Monday, August 3, 2009

Let's do dessert first, ok?

Ah...cabin weekend. My favorite time of year. A few of my best friends and I, (whom I don't get to see that often) and our significant others get together twice a year at a cabin in northern Wisconsin. It is a weekend filled with bonfires and pontoon rides, lawn games and beer, hot-tubbing and trips to the corner bar, but most of all, it is a weekend with lots of laughs, and lots of food. Each couple takes a meal throughout the weekend, and somehow I always get volunteered for the Saturday night dinner. Not that I am complaining of course, but it definitely takes an extraordinary amount of planning to be able to pull off a nice meal for ten people in the kitchen the size of a closet (not to mention a power outage, but more on that in later posts). All of the food this weekend was amazing, although I have such wonderful friends, that I think they would smile and ask for seconds even if it tasted like a shoe.

There will be many posts to come telling you about the actual meal that I made, and the meals that my friends made, but I think my crowning achievement of the weekend (besides the ribs) was that I, Bria, made a cake. And it was good. And it was gluten-free.

I have been lusting over a cake that was on the cover of Bon Appétit for about four years now, and since two of the cabin attendees had birthdays in the last week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make it. The only problem was that one of said birthday girls has celiac disease and is allergic to gluten. No fear, Whole Foods gluten-free baking mix to the rescue! I was a bit worried at first, but it was surprisingly easy to find gluten-free substitutes that I could swap into the cake so that everyone could enjoy it. The cake was a bit heavy and dense from the gluten-free flour, but it was still very sweet and delicious.

Okay let's get to the good stuff. I followed the recipe exactly, except for the flour and baking power gluten-free substitutions which I made notes of in the recipe below. Normally I like to mess with recipes and make them my own, but not when it comes to baking. If I had strayed I probably would have ended up with something more resembling a cinder block than a lemon cake. There are four main components to this cake: the cake layers, the lemon curd, the frosting, and the pistachio crunch. To make life easier on myself, I made one of these components each night last week and they all kept beautifully until Saturday when it came time to assemble the cake. The whole recipe can be found at Epicurious, and here is my Gluten-Free adaptation, broken down into each day, making it much more manageable:

Gluten-Free Lemon Pistachio Crunch Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit 2004
(my notes in green)

Kicking off the week of prepping for the weekend, I decided to bake the cakes and freeze them. I triple wrapped them in plastic wrap and placed them each on a flat surface in the freezer until they were completely frozen, at which point they could be stacked. I also saved the 8 egg yolks to use them for the lemon curd, they can be placed in a Ziploc container and will be fine in the refrigerator for a few days.

3 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Baking Mix (I used the 365 brand from Whole Foods)
4 teaspoons Gluten-Free baking powder (also the 365 brand from Whole Foods)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)
2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest (I accidentally read this as tablespoons, but I think a little extra lemon zest never hurts)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
8 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in vanilla and lemon peel. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk in 3 additions each. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into batter in 3 additions. - this stage was a little touch and go, I believe the gluten free mix made this batter VERY thick, as in almost bread dough thick. I double and triple checked that I was following the recipe correctly, which I was, so I think If I ever make gluten free cake again, I will add a bit more liquid to the batter.

Divide batter among prepared pans -if yours is thick make sure to smooth it out with a spatula to get an even top. Bake cakes until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides and turn cakes out onto racks. Turn cakes right side up and cool completely. At this point you can freeze the cakes if you are keeping them for more than a day or two before assembling.

The lemon curd was made and stored in a Ziploc container with a piece of plastic wrap pushed down onto the surface to make sure no air would get to it.

8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan to blend. Cook over medium-low heat until curd thickens and candy thermometer registers 170°F, stirring constantly, about 7 minutes (do not boil). I did not use a candy thermometer for this, but I did use a double boiler instead of heating it directly in the saucepan so that I wouldn't have to worry as much about it burning or curdling.

The frosting requires that you make a base, chill overnight, and finish the next day. I made the base of melted white chocolate and cream and left it to sit in a Ziploc container overnight. I also made the pistachio crunch, chopped it up and put it into a Ziploc bag and into the fridge.

2 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
8 ounces high quality white chocolate (for gluten-free, make sure there is no wheat in the ingredient list, I used Ghirardelli)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Bring 3/4 cup cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and salt; stir until smooth. Transfer frosting base to bowl. Cover and chill overnight.

Pistachio Crunch
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted pistachios (if you can't find unsalted, rinse them off and roast them for a few minutes to dry them out)

Place large sheet of foil on work surface; butter foil. Combine sugar, butter, and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and butter melts, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat to medium-high and boil until syrup is medium amber color, stirring constantly, about 12 minutes.

Remove from heat. Immediately add baking soda (mixture will foam up), then the nuts and stir to blend well. Spread nut mixture onto prepared foil, separating nuts. Do these last few steps VERY quickly, it sets in about 10-20 seconds.

Cool completely. Chop crunch into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces, and store in air-tight container.

All I had left to do at this point was finish the frosting. I packaged the frosting the same way as the lemon curd. The frosting just required a little whisking to firm up prior to putting it on the cake.

Whisk remaining 1 3/4 cups chilled cream into frosting base to loosen. Using electric mixer, beat until frosting holds stiff peaks. Put into airtight containers until ready to be used.

Saturday was cake eating day! Time to assemble the cake!

Using serrated knife, cut off mounded tops of cake layers to level. Place 1 cake layer on platter, trimmed side up. Spread with half of lemon curd. Top with second cake layer, trimmed side up. Spread with remaining lemon curd. Top with third cake layer, trimmed side down.

At this point I crumb-coated the cake with a small amount of the frosting and put it back into the fridge for about an hour. This let the layers set up and sealed the lemon curd inside.

After it was set, I finished frosting the cake and put back into the fridge with plastic wrap draped lightly over the top. About 10 minutes before I served the cake, I pressed the pistachio brittle into the sides of the cake.

Oh one last thing: Cut, serve, and enjoy.

And make the gluten-free birthday girl very VERY happy!

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