Sweet Potato Cake

Sweet Potato Cake

Every month, the Cake Slice Bakers take a recipe from the year’s chosen cookbook (currently Sky High : Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, by Huntsman & Wynne) and bake it up for your delectation.

This month’s offering heads into some definitely unknown territory – the Sweet Potato Cake is three layers of spiced sweet potato cake, filled with orange cream cheese icing and frosted with Chocolate cream cheese icing. Sweet potatoes, orange, and chocolate? I was definitely curious enough about it to give it a whirl pretty much as written…

I did have some quibbles with the way the recipe was written – when someone tells me to “bake 12 ounces of sweet potatoes, peel, puree, and set aside one cup for later”, I expect that the first time the recipe calls for sweet potatoes I’m using the part that didn’t get set aside, which is what I did. However, ‘later’ never came – after I’d baked the cakes and was making sure I had everything ready to put the frosting together, I noticed that I still had a forlorn-looking cup of sweet potato puree sitting on the counter.

“Hmm,” says I. I re-read the recipe. No further sweet potato usage. Checked it twice, even. Nope.

The part I used was about the same quantity, thankfully, but it could have been something of a wreck, there.

(I do wonder if the funny blotches were because of not enough puree, or because I didn’t fold in the egg whites thoroughly enough.)

Why the weird white blotches?

Why the weird white blotches?

Managed to get my cream cheese out to come to room temperature hours ago (go me!), but went to put together the frosting and realized that I’d not done the butter. Drat. I’ve been having bad luck lately with microwave defrosting (it worked for a while, but now there seem to be hot spots and I get melty bits), so I was thinking about mashing it up for a bit to warm it (It was already 10pm, and I want to sleep sometime, hence the not naturally warming it) when I remembered a trick I’d learned from someone years ago and forgotten ’til this moment. Which is why I wrote up most of this post with a stick of butter tucked up against my nice warm skin :) (This is not a trick to do with food you intend to sell, obviously, but as long as everything stays in its wrapper I feel that friends and fellow volunteers are more than fair game for body-warmed-butter.)

Butter and cream cheese played nicely together, but when I added the (melted, now room temperature) chocolate, instead of melding nicely it froze up solid into little chunks. So we shall pretend that we meant it that way, neh? It’s so pretty with its little flecks, is it not?

The icing, already sort of soft, did not get any firmer when adding 2 TB .25 tsp worth of liquid to it, oh no. Another cup of powdered sugar and I could be fairly certain that it wouldn’t explode its little buttercream boundaries and go all over everywhere, but barely.

The first layer came out beautifully! It was so pretty I thought about just making three cakes, but decided to continue.

The first layer - so pretty!  That's orange frosting in the middle.

The first layer - so pretty! That's orange frosting in the middle

I toyed with the idea of not frosting the sides, letting the natural beauty of my little stars shine through, but remember that soft icing? As soon as I put the second layer on, it squished something fierce.

Thinking ahead (forecasting, provenance of the higher apes, ook), I refrigerated the cake and the icing so that the third layer would not squish out all of the frosting when I placed it on the other two. Success! One more layer of icing, another stint in the fridge, and then the final decoration. (I was sad that I hadn’t saved more orange icing, as it would have made a nice top layer. Good to remember for next time.)

Finishing off the cake with the chocolate frosting

Finishing off the cake with the chocolate frosting

Taste-wise?  So far I’ve only had the frosting – the cake itself is going to a volunteer appreciation dinner tomorrow night (it barely, barely fit into my cake carrier – whew!).  The frosting is really sweet, and the combination of really sweet cream cheese and unsweetened chocolate just clashes, to my mind.  The orange was tasty, but again, so achingly sweet.  Shall report back when I find out how it all tastes together!

Recipe:

Sweet Potato Cake
from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Cake:
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato (12 ounces)
3 cups of cake flour**
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
5 eggs, separated
2 and 1/4 cups of sugar
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 and 1/4 cups of milk

(**The recipe calls for cake flour and if you only have all-purpose flour on hand, you can substitute 3/4 cup (105 grams) all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch.)

(*If fresh sweet potato is not available where you live you may use canned sweet potato, yams, and pumpkin puree)

Makes a 9-inch triple layer cake, serves 16-20 people

1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes in 2-3 places, place on a small baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are very soft. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms and the sides of the pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper also.

3. When the sweet potatoes are cool peel off the skin and remove any dark spots. Cut the potatoes into chunks and puree in a food processors. Puree until smooth. Measure out one cup of potato puree and set aside [to use in just a minute :)].

4. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Set aside.

5. In the bowl of electric mixer add the egg whites and attach whip attachment. Beat on medium speed until egg whites are frothy. raise the speed to high and gradually beat in 1/4 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites are moderately stiff.

6. In another large bowl with the paddle attachment, combine the sweet potato, butter, vanilla, and remaining sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl after each egg yolk is added. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and milk in alternately in 2-3 additions. making sure to begin and end with the dry ingredients.

7. With a large spatula, fold in one fourth of the egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain. Making sure to not over mix or this will deflate the batter. Divide the batter among of the three pans.

8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cake layers onto a wire rack and cool completely at least 1 hour.

9. To assemble the cake, place one layer flat side up on to a cake stand. With a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip and filled with chocolate cream cheese icing, pipe border around the edge of the cake. Fill the center with the orange cream filling smoothing it to the edge of the border. Place the second layer on top and repeat the process.Place the third layer on top and use all the chocolate cream cheese frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Cream Frosting:
makes 3 cups
10 ounces cream cheese*** at room temperature
1 stick of butter at room temperature
16 ounces of powdered sugar; sifted
1 and 1/2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate melted and slightly cooled

(***1 cup of cream cheese maybe substituted with 1 cup pureed cottage cheese OR 1 cup plain yogurt, strained overnight in a cheesecloth OR equal amounts of neufatel cheese)

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar to cream cheese butter mixture. Making sure to scrape down the sides the sides of the bowl. Then beat until light fluffy 2-3 minutes.

2. Measure out 1 cup of frosting and set aside.

3. Add the melted chocolate to the remaining icing in the bowl and beat until well combined. If your chocolate seizes all up and therefore your icing isn’t chocolate-colored, add some cocoa powder, about a tablespoon.

Orange Cream Filling:
1 cup of reserved cream cheese icing from above.
2 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 teaspoon of orange extract

1. Stir together all the ingredients until well mixed.
If it’s a runny, gloppy mess, add more powdered sugar until it isn’t.

Or, When Things Don’t Quite Turn Out.

That’s right, I share with you my failures as well! Well, some of them. The photogenic ones.

The original source for this recipe was BakingBlonde‘s lovely post on the topic. I mean, look at those pictures? Who wouldn’t want to make these cookies?? I don’t even like peanut butter, and I still thought they looked awesome, so I gave it a shot (plenty of other people like them, and it’s always a struggle to find recipes that aren’t dry as bones).

In the beginning, all looked well:

Beautiful raw cookie dough

Beautiful raw cookie dough

(They’re sprinkled with powdered sugar because this dough just <b> drank</b> up the powdered sugar I’d rolled them in, and I wanted my crackly crust.)

It wasn’t until I checked on them near the end of baking time that disaster struck. Instead of lovely, high cookies with deep crinkles, I had this:

Flat, flat, flat cookies

Flat, flat, flat cookies

Well, the crinkles are there, but they were oh so very flat. Extremely flat. Still tasty, if PB cookies are your thing – they were moist and delicious, and held up at my in-laws’ house for over a week (I don’t know how they do it). And I bet they’d be really great with some chocolate ganache sandwiched between two of them. But still, not what I was going for.

This recipe made a lot of dough, so I’d rolled and frozen the other 3/4ths of it. I decided to give them a second chance. Cut off the rolls, dropped the pieces into powdered sugar, and popped into the oven. This time, they came out higher, but drier (the dough had obviously done what PB cookie dough likes to do and hidden away all of the moisture while it was resting in the freezer). Still nothing like BB’s lovely pictures.

Ah, well, the search continues. Anyone have a PB cookie recipe they’d love to find at their local coffee shop?

The Recipe:

From BakingBlonde‘s grandmother, among other sources

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup powdered sugar (or more as needed for rolling)

Preheat oven to 350.
Line baking sheets with parchement paper.
Place powdered sugar in shallow bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Once combined beat in the white sugar, and brown sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
In a large bowl wisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently add to creamed mixture and mix until almost combined.
Chill dough for 10-20 minutes.
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Genlty roll the dough balls into powdered sugar and place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheets. Carefully press down on each ball with a glass to flatten tops slightly.
Bake for 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until top is crinkley and edges are set. Cook on sheet for 10 minutes and transfer to baking rack to finish cooling.

