Tag : cake
Tag : cake
Sometime between last April, when I published the earl grey layer cake with turmeric frosting, and last month, I fell in love with cakes again. Just like I publish a new pie recipe every November, I decided I wanted to publish a new cake recipe every spring, and I’ve been filling up pages of my cooking notebook with spring (and non-spring) cake ideas for weeks. Matcha chiffon cake is at the top of the list, y’all, so keep an eye out for that.
For months, I’d been wanting to do something with lemon, honey, and/or other flavors. I played around with Italian almond ricotta cake (still in progress but will definitely be showing up sooner or later), and contemplated buying mini bundt pans to make mini honey bundt cakes (still hasn’t happened, but we’ll see.) I googled “lemon cake,” “honey cake,” “best spring cakes,” and even “white cake” and “yellow cake” for inspiration, and in March I tried out a few recipes. There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the way of lemon-honey cake online, and all the “honey cakes” I found were spiced and dense, and not really what I had in mind. The recipes I tried the first two times were Frankenstein monsters of other recipes (mostly of my earl grey cake recipe), and they were not working. No matter how I adjusted the amount of fat, liquid, lemon, and flavor, the batter always broke and the texture just wasn’t right.
As always when I get stuck on a pastry thing, I asked one of the pastry chefs at work for advice: How does she recommend incorporating both honey and lemon into a cake that’s light, fluffy, and spring-themed?
Sponge cake. She recommended sponge cake, and I tried to think through everything else she’s taught me about cake, and I realized, I honestly had no idea what a sponge cake was. At the same time as I was working on this, I was hooked on the show, “Zumbo’s Just Desserts,” and in the first season, one of the contestants talks about her mother’s sponge cake recipe.
What is this sponge cake people talking about?
Clearly sponge cakes aren’t the most popular cake in the States.
I changed course and researched different types of sponge cake, the difference between sponges and other cakes, types of cakes in general, and best sponges for layering.
Turns out cake is pretty complex, y’all.
But, I’m a fan of making things super simple, and just like with my lemon curd (which features in this cake recipe), I’m about to make cakes super frickin’ simple and blow some minds.
In general, cakes can be categorized as one of two types (with some cakes straddling the line): Sponge and Butter.
A sponge cake is made with an egg sponge base: eggs, whole or separated, are whipped up with sugar and the other ingredients. The eggs foam up like meringue (in some recipes, it actually is meringue.) There is usually very little starch added, and in some cases, very little fat. Angel food cake, for example, has zero fat, and dacquoise has no starch. Genoise, on the other hand, has a small amount of flour and butter, and uses whole eggs, so there’s fat from the yolks.
A butter cake is what most of us in the States are used to: softened butter is beaten with sugar (“creamed“), and then the other ingredients are beaten in, slowly and one at a time to keep the batter emulsified. The base of the cake batter is the sugar-butter mixture, which increases in volume just like an egg sponge. However, most butter cake recipes involve adding the eggs directly to the batter without foaming them up. This is where we find birthday cakes and yellow cakes.
In the sponge family, we have such cakes as: swiss roll, ladyfingers/savoy sponge, flourless chocolate cakes, tortes, financiers, madeleines, sacher tortes, and of course genoise, dacquoise, and angel food.
On the other, fattier side: pound cake, common chocolate cakes, white cake, yellow cake, carrot cake, red velvet cake, and devil’s food cake.
And straddling the divide: chiffon (a sponge with vegetable oil.)
At first, I was overwhelmed trying to understand what exactly a sponge is, what the types of cakes were, and the differences from one cake to another, but when I started reading about sponges versus butter cakes, the information all felt more accessible.
From there, I decided on a genoise/genoese sponge flavored with lemon zest, doused with honey simple syrup, and layered up with mascarpone and lemon curd.
Genoise, an Italian sponge cake (from Genoa), uses whole eggs, unseparated, for the sponge, and contains some flour and butter. The fat makes the finished cake just sturdy enough that you can slice and layer it, but the air in the sponge allows for dousing with whatever flavored syrup you want (hashtag, booze.) As the name implies, the cake is a sponge, meaning it sucks up whatever liquid you add to it. The cake itself is light and lean (not fatty), so a lot of the flavor comes from the dousing liquid and the other components of the layer cake.
My trouble with the earliest attempts was that I wanted to add lemon zest and juice for that flavor, but the juice was too much liquid, and I couldn’t add enough honey for the honey flavor without breaking the batter. Butter is temperamental like that. By separating the flavors out into a variety of different components, I could get both the lemon and the honey, play with different textures, and keep my cake light and fluffy.
