Bakery Style White Cake & Cupcakes

What do you like in a cake?  Course or fine grained? Moist and dense, moist and crumbly, light and fluffy, or something in between? 

I prefer a cake that’s dense, and so moist, that you can practically hear it when you cut it. 

Over the weekend I decided to make a white cake.  It’s been ages since I’ve done so.   One reason it’s been so long? I have been hard pressed to find a good white cake recipe that suits my preferences.

I did a little research before deciding on a recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s cookbook Baking. 

In this case, I intended to make a couple significant changes to the recipe (which I did) so this is more like comparing apple to oranges then apples to apples.   I also wanted a smaller layer cake and planned on making mini-cupcakes with the remaining batter.  I’ll get to my opinion in a second. The altered version of the recipe is below.

 

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White Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

3 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. half & half

1/2 c. milk

5 egg whites, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease two 6” round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of both pans and re-spray. Line mini-cupcake tins with 18 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. 

In a large bowl, add butter, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract; blend until smooth and light.

Alternate adding flour, milk and half & half with butter mixture; mix thoroughly. 

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold egg whites into batter. 

Pour batter into 6” cake pans about 2/3 full.  Use remaining batter to fill each mini-cupcake about 1/2 full being careful not to overfill – they will rise considerably. Bake cakes 30-35 minutes; cupcakes 8-10 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from in pans. Cool completely on bakers rack before frosting.

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My conclusion?  I’m still looking for white cake recipes.  This cake has a nice flavor but the texture I was looking for wasn’t there.  This cake reminds me more of a bakery cake, a little finer, crumbly, and slightly drier than what I prefer.  I’ll keep searching…

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I opted for a cocoa frosting recipe from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. 

Cocoa Butter Frosting Recipe

Ingredients:

1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened

1/3 c. baking cocoa

2 c. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Approximately 2 tbsp. milk (use more or less to obtain the consistency of the frosting you like)

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. 

Do you have a good white cake recipe that you think fits my criteria?   I’d love to hear from you.

 

Apples and oranges help make a great holiday food gift

Aside from making Peppermint Chocolates I racked my brain trying to figure out what I was going to bake as holiday food gifts for our close friends this year.  This is an annual ritual for me, and most of the time I make big cookie boxes to pass along.  Being on a bit of a health kick this year I wanted to do something other than cookies galore.   I considered my choices, and hashed, and re-hashed the options over and over again in my head.   Leaning toward breakfast goodies I  narrowed it down to cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, or muffins.   And the winner…..

Oh, these are your clues.  Did they help?  I didn’t figure they would but I just love taking picture of fruit.  I know, weird right? 

This year, muffins won me over.  Apple Oatmeal and Cranberry Orange to be exact.

I’ve made the Apple Oatmeal Muffins before but the Cranberry Orange Muffins were created specifically for this occasion.

I found a recipe for Orange Yogurt Muffins in my Williams-Sonoma cookbook Baking.  I know I’ve mentioned this book a few times before but it’s one of the best.  And no, I’m not getting paid, or any freebies from Williams-Sonoma to promote their book (that would be nice though – hint, hint).  The book just has some awesome recipes in it, along with  pictures of every recipe .  Pictures inspire me.  When I look at my cookbooks without pictures it’s not quite the same. 

With a little tweaking here is what I came up with. This is my adapted version. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Muffins

1 large orange for zest and juice

1/2 c. sugar (1/4 cup for orange mixture and 1/4 cup for later in the recipe)

4 tablespoons of orange juice (from the orange)

5 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 c. of all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

3/4 c. sour cream

3/4 c. milk

1 can of whole cranberry sauce ( you will need to save 1 tsp. for the glaze but should have plenty left over)

Glaze

1 large orange for zest and juice (you will only need half of the orange)

1 c. powdered sugar

2 tablespoons of orange juice

2 tsp. orange zest

1 tsp. cranberry sauce

pinch of salt

Grease muffin tins, or line with papers. Strip the zest from the orange.  Put the zest into a saucepan and cut the orange in half.  Squeeze the juice from both halves into the saucepan.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar and the butter.  Warm until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted.  Take off heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together sour cream, eggs, milk, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla and orange mixture.  Add flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Mix until blended.

