Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Best Butter Cake Ever!

When Miss J's first birthday was approaching I of course wanted to flex my new found baking muscle, puny as it was. I knew I wanted to make her a butterfly cake and that I wanted the cake itself to be simple. To be honest I was more excited about the prospect of doing wonderful things with buttercream than the actual cake.

I can't say I'd ever made a butter cake before - vanilla cupcakes yes, but those attempts had left room for improvement. So I wanted to find a new recipe, one that was tried and true, so like all good Gen X cooks, turned to the Internet to help me. It was on Bakerella's blog that I found the recipe. Her post about it can be found right here, although she calls it a yellow cake - same same right? Americans sure love their cakes layered and I've found a lot of their cake recipes make a fairly large quantity of batter. This recipe made enough to fill a lamington tin (I think that's what it was) with enough left over for a mini-cake tin. Ordinarily it will fill 3 x 20 cm cake tins.

I made the cake the day before and covered the tin in cling wrap. It was beautiful the next day. The key to this cake being so moist and yummy is creaming the butter and sugar for a loooong time - I set mine to cream while I get all the other stuff measured and done. So, here it is...

Best Butter Cake Ever

1 cup of butter (room temperature)
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs (room temperature)
3 cups of sifted self-raising flour
1 cup of whole milk (room temperature)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and flour 3 x 20cm/8 inch cake tins, or whatever you choose to use.

Using a mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream for about 7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added.

Alternate adding flour and milk beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla to mix until just mixed. Pour batter in to tin/s. and then carefully drop the tin/s onto counter several times to ensure release of any air bubbles. This will help you have a more level cake (nice tip!).

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes (depending on your oven) until done. Cool in pans for 5 - 10 minutes. Remove and immediately wrap each layer in plastic wrap to seal in moisture. Cool completely on wire racks. Once cooled, you are ready to ice /assemble your cake.

OK so Miss J's big day was the hottest Sydney day all summer, so I had no choice but to refrigerate it after icing it. I have since read a great tip that says to use vegetable shortening instead of butter as it doens't melt as easily (also makes the icing whiter, better for adding colour). It was my very first attempt at icing anything big with buttercream and despite my fears of it all going horribly wrong, it actually came up kind of cute.

Hmmm, I think it looked better in real life. Anyway, it tasted great, so that's what really matters right? I even overheard my Mother saying 'she makes a good cake', which is the my-Mother-the-most-immodest-cook-ever equivalent of an Academy Award.

Next up... I made a variation! Chai Latte Butter Cake.

Friday, May 8, 2009

'Authentic' Red Velvet Cake

This was my first big-time experiment. I was hosting a High Tea for my girlfriends for my birthday and decided now was the time to give this a go. I had been wanting to try it ever since Ouisa uttered those immortal words 'it looks like roadkill' in Steel Magnolia's.

I wanted to find the most authentic recipe I could so I did lots of googling and reading and funnily enough it seems every Southern mom or grandma has a version, all of which I have no doubt qualify as authentic. So, it was not as easy as I thought. I did find that most recipes purporting to be authentic used shortening, not butter so I decided to give such a recipe a go. I have to say that I think this does really make a difference, particularly to the texture.

The credit for this goes to RSteve from a professional chef forum - Chef Talk. Thank you, whereever you are! RSteve says to use shortening not butter, as butter has too much water content - this maybe why the texture is different from a normal chocolate/butter cake.

Red Velvet Cake
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Copha is the closest in Australia - make sure its softened but not melted!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
60 grams red food coloring
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda sprinkled over 1 tbsp. vinegar

Prepare 2 x 23cm/9inch round tins. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.

Sift flour, salt & cocoa together. Add to the mix alternately with buttermilk. Beat after each addition.

Stir in baking soda and vinegar mixture. Add food colour (be careful here, I wasn't and you'd be amazed where red coloured cake mix can end up).

Bake for 30 minutes.

I actually made one large cake in a 20cm pan. Obviously I cooked it longer, but it still came out great. I used two of the little bottles of food colouring, which was still short but gave it good colour. An extra bottle would probably make it REALLY red, and good gels or powders would probably also make a more vibrant red. Regardless, I was happy with the redness factor for my first go. I cooled it in the tin and covered it overnight ready to be iced on the day.

Now, almost as conflicting as an authentic red velvet recipe, is what icing to use. Cream cheese is the consensus, but many Southeners claim a kind of boiled icing is the traditional type to use. Many also put a coating of pecan nuts on the finished cake as well. I felt the boiled icing was too much work, so opted for a cream cheese one. I used the recipe from the Crabapple Bakery cookbook.

I cut the cake in half and levelled the top - always a good idea, mainly because it gives the cook a chance to sample their efforts ;) . Here is what it looked like when I sliced it in half.

Nice swirled effect hey! Sorry about the bad lighting. So, a good layer of icing in the middle, place the second layer on and then ice with the remainder. I had tinted mine slightly, to look a bit girly, but here is the finished result

And upon digging in:

Yummmmmm!!! Don't expect your usual chocolate cake, the texture and flavour is different from anything else I have had before. Its chocolatey, but not a chocolate cake. It looked like it should be dry, but it was really quite moist. You NEED the cream cheese frosting, it cuts through the denseness of the cake and makes the experience complete.
I will be making this again.
Next up... the most perfect butter cake EVER

Pink Rocky Road

I just thought I'd note this idea down, as its a nice simple one for a little girl's party (and big girls' parties too ;) ) but looks and tastes yummy.

