Hooray! Ahh, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you!
Now that we’ve settled in San Francisco and have been out of L.A. for a few months, I’m able to selectively remember only the things I love about having lived in Santa Monica. One of those things is the whimsical and utter delight that is Vanilla Bake Shop. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Berman (co-owner along with her husband, how cute is that?!) right before the shop first opened, and boy, is all the hype well deserved. Everything in there is totally inspired and completely delicious, my favorite cupcake being the Meyer Lemon Raspberry. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning I heard Amy is appearing tomorrow on The freakin’ Martha Stewart Show to make Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes with Martha! Too much! The craving hit me full force after seeing the preview. And even though I have my Tivo set to find out what the real recipe is, I am just way too impatient and so I cobbled together my own version today, using some of my favorite components from different recipes.
To me, lemony desserts of all kinds just scream Spring!–like sunny days, tea parties and a smattering of flowy skirts on the sidewalks (okay, so I’m understanding I probably won’t ever see weather consistently balmy enough for flowy skirts here in San Francisco, but whatever). These cupcakes turned out to be the perfect Spring celebration, with my very favorite soft white cake recipe as the base, billowy vanilla buttercream atop, and a filling of just-tangy-enough lemon pastry cream that has a bit more of a dreamy character than Vanilla Bake Shop’s lemon curd filling. Success! I opted to make them pretty Vanilla-style with a layer of pastel yellow sanding sugar, which also adds a nice crunch to the perfectly smooth buttercream beneath. A little cheery button of a fresh raspberry finishes off the cupcake, and you can almost hear it chirping, “I’m too cute to eat!”, but guess what, it’s not. Nom, nom, nom.
Lemon Cream Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes
If you can find Meyer lemons, absolutely use them in the lemon pastry cream, but regular lemons will work just fine. To use this recipe in a different way, omit the lemon pastry cream and make a classic vanilla cupcake with the cake and frosting recipes, adding a bit of interest to the buttercream with a scraped vanilla bean in addition to the extract. All three elements can be made a day ahead and refrigerated and the cupcakes assembled the day of serving, just set the pastry cream out to soften before using.
For the cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and vanilla. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Set all three elements aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until soft, creamy and pale in color. Alternately beat in the milk and flour mixtures in three parts, blending well after each addition. Fold in the beaten egg whites at the very end, making sure no traces of whites remain in the batter.
Fill lined cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, when the tops are just set and beginning to turn a light golden brown. Do NOT overbake.
This recipe makes more than you’ll need for 2 dozen cupcakes, but trust me, you’ll find a way to use the leftovers. Like eaten from a spoon straight from the bowl.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10-12 pieces
Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and set to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, egg yolk, salt and sugar in a stainless steel bowl that just fits into the saucepan without touching the surface of the water. Continue whisking the mixture over the heat until it is thickened and it registers 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove it from the heat and cool to about 140 degrees, stirring occasionally to help release the heat.
When the lemon curd is cooled, pour it through a fine sieve to remove any bits of cooked eggs or lemon pulp, using a rubber spatula to coax it through, into a blender (or a clean bowl if using an immersion blender). Blend the butter into the lemon curd, one piece at a time at a low speed until all the butter is completely incorporated.
For the second addition of confectioners’ sugar, use anywhere from 2-4 cups more sugar and add more heavy cream as needed to get the consistency your prefer for buttercream.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (perhaps a bit more to adjust the consistency)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and vanilla together until the butter is very soft. Add just 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to appear fluffy. Add the rest of the sugar and the heavy cream (adding more sugar and/or cream as desired), and mix on high for another 5 to 7 minutes until the buttercream is whipped, light in texture and shiny.
Use a pairing knife to cut a small cone shape into the center of each cupcake, making a well for the filling, being careful not to cut the wells too deep. Trim a bit of cake from each “cone” to make room for the filling. Fill each cupcake with a small spoonful of the lemon cream and replace the trimmed tops. Alternatively, use a pastry bag to pierce the top of each cupcake and fill them.
Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. To decorate, coat with colored sanding sugar, add a small dollop of buttercream atop the sugar, and finish with a fresh raspberry.
Of all the great benefits of marriage, I think one of my favorites is creating a brand new set of traditions based on a newly formed family. Even though the husband and I have yet to produce offspring, it’s nice to know we’ve already created a few of our own little family traditions that are just waiting to include little ones when they come. The husband’s Big, Messy Chocolate Birthday Cake is a much-anticipated event that we look forward to all year.
The first year I made this cake in Los Angeles more than four years ago, it was HOT. The summer heat had extended into a healthy portion of what should have easily been sweater weather (or long-sleeved t-shirt weather by L.A. standards). In fact, it was so hot in our non-air conditioned apartment that the stacked cake layers split into fourths soon after the buttercream was applied. I tried in vain to pin the cake together with toothpicks and solder the droopy layers in the freezer, but to no avail. The birthday “cake” was really more of a birthday “pile” that year, with candles lamely and haphazardly stuck in it. We laughed. After I cried. But it was still insanely delicious. And that is a testament to how extraordinary this cake really is.
With half a pound of chocolate between the cake and frosting, you might worry that it would all just be too much. But the genius of this recipe is the amazing balance that is struck between the tender, delicate crumb of the cake and the smooth, rich buttercream. With every bite, you will alternate marveling at the flavors and mouthfeel of both, and both components win in the end. The cake is extraordinarily moist (it keeps for days in perfect condition in a cake dome), and the frosting champions the chocolate, not the butter. The added touch of chipped chocolate folded into the buttercream lends a great, unexpected crunch.
Making this cake is so much fun when you’re a mise en place kind of person like me, carefully pre-measuring and setting out all of the ingredients before you begin. With this recipe, it really helps the process along. Take the time to sift your cake flour well, even more than once if you’ve got the patience–it’s worth it in the end. And the butter seriously needs to be at room temperature (since I always know the date I’ll be making this cake, I even set out the butter the night before). You really will never find a more beautiful batter than with this recipe, like luscious chocolate clouds being scooped into the cake pans. Drool.
Since I only make this cake for one occasion, I really like to go for it and use fantastic chocolate, such as Valrhona 56% Dark. For both the cake and the frosting, be sure your chocolate is cool to the touch before adding it to the mixtures. I rarely mess with double boilers–I find that quickly microwaving it until it’s about half melted (about 30 seconds) and then stirring, letting the residual gentle heat of the bowl melt the rest is a good way to get the job done without heating the chocolate so hot that it takes forever to cool down. And take special care when greasing the cake pans and lining them with parchment to make them truly non-stick; this is a delicate cake that can tear easily if you have to struggle too much getting it out of the pan.
Even though it’s so fabulous it deserves to be paraded out for every dinner party, picnic, bake sale and other random people’s birthdays, I save the creation of this chocolate behemoth for just once a year, in honor of my favorite husband. It’s tradition, after all.
Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Makes one awesome, 9-inch, two-layer cake
For the Cake:
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cold water
For the Chocolate Chip Buttercream:
3 cups powdered sugar
7 tablespoons hot water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup semisweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack in the middle position. Coat two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms of the pans with circles of parchment paper, and then spray again for extra non-stick insurance.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt and together and aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and beat for three minutes to incorporate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat for three more minutes.
Gradually mix in the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the cold water. Beat for one minute after each addition to incorporate. When all of the flour mixture and water has been added, scrape the bowl once more and then mix until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans until about 2/3 full, and smooth the surfaces with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the cakes spring back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack in the pans for at least 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whip attachment, dissolve the sugar and water at low speed. Beat in the chocolate and the vanilla. Add the butter in small bits, mixing until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula, giving the frosting a nice final mix.
Turn out one of the cooled cake layers upside down onto a cake stand or serving platter, remove the parchment circle and then place strips of clean parchment just under the cake’s edges to protect the serving dish from frosting smudges. Spread about half the frosting on this layer, starting in the center and working your way out. Place the second layer on top, remove the parchment, and frost top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream. Sprinkle with additional chocolate shavings if desired.
