February 26th, 2015

Grapefruit Cake, at last

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Soft chiffon crumb, fragrant with zest, dotted with bittersweet syrup, coated in cream cheese icing…

Before I tell you more about this “at last” cake, I need to tell you its backstory,
which curiously begins with cornbread.

Recently I was invited to participate in “Dirty Pages,” a photo and story-telling exhibit about Nashville women and their storied recipes. Each person was asked to submit a favored recipe, one whose splattered, ringed and tattered page demonstrated not only its much-loved use, but told its tale of food–family–community.

I knew immediately where I’d find mine, inside Recipes from Foods of the World. My first cookbook, it was a gift from my soon-to-be mother-in-law, presented on the eve of my wedding in 1974. The marriage didn’t last—but the cookbook is still with me.

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The recipe I had in mind was “Leola’s Cornbread.” Over the years, especially during my catering career, it was a workhorse. My staff and I tweaked and modified the recipe, cut back on the sugar, increased the butter, deleted the margarine, even created a version with buttermilk. We baked it into countless loaves, muffins, hoecakes, croutons, and stuffings. We sparked it with chilis, cheeses, pimentos and scallions.

The recipe became encrusted with cornmeal.

I smile poring over the page: A mess of meal and flour, the blurred notes in the margins jotted by my cohorts Wendy and Tonya, the release of a musty, almost rancid scent from smears of batter, set in now for decades. A veritable “Dirty Page” from my life.

But the cookbook holds other treasures.

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Turning pages, stirring memories–look at that picture of the Grapefruit Cake! When I first saw this as a young cook, I was enchanted by the look of it. I loved the campy tropical staging. But, in my early twenties, I wasn’t crazy about grapefruit, so I didn’t make it. (I know–silly youth.)

My tastes matured, thank goodness. Whenever I–the older, more sophisticated caterer and chef—would peruse the cookbook and land on that page I’d think, “I’d really like to make that cake. I bet it’s delicious.”

I never got to it. Until last week, I had forgotten about it.

Everything in its time, they say. A prompt to review the past, through all my “dirty pages,” and I decided it would be different this time. I was going to make this beauty.

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It took me almost forty one years. But I’ve made it, Amen, at last.

GRAPEFRUIT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND CANDIED GRAPEFRUIT PEEL
adapted from Recipes from Foods of the World published by Time/Life books, 1972

THE CAKE
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon fresh grated grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of cake pan(s) with softened butter, then dust with flour.

Sift cake flour, baking flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pour grapefruit juice and oil into a measuring cup. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 4 egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 yolks with 1 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and light yellow.

Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of the juice-oil mixture. Repeat this process until the batter is well incorporated. Beat in the grapefruit zest.

Fold in the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour the batter into the cake pan(s); smooth the tops, and place into the preheated oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting.

Invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

makes a 2-layer 9″cakes, or one 11″ springform round, split

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THE CANDIED PEEL
for great visual “how-to” steps, visit here at Cooking Light
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully peel the rind of the grapefruit into long strips. Place the strips into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Drain, add fresh water to cover and repeat. Drain and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring to dissolve.
Cover and place on medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Remove the strips, now supple and glazy, and lay them out on a rack to dry, reserving the syrup.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons grapefruit syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the zest, syrup and vanilla.
Beat in the powdered sugar, tasting for desired sweetness.

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ASSEMBLY

If you baked the cake in one large (10-11 inch) springform pan, split the cool layer in half.
Dot one layer with reserved syrup from making the candied peel. Spread a layer of frosting and place the other half (or other layer) on top.

Coat the top and sides with frosting.

Decorate the sides with candied peel. Cut the zested grapefruit into supremes–slices or sections without the pith or membrane. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.

Serves 12-16

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