Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Cakes of Summer: Part 1

I think there were two themes to the summer, in terms of cakes: chocolate and blueberries.

Is there any surprise here?

Chocolate: need I say more?

Blueberries: it’s Maine, after all.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the chocolate.

There’s an annual extended family 4th of July party, and my cousin Jean Louise has a traditional chocolate cake that she always brings. But, I knew she would be absent this year, so I decided to go out on a limb and bring a different chocolate cake (in the end, turned out JL’s mom brought the cake anyway, but, I suppose you could argue that two chocolate cakes is better than one).

I wanted to make the same chocolate cake I had made for Alden’s birthday. Apparently I never wrote a post about it here, so, here;’s the short version. I made it twice, one for the family, with slightly disastrous results, both in terms of the cake and the frosting. The cake batter was way too much for the recommended pans, and we had some slight containment issues. Meanwhile, I experimented with a chocolate ganache type frosting, part whipped and part not (cannot now remember why I did this), and again, containment issues were a bit of a problem.

But, I thought the cake itself was so very yummy, and I wanted to give it another shot. So, for Alden’s birthday celebration with friends, I did it again. Bigger cake pans and the traditional cream cheese frosting. Total success.

When I decided I’d bring a chocolate cake to the 4th, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Alas, the Martha Stewart cookbook I had used was home, and we were in Hancock Point. After a fair amount of web searching, I was able to find what I thought was the recipe. Bravely, I tried it. (remember also, this is going on in the library kitchen, where the previous summer I pretty much shied away from baking, because the conditions are so primitive. Not this year).

The cake was a success, and made an almost immediate second appearance, for supper at the big house with the Edinburgh Thompsons.
And then, and I’m going to have to make a looooooonnnnggg story short here, there were the wedding cupcakes. Matt and Nika were getting married in August, and over time, and much agonizing and discussion (on everyone’s parts), it became apparent that getting their hands on a proper wedding cake was going to be a challenge. Enter Clarissa. I offered to make wedding cupcakes, knowing that I had a solid recipe to work with (and also knowing that there was no way I was going to try to transport a cake 11 hours, from HP to 31 Mile Lake, crossing the U.S./Canadian border along the way. Cupcakes somehow seemed more manageable, on many fronts…)

And so I made the recipe another three or four times, in order to turn out the number of cupcakes we determined we’d need to feed the wedding crows (which, luckily, was not all that big a crowd…).

I don’t think I’ve made this cake since then. But, if I needed a chocolate cake, this would be the one, it’s that good. My point being, it’s replaced the old favorite chocolate cake recipe…

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum

I certainly like a nice cold beer, and, a glass of decent wine is a very fine thing; apparently, many say, it’s even got some health benefits. But, beyond the beer and the wine, I am not much of a liquor drinker. As a result, there is a particular genre of cakes that I have long been eschewing.

Cakes with alcohol. I am pretty sure that this is the first. Whether it’s because I’m not much of a liquor drinker (or a liqueur drinker), or whether it is "just because…" I am just not a big fan of alcohol-soaked desserts. Or, even lightly flavored with alcohol desserts. Just not something that appeals to me. I am thinking back through all the cakes I have made in the last few years, and trying to make sure that this really is the first cake with alcohol.

I’m thinking that beer doesn’t count. Right? ‘Cause there was that cake with the beer.

Anyway, I’m still with the Dorie Greenspan cookbook, but, beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a LOT of cakes I have not made in the book. But, a bunch of those are cheesecakes and another bunch are pretty seriously fancied-up tart-y desserts. So, when I look through the more regular cake sections, I am seeing a lot of cakes I have already made.

I kept skipping over Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes, because of that rum-drenched part. Rum-drenched. Alcohol soaked. Yuck. But, like I said, beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel a bit. So, I kept coming back to that one. It also fulfills another on-going quest of mine: looking for the perfect pound cake. Ray seems to have a bit of a thing for pound cake, so I periodically try to make one, and am usually disappointed in one way or another. I think pound cake is hard to do well. I actually think I made one a mere few months back. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember for sure, or, remember the occasion or the eaters. Clearly, that cake was not memorable.

