I was chatting with one of my teammates on Friday afternoon, close to the end of the day, and said that I was going home to do some baking. He asked what I was baking, and when I answered, he asked what made it Polish. I suggested it might have something to do with the vodka!
We were having friends (family, really) over for dinner on Saturday night, so I decided I’d do my baking when I got home from work on Friday. This was pretty much necessary, regardless of my plans, given that this cake needs 8 hours in the fridge after composing and before serving. The cake is composed of a sponge cake base, which is syruped with the aforementioned vodka, along with black tea, a bit of lemon juice, and sugar. On top of that, is a layer of pastry buttercream mixed with cocoa and walnuts, then a layer of pastry buttercream mixed with chopped chocolate and raisins.
I started by making the pastry cream, since it seemed like it needed the most attention while cooling. After it’s made, you’re supposed to leave it covered with plastic wrap on the counter for an hour, then it goes into the fridge, and gets stirred every 15 minutes, until it reaches 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. I realized after the first stir that it probably didn’t matter if I stirred it every 15 minutes, since it was going to be sitting in the fridge overnight anyway.
On to the sponge cake!
Beat egg whites into a meringue, then add sugar, then yolks one by one, then fold in a flour and baking powder mixture.
Spread it into a springform pan. My pan was a bit on the short side, but since the cake is only supposed to come about halfway up the sides, after baking, I figured this was fine, at this point.
The cake layer was beautiful coming out of the oven… then you go and poke a bunch of holes in it, so that it absorbs the syrup:
Little piece of Taylor household trivia: when we get home after work or after the gym (depending on the day of the week), we pretty much always have a cup of tea and chat about our day. So, to make the vodka/tea syrup, I just used what was left in the teapot after we’d both poured our cups of tea. 🙂
At this point, I put everything in the fridge, so I could start again on Saturday morning.
While the pastry cream and butter were coming to room temperature, I prepped the rest of the ingredients. Toast and slice walnuts, soak & dry raisins, and chop chocolate. The weird looking thing in the back is my jar of cocoa.
To compose the pastry buttercream, you need pastry cream, and exactly 340 grams of unsalted butter. Preferably high fat. I bought a package of Stirling Creamery’s high fat euro-style butter, and figured I’d make up the rest with the regular unsalted in the fridge. As I was adding chunks of what was left in the second package, I started to worry I was going to run out. Ha!
So, you beat your butter senseless, then gradually add the pastry cream. At a couple of points, the mixture started to curdle and separate. I think this was because I was a bit too impatient, and I didn’t wait quite long enough for the pastry cream to warm up from the fridge. It was much closer to 60 degrees than 70. Each time this happened, I stopped adding pastry cream, and warmed the stand mixer bowl up with a tea towel that I’d soaked with hot water, then wrung out. It smoothed out nicely, I think.
Once that’s composed, you add cocoa to half the mixture, along with the “sliced” walnuts. As an aside: it turns out that slicing walnuts is ridiculously tedious, and they just seemed to crumble anyway, so I ended up just chopping about half of them.
To the other half, add raisins and chocolate:
Spread the chocolate layer on first, then the raisin-y layer.
Into the fridge to set. Then out of the fridge, to warm up a bit.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that we had
friendsfamily over for dinner on Saturday night. Why “family”?
Bill & Nancy were in my dad’s class in Civil Engineering at the University of Waterloo in the late 70s/early 80s. They became quite good friends with my parents, even babysitting my sister, when she was <2, and they’ve known me since before I was me. 🙂 My family followed them across the country to Alberta after my dad graduated. They ultimately moved back to Ontario, and my family ultimately ended up in New Brunswick. Since Dad’s family has always been in this area of Ontario, we’ve visited them regularly when here to visit family, and their family has visited us numerous times out East, as well. We’ve got a picture of James (their son, who’s a few years younger than me) walking down a street in downtown Toronto, sandwiched between my sister and I, holding our hands, after he refused to hold his Mom’s hand, at about the age of 9 or 10, I’d guess. When I moved (back) to Ontario for grad school, Bill and Nancy became really good friends to me, and they were among the first people to meet my husband when he came to visit me, here. They have us out to their cottage on Lake Huron at least a couple of times a year, and they give us the use of it whenever we’d like that they’re not using it, too (like a couple of nights at Christmas this year). We spent 2 weeks in Italy with them at this time last year, too. Anyway, long story short – they’re family, and have been, for a long time.
I haven’t known our other dinner guests nearly as long, because I met them both through work, and I’ve “only” been with my employer for 8.5 years, but I consider them family, too. I can’t give a story about our families knowing each other for years, or tell you anything interesting about how we met, but I think this story gives a taste of the relationship Jay & I have with Megan and Doug: For the second year in a row, the 2014 office Christmas party was held the Friday night at the end of the week of “PTC Live Stuttgart.” Doug attended as usual to deliver a roadmap presentation and meet with customers. After switching to a new role in the late summer (Doug & Megan were the first to know I was considering the new role), I tagged along to the event to meet face-to-face with some of our German automotive customers that I’ve been working with. Our flight home landed at about 4, and dinner at the Christmas party was scheduled to start at 7. At the best of times, the Toronto airport’s about an hour’s drive from Waterloo. Friday, during evening rush hour, and after adding time for customs, we knew we’d have to be really lucky to make it home in time to meet up with our spouses, let alone get ready for the party after a trans-Atlantic flight. What to do? Well, Jay picked up Megan on his way to the party, and Doug & I stopped at a highway rest stop to change into a suit & party dress. After spending most of 3 hours stuck in traffic, we walked into the party at about 7:02, where our spouses had saved us a couple of empty seats. 🙂
Cast of characters established, what did they think of the Polish Princess cake?
Jay took his first bite, then glared at me. Immediately, I looked at him and said “I TOLD you there would be raisins in it.” Doug confirmed this, since they were both on the email where I laid out the menu plans. Jay threatened to take the cake into another room and return a plate with just the top layer left. Nancy said that’d be better than a plate of spit-out raisins. Doug said he didn’t like the ‘middle’ layer, but I think it was the chunks of chocolate in the top layer that were the problem for him. Megan wasn’t completely sold on the walnuts. Bill and Nancy both insisted that the whole thing was fantastic, and didn’t know what everyone else was complaining about.
I liked this cake, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite. I think I’d be happy if it were just cocoa pastry cream on top, with nothing else interfering. The sponge cake was nice and soft, and the tea/lemon/vodka added something… but I feel like there are almost too many competing interests in this cake (as evidenced by the wildly mixed reaction). I like soft things soft, crunchy things crunchy, and creamy things creamy. Mixing them all together into one dessert like this, I’m not so sure.
We set the leftover cake aside, pulled out Cards Against Humanity, played through 12 cards each, and I won! I’m the most horrible! 😉 Then we headed out to the backyard for the second campfire in 2 weekends. Time spent around a fire with good friends always reminds me of this quote from one of my favourite books:
“If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you cannot, friends you’ll never be and you need not waste time in trying.”
― L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle