is if you're following the recipe.  I had slightly less than the full 2 cups of pecans and only used ⅔ cup in the batter.  Just reporting it in case anyone has a similar ingredient shortage.

Add the chopped pecans to the batter...

...and lightly stir them in.

Divide the batter between the cake pans.  If you're feeling nerdy, weigh the pans to make sure the batter is equally divided.  Worked for me.

In the past I've had problems with doming, so I cut through the batter with a knife to discourage air pockets and then smacked the tins on the counter a few times to settle everything in.  It was a good feeling.  Tuck your pans into the oven for 50 minutes.

I was so happy to pull out two perfectly flat cake layers for the first time in my life!  Another trick I used was to bake at a lower temperature for a longer time - 300° for 50 minutes instead of 350° for 30 minutes.  Let the little beauties cool in the pans for 10 minutes.

As soon as the pans are cool enough to touch, invert the cakes on to a rack and peel off the parchment paper.

Let the cakes fully cool.

By that time, it was late and time to go to bed.  So I wrapped each layer in plastic and put them in the fridge.  I'd read that if the layers are cold, they're easier to frost.

Bright and early the next morning, I brewed a cup of coffee and got down to the business of frosting.

I'd never used coconut cream before (if you can't find it, head to the liquor section of the grocery store) and was surprised to open the can and find coconut solids and a bunch of oil.  At that point I noticed the directions on the can to soak in warm water before opening.  Oh well.  Scraping everything out and whisking it together works too.

Load up the mixer with butter and powdered sugar. Beat three minutes until creamy.

Beat in the coconut cream, vanilla, and salt.

Cube the cream cheese.

Beat in the cream cheese.

Now let's solve a little dilemma.  The cake has to be frosted on the serving plate.  The serving plate needs to look clean and presentable.  But as soon as the frosting hits the cake, it's going to look like WWIII broke out.  So a little protection is called for.  Line the edges of the plate with waxed paper.

Plop a big ol' dollop of frosting onto the center of the bottom layer.

Spread it out to the sides.

Add the top layer.

"Spackle" the gap with frosting.

Apply a thin layer of frosting to the cake.  This is called a "crumb" coat, the same concept as using primer when you paint.

Place the "primed" cake back in the fridge for 30 minutes or any other reasonable amount of time that will allow you to take on other projects.  My other project was to take advantage of the unseasonably warm temperature of 30° F and go for a six mile run.  Let's face it, the Christmas calories aren't going to burn themselves.

After my run and a shower, I combined runner's high with a sugar high.

Pile on the frosting.

Now it's time to start thinking about looks.  Use a frosting spatula to smooth out the frosting.

And then go nuts!

The final step is to decorate the cake to your liking.  My first thought was to do a swirl around the edge, just like the picture.

But there was plenty of frosting left over, so I kept going.  And disguised a last minute frosting error added an artistic touch by smoothing the center.

Remove the waxed paper strips, which will easily slide out.

Cover any "bald" spots with the leftover pecans that fell onto the waxed paper while you admire your immaculate serving plate, which adds to the illusion that this whole process was easy (make no mistake, as soon as the piping bag came out, things got messy).

My father's birthday was a success.

And the cake was good, too.