Thursday, May 31, 2012

Piece of Cake

Except this recipe was not. I should start by saying the recipe I posted on Tuesday is pretty simple. Especially as cakes go. This recipe is not. The cake is beautiful and super delicious. But it was a labor of love. I'm not saying I won't make it again, but probably only for special occasions. I had been wanting to make this cake for a really long time, and I'm so glad I did. It was the perfect birthday cake for me to make for myself. I really got to fuss and enjoy the baking process. A few notes: don't forget to take it out of the fridge about an hour before you serve it. I did forget. It was still amazing, but I think a little bit more softness would have just improved it. Also, I had a lot of extra orange blossom simple syrup left over. I think I should have brushed more into the cake to increase the orange flavor. The orange was very slight and a little more would have been nice. Looking back at the recipe, I could have used more berries. I think my cake was great, but more wouldn't have hurt. Finally, plan ahead. You need to chill the syrup for two hours before using it and chill the cake for two hours once completely assembled. So, I'd even recommend making the syrup the day before.

Orange Layer Cake with Berries
from Bon Appetit

4 1/2 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole milk
9 large egg whites

Orange-flower syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon orange-flower water (try specialty stores or liquor stores)

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 12-ounce container fresh strawberries
1 6-ounce container fresh raspberries
1 4.4-ounce container fresh blueberries

I started by preparing the pans. I sprayed each pan, laid down parchment, sprayed again, and floured.
In a small bowl, I whisked together the flour, salt and baking powder.
In a large bowl, I mixed together the butter and 1.5 cups of sugar. I added the vanilla and mixed again.
Then I started adding the flour mixture and the milk, alternating until everything was incorporated. The batter is thick- almost like pound cake batter.
In a separate bowl, I started to mix together the egg whites. You read the recipe correctly- you need nine of them.
When the mixture is frothy, it only takes about a minute, add the last 1/2 cup of sugar.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form- a few minutes should be fine.
Add the egg whites in 3 batches and fold in gently. Be patient with the mixture, it takes a little time to fold in completely. But it makes a huge difference- the batter is so light and fluffy.
Pour the batter into both pans and smooth the tops.
Bake for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick can be removed cleanly. Cool the cakes in the pan for about ten minutes, then remove and cool completely (remove parchment also).
Once the cake is completely cool, start the frosting. Beat together the butter and cream cheese. Add the powdered sugar and mix. Finally add the orange flower or blossom water and mix again. Take about 3/4 cup of the icing and put it in a small bowl. Add the marmalade to the small bowl and stir.
To put the cake together, start by trimming off the top. You only need to trim off a little to make sure it's super flat. It also helps absorb the orange blossom simple syrup. To make the syrup (evidently I forgot to take a picture of that step), put the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about five minutes. Whisk a bit to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the orange blossom water, stir. Cover and chill. Ok, so back to the cake. Either spoon or brush the syrup over the top of the cake. You want the cake to be on a plate with a lip.

Put a small amount of the regular icing in a bag- a small sandwich bag works fine. Snip off the corner with scissors. Pipe a border of frosting around the cake. This just helps keep things in place. Then spoon the marmalade-frosting mix into the center and spread out evenly over the cake.
Lay down berries on top of the cake. Note: Make sure you core the strawberries after you cut them into wedges. It helps the berries lay flat. You can also push the berries into the icing a bit.
Put the next cake layer on top of the berries. Do so gently. It's precarious, I know. Spoon/brush the rest of the syrup over the top of the second layer.
Frost the rest of the cake. Here's how I did it. First, I frosted the top of the cake. Don't be too fussy initially, just get a layer down. Then, frost the sides of the top layer, then the bottom layer. Take your remaining frosting and squish it into the gap all the way around. Then, take a knife or a frosting took and run it around the side to smooth things out.
Lay a bunch of berries on the top of the cake. I could have use a few more berries, but it looked pretty gorgeous anyway. Chill for two hours or more.
These pictures are a bit deceiving, but this cake is massive. The layers are really thick. But it was so delicious and fresh and pretty!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That Weekend in Which I Went Crazy with Cakes

