March 10th, 2010
By nature, I am an introvert, so I tend to keep a few friends close, and tend to find long distances challenging. I am working on this, though I imagine it used to be easier for people to make friends and stay in touch with one another, since historically people tended to live in one place for longer, many times being born, raised, and carrying on the next generation within the same few square miles of their own birth place. Life was also less convenient. Washing and drying clothes, growing and preparing food, and supplying one’s household with basic necessities all required some degree of working outdoors, and invited interaction with one’s neighbors. Life demanded more direct human interchanges than is often required present day, which in turn, created rich, interdependent local communities. You needed your neighbors, and they needed you, and over time, friendships were cultivated.
Though perhaps requiring more conscientious efforts, these sorts of relationships surely live on in the present day, going beyond more casual definitions of friendship in dedication and tolerance, and ultimately still forming the foundations of thriving modern families, communities, and cultures. Friends of this sort do special things things for one another.
Things like throwing one another baby showers, giving up whole Saturdays to help each other replace defunct 1980s water heaters, helping lay new hardwood floors over quite acceptable old hardwood floors, saving a friend from woeful design errors and painting bathrooms in the corrected shade for the friend, ordering perfectly cut custom glass shelves for a friend’s bathroom and driving them over at 11:00 p.m. on a work night so there will be a spot for towels and toiletries for an impending parental arrival the next day, helping with wiring until past midnight, and other special things like making each other homemade birthday cakes.
My husband and I first met Sheila and John in 2007 when I completed my graduate internship at Sheila’s counseling practice, and since that time they have become dear friends. Life is busy, and there are times we do not see each other for several weeks at a time before one set or the other of us will forge the 30 minute drive separating our homes, and remember why we should never let such time spans pass again.
The men do what Sheila and I have come to term “work exchanges“. Jon will come over to our house and help Brian, my husband, with some project, such as cutting and putting up a stairwell banister, or installing accent lights throughout our kitchen, and I will cook dinner for everyone (Indian, Italian and all things dark chocolate are always favorites) and Sheila and I will watch chic flicks late into the night, with the men sometimes pausing to join us for a show, and always stopping for food.
We do the same thing at Sheila’s home. She will cook some gorgeous, elaborate meal and dessert (I have come to learn she is incapable of doing it any other way) and we will sit tending to my little boy and leafing through cookbooks and design magazines while the guys hammer away on some project talking nanotechnology or some other foreign language. I love these days.
For Jon’s birthday this year, Sheila decided we should all go out for Thai and then back to her house for dessert, so I offered to try another yellow cake recipe (which I secretly eagerly volunteered for since I had just bought new cake pans – I get excited about this sort of thing). I say “another”, because since I’ve been thinking about being a better friend over the past several months, I have started making a conscious effort to make birthday cakes more often for people. It is a small gesture, but since I love to bake, it simply fits for me to fill this role, which brings me back to my hunt for my own personal religious yellow cake recipe. I have tried at least five recipes over the past year, with many turning out dry, or too eggy, or even almost a bit like sweet cornbread – all in all, just not what I have been looking for in a classic yellow cake.
But this one turned out just right. It is moist with a tender and delicate crumb, tastes deeply of butter, is beautifully hued from the four eggs, and is not overly sweet. Just about any favorite frosting would pair nicely with this cake. I chose a chocolate cream frosting, using Guittard 61% cocoa disks, which turned out to essentially be an incredibly smooth and luscious ganache – think heavenly, moist, butter laden yellow cake covered by the insides of a decadent chocolate truffle, and that’s what you’ve got here.
In other news, I am starting to read novels again, which I haven’t done since my son was born and since finishing the last Harry Potter book. I have begun with The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin because my brother recommended it and because it was on the top of my book pile. I’ll let you know how it goes. My favorite quote so far:
Yellow layer butter cake
adapted from American Classics by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sifted (6 3/4 ounces) plain cake flour
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, softened, each stick cut into 8 pieces
Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch cake pans with vegetable shortening (I use a natural oil spray) and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or wax paper. Grease the parchment rounds and dust the cake pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
Beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl; measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on the lowest speed to blend, about 30 seconds. With the mixer still running at the lowest speed, add the butter one piece at a time; mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy and pebbly, with pieces about the size of peas, 30 to 40 seconds after all the butter is added. Add reserved 1 cup of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture (about 1/2 cup) in a slow steady stream, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium-high until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.
Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans; spread to the sides of the pan and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake until the cake tops are light gold and a toothpick or skewer comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. (Cakes may mound slightly but will level when cooled.) Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan perimeters to loosen. Invert one cake onto a large plate, peel off the parchment, and reinvert onto a lightly greased rack. Repeat with the other cake. Cool completely before icing. Store iced cake in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving (bringing to room temperature took about four to five hours for my cake).
Guittard ganache frosting (Chocolate Cream Frosting)
adapted from American Classics by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated
16 ounces 61% or 70% Guittard bittersweet chocolate, or other bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine*
1 1/2 cups heavy organic cream
1/3 cup light corn syrup*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; pour over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup and let stand 3 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth; stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency (mine got a bit hard, so I microwaved it for a very few seconds and it was perfect. Also, if you heat cake with this frosting on it, the frosting will almost immediately turn to fudge sauce – delicious fudge sauce, but not icing anymore)
* I used 61% Guittard, but would likely go even darker next time around. This had a very smooth, rich chocolate flavor, but if you love dark chocolate, like me, you could go darker. This recipe makes a large amount of frosting and it is rich, so next time I might use 3/4 of the icing for the cake and save the rest to heat up as a sauce to serve over ice cream alongside.
* The corn syrup makes the icing smooth and spreadable, I would not substitute another ingredient.
Tags: all natural, America's Test Kitchen, butter cake, Cake, chocolate, cook's illustrated, Dessert, frosting, ganache, ganache frosting, Guittard, Guittard frosting, layer cake, yellow layer cake
Posted in Dessert | 35 Comments »