Independence Cake

For family occasions, I am the designated dessert maker. Our traditional Fourth of July dessert is chocolate cupcakes with American flags stuck in them (which I did do last year), but I didn’t have the flags or the chocolate and I wasn’t sure what to do. After turning over and rejecting various ideas (including éclairs), I settled on making a cake.

Surprise, surprise, the recipe I chose is from King Arthur flour (I do love them). It’s a classic, standard American cake, the kind that gets made for birthdays: golden vanilla cake.

It’s pretty much a one bowl cake, but it was more work than I anticipated. Each egg needs to be beaten in individually and the whole bowl scraped down in between each one, to ensure that the cake has enough air, presumably. And my cake had a lot of air: each of the layers domed hugely, making it necessary to cut off the tops. And as the pictures clearly show, there were holes throughout the cake.

To fill and cover the cake, I whipped about 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream with about 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla. I didn’t use quite all of the cream: 2 1/4 cups probably would have sufficed. I also layered the cake with raspberries freshly picked (by me) from my parents’ garden, and blueberries (store-bought). Then I slathered more cream on the bottom layer so there wouldn’t be any gaps.

To make sure the cake dish would be neat after I finished frosting the cake, I put four strips of parchment paper in a square underneath the cake and when I was done, I pulled them away: voilà! Clean cake stand. That’s a trick I got from Cook’s Illustrated. My husband helped me by slowing spinning the cake stand while I frosted, and by helping me with garnish (again, raspberries and blueberries for a red, white, and blue cake!). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the top of the cake until the last minute, when I decided a star was appropriate to the occasion, and I think it turned out really well.

The cake was moist and kept well. In fact, I think it was perhaps even better the second day. All in all, a satisfying endeavour.

Cranberry orange scones

In my newfound passion for scones, I have tried yet another recipe. In addition to the fruit flavors, this recipe has an option for adding allspice, which I liked well enough, but I plan on trying them without it next time.

Thanks to my silicone baking mat, I was able to get my dough into an exact 8″ round, the precision of which is pleasing to my inner baking perfectionist. The top is brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar.

Basil Parmesan Scones

Today I made my first-ever savoury scones, using a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website. When rolling out the dough, I shaped a square, rather than a rectangle, so I ended up with 32 small scones rather than 20.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold butter, cut in pieces
  • 2 large eggs (1 separated, white reserved for glaze)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • additional Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, cheese, salt, and basil. Add the pieces of butter, working them into the flour (as you would with pie crust) until the mixture forms even crumbs.
  3. Beat together 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk, and the buttermilk or yogurt. Stir gently into the dry ingredients until the whole thing clings together.
  4. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and pat it into a 1/2″-thick rectangle. Using a bowl scraper, baker’s bench knife, regular knife, or rolling pizza wheel, cut the rectangle into squares; cut each square in half diagonally, so you have triangular scones. Make them as large or small as you wish.
  5. Transfer the scones to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk the reserved egg white vigorously, until foamy. Brush each scone with egg white, and sprinkle with some additional Parmesan.
  6. Bake the scones for 10 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Ode to a Baked Potato, on First Coming Out of the Oven

Your salted skin,

Thin, crisply brown,

Conceals within

A wealth of starch,

And butter is

Your golden crown.

 

Though lowly born,

O child of earth,

Your value is

A ransom’s worth

To one who knows

A famine’s dearth.

 

The light of sun

You do not know,

But heated by

An oven’s glow,

You bring us warmth

From lands below.

Crème Brûlée

This Christmas I received a very exciting present: a chef’s torch, which neatly combines my love of making fancy desserts with my love of setting things on fire. I have wanted one since I was about 15 years old, and this year my husband obliged me. It was easy to fuel and use, not to mention being a (literal) blast!

The recipe I used was from King Arthur Flour’s website: Crème Brûlée. Straining the custard is very important for achieving the incredibly smooth and creamy texture. I used turbinado sugar instead of demerara, but it worked fine and caramelizing it was really fun. The instructions are simple, but so is the dish! Aside from all the equipment required . . .

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