Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Three-Year Wedding Anniversary, pt. I

     Today it's been exactly three years since I married my best friend and my other half, Jessica Cori Spinder.  As of last week, it's been eight years since we've been together, and we're looking forward to a lot more.  While my parents graciously offered to send us out to dinner for our anniversary, we decided to take them up on that offer this weekend and just stay in and relax tonight. 

Baked Goat Cheese w/ Zesty Marinara-      (paired with Rodenbach Grand Cru sour ale)

     For the marinara sauce:

       -1 (28oz) can HyVee tomato sauce
       -3 small tomatoes, cored and finely chopped (thanks to Jerry S. for the tomatoes!)
       -1/2 tsp salt*
       -1/2 tsp black pepper
       -2 TBSP crushed garlic
       -small onion (white/yellow), finely diced
       -2 TBSP dry red wine (we used a Bordeaux that we had leftover)
       -1/2 TBSP dried basil
       -1/2 tsp. dried oregano
       -1/4 tsp. dried thyme
       -2 Hungarian wax peppers, veined and seeded, and very finely diced

     Simply mix the above ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer until somewhat reduced and thickened.  *I just threw this recipe together off the top of my head, and after tasting it, I might cut back on the salt a little bit if you're just using this as a pasta sauce.  With the tang of the goat cheese, however, the salt levels are just about right.  This one's pretty easy. I made the sauce up last night, so it could flavor through a bit better.  Before baking, let the sauce come up to temp a bit, so you don't have to leave it in the oven for as long.  Then slice up your preferred variety of soft goat's-milk cheese (we had to go with something from Wal-Mart, because the Prairie Home General Store, and everyone else, it seems, was out of Goatsbeard Farms cheeses), place in gratin dishes along with the sauce, and bake or bake and broil, until everything is warmed through and the cheese is beginning to melt.  Serve with crusty French bread or chewy ciabatta, lightly toasted with olive oil.  We paired this with a wonderful Flemish ale, Rodenbach Grand Cru.  This beer's crisp acidity, high carbonation, and flavors of sour cherry, oak, and a hint of balsamic vinegar worked perfectly with the richness and the slight spice of the goat cheese dish.  The marinara, while decent on its own, was awesome with the cheese, and the beer was a perfect companion.  We'll definitely be makin this again.

Wedding Cake, 2.0-
     The idea here was to (loosely) recreate the cake we had at our wedding from the amazing Trefzger's Bakery in Peoria, IL.  While I generally stand behind my ability to cook, Jessi is, and has always been, the baker in the family.  I make a mean creme brulee (but that's pretty easy) and a killer baklava (again, not so hard) but when it comes to cakes and pies, I'm a bit out of my element.  Yesterday I was told 'hey, anyone can do it', so I figured I'd give it a go.  The idea here was to make a layered white 'wedding-style' cake, with vanilla buttercream and alternating layers of raspberry frosting and chocolate ganache for filling, to mirror our wedding cake.  Challenge: accepted. 
     I don't think I've ever made a cake from scratch, so I was kind of flying blind in selecting a recipe.  I decided to go with the recipe found here, but scaled it up 1.5x, since I was making a three-tiered cake.  Or so I thought.  A couple of notes.  I followed the instructions to the letter, and was overall pretty proud of myself, especially since I only managed to break one egg yolk out of six...
There's no doubt that this makes good cake, but it doesn't strike me as 'wedding cake', in that it's not that pure snow white color that most of the professional cakes are.  I'm guessing this might have something to do with the egg yolks and/or butter in the recipe.  Either way, it's really tasty cake, but almost tastes a bit closer to a lighter (does that even make sense?) pound cake than the super light, fluffy 'wedding cake' I had in mind. 

     Things were going quite smoothly, and I actually was feeling pretty good about this whole baking thing, but my top tier stuck to the pan (yes, I greased it, yes I ran a knife around the edge, I dunno what happened) and when it finally gave way it came out in several pieces.  Hmm, looks like we'll be having a two-tiered cake. I should also note that the baking times listed on the website were way off for my three cake pans (one double-depth 8", one 6", and one 4"). Baking at 350, the smallest one was done in 40 minutes, the medium in 45 minutes, and the largest in 70 minutes.

Man Down...
What's that, you say?  There appears to be a cat hair on that piece of cake?  I dunno about all that, but it might have something to do with the kitchen staff...

That's my (fat) boy...
     I used Jessi's cake cutter (this thing's actually pretty cool) and sliced the two cakes into a total of five layers.  After you make a couple of icing 'dams' around the outside of each layer, you can add your filling of choice, and then add your next layer of cake.  Speaking of fillings, we used some freshly squeezed raspberry juice (we just used thawed frozen berries), mixed with one of Jessi's favorite buttercream  recipes, and added a bit of powdered sugar until the consitency and flavor were right.  It's incredibly natural tasting, and even with all the sugar it's still a bit tart.  The other filling was chocolate ganache.  We took 6oz of bittersweet bakers chocolate, finely chopped, and added that to a half cup of half-and-half.  Bring the half-and-half to a boil, remove immediately from the heat, and whisk the chocolate in as fast as you can, until it's shiny, smooth, and completely incorporated.  We based this recipe on the one found here, but after finding out that half-and-half works (it's all we had in the house and I forgot to buy heavy cream) we'll never use heavy cream again.  Here's what the first layer looks like at the start; use a pastry bag with a wide decorating tip to make a double wall of icing around the outside of the cake, to keep the filling inside.

 The first layer is raspberry cream...

The second layer is chocolate ganache...

     And below you can see the final product. 

The top, smaller cake, had only two layers, and thus only had the raspberry frosting.  I had originally planned to make both cakes three layers, but I sort of mangled the small one taking it out of the pan as well.  Oh well.  The bottom cake, however, had three layers, with one band of ganache and one band of raspberry cream.  Exactly like our wedding cake? Well, no. I followed this recipe exactly, but this didn't really turn out to be a wedding cake style cake.  It's the palest shade of yellow and really, really dense and buttery.  Yup, we have a three-layer, multiple-frosted, poundcake.

     The result?  It's delicious, but a small piece is more than enough.  Other than that, though, the only thing I was really disappointed in here is my lack of presentation skill.  We'll try this cake over for future anniversaries...methinks I might have to master rolled buttercream or fondant at some point in my life.  Next year, we'll stick with the buttercream, ganache, and raspberry filling, but look for a new cake recipe.  Ace of Cakes I am not, but it's good cake, and the house is still standing, so I guess we'll call that a win! 

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