Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chocolate Mousse Dream Cake . . . and One Boy's Birthday

He didn't request a raucous party with two dozen friends. Nor did he claim that the day would be incomplete without a confetti-cannon wielding clown. No, aside from a few special gifts, and a family dinner at a Thai restaurant, my son Nathan had just one additional requirement in order to make it a perfect 14th birthday. That, my friends, was the request for this dessert--a three-layer, mousse-filled, chocolate covered dream of a layer cake.

Last summer, upon turning 13, Nathan requested a towering ice cream cake; I made that, and he loved it. The year before, he wanted me to make a cake that looked like a furry monkey's face, and I complied; it was pretty cute, and he adored it. This year, though, the cake he asked for seemed to reflect his maturing taste, and he chose carefully. As his mom, it was a little poignant for me to note this because it's just another indication that he's growing up. He is, after all, my youngest. It's also, though, a bit thrilling to watch his progress. (I often say to my sons, "I know you're not a baby, but you'll always be my baby." Then they smile and roll their eyes.)

Happily, Nathan is still mostly a kid. He pilots his skateboard like a jockey on a thoroughbred, draws psychedelic graffiti in a sketchbook whenever the inspiration hits, and every now and then he thrusts his arm toward me, fist tightly closed, and boyishly commands, "Pound it, Mom!"  Yep. He's Nathan, he's 14, and he's a great kid.

About this recipe . . .

This multi-step formula hails from a "Cooking with Paula Deen" special-issue magazine that I received as a gift a couple of years ago, called Paula Deen's Chocolate Celebration. It really is a fabulous concoction--from the soft moist cake, to the fluffy mousse filling, to the ganache-like icing. The crumbly coating you see on the outside is made from a combo of  milk- and dark chocolate that's been grated (use your favorite premium chocolate for this part--don't skimp) and curled.

Though not at all difficult to make, this dessert does demand some planning, so be sure to organize your day accordingly. An impressive and extremely delicious cake for a special occasion, this one is well worth the labor. I adhered pretty closely to the original recipe(s), but did some rewording here and there. Oh, and the original recipe calls for splitting the layers, so you have six thin layers in all, but I didn't think that was necessary, and just used three unsplit layers for mine.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Because the fluffy mousse needs to chill for about four hours before it can be used, feel free to prepare it first, before you bake the cake.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment cut to fit. Grease the parchment, then flour the bottom and sides of each pan, tapping out the excess flour.

2 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used natural cocoa)
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
2 eggs, large

In the large bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. All at once, add in the milk, coffee, oil, and eggs. Beat this mixture at medium speed just until smooth. The batter will be very thin. Pour it evenly into the three prepared pans. Bake the cakes for about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when very lightly touched. Cool the cakes in their pans, on racks, for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes to remove them from their pans, then invert them again so they can finish cooling on racks right side up.

To make the mousse:

Makes approximately 4 and 1/2 cups (which is a lot--you'll have some leftover!)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 Tbsp. cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use natural, or Dutch process, or a combo; I did the latter)
3 cups heavy cream

In a little bowl, soften the gelatin in the cold water, letting it stand undisturbed for two minutes. Add in the boiling water, and stir it slowly until the gelatin completely dissolves and no lumps are apparent. Set this aside.

In another small bowl, combine the sugar and the cocoa well, with a fork or whisk.
In a medium size mixer bowl, on medium speed, beat the heavy cream until it's quite foamy. Into this, gradually pour the sugar mixture and beat until it holds stiff peaks.

Then, stir in the dissolved gelatin by hand, folding it in evenly (if you don't distribute the gelatin evenly through careful stirring and folding, the mousse will be thicker and firmer in some spots, and too soft in others). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least four hours.

To make the chocolate icing:

Makes approximately 3 cups (I had about 1/2 a cup of this leftover)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
5 (1 oz. each) squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (doesn't have to be softened)
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Combine the granulated sugar and the cream in a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then keep it on a low simmer for 6 minutes. Stir it often and watch it closely so it doesn't come to a full boil again. Taking the pan off the heat, add in the butter and chocolate, stirring until it's all completely melted and the mixture is perfectly smooth; let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Using a whisk, incorporate all of the confectioner's sugar. Let the icing cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

To prepare the grated chocolate, and chocolate curls, for the outside of the cake:

