April 13, 2008

One year older and wiser

Daddy's Birthday DinnerFor Daddy's birthday dinner, Chet perfectly grilled rib eye steaks, which had been marinated in a Stubb's beef marinade overnight. Mom brought roasted potatoes and dinner rolls. I did a tried and tested recipe, a green salad with a bleu cheese vinaigrette, toasted pecans, and crumbled bleu cheese. This particular recipe is supposed to be a knockoff of Outback's chopped house salad. I don't know where I originally found the recipe I used today, but it is here. The dressing proportions aren't quite right to make it taste like Outback's, but I love bleu cheese and this salad quells that craving. This recipe is reputed to serve only two people, yet I always have a good amount of dressing left over after serving my whole family a large side salad portion.

German Chocolate CakeI was very proud of my German Chocolate birthday cake. I tried a couple of new things this go-around, some of them unintentionally. The biggest difference with this cake was using Dutch-process cocoa instead of natural. The Dutch cocoa made the cake look so much darker and more beautiful, as my previous cakes had a rather reddish hue when I've used regular unsweetened Hershey's Cocoa.

I also made a paste of butter and Dutch cocoa and painted the cake pans before I added the batter. I saw this Cook's Illustrated suggestion on another chocolate cake recipe. The cocoa and butter make for a great cake release, and using cocoa doesn't leave a white film on the outside of the cake like flour does.

The unintentional recipe changes came from using an extra egg in the batter, just because it was early early and my brain wasn't registering the difference between big numbers like 4 eggs vs. 5 this morning. I always use extra large eggs instead of large anyway, and the additional egg didn't seem to make much difference, though the batter was especially thick. I also forgot to pick up some good semi-sweet chocolate at the store yesterday, so I had to use some cheap Nestle baking chocolate that I had purchased many moons ago. I do believe the intensity of the chocolate flavor was lacking as a result.

German Chocolate Cake

Don't bake with chocolate that isn't suitable for solo consumption. That Nestle chocolate, for example was flaky, dry, and crumbly, not melt in your mouth; the balance of chocolate, sugar, and dairy was off, too. You can often pay quite a premium for good ingredients, even common ones. I don't flinch at the prices at decent bakeries. A slice of the Gianduia cake at Extraordinary Desserts cost over $7, but it was almost (just almost) more than I could eat in a sitting; it took me a weekend to try to recreate that cake, not to mention plunking down the cash for chocolate, heavy cream, rum, Frangelico, etc. I think it's wonderful to bake things from scratch in a world where baking requires the aid of a Betty Crocker mix if it's done at all. Making a birthday cake is never a burden. Blowing out the candles is a little more stressful, eh, Wendy?

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