Feb. 10th, 2008 @ 07:15 pm Mmmmm...culinary geekery
We had a terrific time at the Weird Food Party last night. Both shoes_the_dog and I stuffed ourselves completely. It is so easy to over-eat when you are just nibbling little bites of things...for four hours.

My favorites were the medievel "gingerbread" recipe (I have got to get that recipe to kaelisinger,) and zellita's savory hot-pepper cheesecake, which proved once and for all that cheesecake is divine with or without sugar. The things shoes_the_dog liked best were the avocado icecream and the little dried whole crabs from Japan.

My favorite part of the evening was all the wonderful conversation about food chemistry and precisely how things work at the molecular level. That, and my boy behaving wonderfully and having so much fun he didn't want to leave.

It seems like every year a theme emerges by synchronicity. This year it was "savory desert-foods and sweet savory-dishes." In addition to my Savory Lemon Cake (below), there was zellita's savory cheese cake; a ganache spiced with black pepper, red pepper, and other savory spices; avocado icecream; spaghetti with chocolate "meatballs" and raspberry "pasta sauce"; little tuna "candies"; a syrup with red chilis and cilantro; and a variety of sweetened dried crabs and fishes to snack on.

Savory Lemon Cake

Usually, I know what I'm bringing months in advance, but this year I was fresh out of inspiration. Friday after I picked up shoes_the_dog, I asked him for ideas. He suggested a strange cake of some sort, and after musing out loud for a few minutes, decided on a savory cake with tomatos in it, with an unsweetened lemon-basil frosting.

I picked up some ingredients, including a packet of "meat loaf seasoning" that was one of the few gravy-type mixes that didn't have meat products in it. Then I went home to try to figure out how to make cake and frosting without sugar. I looked through recipes for a while before I decided that I needed more knowledge of what exactly sugar does in a recipe. I looked up the chemistry on the internet, and came up with some ideas for workable substitutions. Then, just on the off chance, I Googled "savory cake" and came up with this website. She holds a recipe contest every month, and last year's April theme was "savory cakes". I read every recipe, and some were way off the mark: everything from meat pies to creations that resembled quiche to corn bread under another name. I wanted a light, fluffy cake that could pass as a desert until you bit in to it. One recipe, the Olive Oil Cake, looked promising. I tweaked it a little bit then made a teste batch. Blah! The texture was good, but as I suspected, substituting salt for a large amount of the sugar made it too salty to eat more than a bite or two of. This did confirm, however, that the seasoning packet I had chosen was just right, and that I was on the right track.

Next up was to attempt to make frosting. I had bought cream for a ganache-type frosting, but I didn't want to do chocolate. I knew that you could substitute 3 Tbsp cocoa powder + 1 Tbsp oil for an ounce of chocolate, so I thought a bit about what other powder could stand in for the cocoa, and decided to try corn starch. Bad idea! Corn starch is in no way like cocoa powder. *laugh* I finely powdered some basil in a pestle, mixed it with the corn starch, brought the cream to a boil, and started whisking in corn starch. I actually only used half the alloted amount, because I quickly realized that it would solidify. Which it did. I ended up with a solid gelatinous mass that antirrhinum_m declared to be the color and flavor of baby oatmeal.

I made a few alterations to both recipes, and my next two attempts were much better. In fact, those were the ones I brought last night. Were I to do it over, I would cut down even further on the salt in the cake. Below, I present the recipe as it should be, with less salt and seasoning.

1 1/4 C sifted w/w pastry flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 C corn meal
4 tsp meat loaf seasoning packet
2 eggs (room temperature)
1/4 C sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 C olive oil
3/4 C milk
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Handful of chopped sun-dried tomatos
2 egg whites

Pre-heat oven to 350. Spray a 9" round pan with non-stick coating. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, corn meal, and seasoning mix in a medium bowl. In a seperate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, and salt. Whisk oil and milk into eggs. In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Whisk wet mixture into dry mixture until it is well mixed, but do not over-mix. Fold lemon zest, lemon juice, and tomatos into batter. Fold egg whites into batter. Pour into pan and bake on a rack in the lower third of the oven for 35 minutes (check with toothpick method.) Cool for 30 minutes in pan before removing. Cool completely before frosting.

1 C heavy cream
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 C mildly-flavored cooking oil
2 tsp corn starch
1/8 tsp basil
2 tsp lemon powder
4 drops yellow food coloring
rind of two lemons

Grind the basil to a powder in a pestle and mix with corn starch. Pour cream into a sauce pan and bring slowly to a low boil, stirring often. With an electric beater on low, beat egg yolks into cream, then beat in oil. Sprinkle 1 tsp of the corn starch over the top and beat in. Do the same with 1 tsp of the lemon powder, then the rest of the corn starch, then the rest of the lemon powder. Remove from heat, cover, let sit ten minutes. Beat on low for five to ten minutes until cream thickens, scraping sides occasionally with a rubber spatula. (If the mixture starts to seperate, stop beating and proceed to next step.) Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until ready to use. Remove from fridge and beat on low until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. It will not get as fluffy as whipped cream, but it should become smooth and spreadable, not runny, as air is incorporated. This can be refrigerated for a bit until you are ready to frost the cake. You may need to beat it a little bit more after you take it out again if you do so, but do not over-beat or it will fall apart into granules.

Place cake on tray. Spread frosting smoothly over the top and sides of the cake. Use a "Y" bladed serrated/julienne-style vegetable peeler to cut long thin strips of peel from the lemons. Make these as long as possible, and run the peeler around the lemon as you go so that the strips naturally curl. Arrange the curls of lemon peel in loops and spirals in a pleasing pattern on the top of the cake, pressing them lightly into the frosting to make them stick.

The Result

I actually think this cake would make a good dinnner. It was light enough to call a cake, but the savory flavors put one in mind of cornbread. The frosting was essential, as its light tangy flavor and rich moist texture perfectly balanced the rich spicy flavor and dry crumbly texture of the cake. In fact, since the cake was a bit too thick to eat every bite with frosting, I might try slicing the cake in half, doubling the amount of frosting I made, and doing it as a layer cake. But over-all...yum. 3/4 of the cake were eaten last night, even with a bit too much salt, so I didn't do too badly. (The picture above was taken the next day, after it had sat out at the party and then sat in the fridge all day. It settled and became more dense than when it started out.)
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Date:February 13th, 2008 06:00 am (UTC)
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What a great theme for a party! I'll have to introduce one to my friends...