You'll want to have at least 3/4 of a cup of grated chocolate available to cover the cake. If you can find chocolate that comes in big chunks, that is the easiest form in which to hold it for grating. I use Callebaut, a very good brand, which can be purchased in pieces by the pound. I use a combo of dark bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate, which works well because the milk chocolate is softer and sweeter, while the dark chocolate is a bit drier and moderates the sweetness. Have the grated chocolate in a bowl close at hand before you are ready to coat the sides of the cake. Place a baking sheet with shallow sides on your work surface right near the bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel some larger curls from the chocolate chunks and set them aside on a plate (or put them in the fridge if they're quite soft; they're always extremely fragile and often break when touched). It seems easier to make nice curls from milk chocolate since it tends to be softer and more flexible.

To assemble the cake:

Using a cardboard cake-round (if at all possible, or something that can function in the same capacity), place the first cake layer on it. Using an offset spatula, ice the top of the layer thickly with the chilled mouse. Place the second layer atop this, and cover it as well with a thick layer of the mousse. Place the third and final cake layer on top. If at this point the mousse seems very soft, put the whole cake into the fridge for about half an hour, or into the freezer for 15 minutes.

Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate icing on the top and sides of the cake. It should be spread on fairly evenly, but it's not critical that you try to make it incredibly smooth, since it will be covered with grated chocolate, and you can gently pat down any uneven areas. While the icing is still quite soft, pick up the iced cake from beneath the cake-board (slide a thin metal spatula beneath it to help you lift it onto your hand). Holding the cake carefully on your non-dominant hand, sprinkle the sides of the cake with the grated chocolate, patting it on gently. Do this while holding the cake above the baking sheet so it can catch the falling chocolate crumbs and you can scoop them up again. Turn the cake as needed until the whole thing is completely covered. Carefully slide/sprinkle the chocolate curls onto the top of the cake. Place your cake on its serving dish. Keep the cake in the refrigerator until shortly before you'll cut it. Because the filling and the icing are rich with dairy products, you should store any leftover cake in the fridge as well.

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Joy in Art and Inspiration at Mount Carmel

Quote of the Day:  a poem by Rumi, published in The Music Lover's Poetry Anthology

Where Everything is Music

Don't worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn't matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
And even if the whole world's harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

Drum beats and children dancing and beautiful notes rising up from the piano and into the hearts of people, singing, laughing, living, feeling inspired, being loved.
The Committee of negative voices are silenced when I am immersed in so much art, music, and inspiring artists.  When I am at Mount Carmel, I soak it all in like a dry sponge until I am full and ready to pour out that inspiration to others. Here are a few artists who inspired me this week.

Maren Hinderlie is an animated storyteller.  I have learned so much from her by watching her presentations, visiting with her, and enjoying this piece, a dramatic reading of the epic poem Terje Vigen by Henrik Ibsen. 
Maren is always a storyteller, even in casual conversations, or introductions, you hear expression in every word.  I find myself wanting to applaud. 

Kay Hoffland is a pianist that I admire.  I listen and watch in awe.  She has the energy of a 30-year-old and the style of a master.  I have gone to her for teaching and mentoring.  She helped me regain my confidence after a difficult time, musically and emotionally.  She accompanies Maren for this reading with music that she matched to the story.  The words and music evoke a stronger emotional connection.

This year, I met Betty, the guest artist/pianist from Salzburg, Austria.  I arrived at camp during a terrible storm, high winds, hail, and tornado warnings.  As I pulled into camp, the sun was coming out and I slipped into the chapel to hear Betty's gorgeous classical concert. 
Here she is after playing a duet with Kay at the classical recital at the end of the week.

Betty is a beautiful woman with generous talent and a lovely spirit.  I didn't think I'd get close to her at camp because of my own feelings of unworthiness.  Turns out, she's a regular person like me.  She's a piano teacher and has beginners like I do.  She inspires and encourages them.  She also has a wounded heart, like mine, from divorce and feelings of abandonment.  We connected.  She played a piece by Chopin at the classical recital and as our send-off from Mount Carmel.  It's called The Aeolian Harp.  The story is that the Gods put this harp on the top of the mountain where the breezes blow through it, making beautiful music.  That's how I think of the Holy Spirit working in my life.  I am the harp.  God sends the breezes through me, filling me, allowing me to be beautiful despite my flaws.

