Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Heart-Shaped Cakes



As a child, I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, her romanticized memoir of life on the western frontier in the late 19th century.  Just how romanticized these are I discovered in a wonderful new book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Carolyn Fraser. Let's just say it wasn't all Pa's joyful fiddling and endless fields of wildflowers. 

Wilder's books spawned many offshoots, a television series and a book of recipes among them. I've made Molasses on Snow Candy from The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walter and, a few weeks ago, inspired by Prairie Fires, I baked Heart-Shaped Cakes, a recreated version of a confection made by Ma and placed in Laura's Christmas stocking to her utter delight.

Heart-Shaped Cakes are more like a shortbread or a scone than a cake, as Ma didn't have eggs or baking powder on hand.  They are simple to make and surprisingly good. (And would be a wonderful gift for your valentine!) White sugar was dear on the frontier, so gifts of cake, especially topped with sugar as these are, were an extra special treat.


The recipe calls for cutting the butter into the dry ingredients with cold fingers. That proved difficult, so I took a shortcut by using a pastry blender.  You can also use a food processor, but that seems a bit too modern.
  


Once the fat it cut into the dry ingredients, make a well and add the buttermilk.


The dough will look rather shaggy.


With your hands, form a ball.


Dust your work surface with a bit of flour and roll the dough into a circle.  Cut into six equal pieces.


Again, with your hands, shape each piece into hearts. I used a butter knife to make a small cut at the top and then formed them in the heart-ish shapes. (You won't get cookie cutter perfection using this method, but neither did Ma.) Place on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven.


I made these for my beautiful niece Dory who was visiting from Austin.  (She is not this red in real life; I have a new computer and new photo editing software which I obviously can't use properly yet.)



Here's the recipe, with my method below.

Heart-Shaped Cakes

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar (extra for dusting)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425F

Mix flour, sugar, baking soda and nutmeg in a bowl.
Using cold fingers, two knives or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the flour mixture.
Make a well in the center and add buttermilk.
Using your hand, work it into a dough.
Form into a ball.
Dust work surface with a bit of flour.
Roll the dough into an 8-inch circle.
Cut into eight pieces (cut in half, then halve again for uniformity)
Shape the top of each wedge into a heart. (I made a small cut with a butter knife to help this process.)
Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are a bit puffy and the tops are slightly brown.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle generously with sugar.






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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Gingerbread Bundt Cake


Wednesday was a snow day in NYC and, while "working from home," I used my "lunch hour" to whip up this delicious gingerbread. It's not from a vintage recipe; you can find wonderful vintage gingerbread recipes here, here, here and here. It is modern but is thisclose to my favorite gingerbread, from a magazine recipe clipped 30 years ago, and long since misplaced. I wasn't planning to write about it, but when my children (who, ironically, don't care for sweets) declared it was the best thing I'd baked, I felt compelled to share.  

This gingerbread cake is very, very easy to make (you can even do it on your lunch hour!) and has a fine crumb. It is not the "damp" gingerbread preferred by some, yet the depth of flavor is superb. And it's plenty moist too. 


What makes it a close approximation to my long-lost beloved recipe is the inclusion of five spices. King Arthur, which published the recipe, sells such a spice blend. But you can easily make it yourself, as I did.


The mise en place, below. It's pretty straightforward.


Let the magic begin. Be sure that your butter is softened to room temperature; otherwise you will be late returning to work from "lunch."


Add the eggs one at at time, mixing well after each addition. I always (having learned the hard way), crack each egg into a separate bowl before adding to the batter. This way, you can detect any "off" eggs and also keep the errant pieces of shell from ruining your creation.


Add in the molasses. Spray your measuring cup with Pam so that the sticky molasses easuky slides out of the cup.


Pour/spoon the batter into your prepared pan. It is essential that you both grease AND flour the pan to avoid the heartbreak of the cake not releasing in one piece.


Let it cool for ten minutes.


Turn the cake out onto the baking rack.


As soon as the cake is in the oven, begin the glaze by mixing spice, water and sugar.  Combine and heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Let it sit to thicken up a bit. I use a silicone brush, but a spoon can be used to apply the glaze too.




Production notes:  The recipe is copied and pasted below, and you can find the link here. I followed it exactly, but made my own spice mixture, as directed. I also greased and floured the pan (don't skip this step! or you can use Pam for Baking).  The cake was done in about 40 minutes, so start checking it early.  (Note: The first time I made this, I baked it longer, and the top got stuck in the pan because I hadn't properly prepared the pan. However, the DH thought that version was better, as the longer bake caused the top to caramelize.) For the glaze, I mixed the ingredients and then heated them until the sugar was melted, i.e., the mixture was translucent.  I'd also advise making it early, so it can sit and thicken before being applied. (I did try substituting rum for water -- it tasted terrible, so I tossed that and went with water.)

Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tablespoons gingerbread spice; or 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup water

Glaze

  • 1/3 cup rum or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon gingerbread spice; or 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10- to 12-cup bundt-style pan.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, gingerbread spice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the molasses.
  5. Add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the water, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just until smooth.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
  7. Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. While the cake is baking, make the glaze by stirring together the water spice and sugar. Set aside.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven, cool it in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack.
  10. Brush the cake with the glaze, and allow it to cool completely before serving.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Family Chocolate Cake Recipe


This Family Chocolate Cake recipe is not my family's -- it belongs to the Wenzel family whose son Ryan worked for me a few years ago. It was passed down from Ryan's paternal grandmother and the go-to cake for all family birthdays. After he shared the recipe, I baked one for his farewell party. Although it was delicious, and a big hit, I never got around to blogging about it. Until now.

