Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. – “a great princess” (according to Rousseau)
I like cake, and I’m sure you do as well unless you’re some sort of disguised alien (just kidding)(not really). But I wonder if you’ve considered the amazing variety of cakes that there are? They come in many shapes, textures, flavors and presentations, and the familiar chocolate cake, wedding cake and the like represent a very small region of the cake world. Recently, I realized I hadn’t done any recipes lately, and since a couple of sex workers I follow on Twitter often mention how much they love cake I was inspired to share some favorites you might not find in the typical cookbook. I’ve assigned each of these recipes to one of the demi-seasons as I count them (each anchored by one of the sabbats), but you can really make most of them any time you like. Some of these recipes are easy, and some a bit trickier; the first two are actually brioches, and two others (one today and one tomorrow) could even be made with a box cake (just don’t tell me if you do that).
There are a few general things I should note before we start; if you’re an experienced baker you can skip this paragraph. First of all, DO NOT be tempted to replace butter with margarine; butter is pure fat, while margarine is an emulsion of fat and water which does not behave the same way in cake recipes and may ruin the results. If you want low-fat, I’ll be happy to share my recipe for angel food cake if you haven’t got one (it has no fat whatsoever). DO NOT omit salt if a recipe calls for it; it’s there for a reason, especially in the brioches (yeast needs a slightly saline environment in which to grow). Use large eggs, and unless a recipe says otherwise add them one at a time, beating for about a minute after each. You don’t need to use cake flour for any of these recipes, though you might get a slightly finer result from Moss Ross Cake (tomorrow) if you do. Though I’ve provided metric equivalents for most ingredients, I don’t know whether sticks of butter are the same size in other countries as in the US, where a standard stick is 4 ounces (113 grams). The same goes for pans; a 13” x 9” rectangular pan would be 33 x 23 cm, so use the closest equivalent. Test most cakes for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick or skewer near the center; if it comes out clean, it’s done. Test sponge cakes (like Moss Rose) by lightly touching the top; if done, it will spring back. And since brioche is really a sweet bread, panettone and king cake are tested as bread is: by tapping on the top, which sounds hollow when done.
Yuletide (late November – January 5th)
Panettone is an Italian brioche traditionally eaten during Yuletide; you can buy it imported from Italy in a box, but making it fresh is so much better. You’ll need a peculiar baking tin for this one: a large, clean coffee can with a volume of about 3 liters, or something similar to that.
4½ to 5½ cups (1 to 1.3 liters) flour
1 package fast-rising yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) nutmeg
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ground orange peel (orange zest)
1¼ cups (300 ml) milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) raisins
½ cup (120 ml) candied orange peels
Combine 2 cups (480 ml) flour, yeast, nutmeg and zest in a large mixing bowl. Heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter almost completely melts, then pour the mixture over the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add eggs and vanilla and mix on high speed for 3 more minutes. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can, plus raisins and peels. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough; this will take about 3 to 5 minutes and will still be slightly sticky when you’re done kneading. Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a lightly greased bowl (cooking spray is perfect for this) and turn the ball to grease the surface of the dough. Then cover it with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.
Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour the coffee can, then cut a circle of waxed paper to fit in the bottom of the can and sprinkle a little more flour on it. At the end of the rising time, make a fist and punch down into the uncovered dough (it will deflate as gas escapes), then gather it up and put it into the prepared can. Let it rise until double again (another hour), and near the end of the time preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit. Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, then drape a piece of aluminum foil on top to prevent overbrowning and bake 15 minutes more (50 minutes in all); the top should sound somewhat hollow when you tap on it. Immediately remove the panettone from the tin to a cooling rack and dust the top with powdered sugar; when ready to serve, cut it with a bread knife.
Carnival (January 6th – Mardi Gras)
In New Orleans, the traditional dessert of this season is king cake, the very first recipe I ever shared on this blog (on Twelfth Night, 2011). Of all these it is the one most firmly attached to the season I’ve assigned it, though panettone is a close second and pumpkin cake third.
Lent (Ash Wednesday – Easter Eve)
When I was a lass, Easter baskets in the Deep South could be counted on to prominently feature products from the Elmer’s candy company of New Orleans, and among the most prized of these was a chocolate, marshmallow and almond confection called Heavenly Hash. Here’s a cake based on it, though it uses pecans rather than almonds; if you can’t get pecans I’m sure almonds would be just as nice.
Heavenly Hash Cake
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
1½ cups (360 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
2 cups (480 ml) chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
3 cups (720 ml) miniature marshmallows
1 recipe icing (see below)
Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift dry ingredients together. Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or so, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, then add flour mixture and mix well. Add vanilla and pecans, mix just until combined and pour into pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until done; remove from oven, immediately cover cake with marshmallows and prepare icing.
3½ cups (840 ml) sifted powdered sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
½ cup (120 ml) cream or evaporated milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted
Beat together all ingredients until smooth; pour over hot marshmallow-covered cake. Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.
Springtide (Easter – late May)
The arrival of spring meant Maman “would pay me far too much money to cut her lawn every week, and usually made a cake for me; my favorite one was a simple yellow cake made in a ring pan and drizzled with powdered-sugar icing flavored with a powdered drink mix.” I now call it Love Cake in memory of my beloved Maman. Just bake a regular yellow cake in a tube pan (an angel food cake pan); you’ll probably need to add 5 minutes to the baking time. Cool it for 20 minutes in the pan before removing it, then combine 2 cups (480 ml) sifted powdered sugar with ½ a packet (just under a teaspoon, about 4 ml) unsweetened powdered drink mix and 2 or 3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk and mix well; drizzle it evenly over the top of the cake, letting it pour down the sides. You can use any flavor, but I like orange best.
Tomorrow: Four more recipes for the other half of the year!