Fairy [Bread] Cake (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)

When I was a little girl, my mom sometimes surprised my sisters and I . . .

Shown here on Halloween, c 1980 or 81. From left, my younger sister, me, my older sister. 

Shown here on Halloween, c 1980 or 81. From left, my younger sister, me, my older sister. 

. . . with Fairy Bread, slices of squishy white sandwich bread liberally spread with butter and topped with sprinkles. I thought everyone was familiar with this but, like the Elk my dad hunted and then turned into chili, or the cow's brains he once convinced us to try by claiming it to be chicken (less fond memories. Sorry dad.), mentions of Fairy Bread tend to elicit blank stares from most everyone. Had I grown up in Australia or New Zealand, this would not have been the case.

It wasn't until quite recently that I learned the origins of Fairy Bread, both its appearance on  tables in AU and NZ, as well as in our humble house on Holly Place. An extremely popular birthday treat Down Under, it came into our lives via the mother—who happens to be Australian—of my oldest friend. 

This cake is inspired by Fairy Bread and the magical qualities of something so simple. Makes me wonder what other Down Under treats I've been missing out on (Anzac Biscuits, I'm looking at you).  

The finished cake is about the size of a trade paperback book (show here to scale on a co-worker's desk).

The finished cake is about the size of a trade paperback book (show here to scale on a co-worker's desk).

Fairy [Bread] Cake
Makes two "slices"
Note: this cake requires a special pan, which can be found here

3 c (300 g) cake flour
1 T baking powder
1 t kosher salt
1 c (240 g) whole milk, at room temperature
2 t vanilla extract
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c (300 g) sugar

Preheat oven to 325° and prepare the silicone pan by spraying with cooking spray. Set the pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Measure the 1 c of milk, mix in the vanilla extract, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until lighter in color and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add in the egg whites, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds after the addition of each white. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. 

Reduce the mixer to low speed and alternately add in the dry and wet ingredients in a few additions: dry/wet/dry/wet/dry. Once the last bit of dry has gone in, stop the mixer and finish with a few turns of a silicone spatula to ensure all ingredients are combines (esp. scraping the bottom of the bowl).

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan set atop the baking sheet and slide into the oven. Bake for 1 hour 10 min to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the top springs back lightly when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center come out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the pan set on a rack. 

Buttercream

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c (150 g) confectioners sugar
2 T (28 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
Pinch of kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until thoroughly combined. Turn off the mixer, add in the confectioners sugar then turn the mixer on, gradually increasing the speed as the sugar combines with the butter until you reach medium speed. Add in the salt and mix for two minutes until fluffy and well-combined.

To assemble the Fairy [Bread] Cake: Slice the cooled cake in half horizontally making two cake "slices." Spread half of the buttercream on each and top as desired with sprinkles. 

Biscochito Cake (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)

The state cookie of New Mexico, Biscochito's are sugar-style traditionally spiced with anise and cinnamon and shaped by hand into a Fleur-de-Lis. The scent memory with these is tremendous to me; their fragrance is what scents the air of that southwestern state, and even the faintest whiff catapults me back in time.

Throughout most of my childhood, and into early adolescence, we often drove from our home in Denver to a B& B on the outskirts of Taos run by one of my Dad's former college professors, Roy, and his wife, Bev. Made up of two buildings, a main adobe house and a second two-storied wood-framed guest house (where I saw a ghost, but that’s another story), the properties sat snugly amongst the trees on the top of a hill. To reach them necessitated driving past a small, old, cemetery which lay at the hill’s base and, in my memory, contained only the  graves of children who’d perished a century before during an epidemic (a memory my Mom recently confirmed!).

A wide variety of animals roamed freely around the grounds, including peacocks, llamas, and pheasants. They kept a chicken coop and had two giant bull mastiffs who towered over us kids but we're gentle as lambs. Come to think of it, they may have had a lamb or two as well.

There was a stone courtyard and a fountain where, we were told in late-night tales, La Llhrona haunted in search for her drowned children. Only my older sister was brave enough to sit out a full night is watch (she fell asleep so we will never know if La Llhrona came). Kachina dolls lined up along a shelf near the ceiling and, off of the living room, a glass and green-painted space housed their many caged birds. 

And then there was the kitchen, that place of smooth terra cotta tiles where Roy and Bev cooked up the most splendid meals as well as those freshly-baked Biscochito that came to define New Mexico to me. They tasted of magic. Of dust and old churches and ghosts and Indian caves and long drives. Of mystery. 

And now, a cake.

Biscochito Cake

Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare one 8" x 4" cake pan

3 cups (300 g) cake flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c (240 g) whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 t anise extract
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks; TK g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 T cinnamon
2 T sugar

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

Set aside. In a glass measuring cup, mix together the milk and extracts. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until lighter in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. 

Add each egg white, one at a time, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds before adding the next egg white. Once all the white have been incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the batter for an additional minute.

With the mixer running on low speed, alternately add the dry and wet ingredients in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry. Once only streaks of dry remain, remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a small offset spatula.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top springs back lightly when pressed, a toothpick inserted into the center come out clean (or with just a few crumbs), and the sides begin to pull away from the pan. 

Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to the rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, print out the Fleur-de-Lis and cut out around the black leaving you with a white paper stencil. Once the cake is completely cool, set the stencil on top of the cake, centering as much as you can, and press it down lightly onto the cake's surface. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle on the exposed cake, being careful to avoid the paper as any excess might run off onto other parts of the cake. Remove the stencil, and serve. 

CORALINE Cake (Books as Cakes)

Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house . . . 

So begins Neil Gaiman's, Coraline. I bought my copy (already signed!) at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan's Union Square not long after it was released. I'd been in NYC for a month, maybe less, and took the book to a now defunct red sauce joint to treat myself to a fancy lunch (quite the splurge back then at maybe $10) and time to fall into a new world penned by one of my favorite authors. 

As with pretty much every word he's written, it did not disappoint; I have re-read the book at least once a year. And let's just get it out of the way that I never saw the movie, don't want to see the movie . . . to much of my own world is tied into the book to give the visuals over to someone else.

That said, when it came to thinking about how to turn this book into a cake, the visual concept of a large button was pretty much a given:
“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?” And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons. “Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman. “Who are you?” asked Coraline. “I’m your other mother,” said the woman.

Wanting a spool of thread to mimic the following passage, I found a vintage British industrial spool, wound two packages of black string licorice around it, and anchored it all with a big, sharp, leather needle:
“If you want to stay,” said her other father, “there’s only one little thing we’ll have to do, so you can stay here for ever and always.” They went into the kitchen. On a china plate on the kitchen table was a spool of black cotton, and a long silver needle, and, beside them, two large black buttons. “I don’t think so,” said Coraline. “Oh, but we want you to,” said her other mother. “We want you to stay. And it’s just a little thing.” “It won’t hurt,” said her other father.

As for the cake flavor itself, well, that sent me deeper into the book searching for passages that resonated on my palate.

The white cake base was baked in one 10" layer cake pan from this recipe and inspired by this: 
The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous, empty white room. It had no temperature, no smell, no texture, and no taste. It certainly isn’t mist, thought Coraline, although she did not know what it was. For a moment she wondered if she might not have gone blind. But no, she could see herself, plain as day. But there was no ground beneath her feet, just a misty, milky whiteness.

Though almond is not mentioned, I added some of the extract to the batter as the Other Mother is a poisonous character, cyanide smells like almonds . . . a stretch, but a lovely flavor. 

The round maraschino cherry juice-soaked/studded center (cut into with a 6" round) was inspired by this passage:
The key sat in the middle of the paper picnic cloth. Coraline let go of the string, and took a step back. Now it was all up to the hand. She turned to her dolls. “Who would like a piece of cherry cake?” she asked. “Jemima? Pinky? Primrose?” and she served each doll a slice of invisible cake on an invisible plate, chattering happily as she did so.

