Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cakewalk (incorporating Traditional British Food, Part 29)

Yes, it's been awhile. I've just had a set of weeks where everything conspires against me actually getting anything substantive done besides knitting. Paul was sick then I was sick. I haven't been ill in almost 2 years and I had forgotten how miserable it is! I could only taste things that were so spicy they made my lips numb. Kind of rules out traditional British food! It's amazing that the very things that would make me absolutely miserable with indigestion under normal circumstances are the only foods I can even consider consuming when I'm sick. Paul had to make a trip to pick up Chinese food and I ordered the biggest container of Egg Drop Soup I've ever seen in my life and proceeded to pour enough Sriracha into it to kill a cat. It was wonderful.

Thankfully for all concerned, I have regained my normal capacities and have returned to the kitchen. I love cake. I know that, as a woman, I'm supposed to have an insane and pathetic need for chocolate, but it doesn't really do it for me. However, I do have an insane (but I refuse to call it pathetic) need for cake. I've made two wonderful tea time treats since my recovery and I'm going to share them with you.

Before I get to the recipes, I'm going to tell you to snub cake mixes! You don't need them because you are a perfectly rational and capable person and cakes really are easy. Plus, if you're anything like me, you'll be absolutely bursting with pride when you set it on the table. And it'll be super yummy.

First, we have the cake that fits into my traditional British food project--Kerry Apple Cake, which according to the author of the original recipe, was served in Ireland for the holiday that is Candlemas/Imbolc/St. Brigid's Day (February 2nd).* Here's my adapted recipe:

Kerry Apple Cake

serves 12

2 cups cake flour
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons Demerara or sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8" square baking tin and line with parchment paper (be sure to leave enough hanging over the side so it's easy to remove the cake). Set aside.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and cut in the butter like you're making a pie crust. Next, stir in the salt, granulated sugar, baking powder and nutmeg. Add the apples and the eggs to the bowl and stir until the mixture is combined and moist. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin.

Sprinkle the Demerara or sanding sugar over the cake and put in the oven to bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Grab the ends of the parchment and pull the cake out of its tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack for a few minutes. Divide into 12 pieces. Serve when warm.

Remaining pieces can be wrapped in tin foil and frozen.


Second, we have a wonderful example of classic American baking (yes, we did get to have tea outside this week, very exciting):

Coconut Layer Cake

serves 12

6 ounces cake flour (1 1/2 cups)**
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 8" round cake tins. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream butter, then add sugar and cream together until light and fluffy. I use an electric beater. Beat in egg yolks.

Beat in flour in a couple of additions, alternating with milk. Beat after each addition until smooth. Stir in vanilla and fold in egg whites, being careful that the egg whites don't lose their fluffiness.

Divide batter (I use an ice cream scoop) between the two tins and bake in the middle of the oven 20 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack in their tins for about 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out on the rack to cool completely. This is very important! Don't even try to frost a warm cake! It will lead to disaster!

For the frosting:
This is a classic Seven Minute Frosting. I don't think people actually make it anymore, which is a shame. Well, we're going to remedy that. It's like a cross between marshmallow fluff and saltwater taffy and will make your kitchen sticky for days. It also is so easy to frost a cake with it--much easier than with buttercream frosting.

Combine all the ingredients, except vanilla, in the top portion of your double boiler (or in an aluminum bowl you're going to place on top of a saucepan). Beat with an electric beater until thoroughly combined. Bring the water in the bottom portion of the double boiler to a rapid boiler and put the top portion of the double boiler in place. Beat the mixture over boiling water for seven minutes. The mixture should now be thickened and glossy and looking very much like taffy being pulled, except much softer. Remove the top portion of the double boiler and turn off the heat. Add the vanilla and beat the frosting until it's thick enough to spread. It will be the thickness of marshmallow fluff or a little thicker. It will not be as thick as buttercream frosting. At this point, the frosting should be cooled, as well, so it will hold its shape when spread on the cake.

First, place the bottom layer of the cake (if you have a hump in the middle of your layer, place it facing up) on the cake stand and spread a layer of frosting on top of the first layer of cake. Use between 1/4 and 1/3 of the total amount of frosting to fill the cake. Next, place the second layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with gentle, circular motions. An offset spatula is well-nigh essential.

Finally, sprinkle coconut on top of the cake. I like to put the cake in the refrigerator for an hour or so before it's served, just to set everything up. This cake can be stored (covered) in the refrigerator for several days.

N.B., the coconut is totally optional, in case you're one of those people with a coconut phobia.

This recipe is adapted from a wonderful instructional manual I got at an estate sale: All About Home Baking, published in 1933 by General Foods Corporation.

*White Lennon, Biddy, Best of Irish Festive Cooking (Dublin: O'Brien, 2006), 15.
**The original recipe called for 2 cups sifted cake flour, meaning that the flour was sifted before it was measured and then sifted again when it went into the cake. I discovered, through the use of my food scale, that 1 sifted cup of flour weighed an ounce less than unsifted flour, thus 2 cups cake flour becomes only 1 1/2 cups. I think this is why many modern cake recipes seem so dry and heavy.