Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Spice Cake

I found this recipe while wandering around the America's Test Kitchen website and I was intrigued. I love the idea of a spice cake, but the only other similiar cake I have tasted was one I made when I was still finding my cooking feet. It was a honey cake, and I'm not sure what I did, but I remember it wasn't a very big success.

The ATK recipe has quite an impressive list of ingredients and a detailed method, which is handy when you are not too sure what you are doing, but not as handy when you tend to be the kind of person who skims over the recipe and misses things. I was very careful this time though. I only made one mistake, and it wasn't a big one and it certainly didn't detract from the final product.

Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
from America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated

ATK note: To save time, let the eggs, buttermilk, and butter come up to temperature while the browned butter and spice mixture cools. To prevent unsightly air holes in the finished cake, be sure to follow the instructions for removing air bubbles in the batter (see illustrations below). Leftover cake can be stored, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. The cake should be brought to room temperature before serving.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 tbs ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
16 tbs unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tbs light molasses
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

5 tbs unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 oz cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Combine spices in small bowl; reserve 1/2 teaspoon for frosting.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in 8-inch skillet over medium heat until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly, until butter is light brown and has faint nutty aroma, 2 to 4 minutes. Add spices and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 15 seconds. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In small bowl, gently whisk eggs, yolks, and vanilla to combine. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream remaining 12 tablespoons butter with sugar and molasses at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl twice with rubber spatula. Reduce to medium speed and add cooled butter and spice mixture, ginger, and half of egg mixture; mix until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining egg mixture; scrape down bowl again. Reduce to low speed; add about one-third flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk, mixing until just incorporated after each addition, about 5 seconds. Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.

4. Transfer batter to prepared pan; following illustrations at left, zigzag tip of metal spatula through batter, pulling it to pan edges. Lightly tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles; smooth surface with spatula.

5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 32 to 37 minutes. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.

6. For the frosting: In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and reserved 1/2 teaspoon spice mixture at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream cheese one piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and beat until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

7. Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Using spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of cake. Sprinkle cake with walnuts, if using. Cut into squares and serve.

I didn't pay that much attention to the mixer speed suggestions and I had to grind my own cloves in a mortar and pestle, otherwise I followed everything to the letter. My one mistake was that the 1/2 tsp of spice mix you are supposed to keep for the icing I sprinkled over the top of the cake. I like it this way though. I also added more icing sugar to the frosting (a scary amount) because it still had that awful Philadelphia taste. I like it on toast, not in icing.

I used a glass casserole dish because I did not have a baking pan of the proper size. This meant the cake didn't cook in the time specified. I think it took just over and hour. I have also left the cake in the dish because I haven't got a cake plate and I have a dinner plate deficiency, and it's easier to keep. I'll find out how soggy it makes the cake later.

The cake turned out wonderfully. I was so surprised at how light the crumb was. I was expecting something dense and heavy, but this was airy and gentle - almost sponge like. I loved the cream cheese icing too but I have to keep picturing how much icing sugar I had to add to get it to taste that good and hoping that stops any naughty thoughts. The recipe did require quite a few bowls and pans though. There was the saucepan for the butter and the bowl for the eggs and the bowl for the flour and the mixer bowl plus the bowls I use in prep... It made me realise how much I love one-bowl cakes.

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