Baking With Julia: Gingerbread Baby Cakes

Gingerbread Baby CakesWow, has it really been two MONTHS since I posted anything?  Life got a little crazy and sad and real for a moment.  I assure you I’ve been baking right along with all of you, I just haven’t gotten around to writing and posting about it.  But now I’m back, my house smells like gingerbread and there’s a bunny nosing around my patio.  Can’t get much better than that.

This was a perfect recipe to return with — simple, comforting and delicious.  We just finished celebrating my son’s 4th birthday and I have to confess that after all the cupcakes and multicolored buttercream frosting, it was nice to indulge in a bit more grown-up dessert.

And another confession —

As I was making these cakes I got a little sentimental over their name.  Baby Cakes.  Because I finally have to admit, my own little baby is not a baby anymore.  My husband spent the birthday weekend breaking down the toddler bed and setting up the new big boy bed.  Which also meant packing away all the baby/toddler sheets, blankets, stuffed animals, etc.  That was followed by an overnight trip to Disneyland — which is where the bigger realization hit.

One year ago his favorite ride was Winnie the Pooh.  We rode it this trip, too.  Except afterwards he didn’t ask to ride it again.   And he didn’t care to go see Pooh and Tigger.  What did he want?  Big Thunder Mountain.  In one year we’ve gone from Winnie the Pooh to roller coasters.

So in honor of my own little “babycake,”  whip up a batch of these sweet treats and enjoy some quiet moments with those you love.

Thanks to Karen of Karen’s Kitchen Stories for hosting this week.  Visit her blog to see her beautiful version of this recipe as well as for the recipe itself.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake

This recipe got me and my husband feeling all sorts of nostalgic.  Maybe it was the mah jongg exhibit we’d been to earlier.  Maybe it was my mom’s 1960’s cake plate.  Maybe it was the smell of oats and almonds and ginger or maybe it was the ribbon of streusel running through this fluffy little cake.  No matter what it was, it made both of us long for whatever the modern-day equivalent of a bridge club is.  The kind of casual get-together that requires nothing more than a pot of coffee, a simple little cake, and some good old-fashioned conversation.

So friends, let’s get together.  Scrabble, poker, cocktails, game night — come on over.  I’ll make cake.  🙂

Thanks to our hosts this week – Marlise of The Double Trouble Kitchen and Susan of The Little French Bakery.  Check out their blogs to read about their baking experiences as well as for the recipe itself.

Tuesdays with Dorie: French Strawberry Cake

If at first you don’t succeed —

This week’s Baking with Julia recipe calls for a genoise cake layered with homemade strawberry syrup and vanilla whipped cream frosting.  One of the interesting things about genoise is that the cake doesn’t rise at all in the oven.  All the volume is created from beating eggs and sugar into a frothy batter which you try your best not to deflate when you gently fold in the flour.  Reading through the recipe, I was intrigued.  I was pretty sure I’d never made this type of cake before.  However, as I started baking, I realized that genoise and I actually have a long prickly history.

Many, many years ago (I believe it was around 7th grade or so) I attempted to make a Boston Cream Pie.  My mother had invited some friends over to visit, talk, gossip, drink wine coolers (or whatever it was school teachers and librarians did during their summer vacation.)  Somehow I got it in my head that I was going to provide dessert for them.  And it was going to be this Boston Cream Pie illustrated in one of my mom’s cookbooks.  Maybe I thought  it would make me seem grown-up.  Or smart.  Or sophisticated.  I don’t know.  I just know that for whatever reason I HAD to make that cake.

I measured.  I sifted.  I whisked.  And to show for my efforts, I ended up with two flat, flavorless disks.  Probably closer in texture and heft to a discus rather than a cake.  I took some comfort in the fact that once they were layered with custard and drizzled with chocolate, it looked pretty close to the picture.  Maybe, I thought, it wasn’t that bad.  I was wrong.

I hid in the hallway, listening for the sounds of forks sliding against plates and murmurs of “Mmm, this is delicious” and “I know I’m on a diet, but I just have to have another.”  They never came.  Slices were left largely untouched, a couple polite bites taken before the plate had been pushed aside.  I was devastated.  I remember discovering the uneaten globs of cake and custard in the trash can and going to my room and crying.

