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literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

"Andrew’s Brain" by E.L. Doctorow & Black Forest cupcakes

"Andrew’s Brain" by E.L. Doctorow & Black Forest cupcakes

Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow opens with an aggrieved Andrew recounting the day he gave his infant daughter to his ex-wife, afraid that he would harm the child if left as her caretaker. It is quickly revealed that the reason Andrew is afraid of bringing harm to his own child is that he and his ex-wife divorced after their child died in infancy, and that child’s death may or may not have been as a result of his neglect. The child’s mother — Andrew’s second wife, Briony — has recently passed, and the narrative quickly veers off into the past in a winding investigation of the question raised in those first few critical pages — is Andrew the critical link in the demise of his loved ones?

Andrew’s Brain is told in eleven parts, each a session between Andrew and his therapist. What’s unique about Andrew’s Brain is that it’s one hundred percent conversation — there’s no description of the setting or emotions or body language beside what is skillfully woven into each man’s verbal commentary. Andrew vacillates between speaking in third person and first person, sometimes reminiscing about his past from within and sometimes from without. The first few pages can be a bit disorienting, but you quickly grow accustomed to Doctorow’s narrative device and can spend the remainder of the novel enjoying the adept way he paints a man’s fraught past with dialogue alone.

The format — a story told entirely in conversation — is one that could have easily flopped in execution. Instead, the holes that the reader is left to fill in serve to emphasize Andrew’s tenuous grasp on reality, to force the reader to continuously assess whether we believe the things he says at all, let alone whether she has adequately connected the dots on the trail of crumbs Andrew has left behind.

Similarly, Black Forest cake — a German classic with chocolate and cherries — can easily flop if you use a shortcut recipe that relies on chocolate cake mix and cherry pie filling. But if you follow a recipe that makes a light, fluffy batter with just a touch a cocoa from scratch, and has Kirschwasser — German, dark cherry brandy — integrated at every step, you’ll have a dessert that is gobbled off trays before you can say ‘Kirschwasser!’ or ‘Doctorow!’ Either will work.


BLACK FOREST CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes

  • 8 medium egg whites
  • 200 grams super fine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 200 grams all-purpose flour (minus 3 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 medium egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon Kirschwasser

For the filling

  • 680 g jar of sour cherries in juice, divided
  • 1/3 cup cherry juice from the jar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 45 g super fine sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kirschwasser

For the topping

  • 800 ml heavy whipping cream, very cold
  • 1 packet powder gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 40 g powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Kirschwasser
  • 1 cup chocolate shavings
  • 24 fresh cherries
  • Disposable piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip

Instructions:

For the cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. In the meantime, line two cupcake trays.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Sift twice and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the Kirschwasser and set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high until foam appears. Add the cream of tartar and keep whipping. Then add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, waiting 10 to 15 seconds between additions and whipping the whole time. Keep whipping until stiff peaks form.
  5. Fold egg yolks and flour mixture into egg whites mixture. Do not overmix. 
  6. Fill the cupcake liners almost to the top, at least 3/4 of the way full. (They may deflate a bit once cooled.)
  7. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan at least 5 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling:

  1. In a large pan, whisk together 1/3 cup of cherry juice (from the jar) and sugar and bring to a gentle simmer. Add corn starch; whisk until combined. Add the cherries and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. As soon as the contents of the pan start to boil and thicken, remove from heat.
  2. Gently stir until cherries are coated. Stir in the Kirschwasser. Allow mixture to come up to room temperature.

For the topping:

  1. Mix gelatin and cold water in a small sauce pan and set aside for 10 minutes. After that time, place the pan on low heat and whisk until the gelatin dissolves, then remove form heat and allow pan to cool somewhat.
  2. Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the cold heavy cream on medium-high speed. Once fluffy, slowly add the powdered sugar, then mix in the Kirschwasser and gelatin. Continue whipping until stiff.

To assemble:

  1. Use a serrated knife to remove the core of each cupcake. Fill the hole with cherry filling. 
  2. Fill a piping bag with whipped cream. Pipe a decorative swirl onto the cupcake and sprinkle chocolate shavings onto the edges of the cream. Add another dollop of cream, and place a cherry on top. 
  3. Serve immediately or store in the fridge. Cupcakes will keep for two days.

Recipe via Java Cupcake.

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