Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TWD: Lemon-Drenched Vanilla(ish) Cakes

The really awesome Wendy of pinkstripes chose this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes. Both "rum-drenched" and "vanilla cakes" sounded great to me in a vacuum, but after years of trying, really trying, to like boozy desserts, I've finally accepted that I'm just destined to be a dessert teetotaler. If I like a cake with rum in it, you can be sure that would like the cake without rum in it even better. Therefore, I decided to skip the rum and instead go with the lemon variation suggested by Dorie.

I was so happy to see that this was a loaf cake, and a simple one at that. My other baking project over the weekend was to try to make a chocolate swiss roll cake that looked like a lightsaber - a test run for my son's birthday in a couple of weeks. I'd never made a roll cake before, or used rolled fondant for that matter. Suffice it to say that after my practice round I am not brimming with confidence about my ability to pull off the edible lightsaber under pressure. I've got the bakery on speed dial, just in case. But a loaf cake? That I could do.

This cake is hand mixed -- no mixer required. That endeared the cake to me immediately, especially because my beloved Kitchen Aid started to make some ugly squeaking noises during the lightsaber batter mixing. I don't even want to think about My Precious conking out on me, and since this cake was mixed by hand, for five minutes I didn't have to. This is a straight up mixing process -- combine the dry ingredients, whisk eggs into sugar (since I was doing the lemon version, I first rubbed lemon zest into the sugar), add vanilla (Dorie says that the rum/vanilla version depends on the "very best vanilla you could find" - presumably vanilla beans from Tahiti or Madagascar, but since I was just doing the modified lemon version, I went with the very best vanilla I could find in my pantry - Kirkland Signature Pure Vanilla Extract from Costco), then whisk in heavy cream. Finally, add in the dry ingredients and fold in melted and cooled butter. Pour into a loaf pan and bake.

After the cake is out of the oven, poke a bunch of holes in it with a skewer or something similar, and then brush the cake with a simple syrup of sugar, water, and, (for the lemon version I did) lemon juice. I've never drenched a cake before - it was tons of fun!

The results? Wow, we really love this cake. The crumb is exactly as Dorie describes - tight, compact and sturdy, but still soft and moist. The lemon flavor here was fabulous - I LOVED how the lemon syrup infused the cake with extra tartness. This cake is delicious enough to stand on its own, but it would also be great with berries and cream, lemon curd, etc. It's been a while since I made the French Yogurt Cake, another lemon cake that we adored around here, so I can't really say which is better. But it would be hard to beat this one for the total "simplicity and pure deliciousness" package.

Run, don't walk, to Wendy's blog to read more about this cake (and tons of other fabulous creations) and for a daily dose of fun and adventure. Great pick, Pink!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TWD: Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake - Take 1

I first made this week's TWD recipe, Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake, on a whim one day after Amanda and I decided to bring Heather lunch. Heather is on bed rest with baby #4, and by gosh, Heather deserves some chocolate cake. Plus, the baby likes my baked goods, and we all want the baby to fatten up over the next few weeks, so any way you slice it, this chocolate cake had Heather's name all over it. I wanted the cake to be fresh as possible, so I baked it the morning of our lunch date, but I didn't really have time to do that, so the cake ended up ugly. That is my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Close your eyes:

Okay, you can open them now. If you did sneak a peek, I will tell you that the photo captured the cake at its absolute prettiest. It went downhill from there as it survived multiple car rides, elevator rides, the take out window at La Paz, the 40% off sale at Grandmother's Joy Children's Clothing Boutique, and temperature swings of 50 degrees depending on whether it was inside or outside. When Amanda and I finally got to Heather's, I quickly hid the cake in the refrigerator and hoped that I'd be able to sneak into the kitchen to cut it without anyone having the misfortune of seeing it. Because it's one thing to bake an ugly cake, it's another thing to bake an ugly cake when you've been baking cakes for two years straight. It is bruised and battered by now, but I do have my pride.

Fortunately, once it was sliced it pretty much looked like any sliced chocolate loaf cake, so my "ugly cake" secret was safe for another day. And it was delicious! We all enjoyed it, and it was the perfect way to cap off a light ladies' lunch of cheese dip and burritos.

Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake - Take 2

Much as I liked the cake, I almost didn't blog about it because of the ugly picture. So instead of doing the sane thing and posting about it in spite of the ugly picture, I decided to bake it again. Just a half recipe this time, in mini loaf pans. I rationalized my bizarre behavior by telling myself that I could keep it in the freezer so that I'd have something on hand if unexpected guests arrived. The prospect of "having dessert in the freezer for unexpected guests" never fails to persuade me to go ahead and bake that unnecessary dessert, notwithstanding the fact that in the 19.5 years since I've reached adulthood, I have never once had an unexpected guest. If my doorbell rings unexpectedly it is either (1) the UPS man, or (2) a guy in a pickup truck asking if I want to buy pine straw. But I think I inherited my freezer-stocking compulsion from my grandmother, who regularly kept things in her freezer for unexpected guests (although she actually had unexpected guests -- so many, in fact, that at some point I imagine it ceased to be unexpected). I frequently watched her pull a pie out of nowhere when Uncle Bill and Aunt Theresa stopped by to play pinochle, or turn out some tea and cookies in two minutes flat for Rosie and Adeline, the sisters renowned for their housekeeping prowess - legend had it that they "cleaned on top of clean" (the highest compliment my grandmother could bestow on someone.)

