A Cake for All Seasons

This cake. I love making it. I love decorating it. I love serving it. And I especially love, eating it. It is delicious.

The batter is beautifully flavored with rosemary, the zest of three oranges and one lemon, and cranberries. Once the winter holidays are over and the season for fresh cranberries has passed, reinvent it as a Blueberry, Orange, and Thyme Cake. In May, when the strawberries come in, make it a Strawberry, Orange, and Mint cake. This is a cake for all seasons.

You could also glam up the blueberry cake.

I never thought there would come a day when I would put the zest of four citrus fruits AND savory herbs in a single cake. Nor did I think I would take time to make sugared fruit. That all changed when I saw the food photos on Lauren’s @mustloveherbs’ Instagram feed. Lauren is an Appalachian Food and Living blogger in Kentucky. Her outrageously good Cranberry, Orange, and Rosemary Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting single-handedly inspired me to expand my culinary horizons. The cake is as pretty as it is delicious. She has motivated me to consider more herb and fruit combinations, to play with foods when food styling, and to try new angles when photographing food. I am grateful to her for giving me permission to feature her recipe for this post.

Here’s the recipe, but first a few cake-baking tips.

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before starting. I have been known, in a pinch, to heat butter and milk in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to get the chill out.

The primary method I use to measure flour is to weigh it. Otherwise, I lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup and level it with a knife.

The time to get air into a cake batter is in the beginning. That’s why we start most cake recipes by beating sugar and fat together for a good three minutes. Then we add the eggs, one at a time, beating in more air after each addition. Once the eggs are all in, be sure to turn the mixer off and clean the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix for one more minute.

Look how fluffy this batter looks even before the wet and dry ingredients have been added.

When cake directions say to alternately add dry and wet ingredients, try it this way, dry-wet-dry-wet-dry. Mix minimally with each addition. As soon as the batter is smooth, stop mixing. See how the batter has cloud-like puffs? That’s the goal for this cake.

When adding fruit, turn the mixer off and gently fold the fruit in with a spatula. Try to disperse the fruit evenly so there will be fruit in every slice.

On average, 1 large lemon gives two tablespoons of juice and one tablespoon of zest. 1 medium orange gives 4 tablespoons of juice and 2 tablespoons of zest. I use a Microplane to zest the peel.

I use a handheld orange squeezer to extract juice from citrus. Cut the fruit in half. Put cut side facing down. Bring the handles together and squeeze.  Flip the fruit over a couple of times to extract more juice. I slice the tip off the domed edge.

Use fresh herbs in beautiful condition. I mince the lower leaves of the stem and save the tips for decorating the cake.

Cake Ingredients

3 cups (13.0 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons (½-ounce package) freshly minced rosemary
zest of 3 medium oranges
juice of 1 medium orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup whole fat buttermilk
2 cups (1 pint) fresh whole cranberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour for dusting fruit
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar

Prep for the Mise en Place

Measure flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and add to a medium bowl. Add minced rosemary. Use a whisk to mix ingredients and get rid of lumps. Set bowl aside.

Zest 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Juice 1 orange and 1 lemon. Measure buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup and add zest and juice. Stir. Set aside.

In another small bowl, mix whole cranberries and a tablespoon of flour. Stir until the berries are completely dusted with flour. Set aside.

Crack each egg into a container. Don’t mix. Add vanilla. Set aside.

Add butter and sugar directly into a large mixing bowl.

The easy part — putting it all together.

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Make sure all crevices of pan are greased.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium speed for three minutes. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through mixing.

Pour in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Periodically, turn mixer off and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Beat another minute on medium speed.

With the mixer on “stir” or slow, add ⅓ dry ingredients, ½ wet, ⅓ dry, ½ wet, end with ⅓ dry. Mix briefly after each addition.

Remove bowl from stand and using a rubber spatula, add berries. Be sure to sweep bottom and sides of bowl to disperse berries evenly in batter.