So here it is, the 2018 Spring Cake: lemon-honey genoise, layered with lemon curd and honey mascarpone.
For some extra fanciness, top the cake with candied lemon peel, honeycomb candy, or real honeycomb* (but maybe add the honeycomb candy and lemon peel right before serving because they can’t be refrigerated and the cake needs to be chilled.)
Maybe I’ll need to do a summer cake, an autumn cake, and a winter cake, as well.
*I did extensive research (Googling and asking everyone I know), and yes, honeycomb is both edible and digestible (though most people treat it like gum and spit it out after getting the honey.)
lemon honey sponge cake with lemon curd and honey mascarpone frosting
adapted from The Art of French Baking, by Ginette Mathiot
makes one 6″ cake, 3 layers (double the recipe to make an 8″ – 9″ cake)
The written recipe itself looks long, but I promise you that the process is not long or cumbersome. There’s just a lot to know about each component.
First, watch this video to gain some idea of how to go about making and assembling this cake. This is Mary Berry making a “fraisier cake” (a strawberry genoise layer cake), and I follow almost this exact process. You can assemble your cake more roughly/casually and with fewer tools, if you want.
Note: Finding ways to prepare recipes in advance will save you a lot of stress, and fortunately, advanced preparation is not only easy for cakes, but recommended. “Never bake a cake the same day you’re going to serve it,” a pastry chef at work told me when I mentioned this cake idea to her. Make the sponge in advance, slice it into layers when it cools, wrap each layer individually in plastic, and freeze or chill at least 1 day before you plan to assemble the cake. You should also make the lemon curd in advance, and you could even have the honey simple syrup prepared ahead of time. Of course, the garnishes can be made ahead of time. The candied lemon peel should be kept at room temperature and the honeycomb candy stays best in the freezer, but if you have silica gel, you can keep it at room temperature.
For baking the cake: a small saucepan, a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer, a handheld electric mixer (if not using a stand mixer), a whisk, a rubber spatula, a fine mesh sieve, one 6″ cake pan, parchment or a 6″ parchment round
For making the mascarpone frosting: two mixing bowls, one handheld electric mixer (or you can use a stand mixer, but you’ll want to use the electric mixer in both bowls, so if you use a stand mixer, you’ll need to transfer the whipped cream to another container after whipping it), a silicone spatula
For assembling the cake: a 6″ cake ring (not required but highly recommended), parchment paper or an acetate sheet (if using the cake ring, otherwise neither are necessary), a pastry brush (bristles or silicone), a serrated bread knife, two small-ish (12″ or less) piping bags and tips for the lemon curd and mascarpone, a small offset spatula
lemon genoise sponge
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2.6 oz granulated sugar
zest of 1 large lemon or 2 baby lemons
2.1 oz all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (0.5 oz) unsalted butter, melted
honey simple syrup
2 oz honey
0.4 oz water
honey mascarpone frosting
3 oz whipping cream
3 oz mascarpone cheese*
2 oz honey
1 oz powdered sugar
*Some regular grocery stores carry mascarpone cheese, occasionally, or you can find it at Whole Foods. It’s like a cross between cream cheese and heavy cream: lighter than cream cheese, but thicker than whipped cream. You can substitute cream cheese for mascarpone, but it will be thicker and have a stronger flavor. A closer cousin of mascarpone is crème fraîche, which is easier to find in the grocery store.
Make the lemon curd in advance. You can make it up to a week in advance and refrigerate or up to 6 months in advance and freeze the curd. Thaw the curd in the refrigerator overnight before assembling the cake.
1-2 days before serving the cake, make the sponge. On the day that you’re serving the cake, make the simple syrup, then make the mascarpone, infuse the sponge with the syrup, and assemble the cake from there.
make the sponge cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Butter a 6″ cake pan and line the bottom with a 6″ parchment paper round.
Fill a small saucepan about an inch deep with water and set on the stove over medium heat. This is your double-boiler.
In a large, heat-proof bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and lemon zest. Set the bowl on top of the sauce pan, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water or the bottom of the sauce pan. The water should be simmering, not boiling (despite the term “double-boiler”). If you see steam escaping from the sides or hear boiling, lower the temperature a little bit.
Gently cook the mixture, whisking occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. At first, the mixture will look grainy, like sugar combined with eggs, but once the sugar dissolves, you’ll see a thin foam on top and the mixture will turn darker yellow. It will look smooth, like eggs whisked up by themselves. This will only take about 5 minutes, and if you want to use a thermometer, then the mixture is ready when it reaches 110 – 120 F/43 – 49 C. The bowl and the mixture will feel warm to the touch.
