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This year’s Valentine’s Day effort
I have dubbed it the Strawberry Heart Cake. Literally, it’s a vanilla victoria sponge cake with strawberry buttercream frosting, dark chocolate strawberry filling, and some kirschwasser sprinkled on for a bit of fun.
I used some of the chocolate filling to make the heart shape on top. And when that didn’t quite work out, looking a little too blobby to my critical eye, I traced the outline of the heart using frozen strawberries.
I probably should’ve spread the chocolate sauce out closer to the rim of the cake. I make this same mistake so often, you’d think I’d learn by now. But I was worried about the dark chocolate sauce squishing out between the cake layers and messing up the light pink buttercream, so I was conservative. Anywhoodle, it seems to have worked out okay. And by okay, I mean deliciously.
To put everything together, I placed one cake on a cake round, bottom down. The bottom cake was basted with kirsch, then I spread the chocolate sauce on top of it. I used some of the frosting to make a ring around the rim of the cake to help ease my paranoia about the chocolate sauce making a break for the wall, then placed the top cake, bottom up. Then it was time to frost the whole shebang. And then it was time to eat!
This is a six-inch cake so I actually used a cupcake recipe rather than scaling down a recipe for a larger cake. I only have one six-inch cake pan so I divided the ingredients in half and mixed one batch at a time to make a two-layer cake. Here are the ingredients for one layer.
115g [about one stick] butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Cream together the butter and sugar. [If you’re like me, you’ll use the butter wrapper to prep the baking pan, and then spritz it with Baker’s Joy anyway.] Add eggs to the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between additions. Add vanilla.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/eggs mixture.
Scrape the batter into a six-inch pan. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
I let the cakes cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before placing them directly on the cooling rack. They cooled out on the counter for maybe another 20 or 30 minutes, then went into the fridge while I prepped the frosting and filling.
The frosting was inspired by the raspberry buttercream frosting recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. The proportions here provided just enough frosting for the outside of the cake.
1 stick butter
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 or 3 tablespoons of strawberry preserves
Cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar together until the mixture is smooth. Add the strawberry preserves a spoonful at a time until the frosting has a spreadable consistency [and a pleasing flavor!].
I just happened to have some thick fudgy dark chocolate sauce lying around, leftover from a chocolate pancake experiment, so I mixed that with some more of the strawberry preserves and used it as a filling. Because it just isn’t Valentine’s Day without chocolate.
So, back in April, a friend let me know that his brother’s birthday was coming up. There’s a tradition in their family of celebrating birthdays with a cassata cake from Corbo’s Bakery in Cleveland. Unfortunately for them, they live in California now and shipping a cake out from Cleveland was a thing that was just not happening. So we settled on a plan to make one.
Most of the work of this cake is prep work, which made this a topsy turvy experience since, for the cakes I usually make, the prep is the easy part and assembly is the hardest. But, unlike with my usual buttercreamed beauties, there was no way I was going to seriously attempt to create a smooth whipped cream surface on the cassata cake. So I didn’t fuss about it, and things actually got easier as we got further along.
Still, this recipe was front-loaded with things I have never done before, like:
– making a sponge cake (my feelings about sponge cake can generally be summarized thusly: no butter? what do you mean no butter?! [which is why my first flirtation with the idea of making a sponge cake saw me trying out a victoria sponge])
– making a custard (and cutting up three pounds of strawberries)
– making a four-layer sponge cake filled with custard (and strawberries)
My source material:
I credit both of those lovely bloggers, along with my lovely baking assistant/cameraperson–who had a steadier hand than I when it came to splitting a sponge cake in half–with how well this cake turned out. I’m told it tasted just like the cake from Corbo’s.
Another person, a fellow non-Ohioan, compared it to a cake from an Asian bakery; I guess those also tend to be light and fruity. Whatever you might like to compare it to, the cake was definitely delicious. My opinion of sponge cakes is permanently changed for the better.
By the end of the evening, there was this much left.
And, not too soon after, it was all gone.
Cake (Made the night before)
2-1/4 cups cake flour
1-1/4 and 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks at room temperature
8 large egg whites at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with lightly oiled parchment paper. Otherwise, leave the pans ungreased.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, 1-1/4 cups sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then re-sift.
In a separate bowl, beat together the yolks, water, oil, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture.
And in another bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 c. sugar, and beat on high until the peaks are stiff but not dry.
Fold about a quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until well combined. Then gently fold in the remaining whites, stopping when you can no longer make out streaks of egg white in the mixture.
Transfer the batter into the two prepared pans and smooth the tops. (I tend to use a measuring cup, to make sure the amounts in each pan are equal.)
