March 29, 2013

24 Carat Cake: Putting it All Together

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Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

On Tuesday, I shared a recipe for a made from scratch carrot cake. Today, I want to talk about assembling, frosting and decorating the cake.

After all the chopping, grating, sifting, measuring and mixing I do to make this cake, you'd think I'd make the frosting too, but I don't.  I think store bought frosting is just as good as what I make.  If you agree, you'll need two (14 ounce) containers of cream cheese frosting.  If you prefer homemade, you'll need to make enough to fill and frost a three layer cake.

Let me preface this by saying I am not a cake decorator.  The tips I'm sharing may not be the way professionals decorate a cake, but this is what I've found works for me.  If you've got tried and true techniques for assembling and decorating a cake, by all means continue doing it the way that works for you.

Cake decorators apply a thin layer of frosting called a crumb coat.  When this dries, it seals in the loose crumbs and keeps them out of the final layer of frosting, which makes the cake prettier.  Maybe it works for a cake decorator, but not for me.  Through trial and error, I found a way to achieve the same result, but I use a different method.

When the cakes are completely cool, I put them -- wire rack and all -- in the freezer for 30 minutes.  This isn't long enough to freeze them, but long enough to keep most of the crumbs in place.

While the cakes are in the freezer, you can line the edges of a cake plate with strips of wax paper.  This keeps the cake plate clean.  I've tried this before and nearly tore up the cake trying to remove the wax paper.  I find it easier to wipe off the plate when I'm done decorating the cake.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

When I wrote about making the cake, I said the walnuts sprinkled in the cake pan before the batter was added would play a role in assembling the cake.  The walnuts make it easy to explain whether the cake layer goes upside down or right side up!

Gently remove a cake layer from the wire rack and place it on the cake plate with the walnut side up.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

If the cake isn't level, use a serrated knife to slice a thin piece off the bottom.  Cover the top with the desired amount of frosting.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

The easiest way to do this is with an offset spatula.  An offset spatula has a bend in the blade which makes it ideal for spreading frosting.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

If you notice any crumbs on the spatula, wipe the spatula off before adding any more frosting.  This keeps the remaining frosting free of crumbs.

Place the middle layer with the walnut side down, the opposite of the bottom layer. 

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Because you'll be frosting the side of the cake that rested on the wire rack, there may be some crumbs.  Since this layer is in the middle, crumbs won't be noticeable, as long as you make sure to wipe off the spatula before adding more frosting.  Cover the top with the same amount of frosting as you used on the bottom layer.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Place the top layer with the walnut side up, the opposite of the middle layer.  Placing the cake layer this way makes a level surface for the top of the cake.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

This time, generously cover the top and sides with the frosting.  The cake needs to sit overnight to allow the flavors to blend.  Cover it with a cake dome or store it in a plastic cake keeper so it doesn't dry out.

The cake can be served as is or you can garnish it.  The easiest way to garnish it is with chopped walnuts.  The walnuts can be sprinkled on top of the cake and pressed into the frosting all around the sides of the cake.  My husband isn't a fan of walnuts so I decorate the cake with marzipan carrots.

Marzipan is a sweet, pliable paste made of ground almonds, sugar and, sometimes, egg whites.  It can be found in the baking aisle at most grocery stores.  Marzipan is easy to color and mold into a variety of shapes.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

To make carrots, tint some of the marzipan orange.  You can use liquid food coloring or, what I like to use, gel icing color.  Gel icing color is a concentrated paste sold in small jars in a variety of colors.  It produces richer, more vibrant colors and, because it's concentrated, a little dab will do!  If you've never worked with gel icing color, the most important thing to remember is to use a toothpick to remove it from the jar.  If you need to add more color, use a clean toothpick and repeat the process.  This keeps the gel from getting contaminated.  Knead the color into the marzipan adding more, if necessary, until you reach the desired shade.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Pinch off a piece of marzipan and roll it into a small ball.  Roll the ball between your palms, elongating it into the shape of a carrot.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

To give the carrots a realistic look, use the dull edge of a table knife and press two or three horizontal lines into the carrots, making sure not to cut all the way through.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

To make the green tops, color some of the marzipan green.  Press the marzipan through a small sieve using the back of a spoon.  This produces thread like strands which, like the lines on the carrot, make it look realistic.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Use a knife to remove the strands and place them on the top of the carrot.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

To save time, you can make the carrots a couple of days ahead of time and store them in an airtight container so they don't dry out.  I put them on top of the cake the day I serve it.  If you put them around the top of the cake, you can sprinkle the center with chopped walnuts.

This cake takes time to make, but it's worth the effort.  You may not want to make it very often, but save it for special occasions like Easter.  Maybe it will become a cherished Easter tradition at your house just like the bunny cake is at mine!

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

March 26, 2013

24 Carat Cake

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Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

The last two years, I've shared pictures and directions for making a bunny cake.  This cake is a cherished Easter tradition at my house.  This year, I thought I'd share the recipe for the Easter cake I made before I had kids. Just like the bunny cake, this recipe also came from a high school home ec class.  Unlike the bunny cake which starts with a cake mix, this cake is made from scratch.

If you haven't already guessed, the blog title is a play on words for the best carrot cake I've ever eaten.  It's different from most carrot cake recipes I've seen.  One, it doesn't use pineapple.  Two, it uses brown sugar instead of white.  Three, instead of being flavored only with cinnamon, it also uses nutmeg and cloves.  Speaking of spices, check your spices ahead of time to make sure they're good.  If they have little or no aroma, throw them out and buy new ones.  If you can't smell them, you won't be able to taste them either.

