• Orange Sour Cream Pound Cake

    poundThere are few things easier to make than a pound cake. (Few things better to make, for that matter). And you can find pound cake just about anywhere. But that doesn’t mean pound cake isn’t blogworthy. Far from it. Like a blank canvas, the basic equal-proportion pound cake recipe is a worthwhile place for bakers to riff and create tasty new treats. And this recipe is a perfect example of how a few substitutions and/or additions to the traditional pound cake can make something entirely new (and good).

    pound8pound7This recipe uses most of the equal proportion of flour, sugar and egg, but then splits the fat between butter and sour cream. This adds more tang while keeping a rich flavor. Meanwhile, that tang is enhanced by a little orange zest. Topped with two different citrus-sugar glazes, you suddenly have a very rich cake, but with a tangy and slightly acidic core that keeps you coming back for another bite. If you find basic pound cake a bit cloying, this type of recipe is a good place to play.

    Pound5pound4Carolyn adapted the recipe from “Sweet” by Valerie Gordon. Sweet is a solid cookbook by a well-known pastry chef / confectioner. Beyond the recipes, the photos are beautiful. Our sons, drawn by the photos and the thought that “maybe Mom will make some of this for us” gave Carolyn the cookbook for Christmas. Smart kids.

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  • Caramel Cake

    Caramel Cake.

    Caramel Cake.

    caramel13So here is the good news, this is one tasty cake. The caramel frosting has a crystallized, almost maple candy-like outer shell and a creamy, caramel-flavored interior. The yellow cake is moist and delicious. The combination is a perfect bite. You don’t even want ice cream with this cake. Just enjoy it as it is.

    caramelcaramel1So here is the bad news. This is a hard cake to make and not one that welcomes any messin’ around with the recipe. Caramel frosting is tricky stuff and you need to make a sturdy cake to handle such a heavy frosting. But if you follow the formula you get a delightful dish. And it is worth the effort.

    caramel2caramel5And we do use the word “formula” here. As we (and others) often like to note, baking is a form of chemistry. And in many cases you simply can’t play with the basic formula and get good results. To be fair, baking is hardly as exact a science as “real” chemistry. Humidity, inconsistent ingredients, finicky ovens and variations in cookware make baking a very inexact science, even in the best conditions. But we suggest that if you make this cake you stick with the recipe (at least the first time you bake it).

    caramel7caramel8We adapted the recipe (barely) from a Cook’s Country recipe. Cook’s Country is Cook’s Illustrated’s less  ridiculous? obnoxious?  “overbearing” cousin, and tends to feature recipes that you can make and actually work. This is one of those recipes. They do add some technique and tuning to a traditional recipe, but in real terms the big addition is using all-purpose flour in the cake and not softer cake flour. Using AP flour makes for a firmer, but still moist, cake that can handle the thick, heavy frosting.

    caramel9caramel11Otherwise, the other key technique is to beat extra butter into the frosting just before you apply it to the cake. Butter does make everything better, and if it makes the frosting easier to work with, then we are all for it. The bigger challenge will be keeping your fingers out of the frosting. It tastes so good, you can lose quite a bit as it makes its way to the cake. But we do encourage a little patience. When you combine the frosting with the cake, it is even better.

    caramel10caramel14So if you have the time this Memorial Day weekend, this is a cake worth making. Is it a bit of extra fuss? Well….yes. It it worth it? Without a doubt.

    Caramel Cake:

    (Adapted from Cook’s Country)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • No extra notes. Just follow the recipe and take your time.

    What You Get: A crowd-pleasing, sweet and flavorful cake with awesome caramel frosting. Yum.

    What You Need: A stand mixer (or electric mixer) and 2, 9-inch cake pans.

    How Long? 3 hours, with about an hour, maybe a little more, of active time. Details matter here, so taking your time is advised.

