Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ultimate Strawberry Cake

I realized recently that strawberry season was quickly drawing to a close and I wanted to try just one more time to find a recipe that could replace my boxed birthday cake.

After making the one for my birthday I decided my cake needed the following aspects to make it better:
1) The texture needed to be fluffier
2) More strawberry flavor

So I set out first to find a fluffy cake recipe, then I would deal with how to get strawberries in it.  I found this recipe and based on the amount of testing she did and the description of the texture, I felt fairly confident this would be a good cake to start with.

Then I set out to research using purees in cake.  And just like everything else on the internet, you can find a lot of opinion on this.  There were a few things that caught my attention while searching though - some people said that heating up the fruit beforehand made the flavor more intense and several people said strawberries lose their flavor when baked in the cake.  So I started thinking about what intensifies the flavor of strawberries and balsamic vinegar came to mind.  I decided to make a puree by cooking some strawberries with some balsamic and honey.
I went back to the recipe to see how I could add this into the cake and, conveniently, there was a perfect spot.  The milk is split up into 2 parts and it was simple enough for me to replace some of the milk with the puree.

I was nervous because I’d be messing with how things interact and you never know how that will turn out.  I started by making the puree, so it would have a little cooling time.  I used ½ pint of strawberries, 1 tbsp balsamic, and 1 tbsp honey and cooked it on medium until it became a bit jammy.  Then I made the cake according to the recipe, but when it came time to add the ½ cup milk to the batter, I replaced it with the puree.  It looked good, but wasn’t quite as pink as I wanted, so I added a drop and a ½ of red food coloring.  I finished up the mixing, poured it in the pans and then also added diced strawberries to the top - they were a pretty small dice.  I also baked off a couple of mini-cupcakes so I could taste it without messing up the cake.  I baked the cake for about 35-40 mins - I find the cakes with fruit take a little longer.

Finally they were done and cooled and we tasted our cupcakes and they were good but too small and you mostly tasted the “crust” of the cupcake.  I decided to just cut a piece of cake and deal with it later when I assembled it.  Again - it was good, but I was so focused on what it was “supposed” to taste like that I couldn’t really judge it on its own.  Then I realized that after all this tasting, I really wasn’t sure what I was trying to achieve anymore.  So the next night, I stopped at the grocery and bought the boxed strawberry cake mix.  I whipped it up when I got home, cut a slice of both and tasted them.  The homemade one won - hands down!  The boxed mix tasted fake and was way too airy.  Mine was moist and the strawberry flavor was so good and natural.  It’s still not super fluffy, but it was lighter than the recipe I used for my birthday version and the texture was much more moist.  And after comparing it to the boxed mix, I prefer the texture of my cake.  Another interesting bit it that it gets better as it sits.  This cake definitely needs to be made a few days ahead of time.  I am super happy with this recipe and this will now be my new birthday cake!

Strawberry Balsamic Cake
Serves 8-10

Strawberry Puree:
1/2 pint strawberries, diced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

5 large Egg Whites, (5 ounces/150 grams) at room temperature
1/4 cup Whole Milk, (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract, (9 grams)
2 3/4 cups Cake Flour, sifted (11 ounces/315 grams)
1 3/4 cups Sugar, (12 ounces/350 grams)
1 Tbsp Baking Powder, + 1 teaspoon, (19.5 grams)
3/4 tsp Salt, (5 grams)
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes
1/2 cup strawberry puree
1 1/2 drops red food coloring (optional)

First of all - Make this cake at least a day before needed.  2 days would be better.  Do not frost until ready to eat.

Make strawberry puree.  Add diced strawberries, vinegar and honey to a saucepan over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until nice and "jammy" - about 7 mins.
Take off heat and set aside.  (I actually put mine through a sieve as well, just to get some of the seeds out)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease two round 8-inch pans.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, ¼ cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds.

Add the butter and strawberry puree, and mix on low speed until just moistened.  Add food coloring if using. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1 ½ minutes.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

Divide the batter in two, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife.

Bake 20 minutes and check with a cake tester.  If not done, check every 2 to 5 mins, being careful not to over bake.  Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire racks. It's recommended you turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.

Store in airtight container until ready to eat.  Frost with pastry cream and mascarpone whipped cream.  Recipes here.

Side note: I used the boxed cake mix to make cake balls.  I mixed it with store bought cream cheese frosting and coated them in dark chocolate chips and let me tell ya, that’s the way to eat a boxed mix.  Those things are tasty!!!  And so incredibly easy!  If you need something quick for a party, try whipping up these things - everyone will love you.

Monday, July 23, 2012

On the Town - El Naranjo

A few weeks ago, we went out with some friends to try El Naranjo on Rainey St.  It used to be a food truck, but is now a restaurant in a cute little house.

Several of us wanted to go there because we had seen a couple of stories on TV about how wonderful the mole sauce is.  Michael and I saw a piece on Eat St. on the Cooking Channel and our friend saw this piece on a local TV network.  Their story is amazing and the challenges they have faced to get here are overwhelming to consider.  But we’re glad they are here!

The atmosphere is pleasant and laid back, but very well appointed.  And I love that the house has lots of windows, so there is an abundance of natural light.  We went on a Sunday evening - it was not crowded at all - and we sat in the main dining area but there is an outdoor area in the back that I would love to try when it’s cooler.

For appetizers, we got the Queso Fundido with Chorizo and our friends got the Molotes Veracruzanos.  We all shared and everything was delicious.  The queso was a thick, gooey cheese with delicious chorizo on top, served with corn tortillas.  And the Molotes (which I had never heard of before) where kind of like little tamales and were incredibly yummy!  When we go back, I will get the same thing because both of these dishes were fantastic.

For my main dish I got the Mole of the day (which had lots of spices and chocolate) with the pork tenderloin.  This dish was amazing!  I had never had mole before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I can tell you that it was so dark and rich and intense - like no sauce I’ve ever tasted.  There were so many flavors going on.  And the pork was perfectly cooked and super moist.  Also, once you try it, you’ll find it’s incredibly impressive that she uses no lard in her sauces!

Dessert was Tres Leches - which you simply can’t go wrong with.  But again it was the best one I’ve had.  It was moist and flavorful without being “soupy” which is often associated with tres leches.

If you live in Austin, I highly, highly recommend El Naranjo.  Below is a photo our friend took of his meal... I was too busy eating.  :)

Thanks for the photo, Dave!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A weeknight dinner

Last week I decided to try this recipe for Sweet Tea Brined Chicken.  My husband and I love sweet tea, so this recipe really attracted me.  I only wanted to make 2 breasts, so I cut the recipe in half.  I used 2 large, bone-in, chicken breasts, rosemary, lemons and a sweet onion.  The recipe is for cooking on an outdoor grill, but all we have is a small charcoal one and we didn’t want to mess with that on a weeknight.  I decided to let it brine overnight, sear it on the stovetop and then bake it in a foil pouch to retain moisture.  I like this method A LOT!  I will likely start doing this from now on for my weeknight chicken dinners rather than grilling (re: other post regarding trouble with grilled chicken).  It was easy and clean up was a breeze and I didn’t have to stand over the stove.  There are a couple of things I would do differently with this particular recipe though:
1) Just use boneless, skinless breasts.  I didn’t find the bone-in breasts made a big difference to flavor and they are a pain to eat.  Maybe if I did something with the bones, but I haven’t gotten into stock making yet, so I would prefer not to have the waste.
2) Stronger tea.  The tea flavor really came through in the taste, which I have to say actually surprised me.  But I think I want it to be even stronger.  I may even try honey instead of brown sugar.  And possibly different tea types.

I also made a Panzanella salad and a Blueberry Buttermilk Pie.  The salad is one I have made before and definitely one of my favorites.  I had some leftover artisan bread in the freezer and a few slices of that defrosted and toasted made the perfect croutons.  Also, I have recently been using this vinegar from Williams Sonoma and it is amazing!!  Seriously the best cider vinegar I have ever had.  This is one of my own recipes - after looking at many different panzanella recipes, I picked ingredients I liked and came up with my own.  I have included it below.

Italian Panzanella Salad
Serves: 4


1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped

3 cups artisan bread, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 english cucumber, cubed or halved and sliced
1/2 medium red onion, diced fine
1 tbsp chives, chopped fine
4 ounces provolone cheese, diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped


In a bowl, whisk together vinegar and oil and oregano; season with salt and pepper.

Cube bread, toss with oil, salt, pepper and oregano.  Toast in 350 oven for 10 mins.

Combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and chives. Add bread.  Add vinaigrette.  Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours. Just before serving, stir in cheese and basil.

The pie was sort of a toss in at the last minute - I wanted to make a dessert and I just happened to have all of the ingredients needed for this pie.  I did not make the crust, I used the Pillsbury roll out crust that I had in the freezer.  I do plan on eventually making my own pie crust dough to freeze, but I currently have 2 boxes of the pillsbury dough and I want to use that first.  I also replaced the white sugar with honey.  We liked the pie, but it was a bit tart.  That could be because I used the honey as sweetener, but I think if I made this again I would just add a wee bit more honey rather than switching to white sugar.  But the texture both right out of the oven and after refrigeration was great.  Hot - it was creamy and gooey and the blueberries just popped.  Cold - it had the texture of flan - creamy and custardy.  It was super easy to make too and I think could be a good base for just about any fruit.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July cake

Last weekend I decided to try this idea I had for a 4th of July cake.  A few months ago I found this recipe.  It looked so delicious.  And I instantly thought it would make a great 4th of July cake if I did one layer in red and another in blue.  After reading the recipe I could tell it was an angel food-like cake.  I’m not a huge fan of angel food.  I want to be, but it just doesn’t do anything for me.  I think it’s a texture thing.  But I chose to stick with the basic recipe.

Here’s the thing... my biggest issue with baking is that I’m super impatient.  And this was my downfall with this recipe.  I needed to split the recipe.  I was able to split the dry ingredients - no problem.  The next step was to whip 11 egg whites and add the food coloring to that.  So I had to split the egg whites in half in order to get the 2 colors.  In hindsight I should’ve just split them before whipping, but noooo.  I thought I would just whip them to soft peaks and then split them.  This did not work.  I should’ve at least weighed the halves, but I was too impatient.  So, the red half did not get enough egg whites.

I added blueberries to the blue half and chopped strawberries to the red half and I iced it with the whipped mascarpone frosting that I used on my strawberry birthday cake.  The blue half did taste pretty good - so if you like angel food cake, I would highly recommend the recipe.  But the red half was rubbery and yucky.  The best part about the cake was the look.  I did love the way it came out visually and I like the idea of doing this for other holidays, with other color combinations.  But I would have to use a more traditional cake method because angel food is not for me.