When I was a kid I went through a period during which I secretly longed to live in France. Any country famous for a leader who said "Let them eat cake!" was my kinda place. That was, of course, before I knew my history and the meaning behind Marie Antoinette's [alleged] remark and the indifference it displayed. Nevertheless my misinterpretation of that quote was early evidence of what would become a lifelong devotion, nay, obsession, with cake. Yes, let them eat cake. Let them all eat cake! A ruler who would deny their subjects such a pleasure - now that would be one callous despot, don't you think?
As most people who know me can attest, I have lived and eaten as if cake was the wrongfully-snubbed "Fifth" of the original Four Food Groups. As a staunch supporter of its overlooked status, I used to strive to have at least one serving from that group every day. Notice the past tense: Despite the charms, of which there are many, the carb content of a slice of cake can make for a cruel, albeit delicious, mistress. There's no romanticizing the sluggish metabolism of a 45 year old man. There is, however, some warped humor in the idea that after a lifetime of helplessly declaring "I can't bake," upon moving to San Francisco I have totally embraced flour power. It hasn't been without a begrudging sense of moderation, though. As much as I hate to admit it, for the sake of my waistline, and my wardrobe, I've only developed a dalliance, and not a full blown habit.
Why? Because, it seems, the bastards were right. You can't have your cake and eat it too. At least not at this age, and certainly not as often as you like.
Well, you can, I suppose, if you want to lessen the sugar, cream, butter, milk and egg contents. But I'm not so sure that's always that much fun. (Unless of course we're talking about that miraculous concoction of egg whites; the aptly-named Angel Food Cake.)
But if you're one of us, the kind of person that - as my friend Sam of Zannino's Catering so perfectly and succinctly put it - "has a thing for cake," then you know it's all or nothing. If you're in for a calorie, then you're in for the resulting pound.
Whether glazed or frosted, layered or sheet, I am powerless before the confection.
What you will find below is an adaptation of a classic cake recipe from a recent issue of Everyday Foods. It adapts well to substitutes and additions so if there's something else you'd like to try beside the cardamom, orange and saffron that I opted for, give it a go. And if you're like me and you had to buy that Vivienne Westwood cake server from her shop on Conduit Street, by all means find as many reasons to use it as possible! Please ask if you have any questions. (About the cake, I mean, though I can probably answer many of your questions about Vivienne Westwood, too!)
Frosted Orange Cardamom Cake with Orange Saffron Glaze
For the cake...
1 cup unsalted butter, brought to room temperature, and extra for buttering cake pans
2 1/2 cups flour, leveled, and extra to dust pans
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 TBS zest from an orange
2 TBS fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks (save whites for frosting)
1 cup buttermilk
For the frosting...
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the glaze...
Five thin slices of orange
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and dust two 8 inches cake pans with flour. Knock out excess. I added a sheet of parchment paper, cut round, to the bottom of each pan.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom into large bowl. Whisk together. Add orange zest and whisk again, lightly. Make sure zest doesn't clump.
3. In a mixing bowl - I use an old Kitchenaid - cream sugar and butter til fluffy. Slowly add two eggs, three yolks, one at a time - so says Martha - and add orange juice. Up the speed on your mixer to medium and begin adding flour, then buttermilk, flour then buttermilk, alternating until flour is last thing added. Don't over mix.
4. Split batter evenly between two cake pans. Bake at least 30 minutes. You know your oven better than I do, so keep an eye on them. Use the "clean toothpick" trick to test for doneness. I used spring-form pans and didn't have to loosen the cakes with a knife, but if you used a regular pan you might want to run a blade around the outside of the cakes. Turn cakes over onto a wire rack. Mine came right out of their pans. Cool. (I left the parchment paper on until it came time to glaze, and I'm glad I did.)
5. While cakes are cooling, place orange slices, sugar, water and saffron in a pan and heat over low heat until sugar dissolves. If you want to go for the candied slices, cook for about 30 minutes, then remove citrus onto wax paper to cool. Either way, remove fruit, stir in orange juice, make sure all sugar is dissolved and then set aside to cool.
6. When cakes have cooled, take that toothpick that you used to check for their doneness and poke as many holes in the top of each cake as you wish. With a large spoon, pour orange saffron glaze over top of each cake. It will immediately sink into the cake so try to distribute evenly. You don't want one portion of the cake soaked more heavily than another. Set aside.
7. In a double boiler - if you don't have one, you can float a pot or shatter-proof bowl over hot water - stir together three egg whites, sugar, salt and water. Add the water judiciously. When it looks like sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and transfer to mixing bowl. (Be careful. You don't want to create a sweet egg-white omelette.) Beat egg whites til those legendary stiff peaks form. Add vanilla, and beat again. Check the bottom of the bowl to make sure you don't have a weepy sea of moisture under those peaks. If so, quickly place bowl in double boiler, heat slightly, stirring constantly, then return to mixer and beat again just enough to mix thoroughly.
8. Here's where I chilled the frosting and I'm glad I did. It was easier to work with. 20 to 30 minutes should be sufficient, plus it gives the cakes extra time to cool. Lon suggested that I put a crumb layer or crumb guard or some such thing over the first layers but honestly I didn't have the patience for it. (See above comments about near-addiction.) Frost the tops of both cakes, then invert and stack. Frost sides, then top, place on Vivienne Westwood china, then for god's sake, what are you waiting for, slice into it!
NOTES: If you've read this far I'm not going to strain your eyes any further! This was a marathon entry, and I thank you for reading it. I also thank all of you for putting up with the iPhone photos. I am slowly getting the hang of this blogging thing, and hope to have better quality pics soon!