"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream

"You're making your own birthday cake?" my mother-in-law, Maddi, asked incredulously.

"I think I'm the best qualified," said I.

That's hubris on my part, readers, but if you're talking about a three-layer cake with chocolate orange ganache and an egg-white meringue buttercream that takes six and a half sticks of butter...well, in this case it's true, at least as far as our household goes. Nobody else would be crazy enough to stand around chunking soft butter tablespoon by tablespoon into a standing mixer bowl for forty-five minutes.

It was a production. Not the cake layers, which were straightforward enough. Here they are on our fabulous stacking racks:

Making the ganache was easy enough, and so was assembling the cake.

The buttercream, as you may have discerned from my remarks above, was a pain in the ass. But ooh, how pretty!

OK, here's where I ran into problems, if you can really run into problems at this point. After all, nothing's left but the shouting...er, eating, right?

Well, you're supposed to refrigerate it for six hours, and then let it stand at room temp for 2-3. I kind of forgot about it in the midst of the merry-making and didn't take it out of the fridge soon enough, so it probably got only about, oh, forty-five minutes of warming time. Anybody who's eaten fine flavored chocolate knows that cold temps dull the flavor.

So to MY taste buds, it was pretty good, but not spectacular. Part of that was the temp, part was that the cake layers were kind of dry and unimpressive. I tried it again 24 hours later, after it had been sitting out (well covered) and felt the same way.

Now--Epicurious bills this as a wedding cake, and wedding cakes have to be sturdy. But THIS recipe, in the book, only says you could use it for that, or for any small, fancy party. If I were going to tinker with it, I'd brush the cake with a simple syrup flavored with the same Grand Marnier that went in the ganache. Moisture + flavor = much better.

However--my guests were pleasantly ga-ga over this cake. Mark, to his wife Elizabeth: "This is a big piece of cake. And I'm going to eat the whole thing." Ruth, who linged over her cake long after everybody else had finished: "Melissa, I just can't stop eating this cake!"

One final comment--for the frosting you're supposed to use six and a half sticks of unsalted butter. In spite of my good planning, I somehow ended up with not enough unsalted and ended up using at least four sticks of salted butter. This made for interesting buttercream frosting--I actually enjoy being able to taste a little salt in sweet things (like salted caramels and pecan sables) and so I wasn't put off by the flavor, but still I wonder how the buttercream would have tasted with straight unsalted...(but not curious enough to make another whole cake.)

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