Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Classic Cakes: Strawberry Cake

Many of the cooking blogs I frequent talk about cooking "seasonal meals". There is less opportunity to be seasonal in baking. After all, chocolate, vanilla and even carrot cake are good pretty much all year round, right?

With berry season upon us, I thought this strawberry cake was the perfect way to use delicious, sweet, in-seasaon strawberries in a cake recipe. It was a bit difficult to find a strawberry cake recipe that read like it would turn out well. None of my tried and true sources (The Cake Bible , America's Test Kitchen) had one. So, I turned to an internet search, and this time it yielded a beauty!

A conversation on chowhound.com pointed me to this recipe on The Baking Pan website. This recipe incorporates a strawberry puree into a light and fluffy vanilla cake. The cake is accented by a light strawberry cream frosting. The combination creates a cake that just melts in your mouth. Just to reassure you that I am not exaggerating, I will tell you that I brought this cake into the office to share with my co-workers, and more than one person used an expletive to describe how good it was!

I followed the recipe pretty much as it is published here. The only change I made was to the frosting. I found it a bit sweet for my taste so I increased the amount of softened butter to about 1 1/2 cups to up the creaminess quotient a bit.

If you love cake, and you love strawberries, this cake is a must make while the berries are at peak season freshness!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Classic Cakes: Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

What I am about to post here today is an amazing discovery that I should most likely file away in my personal secret recipe box. However, because I am feeling generous, and because the search that finally brought me to this Mecca of chocolate cake took the better part of a decade, I would like to share.

There are a few die-hard chocolate cake lovers among my group of friends. I have often wanted to surprise them with a great chocolate cake on their birthdays but all the chocolate cake recipes I tried in the past have left me disappointed. Most scratch chocolate cakes come out dense and lack that moist choclately goodness that true chocolate lovers crave. So, to prevent the passing on of my disappointment to my chocolate afficiando friends, I have avoided making them chocolate cakes.

I tried this particular recipe for my brother and father-in-laws birthdays and was astounded at how great it turned out. The cake has a rich chocolate flavor, but is still light and moist. The frosting is a devine fluffy chocolate buttercream. Both recipes are adapted from America's Test Kitchen. The cake recipe called for unsweetened chocolate and I substituted bittersweet. I recommend using the Ghiradelli baking bars. Also, America's Test Kitchen published a different frosting recipe with this cake, but it was more complicated to make. To be honest, I like the melt-in-your-mouth quality of this chocolate buttercream a bit better anyway.

I was talking with my Grandma about this cake and she said her mother handed her down an excellent recipe for chocolate cake. She thought it was peculiar that the recipe called for soured milk. This makes me believe the buttermilk is the secret ingredient in this cake. Unfortunately, my Grandma can't find her mother's recipe, but this one turns out quite well too.

I liked this so well that I made a second cake as a late birthday surprise for my friend Rahul. He enjoyed it, and I hope you do too!

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarse
1/4 cup cocoa powder (recipe calls for Dutch processed but it came out fine with regular Hershey's)
1/2 cup hot water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft


(I tripled the original recipe and it makes enough to generously frost the cake with a bit leftover)

3 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

For the Cake:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 9 inch cake pans by lining with a circle of wax or parchment paper and spraying with Baker's Joy spray.

Combine the chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar to the chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and yolks on medium-low seed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, increase the speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg-sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thouroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by half of the buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition. Repeat using half of the remaining flour mixture and all of the remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until the batter is thouroughly combined. Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached 25 to 30 minutes.

For the Frosting:

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the confectioners' sugar and salt and beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until the mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, add the vanilla extractm and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the melted and cooled chocolate. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice.