June 28, 2010 § 1 Comment
A couple of days ago it was one of my housemate’s birthdays. You should know by now that the second I say “birthday”, you’re in for a really long story about everything that went wrong while making the cake that ends with, it actually turned out to be a beautiful and delicious cake. So if you would like to skip over all my ranting about this cake to the pictures, please feel free.
I’m absolutely positive that this is the best birthday cake ever — standard, vanilla yellow cake with chocolate frosting and colored sprinkles. Why? Because Deb at Smitten Kitchen said so. I’m also absolutely positive that you can do anything to this recipe, even get almost every single step wrong, and it will still come out utterly delicious. Why? Because that is exactly what I did.
It basically all came down to having none of the ingredients that the recipe required. I creamed the butter and the sugar only to find that my vanilla extract had magically disappeared from the kitchen. So this vanilla birthday cake quickly became cinnamon flavored. Then, I couldn’t find any baking powder even though I know, know, know, I had it somewhere. So in went extra baking soda and a cup of plain, non-fat yogurt. Then, as I was stirring in the 4 cups of flour, I started having even more doubts. The cake batter was thick, almost unstirrable. Frustrated I looked back at the recipe and realized I had left out all the buttermilk. And I had no buttermilk. So in went some non-fat milk and even more yogurt. After all this, the mixing bowl was overflowing and I had zero idea whether I would actually end up with a cake in the end.
I cooked the cakes in two batches and was mildly comforted when the first layer started to rise like a normal cake. I went out on a run and left my housemates in charge of taking them out of the oven when it was done. Surprisingly, both cake layers turned out beautifully domed and golden brown.
The icing issue was a whole lot simpler. I was planning on using chocolate buttercream frosting I used for my mother’s birthday cake but before I could start making it I happened upon the ingredient “3 sticks of butter” and I just couldn’t do it when it was written out like that in black and white. So I started with a smaller batch, with just a stick of butter and eyeballed the cocoa powder and icing sugar. Of course that made a miniscule amount of frosting so I ended up having to use about 3 sticks of butter anyway in order to frost the entire cake.
And now for the very predictable end of the story: the cake was great. The cinnamon flavor played well off the rich chocolate frosting and the cake layers were still slightly warm when served, which made it wonderfully homey. There is something very comforting about a standard yellow cake with sprinkles; it’s like celebrating your 5th birthday all over again. Except it was his 21st.
Best Yellow Layer Cake
Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have never been able to make up my mind about New York City. I alternate between loving it and absolutely hating the city. Going to school just over an hour from the city, it has always been my escape when life hits rock bottom. Maybe that’s why I associate the city with my life being disastrous. Throughout the last two years, the city’s high rises, peaceful museums (on the off days), and many shopping areas have provided the comforting assurance that there are indeed people in the world. This is a type of comfort the small town of Princeton never provides. Additionally, it has been the city of many adventures. I turned 18 in the city, attended my first musical and stayed a few nights with my best friend in the sketchy Chelsea Star Hotel, complete with neon yellow walls and metal doors. I’ve learned that I feel safer in parks packed with runners, wanderers and homeless people and streets where people put their garbage out at night and drunks (old and young, rich and poor) stagger around riding the roller coaster of life, than I do in pretty, pristine suburbs. New York City has made me realize there truly is a difference between urban and suburban and I could now never dream of living anywhere but a city. I need people, I need crowds and I need things to move, and fast.
The past few days were spent touring the city with my family. Despite all the times I have been here, I have never actually done any of the tourist activities in New York. We rode the Cyclone on Staten Island and topped the afternoon with ultra-fake vanilla soft serve. We climbed to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building after a dinner at Aldea. We went for a stroll in Central Park after a long dinner at Marea, the fancy coastal Italian seafood restaurant all the visiting San Franciscan cooks are writing home about. The first day, we walked twenty blocks for a taste of Momofuku crack pie and cereal milk soft serve (but ultimately chose the raspberry lemonade flavor) and the next day, another twenty for a Magnolia cupcake.
I now have a much brighter outlook on New York City, after discovering that it is not just a place to go to when you are unhappy. And with this many beautiful desserts around, it is hard not be happy when you’re there too.
Sicilian pistachio cake with candied kumquats and pistachio gelato at Marea.
Trio of chocolate cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip and vanilla gelato at Marea.
Cupcakes, one vanilla and one chocolate, from Magnolia Bakery.
June 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. I made a massive cake. I also made a mess of the entire kitchen. I used about three 18-ounce bars of dark chocolate. By the end of the day there was chocolate everywhere, in the cake, in the filling, in the frosting, and then, on the counter, the dining room table, the floor and even the bottom of the cake tray. How did all this happen, you may ask. Well, my mom’s birthday always seems to bring out the disaster in me. Last year it was how to rescue a bland cake. This year, it was one crisis after another. First, the chocolate cake batter was extremely runny, leading me to fear I had left out one of the cups of flour. I added a bit more cocoa and flour and anxiously stuck a test cake in the oven. Fortunately, it came out looking mostly like a cake so I went ahead and cooked the other two layers. They all came out looking very moist and fudgy so I committed to the possibility of having a brownie cake.
