experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Cakes’ Category

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.

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Jam Cake, Also Known as “Ugly Cake”

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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From Cabinet to Chocolate Cake in 40 Minutes

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.

Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake

A few weeks ago I started making chocolate cakes on the weekends to practice making a cake for my birthday. I started with a devil’s food cake made with cocoa, from my Joy of Cooking cookbook.

This was the first chocolate cake I’ve had any trouble making. It was easy to prepare, but I agonized over which size pan to use. I didn’t have two 9-inch round layer pans, but I did have a 10-inch fluted tube pan. However, I didn’t have a cake keeper to store a round cake in—so I had to use a 9×11-inch rectangular pan.

The finished cake sank in the middle. But I iced it with my favorite homemade chocolate glaze and it tasted good.

The funny thing was, it tasted even better the second day—and the third. I mean, on the first day, I thought it tasted okay, and on the third, I thought it was awesome. I wasn’t expecting that.

So this might be a good cake to make ahead of an event, letting it sit for a day. I just wish I’d baked it in a different pan. My mother-in-law gave me an old cake keeper and two round pans, so I’m set for next time.

Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake from Joy of Cooking

One 9-inch plain tube cake, 10-inch tube cake, or two 9-inch round layers

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch plain tube pan, a 10-inch fluted tube pan, or two 9×2-inch round cake pans, or line the bottoms of the round pans with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together in a medium bowl:

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Whisk together in a separate bowl:

1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
½ cup nonalkalized cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla

Beat in a large bowl until creamy, about 30 seconds:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes:

1 cup sugar

Beat in one at a time:

2 large eggs

On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 2 parts, beating until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the pan(s) and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes in round pans, 45 to 55 minutes in a tube pan. Cool and remove from the pan. Fill and spread with white or chocolate icing.

Cold Butter Makes for a Short Lightning Cake

How cool a name is “lightning cake?” And the original German name, blitztorte, is pretty cool too.

I decided to make this cake last Saturday largely because of the name. Also, I’ve never made a “lemon-scented yellow cake” from scratch, as Joy of Cooking described the cake. It sounded so fancy—but it was supposed to be fast and really easy.

I had the best intentions, but I made a mistake early on by working with cold butter. I was supposed to bring all the ingredients to room temperature, but I started rushing, like I often do, and didn’t pay attention.

I wasn’t sure it would matter. I mean, does it really matter if your butter is a little cold?

Yes, it does. Allrecipes.com states, quite clearly, “If the butter is too cold, it won’t beat evenly; it won’t incorporate air and increase in volume.” And, according to Baking911.com, if there aren’t enough air cells, the cake won’t rise.

But did I listen?

After awkwardly beating a stick of cold butter that kept getting stuck in the beater paddles—because it was cold, duh!—I pushed on. The batter looked fine. But as I watched the cake bake through the oven door, I got worried.

It wasn’t rising.

The color was nice, but this was going to be one dense cake.

I pulled the cake out of the oven when the color was right and it was fully cooked, but I worried that it might be too dense to eat. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried about that—it was dense but moist and lemony, and iced with homemade chocolate glaze (also a Joy of Cooking recipe), it was pretty yummy. It tasted mighty nice with coffee.

But on Saturday afternoon, as I looked at the short little cake I’d made, just after it came out of the oven, I decided I needed a backup dessert in case the cake turned out to taste awful. Because, of course, I had once again decided to serve a new dessert to guests—and I didn’t want to be caught with a dessert that would ruin the end of the meal.

The recipe suggested almonds as a possible topping for the cake in lieu of icing, so I decided to make some almond wafers as garnish for the cake. I figured, if the cake did taste awful, we could eat the wafers.

It’s worth mentioning that the almond wafers were also a new recipe. I guess I love life on the edge. And, as could be expected, baking the wafers did not go smoothly.

It was an adventure worth telling. And that’s a story for another day.

