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).