Then, the next day, I made the ganache which, surprise, also came out a little runny. When I tried to use it as filling between the layers, it just dripped all over the sides of the cake, the cake platter and the table. Forging ahead, I stuck the cake layers one on top of the other and stuck three large sticks down the center of the cake to ensure that it stayed upright.
A couple hours later, I started on the frosting. I used Joy the Baker’s recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting. It calls for Ovaltine. I had no idea what Ovaltine was. After a quick Google search, I still have no idea what Ovaltine is but I now know I have zero desire to ever use it. So I skipped both the Ovaltine and the heavy cream. Just the entire last step of the recipe. I made the frosting twice. The first time we were out of cocoa, so I used my brother’s cocoa for hot chocolates which is actually a mixture of cocoa and sugar. I should have known from my last time baking with it that that was a bad plan. The sugar in the cocoa mix never dissolved into the frosting, despite a violent turn in the blender and an extended hiatus in the microwave, and remained grainy until I finally decided to dispose of it.
I then walked to the grocery store, which I should have just done in the first place, to buy cocoa and now, butter, because I had just used about a pound of butter for the failed frosting. The second time around, the buttercream worked perfectly, despite my skipping the final step. Finally, the cake was frosted.
Now don’t think the disasters are over. I had the (not-so-brilliant) idea to use an almond paste icing to do the green lettering on the cake. I more or less winged it for the icing, using some almond paste and butter and polishing off the ¼ cup of icing sugar that was left. The resulting icing was so thick it was hard to pipe, which is why the lettering is a little choppy looking.
Nonetheless, an entire day and a couple frustrated people later, we finally had a birthday cake. The chocolate cake comes from Smitten Kitchen, which you can find here. This is a heart-stopper of a chocolate cake. Only my dad managed to finish a slice of it.
Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Special equipment: two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans
Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Joy the Baker
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup milk (or to desired consistency)
Cream together butter, cocoa powder and salt. Butter mixture will be very thick. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add powdered sugar. Turn mixer on low and mix in powdered sugar while adding milk and vanilla extract. As the sugar incorporates, raise the speed of the mixer to beat the frosting. Beat until smooth. Add milk or sugar until the frosting reaches the desired consistency.
May 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
I had all these grand plans for this week. A margarita cake for Cinco de Mayo, strawberry shortcake cookies because I’ve been dying to make an all-inclusive handheld strawberry shortcake and lavender shortbread to send off to my best friend, who is leaving for India in four days. I bought a basket of strawberries at the local farmer’s market on Tuesday for this purpose and searched for lavender without success. Unfortunately, Princeton doesn’t quite have the same obsession with all things lavender — fresh stalks in a vase, dried stalks hanging from an open window, embroidered sachets imported from Provence — that most cities (or, towns) have come summer.
And sadly, this week, school got in the way. I’ve been in the library since lunchtime and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make that US Postal deadline to send off that package. Nor does it look like I’m going to get into the kitchen at all anytime soon. So, I searched through my photo archives, thinking I could at least leave the students here with a little finals period procrastination. These are some of my favorite food moments from last summer, in anticipation of this summer, which is quickly approaching.
18 Reasons, run by BiRite Grocery and Creamery in San Francisco, runs weekly local food events. This night last summer it was Chocolate: From Bean to Bar, featuring a presentation by Taza chocolate, cocoa bean and nip tasting as well as a variety of chocolate goodness and fresh milk from Bi-Rite. Taza is a small, direct trade chocolate company that uses cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic and process them using the traditional Mexican stone-grinding method. It was love at first sip with the chili chocolate milk. It’s deliciously sweet with a spicy burn and tingle that sets in a couple seconds after the sweetness.
Tea and scones might be my favorite combination ever. This lovely scone is part of a high tea service at the Point Ellice House in Victoria. My grandpa was adamant that it wasn’t real clotted cream because it wasn’t thick enough to be cut with a butter knife but I happen to enjoy my scones with a simple pat of blackberry jam anyway. Double props if it’s Granny’s blackberry jelly.
I’ve never had a lemon bar as good as my dad’s lemon bars. They are tarter than any other bar I’ve ever tasted. I love all things lemon — lemon loaf with that delicious lemon glaze, lemonade, lemon curd, lemon tarts…I could go on and on, but I won’t.
