experiments in cooking

Late-Night Yellow Cake

On Tuesday of this week, with the boys safely in bed and Chris out for a church thing, I found myself standing in my kitchen at 8:30 p.m. feeling the urge to bake something.

My poor dogs wanted me to come sit down on the couch, and stood around my feet in various poses of reproach, but I couldn’t deny the baking itch. “You’ll have to wait, guys,” I said. “Sorry about this.”

Two of them wandered off to mope in the living room, and one stayed to watch, just in case I dropped something yummy.

As I stood looking around the kitchen, trying to decide what to make, I thought about banana bread—but I’d made some two days before and didn’t want anyone in the house to get sick of it. I thought of making a small cake, because I had a very small amount of bittersweet chocolate glaze left over from a cake some weeks ago. But my favorite small cake pan was dirty. What to do?

Then I noticed three mini loaf pans out on the counter, and I decided to experiment. I opened my Joy of Cooking to search for a small cake recipe with the same amount of batter as a single-loaf bread recipe, then bake the cake as three mini cakes. And it had to be uncomplicated, because I was tired and just about at the end of my day’s energy.

I settled on an orange rum cake that looked simple and was written for a small 8-inch round cake pan, which has the same surface area as three mini loaf pans. Because I had no rum and wasn’t in the mood for an orange-flavored cake, I decided to make it a plain yellow cake—and it would no doubt be transformed into magic by my favorite bittersweet chocolate glaze, which tastes so amazing that it is a darn good thing I hadn’t discovered it during the time when I was counting calories a year and a half ago. (Please note that I’ve kept the weight off even after discovering this homemade chocolate glaze. I just had to learn self-control before it was safe for me to make and eat it.)

“That’s what I’ll do—switch up the recipe!” I told Wilbur, who was hanging out with me at the time. I don’t think he knew what I was talking about. He thumped his tail. I’m sure he was hoping I’d said “Sure, you can have a Cheerio.”

“It’ll work,” I assured him.

Wilbur thumped his tail again, but then I went to work pulling ingredients out of cabinets and transforming myself into the human baking tornado. With no Cheerio forthcoming, Wilbur got disgusted and went to hang out with the other two for a while.

Cake baked in mini loaves bakes fast. I pulled the mini pans out of the oven in 25 minutes, and that was almost too much time. Any more time and they would have been dry. Anyway, I let them cool for 10 minutes, slid a knife around the edges, and slid the cakes out onto the counter to cool. While they were still just barely warm, I iced them with the glaze.

And then I went to sit with the dogs for a while. I also figured they’d earned a few Cheerios.

Wednesday morning, to his surprise, Chris got to have cake for breakfast.

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Quick Yellow Cake (adapted from Joy of Cooking’s Orange Rum Cake)

You’ll need:
Eggs
Sugar
Salt
Orange zest
Unsalted butter
Baking powder
Evaporated milk or heavy cream

Optional: splash of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and grease an 8″ round cake plan, springform pan, or three mini loaf pans.

Melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter and allow it to cool. (I melted the butter in the microwave and let it cool in the refrigerator while I completed the next steps.)

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, 1/8 tsp of salt, and 3 large eggs until the mixture is pale yellow and frothy.

Add to this mixture 1 ¼ cup flour and 1 ½ tsp of baking powder and gently fold together. Finally add the melted butter from earlier along with 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Stir gently with a spoon. Be careful not to overwork the batter so the end result remains fluffy and doesn’t get doughy like bread.

Pour this mixture into the greased pan and bake for 25–35 (less time if you use mini loaf pans) minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. After the cake has cooled invert it onto your serving dish and top with a chocolate glaze.

Monster Chew Cookies

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I made these cookies not long ago, with chocolate chips, but this time I decided to use M&Ms instead and make monster cookies.

It should have gone smoothly, but it didn’t. These cookies just would not firm up! They were so soft and so thin that after I took them from the oven I couldn’t get them off the cookie sheet with the spatula. My spatula was covered with cookie gunk, the M&Ms got smushed all over the cookie sheets, a bunch of the cookies got holes in them when I tried to move them. Also, every time I pulled a cookie sheet out of the oven, I had to put it back in for several more minutes to try to firm up the cookies a little. In the end, after baking the cookies for twice the recommended time in the recipe, I wound up with some very, very chewy cookies.

I didn’t know what to think. I’d made these before with no trouble. Did I let the oats sit too long? Did the addition of the M&Ms cause some odd chemical reaction? Was it all the fault of the corn syrup? 

