Caramel Cake and a Turning Point

In high school, my favorite class was home economics, well that or the pottery portion of art class. Both were messy and the end results were a bit questionable – but I enjoyed it all the same. I was particularly fascinated by the baking portion of home ec. Follow a recipe to a T and end up with a cake as fancy sounding as chiffon. We were shown how to properly measure flour (scoop and level) so as not to have a tablespoon extra. I am one of those people who enjoys rules. I enjoy knowing that if I do A, B, and C that I will end up with perfect results (with practice of course). This mindset works well with baking, but not so much with life right?

IMG_0957There really aren’t any rules. I thought I wanted to work and be in a structured environment, but I surprised myself and realized that no, I actually need freedom and flexibility. I have passions and interests that I want to pursue and to be able to do that I have to give myself time and space. I’ve spent so much time over the years being pulled along by convenience and ease, but not passion. So this time I quit. I want to spend my days doing what I love. So lets go with that shall we? Lets see where it goes, what winding path is ahead. I don’t have to have it all planned out but can take it one day at a time.

Each year, when the weather turns crisp and cool and the leaves start changing color, I get a little giddy. I love the change of seasons. Apples, pumpkins, rosy cheeks, and caramel. This being the first week of fall, I thought this recipe sounded like the perfect treat to eat while sipping my afternoon tea. After his first bite, my 5 year old asked “when are you making this again?” My guess would be very soon.

xoxo,

Rachel

Caramel Cake (Karmel Cake)

This cake comes from the author of the notorious “Cake Bible”. This recipe is out of “Heavenly Cakes” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose suggests using a warmed knife to cut the cake since it has a slightly sticky top from all that wonderful caramel and I would totally agree.

Serves 8

Ingredients for Caramel

  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups milk (preferably whole if you have it around), divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Ingredients for Batter

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Coarse salt for serving if desired

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place the rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven. Butter the bottom of a 9×2 inch round cake pan. Cover with a round of parchment and then spray with baking spray and then flour. Tap the pan to cover the parchment with the flour and then discard the extra flour that is not needed in the pan.

To make the caramel: In a small pan, mix the brown sugar, 3/4 cup milk, and butter on the stove top over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and stop stirring. Place an instant read or candy thermometer in the pan and continue to boil until the caramel reaches soft ball stage (238 degrees Fahrenheit). This will take around 10 minutes. Tilt the pan as needed to get an accurate reading. Once the the caramel is done, pour into a medium bowl and then whisk in the rest of the milk. Set aside to cool. If the caramel is too hot then it will melt the butter in the batter, so be patient. I put mine in the fridge to speed the process.

For the batter: In a small bowl, gently whisk together the eggs and vanilla and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Once combined, add the softened butter and cooled caramel. Mix on low until combined and then raise the speed to medium and mix for 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium low and add the egg mixture in two additions, mixing well (30 seconds or so) after each addition. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. The cake will be golden brown on top and a wooden skewer will come out clean. The center of the cake will also spring back with lightly touched. Let cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack that has been sprayed with baking spray. Re-invert so that the cake is right side up and cool completely.

Warm a knife under hot water and then dry on a towel and then cut the cake into slices. Sprinkle with course sea salt right before serving if desired.

Sweet Corn and Family

My parents just came into town and stayed with us a few days. I always look forward to these trips, as it is my only time I get to see my parents face to face. We talk on the phone throughout the year but it is always special to have them in my house. We always spend a decent percentage of our time just sitting and talking. Talking on the couch, in the back yard, on a park bench. We sit and tell each other stories about events that have happened over the year or plans for the next. Sometime we talk about problems and opinions. Once in awhile these conversations run a bit heated- but that doesn’t last long. We say our piece and then move on to the next topic.

IMG_0868Being Iowa natives, corn is a big deal. Corn is broken into two categories: Feed and Sweet. Feed corn is what is mostly grown and is the corn that is used in products and to feed livestock. Sweet corn is the type that is in the grocery store and consumed by us humans. The family farm is mostly feed corn but my uncle (Thanks Phil!) always plants some sweet corn too. This corn is a precious commodity among the family. Once the corn is harvested then my mom, grandma, and aunts get together and cook the corn, cut it off the cob and place it in quart size freezer bags to be frozen. Each family gets enough to last until the next year’s harvest.

IMG_0837
Eating pastries and drinking lattes at the neighborhood bakery. Mom found the garden seating in the back. Score!

With September here and fresh corn still available, I was in the mood for a comforting soup to usher in the cooler temperatures and bridge the gap between summer and fall. Corn chowder fit the bill. Creamy and satisfying, with just enough smoky flavor from the bacon to add a depth of flavor to the sweet corn.

I made this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and followed it pretty exactly. Next time, I would skip the step of scraping the cobs for the “corn juice”. I found this tedious and messy, though it did add an extra layer of sweet corn flavor. I’ll add the instructions, in case you feel up to the task. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

xoxo,

Rachel

Corn Chowder

Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated. Fresh corn is a must in this recipe since it is the dominant flavor. After removing the husks. Wash the corn thoroughly and remove as many silks as you can. Fresh corn kernels should be plump and not shriveled.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 ears of corn, husked, trimmed, and rinsed thoroughly
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped in 1/4 inch squares
  • 1teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 cups water
  • 12 ounces yukon gold potatoes, halved and quartered
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped for garnish (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

In a medium bowl, stand corn on its end and slice the kernels off the cob and into the bowl and set aside. If desired, in a small bowl, use the back of a butter knife to scrape the cobs of their pulp and then layer a few paper towels on the counter. Working quickly, spoon pulp onto paper towels and quickly wrap pulp in the towels and squeeze the juice into a small measuring cup. I had about 1/2 cup but Cook’s Illustrated said there would be about 3/4 cup of the juice.

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon, onion, thyme, measured salt and pepper and cook and stir until onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Continue to whisk and add water. Make sure to thoroughly mix during this step so that you do not get lumps in the soup. Bring to a boil and then add potatoes and corn kernels. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Remove 2 cups of the chowder and blend in a blender until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Return blended corn mixture to the soup pot and mix (look how creamy it is now!)  Add half and half and return pot to a simmer. Once simmering, take soup off the heat and mix in the corn juice (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, top with basil if using, and serve with a thick slice of crusty bread.