Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Key Lime Meringue Cake Strips

A couple of months ago, while perusing the aisles of Michael's craft store for Cherry Blossom Dinner 2011 supplies, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to avoid the baking supplies section.  Though I do find it a little odd that a craft store sells food dyes, ready-made fondant and all manner of cartoon character-shaped cake pans, I'm not complaining.  This time I managed to behave myself and only walked out with one trinket that had piqued my interest on my past couple of visits--the cake strip. 

Never heard of cake strips?  These seemingly humble strips of cloth claim to offer a one-stop-shop of baking perfection: Deliciously moist cakes! Even cooking temperature throughout! Perfectly flat, smooth cakes every time! By soaking the cake strips in water and attaching them to the outside of your cake pans before baking, the cooler pan edges supposedly avoid the domed top and overcooked sides that often plague my cakes.  Technically, you can make cake strips yourself just by cutting up old dish towels, but I thought I should try out the real thing for my first attempt before going Full Martha and making my own.

So, do they work?  First, a note: when trying out a new cake recipe, first make sure that it isn't missing any key ingredients like, oh, say LEAVENERS.  Secondly, don't proceed to look at your two pans full of essentially flour and egg whites then put them in the oven with a shrug, fully knowing that this is probably not going to turn out well.  Witness: the resulting ultimate cake fail, aka key lime crepes.
Luckily I had enough ingredients for a new recipe attempt and the resulting Key Lime Meringue Cake was awesome.  While the cake baked at a slant, rather than perfectly flat, it did avoid the typical domed top and was extremely moist and spongy with evenly-cooked edges.  I'm not sure the $8.99 price tag for two strips was really worth it, but I'll have to bake a few more cakes before my final verdict. 

Key Lime Meringue Cake
     adapted from Eating Well
1/3 cup low-fat milk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Lime filling
1 14-ounce can nonfat sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lime juice, preferably Key lime
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest, preferably Key lime

2 large egg whites, at room temperature, or equivalent dried egg whites, reconstituted according to package directions
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray with flour; alternatively, coat the pan with regular cooking spray, line them with parchment paper and spray the paper.

2. Heat milk in a small pan until steaming; remove from the heat, cover and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder and nutmeg into a bowl; set aside.

3. Beat 2 eggs and 2 egg whites in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until frothy. Add 1 cup sugar and beat on medium speed until the eggs are very fluffy and pale, a full 3 1/2 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons lime juice, vanilla and the reserved dry ingredients. Beat on low speed just until the flour is incorporated. Beat in the hot milk (the batter will be thin).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top feels firm when touched lightly and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the edges. Turn the cake out of the pan and set it right-side up on a wire rack to cool completely.  When cooled, use a long serrated knife to slice the cake horizontally into two layers.

5. To prepare lime filling: Whisk condensed milk, lime juice and 1 teaspoon lime zest in a medium bowl until combined. Refrigerate until thickened, at least 30 minutes or overnight.

6. To prepare meringue: Beat egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

7. Position oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source; preheat broiler. Transfer one layer, bottom-side down, to a large baking sheet. Spread the meringue on top of the cake, creating decorative peaks and valleys in the meringue with a rubber spatula. Broil until lightly browned, watching carefully to prevent burning, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

8.To assemble cake: Place the plain layer, top-side down, on a serving plate; spread the lime filling on top. Cover with the meringue-topped layer.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pink Grapefruit Vanilla Bean Gold Cup-cakes

I can't believe it's already that time of year again.  The time when we dust off the floppy sun hats, break out the seersucker, pop those collars extra high and lay on a healthy dose of bourbon-induced southern drawl to cavort along Great Meadows' north rail--that's right, it's Gold Cup.

Virginia's answer to the Kentucky Derby, Gold Cup is an event worthy of all your royal wedding-inspired hats and fascinators that has been run in The Plains, Virginia since 1922.  Ostensibly a steeplechase (and, perhaps more enticing, a terrier race), Gold Cup is an excuse to get dolled up in your finest frippery, sip bourbon like it's going out of style, cheer on the horses like the true equestrian Mumsie and Daddy raised you to be and refer to everyone as "Jeeves," "Muffy" or "Belvedere" while waiting in line at the port-a-johns.

Two years ago I tried to embody the true spirit of the races with Mint Julep and Iced Tea Cupcakes, but this year I decided copious amounts of mimosas would probably provide ample booze without infusing it into the cupcakes as well.  This year I decided to go with one of my all-time favorite flavors--grapefruit--to echo the sentiment of spring on what I hoped would be a sunny day.  Because the sweet zing of grapefruit can be difficult to capture, I decided to add a grapefruit curd filling as well, which almost didn't make it into the cupcakes because I wanted to eat it by the spoonful.
Possibly my favorite thing about these cupcakes was getting to try out my adorable new Parisian-themed cupcake liners--because in my book Paris makes everything better :)

A couple of notes:
I was really intimidated by the idea of homemade grapefruit curd until I realized how simple it is! But to save time you can buy jarred citrus curds at most supermarkets.

I decided to go with a buttercream for these cupcakes, though a cream cheese frosting may have been better in retrospect. 

Pink Grapefruit Cupcakes
     from Ryan's Baking Blog makes 12
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest (about 1 grapefruit)
2 eggs
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, sift and whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar and grapefruit zest. Mix together with your fingers or the back of the spoon until the two are completely combined, creating a fragrant grapefruit sugar.

4. Beat the eggs into the sugar until the eggs are thick and pale yellow. Add the yogurt, oil, grapefruit juice, and vanilla extract. Stir well to combine. Add the flour mixture a little at a time, being careful not to overmix, until it is all incorporated.

5. Scoop batter into the paper liners, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for a couple minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Grapefruit Curd
     from Honey & Jam
8 large eggs yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
finely grated zest of 1 ruby red grapefruit
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
1. Combine yolks, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, half of the zest, and the sugar in a saucepan; whisk to combine.

2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth.

4. Strain through a fine sieve unto a medium bowl. Stir in the remaining zest. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bean Buttercream
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean (or extract)
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
4-5 cups powdered sugar
2 drops red food coloring, if desired

1. Cream butter until pale and fluffy.
2. Add vanilla, grapefruit juice and food coloring, mix until combined.
3. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until reaching desired consistency.  Pipe onto cupcakes as desired.