August 18, 2012
Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Buttercream Icing

It’s the weekend.  Fittingly, this is a weekend cake.  Not that it’s especially difficult.  But it is time consuming. There are many steps requiring many tools and many bowls and many stages of beating and baking and frosting and chilling and many, many dishes.  And if that weren’t bad enough, there are many calories.  Maaaaaany.  Do you know how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar you are about to consume?  MANY.

But it’s worth it.  Particularly if you have someone to impress: a birthday, a neighbor, a mother-in-law, a coworker.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s indulgent.  It’s the perfectly not-too-sweet yet incredibly moist chocolate cake paired with the way-sweet people-will-go-bonkers-for-this icing.  (Particularly if they’re fond of grocery store icing the likes of Publix or Giant.)(Looking at you, Ms. Freshy and Mr. Landlord.)  It’s definitely a weekend cake.  It requires an idle afternoon and a whole lot of caloric justification.

As for the beets?  You can’t taste them.  Promise.  The cake is a standard chocolate cake (fairly mellow, not terribly rich or dark) that is fabulously fluffy and moist.  The beets and buttermilk (or in my case, yogurt) are to thank for said moisture and lightness.  The icing is rich and buttery and sweet (and hot pink!).  An unsuspecting recipient would be none the wiser.  If only I hadn’t told the landlord there were beets — we’d be plum out of cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Buttercream Icing
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Beets:
2 medium beets, stems cut and peels intact
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Cake:
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk, as I did)

For the Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar (1 box), sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

To make the Beets:
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Thoroughly wash beets and trim stems.  Place on a large piece of foil and drizzle with a conservative splash of vegetable oil.  Seal foil pouch and place on baking sheet; roast until beets are tender, about 45-50 minutes.  (Alternatively, next time you find yourself making beets for dinner, plan ahead.  Roast extra beets and refrigerate or freeze until needed.  I did exactly this and saved myself a solid hour and an extra step of prep.)

Once cooked through, remove beets from oven and open foil to cool completely.  Once cooled, peel beets with a paring knife (or hands; although your palms will be stained hot pink, beet skins slide right off).  Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.*  Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting.  Set aside.

(*Note: My beets were cut into 1/2-inch pieces, as they were left over from a previous dish.  Rather than try my temper and bloody my hands with ity bity pieces against a box grater, I popped those badboys into the food processor.  Voilá.  Done in a blink.)

To make the Cake:
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees.  Use butter to grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.  Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan.  Cut it out and place inside the cake pan.  Butter the parchment paper.  (As I said, lots of steps.  The double greasing of the pans and the parchment paper is well worth the insurance.  The cakes will slide right out.  Better still, save the edges of the parchment to wrap around the base of your finished cake to protect your cake stand from icing splatters.  Brilliant.)  Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go along.  Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Beating on low speed, slowly add buttermilk.  Once incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Take care not to overmix; manually folding ingredients with a spatula works well too.  Batter will be thick and an ugly brownish-mauve color (don’t fret, it will bake into a standard chocolate brown).

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan).  A tester inserted will come out clean.  Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.

To make the Icing:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth.  Add butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.  Scrape down bowl as necessary. Beat in beets.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky.  Refrigerate icing for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand or cake plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink icing and spread evenly.  Place the other layer on top and frost.  Work icing onto the sides of the cake.  (There will be plenty of frosting and you’ll likely have quite a bit left over.)  Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice)(and oddly enough, this cake tastes great chilled).  Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

July 18, 2012
Plum Cake

This is a simple, buttery cake.  Visually, it’s a summer stunner.  Taste-wise, it’s more autumn.  Both the use of cinnamon and Deb’s comment that it was more a late summer/early fall cake should have clued me in, but somehow I was still surprised by the spice.

While I probably won’t make this cake again with the temps soaring well into the hundreds, I will certainly file it away for when the air is crisp and the body craves warm cider and spice.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup canola oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 purple or red plums, halved and pitted

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a large (9 or 10 inches) pie plate or 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together.

In a larger bowl using an electric mixer (or stand mixer), beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each.  Beat in the oil, lemon zest, and vanilla; the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny.  Reduce speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and under the batter, to make sure everything is incorporated.  Scrape the batter into greased pan and smooth the top.  Arrange the plums cut side up (I arranged mine in a circle around the edge of the dish), pressing them so they settle into the batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack and cool.  Serve at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar or served alongside vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Cake will keep at room temperature for up 2-3 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.  This is a cake that gets better with age.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

June 19, 2012
Cake Saw

So this is pretty much the best thing ever.  It’s a cake saw.  I randomly stumbled upon it a few months ago and immediately earmarked it for the landlord’s birthday.  Happy cake has come and gone, and was made all the more awesome with this nifty little thing.

