Devil’s food cake

At first this cake made me mad, and I thought I was going to have to go on some kind of diatribe about how from-scratch cakes never turn out as well for me as a good ‘ole boxed cake mix. The cakes came out of the oven a little flat, lopsided and crumbly (when I tried to remove them from the pans). And the icing consistency seemed more like cement until I added a few extra tablespoons of milk. All frosted up I just thought it looked sort of sad. Also, way too light in color for a devil’s food cake, which in my experience (and that would be the phenomenal version at the nearby Drake Diner, where they also toss the cake into vanilla shakes for the most decadent dessert of all time) is supposed to be dark, dark, dark.

But then I tasted the cake. And holy crap was it good.

It is dense, moist, sweet but not too sweet. Could it even be a contender for wedding cake?

I think the only problem was that it needed to be baked in narrower pans. And obviously the frosting needed a little adjustment. But one of my big complaints about cake is that either the frosting tastes way too sweet or there is way too much of it. This made just the perfect amount of delish frosting for a 2-layer cake. And I bet if I sprung for some high-quality dark chocolate squares instead of cocoa powder I would have the genuinely super-dark cake I was looking for.

In short, Betty knows her shizz, and she wants you to make this cake.

Devil’s food cake

from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook, with a few adjustments

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

Chocolate buttercream frosting

3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup baking cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 to 5 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 round baking pans.

Beat all cake ingredients in a mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scrape the sides, then turn it up to medium speed for 3 minutes. The recipe called for high speed, but I couldn’t get it past medium without spewing batter all over my kitchen, and the consistency seemed fine.

Ultimately it looked like this.

Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then move the cakes onto a flat surface. A wire rack did not work well for me since the cakes were so moist.

Also, my camera battery died so I have no more photos of the process.

For the frosting, combine all ingredients in your mixer on low speed and adjust the amount of milk to desired thickness. I have a small offset spatula that I always use for frosting cakes, and I love it.

I think there is a lesson here, and that is that sometimes the process is messy but the final product is good. Don’t judge a lopsided cake until the first bite!

Breakfast for dinner

The other day I discovered a half-full box of honey-wheat pancake mix in my kitchen cabinet, and couldn’t stop thinking about how good that might taste with a few farmers market blueberries mixed in.

So instead of making a savory dinner, I cooked pancakes last night. And even though this blog is primarily about from-scratch cooking, I fully give myself permission to make something from a box every now and then. It’s just not that big of a deal.

So, I mixed up the batter in my handy dandy mixing bowl with a spout so I could pour it easily, and it worked great.

Mmmmm, pancakes.

(Don’t worry, I did not eat this many pancakes. Usually what I do with leftovers is wrap two or three at a time in plastic, then freeze them. They taste great after a little thaw in the microwave.)

Then this morning I sprinkled a few leftover berries on a fat-free Greek yogurt, with a little bit of Grape Nuts and some agave nectar.

I love the creaminess of Greek yogurt, but to be honest, it tasted a bit strange to me, so I think I’ll stick with my regular Cultural Revolution organic yogurt. You just can’t go wrong with that stuff.

Fiesta!

So we celebrated our engagement and my career change with some of our favorite foods. And sangria.

There are a million ways to make sangria, but basically it’s wine and fruit. I made mine with two bottles of rose, a green apple, an orange, half a pound of strawberries and fresh mint. To make it fizzy I added a bottle of club soda (not sure the size, maybe a liter?), and to sweeten it I added one batch of simple sugar (1 cup each of water and sugar heated until the sugar dissolves).

I also left it in the fridge overnight so that everything would get good and mixed together. It was wonderful!

Of course I made guacamole.

So much guacamole. Although I ended up getting full on a friend’s mango salsa instead.

Here’s the cake. Heart-shaped, of course.

I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Strawberry Shortcake Cake, but substituted a can of cream cheese frosting for the real stuff since we were already cooking so much.

Really, you could do this with a vanilla cake mix, too. Just bake it in two pans and stack the layers. You top each layer with mashed up strawberries that have been sitting in sugar until they start to make juice. Since the cake soaks up the fruit juice it tastes even better a day later.

