Sunday, February 14, 2010
I have been known to bake a few cakes for my closest friends. When the perfect occasion presents itself, I am the first to volunteer my time. Celebratory cakes baked, packaged, and tied with string make every birthday celebration complete.
But the truth is I rarely bake for Charlie and myself. Working from home prevents me from most baking endeavors. I am simply not strong enough to let a chocolate ganache cake sit lonely in the fridge for days on end. So I usually save myself the struggle and skip baking for us. Today however, when my Valentine surprised me with lovely yellow roses, I decided I should probably bake him a cake.
My favorite cakes are the simple ones; plain cakes with a moist crumb that pair well with a glass of champagne or whiskey, and go just as easily with a cup of coffee the next day after breakfast.
I love this cake for its simplicity and its lightness. It is easy enough to throw together on a Sunday afternoon, and chic enough to finish off a wonderful meal enjoyed with friends.
This cake is extremely versatile and works well year round with the season's best fruit.
Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Clementines and Crème Fraiche
based on Molly Wizenberg's recipe
For the cake:
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 cups cake flour*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
*I am brand loyal to King Arthur flours and they recently released a cake flour, which I used in this recipe. I was very pleased with the results and recommend their cake flour.
Glazed clementines (recipe below)
For the cake:
Set oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and grease it, too.
In a small bowl, lightly whisk half of the buttermilk and the egg yolks. Set aside.
Put the sugar in a mixing bowl. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean from stem to tip, and use the back edge of the knife to scrape the beans from the pod. Discard the pod (see my note below). Add the beans to the sugar, whisking thoroughly to break up any clumps. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the sugar and stir on low to combine.
Cut the butter into a few pieces, and add them to the mixing bowl. Beat on low speed for a minute or so, to combine. Add the remaining buttermilk and beat on medium for one minute to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then add the egg mixture in three doses, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and beat for 30 seconds on medium speed. The batter will be thick, but airy, very pale, and smooth.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick is inserted into the center and comes out clean. Cool the cake for 15 minutes on a rack. Then run a thin knife around the edge and release the sides of the pan. Position a wide, flat plate on top of the cake and flip, removing the bottom of the pan and parchment. Flip back right side up on the cooling rack and cool completely. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on the top.
For the clementines:
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
Just before serving, prepare the clementines. Using a sharp paring knife, slice off the tops and bottoms of four of the clementines. Run your knife down the side, removing the peel and white pith. Then slice the segments and remove any remaining white pith. Set the sliced clementines aside.
Juice the two remaining clementines into a small saucepan and add the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture bubbles and reduces to a deep orange syrup, about 10 minutes. Add the clementine slices, mix, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Serve the cake with a bit of crème fraiche and a spoonful of the oranges and syrup.
Note: Wrapped securely, the cake will keep for three days at room temperature or a month or more in the freezer. Store leftover glazed clementines in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Reuse your vanilla bean: Make a batch of vanilla sugar. Place the bean in a jar and bury completely with sugar. Use in place of regular sugar in any recipe. It is especially wonderful on steel cut oats or sprinkled over some cored apples with a little cinnamon and baked until the apples are tender.