Saturday, November 29, 2014

Just Desserts

It must have been almost thirty years ago that the family decided we could probably shake up a few traditions without pissing off the gods, and we examined the Thanksgiving dinner menu with fresh eyes. That's the kind of thing you're allowed to do when your family traditions include items from the Jell-O and marshmallow families. Dave and his sister didn't really like turkey, but the rest of us thought that was non-negotiable. Possibly even a matter of law. Punkin pie was mandatory also, but there could be a little wiggle room with other desserts. "What this dinner needs," Susan said, "is more chocolate." Or any chocolate.

I'd recently run across a promising-sounding recipe in a magazine I, as a letter carrier, was supposed to deliver, and printed off a copy of it at work at the expense of the stamp-buying public (thank you, America). I couldn't remember what it was offhand but I offered to have a look. "Does it have any chocolate in it?" Susan asked.

I located the recipe under a rumple of papers on my desk. "Let's see," I said, smoothing it out, "it's called 'Fudge-Slathered Fudge Cake.'"

"Bring it," Susan instructed.

The next day
It was one of those recipes that starts out as a pain in the ass. You preheat the oven to 350 and then you find square pans and grease them and then line them with tin foil and then grease that and flour it and knock out the excess flour, and by then your oven is preheated and you haven't even touched an ingredient. But the ingredients are tremendous. A pound of chocolate, a half pound of butter, eggs, sugar, walnuts, brandy, and two tablespoons of flour just to restore order and discipline. It's still a bit of a pain in the ass but you can feel confident it's going to be great, because chocolate butter sugar brandy. You do have to whip the egg whites and egg yellows separately and "gently fold"--god, I love that--the whites into your chocolate sludge. If there's a way to do that without losing all the loft from the egg whites, I have never found it. Then you bake your two layers, and they puff up sort of randomly, and you let them cool overnight on a rack.

The next morning your little square cake layers look all stomped to hell. They're lumpy and shrunken and flat as an old lady's tit. Or so I'm told. It's a panic situation, that first year, but hey--that's what the frosting is for. It starts out as cream and sugar. You're supposed to boil those and then reduce to low and let it bubble for ten minutes whilst "occasionally washing down sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a moistened pastry brush." Like I'm ever going to do anything with a moistened pastry brush.

The frosting is fabulous and the cakes go together beautifully, with walnuts pressed into the sides for the jazz of it. It's a hit. Anyone who ingests more than about a two-inch cube of it has to lie down on the floor for an hour, but it's a hit. And a tradition is born.
Embiggen for recipe

The next year, and all the years after that, the cakes do the exact same thing, but by then you've realized that they're only in the recipe to keep the fudge frosting layers apart, like a semi-colon holding back a pair of clauses. But the frosting doesn't set up properly. You review your ingredients, find them accurately measured, and frost the cake anyway as is. After a while someone notices it's crawling off the counter and heading for the hinterlands at a dead gallop. It's a family effort to corral the frosting with a deft posse of fingers, and even if it doesn't look like it belongs on a magazine cover, you still have to make it again the next year.

Discoveries are made over the decades. A few years in, I scribble a note in the margins: no need to grease the pans first. Duh. The tin foil slides right out. Some years the frosting works and some years it doesn't. I finally realize it's one of those heat things. It's chemistry. Chemistry was my favorite subject but when it slides into the kitchen arena, it's black magic. This frosting business is one of those candy-making deals where you have to check if your balls are hard or soft, and it's all too embarrassing. At some point I recognize that my frosting works if I let it bubble at a higher temperature for a slightly longer time. I scribble that in my margins.

I could have taken a full degree course at a culinary institute and figured this out faster than I did on my own. But I've got it working now.

Dinner is great. Dave makes a plaintive and utterly futile motion that we have prime rib instead of turkey next year. That's a tradition, too.

49 comments:

  1. Thanksgiving is always spent at my husband's elderly aunt's house. She insists on having it, even though she can no longer cook. So I bring the turkey, stuffing, and gravy (Fortunately the half hour ride is just the right amount of time to let the turkey rest between the cooking and the carving. God only knows what it's resting from. I'm doing all the work.) and everyone else brings a side dish or dessert. Dessert is always pumpkin pie, so I don't partake of dessert. A proper dessert is chocolate -- dark chocolate... filled with a dark chocolate filling and covered with more dark chocolate. Pumpkin, to me, is a vegetable, and makes a fine soup with wild mushrooms. But dessert, with me, is chocolate or nuthin'. You have the right idea, but there are recipes that are a lot less work, unless this one is already deeply ingrained as a tradition.

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    1. It's not really THAT much work, now that I know how to slap it around. I do always feel peeved when half the recipe is devoted to Pan Preparation.

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    2. You can prep those pans the night before and leave them in the fridge in summer or on the bench overnight in winter.

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    3. I'm not sure I've gained any time, there.

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    4. Maybe not, but you, like the turkey, will be able to rest before the next stage.

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  2. Woo hoo!!! Lots of chocolate---thanks for the recipe!

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    1. Let me know if you can't make it out.

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    2. If you want the recipe I'll scan it and send it to you. I'm at pootie@spiretech.com. ASSUMING I CAN GET MY %$#* SCANNER TO WORK.

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    3. River, did you know you can click on the image to make it come up separately, and then click on THAT image to enlarge it?

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    4. Did not know that, I'll give it a try, thanks.