So despite my historic dearth of unexpected guests, I now have one and a half mini dressy chocolate loaf cakes in my freezer at the ready, just in case. Thanks to the fabulous Amy Ruth from Amy Ruth Bakes for picking this wonderful, crowd-pleasing, freezer-friendly cake. Be sure to visit Amy Ruth and the TWD blogroll to see some beautiful cakes (and obtain actual relevant information about the cake!)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

TWD: Tender Shortcakes {my pick!!}

I know that many people know well ahead of time which recipe they will choose when their turn comes up in Tuesdays with Dorie. But there must be others like me, who really have no idea which recipe they'll pick, and then end up having a kind of out of body experience that involves typing "I choose the Tender Shortcakes" in response to Laurie's "Your turn to pick for June!" email. And who wake up the next day thinking "did I really pick the Tender Shortcakes over a gazillion other amazing-looking desserts in Baking? Let me check my sent items folder. Yes I did." Now, don't get me wrong -- I like strawberry shortcakes. But my sister has always been the real strawberry shortcake lover in the family - she'll choose it for her birthday dessert and order it in restaurants, and my mother will always serve it for dessert if she knows Diane is coming over for dinner. I, on the other hand, can usually be found rummaging through the pantry to see if there is anything in there that can be turned into chocolate cake.

But I was never going to pick anything chocolate, because I needed David, who has been my most faithful and loyal taster for the nearly two years I've been in TWD, to eat and review whatever I chose. And once I knew that I had a June pick, I started zoning in on seasonal recipes. Dorie calls these tender shortcakes "the quintessential shortcakes" and, well, I think of strawberry shortcakes as the quintessential summer dessert. So Tender Shortcakes it was!!

Some desserts/techniques have a reputation of being somewhat difficult or fussy (e.g., meringue, custard, caramel), and generally speaking, if they are difficult for anybody, they are difficult for me as well. Then there are the desserts that do not have a reputation for being difficult (e.g, brownies) but which manage to be difficult for me anyway (chronic underbaker here).

That brings us to biscuits, or members of the biscuit family (as these shortcakes are) which also have the reputation for being a tad tricky, yet which inexplicably have never given me any trouble. For whatever reason I am square with the biscuit/shortcake gods. I really hoped that this biscuit magic continued through these shortcakes, because I really didn't want to have to write a "fail" post for my week.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl:

Make sure your cold, unsalted butter is ready to go:

Drop the butter onto the flour mixture:

And then working quickly using your fingers (Dorie's preferred method) or a pastry cutter, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients:

At this point Dorie says you should have pieces the size of peas, the size of oatmeal flakes, and everything in between. {I also had many pieces the size of . . . flour, but (SPOILER ALERT) the finished product was fabulous anyway.}

Pour the cream over the dry ingredients and toss and gently turn the ingredients with a fork until you've got a very soft dough.

Spoon out about 1/3 of a cup of dough for each shortcake onto a baking sheet:

Pat each mound down until it is between 3/4 inch and 1 inch high:

At this point you can freeze the shortcakes on the baking sheet, and then wrap them airtight and keep them in the freezer for up to 2 months. I froze the dough for all of my shortcakes before baking them off, and the frozen shortcakes baked up perfectly after exactly 18 minutes in my oven. I love this "freeze the dough" technique -- it gives you the freedom to turn out fresh, delicious homemade shortcakes on a moment's notice.

With my shortcakes safely in the freezer, I set out to my favorite farmer's market to hunt down June's finest berries:

With my first round of shortcakes, I went with a combination of strawberries and blueberries. Top the berries with a little sugar to taste and let them sit for 10 minutes or so, until they are juicy. Once the shortcakes are baked and the cream is whipped, it's really just a matter of assembly.

Peach variation:

The verdict? One bite of these shortcakes and all second-guessing about my choice ceased immediately. David and I agreed that these are in a completely different universe from any other shortcake we've ever had. They are tender, flaky, and melt-in-your mouth delicious. They have just the right hint of sweetness while maintaining the buttery essence of a great biscuit. They are indeed the quintessential shortcake -- the perfect vehicle for the summer's bounty of fresh fruit and berries.

I hope that everyone enjoyed these shortcakes as much as we did. Thanks to my fellow TWD bakers for baking along with me this week! And thank you, Dorie, for another winner in the treasure trove that is Baking!

Tender Shortcakes, from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 10 shortcakes


4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream


Berries (about 1/2 cup per shortcake), hulled and slice if using strawberries
Lightly sweetened softly whipped cream


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.


Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces in between - and that's just right.

Pour the cream over the dry ingredients and toss and gently turn the ingredients with a fork until you've got a very soft dough. When the dough comes together, you'll probably still have dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl - just use a spatula or your hands to mix and knead the dough until it's evenly blended. Don't overdo it; it's better to have a few dry spots than an overworked dough. Even with all the flour mixed in, the dough will be soft and sticky.

Spoon out about 1/3 cup of dough for each shortcake onto the baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches of space between the mounts of dough. Pat each mound down until is is between 3/4 and 1 inch high. (The shortcakes can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept in the freezer for up to 2 months. Bake with out defrosting - just add at least 5 more minutes to the oven time.)

If you have more dough, repeat, cooling the baking sheet first.

Bake for 15 - 18 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back at the midway point, until the shortcakes are puffed and give just a bit when prodded. Pull the sheet from the oven and transfer the shortcakes to a cooling rack.


Put the berries in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar to taste and let sit for about 10 minutes, until they are juicy.

The cakes are tender and really pretty fragile, so go easy with them. Use a serrated knife and not much pressure to cut each cake in half horizontally. (Alternatively, you can use the tines of a fork to prick a ring around the middle of the shortcake, then use your fingers to gently pry the halves apart.) Put the bottom halves on plates, top with the berries - make sure to include some of the sweet juices - and spoon over some whipped cream. Put the tops on the shortcakes or lean them against the cream, my preference. If you decide to go for the open-faced shortcakes, you'll get two textures - moist and moister.
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