I love Thanksgiving. Not only is it a wonderful time for the whole family to come together, eat a huge meal and have some laughs, but it's also one of my favorite opportunities to try out recipes I wouldn't normally make at any other point during the year.
This year I was inspired by all things layered - both savory and sweet. For dinner I made one of my favorite comfort foods, a Mario Batali Lasagna Bolognese and for dessert I made an insanely decadent Seven Layer Coconut Cake from Tyler Florence.
I made the lasagna a few months ago for the first time and loved it so much that it's now a part of my regular dinner rotation. It's incredibly rich and creamy, which is surprising considering how little cheese it has. The creaminess actually comes from the bechamel sauce, something I never really made before, but now want to add to everything! I love the fact that the only cheese in this dish is from parmiganno reggiano, a nutty and flavorful aged cheese that is one of my favorites.
I prepped the lasagna the night before, which I was a little unsure about, since gluten-free noodles tend to get soggy very easily, but they held up quite well and were actually al dente when they came out of the oven on Thanksgiving night. The trick is to undercook the noodles when you boil them. You just want to get them soft enough that they are easy to work with, but still retain some of that rawness. The bechamel, meat sauce and oil from the cheese and meat, will cook the noodles the rest of the way in the oven. The result is a meaty, creamy lasagna that will have you wanting more. Delish!
For dessert I really wanted to challenge myself. I normally phone it in with dessert by baking something from a box or using a pre-made pie shell, but I had seen a recipe from Tyler Florence for a seven layer coconut cake that looked so delicious that I had to try it.
The cake is really good, but not for the faint of heart. It calls for 16 eggs and 4 sticks of butter, so if you're on a diet or watching your calorie intake, you may want to give this one a pass. If you want something decadent and awe-inspiring to serve at your next holiday gathering, calories and arteries be damned, read on!
I'll never stop singing the praises of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, if you don't have one, add it to your holiday wishlist this year. Even if you only bake intermittently, it's so worth it. I love being able to let it do its thing while I finish prepping something else. It was a lifesaver for this particular recipe since you have to beat egg whites to peaks in one step and in another, you have to triple the volume of cake batter by beating air into it...not something you want to be tied down doing while you have a million other things to prepare for the holidays. If you don't have a stand mixer, now is the time to employ the help of an eager child or significant other. :)
The best thing about this particular recipe, was it called for very little flour, you only need a cup and a half for the entire recipe. The volume from the cake comes from beating air into the batter, making it more like a souffle than a cake. The end result is a very light and moist cake, subtly flavored with coconut and drenched in delicious, albeit slightly nauseating, buttercream frosting.
Everyone had a piece after dinner, but we all agreed that even though it was deliocious, you could only really eat one tiny piece or risk having a stomachache for the rest of the night. That didn't stop me from having another piece the next day day though!
As I recover from the food frenzy, I'm grateful for being able to spend the holiday with my immediate family, having an enjoyable and completely gluten-free dinner together. I hope all of you had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones too! More pics from my turkey day dinner:
Lasagna Bolognese - Mario Batali
Servings Serves six to eight.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 4 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 pound veal, ground (I used ground beef)
- 1 pound pork, ground
- 4 ounces pancetta, ground
- 1 8-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 3 cups milk
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3/4 to 1 pound fresh pasta sheets, about 7 by 4 inches, or dried lasagne noodles blanched for 6 minutes and refreshed (I used Deboles Rice Lasagna Noodles)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Oil for brushing
In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent. Add veal, pork, and pancetta to the vegetables, and brown over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together. Add the tomato paste, milk, wine, thyme, and 1 cup water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 11/2 hours (if the ragù becomes too thick, add a little more water). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until it is just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and season with salt and nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with melted butter or oil, and layer in the following order from the bottom: ragù, pasta, béchamel, and grated cheese (saving about 1 cup béchamel for last topping), making 3 to 4 layers of pasta, finishing with ragù, béchamel, and 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled over the top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 20 minutes, slice, and serve.
Towering Coconut Cake - Tyler Florence
- 10 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Better Batter Gluten Free flour)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons spiced rum
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 6 large egg whites
- 4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pure coconut extract
- 2 cups unsweetened or sweetened coconut flakes, toasted
MAKE THE CAKE LAYERS:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter four 9-inch cake pans. Line the pans with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until the mixture is light, fluffy and tripled in volume. With the mixer on, gradually beat in the oil until incorporated. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the cornstarch and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the beaten-egg mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake the cakes for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.
MAKE THE RUM SOAK:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool, then stir in the rum.
MAKE THE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and stir over high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stop stirring, then boil the syrup until it reaches 238° (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, in a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. With the mixer at medium-high speed, gradually beat in the hot sugar syrup. Reduce the speed to medium and beat until the meringue is cooled to room temperature. Beat in the butter, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time, until all of the butter has been incorporated. Beat in the coconut extract.
Brush the rum soak over the cakes. Set one layer on a large plate and spread 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top; repeat with the next 2 cake layers. Cover with the final cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting evenly around the side and over the top of the cake, swirling it decoratively on top. Gently press the toasted coconut onto the side of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before serving.
Once the frosting has firmed up, the cake can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.