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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Conundrum

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IMG_6553Pineapple Upside-Down Cake can be perplexing: How do you balance the flavours of fruit and cake? What’s the best way to invert the finished cake? When should you stop “testing” it to make sure every bite is equally delicious?

While these questions may not have plagued us for centuries, they have at least crossed MY mind. Fortunately, I found answers. The solution was in creating single servings of the topsy-turvy cake in mason jars.

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The individual serving size makes it easy to prepare, portion and present these sumptuous servings of sweet pineapple and almost savoury cake. The flavour of the cake offsets the pineapple with a hint of cardamom that gives a subtle tropical flavour.

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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake In-A-Jar

Topping Ingredients:

4 TBS unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 diced whole pineapple (or substitute canned tidbits)

Topping Method:

  1. Grease the bottom and sides of six 250ml wide mouth mason jars with butter. Place on a lined baking sheet
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat
  3. Add brown sugar, stir occasionally until the mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 to 4 minutes
  4. Distribute evenly into the mason jars and arrange pineapple in a single layer, but tightly packed together

Cake Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (organic, if possible)

3 TBS cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

8 TBS butter, softened – but still cool

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 TBS (for egg whites)

4 large eggs, separated – at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup milk

Cake Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together
  3. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed
  4. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes)
  5. Beat in yolks and vanilla
  6. Reduce to low speed and add dry ingredients and milk, alternating between the two (begin and end with dry ingredients)
  7. Beat egg whites at low speed until frothy, then increase to med-high and beat to soft peaks
  8. Gradually add the remaining 2 TBS of sugar, continue to beat to stiff peaks
  9. Fold one quarter of the beaten egg whites into the batter
  10. Then fold in the remaining egg whites
  11. Distribute the batter evenly to mason jars
  12. Bake until the top of the cakes is golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean (about 20 minutes)
  13. Let the cakes rest for 2 minutes then run a knife around the edge to loosen them, then individually invert the cake on plates
  14. Garnish with maraschino cherries and mint sprigs
  15. Serve and enjoy

IMG_6537The mason jars also make it a snap to save or share the individual cakes. Who do you know that loves cake in a jar?

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Icy Huggy Cake

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For our Young Fresh Chef’s birthday we had a skating party with friends and family. There was hot chocolate, marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and Halloween crafts. There was also cake. For the past few years the deal has been that I make the cakes from scratch and my husband, Exec Chef decorates them. This way, he can take it to the restaurant to work on in his spare seconds and the boy won’t see it until the big reveal at the party.

Since we didn’t have much of a theme to work with this year besides ice and cold, I came up with the concept of making a cake that looked like one of the Papertoy Monsters that our boy had constructed from the book by Brian Castleforte (what a cool last name).

The featured creature on the book cover was one of the first Papertoy Monsters that Young Fresh Chef constructed, Icy Huggy. To my eye, he was the cutest monster and fit well with an ice skating party.

Vanilla cake was requested, so I worked on baking three 9X13″ cakes from scratch, while Exec Chef mulled over our son’s instructions to use as little icing as possible. The boy is known to scrape the majority of icing off any cupcakes or cake slices that come his way, he’s really more of a pie guy. Then he had a brilliant idea, cotton candy. Perfect for the blue fur on Icy Huggy! I remembered seeing blue cotton candy at the candy store at the mall.The cakes were then whisked away to be constructed and decorated for the party.

I tried to capture the birthday boy’s reaction when he saw the cake, but he was just a blur from all the excited jumping up and down. He was surprised, thrilled and impressed. He absolutely LOVED the cotton candy as icing substitute. For once he got have his cake and eat it too (no scraping needed).

What’s the most inventive way you’ve decorated a cake?

Earth Angel Food Cake

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There is the family you are born into (or adopted into) that you make the best of and there is the family you create that you try to make the best. I was luckily born into a family that accepts me for who I am and loves me for all I am. Each passing year I grow to appreciate them more and more. Luck is less a part of the family I’ve made with my friends and my husband and more about learning and growing. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are worth the effort and never stop trying to show them how much I care.

