Friday, January 29, 2010

Ann's November Cake: Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake

This cake was completely intended to be an extra cake for the month, even though I hadn't really decided on my "official cake". But then in the end, I didn't have time to make another one. You know when you're making tons of cakes and you feel like you haven't really explored sides that you needed to, and you realize you've failed at doing what you set out to do that year and you hate yourself? Okay, maybe only Listle understands this, but she probably feels like she got everything done that she wanted to, so it's just me! Anyway, I chose this cake only because I had a bunch of leftover sour cream in the fridge and some frozen blueberries, and I was (typically) struggling to fit stuff into my space in the fridge (side note - it's really hard to have three people share a fridge). After a quick search for "sour cream" in The Cake Book (by the frosting-lite Tish Boyle), I came up with this perfect recipe. But in the end, I realized I hadn't yet made a crumb cake, so I did do something I needed to explore! Hooray!!!!

The thing that really surprised me about this cake is that it ended up being the most popular of the year with my roommates (who have been trying them since August). I thought it was super good, but it wasn't difficult at all to make and, as I said before, was just there to get rid of some ingredients, so their reaction was refreshing and made me feel better at the time about calling it the official cake of the month. The cake itself was really moist (again, sorry Mrs. H-B) and flavorful because of the sour cream, and I added the frozen blueberries at the last minute so they didn't bleed too much color in the surrounding batter. The crumbs got all buttery and caramel-y as the brown sugar melted....num num nummy! My only complaint was that I didn't have the requisite 9-inch square pan (I had an 8-inch), so the cake was thicker than intended and there were tons of crumbs on each piece. You're probably thinking that sounds awesome, but when you're on a diet, it means that you get a tiny tiny piece of cake covered with crumbs, and you just want more cake.

The other problem is that it took a lot longer to bake than it said in the recipe because of the smaller pan, so Ol' Blue Eyes fell asleep while he was waiting.

Good thing cake is the best wake-up.

Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake
from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

Crumb topping:
1 cup flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or unthawed frozen blueberries (I used frozen)
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

1.) In a medium bowl, stir the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well blended. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork, stirring until the butter is absorbed and the dry ingredients are uniformly moistened. Set aside.

2.) Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degree F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan.

3.) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

4.) In a medium bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture until the berries are coated; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla extract; set aside.

5.) In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together the butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream in two additions. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the blueberries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter, breaking up any large clumps with your fingers.

6.) Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and 45 minutes. Place the cake in the pan on a wire rack and let cool completely.

7.) Cut the cake into squares and serve from the pan.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elizabeth's November Cake - Chocolate Layer Cake

My November cake was actually a Greek Yogurt Cake, but I didn't take any pictures, so I'm going to post about the cake I made the first week of December instead.

I made this Sour Cream Chocolate Cake for Ella's birthday party. I found out it is NOT a "chocolate-lover's cake." It is a milk chocolate cake --- an excellent one, but I was still looking for a deep, rich cake. But.....the plus side is that my husband, who doesn't normally like chocolate cake (I know, huh!?!) really liked this. And the kids ate it up like crazy. And the birthday girl, who picked it, loved it. A WINNER! (Even if I was still looking for something with more chocolatey oomph.)

The recipe comes from The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. If you look closely at the photo I posted above, you will see something that caught my eye the very moment I unwrapped this book on Christmas: the frosting on top of the cake is ultra thin! Almost paper thin at the tip of the triangle. Wha...?! The covers of books usually have the frosting piled up several inches. This is unheard of! What a renegade, that Tish.

Turns out, I actually do wish it had been thicker on the cake, and I'm not a frosting person. The recipe says that the frosting will leave you with so much extra that you can actually do a bunch of fancy flowers and such on top of the cake. I'm here to say that it just ain't so. I didn't do a single fancy thing, and it was just barely enough. Next time I'll do 50% more (a 1 1/2 recipe).

The cake, minus the tall candles. It has such straight sides!

I didn't get any close ups of the cake, because it was eaten up lickety split. Incidentally, as I was looking for the recipe online so that I wouldn't have to type it by hand, I stumbled upon Tish Boyle's Blog. It looks great. And it includes this scrumptious-looking recipe for true hot chocolate. Maybe she does understand my love for chocolate after all. I'll have to make some more of the chocolate recipes in her book and her blog.

