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Archive for the ‘cake’ Category

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Dave and I decided to walk 1000 miles this year. It works out to about 20 miles per week, just under 3 miles per day. It’s an ambitious goal, but not unattainable. The problem is, we’re way behind. By the end of February, we were already half a month’s worth of miles behind where we should have been. And since our work schedules prohibit us from catching up during the week, our only option is to do a whole lot of walking on the weekends. Which works out great, because I feel a lot better about having a big piece of blueberry cake for breakfast when I walk 7½ miles right afterward.

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This crumb cake follows the same process as many layer cakes – the butter and sugar are creamed together, the eggs and vanilla are slowly added, then the dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are added alternately. It’s topped with a buttery sugary nut mixture before being baked.

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I thought it was very good. I’m always a big fan of blueberries (and cake), and I liked the walnuts quite a bit. The crumb topping was an enjoyable crisp contrast to the tender cake. It was maybe just the tiniest bit too sweet for me, so I think next time, I’ll actually reduce the crumb topping by half. And since I have a lot of miles to make up still, next time could be very very soon. Sihan has posted the recipe.

One year ago: Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

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While shopping for baking ingredients recently, I was inwardly complaining about recipes that call for a volume amount of ground nuts. I’ve never been able to find ground nuts in my well-stocked grocery store. That means that I have to grind my own, which is annoying because my food processor takes up basically my whole dishwasher, plus, if we’re going to have to grind our own nuts, shouldn’t the recipe indicate how much whole nuts we’ll need to grind to get the right amount of ground nuts? Blah blah blah, whine whine whine, and then I stumbled upon this:

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Never mind! Let me tell you some things that don’t matter to me about buying these: 1) It’s probably far more expensive than grinding my own. 2) It’s going to take me months to use up a pound of ground almonds. Oh, and 3) these were the wrong type of nut for the recipe I bought them for. Whatever! Yay for not using the food processor!

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With pre-ground nuts, this cake was really easy. I had a bit of a time crunch due to traveling, so I made it at my place Thursday night, then packed it in my suitcase the next day when I flew across the country. My sister and brother-in-law and I snacked on it the next night after putting my nephews to bed.

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Dorie says twice in her introduction that the recipe is foolproof, so of course I had problems. Clearly the top of the cake is too dark, bordering on burned. I’m blaming my pyrex, instead of metal, loaf pan. I suppose I should lower the oven temperature 25 degrees when baking in pyrex. I didn’t want to serve the burned portion, so I trimmed it off before planning to add the glaze. Then I ate the trimmings and found them so tasty (and not burned-tasting at all) that I decided to skip the glaze altogether.

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The cake was easy and delicious, sturdy enough to travel across the country with me, and was appropriate after dinner one night and for breakfast a few days later. Plus, I’ve now fairly well established that there’s a difference between baking in pyrex and metal that I’ll need to make adjustments for in the future. Altogether, a good Tuesdays with Dorie week for me. The recipe is posted on Liliana’s site.

One year ago: My first attempt at sushi rolls

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Dave was watching a Cleveland Cavelier’s basketball game while I made this cake. When LeBron James, doing what LeBron James does, executed some crazy maneuver that only he could have pulled off, the announcers praised his creativity. Dave noted that for anyone else, the move would have been called stupid, but then for anyone else, the move wouldn’t have worked.

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Putting prunes in chocolate cake is basically the same thing. If it works, you’re creative. If not, you’re…something else.

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For this cake, prunes are chopped, softened in hot water, and flambéed.  The prunes are mixed with egg yolks, sugar, melted chocolate and butter, flour and ground nuts, and beaten egg whites. The cooled cake is topped with a rich chocolate glaze. Put this way, it sounds a lot simpler than over an hour of baking and at least six dirty bowls proved it to be.

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Baking the cake is where I, and it seems a number of other people, ran into problems. Dorie instructs that the cake is done when the sides are pulling away from the pan, the top is crisp, and a knife inserted into the center is “streaky.” Hm…”streaky” isn’t very definitive. My cake seemed to pass all three of those conditions and even unmolded cleanly, but when I cut into it, I realized it was gooey in the center. A better indicator of doneness would be a final temperature to be reached, to be read with an instant-read thermometer.

