Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vintage Cakes

I have a lot of cookbooks, some of which are sent to me for review, and most of which I buy because I just can’t help myself. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to cookbooks – I try to fight my obsession, but it’s never easy. I rationalize my purchases by reasoning that I’m 

“building a collection.” And since I live in a New York apartment, I’ve run out of book shelves to hold these books, so they can be found under sofas, beds, and in just about every closet or storage cabinet I have. Frequently cookbooks tempt me with alluring 

photos and fonts, but the proof of the pudding always lies within the recipes. I’ll try one, maybe two recipes, and if they don’t shine, I’m done with the book and it’s destined to live out its days gathering dust bunnies under a sofa or donated to my local Housing Works 

charity. Recently, however, a publisher sent me a book that I can wholeheartedly endorse. Vintage Cakes (Ten Speed Press, 2012; $24) by Julie Richardson is billed as a “confectionary stroll down memory lane,” and it delivers just that. Julie Richardson, owner and 

head baker of Baker & Spice, a small-batch bakery and café in Portland, Oregon, baked and re-baked classic cake recipes from various old magazines and books, tinkering with the ingredients to update these classic confections for today’s palate. Some of the cakes that got my attention were: Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up, Jam Cake with Caramel Chocolate Ganache, Old Vermont Burnt Sugar Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, and Banana Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream. The one that attracted my attention the most, though, was the Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake, which Julie found in a 1967 issue of a publication called Baking Industry. There was no explanation for the name of the cake, which is a single layer buttermilk cake made moist with the addition of almond paste. It’s topped off with a very lemony custard that is silky smooth, owing to its having a healthy amount of butter in it. Thanks, Julie, I love Vintage Cakes, and I think you’re a superstar.

Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake

From Vintage Cakes (Ten Speed Press, 2012; $24) by Julie Richardson

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ cup (180 ml) whole milk
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt*
2 tablespoons (15 g) cornstarch
½ cup (125 g) lemon juice
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 ¼ cups (142 g) sifted cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ cup (170 g) almond paste, at room temperature
10 tablespoons (141 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (133 g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (40 g) canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

*Note: the author called for ½ teaspoon, but I thought that was too much. I leave it to your discretion.

Make the custard:
1. Combine the lemon zest, milk and ¼ cup (50 g) of the sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until just hot. Meanwhile, in a bowl, thoroughly whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining ¼ cup sugar, and the salt until well combined, then whisk in the cornstarch, then the lemon juice. Slowly whisk a third of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the hot milk and cook over medium-low heat, whisking steadily, until the custard begins to thicken and bubble for 1 minute. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl and whisk in the butter until it has melted. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and place in the refrigerator to cool for about 2 hours.

Make the cake:
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch-by 2-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, then whisk the mixture together.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, butter, sugar, canola oil and vanilla on low speed until blended; gradually increase the speed to high and cream until very light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes, stopping the mixer frequently to scrape the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Blend in the eggs one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the previous one has disappeared into the batter. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Stop the mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula to ensure you do not overbeat the batter.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a deep golden color and a skewer comes out just barely clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack. Flip the cake right side up and cool completely.
5. Remove the parchment paper round and place the cake right side up on a cake plate. Using a metal spatula, spread a thin layer of the lemon custard on the sides of the cake to seal it and give it a light shine. Put the rest of the custard on top of the cake, spreading it just barely to the edge. Use the spatula to make a swirly design in the custard on top of the cake. Let set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
6. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving. Store leftover cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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