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State Specialties: Smith Island Cake

11 Aug

Chincoteague Island holds some of my favorite foods. The fried chicken and barbecue from Woody’s, scallops from Gary Howard, and crabs and hushpuppies from the aptly named Crab Shack. Not to mention the multiple farmer’s markets, a donut truck, and various small bakeries and ice cream shops.

It’s also the first place I discovered one of the tastiest regional specialties I have yet to try: Smith Island Cake. While they come in many flavors, the common theme among them is the towering number of individually baked (not split) layers, 8-14 of them as far as I’ve seen. The cake is officially designated as the state dessert of Maryland and the most popular variety features a cooked chocolate fudge frosting (though my mother-in-law would have made a strong argument for the coconut variety that she LOVED).

I shared a slice of one of these with my family on one perfect island day and it was a heavenly treat for sure. I’ve wanted to make one ever since, but kept putting it off because I just didn’t have the time. Then Joe went to Las Vegas for a weekend with his friends and I got bored, so things happened.

I’ve done my best to streamline the baking method. The batter and frosting are both pretty simple, you won’t even need a mixer for anything, just two big bowls and a saucepan. No splitting of layers, hooray! And you can take your time with this. The cake batter and frosting are both resilient, so don’t stress.

Smith Island Cake

Butter Cake

  • 24 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 6 oz. dark/bittersweet chocolate (I used 56%), chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (one 12 oz. can)
  • 9 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Cut 8 circles of parchment paper to fit the bottom of 9 in. round cake pans. Grease, line with parchment, and flour as many 9 in. round cake pans as you have. Test to see how many pans will fit on the middle rack of your oven. Doing this in advance will let you know how many batches you’ll be making for 8 layers of cake. I have 5 pans, so I baked in 3 batches.

If you want to simplify dividing your batter among batches, weigh the bowl your final batter will be in.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and eggs until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk just until it comes together. It will look lumpy, like pancake batter. Let this rest for 15 minutes and then whisk until smooth.

If you are going by weight, weigh your batter, subtract the weight of the bowl, and then divide by 8 to get the amount of batter you’ll use per pan. Alternatively, put a clean bowl on the scale, use the tare function, and pour the batter into the clean bowl. Then divide that number by 8. For my batter, this worked out to just under 9 oz. per pan. I would say it was a heavy ¾ cup per pan.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and then tilt the pans to spread the batter evenly across the bottoms.

Bake the layers for 15 minutes or until just golden at the edges and pulling away from the pan.

Allow the layers to cool in pans for 5 minutes, and then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. I don’t have enough cooling racks for 8 cakes, but these cool fast and you can move the cooled layers onto parchment to give yourself more real estate when the next batch is coming out.

Re-grease and flour pans as needed, divide batter, and bake until you have made eight layers.

To make the fudge frosting, combine the butter, evaporated milk, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat, stirring often. Boil the mixture, stirring, until thick and shiny (about 8 minutes). It should coat the back of a spoon well. Set aside to cool for about one hour, or until warm, but spreadable.

To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting over each layer. As you stack, the frosting will start to set up and keep things pretty stable.


Once you have stacked all 8 layers, spread the remaining frosting along the sides and top of the cake. If it starts to get too stiff, just re-warm it a little and it will become spreadable again. Like I said before, super resilient stuff to work with.

And…

I added a little spun sugar for a decorative top, but really this cake is about the insides. Let the frosting set up for at least an hour before cutting. Trust me, it’s worth it, because if you’re patient…


Yes, perfect, clean layers! So satisfying.

So what’s the cake like? It has a buttery soft texture and a warm vanilla flavor. The fudge frosting is something special. I love how it sets up and makes this cake so easy to slice. The flavor is a decadent, rich chocolate that’s, well, wonderfully fudgy!

I know the baking in batches is a bit time consuming, but this cake is so easy to put together once that’s done. And so very worthy of state dessert status!

Don’t be afraid to be creative. You can certainly make some vanilla fudge frosting or a double recipe of maple buttercream, peanut butter filling, or caramel sauce to sandwich between the layers. Jam or curd might be a bit slippery unless you let the layers sit in the fridge between stacking/filling, but the cherry filling from the Ribbon Cake is definitely thick enough to hold up here. You could really make some fantastic stripes, in fact I’m already dreaming about my next birthday cake.

Next time I’m in Chincoteague, I’ll have to do some extremely important and detailed research. 😉

Ciao for now,

Neen

Reimagining Ribbon Cake

4 Aug

My grandmother turned 90 years old last week! For her birthday cake, we turned to an old recipe that my dad said she used to make frequently. It was a cake I’d never heard of that definitely doesn’t turn up in a basic or reverse Google Image Search, called Ribbon Cake. It’s a two layer white almond cake with white frosting, topped with piped ribbons of cherry and pineapple fillings, sprinkled with a layer of finely chopped walnuts, and finished with a final lattice of frosting to top it all off. It turned out pretty well, though I wasn’t crazy about the all-shortening frosting. And while I liked the fruit fillings, they were more sweet than fruity and were just a touch runny for easy cake topping.

