People often ask me what I do with all the treats I bake. Doesn’t that sound like I’m constantly being swarmed by the paparazzi screaming “over here, Miranda! What do you do with all those cookies?!” Not quite. But, it is a question I have been asked by more than one person so I think it’s fair that I’m saying “people.” The answer is that I try to give away as much as possible. I can usually come up with an easy way of disposing the sweet thousands of calories—a gathering of friends, a building meeting, my writing group etc. I should say that it is easy on me in that I can say “here, take this,” but it isn’t necessarily easy on the recipients as I may be giving them something they don’t like or weren’t in the mood to eat. Then they have to say with a forced smile, “wow, thanks,” when they want to say, “no, thanks.”There is a down side to all this surrendering. Sometimes I’m left with nothing and find myself, like I did last night, digging in my freezer for buried sweet treasure. Pushing aside frozen turkey burgers, bagels left over from a brunch I gave two years ago, and three Ziploc baggies filled with egg whites I unearthed a plastic container of lemon squares, ate one despite the shimmering coating of two months’ worth of freezer burn, and then hit the opened bag of chocolate chips I had in the cupboard—truly pitiful.
The ideal situation is when I’m making something because I’ve been asked to do so. When I do projects with my nieces it is usually because my sister and I have had a pow-wow about a time eating activity that will shorten an endless day with two kids who’ve been up since 6am. I’ll steal enough of whatever we (I) have made for me to enjoy but not gorge on, and leave the rest for them.
Another positive scenario is when my mother requests a dessert for one of her dinner parties. I love coming up with a complementary ending to whatever she is serving without participating in the drama of the preparation (or clean-up!) of the actual meal. Then I get to play in my kitchen and receive (hopefully) kudos the morning after. Recently we settled on the Barefoot Contessa’s Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake to put the exclamation point on a party that started with drinks and nibbles of parmesan crackers and salmon rillettes before a dinner of tomato tart, boneless pork loin with prosciutto, roasted baby brussels sprouts and endive salad. (I know. I wish I’d been invited too!) I suggested something more regionally appropriate to fit in with the Tuscan feast she’d been inspired to make after reading a recent issue of Saveur. I was thinking of something with pine nuts or mascarpone or olive oil (the taste of which makes her gag) but, no, she wanted this cake which I’d made over last summer and was a huge hit. I have a feeling she also knew there would be massive leftovers for her to just happen to stumble upon when she was drinking her morning coffee.The one thing I did ask her to do for my own selfish purposes was to take photos of her giddy guests enjoying the fruit of my labor. This was a bit of a challenge since we are talking about a woman who can’t turn on the television without an assist from her husband. In all fairness, their absurd audio visual set-up would drive a NASA engineer insane so it really isn’t her fault. Still, after delivering her cake order, I demonstrated how to use my very basic Sony digital camera and left her to get ready for the party.
I should also add that parting with the cake was quite painful for me. After the various stages the recipe requires it seemed almost cruel that it was ripped from my hands and given to others to enjoy. So, I asked for another thing for my own selfish purposes. “Save me a piece!” I begged. Or rather, demanded.
The next day I returned to the scene of the party to receive the kudos I was waiting for, pick up my piece of the cake I’d been thinking about all the previous night (like Cinderella whose step-sisters went to the ball leaving her with no dessert) and collect my camera. No one was home so the applause and fan fare joined the flash-popping paparazzi in my head. Mom had warned me that perhaps she didn’t quite capture the spirit of the evening with her photography which I knew was code for “don’t be mad when the pictures are terrible.” I wouldn’t say terrible. Maybe the flowing vino affected her ability to hold her hands still and let the auto-focus focus? And frankly, as long as I got to have my cake and eat it too I didn’t care. This piece is mine, all mine.Save Me a Piece of Ina's Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
From Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten, 2001
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1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup grated orange zest (4 large oranges)
3 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups good semisweet chocolate chunks
For the syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
For the ganache
8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.Add the eggs, one at a time, then the orange zest.
Sift together 3 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine the orange juice, buttermilk, and vanilla.
Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately in thirds to the creamed butter beginning and ending with the flour.Toss the chocolate chunks with 2 tablespoons flour and add to the batter.
Pour into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the sugar with the orange juice until the sugar dissolves.
Remove the cake from the pan, set it on a rack over a tray, and spoon the orange syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely.
For the ganache, melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cake.