7UP Pound Cake

I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday filled with family, friends, and – of course – an endless supply of delicious food! Our Christmas was pretty unusual for us both this year. Our new budget being as tight as it is, we made the tough decision to stay in Nova Scotia for the Holidays and save up for a trip in the Spring instead. I can’t say that either our Ontario family or Vermont side was very happy with our plan, haha, but they understood where we were coming from.

Brad put his culinary skills to work and made us a wonderful dinner of lemon roast chicken with rosemary, garlic mashed-potatoes, and butter-dill carrots. It might not have been the jaw-dropping feast our families are known for having, but it filled our little table-top just fine and was still more than we could both eat in one sitting. We lounged on a pile of quilts and pillows, stuffing ourselves shamelessly, while breaking in the new Scrabble game Brad bought me. After the game (I won ;)) we managed a slice of cake each while watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was a great Christmas.

While this recipe is a no-brainer I did manage to nearly fail at making it. Neglecting to set a timer, I got distracted while chatting with family during a call from home and only remembered the cake about fifteen minutes past the maximum recommended bake time. Luckily the cake hadn’t burned, but it was a close thing. Set your timers!

7UP Pound Cake (from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010)

Ingredients:

For the Cake…

2½   C   granulated sugar

5   large eggs, at room temperature

½   C   fresh (not flat) 7UP, at room temp

1   T   grated lemon zest

2   T   fresh lemon juice

1   T   grated lime zest

2   T   fresh lime juice

½   t   salt

2½   sticks unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled (1 1/4 Cup)

3 1/4   C   cake flour*

* Note: You can use AP flour instead of cake flour (I have before) although your cake will not turn out as tender. The common conversion is to substitute 2 Tablespoons per Cup of flour called for with corn starch (or leave them out altogether). You can read more about flour conversions here.

For the Icing…

1   C   confectioner’s sugar (4 oz.)

1   T   fresh lemon juice

1   T   fresh lime juice

Procedure:

1) Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease and flour a 12-Cup non-stick tube or Bundt pan. Process the granulated sugar, eggs, 7UP, lemon zest and juice, lime zest and juice, and salt in a food processor until smooth – about 10 seconds. Alternatively, you can use a blender although it may not mince the zest quite as fine (when my upright blender failed to do the job I used my immersion and it worked perfectly).

2) With the machine still running, slowly add the melted butter and process/blend until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl and add the flour in three batches, whisking gently until combined.

3) Spread the batter into the prepared pan and gently tap the pan on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean – 75 to 90 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing – about 2 hours (hint: those of us in cooler climates can take advantage of the winter air, just don’t drop your cake in the snow!).

4) When the cake has come to room temperature prepare the glaze: whisk the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Pour the icing over the cake and let it set for about 10 minutes before serving. The cake can be covered in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Beezer’s Notes:

The author of this recipe, Cali Rich, definitely accomplished what she’d set out to achieve: “a forceful lemon-lime flavor that warranted the 7UP name”. The cake alone had a nice citrus flavor that went well with the soft, buttery crumb. I especially liked the zesty, mouth-puckering icing and had a hard time leaving it for the cake, haha. Speaking of which, I think I might double the amount of icing next time. This recipe gave me enough to cover my cake, but just barely. If you’re like me and enjoy generous amounts of icing/frosting you may want to double the above recipe as well. I can see this glaze being perfect for shortbread and sugar cookies, too.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Cherry-Filled Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

I’m posting this cake recipe in hopes that you’ll trust me on this one and generously look over some of my more noticeable flaws here, like the fact that I obviously have very little experience frosting cakes (sad, but true)…the fact that the colors in the photos are a bit off (baking in the evening)…or perhaps the most glaring of all: there isn’t a single photo of a slice! How could I omit that?

Well, I did and we’ll both just have to live with it. I made this cake for one of my fellow grad students whose birthday it was last week. The cake was sliced up in the office and – I’m sorry – I must not be a true food blogger since I couldn’t bring myself to pause the celebration just so I could snap some photos for my website. You’ll have to take my word for it: it looked good!

