Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Monday, December 30, 2013

Grandma's Chocolate Cake

For the last cake of 2013, I bring you an old-fashioned (think 1945) three-layer chocolate cake, attributed to "Grandma" on the vintage recipe card. And a little lesson on living in the moment, just added to my growing list of New Year's resolutions.  For in the midst of mixing the batter, I glanced at the recipe card title, Chocolate Cake, and then at the very vanilla batter in the bowl.  Holy cow! I forgot to add the chocolate!  Luckily, it wasn't too late and I spooned it in, several steps behind the instructions.

Speaking of the chocolate, it should always be melted in a double boiler, but not to worry if you don't have one, as I don't.  Simply create your own by placing a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

This cake batter is quite thick, so...

using an offset spatula, or even the back of a spoon, smooth it out before placing the pans in the oven.

Pull the cakes from the oven and let them cool on a rack for about ten minutes before turning them out.

Like many cakes, these formed a dome.  You don't want a dome when stacking cakes so, using a serrated knife place horizontally, just slice off the dome.  Then, the baker can have a taste or two, for quality control purposes.

The layers, frosted.

The cake had a soft crumb, wasn't overly sweet and a rather delicate flavor (for a chocolate cake, that is).  My tasters, Allen and his wife Racine, preferred the frosting to the cake.  (Racine thoughtfully selected her clothing that evening so she would match the upholstery in our parlor.)

Production notes:  I used unsalted butter in place of the shortening, and did not add the 1/2 cup of water, since the instructions didn't say how or when to add it. I used sweet (regular) milk and not sour (buttermilk). For the frosting, I used 8 tablespoons of butter and increased the cocoa powder and hot water a bit, but you'll have enough frosting if you following the amounts listed on the card.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Italian Honeyballs

Just in time for Christmas, I'm sharing the DH's family's holiday recipe for struffoli, or as they call them, honey balls.What's great about this dessert is that it's all made on the stove top, freeing your oven for the holiday ham, or perhaps a cake.  Plus, it's fried and, as the DH says, even an old shoe would taste good if it were fried.  (I assure you, these tiny cookies taste much, much better.)

Honey Ball Day (yelled loudly and enthusiastically by certain family members), the day where the entire family gathers to make these treats (and also drink wine and beer), is a tradition begun in 2000 by Lucy, matriarch of the clan who passed away in February. The event was usually held at her Queens apartment, but in recent years, it has been graciously hosted by my brother- and sister-in-law in New Jersey.  My BIL also makes the dough -- he shares his recipe at the end of this post.

Take small pieces of the dough, made in advance, and roll into long strands.

Cut into small pieces.

Then, the fun begins, at least for my BIL, who slaves over a pot of hot oil, boiling the dough.

The fried balls are stored in a bowl, until the remainder of the balls are fried.  This seems to take hours, but it's really not that long (especially if you're not the one frying them and instead enjoying a glass of wine nearby).

The next step is heating honey and, in a large frying pan, coating the fried dough with the honey.

Pile the honeyed balls onto plates (struffoli are often arranged to resemble wreaths to Christmas trees) and sprinkle liberally with colored nonpareils.

Wrap them in cellophane and, voila, you're done!

My very patient BIL, at the stove, below.

Family portrait, with honey balls! (We finally figured out the timer on the camera, thanks to Josh.)

Below is Lucy's recipe -- love the HA HA at the end!

Apparently the recipe changes each year (so much for tradition!), and this is the one we used this year.

Method (courtesy of Bob, my BIL)

Combine the dry ingredients and then place on your work surface.  Make a well in the center.

Combine wet ingredients in a bowl. Pour wet ingredients into the well slowly while mixing the dough.

Once thoroughly mixed, knead the dough about five minutes. Add a bit of water if too dry.  The dough should be elastic.

Let the dough sit at room covered with plastic wrap for an hour.

Once ready for rolling, cut a two inch section and roll into a thin snake, approximately 1/2 in. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces with knife.

Fry in hot oil 350 degrees until golden. Dry on paper and cool.

Once cool, slightly heat honey in big pot and then add the fried dough. Cover dough thoroughly in honey. Spoon honey balls onto small piles on plates and top with nonpareils (not jimmies!!!). Now have honey balls!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Frosty Fruit Bars

A long time ago, a medical librarian at a hospital where I worked gave me this recipe, whispering that these were the very best Christmas cookies in the world.  Not being a fan of candied fruit, I avoided the recipe for years but finally took the plunge last night.  And while Frosty Fruit Bars are not my favorite cookie, they are pretty good and just gorgeous to look at.