Every girl has a dear old friend whom she treasures like a sister. Maybe the first meeting was back in grammar school, high school or college, during years that brought awkward growth and tremendous shared experiences. A chainsaw can’t break this kind of bond between old girlfriends. Then one day, after say, a few cocktails, someone decides to play the “what did you think of me when we first met?” card. And then you hear the needle squealing off a record somewhere in the distance as a response tries to form itself. In this pause I will say that I’m not using men in this example because no man would be crazy enough to ask such a question of an old friend. Inevitably, liquid courage will help someone say something rather unexpected, yet honest, like, “I thought you were obnoxious/mute/bitchy/weird.” And then there will either be lots of pouting and shunning in the following minutes OR there will be much laughter and celebration of the fact that your love and friendship grew to far outweigh first impressions. The latter, thankfully, is my experience with Apple Cider Pudding Cake.
During my first meeting with this recipe, I thought this cake was a liar. An insane, highly suspicious liar. I mean, I get bread pudding, but hot liquid poured onto a batter before baking? Whazzat? This cake had to be just showing off and telling tall tales to cover insecurities. Don’t ask me why I guessed that. But as you know, I’ve been making a solid effort to try some new recipes to dig into fall’s bounty. And as the husband so wittily pointed out, with its usage of apples in multiple forms, it was kind of like the Tres Leches Cake of fruit–Tres Manzanas Cake, if you will. So I soldiered on, with doubts in mind and peeler in hand. And you what? I ended up having to apologize and everything, by making this cake twice in one week and giving some to all my neighbors.
Despite its very questionable appearance before it enters the oven (is the boiling liquid actually cooking the batter on contact?), it emerges as a fragrant, rustic pillow, covered in pebbly streusel. With so little butter in this recipe, it’s the liberal use of brown sugar and cider that save the day here: when sliced and served warm, you can admire how the sticky cider has waded its way to the bottom of the pan during baking, with a perfectly moist, apple-packed cake above. It’s like this recipe uses the concept of making an apple cider reduction on the stove–there are concentrated notes of heady molasses, autumn spices and vanilla left behind–but the moisture has been trapped inside the cake rather than just evaporating altogether. Add to all that crispy edges and the buttery crunch of streusel (which the original recipe stated was optional, but it is so not), and you have yourself a dynamic new friend of a recipe that you’ll want to have around all the time, first impressions aside.
Apple Cider Pudding Cake
For the Cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped apple (about 2 large, I chose a Fuji and a Winesap)
For the Cider:
1 cup apple cider
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
To make the cake batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice (or ginger) and nutmeg. In another, larger bowl, whisk together the egg, 1 cup brown sugar, milk, melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated and then fold in the apples until the batter is well-blended. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
To make the cider, in a small saucepan, combine the cider, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 cup brown sugar and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and pour the cider carefully over the batter. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. To add the streusel, mix the flour, sugar and knob of unsalted butter together with a fork until well- combined and pebbly, but not homogeneous, and sprinkle it over the cake during the last 10 minutes of baking. If necessary, give the streusel a boost under the broiler during the last minute or so. Cool the cake on a wire rack, and serve while the cake is still warm.
I’ve talked about my love of vanilla so many times on this blog, I should really start a foundation. I’m constantly craving and searching for great vanilla recipes. So when I came across a recipe for Vanilla Bean Loaves (Vanilla cake! Vanilla bean syrup! Extract! Beans! Glamour!), I pretty much needed to get to work immediately.
I made a special trip toSurfas, which always excites this food nerd, just to purchase whole vanilla beans. Sure, I’d been showing all of my baking projects plenty of vanilla love with my favorite extract, but whole beans are really where it’s at for serious vanilla needs. And since I’d already made up my mind that this latest recipe was to provide the apex of my vanilla experiences, I didn’t even mind forking over $12 for six potent, mahogany Tahitian beauties (this is actually an excellent price for the quality of beans that I purchased…some are so expensive it makes you wonder if you’ve traveled back in time, like before modern currency).
