Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rustic Plum Cake

For my birthday I received several baking related books from my family. One of those books was America's Test Kitchen's Family Baking Book. The thing that I really like about this book is that it tells you the best way to bake, mix, roll, etc, and then they tell you why it is the best way. Their job is to experiment and find out what the best way to make the perfect baked good is and then share it with their readers. Isn't that awesome? I think it is. I feel like I am learning something and therefore my baking is productive somehow :-)

The first recipe that I chose to make from this book was a Rustic Plum Cake. It struck me because it is not your average, run-of-the-mill cake. It is a sweet almond cake with cooked plums on top. It is just sweet enough, but not too sweet. We brought it over to share with some friends for dessert. We each had 2 pieces and it was gone within a half hour. Let me tell you something: I NEVER eat two pieces of cake. Okay. This cake is good. Do you get it? It would be great with some vanilla ice cream too. Something to remember for the future, I guess.

Rustic Plum Cake

*Recipe from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book Page 324

Makes one 9-inch round cake

3 Tablespoons Brandy (see note below)
2 Tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
1 Lb Italian plums, halved and pitted
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Slivered almonds
3/4 Cup All purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened
1 Large Egg, room temperature
1 Large Egg Yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

*1 Tablespoon of water can be substituted for the brandy

Cook the brandy and jam together in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until it becomes a thick syrup. This should take 2 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and place plums, skin side up, in the syrup. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook until the plums have released their juices and the syrup is thickened. This should take about 5 minutes. Let the plums cool in the skillet while you prepare the cake batter.

Adjust an oven rack to the center of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch spring form pan.

Place the granulated sugar and the almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles course sand. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extracts and process until smooth.

Scrape the batter into your springform pan. Stir the plums around in the skillet to coat them with syrup. Spoon the plums over the batter, skin side down. I added a little of the jam mixture along with the plums, but the original recipe does not say to do this. I just felt it added a little more flavor to the top of the cake. Bake the cake 40-50 minutes,rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, about 2 hours. Remove the sides of the pan and transfer the cake to a serving platter. Beware, the cake will be sticky and difficult to remove from the spring form bottom, so be gentle with it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Birthday Cake

My Birthday was on Saturday. To celebrate we went out to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants-Mana in Wicker Park-We had a nice, filling but light dinner and then came home for a decadent birthday cake. I of course picked a light dinner place on purpose because dessert is always way more important in my book.

A few months ago, I saw that Smitten Kitchen had posted a recipe for Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting . I immediately e-mailed the link to Tim and told him that I wanted this cake for my birthday. I was of course expecting that I would be making the cake, as I am the baker in the family. But, Tim offered to make it for me. He spent a good portion of his Saturday in a hot kitchen making this cake. He did a great job. This cake is rich with obvious flavors of dark rum, dark coffee, and sweet chocolate. How can you go wrong? Be prepared though, this cake is rich and very, very sweet. We had 6 people over for dessert on Saturday, and only half of the cake disappeared. You have to eat a small piece and savor every bite, otherwise it will just be overwhelming.
I do highly recommend this cake, and I will be making this in the future for sure!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peanut Butter for a Good Cause?

Tim and I are city dwellers and as a result we are constantly seeing people who are poor and hungry. It is impossible to ignore, and it is wrong to turn a blind eye to these people. I always feel helpless when I am sitting at a stop light and a man is walking from car to car begging for change. I never have any readily available money in my car, and honestly, I don't feel like my giving him a spare 15 cents is going to do him a whole lot of good. But, I do have a deep desire to do something that will help them, if even temporarily. Since I have a job that requires me to be driving for a good part of the work day, I think that I see this type of thing more regularly than a lot of other people do. What I have decided to do is pack a few peanut butter sandwiches in my car every day. This way, I have something handy to grab and hand to the person on the other side of my car door. I hope that these sandwiches will be a blessing to these people, and that they will satisfy their hunger for a time. I will use whole wheat bread so that the sandwiches will be a good source of protein and fiber. I am wondering how others of you have responded to these types of situations, and if you have any other ideas on how I should respond. I hope you will tell me if you have had any creative ideas in helping others in need. I hope to make this a long term commitment. I know it is small, but at least it is something.