Thursday, June 30, 2011

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Wow, I can't believe I never posted this! I started a draft of this post more than a year ago, and here I am again.

Despite the delay since I actually made this cake, it is absolutely worth posting. I still remember very clearly this unique and delightful cake, not too sweet and oh so buttery. There is something fascinating to me about a yeasted cake, with a slightly gooey topping that sort of seeps into the bottom cake layer. Like many of my favorite recipes, this one comes from smittenkitchen.

The layered cake concept also brings to mind a blueberry ricotta cake I recently made from King Arthur Flour, which is also a two-layered cake, but in this case tends towards a cheesecake consistency with an upper layer of a ricotta mixture (check it out since I didn't take any photos to make a post of it!). I am further reminded of this recipe for Lemon Cake Top Pudding, which ends up, well, with a cake-like top after you bake it, and pudding underneath - so interesting! Will make that one of these days.

In any case, I do not know why or how this comes from St. Louis, but I'm certainly glad it did! Whoever named it "gooey" and "butter" deserves a reward, because it is both of those things to everyone's delight.

See how the top layer gooeys into the bottom?? I take great pleasure in thinking of the word "gooey" as a verb - to gooey, gooeying, gooeyed. Why not? No other English word really has the same nuance.

Let's do this thing! Take care to save time for letting the dough rise, and make sure to not over bake it (see the instructions on baking pan choice). A stand mixer is necessary for the long periods of time that the dough gets beaten; a handheld electric mixer would not be hardy enough.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Cake ingredients:
3 T milk at room temperature
1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
6 T unsalted butter at room temperature
3 T sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 C flour

Topping ingredients:
3 T plus 1 tsp light corn syrup
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
1 C plus 3 T flour

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preparing the cake dough:
Mix the milk with 2 T warm water in a small bowl. Gently whisk in the yeast until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add the flour and the milk mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Switch to a dough hook after everything has been added, and beat on medium speed until the dough has formed a smooth mass and pulled away from the sides of the bowl a little, 7-10 minutes (may still be very soft in the end).

Press, stretch, and nudge the dough into a greased 9x13 baking pan at least 2 inches deep; a metal cake pan will produce faster browning on the bottom of the cake, whereas a cake dish as I used (glass or ceramic) will produce less. If you use a metal pan, you will want to check the cake after 30 minutes of baking, rather than 45.

Cover dish with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel, place in a warm area, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preparing the gooey topping:
After the cake dough has risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk the corn syrup together with 2 T water and the vanilla extract. Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add the flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Spoon the topping in large dollops over the risen cake and use an offset spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes (30 for metal pan, 45 for glass or ceramic dish); you may want to check it earlier than the prescribed time to ensure avoiding over baking. The cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid when done (I wished mine had been a little more liquid, but checked it too late).

Cool in pan, then sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Whole Grain Blueberry Pecan Muffins with Ricotta Filling (Gluten-Free)

Here's the gluten-free muffins as promised - tender, moist, and flavorful. I am now a firm believer that gluten-free baking can work without gimmicks or difficult tricks, and be super tasty.

I relied on Gluten-Free Girl again to understand how to use the variety of gluten-free flours and starches that I've got in my cupboard. She's made gluten-free baking work without xanthan gum, or any other gum to provide binding in the baked goods, which is good news both for those who might be digestively sensitive to the gums or who would have a hard time finding them in the grocery stores.

Now that I've tried these, I fully believe what GFG says - gluten-free baking can produce lighter, better texture than gluten baking, because gluten can bind things up and weigh them down. That's why some recipes tell you not to over mix the batter - because the mixing action will create too much gluten and make a dense product.

You have a choice about the flours and starches you use in these muffins; GFG suggests keeping a supply of your own whole grain flour mix around, and provides a ratio of flour to starch (70/30) that you can use to create your own (I recommend reading her post linked above, it's much more thorough).

It is important to note that your baked goods will taste like the flours you choose; I was super curious about teff flour, so I mixed it with sweet sorghum and amaranth flours, with white rice flour as the starch and a few whole oats thrown in for texture. Teff turns out to have a fairly strong flavor (reminded me of a powdery buckwheat), so I would reduce the amount I would use of teff next time in proportion to the other flours, and probably choose another flour that does not have such a fine texture as the ones I chose. That being said, I still devoured four muffins as soon as they came out of the oven. Plus another one later - so, yeah, they turned out okay.

To make your own gluten-free flour mix, take 70% whole grain flours and mix with 30% starches.

Whole Grain Flours:
Brown Rice
Sweet Brown Rice

Potato Starch
Tapioca Flour
White Rice Flour

I also integrated a little advice from the Barefoot Contessa (incidentally, she is someone who I imagine never actually goes barefoot) who suggests greasing the tops of your muffin pans as well as the inside of the cups, to help you remove the muffins when they've cooled:

And I decided to make a ricotta filling for the muffins to use up some ricotta in the fridge, so I used the technique and amounts at this smittenkitchen recipe.