Happy Birthday, Babiecakes!

May 31, 2012
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

What does one do with a whole pineapple?  The first half is sliced and savored for breakfast for a week.  The second half is caramelized in butter and brown sugar and baked into a cake.  The first half is refreshing and delightful — a harbinger of summertime.  The second half tastes downright sinful.

Ingredients for topping:
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

Ingredients for batter:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup spelt flour (can substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum or rum cream
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum (or rum cream) for sprinkling over cake

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut pineapple into 1/2-inch pieces.  In a cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add brown sugar and simmer, stirring into a smooth and fragrant caramel, for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Arrange pineapple on top of caramel in concentric circles, snugging pieces together.  Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add sugar and incorporate.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well.  Beat in vanilla and rum.  Add half of flour mixture and beat on low until just incorporated.  Beat in pineapple juice, and then remaining flour mixture, beating until incorporated.  Batter may appear curdled; don’t panic.

(Note: My pineapple didn’t yield as much juice as I anticipated, so I pulverized some fresh pineapple with the immersion blender and substituted about 1/4 cup pulp alongside about 1/4 cup juice.)

Gently pour batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly.  Bake cake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Let stand in skillet five minutes.  Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together).  Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet.  Sprinkle rum over cake and cool on plate on a rack.  Serve cake just warm or at room temperature.

A perfect cake — not too light, not too heavy — topped with sticky caramel and lusciously sweet pineapple.  Stand aside, chocolate.  Decadence has a new flavor.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

April 3, 2012
Strawberry Equinox

Two weeks ago we had a mess of friends over to celebrate vernal equinox.  Equinox parties are something my parents have done since we were young and I figured it was about time I carried the baton.  First of all, who doesn’t like a good party and the coming of spring?  Secondly, who the hell has ever heard of an equinox party?  Precisely.  While others vie for attention on say New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July, equinox is virtually wide open on everyone’s calendar.  Double score.

I put the landlord in the poor house with the copious amount of booze I bought.  (Whoopsies.)  I’m pretty sure the dude at the liquor store thought I was throwing a frat rager.  All we were missing was the keg.

As for munchies, I put together a smorgasbord of tasties: a gorgeous array of cheeses, charcuterie, plump honey-injected apricots, assorted nuts, olives and pappadew peppers, deviled eggs, radish coins paired with parmesan, spicy date and lemon spread, fig and olive tapenade, sun-dried tomato pesto, and no shortage of baguettes and crackers to slather with all of the above.  I made almost everything myself, shy of the meats and cheeses and assorted accoutrements.

For the sweet tooths I made chocolate chip and lemon cookies and piled them high on virtually every surface in the apartment.  Who doesn’t love a cookie to wash down their bourbon?

The crowning glory of the evening was the strawberry cake, whose very existence the landlord was against from the get-go.  “No one will eat it.  What if it’s dry?  Who eats fruit desserts?  Why cake?”  But my mind was made up.  I wanted something sweet and spring-like and a bit different and special.  Yummy as brownies are, they’re not particularly attractive or unique.  I wanted something memorable.  This cake delivered.

Essentially a vanilla cake with fresh strawberries baked into the top, this cake is simple and straightforward.  The ratio of effort to reward is well in its favor.

About an hour into the party, someone said they couldn’t take it any longer and could they dive in?  So I sliced this baby up and passed it around — it really is beautiful and alluring.  Guess who came up to me almost giddy with approval.  “You have to try it.  It’s moist and sweet and perfectly baked — it’s amazing.”  Mmhmm.  High praise from the chocolate lover.

It’s basically the cake you want to give to someone to showcase ripe spring or summer fruit as well as your baking prowess.  What?  Sometimes it’s good to impress people.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup spelt flour (can substitute barley or all-purpose flours)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 10-inch pie plate or a deep 9-inch pie plate.  The cake will also work in a 9- or 10-inch springform pan but will not work in a regular 9-inch pie plate (it will overflow).

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.  Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined.  Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until smooth.

Pour mixture into buttered pie plate.  Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter in a single layer.  Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 325°F and bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.  Cool completely on a rack.  Serve with lightly whipped cream or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

So. Crazy. Good.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

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