Spoon batter into muffin cups (about 1/2 full) and then place 1 teaspoon of cranberry sauce onto of the batter in each cup.  Cover the cranberry sauce with more batter so the muffin cup is about 3/4 full. 

Bake for approximately 15 minutes.   While the muffins are baking make your glaze.

To make the glaze zest about half of the orange and put the zest into a  small mixing bowl.  Squeeze the juice from the half of the orange you zested into the bowl.  Add powdered sugar, salt and cranberry sauce – mix thoroughly.

Once the muffins are done let them cool approximately 5 minutes and drizzle the glaze on top.

The Cranberry Orange muffins look so festive.  We immediately delivered them to our friends so they could enjoy them while they were  fresh.   Upon arriving at one of our stops we were greeted by one of  our friends little girls who immediately took the container from my hands (before we could even get inside).  Her eyes were wide and bright.  “Are these for us?” she asked.  As her three little sisters got wind of what had just arrive they surrounded their dining room table like hungry little vultures.  Pure excitement and anticipation radiated from them.  A very happy ending for a baker who didn’t know where to start. 

Do you give holiday food gifts?  What kind of  sweet confections are you whipping up to share this year?

Crostata, tart, pie – oh my…. Daring Baker Challenge

I usually don’t procrastinate.  When I have something to do I generally like to “get-ir-done”.  In fact, postponing things often makes me  a bit anxious.  However, this month I have to admit that I procrastinated when it came to completing my Daring Bakers’ challenge.  It’s not because I don’t enjoy being part of the The Daring Kitchen.  I really do enjoy my role with this wonderful group.  Last month I made homemade doughnuts.  I had never made them before.  And this month, the challenge, to make a crostata (an Italian baked dessert tart, or form of pie).  I’ve never made a tart before, but have made a lot of pies over the years. Making a tart was slightly new to me.

The first thing I did was buy an 8 inch tart pan.  There was no procrastinating where that was concerned. Why was I putting off making the crostata?  I couldn’t decide what kind  to make.  I scoured recipes on the internet, my cookbooks, and magazines to find a filling recipe  that captured my attention.  One criteria for this challenge was to use one of the two crust recipes that our host Simona from briciole had chosen. Unfortunately, her crust recipes weren’t compatible with the tart filling I decided on, so my crust recipe is slightly different from hers.  I’m sure I will use her recipe in the future when winter passes and fresh, juicy fruits are readily available. I would love to make a fresh raspberry, or blueberry tart – oh my….

The recipe I followed made a chocolate crust. It called for a couple of ingredients Simona’s didn’t, and it didn’t call for eggs like her recipes did.  My recipe originated from William-Sonoma Baking and I made a few small changes to their recipe as well.  Making this recipe also gave me the perfect opportunity to use some of the new products that I recently acquired from the great people at King Arthur Flour. I used their unbleached white whole wheat flour, Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract, and double dutch dark cocoa in this recipe.  The scent of their double dutch cocoa and vanilla extract was out of this world. 

The recipe, Black-and-White Fudge Pie Crostata:

Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur white whole wheat)

1/2 cup walnuts (I used pecans)

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used King Arthur double dutch cocoa)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract)

Chop the nuts but avoid grinding them into a paste.  Combine flour, nuts, cocoa, sugar, and salt into mixing bowl.  Grate butter into dry ingredients and blend together with fingertips.  Stir in milk and vanilla until the dough is mixed.

Press the dough into a tart pan.  Chill for one hour. 

Poke holes with a fork into the bottom of the crust.  Line foil over the dough, and bake at 425 degrees for 8 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake for another 4 minutes.  If the crust starts to puff up – poke it with the fork.  Remove from the oven, reduce the oven temp to 325 degrees.  Allow the crust to cool.

Chocolate Batter

4 oz of bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used the flour mentioned previously)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I excluded these in the chocolate batter)

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, or top bowl of a double boiler set over (but not touching) a pan of simmering water.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs.  Add sugar, flour, and salt to the eggs and mix thoroughly.  Pour in melted chocolate and nuts (optional).  Set aside 1/4 cup of the batter; spread the remainder of chocolate batter into the cooled crust.

