Wednesday, August 26, 2009

- Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun: Weddings and Birthdays 2

The Ackert family doesn’t do anything by halves. It wasn’t enough to have one wedding last, year … we had two. Meghan and Paul were married four months after Meliss and Jake.

Then we up and moved away from our long-time home in Williamsburg.  As a result, I’ll get to make Meg a birthday cake for the first time in about ten years since Austin is only 30 miles from Wimberley. She hasn’t placed an order yet, but I’m guessing she’ll want Vanilla Vanilla Cake.  I actually earned an award with this cake, back when I was a Girl Scout (which is to say, a very, very long time ago). Another cake won first prize for decorating, but mine got honorable mention for taste. As with the Peach Cobbler, this recipe has Bisquick in it, which is weird because I like to think of myself as a "scratch baker" and a "whole foods" locavore-wannabe.  Translation:  I do whatever works best for the recipe at hand.

In any case, the recipe came from my Grandma Barnett (my dad’s mom) and is one of the few that I haven’t messed with too much over the years. Grandma always made it in a loaf pan (hence the original name “Mom Barnett’s Loaf Cake” in my mom's recipe file), although it can also be made in a tube pan or a 9” x 13” sheet pan ... I've even tried layers and cupcakes from time to time. It has a terrible tendency to collapse in the middle, but you don’t want to overcook it because it’s better too moist than too dry. Meg likes it iced with vanilla and has always called it Vanilla Vanilla Cake. If I’m making for myself, I ice it half in vanilla, half in chocolate, because I can never decide which I like best.  BTW, if it does get a bit dry, a scoop of vanilla Haagen Dazs helps.

Vanilla Vanilla Cake

½ cup Land O Lakes butter with canola oil
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 eggs or ¾ cup of Better'n Eggs (pasteurized so you can lick the bowl)
1 ½ tsp. vanilla (remember, Nielsen-Massey)
3 cups Bisquick
¾ cup milk

Bake at 350 degrees, 45 minutes for a loaf pan, 30 minutes for a tube pan, 20 minutes for a 9”x13” pan

Vanilla Icing (update: now I make Smitten Kitchen Buttercream)

½ cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
Milk or cream as needed

Melt butter, add vanilla and half the sugar. Beat with a handmixer, adding sugar and milk (or cream) until you reach a spreadable consistency.

Chocolate Icing

1/3 cup butter
2 or 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
Milk and/or coffee as needed

Melt butter and chocolate. Add vanilla and half the sugar. Beat with a handmixer, adding sugar and milk and/or coffee until you reach a spreadable consistency.

Note: If you plan to ice the cake with both vanilla and chocolate icing, cut the recipes in half.

- Just a Trifle: Weddings and Birthdays 1

Melissa is my Valentine child, born on February 14th (the day she was due, which I very much appreciated at the time).  Having a birthday in the middle of winter had its problems.  Aside from having to share "her day" with the rest of the world, it never failed that some significant invitee to her birthday party would succumb to whatever contagion was active that year.  Grandma, Papa, Dad, Meg, friends ... you name 'em, she missed 'em.  Everyone except me.  I had to be there to supply the cake.

Her perennial birthday cake request had cake in it, but wasn’t actually a cake at all. What she almost always wanted was Strawberry Trifle. As with most of my recipes, this one morphed over the years, but the biggest challenge was finding good berries in February. So I would grab any I could find within a week of the party.  But once I found them, the other big challenge was to keep them from spoiling.

Well, Melissa married Jake last year and she now lives in St. Louis, so I don’t actually get to make birthday cakes for her anymore, but I still try to make a trifle for us.

Strawberry Trifle, aka Melissa's Birthday Cake
(some assembly required)

Cream filling
2 large boxes or 3 small boxes of Jello “cook and serve” vanilla pudding (NOT instant)
5 cups of whole milk (I use less than called for so the pudding will be thicker)
1 ½ cups heavy cream (unsweetened)

Cook on stove or in microwave until thickened
Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin from forming
Cool thoroughly in refrigerator
Whip heavy cream (no sugar) and fold into pudding

Fruit Filling
2-3 quarts of strawberries, hulled and quartered (more is better)
2 Tbs. sugar sprinkled over berries and gently stirred in

Nuts (optional)
2-4 oz. slivered almonds toasted for 5 minutes at 350 (be careful they don't burn)

Sponge Cake
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
¼ cup hot water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder

Whip egg whites into soft peaks
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar, then mix in water and vanilla.
Fold flour and baking powder into yolk mixture
Fold egg whites into yolk mixture
Bake in an ungreased tube pan at 350 for 45 minutes

Decide if you want to make one large trifle or two small ones and divide accordingly.
Cut sponge cake in half horizontally and sprinkle with Amontillado sherry to taste (just stick your thumb in the bottle and spritz over the cut side of the cake)
Put a little pudding/cream in the bottom of the serving bowl(s)
Layer cake, strawberries, almonds and cream filling, in that order, twice.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving if possible.
Garnish with sweetened whipped cream and whole strawberries if desired