Hey! So basically last week I was all, “You must try dark muscovado sugar! I am totally giving you a fabulous recipe to do just that!” and then BOOM. Ball dropped hard. I’m so sorry. Let’s just say that ever since my girl started kindergarten, she’s turned our entire household into a veritable petri dish. Yeah. Lotta Kleenex around here, not a lotta sleep. Good thing she’s adorable and does hysterical things like making her father play all four judges simulateneously while she pretends to audition for The Voice. Otherwise she’d be wearing a hazmat suit to school and/or possibly living in her own apartment.
Okay! So, cake. This cake. This seemingly innocent, plain-looking, how-great-can-it-be-REALLY? cake. You know what I love about this? It’s dead simple, it’s packed with flavor, and it’s the kind of thing that’s such a nice surprise when you take a bite. Because of its deep color and complex fragrance, you start out thinking it’s going to taste like a spice cake, but really, there’s no spices involved. What comes up instead is a huge amount of rich, dreamy molasses flavor from the muscovado sugar, and a soft sweetness. You should know about it.
It’s a a little squidgy in texture, pleasantly sticky. And I’m thinking of endless riffing possibilities that can take this cake throughout the entire year: different dried or chopped sturdy fresh fruits, nuts (ooh…apples and toasted walnuts? Pear and almonds?), bits of bittersweet chocolate. But just straight up, served with a little lightly sweetened whipped cream? It’s really something. A total cake underdog, if you will. We’ve eaten our way through two of them in the past month–it’s equal parts Perfect Weekday Dessert Fare and Leave On the Countertop for Spontaneous Nibbling. Love, love, love it.
Of course the star of the show here is a bunch of that lovely dark muscovado sugar we talked about before. I just can’t get enough. I considered maybe going as dark muscovado sugar for Halloween, but ultimately decided that it would be a little too Fancy San Francisco Food Person for me, so instead I’m just going as Haggard, Exhausted Mother. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Dark Muscovado Sugar Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
Makes 1 9-inch cake
This recipe has been modified from the original, but I riffed on it using what I had on hand and everything turned out great. For starters, the Good to the Grain recipe uses a mix of amaranth, whole wheat, and all-purpose flours, and I opted to go with half whole wheat pastry flour, half all-purpose. (If you’re interested in using amaranth, then go with equal parts amaranth, whole wheat, and AP flours–1/2 cup of each.) I also didn’t have any apple butter, but I did have orange marmalade and that hit of bittersweet citrus made sense to me here, so in it went. I also added vanilla extract because it’s a compulsion of mine.
The mixing method I’m suggesting here is different as well–the original recipe calls for whisking the dries together in a bowl and working the butter into them with your fingertips. I opted to combine the dries in a food processor, because dark muscovado sugar can be super lumpy with harder bits throughout, so I like to make breaking some of those bigger pieces down easier. From there, it just made sense to pulse the cold butter in using the machine instead of my hands, like I would making pie pastry. And then just dump out the dry mixture into a big bowl, and blend the wets in the processor as well. I’m also recommending that you use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites in a small bowl rather than using a stand mixer, because of the small volume, and hey, less mess!
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine or table salt)
2 ounces (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk (whole is best, lowfat works)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade (or apple butter–see note)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan or round cake pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flours, muscovado sugar, baking powder, and salt. Process until no large, hard lumps of sugar remain. Add the butter pieces to the processor and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand and clumps together when you press some in your fist. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Into the bowl of the processor, add the egg yolks, milk, marmalade or apple butter, sugar, and vanilla extract and process until smooth.
In a small bowl using an electric handheld mixer, whip the egg whites to firm peaks.
Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl with the flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, gently stir until the batter is evenly moistened. Scrape about a third of the whipped egg whites into the batter and stir gently until the batter is lighter in color and texture. Add the remaining whites and fold gently to blend, until no traces of white remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Serve in wedges with softly whipped, lightly sweetened whipped cream.
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