Sunday, August 30, 2015

Nectarine Crisp

Served with brown sugar-cinnamon ice cream
Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a deep dish pie plate or 2 quart baking dish.

3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 oz marzipan or almond paste
6 tablespoon cold butter
1/4 sliced or chopped almonds
1/2 cup quick cook oats.

Pulse the flour, spices, and sugar in a food processorAdd marzipan and butter and pulse until pea sized clumps form. Mix in with almonds and oats with your hands or a spoon.

About 2 pounds nectarines, sliced ~1/4 thick
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Toss fruit mixture until well combined. Layer into pie plate. Squeeze clumps of topping into coarse chunks and spread across top of fruit mix until fully covered. Bake 35-40 min at 375. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Brown Sugar Ice Cream

I got the idea for this ice cream from the amazing cinnamon frosting that is flavored with brown sugar, and from the fact that I finally feel I have a "go to" ice cream base recipe, and I was ready to start playing with it. 

I took it to friends for dessert after a Sunday evening barbeque. The last time I'd offered to take dessert to share with them was on Fourth of July and my ice cream mixer wasn't completely frozen so the ice cream never set. We still poured it over apple pie, but needless to say I was disappointed. Having good ice cream to make up for that experience was essential, but this recipe far surpassed "good" and I'm making it again for my father-in-law's birthday to serve with a nectarine tart.

Another thing I tested with this recipe was a shortcut to the process. Instead of heating all the cream and milk in the process of tempering the eggs, I only used some so it wouldn't take so long to get to temperature. I didn't notice any difference in the final product so this will be my new procedure.

2 cups whipping cream (I use 30% butterfat)
2 whole eggs (room temperature) 
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 cup dark brown (or light brown) sugar
1 cup milk (I use skim, but any type is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum

Heat cream and sugar over medium heat until simmering and sugar is completely dissolved. 

In a separate bowl, mix eggs until blended. Add a few tablespoons of hot cream mixture to blend, and bring slowly up to temperature, then gradually stir egg mixture into hot cream over medium heat until it reaches 165 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in milk. Lay plastic wrap on the surface of the liquid and chill overnight. 

The next day, remove cinnamon stick from mixture and stir in vanilla and rum. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Eggnog Cake

The next evening, I made a cake for another holiday party, and decided on an Eggnog cake that had just appeared in the Seattle Times. I love eggnog, and this was a party at my grandmother's elder home, so the mildly-throwback-ness of eggnog seemed appropriate. I had also decided I wanted to use my other shaped pan, a snowflake, and believed the pound-cake-esque loaf recipe would do well in the pan, holding it's shape as well as releasing from the mold. On this point, I was exactly right. The cake inverted painlessly, maintaining all the lovely details of the showy snowflake shape in golden-crumbed glory. For a frosty presentation, I merely dusted with powdered sugar and a light sprinkling of white sugar granules.

I ended up initally rather disappointed with the cake, I did like the gently-spiced, buttery flavor, but I found it quite dry, and was surprised the recipe hadn't called for a light glaze, or brandy-laced whipped cream. While those would unquestionably be exceptional accompaniments under any circumstances, I don't think it was just my imagination that this cake aged well, becoming moister and more flavorful the next day.  I will probably  make this again, and even confidently bring out a shaped pan in which to bake it, I will probably try a thin glaze, or maybe even a light brandy soaking syrup, and serve with whipped cream or hard sauce.

Made as called for in a loaf pan with an eggnog glaze of 1 tsp eggnog whisked with powdered sugar.

Baby Carriage Cake

I did have the perfect opportunity this very weekend in my offer to make a baby shower cake for a friend. I had already determined I wanted to make a cake with champagne. What better way to celebrate the joy of a new baby than to pop open a bottle of bubbly, and what more responsible way for a pregnant mama to enjoy said effervesance than to bake away the alcohol. I hadn't yet crafted a visual for this cake though, so after I formulated my plan, I realized my design could easily incorporate two different kinds of cake. What to do for cake #2? The standby favorite go-to white cake!

The parents decided not to find out the baby's gender, so the design
for this cake incorporated a pink and blue question mark.