You can add any combination of nuts, dried or fresh fruits, or spices that you like - I went with frozen blueberries and pecans. The flavor of a lot of these flours is nutty, so the pecans were a good complement, and added nice texture.

It's possible to make the whole thing dairy-free too; just replace the buttermilk with almond or soy milk that you've curdled with 1 T apple cider vinegar, and eliminate the ricotta filling. GFG says that you can make them without eggs, but you'll have to see her instructions to see how to accomplish that.

Whole Grain Blueberry Pecan Muffins with Ricotta Filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin pan or two (with filling, my batter made 17 muffins).

In a mixing bowl, whisk together to combine and aerate:

350 g whole-grain flour mix
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
180 g brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

2 eggs
1 1/4 C buttermilk*
1/3 C grapeseed oil

Use a rubber spatula to mix the wet ingredients into the dry. When they are almost fully combined, throw in any additions to you want (about a handful of chopped nuts and a handful of fruit will do; firm fruits may take longer to bake soft). Stir until all traces of flour are gone.

If you want the ricotta filling, combine:

1/2 C ricotta cheese (fat-free is fine)
6 T Greek yogurt or sour cream
pinch salt

Fill each muffin well 1/3 full with batter, plop 1 T of ricotta filling on the batter, then cover with more batter until the well is 3/4 full. The muffins will rise, but not like crazy, so you don't have to worry if the wells are close to full.

Bake about 25-35 minutes, until muffins are browned, the tops spring back to touch, and a knife comes out clean.

*Buttermilk may always be replaced by regular or soy/almond milk that has been curdled with apple cider vinegar. The proportion is 1 T vinegar to 1 C milk; just dump the vinegar in the milk before you set up the rest of your ingredients and pans, and it will be ready when you need it.

*** I'd like to note that the best whole grain combination I've come up with so far was a mix of cornmeal and almond meal for the whole grain flours, and corn starch for the starch. Great texture and taste!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lemon Cornmeal Pancakes (Gluten-Free)

A generous friend recently gave me a whole box of gluten-free baking ingredients; while I am not gluten-free, baking alternatives always interest me. I feel like I've developed a sense of the necessary components of baked goods with gluten, so I've been reading gluten-free recipes for a while to get an idea of how they work. Most of the time, I am not excited enough about a recipe to buy the different flours, starches, and gums required of gluten-free baking, so I never have the exact ingredients necessary.

Now that I DO have the ingredients, however, the experimentation has begun. I read a bit of the theory on Gluten-Free Girl's blog, and explored recipes on websites including King Arthur Flour, which sells quality ingredients and has nice recipes. On the King Arthur site, this recipe for Lemon Cornmeal Pancakes caught my eye because they just sound bright and cheery - and that's exactly how they turned out! Lemon zest really is a magical ingredient, and is a happy complement to the slightly crunchy cornmeal.

The original recipe calls for potato starch, which I didn't have, so I subbed in tapioca flour/starch (understanding from Gluten-Free Girl that different starches generally serve the same chemical role in a given baked good). I used the melted butter option, since I love butter, but it may be made dairy-free as well by using olive or canola oil instead of butter, and almond or soy milk instead of the milk. I always enjoy the flavor combination of olive oil and lemon, but if olive oil disagrees with you or is too strong a flavor for you, canola may be a better choice. I did end up adding an extra tablespoon of milk to thin out the batter, and they turned out well.

These pancakes are an easy foray into the world of gluten-free goods because they use ingredients that are naturally gluten-free but not that hard to find, and the process of making them is not difficult. Cornmeal is used in Johnnycakes, so it is a time-tested pancake option, producing nice texture and mild flavor. I'm pretty sure my guest did not realize these were gluten-free, so that says something, right?

I'll be working on some whole grain gluten-free muffins later this week, so stay tuned!

Lemon Cornmeal Pancakes

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:

1/2 C potato starch or tapioca flour/starch
3/4 C cornmeal (whole grain or regular)
3 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/8 tsp xanthan gum

In a separate bowl or measuring cup, beat together:

2 large eggs
3 T melted butter or vegetable oil
3/4 C milk
2 T grated lemon zest or 1/2 tsp lemon oil (I used the zest of two lemons)

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. The batter should be thinner than normal pancake batter, so if it's not add another tablespoon or two of milk to the batter.

Preheat a pan or griddle to medium-high heat; if you have an electric griddle set it to 350 degrees. Grease the pan or griddle.

Pour about 2 T of batter per pancake into the pan. Cook each pancake for 1-2 minutes, until the top is bubbly and the edges are dry, and then flip and cook for another minute or so on the other side.

Serve hot with maple syrup, agave syrup, berries, whatever suits your fancy.