Saturday, February 28, 2009

A lengthy tome re: chocolate Valentino

Want to know how to make a relatively easy Daring Bakers challenge more interesting? Take your (non-baker) husband up on his offer to make the same challenge recipe -- without any input or assistance from you -- and see how he does. That is, if you're prepared for his novice attempt to outshine your own creation.

First things first. Before I can get to the rollicking fun of February's Daring Bakers challenge, there is a little business I must get out of the way. Here is the obligatory language that I must post in order to receive credit for this month's challenge:

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

OK, with that out of the way, on with the Great Husband-Wife Chocolate Valentino Cake-Off of Ought-Nine.

So I was standing around the kitchen a few weeks ago talking about this month's Daring Bakers recipe, a chocolate Valentino cake with homemade ice cream. It's a fairly simple cake to make -- it only has three ingredients. And I've made homemade ice cream many times before. And I'd just finished making a birthday cake for my nephew in the shape of King Boo riding the MarioKart Piranha Prowler. I said, quite innocently, "This is going to be quite easy."

Husband said, "What if I made the cake, too? We could compare, see which one is better."

"Brilliant," I replied. "You have to do it with absolutely no help from me. No questions, nothing." Then I got down on my knees and thanked God that I had married him and have access to his dementia.

I made my cake first. Part of the challenge was making homemade ice cream to go along with the chocolate Valentino. I immediately settled on cinnamon ice cream. Cinnamon! People love cinnamon. Anytime anyone says, "Oh, this is so good. What's in it?" the answer invariably comes back, cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. And cinnamon, at least to my taste receptors, goes marvelously with rich, unadulterated chocolate. Which is fantastic, because this chocolate cake has nothing to adulterate it. No sugar, no vanilla, no flour. Only eggs, butter and the glorious full flavor of chocolate.

So, by popular demand, I revisited the cinnamon ice cream that Mom made for my birthday last year. Luckily, I guess, Mom's ice cream maker is still sitting in our library. She left it at our house after using it for my birthday last October because, in her words, "The handles are like razorblades and I cannot carry it." I made quite a bit of fun of her when she said this, until I picked it up and tried to carry it out to her car. Seriously. It's a heavy machine, and the painful metal protrusions meant to serve as handles really are like razorblades. So in our library the ice cream maker stayed, waiting for (a) someone at my house to use it again or (b) someone with an Ove Glove to stop by and take it back to its home. The former scenario arrived first. Lucky for us: this ice cream is tasty. It is rich and very cinnamony, and it goes well with so many dessert accompaniments (or stands righteously on its own). Which means this ice cream will stick around, happily, long after the chocolate Valentino is gone.

As for the Valentino, it is intensely flavored by whatever chocolate you use. There is, quite literally, nothing else in the cake to provide flavor. So choose your chocolate wisely; make sure it's a chocolate you love. There are many mouth-watering options in the ext(p)ensive chocolate aisle at my local gourmet market; however, I could not justify spending $45 on a pound of mint- or cinnamon- or chili-flavored chocolate for this cake. When I win the lottery, I shall make chocolate Valentino with exotic chocolate, but until then, it's all Ghirardelli (or all Cadbury Dairy Milk, if I can find it), all the time.

I chose a combination of 60% bittersweet chocolate and 70% extra bittersweet chocolate -- eight ounces of each. Husband chose a pound of good old-fashioned Hershey's milk chocolate. We thought it would be a good taste-test, comparing sweeter chocolate with the dark, rich stuff. Both were good, each had its own chocolatey personality. Which you prefer really is a matter of taste. My dark chocolate cake had a firmer texture and was, naturally, stronger in flavor. Husband's milk chocolate cake rose a bit higher and was much sweeter, though its texture was less firm, almost molten. Both cakes were delicious, but what impressed me most was Husband's foray into baking. He did an excellent job, with little to no assistance from me. Well, on second thought: I did do his dishes. But as this heart conveys, I love him, so I don't mind.

I asked Husband to write about his virgin foray into Daring Bakerness. He writes:

I'm no more well adjusted as the next guy. And while I've had my share of problems and losses, I also have had successes and finds. But I've always been a pretty happy guy, and a dream I had about 10 years ago has always stuck with me as a reminder.

