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Vanilla and Strawberry Baseball Cake

2 Aug

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This, as you can see, is a cake, decorated like a baseball. Of all the things I have ever created in my lifetime, the cream puff fanciness, the three-layered cakes piled with fruit and other dreamy things, the vegan Thanksgiving entrée that was so good it could convince a grizzly bear to go off meat, this cake might be the greatest. Because it is a cake decorated like a baseball.

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I actually made this cake several weeks ago, as a Father’s Day gift for my dad, a fellow baseball fanatic and appreciator of cake. For quite some time, I was not sure if I would ever share it on this site, being as though both the cake and frosting recipes are direct takes from America’s Test Kitchen (the only change being that I, as per usual, cut the sugar in the cake by 1/3), and I generally like to feature things on this site that lean towards the original, or at least have more of a personal twist to them.

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But what, I ask you, could have a more personal twist on it than a cake decorated like a baseball? I mean, for a lady who spends what some might consider an unreasonable amount of time making cakes and thinking about/watching/obsessing over baseball, this cake is pretty much my own personal mic drop. Will I ever be able to make a cake that tops this one? I really don’t know. But, luckily, the only way to find out is to make more cakes.

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Last Year: Peach and Ginger Brown Sugar Shortcakes and No Recipe: I Ate This

Vanilla and Strawberry Baseball Cake

Classic White Layer Cake

Slightly adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

6 large egg whites, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 ¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

4 cups vanilla frosting (recipe follows)

about 1 cup of strawberries, smaller berries preferred

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 8-or-9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites, and vanilla and almond extracts.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium-low speed beat the butter into the flour mixture, one piece at a time, about 30 seconds. Continue to beat the mixture until it resembles moist crumbs, about 1 to 3 minutes.

Beat in all but ½ cup of the milk mixture, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth, light, and fluffy, 1 to 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the remaining 12 cup milk mixture until the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the cake pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edges of the cakes, then flip them out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper, flip the cakes right side up, and let cool completely before frosting, at least 2 hours.

Vanilla Frosting

From The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened

3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream, vanilla, and salt together on medium-high speed until smooth 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low, slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, and beat until incorporated and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Increase mixer speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 5 to 10 minutes.

Makes about 4 cups of frosting.

To make the baseball cake:

When the cake has cooled completely, frost the entire cake, smoothing out the frosting as much as possible.

Hull the strawberries, then slice each one in half from top to bottom. Slice each half into thin strips of roughly equal size.

Use the rim of a large bowl to mark the curve of your strawberry stitching by gently placing the rim about 1/3 of the way across the cake on both the right and left sides. This will make a pattern on which you can place your strawberry stitches. Place strawberry slices on the diagonal on either side of the curved pattern. If necessary, consult an actual baseball in order to get an idea of how to make your stitching look just right.

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Strawberry Pecan Bread

31 May

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In some parts of the country, it’s strawberry season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is almost strawberry season, which is sort of like saying it is almost Christmas or almost baseball season, meaning that we’re in that odd limbo period wherein one can start to feel sort of excited about what is to come, but there is still a rather hazy period of waiting that needs to pass before the real excitement kicks in. At least, this is how one feels if strawberries are the type of thing that qualify as excitement-worthy. As you can probably ascertain, this is how I feel.

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While the strawberries in my own garden still require a week or so of warm weather before they are properly ripened (in other news: it needs to stop raining and being 60 degrees, because 1) I loathe that weather, and 2) the strawberries, they need to ripen), there are local berries (grown in greenhouses, I can only assume) popping up at various markets around the city. When the local strawberries begin to appear, you know that summer is not far behind.

