Archive for February, 2011

The Zen of Baking: Italian Cream Cake

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.

Italian Cream Cake

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup  butter
  • 2 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2 cup  shortening
  • 2 cups  sugar
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla
  • 1 cup  buttermilk
  • 1 cup  flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup  finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 cup  chopped pecans, toasted


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.)

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Broken Heart Lemon Sugar Cookies

After my mother’s funeral this week, I’ve been running on empty. No motivation. What to do during the times I always phone her to chat? What to do with the Valentine’s card I had for her? What to do on those holidays when I usually bake goodies to send to her?

Decided I’d bake anyway. For me, baking is one of those auto-pilot kinda projects. Plus there’s always butter, flour, and sugar in my house. I wanted to create a Valentine’s sugar cookie with a bit of tang and happened to have 2 lemons in the fridge. I cut the cookies on the thickish side because I like them with a bit of crispness on the outside, but plenty of softness in the center. And because I think sugar cookies are kinda boring, I added lemon peel to the cookie dough then iced the finished cookies with a lemony glaze.

Love them, but wish I could share them with my mom. She was the one who inspired my love of baking. (Mom was the baker in our family. Dad the day-to-day cook. Both were gardeners and loved being creative in the kitchen. Thank goodness I inherited the gardening, cooking, and baking genes.)

These are simple to make and just in time for Valentine’s day. You might want to change the title tho before serving them up to the love of your life!

Broken Heart Lemon Sugar Cookies

About 3 dozen 2- to 3-inch cookies

Most sugar cookies are similar. I used several basic recipes as models, then tweaked to my taste. This version is most like the Rich Roll Cookies from Joy of Cooking. I reduced the granulated sugar because I’m not a sugary-sweet person. I added powdered sugar because I like the lighter texture it offers. I also added lemon peel and boosted the vanilla to balance the lemony tartness, and I upped the baking powder. Not sure why!

And I topped the cookies with a lemony glaze. You can add sprinkles before baking and skip the glaze, if you like.

Beat until creamy:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons powdered sugar (it adds a light texture)

1 to 2 tsp. lemon peel (I use a Microplane to remove the lemon peel in fine shreds)

1/4 tsp. salt

Add and beat until combined:

1 egg

1  tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Add and beat on low (or stir with a wooden spoon) until combined:

2 1/2 cups flour

Divide dough into thirds, flatten into disks, and wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using 1 part of dough at a time, roll dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Use a 2- to 3-inch cutter to cut out cookies. Place on cookie sheet about 1-inch apart.

Repeat with remaining dough. Pat dough scraps together and roll and cut.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges get a hint of brown. Do not over bake. Remove to a cooling rack. When cool, frost with Lemon Glaze.

Lemon Glaze: Whisk together 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, 2 to 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. lemon peel, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract.

2 Responses to “Broken Heart Lemon Sugar Cookies”

  1. Amy Moody says:

    They are very cute cookies 🙂 Grandma would have loved them! She was very proud of you!!

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Mom, Apple Pie, and Angels

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.

4 Responses to “Mom, Apple Pie, and Angels”

  1. bob says:

    another snow angel made under the clear starry night & imprinted in my heart forever…love to mom & you…the words from both of you are magic to me…thank you !!!…oxoxox

  2. angela baptista says:

    Beautifully written aunty! Can’t make snow angels here but we can make grass ones! And I will hold the kids a little tighter tonight, say a prayer that she finds peace soon, cook a good ol spread of comfort food and embrace and celebrate life.

  3. Amy Moody says:

    Grandma wouldn’t have it any other way!! She would want us to have fun and continue smiling!! She has lots of angels around her and lots of love and prayers being sent her way!! Grandpa is patiently waiting for her to be by his side again!!

  4. Gayle Sullivan says:


    Snow angels made and love being sent! That was a wonderful post:)

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