Thursday, January 25, 2024

Harry Potter's First Birthday Cake!

We just celebrated an 11th birthday at our house, and I could think of no better cake than "Harry's First Birthday Cake: Chocolate Layer Cake," from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, by Dinah Bucholz. After all, Harry received his first birthday cake when he turned eleven. That Aunt Petunia was a real *#%*! Anyway, the instructions for this cake seemed a little laborious, but actually was quite easy to make. To my surprise, this was one of the best chocolate cakes I've ever had! Two layers of rich chocolate cake, enveloped in the creamiest chocolate butter-cream frosting, and the final touch of a rich chocolate ganache glaze! A true chocolate-lovers dream!

To manage my time in the kitchen, I made the chocolate cake layers a day in advance, stacked them between parchment, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and refrigerated them overnight. This allowed me to make the frosting, glaze, and icing the next morning. To truly enjoy the creaminess of the butter-cream frosting, this cake is best served at room temperature. One thing to remember, this cake is supposed to look homemade and a little messy; after all, Hagrid made it! So, if you are about to celebrate an 11th birthday, or any birthday for that matter, this is the cake for you!

Here's a look inside:

Harry's First Birthday Cake: Chocolate Layer Cake

Serves 16

For the Chocolate Cake
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used instant espresso powder.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli chips.)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup corn syrup

For the Chocolate Frosting
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 of the above Chocolate Glaze recipe

For the Green Icing
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon water, or more if needed, to form a paste
Green food coloring

For the Chocolate Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit. Whisk together the boiling water, cocoa powder, and instant coffee in a measuring cup or small bowl until smooth; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each until incorporated and scraping down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the hot cocoa mixture and beat until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the flour mixture and stir on the slowest speed until combined. Finish by scraping the bottom of the bowl with a spatula and folding it in. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes, until the cakes feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Be careful, as this cake overbakes easily. (I set my timer for 15 minutes, checked it with a toothpick, and it was already done!) Cool the layers in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely. (Can be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

For the Chocolate Glaze
Place the chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and corn syrup in a bowl and microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Cool the glaze until it is thick but still pourable.

For the Chocolate Frosting
Place the butter, confectioners' sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed, about 7 minutes. Add half of the cooled glaze and beat until combined. If the frosting is too soft to spread, chill for 10 minutes and beat again. Chill another 10 minutes and beat again if necessary.

For the Green Icing
Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to the confectioners' sugar and mix to form a thick paste. (The icing should be as thick as possible, yet smooth enough to be piped onto the cake. If it is too thin, the writing will run.) Work in the food coloring to tint it to the desired shade of green.

To assemble the Cake
Place one layer top-side down on a cardboard round. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the cake and smooth it to the edges. Place the second layer top-side up over the first and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. (At this point, I recommend placing the cake on a cooling rack with a piece of parchment or plastic wrap underneath before adding the glaze.) Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and smooth it to the edges, allowing it to drip unevenly over the sides. (If the glaze is too stiff, warm briefly in the microwave and whisk to distribute the heat evenly. You may need to wait again for the glaze to cool.) If you have any frosting left, use it to pipe a decorative border around the bottom of the cake. Place the icing in a pastry bag fitted with a #3 round (or you can use a sandwich bag with the tip snipped with scissors) and write "Happy Birthday Harry" on top of the cake. (I wrote "Happee Birthdae" because that's how it was in the movie!)

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Oh My Darling, Clementine

The holidays are over and my decorations are put away. Sigh. All I'm left with is a plethora of clementines. Clementines are a variety of mandarin orange, specifically a hybrid of the Mediterranean Citrus xdeliciosa and a sweet orange. They are typically seedless, easy to peel, and in season from mid-November to late-January. French born Brother Clement Rodier is credited with creating the variety by cross-pollination in the garden of an Algerian orphanage in 1902. In Latin, the name Clementine (the female form of Clement) means clemency or merciful. It is also the name of the lost love in the American folk song "Oh My Darling, Clementine," the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush. The song credits her tragic demise to a splinter in her toe that causes her to fall and drown. At the end of the song, Clementine's lover quickly forgets her after kissing her little sister. Poor Clementine.

In desperation to use up my ample supply of clementines, I found this exciting recipe for "Winter Salad with Clementine Dressing and Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts" from While Rachel raves about the vanilla bean candied walnuts, I was not immediately excited about the results on their own. That is, however, until I added them to the salad! Fantastic! My family and I love this salad so much that I have been making it over and over to the point that I had to run out and buy more clementines! In addition, the vanilla bean candied walnuts makes enough for three salads, making them well worth the effort. This bright, citrusy recipe is just what you need to get over the post-holiday doldrums. Thanks Rachel!

Winter Salad with Clementine Dressing and Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts

Serves 4

For the Dressing
1/4 cup clementine juice (about 2 clementines)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Salad
1 head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces (I have been using 1 head of Romaine with great results)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley (I have been using 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I have been using 1/4 cup)
3 clementines, peeled, segments separated and cut in half (I have been using 2 clementines)
1/2 cup vanilla bean candied walnuts (recipe follows)
Dressing to taste (there may be extra)

For the Dressing
Mix all ingredients together in a jar (shake shake shake!) or a small bowl (whisk whisk whisk!)

For the Salad
Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Add dressing and toss immediately before serving.

Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups raw walnut halves and/or pieces
The seeds scraped from one whole vanilla bean

Toast walnuts in a dry frying an over medium heat stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes or until fragrant. Pour onto plate to cool. Also prepare a large rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Cook on medium until sugar melts and starts to turn the color of amber. (Once the sugar starts to melt, I began stirring with a metal tea spoon to help prevent burning.) 
The sugar/vanilla bean mixture is done when it looks like this!
Remove from heat, add walnuts and stir to coat. Work quickly.

Pour the walnuts out onto prepared lined baking sheet and separate walnuts with two forks, working quickly. If you don't get them all separated, it's no biggie, you can cut or crack them apart once they cool.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. If you don't eat them all first.

*Note: If you've never dealt with melting sugar, soaking the pot and any used utensils makes cleanup a breeze!