Techniques

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Cake

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Strawberry and Rhubarb — another one of those classic combinations.  Now this cake is interesting in that it is a little bit different from ones that I usually make.  First of all, it has more of a sheet cake thing going on (but not really).  Not that I don’t make sheet cakes, but I usually do rounds.  Secondly, there’s a filling baked into the cake.  But third (thirdly?) and most important (importantly?), this is made using a different technique.

Here is how I usually make a cake:  1)  sift together dry ingredients and set aside; 2) cream together the butter and sugar; 3)  add your eggs one at a time; 4) gradually add your dry ingredients, alternating with milk or something like that.  And that’s your batter.  This is known as the creaming method, which is the most popular way to make a cake.  This particular recipe is different in that you cut in the fat directly into the flour, like you were making some shortbread or pate brisee.  Known as the rubbing-in, cutting-in, or one-bowl method, this technique gets you a very delicate cake, but it’s not as light and airy as when you use the creaming method.  There’s lots of technical reasons why, but that could be discussed some other time.  Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

For the filling:

  • 3 c. rhubarb, cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 qt. fresh strawberries, chopped
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  This might not seem like a lot of liquid, but the rhubarb holds a lot which cooks out.  Meanwhile mix together the sugar and cornstarch.  Stir into the strawberry – rhubarb mixture.  Bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.  Set aside.

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon

Mix together all four ingredients until everything resembles a crumblike texture.  Set aside

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. strawberries, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with cooking spray.

2.  Sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter into the flour mixture until you get a coarse crumblike texture.  I mixed this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment for about 5 – 7 minutes.

3.  Beat together the eggs, honey, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add to the butter & flour mixture and combine.  With a spatula, gently fold in the chopped strawberries.

4.  Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Gently spread the strawberry – rhubarb filling over the top.  Spoon the rest of the batter over the filling.  Sprinkle the topping on top of the cake.

5.  Bake for about 45 – 60 minutes, until done in the center.  Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

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Is there a better combination that chocolate and peanut butter?  It is one of those combinations which is now a classic.  I am a huge fan of peanut butter cups, and it doesn’t matter who makes it either.  In fact, I love those ones that you find in the bargain bin at your local grocery store that you can buy by-the-pound for like $0.25 / lb.  I almost prefer them; maybe it’s all the additives.  But what I really love are the Peanut Butter Eggs that Reese’s puts out during Easter.  There is something about the Eggs that are delicious!  I don’t know what’s going on there, but those are the best!  And it’s just the Eggs.  The other things like the Christmas Trees just don’t taste quite right.

Anyhoo, to the cake. . . This recipe is a sour cream chocolate cake with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  I garnished the top with some chopped candied peanuts that I made earlier.  I was thinking about reversing it, having a peanut butter cake with a chocolate buttercream.  The problem was that I don’t have a tried and tested peanut butter cake recipe, so go with what you know.  I wish I could follow that logic with those damn Sugar Cookies (which is on take #3, by the way)!  This recipe makes 2 9-in. cakes which I split to make a 4-layer cake.  Since it has 4 layers, you may need a double batch of the frosting, depending on how much you put in between the layers.  Here’s what you need:

For the cake:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 c. sour cream
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 c. cold water

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9-in round cake pans with cooking spray; line with parchment and spray the parchment as well.

2.  Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, and salt) into a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Whisk together the eggs and sour cream in a separate bowl until well blended.  Add the vanilla and mix well.  Set aside as well.

4.  In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the melted butter and oil.  Add the water and mix well.

5.  Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low for about 1 minute.  Now add the egg mixture in one addition and mix until well blended (about another minute).  Scrape the sides down as needed.

6.  Divide the batter evenly into the two pans.  Bake for about 35 – 40 until a cake tester comes out clean.

7.  Cool cakes in the pans on top of cooling racks for 15 -20 minutes.  Then invert the pans onto racks, remove the parchment liners and cool the cakes completely before splitting lengthwise to make your four layers out of the two cakes..

For the frosting:

  • 1 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, about room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. vanilla

Using a food processor, mix all the ingredients until smooth and well blended.  Scrape down the sides as necessary.  To get the chocolaty frosting, I took a portion of the peanut butter frosting and folded in some melted chocolate.  But I’ve also folded in a dark chocolate spread before as well.  You can also fold in some Nutella or gianduia, that is if you are lucky enough to have some gianduia lying around the house.  One day I’ll be able to make this part of my regular pantry items.

Assemble the cake:

I like to start by putting a small dollop of the frosting in the middle of a cakeboard round.  This helps hold the cake in place.  Place about 1/3 – 1/2 c. of frosting on top of the first layer and smooth it out.  You can use strips of wax paper in between the bottom cake layer and the cakeboard to help keep it or the serving platter clean.  Place the next layer on top of the bottom one and repeat frosting.  Repeat with the other layers as well.

Smooth out a crumb coat on the outside of the assembled layers and place in the refrigerator to cool for about 15 minutes.  Complete frosting over the crumb coat.  You can garnish the top of the cake with some of the chocolate frosting mixture (if you made some) and pipe out some rosettes.

Notes — One trick you can use is to cut a very small notch out of the cakes before you split them.  That way you can line them up correctly so you can get a nice level top.

Freezing Rhubarb

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This is a quick post, but it seems like everyone seems to go crazy for rhubarb.  So I wanted to post something showing how to freeze some rhubarb so that you can have some on hand months after the season is done.  It’s simple and the process takes just a couple of minutes.  The only area of concern is making sure you have enough space in your freezer!

There are methods out there that involve packing the rhubarb in some sugar or a simple syrup.  I like this method, maybe because it’s the quickest and easiest.  Here’s how I do it.  You will need the following:

  • resealable freezer bags
  • permanent marker
  • sheet pan
  • rhubarb

1.  Wash your rhubarb and allow it to dry.  While waiting for it to dry, use the permanent marker to label and date the freezer bags.

2.  Chop them into 1″ or 2″ pieces.  Lay them onto the sheet pan in a single layer, leaving some space in between the pieces.  Put the pan into the freezer.

3.  Leave in the freezer for a couple of hours, just to be sure that everything is frozen.  Once frozen, transfer them into the labeled freezer bags and remove as much air as possible before sealing them.  You could use a straw to remove the air.  Store in your freezer until you need them.

Notes — Keep in mind that when you thaw the rhubarb, it will lose some moisture.  In the process of freezing, ice crystals are formed in whatever it is that you’re trying to preserve.  These crystals rupture cell walls, which is how you get all that liquid.  The cells can no longer hold everything together, so everything just kinda spills out.  Now don’t discard any of that liquid.  I say that you should save that liquid and just put it into whatever recipe on which you are working.  Or you could use it to make syrup, or make a sauce, or something along those lines.

One way that you can avoid all these hassles (but get a whole different set of hassles) is to use dry ice.  Dry ice freezes everything so quickly that large ice crystals don’t have a chance to form.  So in theory, once you thaw something that was frozen with dry ice, it should taste and feel the same as if it were fresh.  I got this from Alton Brown on his show Good Eats.  It was on one of his shows (Here’s part 1 and part 2 of “Strawberry Sky”.  The bit about freezing is in part 2).  It’s a shame that they won’t be making any more Good Eats shows.

Caribbean Upside Down Cake

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Since it’s warming up outside, I’ve been thinking about fresh fruit and baking.  One of the best ways to incorporate the two is with an upside down cake!  When most folks think about upside down cakes, pineapples and maraschino cherries come to mind.  But you can have any variety of fruits in the cake.  That’s when I came up with this recipe for the Caribbean Upside Down Cake (besides, there were a bunch of grapefruits just hanging out in the kitchen).

The name for this recipe comes from the two highlighted ingredients — grapefruit and coconut (and rum, too!).  Coconut is grown throughout the tropics (some say it is native to Asia, others say South America), and the origins of the grapefruit with which we are most familiar can be traced to Barbados or Jamaica.  But they can be further traced back to pomelo seeds brought to the Caribbean in the 1700s from Southeast Asia.  And there is your cultural nugget of knowledge for today (I need to come up with a better phrase than that!).  I am not a food historian, so if anything is incorrect, let me know and I can further research it.

Anyhoo, for the recipe.  I like the juxtaposition of the sweetness of the caramel, and the flavor of the grapefruit.  Now you can use any yellow cake recipe that you like.  Please do not make it from a box!  I’ll include the whole thing for you!  This recipe makes 3 8-inch cakes.  You could switch it up and make 2  9-inch cakes, or even make cupcakes.  Just make sure the cake is set in the middle and a tester comes out clean.  This works best with the ingredients at room temperature.

For the topping:

  • 3 grapefruits
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 3 T. dark rum
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the cake:

  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 c. milk
  • 3/4 c. shredded coconut

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the cake pans with cooking spray and line with a parchment round.  Spray the round as well.

2.  Prepare the topping.  Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer for about 3 minutes.  Add the salt and combine.  Gradually add the rum and vanilla.  Spread equal parts of the topping into the bottom of each cake round.

3.  Peel and supreme  the grapefruits (here’s a link that shows you how with lots of pics).  Arrange the segments in an attractive way in the cake pans on top of the butter mixture; you could try concentric circles or anything that you might like.  Try different things and see what you prefer.

4.  Sift the dry ingredients together.  Set aside.

5.  In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.  Mix well for about 5 minutes in a mixer on medium speed.  Add the vanilla and combine.  Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

6.  Now alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter, mixing after each addition and starting and ending with the flour.  So add 1/3 of the flour to the butter and mix to combine.  Add 1/2 of the milk and combine.  Then add 1/3 of the flour and mix, 1/2 of the milk and mix, and now the last of the flour.  Do not over mix.  Fold in the coconut with a spatula.

7.  Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans and smooth the tops.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes until the cakes are set in the middle and a tester comes out clean.  You may need to rotate the cakes halfway through to evenly bake, depending on how your oven bakes.

8.  Cool on a rack for 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake to release it.  Invert a serving plate on top of the cake pan.  Turn it upside down so that the cake pan is on top, turning it away from you so you don’t spill on yourself.  The cake should release easily thanks to the parchment.  Remove the parchment before serving.

I froze the other two cakes, so that I can have some cake for the next couple of months or so.  Now the caramel sauce is a little more liquid than other upside down cake recipes.  This is due to how the grapefruit is prepared.  I did find another recipe for a Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake on Martha’s website where she used the whole segments of grapefruit with the membrane intact.  Haven’t tried it, but I’m curious how the topping differs.