I’ve needed some serious chocolate love recently, too. Classes are continuing to pick up and while I’m still loving them, I’m also starting to get frustrated with myself. You see, for the one class where we have significant homework assignments, I’ve yet to get any of the homework problems correct. Any. I’ve been able to work them out and get answers, sure, but in the end I’m always wrong.

I know I have a lot of ground to make up – I’ve been out of the Physics world for over 5 years now and this kind of thinking takes practice – but I’m starting to feel really guilty here. At the weekly study groups I have yet to contribute a single idea that amounts to anything. I guess I’ll have to keep baking so at least I can contribute something tasty if not cosmologically relevant.

Cherry-Filled Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

(Cake/frosting recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Spring Entertaining ’10)

Ingredients:

For the Cake…

12   T   unsalted butter, very soft plus extra for prep

1¾   C   unbleached AP flour (8¾ oz), plus extra for prep

4   oz.   unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼   C   Dutch-processed cocoa*

½   C   hot water

1¾   C   sugar

1½   t   baking soda

1   t   salt

1   C   buttermilk**

2   t   vanilla extract

4  large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks

*Note: If you have high-quality unsweetened cocoa on hand, you can sub it in for Dutch-processed powder using the following conversion: use 3 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder plus a pinch of baking soda for every 1 ounce of Dutch-Processed cocoa called for in a recipe. More information about it here.

**Note: Along with my cocoa substitution, I also never buy buttermilk. I mix 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice into 1 Cup of regular milk and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until it begins to curdle – super easy. 🙂

For the Frosting…

16  oz.  semisweet chocolate chips

8   T   unsalted butter (1 stick)

1/3   C   sugar

2   T   corn syrup

2   t   vanilla extract

¼   t   salt

1¼   C   cold heavy cream

an ice bath (see procedure)

For the Filling…

1  lb.  fresh cherries, pitted and halved – plus extra for decoration

½   C   water

1/3   C   sugar

1   T   cornstarch

2   t   alcohol-free almond extract*

*Note: I use this kind of almond flavoring (made with real almond oil but no alcohol) so I was able to add a generous amount. I’m sure you can use almond extract that’s made with alcohol, just start with a single teaspoon, taste, and add more as needed.

Procedure:

1) Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ round cake pans with butter then dust with flour and knock out excess – set aside. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in a medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over a saucepan containing 1″ simmering water and stir with a rubber spatula until chocolate has melted – about 2 minutes. Add ½ Cup of sugar to chocolate and stir until glossy, a couple minutes more. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

2) Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in another medium-sized bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a third small bowl. In bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment (or in a large bowl) whisk eggs and yolks on Medium-low speed for about 10 seconds or until combined. Add remaining 1¼ Cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color – 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment – if using stand mixer – and add the cooled chocolate mix to the egg-sugar blend. Mix on Medium speed  until thoroughly incorporated, 30-45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

3) Add softened butter to the batter mixture 1 Tablespoon at a time, mixing for about 10 seconds after each addition. Once butter has been incorporated, alternate adding about 1/3 of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk mix blending for about 15 seconds after each. Repeat alternating flour and buttermilk until both are fully incorporated into batter. The batter may appear separated, but don’t worry. Set aside electric mixer and use a spatula to scrape sides and fold in any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepped pans, smooth batter to the edges, and bake. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out with a few crumbs still attached – about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake completely before turning out of pans.

3) While cake is baking, prepare the Filling: mix cherries, water, and sugar together in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over Medium heat. Continue to cook cherries until they have softened and liquid has thickened slightly. Remove pan from heat and pour off about 1/3 Cup of the liquid into a separate small bowl. Add cornstarch to the hot liquid, whisk until fully dissolved, and add the cornstarch-liquid mixture back into the cherry pan. Using a potato-masher or two forks, break up the cherries a bit to make the filling more pulp-y and to fully blend in the cornstarch. Finally, add the almond extract, stir well, and taste. Add more sugar or extract as needed, then set filling aside to cool.