So the deposit’s paid, the contract’s signed, and we are on our way to having a wedding. I’m hoping to post soon on all the sources where I’ve been finding inspiration — there are some great (free) ones out there!

Loving: whole wheat muffins

I’ve meant to post about this for a while, but I am just head over heels for these Hodgson Mill muffins. At my Hy-Vee you can get two versions – whole wheat or bran. The little box makes 6 regular size muffins. They’re great for breakfast or for a snack because they feel like a treat without massive guilt.

You just add milk, an egg and a tablespoon of oil or butter to the mix. You can also add dried fruit, but I prefer mine plain.

My only complaint is that the box isn’t bigger!

I’m enjoying my muffins with some fresh summer fruit. The Iowa Girl Eats blogger inspired me to pick up some kiwi at the store this week, and it was delish. Don’t tell the blueberries I liked it better.

Rhubarb shortbread tart

A big bundle of rhubarb stalks had been sitting in our kitchen all week, waiting for us to do something with it. But having already made rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb muffins and eaten various combinations of rhubarb jams the last couple of seasons, I didn’t feel too inspired.

Still, I didn’t want our farmers market purchase to go to waste, so I dug through my cookbooks and online recipes for ideas. And I got pretty much the same results – crisps, pies, cobblers, jams…nothing jumped out.

Until I saw a super simple recipe for a shortbread crust that you could fill with just about any fruit filling to create a quick tart that most importantly, did not require you to make pie crust. Hallelujah.

Pie crust is awesome, but it’s more work than I felt like doing that day. And I was also out of just about everything, so I had to pick a recipe that didn’t require me to go to the store.

For the filling I chose to make my crisp filling, minus the strawberries since I didn’t have any. And I thought I should top it with something, so I followed the directions from yet another recipe for a crumb topping. And it came out great! I cooked down the rhubarb enough to take out a lot of the overwhelming tartness, and the shortbread bottom gives it a cookie-like crunch, which I love. The tart itself (I guess it’s only sort of a tart, but oh well) is also a much more manageable size than the giant pan of crisp, which goes a little easier on the thighs.

So if you’re looking for something new to do with the last rhubarb stalks of the season, try this.

Rhubarb shortbread tart
adapted from Simply in Season cookbook

1 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the crust, mix together ingredients until crumbly (a pastry cutter works great) with no pieces bigger than a pea.

Press into a 9-inch pie or tart pan.

Bake at 425 degrees until golden, 10-12 minutes. Cool. (Not the most beautiful crust ever made, but it sure tastes good.)

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine rhubarb, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (wait long enough for the water to start coming out of the fruit), then reduce heat to medium and cook 4 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water. I love to use a tiny whisk for this.

Add it to the rhubarb mixture and cook a couple more minutes until thickened.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix the oats and brown sugar. Then cut in the butter (again, the pastry cutter works well for this).

When your crust is cool, spread the filling on top. Then sprinkle the crumb topping over that. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the crumb topping is browned.

Serve with a small scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.

Meyer Lemon Coffee Cake

In foodie circles, Meyer lemons seem to be the nectar of the gods. So of course I can never find them here. But last week there they were in the produce department, and you better believe I bought a whole bag.

They are lemons crossed with an orange, I believe, to create a sweeter, more complex tasting lemon with a lovely bright yellow color.

Martha’s recipe for Meyer lemon coffee cake looked absolutely divine in the photo, so I decided to give it a try.

After reading on another blog that you can’t substitute a regular pan for an angel food cake pan with this recipe, I had to improvise one with a springform pan and a tiny glass jar in the center. I had to cook it about 10 minutes longer, but it actually worked.

The only thing I would change is that I would either invest in a mandoline slicer to get truly paper thin slices of lemon or take off the peel before baking it. The bitter rind flavor was still there for me. And I am very picky about cooked fruit, so I might even eliminate the fruit altogether and just use the zest, which imparts the majority of the flavor and color anyway. Oh, and I didn’t make the glaze because, dear God, this cake has enough sugar already.

