Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Sauce

This assignment came for a new friend's birthday whose tastes I don't know very well. She is pregnant with a baby girl, and apparently "everything sweet" is on her list right now, but I had no other guidance. So I decided to use her baby as inspiration, and went with pink strawberry. A dense, firm vanilla cake layer sandwiched around strawberry whipped cream and frosted with white chocolate cream cheese frosting was a delightful celebration cake. For the size of the party, I used a 10" layer pan and 1 1/2 times the recipe.  
The cake layer was really nice to work with and pronounced vanilla flavor, even without using the vanilla bean or vanilla powder called for in the recipe. I had been curious to try one of Warren Brown's recipes with potato starch, not knowing exactly what that would contribute to the texture. This recipe was firm and easy to slice. It was perhaps just a bit more dense than I generally prefer. It did not bake at all evenly in my oven, and I'm not sure if that is a factor of my not getting the whites sufficiently incorporated, or if it is the recipe itself, but either way that could have contributed to the density.

For the filling, I fussed and fussed to get a consistency that was thick enough to hold itself but flavorful enough to be easily recognized as strawberry. Rose says that her fruit conserve is perfect for stirring into creams because the flavor is so concentrated. I didn't necessarily find this to be the case, but it may have been that I needed heavy cream instead of whipping cream. Nevertheless, the flavor ultimately was delicious and enjoyed by all.

Amazing Vanilla Cake
by Warren Brown from United Cakes of America
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 ounce potato starch
2 pinches salt
1 tablespoon vanilla powder (I didn't have any of this - frankly I don't really even know what it is, so I just increased the amount of vanilla extract)
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons run
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 eggs, separated
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only (I do know what this is, but again I just increased the amount of extract - it's not the same, but it is good enough for a cake that is going to be smothered in frosting)

Preheat oven to 325. LIne two 9" round pans with parchment.
Whisk together dry ingredients.
Melt butter in small saucepan until browned, then remove from heat. Stir in rum and vanilla.
In bowl of a stand mixer, beat egg whites on high until fluffy. Slowly pour 2 ounces of sugar in and whip for 20 seconds. Transfer to a clean bowl.
Beat egg yolks vanilla seeds (if using) and remaining 10 ounces sugar until mixture is pale yellow.
Whip in dry ingredients in three additions on slow. Fold in egg whites with a spatula, followed by browned butter. Divide batter between pans and bake 18-20 minutes until tester comes out clean.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Nectarine Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

This recipe copied the version of mango cheesecake but substituted nectarine puree. I also stirred in one small nectarine, diced, to the batter for extra bursts of fruit flavor.  This is a perfect summer dessert because it makes use of whatever fruit is most in season. It is also cool and creamy for a hot summer evening.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Zucchini Ginger Cake

The beauty of always trying new recipes (apart from pineapple upside-down cake for my grandmother's birthday every August) is never getting bored. The downside is that if I want to make something for someone else, I have to be creative in how I get to actually taste the recipe. Even though I'm basically fad-averse, and particularly so for the cupcake craze because I generally feel that cupcakes have a sub-optimal ratio of surface area to interior, and similarly so with cake:frosting. The thing I love about them though is that it allows me to make a full recipe and give away samples that appear to be individual gift packages in their own right. Even better than cupcakes are my mini-bundt and mini-springform pans that actually make a generous 2-person serving size, while still allowing me to hold back some cake for home while I share.

That's just what I did for a coworker recently who was celebrating her birthday. We weren't planning any particular celebration at work, so it was perfect to package up a little cream-cheese-frosted cake for her and a glazed bundt for her dairy-free boyfriend. You might be able to tell from my photo below that the nut-topped bundt in the mid-ground already has a taste-test missing...

The birthday girl's favorite course is the egg-course, so dessert isn't at the top of her list. So I choose this spiced zucchini cake because the strong flavor of crystallized ginger gives it a great bite and not too much sweetness. Plus, shopping baskets brimming with garden-fresh zucchini seemed totally appropriate for an August birthday. A lot of zucchini cakes and breads call for walnuts in the batter. I don't like randomly biting into a chunk of nut in my cake, but I do love nuts, so they make a great garnish on the frosting or glaze, and add additional decoration.

Zucchini-Ginger Cake
adapted from Gourmet magazine, June 2006
1/3 cup crystallized ginger (1 3/4 oz), coarsely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 medium grated zucchini, coarsely grated (about 1 ½ cups)
1/2 cup mild olive oil
1/4 cup mild honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Prepare pans with grease and flour (or line cupcake tins with paper or foil liners). I used mini bundt pans (4) and a 4-inch springform pan. Can also be baked as a loaf, bundt, or two 8 or 9-inch rounds. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pulse crystallized ginger in food processor until finely ground, then add flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, zest, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and pulse until combined. 

Whisk together zucchini, oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl, then stir in flour mixture until just combined. 

Pour into prepared pans and bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely before glazing or frosting. Glaze with a mixture of powdered sugar and grand marnier or orange juice, or frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish with chopped toasted walnuts if desired.