April 28, 2010 § 1 Comment
Decadence and excess is the name of the day. After one of my teammates enlisted my help — or surveillance — in making fudge for her French class, I decided today was a good day to try out one of the recipes that has been in the back of my mind for awhile: Salted Caramel Bacon Brownies. There are no words to describe these…rich, gooey, the base brownie tastes like pure melted chocolate and the caramelized bacon adds a smoky, salty note. That said, more than a couple bites of this is enough to make you feel quite guilty, and more than a little sick. I did cut a couple corners on this recipe; I stole the bacon from Cloister breakfast, neither wanting to fry the bacon myself or make the caramel using the leftover bacon fat. And we invited a couple of the swimmer girls over to eat them. Who, unfortunately, seem to exercise more restraint than lightweight rowers. Come on, don’t tell me you’re on a lawnparties diet too!
Some poor, depressed, heartbroken soul needs to come take these off my hands because these are the brownies hell is made of.
The brownie base is adapted from my favorite, David Lebovitz. The rest of the recipe is the creation of Kate from Savour Fare. See the recipe here or go to her site here.
Bacon Salted Caramel Brownies
Adapted from David Lebovitz
For the Bacon Caramel:
2 slices bacon
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
6 T. salted butter
In a small saucepan, fry two slices of bacon until crisp (I find it’s easiest to do this when the bacon is cut in half). Remove bacon, set aside, reserving bacon grease in the pan. Add cream to hot pan and let cool. When bacon is cool, crumble or chop finely.
In a larger pan, heat the sugar over high heat until the mixture is liquid and a deep amber color. Add the butter and the cooled bacon cream all at once, and stir until the butter is melted. Add the chopped bacon and let the mixture cool thoroughly.
For the brownies:
8 T salted butter, cut into pieces
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line an 8 inch square pan with two sheets of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and sides of the pan. Grease the foil with butter or a little Baker’s Joy.
In a large microwaveable bowl, melt the butter and the chocolate together in the microwave (start with 30 seconds, and stir thoroughly, then microwave for 10 seconds at a time, stirring between each bout of nuking, until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the butter) (You can also melt them together over the stove). Add the cocoa and whisk until smooth, then add in the eggs, one at a time, and the sugar, vanilla and finally the flour. Stir only until combined.
Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Then drop about a third of the bacon caramel, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter in the pan. It doesn’t have to cover the whole batter, but should be in splotches. Spread the remaining brownie batter over the top, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the brownies and swirl.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, but err on the side of underbaking. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
April 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
Today was an awfully frustrating day. After 6 hours of class, I came back to the kitchen only to find it absolutely wrecked by the Asian dinner party group from the night before. Empty chip bags and salsa jars were strewn everywhere on the tables and the couches were inhabited by two guys working (or more likely procrastinating). So I lugged a huge bag of ingredients and several pots and pans to the kitchen downstairs and set to work on this cake. It’s the perfect cake to sit down to after a long day. At 8 p.m., when it finally came out of the oven, we sat down on the futon and dug into it, still warm.
A layer of rich chocolate batter is swirled into a cinnamon pound cake. It’s wonderfully simple to make as the two flavors are made with the same basic batter. I estimated the amount of cinnamon, as I didn’t have any teaspoons to measure it out with; next time I might go with a stronger cinnamon flavor. By the time the cake came out of the oven — I sat by the oven with the oven light on staring at the cake cook for about 1 ½ hours — I had no energy to make the chocolate ganache that tops the cake in the original recipe. It’s still great as a simple pound cake (I made it in a loaf pan. I mean, finding a bundt pan in these kitchens? Impossible) but I imagine it would be even better topped with rich semisweet chocolate ganache and served with coffee at the end of a meal.
There we go with the coffee again. I’m two cups in and still have 100 pages of reading to complete before class today. I guess that is what I should have been doing when I was watching the cake rise and brown in the oven last night.
The original recipe can be found at Dana Treat.
Cinnamon-Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups cake flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat to 325ºF. Grease a 12 cup bundt pan (or one loaf pan and several muffin tins) and set aside. Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each one, until the chocolate is almost melted. Allow the residual heat to melt the rest of the chocolate and set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar and beat until thick and fluffy. Gradually beat in oil. Beat in milk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and beat until just blended.
Transfer 1½ cups batter to bowl with the melted chocolate. Stir to combine. Mix cinnamon into remaining (non-chocolate) batter. Spread half of cinnamon batter in prepared pan. Spoon chocolate batter over. Top with the remaining cinnamon batter. Using small knife, swirl batters together to marbleize slightly.
Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes.
Dana gives a recipe for the chocolate glaze that uses cream, butter and corn syrup. My original plan was to make a standard ganache with cream and chocolate and I don’t have, and don’t like baking with, corn syrup. Also, I ran out of white sugar and used 1 1/3 cups of brown sugar and only 2/3 cup white sugar. That didn’t appear to have any adverse effect.