Once in a while a moment comes when I’m forced to consider what my days would be like without certain people in my life. I’m a contingency planner and I usually have plans B through Z ready to go. But trying to picture picking up the pieces and putting them back together without the corner pieces means it will never be complete again.

So, how do I show the people I love with every beat of my little heart the depth of what they mean to me? I bake. I measure and mix and blend and fold and frost and fret. You are what you eat and I want them to taste the love I attempt to infuse in every morsel. Loving someone with all your heart is to risk breaking it while attempting a new recipe is a risk baking it.

I never liked angel food cake. Mostly, I’d sampled grocery store versions or ones that tasted like the box they came in. I liked the name and the look, but had never enjoyed the taste. I found it dry and spongy with a fake almond-ish aroma with no real flavour to savour. I’d never thought of trying to make one, because I didn’t see the point. Then I had a request for one from a lovely someone celebrating an extra extraordinary birthday. Now, as much as I like to cook and bake for friends, loved ones and random strangers, I rarely take requests. It’s more about a recipe that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try, or an ingredient that I need to use up.

When venturing into new recipe territory I call on my trusted baking reference Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker which I love for its breakdown and explanation of how they tested and re-tested their version of the classics and the thought process behind the evolution. With their recipe for a blueprint, I then searched the Internet for sure-fire tips and tricks to make it as fool-proof as possible. The most useful answers I found were on the America’s Test Kitchen Feed website. Not surprising, since America’s Test Kitchen is the crew behind Baking Illustrated!

Technique and tasks down, I just needed the tools. Thankfully my thoughtful and hopeful husband had given me my first food processor for Christmas and my Mother’s Day Kitchen Aid Mixer without which I probably would not have dared to take on the Angel Food Cake challenge. The last key item was an Angel Food Cake pan that had belonged to my Mother-In-Law, so I was confident it was imbued with baking magic as she was the most gifted home baker I’ve ever seen.

I baked the cake the night before the momentous birthday and let it cool overnight. In the morning I tossed together a citrus salad with tangerines, oranges, Meyer lemons, sweet limes, pink grapefruit and pomelo. A touch of honey and a pinch of kosher salt balanced the flavours. The Kitchen Aid mixer was put to use again to quickly whip some organic heavy cream with powdered sugar, homemade vanilla extract and a smidgen of kosher salt.

I admit that I was a bit nervous when I gently cut into the cake with a serrated knife. Would it be mushy in the middle? Overly dry? No. It was heavenly. I finally understood that Angel Food Cake is just a moist meringue given structure by the flour. The vanilla, lemon and almond came together in a celestial harmony that had me savouring every bite. The slightly sweetened whipped cream and the brightly flavoured citrus salad made each forkful an enjoyable combination of texture and tastes. The cake was a hit! Watching some of my favourite people on this planet enjoying my very first Angel Food Cake made my heart soar high above the clouds.

Ingredients:

1 cup (3 ounces) plain cake flour

1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar

12 LARGE egg whites (1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons) at room temperature

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 once oven rack is in the lower-middle position. Have an UNgreased tube pan (9 inch diameter, 16 cup capacity) at the ready. Removable bottom pans are best, but if not an option then line with parchment paper.

2. Process granulated sugar in a food processor until powdery. Remove about half of the sugar and reserve in a small bowl.

3. Add the flour to the food processor and aerate them until mixed and fluffy.

4. Beat the egg whites at low-speed until just broken up and beginning to froth. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue to beat at medium speed until soft, billowy mounds form. Still at medium speed, beat in the reserved sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time and mix until soft shiny peaks form. Add the vanilla, lemon juice and almond extract, beat until blended.

5. Sift the flour-sugar mixture oven the beaten egg whites in three additions  gently folding the flour-sugar mixture in after each addition with rubber spatula.

6. Scrape the cake batter into the pan gently and smooth the top with the spatula then give the pan a couple of raps on the counter to release any large air bubbles.

7. Bake until the cake is golden brown and the top springs back when firmly pressed (50-60 minutes).

8. If the cake pan has feet around the rim, invert the pan so it rests on them. If there are no feet invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle. Let the cake cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.

9. Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan. Slide the cake out and cut around the removable bottom or peel off the parchment. Use a serrated knife to cut, serve the same day.

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