October 8, 2007

Goodbye, lazy student life: Weekend baking and Seriously Intense Chocolate Frosting

While I can't complain too much about having a job (but I will anyways), one thing I do miss about my lazy summer of unemployment was all of the time I had to bake. Now, I have to kind of cram in all my baking time on the weekends. I know, I know- welcome to the real world.

For the past few weeks I've been working at an archaeological site in Los Angeles, doing a variety of things. Basically, the situation is that this company wants to build a large office complex on this big chunk of land, but the law requires that before they can do that, they must first assess the impact that their work would have on the surrounding area. This includes not only the environmental impact, but also whether the construction would negatively impact any cultural or historic resources, i.e. historic buildings or archaeological sites.

The first week, we were doing test trenches- basically digging big holes to see if there was any evidence of historic or prehistoric habitation at the site. There wasn't, so the project ended. If we had found something significant, the next step probably would have been a full-scale excavation, to carefully document the sites before they were destroyed by the construction.

While we didn't find any artifacts, there's been archaeological work going on at this place (which is a massive housing and retail development) for well over 15 years now, so the company I'm working for has a mighty backlog of artifacts that need to be dealt with - sorted, inventoried, etc. I'm now working in the lab and helping to, well, deal with them.

This being LA, we're never far from the entertainment industry. The building next door to the lab is a World War II era hanger where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose (among other things), and it is now used as a sound stage for movie production. According to my coworkers there's been some major movies shot there, but it has been pretty quiet since I've been around. Although, the other day I saw a couple of horses outfitted with those funny motion capture suits...

Anyways, back to baking. The past few weekends I've had the opportunity to bake some fantastic deserts. Last weekend I made the Alsatian Apple Tart from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (pictured at the top of the post). It was fantastic- easy to make and delicious. I highly recommend it.

A weekends earlier, I was the (self-) designated cake-baker for a friend's birthday party. I baked a chocolate cake and made some vanilla ice cream. I agonized for quite some time over what to frost the cake with - my original thinking was a light and fluffy vanilla icing, to contrast with the rich chocolate cake.

Well, I don't know how I ended up with this frosting- it's insanely rich and chocolaty and decadent, and not anything like my original idea. It's great for chocolate lovers, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. I used 72% bittersweet chocolate, but you could easily use semi-sweet chocolate for a less intense frosting.

I also spread some raspberry jam (strained first to remove the seeds) between the cake layers, along with a thin layer of the chocolate frosting. This was a good move- it cut the intensity of the frosting and brightened up the whole cake.

Seriously Intense Chocolate Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill one 2-layer cake

10 oz good quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz (1 stick) butter, room temp and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 oz (a little more than 1/2 cup) heavy cream

-In a double boiler, or metal bowl set over just barely simmering water, heat chocolate and cream, stirring constantly, until chocolate is just melted.
-Remove from heat and stir in butter, 1 piece at a time, until all butter is melted and mixture is smooth.
-Allow to cool completely at room temperature, until thick and spreadable (1 hour or so). Or, cover and refrigerate until needed, but bring to room temp before using.
-Optional step: Once frosting has cooled, use a whisk or electric mixer to whip icing for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can probably whip it more if you want a lighter frosting, but I haven't tried this yet.

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