Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten
Tiered Chocolate Buttercream Cake
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Coq Au Vin
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Ina and Jeffrey are going to have a romantic dinner on the porch of the new barn to celebrate their 39th!!! anniversary. Their original wedding cake was a huge tower of a fruit cake. Ina said it WAS a little dry, but it was beautiful. She’s making one today for just the two of them. I like how she thinks!
Ina beats ¾ lb butter, in other words THREE sticks, with 1 1/3 cups of white sugar and the same amount of brown sugar. She beats until light and fluffy. She sifts 3 ½ cups flour with 1 tablespoon baking soda and 2 cups of “really good” cocoa powder and sets it aside. She beats in 4 eggs. (I wonder why not one at a time.) 2 cups of buttermilk gets mixed with sour cream and vanilla. Ina beats in the wet and dry ingredients alternately on low. She starts and ends with the dry.
Hmmmm. Where have I seen a cake like this before? And I wonder why she didn’t use Beatty's Chocolate Cake, which is fabulous. It has buttermilk and cocoa powder too, but it has oil instead of butter. I am certainly not going to second guess the Contessa…on this anyway. As she makes the cake, Ina tells us that she “can’t wait to see Jeffrey’s face…anytime.” Is that a hint of why her marriage has lasted so long?
She butters, lines, and butters and flours her 3 cake pans. Did you get that? This is important. First you butter the cake pans, so the parchment paper (I’m against parchment paper. I use waxed paper) will stay in place. THEN you butter the parchment. THEN you spoon in a bit of flour and twist and turn the pan until it’s coated evenly. Whack the bottom of the pan so the flour flies out into the second (or third) cake pan. Coat the pan again and do your final whacking over the sink or (wide-mouthed) garbage can.
There is no point using first class ingredients, and taking the time and effort to make a great cake, and THEN having it stick to the bottom of the pan. So do what Ina does and you won’t have to worry about it.
Ina pours the batter into the prepared pans and bakes them at 350°F - 50 minutes for the small one, 70-75 minutes for the middle one and an hour and 25 minutes for the big guy.
Ina reminisces by looking at her wedding album. Gosh, Jeffrey was handsome in his uniform. Ina was just lovely.
She tells a story about their first anniversary. They agreed to get each other ONE present that cost no more than 5 dollars. He comes home with a beautiful set of cashmere gloves and scarf. When chastised (I can’t imagine for too long) by Ina, Jeffrey says it’s a husband’s prerogative to get his wife lots of presents for their anniversary. How sweet is that? (We never did hear what she gave him.)
Back to the cake, Ina prepares an icing that won’t be for everybody, because it requires a handheld mixer. She begins by chopping 1 lb. bittersweet chocolate and ¾ lb semisweet chocolate and placing them in a bowl. She likes the flavor of the combination of the two more than either chocolate alone. She stirs the bowl over hot water, removing the bowl it just before the chocolates are completely melted. In another bowl, she mixes three-quarters a cup of egg whites, which she says is 4 to 5 whites.
Since 99.9% of us will be using large eggs, instead of Ina’s beloved extra large eggs, THIS is the measurement you must remember:
A standard large egg is 2 oz. The white is 1 ounce; the yolk is 1 ounce. So three quarters of a cup, which is 6 ounces is…SIX egg whites.
This is a useful thing to keep in mind when want to freezing just the yolks. Freeze them in a little plastic container all together, not separately. You can also add more whites on top of the already frozen ones. Then thaw the container and measure 1 (liquid) ounce per egg white, which is also 2 tablespoons.
Ina mixes her ¾ cup egg whites with 1 ½ cups sugar and cream of tartar. She beats the mixture while it heats up over the hot water. Her goal is to melt the sugar. She beats it until the mixture is warm and doesn’t feel gritty at all from the sugar, about 5 minutes.