This cake, however, this cake was memorable. While making it, I kept thinking, there is a good possibility I will not be able to even eat this (which is okay by me, cake-making is altruistic, you see), because the rum might just be too much. It had a few tablespoons of rum in the batter; then, while the cake was cooking, you made a rum/sugar/water sauce, which got brushed all over the cake when it came out of the oven. Seemed like a lot of rum to me, though I think it probably was pretty reasonable.

In the end, I’ll say this, the rum did not ruin the cake. In fact, I think it made it the perfect texture and moistness (and I think dryness is a perennial problem in pound cakes). If you could taste the rum at all, it was just in the most subtle way. Even the kids thought it was delicious.
Note: used my trusty Bartlett's Quotations to look up the "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum". I'm sure plenty of people know where it's from. But, not me. It's Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest -
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest -
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Once Upon A Time...

... I baked a lot of cakes. Still do in fact.

Sometimes the cakes were chocolate.

Sometimes they weren't.

Sometimes I had helpers.

Sometimes I wrote about the cakes I baked. Though, as you can see from the date of the last entry here, it's been a while.

Wanting to try to get back in the habit of writing about the cakes. And, as the semester draws to a close, and my time opens up a bit, I think I have a chance at actually doing it. Some of the cakes I never wrote about stick with me, and I come back to them in my mind, composing posts about them as I wander through my days.

This one is called Devil's Food White-Out Cake. It's from the Dorie Greenspan book. In fact, if you click on that link, you'll see that it is actually the cover recipe.

I made this cake for a spring/graduation party, about a full year ago now, at my friend Jennie Whitcomb's house. I think the cake looks wicked fancy. In truth, it was pretty simple to make: two layers of chocolate cake, cut horizontally to make four. One of the now half layers crumbled to make the crumbles to sprinkle all over. Filled and topped with simple old whipped cream. Yum.

So, coming up: some of my recent cakes, as well as some from the more distant past.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cake in the Morning

Samantha and kids were here for the weekend; so, there’s an excuse to make a cake. After perusing various cookbooks and the current Bon Appetits, I settled on Cranberry-Maple Pudding Cake.

I kept meaning to make the cake all weekend, but it was busy with them here. They really like (need?) to get up and GO, those Goodwins. So, off we went, skiing at Titcomb both days (Saturday and Sunday). By the time we got home, I was exhausted and it was pretty much time to start drinking the wine and feeding the hungry. All efforts at cake-baking were out the window.

The last morning they were here, though, I did manage to get it together and I made the cake. I had sort of given myself permission to have it be cake for the morning – not just because I couldn’t get it together to make it at any other time, but also because the recipe noted that it was “great for dessert or breakfast.”

Furthermore, we have been having a lot of talk about “cake in the morning.” What I really mean is that Milo often talks about “cake in the morning.” This comes of all our reading of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen (which I have always called Mickey in the Night Kitchen – a line from the actual text). So it seemed fitting to actually produce cake in the morning for him.

It was pretty yummy. Though with a full CUP of maple syrup, probably on the pricey side. And, I have to say, all the maple syrup was not all that noticeable. In fact, the fruit part (where the maple syrup was) was still pretty damn TART. Then there was the crumbly cake part, with secret ingredient: cornmeal. Kind of like cornbread, only way better, especially since I am not a big cornbread fan.

I’ll talk more about this cake and its construction in a subsequent post. I promise.

Kira kept talking about how she liked the crumbly part. I think she really meant it (I think she is a big cornbread fan), but I think it was also code for: "I don’t much like the fruit [cranberry] part."

A word about the cranberries: this cake spelled the end of a GIANT bag of cranberries I bought way back in November. In fact, I think I still have two cakes, made with cranberries from this giant bag, that I need to document here. And, the cranberry sauce I contributed to the Thanksgiving feast also came out of that bag. Can it really be that I got three cakes and one cranberry sauce from one bag? Maybe….