Ella eating the crumbs the next day after church. Yum!

In case you're wondering about the party, it was great! I'm a sucker for a big party for kids. I agree that it's a lot of work, but it's super fun for the kids (16 kids -- 8 girls, 8 boys. All came). I figure I can get through anything for a couple of hours, so why not? The only thing that I didn't like is that at age 6, we start allowing our kids to have "present parties." And when you have that many kids over, it just feels greedy. Your kid is opening presents for what feels like ages, and a bunch of parents are standing there watching, and it just feels very... precious. Like "There's my little princess! Opening her presents. Stand back, kids. Give her room." Ugh. That was the only part I didn't like. But before age 6, when we still have parties but don't allow gifts, people act like it is a tragedy, and they're reluctant to invite my kids to their own houses, because they think we have a moral objection to gifts or something. It's all very confusing and frustrating. If I ruled the world, kids parties would be huge. They'd be at people's houses with loads of friends, loads of games, and loads of dancing, but they would never be over-the-top in terms of expense at some fancy place with a fancy entertainer. And NO post-party treat bag! But that's just me. Most people I know don't do parties at all because of all the hassle and fuss and "expectations" from other kids/parents. It's sad. (Last year, one kid who came to Adam's party walked in and said FIRST THING "What's going to be in the treat bag?" A bunch of kids asked where the treat bag was when the party was over. They got a tiny pumpkin to take home, but no treat bag. Ella's friends got a "potato pal" at her party--a potato that they decorated to look like a buddy. Hilarious, I know, but they loved them.)

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake


  • 2 2/3 cups all purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1/2 cup natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 2/3 cup safflower oil or corn oil

  • 1 1/4 cups ice-cold water


    Position oven rack in center of oven; preheat oven to 350°; grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans; line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper; dust the paper and sides of the pans with flour.

    Into a bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk to combine then set aside.

    In another bowl, whisk together the eggs until blended; whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract until blended; set aside.

    In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the melted butter and oil together on low speed.

    Add in the cold water and mix to blend.

    Add in the dry ingredients all at once and mix on med-low for 1 minute,

    Add in the egg mixture and mix for another minute, until well blended, scraping down the sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing evenly.

    Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes, until a pick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks, peel off the paper, and cool completely.

Silky Chocolate Buttercream


10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup water, divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

Put the chocolate and 1/3 cup of the water in a medium stainless steel bowl and place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from over the pot and set the chocolate mixture aside to cool until tepid.

In small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar with the remaining 1/3 water. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the egg yolks at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.

At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the cooled chocolate mixture, mixing just until blended. Stir the mixture by hand a few times to make sure it is well blended. Use the buttercream at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ann's October Cake - Halloween Cupcakes

Halloween has slowly but surely become my favorite holiday (but maybe it's Christmas???? I don't know! I can't decide!), and everyone in my family agrees that one of the best parts of Halloween are Halloween cupcakes!!! In fact, they are so popular that my nephew Adam once prayed "Thank you for my family. Thank you for corn. Thank you for Halloween cupcakes, yum yum, they're my favorite" BEFORE he had ever actually had a Halloween cupcake. My sister had just talked them up that much in front of him! (Sorry for stealing your story, Listle. You had your chance.) I knew it was a given that I'd made some for my October cake.

I went a little nuts with Halloween issues of Martha Stewart Living (I'd bought a copy of a special issue a couple of years ago that'd been taken by a former roommate), and I spent A LOT of time on eBay trying to find past issues, and I maybe also got a little obsessed with Martha in the meantime and subscribed to two of her magazines. Anyhoo, I had remembered these cupcakes that I had seen two years ago, so that's what I wanted to make.

The cupcakes themselves were easy to make, but the frosting called for some ingredients that I didn't have access to (whipping quality pasturized egg whites?). I also ended up going to several stores looking for all the candy I needed for the decoration (who knew that red hots were so hard to find???), so as usual, I was scrambling to get everything done. Since I was also trying to organize a large party, this was more stressful than fun. In the end, after I got the cupcakes made, I decorated them as best I could with what I'd been able to find. As the party began, I enlisted the help of our friends to help decorate. I think I did all the mummies and skeletons, but other people helped out with the witches and the spiders (which ended up just being evil toothed things because I hadn't been able to find the licorice strings).