Pour batter into a prepared Bundt pan. I can’t get over how gorgeous this batter looks! Just sayin’.

Bake on center shelf of a preheated oven for 45-55 minutes until a knife inserted in the middle of the ring comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 30 minutes. This is a necessary step to ensure the cake slides out easily from the pan. Flip cake carefully onto a wire rack and allow to cool for at least an hour before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients

2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted through a sieve
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
½-ounce package of rosemary for decorating
fresh fruit for decorating

In a mixing bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and orange juice. Mix on medium speed until icing is smooth and creamy. The consistency should be somewhere between a frosting and a glaze.

Dust off crumbs from cooled cake. Spoon icing over cake to achieve a drapey look.

Decorate with rosemary and sugared fruit.

Sugared Fruit

Sugaring fruit is much easier than I imagined. It starts with making a simple syrup and then adding fruit until it is covered in syrup. For cranberries, which have a hard shell, bring the syrup almost to a boil, add the cranberries, and let soften so they are edible. For thin-skinned fruits like blueberries, coat briefly and remove from hot pan so they don’t soften further.

Sugared Fruit Ingredients

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole, firm, fresh cranberries, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar for dusting

Instructions

Heat water and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup just starts to boil. Remove pan from heat.

Add whole cranberries that are at room temperature. Allow to stay in hot water for 10 minutes. Do not boil cranberries or they will pop. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon.

Place fruit on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Cranberries will be tacky and want to clump together. Separate them with the tip of a knife and not your fingertips. Doing so will keep the cranberries tacky and better able to hold the sugar crystals.  Allow to dry for one hour.

Spoon tacky berries into a bowl of sugar. Place on a clean sheet of parchment paper and dry for 30 minutes. Note the places on the cranberries that did not take up the sugar. I’m guessing they are the places where I used my fingers touched the tacky berries. Next time, I used a knife to separate the berries.

Christmas Eve or Valentine’s Day Cake

By Christmas Eve, we had already had this cake twice so we opted for Lily’s Red Velvet Cake, a family favorite, made by my DIL. Red Velvet Cake is basically chocolate cake with red food coloring. In my recipe, I boost the cocoa by adding expresso coffee. It is delicious. Inspired by Lauren’s food styling and not wanting to take the time to sugar more cranberries, we used what we had in the fridge to decorate the cake — pomegranate seeds and rosemary.

Readers, I would love your help. I am teaching a cooking class for The Herb Society of Nashville. I’m wondering if you could share some herb and fruit combinations you have found that are complementary. Please leave a comment with your favorites.

Some Other Favorite Cakes
Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake
Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake

Valentine’s Day is coming and I have just the cake for the occasion.

For years this rich and intensely chocolate cake was known in our house as my niece Elizabeth’s birthday cake.

That’s back when I made it tall and skinny using three stacked 8-inch cake pans.

But this week, in the early hours of the morning, I had an idea to make a heart-shaped cake that looked and tasted like the best piece of candy you ever pulled out of a box of chocolates. I used a cake construction technique I learned when I was ten years old and happily occupied with making cookies and cakes for my brothers and their friends.

Back then, I used an 8-inch square and an 8-inch round pan to make the cake. This time, I needed a cake that would feed twenty for a dinner party, so I added a second layer on top. I used two round and two square pans.

As I look at this picture now, I think this cake would make a sweet Groom’s Cake.

The recipe comes from Barrington Brewery and Restaurant in Rhode Island and has appeared on numerous websites and in many cookbooks. The recipe makes a large, dense cake, but if you reduce the ingredients by a third, you could bring it down to a regular-sized, single-layered, heart-shaped cake.

The frosting is very special, too. It is a ganache frosting. Ganache is a rich chocolatey filling made of melted chocolate and heavy cream. Depending on the ratio of chocolate to cream used, the consistency of the end product will be either a dipping sauce, like for strawberries (1 part chocolate : 1½ parts cream), a creamy frosting (1 chocolate : 1 cream), or a solid confection, like for truffles (2 chocolate : 1 cream). You can read about ganache here.

