Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Least I Could Do

I have to preface this post by saying that nothing - and I mean nothing - that I did for Andrew's birthday dinner can ever begin to make a dent in what I owe him for everything over the years. Not only is today his 22nd birthday (which I butchered, but that won't be discussed further tonight), but it also marks our 4 1/2 year anniversary. In that relatively short time, he has stuck with me through thick and thin (literally - we started dating when I was overweight, and now as you know I'm painfully thin), moved all over Hell's half acre just to be with me, shelled out countless dollars on "just because" gifts to make me smile, been victim to myriads of my kitchen experiments, given me millions of massages when my bones ached so much I couldn't stand and took me out of the depressed pit I had wallowed myself into over the years. He's played a whole cast of roles including dishwasher, heating pad, lackey, therapist, punching bag, personal trainer and pillow.

And I... what have I done? Well, I've moved away twice (once to Ottawa to start at Carleton U, and then back after falling ill and having a nervous breakdown), nagged him relentlessly about his schoolwork and career path progress, and even at times caused him to feel unwelcome in my home and life. I don't say it often enough, if at all, to his face, but I am truly amazed and grateful that he has stuck with me as long as he has. I just don't know how I could ever begin to repay his kindness.

The only way I can start to, at least at the moment, is with a dinner from the heart and a cake baked with all the love I have to give him.

I don't have a recipe for the steak - it was a prime sirloin cut and so doesn't really need one. All I did was marinade it for 8 hours in PC's Steak Spice marinade, then broil it to medium doneness (Andrew's preferred way). The stuffed potatoes were a little more involved (though not much): I simply scrubbed and pierced two Russets before baking them off at 375F for 50 minutes. I let them cool about 5 minutes before splitting the skins and scooping out the fleshy starch into a bowl, where I added a dash of steak seasoning, garlic powder, a little black pepper, a healthy tablespoon of thick plain yogurt and about half a handful of Fruilano cheese. I stuffed the filling back into the skins and topped them with the other half-handful of cheese and a sprinkle of smoked paprika before covering the tray with plastic and stashing it in the fridge until he come for dinner. All I had to do was bake at 375F for 20 minutes after that and they were perfectly hot and crispy.

The cake was an invention of mine that was sparked by a Food Network cake challenge Andrew and I saw one afternoon earlier this year. The Triple Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting looked delicious indeed, and I quickly ordered the hazelnut extract online once I had scoured my local bakery supply shops with no luck. I got more elaborate as the weeks of looking at the recipe went by, and the triple-hazelnut ingredient list soon saw two more hazelnutty additions - hazelnut oil, and good old Nutella. I was psyched, because there was nothing in my mind that could beat a cake that looked and tasted like a giant Ferrero Rocher.

When it came time to begin seriously putting a plan of action (and a shopping list) together about a week before I actually baked off the cake, I was hit with the first of the obstacles: the cake and filling recipe both called for Frangelico liqueur, which was not in our stockpile. This wouldn't have been an issue, except I discovered the distinct possibility of a liquor worker's strike on the cutoff day. I tore off to the LCBO after harried calls to both my mom and Andrew to see if they could find any, and secured the last bottle in the store (apparently if you threaten to take away the people's booze, they will raid every shelf). The one (and only, I thought) hurdle down.

Problems number 2 and 3 were variations on the same theme: I required ground hazelnuts in both cake and filling, and though I had seen them at various Bulk Barns several times, they did not exist at all when I went to purchase them! After tripping out to 3 different locations I did find slivered ones, which I snatched up to grind at home. Getting home, I doled them out into the good old processor and got all that I needed, and I started to make the cake. After I stuck the pans into the oven though, I noticed that my hands were very uncomfortable. Like, puffy, red, itchy rash uncomfortable. I had developed a skin reaction to the hazelnut oils, which lasted the entire remainder of the afternoon before finally ebbing away after lots of aloe and cold water! I managed to find a pair of clean surgical gloves to use when making the filling though - I learned my lesson!

I can't say that the cake is in any way poportionate to any of the gifts Andrew has bestowed upon me, but the look on his face when he saw it for the first time and the lavish compliments he gave me while eating it make me believe it's a good way to start.

Never Enough Nuts Filbert Cake
Serves 16
11.5 oz flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3.5 oz ground hazelnuts
1/3 cup hazelnut liqueur
1 tsp hazelnut extract
2 tbsp hazelnut (or canola) oil
1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 oz Nutella
8.5 oz sugar
4 eggs, beaten

---Filling / Frosting---
1.5 oz butter, cubed
1/4 cup flour
5 oz sugar
2 tbsp skim milk powder
1 cup half and half cream
2 tbsp Nutella
3 oz ground hazelnuts
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur
1/2 tbsp hazelnut extract
1 1/2 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

---Cake---
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease three 8" cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and hazelnuts, set aside.
  3. Separately, whisk together the hazelnut liqueur, extract, oil and yogurt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter, Nutella and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add eggs, beating well. Continue to beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  6. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate additions of the flour and yogurt mixtures, beating well after each addition.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cakes test done.
  8. Cool 30 minutes in the tins, then invert onto wire racks and cool completely.

---Filling---

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Sprinkle in flour, stirring well with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  3. Add sugar, skim milk powder, cream and Nutella.
  4. Reduce heat and cook, stirring, 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Cool 1 minute, then stir in hazelnuts, salt, liqueur, extract and chocolate.
  6. Return to heat and warm just until chocolate melts.
  7. Immediately pour into a non-reactive bowl and cool completely to room temperature.

---Assembly---

  1. Level cake rounds if overly domed.
  2. Sandwich even amounts of filling between the cake rounds.
  3. Cover entire cake with remaining filling mixture.
  4. Chill before piping decorations.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 527.9
Total Fat: 29.8 g
Cholesterol: 97.8 mg
Sodium: 39.3 mg
Total Carbs: 57.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 8.3 g

9 comments :

Pete Eatemall said...

b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l Post! U r both lucky to have each other! cake looks adorable!! Happy bday 2 andrew! happy day to u!!

kat said...

Sounds like you've got a good man there

foodie411 said...

Awwww! =)

elly said...

I absolutely LOVE hazelnuts so this cake looks so perfect to me! Congrats on your 4.5 year anniversary. :)

anna said...

Awww, congratulations and happy birthday to Andrew! You are so sweet to persevere through everything to make him that cake, itchy hands and all!

Jo said...

Love your story and I do think that it's the effort that is so much more appreciated than the end result. You did great!

Jen @ MyKitchenAddiction.com said...

The cake sounds so delicious! What a great way to celebrate!

Maria said...

I love the cake. You did a fine job:) Glad you have each other. life is so much easier when you are with someone you love!

Diana said...

What a beautiful way to honor him, the cake yes, but especially the post.