She removes it from the heat and continues beating for another 5 minutes until it’s thick and fluffy like meringue. Then Ina adds 1½ lbs. of butter (do you realize how many sticks that is?), beating it in one tablespoon at a time. (That could 3 years…it's 48 tablespoons!) Ina then beats in the chocolate, vanilla espresso and 3 tablespoons “good” rum, probably not this stuff.
Ina says you don’t really taste each of those ingredients, it just adds to the complexity of the flavor.
Her plan is to meet Jeffrey on the porch of the barn at 8 pm for dinner. She thinks he’s working in the study, but really, he’s been shopping. I hope it’s for a little something in that classy blue box.
The cakes are done. There’s certainly adequate cake there for the couple. In fact, that cake could feed an entire army division. Ina cuts the tops off each layer to make a completely flat surface. She spoons dollops of buttercream on top and starts icing the sides with a palette knife, turning it as she goes, on a turntable. (I myself use a garage sale Rubbermaid turntable.)
She ices the top and smoothes the entire cake with a spatula dipped in very hot water. She puts the middle-sized layer on top of the large one and the little one on top of that. She pipes some icing with a serrated top to make vertical columns. Interesting. Then she uses a star nozzle to pipe a shell pattern on the top. She puts a flowers around. Purdy.
Have you ever made a big heavy multi-layered cake? To ensure that the layers don’t sink into each other, put straws on the bottom layers, which hold some of the weight of the upper layers. It’s cool. Before icing, insert - equally spacing them - 4 or 5 straws in each layer of cake that will have one resting on it. Place the straws about halfway between the center and the outside edge of the cake. Ice the cake, layer it up and the top layers are actually sitting on the straws and taking the pressure off the center of the cake. When using cardboard discs under each layer, you REALLY need extra support. I digress, so what else is new? It’s going to be their 40th anniversary if I don’t get a move on.
Jeffrey sneaks in with BAGS of presents. Atta boy, Jeff.
I guess since Ina knows she could feed 50 for dessert, it’s time to start dinner. She cooks 4 oz of bacon, or she says to use pancetta, in a pan with a splash of olive oil for 8 to 10 minutes. She salts and peppers chicken cut into 10 pieces. She removes the bacon with a slotted spoon. Why? To leave the fat behind, my lovelies. She browns the chicken in batches, so as not to lower the temperature too much. It looks fabulous. Really nicely browned.
She adds 1 ½ lbs carrots and big thick slices of onion to the pan with garlic and ¼ cup cognac. She puts the chicken back in and pours over a bottle of burgundy and 1 cup of chicken stock. She lays over a sprig of thyme and puts it in a 250°F oven for 1 hour.
Ina sets up lots of candles on the porch. The space is very simple with clean lines. It almost looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in the Iberian peninsula. Ina readies 1/2 lb. crimini mushrooms, telling us not use button mushrooms, because they have no flavor. She cooks them in a large sauté pan until browned.
The coq au vin gets removed from the oven. She mashes 1 1/2 tablespoons flour and 1 tablespoon soft butter together. She adds that to the pot to thicken the stew. She adds 1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions and the mushrooms and cooks the coq au vin for 10 more minutes.
Ina starts the garlic mashed potatoes by cooking half a head of peeled garlic in 1 cup(!) of olive oil. She cooks 1 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes for 20 minutes in boiling salted water. (I've started adding the garlic with the potatoes in the water and then I put it through a garlic press. It's obviously milder than cooking in oil, but calorie-free. Do we care? Occasionally.)
Jeffrey sneaks in to the table with his bags and flowers. Ina puts the potatoes and the garlic through a food mill. She adds salt and pepper, some of the garlic oil and 2 tablespoons cream. She whisks it over hot water to keep it warm.
Ina serves dinner in deep square dinner plates. She's going all modrin. She says she just has to get his present. She got him an MP3 player, loaded with all his favorite music. How sweet and she kept to the one gift rule. She takes out dinner and spies all the bags. Husband's prerogative, he reminds her.
She brings out the wedding album over dessert. They feed each other cake (they could do that into the wee hours, there's so much cake), just like 39 years ago...Awww...But what was in those bags? Any guesses?