Monday, January 16, 2017

A Childhood Chocolate Favorite - An Editorial Photo Shoot and Foodstyling Project

When it comes to your own personal history with food, how far back can you remember? Most chefs and passionate home cooks that I know can easily recollect the first dishes they made or the person that taught or inspired them to cook.

I started cooking and baking as soon as I could stand on a chair and reach the stove. One of my very first cakes was an easy recipe that was on the back of a Hershey's Cocoa can. There's a reason why this recipe is 40-plus years old and garners so many five-star ratings on their website's comments section. Using this as inspiration, I recently collaborated with photographer Rachelle Bendixen on an editorial photo project that tells a story about making this simple and delicious rustic cake. As a commercial food stylist, I don't always get the opportunity to share my work here on my blog – it usually goes straight to my business site's portfolio section. With this project, however, the personal connection that I have with this cake lends itself perfectly to my blog as well. I'm excited to share the results of our work here...
I wanted to style this shoot with the simplest props to help tell a story about the history of this cake from my perspective. She gave me full creative reign and captured beautiful images (as well as a soon-to-be-released podcast that she has been laboring over).
My prop choices were rustic old baking tools with a lovely patina and dark, distressed wood. Some of the utensils have actually been in the family for several generations. For the backdrop, Rachelle chose a beautiful piece of steel that she buffed to bring out the swirls of patina. Her lighting was perfect and the mood was dark and rustic.
I brought my son in to be our hand model for this shoot and to me, it just adds to the story telling by adding another generation.

Keeping with the simplistic theme, I went with an easy ganache for both the filling (chilled and whipped) and the topping (warm).

If you are looking for an absolutely easy and decadent cake, I highly recommend this recipe.  Give it a try and let me know how you like it. Do you have a favorite recipe, cake of otherwise, that has stayed in your repertoire since your childhood?

A huge thank you to Rachelle for her open heart on this project. I am so grateful that she was able to capture my vision and the rustic charm and love I have for this cake, not to mention her countless hours in creating and editing the podcast. I would also be remiss if I did not thank my son and occasional assistant for generously stepping in as our model - I adore you and I love that you have the same passion for food as your Mama - may you continue to pursue food with passion and creativity. And also to my husband and partner in life for all of the graphic design and text editing. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Upside Down Chocolate Blood Orange Cake

Have you ever had "one of those days" that turns into "one of those seasons"?

If you're a follower of my blog, you might be wondering if I have "checked-out" because I have not posted much lately. The truth is,  I've taken some time off from blogging to concentrate on my business and get a little more focused on my website. As grateful as I am for my business, I also long for those days when I could just throw myself in the kitchen and bake for no other reason than the cathartic essence of non-work-related baking. I absolutely love what I do for a living and after 30-plus years, being able to have that "dream job" is something I pinch myself over every morning when I wake.  I'm not sure what happened, but last week I found myself in need of some serious "zen baking" and as luck or God would have it, a day came up with no appointments, family business, lacrosse games, or anything else to take up my time. So in the kitchen I went.

I love winter citrus, mostly because of my beautiful Meyer lemon tree that continues to be prolific year after year. This year, my blood orange tree came back with a few oranges (we thought it was a goner after freezing a couple of years in a row) and so I wanted to pay homage to the gorgeous red and orange, sunset-colored flesh of this delicious citrus. It's a natural to pair orange with chocolate, so I set out to research chocolate and orange desserts.

Not quite Nigella makes a really good blood orange cake that I've made before, so I adapted her recipe but opted for a dark chocolate cake base. What I love about upside down cakes are that one recipe can make two cakes, since they are not layered, or three smaller cakes (like I did here), so you can give them as gifts.

It makes sense that after being on hiatus for a few months and having a schedule that seems so upside-down that I would come back with this cake, I'm jus' sayin'! 

Upside Down Chocolate Blood Orange Cake


3 Blood Oranges (sliced thin, ideally on a mandoline)
1 Cup of Water
1/2 Cup of Sugar

One recipe of your favorite Chocolate Cake (you can use a box or your favorite from scratch).
My go-to, never fail recipe since forever is this Hershey's recipe.

It's important to line your pans with parchment paper, as the oranges can become quite sticky.

Make your cake batter and set it aside.

Decide on how many cake pans you will need. I went with two 5 1/2 in. and one 7 1/2 in. One batch of cake batter will yield up to two 9 in. pans.

Pre-heat oven to 350˚

In a heavy, large skillet, stir the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and bubbles are forming around the outer rim of the skillet.  Carefully place your orange slices in the skillet so that they are all easily covered with the syrup. You may have some overlapping - I used a chopstick to maneuver the slices without breaking them.

Lower the heat and continue to boil until the rinds on the oranges are translucent.  Carefully remove (I used the chopstick) the slices and lay on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bring syrup back up to boil and reduce until they are a corn syrup consistency.

Using a pastry brush distribute the thick syrup amongst your pans.
Carefully arrange orange slices overlapping each other to cover the baking pans.

Distribute your chocolate cake batter among your pans. Bake as followed per cake recipes or back of box mix.
I baked my pans for 25 min until a tooth pick came out clean in the middle.
As soon as you pull the cakes out, let rest for 5 min, then invert onto a plate. Carefully peel away the parchment paper to reveal the glazed oranges. Cool completely.