My good and dear friend Tammy (of Tammy’s Tastings, and if you’re anywhere Ann Arbor Michigan, you should check her out and have her do a chocolate or wine tasting for your friends; and if you’re not, she ships her DARNED TASTY CHOCOLATES all over, just sayin’) is having a birthday today (er, yesterday – but I started the post before midnight, so I think it counts), so I made her a cake!

Sadly, she lives far, far away, and so cannot help us eat it. But here are some pictures:

An adaptation of Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

Isn't it pretty?

Aaaaand, a closeup:

A closeup shot of those lovely raspberries

A closeup shot of those lovely raspberries

And one more, for fun:

Such a pretty ring

Such a pretty ring

Thanks and kudos to Culinography, from whom I borrowed the recipe (she acquiring it from Dorie). I’d type it in and everything, but it’s midnight and I’m going to bed now.  Basically, I used candied lemon peel instead of lemon zest, and replaced the raspberry preserves with lingonberry preserves (ran out).  Other than that, pretty much as written.  Taste report tomorrow :)

Happy Birthday, Tammy!

The one thing every good baker needs to have in his/her repertoire is a no-fail recipe for cinnamon rolls, right? But I’ve never really had one – I love them, but a little too much, if you know what I mean. Best to avoid the temptation of an entire pan of cinnamon rolls altogether by just not making them at home. Also, I lived in Chicago for a number of years, and with Ann Sather right around the corner, with its World-Famous Cinnamon Rolls, there was really just no point to making them.

I’ve accumulated various recipes, over the years – I have a recipe that I was assured (by the pastry chef at one of the major downtown hotels in Chicago) was identical to the one Sathers uses (there’s also one here that claims to be official). I probably should have started with that one, but What Geeks Eat’s Brioche Cinnamon Rolls came up onto the screen, and I couldn’t help myself.

I don’t often make yeasted doughs, for a few reasons. One, I only (currently) have a smaller Kitchenaid mixer (the 4.5Qt), and it really doesn’t like doing bread dough. It complains. It hops. It heats up. It packs its bags and starts to head for the door when it sees one coming. I love my Kitchenaid (don’t tell it that I’m planning to acquire a second, larger one, shhh), it’s been a faithful companion to me for over 15 years now and I plan to have it for another 15, so I try to avoid making things that tax it too much. The RSIs mean that I can’t knead dough by hand, so that’s also an automatic limiter on any type of yeasted dough.

Second, the only time I’ve ever had good success making yeast doughs that raised well was when I was taking the breads class at the community college. I don’t know if it was the incredibly fresh yeast, or the proper temperature space in which it could rise… I just know that it’s never that easy at home. Even with fresh yeast bought from the grocery store (as opposed to dried), I have trouble. This time it was finding a warm place for the dough to rise. All summer, it’s been nicely hot and humid, perfect dough weather. But do I make these in the summer? No! I crave warm, yeasty breads in the fall and winter, when my house rarely rises above 65F and the humidity isn’t much to speak of.

This time was no exception. We’ve had a nice cool snap, and the house was around 68F or so. I made the dough and put it in the fridge to rest overnight; took it out in the morning and let it warm up for an hour, then rolled it out and formed the rolls. So far, so good:

Raw Cinnamon Rolls

Raw Cinnamon Rolls

Then, waiting for them to rise. “Wait until doubled in bulk”. Right. Half an hour later – no action. I have an electric oven (I know, I know, I hate it too), so that’s not really useful. Maybe if I put the oven on 200F and crack the door, and put the rolls on the stove above it… An hour later, still little action. Completely opened the door of the oven and sat the sheets of rolls onto it, turning them regularly so that the butter wouldn’t melt, and eventually they started to puff a bit, which would have to do, as I have other things to do than to babysit stupid cinnamon rolls.