The champagne cake is really something quite remarkable. I have made one before, but the recipe I used this time was far superior. Simply replace the soda called for in the recipe with a sparkling wine of your preference (I used Ste. Michelle blanc de blanc). Be sure to taste the batter before you bake it, in case it needs extra sugar. Eliminating the soda removes significant sweetness, and I was prepared to add up to one additional cup of sugar to the batter, but in this case it didn't need it, so the only substitution I made was with the liquid. The result is startling when you first bite in if you are not expecting it. But if you know in advance that the cake is made with wine, you will instantly appreciate the sophisticated flavor. It is moist and slightly spongey, though without being at all eggy as some sponge layers are. At the same time, the texture is very firm which makes it nice for cutting into shapes and sculptures, as well as for frosting, and simply for slicing beautiful, even pieces. But my favorite part of this cake is the yeasty aroma and slight aftertaste, like eating a delicious piece of freshly baked bread. What makes this cake so special for me is that it brings together elements that I don't generally envision together, in a way that makes them seem all the more unique and well-matched. Plus, I just love champagne and it is a great gesture of joyful celebration.

I wanted to fill it with vanilla custard on this occasion, but I had some snafoos with that recipe and ended up with a lightly sweetened whipped cream filling. I think the cake would be terrific with traditional champagne pairings like strawberries and oranges such as a strawberry mousse filling or a "mimosa" with orange curd and orange glaze.

This cake was very time-consuming to decorate due to the basketweave of the frosting (this is actually a delightfully clever and simple technique, but it does take some patience and some solid wrist control.) But the structural engineering couldn't have been simpler: bake in standard 9-inch pans and cut away one quarter. Cupcakes and mini-cupcakes comprised the tires and the question mark. This is what inspired this subject of this post... good cake (or, in this case, dry, powdery, tasteless cake).

As I said above, my intention with this blog is to document my own experiences and offer something of value to other bakers and eaters. I don't want to criticize, but in this case, sharing my disappointment with a recipe is an important part of establishing what criteria for later positive reviews and recommendations. That said, I couldn't be more unhappy with the "go-to white cake" lauded by Even my husband when I silently offered him a taste - whose default answers are "it tastes delicious, you look great, you can decide" - took one bite of this cupcake and paused to think about how he is supposed to react. As he smacked his lips apart in paste-y disgust, I answered for him, "it's terrible!"

Now, in all fairness, the cake has a firm texture that helps it hold up well to cutting, layering, and frosting. The lack of taste also warrants it an easy accomplice to all sorts of frosting and filling combinations. Given this, it's especially important to determine why you think a cake is good; if you want something that is easy to mix, bake, and work with, this is a winner. But if it's not going to taste good on it's own, why would you want to drown it in disguising toppings? Frostings and fillings should enhance a cake, not rescue it from inedibility.

The Cake Bible addresses this topic very plainly, stating that while cakes can be works of art in their own right, ultimately they are created to be enjoyed orally, so if they don't taste good, in the end it doesn't really matter how pretty they are. I believed after reading those passages that The Cake Bible would have all my answers to ideal cake recipes. As it turns out (more about that in other posts), only some of the recipes are really to my liking, and many have let me down. But knowing what you want out of the cake in advance will get you all the closer to finding just the right one.

All that was left after the party.

Update 3 days later:
I am too frugal to throw away the leftover white cake cupcakes, but I was too embarrassed to share them at work, so I've just been eating off them a bit each day. I've been surprised at how they are not nearly as "flavorless" as I found them on the first day. A day and two days later, the cake is sweeter and more lemony so I am wrong to call it tasteless. I stand by my assessment of the texture being powdery; it still has a stick-in-the-throat pastiness. Nevertheless, I may give this recipe a second try using all-purpose flour; I've found over many experiments in the past that I find the fine grain of cake flour to result in a cake that is too dense and it's possible that is a factor here. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Limoncello Layer Cake

October 17, 2010: Today is my birthday, so naturally, I baked myself a cake. There have been a couple of articles in the Seattle Times the past few weeks about cookbooks that came out this year devoted exclusively to incorporating alcohol into baked goods. I have a few recipes I've been making for years that do this (chocolate kahlua cake, rum cake) but there are some very intriguing and au courant versions available now. Hence my revisiting the champagne cake for last weekend's baby shower, and again today with a lemon layer cake with campari frosting. There limoncello (Italian lemon liquer) in the batter which bumps up the lemonyness more than juice and zest can alone.

This is unquestionably the best lemon cake layer I have ever tried, so I will definitely be making it again. It is totally worth investing in the bottle of limoncello if you don't already have some. The frosting is flavored with campari which is an Italian bitters. It has a nice herbal forward, but the aftertaste is bitter. My husband loves it, and has spent months incorporating it into different cocktails, though our favorite is just a tiny splash (instead of vermouth) with gin for a sunset martini. I don't really like the bitterness, though the sweet and citrus of the rest of this cake definitely make for an enjoyable experience. Another benefit is the attractive peachy hue. 

