Saturday, November 30, 2013

Okay, we’re back in business, now what?

So much water has gone over the dam since July, I hardly know where to begin. Do I talk about the harvest season in August and the 148 liters of tomato sauce we made with our usual crew? Or how about the fact that we actually got a decent harvest from our apple tree this year – without using chemical sprays. There was some smoking, too, that went on as well, although none of it was cold. We made some marvelous al fresco meals, too. There was baking being done and some fantastic desserts, and now that winter has finally gotten us in its grasp, our basement is finally the perfect temperature and humidity for us to start curing and dry aging some of our favorite salumeri.

Maybe I should talk about it all over the next few posts. Good idea, Blechta. Make a note of that.

Let’s start by updating something a bit more topical: our Christmas Fruit Cake. I shared this recipe in a post last year. It’s a worthy cake, but something we have tweaked over the years in an attempt to make it perfect (at least to our tastes). By now, we probably tweaking the tweaks. This year’s version was no exception.

Normally, we use a loaf pan such as the original recipe on the back of a Bushmills postcard called for. Problem was, as we added more fruit, it was difficult to get the cake to cook evenly because it was so dense. Vicki had a solution which we tried this year. It involved adding a half teaspoon of baking powder for a bit of lift, but also cooking the cake in a 9-inch round springform pan. The results were much improved. The cake cooked more thoroughly in the center (because it wasn’t as thick in the round pan) and the powder helped it rise just a bit, making it less dense.

But already we’ve spotted next year’s tweak: insulating strips for the outside of the pan to keep its sides cooler so the outside edge of the cake (nearer this heat) doesn’t cook markedly quicker than the center where it’s farthest away from a heat source. Bake-Even Strips (made by Wilton) are insulated pieces of fabric that wrap around baking pans to keep the sides. I bought them at a kitchen supply store a number of years ago and the results from using them have been uniformly excellent. Simply soak them in water for about a half hour, then wrap them around your baking pan(s) and pin them tight. By the time the cake is done in the center, the outer edge are nearly as high and the cake is much more evenly cooked. If you bake cakes, I highly recommend them. We bought two sets (for 4 strips), so we’re ready for any eventuality depending on pan sizes.

Why I didn’t think of using them with our Fruit Cake this year is a question for another day.

So our 2013 Fruit Cake is lovely except for the outer edge being slightly dry. This has been mitigated nicely as the Jack Daniels we poured over it after baking has soaked into all corners of the cake, but I know using the strips next year will solve this year’s problem. And help the cake rise a bit more.

Next post: our winter curing season begins. Right now we’ve got a half dozen hog jowls hanging in our basement. In three weeks, our guanciale will be ready! And guess what? We’ve tweaked that recipe, too.


HelenL said...

Welcome back! My mother's mom was the baker in our crew and she would always grease the cake pans, THEN line them with waxed paper. No dry edges. Mind you, as you point out, who's to say it wasn't the lashings of rum that overcame any dryness?

Rick Blechta said...

Well, that's not quite true. Yes, the wax paper keeps the moisture from leaving the edges quite as quickly. The issue here is different from your average cake. The batter for a this cake plus the fruit makes for a very different thing. The thing is that we'll find out next year whether my theory actually holds water, as it were. Please stay tuned!