From Angie’s Kitchen – Easter Cake Revisited

Welcome to round 2 of Easter cake! In this round we each take a shot at trying to change and/or modernize the original recipe in some way. As I said at the end of round 1, we are free to research again and when creating a round 2 recipe, the sky is the limit. So, did my plane of cake soar high into those unlimited skies? No, it did not. It definitely made it past takeoff, but it remained more of a low flying sight seeing tour at best.

My goals for this round were to increase the amount of batter to better fill a 13×9 pan, to increase the moisture in the cake a bit and to add in some sort of pecan and brown sugar filling into the mix. I thought the original recipe was actually pretty nice overall and that it would make a nice base for a breakfast or coffee cake – I had the idea of Easter brunch in mind. In making the shift to a coffee cake, I also went from lemon flavoring to vanilla.

Producing more batter was simple enough – I just increased most of the ingredients by 25%. My one exception was the sugar, which I actually reduced from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup. I felt that the reduction of sugar in the batter would help accommodate the additional sweetness from the filling.

To increase the moisture, I went with one of my favorite tricks for doing so without adding a lot of extra fat. Instead of using oil or butter, I added 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt. I have read that if you are using or replacing 1/2 cup or less of butter or oil, you can do a 1 to 1 substitution without making what you are baking too dense and wet. I have used the trick before and it generally works pretty well and it did a decent job again, although for this recipe it did become a little more dense than the original cake.

Finally, for the filling I mixed brown sugar, flour, pecans and melted butter together. I froze the mixture for about 20 minutes and then crumbled it into frozen pieces before incorporating it into the batter. I chose to freeze it first so that when it was mixed into the batter it wouldn’t blend into it and change it into a butter brown sugar cake. I also wanted them to turn into little bursts of buttery brown sugar and pecan bites throughout the cake and it worked nicely as they melted while the batter baked around them, locking them in place.

When the cake finished cooling, I spread on the glaze topping. I kept the recipe the same as the original cake, but instead of lemon, for the thicker first layer I added some cinnamon and for the thinner portion of the glaze meant for decorating, I went with more vanilla. I also made four colors for the decorative glaze instead of just green – we don’t just make green Easter eggs, so I didn’t want just green frosting either!

First bite…. eww. The glaze was chalky and had a harsh bite to it. The thicker cinnamon portion had real cinnamon instead of flavoring, and it just didn’t work well. The thinner vanilla portion also wasn’t good – what went wrong when it was fine in round 1? Almost immediately, I realized it was human error – this human in his haste to get the cake glazed on a Sunday evening forgot to add in the melted butter.

As for the cake itself… As I described above, each individual change seemed to work well as I was putting the cake together. The sum of the parts however did not add up to the best end product. The little bursts of pecan, butter and brown sugar tasted pretty good and the cake alone wasn’t too bad either, although perhaps a bit too moist in the end.

All of the parts eaten together did not work well because of the mistake I had made with the glaze. I understood that of course, but why was it that the two decent parts, the filling and the cake, did not seem to go together well either when the glaze was taken out of the mix? Did the addition of the yogurt along with the frozen bits of butter melting while baking cause the extra moisture and denseness? Was the reduction in sugar in the batter to blame? Should I not have tried the yogurt idea at all and simply added oil?

I still haven’t come to any conclusions, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Some baking mysteries just can’t be solved, and perhaps we shouldn’t even try. Maybe the best thing to do is just cut your losses and try again. The one thing I do know is that I will not be sharing a new recipe for an Easter brunch cake with you today! Sadly, the best thing about the cake was the way it looked!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the kitchen to give my round 2 cake a proper send off – garbage pick up day is tomorrow. On that note, I’ll turn this over to Karen with fingers crossed that her round 2 went way better than mine did! Have a great weekend!

Ray and I took very different approaches to round 2! While Ray took large swings at the cake, my approach was to make smaller “tweaks”. I took that approach because the original cake was not too bad, perhaps a few small changes would bring it up to par. That, and remembering not to turn the oven off 10 minutes into the process.

