This Is What My Memories Taste Like: 10: 15 on a Saturday Night Cake

Before we begin, if you don't know the song by The Cure. Give it a listen:

Now, the cake.

When I was 16, at exactly 10:15 on a Saturday night, that song came on the radio while I was parked in the lot of a Loaf & Jug waiting on the crazy boy I was crazy about who was inside buying a Cherry Pepsi, and thinking how cool it was that the song was playing right then. At the same time. (It's amazing what impresses teenagers.)
     To this day, every time I hear the song, I think of that parking lot and that boy and how we would drive around in my car drinking Cherry Pepsi laced with cheap whiskey, me doing all of the driving and he doing (almost) all of the drinking. Now, that makes it sound like I was a responsible teen, but really I was just the one with the car and he didn't have a license (sorry Mom). 
     One of my long-term personal projects is This Is What My Memories Taste Like, wherein I interpret memories through cake. Kinda wacky, I know, but it's awfully fun trying to figure it all out. Sort of chosen synesthesia.
    The idea for the cake itself (Chocolate Cherry Pepsi with a Whiskey Caramel-ish Sauce) came easily enough, but how to incorporate the song? Had to think on that one. I really wanted the drip drip drip but, as portable leaky faucets are not really a thing, I decided to try out another high school standard: lab equipment. I think it worked out rather nicely:

Chocolate Cherry Pepsi Layer Cake with Whiskey Caramel(ish) Sauce

Preheat oven to 350°; prepare three 8" round cake pans

For the cake:
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (64 grams) cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup (240 grams) sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (112 grams) neutral oil
1 1/2 cups (330 grams) light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (240 grams) Cherry Pepsi

For the Caramel(ish) Sauce:
1 stick (226 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (220 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) heavy cream
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (45 grams) whiskey, baker's choice

To serve: Whipped Cream and Cherry Jam

To make the cake: In a medium-sized bowl, sift or thoroughly whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vanilla, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and eggs until very well combined. Gently whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until incorporated. Whisk in the Cherry Pepsi.

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes start pulling away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the center come out clean. 

Set the pans on racks to cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans to cool completely. 

To make the sauce: Stir together all of the ingredients except for the whiskey in a saucepan set over medium heat. Let gently bubble about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and carefully stir in the whiskey. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

To knock up the cherry flavor a bit, I spread 1/4 cup good cherry jam between each layer and then sparingly filled and speckled with unsweetened whipped cream. 

Serve the slices with the sauce on the side; spoon it on or use lab equipment about let it drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip. 

Grounded by Cake

Wow. It's been a while. I've been baking up a storm, but putting anything here . . . slipped past me. And you know when you've stopped doing something for a greater length of time, the anxiety to start again? What's the right cake? How to be witty about frosting? How deep do I delve into the history of Tomato Soup Cake? How to choose? Am I really stressing this much about cake?

Endless question marks later, I've had a bad week, which is not part of the story really, but last night I felt the need to bake a grounding sort of cake, a cake that would anchor me back to the core of what I love to do. And this desire led me to one of my very first-love cakes: Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess

A little back story: When I first moved to NYC, I had a lot of trouble finding work in publishing (the reason I came here), so I took a job at the now-a-Trader-Joe's Barnes and Noble in Chelsea. As long as I was with books, so be it. And like many a bookstore employee, I might pretend to be dusting or shelving or, well, working, while instead pouring though the hundreds of books surrounding me.

Often assigned to the cookbook department, it was there that I found How to Be a Domestic Goddess and, more importantly, that hypnotic Nigella voice. You can read the words Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake and, depending on the accent, etc, they sound boring and bland or a bit silly (loaf is a silly word), but in that Nigella way it sounds like perfection. Classic. Necessary. The little black dress of cakes. (Am I taking this too far?!) 

Anyway, there are many more books and cakes and stories that make up my own, but there is something about that one Nigella cake and the way finding her work led me to connect the words and images and cakes into my particular sort of culinary love.

This in mind, I set out to bake the first-love cake last night . . . and I burnt the chocolate, and the Muscavado that was in the back of the cabinet had gone all hard and lumpy, and I just wanted to the bake the damn cake more than I wanted to take the time to re-melt chocolate or soften the sugar (priorities can be so weird), so I kept on and baked it and, as this one needs a night to sit and chill (as did I), I left it be.

This morning, while B "cooked me a hamburger," I ate a slice for breakfast smeared with cold cream cheese, the way Nigella likes it. It was so perfectly, blissfully good, burnt-chocolate-lumpy-sugar and all. As I sat loving over it, waiting for the hamburger to finish so I could get the kid to wear pants, this bit knocked its way into my brain: Everything has its lumps and burnt parts but sometimes you just have to keep on—in baking and in writing and in pleading "for the sake of all that's decent, put on some pants!". 

That's something. An awfully cheesy something, but meh, I've got a cake.
Find the recipe for Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake HERE.

Cambric Cake (This is What My Memories Taste Like)

Cambric Cake came about while I was brainstorming ideas for my This is What My Memories Taste Like project.

When I was in college, I took an Astronomy class that started at the ungodly hour of 8 am. Though usually a stalwart coffee drinker, a small cart sat near the classroom serving, among the usual fare, Cambric Tea.

The large white paper cup filled with warm, frothy whole milk, a shot of hot Earl Grey Tea, and a big dose of honey, became an addictive joy. I think (I hoped) it made me seem a little mysterious and poetic (oh, youth) so, though broke, I downed two a week for the entire semester.

And then, perhaps because I never had a class in that particular building again (or perhaps because my new thing became drinking coffee with a straw. Oy), I never went back to that cart.

Over the years, I occasionally scanned coffee shop menus for Cambric Tea, and even attempted to order one here and there, much to the confusion of whomever what behind the counter. I made one at home sometimes, but generally (especially after having a kid) preferred the beautiful buzz of coffee.

Lately, though, I’ve been reaching for the comfort of a sweet cup of tea (perhaps I am watching too much British television, but it really is a lovely balm) and a few days ago, finally went to the Google to look up my old friend.

Turns out, this mysterious and poetic drink of my past is actually very much from the past, and was for centuries a common children’s beverage, sometimes nicknamed Nursery Tea. Classic.

Believed to originate in France, the name of the drink comes from Cambric cloth, a lightweight, thin, white fabric. Considered a suitable beverage for children, invalids, and the elderly, it was widely popular and commonplace, especially as the basic ingredients became readily available.

Laura Ingalls Wilder even writes of Cambric Tea in The Long Winter

 At noon Ma sliced bread and filled bowls with the hot bean broth and they all ate where they were, close to the stove. They all drank cups of strong, hot tea. Ma even gave Grace a cup of cambric tea. Cambric tea was hot water and milk, with only a taste of tea in it, but little girls felt grown-up when their mothers let them drink cambric tea.

It is a really lovely drink, one that I have both started drinking again, and sharing with Bea. But sometimes you just need a cake. That’s where this comes in.

Cambric Cake
Serves 8

Hot Milk Cake
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 ½ c (150 g) cake flour (all-purpose can be used in a pinch: 188 g)
1 ½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
3/4 c (180 g) whole milk
5 tbsp (70 g) unsalted butter, divided into 5 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ c (300 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp (4 g) pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°
Prepare one 8” x 4” round cake pan (see note) with butter or cooking spray and parchment

In a small bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Measure the milk into a small saucepan and add the pieces of butter. Place the pan over medium heat until the butter has melted, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or with a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until lighter in color and increased in volume, about three minutes.

Slowly add in the sugar, a little at a time, beating on medium speed until all is incorporated.

Turn the mixer to low speed and add in the dry ingredients. When most of the drys have been incorporated, slowly pour in the hot milk and butter along the edge of the bowl (avoid pouring directly onto the whisk attachment as the hot liquid will splatter). Once all of the liquid is in, add the vanilla and continue beating on low speed for 30 seconds; This last bit can also be done by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.

Bake until the scent of cake blooms, the sides begin pulling away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with just a few small crumbs, about 30 minutes.

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

Note: this recipe can also be baked in two 8” x 2” pans. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and start checking for doneness after 22 minutes.