Finally, I cut out button holes with biscuit cutters and covered the lot in black swiss meringue buttercream, then black food color spray paint for that shiny, wet look. 

Overall, I am happy with the end result. Though, in hindsight, there's so much more to incorporate: a big, rusty, black metal key, the mouse circus, and even Coraline's day-glo green gloves somehow.

Perhaps discovering cakes is similar to discovering doors . . . it's only after you've been with something a little while that you can truly see it.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)

Middle + School. One of the most terrifying word equations I can think of. Maybe you had the time of your life back then (seriously, anyone?), but me. Nah.

This was me in the 7th grade: 

See that awesome perm? What I wanted/dreamed of/coveted/obsessed over was this:

(I also thought using Noxzema would transform me, but it just made me break out. Shaking my fist at you advertisers!!!)

(I also thought using Noxzema would transform me, but it just made me break out. Shaking my fist at you advertisers!!!)

And I had a MAJOR crush on a boy with surfer blonde hair who wore lavender (!) pants and did not know of my existence. This is a snapshot from my yearbook:

(Redacted to protect the innocent. Also, does a black bar over the eyes really work? Old friends, can you guess who this is?!)

(Redacted to protect the innocent. Also, does a black bar over the eyes really work? Old friends, can you guess who this is?!)

So, we have a bad perm, a one-sided crush, the yellow polo shirt/kacki pants/penny loafer thing that you can't see but was definitely happening, and the self-esteem of an average 12-year-old. Can't you just picture the good times! 

Get to the cake Jess!

I clearly recall spending many a lunch hour that year with the school nurse (really) or hiding in the library, but one of my strongest memories is of these terribly hard, terribly delicious ice cream sandwiches I ate for lunch almost every day. I think they cost a quarter, maybe fifty cents, came wrapped in clear plastic that lent a satisfying sound upon opening, and, though I nearly broke a tooth once, provided sheer sugar pleasure in the form of two chocolate chip cookies cradling a massive lump of vanilla ice cream. That processed food-friend is what's inspired the newest Memory Cake: Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake!

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
Make one 6" cake

Preheat oven to 350°
Grease and parchment-line two 6" round cake pans

1 1/2 c (188 g) all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 c (85 g) chocolate chips
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c (210 g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c (120 g) whole milk, at room temperature
2 t vanilla extract

1 pint vanilla ice cream

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Toss in the chocolate chips to coat. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until much lighter in color and fluffy, about four minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium for one minute before adding the next. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla extract until blended in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry (d/m/d/m/d). One the last bit of dry has started to incorporate, remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 32-34 minutes until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Put pans on a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool completely.

15 minutes before serving the cake, take the ice cream out of the freezer and let it soften up for about 10 minutes on the kitchen counter. Once it is soft enough to easily spread, transfer the whole damn pint between the cake layers.

Note: I baked the cake and did the ice cream bit, then put it in the freeze over night thinking I would have a perfect triple layered cake/ice cream/cake the next day. Not true. Almost all of the ice cream soaked into the cake! Not that that's a bad thing (and it still tasted as dreamy as my middle-school crush), but that's why I recommend above adding the ice cream layer just before serving. 

An entire pint of ice cream soaked into those layers!

An entire pint of ice cream soaked into those layers!

The History of American Cake

Just a quick post to share an article that I have been working on for some time now, and it's finally live over at Food52! It spans American cakes from the late eighteenth-century through today and covers everything from innovations and inventions to the bakers and experimenters who brought us the cakes we so love. Check it out . . . I'd love to hear what you think!

Election Cake, late eighteenth-century. Photo by James Ransom.

Election Cake, late eighteenth-century. Photo by James Ransom.

Angel Food Cake, late nineteenth-century. Photo by Sarah Stone.

Angel Food Cake, late nineteenth-century. Photo by Sarah Stone.

Orange Chiffon Cake with "Hawaiian Fluff" Topping, 1940s. Photo by James Ransom.

Orange Chiffon Cake with "Hawaiian Fluff" Topping, 1940s. Photo by James Ransom.