A Strawberry Bejeweled Birthday Cake

It seems like ages since my sister Ingrid and I were last able to celebrate a birthday together.  This year though, she came to visit Peter and me only a few days after her birthday, which is close enough to require serious celebration in the form of a triple-layered chocolate cake.  Since the recipe is nothing new, I decided to illustrate the cake construction process in a series of doodles.

To make this strawberry bejeweled chocolate layer cake you will need:
1 Guinness chocolate cake (with Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout instead of Guinness)
1 batch chocolate ganache (recipe below)
1 batch whipped cream (recipe below)
2 small baskets strawberries, washed, ends cut off, and cut in half length-wise

Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2/3 cups heavy whipping cream (the rest to be used in the whipped cream)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Do not make this before you are ready to use it!  The ganache will thicken over time, making it harder to spread evenly on the cake layers!  To make the chocolate ganache, put the chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl.  Bring the heavy cream just to a simmer and pour over the chocolate chips.  Let the chocolate chips and heavy cream sit for a minute so that the chocolate starts to melt.  Then stir the chocolate chips and heavy cream until completely mixed together (it will be a dark chocolate color and be completely smooth).  Add the butter and vanilla extract and stir until the butter is completely melted.  The ganache is immediately ready for spreading on the cake layers.

Whipped Cream
The rest of a 16 ounce bottle of heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar

Do not make this before you are ready to use it!  The whipped cream will become runny if left at room temperature too long and will harden if put in the fridge, making it difficult to spread evenly on the exterior of the cake!  Add everything to a large mixing bowl with high sides and beat with electric beaters until softly whipped.  To make the whipped cream easiest to spread on the cake, you don’t want to whip the whipped cream too much.  Otherwise you may have to treat the whipped cream like icing and use a plastic bag with a corner cut off to pipe the whipped cream onto the cake.

And now, for the detailed cake construction directions:

After the cake construction is complete, store the cake in the fridge until serving time.  The chocolate ganache and the whipped cream will both stiffen in the process.

Tahini Cookies

IT’S SUMMERTIME!  And whereas kale haunted my kitchen all winter, now my counter is absolutely covered in homegrown cherry tomatoes.  I couldn’t be happier.  I’m not even angry that the tomatillos got all sad, limpy, and yellow.  I even laughed a little when I had to pull them up because of the ants’ aphid farms.  Yes, laughed.  Because the tomatoes are almost too abundant and pepper season fast approaches!

What do I do with all these cherry tomatoes you might ask?  Well, that’s an excellent question.

Ummm… Peter is back to making pita bread and some rather addictive yogurt flat breads from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty that I sneakily ate with the rest of an avocado when he wasn’t paying attention.  He also started another batch of beer.

The current food theme is Middle Eastern and the textbooks are Plenty and Jerusalem.  So far it’s been a veritable feeding frenzy, the perfect antidote to living off of Panera and similar for two weeks while traveling for work.  My favorite recipes from Jerusalem this week were Na’ama’s Fattoush and Tahini Cookies.  You can find a recipe for Na’ama’s Fattoush and some beautiful photographs over at 101 Cookbooks (actually the blog post that turned me on to Jerusalem in the first place).  In short, Na’ama’s Fattoush is a fresh vegetable salad (tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, mint, radish) with torn up pita in a sauce of yogurt, olive oil, and lemon.  It’s so good that we’ve had it twice this week.  Fresh, but substantial from the pita.  And quick, since I didn’t bother with the buttermilk mixture, but just used whole-fat Greek yogurt mixed with a splash of milk.  We’ve been making fresh whole wheat pita breads using my recipe for homemade pita bread here.

Finally, a tweaked version of tahini cookies from Jerusalem.  These are rather mild in flavor, but have a wonderful buttery texture.  As you know my obsession with peanut butter cookies, perhaps you are not so surprised that tahini cookies are the second recipe I made out of Jerusalem?  Nor that I made them twice in two weeks?  You can also see the original recipe and a lovely writeup here.

Tahini Cookies (tweaked from Jerusalem)

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup tahini paste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 teaspoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cream the butter and sugar, then add the tahini, vanilla, and milk.  Finally, add the flour and mix until well combined and the dough comes together into a ball (I rolled my dough around in the bowl until it was ball-like).  Roll the dough out into ~1 inch balls and place on a parchment paper lined-baking sheet.  Press down the balls of dough to leave a nice fork mark (similar to peanut butter cookies).  Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of each cookie.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  Nibble with a cup of hot tea.  Smile quietly to yourself that you’ve stashed some of them away in a secret place where Peter other people can’t find them.