Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chocolate cake with raspberry/cream filling

A cake recipe! A beautiful, dark chocolate cake just in time for the Super Bowl (I declare formal opposition to the concept that you need a specific reason to make a cake). 

As part of my new year's goals (I dislike the word "resolution," as I can smell the failure from the far side of January), I set out to accomplish a few new things every month, rather than focus only on my daily to-do list and then heave disappointed sighs at myself when I occasionally think of all the other projects I'd like to get to.

After the end of my first month attempt, I am happy to report partial success! I gave myself various monthly options - crafting, baking, the ambiguously termed "self-improvement."
Perhaps not surprisingly, I did best on the baking goals. I still have yet to attempt macarons (sigh, my blog name is a constant reminder of this disappointment), but I did manage a from-scratch/no recipe fruit crisp, my first Swiss layer cake, and even got a chocolate soufflé (first ever!) in under the wire.

So, let's talk cake. I used a modified version of this recipe, which I had used previously back in December for cupcakes, so I felt I had a good handle on the batter thickness and the (still sometimes finicky) Swiss white flour. The full recipe is at the end of the post, if you want to skip down. Unfortunately, I made the cream filling and chocolate icing from scratch and didn't measure any of it, so while I shared the ingredients I put in , I have no quantities. I have mad respect for bloggers who come up with their own recipes - not the from-scratch part (well, maybe a little), but the ability to keep track of quantities.

Unfortunately, I got distracted by playing Civilization V being studious and productive, so the layers were in the oven for about 2 minutes longer than necessary. It wasn't enough to ruin the taste, but they lost some of the delicious moistness that a dark chocolate cake should have (imo).

Chocolate and raspberry puree. Yum. Also, shoutout to my parents and B's wonderful relatives, whose Christmas presents, brought all the way from the US, made this layer cake possible (how did I survive a year without 9" cake pans!?)
I'd already decided that I was going to fly in the face of B's preference and make a chocolate cake with fruit in it (seriously, who doesn't like BERRIES AND CHOCOLATE? Love you anyway, dear), so I bought some raspberry "fruit intensée" - basically jam on steroids. One of my big problems with cakes is that they don't have enough yummy stuff in the middle, so I put some icing under the raspberries and then spontaneously decided to put some cream filling on top.

Amazingly, the second layer is almost straight! The cream filling is peaking out in front, forget to get a picture pre-layer.
I came perilously close to running out of icing, which would have been terrible, since I used the tried-and-true approach of throwing in sugar/cocoa/cream, swiping a lick and adjusting appropriately, and I had no more room-temp butter. But I squeaked it out in the end and was fairly satisfied with the result.

It's not fancy decorating - that's a future goal. But I did (attempt to) wipe down the serving plate to improve appearances!
 I took it into my monthly writer's group, where the assessments were positive, overall: "Very nice, not too sweet" seemed to be the consensus (according to my Swiss culture book, this is actually high praise. No, really, it's the highest).

I was most pleased with the icing. Every time I've tried icing previously, it ended up gritty and a bit too runny (perhaps not enough patience with the vast quantities of powdered sugar?). This time I didn't measure anything - just kept adding, tasting, and testing consistency with a knife. Although, note to future self: cream butter at least slightly before adding sugar and cocoa. The plumes of powder reached into the living room and gave the floor a slightly gritty feel that lingered for days and will require a thorough mopping (ha, as if I own a mop - I meant wet Swiffer - that's the same thing, right?).

Should've used more raspberries. ALWAYS MOAR FRUIT.
The icing was made with a modest quantity of butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, and an immodest quantity of cream and powdered sugar.

The cream filling was mainly heavy cream whipped with a small amount of powdered sugar and a large spoonful of sour cream added (the fruit, since it was made as a jam-type puree, was sweeter than I anticipated, so I added this to give some dimension to the flavors). This also helped to make it a bit stiffer, to withstand the top layer's weight.

The cake recipe (modified from here):
Important note: this recipe is for THREE layers. I didn't trust myself to transport a 3 layer cake, despite the quality of trains in this country, so I left one layer at home (and ate it with a daub of icing/cream and slathered with extra berries).
One reason I like this recipe is because it doesn't call for coffee/espresso. This is often used in chocolate cake to enrich the chocolate flavor - which it totally does - but since neither B nor I drink coffee, it's not an ingredient we normally have. Despite this omission, I find the result very rich and satisfying.

1 cup cocoa
1 cup boiling water
1 cup milk
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
Combine cocoa with boiling water and mix with a whisk until dissolved, then add milk (careful not to curdle it). In another bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). In large bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla with electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes (I probably didn't do a full 5 mins, to be fair). At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4ths alternately with cocoa mixture in 3rds (begin and end with flour mixture). Divide batter evenly in prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and cool on rack.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A belated happy new year!

The problem with not updating a blog in almost three months is that choosing a specific topic upon return becomes increasingly difficult. So I've decided to skip that decision and instead compose a random list of items that will be sure to reflect that current scattered state of my mind.

