Monday, September 5, 2011

Bakin' and Eggs: Irene, A Few Beautiful Birds and a Tasty Birthday Cake

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I'm a lucky woman.  Irene came and left, leaving destruction in my beautiful Green Mountain State.  My sweet house on the hill still stands, unharmed.  The same cannot be said for thousands of other Vermonters.


One of our neighbors, Suzy, has lost her house and her farm.  The river rose and swept away her life.  Where she once had thousands of chickens, she now has a few hundred.  Her home is now uninhabitable.  She has no power and no water.  So how can she care for any remaining animals?



And from this great sadness it seems I've received a boon.  If only temporary.  One of Suzy's great joys is keeping Indian Runner Ducks and a gaggle of geese.  The Indian Runners, well you simply have to watch them run and you'll understand why.

The Indian Runners

As for the geese, well Suzy hadn't intended to keep any.  Not until a lone Canadian goose decided to break off from her mates and hang out with Suzy's comic ducks.  That was over a year ago.  And now, Goosey the (Canadian) Goose has 5 friends with whom she frolics, thanks to Suzy who is such a wonderful water fowl mother that she couldn't leave Goosey to spend her days on the farm without some goose company.

Goosey the (Canadian) Goose


I'm fostering Suzy's ducks and geese until she can patch her family's life together again.  I'm going to have a hard time watching them go when the time comes; I'm already horribly attached.  But I hope that it's soon, that a life so altered by a single storm is quickly restored.  But I see water fowl in permanent residence on the homestead in the near future once they have to leave us.


In the meantime, I collect the duck eggs (geese aren't laying right now) and I'm baking some beautiful pastries from the flock's collective labor, including but not limited to my Raymond's birthday cake.

My Raymond's Ducky Birthday Cake.



Yes, you can bake with duck eggs.  They only taste marginally different from hen eggs but you can't discern the slight variance in most baked products.  When fried, the consensus is that duck eggs cook up more firmly than hen eggs and have a slightly oily consistency.  But this can be used to your advantage in baking if it doesn't appeal to you in a straight fried egg.

The adjustments you have to account for are that duck eggs contain more protein and usually have a higher volume than hen eggs.

The obvious difference is in size.  For baking purposes, a standard hen egg weighs 1.6 ounces (the white 1 ounce and yolk .6 ounces).  If you'd like to replace hen eggs with duck eggs, multiply the number of eggs called for in the recipe by 1.6 to get your weight measure.  Weigh out the duck eggs (crack the eggs, don't weigh the shell) until you hit the approximate hen egg weight (a little over isn't going to kill you).

The other change you'll make when working with duck eggs is you'll have a hard time cracking the egg on a flat surface (as I'm sure you know, the standard practice for health and safety reasons is to crack a hen egg on a flat surface to minimize the risk of salmonella contamination.  If you crack the egg on the side of the bowl, you force shell up into the egg and it's the shell that contains the ugly stuff).  However, duck egg shells are rather tough and rubbery, so you'll likely have to use the corner of a bowl to finagle the good stuff out.

And one more thing to keep in mind is the higher protein levels in duck eggs.  If a recipe calls for all purpose flour, I will only use half the amount of all purpose called for and replace the other half with cake flour (all purpose contains more gluten than cake flour and by halving the amount of all purpose, you help level out the protein ratios in the recipe).

This is a delicious recipe for using any duck eggs you happen to come across.



INGREDIENTS

(makes {3} 8" cake layers)

2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted, butter (preferably European which contains a high butterfat content and less moisture than standard butter)
4 duck eggs (weighing approximate 9 ounces)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup buttermilk (non-fat or low fat)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 - 6 lemons depending on how juicy they are)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon extract

PROCEDURE
•Preheat oven to 325ยบ
•In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
•Stir together the buttermilk and lemon juice.  Set aside.
•Spray 8" cake pans with non stick cooking spray.  Line the bottoms with a round of parchment and spray the parchment with non stick spray.
•Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on high with the whisk attachment.
•Add duck eggs, one at a time, beating about a minute between each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to integrate all of the butter and sugar.
•Add the zest and lemon extract.  Whisk on high until combined.
•With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and then 1/2 of the buttermilk/lemon juice mixture.  Mix until just combined.  Add another 1/3 of the flour and then the remaining buttermilk/lemon juice mixture.  Mix until just combined.  Add the remaining amount of flour and mix on slow until the flour is completely integrated.
•Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans and bake for 1/2 hour or until the cake just springs back when you poke it.

I filled Ray's birthday cake with lemon curd, local blueberries and lightly sweetened whipped cream and iced with lemon laced buttercream.  You can do the same or fill with anything that strikes your fancy.  Either way, you'll love how moist and supple this lovely cake is.

P.S.  Thank you Toby for the title!