“Remind me to show you something on the way back home,” my son said to me as we waited at the optical shop to pick up his new glasses. “It’ll blow your mind.”
How could I resist that promise? I let him drive home.
We left Newburyport using the old U.S. highway Route 1, and crossed the Merrimack River into Salisbury. This particular stretch of Route 1 boasts salt marshes and coastal wildlife habitats, marine shops, boat storage yards, gas stations, a defunct auto dealership, a liquor store, a butcher shop, a couple of restaurants, a couple of homes, a few derelict buildings, several strip malls and a strip club: in other words, a little bit of everything. I drive this piece of road every day, twice a day, traveling a couple of miles of it on the way to the Newburyport train station and back; I know it well. Or so I thought.
Ben pulled into the first strip mall. “It’s here I think,” he said under his breath as he drove around the side of last shop in the row. He brought the car to a stop.
“What’s here?” I asked, looking at a brick wall.
“Never mind,” he said, turning the car around in the lot. “It’s not the right place. Next one down maybe.”
On the side of the third strip mall he found what he had been looking for: a door. There was a sign hanging above the door, a yellow sign, shaped like an egg. He put his foot on the brake and looked at me. “They sell farm fresh eggs in there.”
“There?” I asked. “They sell farm fresh eggs right there? Behind that door in a Route 1 strip mall in Salisbury?” I looked closely at the yellow egg sign – Farm Fresh Eggs, it proclaimed – and shook my head. “Is anyone in there selling the eggs?”
“No,” Ben said. “Inside it’s the size of a closet that could hold two regular refrigerators. Except there’s only one refrigerator, and that’s full of eggs. You leave $3.00 and take a box. You want me to buy you a box of eggs?”
A box of farm fresh eggs bought from a closet built into the side of a building situated about a quarter mile down the road from the turquoise exterior of Kittens strip club? “Sure,” I answered with a laugh. “It’s totally crazy.”
“Told you it would blow your mind.”
Well, yes, it did. The eggs do too. The smallest in the box weighs 66 grams or right about on the mark for grade “Extra Large,” while the biggest in the box tops out at 82 grams. As a point of reference, a jumbo grade egg weighs in at 71 grams or over. I suppose that makes my nice big fresh 82 gram egg something like super jumbo. Maybe even super duper jumbo.
Because of the size (and variations in size) of these eggs, we have set aside the Salisbury strip mall eggs for cooking rather than baking. No doubt they’ll make someone a yummy, albeit huge, omelet.
For the cake mentioned in the title, Ben’s birthday cake, I played it safe and used the standard large eggs I already had on hand.
For his birthday this year he requested a classic butter cake with milk chocolate frosting. When I bake butter layers for these kinds of special occasions, I alternate between my two favorite recipes: last year’s Desert Island Butter Cake and this one below, Yellow Butter Cake, from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA recipe makes a slightly more refined cake with a beautiful tight but tender crumb. The CIA recommended method for combining ingredients, the high ratio method, is the reason why.
In typical butter-based cakes, the butter and sugar are creamed together, eggs are added to this mixture, then flour sifted with salt and leavening are stirred in as the final step.
High ratio baking has two features that distinguish it from more standard cake baking. First, such a recipe has a higher ratio of sugar to flour, and this proportion provides the fine texture. Second, the ingredients are combined in an unusual reverse order. Dry ingredients including the sugar are added to the mixer, and then soft butter is added and cut into the dry. Wet ingredients – eggs, milk, extracts – get whisked together, and added to the butter-flour mixture in three additions as the final step. The high content of fat and sugar added up front helps protect the flour from developing too many gluten strands as the wet ingredients are blended in. Ergo, a tender, not tough, cake with no large air holes or tunnels.
But don’t take my word for it. Give this one a try.
You might substitute your favorite buttercream if you wish, but for the milk chocolate lovers among us, this frosting is the stuff of dreams.
Yellow Butter Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting
- 3 1/2 cups cake flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk, divided use
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 8-inch round cake pans lightly with cooking spray. (Note: these need to be about 2 inches deep. If your pan is shallower, use 3 pans. I’ll give you adjusted times below.)
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter to the bowl and 1/2 cup of the milk.
Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper as needed.
In a separate bowl, blend together the eggs, egg whites, the remaining 1/2 cup milk, and the vanilla. Add to the butter-flour batter in 3 additions, mixing for 2 minutes on medium speed after each addition. Scrape down the bowl between additions.
Divide the batter between 2 (or 3; see above) prepared pans. Bake until the layers spring back when touched lightly in the center of the top, about 35-40 minutes. (Begin checking 3 layers at 25 minutes; they will probably need about 30 minutes baking time.)
Remove layers from the oven and cool completely in their pans on wire racks. Release the sides and bottom of the layers from the pan with a narrow metal spatula or a thin knife before unmolding and finishing with frosting and filling.
Milk Chocolate Frosting
- 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 pound milk chocolate, chopped
Combine the cream, corn syrup, and butter together in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Reduce heat to low and add chopped chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. The frosting will be very liquid at this point. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool slightly.
Place the bowl of slightly cooled frosting in the refrigerator. As it cools it will thicken. Stir every 15 minutes or so as the temperature goes down. As you stir you will notice the mixture thickening. When the frosting is quite cool and the consistency is still soft but now fudgy thick, remove the bowl from the fridge.
Using the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a hand held mixer, beat the soft frosting until it lightens in color and becomes the consistency of spreadable buttercream icing. It will hold peaks when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. This takes about 3 or 3 minutes. The frosting will continue to thicken as it stands.
Place thin strips of parchment around the edges of a flat cake plate. Put a drop of icing in the center of the plate and place a cake layer on this to anchor it down.
Spread some frosting on top of the layer all the way out to the edges and set the second layer on top. Repeat if using a third layer.
Once all the layers are in place, I like to apply a thin coat of frosting along the top and sides of the cake. This base coat is called a crumb coat, and it keeps any crumbs from the cake layers in place so they don’t show up in the outer finishing layer of frosting.
Next, ice the top and sides with more frosting, finishing both in any way you desire.
Carefully remove the strips of parchment to find a finished cake with clean bottom edges on a clean plate.
Slice and serve.
©2012 Jane A. Ward