Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Five-Minute Pastry: Ginger-Caramel Icebox Cake

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To be honest, this week's recipe is so basic it barely qualifies to be placed on a cooking blog.

In fact, technically speaking, it doesn't qualify to be on a cooking blog -- there's no cooking involved. Even so, it merits inclusion here; if my nephew Cooper's amazed smile can't convince you, nothing will.

This is a modern update on a classic 1950's "housewife dessert," and yet it's aesthetically attractive enough to wow your guests when it's brought out to the table. Little will your guests know just how easy and how fast this delicious cake is to make, how many of the basic ingredients can be purchased straight from your supermarket's shelves; the refrigerator does all the work for you. There's no time to waste -- let's get right to it.

Ginger-Caramel Icebox Cake
Serves eight people

1 Box of Ginger Wafers, 9 ounces (or about 80 cookies)

1 Quart of Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Pinch of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
2" of Raw Ginger Root, grated
1/2 Cup of Confectioner's Sugar (optional)

1 Jar of Caramel Sauce
(Editor's Note: If you're one of those people who just won't feel right about making this unless they bake their own ginger wafers, there is a nice recipe for them here.)

Start by assembling your ingredients.

Whip your cream in a stand mixer at high speed, until light and fluffy. You can also use a hand-mixer for this. If you like your desserts a little sweeter, feel free to add the confectioner's sugar during the whipping process. I myself think there's plenty of other sweet things involved, so I tend to skip it. Then again, I have almost no sweet tooth. Proceed as pleases you best.

Once things are well whipped (but not so whipped that they turn into butter), you'll want to add in the flavoring ingredients. Start by adding in the salt and vanilla. Next, using a microplane or other small grater, shave in about two inches of ginger root, having first peeled off the outer skin with a sharp knife. Fold until well mixed.

From here, it's time to build the cake using alternating layers of cookies and cream. Start with the cookies, one cookie in the middle of the plate with a ring of six surrounding it. Coat this well with about an inch or more of cream, and then build the next layer on top of that, and so on. Build until you run out of cookies, and then coat the top with a thick layer of cream, as much as you have left.

Covering it with a shell (I used a colander, but foil or a large pot will work too), place the entire thing in the refrigerator overnight. The refrigerator time will allow the cream to soak into the cookies, rendering them soft and cake-like. The cream will thicken too, resulting in a spicy, semi-sweet frosting between each layer.

The next day, about 10 minutes before you want to serve it, take the cake out of the fridge and drizzle the caramel syrup over it. Store bought syrup is fine here; it's not like you baked the cookies, right? If you feel the need to "make it your own," a tablespoon or two of bourbon or a pinch or two of smoked salt will add a nice twist.

(Editor's Note #2: Once again, if you're one of those people who just won't feel right about making this unless they make everything from scratch, use the caramel recipe found on this previous post, stopping the caramel cooking process at 230 degrees F, or the "thread" stage.)

From here, slice and serve. The final product:

This cake is a study in contrasts; light as air, but with a spicy, warming kick of ginger. The texture here is something rarely seen in such a simple dish, more akin to Ill Flotante than a Betty Crocker cake mix -- even if the ingredients say otherwise. Perhaps this seems too easy and processed to be any good; perhaps this is just culinary subterfuge, no matter how you look at it. Perhaps this breaks every slow-food, organic, artisan standard that most progressive cooks strive to meet. Does it feel wrong? Sure. Should you make it anyway? Oh, yes.

Next week, we're turning our oven on low and slow for an easy weekend feast, a marriage of pork and chocolate. I know, it sounds odd, but you'll just have to trust me on this one; you won't want to miss it.

Music: Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers -- "Hard to Handle"

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