Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Dobos Torte Or, Why Toddlers Should Nap

My feet hurt.

This was the wrong day for my Small Girl to decide she didn't need a nap. I had a lot to do. Pizza to make (using a new baking technique that finally gave me the crust I long for). A big fat torte to finish. A (soon-to-be) new house to ponder. Six weeks of pre-move activities to plan. It's been a rough week and today kicked me to the curb and back.

But it's over and despite everything, I managed to make the deadline for this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I had good intentions this month. I was mentally prepared to make this lovely layered cake days and days ago, but I forgot my shopping list when we went to town last week and, in trying to recreate it, managed to forget all the things I needed for this month's challenge. I had less than half a cup of sugar in the house. Less than a cup of flour. It was pitiful that I didn't recognize that there were no back-up bags of either one. So the torte had to wait.

Using a template for cutting the layers.

Yesterday, I noticed that there were only two days left until the Daring Bakers reveal. That's some serious motivation. I had all (well, the store I shopped at on Monday didn't have hazelnuts, so technically, I didn't really have all the ingredients) the ingredients. I had a little bit of time. I had a relatively cool day. So I made the chocolate buttercream frosting. There are only three of us eating, so a half recipe seemed like plenty and that's what I did. The recipe yielded up a gorgeously light, smooth frosting and I checked that off the mental list.

This morning, I weighed out all the dry ingredients for the sponge cake layers and took out three eggs to come up to room temperature. I read through the instructions again. I prepared for battle. It was fine. Small Girl was fascinated by the changes the egg whites went through on their way to shiny, stiff peaks. Everything came together well. I had decided on a rectangular cake, so I was making two sheet pans of cake to cut into the layers.

The first sheet pan came out of the oven after it's allotted five minutes. It looked good. I inverted it, as directed, and then tried the next step: Sliding it back onto the parchment paper. It wasn't sliding. It wasn't moving. It was well and truly stuck and nothing was going to get it to budge. After three minutes of trying to gently scrape it, I realized that it was more important to make sure this didn't happen to the second -- and last -- cake, which would be emerging from the oven in two minutes. Scrape like mad. Wash. Pull another parchment sheet and dust it liberally with cocoa. Just in time! I inverted the second -- now only -- cake onto the prepared parchment and, with a little work, was able to slide it around. Whew!

The four-layer cake with it's crumb coat of frosting.

I wanted to get as many layers as I could without making a silly-looking cake in terms of proportions, so I measured, made a template, and cut four long rectangles. When they were completely cool, I brought out the buttercream and frosted. I've never owned an off-set spatula before. Don't know why, but I didn't. I bought one for this challenge because it was needed for smoothing the cake batter. But let me tell you how much easier it is to frost a cake with an off-set than a knife, my normal tool. I'm still not a great cake-decorator, but it's a big step up.

The Dobos torte traditionally has a toffee-coated cake layer arranged decoratively on top of the cake. It does look beautiful when done correctly, but the concept of a soft sponge layer coated with toffee leaves me a bit cold, so I thought I'd take the spirit of that element and do something I know and like: brittle. I made a big pan of toasted almond brittle and broke it up into small pieces for the top and sides of the cake. I had hoped to make the brittle early enough that I could crush some and put a layer inside the cake, too, but given Small Girl's anti-nap stance, it wasn't to be.

The joy of this torte is supposed to be the multiple, alternating layers of cake and frosting. Other Daring Bakers have been achieving heights of twelve layers! I have four. Four nicely-flavored layers, to be sure, but it's not quite the slice of sedimentary history that it's supposed to be. If I had a sleeping toddler, I probably would have made another half-batch of cake and gone to greater heights. But I didn't, so I couldn't, and it's all good.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Isolation, Watered Down

Well, it's happened again. The very talented Husband has accepted a new and improved job many hundreds of miles north of here. Not quite Alaska (the home of Isolationville, for those keeping track), but on the coast with cool temperatures and trees and ... neighbors.

Yes, the Isolated Foodie will be not quite so isolated after we move in about two months. The town we'll be living in has a few thousand people, a couple grocery stores ( ! ), and even a small Asian market ( !! ). Hard to believe we'll have all the comforts of (semi-) urban living after the past four years of serious isolation. It will be a good thing, mostly, and the town is an active fishing port, so we will have access to great seafood again. Husband's boss told me last night that during crab season (Dungeness), he has people flag him down on his bicycle ride home to give him free crabs.

Now, picturing someone trying to hold on to a Dungeness crab (or two) while riding a bike is hilarious, but the concept of free crabs? Husband is moving to his version of heaven.

I plan to do the upcoming Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks challenges, but otherwise, I might be pretty absent as I try to purge some of the random stuff we have accumulated in the past two years. Even though Husband's employer will pay for the move, a move is good incentive to take stock of what is really needed.

So, enjoy the end of summer. Eat good tomatoes and corn and basil. In the meantime, I'll be sorting and packing and trying to decide on the next incognito place name.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I went to a great farmers' market on Thursday and scored gorgeous basil, so I made some pesto. Here it is, all oil-slicked in an attempt to keep the green bright and fresh. Delicious.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cookies: I Really Did Make Them

Our camera turned up in my in-laws garage. It's a good thing. Here's a belated photo of my only-partially-successful Milanos.