Friday, March 8, 2019

ALANA'S WEEKNIGHT CAKE

I was with my future sister in law today (!!!) and she was full of good stories and agreed I could steal her life to kick the writer’s block. My favorite tale was her hubby helping get baby Josie ready so she could shower. Things are going great. Happy, naked baby ready for her new spankin’ clean diaper… the phone rings. The boys are all going to the archery range today. The next thing you know, Kenny is off into the land of archery while naked baby lays confused on the bed with the diaper not even half on. Apparently archery trumps naked baby. Love it.

When the boys got home from their archery shenanigans, Uncle Alex asked baby Josie for a hug goodbye. She proceed to laugh maniacally and run in the opposite direction, so Alex decided bribery was best and pulled out a dollar. She quickly came running back and happily exchanged a big hug for her hard earned dollar. Kenny’s parental instincts snapped into place and he confiscated the dollar telling Josie, “We don’t sell love from money”. Bad Uncle Alex.




Anywho… back to my uneventful life. I have had some time on my hands. Which turned into a week long obsession of creating a cake recipe that was 100% my own. My original goal was to create a recipe low in sugar so I could down flavorful mountains of cake without that heart pounding sugar rush that makes you acutely aware that those calories have to go somewhere and god forbid that be an actual work out. So I significantly reduced the sugar (less than half). It was stiff, hard, and dry. Turns out sugar is critical in baking for capturing moisture and creating fluffiness, not just diabetes.

It all goes back to high school chemistry with those needy hydrogen bonds that make water so ‘sticky’. Baking sugar, sucrose, is a polar molecule meaning that half of it is negatively charged and the other is positive, like a magnet. A polar molecule is referred to as ‘sticky’ because the positive and negative ends want to be together and the degree of polarity determines how hard it is to break these molecules apart. Water is extremely sticky. Sucrose has enough polarity to tease the water molecules apart. These flirtations cause the water to stick to the sugar which is vital to baking for the following reasons:


  • Sugar increases moisture and perceived softness. The bonds between sucrose and water trap water in the cake locking in moisture.

  • It increases tenderness. Cakes cannot be made without protein and starch (eggs and flour). They create shape. When water reacts with protein and starch the mixture becomes hard and dry. However, the luscious polarity of sucrose snatches up all the water molecules before they have a chance to mingle with the eggs and flour.
    • Note: I have heard of bakers beating the flour with the butter first to coat the flour molecules with fat to prevent them from absorbing extra water added later in the recipe. Future experiment!
    • Considering butter is usually 20% water, I wonder how substituting other fats with less water content, (lard, oil, shortening, etc.) would affect tenderness. More experiments!

  • It can increase rise. Creaming butter and sugar in the Kitchenaid is more than just convenient. Before baking powder and baking soda, bakers would beat butter and sugar for hours. As you beat the sugar into the butter, the sugar crystalizes and traps air. This increases lift in a cake.

  • Sugar increase shelf life. Now the twinkie will last forever because of things like Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin and Cellulose Gum. Scary, right? But you can increase how long a cake lasts on your counter by increasing sugar. Life needs water. Spoilage organisms are microscopic life. Sugar steals water from its environment. Less available water = less possibility of additional life and spoilage.
    • This comes in handy when planning ahead for events. Need to bake a cake a day or so ahead of time, but worried it will dry out? Pick a recipe high in sugar (more sugar than flour).

  • Sugar increase browning through the maillard reaction. This is a browning reaction between reducing sugars, sucrose, and amino acids, proteins. This is separate from actual caramelization, but many people explain the resulting flavor similar to a caramel flavor which can be found in traditional chocolate chip cookies. THIS ONLY OCCURS ABOVE 350F!
    • Note: this reaction is sped up in alkaline environments. Basically, if you add acidity to your recipe you may reduce the effects. Acid ingredients include buttermilk, sour cream, vinegar, citrus, etc.



Alana’s Weeknight Cake Recipe

This recipe is for one 8 inch layer. Multiply the recipe by the amount of layers you wish to make. My pictures are of a 3 layer cake.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Have the butter, eggs, sour cream, and buttermilk ready at room temperature. Butter or oil the inside of your cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a standing mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the egg. In a small bowl combine the sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla. Being careful not to over mix, add half the flour mixture. Lightly mix. Then add half the buttermilk mixture. Lightly mix. Add the rest of the flour, mix, and then add the last of the buttermilk mixture. Mix until just combined.

Immediately transfer mixture to the cake pan and place in oven. Without opening the oven again, bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed without crumbs. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes. Then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

I customized this cake by adding 1 tbsp of orange zest, frosting it with a cream cheese frosting, and then adding a blood orange glaze on the top.  I often customize the flavors of this cake for an easy one layer weeknight dessert.

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