Recently, a very inventive friend of mine had an important birthday. To celebrate, she invited a dozen women friends to the Sur La Table store on Chicago's Michigan Avenue for a sous vide cooking demonstration and supper.
Sous vide, as many of you know, is the form of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic bag and vacuum sealed. The sealed bag, is then placed in a thermal circulator where it "cooks" in a hot water bath for a prescribed period of time, producing extremely tender and vibrantly flavorful food. Cooking time for sous vide can range from seconds to many hours, depending on what is being cooked. While French chefs have been practicing this style of cooking for close to 30 years, one doesn't see much of it in U.S, restaurants much less the home kitchen. Sous vide equipment is trés cher.
Supper, prepared by Chef Carolyn Coppolo, featured a Beef Wellington entree in which beef medallions, cooked sous vide for an hour plus, are then quickly sautéed before being placed on puff pastry and topped with cremini mushroom duxelles. A sprinkling of black truffle salt is applied and the pastry is then gathered at the top into little purses. After baking in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, the Wellingtons emerge crisp and golden, the meat a perfect medium-rare — no "sog" in sight.
Given the expense of the equipment, while the sous vide method for Beef Wellington might be a little much even for the experienced home cook, this recipe for spiced pumpkin cake, which ended our meal, is certainly doable if you like baking and own a stand mixer. I suppose you could make it with a hand-held number, but that's too laborious for me.
SPICED PUMPKIN CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
(8 small servings)
Extremely rich - a thin slice is all one will need of this delectable autumnal cake.
3 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree, unsweetened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger, salt, allspice and cloves. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together sugar and oil until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is well incorporated. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla and beat again until well blended.
With the motor on, gradually add dry ingredients, mixing each time until just incorporated.
Divide batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until the center is set.
Cool completely in pans on a rack and then turn out the cakes.
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons water
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
Chop chocolate and place in a metal bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan filled (by one-third) with simmering water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted. Turn off the heat but keep bowl over the warm water.
In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Wash down the sides with a pastry brush. Bring to a boil and cook to 248 degrees on a candy thermometer.
In a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until you have stiff peaks. Reduce speed to medium-low and carefully pour in the hot sugar. Increase the speed to medium and whip until slightly cooled.
Add the butter, one piece at a time, to the warm meringue until the butter is fully incorporated. With a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt until well-combined. Buttercream should be smooth and glossy. Use to lavishly frost the spiced pumpkin layer cake.