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Regardless, I hereby decree Dorie creative, and not crazy, because a gooey center could not detract from just how delicious this cake is. If I hadn’t known, I would not have been able to identify the prunes in the cake, and certainly not the whiskey. However, there was definitely something more to this cake than a regular chocolate cake. I have two-thirds of it left, and it’ll be a miracle if I get through the day without stealing tiny slices here and there. It’ll be a miracle if I get through the next hour, honestly. (I did not make it. It’s half an hour later and I’m eating cake. And I agree with Dorie that it’s better at room temperature, but it isn’t half-bad cold either.)

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Lyb has the recipe posted. I used whiskey instead of Armagnac, prunes instead of raisins, and ground almonds instead of walnuts. I wouldn’t change anything about the ingredients, but if you make this, err on the side of less streaky on a knife inserted into the middle at the end of baking. This cake is so moist that I think it would be a challenge to dry it out.

One year ago: Raspberry Bars

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You know what the best thing about this cake was? No worries about getting crumbs in the frosting!

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But really the best thing was the rich chocolate cake layered with fluffy vanilla frosting, which pretty much sums up my favorite dessert. I used to get it all the time in college at my favorite dessert café.

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I made one third of the cake recipe in pans large enough to hold one quarter of the recipe, because I heard that there was some problems with the cake not rising. My cakes seemed to rise okay. But clearly I need to wrap a wet towel around the pans or invest in the magic cake strips for these little pyrex pans, because I always end up with the weirdest shaped cakes when I use them.

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I was supposed to cut the cake layers in half and crumble one of the layers, but with such domed tops that I’d have to cut off anyway, it seemed like a shame to crumble a whole layer in addition. Instead, I made my cake four layers instead of three and just used the crumbs from the evened out tops to decorate the outside.

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I don’t have much experience with this marshmallowy type of frosting, but I really liked it with this cake. I love meringue anyway – I love the feel of all the little bubbles popping in my mouth. I added a pinch of salt to the frosting to cut the sweetness a little. Also, bonus – fat free frosting!

Altogether, this was a great cake. Stephanie, who chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted.

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I started thinking about a Valentine’s Day blog post as soon as I pulled these heart-shaped silicone baking cups out of my Christmas stocking. And if you’re making heart-shaped cupcakes, they should be bright red. And if you’re making heart-shaped bright red cupcakes, they should be covered in heart-shaped pink and red sprinkles. My philosophy toward Valentine’s Day is, if you’re going to do it, overdo it.

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What’s weird is that the closest I can remember to eating red velvet cake is these whoopie pies that I made a couple months ago. In fact, I didn’t even know that red velvet cake existed until college, when one of my professors told me a story about someone throwing it up on her carpet and the stain never coming out.

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My lack of red velvet cake experience is even stranger considering that my mom was recently telling me about a great recipe that my grandmother has for it. My sister made that recipe recently and said it was a little dry, but she’s baking at high altitude, which makes cakes prone to problems. I wanted to give the recipe a try myself.

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But Deb has a recipe she recommends as well, and I’ve had very good experiences with almost everything I’ve made from her site. And Kelsey describes herself as a red velvet cake enthusiast, and she recently found a recipe she loves. And Cooks Illustrated (via Cooks Country, their slightly less OCD magazine) has a recipe, and in general their stuff is worth trying.

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Four recipes, all highly recommended from trusted sources. There was no good way for me to choose just one, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to spend an entire evening baking something as simple as cupcakes do a recipe comparison.

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Before I discuss detailed comparisons between each, let me cut to the chase and tell you that every single cake was really good, both in taste and texture. There were differences, but they were subtle. Dave and I had a hard time choosing favorites. That being said, once I ate enough cupcakes, preferences started to emerge.

In the discussion below, I will use the following abbreviations: SK for Smitten Kitchen; G for my grandmother’s recipe; AD for Apple a Day, and CC for Cooks Country.

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Effort: None of the cakes were exceptionally difficult. AD was the simplest – the dry and wet ingredients were mixed separately, then combined in the mixer. SK and G called for the vinegar and baking soda to be mixed together before being added to the already-mixed remaining ingredients, which I’d never seen before. And G and CC call for the cocoa and food coloring to be stirred into a paste initially, which Cooks Country explains is to distribute the cocoa more evenly.

copy-of-img_1907from left to right: SK, AD, G, CC

Color: While the shades of red vary, all of the cakes are definitely red. I have no preference. I should note that I used a little less food coloring in G and SK than the recipes called for, because I thought I was going to run out. Even so, I think their color is fine.

