Archive for the ‘Cakes’ Category

uno, dos, tres...leches

My mother sometimes visits the bustling Bergenline Avenue shops and buys little cartons of tres leches cake, the treat soaked in three different kinds of milk that’s rich in all senses of the word. She keeps them in the freezer and eats them little by little like a squirrel with its winter stash of acorns.

For her birthday, I thought I’d make her a tres leches cake from this epicurious.com recipe. I cherry-picked only parts of it, namely the cake and the milk syrup cocktail because I was severely limited in time and energy. After Saturday night shifts, I can only guess that I’m experiencing something akin to combat fatigue. And baking is sometimes just simple math: Add here, take away there, limit this, and that equals, alright! A cake fit to serve for an occasion.

Step 1: Sponge Cake

This cake, as sponge cakes go, is really easy to make, but it turned out a little tougher than I would’ve liked, so I suggest going easy when you fold the batter. Next time, I would also add less cinnamon, and sub in a little cardamom.

Being ’tis the season and all, I would’ve really poured on the rum for the syrup, but I omitted it because it’s not baked or cooked off and my four-year-old second cousin would be in attendance. I regretted the omission, however, because again, he ended up running away from his slice without a single bite. I’m just glad he didn’t start crying like he did with the chocolate cake.

Cake, it's time for your syrup bath

The recipe calls for a meringue for icing, but I thought since the condensed milk is already so sweet, I could just whip up some heavy cream, and it made a fine and easy topper for the cake without adding too much other richness or contributing to jawaches.

So I guess that would make it…quatro leches? Or a mouthful tres leches y una crema cake, si.


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Cornbread! Ain't nuthin' wrong with that.

I’m sorry. It’s been awhile.

Last week, my legs were about to give out after a day off from some long, long nights but I still needed an accompaniment to turkey chili. So I cracked open Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu Cookbook and made the Simple Corn Bread recipe. And indeed-y, it was smoove-as-buttah sailing: Mix dry stuff. Mix wet stuff. Combine. Put in oven. Wait. Cool. Stuff in mouth. If I had some canned or fresh corn, some cheddar cheese, or jalapeno or roasted peppers, it would’ve been corn bread squared, but so it is.

But pardon me, I’m burying the lede here. If you want a revelation in sweet edible form, you should really try the St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake recipe from the November 4th “A Good Appetite” column from The New York Times.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, ready for its dramatic closeup

I was really intrigued by it because the cake has a yeast-based crust. After reading about it, I just talked about making it for two weeks, but in the end, I was also too tired to actualize the idea of bringing the creation to life, so the bf decided to take matters into his own hands and make it late one night. It took awhile for the bottom to proof and rise sufficiently; when it was finally done, it was nearly 1:30am. I really wanted to be asleep by that time, but the warm bite fresh out of the oven was worth it, and it was nice to be lulled to sleep by the sweet scent of cake.

Gooey St. Louis

Taste-wise, it’s pretty damn heavenly: It has the scent and flavor of caramel from the butter and sugar, and the corn syrup gives it the right chewy-ness. It’s all offset by the hardy, enriched bread-y cake base.

There are still some segments left in the freezer, but bit by bit, they’re disappearing into some happy maws.

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Goo + butter? Yes, please.

This St. Louis Gooey Butter cake would really hit the spot right now. It’s before noon, sure, but only by 14 minutes.

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Tower of cake


The folks at work were kind of enough to let me make cake for my sister’s birthday and use all the facilities. The trouble was that when you make devil’s food cake batter in a Hobart the size of a small ship, the batter doesn’t all get mixed properly; big chunks of flour and or butter might get stuck on the bottom, and you can’t scrape it up with any normally-sized kitchen tool, like a bowl scraper or a handy rubber spatula. I tried, and my hands inevitably were covered in chocolate goo, which I had to keep wiping clean in between plating tickets to destroy the evidence of chocolate fingerprints on gleaming white plates.

