Fiesta! Feliz Cumpleaño Henry!

2005.Dec.04 Sunday · 4 comments

in Food & Recipes, Life

Buenos Aires – The fiesta has come and gone, and it was quite the experience. Not one I’m likely to repeat at any time in the near (or distant) future. It was, by turns, exciting and exhausting, and a strange mix of sedate and bizarre. We’d called the party for 8:00 figuring folks would start arriving around 9:00, standard Argentine style. Henry’s sister and family arrived early and mixed helping (his sister and niece), with demanding (nephew), and sitting staring at the wall (his brother-in-law). A couple of neighborhood friends (originally from California) arrived around 8:40 or so. The remaining 25 or so folks who showed up trickled in variously between about 9:30 and 3:15 in the morning. Only a few who came left to go elsewhere, for the most part, the party just kept growing. At 3:00, as about half the folks had left, one of Henry’s friends asked if I minded if he started making calls to try to get the party going again – I said yes, word of which spread quickly, and by 3:30 or so everyone had left. I’m just an ogre that way. Of course, three of the folks who left around then came back at, respectively 4:30, 6:00, and 9:00 in the morning, ringing the doorbell – having forgotten things or demanding a place to sleep since they’d come to the party from out of town (they couldn’t have asked in advance?) and had not made arrangements to get home. We piled two of them on one couch and let them figure it out.

By turns, the party was quiet, with folks hanging out talking and listening to music; and then ramped up to high gear for things like a drag show that three of the guests had decided they were going to stage (the bedroom was suddenly turned into a changing and makeup room, the living room had its tracklighting redirected to spotlight the “stage”). This involved appearances by local pop diva celebrity turned talk-show hostess Susanna Gimenez:

Susana Gimenez Lucas as Susanna Gimenez

Latin pop superstar Thalia:

Thalia Damian as Thalia

And, Valeria Lynch:

Valeria Lynch Tato as Valeria Lynch

At least in my circle of friends back in New York, lip-synched drag shows started disappearing in the early 80s and were absolutely verboten after the whole Millie-Vanillie fiasco. Nonetheless, the crowd loved it, and “Susanna” pulled guests up to the front to be her guests in our show. Been there, done that. Oh yes, saw the same show at the last friend’s birthday party last month…

Food you ask? Well, we kind of overdid it. Not intentionally, after all, nearly 50 people were expected given the responses we got from invitations and who was bringing whom. With only about 30 attendees, that left us with a whole lot of extra food. The several dozen small sandwiches of various coldcuts and cheeses were inhaled quickly, as were the five pizzas, a quart of olives, bowls full of strange puffed corn things that you can see in the pictures, most dyed in vivid colors, some sweet, some salty, chips and a quart of dip (sour cream with mushroom soup mix, a revelation for the locals who’d never heard of such a thing as dipping a papa frita into something… Americans do this?), 16 bottles of wine, half a dozen 2.25 liter bottles of sodas, and liters of water. And then we started serving the food. Plates of papas a la huancaina – a Peruvian dish I’ve mentioned before (the sauce is basically a puree of milk, saltines, reconstituted dry ají amarillos (yellow chilies), a creamy cheese (we used Port Salut), and salt) – we started with 10 kilos of potatoes, we had five potatoes leftover; and several dozens of homemade tamales by our friend Javier, plates of small pastries (2 kilos), a coconut cake that I’d made, and a banana, strawberry jello cake that his sister made. I’m not sure what all got dipped into the last minute hot sauce of pureed hot green chilies in oil, raw egg, and salt, but we went through nearly a pint of it. We never did get to the gallon or so of mixed seafood ceviche that we’d prepared along with the accompanying batatas and mandiocas – so we had friends over today for lunch to dig into that.

We also finished off about 7 of the 11 quarts of chicha morada that we ended up with (see yesterday) – a Peruvian soft drink made from maíz morado, a black-purple corn. The basic process of this – a dozen ears of this dried corn boiled in about fifteen quarts of water for an hour at a rapid boil which reduces the volume a bit. Let cool and steep overnight. Strain and add fresh lemon juice and sugar to taste – I think we used 9-10 lemons and about 3 cups of sugar in the end. Take a pint or so of the chicha and put it in a blender with all the loose corn kernels that have come off the cobs (I’d say we had about 2 cups of those), along with a couple of the lemon rinds – puree, then strain back into the main mixture for more intense flavor. It looks a little brownish in the photo, but it’s really a deep purple color.

The table, pre-partyThe table, pre-party
Ceviche and Papas a la HuancainaHenry blows out the candles on his cake

Chicha Morada

Since I made the cake, I’ll give you that recipe – it’s not mine originally, but something tried and true… In the “original,” or at least the way I got it, this version is baked in one large sheet pan, then split into three equal sized pieces and layered with the ganache frosting. I made a double batch in two sheetpans and just treated them each as a layer. Shredded coconut is near impossible to find here, I had to go to a natural foods store and buy small 100 gram packages of grated coconut, so the texture was a bit denser than usual.

Chocolate-Coconut Cake

4 large eggs
1½ cups sugar
4-1/3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
10½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3½ ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1-2/3 cups heavy cream

Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour the sheet pan – if you have parchment paper, line the pan as well, this cake is sticky! Over a double boiler, whisk together the eggs and sugar until warm to the touch and the sugar will basically have dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a mixer and beat at high speed until it’s roughly tripled in volume – 6-7 minutes. Fold in 3-2/3 cups of the coconut, reserving roughly 2/3 cup for later. Bake for 25 minutes, until the cake is lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Remove to a cooling rack. After 15 minutes or so, run a sharp knife around the edge and loosen, turn the cake out onto the cooling rack, and cool thoroughly.

Meanwhile, put the chopped chocolate into a large bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it just start to simmer. Pour it over the chocolate, let it sit for a minute, and then whisk it all together until it is smooth. Cover the ganache, as this mixture is called, with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to get to a relatively firm spreading consistency.

Meanwhile, once again, toast the remaining coconut. Most folks sort of spread it out on a sheet pan and toast it in the oven. I tend to burn it that way. So I do it in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring pretty much continuously, until I get it toasted just the way I like it.

Split the cake into the three even sections, spread ganache filling on the base one, top it with the next, repeat, and then on the top layer, make sure to frost the sides as well. Scatter the toasted coconut all over the top and sides, and then put the whole thing back in the refrigerator, unless you’re going to serve it immediately (ganache has a tendency to soften and start to slide a little – Henry wanted the cake on display throughout the fiesta, so by the time we served it five hours later, it was a little soft and moist).

Essentially, this is a giant chocolate coated macaroon. Yummy!


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