I decided to use cake flour because I was looking for a lighter texture. I’m not sure just how much difference that made, but that’s what was in my head. I also decided to add a small amount of vegetable oil. This was again for the purpose of making the texture of the cake lighter. In keeping with the original, I used the hot water again, but not quite as much.

The next thing I thought about was flavor. I opted to add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract along with the lemon. I’ve read that vanilla enhances everything, including lemon cakes and a quick perusal of my cookbooks confirmed that to be the case.

Next, I considered the baking vessel. I have a spring form pan that has a bundt insert. This pan is smaller than my other bundt pan so I thought it would do the trick. This also meant that I needed to make an educated guess about the baking time again. I went for 350F and thought 40-45 minutes would be in the ballpark.

Lastly, I considered the decoration. I liked the way the first frosting turned out, so I kept that and rather than mix another frosting color, introduced the green through sprinkles.

How did it go? not quite as well as I thought it would. I kept an eye on the cake, and pulled it out at about 44 minutes. A skewer test came out clean, but I wasn’t sure about the spring and the texture, so I put it back in for 3 minutes. I burned the fool out of my thumb when doing so, and when I pulled the cake back out of the oven, I suspected I may have gone too far as it was no longer making any sounds. I decorated the cake, then took some pictures of it. The moment of truth would be the taste test. First thoughts? It was dry. Damn! Those 3 extra minutes had taken a toll on the cake. Then flavor was assessed. It doesn’t taste bad, but it does taste bland. I suspect that the hot water isn’t doing this cake any favors. If you think about it, water will add nothing, but will dilute flavor, so a rethink is in order.

Easter Cake – Round 2

As Paul Hollywood would say, this is all style, no substance. So for now, I will still hold out hope that we can make a success of this cake. Perhaps a year from now, we can revisit this exercise, but for now, Happy Easter everyone!

From Angie’s Kitchen – Easter Cake

As many of you may know, From Angie’s Kitchen is a recurring segment on the blog where Ray and I attempt to decipher a book of recipes handwritten by his grandmother in her youth. As with many things from a hundred years ago, it is not always easy to figure out what terms may have changed in meaning over such a long period of time, and it is often devoid of many of the key instructions modern cooks look for today such as oven temperature, pan size, cooking or baking time. This is also what makes this exercise fun, challenging and frustrating. About a year ago, when we were deciding which recipe in the book we would like to try, Ray mentioned that he would really like to try baking the Easter cake recipe. If I recall correctly, we had a reason not to try to make that happen before Easter, but made a promise that we would revisit the Easter cake in one year, which was quite optimistic on our part. We were planning to still be blogging in a year’s time, and here we are, a year later!

On the initial perusal of this recipe, it wasn’t looking too bad. Wait. What? Boiling water? Does it really say boiling water? Indeed it does. Okay, that is something I’ve never heard of, but as with all these recipes, a blind leap of faith would be required. Everything else looked “normal”. Instructions appeared to be fairly straight forward. Instructions on how to mix the cake batter, that is. As for all other baking instructions? Those instructions were glaringly absent. I see. Another episode of the technical challenge from Bake Off -Food In-Laws style would be afoot.

For my attempt at this recipe, I noticed that besides the eggs, there wasn’t another fat in the cake. I do know that the addition of vegetable oil is the secret to a light and fluffy cake, so I concentrated a bit on how to make it light. I decided that I would make an effort to make sure the eggs were beaten to have plenty of air in them and folded the flour in gently. The next step was to add the boiling water, which I did slowly and gently. I felt pretty good about my batter. I decided to go with two 9 inch round pans at an oven temperature of 350F. I would shoot for a 20-25 minute bake time. Into the oven they went! I wanted to check in on them after about 10 minutes, so I turned the oven light on and peeked through the window. Things were looking pretty good! I thought I could see a rise happening. I was very encouraged!

