Monday, April 18, 2011

The Great Cake Part I: Butterscotch


     What is this Great Cake you ask. How can there be Part I of a cake? Is Part II just icing? No, that would be lame people. (Though of course there will be an icing part eventually). The Great Cake is a cake I've been planning for a while now. It is the cake for my last English class. You know, the class I talk about all the time? The one where I get to read and write children's books? It's going to end. This is amongst the most distressing things in my life right now, the fact that this class is going to end. And you may think that is silly but it is not just me- you should have seen the faces of everyone in my class when my professor that we wouldn't have a writing assignment due this week because it was the last class. We looked like someone had died. Puppy dog faces all around.

     So, we are having a party on the last day of class. People are bringing food (like crazy sounding kinds of pretzel which I am quite excited about), and I am bringing the Great Cake. So what is the Great Cake going to be? It is going to be three layers: Butterscotch, Banana, and Chocolate. The icing, well I have yet to decide that. Suffice to say it will be delicious. And today, we are starting at the beginning: Butterscotch. Why are we starting with butterscotch? Because I always knew what recipe I was going to be using for the butterscotch cake layer, and I wanted to make it NOW.

     This recipe and I go far back. For one thing, it is a Nigella recipe. Have I talked about Nigella Lawson yet? Domestic Goddess extraordinaire from Britain? She is probably one of the main reasons I started baking so much. I got completely obsessed with her book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, I think freshman or sophomore year of high school. Whenever I thought of making anything, it came out of that book. Cakes for every family member's birthday, desserts for every dinner party, Nigella was always my first go-to person. So, Sophomore year, when I had to decide what cakes to make for my grand birthday sleepover (of course I had a grand birthday sleepover, do you doubt it? Me and SZ, HJY, KK, GR, LL, and PL - I love that I have already mentioned most of these people and I have had them around for so long, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside) they came out of Domestic Goddess. They were a chocolate mousse cake, snickerdoodles (which aren't a cake, but it was important to have a non-cake dessert as well - to me), and the Butterscotch Layer Cake.

      One of the most vivid memories I have of anything is of making this cake. I remember stirring together the batter and looking down at it and saying, "Mom, it's so silky!" And picking up the wooden spoon over and over to watch the creamy batter flow downwards. I remember it coming out of the oven and icing it with the delicious caramel frosting. And, I remember cutting it with everyone singing happy birthday and then gorging on it all night. Nigella describes this cake in the following way: "This is the sort of cake that people label "very rich" and then go on to have three slices with languorous ease." First of all, don't you just love the way she writes? And secondly, she is absolutely right. You cannot have enough of the Butterscotch Layer Cake. Hopefully, my cake will turn out the same way.

     Today, I am going to post Nigella's original recipe because it is SO WORTH MAKING. It is the Butterscotch Layer Cake in its entirety with its delicious icing. On the day when I am putting together my cake (which will be Wednesday night I think, the night before my class), I will post the three layers I made and how exactly I made them. Meanwhile, seriously contemplate trying this cake. The last time I made it was....more than four years ago? How can that even be right. And yet I still have the best memories of it. Also, I wish I could describe to you how it smells in my apartment after baking it. It is sweet and fragrant and I feel like it is my birthday all over again. That, my dears, is a feeling worth feeling.

Butterscotch Layer Cake 
From How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson 
Serves 8

For the Icing: 

1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Cold Water
1 1/4 cups Heavy Cream 
14 oz Cream Cheese at Room Temp 

For the Cake Layers: 

1 cup Unsalted Butter, Soft
7 tbsp Softened Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Sugar
4 large Eggs
1 1/2 cups Self-Rising Cake Flour 
2-4 tbsp Heavy Cream

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F and thoroughly grease (or grease and line with parchment paper) 2 8-in cake pans.

First, do this icing. Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat, remembering not to stir it at all (it will crystallize if you stir). When it is dissolved, turn up the heat and boil it until it turns a dark golden color. This should take 10-15 minutes. Then, take the pan off the heat, and slowly whisk the cream into it. It may be lumpy at first but should become smooth. Then, put the pan back onto the heat for a minute, whisking until everything is smooth. Cool everything and refrigerate it until you need it.

Now, do the cake layers. The easiest way to do this (according to Nigella) is to put everything except the cream into the food processor and blitz until it is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process it again, adding a couple of tablespoons of cream down the funnel while it is running. Stop and check the batter, if it's runny (but not liquid) then stop, otherwise add 1-2 tbsp more cream. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 25 minutes (until they are shrinking away from the sides and a toothpick comes out clean). Leave it on a wire rack for 10 minutes in the pan and then take it out of the pan and leave it on the rack to cool.

To assemble everything, first, pour the caramel into a glass cup measure with a spout. Beat the cream cheese until it is softened and smooth, and add a cupful of caramel to it (save some in your glass cup). Beat it gently to combine.

Put one cake layer on a plate. Use a rubber spatula to spread a little less than half the icing on it. Then, place the other cake on top, and ice the top of the cake with the rest of the icing. Using a teaspoon, drizzle the reserved caramel in the cup over it. Nigella says to "think Jackson Pollock."

Note: I did not make the cake in a food processor, and I will share the non-food-processor recipe when I give my layer recipe in a few days.

P.S. I love Nigella. 

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