Remove the bowl from the double-boiler and, using either a handheld electric mixer or the stand mixer, and the wire whip/whisk attachment, whip the foam on high until it increases drastically in volume and the bowl cools down completely. The foam will become significantly paler in color and will look a bit like lotion or meringue (but because of the yolks, it won’t act quite like meringue.) Your goal here is to get the foam to the ribboning stage: when you lift the whip/whisk out of the foam, it slowly falls back down and forms a ribbon on the surface of the mixture before disappearing back into the mixture.
You’ll also eventually see the foam stop increasing in volume. As you’re whipping, you’ll see little splatters around the sides of the bowl, above the surface of the foam, and when the whole mixture reaches that far up the side of the bowl, it’s done.
It’s important to whip the foam enough but it’s possible to overwhip. The ribboning will be the best indicator that you’re done.
Once the foam is done, measure out your flour into a small bowl. Using a fine-mesh sieve or a flour sifter (hand-crank is easier than squeeze), sift the flour onto the surface of the foam in 3-4 additions, folding it into the foam with a rubber spatula after each.
After all the flour is sifted and mostly folded into the batter, fold in the butter. The butter can be completely melted or just really, really soft. If it’s completely melted (the way I prefer to do), it’s more likely to pool at the bottom, but it’s easier to mix into the batter. If it’s solid but really soft, it’s less likely to fall to the bottom, but harder to fold into the batter.
You’ll notice pockets of flour throughout the batter and at the bottom of the bowl, and some of the butter may have pooled at the bottom, as well. Keep folding until all of the butter and most of the flour is well-incorporated.
If you’re using a stand mixer with the bowls that have a bump on the bottom, I find it easier to tilt the bowl sideways and fold the batter over itself horizontally, rather than trying to fold up from the bottom around the bump.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. As you pour the batter into the pan, if you see any lumps of flour, just gently mix them back into the batter with your spatula (as Mary Berry does in the video.)
Bake the sponge for 25 – 35 minutes*, until tanned and foam-y to the touch. It should feel almost like a muffin: the center will spring back when lightly pressed down, and the sides of the cake will be pulling away from the sides of the pan.
*It’s very important, like with any other sponge (or anything with meringue), that you don’t open the oven too early! I learned this the hard way. Don’t start opening the oven to test the cake until at least 25 minutes into baking, when the cake starts getting some tan on the surface and pulling away from the sides of the pan. If you open the oven door before the cake sets, it’ll deflate in the center.
Remove the cake from the oven and let cool in its pan for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
When the cake has cooled completely, slice it horizontally into 2 – 3 layers with a serrated knife. The cake should be tall enough to get 3 thin layers, each about 2/3 of an inch. Wrap each layer separately in plastic and keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to assemble.
make the syrup and infuse the cake
Honey simple syrup is just honey with some water. Because the honey itself is already a syrup, there’s no sugar to dissolve, so there’s no need for cooking. The goal is to make a syrup thin enough that it will soak into the sponge, but thick enough that it won’t run out of the sponge. I found that 5 parts honey to 1 part water was a good ratio for the consistency and flavor.
Whisk together the honey and water in a medium bowl.
Don’t pour the syrup onto the cake because it’ll soak in immediately and you won’t be able to brush it around. Use a pastry brush to gently brush the syrup onto one side of each layer (one of the cut sides; the syrup won’t soak through the top or bottom crust).
You can brush each layer as you assemble the cake or you can brush them all before assembling.
prepare the mascarpone
You’ll need to beat both the mascarpone and the whipping cream, but you’ll need to do it separately. You can use the same mixer attachment for both, or even the same bowl, but do the whipping cream first. If using one bowl for both components, transfer the whipped cream to a different container before doing the mascarpone. You don’t need to clean the beaters between whipping the cream and the mascarpone.
First, whip the cream. Cold cream whips up better than warm cream (this is the opposite of eggs: warm eggs whip up better than cold.) Whip the cream until it’s stiff and holds its shape. You should be able to tilt the bowl upside down and the whipped cream will stay. Like with eggs, it is possible to whip the cream too much: eventually, it turns into butter. The cream is done when it starts to look like it isn’t running anymore.
Next, combine the mascarpone, honey, and powdered sugar in another bowl, and beat the mixture until homogeneous and creamy.
Fold in the whipped cream the same way you folded together the cake batter. The mascarpone will be slightly off-white because of the honey and the whipped cream will be relatively pale, so you should be able to see two different colors at first, and you’ll see the colors mix together. Fold until there are no streaks of whipped cream left. This frosting should still be pretty stiff, like the whipped cream but unlike the cake batter.
