Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thai Eggplant Green Curry Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Thai Basil Ice cream

Here it finally is: my slightly belated post about my dessert for Dirt Candy’s 2nd birthday at the end of October. I already detailed how this unique opportunity came about so I’ll save this space for how I came up with the concept for the chosen dessert and, following that, an at-home version of the recipe that I shared with Amanda and staff.
As I previously mentioned, Amanda had asked me at the very end of August to come up with a vegetable-based dessert, thereby giving me nearly six weeks to come up with a concept, test, and finalize it before sending her my recipe the last week of October. Because it was still late summer, my head was wrapped around berries and stone fruit and corn but I quickly realized that those items weren’t really in season in late October (even though they could certainly be sourced at that time) and so I decided against them. Within a week, I was fully certain that I wanted to use one of the namesakes of this blog: eggplant.

My approach was to come up with three distinct flavor combinations and then figure out the best treatment for each combination.

Combination I: Middle Eastern
- honey
- pomegranate
- mint
- orange blossom water
- dates
- Aleppo pepper

Combination II: Thai (specifically eggplant curry)
- coconut
- green curry paste
- Kaffir lime leaf
- Thai bird chili
- ginger
- Thai basil
- peanuts

Combination III: Autumn spice
- pear
- cardamom
- coriander
- cloves
- vanilla
- honey
- brown butter

From there, the treatments came to me fairly easily.

Combination I: Eggplant and date jam-filled bomboloni; pomegranate-mint sorbet and orange blossom water-honey sorbet; two chocolate dipping sauces (Aleppo pepper and orange blossom)

Combination II: Eggplant-chocolate-ginger layer cake with Kaffir lime and Thai bird chili-infused dark chocolate ganache and green curry buttercream; Thai basil-coconut ice cream; palm sugar-dusted Thai eggplant chips; coconut milk-dusted peanut sprinkles; Kaffir lime leaf powder

Combination III: Eggplant-pear tarte tatin (made with aforementioned spices); honey-brown butter ice cream

While all three would have worked, Amanda voted for the Thai-inspired combination, particularly because she had tasted my treatment of those flavors earlier this year and had liked it. (And in a reassuring move for me, a similar flavor combination won me the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment last year, so I knew I wasn’t being totally crazy in pairing strong Thai flavors with chocolate).

Good quality eggplant has a mild flavor so I knew it would be easy to use but also hard to have shine through in a dessert. Thankfully, the desserts are Dirt Candy are more about being desserts and less about being aggressively vegetable-y, so it was ok – in fact, good – that the eggplant flavor wouldn’t be so prominent. And because eggplant purees so well after being steamed or roasted, I knew it would be very easy to incorporate it into the cake batter. Add to this that I had made similar versions of each cake component, so I was feeling pretty good about the overall dessert.

The cake I made was based on my standard chocolate cake recipe but I substituted eggplant puree for some of the original liquids. Ganache is a snap to make – equal parts cream and chocolate – and I just had to nail down the amount of flavorings with which to infuse the cream, which actually came out just right on the first try. The green curry buttercream was just my regular buttercream recipe with some green curry paste thrown in for a hint of heat and flavor. The ice cream is very similar to the one I made for the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment (sans the chocolate) and the coconut milk-dusted peanuts were the same ones I used for the Chocolate Experiment. The Kaffir lime leaf powder was a mutually decided addition, as Amanda has a dehydrator and can make powders out of pretty much anything. And the Thai eggplant chips, which I had hoped to have dehydrated, ended up being deep-fried (yum!) because they turned very ugly when dehydrated.

I have to say I was a little scared that the sum of the parts wouldn’t work out right, but, thankfully the combination worked perfectly. The cake was really moist and slightly earthy from the eggplant but not so much so that it was obviously made with eggplant, and all the other components worked well both in texture and flavor.

I had an early reservation at Dirt Candy the night that my dessert was going out to customers and I got to see some reactions (I admit I avoided looking at people who were eating my dessert for fear that they would scrunch up their faces in disgust), which, I think I can say were mostly positive. (Or at least I’ll keep telling myself that.)

So for those of you who weren’t able to make it, here’s the long, multi-part (although none of it is hard) recipe for this crazy 2nd birthday cake.

(Actually, this was the official 2nd birthday cake I made for Dirt Candy – my signature pistachio-cardamom cake with pistachio pastry cream filling and rosewater meringue buttercream. Please excuse the horrible photo - it was taken late at night and my apt has terrible lighting - something I really need to fix...)

Because this recipe is so long, I'm breaking it up into two posts - this one is just the cake, the coconut-Thai basil ice cream will be posted at a later date.


Thai Eggplant Green Curry Chocolate Cake
(makes a two-layer 9” cake – serves 10-12)


Chocolate Eggplant Ginger Cake
(makes two 9” round cakes)

2 medium white or lavender eggplants (about 1 ¼ pounds)

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup hot water

2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup palm sugar
½ cup turbinado sugar
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla


Peel the eggplants and cut them into quarters or eighths if they are large. Steam over medium heat until very tender, about 25 minutes. (I set up a steamer by filling a 4 quart pot with 1” of water and placing a mesh colander in the pot). Transfer the eggplants to a bowl and cool completely. Remove the seed sections, then puree until very smooth. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any stray seeds. Measure out 1 cup and set aside.

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter two 9” cake pans and line with parchment, then butter the parchment and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and set aside.

Put the cocoa powder in a medium bowl and pour the hot water over it. Whisk well to combine, then whisk in the eggplant puree and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time until completely incorporated, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the ginger and vanilla and mix to combine.

Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Add half of the eggplant mixture and mix on medium-low speed until uniformly combined. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Cool the cakes in the pans for a half hour, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


Kaffir Lime and Thai Chili Dark Chocolate Ganache
(makes about 1 ½ cups – enough for the filling of a 9” two-layer cake)

4 small fresh Thai bird chilies
4 medium fresh Kaffir lime leaves
8 oz heavy cream
8 ounces 70% chocolate


Tear the Kaffir lime leaves into small pieces. Chop the chilies into a few pieces each. Add both to a small saucepan along with the cream. Bring to a simmer, then turn off heat, cover the pot, and let the cream steep for 15 minutes.

Finely chop the chocolate and transfer to a bowl.

Bring the cream back to a simmer, then strain it over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 30 seconds, then whisk to combine. Let the ganache sit at room temperature until cooled and thick, about 3 hours.


Green Curry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
(makes about 3 cups – enough to frost the outside of a 9” two-layer cake)

5 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 ½ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoon-size pieces
¾ teaspoon green curry paste*

*I use Mae Sri brand – it’s vegetarian (no shrimp paste), unlike many other brands. You can find it at most Asian groceries and at Whole Foods.


Follow the directions for my standard Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting. After the frosting comes together, add the green curry paste and mix to combine.


To assemble the cake

Level the tops of the two cake layers. Place one layer cut side down onto a cake round set on a serving platter. Spread the ganache over the cake and top with the second cake layer (cut side down). If the ganache is difficult to spread, mix it vigorously with a large spoon or spatula until it is softer and easier to spread – you don’t want to incorporate too much air so don’t overdo it.

Place 1 cup of frosting on top of the cake and spread in a very thin layer over the sides and top of the cake. Add up to ½ cup more of frosting if necessary to get an even coat. Place the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.

Remove the cake from the fridge and coat with the remaining frosting.

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