I came home and looked up The Aeolian Harp. When I bought my piano, I found music inside the bench.  I'm sure that the former owner was a piano teacher.  She left me some wonderful pieces, including this one.  I have let my classical skills lapse a bit, but hearing Betty play has inspired me to learn new music, memorize, and play more by ear.

Journaling Prompt:  Who or what has inspired you lately?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pizza Dough-Update

Some of you may remember recipe #15, the best pizza dough EVER, it is delicious no matter how ya top it and honestly I didn't think it could get any better.  But then I decided I decided to jump on the grilled pizza bandwagon and try my hand at grilling pizza, once I did I discovered that the world of pizza had just opened up some more! 
I was worried that the dough would stick, that it would burn on the outside and be raw in the middle, that it just wouldn't taste as good as my regular method, but when I took that first bite I knew that I had a new summer favorite.  The grill created a nice smokiness, and the heat from the grill created a wonderfully crispy and chewy crust.  Next time you make pizza, try grilling it instead of baking it, not only will your kitchen stay cooler in the heat of summer but your pizza will taste better than ever!

Grilled Pizza

One recipe of pizza dough
Pizza toppings

Preheat your grill.  I set mine on high and let it heat for about 15 minutes.  Once the grill is hot, reduce the heat to somewhere between medium high and high and stretch your dough to the desired size.  Lightly brush one side with oil and place on your grill. (The temperature of your grill will depend on your grill, experiment with a small piece of dough before you commit to a whole pizza to see what will work best for you.)
Close the lid, and let the dough bake for about 4-5 minutes.  Using tongs, lift the dough and check to make sure it isn't browning too quickly on the bottom.
When the dough is almost cooked through, remove from the heat and top with your favorite toppings.  I used, crushed tomatoes, fresh basil and huge pieces of mozzarella.  Return to the heat and continue baking until the cheese is melted.

Have a Happy Heat Wave . . . with Mango Strawberry Popsicles!

Popsicles sure have come a long way since I was a kid. (And I'm using the term "popsicle" in its generic sense here, just so we're clear.) Back then, the choices were awfully limited. We had orange, grape, and red (what flavor was that red one attempting to emulate anyway--cherry? raspberry? strawberry? . . . no way to  tell). Yeah, they were sweet, colored, ice hunks on a stick. 

At the time, I thought they were darn good. I had no standards, no point of comparison. I wasn't the kind of kid to turn down any cold treat on a hot summer day. I was ignorant, thus blissful. A popsicle was a popsicle was a popsicle. After all, in the 1960's there was nothing available that even approached the vast array of interesting stock one finds these days in the freezer case of any local market. So what did I know?

Of course, these days, we're virtually adrift in frozen novelties. (And, speaking of which, don't you just love that phrase?  It's so whimsically vague. It implies all sorts of magical possibilities, cast in ice. I wonder what hard-drinkin', cig-smokin' salesman came up with that. Whoever he was, I'll bet he ate a lot of 'em.) The choices can be dizzying. I say, if you can't decide, head for the fruitiest bars you can find. Or, better yet, make your own.

I can't honestly recall the first time I tasted a frozen bar that seemed as if it was comprised more from fruit than it was from sugar water, but it must have been a revelation to me. Popsicles laden with real fruit are in a class by themselves. They cost more, for one thing. They're usually far, far prettier than their more insipid counterparts, and they appeal to kids and adults alike. I mean, who could turn their nose up at a fresh, brightly constructed popsicle that's been packed with fruit? Well, no one, that's who.

This super simple recipe satisfies the urge for an icy treat that's low in calories and only as sweet as you want to make it. I built it quickly using strawberries, a couple of perfectly ripe mangoes, a little Greek style yogurt, and clover honey. That's it--so easy! Haul out your popsicle mold (I bought mine here), or just use plastic cups, get yourself some wooden craft sticks, and go to town! 

Homemade Mango Strawberry Popsicles 

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

 Have your popsicle molds, and the wooden sticks, ready and standing by. This recipe makes up to about four cups worth of liquid to pour into them. My popsicle mold makes 10 standard size pops.

2 medium size mangoes, completely ripe but not too soft; peeled, cut off the pit, and cut into medium-size chunks (about 2 cups of pieces)
1 cup clean strawberry pieces, halved
3/4 cup clean strawberry pieces, chopped into small pieces
honey, to taste (I used 4 Tbsp. of typical clover honey)
1/4 cup Greek style yogurt (I used the higher fat type; use low, though, if you prefer)

In the large bowl of your food processor, puree all of the mango and the 1 cup of halved strawberry pieces until quite smooth and free of large lumps.

Add in the yogurt, and pulse for a moment just to combine. Add in the honey to taste; add as much as you prefer to get the desired sweetness. 

Pour the mixture into the molds, scattering in pieces of the small-chopped strawberries as you pour so they'll be distributed throughout each bar. 

Put the sticks in (the wooden sticks for my mold have to be soaked in water for an hour prior to being stuck into the popsicle liquid; my mold has a loose metal lid and the sticks go through tight slots, as shown), and freeze for at least one hour, until completely solid.

To get the frozen pops out of my mold, I run it under warm water for several seconds, remove the metal top, and then firmly pull up on the sticks. It works pretty well.

And voila! Enjoy!

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Summer Camp - Joy in Community

Quote of the Day:  Joy is Peace dancing.  Peace is Joy at rest. Words shared in community at Mount Carmel Camp on the waters of Lake Carlos in central Minnesota.

Nothing says summer camp better than tie-dyed t-shirts!  We also had camp food, swimming in the lake, fellowship, new friends, stormy weather, gorgeous weather, and a canteen that sold popcorn, candy and ice cream.

Here's our new friend, Feyat, from the Cameroon, popping corn, as he said it during canteen.

Mount Carmel is a Christian camp/retreat center that has been part of my family's summer since I was four years old.  My mom came here for the first time when she was 10 with her parents for a family camp experience in a Christian community.  In the morning, we listen to speakers while the children have Bible school with camp counselors.  In the afternoons, we enjoy all the beauty of God's creation in and around the camp.  In the evening, we have a worship service, games for the kids, extras like a talent show, classical recital and, of course, campfires!

Families gathered here to reunite for a week of fellowship and fun.  Old friends met up, some finding each other the same week year after year to camp together, and new friends are made.

Look! She journals, too.

Melinda is just one of the beautiful people that I met in this camp community.  I have so many more to introduce to you.  The boys and I had a great time at summer camp, just being together.

Journaling Prompt:  Describe a summer camp experience or a family tradition from summer trips.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cherry Salsa

Last year, for the first time ever, I grew a vegetable garden. Now it wasn't a great big elaborate garden, just the basic home vegetable garden chock full of red tomatoes, spicy peppers, cool cucumbers and sweet strawberries. I decided to utilize the space that shrubs and flowers are normally planted for vegetables because after moving into our home, putting in the fence and doing some basic landscaping in the front yard we were out of money to finish the rest. I didn't want dirt, and I couldn't afford the landscaping I wanted, so I decided to try something new and the garden was a complete success.

We repeated the process again this year, adding some new things including herbs, not because there was a lack of funds but for the enjoyment of growing our own food. Everyone loved watching the garden grow last year and tasting all the fresh vegetables. We all check the garden at least once a day to see if there is something ready to bring in, and it was during my little inspection a few nights ago that I thought of making this cherry salsa.
As I looked at my jalapenos that were ready to be picked I thought that the cherries I've been trying to use up would be good with a little heat. You might remember that sweet and spicy is one my favorite combinations. So this morning as a treat to my co-workers I made this salsa. Now, I don't really like cherries but this combo was great! The cherries were sweet and the pepper added just a little kick of heat, and the cilantro added a great burst of freshness. We ate it on regular tortilla chips and everyone loved the results. In fact my boss took the left overs home to serve over the fish she was eating for dinner.

Cherry Salsa
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest

2 cups cherries, pitted
1-2 jalapenos (you decide on this one)
1/4 cup very finely diced onion
1/2 cilantro (measured before it's chopped)
1 tsp. sugar
lime zest
lime juice

Chop your cherries, jalapenos (I would recommend wearing gloves on this one,) onion and cilantro. This can be done by hand or if you want pulse everything in a food processor. It really depends on how you like your salsa. Add the zest of the lime and the juice. Season to taste with salt.

This got better as the day went on. I would recommend making it at least 2 hours in advance for the flavors to come together. Like most salsa recipes, feel free to substitute your favorite flavors and use the produce that is fresh to your area!

Total cost $.42
Sugar $.02
Lime $.15
Onion $.25

Jalapeno-FREE (garden)
Cilantro-FREE (garden)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Espresso Chocolate-Chip Pound Cake with Ganache Glaze . . .

