Friday, April 29, 2011

Simple White Cake

Yesterday I made a cake. It was for my aunt's husband, since he just lost his grandma. I decided to make a simple white cake. Was I trying to symbolize the peace and purity that can be found in death? Or was I merely a flop of a cake baker who felt she needed to make a fresh debut with something plain and straightforward? Either way, it was a success. I have never made such a even, smooth cake in my life. You know how sometimes there are those things in life that you always try to do, but can't, like french braiding your hair? Then one day, you can suddenly do it perfectly. Well, that's how this cake was.
As you may have noticed, I don't usually follow a recipe. However, I thought that since I was starting from scratch, I might as well try to learn it directly from the pros. 
I found this book at the library: Baking by James Peterson. Now I don't know how I ever survived without it. I don't know how the library is currently surviving without it. I don't think the library is going to be seeing it again for a while.

It's the most perfectly straightforward guide to the basics of the art of baking with detailed instructions on the right way to do it.
I used the Fluffy Light Butter Cake on page 28. It's was perfectly light, moist, and buttery. Probably the best cake I've ever had, let alone made from scratch. Unfortunately, I only got to eat the crumbs off of the parchment paper because this cake needed no evening out or molding to form a perfectly straight tower.

Fluffy White Butter Cake
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson

1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 eggs, separated
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350ยบ. Butter and flour one or two 9 in. cake pans. I suggest that you butter them first, then line with parchment paper (a circle on the bottom of each and strips on the sides) then butter the parchment paper and dust with flour. This will prevent your cake from being brown and crunchy on the outside. 
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Wisk to combine.
Beat the butter and 3/4 of the sugar using a handheld mixer, a heavy wooden spoon, or a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (my personal choice).
When the butter softens, switch to a whisk. Continue whisking about 5 minutes. Add egg yolks one at a time until mixture is smooth. Whisk in the milk and vanilla, then the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Do not overwork.
In a separate bowl (I know, there are a lot of separate bowls that you'll have to wash. Don't worry, it's all worth it) beat the egg whites and cream of tartar (you'll need the cream of tartar to help the egg whites stabilize unless you are using a copper bowl, but who the heck has a copper bowl!). Beat for about two minutes, until soft peaks form, then beat in the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar for about 2 minutes, until medium peaks form.
Whisk one-fourth of the egg white mixture into the butter mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites with rubber spatula. Do not overmix.
Spread batter into cake pans.
(Now, I place the cake pans in 9x13 in. casserole dishes full of water. Cooking them in a water bath will help the cake cook evenly so you don't have a concave cake)
Bake 1-inch-thick cakes for about 30 minutes or 2-inch-thick cakes for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes in the pans. Then invert onto a cake rack.

Simple Buttercream
 This is not James Peterson's recipe, but my own. I'll be making professional buttercream today since I just had Mom get me a candy thermometer (!!!). I know this recipe seems roundabout, but I was making it up as I went.

3 sticks of butter (two softened, 1 hard)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup half and half
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the two soft sticks of butter with the granulated sugar until sugar is dissolved.
Alternately add half and half and powdered sugar, beating well after each addition.
Cut the cold butter into chunks and add it and the vanilla.
Beat for 5-10 minutes until smooth.


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