Monday, June 9, 2014

Strawberry Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream

There were only three plump berry jewels on the rogue strawberry plant that had sprouted among the pachysandra in my garden.  My two-year-old grandaughter thought it a lovely surprise, to discover them dangling under their protective leaves but was disappointed that there weren't more to pop in her mouth. (I pulled up the berry plants a few years ago, weary of feeding the local birds who always beat us to the harvest.)  This plant had wandered from its parent....the child had not. Her mother, my daughter, must have been born with a strawberry in her mouth.  Her choice for birthday cakes always involved the queen of berries: strawberry shortcake, strawberry cheesecake, even her choice for bed sheets and pajamas - Strawberry Shortcake!  Most of us have fond memories involving strawberries - in fact, can you imagine summer without?  Similar to yours, no doubt, my memories include fresh strawberry pie at summer cookouts, freezer strawberry jam for the hot rolls on Thanksgiving, Emma and Mr. Knightly picking berries on Box Hill, picking berries myself in strawberry fields....forever!  And Jordan.  Not many would associate the Middle East with delicious berries - but so it was. Some of the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted were sold by the itinerant fruit sellers in this arid climate.  In the spring, the Amman Marriott hotel featured a five layer strawberry cake frosted with white chocolate cream, chocolate curls and sandwiched about fresh berries: this cake became the ideal.  Every May, I experimented, tweaked and fussed but couldn't create a cake that quite measured up.  Until I brought these two recipes together....a moist, deep strawberry flavored cake, frosted with a buttery, white chocolate cream and of course, fresh strawberries!

Strawberry Cake:
2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups white sugar
1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberries, pureed

3 cups fresh strawberries
white chocolate curls

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 10 inch round cake pans.

-In a large bowl, beat sugar, gelatin and butter until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix flour and baking powder and beat, alternately with the milk into the sugar mixture.  Fold in 1 tsp. vanilla and pureed strawberries.  Divide equally into 2 prepared pans.

-Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove from pans and cool completely.

White - Chocolate Buttercream:

1 2/3 cups sugar
7 large egg whites
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 ounces good quality white chocolate, melted and cooled

-Place sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

-Transfer hot mixture to an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and cooled, about 10 minutes.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

-Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter by the tablespoon,
beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla and white chocolate.  If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.  Bring to room
temperature before using; beat on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

To assemble cake:
      -With a long serated knife, slice each cool cake in half horizontally.  Insert knife half way through the cake and rotate the cake carefully as you gently saw through the cake.  Set the 2 cake layers aside and repeat with other cake.

-Place one cake layer on cake platter and frost with about 1 cup of buttercream.  Arrange sliced berries over layer of buttercream.

     -Place another cake layer over first layer and repeat buttercream and fresh berry layer.  Repeat one more time.

     -Frost the top and sides of cake with the remaining buttercream.  Decorate top of the cake and around the bottom with more sliced and halved berries and white chocolate curls.  Chill.  Remove from refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving.

*Cook's Comments:  If you don't have cake flour on hand, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup cornstarch and blend well with a whisk.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Navajo Tacos

Until well into my teens, I had no idea that the British had laid claim
centuries before I was born, to the "scone", a dry biscuit concoction
that had to be served with tea just to wash it down.  How could this be,
I wondered and assumed the English were unfortunately mistaken but
then when I considered that an entire Brisith nation was confused,
I confess, I had to question my assumptions about food origins.  In my
search for the truth, I looked inwardly to examine my own culinary 
heritage, a heritage that included pioneers crossing the plains in covered 
wagons with yeast and flour preciously stored in cushioned barrels. 
My mother carried on the pioneer tradition and called these fried, golden
yeast squares, "scones".  As her mother had done before her, she taught 
me how to stretch the dough a bit just before cooking, to ensure
the scones rose with a pillowy puff in their middles as they cooked.
In my imaginings, I could  make it work; the pioneers' encounters with 
Native Americans were for the most part friendly...
perhaps even included exchanges of culinary techniques?  Regardless,
stubbornly I continue to defend my heritage and proclaim scones to be
thinly rolled yeast (roll) dough, cut into squares and deep fried until
golden.  Versatility allows them to be served with butter, or if
in the mood for a sweet version with honey, jam or powdered sugar.
Often, family Sunday dinners are scones and soup, the only variable
being the kind of soup served. (I confess to being a bit of a softy - 
preparing 2 - 3 different soups to satisfy 6 diverse clamoring appetites.)
Which leads me happily to this recipe.  Indian Fry Bread was here
first...and certainly Mexican influence saw taco potential in the
flat round bread... and just as 2 + 2= 4,  Navajo, Mexican and
Scones = Navajo Tacos!  Served at county fairs, amusement parks
and rodeo days concessions in western states they are a creation
worthy of their ancestry - even though the pedigree chart may be
somewhat complicated to follow!
And as to the British scone (which I have ultimately,
learned to savor) I just call them "Tea Biscuits".  Problem solved!

Navajo Tacos

    2 tab. dry yeast
    1/4 cup lukewarm water
    2 cups boiling water
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 tab. shortening
    2 tab. butter
    1 tab. salt
    2 eggs
    5 cups flour, approximately

     -Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water in small bowl. 
Set aside for 5 minutes.  In large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups boiling water, sugar, shortening, butter and salt.  Mix briefly and allow to cool to lukewarm.  Stir in dissolved yeast and eggs.  Mix well.  Add flour as necessary to make dough easy to handle.  Knead for 5 minutes by hand or with electric mixer with the dough hook.  

     -Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit in warm place or in the oven on "bread proofing" setting for about 1 1/2 hours, or dough may be refrigerated 8 hours or overnight. (This longer process allows dough to rise slowly.)

     -When ready to use, punch the dough down and roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface.  Let dough rest 10 minutes then cut into 3 - 4 inch squares, or rectangles.  Let dough rest another 30 minutes.

     -Heat vegetable oil to about 375 degrees in deep fryer or large, deep skillet or dutch oven.  Place dough squares carefully onto hot oil, pulling and stretching slightly just before.  Cook until golden brown on first side and scone puffs up in the middle.  (Sometimes the squares do not puff.....they are still delicious, so serve them anyway.)  Turn squares with tongs to the other side and continue to cook until golden (about 3- 4 minutes total cooking time).  Place on paper towels.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

     To create Navajo Tacos, serve scones with:

          -browned and seasoned ground beef, (season with salt, 
            pepper, garlic powder, minced onion, chili powder and 
          -chili with beans, or pinto or black beans
          -chopped onions, tomatoes, olives
          -shredded lettuce
          -shredded cheddar or jack cheese
          -sour cream
          -peeled and diced avocado
          -chopped cilantro

       -Place warm ground beef and chili or beans on top of
        scone and garnish with toppings as desired.