To make my heart-shaped cake, I needed to increase the basic ganache recipe by half bringing the total weight of the cake to a whopping 8.5 pounds (after subtracting two pounds for the pizza paddle I used to transfer the cake).

Since the ganache is heated and needs to chill for an hour before spreading, we’ll make the frosting first.

Let’s Get Started!

Ingredients

Frosting (reduce by a third if making a standard three-layer cake)
3 cups heavy cream
1½ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Cake:
2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) butter
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into the measuring cup and level the top with a knife)
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1⅓ cups sour cream

Frosting Instructions 

Bring cream to a simmer (not a full boil) in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let melt, uncovered, for three minutes without stirring.

Using a whisk, stir the ingredients together. Do not let any water (for example, thru covering the pot which could create drips of condensate) get in the ganache. It is an emulsion, as such, it could “seize” and turn the chocolate into a grainy liquid. Allow frosting to cool and firm up for an hour inside the refrigerator.

Cake Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.

Prepare the four lined cake pans: You will need two 8-inch squares, two 8-inch rounds, and two large wire cooling racks.

Grease all four pans with butter. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. To do this, stack two sheets of parchment paper. Using a marker, trace the cake pan outlines onto paper. Cut out the images and place in the bottom of the corresponding cake pans. Butter the tops of the liners. Set aside.

Bring stout and butter to a simmer in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sieve and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, add eggs and sour cream and beat until well-blended, about a minute.

You should now have three bowls of ingredients. It’s time to mix them together.

Add the chocolate mixture to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl. Beat briefly on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Slowly add the flour mixture and beat briefly until just mixed. Remove beater and stir batter up from the bottom with a spatula and fold until completely combined. Divide equally between the four prepared pans.

Notice how thick and deluxe the batter is. The cake will be equally deluxe!

Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You’ll notice the edges of the cake start to pull away from the sides of the pans when they are done. Be sure to do the knife check on each cake as the cakes in the back (where the oven is the hottest) tend to cook a little faster. Let cool for 10 minutes on wire racks and then invert the pans, remove paper liners, and allow cakes to finish cooling. They must be completely cooled before frosting.

Frosting the Cake

Place the square cake on a large sheet of parchment paper. Cut the round cake in half and place the halves on two sides of the square, as shown.

To make the heart-shaped cake have a fluffier frosting, pour the cooled frosting into a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes. This is optional but does give the cake height.

Frosting such a large cake is easier if you have a cake turntable to place it on, but a rimless sheet pan will work. You can use the sides of the parchment paper to move the cake around.

I moved the cake to a turntable, trimmed the visible parchment paper off, and made the finishing touches to the frosting.

I used a pizza paddle to transfer the cake to my friend, Kate’s silver tray. Her husband picked rosemary for me and we added chocolate covered ginger pieces for final adornments.

My friend, Renée, made the same recipe and adorned hers in an equally beautiful way. She used a fine-mesh sieve to dust cocoa powder over the cake and added flowers to the top.

How about an Easter bunny cake? Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

Or a red velvet cake? Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

How to Make Artisan Bread the Easy Way

In this post, I am going to show you how to make a boule of bread as beautiful as this one

using just flour, yeast, salt, and water.

There will be no kneading, no proofing of yeast in a bowl to make sure it is active, and no punching down dough that has doubled in size. In fact, you will pretty much need to forget everything you ever learned about making bread from scratch and use the new and “revolutionary” methods developed by bakers Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis in their bestselling cookbook, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The authors even have a book on gluten-free bread.

Since reading their book and using their method for the last two months, I feel very comfortable making bread and have not needed to buy any.

This bread is wonderful toasted for breakfast,

lovely for sandwiches at lunch,

and chewy and tasty when served warm at dinner along with a stick of butter.

