Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cake Ladies....are my sad cakes happy cakes??

I know this may sound kind of odd, but I find reading cook books relaxing. Whereas I used to curl up at night with a good fantasy fiction novel, now I find myself sitting amidst stacks of baking books...cupcakes, cakes, macarons. You name it, I have been devouring them lately. Corny pun, sorry about that, lol! I came across this book called Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden. It seems that every town--big or small--in the South has its own cake lady. These are the amazing women who bake the cakes for the special events in people's lives: birthdays, weddings, etc. I have been lucky enough to eat cakes that have been baked by Southern cake ladies....transplanted women who have moved to Colorado with their husbands. I truly believe that there is more to their cakes than just a fantastic ability to bake...these women put love into what they do, parts of themselves that help feed not only the bodies but the souls of the people they are baking for.

I read EVERY page in this book! I absolutey LOVED it!! Each chapter (if you will)tells about a particular cake lady, followed by her most famous cake recipe/s. My favorite story in this book is about Mary Moon, Marietta Georgia's cake lady (now long retired). This woman was SOOO beloved in Marietta that Mayor Vicki Chastain (1988) declared May 27, 1988 "Mary Moon Day." I will admit, I found myself crying (just a little...okay, maybe more than a little) after reading about her. I sat there thinking "Do I have it in me to be a cake lady??" I have not had any formal training in cakes or pastries....sometimes that makes me feel a bit inferior. However, after reading this book, nearly ALL of these women lacked formal culinary school training. What they DID possess is an ability and LOVE for baking. So in that respect, I should cut myself some slack. I do have a penchant, an ability to bake.....and I DEFINTELY have the love for it. Each cupcake I make is like its own little work of art. Each and every cupcake matters....from how I mix the ingredients, putting them in the liners, watching each little lovely rise in the oven, to icing and decorating.
Now on that note, I wonder if even cake ladies have days when every baking session turns into an almost epic failure...

I decided to make Betty Compton's Vanilla Almond Pound Cake for my mother-in-law's birthday. I have made numerous bundt cakes before. But for some reason, this cake was giving me a bit of trouble. I think it was my pan. I used a tube pan...and I wasn't all that happy with how the cake looked. But it DID taste deeeeee-licious! It was moist and oh so vanilla-y!!! I used vanilla paste in place of vanilla extract. You can use them interchangeably....vanilla paste has vanilla beans in it so you get that amazing flavor and the prettiness of the vanilla beans :^) The icing, well, it fought me as well. I think it came out a bit thick, but it was sweet and rich. Again, it tasted better than it looked, lol!! Shirley O. Corriher mentions in her book BakeWise that "A sad cake is a happy cake."
I am so uptight about all of my baked goods looking pristine and "correct"....and yes, perfect. This cake is a perfect example of a "sad cake", but oh, I'll admit that it made all of us happy last night, lol!
I've included the recipe for this pound cake at the end of this post :^)

So I decided to make cupcakes for the Super Bowl...even after my sad cake experience yesterday. Now mind you, I FIRMLY believe that what you are feeling is reflected in what you bake. As many of you know, we just recently moved to a new house (oh my gosh, unpacking and unpacking!!)and my sister and I are in the process of opening a cupcake bakery (a BIT stressful for the both of us). Add to that a 9-year-old son who has become QUITE the handful lately and a VERY active 2-year-old!! Okay, so I decided to bake...and I was feeling stressed, a little sad and terribly absent-minded. In the process of mixing my dry and wet ingredients, I got a BIG poof of flour that erupted from my KitchenAid mixer. Grrrr! Next, I spilled half an 8 ounce bottle of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract (omg, it was a $15 bottle!!!) I was mortified...and even considered figuring out a way to get in back in the bottle. But no, I just wiped it up, ready to cry. I finally got those babies in the oven and they turned out okay. But the buttercream frosting, that's another story! I KNOW better than to use cold ingredients. My butter was room temp, but my milk was it seemed to curdle up a bit. Another BIG GRRRRR! I whipped that buttercream's pants off and got it to a working consistency. By that time, I was done....mentally. I actually entertained the thought of dumping all of it into the trash when my 2-year-old came in asking for "tuptakes." You really can't rationalize cupcake aesthetics to a little boy, lol! I begrudgingly frosted them with a butter knife because I didn't think this buttercream would actually hold up to being piped. I handed one to Lukas and he dug right into it with a big smile on his little face. He beamed with an ear to ear grin and declared "Mmmmmmmmmmm." He didn't care that they weren't photo shoot worthy, or that the frosting was a little runny, or that it wasn't perfectly piped. Lukas gave me a kiss with his sticky little mouth and thanked me. I guess to him, I am his cake lady :^)

This weekend's baking debaucle has shown me that not EVERYTHING needs to be perfect in my baking world....because it won't always be (but it BETTER be once we are in our shop, lol!!). I need to always enjoy baking whenever I do it...and always set my intention when I bake so what I produce is infused with love, care and gratitude :^)And, well, pretty baked goods are always a plus too....just sayin'! Tee hee!

Vanilla Almond Pound Cake
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I upped mine to 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract (I upped mine to 1 teaspoon)

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 300 degrees F.

Spray a 10x6-inch tube pan liberally with nonstick cooking spray, or use your fingers to coat the inside walls and bottom of the pan with butter.

Add the butter and shortening to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until fully combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.

Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed after each addition. Beat on low speed for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape bowl down twice during this process. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, stopping mixer and scraping down bowl after each addition. Beat the eggs into the creamed mixture for 5 minutes or until they are fully incorporated and the entire mixture is light in color and texture.

Add the flour and baking powder to a sifter over a separate clean bowl. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Set aside.

Add vanilla and almond extracts to the milk. Add 1 cup dry ingredients mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of the milk/extract mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Continue to alternate adding the dry mixture and milk mixture to the creamed mixture, ending with the flour. Stop mixture and thoroughly scrape down the paddle, bottom and sides of the bowl, then continue to beat the mixture on low speed for 1 minute or until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the cake batter is light and uniform. Be careful not to beat the mixture too much or this will toughen the batter.

Scrape the batter into greased pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until golden brown and springs back to the touch. Let cook in pan for 1 hour and then invert onto a plate. Let finish cooling on plate.

You can frost this cake with your favorite frosting, drizzle with a simple icing or just sprinkle with powdered sugar.


(recipe adapted from Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden)

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