Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Cake For Baby

I recently volunteered to bring a cake for a baby shower, which usually isn't too big of a deal but recently I seem to be unable to find time to do anything but the most basic tasks to keep my life afloat.  Because of this very reason intially I thought about going the easy route and picking something up at the bakery and having them put something nice and tacky on the cake.....easy right?  Sure, I could have went the easy route but noooooo, I had to complicate my life and all the lives of those who live with me and be an overachiever and make the cake myself.  Besides, babies are worth it!

Now I am a decent baker, but a cake decorator I am not.  More often than not my cakes end up looking like the leaning tower of Pisa rather than cake perfection, but I wanted to prove that I could get a cake evenly frosted and beautiful, and if it was a disaster I knew that my backup plan was the bakery.  So naturally the first step was to decide what flavor of cake I was going to tackle.  After drilling the mommy-to-be she informed me that she is quite fond of lemon (a girl after my own heart!) so I went with a lemon poppyseed cake.  I wanted to jazz up your standard lemon poppyseed, with visions of an almost custard like cake, heavy on the eggs, and moistened up with ricotta and buttermilk and peppered with ample lemon zest to offset the nutty flavor of the poppyseeds.  I really wanted this cake to be heavy on the lemon so I aspired to brush the cakes with a lemon simple syrup (in the future Limoncello would be yummy for a post-baby boozy cake) and follow that with a delicious, buttery, lemon curd as a filling.  And the piece de resistance, a cream cheese and mascarpone frosting.
Now this all sounds sooooo much better than it actually turned out to be, although it was delicious, I didn't end up brushing the cakes with the syrup, but next time I definately will.  The cake did end up being heavy on the eggs and I did do lemon curd as the filling. I frosted the cake with the cream cheese and mascarpone frosting, flecked with pieces of lemon zest just to pump up the lemon factor.  I also pulled out all the tricks I could think of to ensure that the cake would not only be moist and delicious but also beautifully frosted.  Note to self, cream cheese frosting is not the easiest frosting to use, best to train oneself to frost a cake using sturdier buttercream. 

In the end I stayed up until midnight frosting this son of a b*&^%, and usually this would be a complete annoyance but it actually turned out quite good for myself, since convieniently I found myself all alone, watching "Crazy, Stupid, Love" eating leftover frosting, and thoroughly enjoying, well....... Ryan Gosling.  Did I achieve cake perfection?  Well, since my cake did not look like it came out of a Dr. Seuss book I would say that it was darn close, and the fact that it was pretty damn tasty didn't hurt either.  Happy birthday baby......I hope you love cake!

Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Cream Cheese
 and Mascarpone Frosting

For the cake:
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 tablespoons poppyseeds
3 cups lemon curd (for the curd I used Martha Stewart's recipe, you can find it here, I simply doubled it)

For The Frosting:
1 8oz package cream cheese at room temperature
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottoms of two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the pans and set aside.  In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta and the buttermilk, set aside.  In a large bowl beat together the butter and the sugar until well combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the zest, lemon juice and vanilla.  Beat just until combined.  The batter will look curdled, don't worry it's okay. 

Add the flour mixture and ricotta/buttermilk mixture in three additions, alternating between additions, starting with the dry ingredients and ending with the wet ingredients.  Beat well between each addition.  After the last addition scrape the bowl and stir until just combined.  Gently stir in the poppyseeds.  Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, smoothing the batter out to get an even surface.  Here's where one trick comes into play.  I wrapped both of the pans in a wet towel fastened in place with a safety pin, which for some reason seems to give you a nice even cake (no domed cake!).  Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Place cakes on a rack and allow to cool.  Once the cakes are cooled remove the cakes from the pans by inverting the pans onto the racks.  You might have to run a knife along the edge of the cakes to loosen them.  Remove the parchment and allow the cakes to cool completely.

Once the cakes have cooled completely wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer overnight.  This helps them hold up better to frosting them.  The next day mix the cream cheese, mascarpone, and butter together until smooth.  Add the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and mix until thoroughly combined.  Refrigerate until the frosting firms up a bit, about an hour.  Meanwhile remove the cakes so they thaw just a little bit.  Using a serrated knife split the cakes lengthwise, which will give you four cake layers.  Place a dollop of frosting the serving plate.  Place the first layer of cake, cut side up over the frosting.  This will prevent your cake from moving everywhere while you are frosting it.  Around the edges of the cake I put pieces of parchment underneath it to keep the plate clean from any frosting that might drip down when your icing the cake.  Pipe a think ring of frosting around the edge of the cake, this will form a dam which will keep the curd from leaking out the sides.  Fill the inner portion with a layer of curd.  Place the second layer of cake ontop, again cut side up.  Repeat this step with this layer and the next.  Once you have filled the third layer place the last cake layer on top.  For this layer I use the bottom portion of one of the cakes and place the cake cut side down, which gives a nice level top.

