The Beef Cake Experiment

A few weeks ago I was chatting with friends about the recipe for "Beefcake" I discovered searching for Retro Recipes in Richard Wong's 1949 cookbook, Enjoy Chinese Cooking at Home. Hilarity ensued, visions of potential outcomes swirled, and I ended up promising to try to make something resembling a--literal--beef cake for one of their birthdays.

I dug through the cabinet and found an old jell-o mold I inherited from an old friend. I decided it would make a great form, thinking I'd end up with a beautiful, Deco-shaped statue of meat.


Construction began the day ahead of dinner, as I figured I'd be unable to unmold a hot beef cake. I combined 1 cup damp bread crumbs, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons herbes de Provence, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 2 onions, and a little salt and black pepper in a food processor. I added the result to 2 pounds of ground beef, then pressed the mixture into the mold, which I'd greased with olive oil. I covered it with aluminum foil, and popped it into a 350-degree oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the thermometer read 145. I let it cool, then put it in the fridge.

The next day, I took it out of the fridge...and it wouldn't unmold. The fat had glued the beef cake to the jell-o mold. Undaunted, I warmed it a bit, and it finally popped out--thankfully in one piece. Alas, it didn't look like a beautiful Art Deco sculpture. It looked like a hideous mound of cat food. Yum.

Guests had arrived, so what could I do? I popped it back into a 250 degree oven. Meanwhile, I grabbed some Gruyere and made a (Rebecca de) Mornay sauce. (Start with a roux from 2 tablespoons of butter and flour, cook for two minutes. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk and heat until it thickens. Stir in the cheese bit by bit, and when it's melted, remove from the heat. Add a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg.)

After about a half an hour, the beef cake was warm (and thankfully beautifully browned). I poured a bit of the Mornay sauce on top, and it actually looked passable, almost like a super-pointy Christmas pudding. Or a volcano experiment.

Though the jokes continued, my guests enjoyed their slices of beef cake, served with more Mornay and a little Dijon. I've been encouraged to continue the search for the perfect beef cake, and sure enough, this was just the beginning...

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