Monday, September 27, 2010

Key West Rum Cake

For our second official weekend in France, we were invited to a large garden party--in Pontlevoy. Our friends Lidie and Pascal were having an end-of-summer bash and wondered if we might come join them. Well, of course, we thought--way to escape the mountain of boxes surrounding us! See some friends, enjoy the countryside. Perfect.
Well, perhaps not so perfect. First of all, the girls went on strike, like the little Frenchies they are. Julia found a sleepover location, and Claire opted to stay with her grandparents. So it was down to me, Sami, and the VW bug. Well, OK--relaxing weekend for two. Very nice.
We were asked to bring a bottle of booze and something sweet or salty for the potluck party. I chose sweet, of course. Knowing that I'd have to make something on Friday that would still be good on Saturday night, I chose the rum-soaked Key West cake.

Behold the ingredients, on my still-messy kitchen island. The pear doesn't belong in the recipe. I don't know how it snuck in to the picture. But you'll notice the high proportion of American to French ingredients. Somehow lots of my baking stuff and spices made it over on the container! Yay!

Mmm...chocolate. Melted in our microwave from home.

So Sami and I and the rum-soaked cake (look--fluffy butter and sugar!) got in the VW and started to drive towards Pontlevoy. We had the top down--the weather was beautiful. We were singing along to the iPod just outside of the hilariously named Ecoman when the car started making ominous noises. Oh dear.

(Chocolate is calming in stressful situations.) So Sami got out, and in his heroic Mr. McGuyver way, put on his yellow safety vest and crawled under the car. Fortunately, we were on a country road with a nice turnout for picnics and car trouble. After about half an hour, he had diagnosed the problem. The only problem was that he needed a specific part (vintage VW part) to repair the car. It was 5:00 on a Saturday afternoon in Middle of Nowhere, France.

(American pecans and French butter: a match made in heaven). No problem: we know a guy in Pontlevoy who is an even bigger VW freak than Sami. Seriously, he has a large garage/shed crammed to the ceiling with VWs and accoutrements. There's a VW in his garage that you can't even see. So we sent our friend Bob out to talk to this guy (armed with an iPhone picture of the part--technology is great), and he did have the part. But we were still 40K away from Pontlevoy! What to do?

(Ready for the oven. Note that I no longer have to McGuyver a tube pan.) No problem: Sami just shut down one cylinder of the engine, and we rolled along, very slowly, to Pontlevoy. We even made it to the party more or less on time.

Oh, yeah, and there was cake at the party. If you look closely, you might see an insane amount of rum syrup soaking in. It was so tempting to stop pouring rum syrup onto the cake and instead pour it over ice. Rum, limes, sugar? Sounds like a cocktail to me!

This cake survived a long, warm drive in a VW with no problems. It was moist and buttery and rummy. Party guests especially appreciated the latter, but the cake disappeared in its entirety very quickly. We had a lovely time seeing old friends and meeting new people, and I even had enough wine to have what seemed to me a coherent debate about American culture with a French guy. (Oh, and Sami got up the next morning and fixed the Bug, thanks to our VW friend in Pontlevoy.)

Here's the recipe. Make it when you're not sure how soon you might be able to eat cake.

Key West Rum Cake

2 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
1-1/2 c. (10 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour
1/4 t. baking soda
7 oz. (2 cups) chopped toasted pecans

Heat the oven to 325. Butter and coat a tube pan with bread crumbs or ground nuts.
Melt the chocolates in the microwave at 30-second intervals; it should take about 1 minute (Tip: those unsweetened squares take longer to melt, so put the square in first, give that 30 seconds, and then add the thinner, more delicate semisweet.) With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, baking powder, and salt until fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond, and then gradually add the sugar. Beat that for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then gradually add the flour, beating on low speed just until incorporated.
Add the baking soda to the melted chocolate, and then add about a cup of the cake batter to it. Put spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture on the bottom of the cake pan--spread it as best you can, but don't worry too much about it. Now add all those pecans (and yes, it is a lot!) to the remaining cake batter; spread that in the cake pan. Smooth the top and bake for an hour (remember to check the cake after 45 minutes, just in case). While the cake is baking, make the syrup:

1/2 c. (4 oz.) water
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar (I used "raw" sugar)
2/3 c. (5.3 oz.) light rum
1 T. lime juice (about 1 lime)

Stir the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Let boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature (I forgot to make this ahead and didn't let it cool. It was fine). Stir in the rum and lime juice. When the cake comes out of the oven, carefully pour or brush the syrup over. It's a lot of syrup and it won't soak in all at once. Give it time. Once all the syrup has soaked in, turn the cake upside-down onto a plate and unmold it. Let the cake cool. Once it's cool, you'll want to wrap it tightly. It'll keep for a few days, I imagine. Slice thickly and enjoy with good friends.

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