Cakes and Mistakes

Would you believe that I forgot to give them the mustard?

Indeed, a fabulous party has come and gone, and more than six pounds of corned beef were consumed all without the benefit of mustardy accompaniment. I think I received more astonished praise about this party’s food than I have for that of any other event. The two biggest hits, though, were the baked items: the soda bread and the dessert.

The soda bread recipe I settled on, after brief guilt induced by the article in last Wednesday’s New York Times about what does and does not become a “true” soda bread, was in almost no way traditional. The recipe, from the February 2006 issue of Bon Appetit, contained no eggs (traditional!) but did include browned butter, fresh rosemary and black pepper. I itched to fiddle with the recipe even more (whole wheat flour! maybe some mustard seeds!) but I restrained myself. The rosemary bush on the front porch, after several months of subzero temperatures and no water, is miraculously still alive, and yielded up ample fresh needles–on soft stalks, even–to chop into the dry ingredients.

The flour, baking soda, salt and seasonings were mixed with the buttermilk and browned butter. The dough was shaggier than I anticipated–far too sticky to even contemplate cutting fancy crosses on the top of. I just glopped two mounds onto an ungreased baking sheet, shoved them into the oven, and hoped. After 45 minutes the breads looked lovely (pristine white dough with deep golden spikes on the top, flecked through with black and green from the rosemary and pepper) and smelled quite divine. I usually don’t like the smell of melted butter (an interesting abberation, since I’m certainly willing to scarf it down in great quantity), but browning it first eliminates that problem. Cooking something with browned butter already in it further intensified the nuttiness that the browning brought out, ending with an aroma that noticeably filled the mouth sooner than the nose, the very definition of mouth-watering. The breads hadn’t risen nearly at all, however, so it was with great trepidation that I whisked them onto the cutting board on the serving table.

The locusts descended. Silence reigned. I picked at the cheddar and looked at other things.

“Wow,” said somebody. “This is really good!”

The soda bread was the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, and there were plenty of people hovering nearby to vulture up the crumbs after the last slice was consumed. I don’t make soda bread very often–on St. Patrick’s Day every few years, if then–but I may be required to make this bread for all future parties of any persuasion. I think, though, that now I can trust myself to try variations. No mustard seeds do I see in my future, but whole wheat flour is definitely in the offing.

The second slavered-after baked good was my dessert. I made my standard flourless chocolate cake (10 oz unsweetened chocolate, 1 stick butter, 1 cup liquid of some variety, 1 cup sweetener of some variety, 4 eggs, 1 Tbsp vanilla and other flavorings as desired). Inspired by the visions of Irish Coffee that Teacherman had been having all week, I flavored this one with espresso and Irish whisky, which each made up half of the liquid element. The cake came out very dark and very bitter, rich enough to be a confection rather than a cake. I made it in a ten-inch springform pan (as opposed to a six-cup Bundt pan, my usual receptacle) and cut it into 20 pieces, each about an inch wide and equally high. Given the fact that it was almost a triangular truffle, this was the perfect size for the corner left in everyone everyone’s stomach and the cake was consumed (along with strawberries and clotted cream) with great alacrity.

I had hoped to have a few pieces left over (there’s always someone who doesn’t want dessert after a hearty dinner), but there weren’t even any crumbs left when I glanced at the platter, halfway through my own piece. The cake wasn’t as popular as the soda bread, but my favorite compliment of the evening resulted therefrom. “This is so adult,” said my choir director, a description that is rarely applied to me or my accoutrements by anyone. I’m absurdly pleased by that, and it makes up entirely for the fact that tonight’s dessert was half an apple.

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Published in: on March 18, 2007 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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