So what happened next? Well, I took another peek at about 15 minutes. Not much difference. At 20 minutes I decided to open the door to check. I used the spring test and left an indentation on the cake. Not ready. I decided to go another few minutes, then do another spring test. Another indentation was left behind. What was going on? My confidence started to wane. Right around the 30 minute mark, my husband Tom walked into the kitchen. I shared with him my frustrations about the cake and he pointed out to me that the oven wasn’t even on. What??? How did that happen? Well, I certainly didn’t turn the oven off! Or did I? I quickly turned the oven back on. At this point the temperature read 223F. I was sunk. How could I have put so much effort and thought into this and still manage to screw it up? After an undetermined amount of time, I removed the cakes from the oven. This was probably as good as it would get. A little while later, I noticed the oven light was still on. I walked over and pushed the off button on the oven. The light was still on. Aha! It was me. I knew instantly that I had inadvertently turned off the oven while intending to turn off the light.

Once the cakes were out of the oven and cooling, I debated what to do. I decided that I wanted to taste the cakes before going to the trouble of making a frosting and decorating. How would I do that? I would let them cool and then cut out circles with a biscuit/cookie cutter and taste the scraps before deciding what to do. They weren’t all that bad. The mini cakes were slightly under baked and dense, but considering what I’d done, not bad. I went on to make the frosting and decorate.

Easter Cake

As I write this, I’m torn. What might this cake have been if I hadn’t botched things with the oven? Is it worth revisiting to see, or am I ready to move on? I’m not sure, but I am interested in hearing how things went for Ray….

Angie’s Recipe

As you may know, we don’t talk about how to interpret and make Angie’s kitchen recipes before we each try them for the first time. It is always fun for me to see how many of the same things about the recipe stood out for each of us when we write our post. Sometimes totally different things catch our eyes, and other times, like this round, we tend to fixate on the same things.

I had the same reaction regarding the fact that other than eggs, there was nothing in the category of fat, like butter or oil. I thought back to the time when we made grandma’s white cake, which was a bit dense and dry. That recipe only had a little bit of butter and one egg. This recipe had no butter, but it called for 4 eggs and I was hopeful that using that many eggs would help compensate for the lack of an additional fat.

Like Karen, I was also focused on the the fact that the recipe called for boiling water. I have never seen boiling water used in a cake recipe before either, but my best guess as to why it called for it was because of the 1 1/2 cups of sugar in the recipe. Perhaps the purpose was to help dissolve the sugar rapidly so you wouldn’t end up with a cake that was crunchy from the granules.

Lack of fat and boiling water aside, I went ahead with mixing up the ingredients. The procedure for mixing the cake was pretty clear and in no time, my batter was ready to go into the pan and the oven. As you already know from what Karen wrote above, pan size, time and temperature were a total mystery! For some reason I was not seeing a layer cake for this recipe and based on the amount of batter I had in the bowl after mixing it up, I decided it was enough for a 13×9 pan. I also chose to go with 350 degrees and I started with 20 minutes on the timer.

I’m usually pretty cautious about choosing time when I don’t have clear directions, and I thought 20 minutes for a pan that size was a good starting point. I’m glad I only chose 20 minutes because much to my surprise, 20 minutes was not only a good starting point, it was also a good ending point! I guess luck was on my side that day.

When it first came out of the oven, based on looks alone, I thought for a second that I had gone back in time to last year when we made Angie’s white cake. This cake looked exactly the same! My hope was that despite the outward appearance, it would be less dense and more moist than the white cake was.

I moved on to the frosting which was basically a thick glaze, something similar to royal icing in texture. The directions said to mix the powdered sugar, milk and lemon flavoring together and then spread “some” on the cake and save “some” to add the melted butter and green coloring to to use for decorating. Gee, thanks grandma – how could you have known more than 50 years before I was born that “some” would be my favorite unit of measurement?!?

Cleary the portion reserved for decorating would need to be thinner. Based on the thickness of the initial mix, I guessed that the “some” that I should reserve would need to be less than half of what I started with. I felt pretty safe with that guess because I was sure that 2 teaspoons of melted butter wouldn’t be enough to thin out half of the mix. I decided to spread two thirds on the cake and save one third for decorating. It was a good try, but it still wasn’t thin enough to drizzle on top in the decorative way that I had imagined. Instead, it fell off the spoon in fairly thick globs which didn’t look particularly nice, so I just spread it evenly over the first layer.