We celebrated my niece Jessica's birthday last weekend because it happened to fall on Honeyball Day, our family tradition where we make strufoli, an Italian confection from my husband's childhood. I'm not a fan, but it's a fun day. However, I am a big fan of this old-fashioned chocolate cake with white frosting, also called "gravy" frosting. You'll see why below.


Start by melting the butter and chocolate in water.


When it's smooth, remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.  Because chocolate is the star, it's better to use good quality (i.e., not a supermarket brand) chocolate. I used Scharffen Berger, one of my favorites. 


Next, start the batter.  It really couldn't be easier.


Add the chocolate mixture to the batter and incorporate.


After adding the dry ingredients and sour cream, pour the batter into greased and floured pans.


Remove from the oven, cool on a rack for about ten minutes, then turn the cakes out from the pan to completely cool. Ryan once skipped this important step, and frosted a warm cake, with rather unfortunate consequences.


While the cake is cooling, begin the frosting. It uses flour (!)) which is why it is often referred to as gravy icing. It's a very old recipe and one that should be returned to the American frosting repertoire. I screwed this up the first time by overcooking the flour and water mixture. You want it to be thickened, but not so much that it congeals, as below. Lesson learned.


Cream the butter and sugar, then add the cooled "gravy" mixture and continue beating until light and fluffy.


Frost the cake. As you can see at the top, this didn't make quite enough frosting to completely cover two nine-inch layers, so I made a naked cake, all the rage these days. However, if you plan to do so, even off the cakes completely (cut the domes flat) so the side frosting doesn't gather in the gap.



Wenzel Family Chocolate Cake and White Icing

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I substituted butter for the margarine.  I baked it in two nine-inch round pans -- but didn't have enough frosting. If you want to fully frost a two-layer cake, increase the frosting amounts by 50 percent. I baked the cakes for 25 minutes. Check for doneness at 20 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the centers. (Also, Ryan just let me know that the original recipe calls for semisweet chocolate, though the unsweetened works fine.)


The birthday girl, Jessica, below. Not only was she elected to the Alpha Omega honor society in medical school, and matched to her first choice for residency, she is about to become chief resident in pediatrics (a specialty that will be very welcome in our family in a few months!), and plans to follow with a fellowship in pediatric intensive care.




Friday, December 15, 2017

Snickerdoodles


This fall, I did something new -- I taught a graduate class in nonprofit communications at a university in Manhattan. Much of the curriculum was devoted to developing effective writing skills, using social media and the like. But part of the class was about honing one's personal and professional "brand" -- a 21st-century buzzword that simply means reputation. For the final class, I wanted to demonstrate a memorable way to reinforce personal branding. So I baked some Snickerdoodles from a vintage recipe (and told them about my blog, of course).  Let's just say the cookies were very, very well received.

Snickerdoodles (the best-named cookie ever) are rather old-fashioned, simple and delicious. What makes them special is the final roll in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Although not traditional Christmas cookies, I doubt anyone would be disappointed if they appeared in a box of holiday baked goods.

In addition to being a classic, or perhaps because of it, they are very easy to make.  This recipe, as are many vintage recipes, is mostly a list of ingredients with the instruction: "Mix as usual."  My method is listed at the end of this post.

Start by creaming the butter with sugar, adding the eggs...


and adding the dry ingredients until a dough forms.


I ran out of time, so I stored the dough in plastic bags in the refrigerator overnight. Chilled dough is also easier to work with.


After removing the dough from the refrigerator, roll the dough into small balls.


Then roll each ball around in a small bowl filled with cinnamon and sugar.


Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I pressed each cookie a bit.


The students, below, with the cookies. (Though it was the last class, they still had to submit their final exam!)


Below is the recipe card and below that is the method I used.


Snickerdoodles

1 c. butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cream of tartar
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 T each of sugar and cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well.
Mix the baking soda, cream of tartar, flour and salt in a separate bowl, blending well.
Add dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl and combine. (Do not overmix; this will result in a tough cookie.)

Refrigerate dough until firm enough to handle.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Roll dough into teaspoon size balls and then roll each in the sugar and cinnamon.
Bake at 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes. Check underside of cookies -- if they're golden brown, they're done.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Impossible Pumpkin Pie



Delicious pumpkin pie in just minutes?  Impossible you say? It's not quite a Thanksgiving miracle, but if you have a blender and oven, it's possible! 

This is a cheat pie made by placing all the ingredients -- including a half cup of Bisquick -- in the blender and mixing for about one minute. The pie didn't form a substantial crust at all; in fact, it was barely there, but the pie otherwise tasted like the traditional Thanksgiving dessert.

This pie is so easy and passed the taste test with flying colors, that I couldn't resist posting it. Aside from baking for 55 minutes, the pie took literally minutes to put together. (It took me longer to make pumpkin pie spice from the spices below than it did to actually blend the ingredients.)


Start by putting all the ingredients in a blender. I used the DH's fancy smoothie blender, which I can barely operate but, after pressing all sorts of buttons, it whirled everything into a smooth batter.


You'll need to grease a nine-or 10-inch pie pan. Spraying it with Pam, or similar, is the easiest method.
Pour in the batter and place in the preheated oven.  I put the pan on a cookie sheet lined with foil to catch any spillover.


When a tester comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool.


Serve and enjoy. It's better with whipped cream, as is nearly everything else in life.


Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I used softened butter in place of the margarine.  Of course, the first time I made it, I realized that I'd forgotten to add the eggs.(However, that version formed a more traditional pie crust. Go figure!)  But it took just minutes to whip up another one. If you don't have pumpkin pie spice in your pantry, you can make your own.