You can just grab the recipe from her site, but I thought you might enjoy the photos of the process. It’s a pretty one!

Snickerdoodles


You really can’t go wrong with this recipe unless you overbake. Too many minutes in the oven and your cookies will still look good, but they’ll be too hard. And the whole point of a ripply, cinnamon-sugar-y Snickerdoodle is that signature chewiness.

I used to bake these for a co-worker who insisted they were the best ever, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

This recipe says it makes 36 cookies, but that’s only if you make them teeny tiny, and who wants a teeny tiny cookie? If you want bigger cookies, I’d say double the recipe and make them as big as you like.

Snickerdoodles

from BHG.com

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Roll the dough in:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, baking soda and cream of tartar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally (or better yet, get a beater blade!). Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in the flour in 1/4 cup increments. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In a small bowl combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls.

Roll balls in the sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an cookie sheet (I’m also a devotee of the Silpat to make any old cookie sheet non-stick)

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 11 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Pound cake FAIL

I made this beautiful pound cake last weekend.

I had seen this recipe on Instructables and thought it sounded scrumptious. But I don’t like lemon flavor a ton, so I got a generic pound cake recipe from Paula Deen. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with her version of a dessert recipe. And a little Penzey’s real vanilla.

I even got to use my bundt pan for the first time. And this awesome addition to our Kitchen Aid stand mixer – it’s a silicone beater blade. It scrapes the sides of the bowl as it mixes. Nice!

So the cake came out beautifully.

I mixed up a little generic icing with powdered sugar, water and almond flavoring. It dripped down the sides just perfectly. But I have to tell you, this cake just wasn’t that good. Something about it tasted a little funky, and the icing was too thick and too almond-y.

So I took it to work and the newsroom devoured the whole thing.

We did get a little bonus cake when some batter spilled through the hole in the center of the pan and baked itself.

So, pound cake fail. But I will most definitely try again. Do tell if you have a better recipe.

Pants cake

My friend Dave reminded me the other day about this cake I made a few years ago for our office. Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

We had a pretty laid-back staff, and I was writing a cooking column every week for college-age students. So I wasn’t exactly scouring Food and Wine for my recipes. Instead I found Claire Crespo’s Yummy Fun site, and her hilarious idea for a cake in the shape of pants. I can’t find it online anymore, but you don’t need a recipe. Just bake any cake in a 9X13 pan, remove it to cool, and cut out a triangle shape to separate the legs (this bit makes a good snack!)

Mix up a couple of colors of frosting and pipe on a belt shape to make it even more authentic.

The Baby Boomers’ cookie

There has been quite a bit of mania lately over the Baby Boomers’ cookie. Background: When the Obama campaign office was here, it was located next to a little diner called Baby Boomers. They kept chocolate chunk cookies in a jar on the counter, free for anyone who wanted an extra snack.

The Obama family loved them so much, they ordered dozens and dozens to be sent back to them in Washington. When word of this caught on, everyone wanted those cookies. The restaurant had to buy time at a bakery to make enough for all the orders. They even started a Web site just for the cookies.

So of course I had to try them. The last time I was at the actual diner, they were out. But they sell them at my grocery store now.

They are really unlike any chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.

Certainly different from the New York Times cookie, and my favorite, the Nestle Tollhouse old-school recipe. They are only chewy, not crispy at all. They taste a lot like the cookie dough bites you get in ice creams.

I heard from one of the owners that the secret to the recipe is not about an ingredient but a lack of ingredient. If I had to guess, I would say it uses maybe shortening or oil instead of butter (or maybe just partially) to get that chewiness.

I, personally, like the chewy inside of a cookie. But some people won’t like these at all. And I do think I prefer the crispiness and slight saltiness of Nestle’s recipe. But at least I can say I tried the Obama cookie. I think his daughters are the real fans.

Stay tuned for some more recipe posts. I am making my first bundt cake (woo hoo!).