This week at the market, Eric and Renee with have raspberries, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, onions, garlic, broccoli, salad greens, escarole, frisee, and eggs.
It’s hard to believe that Charlie, my youngest, is going to be one. It seems like he was just a newborn, needing me to do everything for him. Suddenly he is standing and taking a few steps along the rack in our kitchen that holds all our dry goods. So many milestones are flying by, crawling, his first tooth, standing and walking. With his first birthday will come another milestone; cake, or sugar to be exact.
A lot of people assume that being married to an organic farmer, and general foodie, that certain things are not part of our diet. It’s true, we avoid a lot of processed food and artificial dyes. We still try to limit the amount of sugar we eat, as it’s my vice of choice, but we do allow sweet treats for the kids, usually homemade. And the one thing that we are uncompromising on is quality ingredients. When Eric and I first met, I seemed to have a list of food that I didn’t like and boldly stated I wouldn’t eat. Eric patiently told me his theory on food. He felt that most people don’t like something because of the way they have had it prepared or the quality was low. I was leery of this theory, but over the years I have found myself eating things I had previously deemed inedible. Beets are now a favorite. Komatsuna, delicious. I could go on and on. Overall, yes, we do stray from the organic lifestyle, but we be try to not eat poorly.
Thus with Charlie’s first birthday coming up, it’s time to start thinking about a cake. With Charlie being our second child, and having spent numerous birthdays together, we have finally come up with a game plan and a favorite cake recipe. We don’t do a smash cake. For our family, we don’t like to waste food. If I am going to make a cake from scratch, we are going to eat it. All of it.
I was not a natural at baking, I have made numerous errors. But my little family members have been troopers, often eating things that didn’t turn out exactly as I thought they would. It’s taken me a while to be okay with failing while baking, and the one thing that I have learned is that love truly is a needed ingredient when baking. But that is a baking disaster story to tell another time.
For Charlie, we will make a yellow layer cake with raspberries and raspberry frosting. With all summer birthdays in our house, we are fortunate enough to have fresh, in season fruit, grown at our farm, to color and enhance the flavor of the summer birthday cakes. Actually, most of the ingredients, outside of the dry goods will come from our farm. While this isn’t realistic for most people, finding quality, local ingredients is possible here in Iowa.
The recipe (generously adapted from Cook’s Illustrated):
1 ¾ cups plain flour, sifted, plus more for dusting pans
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces
Turn oven on to 350 degrees, with oven rack in the lower-middle position. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and cover bottoms with rounds of parchment or waxed paper. I use spring form pans and waxed paper cut into a circle. Grease the top of the paper, dust with flour and tap out the excess.
Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. I’ve tried to use a hand mixer, a standing mixer works much better. Beat this mixture at the lowest speed for about 30 seconds. With the mixture still running at the lowest speed, add the butter, one piece at a time; mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy or pebbly. Pieces should be about pea size, 30 to 40 seconds after last piece of butter is added. Add the reserved 1 cup of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture, should be about ½ cup, in a slow, steady stream, over about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with the rubber spatula. Beat at medium-high sped until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.
Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans, spread to the sides of pans and smooth with the rubber spatula. Bake until the cake tops are light gold and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan perimeters to loosen. This is why I like using my spring form pans. Invert one cake onto a large plate, peel off the parchment, and inert onto another wire rack. Repeat. Make sure cake is cool prior to frosting.
For the frosting, I’m not-so-secretly a fan of Martha Stewart’s recipes. I want to dislike them, but most of them turn out really good. Such is the case with her vanilla butter cream recipe. The recipe calls for:
6 ¾ cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup milk, at room temperature (you won’t use all of it)
2 teaspoons vanilla
When I first tried this recipe, I noticed it called for the powdered sugar to be sifted. I thought that sounded like a huge waste of time, and I moved forward without sifting. BIG mistake. The frosting was clumpy in spots. It made an otherwise amazing looking cake look mediocre. Since that first mistake, I have sifted the sugar, and the frosting always looks smooth. Eric thinks this recipe is FAR too sweet. I think it’s perfect.
Put the butter in a mixing bowl. Add 1 ½ cups of the sifted powdered sugar. Beat until blended. Continue to add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. After the second cup or so, add some milk. Alternate sugar and milk until you have used all the sugar and the frosting has a good consistency. Add the vanilla and mix until blended.
I tend to like to add a fruit to my frosting for color, strawberry puree, blueberries, whatever we have growing at the time, as well as using it for garnish. When the cakes are cool I place a dab of frosting on the cake stand or plate. I put my first layer of cake down, the frosting helps the cake not slide. I add a good amount of frosting and spread. I do tend to add some fruit to this frosting layer. The second layer is gently placed on top of the first. I heap on a good amount of frosting, working from the inside to the sides and down. The frosting recipe will yield more frosting than the cake will need, leaving enough for me to make a few graham cracker-frosting sandwiches to tuck into the freezer for those days when my 4 year-old begs for cake.
Once the cake is done, you can leave it out until time to eat it, up to two days. I tend to put the cake in the walk in cooler or refrigerator, making sure to pull it out at least 4-6 hours prior to eating. This allows time for the icing to loosen up and the cake to relax. After this, it’s time to enjoy!