Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Things got ahead of me and I find myself catching up on writing up posts the week after they're supposed to be up. This is what happens when you're stuck with a day job, not at your own home half the time of the month and not very good at following up with emails. So on this second day of Eid (probably the first if you're in Australia, New Zealand or Indonesia, Eid Mubarak!), while I have a celebration-feast-worthy recipe to share with you as you make merry with family and friends, that'll have to wait - till next week - if things don't go way ahead and leave me scrambling.
'Twas my birthday last week and yes, there had to be cake, and no, I'm not trying to kill you with yet another cake recipe. Cake is important when you're a couple of years pass thirty. Candles, not so much, but cake is. At least to me. So while I was away for work in Shanghai, I spent more time than I should thinking about it. Last year's cake was about painting a pretty picture - chocolate layers, peppermint, smooth as silk Swiss meringue buttercream, more chocolate - the works. This year I wanted something easier to pull off since the big day would come not long after a tiring business trip. But while I won't entertain the idea of piping finicky chocolate decorations, the cake must in no way compromise on awesomeness. You know, not when you're a couple of years pass thirty.
So I did some research and spent my room serviced hotel nights indulging in one of my favorite past time - studying cake recipes. The result was at first between Rosie's salted caramel chocolate fudge cake because of the chocolate (and hey salted caramel!), and Dorie Greenspan's perfect party cake for it was pretty obvious I wanted to have a blast with it. Then I remembered this cake, which I have seen last year while reading Deb's entire blog and thought of as quite unassuming.
Until I went over to the post again and saw that it had 700 over comments. Over a yellow cake with chocolate frosting? Okay, chocolate sour cream frosting but still, something must be up (or down) with this cake. Even the bestest chocolate cake didn't get people so hot and bothered. So I put on my other pair of eyes and went through all the feedback. There were so many negative ones amongst rave reviews, they surprised me. Did Deb lose it with her own recipe two years ago when the cake was an equally big deal for her before Jacob came along? The frosting was too sour/bitter/horrible/don't-even-go-there, the cake dried up the next day, tasted like a very good corn bread but not a yellow cake, too 'eggy', okay but was really dismissible - the list went on and on.
That changed my plans and I knew I had to make this cake. A yellow cake would be special. I have made more than a few chocolate cakes. Yet another one, even one with some burnt sugar and salt, can probably wait. This one would be easy - the frosting didn't even call for an electric mixer. I had all the ingredients in my pantry. But yes, more than any of those reasons, I wanted to rise to the (easy?) 'challenge' and see for myself. Would this be a complete disaster, ruin my birthday and drive me to tears or would it be a total hit as Deb promised?
It was the latter. So much so people who had it asked for seconds. People who weren't sure there were seconds risked it and asked if there were any left. A friend who knew there was definitely none left saved her piece (she said it was too previous) and ate it in three separate seating. Vijay declared it awesome after the first bite. The frosting was phenomenal with the moist cake, he stressed. He halfheartedly gave away his final piece for the love of sharing. As for me, I had a grand total of one and a half piece because there was not enough of it to go around, despite all of its towering 8-inch layers and all. So don't say I didn't warn you. I'll have to make two the next time I'm baking this for whatever reason - and you don't really need one. Not for this cake.
Best Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted barely from Deb Perelman's Best Birthday Cake at Smitten Kitchen.
Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers OR
22 to 24 cupcakes OR
Two 8-inch squares cake layers OR
A 9×13 single-layer cake OR
Three 8-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers.
Note: I followed Deb's recipe exactly and only made my own buttermilk (2 cups whole milk + 2 tablespoons vinegar, you can also use fresh lemon juice) because the store at my neighborhood didn't have any. If you're anything like me and have gone through all the 700 over comments on Deb's original recipe with some amount of weariness, I can safely say that the cake came out awesome without anything different done to it. I made the cake layers two days in advance and froze them before the day of frosting. Like all good cakes, it remained moist and soft even after five days of covered refrigeration. This really could be your best birthday cake too!
- 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons/480 grams cake flour (not self-rising)
- 2 teaspoons/10 grams baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon/5 grams table salt
- 2 sticks/1 cup/1/2 pound/225 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups/400 grams sugar
- 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 cups buttermilk/475 milliliters, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. You can also use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to simplify things.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will be curdled). Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly into prepared cake pans, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles (I used Deb's dropping method as well, make sure to repeat a few times for each layer). Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (mine was done at 30 minutes). Cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes, and then run a knife around the edge of pans to release. Invert onto wire racks and discard parchments, then cool completely, for about one hour.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from Deb Perelman's Best Birthday Cake at Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from The Dessert Bible
Yield: 5 cups of frosting, enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake/three layer 8-inch cake
Note: If you haven't already heard enough of what I have to say about this frosting, let me just reiterate - you have to try this, even if you're not a fan of sour cream. As long as you adjust the sweetness according to the chocolate you're using, the frosting will neither be bitter nor sour. Caveat - fight off the urge to lick your spatulas when frosting.
- 15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
- 2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over just simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. You can also melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid. Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined.
Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until the desired level of sweetness is achieved (I used Callebaut's dark chocolate and all the 1/2 cup of corn syrup). Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency, for about 20-30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out on the counter until it softens again before frosting.
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