Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An education

I think I freaked my parents out a little bit with my last post, which was not at all my intention. To set the record straight and lighten things up around here: things really are getting easier, each day I understand a little bit more of what people are saying, and I've been having quite a good time in the meantime.

One huge contributing factor is that Brazilians are the nicest people ever. Really. People have walked blocks out of their way to help me find buses, offered me fruit from their bags when I said I was hot (in case you´re thirsty...), given me rides to the other side of university campuses and invited me to lunch. It's both amazing and also makes me feel like a horrible person. I can't imagine what Brazilians must think of the rest of the world when they leave Brazil. The difference is really that remarkable. 

Certain people around here also had their birthday. Skillet tres leches cake=success.

I was also lucky enough to be invited to one of my roommate´s grandmother´s house for Sunday lunch, which I was psyched about because it was the first time I was going to eat Brazilian home cooking. My roommate had asked her to make rabada, a specialty of Rio made from the cow´s tail (yum?). In true grandmother fashion, she prepared enough food to feed a small army-- not only the rabada, which was delicious and served with potatoes and greens, but also black beans with sausage, rice, farofa (more on this some other time), stuffed pork, fried yuca, and a huge salad with cheese and quail eggs. I ate non-stop for more than an hour, trying my best to communicate in portuñol and enjoying eating family style for the first time since I moved here. For dessert we had a layered cream and ladyfinger dessert called pave along with an upside-down cake I had brought. How exactly anyone had room for dessert remains a mystery, but we pulled through, and then after coffee our hostess was disappointed that no one wanted a second round of the savory stuff. When she offered to send us home with some leftovers we readily agreed, and she sent us home with-- I kid you not-- enough food to last until mid week.

The upside-down cake I brought was mango-vanilla, which worked out nicely, but my favorite kind of upside-down cake involves a batter laced with fresh ginger. I had wanted to bring the ginger version but was afraid it was too out there (as far as I can tell ginger cakes are unheard of in Brazil), though I really doubt it would have been a problem. As far as the fruit, I´ve used apples, pears, pineapple, mango and even kumquats in the past. Kumquats are especially eye-catching (especially if you serve them to people who have never seen them before! Then you can make up stories about how the oranges got so small), and give the topping a really nice citrus-y bitterness.

The last time I made the ginger version, I used pineapple and served it on my boyfriend´s mother´s amazing plastic cake plates, so we ended up with a cake that looked straight out of a 1950's magazine, minus the maraschino cherries (we didn´t miss them). I also didn't go for the pineapple rings because I like more pineapple coverage for each piece of cake.

Sometimes I get asked what my favorite thing to make is, and my exceedingly annoying answer has now for awhile been, well it depends what country I´m in. Which is true, because depending on the weather, depending on what´s available, and depending on what´s typical, my desires and habits change. I do think cooking provides some kind of anchor, though, as well as a bridge to wherever I am. I´ve made upside-down cakes in Argentina, in Colombia, and now in Brazil, with whatever fruit is around, but I like that it´s a classically American dessert. Some things change, some things stay the same, we are where we are.

Words to live by: Please do not shit or pee in this area. Thank you. Education generates education.

Ginger Upside-Down Cake

For the topping:
2 Tbsp. (1 oz.) unsalted butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 ripe pineapple, peeled and cored

In a 9- or 10-in. cast-iron skillet melt the butter and brown sugar together over low heat, stirring, until melted and caramel-y. Turn off the heat. Cut your pineapple into slices 1 in. thick, then place them anyway you like in one layer over the caramel. You can arrange the slices so they all aim towards the center, or fan them out. It will look nice no matter what you do ("rustic"). Set aside and make the batter.

For the batter:
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
scant 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 eggs
1/3 c. molasses
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 tsp. of white or apple cider vinegar)

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. 
Cream the butter with the brown sugar until smooth. Add in the ginger and beat well, then add in the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Add in the molasses slowly, beating well. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a separate bowl. Add in a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, fold in to incorporate, then add in half of the buttermilk and stir to incorporate. Repeat with the flour, then buttermilk, then the remaining flour. Don´t overmix. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake until the cake springs back if you touch it lightly, 30-40 min. Being careful of the hot pan, run a knife around the outside of the cake. Place your serving plate face down over the cake, then quickly turn the pan upside down so that the cake slides out onto the plate. If any pieces of fruit stick to the bottom of the skillet, just put them back into the spaces they fell out of from the cake, no one will know the difference.

Torta Volteada de Gengibre

Para la parte de arriba:
30 g. de mantequilla sin sal
1/4 taza de azúcar rubia (morena)
1/2 piña madura, pelada y con el corazon sacado (o cualquier otra fruta que quieras)
una pizquita de sal

En un sarten de hierro fundido de 23 cm., derrite la mantequilla y el azúcar juntos sobre fuego bajo, revolviendo, hasta que estén bien mezclados. Apaga el fuego. Corta la piña en tajadas de 2-3 cm., después colocalas sobre el caramelo en una capa sola. Puedes arreglar las tajadas como quieras, va a lucir bien igual. Dejala y haz la masa.

Para la masa:
115 g. (4 oz.) mantequilla sin sal, a la temperatura ambiente 
1/2 taza pequeña de azúcar rubia (morena) 
1 cucharada de gengibre fresco rallado
2 huevos
1/3 taza de melado
1.5 taza de harina de trigo (tipo 000)
3/4 cucharita de polvo de hornear
3/4 cucharita de bicarbonato de soda
1/4 cucharita de sal
3/4 taza de suero de leche (o leche cortada con 2 cucharitas de vinagre de vino o vinagre de manzana)

Precaliente el horno a 160ºC. 
Mezcla la mantequilla con el azúcar hasta que estén bien incorporados y la masa está más aireada. Echale el gengibre y revuelve bien, después echa los huevos de a uno, revolviendo por un minuto después de cada uno. Agrega el melado despacio, batiendo bien. Tamiza la harina, polvo de hornear, bicarbonato de soda y sal a otro bol. Echa un tercio de la harina a la mezcla de mantequilla y mezcla ligeramente para incorporarla, después echa la mitad del suero de leche y revuelve para incorporarla. Repite con más harina, después el suero, y después la harina que queda, mezclando con cada adición. No la mezcles demasiado, solo para incorporar. Echa la masa sobre la fruta en el sarten. Horne hasta que un cuchillo metido al centro salga sin masa. Teniendo mucho cuidado con el sarten caliente, mete un cuchillo por el perimetro del recipiente para asegurarte que salga fácilmente. Pon un plato, encima del sarten y voltea la torta sobre el plato de modo tal que la fruta, que no era visible mientras la torta estaba en el sarten, queda ahora visible. La torta debería salir del sarten sin problema. Sí te quedan pedacitos pegados al fondo de fruta, simplemente recolocalos encima de la torta.

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