I was pretty bummed about these cookies until Chris and Jonah each tried one and came back for more. Jonah never wants one of my cookies, but he ate two right away and begged for more.

So, I will  make them again, because it’s nice to see my kid with M&Ms smeared around a big smile.

Monster Chew Cookies
based on a Joy of Cooking reduced fat oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat cookie sheets with nonstick spray.

Whisk together thoroughly:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Beat on medium speed until well blended:

¼ cup corn or canola oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar|
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/3 cup light or dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon skim milk
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla

Stir into the batter:

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup M&Ms

Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes so the oats can absorb some moisture. Stir in the flour mixture; the dough will be slightly soft. Drop the dough by heaping measuring tablespoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing about 2 ½ inches apart.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are tinged with brown all over and the centers are just barely firm when lightly pressed. This should take 7 to 10 minutes, but it took about 15 minutes per sheet. The original recipe says to be careful not to overbake. That didn’t seem to be a problem with this batch.

Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly, about 2 minutes. If they don’t firm up, return them to the oven for a few more minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks or wax paper to cool.

Night of the Sweet Rolls

Two Fridays ago, I set out to bake one batch of sweet rolls for a Saturday women’s breakfast I’d planned for my church and wound up making three batches instead.

I started at 4:30 p.m., mixing up the dough for an overnight cinnamon rolls recipe I first tried in December, although this time I planned to make caramel pecan rolls instead of orange rolls. I prepared the dough, put it in the refrigerator, mixed up the topping, and left the house for a couple of hours.

When I got home, the dough hadn’t risen at all. I set it out to rise for another hour, and it still hadn’t risen. So I got worried, and I mixed up a second batch. When it too didn’t rise, I panicked and mixed up a third batch using a second recipe for “everyday cinnamon rolls” and a new jar of yeast. This recipe was one I’d used before that doesn’t require proofing the dough. image

Just as I was forming the third batch into rolls, I realized the first batch had finally risen.

Which meant the second was going to rise as well.

So, faced with an intimidating amount of cinnamon roll dough, I turned the third batch into caramel pecan rolls that I baked before I went to bed around midnight. I made the first batch into two pans of cinnamon rolls, which I refrigerated overnight,  mixed up a quick orange icing (adding food coloring to get it to the right color of yellow) to ice that batch after baking it the next  morning, and froze the dough from the second batch.

What I had envisioned as a couple of hours spent making an easy pan of sweet rolls had turned into seven hours of work. I spilled, broke, and lost things, and I used almost every dish in the kitchen twice. 

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The next morning, after baking  the orange rolls, I took all the rolls to the breakfast–to which, as it turned out, almost everyone brought sweet rolls. Apparently they did this because I had suggested in an email that they bring “comfort food.”

I was ready to regret the time I’d spent the night before, battling all that dough and getting sticky and dropping powdered sugar on the dogs and missing out on watching a movie with my husband.

But then I remembered–cinnamon rolls are one of the best foods on earth.

So, I ate one of each of my own rolls plus some of what the other ladies brought.And you know what? They were really, really yummy! And I had enough rolls left over to freeze them individually for Sunday breakfast for the next couple of months.

Yes, I did think that night was torture. Yes, I did accidentally spill a new bag of flour over my pajamas and slippers after I thought I’d already finished cleaning up the giant mess I’d made. And yes, I did scream “I hate my life!” several times, which seems a bit melodramatic in retrospect.

But these rolls were so good, so comforting, that I would go through it again.

I love spice cakes, but my family always wants a chocolate cake. But the family hosting the Super Bowl party we went to this year has a child or two who don’t like chocolate, so I thought, here’s my chance to make a spice cake.

Thumbing through my Joy of Cooking, I came across the book’s well-known jam cake. It looked like a simple spice cake with some jam thrown in. Even more exciting, it’s written for baking with a bundt or tube pan, which I’d never used before.

Everything went well at first. You can see how nice the cake looked when it came out of the oven.

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But then I had to get the cake out of the pan, and that’s when disaster hit. The cooling rack went shooting off across the counter as I tapped on the pan to release the cake, and the cake landed SPLAT right on the counter, minus a giant chunk left in the pan.

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I got the orphaned cake piece out of the pan, but while sliding the rest of the cake off the counter, it broke again.

