Saturday, July 5, 2008

Celebrating Deliciously

Everyone always seems to have a lot of spirit on the Fourth of July--very colorful spirit. I knew, therefore, that I wanted to make an equally colorful dessert, but what would I use to achieve those colors? I had been itching to bake a cake, so I decided to satisfy that urge. Plus, cakes are easy to make colorful because there are many, many combinations of frosting, filling, cake layers, et cetera, to use.

I knew exactly how I would make the white portion of the cake: first, the layers themselves, and second, the frosting. Tucked away in my "Please Test These Recipes!" file was a recipe for Real Vanilla Bean Buttercream from Baking Bites, with a couple of modifications to compensate for my lack of vanilla-bean ownership. The cake itself is a yellow cake recipe that I originally found on Crisco's web site and since have made my own. I always joke that it's a butter cake without any actual butter, but it still tastes delicious, with quite a bit of moistness and fluffiness. If you're looking for a better-tasting version of a box mix, this is it--and you can make it by hand!!

As for the red, I opted for a nice strawberry sauce from Joy of Baking, and, to achieve the blue, I sprinkled some fresh blueberries on top.

The cake came out wonderfully; as you can see, it is nice and high, and, although the strawberry sauce kind of disappeared, there is a nice hint of red that completes the patriotism of the cake. I found that I couldn't mix the cake with a mixer due to the large amount of batter, so I had to do it by hand (it gets easier every time, I promise!). And the frosting... oh, the frosting... it looked like ricotta cheese for quite a while once I added the pound of butter, but I just kept beating and beating, and it came together like a thing of beauty. So have faith when you make this frosting; it will pay off!!

Yellow "Butter" Cake
Adapted from Crisco.
Makes one two-layer 9-inch cake.

300 grams (2 1/2 cups) sifted cake flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk, divided
2/3 cup shortening (e.g., Crisco; do not substitute butter)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

**Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.**

1. In large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
2. Add 3/4 cup milk and all of shortening. Beat 300 strokes by hand or 2 minutes on medium speed of electric mixer.
3. Add remaining 1/2 cup milk, eggs, and vanilla. Beat 300 more strokes by hand or 2 more minutes on medium speed of electric mixer.
4. Divide batter evenly between pans, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out with moist crumbs.
5. Turn cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting and filling.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Baking Bites.
Makes enough to fill and frost one 9-inch layer cake.

1 pound (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized chunks
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Separate eggs while they are cold, and place whites in large mixer bowl. Save or discard yolks.
2. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in small saucepan. Set aside.
3. Measure out 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (in separate bowls) and place near egg whites.
4. Place saucepan over medium heat and bring to 230 degrees F (soft-thread stage) on candy thermometer.
5. While sugar continues to cook, beat egg whites; when they are frothy, reduce mixer speed to medium-low, and add cream of tartar. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar.
6. When egg whites reach the soft-peak stage, remove boiling sugar syrup from heat and slowly stream it into egg-white mixture. Beat mixture until bowl is no longer warm to the touch, a few minutes.
7. Add butter, piece by piece, until all butter has been added.
8. Beat until mixture is smooth, about 10-20 minutes. Mixture will separate, look awful, curdle, shrivel, whine, frighten, or all of the above; just keep beating until it is smooth. It will come.
9. Store at room temperature.

Strawberry Sauce
Adapted from Joy of Baking.
Makes enough for a thin layer of filling; can be doubled.

10 ounces fresh or frozen (thawed, undrained) strawberries
2-4 tablespoons sugar

1. Puree strawberries in food processor.
2. Transfer to bowl or measuring cup; stir in sugar to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate (or don't--it can stay on the cake at room temperature without dire consequences).

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