Daily Archives: November 29, 2012

Thursday’s Window: Federal Fanlight

Back to Susan Conner’s Thursday’s Windows series, with a fanlight above the front door of one of the larger houses at Sturbridge Village, a reconstructed early nineteenth century town in Connecticut.

This building is in the “Federal style”, popular in the U.S. during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It copies ancient Greek architecture as much as possible – notice the columns framing the door – but the New England climate forces some compromises, like glass windows to try to keep a little heat inside during the winter!

186 Cookbooks: Revisiting with second and third thoughts

Some months ago, I finally noticed that I have a lot of cookbooks. (I think – no, I know – the count is actually higher than 186 of them, but that was the first number I came up with, and “186” is funnier than “around 200”.) So I decided to weed them out by testing one recipe from each; if the recipe was a success, the cookbook stays, and if not it has to find a new home.

What it’s supposed to look like…

Well, this post is about a followup. A while ago I tried a cookie recipe from one of my stranger cookbooks, and decided it was a keeper after all. I also decided I wanted one of its cakes for my birthday. That was two weeks ago, and for a series of boring reasons I never did get around to having a birthday cake – so I inflicted it on my husband for his birthday, yesterday.

What a project. First I had to make three layers worth of chocolate sponge cake from scratch. I also had to make a syrup flavored with orange juice and whiskey (!), and a chocolate ganache (chocolate melted with cream). One of the three layers of cake gets cut into cubes and mixed with some of the syrup and ganache, and that mess gets patted into a mound on top of a second layer.

Well, that’s the easy part. Next you take the third, thinner layer and make a “smooth dome shape”. Or, of course, you make a lot of sponge cake shards. Then you add the rest of the syrup and ganache, and chill.

While the cake chills, you make the next key part: a chocolate marzipan layer, rolled thin between sheets of wax paper. That was surprisingly hard work as the disc of marzipan got bigger and thinner; I wound up having to put my full weight on my forearms on the rolling pin to get it to spread out as far as it did. (Probably this part would have been easier if the top of the counter wasn’t above my waist. Ah, leverage.)

Then you remove the wax paper and creatively mold the marzipan into a deeply wrinkled mountainous shape.

And you take the cake out of the refrigerator and discover it’s falling to pieces. I scraped some ganache out of the bottom of the pan and did my best to stick it back together, then flopped the marzipan over everything.

Speaking of pans, here’s one of the big flaws of this recipe. These are only about half the resulting dirty dishes, waiting patiently for attention.

And we’re ready for the finishing touch: sieve plain cocoa over the cake to give it a velvety texture.

By the time I finished, I was expecting the cake to be a disaster – I was almost hoping it would be, considering how much work it was. I was also having second thoughts about whether the cookbook was worth keeping.

Except that everyone agreed it was delicious. So I guess I’ll keep this cookbook after all. Next time, I think I’ll just use orange juice in the syrup – you couldn’t taste the whiskey anyway – and maybe some grated orange rind in the cake, and cube two-thirds of the cake to make a mound on the base layer (that top layer was more trouble than it was worth). But next time won’t be any time soon.