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.

Playing with your Food: Food Styling with Mary Carter

I’ve often wondered what my friend, Mary Carter, did when she went out on food styling jobs, so I was more than happy when she invited me to be her assistant while she arranged new menu items for a photo shoot at Las Palmas. She was hired by Rose Bruce, a graphic designer and the owner of Rose Bruce Marketing. As the project coordinator, Rose hired Mary to style the food, and Richard Suter Photography to photograph it. It was very important to the client that the photographs on the new menu match exactly what the customer was going to be served by his waiter. It had been their experience that if the entree served didn’t look just like the photo on the menu, there would be complaints by the customers. Mary was charged with adding only the embellishments provided by the chef. By the time we finished with the photo shoot, the staff was affectionately referring to Mary as the “Cilantro Lady.”  By the smiles on the staff’s faces, they liked how appetizing Mary had made their food look and wasn’t that the whole point?

Mary has been a food stylist for thirty years. She says she loves her job because she gets to play with food and get paid for it. She says every job presents new challenges. Mary is also an artist, writer, and recipe tester. Most of her work involves both testing/preparing and stylizing the food that the photographer then shoots.

Mary often makes me laugh until my cheeks hurt. When her children were young, she used to drive by the school’s crossing guard with different Halloween masks on just to make the safety lady laugh. Her sense of humor always keeps the mood around her light. That is one of Mary’s many gifts.

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The tools of Mary’s trade:

Cooking oil and a pastry brush – to make baked and fried foods glisten again as they cool off.

A spray bottle filled with water- to make wilted vegetables perk up

Q-tips – to wipe food off the sides of bowls and plates.

Scissors – to shape and trim food.

A piping bag – to apply toppings in a decorative way

Food coloring – to deepen the colors of some foods.

Toothpicks – to dig out flecks of distracting food.

Next to having the proper tools and an artist’s eye for making every dish look like a masterpiece, the next most important thing is to determine the angle of vision from which the photographer is going to shoot the dish. As Mary finished each entree, she would hand it to me and instruct me, “Tell him to shoot from this side.”

mary carter food styling

Richard, the photographer, has a little tool called a Hoodloupe which he uses to view photo images glare-free right after he shoots a picture. Otherwise, you would have to wait until you got back to a bigger screen, on your computer, to check if the photo was perfectly focused. While this may be fine for novices like me, it is not useful for a professional who doesn’t get a second chance after the moment has passed. Here is Richard looking through his Hoodloupe to inspect the image on his camera’s screen.

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These are a few images of Mary working her food magic. She asked the chef to bring her the food items unadorned or deconstructed, so she could arrange them in mouth-watering ways.

Some of Mary’s tips–

For this fried ice cream, she adorned it with a dollop of whip cream and tilted the stem of the fruit to a jaunty angle instead of having the stem point straight up.

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With the fried donuts in the photos below, Mary angled the donut sticks around the ice cream and carefully squiggled the chocolate sauce.

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Mary asked if she could place the cake on a white plate instead of the blue one they usually use because there was no contrast between the chocolate bottom layer of the cake and the dark plate. One of the men said, with a big grin on his face, as he got her a white plate, “They won’t care what color plate it’s on once they taste it!” Notice how the angle of view is so lovely. Can’t wait to see the photographer’s proofs.

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Mary asked the owners if she could cut the rack of ribs into three pieces and stack them instead of keeping the presentation as one long slab, as they had always done. The staff liked it much better the way Mary presented it. “OOH,  it looks like more meat is on the plate,” the manager was quick to point out, with a big smile.

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Mary cut this tamale entree in half and then carefully placed the beans and gravy around the plate. This is another example of keeping your angle of view in mind as you stylize food.

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Here she uses the spray bottle of water to moisten the lettuce that was starting to wilt.

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Mary put the rice in a timbale to add a different shape to the presentation- just for visual interest. This was an easy change, at no cost, and made the food presentation look so much more appealing.

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Mary used a piping bag, filled with sour cream, to decorate the enchiladas.

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She used scissors to trim the bun and shape the lettuce inside the sandwich. She brushed oil on the chicken tenders to make them glisten for the camera.

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Mary used Q-tips to clean the sides of the condiment containers and to wipe away spots on the plate. Much easier than using a bulky paper towel for this task.

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As a food blogger, I found Mary’s tips to be so helpful. The first “tool” I brought into my own kitchen when I got home, was a bag of Q-tips!

What a fun day with my friend, Mary!

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.