Sunday, August 15, 2010

When in Rome….Let Them Eat Cake

Ok, so I’m mixing metaphors. Of course the response is. ..”do as the Romans do.” Now, I couldn’t be further from Rome, residing in the heart of Alabama, so I feel this permits me some room for interpretation. However, I’m ready to embrace the spirit of this famous quote. And where better to start? Clearly, and I believe the SFA would agree with me, southern food could be no better place for me to begin my journey. And, I’m embracing it wholeheartedly. (Admittedly, according to the scale, I could probably do with a little less acceptance.) That aside, I was thrilled to receive my September issue of Food and Wine magazine that celebrates the new culinary focus on Southern cooking – and my latest food d’amour – caramel cake. (The photo is a little slice of heaven from this morning’s brunch.)

After doing a quick bit of research on this quintessentially southern delight, it dates back to the mid-1800’s. Which leads me to question, how have southerners managed to keep this cake a secret? Why does this gorgeous gateau rarely see a menu or bakery case above the Mason-Dixon line? A thin, but satisfying, layer of salty, sweet frosting is balanced with a perfectly light cake. An adept baker, I am not. In fact, I am the culprit behind many a baking disaster that would make the Barefoot Contessa throw up her arms in exasperation. But, for this cake I will overcome.

For those looking to partake in my cause caramel, the following is a recipe from one of my favorite chefs Ann Cashion, as printed in Food and Wine....

1 cup whole milk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.

2. In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.

3. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.

4. In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.

5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235° on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.

6. Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes.

7. Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second cake layer and cover it with icing. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake.
Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.

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