4) For the Frosting: melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a double-boiler, as in Part 1. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat butter in small saucepan over Medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to Medium, add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with a heatproof rubber spatula until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Place melted chocolate, butter mixture, and cream in clean bowl of stand mixer (or large metal bowl) and stir thoroughly to combine. Place mixer/metal bowl over an ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and is just beginning to harden against the sides of the bowl (frosting should be 70°F). Place bowl back on stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on Medium speed for a few minutes or until frosting is light and fluffy. Stir with spatula until completely smooth.

5) When it’s time to assemble the cake, place the first layer on a cardboard round or serving plate. Spread cherry filling over the top – try to get as close to the sides as possible – and then layer with about 1½ Cups of frosting. Smooth the filling with a spatula before gently placing the top layer on the cake. Trim if needed so that the sides are even before applying the crumb layer to the cake. Place cake in freezer for a few minutes to help set the crumb layer before applying the rest of the frosting generously over the whole cake. Top with a few cherries if desired and serve.

**Note: I put my cake in the fridge overnight before bringing to the office. While it was still delicious, the frosting had hardened considerably and the texture turned from fluffy and silky to dense and slightly gritty. I highly suggest not refrigerating the assembled cake at all. You can make the cake layers beforehand and keep them in the fridge wrapped in cling-wrap, but please keep the frosting at room temp if you can!**


Beezer’s Notes:

To be honest, what with my lack of experience and the fact that I threw together the cherry filling on a whim at the last minute, I was prepared for the worst. Instead, the cake’s crumb was just as promised: incredibly light and spongy (in a good way) while still packing a wallop of dark chocolate flavor. The frosting was an adventure for me, but it too developed into something wonderful. If you long for the lightness of buttercream but with the richness of ganache you need to try this recipe! Finally, my cherry filling experiment turned out fine. Each bite of cake contained a juicy not-too-sweet cherry that added a nice break from the richness of the rest of the cake. With all that taken into account I would love to give this recipe 5 ‘s…except that it was a very time-consuming cake to make – at least with my experience. Since time is usually a big factor for me, I’ll have to subtract a heart for that, but don’t let that discourage you!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Browned Butter Almond Cake

I know what you’re thinking: finally, a recipe with some substance! Haha. It’s true, I’ve been busy lately and have been attracted more and more to quick (but delicious!) snacks and treats. With school starting in a week I find myself running around town, nervously trying to tie up loose ends, square away a clear financial plan, and smoothly transition from “real world” work back to academia. The start of a new school year is busy for everyone, but I think it’s especially exciting and terrifying for me because I’ve been out of the game for so long.

By some miracle (and countless all-night study sessions) I graduated with my B.Sc. in Physics in 2006. I had planned on taking a year off to rest my muddled brain and travel, but – as you all know – time accelerates exponentially as you age and suddenly I find myself four years out of the field. I’m very happy to finally be working towards my graduate degree, I’m just nervous at discovering just how rusty my school-skills have become. There’s also more to it than my ability to cram. If years away weren’t bad enough, I’m also jumping subjects: from my Physics background I’m hoping to bridge the way to a Biochemistry future. It could be worse I suppose; they’re both science concentrations. I haven’t had a Chemistry course since my undergrad freshman year, though, so we’re looking at eight years since any real experience. It’s going to be tough.

Cooking, baking, and – of course – eating are always good stress relievers and when I read about Sugar High Fridays on 17 and Baking I really wanted to participate. The theme ingredient this time is Browned Butter, something I had never made before but have always thought it sounded delicious. Apparently, browned butter is known in France as beurre noisette and is described as being nutty, toasy, and/or slightly caramel-like.

I immediately reached for my favorite dessert book: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Inside I found the perfect recipe, one that combined the key ingredient with almonds for a dense but not terribly rich cake – the kind that goes well with nearly anything you can imagine. Being an almond fan I had to try it.

