Friday, October 1, 2010

Chicken with Dumplings and Miami Beach Birthday Cake

It was Richard's birthday today, a special one, his fourth cycle birthday in the Year of the Tiger. I wanted to make something hearty but flavorful. Fall, regretfully, is here, and it has been raining all week. This recipe for Chicken and Dumplings just hit the spot. Now, mind you, these are not Jamaican nor Chinese style dumplings. This is all-American Chicken and Dumplings from America's Test Kitchen--with some variations. My departure from ATK included using seasoning salt, onion and garlic powder to season the chicken, and increasing the thyme to two teaspoons.

5 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
Seasoning salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 carrots, washed and scraped and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 ribs celery, washed and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
10 tiny onions, whole, peeled with ends trimmed
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro (optional)

First, I trimmed the chicken thighs of excess fat and skin. Then I patted the chicken pieces dry and liberally seasoned each one with seasoning salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. I put 2 tablespoons oil to heat in my Calphalon Everyday Pan over medium-high heat. In the heated oil, put half the chicken pieces in, skin-side down for five minutes to brown up. Then I turned them over and let them brown for 5 more minutes. I put the chicken pieces in a plate then I poured off the excess oil, leaving the browned bits, or fond in the pan. I added more oil and repeated the process with the remaining chicken. Then I removed and discarded the skin then set aside the thighs to cool. Reserve the chicken fat, if you wish, to make the dumplings.

To the pan, I added the butter and the  prepared vegetables.  Cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside. To the pan, stir in the flour and whisk in the sherry, incorporating any fond. Add broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Whisk until smooth. Nestle the chicken in the sauce and return the vegetables to the pot. Cover and simmer for one hour.

Discard bay leaves. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, and, using two forks, shred the chicken into pieces. Adjust the seasonings if necessary. Discard the bones. Make the dumplings.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or reserved chicken fat

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In a small bowl, put milk and butter. Microwave about 1 minute to melt the butter. Gradually add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir until the dough is soft and sticky. Using a teaspoon, drop golf-ball sized dumplings on top of the stew, spacing them about 1/4 inch apart. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until dumplings have doubled in size, about 15-18 minutes. Serve hot with steamed rice or steamed vegetables.

Vegetable side suggestions:
  • Steamed broccoli with lime juice and fresh ground black pepper
  • Steamed sugar snap peas with sweet red pepper sprinkled with soy sauce and pepper

Miami Beach Birthday Cake

I have no idea how this cake got its name! There are several versions of it on the internet at Some use grated coconut in the cake, but not being a fan of grated coconut, I found this one that didn't use any. I made two discoveries: one, this is really a coffee cake that's filled and frosted with whipped cream; and two, marbling the batter with the melted chocolate makes the texture visually interesting. I didn't have two layer cake pans so I used a 9x3 inch spring form cake pan. As a result I decreased the baking temperature from 375˚ to 350˚ and increased the baking time from 30-40 minutes to 55-65 minutes, the same as for sour cream streusel coffee cake from The Cake Bible.
 First, I melted 1/3 cup of chocolate morsels in a bowl suspended in a small saucepan of hot water.
Here, I am assembling the topping: butter, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, and slivered almonds. 
 The topping
Preparing to add the butter and half the sour milk to the dry iingredients
Cooled cake
Split in half for frosting. The uneven light and dark texture was achieved by not completely blending in the chocolate
Crème fraîche on the sides--and the plate! I need a cake plate...
1x6 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate morsels (1 cup)
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 4 crackers)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used slivered almonds)
1/3 cup (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or sour milk (1 tablespoon white vinegar in a measuring cup topped with milk to the one-cup line)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease  a 9 inch spring form cake pan. The bottom came out rather dry so I think lining the bottom with parchment might help. Perhaps the cake pan is too dark and it is crisping the bottom crust. Anyway,  grease and flour the pan. Set aside.

I improvised a double boiler: a bowl in a small saucepan of hot water to melt 1/3 cup of the chocolate morsels. Set aside while you prepare the  topping. I crushed the graham cracker crumbs--four whole slabs will make 1/2 cup. Then I combined the cracker crumbs with the melted butter, nuts, and 2/3 cup of chocolate morsels. Mix well to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Blend on low speed 30 seconds. Add the butter and half the buttermilk/sour milk. Beat until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Scrape down the sides. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the vanilla and the remaining buttermilk/sour milk. At this point I should have added the melted chocolate but I forgot. After I combined the egg mixture in 3 batches into the flour mixture, Very important: beat until just combined then scrape down the sides after each addition. Then I remembered I forgot the melted chocolate! I used a spatula to add the chocolate to the batter. I liked the swirly pattern so much I decided not to blend it in completely.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Top with topping. Now this is topping for two layers, mind you; I added the entire bowl.  It turned out all right but you could decease the topping by half, if desired. Bake for 55-65 minutes. I cooled the cake in the pan 10 minutes then unmolded it and let it cool on the wire rack. Invert the cake and remove the spring form pan bottom to prevent the cake from crisping. I split the cake horizontally in preparation for filling and frosting. The original recipe said to use sweetened whipped cream but I prefer the tangy taste of crème fraîche. It was very delicate to move the cut layers afterwards because I didn't have a large cake lifter. Another implement that would be a good investment! I let the two halves cool to room temperature before filling and frosting with this  quick crème fraîche

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar

Put all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes. Whip until soft peaks form. Fill and frost the cake sides.

This turned out to be a moist cake, lightly sweet, with a topping that was crunchy and filled the mouth with chocolate morsels, like a chocolate chip cookie. Without the crème fraîche, this could be a coffee cake. With it, it's a great birthday cake as it's easy to decorate. And that's my version of Miami Beach Birthday Cake.

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