Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yellow Cake (for Jello Cake)

I've had a few disappointments lately.* First and foremost was this jell-o cake gone wrong. I believe it had something to do with my overly ambitious game plan. See, first I made my own gelatin mix out of fresh blackberries that were wasting into a juice puddle in the fridge. Then I doctored up a yellow box cake (so I wouldn't have to pack it along to Denver, right?) with leftover apricot jam and reduced the oil. And lastly I didn't make nearly enough whipping cream for the top, not to mention I used every single blackberry in the jell-o, leaving none for decorating the top. That was the least of my concerns. The foremost was the taste of it.

My jello turned out okay. I know this because I had some leftover and tried it plain. I followed the package directions for those generic gelatin packets and added hot blackberry juice, from smashed, boiled blackberries that were strained thoroughly, instead of hot water. So this part I would do again.

The box cake was my primary enemy here. Overly sweet and with that gummy, box-cake taste. I shouldn't have used it. The apricot jam had a little bite of lemon to it, which helped, but overall the paired sweetness of jello with cake was too much.

Next time I will use my usual from-scratch yellow cake. It's not too sweet but also dense enough to stand up to the jello without going soggy in a day. I will also recommend loads of whipped cream on the top, dotted with fresh berries. My very favorite is raspberry jello cake, and I can eat half a 9"x 13" pan in 24 hours. Then I eat it again the following day for breakfast. When I can gather up my courage, I'll be making a blueberry version.

Yellow Cake
Makes a 9" x 13" pan or 24 cupcakes

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs

3 cups + 3 T all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1-1/4 cups milk

Whip the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the vanilla and mix in one egg at a time until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture a cup at a time, alternating with a third of the milk, so that you end with the rest of the milk mixed in last. Pour into your buttered pan and bake at 350ยบ for 30-35 minutes (18-20 minutes for cupcakes). Let cool completely.

To make a jello cake, use a straw or skewer to poke holes all over the surface of the cooled cake. It won't be pretty and it doesn't have to be even — you'll cover it with whipping cream soon enough —, but the holes let the jello soak in. Prep a package of jello or make your own, about 2 cups worth, and pour it over the cake. Cover and chill until the jello is set, about 2 hours. Make whipping cream by whisking (at least) a pint of heavy cream with 3-4 T of powdered sugar and a swig of vanilla. Spread whipping cream over the cake and garnish with berries to compliment your jello flavor. Eat cold and keep refrigerated until you've licked the empty pan clean. Wonder how long you can go without making another one. Wonder if you should add bits of fruit to the cake batter this time (you should). Wonder why you ever eat cake without jello (you didn't know any better). Practice all kinds of self-forgiveness and bake another cake.

* Note: Second was this Bon Appetit recipe for tagliatelle pasta with fresh corn pesto, which I admittedly made without the bacon. The color of it is particularly unappetizing unless you are doing a photo shoot for a magazine and tucking bits of corn and basil attractively throughout, and the flavor was just okay. Mostly the color of it grossed me out — sort of snotlike. Their recipe for Shaved Zucchini Salad with Parmesan and Pine Nuts redeemed the meal, however.

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