Friday, January 9, 2009
The holidays give me a much-needed excuse to bake every year. I pick one thing and make it for the five or six coworkers I'm closest to. My boss, Anna, is an amazing baker - this year it was three varieties of danish, last year regular and salted chocolate caramels, another year scones, another year caramel corn - you get my drift - and so I feel self-imposed pressure to 1) bake something good and 2) come up with a new and different idea each year.
This year, I wrestled with a whole bunch of ideas, but at the last minute, I decided to go with a cake I had never made and never tasted. Brilliant! Carry on. The recipe is from The Kitchn, a blog I love but have not cooked/baked from before, but the picture was really appealing, so I had high hopes. My coworkers gave it rave reviews, so with that encouragement, I made the same cake for all our neighbors. By now, I've made at least a dozen cakes, but I still haven't tried it. Guess that'll come next. The thumbs up is based on friends' feedback.
The recipe makes 1- 9x13 cake, 1- 10" springform cake, or 2- 8x4 loaf cakes. I did it in disposable loaf pans for the gifts, but if I were to bake a full-sized one, I think I'd actually use a bundt pan. You definitely want to prepare this with a stand mixer. It's extremely easy, but the recipe calls for beating certain ingredients together for several minutes at a time, so it's nice to get it going, set the timer, and walk away. Also, the author suggested two toppings - a pecan topping that's baked on, or a kirsch flavored whipped cream - but I actually created a third option, a crumb topping.
Cranberry Cake (here's the original link)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (1 bag)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease whatever pan(s) you are using.
Beat eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes; the eggs will increase in volume quite a bit, streaming into ribbons when you lift the beaters. They will also turn pale yellow. Add butter and flavorings and beat for 2 minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan. (Note: mine never remotely "poured" but I was able to spread it into the pans.)
Now you have to decide what kind of topping you want to use, if any.
Optional pecan topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted
Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the toasted pecans and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter before baking.
I tried this topping on my first batch, and I had trouble achieving the consistency they describe. Once the brown sugar stopped looking gritty, it completely separated from the butter. I didn't know what to make of that, but I poured the lot of it over the cake. I had to tent it to prevent the pecans from burning. Anna assured me it tasted really good, but I wanted something a little different, so I adapted a crumb topping as an alternative. The measurements are pretty approximate.
Optional crumb topping:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
a bunch of cinnamon
approximately 1/2 cup pecans, chopped finely
Stir together until mixture resembles coarse sand, then sprinkle on top of cake batter before baking.
Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9x13, or a little over an hour for the springform. I kept testing it every five minutes after the first 45, and my cake wasn't anywhere near baked until about an hour and fifteen minutes. Use a cake tester to check it. It's okay if it has some damp crumbs on it, but mine still looked gooey until well after an hour had gone by. You made need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 to 30 minutes or so to keep the top from browning. Cool completely before serving.
If using kirch-flavored whipped cream, spread it over the cake just before serving. Doen't travel well for gifts, but I bet it'd taste good.