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Sunday, August 17, 2008

There's always room for jello cake!

Since I had made 3 terrible cakes in a row (2 Tres Leches attempts and the culinary disaster-piece also known as the flourless chocolate cake), I really needed a baking ego boost.    Another cake that Victor likes is the classic "Jello Poke" cake (poke holes in the cake, pour jello over it and then refrigerate).  I have made this cake successfully multiple times in the past but always with a box cake.    

My inability to make a good scratch cake was really starting to irritate me. I was a mission to find a guaranteed-to-rise scratch cake recipe. I scoured the internet, googling such things "No Fail Scratch Cake" and "Easy Homemade Cake". Finally, I turned to the one source that admitted a good scratch cake is elusive: Cook's Illustrated magazine. I love this magazine because they will make a recipe several different ways in their test kitchen until they get the best results from a reasonable number of steps and easy to find ingredients. They also go into detail on why certain techniques must be used. This is essential for me as I frequently need to be convinced a short cut should not be taken. The March/April 2008 issue contained a recipe called Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (I can't believe I forgot to try "fluffy" while googling!). I decided I would make that, poke and jello it, and then cover with Cool Whip.  

When making this cake, I did something that I rarely do: I (pretty much) followed the recipe to the letter. If the recipe said transfer to a clean bowl, I transferred; if it said to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, I did despite the fact I knew my non-stick pan + greasing and flouring the pan would most likely be fine. The place I deviated was not using a stand mixer.     Yes, having one would make life easier, but the $350 price tag is a bit of downer....so I used my $20 Cook's (JC Penny) brand hand mixer. All of the hard work and attention to detail were rewarded by a nice fluffy yellow butter cake. It's then I realized I had no jello...however, I did have some gelatin sheets (can't remember what I had bought them for) and OJ.  I found a recipe on the web (which I modified) to make homemade orange juice jello, poured that over the cake and then (finally) covered with Cool Whip.     The cake you see above may look basic but it is the result of a lot of hard work, research and ingenuity! Luckily it did turn out as this was Victor's actual birthday. Recipes below....

Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (Cook's Illustrated March/April 2008)

2 and 1/2 cups (10 oz) cake flour + extra for dusting pans
1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 and 3/4 cups (12.25 oz) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 and 1/4 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temp
3 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used applesauce) 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, room temp

1. Adjust rack to middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch x 2 inch round cake pans and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar together in large bowl.  In 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil (or applesauce if you used that as a substitute), vanilla, and yolks. 
2. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment (I used hand mixer), beat egg whites at medium-high until foamy, about 30 seconds.  With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks form, 30-60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist.  Transfer to bowl and set aside. 
3. Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment.  With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds.  Stop mixer and scrap whisk and sids of bowl.  Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds. 
4. Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.  Lightly tap pans against counter 2 to 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
5. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pan and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.   Loosen cakes from pan with small knife, then invert onto wire rack and peel off parchment.  Invert cakes again (so the top is now up again) and cool completely on rack about 90 minutes. 

Orange Juice Jello (my recipe....modified from one I found on the web in a food chat room) 

1 and 1/4 cup OJ
4 sheets gelatin (note 4 gelatin sheets = 1 package of Knox powdered gelatin)
6 oz boiling water (1/2 cup + 2 oz)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
Soak gelatin sheets in cold water to allow it to "bloom".  Pour 1/2 cup OJ into heat proof bowl. Add gelatin sheets (remove them from the cold water first) to OJ and let soften for 5 minutes. Don't stir.  Add boiling water, sugar and stir until gelatin and sugar are dissolved.  Cool to lukewarm and then stir in remaining OJ and lemon juice.  Pour over cake (or into bowl if you just want the jello) and refrigerate.

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