Cream Cheese Batter

8 oz cream cheese (softened)

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 handful of mini chocolate chips

In a bowl add cream cheese and beat until smooth.  Add sugar, egg and vanilla and mixed thoroughly.  Lastly, add in one handful of mini chocolate chips.  Drizzle cream cheese batter over the chocolate batter in the tart shell.  Then drizzle the remaining chocolate batter over the cream cheese batter.  You can swirl the ingredients in the shell together with a knife for a marbled effect –  I didn’t.  Bake for 35-40 minutes (at 325 degrees) until filling is set – toothpick should come out clean.  I garnished with a few mini-chocolate chips.

Serve at room temperature, or refrigerated.

This tart  is delicious!  Although the recipe has quite a bit of sugar in it the double dutch cocoa and bittersweet chocolate create the perfect balance.  I liked being able to use the white whole wheat flour too.  It sneaks a little bit of nutritional value into a treat – without being at all obvious.  I didn’t settle for the first recipe that I stumbled across and my procrastination proved worth it in the end. I’m glad careful consideration went into making my first tart.  I recommend this recipe as a holiday dessert – and if you can splurge, I recommend using King Arthur products.  The quality of their products are exceptional.   

** Baker’s note – there was excess chocolate and cream cheese batter left over.  To use the batter up I lined cupcake tins with paper liners.  I then  put a small piece of honey graham cracker in the bottom of each paper and alternated the batters.  The graham cracker floated to the top during baking giving these little treats a very neat look. 

Mini-vanilla scones and your cooking personality

Have you ever wondered what kind of cook or baker you are?  No, I’m not talking about a good baker, or a bad cook, or visa versa.  I’m talking about the kind of cooking personality you have.  Until now,  I really had no clue that  someone had researched this and came to the conclusion that there are five distinctive cooking personalities.   

Looking at my own cooking traits, I admit for the most part, I like to try new recipes. Many times I veer off the recipe trail and tweak recipes.  I like the thought of contributing my own distinctive touch, tastes, or style to a recipe.  I’m always looking for a recipe that I can add to my tried-and-true file, and granted, there are only a few tried-and-true recipes in my file, but what I can tell you is this, once a recipe makes there,  my quest for a recipe for that particular dish is over.  Some of the recipes on my list of tried-and-true’s – my mother’s apple pie recipe, my apple cupcake recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Red Plaid cookbook, a carrot cake from Williams – Sonoma Baking cookbook,  a fudge brownie recipe I tweaked from Martha Stewart, and our family sugar cookie recipe.

From what I’ve found, Cornell University  researchers were the first to conduct a study to determine there are five different cooking personalities.  Their conclusions are as follows:

a) Giving: Friendly, well-liked and enthusiastic, giving cooks seldom experiment, love baking and like to serve tried-and-true family favorites, although that sometimes means serving less healthful foods.

b) Methodical:
Talented cooks who rely heavily on recipes. The methodical cook has refined tastes and manners. Their creations always look exactly like the picture in the cookbook.

c) Healthy: Optimistic, book-loving, nature enthusiasts, healthy cooks experiment with fish, fresh produce and herbs. Health comes first, even if it means sometimes sacrificing taste.

d) Competitive: The Iron Chef of the neighborhood, competitive cooks have dominant personalities and are intense perfectionists who love to impress their guests.

e) Innovative: Creative and trend-setting, innovative cooks seldom use recipes and like to experiment with ingredients, cuisine styles and cooking methods.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a cross-over between a giving and innovative cooking personality. Can you decide what type of cook you are? If you are looking for some interesting reading related to food topics you might want to check out Cornell’s Food and Brand site linked above

Okay, on to the good stuff.  I found this recipe for vanilla scones on cdkitchen.  I  followed the recipe to the letter with the only adaptations made to the glaze recipe. For my glaze I used 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon & sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water.  I made mini-scones by taking small pieces of dough and shaping it into very lightly greased cupcake tins.  I love the results.  These are scrumptious, and go great with a fresh cup of coffee, or tea.  I’m almost thinking these could go into the tried-and-true file they are so good.

Whole Wheat Bread

My mother will never know this because unfortunately she’s no longer with us but she really taught me the art of baking.  She was an excellent baker, as well as an excellent cook.  Me, I’ve always steered more toward baking than cooking.  From a young age I was whipping up cake batters, cookies, and strawberry shortcakes.