Browned Butter Almond Cake (from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor)

Ingredients:

1   C   unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 3/4   C   all-purpose flour

1 3/4   t    baking powder

½   t    salt

½   C   sliced almonds, finely ground*

7   oz.   almond paste (1 roll)

1     C   sugar

1      t   pure vanilla extract

3   large eggs

2   large egg yolks

½   C   powdered sugar, for dusting

* Note: When I initially read this ingredient, I understood it to mean ½ C of almonds finally ground (as in, once ground, measure out ½ a Cup). Because I love almonds almost as much as I love cheese, I measured out a full Cup of ground almonds – which required nearly 2 Cups of sliced almonds to make. Now that I’m rereading this, it turns out that I used about  four times as much ground almonds as called for! Oops! The cake was delicious despite my mistake (see Beezer’s Notes below), but if you aren’t such a fan of almonds or prefer to stick to the source recipe make sure to measure out only ½ C of sliced almonds to grind.


Procedure:

  1. Read How To Brown Butter on Simply Recipes. I didn’t and wish I did.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat. When melted, increase the heat to medium and whisk gently but constantly.
  3. Continue cooking and whisking the butter until the solids at the bottom of the pan begin to brown. As these solids begin to caramelize, the butter will begin to smell nutty and sweet. As soon as you smell this delightful aroma, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. The butter will continue to cook and brown off-heat so it is important to remove it from the burner as soon as the process begins. Let the butter cool completely.
  4. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Grease a 9″ round cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper.
  5. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the ground almonds and set aside.
  6. Break the almond paste into small pieces and, in a second bowl, toss with the sugar. Now, here the source recipe calls for an electric beater but, let me tell you folks, I tried that and it was a MESS! Even after microwaving the combined sugar/paste mixture for a few seconds to help soften the pieces my electric beater was unable to blend the two together. Instead, I highly recommend using a food processor if you have one. Just a few pulses on low and bam: beautiful sandy mixture. Even a pastry cutter would probably be more affective than electric beaters here, in my opinion.
  7. Once you have blended the almond paste and sugar together to form a crumbly, sandy mix you may go back to your electric beaters. Use them to beat in the vanilla and then the whole eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating one before moving on to the next. Beat in the egg yolks, again one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  8. Carefully fold the flour mix into the batter until just incorporated.
  9. By now your browned butter should be room temperature*
  10. *Note: traditional “browned butter” should require no straining. If you accidentally cook it too long – as I did – and have small dark brown particles in your butter you’ve probably made buerre noir instead. You then have a choice: you can either strain the particles out and use the butter anyway – as long as it’s not too badly burnt it will still be delicious – or you can save it for a pasta dish and attempt the brown butter again. Elise, the author of the “How to Brown Butter ” article says she dumps it! Either she has very seriously blackened her butter in the past or I’m thriftier than I realized, haha.
  11. …gently fold your browned (or darkly browned – as I’m going to call mine) butter into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepped cake pan and spread evenly.
  12. Bake the cake for 10 minutes before reducing the heat down to 350°F. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean – about 30 minutes.
  13. Once the cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and allow to completely cool (I know it’s hard) before removing it from the pan.
  14. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

Beezer’s Notes:

This cake – while possibly made with butter a tad bit too brown – was delicious! As I usually mention with every recipe of this sort that I am not really a cake fan. I’ll pick a pie or tart over cake most of the time and it’s only the more unique and non-traditional ones that grab my attention (see my Irish Cream Pound Cake, Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside Down Gingerbread, or Blueberry Almond Cake). Well, I’m proud to add this yummy dessert to my list!

My only regrets with this recipe are as follows: first, I really wish I had had some sort of a side to compliment the cake, especially because there are so many tasty possibilities. Vanilla ice cream is an obvious choice, but also berries, a compote, whipped cream, maybe even a light pudding would all be fabulous. I quickly put together this dessert in between trips, though, and simply wasn’t prepared (on the bright side, I can truly say this cake freezes very well!).

Regret #2 is only that I would like to try this cake with perfectly browned butter next time. My butter did smell exactly as described – deliciously nutty and sweet – but the fact that I had to strain away darkened bits makes me think I accidentally made buerre noir instead and I’d like to taste the difference.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

 

 

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