Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, November 9, 2012

Catching up on Cakes

I know you think I forgot about the Year of the Cake - but, trust me, I didn't.  I do, however, have some serious catching up to do - my last Cake post was in July.  So - let's get caught up...

As you recall, I had decreed that 2012 was The Year of the Cake - and, I've been making a new/different cake recipe for each month.  I've got two to share with you in this post - August and September. 

August in Georgia - hmmm - hot, humid and sticky - it was the dog days of summer and I was looking for a cake that was light and cool and refreshing. I selected Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting - a recipe I had been eyeing for quite awhile on one of my favorite blogs, Annie's Eats. (BTW - if you haven't taken the time to check out Annie and her straightforward, well-written and beautifully-photographed blog, do it now - it's one of my favorites. I've yet to try one of her recipes that I didn't really like! ) 

This is a lovely dessert - a moist cake with a hint of lemon flavor, a creamy marscapone filling between the layers and a smooth, rich vanilla frosting.  This isn't a tangy, make-your-mouth-pucker lemon recipe - if you are looking for a POW of lemon, keep looking.  However, if you are looking for something light and fresh - this is your cake.  It was a great treat for a hot summer day - but, quite frankly, I think it would be great any time of the year. 

Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Smooth, rich and creamy frosting with flecks of vanilla bean - a great
topping for this light, lemony cake.

All too quickly August gave way to September and all of the sudden it was Fall.  Days got cooler, the air became crisper and colors were changing all around me.  Carrot cake seemed like a great choice, then, for September's cake - a hint of spice and that great orange color - the perfect welcome for Fall. 

I have been making the same carrot cake recipe (thanks to my best friend Susan!) for several years now - and, to be honest with you, I think it's really, really good - just about perfect.  What I love about this cake is the depth of color and flavor - this is a carrot cake with spunk!  The secret is cinnamon - and lots of it!  Most carrot cake recipes call for a teaspoon of cinnamon - this recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons - yes, Tablespoons - which imparts both a hearty color and flavor to the moist layers.  So, while I love almost everything about this carrot cake - I wasn't quite ready to dub it "The Perfect Carrot Cake".  There was one thing that picked away at the back of my mind - the oiliness of the cake itself.  So, I did a little research -- looked at LOTS of carrot cake recipes - and found out that some carrot cake recipes (like mine) use all oil, some use buttermilk and some use a mix of both.  I opted for the mix of buttermilk and oil - 1 cup oil and 1/2 cup buttermilk - to retain the moistness of the cake but lighten the texture just slightly - and, it worked.  The cake turned out to have just the right level of moistness without being heavy or oily.  You know, I hate to brag, but I think I now have it - this is it - THE PERFECT CARROT CAKE recipe.

A pound of carrots - the star of this tasty cake.

Here it is - the Perfect Carrot Cake - rich and moist cake surrounded
by sweet/slightly tangy and smooth cream cheese frosting - the perfect cake for Fall.
So - I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get these to you.  You can't go wrong with either of these cakes - enjoy!

Lemon Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

For the cake:

3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest of ½ a lemon
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

4 oz. mascarpone or cream cheese, cold
2½ tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. lemon extract
Zest of ½ a lemon
1 cup heavy cream, chilled

For the frosting:*

1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. heavy cream

*Note: This will make a bit more frosting than you need for the cake. You can scale it down a bit or just have left over frosting...always a good thing in my book.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour the edges of 3 8-inch round cake pans and shake out the excess. Set aside. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the lemon zest to the bowl of the mixer with the butter. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the lemon and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool in the pans about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the mascarpone and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined. Mix in the confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. Blend in the lemon extract and lemon zest. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl and fit with the whisk attachment. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form, being careful not to overbeat. Mix about a third of the whipped cream into the lemon-mascarpone mixture to lighten. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain and the mixture is evenly blended.

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners' sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the bowl and add in the salt. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4 minutes.

To assemble the cake, place one of the layers on a serving platter. Top with half of the lemon-mascarpone mixture and smooth in an even layer. Place a second cake layer on top of the filling and top with the remaining filling. Place the final cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the vanilla bean frosting. 

Carrot Cake

For the cake:

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp cinnamon (yes, TABLESPOONS)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 cups grated carrots (~1 pound)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pecans

For the frosting:

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare 3 8-inch round cake pans - butter and flour pans, line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (Note - can also use 2 9-inch pans, just slightly increase baking time)

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Cool and chop the pecans.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Beat in the dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in the carrots and pecans. Divide the batter between the pans and bake the cakes for 45 - 50 minutes, until springy and golden (note - cooking time can be very dependent on your oven and which pan you use - make sure to test cake for springing back and for toothpick inserted in center of cake to come out clean) Let the cakes cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let cool completely.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese at high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners' sugar; beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Peel off the parchment paper and invert one cake layer onto a plate. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting. Top with the second cake layer, right side up. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting and then top with the final layer of cake.  Spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting and refrigerate the cake until chilled, about 1 hour.

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