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Texture: While I wouldn’t call any of the cakes dry, G did seem less moist than the others. This isn’t surprising considering that it uses the least fat of these recipes and only a third of the fat of one of them (AD). AD and SK, both of which used oil as the fat, were perhaps a little moister than CC and G, which call for butter. None of the cakes were too dense, but SK and CC seemed especially fluffy. I was expecting a different texture in CC compared to the rest, because it was the only recipe that called for all-purpose instead of cake flour, but it wasn’t noticeable.

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Taste: One thing that I think it important to note about Red Velvet cake, that Cooks Country clarifies in their article, is that it not meant to be a chocolate cake. The small amount of cocoa is just there to provide the red color. Unfortunately, CC’s cake was my least favorite. I think it’s because of one very small difference between their recipe and the others – the rest call for a teaspoon of salt, CC has just a pinch in it. The flavor of this cake was definitely muted compared to the others. The rest were all really good. SK calls for over twice as much cocoa as the others, which was enough so that I could actually taste a little chocolatiness. I like chocolate of course, but in this case, it masked that classic Red Velvet tanginess. AD and G tasted somewhat similar, but I think G had a little bit of a metallic taste to it (which I have no explanation for).

So, in the end, I choose AD (found through Kelsey’s Apple a Day and originally from Saveur) as my favorite, for its moistness, its bright, pinky red color, the ease with which it comes together, and especially its sweet but tangy flavor.

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Update 2/15/09: When BMK pointed me in the direction of another oft-recommended Red Velvet cake recipe, I used amazing restraint in waiting a whole 6 hours before I tried it. The Pastry Queen’s recipe uses butter instead of oil as the fat, and it includes sour cream. Other than the sour cream and calling for both all-purpose and cake flour, the ingredient list was similar to the other recipes I tried.

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I generally prefer butter over oil in desserts, and I think sour cream makes cakes really tender, so I was pre-disposed toward liking the Pastry Queen’s cake. And it really was great – fluffy, moist, tangy, even-textured (although it doesn’t look like that here – the recipe specifically warns not to overbake the cupcakes, so of course I underbaked them). However, in the end, I still preferred the recipe from Kelsey’s Apple A Day, originally from Saveur, which also has great texture, and I like the flavor a little more. But this is definitely a personal preference – you can’t go wrong with either recipe. Next time I might experiment with using the ingredients from AD, substituting butter for the oil, and using the mixing method from the Pastry Queen’s recipe.

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One year ago: A comparison of four vanilla frostings

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (from Apple a Day, who adapted it from www.saveur.com)

Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

For the cake:
2½ cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1½ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar

For the frosting:
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 ounces butter, softened
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups chopped pecans (optional)

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.

3. Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

4. Divide batter evenly between 3 greased and floured 8″ round cake pans.

5. Bake cakes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely.

6. For the frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Add sugar and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.

4. Put 1 cake layer on a cake plate, level off with a serrated knife, and spread one-quarter of the frosting on top. Set another layer on top, level, and repeat frosting. Set remaining layer on top, level, and frost top and sides with the remaining frosting. Press pecans into the sides of the cake, if desired. **Tip: after leveling cake, turn it upside down to reduce numbers of crumbs. I also did a crumb coat on the outside, let it set for ten minutes, then finished with remaining frosting.

5. Chill for 2 hours to set frosting.

Red Velvet Cake (from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” by Elisa Strauss via the New York Times 2/14/07)

Bridget note: This is the frosting that I used. It was great. (I’ve never met a homemade cream cheese frosting that I didn’t like.) Also, note that this recipe makes 50% more than the others.

Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3½ cups cake flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2½ teaspoons white vinegar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

Red Cake (from my grandmother)

Makes 1 9-inch 2-layer cake

My grandmother isn’t known for adding a lot of detail to her recipes. I’ve added some.

Also, the frosting here isn’t the cream cheese frosting you usually see associated with red velvet cakes these days. Instead, it’s based on a cooked flour mixture similar to this.

2 ounces red food coloring
2 tablespoon cocoa
2¼ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening (I used butter of course), softened
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350C. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Make a paste out of the food coloring and the cocoa. Mix together the flour and salt.

2. Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one a time, then the vanilla. Mix in food coloring paste. Add a third of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk, a third of the flour, half the buttermilk, and ending with the rest of the flour. Holding a small dish over the mixing bowl, add vinegar to baking soda, pouring it into the mixing bowl as it foams. (The original recipe now says “Beat as you would any cake.” That’s helpful!) Beat at medium speed for 30 seconds.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool slightly in pans, then invert the cakes onto a cooling rack. When cool, split each later in two and frost.

Frosting:

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter

Cook flour and milk until thick. Cool. Cream butter and sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Blend the creamed mixture into cooked mixture. Beat. The longer you beat it, the better it gets.

Red Velvet Cake (from Cooks Country Dec 2006/Jan 2007)

Serves 12

CC note: The recipe must be prepared with natural cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa will not yield the proper color or rise.

Cake
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups granulated sugar

Frosting
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.

2. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

3. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

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Ah, my sad little gingerbread photos. I had some issues with a tiny step in this recipe that I normally would have just ignored. “Butter the pan.” Pshaw, who butters their pans these days? Nonstick spray, baby!

Since I needed 7⅓ tablespoons of butter for the portion of the recipe that I was making, I figured I would just use the other ⅔ tablespoon to butter the pan. (I used an 8-inch square pan for ⅔ of the recipe.) Then when it came time to remove the cake from the pan, I got stubborn when it stuck. The damn cake would be coming out of the pan!

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Um, yeah, that was dumb. It came out, all right, or about half of it did. The other half, the bottom half, was holding on tight to the pan. I quickly shoveled the broken cake pieces back into the pan and they melded together nicely. If I had been able to resist tasting the cake (through a forkful dug out of the middle), no one would have been the wiser.

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Fortunately, the taste of the cake made up for the troubles. Dave and I both really like gingerbread, and although I had my doubts about combining it with chocolate, in the end I thought it was a good match. I enjoyed the chunks of chocolate in the cake, even though they all sank to the bottom. The bittersweet chocolate glaze was great too. My cake was a little dry, but it’s entirely possible that I overbaked it by a few minutes. Still, next time I’ll use twelve tablespoons of butter instead of eleven (for a full recipe). And I most certainly won’t use butter to grease the pan.

Heather, who chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted.

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I’ve been a member of Tuesdays with Dorie for ten months, and I haven’t missed even one week. I’ve posted through holidays, vacations, and…I’m trying to come up with a third thing to round out this sentence, but honestly, I have no life. Hence it’s been easy to stay on track with TWD. But this week really tested me – my dishwasher is broken. That’s been rough.

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It’s a good thing I persisted though, because I forgot to take into account Dave’s love of fruit + cream desserts. He goes nuts for them. I made a fourth of this recipe, and we ate the whole thing on Saturday night. Dave was talking about it all day Sunday, and it wasn’t until the end of the day that he realized there was none left. He wasn’t happy.

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I guess I’ll have to make it again sometime then! Which is no problem, because there were things I really liked about this as well as things I’d like to experiment with.

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Like most of the group this week, my cake fell in the middle. I’d read through the reviews of people who made it before me and knew this was a possibility, so I was so careful when mixing up the batter. I certainly didn’t overmix, because there were still clumps of hard, dry flour in the baked cake. On the other hand, I could see the structure of the beaten eggs breaking down as I tried to fold in the flour, so I knew I had to stop.

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It was no matter though, since we were hollowing out the cake anyway. Dorie’s instructions are to slice off the top of the cake, make a nest in the middle, fill the nest with berries and cream, then put the top of the cake back on. Because the sides of my cake were nice and high, I was able to do all of that except I didn’t have a “lid” to cover the filling with. I just spread the whipped cream topping right over the filling.

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The other issue people had with the recipe was the filling, which is a combination of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cream. So basically cheesecake batter, which I absolutely love. Dorie then whips up more heavy cream and mixes that with the cream cheese ingredients, but a lot of people were saying that the filling ended up bland, so I skipped the extra whipped cream.

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There were things I loved about this recipe – the cream cheese filling, raspberries of course (I lucked out and found good ones for a reasonable price), the whipped cream topping…so basically everything except the sunken cake. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a genoise I loved. When I make this again, which will be soon if Dave has any say in the matter, I’ll just use a different vanilla cake recipe.

Mary Ann has posted the recipe.

One year ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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