Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pumpkin Pie, Shmumpkin Pie

Jason & I enjoyed our first Thanksgiving alone this year, which was seriously fantastic. Since I had to work the day before and the day after, we figured traveling or hosting would be too overwhelming. In addition to the obvious benefits of not having hosting duties (didn't shower till 2pm, yesssss) I was also free to NOT fix the usual Thanksgiving foods. I dislike pretty much all the "traditional" fixings--about the only things I usually enjoy at Thanksgiving are the rolls and the green salad.

No more of that! This year we had grilled salmon, quinoa pilaf, spinach salad with pomegranates, orange, hazelnuts and chevre, and salt-crusted rosemary potatoes. It was very low-maintenance and, best of all, I actually liked eating it. But the best part of throwing tradition out the window was the dessert:

Fudgy Orange-Chocolate Cake with homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Aaaaah! SO good. The cake was dense, slightly gooey, and darkly chocolatey with a citrus aroma and hints of cinnamon and spice. The ice cream was still soft and fragrant with real vanilla bean. I'm usually not a huge vanilla ice cream fan, but it was completely necessary in this dessert to cut the richness of the cake.

Fudgy Orange-Chocolate Cake
Makes one 6" cake

1 stick + 1 tbsp butter
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
zest of one orange
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. For best results, use a 6" cake pan with a removable bottom or a 6" springform pan. Place a round of parchment in the bottom, and spray the entire pan. Wrap two layers of foil around the outside of the pan to prevent water from the water bath from seeping in. Place a 9x9 pan in the oven and fill the pan with 1" of water, allow it to heat while you prepare the cake batter. (I like using a water bath, but you can omit that step and it'll still turn out okay).

Chop the chocolate in small pieces, and melt it with the butter in the microwave. Remove it from the microwave and allow it to cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and stir in the flour, zest and spices. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate and stir until it's smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the whites until they're stiff but not dry. Fold the whites into the chocolate and stir just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Place the pan in the prepared water bath in the oven, being careful not to get any water in the batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set in the center. Remove from the oven and carefully take out of the water bath. Allow the cake to cool for 1 hour, then place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours. The cake is best served at room temperature, so bring it out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to serve it.

Very Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (I use 1%)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1.5 cup cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla extract

Begin by slicing the vanilla pod in half lengthwise, and use the edge of a knife to scrape the seeds from the pod. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, vanilla seeds, milk, and 1/2 cup cream. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture simmers and has bubbles at the edges. Add a cup of the milk to the eggs, whisking quickly to avoid cooking the eggs. Pour the eggs back into the saucepan, continuing to whisk so that they do not cook. Add the remaining 1 cup of cream and cook, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (180 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into a tupperware container and place a layer of cling wrap directly on top of the custard so a skin doesn't form. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Pour the cooled custard into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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