Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Cake

You'd think that after spending several days doing nothing but playing with props, all the pictures featured in my blog going forward would be gorgeous, carefully styled and feature pretty spoons and napkins and stuff. Well, you'd be WRONG! See, while I've learned a lot and will definitely be doing my damnedest to try and incorporate all of those things, sometimes I have exactly 3 minutes to take pictures before the cake goes into a box and is rushed out the back door. Those 3 minutes don't exactly leave very much room for tweaking and styling. But I'm going to try, otherwise it would have been all for nothing.

For example this cake, which I've now made twice in the past two weeks (with the 2nd being an improvement on the first). Both times it was for someone else and both times I've had no time to take pictures, but I wanted to tell you about it, so I plopped it really quickly in front of my white fridge on a cake stand I haven't had time to put away yet and there you go.

Chocolate Walnut Cake

The cake itself contains two layers of a dense moist walnut cake with a layer of chunky walnut ganache and a layer of amaretto spiked chocolate mousse sandwiched in between. A smooth coat of ganache went on top and the sides got treated to rows of stars made of leftover chocolate mousse. A few toasted walnuts on top and Voila! Cake.

Chocolate Walnut Cake Top

Chocolate Walnut Cake

Double batch of Walnut Cake from here baked in two 9" round tins

Chocolate Mousse:
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp instant espresso or coffee
1 Tbsp Amaretto
3 egg whites (absolutely NO yolk), room temp
2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup cold heavy cream

Chocolate Ganache/Walnut filling:
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
15oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

As many pretty toasted walnut halves as you can find and not eat

1. Make a double batch of the Walnut cake and allow the layers to cool completely while you make the mousse, filling, and icing.

2. Combine the chocolate, espresso and amaretto in a microwave proof bowl and melt the chocolate by heating at 20 second intervals, mixing with a spatula after each interval until the chocolate is smooth. Set aside to cool.
3. Beat the egg whites in a mixer with the whisk attachment (or a hand beater) until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. Do not over-beat, you want to stop as soon as you get to the shiny stiff peak consistency.
4. Beat the whipped cream on high until peaks form, about a minute. Don't over-beat or you'll have butter (not a bad thing, but not what we're going for here).
5. Fold 1/4 of the heavy cream into the chocolate mixture and gently fold it in with a spatula until thoroughly combined. Add the whipped egg whites and gently fold in until combined. Add the rest of whipped cream and once again, fold in gently until thoroughly combined.
6. CHILL the mousse in the fridge for AT LEAST an hour before using. If you don't, it won't support the top cake layer and everything will ooze out creating a mess and you'll hate me for ever sharing this recipe.

7. Combine the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat and heat it until the very first bubbles start forming along the edges. You don't want this to boil or even simmer.
8. Dump the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Gently whisk until completely combined and smooth and pretty.
9. Remove 2/3 cup of the ganache and combine with the chopped and toasted walnuts in a separate bowl. Allow both to cool to room temp.

10. Lay one cake layer on your cake plate/cardboard circle and spread the walnut ganache evenly over the bottom. Chill in the fridge for a few minutes if the ganache is still soft.
11. Spread a thick layer of the mousse over the ganache. Save some to use as garnish. Again, chill for a few minutes if you feel the mousse is still somewhat soft.
12. Top with the second cake layer and smooth down the sides if any of the ganache/mousse is peeking out.
13. Make sure your ganache is cooled to a still soft, but not runny consistency and pour it over the top of the cake, smoothing down the sides with an offset spatula.
14. Scoop the remaining mousse into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe a ring around the base of the cake to cover up any mess the poured ganache may have made.
15. Chill any left over ganache, scoop into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and alternate walnut halves with chocolate swirls around the top of the cake.
16. Chill the cake until ready to serve (use this time to wash the mountain of dishes) and remember to it out 30 minutes before cutting.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Food Photography Workshop with Helene of Tartlette

This all started almost a year ago. It wasn't very long after new year's and I was feeling landlocked, frustrated, and in desperate need of a vacation when Helene of Tartlette posted about the different workshops she was planning over the next year. I love her work and think her photography is gorgeous (and goodness knows I need help in that department), but it would definitely be a major splurge so I waffled back and forth and pestered my friend Joy on whether I should do it and in the end I just clicked the button and signed up. I had to dip into my savings, but this was a rare opportunity and boy would it be worth it! Over the next months whenever I'd get upset or frustrated or get that feeling to hop into the car and just take off, I'd remember about this trip and feel better. That feeling of an adventure already planned and booked is one of the best feelings, I think.