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I pieced the cake together as well as I could, and hoped I could cover the cracks with a nice, thick icing. The thing is, my brown butter icing turned out to be a consistency I couldn’t spread without destroying the cake, and when I thinned the icing to drizzle it instead, the result was an icing puddle all around the cake that did not cover any cracks. And I had to admit, the cake looked worse than before. There was just no way to hide this cake’s defects.

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So I sighed, made another simple cake that I could take to the Super Bowl party and serve from the pan, and left the Big Mistake sitting, in all its hideous glory, in the kitchen.

“What am I supposed to do with this thing?” I asked my husband. “It’s the ugliest cake I ever saw.”

No doubt about it, this cake wasn’t going to win any beauty contests.

“Well, you could call it an ‘Ugly Cake’ and claim you did it on purpose,” he suggested.

“Maybe so …” I said.

Over the weekend, Chris and I ate a few slices of Ugly Cake. The thing was, it tasted absolutely wonderful! I’m not kidding, it has to be one of the tastiest spice cakes I’ve ever had. But it looked so awful, I just couldn’t bear to look at it.

So, on Monday, I took the Ugly Cake to work to share with my kind co-workers. One of them, bless her, commented right away how pretty it looked.

But I gotta tell you, this cake wasn’t winning any beauty contests.

Rombauer Jam Cake from Joy of Cooking

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp salt

2/3 cup dark brown sugar

10 tbsp butter

3 eggs

1/4 milk

2/3 cup seedless raspberry or blackberry jam (I used some leftover strawberry-rhubarb and some strawberry-cranberry jam)

Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, spices and salt, and set aside. Cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then the milk.

Stir in flour mixture until just blended. Stir in jam and bake in a greased and floured tube pan or bundt pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely and frost with butterscotch or chocolate icing.

Five-Minute Mug Cake

Several months ago I posted a recipe for a mini-cake that can be baked in a mug in the microwave, and I finally tried making it a couple of weeks ago.

I had a craving for chocolate cake one weeknight after work, so I mixed it up while fixing a quick supper for the fam, using one of my larger mugs.

The cake was easy to make, but when I popped it out of the mug, it was not nearly as pretty as I’d envisioned. So I sliced the cylinder of cake into single-portion size slices and drenched each with homemade chocolate icing.

This  was a fun and easy experiment, but I don’t know that I’ll make it again, since the cake turned out a little heavy for my taste. Plus, the 8-inch Joy of Cooking dairy-free chocolate cake I’ve made before doesn’t take much longer to make and tastes 10 times as good.

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I used to say I didn’t like crisp chocolate chip cookies, only chewy ones. Then I made these and found out I was wrong. These chocolate chip cookies are absolutely yummy—and crisp.

I tried this recipe because I wanted a cookie dough I could mix quickly and then refrigerate until I had time to bake. They can be refrigerated for up to a week (at least) and frozen for longer.

Chocolate Chip Icebox Cookies from Joy of Cooking

About forty-two 21⁄4-inch cookies

Whisk together:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoon salt

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:

10 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Add and beat until combined:
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla

Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Add 1 cup mini chocolate chips along with the flour mixture.

Refrigerate until slightly firm, about 1 hour. Shape the dough into an even 11-inch log. Refrigerate or freeze until very firm.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets. Cut the log into 3/16-inch-thick slices and arrange about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at time, until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. The longer the baking time, the crispier the cookies. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.

A couple of Saturdays back, I decided to make this simple chocolate cake for two reasons: First, it’s small, and I needed to serve only our family of four. Second, I really, really wanted cake—doesn’t that happen to you, sometimes?—but I had less than an hour to start and finish a cake before I needed to leave the house to run an errand.

This has to be the world’s fastest chocolate cake. Make this cake, and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed a boxed cake mix. It was just 10 minutes from the time I started pulling ingredients out of the cabinet to the time I put the cake in the oven.

As it takes only 30 minutes to bake, I had a finished cake in just 40 minutes. And it’s doggone good.

If this recipe looks familiar to you, but not the name, I think it’s the same as what my high school best friend’s family used to call “hot water chocolate cake,” although this recipe uses cold water.

Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake from Joy of Cooking

One 8-inch square cake. Prep time: 10 minutes. Total time: 40 minutes.
This is a delightfully simple chocolate cake, whether or not you observe dietary restrictions.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together in a large bowl until well blended:
  1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  1⁄3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  1 tsp baking soda
  1⁄2 tsp salt

Add:
  1 cup cold water
  1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
  1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  2 tsp vanilla

Whisk until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper liner, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack.

Serve plain, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, or frost with a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

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