Baked them up (oops, overbaked the first batch), slathered them in glaze, and…

Finished Cinnamon Rolls

Finished Cinnamon Rolls

Well, I can say that I’d do some things differently next time. First of all, smush them all in a pan together rather than separating them out. I like soft edges on my rolls, and these all had pretty firm walls. The dough was light enough inside, but the texture was still just not what I am going for in a cinnamon roll. It was more bread-y than anything else, and I like them softer and richer than that. I’d use nuts (probably pecans) inside. I’d wait to glaze them until they’d completely cooled.

So, not there yet. But at least I didn’t eat the entire pan…

I, like many others, have a ‘favorite’ chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Well, to be precise, *two* favorites – one for when I just want a whole mess ‘o delicious little chocolate chippers (Nestle’s Tollhouse recipe, scooped small and made with dark brown sugar instead of light), and the other for when I want a large, chunky handful of chocolate chip goodness (Desaulnier’s Mrs D’s cookie recipe).  So I wasn’t really looking to try another recipe, but when the NYT did their cookie cook-off and selected Jacques Torres’ recipe, I had to give it a try.

The NYT Chocolate Chip Cookie

The NYT Chocolate Chip Cookie

I made a substitution in the chocolate called for – I have really good semisweet callets on hand, but at the price they go for, they’d price this cookie right out of contention for the business.  So I used Ghirardelli’s chocolate chips instead, and I don’t think it detracted from the final product in any way, I have to say.  I’ve also tried the recipe using the original flours called for (cake and bread), and once with Lily’s all-purpose (a nice soft flour), and the difference was undetectable – so save some time!

There are two big deals about this recipe that really take the choc chip cookie up a notch – the first is the notion of aging the dough for 36 hours after you make it, but before baking it.  As many others have done, I tested it fresh and aged, and wow – the difference is truly striking.  The flavors deepen and meld together wonderfully.

The second is the addition of a sprinkle of sea salt on the top right before baking, and that hint of extra saltiness really sets off the chocolate flavors.

The cookies themselves come out huge – at least 5 inches across – with crisp outer edges, making way for a delightfully soft and chewy interior.

Let’s have a closeup:

The NYT Chocolate Chip Cookie up close and personal

The NYT Chocolate Chip Cookie up close and personal

You can see the glint of the little salt crystals – yum!

The dough freezes like a dream, although next time I’d go to the bother of chilling it a little first, then rolling into logs – it would make carving out 3.5 ounce chunks much easier!  Wrap well and keep away from “mice” who may nibble at it while it’s in the freezer (a perennial problem at our house), possibly by hiding it underneath a bag of vegetables.  I only needed to add 2 minutes to the cooking time when using dough straight from the freezer.

Definitely adding this to the arsenal – it beats out Mrs. D’s on its texture combinations- both crunchy and chewy, and matches it in richness of flavor.  Not to mention, it’s less expensive to make!

Suggested serving: With a nice cup of coffee or tea, preferably in front of a toasty fireplace.

I bought Artisinal Bread in Five Minutes a Day the other day on the recommendation of my Mom. Where cooking’s concerned, if she recommends it, I know it’ll be pretty good. So far, I’ve had pizza dough from it, and I’ve made a big batch of the buttermilk bread dough on page 207. When I saw it say “mix the [active dry] yeast and the salt and the sugar together in the water” for proofing, I was dubious, but I didn’t divert from the recipe. I’ve made two loaves of bread and Tracey made a batch of naan in our cast iron skillet. This is fabulous bread dough.

I’m not sure what the secret of their method really is, but it works. I’m using Fleischmann’s Yeast, White Lilly flour, and some Celtic sea salt I found at Southern Season the other day, and it rose, fell, and rose again perfectly. The crumb was light and airy, with a strong hint of that ripe sourness of well-risen bread, even on the first day. The second loaf I made after going on a weekend trip, with leftover dough that I kept in the fridge (the recipe advises that it can be kept for up to 12 days without a refresher). That bread was absolutely magnificent.

I’ve done a lot of things to make better bread over the years. I’ve made sourdough starters that lasted for a couple of years, and I had a batch of champagne yeast I grew from organic grapes that turned out beautiful, consistent bread. I have to say that my best bread with those was better than the bread I made from this recipe, at least from the batch I made on the same day as I made the dough. But for the amount of work i had to put in, it was excellent bread.

I can’t speak yet for the other recipes in the book, but if they’re anything like the pizza dough and the buttermilk dough, this is going to be my go-to book for bread when I’m short on time from now on.

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