Yesterday was my birthday. I really missed my bf. But all in all, it was a pretty darn good weekend even if he wasn't with me. My mom and I attended a cooking class (I'll write about that later this week), I had a big family dinner on Saturday, had brunch with my parents yesterday morning, treated myself to a massage yesterday, and my beloved Giants gave me a win yesterday. As you all know I've been bemoaning my lack of baking time lately. I really made up for it with a vengeance. I didn't do any work on Saturday and pretty much baked all day. It was such a luxury and really the best gift I could have given myself. Since my brother's birthday is exactly one week before mine and my niece's is the day after that, we did a big dinner for all three of us on Saturday. I had been wanting to try a new cake (also coming this week), but in observance of tradition, I had to make my brother his favorite Sour Cream Chocolate Cake. This cake is actually quite simple to make, but a word of warning: this cake is not for the ambivalent chocolate consumer. It is insanely rich. The cake is actually quite moist, it's the chocolate. It's amazing. But so beyond decadent. If you love chocolate you must try this recipe, but don't tell me I didn't warn you when you can't finish your piece.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
 1 cup water
¾ cup sour cream
¼ cup butter, room temperature
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted

Frosting (makes a lot- may half the recipe, or make the whole thing and use the extra on cupcakes, I'd suggest vanilla)
½ cup butter
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup sour cream ( do not use non-fat sour cream)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Start by greasing and flouring two 9 inch pans. I would also recommend you use parchment paper. So grease the pan, lay down the parchment circle, grease the parchment and then flour.
Put all of the ingredients in a bowl. At once. Mix for about 30 seconds at low speed and scrape down the side. Mix for another minute or so, or until just combined. Do not over mix, this recipe is just like brownies and you really don't want to over stir.
Put the cakes into the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove when a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly. Do not over cook. Let the cakes cool for about ten minutes in the pans, then remove them and let cool completely on cooling racks.
When the cake is cooled, melted together the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Set aside and let cool for a few minutes. Then put the chocolate in a bowl and add the sour cream and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix again until combined.
Put a large amount of frosting on top of the first layer. Use a lot of frosting in the middle. Trust me.
Finish frosting the cake. Use a lot of frosting on the top because you won't be able to use much on the sides. The frosting is rather runny (and is supposed to be) so you can't pile up a thick layer. That's ok, you don't need it. Leave the cake at room temperature or put it in the fridge. I personally like it cold better, but it's totally up to you.
Here are my cakes. Ridiculous I know.
Here is the inside of the cake. Not the most attractive of pictures, I know. The cake had started to sag in the front as I cut it into pieces, but it demonstrates how moist and gooey this bad boy is. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beautiful Words

Hello strangers! Yes, I know, it's been a pitifully long time since I've last posted. Since our last chat, I've been to Boston and back for my sissy's college graduation, attended a baseball game, turned in three papers, graded 65 midterms, read 8 books and 9 articles (I think, I've sort of lost track) and attended class. Not to mention, been really really sick, found a bit of time to sleep, and snuggled with Winston. I have 3.5 weeks left of the quarter and as much as I love my program, I'm ready for summer. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot to accomplish over summer, but a little breathing space is much needed. And perhaps most importantly, I need to cook.

