Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sundays with Sparky: Lemon Meringue Cake - Chicken Optional

This week marked a "big" wedding anniversary for my husband and I. Truthfully, I'd have forgotten it like I usually do, but the Bloggess posted that she is only a year ahead of us, (note - links slightly NSFW.  Unless you have ready access to zoo animals and are handy with soap and mouth-washings, maybe not for kids, either.) and I realized that we had a milestone to celebrate. I ran to check the wedding invitation a prescient friend had framed as a gift for us...yep, we're there.

According to the Bloggess (one of my favorite sites for wackiness and irreverence,) the Hubs and I have reached the Giant-Metal-Chicken milestone in our marriage; it's sort of like leveling up. After some deliberation, I determined that we're too urban to have outdoor giant chickens - there's a chicken ordinance, you know. So I set out to find a Not-So-Giant-Indoor-Metal-Chicken.

Being me, I thought baking a cake and putting a Giant Anniversary Chicken on top would be just the way to show my beloved how delightfully the years have whizzed past. So I poked around the depths of the internet for several days...and found...a clockwork chicken kitchen timer (say that six times fast.) Not metal, but it's standing on top of a metal gearbox decorated with a farmhouse scene. If the farmhouse represents the scale, then IRL my chicken could totally obliterate Beyoncé the chicken - even without a shiv.


I couldn't show Sparky the site because I don't want to explain that particular knock-knock joke to his school principal, so I gave him a G-rated version of the Beyoncé the chicken story, with a focus on the importance of towel shopping. Together, we excitedly opened the box containing Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé and wound it up. Sadly, our chicken is not an egg timer (does that tell us it came first?) but an hour-long timer. He/she/it clucked around the circle sloooooowly. Laziest. Chicken. Ever.

Sparky: "That's not clucking, it's TICKING. Besides, roosters don't cluck, CHICKENS do!"
Me: "Sexist! Roosters can cluck if they want to!"
Sparky: (purposely ignoring me and diving for the table)"It's a BOMB!  I only have a few seconds left!"(readjusts the timer) "Now it's OK."
Me: "It's easy to thwart the chicken."

At this point, Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé's time ran out, and he/she/it gave a sickly, gargled-sounding buzz...kind of like the bird was choking on a gigantic cicada. Sparky and I fell over laughing, and he agreed to help me cook: clearly this was going to be the best anniversary EV-AH.(Coincidentally, this is the only anniversary I think we've celebrated. I don't think Sparky even knew we had one.)

So, I needed an appropriately lovely cake to put underneath this miniaturized behemoth poultry...and for that, I went to Martha Stewart. Logically.

(Can I just say? I...don't really like Martha Stewart. All that perfection and "best" ingredients and clean pinafores, and, well "good" - it's totally annoying. I'd like her a lot better if she got a neck tattoo - maybe of a chicken.  So to get back at her I played fast and loose with the ingredients and method, and came out with a cake that's a little more street, but dandy for holding up a bird.)

So there.

1 cup plain old all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large ordinary eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup superfine sugar, separated (or you can whizz ordinary sugar in the blender)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Zest from 2 clementines or 1 orange
Zest from 1 lemon
4 tablespoons of whatever citrussy juice you have open at the time; we happened to have Mango lemonade.
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cream of tartar

Lemon Curd  (Note: if using homemade, make this first and cool completely.  You can use Martha's recipe here, or use my unnecessarily lower-fat recipe with clementines. We made hers, but this post is far too long already.) You can easily buy a jar of the stuff, it's a fine thing. Or good. Or whatever.

Swiss Meringue
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 pinch cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

One day ahead of time, make the cake and make or buy the lemon curd. I am guessing that, like me, most of you don't appreciate cake recipes that use five or six bowls. Sadly, probably because Martha has minions who do it for her, this is a washing-up-heavy recipe. (I only have one minion, and he makes me do the dishes.) I wasn't looking forward to cleaning the kitchen, but a slight alteration in the method - switching the order you beat the eggs - does cut down your washing-up.  It also means you have to be prepared and work fast, though.

I didn't use a tube pan, but I did use a very small 6" springform pan with high sides, so I didn't lose volume in the center of my cake. I can't recommend this recipe without this pan. I also didn't read the directions properly, and parchment-papered the bottom of my pan and then greased and floured it instead of using an ungreased pan. We seem to have come through OK, but you can always call Martha and check with her.

004First, put your dry ingredients together. Sift the flour like Martha says if you must; this time we did, but I prefer to lightly fluff the flour with a whisk and then scoop and sweep as usual. So, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.  Or sift it like Sparky did.  Either way.

006Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Prepare your wet ingredients: separate your eggs - you can do the squeeshy way: crack an egg in your hand and let the whites drip through your fingers.  Keep the whites in a largeish bowl as you will need a place for them to live after they're whipped. (Yes, you're making that bowl dirty...but you don't have to wash your mixing bowl and your whisk attachment! It's better than nothing!) Put the oil in a large cup-measure and add the two zests to it. Measure out your juices together into another cup, and then measure all your remaining cake ingredients and have it all handy.

Put the egg whites in the mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar and whip until foamy. Add the 1/4 cup of sugar gradually, and beat until they are glossy and white and form stiff peaks. Put it back into your bowl of holding and set aside.

Dump the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in your mixer (without cleaning it! See?!) and whisk until pale yellow in color. Stream in the oil and lemon zest and keep beating until it's a fluffy mass. Alternately add the flour (turn off the mixer and then turn to low to avoid white-lung disease and cleaning your ceiling) and the juices in a couple additions, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice.

Fold the whites into the yolks, starting with a small amount at first and then adding the remainder and keeping as much volume as possible, and then pour into your prepared...or not prepared...pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out with fudgy lemony crumbs. (Per her instructions, Martha apparently prefers her cakes hard and dry as foretold by a clean skewer. I'm all about moist.Your call.)  Cool in the pan, and then unmold, leaving the bottom of your springfold pan and the parchment on the cake.

022Slice the cake into three even rounds, and remove two layers to a plate. Spread the layer with well-cooled lemon curd, and top with the next layer. Spread with curd, top with the next layer, and then poke a skewer through the center and cut it so it's flush with the top of the cake.

029(We used three, extra stabilization for Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé, who is no lightweight) Don't forget to remove these when you serve, but they will keep the layers from slipping when you frost the cake. And hold up any chickens. Refrigerate overnight.

Swiss meringue offers the stability and smoothness of a cooked meringue without the fear of working with scalding liquid sugar (like an Italian meringue.) Start this part of the recipe an hour or so before serving. I changed the Martha recipe because of a personal pet peeve: she uses 3 egg yolks for the lemon curd and made a 4-egg-white meringue.  ^*$#! Until I can buy eggs with no yolks, I'm not playin' - so I adjusted the recipe.

We still wound up with leftover meringue - I guess Martha uses the overage to feed her minions while they hand-wash all her bowls.

030We first "marked" where Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé's edges were by placing him/her/it on top and sprinkling the whole thing with sugar. You can skip this step if you don't need to plan for a chicken perch.

036Next, we preheated the oven to 400 degrees in preparation to set the final product.

I put the bowl of the mixer over a pot of boiling water, dumped in the 3 egg whites, the 3/4 cup of sugar, the cream of tartar and slosh of vanilla (I admit, I don't measure vanilla) and whisked by hand like mad until the sugar melted and the whole thing was a white goopy mass (it felt like my arm was going to fall off.) I then put the bowl back on the machine and let the mixer finish whipping until they were glossy and held stiff peaks.  Then I said thank-you to the universe for mechanical engineering and electricity and got an ice pack for my arm.

We set the cake, still on its base, on a small cookie sheet. Sparky smothered the whole thing with meringue, except for the space we left for Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé's pedestal.


It went into the oven until the meringue browned lightly (watch it carefully, it happens in minutes) and then we allowed it to cool slightly and put Mini-Mondo-Beyoncé' in his/her/its place.

Happy Anniversary, MF!

(Seriously.  He's totally a good sport.  Plus he gets my jokes.)

"Action" shots, taken a surprisingly long time apart.





I look forward to more decades-and-a-half of good humor and shared meals, my love!



Mary said...

Excellent post, Michele. Love the link to Blogess. Happy anniversary!

Michele Hays said...

Thanks for reading, Mary! (I do love the Blogess)

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