Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cake-Baking Is A Piece of Cake for Former Cook-Off Queen

S'mores Cake   photo courtesy of "Piece of Cake!"

If you've ever sat at a potluck or party and wondered if that delectable cake was made with a boxed mix or from scratch, there are a couple of clues:

"The first thing noticeable is the flavor. Even with all the doctoring that people do, there's still that unmistakeable 'cake mix' flavor," said Camilla Saulsbury, author of "Piece of Cake! One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes."

"Also, there's a sponginess to a cake-mix cake that's a giveaway," she added. "There's a crumb that you get with a homemade cake that clings to the fork."

Her book is full of homemade cake recipes that are almost as easy as using a cake mix. I did a phone interview with Camilla for my column that ran in this week's Deseret News Food section. Before Camilla wrote cookbooks, she was a successful contestant in national cook-offs.  I met her when she won the $100,000 National Chicken Cooking Contest in 2005. She also won the $50,000 Build a Better Burger Contest, and the Food Network's $25,000 Ultimate Recipe Showdown (cookies episode). 

Saulsbury, who lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, has written nine cookbooks;  one of them focused on making cookies from cake mixes. So it's not as if she is anti-cake mix."I'm not a food snob, so my premise isn't that cake mixes are bad, but there's this whole other world of homemade cakes," she said. "If you can make a cake mix, you can make a homemade cake, too. That's how our grandmothers made them for generations before the influx of cake mixes."

One advantage of boxed mix-cakes is that they tend to be really moist, she added. "Often when people try making a cake from scratch, if they over-beat it, they get a dry cake. What I love about my method is it creates very moist cakes."

But, the idea of making a homemade cake can be intimidating, with images of sifting flour and creaming shortening and sugar together until it's fluffy. Then there's the process of separating eggs, beating the egg whites to a fluffy foam, then gently folding them in to the rest of the batter in order to give the cake volume.
But Saulsbury's has chosen cakes that aren't as temperamental as angel food or chiffon cakes, and uses mixing methods that don't require all the hassle.

"There's a little-known method called a dump cake. It was developed by home economists in the early 1960s, who worked hard to simplify a way to get the same amount of volume in a cake," Saulsbury said. "You combine the ingredients on low speed, then turn the mixer to a higher speed to get the volume. I took that idea and ran with it to see what I could do for a variety of butter cakes to get the same results."

She said her cakes turn out moist and not tough. I tried making the Chocolate Vanilla Marble Cake recipe, and it did turn out moist. Some cakes have a tendency to collapse with Utah's high altitude, but this cake didn't seem to be as sensitive. It rose evenly and had a nice texture (although it wasn't as springy as a boxed-mix cake).
"When you use the old method of separately adding flour and liquids, people often end up over-beating the cake batter and you get toughness," she said. "This way, you get volume without toughness."

She said her book is designed for home cooks in general, "including those who rely on mixes, and seasoned bakers as well. I wanted to encourage home bakers to make cakes from scratch, it's not as complicated as pastry chefs and others would have you believe."

You won't find temperamental, light-as-air angel's food or chiffon cakes in the book. But you will find lots and lots of great bundt cakes, sheet cakes, layer cakes and pound cakes. Some of them even use whole wheat flour, such as this S'Mores Cake.
Nonstick baking spray that contains flour
21/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 whole crackers)
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Use a 13-by 9-inch metal baking pan, sprayed with nonstick baking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together graham cracker crumbs, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add eggs, milk, butter and vanilla to flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until blended.
Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with marshmallows. Bake for 8-13 minutes, or until marshmallows are puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes and serve warm, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature.
Store the cooled cake, loosely wrapped in foil or waxed paper, at room temperature for up to 1 week. Alternatively, wrap the cooled cake in plastic wrap, then foil, completely enclosing cake, and freeze for up to 6 months. Let cake thaw at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours before serving.
— "Piece of Cake!" by Camilla V. Saulsbury

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