Taste the frosting and adjust with more honey or sugar as needed. It should have a pretty noticeable honey flavor.
You’ll pipe about 1/3 of the frosting in between the layers and the rest will go on top of the cake.
assemble the cake
When you aren’t using the lemon curd or the mascarpone, keep them in the refrigerator. Additionally, keep the cake chilled when you aren’t in the process of assembling. Cakes and their components are easier to work with when they stay chilled.
You can assemble the cake using cake rings and acetate/parchment, or you can layer it without the extra support. If using a cake ring and parchment or acetate, make a strip wider than the depth of the cake ring (or taller than the cake will be), and set the parchment/acetate inside the cake ring, pressed up around the edges of the ring.
First, place your bottom layer. You won’t need to be spinning the cake around as you would a frosted butter cake, and the finished cake is light enough to pick up and transfer to a cake stand. The bottom cake layer will help hold the parchment/acetate vertically against the sides of the cake ring.
Infuse the bottom layer with the simple syrup.
Using a small piping bag and any tip that has a medium-wide opening, pipe about half of 1/3 of the mascarpone around the edge of the cake layer to form a ring of frosting. Spoon or pipe half of the lemon curd onto the cake inside the mascarpone ring. The frosting helps contain the lemon curd.
Chill the first filled layer (and all of the components except the simple syrup) for at least 15 minutes to let them rest before continuing.
Infuse the second layer of the cake, place it on top of the mascarpone and lemon curd, and repeat the filling process by piping the rest of the first 1/3 of the frosting and the rest of the curd on top of the second layer. At this point, you’re done piping the fillings, unless you want to pipe the frosting on top instead of spreading it*.
*If you do decide to pipe all of the frosting, instead of spreading the other 2/3 on top, I’d still recommend not filling the piping bag all at once. Fill the bag with about 1/3 of the frosting at a time, or else the filling and squeezing will overwork the frosting and it will start to run or break.
If you’re only using two layers, make sure you brush the honey syrup onto the cut side of each layer, not the crust side. You can place the top layer with the crust side up or down.
Chill the partially-assembled cake after finishing and filling the second layer, for at least 15 minutes to let everything rest.
Infuse and place the top layer of the cake onto the filled second layer. Spread the remaining 2/3 of the mascarpone frosting on top so that it covers almost the entire top surface. It should be thick enough that it won’t run down the sides.
Chill the entire cake until ready to serve, and right before serving, you can top the cake with extra honey, candied lemon peel, honeycomb candy, and/or real honeycomb.
I’m not generally a fan of chocolate cake, unless it is 1) flourless, or 2) molten. In fact, I even prefer my brownies on the less-floury side.
That being said, I’m oddly addicted to this vegan chocolate cake. For a while, I’ve been wanting to experiment with using vegan ingredients as features instead of just background ingredients. I’m in the process of working up another vegan muffin for the autumn that uses whole ingredients both for flavor and for function.
I’m also shamelessly obsessed with combining dark chocolate and fruit, namely raspberry.
There’s a dairy farm nearby that has a creamery and ice cream shop on the premises. In high school, when I was learning to drive, I would drive out to the farm for practice, and my dad and I would get milkshakes for dessert. Because of complicated, lactose-related reasons, I don’t get those milkshakes very often anymore, but they were a fond memory back then. My favorites were all the chocolate combinations: chocolate-strawberry, chocolate-orange, even the chocolate-lavender was weirdly enjoyable. It seemed like every time we went to the farm, they had tried out a new chocolate flavor combination, and I loved all of them.
I think it goes without saying that chocolate and raspberry is a classic combination…but I’ll say it anyway: chocolate and raspberry is fan-f**king-tastically classic combination.
With this inspiration, I took a vegan chocolate layer cake recipe, turned it into a single layer cake, added red wine vinegar, non-dairy dark chocolate ganache, and a raspberry-sherry compote*. Every single bit of the recipe works together in luscious harmony: the cake is light, but also dark, and slightly tangy from the vinegar, wet enough to be enjoyable, but fluffy enough that it’s not heavy; the ganache is dark and smooth, no matter what type of milk you use, and has just enough sweetness to be pleasant without detracting from the darkness; the compote is sweet and fruity, not overly acidic, and it has the mmmmmmmm of an after-dinner sherry. If all of that seems like too much mouth commitment, top the cake with some fresh raspberries for a refreshing balance to the chocolate and booze.
