October 24, 2010

all's well that ends well spice cake

We talked bean soup last time. Today we talk about cake. It all started with this cake recipe, Faulknerian Family Spice Cake via Food52. Before I get into anything else, let me start by telling you this: this cake is dangerously good. The crumb is tender, finely textured and not at all dry and the spices are lovely without being overpowering. The cake is sweet, as is the caramel frosting, but the combination of sweet and delicately spiced is a good one in my book. And, although the frosting is optional, I think a thin layer really adds something; I even found myself missing frosting on the bites that didn't have any. And I invariably scrape sickly sweet or greasy frosting off restaurant/bakery cakes, so a pro-frosting recommendation is not something I take lightly. 

spice cake w caramel frosting

Funnily enough, however, this cake was almost never to be. I made it last week and I was excited until, after an hour and 15 minutes, it came out of the oven: a fragrant, golden, dense, bundt-cake shaped brick. I figured that I had overmixed the batter. Disappointment #1.

I let it cool, came back 30 minutes later and had a taste. I can now say that I have tasted failure and it is gross. When it dawned on me that I left out the sugar (and wasted 5 eggs, 2 sticks of butter and 3 cups of flour), I almost cried. I may have vowed never to bake again. Mark took my hand and solemnly said: Kim. It's ok. It's ok to throw it away. It's ok. And then we played an impromptu game of cake frisbee, while singing the song from Arrested Development: "Solid... solid as a rock!" It really made me feel better about the whole thing.

We made it again last night, in the spirit of righting wrongs. Also, after a long hike and a virtuous dinner, Mark wanted cake. You know how it is. I brought in the big guns this time (Mark really knows how to make a cake) and he made a few changes, namely using cake flour and changing around the steps. I almost succeeded in mucking it up again (I missed the instructions to add the shortening; oops) but we rallied and, in the end, the batter was beautiful: glossy, mousse-like, light.

This post would be 3 more paragraphs long if I went into more detail about my other issues (my frosting seized; the oven mysteriously shut off mid-cycle -- are you freaking kidding me?) but all you need to know is that the errors were mine, and the cake is totally worth making.  My family is a pie-only Thanksgiving family but if your family prefers cake, I think this spice cake would be a crowd pleasing addition to your table. Or, like us, you can nibble on thin slices with a cup of black coffee and offer a healthy portion to your neighbors and friends.

a teeny sliver for me

Faulknerian family spice cake with caramel frosting (hereafter referred to as "all's well that ends well cake")
adapted from ENunn at Food52
Serves 12-15

As I mentioned, Mark made a few small changes. He used Swan's Down bleached cake flour and changed the order of the steps, based on techniques adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible. ENunn's recipe is sound (and awesome!), though; our recipe is just a variation in technique. We also added weight measurements.

I've also substituted coconut oil for the shortening, and it worked quite well; the texture was light and moist, without having any scent or taste of coconut. If you aren't familiar with coconut oil, it is a plant-based saturated fat. I don't go so far as to substitute it for butter, but I'm happy with the result of substituting it for vegetable shortening. If you bake with coconut oil, the general rule is to to add 75% of what the recipe originally calls for.  

Last note: you can easily halve this cake and bake in round 9 inch cake pan. Mine took slightly less time, closer to an hour, but you'll need to check and test occasionally.
For the cake:
1/2 pound butter, softened
1/2 cup leaf lard or shortening (95.5 grams); or, if using coconut oil, 72 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 TB)
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 TB whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups granulated sugar (600 grams)
3 cups cake flour using the dip and sweep method (435 grams)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace (don't leave this out)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably grated with a rasp grater from a whole nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar (217 grams)
1/3 cup cream
2 cups confectioners sugar (230 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a large mixing bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients: sugar, cake flour, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, sea salt, baking powder. (She calls for sifting it twice; we did it only once.) Set aside. 

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a large mixing bowl and an electric mixer), cream the butter and the lard well. Add 1 egg and 3/4 cup of the milk, reserving the remaining milk and egg for later. Mix on low speed until the mixture is mostly emulsified/uniform, 1 minute or so. (It may not look completely uniform but get it as close as you can.) Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to moisten the dry ingredients. Then, raise the stand mixer speed to medium (or high, if you are using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate the mixture.  Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining milk (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk), 1 teaspoon vanilla and 4 eggs in 3 batches, scraping down the sides and beating for 20 seconds after each addition

3. Bake in a greased and floured tube/bundt pan (at least 9.5 inches in diameter) at 325 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, invert cake onto a platter and use a spreader to smooth a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides.

For the frosting:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1/3 cup cream. Remove from heat and stir until the mixture is smooth. Return to heat and bring to boil for 1 minute. Let the mixture cool and beat in the confectioners sugar and the vanilla. The frosting should be smooth and spreadable.

**Note: Our frosting seized and looked like caramel hummus. Eek. (I think I cooked it too long. The recipe wasn't totally clear about whether to count the minute from the time bubbles first begin to appear or once the mixture is fully boiling, which makes a difference.) Should you experience any seizing, our solution was to dump all the frosting into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whip attachment, we whipped it and dribbled in a little whipping cream, a tablespoon at a time, until it became smooth and spreadable. I spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and had several tablespoons of leftover frosting, which you could serve on the side.

a cross-section shot


Lauren said...

Is it terrible that I feel relieved that something you cooked didn't turn out well the first time? ;)

This looks great. And I've been thinking about that bean soup ever since I read that post like two days ago....

Kim said...

No one, but no one, is immune to kitchen disasters! If I've given the impression that all my cooking turns out perfectly each time, that's just dead wrong. :)

LJ said...

Remember when we were making pumpkin pie last christmas....! We are so opposites, I love baking.

Kim said...

Are you referring to when I "accidentally" dumped twice the amount of cream into the mixing bowl? That was just my secret attempt to make two pumpkin pies instead of one :):):)