Classic White Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Tomorrow is my mother-in-law, Connie’s, birthday. I won’t tell you how old she will be, but I will tell you that I love her more and more every year that passes by. When I asked her what flavor she wanted, Connie requested a white cake. I used the classic white cake recipe from Baking Illustrated, filled the middle with a blackberry buttercream, and iced the cake in a vanilla buttercream. Robert and I were unable to make it back to Walnut Creek to celebrate her birthday this past weekend because my sister was in town from Virginia, so I sent the cake along home with my brother-in-law on Friday.

I hope you enjoyed the cake, Connie. We love you! :)

Classic White Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

Classic White Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups plain cake flour
  • 1 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I was out of almond extract so I used 2 tsp vanilla instead)
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened

Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup marshmallow creme
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

For the Cake

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the bottom of a 11X15 inch cake pan with parchment paper. Generously grease and flour it. Dust with flour.
2. Pour the milk, egg whites, and extracts into a bowl and whisk until blended.

3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix together briefly. Add the butter and continue beating at low speed until the mixture consists of moist crumbs.

4. Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the butter/flour mixture and mix at medium speed for about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the remaining milk and beat for about 30 seconds longer. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to make sure the batter is fully blended.

5. Pour the batter into the pan and spread out evenly. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a center gently springs back when you touch it.

6. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool on a baking rack for about 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife along the edges to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Allow to cool completely.

7. When you are ready to decorate the cake, place a sheet of parchment paper on the counter and carefully flip the cake over onto it. It should remove easily from the pan. Use a ruler to ensure equal portions and cut the cake in half (5.5 inches wide for each).

For the Frosting

1. Place the butter in a bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip the butter on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

2. Add in the marshmallow creme, vanilla, and salt. Mix until well combined.

3. Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Scrape down the sides to ensure the mixture is well combined.

4. Add the cream, 1 Tbsp at a time and whip until light and fluffy.

(For the blackberry buttercream- I took about 2/3 cup of the vanilla buttercream and added 2 Tbsp blackberry jam and an additional 2 Tbsp heavy cream)

6. Decorate the cake as desired :)

Source: Cake-Baking Illustrated, Frosting- Lolly’s Sweet Treats

Food Memory Friday: Fresh Pesto and Tomato Bread

This recipe is my Aunt Khaki’s. I first tasted it about 7 years ago while she was visiting my family during the summer. At that point in my life, I had never had (or heard of) pesto and I was instantly intrigued. After my first bite of the crunchy deliciousness, I wanted the recipe right away so we could recreate it after she returned to California.  Fresh out of high school and with next to no experience cooking, you can imagine my surprise when she said ” well I don’t really have a recipe for it, I just taste it as I go.” I was shocked- “No recipe?! But how can you make something without a recipe?” This is when I discovered you don’t have to go by the rules when you cook. You can add in or omit ingredients and tailor a dish so it fits your personality. As corny as it may sound, I believe cooking is a form of artistic expression. You may like your spaghetti sauce sweet, spicy, chunky, creamy, with mushrooms, or with cinnamon. Whichever you choose, there’s no wrong answer. Thanks to my Aunt Khaki and this pesto bread, I have fully embraced this philosophy (even if it doesn’t always yield tasty results). :)

Aunt Khaki and my cousin Camille at my wedding

Now- onto the Pesto and Tomato Bread. Our summer garden is in full swing and we have more basil and tomatoes than I can handle right now. As a result, I was more than happy to make this seasonal for dinner a few nights ago. It’s very simple to make if you have the ingredients on hand. I used walnuts and asiago in my pesto, but you can certainly use pine nuts and parmesan if you prefer.

Robert, previously a pesto hater, actually loved the pesto and tomato bread. There really is a noticeable difference between fresh and canned pesto and his change in opinion is proof positive. If you have a lot of extra produce on hand, this is a perfect dinner or appetizer to make. It can even be frozen for a few weeks. Just pop it in the oven until it’s heated through when you are ready to enjoy it again.

Have  a great weekend, everyone!

Fresh Pesto and Tomato Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch fresh basil (about 3 loose cups)
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 5 fresh garlic cloves
  • 3/4 Asiago cheese, roughly chopped (plus extra shredded cheese to put on top of the bread)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 fresh baguette
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor or blender, place basil, oil, garlic, walnuts, salt and cheese. Pulse until well-blended.

Slice baguette in half and then lengthwise. Spread a layer of pesto on top of the bread. Place thinly sliced tomatoes on top of the pesto. Sprinkle with asiago cheese.

Put the bread on a cookie sheet and place it in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the broiler onto high and let the cheese brown (about 3 minutes longer).

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Enjoy.

