Sunday, June 14, 2009

mascarpone-filled cake with berries

Does anyone subscribe to the weekly Epicurious Recipe Flash? I always scan the highlights for interesting ideas, and recently, they featured 30 can't-live-without cake recipes. When my mother-in-law asked me to make dessert for a Memorial Day family dinner, I thought it was a great chance to try something new, fresh, and light, and the perfect excuse to make a cake since we'd have a decent-sized group. I scanned all the recipes and the Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries jumped out at me. I immediately discarded the notion of sherry, first because there would be kids eating it, and second because I typically hate alcohol in sweets (no rum-filled chocolates or Grand Marnier-laced oranges for me, thanks). But I figured that would be an easy substitution. The cake was described as "light-as-can-be," and it had good reviews, so it seemed like a good bet.

The recipe makes a two-layer cake which is filled with mascarpone cream, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and heaped with macerated berries. (And hey, I learned a new word! I thought macerated effectively meant mashed, but it turns out to have a very specific cooking definition:
1. To make soft by soaking or steeping in a liquid.
2. To separate into constituents by soaking.)

It was delicious! I thought it sort of resembled a fancy strawberry shortcake, probably because of the layers of fruit and cake. The cake was light and delicate and tasty on its own. The mascarpone was combined with whipped cream and sugar for a sweet filling, slightly denser than whipped cream alone would have been, so it held up nicely as a filling. (Mascarpone is thick, smooth and sticky in consistency, almost like cream cheese.) And the sweetened berries on top were perfect to ensure it wasn't dry (some of the juices ran into the cake or down the sides). Altogether, it was a perfect summer dessert as long as you have access to keep it in a fridge until serving time! It also came together relatively quickly and easily. Here's how.

Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries
2 cups (8 ounces) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry (I used water and just made simple syryp with 1:1 water and sugar)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large (I used abut half strawberries and the rest blueberries and raspberries)
zest of a lemon

8 ounces (1 cup) mascarpone
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar

confectioners sugar

Make cake
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep will work, but 1 1/2 is too small; if you only have 1 1/2" deep pans, I'd probably divide the batter into two pans). Line bottom(s) with a round of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift flour first, and then measure flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk them around a bit (so you don't have to bother sifting a second time).

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan(s), smoothing top. Rap pan(s) on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely. The cake can be made a day ahead, cooled completely, and wrapped in plastic wrap. I'm sure you could also make it further in advance and freeze it, but I would completely thaw it before assembling.

Macerate berries
Squeeze the half-lemon into the measuring cup. Add enough water to bring it to a half-cup of liquid. Bring lemon/water (or Sherry) and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl with lemon zest and pour hot syrup over them, gently tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes. The macerated berries can sit as long as two hours at room temperature, but much longer and they'll start to get soggy.

Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone and cream with sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of cream and replace top half. Sprinkle top with confectioner's sugar. Just before serving, heap berries in the center. The juices may run down the sides a bit, melting the powdered sugar, but don't worry about it! Some of the reviewers on Epicurious mentioned straining the berries so this wouldn't happen, but I actually liked it when the juice soaked into the cake a bit. I also saved some of the extra berries (they didn't all fit on top of the cake) and the juice and served them alongside it.

These are the berries, macerating.
Ready to go except for the berries.
The end result. Yum!

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