*You can swap out the sherry for really any kind of liquor or liqueur, or red wine. I just found that the sherry was my favorite booze to use in the compôte. Substitute your favorite Cabernet or Pinot Noir in a 1:1 ratio, for example.
decadent vegan chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry-sherry compôte
makes one 9″ (or two 6″~6.5″) cake
adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking
Do ahead: To save some time, you can make the compôte in advance and keep refrigerated in a sealed container. Because it’s a sauce (it’s basically undercooked jam), it’ll keep for a while. Additionally, you can make the cake a day in advance, let it cool, wrap it in plastic, and store it in the refrigerator overnight. And the make things even easier: the cake can also be made in advance. You can make the cake a day or two ahead of time and keep it in the fridge wrapped in plastic, or you can make it farther in advance, wrap it, and freeze it.
Ganache note: Ganache is just a combination of solid chocolate and cream (or any type of milk, dairy or non-dairy); you can have a really thick, solid ganache by using more chocolate than cream, or a thin, syrup-y mixture by using more cream than chocolate. It’s a really simple recipe (2 ingredients), and you can fine-tune the ratio depending on what consistency you want. A 1:1 ratio, though, will be more frosting-like or thinner than what I used for the cake. For toppings on pies and cakes, I’d recommend using less cream/milk than chocolate.
1.5 c (6.4 oz) raspberries, fresh or frozen*
1/4 c (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
1 fl. oz. (1 oz) sherry
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
*Fruit note: when you freeze fruit and then cook/bake with it, or when you buy frozen fruit and then cook/bake with it, be aware that the fruit will produce more liquid/water than when you use the fruit fresh. Also, the frozen fruit will break down more when it starts to cook. For sauces and jams, this means 1) you’ll need to cook just a bit longer to evaporate the excess liquid, and 2) you’ll have fewer large chunks of the fruit due to the fruit breaking down more.
1.5 c (6.4 oz) all-purpose flour
3/4 c (5.3 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 c (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 c (3 oz) vegetable/canola oil
4 tsp (0.7 oz) red wine vinegar
1 c (8 oz) non-dairy milk
Optional: 1/2 c vegan chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chunks, 1/2 c (~2 oz) fresh raspberries
2/3 c (4 oz) bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped coarsely
3/8 c (3 oz) non-dairy milk or unflavored, non-dairy cream
Make the compôte
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat.
Bring to a rolling boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. If the sauce boils up too high or starts sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning, reduce the heat and simmer instead.
Let the sauce thicken and reduce, remove from heat, and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer the sauce to a container with a lid and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Make the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease cake pan(s) and line with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, whisk together vanilla, oil, vinegar, and non-dairy milk until fully combined.
Add dry mixture to the wet mixture and combine. If using, fold in the chocolate chips/chunks and fresh raspberries.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and spread out evenly.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top is not shiny any longer and the cake feels springy and foamy to the touch. The cake is also done when it starts pulling away from the edges of the pan or when a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let finish cooling on a wire rack. When the cake has totally cooled down, start making the ganache.
Make the ganache and assemble the cake
Using a double boiler or a heat-safe bowl and small saucepan*, melt the chocolate and non-dairy milk together.
*There are many different methods of heating and combining the ingredients. You can microwave them together in a microwave-safe bowl, then whisk. You can boil/simmer the cream and pour it over the chocolate, then whisk. You can even microwave the cream and pour it over the chocolate. I usually make a double boiler out of a saucepan and metal or glass bowl, because I can make sure I’ll get enough heat in the ingredients for the chocolate to fully melt.
Combine the solid chocolate and non-dairy milk in the heat-safe bowl or the upper part of the double boiler, and fill the saucepan or lower part of the double boiler with about an inch or a centimeter of water. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Place the bowl or double boiler on top so the steam heat melts the chocolate. Whisk the mixture occasionally.
When the chocolate is almost entirely melted into the milk, remove the double boiler from the heat, and whisk vigorously until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth.
Pour the ganache over the cooled cake and spread out evenly so it covers the top and drips down the sides. Let the ganache cool and solidify, either on the counter or in the refrigerator (it doesn’t need to be wrapped or covered), before serving.
Serve the cake with the raspberry sauce and some more fresh berries.
The cake lasts for a few days covered in plastic and stored in the refrigerator.
Well, here’s another first: the first layer cake recipe of the blog (also the first cake recipe period if you don’t count the poundcake from a few years ago)!
I used to not really like cake or cupcakes (can you believe it?) I’m still not a fan of chocolate cake or strawberry cupcakes (but I am in the process of preparing some Independence Day cupcakes, and also learning to make jam, so that’s about to change.) There was a time when the only cakes I would deign to eat were angel food, lemon, and vanilla. I was so-so about frosting most of the time, but hand me a container of grocery-store chocolate frosting and a glass of soy milk, and I’ll be an elated camper.
