Let Them Eat Cake!
The thought of writing a holiday food column sent me into a state of panic at the rememberance of Christmas past, and the horror that was (dum dum duuuuuuuummmmm) Menudogeddon (insert thunder and lightning, a hunchback dragging chains, and an evil mad scientist maniacally laughing in a dark corner). Even now, nearly a full year later Menudoggedon strikes fear in my heart, and gives me thoughts of going vegan.
OK, maybe I exaggerate a wee bit, as there is nothing and no one in this world that is getting me to give up those tasty and yes, even those nasty animal bits. Grilled beef heart? Tender and delicious. Pig kidney? Mineral-heavy and so unlike the taste-less, fat-less pork loin. Cabeza? Beef tongue? Gizzards? Duck fat? Foie? Yes to all. I am not an “I’ll-eat-anything-and-everything, alive-or-dead type,” but there are only two things will stop my fork in its tracks: bugs and tripe, or pancita, the spongy, stinky, chewy, slowly and over-many-hours simmered cow stomach. Sounds like an amazing delicacy, no?
I suppose if you’re hungover (crudo in Spanish), menudo, that stinky broth of tripe and hominy, might be a better cure than two aspirin and a cold glass of water. But if said hungover individual had lived through the horrific 24-hour period that was Menudogeddon, if they had watched the hours-long tripe-cleaning process involving no actual hand-to-tripe contact, the tripe-stink-induced nightmares of being surrounded by 50-gallon vats full of chicken bones and stock, all needing to be drained, hot bones disposed of, pots scrubbed, and repeated, over and over … you get the picture. How lucky was I to be in the bedroom that receives all the lovely scents from the overnight cooking?
Perhaps even worse was the delay of Christmas Eve dinner until 9 p.m. due to all of the preoccupation with the spongy mass of tripe and the horror at the realization that the memories of the long awaited turkey and fixings, so fresh still in my own stomach, so delicious, will be ruined by the soon to emerge foul smells of several cow stomachs simmering. This was the point in the evening where the internal question of “why make menudo when pozole exists?” and “why do we need more food when we have 10 pounds of turkey left?” Again, I may exaggerate a bit, but you, dear reader, have no idea of the extent of the true horror of Menodogeddon until you wake up green-faced and with lungs full of tripe exhaust, and to then come face-to-bowl with a plate of this culinary nightmare-inducing foe. And to be taken down a peg or two by this grainy nemesis. To shrink away from it, unable to stomach the menudo, unable to even try a few grains of hominy, or to even drink coffee for hours, so nauseous was I. And a morning with no coffee is a morning where “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Or just rotten smelling.
After writing this, I now fear that last year may have been a tradition building year for my Grandma, that Menudogeddon will continue well into the future on December 25th of each year, with her and my dad, noses in their bowls, spoons shoveling away all that delicious tripe. I think perhaps this year I make a push to promote another one of the traditional dishes on my family’s Christmas table, make like Marie Antoinette, and “Let them eat nutty (but not quite upside down) pineapple cake!”
Almond Pineapple Cake
1 – 20 ounce cans of sliced pineapple in pineapple juice
6 large eggs
1 heaping cup (225 grams) cane sugar + more for syrup
2 ⅓ cups (250 grams) ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
8” springform cake pan
8” parchment paper round
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Make sure the canned pineapple used for the cake is unsweetened, and reads no more than “pineapple, pineapple juice” in the ingredients label.
Heat oven to 350F, and placing ground almonds on a baking sheet, bake for 2-3 minutes, to crisp up slightly. Allow ground almonds to cool off completely before using. Drain the cans of pineapple, reserving juice the syrup, and puree the pineapple in a food processor as finely as possible. Butter the spring form cake pan, bottom and sides, place the parchment round on the bottom, and butter the surface of the paper. Sprinkle with all purpose flour if gluten is not a concern.
With a whisk attachment on a stand or hand held mixer, whisk the eggs until pale, thick, and doubled in volume. Eggs are ready when a ribbon forms as the whisk wire passes. Gradually add the sugar, salt and baking powder, almonds and finishing with the pineapple. The batter should have a foamy and liquid feel to it. Do not over-mix as this could cause it to collapse.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, place the pan on a baking tray, and place into a 350F oven. Bake for 20 minutes and cover with aluminum foil to prevent the cake from over-browning. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the center is no longer soft and a toothpick comes out clean. Baking temperature will vary by oven and by pan type.
While the cake is baking, measure an equal amount of sugar as the reserved pineapple juice, place in a small sauce pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until it reaches a syrup consistency.
Allow the cake to cool off completely until inverting, and garnishing with the syrup, which should be slightly warm for best results. Serve with vanilla ice cream, or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Pair with a rum based cocktail, or a nut brown ale.
The cake is best when baked a day ahead. Avoid opening the oven door excessively while baking for best results, which should be a very even and moist sponge cake.