Tradition is great, but I thought the recipe could benefit from an update. I really believe that recipes are live documents that morph over time as trends, ingredient availability, and food tech change. So for this version, let’s frost that fluffy white almond cake with an equally luxurious vanilla-almond buttercream. And while we’re at it, let’s make the fruit fillings from scratch too, for fruitier flavor and to help control the thickness for piping and standing at room temperature. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to make them completely fresh. My dad, mom, and I also learned a few lessons while frosting and decorating the cake that definitely helped make the second go at it a smoother process.

Reimagined Ribbon Cake

White Almond Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided into two 1 ¼ cup portions
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract

Cherry Topping

  • 7 oz. cherries, pitted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 heaping tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water

Pineapple Topping

  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1(20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, packed in its own juice or 2 cups mashed pineapple and 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Walnut Topping

  • ½ cup walnuts, finely chopped

I made this cake over the course of two days, so I’ll describe that process here.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 in. square pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper and then greasing and flouring the pans. Alternatively you can use a baking release spray, but I would still recommend lining the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts.

Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk, until everything is combined. Transfer back to the large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand mixer bowl thoroughly. Use the whip attachment for this next step.

Add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to the stand mixer bowl. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy, and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.

Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest just until evenly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among the two prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 33-37 minutes, or until pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Next, make the fruit toppings.

To make the cherry topping, combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Mash the cherries while the mixture heats up.

Stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. It should be shiny and thickly coat a spoon. Cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

To make the pineapple topping, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

Continue stirring until the mixture is thick and loses its milky look.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter.

Let cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

At this point I wrapped the cakes tightly and stopped for the day. The next morning I began by making the buttercream.

Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar. Once it is all combined, add the salt and extracts and beat on high speed until thick and fluffy.

To assemble the cake, frost the first layer and stack the second on top.

Frost the cake with the buttercream, and then pipe a border around the top and the bottom of the cake. The top border is important as it acts as your frame for the fruit toppings. It can be as simple as a straight line if you prefer. I piped kisses using an open star tip.

Get out the fruit toppings and give them both a good stir. Transfer to piping bags with just couplers attached (no tips). Alternatively, use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off. Pipe the first filling in diagonal lines about ½ in. apart.

Using the second filling, pipe lines in the spaces left between the first.

Sprinkle the walnuts over top of the fruit fillings.

Create the final layer by piping a lattice with lines spaced about 1 in. apart.

There you have it! My variation of grandma’s Ribbon Cake. The cake is moist and light, the buttercream silky smooth, and the fruit fillings are nice and bright. Saving most of this one for a visit from my parents. Maybe it will be a new tradition!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Double Dessert: Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with a Graham Cracker Crust

23 Jul

Let’s face it, you have enough difficult decisions to make on a day to day basis, yes? So when it comes to having your dessert at the end of a long day, why add one more challenging choice into the equation? This is precisely the thought that came into my head Sunday afternoon. I wanted these super fudgy brownies I made earlier in the week (that seriously satisfied my illicit obsession with “testing” brownie/cake batter), but also had a craving for creamy cheesecake. And yes, the classic marbled chocolate and cheesecake brownie seemed like the obvious answer, but there were a few sticking points I needed to address.

First of all, if you are going to call something a cheesecake, it needs a delicious crust. And second of all, fudgy brownie and cheesecake together cry out for something fruity or acidic to cut all of that richness. So what I started to imagine was a crunchy, sweet crust, gooey, rich brownie, and smooth decadent cheesecake with a little strawberry swirl. I wandered into the kitchen without a recipe and only my cravings to guide me. And a few hours later, I definitely had no difficult choices to make.

Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with Graham Cracker Crust

Crust

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt

Brownie Layer

  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. cacao or cocoa butter,* melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cacao or cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp. salt

*Cacao butter/powder are the raw versions of cocoa butter/powder. This just means that these products have not been processed at temperatures higher than 115 degrees F. Either will produce great results, I just like the flavor of the raw product. Can’t find cocoa butter? Any neutral cooking oil will do in a pinch.

Cheesecake Layer

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. strawberry preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil.

Combine the graham crackers, sugar, salt and melted butter and mix well.

Press into the prepared pan in an even layer and bake for 12 minutes, or until just set. Move to a wire rack to cool slightly while you prepare the filling.

To make the brownie batter, combine the butter, cacao butter, and sugar and mix well.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Stir in the dry ingredients, but do not overmix. Some lumps are fine.

Pour the brownie batter on top of the crust and set aside.

To make the cheesecake layer, blend the cream cheese, egg yolk, and sugar until smooth. I like to use a food processor for this.

Drop the strawberry preserves onto the cheesecake filling and swirl just slightly. Do not blend well.

Drop the cheesecake batter on top of the brownie layer in dollops and then use a butter knife to swirl the fillings together.

Bake for 35 minutes or until puffy and just set.

Allow the brownies to cool at room temperature for an hour, and then chill for 2 hours before cutting into 24 pieces. If you care about keeping it pretty, wipe down your knife with a warm, damp cloth between cuts.

This really is an awesome contrast of textures and flavors. You get that rich, fudgy brownie against smooth, creamy cheesecake with little swirls of strawberry to brighten it all up a little. Dessert need not be a difficult choice ever again. You’re welcome!

Ciao for now,

Neen

A Curious Confection: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

11 Jul

I’m always excited when I discover a dish I have never heard of that combines many of the textures and flavors I love. This one was actually brought to my attention a few years ago by a dear friend who asked for a St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake for his birthday, and I instantly fell in love with the concept the first time I made it. A soft, lightly sweet yeast-risen cake topped with a thick layer of sugar and butter that bakes up with a crisp crackly top like crème brûlée and a gooey layer beneath that melts on the tongue like cotton candy. Part confection, part cake, part bread, all amazing.

And while it takes a few hours to make, don’t be intimidated. The vast majority of it is just waiting for that cake dough to sloooooowly rise in the pan. The other key component here is to make sure your butter and eggs have a chance to come to room temperature before starting. Your results will be far more consistent.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Cake:

  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 1 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp. light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Have ready an ungreased 9×13 in. baking dish. I would recommend glass or ceramic as the edges of the cake will get quite dark when baked in a metal pan.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk with 2 tbsp. of water and heat until between 110-115 degrees F. Remove from the heat, whisk in the yeast, and set aside. The mixture will foam, but just slightly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg.

Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4-5 minutes.

Press dough into the baking dish in an even layer.

Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Allow to rise until doubled, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F while you prepare the topping.

In a small bowl, mix the corn syrup with 2 tbsp. of water and the vanilla extract.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg until well combined.

Alternately add flour and the corn syrup/vanilla mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between additions.

Use an ice cream or cookie scoop to spoon the topping in large dollops over the risen cake, then use a spatula (a small offset works really well here) to gently spread it in an even layer.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. The finished cake will be golden brown on top, but still liquid in center when done.

Allow to cool in pan before cutting into squares. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar to serve.

The combination of textures is outrageously good here. Soft cake and a gooey-crisp-confection-like topping sure to make you question why on earth you’ve never heard of St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake before right this moment.

Well if you have, you’re one of the lucky ones. And I hope that now you’ll try to make one too!

Trust me, it’s worth the time spent.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Easy Decisions: Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

19 Jun

While thinking recently about what to bake, I came across that age-old question: Vanilla or chocolate? And it occurred to me that sometimes, you should not have to make such a decision and can, in fact, have everything you want. These little cakes are proof of that.

And they look pretty, too!

Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

  • 1 ½ cups + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup yogurt mixed with ¼ cup milk
  • 4 oz. milk chocolate, chopped small
  • 2 tbsp. coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a muffin tin or mini bundt pan.

Combine the chocolate and coffee in a small pot and melt over low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Add the flour and milk/yogurt mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour, and beat until just combined.

Put half the batter in a separate bowl and stir in the melted chocolate.

Using a spoon or a small disher, drop alternate spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla batter into the pan. It will look something like this:

Bake the cakes for 23 minutes, or until they spring back when touched gently.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.

These are pretty sweet cakes because of the milk chocolate, so I omitted frosting and opted for a little bit of whipped cream instead. Delicious!

Sometimes you do get to have everything you want in one perfect little package. Pretty great, isn’t it?

Ciao for now,

Neen

Belated Birthday Post: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

1 Aug

When I woke up on my birthday last month, I had a strange lack of ingredients in the house. Less than a stick of butter, no powdered sugar, and no milk specifically. Not ideal for someone wanting to make birthday cake with frosting, but certainly by no means an impossible task.

What I came up with was actually pretty delicious and reminded me a lot of a cake I used to make for Joe a lot when we were first dating. As for the icing, normally I’m a buttercream kinda lady, but toasted Italian meringue may have won my heart over. It was light and crisp on the outside, and soft and marshmallow-y inside. A perfect companion for this warm, spicy cinnamon cake.

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 whole egg and two egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Italian Meringue Ingredients and Recipe Here

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand blender, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the whole egg and egg yolks one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the bowl. Then add the almond extract.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping the bowl between additions, until everything is just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To frost, spoon or pipe the meringue on top of the cupcakes and then place under a broiler for 15-30 seconds or use a blow torch to lightly brown the meringue.

These were a pretty delicious way to celebrate #32, I have to say. I bet they’d be great with other toppings too, like maple buttercream, or a crisp brown sugar and oat crumble. Give them a try soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen