Tag Archives: frosting

Spice Cake with Salted Brown Butter Frosting

10 Sep

A few months ago, I made a bunch of cakes for a friend’s Kickstarter campaign. To me, this was a task on par with that of an artist being commissioned to paint a fine portrait. I took it very, very seriously. I bought bakery boxes in which to present the cakes. I made house calls to each and every cake recipient, making sure to describe, in fine detail, the nuances of not only the cakes, but also their frostings and/or garnishes. I shaved chocolate to decorate the cakes, I made special cardboard cake stands on which to sit each cake in its box, and then I hand-stamped my name, along with the name of this very website, onto each cake box. Like I said, I took my task very, very seriously. Behold:

Remind me to tell you about this cake at another time.

Though I have encountered many people who simply cannot believe that I would go to such great cake-making lengths and not get paid a penny to do so, the fact remains that, incomprehensible as it may seem, I really enjoy making cakes. I also enjoy making salads, Indian food, bread, and…well, food. Just in general, I enjoy making food.

A couple of years ago, I agreed to make an enormous spread of food for my son’s school open house, and when, on the afternoon of the open house, it began to snow (which, just to be clear, rarely happens here), I was struck with both parts panic and delight when I realized that, my lord, what happens if the open house gets canceled and I get stuck with all this food. And then I realized that, hey, if the open house gets canceled, we get stuck with all this food. The samosas, the smoked salmon bruschetta, the caramelized onion flatbread, the lemon bergamot bars, the spicy brownies—all of it would have been ours and ours alone. Most of the time, when I prepare food in this manner, I never get to actually eat it. I just drop it off, then come back later on to retrieve the empty platters. For the first time ever, I was faced with the possibility of actually being able to eat the food I had spent the past two days making. It was equal parts exciting and confusing.

This is basically what happens when I make cakes for people, as well. I lovingly prepare the cake, frost it with the gentlest of care, then nestle it into a special box, never to be seen again. I suppose that is why, when I was scrolling through some old photos from the beginning of the year, I almost could not remember making this spice cake. The spice cake recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, packed with spices that get bloomed in brown butter, then perked up with a shot of fresh ginger, is an old favorite of mine. The frosting, dreamed up when I was looking for a way to really punch up the cake, is a new favorite.

The brown butter in this frosting is the perfect compliment to the brown butter in the cake, and the hit of sea salt contained within supplies the most wonderful undertone to the warm sweetness of the cake. How do I know this, having just admitted that I never had the chance to taste this cake, as it was meant for someone other than me? Well, I may have never tasted this particular cake you see in the picture, but you’d better believe that, as soon as I was able, I took the time to make another one of these cakes. And the second time, it never had a chance to leave the house.

Last Year: Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes Caramelized Lemon-Balsamic Onions

Spice Cake with Salted Brown Butter Frosting Recipe

Spice Cake

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

3 large egg yolks, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ¼  cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons light or mild molasses

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and nutmeg. In a small skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat and continue to cook, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter turns light brown (this should take anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes). Stir in the spice mixture and quickly cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into a bowl to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter with the sugar and molasses. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 6 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the ginger, the cooled butter-spice mixture, and half of the egg mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in the remaining egg mixture until combined, about 30 more seconds.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined and there are no unmixed bits at the bottom of the bowl. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking.

Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a small knife around the edges of the cakes and flip them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely. Peel off the parchment paper and allow cakes to cool for at least 2 hours.

Salted Brown Butter Frosting

3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened

2 tablespoons milk or cream

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

heaping ¼ teaspoon sea salt

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

In a large skillet set over medium heat, melt 2 sticks of the butter, then cook, swirling constantly, until the butter turns light brown and just begins to release a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat, then transfer to a medium bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator, and cool the browned butter for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the browned butter reaches the consistency of softened, room temperature butter.

Remove cooled browned butter to a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the remaining stick of butter, milk or cream, vanilla, and salt. Beat together at medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce mixer speed to medium-low, then slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and incorporated, about 5 minutes. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, which can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer.

Makes about 4 cups of frosting, enough to frost a 2-layer cake or one large sheet cake.

