Daring Baker Challenge…Perfect Party Cake

What is one to do when the flour prices are on the rise and the most basic necessities are on the rise, including milk and eggs? In the words of Marie Antoinette (or was it Marie Theresa…), “Let them eat cake!” And I couldn’t agree more. Especially if it is the Perfect Party Cake recipe by Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. Wow.

I love cake. I mean, I love cake. In fact, I hardly even make the frosting that associates with cake because I feel like it’s only extra calories when all I really want is the cake. But, in light of the Daring Baker’s Challenge, I completed the entire recipe, frosting and all…absolutely worth each and every calorie.

Of course, I didn’t want the full-size cake, since I knew I would have no problem polishing off the entire cake, so I procedeeded with my typical small-batch interpretation of the recipe (in this case, one quarter of the recipe). I have posted the small-batch below, along with the original recipe, as printed in Baking: From My Home to Yours.

1. Cream butter
2. …not done
3. …getting there
4. Done!
5. Cake batter ready for oven
6. Mixing white and sugar over simmering water
7. What it looks like when it is done being whisked
8. Whisk until creamy
9. Completed buttercream
10. Completed cake
11. Separating the cake
12. Assembling the cake
13. Adding the final touch

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Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

Small-Batch Cake
2.5 oz. cake flour
2.25 t baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 + 1 T cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
1 large egg white
2.65 oz sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon pure lemon extract

Small-Batch Buttercream
1.75 oz sugar
1 large egg white
6 T (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 pure vanilla extract [I used fresh bean]

Follow directions as original recipe, stated below. Use a 6 x 3 cake pan or two 4 x 3 cake pans.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Well, then, what should I eat??

world_organic_ketchup.jpgMy brother made an interesting request for a post…he asked me to make a list for him of foods that are bad, and foods that he could eat. Boy, does that open a can of worms. :D I feel rather shocked, however, as I’ve always known Bro to live off of Eggos, Twinkies, Chocolate Milk and Pumpkin Pie. Oh, and TV Dinners—-Hungry Man, I think, are his favorites. So, for some expressed interest, my head was whirling!

So, sticking to the simple facts and basics. The two biggest offenders in processed foods are hydrogenated fats and corn syrup. Hydrogenated fats are chemically altered to be a near-solid form. In fact, so much near-solid, that they are one molecule from being a plastic. Yum! Corn syrup is also chemically altered, to make a syrupy consistency sweet, by altering its molecular status.

If you can avoid these main chemically-altered food-like substances, you’re well on your way to better health!Bro asked me to list foods that he could buy. Well, it really comes down to only fresh fruits and veggies. But, I assume that making the jump from Twinkies to Spinach isn’t going to be an overnight change, so I decided to think of some easier changes. Taking the most common, kid-friendly foods and listing the non-chemically altered brands. Baby steps, right?

Ground Turkey, the low-fat substitute…or is it?

I was at Trader Joe’s for the afternoon…I’m probably the only fruit loop who can spend an hour looking at every item on a grocery store shelf and enjoy it! Then, make for second rounds to see what I missed. :D Anyhow, I do all this because I like to read the labels and see what is really in these items. In my head, I was thinking that homemade tacos sounded fantastic! As I was perusing their choices of ground beef, I reached for the 92/8 ground beef (8% fat), which is my usual. Then, that little voice in my head reminded me of that well-known tactic that ground turkey is a better, lower-fat substitute.

I was already in label-reading mode, so I continued right on…only to find out that the 92/8 beef and 93/7 Turkey have comparably the same amount of calories and saturated fats. Trying to debunk the theory, I realized that the comparison must be made in general between ground turkey (always 93/7) and ground chuck, 80/20. I believe my mother raised me on 80/20, so I’m sure for many people, it’s a common purchase. So, if you’re looking for “low-fat” ground meat options, go with lean beef and you’ll be doing the same thing. However, if it’s red meat you’re trying to avoid, ground turkey makes a fine substitute!

How to fix runny sour cream or yogurt ::

Don’t you hate the exceess liquid sitting in the middle of your sour cream (or yogurt container), after you’ve scooped out some? I never know if I should stir that separated liquid back into the yogurt or sour cream, or pour it off. I must admit, I’m guilty of both. However, I’ve recently come across the most fascinating trick–that absolutely works! After scooping out the portion of the yogurt (or sour cream), use the back of your spoon and smooth out the top, all nice and flat. And the next time you open the container…ta da!! No separated liquids with which to fight! I have no scientific explanation for this, but I can only tell you—if you smooth out the top (so there are no “spoon trails” down the middle), you won’t have any separation!

And if you’re feeling extra OCD, join me in the adventures of making your very own yogurt! :D Yogurt Maker and Yogurt Starter

Happy Baking!

