Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Best Lemon Cake

Aside from chocolate, this is my most often requested flavor for a celebration cake.  I like to make a citrus pound cake, soak it with lemon syrup, and layer it with lemon cream and white chocolate mousse, then top it off with fluffy torched meringue!  Depending on the season and the preferences of the client, I'll often infuse the mousse with a touch of herbal flavor- both rosemary and lavender provide a wonderful counterpart to the sweetness of the meringue and the tangy lemon cream.
Citrus Pound Cake
yield: 1 8" cake

4 eggs
1 3/4 c sugar
3/4 c plus 1 T vegetable oil
3/4 c thick plain yogurt
zest of 2 lemons
2 T orange liquor
1 t vanilla
2 3/4 c all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line an 8"x3" round pan with parchment on the bottom.  Do not grease the sides.

In a stand mixer, combine the eggs, sugar, and oil and whisk until thick ribbons fall from the whip.  Add the yogurt, zest, liquor and vanilla and mix to combine.  In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients then fold into the egg mixture.  Pour the batter into the ready pan and bake until a tester comes out clean.  It will take about an hour, but I would start testing at 45 minutes and probably cover with foil to prevent excessive browning.  Once fully cooked, remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before unmolding.  Cool completely at room temperature.  Wash and dry the cake pan- you will need it to assemble the cake.  Wrapped well this cake will keep for a few days at room temperature.

Lemon Cream (adapted from Tartine)
yield: enough for filling one layer of one 8" cake

3 1/2 oz lemon juice
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
3 2/3 oz sugar
5 oz butter, cut into 10 pieces

Set up a double boiler.  In a medium metal bowl (not aluminum) or the top of the double boiler, combine the eggs, sugar and them lemon juice until well combined.  Continue whisking over boiling water until the mixture reaches 180F and is thick.  Immediately remove from heat, transfer to a blender,  and allow to cool, stirring frequently, until 140F.  Once the cream has reached the proper temperature, turn on the blender and begin to add the butter, one piece at a time, allowing each piece to become completely incorporated before adding the next.  This will create a thick, opaque cream that is rich and light at the same time.  Once all of the butter has been incorporated, transfer to a non-reactive container and refrigerate until ready to use.  

White Chocolate Mousse 
yield: enough to fill one 8" cake layer with a bit left over (about 2 3/4 c)

**note: this must be done as you are assembling the cake- get everything ready so you can spread the mousse before the gelatin sets**

3.5 grams gelatin
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 c heavy cream, chilled

Bloom the gelatin in 2 T cold water for 10 minutes.  Bring 1/2 c cream to a boil, remove from heat, then add the gelatin to dissolve.  Pour over the chopped white chocolate and allow to sit, untouched, for five minutes.  Stir gently to melt all the chocolate and allow to cool until thick ribbons fall from a spoon when lifted.  Meanwhile, whip the remaining cream to soft peaks.  Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, whip into the cream.  If your chocolate is too warm, it will deflate the cream a bit, but don't worry too much- put the bowl in the cooler for a while until the mixture is cool to the touch (but not set), then whip until it's light and fluffy.  Use immediately.

Lemon Syrup 
yield: for 1 8" cake

1 c sugar
3/4 c water
juice of 1 lemon

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved.  Allow to cool to room temperature, then add the lemon juice.

Italian Meringue (adapted from Tartine)
yield: for 1 8" cake

**have the cake assembled and chilled before making the meringue**

7 oz egg whites
306 grams sugar
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Over a pan of boiling water, whisk the mixture until it is hot to the touch (120F) and frothy.  Remove from the heat, return to the stand, and begin mixing on medium-high speed until you have a rich, glossy mass that holds stiff peaks.

To assemble:
Line the cake pan with enough plastic wrap to have 3" hanging over each side.  Cut the domed top off the cake and then cut into three even layers.  Place the bottom layer, bottom side down, in the cake pan, then soak with about 1/3 of the lemon syrup.  Pour in the mousse and smooth with an offset spatula.  Add the next cake layer and soak with more syrup, then top with the lemon cream.  To finish add the last layer and soak with some lemon syrup.  Wrap very well and allow to set up in the refrigerator for at least four hours or over night.  At this point, you can frost the cake with the meringue, torch it gently with a propane torch, and serve immediately or keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. 

When time allows, I like to let the cake temper on the counter for about 20 minutes before frosting and serving.  There's a delicate balance between pound cake and cream fillings- the pound cake is best when not completely cold, but the fillings will melt if allowed to get too warm...so use your best judgement.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fresh Chickpea Falafel

Freshly made falafel is, in my opinion, one of the simple pleasures in life (kind of like a California super burrito).  I have made it a few times using a few different recipes and so far this is my favorite.  This particular recipe employs both fresh (green) chickpeas and dried, though if you don't have access to green chickpeas you can substitute in more dried ones, you just don't get the same bright color.  As an alternative, I have seen frozen chickpeas periodically at Costco and almost always at Whole Foods.

Fresh Chickpea Falafel
yield: 4 servings
1 1/4 c fresh chickpeas
2 c dried chickpeas, cooked and drained
6 T bulgur wheat
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T ground cumin
1 T baking soda
1/4 c mixed mint, cilantro and parsley, chopped
salt to taste

In a food processor, pulse the onion, garlic and bulgur until finely chopped.  Add the remaining ingredients and process until the mixture comes together into a medium-smooth paste, scraping down the sides frequently.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the paste into patties about 2" in diameter and 1/2" thick.  Press the mixture firmly together so it will hold it's shape when you fry them.  To cook, heat a heavy skillet and add about 1/4" of oil (canola or other neutral oil).  When the oil begins to shimmer, add in the patties and cook until well browned on each side.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with pita, tzatziki, tomatoes and your favorite accompaniments.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gig Harbor Wine & Food Festival 2011

Good times!  If you missed the Gig Harbor Wine & Food Festival this year, make sure to attend in 2012.  This year was the second time around for this event, and I think I can safely say that all of the attendees enjoyed themselves.  With thirty-something wineries, a couple of breweries, and at least fifteen different local food businesses to get tasty samples from, how could you go wrong?

On top of all of the food and (very generous) wine pours, there were all sorts of demonstrations and classes going on- culminating with an Iron Chef-style cook off between Chefs Kevin Gillespie (from Top Chef) and Thad Lyman (from our own Brix 25)!  I haven't heard yet which man won...

Bookmark the festival's website here and keep an eye out for next year's date!