Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bee Sting Cake

My first introduction to Bee Sting Cake was in Dubai, strangely enough. Our hotel had a great cafe where we stopped for tea and cake, and Markus was very excited to see Bee Sting Cake in the pastry case. I had never heard of it before, but apparently it's quite popular in Germany. For some unexplained reason, I decided to try my hand at making one this week. Markus warned me that it took a lot of time and told me not to do it, but being the unselfish hubby-person he is, he always tells me not to take extra time when the something is for him. Being the good wifey-person I am who wanted to make a cake he likes, I ignored his well-meant advice and plowed ahead.

Let me just tell you, if you are ever served a piece of Bee Sting Cake, APPRECIATE. The cake is good. Not over-the-top-amazing, I -want-this-for-my-birthday-cake-every-year fantastic, but it is rather tasty. But it takes HOURS to make. I am not kidding. HOURS. If someone serves you Bee Sting Cake, either they devoted hours to your culinary enjoyment or they paid someone else to do so, so either way, APPRECIATE. Holy moly. I've never spent so much time preparing a cake before. This is serious.

Just in case you have invited the German chancellor to tea or you have nothing better to do (in which case, please come to my house and help me!) or you are just plain curious and up for a cooking challenge, here's the recipe modified for reality from Nick Malgieri's "Perfect Cakes".

**For the record, when we tried this today, Markus was amazed. He lavished compliments and said it was probably the best Bee Sting Cake he had ever tasted (and he is not one to pay lip service). So the moral is: at least if you cook your buns off for this, your guests will be pleased. That should keep the tiny Martha in all of us happy.**

Bee Sting Cake

1/2 cup milk
1 envelope (2.5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Almond Brittle Topping
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup (about 4 ounces) sliced blanched almonds

Pastry Cream Filling
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon kirsch, optional
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened

Start with the filling, since it has to be refrigerated for a couple of hours.
1. Combine 3/4 cup of milk and the sugar in nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to mix in sugar. Bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/4 cup of milk and cornstarch in small mixing bowl. Whisk in yolks.
3. In steady stream, whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture. Pour back into pan and replace on stove on medium heat. Whisk constantly (though not too quickly, which slows process) until cream thickens and comes to a boil. Allow cream to boil while whisking constantly for an additional 30 seconds.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and kirsch (if using). One piece at a time, beat in butter.
5. Pour cream into a bowl. Scrape sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula so cream isn't on the sides, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap, plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
*Note: The "about 2 hours" is the only good time indicator in this recipe. The recipe claims the cream should take about 2 minutes to boil over low heat after you combine the milk and yolk mixtures. HA. Maybe on a nuclear fusion stove, but on my electric pansy stove, it took about 20 minutes and I upped the heat a lot, though not so much that I risked scalding it and needing to start over.

Cake part. This is a brioche, so technically, you could just make this and be satisfied. It won't be a Bee Sting, but it will be a fully decent yeast cake to serve with tea or coffee.
1. Prepare your baking pan. Either use one 2-inch-deep, 10-inch round cake pan or a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Butter the pan and line the bottom with buttered parchment paper. If you use springform, wrap the bottom in foil because the topping will probably leak.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until warm, about 110 degrees F. Pour into small bowl and whisk in yeast. Then stir in 1 cup of flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients. Don't worry if it starts to rise a little.
3. In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine butter, sugar and salt, pulsing at 1 second intervals until soft and smooth, scraping the bowl several times to ensure even mixing. Add eggs one at a time, processing until smooth after each addition. If mixture appears curdled, process for 1 more minute until it looks smooth (or smooth-er).
4. Add remaining 1.25 cups of flour and the milk-yeast-flour mixture, pulsing for 1 second intervals until a soft dough forms; then process continuously for an additional 15 seconds.
5. Scrape dough onto floured work surface. Fold it over onto itself several times to make it more elastic (if you can; mine was way too goopy) .
6. To shape dough, fold it into a sphere (again, HA!), making sure the outside of the dough is smooth and seamless (okay). Cover the dough with a towel and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Get yourself something to drink and maybe eat a snack. You're still going to be here for a while.
7. Press the dough evenly into prepared pan and pierce it with a fork all over the top (this gives the topping something to cling to). Cover the pan with a towel and allow the dough to rise until half again larger in bulk, about 30 minutes.
8. Uncover the dough and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
9. When the dough goes into the fridge, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and start the topping.

1. Butter a heatproof bowl and set aside. (recipe says 2-quart bowl; I used a regular ceramic cereal bowl)
2 Combine butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Again, I upped the temperature from the "low" called for in the recipe, but don't burn your sugar or brown your butter.
3. Stir in the almonds and immediately remove pan from heat. Pour into prepared bowl and cool to room temperature.

