Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel Bite: American Empire Abroad

Prague, Czech Republic

Not to be outdone by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, American emperor Ray Kroc brought his arches to Europe, poised for a hostile takeover of the old world.

Vienna, Austria

Kroc conquered the Austro-Hungarian Empire by craftily diverting its people into his territory.

Budapest, Hungary

An American King arrived and had the Hungary masses eating out of his hands with the promise of supersizing.

Istanbul, Turkey

An American Colonel incited a poultry war on the Ottoman Empire by introducing his chicken to Turkey. A truce was finally reached, resulting in the "Finger-lickin’ Good Piece Treaty."

(I took these photos on sundry trips abroad.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Bi-curious, Two-timing Almond Cake Affair

I’m going to come right out and say it: I swing both ways. Think of it as my experimental kitchen years, if you must, but I like to get it on with Butter and Olive Oil. My girl Olive and I have a healthy relationship. I spend lots of quality time with her. But sometimes I sneak out and get a little Butter on the side. Salty and dangerous, he drives me wild. Please don’t tell him this, but lately, I’ve also been getting it on with his brother, Unsalted. I really didn’t want to be a two-timer, but the experts told me to. They said for true fulfillment, I needed Unsalted. Frankly, I find him a bore. Who are they to tell me who I can love? If they told me to get it on with Crisco, I’d tell them to go to hell. That would be like hooking up with Charles Manson—if he were hydrogenated. Just because I’m bi-curious, it doesn’t mean I’m a trollop. Telling me to two-time on Salted? Pastry chefs, recipe writers and baking bloggers: please leave my love life out of your callous directives.

You say that Salted will make my cake too salty, but I say phooey. If you think I lack the culinary savoir faire to appreciate the subtle nuances between the two, au contraire. You’re forgetting that 1) I have an Extra Sensory Palate, and 2) I just used two French words in one sentence—that rhyme, no less. I even did a two-way with the brothers to prove my point. I made David’s Almond Cake for two birthday parties. And both of them were real pleasers.

Sure, Unsalted satisfied when we did the deed, but then I was stuck with him the next morning and forced to have him naked on my toast. There’s no intimacy with Unsalted because you can’t even tell he’s there. Like a mirage, I see him, but I don’t taste him. Why have him when you could be with his more exciting brother? And don’t tell me to simply salt my toast. That would be gauche. I might as well open a bag of Doritos and have those alongside my eggs. Do I really need them both around? How do you think that makes Olive Oil feel? Three’s a crowd.

When I made the cake with Salted, I simply used a little bit less salt than was called for. I wasn’t even that scientific about it. I just used my eyeballs. That’s what they’re there for. And not one person at the party stood up and accused me of straying from said callous directives. In fact, in between moans, they asked who had made the incredibly sublime almond cake with the pitch-perfect apportionment of salt. And along with their oohing and ahhhing ovation, they demanded the recipe on the spot.

So I am not buying into your Unsalted butter authoritarianism that made me stray from my love, Salted. Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and Joy the Baker: you’re not the boss of me.

Almond Cake from David Lebovitz
(In his words, slightly abridged; my notes in red)

One 9-inch or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake

Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere

This cake is best made in the food processor. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and let the mixer run until the almond paste is finely broken up. There’s a few notes at the end of the recipe, including some almond paste tips and suggestions.

I dialed down the butter from the original recipe, which had two more ounces (55g), for a total of 10 ounces (280g) since some feel the cake was a bit heavier and too-buttery with all that butter in it. But if you do wish to go that route, I’d be interested in knowing what you think. (No! It’s got plenty! Do I look like Ina Garten?)

1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar

8 ounces (225g) almond paste (I used a 7 oz. tube of Odense)

3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour

1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed (or salted and use a tad less salt)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9- or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake or spring form pan with butter (I used a 9-inch spring form), dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. (See Note, below.)

2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.)

After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step.

6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.)

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.

Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)

Storage: This cake will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Note: For this cake, I used a 9-inch cake pan, whose sides are 2 inches (5cm) high. Some readers noted that the batter rose higher than their pan, although I’ve made this cake well over a hundred times and have not had that problem. So use a standard size cake pan whose sides are at least that high, not a layer cake pan, which is shallower.

Related Links:

A Plum Amaretti-Crisp Quandary

Cream Cheese Brownies (by David Lebovitz)

Strawberry Rhubarb Galette

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fat Time Off

I had to call in fat today. I told my boss I couldn’t come in because I didn’t have anything to wear. Waistbands were conspiring against me. Zippers were not my friends. Buttons were laughing at me. Even the hook and eyes were busting a gut. Leave it to clothing hardware to sink my morale. Did I need to go buy some Spanks? No thanks. I needed to call in fat. I figured my company would be better off if I stayed home rather than showing up at a client meeting and saying, “Sorry I’m late, but my pants wouldn’t button.”

We get Personal Time Off and sick days. Why shouldn’t we should get Fat Time Off? It’s thoughtless to go to work when you’re sick or your pants are too tight. You could get other people bloated. It’s not that I’m suddenly the blueberry from Willie Wonka or anything, but when you’re a small-statured person, pounds are like cat years. People say they can’t see the extra weight, but I think they’re just being polite. To me, those two and a half pounds stick out like whole wheat on gluten-free bread. Why can’t people tell you the truth? Wouldn’t you be more motivated to do something about it if you knew everyone was pointing at you? So if someone asks if you can tell they’ve put on a few pounds, here are a few ways for you to soften the blow:

10 Ways to Tell Someone They've Gained Weight:

1. It’s admirable that in this economy, you’re not wasting food.

2. Old people shouldn’t be too thin. It makes their face sag.

3. Now people can focus on your personality. Say something zingy.

4. Your new midsection detracts from the fact that you need a pedicure. If only you could see your toes.

5. Congratulations! You’re finally going to be popular. People like to be around you when they’re thinner than you.

6. You look so glamourous, you could be a model for Lane Bryant.

7. Soon you can star in a prime-time TV show: The Biggest Loser.

8. Maybe you'll get an endorsement deal and start rubbing elbows with the fatterati: Kirstie Alley, Marie Osmond and Jared the Subway guy.

9. It’s not your fault. Counting calories requires math skills, and obviously those didn’t come with your G.E.D.

10. You’re in good company. Look at Fats Domino, Fats Waller and Chubby Checkers. Now if you could only become a black man and learn to play the piano.

11. (Bonus) It shows high self-esteem that you’re so secure, you don’t give a rat’s ass what you look like.

Then tell them to call in fat, break out their stretchy pants and lounge, laze and luxuriate in elastic. They’ve earned it. They owe it to their midriff and hindquarters. Oh, and their chair at work deserves a day off, too.