Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wanton Chicken

I was vindicated today to find that Julia Child’s recipe for basic roasted chicken is almost the same as the one I’ve been using. Simple. Delicious. Humble. I can’t imagine anything better than the smell of a chicken stuffed with lemons, rosemary, thyme et al roasting away. Perhaps I can’t imagine it because right now that’s all I smell.

JC and I differ on one element. She trusses her chicken, tying the legs together to make for a better presentation. She’s quite adamant that to leave the legs swinging free is wrong. She makes some noise about overcooked drumsticks but her main concern seems to be keeping up appearance. Actually, the word she uses is “wanton”…. Leaving the legs splayed “gives the chicken a rather wanton look,” JC says in her lovely cookbook co-written with Jacques Pepin. I love that that’s the word she chooses. I usually can’t be bothered to dig out my cooking twine. So wanton chicken it is.

I’ll admit that roasting a chicken is an odd activity for a lazy, gorgeous Saturday when lunch is past and it’s not quite dinner time. But this was a: when the oven was free in my cook crowded home today, sandwiched between the farmer’s market inspired breakfast cooked by one housemate and the zucchini cake baking frenzy of another who is valiantly trying to tame our CSA share. And b: if I didn’t make this chicken today it was going to be a lost cause.

Hence roast chicken at 3pm.

My approach to roast chicken is simple. Having never owned the proper v-shaped roasting rack I strew the bottom of the roasting pan with onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, leeks: whatever’s in the house and will lift the chicken off the bottom of the pan. Rub the bird’s skin with butter or olive oil, s&p, put some in the cavity as well. (JC calls this a “generous butter massage,” wanton indeed!). Cut a couple lemons (or a mix of lemon and orange if there are oranges to be had) into thick slices. Squeeze the lemons over the chicken and stuff the cavity with them and fresh herbs. We always have rosemary and thyme so those tend to be my preference. Whatever lemons don’t fit in the cavity I toss into the bottom of the pan. Roast at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 for somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour.

That’s it. It makes for very simple, delicious chicken. With some yummy roasted veggies in the bottom that basically basted in butter and chicken fat…. Really what’s not to like. Although the “veggie rack” I use might not be universally appealing. They are very mushy and very intensely flavored and can end up on the salty side as basting washes some of the salt from the skin into the pan. I love it. But it might not be for everyone.

And I have to say that JC’s system for testing chicken’s “doneness” is preferable to my mind. If I cooked a chicken until the meat thermometer said it was done it’d be sawdust. I swear that’s why chicken has such a bad rap. Stuffing the cavity with citrus does slow the cooking time if, like me, you’re over exuberant about citrus. But I just allow for extra cooking time—a necessity with 1660 Hobart’s ghetto oven anyway. Julia says the chicken’s done when the juices run clear and the legs move easily in their socket.

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I think I may have found the cure for my pathological fear of baking. Booze! LL’s birthday was Aug. 27 and per the birthday girl’s request I was charged with making an ice cream cake. In keeping with LL’s tastes I decided on chocolate stout cake for the “cake” layer of the ice cream cake and used a Hobart favorite: Milk Stout. I have to admit I did not make the ice cream myself. I need to log quite a few more hours on the Dixie Bell (our aptly named retro ice cream maker) before I’d venture to include one of my own creations in something as important as a birthday cake. I chickened out in other words and bought Haagen Daz. Vanilla.

As an aside have you ever read the ingredients of most ice creams? I did the other day and it is truly terrifying. The vast majority are most definitely not Fit For Human Consumption. Why on earth are there so many unpronounceable ingredients in them? Having now made our own ice cream I can attest that it’s a refreshingly simple recipe. Cream. Ice. Salt (for melting the ice). Whatever fruits or flavors strike your fancy. In an entire case of ice cream at Whole Foods the ONLY brand that had just ingredients I could identify without a periodic table or a degree in food science was Haagen Daz. Ridiculous.

So ice cream purchased all that remained was the topping. I again relied on a Hobart favorite: bourbon whipped cream. I worried in the days leading up to Laura’s birthday that the stout, chocolate, ice cream, bourbon combo would be overwhelming, that there was too much going on. But if the reports of those who ate the cake are to be believed it all married surprisingly well. The bourbon notes in the vanilla dovetailed nicely with the bourbon whipped cream. And the dense chocolate stout cake seemed to benefit from the cool smooth vanilla flavor of the ice cream. I’m going to try the cake solo for guests this weekend as a comparison, so we’ll see how the recipe does at room temperature with nothing to distract from it. I think the cake definitely benefitted from sitting a day or two. The milk stout gave the chocolate cake an almost sour taste which while not entirely unappealing really mellowed out over time.

I don’t have the attention to detail required for light fluffy baking. Dense, intense flavor I seem to be able to manage. Chocolate stout cake definitely falls into the latter category.

Hobart St. Boozy Birthday Cake

Cake recipe (courtesy of the NYT, adapted from Epicurious)

Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

Ice Cream layer:

Allow a container of ice cream, recommended flavor vanilla with bourbon notes, to soften at room temperature. Line an 8 inch spring form pan with plastic wrap. Pour or scoop ice cream into the pan and smooth into an even layer. Freeze until hard.

When hard, put cake layer on top and freeze again. (Note: my intention was to do 2 layers of cake with ice cream in the middle. Using the above cake recipe you would need to double it, the one cake isn’t tall enough to split horizontally. But the single layers of cake and ice cream worked just fine.)


1 pint whipping cream, powdered sugar and bourbon to taste (Buffalo Trace worked nicely). Mine was a little too bourbon-y so be careful not to over pour. If there’s a “right” time to add liquid to whipped cream I don’t know what it is-I dump the powdered sugar and the bourbon into the cream in the stand mixer and flip the switch. For topping a cake stiffer whipped cream, practically butter texture, is preferable. It was easier to use as frosting.

Cover cake with whipped cream frosting. For frosting technique I recommend getting lessons as I did over the weekend from a trained cake decorator! I would’ve been a train wreck on my own. (Thanks AM.) Otherwise do the best you can. My philosophy is that taste matters more than aesthetics anyway.

The assembled ice cream cake is best if you allow it all to freeze again. Perhaps even overnight. Day 2 and 3 of LL’s cake outstripped day 1 hands down. The whipped cream sets up more like frosting and the flavors seem to meld better. But if you’re antsy (or like me perpetually running behind) it can be eaten in the ooey gooey stage right after frosting. The flavors are all there.