Monday, February 27, 2012

Fat Birthday

Will's birthday is February 24, generally right around Mardi Gras season, and this year just days afterwards. So in planning a birthday party for him with some of our friends, a Louisiana-style feast seemed appropriate. We wanted to go wine tasting in nearby Woodinville, which is flush with Washington wineries. So I needed a meal that I could make in advance and would still taste great when heated up after our afternoon tastings. I decided a jambalaya was just the thing - easy one-dish meal that is hearty, filling, and festive.

Although it's chock-full of onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes, not to mention prawns, chicken, and sausage, I didn't want it alone on the plate, so I also sauteed up a version of maque choux. The only thing that I consistently found in recipes for maque choux is corn and peppers... some recipes called for tomatoes, others for celery, some for butter and cream, others for oil and bacon. Whether what I made is traditional or not, it was definitely enjoyable and worked great with the jambalaya.

I used this recipe for Louisiana Jambalaya, with the following changes:
1 yellow onion instead of 2 red onions
1/2 green bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper instead of 1 green
1 pound of chicken thighs (bones and skin removed) instead of ham
plus 3/4 pound of prawns

This Emeril recipe was my starting point for the maque choux, although I also relied heavily on this cajun recipe with okra for inspiration. What I ultimately did though was to follow Emeril's version using 16 ounces frozen corn kernals, 16 ounces frozen sliced okra, 1 minced carrot, and replace the cream with about 1/4 cup of broth. I made it at 1:00 p.m. and put the whole pan in the fridge, and then just heated up covered over medium low for about 10 minutes before serving.  It was delicious. It really was. Some people even had seconds. And it was really pretty.

For Fat Tuesday itself, I had baked semlor (or semla) which is a traditional Swedish pastry made for the event. It is a cardamom yeast roll filled with an almond cream, and made for a delicious breakfast treat. In any event, I felt I'd checked the box for Mardi Gras baking and reached into the recipe file for a chocolate stout cake. Almost two years ago (maybe even in preparation for Will's birthday!) I'd purchased some stout for use in baking but it had rested in the cellar unused. More than any particular flavor or theme, I decided it was time to consume this brew. Neither Will nor any of our guests seemed to mind that we transitioned the meal from French creole to Irish between courses...

For the cake, I used this excellent Chocolate Stout Cake recipe. It is most, rich, and flavorful without being boozy, with a perfect cakey texture that isn't heavy or dense. I knew as I was adding the ingredients that the proportions were substantial, but I followed them anyway until it was time for batter to hit pan, and I realized I would end up with four 8-inch layers instead of 3. That was just fine with me, because with the chocolate ganache glaze, and coffee mousse filling I was planning, two layers would be plenty to mark Will's birthday as the celebration it deserves (and my present would be two extra ready-made layers in the freezer for another occasion!) In any case, I recommend halving the recipe as it's printed for two 8- (or 9-) inch layers.

I halved the printed recipe for the glaze as well, but made my own recipe for a mousse filling.

Coffee Bavarian Cream
from Joy of Cooking 
1 1/2 tablespoons cold milk
1 1/8 teaspoons (1/2 an envelope) unflavored gelatin
Sprinkle gelatin over milk and allow to dissolve.

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tablespoon brewed espresso (or instant coffee powder)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, then stir in coffee, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved, then cool until just beginning to thicken (the consistency of egg whites).

1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cream
Beat vanilla and cream until stiff peaks form, then fold in gelatin mixture to whipped cream and chill until ready to use.

Trim the tops of each layer so they are flat. Spread coffee filling on top of one layer, then top with second layer. Trim sides to even if necessary. If the mousse isn't completely set, wrap a girdle of foil tightly around the circumferences of the cake so that the mousse won't smoosh out from the weight of the top layer, and refridgerate until completely chilled and firm before glazing, otherwise the layers could slip, or the glaze won't cover evenly and the mousse could ooze out the sides (but it will taste just as good!)

Glaze with 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate melted into 1/2 cup cream. Pour directly into the center of the cake and then use an offset spatula to smooth the glaze out to the edge of the top of the cake and down over the sides. Smooth the first layer of glaze to coat thinly but evenly over the entire surface of the cake sides, don't worry too much about making it completely smooth, just get it coated. Then refrigerate until set. Warm the remaining glaze until it is of a pourable consistency, and pour over the first layer of glaze. You have to work pretty quickly because the chocolate glaze will cool and you won't be able to work it without leaving marks.

I decorated the top of the cake with a simple dusting of gold powder, and lined gold-painted almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans around the perimeter.

No comments:

Post a Comment