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  • Pioneer Woman Prune Spice Cake

    Pioneer Prune Spice Cake

    Pioneer Prune Spice Cake

    prune3Don’t let the name fool you, this cake just rocks. Everyone who tries it, loves it. Ignore the prune thing if you must, but we do suggest you try this cake. It’s easy to make, sweet, super-moist and has a touch of spice. Perfect for dessert or breakfast, even the occasional snack. Very good stuff.

    prune5prune7The only reason we feel a bit sheepish about posting this recipe is that we barely adapted it at all. The original recipe (“Iny’s Prune Cake With Buttermilk Icing”) comes from the Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummond’s bestselling cookbook. I picked this cookbook up a few years ago for Carolyn without knowing much about the Pioneer Woman, but I was perusing some cookbooks (something I may do a bit too often) and I checked a few recipes, and they looked good. Now that we have cookbook, it is one of our regulars, particularly for breakfast dishes. We don’t think Pioneer Woman needs any help from us, but the cookbook and blog are worth a look.

    prune8prune9We call this cake a “breakfast” dish because that’s when we serve it. But you can make and serve this cake any time. It may not look like much, but after the first bite you will be sold. Making the cake is easy, too. The only extra step is rehydrating and mashing the prunes. Then you make the standard wet / dry cake batter with a few spices and boil up a quick icing. Bake the cake, layer the icing on top and serve.

    prune11prune12Now let’s talk about this prune thing. Regardless of “therapeutic” uses and a terrible sounding name, prunes are a very useful cooking ingredient. Prunes add deep, complex sweetness to many dishes. Prunes also play incredibly well with both herbs and spices, so you can use them in sweet and savory dishes. We use prunes with sage in our dressings / stuffings for holiday roasts and they take the flavors over the top. So if you still aren’t onboard with prunes, try this cake, it is a very good introduction. And if you just can’t stand the idea of prunes, make it anyway and just call it a Plum Cake. We won’t tell.

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  • Orange Cake With Dark Chocolate Chips

    Orange Cake With Chocolate Chips.

    Orange Cake With Chocolate Chips.

    It’s January (frankly, a pretty crummy month) and we face a choice, should we start making resolutions or help people break them? Since most resolutions seem to involve people enjoying less food, drink and fun we favor “breaking” resolutions. (Unless you resolve to do more good things for yourself and others, in that case- carry on!) But if you are trying to rid yourself of an otherwise harmless and / or pleasurable indulgence and feel a bit of weakness, or lack of shame, or just admit that you want to live life without regret…well come on over, have a snack, grab a cocktail and enjoy some cake. We will be waiting here at the farm with open arms and a warm kitchen, always. And if you happen to amble by the farm in January, then you might be lucky and get some orange cake with dark chocolate chips.

    ocake3ocake4And thank heaven for citrus this time of year (and good chocolate any time of year). Just when you slog through that last bite of heavy (albeit lovely) holiday food, the oranges and lemons arrive to bring a burst of bright flavor back to winter. The Meyer lemons, cara-cara and blood oranges seem to save the light and bring it back to our houses, right when we need it the most (yeah, yeah, we are in California it isn’t that cold, but whatever ;-). The winter citrus gives us sorbet, cocktails, savory sauces, confections and this cake that combines fresh oranges and dark chocolate. Hard to go wrong.

    ocake5ocake6And very hard to go wrong if you use the best dark chocolate you can find. As a special Christmas gift, the boys and I gave Carolyn a big bag of Mast Brothers dark chocolate chips. The Mast Brothers hail from Brooklyn and have some of the best chocolate we have ever tasted. We are all for local chocolatiers, and many do excellent work- but great is great, and we can’t do better than Mast Brothers chocolate. Simply awesome, and worth a mention all the way out here on the left coast. We usually reserve our best chocolate for eating out of hand, but this cake combines chocolate chunks and a chocolate ganache glaze with sweet, bright orange flavor and a light “cake-y” texture. It is a perfectly balanced bite, and the better the chocolate, the better the cake.

    ocake9ocake10As for the recipe, we adapted it from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), who adapted it from the famous Hampton’s bakery and caterer Loaves and Fishes. Good recipes tend to travel well and this is no exception. There are no special ingredients or techniques in this recipe, it just asks for a bit of extra effort and good chocolate. The recipe for the cake is mostly standard, as is the recipe for the chocolate ganache you use to “glaze” the cake. The only extra step is to create an orange syrup and brush it into the cake. But this step does make a difference. Every bite explodes with the sweet oranges and a blast of deep, dark chocolate, but the acid of the oranges and slight bitter edge of chocolate balances the flavor. Good from beginning to end.

    ocake2So when you decide to give up on that resolution about cake, or sugar, or chocolate, or fun…try this recipe out. If you’re gonna break the resolution, it may as well be worth it. Or, even better, just bake the cake and share. No resolutions required (ever).

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