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While I’ll never tire of simply eating strawberries as they are, deeply crimson and perfectly sweet, it’s pretty much impossible for me to eat something while not thinking about the various ways I could incorporate or transform it into something different. Strawberry desserts, not surprisingly, are always top on my list of strawberry favorites, but a light strawberry snack should never be ignored. This bread falls somewhere in between a dessert and a snack, although, with only ¼ cup of added sugar to sweeten the whole loaf, I would argue that the scale tips more towards the latter. With hints of cinnamon and lemon zest, little bits of crunchy pecans, and mellow pockets of juicy strawberries, this welcoming bread would make a great picnic staple, but it’s also a welcome companion to a hot cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon. If you’re looking for a way to dress this fellow up, top a slice with a scoop of ice cream and call it dessert. Thus far, I’ve found no inappropriate way to enjoy this almost-summertime treat.

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Last Year: Ginger Cardamom Cake with Lemon Glaze, Stuffed Picnic Sandwich with Olive Tapenade, and Strawberry Lemon Cream Puffs

Strawberry Pecan Bread

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup vegetable oil

¼ cup light brown sugar

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries

½ cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour the inside of a 9”x5” loaf pan.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, brown sugar, and applesauce. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir lightly until just combined. Add the strawberries and pecans, and gently stir and fold to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top of the batter, then bake in the center of the oven for 75 to 90 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of the loaf emerges mostly clean, with just a crumb or two attached.

Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Turn loaf right side up, then allow to cool almost completely before slicing and eating.

Strawberry Mango Crumble

21 Jun

I’ve been sitting here for what seems like an eternity, trying to figure out the perfect explanation for why this fruit crumble has risen to the top of my list of Greatest Summer Desserts.  After a lot of false starts and deleted sentences, I can only seem to explain my love by stating this: this is a crumble that tastes like fruit.  It does not taste of unbearable sweetness, it does not taste of leaden crumble topping, and it does not taste of overwhelming spices floating about in a pool of syrup.  It tastes like fruit.

It is odd that I find this attribute to be so remarkable?  I’ve made dozens of fruit crumbles, crisps, and cobblers in the past, but none of them have hooked me in the same manner.  Maybe it’s due to my newfound realization that most desserts are simply bogged down by far too much sugar, but when I took my first bite of this crumble and was struck by how much it tasted like fresh mangoes and ripe strawberries, it was almost as though a light went off in my head.  A fruit crumble that tastes like fruit?  This is a revelation.

Okay, it’s possible that I am overstating things.  Perhaps highlighting the fruit in a fruit dessert is not the most Nobel-worthy of actions, but you’ve got to get on board with what I am touting here.  Think mangoes and strawberries, spritzed with lemon juice, barely sweetened, and sprinkled with just a hint of spices.  Then crumble on a nutty, lightly spiced topping and bake everything together until it becomes juicy, crisp, and absolutely delightful.  You can add a petite scoop of ice cream (in this case, a frozen concoction of leftover lemon cream and a bit of unsweetened heavy cream that, good lord, made the fruit sing even more than before), or you can eat it as is.  Just make sure you do eat it because, trust me, this is a dessert you don’t want to miss.

Last Year: Spinach Basil Pesto with Lemon and Almonds

Strawberry Mango Crumble Recipe

Crumble Topping:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup coarsely chopped almonds or pecans, or a mixture of the two

pinch of salt

pinch of ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cardamom

pinch of ground ginger

6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Fruit:

12 ounces diced strawberries (about 2 cups total), pieces cut into 1-inch chunks

2 mangoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch chunks

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

juice of ½ a lemon

pinch of ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare topping, in medium bowl combine flour, granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, nuts, pinch of salt, and spices.  Using a fork, stir together until ingredients are fully combined.  Drizzle in the melted butter, then stir until butter is evenly incorporated.  Set aside mixture to firm up just a bit.

In an 8” by 8” baking dish, combine strawberries, mangoes, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and pinches of cinnamon and cardamom.  Toss together and make sure that the fruit is evenly coated with the sugar and cornstarch.

Using your fingers, pinch off 1-inch to 2-inch pieces of crumble topping mixture and evenly scatter them over the fruit.  Bake crumble in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble topping is nicely browned.

Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving, lest you scorch yourself with the molten lava-like heat of the fruit.

Serves 6 to 8, depending on the generosity of your servings.

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