Bake for about 35 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in their pans, on a cooling rack, for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release the cakes, cover each pan with a wax paper-lined plate, and flip. Lift the pans off of the cakes and carefully peel off the parchment.
Wrap the cakes in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least three hours.
When the cakes are thoroughly chilled, cut each in half. Place each layer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet or plate.
Custard (Also made the night before)
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups half and half
3 tbsp cornstarch
Whisk all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (so the eggs don’t scramble). Turn the heat down to a simmer and whisk constantly until thick. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl, cover with wax paper, and cool in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
3 lb. strawberries
2 tbsp sugar
Slice the strawberries thinly and place them in a bowl. Add the sugar and stir. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour, giving it an occasional stir. When the strawberries have released their juices, strain the mixture in a colander, saving the juice in a separate container.
Whipped cream (The easiest part!)
2 cups chilled heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
Whip the cream and sugar together until stiff.
Assembly (The second to easiest part!)
Place one cake layer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of the layer with 1/3 of the reserved strawberry juice. Cover with a layer of strawberries, and then with a layer of custard. Top with the next layer of the cake, and repeat: strawberry juice, strawberries, custard, cake layer. And again.
Then, cover the cake with the whipped cream and decorate it however you like.
Chill the cake for at least 8 hours before serving. Bring to cool room temperature before serving.
Perhaps… perhaps this is the one, the no-knead bread dough recipe that inspires me to break my bread machine habit (for a little while).
Speaking of my bread machine, it’s currently busy baking egg bread. My house smells delicious.
My mom gave me a persimmon. She told me to eat it as soon as possible–she always tells me to eat my fruits as soon as possible; to her, fruits are always on the brink of self-destruction–but, my habit of procrastination extends even to my eating (assuming we’re not talking about something like the chocolate cake I just snarfed down). Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I decided I might want to eat this fruit before it got too much softer. But I couldn’t just eat it, of course, I had to make it into a project. I dug out a recipe I have for persimmon pudding with rum butter.
My mom also gave me some bread. Bread goes much faster in my house than fruit does, probably because I can put butter on it. Yesterday, I ate the last sandwich roll. Suddenly, we were out of bread. So I got out the bread machine. Then I looked at the persimmon, and then I brought out the bread machine cookbook. No persimmon bread recipes there, but I did find one for sweet potato bread. I looked back and forth between the pudding and bread recipes and turned thoughts over in my mind–thoughts like: is a bundt pan a fitting replacement for a pudding mold?–and then I decided on a compromise.
If I’d had more than one persimmon, I could’ve made straight-up persimmon bread. But… the recipe called for 3/4 cup of some kind of mash and the persimmon only added up to 1/4 or 1/3 cup. So I added some sweet potatoes into the mix (two of ’em, microwaved and mashed) to fill in the gap. And so we have Persimmon Bread, Kinda.
* 2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 pkg, which is what I used)
* 3 cups bread flour
* 4 tblsp rolled oats
* 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 2 pinches ground nutmeg
* 1-1/2 tsp salt (next time, I might use just 1 tsp or less)
* 2 tblsp dark brown sugar (I used light)
* 3 tblsp nonfat dry milk (see note below)
* 3 tblsp unsalted butter or margarine
* 3/4 cup plain mashed sweet potatoes (I used 1/4-ish cup of persimmon and 1/2-ish cup sweet potato)
* 3/4 cup water (see note below)
* 3 tablespoons dark raisins
* 1/3 cup chopped pecans (I had no nuts, so filled the gap with more raisins)
I tossed everything into the bread machine in the order listed. 2:40 later…
The loaf’s already half gone. Last night it was 2x larger than depicted above. That’s the one downside of bread machine baking at my house: fresh-baked bread gets eaten 3 or 4 times faster than store-bought. (Yeah, there’s a lesson there, but I’m ignoring it for the time being.)
Note: I used 1/2 cup of plain yogurt thinned with 1/4 cup of water, since I didn’t have powdered milk.
So it’s been a while but I finally got around to baking something last week.
A friend had me over for a dinner of eggplant parmesan and I offered to bring dessert. Eggplant parmesan sounded like kind of a heavy meal (it didn’t turn out to be so, but no way to know that at the time), so I figured a light-ish dessert was in order. (Anything involving massive amounts of cream probably isn’t light really, but let’s just overlook that.) At first I considered being thematically consistent and making panna cotta. Then I ran through other ideas (cream cake, trifle), and then I figured ‘Why make things so complicated? I have a creme brulee kit, I’ll make creme brulee.’ The kit included a recipe and it looked simple enough. So the plan was set.
