Everyday Cooking

Sunday, March 30, 2008

DB March Challenge- Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake

It's that time of the month again when the Daring Bakers unleash their creative audacity to interpret a single recipe in a thousand and one ways. Our March host is Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, who has chosen Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake recipe. Dorie Greenspan is supposed to be somewhat of a baking legend in the US and the fact that we were challenged with one of her well-known recipes excited my fellow Daring Bakers who were already familiar with her books (I'm not one of them). The recipe for this challenge comes from this book.
The recipe was straighforward enough- the batter calling for cake flour,butter, buttermilk/milk, egg whites and sugar. The original version had the sponge and Swiss meringue butter cream icing flavoured with lemon. The cake was to be assembled in four layers with raspberry jam and buttercream sandwiched in between and then finished off with a coating of sweet dessicated coconut. Morven gave us a lot of leeway for presenting our own version, with the only proviso that it remains a layer cake.
When I first saw the recipe, I got quite excited as I imagined ending up with a giant white lamington (me heart lamingtons) . Now THAT would be a party cake. Unfortunately, my version turned out to be a deflated kill-joy, definitely in no mood to party :-(

Because of the coconut, I decided to go with an all-tropical flavour. I substitued lime for lemon and I used the last of the mango and lime jam I made around Christmas time.

Apart from going with the different flavours, I followed the recipe to a T and kept in mind all the other DB'er tips, using low-protein flour (for biscuits and cakes), whipped the egg whites prior to mixing with the buttermilk, etc. As soon as the batter was ready, I already had my doubts. There was just not going to be enough to fill two 9-inch pans. I plowed along nevertheless, pouring the batter into one pan and hoping that it would rise enough for me to get two layers out of one cake.

Alas, 35 minutes into the cooking time and it was still looking stodgy. I gave it another 10 minutes and a knife came out clean when I insterted in the middle of the cake so I took the cake out. The cake just fealt heavy and dense when I turned it out onto a rack to cool. Oh dear.

I tried to not think about the cake and got on with making the buttercream. Ahhh, that's more like it. Just as the recipe promised- fluffy, smooth and shiny. It was delicious with lime juice swirled through it. Woohoo!

When it came time to assemble the cake, it became more apparent that this was a disaster. Slicing thru the cake to get two layers, I realised that it was undercooked, it had the texture of fudge in the middle. I knew that the crumb was supposed to be tight but not like this. This was on the eve of Easter and I had a million other things to make for my son's Christening the following day and there really was no time to sulk . So, I dress the little party cake up by filling up the two slices with jam and buttercream (again, yum!) , slathering on some more buttercream on the outside and lightly showering the cake with dessicated coconut. I topped it with a chick and a couple of Easter eggs, put it in the fridge and out of my mind.

The following day, I let the cake sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours before cutting into it. Despite that, it still felt heavy as I cut thru it. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even taste it. The texture was so unappealing to me that I wanted to bin it straight away. A couple of aunts ate a few bites and said that it was 'ok, the subtle lime flavour was nice'. I wasn't convinced. No photos of the slices either. I am not sure where it all went wrong but I will attempt this again when I have a bit more time. I am determined to bake my party cake and eat it, too.

Despite my failure in this challenge, I am happy to say that most of my fellow Daring Bakers had much fun and success in making their party cakes. You will be drooling over some of the combinations-I promise! So go out there and ogle out everyone's party cake. ' Til next month!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prawn and Green Mango Salad

Here I am desperately clinging on to summer and what better way to defy the seasons than by enjoying the last of the harvest? Sadly, ripe mangos have again pretty much disappeared from the fruit shops but I was lucky enough to stumble upon some cooking mangos.

Filipinos have an affinity for green, sour, under-ripe but crunchy mangos. They are usually simply sliced, dipped in salt or bagoong (shrimp paste) and enjoyed with puckered lips. The more sour they are, the better. Little did I know, though, that Filipinos didn't have the monopoly on the pleasures of this masochistic snacking. Trying to introduce green mangos to an Indian friend a while back, she said 'Oh yeah, we love those back home dipped in salt and chili'. A Kenyan friend declared, 'Hmm, delicious with salt and sugar'.

These days, green mangos are available not only in the Asian shops but at most green grocers in Sydney. Then I came across this Thai recipe for enjoying them with prawns. Bingo! It could only be a winner...

Prawn and Green Mango Salad

300g cooked prawns (shelled, tail left on)
1 cup julienned cooking mangos (the flesh should still be firm and green or very pale yellow)
2 stalks spring onions, sliced
2 red birds-eye chillis, finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped coriander leaves
2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves
3 c salad greens


1/4 c water
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp minced ginger
2 Tbsp fish sauce
juice from 1 lime
dash of sesame oil

To prepare the dressing, simmer the water, sugar and ginger on low heat until the sugar has melted. When the mixture has cooled down, add the fish sauce, lime juice and sesame oil.

Assemble the salad by mixing together the salad leaves, coriander, mint, spring onion and chillis. Top with the mangos and prawns. Drizzle the dressing over and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Garlicky Tarragon Chicken Goujons

Let's not kid ourselves.. this is just chicken nuggets! Pardon my attempt at pretence, I only wanted to distance this from what everyone now accepts as chicken nuggets. Those 'gems' made of ground-up unnameable chicken parts and peppered with 'E' flavourings and preservatives have scarily become staple offerings as part of 'children's menus'. Why? It is so easy to batter up some real pieces of chicken and bake them in the oven, there's really no excuse to enjoy anything other than home-made chicken nuggets.
Here's my version. I used tarragon as I realised that I simply have not cooked much using this herb. It really is lovely with chicken but I think, it works best as part of a creamy sauce. Nevertheless, it still added an interesting dimension to a simple mid-week dish. Serve with a simple green salad.
Garlicky Tarragon Chicken Goujons
400g chicken tenderloins (sliced up chicken breast can be substituted)
2Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp chopped up tarragon
1 c garlic croutons (for crumbing)
Oil for frying
In a bowl, marinate the chicken pieces in the sour cream for a couple of hours.
Make the croutons by baking cubes of stale bread, tossed in oil and garlic, in an oven until dry and crunchy. When cool, roughly grind up into crumbs by running a rolling pin over it a few times. Mix the tarragon leaves in with the crumbs.
Coat the chicken pieces in the crumb and herb mixture. Fry in oil until golden. These can also be cooked in a 200deg C oven for approximately 20mins or until golden brown.