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Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Page updated at 11:23 AM

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Sherry Grindeland

A Titanic dinner and baking "The Cake"

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sometimes my creativity gets in the way of common sense.

A gourmet dinner for six on a work night? Not a problem. Tracking down "The Cake" recipe and adding it to an already outrageous menu? Not a problem.

Added together, the dinner definitely became a night to remember. Or as my husband reminded me several times while we were chopping, dicing, stirring and blending, "only you would combine the Titanic and The Cake."

"The Cake" was the Rhubarb Brown Butter Almond Cake served at the state dinner for China's President Hu Jintao. Gov. Christine Gregoire and Melinda and Bill Gates kept that meal considerably simpler than my shindig. Their dinner was building trade relations.

Mine was a payoff for the Kirkland Performance Center auction and inspired by a Christmas gift. A dear friend gave me the book "The Last Dinner on the Titanic." Smitten with the concept and because this is April — the month the ocean liner struck an iceberg and sank — Friday's party became "The Last Dinner on the Titanic."

It was the last dinner anyone needed for days, too. We served nine courses to lucky bidders Karen and Roger Orth of Bellevue and their friends, Dwight and Trudy Olson of Kirkland and Doris and Sam Friesen of Bellevue.

Between setting the date and my party night, I wrote the April 18 front-page story about the dinner for President Hu. When Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos gave me the menu, neither of us had a clue what a Rhubarb Brown Butter Almond Cake was.

But readers wanted to know. They asked for the recipe via e-mail. They asked me on the telephone. Two readers saw me about town and asked for the recipe. Some called Sharon Lane, The Seattle Times food editor.

Funny, no one asked for the celeriac purée or chervil glace recipes. Just the dessert.

Recipe quest

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The day after the dinner I began my recipe quest. I tracked down David Jue, the pastry chef who prepared the dessert. He shared the recipe and even broke it down into manageable portions for the home cook.

Now you have to understand, I'm fearless in the kitchen. I have no qualms about serving new recipes to company. If I didn't cook new recipes then, when would I? For a spouse who thinks meatloaf is a gourmet meal? I don't think so. Cooking for a crowd doesn't bother me, either. We had 36 for Thanksgiving last year.

So adding "The Cake" to the lineup was a no-brainer. I got the recipe Thursday afternoon and wanted to try it.

I did make one exception. I usually consider recipes in cookbooks merely inspiration, not precise directions. In this case, I knew I'd be sharing "The Cake" recipe so I faithfully followed Jue's instructions.

I bought the ingredients Thursday night and whipped it up Friday morning. The recipe has to be refrigerated for at least an hour. So I baked it Friday at lunch and served it Friday night to the Orths and their friends.

As I note in the recipe that appears at the end of this column, "The Cake" isn't difficult. Just allow yourself time to brown the butter, chop the rhubarb and separate the eggs.

Browning the butter requires constant attention. If you let it go just a few seconds beyond brown and a nutty odor, you'll have burned and stinky. And be forewarned that browned butter shrinks in the process. Start with about ¾ pound of butter to get the 6 ounces.

Jue suggests that home cooks bake the cake in a loaf pan, like a banana bread. I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 10-inch springform pan (like a cheesecake) because I wanted the drama of the round cake and some left over to share with family.

At the Gates' Medina mansion, where technology rules and everything is run by computers, it was served plain. (The Chinese delegation requested no dairy products.) At the Grindeland house, where I'm lucky to get the computer turned on and where we're ruled by the dog, two cats and overrun with books, "The Cake" was served with a dollop of whipped cream.

It was the eighth of nine courses, but my guests still consumed every bit and gave it rave reviews.

The ninth course?

Chocolate-dipped strawberries. I have a personal theory about dessert. If it's not chocolate, it's not dessert.

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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