Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fragrant Yellow Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Food nostalgia is a powerful thing.

Certain smells can literally transport my mind to another time or place and for a split second I will believe I am somewhere else.

The smell of sliced cucumbers sends me directly back to a Summer day in my grandparents' kitchen - they grew the most fragrant cucumbers in their garden and Nonno was in charge of preparing the salad every day. He sliced the cucumbers slowly and seriously paper thin!

The smell of charcoal brings me to the streets of Bangkok where hundreds of street vendors line up to sell mouthwatering skewers of marinaded meat and charred bananas (with the most delicious coconut caramel sauce!).

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting gives me funny feelings because all of the sudden I am 6 years old and eating the not-so-perfect results from my Easy-bake Oven!

It is a classic combo and my go-to for Birthdays.

This recipe has a twist, because it suddenly tastes like a doughnut with the addition of orange zest and nutmeg that balances so well with the soft custardy crumb.

It is such a lovely fragrance that I think I'll be making this addition every time I bake a yellow cake. It just works! (And it really does taste like a doughnut!)

Making butter cakes that are rich in butter (duh) and sugar need some help to stay soft since these ingredients do a great job of weighing a batter down.

Cake flour - the bleached type - is great for this. Bleached flour has different properties than its unbleached counterpart that make it better at absorbing liquid and setting faster. Butter cake batter is an environment that is very competitive with moisture - high sugar binds water while fat gets in its way. Bleached flour is more effective at absorbing any available moisture and the starch molecules geltanize (or set) quickly during baking to lock in that moisture. This results in a uniform, fine crumb that is soft and fluffy.

It's the chlorine from the bleaching process that has an effect on the wheat starch molecules and modifies them in a way that allows them to swell up big with water and helps the cake rise better despite all that heavy butter and sugar.

Regular all-purpose flour would still make a suitable cake, but it would be more dense. I think it's worth it to use cake flour here and in most butter cake recipes - chocolate cakes are an exception (but that's for another post).

The other component that makes this cake lovely is buttermilk which adds a cultured acidity to create a richer and more balanced flavour - because cake is more than just sweetness. It adds to the doughnutty custardy flavour too and its viscosity means that you can add more liquid to the batter (for moisture) while helping to maintain its thickness for even rising.

The frosting makes just enough to fill and cover this cake in a more naked style. If you'd like a more generous coating, then you can double the batch. I was inspired by Mardis Gras with the custardy, brioche-type flavours of this lovely yellow cake, so I chose purple sprinkles and chocolate pearls to decorate :)

Enough chatting. Time to eat cake!

Big love,

Fragrant Yellow Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
makes a 2 layer 8-inch round cake

For the sponge:
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of one orange
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 ¾ cups (215g) bleached cake flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (237ml) buttermilk

For the frosting:
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (125g) icing sugar
3 tbsp (18g) Dutch process cocoa powder
4 oz (113g) cream cheese, softened
pinch of salt
1-2 tbsp (15-30ml) whole milk

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.

Cream butter with sugar, vanilla, orange zest and nutmeg until smooth and slightly pale in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat in eggs one at a time until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the butter mixture alternating with buttermilk in 3 parts, mixing on low between additions. Once all added, mix on medium-high until batter is smooth and creamy and then divide between prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake for 25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

To make the frosting, beat butter until creamy. Sift in half of the icing sugar with half of the cocoa powder until light and fluffy. Beat in cream cheese a little at a time until very smooth. Sift in remaining icing sugar and cocoa, add salt and beat until creamy. Drizzle in milk to loosen mixture and beat until very smooth, creamy and fluffy.

Spread a thick layer of frosting between the layers and then spread remaining frosting on top to coat, spreading it thinly around the sides. Slice and serve!
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