Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Sweet Suite Christmas

Oh the weather outside is frightful. I'm not being cute. There's an epic blizzard right now, so I am staying inside with a mug of cocoa, the movie "Elf" and the warm, warm memories of my wonderful semester at Brown. I've just left and am not going back until September. Sad. But we had a wonderful Christmas party last week, and I will keep the memories for a long time!

In truth, I love Christmas. Not so much the birth of our savior part, but the secular aspects. I love the lights, I love the music and I love the cookies! It's someone's ethnic flavor, but it's sure not ours. So I provided all the food. If you look at the picture above, you will see (from top left):

1) Cookies in the shape of Christmas trees, reindeer and gingerbread men
2) Peppermint bark
3) Mint truffle cake
4) Molasses cookies (already blogged about here)
5) Hanukkah gelt
6) Sables (already blogged about here)
Not seen: Hot apple cider (half "naughty," half "nice)

As you can probably tell from the picture, I didn't get any good photos of the food at this event, but that doesn't mean the food wasn't delicious! I would especially like to write about the cake, since it's one of my all-time favorite recipes. I made it last year for my friend Wendy's birthday, and I think it was the best cake I made all year. The recipe is from Epicurious by way of Dozen Flours, and even people who don't love mint love this cake.

The cake itself is extremely light, which I think makes it appropriate for the peppermint flavor - it's a great balance between the mint and the chocolate, especially with the ganache. It takes a long time to do all that creaming, but it's worth it. I also finally took the hint and stopped trying to make more than two layers, so that saved me a lot of agitation.

I'm not a big whipped cream fan (although unlike my sisters, I much prefer it homemade than from the can). I find it sort of tasteless, but the mint gives it something special. The recipe makes more than enough; you can probably halve it and still well cover the layers.

Hint o' Mint Truffle Cake
Adapted from Epicurious

1 3/4 cups white cake flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I recommend Droste brand cocoa)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

Ganache Filling
3.5oz Lindt mint chocolate bar (or other high quality mint chocolate bar), chopped (optional: reserve 2 of the large squares for the garnish)
1/2 cup whipping cream

Mint Whipped Cream
3 cups chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 10-inch cake pans with high sides (1 1/2-inch-high sides or higher). Line bottom of pans with parchment paper.

Sift first 5 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until very pale yellow and fluffy, about 6 minutes (see photo below). Be sure to stop and scrap the bowl at least once every two minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating 2 minutes after each addition (yes, I know it's a lot but trust me). Mix in vanilla and the peppermint extracts. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions each, beating until well blended. Divide batter equally among prepared pans; smooth top of batter.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs still attached, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; peel off paper. Let the cakes cool for about 10 minutes. Transfer each cakes on a plate.

Heat the whipping cream in the microwave in a glass measuring cup or heat proof bowl just until it comes to a boil (this should take 1-2 minutes depending on your microwave). You can also head the cream on the stove top if you should choose.

Remove the cream from the microwave and add the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for about a minute and then slowly stir the melted chocolate and cream together until they are well combined. Using a big spoon or rubber spatula, spread half the chocolate on the top of each cake, being sure to saturate each cake.

Put the cakes in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour or overnight until the ganache is good and firm. Put your whisk attachment and metal mixing bowl in the fridge now too (this will make your whipped cream come out better).

When you're ready to assemble the cake, remove whisk attachment, metal bowl, cream, the two cake layers from the fridge and place one on a cake board or plate (if you haven't already done so.)

To make the whipped cream, beat cream on the highest setting until it has soft peaks (if you're using a stand mixer, this will only take a minute or two, but if you're using a hand mixer, it could take 5 minutes or longer). Add powdered sugar, cream of tarter, and extract until stiff peaks form.

Spread 1 1/4 cups whipped cream on top of the cake. Top with second cake, making sure the chocolate ganache side is face down against the whipped cream (you're essentially forming a ganache/whipped cream sandwich). Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.

To make the garnish, use a sharp knife and slice very thin, long strips of chocolate. Pile it in the center of the cake just before you're ready to serve.

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