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  3. Adding chocolate to a meal is always a winner. In second place there is bacon. Damn that looks like a good desert or main course!

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    1. I'll bet bacon would be great in the middle layer. Hmm.

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    2. Ye Gods woman! Way to ruin a chocolate cake!
      Not everything is improved by the addition of bacon!

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  4. Well, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie are not negotiable. Everything else if fair game.

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    1. And then there are the stuffing wars. We don't have them in this family. Anyone willing to make stuffing gets the nod. It's all good.

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  5. I made ambrosia for the first time this year. Canned crushed pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, maraschino cherries, coconut, mini marshmallows, and as a nod to health, yogurt. Ashamed to say that it's the best damn crap I ever flapped a lip over.

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    1. A little Brewer's Yeast, tofu, and ground Glucosamine, and you'd have something there.

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  6. No one interferes with food traditions in this family on pain of death! Personally I'd ditch the turkey and get a large pizza but I think that would be cause for divorce by my otherwise extremely patient and tolerant husband. So if I want anything different, I have to add it to the list, not substitute, and that just means more work! But oooh lawdy, your chocolate-chocolate heart attack in a pan looks just about worth it.

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    1. Weird thing? I don't really like it all that much. It would be better without the cake. Just the frosting in a bowl.

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  7. Your death by chocolate sounds like an amazing tradition to develop. And set in well greased stone.

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    1. I usually avoid wheat, but made an exception for the croissants, pie, and stuffing (cake doesn't count: two tablespoons of flour?), and I had dreams all night long I don't ever want to have again. Hmm. Have I learned anything? I USED to be able to eat all this stuff.

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  8. I suspect that it doesn't matter how runaway it is.. and how many fingers try to tame it into place. It's chocolate and it sounds perfect.

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    1. Give it a whirl. Get back to me.

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    2. sometimes the age of the cream is a factor, the older it is, the more likely it is to 'runaway'.

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    3. Don't worry--it was too fat to get too far.

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  9. Once you cross over into moistened pastry brush territory, you never go back...

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    1. At least I will never head into the Lite.

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  10. You typed "chocolate sludge," and I swooned.

    You typed "check if your balls are hard or soft," and I did.

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  11. I think if you learn to wash things down with a pastry brush, Dave might be appreciative. Just saying.... Although on second thought, it will surely depend on what you''re washing down.

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  12. Sounds as good as the DEATH BY CHOCOLATE recipe!!!
    Sometimes altering a recipe does not work well. One time (first, last and only!) I decided to make ravioli from a friends recipe as my husband had loved it. Well, cutting those little squares and stuffing them was a pain in the arse and so tedious, so I had a thought--why not cut them bigger and fill them more! Ingenious!! Well, when I set to boiling them I walked away from the kitchen and after a few minutes kept hearing "splat! Splat! Splat!" I thought "what the heck is that." and wandered back to the kitchen. There on the stove was my big pot and my larger raviolis had swollen quite a bit (they do that when boiled!) and we leaping out of the pot onto the stove top and the floor!! EEEK! So I grabbed another pot and began the rescue process of those not crawling across the floor.
    When my hubby got home all eager to have homemade ravioli, I plopped a plate in front of him with 3 on it -- 3 covered the entire plate!! He looked and said "what is this?" I responded that it was the ravioli he had asked me to make and then growled, "don't say another word!! EAT IT!!" He did as obeyed and never complained but everyone at work, in the family, at the grocery store, wherever he went, heard the story!!!

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    1. This reminds me a bit of my own poached egg story, but I'm not anxious to relive it. Some of us were not to the kitchen born.

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  13. I've heard of this recipe before, a friend of mine here makes a similar one but I think hers doesn't have brandy, I'll have to check, but I'll tell you this, the girl is a whiz in the kitchen and all her cakes look like gourmet magazine covers! I really must get around to trying this one day. I'd use baking paper instead of foil and still grease the pans first, because that layer of greasing holds the paper in place while you are spooning the mixture into the tin. Probably not necessary with foil though, since you can mold the foil to the edges of the tins and it will stay in place.

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    1. I recommend the tin foil in this case, because the point is to lift the cake out of the pan and invert it with the tin foil holding it together--it's too delicate to flip out.

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  14. Melt butter in a skillet, add sugar until it gets syrupy - pour it over your dessert while it is still bubbling hot: it is so sweet that it will cover up any mistake - if your cake crumbles it doesn't matter.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. There's nothing wrong you can do to a dessert that can't be fixed by re-naming it.

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  15. Checking for the hardness of balls makes all of the other work worth it.
    The chocolate comes with Christmas rather than Thanksgiving here. I may have to add this to the list. Can you ever overdose on chocolate? Research continues.......

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    1. Who's going to volunteer to be the control?

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    2. If I volunteer to be the control, will you come over and exercise me?

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    3. I could maybe strap you to something that's already moving.

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    4. I thought the control would be the person who doesn't get the chocolate, and I was thinking that doesn't sound fun at all.

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    5. That's what I was thinking when I wrote it, but then I thought maybe I was getting confused.

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  16. That is a beautiful concoction!

    Somewhere out there is a punchline about what chocolate decadence can do for an old lady's tits. Damned if I can find it.

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    1. Hmm. I might have answered that one myself--in a post I haven't put up yet. Not sure when I will, but stay tuned!

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