For not really being a "food blog" I've certainly come to be known for my offerings of sweet treats. I think it's fair to say that I have a big love of baking and that love is something I got from both of my parents. My mom made some killer banana bread in her day and her cheesecakes were did-you-really-make-that perfection. My dad, while having his hands in every sort of cookery, will probably go down most notably for his dutch babies, cinnamon rolls, pies, and holiday fruitcakes (hey, don't knock 'em 'til you try 'em). God, I have such fond memories of the smells that emanated from that kitchen and all the love that went into those efforts. And that's why baking brings me so much joy.
Let no baker kid themselves, there's plenty of ego gratification when you walk in the room with some baked goods. I relish every "ooh" and "ahh" and why wouldn't I? Plus, I'm also an aesthetically motivated and artistic person so working to create a beautiful cake or tower of cupcakes feeds that side of myself, as well. But, at the heart of it, is the love. Truly. I can feel the emotions swell from both sides as I think about the earnest feelings of offering up something beautiful and, hopefully, tasty that says, "Look what I made for you," as well as the heartstrings that get plucked when given the chance to say, "You made that for ME?!" It's ultimately a symbol, for me anyway, that denotes special times and special people and the heartfelt appreciation for both.
So, it seems rather fitting after the last post about my mom that I should do a baking recipe. One, as a tribute to all the joy and love she's given me over the years and, two, to show my love and appreciation to you, my readers, for sticking it out with me over the last several months. Thank you so much. Now, who wants cake?
I've never cooked with currants before but have always wanted to try something with the jeweled beauties. I mean, come on! Look at 'em! Pure gorgeousness! I snapped some up when I saw them at the grocery store and put my thinking cap on. The best place to start, of course, was by tasting them. Lord have mercy! Hello, sour! But one dance with some sugar around a saucepan and their luscious tartness was both mellowed and brought to life. I figured their piquant flavor would be well matched with the earthiness of almond and rounded up some Amaretto because, y'know, cake and booze?
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that the first round of recipe testing had its challenges. But a little tweaking and we're good to go. It's fairly mellow on the almond despite the amount of Amaretto (and almond extract) so feel free to play with the flavor profile and add more almond extract if you want it more pronounced. (But be careful as almond extract is mighty potent - so best to start small.) Also, next time around I'll double the Red Currant Filling as I wanted a little more tartness to balance out against the cake and frosting. Lastly, papa got pretty heavy handed in the frosting department so don't feel you need to use all the frosting if that's not your thing. (Tip: You can freeze buttercream for up to 3 months. Just thaw and rewhip and you're good to go, again!)
AMARETTO & RED CURRANT CAKE
makes one 2-layer cake
adapted from The Silver Palate, Chestnut Cake
2 cups granulated sugar
4 extra large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Amaretto
1/4 cup cream
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and line* two 9-inch cake pans and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Combine the oil, Amaretto, and cream in a large measuring cup. Set aside.
- Combine the sugar and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them at medium high speed until the mixture is light colored and at the ribbon stage.
- Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with adding the wet ingredients in 2 parts. Keep the mixer at the lowest speed and mix each time just until the ingredients are just combined. Once everything is incorporated, scrape the bowl and paddle, and give the batter a final stir.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake until they are firm and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with just a few crumbs, about 28-30 minutes.
- Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes in the pans before removing to a rack to cool completely.
Red Currant Filling
4 pints of red currants
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
- Place all ingredients (add currants, stems and all) in a saucepan over medium high heat.
- Cook until mixture comes to a slow boil and currants begin to soften and break down. Use a potato masher to help break down all of the currants.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and discard remnants. Rinse saucepan clean, place strained currant mixture back in saucepan, and continue to cook over medium high heat stirring often.
- Continue to cook until mixture has reduced to about 1 cup of liquid. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap making sure that plastic wrap is touching entire surface of red currant filling to avoid the forming of a skin. Set in refrigerator to cool.
3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted*
1/2 cup Amaretto
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter (softened to room temperature). Start the mixer at the lowest speed, then gradually increase the speed, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl as needed, until the butter is light and fluffy.
- Add the confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix at the lowest speed until it's fully incorporated before adding the next cup. When all the sugar has been added, scrape the paddle and the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the Amaretto, almond extract, and salt and beat at low speed for 30 seconds. And the remaining 1/4 of Amaretto and beat at low speed until mostly incorporated. Gradually increase the speed and whip the buttercream until the mixutre is perfectly smooth, creamy, and light, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the bowl and paddle, then continue beating.
- Use right away, or store in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator. When you're ready to use it, let the buttercream come to room temperature, then put it back in the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to beat it until it's creamy and fluffy again.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
A rotating cake stand is incredibly helpful in these steps.
- Trim the tops of each cake layer off to flatten the surfaces. (These bake even strips also work really well to form flat/ter cakes.
- On top of the bottom layer, place the red currant filling and spread evenly.
- Place next cake layer on top.
- With a generous amount of the buttercream (1 1/2 to 2 cups), frost cake completely with a thin layer to create a crumb coat. Then refrigerate cake for approximately 15 minutes to set.
- Finish frosting* the cake with remaining frosting using as much or as little as you like.
- Garnish with a mound of fresh red currants for a showstopper effect.
* Tip: I use a large offset spatula when frosting my cakes. Also, to achieve the smooth finish on the sides of the cake, I continually dip the spatula in very warm water and quickly rotate the cake (on a rotating cake stand) while holding the spatula at a 90º angle.