This is a hard time to leave the Bay Area: I took my first swim of 2012 in the Berkeley Marina two days ago. Cherries and apricots are here, with peaches coming soon. I’m going on vacation at the end of the week, traveling to France for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg and a few days in Paris. 
Meanwhile, it’s time for another guest post on The Kale Chronicles. Lisa Knighton, who taught us how to make Shrimp and Grits back in April, is back with one of her favorite cakes for you. Enjoy.
Original watercolor painting shows vanilla cake with caramel icing.

Caramel Cake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Cake making stirs my earliest memories. My mother and my grandmother often allowed me to help, sat me up on the counter-top, wedged the large mixing bowl tight between my skinned knees, then said in a soft voice: “Here, hold the mixer steady.”

They instructed me to keep a close eye, watch as the beaters turned the softened butter and white sugar to a creamy, fluffy mixture.
“Listen, now,” Granny said. “This is the secret to a good cake: cream the butter and the sugar for a long time.”
“How long?” I would later ask, once I was living on my own and trying to make the perfect birthday cake.
“Oh, I don’t know how long,” Granny said. “When it looks light and fluffy, give it a taste. It’s ready for the next step when the sugar crystals aren’t crunchy anymore.”
I worry that cake baking is a dead art. I ask around to see if this is true.
Cindy, a cousin who teaches elementary school in Georgia, writes me to say: “Lisa, cake baking here is not a dead art.”  Her family’s favorite is a Cream Cheese Pound Cake. She tells me that she likes to try new recipes.

Glenda, another cousin, tells me that her favorite cake is: “A toss up between old fashioned Lemon Cheese Cake and Caramel Cake with really thin layers.”

Glenda’s mother, Aunt Anna often made freshly grated coconut cake for her daughter’s birthday. “I loved watching her crack that coconut and shred it,” Glenda says.
Pat, a friend from Birmingham, Alabama, bakes Toll House cakes, “Like the cookie, but a cake!” And Rita, who lives and works in Germany, tells me about a raspberry cake her son and husband enjoy.

Isaac, my twenty-one year old nephew, asks: “Will you to teach me to make a cake?”
I have him set up the stand mixer, take out all the ingredients. When we reach the first step, I lean in and say: “The secret to a good cake is in this step.” Isaac turns to me, and smiles. He’s heard this before. I’m glad to be passing along this cake making tradition.
When I bake a cake, I begin with white layers, sometimes called vanilla layers. For this recipe, I turn to Bevelyn Blair’s Everyday Cakes. My favorite is Layer Cake No. 1. As a matter of fact, when I open the cookbook, the pages automatically fall open to this recipe on page 97.
Hill Street Press, of Athens, Georgia, reissued this baker’s-necessity-of-a-book back in 1999. I do have many favorites from Blair’s book, including the German Chocolate Cake and the Brown Sugar Pound Cake. Forget the box mixes and get to work on a masterpiece from this book. You will not be disappointed. And hey, let me know how your cake turns out.
Layer Cake No. 1
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
Bring all refrigerated ingredients to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 6 to 8 or more minutes (remember, this is the secret to a good cake: creaming the butter and sugar until the crystals of sugar are nearly dissolved). Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg. Mix together your sifted flour and other dry ingredients. Alternate adding small amounts of the flour mixture and the milk to make your batter. Add the vanilla. Mix well.
Pour batter into three or four greased and lightly floured cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tests done. Cool, then assemble layers, covering each with caramel icing.
Betty Kea’s Caramel Icing
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
6 tablespoons half & half (or one small can of milk)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar (4x)
Bring butter and brown sugar to boil. Boil four minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 tablespoons half & half, stirring; boil for two more minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Blog Notes: Watch for another cake post on June 27th, “Let Them Eat Cake, Part II.” Thanks to the magic of WordPress I can post something while I am gone, without lifting a finger or breaking silence. I haven’t lost my seasonal focus, but I will not be cooking for the next couple of weeks. I will be eating and I will tell you all about that when I return in early July. I’ll just remind you that I own no mobile devices and will not be able to respond to comments while I am away, but I love reading your comments and I will answer you when I get home. Lisa may chime in on the cake comments, too.
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