Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

This is my first Daring Baker's Challenge and I am very excited!  The recipe for this months challenge is Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites.  Our wonderful hosts this month are: Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo), and Jenny of Foray into Food.  For alternative bakers, we’ve once again turned to Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go to assist us.  I did not have time to make the optional caramels, but I am hoping to make them sometime in the next couple weeks.  I was a little intimidated by this cake after learning about all the trouble other Daring Bakers were having with the caramel syrup, but mine turned out perfectly the first time!  I did make only a half batch of the caramel syrup and that was just the right amount to do the cake and the frosting.  

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature
  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Butter and flour one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
  • Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
  • Sift flour and baking powder.
  • Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. (This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.)
  • Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.
  • Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. 
  • Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
  • In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
  • When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
  • Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.)
Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
  • Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.  To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

     I really enjoyed baking this cake.  I have had very little experience with baking cakes from scratch, so I'm thrilled it turned out so well.  I highly recommend following the recipe exactly, as it makes all the difference.  When you are ready to make the caramel syrup, set up everything you need right there, and watch closely so that when the sugar mixture starts to caramelize, you are ready to pour in the water.  If you don't have everything ready at that moment, it will probably burn before you have the chance to pour in the water!  My cake got rave reviews at Thanksgiving dinner, everyone particularly liked the frosting and said they had never had anything quite like it.  I thought it was delicious.  I added a good amount of salt to the frosting, I'm not sure how much, but it really helped balance the sweetness.  The cake itself is a little more dense than other cakes I've tried, but very moist and perfect with the frosting.  I wish I had taken the time to get better pictures, but there were some hungry people milling about the kitchen, so I had to settle for some quick snapshots.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cranberry-Ginger Relish and Thanksgiving Menu

I'm starting to feel the pressure...all the planning and cooking and baking, not to mention the cleaning.  This is the first time I'll be the sole person responsible for planning and executing Thanksgiving dinner for more than just two people.  I'm actually kind of excited because I think its going to be really good!  I've planned the timing of all the cooking out carefully since it will just be me doing most of it.  I'll have some help on Thanksgiving Day, but not much time, so I'm going to make it as stress free as possible by preparing what I can in advance.  Today I made this Cranberry-Ginger Relish recipe I saw on a Martha Stewart show last year around this time.  This is the first time I've made it, but I think it's going to be yummy!  The picture is from since I didn't have time to take one myself.  I promise mine looks exactly the same!  

Cranberry-Ginger Relish from Martha Stewart
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
  • In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, ginger, and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in vinegar.
  • Remove relish from heat.  Let cool to room temperature and serve (or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days).
Here is my menu plan for Thanksgiving, inspired by great recipes from all over the blogosphere.
FriChik (veggie meat substitute in a can)
Gravy (made from the FriChik juice)
Skillet Cornbread Dressing (from Vegetarian Times Vegetarian Entertaining)
So that is what I'll be working on over the next few days.  Some of these things I've made before and already posted, others I'll be posting about later.  I wanted to make my own seitan roast, but I'll have to save that one for Christmas, because I'm just not going to have the time this week.  There is one more thing not listed here, but that's a surprise, so you'll have to wait to find out what it is!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: The Secrets of Skinny Chicks

     This book actually came out in 2006, but I just noticed it at the book store last week.  I was immediately drawn to it because the author, Karen Bridson, profiles real women who work hard to look good and be healthy.  I began my own weight loss journey more than three years ago, on my 25th birthday.  I have since lost 50 pounds to reach my goal.  I have often heard people say things (about other women) like "Oh, she's so lucky to be so thin."  Even worse is "She must be able to eat whatever she wants."  Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it!  Losing that weight and keeping it off has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done, and one of the most rewarding.  It didn't get much easier when I got to the goal either, but I am learning to adjust my expectations.  I used to think there were people out there who could eat almost anything and not gain an ounce, but now I'm pretty sure if they do exist, there might be two people on the whole planet like that.  Everyone who sets a high standard for nutrition and exercise has to work at it, and if they tell you they don't, then they're probably lying.  I think when people say they can eat whatever they want it means that their appetites are probably in line with their needs.  They have perfectly reasonable expectations for the amount and type of food they need to eat, and how much exercise they need to do to look a certain way.
     What I really like about this book is the realistic view of what you have to do to look like the women (models, actresses, athletes) you've always envied.  Even if you don't want to take it to that extreme, this book is full of tips everyone can use to inspire them along their fitness journey.  Almost everything in this book is stuff I already knew, but we all need reminding of what we can do to be successful.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is "This is not about dieting, this is about changing the way you look at food and your perception of how much you need."(page 137)  This was one of the hardest things for me; changing my perception and expectations of how much food I could eat, particularly once I reached my goal.  It's really important to make the kinds of changes you can live with for the rest of your life, rather than going on a diet so extreme you'll never be able to stick with it.
     The author of The Secrets of Skinny Chicks is realistic and encouraging about what women need to do to reach their goals.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is just starting a diet and exercise program, and anyone who's been at it for a while and needs inspiration.  It is easy to read and something I will definitely refer to again for inspiration and when I need reminding of what I should be doing!  The book covers all the good habits of women who stay thin and healthy all the time.  Don't sell yourself short!  If you are willing to do the work, you can look and feel fabulous!