Chocolate Orange Mayonnaise Cake
When Mikel and I were on Lake Gaston a few weeks ago, there was a chocolate mayonnaise cake lurking in the refrigerator of the guests’ quarters of our friends’ house. I’ve always loved the deep dark richness of cakes made with cocoa and the moist quality of cakes made with oils and mayonnaise instead of butter. But I’m loath to use store-bought mayonnaise in anything! I used to like Duke’s ® because it had no sugar, but years ago they started using questionable ingredients. And in the natural foods stores, even the ones that tout that they’re made with olive oil are in fact made with heinous ingredients such as soy oil, with only a tiny fraction of a percent of olive oil. I also wonder what they do to it to make it last: Mama always said to use mayonnaise within a week. We are talking about raw eggs here!
That’s my mother’s old cake carrier from the sixties. I took the cake today to a meeting of Federal GLOBE employees at the Corporation for National Service here in DC. I promised everyone that if we liked it, I’d post the recipe. It was scrumptious, so here it is.
I always make my own mayonnaise, either in a mortar, with two egg yolks per cup of oil, or in a blender, with the entire egg. I usually flavor mayonnaise with a little cayenne and mustard. Sometimes I add watercress or even boiled shrimp. And, depending on how I’m going to use it, I usually use a light-bodied oil in combination with olive oil. A little lemon juice at the end makes it lighter and brighter as well. It’s traditional.
I’ve also always loved the combination of chocolate and orange flavors, so for this cake – which is a combination of a dozen recipes I found in my collection, including one that Johnny Iuzinni makes (sent to me by Roy Finamore, his co-author) at Jean-Georges – I decided to make the mayonnaise using fruity, but mostly innocuous grapeseed oil and fresh-squeezed orange juice instead of lemon. I grate the rind from the orange and add it to the frosting.
This recipe is easy and delicious. You should be able to get 24 thin slices or 16 fat ones from the cake.
For the mayonnaise and cake:
3 large eggs at room temperature
fine sea salt
1 cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
butter for greasing pans
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for greasing pans
½ cup high quality cocoa, not Dutch process, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup water
For the mayonnaise, place one of the eggs and a pinch of salt in a blender and blend on medium high for about 15 seconds. With the motor still running, begin adding the oil, in droplets at first, then gradually create a stream and continue slowly adding the oil until all of it is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the blender, add the orange juice, and blend again to incorporate.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 9” cake pans with butter, line with parchment or wax paper, grease the paper, then dust with flour.
Beat the two remaining eggs in the large bowl of a mixer on fairly high speed, then gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. It will nearly double in size. Add the vanilla and the mayonnaise and beat to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt together, then fold a third of the dry ingredients into the batter. Add about half the water and fold it in, then another third of the dry, then the rest of the water, then the rest of the dry ingredients. The batter should be well blended.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans, give the pans a rap on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles, and bake in the center of the preheated oven until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook; the cakes should just barely be beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans. Place the pans on a rack and allow to cool completely.
For the frosting:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
finely grated zest of one orange
2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa, sifted
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 to ½ cup milk
Melt the butter and stir in the orange zest. Add the cocoa and mix well. Begin adding the powdered sugar and mixing it in well, adding a little bit of milk when it gets stiff. Continue alternating the sugar and the milk, using only as much milk as necessary. The frosting should be dark, shiny, and smoth, but remember that it will have little flecks of zest in it.
When the cake layers are perfectly cool, carely remove a layer from the pan, remove the paper, and frost the cake, beginning by putting about 1/3 of the frosting on the first layer and spreading it out. Add the second cake layer (be sure to remove the paper!) and frost the top and sides of the cake.
Serve at room temperature. Serves 12-24, depending on how many southerners and chocoholics are present.
Osso Buco with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Chanterelles
I am loving the cooler weather because it begs for slow-braised dishes such as the Italian classic, Osso Buco, or veal shanks. You should buy really meaty shanks for this dish, about 4 inches long and 2 inches thick, with nice, marrow-filled bones. For four people, you’ll want 4 pieces, weighing a total of about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds (see photo). There are as many variations on this dish as there are villages in Lombardy. Some include tomatoes. Feel free to add them if you wish. The parsley-lemon-garlic combination is called gremolata and is an integral part of the dish, not just a garnish.
2 tablespoons butter
4 meaty veal shanks (see text above)
This is my favorite time of year, and the time of year that I miss Charleston the most. The first cold snap, such as it is, will have run off the no-see-ums, those pesky gnats that were the bane of my existence in the lowcountry during the two prettiest months of the year, April and October. It takes more than one cold snap, though, to chase the shrimp out to deeper waters, and sandlappers net them by the tons each year, many in the circular cast nets that haven’t changed much since the design was brought with enslaved Africans in the 17th century.
The best time to make this bisque is in the spring, when the tiny creek shrimp just begin to appear (see photo). They are insanely flavorful, but you won’t have to worry about the maddening job of peeling them since in this recipe you are going to extract all their flavor from them while they’re still in shell.
This is classic French cooking, and the soup has been a favorite in the lowcountry for centuries. Note the rice as thickener. Unfortunately, many restaurants call pasty flour-thickened soups “bisques” when they have not followed the proper procedure outlined below. This recipe is very involved, but it yields one of the best soups you’ll ever eat.
Obviously I don’t have tiny, fresh creek shrimp here in DC to use, but I do find the freshest (and smallest) heads-on shrimp I can find. You’ll need about three pounds of heads-on shrimp.
I like to have both shellfish stock and shellfish butter on hand in my freezer. You’ll need them both for the recipe. If you can’t find heads-on shrimp, you can use not only shrimp shells, but lobster, crawfish and crab shells as well. The next time you have shrimp or lobster, store the shells in the freezer until you have enough to make a stock.
This creamy puréed soup is sieved several times before serving. Make it for a special occasion.
You can easily make this shellfish butter from crawfish, crabs, or lobster, but shrimp are classic in the lowcountry. Early in the shrimp season, when the sweet, tiny creek shrimp are all you can pull in in a cast net, you can make this butter to capture the flavor without having to peel the inch-long shrimp. The shrimp in the photo above were netted by Debbie and me one spring in Charleston.
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound of shrimp shells and heads, or a pound of whole, tiny shrimp
1 large carrot, chopped fine
1 rib celery, chopped fine
a 1″ piece of leek, chopped fine
1 shallot, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I buy Italian paste in a toothpaste-like squeeze tube.)
1 pound unsalted butter, cut up into pieces
1 cup water or shrimp stock
Lightly coat the bottom of a large skillet, wok, or Dutch oven with olive oil. Add the shellfish and stir-fry until thoroughly pink. Add the chopped aromatic vegetables and continue to stir-fry until the shallot is clear. Add the tomato paste and stir it into the mixture.
Add the butter, continuing to stir, and the water or the stock. Bring to a boil, give it a good stir, turn off the heat, and leave it on the burner for about an hour for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pushing as much liquid through as possible.
If you have used whole shrimp, you might want to then take the solids and grind them in a food processor, then put through the sieve again, in order to extract all the flavor from the bodies. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, lift the congealed butter from the surface of the mixture, and heat it over very low heat. Save the remaining liquid for shrimp ‘n’ grits or soup. When the butter is melted, strain it again into an 8″ square cake pan and refrigerate again. When cold, cut into desired sizes and wrap well in foil for freezing.
A little of this melted butter over fish is exquisite. A little melted in a pan, with a few fresh, raw, peeled shrimp added makes a perfect topping for pasta, rice, or grits.
For the Shrimp Stock, see recipe April 3, 2008.
For the Bisque:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, diced
2 tablespoons diced carrot
a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf
2 pounds raw shrimp, preferably small, with heads
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons bourbon, rye, or brandy
5 cups shellfish stock, divided
2 tablespoons raw white rice
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne to taste
¼ cup cream
5 or 6 tablespoons Shrimp Butter (recipe above)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, carrot, and herbs, lower the heat, and cook slowly, covered, until they are soft. Add the shrimp, raise the heat, and stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the wine and the liquor and boil to reduce the liquid in half, another 2 or 3 minutes. Add about a cup of the stock and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. If your shrimp are large, you may remove them from the mixture at this point, peel them, and return the bodies to the pan. If small, omit this step.
Add the remaining stock, the rice, and the seasonings. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard the bouquet garni. If you have peeled the shrimp, you can purée the soup at this point. If you have left the shrimp whole, you may need to run the ingredients through a food mill or food processor. Or you can simply purée the mixture over and over, passing it through a fine sieve. I usually find that I end up puréeing it several times, and passing it through the finest mesh sieve I own.
When ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil, add theMadeira and cream and simmer for a few minutes to warm through. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved shrimp butter.
Lamb Shanks Braised in Wine
With the cooler weather, I prepared several braised dishes the past week, including the classic of lamb shanks in red wine. This is one of our favorite dinners, and it’s easy to do. Just let the meat cook slowly until it begins to fall from the bone. Don’t rush it. And, yes, you can use white wine as well. This is so simple and so delicious. Lemon zest, olives, and/or tomatoes can be added to the braise if you wish. Serve with grits, polenta, potates, or pasta.
4 lamb shanks weighing about 3/4 pound each
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
salt and black pepper
1 cup dry red or white wine
16 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Remove the excess fat from the outside of the lamb shanks.
Cover the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pan or a Dutch oven that has a tight-fitting lid with a film of olive oil and bring to medium high heat. Brown the shanks in the oil, remove from the pan, and set aside on a plate. Grind the mixed herbs with the salt and pepper in a spice mill or mortar and pestle and sprinkle over the shanks.
Add the onion to the oil and cook over medium heat until soft, about five minutes. Return the shanks and any liquid that has gathered on the plate to the pan. Add the wine and the garlic, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and allow to braise for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours, or until the lamb is perfectly tender and the meat has begun to fall from the bones. You can do this in a 325o oven as well. Remove the shanks to plates. Strain the liquid remaining in the pan, pressing as much of the cooked garlic through the sieve as possible. Return to the pan and reduce a little over medium high heat if necessary, and pour over the shanks.
Roasted Red Pepper Purée (from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)
My mother rarely ate bell peppers — green or red ripe — unless they were peeled. I vividly remember the day she discovered how easy they were to peel – and the added flavor — when they were roasted first. I use roasted peppers in pimiento cheese, Italian-style as a salad, and in this delicious purée for fried bean, crab, or fish cakes.
3 or 4 red ripe bell peppers
2 scallions, chopped — the white part and a little of the green
3/4 cup dry white wine
6 Italian flat-leaf parsley sprigs, finely minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
First, roast the peppers by placing them in a very hot oven or by applying direct heat to them, preferably an open flame such as a charcoal grill. You may place them under the broiler of your oven. Roast them until the skin blisters and turns black, turning them with tongs as the skin chars. Burn only the skin — not the flesh — of the peppers. Place them in a paper or plastic bag and fold down the top for a few minutes, so that the charred skins steam away from the flesh. After about ten minutes, when the peppers have cooled somewhat, remove them from the bag and place them on a cutting board. Peel away the skins, then seed them by pulling the stem end away from the pod. The seeds will usually pull out from the pepper with the stem.
Add the green onions to the white wine in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and reduce by one-half. Add the chopped parsley and the roasted, peeled, and seeded peppers, and purée the mixture until it is evenly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately.
One morning at Deb’s shop, the Taittinger reps and distributors came by with a vertical sampling of these great wines. As you readers know, I tend NOT to buy Champagne from the big houses because I have been finding marvelous Champagne made by grower-producers (“Récoltants-Manipulants”). The big houses tend to spend more money on marketing than on quality. But, I must say, the Taittinger wines are delicious, and, to their credit, the family still owns and operates the business.
Most of these wines are, frankly, too expensive for me, but for those of you who can afford them, go for them!
Prélude is actually affordable for a wine made exclusively from grands crus vines (There are only 17 grands crus in Champagne). It is blended from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir and is aged for four years. This is a classic Reims style sparkler, big and round and full of tiny bubbles with a long finish (other Reims producers are Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, and Ruinart).
Nocturne is Taittinger’s Sec, blended from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes from over 35 crus from the family’s 752 acres. It’s a delicate wine that Debbie called a perfect oyster wine, meant to be enjoyed on a perfect fall day with raw oysters, the way we often do in the Carolina lowcountry. I thought it would be nice with cheese straws. Whatever, you’ll want something salty with it.
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs
Now here’s a wine worth the splurge! Crafted from 100% Chardonnay grapes from the highest rated vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, this remarkable Champagne is produced only in exceptional years and made exclusively from the first pressings. 5% of the blend is aged for several months in wood. The wine is then aged nine to ten years before relase and retains astoundingly fruity aromas for such an older wine. Absolutely elegant and refined, as it should be at over $300/bottle!
Boy, did I pick the right time to go help Debbie!!!
When I left, she was working on a puzzle that my sister Nancy and niece Sarah brought by. I know she’ll be all right with her great attitude!
Tenderloin for a Buffet, Grilled or Baked, with Three Sauces
If I want a steak, I’ll always opt for more flavorful cuts, but the luxurious tenderloin is perfect for the buffet table, sliced and served with bread or rolls and a variety of sauces. Your guests will appreciate not only making their own sandwiches, but also being able to eat the tender meat with one hand, while standing. It is the quintessential “heavy hors d’oeuvre,” but the meat all but melts in your mouth. Preparing the meat for the table is simplicity itself. Recipes for three sauces follow the instructions for cooking the meat.
1 whole, peeled tenderloin (5 to 6 pounds), at room temperature
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Build a charcoal fire in a covered grill or preheat a gas grill to hot. The tenderloin should be trimmed of excess fat and the bluish-gray membrane called the silver skin. The fat-encased side strap should also be removed and cut up for use in stir-frys. If the tenderloin is not equal in size throughout, double the thin end up over itself and tie it so that the entire piece of meat is equally thick. If you have folks who like well-done meat, don’t tie up the end: The smaller loin tip will cook to be medium to well done, feeling firm to hard. Don’t worry about undercooking the meat; there will be meat cooked to please every palate. However, ask your guests first if everyone likes rare meat (most folks do); if so, tie that end up!
When the fire is medium hot, season the meat heavily with salt and pepper to taste and place on the grill. Cover the grill and cook the meat until well seared on one side, about 10 minutes, then turn the meat over, cover the grill again, and cook until well seared on the second side, 10 to 12 minutes. The center cut of the tenderloin should still be rare; when poked with a finger it should be soft, giving to the touch.
To roast the a whole tenderloin, preheat the oven to 500o and roast for 25 to 35 minutes, turning it every 8 minutes; rare meat will register 120oon a meat thermometer.
Remove the meat from the grill (or oven) to a platter and allow to cool for at least fifteen minutes. You can loosely cover the meat with foil if you want to serve it warm. The tenderloin may then be sliced and served at this point.
For a buffet, I like to pat the mushroom paste (below) all over the tenderloin, refrigerate it overnight, slice it the next day while it is still chilled, then serve it at room temperature. Garnish the plate with watercress, whip some of the mushrooms into softened butter, and serve with the mushroom butter, the watercress mayonnaise, and horseradish cream sauce.
Serves 8 as a main dish or 16 as part of a buffet.
Debbie Recommends: If roasted: Sauvigny-Les-Beaunes. If grilled: a soft Merlot.
For the mushroom paste and butter:
3 sticks (3/4 pound) butter
2 pounds mushrooms, chopped fine (See Note.)
1 pound shallots, minced
1/2 cup Madeira
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs, such as herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning,ground
1 teaspoon salt
Allow one of the sticks of butter to soften. Melt the other 2 sticks of the butter in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, the add the remaining ingredients and sauté until the mushrooms have given off most of their liquid, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
To make mushroom butter, beat the softened stick of butter until very light, then beat in some of the mushroom paste to taste. You may want to put the mushroom butter in a food processor for a finer texture. Serve alongside the tenderloin in ramekins.
Note: Ordinary champignons will do, but I like a mix of varieties. Truffles are an elegant addition, and you can intensify the flavor with the addition of 2 tablespoons of truffle paste, sold in squeeze tubes.
For the watercress mayonnaise:
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon prepared
1 cup olive oil
1 cup clean, dry watercress leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Put the egg, salt, and mustard in a blender and blend for about 20 seconds. Add the oil very slowly, in droplets at first, and blend until all of the oil has been bound with the egg mixture and the mayonnaise is thick and creamy. With the blender running, begin adding the watercress leaves a little at a time. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula, tasting the mayonnaise. You should continue adding the leaves and blending in until the mayonnaise has taken a cress flavor to suit your own palate (I use the entire cup). Add the lemon juice and blend briefly to incorporate.
Yields about 1-1/4 cups.
For the horseradish sauce:
You can use commercially prepared horseradish in this sauce if you must, but the flavor of freshly grated is much brighter.
1 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated horseradish
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
prepared mustard and/or hot sauce to taste (optional)
Whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold in the remaining ingredients, seasoning the horseradish sauce to taste.