The only thing that went a bit wrong was the baking, which seemed to take two or three (or four, I stopped counting after a while) times longer than the recipe indicated. The custard ended up being a bit softer than it should’ve, I think, so it was a bit like eating melty vanilla ice cream (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Next time, I’ll probably go for a hotter oven (I’d turned the temp up to 350 by the end), and make the water bath deeper (the ramekins are so shallow that I was a bit timid about adding water to the roasting pan, for fear of accidentally flooding the works).
I was going to serve it with raspberries atop, but forgot them in the fridge at home. Regardless, about the only thing I would’ve changed is, if I’d had vanilla bean pods, this seems like the sort of dessert that merits the addition of vanilla bean pod seeds.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 extra large or jumbo egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300. Put some water on to boil.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles appear around edges of pan (5-6 minutes). Set aside.
In a bowl, beat egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and light. Pour hot cream mixture into egg yolks a little at a time, beating continuously until well blended. Strain mixture through a fine sieve, then divide among four 4-oz ramekins.
Arrange ramekins in a baking pan and place on middle shelf of oven. Add boiling water to pan until it rises halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover pan loosely with aluminum foil, and bake until custard is just set (about 25 minutes). Then chill the custard for 2-3 hours.
Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over cooled custards, then torch ’em. (The caramelization can be done under the broiler if one doesn’t have a blow torch. But there’s nothing like a little butane torch to help you command some respect. Especially if you’re in a room with a guy who’s spent some part of the evening playing target practice with a Nerf gun).
Serve immediately, or refrigerate for later.
Thumbs up all around.
When life hands you carrots…
I have a surplus of carrots lately. Dad’s been eating them raw and in stews and in salads and then finally asked if I could do anything with them.
The obvious way to go was carrot cake. But I was feeling too lazy to work myself up to a cake so my first effort was carrot muffins. I made two batches, one with ginger and one without. I preferred the ginger version, so here’s that recipe:
– 1 cup oatmeal
– 1 cup whole wheat flour
– 2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1/2 tsp salt (or 1/4, or a pinch)
– 1/2 tsp ginger (or more, to your taste)
– 1 cup buttermilk (powdered, in this case; the original recipe called for just plain milk, so there’s some flexibility here)
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1 or 2 tbsp flaxmeal + 3 tbsp water (you could add another 1/8 tsp of baking powder here, but I did not)
– 2 tbsp oil (coconut oil, in this case)
– 1 cup grated carrot
Bake at 400 ’til done (20ish minutes).
I made these before heading heading out of town for the weekend. I left on Friday. All muffins were gone by Monday.
My next idea was a savory carrot galette, based on Smitten Kitchen’s Zucchini and Ricotta Galette. That’s still on the horizon. But first came this.
A quick peek at my decision-making process…
Having decided I wanted to make a less dense cake than my usual, I spent some time looking into sponge cake recipes. But sponge cake/angel food cake has always been a little too light for my liking. So I decided to try out a Victoria Sponge cake instead, because at least it has butter in’t. And also because it’s the simplest formula imaginable: equal ratios (by weight) of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.
Then, having decided I wanted to try out an Aztec/Mayan/Spicy chocolate cake, I decided to make a spicy chocolate Victoria Sponge.
And then, since I wanted to be able to sample this concoction before foisting it off on anyone else, I decided to make cupcakes rather than cake-cakes.
And Then, since I still had egg yolks left-over from the last baking project, I decided on a white chocolate “french buttercream”* (sprinkled with cinnamon) to go on top.
I used two tsps of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of cayenne. The cayenne definitely creates a tickle in the back of the throat. I wasn’t sure how that would go over, but I took the cupcakes into work and even the fellow who doesn’t like icing ate his all up.
Measure out wet ingredients:
– 220 grams of butter
– 220 grams of sugar
Cream these together. Then add:
– 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
– 2 tsp of vanilla.
Measure out dry ingredients:
– 55 grams of cocoa powder
– 2 tsp ground cinnamon (fresh ground is probably best, but only if your spice grinder’s better than mine and doesn’t leave large-ish chunks in)
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (was going to use chili powder but changed my mind)
– 165 grams of flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
Whisk these together, then sift. Fold dry ingredients into wet.
Drop them into baking cups (about 15 of them, in my case) and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.
French Buttercream recipe
Dione Lucas’s Chocolate Buttercream (from Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater):
– Beat 4 large egg yolks until light. (I used 5 medium.)
– Heat 3/4 cup corn syrup to a simmer, stirring constantly, then let it boil unstirred until it reaches soft ball stage (around 236 degrees, according to the recipe).
