This is fully weird on two levels. The first, is that for the past year, I've described myself as "a recent college graduate." And while that's still true, reactively speaking (relative to say the moon walk, the fall or Rome, or dinosaurs), I really am no longer "a recent college graduate". That plants me firmly in adulthood. Or pre-grad student-hood.
Secondly, my brother, my little brother, is a college graduate. And not just a college graduate, but one with a job. A job with great pay, benefits, and a starting bonus. Who gets a starting bonus at 22? I guess the stars kind of align for you when your passion involves dollar signs and mergers, rather than in crafting the perfect comedic beat, or the ultimate gluten-free cake.
Luckily for us both, we followed seriously divergent paths, and I am in no way envious of his cool new life. The thought of sitting in an office all day dealing with numbers and decimals makes me limp all over. Besides, you can't bake with envy. If I put it in my batter, it would make my batter bitter. I don't have time for bitter batter because, in addition to graduating college, my brother also had a birthday. And every birthday needs a birthday cake, right?
Mike happened to be coming home this week, and I decided to surprise him with a homemade birthday cake. We weren't much on the homemade growing up, and my brother isn't really much on the gluten-free baking (you may remember his utter shock at how great the cranberry cornbread was at our fully gluten-free, fully delicious Thanksgiving dinner), I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I've made chocolate cakes before (the strong cocoa always manages to hide the weirdest of GF flavors), but I wanted to do something better. No, not better, best. I wanted to make the perfect cake. Something that was great, all on it's own, and, oh yeah, happened to be gluten-free, too. If only I could channel such perfectionism into something that yielded a profit. ...Oh who am I kidding. It yielded cake, what's better than cake?
As I always do when searching for little baking inspiration, I turned to Deb at the epically delicious Smitten Kitchen. Her food is so tempting, her picture so delicious, and her recipes are so easy to follow that every time happen on the site (...that is, everyday...), my mind and taste buds launch some kind of tantrum campaign, practically willing me into the kitchen for my own gluten-free adaptations and variations are her already stellar desserts, dinners, and brunches. (I should add here that Deb has never failed me yet. I've made GF versions several of her recipes and they always turn out beautifully.)
After wasting (or in my world, intensely productively working for) a few hours clicking through her cake recipes, I was finally remembered I was making this cake for a boy, er, man, er, brother (and therefore pink and / or citrus-y was probably not the way to go) and was "forced" to combine my favorite parts of her sumptuous desserts. The result was mixed and matched perfection. A beautifully crafted cake that I can't help but think as my greatest baking success to date.
I managed to completely surprise my brother, asking him to put a jar of jam away for me in the fridge, so he'd coming face to face with his cake upon opening the door. He, in turn, surprised me, practically inhaling a slice. The verdict? "The only way this cake could've been better is if there was gluten in it." Somehow, I doubt that.
Advanced Math 1-2-3-4 Cake
inspired and adapted from the Smitten Kitchen's 1234 cake, which was adapted it fromgeneral baking knowledge. 1-2-3-4 cakes get their name from their oh, so simple construction 1 cup of butter (and 1 cup of milk), 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. My version uses fractions, think of it as the honors class version.
1 cup of Earth Balance (or butter) at room temperature
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups all purpose gluten-free self rising flour blend**
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
(**Self rising flour is regular flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. To make your all purpose GF flour self rising, please follow this formula: 1 cup GF flour (- 2 teaspoons) + (1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder) + (1/2 teaspoon of salt), multiply by 3 for 3 cups of GF self rising flour. My all purpose GF flour mix - I currently use Mr. Ritt's - has xanthum gum in it, but if you need to add xanthum gum to your flour, you'll need 1 and 1/2 teaspoons, that is, 1/2 teaspoon x 3, the number of cups of flour. ...Don't look at me like that, I said it was the advanced math class from the get go. But how many times did you get a perfect cake at the end of doing a proof? I rest my case.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9 inch cake pans.
Prepare the self rising mixture in a small bowl and set aside. Combine milk and buttermilk and set aside. In a medium sized bowl, cream butter until it puffs and fluffs up. Add in sugars and continue to cream for and additional 6 - 8 minutes. Crack in eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Beat the flour and milk mixture into the batter, starting and ending with the flour. Add the teaspoon of vanilla and mix until just combined throughout. (At least that's what deb said. I misread and added mine to the milk and buttermilk. It worked out fine!)
Divide evenly between the three pans and level them out as evenly as possible, a little extra work here is really worth it, trust me. Bake for 20 -25 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into your golden brown cake comes out clean.
Let sit for 5 - 10 minutes, before turning cake pans over on a large plate, tapping on the bottoms coaxing the cakey goodness' release from their nonstick prisons. Let cool completely.
I totally cheated on this. I knew I wanted some kind of fruit in the center of the layers, and thought my brother would enjoy raspberry, or strawberry, or strawberry rhubarb... and oh, I just happened to have a fresh jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam on hand from my trip to Fowler's Milling Company. And as I have one eye blurred from my recent surgery, and one eye still filled with cataract, I figured I was already doing well enough with quite literally flying blind on this cake, and that, well, a little cheat would be okay. Just this once...
Deb has a recipe for raspberry filling, if your in the mood for full on from scratch baking, but any all natural jam / preserves will do, too. I spread 1/4 of a jar over the bottom layer, and another 1/4 over the middle layer. The result was a soft, subtle strawberry twinge to the cake , and perhaps more jelly would've made more of a punch, if you're so inclined.
"Wait, You Can Make This From Scratch?" Icing (Vanilla Butter Cream)
Michael swiped icing of the side of the cake with his finger, "Whoa, this is good icing."
"Thanks," I smiled proudly, take that gluten-filled frostings!
"What are you saying thanks for, it's not like you made it," my brother pointedly responded. The future law student has a penchant for exactness that's equal parts entertaining and fully annoying.
"No, actually, I did" ... Though, in my head it as more like, Ha! Gotcha!
"Wait, you can make icing from scratch?" Mike asked, fairly shocked.
....See, totally different life paths....
1 stick of Earth Balance (1/2 cup butter)
3 cups + additional tablespoons as needed organic powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
With and electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Slowly add in sugar, cream about 5 minutes. Add in milk and vanilla and beat until mixed. Add additional sugar or milk until you get desired consistency.
I'm not one for a thick icing so this covered my cake completely, and then some. The recipe is easily doubled or halved, though. I added a little blue McCormick food coloring and, lacking any piping tools, made a haphazard border with two forks and a lot of will power.