But, I haven’t told you the best part: you pre-make and store the dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape and bake it. Yup, open our refrigerator door on any given day, and you will see a Cambro (a large, lidded, commercial grade food storage container) of dough, ready to be pulled out whenever we desire warm, crusty bread. The dough is good for up to two weeks and develops a mild sourdough flavor as it ages.

Let’s get started. Read over the entire post before you begin. It might sound complicated, but once you do it a few times, it will become second nature. Some tools that are helpful, but not required, are a digital scale, a round, 6-quart Cambro, a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and parchment paper. Know that the first few times I made this recipe I was in a beach house without any of the tools mentioned above, and I was able to make delicious bread.

Yield:  3 one-pound boules of bread
Preheat Oven: 450º, but not until you are ready to bake the bread.

About Flours:  This recipe calls for all-purpose (AP) unbleached flour.  The authors use Publix’s brand. I bake with King Arthur flours which have more protein than other AP flours and thus require an extra ¼ cup of water, per the authors. The authors suggest bumping up the water to 3⅓ cups if using bread flour. The authors suggest not using cake or pastry flours.

Measuring Flour — Weighing vs. Scooping:  For accurate and consistent results, use a digital kitchen scale. If you use a scale, zero out the weight of the empty container before adding flour. If using a measuring cup, do not pack the flour and be sure to level the cup with a knife.

Ingredients: this is the basic recipe
2 pounds (6½ cups) all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon (fine) salt or 1½ tablespoons (course) kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water (at 100º)

Ingredients: Below is my modification of the recipe. It still has 2 pounds of flour, but I’ve incorporated about 15% whole wheat flour without affecting the chemistry.

5 ounces King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour (a heaping cup)
1 pound, 11 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon (fine) sea salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3¼ cups lukewarm water (at 100º)

Instructions

Mix the Dough:
Weigh a 6-quart mixing container on a digital scale. Zero it out. Add in the flour(s), salt and yeast. Mix dry ingredients together with a wire whisk.

Add the warmed water. Mix the ingredients with a spatula, incorporating all of the flour from the bottom of the container. Put the lid on, but do not seal it so the gasses can escape. Allow dough to rest for two hours on the countertop. It won’t be resting though; the yeast will become activated by the water and the subsequent fermentation process that ensues will make the dough bubble and rise — and become delicious.

The dough will be wetter than what you may be used to.

After two hours, you could make your first loaf of bread, but I prefer to put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Chilling it makes the dough easier to shape into a boule, and it gives time for the flavors to become more complex. Do not punch the dough down. Ever.

Shape the Dough
Before you get started, prep the workspace where the dough will rise. I shape the dough and let it rise over a parchment paper-lined pizza peel, but you could put the dough on a cornmeal-covered baking sheet if you don’t have a peel. Sprinkle flour on your hands and over the top of the dough in the Cambro before diving in to scoop out dough. This will help keep the tacky and moist dough from sticking to your hands. Pull out one pound of dough, about one-third of it.

Shape the dough into a ball. This next step is important: stretch the top surface of the ball around and tuck it into the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn at a time. Repeat this motion for about 30 seconds.  Here’s a video by one of the authors. Add just enough additional flour to keep your hands from sticking to the dough. The goal is to flour the “skin” or “cloak” of the boule and not to incorporate flour into the interior. Place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper, uncovered, to rest and rise for 40 minutes.

The dough will spread out as it rises. It doesn’t get tall. That’s okay; the heat and steam in the oven will cause the dough to rise and round out as it bakes. The process is referred to as “oven-rise.” As proof, I once dropped a loaf of risen dough on the flour as I was putting it in the oven. I picked it up, quickly reshaped it, put it back on the peel, and slid it into the oven. The bread still rose — higher than ever. It’s a mystery. (PS: I swear the floor was spotless.)

Prepare the Oven:
While the dough is rising, prep the oven space. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, put it on the rack. On the rack beneath it, place an empty pan (that will be filled with water later) to create steam. The steam created by the addition of hot water once the bread is placed in the oven is the most crucial step in getting the bread to rise higher. Turn oven on to 450º. Here’s a photo of the set-up.

