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Bert Greene's Kitchen

Bidding for Culinary Fame With Rich Cake

July 10, 1986| Greene is a New York-based food columnist

My father used to worry about my future. And rightly so, I suppose, since I spent the better part of my adolescence unable to decide what I wanted to be.

"Remember," he would caution whenever I showed signs of career ambivalence, "a jack of all trades is the master of none."

Sage advice--which I ignored. For I had just heard the one about "the Renaissance man with more than one string to his bow."

But I must confess, my father's words haunted me a few weeks ago--after I made my professional debut as an auctioneer at a fund-raising event in Washington. The occasion was the recent International Assn. of Cooking Professionals' annual convention. The auction was to benefit CAREF (the organization's Cooking Advancement, Research and Education Foundation) which is a source of scholarships and research grants for serious students of the culinary arts worldwide.

Eclectic Epicurean Offerings

All the treasures up for grabs were donated by dedicated culinarians. The mix was eclectic to say the least--from the late James Beard's favorite shrimp tureen to a week of cooking classes at La Varenne in Paris, including such diverse items as Gary Collins' TV apron and a night on the town with New York Magazine's Underground Gourmet. All offerings went at banner prices, a fact that made me walk on air for weeks afterward. Many told me, "If you ever decide to give up the stove, there's a gavel in your future."

The story has a coda, however. After my return from Washington I received a letter from a longtime pen pal (fan) whom I had never met. This woman just happened to be in Washington with her husband (a professional auctioneer) and witnessed my debut. In part her note reads:

"The auction was the most hysterical one we've ever seen. Actually, we were surprised we could even hear the bidding over the sound of rules crashing and breaking. I'm not saying you broke all the rules in the book--only 90% of them. The other 10% you either fractured or bent out of shape."

That was the end of my brilliant career as an auctioneer. But . . . just to keep my hand in, here's a priceless recipe. What am I bid for it?

What makes a recipe a work of art? The right ingredients and non-fail directions. I'll stake my reputation on the following rich chocolately dessert straight out of my book "Greene On Greens."

TOMATO DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE WITH TOMATO- BUTTER CREAM FROSTING

2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound)

4 ounces sweet chocolate

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup milk

3 egg yolks

2 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 egg whites

Tomato-Butter Cream Frosting

Peel and seed tomatoes. Place in blender container and blend until smooth. There should be about 1 1/4 cups tomato puree. Reserve.

Place chocolate, brown sugar, milk and 1 egg yolk in top of double boiler. Cook, stirring occasionally, over hot water until smooth and slightly thickened. Set aside.

Sift cake flour with baking soda and salt.

Beat butter in large mixing bowl until light. Slowly beat in granulated sugar. Add remaining egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add tomato puree, vanilla and chocolate mixture. Beat thoroughly. Slowly stir in flour mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into cake batter. Pour batter into 2 buttered and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook. Cool on wire rack, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Spread Tomato-Butter Cream Frosting over bottom layer, sides and top of cake. Store in cool place until serving time but do not refrigerate. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Tomato-Butter Cream Frosting

1 medium ripe tomato (about 1/4 pound)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

4 extra-large egg yolks

1 tablespoon Cognac

3/4 cup powdered sugar

Cut tomato in half and place in blender. Blend until smooth. Strain through sieve and reserve. There should be about 4 1/2 tablespoons.

Beat butter in large bowl until light. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add strained tomato puree and Cognac. Slowly beat in powdered sugar.

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