After dinner that evening, we were ready to give the cake a test drive. It rose well, although not as tall as I had hoped. Perhaps the 13×9 pan was just a bit too big. That aside, we were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have another white cake on our hands. The 4 eggs and cup of water seemed to do the trick in adding a decent amount of moisture to the cake.

It wasn’t the most moist cake I’ve ever had, but it was moist enough that it was enjoyable to eat. We found the texture to be interesting as well – my wife thought it was a bit similar to sponge cake, and I thought it was a bit like pound cake. We agreed that in terms of texture, it fell somewhere between the two.

It aged well too – we had another slice the next day and found that it was even more moist than the first day. I have often found that cakes that are glazed or have a glaze like frosting on them will draw in some moisture from the glaze. All in all, I’d have to say this was a pretty successful first round and a very nice cake for a 100+ year old recipe.

Prediction time. Will Karen give it a second try? I say yes! I believe we think similarly in these situations. If the recipe were a complete disaster from start to finish, I’d probably walk away. But to come that close and only fall a bit short because of an unfortunate mishap like switching off the oven by mistake? That would bother me too much, and I’m pretty sure it would bother her too!

On that note, I will now turn my thoughts to round two and the changes that I might like to make to this recipe. The sky is the limit in round two regarding changes, and research regarding procedure and ingredients is back on the table!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

From Angie’s Kitchen – White Cake Revisited

Just like that, round two is done! After round one I wasn’t sure which direction I intended to go in at first, but after some thought I decided that the best thing to try with this recipe was to make the cake lighter if possible. My immediate first thought on how to do that was to increase the butter and the eggs. As you may recall from round one, the original recipe only had 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 egg. Before diving into the concept I did some research to check my hypothesis.

I found that more eggs and more butter are indeed supposed to help with making a cake lighter. I also read that you should make sure to let not only your butter get to room temperature, but your eggs as well. If my wife is reading this, she is no doubt vigorously shaking her head yes! She always does this and I know that you should, but I must admit that I don’t always have the patience to wait – clearly it is time to get some! This recipe also calls for milk, so I started to wonder should that also be allowed to hit room temperature? The research on that one also came back as yes.

My next thought was about the flour – to sift or not to sift, does it really matter? The answers weren’t as clear on this topic when I researched it. Some say you should go for it – it makes the flour incorporate into the other ingredients more easily which helps make what you’re baking lighter. Others say today’s flour is pre-sifted, so there’s no need and a subset of that group agrees with that notion unless you’ve had the flour for awhile and find it to be a bit lumpy, in which case you should go ahead and sift. One of the biggest arguments for not bothering to sift pre-sifted flour was that sifting just gives you another kitchen tool to clean. True, but that argument didn’t fly for me – it’s not that hard to clean a sifter and there’s no harm in sifting the flour, so I just went for it!

Finally, I thought about how you normally cream the butter and sugar together alone in most recipes before adding additional ingredients. The idea behind this concept is that the sugar helps aerate the butter to make it lighter. The original recipe had you mix the butter, sugar and eggs together at the same time, but for this round I waited to add the eggs one at a time after creaming the sugar and butter. Even with doubling the butter to two tablespoons, creaming that amount with a whole cup of sugar took some time to really come together. It wasn’t quite the fluffy mixture you’d find in recipes that use more butter, but with some patience the butter did mix evenly into the sugar.

So how did it all turn out? I decided again to go with the two 9 inch layers and this time I finished it off with a lemon buttercream just to change it up a bit.

The lemon buttercream was nice, light and refreshing. As for the cake itself… After all of my research and procedural changes I found the batter to be lighter and less thick, but much to my surprise the cake was at best maybe only 10% lighter! I guess it would take quite a bit more butter and eggs to really change that. The one nice change was the flavor – the first round wasn’t bad, but I felt like you could taste the flour a bit. The extra egg and butter definitely did help to change that and give it more of a familiar cake flavor.

Overall, I would say this round two experiment was not a great success – not enough about the cake changed to even share the new recipe! If you are interested in trying it for some reason, simply double the butter and eggs from the original recipe and follow the procedural changes I outlined above.

