November 28, 2010

Never Say No to a Real Man and an Upside Down Cake

International Tiger Forum in St.Petersburg this week devoted to saving the worlds' tigers was inaugurated by Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister, and graced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Hollywood star with the Russian roots. In his speech Putin recognized the determination of DiCaprio who made it to the forum despite the two airplane accidents on the way, "He has virtually crossed the battle line. As we say in Russia, DiCaprio is a real man (настоящий мужик). If people like himself are in charge of saving tigers we are doomed to succeed!" The words of the Prime Minister made me reflect on the notion of a real man for the rest of the week.  

Irresistible Upside Down Cake with Persimmon, Sea Buckthorn and Star Aniseed

Many thoughts and memories later I have come up with my definition of a real man: a real man is someone to whom you can't (and mostly likely you should not) say no. Whatever deliciousness he proposes and however dangerous this deliciousness may turn for you at the end of the day. An innocent dinner invitation that makes you think "It's only a dinner. I am not going to sleep with him" as you are dressing to kill, a bungee jump that you take to share his adventure despite your severe fear of height, a piece of an upside down cake he treats you to making you forget that right at spot you are done with your calorie intake for this month and ah!. what now, what not.. But let me go into the detail about the upside down cake.

A piece of upside down cake. There were three of them. The real men, I mean. The ones that made me eat a piece of upside down cake each. Three male chefs I am fascinated with.

Saša Obućina of Karuzo Restaurant, Sarajevo

"We are going to make a new dessert tonight,"- said Saša, the owner and the chef of the first vegetarian restaurant in Sarajevo where I did my improvised fast-track apprenticeship this summer. "Do you have some secret cravings? Something that you would really like to make?"

With a dreamy face I said, "Figs! This is the first time I see them fresh and in season and I want to make something with them". I got too excited explaining how nice they would be baked on top of a cake.

His look radiated disappointment as he probably thought I was not that sane as I seemed,"Figs on a cake? The best way to enjoy figs is to eat them fresh," he said with the tone that did not a debate.

What could I say? He was a chef afterwards and I was only an aspiring gourmet who thought she knew best about the right combinations of flavors and ingredients.

In the afternoon he brought plums. It was my turn to radiate disappointment. I have never took plums for a sexy fruit: in season we always had plenty of them in the grandma's garden and we never quite knew what to do with them as all the jams and compotes we made would be eaten only after all the other jams and compotes  got finished.

"So what's it about the plums?" I asked.

"A cake, we are going to go an upside down cake with the plums," he announced.

"Ah, right!" I muttered knowing the figs will be for me to figure out on my own then.

An hour later I sensed the smell coming from the oven that got me entranced. As the plums were simmering in the caramel they were exhaling the thick smell of the late summer.

We served a piece of the upside down plum cake for each other. I was eating mine in silence realizing how wise Saša was to use plums: their deep taste and color make that upside down cake the perfect indulgence.

He was observing me with a smile. "Is it eatable?" he asked eventually.

I gave him a content and grateful look. Because if you say yes to a real man and do something you would not normally do because of him you are going to learn many things about yourself.. and your taste.

Suki Maman of Upside Down Cake Company and Correa's Restaurants, Moscow 

When I came to Moscow in November I started asking around for new exciting places to eat at. To my surprise I found Moscow experiencing a sort of gastronomic revolution: known to be gastronomically deprived Moscovites all of sudden got interested in eating well and new interesting places featuring decent food started mushrooming. Among the rest my friend Olesya happily reported about a bombastic new cafe which has already become the talk of the town, Upside Down Cake Company: the guys have introduced the Russian capital to cupcakes, a wonder largely unknown in this land until recently. So one of the breakfasts with the friends was destined to take place there.

Let me report back: it not only the funky cupcakes and other delicious pastry that make the fans rave on the UDC Facebook page. It is also the impressive pastry chef that does. In Moscow we are not very used to see chefs running around. The chef is at the kitchen, you are at the dining table and the waiters are the interface between the two. Not in the Upside Down Cake Company where Suki enters through the main door and examines the early morning guests checking what they are up to; during the day he shares his time between supervising the kitchen and popping up on the floor to recommend something to the guest and find out whether they were happy with their choice at the end.

As I already had a blueberry shake and rice pudding so I needed only a cup of coffee latte to wash down my breakfast. As I approached the counter I saw sample cake bites and Suki running around.

"What is it? And what makes the sponge cake so moist?" I inquired.

"It is an upside down cake. The caramel soaks into the cake and makes it so syrupy. We have just made fresh ones," he announced.  "They are straight from the oven!"

From his facial expression I concluded he was talking about something ravishing. Every time I see a chef that radiates excitement I automatically imagine  how delicious his food must be if he puts that much of dedication and positive energy into that.

"Come here!' he waived. I came to the counter from where I could get a glimpse of the kitchen. He asked his assistant, "Show, show her the cakes".

From the distance I saw the round portion-sized beauties - classic upside down cakes with pineapple and maraschino cherries.

"I will have one," I shot as if worrying he would change his mind and offer them to someone else. There is a lot of competition out there. For a piece of an upside down cake. For saying yes to a real man.

I brought the cake to the table and sat down lovingly observing  it. I could not follow the rest of the conversation at the table any more. Because the tender spongy biscuit coated in the caramelized crust was the center of the world for me. Because if you decide to sin and say yes to a real man you must enjoy it with your whole heart and.. palate.

David Lebovitz, Former Pastry Chef and Renown Cook Book Author, Paris

I have never been very keen on baking. First, with all my respect to the cakes and any goodies baked often times they are rich in butter and sugar, two things I rather not have in my diet (bu-bu, I am that boring!). Second, baking oven for me is like a black box - once the pie is sent there there is no way I can influence the outcome any more. And like any control freak I get frustrated about this big time! And third, why to fuss with baking if there are quicker and healthier ways to turn some deliciousness?!

I started reading David's blog for the sheer pleasure: the very way he writes is so tasty that you forget to care about food or recipes. But in time I have developed courage to try some of his recipes and to my surprise things turned very nice. David, he is a master of precision when it comes to the recipes. There is no way for you to fail if you just follow the recipe. Even you are such a frustrated baker as myself.

With the accumulated courage I ventured to try his recipe of ... an upside cake. I nearly fainted as I read the recipe though: it required 150 g butter and 300 g sugar! Its is very challenging to even see that much of both as that makes almost my annual intake of the two (and beware, I have already sinned recently). I signed. I recalled that I really did not like the recent photos of me which clearly indicated the presence of the plump cheeks. I recalled the bikini shots of the Brazilian girls I came across in the yet another hilarious post by Tim Ferris the other day.  Ah, David! Your upside down cake sounds so nice! I went through the recipe again - there was no slightest sign of doubt on his side about this 150 g butter and 300 g sugar. Come on, this is about the time for me to become more critical about all this baking craziness. Only after I make this cake. There is gotta be a success upside down cake story in my cooking repertoire! Because if you say yes to a real man and follow the way he shows does mean that on that way you can't find you own path and... recipe.


Sea Buckthorn

Irresistible Upside Down Cake with Persimmon, Sea Buckthorn and Star Aniseed Recipe

Irresistible winter indulgence is so easily produced with the rich batter and caramelized heavenly persimmon, drops of sourness in the sea buckthorn and pungent aroma of the star aniseed.

Irresistible Upside Down Cake with Persimmon, Sea Buckthorn and Star Aniseed
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Preparation time: 30 min
Time in the oven: 40 min

Ingredients (for a 20 sm skillet, serves 8):

For the upside down part:
30 g (2 tbsp) butter, softened
60 g (2.5 tbsp) brown sugar
3 medium size persimmons (pick up non astringent fruits of deep brown color)
handful of sea buckthorn berries (may be replaced with cranberries), fresh or frozen

For the dough:
80 g (5.5 tbsp) butter, softened
100 g (4 tbsp) brown sugar
1 tsp vanila sugar
2 small eggs
140 g flour, sieved
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
65 ml milk (room temperature)
1 small star aniseed


1. Prepare the upside down layer: In a cast iron skillet melt the butter and then add sugar. Simmer continuously stirring for the sugar to melt and start bubbling. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Wash the persimmon, cut off the top with the dry leaves, halve and then slice into the wedges (about 3-5 mm thin) removing the seeds as you go. Arrange the persimmon wedges on the cast iron skillet with the caramel following a pinwheel pattern: put the wedges rather densely making a few concentric circles. Then sprinkle the sea buckthorn over the persimmon. 

2. Prepare the dough: Preheat the oven to 190 C. In a medium bowl mix the softened butter, brown sugar and vanilla sugar with a wooden spatula until smooth. Add two eggs one by one. In another bowl mix the dry ingredients - sieved flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in half of the dry ingredients to the batter, then milk and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Do not overmix or the cake will be heavier and more dense. Poor the batter over the persimmon and spread evenly with a spatula. Place 1 small star aniseed in the center for the wonderful aroma.

3. Bake the cake and eat it to: Bake for about 40 minutes checking on the cake. Once done (check with a tooth stick) take out and cook for 5 minutes. Place a large plate over the skillet and shake slightly a few times - you will hear how the cake jumps inside pulling away from the skillet. Now turn it upside down on the plate and marvel the beauty you have just made.  The cake is best enjoyed warm with ice-cream or kaymak, clotted cream.

2 Responses to Never Say No to a Real Man and an Upside Down Cake:

Gali said...

Oh how lovely that cake looks!

(and I quite like how you tried to convey the real meaning of "настоящий мужик", I find so hard sometimes to translate some notions from one language to another)

Olga Tikhonova said...

Gali, thanks for stopping by! See, I am so confused with translating notions from one language to another that when it comes to food I keep (and convey) most of them (the notions)in English. I loved the writing and photos on your blog)

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