32 NomNomNom

So that brings us up to the first week of November, when after a long wait I finally packed my bags and boarded the plane. I arrived a few hours before Helene's husband Bill was supposed to pick us up, so I grabbed lunch at the airport and wandered around the shops before finally settling down to wait and read my book, but the girl I'd settled next to noticed my tripod sticking out of my backpack and asked if I was there for the photo workshop. Krisztina Desi had been traveling across the US for a few weeks and was going back to Budapest right after this workshop, so my trip had started with me speaking Russian (mom would be proud). Pretty soon Libby Stephens joined us and man alive, she was an absolute riot! A few minutes after that, after scaring away a woman who was definitely not part of our group, we had flagged down Melissa Cole and after we were joined by Karen Cornett and Claire Perez we all squeezed into Bill's red van and headed for the beach house. 

2 Berry Tart

At the beautiful beach front summer house just outside of Charleston, SC we were met by our two teachers for the weekend, Helene Dujardin and Claire Barboza, as well as our wonderful chef for the duration of our stay, Laura Vein. They couldn't have been nicer or more gracious. I had won the room lottery and got a cozy room right by the front door all to myself and while we waited for people to arrive, I settled in, opened all the windows, and let as much of the ocean air in as possible.

5 Macaroons

Slowly the rest of the workshop attendees started filtering in. Alysha Yoder, an incredible photographer who I wound up pestering to no end later that weekend to suck up as much Lightroom knowledge as possible.  Stacy Able, a fabulous wedding and doggie photographer who is in Panama right now volunteering for the Seeds of Help foundation (and has promised to send me some Guatemalan coffee once she comes back!). Tiffany Scales, of the lovely Savor Home blog. Amy Schleider, who drove in all the way from Missouri and was kind enough to drive and hang out in Charleston with Alecia and I on the last day of the trip. And lastly, as the girls began to open up the wine bottles lined up on the counter, Bill brought Dina Sandakli, a lovely girl whose travel exploits are truly enviable (and who tried to teach us belly dancing as well as the non-PC difference between Indians and American Indians according to her college history professor). Once everyone settled in we had dinner, discussed the schedule for the weekend, enjoyed a fabulous ice cream buffet (homemade ice cream of course), and talked and talked. Once people began disappearing to their rooms, I took a walk on the beach. The water was just warm enough to roll up my pants and get my feet wet, and without the glow of a city nearby, the moon and the stars were the only things reflecting off the water. Just what I needed.

16 Props

The next few days were filled with beautiful food, running around the house to claim a spot with the perfect lighting, sorting through a huge table laden with props(!), finding corners around the living room to plug in and edit photos, learning various techniques and strategies, chatting, eating fabulous food and drinking wine. On Saturday morning we all got up extra early and drove to the Charleston Farmer's market to take photos (and buy a few things...because I can't NOT buy anything at a farmer's market).

AG - Market

21 Eggplants

I chatted up this lovely pickle lady and who let me take some photos of her and gave me a small container of pickled peanuts. I also grabbed a small container of her pickled beets, which were amazing.

23 Pickled Beet Lady

Back at the house we had to earn our lunch. Helene fried or poached fresh goose eggs, Laura fried up some bacon and we once again dashed to the props table to assemble and photograph our meal before we could dig in.

26 Duck Egg Breakfast 2

On Saturday evening we piled into three cars and drove once again into the city to the gorgeous Lana Restaurant. Chef John Ondo, a friend of Helene's, was kind enough to allow a dozen women to run around his restaurant and pester his staff with our cameras. They didn't even mind it (too much) when we took turns popping into the kitchen to get some behind the scenes shots. Every once in a while we'd head back to the table and enjoy the incredible dishes. I had the phenomenal poached pear and gorgonzola salad, a delicious Basque style chicken, and a lovely lemon and olive oil cake (Helen's mother's recipe).

36 Oh the pans

AG - Hands off the Spoon

38 Glasses

49 Chef Plating the Fish

50 Team Effort

53 Lemon Olive Oil Cakes

The next day we got back to work and I began cataloging in my head the list of props I absolutely must acquire for myself. That gorgeous linen runner and those adorable numbered cups and dishes are at the top of that list.

56 Lunch

Towards the end of the trip, during some free time, a few girls and I took a walk from the beach house to the pier to check out the handful of shops there and I'd discovered that the Ben and Jerry's there still had my all time favorite ice cream flavor, which had been retired everywhere else: Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz. Well, you know I had to have some, right?


Also, on Sunday night, just after it started getting dark, they sky opened up and it began to rain. A few minutes after, the power went out as far as we could see, and there were lightning bolts in the sky, one right after the other. I grabbed my camera and tripod and ran up to the 2nd floor balcony to shoot. I got some decent pictures and it was wonderful to not be the only girl running towards the storm instead of away from it; Alecia and Libby were right there next to me trying to keep our cameras dry and having a total blast.

Across the Street

The power eventually did come back on, and the trip eventually had to end, but I learned a lot, made some friends, and truly relaxed. I don't have a recipe for you today, but I'll be back shortly with a few things I'd been up to, I promise.