Source: Aunt Khaki

Fresh Ginger Ale

Attention all ginger lovers: this drink is for you!***

A few weeks ago Robert and I ate dinner at The Northstar Cafe downtown. If you live in the central Ohio area and haven’t eaten there yet, you should. It took us awhile to finally get around to dining at this glorious establishment and I wish it hadn’t- the food is wonderful. They use organic ingredients and most of their menu items are made from scratch, including their fresh ginger ale.  I am a ginger ale freak, so although I normally order water or unsweetened iced tea at restaurants, I excitedly jumped all over their delightful concoction without thinking twice. OMG- it was absolutely breathtaking! The spice of fresh ginger was infused with fresh lime and mint and just the right amount of sweetness. My actual dinner -an Asiago chicken sandwich with roasted red peppers and fresh arugula- was positively scrumptious as well, but this drink blew my mind. I immediately wanted to recreate it at home!

I did some research on the internet and read about different techniques. Some people used fresh lemon, others were serious about their ginger ale and added yeast and bottled it at home. I didn’t find anything all that similar to Northstar’s drink, so I had to experiment on my own. The first time I made it, I boiled chunks of fresh ginger with mint and lime peels (and too much sugar). The result was a rather bitter, excessively sweet drink . Disappointed  but not discouraged, I gave it a second (and third) go around until I finally found a method that resulted in a drink that (I think) tastes somewhat like Northstar’s wondrous creation.

This is a perfect summertime drink- it’s crisp, refreshing, and  a little spicy! It can also be transformed into a cocktail- add a little pear vodka and you have a tasty drink to help you unwind from a long day. I hope you enjoy this fresh ginger ale as much as I do. Thanks to The Northstar Cafe for the inspiration; and seriously- go try out their food if you can! They have three great locations in Columbus.

 

Fresh Ginger Ale***

*** I’ve changed this recipe and a new and improved homemade version can be found here

Ingredients:

  • 1 fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (2 limes)
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh mint
  • Club soda, chilled

Directions:

1.Peel the fresh ginger with a peeler (or a spoon). Rinse off any excess skin or dirt and chop it into course chunks. Place the chunks in a medium saucepan.

2. Add the 5 cups of water and turn the burner on high. Bring the mixture to a boil (watch it carefully- it can boil over quickly!).  Reduce the heat to medium and add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved (about 2-3 minutes). Remove the mixture from heat and let it sit for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

3.Meanwhile, pluck the mint leaves of the springs and place them in a large bowl. Juice the limes and pour the juice onto the mint leaves. Gently crush the leaves with a wooden spoon to allow the oil from the mint to be released and blend with the lime juice.

4.After the ginger mixture has been sitting for 15 minutes, place a sieve over the bowl of the mint and lime juice and carefully pour the liquid into the bowl. Remove the sieve and discard the ginger chunks after they have cooled.Mix the concoction with a spoon. This is your ginger syrup. Allow it to chill in the fridge.

5. When you are ready to enjoy some fresh ginger ale, you can do it one of two ways: 1) for a single serving or 2) for a crowd. For the single serving, I keep the club soda and ginger mixture separate and combine 1/2 cup club soda with 1/2 cup of the syrup and then pour it over ice. When making it for a crowd, I combine 4 cups of the syrup and 4 cups of cold club soda into a pitcher and serve it over ice immediately. Either way, I found the 1:1 ratio of syrup and club soda to be a good combination, but you can certainly adjust it to your preference.

6. Garnish with  a lime wedge and a sprig of mint, if desired, and enjoy! :)

Source: Inspired by The Northstar Cafe

Homemade Graham Crackers

My Aunt Khaki made homemade graham crackers a couple of years ago and I was instantly intrigued. I never got around to trying  them and then they started popping up on food blogs and I decided it was time to whip up a batch. Creating the dough is simple, but requires plenty of time to harden in the refrigerator so it’s important plan ahead before you make them. The prep work for this recipe is similar to making cut-out sugar cookies and I would imagine you could even use pretty cookie cutters to jazz up the crackers, if you so desire.

I think the hraham crackers taste the best after a couple of days. They go great with a cup of coffee or as a snack with a smear of peanut butter. Most wonderful of all, they would be a tasty base for campfire s’mores- a personal summertime favorite of mine. :)

Homemade Graham Crackers

Ingredients:

Graham Cracker:

  • 2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon  baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
  • 1/3 cup  mild-flavored honey, such as clover
  • 5 tablespoons milk2 tablespoons  pure vanilla extract

Topping:

  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide.

Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 20 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Be sure to check the crackers periodically to make sure they don’t burn- it can happen fast! :)

Recipe from: Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery