Monday, June 23, 2008

A Recipe in Honor of the Home Baker

Pin It
I profit from your culinary cluelessness, from your utter lack of time to bake Bucky's 9th birthday cake.  I get up at 3:30am, drag my cranky self fifteen miles to the shop and start up my industrial ovens.  My right hand man Tim and I crank out hundreds of pastries, filling the cold case with individual mousses, cheesecakes, layer cakes, eclairs.  On top of the case, we deposit tray after silver serving tray piled high with flaky croissants, Danish, scones, teacakes.  My gargantuan wall calendar is littered with custom cake orders for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations...you name it. This is my job, my bread and butter.  It's also a calling and an utter joy.

I'm home schooled, at the knee of my mother and through my own obsessive adoration of butter and sugar.  I'm in awe of the profound impact a well made cake, even a cookie, can have on our fondest memories.  And while I remember, with vivid clarity, the fourth birthday cake my mother bought at the corner pastry shop in Salzburg, Austria (almond cake, with almond cream filling, sculpted marzipan clown heads dotting the perimeter), the cakes my mother made with her own hands, I remember those with a fondness and deep affection that can only come from something made by mom or dad.  My friend Agnes has an unhealthy affinity for food that's been badly charred.  Her mom was a spectacularly negligent chef, burnt everything.  But Agnes will catch a whiff of scorched toast and wax nostalgic.  Such is the heady magic of a parent feeding their child, if not with culinary adequacy, then with love.

While I make my scratch from baking birthday cakes for my Vermont neighbors, I'd understand completely if every once in a while they want to take a crack at it themselves.  And with the economy like it is, I think we'll be seeing a renaissance in home baking and a significant increase in happy sugar laced family memories.

So if you're inclined, I'd like to contribute to your culinary rebirth and share a very good vanilla cake recipe.  It's user friendly, versatile and tasty.  You can skip the vanilla and use lemon, cherry or almond extract.  Add blueberries to the batter.  Mix it up.  This cake can take it.

VANILLA CAKE

Ingredients:

8 ounces room temperature unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
5 room temperature eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon genuine, NOT imitation, vanilla (or 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds gently scraped from interior)
1 1/4 cup non-fat buttermilk

Equipment:

Three 8" cake rounds
Non-stick cooking spray
Parchment paper
Rubber spatula
Stand mixer with whisk attachment
Directions:

Preheat oven to 325.

Spray the cake rounds with non-stick spray.  Tear or cut parchment into rounds to cover the bottom of each pan.  Spray the top of the parchment round once it's in place.


Sift together flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside in a bowl or onto a sheet of parchment paper.  

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  At least 5 minutes on high speed.  I mean it.  It if takes longer, it takes longer.  Scrape sides of bowl every few minutes using the whisk attachment or a rubber spatula.  This is crucial. Otherwise you're going to be left with errant chunks of butter in your finished batter.  You'll get little pockets of butter and sugar in the finished cake, crunchy divots in an otherwise beautifully moist cake.  Patience!

Add eggs one at a time.  Making sure each egg is perfectly incorporated before you add another. Scraping down sides of bowl after every few eggs.  Add vanilla extract and/ or vanilla seeds.

Add flour and buttermilk in alternative pours, about 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of buttermilk each go.  Mix on slow speed and scrape the bowl during the process.  I know, it's a pain in the butt.  It's worth it.

Once everything is well incorporated, use a plastic
spatula to fold the batter a few more times to make
perfectly sure you've got everything will mixed.

Divide the batter between your cake pans.  Bake in preheated oven for twenty to forty minutes.  Check for doneness by pressing gently on the cake.  If you leave an indent, not done.  If it bounces back gently without leaving a mark, done.  If the cake doesn't budge when you poke it, over done.  Start over.  Waste of expensive ingredients.  So be Johnny or Joannie on the spot.

Let your cake cool completely before filling.