Saturday, March 27, 2010

69: Crema de Mantequilla de Café / Coffee Buttercream Frosting

1/4 pound butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons strong Cuban coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the butter and add the rest of the ingredients, one by one, making sure to mix well before adding the next ingredient.

Makes enough to cover an 8" - 10" cake.

68: Crema de Mantequilla / Buttercream Frosting

1/4 pound butter
3 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the butter and add the rest of the ingredients, one by one, making sure to mix well before adding the next ingredient.

Makes enough to cover an 8" - 10" cake.

67: Cake Corriente

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Grease the bottom of three, 9" cake pans and dust them with flour.
3. Sift the flour before measuring, into a bowl.
4. Measure out the sifted flour and add the baking powder and salt.
5. Sift the dry ingredients.
6. Beat the butter until very creamy and add the sugar slowly.
7. Add each egg, one by one, making sure to blend well before adding the next egg.
8. Add the milk and the vanilla.
9. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula, not with the mixer.
10. When well-blended, pour into cake pans.
11. Make an indentation in the middle of each raw mix so that the cake won't rise too much in the middle.
12. Bake for 30 minutes.

If using a bundt pan, cake will need more time to bake. An hour is too little, so perhaps an hour and 15 minutes is adequate. Do not open the oven for the first 15 minutes under any circumstances.

Baking a Cuban Cake

My daughter’s fifth birthday was coming up and for her party, she asked that we bake a Louis the Alligator cake. Louis, as in the big, jazz playing alligator from the Princess and the Frog.

louis the alligator cake recipe

A cake. Me, bake a cake. For her birthday party. For many many people. And not just any cake. No, of course not.

A green alligator cake, with goofy eyeballs and green m&m scales on his tail.

Nitza sure doesn’t do alligator cake. But she does do Cake Corriente, or regular, run of the mill, yellow cake.

Recipe #359: Cake Corriente
We decided to bake two cakes – just in case. And I quickly enlisted the assistance of my amazing husband, mom, dad, in-laws, and of course, my daughter. After all, it was her idea, so she might as well have to put up with the process.

For all you bakers out there, you’ll find the recipe to probably be simple enough. And, for all you bakers out there, please feel free to help me figure out the baking time necessary for this cake, as in writing this blog post, I realized why I had some parts of the cake that were still raw. Nitza’s recipe calls for a three-layer cake and I put the whole mix in one bundt pan.


Back to the recipe now.

You start off by sifting flour, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, she says that you’ve got to sift the flour, before measuring it, without hitting the cup. What?

I don’t know. So I measured the flour, baking powder and salt and sifted it.

In my mixing stand, I beat the butter until creamy and I added the sugar, a bit at a time.

I then added eggs, one by one, making sure that it was well mixed before adding the next egg. I then added milk and vanilla and it looked like the batter had been cortada, or separated (which Nitza assures you is the right thing that happens), and it came back together when I added the dry ingredients to it.

dry to wet

You pour the dry ingredients into the wet, but do not beat them together. You gently mix them with a spatula until well blended, and pour it into three individual 9” round pans that you have greased and sprinkled with flour.

Not into a bundt pan, unless you want to make Louis the Alligator and then you need some help with the time.

bundt pan

The recipe says 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven is good for the three pans. For me, 60 minutes in a bundt pan didn’t seem to cut it, but I’ll take suggestions.

And, that green frosting? Well, it was actually another recipe. I was in major production mode. I wasn’t just going to knock out one recipe with this birthday party.

Recipe #362: Crema de Mantequilla (Buttercream Frosting)

If I would have known sooner that buttercream frosting was so easy to make, I seriously may have changed my closed-minded opinions about baking.


Butter, sugar, milk and vanilla. All in a stand mixer, little by little. Beat well. Frost your cake.


So easy, I decided to make yet another frosting. Heck, everything in the kitchen was dirty already.

Recipe #364: Crema de Mantequilla de Café (Coffee-buttercream Frosting)

con cafe ingredients

Make Cuban coffee and add it to the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla. Beat well and frost something else you may have baked.

buttercream de cafe

Once the cake had fully cooled, I had my master baker step into the mix. My husband really enjoys baking. He’s good at it, also. And, his engineer-type brain was perfect for shaping Louis.

baked cake

He split the bundt cake into three pieces and arranged two of the pieces into an “s” shape. The third piece, he sliced into two halves, at an angle. Half the piece would be the tail, sloping downward, and the other half would be used to place the four alligator feet.

form the alligator

Once that was set into place, we dropped a few drops of green food coloring into the buttercream frosting and mixed it well. It was a perfect shade for Louis and we frosted him perfectly.

We used a marshmallow, cut in half, for the whites of his eyeballs and a malted milk chocolate ball for the brown of his eyes. We used green m&ms as scales down his back to his tail and mint gummy leaves as his feet and some more scales.

final product

Louis looked like Ed, the loony hyena from The Lion King, more than Louis the Alligator from the Princess and the Frog. But, to my daughter, he looked perfect. And that is all that matters.

