Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Kennedy Center Performing Artists Cookbook" - Chocolate Poppy Seed Torte



Date I made this recipe: December 30, 2009

Kennedy Center Performing Artists Cookbook – a Collection of favorite recipes from artists who have appeared at the Center, edited by Ann Terry Pincus
Published by: John F. Kennedy for the Performing Art
© 1973
Recipe: Chocolate Poppy Seed Torte - p. 145

“If I knew you were ‘coming, I’d’ve baked a cake…”

Actually, I did know that my family was coming to visit and so I did bake a cake to honor them as well as the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors recipients who were being recognized with a TV awards show later that evening. And naturally, the recipe came from my Kennedy Center Performing Artists Cookbook because I’m telling you I pretty much have a cookbook for every occasion.

This year marks the 32nd year of the Kennedy Center Honors and I have pretty much been along for the ride since the beginning; perhaps a few years were missed in the days before I had a VCR but not too many.

Now geek artist wanna be that I am there have been few years where I haven’t known the vast majority of honorees and this year, I came oh-so-close as four out of five were familiar to me. In addition to opera singer Grace Bumbry who I did not know (but whose dress I really loved), there was jazz master Dave Brubeck, funny man Mel Brooks, actor Robert DeNiro and singer Bruce (“Bruuuuuuuce”) Springsteen. Wow—quite the impressive line up of talent.

For those of you not familiar with the Kennedy Center Honors (named after the late president John F. Kennedy), one star or significant member of that artist’s community comes out and does a video montage introduction to the honoree’s works. After that, several more tributes are paid as other stars perform that star’s works. It’s oftentimes as much fun to see who will perform the tribute as it is to see the honoree’s works.

When it came time honor Dave Brubeck, I just had to smile when a jazz band, including some of his own sons, played Dave’s most famous arrangements because a few years back, my community band played those same pieces – Take Five, Blue Rondo a la Turk and Unsquare Dance. Now, not to disparage fellow band mates, but out of all the instruments in the band, the oboe and the French horn just do not fit in a jazz ensemble nor do they swing. (Not that the rest of us can find a jazz beat, either). And so the pieces we played were okay not great and were torturous to play—5/4 beats, offbeats – oy! (Onetwothree, one two, onetwothree, one two) And yet we soldiered through. And this is why Dave Brubeck was the one honored instead of us!

As to Mel Brooks, the guy is just flat out funny. One of my favorite movies is Young Frankenstein and to this day, I can quote half the lines from it, especially Madeline Kahn’s who played Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé. I am also fond of singing “High Annnnnnxiety,” the theme song from the movie by the same name, High Anxiety, as well as breaking into the song “The Inquisition” from his movie, History of the World, Part I. Like the Kennedy Honors, there’s something in Mel’s movies to appeal to everyone.

Speaking of broad appeal, wrapping up the ceremony was a tribute to The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. Now at the risk of being walloped with the internet version of a rotten tomato, I have to tell you that Bruce is not one of my favorites. Sure, some of his songs are a blast, particularly Pink Cadillac and Born in the USA but honestly, the guy mumbles and I could not tell you what he was singing at any particular time. But he’s The Boss and so there it is.

As to a recipe to honor the occasion, I had already decided on the main courses for Tuesday night’s dinner and so decided to bake a cake. It was a lovely cake and it was submitted by an opera singer, Arlene Saunders who sadly was also unknown to me, and the making of this cake was hilarious.

Let’s start with the instructions. I’m about halfway through making this sucker when I realized that no where in the recipe did it give a cooking time. Just like Santa, I made a list and checked it twice and…nope. So I decided that 350 was the average cooking temperature for most things and so I went with that. But honestly, editors, did it never occur to you that this was important? Tsk, tsk!

The other near calamity was the frosting and again, I say unto you that a few more instructions might have helped. The recipe said “Beat and frost the cake” when it should have said “Beat and pour over (not spread) the cake immediately, and I mean immediately.” In the seconds or so that elapsed after starting to frost one side of the cake, the frosting started to harden and I kid you not, by the time we got the cake completely iced, we went from “On Golden Pond” smoothness to Rocky Mountain fudge peaks.

Now my sister-in-law helped me try to rectify this little problem, alas to no avail. First we tried dipping the spatula in hot water but that didn’t work. Next I decided to try microwaving it for a few seconds to melt the frosting, also to no avail. Nancy then suggested that I try to put powdered sugar on top to disguise the mess but wouldn’t you know I had just used up all my powdered sugar for another recipe. Needless to say, we ended up laughing our butts of, doing imitations of Julia Child saying “Save the frosting! You must save the frosting!”

Seeing as how we were unable to save the frosting we did the next best thing – we served the cake, poured everyone some more wine and called it a day. (I highly recommend this method.)

Chocolate Poppy Seed Torte – makes one nine-inch layer cake
Torte Recipe
¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
6 eggs, separated
½ cup fine bread crumbs
¼ pound semi-sweet chocolate, melted (you can use chocolate morsels if you like)
½ cup ground poppy seeds (I used my coffee grinder to grind them)
½ cup strawberry or apricot jam
Frosting Recipe
8 one-ounce squares semi-sweet chocolate
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Since the instructions as published are confusing, I’m rewriting them below. (I also beat the egg whites first, then cleaned the mixing bowl then beat the egg yolks then cleaned the mixing bowl again and beat the butter and sugar. How you do it is up to you but in the end, everything gets mixed together.)

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat egg whites until stuff but not dry then fold in poppy seeds. Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored, then beat butter mixture and the crumbs into the egg yolks. Fold the chocolate into the egg yolk mixture. Fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture.

Line two nine-inch greased layer pans with wax paper then spread batter into the pans evenly. Bake in oven for thirty minutes [at 350 degrees]. Turn out cake and remove paper at once. Spread the jam in the middle and then prepare the frosting.

Combine the semi-sweet squares, sugar and water and cook to soft ball stage (234 to 236 degrees) (and believe me, this took some doing) then remove from the heat and add the butter.

Beat and frost the cake in a burning hurry and I do mean burning hurry! (For those of you familiar with the sport of curling, you will want to do the culinary version of “sweep, sweep, sweep” at warp speed or you’ll end up with a big rock candy mountain!)

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