Monday, December 12, 2011

"Not Carrot Cake" and an Eleven Madison Park Cookbook Review

My obsession with Danny Meyer is no secret, which is why I jumped at the chance to review the recently released cookbook from his most upscale restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. The book itself is beyond beautiful. The words "food porn" would best describe its contents. Each and every photo lavishly depicts over 160 reasons why a trip to Eleven Madison Park is well worth the price. There is a LOT of work that goes into each dish. While the book can appear to be very daunting, a guide entitled "How To Use This Book" introduces readers to the world inside. Chef Daniel Humm admits that it will likely remain on one's coffee table if you are not an avid cook, and most home cooks may choose to make parts of recipes as opposed to creating each and every component of the recipes. He assures readers that every recipe has been tested multiple times, to ensure success, and even offers an email address you can contact if you have questions or problems. It's like he's taking you by the hand! I love that. Every fine dining cookbook should include such a safety net, if you will, because God knows when recipes can be as elaborate as these, there will be floods of questions to follow.

I was intrigued by a mignardise recipe for carrot macarons, and decided that would be the recipe I tested out. I had never really attempted macarons before, but had heard horror stories from others. They are not the most reliable cookies to make, trust me. Although I followed every step as best as I could, my macarons were a serious failure. For one thing, the recipe used only 1 tsp. of water to make a sugar slurry to start cooking my sugar. I think this was not nearly enough water (in culinary school we used a lot more), and it made my sugar cook very unevenly and start to caramelize in places before most of the sugar had even melted. This may have been my biggest error. The macarons ended up in the garbage, but the carrot curd that was intended to fill these French nightmares was sublime, truly a unique creation. I needed to find another use for it, and that I did.

A basic stand-by (and highly recommended!) recipe for white cake was the perfect vessel for the carrot curd. I used it as a filling in between thin layers of moist, lightly sweet, spongy cake. A spiced cinnamon cream cheese frosting finished off my creation. While it vaguely mimicked the flavors of carrot cake, it was simpler and far less sugary. A beautiful presentation of white layers broken up by bright orange was a whimsical interpretation of carrot cake. While I can't imagine it being served at a place like Eleven Madison Park, I hope the folks there can appreciate how I took my lemons (carrot curd that would be unusable for my macarons) and turned them into lemonade (a pretty freaking delicious cake, if I may say so myself). My family couldn't get enough of it! I'm adding it to my cake arsenal for all time.

And for the record, I do look forward to attempting more recipes (or at least components of recipes) from the book as soon as I have more time to play in the kitchen. It's a lovely book, a labor of love, and at the very least one of the most beautiful and well-written ones that I own. I appreciate the time and energy that went into writing it. I would recommend it for lovers of Eleven Madison Park, but certainly beware that the recipes not only require serious kitchen skills and some difficult to find and/or expensive ingredients, but more time in the kitchen than most average people can afford to dedicate. I hope this won't dissuade anyone from trying, though :) And if you ever feel lost, you can reach out through the world wide web and have your questions answered. Now that's something I can really get behind.

Not Carrot Cake
Makes 1 (9-inch) layer cake
(Carrot Curd recipe adapted from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook and White Cake recipe adapted from Desserts by the Yard)

Carrot Curd:
1 3/4 cups carrot juice
1 cup diced carrots
4 large eggs
1/2 cup + 2 T. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 package (1/4 oz) unflavored gelatin
1 T. water
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

White Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 T. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese (or Neufchatel), at room temperature
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon

For the carrot curd: Combine 1 1/4 cups of the carrot juice and the diced carrots in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the carrots are tender and some of the juice is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Puree in a blender with the remaining 1/2 cup carrot juice until smooth. Chill over ice.

In a metal bowl, combine the carrot puree, eggs, sugar, and salt. Cook in a double boiler, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F. Bloom the gelatin in 1 T. cold water until softened. Stir some of the warm carrot mixture into the gelatin to dissolve completely, and then add to the remaining carrot mixture. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of eggs that may have scrambled. Cool the mixture over ice to 105 degrees F. Using a hand blender or whisk (if you want the workout), blend in the softened butter a little at a time until smooth. Cool completely and refrigerate until needed.

For the cakes: Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat over medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, add a third of the flour mixture, half of the milk, then another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and finally the rest of the flour. Beat only until smooth. Scrape into the prepared pans, smoothing out the tops.

Bake for 30 minutes, switching the pans from front to back halfway through. To test the cake for doneness, lightly touch the top with a finger--it should spring right back into place. It should also slightly pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. If necessary, bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto the rack and remove the pans. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

For the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and cinnamon and beat until combined.

When the cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to cut each cake into two even layers. If your cakes have domed, first carefully trim off the domes with a serrated knife, and then divide the cakes into layers. Whisk together the carrot curd to smooth it out (it will be quite firm right out of the fridge so it wouldn't hurt to leave it out for a few minutes before using it). Spread 1/3 of the curd over one of the cake layers using an offset spatula, spreading it just barely to the edge of the cake. Top with another cake later and repeat with 1/3 of the curd. Repeat with another cake later and the remaining curd. Finally top with the last cake layer.

Make sure that none of the curd is squeezing out of the sides. If it is, smooth it out with your spatula. Using a clean offset spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake with the cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Chill the cake to help the frosting and filling set. The cake slices more neatly when it is cold, but I suggest letting the cake/slices sit out briefly to remove some of the chill before indulging. It will allow the frosting (and the rest of the cake) to soften back up a bit to the perfect temperature for consumption.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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