At any rate, while the cranberries were not organic, they were local, from Ricker Hill Farm (site of our fall apple-picking adventure). So, not perfect, but, pretty darn low carbon footprint.

Also, really good excuse for eating whipped cream for breakfast.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

There have, in fact, been a few cakes

There have, in fact, been a few cakes, in spite of what is suggested by the LONG neglect this poor blog has endured. Nothing like the frenzy that was indicated in this post, but, a few cakes, here and there.

Over the summer, this cake was a big hit. I then went on to experiment with a few other simpler blueberry cake deals, but, nothing all that noteworthy came out of that. That remains a project for another August.

This fall, in our new fancy schmancy kitchen (one of the big selling features of this house we bought in Maine was the kitchen – it was remodeled by the previous owners, and it has “chef-quality” appliances and so on. There is definitely enough cupboard space, which is a very nice thing. But, upon moving in and trying to actually live in and use this kitchen, I have discovered what I certainly already knew in theory: that throwing a lot of money at things does not necessarily mean you end up with the functionality or quality you want. One of the first nights we were here, the fake-cupboard panel that hide the dishwasher fell off and nearly busted Milo’s tow. Then, we also couldn’t use the dishwasher until we figured out how to get the panel back on, a slightly more challenging task than it should be. The professional stove top is so powerful that the pots and pans of mere mortals are really inadequate, and the oven is so complicated that, even with instruction book in hand, I cannot always figure out how to work it. So, I haven’t been having quite as much fun in my new kitchen as I had hoped to. Plus, sadly, there seem to be no neighbors to bake for. Alas.

Okay, sorry, just a little rant there. Try to end on a good note: I do admit to liking the mammoth Sub-Zero refrigerator.)

… I have baked two cakes.

First was the Double Apple Bundt Cake, from the Dorie Greenspan book. I had meant to throw out my bundt pan, when we were moving. I have decided that bundt pans might just need to be replaced regularly, that the non-stick just stops working, and then you have sad cake removal from pan issues. So, with a few other odds and sods, I had placed the pan in the garage at Raintree Ct, in preparation for throwing out. Then, in their over-zealousness, the movers somehow packed it into the truck. That is always a drag, the discovery, when unpacking, that a certain amount of what you hauled across the country (or, rather PAID to have hauled across the country) was garbage. Then, the formerly destined for the dump bundt pan sat around in the garage here, until I realized I had a bundt cake to make, and no new bundt pan. It was then pressed into service one more time, with only slightly dicey results (that is, the cake did stick a bit….).

I made this apple cake just because…. It seemed like the right thing to do in fall in Maine. I might have made it with apples from our apple-picking expedition. But, now I am not quite sure. Regardless of which apples I used, I do know this: they were very local, which is cool.

Really yummy cake. Most compelling proof: Alden ate quite a bit of it and even wanted to have some sent in his lunch one day. High praise. Ingredients of note: apples, apple butter, typical apple pie type spices, raisins and nuts (I used pecans).

The other cake was a pumpkin one. I am pretty sure I have made a pumpkin cake in the past – for Karen’s birthday? But, no blog record exists, and there have clearly been too many cakes at this point, to allow me to call up the particulars of something I might have made over a year ago. I googled around, found this recipe, and went for it. It was a really easy recipe – oil, rather than butter, which makes it extra easy (and, less expensive too, I suppose.)

We had been invited to a family-oriented Halloween party, by one of my colleagues. It was a potluck, and you know darn well what I’ll try to bring in any sort of a potluck situation. I had fun decorating this cake with my silly little Halloween bits and pieces. Sadly, another problem with this new kitchen I am in is that it is really hard to photograph things in it. Bad light (er, no light….).

Note: I just realized that there was another cake, but, this post is getting way long, so, I’ll have to come back to it another day.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Four Layer Funfetti, or, Happy Birthday Alden!