Limoncello Cake Layers
from "The Boozy Baker", by Lucy Baker

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
11/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons limoncello
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 8-inch round pans, and line with parchment.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in one third of flour mixture, then half of buttermilk, and repeat until well-mixed. Stir in limoncello, juice, and zest just until combined. Divide batter between two pans and bake for 32 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool on racks.

Campari Marscapone Filling
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon campari liquer
8 oz marscapone cheese

Beat cream and sugar together until soft peaks form. Stir in campari and continue beating until desired consistency. Loosen marscapone with fork, and fold in gently to cream. Fill cake layers with filling.

I did a total mash-up of some icing and some leftover vanilla custard sauce that I'd already mixed with some other leftover cream cheese frosting. It ended up making an amazing frosting for this cake, so I'm actually quite disappointed that I'll probably never be able to recreate it. But to come as close as possible, here is what I can offer:

1/3 cup vanilla custard made from the custard filling recipe in the Joy of Cooking
2/3 cup vanilla cream cheese frosting from the recipe in Joy of Cooking
2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 tablespoon campari
1 tablespoon limoncello

Melt these all together over medium or medium low, just until combined, then stir with a rubber spatula over an ice water bath until thick but still spreadable.

I had to take this photo in the restaurant and the lighting was very poor. The cake
managed to survive transportation, but after we'd cut and served it and transported
it back home, the 1/4 that was left had completely slipped apart due to the softening 
of the filling. It was pretty ugly, but still tastes delicious as leftovers!

Holiday Bundt

Finally, for Christmas Day, I was quite excited about the Holiday Manhattan Bundt cake recipe from Kathy Casey. Rum cake is one of the moistest cakes I know, and I've always loved it, so I really liked the idea of a holiday cake swimming in bourbon and studded with marachino cherry jewels. This was the biggest disappointment to serve, because it stuck in my very well-oiled pan, and in an attempt to cover the tears, I used extra glaze, but it was already a thick, gloppy, and not very well balanced glaze (just powdered sugar and bourbon, so it had that chaulkiness and over-sweetness.) I was literally embarrassed to take this to my party, and had it been anyone other than family, I probably would have started over. But the cake slices themselves, as you can see in the photo, were pretty much just what I had in mind, and I really did love the flavor of this cake. It was quite strong in the alcohol taste, yet still appropriately balanced, and festive. It was also a very nice texture, moist and dense without being gummy. I will probably make this again, and leave to cool in the pan longer than suggested, as well as use a different glaze.

Manhattan Holiday Bundt Cake

Honey Spice Beer Cake

Year after year, I struggle along with adoreable shaped pans, making hideous shaped cakes. These pans are made for a standard pound cake or cake-mix cake, but try anything with a little flair or pizazz, and I guarantee it will stick, to the pan, and make a ^&*(%$! mess on your wall where you throw the pan with the cake gummed inside. I'm amazed my husband hasn't stolen the pans under cover of night and secreted them to the dump, given how many times he's heard me swear "I will never make another cake in these again!" as I tear around the kitchen trying to salvage whatever I can for whatever event I'm doubtlessly on my way to.

Recently, I'd saved the recipe for what is called "Honey Spice Beer Cake" from the Booze Cakes cookbook as it appeared in The Washington Post. I love spice cake anyway, and it seemed a seasonally-appropriate selection for my girlfriend gathering. What better way to holiday-it-up than to bake it in a snowman pan!?!

The cake is sticky from the honey, and really should have been made - as the directions call for - in a 9x13" pan (or a half-recipe in an 8" square pan, because it makes a lot) lined with parchment. The cake itself is delightful, moist, with a carmelized crust and a sweetness that is mellowed by the spices. I figured I could cover the rips and tears in the snowman's head and arms with frosting, but the frosting called for by the recipe - while also delicious (and the place where the beer in the recipe really comes through with a surprising and addictive flavor) - is definitely more a glaze than a frosting, as you can see from the significant "melting" my snowman was experiencing around the edges. Let's just say Seattle isn't known for our white christmases. But I will definitely  make this again for a filling, satisfying, snack cake. I think it could work well in a straight-sided tube pan where the glaze drizzled over and some candied fruits would make an attractive serving.

Note: I was unable to find the beer referenced in the recipe, but look instead for a sweeter, spicier, weiss. I found a German weiss beer at Central Market which had tasting notes saying it had cinnamon and nutmeg tones (veering away from the varieties described as citrusy).