I truly can’t remember one thing that mom baked that didn’t turn out perfect.  She made making pies look like the easiest thing on earth, never having to piece together a crust like I’ve had to do on more than one occasion.   Her sugar cookies were the sweetest and softest I’ve ever brought to my lips.  Sweet enough to risk getting caught stealing them out of the freezer where she kept them for “safe keeping” before Christmas. I will never make rice pudding like she did, even following her recipe.

The other day I decided that with the cold weather setting in I’d make a couple of loaves of  whole wheat bread.  I love the fall for this reason.  Everything seems to slow down a bit and I can focus more on cooking and baking.   While I was making the bread I wondered what mom would think if she were sitting at my counter watching me. I decided she’d probably be very glad that I enjoy baking like I do, maybe she would give me some helpful tips, but she would probably wonder why I couldn’t make bread without making my kitchen such a mess.  It doesn’t matter how careful I am not to get flour all over the place, it still happens and sometimes I swear the more careful I am, the bigger mess I make.

This recipe for the whole wheat bread came from one of my favorite Williams-Sonoma cookbooks called Baking.  The recipe gave me the option of mixing by hand, or with a mixer and a dough hook.  I opted for the dough hook, so out came the mixer

I have never used the mixer to make bread before. I’ve always made my bread by hand or cheated and used my bread maker.  I have to say it was nice letting the mixer do the work for me.  It was also nice getting more than one loaf of bread, not an option when I use the bread maker.

The recipe is as follows, with a few adaptations.

In a bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour and 2 1/2 cups of bread flour (I used all-purpose flour in place of the bread flour). In a large bowl, or bowl of  the electric mixer, combine 2 cups of the flour mixture, salt, and yeast. In a saucepan over low heat, combine 1 cup of water, the milk, molasses, and butter. Heat to lukewarm (110 degrees). Stir this liquid mixture into the yeast mixture and beat until hard and smooth. Add the remaining flour, mix and knead. If  kneading by hand, knead for about 10 minutes. If using a mixer with dough hook  the dough should pull cleanly from the sides of your bowl (about 6-7 minutes.) *Note the dough will be heavy.

Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubled. ( About 1 -1 1/2 hours).

Grease two loaf pans. Turn the dough onto lightly floured surface and cut in half. (The recipe tells you to roll flat, and then roll up tightly and pinch the seams to seal.) I formed each half into an oval loaf, and place in the greased pans. Cover the pans with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled. (About 45-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaves with egg yolk (I skipped this stage, and brushed the loaf with butter when it came out of the oven for a softer crust.) Bake until golden brown, and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. (About 30-40 minutes).  Transfer to a wire rack and cool. When the pans are cool enough to touch take the bread out of them.

I figure if my mom was here to taste my bread she would have overlooked the mess I made of my kitchen and said it was all worth it in the end.  The bread sure tastes good toasted with the homemade peach jam I made this summer.

Do you prefer to bake, or cook?  Did someone teach you the art?  If so, who was it?

Finished and frosted…

Carrot Cake (Williams Sonoma Baking Cookbook)

350 Degree Oven

2 c. all-pupose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground allspice  (*I used nutmeg)

4 large eggs

3/4 c. canola oil

3/4 c. sugar

1 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 c. buttermilk  (* I used sour milk)

3 c. shredded carrots

Cream Cheese Frosting to top it off which I whipped up from years of practice and no recipe.  Sorry…

In the middle of making a carrot cake

I have procrastinated all day long.  I had good intentions of baking a cake earlier in the day but it’s been a lazy day for me.  The weather is crummy, and frankly, my time this morning was spent watching Runaway Jury.  Good movie…  When I couldn’t make up my mind what kind of cake to make today I  asked my husband.  Would he prefer a yellow cake with a lemon filling, or a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting?  I knew what his answer would be.  Carrot of course!  I found a great recipe for carrot cake in a Williams Sonoma Baking cookbook that I bought for his birthday one year.   I’ve made this cake before and the first time it turned out great – nice and moist..   When the cake is finished I’ll post a picture or two and the recipe. 

I spent some time looking at some vintage recipe books today too.  That’s  a topic I definitely will have to spend more time on in a future post.