Friday, August 29, 2008

Still looking...

...for a truly great, quick and easy, "everyday" chocolate cake recipe. You know, a go-to version, that I can rely on to be yummy and can whip up in not too long from stuff I usually have in the fridge. We're not talking about a multi-layered extravaganza that's so much work you only make it for very special occasions once a decade kind of thing. Been there, done that, and I don't think the decade has passed yet, so I'm aiming for simple and tasty.

Made another "okay but not to rave about" choc cake last weekend. Maybe my cocoa powder is to blame? All I've got on hand is plain old Hersheys, and the cannister has been open for quite a while. Maybe it's stale. Does cocoa powder go stale? Would I be happier with my choc cake results if I sprung for some really good stuff? Which I'd have to order online, 'cause gourmet shopping opportunities are pretty much non-existent in Hilo. We make up for that with a great farmer's market, but it doesn't solve the gourmet cocoa powder dilemma.

Theoretically, I could purchase some local cacao pods at said local farmer's market, and make my own cocoa powder.

But -- I know this is hard to believe -- there are some DIY lines I will never cross, and making my own chocolate from the pod stage is destined to stay on the far side of one of them.

Perhaps also I should try, just once, to follow a recipe EXACTLY as it is in the book, before messing around with it and making substitutions.

We've got two more "cake nights" worth of the most recent so-so results in the freezer. Will keep trying when we've eaten those up. Or when I feel like baking again, whichever comes first.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lilikoi Cake

Here’s what I did with all those lilikoi I juiced last week (sorry, didn’t take a picture):

Sift together and set aside:
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 TB cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder

In your KitchenAid stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer), cream together:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (soft)
3/4 cup sugar

When nice and fluffy, add, one at a time and blending well after each:
3 or 4 eggs (my base recipe called for 3, but there were 4 in the carton and I wanted to use them up, and they weren’t all that big in spite of being graded “large,” so I used 4)

Now add, and blend well:
1/3 cup heavy cream (usually I bake with yogurt, but happened to find some aging but still good cream in the back of the fridge that needed to be put to use)
1/3 cup lilikoi juice

Add the previously sifted dry ingredients, and blend well. The batter should be thick and very smooth.

Scrape into a prepared baking pan (I used an 8” glass Pyrex baking dish, sprayed with Pam… meant to dust it with flour but forgot, didn’t seem to matter), and bake in the center of your preheated oven at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown, resilient to a light touch, and pulling away from the pan slightly at the edgess. Cool on a rack.

While the cake is in the oven, make some lilikoi syrup by bringing to a boil in a small saucepan:
1/4 cup lilikoi juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 TB brandy

Stab the cake liberally with a toothpick or bamboo skewer, then spoon the syrup over the top.

I made this as a “snack” cake, meaning I didn’t bother to frost it and served it from the baking dish. It had little holes all over from the bamboo skewer, but we didn’t mind. It was delicious! Excellent flavor and texture and either the 4th egg or the lilikoi juice or both gave it a lovely pale yellow color.

This would make a superb upside-down cake. Fresh pineapple would be good. I may have to try that next time.

This would also be excellent as a layer cake. If I go that route, I will:
~ increase ingredient quantities by half to make two 8”-9” round layers, double them for a triple-layer extravaganza
~ base final egg quantity on the “3” option above
~ go to the trouble of lining my cake pans with parchment paper, smearing with butter, and dusting with flour… a pain in the patootie but worth it for special-effort desserts
~ reduce cooking time (round pans with less batter will cook faster) to 22-25 minutes (probably, that’s a guess at this point)

My 50th birthday is less than 3 month away now, and I’ve been giving some serious thought to what kind of cake I’m going to make for myself. (We cake junkies like to bake our own birthday cakes.) I’m neither especially horrified nor particularly thrilled about turning 50, and have no interest in any party beyond a modest family hoohah. Although I’m totally psyched that both my sisters are flying out from the mainland to help celebrate/commiserate. What I most want is very little fuss and an awesomely delicious cake.

This one just moved to the top of the list. I’m thinking of using the lilikoi curd from my pie recipe between the layers, and making a lilikoi (…or maybe tangerine …or maybe lilikoi-tangerine) buttercream frosting.

I can hardly wait!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

format clean-up

Yeesh... we got a new computer monitor and now my older posts show up as teeny-teeny-tiny type. So maybe they've been barely readable to all but me all along. Sorry about that. I'm going to spend some time cleaning up the blog layout/format over the weekend; until then hope you'll bear with me.

Good news: the Lilikoi Cake turned out great!
I'll post the recipe for that this coming weekend, too.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Lychee & Lilikoi

I've hardly cooked anything recently. That's July for ya: too hot and humid to feel like venturing into the kitchen. We've been living on fruit, smoothies, and salads, with a little chicken and fish from time to time, cooked as simply as possible.

Local melons -- mostly the small seedless watermelons and honeydew -- have been excellent lately. And pineapple, of course, and papayas. And lychees. Now that August has arrived, lychee season is pretty much over. There are still some around, but the price per pound has doubled and the quality isn't as good as it was a 2-3 weeks ago. We had such a delicious time of it this year: mahalo lychees, you were grand! We'll see you again next summer. Here, just one of our happy moments in lychee heaven.

I came home from the farmer's market Wednesday with three bags of lilikoi, intending to capture the pulp and freeze it for future use. This bowl of vaguely egg-like things is about two dozen fresh lilikoi (cost: under $5!). Don't be alarmed if some of them are blotchy and kind of wrinkly. Those might be the juiciest ones.

There were a few more, but Taraka had some as a snack last night. I was upstairs getting ready for bed when he cut them open, and I could smell them all the way up there. Such a flowery aroma; at first I thought I was smelling something blooming outside. The taste isn't quite as floral as the smell: sweet, but beyond tart. If you've ever had a SweetTart" candy, lilikoi are like that, only more so. I rarely eat them "as is." Partly 'cause of the tartness, also 'cause they're full of little black seeds. They look like this when you cut them open.

Brave souls -- and fans of SweetTarts -- can go ahead and eat the pulp with a spoon, seeds and all, as my husband does. The seeds are edible, technically, meaning it won't harm you to consume them. But they aren't what the lilikoi thing is about. So, if you're like me, you'll scoop that pulp into a bowl.

If you start with a big enough pile of lilikoi you'll end up with something like this. It looks dark because of all those black seeds still in there. If you're familiar with fresh lilikoi this will look very, very wonderful. Otherwise, I have to admit, it looks sort of... gross.

Hang in there. What you want to do now is separate the yummy, juicy, slightly gelatinous pulp from the seeds. Mushing it around in a strainer will do the trick, and take forever. A better approach is to strain what liquid you can out, then dump the rest into the bowl of your food processor and pulse it a few times.

This won't pulverize the seeds, so they can still be strained out, but it will loosen up the gel enough so you can get more of the good stuff more easily. Pour it back into the strainer...

... and mush it around until what you've got left is mostly seeds.

Toss the seeds, and look what's left! This is almost two cups of liquid gold.

I'm gonna freeze some. And I'm starting to feel tempted to attemp a lilikoi cake. I've never made one, but surely it's possible. I have a tangerine cake recipe I haven't shared with you yet (I'll post it someday, perhaps when tangerine season rolls around again); perhaps I could adapt it.

Lilikoi Cake: that might be worth turning the oven on for...