Back to the Rising Dough:
After the bread has risen for 40 minutes,

dust the top of the dough lightly with flour and using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 slashes on top. Allow dough to rest for five more minutes after that.

Slide the dough onto the pizza stone if using one, or if not using a stone, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the dough for about 35 minutes. The bread will be browned and sound hollow when tapped when done.

Remove bread from oven and place on an open wire rack to cool so the bottom of the loaf can crisp up. Allow to cool completely before slicing, or the interior could become doughy.

The only times I skip the step of cooling bread completely is when I’m serving it hot for dinner. These three boules were still hot when I quickly sliced them for a tableful of waiting family members sitting around the dinner table.

(photo credit: Kristen Ivory)

The bread disappeared with lots of gushing going on by those who were slathering each slice with butter as they ate them. That’s always a sight to behold for a cook.

To have a continuous supply of dough in the fridge, make a new Cambro of dough whenever the last container is emptied.

Failures:
There haven’t been any failures in the taste department. Something magical happens while that moist dough ferments. Every loaf I’ve made has tasted extraordinary, even if it wasn’t always a pretty loaf.

My early failures were related to getting the dough to rise sufficiently so the bread wouldn’t be too dense. That problem went away when I started weighing the flour and added steam to the oven to encourage oven-rise.

I hope I’ve inspired you to give bread-making a try. It a very fulfilling experience. Please feel free to ask questions in the Comments section.

(photo credit: Andrew Wright)

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

My mother made this bunny-shaped cake for us in the Sixties. I made it for my kids in the Nineties. Now, twenty-five years later, I am happily making it for my grandson. I love the architecture involved in creating the bunny shape out of two round cake pans as much as I love the simplicity in the flavor of a vanilla cake.

Cake Ingredients

2¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into half-inch slices, at room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and mix on slow speed until well blended.

Add the slices of butter and blend on medium speed until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbles.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork until well blended.

Pour the wet ingredients into the butter and flour mixture and beat on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat the batter on medium speed for one minute until smooth and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle oven rack. When done, the cakes should be golden in color and a knife poked into the center should come out clean.

Remove cake pans from the oven. Let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. To easily release the cakes from their pans, use a knife to loosen the edges and then flip the pans onto a rack. The cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
DSC_0124

1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Instructions
Beat butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar and start beating on slow speed until the sugar is incorporated into the mixture to keep powdered sugar from spraying all over the room. Beat frosting until smooth and creamy.

frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat for 15 seconds more. Add milk as needed to help fluff up the frosting.

frosting Red velvet cake
To Assemble Bunny Cake
Cut one of the cake layers as shown.
Arrange cakes as shown below. Place parchment paper strips under the cake’s edges. Ice the cake and then remove the strips. Decorate with M&M’s.
My husband got into decorating the cake. I had to pull him off the job when he talked about applying eyebrows.

Meanwhile, a few miles away at my Goddaughter Leigh’s house, my dear friend Becky was busy making an Easter Bunny Cake for her three-week-old granddaughter. She sent me a photo.

The Barton/Meadors family made this beautiful bunny.

My friend Janet Davies sent a photo of her coconut-covered bunny cake. Here is her method of icing the cake: Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. Poke holes in the layers with a toothpick. Pour a mixture of 12 ounces frozen coconut, 1 pound powdered sugar, and 1 cup sour cream over the layers and allow to soak in.  Add flakey coconut to the top. The sour cream gives it a tangy touch.  Sometimes she takes off the crusty of the cake to make sure the runny icing gets inside the cake.

Here’s another cute one sent to me by mom’s cousin, Jean Maroney. Her daughter-in-law, Alena, made it.

My niece made this one.

Please share your creation on Instagram with the hashtag #judyschickensbunnycake

If you are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
The Biscuit King

Desserts:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.