Just keep the strawberry frosting to yourself.
I can’t remember a time when I was younger when I was enticed by cupcakes, either. They aren’t easy to eat, to be honest. Even when I moved to Los Angeles and was introduced to the world of Sprinkles, I was still a bit underwhelmed.
But everything changed when the fire nation attacked…I mean, when I had my first bakery experience doing an internship at a now-closed bakery in Durham. Not to imply anything about Sprinkles. It’s not their fault I only changed my tastes five years ago. Though, to be fair, I was still in Los Angeles four years ago, and Sprinkles was still there, too, so essentially, I had a second cupcake-ing before I graduated.
This former bakery started out as a cupcake food truck and cake catering business, and opened a store front bakery/cafe downtown, which closed its doors a few years later. I went into that internship knowing I wasn’t the biggest fan of cake, but I wanted to be there anyway.
It only took one day for them to change my mind. Not only were the cupcakes that good, but the vegan and gluten-free versions were simple. They tasted just like their dairy-full, gluten-ous counterparts, and didn’t require any strange ingredients! I was in love. They let me take home a few pastries each day, and I did just that: I filled my fridge and my guts up with cupcakes, cake, brownies, cookies, tarts, turnovers, and anything else I could get my grubby hands on.
I have since made cupcakes a few times myself, and I’ve experimented with alternative diet versions (but don’t hold your breath for any of those this year.) Last summer, I even tried to make red-white-and-blue cupcakes for Independence Day, but those didn’t turn out so well (also I didn’t start early enough…and I twisted my neck on July 3rd, so really everything didn’t happen.) I wanted them to be naturally colored, instead of dyed, and it’s more difficult than I realized to come up with something that’s actually blue, easy to find, and edible. I will not give up, though. I learned how to make strawberry puree a few weeks ago, I’m practicing jam as soon as my book arrives in the mail, and this July, I will have my cake and eat it with the side of Freedom that it deserves.
But before we get too caught up in American-ess, here’s a British-y cake that looks as interesting as it tastes good: earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting (American buttercream-style.) The frosting recipe makes more frosting than you need for a modest coating, so frost liberally or keep the extra in the fridge in a sealed container (and use it for the crumb coat the next time you make the cake!)
This cake recipe uses less butter than usual and makes up for the wet ingredients with milk, producing a slightly thinner batter, and a lighter, airier final product.
I described below, as detailed as possible, how to frost a layer cake, but personally, I learned from watching YouTube videos, so here are some videos to help you visualize what to do:
earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting
makes two 6″ layers, with more than enough frosting for the whole cake
120 g (1 c) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
2 bags of black tea, cut open (4 grams of tea leaves)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150 g (3/4 c) granulated sugar
4 Tbsp (2 oz, 1/4 c) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs (2 ounces each), at room temperature
4 oz (1/2 c) milk, at room temperature
8 Tbsp (4 oz, 1/2 c) unsalted butter, softened
340 g (2 1/2 c) powdered sugar
dash of salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger or galangal
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh grated turmeric or galangal
milk, as needed, for texture (2-4 Tbsp)
making the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line two 6″ cake pans with parchment paper (the paper is so you can easily pull the cake out, but it doesn’t need to cover the entire surface.)
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, tea leaves, and cinnamon.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, beating for about 3-5 minutes or until light, pale, and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula.
Beat the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, mixing for 3-5 minutes after each one, until the batter fluffs up. Scrap down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.
Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the batter (1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, and finally the last third of the flour), mixing constantly and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with the rubber spatula.
The batter will be a little thinner than expected, but the final product will be light and airy.
Fill the cake pans evenly with the batter and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, the sides are shrinking away from the pan, and the cake is plump like a foam ball when pressed lightly with a finger.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in their pans for about 5 minutes, until you can handle the pans. Then, remove the cakes from their pans and let cool on a wire rack (with no parchment underneath them, so that the bottoms don’t get damp) until room temperature (or cooler) and ready to frost.
making the frosting
Cream the butter and a small amount (1/4 c, 30 g) of the powdered sugar until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Gradually add in the powdered sugar, about 1/4-1/2 c (30 – 60 g) at a time, beating until it returns to smooth frosting consistency after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl each time.
After all of the sugar has been mixed in, beat in the rest of the ingredients until the mixture becomes smooth and frosting-like again. Taste and add either more powdered sugar, spice, or milk for texture. The frosting should have gained a significant amount of volume and be a little bit firm.