I wish I'd been able to spend more time with these. The cupcakes looked good, but I could have done better, and I thought they tasted a little dry (I made them a day before I decorated, and I think they weren't covered properly). I think that the ideas from the magazine were amazing, so it was my own issues with trying to fit too much in to too little time that made them not everything they could be. My favorites were the mummies, with pear jelly beans and food coloring for eyes, red gummi bears for a mouth, and lots of piped frosting (check off piping requirement!). I thought they looked really cute!
Hooray for Halloween cupcakes, and hooray for spooky me!

Halloween Cupcakes
from Martha Stewart Holiday: Halloween, 2007
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 sticks butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin tins or 2 1/2 mini muffin tins with paper liners.

2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

3. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk.

4. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake until tops spring back, when lightly touched, about 20 minutes for standard cupcakes, and 8 to 10 minutes for mini cupcakes. Let cool completely in tins on wire racks. Decorate with buttercream and candy, as per pictures below.

Vanilla Buttercream:

6 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
9 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Beat butter in the bowl with an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.

2. Reduce speed to medium. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula as needed, about 5 minutes total. After every 2 additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate the frosting. Add vanilla, and beat until smooth.

For mummy cupcakes, frost with a layer of buttercream. Place a dot of black gel frosting or melted chocolate on two pale green jelly beans. Halve a red gummi bear lengthwise. Arrange the candy to make a face. Pipe bands of buttercream using a ribbon tip (such as Ateco #44) to replicate ragged bandages.

For skeleton cupcakes, frost cupcakes with buttercream. Arrange with white jelly beans, black licorice candy, and black M&Ms to form a skeleton face.

For witch cupcakes, mix buttercream with green food coloring. Mound frosting on cupcakes, and arrange black M&Ms, candy corn, licorice strings, and a chocolate ice cream cone to make a witch.

For spider cupcakes, frost mini cupcakes with buttercream and dip in black sanding sugar. Arrange a spider face with red hots or halved red jelly beans and sliced marshmallows. Stick licorice strings in the sides for spider legs (if you can find the licorice strings...I couldn't...)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Elizabeth's October Cake - Almost-Fudge Gateau

(sorry about my grainy pics. I turned the res down and forgot to turn it back up.)

This cake begins a spree of chocolate cakes, as I tried to find the perfect one. In a few posts, we'll see if I succeeded or not! (That's my teaser.)

I made Almost-Fudge Gateau, from the Dorie Greenspan book Baking: From My Home to Yours. It was FABULOUS! And so easy to put together. It's not flourless, but close. One of those cakes that melts in your mouth at every bite. Scrumptious.

The only problem I had was when it came time to do the frosting. You don't have to make the frosting; the cake's deliciousness will stand on its own. But we were having friends over and I wanted to complete the presentation. I was POSITIVE that I had cream in the fridge, and I practically turned the contents upside down trying to find it. Only as I was eating the cake an hour later did I finally remember that I had used it for something else two days earlier. They don't call me "Bad Memory Girl" for nothing.

I made a quick frosting with sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and chocolate chips (I didn't want to use the really good chocolate for such a lousy frosting). It worked out okay, and I know a lot of people really like frostings with sweetened condensed milk, but it was too sweet for my taste. All the same, everyone enjoyed the cake.

Here we are, having a fire in the back yard, eating some cake with our friends (except Carl, our P90X-er, who doesn't eat chocolate anymore. CRAZY!) Griselda made us Salvadoran papusas for dinner, which were ridiculously good. I think they should open up a stand. Outside my house. Every day at lunch. It might interfere with his medical career and her nursing career, but who cares? I need papusas in my belly!

No, Adam's pants are not on fire. No, he's not a liar, liar.

You can see the finger lines on the plate where Ella is licking it dry. I wouldn't let her have any more cake, so she is doing the next best thing.

The cake was wonderful and perfect in every way, but I am still looking for the perfect layered chocolate cake. The search continues.........

Almost-Fudge G√Ęteau

(Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours)

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

½ cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the su
gar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the butter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze: First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.