I was in the kitchen in my one-room apartment in Chicago. I popped open a box of Duncan Hines brownie mix, and after stirring the powder with the eggs and water, I poured the mix in a buttered baking pan and popped it in the oven. I sat and read the newspaper (this is still in the dream) for 25 minutes or whatever it was, took it out of the oven and started cutting. Apparently there’s no need to allow for cooling in the dream. Anyway, I took a bite and woke up.

Friends have long told me that the dream was this amazing metaphor for how happy I must be in real life -- how much I must be at peace to have a relatively pleasant dream about baking brownies as opposed to being chased off a cliff, sitting naked in a classroom or any other disastrous situation.

Perhaps. But it also gave away something of an open secret: I had an ongoing relationship with Duncan Hines.

Every couple of months or so we’d reunite, and it was … delicious. I’m sure we’d see each other at parties, too, but I could never be so sure without awkwardly asking my friends.

Duncan – he’s easy. He’s sweet.

You want it fast? He gives it to you fast.

A few years ago I married Dianne, who, if you’re on this Web site, you know just how most excellent a cook – and baker – she is. And so, it’s been a long time since I've thought of Duncan, much less spent a night with him. As I wrote when I guestblogged potato latkes, Dianne helped me, a man who truly does enjoy cooking but often has no idea what he’s doing, to ditch the mix and give it a go, even if there’s a stumble along the way.

And in baking the Chocolate Valentino, there were indeed stumbles. But since I’ve never actually made a cake from scratch before – and I didn’t let Dianne help me at all except to help me not destroy anything in the kitchen – even a failure would have been a success.

The process, as Dianne explains, was pretty straightforward. But it was all new to me – so I was figuring out how to get stiff peaks, fold egg whites and determine just what a “parchment circle” was.

Therein lay my real challenge.

Dianne had made her cake a few days earlier, but thought the dark chocolate a bit too bitter (she’s not as big on dark chocolate as I am). So since I was going to make my amateur version as something for her to contrast, I opted to use milk chocolate instead. Time constraints prevented me from making the ice cream.

Everything went relatively well until what should have been easy part – the end. Seems the same 20 minutes that baked Dianne’s cake perfectly left mine with quite a shimmy in the middle, despite the cake reaching the recipe-required 140 degree internal temperature. So I sent it back in the oven for another 10 minutes, covered. The cake sure looked good, but wasn’t quite done all the way through. In retrospect, I should have baked it 30 minutes straight.

But among all my flaws, I won’t live life with regret.

Parts of it were a bit on the extreme molten side, something of a pudding cake right in the middle, but it was frighteningly delicious. And really, isn’t that all that matters?

So Duncan, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry. I think you should know by now we’ll never spend another minute together again.

Sure, I’m still a bit intimidated by the science of baking. And it’s certainly an investment in time. But baking this stuff myself … I mean – Duncan, you never had stiff peaks. Sorry to put that out there.

Yeah, I still will occasionally see Jim Beam, Auntie Anne and General Tso. But my relationship with Duncan Hines is over.

And, Duncan, if it makes you feel any better, I’m not seeing Betty Crocker on the side anymore, either.


Adapted from Gale Gand's recipe

The cream mixture has to chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight. So make sure to allow yourself enough time to make this ice cream.

2 c. half-and-half
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1 t. ground cinnamon
9 egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the half-and-half, heavy cream, vanilla beans (including, of course, the scraped insides of the bean), cinnamon stick and ground cinnamon. Whisk the mixture frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When it reaches a fast simmer (do not boil), turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.

Prepare an ice bath. Place several handfuls of ice in a large bowl, then add cold water to cover. Rest a smaller bowl in the ice water.

In a medium bowl, mix together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns a light yellow and is ribbony. In a thin stream, whisk half of the cream mixture into the yolks; whisk well to combine. Pour the egg-cream mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the cream. Whisk to combine. Switch to a wooden spoon and heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 180 degrees. If you have one, go ahead and measure the temperature with a probe thermometer (essential kitchen tool without which I would be lost). Alternatively, you will know that the mixture is done when it coats the back of the spoon. (Run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the stripe remains defined, the mixture is done. If the edges blur, the mixture is not quite thick enough yet.)