By the time the topping is room temperature, it's probably been at least 20 minutes with your dough in the fridge (in my case, it was more), so it's time to proceed to the combination/baking phase.
1. Remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Using the back of a spoon or a small offset metal spatula, spread the almond topping evenly over the top.
2. Bake for about 30 minutes, until topping is well-caramelized and dough is firm. Toothpick will come out clean.
3. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the topping from the sides of the pan by running a small sharp knife between topping and pan. Unmold the cake and remove paper. Set cake topping-side up to cool completely.
4. When cake is completely cool, remove cold pastry cream from fridge and whisk until smooth, about 10 seconds.
5. Slice the cake horizontally with a sharp serrated knife. Place the bottom layer on a platter. Evenly spread the pastry cream over the bottom layer with a small spatula or back of a spoon.
6. Cut the top of the cake into serving wedges (10-12) and reassemble them on top of cream. Precutting the top makes it easier to serve the cake and also reduces pressure on the filling to keep it from oozing out too much.
7. Keep in a cool place FOR SEVERAL HOURS before serving. (again, WHEW. What a labor of love, this cake)
8. Serve and APPRECIATE. You worked hard for this moment.
Keep any leftovers in refrigerator.

Let me know if you try this. If you do, kudos up front! You earned it, baby!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fun at the organic market

Every Wednesday, there is an organic food market in The Hague next to Parliament. Many (though not all) items are local, but all are organically grown/raised/produced. You see a lot of long hippie skirts there and a few judgemental eyebrows when you don't bring your own bags, but we like stopping in to pick up some fresh goodies each week. Ellie likes to help with the eggs. She is always very careful and deliberate, and the proud look of accomplishment when she's done is priceless.

This time around, there were lots of fresh local berries on the market. While I was making my selections, the lady working the fruit/vegetable stand handed Ellie a fresh strawberry...and that was it. Sales pitch scored! The big grin, the enthusiastic "More! More! More! PLEASE!" accompanied by baby sign language for "more"...we had to have some. I bought a little basket of them, which Ellie proceeded to eat with gusto. Thank you, makers of Tide pen for saving her cute sundress from strawberry-red doom.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Baked Eggplant and Lamb

Over the past few years, my food choices have increasingly vegetarian leanings. While I don't plan to become a total convert, most meat products have really lost their appeal, particularly in the US where industrial farms are something I can scarcely think about without feeling green. Recently, I read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, and she makes some very good points about ethically-responsible meat. I suppose that motivated me for the first time to visit the meat man at the organic food market last week. Also a first, I bought lamb burgers. Markus really likes lamb, but I had never tried it. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I thought I would give it a try, as those animals were breed and raised ethically (locally, organically, open pasture) for that purpose. Those lamb burgers were pretty good. I only ate half of mine, but it was good enough to have me give lamb another try this week on market day. This time around, I chose a recipe from cookinglight.com for Baked Eggplant and Lamb. All of the ingredients (except the wine) came from the local organic market, and wow, the flavor is incredible! Unfortunately, it does not photograph well, and we were too impatient to eat it for me to try setting it up better, so you'll have to trust me on appearance and just go make it yourself.

Baked Eggplant and Lamb
8-10 (modest) servings
WARNING: this takes quite some time to prepare, so don't think you'll have dinner on the table within an hour.

2 pounds pounds eggplant
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices (1/2 in. thick and 4 to 5 in. long) French bread
1 pound ground lamb
1 onion (8 oz.), peeled and chopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (Note: I would add more, maybe 2 cups or so. I thought the result with 1.5 was a little dry)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 ounces ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped parsley (I omitted this, as parsley is unpopular around here)

1. Rinse and dry eggplant; slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, discarding ends. Brush both sides of rounds lightly with oil and place in a single layer on two 12- by 15-inch baking sheets. Bake in a 400° regular or convection oven until browned and tender when pierced, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cut or tear bread into 1/2-inch chunks. Put in a food processor or blender and whirl into coarse crumbs; you should have 1 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, stir crumbs in 1/2 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Pour from pan.

3. In the same pan over medium-high heat, stir lamb until crumbled and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a bowl. Drain all but 1 teaspoon fat from pan. Add onion, mushrooms, and garlic and stir occasionally until onion is limp and mushrooms are browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomato sauce, wine, mustard, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and the browned lamb. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

4. Arrange half the eggplant slices in a single layer over the bottom of a shallow 2- to 3-quart baking dish; top with half the lamb mixture. Repeat layers of eggplant and lamb mixture. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and feta cheese.

5. Bake in a 350° regular or convection oven until browned and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Scoop out servings with a large spoon.

It took me so long to get this ready that Markus succumbed to the hunger demons and ate leftovers while I cooked. After we got the kids down, he tried this out on his stuffed belly and he was incredibly impressed. His sample was much larger than he'd meant for it to be, but he was very enthusiastic in his praise. It really is delicious!