You want the frosting to be spreadable but if there isn’t enough sugar, the frosting breaks (the butter breaks or melts.) If you plan to add more wet ingredients (ie., fresh ginger and turmeric like I did), you need more sugar to compensate. Err on the side of too much powdered sugar. Besides, if you don’t have enough powdered sugar, your frosting will just taste like compound butter (not that compound butter is a bad thing but we’re making cake today, not steak.)
frosting the cake
**Usually, you would use a lazy susan or some type of cake stand for frosting, but you can also put the bottom layer of the cake on a square of parchment paper and spin that around as needed (I do. I find I don’t need a wheel to do the frosting.) Just make sure you cover the entire surface of your cake with frosting.**
Slice off the domed top of one cake layer. This will become the bottom layer. You can also slice off the top of the other layer, if you want.
Coat the top of this bottom layer with a thin layer of frosting, the crumb coat that helps you add more frosting without the cake crumbling into it. Let the crumb coat dry for a few minutes. Optionally, you can chill the cake after adding the crumb coat, so the frosting solidifies.
Add a thicker layer of frosting on top of the crumb coat, and place the upper layer of the cake on top. You now have two layers of cake with a thick center of the ginger-turmeric frosting.
Using an offset spatula, liberally frost the sides and top of the cake, and fill in the crevice where the cake layers meet. Smooth down the frosting periodically with the side of the offset spatula, the back of a knife, or the straight side of a bowl/bench scraper (angle the flat of the spatula, knife, or scraper towards the cake and run it around the perimeter, so that the frosting is distributed evenly, rather than removed entirely.) You can either chill the cake every once in a while or let the frosting dry out to make adding the rest of the frosting easier.
Continue adding layers and smoothing them down until all of the frosting is used up. Alternately, save some frosting to decorate the cake with a piping bag and tip.
Cut with a long slicing knife and enjoy!
Cake keeps for up to a week wrapped in plastic in the fridge. Theoretically, you only need to cover the cut surfaces of the cake and not the frosting, but better safe than sorry!
I’ll let y’all eat cake,
Nic le P’
previous monthly muffins
Muffins and cupcakes are not the same thing. There may be plenty of overlap in recipe or preparation: both use chemical leavening (baking soda/powder), and you can make either with butter.
A frosted muffin is still a muffin and a glazed cupcake is still cake, and while you’re here, let’s just forget about the health implications of either (I’m not thinking of my spare tire when I frost cupcakes, y’all.)
When I first learned cupcake techniques at an internship (at a bakery that specialized in cupcakes) years ago, I scoured the Internet for a definitive answer to “what’s the diff?” and found some useful information. Inexplicably, I can’t find any of that information to share with you today, but fortunately, I remember most of it. Looking through the crooks and nannies (er….nooks and crannies?) of Google today, easily 95% of the information you’ll find says that there is no difference, that if you frost a muffin it becomes a cupcake, and if you glaze a cupcake it magically becomes a muffin.
I certainly can’t claim to be an expert in much, and I welcome any debate or disagreement with open arms, but to say that a frosted muffin is no longer a muffin is fundamentally unfair to muffins worldwide.
Don’t hurt muffin’s feelings, y’all.
The difference is not on top of the pastry, but inside: Cupcakes are cakes baked in cups, while muffins are actually a type of bread.
As I mentioned in an earlier monthly muffin, American muffins are a descendant of yeasted English muffins, small rounds of bread fried in skillets. American muffins are (usually) made with chemical leavening: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda/powder.)
Muffins are quickbread baked in cups.
The nature of quickbread is a topic for a future post, but it’s basically bread made with baking powder.
Cake (non-vegan) is made by beating solid, softened butter* with sugar until it fluffs up and turns pale, then gradually beating in the rest of the ingredients (eggs, vanilla, salt, flour, and baking powder) until smooth and uniform. The batter is delicate and needs to be beaten for a few minutes.
*Vegan cupcakes made with vegetable oil instead of butter are still cupcakes. Here, the definition becomes a little fuzzy, but vegan cupcake batter is beaten longer than vegan muffin batter and has more non-animal fat, too.
Muffins, on the other hand, are heartier and more forgiving. A liquid fat (melted butter, canola oil, etc.) is whisked together with other liquids (fruit purees, milk, vinegar, eggs, etc.), while flour, salt, and baking powder are mixed together in a separate bowl. Then, the wet and dry mixtures are quickly whisked together, just until incorporated, apportioned into the baking cups, and baked.