My relationship with food is suffering. I'm rectifying the baking situation this weekend when I plan to make two cakes (one for my birthday and one for my brother's), but regular food and I have come across some tough times. The truth is, I need a life pause button and I know I'm not the only one. I want to want to cook. Really I do. I miss loving it. But, I don't really have time to try new things right now and I hate making my go-to, boring, barely scraping by meals over and over again. So I've been relying on cereal. and yogurt. and whatever leftovers my mom gives me when I see her. Mostly because I also don't have time to go grocery shopping. In the process I've sort of grown to resent eating. I don't have time to make proper meals, so trying to scrounge up something is not a fun process. It's more of a burden or annoyance. It's a rather sad state of affairs. It's not like I would be making super fancy, five course meals if I all of a sudden got a bunch of extra time. But have you been to a farmer's market lately? I'm dying to buy some produce and make something super fresh, delicious and simple. Frankly, I don't really want to, but I know as soon as I get back into it, I'll rediscover my love affair with food. I'm hoping to make a great flavor-filled dinner tomorrow which I can share, and of course I'll be back with my cake discussion next week. Then, once my summer comes, prepare yourself. Posts are going to be flying like hot cakes.

In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about food and meaning today. This entire post hovers dangerously near that existential line that I try never to cross, but bear with me. I read an article by Anthony Bourdain in this month's Bon Apetit. It's amazing. In his shows he obviously enjoys being iconoclastic, but he writing is truly lovely. His words are beautiful. I love that he is comfortable in the fanciest of restaurants or at a taco shack on some long-forgotten street in the ghetto. As I was reading his tribute to his father, there was one phrase that really stuck out to me; "a man of simple needs". This phrase resonated mostly because it's how I've always described one-half of my brother. His job is incredibly intellectual, yet in his off-time, he is a man of simple needs. Good food, good company, sports, alcohol, and sex. And he is one of the happiest, most-full-of-life people I know. In that way he is sort of similar to Bourdain. Granted, Bourdain is much more broody, sullen at times and occasionally cranky. But reading this article, I definitely saw the "embrace all of life" side of him. It was clear to me that he lights up around his daughter and generally seems pretty happy.

At this point, I'm sure some of you are wondering why in heaven's name I'm talking about this topic. I don't blame you, but here's my reason. I think sometimes I get bogged down in my head. Scratch that. I know I get bogged down in my head. To be fair, it's sort of my job as a graduate student to spend a lot of time there. But that really shouldn't define me, or rather, I need to limit how much my brain limits me. Instead of getting all wrapped up in stress and intellectual concerns, there needs to be time for me to enjoy food like I want to. This is why I say my relationship with food is suffering. I get so concerned about calories, and trying to be thrifty, but healthy and eating the right thing at the right moment. Not to mention, I don't spend more than five minutes on food on any given day (not normally, just this quarter).

I love food. It means a lot to me. My favorite moments almost always involve eating. It makes me happy. In some ways, I am very similar to my brother and Bourdain. I love Sour Patch Watermelson and the new kind of Cheez-It cracker (the Parmesan and Cheddar duo, trust me it's amazing). But I also love fancy restaurants, snobby cheese and decadent meals. The experience is really important too. I want more of this type of thing in my life, I miss it. I need to get back on track. Not on track like a diet, but back to my food happy place. I will get there, I know it. As soon as I finish the next few books...

Until then,


Monday, May 14, 2012

Dreaming of Kitchens

This last week has been a rough one. As you may have noticed, I only managed to get up one blog post and even if I had found time to write, I had absolutely nothing to write about. When I started this blog I made a few rules for myself. If it ever felt like a burden, I wasn't going to keep doing it. Also, as much as I love you all, it is fairly low on my priority list. School, bf, family, and my sanity have to come first. So last week, I simply didn't get to it. I tell myself I shouldn't feel guilty, after all, this little project isn't my job, I make absolutely no money off of it, and it all started as a hobby. But despite that highly rational discussion in my head, I still feel a bit guilty. I feel as though I have given my readers reason to expect a few posts a week, if only because usually, that's what I do. I want you all to know I want to be cooking. I'm dying to do some home crafts. But at this moment it's not in the cards. Bf will attest. There are simply not enough minutes in the day. In the meantime, I've been dreaming about making this cake.

It's an orange layer cake with buttercream frosting. I don't know what it is about this cake, but it's haunting me. In a pleasant, I can't stop dreaming about making it sort of way. I'll give you a moment to oogle at it with me......