Tuesdays with Dorie :: Brioche Raisin Snails

If you’re a breadivore like me, anything with flour is enough to get you up and running to the kitchen! In this case, it is another fabulous recipe by Dorie Greenspan, part of the fun gang at Tuesdays with Dorie. In this case, it is a nice, sweet bread recipe studded with rum-soaked raisins on top of a simple, but classy pastry cream. Mmm.

Given my choice for abstinence in alcohol, I decided to take another route. I opted for some yummy craisins which I soaked in warm orange juice to help plump them and revive their flavor and size. To match that same flavor, I added some orange zest to the filling and in the icing drizzle. These turned out fantastic…and much easier than I had anticipated!

Looking at the photo, they look like the difficulty of a sweet bun or cinnamon roll, which seemingly requires a great deal of time and effort. Perhaps it is just the recipe, but these went through without a hitch, and the flavor beats those of any store-bought!

Happy Baking!!

Brioche Raisin Snails from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Washing fruits and vegetables…

Really, it seems so much more convenient to pull an apple out of the fridge or the fruit bowl and begin chomping. I mean, how much stuff can really be on the outside of the fruit? If you really want to know…hang out at the fruit stand for about an hour, and you’ll be ready to add your own dose of pesticides to your fruits and veggies before you bite. I’ve seen plenty of kids run around the stores, mother’s chasing behind, as they touch, lick and drop all sorts of fruit. And that whole, “you touch, you buy!” theory doesn’t carry to the many open beds of fruits and veggies. Believe me, there have been plenty of people touching those things long before they ended up in your fruit bowl.

We’ve all heard many-a-stories of the creepy viruses and such that linger on shopping cart handles, etc, so I feel no need to quote those. But, just to let you know…I always smell my fruit before I buy. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who does that, but the idea of anyone else’s nose being next to my fruit before I came along gives me the heebee-geebies. So, maybe that will help encourage you to give your fruits and veggies a rinse.

I am a long-time user of Veggie Wash, but agreeably, the cost adds up and it’s really one more thing to recycle. So, if you’re feeling the need to tighten the buckle, and re-use your last empty bottle of Veggie Wash spray container, give some of these home remedies a try:

For simple, eat-out-of-hand veggies and fruits, such as plums, apples and tomatoes, a spray method is great:

1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. baking soda
1 cup purified water

Put mixture in your recycled spray bottle and shake well to be sure all is mixed well. Spray fruit, allow to rest for a few minutes, then rub vigorously with your hands, then rinse under running water. By the way, wash your own hands first, otherwise, you’re just passing the dirt around. :)

For larger (or smaller) fruits and veggies, such as pineapples, carrots and grapes and soaking mechanism works much better:

Place 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup vinegar in bowl (increase as necessary) and soak fruits and vegetables for 5-10 minutes. Rinse well.

Lastly, and just as important: fruits and vegetables with skins that you will peel and discard must still be treated in the same manner! Whatever lays on the outside skin will penetrate to the edible meat when your knife penetrates the outside to the inside. So, be sure to soak those melons, pineapples, potatoes, etc.

Happy cooking!

Coffee Substitutes

If you’re like me and choose to abstain from coffee or tea, you’ll find yourself frustrated over many chocolate recipes. Coffee has a magical way of enhancing the flavor of chocolate, so there are many recipes which call for it. There is always the option to omit completely, which is just fine! I can’t ever find a reason anything chocolate won’t taste good. :)

If you are desperate to find a substitute that will enhance the flavor, without giving way to coffee, there are several substitutes on the market. Postum is made of wheat bran, wheat, molasses, and corn dextrin (maltodextrin). Pero is another option, having a coffee-like flavor; made from malted barley, chicory, and rye. Teeccino is a brand, which interestingly contains cocoa along with roasted carob, barley, chicory root, dates, almonds, natural mocha, figs.

I’ve never had coffee, so I cannot give you a side-by-side comparison. But, I can tell you that when compared to dishes made without it (chocoalte dishes, that is), there is a certain enhancement in flavor that is obvious. Postum has been my preference in the past, but unfortunately, Kraft has decided to no longer create it.

So, next time you stumble across a no-fail recipe, give one of these all-natural substitutes a try. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Happy cooking!

War-Time Baking

Oh, how times have changed. In previous wars, even in only the last century, everybody felt the burden. (We are leaving all politics out of this post!) There was rationing of food for several reasons, including the need to ship so much food to the soldiers, as well as rising food costs. Well, here we are (well, if you are a United Statesen) in a war–and our prices are rising. But, other than the rising food costs, I haven’t really noticed much.

I am obsessed (shocker!) with old cook books. But, really the ones from the 40s, especially. I am absolutely enthralled with the evolution of food, cooking, and how it affected the women in the kitchen and what they served their families. For me, it all began in the 40s with the second World War, when rationing was very strong. People were limited to their consumption of butter, shortening and sugars. Can you imagine?

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Baked From Scratch