Friday, December 31, 2010


We had our annual holiday dinner with the Ks in mid-December. Last year, we had a Flaming Feast--everything, from cocktails to salads to dessert--was flambéed.

This year, inspired by the egregious but amazing cherpumple, our theme was Food Inside of Other Food.

The idea was that you stuff one food item with another complete food item--not with a filling or a sauce, but with another made food.

For the entree, I ordered a turducken, which we had never had before. To my delight, it came packed in dry ice. I've also never had dry ice before. I poured water on it, and it filled the sink with fog, which poured out over the side of the counter.

The Ks brought appetizers and cocktails. The appetizer was a "cake" compounded of other appetizers, then frosted in cream cheese. Not only layers of appetizers, but also layers of irony: it looks like dessert, but isn't, and it's made of things they thought were very cool and highbrow in the 1950s, like ham rolls and meat paste. Presumably, these are things that accompany martinis well, can compete with the taste of cigarette smoke, and are easy to clean off of mink stoles. They are also surprisingly tasty, especially all at once.

And Keith invented a cocktail for us that really took the theme seriously--it's cooled with ice cubes flavored with rum extract, among other things. Inside each ice cube was a piece of fruit, and inside of that was a rum-soaked raisin. It was a bit sweet and fruity, which is good for me, but not too sweet, which is good for everyone else. If I get the recipe from him, I'll post it here.

Kate also had the challenge of making a stuffed salad and sides. She made a spinach salad inside an apple and a baked bell pepper stuffed with sausage, rice, and--the kicker--stuffed mushrooms.

The recipe with the most promise for future development was the po-chiles--baked potatoes with jalapeño poppers inside. I think the challenge is to get a potato small enough to not overwhelm the popper, yet big enough to retain its structural integrity when hollowed out and stuffed. The other challenge is to cook the popper enough beforehand to take the raw edge off, but to leave enough rawness that chile/cheese juice soak into the potato as it's baked.

The very best of the sides was an almond in a date wrapped in bacon. It was like candy plus bacon with extra crunch. Perhaps you think you've never wanted something to taste like candy + bacon? My how behind the times you are! See candied bacon, Mo's bacon chocolate bar. It lights up almost all of your gustatory pleasure sensors at once.

And, finally, the piecaken.

The original recipe, the cherpumple, is made with a cherry pie, a pumpkin pie, and an apple pie.

This combination doesn't appeal to me, so I made some readjustments and dubbed my towering Frankenzert the "piecaken." (What's the -en stand for? asked my inquisitive husband. It's made out of pies and cakes--there's no -en. I told him it was a reference to the turducken, and he said But there's no chicken in it either. I give up.)

Here it is in its pre-frosted glory, the layers glued together with a whipped ganache.

Here's what it's made of: a brownie pie baked inside of a marzipan cake; a Russian cheesecake baked inside of a chocolate-sour cream cake; and spirited brown sugar pecan pie baked inside of a Madeira cake. Whipped chocolate ganache between the layers, mocha French buttercream frosting the outside.

Ay caramba.

Matt is awed and appalled by the piecaken. I used corn cob holders to keep the saran wrap off of the frosting.

And here you can see all the layers. I thought I had a high tolerance for sweet stuff, but seeing this much piled together actually made me faintly ill. Individually, the components were yummy; together they project a dismaying image of death and tooth decay.

Still, it does look pretty. And if you've got the twelve or so hours to spare in preparation, it will certainly amaze your guests. It also embodies every worst stereotype about Americans (it took 3 trips to the grocery store, so its carbon footprint is something awful), so I would recommend hiding it away if any Europeans drop by for a visit. A small throw blanket should suffice to cover it. Or a queen-sized sheet, at the most.

For the innocent, the eager, and the doomed, here is the recipe for the piecaken.

Bake the pies a day in advance and allow them to cool on the counter (not in the fridge).

ONE. Bon Appetit's Spirited Brown Sugar Pecan Pie

1 7.5-oz pie shells, room temp
2 c dark brown sugar, packed
4 lg eggs, large
1/4 c unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs Scotch whisky
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 c pecan halves
whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9-inch glass pie dish with dough. Crimp edge decoratively. Whisk sugar, eggs, butter, Scotch, vanilla, and cinnamon in large bowl to blend. Mix in nuts. Pour filling into dough-lined dish.

Bake pie until filling is slightly puffed and set in center, covering edges with foil if browning too quickly, about 40 minutes. Cool pie completely at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream.

TWO. Gourmet's Russian Tea Room Cheesecake

2-1/2 8-oz pkg cream cheese softened
1-1/4 sticks unsalted butter softened
1-1/2 c sugar [reduce to1c]
8 lg eggs, large separated
2 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange-blossom water
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 c cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter bottom and side of springform pan. Line bottom with round of parchment and butter round. Butter 1 side of parchment strip and fit unbuttered side of strip against buttered side of pan. (Strip will extend 2 inches above rim of pan.)

Beat together cream cheese, butter, 3/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, zest, juice, vanilla, orange-flower water, and almond extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes in a standing mixer or 3 minutes with a handheld. Add cornstarch and mix at low speed until just combined.

Beat egg whites in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and continue beating until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks, about 2 minutes in standing mixer or 3 minutes with handheld.