Take 400g white chocolate (I used melts, but I find melts always give a watery taste when they are melted and then reconstituted - I'd suggest using Cadbury Dream), and melt it! I confess, I melt all my chocolate in the microwave. You just need to make sure the melting recepticle is microwave safe (obviously) and completely dry, take it in 30sec increments, always give a good stir. Stop zapping when there are still a few lumps left as they will come out when you give it a final stir - any longer and it could be bad news. I find it usually take no more than 1 1/2 - 2 mins tops.

Add a few drops of pink food colouring - how much is up to how pink you want it. Stir in some desicated coconut. Chop up marshmallows and red snakes or raspberry lollies or turkish delight (or some of each if you really want to) - throw that in too, and mix so everything is nice and coated.

Put into lined tin, and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours until set. Then chop into bite size pieces.

Et voila!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

OK so I guess its about time I actually posted a recipe. But first a small disclaimer: with my first few experimental recipes I, of course, did not take too many pictures so unfortunately there aren't many 'step-by-step' type scenarios. I have some of the finished product though.

I am going to try and put up the results of my experimentation in rough chronological order, so this sees me begin with Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing. I was inspired to try this out based on the gorgeous cookies given as favours at my very good friend Kaz's kitchen tea (I have a suspicion they came from Polka Dot cakes who do gorgeous cookies as well as amazing cakes) and also by one of the ladies from my online Mother's Group who does amazing decorated cookies also.

I used the Joy of Baking recipe - this website is great as it gives you quite a detailed background about the method before the recipe, which I've found most useful.

Sugar Cookies:

1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (approx. 227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

With either an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (at least 3 minutes).

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in cling wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees, with the rack in centre of oven. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Remove one half of the chilled dough from the fridge and on a lightly floured surface roll out to a thickness of 1 cm. Keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure the dough does not stick to the bench. Cut out desired shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter and transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes to chill the dough which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking (this is optional, they seem to turn out OK if you skip this step but I may have just been lucky).

Bake cookies for about 10 minutes (depending on size) or until they are brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. Then you can ice them if you wish. Makes about 36 cookies.

Royal Icing:
2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups icing sugar, sifted (note, use the pure stuff, not icing mixture)

Using your electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. This makes about 3 cups.

At this stage you can colour the icing if you wish, or divide between bowls to make different colours. Make sure you cover the icing if you won't use it straight away as it will harden.

To make the icing thicker, add more icing sugar. To thin it out, add water.

After making these, I found some awesome royal icing tips on the Cake Journal site. Her step by step tutorials are very good and easy to follow. Essentially, the trick is to use a thicker icing to pipe an outline, then use a thinned down icing to 'flood' or fill in the cookie. She also gives great tips on icing the cookies with fondant.

So as you can see on my first attempt, I used a thicker icing and basically slathered it on. I found some lovely packets of 'fairy' sprinkles at my local supermarket which I added for that touch of, well, fairiness (they were for a little girls 1st birthday party). I made some more in a butterfly shape for Miss J's 1st birthday in February, using the outline and flood technique but unfortunatley no pics. They still weren't perfect, but sure tasted good!

The biscuits themselves are a very nice, very more-ish plain biscuit. I could definitely eat lots of them. The icing is faintly lemony and a nice addition. Upon tasting my first one it brought back some vivid 'taste memories'. I soon figured out that what I had made here was the home-made version of one of my all-time childhood favourites, Iced Animal Biscuits. D'oh!! All this time lamenting I couldn't get them here in Australia and all they were was simply a sugar biscuit with royal icing! No longer will I go without.

Next up... 'Authentic' Red Velvet Cake

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

You put the lime in the coconut

Those who know me, know that 99% of the time I choose citrus flavored sweet stuff over chocolate. I do love it when people combine both, so I don't have to choose, like those lime Cointreau truffles you get at DJs, but I digress. I used to suck lemons as a kid. No, really...I used to ACTUALLY suck the lemons. Hmmm. And one of my favourite combos is lime and coconut.

So today at work we had one of those farewell morning tea things. I didn't attend but our lovely office manager brought me in some of the cake. There were two, a tiramisu looking concoction that she had swooned over (she is a bit of a foodie I might add). It had these gorgeous toffeed nuts on top. Yum. but 'twas the second one that made my heart sing. Without doubt, the yummiest coconut cake I've ever had. Oh lordy me, I really can't describe how good it was. And yes, lime was there too - lovely flecks of rind through the lightest coconut cake I've ever had, but it was present in some other way too - and not in the delicious cream cheese icing either. I had a hunch as to who may be responsible for it and yes, its Yael's Cakes of Distinction. And its a lime syrup that's responsible for the lime yumminess factor.

I have a good recipe for coconut cake at home, so standby for experimentation! But in the meantime if someone offers you a chance to taste Yael's lime and coconut, do not walk, RUN as fast as you can to secure your slice of heaven.