The original recipe makes two full-sized loaves this cake, but I opted to halve the recipe after looking at the list of ingredients and considering the cost as well as my waist size. I do consider both of those things on occasion, you know. Anyway, even in its halved state, this recipe calls for–brace yourself–one and a half sticks of butter, nearly three cups of sugar and four eggs. And then there’s the vanilla. Oh, the vanilla! One loaf has half a tablespoon of pure extract and two whole beans between the batter and the glaze, plus another bean sacrificed to make vanilla sugar, which is used in place of boring old granulated sugar. So this cake is RICH–both in texture and expense.
The scent of the baking cake was really lovely, of course, and the applications of vanilla sugar syrup during cooling accumulated to create a sweet, laquered glaze that added nice visual and textural elements to the finished cake.
But unfortunately, for all the vanilla on vanilla on vanilla hype involved with this recipe, the flavor was not all that stellar. I’m keeping my insanely high expectations in mind here, so I don’t want to call it boring, per se–the cake is a fine one, to be sure–a rich, tender pound cake with a beautiful velvety interior. But somehow it’s not the breath of vanilla in every bite that I was hoping for. I decided to serve the slices with generous dollops of some sweetened vanilla bean cream that I whipped up, and that definitely added some interest. I suppose you could always serve some berries alongside or, even better, add some bourbon or rum to the batter and glaze, but then why go through all the vanilla effort? I feel like a recipe with this much vanilla grandstanding should deliver, or at least taste strongly like its name, and not torture poor vanilla with its very false stereotype for being, well….plain old vanilla. That’s just how I feel. This cake freezes really well, so my leftover cake is being saved for a fondue party or something like that.
So if you want a good pound cake recipe, try this one. If you want to feed your vanilla addiction, umm…maybe try something else.
Vanilla Bean Loaf
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte
Makes 1 Cake
For the Cake:
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups vanilla sugar*
1/2 whole vanilla bean
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Syrup:
3/4 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 whole vanilla beans
1/2 cup water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Generously grease an 8x4x3-inch loaf pan, or one that is similarly sized.
For the cake, begin by creaming the butter and vanilla sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or use an electric mixer, until the mixture is pale and fluffy, like frosting.
Prepare both vanilla beans at once, by splitting them in half lengthwise. Set three of the halves aside for the syrup, and scrape the seeds of the remaining half, saving the scraped pod for the syrup as well.
Mix the seeds from the one vanilla bean half into the butter and sugar mixture for the cake, along with the vanilla extract and four eggs. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold carefully into the butter mixture until well-blended, but do not overmix. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes.
While the cake is baking, prepare the vanilla syrup. Dissolve the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat and then stir in the 1 1/2 beans and the reserved, scraped pod as well. Bring the syrup to a boil, then remove it from the heat and let it steep as it cools.
When the cake is done, let it cool in the pan for ten minutes on a wire rack, then turn the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Every so often, while it’s cooling, brush coats of the syrup onto the entire surface of the cake–top, bottom and sides–with a pastry brush until all of the syrup has been absorbed into and brushed onto the cake. Wait until completely cooled, and then slice. Serve with sweetened vanilla whipped cream.
*To make the vanilla sugar, simply bury a split vanilla bean in a pound of granulated sugar in an airtight container and let it sit for a few days, shaking every so often. This is a great way to use leftover vanilla pods from other recipes. Vanilla sugar is awesome in place of plain sugar in just about any baking recipe, sprinkled in oatmeal, your morning coffee, etc.
I’ve never fallen more in love with a city at first sight than when I touched down in London. It’s been a long time since I visited, but I still cackle with delight when I come across my favorite UK goodies in specialty stores (Cadbury Snaps, anyone?). In all honesty, my time in England fell right in that “I’m much more interested in drinking than eating” phase of life, and really, there’s not a better place to be in the world when you’re in that phase. As a result, there wasn’t much fine dining or bakery visiting done during my stay. But I did recently remember a certain British cake that I thought would be perfect to recreate for this blog.
