Friday, May 21, 2010

Old Fashioned Blueberry Cake

I'm always suspicious of bakeries endorsed as "the best" by celebrities or the general media, and I'm even more suspicious of the subsequent cookbooks published to capitalize on that new-found fame. Case in point: the cupcakes I sampled at Magnolia Bakery, featured in Sex In The City, were some of the driest, blandest cupcakes I've ever eaten, yet everybody raved about them and probably purchased scores of Magnolia Bakery Cookbooks, exacerbating the dry cake epidemic that plagues many bakeries. Thank goodness Sprinkles set the cupcake trend back on track with their moist and fluffy works of cakelet perfection... mmm must try the new salty caramel flavor...

Anyways, when I received the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, with a quote from Gwyneth Paltrow on the front touting their cupcakes as "legendary" and claiming her special occasions are "always chock full of Hummingbird goodies," I was immediately skeptical. How do I know Gwyneth Paltrow is a bona fide foodie with trustworthy taste in cupcakes? And how can Hummingbird's cupcakes be "legendary" when the bakery's owner admits that "cupcakes seem to be unknown in London" (Hummingbird opened in London in '04)? Fishy! Or maybe I'm just hyper-logical... law school will do that to you.

No offense to the Brits out there, but as far as I know, the UK isn't exactly renowned for its culinary prowess. If you want a sticky or steamed pudding, sure, but can a British bakery turn out a moist cake without covering it with custard, dousing it with sugar-syrup, or baking it in a steam bath? Why, yes, in fact it can.

Despite my misgivings, I was seduced by the mouth-watering photographs in the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and embarked on the Blueberry Cake, pictured with frosting but claiming to be "moist enough to be served without the frosting, if you prefer." I do not prefer frostingless cake, but I demand moist cake! And so I commenced baking. The recipe proceeded a bit oddly, and I've altered the steps for a smoother baking process, but nonethless my cake baked up beautifully- heavy, fragrant, and practically oozing moisture. The frosting recipe likewise proceeded in a strange and backwards manner (Oh those Brits!), but produced a cream cheese frosting so light and fluffy that people proclaimed that it must be made of marshmallows! Not so! The towering, blueberry-bespeckled confection was a sight to behold... But I was unprepared for the first bite...

Perhaps in the UK, people don't consume pounds of sugar every day, and so are accustomed to mild cake. Still slightly warm from the oven, with a crumbly yet moist crumb, the cake at first seemed like a success. As I forked it into my mouth, however, I couldn't help but furrow my brow... it was...somewhat bland, and had an odd baking-powder bitterness like an undercooked pancake. The frosting was spectacular, but I was horrified to serve bland cake. I held my breath and hoped the clouds of frosting would woo my guests into overlooking the cake's pancakish tastelessness. No one complained, but I took the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and banished it to the back of my bookshelf with a disgruntled shove. But the story doesn't end there...

Although I had vowed not to eat another bite of the disappointing dessert, I succumbed to the sight if its silky frosting and toothsome interior the next morning... and was amazed!!! Overnight, the baking-soda bitterness had dissipated, the cake had softened, and its mild, muffiny flavor paired perfectly with the oh-so-sweet frosting. It was like the cake-fairy had come in the night and magically transformed the ugly cakling into the graceful swan of sweets! I've devoured about half of the cake on my own since that moment, and I'm already planning my next baking adventure from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

While I definitely warmed up to this recipe, I must note that you should be prepared for its unusually mild, almost elegant, not-so-sweet flavor. It's reminiscent of cakes I imagine someone's grandmother might have baked (hence the "old-fashioned" moniker). I recommend baking it the night before you plan to serve it, because the flavor undeniably improved overnight.

Cake Ingredients
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 c. sugar
6 eggs
1t. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
2T plus 2t. baking powder (make sure it hasn't expired!)
1c. sour cream
3T. whole milk
2 pints fresh blueberries (some will be used for decorating)

Frosting Ingredients
4 2/3 c. powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
8oz cold cream cheese

Prepare the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325. Butter a 10-in ring mold (or angel-food cake pan if you don't have a ring-mold... who has a ring mold??) and lightly dust it with flour. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Beat in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream (starting and ending with the flour mixture). Stir in 1 1/2 pints of blueberries (reserving the other half-pint for decoration). Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until golden brown. The recipe claimed this would take 40 minutes, but my brand-new, perfectly calibrated oven took an hour to bake this puppy up. Check the cake after 40 minutes, but if it's barely browning, and a knife inserted comes out gooey, put it back in and check every 10 minutes until the knife comes out clean and the cake is golden. Once you're satisfied with the cake's doneness, allow it to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before turning it out to finish cooling completely on your wire rack, or cake stand. When you're nearly ready to frost the cooled cake, make the frosting.

Note: I edited both the cake and frosting steps for a smoother baking process.

Beat the softened butter and cold cream cheese until fluffy and well-mixed. With the mixer on low, beat in the powder sugar in four additions (you could add it all at once, but a billowing cloud of powdered sugar will surely coat you and your kitchen in a fine layer of sugar-dust). When all of the ingredients have been incorporated, turn the mixer to medium-high and continue beating the frosting until fluffified, at least five minutes (this is where having a stand-mixer comes in handy). According to the book, you should not overbeat the frosting or it will begin to weep, but it should be fine if you stick to the five-minute rule.

Slather the big 'ole cake with gobs of frosting, covering the top, sides, and center with as many thick, rich layers as it can hold. Dot the top with the remaining half-pint of blueberries, and to really gild the lily, garnish the cake with a final sprinkle of powdered sugar. SERVE THE NEXT DAY for maximum deliciousness! Unless you don't mind the flavor of baking powder...

1 comment:

  1. OHMYGOSH, I couldn't agree MORE with you about Magnolia's cupcakes!! I've been holding out to review them until the one in LA opens, just down the street from me.
    Your blog is so well written! I LOVE it :)
    The Dessert Darling~