May 31, 2009

Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream Frosting - (RECIPE)

I've been longing for a new project ever since I finished the last bread in The Bread Bible. Rose has come to my rescue again, letting me have an advance copy of her new book, which is not a bible (because The Cake Bible was already taken), but is nevertheless heavenly. Heavenly Cakes, to be exact, which is due to be released in September.

I reminded Rose that although I felt like I was getting the bread thing down, I wasn't much of a cake baker. She said the book wasn't designed for professionals, and besides, it was supposed to be fun. So I am out to have a lot of fun. And bake a lot of cakes. I haven't counted, but I think there are about 100. The last recipe in the cookbook is a wedding cake. I don't think I'll be baking a wedding cake for anyone, but who knows?
I'm allowed to take photos of all the cakes I bake, but I can only give recipes for three. I don't know how I'll decide which ones to give recipes for, but if I go to the trouble of typing out a recipe, it's definitely a winner.
I must have gone through this cookbook 10 times, trying to figure out which cake to bake first. I finally decided on the spice cake with peanut butter frosting because peanut butter is one of Jim's desert island foods. (You know the old parlor game: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have three foods - all miraculously flown in from somewhere - what would they be?) People try to cheat in this game all the time. They try to make some combination of foods count as one thing, but my rules are stricter than that). And, although spice cake is not a desert island food, I like it a lot. Also, to be honest, the recipe looked like one I would probably not mess up too badly.

No weird ingredients in this cake.
Rose has devised a totally new way to mix cakes. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar together and gradually adding the dry ingredients, this method mixes the butter with the dry ingredients first, and then the liquids are added to the flour-butter mixture. Based on my extensive experience of one cake, I'm sold on The Method. It's way easier, and it looks prettier.

And the batter ends up light and airy.

Observe my new cake pans, purchased for this occasion because my other 9-inch pans were battered and mismatched. This is a nice set from Fat Daddio's. Fat Daddio seems to make a pretty good product.
If you read this cookbook, you will be convinced of the value of cake strips, which apparently are effective in keeping cake layers even and preventing drying at the sides. I didn't do a side-by-side testing, but the cake certainly came out looking better than the ones I usually make, sans cake strip.

Frosting is even scarier than cake, although not as scary as pie. Many things can go wrong with frosting, but not with this frosting because all you have to do is put about five things in a food processor and process.

After whirring it around for 30 seconds or so, you get a creamy, professional-looking frosting.

My friend Karen dropped by while I was frosting the cake. She looked longingly at the frosting left in the food processor. I told her to have at it.

I have made some very ugly cakes in my day, so I had some trepidation when I started the frosting process, but the cake is only one layer, and all I had to do was frost the top and sides. Even for a novice, it wasn't difficult.

Karen got the first piece.

She didn't seem to mind that we were both staring at her as she ate it, and she gave it a big thumbs up. So did Jim and I, when we ate it later.
I was a little doubtful about the combination of spice cake and peanut butter frosting, but they worked very well together. The frosting is the show-stopper here; it's rich, creamy, delicious, and did I mention that it's absurdly easy? But Jim and I both agreed that if we had to choose either cake or frosting, we'd both choose the cake. It was tender and moist, with a lovely delicate crumb. The spice taste (cinnamon and cloves) was pronounced, but not so assertive that it battled with the peanut butter. I suspect that it's very versatile, and would go well with, say, coffee, maple, caramel, or citrus flavors. I am allowing myself one and only one piece of each cake I make, for obvious reasons. But cake #1 was so delicious that I'm eager to go on to cake #2.

I have assembled an intrepid band of tasters, all of whom have promised to be forthright in their assessments. This week's group:
Bridget: "I really liked the frosting. Both the peanut butter and the cream cheese were easy to detect and it had a nice texture. I think it would be better on a rich chocolate cake, but I suppose that would be too predictable. I think the spice cake was just ok. It was light and not dry, but it seemed to be a placeholder for the frosting. I think it was a bit short on spice flavor."
Karen: "A wonderful combination of spicy and creamy."
Rachel: "Yum. I tried one bite before my sandwich and then decided it was so good I'd just finish the whole thing."



2 large eggs (100 grams) (3.5 oz.) at room temerature
2/3 cup (160 grams) (5.6 oz.) low-fat buttermilk, divided
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (200 grams) (7 oz.) cake flour (or 1 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup (200 grams) (7 oz.) superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp. alkalized coca powder
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
8 Tablespoons (113 grams) (4 oz.) unsalted butter (at 65-75 degrees F)

Equipment: One 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, encircled with a cake strip, bottom coated with shortening, topped with a parchment round, then coated with baking spray with flour.

Preheat the oven: 20 minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 F/175 C.
Mix the liquid ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 3 Tbsps. of buttermilk, and vanilla until lightly combined.

Make the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining buttermilk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula.

Bake the cake: Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

Cool and unmold the cake: Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cool completely.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup (133 grams) (4.7 oz) peanut butter, preferably Jif, at room temperature
1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp. (113 grams) (4 oz.) cream cheese (65 to 70 degrees F)
4 Tbsp. (56 grams) (2 oz.) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sour cream
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. (50 grams) (1.7 oz.) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Make the peanut buttercream: In a food processor, combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, powdered sugar, and vaniilla and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the buttercream is smooth and uniform in color.

Compose the cake: When the cake is completely cool, spread a little buttercream on a 9-inch cardboard round or serving plate and set the cake on top. If using the plate, slide a few wide strips of wax paper or parchment under the cake to keep the rim of the plate clean. Frost the top and sides with swirls of silky buttercream. If using the paper strips, slowly slide them out from under the cake.