Cinco de Mayo and cake

I don’t deal well with cravings. Never have. They ping around my brain until the whole thing is lit up like a pinball machine. It’s dangerous to walk around in such a state, but I’ve learned the hard way that indulging is the only way to reset, even if you possess the willpower of a thousand Southern Baptist virgins, as I do. My most recent reset took place over the weekend as I gave in to a weeks-long craving for coconut cake. Now I’m happy and sane once again after devouring far too much of it.

At least it wasn’t heavy. Cooking Light is a great resource for all kinds of healthy dishes and not-too-bad-for-you desserts, so I turned to their website for super-light coconut cake and cream cheese frosting recipes. Since baking frightens the bejeezus outta me, I’ve been reading a lot about it online, where I learned that cakes benefit from sitting in the freezer for a few hours before you frost them. Like a little bakery penalty box, the freezer forces the cake to get its crumb together before it gets back in the game. Who knew? Pretty much everyone but me! So after dutifully freezing and thawing the cake before applying the crumb layer (a crumb layer — brilliant!), I got down to the serious business of frosting with my new offset spatula and produced a cake I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve to guests.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough cream cheesy goodness (or hours of daylight) left to test my new decorating tips, but maybe I’ll try them next time. I’m already planning my next baking adventure — a red velvet cake for a friend’s birthday in a few weeks. And she’s kind, so she won’t mind if her cake looks like something from a 1st grade science project.

The reason there was NO TIME for decoration was because we needed to get the Cinco de Mayo celebration rolling so as not to bring shame on white people everywhere with our lack of (relative) inebriation. I knew I didn’t want to make regular skirt steak fajitas, but wasn’t sure what to prepare instead. After I tooled around online for a little while, the paper of record came through with a recipe for fish tacos that really surprised me — not like, “Where am I and where are my pants?” surprise but more like, “Cool … I didn’t get sick from those 25-cent oysters!” surprise. I’ve only had fried versions of fish tacos, so I didn’t know how this broiled one would work, but it was really delicious, even with the substitutions I made. As banana leaves are few and far between in Ringwood (where Gil and I are probably the most ethnically exotic folks around), I used about a teaspoon of pureed chipotle pepper with adobo to give the sauce a smoky flavor, and I used scrod instead of halibut because I didn’t want my tacos to taste like ass. We had pureed black beans with chorizo on the side and would’ve had corn fritters with roasted garlic and cilantro sauce, too, but it was impossible to get everything finished at the same time.

So Saturday was a little rushed, I guess, but we enjoyed our Cinco de Mayo anyway. The traditional Mexican gin martini might’ve had a little something to do with that — the Official MI Husband is turning into quite the mixologist!

recipes after the jump

Shredded Fish Tacos Adapted from Patricia Quintana, via NY Times

1 banana leaf (sold dry, in packages, in Asian and Latino markets)
1 pound halibut, grouper or other firm white-fleshed fish, preferably 2 fillets
1 1/2 white onions, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or butter
1 teaspoon minced serrano or other hot fresh chili
2 cups chopped plum tomato, drained of excess liquid
Corn tortillas
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

1. Turn on broiler and adjust rack so it is about 4 inches from heat source (alternatively, turn oven to 500 degrees). Line bottom of a pan just large enough to accommodate fish with banana leaf; it is O.K. if leaf hangs over sides a bit. Put fish on leaf and top with about a third of the onion, the garlic, some salt and pepper, a tablespoon oil or butter and 1/3 cup water. Heat on stove top until leaf begins to smoke a bit, then transfer to broiler or oven. Cook until fish is done, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, put remaining butter or oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add remaining onion, along with chili and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and turns golden; when it begins to brown, about 10 minutes later, add tomato and keep stirring and cooking; mixture will be quite dry. When it is saucy, taste and adjust seasoning and reserve about half; shred cooked fish into what remains in pan.

3. Pile fish mixture into tortillas; garnish with cilantro and serve, passing remaining sauce on side.

Yield: 4 servings.

Black Beans adapted from a Food Network recipe

1 1/4 cups black beans (about 1/2 pounds)
12 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 link chorizo, chopped
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more for the table
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the beans in a large saucepan, add the water and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Set aside, covered, for 1 hour.

Return the beans to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cook uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook until fat has rendered and edges are crispy. Add to beans. To the skillet, add the onion and peppers and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, oregano, and coriander and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the onion mixture to the beans and continue simmering until the beans are very tender and the liquid has thickened, about 1 1/2 hours more.

If the beans seem too thick, adjust the consistency with a little bit of water. (My beans actually were a little watery, so I pureed them with an immersion blender.) Stir in the vinegar, season with the salt, cayenne, and pepper to taste.

Coconut Cake from Cooking Light

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 1/2 cups cake flour (about 10 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup egg substitute
2 large eggs
3/4 cup light coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Lightly coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust pans with 1 tablespoon flour.

Lightly spoon 2 1/2 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place 2 cups sugar and 6 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes or until well blended. Add egg substitute and eggs to sugar mixture; beat well. Add flour mixture and coconut milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon extract.

Spoon batter into prepared pans. Sharply tap the pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans. Remove wax paper; discard. Cool cakes on wire racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup (8 ounces) Neufchâtel cheese, chilled
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the first 4 ingredients at medi-um speed of a mixer until smooth. Lightly spoon sugar into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Gradually add sugar to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).

2 Replies to “Cinco de Mayo and cake”

  1. Amy– I usually really like your food photos but am freaked out by the beans here. Is that cheese on them? I don’t bame you, I just don’t think pureed black beans are naturally photogenic.

  2. It’s cheese, yes. Delicious goat’s milk cheddar.

    If you think this picture is bad, you should’ve seen the huevos rancheros I made with the leftovers! Egg yolks, pureed black beans, and green salsa — we had to eat with our eyes closed.

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