1. Top of the list: I finally submitted my US driver's license to be switched over to a Swiss one! Woo, celebrate. Ok, fine - it's not that exciting, but lemme explain. This has been hanging over my head for almost a year now (see point 3, below), and if the conversion isn't done within a year of entering Switzerland, then it's no good and I'd have to take all sorts of classes and driving lessons that would cost several thousand Swiss francs. So with some encouragement from a fellow American who waited until the last day to switch hers over, I got it in just under the wire (a semi-interesting note: I wouldn't have wanted to do it before last August. Although I've had a license since I was 16, my most recent renewal was in August of 2011, and Switzerland requires that a foreign license be at least 2 years old, otherwise they make you take driving classes. It never really occurred to me previously, but US licenses don't say anywhere on them that they are renewals. Discuss. Or not.)

2. I got a job! A WRITING job, even! (Should I have led with this, which is indisputably bigger news? Possibly, but I've actually been meaning to change my driver's license over for longer than I've been job hunting). I officially started on Monday - my assignment is to write an e-book guide to Zurich for I'm super stoked and only slightly overwhelmed that I need to be an expert on the culture that I still feel such a stranger to myself.

3. As per item #1, the one year anniversary of my arrival in Switzerland looms very near. I arrived on the morning of January 15, 2013 - fresh-faced and prepared exhausted and terrified. I'd defended my dissertation five weeks previously and extricated myself from experiments in lab only 7 days before, which is when I started packing. I had left several boxes/items with friends in the hopes that they would have time to donate them somewhere worthy, and was lucky that I could leave the majority of my furnishings behind for the new tenants (my former dogsitters, lovely people). I spoke approximately three words of German and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I plan to do a more detailed post on this next week, but to summarize - moving is hard, culture shock is real, Switzerland is beautiful, and my husband is amazing. I'm grateful that I've had this experience, and I feel that every day continues to shape me in fundamental ways.

4. I did not hit my 50,000 word count goal for National Novel Writing Month back in November, unfortunately - a serious bout of food poisoning and two weeks of traveling around the US visiting with friends and family conspired against me. I did, however, finish with over 40,000 words and - for the first time ever -  plotlines that involved actual conflict/resolution, a milestone that I often trip over (I love designing worlds and characters, but have problems with conflict - a problem that goes beyond writing ;). Luckily, B has no such issues and helped me come up with several wonderful characters and entanglements that pushed the story forward).

5. Crafting got away from me the last few months, but I whipped up a shawl a couple weeks ago and am now working on a hat and possibly matching armwarmers to match. I'm not sure how much I actually like the shawl - I used this pattern with some modifications (I did a shell around the border instead of picot - mainly because I couldn't figure out the picot instructions. Lrn2utube, I know). I chose a relatively simple pattern, since the variegated yarn I had was quite loud, color-wise. Unfortunately, to my eye, it still didn't really work. So then you may ask why am I making a hat and armwarmers to match? Because I bought the largest ball of yarn known to man (not really, that's somewhere in Kansas) - 500 grams (over a pound - and keep in mind, yarn does not weigh much). Below is a picture of the ball after I finished the shawl. Lesson learned - humongous yarn balls are fun, but be triple sure you like the colors before buying.

I deliberately included a salt shaker because it was what was on the table for size comparison. Unfortunately I got the camera angle wrong - the ball is actually taller than the salt shaker.
I can't get over the fact that the middle portion looks like a 1970's granny square from hell. I'm trying to convince myself that the colors might work better for a hat.
6. I haven't made new year's resolutions for years, but my linguistic frustration has managed to channel itself into something productive; I am on a 10 day streak for German on DuoLingo and yesterday was able to field a few unexpected questions from various service people (exciting ones such as "Would you like the dressing mixed in?" and "On the Louis XIV, you want only shrimp?"). Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Speaking of small victories, this happened last week:
A sight I never thought I'd see.

Guys, it's AMERICAN FOOTBALL! ON TV HERE! Yes, I whipped out my camera as witness to this. As most of you know, I'm a pretty big pro football fan (as one must be in order to maintain fandom of the Detroit Lions), and I'd been following games online all season. Little did I know that our basic cable package (purchased only because it was free with the highest speed internet available, top priority for B) includes a channel called US Sports 1. I stumbled across it randomly while flipping channels - they were playing a college bowl game, not a typical sight on Swiss television. So I've managed to see every playoff game so far - the time difference makes this a challenge, but I was grateful to see that they replay them the following day at a more reasonable hour. The only catch? The commentary is in German. It's quite surreal. I log game watching as language practice.

I have so many pictures from a backlog of recipes, trips (Munich, Milan, Rome, the US) and holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's), but I wasn't able to access my iPhoto library for a few months when it got too big for my old MacBook Pro. Now I have a beautiful new MacBook Air (yay for Christmas!), so with the help of an external hard drive, I'm slowly starting to sort through them. I'll leave you with my favorite picture of a trip to Milan back in September with my parents and B. It's my mother in contemplation of the unfinished Rondanini Pieta by Michelangelo: