Monday, July 15, 2013

Lemon Layer Cake Recipe

I made this cake for my father's 78th birthday, during a summer spent at home to practice before chamber music festivals in August and to be with him for chemotherapy treatments. I didn't know at the time that it was the last birthday he would have and in retrospect I am so glad that I was there to celebrate with him. I remember making the lemon filling while trying to babysit my one year old niece Annabelle, making silly faces and jumping up and down while grating lemon zest (uh, not so smart in hindsight). I remember putting together the cake batter the next morning and running into my Dad's room to tell him he just had to come taste it. He watched me assemble the entire thing and I could just see how much it meant to him. We celebrated with a family dinner and this beautiful cake was a winner. I decided that I would make it again this year to remember his birthday.

For birthdays or otherwise, I highly recommend this cake. I found the recipe on Shauna Sever's site (no surprises there) and, though it's a bit time consuming, I absolutely love it. The filling is lemon curd, which basically tastes like sunshine in food form. The cake is incredibly moist, yet light, and the whipped frosting is the perfect accompaniment.

Probably my favorite part of the process is making the lemon curd. You begin by making lemon sugar, combining lemon zest and granulated sugar with a mortar and pestle, followed by some eggs, yolks, butter, and lemon juice. A little gelatin gives the curd some body to it, so it's not as much of an oozing mess as most fruit fillings tend to be. 

The cake batter is fairly dreamy too, I must say. It utilizes a slightly different baking process of combining the dry ingredients before the wet. The result is incredibly light and fluffy.

The assembly for me is always a bit tricky. It's difficult to keep those layers in place while frosting, so this time I used toothpicks to keep everything steady. Don't worry, the billowy frosting is so thick and glossy, it covers the otherwise unsightly holes.

There you have it. Read below for the full recipe and details. As for me, I couldn't think of a more meaningful way to remember my Dad's birthday than to smell those cakes in the oven while practicing this morning. Happy Birthday, Dad...I miss you every day.

Lemon Layer Cake (from Shauna Sever)
Yields one 9-inch, 4 layer cake

Lemon Curd
Zest from 2 lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (save the whites for the cake!)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and frozen

Begin by measuring 1 teaspoon of lemon juice into a small bowl and sprinkling the gelatin on top to soften. With a mortar and pestle, work the lemon zest into the sugar, until the sugar is fragrant and coated with the lemon zest oils (after using the mortar and pestle, I also gave the sugar a good mixing with my hands). Heat the rest of the lemon juice, lemon sugar, and salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot, but not bubbling. Whisk the eggs and yolks in a large, nonreactive bowl. Pour the lemon syrup into the eggs and return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the curd, stirring constantly, until it reaches 170 degrees and it's thick enough to separate by running your spatula through it. Stir in the gelatin until it dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in the frozen butter until it melted and curd is smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a nonreactive bowl. Cover the surface of the bowl and chill until firm, at least four hours or up to two days.

2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened and still cool

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans, lining the bottoms with parchment paper. In a large measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites, and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, mixing on low speed. Add the butter pieces one at a time, until the mixture resembles even crumbs. Stop the mixer and add all but 1/2 cup of the wet ingredients. Beat the batter at medium speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and fluffy. While the mixer is running on low speed, slowly pour in the remaining wet ingredients and crank the speed up to medium for another 30 seconds. If needed, scrape down the bowl and mix for an additional 30 seconds. Divide the batter equally into the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove them (including the parchment paper) and cool completely. 

Fluffy White Frosting
2 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of salt

In the bowl of a standing mixer or another aluminum bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. Bring about an inch of water to a gentle simmer in a saucepan, placing the bowl over it and stirring constantly until the temperature reaches 160 degrees. Alternatively, if you don't have a candy thermometer, stir until the sugar dissolves and the consistency of the mixture is even. Dry off the bottom of the bowl and attach to the mixer (or set up a hand mixer). Whip the frosting on medium speed for 5 minutes, until it becomes opaque and soft peaks form. On medium-high speed, whip an additional 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes billowy, shiny, and cools to room temperature. Use immediately. 

*I have always made the lemon curd the night before, as it takes some time to zest all of those lemons and make the lemon sugar. You can also choose to bake the cakes in advance, making sure to store them wrapped in plastic and in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Assemble and frost the cake as close to serving as possible.

Until next time,

Friday, July 12, 2013

Puttanesca Recipe

My father's family is Italian and a long-term goal of mine is to learn more authentic Italian dishes. I know there is a great family recipe for Italian wedding soup, as well as pizzelles (thin, snowflake-like cookies), and panettone (holiday fruitcake). One of my favorite dishes to put together is actually my mother's Puttanesca Pasta recipe. It's simple, extremely flavorful, and really comforting. 

Yields enough sauce for about 1lb. of pasta

One large can of diced tomatoes
One flat of anchovies
One jar kalamata olives, pitted if available 
Half of one jar capers 
About 1/2 cup of parsley, finely chopped
1 tbs. butter 
A few cloves of garlic, minced 
Spaghetti or Linguine 
Grated parmigiano reggiano, for sprinkling 
*I usually just put this recipe together by feel, so my apologies for the loose measurements. Also, I find the brininess of the olives and capers to be enough, but feel free to add salt if desired. If you like your puttanesca with a bit of a kick, add a few drops of chili oil. 

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, adding olive oil and garlic. After the garlic sautés, add the anchovies to the pan and mash with a fork to create a paste. Next, add the tomatoes, capers, olives, and parsley. Let the sauce reduce and adjust heat accordingly. In a pot, bring water for the pasta to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente and transfer directly to saucepan with a pair of tongs. Toss the pasta to coat. Once plated, add grated parmigiano. Enjoy immediately, or as leftovers, when the flavors have melded together even more. 

Until next time, 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life at Home: It's the Simple Things

For the last week and a half or so, I have enjoyed time at my family's home outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I can tell that I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of life in New York, mainly because of the joy experienced from the following simple things:

Life with cats: Bruno (top left), Cocoa (bottom left), and Charlie

Life with nature: our backyard, with a deer and a groundhog.
In addition to the animals picture above, there are foxes and rabbits

4th of July with my brother and his fiancee, some patriotic berries,
and Philly's City Hall 

Life with my family: my niece and goddaughter Juliette,
who is actually the happiest baby

It's been so nice to practice without a real's amazing how much detail you can accomplish without any outside pressures! I will definitely enjoy the last few days of vacation, but I'm also getting very excited for Music@Menlo. Off to practice!

Until next time,