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PIECE OF CAKE, PEACE OF MIND

Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time


Baking is an expression of love.I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but then again, I can’t think of too many bakers who would be willing to go through the trouble of shopping, prepping, baking, and decorating (not to mention the sometimes very annoying task of transporting) for someone they didn’t love, or at least like a lot.
Baking also requires a lot of courage. Before you label me as overly dramatic and/or crazy, think about this: Nobody can ever be sure of exactly how their creations will come out out of the oven. The tiniest human error–forgetting that half teaspoon of baking soda, for instance–can result in something that, while maybe still edible, isn’t very delicious or visually appealing. Now (if you’re not a baker) imagine making a 9-inch layer cake. You’ve never tried the recipe out, or maybe you have once, but the description sounds exactly like what Person X, whose birthday is coming up, would love. The courageous part, somewhat akin to giving a speech or acting in front of a crowd in my mind, comes when the baker takes the cake to Person X’s birthday party, slices the first piece of cake, and hands it to him. Because of the nature of a 9-inch layer cake, the baker has not had a chance to taste the cake and must instead have faith in his/her abilities not only to bake the cake properly, but also to look at that ingredients list when choosing a recipe and mentally bake and taste that cake well before any actual baking ever occurs.

So the baker hands that first slice of cake to the birthday boy/girl and holds their breath. They have to look confident in their creation or nobody will trust the food they’re about to put in their mouths. Every new recipe is a risk and can be pretty scary, in my opinion. Cakes and pies are the worst, because you can’t test them before distributing them to the hungry masses.

And while things like cookies and bars are less nerve-racking, they still carry some amount of risk. No baker wants to have to toss a batch of anything and since taste is wholly subjective, if the baker has a more forgiving palette than the average person, even if the baker taste tests and likes their baked goods, this doesn’t guarantee there won’t be people quietly (and perhaps not as subtly as they might think) depositing that first bite into a napkin.

So what’s my point exactly? This is a message to those non-bakers out there. And more specifically those lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a baking passion. APPRECIATE! Appreciate what your friend, spouse, brother, sister, mom, dad, or whoever else is at least trying to do for you. Appreciate the thought and time that went into whatever you’ve just received, even if it’s not great. Don’t complain about the potentially high level of calories that are in that cookie, or how you don’t have anywhere to store that cake. Just take it. Eat it. Try to enjoy it. And say thank you.

I thought of all this after making a “Strawberry Country Cake” via Barefoot Contessa for the first time for a couple of friend-gatherings last week. The recipe makes two cakes–you make one on the spot and freeze the other for later–and uses simple, crowd friendly ingredients, so it worked out perfectly.

Like so many times before, I cut the cake and passed pieces around, holding my breath as everyone took the first bite. And what do ya know? It came out pretty well! The cake is a little dense, somewhere between a classic cake and a poundcake, which I thought went nicely with the lightness of the whipped cream and freshness of the strawberries. While the recipe calls for strawberries only, you could easily make a mixed berry cake that would be just as delicious. Blueberries might go especially well with the slight orange/lemon flavor of the cake.

STRAWBERRY COUNTRY CAKE

From Ina Garten

yields (2) 8 inch round cakes

INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

FOR THE FILLING FOR EACH CAKE

  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream, chilled (I would use a little more next time)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans. Then line them with parchment paper and butter and flour the lined pans.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine just until smooth.
  4. Pour the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops, and bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes (25-30 minutes for 9-inch rounds), until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then remove to wire racks and let cool to room temperature. If using 1 cake, wrap the second well and freeze.
  5. To make the filling for one cake, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until firm. Slice one of the cakes in half with a long, sharp knife. Place the bottom slice of the cake on a serving platter, spread with 1/2 the whipped cream and scatter with sliced strawberries. Cover with the top slice of the cake and spread with the remaining cream. Decorate with strawberries.

So pull this recipe out if you’re planning on having a BBQ this summer–everyone will love it! And those who get to try it–REMEMBER! Say thank you!

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