The first order of business is to get some high quality candied fruit, some raisins and chopped walnuts.

Next, mix up the batter, adding in an egg and the zest of one orange.

The batter will appear curdled (below), but carry on; it will smooth out in the end, once the flour is added.

Add in the fruit and nuts and let the fun begin.  Divide the dough in half and roll out each into a 7 by 12 inch rectangle.  This is most easily accomplished by refrigerating the dough first.

Cut into strips and place on a baking sheet.

Bake for about ten minutes and let cool slightly, right on the baking sheet.

Next,  frost with an icing made by combining confectioner's sugar with a small amount of milk.  No need to sift the sugar; it will dissolve if you continue to stir.  Decorate with candied fruit immediately after frosting, to ensure the fruit will adhere properly.

You can simply cut these into strips, and you'll get something like this.

But if you take a sharp knife to the edges and trim, you can have truly handsome bars, like this. A bit of abstract art in the kitchen. (The trimmings are for the baker, and any "helpers" who might wander by.)

Recipe, below.  I followed it exactly, but used all butter for the shortening and orange instead of pineapple juice.  I also just dumped the fruit into the mixing bowl and let it rip, i.e., I did not use my hands to mix it in.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Walnut Christmas Balls

Christmas desserts are all about cookies, and these Christmas Walnut Balls would make a nice addition to your holiday dessert table.  The cookies themselves are a snap to make and the dough is incredibly easy to work with. Plus they are delicious, light, not too sweet and almost sandy (tastes better than that sounds, I realize) in texture.

The chocolate frosting is another matter. It didn't work that well, probably because I added too much powdered sugar and too quickly. But I pulled out a weapon from my batterie de cuisine, a hand-mixer, and blended it with a bit of heavy cream and voila, I conquered the chocolate ganache.  (If you have another chocolate recipe, you can try that, or follow the recipe instructions carefully or simply dust the cookies with a bit of powdered sugar.)

Start by mixing up the batter.

Roll into walnut size balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Parchment paper works beautifully.

When the first batch is in the oven, begin the chocolate ganache frosting.  As you can see, I used the supermarket brand unsweetened chocolate. Chop it finely....

And pour the heated cream on top.

Next add the powdered sugar, but do not dump the entire cup into the mixture as I did immediately after taking this photo.

The recipe says to roll the sides of the cookies with some chopped walnuts.  This is a labor intensive task.  I did some according to the instructions.

Running out of time, I created a more streamlined approach, frosting the cookies and sprinkling the walnuts on top. Both versions are good, so it's baker's choice.

I followed the recipe exactly, except ground the walnuts with granulated sugar instead of confectioner's sugar (whoops!), but it was fine. I also chopped the chocolate by hand into tiny, tiny pieces instead of using the food processor.  I placed the chopped chocolate in a bowl and poured the hot cream on top, stirring occasionally until it melted and combined.  (This is Rose Levy Berenbaum's method in The Cake Bible).  But pay careful attention to the instruction to gradually add the confectioner's sugar to the chocolate mixture.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Colonial Carrot Pecan Cake

I'm not a fan of vegetable cakes -- vegetables are what one consumes in order to eat more cake and still fit into one's clothes.  But this unusual carrot cake is an exception. And you can probably have an extra slice since the frosting is a light orange glaze, not a diet-torpedoing rich cream cheese frosting.

This vintage  (c.1950) recipe requires grating carrots.  But in 2013, that task is easily accomplished in a food processor.  The recipe quick and simple and, except for the glaze, is all made in a single bowl.

Mix the ingredients together, adding in the carrots and pecans last.

Pour into a 10-inch tube pan and bake for about an hour.

When cool, turn out from the pan.

Using a long serrated knife held horizontally, slice the cake into three layers.

Next make the glaze, if you didn't do so while the cake was baking.

Spoon the glaze on to the bottom layer, and top with the middle layer. Repeat and do save some glaze for the very top, as it is the "frosting."

I followed this recipe exactly, except I didn't spread the glaze on the sides of the cake (because I didn't see that instruction until just this minute!).