I've been wallowing lately, but not in anything bad. Not in mud, self pity, or anything unpleasant like that. Just in some really luscious cookbooks. Have you ever seen this one? It's not new, or even newish, but that doesn't diminish its appeal one bit.

Baking by Flavor, written by Lisa Yockelson, could keep you busy for a long time. Tossed onto a deserted tropical island--one with a fully equipped kitchen--you'd be content to work from this book right up until you were rescued a few months later. (Oh, and when you arrive on the island, I highly recommend you turn first to the coconut based recipes. Nothing like using local produce, right?)

The book is organized by primary flavors, rather than by particular food type. Personally,  I find this approach enormously practical. This is almost always how I first embark upon  the search for a good recipe. My quest begins with the desire to feature a particular flavor, and not necessarily the yen to produce a cake versus a pie versus a cookie versus a you-name-it. Is it like that for you too?

About this cake . . .
This velvety pound cake is like a well orchestrated composition. It's flavors are deep, rich, and expressive.  My husband, coffee maniac that he is, is quite enamored. My younger son--the chocolate fan extraordinaire--also gave it high marks, and augmented his slice with a scoop of homemade chocolate-almond  ice cream (that boy knows how to enjoy a dessert!).

While baking this last week, I stuck pretty closely to the original formula with a few very small alterations. The most obvious adjustment entailed cloaking the baked cake in a creamy ganache instead of brushing it with a coffee and liqueur syrup.  (The ganache recipe isn't from the book. It's something for which you hardly need a recipe, and it's a pretty standard formula, anywhere you look.)

This cake can accommodate a massive crowd and, rich as it is, thinner slices are usually the way to go. Don't forget to serve it along with a big pot of java . . . but you might want to make that decaf! (And don't panic, all those little coffee beans in the photos are just there for effect; I'm not suggesting you sprinkle them on the cake!)

Espresso Chocolate Chip Pound Cake . . . with Ganache Glaze

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a tube pan, or a 9" to 10" springform pan fitted with the tube insert, with vegetable shortening. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper cut to fit. Grease the paper. Dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

2 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. hot water
2 and 3/4 cups unsifted All-Purpose flour, unbleached
1/4 cup unsifted cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. Dutch processed cocoa
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups dark chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, with all lumps broken up
5 eggs, large
1 cup sour cream, thick style
2 Tbsp. heavy cream

For the ganache: 
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 and 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate

To make the cake:
Stir together the espresso powder, vanilla extract, and hot water in a very small bowl.

Onto a large sheet of parchment or wax paper, sift together the flour, cake flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium size bowl, toss the chocolate pieces with about 1 Tbsp. of this flour mixture. Set both aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, cream the butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl.

Pour in the granulated sugar in 3 additions, mixing for about 1 minute after each addition. Scrape the bowl frequently to ensure even mixing. Add in all of the brown sugar and beat for 1 more minute. Scrape again.

One at a time, add in the eggs, beating for 45 seconds after each one. Scrape!

Blend in the espresso mixture.

On low speed, add in the sifted ingredients alternately with the sour cream (3 additions of flour and 2 additions of the sour cream). Scrape after each addition.

Blend in the heavy cream.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chocolate pieces well with a spatula.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top.

Bake the cake on the middle rack of your oven for about 70 minutes or more, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake starts to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. (I put my pan on top of a baking sheet to help prevent the possibility of burning the bottom of the cake. If you are concerned about this too, do the same. I also checked the cake about half an hour into baking, and covered the top lightly with foil to prevent over-browning. My oven is temperamental this way.)

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes. (If you used a springform pan, remove the sides of the pan after only 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge if there seems to be any resistance at all.)

Invert the cake onto another cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and invert the cake again so it's right side up. Allow the cake to completely cool on the rack.

To make the ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium size bowl. In a heavy sauce pan, warm the heavy cream over a low flame. Do not let it boil. Pour all of the warm cream over the chocolate and let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then gently stir until all the chocolate is melted, completely blended in, and the ganache is smooth.

Wait until the ganache is closer to room temperature before spooning or pouring it over the cooled cake. (Be sure to place the cake on a rack over a sheet pan, to catch the drips, before pouring or spooning on the ganache! You can save and refrigerate any extra ganache to use for something else.)

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)