December 22nd, 2010

Two for “2” Italian Cream and Red Velvet Cake

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Gifts! More Gifts!

It’s just days before Christmas, and the hustle is on to fill in the missing pieces of the present-puzzle. I have to navigate with care getting those last minute goodies, and quell those did-I-get-enough-maybe-I-should-get-just-one-more-thing feelings.

Whew. Stop! There’s more the enough.

As we like to say in the South, there’s Gracious Plenty.

But I didn’t want to forget you this season. Wouldn’t think of it! You’ve been so nice to come along with me on these little culinary forays. And, since this is the Two Year Anniversary of Good Food Matters, (whoo-hoo! we are 2!) it seems only fitting that I offer you not one but two cakes. Please. Yes, you deserve them.

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This first cake, the lavish Italian Cream (sometimes called Italian Wedding Cake) has so many delicious elements–lemon zest, toasted pecans, shredded coconut–that combine to create a complex cake with terrific texture. People who do not like coconut like this cake. Layers are light, a little spongey–thanks to eggs that are separated, whipped, and folded throughout the batter.

I hadn’t made one in a long time, and remembered this tip, in preparation: Do not overbeat the egg whites—you want soft peaks that will fold with ease. Stiff egg whites will result in stiff (tough!) crumb. But otherwise, this is a simple recipe, elegant under a coat of lemony cream cheese. Enjoy.

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And then there is the Red Velvet Cake, the Enigma. It elicits an initial Shock of the Red, and speculation of what its flavor could be.

It’s a flavor that has nothing to do with its color, (eek! red food dye!) and cannot truly be described as chocolate or vanilla, even though cocoa and vanilla extract are recipe ingredients.

Buttermilk and vinegar make major contributions to its alluring tang.

Created at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, Red Velvet was popular for its regal crimson layers. In the times of scarcity that soon followed, Red Velvet was preferred over chocolate cakes for its modest use of cocoa. Sometimes beet juice was used as a coloring agent. The butter roux icing mimicked whipped cream. Somewhat.

It never made sense to me that I should like this nebulous concoction, but it has a beguiling je ne sais quoi.

Once, I thought I had pinpointed its mysterious appeal. I was leveling the tops of some Red Velvet layers, which left some thin slices behind. I slathered them with the icing, and rolled them up to eat. In this fashion, the Red Velvet reminded me of a cherished childhood treat, like a “Yodel” or a “Devil Dog.” Hmmmmm. Somewhat.

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ITALIAN CREAM CAKE

1 cup Butter, softened
2 cups Sugar
5 Eggs, separated
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Buttermilk
2 teaspoons Vanilla
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
½ teaspoon Salt
1 ½ cups shredded Coconut
1 cup chopped toasted Pecans

3-8” or 2-9” cake pans, spray coated, bottoms lined with parchment

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg yolks, buttermilk, vanilla and lemon zest.
Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and beat into mixture. Fold in coconut and pecans. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold into batter.

Divide batter between the cake pans.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Cool, remove from pans, and frost with cream cheese icing.
Garnish with toasted coconut and pecans.

CREAM CHEESE ICING
1 1b. softened cream cheese
½ lb. softened unsalted butter
1 T. Vanilla
1 T. Lemon Juice
2 plus cups Powdered Sugar (to taste!)

Cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon.
Gradually add powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a cup at a time, until you reach desired sweetness.

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RED VELVET CAKE
¼ lb. softened Butter
½ c. Canola Oil
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 Eggs
3 T. Red Food Coloring
3 T. Cocoa
1 t. Vanilla
1 c. Buttermilk
2 ½ c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
½ t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Vinegar

Cream butter, oil, sugar, and eggs together. Make a paste of cocoa, food coloring, and vanilla, and beat into mixture. Beat in buttermilk and flour alternately, then add salt, baking soda and vinegar.

Pour batter into 2 -9” or 3-8” buttered and floured cake pans and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, if in 9’ pans, or 24 minutes, if in 8” pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

WHIPPED BUTTER ROUX ICING
4 ½ T. All Purpose Flour
1 ½ c. Milk
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 t. Vanilla
12 T. softened Butter (1 ½ sticks)

Stir flour and milk together until lumps are removed, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, continuing to stir, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap (so that it will not get a “skin”) and allow to completely cool.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Beat in cooked milk/flour mixture until fluffy. Icing will become whipped cream-like.

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WISHING YOU ALL LOVE*PEACE*HEALTH*HAPPINESS*GOODWILL*GOOD CHEER!!
Have lovely holidays, and we’ll gather again soon. x Nancy

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