Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bella Cake (aka: the strawberry cake, version 2.0)

So, this past weekend included an adventure to the north woods of Wisconsin in efforts to savor the last few weekends of summer. This was welcomed in my mind, since last week I was reminded of what I signed up for when I accepted my offer to go back to school to study crystallization in caramel for two years,  to TA a confectionary science course, coordinate an industry professional’s confectionary science course, and potentially coordinate a pharmaceutical confection course. Deep breath! It will be loads of work, but work that I am looking forward to doing. If you are going to put your heart into something, you better love it!
Anyways, I thought making a cake of sorts would be a lovely treat for our host and hostess. I had been eyeing this recipe for some time; actually, ever since I picked strawberries back in June. I still had a stash of berries in my freezer, and also needed an excuse to use my vanilla infused Johnny Walker that has been brewin’ since May. So I decided to pull the trigger, and went for it. The recipe came together in a pinch: you simply mix up the batter, pour into a pan, top with strawberries, bake, and enjoy. 

Now, I bet you are wondering, “this must be why she named this the ‘Bella’ cake”. Was it because it was incredibly easy to make, beautifully studded with summer strawberries, and filled the kitchen with sweet summery aromas? Not exactly, but close!
After arriving to our weekend destination, we were relaxing after a lovely dinner of grilled pizza (if you ever need dough in a pinch, try this place. At $2.50 for a ball of dough made from local organic flour, you can’t beat it!), until we discovered that our host and hostesses vivacious viszla, Bella, had devoured the cake! So needless to say, I have no information on how the first cake turned out-but Bella definitely enjoyed it-so I think it is more than appropriate to dedicate this one to her!
In addition, I have to thank Bella, because she finally motivated me to buy a proper cake storing and transporting container. And it just so happens that I found this beauty below: this baby holds a pie in the top compartment, a cake in the bottom, is securely (and I mean secure to the point that it took me almost 5 minutes to get the contraption apart) held together by a metal contraption, and also matches my vintage bread box. Hot damn!

Two compartments...oh my!
Another plus: the cake transported very well, even without a proper storing/transporting container since there was no frosting or fillings or towering layers to be balanced on the journey.  A nice dollop of whipped cream would suit each piece nicely upon serving-simple, yet tasty-just like this cake.
I found that the cake is great a few hours out of the oven, but is even better after sitting for a day. The moisture from the strawberries seeps into the cake, the sugar sprinkled on the berries gives them a soft, jammy texture, and the nutmeg compliments the nutty whole wheat flour, the spicy whiskey, and the tangy berries. The whole thing just gets groovy.
 However, next time I make this, I will add some citrus zest, maybe some lemon, and also reduce the sugar in the cake to 1/3-ish cup. In doing so, I would highly recommed using the melted fat method, not creaming, as the reduced sugar content will encourage more gluten development. Coating the gluten with fat, much easier with liquid fats, will help prevent this. In additon, I wouldn't recommend letting this sit for more than 2 days, as the texture becomes gooey (potentially from the honey's heft fructose contribution, which noms more water than sucrose, granulated sugar).

Delicious local raw, un-filtered honey alongside a nutmeg and my madagascar vanilla bean infused Johnny Walker. Aren't I a classy baking lady?

*Preliminary notes and thoughts: the original recipe called for 6 tablespoons softened butter to be whipped with the sugars and the egg. I opted for 3 tablespoons melted butter along with 3 tablespoons olive oil. You could easily use any other oil, or use the full amount of butter. I prefer to melt my fats when possible, as it coats and prevents gluten from forming, which makes for a more tender cake. But feel free to use all butter, and cream with your sugars and egg as in tradition with a basic cake mixing method. I also used King Arthur Whole Wheat All Purpose flour. There are great variations between whole wheat flours, and I find this one to be smooth in texture (small particle sizes), and has a mild whole wheat flavor. Feel free to use any type of flour you’d like-the original called for barley flour-experimentation is welcome!
So here’s to Bella!


The Bella Cake (adapted from one of my favorite food blogs)

Makes 1 9” cake (enough for 8 generous slices, or one hungry viszla)

3/4 cup all-purpose whole wheat flour*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract/infused bourbon
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg
½ cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted or softened*
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled (and halved if large)
Optional Whipped Cream for Topping (aka cream chantilly to the French): whisk any amount heavy whipping cream in a cold bowl, adding sugar or honey to taste as the cream is whipped to soft peaks. Be sure to not over-whip, fat globules are sensitive to shear (we don’t want butter here!). Consistency should be loose, and still flow like the blob when lifted from the bowl with a wire whisk
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour cake pan (a tart pan with fluted edges worked nicely for me; you could also use a springform pan). Sift your dry ingredient together into a large bowl. Melt the butter (or soften, see note above….), and to this add the olive oil, sugar, honey, milk and egg. Whisk to combine, and then add the vanilla.
Who doesn't love antique sifters??
Add wet mixture to the sifted dry ingredients, and mix just until everything comes together.Pour into your prepared pan, and top with strawberries with cut side down into the batter.
Before baking.....
Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Reduce your oven temperature to 325F, and bake for 45-60 minutes longer until cake feels set, or when a toothpick comes out free of crumbs. 
...after baking!


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