Ok and I'm back. It will have to wait for a little while, perhaps I'll make it for my birthday (which is in two weeks by the way). Until then, in the absence of real substance, I thought I'd show you what else I've been dreaming about....gorgeous kitchens in which I will bake my gorgeous cakes. There is only one problem. I can't seem to figure out what kind of kitchen I'd like. I can see myself going for something light and bright like so....

This probably better articulates my light and bright fantasy.

Or something warm and mountain-y like this...

Most days I lean towards something like this gorgeous space, except with different floors.

But then there are days I want to embrace open space, inner green girl (these days are rare, I admit).

Then, finally, there are days that girly and eclectic seems pretty awesome.

I am quite certain I could make a lovely cake in any of these spaces. But how to choose (in my head of course, because these kinds of rooms are a looooong way off). Which would you choose? Which space is your favorite? I want to know!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Orange You Glad I Made These Muffins?

You know, as in, knock knock? Who is there? Orange. Orange who? Or-ange you glad I made these orange glazed muffins. Har har. I know, I'm hilarious.

These muffins are simply delicious. They are sweet because of the glaze, but nice and fresh because of the orange flavor. However, the orange isn't bitter or sour. They are perfect for summer and pretty darn easy to make. Nothing fancy to say because they muffins aren't super fancy, but they sure are good. As an aside, they also stay super fresh and moist after several days in an airtight container, so that's always a plus.

Orange Glazed Muffins
from here

For the muffins:
1 cup milk
½ cup orange juice
½ cup light sour cream
2 large eggs
2 sticks (16 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1½ tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Zest of 1 orange

For the glaze:
¼ cup orange juice
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tsp. orange zest

First, mix together the milk, orange juice, sour cream, eggs, and melted butter.
 In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
Add the wet ingredients until the dry and stir together.
 Then add the orange zest and stir again to make sure there aren't any clumps.
Divide the batter evenly between about 16 paper cups and bake at 350 for about 18-20 minutes. Let the muffins cool for about five minutes in the tin, then remove to a cooling rack.
In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, orange zest, and orange juice.
 Place the muffins on a baking sheet and then spoon the glaze over the muffins. I let the first layer of glaze drive for a few minutes and then spooned a little more glaze over the top of each muffin. The glaze will go everywhere. It's ok. You only need a little on each muffin and it will harden nicely.
The glaze gets a nice opaque look to it when it dries. It looks the shiny-ness and you can really see the bits of orange zest. So make sure you use a super fine grater! Then enjoy!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy May!

I know this post is a day late and it was May yesterday, but grad school is kicking my butt. Don't get me wrong, I plan to win the war, but I'm losing the current battle. Every surface of my apartment needs to be dusted, cleaned, organized or vacuumed. My fridge is empty except for the things that need to be emptied because they are trash. I had eggs for dinner last night and have been clocking 14-16 hours days every day for the last several days. Winston will bring me his mouse for fetch, I'll throw it and then realize an hour later that I forgot he brought it well as another mouse, a rubber band and a q-tip and is sitting there patiently waiting for me to throw something. Anywho, I wish I could say that I have some great posts coming tomorrow, but since the fridge is bare, we all know that would be a lie. I'm hoping in a few days I'll get my act together. I'll definitely try and have some posts this week, I'm just not sure they are going to be winning any awards. Don't say I didn't warn you.

On a less whiny note, here is my May calendar print. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. May is my birthday month and I love my birthday. Aren't April showers supposed to bring May flowers? WHERE ARE MY FLOWERS PEOPLE?!?!?! Instead I get a bird, which isn't even a cute little Egret, but instead is some long-beaked heron. I'm sure his female heron friend appreciates his long beak, but I don't. Terrible joke I know, I'm so sleep deprived my jokes don't even make me laugh. Clearly time to stop typing. See you soon.