Thanksgiving has come and gone, and all I have to show for it is some leftover stuffing that I'm portioning out slowly into tiny servings. Because I love it so. Our Thanksgiving is the same every year. I'm in charge of the pies. Mark and I pile everything into the car and head to my parents' house for 12-24 hours of solid eating, after which no one really has room for pies. We put up a brave front anyway and soldier on through some slivers of the sugary holiday goodness. I end the evening by saying something to the effect of, "I can never eat again. I have sworn off food for eternity. Please don't make me go to Orphan Thanksgiving at John and Susann's. Please no, I can't move and I never want to see food again".
We then pile back into the car, head into Austin and, despite my vocal protests, drive straight to John and Susann's for our second Thanksgiving. Once there I walk straight to the kitchen and, because I love a challenge, I fill another plate with whatever scraps of stuffing I can find. I devour it as if I've not eaten in days and then head into the den where a small crowd of people are taking turns playing Rock Band. I politely wait until the current song is over and then I ask to sing. For the next several hours, with only intermittent breaks, I entertain throngs of delighted onlookers with my singing and dancing song stylings. Thanksgiving's just not Thanksgiving if I don't end it by losing my voice.
I do feel some tiny twinges of remorse for hogging the microphone. Somewhere deep deep in the recesses of my mind I realize that perhaps playing audience to my singing and dancing musical holocaust isn't the way most people want spend an evening with friends. I know this. But they keep inviting me back to Orphan Thanksgiving, so I keep slaughtering the classics. It's tradition, and who doesn't love that?
My obliteration of all things musical began years ago. In college my roommates and I would rent karaoke machines for parties. To our delight we were able to rent them for an entire week preceding the party, without any extra cost. Monday afternoon we'd head to Rock 'n Roll Rentals, pick up our karaoke machine and about 20 CDs of our all time favorite karaoke hits. For the next four days we'd sing. We skipped class for it. We sang for hours. We choreographed dances to our favorite songs and orchestrated duets. We sang until our voices we raw. By the time the party time rolled around we were all sung out. We did this for our friends so that once the party began it wasn't us hogging the mike... and better yet, it wasn't us singing when the neighbors came complaining about the noise at 3AM and it wasn't us singing when the cops closed the party down an hour later. It wasn't meant to work out that way, but it always did.
I try to make it up to people as best I can. I offer food, as if in trade for destroying the songs that so many people hold dear. Our college parties were catered by yours truly. I made corn dogs and I made pies, I dabbled in Indian food and I tried to make all things vegan. These days I bring cakes to parties and bottles of wine. On Tuesday Susann will be the proud owner of a test loaf of one of my Christmas breads. It is a peace offering. It's an apology for our failed Rolling Stones duet. It's my mea culpa for that Alice in Chains song. And it's also my way of trying to score an invitation to next year's musical annihilation (provided by yours truly).
I'd like to share with you a recipe I recommend if you too attend parties only to clear the room when it's your turn to sing. It's sure to win hearts and minds and perhaps even make people forget what happened to their ears and to their favorite song. It's this month's Daring Bakers challenge.
As I've mentioned a few times already, I like a challenge... and as you've probably guessed by now, I like to bake. This month the challenge was Shuna Fish Lydon's Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Despite the many warnings I came across when reading about this recipe, I realized my worries were all for naught. Caramelizing sugar can be tricky, browning butter makes me fidgety and apparently mixing the batter was supposed to put your nerves on edge... but it all came together beautifully. I made cupcakes and divided them among a few friends and my office mates. They were literally inhaled. This is a decadent recipe, intensely sweet, yet balanced by the rich, decadent cake.
Thank you to Shuna for the recipe I'm so glad I tried and to the challenge hosts — Dolores (Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity) and her helpers Alex (Blondie and Brownie), Jenny (Foray Into Food), and Natalie (Gluten-A-Go-Go). Also, thank you to the geniuses behind the Daring Bakers': Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis (La Mia Cucina) for organizing this whole thing. It was a delicious experiment! Want the recipe??
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites
For the cake
10 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter one tall (2 - 2.5" deep) 9" cake pan. I made cupcakes... that works well too.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt, and cream the mixture until light and fluffy.
Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
Sift flour and baking powder.
Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. (This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter. Don't shortcut here, it will ruin the cake)
Take bowl off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.
Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cupcakes cook a little quicker, so check them often. Cool cake completely before icing it.
Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.
For the caramel syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.)
Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.
For the caramelized butter frosting:
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 Tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 Tbsp caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.
When frosting the cake or cupcakes sprinkle salt on top. It really helps cut the sweetness nicely.