Fairy cakes are Britain’s answer to America’s huge, hyper, cloyingly sweet cupcakes. They are traditionally smaller, slightly denser cakes topped with a modest layer of thick, sweet-tart fondant icing, which is often made simply by blending confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar, as the Brits call it) with citrus juice, traditionally lemon. These cakes are so easy to make, I dare you to not run off to the kitchen upon reading this post.
Just the thing for your afternoon coffee break (or tea, if we’re going to keep it real), fairy cakes are the ultimate pick-me-up–a simple confection that is adorable to look at: the pastel fondant icing lies pretty and polished on each cake, creating a perfect platform for a precisely placed dragee or candy flower.
For the Cakes:
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 ounces superfine sugar (I take granulated for a quick spin in my clean coffee grinder)
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 1/2 ounces self-rising flour
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack to the middle position. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or generously butter the tin.
Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, then add the vanilla, beating to combine.
Sift in half of the flour and fold to combine. Add the milk and the rest of the flour, and stir until fully incorporated.
Divide the batter equally into the muffin tins, and bake until the cakes are golden on top and puffed, about 12 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the tins on a rack for ten minutes, then remove the cakes from the tins and cool completely before icing.
For the Icing:
4 ounces powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice
Edible baubles for decorating (dragees, candied or sugar flowers, etc.)
In a small bowl, beat the sugar and the fruit juice, a little at a time, until a thick fondant forms. It should be a thick paste with a bit of shine, not a drizzling glaze. Add a bit of food coloring at this point, pastels are best to keep this treat traditional.
Drop a dollop of the icing on each cake, and give it a minute to spread to the cakes’ edges. For a more finished look, you can smooth the icing on the cakes with a knife dipped in hot water. Top each cake with some kind of cutesy edible bauble. The flavor of the icing improves even further as it sets.
I love baking for many reasons. It’s therapeutic, creative, cerebral. Chemistry meets artistry. And then there’s the sharing and eating of the results, and well, that just makes you feel good all over. A great recipe is more than just a formula, it’s like a character in a great story. Sometimes you stumble across a new recipe that helps you create your own stories and memories with people you love, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to be given a recipe that you just know has made memories for people you’ll probably never meet. I love that most of all. I guess you could call them heirloom recipes.
I was recently given such a recipe by a friend of mine named Malene. Malene is from Denmark and when she and her boyfriend Mark learned of this blog and what a baking fool I am, she e-mailed me this recipe from her home country and I couldn’t wait to try it. She sent it to me with the title of “Cheese Cake with Raspberries from Denmark”, and I soon discovered that the separation of the words cheese and cake wasn’t a typo.
This cake is definitely not like any cheesecake I’ve had before. After parbaking a buttery cake layer, fruit is layered on and then a sweetened cream cheese mixture is poured on top. When completely baked, the tender, moist butter cake mingles with the blond, custard-like cream cheese layer, the fruit playing halfsies in between. It was delicious for dessert the first night and a perfect breakfast with coffee in the morning (did I say that?).
I am a sucker for other people’s favorite recipes, and it becomes a mission of sorts for me to do it right. In this case, I did something a little unorthodox and exchanged the raspberries in Malene’s recipe for a few of the sweet, crisp Fuji apples that have just begun ruling the fall markets. I couldn’t resist. With this great recipe as my guide, the result was wonderful–cakey, creamy, lightly swirled with cinnamon, al dente slices of the season’s first apples buried within. Nyde!
Cheese Cake from Denmark
Adapted from Malene Nielsen
150 grams granulated sugar
75 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
150 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
100 ml milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set the oven rack to the middle position. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment before locking it into place and lightly grease the pan.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitter with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and fully incorporate it, then add the vanilla sugar (or extract). At low speed or by hand, mix in the flour mixture, followed by the milk, until fully incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and parbake the cake for just 10 minutes. While the cake is baking, prepare the next layer.