If at first you don’t succeed…. That’s all well and good but just the same, I think I’ll wait awhile before I try try this white cake recipe again! Now I’ll hand this over to Karen – perhaps she found greater success in her second round.

Not a great success” would be putting it mildly in my case. How about “Failure, thy name is Karen” ? That would be more like it. In my mind, I had some great ideas, but sometimes (actually, a lot of times) life does not turn out like we imagine and neither do cupcakes.

Remember that Ray and I do not consult with each other and it is sometimes amusing to see how similarly we approach things. I too decided to double the butter. I also increased the amount of egg, but in my case I used the whole egg from the original recipe and added two egg whites. I also sifted my flour. Twice. I had done a bit of research and learned that bakers emphatically advocate for using cake flour because the protein percentages are lower and provide a more pleasing light and tender structure. Well, I didn’t have any cake flour on hand and wondered if Grandma Angie would have used cake flour. I did however find many instructions on how to make a homemade version substituting 2 TBSP of cornstarch for every cup of flower, so that’s what I did.

I also decided that I did not wish to make the same vanilla on vanilla that I previously made. I just happened to have some Sumo Citrus oranges and thought they were delicious and would make a lovely flavoring. I added the zest along with some juice to the batter, but one thing I failed to do was to deduct the amount of juice I was adding from the milk to keep my liquids the same as they were in the previous batch. That was a mistake. My batter was much thinner and so I couldn’t really use my previous bake as a true guide as to how long I should bake this batch.

The results of my efforts were actually horrible. I checked my bake with a toothpick which came out clean and checked for spring, so I thought they were done, but these cupcakes were definitely under baked. I had planned to frost them, but there was no point. It would be like putting lipstick on a pig! There was really nothing redeeming about this bake.

I do think it is important that we talk/blog about our failures along with our successes. It would be nice if we were perfect and always presented gorgeous photographs of delicious looking food that makes you want to devour it or run into the kitchen with an inspiration to cook or bake it, but that is not who we are. We sometimes fail, but we can also learn from those failures as much if not more than our successes. My biggest takeaway from this little experiment is to not make so many changes all at once. I don’t have a clue which variable did what because I changed way too many variables. Another take away? Go ahead and get the darned cake flour!

From Angie’s Kitchen – White Cake

“Angie baby, you’re a special lady, living in a world of make believe…” That song is stuck in my head today. Only, it’s not Angie living in a world of make believe, it’s me! I thought that I would be able to breeze into the kitchen and throw this little recipe of hers together, no sweat, but oh no, that’s not what happened at all. The recipe is simple enough, actually so simple that it does not include silly little details such as baking temperature and time, but we are getting used to that now, right? I feel like things started out okay, but as I was mixing the ingredients I started getting lost in my thoughts a bit and if I were to pinpoint where things went astray, I would probably choose that moment in time. I was actually thinking about the fact that there is only 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 egg in this recipe, which in turn hearkened back a memory of a documentary I’d seen in the past about chiffon cake and how the oil in the cake made it light and fluffy. Next, I thought about The Great British Baking Show and the Genoise cake which gets it’s lightness from beating egg whites into a froth….It was at this point that I came back to reality and realized I had probably gone too far and put a little too much gusto into beating this batter. The batter was thick and stiff. Was it meant to be this way? I suspect not, but decided to soldier on. Before I started, I decided that I would choose cupcakes as my means to try out this recipe. So cupcakes it was! As I was spooning the batter into the cupcake wrappers, it dawned on me that the batter was not dissimilar to the first cinnamon roll/ biscuit I made from Grandma’s book. Please don’t be a biscuit….

Following my decision to go cupcake with this recipe was that of bake temperature and time. I went with the safe, pedestrian 350F and decided to set the timer for 15 minutes and then keep an eye on them. Once I was close to the 15 minute mark, I turned on the oven light to take a peek. I was quite surprised by these lovely little domes that had appeared. I could see that they needed more time and ended up removing them after 22 minutes (I should probably have cut this time by a minute or two). The domes were still there, which is neat, but would they fall? Are they some sort of domed biscuit? Whatever they are, they look cool.

