Monday, September 21, 2009

What am I doing?

I'm baking all 65 cakes in Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes cookbook, and blogging about it.


I love cake.

Because on my other blog I made a New Year's Resolution to write 300 blog posts in 2009 and I am woefully behind. (Hey, I never said on what blog I would write 300 posts in 2009...)

Because I was struck with inspiration reading this article in the LA Times by Charles Perry:

A cookbook can change your life. Two years ago I reviewed one called "Southern Cakes," which did just that.

Like most people, I'd always thought making a cake from scratch was only for the heroic. In fact, Nancie McDermott's book showed me that all you have to do is beat butter and sugar to a cream, beat in some eggs and add flour and milk in alternating batches, and there's your batter.

Wow, really have to lie down and recover after all that.

I'm a different person now. People see me and say, "Hey, Cake Guy!" Because I'm usually carrying a cake around with a goofy grin on my face.

Yes, I too would like to grasp the basics of cake baking. And what better way to do that than practice. I'm also quite ready for a cookbook to change my life. Taking Mr. Perry's ringing endorsement of Southern Cakes as a cue seemed obvious.

And, of course, because I was very inspired by the recent Julie and Julia movie as well. (I thoroughly enjoyed Annie in Austin's recent term paper on the subject.)

As it stands now, I've got five cakes down, and 60 to go.

I still have a lot to learn, especially about frosting. My presentation skills could use some work too. And I probably ought to try mixing more cake batter by hand instead of always relying on my Kitchen Aid to do the mixing for me. I've hardly even broached the subject of chocolate yet.

Feel free to chime in with helpful (or unhelpful) comments, and let me know if you'll be around for a tasting. Guy and I can't eat all this cake by ourselves.

Coconut Cream Cake

Has anyone ever made a square coconut cake before? It was supposed to be a 2 layer cake, but the recipe didn't make quite enough batter for two pans so I thought I'd be wacky and use the square pan. Cakes take longer to bake in square pans than they do in round ones. Something to remember.


I got panicky when the center was still raw while the edges were browning. I gouged the center with a spoon to open it up to oven heat, figuring the wound would heal or be covered with frosting...


The frosting was just whipping cream whipped with 3 tbsp of powdered sugar--a very nice frosting, but still difficult to manipulate. Did it need more time mixing? Less time? By the end, I was just pressing it on with a spoon.

From this picture, it looks like I should have sprinkled more coconut on the cake, but in person it seemed fine. I continue to be impressed by how much weight and substance a real cake has, compared to box mixes. A real cake is much more satisfying to eat.


Our friend Kelly came over for a tasting, and gave it her approval. So far, I think this is my second favorite cake from Southern Cakes. That Pineapple Upside Down Cake was amazing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Original recipes for this cake called for baking it in a cast-iron skillet. As fun as that sounds, my cast iron skillet is too large and too heavy for me to even consider flipping it upside down with a hot cake inside of it.

And I couldn't quite bring myself to buy maraschino cherries either. Maybe if I had some of these primo Luxardo cherries things would have been different. As it was, I used blackberries instead of cherries.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

P.U.D.C. is one of those desserts that's been adapted for people on low sugar diets, but this version is not such a dessert. I used 2/3 cups of brown sugar and another 3/4 cup of white sugar. It's the brown sugar and pineapple pairing that makes this cake so tasty.

I was a little bit worried about the flipping the cake...

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

But it was not a problem. You're supposed to flip it 5 minutes after it comes out of the oven before it starts to cool and stick to the pan. I flipped it after the juices stopped bubbling, while it was still steaming hot.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The blackberries got steamed on the bottom of the cake, but they made a fine substitution. This has been my favorite Southern Cake so far. I ate a piece with a glass of milk.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting

I made this last week, for Labor Day.

This is the first Southern Cake I made the full recipe for; until this, I was halving the recipes.


The recipe says, "You can use a mixer to cream the butter, sugar, and eggs, but be sure to stir in the flour, buttermilk, and bananas with a big spoon or keep the cake tender." I kinda wish I did that, but I used the mixer for the whole thing. It was not exactly untender, but I'm curious to know if it would have been lighter.

One thing I've noticed so far is that cakes from scratch seem to have a certain weight to them that cakes from a box mix do not. The weight is good.

One thing for sure, I've had no trouble getting the cakes out of the baking pan. I do exactly what she says and grease and flour the cake pans very well. They side right out.


Frosting continues to vex me. I need more practice, for one thing. But I also need more patience.


I would also like to get two small-diameter cake pans with flat sides that I can make layered cakes with, but still using half the recipe. These cake pans had banked sides, and the layers don't stack very well even the bottom layer is inverted.

And for making frosting, I'd like to find a hand-held electric mixer instead of always using the KitchenAid. Handheld mixers, she says, are especially useful for making classic frostings. I can see how that would be true. I think you get more fine control over the mixing process using the smaller unit than using the stand mixer.

But alas, it all ends up in the same place...


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tomato Soup Cake

Doesn't that sound yummy?!


Does Campbell's condensed tomato soup seem like an unusual cake ingredient to you?

According to the book, "Southern cooks welcome unusual ingredients in their cakes, including fruit cocktail, cola, chocolate syrup, sauerkraut, baby food, mayonnaise, zucchini and graham cracker crumbs." Well, some of those ingredients seem more unusual than others...

Also, for your information, "Condensed tomato soup appeared on grocery shelves in 1897, and recipes for tomato soup cake were common in cookbooks by the 1930s."

I used butter instead of shortening--the recipe called for either. I don't think I got very good mixing... The batter was rather heterogeneous, as you can see:


It baked up okay though, and I frosted this one. (Yes, I know I still have a lot to learn about how to frost a cake. It's a learning curve, people. I don't even like frosting that much. I have to learn how to stop worrying, and start loving the frosting...)


How did it taste? Well, in addition to tomato soup, the recipe calls for allspice, cinnamon, and cloves...

Does that give you any hint?

Tomato soup cake tastes remarkably like pumpkin pie!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Waddad Habeeb Buttross's Classic Pound Cake


Hello, welcome to the first post of my new blog! I'll make some introductions and explain my purpose in a later post. Right now I just want to get started.

I'm starting with the first recipe, a pound cake. This recipe originally comes from Waddad's Kitchen: Lebanese Zest and Southern Best. I guess I did not know that pound cakes are made from equal weights of buttar, sugar, flour, and eggs. I thought it was called pound cake because it's so heavy. Duh!

According to Nancie McDermott, Southerners have been making pound cake for 300 years.

"In the Colonial era, cooks made pound cakes as the English did, weighing the ingredients on a kitchen scale. The recipe still works: 1 pound of flour, 1 pound of sugar, 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of eggs", weighing the eggs first, of course.

So if America converted to the metric system, we would lose pound cake!

On to the cake... It took no time at all to make the batter and get it in the oven.


I write this as it's baking. I'll take it out in 30 minutes and make the frosting, a confectioner's sugar blueberry frosting, also from Southern Cakes.

ADDED: Okay, it was good! A little dry maybe. Was it because I halved the recipe, but not the pan size?


Also, I lazied out and didn't make the blueberry frosting. Instead, I soaked my piece with KahlĂșa.


It didn't suck.