This was a good week for baking. The past couple of weekends have seen me on the road to Snowmass and wrapping up the Goaterie challenge I did with La Fuji Mama at the same time so I absolutely craved something simple from my kitchen. No real deadline, no interviews, just bake something with my own twist on an Abby Dodge inspired cake. Sounds easy and fun, right? Think again!
Baking is never easy in Denver, the Mile High city. Although we are not really in the mountains, a gradual incline from the Colorado/Nebraska border sees us at the entrance to the Rocky Mountains, 5280′ up in the air. That altitude difference means that the magical combinations made by ‘flatlanders’ (yes, you folks living at sea level!) are subject to unique causes that affect our baking up here ‘in thin air.’
The problem is twofold. Air pressure decreases as the elevation increases so when baking, without the same amount of pressure, leavening agents work too quickly, the gases that make something rise have time to rise and escape and well, a fallen baked good is too often the result. Cookies are flatter and I’ve made many a cake that has been rescued with either a bit more icing or maybe some fruit like the Ricotta pound cake shown above which developed a surprise sinkhole (and desperately needs a new photo)! Add to that, our dry air means that ingredients are drier, including flour, so we have to antidote with a bit more moisture. How much? Who knows?!! I include a primer on high altitude cooking on this site but nothing really makes quite the difference that experience does and even then, making a recipe the first time…well, there is definitely some finger crossing involved!
The Almond Cake with Preserves pictured above? That is the bottom; because the top fell so much in the center that splitting it actually left me with one whole layer and one donut layer; I think you can sort of tell that the center is sinking a bit; there simply is no cake in the center of the now bottom layer! But I got the shot and my guests enjoyed the cake, sinkhole and all!
I participate in a monthly event called #Baketogether, inspired by the lovely Abby Dodge. You can call it a challenge but it’s so without hard deadlines (I mean it…Abby will change the deadline if someone is running late with their contribution!) or firm adherence to someone else recipe so it’s really an opportunity to make something in conjunction with others, our pretending we all are actually baking together instead of in separate kitchens all over the globe. This month the challenge is all about summer fruits baked into a cake. I had considered making a cherry upside down cake, but I’ve done that before and besides that I had no cherries in the house. BUT…I did have strawberries which I’ve never, ever baked into a cake; preferring to always serve them as a fresh topping. Hmm, wonder if those would work?
So I did a Google search wondering if I was crazy to think about putting strawberries into a cake and found that one Martha Stewart had done it and several others bloggers (Smitten Kitchen, Two Peas and Their Pod and What’s On My Plate) had as well, using her recipe so I was tempted…but I also appreciated the honesty of the author at What’s On My Plate who found the result it a bit lackluster. I decided to go for it, but knowing I would up the flavor profile in mine with some lemon and sour cream.
I loved the results but look at the difference in these cakes! I spent no less than 15 minutes painstakingly cutting strawberries and arranging them in a beautiful starburst pattern that totally sunk out of sight! Can you see how my lines of strawberry created divisions in the finished result above; that was handy I guess? I made mine in a springform pan which I would do again but the next time will remember parchment paper to ease that effort. Did it taste good? It did; the addition of the lemon and sour cream component was evident and I’m sure it boosted the flavor considerably. Would I make it again? Absolutely…the end result was sort of like having a cake layer on top of some fresh homemade strawberry jam with a lemony glaze on top of the cake; nothing wrong with that. I’m glad I had planned the lemon glaze, it was a big boost too. Next time I’ll use even less baking powder but I’m OK even if I get the same results. It was a totally perfect, light, summertime cake; ‘almost in the mountains’ style!
After I finished this article today I read a blog post about keeping it authenticate; sharing some of the mess of our lives, not trying to pretend like everything is perfect. That was my reality today but I always tend to share my successes and my disappointments. My thoughts show up on these pages as they spill from my head to my fingers and except for some typos and occasional reworking of grammar, what you get is just that…what I’m thinking at the time. I love to cook and I enjoy taking photos but the writing? Well, I never know what I’m going to say, ever, and if the occasional drama from my life filters in…it’s simply that the recipe, the experience, the memory…they all influence what is said on this blog.
I mentioned it to a friend the other day that I should share what it takes for me to get a photo for my blog posts. She urged me to do just that. I’ll wait for the right time but I assure you, the bum leg, the cane in one hand and having to carry everything else in the other, the dog jumping all over, well, it’s a story for sure but I’ll do as I always try to…put a positive and or a funny spin on it. Else I would cry…that’s my reality!
Here’s a list of the others who participated in this month’s #baketogether with me:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup plus sugar
- 2 Tbsp turbinado sugar (or use 2 tablespoons white sugar)
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp lemon rind
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1 lemon, zest finely grated
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 or 10-inch springform pan, cake pan or pie plate.
- Beat butter and sugar on on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, sour cream, milk, and vanilla.
- Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl and whisk together.
- Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.
- Add lemon juice and lemon rind and beat just to incorporate.
- Transfer batter to buttered cake pan or pie plate. Arrange strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down and as close together as possible.
- Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of turbinado or regular white sugar over berries.
- Bake cake 10 minutes.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Let cool.
- Drizzle with lemon glaze.
- Cut into wedges. Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, up to 2 days.
- Mix the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl; stirring until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the lemon zest and butter.
- Heat the ingredients on high for 30 seconds to melt the butter.
- Whisk the glaze until smooth.
- Drizzle the glaze over the cake.
My previous efforts have included a Chocolate Hazelnut Pie with Frangelico for May and last month my most adventurous effort, a Trio of Sorbets which combined either wine or liqueur with herbs from my garden in sorbet form.