In muffin batter, there is a higher ratio of liquid to fat or flour, while in cupcakes, the fat in the butter and eggs is vital to the texture. Something something fat inhibits the formation of gluten blah blah blah. As a result, muffins are denser than cupcakes (if you can’t decide whether what you’re eating is cake or bread, throw it against the wall. If it poofs, then you’ve just wasted perfectly good cake. If it thuds, it was probably bread and you’ve just wasted that, as well.)
But of course I joke.
It’s true that cupcakes are nearly always frosted, taking on the characteristic curvy cupcake silhouette, and muffins are often glazed or topped with dry ingredients. This, however, is simply tradition. Brioche in the shape of a crescent, filled with chocolate, is still brioche (or maybe pain au chocolat.) It doesn’t become a croissant because of the shape or filling.
The muffin versus cupcake debate is deep, confusing, and eternal. It may never end, to be honest, and despite everything on the Internet (including these words), when all is said and done, what you call that soggy bit of deliciousness turning to mush in your mouth is completely up to you. If you want to call a cupcake a muffin so you can justify the extra calories, then I am with you…helping you eat the other 11 straight out of the pan because, personally, I couldn’t care less about calories.
I don’t yet have any of my own cupcake recipes on this blog, so here are some muffins:
See you later, muffin eaters,
I spent nearly a month trying and re-trying various poundcake recipes because I’m stubborn and anal-retentive. I’ve never done so much recipe testing in my life. I’ve been making poundcake in my meager but endearing toaster oven for months now, and can do it successfully most of the time. But recently I wanted to find some alt-diet recipes. Praise be to Pinterest and Google, but goddamn this country’s lack of alt-diet ingredients.
I interned in a bakery in the dark ages of college. The bakery had started as a cake/cupcake food truck, and turned into a cake shop. Cupcakes had always been one of my least favorite pastries. They were too obvious and too sweet, and I couldn’t make a good frosting to save my life at gunpoint. All that changed when I started working here. I even started liking chocolate cake…well, vegan chocolate cake. And I discovered, finally, a gluten-free pastry that didn’t linger uncomfortably on my tongue after I swallowed. How surprised was I when the owners gave me the recipes: the vegan chocolate cupcake used canola oil to substitute both butter and eggs, and the gluten-free substitute was just rice flour.
Fortunately, both of those exist in Japan. They wouldn’t survive without some high-quality rice flour, and multiple varieties of it. Unfortunately, xanthan gum is not a thing in this country. Fortunately, gelatin works just as well. With my first attempt at gluten-free poundcake, I was successful, and all I had to do was substitute rice flour (komeko, 米粉) for all-purpose flour (1:1 ratio), and throw in a bit of agar-agar (kanten, 寒天). There are other varieties of rice flour, for different purposes: dango flour (dango-ko, 団子粉) for the sweet, skewered rice dumplings; and mochi flour (mochi-ko, 餅粉) for glutinous rice buns, among others.
gluten-free toaster oven poundcake
based on the basic recipe in Many Poundcakes in One Poundcake Mould, by Yoko Wakayama (「パウンド型一つで作るたくさんのケーク」、若山曜子)
makes one 18 cm cake (18 cm x 7 cm x 6.5 cm), or two 12 cm cakes (12 cm x 5.5 cm x 5 cm)
This is the most basic recipe, to which you can add whatever suits your fancy. Make sure butter and eggs are at room temperature. Leave butter out for a few hours just until it becomes pliable. You can put the eggs in a bowl of warm (not hot) water to bring them to temperature for a few minutes while you’re preparing. Once the batter is prepared, work quickly, because the baking powder works instantly.
100 g unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
100 g granulated sugar
2 eggs (~100 g), at room temperature
100 g rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (~3 g)
3 g agar-agar
Extra mix-ins or flavors (cocoa powder, green tea powder, etc.)
If using a conventional oven, instead of a toaster oven, preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F.)
Measure out all ingredients in small bowls. Combine the flour, baking powder, and agar-agar in one bowl. Crack the eggs in another.
Line your poundcake mould with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Gradually beat in granulated sugar and keep beating until consistent, another 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Beat for another 2-3 minutes. Like the sugar, gradually beat in the dry mixture, just until fully combined.
Using a wooden or rubber spatula, fold in extras and flavorings. If using extract, cocoa powder, etc., that need to be fully mixed in, use the electric mixer.
Scrape batter into poundcake mould(s), and cover loosely with tin foil.
Toast at 1000 W for 30 – 45 minutes, until firm in the center, then remove foil and toast for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. To test, insert a wooden toothpick into the center (all the way.) If it comes out clean, the cake is done. You should also be able to smell the cake. If using a conventional oven, bake at 180 C for 40 minutes.
When finished, remove from the oven and let cool before cutting.
Enjoy! Tanoshinde ne.