Sunday, March 23, 2008

Best Darn Yellow Cake Period

Maybe I should have titled this blog "The Intuitive Baker." I really do cook; I just have been leaning toward baking recently because I don't have many occasions to make non-desserts for a crowd. Today is an exception, though, being Easter. My friends are having a potluck, and I'm excited. There will be paczki, which I've heard of but never tried (I've actually never even had a regular old jelly doughnut, to be honest), and maraschino cherry cupcakes, and other than that I know not what. But the dessert spots were quickly claimed, so I decided to bring potatoes au gratin, keeping up my streak of cooking things for large groups of people that I've never made before.

If they come out great, I'll post the recipe, of course. But for now, here's one I promised a while ago. I adapted this recipe from an edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from the early 1940s.
Best Darn Yellow Cake Period

½ c butter (I use salted), at room temperature
1 c sugar
3 eggs
½ c milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond or orange extract (optional but delicious)
1½ c flour, plus a little
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy (much longer than you'd beat them for most cakes), then add the milk and vanilla, as well as the almond or orange extract if you're using it. Whisk to combine, then add the wet ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, whisking until most of the lumps are gone. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently stir (spoon will probably work better than whisk at this point) until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Pour into a 9x9 square pan (you can line it with nonstick foil if you like, but I've never had this cake stick) and bake until golden brown on top, about 40 minutes.

Quick Buttercream

In a medium bowl, start with ¼ c softened butter and about 1 c powdered sugar. Whisk until combined. Now you have to decide what flavor buttercream you want. For chocolate, get some cocoa; for mocha, cocoa and coffee; for orange or lemon or lime, that flavor juice; and so on. The possibilities are basically endless. Add more dry ingredient—cocoa or powdered sugar, most likely—until the mixture feels stiff when you stir it, and then dribble in the wet (you can use milk or water if you aren't trying to add flavor with the liquid) until the mixture is a little more liquid than you want it. Taste it and see if the flavor is strong enough; if not, add more flavoring of whatever sort, making sure that your ending consistency is a little more liquid than you want your final product to be. Finally, whisk in more powdered sugar until your frosting is soft, but spreadable. Starting with this amount of butter should produce about enough frosting for the above cake, unless you get fancy and cut it into layers, in which case you'll either need more frosting, or else some kind of filling.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Use the above recipe for yellow cake, but replace the milk with pineapple juice (one can of rings will provide enough) and add 1½ teaspoons of amaretto to the batter if you have it. Before you make the batter, melt 1 stick of butter in the pan (just stick it in the preheating oven for a minute or two), stir in 1½ cups brown sugar, and lay down 1 can of pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the holes. Make the cake batter and bake the cake as in the above recipe. Make sure to let the cake cool for at least half an hour before turning it out onto a cookie sheet or platter.
This cake is what made James tell me that I'm officially his house baker. I might still let him make cookies, but when it comes to cakes, I'll happily do the work if I get to eat this cake as my reward.

I have a good chocolate cake recipe to share, too, but it's not the rich, ├╝ber-chocolatey cake that many people think of, and I'm searching for a recipe for that so I can present the two together as delicious alternatives. Feel free to let me know if you have a good recipe for moist, dark chocolate cake: the sort you can imagine filling with raspberry preserves and covering in chocolate ganache.

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