Fold one fourth of whites into cream cheese mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Line outside of springform pan with foil (covering bottom and about 1 inch up side) to waterproof. Pour batter into pan and gently smooth top. Bake in a hot water bath in middle of oven until top is golden but cake trembles slightly when pan is shaken gently, 55 to 65 minutes. (Cheesecake will rise in oven, but then will fall slightly and set as it cools.) Transfer springform pan to a rack to cool completely, then chill, loosely covered, at least 8 hours.

THREE. The Family Kitchen's Brownie Pie

1 pie shells
1/2 c Flour
1 stick butter melted
1/2 c cocoa powder
3 eggs, large
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c pecans chopped, roasted
1/3 c chocolate chips milk or dark
caramel sauce warmed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roast chopped pecans in preheated oven for 5 -7 minutes, or until fragrant.

2. Combine sugars and melted butter in a large bowl. Whisk until well-incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add cocoa powder and whisk until incorporated. Add flour and salt, whisk until incorportated. Add vanilla and whisk again.

3. Roll out pie crust in a pie plate. Trim and crimp edges. Pour brownie batter in pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Pie is done when toothpick is inserted into the middle of the pie and comes out clean.

4. Just as soon as the pie comes out of the oven, top with chocolate chips, pecans and caramel. Warm caramel first in the microwave before drizzling on top of pie.

Once one of the batters is made, spread a little at the bottom of a springform pan whose bottom is lined with parchment paper.

Carefully release the pie from its pie pan, and smear some batter along its slanty edges. Then place the be-smeared pie right-side up in the batter in the springform pan. Top with remaining batter.

Bake according to cake recipe.

FOUR. Williams-Sonoma's Marzipan Cake

1 c sugar
6 oz marzipan
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter room temp
1/4 tsp almond extract
5 eggs, large room temp
3/4 c all-purpose flour plus 2 Tbs
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Salt

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 1/2-by-
4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pan and dust with flour. Tap out the excess flour.

Using an electric mixer or food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulverize together the sugar and marzipan until the mixture is in fine pieces. If a food processor was used, transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the butter and almond extract and mix until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until thoroughly combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt over the egg mixture and beat in just until thoroughly blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/4 hours. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife blade around the edge of the cake and invert onto the rack. Lift off the pan and cool the cake upright on the rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series,Spring,by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).

FIVE. Williams-Sonoma's Sour Cream-Chocolate Bundt Cake

2-1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp Salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1-1/2 c granulated sugar
4 eggs, large lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 c sour cream
6 oz bittersweet chocolate melted and cooled

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Grease and flour a decorative 10-cup Bundt® pan.

To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt; repeat until well blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 30 to 45 seconds. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until blended. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating each addition until incorporated before adding more, until the mixture is thick and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes; stop mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour, until just blended and no lumps of flour remain. Then gently fold in the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter so the sides are about 1 inch higher than the center. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and cool the cake upright in the pan for 10 minutes.

SIX. Madeira Cake (source?)

175 g butter, unsalted room temp
175 g sugar
3 lg eggs, large
250 g flour, self-rising
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch Salt
3 Tbs whole milk
1 lemon lemon zest
sugar for topping (skip)
candied peel for topping (skip)

Preheat oven to 350F (180C)

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly to incorporate after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl then fold into the creamed butter and egg mixture. Add the lemon zest and mix in well. Add enough of the milk to form a soft batter then turn into a 15cm cake tin that's been thoroughly greased.

Sift a little caster sugar over the top of the cake then place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 20 minutes, then lay the slices of peel on top. Return to the oven and continue cooking for a further 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges cleanly.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

SEVEN. Mocha French Buttercream

8 egg yolks 2 tablespoons instant powdered coffee
1 pound unsalted butter, preferably espresso
softened ½ cup water
1 ¼ cups sugar 2 tablespoons dark rum

Beat the 8 egg yolks in a large bowl with a whisk or rotary or electric beater until they are thick and lemon colored. In another bowl. cream the pound of softened butter until light and fluffy.

Combine the sugar, coffee and water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil Over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar and coffee dissolve. Boil briskly without stirring until the syrup thickens and reaches a temperature of 236 on a candy the thermometer, or until a drop spooned into cold water immediately forms a soft ball.

Immediately pour the hot syrup in a thin stream into the egg yolks, beating constantly. Continue beating for 10-15 minutes longer, until the mixture cools to room temperature and becomes a thick, smooth cream. Then beat in the creamed butter, 1 tablespoon or so at a time, and finally stir in the rum. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until the cream is firm enough to spread easily.

EIGHT. Whipped Ganache

About 18 ounces good quality dark and bittersweet baking chocolate
an equal quantity of heavy cream

Chop chocolate and place in blender.

Bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate. Let sit 5 minutes. Blend until smooth.

Cool in the fridge to something approaching room temperature. Beat in an electric mixer a long time till fluffy.

Put bottom pie-cake layer on cake plate. Smear top with half of whipped ganache, making sure it is level.

Top with second layer, and smear that with remaining ganache.

Top that with third layer. Smear entire thing with Mocha buttercream. Eat. Or not.

There you go. Easy peasy.

The Ks spent the night, so the following morning we got to introduce them to Dos Amigos' pork carnitas tacos, one of the best things in the known universe. Have you been to Dos Amigos on a Sunday to try their pork carnitas tacos? No? Go! Go!
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