Cupcakes with a fluffy frosting
“Now, Martha, these yellow spoons are for measuring. This is the teaspoon measure, and it’s one of the ones I need to use.”
My 12-week-old daughter, Martha, sat in the room adjacent to the kitchen, her portable bassinet pointed inward so she could watch me work. She doesn’t understand me, obviously, but I figure it’s never too early to instill a love of the kitchen.
There’s many reasons I love cooking, but here’s two: It’s easy to make memories in a kitchen, and there’s always something new to learn. It might be harder for the professionals to find something new, but for a home cook like me there’s a new lesson to learn every day.
The lesson I wanted to learn last week involved making cakes. Of course, it’s incredibly easy to walk down the cake aisle, pick up a box and head to the house. A recurring theme of my time in the kitchen, however, has been learning how satisfying it is to get away from mixes and do something from scratch.
Since I was learning something new, I headed to the family shelf of cookbooks. Speaking of memories, quite a few are contained on that shelf: The year we got married, when everyone bought us cookbooks; the time we went to a fancy event during Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival at Disney World; the days of knocking around in various shops with my wife and buying cheap cookbooks (even though the last thing we needed was more books).
I picked out a good, basic book: the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It’s got one of those binder spines that let you open to the page you want and lay it flat (always a benefit in the kitchen). The recipes below are from that book, and I recommend that you consider adding it to your own collection if possible.
I got started, enthralled by how the ingredients came together. There are a number of times during the process that I had to have faith that the cookbook knew what it was telling me, because in my mind there was no way all this was coming together to make a cake.
I learned that baking is quite personal. For example, I wish I had let the cakes bake closer to 35 minutes instead of pulling them out at 30 minutes.
Another memory from the kitchen: I’m sure my wife, Leigh, will tell Martha how I take so long to do anything. Before I could finish the hour grew late, and I needed to get ready to leave the house.
Leigh volunteered to put the icing on the cake. She loves icing, so I doubt it was too much of an imposition.
Our first cake was far from perfect, but its sweetness will spread far beyond its chocolate layers and into the years ahead. And that bit of emotional gooeyness, my friends, is why I love to cook.
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2⁄3 cup butter or margarine
1 ¾ cups water
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooked
1 teaspoon vanilla
Grease and lightly flour two 9x11⁄2-inch round baking pans. In a bowl, stir together your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter or margarine with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, beat until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in chocolate and vanilla. Add dry mixture and 1 ¼ cups water alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let them cool thoroughly on the wire racks.
1 ½ cups whipping cream
¼ cup light-colored corn syrup
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium heavy saucepan bring whipping cream and corn syrup to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate pieces and vanilla; let stand for two minutes. Whisk the mixture until smooth and melted. Cover and chill for about 1 ½ hours or until mixture reaches spreading consistency, stirring occasionally. Beat with an electric mixer till fluffy. This will be enough to frost the tops and sides of the two cake layers you made.
To apply icing to cake:
Brush the crumbs off the cake layers.
Spread the icing on the top of the bottom layer, then put the top layer on. After that, put your icing on all the way around.
Coming next week
Nutritional school lunches that will make all your child’s friends jealous.