'Cakelove' yields uneven results

BOOKMARK

June 25, 2008|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun reporter

Cakelove: How to Bake Cakes From Scratch By Warren Brown Stewart, Tabori & Chang / 2008 / $27.50

People seem to love lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown - and to love or hate his Cakelove bakeries. While some folks go on and on about his great cakes and cupcakes (now available at a Canton branch of the D.C.-area string of bakeries), others have denounced them as too expensive and too dry.

I had the same kind of up-and-down experience testing Brown's Cakelove cookbook. His No-Mixer Vanilla Cake, which I topped with Chocolate Buttercream, was so moist and delicious that I would happily eat it as part of my last meal. But Mr. Banana Legs turned out so overly sweet and unevenly baked that I had to throw it out.

The book is breezy and fun, much like Brown, who hosted the show Sugar Rush on Food Network. Cakes - divided into chapters by type, including pound, butter and foam - have cute names like Gingerly; Flame (with cayenne pepper); and Rum Runner.

Curiously, Cherry-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes is the only recipe specifically for cupcakes. Though many of the cakes can be made as cupcakes, it's a bit of a hassle to go through the fine print of each recipe to find out. "Crunchy feet" - individual poundcakes made in 2-ounce brioche pans -- are cute, but not so practical unless you're willing to go out and buy the pans just for these cakes.

Don't invest in Cakelove if nonstandard ingredients scare you, or if you don't like sifting flour (Brown insists on it for accurate measurement, and prefers you weigh your flour as well). Most recipes use potato starch and extra-fine sugar. (I bought potato starch at Wegmans; if you can't find extra-fine sugar, pulse regular granulated sugar in a food processor a few times.) Bittersweet chocolate pistoles, a kind of chocolate disc Brown prefers for his cakes, can be found at Williams-Sonoma.

Brown likes alcohol for flavoring, though he always gives an alcohol-free substitution.

I made Chocolate-Apricot Poundcake with almond extract instead of amaretto. It was a tasty treat, though a little on the dry side. Brown's Apricot Preserve Glaze helped moisten it.

kate.shatzkin@baltsun.com

ONLINE

Find recipes for No-Mixer Cake, Chocolate Buttercream and Apricot Preserve Glaze at baltimoresun.com/taste

Chocolate-Apricot Poundcake

Serves 14 to 16

6 ounces ( 3/4 cup) dried apricots

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons extra-fine granulated sugar (divided use)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

4 ounces ( 1/2 cup) 60-percent bittersweet chocolate pistoles

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon potato starch

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces ( 1/2 cup) sour cream

1 tablespoon half-and-half

1/4 cup amaretto or 1 tablespoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 large eggs

Pulse the apricots, 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in a food processor to chop the fruit into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the chocolate and continue to pulse 2 to 3 times for 3 seconds each or until the chocolate is broken into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside to combine with the other dry ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the rack in the middle of the oven.

Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale, if possible, for accurate measuring. Measure the potato starch, baking soda, salt and apricot-chocolate mixture into a separate mixing bowl. Add the flour and whisk 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.

Measure the sour cream, half-and-half, amaretto and vanilla into a separate bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the remaining 2 1/4 cups sugar on the lowest speed for 3 to 4 minutes. With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry-ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don't wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.

Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don't miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 25 to 30 seconds to develop the batter's structure.

For a bundt cake, spray the pan well with a nonstick spray. Fill the pan about 3/4 full by depositing the batter with a rubber spatula in small clumps around the prepared pan instead of by pouring it into one spot. Level the batter. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, until the edges of the cake are browning and the surface appears dry.

Test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer in the center of the cake. When the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs except for the smears of melted chocolate, the cake is done. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a heat-resistant or wire rack.

Once the cake has cooled for 5 to 10 minutes, remove by inverting the pan onto a flat surface. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before glazing.

From "Cakelove"

Per slice (based on 16 slices): 340 calories, 5 grams protein,13 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 54 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 80 milligrams sodium

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