100 grams granulated sugar
200 grams (I used a full 8 ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature
250 grams fresh or frozen raspberries (I used 2 medium Fuji apples, sliced thin)
1 teaspoon of lemon zest (if using berries)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar (brown sugar if using apples, and also add 1/2 tsp. cinnamon)
Whip the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, and then beat in the egg. Stir in the lemon zest if using berries. Set aside.
Toss the fruit with the teaspoons of cornstarch and sugar. Layer the fruit onto the parbaked cake and then pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 more minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If the cake begins to get too dark during baking, cover the cake with foil.
Cool completely on a wire rack before serving, perhaps with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
I mean, really, that statement requires an exclamation point. Any good cake suddenly becomes even better when it’s made and eaten to celebrate someone’s birthday. And to me, the classic birthday cake will always be a buttery, fine-textured yellow cake layered and covered with rich, fudgy frosting. It’s the kind of cake that my Gramma is known for making for a birthday (you do have to get your request in early, however), and one that I grew up loving. It’s the best of both worlds, vanilla and chocolate, light cake and rich frosting, simple enough flavors to pair well with whatever kind of ice cream the birthday girl or boy requests.
In this case the birthday boy was my husband’s best friend from college, the best man in our wedding, and the person who indirectly introduced my husband and I to each other (in the way you can indirectly meet someone while dating someone else–it was college, people!). So this person obviously deserves a seriously good birthday cake, and nothing is better than a classic that never gets old, no matter how many times you have it. Kind of like celebrating birthdays themselves.
Before I get to the recipe, cross over with me into the land of culinary geekdom for a moment, won’t you? I love experimenting with different mixing methods of cake-making. It never ceases to amaze me just how different textures and flavors can turn out just by mixing the same ingredients in a different order. I’m sure there’s an ancient proverb in there somewhere. Anyway, in this case, the mixing method is the two-stage method, wherein softened butter is blended directly into the dry ingredients, and then the wet ingredients are streamed in at the end. This batter isn’t quite as glamourous-looking coming together as cakes made via the creaming method, but oh, the texture of the finished cake. A fine and tender crumb, light and velvety, the perfect stage for a rich, dense fudgy frosting.
Classic Birthday Cake
(aka Yellow Layer Cake with Rich Fudge Frosting)
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
For the Cake:
1 3/4 cups plain cake flour, sifted, plus more for dusting the pans
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons great vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter two 9-inch cake rounds, line the bottoms with parchment, and butter the parchment. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
2. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl. Measure out one cup of this mixture and set aside.
3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir the ingredients on low to combine, about 30 seconds.
4. With the mixture still running at the lowest speed, add the softened butter one piece at a time, mixing until the butter and flour begin the clump together, until it looks pebbly with pieces about the size of peas, 30 to 40 seconds after all the butter is added.
5. Add the reserved one cup of egg mixture and mix at low speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture in a steady stream with the mixer running, taking about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Beat at medium-high speed again until the batter is thoroughly combined and just starts to look curdled, about 15 seconds.
6. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans, smoothing out the surface. Bake until the cakes are light gold in color and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes then run a knife along the edges to loosen them from the pans. Release cakes from the pans and let cool completely before icing them.
For the Frosting:
16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just a simmer over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, then pour the cream over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup, and let the mixture stand for 3 minutes.
2. Whisk the mixture until smooth, and add the vanilla. Refrigerate for 1 to 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. You can use this frosting as is, or for a lighter texture like I prefer, place the frosting in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whip attachment and whip the frosting until it is fluffy with medium peaks, about 2 minutes.
To assemble the cake, remove the parchment from the cake layers, and place one layer upside down on a cake stand or serving platter. I like to put strips of parchment or wax paper just under the edges of the cake to protect the serving platter from frosting smudges. Put about half a cup of frosting on this layer, and spread it out, leaving about 1/2 inch frosting-free around the edges of the cake–the filling will spread when you add the second layer. Place the second layer on top, and cover the cake with the remaining frosting. This frosting is so smooth and spreadable that you don’t need a crumb coat, especially if you decide to whip the frosting. Serve at room temperature with ice cream of the birthday girl or boy’s choice.
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