I know "late summer cooking" probably doesn't mean cake after cake for most people, but Andrew's birthday is in August, and Bee's was this weekend. Cakes, special dinners, loaves of bread, complicated shopping. That chocolate bundt was Andrew's birthday. I finally made the tunnel of fudge riff from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It was good but not spectacular. His dinner was a fish soup with aioli that deserves its own post.
Thanks to the stone-fruit guy at our farmers' market, Bee has developed a passion for plums. For a while, every time I asked her if she would sit down and eat (breakfast/lunch/dinner) with me, she would simply turn her face up to mine and hopefully say, "pum?" Now the food obsession has been transferred to corn on the cob, but before the shift we made this plum cake from Food52, thanks to a tip from my mother. It was scrumptious despite some fiddling on my part--I was out of AP flour and so substituted whole wheat pastry flour; I had crème fraîche and so used that instead of sour cream; and I baked it in a 9-inch ceramic pie dish instead of trying to squeeze it into my 8-inch cake pans. Mmmm, I am craving a piece of this cake now.
I thought a lot about what kind of cake to make for Bee. Last year's effort was outstanding, if I do say so, but I figure that before she can voice a distinct preference I'll keep experimenting to suit myself. I had Alicia's cake in mind and knew Bee would like Elmo and chocolate. I've been dying to try Angry Chicken's homemade box cake, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to make a birthday cake with oil instead of butter. Finally I fell back on a cake I made a lot when I first started cooking in my early(ish) 20s in New York, Nigella Lawson's chocolate birthday cake from How to Eat. You don't need to cream the butter and sugar, which made it perfect those days, when the only mixer I had was a wooden spoon powered by my arm. As I stirred it together, I remembered that the last time I made it it was too dry. (Actually, that was one of my favorite birthday meals of all time. For Andrew's birthday one year, I made a reservation at a good steakhouse but decided that we would only eat meat there. They are the meat experts, but I can make a better tomato salad and chocolate cake at home. So we had gorgeous tomatoes and big margaritas at home, perfect steaks and some creamed spinach at the restaurant, and an unfortunately dry chocolate cake back at home when we were full enough not to care.) I wanted white frosting, so instead of the called-for chocolate ganache I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's white chocolate ganache, which is basically whipped cream stiffened with melted white chocolate.
The white chocolate ganache was good on its own terms--I've finally admitted that I don't really like buttercream, despite its enchanting name--but I'm afraid a key to this cake's success is the good, glossy dark chocolate ganache recommended by Nigella. Either that or my tastes have just changed too much. Half of this cake is still under a dome on my counter, and outstanding cake just doesn't stick around that long. We had gone to Sugar 'n Spice, a wonderful no-frills store for all things cake and candy, for the sprinkles, toxic red icing, glittery candles, and plastic Elmo decorations. It says "2B," not twenty-eight. At home I realized that my decorating tips were not compatible with the fat icing tube, so whatever I spelled would have to be short and sweet. (She turned two; the third candle is to grow on.)
Dinner on Bee's birthday was duck legs roasted with mustard, which I correctly wagered she'd like, and corn on the cob, which I knew would be a hit. Luisa posted this recipe with chicken legs, and then I re-posted it on Serious Eats. It is good with chicken; it is TO DIE FOR with duck, and still a total snap to make. A few weeks ago I had asked Bee what she wanted to eat on her birthday, and she said, "Beans. Toast. Cheese. Wine!" I bought a favorite standby plonk, La Vieille Ferme, to honor her current interest in Old MacDonald, but in the end she stuck to milk. Wise girl.
Sometimes we eat well even when no birthday is being celebrated; here's a poularde pochee Henri IV we whipped up two weekends ago. Andrew and I chopped all the vegetables while Bee stuck parsley and a lemon down her shirt. It was a group effort and it was lovely, but I can't share the recipe yet.
The day after Bee's birthday two couples came to celebrate, and I finally made Oliver Strand's yeasted pizza dough with overnight rise from the New York Times last spring. It did not change my life, and I'm wondering if anyone else has had this experience or where I went wrong. I expected it to blow my regular pizza crust out of the water, and it didn't. Is it possiblethat this is a testament to the quality of my regular pizza crust? [*UPDATE* I made the same dough again, but with a slightly different rising strategy and kneading by hand instead of using the stand mixer. I think I should have worked in even more flour (probably a difference between his testing the recipe in New York in the winter and my making it in San Francisco in the "summer"), but I also think the main problem is my patting-out method. In this second batch, the best pizza was one I made with enough dough for two pizzas, which I forced up to be a bit thicker at the edges (my previous pizzas were even thickness throughout). Anyway, in the slightly thicker crust pizza I could sense some distant kinship to really excellent crust. Now I need to cruise the internet for more tips, and I need to try his version from soudough starter.]
What did astound me once again was Molly's butterscotch pots de creme. Oh my gracious. I try not to say this often on the internet, but run, don't walk.