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Frosting (and a Secret)

25 May

There seem to be as many chocolate cake recipes in existence as there are people who enjoy chocolate cake.  There also seem to be as many names for chocolate cake (devil’s food cake, dark chocolate cake, chocolate layer cake) as there are people who are willing to taste all those chocolate cakes in order to officially prove whether or not those differently named cakes actually taste any different from one another.  You’ve never heard of these official cake-tasters, you say?  You think I just made all that up, you say?  Or did I just create a new job for myself—Official Chocolate Cake Taster—all in the name of finally getting to the bottom of this great chocolate cake mystery, thusly making my new job a selfless and totally essential function aimed at bettering the chocolate cake eating habits of all of humanity?  Think about that for a minute.

Though it seems unlikely, it’s not difficult to make a bad chocolate cake.  Cakes lacking moisture will never be able to taste good enough to allow anyone to forget their sawdust-like texture, but, conversely, cakes suffering from a shortage of true chocolate flavor will never be able to shine to their utmost greatness, no matter how moist and toothsome a morsel may be.  The other side of that coin, however, is the realization that it’s not all that hard to make a really, really good chocolate cake either.  In fact, the most difficult step in making a great chocolate cake starts not with one’s prowess in the kitchen, but rather in finding a standout recipe.  Which is where my new job comes in.

Some recipes stress a particular mixing technique, while others insist on using only oil, not butter, in their chocolate cake, arguing that the neutral flavor of vegetable oil allows the true taste of the chocolate in a chocolate cake to really take center stage.  Some recipes favor buttermilk for achieving an optimal texture, but others prefer that you amend the batter with a simple chocolate pudding made from milk and chocolate heated together on the stove.  Though there are endless tricks and techniques by which people will swear, in my new capacity as Official Chocolate Cake Tester, I feel as though I would be remiss in my newfound duties if I did not reveal to you a bit of a secret: Sometimes the secret to making a flawless chocolate cake comes from the most unlikely source, and that source just so happens to grow underground.

While also welcoming in a not insubstantial amount of both butter and buttermilk, this particular cake recipe utilizes a little-known helper in the world of baked goods.  In an effort to turn out a cake with maximum moistness, the recipe calls for the inclusion of a simple handful of shredded raw beets, an ingredient that is undetectable in taste, but very much evident when it comes to texture.  The shredded beets melt into the cake during baking, resulting in a cake with incomparable moistness and richness.  While I won’t pretend that adding beets to a cake magically transforms it into a healthy and wholesome snack (see: butter, chocolate, and sugar), I will wholeheartedly admit that this cake can be deemed magical in an entirely different, indulgent, deliciously chocolaty way.

I’ve mentioned before my propensity to punch up chocolate baked goods with a bit of coffee.  Rather than adding a dose of coffee directly into the cake batter, I took my love of the chocolate/coffee combination a bit further by covering this cake with a completely immodest amount of coffee frosting.  Even if you happen to be a lukewarm fan of coffee on its own, I cannot recommend enough that you go ahead and put these two elements together.

The two flavors go together like a dream, and they were a perfect pairing for celebrating the birthday of a 33 year-old brother who loves both coffee and chocolate with equal affection.  Just add in some friendly dinosaurs and your consummate chocolate cake is complete.  (Note: Dinosaurs are for decoration only and are not meant to enhance the flavor of the cake in any way.)

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Frosting (and a Secret)

Chocolate Cake

From Cooking School Secrets for Real-World Cooks, by Linda Carucci 

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup packed finely shredded raw beets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Position a rack in the lower middle position.

Butter and flour the sides and bottom of 2 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch sides.  Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Stir to combine, then make a well in the center and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs to combine.  Whisk in the buttermilk.  Add to the dry ingredients all at once, and stir to combine completely.  Slowly whisk in the butter.  Add the vanilla and stir to combine.  Stir in the beets.  Transfer to the prepared cake pans and spread evenly, using a rubber spatula to pull the batter away from the center of the pans and out along the sides.  (The recipe claimed that this act would ensure flat, rather than domed, tops, and, I’ll admit, I was dubious, but still did it.  To my complete surprise, it totally worked.  I didn’t have to slice off the tops of either of the cakes whilst in the pursuit of non-crooked layers!  Who knew?)

Bake until the center of each cake springs back when lightly touched and the sides of each cake just begin to pull away from the pan, 30 to 35 minutes.

Allow cakes to cool on a wire rack, still in their pans, for 10 minutes.  Invert each cake onto another rack and remove pans.  Carefully peel off the parchment paper and cool the cake completely, upside down.  Make sure your cake layers are completely and totally cooled before frosting, lest your frosted cake end up a dripping, melted mess.

Coffee Frosting

From The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book 

3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened

2 tablespoons instant espresso

3 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Beat the butter, espresso powder, milk or cream, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

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

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