Earl Gray Simple Syrup

1 Earl Grey Tea Bag
1 c (230 g) water
1/2 c (100 g) granulated sugar

Stir water and sugar together in a small pan. Set over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, lower heat to medium-low and place tea bag in pot. Continue at a nice simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. After two minutes, discard the tea bag. Let cool. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Honey-Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 c (240 g) heavy cream
1/4 c (85 g) honey, or to taste

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cold heavy cream on medium speed until soft peak stage. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the honey, then turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until firm peaks. Stop to taste occasionally, adding in more honey if desired. Do not over beat.

To prepare the Cambric Cake

Place the cooled cake layer onto a cardboard round or serving dish. Using a clean pastry brush, gently brush the syrup all over the top of the cake, letting it soak in. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the cake as desired.

Should you care to taste my memory, or just a delicious beverage, here’s how to make a cup of my Cambric tea.

Cambric Tea
Serves 1

1 bag Earl Grey Tea
1/2 c (115 g) Hot Water
1 c (240 g) whole milk
2 tsp honey

In a large mug, slip the tea bag into the hot water. While steeping, heat the milk and the honey in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until bubbles begin to form around the edge. Remove the tea bag from the mug, and pour the hot milk and honey in. If you have one of those frothing gadgets, go to town. Otherwise, just stir and enjoy.

Blackberry Lemon Upside-Down Cake Layer Cake

The other night I became weirdly obsessed with the idea of making a layer cake out of upside-down cakes and could not rest until I had done just that.

Mind you, not splitting one upside-down cake layer into two, but rather baking one or two separate upside-down cakes and stacking them so that the glorious, jammy, caramelized fruit becomes a baked-in filling. 

My initial plan was to do a riff on Strawberry Shortcake, one of my favorite things on the planet, but the market near me had nothing but neglected, over-priced Strawberries. The blackberries on the other hand were looking pretty good for the end-of-summer, so I put my strawberry desire aside, and decided to go with . . . 

Blackberry-Lemon Upside-Down Cake Layer Cake
Serves 8

Preheat your oven to 350*
Prepare two 6" round cake pans. (Sometimes I just want a small cake, so I chose to bake this as two 6" layers. That said, this recipe can be easily doubled and baked in two 8" or 9" pans.)  Liberally butter both, but add a parchment round to the bottom of just one of the pans. 

200 g (1 c) granulated sugar
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
188 g (1 1/2 c) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
120 g (1/2 c) whole milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

10 plump blackberries, fresh or frozen. If fresh, rinse lightly and let dry. If frozen, there is no need to defrost
1 tbsp granulated sugar

• Toss the blackberries with the granulated sugar and lay them out in the bottom of the pan without the parchment liner. Set aside with the other prepared pan.
• In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
• In a glass measuring cup, add the milk and vanilla. Set aside.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until the oils are well distributed, then add the softened butter and cream on medium speed for 4-5 minutes until fluffy and lighter in color.
• Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium for one minute after each egg. Don't forget to stop and scrap the bowl!
• On low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk mixture in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Once the batter is mostly free of flour streaks, remove from the mixer and finish mixing with a light hand. 
• Divide the batter between the two pans as evenly as possible. The batter will come a little higher up in the pan with the blackberries.
* Put into the pre-heated oven and bake about 30 min. for the plain layer and 35 min. for the upside down layer. They are done with the sides begin to pull away from the pans and a toothpick test comes back with just a few crumbs attached. (Don't poke the toothpick all the way in, especially with regards to the upside down layer. Just 1/2 in or so should suffice.)
• Remove the pans from the oven and set on racks to cool for 5 min. before turning out of the pan to cool completely. Remember to let the upside-down layer cool with the fruit on top. 

Is lovely frosted with whipped cream. I tried out a new-to-me recipe for Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting for this cake, but the next time I do it, I want to use simply plain, unsweetened whipped cream as I like less sweetness. 

This is an extremely versatile layer cake. As I noted above, the recipe can easily be doubled, but you can also switch up the fruit (the amount of which will depend on the fruit itself as well as the size of cake you want), omit the zest, change the flavoring, and/or make both layers upside-down cake . . . I'm thinking of trying out a three layer cake next using two upside-down layers!