Remove the cream mixture from the heat and pour through a chinois or fine wire-mesh sieve and into the smaller bowl set in the ice bath. This removes the vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and any tiny bits of egg that might have cooked.

Let cool on the counter for about 20 minutes. Stir once more, then place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the cream. Cover with a second piece of plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least 3 hours or overnight.

When the mixture is chilled, process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes 1 quart.


Adapted from Sweet Treats, by Chef Wan ("Asia's Most Flamboyant Food Ambassador")

The chocolate Valentino invites you to use whichever chocolate makes you happiest. If you like milk, use milk. If you like dark, go dark. If you like chocolate made in Tasmania, get yourself some chocolate made in Tasmania. Ooh, chocolate made in Tasmania. I wish I had some chocolate made in Tasmania. I digress.

16 oz. chocolate of your choosing, broken into pieces or roughly chopped
1/2 c. (1 stick) plus 2 T. unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated

Place the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl and set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Melt, stirring often. Remove from the heat when melted and allow to cool on the counter, stirring every so often.

Butter a round cake pan (or a heart-shaped pan, if you have one). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Separate the egg whites from the yolks, placing each in medium bowls. When chocolate is cool, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Then, using the same beater, mix the yolks together.

Add the egg yolks to the cool chocolate, stirring with a rubber spatula to incorporate. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, until incorporated. Add the remaining whites and fold gently to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. When finished, the top of the cake will resemble a brownie and a toothpick inserted into the cake will appear wet. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then unmold.

Serves 8.


Anonymous said...

Cute post and both cakes look great! My husband would never try to bake anything unless the words "Duncan Hines" were on the box! Maybe I can talk him into trying the next challange!

Lisa said...

1) Loved reading your entry - it cracked me up, and being a Seinfeld fan, loved the clip in relation to the dementia!
2) Your cake and ice cream came out awesome!
3)I dumped Betty and Duncan many years ago myself - they're SO artificial! I hate phonies :P

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Great flavor combo! Very well done!



Kat said...

A husband who bakes... my husband knows where the fridge and the wine is stored in the kitchen. Other than that he does not enter it. I enjoyed reading both your accounts and the cinnamon ice cream is so on my "must make list! Congratulations to both of you on your challenge!

Arlene Delloro said...

My guy decided he HAD to have chocolate chip cookies in the middle of one of the worst viruses I ever had, so I told him to have at it. When I woke up several hours later, he was munching them. I asked him what he used to cream the sugar and butter (knowing he didn't have a clue where the mixer was). He said, "Huh?" He didn't have a clue what "cream" meant and had just dumped in all the ingredients together. His cookies turned out perfectly; I still don't get that one.

Sweet Bird said...

I love that you chose to do this challenge together - what a fun marriage you must have. I like the idea of milk chocolate - I'm not a fan of dark. Altogether a novel adventure.

Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

excellent, boys n girls.... do you still have some of this cake left?


Amy said...

Love your "dueling cakes" posting! I too love cinnamon ice cream - I don;t know where it came from but gosh I am glad it did! Great job, both your cakes look fantastic.

Unknown said...

How fun, I enjoyed reading both accounts. I had wondered what going with all milk chocolate would have been like, and now I know!

Anonymous said...

excellent work! the cinnamon ice cream looks incredible.

ice tea: sugar high said...

gosh.. how lucky. my partner usually won't help and complaint a lot at the end. Love reading your post. Hopefully your husband is off premix for good.
Love your flavour pairing! I agree, cinnamon goes with just about anything

Dianne said...

Thanks, all, for reading my epic Valentino post and for your kind comments!

Lisa Michelle, so glad you enjoyed the Seinfeld clip. I find that there is a Seinfeld clip/quotation for each and every circumstance in life.

Kat, my husband wished for me to clarify: though he is flattered by your comment, he is not a "husband who bakes." He is a husband who baked. Once. :) But I think he is encouraged to bake again!

Arlene, of COURSE his cookies turned out perfectly! Beginner's luck. Or Murphy's Law. Or something.

Sweet Bird, you should know that your words have entered our day-to-day conversation. Whenever we are doing anything routine or boring, like laundry, Husband looks at me and says, "What a fun marriage we have." :)