They didn’t fall. After giving them sufficient time to cool, I moved on to the frosting. What the heck, I decided to take another recipe out of Grandma Angie’s book. This one for frosting. In for a penny, in for a pound! I know some people use the words frosting and icing interchangeably, but for me personally, they are not the same. I was expecting a frosting, and what I got was icing. I felt like it was much too sweet and adding extra vanilla to it did little to mitigate that sweetness. I doctored it up as much as I could but this was going to be icing and I just needed to move on and work with what I had. So my final decision was to dip my little domes into the icing convinced that I had produced an iced biscuit.

Was it a biscuit? No. Was it a nice fluffy white cake in the way we currently think of? No. What I produced was dense. Not a biscuit, thank goodness, but something that can surely be improved upon after some thought. As for the frosting/icing… Still a bit too sweet for me, but the first words out of my teenage son’s mouth after he launched into one (without permission) was , “The frosting is good!”

So, for the next week or so I will spend much too much time thinking about white cake. I will most certainly continue with the cupcake approach and try to figure out how to improve the texture while maintaining my lovely dome shapes!

Next, let’s see how things went for Ray!

Karen opened this post with some lyrics which set me off on a chain of music – this is not uncommon for me. Just as cooking something gets me thinking about dozens of variations on what I’ve just made, one simple line from a song will get me going on a chain of songs. They could be musically similar, have similar themes in the lyrics or sometimes be more random which is where my head went with Karen’s quote. I latched onto “Angie” which flipped in my head to the somewhat rhyming word “candy” which naturally made me want to hear Candy by Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson. It also made me stop and ponder for a moment if anyone had ever referred to my grandma as “Angie Baby!”

What does this have to do with white cake? Absolutely nothing of course, but sometimes it’s fun to go there anyway! Now, back to the matter at hand…

Angie’s original recipe

As you know, for the first round of our “From Angie’s Kitchen” posts, Karen and I don’t talk about the recipe we’re about to try. It’s fun to see how we each will decide to interpret the recipes with their occasional lack of measurements or procedures.

It also stood out for me that there was only one egg and one tablespoon of butter – I too thought will this be a seriously heavy cake when done? The batter was quite thick and to me it sort of had the look and also smell of something similar to pancake batter. It was just a passing thought, but I did find it amusing that while the cake was in the oven my son walked through the kitchen and stopped and said to me “that cake kind of smells like breakfast cooking” which brought my mind back to the pancake batter thought again!

On the subject of occasional missing procedures – not only did this recipe exclude the baking temperature and time, it also skipped what type of pan to use! Karen took an up front approach by choosing to go with cupcakes – will the batter make 8 cupcakes? 10? 12? It doesn’t really matter, so it was a good way to go. I took more of a wait and see approach – I waited until the batter was done and looked at how much there was and decided I could probably get two 9 inch round cakes out of it, so that’s what I did!

I also went with the safe 350 degrees for baking and started with 20 minutes. At that point the cake was done, but the top didn’t brown that much, so I gave it an additional 3 minutes. Looking back, that really wasn’t necessary and I might have run the risk of going too far and burning it. Luckily it didn’t burn, but just the same I would stop at the 20 minute mark next time. To finish it off, I went with a simple buttercream frosting.

As for the taste test, we too came to the same conclusions in our house. No, it wasn’t like a cake from a box like we are used to today, it was more dense, but it wasn’t the very heavy cake I had imagined it would turn out to be either. If I had to compare it to another cake based on the texture and possibly flavor, I would most likely say pound cake.

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the recipes in grandma’s book, but one favorite thing about doing them that has already emerged for me is pondering the history behind each of them. What occasion was such a recipe used for? Why was there only 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of butter used – is that just how cake recipes were at the time or was it because such ingredients were a commodity not to be wasted? Tasting each creation also adds to that feeling of history – with each bite we are experiencing a taste of the past.

On that note, as I ponder the past I will also ponder the future of this cake and what changes I might make for round 2.