Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter on the Rim

Photos by Greg

Snow. Wet sand. A little mud. Lots of rock. Lots of scenery. Even a couple of small dogs (one which was too busy to pose for photos). On a trail that hugs the rim over the river. Not a bad way to spend a winter day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Almond Coconut Cake

Recipe by Trina
Photos by Greg and Trina

This cake is not just a cake. It's an endeavor, an all-afternoon project. But it's worth the effort if you want the flavors of coconut, almond and chocolate combined in a somewhat outrageous, really delicious, totally indulgent cake that will make people say, "That looks like a Big Mac!"

If you want a tidier cake with the uneven-ness of the layers (and the Big Mac-ness) hidden by all-over frosting -- that IS what frosting is for, after all: glue between layers and spackle to mask problems -- you can frost the sides. I also tried a rectangular version of it that was much more sedate and society-lady-looking:

Whichever way you build it, you're baking two different cakes, making two different frostings, and putting it all together along these lines:

Recipes follow, and pictures showing the process for the rectangular version. If you're making a traditional round cake, follow the recipes. If you're making the rectangular cake, bake both cake recipes in cookie sheets instead of rounds, cutting the baking time down to about 20 - 22 minutes. Cut the finished cakes into quarters (all the same size!) and stack them with layers of ganache and frosting. (When making the rectangular version, you'll actually have enough pieces of cake to make TWO small-ish rectangular cakes -- one to take to the party and one to keep at home!)

Coconut Cake
from Cook's Illustrated

1 large egg
5 large egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool
2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut

For the cake: adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with butter and dust with flour. Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with a fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2-2 1/2 minutes.

With the mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)

Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown. Cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

While cakes are cooling spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until coconut is a mix of golden brown and white, about 15-20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

Almond Cake

modified from this Paul Prudhomme recipe

6 TBSP unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups almonds, toasted and cuised (new verb meaning processed in the Cuisinart)
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 TBSP ground nutmeg
1 TBSP baking powder
½ cup plus 1 TBSP milk
2 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1 TBSP almond extract

In large bowl of electric mixer cream the butter and sugar on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 6 to 8 minutes. In a separate bowl sift together the almonds, flour, nutmeg and baking powder. In a third bowl combine the milk, eggs and extracts. Add the flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to the butter mixture, beating on high speed until well blended and scraping the bowl sides between additions.

Spoon batter into 2 greased and lightly floured 8-inch round cake pans
(1 1/2 inches deep). Spread batter so it is slightly lower in the center
(since it peaks in the center during cooking). Bake at 350 degrees F until
a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Let cool 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pans and place on a
wire rack; cool thoroughly.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting
from Cook's Illustrated

4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks) cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl over a saucepan containing 1 1/2 inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch, and registers 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

Transfer bowl to the mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticking, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue beating at medium-high until well combine, about 1 minute.

This buttercream has more liquid in it than most, making it unstable. It'll want to separate. If it does, stir it briskly with a rubber spatula. I found that, even after doing that, it still looked rather like soft cheese, but as long as you can get it to be spread-able, it'll work:

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
from Joy of Cooking

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz. semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 TBSP liqueur

Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted, then stir in liqueur. Let stand until spreadable.

Measuring, cutting and assembling:


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Canyon Scramble

Photos and text by Trina

We're enjoying what promises to be a brief episode of winter this weekend -- what passes for winter around here, anyway. (There were actual snowflakes falling out of the sky for a couple of hours.) The boys and I headed out into it this afternoon, to a popular and well trod area laced with canyons, but once we got there we quickly dove off the trail in search of something a little more "lost" feeling. We found a faint bighorn sheep trail that took us up through the jumble of a tallus slope and along the base of a vertical red wall, scrambling over spall-splatter boulders, hugging cliffs, up a steep, loose drainage and a jagged, stepped cliff -- exactly the kind of terrain where you'd expect to see bighorns scampering about (all we saw were their tracks and poop) -- and finally up onto a high sandstone finger between two canyons.

We got exactly as lost as we wanted to be -- far enough off the beaten path to enjoy some quiet, to be able to just sit, peacefully, surveying a wide open, forested canyon on one side of us, and a narrow, ribboning, red-pinnacled canyon on the other. A little lunch, a little hot tea, a lot of sniffing, a lot of rock-hopping. Finally, we got unlost and returned home to burrow into the warmth of the previously clean laundry pile -- what passes for clean around here, anyway.

I've been trying to find out what these are -- plant seed pods caught up in some spider webbing or the most amazing spider egg sacs in the history of the known universe? They were tucked up under an overhang in the same kind of setting where we frequently see black widow webs and egg sacs. The closest I've come so far is this. And this.

Friday, January 20, 2012