Lightning Cake (Blitztorte)

This is a German Blitztorte, named for the speed with which it can be produced. It is a quite simple lemon-scented yellow cake, delicious with or without the topping, or frost it with any powdered-sugar or quick icing.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour [leave out flour if you intend to serve from the pan] one 8×2–inch round pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together thorough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat until cream, about 30 seconds:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until lightened in color and texture, 3 to 5 minutes:

1 cup sugar

Beat in 1 at a time:

3 large eggs

Beat in:

1 tsp grated lemon zest [or lemon extract]

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Stir in the flour mixture just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. If desired [and not planning to ice the cake], sprinkle the top with a mixture of:

1/3 cup chopped or sliced natural almonds or other nuts

1 heaping tablespoonful sugar

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. 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 linking, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack. [Note: I iced the cake in the pan and served it from the pan.]

Blueberry Crunch Coffeecake, Slightly Blackened

Recently I came across an entry for “Blueberry Crunch Coffeecake” in my Joy of Cooking and had to stop. The name alone made my mouth water. Blueberries? Crunchy coffeecake? It had to be good. The recipe began: “The batter for this superb coffeecake is mixed like biscuit dough. Brown sugar and almonds in the bottom of the pan are transformed into a cloak of crunchy toffee over a tender coffeecake.”

Ah, how could I resist a cloak of crunchy toffee over a tender coffeecake?

Of course, I decided to plan a Sunday night breakfast supper around it: biscuits and gravy; my friend Abby’s egg, cheese and hash brown casserole; fruit; and, to crown it all, the coffeecake.

I love coffeecake. Back a year ago when I was beginning to count calories to lose the 50 pounds I did eventually lose, I stood looking sadly at a box of Krusteaz streusel coffeecake mix in my cabinet and nearly crying because I wouldn’t get to indulge in huge slices of coffeecake on a regular basis anymore. But now that I’ve lost the weight and learned to control my portion size, I can enjoy a slice coffeecake from time to time.

This would be the first coffeecake I’d made myself since losing the weight. And I was going to celebrate every moment.

The celebration had some rough moments:

First, I couldn’t find a pan of the exact right size. My loaf pans were all a little too big or too small and I had to settle on a glass loaf pan that was slightly too big.

Second, I didn’t have enough blueberries and had to send Chris to the store to buy more while I was mixing the batter.

Finally, I couldn’t decide if the cake was done and wound up burning the almond-and-brown-sugar topping at the corners of the cake.

After inverting the cake and discovering the burnt corners, I put my hands on my hips and frowned at the cake, grimacing.

Abby looked at me.

“You know, I’ve seen a recipe for a burnt brown sugar cake in one of my cookbooks,” she said. “So say you did it on purpose.”

I thought about it. Abby was right. There was no reason to let a few burnt almonds derail my coffeecake celebration. So I sliced it up and served it, warm cake and juicy berries and blackened toffee cloak and all.

Chris protested when I handed him a slice. “I just ate a plateful of biscuits and gravy and egg casserole!” he complained.

“Eat the coffeecake,” I urged.

“But I’m not hungry …”

“EAT THE CAKE!” I said, smiling.

There was a pause. Chris put a hand to his stomach. Then, determinedly, he lifted his fork.

“It looks delicious,” he said feebly.

And he ate the cake.

“Now wasn’t that good?” I said.

Chris didn’t say much. I’m not sure he could move. So I looked at Drew, Abby’s husband.

“Nice topping!” Drew said.

Abby makes a lot of new dishes and cakes. Drew knows what not to say.

All things considered, it was a marvelous celebration.

Blueberry Crunch Coffeecake

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 ½ by 4 ½ (6-cup) loaf pan. Combine and sprinkle in the bottom of the pan:

¼ cup sliced almonds

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

Whisk together thoroughly into a large bowl:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Add:

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Cut in the butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not allow the butter to melt or form a blended paste with the flour. Whisk together in another bowl:

1 large egg

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour over the flour mixture and stir until about three quarters of the dry ingredients are moistened. Add:

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the berries are distributed. Spoon the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (other than juice from the berries), 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes. Loosen the edges, if necessary, and invert onto the rack. Serve warm or, for the crunchiest topping, let cool before serving.

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