I tried the recipe once again, determined to get it right.  It didn’t happen.  To this day, I’ve never attempted to make a Boston Cream Pie again.

So back to the Strawberry Cake —

As I opened the oven, the whole memory washed back over me.  There, in front of me was not a spongy cake ready to be sliced  and smothered with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  Instead what stared back at me was that flat, flavorless flop of a Boston Cream Pie.

BUT, this time around, I didn’t cry.  One, because I’m now an adult and like to think I’ve gained a bit more emotional maturity over the years.  And two, because I reminded myself that Julia wouldn’t.  Nope, she’d toss it in the trash with that glorious laugh of hers then roll up her shirtsleeves and start right in whisking some more eggs.  I decided to do the same.

Fortunately, this time around, I was not just older and more experienced — I was armed with Google.  The error, I discovered, was in the eggs.  Or more specifically in beating them.  Dorie’s recipe states to beat the eggs on medium for 4-5 minutes.  I’d actually increased that to 10 minutes for the first cake which obviously didn’t work. For the second one, it was closer to 15 minutes at medium-high speed on my Kitchenaid professional.  I found some online comments from pastry chefs stating that it’s almost impossible to overbeat the whole eggs, especially combined with the sugar.  I trusted that they were right.  And they were.  As you can see cake #2 worked out much better.

As for the final result —

I liked this cake, but I didn’t love it.  I’d actually prefer a good old strawberry shortcake any day.  But, after all these years, I was able to finally declare victory over the genoise.  And that tastes pretty sweet indeed.

Thanks to Sophia of Sophia’s Sweets and Allison of Sleep Love Think Dine for hosting this week.  Check out their blogs to hear their baking experiences as well as for the recipe itself.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

In honor of the return of Mad Men, (Oh, Don Draper, how I have missed you!) I decided to serve up a 1960’s inspired dinner.

First up, the quintessential pineapple & brown sugar bejeweled ham —

Look familiar?

And for dessert — well that was easy.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake was my mom’s go-to dessert.  I remember it gracing the table of many a family dinner or bake sale booth.   So I thought I’d ask if she’d share the recipe.  She, of course, was delighted.  I hurriedly grabbed pen and paper and prepared to discover the secret to this peculiar American dessert.

“Okay, ” my mom started, “first spread butter and brown sugar in a baking pan.  Arrange the pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and pecans on top.”

So far so good.  And then —

“Open a box of yellow cake mix . . . ”

I put down my pen.  Clearly this wasn’t going to work.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Her generation embraced the new new fad of box mixes and tv dinners that many of us are now starting to shun.  Last year, I read Jerry Della Femina’s tale of the advertising trenches From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor.  As a copywriter myself, I’m intrigued by the whole Mad Men, three martini lunch era of advertising.  One of my favorite anecdotes concerned the early marketing of boxed cake mixes.  Initially, all you had to do was add water.  Housewives in focus groups hated the product, not because of the taste, but because it was so easy — they didn’t feel like they were cooking.  The solution?  Add water and an egg.  For some reason, the act of cracking an egg into the mix gave the women a sense of validation that they were cooking.  Cake mixes began to fly off the shelves.

Fascinating, huh?  But it still didn’t solve my dessert dilemma.  I could Google, but that seemed too easy.  And how would I know I could trust the recipe I found?  Out of curiosity, I turned to my beloved Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  And there, on page 310 — Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  Thomas Keller-style.  Score.  (I will share my undying love for Mr. Keller in another post.  For now, let’s just say that he’s my Tebow.)

This recipe did not disappoint.  A moist, light cake and fresh pineapple carmelized with brown sugar and flecks of vanilla.  It really is an elegant take on this rather iconic dessert.  If all you’ve had is the canned pineapple variety of this cake, do yourself a favor and try the Ad Hoc recipe.   It’s easy, delicious, and looks beautiful when unmolded from the cake pan.  Still not sure?  Did I mention there’s rum in it?  Thought that would change your mind.  You can find the recipe here.

If Betty had made this cake, Don might have come home from work more often.  Okay, maybe if she made this cake and wasn’t such a b*tch.