She was so proud of her birthday cake and that makes me beam inside. Another three recipes down, and another memory tucked away. This is, after all, what matters.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

66: Pure de Chicharos / Split Pea Soup

1 cup dry split peas
3 cups water
1/4 pound ground ham (or ham cubes)
1 boullion cube (Maggi)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 cup squash or pumpkin, cubed
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Wash and soak split peas overnight in a bowl.
2. Drain the water and place the soaked green beans in a soup pot.
3. Add the new water and ham.
4. Cook over medium heat until split peas have softened.
5. Add the rest of the ingredients.
6. Cook over low heat until pumpkin is fork-tender.
7. Osterize with a hand blender, right in the pot.
8. Serve right away.

For a less-thick soup, increase the amount of water to 4 cups.

Sopa de Chicharos (Split Pea Soup)

For the longest time, until my early twenties, I didn't know what a chicharo was. I actually didn't know much about beans, for that matter. Yes, I know it may sound strange that this Cubanita didn't know much about beans, but it wasn't until I started dating my husband and family that I learned the power of the bean, and of bean soups.

Seriously, it's because of that threat that your mom gives you before you visit a friend's house that I finally started to eat Cuban food. You know the line I'm talking about. The one about making sure you don't embarrass your family by being rude and not eating what is placed in front of you when you're a guest at someone's house.

Not only did I have my mom's words running through my head each time I'd sit down to a plate of ropa vieja, carne con papas, arroz con pollo or any other Cuban plate made by one of my husband's family elders, but I also had the story of what happened to Mike during one such dinner.

Mike is a friend of my husband's cousin (keep up, only three people involved in those eight words). Mike was over for dinner one night and my husband's aunt served him a plate of food. Mike was raised by a smart mom and he, too, had the "don't be rude and eat everything" mantra going on in his head as a guest in his friend's home. So, like a good guest, he ate everything on his plate so quickly, that my husband's aunt asked him if he wanted a second plate. Non-rude Mike said yes, and he ate the second helping quietly. This went on for plates and plates (it's a Cuban story, so maybe it was only two plates - max three - but no one will ever know the truth).

Mike finally had to leave and go home. To the bathroom. To return all the food he had wolfed down in an effort to not be a bad guest. The worst part? My husband's family was witness to all this and to this day, whenever Mike is in town visiting, we hear how he's such a good, non-rude guest that ate and ate and ate - and threw up.

So, one day, my husband's other aunt, Bivi, made one of her bean soup dishes and I was forced to face the bean. And I loved it. I think it must have been a big plate of Judias (white beans) with rice that I was served, and I was hooked. And anytime, to this day, that Bivi makes soup, I try my best to swipe a container and bring it home for the week.

And, that's how I learned what a Chicharo (Split Pea) was and for years, I've made my own sopa de chicharos in a slow cooker, foolproof, all day long, with ease. But now, since Nitza doesn't do slow cooker, it was time to make real chicharos, Cuban style.

Recipe #25: Pure de Chicharos

pure de chicharos ingredients

The title is really split-pea puree, but we refer to it as sopa de chicharos or just plain chicharos. Apparently, there's a myth out there (but some swear it's true) that when you make chicharos, you can't make them in a pressure cooker because the chicharos clog up the pressure cooker exhaust and it can cause the lid to explode off. I've heard that story before, but since Nitza makes no mention of the pressure cooker, I go old-school with the cazuela.

It's easy, and if I would know how to buy calabaza (pumpkin or squash) that would have been ripe and ready to eat, it would have been easier. I guess the calabaza I chose was too green and there was no softening it. I must have cooked that soup for four hours.

Four hours of cooking plus an overnight of soaking the split-peas even before getting started. No quickie meals here.

soaked chicharos

My friend, Adrian, recently explained why this cookbook was called Cocina al Minuto and that it had nothing to do with Cooking in a Minute. He explained that it was really named after the French-style of cooking, A la minute, which the website, Practically Edible, defines as: an expression used to describe a dish that is prepared right away when you order it.

Short-order cooking. Really? The recipes in this book are meant to be cooked when someone orders a dish? You better have good bread and wine at your restaurant if you're cooking this way. Your guests will be waiting for over an hour, at least, for anything. Even for a sandwich at my rate.

But, again, I stress that this recipe is an easy one. Once you throw out the water the split-peas soaked in overnight, you place them in a cazuela and cover them with cold water and ground ham. You cook the peas until tender and then you add: a cubito Maggi (boullion cube), a small chopped onion, half a red pepper, a cup of calabaza, butter and salt over low heat until the calabaza is tender - good luck!

adding the stuff in

I then took my hand blender and osterized it 'til silky smooth. It was awesome. I ate it for days and those that tried it loved it.

hand blender

My kids? Well, my kids didn't try it, though. Maybe I should send them to my husband's aunt home, along with the mantra, so they could learn. I sure hope it doesn't take them twenty years to see what they're missing.

finished product

66: Pure de Chicharos

1 cup split peas
3 cups water
1/4 lb ham, cut into cubes
1 Maggi cube
1 small onion
1/2 red pepper
1 cup squash, cubed
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Wash the split peas and let them soak in water, overnight.
2. Strain out the water used to soak the split peas overnigt.
3. In a soup pot, add fresh water, the split peas and the ham.
4. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over medium heat until the split peas have softened, about an hour.
5. Add the rest of the ingredients and leave on low heat until the squash has softened.
6. Using a hand-blender, puree the contents right in the pot (off the heat). *If you do not have a hand blender, place contents in a blender and puree*.

Serve immediately. Makes six servings.