And god knows my mood for too many days verged on...not pleasant. I knew this year was going to start rough. I wasn't wrong. It's still rough. But I'm back. I've even decided to do a series of posts to coincide with Throwback Thursdays (#tbt), but instead of regaling you with photos of me in high school or in full Goth make-up from 20+ years ago, I'm going to cook a recipe a week from each decade of the 20th century to the present. I was looking at all the vintage cookbooks I have and I want to get more out of them than occupying space on shelves looking pretty. The plan is to have a post ready for this week. First, it will keep me writing (and my mind occupied) and secondly, I think it will be fun.
I was hoping to have a great story today telling you about my first foray into making meringues. It's an easy confection to make, right? Sugar and egg whites, right? Maybe a pinch of salt and a little flavoring thrown in, right? Three times I tried to make them last week. Three times they were less than stellar, and I mean LESS THAN stellar. The first two batches went right into the garbage. The third batch I decided to go with to the end. There was nothing light and airy about them. They were flat and wafer like. I could not get my peaks to stiffen. I tried practically every helpful hint I found online and no success was to be found. Don't fret...I'm not giving up, but they were not meant to be for this post.
What is meant to be for this post is a cake. There's nothing really fancy about this one. In fact, I even took out an ingredient that makes it a showstopper for most people. I made a red velvet cake without the red velvet. A rebellious move. We all know the red food coloring doesn't add any flavor, it just makes for a dramatic presentation on that first cut, the deep ruby red against the stark white of the cream cheese frosting. Oh, wait...I played with that part too. Don't think I'm a red velvet hater. I'm not. I love a good red velvet cake. Making this cake reminded me how great a cake is when you use cake flour instead of all purpose, how creme fraiche makes a truly kick-ass frosting, how happy an occasion it is when a cake turns out of its pan absolutely perfectly, and how beautiful a cake can be without a bottle of red food coloring added to the batter.
I've become a fan of making single layer cakes over the past few years. It just seems more manageable to get through, especially for just one or two people. Speaking of two people...this would be a totally lovely ending for a dinner-in Valentine's Day.
Velvet Cake with Madagascar Vanilla Creme Fraiche Frosting
Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
Makes one 9-inch layer
1 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour (sift before measuring)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp white distilled vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 oz sugar
1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp), room temperature
1 large egg
1 8-oz tub of creme fraiche
1 tbsp butter, room temperature
2 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 9-inch cake pan and set aside. Whisk together in a small bowl the cake flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, mix the buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well to mix. Gradually add both the buttermilk mixture and the dry ingredients, adding alternately to the creamed butter. Beat until combined. Pour into cake pan, spreading to edges, and bang the pan a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 25-27 minutes until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
Leave cake to cool on cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting, cream the butter and confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and creme fraiche, mixing on low until combined, then on medium speed to whip. Apply a thick layer to top and sides, being sure to cover cake. Smooth top.
Notes: The cocoa I used was Royal Mahogany that I picked up from the Spice Station in Silverlake (if you're in Los Angeles). You can also order it online, though I'm sure this cake will be wonderful with any cocoa. It would also be dramatic if you used black cocoa. The espresso powder isn't necessary, but I like the oomph it adds. If you don't have the espresso powder, but have brewed espresso or coffee, I'd add a tbsp or two to the buttermilk mixture. I highly recommend seeking out the Madagascar vanilla creme fraiche from Vermont Creamery. It's the perfect balance of sweet and tart and I love that it's loaded with specks of vanilla bean.