Some of the details on this one may be lost at this point, but I’ll see what I can dredge up. It was Karen who suggested the homemade funfetti cake. So, this brings us to funfetti, and just exactly what it is. Okay, I still don’t know what it is. I guess for starters there is the word play: funfetti – confetti… throw some colorful sprinkle-y type things in a cake and you are going to have some sort of a fun celebratory confetti type experience, funfetti, there you go.

The thing is, it is the colorful sprinkle-y type things that are still the mystery. My gut feeling is that the sprinkles that exist in the Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines box are different from the sprinkles I used. I just used regular colorful jimmies, as it were. And, while I think it looked pretty similar, I think it was not exactly the same. So, what exactly is in the little packet you get (and throw in the batter at some designated time) in those boxes of funfetti cake mix? I am somewhat pulled to go buy and make one, but, so far, it hasn’t happened. Too many other cakes to make.

For one thing, I am pretty sure that the box mix funfetti does not include brown/chocolate sprinkles, whereas my Kroger brand did. Seems minor, but, I think that the color array might look really different depending on the presence or absence of chocolate/brown sprinkles. Another thing is size and shape – are the funfetti sprinkles the same shape as the jimmies? And what about chemical reaction during baking? Do they both melt, or dissolve, or break down in similar fashions? These and other burning questions remain unanswered.

Now for the four layer part. Alden has long been really excited about my development as a cake baker and just exactly when I would be able to make the leap to four layer cakes. Classic “more is better” thinking on the part of the younger set. Here is the thing: a four layer cake is just two cake layers, each cut horizontally, making four. So, in truth, it is all a trick, and in fact less than a three layer cake. Lucky for me, when he saw me do the cutting the cake layers part, he thought it was cool, rather than a total cheap trick.

The cake was pretty, very white, as it was an egg whites only cake, and relatively tasty. But, not a knock your socks off cake. Alden wanted chocolate frosting, and, as always, I struggled with this part. In the end, I chose a chocolate ganache type frosting – I think it came from the lots-of-ways banana cake that I also have yet to write about – and it just was not all that special. This brings us back to the difficulty of finding great chocolate frosting recipes….

Not only did Alden get the funfetti cake, but, there were, of course, the obligatory school cupcakes. Being the ambitious soul that I am, I went for homemade cupcakes rather than a mix. I found the recipe for these on my friend Melissa’s blog, where she is writing about her experiences cooking out of the new Gourmet cookbook. She made these buttermilk cupcakes for a school function for her son, and I decided to follow. I read a lot about them, in the reviews and on her blog, so I was well forewarned, but, I just have to emphasize, in case anyone tries them: they really are exploding, and the quantities, as Gourmet talks about them, are really off. Recipe says 24 cupcakes, and I think I made slightly over 36. Notice, in this picture - of the cupcakes upside down - all the (now cooked) batter that overflowed on to the toaster oven tray (which I had to use for baking, as I had already filled all of my cupcake/muffin tins, and still, there was more batter to be dealt with)

In all honesty, I think these were a bit yummier than the cake. And, perhaps more importantly, look how cute they are.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Baked, Not Blogged

You might think there’s been no baking, based on the amount of writing about baking I am producing. But, no, baking continues, even when writing stalls. So, for those of you who check in from time to time, I thought I’d give you an update. Some of these cakes warrant proper entries, but, maybe, in the interests of time, and moving forward, I’ll let go of some of them.

In the meantime, here’s the rundown on what we, and our fine friends, neighbors and colleagues, have been getting to eat lately.

Alden’s birthday cake – the much anticipated homemade funfetti in four layers

Nicky’s Vanilla Cake

Nicky is Ruth Reichl’s son, and this cake is from her book, Garlic and Sapphires

All the rest of these are from the Dorie Greenspan:

Coconut Orange Tea Cake – two times, once a non dairy version.

Lots-of-Ways Banana Cake

Nutty Chocolaty Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake – three times

Apple Coconut Family Cake

note: this batter does not go with the apple-coconut family cake just mentioned. I just wanted to end with an action shot, so to speak.