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.