I’ve mentioned in our old First Vine newsletters that I read cookbooks like magazines. And while I mark recipes to make (or try to remember to make them…) it usually takes a few weeks at least before I make something. But I bought Bakewise by Shirley Corriher a couple of weeks ago and read about a cake technique I’ve never seen before. I love baking, and thought I’d pretty much seen everything, but not this.
Traditionally cakes containing butter (or other solid fat) are made two ways. (1) The creaming method — butter and sugar get mixed really well together, then the eggs, then the dry and liquid ingredients. (2) The two-stage method — the dry ingredients get mixed with the butter and some of the liquid, and then the rest of the liquid is added. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and I have favorite recipes using each.
Shirley’s book has something new, what she calls the dissolved sugar method. Basically you make a sludge with sugar and water, then add soft butter, then some oil, then the dry ingredients, and then (by hand) the eggs and extra yolks. Then fold in some whipped cream at the end. She claims you get an incredibly moist cake that’s completely level, with a great texture. (My friend Peter Brett of PeterBakes tells me that a level cake is the holy grail of cake-baking — assuming, of course that it tastes good, is moist, and has a nice texture). The single layer can easily be cut into 3 layers for any kind of filling, frosting, or topping you like.
Well, the cake wasn’t quite level in the end. The sides rose higher during baking and didn’t sink down as far as the middle did once it was cool. But it had a beautiful texture and was, as advertised, incredibly moist. The only real criticism I have is that it’s awfully sweet — Shirley claims her sweet tooth is part of her southern heritage. I’m not sure you could cut the sugar down and still have the same texture (and I’m not sure I want to try that, either). So you need to serve it with something to offset the sweetness, like plain whipped cream or a fruit compote that’s not jammy-sweet.
I cut it into two layers and served it with a strawberry compote made with Granny Smith apple and lemon juice to add tartness (see below), other fresh strawberries, and unsweetened whipped cream. It was great! I think it will become my go-to berry cake instead of shortcakes. I’ve written the publisher to ask permission to reproduce the cake recipe, since I want to give it to you word for word, and I’ll post the recipe once I receive permission.
Strawberry Compote (enough for spooning over one layer of a 9-inch cake)
2 quarts strawberries, hulled, rinsed, and thickly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into small dice
1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
Combine the strawberries, apple, sugar, and 2 tb lemon juice in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat to boiling, then lower the heat and simmer until the compote is just about as thick as you want (maybe 20 minutes). Then add the liqueur, simmer for a few more minutes, and taste. Add more lemon juice if you like.