Before you start mixing anything, do the chopping, grating, sifting and measuring.  Once you've done all this, making the cake is, well, a piece of cake!

Finely chop some of the walnuts and coarsely chop the rest.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Grate the carrots.  This is fast and easy to do if you have a food processor. If you're like me and don't have one, grate the carrots by hand, making sure you don't grate them into long strips.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Sift some flour and then measure out three cups.  Sift the flour again with the baking powder and salt.  Sifting removes any lumps, helps blend ingredients and incorporates air which makes the ingredients lighter.

Measure the remaining ingredients.  Unlike white sugar which is spooned into a measuring cup and leveled off, brown sugar needs to be packed into the measuring cup.  When it's removed, the brown sugar will retain the shape of the cup.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Once all the prep work is done, it only takes a few minutes to mix up the cake batter.  Use a mixer to combine the brown sugar, eggs, oil and spices. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Stir in the carrots and coarsely chopped walnuts.

Grease three 9-inch round cake pans.  Instead of flouring the pans, divide the finely chopped walnuts between the three pans.  The walnuts take the place of the flour and add some texture to the layers.  It will also play a role when it comes time to assemble and frost the cake.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans.  I use a large cookie scoop to put equal amounts of batter in each pan.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.  If you bake all three pans at the same time, rotate them once to ensure even baking.  Take the pans out of the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Margaret's Morsels | Carrot Cake

Since this post is so long, I'm going to split it up into two parts.  Check back later this week for directions on assembling, frosting and decorating this 24 carat cake.

Carrot Cake
10 to 12 Servings

1 1/2 cups walnuts, divided
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
3 Tbsp. milk
3 cups grated carrots

Coarsely chop 1 cup walnuts; set aside.  Finely chop the remaining walnuts.  Grease 3 (9-inch) round cake pans.  Coat each pan with approximately 2 1/2 tablespoons of the finely chopped walnuts.

Combine the brown sugar, eggs, oil and spices in a large bowl; beat with a mixer until combined.  Resift the flour with baking powder and salt.  Add half the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, beating until combined.  Add the milk all at once, beating until combined.  Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until combined.  Stir in the carrots and remaining walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans.  Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.  Cool pans on wire racks 10 minutes.  Remove cakes from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.

© Margaret's Morsels

March 24, 2013

A Different Way to Dye Easter Eggs

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Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

Last year, I posted a blog about an easy way to dye Easter eggs using Wilton gel icing color.  Since Easter's next Sunday, I wanted to share the information again.  Here's the link in case you missed it last year.  In the meantime, I'm working on two new Easter blogs that I'll post later this week.

© Margaret's Morsels

March 1, 2013

Not Your Usual Steak

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Margaret's Morsels | Salisbury Steak

If potatoes are the workhorse of the produce department, ground beef is its equivalent in the meat department.  Ground beef can be used for sandwiches, meat loaf, chili, soup, spaghetti sauce, casseroles, pizza, meatballs and even as a filler in bean dishes to name a few.  One of my favorite things to make with ground beef is Salisbury steak.

Salisbury steak -- named for its creator, Dr. J.H. Salisbury -- isn't a steak in the normal sense of the word, but a mixture of ground beef, onion and seasonings that's shaped into patties and either fried or broiled.  It's typically served with gravy.

For many years, I used a recipe that called for the meat to be grilled and the gravy to be made separately on the stove top.  It was good, but I had to time things carefully in order for the meat and gravy to be done at the same time.  Several years ago, a coworker gave me a recipe for Salisbury steak that calls for the meat and gravy to be cooked together in the oven.  

The original recipe called for 1/3 cup bread crumbs.  This left the cooked meat patty with an extremely soft texture which made me think it wasn't cooked through, even though it was.  I increased the bread crumbs to 2/3 cup and, although the texture was firmer, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped.  I finally added a full cup of bread crumbs and the texture was perfect.  If you prefer a meat patty that's not as firm, reduce the bread crumbs, but don't use less than 1/3 cup.  The bread crumbs help bind the ingredients together.

Combine 1/4 cup cream of mushroom soup with ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl, mixing with your hands only until combined.  Don't overmix or the finished product will be tough.

Margaret's Morsels | Salisbury Steak

Shape the mixture into four patties.  I make them round, but if you want them to resemble a steak, elongate the patties into an oval shape.  Place the patties in a greased baking dish.

Margaret's Morsels | Salisbury Steak

Combine the remaining soup with Worcestershire sauce, water and mushrooms.  Spread the mixture evenly over the patties.

Margaret's Morsels | Salisbury Steak

Put the pan in the oven and bake for one hour.

I like to serve Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese which is baked at the same temperature as the meat.

Salisbury steak will never be mistaken for T-bone, New York Strip or Porterhouse, but it's an inexpensive and easy way to elevate ground beef from ho hum to wow!  Not only that, cleanup is minimal with this tasty one dish recipe.

Salisbury Steak
4 Servings

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup, divided (undiluted)
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. water
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained

Combine 1/4 cup soup, ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl; don't overmix.  Shape into 4 patties and place in a greased 9-inch baking pan.  Combine the remaining soup with Worcestershire sauce, water and mushrooms; spread the mixture evenly over the patties.  Bake uncovered at 350° for 60 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels