Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Meat-sterpiece

           Please excuse my hiatus. I’ve been recovering from a work-related back injury for the past few weeks. Some of that time I was so doped up on painkillers and muscle relaxers I couldn’t even read due to dizziness- let alone bake or write. As of today I finally feel like my life is starting to get back to my version of normal. After three weeks of sitting on the couch watching enough awful daytime TV to last a lifetime, I’ve never been so excited to get back to working retail!
            As excited as I might be, my return to work has been bittersweet. As I came back in, a co-worker of mine was on his way out. For the last 17 years, since the inception of the Beaverton store, Eric has been a vital and cherished part of our little Trader Joe’s community. I’ve had the pleasure of working at this location, with Eric and the rest our awesome crew, for the past two years. I write the deli order. Eric wrote the meat order. That means I was incredibly lucky to have worked within 8ft of Eric every morning, for the first four hours of our shifts, for last year.
            To say Eric’s a hard-worker is an understatement. He always has everyone’s back and best interests at heart. He’s helped me out on a daily basis, whether it was helping to stock the overabundance of dips I ordered (even though that was his least favorite task) or answering one of my questions about a re-merchandising project we planned together. And it wasn’t just me; he would do whatever needed doing for anyone if only you’d ask. And he did everything with a positive attitude (even when cleaning up spilled chicken juices or fish funk) and made everyone laugh with his off-the-wall puns.
            We (as in the entire crew, minus Eric) planned to send him off in a big way. We decided we needed to celebrate all his contributions with not one going away cake, but four DAYS of cake.  We had 5 cakes, fresh focaccia, cheesecake pie, and a whole bunch of doughnuts.  I think that’s one sweet kudos.
            When my turn came to make a cake I decided meaty was the way to go. I made a red velvet cake to resemble our 90/10 grass-fed ground beef. It’s four layers (two-batches of the recipe below) baked in a 12”x17”x1” sheet pan and cut to the size of the container I found at the dollar store.
The cake.
The inspiration.


It’s topped with traditional and super simple cream cheese frosting. I made the labels with my trusty colored pencils: instead of watching the Super Bowl this year I was writing meat puns Eric would be proud of. I used everyday saran wrap to cover the container and taped the corners with packing tape to give the illusion of a vacuum seal.


I think this gives a whole new meaning to the term beefcake!
           
Red Velvet Cake:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ Tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup reduced-fat buttermilk (remove from fridge 20 min before beginning)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (melted)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs (room temperature)
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Red food coloring

1.     Preheat your oven to 350°.
2.     Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
3.     Mix together melted butter, vegetable oil, and sugar for about four minutes. If you have a standing mixer leave the mixer on at level 4 or 5 through the next two steps.
4.     With the mixer on add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined, only turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides as necessary.
5.     With the mixer still on add the vinegar, the vanilla and the food coloring. You can add as much or as little food coloring as you like- I used a quarter-teaspoon of the concentrated gel coloring in Christmas red, to give it a nice raw-beefy look.
6.     Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides.
7.     Turn the mixer on and add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour.
8.     You can bake this recipe in two, pre-greased, 9” round or square cake pans for 28-30 minutes. For this particular cake I doubled the recipe, and I baked it in two 12”x17”x1” sheet pans (aka jelly roll pans). If using a sheet pan(s) line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease the pan. The parchment paper comes in handy with the thinner more delicate layers because, once you cut the cake to size (I cut mine in half width wise to make two layers from each pan) you can cut the paper down the middle and lift the layers out of the pan on the paper, helping to prevent breaking. I baked each sheet pan of cake for 23 minutes, but check for doneness between 18-24 minutes as ovens vary. In either circumstance the cake is done when you can insert a toothpick into the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.



Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8oz package of cream cheese (softened)
1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Red and brown food coloring

1.     Mix together the cream cheese and butter until soft and fluffy.
2.     Add vanilla.
3.     With the mixer on add powdered sugar a cup at a time.
4.     With this cake I doubled the frosting recipe as well, and to get that rich red color I used a half-teaspoon of the concentrated gel food coloring in Christmas red as well as an 1/8 tsp of brown concentrated gel to darken the overall hue.

Frosting and Piping:
1.     Frost between layers of the cake as you assemble.
2.     Do a thick crumb coat of frosting on the top and sides of the layered cake. Reserve enough frosting to fill at least two piping bags in order to make the stringy-beefy-topping. Place the cake in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before piping.
3.     You can use any size simple round-opening piping tip you feel appropriate. You simply make a mostly straight line from one end to the other and repeat, several times until the entire top of the cake is covered. By placing the cake in a tub-like container, as I did, you don’t have to worry about piping the sides, you really can’t see them in the finished product.
4.     You can vary the definition of the lines by the temperature of the frosting. If you want a thick, less defined, wavy quality to the visual texture of the lines do not refrigerate the reserve frosting. For a thinner, super defined texture refrigerate the reserve frosting with the cake before piping.

Two tips:
1.     Place a dollop of frosting on the bottom of the tub, then, place the first layer of cake inside. This prevents the cake from shifting.
2.     To keep the edges of the tub clean while frosting the crumb layer, line the sides of the tub with four separate pieces of wax paper before putting the first layer of cake on the bottom. Simply pull the wax paper away when you’re done frosting. Sorry I didn’t take a picture of this extra step; next time.

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