Once the cake is done being filled here comes the fun part.  I read somewhere once that using a wide puddy knife is quite effective in icing cakes, so I decided to give this a test run.  At this step please do not use a puddy knife that you have actually used to puddy your walls....seems self intuitive but you never know.  Anyhoo, place large amount of frosting on the top of cake.  Using an icing spatula spread the frosting over the top of the cake down the sides.  Go back over the sides and using the puddy knife, turning the cake as you go, to even out the frosting and give you as nice straight edge.  Flatten off the top of the cake with the icing spatula and there you go.  You can add more frosting to get good coverage over the cake.  When frosting a cake I have also heard that putting on a "crumb coat" helps a lot in in getting a good even layer of frosting.  A "crumb coat" is simply applying a thin layer of frosting on the cake, refrigerating it until set, then proceeding the remaining frosting.  Since I am the world's worst procrastinator I did not have time to do this, but in a world where I acutally plan and do things ahead of time I will try this.  Once the cake is frosted you can put a pretty border on the bottom and voila! Your done.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Long Journey Back

Soooooo, yeah, I haven't posted anything in a really long time.....a really, really, long time. Now for anyone even remotely curious you might be asking "why ?" The only answer I can give is that basically I got knocked up, and I reluctantly admit that I am not a super mom or a super pregnant lady and due to unforeseen and predictable circumstances, I found myself unable to be inspired by food for quite some time. What circumstances could have caused this lack of inspiration? Well it could have been the annoying yet predictable recurrence of nausea for at least 4 months, or the unpredictable gestational diabetes that followed (oh carbs, how do I love thee....let me count the ways!), which pretty much eliminated the possibility of me being able to each anything interesting for the rest of my pregnancy, and finally the complete and utter chaos of a four year old and a newborn. Now I know, there are a lot of people out there that have more than two kids and somehow achieve greatness, but hey, I am still learning how to parent two, so give me a little bit of a break (and as previously stipulated, I am no super mom). Anyway, life has finally started to return a little closer to normal, I have now successfully figured out how to find 10 minutes to grab a shower without major catastrophe's occurring, and my newest addition is sleeping through the night (now that I have stated this fact I have jinxed myself and now she will not sleep through the night....awesome).  In addition to a shower I have also found a way to steal a few moments to write a post, and thus hopefully I can return to the blog bandwagon. Now boarding the blog bandwagon seemed somehow much easier when I started writing this post, but grew increasingly difficult when I had to consider what recipe I wanted to post. Carb deprivation, complete lack of sleep, and raging hormones all accumulated to complete and utter emotional instability and therefore a severe lack of motivation to cook anything requiring some effort for quite some time.....I think I have over dramatized my pre/post pregnancy reality......I'll quit milking it! Anyway, I had to find a way to regain my culinary inspiration and this recipe was just the trick. It came to me on a very chilly and dreary day and was just the right thing to bring me back (the fancy set of All Clad utensils my hubby bought me helped just a little bit too) to gastronomic enlightenment (I love that!). It involved making delicious homemade chicken stock, which I detailed here, and adding lots of healthy veggies and of course pasta! So here it is, my return to the food blog universe, I hope the food force will be strong with me........where's Yoda when you need him.

Tortellini Soup With Sausage and Kale

1 1/2 lbs sweet Italian sausage (linked)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups diced onion
2 cups diced carrots
4 garlic cloves minced
2 bunches of kale roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 lb cheese tortellini
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

In a large stockpot heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the sausages and cook until no longer pink in the middle, and browned on both side, about 5 minutes.  Remove sausages from pan and set aside.  Add the onions, carrots, and garlic to pot, cook the veggies until the carrots are tender and the onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the kale, and cook until it starts to wilt, another 5 minutes.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.   Reduce soup to a simmer and simmer until kale is tender, about another 15 minutes.  Add the tortellini and cook until pasta is Al dente, about another 3 minutes.  Slice the reserved sausage and add to the soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve the soup with freshly grated Parmesan, a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and some good crusty bread.  Yummmm.

I used rainbow tortellini just to give the soup some color!