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Somewhere in the midst of traveling back to Kentucky, taking on a new job, and performing in my best friend’s wedding, I also turned 27. My wife and I had agreed that, though we would certainly celebrate, she was not allowed to shower me with presents. She broke her promise, and when I came downstairs in the late morning, bleary-eyed and a little woozy from a night of shenanigans on the town, the counter was covered in brightly colored packages, the table festooned with fresh flowers, warm biscuits, strawberry scones, coffee, and orange juice, and the room strewn with a hand-made sign declaring “CELEBRATE!” And indeed we did.

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Before we dressed up fancy and made our way to City House for their beloved Sunday Supper, we had work to do: it was time to make a birthday cake. But not just any birthday cake. If you’re familiar with my and my wife’s culinary habits, you know that we’re always evaluating what we eat. Please don’t misunderstand us for a few militant, soulless critics. Instead, while we relish the food in front of us, we still consider what could be done to make the delicious the ethereal. Which is why, after three years of toying with more chocolate cake recipes than I can remember, we’ve come to a place of dessert bliss.

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A good chocolate cake should be moist, rich, and not overly sweet. It should have the deep, earthiness of good cocoa, rounded out by subtle sweetness, and fortified with rich, orange-yolked eggs and high-fat butter. It should be dense. You should be able to pick it up by piercing it with a fork and not scooping it up with a spoon. It should be kissed judiciously with a thin layer of mildly sweet frosting, spiked with dark-roasted espresso and oaky, spicy bourbon whiskey. It should get better with age, maturing to its best self on the third day. If you’ve done it right, in a house of two, it should be eaten in less than a week.

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Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Coffee Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

For the frosting:

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 cup butter, room temp.

1/4 cup bourbon–you can use whatever bourbon you have around.

1 tablespoon milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

pinch of salt

 

For the cake (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible) :

1/2 cup plus 3 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder

1 liquid cup boiling water

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 1/4 tsps vanilla

2 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps sifted cake flour (we used AP flour)

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

 

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350. Additionally, prepare two 8 or 9-inch cake pans by greasing them with oil and lining them with parchment paper. Grease them once again and lightly flour each pan.

To begin, whisk together the cocoa and the boiling water until smooth and let it cool to room temperature. Then, in a separate bowl, combine the eggs, a quarter cup of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla. In a larger bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix it on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Using a hand mixer or a kitchen-aid, mix it on low speed until moistened. Then, increase to medium speed and  beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate the batter. Scrape down the sides and begin to add the egg mixture, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition.

Scrape down the sides once again and pour the mixture into the two prepared pans. Place them in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. Once baked, let each cake cool for 10 minutes on wire racks. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert them. Let them cool another 20 minutes before frosting them.

To prepare the frosting, add the sifted cocoa to a large bowl. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined. Add the sifted powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and milk to the cocoa mixture. Turn the mixer onto high speed for about a minute. Add the vanilla, espresso powder, and bourbon, and mix to combine.

When the cakes have cooled completely, place one onto a large serving dish and frost it lightly. Then, place the other cake on top and frosted the remainder of the cake.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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I should start with an apology. There’s something that I’ve been keeping from you. This blog exists so that I can share all the incredible things I have the chance to make and eat in my kitchen. But I kinda, sorta haven’t told you about what is, undoubtedly and without opposition, the greatest hamburger the world has ever known. It doesn’t really make any sense. I’ve been consuming this burger for years now, and every time I hold it before me, my eyes light up like those of Gollum’s, tightly clutching his ‘Precious’. I suppose, though, that I’ve come to the realization that sharing the recipe with you will not mean that I can have it any less. Sure, perhaps if my friends and loved ones know the secret, I might no longer be held in such high culinary regard. But I’m a generous man. I think it’s good to help others. And so…

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You might be wondering about the origins of a burger that makes such lofty claims. Surprisingly, the recipe (as supernatural as it is), does not come from an antiquated and esoteric companion piece to the Bhagavad Gita or from a forgotten manuscript to one of David Chang’s cookbooks. It comes from my brother. Yes, years ago, life brought him to Santa Monica, California. He schmoozed with the Hollywood elite, lived in big houses, and ate a hamburger. Though his time there provided him a chance for solitude and independence, some time to grow up, it provided me with a vision and a taste of the best damn burger I’ve ever eaten.

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If honesty is our daily focus, I should also tell you that the recipe for this burger is, in all likelihood, quite different from the one he first had in Santa Monica at a place called Father’s Office. But the basic building blocks are there. And while I’m sure that the burger they serve up is nothing short of heavenly, I stand firmly by my burger all the way.

Can I tell you just a little about it? This burger is all about contrasts in flavor and texture. There’s sweetness from things like ketchup and dark brown sugar, brightness from dijon mustard, a deep salty twang from worcestershire, perfectly paired with the rich smokiness of bacon and aggressively charred beef, the funk of gruyére cheese, and the peppery and herbaceous bite of fresh arugula. And let us not forget the ever-important vessel whereby these ethereal flavors will make their way to your mouth: a soft and toasty brioche bun.

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Let’s do this…

 

The Best Burger

makes 2 burgers

Ingredients:

1/2 lb super-smoky bacon, diced

1 very large yellow onion, thinly sliced rounds

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp ketchup

2 tbsps brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

2 brioche buns (you could use this recipe)

a couple handfuls of baby arugula

Le Gruyere Cheese, about 6 oz, sliced

1 lb high-quality ground beef, 75/15

Butter, for the brioche buns

 

To start, dice your bacon and place it into a medium-sized pan on medium heat. Once the bacon is cooked, scoop it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set them aside to use later. Leave the drippings, as they are a godly elixir. To the dripping-polished pan, add the thinly sliced rounds of onion. Give the pan a good shake to distribute the bacon fat and let the onions cook, undisturbed for about 10 minutes. The goal here is to allow the onions to cook down until they become incredibly soft, sweet, condensed, and brown. If you’re worried about them burning, turn down the heat and be patient. This can take an hour if you really want to do it right.

When the onions are browned and highly reduced, add the mustard, ketchup, worcestershire, brown sugar and bacon to the pan. Stir to mix well and let these ingredients mingle and cook for another ten minutes or so. Meanwhile, get a charcoal grill roaring hot. You could also use a cast-iron skillet on a super-high setting, but prepare for some histrionics from your smoke alarm.

Each burger gets two patties. This is not overkill. The point here is that by taking what would normally be an incredibly large 1/2 lb patty and splitting it in two, we’re allowed better distribution of glorious cheese and condiment. That means with your 1 lb of beef, you’ll form four patties in total. Be sure that these patties have a diameter slightly greater than that of the brioche buns. They will shrink as they cook. And no one likes those stodgy, hockey pucks served at backyard barbecues across the nation.

Once formed, salt and pepper both sides of each patty. Place it on the grill or in the very hot cast-iron pot. Let it cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Once you flip it, cover it with cheese and close the lid. If you’re using a cast-iron pan, cover it. Let the patty cook 2 more minutes.

Meanwhile, butter the brioche buns and give them a quick toast under the broiler. When 2 minutes are up, place one patty on the brioche bun, cover the entire surface area with bacon-onion jam, then repeat this with the second patty. Grab a large handful of baby arugula and place it on top. Cover that delicious thing with it’s toasty, golden crown.

Rejoice!