Birthday Cake Season

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Last month, I made a scrumptious birthday cake for myself. Unfortunately it was gone before I thought to take a photograph of it. But no worries! This month’s family birthday cake is exactly the same! Right down to the decorating. Actually, this month’s decorating may be a little less of a mess, so it’s a win-win to have forgotten to post the earlier cake.

This is my new favorite chocolate cake recipe. I think we’re exclusively a chocolate cake crowd here (although the icings vary) so I’ve tried a lot of different recipes over time. I’ve had this one for a long time (and made it a couple times many years ago), but somehow it didn’t stand out to us earlier. Maybe I’ve gotten better at baking, or maybe my substitution of hot coffee for the boiling water that’s called for makes that substantial a difference; I can’t say.

Hershey (who created the cake) has changed the recipe’s name over the years. My original print-out calls it “Hershey’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake” but it’s currently called “Hershey’s Especially Dark Chocolate Cake” (follow link for the recipe) on the Hershey’s site. (There is a similar recipe that is otherwise identical, except that it uses natural cocoa powder rather than Special Dark.) My only change to the ingredients in the printed recipe is substituting an equal amount of freshly brewed hot (decaf) coffee for the boiling water. I also advise checking the cakes 3 – 5 minutes early and pulling them out of the oven when the cake tester still comes out with some crumbs; any longer and the cake layers won’t be as gloriously moist as they should be.

I iced the cake with a simple whipped cream… just 12 ounces of COLD heavy cream, 3 ounces of confectioner’s sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of meringue powder (my trick to stabilize whipped cream that I’m using to top cakes or pies that I expect to have on hand for a few days). I put it all in a mixing bowl and whip with my stand mixer until I’ve reached the stiff peak stage. For more on whipping cream, King Arthur Flour wrote this great post with tips and pictures.

And finally, I’d like to wish my adorable husband PJ a happy, happy birthday!! 😘🎂🎉 Let’s eat cake!!

 

 

Friday Night Is Pizza Night

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Way back in the day, my boys took karate on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and every Friday their Shihan would ask if everyone was having pizza for dinner that night. In the beginning, we usually weren’t, but over time, more and more families began adopting the tradition, in part because it was easy and made sense, but also to avoid discussions as to why we weren’t when Shihan clearly felt we should.

It’s been many years since my guys have spent their Friday evenings in the dojo but I still think of Friday night as Pizza Night. The other night, I made my new favorite pizza dough recipe: King Arthur Flour’s The Easiest Pizza You’ll Ever Make (recipe at link). In about 3 hours, you end up with lovely to handle, chewy, elastic dough. The photo below is the dough after rising for 2 hours.

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The instructions say to roll out the dough, but I find it’s much easier to stretch the dough using the backs of my knuckles, letting its weight and gravity do the work. My longtime bread mentor Peter Reinhart demonstrates the technique here. This dough is elastic enough to stretch without tearing, a quality I’ve never really experienced with any other recipe. It almost makes me believe I can do the hand toss like a professional pizza maker!

I made three varieties of pizza. The first was a classic cheese pizza with mozzarella and a touch of parmesan – romano. I made another (pictured at the top of the post) which was inspired by an ingredient combo we’ve had at a number of local places. First the pizza was topped with tomato sauce,  mozzarella and parmesan – romano cheeses, and prosciutto. When the pizza was almost done I threw on a couple handfuls of baby arugula and put it back in the oven for a minute to wilt. I finished the pie off with a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze. I love the flavor of the balsamic glaze but I haven’t been able to come up with very many applications for it aside from pizzas and wraps.

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Finally I made one last experimental pie. Instead of tomato sauce, the base was a mixture of French dressing and Sriracha Sauce. I wanted the flavor of Sriracha without all the edge, and French dressing, in addition to being something I already had on hand in the fridge, seemed like it would be pretty compatible and not compete with the strong chile and garlic flavors. My sous chef, AKA my lovely husband, shredded some leftover Thai-style grilled chicken which had been marinated in cilantro pesto (called Gai Yang in Thai) to go on top of the bed of mozzarella (no parmesan – romano cheese on this one), along with chopped fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts. We were pretty pleased with the results but initially I thought it was lacking something I couldn’t quite identify. Maybe some sweetness? It was a fun experiment nevertheless and was awesome as cold leftovers.

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