Back to the cake: I had a batter full of chocolate reacting with baking soda and powder that didn’t completely get mixed, which resulted in a VERY thick sheet of cake. It was chocolatey, but not equally rich; I’m guessing this was because the batter wasn’t as homogeneous as I would’ve liked it to be. Because I really wanted to make a three layer cake—let’s not be wusses now—and with each layer being two inches tall, the resulting cake was quite big, so towering and crumbly that my bratty four-year-old second cousin refused to eat it. And cried. He cried! I don’t know anyone who, when offered a piece of chocolate cake, cries. I know it’s unfair to try to reason with a four-year-old who is pure id, but I was convinced he was the devil at that point. (The real devil, not the devil that provides sinfully delicious cakes, you know. )

Cake Canyon (Helloo hellooo helloooooo...! )

Cake Canyon (Hello hellooooo hellooooooooo...!)

Should’ve gone for two layers, sigh.

Last year for my sister’s birthday, I made a chocolate genoise, the most ornery of cakes, hoping I had learned something after graduating, but it turned out super dry. One year, I will get it right (sorry, sister!).

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Click here for a photo of a cake that’ll please the Pantone folk and probably took a LOT of work.

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Plot potato

One of my fall projects will be an attempt to reverse-engineer a cake my mother bought for my father’s birthday back in spring from a small hybrid Asian-French bakery chain in North Jersey called Gateaux.
My bro-in-law, trying to grab the last piece

My bro-in-law, trying to grab the last piece. Mine!

This is not just any old cake, you see. It’s made of sweet potato, not the orange-y ones often mistaken for yam, but the very sweet and nutty satsumaimo variety, or the type Koreans refer to as “chestnut” sweet potatoes. The cake is very airy and light, and the fluffy buttercream has not-unpleasant small chunks of sweet potato folded into it. Sure, it doesn’t have the drama of a chocolate cake or the fanfare of other special occasion cakes with lots of bells and whistles, but it’s just sweet enough and subtle, and why not use a comforting starch that has a bit of vitamin C in dessert?

This will obviously take some doing. Is there sweet potato flour available for purchase that I can add to the cake or do I mash up some steamed into the cake batter as per this recipe? The cake was also covered with the cake crumbs, and I think I will puree some sweet potato and fold it into plain buttercream. Hrm. Methinks I need to do some more “research,” i.e., some cake eating and putting some hard time, when I can find it,  in the old laboratory.

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With the taking of this photo, it became officially fall

With the snapping of this photo, it officially became autumn

I have a backlog of ideas for this site, and I had made some ghetto apple crisp last week that I wanted to blather on about, but I figured I should write about something more substantial for you since I’m barely keeping up with this week to week. So here goes. Lots of pictures!

My love affair with The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook continues with the upside-down apple cake. Have I told you this book is awesome? Oh I didn’t? I don’t know what happened there. I’m pretty sure I’ll get around to telling you though, so stay with me.

To be completely utterly straightforward, I don’t easily get excited by things that are apple-flavored. It’s kind of ho-hum, a little boring or safe, a little, howshallwesay, vanilla. But it’s because it’s usually paired with cinnamon, and that combination is a little too predictable. Although it’s comforting to know that it’s always available, I’d love a change. And this recipe is a bit off-the-beaten-path, because it uses only nutmeg, and the taste ends up mellower and more harmonious than with the punch of cinnamon.

It all starts with some apple butter. What the recipe calls for—six apples in a saucepan with lemon juice, apple juice, sugar, etc.—makes more buttah than you need for the actual cake. Still, you’ll have some left over for anything you’d like: more cake batter, or slathering on some toast, so it’s not such a bad deal in the end.

Pictorially, you’ll see that the apples break down over the course of 40 or so minutes (duh), like so:

This turns into

This turns into...

...this turns into...

...this turns into...



Part 2: Caramelizing! Instead of just throwing sugar in a pot, though, the recipe requires that you paddle some sugar and butter together into a mixture first, then put it on heat. This is one of those instances where you come across something you wished you had thought of yourself. It’s like you’re making caramel brown butter. Ingenious!

Sugar and butter fluff

Sugar and butter fluff turns into...

Caramel map of the northern western hemisphere

...a caramel map of the northern western hemisphere

The most fun part is pouring the caramel, when browned enough, over some apple segments, and you hear the sizzle of the caramel seizing. (Just be careful not to stand in the way. Caramel burns = no fun.  No fun at all.)


Then, the cake batter, which is pretty simple. But what makes it super fluffy is the apple butter, a cup of which you fold into the mix.

Into the oven, bake, then flip over.

cake time

All went well, except for that "bad apple" slice in the corner

Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with some creme fraiche or whipped cream.

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