– Once the syrup’s temperature reaches about 230 degrees, start beating the egg yolks again.
– Once the syrup reaches 236 degrees, pour the syrup into the egg yolks in a constant stream, beating until the mixture is “light, fluffy, lemon-colored, tepid.” (This is where an extra pair of hands comes in handy if you’re using a hand mixer.)
– Mix in 2-1/2 sticks (10 oz) of softened butter, in portions.
– Mix in 6 oz of cooled melted chocolate (white, milk, or semisweet)
* I put this in quotes because the recipe seems to be a modification of a french buttercream, rather than a pure version. Rather than creating a simple syrup and boiling it to soft ball stage, it calls for corn syrup boiled to soft ball stage. (The author of the book guessed this might have been the frosting creator’s way of Americanizing a recipe that calls for glucose syrup, which is/was commonly used in French pastry kitchens but not so easily found in American supermarkets.)
A tarty experiment
Last week, or maybe a couple of weeks ago, I saw this post on Rustic Rhubarb Tarts.:
Instantly, I was in love and determined to make them as soon as possible. However, I had no cornmeal, corn flour, rhubarb, vanilla bean, or cream and was pretty much not up for shopping. So, I improvised.
On Sunday, I rummaged through the freezer and found a bag of marionberry blackberries and another of mango chunks from my smoothie phase. I thawed them overnight, then threw them in a pot with half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of ginger, half a teaspoon of anise, and a sprinkle of cinnamon (and a capful of lemon juice). I’m not sure whether the additions made much difference. I can say that after 30ish minutes of boiling there was something tasty in the pot. I mixed in some cornstarch and stirred quickly for a few minutes more, then turned off the stove and let things cool off.
I’d intended to make a pie dough yesterday evening and finish making the tarts then, but [a butterfly fluttered its wings at my periphery, I turned my head, and was thus distracted].
This morning, I found myself awake at 5:00am, so decided to proceed with the crust. I borrowed the pie crust recipe from the Smitten Kitchen site, but subbed shortening for half of the butter and whole wheat flour for half of the regular. Despite my ambitions, I am not skilled at working with dough, so by the time the dough was made and formed and filled (over-filled, really) with the compote, I did not have time to bake them. Into the freezer they went. (Some of them, hand-shaped, were placed on a cookie sheet; others, shaped by pressing them into the cups of a muffin tin, stayed in their cups and were frozen that way.)
Finally, yesterday, some of the tarts made it into the oven. As pretty much more or less entirely expected, the mango flavor was not apparent. The blackberry flavor was so present that I could barely taste the crust, even. So next time, less filling.
The crust did seem nicely flaky, but next time no whole wheat (just doesn’t seem fitting for this filling–maybe would work better for a nuttier/crunchier filling). Either that or make a cookie dough* (the flavor of which might stand up better against the filling) and turn these into jam cookies. Jam spice cookies. (Jammed spice cookies?)
Even with their flaws, though, I’m pretty fond of these tarts. And they didn’t last long at all. Here’s a pic for posterity:
* Or, it occurred to me later, a proper tart dough, which is made more cookie-like than a regular pie dough by the addition of more sugar and of eggs or egg yolks. So I’ll try this same recipe again, but add 1/4 cup sugar (rather than a tablespoon) and an egg.
This weekend’s baking mission: revamp the recipe I have for Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake. After doing some reading for inspiration, I decided to enhance it with an orange flavor. Here’s how it looked at the beginning of the night:
And after the event, a small potluck, was over:
This version of the mayonnaise cake came out a lot better than my first attempt. (More acidic elements and/or slightly more sugar = no residual taste of baking soda.) Everyone had a large slice, and kept sneaking more nibbles as the evening wore on. 🙂
– 1 cup sugar (I used dark brown sugar, but white sugar works too.)
– 2 cups flour (I used cake flour, but all-purpose flour also works.)
– 4 (level-ish) tbsp cocoa powder
– 2 tsp baking soda
– pinch of salt
– 1 tbsp orange zest (that’s an estimation; I zested two medium-sized oranges.)
Sift together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. Combine dry ingredients with wet, then add:
– 1 (scant-ish) cup mayonnaise
– 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 cup orange juice (and if you’re me you add a dash of lemon juice just because)
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
Line two 8″ cake pans with parchment paper, split the batter between them, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.
For the topping, I made a chocolate buttercream frosting and added an orange flavor to this element as well by adding 1-1/2 tsp orange zest (i.e. the zest of half a large orange) and 3 tbsp of orange juice (the juice of half a large orange).
I’m also practicing making brownies and blondies. Haven’t mastered them yet, but here’s a picture of a couple of early prototypes.