Saturday, May 13, 2006

Yeah! She lives!




Well, I never would have thought it possible just a day ago, but it's OVER. At long (VERY LONG!) last, the school year has come to a close. And my immediate plans include, after finishing this entry, taking a shower, falling into bed, and waking up maybe Monday morning? I was at my desk every night this week until 11pm or midnight, and last night was the longest haul. I left school around 10:30 (the night janitor, Wolfgang--nope, not making that up--teased me about slacking off and leaving "early!"), but I still had to go to the store and get things for a party at school the next day. As usual, I had volunteered to bring the birthday cake. But I had a vision for a lemon-blueberry creation that I was worried might freak people out a bit. Plus, the chocoholics sometimes take the staunch position that it's ain't dessert without at least some chocolate! So I decided, since we were celebrating several summer birthday people at once, to make TWO cakes. Ok, so perhaps this was not the wisest decision, considering that I arrived home to begin baking around midnight! (Why do I do it to myself? Someone please explain it to me?)

Now I must confess something to you, my friends, and I know I have made this confession to you before. (Five months into a blog, and she's already repeating herself? Sheesh! But I'm just that serious about it!) Although I have many excellent from-scratch cake recipes that I often rely on, I am a big fan of the box cake mix. (Oh, take your hands off your hearts and stop that silly gasping!) It is really difficult to get a cake from scratch that rivals the texture of the box mix, as giant machines process the ingredients until they are super-fine, producing that feather-light quality. However, I do believe in doctoring up the mix, riffing on it, and making it one's own. And I hold nearly religious convictions about frosting! I will allow the box mixes, but please skip the can o'frosting. What kind of space-age polymer must bind up all that cloying goo so that it might have a stable shelf life? ICK! No, indeed, make your own frosting, I implore you!

For the lemon-blueberry affair, I began with French Vanilla cake to which I added extra vanilla, the zest of one lemon, and I swapped out some of the water for the juice of the lemon. I didn't want an extremely tangy cake, but something just gently lemony. I baked two 8-inch cakes, and when they were cool, I levelled them off, split the layers each in half, and filled them with some of the wild blueberry jam that I make every summer (about 1 -1/2 cups total). I was also careful not to take the jam too close to the edge of the cake so that it didn't leak out of the layers as I assembled the cake. For the frosting, I used a lemon-cream cheese recipe from Bon Appetit . It was very delicious, but very, very soft, even after setting up in the fridge, making it devillishly difficult to pipe. So perhaps it needed a little extra powdered sugar? And I definitely should have cut the recipe in half! In any case, here it is:

Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat in lemon peel and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until just firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

Bon App├ętit, August 2001

I must tell you, though when I first told people that the cake was blueberry-lemon, I was met with a continuum of responses from surprise to suspicion to mild disdain. But after they tried it, well, the whole cake quickly DISAPPEARED! It was gone long before the chocolate cake was, much to my amazement. And it looked really, really pretty with four layers sandwiched together with all that blueberry goodness! (The picture doesn't do it justice as that was the last knackered piece that I managed to save for my roomie. And I had to wrestle it away from the others before smushing it into my tiny office fridge all day, and then transporting it all the way home between two flimy paper plates. I'm surprised it hadn't become lemon-berry crumble by the time I thought to photograph it!) Anyway...it was delicious, and it's definitely a combination that I'll make again. Very summery.

For the chocolate-peanut butter cake, I prepared a Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, adding some extra vanilla (see a pattern here?) and about a teaspoon of espresso powder to make the flavor even deeper. I baked two 9-inch layers, and had it not already been obscenely late, I might have split those layers, too, but I simply didn't have the will. For the frosting, I used a peanut butter-cream cheese recipe from Godiva. And I sprinkled a generous amount of chocolate and peanut butter swirled chips on both the middle and top layers. It looked cute, but I must say, I didn't care for the faux peanut butter flavor of the chips. The next time I make this cake, I will decorate it with miniature Reese's cups like I normally would (the store was out of them last night, so that's why I went another way--oh well, live and learn!). Nevertheless, people were duly impressed, and I was happy to return home with two empty cake carriers!

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature

2 ½ cups confectioner's sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup chunky peanut butter (or smooth is fine, too)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cheese, confectioner's sugar, butter and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl with electric mixer at low speed, about 1 minute or until well blended. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add vanilla. Beat 1 minute. Spread frosting evenly over cake in pan using a small offset spatula.

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