Archive for February, 2011
There’s something settling and soothing about baking a cake. For me, anyway. More often than not, I use my old handheld mixer, even though I have the legendary KitchenAid stand mixer. The smaller mixer makes it all less complicated in a way-too-complicated world. (Plus it’s a bicep exercise in my book.)
I get my “om” on as I turn off my mind and watch butter and sugar combine to a thick pale yellow fluffly mass. I am mesmerized by the whir of the beaters as egg whites transform into white billowy clouds. The act of gently folding those egg whites into the batter—to insure a light and airy cake—makes me feel light-hearted (or maybe light-headed). :0
What prompted that soliloquy? Well, I felt the urge to bake cakes this week. Two in one week! One, our family’s recipe for Banana Cake with Fudge Frosting (perhaps I’ll share another day).The second was this Italian Cream Cake from Better Homes and Gardens for a friend’s birthday. It ended up to be a three-layer beauty that foiled my attempt to deliver it under a beautiful glass cake dome. Too tall. So I simply flaunted it on a pedestal and covered it loosely with plastic wrap, putting candles on top to keep the plastic wrap from touching the frosting.
I usually like to tweak or reinvent while I cook, but because baking relies on science, my first go-round always starts with a tried-and-true recipe. I did increase the Cream Cheese icing, because, hey, it’s for a birthday cake. But the cake recipe belongs to BH&G. Here it is.
1. Separate eggs. Allow egg yolks, egg whites, and butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour three 8×1 1/2-inch or 9×1 1/2-inch round cake pans; set pans aside. In a bowl, stir together flour and baking soda; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a very large mixing bowl, beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and vanilla; beat on medium speed until combined. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Fold in coconut and the 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans.
3. Thoroughly wash the beaters. In a mixing bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Fold about one-third of the egg whites into cake batter to lighten. Fold in remaining whites. Spread batter evenly into the prepared pans.
4. Bake about 25 minutes for 9-inch pans, about 35 minutes for 8-inch pans, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cake layers from pans. Cool thoroughly on wire racks.
5. Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on serving plate. Spread with about 1/2 cup of the Cream Cheese Frosting; sprinkle with 1/4 cup pecans.(Note from Jeanne: I also sprinkled flaked coconut between the layers in addition to the pecans.) Top with second cake layer, bottom side down. Spread with 1/2 cup more frosting and sprinkle with 1/4 cup nuts. Top with remaining layer, bottom side up; spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Press remaining nuts (and coconut, if you like. I like.) around side and on top of cake.
Cream Cheese Frosting: In a bowl beat 12 ounces cream cheese, softened; 6 tablespoons butter, softened; and 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla until smooth. Gradually add 6 cups sifted powdered sugar, beating until smooth. (Note from Jeanne: I only used about 5 1/2 cups powdered sugar. It was plenty thick and made for a less sweet frosting.)
At my mother’s bedside yesterday, knowing that she only has days, if not hours, to live, I held her hand and whispered in her ear: “It’s OK to put on your angel wings and soar.”
But moving beyond this life seems to be a quietly hesitant passage for her. She has led such a full life, that I think she may still feel the need to do a little more caring for those of us she is leaving behind.
My sister made dinner in her honor last night. It was a savory blanket of comfort food that wrapped us all up in its warmth. It was simple, but so worthy of second helpings. Roast pork tenderloin rubbed in salt, pepper, and herbs. Redskin mashed potatoes. Gravy. Roasted mashed acorn squash with butter and a smidge of brown sugar. If Mom were able, she would have baked us her apple pie with a topping of buttery brown sugar and walnut topping. We would have peeled and sliced the apples while she tossed together the dough and rolled it to fit the pie pan.
I promise to share Mom’s Apple Pie soon. But in the meantime, as snow blankets most of this country, can you do me a favor? Go outside—by yourself or with your family or friends—and make snow angels for my mother. I think she needs those angels to gently accompany her as she takes to the heavens with her own wings.
Then fling some snow, marvel at life, hold tight to your family and friends, add a splash of Bailey’s to your hot chocolate, and fix comfort food tonight.